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Good Words 1860
On Messianic Prophecy


In our previous paper, we laid down a fundamental law of Messianic prophecy, and stated an argument which we would rest upon it. We would now ask—What is the final cause, the end, the purpose of that law'! Why did God see fit thus, and not otherwise, to reveal the character and work of Messiah ? We think that we find an answer to this question in a thought which was very dear to three men far separated by time and place, but almost equally great and equally good—-St Augustine, Pascal, and Neander—the thought that God is at once a self-concealing and a self-revealing God—one who makes known Himself, and yet hides Himself, to try men's hearts, and see what is in them—a light shining in the darkness. At the very same instant, and in the very same action or event that He reveals Himself to the susceptible, He conceals Himself from the unsusceptible. He never throws such a darkness around Him, that we cannot find Him, if we anxiously look for Him; He never stands before us so visibly, that we cannot avoid seeing Him, if we wish to do it.

Now you must observe that, had the full image of Christ been presented in a single sketch, where all the characteristics of His complete manifestation as Messiah were laid before us, each in its proper and relative place, it would have been impossible for any one to have mistaken the realisation of that ideal—the accomplishment of that extended system of promise; the prophecy would have been as clear as the history; Christ would have been preached before the time; there could not have been any trial of faith when He appeared. We go further. We even believe that God's purpose of educating the Jewish people, and, through the Jewish people, the whole human race, was not otherwise than through this law to be accomplished. We think it capable of proof, by different lines of argument, that had the revelation of Messiah's character and work flowed on in one stream, where good and evil, joy and sorrow, victory and suffering, were mingled together in the way they were actually realised in Christ's life, that revelation would have necessarily failed as a system of discipline; and that the more the revelation was increased, and the clearer it became, the more completely it would have failed—the more completely it would have lost all power for national instruction.

It has been a very frequent error, among commentators and other religious teachers, to pretend to find all that distinguishes Christianity even in the earliest books of the Old Testament. The patriarchs have been made to speak and feel as if they had been the apostles; Genesis has been interpreted as if it had been the last, instead of the first book of the Bible; the order of time has been paid no attention to; the gospel, even in its minutest details, has been imagined to be discovered prefigured in the tabernacle and its furniture. This error, although dying out, is certainly not quite dead yet. But its days are obviously doomed. It cannot linger anywhere long. The danger now seems to be, that the opposition will become as one-sided as the error which has occasioned it. It will be well, then, to recognise, that if Messianic prophecy were published by the writers of Scripture in the way we suppose it was, then Christ and Christianity were not preached to their contemporaries as He is preached to us now, and has been preached since the time of the apostles, notwithstanding that we can find Christ and Christianity in their teachings. It is, in our opinion, really the fact that there is no leading principle or characteristic of the gospel which we may not find described in some one or other of the prophets. But, then, it must be remembered that we have no difficulty whatever in understanding the meaning of the Messianic prophecies of either order. We unconsciously make allowance for the features not presented in the portion of Scripture we are reading, and so interpret each passage by assigning to it its proper place relative to the whole historical Christ. Those to whom it was originally addressed had no such ideal to which to refer it. They had no historical manifestation to preserve them from error. They had painfully to compare the passage before them with all other prophetic intimations, especially with those which were in appearance contradictory to it, and then they had to construct, by the mind's own inherent activity, a consistent representation of the Messianic character and offices.

The fact we have now stated puts a vast difference between us and the contemporaries even of the latest of the prophets; and, indeed, until that fact is recognised, we can do nothing but misinterpret the whole of Jewish history. A man who does not know the law of gravitation must err at every step in his views of the system of the universe. A man ignorant of so fundamental a law as we have laid down, must equally err at every step in his interpretation of the system of revelation. There is no great fact in it for the right understanding of which he is not without one essential element.

This law demonstrates, we think, that although those Jews who lived in the days of the later prophets had great advantages over those who lived earlier, so far as the materials for forming a correct conception of the Saviour were concerned, the difficulties in the way of their doing it increased in the same proportion, and, in fact, grew naturally out of every increase of means. Hence it was really not an exceedingly wonderful thing, although it certainly cannot be justified, that the Jews should, rather than take all this trouble, have thrown entirely out of account one complete class of the prophetic declarations in their Scriptures. Their feelings and circumstances, as a people subject to an oppressive and deeply-hated foreign tyranny, determined which class should be thus rejected. They determined, however, nothing more. It is utterly erroneous to trace, as is always done, the false conception which the Jews entertained of Messiah, to them as its exclusive causes. They were not direct causes at all; their influence in originating the popular conception was not immediate. They were merely indirect causes, or what we would call conditions. Unless there had been a real difficulty in reconciling the two distinct series of prophecies into which Messianic revelation divides itself—had there, in fact, been not two series, but only one—it would have been quite impossible for them to have formed the notion about Messiah which they did, even although the Roman rule had been ten times more oppressive than it was, and their hatred against it ten times more bitter than it was.

We would now indicate briefly an interesting fact, which remarkably distinguishes the two orders of prophecies we have mentioned, and of the reality of which any one may easily convince himself. It is, that the prophetic utterances of the first kind—those of which the second Psalm is an instance—identify Christ and Christianity—the King and His kingdom, the Priest and His people; whereas those of a contrasted character—those of which the twenty-second Psalm is an instance— have their whole meaning exhausted, if we may so speak, in the person of the suffering Messiah.

In prophecies of the first order, we find it impossible to distinguish, by any clearly-defined lines, what is said of the Church, and what refers exclusively to its great Head; or rather the object before us is both in their unity—both as inseparably related, as so connected, that what is true of the one must finally be true of the other. The Jews concluded from these prophecies that Christ would manifest Himself surrounded by the most inconceivable glories, the utmost outward pomp and majesty; and even down to the present hour, men have very generally felt as if the language employed had been too grand for the fulfilment it had. Now, it is in part an answer to say that this feeling arises from our undervaluing spiritual greatness, and that all the material imagery introduced, or that can be introduced, so far from surpassing the reality, falls immeasurably below it. But this is only in part an answer; for the greatness referred to would seem very frequently really to be an external visible greatness. Even this, however, presents no difficulty, when we remember the connexion of Christ and the Church, or rather their unity, their identity, in these prophecies. We may, with the utmost confidence, anticipate that the life which flows from Him will ultimately form to itself a body all glorious within and without; shape for itself a fitting expression and form: a Church, covering the whole earth, as the waters the channel of the deep, filled with all spiritual energies, and clad in all holy beauties—a militant and victorious visible body, to describe which no human language is too grand.

It would take a long time and considerable space even to mention the errors which, we think, have arisen from not recognising the true object of prophecy in passages of this class. That object is not Christ, nor yet the Church. It is Christ and the Church. Specially should we have liked to shew its bearing on millenarian speculations. It appears to us to dispel a vast amount of the absurdity that has been written and talked on the millennium, both for and against.

In the prophecies of a contrasted nature—in the prophecies of the second class—we have, on the contrary, one solitary Being presented before us— alone, in awful, mysterious, unparalleled agony— alone, even His God forsaking Him—men surrounding Him only with curses and mockery. Here we have a perfectly distinct and definite object—a single, isolated individual. From this circumstance, it happens that these are the prophecies which have the greatest apologetic value— those which weigh most as evidences—those which the Jew and the unbeliever find it most difficult to avoid the force of. They are not really more valuable or interesting in themselves; but almost all their statements were realised and fulfilled in the few short, closing hours of our Saviour's life, whereas the statements in prophecies of the contrasted class are fulfilled only in the course of centuries, and over the whole surface of the earth. The difference of argumentative value implied in that is, of course, immense.

What is the explanation of this pervading differrence? Its correct explanation involves a great religious truth—no less a truth, in fact, than the central truth of all—the doctrine of an atonement. Since the general law has not itself been fully apprehended, the argument for the doctrine of atonement which may be raised upon it has, as might be expected, been entirely lost to theology. The law, the pervading difference, does mean, however, and very obviously mean, that while the Church of Christ was to be participant of all the glories of its great Head, its King, Prophet, and Priest— that while it was freely and abundantly to receive of all spiritual gifts and graces out of His fulness, the wine-press of Divine wrath was what He had to tread alone. There and then He could have no companion. He had to do it not with His people, but for them. The weary weight of atoning pain and punishment that He bore none other than Himself could have borne; but His followers ever have received, and ever will receive, "in a measure without measure," of all the blessings thus bought by His solitary sorrows, and sufferings, and blood.

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