Page images
PDF
EPUB

would a wild enthusiast have been able to adduce evidence strong enough to extort fuch an admission from such an opponent ?-would a senseless fanatic have been able to use this admission with such consummate address, united with such manly firmness and unaffected dignity, as the apostle displayed in his reply ? For Paul said—“ I would to God that not only thou, but all who hear me this day, were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds._ No—to attribute such reasoning and such conduct to the wild ravings of enthusiasm, is to outrage every feeling of nature, and every principle of truth.

Thus it has, I trust, been shewn, that the main argument from prophecy was as remote in its origin from enthusiastic delusion, and as incapable of combining with, or deriving strength and success from fanaticism in its progress, as the proof which miracles supplied : in truth, these two modes of proof were inseparably connected together ; i“ there could “ have been no possible pretence for supposing, " that Jesus of Nazareth, an obscure peasant, who " had no one of these external characters the Jews

notoriously expected in their Messiah, and all evi“ dence about whom was closed by his death; there

could, I say, have been no pretence for asserting “ such a character was the promised Redeemer, of “ whom fuch opposite and such magnificent expec“ tations had been conceived, except his extraordi. nary

Vid. Paley's Evidence of Christianity, p. 87, Dublin edit. where this argument is most clearly enforced.

66 whom k Vide St. Paul's addresses to the heathens, at Lyftra, Acts xiv. and to the court of Areopagus, at Athens, Acts xvii.

works had marked him out as an extraordi. nary personage.”—The argument from prophecy, therefore, could not for a moment have been listened to, except attention had been excited to it by the notoriety of the miracles ; but when attended to, it fupplied a new source of proof, which calm reason alone could advance or comprehend.

[ocr errors]

Hence it is we find the first preachers of the gospel perpetually uniting these two arguments, to convince their Jewish converts; but it is extremely important to remark, that they urged these arguments on different descriptions of their hearers, exa&ly as they were capable of feeling their force. To the Jews it was that they most frequently and earnestly urged the argument from the prophetic writings, because they admitted their authority, were familiarized to their language, and therefore prepared to understand their true meaning.-While to the heathens they generally argued, from the miracles they themselves beheld, or might be assured of by evidence of most unquestionable certainty ; and from the k truths of natural religion, which were congenial to the reason and the feelings of every human mind, contrasted with the absurd and pernicious nature of their idolatry.

[ocr errors]

Now,

Now, let me ask, does not this mode of conducting their cause, prove not only that it was founded on reason, but that it was fupported with sobriety of mind? The precipitate and blind zeal of enthusiasm would not attend to such a distinction as this; artifice and imposture would not thus submit to every hearer, principally those arguments which each would be most easily able to examine, and therefore if they were fallacious, most likely to refute. Afsuredly then the apostles spoke the words of truth and foberness.

SECTION III.

The prophecies delivered by our Saviour, and such

Predictions of the apostles as are connected with them, are not imputable to enthusiasm.

On this subject of the argument from prophecy, as applied by its first preachers, to spread or to establish the belief of the gospel, it is necessary to observe further, that not only the appeal to the Jewish scriptures, on which the argument principally depended, could not derive its origin or success from enthusiasm; but that the predictions which are ascribed to our Lord, by the evangelists, as well as some instances of prophecies delivered by his followers, are remarka

bly bly free from every faspicion of having been dictated by the spirit of fanaticism.

I readily will admit that enthusiasts are prone to mistake the chimeras of a disordered fancy for the visions of a prophetic illumination, and to claim credit to the rhapsodies they pour forth, as divine predictions of unquestionable certainty; but such a claim can gain little credit, except their authority has been by some other means previously established. If the fanatic ventures to foretel events immediately approaching, the failure of the prediction will soon destroy the authority of the prophet. If he pretends to penetrate into remote futurity, he will be unable to satisfy his hearers that he utters inspired predicti. ons, because they cannot witness their accomplishment, and must therefore have some different proof of his inspiration to induce them to give credence to his words.—Thus it seems extremely improbable that an unsupported claim to a prophetic character, though it may originate in enthusiasm, should fucceed in spreading it; because the claim to a divine authority is thus reduced to a trial it will seldom be able to endure, a comparison of predictions with facts.

But if for argument sake we should admit that the enthusiast may accidentally describe fome delusive vision of fancy, which yet may seem to be verified by some subsequent event; of that he may conjecture

F

some

fome probable occurrence, and deliver this conjecture in prophetic language, to which he is habituated : yet experience proves, that we may always discover in the nature of the supposed prophecy, or of its accomplishment, some traces of fallacy or extravagance. The prediction is vague and general, or the event such as might be easily produced, and therefore easily foreseen--frequently so trifling, we cannot conceive it should be worthy of divine interference to presignify it-frequently so obscure and uncertain, that if we admit the genuineness of the prophecy, we cannot prove its agreement with the event by which it is afferted to have been accomplished.

The prophecies ascribed to our Lord seem remark. ably free from these objections. One is, the prediction of the total destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, so total that “ " not one stone should “ bé left upon another that should not be thrown “ down;" attended with circumstances of unequalled misery_" " " for then shall there be great tribulation, “ such as was not since the beginning of the world “ to this time, ino, nor ever shall be ; othen shall “ be great distress upon the land, and wrath upon “ this people, and they shall fall by the edge of the

sword, and shall be led away captive into all nati“ ons, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the

m Luke xxi. 6.

| Vid. Matt. xxiv. Mark xiii. Luke xxi. Matt. xxiv. 21.

o Luke xai, 24.

“Gentiles,

« PreviousContinue »