The Great Improbability

From Horae Homileticae (1832)

Of prophecy we may say, that it is by far the most satisfactory evidence which we have of the truth of our holy religion. Yet it is not altogether the number of the things that have been foretold respecting our blessed Lord, no, nor even the minuteness of them, that carries the fullest conviction to our minds: it is the strangeness of them, and the great improbability that such things should ever have combined in our Lord and Savior.

This, I say, it is which renders the prophecies so demonstrative of the messiahship of Jesus. For, suppose that God had determined to send his only dear Son into the world for our redemption, and to inform us beforehand what an appearance he should make in the world, and what a reception he should find; what should we expect to be declared concerning him?

Certainly we should expect that God would send him in a way suited to his august character; so that by the very splendor of his appearance he should manifest his relation to God, and carry conviction to the minds of all who should behold him. We should expect that his reception should perfectly accord with this. In truth, we could conceive no other, than that, if God should manifest himself in human flesh, and more especially if he should, in proof of his divine mission, work innumerable miracles, which, while they could admit of no doubt, should shadow forth the salvation which he was come to impart, all of necessity must love him, and acknowledge him as their Lord, and give themselves up to him as his obedient followers.

And if the general tenor of prophecy had accorded with these views, and represented him as to be so received, it would have precisely answered the expectations we had formed. But in proportion as the prophecies corresponded with our previous expectations, they would have been divested of their force.

It is the contrariety of the prophecies to all human expectations that gives them such weight; for the less the events predicted could be expected by men, the more, provided they were really accomplished, they would show that they had proceeded from God who alone could foresee what should really occur, or think of accomplishing his purposes by such extraordinary means.

Now the prophecy before us commends itself to us most highly in this particular view since its representations of the messiah are such as no finite intelligence could ever have anticipated, and its statements of events are such as could never have been expected to flow from the mission of such a person into the world.

Charles Simeon (1759-1836) was an English cleric, the most prominent evangelical Anglican leader of his time. He served Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge for 43 years, converting thousands of students, and inspiring many to ordained ministry, especially in the mission field.  He helped to organize the Church Missionary Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society. His great work was the Horae Homileticae, a sermonical commentary on the whole Bible. He is commemorated on November 12 on the calendars of several Anglican churches.


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