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them were men of the coolest tempers, greatest capacities, and least liable to imputations of prejudice, insist upon it as determinately conclusive 10.'
By interspersing among the interpretations of prophecy some political truths, I likewise indulged the expectation, that there might be a probable chance of their falling into the hands of a class of persons, who are indeed to the sacred oracles sedulously attentive, but are altogether negligent of political inquiries. Strongly impressed as I am with the importance of discussions on the subject of government, unalterably convinced as I am of the mighty influence of freedom on the virtue and the felicity of mankind, I could not but think myself usefully employed, in case I were able, by any incidental observations, in any degree to augment the thirst for political knowlege, or to heighten the love of liberty.
I had also a farther end in view. Such a statement of the probable course of future events I designed to exhibit, as would furnish a new motive for obedience to the precepts of Christianity; and powerfully dispose the mind to seriousness and self-examination. If we discover, by an attention to prophecy, and an inspection of the actual state of affairs among the nations of Europe, that the period is arrived, or is probably about to arrive, when many of them are to undergo mighty changes, or are to be visited with signal calamities; what is the conclusion which this prospect into futurity should lead every man to form, and what is the conduct which it ought to produce? Surely it ought to operate as a new and pressing stimulus to the practice of virtue. The mind of the Englishman in particular it should influence. Whilst Great Britain has seen the flames of war blazing in the towns and provinces of the nations that surround her, and, after short intervals, repeatedly lighted up afresh ; she herself, during a period of an hundred and forty years, has experienced a singular prolongation of good fortune, and has almost entirely escaped from those cruel ravages, which hostile armies would have committed upon her territories. Now if this be an accurate statement, and what has been asserted be moreover true, that, during a large portion of this time, she has taken a very active and criminal part in kindling the torch of discord, and in extending the devastations of war, either in the
provinces of North America, or the islands of the West Indies, in the peninsula of Hindostan, on the continent of Europe, or in the wide
10 P. 395.
spreading regions of Africa; is there not reason to fear, that the time may not be far distant, when she will in her turn suffer those calamities, which her government has been so industrious to inflict upon other nations; and which, when inflicted, so many of her people have viewed with acquiescence, if not with approbation and triumph? Does not sacred, and does not profane history, inform us, that it has ever been the plan of Divine Providence at length to chastise and humble those nations, which are swelled with pride, corrupted by luxury, and disgraced by any signal and multiplied acts of oppression or rapine? Are we not apprized, that the guilt of nations, as well as of individuals, is enhanced in proportion to the degree of light and knowlege, which Heaven has vouchsafed to them? To the inhabitant of Great Britain reflections of this description may be unacceptable. But they are not unseasonable. They ought to stimulate every man strenuously to endeavor, as far the influence of his individual efforts will extend, to lead such a moral and religious life, as will be calculated to avert from his country the impending punishment of an offended Deity. Then, whatever may be the characters of other men, and however dark the complexion of external events, he will feel the conciousness of having acted well, and the approbation of Almighty God he will assuredly obtain. The more there are, says a celebrated writer,
who cultivate a sense of piety to God, (which will always lead to suppress resentment, and to promote good will towards men,) the more favor, in the righteous administration of Providence, will be shewn to the country in which they shall be found."
Of the inhabitants of Europe so large a proportion are corrupta in consequence of the very defective state of education, and the existing systems of religion and government, that, I fear, it is to be apprehended, many of them must, in order to be purified, pass through very considerable distresses. The observations, that follow, the mind contemplates with a degree of timorous solicitude, and yields to them a tardy and reluctant acquieseence. For the reformation of a whole people, and especially of the higher classes, nothing,' says Dr. Aikin, can be relied upon but one of those grand remedial processes, which are probably within the moral plan of Providence. Nations, whom a long course of prosperity has ren dered vain, arrogant, and luxurious, in whom increasing opulence has generated increased wants and desires, for the gratification of
11 Dr. Priestley's Fast Ser. for Feb. 28, 1794, p. 32.
which all barriers of honor and justice are broken down, who are arrived at that state in which, according to the energetic expression of the Roman historian, they can neither bear their vices nor the remedies of them; are only to be brought back to a right sense of things by some signal catastrophe, which shall change the whole form of their affairs, and oblige them to set out afresh, as it were in the world.' This ingenious author then adds, 'A conviction that such events are necessary, and that they are kindly intended as remedies of greater evils than they immediately occasion, is the only consideration that can tranquilise the heart of a benevolent man, who lives in a period when these awful operations are in a peculiar manner carrying on. It may reconcile him to the various delays and fluctuations in the progress towards a final event, which he cannot but ardently desire. When he wishes for a speedy-settlement of things by the quiet operation of reason, without any of the harsh methods by which stubborn vices are to be forcibly eradicated, he wishes for an impracticability as great, as the surgeon, who would hope to cure an inveterate cancer without the knife or the caustic 12'
It is, says Dr. Priestley, a consolation, that seasons great calamities of any kind, cannot, in their own nature, be of long continuance. In proportion to their violence, they must be of short duration ; and, as in the natural world storms and hurricanes are of use, in clearing the atmosphere, producing a better temperature of air, and a more serene and cloudless sky, than could have been had without them, let us not doubt, but that the same will be the issue of storms and hurricanes in the civil world, be their violence ever so great, and the devastation they make ever so extensive 13.'
Perhaps also, at such a period as the present, there is another point of view, in which any attempt at a sober interpretation of some of the most important unaccomplished predictions of scripture may be regarded as seasonable and useful. As far as its influence extends, may it not tend to prevent the unsuspecting from misplacing their confidence, and having recourse to publications altogether wild and fanciful; and may not such a work fall perhaps into the hands of some individuals, - whom it may preserve from the contagion of credulity, a disease and debility of the mind, which, like the
12 Letters from a Father to his Son, 1793, p. 182.
poison of infidelity, is principally propagated by an intercourse with those, to whom the infection is already communicated 14 ? At a time, when the human understanding contemplates with wonder occurrences, the most momentuous and exampled, following each other with rapid movement; at an æra, when the hopes and fears of men are fixed on the convulsions, which agitate nations, and alter the established arrangements of society ; persons of a warm imagination, by accustoming themselves to indulge and prolong its excursions, and by endeavoring to pierce the cloud that is spread over futurity, will sometimes suffer their ideas to be worked up to such a pitch of extravagance, till at length it terminates in a · partial insanity; and a number of crafty impostors, or of wild enthusiasts, may be expected to start up in different places, who will boldly allege their intercourse with the Deity, and claim to inspiration, and persist to maintain, that they are commissioned to reveal to mankind some of those interesting events, which are destined hereafter to happen. The mind that is active and ardent cannot, indeed, in such a state of things, extinguish its solicitude to learn.
14 That arrogant pretensions, and wild absurdity, are still secure of being listened to by numbers with eager curiosity or blind acquiescence, the many proselytes, gained by Richard Brothers, have afforded a recent and decisive proof. But the year 1750 afforded a yet more memorable instance of the infectious nature of credulity. On the 8th of February, and again on the 8th of March in that year, a considerable shock of an earthquake was felt in London. In consequence, says Smollett, ' a fanatic soldier--boldly prophesied, that the next shock would happen on the same day of April, and totally destroy the cities of London and Westminster,' and his prediction was listened to with terror. Those, says the historian (Hist. of Engl. from the Revolution, vol. III. p. 271,) whom fortune had enabled to retire from the devoted city, fled to the country with hurry and precipitation, insomuch that the highways were encumbered with horses and carriages. Many, who had, in the beginning, combated these groundless fears with the weapons of reason and ridicule, began insensibly to imbibe the contagion, and felt tħeir hearts fail, in proportion as the hour of probation approached: even science and philosophy were not proof against the unaccountable effects of this communication. In after-ages it will hardly be believed, that, on the evening of the 8th day of April, the open fields that skirt the metropolis were filled with an incredible number of people, assembled in chairs, in chaises, and coaches, as well as on foot, who waited in the most fearful suspense, until morning and the return of day disproved the truth of the dreadful prophecy. See a similar statement of facts in the Historical Chronicle of the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. XX. p. 184.
somewhat of futurity; and, like our other passions, it is sufficient to regulate, without suppressing, it. What, then, is the course, which reason points out to us as proper to be pursued ? Our anxiety to acquire some information of events, antecedently to their occurrence, she teaches us to moderate ; and instructs us, that there are two methods, by recurring to which we may hope in some degree to gratify our desires. Attentively surveying the face of affairs and the existing state of the world, we must apply to the changes, which are hereafter to take place in them, those maxims of wisdom and principles of decision, which an inspection of the transactions of history, and the works of the most enlightened politicians, unite to suggest : consulting the authentic pages of scriptural prophecy, we must examine which of their predictions remain unfulfilled, and cautiously apply to their explanation those rules of interpretation and criticism, which an observation of the prophecies already accomplished, and the writings of the most approved commentators, combine to afford.
Having explained, through such a number of pages, the motives which excited me to commence, and those which have animated me to complete, my work; I shall now say somewhat on the manner in which it is executed, and on the nature of its contents.
If any events, from their magnitude and importance, deserve to be foretold in the prophetic scriptures, the French revolution appears to be an event of that kind. The certainty of its being predicted in the Apocalypse I do not, however, undertake to prove. But this I may engage to shew, without the least hazard of failure, that the interpretations of the commentators, relative to a revolution in France, are decidedly favorable to the French nation. Having transcribed from so great a number of them, it cannot be expected, that I should be responsible for the conclusiveness of all their reasonings; or that, amid so great a variety of extracts, some assertions should not be found, built upon doubtful grounds. Neither can it reasonably be expected, that the conclusions, which I my. self have drawn from an inspection of the prophets and the commentators, respecting futurity, should all have an equal degree of evidence, or be exempt from difficulty. With regard to many prophecies, it were vain to look for their Certain Interpretation, prior to their Actual Accomplishment.
Whatever may be the defects of the present work, this, however, may be stated, that the author of it has taken more pains, than most preceding writers have done, to ascertain the settled and pre