Robert Morehead.

A series of discourses on the principles of religious belief as connected with human happiness and improvement (Volume 2) online

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be less generally useful to consider pro-
phecy in a more indirect view, by inquir-
ing into other purposes which it has an-
swered in carrying on the great scheme
of Revelation.

It is to this last view, my brethren,
that I propose at present to lead your
attention ; but, before proceeding to it,
I trust that I shall be pardoned, if I ven-
ture to state to you the direct argument
from prophecy, in words which, although
they must be familiar to you all, I am



ON PROPHECY.



yet tempted to introduce here, as they
supply the defect in my own argument, in
a manner so infinitely superior to any-
thing which I could ever hope to accom-
plish for myself. " I cannot presume,"
says a great master of moral and reli-
gious wisdom, " in the limits of a single
" discourse, to speak to you of all the ex-
" traordinary evidence upon this subject
* c > which arises from the minute and pre-
" cise correspondence of all * the signs
" and types, and figurative meanings,' in
" which the dispensation of the Gospel
" fulfils the introductory dispensation of
" the Mosaic law. I presume to remind
*< you only of the leading and prominent
*' : <facts, which every age has known, and
^ which the present hour verifies. It
**' was foretold by the lawgiver of the Jews,
** that a greater than he was to come,
" and a greater than he has come. It
"was foretold that this mighty Saviour



11



ON PROPHECY. 23

X"

" ( was to be despised and rejected of his
" own people, a man of sorrows, and ac-
" quainted with grief.' That Saviour has
" come, to be rejected and despised,
" to be, in truth, a man of sorrows, and
" acquainted with grief. It was foretold
" that Jerusalem was to be destroyed
" when this great event arose ; and when
" this great event arose, Jerusalem was
" destroyed. It was foretold that the
" light of Heaven was to arise upon the
" Gentile world ; and upon the Gentile
" world (and upon us, in the mercy of
" God) that light has arisen. It was fore-
" told that the Jewish people was then to
" be dissolved, ' that they were to be
" strangers and wanderers in every land,'
" until some future day of repentance
" and of pardon ; and, in this hour, the
" Jewish people are strangers and wan-
" derers in every country upon earth.
" To this ^weight and consent of evidence,*



24 QN PROPHECY.

he continues, " I have nothing to add.
" The characters of the religion of -the
" Jews are in themselves irreconcilable
" with every common principle of hu-
" man nature, and must therefore be re-
" ferred to some higher wisdom and fore-
" sight than that of man. But, when all
" the prophecies of this extraordinary re-
" ligion are found to be accomplished,
" when, resting solely upon the future,
" all that they predict of that future has
" really taken place ; when all point to a
" final and greater revelation, and when
" all the circumstances of that greater re-
" velation correspond fully to the predic-
" tions of earlier time, the conclusion is
" inevitable,: that the Saviour whom we
" worship is ' He that should come, and
" that we ought to look for no other.' '

On this passage, my brethren, which
is far above my praise, I will not venture
to make any comment, but, leaving it to



ON PROPHECY. 25

produce its own effect upon your minds,
I proceed, in prosecution of the humbler
view which I have suggested, to remark,
in the first place, that the supposition of
a series of prophetic discoveries, such as
we have recorded in Scripture, gives to
revelation a character of much grandeur
and dignity. When we find, that, from
the first hour in which man stood in need
of a Redeemer, his future arrival was fore-
told, and that, not only in the occasional
raptures of the pious, his " day was seen,"
but even in the institutions of a whole
nation, the purposes of his coming were
shadowed out in types and signs ; when,
in the progress of this mighty prepara-
tion, we behold a continued succession
of inspired men, who employed all .the
powers of their elevated minds to raise
the thoughts of a grovelling people from
the signs to the things signified, from the
letter to the spirit of their rites and or*



ON PROPHECY.



dinances, describing, at times, with all
the vivacity of actual vision, events which
were not to arrive for many an age : it
is impossible not to feel the lofty charac-
ter of that religion which was ushered in
with so much previous arrangement.
'When it came, indeed, into open view,
it seemed to be of a very humble and
unimposing aspect; and it is not to be
wondered at, that the gross minds of the
people among whom it rose, should have
found little in it to satisfy their earthly
ambition, and that they should have clos-
ed their eyes to the import of those pre-
dictions which painted the sufferings of the
promised Messiah. Yet, however mean
his apparent condition, never was any
prince preceded by so splendid a train of
forerunners ; and, surely, there was more
real grandeur in the constant preparation
which, from the first opening of the his-
tory of man, had been made for his



ON PROPHECY. 27

approach, than if he had come at last
with the ensigns of worldly power, and
amidst the glitter of a temporal sovereign-
ty.

v In the second place, my brethren, the
dispensation of prophecy is no less con-
spicuous for its benevolence than for its
splendour ; and it is impossible for us to
calculate the amount of that hope and
faith which it was the means of producing
in those ages that preceded the Gospel.
It is a very low and illiberal view of the
dispensations of Heaven, to consider them
always with a reference to ourselves, and
if they should happen not to be very in-
teresting to us, immediately to conclude,
that they were of little value in former
periods of society. The full light of the
Gospel has now come in place of the
fainter illumination of prophecy, and the
ancient predictions seem now only valu-
able, as they prov the divine origin of



28 ON PROPHECY.

that scheme which was foretold by them :
but at the period at which they were made,
they served an higher, and a still nobler
purpose. They were, then, a substitute
for the Gospel. They, then, gave to the
simple and pious heart, its best assuran-
ces of the moral administration and pro-
vidence of God. Under the bondage of
the Mosaic institutions, they anticipated
the perfection of Christian liberty : they
addressed the " prisoners of hope," and
pointed to the " stronghold to which they
" should turn," and spoke of that fu-
ture age in which " the daughter of Zion
" should rejoice greatly."

How many virtuous individuals, as well
as the Ethiopian who was baptized by Phi-
lip, would, when they went to Jerusalem
to worship, derive consolation, amidst the
obscurity of the services in which they
were engaged, from the divine raptures of
the Prophet Esaias ; and although, like him,



ON PROPHECY. 29

they could not tell of whom the Prophet
spake, they would yet be comforted with
the sublime thought that one was to
come, who should " raise up the tribes
" of Jacob, and restore the preserved of
" Israel," who was to be given as a
" light even to the Gentiles, and who
" should carry salvation unto the ends of
" the earth !" " Your father Abraham
" himself," says our Saviour to the Jews,
" rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and
*' was glad." ty 3

There is yet a third observation, which
may shew the importance of Prophecy in
animating the hopes of the pious even
.since the introduction of the Gospel.
From the fulfilment of those prophecies
which refer to that great event, it is rea-
sonable for us to conclude, that all con-
nected prophecies will be fulfilled, and,
even under the radiance of the Sun of
Righteousness himself, the clouds which



(/N PROPHECY.



sit upon human affairs are sufficiently
deep and portentous to make us rejoice
in that additional light which Prophecy
has kindled. Powerful as are the hopes
and consolations of the Gospel, the faith
of the righteous is yet, at times, in dan-
ger of being shaken by the disorderly ap-
pearances around them ; and when they
behold the triumph of successful crime,
and nations themselves subjected to the
caprices of individual ambition, they are
apt to forego their trust in a superintend-
ing providence, and to fear that some dark
fatality governs the world.

The book of Prophecy, my brethren,
dispels, these gloomy apprehensions. A*
midst the storms of the moral world, we
there behold the hand which restrains
and guides them. We see an omnipotent
Lord, under whose direction, even the
crimes of men are converted into the
means of accomplishing greater ultimate



ON PROPHECY. 31

good. We perceive, indeed, the rage
and the tumult of human power; but
we are, at the same, time made ac-
quainted with ONE who " knoweth its
" going out, and its coming in, whose
" bridle is in its lips, apd who can tuni
" it back by the way by which it came :"
and, as the final issue of human affairs,
we are presented with those pictures of
infinite beauty which describe the univer-
sal triumph of the Gospel, when " the
" earth shall be full of the knowledge of
" the Lord, as the waters cover the sea;"
when " violence shall no more be heard
" in the land, wasting nor destruction
." within its borders;" when " the people
" also shall be all righteous :" and when,
" as the earth bringing forth her bud, and
" the garden causeth the things that are
" sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord
" God will cause righteousness and praise
" to spring forth before all nations."



32 ON PROPHECY.

Notwithstanding the imperfection 'of
these observations, I trust it will yet ap-
pear from them, that, without examining
closely the coincidence between particu-
lar predictions and events, we may draw
an indirect inference in favour of Christi-
anity, from contemplating the grandeur
of that scheme of Prophecy upon which
it is founded ; the benevolence with which
this dispensation supplied the defects of
those religious systems which preceded
the Gospel ; and the animating hopes
which it still awakens, amidst the inevi-
table darkness and disorders of the world.
We shall thus discover, in many interest-
ing points of view, the connection be-
tween the Prophetical and the Christian
dispensations that they form indeed but
one system, extending from the begin-
ning to the end of time, and correspond-
ing in its progress, with admirable wis-
dom and benevolence, to all the varying



ON PROPHECY. 38

circumstances in the condition of human
nature.

In opposition to the direct argument
from Prophecy, the most plausible objec-
tion that can be urged, probably, is, that
the people among whom the predictions
of the Prophets were made, and who,
therefore, may be supposed most able
to interpret them, have never admit-
ted the soundness of that interpretar
tion which we have given them. But
it may be remarked in reply- that at
least the genuineness of the predictions
themselves is undoubted, from their ex-
isting in the hands of those who are the
greatest enemies to the Gospel, that the
prejudices of that people have* for ob-
vious reasons, ever been peculiarly strong
against the Christian interpretation of
their prophecies and what, perhaps, is a
more striking fact still, that none of the
prophecies are more clear and explicit
VOL. n. e



ON PROi'HECY.



than those in which the conduct of that
very people, and their present unexam-
pled condition, are described* " Behold,"
says their great Lawgiver, " all these
v curses shall come upon thee, and shall
" pursue thee, because thou hearkenedst
" not unto the voice of the Lord thy God:
" and they shall be upon thee for a sign
" and for a wonder, and upon thy seed
" for ever. The Lord shall bring a na-
" tion against thee from far, from the end
" of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth
" a nation whose tongue thou shalt not
" understand : and he shall besiege thee
" in all thy gates, until thy high and
" fenced walls come down : and thou shalt
" eat the fruit of thine own body, the
" flesh of thy sons and thy daughters in
" the siege, and in the straitness where-
" with thine enemies shall distress thee :
" and ye shall be left few in number,
" whereas ye were as the stars of heaven



12



ON PROPHECY. 35

" in multitude ; and the Lord shall scatter
" thee among all people, from the one
" end of the earth, even unto the other :
" and among these nations shalt thou
" find no ease, neither shall the sole of
" thy foot have rest, but the Lord shall
" give thee there a trembling heart, and
" failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind."

As a counterpart to this prophetic de-
nunciation, whieh has been in every par-
ticular so awfully fulfilled,.! shall quote,
in conclusion, that beautiful passage from
Isaiah, in which the prediction that has
given rise to the preceding observa-
tions is contained, and which, proclaim-
ing the advent of the Messiah, speaks,
at the same time, of the loving kind-
ness of his righteous and impartial reign.
" Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,
" saith your God. Speak ye com-
" fortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto
4t her that her warfare is accomplished.



36 ON PROPHECY.

" that her iniquity is pardoned : for she
" hath received of the Lord's hand dou-
" ble for all her sins. The voice of
" him that crieth in the wilderness,
" Prepare ye the way of the Lord make
" straight in the desert a highway for our
" God. Every valley shall be exalted,
" and every mountain and hill shall be
" made low : and the crooked shall be
" made straight, and the rough places
" plain. And the glory of the Lord shall
" be revealed, and all flesh shall see it to-
" gether : for the mouth of the Lord hath
" spoken it. O Zion, that bringest good
" tidings, get thee up into the high moun-
" tain : O Jerusalem, that bringest good
" tidings, lift up thy voice with strength :
" lift it up, be not afraid ; say unto the
" cities of Judah, behold your God."






!

.

DISCOURSE III.



ON THE PREACHING OF JOHN. *-

.
-ifa

MARK, i. 3, 4,

.

" The voice of one crying in the wilder-
" ness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
" make his paths straight. John did
" baptize in the wilderness, and preach
" the baptism of repentance, for the re-
" mission of sins."

IN a former discourse I had occasion to
make some observations on that system
of Prophecy, which existed in its perfect
form among the Jews alone, and was in-

* Preached in Advent.



38 ON THE PREACHING OF JOHN.

corporated, indeed, with every rite and
ceremony of that singular people. We
are not, however, to suppose, that no
rays of this benevolent light were scat-
tered over the Gentile world, and that,
amidst the deep darkness which hung
over the nations, there were not prophe-
tic intimations of something better to
arrive. In this view, as incomplete in
themselves, and as ready to give way
to some system of greater perfection,
the religious tenets, both of the Jews
and of the Gentiles, are principally to be
contemplated. The former originated
immediately from divine inspiration, and
were formed into a regular and harmo-
nious scheme, the latter were the rude
productions of human nature left to it-
self, or enlightened only by short and
partial glimpses of divine truth, yet
both were the schools in which the in-
fancy of the world was reared, in both



ON THE PREACHING OF JOHN. 39

the altar, the priest, and the sacrifice,
pointed to loftier views, which were then
but inadequately conceived ; and not only
in the raptures of prophecy, but in the
contemplations of uninspired wisdom,
every voice was listened to which seemed
to proclaim the approach of one mighty
to instruct and to save.

It is from this circumstance that, in the
tone of ancient wisdom, we frequently dis-
cover a character of thought infinitely su-
perior to much of what has been termed
philosophy, in the present age. The wisest
men of antiquity felt the darkness which
surrounded them, and their own inability
to explore it ; yet they reposed with hum-
ble hope on that Divine Providence which
had not left itself without a witness, and
looked forward to that hour when the
" day should dawn, and the day-star arise
" in their hearts." In this glorious expec-
tation, they were even inclined for the



4O ON THE PREACHING OF JOHN.

time to reverence the superstitions of their
age, and to believe that, amidst all their
seeming absurdities, they yet involved
some secret links of communication with
Heaven.- How different, alas ! the dis-
position of those who have, in our time,
claimed to be the lights of the world !
They have too often vainly imagined that
their own unassisted powers were equal
to discover the secrets of divine wis-
dom, and have presumptuously reject-
ed those intimations from above, which
sought to guide them into " the way of
" the Lord." Instead of being willing to
trace the footsteps of a heavenly instruc-
tor, amidst the religious institutions in
which their infancy was reared, they have
set themselves at once in opposition to
every form of established faith, and with-
out even the hope of raising any thing in
their room, have attempted to level with



ON THE PREACHING OF JOHN. <4l

the ground the most venerable fabrics of
Religion !

The Evangelist now proceeds to make
us acquainted with that holy teacher,
whom the Prophets had foretold as about
toprecedethe Messiah.' "John," sayshe,
" did baptize in the wilderness, and preach
" the baptism of repentance, for theremis-
" sion of sins. And there went out unto
" him all the land of Judea, and they of Je-
" rusalem, and were all baptized of him in
" the river Jordan, confessing their sins,
" And John was clothed with camel's hair,
" and with a girdle of skin about his loins,
" and he did eat locusts and wild honey :
" and preached, saying, There cometh one
" mightier than I, after me, the latchet
" of whose shoes I am not worthy to
" stoop down and unloose. I indeed
" have baptized you with water, but he
" shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost."

The religion of the Jews had, for a



42 ON THE PREACHING OF JOHN.

long time, degenerated into the mere ob-
servance of rites and ceremonies, and was,
in this view, almost as little able as the
heathen superstitions themselves to satisfy
the longing desires of the human heart.
One of the constant endeavours of the
inspired Prophets had been, to guard
their religious system against this ten-
dency to degenerate ; but when that order
of men had ceased, both the priests and
the people seem equally to have lost sight
of the whole spirit of their creed. A cor-
ruption of this nature might indeed go on
for a length of time : men might be pleased
with the delusion that they could keep
their sins, if they would only perform some
stated rites of expiation ; but when such a
notion had been long prevalent, the state
of public manners must at last have become
so offensively vicious, and conscience must
all the while have been so uneasy under
the cheat, that it is not surprising, when



ON THE PREACHING OF JOHN. 4S

a better and truer view was presented,
it should have been hailed with the ut-
most eagerness, and almost looked upon
as a discovery of something quite unheard
of and unknown.

" John preached the baptism of repent-
" ance, for the remission of sins," a doc-
trine, it would seem, sufficiently simple
and obvious, yet there was something
in it so unlike the religious instruction
of that age, that it appears to have imme-
diately excited a deep interest in the Jew-
ish people ; of a similar kind, perhaps,
with that eagerness with which the first
preaching of the Protestant Reformation
was received, when the corruptions of
the Church of Rome had reached their
height. After the dark and unsatisfactory
services which had constituted the whole
circle of their religious duties, it must
have been delightful to them to come
once more into open day, and to be
taught the simple truths of pure de-



44 ON THE PREACHING OF JOHN.

votion. They were now told to raise
their eyes above the mere ritual of wor-
ship, and to fix them on that Father of
Mercies, who is ever accessible to the
humble and penitent. Upon his eternal
clemency, not on " the blood of bulls or
" of goats," they were now invited to fix
their hopes ; and, abandoning the sins
which polluted them, to offer up their
hearts to him as " true and living sacri-
fices."

It was impossible that any more suit-
able preparation could have been, at that
time, made for leading the minds of men
into the illumination of the Gospel and
the efficacy of this method of instruction,
however little it may be attended to, still,
my brethren, remains the same. The
first step to a true sense of the import-
ance of Christianity, is to feel the value of
purity and holiness, and to throw off those
delusions of the world, which vitiate the
soundness of our hearts. Whenever we



ON THE PREACHING OF JOHN. 45

can be brought to confess our sins, an<i to
apply for the baptism of repentance, then,
and then only, are we prepared to recog-
nise the approaching Saviour, and to
open our souls to that greater baptism,
which conveys to them the influences of
the Spirit of God.

It would be well, indeed, if both the
preachers and the hearers of the Gospel
were to keep steadily in mind the nature
of that doctrine which was preached
by John, when he came " to make
straight the paths of the Lord." He did
not teach that the forms and observances
of any particular sect of religion could
possibly effect that regeneration of the
human heart, by which it may be ren-
dered acceptable to its Maker. Neither
did he teach his disciples that the repent-
ance, which he preached, was effected
by any sudden impulse of conversion, or
could be manifested by any other signs than



46 ON THE PHKACHINGOF JOHN.

the plain testimony of an upright life.*
No doctrine, in truth, could be more re-
mote either from bigotry or enthusiasm.
To all men his language was the same,
" Bring forth fruits meet for repentance,"
To the proud doctors of the law, he said,
" Think not to say within yourselves, we
" have Abraham to our father. "-^-To
the multitude, who are ever prone to
extravagant illusions, he taught only the
simplest and most practical doctrines-
When in the agitation of their troubled
consciences, they asked him, " What shall
" we do then ?" he took occasion to in-
struct them in their duty, not in mysticism
or experiences. " He answered, and said
" unto them, (as we are informed by St
" Luke), He that hath two coats, let him
" impart to him that hath none ; and he
" that hath meat, let him do likewise,
" Then came also the publicans to be bap-
" tized, and said unto him, Master, what



ON THE PREACHING OF JOHN. 47

" shall we do ? And he said unto them,
" Exact no more than that which is ap-
" pointed you. And the soldiers likewise
" demanded of him, say ing, And what shall
" we do ? And he said unto them, Do vio-
" lenceto no man, neither accuse any false-
" ly, and be content with your wages."
If these words had been written with the
express design of affording a contrast to
that stupid and degrading fanaticism, with
which the multitude have so often been
misled, by men who look upon them-
selves as infinitely more Evangelical, I
suppose, than he who was sent as a mes-
senger before the Lord, " to prepare
" his way before him," they could not
have been rendered more striking and ap*
propriate.

Did the Baptist then, my brethren,
teach his followers, that, by their own
exertions alone, they could obtain the
remission of sins, and the salvation of



48 ON TftE PREACHING OF JOHtf,

their souls ? No ; but he taught them
that their own practical efforts of amend-
ment and of righteousness were all that
depended upon them, that to these it
was their business to direct their aim,
and that no methods of mercv would ever

/

be unfolded to mankind which would su-
persede the toils and the honours of vir-
tue. He taught them that, before the
hopes or assistance of Heaven could be
afforded them, they must themselves en-
deavour to perform their duty, that they
only who sought to " bring forth fruits
" meet for repentance" were prepared to
receive the author of their salvation, and
that those hearts alone, which had been
purified in the waters of penitence, could
hope to glow with the fire of the Holy
Ghost.

It is in this manner that, in the very
opening of the Gospel, the great Preacher
of repentance and of righteousness guard-


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