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Good Words 1860
On Messianic Prophecy


NO. I.

The Messianic prophecies obviously possess a far higher spiritual importance than any other portions of the Old Testament. It is, in fact, these prophecies pervading it which give life and meaning to the ancient dispensation. They may be said to constitute its very soul, while everything else belongs merely to the body prepared for that soul; and yet it will be generally admitted that they have not been studied with the diligence and success which might have been expected. They have, to a very considerable extent, participated in the neglect into which all the rest of prophecy has fallen; that is to say, they have been allowed to be dealt with almost exclusively by men destitute of everything like breadth of view or sound principles of interpretation. There are thus no inquiries into the subject of prophecy—even of Messianic prophecy—at all comparable with certain inquiries into the important, indeed, but still not so important subject of Mosaic legislation. We think a great deal even of new light may be thrown upon it by any diligent student fortunate enough to start with liberal, independent, and philosophical views as to the method of studying Scripture. The sum of what has hitherto been done is just this:—Single prophecies have been illustrated and applied; and it has been shewn that, from the Fall until the time of Malachi, there was a progressive advance in revelation regarding Christ—that it continually became fuller and clearer until its accomplishment. There has, however, hardly been an attempt to trace any of the laws regulating that progress and certainly there has been no attempt whatever to find the causes or trace the consequences, either on the character of revelation itself, or on actual human history of such laws.

It is our intention to deal at present with one of these laws. It is of so obtrusive a character that it has often been noticed as a fact, and one well-known German commentator on the Psalms (Rosenmuller) has even made it the ground of a division of them; but it has, notwithstanding, been as yet very imperfectly apprehended, either in itself or in its bearings. We wish to shew how-wide and far-reaching these bearings are, and what light they throw on more than one interesting event.

Turn to the second Psalm, and you will observe it sets before us a Person all-glorious—a King to whom all kings must bow the knee, and serve with fear and trembling—the great High Priest of universal humanity. Turn to the twenty-second Psalm, on the other hand, and you will observe a man in extremity of agony and sorrow —"a worm, and no man"—painfully imploring God not to withdraw Himself from Him. And, if you will make the examination, you will find that each of these psalms is representative of a distinct class of prophetical psalms; and not only so, but representative of distinct series of prophecies, that run parallel to each other through the whole of the Old Testament without coalescing —without uniting. The second Psalm is a link in the chain of those Messianic prophecies which exhibit Christ and His Church as glorious and triumphant—gradually overcoming, in spite of the most determined opposition, the powers of the world—expelling all evil, and working an entire spiritual revolution; so that all nations are at length transformed into a great "kingdom of God," whose Head is Christ. The twenty-second Psalm is, in like manner, a link in that series of prophecies which relate to the sufferings of Messiah, from the outpourings of Divine wrath and the malice of His enemies.

These two streams rise at one and the same fountain-head, the first promise—the promise made to man immediately after his fall, in the form of a curse on the serpent who had deceived him— " I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Here we have the mingled joy and sorrow, good and evil, retreat and victory; the bruised heel of the Saviour, and the bruised head of the serpent. But from the time of this promise they are separated. A stream of sweet and a stream of bitter water issue from the same spring, and they flow onwards, each widening and swelling as they proceed, but never meeting nor mingling till they reach the ocean. Almost every prophet adds something to one or other of these classes of prophecies; but no prophet ever attempts to set before us the image of Messiah's character as a whole—no prophet endeavours to give us a completed portrait of Messiah—no prophet shades his pictures. Never is our Lord described in the same passage in His state of glory and exaltation, and in His contrasted state of humiliation and endurance; never do we find the features of these two aspects of Messiah's character blended together, the one tempered by and proportioned to the other, in the way that He actually realised them. In the second, the forty-fifth, the seventy-second, and one hundred-and-tenth psalms, for instance, there is portrayed the regal office of Christ, His eternal sonship, universal dominion, the glory of His reign, the majesty of His person—all without any introduction of those dark and painful aspects of His life which make up the whole of the twenty-second Psalm, and of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah.

This is certainly a very remarkable fact, and worthy of the most serious consideration. We cannot avoid seeing in it a perfectly irresistible argument in favour of the Divine origin of Old Testament revelation, and also of the truth of Christ's) claims. Take up the twenty-second Psalm—read it; and when you find there the dying words of our Redeemer—"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" His state of humiliation strikingly described in the verse, '' But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people;" a clear intimation of how He was reviled upon the cross—so clear as at once to recall the passage in Matthew which tells us how the Pharisees and people inhumanly mocked Him in His awful agony; of the very manner of His crucifixion, '' For dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet;" and even the division of His garments by the Roman soldiers, "They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture;" when, we say, you find all these prophetic intimations—some of them very minute and special—meet their fulfilment in the space of a few hours in the person of one Man, you must feel it impossible to look upon them for a single moment as merely accidental. But how infinitely stronger does the argument become when you compare this twenty-second Psalm with the second, where the character of Messiah is presented under an aspect so different. The mere fact that one and the same prophet utters prophecies of both sorts, is an indubitable proof in each case that he must be speaking not of himself, but of God; that his statements can only originate in immediate inspiratations from the Father of our spirits. This proof, as a matter of necessity, gets fresh confirmation—a vastly augmented strength—-from the discovery that the same great law has been observed during ages, and so runs through the whole scheme of Messianic prophecy, from beginning to end.

So far from man being able to originate such a conception as the law now stated implies, and devise two series of utterances so contrasted as those which pervade the Old Testament, we find that the Jews were not even able to comprehend the whole conception when actually embodied before their eyes, and that owing to the fact, that in their sacred books it had been presented to them merely in one of its aspects at a time. It was a task beyond their power even to join together the interpretation of both classes of utterances. They let go their grasp entirely of those peculiarities in the Divine ideal—those peculiarities in the representation of Messiah's character exhibited in the twenty-second Psalm, and in the numerous prophecies belonging to the same class; and, laying-hold of that ideal or representation in a one-sided manner, conceived of the Messiah only as a great prince, an all-powerful conqueror. We are apt to wonder how they could do so. It ceases, however, to be' impenetrably mysterious when once we understand the full bearing of the law we are now considering. There was a real difficulty in collecting into one image—into one consistent whole— features apparently contradictory. It is not, indeed, felt by us; but we ought not to judge the Jews of that age by our feelings of the present. We find it easy to reconcile the contrasted representations of Messiah given in Old Testament prophecy; but why? Just because these contrasts have been already reconciled—have been already united into a perfect harmony in actual fact, in historical fulfilment, in Jesus Christ. It is, however, a most improbable supposition, that any unassisted human intellect, and still more, that a number of such intellects acting independently of one another, should create these contrasted representations; and there is every likelihood that, even when created, they would not be rightly understood—that is, understood in connexion with each other.

The mistake of the Jews becomes, when this law is once comprehended, for the first time intelligible ; and it is a remarkable fact that Christ does not blame the Jews nearly so severely for their erroneous notion about Him, as we should expect were there not such a difficulty. The mildness of His bearing towards them is perfectly mysterious on the ordinary explanation, or rather ordinary no explanation of their mistaken views. What Christ does severely blame both His own disciples and the whole body of the Jewish people for, is, that when the prophetic ideal had been manifestly realised in His person, and after, and in spite of, all that He had done and taught fitted to undeceive them, they should still obstinately and perversely adhere to their preconception, and refuse to receive, or even to attend to such evidence as ought to have convinced every honest and truth-loving man of its falsity and defects.

We infer, then—(1,) That these two contrasted series of utterances never could be the work of man's invention; and, (2,) That the mere circumstance of a twofold series of prophetic utterances—so contrasted in character, and each order of which comprehended within itself so many distinct facts, such a vast number of marks, and these again so varied in their nature—rendered it utterly impossible that any person should concentrate and fulfil them all in Himself, unless God had specially designed Him so to do; in other words, unless He, and He alone, were the very person whose character and mission had been foretold by inspired men.


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