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CRITERIA OF THE APPLICATION OF PASSAGES IN THE OLD
TESTAMENT TO THE MESSIAH.
A distinguished prelate has shewn, with much force of evidence, that the main scope and supreme object of the whole scheme of Old Testament prophecy, is the Great Messiah, his character, his office, and his reign.* Obscurities and difficulties undoubtedly there are in pursuing the details and application of this principle : but they must be met with fairness, and discussed with sober and honest criticism. It pleased the sovereignty and wisdom of God, that his plan of mercy to mankind by a Redeemer should be developed by a long and slow series of representations; and that those representations should be wrought into a continuity with a vast extent of other matter in the history and religious institutions of a particular nation. The plain language of the Christian scriptures is, that“ the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy;" and that, with respect to the Jewish prophets, “the SPIRIT OF CHRIST, which was in them, testified before of the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that
* Bp. Hurd's Introd. to the Study of the Prophecics : Serm. ii.
should follow.”* But, however certain is the general principle, and however predominant its influence over all the other parts of the prophetic plan, we cannot arbitrarily assume its application in any given case : evidence must be afforded that the interpretation, in each instance, is the genuine sense and intention of the passage. The principles of such evidence are expressed in the two following rules.
1. Our first criterion is the common rule of all rational interpretation ; that the sense afforded by a cautious and critical examination of the terms of the passage, and an impartial construction of the whole sentence according to the known usage of the language and the writer, be such as naturally and justly refers to the Messiah, and cannot, without violence, be applied to any object exclusive of him.t
The application of this criterion will be strengthened in those cases in which the Targumists, or the Jewish commentators of later periods, have admitted a reference to the Messiah. Not that those writers have any claim of authority over our judgment; or that they are entitled to any high regard for the soundness of their understanding, or the correctness of their principles of interpretation; but their testimony
* Rev. xix, 10. 1 Pet. i, 11. + See Note (A) at the end of this Chapter.
See Note [B] at the end of this Chapter,
is valuable, merely as an historical document, giving us relics of the better knowledge and the purer faith of their remote ancestors.
2. The other criterion is one which, indeed, presupposes the divine authority of the New Testament, and which could not therefore be employed against an advocate of modern Judaism: but, in any controversy between professed Christians, it ought to be held unexceptionable ; and assuredly, those who have the lowest opinions on the inspiration of the apostolic writings, will not refuse its claim to very respectful regard. This ground of authority is the sense assumed, positively averred, or manifestly implied, by the writers of the New Testament, in citations from the Old.
It is not without cause that I have expressed myself thus guardedly on this topic; for we have seen that the persons whose leading sentiments are examined in these pages are far from reposing confidence in the judgment and accuracy of the apostles when citing the oracles of God.* These modern teachers have no difficulty in representing themselves as better expositors of the ancient scriptures, than those whom Christ himself had instructed, who possessed “ the mind of Christ, whom his spirit was to “ lead into all truth,” and who declared, appealing to miraculous attestations of their veracity, that he who “despiseth them,
* See pages 24, 35, 56, 58, 67, of this volume.
despiseth not man, but God, who had given to them his Holy Spirit.”
It is admitted that the apostles and evangelists have sometimes cited sentences and phrases from the Old Testament, in the way of accommodation to subjects not contemplated in the original design of those passages. To deny this would be to refuse them that liberty of observing striking coincidences, and of making useful applications, which writers of all ages have exercised: and the scriptural books were almost the only literature of the Jews. We should, however, be slow and cautious to admit this solution, and well consider the probability that, in such cases, there may be a ground of appropriation, the inobservance of which is solely owing to our ignorance of some circumstance in the original intent of the passage. But when a portion of the ancient “ oracles of God” is introduced in the New Testament, explicitly as an assertion of fact or doctrine, or as a prophecy of the event to which it is applied, we must either admit the propriety of the application, to the full extent to which it is carried by the sacred writer, or we must attribute to him mistake or presumption, notwithstanding his professions of inspiration. That the latter part of this alternative differs little from pure deism, it would be needless to remark.
Note [A] p. 167.
" Quodsi vel sublimius est in personæ illustris ac beneficii magnitudine describendâ, quàm quod cadat in Judæorum aliquem aut regem, aut prophetam, aut statum, vel alienum à conditione auctoris; tum justum, nedum necessarium, sit id ad augustius Messiæ ævum transferri.—Quodsi autem formulas, quibus vates utitur, planè repugnare auctori perspicuè intellectum est; tum maximè Messiæ majestatem, fata, animum declarari evincitur.” “If a prophetic description of the greatness of an illustrious person, and the blessings conferred by him, be more exalted than can belong to any king, or prophet, or any circumstances of the Jews; and if it be clearly foreign to any thing in the situation of the prophet; then it is proper, and even necessary, to consider it as belonging to the more noble dispensation of the Messiah. If it be manifest that the expressions employed by the prophet cannot, with any propriety, be applied to himself or his situation; we are authorized to regard them as declaring the dignity, character, and history of the Messiah."-Dæderlein Inst. Theologi Christiani ; vol. ii. p. 178. Norimberg, 1784.