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LUKE xxiv. 27.
And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures, the things concerning himself.
The two main pillars of Christianity are undoubtedly prophecy and miracles. Though they might properly be considered but as one, since the former is clearly a species of the latter; yet are they usually treated separately, because there are marked differences between them. The one being better calculated for the conviction of those who witness them, than for succeeding generations, who believe them only upon testimony: and losing, perhaps, something of their force by the lapse of time. The other being designed to influence posterity, and frequently a very distant posterity, and consequently gaining strength by the revolution of ages'. So admirably has the wisdom of Providence adapted both these great instruments to the accomplishment of those purposes
for which he has been pleased to call mankind into existence. This distinction between prophecy and miracles is noticed by St. Peter in his second Epistle to the newly-converted Christians. After having assured them for the confirmation of their faith, that he and the other Apostles, had not followed cunningly devised fables, when they made known unto them the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty—he adds--we have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereye do well that
take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts. By which he could not mean that the prophecies were surer evidence to himself, that Christ had appeared, than the miracles which he had seen him perform : but that they might be so to them, whom he was addressing, and to those who should live after them : because by considering those predic
See Warburton's Divine Legation, vol. vi. p. 341, &c.
tions which had already been verified by his first coming; they might encrease their confidence in those which related to his second and final appearance.
. To each of these two strong grounds of our faith,our attention is necessarily very frequently directed : because we can hardly read a page of the Old Testament, without being deeply impressed with the one : or open the New without being powerfully affected by the other; and because it is not a little remarkable, that whilst believers confidently appeal to each of them in support of their faith: unbelievers as confidently rely upon them to justify their infidelity: the former considering them as clear evidences of truth : and the latter treating them as marks of imposture.
At this season of the year our services naturally lead us much to the consideration of the prophecies relating to our Saviour: and I think that our time here cannot be better employed than in examining any of their difficulties, and refuting any of the objections that have been urged against them. If there are any persons who think that there are no difficulties in the Scriptures : and that it is not worth while to bestow
those who insist upon them : I confess that I am not one of that number. On the contrary, I cannot deny their existence, nor shut my eyes to the effects which they may produce upon different descriptions of persons : and I know of no duty, therefore, more imperative upon a Christian minister, than to endeavour to confirm the faith of those who do believe : and to convince those who do not. Nor should he ever in my judgment consider the former a superfluous task, or the latter a hopeless one : but should constantly bear in mind and act upon this advice of the great Apostle—Now we exhort you, brethren, (says St. Paul to the Thessalonians,) warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” And his instruction to the same effect to Titus, that holding fast the faithful word as he had been taught, he might be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.
With these few preliminary observations, I shall proceed at once to the consideration of a general argument against the prophecies, which is to be found in a book, written in the early part of the last century, which was characterised by no less a judge than Bishop Warburton, as
one of the most plausible books ever written, or likely to be written, against Christianity'.” As the works of that eminent and learned Prelate are in every body's hands, this author may not have yet sunk into that oblivion, which it were desirable should be his fate; and his opinions may survive and be disseminated, when his name shall have been quite forgotten: it is fit, therefore, that their fallacy should be detected and . exposed. His object was to shew, that as the New Testament professes to be founded upon the prophecies contained in the Old, and those prophecies are in general to be understood, not in a literal, but only in an allegorical or figurative sense; if that mode of interpretation were valid, Christianity would be firmly established, but if not, then it must be false ?. And he then goes on rather to insinuate, than positively to assert, that that mode of interpretation is fanciful, illogical, and unsatisfactory.
Divine Legation, vol. vi. p. 46.
· Collins on the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion