« PreviousContinue »
The general ambiguity of the prophetic style, and the general silence of
scripture prophecy on the subject of names, dates, and places, altogether inconsistent with the popular notion of an unoriginated, infinite, and eternal prescience.
If all future events be the objects of a certain and infallible prescience, and if the Deity does actually know quite as much of every occurrence before it takes place, as he will know after the issue has transpired, why might not the style of scripture prophecy have been as intelligible as that of scripture history ? and why might not the predictions of future events have been as circumstantial and elaborate as the history of past times ?
The ambiguity of the style of scripture prophecy is very obviously compatible with the scripture doctrine of prophecy, and the scripture doctrine of prescience; but it can never be reconciled with the notion of an inaugmentable knowledge.
It would require a prophecy as circumstantial and elaborate as real history, to afford any legitimate evidence of an infinite prescience, or an inaugmentable knowledge, and every man must perceive at once, if he would but look the question in the face, that the only adequate evidence of such a knowledge would be the production of a history of future ages, as circumstantial, as accurate, and as elaborate as any that could be written of the past, although it should be the work of that Being to whom all hearts are open. Is christian faith to be built upon a foundation which is composed partly of evidence and partly of presumption ? Must not the foundation of the evidence be of as large an area as the base of the conviction which is to rest upon it? Must not evidence be always paramount to conviction ? By what name do people usually designate a conviction which ex
ceeds the bounds of the evidence by which it is supported ? Superstition! what, have I detected thee at last?
“ Of forests, and enchantments drear,
Where more is meant than meets the ear."-MIL. Pen.
I ask, if the rising up of pseudo-prophets, false christs, antichrist, the man of sin, the millenium, and the end of the world, be the objects of an infallible and inaugmentable prescience, what satisfactory reason can be given for the ambiguity of the terms in which those events have been predicted? Upon the assumption of the notion of an inaugmentable knowledge in the Deity, what solid reason can be assigned, why the christian church should not have been supplied with every means of detecting and exposing every impostor and deceiver that may rise up in the world to the end of time? How are we to account for the general silence of scripture prophecy upon names, dates, and countries ? And let me ask my reader, why the Deity should withhold any part of his knowledge from us, upon points in which we are so deeply interested ? points in which our happiness and misery are so deeply involved_so eternally involved ? I know that when the fact has been once assumed, that God does withhold some part of his knowledge concerning the issue of life, I shall be gravely told, that it is impious to reason from fact to right, because it is to arraign the Almighty God: but I demand of them a proof of the fact; and if the fact cannot be supported, every consequence which men have deduced from it must of necessity fall to the ground.
As it is not likely that any objector will ever be so prodigal of his time and his strength, as to go about to prove the fact of God's keeping back any part of his knowledge as to the final and eternal issue of human life; it is likely I shall now be told, that such a circumstantial and historical prediction of future events would not be compatible with human freedom. But let me only ask my reader, how the revelation of a certainty can be more inconsistent with human freedom than the certainty which it reveals? and how the disclosure of the cognitions of an eternal prescience can be more hostile to the moral government of the world than the cognitions which it brings to light? If the certain prescience of all moral actions, and the final
and eternal issue of human life, be compatible with the moral government of the world, then the disclosure of the objects of that prescience must be equally compatible; for it is not possible for the disclosure of them to alter any single issue: and therefore all the talk about a premonition altering an issue which is eternally and infallibly certain, although it be only idle in argument, it is in fact, an implicit acknowledgment that the doctrine of eternal prescience cannot be true.
It is indeed quite amusing to hear the advocates of such a notion as that of eternal prescience, expressing their tender solicitudes about the prerogatives of moral freedom, and the credit of the moral government of the world. Future events, if they be in reality the objects of a certain and inaugmentable prescience, they could not be rendered a whit more certain by being distinctly and historically pre
icted, than they would have been without any such prediction; neither would it be in the power of such a prediction to render them in any degree precarious.
An objector may possibly argue, that such a circumstantial and historical prediction of future events would not be requisite for an adequate trial of human integrity; and that a revelation of the principles of good and evil, and a faithful exhibition of their practical phenomena, are quite sufficient for the purposes of a moral and righteous government of the world. I answer, that such a revelation would indeed answer the purposes of a moral and righteous government of the world; but the question is, would such a revelation
prove the doctrine of eternal prescience? Would it demonstrate the existence of an inaugmentable knowledge in the Deity, in relation to all future events? And I will farther ask, whether it would not absolutely require, even to say the very least of it, a history of the future, as circumstantial and consecutive as any part of the sacred history itself, to demonstrate, by prophecy, the existence of an eternal prescience?
What object could the Holy Spirit have possibly had in view, in predicting the rising up of pseudo-prophets, false christs, antichrists, and the man of sin, excepting that of preserving the followers of Christ from falling into their snares; and that of restraining worldly and wicked men from assuming those characters and practising those impo
sitions ? Every other motive to which such predictions could be attributed, would be utterly unworthy the character of the Deity, and would be as incapable of answering any salutary purpose in the moral government of the world. I am quite certain that no person could justify the conduct of the Divine Being, if he omitted the use of any means of salvation which might be compatible with human freedom, that is to say, any practicable means, in effecting the salvation of his creatures; and I am quite as certain, that every reason that would go to reconcile the existence of an eternal prescience with the liberty of moral actions, would go exactly as far in reconciling the entire revelation of that eternal prescience with the moral government of the world. Let the objector try the argument and abide by the issue.
The predictions which are contained in the Scriptures of false prophets and impostors, clearly evince the knowledge which the Deity possesses of the human heart and the human character. The Redeemer of the world knew very well that many deceivers had already appeared, that they had pretended to be the long-expected Messiah, and had led away disciples after them : he was well acquainted also with the popular expectation of the Jewish people on that subject: he knew likewise that a false Christ would be much more to their liking than the true Messiah : he was also well aware that designing and unprincipled men would easily perceive, and eagerly catch hold of this popular feeling, to serve the purposes of their ambitious and wicked designs; and that the Jewish people would be as eager to catch hold of such delusions, to gratify their carnal wishes, and to justify their conduct in rejecting and crucifying the Lord of glory. And hence Jesus said, “I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive." John v. 43. But if the Lord had certainly foreknown such impostors by name, and had been preacquainted with their personal history, why did he not forewarn his disciples and the world of such impostors, by a description of their persons, and by giving their names, and places of abode, and the precise times in which they would appear? It is evident, therefore, from the silence of our Lord on these particular poiņts, that his prescience was not personal, bụt was only a
wise judgment and foresight, founded upon a knowledge of the times in which he spoke, of the character and heart of men in general, and in particular, of a complete 'knowledge of the Jewish people. If the Lord had actually foreknown the names, and the persons, and the history of all the false christs and pseudo-prophets which will ever arise in the world, to the end of time, why did he not identify any single individual of those impostors? He indeed says,
• Take heed that no man deceive you ; for many shall come in my name, and say, I am Christ, and shall deceive many.” Matt. xxiv. 4, 5. “ And there shall arise false christs and false prophets, and shall shew great wonders and signs.” ver. 24. “ False christs and false prophets shall arise, and shall shew signs and wonders to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.” Mark xiii. 22. And why, it
may be asked, would it not be possible to seduce the elect? "I answer, because the members of the christian church, like the ancient Israelites, would be too well acquainted with the word and ways of God to fall into the snares of the wicked one, unless their hearts should first apostatize from God. See Deut. xiii. 1.
For what reason is the subject of antichrist left under so much obscurity in the pages of scripture prophecy? If it be the object of a certain and eternal prescience, object of a personal prediction, why has not the person of antichrist been clearly identified, and the time and the country in which he will appear been distinctly pointed out? 'If it had indeed been a personal prediction, we should have had the name, and the country, and the time of his appearing, as clearly identified as those of Cyrus. If antichrist had been an object of a chronological prescience, we should have had the interval between the time of the prediction and that of his appearance as distinctly stated as the duration of the sojourn in Egypt, or that of the captivity in Babylon. Therefore the prediction has been applied to Mahomet, to the Pope of Rome, and to many other persons; and to most of them, perhaps, with strict propriety
It is the unfounded assumption, that such predictions are personal, which has betrayed the writers on prophecy in general, into such wild, and extravagant, and contra