Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, REMARKS ON DR. MIDDLETON'S EXAMINATION ... USE AND INTENT OF PROPHECY, by JOHN BYROM



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REMARKS ON DR. MIDDLETON'S EXAMINATION ... USE AND INTENT OF PROPHECY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: This passage, sir, which has engag'd of late
Last Line: If granted, find him in a better state!
Subject(s): Middleton, Conyers (1683-1750); Prophecy & Prophets; Religion; Theology


THIS passage, Sir, which has engag'd of late
So many writers in such high debate,
About the nature of prophetic light,
Has not, I think, been understood aright;
Nor does the critic Middleton's new tract
Relate the meaning fairly, or the fact.

Peter, you know, Sir, by his own account,
Was with our Saviour in the holy mount,
Where he and two disciples more beheld
The SHECHINAH, or glory that excell'd;
Saw that Divine appearance of our Lord
Which three of the Evangelists record;
His face a sun, and light his whole array,—
Prophetic glimpse of that eternal day,
Wherein the glance of Sun and Moon suppress'd,
God shall Himself enlighten all the blest;
Shall from his temple, from the sacred shrine
Shine forth of human Majesty Divine.
To this grand vision which the chosen three
Were call'd, before they tasted death, to see,
Was added proof to the astonish'd ear
That made presential Deity appear,
And by a voice from God the Father's throne
His well-beloved Son was then made known.

Now, search of mysteries the whole abyss,
What more intire conviction, Sir, than this?
Of human reason search the wide pretence,
What more miraculous and plain to sense?
But reason oft interprets past event
Just as the human heart and will are bent.
The Doctor, whom his own productions call
No hearty friend to miracles at all,
Disguises this to bring his point about,
As if both sight and hearing left a doubt,
Left some perplexity on Peter's mind,
Quite against all that he himself defin'd.
This wondrous apparition, Sir, might leave
Something too hard precisely to conceive;
And circumstances raise within his soul
Suspense about the nature of the whole

What kind of saunt'ring spirit could suggest
Such groundless cavil to a Christian breast?
What Christian priest at least would choose to paint
His Saviour's glory in a light so faint?
But let this suit the priesthood, if you will;
Pray, what foundation for his critic skill,
For Peter's doubting what he saw and heard,
For scruples first imagin'd, then inferr'd?

The reason here assign'd is fear and dread,
So great that Peter knew not what he said;
He, and his partners in the vision too,
Fell on their faces at its awful view,
Nor durst look up, till Jesus at the last
Came to and rais'd them when 'twas overpast.

Oh! vain suggestion!—Could they see and hear
Without an adoration, without fear?
If they were struck with more than mortal awe,
Their very fear was proof of what they saw;
For, strength to see and weakness to sustain
Made both alike the heav'nly vision plain:
Nor has he once attempted to devise
What else should strike them with so great surprise.

If overcome with reverential dread
Th' amaz'd Apostle wist not what he said,
Unbiass'd reason would itself confess
A greater light, diminishing its less.
Thus in the sacred books if we recall
The first recorded presence since the fall,
Themselves from God when our first parents hid
It might be said, they wist not what they did.
Yet were they taught their comfortable creed,
The promise of the woman's conq'ring seed;
As here th' Apostles were empow'r'd to see
That Jesus, God's beloved Son, was he.

If when God spake each fell upon his face—
How oft in ancient times was this case?
What prophet, Sir, to whom He spake of yore,
His voice or vision, unsupported, bore?
Moses himself,—when unawares he trod
On holy ground and heard the Voice of God,
Tho' turn'd aside on purpose to inquire
What kept the bush unburnt amidst the fire,—
Stopp'd in his search by the Divine Rebuke,
Straight hid his face and was afraid to look.

Abram, the covenanted sire of all
Who in his faith upon the Lord should call,
When he receiv'd the seal of it, the sign
Of circumcision, from the Voice Divine,
Fell on his face;—and must we then conceit
His proofs, that God talk'd with him, incomplete?

Read how Isaiah thought himself undone
When he had seen God's glory in his Son,
Until the Seraph with a living coal
From off the altar purg'd the prophet's soul.
Read how Ezekiel too with like surprise,
When Heav'n was open'd to his wond'ring eyes,
Fell on his face at the same glorious sight,
Till by God's Spirit made to stand upright.
Thus Daniel prostrate;—thus the great Divine
Who saw th' Apocalyptic scenes;—in fine,
Thus human strength alone could never stand
When God appear'd, unaided by His hand.
To urge a reason, then, from fear, to doubt
The glorious fact that could not be without,
Only befits a feeble, faithless mind,
To heav'nly voice and vision deaf and blind.

The learned prelate, against whose discourse
This gentleman has aim'd his present force,
Though it absurd in any one to make
St. Peter, for his own conviction's sake,
Say that old prophecies should be preferr'd
To God's immediate voice which he had heard.
Such a comparison, he thought, became
No sober man, much less the Saint, to frame,
Concluding it impossible from hence
That this could ever be St. Peter's sense.

Tho' 'tis not only possible, it seems,
But weak moreover, as the Doctor deems,
To doubt it,—a comparison so just
Peter not only might have made but must—
And then he cites Rabbinical remarks
To prove the paradox from learned clerks;
Not that he minds what any of them writes,
But most despises whom he chiefly cites.
Lightfoot's authority,—to instance one,—
Is first and last and most insisted on;
The soundness of whose faith, he interjects,
And erudition nobody suspects.
Or if the reader wants a full display
Of these endowments,—Lightfoot shews the way
How by assuming liberty to take
For granted straight what premises we make,
Whatever notions or opinions tend
To favour that which we would recommend,
We may demonstrate by such arts as these
A doctrine true, Divine, or what we please.

This, Sir, is his description of sound faith;
Let us now see what argument it hath.
This trusty evidence, among the rest,
Is call'd to prove a voice from Heav'n a jest,
The Jews' Bath Kol, a cunning acted part,
A fable, fantasy, or magic art,
Voice of the Devil, or of Dev'lish elves
To cheat the people and promote themselves.
And hence th' Apostle,—is the inf'rence drawn
That claims the special notice of the lawn,
That comes to clear this famous prelate's sight,—
With reason good, preferr'd prophetic light.

So introduce a Hebrew, foreign term,
Take all for true that quoted lines affirm,
And then assume that the Apostle too
Just thought and argued as these critics do,—
And we may prove from Peter's own design
That God the Father's voice was not Divine.

But should the Prelate think it mere grimace
To talk of fable in St. Peter's case,
Whose words exclude it, and expressly speak
Of heavenly truth; how frivolous and weak,
In his more sober and sedate esteem,
Must all his patchwork-erudition seem!
How will a Christian Bishop, too, conceive
Of what the Doctor's margins interweave
Touching that scripture where our Saviour pray'd,
And Heav'n that glorifying answer made?
While from his note, Sir, nothing can be learn'd
But casual thunder, or Bath Kol concern'd.

Will he not ask,—"is it this author's aim
"Under his Bath Kol figments, to disclaim
"All faith in voices of a heav'nly kind?
"Is that the purpose of his doubting mind?
"You see th' apostle is extremely clear,
"That such a voice himself did really hear;
"He also had such wondrous proofs beside,
"That voice concurrent cannot be deny'd.
"And, when our Lord had been baptis'd, there came
"A voice from Heav'n in words the very same.
"Here, in his answer'd prayer,—tho', by mistake,
"Some said "it thunder'd," some "an Angel spake,—"
"We have his own authority Divine;
"This voice," said he, "came for your sakes, not mine."

Would not the Bishop rightly thus oppose
Plain Scripture facts to learning's empty shows?
What signifies it, then, upon the whole,
How poor blind Jews have talk'd about Bath Kol?
What jarring critics of a later day,
Or Lightfoot, here thrice ridicul'd, may say?
Or Middleton himself (whose pious care
For giftless churches prompts him to compare
Voices from Heav'n in his assuming page,
To miracles beyond th' Apostles' age)
Taking for granted, without more ado,
His wild hypothesis about them too?

Prodigious effort! See obstructed quite
The Gospel promise and the Christian right;
Cut off, at once, miraculous supply;
All healing ceases when Apostles die;
No tongue inspir'd, no Demon dispossess'd,—
With them the working Spirit went to rest,
Forgot the prophecies that Christ had made,
And left believers without signal aid;
Altho' no limit in what scripture saith
Be put to miracles but want of faith;
Altho', without one, foolish to pretend
To know their nature, or to fix their end;
Yet if a daring genius advertise
That all but Scripture miracles are lies,
What crowds embrace the new belief and hope!
It suits their taste, and saves them from the Pope.
Others contend that wondrous gifts survive
The first three centuries, or four, or five;
Then, Sir, they close their jealous, partial view,
And grudge diviner influence its due;
Take diff'rent stations in the Doctor's track,
Blaming and backing his more close attack;
All miracles, beyond his earlier fence,
Are want of honesty, or want of sense;
All faith in Bishops, Confessors, and Saints
Who witness facts, a Christian priest recants;—
They must, he says they must, be fables all
That pass the bounds of his gigantic wall.

Such strange delusion if a man embrace
Without some voice, some miracle of grace,
It is in vain to reas'ners of his cast
To urge the evidence of ages past.
With minds resolv'd to disbelieve or doubt
Small is the force of history throughout.
Freedom of thought exerted and of will,
To claim the privilege of judging ill,
Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs cannot move,
Nor holy Church throughout the world disprove.

But to return;—how does his first assault
On miracles defend a second fault?
Or Rabbis, or Rabbinical Divines,
Help Lightfoot's comment, or his own designs?
Lightfoot, without detracting from his skill,
Wrote in this instance with a careless quill;
Such inf'rence, else, had never been annex'd;
He must have seen that the Apostle's text
Could not, with reason either good or great,
Compare the Prophets with a dev'lish cheat.
This learned writer, Sir, did not attend
To Peter's MEANING, or, not apprehend;
Or, if excuse may for his haste atone,
He did not well, perhaps, express HIS OWN.

Since by his present citer here you see
How quite forgetful learned men may be;
For after all the scraps he had amass'd,
And this triumphant inference at last—
The text, he says, had, in St. Peter's views,
No ref'rence to himself, but to the Jews:—
Not in his haste aware that what he said
Knock'd all the Bath Kol pedantry o' th' head,
That what he thought his borrow'd pages won
His own gave up, as soon as he had done.
For if St. Peter's words do not imply
What he himself was most persuaded by,
But only shew what arguments were fit
For their attention, Sir, to whom he writ,
The Bishop's reas'ning which he strives to cloud,
Is not unanswer'd only, but allow'd;
The very thing pretended to be shewn
Is, by his own confession, overthrown.

Do but observe the point in question, Sir,
On which the Doctor makes this learned stir,
How he, who talks of its perpetual change
By others, takes the liberty to range;
When a comparison was judg'd absurd,
Peter could make no other—was the word;
Then, by a contradiction plain and flat,—
Peter's comparison could not be that;—
And then again—supposing that it could;
Thus he attempts to make the matter good.

Let Peter be himself assur'd, says he,
As fully as 'twas possible to be,
Of ev'ry circumstance that pass'd, he might
Have still preferr'd the old prophetic light.
This was a standing evidence, and lay
Open to cool, delib'rate reason's sway,
A firmer argument that brought along
Conviction, Sir, more permanent and strong
To men of sober senses, and sedate,
Than could the vision, which his words relate.
Set the perplex'd equivocation by
That's here involv'd, how easy the reply
To reasons void, if we distinguish right
Betwixt a real and reported sight!
For be the proof that prophecies procure
More, to the Jews, comparatively sure,
As oft the text is commented upon
Thro' a mistake, (as will appear anon)
Yet his conviction vacates the pretence
Of reason, argument, and sober sense;
Because the prophets here to be compar'd,
As evidences of what God declar'd,
Could but originally hear and see,
And be as fully satisfy'd as he.

The use of reason has, I apprehend,
When full assurance is attain'd, an end.
When we are certain that we see and hear,
And ev'ry circumstance is plain and clear,
What can examination teach or learn?
By what criterion, Sir, shall we discern,
When reason comes to be so deadly cool,
The sage deliberator from the fool?

Conceive St. Peter, if you can, entic'd
(Eye-witness of the majesty of Christ,
Of what the Father, in the mount, had done
By shewing forth the glory of the Son)
To disbelieve his senses, and to pore
Some ancient, standing evidences o'er,
To see if that which, on the holy spot,
He saw and heard, was seen and heard or not:
Would such a cool, deliberating plan
Have made him pass for a more sober man?
If so, then Middleton has hit the white;
Sherlock, if not, is thus far in the right,
And well may say that no man in his wits
Could be attack'd by such cold reas'ning fits.

But thus the frigid argument is brought
Why Peter might, in full, persuaded thought,
Prefer predictions in the ancient law
To what himself most surely heard and saw:
For after all the full convincing scene
Which he had witness'd, how did he demean?
With faith infirm he shamefully deny'd
His Master, seen so greatly glorify'd.

Yes, so he did, and gave a humbling stroke
To human confidence in reason's cloak;
Enough to lay all syllogizing trust
In bare conclusions only in the dust;
An ample proof that in a trying hour
Ev'n demonstration loses all its pow'r,
That, without grace and God's assisting hand
In time of need, no evidence can stand.

Suppose a person of the clearest head,
In Logic arts well grounded and well read,
If, with a selfish love to truth alone,
He arm himself with weapons all his own,
When a temptation comes, alas! how soon
The valiant reas'ner turns a mere poltroon!

Peter, tho' void of learning and of art,
Had a courageous, had an honest heart;
Had natural abilities, beyond
All those of which the critics are so fond;
Had hidden qualities beyond their ken;
They fish for words, he was to fish for men.
His faith in outward evidence was such
That Peter trusted to himself too much;
When his denial plainly was foretold,
What should have humbled made him grow more bold;
"Tho' all should be offended, yet not I;
"Not death itself shall tempt me to deny."

We see in him, Sir, what the utmost height
Of boasted reason, evidence, and light,
Of courage, honesty, and even love
Could do without assistance from above.
It could to humbler thoughts resist the call;
It proudly could prefer itself to all;
It could, in short, upon conclusions true
Do all that numbers upon false ones do—
Rest on itself, be confident, and bounce,
And, when the call to suff'ring came, renounce.

As human resolution, courage, skill,
Conviction, evidence, or what you will,
Can in their nature only reach so far
As things are subject to a human bar;
All these, tho' actuating Peter's zeal,
To Christian doctrine could not set the seal.
God-like humility, the sacred root
Whence ev'ry virtue branches into fruit,
Lays the foundation of the Christian life,
As reason governs that of human strife.
And I appeal, Sir, setting grace aside,
How oft is human reason human pride?
Human desire of victory of fame,
A Babel tow'ring to procure a name?
A self assurance, an untutor'd boast?
That can but form intention, at the most;
Which, tho' directed right, must humbly ask
Divine assistance to perform its task.

In this fail'd Peter; and a servant maid
Made him, with all his bold resolves, afraid;
With all his sure convictions, he began
To curse and swear, and did "not know the man,"
Till, for a lesson wondrously address'd
To sink full deep into his humbled breast,
The cock pronounc'd by an awak'ning crow
Peter the man, whom Peter did not know.

But how, Sir, did his coward speech betray
Doubt of his Maker's glorious display?
By what account in hist'ry are we taught
That e'er it came into his frighted thought?
Or since 'tis certain that he did deny,
What prophecy did he prefer thereby?
'Tis then a cold absurdity to draw
From Peter's weakness this pretended flaw,
To hint delusion in the god-like sight,
Because the man was put into a fright.
If from distrust of evidence his fears,
From whence his bitter, penitential tears?
Whence was it that the Holy Pris'ner shook
The soul of Peter with one gracious look?
No GLORY then to credit or distrust;
And yet the Apostle's penitence was just,
And he a lively proof, upon the whole,
That grace alone can fortify a soul.

'Tis urg'd, that, on the other hand we find,
With faith confirm'd and with enlighten'd mind,
After the mission of the Holy Ghost,
That argument which he apply'd the most
Was what he calls (for so the Doctor too
Takes here a vulgar error to be true)
This MORE SURE WORD OF PROPHECY, the chief
Of all his motives to enforce belief;
From whence he prov'd that Jesus was of old
Describ'd by all the prophets, and foretold.

Peter's condition, Sir, is that of all
Who from the heart obey the Christian call.
They by experience have the triple sight
Of weakness, penitence, and heav'nly light;
While others wrangle about outward show,
Nature, and grace, and miracle they know.
Tho' not inspir'd, like Peter and th' Eleven,
Nor struck, like walking Paul, by voice from Heav'n,
They meet, what others foolishly evade,
The real mission of celestial aid;
Of which, howe'er the tokens are perceiv'd,
No faithful soul can ever be bereav'd.

What does the share of it that Peter had
To all the Doctor's forc'd refinements add?
Might not the Bishop justly give him back
Some compliments bestow'd in his attack?
Such as, the nothing but an empty strain
Of Rhet'ric, insignificant, and vain—
The, choosing not to see of any theme
More than may suit his pre-adopted scheme—
The passing over what he should confute
With matters foreign to the main dispute—
And such like flow'rs upon his pages thrown,
That, full as well, become the Doctor's own.

For has the Bishop in his book deny'd
That prophecy was properly applied?
No; but that Peter did a thing so odd
As to prefer it to the voice of God.
This was the point requir'd to be explain'd
In contradiction to what he maintain'd,
That which the Doctor undertook to clear
And make the pref'rence of the Saint appear.
But while we look'd what reasons he would bring
For so incomprehensible a thing,
As common sense must reckon an appeal
From what th' Almighty should Himself reveal,
Shifting the circumstances, time, and place,
In short, the question, to another case,
He tells us not of prophecy preferr'd
To voice from heav'n which he had just averr'd,
But how the Saint apply'd in his discourse
Prophetic words to give the gospel force;
How Peter argued, from them, he relates,
And proves full well what nobody debates.
How gravely, Sir, from fallacy so crude
He prompts the amused reader to conclude
That any man, especially a Jew
As Peter was, might think the pref'rence due!
And what himself had heard th' Almighty speak
Might be esteem'd comparatively weak!

Under this mill-stone oft the struggling page
Bestirs itself, but cannot disengage.
At all events resolving to confute
(To use his Logic) or at least dispute,
Its author shews great spirit and great art,
And well performs the contradicting part;
But in his subsequent remarks we find
How lamely confutation limps behind.

Fully resolv'd, and singly, to maintain
A paradox so quite against the grain,
The learned Antithaumatist must choose
Not to instruct his reader, but amuse.
Whene'er he touches a prophetic clause
Not to illustrate, but perplex the cause,
To speak some truth that shews the favour'd side,
And that, which gives the whole connexion, hide.
Why else a total silence on the head
Of miracles in what St. Peter said?
How could recited prophecies alone
Prove to the Jews that Jesus was foreshewn,
Had there not been that other previous proof
To ev'ry thoughtful Jew in his behoof,
Had not such wond'rous facts struck up the light
That shew'd their application to be right?
Trace the quotations, Sir, that Peter made,
And see their force impartially display'd,
See what solution stated fact supplies,
Without contriv'd evasion or disguise.§

The first occasion which th' Apostle took
To cite a passage from a Prophet's book,
Was at that public, wonderful event
Upon the Blessed Spirit's first descent.
The faithful flock that met with one accord
To wait the gifts of their ascended Lord,
Soon as the tokens of His presence came,—
The sound celestial and the sacred flame,—
Began to speak, with holy ardour fir'd
In various hymns by Heav'n itself inspir'd.
This joyful voice of a diviner laud
Was spread through all Jerusalem abroad,
And pious Jews from ev'ry distant clime
Residing there,—that providential time!—
Devout epitome of all mankind,
Were drawn to witness that which God design'd.
His wondrous works as Galileans sung,
All understood the Spirit-utter'd tongue;
Of language then was no confusion known,
Each heard this ONE, and heard it as HIS OWN.
God gave the word Himself, and all "the good"
Shar'd in the promis'd gift, and understood,
Tho' then astonish'd at the wondrous theme,
Prepar'd to spread it to the world's extreme.

Others insensible of Grace Divine,
Mock'd at its influence and talk'd of wine,
Themselves intoxicated with that pride
By which the deaf in spirit still deride.
'Twas then that Peter, standing up to shew
Th' absurd reproach, gave all of them to know
That what these mockers call'd a drunken fit
Was God's performance of what Joel writ
Of days then dawning, when he would impart
His gospel gifts to ev'ry faithful heart,
Pour out His Heav'nly Spirit, and refresh
Not only single nations, but "all flesh:"
All should partake, that would, of richer grace,
Now fully purchas'd for the human race.

For this was what St. Peter, then inspir'd,
Went on to shew, and argument requir'd.
The Jews all knew Messiah was to come,
That this of all prediction gave the sum;
The question was, if it had been fulfill'd
In Jesus, whom their wicked hands had kill'd?

Now, to prove this th' Apostle first applies
The miracles perform'd before their eyes;
God's approbation of him, he defines,
Was manifest by WONDERS and by SIGNS
Done in the midst of them.—See here the ground
Prepar'd, before he offer'd to expound,
By arguments of such immediate force,
So plain, so striking, that they must of course
Make, secondly, to such as should take heed
The word of prophecy more sure indeed.

And then he shews how the prophetic word
With its exact accomplishment concurr'd;
"What David had prophetically said
"Jesus fulfill'd in rising from the dead,
"Whereof we all are witnesses."—Here lay
The strength of all that any words could say;
When numbers present could the fact attest,
Thousands of souls th' accomplish'd word confess'd,
That this was He, the Lord, the Holy One,
Whom David fix'd his heart and hopes upon,
And so describ'd as only could agree
With Him, whose "flesh should no corruption see."
His resurrection, you perceive, it was
That shew'd the prophet's word now come to pass,
That made th' Apostle's intimation clear,—
"He shed forth this which we now see and hear."

Again,—when Peter had restor'd the lame
To perfect soundness in our Saviour's name,
He told the wond'ring throng that they had slain
The Prince of life whom God had rais'd again;
"Whereof we are the witnesses," says he,
Then shews how all the prophecies agree,—
"All have successively foretold these days,
"And mark'd THE PROPHET whom the Lord should raise."

So when the priests and Sadducees aggriev'd
That such increasing multitudes believ'd,
Ask'd by what pow'r he acted,—Peter said,
"By that of Jesus risen from the dead,
"By Him this healing miracle is wrought;"
Then quotes, "the Stone which ye have set at nought,
"On this, rejected by the builders' hands,
"As a sure basis, all salvation stands."
No priest was then so impotently skill'd
As to suggest the passage unfulfill'd;
All by the wondrous cure were overcome,
The living proof was there and struck them dumb.

In vain a council then, as well as now,
To silence miracles or disavow.
Peter and John could neither be deterr'd,
They needs must speak what they had seen and heard.
Nor charge, nor chains, nor meditated death
Could stop to God's commands th' obedient breath;
His final argument still Peter brings,
"We are His witnesses of all these things."

This you may read, Sir, was the real path
That Peter trod in his confirmed faith,
That all the preachers of the Gospel trod
When they explain'd the oracles of God,
Preach'd what themselves, without a learned strife,
"Saw, heard, and handled of the WORD OF LIFE,"
When in their days so mightily it grew
And wrought such proofs that prophecy was true.
Which tho' it pointed to the future scene,
And oft prefigur'd the Messiah's reign,
Yet gave a light comparatively dim,
That ow'd its shining certainty to Him.

Thus, Sir,—to come directly to the text
With which the critics are so much perplex'd,
Whereof the real meaning, fairly trac'd,
Lays heaps of paper, printed on it, waste;—
Had they adverted that St. Peter still
From what he saw upon the holy hill,
Argues Apostles not to have surmis'd,
Or follow'd fables cunningly devis'd;
But to have witness'd only what they knew
From their own sight and hearing to be true,
And to have justly gathered from thence
The sure completion of prophetic sense;
To which the Jews did rightly to attend
Till they themselves should see it in the end.
Had they consider'd this, they would have found
Of all their wide perplexities the ground,
Have soon perceiv'd that, in the various brawl,
A wrong translation was the cause of all.

Peter makes no comparison between
Prophetic word and what himself had seen,
As if he thought the vision in the mount
Less sure to him upon his own account.
This is a stretch by which the Doctor meant
Of public patience, sure, to try th' extent;
Or,—still to copy so polite a clown,—
To try how far his NONSENSE would go down.
To say the truth, his pages indevout
Have furnish'd matter of offence throughout;
But here, from knowing what the world would bear,
Grown without ceremony quite severe,
He would oblige his readers to admit
A thing that shocks a plain, or critic wit,—
That dark, old prophecy, in Peter's choice,
Was held more sure than God's immediate voice;—
They must admit, or else they must be weak,
Something more sure than truth itself could speak.

Nor does St. Peter, as the learned gloze,
Speaking to Jewish converts, here suppose
That they would think comparative distrust
Of an Apostle's own experience just:
No true construction of the text can guide
To such suspicion, Sir, on either side.

His words import directly, if you seek
Their genuine meaning in the Vulgate Greek,
And mind the previously related scene,—
His words, I say, most evidently mean,
"We saw the glory, heard the voice, and thus
"Have the prophetic word made sure to us;
"Which ye do well to follow as a spark
"That spreads a ray through places that are dark,
"Till ye with us enjoy the perfect light,
"And want no prophecies to set you right."

An English reader may be led, indeed,
To think that, as th' Apostle's words proceed
With—"we have also"—it was something more,
Some surer proof than what had gone before.
But "also," tho' without Italics read,
Is an addition to what Peter said;
It only shews how our translation fail'd,
And made the blunder that has since prevail'd;
Which, tho', sufficiently provok'd to mend,
The learned still choose rather to defend.

A writer,—whose freethinking schemes incite
The Bishop and the Doctor both to write,
Who had, it seems, in prophecies a rule
First to extol, and then to ridicule,—
Took, Sir, his stand on this corrupted place,
From whence he both might heighten and disgrace;
One point the vulgar error gain'd alone,
While for the other he employ'd his own.
Ingenious authors answer'd him apace,
But got no triumph in this knotty place;
Good sense oblig'd them wholly to reject
St. Peter's pref'rence in his own respect;
Collins himself th' absurdity forbore;
That height was left for Middleton to soar.
But still some other they suppos'd there was,
Something that prophecy must needs surpass.
What it was not they easily could see,
But what it was, scarce two of them agree.
Intent some kind of pref'rence to provide
Which "also" plainly, and "more sure" imply'd,
All by an error, (which the simple thought
Of construing right had rectify'd) were caught.

In this mistake the Bishop too has shar'd
Asserting prophecy indeed compar'd,
And by St. Peter to the voice preferr'd
Which he himself upon the mount had heard.
Yet not, says he, as that freethinker meant;
The words relate but to that one event
Which stands upon prophetical record,
To wit, the glorious coming of our Lord.

But, one or all, to make a surer word
Then heav'nly demonstration, is absurd,
And glaring in the instance that he chose,
Because that coming, as the context shews,
Was of such majesty as Peter knew
That Christ was really cloth'd with in his view;
And therefore could not possibly say "WE
"Have also something surer than TO SEE;
"WE were EYE-WITNESSES of what we preach,
"Yet think more certain what the Prophets teach."

He contradicts,—in splitting on the shelf
Of our translation,—Peter and himself;
The Saint, by such restriction of his own
As was by him unthought of and unknown;
Himself, who says that Peter in this place,
Admitting Gospel truth to be the case,
Far from preferring the prophetic test,
Has manifestly said 'twas not the best.

And of all Gospel truths that you can name
This glorious coming is the one great aim,
The sum and substance, with respect to man,
Of heav'nly purpose since the world began.
Divine intention could no more have been
For Christ to suffer, them for man to sin;
Tho', since that fatal accident befel,
Incarnate Love would save him from a hell.
Whereas his glorious reign amongst mankind
Might from their first existence be design'd;
And, since his suff'ring, saving advent past,
What sense of justice can deny the last?
"His reigning glory," were the prophets dumb,
All things in nature cry aloud "will come."

Besides, what better does the text afford,
To any tolerable sense restor'd,
(Compare, prefer, or construe how you will)
Than that Divine Appearance on the hill?
That ascertaining in a heav'nly light
Our Saviour's glory by a present sight?
That record, which the Father thereupon
Gave of his Son to Peter, James, and John?
So full of proofs that, let what will be chief,
Doubt is too near akin to disbelief.

The Doctor says, 'tis surely no offence
To true religion, or to common sense,
To think that, tracing circumstances out,
Perplex'd Apostles might be left in doubt:
A serious reader, yet, may think it is
From one plain circumstance, and it is this,—
When they descended from the sacred place
After partaking of this heav'nly grace,
Our Saviour charg'd them that they should not tell
To any man the vision that befel,
Till He Himself was risen from the dead.
The vision, then, (if He knew what He said)
Was true and real; while, if you complete
The Doctor's hints of possible deceit,
To give his rash reflections any force
Our Lord Himself must be deceiv'd, or worse:
Such things would follow,—but the horrid train
Is too offensive, even to explain.

In fine, these comments which the learned make
On Peter's words are owing to mistake;
Those which the Doctor has been pleas'd to frame
Upon his whole behaviour are the same.
Nor is more learning needful in the case
Than to consult the untranslated place:
The phrase, you'll see, asserts what I assert,
And leaves no critic room to controvert.
Grotius, whose paraphrase the Doctor quotes,
Gives it this meaning in his learned notes,—
The word of prophecy we all allow
To be of great authority, but now
With us much greater, who have seen th' event
So aptly correspond with its intent.
This paves the way to a becoming sense,
And overthrows our author's vain pretence—
Vain art and pains employ'd upon the theme,
To dress up an imaginary scheme,
Of which, the whole New Testament around,
Nor foot, nor footstep, Sir, is to be found.

Tradition—tho' of Apostolic kind,
Such as was Enoch's prophecy—you find
Contemptuously call'd, I know not what!
Tho' by St. Jude so plainly pointed at.
Because, if Jude's authority be good
Prophets existed long before the flood.
That glorious advent, set so oft in view
Both in the ancient scriptures and the new,
Of Him, who first was promis'd at the fall,
Hope of all ages, was foretold in all.
If Enoch and if Noah preach'd away,
Was Adam, think you, silent in his day?
Had he no loss to tell his children then?
No saving righteousness to preach to men?
Did God ordain two Saviours in the case
Of ante and of post-diluvian race?
Let oral mention or let written fail,
If good,—that is, if Christian—sense prevail,
It never can permit us to reject
Consistency of truth for their defect.
One God, one Saviour, and one Spirit still
Recur, let book-worms reason as they will.
Whatever saves a man from being curst,
What man can say "God his it from the first?"
Or if he does, and talks as if he knew,
Will want of writings prove that he says true?
With or without them fancy can take aim,
If wanting, triumph,—or if not, disclaim;
Let them abound, no miracles make out,—
Let them be silent, make Apostles doubt.

The two main pillars of his whole discourse,
Whereon the Doctor seems to rest its force,
And begs the reader, Sir, to recollect
In his conclusion are to this effect,—
That gospel proofs on prophecies rely'd,
Singly and independently apply'd;
And that the first, from whom its preachers draw
Their proof of Christ, is Moses in the law.
Both which St. Peter's evidence again
Shews to be slips of his too hasty pen;
For when th' Apostle at the temple gate
Restor'd the cripple to a perfect state,
And took occasion from the healed lame
To preach the Gospel in our Saviour's name,
Thus he bespake the people that stood by,—
"God by the mouth,"—(observe the sacred tie)—
"Of all his prophets hath foreshewn His Son
"Jesus, by whom this miracle is done."
Which of them singly then did Peter cite?
What independency where all unite,
Where all predicted as one Spirit bid
That Christ should suffer as he really did?—

"And enter into glory"—for, that next
The preacher speaks to, in the following text;
Where in his exhortation to repent,
"Jesus," he tells them, "shall again be sent;
"Heav'ns must receive mankind's appointed head,
"Till time hath done whatever God hath said,
"By all His prophets since the world began:"—
For so the sense, without curtailing, ran,
Of which the Doctor, quoting but a part,
Has yet dissolv'd the charm of all his art,
Since all the prophets—let the world begin
With Moses, if he will—are taken in;
And, join'd together, must, whate'er he thinks,
Produce a chain, however few the links.

'Tis true he afterwards begins to quote,
And first "the Prophet of whom Moses wrote;"
Adding, "that all who in succession came
"Had likewise spoken of the very same:"
"The same"—see how prophetic words conspire—
God's Own, predicted to the Jewish Sire,—
"And in thy seed," so Peter's words attest,
"Shall all the kindreds of the earth be blest."
Proofs of our Saviour Christ you see him draw
From in, from after, from before the law.

What can be said in answer, Sir, to this?
The fact is plain, tho' Peter judg'd amiss;
For, such defect (he scruples not to own)
Collins against th' Evangelist has shewn:
The very Gospels have some proofs assign'd
Of loose, precarious, and uncertain kind.
This unbeliever,—in the shocking terms,
In which his cause a Clergyman confirms,—
Has arguments unanswerably strong
To prove their manner of applying wrong:
Altho', whatever difficulties lie
Against the way wherein they shall apply,
It is the best, which, of all other ways,
The case affords;—so runs his rev'rend phrase.
So Deist and Divine, but both in vain,
Seek to unfasten the prophetic chain.

Should the New Testament be treated so
By one whose character we did not know,
Might not the language miss its aim'd effect,
And rather tempt the reader to suspect
That some presumptuous mocker and self-will'd
Had Enoch's, Jude's, and Peter's words fulfill'd?

To clear a tortur'd passage from abuse
This good effect may possibly produce,
That when a writer of the modern mode
Shall cast reflections on the Sacred Code,
Men will not, merely upon sudden trust
In bold assertions, take them to be just;
Since it may be that he has only made
Of great mistakes a critical parade;
Has only spoken evil of those things,
Of which he does not really know the springs;
Has met with matters high above his reach,
And, scorning to be taught, presum'd to teach,
Raising about them an affected cry
That ends in nothing but a "Who but I?"

Bare prophecy, the Doctor has profess'd,
Admits completion only for its test;
Th' event foretold by it must also be
What human prudence never could foresee,
Nor human pow'r produce; or else no sign
Could thence appear of Agency Divine.

Prophecy then, as his descriptions own,
Can be made sure by miracles alone;
It is, what he himself is pleas'd to call,
While unfulfill'd, no evidence at all.
How is it then, in his repeated term,
Of standing evidence more sure and firm?
How is this consonant to standing still,
As none at all, till miracles fulfil?
If it has none till they are overpast,
Is not the evidence from them at last?
From them prophetic word, before obscure,
Becomes an evidence confirm'd and sure;
Its truth is first demonstrated, and then
Reflects its light on miracles again.

A hungry question, therefore, to inquire,
Of two great proofs that actually conspire
"Which is the best?"—when with united light
They both produce an evidence so bright.
But the freethinker with a crafty view,
(If what his learn'd assistant says be true)
Had rais'd prophetic credit to excess,
In order more securely to depress;
And for this cause his Lordship undertook
To write, it seems, at all events, a book.

This being then, the motive which he had,
A reader aks,—"what is there in it bad?"—
With what decorum does a priest accuse
A Bishop writing against crafty views,
Views of an enemy to Gospel truth?
Is the defending of him less uncouth?
Does such defence, with such a rudeness writ,
The Priest, the Bishop, or the cause befit?
So interlarded with that loose reproach
Which want of argument is wont to broach,
So deeply ting'd the Ciceronian style
With what the critics commonly call bile,
That they, who thought it worth their while to seek
The author's motive, judg'd it to be pique.

Soon as you enter on the work, you see
An instant sample what the whole will be;
First, being jealous of the Bishop's views,
His book for years he dar'd not to peruse,
Afraid to trust so eminent a guide
For fear his judgment should be warp'd aside:
Tho' quite secure, for he had ever found
Authority to be a treach'rous ground;
And even this, this capital affair,
That was to lead his judgment to a snare,
He found—and just as he expected too
Who fear'd before a bias from his view,—
When graciously inclin'd to see it since,
Quite of a kind that never CAN CONVINCE:
Which, to be sure, afforded reason good
To write a book against it, lest it SHOULD.

Had any other author, less polite,
With vulgar phrase attempted thus to write,
And thus begun so fine a scheme to spin,
The reas'ners of this world had broken in,
Rudely unravell'd all his fine-spun scheme,
And sent him forth to seek another theme.

How suited this to any good design
That should engage a Christian, a Divine?
But what are names, if not a single one
Be worth regard for sixteen ages gone?
If to inquire what any of them say,
Be, as he thinks, but wasting time away?
Himself excepted in the modest creed,
Unless he writes for nobody to read.

Sure of all treach'rous guides the greatest cheat
Is that of wild unchristian self-conceit:
Possess'd by this domestic, inbred pride,
The wise free-thinkers scorn the name of guide.
Their own sufficiency with eyes their own
Clearly beheld, they trust to that alone;
Resolv'd no other maxims to imbibe
Than what THEIR REASON and THEIR SENSE prescribe;
That is, THEMSELVES—for what a man calls HIS
In such a case is really what HE IS:
Choose how refin'd an egotist may be
HIS reason, judgment, mind, and sense is HE.
In such confinement if he sits enthrall'd,
No matter by what title he is call'd,
Blind as a Sadducee to heav'nly light,
He will believe HIS OWN CONCEPTIONS right;
No PROPHECY to him can seem more sure,
Nor MIRACLE ATTESTED work his cure.
THAT of conversion from his own dark mind
Must first convince him that he once was blind;
Then may he see with salutary grief
The dire effects of wretched unbelief;
Looser, and yet more loose from sacred ties,
To what strange heights a self-taught Sophist flies.

Friendship to Doctor Middleton sincere
Must, if exerted, wish him to forbear
A kind of writing on the Christian cause,
That gains him no desirable applause,
That, whether meant or not, may unawares
Involve a reader in free-thinking snares;
Involve himself.—If frequent the relapse,
A TEACHER OF DIVINITY, perhaps,
May run the risk of being quite bereft,
Of having nothing but the HABIT left.

May that, which teaches rightly to divide
The word of truth, be his petition'd guide!
Or, if resolv'd at present to pursue,
At future leisure, a mistaken clue,
May future leisure—an uncertain date—
If granted, find him in a better state!





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