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pardon, even in the minds of the Jews. An anomalous passover was observed by Hezekiah: was he blamed for it? No; the necessity of the case, and the rectitude of his intention, constituted his vindication. Nay, the Jewish writers themselves have supposed some few cases in which the ceremonial law may be dispensed with ; and why should they object to Jesus what themselves have done, without the power of prophecies and miracles ? But the whole objection, as we have before seen, proceeds on false assumptions; and enough has been said to evince the futility of its application, and the perverseness of its authors.
Having thus explained to you the text, I shall proceed to state very concisely a few practical observations; first, such as to regulate your faith. You see, then, that God only conveys to good men, and for good purposes, the power of foreseeing future events, and therefore you will turn a deaf ear to all the idle and mischievous pretences of those who would misguide you, as interpreters of dreams and omens.
What they say may be more or less probable ; but, if it should prove true, yet they have no distinct previous knowledge of its truth. Indeed they usually affect to wrap up their meaning in splendid and awful obscurity, which confounds their hearers, and they leave the interpretation to the fears and hopes, the precipitation and superstition of those whom they have deluded.
It becomes you to believe in God alone, and not to suppose that any other being, unless specifically appointed by him, can be a prophet. It is said re
peatedly that his miracles were worked in Egypt, that all the people of the earth might know the hand of Jehovah, that it is mighty. He maintained the cause of Israel at all times, that all the people of the earth might know that Jehovah is God, and that there is none else. But Moses, in the 18th of Deuteronomy, ascribes the prophecies condemned in the text to the presumption of the prophet ; Jeremiah calls them the vision of his own heart; Ezekiel describes such impostors as prophecying out of their own hearts, and following their own spirit, and having seen nothing; Isaiah says, they prophecy unto you a false vision and the deceit of their own heart. As Moses foretold that dreamers of dreams should arise, whose words would come to pass; so Christ told his disciples, that false Christs and false prophets would arise, and shew great signs and wonders. But you, as well as the Jews, have a plain rule to guide you ; they were to abide by the Law, and you by the Gospel. This warning should prepare you all for trials ; it is intended so to prepare you, and in times of public calamity, when the passions of men are violently agitated and every idle word, without any support from argument or any decorations from genius, uttered we know not when or why, is distorted into a prophecy, sometimes of disastrous change and sometimes of splendid triumph, the caution I give you is peculiarly necessary. “Produce your cause," we may say, with Isaiah ; “ bring forth your strong reasons ; shew us things for to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are Gods. Yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed. But behold ye are nothing, and your word is nought.”
You will farther observe, that the text addresses itself to the moral as well as the intellectual condition of the hearers. The Israelites were not only tempted as to whether they believed in God, but whether they loved him with all their heart and their soul ; and in truth, your own faith, unless united with sincerity of principle, and forms of piety, will not secure you against the crafty impostor or the visionary enthusiast. But if
love and obey God, as well as worship him, then will you despise all the absurd and delusive words of pretended prophets.
In the second place, let me quiet your fears by assuring you, that no evil spirits whatsoever are permitted to destroy your happiness, or to supply artful men with a knowledge of future events. All the Gods of the nations, says Jeremiah, are idols or nothings. They are all vanity, says another prophet. They are altogether brutish and foolish ; they are a doctrine of vanities. It was the boast of the Epicureans that they rescued men from false and groundless apprehensions. But it is the higher boast of Christianity to teach you
whom alone you ought to fear, and at the same time to dissipate all gloomy and unauthorized dread as to the agency of invisible beings. Though earthly empires are convulsed, though calamities and afflictions gather round you in private life, though the skies blacken, the tempests rage, and the elements are on fire, yet these are the operations of God alone; and if you love your soul,
him with all your heart and all
you will not be cast down in the hour of danger.
The last remark I have to make is, that the text suggests a very important consideration for enlarging our charity. Under the Jewish theocracy, a false prophet, as I before told you, must have intended to introduce idolatry, and was consequently a traitor to the state, as well as a deceiver and a corrupter of the people. He was therefore to be stoned to death ; and we find three cases in the Jewish writers where the punishment might be inflicted—when he prophecied what he had not heard—when he prophecied that which was revealed not to him, but to another —when he prophecied in the name of an idol. Against all these crimes Moses had provided; and indeed we learn that in other states, magical rites were holden in just detestation; and it is recorded of a Roman Emperor that, at a time, when the country had been torn by intestine divisions, and the multitude were prone to adopt superstitious conceits, and to be hurried away by factious sorcerers, he wisely appointed the most severe punishment for such offenders. Be it so. He that pretends to a commission from heaven, which he has not received; he that employs bad means for a bad end ; he that by interpreting dreams and scattering prophecies, would draw off the people from their allegiance to God, or inflame them into rebellion against the laws of their country, deserves not only reprobation from good and wise men, but exemplary and rigorous chastisement from the magistrate, who is not to bear the sword in vain. Let us remember
that the injunction of Moses is limited to one strong and clear case. The severity is pointed against voluntary, not involuntary offence--against deliberate guilt, not unavoidable infirmity—against the depravity of the heart, not against the errors of the understanding. He that gave a different interpretation of the law from other teachers; he that proposed a dogma really false—if he did not rush into treason and idolatry—if he did not pretend to be divinely inspired—if he did not endeavour to draw away the giddy multitude from the belief and love and worship of the true God, was not worthy of death. He might err, and his error was to be confuted; he might falsify, and his falsehood was to be detected and exposed; but his liberty and his life were not to be destroyed.
Hence let us learn to think charitably of those who do not agree with us in their opinions upon speculative and abstruse points of doctrine. Despise we may and resist the sorcerer and the dreamer of dreams, but we must not deprecate the talents, nor vilify the characters of those, whom we suppose to be in error, merely because they dissent from that which we have been accustomed to think true. Where the truth lies between contending parties may be known only to God. But our salvation cannot be endangered, if we ourselves, and they who differ from us hold the faith in unity of spirit, the bond of peace, and righteousness of life. Calumny and persecution even in the best cause must be offensive in the sight of heaven. But an humble and charitable spirit cannot fail of its