Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

the people of Athens, Acts xvii. argues from other topics; he says nothing of the prophets, to whose mission and authority the Athenians were perfect strangers, but begins with declaring to them, God that made the world and all things therein :' he goes on condemning all idolatrous practices, and assuring them that God is not worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing.' He accounts to them for the past times of ignorance at which God winked, and tells them that now he calls all men to repentance, having appointed Christ Jesus to be the judge of all men; for the truth of which he appeals to the evidence of Christ's resurrection, 'whereof,' says the Apostle, he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead :' ver. 31. Whence comes this difference? How comes St. Paul's argument, on one and the same subject, in Acts xiii. and xvii. to be so unlike to each other ? Can this be accounted for any other way than by considering the different circumstances of the persons to whom he delivered himself. In Acts xiii. he argues professedly with Jews, to whom were committed the oracles of God, and who, from these oracles, were well instructed in the great marks and characters of the expected Messiah. It had been highly absurd therefore to reason with them on other arguments, till he had first convinced them by their prophets; and having so convinced them, it would have been impertinent. To them therefore he urges and applies the authority of prophecy only; but to the Athenians, who knew not the prophets, or if they knew them, yet had no reverence or esteem for them, it had been quite ridiculous to offer proofs from prophecies: the appeal therefore before them is made to the sound and clear principles of natural religion, and to the miracles of the gospel, the fame of which probably had, long before, reached to Athens; and the truth of which, they being mere matters of fact, was capable of undeniable evidence and demonstration.

It is very observable that St. Paul, in his sermon at Athens, goes no farther than calling them to repentance and to faith in Christ, as the person appointed by God to judge the world ; in which doctrine he had natural religion with him in every point except the appointment of Christ to be judge, for which he appeals to the evidence given by God in raising Jesus from the dead. But to the Jews he speaks of a Saviour, of remission of sins, of justification of all believers from all things from which the law of Moses could not justify. Whence comes this difference, unless from hence, that the Jews were from their Scriptures well acquainted with the lost condition of man, and knew that a redemption from sin and the powers of it was to be expected ? But the Gentiles had lost this knowlege, and were first to be taught the condition of the world and the various administrations of Providence with regard to mankind, before they could have any just notion of the redemption of the world.

With respect to the Gentiles then, the case stood thus : they were called from idols to the acknowlegement of the true God, from iniquity to the practice of virtue, by setting before them Christ Jesus, the preacher of righteousness, and the appointed judge of the world, under the confirination of many signs and wonders wrought by God for this purpose. Being so far established, they were led back to view this wonderful scene of Providence as it stood in the ancient prophecies; and with them the authority of the prophecies stood mainly on the exact completion, which was before their eyes. From the autho rity of prophecy so established, they understood the past workings of Providence and the state of the world, and came to see that Christ was not only the judge, but the Redeemer of mankind. To the Jew prophecy was the first proof; to the Gentile it was the last : the Jew believed in Christ because foretold by the prophets; the Gentile believed the prophets because they had so exactly foretold Jesus Christ. Both became firm believers; having, each in his way, a full view of all the dispensations of Providence towards mankind.

If this account be true, as it appears to me to be, it will enable us to clear this argument from prophecy of the many misrepresentations under which it has been industriously clouded : it will show us that there is no occasion for a Gentile to be. come a Jew in order to his becoming a Christian, on the authority of the ancient prophets : it will show us that the proof from prophecy is not argumentum ad hominem in the Jew's case, nor in the Gentile's; nor yet an argument of the same kind in both cases, though in both cases proceeding on real and solid principles of reason. But I must leave these applications to you, and proceed to observe another use of prophecy with regard to the Jews, and for which the Gentile world seems not, to have had the same occasion.

The Jews lived under a divine law, established in signs and wonders, and mighty works, founded in very great promises on one side, in threatenings of mighty terror on the other, as far as the blessings and terrors of this world can extend. They are warned over and over not to forsake their law, or to suffer

any strange customs and ceremonies to grow up among them. These cautions, intended to preserve them from the corruptions of the heathen nations around them, might easily, as in the event they have done, grow into prejudices against any future revelation, though made on the authority of God himself. To guard against such prejudices, and to render them without excuse, it was but reasonable to give them early and frequent notice of the change intended, that they might not, under the color of adhering steadfastly and faithfully to God's first covenant, reject his second, when the time of publication came. There are of this sort many prophecies in the Old Testament; of this kind are the many declarations on God's part, that he had no pleasure in sacrifices and oblations, in new moons and in sabbaths; strange declarations, considering that all these were his own appointments! but not strange, considering the many and frequent prophecies of a new and a better covenant to be established with his people. The prophet Isaiah is frequently styled the evangelical prophet, because of the many and express prophecies to be found in him relating to Christ and his church. Now this prophet, in the very entrance on his work, shows the little value of mere legal institutions: · To what purpose,' says he, speaking in God's name, is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me ?-I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats—Your new moons, and your appointed feasts, my soul hateth : they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them :' Isaiah i. 11. 14.

But the most remarkable passage of this kind, and which deserves our particular attention, is the prophecy of Moses himself, recorded in the eighteenth of Deuteronomy: The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren; like unto me, unto him ye shall hearken:' ver. 15. The same is repeated again, ver. 18. with this addition ; ' And it shall come to pass, (they are the words of God) that whosoever will not hearken unto my words, which he (that prophet) shall speak in my name, I will require it of him :'ver. 19. Here now is a plain declaration on God's part, at the very time the law was established, of another prophet, like unto Moses, to be raised in time as a new lawgiver, to whom all were to yield obedience. I know full well that great authorities are produced for interpreting these words of a succession of prophets in the Jewish church ; but be the authorities never so great, the appeal lies to the law and to the testimony, and thither we must go.

In the first place then, the text speaks of one prophet only, in the singular number, and not of many.

In this case therefore the letter of the text is with us ; an argument which ought to be of great weight with those who make such heavy complaints, whenever we pretend to go beyond the literal sense of the Old Testament. But,

Secondly, to expound this passage of a succession of prophets, and to say that they all were to be like Moses, contradicts God's own declaration concerning the manner in which he intended to deal with other prophets.

In the twelfth of Numbers we read that Miriam and Aaron began to mutiny against the influence and authority of Moses : Hath the Lord spoken only to Moses ?' say they; 'hath he not spoken also by us?' This controversy was like to be attended with such ill consequences, that God thought proper to interpose himself. Hear then his determination : • If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold : wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses.'

Here now is a plain declaration of the great difference between Moses and all other prophets, and as plain an account wherein that difference did lie. As to all other prophets, God declares he would speak to them in visions and in dreams, but with Moses he would converse mouth to mouth,' or as it is elsewhere expressed, “face to face.' Herein then consisted one chief dignity and eminence of Moses; and in this respect the prophets of Israel were not to be like him.

Thirdly, that the likeness to Moses, spoken of in the passage under consideration, had a special regard to this singular privilege of seeing God face to face,' is evident, partly from the text itself, and partly from the close of the book of Deuteronomy, compared with the text. In the text itself a promise is given of a prophet like Moses, which likeness in the 18th verse is expounded by God's saying, “I will put my words in his mouth :' which imports something more than speaking to him in visions and in dreams; and that the likeness to Moses was understood to consist in this immediate communication with God, is most evident from the last verses of the book; where it is said, ' And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.' Who added these words to the book of Deuteronomy, it matters not at present to inquire; for they having been received in the Jewish church, are an authentic testimony, first, how the ancient Jews understood these words, like unto Moses;' and secondly, that the ancient church had seen no prophet like unto Moses. And yet they had a succession of prophets immediately from the death of Moses, of whom Joshua was the first ;* and these last verses of Deuteronomy, added after, at least in the time of Joshua, exclude him from all pretensions of being the prophet,' or one of the prophets like unto Moses : and if this character will not fit Joshua, much less will it fit those who succeeded him, who were not greater, nor had greater employment under God than he; an evident proof that the promise of a prophet * like unto Moses' was not understood by the ancient Jewish church to relate to a succession of prophets among them ; since they declare to us that in the succession of prophets there had not been one like unto Moses.

The latter Jews have not departed from the opinion of their

* Hos. xii. 13. Ecclus xlvi. I.

« PoprzedniaDalej »