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Gospels, whieh can afford a rational ground of hope of ascertaining, with precision, their genuine meaning.
The present deplorable state of Scripture Criticism, as delineated by Bishop Newton, in his Differtation on the difficulties of Scripture, will demonstrate the absolute neceffity of recurring to a folid foundation, which, like the polar ftar to the Mariner, may be a director, in the course of a critical and minute enquiry into the true meaning of the Evangelists. " The labours of Expositors and Commentators," says this learned Prelate, “ which were designed for a remedy, are now “ become a part of the diseafe. The cafe is the same with the 56 laws of God as with the laws of the land. Read a statute 6 and you will think you sufficiently underftand it, but " afterwards hear the opinions of council upon it, and their " explanations, and they will explain the meaning quite away: " In like manner many a text of Scripture seemeth plain enough * to a man upon his reading it by himself and comparing it " with the context; but upon consulting the tribe of
Paraphrafts and Annotators, he scarce knoweth what to " think; and instead of that one genuin sense which he “ conceived, he hath ten or twenty senses offered to him, or so rather, no sense at all. Commentators are a kind of necessary s6 evils, there is no doing well without them or with them. “ The truth is, men interpret Scripture according to their “ opinions, and frame not their opinions according to fcripture. “They quote the Scripture, and one would think they “ understood at least what they quote ; but alas, in their " quotations they manifestly regard the bare words more " than the meaning, and so that there is but something
apposit in the sound, no matter how remote it is in the s fignification.” *
The little advantage which has been gained by the labours of Paraphrasts and Commentators of a Grotius--a Medea Whitby--a Locke--and a Macknight ---of Men, in short, whose abilities are not to be questioned, must necessarily lead to the conclufion, either that the Scriptures are unintelligible ; or that no method has hitherto been adopted of doing them full justice. The real fa&t is, that the natural and the only true method of studying the Scriptures have been most deplorably
* See Bishop Newton's Dissertation on the Difficulties of Scripture, Vol. VI. pages 220, 221.
neglected. They have been transmitted down to us under the character of Histories, and the primary design of those Hiftories, beyond all reasonable doubt, is to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. This design is manifest through every page of the Gospels, and yet how little attention has been paid to them as Histories, and to this one primary Object of them, the Objections of the Historian of the Declive and Fall of the Roman Empire, founded upon the conceflions of the ablest Divines, will very fully demonstrate; for when they are considered in this light, they will be found to exhibit internal Characters of truth equal to those of other History, either in ancient or modern times; and, what is more to the purpose, they will afford, to the judicious and attentive Reader, criteria fufficient to determine the precise meaning of the language of our Lord, upon the subject of his coming ;-sufficient to vindicate both his character and that of his Apostles, from the very suspicion of fraud or falsehood ;-sufficient, in a word, to prove, to the satisfaction of every candid and impartial enquirer, that his prediction was not figuratively and metaphorically but fairly and literally accomplished, and that, consequently, the Objection of the Historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is founded upon a misapprehension of the nature of his coming, as represented in those passages upon which his Objection is founded.
“ To judge of the sacred Writings," says Mr. Richards, 6 by the habits and sentiments which now prevail, is the most “ dangerous error into which the student in sacred literature can fall.
The Enemies of Christianity, fensible of the - advantages which result from such an uncandid trial of them, “ have artfully spoken of them with a reference to the customs, “ the learning, and the spirit of these latter times. It may, 66 with confidence, be maintained, that their indecent ridicule 66 and authoritative assertions will gradually lose their effect, in
proportion as our attention is directed to the age and situation 66 of things when our Lord appeared. We must permit 66 ourselves to be carried back into ancient times. We mult " imagine ourselves to be placed in the situation of (Christ and “ his Apostles). We must, as it were, convey ourselves 6 among their countrymen,-adopt their manners-glow with “ their sentiments, and even imbibe their prejudices. That
we may fully enjoy the splendid productions of Genius, 66 with which Greece and Rome were enriched,
“ explore, with laborious accuracy, the minutest traits of “ Character which distinguish those illustrious nations. Let “ the most important circumstances relating to the coming of “ Christ be examined with equal industry and zeal, and the “ Champion of Infidelity will foon be compelled to relinquish “ his presumptuous hopes of triumph." *
The coming of Christ, it is evident from the most cursory attention to the facred Writings, was the subject of prophely, from the earliest Ages of the World. " It was,” says the very able Writer just quoted, “ the principal end and design “ of divine Inspiration to bear testimony to the truth of “ Christianity. The blessed Jesus and his divine Religion
were the constant subjects of the predictions of the Prophets. “ Secondary circumstances were incidentally mentioned, but
our holy Redeemer was the favourite theme of all, from " the opening of the Revelation, at the fall of Man, to the " close of Jewish prophecy with Malachi. If we should
expunge from the Old Testament all the passages which 6 relate to his Advent and Religion ; the remaining part would 66 abound with a profusion of predictions, which, though “ fingularly striking in themselves, would be deprived of " their bond of connection, and would not conduce to any “ end of general and transcendent importance.”
Of all the Prophecies with which the History of the Old Testament abounds, that of Daniel is the most remarkable, and is most particularly worthy of Notice, upon this subject, as it is the foundation of that language which Jesus, and his illustrious Harbinger John the Baptist, afterwards adopted. Having asserted that Nebuchadnezzar's dream had particular reference to various revolutions which, in the order of divine Providence, were to arise in the different states and empires of the world; that kingdoms of great power and extent were to give way to others, and that these again should be swallowed up in subsequent revolutions; the Prophet foretells the rise of a new kingdom which should not, like those which he had before been describing, be subject to change or decay ;-but that, on the contrary, it should last for ever. Dan. ii. 44. In the days of these Kings shall the God of Heaven set up a Kingdom that shall never be destroyed, and the Kingdom shall not be left to other people. It shall break in pieces and consume (in its progress) all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. So again Ch. vii. 13, 14, he says, I saw in the night Visions, and behold one like the or a Son of Man came with the clouds of Heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before him; and there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. *
* See Mr. Richards's Bampton Lectures, pages 169, 170. The Reader: is requested to observe a slight deviation from Mr. Richards's language, to accommodate it to the design of this work
* There are many other passages which might here very properly be adduced, predicting the coming of the Messiah, but there is one which must, not be omitted, as it will afford an opportunity of presenting the Reader with some excellent Observations upon it, by Mr. Richards, in his admirable Bamptonian Lectures,
“ The great leader of Israel, when he had deliverd the law to his
countrymen, and finished the labours which he was especially appointed " to accomplish, predicted that, in a future age, their God would raise up
among their brethren a Prophet like unto himself, who would be charged " to communicate his Almighty Will, and would be entitled to their “ implicit belief and obedience, on pain of his most severe displeasure. The
Prophecy, according to the application even of an inspired Apoftle,
referred immediately to the Alessiah; at whose appearance the Authority of " Moses was superseded, the obligation of his law ceased, and all the 6 inhabitants of the Globe were admitted to an equal participation of divine “ favour, with the chosen descendants of Abraham. Now let it be supposed " that Moses was unconscious of the full extent of the prediction, and let us " attend only to the literal sense of his words which they must necessarily " have borne, at the moment of their delivery, we shall surely be obliged to " confess, that though admirably chosen, upon the supposition of a divine 5 inspiration, as an effectual preservation against the rejection of any future « Messenger, or new covenant, in consequence of the prejudices of the si people, yet, considered solely in an human point of view, they were most * unfavourable to the cause to which the Prophet had been entirely devoted ; * and directly opposite to every known dictate of natural policy.
“ It has been the great object of all founders of states and empires, to give " stability to their institutions, by guarding them against the rashness of future * innovators, For this end, they have generally advanced their own authority, $t as far as it has been poffible, above that of their ambitious descendants, " When the Spartan Law-giver had completely formed his Republic, he " bound the Citizens, by an oath, to maintain its constitution inviolate till « his return.
He departed, and never more was seen. The pretended s Prophet of Arabia declared himself, the final Messenger of the Almighty, " and thus endeavoured effectually to secure his Religion from the dangerous * pretensions of succeeding Impostors. So powerful, in general, is this " ambitious with among Legislators, that it has prevailed over the fascinating
With an evident view to these predictions of the Prophet Daniel, and to the language which he adopted, John the Baptift foretold the near approach of this kingdom. In those days, says the Evangelical Historian, came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Fudea, saying, Repent, for “: allurements of dominion, and sometimes even over the love of Life.
Lycurgus, as I have just observed, retired to voluntary banishment and " solitude; and, in conformity with the same principle, the celebrated * founder of the Northern kingdoms is represented, in their fabulous * Histories, as having plunged the sword into his own breast.
“ From this general principle, the prediction of Moses can alone, perhaps, " be excepted. The great object of his exertions had been attained." He had " conducted the Israelites to the borders of the promised land. From the st Mountains of Pisgah, he had shewn them the fruitful vales of Palestine, in " which they were to repose after their long and painful wanderings. He
was venerated by his countrymen, as their Deliverer from servitude,-as " the Founder of their Kingdom, and as the Messenger of their God. His “ character had been sanctioned by the most awful manifestations of
" Omnipotent Power; and his laws had been solemniy received as the Will of “ Heaven. The moment of his death approached, and he was about to “ bequeath his establishment, as a sacred deposit, to the care of future
Yet, far from hallowing that establishment, by imputing an “ unrivalled sanctity to his own character, or commending himself to “ posterity, as the sole favourite of the Almighty, he predicted the coming * of a Prophet whose authority - should resemble his own. Far frona $' pronouncing a curse upon those who should transfer their obedience to “ another, he even foreshewed to them a future chief, whose mandates they " would be bound to obey. In consequence of this prediction, his own “ preeminence was diminished, by the expectation of the future Proph:t, “ and an opportunity was offered to Impostors, who might hereafter found " their impious pretensions, even upon the perverted authority of his own
prophetic evidence. In every other instance he had carefully provided for às the security of the laws which he had delivered, and had 'branded with “ the infamy of imposture all those who should presume to violate that " sacred frame of civil and religious polity which, with such visible and “ awful proofs of divine aporobation, he had firmly constituted among his is countrymen.
“ In this prediction alone, his conduct was in direct opposition, as well " to his own general principles of action, as to the uniform tenor of example. “ I am aware that this prediction has been considered by some Interpreters as " expreffive of the succession of Prophets in Israel. But though it may be * satisfactorily proved that such a meaning was, at least, neither the sole nor “ the primary one intended by Moses ; yet even to those who adopt such a “ confined interpretation, the argument which has been urged will be scarcely “ less forcible. Under such circumstances, it would have been the policy of " a deceiver to represent the succeeding Prophets as subservient to himself, " and as inferior agents employed in support of his institution. He would “ neither have admitted them to a complete equality, nor denounced " tremendous threats against those who should not implicitly hearken to their ss voice. See Richards's Sermons, pages 172-177