صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

few general observations on that important part of Holy Writ.

When Ezra had returned with the people from captivity, and had settled with them in their own land, he employed himself, as is generally supposed, in arranging and determining the canon of Scripture; and the few books which were afrtewards written are considered to have been added to the canon by Simon the Just, one of his divinely-authorized successors. Whether, however, the work be rightly attributed to these individuals or not, it is certain that the canon of Hebrew Scripture was formed long before the coming of Christ, and that the sacred books, thus collected together, were classed by the ancient Jews in three divisions--the law, the prophets, and the psalms, or hagiographia. "The Law" consisted of the first five books of the Bible, which contain the history of the creation, and of the Lord's servants for the first 2500 years after it, as well as a detailed account of the whole Mosaic institution; and which, during the successive ages of the Jewish church, appear to have been uniformly attributed to Moses himself. "The Prophets" embraced the book of Job and all the more ancient historical books, as well as those writings which bear the names of these inspired penmen; for the whole of the works now mentioned were ascribed by the Jews to the Prophets, who rose up in succession during the several stages of the Israelitish history. "The Psalms," lastly, was the general name given to the sacred songs of David, Asaph, and others, and to the Proverbs, the Ecclesiastes, and the canticles of Solomon: these were added by the Jews, under the general name of Cetubim, or holy writings, the Books of Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Chronicles: see Prideaux Con., fol. edit., vol. i, pp. 261, 262, 452.

Now, that these various books of Hebrew Scripture are really of the antiquity which is usually attributed to them, and that those of them which are not anonymous were written by the rulers and prophets whose names they bear, we may safely conclude, for a variety of reasons. For, in the first place, they were universally esteemed as sacred, and of course also as genuine, by the Jews, at the Christian era; as we learn from very many passages of the New Testament, and from the express testimony of Josephus and Philo: Joseph. contra Apion. lib. 1, cap. 8. Philo, passim. Secondly, both the historical and prophetical parts of the Jewish Scriptures are largely quoted by both these authors, and also by the Talmudic writers, as well as by Christ and his apostles. Thirdly, they were translated, as a complete canon, into Greek, nearly 300 years

before the Christian era, and of this version (the well-known Septuagint) we are still in possession. Fourthly, the book of the law was deposited in the archives of the tabernacle and temple from the days of its author, and was on many occasions publicly read to the people; and to this sacred deposit appear to have been added, in succession, the writings of David, of Solomon, and of the prophets: see Gray's Key to the Old Test., p. 4. Fifthly, after the captivity, copies of the whole Hebrew Scriptures were multiplied, and both the law and the prophets were regularly read in the Jewish Synagogues. And lastly, in the language, in the circumstantiality of the narrative, in the reciprocal adaptation of its several parts, and in various other particulars, we find, in the Old as well as in the New Testament, plain internal indications of a genuine origin; see Horne's Introd. to the New Test. vol. i, chap. 2, sect. I.

Nor have we any reason to doubt the general correctness of the text of the Hebrew Scriptures, as it has come down to us in the present day. On the contrary, we have sufficient warrants for that correctness, in the careful preservation of these divine writings by the Jews, before the Christian era; and afterwards in the labours of the textual doctors or Masorites, who elaborately employed themselves in ascertaining the readings, and even in numbering the letters of the several books, see Prideaux Con., vol i, p. 278; in the ancient translations and paraphrases of the Old Testament; in the early multiplication of copies; and in the guard which the opposing sects of the Jews, before the coming of Christ, and the Jews and Christians after that era, must have reciprocally maintained, so as to prevent any wilful alteration of the common record.

Since the Hebrew Scriptures are thus indisputably genuine, and since, through a long series of ages, they have been so carefully preserved, we may proceed without further hesitation in making our appeal to their contents. Now, there is nothing which more distinguishes them, and more clearly indicates their sacred character, than the comprehensive and varied line of prophecy which runs in a rich vein through all their principal parts. In his dealings with Abraham and his descendants, (directed as those dealings were to the ultimate advantage of mankind in general,) God was pleased to make himself manifest, not merely by the operation of his grace, but by the two undoubted and especial signs of miracles and prophecy; and it was by these extraordinary means that, notwithstanding the remarkable proneness of the Israelites to rebellion and idolatry, and the powerful opposition of the enemies of God, revealed religion was maintained in its appoint


ed course, until the time arrived for its diffusion over the world at large.

In the promises of God addressed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that their seed should be multiplied as the stars of heaven, and should inherit the land of Palestine, Gen. xxii, 17, &c. &c.—and in those addressed to Moses and Joshua, respecting the success of Israel in war, and the expulsion of the Canaanitish nations, Exod. xxiii, 28, &c.-in the communications made by the dying Jacob to his twelve sons, respecting the future condition of the several tribes of which they were the fathers, Gen. xlix-in the predictions of many singular events which were afterwards to distinguish the history of God's chosen people; such as the destruction of Baal's altar at Bethel, by Josiah, 1 Kings xiii, 2—the invasion of Judea by the Chaldeans, Hab. i, &c. &c.—the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, Jer. xxi, xxxii, 28, &c.—the captivity of the Jews in Babylon, Jer. xvii, 4, &c.—the cruel treatment, yet peaceable death, of Zedekiah, Jer. xxxiv, 2—5; Ezek. xii, 13— the continuance of a small gleaning or remnant in the land, Isa. xxiv, 13, 14-the deliverance of the Jews from their bondage after seventy years, Jer. xxv, 12-and the building of the city and temple under the auspices of Cyrus, Isa. xliv, 28-in the ancient curse pronounced against Canaan, Gen. ix, 25—in the threats of punishment and destruction issued many years, and sometimes even centuries, beforehand, against the idolatrous states which surrounded and oppressed the Israelites— in Daniel's description of the succession of the four great monarchies-in all these and many other prophecies, and in the gradual yet exact fulfilment of them, the ancient Hebrews were furnished with so many distinct evidences that God was the author of their religion, and the conductor of that great scheme of love and providence, of which they were themselves the immediate objects.

As events have continued to unfold themselves, however, these evidences have received a variety of important additions. When we reflect on the still wild and unsocial condition of the wandering children of Ishmael, Gen. xvi, 12; on the testimony of modern travellers, that the site of ancient Tyre is, in the present day, a rock on which the fishermen spread their nets, Ezek. xxvi, 3-5; on the curious fact that Babylon, in the fourth century, was converted by the Persians into a park for wild beasts, and that its uncertain remains are still traced amidst the habitations of venomous reptiles, Jer. 1, li; Isa. xiii; on the gradual sinking down of Egypt into "the basest of kingdoms," Ezek. xxix, 15; and, above all, on the ruin and disper

sion of the Jews themselves, who to this very hour are an "astonishment, a proverb, and a by-word, among all nations," Deut. xxviii,-we must confess that we are favoured with accumulated proof of the divine origin of that ancient system of religion, of which Christianity is the crown and consumma


But there are prophecies in the Old Testament of a still higher importance than those to which I have now alluded, and still more properly applicable to the subject of the present Essay, because they afford a direct attestation to the divine origin of Christianity itself. These are the prophecies, of which Jesus Christ, the long-expected Messiah of the Jews, was either the sole or the principal subject. "Search the Scriptures," said our Lord to the unbelieving Jews, "for in them ye think ye have eternal life and they are they which testify of me," John v, 39; and on another occasion, in reference to that wellknown classification of the Old Testament already mentioned, he spoke of the things which were written concerning him "in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms :" Luke xxiv, 44. Accordingly we find that the leading object of that series of prophecies which pervades these several parts of the sacred writings of the Hebrews was to reveal to the people of God a great moral or spiritual deliverer, who was to arise in the Lord's appointed time, not only for their salvation, but for that of the whole world.

That such was to be his character, and such the object of his mission-that Christ was to be made manifest for the benefit of mankind in general, and in order" to destroy the works of the devil,"'-was indicated in obscure and general terms by the very first prophecy recorded in Scripture; a prophecy which was delivered immediately after the fall of our first parents, and which declared that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head, Gen. iii, 15; and we soon afterwards read of the corresponding promise of God to Abraham, that in his seed, "all the nations of the earth" should be "blessed : Gen. xxii, 18. The stock from which the Messiah was to spring was pointed out with a further restriction, and the extensive influence of his scheme of mercy was again adverted to in the prediction of Jacob, that the sceptre should not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh should come, and that to him should be the gathering of the people, or, as in the Hebrew, of the nations: Gen. xlix, 10. Moses, who was a mediator, a lawgiver, a shepherd of the people, and the meekest of men, predicted of this future ruler of Israel, that he should be like unto himself: Deut. xviii, 15-18. Job

spake of Christ under the name of Redeemer, and prophecied that he should stand in the latter days upon the earth: Job xix, 23-27.

This general outline is filled up in the book of Psalms, and in those of both the major and minor prophets, by a great variety of yet more definite declarations respecting the filiation, the history, the nature, and the offices of the Messiah. In various parts of those sacred writings it is foretold, that this long-expected deliverer should come forth out of the root of Jesse, Isa. xi, 1; and out of the family of David, Jer. xxiii, 5 -that his coming should be preceded by the mission of another messenger, who is denominated Elijah the prophet, Mal. iii. 1. iv, 5, 6——that he should arise during the continuance of the second temple, Hag. ii, 6—9; and seventy weeks, or four hundred and ninety years, from a fixed historical period, Dan. ix, 25—27—that he should be born miraculously of a virgin, Isa. vii. 14; and in the town of Bethlehem, Mic. v, 2—that his condition in life should be one of a very humble description, Isa. liii, 2-that he should be anointed of the Spirit, and engaged in proclaiming glad tidings, and in comforting the distressed, Isa. xlii, 1. lxi, 1—4-that his character should be remarkable for gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, and all righteousness, Isa. xi, 1. xlii, 1—3—that, on his coming, there should take place miraculous cures of the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the dumb, Isa. xxxv, 3---6; nevertheless, that the Jews would refuse to believe in him, Isa. liii, 1—that he should be despised, rejected, and persecuted of men, Isa. liii. 3, 4; Ps. cxviii, 22, 23-that the rulers should take counsel together against him, Ps. ii, 2—that he should be betrayed by one of his familiar friends, Ps. xli, 9--that his flock should be scattered, Zech. xiii, 7--that he should be led as a lamb to the slaughter, and be as a sheep dumb before his shearers, Isa. liii. 7-that his hands and his feet should be pierced, Ps. xxii, 16 --that he should be cut off, yet not for himself, Daṇ. ix, 26—— that his body should not see corruption, nor his life be left in the grave, Ps. xvi, 10*—that he should ascend into heaven, Ps. lxviii, 18; sit at the right hand of the Father, and be a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek, Ps. cx, 1—4— that he should be the object of faith and allegiance to the Gentiles, Isa. xi, 10. xlii, 1. 7--and finally, that he should be the good and gracious Shepherd of his people, Ezek. xxxiv, 23; and ex

*The words in Ps. xvi, 10, rendered "Thou shalt not leave my soul in hell," may with more propriety be rendered, "Thou shalt not leave my life, or person, in the grave."

« السابقةمتابعة »