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USE AND INTENT OF PROPHECY
SEVERAL AGES OF THE WORLD.
IN SIX DISCOURSES,
DELIVERED AT THE TEMPLE CHURCH IN APRIL AND
PUBLISHED AT THE DESIRE OF, AND DEDICATED TO, THE MASTERS OF TME
TWO HONORABLE SOCIETIES OF THE TEMPLE.
That the reader may not be deceived, it is proper to tell him here that he is not to expect in the following Discourses an answer to a book lately published, intitled, “Grounds and Reasons,' &c. : that work was undertaken, and has been discharged to the satisfaction of the public by a much abler hand. When I entered on the design of forming these Discourses, it was with a view of showing the use and intent of prophecy in the several ages of the world, and the manifest connexion between the prophecies of every age. They who consider the prophecies under the Old Testament as so many predictions only, independent of each other, can never form a right judgment of the argument for the truth of Christianity drawn from this topic; nor be able to satisfy themselves, when they are confronted with the objections of unbelievers. It is an easy matter for men of leisure and tolerable parts to find difficulties in particular predictions, and in the application of them made by writers who lived many hundred years ago, and who had many ancient books and records of the Jewish church, from which they drew many passages, and perhaps some prophecies ; which books and records we have not to enable us to understand and to justify their applications. But it is not so easy a matter to show, or to persuade the world to believe, that a chain of prophecies, reaching through several thousand years, delivered at different times, yet manifestly subservient to one and the same administration of Providence from beginning to end, is the effect of art and contrivance, and religious fraud; that for so many ages successively proper persons should be found to carry on the cheat, and that none of them should have any interest to serve by betraying the secret, or so much honesty and regard to truth as to discover it.
The account given in the fourth Discourse, of the remission of the curse on the ground, by covenant with Noah and his posterity, may be treated perhaps as the effect of mere fancy and imagination; for there are many prejudices which lie in its way. All that I shall say more on that subject is only this : if you
allow the account, it carries on the series of God's dispensations towards mankind in a natural gradation, and opens a new scene of Providence, where there seems to be great reason to expect one, at the beginning of the new world : if
you reject this account, there seems to be a great gap in the sacred history, and the new world sets out just where the old one left off; and yet who would not expect that so great a change should be attended with some new degree of light, to comfort and support
remains of mankind ? If the notion is not approved, it is at least an innocent one; and I am not so fond of it as to enter farther into the defence of it.
As to the Dissertations which I have added, the relation they have to the subject of the Discourses will appear to those who think them worth the reading ; and there is no reason to trouble others with any account of them.