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A review of New Testament prophecy.
THOSE predictions which are founded upon the Divine kñowledge of the human heart, and those that are given from a knowledge of particular characters, form a very interesting and curious part of scripture prophecy, and require a careful and patient investigation. And I apprehend that the investigation, if conducted impartially, must terminate in a full conviction, that the predictions of contingent events must be contingent in their fulfilment; and that very prediction, which will of necessity involve the morality of an action, must in the same degree be uncertain in its ultimate issue.
The case of Judas is one that will claim our particular attention. That the character of Judas Iscariot must have been known to our Lord from the beginning, is a point which no person can doubt, that believes in the Divinity of the Son of God, and in his perfect knowledge of every human heart. And that there was something extraordinary in the character of Judas from the beginning is clearly and repeatedly intimated. “ This he said, not that he cared for the poor,
but because he was a thief, and had the bag.' John xii. 6. “ There be some of you which believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should (would) betray him." John vi. 64. It may indeed be asked, if the Lord knew the character and practice of Judas, could he not have exposed his wickedness, and thereby have expelled him from his community? I answer, it is very evident Judas was so desperate a character, that he would not have brooked a disclosure of his wickedness; so that an exposure might have endangered the person of our Lord and those of his dis
ciples, it might have been inimical to the interests of the infant cause of Christ, and would have been the most unlikely means to bring such a character as Judas to repentance. Judas had, no doubt, many a tender and piercing look, many a gracious appeal to his better feelings; but it is evident, that our Lord never publicly exposed him until the last evening at supper; and it is equally evident, that so far from our Lord's exposure, gentle as it was, from exciting his better feelings, it called his very worst into active and immediate exercise. The delivery of the sop to Judas was an act of kindness, but with the sop the Devil entered into him, by the indulgence of his murderous purpose, so that he went out immediately to betray his Lord. Our Lord, in his conduct towards Judas, acted on the liberal principle which he had so ably inculcated in his parable of the tares :--and in the case of Judas we see a striking developement of that cardinal principle, in the Divine government, his controlling, in their consequences, the free actions of wicked men, to subserve the purposes of his providence, and the general interests of the community at large.
The history of this awful affair as given by the evangelists, is exceedingly intelligible and quite satisfactory. “ And as they did eat, Jesus said, Verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall (will) betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I ? And he answered and said, He that dippeth with me in the dish, the same shall (will) betray me. The Son of man goeth, as it is written of him: but woe unto thạt man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born. Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said unto him, Master, is it I ? He said unto him, Thou hast said." Matt. xxvi. 21--25. Another evangelist relates these tragical occurrences in the following manner : 5. When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall (will) betray me. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. Now there was leaning on Jesus's bosom, one of his disciples whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should (could) be of whom he spake.
He, then, lying on Jesus's breast, saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answe
swered, He it is to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped. And when he had dipped the sop, he
gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop, Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus - unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. He then, having received the sop, went immediately out, and it was night. Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified ; and God is glorified in him.” John xiii. 21–31.
Now let any man, after reading the foregoing narratives, sit down, and ask his own heart, whether our blessed Lord could have had any object in view, while administering these impressive and awful warnings to his betrayer? and whether he could have had any other motive but that of restraining him from the actual commission of the crime which he had meditated ? And let him ask his own conscience, if the design of our Lord, in administering these alarming premonitions to Judas, was that of restraining him from the commission of the deed; whether it must not have been possible for Judas to hearken to his premonitions, and avoid the crime? And lastly, if it was possible for Judas to have hearkened to the premonitions of our Lord and to have avoided the crime, whether it is possible for it to have been an absolute certainty, that our blessed Redeemer would be betrayed by Judas the son of Simon? The Old Testament prediction contains no such fact, and the predictions, or rather the warnings, of our Lord, involve no such certainty. Let any man only pursue the inquiry to its final issue, and he will be fully convinced in the end, that it is not possible for the judgment of an infinite mind, upon a contingency, to amount to a certain prediction : but it must, in the nature of things, be ranked, however high, in the class of probable events; since it must always be compatible with the possibility of an opposite issue.
An objector will probably ask, if the event had actually turned out otherwise than it did, what would have become of the truth of prophecy ? . I answer, what became of the prediction, Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed ? What became of the immutability of the Divine purposes when God revoked his decree concerning the posterity of Eli ? and when he reversed his determination to take away
the lives of David, and Hezekiah, and Josiah? And above all, what would have become of the promises of God, to the tribes of Israel, if he had actually destroyed all the camp of Israel, save Moses and his posterity, as he promised to Moses?
The prophet Jonah was about as jealous for the honour of God, according to the false notion which he entertained of the Divine character, as the advocates of prescience are for the credit of their favourite doctrine; and it must be confessed, that in reality, the one has just as much to do with the character of God as the other. They perceive not, that the greatest excellency of the Divine government, lies in its rectoral ability in the production of happiness; and that the real object of every monitory prediction contained in the Bible, is not that of carrying it into actual execution, but is that of restraining people from sin. People are often jealous for the honour of God, where no cause for such jealousy does in reality exist; and they are ready to consider those things to be blemishes in the Divine character, which are, in truth, its brightest glories. They are exceedingly tenacious of the credit of all the natural perfections of the Deity, both real and imaginary; but they are wonderfully prodigal of the moral character of the Supreme Being. In this respect, they strain at a gnat and swallow a camel : they have pity on the gourd, which came up in a night and perished in a night: but they are inexorable towards Nineveh, wherein are more than six score thousand persons, that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand. What a monstrous form does the doctrine of the Divine glory assume in the perverted and confounded imaginations of some pious persons ! They talk about the human race being created, and redeemed, for the glory of God; but they do not perceive that the highest and brightest glory of the Divine character, in relation to the human race, is that of their salvation : and that although the choice of the end, and the selection of the means of human happiness, are entirely of the Lord, yet the primary and the ultimate object of their existence must be their own happiness, and therefore it is not to be sought for in the Author of their being. It was on our own account, that the Deity was pleased to bestow upon us the blessing of a personal existence.
As far as our present inquiry is concerned, the case of Peter will be found to be of precisely the same description as that of Judas, which we have already considered. Our Lord's prediction of Peter's unfaithfulness must be regarded as his opinion or judgment of the issue, formed upon his knowledge of the character of that disciple, and delivered to him, as a seasonable warning against the approaching trial of his integrity, and intended to preserve him from the evil into which he afterwards unhappily fell. This monitory prediction was delivered to a moral agent ; it concerned the contingent action of a moral agent, and applied to that action not in a physical but in a moral sense; and therefore, its fulfilment could not have been an absolute certainty, and could not, for that reason, have been an object of a certain prescience. The peculiar features and infirmities of Peter's character, had already been rendered sufficiently notorious. The hastiness and impetuosity of his spirit—his ambition of personal distinction and precedence-his jealousy of favours bestowed upon his brethren--the sudden failure of his boasted courage when exposed to personal danger--all these, and other infirmities, had already procured the animadversions and reproofs of his Divine Master, and they fully justified our Lord's solemn and repeated warnings to Peter on the eve of his approaching trial.
It was not possible for more to have been done, to arm that disciple against temptation, than was actually done by our blessed Redeemer. And here let me ask, whether any person would be so impious as to affirm, or even to suspect, that the Lord did not administer his premonitions to Peter in perfectly good faith? or will any one believe, that it was not possible for Peter to have attended to the warnings of our blessed Redeemer? Let me ask my readers, how they will reconcile the possibility of Peter's not denying the Lord, with an absolute certainty of the fact that he would be eventually guilty of that crime? No man can get rid of this embarrassing alternative, and embarrassing it must be to the advocates of prescience ; either it was not possible for Peter to have done otherwise than he did, or the prediction that he would deny his Master, was a premonition that must be ranked among moral probabilities,