« PreviousContinue »
doctrine which runs through it; including under that name the only efficacious and sufficient moral doctrine, that which is founded upon a knowledge of God, his attributes, and his will, with a sense of the direct, personal, and responsible relation of man to him. Accordingly the most frequent subjects of the prophet are the laws of God; his supreme dominion, and his universal providence, the majesty of his nature, his spiritual being, and his holiness; together with the obligations of obedience to Him, in the particular duties of an inward faith and worship; and of justice and mercy to man; the whole of these duties enforced by explicit sanctions of reward and punishment. These original principles of piety and morals overspread the pages of the book of prophecy. They are brought forward, they are inculcated from first to last. They are often the subject where nothing future is in question they are constantly interwoven with the predictions; they are either the very thing propounded, or connected with it; and all the way they are impressed with a distinctness and energy of instruction which shew it was none of the secondary ends of the prophet's mission to be this teacher of righteousness; insomuch that, if we except the Gospel itself, there can no where be shewn, certainly not in the works or systems of pagan wisdom, so much of decisive and luminous information, concerning the unity, providence, mercy, and moral government of God, and man's duty founded upon
his will, as is to be gathered from the prophetic volume.
Let the predictions of Prophecy then, for a time, put out of our thoughts; and let the prophetic books be read for the pure theology which they contain. With what feelings of conviction they are read by the religionist, it is not hard to tell. He perceives that he is instructed and elevated by the discoveries made to him of the Supreme Being, and of the kind of worship and obedience required from himself; and these discoveries made with an authority and a commanding power, which argue them to be, what they are given for, a law of life and practice; doctrines, not of theory, but of self-government and direction; the most useful therefore to himself, and the most worthy of the source from which they profess to come. On this head I cite the words of Origen, who does not overstate this persuasive force of the prophetic writings, when he says of them, that "to the meditating and attentive reader they raise an impression of enthusiasm" (a true and rational enthusiasm, like a spark of their own inspiration), " and by his perceptions convince him, as he reads, that these compositions can be none of the works of men which have obtained the credit of being the oracles of God *."
* ̔Ο δὲ μετ ̓ ἐπιμελείας καὶ προσοχῆς ἐντυγχάνων τοῖς προφητι κοῖς λόγοις, παθὼν ἐξ αὐτοῦ τοῦ ἀναγινώσκειν ἴχνος ἐνθουσιασμοῦ,
The more sceptical reader will see in them something to arrest his attention at least, and excite in him a suspicion, that the teachers of so excellent and virtuous a discipline of life, and the expositors of so rational a theology, are not to be set down for vain pretenders to inspiration, unless it can be proved that other diviners, or sages, in that period of the world, spoke so much to the purpose, or that such was the ordinary march of reason in these subjects, which, more than any other, have tried the rectitude of the human intellect.
There is a judgment of St. Paul's, which I would refer to in this instance. He institutes a comparison between the gifts of supernatural illumination, and describing that species of prophecy of which I am speaking, viz., that which is for the simple exposition of the doctrines of religious truth, of it he says, "If therefore the whole "Church be come together into one place, and all "its teachers prophesy" in this manner; and "there come in one that believeth not, or one "unlearned; he is convinced of all, he is judged " of all." "And thus the secrets of his heart are "made manifest; and so falling down on his face, he "will worship God, and report that God is in you "of a truth *." Such was the idea the Apostle
δι' ὧν πάσχει πεισθήσεται, οὐκ ἀνθρώπων εἶναι συγΓράμματα τοὺς πεπιςευμένους Θεοῦ λόγους. Origenes περὶ αρχῶν. Ρ. 162. ed Par.
* 1 Cor. xiv. 23-25,
had of this gift of moral prophecy, that, by its visible subserviency to the instruction and edification of a religious community, he thought it might do much, even convince an unbeliever. Let the prophets of the Old Testament be tried in this manner. Let the whole company of them be heard as they delivered their doctrines to the ancient Church of God, and reasoned on "righteousness, temperance, and judgments to come." What will the unbeliever say? Has he ever fairly read or listened to this promulgation of instructive truth? and does his conviction answer to the appeal? If it does not, how shall we account for the Apostle's judgment? Perhaps in this way:-St. Paul thought only of the unbeliever born, one whose sincerity, in his natural ignorance, was open to inquiry and information. Not of the unbeliever made, who has taken his side, and by prejudice, or by the neglect of a serious examination, that is, by a chosen ignorance, warped himself into the more inflexible principles of unbelief.
But when 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 proportionably 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, it was not in their own name, "but as the "word of the Lord came unto them." This was a high pretension in their doctrine; 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 together. In that age of the world