THE ARGUMENT FOR THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY, IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, FROM PROPHECY.
The argument for the truth of Christianity or revealed religion, as derived from prophecy, is different, in some very important respects, from the argument as derived from miracles.
(1.) First. The miracles on which reliance is placed occurred in past ages—in periods now far remote. It is not claimed by the friends of the Bible that miracles are now performed to establish its truth. Even in those portions of the " visible Church" where it is claimed that miracles are still performed, it is not maintained that they are performed to confirm the general truths of revelation ; to demonstrate that the prophets and apostles were sent from God; or to prove that the Christian religion, as distinguished from other religions, is true, but that they are wrought in favor of some dogma of the Church; or in honor of the memory of some particular saint; or to show that the church in which such miracles occur is the true Church, in contradistinction from other associations which claim to be parts of the true Church; in honor of the faith, or of the priesthood, of some one branch of the Church of God.
The miracles,' however, on which reliance is placed for the proof of Christianity as such, occurred in a period now far in the past; they were witnessed by comparatively few persons; and the evidence that they were performed at all comes to us under all the disadvantages of testimony transmitted through successive generations. We ourselves have not been permitted to witness the performance of a miracle in attestation to the truth of our religion, nor, when urging the claims to the divine origin of that religion from miracles, and seeking to convince our fellow-men of its truth on that ground, can we appeal to one actually wrought in their presence or in our own, as furnishing such a demonstration. It was, therefore, not difficult to construct the plausible argument of Mr. Hume against miracles—an argument so plausible that to this day it has not been found easy to detect its sophistry. But, whether that argument was well founded or was a sophism, no such sophism, and, at any rate, no such argument, can be suggested in regard to prophecy. It is a subject which we can investigate as eye-witnesses ourselves. We have the prophecy before us in fixed and permanent language, to be interpreted on principles uersally recognized in the interpretation of language, and where the friends and the foes of the religion in defense of which they are adduced are supposed to be equally qualified to understand the use of language and the rules of exegesis, and to have an equal right to apply those rules. The very words of the prophecy may be carefully studied, and may be calmly compared with the facts to which it is claimed they are applicable. It is not like a miracle, to be seen at the exact moment of the occurrence or not at all; it is not like the word, the look, or the touch, that restores sight to the blind, or that heals diseases; it is not like the voice that stills the tempest, or that raises the dead, and then is silent forever. The witnesses of such scenes, and the actors in such scenes, pass from the world in a single generation, nor can we call them on the " stand" again to subject them to a rigorous " cross-examination." In prophecy, however, every thing can be examined with all the calmness required by the principles of the inductive philosophy. All is before us that there is in the case, and will remain there as long as we please. The words of the prophecy and the facts are neither of them evanescent, and are as fixed as the substances which the chemist coolly examines in his laboratory, or as the stars on which the astronomer gazes, night after night, at his leisure.
(2.) Second. In the argument from prophecy there can be no doubt about the facts in the case. In the argument from miracles, the main point of the inquiry relates to the facts themselves. If the alleged facts are admitted to have occurred—if Lazarus was actually raised from the dead—there would be no difference of opinion that would embarrass us in regard to the argument; that is, that it was an event produced by the immediate power and will of God, irrespective of natural laws. The whole effort of infidelity, therefore, in regard to a miracle, is to set aside the evidence that the fact occurred, not to deny the force of the argument derived from it if the fact is established. In prophecy, the argument assumes a different form. Respecting the main facts in the case there can be no question, and if there were a question, it could be readily examined and determined. If any man doubts whether Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, he has only to look into Josephus or Gibbon to satisfy his mind of the fact. If he doubts whether Babylon, Tyre, Petra, or Nineveh are in ruins, he has only to look into Volney, or Burckhardt, or Maundrell, or Layard, or to go to the places of their former magnificence, and seat himself ^amidst the ruins of their grandeur, and," book in hand," compare, at his leisure, their present state with the predictions in the prophets. He may take his own time for the examination; he may look at the ruins fragment by fragment, and compare, with the minutest and most patient detail, the facts before him with the statements in the prophets. He may sit down to the argument with as much coolness as he would to a mathematical demonstration, and survey the evidence as calmly as he does that which enters into the inductive philosophy. In a miracle, a voice spake loud, solemn, and clear, as when the tempest was hushed on the Sea of Tiberias, or when Lazarus was raised from the grave, and then the voice died away. In prophecy, a voice speaks still from solitary Petra, from ruined Tyre, from the site of the Temple in Jerusalem, from the exhumed palaces of Nineveh, from the midst of the " wild beasts of the desert," and the " doleful creatures," and the " owls that dwell" in Babylon, and the " satyrs that dance there," and the " wild beasts that cry" in its "desolate houses," and the "dragons in its pleasant palaces,"* to all generations. From their deep silence; from the palaces where once was the sound of the viol and the harp; from the forsaken temples, an utterance is heard still responding to the ancient prophetic warning. We hear the cry of the " bittern" and the " owl" proclaiming the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah; and the " dance of the satyr" and the " cry of the wild beasts" invite the world to contemplate the truth of the ancient predictions.
(3.) Third. There is another point of difference between miracles and prophecy. The proof from the former was complete in the time of the apostles; the proof from the latter is increased and strengthened * Isaiah, xiii., 21, 22.
from age to age, and will be augmenting to the end of the world. It is accumulating with e*very new fact in history, and will go forward to meet the incredulity of all coming times. In this respect these two sources of evidence bear some resemblance to the demonstration of God's wisdom and power in the creation of the world, and in its providential government. The act of creation, grand and awful, when the " morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy," was an impressive demonstration of his power, a stupendous miracle that put the question of his omnipotence forever to rest, as the stilling of the tempest and the resurrection of Lazarus did that of the Savior. But the wisdom of God, and the goodness of God, and the mercy of God, shine forth from age to age, and the argument is presented fresh and new to each generation. The evidence is repeated with each revolving year; with each returning season; with each opening flower; with the running stream; with the dews of the morning and the zephyrs of the evening; and with the conversion and salvation of each penitent sinner, as the evidence of the truth of religion from prophecy meets each coming generation, and will attend the race until the proclamation " the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever," shall be heard throughout the uerse.*
God might have made the human mind—might have made all created minds—so* as to foresee the future as well as to remember the past. In the nature of things there is no more difficulty in the one case than in the other; and, at all events, no one can prove that this is impossible. God's own mind is thus constituted, if it * Rev., xi., 15.
be proper to apply the words future and past to him; and, in creating other minds in the " image" of his own, it was, and must have been, a matter dependent on his will and wisdom whether they should be endowed in the same manner.
Man was made in the " image" of God. In the knowledge of the past, or in retaining the memory of the past, we see clearly that he was, in this respect, made in the " image" of his Creator. If he had been endowed with the power of looking into the future, the fact that he bore the " image" of his Creator would have been still more apparent and striking. In the purpose to create him in his " image," it was for God himself to judge how far that " image," in respect to power, and knowledge, and wisdom, in treasuring up the memory of the past, and in anticipating the future, was to be extended. Obviously there must be a limit in all these things immeasurably this side of his own infinity, whatever might be the capacity of man for extending this in an indefinite approximation in the future toward the infinity of God. There are lines which approach each other forever, but which never meet.
In regard to events lying in the past and in the future, God chose, in making man, that he should be endowed with the power of retaining the one, but with no power of looking directly into the other; as he chose, in regard to power, that that power on the part of man should extend only to those things which pertain to natural or physical laws, retaining the power above those laws of creating or destroying—the power of miracles — to himself. This arrangement, among other results, lays the foundation for furnishing a proof of a divine revelation, on the one hand by miracles, and on the other by prophecy—the power of setting aside the ordinary laws of nature at his pleasure in the one case, and the power, in the other case, of foretelling what man otherwise could never know.
There were reasons, quite obvious in the main, why this should be so in respect to past and future events.
On the one hand, in reference to the past, it was of the highest importance to the well-being of man, if not to his very existence, to the progress of society, to all just views of responsibility, to the formation of his own character, that he should be so endowed as to gather up and retain the past—the past in his own individual experience; the past in the progress of society. Character is formed in this way by availing ourselves of our past attainments and past experience. Responsibility rests on this, for there could be no just and adequate views of retribution if all our thoughts, and plans, and words, and deeds were at once eifaced forever, as the figures and letters that we trace in the sand on the seashore are by the next wave. To all just notions of responsibility, our thoughts, and words, and deeds must be as if " they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever" (Job,xix., 24). Society makes progress in this way by treasuring up the accumulated wisdom of the past — the results of all happy inventions, of all struggles for freedom, of all improvements in the arts, and of all the profound sayings of sages and philosophers. The present state of the world in civilization, in science, in the arts, in domestic comforts, in the enjoyment of liberty, in religion, is the result of the fact that man is endowed with the faculty of memory.
On the other hand, there would have been equal disadvantages in thus endowing man in regard to the future, enabling him to see the future as he can retain the past. Such an arrangement would have done much to stifle effort and to weaken the stimulus to enterprise and exertion, for much of that effort and that stimulus depends on the fact that a thing is unknown but may be known; that a discovery may be made that will contribute to wealth or fame; and that the human powers may find employment and pleasure in the discovery. Thus the young are stimulated to make attainments in literature and science, because there are vast fields yet unexplored, and to a noble-minded youth it is all the better if not a ray of light has been shed upon them; nor would such a youth thank any one to stop the career of noble thought and the path of discovery by pouring down a flood of light on all those regions, so that no more should be left for the efforts of honorable ambition. It was this which animated Columbus when the prow of his vessel first crossed the line beyond which a ship had ever sailed, and plunged into unknown seas. Every wave that was thrown up had a new interest and beauty from the fact that its repose had never been disturbed before by the keel of a vessel; and when his eye first saw the land, and he prostrated himself and kissed the earth, his glory was at the highest, for he saw what in all ages was unknown before. So we are every where stimulated and animated by the unknown, by what is before us that may be gained, by the fields of new thought which man has never explored.* Farther, what a world of sorrow might this be if we saw the future as we remember the past! Who would desire it ? Who would be willing that all that is to occur to him or to his family during a single year should be spread out before him on the first day of the
* Avia Pieridum peragro loca, nullius ante
Trita solo j juvat integros accedcre fonteis ;
year ? How many dwellings would such a knowledge fill with grief! If, at the beginning of a year, we knew that a beloved child was to sicken and die ; if the scene was all spread out before us; if we saw the exact progress of the disease, and knew the exact hour when it would terminate fatally, how sad would be our feelings as we looked on that child; how sad to us the weeks, and days, and hours, as the fatal hour drew on! How many dwellings in the land would be filled with grief, and how many would be the sorrows which would be added to a now wretched world !
God, therefore, while he has so far made us after his own " image" that we can retain the memory of the past, has mercifully limited our endowments in the other direction, and hidden the future, in a great measure, from our view.
Yet, while this is true as a great law, it is to be remarked, and the purpose of this argument requires especially that it should be before our minds in order that we may understand exactly what prophecy is, that there are certain endowments of the hnman mind which have reference to the future, and it is material so to distinguish them as to show that they do not amount to the idea, or invade the province oi prophecy, or to show how prophecy is distinguished from those endowments.
The powers of the human mind, inspired or uninspired, as they are exercised in this world in relation to the future, must be arranged under the following heads: Hope, mathematical calculation, sagacity, prophecy.
Hope.—This has relation, indeed, to the future, but not to the knowledge of the future. It predicts nothing; it makes nothing certain. Hope, founded on a probability or possibility in regard to the future, on the common course of human events, or on special promises, does much indeed to stimulate men to effort, and to cheer a dark and suffering world, but it does nothing to determine the future, except as that future itself is determined by efforts inspired by hope. It in itself makes nothing certain. It gilds the future, indeed, with much that is bright, but with that which is imaginary, and which is, therefore, much of it a mere illusion. It makes the world appear brighter than the reality, and is a benevolent arrangement — one of those numerous things which occur in the world, often underlying other things, which show that the Creator of the world is a benevolent Being, and intends, at the same time, to stimulate human effort, to cheer man in his sad and dark path, and to keep before him the prospect of a brighter world than this. It is not, however, a deception. Though it does not always correspond with the reality, though the anticipation is often brighter than the result, though youth is cheered and stimulated more than age is, or than youth would be if it had a clear view of the reality of things, it is not a designed illusion, for man is not kept ignorant of the fact that there may be disappointment, and no promise which God has made in the arrangements by which hope is inspired is violated, for all those promises are made with this condition well understood, and none which he has absolutely made ever fail. The labor of the husbandman may fail; the ship richly freighted may encounter a storm and sink in the ocean; health may fail; life may be cut off before its plans are developed and its hopes matured; the fig-tree may not blossom, and there may be no fruit in the vines; the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields may yield no meat; the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there may be no hind in the stalls (Habakkuk, iii., 17) ; yet still, on
the average, the promises of hope are sufficiently real to stimulate effort, and to cheer and encourage man; but it does not enable him to penetrate the dark future, and to tell what that will be.
Mathematical calculation.—Here, such is th8 stability of the laws of nature, that the knowledge of the future, within the sphere of such calculations, is minute and absolute, provided the present system shall remain, and provided God shall not interfere by his own direct will and power to change it. To neither of these points does it extend. But within its own sphere it is certain, and is, except prophecy, the most absolute knowledge which we have of the future.
In this we can not go beyond what the case will justify in our admiration of the endowments of man. The knowledge thus within the grasp of the human mind shows perhaps more than any thing else his wonderful greatness and power. The position of the heavenly bodies at any time, however remote in the future; an eclipse of the sun or moon; the transit of a star; the return of a comet after, in a wild, eccentric course, it has buried itself in the depths of ether, and traversed for years or centuries those unfathomed regions—all these show the greatness of man; show the greatness of the God who made him, and who has made a system so accurate in its movements, and so vast and enduring.
Yet all this has a limit, and a limit far—far inside of what prophecy undertakes to do. It is confined to physical laws. It leaves out the whole element of will —that on which so many of the events of prophecy actually turn^the will of princes, of statesmen, of warriors, of the numberless hosts of human beings engaged in civil affairs or in battle, whose separate purposes may enter into the result. It proceeds on the supposition that the order of events will not be disturbed by the divine will—a thing of which no astronomer can be sure. It has little—nothing to do with the common affairs of life; with the things which enter into commerce, arts, discoveries, inventions, improvements, poetry, eloquence, and song; with the duration of cities and empires; with the great men that may come and play their part, and then disappear. Who among the gifted men of our race can foretell these things ?
Sagacity.—This is a power of penetrating the future to a certain extent, given to man for important purposes ; a power on which much of the success of the life of an individual, and much of the prosperity of nations may depend. It has every evidence of being a divine arrangement, for it lies in the direction of exalted genius, and can not be the result of mere education, training, or experience. In a humble form it exists in most minds; it is quite indispensable to the successful prosecution of business; it serves much to distinguish one man from another in the same calling in life. The success of one merchant above another; the success of one banker above another—nay, the success of one farmer above another, may as often be traced to that sagacity which looks into the future, and anticipates the changes in the commercial world which will be likely to occur, as to any other endowment. In its higher forms, as in cases like those of Burke and Canning, it seems almost to approach the region of inspiration and prophecy. In its humbler forms, and perhaps in its higher forms, it is capable of cultivation by experience ; by reading; by an increased knowledge of the ordinary course of events; by a calculation of probabilities; by an acquaintance with the past. The statesman combines his knowledge of the experience of the world with his own power of penetrating the future; the sagacity of the merchant is often almost the mere result of large and long observation and experience.
In either case, however, it never rises to certainty; it is never prophecy. It makes mention of no names; it specifies no dates; it enters into no particulars—no details. It draws out the plans of no battles or sieges on land, and no naval conflicts; it brings no actors by name on the stage; it describes no burning towns, no wasted fields, no permanent desolations, no future condition of cities, states, or empires. Burke's celebrated prediction of the consequences of a "Regicide Peace" is of the most general character; enters into no details; anticipates no history in dates and names, and leaves no impression on the mind of what the details would be. In one of the most splendid passages in the English language, Macaulay ventures a suggestion in regard to the time when London may be a scene of wide desolation, and imagines an inhabitant of New Zealand, on the ruins of London Bridge, sketching the ruins of St. Paul's. Speaking of the Roman Catholic Church, he says, in that passage: " She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world, and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain—before the Frank had passed the Rhine—when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch—when idols were still worshiped in the Temple of Mecca; and she may still exist in undiminished vigor when some traveler from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's."*
* Review of Ranke's History of the Popes. Miscellanies, vol. iii., p. 320, 321.
This is splendid 'writing; this is eloquence of language; this is sublime in the description of what might —of what may occur. But it is not prophecy. If he had said that this will be, it would be prophecy; and if he had gone into detail, as Isaiah has done in regard to a city larger in its area than even modern London, and concerning which, at the time, there was as little probability that it would be a " vast solitude" as there is that London will be; if he had said, as Isaiah does, " It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation; but wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there; and the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces; I will make it a possession for the bittern, and pools of water; and I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah, xiii., 20-22; xiv., 23), this would have been prophecy.
Except by prophecy—by direct inspiration of God— the power of man in regard to the future is limited by those things which have now been adverted to. His desires, indeed, his efforts have not been bounded by these things, nor has he been satisfied by this arrangement; for there is no one thing that he has more longed for, or for which he has struggled more, than to penetrate the dark veil which shuts out the future, and to make his own power in regard to the future correspond with his power over the past. By the interpretation of dreams; by consultation of the stars; by attempting to make compacts with the dead to induce them to disclose the secret which is supposed to be in their possession; by mysterious combinations of numbers ; by oracles; by torturing nature to make it disclose the secret; by somnambulism; by spiritualism^ by the flight of birds; by inspecting the entrails of animals ; by the supposed visitations of the gods, and the return of the departed to the earth, men have sought to set aside the great law which God has ordained on this: subject, but in vain. Man reaches distant worlds by the telescope; he whispers so as to be heard across continents, sending his thoughts beneath the waves of the ocean, and over deserts and mountains; he chronicles the centuries lying back of all recorded history, by which the earth was slowly moulded to be the residence of living beings; he marks with unerring precision the movements of far distant worlds, but not one thing in the future, even that which is nearest to him, can he learn; not one response can he get to all the modes in which he asks the question, W/iat is to be tomorrow ?
Prophecy is the only thing which discloses that, and to that we now turn with the inquiry whether, to any extent and for any purpose, God has lifted the veil and disclosed the future to man ? If he has, it is a miracle, like any other miracle. The power to disclose the future, like the power to create a world or to raise the dead, is beyond the power of man. The limitation in the one case is in regard to time; in the other in regard to power. In either case, all beyond is of God. The one is miracle, the other is prophecy.
The following things are essential to 'prophecy: First. That the prediction be beyond the power of man in penetrating the future; that it be not a vision of hope; that it be not the result of a mathematical calculation; that it be not within the limits of mere political sagacity. The inspiration of hope is not prophecy, for it makes nothing certain. The calculation of an eclipse is not prophecy, for it depends on fixed laws. The suggestions of sagacity are not prophecy, for they are not fixed and certain; they give no dates, no names, no details.
Second. It must be demonstrated that the prediction was before the event. Every man has a right to require that this shall be put beyond suspicion.
Third. The prediction must be fairly applicable to the event. It should not refer to one of many things to which it might be adjusted with equal ease, but to one thing, and so definite that it can not be adjusted to another, except as that other may be an unfolding of it. The prediction of the destruction of Babylon must be of Babylon, and so expressed that it shall describe that city in its future ruin, and not Tyre, Nineveh, Petra, Jerusalem, Rome.
Fourth. The language should be such that it will be unmistakable. Whether words or symbols are used, they must be such that by fair, not by forced interpretation, the prediction is applicable to the event. The enemies of revelation have a right to demand this; its friends are bound to show that it is so.
But there are some things of equal clearness which are not to be demanded, and which are essential to a just view of the subject, but which are not as likely to be conceded as these would be. It is important that we have a clear understanding with the enemies of revelation in regard to them also.
First. In order to prophecy it is not necessary that there should be an exact and minute specification of names, dates, and circumstances. The reasons of this are obvious: (a) If there were such an exact specification it would be possible to defeat the prophecy. (b) An event can be designated with sufficient certainty without such an exact specification of pames, dates, and circumstances. (c) A predicted event, that seems obscure before the event occurs, may become clear when the event is accomplished. Such may be the clearness of the event, so entirely may it tally with the prediction, so plain may become the statements in the prophecy that seemed to be obscure, and so perfectly may the facts in the event harmonize apparently contradictory statements in the prophecy, that, while it would not have been easy or possible, perhaps, to have made a statement in detail beforehand of what would be, there can be no doubt of what was intended in the prophecy. Thus, for illustration, in the prophecies respecting the Messiah, there seemed to be two classes of predictions that were wholly irreconcilable, and that led to wholly different expectations of what he would be. One class described him as a man in humble life; a man of sorrows ; a man rejected, despised, put to death, buried. The other class described him as the descendant of David; as one who would occupy his throne; as a prince and a conqueror; as triumphant; as reigning; as setting up a perpetual kingdom; as going forth to the conquest of the world; as triumphing over all his foes; as successful and glorious in his work. One class of the prophecies described him as one who had all the susceptibilities of a man, and who was subject to all the infirmities of a man; the other class described him as the " mighty God," and the " Father of the everlasting age" (Isa., ix., 6). The Jews naturally, in carrying out their ideas of national pride and glory, selected the latter view, and anticipated in their Messiah an illustrious prince and conqueror — one who in his reign would surpass even the magnificent reigns of David and Solomon. They were never able when he appeared, nor are they to this day, to blend the two descriptions in one person. The Christian sees no difficulty in the subject, for he finds, he thinks, all these things united in him who," being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil., ii, 6-8).
What is here stated may exist to some extent under any circumstances, and in the plainest descriptions, from the nature of the human mind, and from the necessity of the case. A description of a person that we have not seen, or an event that we have not witnessed, may be very obscure before the person is seen or the event occurs, but plain enough, and so plain that the correspondence can not be mistaken, when the person is seen or the event occurs. Who ever obtained any correct idea of Niagara Falls by a description? Who, say to the most polished Greek and Roman mind, could have conveyed by mere description any idea of a printing-press, of a locomotive engine, of the magnetic telegraph? Who could convey to one born blind an idea of the prismatic colors, or to the deaf an idea of the sounds of the great organ at Harlaem ?
As I suppose all students do, I had formed an idea of Rome from the descriptions which I had read in my early years. I had grown up with the idea until it became as definite in my own mind as the lanes, and roads, and fields, and streams of the quiet country-place where I was born. I could have drawn out a map" of it, and could have located the Tiber, and the Vatican, and the Forum, and the Coliseum. When, some years ago, I was actually there, I had two Romes in my eye •
—the Rome of my youth and of all my life, and the Rome of the reality, and nothing scarcely could have been more unlike than the two. Yet the Rome of the reality, in fact, corresponded with all the descriptions that I had read; all those accounts were blended and combined in it; and the Rome of my youthful imagination gradually gave way to the reality, so that I can recall it no more. So the anticipations of the Messiah grew up among the Hebrews. A distinct conception of him, apparently as drawn by the prophets, was formed in the national mind. When the reality appeared, he was, therefore, not recognized as the Messiah, and was rejected. To the present day that Messiah of the youth of the Hebrew people—the Messiah of the imagination—is before the unconverted Hebrew mind. To the converted Jew—to Saul of Tarsus—that imaginary Messiah passed away, and the Messiah of the reality became fixed in- the mind, blending all the ancient descriptions in harmony. Paul, I think, refers to this illusion and this reality when he says of himself, " Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more" (2 Cor., v., 16).
Second. In presenting the argument from prophecy, we may lay out of view the fact that many of the prophecies are yet difficult and obscure. Undoubtedly that may be so, and it is to be admitted that it is so. To a certain extent, for the reason already stated, all prophecies must be in a measure obscure until they are fulfilled, and, as there may be many which are not yet fulfilled, it is not to be denied that they may be obscure. But this fact does not affect those that are clear—clear either in the terms in which they are expressed, or made clear by the fact that they are fulfilled. They stand on their own basis, and are to be interpreted as if there were no other prophecies, whether real or obscure, true or false. Moreover, the fact that they are now obscure does not make it certain that they will always be so, or that even they may not, at some future time, have a place among those predictions so clearly fulfilled as to show that they had their origin in God.
It may be remarked, also, that what is now affirmed respecting prophecy is also true of the facts respecting science, or of knowledge of any kind. Many of the real truths of science are to us, as yet, very obscure, very dim and shadowy. They seem to be enveloped in a mist which we can not penetrate. They are not defined, even in their outlines, fully and clearly. There are many doubts, even in the best cultivated minds, in regard to them. The age of the world, for instance, is one such point. No one has been able to determine it by measuring the duration of the various periods which geology reveals as having succeeded each other, in the formation of rocks, and soils, and seas, since the creation, or since the matter of the earth was brought into being. Indeed, no approximation has been made to this, nor has any one ventured even to conjecture how long this has Hteen.* But the obscurity on this point in no wise affects the clearness and the certainty of the facts which geology has disclosed in regard to the changes of the earth. The evidence of each one of these rests entirely on its own basis, quite independent of the inquiry about the times which have elapsed since those great changes commenced. Time, too, and farther inquiry may throw light on the questions which are still obscure, and they
* "The actual lengths of these ages it is not possible to determine even approximately. All that geology can claim to do is to prove the general proposition that Time is long." —Dana's Text-book of ' Geology, p. 244.
may, at some far-distant period in the future, take their place among the clear and acknowledged truths of science, as the now obscure prophecies may among those that are plain.
Third. For a similar reason, we may lay out of view the question about the interpretation of many of the prophecies as forced and fanciful. Undoubtedly they are so, and it is a great abridgment of our task in interpreting prophecy that we are not required, in defending the divine origin of the predictions of the Bible, to undertake the defense of those interpretations. For the vagaries of the human mind; for the weaknesses of religionists, however amiable; for idiosyncracies among good men; for fanciful theories in regard to interpretation; for the failure of expectations founded on such interpretations, prophecy itself is in no wise responsible, any more than science is for the failure of the experiments to secure perpetual motion or to construct a flying machine. The world is quite full of Second Advent literature, much of it already occupying the same place in our libraries which the ingenious plans for securing perpetual motion or constructing flying machines do in the Patent Office, but these no more *flect the reality of prophecy than those abandoned specimens of visionary ingenuity and skill do the steam-boat or the telegraph.
Fourth. For the purpose of the present argument, also, we may*lay out of view the manner in which the sacred writers themselves quote the prophecies and apply the language of the Old Testament to the events recorded in the New, under the general form of quotation, iva -ir)po>$ri (Matt, i., 22 ; ii., 15 ; iv., 14; xxi., 4 ; xxvi., 56; xxvii, 35 ; Mark, xiv., 29; John, xii., 38, et scepe). In saying that these quotations may be laid out of view, it is not admitted that they are on a false principle, or that they can not be vindicated, but that they do , not affect the real question about prophecy. If it should be conceded that their manner of making these quotations could not be vindicated, still the admission would only. affect the question of their own inspiration, not the main question whether there are prophecies of whose application there could be no doubt. The sole inquiry in regard to the passages that come under the form of quotation included in the words tva irX^pwSij— "that it might be fulfilled"—would be whether this manner of quotation would be consistent with just views of inspiration. A solution of the difficulties on that point, or a failure to solve the difficulties, would in no way affect the more general inquiry whether there may not be prophecies which are encumbered with no difficulties of this nature. They must stand or fall on their own merit. The questiqp of inspiration may be affected by this inquiry, but not the question of prophecy.
Laying these things, therefore, out of view, as in no way affecting the inquiry before us, I shall now proceed to make a few remarks on the evidence from prophecy of the truth of revelation as it appears in the nineteenth century. Of course the remarks must be few. I can not go in detail into an examination of the numerous predictions in the Bible in regard to the future.
The Bible, more than any other book, deals with the future.
(a) Philosophers and historians rarely venture into the region of the future, for it is not in their province. Their field is mainly the past; their range in regard to the future is limited to reflections and inferences from the past as to what the future, supposing that the world is governed by uniform laws, and that the same causes will produce the same results, may be. That luxury will corrupt and destroy a nation is one of those general maxims derived from the experience of the past, and it may therefore be predicted that where luxury abounds it will produce the same eSect hereafter which it has done before. But beyond such general maxims philosophers and historians do not venture to go. Mr. Gibbon deals with the past; Tacitus dealt with the past; Mr. Hume and Lord Macaulay deal with the past; and, profound as are the reflections of these men, especially those of Tacitus, on human aflairs, on human nature as exhibited by the course of events, and on what may be the destiny of nations or the advances of society hereafter, yet they never venture to suggest what may be the boundaries of empires in times to come; what new forms of dominion may arise; what remarkable personages may appear and act their part on the great theatre of human aflairs ; what cities may be besieged or lands laid waste by war; what new towns may be built, or at what periods of time great and important events may be expected to occur. Men can calculate eclipses, but they do not venture to foretell how events will occur that are dependent on the human will, or consequent on new discoveries and inventions in the sciences and the arts. The Bible, however, deals as much and as freely with the future as with the past, and the sacred writers do not hesitate any more to describe what will occur than to record what has happened. The nearest approach to such predictions as occur in the Scriptures, in the ancient classic writings, is probably found in the " Pollio" of Virgil (Eel. iv.), bearing, in some respects, a strong resemblance to some passages in Isaiah; but it would be easy to show how far short this comes of prophecy.
(b) False religions do not deal much with the future. As Mohammed in his public life expressly disclaimed reliance on miracles as not necessary to the establishment of his religion, so, in the Koran, he has practically disclaimed reliance on prophecy as equally unnecessary. There are no predictions in the Koran corresponding with those of the Messiah in the Scriptures, or with those pertaining to Babylon, to Petra, to Tyre, to Edom, or to Jerusalem. Mohammed, perhaps, had sagacity enough to see that the truth of any such predictions would soon come to a practical test, for there is nothing on which men who wish to establish a permanent religion, or a permanent fame, will be so slow to venture as on predictions in regard to the future. The Bible, therefore, has laid itself open to detection as no other book has, if it is false, by its pretended disclosures of the future. Lord Bacon, in his will, said, "For my • name and memory, I leave them to men's charitable speeches, and to foreign nations, and to the next ages.'1' The Bible, in all the reproaches cast upon it, has thus left its vindication to the " next ages"—to remotest periods and generations.
The nature of the argument I shall state now in few words. There is not time to go into detail, nor is it necessary for my purpose.
First. The sacred books describe things as they now exist—now, in this nineteenth century. The range of subjects to which this remark is applicable is very large, but the nature of the argument would be the same whether we take the whole range of subjects into the account, or confine our illustrations to a few of them. As the facts are not such that they could or would be ' called in question, it can not be alleged that any advantage would be taken, or any unfairness evinced, if we
confine our attention to a very few of these things. We may take, then, as a specimen—as a sufficient illustration—the condition of two celebrated cities in the past, Babylon and Tyre. The remark which I am now making is, that now, in the nineteenth century, the condition of those cities is what the prophets said it would be more than two thousand years ago.
Babylon.—The prophets said that the following would be its condition: " And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation; neither shall the Arabian pitch his tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there; but wild beasts of the desert shall lie there, and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures, and owl* shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate • houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces; and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged" (Isa., xiii., 19-22). "I will also make it a possession for the bittern, and pools of water; and I will sweep it with the besom. of destruction, saith the Lord of hosts" (Isa., x-iv., 23).
This is the condition of Babylon now, and has been for centuries. Every part of this statement can be confirmed, and has been confirmed by travelers in the East, and in regard to the facts there are no varying statements. My time will not allow me to go into detail hr showing the accuracy of this description; and it is unnecessary, for there are no differences of statements in regard to what Babylon is, and has been for centuries.*
* For details on this subject, if any are disposed to pursue it farther, I may be permitted to refer to my Notes on Isaiah on these passages, and to Keith on the Prophecies, p. 185-190, 218-235.
Tyre.—Of Tyre, the prophets said that the following would be its condition: " Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up; and they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers; and I will scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock: it shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea; for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God" (Ezek,xxvL, 3-5). "I will make thee like the top of a rock; thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou sbalt be built no more, for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God" (Ezek., xxvi., 14). "I will make thee a terror, and thou shalt be no more: though thou be sought for, yet thou shalt never be found again, saith the Lord God" (Ezek., xxvi., 21). This is, and has been the condition of Tyre for many centuries now, as might be shown by any number of witnesses. " The vicissitudes of time, or rather the barbarism of the Greeks of the lower empire," says Volney, "have accomplished their prediction. Instead of that ancient commerce," says he, " so active and so extensive, Tyre, reduced to a miserable village, has no other trade than the exportation of a few sacks of corn and raw cotton; nor any merchant but a single Greek factor, who scarcely makes sufficient profit to maintain his family." "The whole village of Tyre," he adds, "contains only fifty or sixty poor families, who live obscurely on the produce of their little grounds and a small fishery."—Travels, p. 212. Bruce describes Tyre as a "rock whereon fishers dry their nets." Of Tyre in its present condition, there is no more difference in the description of travelers than there is in the description of Babylon. The accordance of the facts with the prophetic statements could be easily established in the most minute details.
The remarks now made might be extended, with like accuracy of description, to Nineveh, Edom, Petra, Jerusalem, to the condition of the Hebrew people, I believe also to the fall of the Roman empire, the establishment of the kingdom of the Messiah, and the rise and character of the Papal power. But the discussion would be too extended, and would not add essential strength to the argument. Let us, therefore, in the consideration of the argument, confine ourselves to the two great cities now mentioned, and to the cities with which they were connected, and which rose from the same causes, and which by the same causes were made permanently desolate, as the prophets said they would be.
Second. What was predicted, and what has occurred, in regard to the cities to which I have referred as an illustration of the argument, was, in itself, in a high degree imprdbable. There was no reason why Babylon should become a scene of utter and permanent desolation ; there was none why Tyre should cease to be an important sea-port, and should become a place on which the poor fisherman should spread his nets; and there was no probability that either would occur. A similar prophecy now, in regard to London or New York, would have as much probability as the prophecies respecting Babylon and Tyre had when they were uttered ; and strange and improbable as Macaulay's description of the inhabitant of New Zealand standing on a broken arch of London Bridge, amid a scene of wide desolation, and making a sketch of the ruins of St. Paul's, seems to us, yet it is no more strange than the predictions of Isaiah and Ezekiel would have appeared to the men of their times in regard to Babylon and Tyre. Babylon, in its position, its strength, its resources, its trade, its wealth, its relation to the vast empire of which it was the capital, and the other empires of the East with which it was connected, had all the requisites of a great and permanent city; Tyre, in its harbor, its relation to the commerce of Asia, its situation on the Mediterranean, with no rival harbor on the whole of the eastern shores of that great sea, and its position between Asia and Europe, through which the commerce of the East must pass, had all the requisites of a permanent and rich sea-port; nor could it be shown that Liverpool or New York, in relation to the commerce of the world now, are more favorably situated than Tyre was then. The great traffic of the East—of the world —passed through it, and it must have seemed then that that traffic would continue to pass through it forever.
Third. The causes of the permanent ruin of these cities, and of the other cities in the same group—Petra, Tadmor, Baalbec—were such as could not then be foreseen. The foretelling of those causes was wholly beyond the existing state of knowledge at that age of the world—wholly beyond the range of human sagacity.*
The main cause of these great changes, and perhaps the sole cause of these permanent desolations, was the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope, and the consequent change which that event made in the commerce of the world. Babylon, and Tyre, and Petra, and Pal
* In relation to these causes, which there was not time fully to state in the Lecture, I may be permitted to refer to an article on the "Ancient Commerce of Western Asia," in the Biblical Repository for 1840, and reprinted in the volumes entitled "Miscellaneous Essays and Reviews," published by Ivison and Phinney, 1855, vol. ii., p. 5-60.
myra were indeed in ruins before that event occurred, but there was nothing in the nature of the case that prevented their being rebuilt again, until the causes which had made them great had ceased forever. The great and rich commerce of the East had been the prize sought for by all ancient nations, and that commerce had laid the foundation, or had given importance to the cities and sea-ports which were in the line of its direction, as that commerce subsequently made Alexandria and Venice, in a great measure, what they were. The discovery of the Cape of Good Hope—a new passage to India — gave that commerce a new direction forever, and sealed the truth of the prophecies—forever turned it from Petra, and Palmyra, and Tyre, and Babylon, and Alexandria, and Venice, as the ocean ships from Asia to California, and the Pacific Railroad, may yet turn it • away from London and Liverpool. There were no causes when the prophets spoke that tended to make Babylon, and Petra, and Tyre what they are, any more than there were causes which could be foreseen to produce the malaria in the Pontine Marshes, desolating Rome, or than there will be causes in the future which could now be foreseen which will make Philadelphia or London pools of water and the habitation of owls. Mere political sagacity could never, in Palestine or any where else, have foreseen the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope, or the effects of the use of the magnetic needle, or the changes produced by the railroad and the steam vessel; nor could political sagacity have predicted the flowing in of the sand that permanently blocked up the harbor of Tyre.
Fourth. The prophetic statements to which I have referred were written before the events occurred. In respect to some prophecies, as, for example, the prediction of the beginning and the close of the Babylonish captivity, in which both the prophecy and the event are now far distant in the past, it may require no small amount of learning and argument to demonstrate that the prophecy was written before the event; in respect to the events now under consideration, no such study can be necessary, for it can not be made a matter of doubt. I believe, indeed, that it can be fully shown by the sternest literary criticism that the prophecies respecting Babylon and Tyre were written before the decline and fall of those great cities, and when they were, in fact, in the meridian height of their splendor; but, however that may be, there can be no doubt that they were written before the present time, and, therefore, anterior to their fulfillment as the fulfillment is now—the fulfillment of absolute and perpetual desolation. If it could have been foretold by natural sagacity, or by reasoning on the ordinary course of events, as probable or even certain, that they would be overthrown by war, or by time, or by changes in human affairs, yet how, by such sagacity, could it have been predicted that they would be perpetually and permanently desolate ? How could the prominent cause of that perpetual desolation —the changing of the commerce of the world by a new route to the Indies, of which they at that time never dreamed—have been foreseen ? And how, in any circumstances, could their perpetual desolation have been predicted ? Do cities never rise again after they have been destroyed ? Are they never rebuilt after they have been razed to their foundations by war ? Jerusalem— how often was it rebuilt after it had been laid in ruins! Rome—how often has that been laid waste by fire; by invading armies; by the Goths and Vandals; by malaria ; and yet how often it has been rebuilt again! London—how often has the fire passed over it, and yet it has risen to augmented wealth and grandeur! Lisbon, destroyed by an earthquake—how soon did it rise again! Why, then, are Babylon, and Tyre, and Petra, and Tadmor, doomed to perpetual desolation? And how could it be known that they would be ? But there they are, now, in this nineteenth century, precisely as the prophets said they would be—piles of ruins; utter desolations; the habitation of dragons, and satyrs, and owls.
Fifth. It remains, then, in summing up what I have said, to observe that these things are beyond the range of the unaided powers of man. They are not a mere guess, or a vague conjecture of what might be, like Ma-. caulay's remark about the New Zealander; they are positive affirmations of what would be. They can not come under the province of hope, for their enemies could have seen no ground of hope that they would be thus permanently desolate. They are not the result of mathematical calculation, as the movements of the heavenly bodies are, for ruined cities come under no such laws. The predictions are not the result of political sagacity. In particularity; in definiteness; in minuteness; in detail, they are wholly unlike the predictions of Burke and Canning, for even Burke, wonderful as his sagacity was, never ventured on any predictions that would correspond in detail with the events following the French Revolution and the Regicide Peace. They are, therefore, the result of Prophecy—the effect of a supernatural endowment of man, on a line similar to miracles J and a confirmation now, like miracles, of the divine origin of the book in which they are found.
The following, then, is the argument in this nineteenth century:
(a) There are the books containing these prophecies. They have come down to us from the far-distant past — the most venerable books in the possession of mankind. Those books do not pass away as their authors did. They live. They have lived for more than two thousand years. They will live on to all coming time. They do not change. Not a word is altered; not a letter is lost. They may be examined with the utmost patience and leisure of criticism, and the world is invited to the examination.
(b) There are the facts. The East is full of them. They, too, do not now change. Babylon and Tyre are what they have been for more than a thousand years, and they will remain what they are for more than a thousand years to come, except that the corroding tooth of time will slowly remove the proofs, as now found in their remains, that they once existed at all. They, too, may be examined as leisurely as the books. Travelers tell us what they are, and they do not vary in their statements. Any man, if he has any doubt on the subject, may go and examine those ruins. "I would," said a countryman of our own, when speaking of the ruins of a city in the East, " I would that the skeptic could stand, as I did, among the ruins of this city, and there open the sacred book, and read the words of the inspired penman, written when this desolate place was one of the greatest cities in the world. I see the scoff arrested, his cheek pale, his lip quivering, and his heart quaking with fear, as the ancient city cries out to him, in a voice loud and powerful as one risen from the dead; though he would not believe Moses and the prophets, he believes the handwriting of God himself in the desolation and eternal ruin around him."*
* Stephens, Incidents of Travel, etc., vol. ii., p. 76.