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Visions Of Hope: Prophets

"Have we become too institutionalized in our church life and ended up as God's frozen people?'' muses William Sykes.

Prophets—inspired teachers, revealers or interpreters of God's will

It was Charles Parkhurst who told us that prophecy consists in catching the best of God's thoughts and in telling them. We can discern this in the utterances of the great Old Testament prophets: Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. We catch more of a glimpse of this in the pages of the Gospels in the preaching and teaching of our Lord, in whom the best of God's thoughts were made manifest. After the resurrection there was a burst of activity. The prophetic legacy, culminating in Christ, was shed abroad by the apostles and bore fruit in the lives of those early Christians. Excellent, but what has happened to prophecy in the last two thousand years? Have we become too set in our ways? Do we expect to hear the prophetic voice? Have we become too institutionalized in our church life and ended up as God's frozen people? Has the study of theology become too introverted and academic, so that it no longer speaks to ordinary men and women? Have we restricted the best of God's thoughts to Scripture, and missed 'that still small voice' over the last two thousand years?
Visions of Hope is a small attempt to bring together some of the best of God's thoughts down the ages and in telling them. In the pages of this topic, and throughout the anthology, there is a rich vein of prophecy. My own hope is that towards the end of the twentieth century the prophetic voice may be heard again, enabling people once more to live in hope.

If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream.
Numbers 12:6

Where there is no prophecy the people cast off restraint. Proverbs 29:18

A prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house.
Matthew 13:57

Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
1 Corinthians 14:1

The true prophet is not he who peers into the future but he who reads and reveals the present.
Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind, Seeker & Warburg, 1956, page 105

The prophet is the forth-teller of the will of God, the man who has lived so close to God that he knows the mind and the purposes of God.
William Barclay, The Gospel of John, The Saint Andrew Press, 1974, volume I, page 245

The prophet must live the life so that others may know the doctrine: he hands down the idea in a form deeper than words to his followers and successors; and they, in turn, must dramatically install themselves in his role.
Lewis Mumford, The Conduct of Life, Seeker & Warburg, 1952, page 101

Prophecy can be defined as human utterance believed to be inspired by a divine or transcendent source... Its expressions may be words, signs, actions, way of life or sacrifice of life.
R.P.R. Murray, in Alan Richardson and John Bowden, editors, A New Dictionary of Christian Theology, SCM Press,
1985, page 473

It is the prophetic interpretation of historical events which is the vehicle of special revelation in the sense in which the biblical and Christian tradition understands that conception. Where there are no prophets, there can be no special revelation.
Alan Richardson, Christian Apologetics, SCM Press, 1947, page 140

Someone has said that prophecy is criticism based on hope. A prophet points out to a man or a nation what is wrong; but he does so, not to push the man or the nation into despair; he does so to point the way to cure and to amendment and to Tightness of life.
William Barclay, The Gospel of John, The Saint Andrew Press, 1974, volume I, page 149

When, tempted by immediate and concrete action, the prophet turns into a politician, he fails in his mission, because if there are no prophets to keep the politicians on their toes, the latter will end up working only for themselves and their party—not for other people.
Michel Quoist, With Open Heart, translated by Colette Copeland, Gill and Macmillan, 1983, page 123

[Every prophet's]... appeal is not to a new principle, but to a new application of an old principle, so that he often presents himself as urging a return to the better ways of past generations. Few radical reformers can hope for great success who are unable to present themselves with perfect honesty as the only true conservatives.
William Temple, Nature, Man and God Macmillan & Co., 1934, page 176

There is a history in all men's lives Figuring the natures of the times deceased; The which observed, a man may prophesy, With a near aim, of the main chance of things As yet not come to life, which in their seeds And weak beginnings, lie intreasured.
William Shakespeare, // Henry IV, III. i. 75

... The minister of the Word must wait in what seems to be darkness, for prophecy and eloquence are not according to the will of man. They are born in integrity; the moments come when the prophet sees the dim outlines of truth and his eloquence is the ambiguity which points to the many-sidedness of truth, not vaguely but with the precision of one who also knows the single-centredness of truth.
R.E.C. Browne, The Ministry of the Word, SCM Press, 1958, page 75

The poor are always prophetic. As true prophets always point out, they reveal God's design. That is why we should take time to listen to them. And that means staying near them, because they speak quietly and infrequently; they are afraid to speak out, they lack confidence in themselves because they have been broken and oppressed. But if we listen to them, they will bring us back to the things that are essential.
Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1991, page 186

We need politicians although, heaven knows, we have more than enough. We need prophets, but there's a desperate shortage of them. For a prophet is not someone with ideas, shouting them all over the place; a prophet is one whose very life is word, cry, shout. A prophet can't help speaking, you'd have to kill him to muzzle him. And even in death, his voice would echo throughout the world.
Michel Quoist, With Open Heart, translated by Colette Copeland, Gill and Macmillan, 1983, page 122

Every great religious prophet has been the harbinger of a more universal way of life, which unites his fellows into a wider community that ideally encompasses all mankind. In that sense, the new leader is the individual embodiment of a whole society; and from his personality, his new attitudes, his fresh aims, his daily practices, not least from little hints he drops by the way without developing them, the complex activities of a higher society will take form.
Lewis Mumford, The Conduct of Life, Seeker & Warburg, 1952, page 99

Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, 'I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks. Would you see God, see me; or see thee, when thou also thinkest as I now think.'
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 'Society and Solitude, Letters and Social Aims, Addresses, Divinity College Address', in The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, George Bell & Sons, 1906, volume III, page 397

I have tried to say that mysticism, the core of all religious experience, has led to the most dynamic and revolutionary action the world has known. I believe that the great prophets were mystics in action—their inner eye was awakened so that they saw not only the glory of God but also the suffering, the injustice, the inequality, the sin of the world. This drove them into action and often led to their death. And just as the great prophets were mystics, so the great mystics had a prophetic role—even when this was fulfilled through a solitude and a silence and a self-oblation which spoke louder than words and shook the universe.
William Johnston, The Inner Eye of Love, William Collins Sons & Co., 1978, page 11

The only satisfactory parallel to the prophetic experience is the phenomena of mysticism as described by writers like Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and others. They affirm that the immediate experience of God is ineffable; like the prophets, they must employ imagery and symbolism to describe it, with explicit warnings that these are used. They describe it as a transforming experience which moves one to speech and action beyond one's expected capacities. It grants them a profound insight not only into divine reality but into the human scene. Thus the prophet experience is such a mystical immediate experience of the reality and presence of God. The prophets disclose the nature and character of God so experienced, and they state the implications of the divine nature and character for human thought and action.
John L. McKenzie, S.J., Dictionary of the Bible, Geoffrey Chapman, 1965, page 697

... the Church to-day has to become determined to learn a new way of talking to the world and not less of interfering with the world. A new way of talking, because the secularized world in which we live has developed so many new, human possibilities that she can only be legitimately talked to if she is also listened to, and the talking has a chance of becoming real mutual communication. A new way of interfering, because... it is appalling to notice the smallness of the Church's significance in the welter of the dominant powers and tendencies which govern men's lives and thinking... Nothing great and new is achieved without one-sided insistence on matters of capital importance... The prophets undoubtedly were, humanely speak¬ing, often very one-sided, but it was a one-sidedness in obedient response to a divine command. It is this prophetic one-sidedness which the Christian Church needs to¬day, and should earnestly pray for.
Hendrik Kraemer, A Theology of the Laity, Lutterworth Press, 1958, pages 185 and 168

When the true prophet speaks, he gives utterance to the word of God that proceeds from his own soul but has its origin in the creative impulse that moves the whole cosmos. He is still, and enables God's word to use the experience of his life as a way of enlightening the minds of those who hear him. When the wisdom of God speaks through the human mouthpiece, that person is entrusted with adding his own contribu¬tion to the finished product. He does not alter the message, but flavours it with his own life's experience so that the supernatural wisdom is made available to the human audience through the prophet's own participation in the human condition. Without God there can be no true knowledge; without man that knowledge would remain unearthed and unformed. The human instrument brings the divine wisdom down to the capacity of his brothers. Their own souls are quickened by it, and a fresh view of reality is revealed to the people who have heard the message. From slothful apathy they are awakened to joyful commitment, so that in the end they may bear witness to an inner transfiguration of the human will that can now work in harmony and trust with God.
Martin Israel, The Spirit of Counsel, Hodder and Stoughton, 1983, page 11

... it is acknowledged by all students of the subject, that the Hebrew prophets made predictions concerning the fortunes of their own and other countries which were unquestionably fulfilled. It is a simple and universally recognized fact, that, filled with these Prophetic images, the whole Jewish nation—nay, at last the whole Eastern world—did look forward with longing expectation to the coming of this future Conqueror. Was this unparalleled expectation realized? And here again I speak only of facts which are acknowledged by Germans and Frenchmen, no less than by Englishmen, by critics and by sceptics, even more fully than by theologians and ecclesiastics. There did arise out of this nation a Character by universal consent as unparalleled as the expectation which has preceded Him. Jesus of Nazareth was, on the most superficial no less than on the deepest view we take of His coming, the greatest name, the most extraordinary power, that has ever crossed the stage of History. And this greatness consisted not in outward power, but precisely in those qualities in which from first to last the Prophetic order had laid the utmost stress— justice and love, goodness and truth.
Dean Stanley, History of the Jewish Church, John Murray, 1863, part I, page 466


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