2Pe_1:19. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts.
THAT persons ignorant of the grounds on which Christianity is established should doubt the truth of it, ought not to occasion us any surprise: for it must be confessed, that on a superficial view of the leading points contained in it, it does appear to surpass the bounds of credibility. That the God of heaven and earth should assume our nature, and be made in the likeness of sinful flesh; that he should thus humble himself, in order that he might in his own person bear, and expiate, the sins of his rebellious creatures; that, having wrought out in our nature a perfect righteousness, he should offer that righteousness to all who will believe in him, and accept it in their behalf for the justification of their souls before him; there is in all this something so wonderful, so glorious, so delightful, that it does indeed appear like “a cunningly-devised fable;” and one is tempted to say concerning it, as Job did under a similar impression of the manifold grace of God, “If I had called to God, and he had answered me (and told me by an audible voice from heaven that Christianity was true), yet would I not believe that he hearkened to my voice [Note: Job_9:16.].” As Peter, when actually liberated from prison, “wist not that it was true, but thought he saw a vision,” so, when we have the actual experience of the Gospel salvation in our own souls, it actually seems at times to be “a dream [Note: Psa_126:1.].” But it is no dream, no cunningly-devised fable; but a glorious reality. Of this the Apostle was well assured. He had received the most positive evidence of it from his own senses. He had seen his Lord transfigured upon the holy mount: and had heard the testimony which the Father had borne to him by an audible voice from heaven; “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased [Note: ver. 16–18.].” But, however satisfactory this evidence was to him, it could not be so convincing to others, because it depended solely on the testimony of himself and the other two Apostles who were admitted to that sight, and because the inferences which he drew from what he had seen and heard would not commend themselves with the same force to others as they did to him. But there were other grounds on which all might feel the same assurance as he himself did. There was “a more sure word of prophecy,” which every one might examine for himself, and of which every one who did examine it was competent to judge. This no man could weigh without being convinced by it: he might as well doubt his own existence, as doubt the truth of Christianity, if only he examined the prophecies with a candid mind.
It is my intention to shew you,
The evidence of our religion as founded on prophecy—
Verily it is “a sure word,” that may well be depended on. Consider the vast collective body of prophecies: consider,
[There is not any one point relating to Christianity that has not been the subject of prophecy. Every thing relating to Christ, his person, his work, his offices; his life, his death, his resurrection and ascension; his investiture with all power at the right hand of God; the nature, extent, and duration of his kingdom; and his second coming to judge the world; all has been fully and distinctly declared by holy men of God, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Now I ask, Would any one have ventured to predict so many things respecting an impostor? Supposing that the dangerous ground of prophecy had been taken by any who conspired to deceive the world, would they not for their own sake have been satisfied with a few general predictions, that were capable of different interpretations, and that were likely in the common course of events to happen? Would any persons have undertaken to give beforehand so full, so large, so complicated a disclosure of all that should come to pass? But add to this,]
[It is surprising that prophecy should condescend to such minute occurrences as were actually foretold concerning Christ. Not only were the time and place of his nativity foretold, but his expulsion from thence to Egypt, and his subsequent abode at Nazareth. So again, not only was the manner of his death declared, but such minute circumstances as could not be conceived; such as the very words which his enemies should taunt him with, whilst yet he should hang upon the cross; and their offering him vinegar to drink; and even the manner in which they should dispose of his raiment, casting lots for one part, whilst they divided the rest. Now I ask, Could any but the omniscient God predict such things as these? things, which could not be fulfilled by any except by the very enemies who put him to death as an impostor?
But the evidence, as arising from the fulness and minuteness of the prophecies, will derive great strength from marking,]
[Certainly, when we consider that the prophecies were delivered by different persons wholly unconnected with each other, at distant times and places, during the space of three thousand six hundred years, and that the things which they predicted were in appearance so opposite to each other; it is inconceivable, that no inconsistency should be found in any of them, if they were not inspired by the omniscient and unchangeable God.
Let us enter a little into this point.—The person of the Messiah. He must be “Jehovah’s fellow,” “the mighty God,” and yet “a man,” yea “a worm, and no man, the very scorn of men and the outcast of the people.” He must be “the Root and yet the Offspring of David,” “David’s Son, and yet David’s Lord.” He must be “a Lion,” and yet “a Lamb.” He must be a King, a Priest, and a Prophet, all in one. He must die, yet live. Though a Jew, he must die a Roman death, and yet not experience the same treatment as was shewn to those who were crucified with him, in having his bones broken: yea, he shall “be pierced in his hands and feet,” where the bones are so numerous, and by the soldier’s spear also, and yet “not have a bone broken.” He shall die as a malefactor, and yet “have his grave with the rich.” He shall surfer thus under the hand of his enemies, and yet triumph; yea, and triumph by dying, and pass through the grave to his throne of glory; and, after standing at the tribunal of his rebellious creatures, summon the universe to his tribunal, and fix the everlasting doom of men and angels. Say, whether such apparent inconsistencies would ever have been predicted respecting an impostor, or, if predicted, would have been ever realized and fulfilled? There are, it is true, many prophecies which are not yet fulfilled. The restoration of the Jews, the conversion of the Gentiles, the universal establishment of Christ’s kingdom upon earth; these things have not yet taken place: nor have the prophecies taught us to expect that they should yet be accomplished. But the fulfilment of such diversified predictions which we have already seen, leaves us no doubt respecting the accomplishment of the remainder in due season: and this is one reason why the evidence from prophecy is so convincing; that it is ever growing stronger and stronger by the augmented and ever-increasing force which it receives, from the events which are yet daily taking place in the Church and in the world.]
This then may suffice for the first point which we were to consider, namely, the evidence of our religion as founded on prophecy. We now proceed to shew,
The use which we should make of that evidence—
“We should take heed to it,” and consider it well;
To satisfy our minds respecting the Messiahship of Jesus—
[In the world at large we have nothing to guide us in relation to this point: and even from Judaism we gain but little light. The whole Mosaic dispensation was dark and shadowy: and the very predictions which were handed down to us by successive prophets were so dark, that they were not understood by the very persons who uttered them [Note: 1Pe_1:10-12.]. But these prophecies serve us for a light, which, duly improved, will infallibly lead us to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. We may illustrate this by the star which appeared to the Magi in the East, which first of all directed them to Jud
a, then to Jerusalem, the capital of Jud
a. There they made inquiries respecting “the person who was born King of the Jews.” There, they learned that Bethlehem was to be the place of the Messiah’s nativity: and Herod was the person who directed them to go to Bethlehem. But, when they were going thither, the star which they had before seen in the East went before them, and stood over the very house in which the infant was. So will prophecy guide us. At first we are informed, that “the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head:” but where or when to find him we know not. Next we find, that he shall be of the seed of Abraham; and in the particular line of Isaac, and of Jacob. Proceeding further, we are directed to the family of David; and are told that he shall come whilst the second temple is yet standing, and be born at Bethlehem. Then we come to all the minute particulars respecting him. He must have such a forerunner as Elijah: he must have the Holy Ghost descend upon him: he must work unnumbered miracles in confirmation of his word: he must be scourged, and yet crucified; (though his scourging was inflicted by Pilate in order to prevent his crucifixion). A thousand minute circumstances must attend his death: and on the third day he must rise again; and ascend to heaven, and send down the Holy Ghost upon his Disciples, and enable them to speak all manner of languages, and work all manner of miracles: and, by their instrumentality, he must so establish his kingdom in the world, that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it. Now, where shall I find the person in whom all these, and ten thousand other predictions, meet? I go to one and to another; but I am stopped in a moment: I do not find in them any two requisites. I then come to Jesus; and I find he answers the description in some particulars. I then follow him to see if other things concur to point him out: and the more minutely I examine, the more evidence I gain, without one single disappointment. As the lot for the discovery of Achan fell first on the tribe, then on the family, then on the household, and then on the individual; so does every prophecy lead me nearer and nearer unto Jesus. till they fix infallibly on him as the object of my pursuit Thus, I say, I take prophecy for my light; and I follow it, till it stands over the very person of my adorable Lord, and leaves me no possibility of doubt respecting his being the true Messiah, the Saviour of the world.]
To lead us to an experimental sense of his excellency and glory—
[We must not be satisfied with knowing that Jesus is the Messiah, but must seek to experience all the blessings of his salvation in our souls. Suppose a condemned criminal to receive a pardon from his prince, and at the same time a grant of large estates, and a title to all the highest honours of his kingdom; and the man were to satisfy himself with examining and ascertaining that the writing which conveyed to him these benefits, was not a forgery: what should we say of that man? Should we think him sane? Should we not expect that, as a rational being, he would leave his prison, and go forth to possess his estates and honours? Yet this is the very folly which we are guilty of. We are contented with ascertaining to our satisfaction the Messiahship of Jesus, and go not forth to him to obtain the blessings he has purchased for us. But let us remember, that a lamp is only to guide us through a dark place: when the day has dawned and the sun is risen, we are then to walk in the light of that sun, which will supersede the use of the glimmering taper we have just employed. Now thus it is that the Lord Jesus Christ, “the true Morning-star [Note: Rev_22:16.],” “the Sun of Righteousness [Note: Mal_4:2.],” will arise in our hearts, and “will manifest himself to us, as he does not unto the world [Note: Joh_14:22.].” And, as light is its own evidence, so will he bring his own evidence along with him, and prove himself to be the Messiah by the blessings he imparts. Only let that “God, who commanded light to shine out of darkness, shine into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2Co_4:6.],” and we shall have the same evidence of his Messiahship as a man has of the sun’s existence when he is basking in the beams of its meridian splendour. This then is what we must seek. We must seek to have “the day dawn, and the day-star arise in our hearts:” and then we shall be able to say to prophecy, as the Samaritans did to the woman who had guided them to Jesus, “Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world [Note: Joh_4:42.].” It is said of heaven, that “the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof [Note: Rev_21:23.]:” and thus may it be said of us when Christ has once revealed himself within us; so bright, so cheering, so glorious will be his presence in the soul!]
We may learn then from hence,
The propriety of considering the evidences of our religion—
[Were we habituated from our early youth to consider these things, how vain and impotent would be the efforts of infidels to shake our faith! If we regarded nothing but intellectual amusement, we can scarcely conceive a richer feast to the mind than the study of prophecy. But, when we reflect that on the truth of Christianity our eternal welfare depends, it is surprising that we are not more interested about this all-important subject. We should not be satisfied with believing Christianity, because our fathers have believed it: we should examine for ourselves. We should search the Old Testament Scriptures, which testify of Christ; and compare them with the New Testament, in which the fulfilment of the prophecies is recorded. Thus should we examine the foundation upon which we propose to build, and assure ourselves that it will bear the edifice which we design to construct upon it.]
The folly of resting in them—
[A man who lays a foundation proceeds to build upon it. And so must we do. We have ascertained beyond a doubt that Jesus is the Christ. But what does the assurance of that fact avail us, if we go not to him for the salvation which he has purchased for us? The Israelites, when they found the manna that was round about their tents, inquired, “What is it?” But when they had ascertained that it was a species of bread given them from heaven, were they satisfied with having learned that fact? No: they proceeded to gather it, each one for himself, and then to feed upon it from day to day. Do ye then so in reference to Christ, who is “the true bread from heaven.” Do not imagine, that because you know he has been given, and are acquainted also with the ends and purposes for which he has been given, you will receive any benefit from that. You must lay hold upon him, and feed upon him from day to day. If he be indeed, as he has declared, the light of the world, you must walk in his light. Then shall your path to heaven be clear, and your way delightful: and then shall you be prepared to dwell with him in that place, where “the sun shall be no more your light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto you, but where the Lord shall be unto you an everlasting light, and your God your glory [Note: Isa_60:19.].”]