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ple to be very angry with those who maintained the contrary supposition. But the truth is, that the fact is neither affirmed nor denied in Scripture, and that we have no means of correct information concerning it. When it is said that Jesus was Mary's firstborn son, that expression implies no more than that she had no child before his birth.
Let me now direct your attention to the remarkable and important prophecy quoted in the twenty-third verse. In what part of the Old Testament do we find it?
Theophilus. In the seventh chapter of Isaiah.—We there learn that Ahaz, king of Judah, was troubled with fear of Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel, who had advanced, with their combined forces, against Jerusalem. Isaiah was commissioned to declare, in the name of God, that their attempt should fail. Ahaz was encouraged to ask a sign in confirmation of this prophecy; and when he had refused to do so, the prophet said, "Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know how to refuse the evil, and to choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings."
Reader. Do you clearly under
stand that prophecy and its application?
Theophilus. The application to the Messiah, as made by the Evangelist, is strikingly evident and easy; but when I read the whole passage in Isaiah, I cannot exactly understand how the prophecy of Christ was a sign to Ahaz, or how the two verses following the one quoted by St. Matthew can apply to Christ at all.
Reader. It is clear from the expression, "all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord," that St. Matthew is indeed explaining and applying a prophecy, not merely accommodating to his purpose a passage of Scripture otherwise unconnected with the subject. But, this being allowed, you ask, how could the declaration of Isaiah be a particular sign of the deliverance of Jerusalem in the time of Ahaz, as well as a prophecy of the still greater, but more remote, event, the birth of the Messiah? Interpreters give more than one answer to this inquiry.
The prophecy, say some, had a twofold signification; referring, in the first instance, to an event about to take place in the time of Ahaz; and also, in a higher sense, to the more distant and more important event, the birth of Messiah. They think it probable that Isaiah referred to some virgin then about to be married, perhaps to himself, and declared that after her marriage she would give birth to a son, who would be no more than a mere infant when Syria and Samaria should
be overthrown; and who should be named Immanuel, in token of the presence of God among his people, pleading their cause, and defeating their enemies. This was the sign to Ahaz and the men of his day. But it was also a type or pattern of a still greater event, even the future birth of the Messiah from a virgin, in an unprecedented and miraculous manner, who should be, in the full sense of the expression, God with us, God united to our own nature, and dwelling in the world.
Other commentators, however, reject this interpretation, as being unnecessarily complex, and at the same time low and unworthy of the subject. They think that the prophecy related primarily and entirely to Christ, without any other allusion whatever. And, say they, the promise of a future Messiah became a sign to Ahaz, inasmuch as it implied the continual preservation of his family, from which, according to promise, the Messiah was to spring. Perhaps this view of the prophecy is most approved, and most commonly adopted. And, in order that you may completely understand it, I will read to you a passage from a commentator on Isaiah, by whom it is strenuously defended. "What reference," says he, "had the birth of Christ to the present circumstances of the king and people of Judea? Or what had this sign to do with their deliverance from the kings of Israel and Syria? I answer, that this sign was given not to Ahaz, or to any of the rebellious unbelieving Jews, for they could not appreciate it; but to the faithful
few who still remained, and to whom the prophet now chiefly directed his discourse. His words may thus be paraphrased:- Since the king has refused the sign offered to him, Jehovah himself shall give you a sign, not which you shall behold with your eyes, or hear with your ears, but which, to those among you who have any real faith in his word, and any confidence in me, his prophet, will be more satisfactory than any other. In token, then, that the house of David shall not now be utterly destroyed, but that God will fulfil the promise he once made to Judah, that the sceptre should not depart from his posterity till the coming of Messiah, and to David; that his throne should be established for ever, Behold, at some future period, a virgin of David's house shall conceive, and bring forth a son, whom she will call by a name significative of his divine and human nature.' Now, to those who believed, this would be a sufficient assurance that the attempt of Rezin and Pekah to dethrone Ahaz, and set up one of another nation in his stead, would be fruitless. For how could this sign be accomplished if the family of David were destroyed?"
In this case, the following words of the prophet, Butter and honey shall he eat, &c., denote that the Messiah, although God with us, should yet, at the same time, be truly man, and, as such, should pass through the various stages of childhood,
Shear-Jashub, the prophet's own son, whom, according to divine command, he had taken with him into the presence of Ahaz.
When it is said they shall call his name Immanuel, what is implied and meant?
Theophilus. That he should really be what the name denotes; namely, God with us.
Reader. True; it was among the Jews, especially in prophetical writings, to say that a thing should be called so or so, meaning that it should really be of such or such a character or quality. I will not weary you with references to prove this point; but I must request you to compare Matt. xxi. 13, with Luke xix. 46.
Theophilus. Matt. xxi. 13, " It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer."-Luke xix. 46, "It is written, My house is a house of prayer."
Reader. Let our thoughts dwell, for a few moments, upon the meaning and power of this name, Immanuel, most holy and reverend, and full of consolation to ourselves.--God with us; that is, says Baxter, "God taking our nature, appearing to us, and reconciling and bringing us to himself."-"A mysterious name, but very precious. God incarnate among us, and so God reconcilable to us; at peace with us, and taking us into covenant and communion with himself. The people of the Jews had God with them, in type and shadow, dwelling between the cherubim; but never so as when the Word was made flesh,' -that was the blessed Shechinah.
What a happy step is hereby taken toward the settling of a peace between God and man, that the two natures are thus brought together in the person of the Mediator! Behold in this the deepest mystery, and the richest mercy, that ever was. By the light of nature, we see God as a God above us; by the light of the law, we see him as a God against us; but by the light of the Gospel, we see him as Immanuel, God with us, in our nature, and (which is more) in our interest." (M. H.)
When the angel announced to Joseph the approaching birth of this divine Redeemer, he said, "thou shalt call his name JESUS, for he shall save his people from their sins." What is the precise meaning of that name which has now become so sacred?
Theophilus. You have sometimes told me that it is the same as Joshua, and means a Saviour or Deliverer; or rather, Jehovah the Saviour, since the name was formed by prefixing to Hosea the first syllable of the name Jehovah. Numb. xiii. 16.
Reader. True. Can you tell me what remarkable persons, bearing that name, are mentioned in the Old Testament?
Theophilus. Joshua, the successor of Moses, the captain of the Israelites at their first settlement in Canaan; and another, who was their high priest on their return from the Babylonian Captivity. Zech. vi. 11, 12.
Reader. Let us thankfully regard Christ as the true Joshua ;-being at once the Captain of our salvation,
and the High Priest of our profession, and in both ways our Saviour.
He shall save his people from their sins. Here we perceive the glory and perfection of the Gospel. The great Deliverer whom it reveals is one who both atones for sin and destroys it;one who saves his people from its guilt, its pollution, and its power. "Those whom Christ saves he saves from their sins; from the guilt of sin by the merit of his death, from the dominion of sin by the Spirit of his grace. In saving them from sin, he saves them from wrath and the curse, and all misery both here and hereafter. Christ came to save his people, not in their sins, but from their sins; to purchase for them, not a liberty to sin, but a liberty from sin, to redeem them from all iniquity' (Tit. ii. 14); and so to redeem them from among men' (Rom. xiv. 4) to himself, who is 'separate from sinners.' So that those who leave their sins, and give up themselves to Christ as his people, are interested in the Saviour, and in the great salvation which he has wrought out.' -Let us practically remember this great and consolatory truth.
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
It makes the wounded spirit whole,
Jesus, my Saviour, Shepherd, Friend,
membering their relation to each other, and the order of their succession. At present, it will be sufficient if Theophilus will tell us which Herod is mentioned in the passage before us.
Theophilus. It is Herod, commonly called the Great; who was at first governor of Judea, and was afterwards made king of that country by the Romans.
Reader. True; and his days were now drawing near to their end; for the birth of Christ took place in the last (i. e. the thirty-fifth or thirty-seventh) year of his reign. His son reigned only nine years; and after that Judea was placed under governors or procurators, and made completely tributary to Rome. Besides this, Archelaus, Herod's son, was not acknowledged as king by the Roman emperor. Of what country was Herod ?
which Scripture gives that God's kingdom ruleth over all, and that he sees the course of human events from the beginning to the end!
The narrative of the visit of the wise men will furnish matter for many profitable reflections. But let me ask, in the first place, are there any particulars concerning these persons, or their journey to Jerusalem, which you wish to ascertain?
Mary. I have been requested to you where they came from? Reader. Probably from Arabia, or rather, as some suppose, from Persia. But on this point we know no more than what the Bible tells us ; namely, that they came from some country to the east of Judea.
Theophilus. They are called wise men; I suppose they were what we should call philosophers.
Reader. St. Matthew tells us that they were Magi, for that is the
Theophilus. He was the son of Greek word which our translators Antipater, an Idumean.
Reader. And, as you said, he was made king of Judea by the Romans. -Are these facts of any importance with reference to the fulfilment of prophecy?
Theophilus. Yes; they remind us that Judea was under the dominion of foreigners; and that it had lost the privilege of being governed by independent rulers; and hence it appears that the time of the Messiah had fully come, according to that ancient prophecy in Gen. xlix. 10, "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come."
Reader. How many are the proofs
have rendered wise men. Now it is commonly supposed that by this term we are to understand oriental philosophers, or rather astrologers, who may also have sustained the character of priests in connection with some of the religious systems then prevalent in the East. Perhaps they were followers of Zoroaster. But this is not a matter of much importance. It may be observed that the Magi mentioned in other parts of the New Testament were impostors who practised upon the superstition and credulity of the heathen.
Theophilus. I do not remember that there is any other mention of Magi in the New Testament.