Chapter 3. The Proper Sphere Of Prophecy—The Church
(The term church is used here as a convenient expression for the community of the faithful, without reference to its formal organization, and also without respect to time—consequently of that community before, as well as after Christ.)
BY the sphere of prophecy, we mean the parties for whom it was directly given, and the objects it more immediately contemplated. The subject is very closely connected with the topics which have already been discussed, and the correct view may be said to be involved in the preceding remarks. But it is a matter of too much moment to be settled merely by implication; the more especially as conclusions naturally flow from it, which ought to exercise an important bearing on the interpretation of prophecy.
It is of prophecy in the stricter sense that we now speak—prophecy as containing pre-intimations of things to come—not only a distinct branch, but the most special and peculiar branch of God’s communications to men. This alone determines it to have been, in its leading aim and object, for the behoof of the Church. If, in its other aspects, prophesying was “not for them that believe not, but for them that believe” (1Co_14:22), it must have been so more especially in this; only in an incidental and remote manner could it have been intended to bear upon those without. For it was the revelation of the Lord’s secret in regard to the future movements of His providence, which belongs peculiarly to them that fear Him (Psa_25:14). Not such a revelation, however, for the purpose of gratifying the curiosity of those who might seek needlessly to pry into the future, but for the higher end of furnishing, especially in times of darkness and perplexity, the light that might be required for present faith and duty. It is not God’s common method, nor, indeed, would it be consistent with His wisdom, to lay open His hidden counsel respecting things destined to come to pass, even to the children of His covenant: for such knowledge, if imparted with any measure of fulness and precision, would be a most dangerous possession, and would inevitably tend to destroy the simplicity of their trust in God, and beget an unhealthy craving after human calculations and worldly expedients. It is only, therefore, within certain limits, or in cases that may be deemed somewhat exceptional, that God can grant, even to His chosen, a prophetical insight into future events. In so far as this may be needful to awaken or sustain hope in times of darkness and discouragement—to inspire confidence in the midst of general backsliding and rebuke—at the approach of imminent danger to the life of faith, to give due intimation of the brooding evil—at such times, and for such purposes, God’s merciful regard to the safety and well-being of His people may fitly lead Him to provide them with an occasional and partial disclosure of the future; but the same regard would equally constrain Him to withhold it, when not necessary for the moral ends of His government.
Apparent exceptions to this view present themselves in the cases of Balaam and Daniel, both of whom primarily disclosed to the enemies of God’s kingdom the things destined to come to pass. Both, however, occupied a kind of exceptional position. They stood apart, not only from the prophetical order of men in Israel, but also from the common affairs of the church. Hence the writings of Daniel, notwithstanding their high prophetical character, have had a place assigned them in the Jewish canon, distinct from the writings of strictly prophetical men. But in regard to the point immediately before us, the grounds of exception are more apparent than real. For, in the case of both Balaam and Daniel, it was mainly for the light and encouragement of the church, that the word of prophecy came by them; only, the circumstances of the times were such as to render the camp of the enemy the most appropriate watch-tower, where it should have been received, and primarily, made known. At both periods, Israel had come into direct collision with the kingdoms of the world—in the one case as a new, in the other as a small and shattered power, standing over against others of mighty prowess, and, as might seem, of all-prevailing energy. The subject for anxious thought and consideration then was not, as usually with the prophets, Israel in its relation to the worldly powers, but rather the worldly powers in their relation to Israel. (See Auberlen’s “Der Prophet Daniel und die Offenbarung Johannes,” p. 22.) The providence of God had ordered matters so as, for the time, to give these powers the predominant rank in the world’s affairs; and it was meet that the word which announced the evanescence of their glory, and their ultimate subjection to the kingdom of God, should proceed from a divine seer on their own territory. There was thus extracted from the domain of the earthly, a testimony on behalf of the spiritual and divine. And to render the witness still more striking and impressive, it was ordered in the latter of the two cases referred to, that Nebuchadnezzar, the head and representative of the worldly kingdom, should, by receiving a divine dream himself, herald the final downfal of the one, and the eternal ascendency of the other (Daniel 2). The actual revelation, however, came from Daniel, the representative at Babylon of the divine kingdom; and though the general outline of the future was presented in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, yet the more inward and special delineation of the respective natures of the earthly and the heavenly kingdoms, of the relations that were to subsist between the two, of the death-like struggles through which, both in the nearer and the more distant future, the kingdom of God was to make its way to a secure position, and a universal dominion—all this, which forms the great burden of Daniel’s prophecies (Daniel 7-12), and which it was his more especial calling to disclose, was given through him directly for the support and encouragement of the church, amid the deep depression and gloom which both then and afterwards hung around her condition. Here also, therefore, the general principle holds, that prophecy, as the revelation of things to come, in all its leading phases, is God’s communication to the church; and that for spiritual ends—for the especial purpose of preparing and fitting her for the more trying emergencies of a struggling and perplexed condition.
1. And this, first of all, accounts quite naturally for the very unequal, and apparently irregular, distribution of prophecy. Being intended, in its more immediate aim, to counsel and direct the church, in respect to evils in her condition, too great for ordinary light and privilege, it was fitly made to vary, both in form and quantity, according to the exigencies of the times. Hence, prophetic revelations were much longer continued, and more widely diffused in the earlier ages of the church’s history than now; for believers then possessed so imperfect an insight into the scheme and purposes of God, that they required more full and frequent glimpses into the future to sustain their faith, and guide their course of procedure. Hence also, when toward the close of the Theocracy, error and corruption became unusually prevalent and strong—when on account of these, it was necessary to allow a cloud of darkness to settle upon the outward position and prospects of the church, and every thing began to wear a frowning aspect; it was then more especially that the spirit of prophecy needed to multiply, and that it actually did multiply, its announcements—pouring in rays of heaven’s light amid nature’s gloom, and doing so the more, as the gloom became deeper, and difficulties thickened around the walk of faith. In perfect accordance with this more immediate and special design of prophecy, not only are there comparatively few prophetic delineations in New Testament Scripture, but the portions which more peculiarly belong to this class (viz., our Lord’s predictions respecting the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, St Paul’s description of the great apostacy, and the mystic visions of alternate suffering and triumph in the Apocalypse), all proceed on the anticipation of distressing and perilous times to the church, and are obviously designed to provide her beforehand with the necessary materials of light and comfort. (In what has now been stated regarding prophecy, we have a ready explanation of a notice in New Testament history, as this notice, in turn, incidentally confirms the statement just made. In Act_4:36, the surname of Barnabas, given to the good Levite, Joseph, is explained as meaning “son of consolation” (υἱὸς παρακλήσεως), while more strictly it is “son of prophecy” (בַּר נְבוּאָה). It implied that prophecy, in its primary and leading design, was what we have represented, the light and comfort of the church in her times of trouble and perplexity. And had prophecy been viewed more in this Scriptural aspect, and less as a weapon of defence against unbelievers, the explanation of this name would have appeared more easy and natural than it has usually done.)
Now, since this is the primary design of prophecy in its more specific announcements—since in these it has respect more immediately to the church of God, and speaks peculiarly for her direction and support in times of danger or distress—it is clear we should not expect prophecy to be framed, as if its argumentative value were the main service it was intended to render. Whatever it may be fitted to yield of this description, is rather to be regarded as an incidental result, than its direct and proper aim. It speaks, for the most part, in a tone of confidence and sympathy, as to those who should be disposed to receive and profit by the communications it addressed to them, not with a view to meet on the field of controversy, persons on the search for weapons of assault against the truth of God. The moral position of such persons is entirely wrong; and it is only what might be expected, that various things respecting prophecy and its fulfilment should afford ground for doubt or cavil to them, which appear full of light and satisfaction to the children of God. The eye of the one class is evil, and so abides in darkness; while in the other it is single, and receives in simplicity the testimony of truth.
2. The same consideration, which accounts for the somewhat irregular distribution of prophecy, also serves to explain a peculiarity, which not unfrequently appears in the form of its announcements. This peculiarity consists in the minatory aspect given to many predictions which are really pregnant with blessing; or their indirectly announcing good to the church, by directly denouncing evil upon the adversary. In all cases of this sort it is the relation implied or indicated between the two parties, which determines the form of the prediction; this being such as to render the infliction of evil on the one necessary to the accomplishing of deliverance for the other. Every such prediction, therefore, is in truth a word of promise addressed to the church, assuring her, under covert of the spoliation or defeat of the enemies of her peace, of her own coming safety or enlargement.
The very first promise belongs to this category. It assumes in both its parts the form of a threatening—a threatening of partial injury to be brought on the woman’s seed by the seed of the tempter, and of the utter destruction of the tempter’s seed by that of the woman. In itself, a most significant fact, and indicating, from the outset, how necessarily and how much the salvation of an elect church was to proceed by the avenging of evil, and the overthrow of an adverse power! In the same light are we to view the denunciations of coming judgment and desolation, which, in the later prophets, are so often given forth against Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and other heathen kingdoms. The relation in which these powers stood at the time to the church of God, as her dangerous rivals or cruel oppressors, made it impossible to give her the promise of good she needed, without, at the same time, foretelling their coming ruin; for it was only by the fall of the one, that the other could rise to the ascendant. Even the more particular and detailed representations of Daniel respecting the successive monarchies of the world, had the same ultimate design; the terminating point of his visions (as we have already stated), was to impress upon the minds of believing men the temporary nature of the earthly, under every phase it might assume, and with whatever weapons it might arm itself: its destination still was, to pass away, that the heavenly might remain. Nor is it otherwise in the case of the Apocalyptic sketches in the New Testament. The plagues of judgment, the vials of wrath, the woes, calamities, and desolations, with which they so greatly abound, are all of the nature of promises to the party more properly contemplated by the prophetic spirit; for the revelation they contain of the world’s doom, is given for the especial purpose of enabling the church to reckon on her abiding security and final triumph. They are but another form of the message, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God.”
3. It is of more importance, however, to notice another point connected with the revelations of prophecy, and which is also a simple deduction from the view under consideration, of its more immediate purpose and design. From the relation of prophecy to the church, a very large portion of its announcements naturally consists of direct promises of good things to come; and addressed, as these necessarily are, to the church in the strictest sense, they can only be expected to meet with fulfilment in so far as the church is true to her calling, or in the experience of the church as composed of sincere and faithful members of the covenant. It could not be otherwise, if prophecy really is—what we have found it to be—the more special and peculiar revelation of God’s purposes of mercy to His people in times of comparative darkness, or peculiar trouble and perplexity. In that case, whatever it contained of comfort and encouragement, must have been designed for genuine believers—for them alone; because such only are the proper subjects of blessing. It were, therefore, to turn prophecy out of its proper direction—to draw it into a sphere that does not rightfully belong to it, if we should view the promises of blessing it embodies, as bearing respect to men in their natural condition: if, for example, we should regard them as the settled heritage of the Jews, in their simply natural descent and national capacity, apart from the spiritual characteristics of the church, or the seed of true believers, which that nation contained in its bosom. This were, indeed, to invert the relative order and position of things; it were to convert the incidental and formal in Israel’s condition into the substantive part, leaving all that is inward and spiritual as a kind of separable adjunct. It were to exhibit God’s election of Israel to the prominent place they held, and their title to Divine favour and blessing, as a thing by itself, and for itself—a piece of mysterious favouritism, or freak of arbitrary will and power; instead of being, as the whole tenor alike of the historical and the prophetical Scriptures manifests, a concentrated display of his principles of truth and grace, in order to work with the greater effect upon the world at large. (See this point more fully treated in “Typology of Scripture,” book 2, ch. vi., sec. 6.) So far from its being the case, that the promises in Isaiah and the other prophets were all made to the Jews as a nation, it were nearer the truth to say, that no promises were made to them, simply in that capacity.
The promises, in which they were more peculiarly interested, were made to Abraham and his seed; but to his seed only in the sense explained by the Apostle (Romans 4, Romans 9; Galatians 3); that is, to those who might spring from Abraham’s loins, in so far—but in so far only—as they stood also in his faith and walked in his footsteps; and along with these, to all who should possess the same spiritual standing, whether they might belong or not to the number of his natural offspring. The possession of the spiritual element was thus, in every age, stamped as the essential thing, as the vital bond of connection, according to the pregnant saying of Augustine, “The faith of Abraham is the seed of Abraham,” (Fides Abrahae semen est Abrahae, Op. x., p. 2593). When the lineal descendants failed in respect to this, they were not recognised by God as the heirs of promise, or as possessed of any title to blessing. They then wanted the heart of the parent, which was unspeakably more important than bearing his name, or having a portion of his blood in their veins. Their condition did not essentially differ from that of the heathen. How clearly was this indicated by the prophet Isaiah, when, at the beginning of his book, though described as “the vision he saw respecting Judah and Jerusalem,” he breaks forth in an address to the existing generation as “the rulers of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah!” Not only had they become like heathens in God’s sight, but like that portion of the heathen, who, from having been pre-eminent in guilt, were made also pre-eminent in punishment; not Abraham’s seed, therefore, in the proper sense, but a generation of vipers. In like manner, Ezekiel advances it as a specific charge against the children of Israel, that they had “brought strangers, uncircumcised in heart, and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in God’s sanctuary, to pollute it” (Eze_44:7), describing a corrupt priesthood as uncircumcised heathen, because such morally was their position in the sight of God. So, again Amos in Amo_9:7, “Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the Lord. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?” That is, the doing of the one, as matters now stand, is to be regarded as entirely of a piece with the doing of the other. Since Israel has descended spiritually to a level with the nations of the earth, the removal of their forefathers from Egypt, and their settlement in the land of Canaan, has also become a merely political and worldly change, similar to what has occurred among other tribes and races of men. It involves no distinctive privilege; it secures no real blessing. The promise is not for persons in such a condition, but only for the children of faith, who are the proper seed of Abraham.
The rule for promised blessing, however, does not hold of threatened evil. The prophets could not, in accordance with the principles of the Divine government, have assured the Israelitish people, in the mass, and irrespective of their spiritual condition, of future good; but there was nothing to prevent the same prophets from threatening the people with the most general and overwhelming judgments. The two cases are essentially different. True believers alone are in any case the proper subjects of promise; but sinners of every name are exposed to the judgments of heaven, and those who have sinned as Israel did, against covenant light and engagements, only render themselves the heirs of a heavier condemnation. Hence the groundlessness of the complaint which is sometimes raised concerning the seed of Israel, as if a certain degree of harshness were shown them when their connection with the severity of God is represented as more marked and general than their connection with his goodness—when the prospects of blessing unfolded by the prophets are held to have been the heritage only of the spiritual portion of the people, while the calamities threatened are found to have had a collective and national fulfilment. Such a complaint, if traced to its source, would resolve itself into a dissatisfaction with the principles of the Divine administration; since, according to these, individuals or communities, merely as such, may become the subjects of threatened evil, there being always enough of sin in the general mass, enough even in the better portion, to account for every visitation of evil that may be sent; while, on the other hand, no tokens of the Divine favour, no blessing either temporal or eternal, can be made sure to any, excepting in so far as they become partakers of the grace and salvation of God.
It is true that the promises of blessing held out to Israel by the prophets are often couched in terms not less comprehensive than the threatenings of evil; they are addressed to the people in their collective capacity, as if all were alike interested in them. This arose from the desire felt by God’s servants to treat Israel according to their proper ideal, as a people called to the knowledge and service of Jehovah—an ideal which they were reminded by this very mode of address ought to have been realised in the entire community. The same thing precisely occurs in New Testament Scripture. In the epistles addressed to particular churches, these are designated according to their Christian profession, as standing in the faith and purity of the gospel, and as so standing, have many rich and precious promises conveyed to them; but without prejudice to the truth that there might be, nay, not without many indications of the fact that there were, amongst them persons who were not conformed to the doctrine, and who could have no part in the blessing. The principle which underlies one and all of these promises is, that as it is Christ who gave them confirmation for his people, so it is such only as really are his people who are entitled to look for their fulfilment. But for those who are without the faith of Christ, so far from their having an interest in any promises of grace, they still have the wrath of God abiding upon them.
It is proper to add, that the converse of the principle here affirmed respecting the promissory element in the prophecies of Scripture, or the positive aspect of the truth it contains, also demands consideration, and is, indeed, one on which both the comfort of believers and the practical value of the prophetic Scriptures greatly depend. If, on the one hand, the promises of future good they disclose are only for the children of faith, who constitute the real members of the covenant, on the other hand, it is to be remembered, they are for all such. To the latest generations, and to the utmost bounds of the world, these may claim an interest in them. Not always, indeed, as to the mere form of the promised good (which changes with circumstances of place and time), but invariably as to its substance. For “the word of God lives and abides for ever;” if, as a word of blessing, for none but the true seed, yet assuredly for all the seed, of every kindred, and tribe, and tongue. Believing Gentiles are therefore designated “heirs according to the promise,” (Gal_3:29)—the promise, namely, given originally to Abraham, and which may justly be said to comprehend every other in its bosom. And both our Lord himself and his Apostles continually recognise and proceed upon the principle, that the child of faith, wherever he is, and in whatever region he resides, has a personal interest in every word of encouragement and hope which has been delivered to the people of God. (Mat_4:4; Act_2:39; 2Co_6:2; Heb_6:17-18, etc.) How could it possibly be otherwise? This word is the testimony of an unchangeable God—the expression of his own unalterable nature. Distance of space or time, therefore, can make no material alteration respecting it. It is as veritable in its announcements, and as fresh in its spirit, for the believer now, as if it had been uttered for the first time in his own day, and even had come direct to his own ear. So that, on sure and solid grounds, which may be said to have their root in the very being and character of God, we may affirm believers of every name to be substantially on a footing as regards the word of promise; to all of them it speaks one language, and lays open to them the same inheritance of blessing.
But the principle which thus binds the individual believer of one time with the believer of another, is, of course, equally valid in a collective respect; it establishes the unbroken continuity of the church, and the essential oneness of her relation to the promises of God. These promises have, indeed, to do with different covenants and successive dispensations, but not by any means with diverse churches, one having a right to this, and another to that, part of its provisions. There is in reality but one church, pervaded by one organic life, and only so far differing at one time from what it was at another, as it has had to pass through successive stages of development, and to adapt itself to circumstances full of change and progress. Hence, as Owen justly remarked, in one of the shortest, but, at the same time, one of the most solid and well-digested of his Preliminary Dissertations to his “Commentary on the Hebrews” (Exer. vi.), “At the coming of the Messiah, there was not one church taken away, and another set up in its room; but the church continued the same, in those that were the children of Abraham according to the faith. The Christian church is not another church, but the very same that was before the coming of Christ, having the same faith with it, and interested in the same covenant. The olive tree was the same; only some branches were broken and others grafted into it: the Jews fell, and the Gentiles came in their room. And this doth and must determine the difference between the Jews and Christians about the promises of the Old Testament. They are all made unto the church. No individual hath any interest in them, but by virtue of his membership with the church. This church is, and always was, one and the same. With whomsoever it remains, the promises are theirs; and that, not by application or analogy, but directly and properly. They belong as immediately at this day, either to Jews or Christians, as they did of old to any. The question is, with whom is this church, which is founded on the promised seed in the covenant; for where it is, there is Zion, Jerusalem, Israel, Jacob, the temple of God.” (See also “Typology of Scripture,” vol. i., p. 190, sq., fourth edition.)
4. A still further deduction, and one of much importance to the right interpretation of prophecy, remains to be drawn from the consideration of its proper sphere and intention. Since prophecy is mainly and essentially a revelation of God’s mind and will to his church, and that more especially for the direction and encouragement of her members in times of darkness and perplexity, we may confidently infer that the ethical or moral element, not the simply natural, must predominate in its announcements respecting the future. It may, and to a certain extent must, foretell events in Providence with sufficient distinctness to enable those who have witnessed or become cognisant of their occurrence, to identify them with its prior intimations; for otherwise the church could never assure herself that the hopes and expectations it had awakened in her bosom had found their realisation. In regard, for example, to the Messiah, to whom, most of all, prophecy was intended to bear witness, it was necessary that it should describe Him by such marks and characteristics as would enable those who waited for His coming to recognise Him when he did come, as the same that had been promised to the fathers. In like manner, the predictions that bore on the destinies of the covenant-people, and the hostile kingdoms around them, must, in order to serve the purposes for which they were given, have spoken with sufficient plainness of the grand results, at least, concerning each of them, in which the course of Providence was to issue. But it could not be in any case the mere occurrences themselves, as objects of natural curiosity or ordinary facts of history, in respect to which they were so announced beforehand, or were afterwards to be marked as fulfilments of prophecy. For then they should have belonged, not to the province of religion, or to the sphere of the church, but to the region of nature and the world. It is in the moral element that the church moves; and the prominent point in all prophetic intimations respecting her state and destiny, must be something of a like kind—something that, in one respect or another, tends to exhibit the principles of the Divine administration in its dealings with men as subjects of a moral government. Prophecy, therefore, as has been justly said, “is not merely the divination of future events; these events, however important, are but points in the immense map of God’s designs. It is the weakness of the human mind to desire to pry into futurity without a moral aim. God’s aim, on the contrary, is to raise us above the whirl of passing events, and to fix our attentive gaze on the Divine hand, which is moving all the complicated wheels of Providence:” (“Douglas on the Structure of Prophecy,” p. 8.)—and moving them, it might have been added, for the great end of displaying His moral attributes, and accomplishing the purposes of His grace in behalf of-His church and people. Everything in the Divine plan is subordinate to this, and must also be subordinate in the prophetic word, which is but the partial disclosure of that plan, before the time has come for its actual evolution in Providence.
If due weight is given to the consideration now advanced, it will exercise an important influence on our interpretations of prophecy. It will lead us to view every thing, not through a natural, but through an ethical, medium. In the predictions, for example, respecting states and kingdoms, it will dispose us to look not so much to the land or territory they occupied, or the external changes these might undergo, as to the rational beings composing them, who alone were proper subjects of a moral treatment. Hence, when the predictions took the form, as they very commonly did, of dnunciations of coming evil, they are to be understood more especially of the people whose sins had provoked the threatened doom, and of the territories they occupied, only in so far as the eternal aspect of these might be made visibly to reflect the prostrate condition of their owners. To have respect to the territories, rather than to the people who inhabited them, were to look at the prophecies and their fulfilment in a simply natural light. It were to make account of the relation in which they stood to the omniscience and power of God, but to lose sight of their connection with His moral government. This, however, as we have stated, was invariably the point of highest moment. The primary question was, how the states referred to stood related, now, in guilt, and prospectively, in punishment, to the righteousness of heaven. “It is not, therefore,” to use the words of Arnold, who correctly exhibits the general purport of this portion of the prophetical Scriptures, “it is not as if the places were accursed for ever; or as if the language of utter vengeance, which we find in prophecy, was applicable to the soil of Mesopotamia or Edom; but the people, the race, the language, the institutions, the religion, all that constitutes national personality, are passed away from the earth. And if Mesopotamia were to be civilized and fertilized to-morrow, and a city with the name of Babylon rebuilt, yet it could not be the old Babylon (of Scripture); for that has become extinct for ever.” Viewed thus, in their predominantly moral bearing, such prophecies will be found to have met with the fullest verification; while, otherwise, as will afterwards appear, the verification is at best broken and incomplete.
Nor is this all. For, by keeping thus prominently in view the moral element in prophecy and its primary destination to subserve spiritual interests, we escape from what, more than any thing else, has impoverished much of our prophetical literature, and we may almost say, has stricken it with the curse of barrenness: namely, the disposition to treat the subject of prophecy merely as a branch of the evidences, and make account of nothing but what it contains of the miraculous. Somewhat of the miraculous, undoubtedly, belongs to every prophecy of Scripture; since it necessarily betokens a supernatural insight into the counsels of Heaven, and a power not granted to men in general, of penetrating through the veil of the future. This, however, is only a part, not the whole; it is not even the more essential and prominent part; and to isolate and magnify it, as if it were alone entitled to regard, is most unduly to contract the boundaries of the field, and leave unexplored its hidden riches. Even in the case of miracles themselves, the too exclusive regard to the miraculous element has proved a source of weakness and danger. It has presented them to men’s view, merely on their natural side, apart from their moral use as manifestations of the character of God—has treated them, not as themselves integral parts of a revelation, but only as evidences of a revelation; and the natural result has been, that being under-estimated by the defenders of the faith, they have been all the more rudely disparaged and assailed by its opponents. It is, in truth, to use the words of Archdeacon Hare, “the theological parallel to the materialist hypothesis, that all our knowledge is derived from our senses.” (“Mission of the Comforter,” p. 354.)
The mistake is, if possible, still worse in regard to prophecy, which comes forth as a direct communication from the presence of God. When considered merely as a Divine act of foresight, it is but an evidence of his foreknowledge, which, even in its highest exercise, is still only a natural attribute, standing in no necessary connection with spiritual aims and purposes. But what, if not to exhibit these, is the great design of all the revelations of Scripture? They are given to tell, not that God is, but what he is—what in the features of His character, in the principles of His government, in His purposes of mercy or of judgment toward men. So that to contemplate the revelations of prophecy in their relation merely to the Divine foresight, is to view them apart from what has ever been the higher aim of God’s formal communications to men. And not only so, but the further error is naturally fallen into, of expecting prophecy to be more full and explicit in its announcements regarding future events, than from its inherent nature and immediate uses it could properly be. Valued only for the evidences it contains of Divine foresight, a mode of interpretation is in danger of being adopted, which, in its craving for specific predictions, would confound the characteristics of prophecy and history. How far this has actually been the case, will appear when we come to treat of the proper style and diction of prophecy.