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2019.10.17 09:01 stroke_bot sambouk archaeolater skeich contrasts siccan

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2018.12.18 15:33 MarleyEngvall Lecture XX: On the Nature of the Prophetical Teachings (ii)

 by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, D. D. It is instructive to see how at different epochs dif- ferent evils attracted their attention; how the same institutions, which at one time seemed good, at another seemed fraught with evil. Contrast Isaiah's denunciation of the hierarchy with Malachi's support of them. Contrast Isaiah's confi- dence against Assyria with Jeremiah's despair before Chaldæa. There is no one Shibboleth handed down through the whole series. Only the simple faith in a few great moral and religious principles remains, the rest is constantly changing. Only the poor are con- stantly protected against the rich; only the weaker side is always regarded with the tender compassion which belongs especially to Him to whom all the Prophets bare witness. To the poor, to the oppressed, to the neglected, the Prophet of old was and is still the faithful friend. To the selfish, the luxurious, the insolent, the idle, the frivolous, the Prophet was and is still an implacable enemy. It is this aspect which has most forcibly brought out the well-known likeness of the Prophets both to ancient orators and modern statesmen. The often- quoted lines of Milton best express both the resem- blance and the difference: — "Their orators thou extoll'st, as those The top of eloquence; statists indeed, And lovers of their country, as may seem; But herein to our Prophets far beneath, As men divinely taught, and better teaching The solid rules of civil government, In their majestic, unaffected style, Than all the oratory of Greece and Rome. In them is plainest taught, and easiest learnt, What makes a nation happy, and keeps it so, What ruins kingdoms, and lays cities flat; These only with our law best form a king." 5. One point yet remains in connection with their teaching — and that is their absolute indepen- dence. Most of them were in opposition to the prevailing opinion of their countrymen for the time being. Some of them were persecuted, some of them were in favor with God and man alike. But in all, there was the same Divine Prophetic spirit — of elevation above the passions, and prejudices, and dis- tractions of common life. "Be not afraid of them; be not afraid of their faces; be not afraid of their words. Speak my words to them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear." "I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads: as an ada- mant harder than flint I have made thy forehead; fear them not, neither be dismayed." This is the position of all the Prophets, in a greater or less de- gree — it is the position, in the very highest sense of all, of Him whose chief outward characteristic it was that He stood high above all the influences of His age, and was the Rock against which they dashed in vain, and on which they were ground to powder. This element of the Prophetical Office deserves special consideration, because it pervades their whole teach- ing, and because it is in its lower manifestations within the reach of all. What is it that is thus rec- commended to us? Not eccentricity, not singularity, not useless opposition to the existing framework of the world, or the Church in which we find ourselves. Not this — which is of no use to any one — but this which is needed by every one of us, a fixed resolu- tion to hold our own against chance and accident, against popular clamor and popular favor, against the opinions, the conversation, of the circle in which we live; a silent look of disapproval, a single word of cheering approval — an even course, which turns not to the right hand or to the left, unless with our own full conviction — a calm, cheerful, hopeful endeavor to do the work that has been given us to do, whether we succeed or whether we fail. And for this Prophetic independence, what is, what was, the Prophetic ground and guaranty? There were two. One was that of which I will proceed to speak presently, — that which has almost changed the meaning of the name of the Prophets, — their constant looking forward to the Future. The other was that they felt themselves standing on a rock that was higher and stronger than they, — the support and the presence of God. It was this which made their inde- pendent elevation itself a Prophecy, because it spoke of a Power behind them, unseen, yet manifesting it- self through them in that one quality which even the world cannot fail at last to recognize. Give us a man, young or old, high or low , on whom we know that we can thoroughly depend, — who will stand firm when others fail, — the friend faithful and true, the adviser honest and fearless, the adversary just and chivalrous; in such an one there is a fragment of the Rock of Ages — a sign that there has been a Prophet amongst us. The consciousness of the presence of God. In the Mussulman or the Hindoo this makes itself felt in the entire abstraction of the mind from all outward things. In the fanatic , of whatever religion, it makes itself felt in the disregard of all the common rules of hu- man morality. In the Hebrew Prophet it makes itself felt in the disregard of all the common rules of hu- man morality. In the Hebrew Prophet it makes itself felt in the indifference to human praise or blame, in the unswerving fidelity to the voice of duty and of conscience, in the courage to say what we knew to be true, and do what we know to be right. This in the Hebrew Prophet — this in the Christian man — is the best sign of the near vision of Almighty God; it is the best sign of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, the Faithful and True, the Holy and the Just, the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. III. This brings us to the Prophetic teaching of the Future. It is well known that in the popular and modern use of the word since the seven- teenth century, by a "Prophet" is meant almost ex- clusively one who predicts and foretells; and to have asserted the contrary has even been thought heretical. We have already seen that this assumption is itself a grave error. It is wholly unauthorized, either by the Bible or by our own Church. It has drawn off the attention from the fundamental idea of the Pro- phetical office to a subordinate part. It has caused us to seek evidence of Prophecy in those portions of it which are least convincing, rather than in those which are most convincing — in those parts which it has most in common with other systems, rather than in those parts which distinguish it from other systems. But this error, resting as it does on an etymological mistake, could never have obtained so wide a diffusion, without some ground in fact; and this ground is to be found in the vast relation of the Prophetic office to the Future, which I shall now attempt to draw forth — dwell- ing, as before, on the general spirit of the institution. It is, then undoubtedly true that the Prophets of the Old Dispensation did in a marked and especial manner look forward to the Future. It was this which gave to the whole Jewish nation an upward, forward, progressive character, such as no Asi- atic, no ancient, I may almost say, no other nation has ever had in the same degree. Representing as they did the whole people, they share and they personated the general spirit of tenacious trust and hope that dis- tinguishes the people itself. Their warnings, their con- solations, their precepts, when relating to the past and the present, are clothed in imagery drawn from the future. The very form of the Hebrew verb, in which one tense is used both for the past and the future, lends itself to this mode of speech. They were con- ceived as shepherds seated on the top of one of the hills of Judæa, seeing far over the heads of their flocks, and guiding them accordingly; or as watchmen stand- ing on some lofty tower, or a wider horizon within their view than that of ordinary men. "Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?" was the question addressed to Isaiah by an anxious world below. "I will stand upon my watch," is the expression of Habakkuk, "and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me. Though the vision tarry, wait for it: it will surely come; it will not tarry." Their practical and relig- ious exhortations were it is true conveyed with a force which needed no further attestation. Of all of them, in a certain sense, it might be said as of the Greatest of all, that they spoke "as one having au- thority and not as the scribes." Still there are special signs of authority besides, and of these, one of the chief, from first to last, was their "speaking of things to come." And this token of Divinity extends (and here again I speak quite irrespectively of any special fulfil- ments of special predictions) to the whole Prophetic order, in Old and New Testament alike. There is nothing which to any reflecting mind is more signal a proof of the Bible being really the guiding book of the world's history, than its anticipations, predic- tions, insights, into the wants of men far beyond the age in which it was written. That modern element which we find in it, — so like our own times, so un- like the ancient framework of its natural form; that Gentile, European, turn of thought, — so unlike the Asiatic language and scenery which was its cradle; that enforcement of principles and duties, which for years and centuries lay almost unperceived, because hardly ever understood in its sacred pages; but which we now see to be in accordance with the utmost re- quirements of philosophy and civilization; those prin- ciples of toleration, chivalry, discrimination, proportion, which even now are not appreciated as they ought to be, and which only can be fully realized in ages yet to come; these are the unmistakable predictions of the Prophetic spirit of the Bible, the pledges of its inex- haustible resources. Thus much for the general aspect of the Prophetical office as it looked to the Future. Its more special aspects may be considered under three heads. (1.) First, their contemplation and prediction of the political events of their own and the surround- ing nations. It is this which brings them most nearly into comparison with the seers of other ages and other races. Every one knows instances, both in an- cient and modern times, of predictions which have been uttered and fulfilled in regard to events of this kind. Sometimes such predictions have been the result of political foresight. "To have made predictions which have been often verified by the event, seldom or never falsified by it," has been suggested by one well competent to judge, as an ordinary sign of statesman- ship in modern times. "To see events in their begin- nings, to discern their purport and tendencies from the first, to forewarn his countrymen accordingly," was the foremost duty of an ancient orator, as described by Demosthenes. Many instances will occur to stu- dents of history. Even within our own memory the great catastrophe of the disruption of the United States of America was foretold, even with the exact date, several years beforehand. Sometimes there has been an anticipation of some future epoch in the pregnant sayings of eminent philosophers or poets; as for ex- ample the intimation of the discovery of America by Seneca; or of Shakespeare by Plato, or the Reformation by Dante. Sometimes the same result has been pro- duced by a power of divination, granted, in some in- explicable manner, to ordinary men. Of such a kind were many of the ancient oracles, the fulfilment of which, according to Cicero, could not be denied with- out a perversion of history. Such was the fore- shadowing of the twelve centuries of Roman dominion by the legend of the apparition of the twelve vultures to Romulus, and which was so understood four hun- dred years before its actual accomplishment. Such, but with less certainty, was the traditional prediction of the conquest of Constantinople by the Mussulmans; the alleged predictions by Archbishop Malachi, whether composed in the eleventh or the sixteenth century, of the series of Popes down to the present time; not to speak of the well-known instances which are recorded both in French and English history. But there are several points which at once place the Prophetic predic- tions on a different level from any of these. It is not that they are more exact in particulars of time and place; none can be more so than that of the twelve centuries of the Roman Empire; and our Lord Him- self has excluded the precise knowledge of times and seasons from the widest and highest range of the prophetic vision. The difference rather lies in their close connection with the moral and spiritual charac- ter of the Prophetic mission, and their freedom (for the most part) from any of those fantastic and arbi- trary accompaniments by which so many secular pre- dictions are distinguished. They are almost always founded on the denunciations of moral evil, or the ex- altation of moral good, not on the mere localities or cities concerned. The nations whose doom is pro- nounced thus become representatives of moral princi- ples and examples to all ages alike. Israel, Jerusalem, Egypt, Babylon, Tyre, are personifications of states or principles still existing, and thus the predictions con- cerning them have, as Lord Bacon says, constantly germinant fulfilments. The secular events which are thus predicted are (with a few possible exceptions) within the horizon of the Prophet's age, and are thus capable of being turned to the practical edification of the Prophet's own age and country. As in the vision of Pisgah, the background is suggested by the fore- ground. No object is introduced which a contemporary could fail to appreciate and understand in outline, al- though its remoter and fuller meaning might be re- served for a far distant future. These predictions are also, in several striking instances, made dependents on the moral condition of those to whom they are ad- dressed, and are thus divested of the appearance of blind caprice or arbitrary fate, in which the literal predictions of both ancient and modern divination so much delight. "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown," No denunciation is more absolute in its terms than this; and of none is the frustration more complete. The true Prophetic lesson of the Book of Jonah is, that there was a principle in the moral gov- ernment of God, more sacred and more peremptory even than the accomplishment of the most cherished predic- tion. "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that He had said that He would do unto them; and He did it not." What here appears in a single case is laid down as a universal rule by the Prophet Jeremiah. "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation . . . to destroy it; if that nation . . . turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak con- cerning a nation . . . to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them." With these limitations, it is acknowledged by all students of the subject, that the Hebrew prophets made predictions concerning the fortunes of their own and other countries which were unquestionably fulfilled. There can be no reasonable doubt, for ex- ample, that Amos foretold the captivity and return of Israel; and Michael the fall of Samaria; and Eze- kiel the fall of Jerusalem; and Isaiah the fall of Tyre; and Jeremiah the limits of the Captivity. But, even if no such special cases could be proved, the grandeur of the position which the Prophets occu- py in this respect is one which it needs no attes- tation of any particular prediction to enhance, and which no failure of any particular prediction can im- pair. From those lofty watch-towers of Divine spec- ulation, from that moral and spiritual height which raised them far above the rest of the ancient world, they saw the rise and fall of other nations, long be- fore it was visible to those nations themselves. "They were the first in all antiquity," it has been well said, "to perceive that the old East was dead; they celebrated its obsequies, in advance of the dissolu- tion which they saw to be inevitable." They were, as Dean Milman has finely expressed it, the "great Tragic Chorus of the awful drama that was unfold- ing itself in the Eastern world. As each independent tribe or monarchy was swallowed up in the uni- versal empire of Assyria, the seers of Judah watched the progress of the invader, and uttered their sub- lime funeral anthems over the greatness and pros- perity of Moab and Ammon, Damascus and Tyre." And in those funeral laments and wide-reaching pre- dictions we trace a foretaste of what that universal sym- pathy with nations outside the chosen circle, — of that belief in an all-embracing Providence, — which has now become part of the belief of the highest in- telligence of the world. There may be many inno- cent questions about the date, or about the interpre- tation of the Book of Daniel, and of the Apocalypse. But there can be no doubt that they contain the first germs of the great idea of the succession of ages, of the continuous growth of empires and races under a law of Divine Providence, the first sketch of the Education of the world, and the first outline of the Philosophy of history. (2.) I pass to the second grand example of the predictive spirit of the Prophets. It was the distinguishing mark of the Jewish people that their golden age was not in the past, but in the future; that their greatest Hero (as they deemed Him to be) was not their founder, but their founder's latest descendant. Their traditions, their fancies, their glories, gathered round the head not of a chief, or warrior, or sage that had been, but of a King, a De- liverer, a Prophet who was to come. Of this singu- lar expectation the Prophets were, if not the chief authors, at least the chief exponents. Sometimes He is named, sometimes He is unnamed; sometimes He is almost identified with some actual Prince of the coming or the present generation, sometimes He recedes into the distant ages. But again and again, at least in the later Prophetic writings, the vista is closed by His person, His character, His reign. And almost everywhere the Prophetic spirit, in the deline- ation of His coming, remains true to itself. He is to be a King, a Conqueror, yet not by the common weapons of earthly warfare, but by those only weapons which the Prophetic order recognized, — by justice, mercy, truth, and goodness, — by suffering, by endur- ance, by identification of Himself with the joys, the sufferings of His nation, by opening a wider sym- pathy to the whole human race than had ever been opened before. That this expectation, however ex- plained, existetd in a greater or less degree amongst the Prophets, is not doubted by any theologians of any school whatever. It is no matter of controversy It is a simple and universally recognized fact, that, filled with these Prophetic images, the whole Jewish nation — nay, at last the whole eastern world — did look forward with longing expectation to the coming of this future Conqueror. Was this unparalleled ex- pectation realized? And here again I speak only of facts which are acknowledged by Germans and Frenchmen, no less than by Englishmen, by critics and by sceptics, even more fully than by theologians and ecclesiastics. There did arise out of this nation a Character by universal consent as unparalleled as the expectation which had preceded Him. Jesus of Nazareth was, on the most superficial no less than on the deepest view we take of His coming, the greatest name, the most extraordinary power, but precisely in those qualities in which from first to last the Prophetic order had laid the utmost stress, — justice and love, goodness and truth. I push this argument no further. Its force is weakened the moment we introduce into it any con- troversial detail. The fact which arrests our atten- tion is, that side by side with this great expecta- tion, appears the great climax to which the whole History leads up. It is a proof, if anything can be a proof, of a unity of design, in the education of the Jews, in the history of the world. It is proof that the events of the Christian Dispensation were planted on the very centre of human hopes and fears. It is a proof that the noblest hopes and aspirations that were ever breathed were not disappointed; and that when "God spake by the Prophets" of the coming Christ, He spake of that which in His own good time He was certain to bring to pass. (3.) There is one further class of predictions in which the Prophetic writings abound, and which still more directly connects itself with their general spirit, and of which the predictions I have already noticed are only a part, — the Future, as a ground of consolation to the Church, to individuals, to the human race. It is this which gives to the Bible at large that hopeful, victorious, triumphant character, which distinguishes it from the morose, querulous, narrow, desponding spirit of so much false religion, ancient and modern. The Power of the Future. — This is the fulcrum by which they kept up the hopes of their country, and on its support we can rest as well as they. The Future of the Church. — I need not repeat those glorious predictions which are familiar to all. But their spirit is applicable now as well as then. Although, in this sense, we prophesy and predict, as it were at second-hand from them, yet they are justified and confirmed by the experience, which the Prophets had not, of two thousand years ago. We may be depressed by this or that failure of good projects, of lofty aspirations. But the Prophets and the Bible bid us look onward. The world, they tell us, as a whole tends forwards and not backwards. The losses and backsliding of this generation, if so be, will be repaired in advance of the next. "To one far-off Divine event," slowly it may be and un- certainly, but steadily onwards, "the whole cre- ation moves." Work on in faith, in hope, in confi- dence; the future of the Church, the future of each particular society in which our lot is cast, is a solid basis of cheerful perseverance. The very ignorance of the true spirit of the Bible of which we complain, is the best pledge of its boundless resources for the future. The doctrines, the precepts, the institutions, which as yet lie undeveloped, far exceed in richness, in power, those that have been used out, or been fully applied. The Future of the Individual. — Have we ever thought of the immense stress laid by the Prophets on this mighty thought? What is the sentence with which the Church of Eng- land opens its morning and evening service, but a Prophecy, a Prediction, of the utmost importance to every human soul? "When the wicked man shall turn away from his wickedness, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive." So spoke Ezekiel, advancing beyond the limits of the Mosaic law. So spoke no less Isaiah and Micah: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." "He will turn again; He will have compas- sion upon us. He will subdue our iniquities. Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." So spoke, in still more endearing accents, the Prophet of Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself, when He uttered His world-wide invitation, "Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out." "Her sins which are many are forgiven." "Go and sin no more." The Future is everything to us, the Past is nothing. The turn, the change, the fixing our faces in the right, instead of the wrong direction, — this is the difficulty, this is the turning-point, this is the crisis of life. But that once done, the Future is clear before us. The despondency of the human heart, the timidity or the austerity of Churches or of sects, may refuse this great Prophetic absolution; may cling to pen ances and regrets for the past; may shrink from the glad tidings that the good deeds of the Future can blot out the sorrows and sins of the Past. But the whole Prophetic teaching of the Old and New Testament has staked itself on the issue; it hazards the bold prediction that all will be well when once we have turned; it bids us go courageously forward, in the strength of the Spirit of God, in the power of the life of Christ. There is yet one more Future, — a future which to the Prophets of old was almost shut out, but which it is the glory of the Prophets of the New Dispensation to have predicted to us with unshaken certainty, — the Future life. In this respect, the predictions of the latest of the Prophets far transcend those which went before. The heathen philosophers were content with guesses on the immortal future of the soul. The elder Hebrew Prophets were content, for the most part, with the consciousness of the Divine support in this life and through the terrors of death, but did not venture to look further. But the Christian Prophets, gathering up the last hopes of the Jewish Church into the first hopes of the Christian Church, throw themselves boldly on the undiscovered world beyond the grave, and fore- tell that there the wishes and fears of this world would find their true accomplishment. To this Pre- diction so confident, yet so strange at the time, the intelligence no less than the devotion of mankind has in the course of ages come round. Powerful minds which have rejected much beside in the teaching of the Bible, have claimed as their own this last expec- tation of the simple Prophetic school, which founded its hopes on the events of that first Easter day, that first day of the week, "when life and immortality were brought to light." And it is a prediction which shares the character of all the other truly Prophetic utterances, in that it directly bears on the present state of being. Even without dwelling on the special doctrine of judgment and retribution, the mere fact of the stress laid by the Prophets on the certainty of the Future is full of instruction, hardly perhaps enough borne in mind. Look forwards, we sometimes say, a few days or a few months, and how different will all things seem. Yes; but look forwards a few more years; and how yet more differently will all things seem. From the height of that Future, to which on the wings of the ancient Prophetic belief we can transport ourselves, look back on the present. Think of our troubles, as they will seem when we know their end. Think of those good thoughts and deeds which alone will survive in that unknown world. Think of our controversies, as they will appear, when we shall be forced to sit down at the feast with those whom we have known only as opponents here, but whom we must recognize as companions there. To that Future of Futures which shall fulfil the yearnings of all that the Prophets have desired on earth, it is for us, wherever we are, to look onwards, upwards, and forwards, in the constant expectation of something better than we see or know. Uncer- tain as to "the day and hour," and as to the manner of fulfilment, this last of all the Predictions still, like those of old, builds itself upon the past and present. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is." 
from The History of the Jewish Church, Vol. I : Abraham to Samuel, Lecture XX : On the Nature of the Prophetical Teaching. by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, D.D., Dean of Westminster Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1879, pp. 508 - 524
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