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of truth. It assumes not the style and manner of inspiration, but preserves the modesty and diffidence of discipleship. Above all, it is a spirit of prayer, of dependence on divine teaching, of submission to divine dictation; and it is in this spirit, my friends, that we must study the word of God, and the predictions of that word, if we would really “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” “Nothing," says an eloquent writer, “can be much more precise than the line which forms the boundary between a legitimate and enthusiastic feeling on the subject of prophecy. Is a prediction couched in symbols ? Is it entangled among perplexing anachronisms ?— We recognise the hand of heaven in the art of its construction; and we know that it is so moulded as to invite the diversities of ingenious explication; and that even the true explication, till the day of solution, may stand undistinguished in a crowd of plausible errors. But for a man to proclaim himself the champion of a particular hypothesis respecting symbolic prophecy, and employ it as he might an explicit prediction, is to affront the spirit of prophecy by contemning the chosen style of his announcements. And what shall be said of the audacity of him, who, with no other commission in his hand than such as any man may please to
frame for himself, usurps the awful style of the seer, pronounces the doom of nations, hurls thunders at thrones, and worse than this--puts the credit of Christianity at pawn in the hand of infidelity, to be lost beyond recovery, if not redeemed on a day specified by the fanatic for the verification of his word!” *
Thirdly. The interpretation of unfulfilled prophecies, ought never to set aside the plain and positive intimations of duty.
At no time, and under no dispensation, can prophecy be made a rule of conduct. In some predictions referring to minute circumstances, we find particular directions incorporated with prophetic intimations, as in the memorable prediction concerning the destruction of Jerusalem; and we know that the faith of some of the primitive disciples in the testimony of their Lord, led to their safety and preservation. Here, however, the rule of duty was distinctly announced, and the command, and not the prediction, regulated their conduct. But I refer to the principle, which, assuming some particular hypothesis of prophetic interpretation, leads its supporters to found upon it a system of exclusive operation
* The above passage is selected from an anonymous volume lately published, entitled " The Natural History of Enthusiasm.” The title does not very correctly describe the subject of the work; but the work itself abounds in forcible reasonings, and most powerful and original illustrations.
accordant with their partialities and preferences. Under the influence of these conjectural anticipations, the various institutions of the Christian world are judged of, and their respective claims are determined;—not by the clear and explicit language of divine command---not by great and immutable principles of obligation-not by the dictates of a wise and just expediency, which may be urged in their favour; but by their subserviency to certain preronceptions of future events, which their favourite system has led them to cherish. Having therefore adopted certain notions about the Jews, for instance, or the destruction of Antichrist, they regard with an almost exclusive attachment whatever may directly or remotely, tend to the particular result which they anticipate; while institutions supported only by general principles and unrepealable obligations, are comparatively overlooked, if not actually discountenanced. - Thus theory is invested with divine authority, and the special pleadings of prophetic interpretation are substituted for positive and established law ! *
* “ If dogmatism on matters not fully revealed be in all cases blameworthy, it is eminently and specially condemnable in the expositor of enigmatic prophecy. The use of symbols speaks the design of concealment. In issuing the prediction, he does indeed invite the humble inquiries of the Church; and in using symbols which have a conventional meaning, he gives a clue to learned research; and yet by the combination of these symbols into the enigmatic
One of the reasons why prophecies are enveloped in obscurity, more or less palpable till explained by the designed events, was to prevent their being construed into rules of action. For suppose a prophecy to be given, involving results of great importance, that the details were so minute as not only to point out the event and its general consequences, but also to specify the place, fix the date, designate the actors by name, and descend even to incidental circumstances, would not the prophecy, in this case, be the predisposing cause of its own fulfilment ? A prediction thus determinate in its application, and generally received, would so incessantly occupy attention, as unconsciously to generate a desire forms, an articulate warning is issued against all dogmatic con. fidence of interpretation. The adoption of an exclusive theory of exposition will not fail to be followed by an attempt to attach the special marks of prophecy to every passing event; and it is this attempt which sets enthusiasm in a flame; for it belongs in common to all the vices which assume a religious character, that though mild and harmless while roaming at large among remote or invisible objects, they assume a noxious activity, the moment that they fix their grasp upon things near and tangible. There is scarcely any degree of sobriety of temper which can secure the mind against fanatical restlessness when once the habit has been formed of collating daily the newspaper and the prophets; and the man who with a feeble judgment and an excitable imagination is constantly catching at political intelligence-apocalypse in hand-walks on the verge of insanity-or worse, of infidelity. In this feverish state of the feelings, mundane interests, under the guise of faith and hope, occupy the soul to the exclusion of “ things unseen and eternal:” meanwhile the heart-affecting matters of piety and virtue become vapid to the taste, and gradually fall into forgetfulness."— Natural History of Enthusiasm. Pp. 110-112.
of effecting its full completion. This desire, from the known laws of mental association, would increase as the period approached, until, compelled to active exertion, an event might be produced, which, but for the causes assigned, would never have occurred. This would be particularly the case, where private ambition, or national vanity, were to be gratified. On the other hand, if the events predicted accorded not with the wishes, or conceived interests, of nations or individuals, every suggestion that would lead to the disbelief of the prediction, would be cherished, and every exertion which might have a tendency to frustrate the accomplishment of an event so earnestly deprecated, would be made. Admitting that any given prediction is divine, it must necessarily take place. To effect this, a power must be exerted in such circumstances, which, by overcoming all resistance, would infallibly secure its own fulfilment. But this invincible coercion would obviously violate that moral freedom which constitutes the basis of reward or blame, and would be a manifest infringement of those immutable laws, by which voluntary agents are governed. The supposition of a prophecy involving such consequences is clearly inadmissible. If this reasoning is correct, it follows that the appropriate style of prophecy is that in which the language is neither so condensed as to