Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

text that we feel inclined to discuss. If, however, he does not write either eloquently or profoundly, he is, on the whole, neither illiberal nor splenetic, and we part from him in good humour.

Art. III. Discourses on Prophecy, in which are considered, its Struc

ture, Use, and Inspiration. By John Davison, B.D. 8vo. pp. 559. Price 15s. London, 1825. T is curious, and, were the subject less awful, would be

amusing, to mark the triumph of the infidel at the supposed invalidation of some minor evidence of the Christian faith. When some new sophism, or some antiquated and hundred times refuted cavil is put forward, as a definitive argument in demolition of some small segment of the great circle of demonstration which surrounds the evangelical system, it is forth with set down as a complete and final victory, which ought to be followed by an unconditional surrender on the part of the champions of the Bible.

Supposing that to be true, which is demonstrably false, that some single link of the chain had proved faulty, or even extending the supposition to every distinct class of evidence but one ;-still, while that single mode of proof remained unshaken, it were an entire and sufficient attestation of the claims of Christianity. This is, perhaps, sometimes lost sight of. Our jealousy for the security of the ark, may render us too anxious concerning some of its exterior defences. We would pot by any means undervalue the peculiar advantages which we derive from that altogether extraordinary combination of testimony which surrounds the gospel as with an impregnable munition,-history, with its cloud of witnesses-miracles, with the manifest finger of God-prophecy, with its gradual fulfilment and opening prospects; but we shall do well to take heed lest, while we stand in admiration of the whole, we lose sight in some degree of the distinct value and importance of the several parts.

There is another view of the evidences of Christianity, which is, perhaps, not very often taken, and which Mr. Davison has placed in a very striking light. After having shewn that the failure of one class of evangelical evidence would be compensated by the positive force of the remainder, and that the grand system of testimony is supported by arguments drawn from distinct and independent sources, he proceeds as follows.

• Would he (the unbeliever) put the case, that the Miracles of the

[ocr errors]

sense.

New Testament are not completely authenticated, that Prophecy is
not luminous enough, the morality of the Gospel not so extraordinary
as to be clearly beyond the wisdom of man, and the personal charac-
ter of its Founder not so much above all example, the propagation
of the Gospel, by such instruments, not incapable of being explained
on human principles, its profound adaptation to the nature of man
not unlike an accident, the sincerity and martyrdom of its first
teachers, who attested the facts of it, possibly a delusion? Still he
is only at the beginning of his difficulties, and must for ever remain
there, till he is prepared to resist and reply to the reason which
arises from these considerations put together, and repel the claims of
a religion which they so strangely conspire, each in some degree,
and all with a more pregnant evidence, to corroborate and establish.
• The dispassionate inquirer will read these evidences in another

In each of them he will trace some real and substantial testimony, something not to be invalidated. Finding here, on the whole, so much, and in all the rest of the world so little, to create or fortify a rational faith, he will recognise in them the discriminating proofs, which designate the truth and certainty of the Revelation to which they adhere, and thereby command his assent to “ the record which God hath thus given of His Son."

• As to the believer in Revelation, he, with respect to this variety of evidence, may observe upon it, not without some confirmation of his faith, how many of the divine attributes are pledged and engaged to him, for the truth of the Gospel. For the evidence of it embodies to his view the very fullness of those attributes, there being no one just idea we can ame of the Supreme Being, which does not find a place in some point of that attestation. The sovereign Power of God, overruling nature as his creature, is seen in the miracles-His Omniscience in the Prophecies--His. Holiness in the laws of the Gospel-His Wisdom in the adaptation of it-His Providence in its propagation--and not one, but many of the divine perfections, illustrated in the life of his Incarnate Son, Benevolence, Long-suffering, Wisdom, Holiness. The very evidences, therefore, of the Christian Religion have impressions of the divine nature irradiating them, and thus they coincide with the system of that 'religion itself, wherein the Divine Being, in the exercise of these his perfections, is proposed to us as the object of faith, with its consequent affections and duties.'

It is a remarkable feature in Scripture prophecy, that, while it supplies one of the most signal attestations of the truth of Christianity, it furnishes a concurrent series of illustrations and evidences of its own verity. Prophecy was intended for a two-fold purpose. It was to prepare, during a long course of years, the minds of men for one grand event, and it was also, thereafter, to be appealed to, both in the expectations it had awakened and in their entire fulfilment, as the dictate of the Divine purpose, and as the “ testimony of

Jesus.” Hence, its complicated character, commanding continual attention by its awful menaces, its impressive signs, its bigh appeals, its stern and uncompromising morality, compelling reverence by the frequent and startling fulfilment of a portion of its predictions, and making all subservient to its main design of bearing witness to Him who' was to come, in the fullness of time, to consunimate, not to destroy, the Law and the Prophets. Thus, while it testified of Jesus, it bore witness to itself; there was no deficiency in its authoritative address; there was no failure in the entireness of its accomplishment. From this peculiar character, both of contemporaneousness and futurity, difficulties of interpretation would necessarily arise, independently of those which must essentially belong to publications so closely connected with the deepest mysteries of the Divine counsels; and from want of due discrimination in this particular have probably originated some of the conflicting opinions which divide theological inquirers, especially on those points which refer to the restoration of the Jews. But whatever hinderances may have beset the path of investigation, there has been no deficiency of explorers, all with their urgent claims to exclusive consideration as the grand discoverers, and each with his special machinery for clearing all obstructions. The Rabbis, the .. Fathers, popes and presbyters, laymen and divines, have come forward in their turns; and, although there has been much dishonesty and more blundering in a large portion of their bewildering commentaries, yet, it must be said to the honour of theological science, that on no subject in the whole compass of intellectual exertion, has the human mind been more keenly or effectively employed. Mr. Davison, for the present, brings up the rear of writers on Prophecy, and so well has he performed the task he had undertaken, as to take high rank among the ablest of them all. His general object is briefly stated in the following extract, but we shall feel it necessary to go somewhat more largely into the specific contents of the volume.

· The First of these Discourses is employed in treating of the Christian Evidences in general, and the Connexion of Prophecy with the rest.

• 'The Second, in considering the Moral Contents of the Prophetic Volume, as distinguished from its Predictions.

• In the Four next, I have entered into the Structure of Prophecy, and the Course of its Dispensation.

• In the Six last, its Inspiration and Divine Prescience are examined.'

The object of this distribution of the subject is to shew,

[ocr errors]

1st, The Structure and the Contents of Prophecy ; 2, its Use and Design in reference to the several periods in which it was given ; 3, the proofs which it bears of a distinct inspiration, manifested in the accomplishment of its predictions.

There is, in the Prophetic writings, a perpetual and most impressive intermixture of moral precept with predictive intimation; and they are eminently distinguished by their clear and fearless statement of the principles of pure theology during a lapse of ages in which the whole world beside lay in darkness and corruption.

"When,' asks Mr. Davison, were these essential doctrines of religion and morality taught? They were taught to one separated people; at a time when the popular religion of the rest of the world was gone into idolatry and polytheism, and the principles of morals proportionally gross and imperfect; or where better notions on these subjects had place in the minds of men, they had no solid footing, for want of the sufficient authority to enforce them upon the life and conscience; and at the best, the very choice of their notions fell short of the sanctity and integrity of the doctrine extant in the books of the prophets of Israel. But what these prophets delivered, they delivered as by inspiration ; however they spoke, whether to predict, or to instruct, was not in their own name,

" but as the word of the Lord came unto them.” This was a high pretension in their doce trine ; yet for what greater or better purpose could inspiration be given? The worthiness of the end, and the apparent fruits of the gift,

render the gift itself most credible. • For compare in this light the oracles of Scripture Prophecy, with the creeds of Paganism. In the one the religion is the foundation of the morals. By the Pagan creed, the morals were rather perverted and deteriorated. The best resources, indeed, of heathen virtue, were in the natural faith of conscience, which a corrupt theology could not wholly obliterate. But in the one case, religion and virtue were united; in the other they were at variance. And the Philosophy which did the most to reclaim the theory of ethical truth, could not restore the broken union between that truth and religion ; and so the whole system, in which man's best fortunes lay, was out of order. Philosophy wanted religion; and oracles and priests cared little for virtue. The teachers of Israel held both in perfect concord to. gether. In that age of the world they were no ordinary persons who

None but they are known to have done it.' Still, notwithstanding the high standard of morality which distinguishes the prophetic writings, and the awful sanctions which they employ in the enforcement of their doctrinal precepts, they fall short of the Evangelical Scriptures in the fulness of their revelation, as well as in all that constitutes a comprehensive and elevated system of faith-a pure and perfect rule of life. The Prophets went beyond the Law, but

did so.

they attained not unto the Gospel. It was not in the order of the Evangelical system, that they who were only heralds and preparers of the way, should anticipate that entire discovery, which it was reserved for Him to make, who, in the fulness of time, brought life and immortality to light. In this point of view, then, the Prophetic Scriptures hold an intermediate place between the Mosaic law, and the Gospel as given by Christ. This representation is carried on and illustrated by Mr. Davison in a very impressive manner.

• The line of prediction began at the first with the promise of a Redeemer; but the promise was general and obscure, and indeterminate in all its modes and circumstances. The same word of promise was enlarged from time to time; it grew in force and clearness till it approached its consummation. So of other instances of Scripture prediction ; they had their enlargements. In like manner, the divine law was unfolded. The Patriarchal and the Mosaic covenants do not express so full a model of the law of righteousness, by which man is to serve his Creator, as the later revelation given by the prophets. The prophets carry on that law; they furnish it with new materials of sentiment, motive, and duty ; and this they do under the guidance of an original inspiration granted to them, as they declare, and not as commentators who merely elicit the sense of the law exisring. Hence, the sin of Israel was this, that “they made their hearts as an adamant-stone, lest they should hear the Law, and the words which the Lord of Hosts hath sent in his Spirit by the former Prophets.Hence, Christ acknowledges and confirms « the Law and the Prophets” as the two connected parts of the existing moral revelätion, which he came not to destroy, but “to complete" and establish for ever.

* And it is remarkable, that the Prophet, who of all others is the most full and explicit in delineating the Messiah's kingdom of redemption, is equally distinguished for the copiousness and variety of his lessons of holiness. Isaiah is not more the Evangelical Prophet for that which he foretold, than for that which he taught. And this might be said, that, although a Christian could not consent to a surrender of the New Testament itself, yet if any one book of the Old were to be selected as a substitute for that more perfect gift, whereby to direct equally his faith and his obedience, none could be taken sò adequate to both those purposes as the volume of this eminent Prophet, to whom it was given to behold the glory of Christ's kingdom with an eagle eye, and to drink of the spirit of holiness beyond his brethren.

• To conclude this topic, I add one observation more upon it. One book of the Pentateuch there is, wherein may be found the pathos and sublimities of religion in a strain not to be surpassed in any part of the Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy. This book em. braces a rehearsal and republication of the law by the great Prophet of it himself; with a survey of the wonders of Egypt and the WilderDess; the past acts of God's mighty arm, working in terror and in

« PoprzedniaDalej »