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This, in the nature of things, is just as possible as that a bitter medicine should mend our health, or a severe discipline or tedious education should be upon the whole beneficial or even necessary. So that it is possible enough, and St Paul, you hear, speaks confidently, that it would be so; “We know,” says he, “that all things work together for good.”
Thus it was of old with the good and virtuous. They were taught to expect and endure the chastisement of the Lord ; for “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth ;’ and consequently for their good and happiness at last. They suffered afflictions; many that we should think grievous ; but what then P ‘Their light afflictions, which were but for a moment, worked a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Such is the sound and solid consolation the holy scriptures administer.
Now what is the conclusion from all these things 2 The works of God prove his kindness as demonstrably as his word assures us of his care and protection. Difficulties and disorders in the world there are ; but they do not, when thoroughly considered, at all contradict these arguments and assurances; so that they should not shake either our hope or our trust in him.
Acts XXVIII. 23.
And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God; persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.
THERE is one proof of Christianity as strong now as it ever was, and which may be made in a good degree intelligible to every capacity; I mean the proof from prophecy. Now, therefore, that we are assembled to commemorate the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, I know not how to engage your attention better than by laying before you, and explaining, some of the principal places of the Old Testament where that event is foretold, that you may be able to give one reason, at least, of the faith that is in you, and carry home one considerable argument of the truth and certainty of the religion we profess. I shall confine myself, as the occasion points out, to the coming of Christ. There are other parts of this evidence, and one in particular, much the most explicit of all; but which, as they relate to the sufferings rather than the early history of our Saviour, I cannot so properly produce at this time. This I mention, that you may not think that what I now offer contains the whole argument, or the proof complete. I will also omit all such prophecies as are either of a more doubtful application, or more difficult to be interpreted. Before I proceed to exhibit any particular passages, I must direct your attention to one very essential observation which belongs to them all, which is this; that we are absolutely certain that the prophecies were written many hundred years before the event. I say we are absolutely certain of this, because the prophecies have always been, and are at this day, received and acknowledged by the Jews as genuine parts of the Old Testament. They are found in their bible as well as OUITS. The Jews, we all know, are, and ever have been, the declared enemies of Christ and his religion; we may, therefore, be sure they never forge themselves, nor suffer others to foist in their books, any thing that may favor a cause which they so much hated. Had the books of the Old Testament been in the hands of Christians, it might be suspected that they had found means, after the event, to insert into them descriptions that suited with it, in order to impose their prophecies upon the world; but as the case stands, this was morally impossible, for the copies of these books being always in the hands of the Jews, any attempt to corrupt them must have been immediately detected and defeated by their enemies, as evidently, and unexceptionably, as things which come out of the custody of an enemy. Now this being settled with certainty, viz. that the several places to be quoted by us were actually written long before the coming of Christ; the only question to be tried, and of which, as hinted above, any plain understanding can judge, is, whether these prophecies, thus compared with the events, do not suit and fall in with them, and prove that they must have been something more than the effect of guesswork. If, when
you have the places read to you, and applied to the event, you think the application so distant or obscure, that these things might have happened by accident, then such passages must go for nothing. If on the contrary, you think there is in any or all of them put together, more than could reasonably be expected from random conjecture and accidental concurrence, then it will follow, that the persons who delivered these prophecies had some way of knowing they were then operated upon, that is, were imbued and inspired, by the spirit of God; and if it be once allowed that God in any way dictated the prophecies of Christ’s coming, the consequence is plain that Christ came from him and that the religion he established in the world must be true. In quoting the prophecies, I think it best to pursue the order of time in which they were written. The first, because the most ancient, that I shall mention, is that famous promise which God made to Abraham, in the twentysecond chapter of Genesis, and the eighteenth verse; “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Now it has never yet been shown in what manner all the nations of the earth have been blessed in the seed of Abraham, except it be by the means of Jesus Christ, who was one of that seed. The seed of Abraham were the Jews, and few I suppose will allow that the Jews have been a public or universal blessing to nations. Suppose then this prophecy to belong to Jesus Christ, it is true that in him and consequently in the seed of Abraham, as he was one of them, all the nations of the earth have been blessed. The blessing of his religion has been held out to most of them. Many have accepted it. The rest, in God's due time, we trust, will. The prophecy speaks thus much, that ‘in the seed of Abraham,” that is, that through some one or other of his posterity, some blessing should be procured in which the rest of mankind, as well as his posterity, might partake. This may be applied with truth to Christ and his religion; and it does not appear to what else it can be applied at all. The second prophecy I would propose to your consideration is to be found in the eighth chapter of Genesis, and the tenth verse. We have an account in this chapter of Jacob, upon his death bed, calling his twelve sons about him, and solemnly declaring to each what should befall them, in their respective tribes and families, in future times. When he comes to Judah, he uses these remarkable words, which you are now to take notice of; ‘The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” Now in this prophecy three things, I think, are plainly foretold ; first that the sceptre should depart from the other tribes sooner; secondly, that it should remain with the tribe of Judah until Shiloh came ; thirdly, that it should then also depart from it. Now apply this prophecy to Christ, and observe how it answers in all these particulars. First, the ten other tribes were extirpated in Assyria nine hundred years before Christ. Secondly, the tribe of Judah continued a nation, and in possession of their own country, till Christ came. Thirdly, they also were then destroyed, and their nation and government were utterly demolished by the Romans. It is said that the sceptre should not depart from Judah till Shiloh came ; from this I infer, that it was to depart from the other tribes sooner, otherwise it would be saying little or nothing to Judah, and this is a promise made to Judah in particular above his other brethren. Now, how did the event answer to this 2 The event was, that ten out of the twelve tribes, which formed, upon the division, the kingdom of Israel, were carried away captive more than six hundred years before Christ, and were never afterwards heard of; so that the sceptre departed from them in every sense of the expresson. The tribe of Benjamin was upon the division so mixed and incorporated with the tribe of Judah, that the one, if I may so say, was lost in the other, and it was afterwards constantly called the land of Judah. The kingdom of Judah returned after the seventy years’ captivity into their own land, and continued in possession of their country, of their laws and their religion, till Christ came. As it is evident that the sceptre did not depart from Judah until Shiloh came, so it is in the common use of speech or intimation, that when Shiloh did come it should depart; accordingly, about that time, shortly after Christ’s coming, that is, within forty years after his death, the kingdom of Judah also was deprived of its sceptre; that is, underwent a total destruction from the Roman armies; their city and temple, as we all know, burnt to the ground, their government overthrown, their country laid waste, the people driven out to wander, as they do still, exiles and vagabonds upon the face of the earth. Now there is, as I said before, but one question; whether this correspondence of the event and the prophecy could, reasonably speaking, be the effect of chance ; and how small this chance is you may easily comprehend from hence. Suppose any of us to undertake to foretell what may be the fate or condition of a particular family a thousand years hence; what little probability is there, that in so wild and wide a field of conjecture we should hit on even a single particular that turned out to be true, much less deliver a prediction, which in all circumstances admitted of a clear and reasonable application ; ‘The sceptre shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.’ I lay no other stress upon the name of Shiloh than just to observe that it must signify a person, and a person of great eminence and importance to the world, or the Jewish nation at least, which Christ undoubtedly was. The description that is added, ‘and unto him shall the gathering of the people be,” agrees well with the person and character of Christ, who, as the founder of a new religion, did actually gather together unto him an innumerable multitude of all nations and languages, paying adoration to his name, and professing obedience to his authority. The passage I will next proceed to, omitting, as I said, many that are of a probable, though more obscure application, is the famous one of Isaiah, contained in the seventh chapter, and beginning with the thirteenth verse. Two neighbouring kings had conspired against Ahaz, king of Judah. The king of Judah and his people being exceedingly alarmed with this confederacy, Isaiah was sent to comfort and encourage them. Before the king, and in the presence, it must be supposed, of . a great assembly of the people, Isaiah delivers these solemn words; “Hear ye now, O house of David, is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign ; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel; butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know,” or till he knows, “to refuse the evil, and choose the good ; for before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.” Now that the former part of the prophecy, a virgin conceiving and bearing a son, and that son being called Immanuel, or God with us, is applicable in the strictest sense to Christ, and in the same sense to no other person ever heard of, all see upon the bare reading of it. But there is a difficulty in the latter part of the prophecy which we must endeavour to remove before we can justly lay so great a stress upon it. It is said that ‘before the child should know how to refuse the evil, and choose the good,” that is, before he should come to years of discretion, the land which thou abhorrest, viz. the countries then in confederacy against Ahaz, should be forsaken of both her kings. Now this happened a few years after so