Page images

events; their coincidence in hundreds of instances is so palpably notorious that none can deny it: every principle of reason, every result of correct computation, instituted with a view to this inquiry, is in favour of the positions maintained by Christians in all ages. Imagine these to be still doubtful, and what is there else that is stable and certain ?

“ If these fall, The pillar'd firmament is rottepness,

And earth's base built on stubble."-MILTON. But a person who wished to reason in favour of the truth of the Christian Religion from prophecy, need not take this wide field of argument. There are many small portions in some of the prophetic writings, on either of which he may safely make his stand. He may take, for example, either the ninth, thirteenth and fourteenth, forty-fifth, or fifty-third chapters of Isaiah, and challenge any one to account satisfactorily for the exact correspondence of the prediction and the history, except he admit that the prophet was inspired by God to foretell the events. Suppose we fix upon the fiftythird chapter. So striking are its contents, and so exactly were its distinct particulars, amounting clearly to ten or twelve, verified in the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ, that there have not been wanting modern Deists to affirm that it was actually composed after the Christian æra. This calumny, however, needs no laboured refutation. The Septuagint version is well known, as I remarked in a preceding letter, to have been undertaken nearly three hundred years before Christ; and that version, according to the testimony of one who saw the original, contained the prophecies of Isaiah. Besides, it is an incontrovertible fact, that the Jews in all ages, from the

delivery of these prophecies to the present, admitted Isaiah to be taught of God. The later Rabbins, it is true, to avoid the conclusions which Christians deduce from Isaiah, and especially the chapter last specified, have invented a distinction of a double Messiah, “one who was to redeem us, and

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

another who was to suffer for us; for they say, that there are two several persons promised under the name of the Messiah; one of the tribe of Ephraim, the other of the tribe of Judah ; one the son of Joseph, the other the son of David; the one to precede, fight, and suffer death; the other to follow, conquer, reign, and never die 59.” But Bishop Pearson proves that this distinction is false as well as novel; and farther, that the Rabbins who preceded Jesus Christ understood the chapter, of which we are now speaking, to be a prediction of the Messiah, and of him alone.

Origen, indeed, informs uso, that in his time the Jews took another way to evade the difficulties in which the consideration of this chapter placed them. They argued, that the prophecy did not relate to one man, but to one people, the Jews, who were smitten of God, and dispersed among the gentiles for their conversion. But to show the absurdity of their interpretation, he pressed them with this sentence from the Septuagint, απο των ανομιων το λα8 με ηχθη εις θανατον: and the argument was so decisive, they could not withstand it. This proves not only the truth of the received interpretation of this famous prophecy, but farther, that the Hebrew text of that time read agreeably to the ais Havarov of the Septuagint; otherwise, the Jews, by quoting their own text (Is. liii. 8), and showing that it did not mean “smitten to death,would have reprobated the Greek version, and triumphed over the Christian advocate.

It may be farther remarked, that, if it be the people of Israel of whom the prophet speaks in this chapter, he makes them to descend from a very base and obscure origin, when he compares them to. a tender plant which grew out of a dry and barren ground:" ihis cannot well apply to a nation which in its origin was, as Abbadie observes, “ the most glorious and magnificent that ever was known; as having been separated and distinguished from all other nations in the person of their first parent, Abraham, and which was honoured with the promises of the covenant.” So again, to seize only another feature of this portion" of prophecy,

59 Pearson on the Creed, p. 185.

GU Orig. contra Celsum, lib. 1. cap. 44. See also Abbadie, who argues with great acuteness and force from this chapter (Isaj. liii.) in his work already referred to, sect. iv, chap. 9. His reasonings, also, from the predictions of Daniel, Zechariah, and Malachi, are equally convincing.

“ how was God's people stricken for the iniquity of his people.” None could fairly resist the inference that the allusion here was not to the people of God, but to some one who suffered affliction for their sake.

Nor has this remarkable portion of prophecy been successful merely in puzzling and silencing the Jews. It has, under the divine blessing, been instrumental in converting unbelievers, in every age of the church. There has occurred a signal instance in modern times, namely, that of the celebrated John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, a man, “ whom the Muses were fond to inspire and ashamed to avow,” who lived the life of a libertine and Atheist; but who, agreeably to the testimony of Bishop Burnet, died the death of a penitent Christian.” The perusal of this chapter, the meditation upon its complete fulfilment, and upon the beautiful summary it contains of the most peculiar and distinguishing doctrines of Christianity, so operated on the mind of this profligate, though able man, as to lead (in the opinion of the prelate just mentioned) to an unfeigned faith in Hini “who was wounded for his transgressions, and by whose stripes he was healed.”

Such then, my friend, being the cogency of the evidence resulting from prophecy, let us not attempt to resist it; such the purity and heavenly tendency of the precepts and doctrines often blended with the prediciions, let us yield ourselves to their influence. Let us gather food for meditation from the animating language of those who

“ th’inspiring breath
Ecstatic felt; and, from this world retir'd,
Convers'd with angels and immortal forms
On gracious errands bent.”


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Let us implant the delightful anticipations of faith, upon the triumphant declarations of prophecy, and hail that happy period foretold by Isaiah, when

“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill be brought low;

“ And the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places a smooth plain;

And the glory of Jehovah sball be revealed ;
“ And all flesh shall see together the salvation of our God."

Infidelity, every where active, though always baffled, will suggest the improbability of the completion of the prophecies yet unfulfilled: but when it is considered that many of the predictions, long ago realized, were delivered at the same time, and by the same prophet, as those for whose accomplishment we are waiting, it would be the height of absurdity and impiety to encourage a doubt. It may happen naturally enough, that the true meaning of a prediction may be disguised, in order that the wayward wills of men may not operate for its prevention; but this is no reason for its rejection. Prophecies are like writings in cipher, which require either tutors or events to explain their hidden meaning, and render them natural and intelligible. This, with regard to the Old Testament predictions, “ is what Jesus Christ and his Apostles have done. They have opened the seal, they have rent the veil, and developed the spiritual sense. They have taught us, that our enemies are our passions, that our Redeemer is a spiritual Redeemer: that he is to have a first and a second coming, the one in humility to abase the proud, the other in glory to exalt the humble; that Jesus Christ is God as well as man6l.

I am, &c. 61 Pascal's Thoughts : “ The Law figurative.”

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

On the Evidence deducible from Miracles; and on the

Credibility of Human Testimony.
The advocates of Revealed Religion affirm, without

any fear of refutation, that the argument resulting from the completion of Prophecy is one that is continually increasing in force; while they are often as ready to admit, that the argument from Miracles diminishes in proportion as we recede farther from the Apostolic times. I hope, my friend, to be able to convince you, in the course of the present letter, that this is a concession which need not be made: but that we have as good reason to believe the miraculous facts of Scripture, as any except eyewitnesses, or those who received their information immediately from the lips of eyewitnesses.

The evidence flowing from the performance of miracles is indeed so summary and convincing, that it may be stated satisfactorily in very few words: for this reason, however, as it should seem, it has been selected by ingenious unbelievers to exercise their dexterity and acumen upon; and thus it becomes requisite io discuss this branch of our subject with a minuteness and comparative prolixity which might, otherwise, have been altogether avoided.

By miracles, I do not mean “juggling tricks,” but supernatural events. This genuine notion of miracles has been sometimes obscured by definition; yet a can. did inquirer after truih cannot well mistake. Most of the opinions entertained by men of good sense, apart from any controversial views as to this topic are correct. No man would think that curing lameness, by a regular surgical or medical process, was miraculous : every man would say that the instantaneous production of a limb, and “making the maimed whole,” was miraculous. And this exactly reaches the logical sciific notion of miracles : for, w. such effects are



« PreviousContinue »