« AnteriorContinuar »
THE LATER PROPHECIES OF ISAIAH.
Art. II.—The Later Prophecies of Isaiah. By Joseph Ad
DISON ALEXANDER, Professor in the Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey. New York and London: Wiley and Putnam, 1847.
The last twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah may be regarded as a series of discourses on one leading subject, complex, however, in its character, and not only admitting but requiring variety of statement, illustration, argument and exhortation. This subject is the Church of the living God, the Israel of JEHOVAH. It is represented in its condition, whether internally religious or otherwise, whether influenced by an animating hope and a steadfastly relying faith, or governed by present and secular considerations; as punished and chastened by its Divine Founder in order to promote its moral improvement, or comforted and blessed by the promise of pardon for past unfaithfulness in view of its penitent return; as bowed down by a conscious unworthiness of divine favor, or triumphing in the enjoyment of a happiness secured beyond the possibility of failure; as collecting within its comprehensive bosom all nations, kindreds and tongues, in one harmonious and honored body, under that great Redeemer, of whom the highest earthly deliverer could be no more than the merest and most inadequate symbol. This representation necessarily comprehends much of what is local and political in reference to Israel as a nation, its partial subjugation to its enemies, and its subsequent deliverance.
This portion is undoubtedly the work of one author. It shows throughout a continuity of discourse.
The same general topic is never lost sight of. Although indeed it occasionally appears somewhat obscured, it is in general quite perspicuous. Neological writers, especially those of the German school, have endeavored to prove that the chapters in question are not the work of Isaiah ; or, if written by a Hebrew of that name, that he was a different person from the earlier and genuine prophet, and must have lived towards the end of, or soon after the Babylonian captivity. Koppe, in his German translation of Bishop Lowth's Isaiah, first suggested doubts as to the genuineness of some parts of his prophecy. Subsequently, certain of the learned of his enterprising countrymen, with that literary temerity which distinguishes them, and which, while it has poured a flood of light on some points of antiquity, has given rise to many a theory of “ impalpable* insanity,” were led to question the genuineness of this whole portion. It is unnecessary to trouble our readers with a detailed history of this matter. The principal earlier writers on both sides are mentioned in a note on Jahn's Introduction, English Translation, (pp. 350, 351,) and also in the Introduction to the volume before us. The Rev. Professor Lee, of Cambridge, England, in his Dissertation on the reasonableness of the orthodox views of Christianity, as opposed to the rationalism of Germany, examines the arguments of Gesenius against the genuineness of the chapters in question ; and Hengstenberg, in his Christology, has done the same service to the cause of truth, and, in a manner, which most competent readers will probably regard as exceedingly satisfactory. Jahn had devoted several sections of his valuable work to this same subject, and so important and satisfactory were they thought to be by that most estimable man and indefatigable writer, the Rev. Thomas Hartwell Horne, that he incorporated them into his Introduction.
The argument which has been drawn from the manner of the writer, being, as to phraseology and choice of words, like or unlike the earlier portions of the book universally allowed to be the production of the real Isaiah, is justly regarded by the learned and sensible Princeton Professor as of very little importance. In fact, it has been alledged on both sides of the controversy, and may serve as he says, to “ cancel such proof, when urged against the genuineness of the prophecies by writers, who to all alledged resemblances reply, that such trifles prove nothing,' or that the style has been assimilated by a later hand."--(Introduction, p. xxii.) Who does not know that the same writer in different circumstances, whether of outward condition or internal influence, or of age, will be led to use different modes of expression ? Against the method of argument, then, to which, in common with our author we object, it may be remarked, that a very close resemblance might be suspicious, while a considerable diversity in the same writer, would not be at all unnatural. The objection lies vastly deeper, and Mr. Alexander expresses himself most truly, when he says, as follows:
“ Although the expectation of some concession in favor of Isaiah being the writer need not be discouraged by the fear of any scrupulous regard 10
This somewhat pleonastic epithet is borrowed from Professor Norton's Inaugural Discourse, delivered before the University of Cambridge, Aug. 10, 1819, logic or consistency among the higher critics, it is rendered hopeless, for the present, by the obvious necessity which it involves of abandoning their fundamental principle, the impossibility of inspiration or prophetic foresight. For to this, as the original, the chief, and I had almost said the only ground of the rejection of these chapters, we are still brought back from every survey of the arguments by which it is defended. The obvious deduction from the sketch which has been given of the progress of discovery in this department is, that the philological objection would have slept forever, had it not become absolutely necessary to secure the rejection of a book which, if genuine, carried on its face the clearest proof of inspiration.” (pp. XXIII. IV.)
As illustrative of the remark we have already made, we quote from the same page:
The objection drawn from other more indefinite diversities of tone and manner, such as a more flowing style and frequent repetitions, is so far from having any force, that the absence of these differences would, in the circumstances of the case, be well adapted to excite suspicion. In other words, Isaiah, writing at a later period of life, and when withdrawn from active labor, with his view directed, not to the present as a proximate futurity, but one more distant, and composing not a series of detached discourses, but a continuous unbroken prophecy, not only may, but must have differed from bis former self, as much as these two parts of the collection differ from each other. This antecedent probability is strengthened by the fact, that similar causes have produced a still greater difference in some of the most celebrated writers, ancient and modern, who exhibit vastly more unlikeness to themselves in different parts of their acknowledged writings, than the mnost microscopic criticism has been able to detect between the tone and manner of Isaiah's earlier and later prophecies.”
In fact, the great difficulty in deciding questions of this sort merely from characteristics of style, from peculiar phraseology and choice of words, is admitted by all persons of sound sense and practical wisdom. No minute and tiresome detail of words employed, can satisfy a thoughtful and unsophisticated mind on such a point. How many men have been honored with the authorship of the letters of Junius, on the ground of similarity of style to their well-known productions? And who, but some of the far-reaching geniuses of higher criticism in Germany, were deceived by the simple and touching story of the Amber Witch, into the belief, that a fiction, said to have been composed as a test of this very pretence, was a true narrative of an affair that took place during the thirty year's war ? This same affectation of perspicuity in detecting original or borrowed phraseology, has led some hypercritical examiners to the discovery, that the artificial! manner of the 2d Epistle of Peter, contrasted with the simplicity! of the corresponding portions of St. Jude, indicates the fact, that the former borrowed from the latter; whereas, allowing for argument's sake, what, however, can not be proved, that the one is simple and the other artificial, how is it possible to determine, whether good taste improved upon bad style, or the want of it developed itself in inflating language originally correct and natural? “Higher criticism,” says Jahn, with much soundness of judgment, “ought to be exercised with sobriety and modesty. No reliance is to be placed upon what might possibly be or happen, for to reason from what is possible to what is real, is illogical ; nor are bold decisions to be made on light grounds, affording nothing more than some weak probability, which, upon a more attentive examination of the subject comes to nothing. The errors which have been committed in identifying authors of our own age, who have written anonymously in their vernacular tongue with others, whose style, principles, modes of reasoning, and course of thought, were all known from other sources, * ought to be a remarkable warning to the bolder critics of the present day, to employ this uncertain criticism with more caution, and to imitate more closely the example of the Scaligers and Casaubons; Suspicions and trifling reason, prove nothing. It must be shown that a book, or a part of a book, contains things manifestly more modern than its date, or such as could not have been written by the author to whom it is ascribed, on account of the age in which he lived, or the sect to which he belonged, or the language which he used, which must be clearly and perfectly known to us.” (p. 167. Eng. Trans.) .
It has been assumed that this portion of Isaiah's Prophecies not only arises out of, but continually alludes to the Babylonish captivity, and that generally its illustrations and representations refer to this prominent event in Jewish history as their turning point. Hence it has been inferred, that the writer must have lived at that precise period, and, therefore, could not have been the Isaiah who was contemporaneous with King Hezekiah. Our author denies the major proposition of this syllogism. We are not at all disposed to dispute the soundness of his position. Yet we are quite willing to grant, that the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity is a very prominent point in these later prophecies of Isaiah, and that the inspired author bases on it his comprehensive representation of the ultimate return of mankind to God; whether he regarded one as a symbol of the other, (as our Lord seems to describe the destruction of Jerusalem in connection with the final overthrow of the wicked) or whether he delineates the two together, without having himself any clear and certain conception of their chronological proximity or remoteness. Certain it is, that, while Isaiah sometimes introduces in definite terms, and sometimes merely alludes to the Babylonian distresses, his illustrations, like those of most of the Hebrew prophets, are taken from what the nation ever regarded as its greatest historical fact, the deliverance, namely, from the Egyptian slavery, the type of all other deliverances, not only of the literal Ísrael, but also of the faithful in all ages and countries, who are brought out from the house of bondage, through the desert of trial and divine support and comfort, and thence into the Canaan of sabbatical and everlasting rest.
* The author alludes to some anonymous publications in Germany, which were erroneously ascribed to Zimmerman and Kant; and the caution which he founds upon this fact, was never more applicable than it is to his countrymen at the present day.
It is curious and at the same time instructive to observe, how directly opposite practical results may be obtained by an injudicious application of the same principle of exposition, the correctness of which its advocates have assumed. Our readers are doubtless aware, that the law of interpretation which allows certain portions of Scripture to refer to more than one thing, has been ridiculed and rejected by many late critics, as unworthy of a sound mind, and indicative, if not of fanaticism, yet, at least, of vague, loose and uncertain knowledge. It is not our intention at present to discuss this subject, nor indeed fully to express our own views, although we can not but fear that some of its most strenuous opponents have no very clear and settled ideas respecting it. The language in Isaiah xl. 3,—“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the LORD,” has been applied by each of the four Evangelists to the preaching of John the Baptist as our Saviour's precursor, and the immutable and permanent word there spoken of, has been explained by St. Peter, (1st Epistle, i, 25,) to mean the Everlasting Gospel. But the candid reader of the whole portion of Isaiah, can hardly doubt that the Prophet does speak of the return from the Babylonian captivity, and in noble strains of poetic sublimity, introduces a herald proclaiming the coming of Jehovah, as the leader of his ransomed people, and calls on the restored Jerusalem to announce to its daughter cities in loudest strains, the approach and resettlement among them of their God. How do these interpreters reconcile the apparent application of Isaiah's language to these two distinct historical facts ? What says the rationalistic Rosenmüller? He had laid it down as law, that, to refer a passage, which literally and histori. VOL. I.-NO. I.