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CONCERNING DIVINE REVELATION.
IT is evident from reason, fact and experience, that mankind stand in need of a revelation from God, in order to know what God is—what is their own true state and moral character—whether he be reconcileable to them, who have rebelled against him—and if he be, what is the method he has appointed, in which he will be reconciled; and what man must be and do, in order to find acceptance in his sight: Wherein true happiness consists—whether there be another state—what are the favours he will grant in a future state, to those who serve and please him in this life—what are his grand designs in creating and governing the world, &c. The ignorance and uncertainty, with respect to these most important points, in which all men have been and still are, who have enjoyed no such revelation, is a constant, striking evidence of this.
There are, indeed, those who refuse to admit this evidence; and insist that human reason alone, unassisted by any revelation, except what is made in the works of creation and providence, is sufficient to investigate every necessary and important truth; and therefore think themselves authorized to reject and despise every other 10revelation that pretends to come from God, as the contrivance and production of designing, or weak, deluded men. But while they entertain so high an opinion of human reason, and especially their own, in the face of the glaring evidence from fact and experiment, just now mentioned, they have produced an incontestible evidence of their own sad mistake; for upon examination, the writings of the deists are found to contain numerous contradictions to each other, on points of the highest moment; and most of them have embraced for truth, many tenets most unreasonable and absurd. Thus, when they have renounced revelation, and boasted of their own reason, and relied upon that, as a sufficient and infallible guide, they have all, or most of them, run into darkness and delusion. And at the same time, there is abundant evidence, that all the real light and knowledge they appear to have in divine things, which they attribute to the unassisted exercise of their own reason, and which is more than the benighted heathen have, originated from that very revelation, which they discard and despise. With great propriety therefore they have been compared to a man who is in a room, illuminated by the bright shining of a candle, and thereby is assisted to behold the objects around him distinctly: But being ignorant of the assistance which he has from the candle, imagines he discerns those objects by the strength of his own sight; and therefore despises and endeavours to extinguish that light, which, if withdrawn, would leave him wholly in the dark.11 See Leland’s View of the Deistical Writers. And Clarke on revealed religion. Proposition vii. Besides, there is this farther evidence against them, and in favour of the revelation which they renounce, viz. It does not appear, that by all their writings and attempts, they have made any reformation in the morals of men, or that so much as one man has been reclaimed from a vicious course of life, and become sober, humble, benevolent, pious and devout, by being made a convert to them: But, on the contrary, most, if not all their disciples, are of a character directly the reverse of this; and they are most admired by men of vicious character, or who at least are evidently without 11 those virtues which are essential to constitute a truly religious man.
Moreover, if the revelation they discard represents men to be in such a state of depravity and vicious blindness, as to be disposed to shut their eyes against the clearest light, and to treat it as these men in fact do treat the Bible; and foretells this same treatment and conduct of theirs, as it certainly does; while they are thus slighting and rejecting it, they are really giving a strong evidence of its divine original.
But, to return: The usefulness and necessity of such a revelation is abundantly evident from fact, and has been implicitly or expressly acknowledged by many of the most wise and inquisitive among the heathen.22 See Dr. Clarke on the truth and certainty of the christian revelation. Proposition vii. Hence we may conclude, that God has given one to men: And when we find ourselves in possession of a book which has all the marks and evidence that we can reasonably expect or desire, that it is indeed from God, and suited to answer all the ends of a divine revelation, we shall be very criminal, if we do not receive it with gratitude, and improve it to promote all the important purposes for which it is given.
Such a revelation we find to be contained in the book called the Bible, or the holy scriptures. For while all other pretended revelations from God, which have been, or now are found among men, are without all proper evidence of their being such, and carry evident marks of imposture, which has been abundantly demonstrated, by those who have examined them: This has stood the test of the severest scrutiny both of its friends and enemies, and the more it has been examined, the more clearly does it appear, that all the objections which have been made against it are futile and groundless; and that there is sufficient and abundant evidence, that it is from God, suited to give satisfaction and a well grounded assurance of its divine original, to every impartial, honest mind.
The first part of this book was written by Moses, after he had given abundant evidence, by a series of astonishing miracles, done in the sight of the Egyptians, 12and all Israel, that he spake and acted, under the influence and direction of the supreme Ruler of the universe, and had sufficiently established his character, as a prophet divinely inspired. Moses said he was sent by Jehovah, the only true God, the God of Israel, to demand of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to let his people go out from under his oppressive hand; and foretold that if he refused to do it, God would slay his first born son. Pharaoh said he knew not who Jehovah was, and bid defiance to him, declaring he would pay no regard to his demand. This gave opportunity for an open trial and decision, whether Jehovah, the God of Israel, was the true God, or the gods of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The priests and the magicians of Egypt were collected, and entered the dispute with Moses. They wrought several miracles, in imitation of those which Moses did in the name of the God of Israel; but there was an evident, decided superiority in those wrought by Jehovah. And the contest went on, till at length they were not able to stand before Moses, and confessed publicly that Jehovah was God, and superior to theirs. Moses went on doing wonders, in the sight of all Egypt, and inflicting various successive judgments on Pharaoh, and on the Egyptians; at the same time particularly foretelling the miraculous chastisement which Jehovah had revealed to him he would inflict. At length, Moses informed Pharaoh, that if he should still persist in refusing to let Israel go out of Egypt, Jehovah had said to him, that he would slay all the first born in Egypt; and this was foretold to all Israel; which accordingly came to pass: And the Egyptians were made to fear and tremble before the God of Israel, and entreated his people to pray to him for them, acknowledging he was the supreme God. Thus Israel went out of Egypt, as Jehovah had promised they should, and were led through the Red Sea, the waters dividing to make them a way, at the direction and command of their God; while Pharaoh and the Egyptians, who were so hardy as to follow them, were all drowned in the waters. Thus Jehovah publicly triumphed over all the gods of Egypt, and executed judgment upon them; and by the fullest and most incontestible evidence established 13his character as the only true God. The people of Israel felt, and solemnly acknowledged this, at the Red Sea; and they were led on by the hand of Moses, attended with a constant course of miracles, unto Mount Sinai. On that Mount, God appeared in a manner suited to manifest his presence and awful glorious majesty, and excite their utmost attention, fear and reverence; and then, from the top of the mountain, out of the fire, with a voice that could be distinctly heard by all that vast multitude, consisting of at least three millions of people, he spake the ten commandments, and added no more. They were after wards written on two tables of stone, by the finger of God; which was most probably the first writing by letters in this world:33 See Dr Winder’s history of the rise, progress, declension and revival of knowledge, chiefly religious. And Moses, being taught of God to read it, and so how to write, was directed and inspired by God to write the history of the creation of the world, and the events which had taken place since; and of mankind, so far as was necessary these things should be recorded and known; and, more particularly, the history of the origin of the Hebrews, and the events of divine providence respecting them. As this is the first, and oldest, so it is the only authentic history of the creation of the world, and of mankind, from the beginning to that time, which is an era of about two thousand five hundred years. Moses also wrote a code of laws for that people, which he said were dictated to him by God, containing many promises and threatenings, together with a number of typical institutions, which were shadows of things to come. And there are many predictions in his writings, which have already come to pass; especially that God would raise up unto them that great prophet, the Messiah, of whom he himself was a type; and if they would not hear him, they should be destroyed.
God having thus established his character, as the only true God, by abundant and most clear evidence; and magnified Moses in the sight of the Egyptians and all Israel, as his servant and prophet, directed and inspired by him both to do, and to say, all that he did and said, in the name of Jehovah; he forbid them to hearken 14to a prophet, or any other person, who should arise and do wonders and miracles, not in the name of Jehovah, but of some other god, with a view to draw them away from obedience to the God of Israel, to worship and serve other gods. And every one who will attentively consider the subject, must at once see both the reasonableness of this injunction, and the wisdom and goodness of God in laying a proper foundation for it, and then giving it by Moses to Israel. For Jehovah having given all the evidence that could be reasonably expected or desired, by a series of public incontestible miracles, appearances, words and works, that he was the only true God; which all Israel had, under the fullest and most rational conviction, acknowledged, over and over again, and under this conviction, solemnly given themselves up to him, as their God; and promised to renounce all other gods, and cleave to, and obey Jehovah alone, as their God: It became them never from that time to call in question what had been made so abundantly evident, but with the greatest assurance, and the most sincere abhorrence, reject every thing which was evidently contrary to the light and revelation they had received; and not pay the least regard to any wonders and miracles, pretended to be done, or really wrought, to prove that Jehovah was not the only true God, and in favour of other gods.
These things have been observed, to show with what abundant evidence and assurance the church of Israel received the writings of Moses, as divine oracles, the infallible dictates of Heaven, which he was inspired to reveal and communicate; while it is at the same time acknowledged there are many other things which have not been here brought into view, which serve to strengthen this evidence, and show that to make any other supposition, and not to admit these writings as the oracles of Heaven, is most absurd, shutting the eyes against the most glaring light, and doing violence to every principle of reason.
After Moses, other prophets and inspired men were raised up to write the history of that nation; to declare the will of God, in reproving, directing and exhorting; and adding threatenings and promises, to deter them from 15 rebellion against Jehovah, and excite them to obey him. Whose writings also contain innumerable predictions of things to come, many of which are already come to pass; those in particular which foretold the coming of the Messiah, his incarnation, death, resurrection, exaltation and reign: and the events that should attend his coming with regard both to Jews and Gentiles, &c. &c. And in these writings there is a constant reference to the things contained in the writings of Moses, the wonders wrought by his hand, when they were delivered from a state of bondage in Egypt, &c. and to the institutions and laws, which by him were given to Israel: And at the same time there is a perfect consistence and harmony, between these writings and those of Moses.
The last prophet, whose writings we have, lived about four hundred years before Christ; so that the sacred writings which were given to the church of Israel, and which they received as divine oracles, and have carefully kept and preserved, not only to the time of the incarnation of Christ, but even down to this day, were written at different times, by different men, through the space of above a thousand years, from Moses the first, to Malachi, the last writer. And yet they all agree; and the latter constantly refer to the writings of Moses, and what is contained in them; and therefore they mutually strengthen the evidence, that they all wrote by inspiration, as most of them declared they did. And Malachi concludes with foretelling the coming of Christ, and directing the church of Israel to attend to the laws and institutions of Moses, and obey them, until Christ should come; and to expect no more divine revelation, till that time; plainly intimating, that then some further revelations from God should be given to the church.44 Mal. iv. 4, 5. Thus the standing, written revelation, given lo the Jewish church, was finished; and they were commanded not to attempt to make, or expect any addition to it, till the days of the Messiah.
Should it be said, that perhaps all these writings were forged by some wicked, designing man, or set of men, and that the facts and miracles therein related never did take place, nor was Moses, or any other man, inspired of God to write these things; but they were imposed 16upon that nation, and they were made to believe that which never had any reality: Such a supposition will appear most unreasonable, and even impossible, on the least reflection. When, and how, could this be done? How could that nation, even all of them, old and young, learned and unlearned, at any time be made to believe that all these things related in the writings of Moses, concerned them, and which he said took place publicly, and that they were seen and acknowledged by the whole nation; and that all those rites and laws had been received in a miraculous way from Jehovah, by their ancestors, and handed down, and practised from generation to generation, if there was no truth in all this; but they were all novo invented, and they never had any existence, or were heard of before, by any of them? This is perfectly incredible, and absolutely impossible. And it is equally incredible, that a whole nation should at any time receive such writings, and pretend they were all genuine and true, and handed down from their fathers, when at the same time they knew there was no truth in it, but was real imposture and delusion. Who can believe, that any nation or people under heaven, could ever be brought to do this; and receive and practise all those burdensome rites and ceremonies, and hand them down to their children as the institutions of Heaven, when they knew it was all a cheat? And this will appear yet more incredible, if possible, when we observe, that these writings give no agreeable, flattering idea of that nation, as a wise, excellent, and honourable people; but contrary to this, they are represented as a very stupid, ungrateful, rebellious people, always disposed to abuse and revolt from their God, and violate the most sacred obligations and solemn vows, by which they were constantly incurring the displeasure of Jehovah; and were severely punished, from time to time, for their horrid impiety, and most stupid idolatry, and their obstinate perseverance in shameful unrighteousness and cruelty towards each other. If a people could forge and receive a history of themselves as a nation, in which there was no truth; or if it were contrived and formed by any set of men, or by any one man among them, with a design to impose it on the nation, to be received by them 17as genuine; we may be sure it would be written in favour of that nation, and so as to flatter their selfishness, pride, and vanity, instead of representing them, as these writings do that nation, in a disagreeable, shameful, odious light.
Besides, these writings have no marks, not the least appearance of imposture and forgery, when most critically examined; but all appearance that can be desired, that they are genuine, and were written at the different times, and in the different circumstances, in which they are said to have been written, and by those different men: Whereas, if they were a forgery, and not written by inspiration, it cannot be supposed possible, they should carry all those marks of genuineness, and none of the contrary.
Moreover, they contain a system of truths, and point out and enjoin commands and duties to God and our neighbour, which bespeak their divine original, and are worthy to be revealed by God; and which no ungodly, selfish, designing impostor, and such these writers must be, if they wrote not by inspiration, would ever think of, and much less be disposed to publish and enjoin.
The promised Messiah at length made his appearance in the world, even at the very time in which it was foretold he should come! the way for his coming having been prepared by his harbinger, as was particularly predicted by Isaiah; and by Malachi, in the last words of the Old Testament.
It having been abundantly proved, as has been ob» served and shown, that Jehovah, the God of Israel, was the only true God, and that the writings in their hands were given by divine inspiration, in which the coming of the Messiah and his future kingdom were foretold, and particularly described; all that was now necessary, in order to his being on good ground received as king of the church, was to give proper evidence that he was the very person, the promised Saviour of the world. This was done not only by his appearing at the time, and in the character and circumstances, which were foretold by the prophets; but by working a series of miracles, done in a public manner: And by his predicting 18many things, which soon came to pass, especially his own death, and the particular circumstances of it; and that he would rise again on the third day. He was accordingly put to death, which his enemies as well as friends confess; and if he did rise again, as he said he would, the evidence that he was the Messiah, the same Jehovah who was the God of Israel, would be complete, and none could reasonably desire more.
That he did rise on the third day; and when he had continued on earth above forty days, conversing with his disciples and friends, and giving them instructions and commands, left the world and ascended to heaven, there were a competent number of chosen witnesses, who declared they were eye and ear witnesses of this; and that they had the most satisfactory, full and abundant evidence of it. And farther, to prove the truth of it, they had power to work innumerable miracles in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, as a testimony that he was alive, and consequently the Son of God, and Saviour of the world. And they gave up all their worldly interest in this cause; and subjected themselves to poverty, hatred and reproach of men; and to various hardships and cruel sufferings, and even to death, in bearing witness to this truth, and those that are implied in it, and preaching the gospel; which was attended by an invisible mighty power, purifying and renewing the hearts of multitudes, and leading them to renounce their former delusions and wicked ways, and to believe in Christ, and obey him; who became so many witnesses of the truth and power of Christianity.
A history of these things was written by those who had the most certain knowledge of them, and intimate acquaintance with them, giving an account of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ; and of the doctrines which he taught, and the instructions and commands he gave, and the miracles which were wrought by him, &c. &c. Also, a history was written of what took place for a number of years after the ascension of Christ to heaven; the promised gift of his Spirit to the apostles and others, whereby they were enabled to speak different languages, and to work miracles: Their bearing testimony for Christ, and preaching 19 with great success, not only to the Jews, but to the Gentile nations, and erecting churches in many parts of the world, Sec. This history of Christ and his apostles is written in a manner remarkably different from that of any other history written by men not inspired. It is simple, plain and concise, consisting only in the most intelligible narration of facts, of what was said and done, without justifying or condemning any person; not giving the least encomium, or bestowing any praise on Christ himself, or any of his friends, nor saying a word in their favour; not reproaching or condemning their enemies, or any person, or speaking against them: but confining themselves to a plain history of simple facts, without any comments of their own, against any one, or in favour of him. This, by the way, is a striking evidence, among others innumerable, that these writings, “came not by the will of man;” but were composed under the direction and superintendency of the Holy Ghost, the authors being inspired and moved by him.55 “It is remarkable, that through the whole of their histories, the evangelists have not passed one encomium upon Jesus, or upon any of his friends: nor thrown out one reflection against his enemies; though much of both kinds might have been, and no doubt would have been done by them, had they been governed either by a spirit of imposture, or enthusiasm. Christ’s life is not praised in the gospels; his death is not lamented; his friends are not commended; his enemies are not reproached, nor even blamed; but every thing is told, naked and unadorned, just as it took place; and all who read are left to judge, and make reflections for themselves. A manner of writing which the historians never would have fallen into, had not their minds been under the guidance of the most sober reason, and deeply impressed with the dignity, importance and truth of their subject.”—Macknight’s Harmony of the Gospels.
We have also the writings of several of the apostles of Christ, containing a number of letters, which they wrote to churches, and to some particular persons, in which the doctrines and duties of Christianity, and the institutions and laws of Christ, are more particularly explained and inculcated. And last of all, there is a book, called “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which he sent and signified by his angel unto his servant John.” This the apostle John w rote in his advanced age, after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, when he was suffering for the cause of Christ, being banished to a desolate island, after his character had been long established 20as an apostle of Christ, by miracles, and a holy life. He says, he received this revelation from Christ, and was by him directed to write it, just as he here has done. It contains, among other things, a representation of the state of the church, and the great events that should take place respecting it, from that time to the end of the world, and of its perfect and glorious state from that period forever and ever; and of the endless punishment of all her implacable enemies. And many of the predictions in this book have been already accomplished: others are daily fulfilling before our eyes, which is a constant miracle, of the most indisputable kind, evidencing the divine original of this prophecy; and that the things therein foretold, which are not yet come to pass, will all be accomplished in their season.
And as the divine inspired writings, given to the Jewish church, conclude with an intimation that they should have nothing more of this kind, till the promised Messiah did come, and a command carefully to keep and observe what they had received; so this book concludes with a declaration, that there should be no addition to divinely inspired writings, given to the christian church; and therefore mankind must look for no more; but are commanded carefully to observe and obey what was then revealed, without adding any thing to it, or taking from it, until Christ shall come to judgment.
God having thus completed a revelation containing every thing he saw necessary and proper, to make it a sufficient, perfect, and unerring rule for his church to the end of the world; and every way adapted to answer all the desired ends of a divine revelation; attended with all the evidence that can be reasonably desired, that it is from God, and the whole that he ever will give; the use and end of miracles has of course ceased; and therefore the church is to expect no more, or any more prophets inspired to foretel things to come, not already foretold in the holy scriptures. And whatever pretences any may make of working miracles, and whatever miracles may be really wrought, in support of any pretended truths or institutions, or system of religion, the church of Christ has no liberty to pay the least regard to them; but ought to renounce all such pretences with 21 abhorrence; and to hearken to them, and regard them in the least, is to renounce the Bible, and the God who has given it to his church. Nor have we any warrant to pay the least regard to any who pretend to a spirit of prophecy; even though the things they foretel, come to pass; but, on the contrary, ought wholly to disregard and renounce such pretences, being certain from divine revelation, that they are not from God, and cannot in the least strengthen the evidence of the divine authority of the Bible, or of any truth contained in it: but have a contrary tendency: And to pay any regard to them is really to slight the Bible, and may give Satan an advantage, and opportunity to introduce the most gross and fatal delusions.66 The church of Rome claim it as the mark of a true church, to be able to work miracles, and assert that this is essential to the true church of Christ, and pretend to have this evidence that they are the only true catholic church, viz. that a multitude of miracles have been, and still are wrought by them . But this is so far from being an evidence of a true church, that their pretending to such a power is an infallible mark and evidence that it is a false church; and this is warrant sufficient to condemn and renounce it as such, without being at the pains of examining all their pretended miracles, to see if they be real miracles or not. If that church could be supported and proved to be right, by the holy scriptures, we ought to own it as a true church; but if not, a thousand miracles will not prove any thing in its favour; but even their pretending to work miracles, and appealing to these, is a demonstration that it is not a true church, as this is a slight and rejection of the word of God.
This general view of the holy scriptures, and the observations that have been made, are designed to exhibit no inconsiderable part of the evidence we have, that they do indeed contain a revelation from God, and may with the greatest safety be relied upon as such. But there are many other evidences of this, some of which ought to be brought into view, when this subject is considered. And it may be proper now to mention a number of arguments to prove that the writings contained in the Bible are a revelation from God, in which several things that have been already hinted will be included.
I. The series of miracles which have been wrought, as a testimony that this revelation is from God, is a standing, undeniable proof of it. These have been in some measure brought into view, in the observations above; from which the propriety and importance of these miracles, and the end for which they were 22 wrought, appear. That these miracles were really wrought, we have as great evidence as the nature of the case will admit; and not the least ground of suspicion and doubt; especially when we consider the times and circumstances of them, and their apparent design, and the nature and contents of the revelation, the credit of which they are designed to establish. These things have been particularly and largely considered by many, and therefore are only mentioned here, except the last, which will be attended to in the sequel.
II. The numerous prophecies which are contained in the Bible, with their exact accomplishment, are a standing, clear evidence, that it is a revelation from God. The certain independent foreknowledge of future events, or of any thing to come, all will grant, belongs to the true God alone. Therefore we find Jehovah challenging this as his own prerogative; and his declaring what will be, and bringing it to pass accordingly, is asserted to be a demonstration that it is the true God who speaks. And he says, that he who can do this, does prove himself to be God. “Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the king of Jacob. Let them bring them forth, and shew what shall happen.—Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods.” “I, even I am the Lord, and beside me there is no Saviour. I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: Therefore, ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.” When Jehovah brought Israel out of Egypt, he demonstrated that he was the only true God, and they renounced all other gods; then he foretold what would befall them, both in promises and threatenings, and a great number of predictions, which had actually come to pass in their sight: Therefore they were his witnesses, as they were witnesses of this fact, which was sufficient to support his character, as the only true God, in opposition to all other pretended gods. Jehovah tells them that one end of his thus foretelling events, and then bringing them to pass, was to give them an undeniable proof that he was the true God, who spoke to them by Moses, &c. and leave them inexcusable, if they should acknowledge any other 23God. “I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass. Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass; I have even from the beginning declared it to thee: Before it came to pass, I shewed it thee, lest thou shouldest say mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them.”77 Isaiah xlviii. 3, 4, 5.
Though they had in many other ways good evidence that he was the true God, in whose name Moses spake and acted; yet God, knowing their evil disposition, and how prone they were to unbelief, and to turn away from him to other gods, in his great condescension and goodness, took care to give and heap up more abundant standing evidence that they had indeed the oracles of the true God, who was the God of Israel, by foretelling innumerable events, and then bringing them to pass before their eyes. When Moses wrought the numerous signs and wonders in Egypt, he foretold these events before they took place: And so most of the miracles wrought by the hand of Moses at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness, were foretold immediately before they took place: And also many things of which we have an account in the books of Joshua, Judges, and the two books of Samuel, &c. To such predictions as these, which were brought to pass immediately, the above cited words seem to have particular reference: God says, “They went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass.” In this way they had not only the evidence which the miracles themselves gave of the truth, in favour of which they were wrought; but the prediction and the immediate accomplishment, was a yet farther evidence that he who wrought the miracle spoke and acted under the influence, and according to the dictates of the omniscient God. In this way were most of the miracles wrought by Christ and his apostles.
But there are almost innumerable prophecies in the Bible which foretel things to come, that were not to take place immediately; but a long time, and numbers of 24them many ages after the predictions were published. Many predictions of this kind are contained in the writings of Moses, which foretel a multitude of events respecting that nation, which have been exactly fulfilled. And indeed great part of the religious institutions and worship enjoined in the Mosaic ritual, are so many prophecies of what should take place in the person, character, and kingdom of Christ, as they are appointed types and shadows of these things, and have been exactly fulfilled in them. This is particularly attended to and illustrated in the Epistle to the Hebrews. This is a strong argument that these institutions and laws, were made by the only true God, who knows what is to come, even all his own designs, and works that are future.
A great part of the writings of Moses and the prophets are prophecies that respect Christ, his incarnation, his sufferings, and the glory that should follow in the salvation of men, and his kingdom. Jn these writings it is foretold that he should l3e the seed of Abraham by Isaac, that he should be of the tribe of Judah, and the family of David: Should be born of a virgin, in the town of Bethlehem; that he should be poor and despised, rejected, hated and put to death by the Jews and Gentiles, joining together to perpetrate this horrid deed. The particular time of his appearance and death is pointed out; and a great number of particulars relating to his life, death and resurrection are foretold; all which have been exactly fulfilled. They also foretel the rejection of the Jews, and calling of the Gentiles to be the people of God, and share in the blessings of Christ’s kingdom; and speak much of the extent and glory of his kingdom, and particularly foretel that it should rise, prevail, and fill the world after the ruin of the Roman monarchy, and shall continue forever. Christ and his apostles did constantly appeal to these prophecies, as most plainly, and with die greatest exactness predicting what took place in Jesus of Nazareth. Christ himself, after his death .aid resurrection, addresses those who were wholly at a loss what to think of these things, in the following words; “O, fools, and slow of heart, to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into 25his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them, in all the scriptures, the things concerning himself.” The apostle Peter publicly appeals to them, and says, “God hath spoken of these things by the mouth of all the prophets, since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, a prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, of your brethren, like unto me. And it shall come to pass, that every soul which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel, and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.” And St. Paul declares, that in bearing testimony to the truth of Christianity, and preaching the gospel, he asserted “no other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come.” And with this argument, taken from the fulfilment of prophecies in Jesus of Nazareth, the first preachers of the gospel often put to silence, and confounded the opposing Jews, and convinced many, that Jesus was the Christ.
The writings of the New Testament contain many predictions. Christ particularly foretold his death, and his resurrection on the third day after—Who should betray him, and who should deny him—The gift of the Spirit to the apostles in his miraculous powers—What treatment they should receive from the Jews—What support they should have; and what should be their success. He in a very particular manner foretold the calamities that should come on the nation of the Jews, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; and said this should come to pass before all that generation did go off the stage of life. And though to human appearance, these events were not merely improbable, but even impossible; yet they all came to pass exactly agreeable to the prediction.
But passing over many other instances of prophecy, both of Christ and his apostles, and others in the primitive church, and the particular fulfilment of their predictions, that remarkable one of St. Paul,88 2 Thes. chap. ii. of the grand apostasy in the christian church, by the rise and reign of 26one whom he calls the man of sin and wicked one; by which the Pope and the false church of Rome are exactly described, together with his final overthrow and destruction, is worthy of particular attention. This was then the most incredible and unlikely to come to pass of almost any event whatsoever: That the Emperor of Rome should be taken out of the way, to give opportunity for this apostasy, and the exaltation of this man of sin in the church of Christ, &c. But this is all come to pass. And this apostasy in the church, with all its circumstances and attendants, together with the general state of the church, and of the world down to the day of judgment, are yet more particularly and fully foretold in the revelation which Jesus Christ gave to the apostle John after his ascension. In this prophecy many things are foretold, which were then future, and which have already come to pass; and others are daily fulfilling in the sight of all who have wisdom to observe and discern; from which there is a standing, and increasing, public evidence of the truth of the christian religion, sufficient to silence and convince all the opposers of Christianity, would they honestly attend to the voice of reason.
From the view we have now taken of the prophecies, contained in the Bible, and their fulfilment, the following particulars may be observed.
1. Those predictions which have been exactly fulfilled are numerous, and made at different times, and by different persons; and most of them were made publicly; and the events foretold are many of them of a public nature, and lie open to the examination of all. Therefore if they were not given by the omniscient God, it cannot be supposed the events would in so many instances answer to the predictions so exactly, and not fail in one, among so many: For this may well be considered as impossible.
2. There is all the evidence that can be desired that many of these predictions were given long before the events took place, and while there was not the least ground from any thing that then appeared, to expect they would ever come to pass. Thus, all the prophecies in the Old Testament, which have been fulfilled in the days of Christ’s appearance on earth, and of the apostles, and 27 since, were certainly written and published, and in the hands of the Jewish church, long before the events took place. And prophecies of those things relating to the Pope and the church of Rome, and the kings of the earth who commit fornication with her, and join to support her, which have come to pass, and are now taking place in the world, were published, long before any of these things took place, or there was any appearance or probability that they ever would come to pass. And in many instances, all appearances, to human view, were against it.
3. Those prophecies are such, and the times and manner in which they are given such, as become an almighty, omniscient, infinitely wise and good Being. They are given in an orderly manner, with an apparent good design, and suited to answer important ends.—To establish the character of those who spake and wrote in his name, as men inspired by God, and prove that he was the omniscient God who spoke, and so to be a clear standing evidence that it is a divine revelation, most evidently distinguished from all possible deception and imposture—To confirm the faith of the friends of God, and direct, support and comfort them, under all dark appearances and afflictions, Sec. Sec.
Surely they who would honestly attend to these things and carefully consider and examine the prophecies contained in the Bible, with the exact fulfilment of so many of them, must be sensible that they afford clear and abundant evidence that the writings in this book are from God, as the prophecies found in it could not come by the will and contrivance of man; but these holy men of God evidently spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
III. The writings in the Old Testament, and those in the New, reflect light and evidence on each other, that they are from God.
This appears from what has been observed on the preceding argument from prophecy: For the exact fulfilment of so many of the types and express predictions in the Old Testament, by the events and things of which we have a history in the New, does abundantly establish the credit of those writings as given by divine 28 inspiration. And, at the same time, they prove the divine original of Christianity; and therefore that the writings in the New Testament are from God. And the perfect consistence and harmony between the writings of the Old Testament, and those of the New, does also afford a striking argument of the divine original of each of them. Moreover, Christ and his apostles constantly appeal to the writings of Moses and the prophets, the scriptures, as of divine authority, and the oracles of God. This establishes the credit of all those writings as given by inspiration of God, so far as the authority and testimony of Christ and the apostles is of any weight, and worthy of regard; so that if the writings in the New Testament be from God, the Old Testament is from him also, and is handed down to us uncorrupted, unless it has been corrupted since that time, which is many ways impossible, as might be easily shewn, were there need of it. At the same time, the prophecies contained in the Old Testament, of those very events which are recorded in the New, prove the latter to be from God, as has been shewn. In a word, the writings in the Old Testament are all established as the oracles of God, by those in the New: And that the writings in the New Testament are by divine inspiration, there is much and clear evidence from the writings of the Old. So that there could not be so much, so great evidence of the divine authority of either of them, if we had only one, without the other.
The Jews did not indeed acknowledge that their scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and continue as a body to reject the gospel, as not from God. But this is so far from being any evidence against the divinity of the writings of the New Testament, that it is a great confirmation of it. For it was foretold by the prophets, whose writings they acknowledge to be from God, chat they should thus reject Christ and the gospel, and for this be cast off by God, and the church be called by another name: So that their unbelief and opposition to the gospel, is a clear and standing evidence of the truth of it.
IV. The great care taken by Jews and christians to receive no writings as divinely inspired, but those of which they had proper evidence that they were such; and to preserve 29those which they did receive as such from being corrupted or altered, is a further evidence that these writings are from God. If God has given a standing revelation to men, which is committed to writing, he will doubtless take care in his providence that it shall be received on good evidence and preserved uncorrupt; and that it shall be handed down to posterity in such manner and circumstances, as that all future generations shall have good evidence, that it was with proper care and caution received at first, and not without good evidence, that it was of divine authority; and that it has been handed down to them uncorrupt. And when we find the writings of the Bible be received and handed down to us in this manner, it carries an evidence that it is from God, which otherwise we could not have. That the writings of the Old and New Testaments have been thus received, and carefully preserved uncorrupt, has been abundantly proved by those who have written on the subject. It would swell this chapter beyond its designed brevity to produce this evidence at large. It may suffice only to observe here, that Jews and christians have been a guard with respect to each other, so as to render it impossible there should be any alteration made in the writings of the Old Testament, in favour of, or against either, without being detected by the other. And among christians, the different sects and opposite parties, which early sprung up in the church, made it impossible that they should agree to alter and corrupt those writings, which were received as divine oracles by them all; and if one sect or party had attempted it, they must have been detected by others.
V. The consistence and harmony found in the scriptures, is another argument of their divine original The agreement between the writings of the Old Testament and those of the New has been already mentioned; but the agreement of every particular part with the whole, and of every sentiment and sentence with each other, is the fact now intended. A divine revelation must be perfectly consistent and harmonious throughout, though it consists of many parts, and be made by many different men, and at different times and ages distant from each other. Therefore if any real, material contradictions or inconsistencies can be found in this book, it 30will be a sufficient reason for rejecting it, as not from God. There may be seeming contradictions, at first view, and to a superficial reader, and to one who does not attend to it with honesty and candour; but with prejudice and disaffection. This we know to be the case with respect to human writings, in many instances, when the fault lies wholly in the ignorance or prejudice of the objector, and the upright and judicious know them to be perfectly consistent. How much more may we expect it will be so with respect to those writings which come from God, and treat of the sublime things respecting his being, character, kingdom, designs, laws, works, &c. and which must be really contrary to every wrong propensity and lust of man.
This indeed we find to be verified: Many have thought they have found numerous contradictions in the Bible; and its enemies have eagerly searched to find them, and have used all their art and plausible colouring to make them appear to be real contradictions; and urged them with all their powers against revelation. But this has turned to the advantage of the holy scriptures, and been the occasion of making their consistence and harmony more evident and certain, than if no such accusation had been brought against them. For the objections of this kind have been critically examined, and found to be entirely groundless. And since all the wit and art of men of the best abilities, and under the greatest advantages to try, cannot find any real contradictions in them; and those which have been most plausibly urged, or have had the greatest appearance of inconsistencies, at first view, appear, upon careful and thorough examination, to be perfectly consistent, this has cast new light on the subject, and made it more abundantly evident and certain that there is indeed no inconsistency to be found in them.
This is a very powerful argument that they are given by divine inspiration. For if those writings were only the contrivance of men, it appears impossible that so many men, who lived in different ages, of different natural tempers, and in such different and various circumstances and connections, writing on such a variety of subjects, with such difference of manner, style and expression, 31 should so perfectly agree; and that even in those passages which at first view, and to a cursory, inattentive observer, may seem to contradict each other. There can be no parallel instance produced under heaven, of any number of writers thus agreeing, though they lived in the same age: and it is difficult to find any one author, not inspired, consistent with himself throughout. Therefore this consistence and harmony running through the writings of such a number of men, who lived in different ages, and which took up the space of fifteen hundred years to complete them, after they were begun, proves they must have been inspired by the all seeing, unchangeable God.
VI. The contents of the Bible, or the truths therein revealed and the duties enjoined, are the greatest and crowning evidence that these writings are given by divine inspiration, and serve to strengthen and confirm all the other arguments which have been mentioned.
This argument will of course be particularly illustrated in the proposed following work, in which the scriptures are to be examined, in order to find what are the truths and duties therein revealed and inculcated; what system of religion is there taught. It may be proper, however, to observe here in general, that we find in the Bible an orderly, intelligible, concise and well connected history of all those events which are most important and necessary to be known by the church, from the beginning of the world, down to the time in which this book was completed. The being, character, designs and works of God, are represented to be such as reason must approve, and pronounce harmonious, and becoming the true God. The state and character of man, and God’s designs and works respecting him, are set in a clear light. What God requires of man, as his duty, and the way in which he may find acceptance with God, and be happy, are particularly stated with great plainness. A judgment to come, and a future state of rewards and punishments, are revealed. Promises to those who believe and obey the truth, and threatenings to the disobedient and impenitent, run through all those writings; and the best and strongest conceivable motives are set 32before men, to deter them from sin, and excite them to fear and obey God.
Here two things may be observed,—
1. What is revealed in the scriptures concerning the perfections and works of God, his laws as the rule of duty, the nature and evil tendency of sin, and the description given of true virtue and religion, and their happy tendency and end, appears so reasonable and evident to every attentive person, when revealed, that this, with the other evidences that have been mentioned, is sufficient to convince the reason and judgment of every one, that this is a revelation from God, though their hearts be ever so corrupt and vicious; and has generally proved sufficient, unless where peculiar prejudices by education or otherwise, have taken place.
2. The honest, virtuous mind only, which does discern and relish the beauty and excellence of truth and virtue, will see and feel the full force of this argument for the divinity of the holy scriptures. Such have true discerning to see the wonderful, excellent, glorious things revealed in the holy scriptures, which in themselves carry a most satisfying and infallible evidence of their truth and divinity. They see the divine stamp which this system of truth carries on it, and believe and are sure that this is the true God, and that here is eternal life . They therefore no longer need any other evidence but this which they find in the contents of the holy scriptures; in this they rest satisfied, and are assured that the writings contained in the Bible are the word of God.
Thus the holy scriptures are attended with the highest possible evidence that they came from God; they carry that external and internal evidence of their divinity, to the reason and conscience of men, which is sufficient to convince them, however corrupt their hearts may be: But the highest internal evidence is fully discerned only by the humble honest mind, which is disposed to relish, love and receive the truth. To such the true light shines from the holy scriptures with irresistible evidence, and their hearts are established in the truth. They believe from evidence they have within themselves; from what they see and find in the Bible. And as all might have this evidence and certainty that the contents 33 of the Bible are from God, did they not exercise and indulge those unreasonable lusts, which blind their eyes to the beauty and excellence of divine truth, unbelief is in every instance and degree of it wholly inexcusable and very criminal.
Having considered the abundant evidence there is that the writings contained in the Bible are given by divine inspiration, the following observations may be made concerning this sacred book.
1. This is a complete, unerring and perfect rule of faith and practice, and the only rule. This being understood and believed, is sufficient to make men wise unto salvation; and we have no warrant to believe any religious truth, unless it be revealed, or can be supported by the holy scriptures; and this is the only rule of our duty. We may be certain, if God has given us a revelation, it is in all respects complete, and in the best manner suited to answer the end: And must be the only standard of truth and duty.
2. Whatever may be justly and clearly inferred as a certain consequence from what is expressly revealed in the scriptures, must be considered as contained in divine revelation, as really as that which is expressed. For instance, if from any two or more truths, expressly revealed, another certainty follows, that other truth, by the supposition, is really contained in those expressly revealed, and therefore is in fact revealed or made known, in the revelation of them.
3. The holy scriptures are not to be understood without a constant, laborious attention to them, and a careful examination and search of them, in order to know the mind and will of God therein revealed. This is no evidence that the scriptures are not plain and easy to be understood; as plain and intelligible, as in the nature of things they can be, and adapted, in the best manner, to give instruction in those things about which they treat: For they cannot be instructed by the best possible means of instruction, who will not attend and take pains. They only who “incline their ear unto wisdom, and apply their heart to understanding; who cry after knowledge, and lift up their voice for understanding; who seek her 34 as silver, and search for her as for hid treasures,” will understand the sacred writings.
4. The holy scriptures were never designed to be understood, especially in those things that are most important and excellent, by persons of corrupt minds, whose hearts have no relish for these things: but do wholly oppose and hate them, and are determined in a course of disobedience to them. It is impossible indeed, that such should understand the sublime holy truths that relate to the infinitely holy God, his holy law, gospel and kingdom. Therefore their not being understood by such is no argument that they are not sufficiently plain. It is no evidence that the sun does not shine clear and bright, because they who have no eyes, or if they have, refuse to open them, do not see the light, and discern the objects it plainly discovers. It is abundantly declared in scripture, that wicked, evil men, will not understand the things there revealed. “The wicked know not, neither will they understand: They walk on in darkness.”99 Psalm xxviii. 5. “Evil men understand not judgment.”1010 Prov. xviii. 5. “The natural man (that is, the man of a corrupt, carnal mind) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolish unto him: Neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”1111 1 Cor. ii. 14. Christ says to the Jews, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only!”1212 John V. 44. And again, “If any man will do his will, (that is, has an obedient heart ready to comply with the will of God, when it is made known to him) he shall know the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”1313 John vii. 17. This implies that they who are of a contrary disposition do not understand and know, which is expressly asserted in the following words, “Every one that doth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doth truth cometh to the light.”1414 John iii. 20, 21. Therefore, if the scriptures be dark and unintelligible to any, especially in the most important matters there revealed, it is not owing to any defect or darkness in them; but the fault is wholly in the persons themselves, 35and they are altogether inexcusable and criminal, in not seeing what is revealed with sufficient clearness.
5. It can therefore be easily accounted for, that these sacred writings should be so little understood by multitudes, and so greatly misunderstood by many; and that there should be so many different and opposite opinions respecting the doctrines and duties inculcated in the Bible, among those who enjoy this revelation, and profess to make it their rule. This is not the least evidence of any defect in the scriptures, or that they are not sufficiently plain, and in the best manner suited to give instruction; but is wholly owing to the criminal blindness, corrupt propensities and unreasonable prejudices of men; who do not attend to the Bible with an honest heart. It is impossible that a revelation should be given, that cannot be misunderstood, and perverted to the worst purposes and to support the greatest errors and delusions, by the prejudices, wicked blindness, and perverse inclinations of artful men. Nothing has taken place, with respect to this, but what might justly be expected, if mankind are naturally as depraved and rebellious, as the scriptures represent them to be; and is perfectly consistent with the perfection of divine revelation. And when men shall in general become honest and virtuous to a proper degree, and their hearts shall be turned to the Lord, and to his word, willing and ready to receive the dictates of heaven, the vail of darkness and error will vanish, and the true light which has so long shined in darkness, and so has not been seen and comprehended, shall shine in their hearts, and they, receiving the truth in the love of it, will be “perfectly joined together, in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
This brings another observation into view.
6. The chief and greatest end of divine revelation is not yet answered. The Bible has been greatly neglected and abused, and not understood; and perverted to evil purposes by most of those who have enjoyed it. This light has hitherto shined, in a great measure, in vain, in the criminal darkness of this world, which has not comprehended, but abused and rejected it. And those few who have in some measure understood and received 36and practised the truth, have done it in a very imperfect degree; and the Bible has not been yet fully understood by any: But this same revelation informs us that it shall not always be so; but the time is coming, and is now just at hand, when God will destroy the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations, by causing the gospel to be preached to them all, and giving them a heart to discern and understand the truth. Then “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be seven fold, as the light of seven days.” And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear, shall hearken. The heart also of the rash or inconsiderate foolish, shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly, and the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” In that time the Bible shall be understood, and all the institutions and ordinances of the gospel shall have their proper, greatest and most happy effect, in the illumination and salvation of multitudes. All that precedes this time is but preparatory in order to introduce this day of salvation, in the reign of Christ on earth. The word of God shall then have free course and be glorified, as it never was before, and shall fully answer the end for which it was given.1515 See Treatise on the Millennium, at the end of this System.
I. WHAT gratitude do we owe to God for giving such a complete revelation to men, every way suited to give instruction in every necessary and most important truth: and without which mankind must have remained in the grossest darkness! What gratitude do we owe to God, who has distinguished us from so great a part of mankind, in giving us to enjoy this inestimable privilege, while they are left to grope in the dark!
The enemies to divine revelation have made this an objection against it, and said, if it were from God, it would have been given equally to all mankind, and not confined to so small a part, as this revelation has been. 37 Such a partial revelation, say they, which was not completed or even began till after many ages and generations were passed and gone; and which when it is given is confined to so small a part of mankind, cannot be from God, who has no respect of persons, and would not conceal what is necessary to be known, from the greatest part of men, while a few only are indulged with this favour, if it be one. Among other things which might be and have been said in answer to this objection, it may be sufficient only to observe the following.
1. God was under no obligation to enter on those designs of good and salvation, and do those things in favour of man, which are now made known: And therefore could not be obliged to make this revelation. And if he is obliged to none, he may for good reasons, known to him, though we should not see them, order things so that but few shall enjoy it, as a distinguishing sovereign favour, while others are left in that state of darkness, in which all might have justly been left.
2. It is wholly owing to the fault of man that this revelation has been so long, and still is confined to such narrow bounds, and is known to so small a part of mankind. The most essential things in this revelation were made known to the first parents of mankind. Had they been faithful, and all their posterity wise, and disposed to make a good improvement of the light, it would have continued and increased, and every one of them would have enjoyed it. And after this light was abused and rejected, and almost wholly put out, by the wickedness of man, before the flood, it was again restored to the new world in the family of Noah; and was soon corrupted and extinguished by men, when they multiplied into nations, because they loved darkness, and hated this light. And when this revelation was renewed and enlarged, committed to writing and completed, had mankind been as desirous of knowing the truth, and as inquisitive after it, as they ought to have been; and had they, who enjoyed it, been as ready and as much engaged to understand and practise it, and spread and communicate it to others, as was most reasonable, and their duty, all nations would have enjoyed it fully, soon after it was published. It is not therefore owing 38to divine revelation that it is so confined, and not universal; but the fault is wholly in man. And it is to be wholly ascribed to God’s merciful, irresistible interposition and care, that it has not been wholly lost and destroyed by men, long before this time. Therefore the scriptures being preserved as they have been, and handed down to this day, and put into our hands by God’s merciful, wise, sovereign interposition and direction, is both an argument that they are from God, and of our great obligations to gratitude to him for this unspeakably distinguishing favour.
3. It may be observed, that they who do not enjoy this revelation, do not live up to the light they have, but misimprove and abuse it: And therefore have no reason to complain, that they have not greater light and advantages; but are most righteously given up to their chosen blindness and darkness. There cannot be a person that lives, or ever has lived in the heathen world, produced, who has fully improved, and lived up to the light he has had, or might have had, were it not his own fault. Divine revelation warrants this assertion. “The invisible things of God, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and divinity; so that they are without excuse; because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
Oh! Let us not be unthankful, who enjoy so much greater light, which will render our ingratitude proportionably more criminal, and dreadful in its consequences. This leads to another reflection.
II. How very criminal and wretched are they who neglect or abuse this inestimable privilege of a revelation from God!—Many not only disregard it in practice, but reject and despise it, and speak evil of it. How much will the deists, who have been, and now are in the christian world, have to answer for! What they call foolishness, is the wisdom of God; and the wisdom of which they boast, is the height of folly and madness. Would to God there were none who abused and despised the holy scriptures, but professed deists! Multitudes, who 39 profess to believe the Bible is a revelation from heaven, hold this truth in unrighteousness: They pay no proper regard to it, and constantly abuse it innumerable ways; and all the advantages they have by it, and concerns with it, will only serve to render their damnation greater, and unspeakably more dreadful. How much lower will they sink in eternal misery, who by their folly and impenitence perish from the countries enjoying divine revelation, than they who perish from heathen lands! This truth, though so obvious, solemn, and awakening, is too little thought of, by those who enjoy, and yet disregard and abuse the holy scriptures.
III. What obligations are we under to attend to this revelation, and make the best improvement of it; surely we ought to study it with great diligence and care, and meditate therein day and night, looking to God, the Father of lights, with sincerity, earnestness and constancy, that he would prevent our misunderstanding, and perverting it, and direct and lead us to discern all the truths he has revealed, and give us a heart to conform to them in practice. We ought to pay a conscientious and sacred regard to all the directions and commands in the Bible; to turn our feet unto these testimonies, and to improve the words of God, as to make it a constant light to our feet, and lamp to our path. Blessed are they who thus watch daily at wisdom’s gates, and wait at the posts of her doors; for they shall be wise unto salvation, obtain favour of the Lord, and find eternal life.
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