« PreviousContinue »
ON THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST.
Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given : and the government shall be up
his shoulder: and his name shalt be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The ther, the Prince of Peace. Isaiah ix. 6.
1. THE close connexion which these words have with the
preceding will be easily perceived by those who advert to the history of the times to which the prophet refers. The country of Zebulun, Naphtali, and Galilee, had been the first, and greatly afflicted and debased, by the Assyrian invasion under Tiglath-pileser; and it is foretold, in the foregoing verses, that it should be first, and peculiarly blessed and exalted, by the light of the gospel, in consequence of the coming of the long-expected Messiah. I shall give you the sense of the passage according to the elegant and just translation of the prophet's words, by Bishop Lowth, a translation sufficiently defended in the instructive notes which he hath annexed to that admirable work. “ There shall not hereafter (chap. ix. 1, 2.) be darkness in the land which was distressed,” viz. by the invasion of the enemy.
“ In the former time he debased the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he hath made it glorious : even the way of the sea beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;" that is, the light of the gospel, termed by Zacharias, the inspired father of John the Baptist, “ The dayspring from on high, giving light to them that sat in darkness, and in the region of the shadow of death,” evidently alluding to this passage in Isaiah, for the prophet's next words are, “ They that dwelled in the shadow of death, unto them hath the light shined.”
2. The prophet proceeds, “ Thou hast multiplied the nation," viz. the inhabitants of that country which the Assyrians had depopulated. It appears from Josephus, that Galilee was very populous in his time, and it is probable, that it began to flourish and exceed the rest of Judea in number of inhabitants, soon after the return from the Babylonish captivity. But perhaps,“ by multiplying the nation" here, may be rather meant, increasing the number of the true people of God, by the many converts that should be made in those parts to the faith of the gospel, through the ministry and miracles of Christ, who spent much of his time, and had many disciples there. The next words, according to the Bishop's translation, who follows the reading of the margin, instead of that in the text of the Hebrew Bible, are, “ Thou hast increased their joy,” for the gospel was glad tidings of great joy to them: “They rejoice before thee as with the joy of harvest ; as they rejoice who divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, the staff laid on his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, hast thou broken, as in the day of Midian." A staff or rod, being an emblem of authority, is frequently put for a stroke or blow, inflicted by a superior, and therefore, for the oppressions of a tyrannical power. Here it signifies, the oppressions of those conquerors whom God made the instruments of his vengeance against the Jews for their sins. But it is foretold in these words, that God's people should be delivered from these oppressions, which they accordingly were on their return from captivity. And as may, perhaps, be also intended, those of their posterity who embraced the gospel were thereby delivered from the bondage they had been under to their spiritual enemies, and from the miseries they had suffered in consequence thereof. Now this deliverance, it is here signified, was to be effected, as the victory of Gideon over the Midianites, by the immediate hand of God. “ For,” adds the prophet, “the greaves
of the armed. warrior, in the conflict, and the garment rolled in, much blood, shall be for a burning, even fuel for the fire." In other words, the instruments of war and slaughter shall be totally destroyed, and peace and harmony shall take place, and be established. "Then follow the words of my text, “ For unto us a child is born,” &c. So that the prophet having predicted the great and extraordinary blessings of light and joy, victory and deliverance, that should be conferred on Galilee and other parts of Judea, proceeds in these words, in a sort of ecstacy and transport, to describe the cause of these inestimable benefits. And be signifies that they should be conferred in consequence of “ the ap
pearance of a very singular person, thát should be born among them, endüed with very extraordinary qualities,qualities that would not only exalt him above all the kings of Judah that had ever appeared, but would show him to be more than man.”
3. It is with great propriety that our church appoints this. passage of Scripture to be read in the service fixed for this day, a day kept in commemoration of the birth of Christ. For that the Messiah, and the Messiah only, is here meant, is agreed among interpreters of note, whether Jewish or Christian. The ancient Hebrew Doctors, and particularly the Chaldee Paraphrast, the most noted of them all, understood the words in this light. Although it must be acknowledged, that some later Jewish teachers, out of their enmity to Jesus of Nazareth, whom they will not acknowledge to be the Messiah, wrest them from their true and obvious meaning, and endeavour, though vainly, to apply them to Hezekiah. It is a happy circumstance, however, that their extravagant interpretation, which, indeed, has no foundation whatever in this or any other passage of Scripture, is fully confuted by the glorious titles here enumerated, which, as a learned divine observes, are such “ as cannot, without blasphemy and nonsense, be applied to Hezekiah, or any other mere mortal.”.
4. Indeed it is absurd to suppose that the prophet should form such ideas of any future king of Judah, or of any mere man, as to describe him'in such lofty language, and attribute to him such divine properties. The best of their kings, even David and Solomon, had their failings, and were far from deserving any such appellations as are here given to this extraordinary person. And whom could he hope to arise with greater virtue and endowments than David and Solomon, especially at a time when the whole nation was so corrupt; that, as he himself had expressed it, “the whole head was sick, and the whole heart faint, and from the sole of the foot even to the ead,” from the lowest to the highest, “ there was no soundness." He could not possibly have any other in his view, but the great Messiah, Him that was to come; HIM for whom the kingdom was designed from the beginning, not only over the people of the Jews, but over the whole of the human race ; who was to restore all things; who was to be head over all things, to be King of kings, and Lord of lords; who was to “ establish judgment and righteousness in the earth, and for whose law the isles were to wait ;” and who was not only to govern men as inhabitants of the earth ; but was to exalt them to be inhabitants of heaven. To him, and to no other, does the inspired prophet's description
accord, and to him only do these glorious epithets, and the qualities they express, belong. We shall consider the words in the order in which they lie, and observe,
1. The person of the Messiah : he is the Child born, the Son given.
II. One of his important offices, the government shall be upon his shoulders.
III. His qualifications for sustaining this important office, signified in the titles here given him, his name shall be called Wonder. ful, &c.
And, I. We are to consider the person of the Messiah.
1. It is here foretold, that he was to be, not an angel, but a man, a real man, conceived and born of a woman, and that he should thus become the Offspring, as he was the Root of David. He took not on him the nature of angels, says the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, but he took on him tho sood of Abraham, “ Inasmuch as we were partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took part of the same." 6 The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us ;"" "emptied himself;" put off the form of God, in which he had subsisted before all worlds, and in which he had appeared in days of old, and took “ the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men."
2. Nor was it merely the likeness of men that he assumed; but though more than man, yet he became very man, (6 of a reasonable soul, and human flesh subsisting." Though the Ancient of Days, he became an infant, a child. grew in stature, yea, and in wisdom, and even in favour with God and man."
66 The child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him." He was subject to all the innocent infirmities of human nature. He felt hunger, thirst, weariness, pain. He ate, drank, slept. He was sensible of mere human affections, such as sorrow,* joy,t love, anger,g or grief, as it is explained, on account of the hardness of their hearts. He is represented as weak and ignorant of some things, not being able to do any thing of him. self, that is, in his mere human nature, and not knowing the day of judgment. He loved God, obeyed his commandments, and sought
* Matt. xxvi. 28.
+ Luke x. 21.
John xi. 5.
$ Mark iii. 4.
his glory. He frequently prayed to him, as to one that was able to save him, and once, in particular, "offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, and was heard in that he feared."* At that time," he was sorrowful and very heavy,” yea, his soul was “ exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;" and having entreated his disciples to watch with him, he fell on his face, and prayed, saying, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: not as I will, but as thou wilt." Again, “ the second time he prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” And yet again, the third time, he prayed in the same words; and when on the cross, he complained that he was forsaken of his Father. These, and such like passages, certainly demonstrate that he was very man, having the soul as well as the body of a man, and that his divine nature was neither converted into flesh, nor supplied the place of a human soul in his body. As certainly as his being sensible of hunger, thirst, weariness, and pain; with his eating, drinking, and sleeping, proved that he had a real, animal body; so certainly, his gradually increasing in wisdom, in proportion as the faculties of his mind opened, and the eternal Word communicated its light to him, his waxing strong in spirit, his having a will of his own, distinct from the will of his Father, his sorrowing, rejoicing, hoping, fearing, loving, desiring, grieving, or being angry, demonstrate that he had a human soul or spirit, like unto ours in all things, sin excepted. This soul or spirit, he committed when he was dying, into the hands of his heavenly Father, saying, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” just as Stephen committed his to Christ, when he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Now,
3. Unto us this child is born, a declaration like that of the angel to the shepherds, “ Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour.” Well might it be said, unto us, for the advantages which we derive herefrom, are indeed, many and great. Some of these I shall here name. 1st. Partaking thus of our common human nature, he became, not the relation of angels, but our relation, our brother, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh; which is a blessing particularly noticed by the apostle, where he says, "both he that sanctifieth, and they that are sanctified, are all
* Heb. v. 7. # For further satisfaction on this subject, the reader is referred to my Vindication of the Catholic Faith, page 167, from which a part of this para graph is taken.