THOSE books of scripture are all prophetical, of which here, in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling, we have endeavoured a methodical explication and a practical improvement. I call them prophetical, because so they are for the main, though we have some histories, (here and there brought in for the illustration of the prophecies,) and a book of Lamentations. Our Saviour often puts the Law and the Prophets for the Old Testament. The prophets, by waving; the ceremonial precepts, and not insisting on them, but only on the weightier matters of the law, plainly intimated the abolishing of that part of the law of Moses by the gospel; and by their many predictions of Christ, and the kingdom of his grace, they intimated the accomplishing and perfecting of that part of the law of Moses in the gospel. Thus the prophets were the nexus—the connecting bond between the law and the gospel, and are therefore fitly placed between them.
These books, being prophetical, are, as such, divine, and of heavenly original and extraction. We have human laws, human histories, and human poems, as well as divine ones, but we can have no human prophecies. Wise and good men may make prudent conjectures concerning future events; (moral prognostications we call them;) but it is essential to true prophecy that it be of God. The learned Huetius* lays this down for one of his axioms. Omnis prophetica facultas à Deo est—The prophetic talent is entirely from God; and he proves it to be the sense both of Jews and heathen, that it is God's prerogative to foresee things to come, and that whoever had such a power, had it from God. And therefore the Jews reckon all prophecy to be given by the highest degree of inspiration, except that which was peculiar to Moses. When our Saviour asked the chief priests whether John's baptism were from heaven, or of men, they durst not say, Of men, because the people counted him a prophet, and, if so, then not of men.
The Hebrew name tor a prophet is נביא—a speaker, preacher, or orator, a messenger, or interpreter, that delivers God's messages to the children of men; as a herald to proclaim war, or an ambassador to treat of peace. But then it must be remembered, that he was formerly called ראה or תץה, that is, a seer; (1 Sam. ix. 9.) for prophets, with the eyes of their minds, first saw what they were to speak, and then spake what they had seen.
Prophecy, taken strictly, is the foretelling of things to come; and there were those to whom God gave this power, not only that it might be a sign for the confirming of the faith of the church concerning the doctrine preached, when the things foretold should be fulfilled, but for warning, instruction, and comfort, in prospect of what they themselves might not live to see accomplished, but which should be fulfilled in its season; so, predictions of things to come long after, might be of present use.
The learned Dr. Grew† describes prophecy in this sense to be, "A declaration of the divine prescience, looking at any distance through a train of infinite causes, known and unknown to us, upon a sure and certain effect." Whence he infers, "That the being of prophecies supposes the non-being of contingents, for though there are many things which seem to us to be contingents, yet, were they so indeed, there could have been no prophecy; and there can be no contingent seemingly so loose and independent, but it is a link of some chain." And Huetius gives this reason, why none but God can foretell things to come. Because every effect depends upon an infinite number of preceding causes, all which, in their order, must be known to him that foretells the effect, and therefore to God only, for he alone is omniscient. So Tully argues; Qui teneat causas rerum futurarum, idem necesse est omnia teneat quæe futura sint; quod facere nemo nisi Deus potest—He who knows the causes of future events, must necessarily know the events themselves; this is the prerogative of God alone.‡ And therefore we find that by this the God of Israel proves himself to be God, that by his prophets he foretold things to come, which came to pass according to the prediction, Isa. xlvi. 9, 10. And by this he disproves the pretensions of the Pagan deities, that they could not show the things that were to come to pass hereafter, Isa. xli. 23. Tertullian proves the divine authority of the scripture from the fulfilling of scripture-prophecies, Idoneum, opinor, testimonium Divinitatis, Veritas Divinationis—I conceive the accomplishment of prophecy to be a satisfactory attestation from God.‖ And beside the foretelling of things to come, the discovering of things secret by revelation from God is a branch of prophecy, as Ahijah's discovering Jeroboam's wife in disguise, and Elisha's telling Gehazi what passed between him and Naaman.
But § prophecy, in scripture-language, is taken more largely for a declaration of such things to the children of men, either by word or writing, as God has revealed to them that speak or write it, by vision, dream, or inspiration, guiding their minds, their tongue, and pens, by his Holy Spirit, and giving them not only ability, but authority, to declare such things in his name, and to preface what they say with, Thus saith the Lord. In this sense it is said. The prophecy of scripture came not in old time by the will of man, as other pious moral discourses might, but holy men spake and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, 2 Pet. i. 20, 21. The same Holy Spirit that moved upon the face of the waters to produce the world, moved upon the minds of the prophets to produce the Bible.
* Demonstrat. Evang vag. 15. † Coimol. Saera, lib. 4. cap. 6. ‡ Cicero de Divin lib 1 ‖ ApoL cap. 20. § Du Pin, Hist. of the Canon, lib. 1. cap. 2.