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HE Prophecies of the Old Teftament feem to have been lefs ftudied, and more misunderstood, than any other part of the facred writings; and indeed this is nothing more than what might have been expected from the very nature of them. Prophecies, by which I here mean predictions of things future, are for the most part expreffed in obfcure terms, or fet forth in an allegorical manner in vifions, by vifible reprefentations of beafts, birds, &c. It is no wonder therefore, that fuch Prophecies as relate to events yet future, fhould be either not understood at all, or misinterpreted.
In the first ages of Christianity, they who attempted any explication of the facred Prophecies, confined themselves chiefly to fuch as feemed to them to relate to the first coming of our Lord and Saviour, and to the calling of the Gentiles, which began to be accomA 3
plished in those days. As to the rest of the predictions, which are by far the greater part, they either paffed them by, or applied them in an allegorical way to the events abovementioned, or to the ftate of the Chriftian Church at that time. Nor are these their misapplications to be wondered at, as the obfcurity of many of the fcripture Prophecies feems to have been defigned on purpofe, that they should not be generally understood, till at, or near, the times of their accomplishment. After the first ages, when the church, by an acceffion of wealth and power, was fo corrupted as to mind little elfe but the enriching itself, to the neglect of fcriptural ftudies in general, it is not ftrange the study of the Prophecies should be difcouraged, and almost wholly neglected; for which also another reafon may be given, viz. that those few who applied themselves to the explication of them, during this long continued ecclefiaftical tyranny, seldom failed to find in them fome predictions of the grofs errors and fuperftitions which were promoted and upheld by their ecclefiaftical superiors. Upon thefe accounts it is, that, during the papal tyranny, we have fo very few, and thofe erroneous explications of the Scripture Prophecies in general. But when the Reformation began to take place, and the facred fcripture,
fcripture, which had been long shut up from the people, was again laid for the perufal of all Chriftians, the study of the prophetical parts began to revive, and fome very
confiderable advances were made toward a right understanding of them. Many of them were with great judgment proved to be already accomplished, and the events to which they related pointed out, and alfo probable conjectures advanced concerning fome of those which are yet future. Amongst those who have fuccefsfully laboured in this branch of theology, I know none who deferves more to be remembered than our countryman JOSEPH MEDE, who was the first (of English writers at leaft) who gave us any confiftent or probable explications of the Prophecies. His many learned and judicious interpretations of the Prophecies, in the Revelations to St. John and Daniel, will make this evident to any one who shall confult his works, which I would recommend to every perfon who is defirous of making a progress in prophetic ftudies. Since his time we have had feveral learned and judicious expofitors, who have, in fome points, improved upon him; amongst whom I cannot forbear mentioning Dr. NEWTON, the prefent bishop of Bristol, whole Differtations on the Prophecies are, upon the whole, perhaps not
to be equalled by any thing that has hitherto been published on that fubject. But notwithstanding the very confiderable improvements which have been made in the ftudy of the prophetical parts of fcripture, fince the time of the Reformation, yet almoft all the writers on this fubject, that I have met with, seem to me to have run, more or less, into the following error: They have generally applied the Prophecies relating to the reftoration of the Jews and the ten tribes, and the confequent happy state of that nation, and also of the whole Christian world, which is to happen in the latter times, (and which is frequently stiled in fcripture, the reign or kingdom of Chrift) to the church of Chrift, as it has hitherto fubfifted in the world; applying the words Ifrael, the feed of Abraham and Jerusalem, in an allegorical sense to Chriftians, or the Chrif tian church in general, whenever they meet with them with a promise of great happiness annexed; whereas the great happiness, which is the principal fubject of all the Old-Teftament Prophets, appears to me to be no way applicable to any state of Christianity that has ever yet exifted, but to relate to the converfion and restoration of the literal Ifrael, the Jews and ten tribes, in the latter times, and to that reign of Chrift when the church