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It is probable that Mr. P. is the first writer capable of attracting the public notice, who has deemed the book of Isaiah to be bombastical rant, extravagant metaphor, such stuff as a school-boy 'would have been scarcely excusable for writing"" I shall, however, leave him to settle this point with those able critics, and admired judges of fine writing, who have decidedly preferred many parts of Isaiah's poetry, for sublimity and beauty, to all other compositions now extant in the world.
Occasional poems and sermons are not always arranged in very regular order: some able authors have published volumes of miscellanies; and we ought not to judge of an eastern writer by our rules of method. A cursory perusal will not always enable a man to discern the drift and plan of an author, when they may be clearly ascertained upon a more accurate investigation; and sometimes the conclusion of one poem or message, and the beginning of another, escape the notice of a hasty reader: so that there may be much more order and connexion in this book than Mr. P. supposes. The historical part was evidently added to
P. ii. p. 43.
illustrate the prophecies, and to prevent, not make, confusion.1
It is very easy to ridicule "the burden of Da-"mascus, "the burden of Moab," or "the bur"den of Babylon :" but not so easy to shew, by what means the writer could foresee that Babylon, then growing in greatness, and shortly to be the metropolis of the world, would at length be " swept "with the besom of destruction," as it actually has been; so that it is not at present certainly known, where that vast and magnificent city once stood! This single prophecy amounts to a demonstration that God spake by the prophet Isaiah.
The prediction of Cyrus by name, above a hundred years before his birth, if allowed to have been written by Isaiah, would have subverted our author's whole system. Like an able general, therefore, he forms a stratagem for seizing our artillery, and employing it against us! He confidently asserts (and that passes for proof with many readers,) that the whole passage was written a hundred and fifty years after Isaiah's death, in compliment to Cyrus.3
But the connexion of these predictions, with the whole scope of the prophet's address to the people in the name of Jehovah, tends to expose the absurdity of this bold assertion. The God of Israel repeatedly appeals to prophecies already accomplished, as proofs of his deity in opposition to the claims of idols: and he adds, "New things "do I declare, before they come to pass
'P. ii. p. 43, 44. 'P. ii. p. 44, 45,
2 Is. xiv. 23.
Is. xliv. 28. xlv. 1-4.
"of them." He thus challenges his rivals, the idols of the nations: "Shew the things that are "to come hereafter, that we may know that ye "are gods:" and, after various other predictions, he delivers that in question, with the greatest solemnity, as a proof of his eternal power and Godhead.
Had this prophecy stood single in the writings of Isaiah, Mr. P.'s pretence might have been rather more plausible: but the whole book is replete with predictions at least equally plain, and verified by the events in the most astonishing manner! So that it might as reasonably be asserted that the fifty-third chapter was written after the crucifixion of Christ, and the establishment of his religion; or the fourteenth after the entire desolation of Babylon; as that the prediction concerning Cyrus was added after he had conquered the Chaldean monarchy.
The testimony of the Jews, through every age, to this book as genuine, though it contains such numerous prophecies which were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, sufficiently determines that point with all sober and competent judges: for how could it be possible to persuade a whole nation that they had always been acquainted with the prediction, during the course of a hundred and fifty years, if they had never before heard any thing of it? But infidels seem to take it for granted, that, if priests be sufficiently knavish to attempt imposition, the people will always be found sufficiently foolish to swallow their impostures without examination!
Is. xli. 21-26; xliii. 9—13; xliv. 6, 7, 24-28.
whereas much art has ever been found necessary for such attempts; the prophecies of impostors have always been ambiguous; and the miracles to which they pretended, either doubtful in their nature, or wrought only before a few individuals who were friendly to the cause.
It may also be added, that a man must have taken a singular method of complimenting a great prince, who should forge predictions tending to pour contempt on his religion, and to degrade the gods which he constantly worshipped.1
Mr. P. in speaking of our Lord's miraculous conception, as predicted by Isaiah, uses these words: This doctrine has stained every spot in 'Christendom with blood, and marked it with de'solation.' Blood enough has, alas ! been shed by men called Christians: but this doctrine has seldom been so much as the pretence for it. The Athanasians and Arians had too acrimonious contests: but both parties agreed in the miraculous conception, and in this application of Isaiah's prophecy. The Papal Antichrist has been "drunk with the "blood of martyrs :" but where has the denial of the miraculous conception of Christ been so much as the pretext of these outrages? The Socinians have only of late denied the miraculous conception; though many of them, and others likewise, have understood Matthew as quoting Isaiah by way of accommodation: but they have not in many instances been harassed with bloody desolating persecution. Indeed there would be some difficulty in precisely pointing out half a dozen spots in Chris
1 Isa. xlv. 5-7.
tendom, stained with blood and marked with desolation on this account.
Should we grant that the prophecy had a subordinate reference to events which took place soon after it was delivered,' it would still be true that the literal and exact accomplishment can only be found in that great event to which the evangelist applies it. Some measure of obscurity seems adapted to the nature of prophecy, prior to its fulfilment: and, though the virgin's Son was named JESUS, yet he was EMMANUEL, in his person and character, and has been so called with fervent adoring love and gratitude by tens of thousands in all succeeding generations.
Mr. P. has brought a direct charge of imposition and falshood against Isaiah, which requires some notice. The kings of Israel and Syria confederated to invade Judah, to destroy the family of David, and to make " the son of Tabeal " king of Judah : and Isaiah predicted that this counsel should not stand; that the kingdom of Israel should come to an end in seventy-five years; that the confederate princes should be destroyed; and that the family of David should be preserved till the coming of Emmanuel. At the same time, however, he declared to Ahaz and his princes, that "if they would "not believe, they should not be established." But we find, that" the Lord delivered Ahaz into "the hand of the king of Syria, and into the "hand of the king of Israel;" who made most dreadful havoc of the Jews, and took an immense number of captives. On this ground Mr. P. says,