« PreviousContinue »
A review of the Old Testament predictions.
In taking a consecutive review of scripture prophecy, for the purpose of ascertaining its doctrinal and its practical design, we shall find it necessary to begin with the history of the original offence, and the prophetical denunciation of the consequent punishment.
It is generally believed that the original offence was an object of certain anticipation to the Deity; and from the familiarity with which such an anticipation is spoken of by many orthodox divines, and the confidence with which the fact is asserted in many religious circles, one would be ready to suppose that the certain anticipation of the original offence by the Deity, must be recorded in the Bible in the most conspicuous characters, and stated in the most direct and formal and unequivocal terms. man who has the curiosity to inquire into that very interesting particular, and the resolution to demand some direct and satisfactory evidence, is astonished at the total silence of the holy Scriptures, as to any anticipation of the fall of man by the Deity. He finds neither history nor implication nor allusion, however distant or indirect, to ground such an assumption upon : but, on the contrary, he finds that the most ample and competent provision was made for an opposite issue, that the most adequate means were provided to preserve the first human pair in the possession of that innocence and happiness in which they had been created.
Let me now ask my reader in what part of the sacred volume he will find any certain prediction of the original offence? The earliest prediction contained in the Bible is that important premonition which God delivered to Adam. “But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou
shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Gen. ii. 17. This premonition is evidently founded upon the knowledge of Adam's peccable condition, and it is as evidently delivered for the purpose of preserving him from touching the forbidden tree; and if it had not been possible for the man to abstain from the evil against which he had been premonished, such a premonition could not have been compatible with either wisdom or justice in the character of the Divine Being. In this notable passage of holy writ we have a conditional anticipation of the original offence, but we have no certain anticipation of that event: on the contrary, the possibility of Adam's maintaining his integrity is as clearly implied as the possibility of his fall: and if the existence of opposite possibilities does not demonstrate the contingency of the issue, I should be glad to know in what contingency can possibly consist.
The next prediction that we meet with in the sacred volume, is contained in the original promise of the Saviour. “ I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed : it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Gen. iii. 15. Now my reader must be very well aware, that the foregoing passage of holy writ is neither a quotation from the book of eternal fate, nor the prognostication of an infinite prescience; he must perceive at once, that it recognises the agency of God in the events which are predicted, and contains an open and unsophisticated declaration of the purpose of the Almighty to bestow a deliverer upon the human race, and to raise up a male descendant from the woman who would avenge his mother on the author of her fall. In this case, as well as in the former, we have a distinct implication of the possibility of the fall ; but of the certain anticipation of that event by the Deity, there is not a single particle of evidence either in the foregoing scripture, or in any other part of the sacred volume.
I am indeed aware, that there are certain phrases and allusions contained in the Gospels, and in the writings of the apostles, which relate to the original purposes of God in the redemption of the world, and which have been generally construed, by the advocates of the doctrine of prescience, so as to appear to favour their own peculiar
notions. The phrases and allusions of which I now speak are such as the following: Kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Matt. xiii. 35. “ Kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world.” Matt. xxv. 34. « The blood shed from the foundation of the world.” Luke xi. 50. “ Chosen in him before the foundation of the world.” Eph. i. 4. “ Fore-ordained before the foundation of the world.” 1 Pet. i. 20. “ Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Rey, iji. 8. Names not written from the foundation of the world." Rev. xvii. 8.
The difficulty in understanding the relative phrases of from and before, which are contained in the foregoing scripture quotations, lies entirely in finding out the antecedents to which they respectively relate, It is scarcely necessary to remind my reader that we have no event recorded in the Bible antecedent to that of the creation of the world ; that the phrase“ foundation of the world” cannot be understood in any other than a chronological sense, and that under such an acceptation it must be considered as being synonymous with the “ creation of the world.”
When the purposes of God, in the redemption of the world, are ascribed to an origin that is compared in its antiquity with that of the creation itself, our recollection adverts at once to the original promise of a deliverer, which was made to the mother of mankind, and made, it is highly probable, before the sun had performed his earliest annual round;-made in the chronological foundation of the world. The relative therefore in the New Testament, and the antecedent in the Old, present a perfect synchronism, as well as a perfect harmony of truth and meaning.
With respect to the phrase, “ Before the foundation of the world,” I need only to remind my reader that even the advocates of the notion of eternal prescience, always understand the allusion to be precisely the same as that which is contained in the phrase, " From the foundation of the world,” which is indeed a tacit acknowledgment, that the phrases are hyperbolical, or at all events, that the word before does not in reality imply a priority of occurrence.
I would also suggest that the construction which we have now given to the two phrases in question, is the
only rendering that will at all agree, either with the facts of the Mosaic history, or with the analogy of religious truth, or with the sober dictates of the human understanding. Every person that would construe those words so as to imply the doctrine of eternal prescience, must build a system of theology upon facts which are not recorded in the sacred volume, he must outrage every principle of piety and moral duty which is contained in the Bible, and he must be guilty of inverting the order which is every where conspicuous in the works and ways of God, and which is equally characteristic of the thinkings and actings of men : he must place the effect before the cause both in the order of time and in the order of nature; he must make the redemption of the world to precede its creation, and he must believe the existence of the world to be the consequence of its redemption, and not the redemption of the world a consequence of its existence.
The historical and logical evidence of the case are decisive, and they flatly contradict the theory of eternal prescience: and if we were to examine the philological evidence, it would, I have no doubt, prove to be equally decisive, and equally hostile to the theory of prescience. It would appear from Schrevelius and other lexicographers, that apìv has sometimes an hyperbolical meaning. The word is often employed as an elegant hyperbole, like the English word ere, which appears to express a priority of occurrence, but which sometimes implies nothing more than a subsequence of occurrence bordering upon instantaneousness. And hence we read that, “ The lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces, ere ever they came near at the bottom of the den.” Dan. vi. 24. The words would appear to express, that the men were actually devoured before they even came within the grasp of the lions; but the real intention of the sacred historian is to give his readers an idea of the eagerness of the lions to devour them, and the suddenness of their destruction ; which, to the excited imaginations of the spectators, would appear to be more than instantaneous.
I am aware that some biblical critics have been of opinion, that KOSMOS in the New Testament is sometimes applied to the Jewish polity, and that therefore, the phrase, the foundation of the world, in some of the passages
already adduced, if not in all of them, signifies the esta blishment of the Jewish polity. But I do not conceive this ground to be tenable, and that for the following reasons : "I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world :” and again,“ Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world :” and again, “ The blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zacharias ;” cannot possibly be reconciled with the notion, that the foundation of the world means the foundation of the Jewish polity: and I am well satisfied, that if the other allusions were but examined attentively, they would be found to be equally incompatible with such an interpretation of the phrase.
The prediction of the deluge is the next in historical order, and reads as follows : “ And behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh wherein is the breath of life from under heaven, and
every thing that is in the earth shall die.” Gen vi. 17. Here we have an explicit declaration of the purpose of God to destroy the world by a flood : and it must be confessed, that if the Almighty had actually formed such a purpose, he could not possibly be ignorant of his having formed such a purpose, because the formation and the knowledge of his own purposes must be uniformly and absolutely inseparable. But there is not a particle of eternal prescience in the foregoing denunciation.
The prophecy which will now claim our particular attention, is that which is associated with the call of Abraham, and which contains a prediction of Abraham's future greatness and that of his posterity. “ Now the Lord said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Gen. xii. 1-3. the Lord said unto Abram, Lift up now thine eyes, and look upon the place where thou art, northward and southward, and eastward and westward ; for, all the land which