« PrécédentContinuer »
them, which could not subsist without his frequent interposition; manifested in such a way as might convince them, that they were under the actual and immediate conduct of their divine sovereign. Hence it became a part of this singular economy, to be administered in the way of prophecy; by which it would be seen, that the hand of God was upon them in all their more important concerns. Upon this basis of an extraordinary providence the Jewish government stood: and we are now to see in what manner the prophetic spirit, so essential to that polity, was employed.'
'First, we may observe, that, by means of this provi sion for their civil regimen, an apt and commodious way was opened for carrying on the divine councils in regard to Jesus; in whom, indeed, the Law itself was to be fulfilled. -The general theme of the prophet was some temporal success or calamity of the Jewish state; the secret purpose of the inspirer was, occasionally at least, and when he saw fit, to predict the spiritual kingdom of the Messiah'.'
Secondly, to excite attention to these remoter prophecies, care was taken to secure the authority of the prophet by the completion of his civil predictions in events distinctly described, and near at hand. Thus, Moses might be be lieved by the Jews in what he said, of a prophet to be raised up, in a future age, like to himself; when they saw his prophetic blessings and curses upon them, according to their deserts in the land of Canaan, so speedily and so punctually executed. Thus, too, their prophet, Isaiah, might reasonably expect to find credit with them for the glorious things predicted by him of the great deliverer, the Messiah; when their deliverance from the Babylonish captivity was seen so certainly to verify his prediction of that event. The prophet himself exults in this argument, as decisive and unanswerable. Behold, says he, the former
19 This use and intent of prophecy was seen, and admirably expressed, by the great M. Paschal. Pensees, p. 112?
20 Leut. xviii. 15.
things are come to pass, i. e. the prophecies, I have delivered to you concerning your redemption from the Assyrian bondage, will soon be so exactly completed, that I regard them as things past: and therefore new things do I declare; hence I claim your belief of other prophecies, concerning a much greater redemption, to take place hereafter, though there be no appearance, as yet, of any causes tending to produce it; for before they spring forth, I tell you of them" Thirdly, with these new things, these spiritual prophecies concerning the first coming of the Messiah, were likewise intermixed other prophecies, which ran out beyond that term, and prefigured THE GREAT EVENTS OF HIS SECOND COMING: and the warrant for admitting these would be the completion of those other prophecies in the person and sufferings of Christ. That there are such prophecies in the Old Testament, will be shewn hereafter. In the mean time, it will not be thought incredible, that, if Jesus be indeed the end of the prophetic scheme, the revolutions of his government should be foretold, as well as the circumstances of his personal appearance: in other words, that the consummation of that design, which providence was carrying on, would not be overlooked, when the steps and gradations of it were so distinctly noted. For, in any reasonable design whatsoever, the end is first and principally in view, though the means engage, and may seem to engross, the attention of its author22>
21 Is. xlii. 9.
22 Vol. I. p. 126, 131, 133. To the same purpose bp. Hurd elsewhere speaks. Having laid it down as a fundamental principle, a principle, which is especially grounded on Rev. xix. 10, that prophecy in general (that is, all the prophecies of the Old and New Testament) hath its ultimate accomplishment in the history and dispensation of Jesus;' the bp. of Worcester asks, and where is the wonder, that, if prophecy was given to attest the coming of Jesus, and the dispensation to be erected by him, it should occasionally in every stage of it respect its main purpose; and, though the immediate object be some other, it should never lose sight of that, in which it was ultimately to find its repose and end? Vol. J; P. 41, 62.
Prophecies of a double sense may, says Jortin, 'have meanings as determinate and fixed, as if they had only one sense. The same is true of allegorical writings.' As an exemplification of this, the 14th of the 1st book of Horace's odes may be specified. This 'ode has a double sense. The poet addresses himself to a real ship, and yet intended, under that image or emblem, to dissuade the Romans from exposing themselves again to a civil war23. To the same purpose speaks bp. Warburton. Horace,' says the prelate, 'thus addresses a crazy ship in which his friends embarked for the Ægean sea :
'O navis, referent in mare te novi
Fluctus! O quid agis? Fortiter occupa
Portum: nonne vides ut
Nudum remigio latus, &c.
In the first and primary sense he describes the dangers of his friends in a weak unmanned vessel, and in a tempestuous sea in the secondary, the dangers of the republic in entering into a new civil war, after all the losses and disasters of the old. As to the secondary sense,- -we have the testimony of early antiquity delivered by Quintilian: as to the primary sense, the following will not suffer us to doubt of it.
Nuper solicitum quæ mihi tædium,
Nunc desiderium, curaque non levis,
Vites æquora Cycladas.'
Had the odebeen purely historical, nothing had been more cold or trifling; had it been purely allegorical, nothing less natural or gracious, on account of the enormous length into which it is drawn. But suppose the ode to be both historical and allegorical, and that, under his immediate concern for his friends, he conveyed his more distant apprehensions for the republic, and then there appears so much ease, and art, and dignity in every period, as to make
23 Rem. on Eccl. Hist. vol. I. p. 128.
us justly esteem it the most finished composition of antiquity'
But though there are predictions which have a double aspect, the advocates of that opinion need not hesitate to admit, with Dr. Jortin, that the direct prophecies, which are taken only in one sense, are those, on which we ought principally to insist, when we would prove the truth of our religion from the predictions of the Old Testament".,
To interpret many of the predictions in the Hebrew prophets, as having an express and ultimate reference to the fortunes of Christ's kingdom, is the method which Vitringa decidedly approves, and every where illustrates. This,' says he, 'was the mode of interpretation followed by the ancients; by those who, after the ancient models, commented on the scriptures in the middle ages; and by the most eminent leaders of the Reformation, Luther, Brentius, Pellicanus, Bibliander, Bugenhagius, Snoius; and, in the last age, by Cocceius and Altingius. And I know not, whether any scholar will be justified in totally disclaiming the double sense in prophecy, until he has perused some of the many observations on this subject, which are scattered over the works of Vitringa",
Of this nature is thought to be the xiiith chapter of Isaiah, which, all the commentators agree, did, in its primary sense, foretell the destruction of the Babylonian monarchy and aristocracy.
With respect to the style of Isaiah, it has,' says Mr. Gray, been universally admired as the most perfect model of the sublime; it is distinguished for all the magnificence,
24 Div. Leg. of Moses, 1765, vol. V. p. 316.
25 Rem. on Eccl. Hist. vol. I. p. 121. On the double sense of prophecy see also the xith of bp. Lowth's Lect. on Hebrew Poetry.
26 Vitringa de Canonibus Verbi Prophetici recte exponendi, cap. ii. can. xii. 27 That the ancient prophets had a real eye to the corruptions and downfal of the antichristian Babylon, &c. in their prophecies concerning' the political cities and governments of old, the reader may,' says Mr. Pyle, ‘be satisfied from that learned and laborious commentator Vitringa on Isai. xxiii. ad finem cap. and in many other parts of that excellent work.' Pyle on the Rev. p. 155.
and for all the sweetness of the Hebrew language. The variety of his images, and the animated warmth of his expressions, characterise him as unequalled in point of eloquence; and if we were desirous of producing a specimen of the dignity and beauties of the scripture-language, we should immediately think of having recourse to Isaiah28. With respect to the period in which he flourished, we are informed in the 1st chapter and the 1st verse of his writings, that he prophesied in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Now Uzziah ascended the throne of Judah in the year 761 before the Christian æra29. 'The prophecies of Isaiah,' says bp. Hurd, it is well known, are CHIEFLY taken up in predicting the future glories of Christ's kingdom3.'
Without adducing any farther preliminary observations, I proceed to the citation of the words, which gave rise to them. Behold, the day of the Lord cometh3, cruel both with war and fierce anger, to lay the land3 desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of
28 Key to the Old Test. p. 369. Those who feel a desire of carefully examining the beauties of Isaiah should read, together with the masterly commentary of Vitringa, the elegant Prælectiones of Lowth.
29 Anc. Univ. Hist. vol. IV. p. 150.
30 Serm. preached at Lincoln's Inn, vol. I. p. 276.
31 As the prophets often speak of things future, as if they were already effected; so they speak often of things to be brought about in process of time, as if they were to succeed immediately; past, present, and to come being all alike known to an infinite mind, and the intermediate time not revealed perhaps to the minds of the prophets.' Bp. Newton, vol. I. p. 293.
32 Had the passage above been of so extensive a signification as is represented, the word land, it may be objected, would not have been employed. The fact is, the word in the original might have been translated the earth, as the same word in the Hebrew is translated four verses farther. Accordingly what is rendered the land in our version in the Septuagint is
After writing the preceding note, I met with the following corroborative observation of Mr. Lowth in his notes on the xxivth ch, of Isaiah. The Hebrew word haarets is promiscuously rendered in this chapter by our interpreters either earth or land and may be taken in a larger or narrower sense, as the context inclines us to understand it.' It may be added,