The foretelling of future events, by inspiration from God. It is very different from a sagacious and happy conjecture as to futurity, and from a vague and equivocal oracle, without any certain meaning. A true prophecy can come only from God; and is the highest proof of the divine origin of the message of which it is a part. A true prophecy may be known by these marks; being announced at a suitable time before the event it foretells; having a particular and exact agreement with that event; being such as no human sagacity or foresight could produce; and being delivered by one claiming to be under the inspiration of the Almighty. Many of the prophecies of Scripture foretold events ages before they occurred - events of which there was then no apparent probability, and the occurrence of which depended on innumerable contingencies, involving the history of things and the volitions of persons not then in existence; and yet these predictions were fulfilled at the time and place and in the manner prophesied. Such were the predictions respecting the coming and crucifixion of the Messiah, the dispersion and preservation of the Jews, etc. The Scripture prophecies are a scheme of vast extent, the very earliest predictions reaching down to the end of the world's history - a scheme gradually and harmoniously developed from age to age, and by many different persons, some of them not fully apprehending, and "searching diligently what the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify," 1Pe 1:11, the whole manifestly the work of Jehovah, and marvelous in our eyes. A degree of obscurity rests on the prophetic writings, which patient and prayerful study alone can dispel; while those that are yet unfulfilled must await the coming of the events, which will make all at length clear. Many predictions relating primarily to events and deliverance's near at hand, were also designed of God as sure prophecies of yet more illustrious events in the future. For example, the general subject of the predictions in Mt 24 is the coming of Christ, to judge his foes and deliver his friends. In penning a sketch of this subject, Matthew imitates a painter depicting from an eminence the landscape before him: the tower of the village church in the near foreground, and the mountain peak in the dim and remote horizon, rise side by side on his canvas. So in painting the coming of Christ, Matthew sketches first some features of his coming in the destruction of Jerusalem to occur within forty years, and in the next verse some distinctive features of his second coming at the end of the world; yet both belong to the same general view. Respecting the New Testament phrase, "This was done that it might be fulfilled," etc., see FULFILLED. For other meanings of "prophecy," see PROPHETS.
or prediction, was one of the functions of the prophet. It has been defined as a "miracle of knowledge, a declaration or description or representation of something future, beyond the power of human sagacity to foresee, discern, or conjecture." (See Prophet.)
The great prediction which runs like a golden thread through the whole contents of the Old Testament is that regarding the coming and work of the Messiah; and the great use of prophecy was to perpetuate faith in his coming, and to prepare the world for that event. But there are many subordinate and intermediate prophecies also which hold an important place in the great chain of events which illustrate the sovereignty and all-wise overruling providence of God.
Then there are many prophecies regarding the Jewish nation, its founder Abraham (Ge 12:1-3; 13:16; 15:5; 17:2,4-6, etc.), and his posterity, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants (Ge 12:7; 13:14-15,17; 15:18-21; Ex 3:8,17), which have all been fulfilled. The twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy contains a series of predictions which are even now in the present day being fulfilled. In the writings of the prophets Isaiah (Isa 2:18-21), Jeremiah (Jer 27:3-7; 29:11-14), Ezekiel (Eze 5:12; 8), Daniel (Da 8; 9:26-27), Hosea (Ho 9:17), there are also many prophecies regarding the events which were to befall that people.
There is in like manner a large number of prophecies relating to those nations with which the Jews came into contact, as Tyre (Eze 26:3-5,14-21), Egypt (Eze 29:10,15; 30:6,12-13), Ethiopia (Na 3:8-10), Nineveh (Na 1:10; 2:8-13; 3:17-19), Babylon (Isa 13:4; Jer 51:7; Isa 44:27; Jer 50:38; 51:36,39,57), the land of the Philistines (Jer 47:4-7; Eze 25:15-17; Am 1:6-8; Zep 2:4-7; Zec 9:5-8), and of the four great monarchies (Da 2:39-40; 7:17-24; 8:9).
But the great body of Old Testament prophecy relates directly to the advent of the Messiah, beginning with Ge 3:15, the first great promise, and extending in ever-increasing fulness and clearness all through to the very close of the canon. The Messianic prophecies are too numerous to be quoted. "To him gave all the prophets witness." (Comp. Mic 5:2; Hag 2:6-9; Isa 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-2; 53; 60:10,13; Ps 16:11; 68:18.)
Many predictions also were delivered by Jesus and his apostles. Those of Christ were very numerous. (Comp. 24'>Mt 10:24; 11:23; 19:28; 21:43-44; 24; 25:31-46; 26:17-35,46,64; Mr 9:1; 10:30; 13; 11:1-6,14; 14:12-31,42,62; 16:17, etc.)
PROPHECY, the prediction of future events; it is especially understood of those predictions which are contained in the Holy Scriptures; all of which claim divine inspiration, and by their wonderful fulfilment are proved to have proceeded from God, who only with certainty can know the future. Prophecy is one great branch of the external evidence of the truth of the Scriptures; and the nature and force of this kind of evidence may here be properly pointed out. No argument a priori against the possibility of prophecy can be attempted by any one who believes in the existence and infinitely perfect nature of God. The infidel author of "The Moral Philosopher," indeed, rather insinuates than attempts fully to establish a dilemma with which to perplex those who regard prophecy as one of the proofs of a divine revelation. He thinks that either prophecy must respect events necessary, as depending upon necessary causes, which might be certainly foreknown and predicted; or that, if human actions are free, and effects contingent, the possibility of prophecy must be given up, as it implies foreknowledge, which, if granted, would render them necessary. The first part of this objection might be allowed, were there no predictions to be adduced in favour of a professed revelation, except such as related to events which human experience has taught to be dependent upon some cause, the existence and necessary operation of which are within the compass of human knowledge. But to foretel such events would not be to prophesy, any more than to say that it will be light to-morrow at noon, or that on a certain day and hour next year there will occur an eclipse of the sun or moon, when that event had been previously ascertained by astronomical calculation. If, however, it were allowed that all events depended upon a chain of necessary causes, yet, in a variety of instances, the argument from prophecy would not be at all affected; for the foretelling of necessary results in certain circumstances is beyond human intelligence, because they can only be known to him by whose power those necessary causes on which they depend have been arranged, and who has prescribed the times of their operation. To borrow a case, for the sake of illustration, from the Scriptures, though the claims of their predictions are not now in question; let us allow that such a prophecy as that of Isaiah respecting the taking of Babylon by Cyrus was uttered, as it purports to be, more than a century before Cyrus was born, and that all the actions of Cyrus and his army, and those of the Babylonian monarch and his people, were necessitated; is it to be maintained that the chain of necessitating causes running through more than a century could be traced by a human mind, so as to describe the precise manner in which that fatality would unfold itself, even to the turning of the river, the drunken carousal of the inhabitants, and the neglect of shutting the gates of the city? This being by uniform and universal experience known to be above all human apprehension, would therefore prove that the prediction was made in consequence of a communication from a superior and divine Intelligence. Were events, therefore, subjected to invincible fate and necessity, there might nevertheless be prophecy.
The other branch of the dilemma is founded on the notion that if we allow the moral freedom of human actions, prophecy is impossible, because certain foreknowledge is contrary to that freedom, and fixes and renders the event necessary. To this the reply is, that the objection is founded on a false assumption, the divine foreknowledge having no more influence in effectuating or making certain any event than human foreknowledge in the degree in which it may exist, there being no moral causality at all in knowledge. This lies in the will, which is the determining acting principle in every agent; or, as Dr. Samuel Clarke has expressed it, in answer to another kind of objector, "God's infallible judgment concerning contingent truths does no more alter the nature of the things, and cause them to be necessary, than our judging right at any time concerning a contingent truth makes it cease to be contingent; or than our science of a present truth is any cause of its being either true or present. Here, therefore, lies the fallacy of our author's argument. Because, from God's foreknowing the existence of things depending upon a chain of necessary causes, it follows that the existence of the things must needs be necessary; therefore, from God's judging infallibly concerning things which depend not on necessary but free causes, he concludes that these things also depend not upon free but necessary causes. Contrary, I say, to the supposition in the argument; for it must not be first supposed that things are in their own nature necessary; but from the power of judging infallibly concerning free events, it must be proved that things, otherwise supposed free, will thereby unavoidably become necessary." The whole question lies in this, Is the simple knowledge of an action a necessitating cause of the action? And the answer must be in the negative, as every man's consciousness will assure him. If the causality of influence, either immediate, or by the arrangement of compelling events, be mixed up with this, the ground is shifted; and it is no longer a question which respects simple prescience. (See Prescience.) This metaphysical objection having no foundation in truth, the force of the evidence arising from predictions of events, distant, and beyond the power of human sagacity to anticipate, and uttered as authentications of a divine commission, is apparent. "Such predictions, whether in the form of declaration, description, or representation of things future," as Mr. Boyle justly observes, "are supernatural things, and may properly be ranked among miracles." For when, for instance, the events are distant many years or ages from the uttering of the prediction itself, depending on causes not so much as existing when the prophecy was spoken and recorded, and likewise upon various circumstances and a long arbitrary series of things, and the fluctuating uncertainties of human volitions, and especially when they depend not at all upon any external circumstances nor upon any created being, but arise merely from the counsels and appointment of God himself,