« AnteriorContinuar »
respect to the light that had shined in upon them, it refers entirely to his own ministry, and to the boldness of it, which opposed itself to that of the witches and wizards who peeped about and muttered.
Isaiah is, upon the whole, a wild disorderly writer, preserving in general no clear chain of perception in the arrangeinent of his ideas, and consequently producing no defined conclusions from them. It is the wildness of his style, the confusion of his ideas, and the ranting metaphors he einploys, that have afforded so many opportunities to priestcraft in some cases, and to superstition in others, to impose those defects upon the world as prophecies of Jesus Christ. Finding no direct meaning in them, and not knowing what to make of them, and supposing at the same time they were intended to have a meaning, they supplied the detect by inventing a meaning of their own and called it his. I have, however, in this place done Isaiah the justice to rescue him from the claws of Matthew, who has torn him unmercitully to pieces; and from the imposition or ignorance of priests and commentators, by letting Isaiah speak for himself.
If the words “ walking in darkness," and "light breaking in," could in any case be applied prophetically, whichi they cannot be, they would better apply to the times we now live in than to any other. The world has “walked in darkness" for eighteen hundred years, both as to religion and government, and it is only since the American Revolution began that light has broken in. The belief of one God, whose attributes are revealed to us in the book or scripture of the creation, which no human hand can counterfeit or falsify, and not in a written or printed book which, as Matthew has shewn, can be altered or fal. sified by ignorance or design, is now making its way ainong us: and as to government, the light is already gone forth, and whilst men ought to be careful not to be blinded by the excess of it, as at a certain time in France, when every thing was Robespierrean violence, they ought to reverence, and even to adore it, with all the firmness and perseverance that true wisdom can inspire.
I pass on to the seventh passage, called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew, chap. viii. ver. 16. “ When the evening was come, they brought unto him (Jesus) many that were possessed with devils, and he cast out the spirit with his word, and healed all that were sick.-That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias (Isaiah) the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bear our sicknesses."
This affair of people being possessed by devils, and of casting them out, was the fable of the day when the books of the New Testament were written. It had no existence at any other time. The books of the Old Testament mention no such thing; the people of the present day know of no such thing; nor does the history of any people or country speak of such a thing. It starts upon us all at once in the book of Matthew, and is altogether an invention of the New Testament-makers and the Christian church. The book of Matthew is the first book where the word Devil is mentioned as being in the singular number (2). We read in some of the books of the Old Testament of things called familiar spirits, the supposed companions of people called witches and wizards. It was no other than the trick of pretended coujurors to obtain money from credulous and ignorant people, or the fabricated charge of superstitious malignancy against unfortunate and decrepid old age.
But the idea of a familiar spirit, if we can affix any ideą to the term, is exceedingly different to that of being possessed by a devil. In the one case, the supposed familiar spirit is a dexterous agent, that comes and goes and does as he is bidden: in the other, he is a turbulent roaring monster, that tears and tortures the body into convulsions. Reader, whoever thou art, put thy trust in thy Creator, make use of the reason he endowed thee with, and cast from thee all such fables.
The passage alluded to by Matthew, for as a quotation it is false, is in Isaiah, chap. liii. ver. 4, which is as follows:
* Surely he (the person of whom Isaiah is speaking of) hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." It is in the preter tense
Here is nothing about casting out devils, nor curing of sicknesses. The passage, therefore, so far from being a prophecy of Christ, is not even applicable as a circum. stance.
Isaiah, or at least the writer of the book that bears his name, employs the whole of this chapter, the 53d, in lamenting the sufferings of some deceased person, of whom he speaks very pathetically. It is a monody on the death of a friend: but he mentions not the name of the person, nor gives any circumstance of him by which he can be personally known; and it is this silence, which is evidence of nothing, that Matthew has laid hold of to put the pame of Christ to it; as if the chiefs of the Jews, whose sorrows were then great, and the times they lived in big with dan. ger, were never thinking about their own affairs, nor the fate of their own friends, but were continually running a wild-goose chase into futurity.
To make a monody into a prophecy is an absurdity. The characters and circuinstances of men, even in different
(2) The word devil is a personification of the word evil,
ages of the world, are so much alike, that what is said of one may with propriety be said of many; but this fitness does not make the passage into a prophecy; and none but an impostor or a bigot would call it so.
Isaiah, in deploring the hard fate and loss of his friend, mentions nothing of him but what the human lot of man is subject to. All the cases he states of him, his persecutions, his imprisonment, his patience in suffering, and his perseverance in principle, are all within the line of nature; they belong exclusively to none, and may with justness be said of many. But if Jesus Christ was the person the church represents him to be, that which would exclusively apply to liim must be something that could not apply to any other person; something beyond the line of nature; something beyond the lot of mortal man; and there are no such expressions in this chapter, nor any other chapter in the Old Testament.
It is no exclusive description to say of a person, as is said of the person Isaiah is lamenting in this chapter. “He was oppressed, and he was alflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a Lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” This may be said of thousands of persons, who have suffered oppression and unjust death with patience, silence, and perfect resignation.
Grotius, whom the bishop esteems a most learned man, and who certainly was so, supposes that the person of whom Isaiah is speaking, is Jeremiah. Grotius is led into this opinion, from the agreement there is between the description given by Isaiah, and the case of Jeremiah, as stated in the book that bears his name. If Jeremiah was an innocent man, and not a traitor in the interest of lebuchadnezzar, when Jerusalem was besieged, his case was hard; he was accused by his countrymen, was persecuted, oppressed, and imprisoned, and he says of himself (see Jereiniah, chap. xi. ver. 19), “ But as for me, I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter."
I should be inclined to the same opinion with Grotius, had Isaiah lived at the time when Jeremiah underwent the cruelties of which he speaks; but Isaiah died about fifty years before: and it is of a person of his own time, whose case Isaiah is lamenting in the chapter in question, and 'which imposition and bigotry, more than seven hundred years afterwards, perverted into a prophecy of a person they call Jesus Christ.
pass on to the eighth passage called a prophecy of Jesus Christ.
Matthew, chap. xii. ver. 14. “ Then the Pharisees went out and held a council against him, how they might destroy him-But when Jesus knew it he withdrew himself; and great numbers followed him and he healed thern alland he charged thein they should not make him known: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias (Isaiah) the prophet, saying,
“Behold my servant whom I have chosen; my beloved in whom my soul is well pleased, I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles-he shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets-a bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench till he sends forth judgment unto victory-and in his name shall the Gentiles trust.”
In the first place, this passage hath not the least relation to the purpose for which it is quoted.
Matthew says, that the Pharisees held a council against Jesus to destroy bim—that Jesus withdrew himself that great numbers followed him that he healed them--and that he charged them they should not inake him known.
But the passage Matthew has quoted as being fulfilled by these circumstances, does not so inuch as apply to any one of them. It has nothing to do with the Pharisees hold ing a council to destroy Jesus—with his withdrawing himself-with great numbers following him—with his healing them-nor with his charging them not to make him known.
The purpose for which the passage is quoted, and the passage itself, are as remote from each other, as nothing from something. But the case is, that people have been so long in the habit of reading the books called the Bible and Testament, with their eyes shut, and their senses locked up, that the most stupid inconsistences have passed on them for truth, and imposition for prophecy. "The all. wise Creator hath been dishonoured by being made the author of fable, and the human mind degraded by believ.
In this passage, as in that last mentioned, the name of the person of whom the passage speaks is not given, and we are left in the dark respecting him. It is this defect in the history, that bigotry and imposition have laid hold of, to call it prophecy.
Had Isaiah lived in the time of Cyrus, the passage would descriptively apply to him. As king of Persia, his authority was great among the Gentiles, and it is of such a character the passage speaks; and his friend to the Jews whoin he liberated from captivity, and who might then be compared to a bruised reed, was extensive. But this description does not apply to Jesus Christ, who had no authority among the Gentiles; and as to his own country. men, figuratively described by the bruised reed, it was they who crucified him, Neither can be said of him that he
did not cry, and that his voice was not beard in the street. As a preacter it was his besidess to be beard, and we are toid tha: be travelled about the country for that parvose. Matthew tas given a long sermon, which it his authority is good, but shich is Dach to be doubted since he imposes so much. Jess preacted to a multitude upon a mountain, and it would be a quibole to say that a mountain is not a street, since it is a place equalls as pablic.
The last verse in the passage (the 4th), as it stands in Isaiah, and which Mattew has not quoted, says. “ He shall not fail por be discouraged till he hare set judgment in the earth, and the isles shall wait for his law." This also applies to Cyrus. He was not discouraged, he did norail, he conquered all Babtlon, liberated the Jews, and established laws. But this cannot be said of Jesus Christ, who, in the passage before us, according to Matthew, with drev himself for fear of the Pharisees, and charged the people that followed him not to make it known where be was; and who, according to other parts of the Testament, was continually moving from place to place to avoid being apprehended (3).
(3) In the second part of the Age of Reason. I have shewa that the book a.cribed to Isaiah is not only miscellaneous as io matter, but as to authorship; that there are parts in it which could not be written by Isaiah, because ther peak of things one hundred and fifty years after he was dead. The instance I have given of this, in that work, corresponds with the subject I am upon, at least a little betler than Matthew's introduciion and his quotation.
Isaiah lived, the latter part of his life, in the time of Hezekiah, and it was about one hundred and fifty years from the death of Hezekiab to the first year of the reign of Cyrus, when Cyrus published a proclamation, which is given in the first chapter of the book of Ezra, for the return of the Jews to Je rusalem. It cannot be doubted, at least it ought not to be doubted, that the Jews would feel an affectionate gratitude for this act of benevolent justice, and it is natural they would exprese that gratitude in the customary styie, bombastical and hyperbolical as it was, which they used on 'extraordinary oc. casions, and which was, and still is, in practice with all the eastero nations.
The instance to which I refer, and which is given in the se cond part of the Age of Reason, is the last verse of the 14th chapter and the beginning of thie 45th-in these words: “ That saith of Cyrus he is my shepherd and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem thou shalt be built, and to the Temple, thy foundation shall be laid. Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden to subdue nations before him; and I wil loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two-leaved gates, and the gates shall not be shut."
This complimentary address is in the present tense, which shews that the things of which it speaks were in existence at the time of writing it; and consequently that the author must have been at least one hundred and fifty years later than Isaiah, and that the book which bears his name is a compila.