« AnteriorContinuar »
3. The inspiration of the New Testament may be inferred from the prophecies contained in it.
The argument from prophecy is plain and simple. We know the past by memory ; the present by sensation and consciousness; and the future only by conjecture. From causes indeed which already exist and operate, we may infer the production of their usual effects ; and, in some instances, the probability, that other men will act in a particular manner, may be so great as to justify us in taking very important steps in reference to their expected conduct. If we except, however, the conclusions founded on the laws of nature, which will operate in the same way a thousand years hence as at present, our ideas of futurity are liable to be contradicted by facts, and for the most part are the combinations of fancy. Of events in particular, which shall take place many years or ages after our death, and which, in their contrivance and execution, shall depend on a thousand causes unknown to us, and connected with the free agency of men, it is impossible to form any conception. They are known to Him alone, who beholds at a single glance the past, the present, and the future. If any person then utter a prediction, which afterwards is punctually fulfilled, it is manifest that he must have acquired the knowledge of futurity from divine revelation. The consequence is undeniable, that a book, containing unequivocal prophecies, should be considered, not as a work of human ingenuity and foresight, but as the word of that omniscient Being, who declares the end from the beginning.
benefit of the writings of the former ; but how striking is the difference between the books of the New Testament, and the epistles of Clement and Ignatius, or any other work of the primitive fathers ! In the epistle of Clement, there are many excellent advices against pride, and exhortations to unity and other christian duties; and in the genuine epistles of Ignatius, with the exception of the interpolations, there are scriptural sentiments and animated expressions of piety, particularly, I remember, in his epistle to the Romans: but how much do they fall short of the apostolic wri. tings, in the depth of the matter, the closeness of the reasoning, the air of authority, conjoined with simplicity, which we find in the latter? The reading of a few sentences of each will demonstrate the superiority of those which we call inspired. And whence this superiority could arise but from inspiration, it is impossible to conceive. Those fathers were not less learned than the apostles ; nor do they appear to have been at all inferior in natural talents. We are certain that Clement, and it is not improbable that Ignatius, was their companion and disciple ; and besides, as I have already observed, they had the apostolic writings as a model, whereas the apostles themselves were originals. Phil. iv. 3.
That there are predictions in the New Testament, which have been fulfilled, and are at present fulfilling in the world, nothing but gross ignorance, or unblushing impudence, will prompt any person to deny. The prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem was delivered about forty years, and recorded about thirty, prior to that event; is expressed in the plainest language; and embraces a minute detail of particulars. How exactly it was accomplished we learn from Josephus, the Jewish historian, who was not aware, when relating the ruin of his country, that he was employed by providence, to furnish an illustrious proof of the truth of the gospel, and of the divine character of Christ. Signs, portending the destruction of the devoted city, appeared in heaven above, and on the earth beneath; the armies of Rome drew near to beziege it; their idolatrous standards, fitly, styled “the abomination of desolation,” were displayed in the sight of its inhabitants; the walls of the temple were thrown down, and not a single stone was left upon another; and the ruins of Jerusalem exhibited an awful monument of the divine vengeance, and with expressive silence ad
monished the spectators to beware of unbelief and disobedience. I shall not, however, insist on this, prediction, though it furnish one of the plainest and most conclusive arguments, in support of the christian religion. The suspicion, that it was written after the event, is contradicted by the unanimous voice of all antiquity, assuring us, that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, were published while Jerusalem was standing ; and that only the gospel of John, in which, it is remarkable, that the prediction is not inserted, was written after its fall. I shall pass over, likewise, the prophecies of Christ concerning his own death and resurrection, and shall confine the attention of the reader to those which respect, first, the
jection of the Jews and the call. ing of the Gentiles; and, secondly, the antichristian church and its blasphemous head.
The Jews had long been the peculiar people of God; and though they were now greatly degenerated, yet the loss of their honours and privileges, which had continued during many ages, and amidst multiplied provocations, was an event of such a nature, as a Jew would not have naturally foreboded, and no human sagacity could have foreseen. It was necessarily implied in their rejection, that they should be driven out of the land, which was given to their fathers for an inheritance; and that the temple should be destroyed, in which only the solemn rites of their religion could be legally performed. Had they been permitted to remain in the peaceable possession of Judea, and to carry on the services of the ceremonial law, there would have been no evidence, no visible proof, that they had ceased to be the favourites of Heaven. During the time of our Saviour's ministry, the Jews were at peace with the Romans, and there was not the least probability, that a war would arise between them. On the supposition of hostilities, the issue of the contest could not be certainly foreknown ; or, if from the superior power of the Romans, it might have been reasonably conjectured, that they would ultimately be victorious, no man could have foretold, nor hardly have suspected, that they would demolish the capital city, and disperse the vanquished nation through the various provinces of the empire. It was not usual for the Romans to treat a conquered people in this manner; but rather to reserve them as a monument of the triumph of their arms. Yet our Lord, without having any probable ground to go upon, predicted, in the most explicit terms, that the Jews should, in a short time, be cast off, and that their rejection should be accompanied with the dreadful calamities of desolation and captivity.* The facts which prove the exact accomplishment of the prediction, are so well known, that it is unnecessary to lay them before the reader; and the truth of it is manifest at this day, from the state of Jerusalem, which is trodden down by the Gentiles, and from the despised and afflicted condition of the wretched remains of the nation, which are scattered over the face of the whole earth.
But while God rejected one people, he purposed to choose another, and to transfer to it the privileges of the former. In the room of the children of the kingdom who were cast into outer darkness," a state of ignorance and misery,“ there should come many from the east and west, and sit down with
Matt. xxi. 41-43. Mark xiii. 1, 2. Luke xxi. 24.
Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven."*
As the conversion of the Gentiles was an idea, which would not naturally have occurred to a Jew, all whose prejudices were in opposition to it, so it was an event, than which we can scarcely conceive one more unlikely ever to take place. I have already had occasion slightly to mention the obstacles to the progress of the christian religion. Its doctrines were perfectly new, contrary to the dogmas of the schools and the articles of popular belief, many of them mysterious, and the most of them, in the opinion of corrupt reason, absurd. The publishers were the 'lowest of the Jews, on whom the haughty Romans and the philosophical Greeks looked down with sovereign contempt. Its author was a private man, of low rank and no education, who had lived in poverty, and died in disgrace. It had been rejected by his countrymen to whom it was first presented, though it bare a close affinity to their own religion, and professed to be the end and completion of it; and would the Gen. tiles embrace it, to whom it must seem a barbarous system of unintelligible notions, and whose ancient, magnificent, established religions it came to overthrow ? Such was the unfavourable aspect, under which our Lord knew that his gospel would make its first appearance to the world. Never were so many circumstances combined against the success of any undertaking ; never was human foresight so fully justified, as in the present case it would have been, in predicting an entire failure. Our Lord, however, hesitated not to foretel a very different result, namely, that his gospel should meet with a cor
* Matt. viii, 11, 12