|Vol. II, No. 7
Tishry 5605, October 1844
The literal meaning of prophecy is what Christian writers would, if they could handsomely do it, get rid of; not because the prophecies are in themselves hard to be understood, or difficult to be explained, but because their obvious meanings and plain drift run counter to the system which they labour to establish; for, otherwise, they are very fond of the plain sense and literal meaning, provided there is any appearance in their favour, or resemblance by which they can make it square with their doctrines; for they then exult as if that alone were sufficient to prove their point, overlooking whatever else is necessarily connected with, and belonging to the same subject; they generally extract here and there little scraps and parts of scripture, and join them together, but which, considered and examined in their proper places, and connected with their proper subjects, mean quite a different thing.
But, notwithstanding their commentaries, their innumerable volumes to reconcile their contradictions, their endeavours to drown or hide the insufficiency of their proofs, by glosses and rhetorical discourses, their subtleties and evasions, their declamations and subterfuges, their arts and continual inventions, their types and their allegories, they still find themselves greatly embarrassed and perplexed, how, consistently, to prove the prophecies fulfilled. Neither can they in any literal degree (not even to their own satisfaction) fit the accomplishment to the prophecy, or the type to the antitype. We are, indeed, told that “one of the characters which Jesus claims and assumes in the gospel is this—that he was the person spoken of by Moses and the prophets; whether he is this person or not must be tried by the words of prophecy.”* Undoubtedly it must; but how the character given of the Messiah by the prophets answers the accomplishment in Jesus, by which we are to judge of his claim, and whether he is that person or not, is what ought to have been made clear and evident from the prophecies; for it is here that the difficulties lie. But the learned prelate, instead of proving this point, and clearing up the difficulties which attend it, most unaccountably shifts the argument; for, though he refers you to the prophets for consideration, as the criterion by which you must form a judgment, yet he tells you that, “ ‘tis evident the word of prophecy was not intended to give a clear and distinct light in this case;”† “that prophecy was never intended to be a very strict evidence;”‡ “ ‘tis absurd to expect clear and evident conviction from every single prophecy as applied to Christ.”§—How so? Must people be sent to the prophecies to judge whether Jesus is the person spoken of, and yet be told “that prophecy was never intended to be a very distinct evidence; and that it is absurd to expect conviction from that which we are sent to, and by which we must try his claim?” Why are we sent to the prophets for conviction, if it is not to be had there? or if it is absurd to expect it? But the absurdity does most certainly centre in this learned prelate; for I would willingly know on what other evidence it can be proved to the Jews, that Jesus is the Messiah, but from the prophecies concerning him in the Old Testament And if these be clearly and evidently fulfilled, as they pretend they are, then let them abide by the test; for it is ridiculous, first to send them to the prophets to judge his claim, and then take away the force of their evidence, by declaring that they cannot expect conviction from them; and, consequently, that they can have none!
The Bishop, as a means to establish the insufficiency of the evidence from the prophecies, takes great pains to represent them as dark and obscure. You will no doubt think his conduct strange; and indeed he thinks so himself, and makes the following apology for his behaviour: “You may think it perhaps strange,” says he, “that I should be here pleading, as it were, for the obscurity of ancient prophecy, whereas you may very well conceive it would be more to the purpose of a Christian divine to maintain their clearness. Now, as Moses in another case said, ‘I would to God all the Lord’s people were prophets; so say I, in this case; I would to God all the prophecies of the Lord were manifest unto all his people; but it matters not what we wish or think.”* But there are those who maintain their clearness, whether it be for the purposes of Christian divines or not.
Whoever is any way acquainted with the writings of such learned divines as have wrote in support and defence of Christianity, must be fully convinced of the insurmountable difficulties under which they labour, in proving the messiahship of Jesus from the prophecies, as applied, and said to be fulfilled by him. For some, proceeding on the allegorical scheme, ground the pretensions of Jesus on the turn which they are pleased to give the prophecies, and apply them as fulfilled in the sense which they impose on them. Others, unsatisfied with arguments drawn from such proofs, oppose this scheme as weak and absurd, (though thereby they oppose the evangelists and apostles) and endeavour to establish his messiahship, by pretending to a literal application of the prophecies. The consequence is, they prove nothing but the glorious deliverance expected by the Jews. Some, in these difficulties, fly for refuge to his miracles, and pretend to prove his messiahship from his works. Some fly to the goodness and soundness of his doctrines, and from thence prove his messiahship. Some invent a heavenly kingdom, and from that oppose the prophecies. Others take on themselves, and usurp the names of Israel and Judah, and then prove the prophecies accomplished in them. But, after all, they seem so dissatisfied wlth these inventions of theirs, that at last they are obliged to confess their insufficiency, and declare, and as firmly believe, the restoration of the Jews, as the Jews do themselves; and this they prove by the same arguments, and from those very prophecies on which the Jews ground their hopes and expectations. All which I shall make very clear to you.
Such are the methods which are made use of, and such the contradictions and inconsistencies to be met with in their writings; and often times in the same author. But you must not impute this to their want either of abilities or learning, for many of them are famous for both; but you must impute it to the cause, which in itself is inconsistent, and not to be either supported or defended on any rational principle whatever; and they are reduced to such perplexities in defending the prophecies mentioned in the Old Testament, and said to be fulfilled by Jesus in the New, that not being able to show their connexions and pertinency, ‘tis no wonder that they represent them as dark and obscure, and give them up as difficult to be applied, and endeavour to extricate themselves by placing the proofs on something more to their purpose, though in their hearts they wish they had more clear prophecies. But is it reasonable to expect the conviction of the Jews but from the clearest evidence? Give me leave to ask, with the learned prelate, “Is not this now a choice account of the gospel? Are we still surrounded on all sides with darkness?”* And pray who can help it, if the plain sense and meaning of the prophecies run counter to the intents and designs of that to which they are applied? And the fault does not lie in the prophecies, for they are most clear, though very dark indeed as they are applied. But the reason is plain and obvious; because they never were intended to prove that which they are applied to, and for that reason will eternally be dark and obscure, in like manner as any passage out of any other author would be dark and obscure if it should be applied contrary to the author’s meaning and plain sense; but the darkness, in such case, would not be in the author, but in the application. Nothing can be plainer, according to the gospel scheme, than, that the words of prophecy were the foundation on which Jesus claimed the messiahship; and as a demonstration that he was the person foretold, he refers to them for conviction, and tells those he spake to: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.”† “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; For he wrote of me.”‡ “And he said unto them, these are the words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses and the prophets, and in the psalms concerning me.”§ “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”||
Now let me ask, did Jesus apply the prophecies to himself in their clear sense, and plain meaning? or did he impose another sense and meaning on them? were they plain and clear prophecies by which he undertook to prove himself the Messiah, such as carried their own convictions with them? or were they dark and obscure, such as it is absurd to expect conviction from? If he did it according to the clear sense and plain meaning of the prophecies, then, on the same foundation, he may still be proved from the prophecies; and it will be absurd, if this be the case, to endeavour either to darken or throw obscurity on them; but if he proved himself the Messiah from dark and obscure prophecies; or, which is the same thing, if he applied the prophecies in a dark and obscure sense; then must such proof be insufficient to produce conviction; for a “figurative and dark description of a future event,” says a learned prelate, “will be figurative and dark when the event happens, and consequently will have all the obscurity of a dark and figurative description, as well after, as before the event, so that it can be no proof at all.”* And let Christians say what they please, it is certain that the prophets speak clearly and intelligibly concerning the Messiah and his office; and it is from them that we are to judge, who is the true Messiah; consequently, if Jesus is the Messiah, and they can prove him to be the true one, how absurd must it be to represent the prophecies as dark and obscure! or to pretend that no conviction is to be expected from them, when “all the prophets from Samuel, and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold these days.”† From the prophecies it was that the Bereans found out that Jesus was the Messiah; “for they searched the scriptures daily whether those things were so.”‡
Now if this foundation on which the Christian religion is built, the foundation on which Jesus and his apostles established it, can afford no distinct evidence, “nor ever was intended to give a clear and distinct light on the case,”' what must the consequence be of Jesus and his followers appealing to its evidence, and building on a foundation so precarious? for no superstructure can possibly be stronger than the foundation. For if Jesus be clearly revealed in the prophecies, then must the application of them to him be evident; if this be the case, then cannot the prophecies be dark and obscure. But if, on the contrary, they be not clearly and evidently applicable to him as the Messiah, then is all their trouble and pretension vain and ineffectual; for clear proofs never can be had from dark and obscure passages; neither can the conclusion be stronger than the premises.
The prophecies concerning the Messiah, his kingdom, and great glory, as well as that of the Jews, are foretold with such particularity and plainness by all the prophets, as cannot be surpassed by any one description that ever was made. To suppose that the Almighty God should, in an affair of the utmost importance, (an affair that concerned both learned and ignorant,) deliver himself in such terms or words as must introduce into our minds ideas the most opposite and contrary to what his goodness intended to reveal and describe, is to suppose Him capable of deceiving those whom He condescended to instruct and enlighten, and, “it is irrational and impious to suppose that the Almighty God, the good, and merciful God, would give to his creatures instructions, commands, and advice, which were puzzling, obscure, and uncertain, when their eternal salvation was depending upon their conceiving or applying them aright.”* Can any thing more unjust be imputed to God than to pretend He reveals one thing and means another? Yet this is the deplorable case. How many are the endeavours to make out this very thing? Learning, art, cunning, industry, power, and every human invention is made use of for this purpose; and to make way with their own senseless jargon, the words which, as coming from God, are infallible, they reject, set at naught; and then they set up themselves, and their explanations for such, as if they were neither peccable, fallible nor interested, or were not liable to error, deception, and imposition.