The Grounds of Christianity Examined by Comparing The New Testament with the Old
by George Bethune English, A.M.
"First understand, then judge." "Bring forth the people blind, although they have eyes; And deaf, although they have ears. Let them produce their witnesses, that they may be justified; Or let them hear their turn, and say, THIS IS TRUE." ISAIAH.
To the Intelligent and the Candid Who are Willing to Listen to Every Opinion That is Supported by Reason; And Not Averse to Bringing their Own Opinions To the Test of Examination; THIS BOOK Is Respectfully Dedicated By The Author
Chapter I. Introductory,—Showing that the Apostles and Authors of the New Testament endeavour to prove Christianity from the Old.
Chapter II. Statement of the Question in Dispute.
Chapter III. The Characteristics of the Messiah, as given by the Hebrew Prophets.
Chapter IV. The character of Jesus tested by those characteristic marks of the messiah, given by the Prophets of the Old Testament.
Chapter V. Examination of the arguments from the Old Testament adduced in the New, to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah.
Chapter VI. Examination of the meaning of the phrase "this was done that it might be fulfilled."
Chapter VII. Examination of the arguments alledged from the Hebrew Prophets, to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.
Chapter VIII. Statement of Arguments which prove that Jesus was not the Messiah of the Old Testament.
Chapter IX. On the character of Jesus of Nazareth, and the weight to be allowed to the argument of martyrdom, as a test of truth, in this question.
Chapter X. Miscellaneous.
Chapter XI. Whether the Mosaic Law be represented in the Old Testament as a temporary, or a perpetual institution.
Chapter XII. On the character of Paul, and his manner of reasoning.
Chapter XIII. Examination of some doctrines in the New testament, derived from the Cabbala, the Oriental philosophy, and the tenets of Zoroaster.
Chapter XIV. A consideration of the "gift of tongues," and other miraculous powers, ascribed to the Primitive Christians; and whether recorded miracles are infallible proofs of the Divine Authority of doctrines said to have been confirmed by them.
Chapter XV. Application of the two tests, said in Deuteronomy to have been given by God as discriminating a true prophet from a false one, to the character and actions of Jesus.
Chapter XVI. Examination of the evidence, external and internal, in favour of the credibility of the Gospel history.
Chapter XVII. On the peculiar morality of the New Testament, as it affects nations and political societies.
Chapter XIX. A consideration of some supposed advantages attributed to the New, over the Old, testament; and whether the doctrine of a Resurrection and a Life to Come, is not taught by the Old testament, in contradiction the assertion, that "life and immorality were brought to light by the Gospel."
The celebrated Dr. Price, in his valuable "Observation on the Importance of the American Revolution," addressed to the people of the United States, observes that, "It is a common opinion, that there are some doctrines so sacred, and others of so bad a tendency, that no public discussion of them ought to be allowed. Were this a right opinion, all the persecution that has ever been practised would be justified; for if it is a part of the duty of civil magistrates to prevent the discussion of such doctrines, they must, in doing this, act on their own judgments of the nature and tendency of doctrines; and, consequently, they must have a right to prevent the discussion of all doctrines which they think to be too sacred for discussion, or too dangerous in their tendency; and this right they must exercise in the only way in which civil power is capable of exercising it—'by inflicting penalties upon all who oppose sacred doctrines, or who maintain pernicious opinions.' In Mahometan, countries, therefore, magistrates would have a right to silence and punish all who oppose the divine mission of Mahomet, a doctrine there reckoned of the most sacred nature. The like is true of the doctrines of transubstantiation, worship of the Virgin Mary, &c. &c., in Popish countries; and of the doctrines of the Trinity, satisfaction, &c., in Protestant countries. All such laws are right, if the opinion I have mentioned is right. But, in reality, civil power has nothing to do in such matters, and civil governors go miserably out of their proper province, whenever they take upon them the care of truth, or the support of any doctrinal points. They are not judges of truth, and if they pretend to decide about it, they will decide wrong. This all the countries under heaven think of the application of civil power to doctrinal points in every country, but their own. It is indeed superstition, idolatry, and nonsense, that civil power at present supports almost every where under the idea of supporting sacred truth, and opposing dangerous error. Would not, therefore, its perfect neutrality be the greatest blessing? Would not the interest of truth gain unspeakably, were all the rulers of states to aim at nothing but keeping the peace; or did they consider themselves bound to take care, not of the future, but the present, interest of man; not of their souls and of their faith, but of their person and property; not of any ecclesiastical, but secular, matters only?"
"All the experience of past time proves, that the consequence of allowing civil power to judge of the nature and tendency of doctrines, must be making it a hindrance to the progress of truth, and an enemy to the improvement of the world."
"I would extend these observations to all points of faith, however sacred they may: be deemed. Nothing reasonable—can suffer by discussion. All doctrines, really sacred, must be clear, and incapable of being opposed with success."
"That immoral tendency of doctrines, which has been urged as a reason against allowing the public discussion of them, may be either avowed and direct? or only a consequence with which they are charged. If it is avowed and direct, such doctrines certainly will not spread; the principles rooted, in human nature will resist them, and the advocates of them will be soon disgraced. If, on the contrary, it is only a consequence with which a doctrine is charged, it should be considered how apt all parties are to charge the doctrines they oppose with bad tendencies. It is well known that Calvinists and Arminians, Trinitarians and Socinians, Fatalists and Free-Willers, are continually exclaiming against one another's opinions, as dangerous and licentious. Even Christianity itself could not, at its first introduction, escape this accusation. The professors of it were considered as atheists, because they opposed pagan idolatry; and their religion was, on this account, reckoned a destructive and pernicious enthusiasm. If, therefore, the rulers of a state are to prohibit the propagation of all doctrines, in which they apprehend immoral tendencies, an opening will be made, as I have before observed, for every species of persecution. There will be no doctrine, however true or important, the avowal of which will not, in, some country or other, be subjected to civil penalties."
These observations bear the stamp of good sense, and their truth has been abundantly confirmed by experience; and it is the peculiar honour of the United States, that in conformity with the principles of these observations, perfect freedom, of opinion and of speech, are here established by law, and are the birthright of every citizen thereof. Our country* is the only one which has not been guilty of the folly of establishing the ascendancy of one set of religious opinions, and persecuting or tolerating all others, and which does not permit any man to harass his neighbour, because he thinks differently from himself. In consequence of these excellent institutions, difference of religious sentiment; makes here no breach in private friendship, and works no danger to the public security. This is as it should be; for, in matters of opinion, especially with regard to so important a thing as religion, it is every man's natural right and duty to think for himself, and to judge upon such evidence as he can procure, after he has used his best endeavours to get information. Human decisions are of no weight in this matter, for another man has no more right to. determine what his opinions shall be, than I have to determine what another man's opinions shall be. It is amazing that one man can dare to presume he has such a right over another; and that any man can be so weak and credulous, as to imagine, that another has such right over him.
As it is every man's natural right and duty to think and judge for himself in matters of opinion; so he should be allowed freely to bring forward and defend his opinions, and to endeavour, when be judges proper, to convince others also of their truth.
For unless all men are allowed freely to profess their opinions, the means of information, with respect to opinions, must, in a great measure, be wanting; and just inquiries into their truth be almost impracticable; and, by consequence, our natural right and duty to think and judge for ourselves, must be rendered almost nugatory, or be subverted, for want of materials whereon to employ our minds. A man by himself, without communication with other minds, can make no great progress in knowledge; and besides, an individual is indisposed to use his own strength, when an undisturbed laziness, ignorance, and prejudice give him full satisfaction as to the truth of his opinions. But if there be a free profession, or communication of sentiment, every man will have an opportunity of acquainting himself with all that can be known from others; and many for their own satisfaction will make inquiries, and, in order to ascertain the truth of opinions, will desire to know all that can be said on any question.
If such liberty of professing and teaching be not allowed, error, if authorized, will keep its ground; and truth, if dormant, will never be brought to light; or, if authorized, will be supported on a false and absurd foundation, and such as would equally support error; and, if received on the ground of authority, will not be in the least meritorious to its professors.
Besides, not to encourage capable and honest men to profess and defend their opinions when different from ours, is to distrust the truth of our own opinion, and to fear the light. Such conduct must, in a country of sense and learning, increase the number of unbelievers already so greatly complained of; who, if they see matters of opinion not allowed to be professed, and impartially debated, think, justly perhaps, that they have foul play, and, therefore, reject many things as false and ill grounded, which otherwise they might perhaps receive as truths.
The grand principle of men considered as having relation to the Deity, and under an obligation to be religious, is, that they ought to consult their reason, and seek every where for the best instruction; and of Christians and Protestants the duty, and professed principle is, to consult reason and the Scripture, as the rule of their faith and practice.
But how can these, which are practical principles, be duly put in practice, unless all be at liberty, at all times, and in all points, consider and debate with others, (as well as with themselves,) what reason and Scripture says; and to profess, and act openly, according to what they are convinced they say? How can we become better informed with regard to religion, than by using the best means of information? which consist in consulting reason and scripture, and calling in the aid of others. And of what use is it to consult reason, and Scripture at all, as any means of information., if we are not, upon conviction, to follow their dictates?
No man has any reason to apprehend any ill consequences to truth, (for which alone he ought to have any concern,) from free inquiry and debate.—For truth is not a thing to dread examination, but when fairly proposed to an unbiased understanding, is like light to the eye; it must distinguish itself from error, as light does distinguish does distinguish itself from darkness. For, while free debate is allowed, truth is in no danger, for it will never want a professor thereof, nor an advocate to offer some plea in its behalf. And it can never be wholly banished, but when human decisions, backed by human power, carry all before them.
We ought to examine foundations of opinions, not only, that we may attain the discovery of truth, but we ought to do so, on this account, because that it is our duty; and the way to recommend ourselves to the favour of God. For opinions, how true soever, when the effect of education or tradition, or interest, or passion, can never recommend a man to God. For those ways have no merit in them, and are the worst a man can possibly take to obtain truth; and therefore, though they may be objects of forgiveness, they can never be of reward from Him.
Having promised these observations in order to persuade, and dispose the reader to be candid, I will now declare the motives, which induced me to submit to the consideration of the intelligent, the contents of this volume. The Author has spared, he thinks, no pains to arrive at certain Truth in matters of religion; the; sense of which is what distinguishes man from the brute. And in this most important subject that can employ the human understanding, he has been particularly desirous to become acquainted with the Grounds, and Doctrines of the Christian Religion; and nothing but the difficulties, which he in this volume lays before the public, staggers his faith in it.
It may perhaps add to the interest the Reader may take in this work to inform him, that the Author was a believer in the religion of the New Testament, after what he conceived to be a sufficient examination of its evidence for a divine origin. He had terminated an examination of the controversy with the Deists to his own satisfaction, i.e. he felt convinced that their objections were not insurmountable, when he turned his attention to the consideration of the ancient, and obscure controversy between the Christians and the Jews. His curiosity was deeply interested to examine a subject in truth so little known, and to ascertain the causes, and the reasons, which had prevented a people more interested in the truth of Christianity than any other from believing it: and he set down to the subject without any suspicion, that the examination would not terminate in convincing him still more in favour of what were then his opinions. After a long, thorough, and startling examination of their Books, together with all the answers to them he could obtain from a Library amply furnished in this respect, he was finally very reluctantly compelled to feel persuaded, by proofs he could neither refute, nor evade, that how easily soever Christians might answer the Deists, so called, the Jews were clearly too hard for them. Because they set the Old and New Testament in opposition, and reduce Christians to this fatal dilemma.—Either the Old Testament contains a Revelation from God; or it does sot. If it does, then the New Testament cannot be from God, because it is palpably, and importantly repugnant to the Old Testament in doctrine, and some other things. Now Jews, and Christians, each of them admit the Old Testament as containing a divine Revelation; consequently the Jews cannot, and Christians ought not to receive and allow any thing as a Revelation from God which flatly contradicts a former by them acknowledged Revelation: because it cannot be supposed that God will contradict himself. On the other hand—if the Old Testament be not from God, still the New Testament must go down, because it asserts that the Old Testament is a revelation from God, and builds upon it as a foundation. And if the foundation fails, how can the house, stand? The Author pledges himself to the Reader, to prove, that they establish this dilemma completely. And he cannot help thinking, that there is reason to believe, that if both sides of this strangely neglected controversy had been made public in times past, and become known, that the consequences would have been long ago fatal at least to the New Testament.
The Author has been earnestly dissuaded from making public the contents of this volume on account of apprehended mischievous consequences. He thought, however, that the age of pious frauds ought to be past, and their principle discarded, at least in Protestant countries. Deception and error are always, sooner or later, discovered; and truth in, the long run, both in politics, and religion, will never be ultimately harmful. If what the Book states is true, it ought to be known, if it is erroneous; it can, and will, be refuted.
The Author therefore makes it public, for these reasons,—because he thinks, that the matter contained in the book, is true, and important,—because he wished, and found it necessary to justify himself from contemptible misrepresentations uttered behind his back; and to give to those who know him, good and sufficient reasons for past conduct, of which those to whom he is known, cannot be ignorant; and finally, he thought it right, and proper, and humane, to give to the world a work which contained the reasons for the unbelief of the countrymen of Jesus; who for almost eighteen hundred years have been made the unresisting victims of, as the reader will find, groundless misrepresentation, and the most amazing cruelty; because they refused to believe what it was impossible that they should believe, on account of reasons their persecutors did not know, and refused to be informed of.
If the arguments and statements contained in this volume should be found to be correct, he believes that every honest and candid man, after his first surprise that they should not have been made known before, will feel for the victims of a mistake so singular and so ancient as the one which is the subject of the following pages; and will think with the author, that it is time, high time, that the truth should be known, and justice be done to them.*
There is not in existence a more singular instance of the mischievous mistakes arising from taking things for granted which require proof, than the case before the reader. The world has all along been in total error with regard to the reasons and the motives which have prevented the Hebrew nation from receiving the system of the New Testament. They have been successfully accused of incorrigible blindness and obstinacy; and while volumes upon volumes have been written against them, and the arguments therein contained, supported and enforced by the power of the Inquisition, and the oppressions of all Christendom, these unfortunate people have not been willingly suffered to offer to the world one word in their own defence. They have not been allowed, after hearing with patience both arguments, and "railing accusations" in abundance, to answer in their turn; but have been compelled, through the fear of confiscation, persecution, and death, to leave misapprehensions unexplained, and misrepresentations unrefuted.
Is it then to be wondered at, that mankind have considered their adversaries as in the right, and that deserted by reason, and even their own Scriptures, they were supported in their opinion only by a blind and pertinacious obstinacy, more worthy of wonder than curiosity? Alas! the world did not consider, that nothing was more easy than to confute people whose tongues were frozen by the terror of the Inquisition!! But, thanks to the good sense of this enlightened age, those times are past and gone. There is now one happy country where freedom of speech is allowed, where every harmless religious opinion is protected by law, and where every opinion is listened to that is supported by reason. The time, I trust, is now come when the substantial arguments of this oppressed, and, in this respect, certainly calumniated, people, may be produced and their reasons set forth, without the fear of harm, and with, and with the hope of hearing from the intelligent and the candid. They, we believe, will be fully convinced, that their adversaries have for so long a time triumphed over them without measure, only because they have been suffered to do so without contradiction.
The reader is assured, that, notwithstanding the subject, he will find nothing in this volume but what is considered by the author to be fair and liberal argument; and such no honest man ought to decline looking in the face. He has endeavoured to discuss the important subject of the book in the most inoffensive manner; for he has no wish, and claims no right, to wound the feelings of those who differ from him in opinion. There is not, nor ought there to be, a word of reproach in it, against the moral character of Jesus, or the twelve Apostles; and the utmost the author attempts to prove is, that their system was founded, not upon fraud and imposture, but upon a mistake. After the deaths of Christ and his Apostles, it was indeed aided and supported by very bad means; but its first founders, the author believes, were guilty of no other crime than that of being mistaken; a very common one indeed.
He hopes, therefore, that such a discussion as the one now laid before the public, will be fairly met, and fairly answered, if answered at all, and that recourse will not be had to dishonest and ungentlemanly misrepresentations, and calling names, in order to prevent people from examining things they have a right to know, and in order to blind and frighten the public, the jury to which he appeals. It is infallibly true, that the knowledge of truth is, and must be beneficial to mankind; and that, in the long run, it never was, and never can be, harmful. It is equally certain, that God would never give a Revelation so slightly founded as to be endangered by any sophistry of man. If the Christian system be from God, it will certainly stand, no human power can overthrow it; and, therefore, no sincere Christian who believes the New Testament, ought to be afraid to meet half way the objections of any one who offers them with fairness, and expresses them in decent language; and no sensible Christian ought to shut his ears against his neighbour, who respectfully asks "a reason for the faith that is in him."
The author has been told, indeed, that, "supposing the Christian system to be unfounded, yet that it is reasonable to believe, that the Supreme Being would view any attempts to disturb it, with displeasure, on account of its moral effects." But is not this something like absurdity? Can God have made it necessary, that morals should be founded on delusion, in order that they might be supported? Can the God of TRUTH be displeased to have men convinced that they have been mistaken, or imposed upon, by Revelations pretended to be from Him, which if in fact not from him, must be the offspring either of error or falsehood? And if the Christian system be, in truth, not from God, can we suppose, that in his eyes its doctrines with regard to Him are atoned for, by a few good moral precepts? Can we suppose, that that Supreme and awful Being can feel Himself honoured, in having his creatures made to believe, that He was once nine months in the womb of a woman; that God, the Great and Holy, went through all the nastiness of infancy; that be lived a mendicant in a corner of the earth, and was finally scourged, and hanged on a gibbet by his own creatures? If these things be, in truth, all mistakes, can we suppose, that God is pleased in having them believed of Him? On the contrary, can they, together with the doctrine of the Trinity, I would respectfully ask, be possibly looked upon by Him (if they are not true), otherwise, than as so many—what I forbear to mention. But this is not all. The reader is requested to consider, that the Christian system is built upon the prostrate necks of the whole Hebrew nation. It is a tree which flourished in a soil watered by their tears; its leaves grew green in an atmosphere filled with their cries and groans; and its roots have been moistened and fattened with their blood. The ruin, reproach, and sufferings of that people, are considered, by its advocates, as the most striking proof of the Divine authority of the New Testament; and for almost eighteen hundred years the system contained in that book has been the cause of miseries and afflictions to that nation, the most horrible and unparalleled in the history of man.
Now, if that system be indeed Divine, all this may be very well, and as it should be. But if, perchance, it should turn out to be a mistake if it be, in truth, not from God; will not, then, that system be justly chargeable with all those shocking cruelties which, on account of it, have been inflicted on that people?
If that system be verily and indeed founded on a mistake, no language, no indignation, can do justice to its guilt in this respect. All its good moral effects are a mere drop of pure water in that ocean of Jewish and Gentile blood it has caused to be shed by embittering men's minds with groundless prejudices. And if it be not divine; if it be plainly and demonstrably proved to have originated in error; who is the man, that, after considering what has been suggested, will have the heart to come forward, and coolly say, "that it is better that a whole nation of men should continue, as heretofore, to be unjustly hated, reproached, cursed, and plundered, and massacred, on account of it, rather than that the received religious system should be demonstrated to be founded on mistake?" No! If it be, in fact, founded on mistake, every man of honour, honesty, and humanity, will say, without hesitation, "Let the delusion (if it is one) be done away, which must be supported at the expense of truth, of justice, and the happiness and respectability of a whole nation, who are men like ourselves, and more unfortunate than any others, in having already suffered but too much affliction and misery on account of it." No! though the moral effects ascribed to this system of religion were as good, as great, and ten times greater than they ever have been, or can be, yet, if it is a delusion, it would be absolutely wicked to support it, since it is erected upon the sufferings, wretchedness, and oppression of a people who compose millions of the great family of mankind.
It is remarkable, that the ablest modern advocates for the truth and divine authority of the gospel, as if they knew of no certain, demonstrative proof which could be adduced in a case of so much importance, seem to content themselves, and expect their readers should be satisfied, with an accumulation of probable arguments in its favour; and it has been even said, that the case admits of no other kind of proof. If it be so, the author requests all so persuaded to consider, for a moment, whether it could be reconciled to any ideas of wisdom in an earthly potentate, if he should send an ambassador to a foreign state to mediate a negotiation of the greatest importance, without furnishing him with certain, indubitable credentials of the truth and authenticity of his mission? And to consider further, whether it be just or seemly, to attribute to the Omniscient, Omnipotent Deity, a degree of weakness and folly, which was never yet imputed to any of his creatures? for unless men are hardy enough to pass so gross an affront upon the tremendous Majesty of Heaven, the improbability that God should delegate the Mediator of a most important covenant to be proposed to all mankind, without enabling him to give them clear and, in reason, indisputable proof of the divine authority of his mission, must ever infinitely outweigh the aggregate sum of all the probabilities which can be accumulated in the opposite scale of the balance. And to conclude, I presume it will not be denied, that the authenticity and celestial origin of any thing pretending to be a Divine Revelation, before it has any claims upon our faith, ought to be made clear beyond all reasonable doubt; otherwise, it can have no just claims to a right to influence our conduct.
And as for the opinions and the arguments contained in this volume, I have but trembling hopes that they will meet with favour, merely because the author is sincere, and wishes to do right. Conscious that I make a perilous attempt, in daring to defend myself by attacking ancient error supported by multitudes, with no other seconds besides Truth and Reason, it would be bootless for me to ask indulgence for them on account of my good intentions; and as they can derive no credit from the authority of the writer, I am sensible they must fall by their own weakness, or stand by their own strength. I must leave them, therefore, to their fate; and I can cheerfully do it, without fear for the issue, if the reader will only be candid, and will comply with my earnest request—"first to understand, and then judge."
Before I conclude these prefatory remarks, I would observe, that as the contents of this volume will be perfectly novel to nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand, it is but justice to the public, and to myself, to avow, that I do not claim to have originated all the arguments advanced in this book. A very considerable proportion of them were selected, and derived, from ancient and curious Jewish Tracts, translated from Chaldee into Latin, very little known even in Europe, and not at all known there to any but the curious and inquisitive. And I reasonably hope, that discerning men will be much more disposed to weigh with candour the arguments herein offered, when they consider that they are, in many instances, the reasonings of learned, ancient and venerable men, who, in times when the inquisition was in vigour, suffered under the most bloody oppression, and whose writings were cautiously preserved, and secretly handed down to the seventeenth century in manuscript, as the printing of them would assuredly have brought all concerned to the stake. Some few other arguments were derived from other authors, and were taken from works not so much known as I hope they will be.
Finally, I commit my work to the discretion of the good sense of the reader, believing that if he is not convinced, he will at least be interested; and hoping that he will discover from the complexion of the book (what my own heart bears witness to) that the author is a sincere inquirer after truth, and perfectly willing to be convinced that he is in error by any one who can remove the difficulties, and refute the arguments, now laid by him before the public, with deference and respect.
September 28, 1813.
EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY
Examined by Comparing the
NEW TESTAMENT WITH THE OLD.
Introductory,—showing that the Apostles and the authors of the New Testament, endeavour to prove Christianity from the Old.
Christianity is founded on Judaism, and the New Testament upon the Old; and Jesus of Nazareth is the person said in the New Testament to be Promised in the Old, under the character and name of the Messiah of the Jews, and who as such only claims the obedience, and submission of the World. Accordingly, it is the design of the authors of the New, to prove Christianity from the Old, Testament; which is said Jo. 5:39, to contain the words of eternal life: and it represents Jesus and his Apostles, as fulfilling by their mission, doctrines and works, the predictions of the Prophets and the Law: which last is said to prophecy of, or to typify Christianity.
Matthew, for example, proves several parts of Christianity from the Old Testament, either by asserting them to be things foretold therein as to come to pass under the gospel dispensation; or to be founded on the notions of the Old Testament.
Thus he proves Mary's being with child by the Holy Spirit, and the Angel's telling her she "shall bring forth a son, and call his name Jesus;" and the other circumstances attending his miraculous birth; Jesus' birth at Bethlehem; his flight into Egypt; the slaughter of the infants; Jesus Dwelling at Nazareth, and at Capernaum, in the borders of Zabulon, and Naphtali; his casting out devils, and healing the sick; his eating with Publicans and sinners; his speaking in parables that the Jews might not understand him; his sending his disciples to fetch an ass, and a colt; the children's crying in the Temple; the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; Jesus' being betrayed by Judas, and Judas' returning back the thirty pieces of Silver, and the Priest's buying the Potter's Field with them; and his hanging Himself; &c. &c. All these events, and many more, are said to be fulfillments of the Prophecies of the Old Testament, see Mat. 1, 2: and 4 chapters, and ch. 8: v. 16,17, and ch. 9: 11,13, and ch. 13: 13, ch. 21: 2—7. 15,16, ch. 22: 31, 32, ch. 26: 54, 56, ch. 27: 5—10.
Jesus himself is represented as proving the truth of Christianity thus. He, joining himself to two of his Disciples, (Luke 28: 15— 22,) after his resurrection, who knew him not, and complaining of their mistake about his person, whom they now took not to be the Messiah, because he had been condemned to death, and crucified; he, observing their disbelief of his resurrection, which had been reported to them by "certain women of their acquaintance," upon the credit of the affirmation of angels, said unto them, "O Fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the Prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ (i.e. the Messiah) to have suffered these things, and to enter into his Glory? and beginning at Moses, and all the Prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."
Again he discoursed to all his Disciples, putting them in mind, that, before his Death, he told them (Luke 24: 44, 46, 47,) that "all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms concerning him;" adding, "thus it is written, and thus it behoveth Christ (1. e. the Messiah) to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance, and remission of sins should be preached in his name, beginning at Jerusalem."
When the people of several nations, Acts 2:12, were amazed at the Apostles speaking in their several tongues, and when many mocked the Apostles, saying they were full of new wine, Peter makes a speech in public, wherein, after saying they were not drunk, because it was but the third hour of the day, he endeavours to show them, that this was spoken of by the Prophet Joel, and he concludes with proving the resurrection of Jesus from the book of Psalms.
Peter, and John, tell the people assembled at the Temple, "that God had showed by the mouth of all his Prophets, that Christ should suffer," Acts 3:18.
Peter to justify his preaching to the Gentiles, concludes his discourse with saying, Acts 10: 43—"To Jesus gave all the Prophets witness, that through his name whosoever (i.e. Jew, or Gentile) believeth in him, shall receive remission of sins."
Paul also endeavours to prove to the Jews in the Synagogue of Antioch, (Ib. v. 13) that the history of Jesus was contained in the Old Testament, and that he, and Barnabas were commanded in the Old Testament, to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.
On the occasion of a dispute among the Christians whether the Gentile converts were to be circumcised after the Law of Moses, and to observe the Law, we find, that after much disputing, the point was settled by James by quotation from Amos.
The Bereans are highly extolled (Acts 17: 11,) for searching the Scriptures, i.e. the Old Testament, daily, in order to find out whether the things preached to them by the Apostles were so, or no: who if they had not proved these things, i.e. Christianity from the Old Testament, ought, according to their own principles, to have been rejected by the Bereans, as teachers of false doctrine.
Paul, when accused before Agrippa by the Jews, said (Acts 26; 6,) "I stand, and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers," i.e. for teaching Christianity, or the true doctrine of the Old Testament, and to this accusation he pleads guilty, by declaring in the fullest manner, that he taught nothing but the Doctrines of the Old Testament. "Having therefore (says he) obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small, and great, saying now other things than those which the Prophets, and Moses did say should come, that the Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first who should rise from the Dead, and should show light unto the People, and unto the Gentiles."
The Author of the first Epistle to the Cor. says, 15 ch. v. 4, that "Jesus rose again from the dead the third day, according to the Scriptures," that is, according to the Old Testament, and he is supposed to ground this on the history of the prophet Jonas, who was three days and three nights in the fish's belly: though the cases do not seem to be parallel, for Jesus being buried on Friday evening, and rising on Sunday morning, was in the tomb but one day and two nights.
But most singular is the argument of the Apostle Paul (in his Epistle to the Galatians) to prove Christianity from the Old Testament. "Tell me (says he, Gal. 4: 21,) ye that desire to be under the Law, do ye not hear the Law? For it is written, that Abraham had two Sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bond woman, was born after the flesh; but he who was of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an Allegory. For these are the two covenants, the one from Mount Sinai which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. But this Agar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem that now is, and is in bondage with her Children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the Mother of us all. For it is written (Isaiah 54: 1,) "Rejoice thou Barren that bearest not, break forth, and cry thou that travailest not, for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband." Now, we Brethren, as Isaac was, are children of the Promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit, even so it is now. But what saith the Scripture (Gen. 21: 10, 12,) Cast out the bond woman, and her son, for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman. So then, Brethren, we are not the children of the bond woman, but of the free. Stand fast, therefore, in the Liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."
In fine, the Author of these Epistles reasons in the same singular manner from the Old Testament throughout; which is, according to him, (2 Tim. iii: 15,) "able to make men wise unto Salvation:" asserting himself and others to be ministers of the New Testament, as being ministers, not of "the letter but of "the Spirit," (2Cor. iii: 6.) That is. Of the Old Testament, spiritually understood; and endeavouring to prove, especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that Christianity was veiled and contained in the Old Testament, and was implied in the Jewish history, and Law, both which he considers as types and shadows of Christianity.
STATEMENT of THE QUESTION IN DISPUTE.
How Christianity depends on the Old Testament, or what proofs are to be met with therein in behalf of Christianity, are the subjects of almost all the numerous books written by divines, and other apologists for Christianity, but the chief and principal of these proofs may be justly supposed to be urged in the New Testament itself, by the authors thereof; who relate the history of the first preaching of the Gospel, and profess themselves to be apostles of Jesus, or companions of the Apostles.
Some of these proofs, as a specimen, have been already adduced. And if they are valid proofs, then is Christianity strongly and invincibly established: on its true foundations.
It is established upon its true foundations, because Jesus and his Apostles did, as we have seen, ground Christianity on those proofs; and it is strongly and invincibly established on those foundations, because a proof drawn from an inspired book is perfectly conclusive. And prophecies delivered in an inspired book are, when fulfilled, such as may be justly deemed sure, and demonstrative proof; and which Peter (2 Peter 1: 19) prefers as an argument for the truth of Christianity, to that miraculous attestation (whereof he, and two other Apostles are said to have been witnesses,) given by God himself to the mission of Jesus of Nazareth. His argument appears to be as follows. "Laying this foundation, that Prophecy proceeds from the Holy Spirit, it is a stronger argument than a miracle, which depends upon eternal evidence, and testimony." And this opinion of Peter's is corroborated by the words of Jesus himself, who, in Mat. xxiv: 23, 24, Mark xiii: 21, 22, affirms, that miracles wrought in confirmation of a pretender's being the Messiah, are not to be considered as proof of his being so—"though they show great signs and wonders, believe it not," is his command to his disciples.
Besides, prophecies fulfilled, seem the most proper of all arguments to evince the truth of a new revelation which is designed to be universally promulgated to men. For a man who has the Old Testament put into his hands, which contain prophecies, and the New Testament afterward, which is said to contain their completions, and is once satisfied, as he may be with the greatest ease, that the Old Testament existed before the New, may have a complete, internal, divine, demonstration of the truth of Christianity, without long, and laborious enquiries. Whereas, arguments of another nature, such, for instance, as relate to the authority and genuineness of the books, and the persons, and characters of authors, and witnesses, require more application, and understanding, than falls to the share of the bulk of mankind; or else are very precarious in themselves, since we know that in the first centuries there were numberless forged Gospels, and Apocryphal writings imposed upon the credulous as apostolic and authentic; and there were in the Apostles times, as many, and as great heresies and schisms as perhaps have been since in any age of the Church. So that, setting aside the before mentioned internal proofs from prophecy, (which were the Apostle's proofs and in their nature sufficient of themselves) we should have no certain proof at all for the Religion of the New Testament.
On the other hand, if the proofs for Christianity from the Old Testament, are not valid, if the arguments founded on that Book be not conclusive, and the Prophecies cited from thence be not fulfilled, then has Christianity no just foundation; for the foundation on which Jesus and his Apostles built it is then invalid, and false. Nor can miracles, said to have been wrought by Jesus, and his Apostles in behalf of Christianity, avail anything in the case. For miracles can never render a foundation valid, which is in itself invalid; can never make a false inference true; can never make a prophecy fulfilled, which is not fulfilled; and can never designate a Messiah, or Jesus for the Messiah, if both are not marked out in the Old Testament; no more than they could prove the earth to be the sun, or a mouse a lion.
Besides, miracles said to have been wrought, may be often justly decided false reports, when attributed to persons who claim an authority from the Old Testament, which they impertinently alledge to support their pretentions. God can never be supposed often to permit miracles to be done for the confirmation of a false, or pretended mission. And if at any time he does permit miracles to be done in confirmation of a pretended mission, we have express directions from the Old Testament (acknowledged by Christians to be of divine authority) Deut. xiii. 1, 2, not to regard such miracles; but to continue firm to the antecedent revelation given by Himself, and contained in the Old Testament, notwithstanding any "signs or wonders;" which, under the circumstance of attesting something contrary to an antecedent revelation, we are forewarned of as being no test of truth. No new revelation, however supported by miracles, ought ever to be received as coming from God, unless it confirms, or at least does not contradict, the preceding standing revelation, acknowledged to be from God.
Accordingly, we find from the New Testament, that all the recorded miracles of Jesus could not make the Jews believe him to be the Messiah when they thought that he did not answer the description of that character given by the Prophets; on the contrary, they procured him to be crucified for pretending to be what to them he appeared plainly not to be.
Nor had his miracles alone any effect on his own brethren, and kindred, who seem (Mark vi. 4; Jo. vii. 6,) to have been more incredulous in him than other Jews. Nor had they the effect, they are supposed to have been fitted to produce, among his immediate followers, and Disciples; some of whom did not believe in him, but deserted him, and particularly had no faith in him when he spake of his sufferings; and thought that he could not be their Messiah when they saw him suffer, notwithstanding his miracles, and his declaration to them that he was the Messiah. And so rooted were the Jews in the notion of the Messiah's being a temporal Prince, a conquering Pacificator, and Deliverer, even after the death of Jesus, and the progress of Christianity grounded on the belief of his being the Messiah, that they have in all times of distress, particularly in the apostolic sera, in great numbers followed impostors giving themselves out as the Messiah, with force, and arms, as the way to restore the kingdom of Israel. So that the Jews, who it seems mistook in this most important matter, and after the most egregious manner, the meaning of their own Books, might, till they were set right in their interpretation of the Old Testament, and were convinced from thence that Jesus was the Messiah, might I say, as justly reject Jesus asserting his mission, and Doctrines with miracles, as they might reject any other person, who in virtue of miracles would lead them into idolatry, or any other breach of their law.
In fine, the miracles said to have been wrought by Jesus, are, according to the Old Testament, the gospel scheme, and the words of Jesus himself, no absolute proof of his being the Messiah, or of the truth of Christianity; and Jesus laid no great stress upon them as proving doctrines, for he forewarned his disciples, that "signs and wonders" would be performed, so great and stupendous, as to deceive, if possible, the very elect, and bids them not to give any heed to them.*
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MESSIAH, AS GIVEN BY THE HEBREW PROPHETS.
Having shewn from the New Testament, and proved from the nature of the case, that the whole credit and authority of the Christian religion, rests and depends upon Jesus' being the Messiah of the Jews; and, having stated the principles which ought to govern the decision of this question, and established the fact, that the pretensions of any claiming to be considered as this Messiah, must be tested solely by the coincidence of the character, and circumstances of the pretender with the descriptions given by the prophets as the means by which he may be known to be so—it is proper, in order that we may be enabled to form a correct opinion, to lay before the reader those passages of the Old Testament which contain the promise of the appearing, and express the characteristics of this "hope of Israel," this beneficent saviour, and august monarch, in whose time a suffering world, was, according to the Hebrew prophets, to become the abode of happy beings.
Leaving out for the present the consideration of the Shiloh mentioned in Gen. xlix., the first prophecy we meet with, supposed to relate to this great character, is contained in Num. xxiv. 17,19, "There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel, shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy the children of Seth." Geddes interprets the latter clause—"shall destroy the sons of esdition;" but it probably means, according to the common interpretation, that this monarch was to govern the whole race of men, i. e. the children of Seth; for Noah, according to the Old Testament, was descended from him; and of the posterity of Noah, was the whole earth overspread. And in verse 19, it is added "out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion."*
God says to David, 2 Sam. vii. 12, "And when thy days shall be fulfilled, and thou shall sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his Father, and he shall be my Son—if he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men. But my mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thy house, and thy kingdom shall be established before me, and thy throne shall be established for ever." Mention is made of this promise in several of the Psalms, but it certainly suggests no idea of such a person as Jesus of Nazareth, but only that of a temporal prince of the posterity of David. It implies, that his family would never entirely fail for though it might be severely punished, it would recover its lustre again. And connecting this promise with that of the glory of the nation in general, foretold in the books of Moses, it might be inferred by the Hebrews, who believed them to be of Divine authority, that after long and great calamities (the consequences of their sins,) the people of Israel would be restored to their country, and attain the most distinguished felicity under a prince of the family of David. This is the subject of numberless prophecies throughout the Old Testament.
Passing over all those prophecies in which the national glory is spoken of without any mention of a prince or head; I shall recite, and remark upon the most eminent of those in which mention is made of any particular person, under whom, or by means of whom, the Israelitish nation, it is said, would enjoy the transcendent prosperity elsewhere foretold.
The second Psalm is no doubt well known to my readers, and supposing it to refer to the Messiah, it is evident, that it describes him enthroned upon mount Zion, the favorite of God, and the resistless conqueror of his enemies.
The next prophecy of this distinguished individual is recorded in Isaiah ix. 6—"Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father shall call his name* the Prince of Peace." [For thus it is pointed to be read in the original Hebrew, and this is the meaning of the passage, and not as in the absurd translation of this verse in the English version.] "Of the increase of his government there shall be no end upon the throne of David, and his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment, and with justice from henceforth and for ever: the zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this." Here again we have a mighty monarch, sitting upon the throne of David, upon earth; and not a spiritual king placed in heaven, upon the throne of "the mighty God, the everlasting Father."
The next passage which comes under notice, is in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, in which a person is mentioned, under whom Israel, and the whole earth was to enjoy great prosperity and felicity. He is described as an upright prince, endued with the spirit of God, under whose reign there would be universal peace, which was to take place after the return of the Israelites from their dispersed state, when the whole nation would be united and happy.
"There shall spring forth a rod from the trunk of Jesse, and a scion from his roots shall become fruitful. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; the spirit of wisdom, and understanding; the spirit of counsel, and strength; the spirit of knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. And he shall be quick of discernment in the fear of the Lord; so that not according to the sight of his eyes shall he judge, nor according to the hearing of the ears shall he reprove. With righteousness shall he judge the poor, and with equity shall he work conviction# on the meek of the earth. And he shall smite the earth with the blast of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked one. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his lions, and faithfulness the cincture of his reins. Then shall the wolf take up his abode with the lamb; and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling shall come together, and a little child shall lead them. And the heifer, and the she bear shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling shall play upon the hole of the asp; and upon the den of the basilisk shall the new weaned child lay his hand. They shall not hurt, nor destroy in my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. And it shall come to pass in that day, the root of Jesse which standeth for an ensign to the people, unto him shall the nations repair, and his resting place shall be glorious."
As the scion here spoken of is said to spring from the root of Jesse, it looks as if it were intended to intimate, that the tree itself would be cut down, or that the power of David's Family would be for some time extinct; but that it would revive in "the latter days."
The same Prince is again mentioned, chap xxxiii. 1, 3, where the people are described to be both virtuous, and flourishing, and to continue to be so. (v. 15—17.)
"Behold a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule with equity. And the man shall be a covert from the storm, as a refuge from the flood, as canals of waters in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a land of fainting with heat. And him the eyes of those that see shall regard, and the ears of them that hear shall harken, * * * * till the spirit from on high be poured out upon us, and the wilderness become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be esteemed a forest. And judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and in the fruitful field shall reside righteousness. And the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness perpetual quiet, and security. And my people shall dwell in a peaceful mansion, and in habitations secure, and in resting places undisturbed."
The same Prophet, chap. lxii 1, speaks of a person under the title of "God's Servant," of a meek disposition, raised up by God to enlighten the world, even the Gentile part of it; to bring prisoners out of their confinement, and to open their eyes; alluding, probably, to the custom too common in the East; of sealing up the eyes, by sewing or fastening together the eyelids of persons, and then imprisoning thorn for life. It is doubted, however, whether the Prophet meant, or had in view, in this passage, the Messiah, or his own nation.
"Behold my servant whom I will uphold, mine elect in whom my soul delighteth; I will make my spirit rest upon him, and he shall publish judgment to the nations. He shall not cry aloud, nor raise a clamour, nor cause his voice to be heard in the public places. The bruised reed shall he not break, and the dimly burning flax he shall not quench, he shall publish judgment so as to establish it perfectly. His force shall not be abated, nor broken, until he has firmly seated judgment in the earth, and the distant nations shall earnestly wait for his Law."
"Thus saith the Lord, even, the Eternal, who created the heavens, and stretched them out; who spread abroad the earth, and the produce thereof, who giveth breath to the people upon it, and spirit to them that tread thereon. I the Lord have called thee for a righteous purpose,* and I will take hold of thy hand, and I will preserve thee; and I will give thee for a covenant to the people, for a light to the nations; to open the eyes of the blind, to bring the captive out of confinement, and from the dungeon those that dwell in darkness. I am the Eternal, that is my name, and my glory will I not give to another, nor my praise to the graven images. The former predictions, lo! they are to come to pass, and now events I now declare; before they spring forth, behold I make them known unto you." See also chap. xlix. 1,12, and chap. liv. 3, 5.
In the 3d chapter of Hosea, verses 4 and 5, it is said by the Prophet, that "the sons of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without sacrifice, and without a statue, and without an ephod, and without Teraphim. Afterward shall the sons of Israel return, and shall seek the Lord their God, and DAVID their King, and shall fear the Lord, and his goodness in the latter days."
Micah chap. v. speaks of the Messiah thus, "And thou Bethlehem Ephratah, art thou too little to be among the leaders of Judah? Out of thee shall come forth unto me, him who is to be ruler in Israel; and his goings forth have been from old, from the days of hidden ages. Therefore will He (God) deliver them up, until the time when she that bringeth forth, hath brought forth, and until the residue of his brethren shall return together with the sons of Israel. And. he shall stand and feed his flock, in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God, and they shall abide, for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth, and he shall be Peace." Jeremiah also speaks of the restoration of the Israelites under a Prince of the family of David, chap. xxiii. 5, 8.
"Behold the days are coming, saith the Lord, that I will raise up unto David a righteous branch, and a king shall reign, and act wisely, and shall execute justice, and judgment in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell in security, and this is the name by which the Eternal shall call him, OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS."# [Heb.] The same is mentioned in chap. xxx. 8, 9. "And it shall be in that day, saith the Lord of Hosts, I will break his yoke from off his neck, and his bands will I burst asunder, and strangers shall no more exact service of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God, and DAVID their King, whom I will raise up for (or to) them. * * * The voice of joy, and the voice of mirth, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that say. Praise ye the Lord of Hosts, for the Lord is gracious, for his mercy endureth for ever, of them that bring praise to the house of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, yet again shall there be in this place that is desolate (Jerusalem and Palestine,) without man and beast, and in all the cities thereof, an habitation of shepherds folding sheep, in the cities of the hill country, and in the cities of the plain, and in the cities of the south, and in the land of Benjamin, and in the environs of Jerusalem. * * * Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform the good thing which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel, and concerning the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, [he that readeth, let him observe] I will came to grow up of the line of David a branch of righteousness, and he shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In those days Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem, shall dwell securely, and this is he whom the Lord shall call—'OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.' [Heb.] Surely, thus saith the Lord, there shall not be a failure in the line of David, one to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel, neither shall there be a failure in the line of the Priests, the Levites, of one to offer before me burnt offerings, and to perform sacrifice continually." See ch. xxxiiii. 14. In this place, the perpetuity of the tribe of Levi, as well as that of the house of David, is foretold. See also Jer. ch. xxx. 9.
Contemporary with Jeremiah was Ezekiel. He likewise describes this happy state of the Israelites under a king of the name of David, chap. xxxiv. 22.
"Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey: and I will judge between cattle, and cattle. And I will set up one Shepherd over them, and be shall feed them, even my servant DAVID: he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd, and I the Lord will be their God, and my servant DAVID a Prince among them. I the Lord have spoken it. And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land; and they shall dwell safely in' the wilderness, and sleep in the woods. And I will make them, and the places round about my hill, a blessing, and I will cause the shower to come down in the season: there shall be showers of blessing. And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit; and the earth shall yield her increase; and they shall be safe in their land; and shall know that I am the Lord, &c."
In another passage this prophet says, that the two nations, Israel and Judah, shall have one king, and that this king shall be named DAVID, who shall reign for ever, chap. xxxvii. 21—28. "Say unto them, thus saith the Lord God, behold I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be king to them all, and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all. Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will save them out of all their dwelling places wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them, so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. And DAVID my servant shall be king over them, and there shall be one shepherd. They shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes and do them. And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt, and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children for ever, and my servant DAVID shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them: it shall be an everlasting covenant with them, and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them, for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the heathen shall know, that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall, be in the midst of them for evermore."
The natural construction of this seems to be this, "that a descendant of David, called by that name, should reign over the Israelites for ever."
In the very circumstantial description which Ezekiel gives of the state of the Israelites in their own country, yet expected by the Jews, he speaks of the prince, and the portion assigned him, chap. xlv. 78. And in his description of the temple service, he moreover speaks of the gate, by which the prince is to enter into it. See chap. xlvi. 1, 2.
The next, and last, passage I shall quote, is from the book of Daniel, who, in the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, had a vision of four beasts, representing the four great Empires. At the close of his account of which, he speaks of "one like the son of man" being brought into the presence of God, and receiving from the Eternal an everlasting kingdom (chap. vii. 13)—"I saw in the night visions, and behold one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and come to the ancient of days; and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."
I have now gone through the prophecies which are allowed both by Jews and Christians to relate to one person whom they call the Messiah. It must be evident from all these passages, that the characteristics of this, to both parties, highly interesting personage, as described by the Hebrew prophets, are these:—
1. That he was to be a just, beneficent, wise, and mighty monarch, raised up and upheld, and established by God, to be the means of promoting universal peace, and happiness. That Israel should be gathered to him, and established in their own land; which was to be the seat of dominion, and the centre of union, and of worship to all the people, and nations of the earth; who were to live under the government, and receive, and obey the law of this beneficent prince; and enjoy unspeakable felicities on the earth, then changed to a universal paradise. And for all this happiness, they were to worship, and glorify the true God only, and glorify the Eternal, and give thanks to Him "because He is good, and his mercy endureth forever."
2. That this prince was to be of the line of David, and as it should seem, called by that name, and was to reign on his throne in Jerusalem.
3. That according to Micah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, (see the quotations)
his manifestation, and (and the restoration of Israel) were to be contemporaneous. See Hosea, chap. iii. 4, 5. And from Jeremiah xxxiii. 15, and from Micah v. 2, it should seem also, that he was not to be born, till the time of that restoration should be nearly arrived.
The prophecies concerning the Messiah of the Jews being now laid before the reader, we have only to apply these descriptions to know whether an individual be their Messiah, or not. For, (according to the principles laid down, and established in the preceding chapter) where the foregoing characteristics given by the prophets do centre and agree, that person is the Messiah foretold; but where they are not found in any one claiming that character, miracles are nothing to the purpose, and nothing is more certain, than that he has no right to be considered as such; and could he with a word turn the sun black in the face, in proof of his being the Messiah, he is, nevertheless, not to be regarded; for, whether such a person has yet appeared, can certainly only be known by considering, whether the world has ever yet seen such a person as this Messiah of the Hebrew prophets.
THE CHARACTER OF JESUS TESTED BY THOSE CHARACTERISTIC MARKS OF THE MESSIAH GIVEN BY THE PROPHETS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.
Had Jesus of Nazareth come into the world merely as a person sent with a revelation from God, he would have had a right to be attended to, and tried upon that ground. And if his doctrines and precepts were consistent with reason, consistent with one another, and with prior revelations, really such, and all tending to the honour of God, and the good of men; his miracles, with these circumstances, ought to have determined men to believe in him.
But since he claimed to be the Messiah of the Jews, foretold by their prophets, it is requisite, that that claim should be made out; and it is reasonable in itself, and just to him, and necessary to all those who will not take their religion upon trust, that ho should be tried, by examining whether this claim can be made out, or not. The argument from prophecy becomes necessary to establish the claim of the Gospel: and as truth is consistent with itself, so this claim must be true, or, it destroys all others.
Besides, what notions of common morality must he have, who pretends to come from God, and declares (Jo. v. 37,) "that the Scriptures testify of him," if, in fact, the Scriptures do not testify of him? What honesty, or sincerity could he have, who could "begin at Moses, and all the prophets, and expound unto his disciples in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself," if neither Moses nor the prophets ever spake a word about him? The prophets, therefore, must decide this question, and the foundation of Christianity must be laid upon them; or else, to avoid one difficulty, Christians will be forced into such absurdities, as no man can palliate, much less can extricate himself out of.
Furthermore, this claim must be made out to the satisfaction of the Gentile, as well as the Jew. For since the fundamental article of Christianity is, that Jesus is the Christ; (Jo. xx. 31) that is to say, that he is the Messiah prophecied of in the Old Testament; whoever comes into the world as such, must come as the Messiah of the Jews, because no other nation did expect, or pretend to, the promise of a Messiah. Moreover, whoever comes as this Messiah of the Jews, must at least pretend to answer the character of their Messiah plainly delivered in the writings of their prophets. And the Jews themselves receiving those writings as divine, were not bound to, neither could they consistently with their duty, receive, any, who did not answer in all points to the description therein given.
Let us now test the character of Jesus of Nazareth by the description of the Messiah given by the Hebrew prophets. If his character corresponds in all respects with that given by those prophets, he is undoubtedly to be acknowledged as the king of Israel foretold; but if they do not exactly correspond, if there be the slightest incongruity, he certainly was not this Messiah. For it is evident, that some of the characteristic marks given may belong to. many illustrious individuals, but the whole can belong to, and be found in, only one person.
The first characteristic of the Messiah, the reader will recollect, was, according to the prophets, that he was to be "the Prince of Peace," in whose times righteousness was to flourish, and mankind be made happy. That he was to sit upon the throne of David judging right; and that to him, and their own land, was Israel to be gathered, and all nations serve and obey him; and worship one God, even Jehovah.
But of Jesus we read, that he asserted, that his kingdom was "not of this world." Instead of effecting peace among the nations, he said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth, I have come to send a sword, I have come to put division between a son, and his father; the mother, and the daughter; the daughter-in-law, and her mother-in-law." "Think ye, (said he to his disciples) that I have come to put peace on earth, I tell you nay, but rather division." Again, "I have come to put fire on the earth." These are not the characteristics of the Messiah of the prophets of the Old Testament. For of him Zechariah (ch. ix.) says, that "He shall speak peace to the nations;" and of him Isaiah says, "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." And so far from being the author of division, sword, and fire; according to Malachi, in the times of the Messiah, "the heart of the parents was to be converted to the children, and the heart of the children to their parents."
In the times of the Messiah, wars were to cease, righteousness was to flourish, and mankind be happy. Whether this has yet taken place, the experience of almost nineteen centuries, and the present state of the world, can enable every one to determine for himself.
In the times of the Messiah, Israel was to be gathered, and planted in their own land, in honour, and prosperity. But not many years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish nation underwent the most dreadful calamities; and to this day, so far are they from being gathered, they are scattered to the four quarters of the globe. Instead of being in honour and prosperity, their history, since his time, is one dreadful record of unparalleled sufferings, written in letters of blood by the hands of murder, rapine, and cruelty.
Again; the true Messiah was, it seems, to be called DAVID, and was to reign at Jerusalem, on the throne of David; but the name "Jesus" is not the same as "David," and Christians have assigned him a spiritual kingdom, and a throne in heaven! But was the throne of David in heaven? No! it was in Jerusalem, and no more in Heaven, than that of the Caesars.
Lastly, it appears from the prophecies of Hosea, Micah, and Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, quoted in the last chapter, that the manifestation of their Messiah was to be contemporaneous with the restoration of Israel, and from the quotations adduced from the three first mentioned prophets, it should seem that his birth was not to take place many years before that glorious event. But Jesus of Nazareth was born almost two thousand years ago; and the children of Israel yet expect a deliverer. And to conclude, it was foretold by Malachi, and believed by the Jews then, and ever since, that Elias the prophet, who did not die, but was removed from the earth, should precede the coming of the Messiah, and prepare them for his reception. But the prophet Elias certainly has not yet appeared!
Indeed, nothing appears to be more dissimilar than the character of the Messiah, as given by the Hebrew prophets, and that of Jesus of Nazareth. It seems scarcely credible, that a man who, though amiable and virtuous, yet lived in a low state, was poor, living upon alms, without wealth, and without power; and who (though by misfortune) died the death of a malefactor, crucified between two robbers, (a death exactly parallel with being hanged at the public gallows in the present day) should ever be taken for that mighty prince, that universal potentate, and benefactor of the human race, foretold in the splendid language of the prophets of the Old Testament.
EXAMINATION OF THE ARGUMENTS FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT ADDUCED IN THE NEW, TO PROVE THAT JESUS OF NAZARETH WAS THE MESSIAH.
But since one would esteem it almost incredible, that the apostles could persuade men to believe Jesus to be this Messiah, unless they had at least some proof to offer to their conviction, let us next consider, and examine, the proofs adduced by the apostles and their followers, from the Old Testament for that purpose.
Of the strength or weakness of the proofs for Christianity out of the Old Testament, we are well qualified to judge, as we have the Old and New Testament in our hands; the first containing what are offered as proofs of Christianity, and the latter the application of those proofs, and we should seem to have nothing more to do, but to compare the Old and New Testament together.
But these proofs taken out of the Old Testament, and urged in the New, being sometimes not to be found in the Old, nor urged in the New, according to the literal and obvious sense, which they appear to bear in their supposed places in the Old, and, therefore, not proofs according to the rules of interpretation established by reason, and acted upon in interpreting every other ancient book— almost all Christian commentators on the Bible, and advocates for the religion of the New Testament, both ancient and modern, have judged them to be applied in a secondary, or typical, or mystical, or allegorical, or enigmatical sense; that is, in a sense different from the obvious and literal sense which they bear in the Old Testament.
Thus, for example, Matthew, after having given an account of the conception of Mary, and the birth of Jesus, says (ch. i.,) "All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel." But the words as they stand in Isaiah ch. vii. 14, from whence they are taken, do, in their obvious and literal sense, relate to a young woman in the days of Ahaz, King of Judah, as will appear, considering the context.
When Rezin, King of Syria, and Pekah, King of Israel, were confederates in arms together, against Ahaz, King of Judah, Isaiah the prophet was sent by God, first to comfort Ahaz and the nation, and then to assure them by a sign, that his enemies should in a little time be confounded.—But Ahaz refusing a sign at the prophet's hand, the prophet said (see the chapter,) "The Lord shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin, or 'young woman' (for the Hebrew word means both as was truly and justly asserted by the Jews in the primitive ages against the Christians, and is now acknowledged, and established beyond dispute by the best Hebrew scholars of this age,) shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land which thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings." And this sign is accordingly given Ahaz by the prophet, who, ch. viii. v. 2, 18, took two witnesses and went to the said young woman, who in due time conceived, and bare a son, after whose birth the projects of Rezin and Pekah were, it appears, soon confounded, according to the prophecy and sign given by the prophet.
And the prophet himself, puts it beyond dispute, that this is the proper interpretation of the prophecy, by express words, as well as by his whole narration; for he says, "Behold I, and the children whom the Lord hath given me, are for signs, and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of Hosts, that dwelleth in mount Zion." Isaiah viii. 19.
This is the plain drift and design of the prophet, literally, obviously, and primarily understood; and thus he is understood by one of the most judicious of interpreters, the great Grotius. Indeed, to understand the prophet as having the conception of Mary, and the birth of her son Jesus from a virgin mother literally, and primarily in view, is a very great absurdity, and contrary to the very intent and design of the sign given by the prophet.
For the sign being given by Isaiah to convince Ahaz that he brought a message from God to him, to assure him that the two kings should not succeed in their attempt against him, how could a virgin's conception, and bearing a son seven hundred years afterwards, be a sign to Ahaz, that the prophet came to him, with the said message from God? And how useless was it to Ahaz, as well as absurd in itself for the prophet, to say, "Before the child, born seven hundred years hence, shall distinguish between good and evil, the land which thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings," which would be a banter, instead of a sign.
But a prophecy of the certain birth of a male child, by a particular female within a short time, seems a proper sign, as being not only what could not with certainty, be foretold, except by a person inspired, but considered as soon coming to pass, it, consequently, evidences itself to be a divine sign, and answers all the purposes of a sign. And such a sign is agreeable to God's conduct on like occasions; witness his conduct to Gideon and Hezekiah. Jud. vi.; 2 Kings xx.
This prophecy, therefore, not being fulfilled in Jesus, according to the literal and obvious sense of the words as they stand in Isaiah, it is supposed that this, like the other prophecies cited in the New Testament, is fulfilled in a secondary, or typical, or mystical sense; that is, the said prophecy, which was literally fulfilled by the birth of the son foretold by the prophet, was again fulfilled by the birth of Jesus, as being an event of the same kind, and intended to be secretly and mystically signified either by the prophet or by God, who directed the prophet's speech. If the reader desires further satisfaction that the literal and obvious sense of this prophecy relates to a son to be born in Isaiah's time, and not to Jesus, he is referred to the commentator Grotius, and to Huetius' Demonstrat. Evang. in loc., to the ancient fathers, and to the most respectable of the modern Christian. commentators, who all allow and show, that the words of Isaiah are not applicable to the birth of Jesus in their literal sense, but only in a mystical, or figurative, or allegorical sense.
Again, Matthew gives us another prophecy, which he says was fulfilled. He tells us, that Jesus was carried into Egypt; from whence he returned after the death of Herod, (Mat. ii.) "that it might be fulfilled, which was of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 'out of Egypt have I called my son.'" Which, being word for word in Hosea, (ch. xi. 1) and no where else to be found in the Old Testament, are supposed to be taken from thence; where according to their obvious sense they are no prophecy at all! but relate and refer to a past action, viz., to the calling of the children of Israel out of Egypt, which will, I think, be denied by few. This passage, therefore, or as it is styled, prophecy, of Hosea, is said by learned men among Christians to be mystically, or allegorically, applied, in order to render Matthew's application of it, just; and they say all other methods of some learned men to solve the difficulty arising from Matthew's citation of this passage, have proved unsuccessful.
Again, Matthew says, (ch. ii.) "Jesus came, and dwelt at Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled, which was spoken by the prophet, saying, 'he shall be called a Nazarene;'" but as this passage does not occur in the Old Testament at all, we are precluded from ascertaining whether it be literal, mystical, or allegorical.
Jesus says of John the Baptist, (Mat. xi. 14) "This is Elias that was for to come," wherein he is supposed to refer to these words of Malachi, (ch. iv. 4) "Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord," which, according to their literal, and obvious sense, are a prophecy, that Elijah or Elias was to come in person (which we know from the New Testament, as well as elsewhere, was the constant expectation of the Jews.) Besides, this Elijah was to come "before the great and terrible day of the Lord," which has not yet arrived; and, therefore, this prophecy of Malachi, referred to by the evangelist, was certainly not literally, but only mystically, fulfilled in John the Baptist.