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of those prophecies which aj^pear to him to be con-
tained in his sacred books, and when any person
declares that these prophecies are fulfilled in him,
the Jew is led by that respect to compare the cir-
cumstances in the appearance of that person with
what he accounts the right interpretation of the
prophecies, and to form his judgment whether they
be fulfilled. A Gentile, to whom the divinity of the
prophecies was formerly unknown, but who hears a
person declaring that they are fulfilled in him, if he
is disposed by other circumstances to pay any re-
spect to what that person says, will be led by that
respect to inquire after the books in which these
prophecies are said to be contained, will compare


the appearance of that person with what is written
in these books, and will judge from this comparison
how far they correspond. Both the Jew and the
Gentile may be led by this comparison to a firm
conviction that the messenger whose character and
history they examine,^ is the person foretold in the
prophecies. Yet the Jew set out with the belief
that the prophecies are divine ; the Gentile only at-
tained that belief in the progress of the examina-
tion. It is not possible, then, that a previous be-
lief of the divinity of the prophecies is necessary in
order to judge of the fulfilment of them ; for two
men may form the same judgment in this matter,
the one of whom from the beginning had that be-
lief, and the other had it not.

The true point from which an investigation of
the fulfilment of prophecy must commence, is this,
that the books containing what is called the prophe-
cy, existed a considerable time before the events
which are said to be the fulfilment of it. I say, a
considerable time, becavise the nearer that the first
appearance of these books was to the event, it is the
more possible that human sagacity may account for
the coincidence, and the remoter the period is, to
which their existence can be traced, that account be-
comes the more improbable. Let us place ourselves,
then, in the situation of those Gentiles whom the
first preachers of the Gospel addressed ; let us sup-
pose that we know no more about the books of the
Jews than they might know, and let us consider how
we may satisfy ourselves as to the preliminary point
upon which the investigation must proceed.

The prophecies to which Jesus and his apostles
refer, did not proceed from the hands of obscure



individuals, and appear in that suspicious form
which attends every prediction of an unknown date
and a hidden origin. They were presented to the
world in the public records of a nation ; they are
completely incorporated with these records, and
they form part of a series of predictions which
cannot be disjoined from the constitution and his-
tory of the state. This nation, however singular in
its religious principles, and in what appeared to the
world to be its political revolutions, was not un-
known to its neighbours. By its geographical situ-
ation, it had a natural connection with the greatest
empires of the world. "War and commerce occasion-
ally brought the flourishing kingdom of Jiidea into
their view ; and, although repugnant in manners
and in worship, they were witnesses of the existence
and the peculiarities of this kingdom. The captivi-
ty, first of the ten tribes by Salmanazar, afterwards
of the two tribes by Nebuchadnezzar, served still
more to draw the attention of the world, many cen-
turies before the birth of Christ, to the peculiarities
of Jewish manners. And there was a circumstance
in the return of the two tribes from captivity, which
was to those who observed it in ancient times, and
is to us at this day, a singular and unquestionable
voucher of the early existence of their books. Nehe-
miah was appointed by the king of Persia to super-
intend the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. He
had received much opposition in this work from
Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, that district of
Palestine which the ten tribes had inhabited, and
into which the king of Assyria had, at the time of
their captivity, transplanted his own subjects. The
work, however, was finished, and Nehemiah proceed-


ed in making the regulations which appeared to him
necessary for maintaining order, and the observance
of the law of Moses amongst the multitude whom
he had gathered into Jervisalem. Some of these
regulations were not universally agreeable ; and
Manasseh, a son of the high priest, who had married
a daughter of Sanballat, fled at the head of the male-
content Jews into Samaria. The Law of Moses was
not acknowledged in Samaria, for the king of Assy-
ria, after the first captivity, had sent a priest to in-
struct those whom he planted there, in the worship
of the God of the country., and for some time they
had offered sacrifices to idols in conjunction with
the true God. But Manasseh, emulous of the Jews
whom he had left, and considering the honour of a
descendant of Aaron as concerned in the purity of
worship which he established in his new residence,
prevailed upon the inhabitants to put away their
idols, built a temple to the God of Israel upon
Mount Gerizim, and introduced a copy of the law
of Moses, or the Pentateuch. He did not introduce
any of the later books of the Old Testament, lest
the Samaritans, observing the peculiar honours with
which God had distinguished Jerusalem, " the place
which he had chosen, to put his name there," should
entertain less reverence for the temple of Gerizim.
And as a farther mark of distinction, Manasseh had
the book of the law written for the Samaritans, not
in the Chaldee character, which Ezra had adopt-
ed in the copies of the law which he made for the
Jews, to whom that language had become familiar
during the captivity, but in the old Samaritan cha-
racter. During the successive fortunes of the Jew-
ish nation, the Samaritans continued to reside in


their neighbourhood, worshipping the same God,
and using the same law. But between the two
nations there was that kind of antipathy, which, in
religious differences, is often the more bitter, the
less essential the disputed points are, and which, in
this case, proceeded so far that the Jews and Sa-
maritans not only held no communion in worship,
but had " no dealings with one another."

Here then are two rival tribes stated in opposi-
tion and enmity five hundred years before Christ,
yet acknowledging and preserving the same laws, as
if appointed by Providence to watch over the cor-
ruptions which either might be disposed to introduce,
and to transmit to the nations of the earth, pure
and free from suspicion, those books in which Moses
wrote of Jesus, The Samaritan Pentateuch is often
quoted by the early fathers. After it had been un-
known for a thousand years, it was found by the
industry of some of those critics who lived at the
beginning of the seventeenth century, amongst the
remnant who still worship at Gerizim. Copies of it
were brought into Europe, and the learned have
now an opportunity of comparing the Samaritan
text used by the followers of Manasseh, with the
Hebrew or Chaldee text used by the Jews.

While this ancient schism thus furnished succeed-
ing ages with jealous guardians of the Pentateucli,
the existence and integrity of all their Scriptures
were vouched by another event in the history of the

Alexander the Greats in the progress of his con-
quests, either visited the land of Judea, or received
intelligence concerning the Jews. His inquisitive
mind, which was no stranger to science, and A\'liicii



was not less intent upon great plans of commerce
than of conquest, was probably struck with the pe-
culiarities of this ancient people ; and when he
founded his city Alexandria, he invited many of the
Jews to settle there. The privileges which he and
his successors conferred upon them, and the advan-
tages of that situation, multiplied the Jewish in-
habitants of Alexandria; and the constant inter-
course of trade obliged them to learn the Greek lan-
guage, which the conquerors of Asia had introduced
through all the extent of the Macedonian empire.
Retaining the religion and manners of Judea, but
gradually forgetting the language of that country,
they became desirous that their Scriptures, the canon
of which was by this time complete, should be
translated into Greek ; and it was especially proper
that there should be a translation of the Pentateuch
for the use of the synagogue, where a portion of it
was read every Sabbath-day. We have the best
reason for saying that that translation of the Old
Testament, which, from an account of the manner
of its being made, probably in many points fabu-
lous, has received the name of the Septuagint, was
begun at Alexandria about two hundred and eighty
years before Christ ; and we cannot doubt that the
whole of the Pentateuch was translated at once.
Learned men have conjectured, indeed, from a dif-
ference of style, that the other parts of the Old Tes-
tament were translated by other hands. But it is
very improbable that a work, so acceptable to the
numerous and wealthy body of Jews who resided at
Alexandria, would receive any long interruption
after it was begun ; and a subsequent event in the
Jewish history appears to fix a time when a transla-


tion of the prophets would be demanded. About
the middle of the second century before Christ, An-
tiochus Epiphanes, King of Syria, committed the
most outrageous acts of wanton cruelty against the
whole nation of the Jews ; and as he contended with
the King of Egypt for the conquest of Palestine, we
may believe that the Jews of Alexandria shared the
fate of their brethren, as far as the power of Antio-
chus could reach them. Amongst other edicts which
he issued, he forbade any Jews to read the law of
Moses in public. As the prohibition did not extend
to the prophets, the Jews began at this time to sub-
stitute portions of the prophets instead of the law.
After the heroical exploits of the Asmonsean family,
the Maccabees had delivered their country from the
tyranny of Antiochus, and restored the reading of
the law, the prophets continued to be read also ; and
we know that before the days of our Saviour, read-
ing both the law and the prophets was a stated j^art
of the synagogue service. In this way the whole of
the Septuagint translation came to be used in the
churches of the Hellenistical Jews scattered through
the Grecian cities ; and we are told it was used in
some of the synagogues of Judea.

When Rome, then, entered into an alliance witii
the princes of the Asmonaean line, who were at that
time independent sovereigns, and when Judea, ex-
periencing the same fate with the other allies of that
ambitious republic, was subdued by Pompey about
sixty years before the birth of our Saviour, the books
of the Jews were publicly read in a language which
was then universal. The diffusion of the Jews
through all parts of the Roman empire, and the
veneration in which they held their scriptures, con-


spired to assure the heathen that such books existed,
and to spread some general knowledge of their con-
tents : and even could we suppose it possible for a
nation so zealous of the law, and so widely scattered
as the Jews were, to enter into a concert for altering
their scriptures, we must be sensible that insupera-
ble difficulties were thrown in the way of such an
attempt, by the animosity between the religious sects
which at that time flourished in Judea. The Sad-
ducees and the Pharisees differed upon essential
points respecting the interpretation and extent of
the law ; they were rivals for reputation and influ-
ence ; there were learned men upon both sides, and
both acknowledged the authority of Moses ; and thus,
as the Samaritans and the Jews in ancient times
were appointed of God to watch over the Penta-
teuch ; so, in the ages immediately before our Sa-
viour, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were faithful
guardians of all the ancient scriptures.

Such is the amount of that testimony to the exis-
tence of their sacred books, long before the days of
our Saviour, with which the Jews, a nation super-
stitiously attached to their law, widely spread, and
strictly guarded, present them to the world; and to
this testimony there are to be added the many in-
ternal marks of authenticity which these books ex-
hibit to a discerning reader, — the agreement of the
natural, the civil, and the religious history of the
world, with those views which they present — the in-
cidental mention that profane writers have made of
Jewish customs and peculiarities, which is always
strictly conformable to the contents of these books
— the express reference to many of them that occurs
in the New Testament, a reference which must have


destroyed the credit of the Gospels and Epistles, if
the books referred to had not been known to have
a j)revious existence — and, lastly, the evidence of
Josephus, the Jewish historian, a man of rank and
of science, who may be considered as a contemporary
of Jesus, and who has given in his works a cata-
logue of the Jewish books, not upon his own autho-
rity, but upon the authority and ancient conviction
of his nation, a catalogue which agrees both in num-
ber and in description with the books of the Old Tes-
tament that we now receive. Even Daniel, the only
writer of the Old Testament against the authenticity
of whose book any special objections have been
ofiered, is styled by Josephus a prophet, and is ex-
tolled as the greatest of the prophets ; and his book
is said by this respectable Jew to be a part of
the canonical scriptures of his nation.*

It appears, from laying all these circumstances
together, that as our Lord and his apostles had a
title to assume in their addresses to the Gentiles, the
previous existence of the Jewish scriptures as a fact
generally and clearly known, so no doubt can be
reasonably entertained of this fact, even in the dis-
tant age in which we live. I do not speak of these
scriptures as a divine revelation ; I abstract entirely
from that sacred authority which the Christian re-
ligion communicates to them ; I speak of them
merely as an ancient book ; and I say, that while
there is no improbability in the most remote date
which any part of this book claims, there is real
satisfying evidence, to which no degree of scepticism

* Joseph, lib. x. cap. II, 12.


can justify any man for refusing his assent, that all
the parts had an existence, and might have been
known in the world, some centuries before the Chris-
tian era.

Having thus satisfied our minds of the previous
existence of those scriptures, to which Jesus appeals
as containing characters of the Messiah which are
fulfilled in him, it is natural, before we examine his
appeal, to inquire whether the nation who have
transmitted these scriptures, entertained any expec-
tation of such a person. For although it be possible
that they might be ignorant of the full meaning of
the oracles committed to them, and that a great
Prophet might explain to the nations of the earth
that true sense which the keepers of these oracles
did not understand, yet his appeal would be received
with more attention, and even with a prejudice in
its favour, if it accorded with the hopes of those
who had the best access to know the grounds of it.
Now, it is admitted upon all hands, that at the
time of our Saviour's birth there was in the land of
Judea the most earnest expectation, and the most
assured hope, that an extraordinary personage, to
whom the Jews gave the name of Messiah, was to
arise. We read in the New Testament, that many
looked for redemjDtion in Jerusalem, and waited for
the consolation of Israel ; that when John appeared,
all men mused in their hearts whether he was the
Christ, and the priests and Levites sent messages
to ask him. Art thou that prophet ? that the conclu-
sion which the people drew from some of the first
of our Lord's miracles was, " This is of a truth that
Ijrophet that should come into the world ;" and
that the expectation of this person had spread to


other countries ; for wise men came from the east
to Jerusalem, in search of him who was to be born
King of the Jews.* You will not think it unfair
reasoning to quote these passages from the New
Testament in proof of the expectation of a Messiah ;
for it is impossible that the books which refer in
such marked terms to a sentiment so universal and
strong, could have been received by any inhabit-
ant of Judea, if that sentiment had no existence ;
and the inference which we are thus entitled to
draw from the authenticity of the books of the New
Testament, is confirmed in every way that the nature
of the case admits of, by historians who write of
these times, by the books of the ancient Jews, and
the sentiments of the modern. Josephus, Suetonius,
and Tacitus, although desirous to flatter the Roman
emperor Vespasian, by applying the prophecies to
him, yet unite in attesting the expectation which
these prophecies had raised. Josephus says, " That
which chiefly excited the Jews to war, was an ambi-
guous prophecy found in the sacred books, that at
that time some one within their country should arise,
that should obtain the empire of the world. For
this they had received by tradition, that it was spo-
ken of one of their nation, and many wise men were
deceived with the interpretation. But, in truth,
Vespasian's empire was designed in this prophecy,
Avho was created emperor in Judea." f Josephus,
although he affects in this place, (he speaks other-
Avise elsewhere,) to condemn that interpretation of
the prophecy which led the Jews to expect a Mes-

* Luke ii. and iii ; John i. and vi ; Matt. ii.
t Jos. Hist. vi. 31.


siah, yet acknowledges that this expectation was ge-
neral, derived from the prophecies, and entertained
by many of the wise. Suetonius says, " Percrebue-
rat oriente toto vetus et constans opinio, esse in
fatis, ut eo tempore Judsea profecti rerum potiren-
tur. Id de imperatore Romano, quantum postea
eventu patuit, prsedictum, Judsei ad se trahentes,
rebellarunt." * Tacitus says, " Pluribus persuasio
inerat, antiquis sacerdotum libris contineri, eo ipso
tempore fore, ut valesceret Oriens, profectique
Judaea rerum potirentur. Quae ambages Vespasia-
num ac Titum praedixerant. Sed vulgus, more
liumance cupidinis, sibi tantam fatorum inagnitudi-
nem interpretati, ne adversis quidem ad vera muta-
bantur."t Both historians, with that very cupitlo
^vhich they charge upon the Jews, apply the pro-
phecy to a Roman emperor ; an application which,
at the time, v/as most unnatural, and which the
event has clearly shown to be false. But both bear
witness to the existence and antiquity of the pro-
phecy, and to the univei'sality and strength of the
expectation grounded upon it. The oldest Rabbini-
cal books extant, are the Targum of Onkelos on
the Pentateuch, and the Targum of Jonathan on
the Prophets ; Targums, i. e, interpretations or pa-
raphrases of the books of the Old Testament, com-
posed for the instruction of the people, and used in
the synagogues. There are many more modern
Targums. But these two, Onkelos and Jonathan,
are said by the Jews to have been written before or
about the time of our Saviour, and they appear to
b^' collections from more ancient books. They con-

" Sucl. \'es>pas. vi. 8. t Tacit. Hist. lib. v. <j.


tinued always in the hands of the Jews ; they were
not known to the Christians till a few centuries ago,
yet they uniformly bear testimony to the national
expectation of a Messiah, and mark out the prophe-
cies which had produced that expectation. Even
the Samaritans, who had only the Pentateuch, enter-
tained the same expectation with the Jews. " I
know," said the Samaritan woman, in the Gospel of
John, " that Messias cometh. When he is come,
he will tell us all things." * And it deserves to be
mentioned, that those learned men, who, in the be-
ginning of the 17th century, introduced the Samari-
tan Pentateuch into Europe, obtained also from the
remnant which still worships upon Mount Gerizim,
a declaration of their faith concerning the Messiah.
" You would know," they say, in a letter which is
extant, " whether the Messias be come, and whether
it be he that is promised in our law as the Shiloh.
Know that the Messias is not yet risen. But he shall
rise, and his name shall be Hathab." It is well
known that the modern Jews still retain hopes that
the Messiah will come. They have devised various
schemes to account for his delay, and to elude the
argument which we draw from the application of
the prophecies to Jesus. But even their modern
doctors declare, that he who believes the law of Mo-
ses should believe the coming of the Messiah ; for
the law commands us to believe in the prophets, and
the prophets foretell his coming.

This much, then, we have gained by attending to
the sentiments of the Jews — satisfying evidence that
it was not an invention of our Lord and his apostles,

John iv. 25.


to say, that Moses wrote of the Messiah ; that Abra-
ham rejoiced to see his day; that David, being a pro-
phet, foresaw him in spirit ; and that all the pro-
phets, from Samuel, foretold of his days. The Jews
said the same thing, and looked for the fulfilment of
the promises made to their fathers. How ancient
this expectation was, we cannot say, because, except
the scriptures of the Old Testament, we have no
Jewish books of unquestionable authority older than
the days of our Saviour. But as it is clear that the
expectation was not at that time new, as the first of
the Jewish books extant declare, that all the pro-
phets, from Moses to Malachi, prophesied only of
the Messiah, and abound with explications of parti-
cular predictions, and as the most ancient prayers of
the people in their synagogues adopt these explica-
tions, speaking of the Messiah under the names and
characters ascribed to him in the predictions, it does
not seem to admit of a doubt, that the hope of the
Messiah was, in all ages among the Jews, the re-
ceived national interpretation of those predictions in
which they gloried.

The matter, then, is brought to a short issue.
Certain books existed some centuries before the birth
of Jesus, which raised in the nation that kept them
a general expectation of an extraordinary personage.
Jesus appeared in Judea, claiming to be that per-
sonage. The people in whose ])ossession the books
had always remained, are bound by their national
expectations to examine his claim. The curiosity of
the other nations to whom this claim is made known,
or to whom the person advancing it appears upon
other accounts respectable, is excited by the coinci-
dence between the claim, and the expectations of that


people upon whose ancient books it is founded : and
thus both Jews and Gentiles, without any previous
agreement in religious opinions, are called to attend
to the same object, and one point is submitted to
their examination : WTiether the predictions concern-
ing the Jewish Messiah apply to the circumstances
in the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth.


The obvious method of proving that Jesus is the
Messiah of the Jews, is to compare the predictions
in their scriptures with the circumstances of his ap-
pearance. It is impossible, in any other way, to at-
tain a conviction of the justness of his claim to that
character ; and it is clear, that if his claim be well
founded, this method will be sufficient to ascertain
it. This is the method which our Lord prescribed
to the Jews. " Search the Scriptures, for these are
they which testify of me." It is the method which
he employed when, before his ascension, " he ex-
pounded to his disciples the things which were writ-
ten concerning him in the law of Moses, and in the
Prophets, and in the Psalms." It is the method by
which Philip converted the minister of the Queen of
Ethiopia, when he began at the 53d chapter of
Isaiah, and preached to him Jesus. And it is the
method which is continually recurring in the dis-
courses and writings of the apostles.


A person who had no previous information upon
the subject, would be obliged, in following this me-
thod, to mark, as he read through the Scriptures of

Online LibraryGeorge HillLectures in divinity (Volume 1) → online text (page 11 of 32)