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Suicidal blindness of the Church of England; Folly of the Act of Uniformity.
Vehement, if not violent, is the Author's language, now and then, as he speaks of the wrongs inflicted, and of the follies committed throughout the Puritan period. But large indul. gence is to be given to any one who, with such genuine convictions, and such loyalty to the cause of Protestantism, feels ‘his spirit stirred within him,' (as ours is while we accompany him,) when he sees the mischiefs which have come in like a food upon our Church at this moment, traceable to the infatuation which operated upon the men of Baxter's day.
“If any one wants a really fair and impartial history of the times, I strongly advise him to read Marsden's History of the Puritans.' I regard these two volumes as the most valuable addition which has been made to our stock of religious history in modern times." (p. 176.)
With this tribute to one who will deservedly retain a high place in the grateful remembrance of all readers of a Periodical over which he has for ten years so ably presided, we conclude our extracts. Indeed, we find ourselves under the necessity of terminating, also, here, our remarks on Mr. Ryle's work, not, however, without noticing the third Puritan life it contains, that of William Gurnall, the Author of “The Christian in Complete Armour,” which the Author, as a part of his own chosen title, most truly described as “a magazine opened from whence the Christian is furnished with spiritual arms, &c.” While none in the whole list of Puritan writers is better known, for the precious matter he furnishes, than Gurnall, perhaps there is no writer of the theology of that period of whose personal history so little is known. Having often felt this, it was with much satisfaction that, on being introduced to Mr. Ryle's book, we found that some particulars concerning Gurnall's personal history came into the plan. A golden book will henceforth be read with additional interest. As Mr. Ryle claims for himself full liberty of speech when he deals with bishops and preachers of this generation, he will permit us to use the like freedom in suggesting that the style of this book would have been in better taste if the first person singular had been less in use throughout. Some would call his constant employment of “I want," and such like uses of the first person, which occur
“Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
In Vallombrosa,” egotistic. This is a common but incorrect use of that term, egotism being properly attributable to one who discovers vanity in speaking or writing about himself. But a great blemish, at least in style, discovers itself when the thoughts are constantly taken to the personality of the Author, who should as much as possible be invisible.
ON THE TRUE INTERPRETATION OF ISAIAH VII, 14-17.
THOUSANDS of Sermons are probably every Christmas Day preached on the words, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel;" and the preachers treat them as containing a direct prediction of thə birth of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Virgin Mary, and a glorious testimony to His Divine nature. To show that this is the true interpretation,-notwithstanding the critics and commentators opposed to it,—will be attempted in the present paper.
The whole passage is as follows :-" 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 to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For 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.”
The late Dr. Pye Smith, in his very learned and valuable work on the “ Scripture Testimony to the Messiah,” discusses this passage at considerable length; and states his conviction, in the strongest possible manner, that it cannot be understood as a direct prophecy of the Messiah. “It seems,” he observes, “to be as clear as words can make it, that the Son promised was born within a year after the giving of the prediction ; that his being so born, at the assigned period, was the 'sign' or pledge that the political deliverance announced to Ahaz should certainly take place; and that such deliverance would arrive before this child should have reached the age in which children are commonly able to discriminate the kinds of food.” And again he observes, “The terms of the prediction seem to define its application to circumstances existing at the time, or speedily to exist. The demonstrative term, the virgin, naturally points out some young female, known to the parties addressed, and probably present on the occasion. It is also as clearly declared, that the child, when born, should be nourished with the preparation then commonly given to infants in that country, till he should become capable of distinguishing correctly between the bad and the good sorts of food; but that, before that time—that is, within about two years—the country of the invaders should itself be ruined and deserted.”
As to the particular individual meant by “the virgin,” Dr. Smith states that Abravenel and other Jewish writers, and
some Christian interpreters too, suppose the person to have been the wife of Isaiah ; but adds, “To me, I confess, the most probable conjecture is that the person was the Queen of Alaz, to whom, I further conjecture, that he had then been just married, and that she was at the time beginning to be pregnant with a son, who proved a blessing to his country, and a signal honour to the house of David-namely, the pious and upright Hezekiah.” He thinks it, however, “by no means impossible that the Queen was betrothed only, and the marriage not yet consummated.”
As respects the name by which the child would be called (Immanuel), Dr. Smith observes that "it does not appear to have been intended as a proper name,” but “as a commemo. rative and descriptive title.”
Dr. Smith classes this passage among those “prophetic testimonies which had a primary, but inferior and partial, reference to some proximate person or event; but had another and a DESIGNED reference to some remoter circumstance, which, when it occurred, would be the real FULFILMENT, answering every feature, and FILLING UP the entire extent, of the original delineation.” Applying this principle to the passage in question, he observes, “I conceive that the Divine declaration was calculated for two classes of persons, and therefore intended to comprise two very different objects. The first class consisted of Abaz and his family, together with those among the Jews whose minds regarded only temporal enjoyments, and whose wishes rose no higher than to a political deliverance. The other was the class of pious persons, who knew the value of spiritual blessings, and who regarded the promises and the providence of God with an especial view to the consolation and redemption of Israel by the Messiah. To the former description of persons, the birth of a male child, at the close of the usual period of gestation reckoned from the giving of the prediction, and born of the person distinctly pointed out,-would be a manifest proof of Divine omniscience and agency, and would be a sufficient sign to insure their reliance on the accomplishment of the rest of the prediction within the specified time. The other class, aided by their knowledge of Divine truth and grace, so far as then made known by revelation, might attach to the proximate design of the expressions a reference to their most exalted hopes, and an assurance that God would 'raise up a horn of salvation in the house of His servant David, as He had spoken by the mouth of His holy prophets.' This supposition is rendered more probable by the consideration that it was the usual custom of the Jewish prophets, and particularly of Isaiah, when commissioned to administer encouragement to their countrymen, under some actual or threatened calamity, to derive the chief topics of consolation from the great 'hope of Israel,' the promise of the Messiah.”
The popular American expositor, Albert Barnes, has sup. ported the view of the passage taken by Dr. Pye Smith, "in a disquisition of considerable length, and marked with solicitous impartiality;" the following summary of which is thus given by Mr. Barnes, and quoted by Dr. Pye Smith. “Though the prophet at first had his eye on an event which was soon to occur, and which would be to Ahaz full demonstration that the land would be safe from the impending invasion, yet his mind was thrown forward to future times. He employed language which would describe also a future glorious event, and which would be a fuller confirmation and demonstration that God would protect the people. He became fully absorbed in that event, and his language at last referred to that alone. The child that should then be born would, in most of the circumstances of his birth, be an apt emblem of Him who should be born in future times, since both would be a demonstration of the divine power and protection. To both, the name IMMANUEL, though not the common name by which either would be designated, might be appropriately given. Both would be born of a virgin ; the former, of one who was then a virgin, and the birth of whose child could be known only to God; the latter, of one who should be appropriately called The Virgin, and who should remain so at the time of his birth. One of these events suggested the other ; and Isaiah, when he had a vision of the Messiah (chap. ix. 1, 2), seems to have become wholly absorbed in the contemplation, and to have given them (ver. 3—7) a description that was applicable to Him alone. This seems to me to be the meaning of this difficult prophecy. The considerations in favour of referring it to the birth of a child in the time of Isaiah, and which should be a pledge to him (Ahaz) of the safety of his kingdom then, seem to me to be unanswerable; and the consideration in favour of an ultimate reference to the Messiah, (a reference which becomes in the issue total and absorbing,) are equally unanswerable.”
Bishop Lowth's comment on the passage is as follows:“ The obvious and literal meaning of the prophecy is this : 'that within the time that a young woman, now a virgin, should conceive and bring forth a child, and that child should arrive at such an age as to distinguish between good and evil, that is, within a few years, the enemies of Judah should be destroyed. But the prophecy is introduced in so solemn a manner; the sign is so marked, as a sign selected and given by God Himself, after Ahaz had rejected the offer of any sign of his own
pposet Deliverend what th, that in his child,
choosing out of the whole compass of nature; the terms of the prophecy are so peculiar, and the name of the child so expressive, containing in them much more than the circumstances of the birth of a common child required, or even admitted; that we may easily suppose that, in minds prepared by the general expectation of a great Deliverer to spring from the house of David, they raised hopes far beyond what the present occasion suggested; especially when it was found, that in the subsequent prophecy, delivered immediately afterward, this child, called Immannel, is treated as the Lord and Prince of the land of Judah. Who could this be, other than the Heir of the throne of David ? under which character a great and even a Divine Person had been promised. No one of that age answered to this character, except Hezekiah; but he was certainly born nine or ten years before the time specified for the birth of Immanuel.” Who the virgin and her son whom she called Immanuel were, Bishop Lowth does not say.
Many other names besides those of Dr. Pye Smith, Mr. Albert Barnes, and Bishop Lowth, might be cited, -especially from the list of former critics and commentators,--in favour of the interpretation which seems to exclude a direct reference to the Messiah, whilst it acknowledges the application of the passage in a far higher and more important, but in a typical, sense, to Him who is the real Immanuel. On the other hand, however, Dr. Pye Smith allows that the “interpretation of the passage, as a direct and exclusive prophecy of the Messiah, is maintained by interpreters, ancient and modern, too numerous to be mentioned.” He allows, also, that he is very sensible of the difficulties and objections that attach to the interpretation which he advocates; and declares that it would be a satisfaction to him if he could perceive sufficient evidence to embrace the interpretation more generally approved.
Let us now point out some of the difficulties against the interpretation advocated by Dr. Pye Smith.
"A," or rather, “The Virgin shall conceive.”
Who is meant by “THE VIRGIN ?” Some young woman, it is said, who was present on the occasion when Isaiah met Ahaz, to whom the prophet could point with the finger ;the wife of Isaiah, or the wife of Ahaz, or some one whose name is quite unknown. But what proof is there that Isaiah's wife was present ? Surely, if she were intended to act so important a part in this transaction, the Lord would have commanded the Prophet to take her with him, together with their son Shear-Jashub; and the fact would have been recorded.
It is very possible that the wife of Ahaz was present, because Isaiah addresses the house of David (v. 13, 14), by which the Royal family may be meant. But here, too, we might surely
Vol. 68.-No. 373.