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The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, translated from the original Hebrew, with a Commentary, critical, philological, and exegetical ; to which is prefixed an Introductory Dissertation on the Life and Times of the Prophet ; the character of his style ; the authenticity and integrity of the book ; and the principles of prophetical interpretation. By the
Rev. E. Henderson, D. Ph., fc. 1 vol. 8vo. Hamilton & Co. All the evidences adduced to prove a divine revelation ought to be essentially supernatural. The revelation itself is such, and no proofs can adequately avouch it but those that imply an influence, or a power, separated by a well-defined and impassable boundary, from whatever is merely human. Evidences of this description are afforded in great variety and abundance on behalf of the Jewish and Christian revelation. Each separate proof, impressed with the character we have mentioned, and clearly ascertained, would be a sufficient evidence of any revelation to which it might be attached. But the Author of revelation, knowing the infinite importance of his own communications to the interest of his intelligent creatures, and at the same time the great variety and disparity of their talents, as well as the pernicious effect of their alienation from himself in producing disbelief, has afforded such an accumulation of supernatural evidences as not only adapts his revelation to the varieties of human nature, but, when properly examined, renders disbelief unreasonable and wicked.
Much stress has been laid by writers on the Christian evidence, upon special parts of the argument, and indeed every part has been ably treated; but it is doubtful whether the cumulative force of the whole, as embracing so many diverse, or concurrent, lines of evidence, each greatly confirming and strengthening the others, has been sufficiently exhibited. In an argument depending upon a variety of minute and separate particulars, if each circumstance, taken in a state of isolation from all the rest, should fail to produce full conviction of the point aimed to be established, yet when the whole should be summed up, and viewed in the aggregate, they might produce the most complete moral certainty. This is well understood by courts of law, is constantly employed by judicial reasoners, and is so obvious a rule of common sense, that all juries are guided by it. In every argument upon revelation it ought to be distinctly kept in view. The whole is strictly a cumulative argument. We may separate one particular portion for review, and then proceed from this to another ; because only then can we analyze the whole, but the combination of all of their separate parts, their intricate and perfect harmony, the support and strength they receive, and the kind of momentum they unitedly afford to the claims of revelation, being that which resembles geometrical rather than arithmetical progression, ought to be made a prominent part of the entire argument. Much loss is sustained by the Christian evidences, perhaps irreparable injury done, where a particular branch is treated, it may be, ably enough, but the inquirer is not informed that this is merely the analysis of one line of argument out of many, that it is not even a specimen of the remainder, as the anatomy or organization of one animal might be a fair sample of all the rest of the species ; but that the various evidences differ so essentially in their nature, that every one must be separately examined, in order to form a just estimate of the whole.
Prophecy is only one of the many evidences of a Divine revelation. It is, however, essentially a supernatural sign; and it is both naturally and necessarily inherent in revelation, strictly and properly defined. It is for the sake of informing us of that which is to be, and which we could not otherwise ascertain, that revelation has at any time or in any measure been afforded. It may be etymologically true, that nature is a revelation. Infidelity has availed itself of the quibble, and some Christian writers have countenanced it, thereby removing the line of separation between the natural and the supernatural, overlooking the conventional use of words, and possibly weakening the reverence that ought to be felt for the Divine mind. Nature affords no revelation in the proper sense of prophecy. It contains no infallible testimony of future events. It foreshows none of the future actions of voluntary agents ; none of the transactions or histories of societies, or bodies of men; none of the ways and counsels of the Almighty. It has its signs, but they are all natural; the supernatural belong to a province of their own. The gift of prophecy or of foreshowing future events, properly defined and explained, attests itself to our consciousness, and to the universal reason of man, as a divine endowment. We are perfectly sure that it must, in every form and degree, be viewed as involving an attribute which cannot belong to human nature. The source of prophecy in the first instance implying prescience, and prescience itself being an attribute either distinct from omniscience, or omniscience in its aspect toward the future, we can properly ascribe it only to the Infinite Being. Herein reason coincides with revelation. God, in his word, asserts to himself that attribute, which reason prompts us to infer, if it exist at all, must belong alone to the Author of all things. We may ascend from the fact of prophecy to the existence of an omniscient and prescient Being; or if the existence of such a Being is first assumed, we may descend, through the necessary attributes of omniscience and prescience, to the reasonableness of prophecy, for the purposes of moral government and the spiritual interests of immortal intelligences.
These principles can scarcely be disputed. The grounds on which they rest are so obvious, that infidels in general have directed their objection to
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the fact of prophecy, admitting that, if the existence of clear foreknowledge can be substantiated, a divine prescience would be the necessary inference, and the claim to inspiration would be made out on behalf of the Bible. This is readily perceived by mankind; and the reasons which lead them to such a conclusion are obvious enough. It is a matter of universal consciousness, and of experience no less extensive, that the human mind cannot immediately and infallibly contemplate future events. It possesses, properly speaking, no knowledge of the future, though it may anticipate some effects in their causes; but experience, not intuitive knowledge, is the light that in all such cases is our guide. Men may indulge shrewd guesses, and sometimes make successful calculations upon the tendencies and issues of natural causes, or upon those of social and public affairs. Such may be the extensive knowledge and experience which some men bring to the contemplation of probabilities, that their speculations upon the future may frequently be verified. We all learn to exercise this talent to a certain degree, and we, therefore, all know perfectly well, that it implies nothing supernatural; that in whatever degree it is possessed, it amounts to nothing more than sagacity ; that it is limited in its very nature, and is, after all, distinct enough from infallibility of knowledge. Though its calculations of probability are sometimes found true, yet if they were carefully observed, they might be found still more frequently wrong and at fault. There is, therefore, always manifest a wide and impassable gulf between this human endowment, however eminent and excellent, and that inherent sign of revelation, which is denominated prophecy, in the proper conventional sense of the term, and which, while it implies prescience, omniscience, and perhaps other infinite perfections, in the Being to whom it essentially pertains, at the same time affords the most direct and satisfactory testimony of God to those that receive it.
In the world of spiritual existences and agencies, this attribute of foreknowledge, which is the basis of prophecy, is somewhat analogous to that sign of a Divine Artificer which is manifest in the meanest as well as in the most refined and complicated of physical objects. For there is a mysterious but legible signature of Deity in every natural object throughout the universe, which at once reveals itself to the understanding of man, and testifies indubitably to the power and wisdom from which the work proceeded. It may be very difficult to define, in each case, what is required to constitute that impress of the divine hand ; yet we are perfectly sure that no man can successfully perform any of the divine works, or produce a perfect imitation of them. We cannot, with whatever materials enriched, create a tree, or a leaf, or a flower, or blade of grass, or the meanest animal ; we cannot produce the organization of any animal, much less cause it to produce itself, or impart to a perfect organization the lowest form of life. However diffi
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cult it is to define in what divine workmanship consists, yet there is no danger of mistaking anything that He has made for the production of human skill and power ; and there is about as little danger of ascribing any of the works of man to the Divine Artificer. There is something about all God's works by which they instantly and intuitively convey to our minds a conception of their true authorship. They carry the seal of infinite power and skill with them; and this is a sign which in all cases and for ever defies counterfeit. It is the inherent sign of a divine communication which pervades the entire substance of the Jewish and Christian revelation, making them transparent with a divine light, and effulgent with an inimitable brightness.
But we are reminded, that important and interesting as the whole subject of prophecy is to our readers, our duty at present is with a specific portion, the writings of one man; and not so much with the inspiration involved in prophecy, as with the translation and import of the sacred text. We feel it imperative, therefore, to pass on immediately from the general subject to the work of one of those holy men of God, who, though not the first that foretold future events of grace and glory, was at least one of the most distinguished and copious in the revelations he was “moved of the Holy Ghost” to write.
The desirableness of a new version of the prophet Isaiah will be generally admitted by competent judges, and must have been often felt by the mere English reader. Not that we mean to charge the authorized version with serious error or imperfection. It is upon the whole we think as faithfully and spiritedly done as any other part of the Bible, and the Bible as a whole, in the English tongue, is surpassed, perhaps we might say equalled, by no translation of any ancient writing. But it is undeniable, that the grammar and idioms of Hebrew, Chaldee, and cognate dialects, are much better understood by modern scholars than by the eminent men who made the English version. At the period of the Reformation these studies were young and imperfect. The etymology, syntax, and idiom of the sacred tongue had engaged comparatively little attention. That the translators of the Bible did not bring to their work all the critical accomplishment and extensive knowledge of the present times was no fault of theirs, and ought to excite no wonder in us. The only wonder is, that with an apparatus so limited and imperfect, they were able to produce a version which has commended itself so extensively and so long to the warm commendation of the most competent judges. Notwithstanding it is desirable that every real advance in criticism and general knowledge, which can throw any light upon the sacred text, should be made available to the Christian public. Dr. Henderson has, therefore, well done in undertaking the task of an entirely new translation of this distinguished book of the Old Testament.
The labours of Bishop Lowth, both in his Prelections on Hebrew poetry and his translation of this prophet, have proved eminently serviceable to the cause of sacred literature, and they have been duly appreciated. His translation of Isaiah has, however, never satisfied judicious critics. Its author was too fond of conjectural emendation. To throw light upon a difficulty, and carry out his own conception of the writer's meaning, he supposed errors which could not be proved, and suggested corrections that were unwarrantable. As a version strictly rendering the original text, it possesses little authority. Since Dr. Lowth's time, perhaps in some measure owing to his influence, the structure of Hebrew poetry has been closely and extensively studied. And though his own countrymen have not greatly distinguished themselves in the line of his researches, yet our German neighbours have advanced in it with rapid strides, and in all the branches of study by which an accurate knowledge of the letter of sacred Scripture is to be acquired. In reference to Isaiah they have undoubtedly thrown much light upon obscure passages, and have been eminently successful in illustrating, by the help of history, philosophy, and geography, the scope and bearing of this wonderful series of announcements. But these services have not been rendered without a fearful drawback. Speculation has run into lamentable excesses, and the application of these new laws of criticism and analysis has led to the excision of the last twenty-seven chapters, which it is argued could not have been written by Isaiah, but by some anonymous author at the period of the return from Babylon. This theory is founded principally upon conjecture, or arguments relating to style and diction; and is too evidently adopted for the purpose of supporting the general denial of prophetic inspiration. The positive evidence for the genuineness of this portion of the book is the same as for the rest. Many able advocates have examined the objections of the German Neologists, and proved that they are either trivial or wholly unfounded. Dr. Henderson has given the following outline of this important controversy :
" It has for some time past been fashionable among the German Neologists to deny the authenticity of this section of the book, and to ascribe it to some anonymous writer, whom they suppose to have flourished about the time of the restoration from Babylon. The first who directed his attention against it was Döderlein, who was followed by Justi, Eichorn, Paulus, Rosenmüller, Bertholot, De Wette, and, more recently, by Gesenius and Hitzig. On the other hand Piper, Bockhaus, Hensler, Jahn, Dereser, Grave, Möller, Kleinert, and Lee have more or less successfully undertaken its defence. The references to their works will be found in the Christologie of Hengstenburgh, 1 Theil, 2 Abtheil., who likewise treats the subject with great ability; or in a translation of this portion of it in the Amer. Bib. Repos. for October, 1831. See also Horne's Introd. vol. iv. pp. 165-169. The objections taken from the historical circumstances of the prophecies ; the impossibility of their being understood by the contemporaries of Isaiah ; the position which the writer assigns to himself among those who lived after the captivity; the minuteness of the details; the want of reference by Jeremiah ; traces of Chaldee and later idioms; and the diversity of style and phraseology, have been impartially weighed by these authors, especially by Jahn, Möller, Kleinert, and Lee, and proved to be destitute of that importance