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This natural sense of the text, is supported by the authority of an inspired writer, and what is, if not of any great weight in point of argument, at least very singular as an historical fact, it is supported by the authority of an angel. The inspired writer whom we mean is St. Matthew, who manifestly alludes to the words of the text, by quoting those which precede them, which are connected with them, and which he applies to the times of the Messiah: for, having related the imprisonment of John, and, in consequence of that, the retiring of Jesus Christ into Galilee, he adds, that the divine Saviour, 'came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the seacoast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: that it might be fulfilled, which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up,' Matt. iv. 12. The angel of whom I spoke is Gabriel; who, when he declared to Mary the choice which God had made of her to be the mother of the Messiah, applied to her Son the characters by which Isaiah describes the child in the text, and paints him in the same colours: Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end,' Luke i. 31.
a prince, who worshipped the true God, in order to destroy his brethren, made an alliance with an idolater. He allied himself to Rezin, a pagan prince, who reigned over that part of Syria, which constituted the kingdom of Damascus. The kingdom of Judah had often yielded to the forces of these kings, even when each had separately made war with it. Now they were united; and intended jointly to fall on the Jews, and to overwhelm, rather than to besiege Jerusalem. Accordingly, the consternation was so great in the holy city, that, the Scripture says, ' The heart of Ahaz was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind,' Isa. vii. 2.
Although the kingdom of Judah had too well deserved the punishments which threatened it; and although a thousand outrages, with which the inhabitants had insulted the Majesty of heaven, seemed to guarantee their country to the enemy, yet God came to their assistance. He was touched, if not with the sincerity of their repentance, at least with the excess of their miseries. He commanded Isaiah to encourage their hopes. He even promised them, not only that all the designs of their enemies should be rendered abortive; but that the two confederate kingdoms,' within threescore and five years,' ver. 8, should be entirely destroyed. Moreover, he gave Ahaz the choice of a sign to convince himself of the truth of the promise. Ahaz was one of the most wicked kings that ever sat on the throne of Judah: so that the Scripture could give no worse character of this prince, nor describe his perseverance in sin more fully, than by saying that he was always Ahaz.* He refused to choose a sign, not because he felt one of those noble emotions, which makes a man submit to the testimony of God without any more proof of its truth than the testimony itself; but because he was inclined to infidelity and ingratitude; and probably because he trusted in his ally, the king of Assyria. Notwithstanding his refusal, God gave him signs, and informed him, that before the prophet's two children, one of whom was already born, and the other would be born shortly, should arrive at years of discretion, the two confederate kings should retreat from Judea, and be entirely destroyed.
How conclusive soever these proofs may appear in favour of the sense we have given of the prophecy, they do not satisfy this intractable age, which is always ready to embrace any thing that seems likely to enervate the truths of religion. Sincerity requires us to acknowledge, that although our prophecy is clear of itself, yet there arises some obscurity from the order in which it is placed, and from its connexion with the foregoing and following verses. On each we will endeavour to throw some light, and, for this purpose, we will go back, and analyze this, and the two preceding chapters.
Of the first child, see what the seventh chapter of the Revelations of our prophet says. We are there told, that this son of the prophet was named Shearjashub, that is, the remnant shall return,' ver. 3, a name expressive of the meaning of the sign, which de
When Isaiah delivered this prophecy, Ahaz reigned over the kingdom of Judah, and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, over that of Israel. You cannot be ignorant of the mutual jealousy of these two kingdoms. There is often more hatred between two parties, whose religion is almost the same, than between those whose doctrines are in direct opposition.clared that the Jews should return from their Each considers the other as near the truth: rebellions, and that God would return from each is jealous lest the other should obtain it; his anger. The other child, then unborn, is and, as it is more likely that they, who mentioned in the eighth chapter, where it is hold the essential truths of religion, should said the prophetess bare a son,' ver. 3. surpass others sooner than they who rase the very foundations of it, the former are greater objects of envy than the latter. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah were often more envenomed against one another than against foreigners. This was the case in the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah. Pekah, king of Israel, to the shame of the ten tribes, discovered a * 2 Chron. xviii. 22. This is that King Ahaz. Eng. disposition like that, which has sometimes Version. C'estoit toujours le roi Achaz. Fr. Idem. made the Christian world blush; I mean, that' erat rex Achaz. Jun. Tremel.
God commanded the prophet to take the first child, and to carry him to that pool, or piece of water, which was formed by the waters of Siloah, which supplied the stream known by the name of 'The fuller's conduit,' 2 Kings xviii. 17, and which was at the foot
of the eastern wall of Jerusalem. The prophet was ordered to produce the child in the presence of all the affrighted people, and to say to them, Before this child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings,' Isa. vii. 16. If this translation be retained, the land signifies the kingdom of Israel, and that of Syria, from which the enemy came, and which on account of their coming, the Jews abhorred. I should rather render the words, the land for which thou art afraid, and by the land understand Judea, which was then in a very dangerous state. But the prophecy began to be accomplished in both senses about a year after it was uttered. Tiglath Pileser, king of Assyria, not only drew off the forces of Rezin and Pekah from the siege of Jerusalem, but he drove them also from their own countries. He first attacked Damascus. Rezin quitted his intended conquest, and returned to defend his capital, where he was slain; and all his people were carried into captivity, 2 Kings xvi. 9. Tiglath Pileser then marched into the kingdom of Israel, and victory marched along with him at the head of his army, 1 Chron. v. 26. He subdued the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, all the inhabitants of Galilee, and the tribe of Nephthalim, and carried them captives beyond Euphrates; and sixtyfive years after, that is, sixty-five years after the prediction of the total ruin of the kingdom of Israel by the prophet Amos, the prophecy was fulfilled by Salmanassar, chap. vii. 11, according to the language of our prophet, within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people,' Isa. vii. 8. Thus was this prophecy accomplished, before this child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land, for which thou art afraid, shall be forsaken of both her kings.'
expected from a God, whose goodness was so infinite, as to prepare such a noble victim for the salvation of mankind. He, who would confine Satan in everlasting chains, and vanquish sin and death, was fully able to deliver his people from the incursions of Rezin, and Pekah, the son of Remaliah. To remove the present fears of the Jews, God reminds them of the wonders of his love, which he had promised to display in favour of his church in ages to come and commands his prophet to say to them, 'Ye trembling leaves of the wood, shaken with every wind, peace be to you! Ye timorous Jews, cease your fears! let not the greatness of this temporal deliverance, which I now promise you, excite your doubts! God has favours incomparably greater in store for you, they shall be your guarantees for those which ye are afraid to expect. Ye are in covenant with God. Ye have a right to expect those displays of his love in your favour, which are least credible. Remember the blessed seed, which he promised to your ancestors, Gen. xxii. 18. Behold! a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and call his name Immanuel,' Isa. vii. 14. The spirit of prophecy, that animates me, enables me to penetrate through all the ages that seperate the present moment from that in which the promise shall be fulfilled. I see the divine child, my faith the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' Heb. xi. 1, and grounded on the word of that God, who changeth not,' Mal. iii. 6, who 'is not a man that he should lie, neither the son of man that he should repent,' Numb. xxiii. 19, I dare speak of a miracle, which will be wrought eight hundred years hence, as if it had been wrought to day, Unto us a child is born, unto us a child is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.'
God determined that the prophet's second child should also be a sign of the truth of the same promise. He assured Isaiah, that before the child, who should shortly be born, could learn to articulate the first sounds, which children were taught to pronounce; 'before the child should have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus, and the spoil of Samaria, that is, of the kingdom of Israel, should be taken away by the king of Assyria,' chap. viii. 4. This is the same promise confirmed by a second sign. God usually gives more than one, when he confirms any very interesting prediction, as we see in the history of Pharaoh, and the patriarch Joseph, Gen. xli. 1, &c.
But as all the mercies that were bestowed on the Jews, from the time of Abraham, were grounded on the covenant which God had made with that patriarch, their common father and head; or rather, as, since the fall, men could expect no favour of God but in virtue of the Mediator of the church; it is generally to be observed in the prophecies, that when God gave them a promise, he directed their attention to this grand object. Either the idea of the covenant, or the idea of the Mediator, was a seal, which God put to his promises, and a bar against the unbelief and distrust of his people. Every thing might being verses, which are taken from chap. vii
The particular difficulty is this: we have supposed, that the mysterious child, spoken of in our text, is the same of whom the prophet speaks, when he says, A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel;' and that this child is dif ferent from that whom Isaiah gave for a sign of the present temporal deliverance, and of whom it is said, Before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.' This supposition does not seem to agree with the text; read the follow
This, my brethren, is the prophet's scope in the three chapters which we have analyzed, and particularly in the text. But if any one of you receive our exposition without any farther discussion, he will discover more docility than we require, and he would betray his credulity without proving his conviction. How often does a commentator substitute his own opinions for those of his author, and, by forging, if I may be allowed to speak so, a new text, eludes the difficulties of that which he ought to explain? Let us act more ingenuously. There are two difficulties, which attend our comment, one is a particular, the other is a general difficulty.
'Behold! a virgin shall conceive, and bear a part of those compilations, which compose son, and shall call his name Immanuel: But-the book of the visionary flights of this proter and honey shall he eat, that he may know phet, and like all the writings, that are called to refuse the evil and choose the good. But predictions, prophecies, revelations. Obscu before the child shall know to refuse the evil rity is the grand character of them, even in and choose the good, the land that thou ab- the opinion of those who have given sublime horrest shall be forsaken of both her kings,' and curious explanations of them. They are ver. 14-16. Do not the last words, 'before capable of several senses. Who has received the child shall know to refuse the evil and authority to develop those ambiguous writings, choose the good,' seem to belong to the to determine the true meaning, among the words which immediately precede them, many different ideas which they excite in the 'Behold! a virgin shall conceive and bear a reader, and to each of which the terms are son? Immanuel, then, who was to be born of alike applicable? During seventeen centuries, a virgin, could not be the Messiah; the pro- Christians have racked their invention to put phet must mean the child, of whom he said, a sense on the writings of the prophets advanBefore he know to refuse the evil and choose tageous to Christianity, and the greatest gethe good,' Judea shall be delivered from the niuses have endeavoured to interpret them in two confederate kings. favour of the Christian religion. Men, who have been famous for their erudition and knowledge, have taken the most laborious pains to methodize these writings; one generation of great men have succeeded another in the undertaking; is it astonishing that some degree of success has attended their la bours, and that, by dint of indefatigable industry, they have rendered those prophecies venerable, which would have been accounted dark and void of design, if less pains had been taken to adapt a design, and less violence had been used in arranging them in order.
This is the objection in all its force, and, as I said before, in all its enormity. Let us inquire whether we can give a solution proportional to this boasted objection of infidelity. Our answer will be comprised in a chain of propositions, which will guard you against those who find mystical meanings where there are none, as well as against those who disown them where they are. To these purposes attend to the following propositions;
How indissoluble soever this objection may appear, it is only an apparent difficulty, and it lies less in the nature of the thing than in the arrangement of the terms. Represent to yourselves the prophet executing the order which God had given him, as the third verse of the seventh chapter relates; Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool.' Imagine Isaiah, in the presence of the Jews, holding his son Shearjashub in his arms, and addressing them in this manner; the token that God gives you, of your present deliverance, that he is still your God, and that ye are still his covenant people, is the renewal of the promise to you which he made to your ancestors concerning the Messiah; to convince you of the truth of what I assert, I discharge my commission, Behold! a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,' that is, God with us. He shall be brought up like the children of men, 'butter and honey shall he eat, until he know to refuse the evil, and choose the good,' that is, until he arrive at years of maturity. In virtue of this promise, which will not be ratified till some ages have expired, behold what I promise you now; before the child, not before the child, whom I said Just now, a virgin should bear; but before the child in my arms (the phrase may be rendered before this child), before Shearjashub, whom I now lift up,' shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land, for which ye are in trouble, shall be forsaken of both her kings. You see, my brethren, the child, whom, the prophet said, 'a virgin should conceive,' could not be Shearjashub, who was 3. Among divers truths which it contains, actually present in his father's arms. The dif- and which it may be supposed some superior ficulty, therefore, is only apparent, and, as I geniuses might have discovered, I meet with observed before, it lay in the arrangement of some, the attainment of which I cannot reathe terms, and not in the nature of the thing. sonably attribute to the human mind: of this This is our answer to what I called a partic-kind are some predictions, obscure I grant, to ular difficulty. those to whom they were first delivered, but rendered very clear since by the events. Such are these two, among many others. The people, who are in covenant with God, shall be excluded; and people who are not shall
A general objection may be made against the manner iu which we have explained these chapters, and in which, in general, we explain other prophecies. Allow me to state this objection in all its force, and, if I may use the ex-be admitted. I see the accomplishment of pression, in all its enormity, in order to show these predictions with my own eyes, in the you, in the end, all its levity and folly. rejection of the Jews, and in the calling of the gentiles.
The odious objection is this; an unbeliever would say, the three chapters of Isaiah, of which you have given an arbitrary analysis, are equivocal and obscure, like the greatest
1. They were not the men of our age who forged the book, in which, we imagine, we discover such profound knowledge; we know, it is a book of the most venerable antiquity, and we can demonstrate, that it is the most ancient book in the world.
2. This venerable antiquity, however, is not the chief ground of our admiration: the benevolence of its design; the grandeur of its ideas; the sublimity of its doctrines; the holiness of its precepts; are, according to our notion of things, if not absolute proofs of its divinity, at least advantageous presumptions in its favour.
4. The superior characters which signalize these books, give them the right of being mys terious in some places, without exposing them
to the charge of being equivocal, or void of meaning; for some works have acquired this right. When an author has given full proof of his capacity in some propositions, which are clear and intelligible; and when he expresses himself, in other places, in a manner obscure, and hard to be understood, he is not to be taxed, all on a sudden with writing irrationally. A meaning is to be sought in his expressions. It is not to be supposed, that geniuses of the highest order sink at once bebeneath the lowest minds. Why do we not entertain such notions of our prophets? Why is not the same justice due to the extraordinary men, whose respectable writings we are pleading for, to our Isaiahs, and Jeremiahs, which is allowed to Juvenal and Virgil ? What shall some pretty thought of the latter, shall some ingenious stroke of the former, conciliate more respect to them, than the noble sentiments of God, the sublime doctrines, and the virtuous precepts of the holy Scriptures, can obtain for the writers of the Bible?
5. We do not pretend, however, to abuse that respect, which it would be unjust to withhold from our authors. We do not pretend to say that every other obscure passage contains a mystery, or that, whenever a passage appears unintelligible, we have a right to explain it in favour of the doctrine which we profess; but we think it right to consider any passage in these books prophetical when it has the three following marks.
his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.'
The second distinguishing mark, that is, an infallible commentary, agrees with our explication. Our evangelists and apostles, those venerable men, whose mission comes recommended to us by the most glorious miracles, by the healing of the sick, by the expulsion of demons, by the raising of the dead, by a general subversion of all nature, our evangelists and apostles took these passages in the same sense in which we take them, they understood them of the Messiah, as we have observed before.
The third character, that is, a perfect conformity between event and prediction, agrees also with our explication. We actu ally find a child, some ages after the time of Isaiah, who exactly answers the description of him of whom the prophet spoke. The features are similar, and we own the likeness. Our Jesus was really born of a virgin: he was truly Immanuel, God with us: in him are really united, all the titles, and all the perfections, of the Wonderful, The Counsellor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father; as we will presently prove. Can we help giving a mysterious meaning to these passages? Can we refuse to acknowledge, that the prophet intended to speak of the Messiah? These are the steps, and this is the end of our meditation in favour of the mystical sense, which we have ascribed to the words of the text.
The first is the insufficiency of the literal meaning. I mean, a text must be accounted prophetical, when it cannot be applied, without offering violence to the language, to any event that fell out when it was spoken, or any then present or past object.
2. The second character of a prophecy, is an infallible commentary. I mean, when an author of acknowledged authority gives a prophetical sense to a passage under consideration, we ought to submit to his authority and adopt his meaning.
Would to God the enemies of our mysteries would open their eyes to these objects, and examine the weight of these arguments! Would to God a love, I had almost said a rage, for independency, for a system that indulges, and inflames the passions, had not put some people on opposing these proofs ! Infidelity and skepticism would have made less havoc among us, and would not have decoyed away so many disciples from truth and virtue! And would to God also, Christian 3. The last character is a perfect conformi- ministers would never attempt to attack the ty between the prediction and the event. I systems of infidels and skeptics without the me when prophecies, compared with armour of demonstration! Would to God events, appear to have been completely ac- love of the marvellous may no more dazzle complished, several ages after they had been the imaginations of those who ought to be promulged, it cannot be fairly urged that the guided by truth alone? And would to God conformity was a lucky hit: but it ought to the simplicity and the superstition of the be acknowledged, that the prophecy proceed- people may never more contribute to support ed from God, who, being alone capable of that authority, which some rash and dogmaforeseeing what would happen, was alone ca-tical geniuses usurp! Truth should not borpable of foretelling the event, in a manner so row the arms of falsehood to defend itself; circumstantial and exact. All these charac- nor virtue those of vice. Advantages should ters unite in favour of the text which we not be given to unbelievers and heretics, unhave been explaining, and in favour of the der pretence of opposing heresy and unbelief. three chapters which we have in general ex- We should render to God a reasonable serpounded. vice,' Rom. xii. 1, we should be all spiritual men, judging all things,' 1 Cor. ii. 15, according to the expression of the apostle. But I add no more on this article.
Hitherto we have spoken, if I may say so, to reason only, it is time now to speak to conscience. We have been preaching by arguments and syllogisms to the understanding, it is time now to preach by sentiments to the heart. Religion is not made for the mind alone, it is particularly addressed to the heart, and to the heart I would prove,
The first character, that is, the insufficiency of a literal sense, agrees with our explication. Let any event in the time of Isaiah be named, any child born then, or soon after, of whom the prophet could reasonably affirm what he does in our text, and in the other verse which we have connected with it. A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
that our Jesus has accomplished, in the most sublime of all senses, this prophecy in the text Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,' and so on. This is our second part.
II. The terms throne, kingdom, government, are metaphorical, when they are applied to God, to his Messiah, to the end, which religion proposes, and to the felicity which it procures. They are very imperfect, and if I may venture to say so, very low and mean, when they are used to represent objects of such infinite grandeur. No, there is nothing sufficiently noble in the characters of the greatest kings, nothing wise enough in their maxims, nothing gentle enough in their government, nothing pompous enough in their courts, nothing sufficiently glorious in their achievements, to represent fully the grandeur and the glory of our Messiah.
Who is a king? What is a throne? Why have we masters? Why is sovereign power lodged in a few hands? And what determines mankind to lay aside their independence, and to lose their beloved liberty? The whole implies, my brethren, some mortifying truths. We have not knowledge sufficient to guide ourselves, and we need minds wiser than our own to inspect and to direct our conduct. We are indigent, and superior beings must supply our wants. We have enemies, and we must have guardians to protect us.
Miserable men! how have you been deceived in your expectations? what disorders could anarchy have produced greater than those which have sometimes proceeded from Sovereign authority? You sought guides to direct you: but you have sometimes fallen under the tuition of men who, far from being able to conduct a whole people, knew not how to guide themselves. You sought nursing fathers, to succour you in your indigence: but you have fallen sometimes into the hands of men, who had no other designs than to impoverish their people, to enrich themselves with the substance, and to fatten themselves with the blood, of their subjects. You sought guardians to protect you from your enemies: but you have sometimes found executioners, who have used you with greater barbarity than your most bloody enemies would have done.
that envelops me; calm the conscience that accuses and torments me; reconcile me to God; free me from the control of my commanding and tyrannical passions; deliver me from death; and discover immortal happiness to me? Ye earthly gods! ignorant and wretched like me; objects like me of the displeasure of God; like me exposed to the miseries of life; slaves to your passions like me; condemned like me to that frightful night in which death involves all mankind; ye can relieve neither your own miseries nor mine!
Show me a government that supplies these wants: that is the empire I seek. Show me a king, who will conduct me to the felicity to which I aspire: such a king I long to obey. My brethren, this empire we are preaching to you: such a king is the king Messiah. Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called WONDERFUL,' because he is the substance and the centre, of all the wondrous works of God.
But purify your imaginations, and do not always judge of man as if he were a being destitute of reason and intelligence. When we speak of man, do not conceive of a being of this present world only; a creature placed for a few days in human society, wanting nothing but food and raiment, and the comforts of a temporal life: but attend to your own hearts. In the sad circumstances into which sin has brought you, what are your most important wants? We have already insinuated them. You need knowledge; you need reconciliation with God; you want support through all the miseries of life; and you need consolation against the fear of death. Well! all these wants the king Messiah supplies. I am going to prove it, but I conjure you at the same time, not only to believe, but to act. I would, by publishing the design of the Saviour's incar nation, engage you to concur in it. By explaining to you the nature of his empire, I would fain teach you the duties of his subjects. By celebrating the glory of the king Messiah, I long to see it displayed among you in all its splendid magnificence.
But all these melancholy truths apart; suppose the fine notions, which we form of kings and of royalty, of sovereign power and of the hands that hold it, were realized: how incapable are kings, and how inadequate is their government, to the relief of the innumerable wants of an immortal soul! Suppose kings of the most tender sentiments, formidable in their armies, and abundant in their treasuries; could they heal the maladies that afflict us here, or could they quench our painful thirst for felicity hereafter? Ye Cesars! Ye Alexanders! Ye Trajans! Ye who were, some of you, like Titus, the parents of your people, and the delights of mankind! Ye thunderbolts of war! Ye idols of the world! What does all your pomp avail me? Of what use to me, are all your personal qualifi- most profound and perfect knowledge of cations, and all your regal magnificence? them. Inquire of him whence all the visible Can you-Can they, dissipate the darkness creation came, the luminaries of heaven, and
You want knowledge: you will find it in the king Messiah. He is the COUNSELLOR, He is the True light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world,' John i. 9. In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,' Col. ii. 3. The Spirit of the Lord God is upon him, the Lord hath anointed him to preach good tidings unto the meek,' Isa. lxi. 1. The Spirit of the Lord rests upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord,' chap. xi. 2. He has the tongue of the learned, chap. 1. 4, and the wisdom of the wise. Ask him to explain to you the grand appearances of nature, which exercise the speculations of the most transcendant geniuses, and absorb their defective reason, and all his answers will discover the