The Proof From Prophecy
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
'ABERGLAUBE is the poetry of life.' That men should, by help of their imagination, take short cuts to what they ardently desire, whether the triumph of Israel or the triumph of Christianity, should tell themselves fairy-tales about it, should make these fairy-tales the basis for what is far more sure and solid than the fairy-tales, the desire itself,—all this has in it, we repeat, nothing which is not natural, nothing blameable. Nay, the region of our hopes and presentiments extends, as we have also said, far beyond the region of what we can know with certainty. What we reach but by hope and presentiment may yet be true ; and he would be a narrow reasoner who denied, for in-stance, all validity to the idea of immortality, because this idea rests on presentiment mainly, and does not admit of certain demonstration. In religion, above all, extra-belief is in itself no matter, assuredly, for blame. The object of religion is conduct ; and if a man helps himself in his con-duct by taking an object of hope and presentiment as if it were an object of certainty, he may even be said to gain thereby an advantage.
And yet there is always a drawback to a man's advantage in thus treating, when he deals with religion and conduct, what is extra-belief and not certain as if it were matter of certainty, and in making it his ground of action. Re pays for it. The time comes when he discovers that it is not certain ; and then the whole certainty of religion seems discredited, and the basis of conduct gone. This danger attends the reliance on prediction and miracle as evidences of Christianity.
They have been attacked as a part of the `cheat' or imposture' of religion and of Christianity. For us, religion is the solidest of realities, and Christianity the greatest and happiest stroke ever yet made for human perfection. Pre-diction and miracle were attributed to it as its supports because of its grandeur, and because of the awe and admiration which it inspired. Generations of men have helped themselves to hold firmer to it, helped themselves in conduct, by the aid of these supports. `Miracles prove,' men have said and thought, ' that the order of physical nature is not fate, nor a mere material constitution of things, but the subject of a free, omnipotent Master. Prophecy fulfilled proves that neither fate nor man are masters of the world.'
And to take prophecy first. `The conditions,' it is said, which form the true conclusive standard of a prophetic inspiration are these : That the prediction be known to have been promulgated before the event ; that the event be such as could not have been foreseen, when it was predicted, by an effort of human reason; and that the event and the prediction correspond together in a clear accomplishment. There are prophecies in Scripture answering to the standard of an absolute proof. Their publication, their fulfilment, their supernatural prescience, are fully ascertained.' 2 On this sort of ground men came to rest the proof of Christianity.