Page images

of Jesus from a virgin, nor the birth of the Messiah at all: this being no prophecy, the evangelist citing it, as fulfilled, can prove nothing. This will plainly and evidently appear from a due consideration of the prophet's design and intention in the sign, and also from the nature of the sign, by him given to Ahaz, which was on the following occasion, viz—In the days of Ahaz, king of Judah, Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel, laid siege to Jerusalem, but could not prevail. The two kings being disappointed, coucluded a new alliance, and with a greater force, agree to return again to the siege. This confederacy struck great panic and terror in the house of David and inhabitants of Jerusalem. On this occasion Isaiah was sent by God, to comfort Ahaz, and to assure lim in his name, that the confederate kings should not prevail in their design; and in order to convince Ahaz of its certainty, the prophet, in God's name, tells him to ask a sign of him; the incredulous king excuses himself, (under pretence of not tempting God.) The prophet, after complaining of the king's behaviour, tells him that the Lord himself shall give him a sign, (no doubt an indisputable, immediate sign, and such an one, as should effectually answer the intention and purpose for which it was given,) viz : That a young woman, (for so the word Almah signifies) should be delivered of a son, whose name should be called Emanuel; that before this child should know how to refuse the "mvil, or choose the good, (that is within a very short time,) “The land which he abhorred should be forsaken of both her kings.* Now it is plain as words can make it, that it was to convince Ahaz of the truth of the prophet's prediction, that this sign was given him from the Lord; and the nature of the sign given was most certainly calculated and adopted to answer the purpose for which it was given, viz : that it might be a proof of and testimony to the prophet's prediction—and so it effectually was; and it must have been the greatest absurdity, and contrary to the very intention of the sign, to have understood the prophet as St. Matthew does, describing here the conception of Mary, and the birth of her son Jesus; an event which was not to happen till seven or eight hundred years after. For how could a sign, of so remote or secret

* Isaiah, chap. 7. v. 2.—and 2 Kings, chap. 15,

a nature, bave confirmed Abaz in the hope and expectation which the prophet gave him from the Lord, of the destruction of his two grand enemies, within a very short time? but the certain foretelling of a birth of a male child, and the declaring that before it should have any knowledge, both the kings, his enemies, should be destroyed, appears a proper and well adapted sign: because it must have shortly verified the prophet's prediction. But a sign which was not to come to pass till upwards of seven or eight hundred years after, could never answer the purpose ; for how could it be a sign to the incredulous king, to prove that, which was immediately to happen ? For the incredulity of Ahaz was the occasion of God's giving him a sign. But how could that sigu contribute to convince him, unless he saw the accomplishment ? And if he disbelieved the promise from God in what was soon to to happen, what credit could be expected he should give to an event so very remote ? would it not be the greatest absurdity for a person to foretell a thing as immediately, or soon coming to pass, and to give a sign, which should not come to pass for seven or eight hundred years after ? when the thing foretold was fulfilled, could a sign at that distance be any proof or confirmation of the truth of the thing foretold ? No, certainly, it must appear useless to every person, and rather a banter than a sign, and could only serve to add to the incredulity of those concerned.

On the other hand, nothing can be clearer than that the whole transaction was plainly fulfilled in the days of Abaz, within the time limited by the prophet, before the child which was born could distinguish good from evil, or in about two years, as is evident from sacred history; for within that time the king of Syria was slain, after the taking of Damascus ;* and the king of Israel was smitten by Hosea, who rebelled against him.t By which means the land which Ahaz abhorred was bereft of both her kings, which event fulfilled the prophet's prediction; for which the prophet's own child, (and not Jesus, as it is pretended,) was given as the sign.

That it was so, the prophet himself declares, by saying, “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord bath given me are for * 2 Kings, chap. xvi. v. 9.

4 Ibid, chap. xv. v. 30.

signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of Hosts."* Thus was the sigo given to convince Ahaz fulfilled, and the whole prophecy accomplished at that very time, and consequently it excludes all their pretentions. The word Almah, rendered Virgin in the English Bible, signifies no more than a young woman, whether maid, married, or widow. When a virgin is intended, it is always expressed by the word Bethulah, which is a proper term for a virgin ; this is evident from the word Bethulah being used for virgin throughout all Scripture.t

I cannot here forbear observing, how cautiously Father Calmet treats, and explains the word Almah. He trifles and imposes on his readers, and endeavours to hide from them, as much as lays in his power, its true meaning, by declaring, that, “ The Hebrews had no term that more properly signifies a virgin than Almah;" for though he at last, (and as it were, contrary to his inclination,) is forced to confess the contrary. He does it in such a manner, as discovers his glaring chicanery: for he says, “ [t must be confessed, without lessening however the certainty of Isaiah's prophecy, that sometimes, by mistake, any young woman

whatsoever, whether a virgin or not, is called Almah.” Now ob• serve : First he assures you, that, “ The Hebrews have no term

that more properly signifies a virgin, than Almah,” which is evidently false. Second, when he brings himself to the confession, “that any young woman whatsoever” is called by this name, he will have it to be by mistake, which is also false —And lastly, for fear of prejudieing or lessening the authority of the application of Isaiah's prophecy by St Matthew, he inserts a salvo by which he excepts the word in that place, not to mean any young woman whatsoever; but that it means a virgin. How vain, nay, how ridiculous are such shifts and evasions.I Let us return:

There are many ......ian commentators, both ancient and modern, who do justice to this passage of Isaiah, and acknowledge that the whole must be literally understood of his own son, who was made the sign to Ahaz, and was consequently accomplished in his days; and contenting themselves, either with making * Isaiah, chap. viii, v. 18. † Vide. Gen. chap. xxiv. v. 16_Levit. xxi. 3, 13—Deut. xxii. 23, 28, &c. † See Calmet Dict. on the word Almah.

Isaiah's son to be a type of Jesus, or with barely contending for an accommodation of phrases, made use of here by the Evangelist.

But as neither of these inventions are of weight, or prove any thing, it makes others, (who are not at all pleased with the aforesaid methods of accounting for the Evangelist's saying a thing was fulfilled when in fact it was not,) endeavour by various shifts and wretched evasions, to extend this passage of Isaiah to the miraculous conception of a virgin, and birth of Jesus. These always take for granted, that the term Almah means a virgin. At all this you must not be surprised--for on such occasions, let the passage be ever so plain, they must endeavour to fix on some other meaning, and make it out some way or other : This they will always do rather than give up a point so essential, and on which they place the very foundation of the ......ian religion.

The authors of the Universal History furnish you with a very remarkable instance, who having put their own sense on the prophecy, that the sceptre should not depart from Judah, till Shiloh come to put an end to the kingdom.* They tell you that the desponding king (Ahaz) could not be ignorant of it; as if the wise authors knew, and were certain, that Ahaz believed this prophecy of Jacob in the sense given that passage by ......ians, after the establishment of ......ianity. When on the contrary, it very evidently and plainly appears, that the sense of the whole Jewish church and nation, (not excepting even Jesus himself, the Evangelist, and Apostles,) who never made use of, or applied that prophecy in any sense whatever, (a plain proof that they never understood it in the sense, since giving it,) must even have been against any such application or explanation : For they did always ardently wish for, and expect the Messiah, as the greatest blessing and happiness that could befall them-Consequently they either did not believe Shiloh to be the Messiah; or if they did believe the Messiah to be thereby meant, it must have been in a very different sense, since the restoring of the kingdom and nation was that which they expected at his coming; otherwise, instead of joyfully expecting him as the greatest blessing, they would have had cause to dread

* l'niversal History, vol, iv. p. 153.

his coming. Therefore Ahaz's fears could never have proceeded from that passage; for if he knew any thing of that passage, he must have considered it in a different sense ; and it is much more probable, that he had but little faith in prediction, to which he seems to have paid but little regard, as appears from the whole history of his life.

It is surprising therefore, that the learned authors should explain this passage by building on so inconsistent and so false a foundation ; asserting as they do, “ that this Shiloh promised to Judah and David, who was to forerun the total excision of the Jewish polity, was to be born in a miraculous manner, and with a divine character, and other remarkable circumstances.” But all this is a mere ramble of the author's own inventions, and has no foundation at all, nor any connections with Isaiah's prophecy; for the authors speak of matters which could not be given for signs, neither to Ahaz nor to any other persons : no, not even to those who should live in the time of this pretended miraculous birth.

Therefore such signs must have been aseless, and consequently could answer no purpose at all; for how could that be given for à sign, which according to the nature and frame of things, could never be made manifest, it being impracticable to evidence the virginity of any woman :-take me right, I am not here speaking against the possibility of the thing, that not being the question at present; but what I uge is, the uselessness of such a sign: because it was of that nature, as made it impracticable to be wrought in a manner capable to answer the purpose for which a sign was given that is, conviction.

I am therefore only clearing and defending the prophet from having any such design ; for such a sign and miracle, being by the nature of things invisible, could never have been intended as a proof of that which should come to pass; the same being actually contrary to the manner of God's performing his miracles on all other occasions. For unless they were manifest and public, how could they be attended to, or how could the people be convinced by them?

The same objections may also be urged against the conception of a woman without the concurrence of a man : the possibility of

« PreviousContinue »