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Babylon; probably with the twenty-ninth and thirtieth chapters, upon Edom; certainly with the three chapters, xxi-xxiii. which describe the mourning of the Land during the Exile, or shortly after it; certainly with the entire book (for it is a book) of unsurpassed grandeur, which celebrates the Return in harmony with the presentiments of Jehovah's servants, and which is ordinarily arranged in sequel to the extracts from the book of Kings. Although I postpone arguments in respect of this last portion, their tenor will be divined by whoever masters what is said on the chapters of Babylon and Idumæa. Important as these questions are to a full intelligence of the monuments of our faith, and bearing upon interests too sacred for perfunctory assumption, they leave us happily, in whatever way a calmer age may resolve them, without detriment to our power of honouring the memory, and imbibing the spirit, of the great Prophet with whom we are concerned. His genius and his faith will survive all changes of fashion; all chances of time; those who share his trust will find it not fail them; those who serve his God, not merely the Lord of Israel, but the Eternal God of all the isles of the sea, the refuge of our fathers and our own throughout all generations, will have in Him a shield, and an exceeding great reward.
It will be the happiness of men hereafter to be able to fasten on the religious element in Isaiah, building themselves on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, without disturbance from thorny controversies. The confusion into which Biblical studies have fallen in England, the small number of scholars who have investigated, the still smaller who dare to explain, and the power, not always fairly used, of imputing gratuitous assumption or heretical belief to whoever walking like a child, as God's hand shall lead him, reports to inquirers what he has found, render it a sacred duty to raise two questions, which to scholars more happily placed may seem superfluous. How far does Isaiah contain, not in possibility, but in reality demonstrable by proof, supernatural prediction of events which could not have been foreseen by any exaltation of faith or foreboding? How far, again, does Jesus of Nazareth appear personally predicted as the Messiah of Israel or of Mankind ?
On the first of these questions, I will state the tendency of research, without aiming at dogmatic negation. We have seen in the case of Sennacherib, denunciations verified. I incline to consider this a remarkable instance of faith justified by the event; but hardly find it demonstrable that the expectation went beyond foreboding, or that the result transcended the limits of a marvellous Providence. For in order to establish a proof of extra-natural intervention by way of prediction and miracle, we need fuller knowledge than we possess of the relation borne by the finished poems in our volume to the original utterances of Isaiah in point of form, and to the specified events in point of time. Even if no adverse conclusion be suggested by the circumstance that the disaster took place not in Palestine, (Isaiah xiii. 1,) but in the Egyptian desert, (Herod. ii. 141,) or by the inference drawn from Assyrian inscriptions that Sennacherib survived the loss of his
army with little diminution of power, for seventeen years, leaving then a prosperous kingdom to his son, (Rawlinson, Ass. Mon. ix.) the absence of the knowledge above desiderated is absence of evidence, and in such absence a positive affirmation can hardly be reached without predisposition. A more distinct instance of apparent prediction is vii. 8, where the dissolution of Ephraim as a people is foretold within sixty-five years. Since, however, Ephraim was dissolved in about twenty years (see Notes), and the land repeopled by colonists, instead of dispeopled, at a later date under Esar-haddon, the fulfilment is more than difficult to trace. Other reasons will be found for considering the passage exceptional (see Notes). Again, there are chapters of denunciation upon Babylon : but their date is, upon independent though conjectural grounds, more naturally fixed at a date too low for prediction, than at one which would justify it; others upon Edom, as xxix. xxx. to which the same remark applies; or in which no clear issue seems presented to the writer's own mind, xviii. 11, 12. Once more, there are so many woes and burthens upon different lands in succession, that in the course of ages a soil traversed by invaders could hardly fail to experience various fulfilments; but anything like definite prediction of event followed by realisation-in those countries which the Prophets describe, any more than in others which they do not describe at least such as might serve as a basis for demonstration of extra-natural intervention, is probably impossible to substantiate. I say dialectical demonstration ; especially as assumed to be a safer ground for faith than pious experience or moral fitness; nay to be so evident, that law human or Divine obliges to discover it. I do not speak of reverential associations, or inclination to trust beyond the sphere of logical proof one who has a perpetual witness as the Prophet has, in the nobleness of his religious tone. Those who have noticed with regret the Church in successive generations retreating from positions which she once occupied, but which she loses with no detriment, beyond the shame of having misrepresented those who contested them, will divine by an ingenuous instinct, how many claims in this region require to be moderated.
The second, the Messianic question, is really simple, but may have given to it an appearance of complexity. No Messiah of the traditional type maintained in Pearson on the Creed is mentioned or implied throughout Isaiah. Whole chapters breathe the spirit of Christ, the righteousness which he prescribes, the hopes which he encourages, the trust which he inspires. The glad anticipations which the Prophet attached to the birth of his children, (“1, and my children,” he says, “which the Lord has given me,”') and to that of a Prince destined to rear once more the throne of David, animate passages which it was natural for the Church to apply to a child of greater hope, and the founder of a spiritual kingdom. The perpetual adjournment to the future of Mankind's unquenchable longing for the felicity freed from shackles of our finite state which hope or faith suggests as ultimate design of the Author of all goodness, breaks forth in the Prophet's abundance of imagery, part of which, as the lion's eating straw, must always remain imagery, and part, as that of the nations learning war no more, still awaits a calmer time, a larger education, a more practical gospel of goodwill amongst men. Some portions, again, are so local and temporal, as the exaltation of Mount Zion above other mountains, that our own Master, Christ, the only infallible interpreter, has reversed them by his doctrine, and taught His followers, that the fulfilment of such things lies in their expansion; hence they fulfil in such a sense as that in which the forest of to-day fulfils the acorn of a millennium ago. Indeed, Christianity is truer than its evidences. Believe in Christ's life and doctrine; you will see how the lisping utterances of a province grew from childhood to a world-wide stature of spiritual manhood; but commence on the dialectical side of Hermeneutics, you will find your proof fail, or violate the Old Testament to crente it. Being engaged here as an interpreter of the Prophets, or at most as vindicator of their sense, I need not linger over the apologetic We may
aspect in reference to Christianity, which I have expounded hortatorily in my Rational Godliness, more meditatively in my Christianity and Hinduism, and under the pressure of misrepresentation and something more, been obliged too often to travel over. If the reasoning of those volumes, substantiated here by version, does not leave the “argument from Prophecy” a nobler, truer, subsidiary to our faith, than common Manuals of 'evidences,' I will hope that the failure lies in my weakness, not in the necessity of the case. Nothing better, preserving the good faith of Hermeneutics, occurs to me. be infinitely accountable to God for our belief, and to the Church for our teaching; but the one does not ask, the other ought not to wish, any advocacy but such as may be used salvo pudore—such as an lionest client desires, and an honourable advocate employs. If, because the argument is difficult, misrepresentation must be invoked, I had rather suffer, than be guilty of it.
Those who wish development of this point, cannot do better than read St. Jerome, whose mingled learning and extravagances are highly instructive. He can be sane, as when he acknowledges the pious intention of those who
(1.) Rational Godliness, i.e. Sermons Exegetical and Practical. Cambridge. 1855.
(2.) Christianity and Hinduism, i.e. A Discussion of the Theory of Revelation. Ibid. 1856.
(3.) Christian Freedom, and a Review of the Bishop of Llandaff's Charge. Ibid. 1857.
(4.) A Letter to the Bishop of St. David's. On the Difficulty of bringing Theological Questions to an issue. Ibid. 1860.
(5.) A Critical Appendix, on his Lordship’s Reply. Ibid. 1861.
(6.) An Essay on Baron de Bunsen, in “ Essays and Reviews.” London: Longmans. 1860-3. (7.) Persecution for the Word. A Sermon on leaving Lampeter. Long
1862. (8) An Introuuction to Mr. Desprez's Daniel. Williams aud Norgate. 1865.