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is a fit subject for our watchful notice as Christians; and will be found to furnish continual cause to adore the wisdom and goodness of God, who maketh men that " mean not so as he means," to be the instruments of his most holy and gracious will.
It is an animating object for the Christian, to see the nations agitated with unwonted feelings, under the influence of principles which are rooting up inveterate prejudices, and demolishing the bulwarks of superstition throughout the world, It is an animating object for the Christian, to witness the vast movement of men's minds toward the acquisition of knowledge. Because, though he knows these things to be full of danger, from the depravity of man and the malice and power of the enemy, yet he knows that he who is "God over all, blessed for ever," has ordained this state of excitement and exertion, and is directing it to his own ends.
In respect of the exertions of this day, more particularly as connected with religion, look at those three mighty engines-education, the press, and the ministry.
A system of education by mutual instruction, has been discovered and perfected in this favoured land, which is actually proved to be adequate, at an expense within reach, to the instruction of every human being! And, for the press, who can adequately estimate its power! And who can duly appreciate the actual use which has been made of that power, in the single instance of the five million copies of the Scriptures, or parts of the Scriptures, which have been put into circulation by the British and Fo
reign Bible Society? In reference to the ministry, as employed for the salvation of the heathen world, it will be found, that probably from six to to seven hundred missionaries, a great portion of whom were married, have left their respective homes, in Christian lands, since the awak ening which we witness, in order to "preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ."
Nearly half a million of money has been spent by Christians, within the last year of which the accounts have reached us, in the direct work of advancing the kingdom of Christ: about a sixth part of this sum has been supplied by American Christians, the other fivesixths by this country.
These facts are undoubtedly very encouraging, as contrasted with the apathy of earlier days, and considered as pledges and earnests of more enlarged zeal and of far greater liberality. But have we all done our duty in respect of the calls for Christian exertion in our day? Very few, I fear, can truly say this. Our exertions are great, compared with the past exertions of Christians; but they are little indeed, compared-not with what the whole so-called Christian church might do-but with what the real members of the church of Christ might do, and therefore ought to do.
It is a serious question, which every Christian should put to his conscience, whether, in respect of money, and time, and heart, his exertions are what they might be.
Is nothing needlessly and improperly given to the show and embel. lishments of life? Nothing to the indulgences of life? Do I find means to spend for God but the legal tithe of my substance? Shall the Jew bring to the temple his willing offerings to a far greater extent than his mere tithe; and shall those, who are exalted to the privileges of the kingdom of God their Saviour, withhold from his service any talent which he has bestowed in order that they may
use it for him? And where but a little can be given, is it not a remarkable feature of our day, that a channel is opened which receives the smallest tributary stream? The weekly donor, not like the poor widow whose two mites were entrusted to the eye of Omniscience, can follow his little contributions as it were with his eye, and see them swelling the noble river which is fertilizing the world.
And how can any young person manifest love to the Saviour more acceptably to him, than by cherish ing love to the cause of that Saviour in the breasts of ten, or twenty, or thirty persons, who will give if asked? Let me press this subject on the young. Never will you repent such a course of zealous, prudent, and persevering devotedness to your Saviour. It will afford numberless opportunities of doing good to others, and of cherishing the best feelings of a Christian in your own souls; while you will render steady and efficient support to those who by their counsels and their labours are seeking the salvation of the world.
In other ways, many may find time, if prompted by ardent love to Christ, to assist in the exertions of these days. Above all, then, let us pray for this ardent love. It is in the surrender of the heart to God in which we all fail. This day, however, of excitement and exertion, is a day of increasing difficulties.
And whence do these difficulties arise? Are the heathen roused into opposition? No! They cry, "Come over and help us." The very Jews are becoming eager for knowledge! Are the means less efficient? No! Are the means withheld? They might indeed be more abundant, they ought to be more abundant, and they will be more abundant. This is not the source of our difficulties. Are, then, our outward enemies permitted to thwart and oppress us? No! They seem to be thrown back for a season: we hear them, indeed, and we feel
them; but they cannot seriously obstruct us.
No! here lies our great difficulty. The common enemy has adopted that mode of attack by which the church of Christ has ever been most injured: he has succeeded, to a fearful extent, in dividing the house against itself! We boasted of our union, and harmony, and love! We professed, indeed, to give God the glory of this concord: but, doubtless, there was a secret indulgence of self-complacency which displeased him.
And in the noble society, which most strikingly illustrated Christian harmony and concord, and which spoke most loudly its own praise on that ground, there the mischief began!
But it does not stop there! The spirit of division seems to be let loose! The days of Corinth seem fast returning!" When we come together, every one hath a doctrine, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation." The rule of duty is in danger of changing its nature. Plain commands are in danger of giving way to "private interpretation." That most salutary rule of our church, in which I am sure our friends of other denominations will cordially join, that most salutary rule of interpretation, is in danger of being forsaken of being forsaken-" In our doings, that will of God is to be followed which we have expressly declared unto us in the word of God."
What, then, are the duties of this day of difficulties and dangers? I would sum up all in one word, Self-controul. Let us labour and pray that we may rise to the full spirit of our day, and devote ourselves and our all to aid its exertions; but let us remember, that by the grace of God its peculiar dangers are to be avoided, and its peculiar difficulties to be surmounted, by cherishing an humble, subdued, patient, watchful, and dependent spirit; "swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath."
If time would allow, I would enlarge on two other signs of these
eventful times. This is a day of en couraging success, and a day of ardent and well-grounded expectation. In respect of success, it may be fairly concluded, I think, from the history of missionary and Christian labours, that success has been granted, as the general rule of the Divine government, in proportion to the plenitude of the means. I know no instance in which success has not been proportioned to the vigour, perseverance, wisdom, and piety of the means that have been employed. It may please God, indeed, to remove his servants by sickness or death: this has been severely felt by us in our WestAfrica mission. Herein we must bow to His sovereign will: and though he can save by few as well as by many, yet it is not in the usual order of his dealings that he should do so; and we must yield therefore, to his holy will, if the success diminish with the means. Nor does he always give success proportioned to the means: for, though that appears to be the general rule of his government, he sees fit to hide pride from man, by sometimes shewing the inefficacy of all means. But every thing loudly demands at our hands as our duty, in respect of hoped-for and desired success, to multiply to the utmost the best means, in a spirit of entire and absolute dependence by faith and in prayer on the Holy Spirit, who worketh all in all !
I will only add, that we live in a day of ardent and well-grounded hopes and expectations.
The providence of God concurs with his word to awaken the most ardent hopes of the Christian. These hopes do not depend on his understanding the application of particular prophecies. Let men of piety, knowledge, and leisure, apply themselves with modesty to the diligent study of the prophetical word; and let there be a friendly interchange of opinions and views on these subjects: dogmatism, and intolerance, and presumption, are never more out of place, than in
human judgments on that will of God which is yet to be accomplished.
The whole structure of prophecy is such as to strengthen and cherish the graces of the Christian, if he rightly use the prophetical word. While it may awaken and maintain, taken in connexion with the government of the world, the eager attention and persevering study of the most able and learned men, it will serve to keep them humble and teachable before God and man: and while prophecy, thus used, will supply perpetual incentives to duty, duty will continue to be grounded on the plain command. And, to the mass of Christians, prophecy is of distinguished benefit, if rightly used. While the application of numberless particular prophecies must be at present hidden from them, yet the prophetical word is so written as to raise and elevate the soul to God, to enlarge the desires of the Christian, to awaken increasing interest in the kingdom of his Lord, and to strengthen his faith and trust in God. My earnest counsel, therefore, to all, would be, Study the prophecies for the confirmation of your hopes, and the awakening of high and holy expectations of those times of glory which are coming on the world. But study them with humility and prayer, according to the means and opportunities afforded you, in due proportion to other parts of the sacred word, and for that holy and elevating end for which they were designed.
Tothe Editorofthe Christian Observer. I PROPOSE to affix to the word "kings" in the 16th verse of Isa. vii. the meaning of " series or successions of kings." Some of the commentators notice, or rather refer to, an accomplishment of the prophecy taken in this sense (Scott in loco): and it is, I believe, universally admitted that the word has this meaning in
the Books of Daniel and Revelations. But I have not met with any writer who makes a second series of kings of Judah one of the great peculiarities of the denunciations, uttered in this place by the prophet, against the sinful members of the family of David. The adoption of this interpretation seems, however, to make the last twelve verses of the chapter one uniform, consistent, and united prophecy: and if this be the case, we may perhaps, without error, con clude, that we shall understand the sixteenth verse properly by taking the word "kings" in the sense just mentioned *.
It appears, from the first nine verses, that there was a combination to remove the descendants of David from the throne of Judah, and, as some commentators have intimated (Scott, on ver. 14), to destroy the family altogether. Under these circumstances, what could be a stronger assurance to the house of David, that the lineage should continue in spite of these machinations, than the declaration, that a virgin of this family+ should conceive and
In Isaiah xix. 4, the word kings is taken by Scott to mean series of kings. And perhaps the same word, in Hosea xi. 5, will require the same interpretation. But this is doubtful, as the plural in Hebrew is frequently used (it is said) as implying, not plurality, but excellence or superiority.
I think it is the meaning that the virgin should be of the family of David; but this is of no consequence. It appears from our translation, that the sign to be given, was not the prophecy, but the event. As the event was to be a sign to the house of David, it seems to me to require that some of David's descendants should witness it. This includes a promise of the continuance of the family of David, which is all that I consider as of importance. But why should it then be a sign to this family more than to other families of which there might be individuals witnessing it? I ad mit that the answer, "because God had appointed it to be a sign in the one case, and not in the other," may be fairly con. sidered as sufficient. Yet I think we give the prophecy no undue importance, if we believe that the virgin should be descended from David, because thus the event fore
told would be more emphatically and peculiarly a sign to the house of David.
bear a son, which of necessity implied that the family should continue until this wonderful event took place? So that here we find, what the state of the house of David, and the goodness of God, as expressed to the king of Judah in the eleventh verse, might lead us to expect→→ namely, a promise of the continuance of the family of David.
But as a punishment to Ahaz for his refusal to ask a sign, the prophet proceeds to foretel the end of the dynasty of the house of David. This denunciation is, I suggest, contained in the prophecy of kings of a second order of succession in the sixteenth verse, and more plainly, I think, declared in verse 17: "The Lord shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days that have not come from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah;" that is, from the day on which a great part of the kingdom was reft from the grandson of David. I think nothing can be more natural, than to understand these words of the seventeenth verse as a prediction of the removal of the house of David from the kingdom entirely, by the agency afterwards mentioned, namely, that of the king of Assyria: and I think that the reference to the revolt of the ten tribes might well cause the descendants of David to apprehend that they would be excluded from the throne of Judah, as they had been from that of Israel, by another family.
In the following verses, to the end of the chapter, is described the terrible devastation of the land of Judah, in consequence of the invasion of it by the Assyrians; by which it appears, that the overthrow of the power of the descendants of David would be a judgment from God, bringing with it great sufferings upon all the people of the land. And if we find an intimation that the end of the second series of kings should not be accompanied by any such calamities, then the denunciation against the house of David will have no small additional force.
I hope to shew that there is such an intimation of .he manner in which the second series of kings should terminate, in the fifteenth and six teenth verses; and, also, that these two verses unite the parts of the prophecy, and determine the fourteenth verse to be a prediction of the birth of Jesus Christ, as direct and striking as the application of it to that event by the Evangelist.
I consider the words, "the land about which thou art so solicitous" (this is an old way of translating the Hebrew-see Scott's note), to mean the land of Judah only. They cannot mean the land of Syria and the land of Israel, for these countries had never been one state. Nor do I think probable the interpretation which makes the words mean the kingdoms of Judah and Israel; for then the word translated "solicitous" must have two meaningsone, referring to Judæa, implying a solicitude arising from regard and good-will; another, referring to Israel, implying a solicitude proceeding from ill-will and fear. Therefore, if we can find a way of understanding the prophecy which affixes a definite sense to every part of it, and refers the whole to the land of Judæa, it will be far better than these old interpretations. And if we take "kings" to denote "successions of kings," it is plain that we cannot suppose the kingdom of Israel to be at all alluded to. And, on the other hand, if we think the land of Israel is not alluded to, I do not see how we can understand the word "kings" in the sixteenth verse otherwise than as above proposed.
It has been suggested, by one of the very best Hebrew scholars in the country, that the proper translation is," the land which thou verest (might we take it, The land which thou art vexing?') shall be forsaken," &c. On the authority of the critic who made this remark, I have adopted the translation which he recommends, and would have adopted it if it had completely de
stroyed the scheme of interpretation now offered. It seems, however, to make no difference, It may be observed, that the meaning of the word in question is chiefly of importance as indicating what land it is whose kings are the subject of the prophecy. Now I submit, that this land is still Judah. It was Judah which Ahaz was vexing. It is plain, from the first nine verses of this chapter, that Ahaz was not vexing Israel or Syria by any hos tilities; for the confederacy of these states against him had caused such apprehension (verse 2; and see 2 Kings xvi.; 2 Chron. xxviii.) in Judæa, as could not have been excited if Abaz had been in a condition to act on the offensive against his enemies. And in what way but in war could Ahaz vex the land of Israel or of Syria? As Judah, Syria, and Israel, were the only nations to which the prophecy could apply, Judah must of course be the land referred to. And the use of the word "vexest," seems to me exactly the same as the expression of Elijah, "I have not troubled Israel, but thou (that is, the king of Israel, hast troubled Israel) and thy father's house." The idea is the same in the two cases.
I understand the fifteenth verse to signify, that there should be peace from the birth of the child until he should know how to refuse the evil and choose the good. The words
butter and honey shall he eat," are frequently thought to denote peace*; but no one has suggested a satisfactory reason why the circumstance of the existence of peace should be made an object of so much importance in the prophecy. The duration of peace is frequently supposed to be predicted until the child should attain a certain age. By the words " until he shall
• Lowth considers that peace is denoted, because butter and honey, which are the common articles of food of chil
dren in the East, cannot be obtained in plenty in time of war.-Scott's Note. + Scott's Note.