Page images

4 i

114. For the sake of brevity, I will only quote one passage from Mr. Burgh, which contains the sum of the whole:

“Why are they unintelligible? Why, but because the great canon of interpretation, derived from the use and intent of all prophecy, has been lost sight of; that that prophecy--which before fulfilment did not serve the purpose of warning to the believer, and about which, on the supposition of its having been fulfilled, there remains difficulty, uncertainty, and doubt-has not yet been fulfilled.”

Now, since the warning beforehand is the same on every hypothesis, it is the second clause alone in which the objection resides. And this admits of a very full and conclusive answer.

1. First, the maxim, as broadly laid down in the places referred to above, is palpably false. There are many prophecies, the fulfilment of which, though real, is denied both by Jews and Infidels ; as all those which relate to the first advent of our blessed Lord. The clearness asserted must, at least, be confined to sincere and pious Christians. Hardened prejudice or unbelief may be blind to the plainest truths.

2. Secondly, even when thus limited, the assertion is untrue. There are thousands of sincere, but ignorant Christians, who are too little acquainted with the facts of history and the state of the world to have any clear assurance about many fulfilled prophecies : and there are Christians, both pious and intelligent, whose acquaintance with the prophecies themselves is very slight, and who can therefore have no clear knowledge which of them are fulfilled.

3. Further, there are predictions, the right application of which depends on a critical exactness in the translation, as 2 Sam. xxiii. 7. Now upon such passages no Christian can form a certain judgment, whether they

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

have been accomplished or not, unless he be versed in the original language, or, at least, able to avail himself of the labours of others more learned than himself.

The clearness asserted, then, can only apply to the case of sincere Christians, of a teachable spirit, of competent information and scriptural knowledge, and who are either critics themselves, or have a sound judgment to decide upon the researches of others. But is it true, even within these limits ? Both reason and Scripture decide that it is not.

4. This may be shown, first, on grounds of reason. The obscurity of unfulfilled prophecy arises from twe main causes-difficulties of grammar, phrase, style, or connexion; and the omission of circumstantial details, not given in the prediction. The second of these is removed by the fulfilment, when that has been clearly ascertained; but the other source of obscurity remains undiminished. And besides, in many cases, the fulfilment itself may give rise to fresh difficulties; first, to ascertain the event itself, since different events may have a close resemblance to each other; next, to catch the true moral features of the history, which are commonly the most prominent in the prediction; and, thirdly, to explain minuter parts of the prophecy, which may very possibly be obscure, even when the general reference is clear and certain. We cannot therefore assume, from any principle of reason, that every fulfilled prophecy must be clearer than those which are unfulfilled. For anything we can tell, some of them may even become more difficult than before, since several fresh sources of obscurity have been introduced, and only one has been removed. Nay, this will certainly be the case, if one class of them only are given as a sign to the unbeliever, and others are designed exclusively for the Church, to exercise the wisdom and humility of her members, and unfold the deeper mysteries of Divine Providence.

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

5. Next, the Scriptures themselves conclusively refute the assertion. The prophecies which have evidently been fulfilled, and which, nevertheless, are still involved in uncertainty and doubt, are so many and various, that the chief difficulty is to compress them within a narrow compass.

(1). Matt. ii. 15. Fulfilled, and commonly applied to our Lord's return from Egypt. Yet a learned professor of our own days maintains that it has no such reference, and that it was fulfilled by the flight into Egypt, and by a succession of events previous to that flight, from the time of the Exodus.

(2). Matt. ii. 23. Fulfilled, yet no point has been more disputed among divines than the passage or passages referred to, and the exact nature of the fulfilment.

(3). Matt. iv. 15, 16. Here we learn, from inspired authority, that Isaiah ix. 1, 2, is fulfilled. Yet, by consulting Mede, pp. 101, 457, we shall find that the views most diverse have been taken-of its exact meaning and proper application.

(4). Matt. xi. 14. The prophecy in Mal. iv. fulfilled, by our Lord's own testimony, in the Baptist ; but in what sense, or to what extent, or whether exclusive of a personal coming of Elijah, is even still disputed in the Church.

(5). Matt. xii. 40. There are five or six opinions upon this fulfilled prophecy, two or three modes of reckoning the time, and three different expositions of " the heart of the earth."

(6). Matt. xvi. 16, 17. Our Lord's character as the Messiah was already confirmed by the fulfilment of many prophecies. Yet our Saviour does not view the confession of Peter as the result of their clearness, but as the proof of God's special grace to that Apostle. The last verse of the chapter is another instance.

(7). Matt. xxi. 23. A fulfilled prophecy, of which at

[ocr errors]

least three applications have been made to the visible Church-to true believers—and to the British nation. The fanciful nature of this last does not affect the argument.

(8). Matt. xxiv. 14. Fulfilled, or fulfilling; but whether before the fall of Jerusalem, or at present, or in both periods, is still a subject of frequent debate.

(9). Matt. xxvii. 9, 10. The passage, Zech, xi. 7-14, is thus plainly fulfilled. But its obscurity is almost insuperable, and far greater than that of many unfulfilled prophecies.

(10). Luke ii. 35. This has clearly been fulfilled; yet no less a writer than St. Hilary applies it to the fiery trial of the Virgin in the day of judgment.

(11). Luke xii. 49. Fulfilled, since the fire was already kindled; but three or four different meanings have been assigned to it.

(12). Luke xiii. 32, 33. The same. Three or four varieties of opinion still-whether literal days, or years, or indefinite; and, if definite, how to be reckoned.

(13). John vi. 14. Even the Capernaites bear witness that Deut. xv. 15-18 is fulfilled in the person of our Lord; the same is confirmed by the inquirers, John vii. 40; by St. Peter, Acts iii. 22, 24, 26; and St. Stephen, Acts vii. 35, 37. Yet Mr. Mac Causland, one of the Futurists, maintains that Elijah, and not our Lord, fulfils the prophecy.

(14). John vii. 41, 42, 52. Two prophecies, Isa. ix. 1, 2, and Micah. v. 2, were already fulfilled in our Lord. Yet after this fulfilment, those who followed Mr Burgh's advice, by searching Scripture without searching history, drew an imaginary proof from one of these prophecies that neither had been fulfilled.

(15). John xii. 12-16. No instance can be clearer than this; the prophecy was known to the disciples short and simple the facts before their eyes, yet they understood not at the first." The short interval after which they understood does not affect the conclusion: It was the ligh tof fresh facts. distinct from the fulfilment, which removed the veil from their

eyes. (16). John xvi. 16. Fulfilled, and yet only a few years ago the subject of controversy, with no less than four different opinions. (See Scott in loco, Invest. i. p. 426, ii. p. 259, iv. p. 54).

The theories of the writers with whom we are arguing forbid all reference to the Apocalypse, and leave us but a narrow field of choice in the Epistles; however, we have one clear instance, and perhaps more might be found.

(17). 2 Thess. ii. 6, 7. The letting power has been fulfilled, whether we suppose it, with the Fathers and Protestant writers, taken away centuries ago ; or,

with the Futurists, still in action. But there are five or six views of the exact meaning—the Roman imperial power, the coercion of that empire, the Holy Spirit, the civil magistracy of Europe, and the episcopal succession.

It is needless to prolong this list by examples from the Old Testament, where, I believe, the instances are still more numerous. The total emptiness of this first objection of the Futurists, when tested by the word of God, is now abundantly clear.

Finally, no class of writers more uniformly sin against this axiom of their own framing than the Futurists tắemselves. It is singular to observe, that whatever fragment of Daniel, or the Apocalypse, or our Lord's prophecies, any one of them admits to be fulfilled, he is contradicted by the others. To avoid prolixity, I shall here adduce only three or four instances ; but the fact has no exception.

First, the head of gold, Mr. Burgh maintains, is the

« PreviousContinue »