Symbolic mountains

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The Creation Concept


Symbolic mountains

Mountains of the Bible

Strange things happen to mountains

Overview of the mountains of prophecy

Mountains of Israel in Ezekiel 36

Biblical mountains in context

Ezekiel's mountains

Interpreting Old Testament Promises

Hidden Riches of Cyrus

Treasures of darkness

On abstaining from strong meat

What happened in the valley of Shittim

W.L. Alexander on Prophecy

Relation of the Old to the New Dispensation, by J. A. Alexander

Symbolism and the gospel

The mountains of prophecy



[From: Credentials of Christianity, a course of lectures delivered at the request of the Christian Evidence Society; Hodder and Stoughton, London. 1880. pp. 41-83]

PROPHECY, in the sense in which the term is used in such discussions as the present, is the foretelling of future events,—the announcing that some person shall appear and act in a particular way, or that some event or series of events shall take place, of whose appearance or occurrence there is no immediate or natural probability at the time the announcement is made. This is a restricted application of the term. As the ancient prophet was the medium of communication from God to men, as he was emphatically the speaker for or in the place of God to the people, his utterances had respect to many things besides the prediction of things to come. He had to declare God's will to men, to teach Divine truth, to lay down principles of religious belief and ethical obligation, to give counsel in respect to affairs of national or personal interest, to rebuke, to warn, to comfort, to exhort, as occasion required, and as he was directed of the Lord. In the prophetical writings of Scripture, consequently, we find many things which have no bearing on future events; indeed, the greater portion of the prophetic writings is of this character. Prophecy, therefore, in its wide sense, is whatever the prophet, as the man of God, uttered in the name of God to men. But it is not on prophecy in this wide sense that the argument now in hand has to be raised. The argument from prophecy in favour of Christianity is founded solely on what the prophet as a seer announced concerning persons and events in that future which to the men of his day was wholly hidden from view.

This argument is in itself very brief; but it is capable of being illustrated to a wide extent, and when so illustrated it acquires a cumulative force. In this respect it resembles the argument from design in proof of the existence of a Supreme Being, which may be clearly stated in a single syllogism, but is capable of being expanded so as to occupy volumes replete with interest. It resembles in this respect also its cognate argument—that from miracles—an argument which may be fitly illustrated and enforced at great length, but which was expressed in all its substantial force by Nicodemus in a single sentence, when he said to Christ, "Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do those miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him." [1] It will not be expected that in a discourse like the present the attempt will be made to refer to all the predictions contained in Scripture upon which an argument in favour of the Divine authority of that book, and of the religion it teaches, might be raised. All I shall attempt is to state distinctly the argument itself, to determine its conditions, to show for what it is valid, to indicate the general character of the Scripture predictions, to point out their evidential force, and to meet certain objections that have been urged against this.

The argument from prophecy is addressed to those who, believing in a personal God, may not be prepared to accept the Bible as a revelation from Him, or who may desire to have their faith in that confirmed. Believing in God, such will admit that to Him all things are known—that the entire course of events in the history of the world, on to the end of time, is before His view—and that He can, if He pleases, at any moment foretell what is to happen in subsequent times. It will also be admitted that He, as Omnipotent, is able to convey into the mind of His intelligent creatures intimations or representations of future events, and to enable them to announce and describe these to others. It will further be admitted that without such communication from God no man can really predict what is to happen in the yet indiscernible and it may be far-distant future. Now these things being admitted, the argument from prophecy lays hold of certain predictions contained in the Bible, and building on them, infers that, as the men who uttered or recorded these predictions could have done so only by Divine help, and as such help would not have been given save to such as God commissioned to speak in His name and be organs of communication from Him to men, the fact that they did utter such predictions proves that God was with them and had sent them forth. They are, therefore, to be regarded as the channels through which God has been pleased to convey His will to men,—as persons sanctioned and authorised to speak in the name of God, so that what they deliver to us as from God is to be accepted by us as indeed His word.

It will be observed for what this argument is affirmed to be valid. It is valid not to prove immediately and directly the truth of the prophet's message or utterance; what it proves is the divinity of his commission, his being sent of God and authorised to speak to men in God's name. This proved, the truth of what he utters follows as a necessary conclusion. For as all that God says must be true, what He commissions and empowers any man to speak in His name must no less be true. We thus arrive at a conviction that the Bible contains the truth of God, and that the religion it unfolds and teaches is divinely true, not immediately from the predictions contained in it, but inferentially from the fact that these predictions prove that those who delivered them were sent of God, and were authorised by Him to speak His word to men.

The argument here is essentially the same as that from miracles. A miracle does not afford any proof immediately and directly of the truth of any doctrine or message. Moral and religious truth can never be proved by any manifestation of physical power, however marvellous. What the miracle proves is that God is with the man who performs it, and that the man consequently is authorised to speak in God's name. A miracle simply announces that God is about to speak through one of His servants, and summons us to listen to what is spoken, as if God Himself addressed us by a voice from heaven. That what is so spoken is to be accepted as infallibly true, is a necessary inference from the fact that it is virtually God who speaks. It is the same with prophecy. A prediction uttered and fulfilled affords evidence that God was with the man who uttered it. He is thereby authenticated as sent by God, and what he utters in the name of God is to be accepted by us as Divine. That it is also true is inferred by us as a necessary consequence of its being Divine.

Here it is proper to note the close affinity—we might rather say the identity—of miracles and prophecy. Both belong to the same category. Their identity is sometimes expressed by saying that the one is a miracle of knowledge, and the other a miracle of power; both being thus classed as miraculous. It would perhaps be more correct to place both under the head of prophecy. For in a miracle, all that the man, who apparently performs it, really does, is to announce—that is, foretell—that a certain event is about to happen. It is God who, by an immediate exercise of His power, produces the effect. The only difference between this and what is usually restric- tively called prophecy, is that in the one case the thing foretold is an effect that is immediately to follow by an exercise of the Divine power, in the other case the thing predicted is an event which is to happen, it may be in the far-distant future, in the current history of the world. And this difference occasions a difference in the evidential incidence of the two. Both afford evidence that God is with the man, but while a miracle affords this evidence at the time it is performed, prophecy becomes evidential only when it is fulfilled. In accordance with this, when our Lord appealed to His miracles in proof that He was sent of God, His argument was, "The works that I do bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me;" but when He appealed to His predictions, His words were, "Now I tell you before it come, that when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am He." [2] The witness which His works bare was a present witness, a witness to the men who saw these works; the witness which His predictions afforded would be rendered only in the future, when what He predicted had come to pass. Our Lord here recognised a principle which holds of all prediction.

It thus appears that when a prediction is fulfilled, it is valid to prove the Divine commission and authority of the man by whom it was uttered. In order to this validity, however, certain conditions must be complied with.

First: The prophecy must be a real prediction—that is, it must have been uttered before the event. This condition has to be specified, because sometimes poets, and even historians, living and writing after the event, in order to give vivacity to their narrative or interest to their description, have represented some one as foretelling it at an earlier age. Thus Virgil, for instance, in the sixth book of the AEneid, represents Anchises as narrating to his son AEneas the deeds and fates of his supposed illustrious descendants in Italy during successive ages. But no one takes this for prophecy; it is merely a narrative, partly fictitious, partly real, of what tradition or history had brought down to the poet's time, and which he puts into the form of prediction merely for the sake of effect. [3]

Secondly: It must not be a mere happy guess of conjecture as to what is to happen in the future, which in the course of events conies to be apparently realized. A poet, for instance, having no special event in view, but simply allowing the reins to his imagination, and drawing a pictureof whatwill be in the future from what he wishes or hopes or conjectures may be, may sometimes hit upon what seems an anticipation of events realized in subsequent ages. Such is the famous prediction, as it has been called, in the Medea of Seneca. Here the poet, describing in animated strains what he imagines may be the consequences of a voyage to which he refers, and intimating that among other results that may be anticipated will be the penetrating by the adventurous mariner into regions previously unknown, breaks forth, in the conclusion of his song, into the announcement that in late years a time will come when ocean may relax the bonds of things, and the vast earth may be open, and the navigator may discover new worlds, and Thule be no longer the end of the earth. [4] This has been dignified into a prediction of the discovery of America by Columbus; and by some writers has been pronounced to be as clearly predictive of that event as any prophecy in the Bible can be held to be predictive of any event which maybe alleged for its accomplishment. It is probable, however, that the poet had in view no age later than his own for the fulfilment of what he announces; for though he uses the expression "late years" (seris annis), yet, as he puts the words in the mouth of a chorus composed of persons supposed to belong to the far-back mythical ages, his own time as compared with these would be a very late age. But be this as it may, even if we take this passage as spoken from the poet's own standpoint, it cannot be regarded as containing a genuine prophecy. As has been justly observed, these verses of the Latin poet are but "a striking example of a prediction that might safely take its chance in the world, and happen what might, could not fail some time or other to meet with its accomplishment." [5] It is in fact nothing more than a vivid poetical picture of what might be done by men who had ships, and were likely to go on improving them, and advancing in the knowledge and practice of navigation, until the ancient boundaries were passed, and new countries were discovered. Had the poet given such a description of some new territory to be discovered as would have enabled us to identify it with America, or such a delineation of the manner and circumstances of the discovery as to make it certain that only to the enterprise of Columbus and his companions could his announcement refer, there would have been here a real prediction. But as the passage stands, there is no announcement of any fact or event in the future, the happening of which is foretold; there is simply a vague general description of what might be reasonably anticipated. It may be added, that in the immediately preceding context the poet has ventured on a prediction somewhat more precise than that contained in the passage cited. "The Indian," he says, "drinks the gelid Araxes; the Persians imbibe the Elbe and the Rhine." [6] This, if it mean anything, means that the native of Hindostan shall occupy the district through which the Araxes flows, that is—the country of Armenia; and that the region which is watered by the Elbe and the Rhine shall be colonised by Persians. But if this is a prediction, it is one which has never been fulfilled, nor is ever likely to be fulfilled. So that when the poet descends from vague guesses and empty generalities to utterances which seem to point to actual persons, places, and events, he proves himself no prophet, but a mere fanciful versifier.

An English poet of the last century has introduced into one of his poems an anticipation of some of the recent applications of science to the uses of man, which has a much better claim to be regarded as a prediction than the utterance of the Roman poet. Celebrating the powers of steam, Dr. Erasmus Darwin says—

"Soon shall thy arm, unconquer'd steam, afar
Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car."

As this was written before the application of steam to the propelling of vessels had come into use, and long before any method of applying it to the driving of carriages had apparently occurred to any one, these lines might be hailed as a prediction of what we now see so largely realized. But no one, not even the author himself, ever dreamt of regarding them as such. They are a mere scientific prevision of what the poet, who was also a man of science, fancied might come to pass from what he knew of the powers of the element whose praises he was celebrating. If any had been inclined to base on them a claim, on the part of the poet, to be regarded as a prophet, the next following lines of his poem would be sufficient to dissipate such pretensions, for in them the ardour of his imagination carries him beyond the bounds of sea and land, and prompts him to exclaim

"Or on wide-waving wings expanded beat
The flying chariot through the fields of air."

This is an achievement which has not only not yet been accomplished by steam, but which only a very enthusiastic mechanician would venture on anticipating as within the possibility of ever being realized by such agency. The poet has evidently in the whole passage been simply giving the reins to fancy, and allowing her to roam at large in the "fine frenzy" of poetic excitement —

"Rapido mentem correptus ab cestro."

From such mere conjectures, whether felicitous or otherwise, of an ardent imagination, true prophecy as a purposed prediction of events must be distinguished.

Thirdly: It must not be a mere sagacious anticipation of a result to which concurrent events and influences are tending, and which men versed in affairs, well acquainted with human nature, and accustomed to look far before them in forming their plans of action, may foresee and foretell as likely to happen. The sagacity with which such men anticipate the course of events, and see what is about to come to pass, is often marvellous. But it is only to the near future that their vision extends, and it is only a probable guess after all that they may make, as to what is to happen then. The distant future is as dark to them as to other men; and as their conclusions respecting the future which is near are formed merely by a collation of probabilities, they will themselves be the first to acknowledge that, after all, what they foretell may never come to pass. Like the predictions as to the weather, which men intent on the observation of meteorological phenomena sometimes make as the result of their observations and calculations, these anticipations often turn out wonderfully true, but just as often they turn out false. From them true prophecy is distinguished as well by its precision as by its announcing events which lie so remote from the view of the prophet—remote not in time merely, but in natural probability—that no human intelligence or sagacity could conjecture their occurrence, or anticipate them by calculations based on facts of experience, or deduce them from what might be fairly expected from existing circumstances, capacities, or tendencies, in individuals or communities.

Fourthly: Whatever obscurity may surround a prophecy from the terms in which it is couched, a genuine prophecy must be free from ambiguity; i.e., it must not be so expressed that it is equally susceptible of two interpretations, one or other of which cannot but come to pass. That a certain degree of obscurity may attach to a prophecy is presumed; nay, more than this,—it must be obvious that, from the nature of the case, no genuine prophecy can be other than more or less obscure when first enunciated. For as St. Peter says, "No prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation,"—which may mean either that no prophecy interprets itself, but remains obscure until it is explained by the event, or that no prophecy is of the prophet's own interpretation, so that though he gave the prediction he could not also give the explanation of it; and the reason he assigns for this is, that "prophecy came not in the old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake being moved (or borne along) by the Holy Ghost." [7] It thus appears that of a genuine prophecy it is characteristic that it should be obscure, and not carry its own interpretation in itself, or receive this from the man who utters it; and the reason assigned for this by the Apostle is an obviously valid one; for had the prophet spoken out of his own mind, he would, either from inability to do otherwise, or for the sake of finding acceptance for what he uttered from those to whom he uttered it, have spoken in a manner which mere human intelligence would have found no difficulty in interpreting, or would himself at least have been able to interpret what he uttered. Whereas, as the organ of the Divine Spirit, he had to announce what he himself understood not, and what could not be interpreted till the fulfilment of the prediction cast back on it a revealing light. It must be obvious also that were any prophecy to be enunciated in terms so clear and distinct, and with such exactitude of detail, that any person could at once perceive how it was to be fulfilled, its evidential value would be thereby, if not destroyed, greatly invalidated; for it might then be said that the fulfilment had come to pass through the artifice and collusion of those who for sinister ends desired to see it fulfilled. Whilst, then, on the one hand, there must not be in prophecy such obscurity as would render it impossible with any certainty to show the correspondence between the prediction and the fulfilment, it is on the other hand necessary and desirable that the prophecy should not be set forth so plainly that it should be subjected to the suspicion that, being self-interpreting, it had fulfilled itself. But whilst prophecy is thus properly and necessarily obscure, it must not be ambiguous. And by this it stands distinguished from the utterances of the Delphic and other oracles of heathen antiquity. These, when they assumed the form of predictions, and were not mere pieces of prudential counsel, were studiously ambiguous, and this was so notorious that it provoked alike the censure of the sage and the ridicule of the satirist.  [8] The response of the oracle to Croesus, when consulted by him as to the issue of the war in which he purposed to engage with the Persians, as reported by Herodotus, is well known: [9] in this the oracle informed the king that if he crossed the Halys he should destroy a great empire; which might mean either the empire he was about to attack or his own, one or other of which was pretty sure to be the result of his enterprise. Equally well known is the still more ambiguous answer of the oracle to Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, when purposing to engage in war with the Romans: this was conveyed in two hexameter lines, which might with equal accuracy be rendered either, "I say, O son of AEacus, that thou canst conquer the Romans; thou wilt go, wilt return, never in war shalt thou perish;" or, "I say, O son of AEacus, that the Romans can conquer thee; thou wilt go, wilt return never, in war shalt thou perish." [10] Such an oracle is a mere piece of equivocation, and has no claim to be regarded as prophecy.

Fifthly: As prophecy professes to be the utterance of the Omniscient, nothing can be accepted as such, which is not formally delivered as from God. Were the prophet to speak as from himself, he would thereby belie his own pretensions, and discredit his utterance. He would virtually declare that what he uttered was not a real prediction, but some vague conjecture, or probable anticipation, or fanciful description which he threw out either for his own interest, or to counsel others, or merely in the indulgence of an excited imagination. He who would be accepted as a true prophet must distinctly and unequivocally speak to men in the name of God, and present his predictions as what God had showed to him, and commanded him to make known to others.

Now where these conditions are complied with, and where, in the course of time and the ordinary current of events, the prediction comes to pass, irresistible evidence is thereby afforded that the man by whom it was uttered was "a man of God," one commissioned and authorised to speak to men in the name of God, and all whose utterances, therefore, professedly given as conveying to men the mind of God, are to be accepted as Divine, and therefore infallibly true. "Man," says an eloquent French writer, "by his science reigns over the past, over the present, even over the future, so far as it is determined by the known laws of the physical world. But before that future which depends only on the will of God, or the free-will of creatures, especially of creatures not yet existing, he is arrested as by an unsurmountable wall, at the base of which all the efforts of his genius expire, or at best expend themselves on vague conjectures. There is the sphere of Divine science; for from God nothing is hid. Infinite, alone infinite, He embraces at once all that has been, all that is, all that shall be; or rather, for God there is neither past nor future, but all is present to the eye of His indivisible and immovable eternity. That which He knows, that which He sees, He has always known, He has always seen; and He has ever been able to give the knowledge of it to a man commissioned to transmit it. If He has given it in a matter depending solely on His own will, or the free-wills of creatures, especially creatures not yet existing, there is prophecy—a Divine act of knowledge, as other miracles are facts of Divine power." [11]

Passing on from these general observations on the argument from prophecy, let us now glance at the prophecies of Holy Scripture as related to that argument.

That the prediction of future events carries with it decisive evidence of the presence of God with the speaker or writer, and a consequent authentication of his pretensions as a teacher sent from God, is constantly asserted in Scripture. In proof of this I need cite only such passages as the following:—"Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring them forth, and show us what shall happen: let them show the former things, [i.e., ancient predictions that should now be fulfilled,] what they were, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them [that is, their event or issue]; or declare to us things to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods;" "Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and show us former things [predictions]? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is the truth. ... I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no Saviour. I have declared, and saved, and made it known, when there was no strange god among you; and ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God;" "Who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since [or from the time that] I appointed the ancient people? the things that are coming, and shall come, let them show unto them. Fear not, neither be afraid; have I not told thee from that time \i.e., of old], and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any." [12] In all these passages God appeals to the predictions He had uttered as proving that He is indeed God, and challenges the votaries of idolatry to produce any such evidence of the claims of their deities to be regarded as divine. In other passages the effect of a true prediction in establishing the claims of any one to be received as a prophet of the Lord is enunciated. As this was the criterion God Himself proposed as that by which the pretensions of any professed prophet were to be tried, we find the prophets appealing to this in proof of their claims. Our Lord also, appearing as the Prophet of the Father, often appeals to this in proof of the divinity of His mission. And His apostles in all their controversies with the Jews appealed to the fulfilment in Jesus of the ancient predictions concerning the Messiah as affording incontestable evidence of His being the Christ: an argument which would have been quite invalid except on the assumption that a fulfilled prediction must be viewed as divinely uttered.

The Bible thus unequivocally adduces predictive prophecy as an adequate evidence of the presence and agency of God with and upon all by whom such prophecy is uttered, and consequently virtually pledges itself to stand or fall by the validity of this evidence. We have now, therefore, to inquire whether the predictions it contains are such as will stand the test, and thereby substantiate this proof, and vindicate the claims of the Bible to be from God, in the sense of containing what He commissioned His servants to communicate to men.

To the predictions of Scripture certain characteristics belong, which it is important to note in relation to this inquiry.

1. The predictions of Scripture are avowedly presented as the utterances through a human medium of the Divine Spirit. The prophets all avowedly speak only as the instruments or organs of Deity. They introduce what they have to utter with the formula, "Thus saith the Lord," or, "The Lord spake unto me, saying," or, "The word that came from the Lord, saying;" they call what they have to announce, "the burden of the Lord," or, "the vision which the Lord caused them to see;" and not unfrequently they introduce God Himself as immediately and directly speaking in the words they utter or record. [13]

The ancient Hebrew prophets, then, came forth avowedly as the messengers and organs of the Most High. It is important to note this, because it not only shows that their utterances satisfy one of the conditions as above indicated of genuine prediction, but it also furnishes a strong presumptive proof of the divinity of their mission. For with the fact before us that these prophets openly asserted themselves to be the bearers of a message from God, we must conclude either that they really were, and knew that they were such, or that, if not wicked impostors who deceived the people, they were themselves deceived, and mistook the hallucinations of a diseased imagination for revelations from heaven. Besides these three hypotheses, no other can be made. Were they, then, impostors? This is incredible. Assuredly these were, as the Apostle Peter calls them, "holy men," and would have shrunk with horror from the very thought of profaning the name of the Lord by using it to sanction some invention of their own. But waiving this, who ever heard of a long succession of impostors who, practising the same imposition from generation to generation, were never detected; who always used their false pretensions to serve the interests of truth, righteousness, and goodness; who had no sinister end to gain by their artifice, but not unfrequently brought upon themselves obloquy, hatred, and persecution by the course they pursued; and who, notwithstanding this, so established in the minds of their nation a conviction of the reality of their pretensions, that their utterances, though often most opposed to what the people desired, and often most offensive to national pride and prejudice, have been studiously collected, have been preserved with religious care as the sacred treasure of the nation, and have been reverenced by them and handed to others as, "the oracles of God"? Equally incredible is it that the prophets were themselves the victims of delusion; for in this case they must have laboured under a species of insanity: and can anything be more incredible than that a succession of men, not connected by hereditary descent, but united simply by professional occupation, should all, each in his turn, go mad in the same way, that all should persistently use their madness to secure the best, the wisest, the most beneficent results, and that not one of them should, during a long course of ages, have been detected to be insane, but that, on the contrary, they should all, one after the other, be reputed as the wise men of their day, and as such be consulted on matters of the utmost importance by those on whom the weightiest responsibilities were laid? This is so utterly incredible, that any one who should seriously accept it would not be unfairly judged were he to be pronounced himself insane. There only remains, therefore, the conclusion that the prophets of the Bible were true men, who, when they said they were the organs of the Divine Spirit, said what they knew to be true.

2. Another characteristic of the Biblical prophecies is their unity and harmony amid multiplicity and variety. The prophecies of Scripture are very numerous, and they have proceeded from an extended series of prophets, some living at the same time, and amid similar circumstances, while others were separated by many generations, and spoke and wrote under circumstances, both personal and national, widely diverse. Many of their predictions relate to the same object, but not a few foretell events to which the others make no reference. The range of their vision is indeed immense—extending from the earliest ages down to the end of time, and embracing the characters, the histories, and the destinies of men and nations in many countries and in successive ages. Each of these prophets has his own individuality, and speaks or writes after his own fashion. Even when they refer to the same object, their discourses bear all the marks of original and independent utterances. And yet there is no incongruity or disharmony in their manifold and varied announcements. We meet with nothing that wears the appearance of an isolated representation or a mere happy individual thought. All are drawn into one connected whole. All form parts of one grand scheme, wonderful alike for its vastness and its minuteness. Though comprehending an immense range, and diverging in innumerable ramifications, the whole is composed into one magnificent system, all the parts of which are related to each other, and all bear on one grand end. Whilst the fates of the most noted nations of antiquity are more or less fully touched upon, it is to the kingdom of God on the earth, and to the Messiah as the Founder and Lord of that kingdom, that the prophetic vision is chiefly turned, and on which it ever ultimately rests. Around the Person of the Messiah, as the great Central Figure, all the parts of the picture are grouped. "To Him gave all the prophets witness;" and when after a long silence the harp of prophecy was once more struck, it was of Him and of His kingdom that its notes were heard to speak. The phenomenon thus presented to us is one for which it is impossible to account, save on the supposition that what the prophets uttered were the oracles of Him to whose omniscience all persons and events past, present, and to come, in themselves, in their mutual relations, and in their relation to His kingdom in the world, are ever patent.

3. A striking characteristic of the predictive prophecies of Scripture is their dcfinitencss and circumstantiality. Though conveyed often in language which is symbolical, though clothed often in the garb of the sublimest poetry, though not unfrequently abrupt, impassioned, and even rugged, the utterances of the prophets of the Bible can in no case be charged with being vague or indefinite. They are at the farthest possible remove from those oracular utterances which, dim, pointless, and general, refer to nothing in particular, and may chance to be fulfilled in many different ways. One cannot read the predictive passages in the Bible without seeing that they point to some special object or event by which alone they are to be fulfilled. Sometimes persons are even foretold by name, as Cyrus is by Isaiah, sometimes times and places are specified when and where the event predicted is to take place; but even where such precision is not attempted, even where the object predicted is left in obscurity, there is so much of circumstantial detail as to indicate that it was not a general or accidental, but what Bacon calls a punctual fulfilment of his prediction, that the prophet would have those to whom he delivered it, or for whom he recorded it, to look. Now such definiteness and circumstantiality, while attesting the genuineness of the prediction, indicate also the presence with the prophet of Him who alone could enable any man to announce and describe what no human intelligence could have foreseen, or conjectured, or imagined.

But important as these characteristics of Scripture prophecy are in their bearing on the question of the Divine origin of the predictions contained in Scripture, it is to the fulfilment of these that we must chiefly make our appeal in proof of this. It is from their fulfilment that their evidential force arises; and could this not be shown, it would be of little use to urge any other considerations with this view. Now in regard to this there are two things especially worthy of being noted. One of these is the completeness of their fulfilment. I speak, of course, of such predictions as relate to events that are already past, and the fulfilment of which, consequently, we are in a condition to trace. Of these we may venture to say that there is not one which has not been fulfilled in the way and according to the manner predicted. In respect of this the prophecies of Scripture will bear the closest investigation; and the more carefully they are examined, and the more minutely their correspondence with the event is scrutinised, the more will it become apparent that only as the prophets were taught of God, and spoke and wrote as His organs, could they so accurately and precisely have foretold things to come. So exact and so complete is the correspondence, that whatever obscurity or improbability may have attached to the predictions at the time they were uttered, when read in the light of subsequent events they appear more like historical narratives of what is already past, than announcements of what is to happen in the far-distant future. [14]

The other thing noticeable in relation to the fulfilment of the predictions of Scripture is that this has not been brought about by persons who knew the prediction, and may be supposed to have contributed to its fulfilment from a desire to see it fulfilled, but in every case has happened in the ordinary course of events, in many cases by the concurrence of circumstances apparently purely accidental, and through the agency of persons who knew nothing of the prediction,—while in not a few instances the main instruments of bringing about the fulfilment have been persons who, had they foreseen the issue, would have been the last to use a single effort in the direction in which it lay. Like the Assyrian of old, whom God sent as the instrument of His righteous indignation against rebellious Israel, they "meant not so, neither did their heart think so." They sought but to carry out their own designs, and to secure results which their own wisdom had devised, or their own lusts and passions had led them to desire. In reality they accomplished the purposes of God, and brought to pass what He had predicted by His prophets; but nothing was further from their thoughts and intentions than this. It must be apparent to every one that a prediction fulfilled by such means brings with it conclusive evidence that the man by whom it was uttered was indeed one who spoke as he was moved by the Spirit of God.

The time has passed when men ventured to pronounce the Scripture prophecies mere happy conjectures or lucky forebodings which came to be fulfilled by chance. Such a supposition can be mathematically demonstrated to be absurd; for if we take one hundred predictions as to what shall happen in the future, and calculate the chances of their being all fulfilled according to the laws of chance, we shall find that the chances against this are as many millions to unity. But the number of predictions in Scripture, which can be shown to have been fulfilled, greatly exceeds one hundred—to the extent almost of twice that sum; so that the chances against their being all fulfilled run up to a number so great that it is impossible to express it in words. Thus, as has been well said, the hazard to which the unbeliever would trust in ascribing the fulfilment of the Scripture prophecies to chance is "desperate"; for "the number of chances is far greater against him than the number of drops in the ocean, although the whole world were one globe of water." [15]

The manifest absurdity of this hypothesis has led rationalists of more recent times to renounce it, and to endeavour to impair the evidence of prophecy by asserting or insinuating that the prediction, in the form in which it appears in the Bible, was given forth after the event, and therefore is in reality no prediction at all. There may have been, they admit, some vague poetic anticipation uttered in the earlier time, but this was turned into a definite prediction only after an event which it seemed vaguely to  describe had happened, by some one who had some end to answer by this, and who had skill enough so to imitate the style and tone of the earlier writer, that he succeeded in passing off his own composition as his. Thus, for instance, the prophecies of Isaiah concerning the fall of Babylon are supposed to have been originally some mere outburst of poetic denunciation against the enemy and oppressor of Israel, which was many years later, after Babylon was taken by Cyrus, expanded and made more definite, and then substituted for the original utterance in the book of the prophet . It is supposed also that books and parts of books were written and inserted in the canon, which are the production, not of the prophet whose name they bear, but of persons living at a much later period, and who wrote after the events had occurred which they pretend to predict. The prophecies of Scripture are thus shorn of their character as predictions, and the writings containing them are degraded from their position as genuine documents to that of collections of mere forgeries more or less cleverly executed.

Now it is undoubtedly within the limits of a natural possibility that such alterations and interpolations of the sacred books may have been made, and therefore this hypothesis cannot be summarily dismissed as absurd. The onus frobandi, however, clearly lies here on those who make such assertions; they are bound not merely to suggest the possibility of such things being done, but to show that they have actually been done, and that not in one or two instances, but in the case of all the predictions of Scripture relating to historical events.

In this they have signally failed. Beyond bold assertion, and the setting up of a pseudo-Isaiah, a pseudo-Daniel, a second Zechariah, and such-like, and the scattering of much learned dust, they have done nothing to establish their position. Some of their attempts at proof are such patent fallacies, that the merest tyro in logic might be ashamed of them. When reduced to form, their reasoning is often a mere petitio principii, a reasoning in a circle. These are not real predictions, they say, because they were written after the event; and when asked for proof that they were written after the event, they adduce the predictions as containing allusions to that event. The denial of the prediction is thus made to rest on the posteriority of the book, and the posteriority of the book is made to rest on the denial of the prediction. Reasoning of this sort cannot have any weight except with those who have already accepted the conclusion it postulates.

More respect is due to the arguments of those who seek to maintain their position by showing that the language, style, and sentiments of the part containing predictions, are not such as the prophet to whom it is ascribed could have used. If this could be shown, a strong reason would undoubtedly be given for suspecting the genuineness of the part libelled. But this is a test which requires to be very carefully applied, and under strict conditions, else it may lead to conclusions arbitrary and unsound; and it is one which, as it happens, hardly admits of being applied to the Hebrew documents, because, from the paucity of these, the field is too narrow for a satisfactory induction of linguistic facts. To argue that a composition, found amongst the acknowledged writings of an author, is not his because it contains words or phrases not found in these writings, or because words or phrases used in them are not found in it, is in the case of any writings but precarious reasoning at the best; but when applied to the Hebrew writings, it becomes utterly valueless, because we have no reason to believe that we possess more than a portion of the vocabulary of that language. [16]  If, indeed, it could be shown that any word occurring in writings ascribed to a certain author was entirely unknown in his time, if its invention at a later period could be discovered, something would be done to bring into doubt the pretensions of the writing. But this, in the case of the Hebrew documents, cannot be done, and has never been attempted. All that has been done is to make collections of words said to be peculiar to a writer which are not found in the writings ascribed to him, or collections of words found in these writings which are not found in his acknowledged writings, or collections of words used by him which are said to be words of a later date than his time, because they are not found in books of an earlier date. To expect by such means to invalidate a claim which has the sanction of centuries of unquestioned authority, indicates, on the part of those who indulge such an expectation, rather the zeal and enthusiasm of the advocate than the sagacity of the critic or the sobriety of the judge. [17]

Attempts have also been made to substantiate the charge of interpolation and forgery by showing that in the predictive parts of the prophetical books there are doctrines propounded which were unknown to the Hebrews of the age of the prophet to whom they are ascribed. But here also the critic builds on a most precarious foundation. For as we do not possess a full and exact history of doctrine among the Hebrews, we are not in circumstances to say at what time any special doctrine began to be familiarly known among them; and as respects those which are adduced as having been borrowed by them from other nations at a later period of their history, it may be shown of some that the alleged identity does not exist, while in regard to others the probability that the Hebrews were the lenders and not the borrowers is at least as great as the probability of the reverse.

The difficulties attaching to the belief that the Hebrew Scriptures have been interpolated in the manner alleged, are so great that the wonder is that any can seriously entertain it. He who accepts this must believe that the Jews were so careless about their sacred books, that they allowed them to be recklessly tampered with by every literary adventurer who chose to exercise his skill in imitating the style and manner of any of their great prophets: a supposition which the well-known care with which all nations that have sacred books watch over their integrity renders improbable, and which the reverence with which the Jews regarded the Scriptures, the jealousy with which they watched over them, and the almost superstitious dread with which they viewed the omission or alteration of a single jot or tittle in the writing, render utterly incredible. Such an one must believe also that the later writers not only had the audacity to give forth their writings as those of one of the great prophets of their nation, but had the inconceivable ability to persuade the religious rulers of the nation to accept their forgeries as genuine, to carefully insert them among the acknowledged writings of the prophet, and to send them forth as genuine parts of the canon. He must believe also, that the writers were men of the loftiest genius, capable not only of so closely imitating the style of thought and language of some of the greatest of the prophets, and so throwing themselves into the current of their thought and representation, that no discrepancy is discernible between what they have interpolated and the original writing, but in many instances of far surpassing them; for there can be no doubt that some of the passages pronounced spurious (Isa. xl.—xlvi., for instance) must be regarded as the very masterpieces of Hebrew literature; and yet so little were they esteemed by the Jews, that they have not cared to preserve their names, while the names of all the other prophets have been sedulously preserved. He must also believe that all these interpolations were introduced, and all these forged additions to the writings of the prophets made, during the interval which elapsed between the return of the Jews from Babylon and the execution of the Septuagint translation into Greek of the Old Testament Scriptures in which they are all contained, at a time when the public mind was keenly awake to the importance of determining what writings were to be regarded as sacred, and when the best men of the nation, the men most noted for learning, judgment, and piety, were engaged in settling on a permanent basis the canon of Scripture. That at such a time, and under such circumstances, illegitimate additions, so extensive and so important, should be made to the sacred books of the Jews without being detected, and should be incorporated without question with the sacred canon, appears to me utterly incredible; and that this should have been believed by jnen of learning and ability I can regard in no other light than as affording another illustration of Pascal's famous apophthegm, "Les incredules sont les plus credules."

It must also be noted that even if the latest date that can be pretended for these writings be conceded, there will still remain predictions which must be admitted to have been uttered and recorded long before what they foretell became matter of history. No ingenuity has succeeded in disposing of Daniel's four great monarchies, without admitting the fourth to be that of Rome; [18] and at the latest date that can be assigned for the writing of the book of Daniel, the Roman power had not made itself known beyond the confines of Italy, and certainly no human sagacity could have conjectured that the then comparatively insignificant community on the banks of the Tiber was to become that great world-power, strong as iron, that was to break in pieces and bruise the nations.

It is impossible to assign any date to the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, which shall place them posterior to the destruction of Tyre, the laying waste of Idumea, the dispersion of the Jews, and the desolation of the land of Judea; and yet these prophets have distinctly announced in regard to these, even to minute particulars, all that we see at the present day fulfilled. The predictions in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah were undoubtedly recorded centuries before they were fulfilled in the Person, character, and work of Jesus the Christ. And our Lord's own predictions concerning Himself and His religion, and concerning the fate of Jerusalem,—all of which we see fulfilled, or in the course of being fulfilled,—cannot, without violating all probability, be regarded as fabricated by His disciples after His death, and imputed to Him, but must be accepted as uttered by Himself during His ministry on earth, while as yet the things foretold were hidden in the future. [19] Here, then, are predictions, the genuineness of which cannot be disputed; and as on these the argument from prophecy may be safely based, it seems hardly worth the objector's while to strive to undermine the credit of the rest.

But whilst the attempt to show that the predictions of Scripture are not real predictions, but are prophecies after the event, has signally failed, the attempt itself affords the strongest testimony to the force of the argument founded on these prophecies. For were not that argument in itself irrefragable, it would not be necessary to resort to such an expedient in order to set it aside. Were the predictions less remarkable for fulness and precision, or were the fulfilment of them less certain or less capable of being pointed out, or did the fulfilment of prophecy afford no sure evidence of the Divinity of the prediction and the Divine commission of the man who uttered it, the whole argument might be swept aside as baseless or fallacious. An edifice built on the sand may be contemptuously left to its fate; when men find it necessary to assail an edifice with axes and hammers, their efforts show that they feel it is built upon a rock, and that the pillars of it are strong.

The earliest of the Christian apologists whose works have come down to us [20] assigns the palm to prophecy as affording the greatest and surest demonstration of Divine revelation. Without going so far as this, it is safe to say that in two respects it possesses special importance. In the first place, the evidence it supplies is derived from facts which are subject to our own observation. We need no testimony to assure us either of the prediction or of its fulfilment The former we find recorded in the book, the latter we see actually before us in the facts of history or the existing condition of communities or nations. Prophecy thus gives us, if we may so speak, ocular demonstration of the Divinity of our religion. In the second place, prophecy not only proves by its fulfilment that God was with the man by whom it was uttered, and thereby shows him to be entitled to demand our submission to his words as the words of God, but it exemplifies the fact it is designed to confirm—viz., that God can convey, and has conveyed, to the mind of His creature knowledge so as to enable the latter to convey it to others. It thus carries us a step further than miracles; and if it does not more certainly prove the presence of God with the teacher who on the ground of his supernatural powers demands our at least prepares us to receive his lesson, seeing he has already given us a specimen of how God may speak to us through one who is of the same nature as ourselves. [21]

Prophecy may thus claim a place of primary importance among the evidences of Christianity. On it and on miracles the claims of our religion to be reverenced as Divine chiefly rest. Other arguments come in as corroborative of the arguments which these supply; but it is upon these that we must ultimately fall back, if we are to maintain the position that the Bible is Divine. And this is a point to which in the present day it is especially important that prominence should be given. For there are many who profess themselves ready to accept Christianity as on the whole true, who will not admit it to be Divine. They receive it, not because it comes to them as a revelation from God, but because they find it in accordance with what their own reason dictates, or their own religious feeling approves. Such persons really believe themselves, and not the Bible; and as the Bible claims to speak to us with authority, as containing the word of God, its advocates must not shrink from asserting this claim, and must be ready to offer proof in support of it. But what shall authenticate such a claim, save some outward sign that shall prove that God was with the men who uttered what the Bible contains? "Adequate proof of a Divine revelation," says a distinguished Italian philosopher, "cannot consist in ideas, because natural ideas cannot demonstrate a fact above nature, such as is the extraordinary infusion of mysterious truths; nor in natural facts which are incompetent to certify and place on a solid basis a succession invisible and of a different kind; but it must emerge from supernatural phenomena which shall express sensibly and indubitably the internal correspondent fact, and so become signs of its reality." [22] Such a sign, prophecy, when fulfilled, undoubtedly gives. As has been justly said, "Of all the attributes of the God of the universe, His prescience has bewildered and baffled the most all the powers of human conception; and an evidence of the exercise of this perfection in the revelation of what the Infinite Mind alone could make known, is the seal of God, which can never be counterfeited, affixed to the truth which it attests." [23] This seal God has been pleased to set broad and clear upon Holy Scripture. The number, the variety, the circumstantiality, the harmony of the Scripture prophecies, with the manifest fulfilment of those of them that point to times already past, give them a weight and force as evidences of the Divinity of Scripture which is not to be evaded or resisted. Let them not, then, be ignored, or passed by as unworthy of notice in this respect. If the argument they supply cannot be fairly refuted, let it be honestly submitted to, and let the conclusion to which it points be accepted; let Holy Scripture have its just claims acknowledged, let it not only be honoured as a book venerable for its antiquity, and as containing much that is interesting and valuable, but be reverenced as a book "given by inspiration of God;" and let the religion it teaches not be received with cold courtesy as on the whole true, but be reverently embraced as indeed Divine,—a religion, the reception of which makes men wise unto salvation, and which it is at the peril of all to whom it is made known to refuse or neglect.

I have now gone through the course of argumentation proposed. On such a subject there is nothing novel to be advanced—at least, if one confine oneself, as I have done, to the purely argumentative bearings of the question. If I have succeeded in placing these clearly before you, my aim has been attained.


1. John iii. 2.

2. John v. 36; xiii. 19.

3. So also our own Spenser, in his "Faery Queene," puts in the form of prediction descriptions of events in English history, and in that form makes complimentary allusions to Queen Elizabeth, that "fair vestal throned in the West."

4. "Venient annis
Saecula seris, quibus oceanus
Vincula rerum laxet, et ingens
Pateat tellus, Typhisque novos
Detegat orbes; nee sit terris
Ultima Thule."
Seneca, Medea v. 374 ff.

5. Horsely, "Sermons," vol. ii. p. 75.

6. "Indus gelidum
Potat Araxem; Albim Persae
Rhenumque bibunt."
v. 372-4.

7. 2 Peter i. 20, 21.

8. See Aristotle, Rhetor, iii. c. 17; Plato, Timaeus, p. 73. E. ff.; Lucian, Dialog. Deor. xvi.; Cicero, De Divinat. ii. 56. Porphyry ap. Euseb. Praep, Evang.—Tertullian says, the oracles "ingenio ambiguitates temperant," Apol. c. 22.

9. Herod, i. 53; Cic. De Divinat. ii. 56: Diodori Excerptt. vii. 28 ap. Nov. Script. Coll. ed. Mai i. ii. p. 25. Comp. Minucius Felix, Octavius c. 26.

10. "Aio te, AEacide, Romanes vincere posse:
Ibis, redibis nunquam in bello peribis."

The meaning of these lines depends on the relative position of the two accusatives in the first line, either of which may be taken as subject, and the other as object, and the placing of the comma either before or after "nunquam" in the second. It is doubtful if either of these oracles was ever really delivered; but as fiction must simulate truth to be accepted at all, these fictions of the historian Herodotus and the poet Ennius (if they be fictions) only show more distinctly how notoriously ambiguity was a characteristic of these oracles.

11. Barthe, "Appel à la Raison sur la Vérité Religieuse," p. 165.

12. Isa. xli. 21-23; xliii. 9, 11, 12; xliv. 7, 8.

13. Compare 2 Sam. xxiii. 2; Isa. vi. 8 ff.; xlviii. 16; Jer. i. 4-11; Ezek. ii. 1-5; iii. 4-11, 27, etc.; Mic. iii. 8; Acts iv. 7: xi. 28; xxviii. 25-27; Rev. i. 10; iv. 2; xvii. 3; xxi. 10.

14. See this largely illustrated in Bishop Newton's "Dissertations on the Prophecies," and Dr. Keith's "Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion derived from the Literal Fulfilment of Prophecy."

15. Keith on Prophecy, p. 384, 8th edit.

16. See the weighty remarks of Dr. Pusey, "Minor Prophets," Part V. p. 401, just published, and which I have seen only since this lecture was written.

17. That the patient research, the keen scrutiny, and the vast erudition of hostile critics have not been expended without suggesting difficulties in the way of the traditionary belief as to the genuineness of some of the predictions in the Bible, it would be foolish not to admit. But in reference to such the words of Bishop Thirlwall, used in his discussion of the Homeric question, may be appropriately cited, and applied mutatis mutandis: "This is not a case where we have to balance two arguments of a similar kind against one another, but where we have on the one side a mass of positive testimony, on the other some facts which, through our imperfect knowledge of the poet's [prophet's] life and times, we are unable to account for. Where this is so, there can be little doubt which way the principles of sound criticism require us to decide."—Hist. of Greece, i. 276.

18. See Dr. Pusey, "Daniel the Prophet," sect. ii.

19. See the author's "Christ and Christianity," Part II. ch. iii.

20. Justin Martyr, Apol. i. c. 30. So also Pascal: "La plus grande des preuves de Jésus Christ sont les prophéties. C'est aussi a quoi Dieu a le plus pourvu; car l'événement qui les a remplis est un miracle subsistant depuis la naissance de l'Eglise jusques à la fin. . . . Quand un seul homme aurait fait un livre des prédictions de Jésus Christ pour le temps et pour la manière, et que Jésus Christ serait venu conformément à ces prophéties, ce serait une force infinie. Mais il y a bien plus ici. C'est une suite d'hommes, durant quatre mille ans, qui constamment et sans variation viennent l'un ensuite de l'autre prédire ce même événement. C'est un peuple tout entier qui l'annonce, et qui subsiste depuis quatre mille années pour rendre en corps témoignage des assurances qu'ils en ont, et dont ils ne peuvent être divertis par quelques menaces et persécutions qu'on leur fasse: ceci est tout autrement considérable."—Pensées, t. ii. pp. 270, 271, ed. Faugère.

21. "Christ and Christianity," p. 248.

22. Gioberti, "Teorica del Sovranaturale," p. 131. Torino, 1850.

23. Keith, p. 9. "Quin etiam hoc non dubitans dixerim: S unum aliquid ita sit prxdictum, prsesensumque, ut cum eve-erit, ita cadat ut prsedictum sit, neque in eo quidquam casu et fortuito factuiri esse appareat, esse certe divinationem, idque esse omnibus confitendum."—Cicero, De Divin. i. 55.

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