Edward Payson Archive

Divinity of Christ


SERMON IV. TESTIMONY OF THE PROPHETS.

“Persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the Prophets.” Acts 28:23

One of the decisive and infallible evidences of the Chris­tian religion is derived from the Scriptures of the pro­phets. The wonderful circumstances relating to the future kingdom of the Messiah are described by one or other of those holy men of God, with such precision and particularity, as cannot but fill the mind with astonishment, when we discover the prediction and the event bearing the most minute correspondence. Delivered in ages remote from the time of completion, and the sub­ject of their prophecy being altogether improbable, according to all human ideas, we cannot suppose it to arise from any effects of foresight or penetration. Nor can it be said, with any color of reason that the pre­diction was written after the accomplishment of the event. It is only to be accounted for, as proceeding from the powerful and immediate inspiration of Al­mighty God; and as such, therefore, it stamps, with the strongest seal of truth, the cause to which it is intended to bear evidence, for “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” (Rev. 19:10).

If we look into these inspired writings with a view to answer the more immediate object of our present pursuit, the great question will be, under what character the Jews were taught by their prophets to expect their promised Messiah, and what were to be the specific marks of his person and offices?

It may well be supposed the appearance of such an august Being upon the theater of this world, and who was coming on that grand embassy, to save and restore a fallen race, must have had some most striking and pro­minent features by which he might be known. If the divine Saviour thought the object important enough to typify and predict it through a long course of ages; it is but reasonable to suppose also, that those types and prophecies must have particularly shadowed the outlines of his person and character.

Let us search the sacred records once more for in­formation on this point, and see what were the individual characters which the Scriptures of the prophets taught mankind to look for in the great Saviour of the world.

It is well known, and therefore needless to be in­sisted on in this place, that the prospect of a Messiah was the leading principle of the Jewish religion. Through the many intermediate, ages from the promise of this deliverer, to the period of his appearance, the minds of men were continually occupied with the expectation of this auspicious event. Everything ceremonial in the service of the Jews was, for the most part, typical or figurative of it. I pass over the general features by which the Messiah was described, and by which Jesus of Nazareth identified his claim to that character. Neither the precise time of his appearance, nor the cir­cumstances by which that appearance was to be dis­tinguished and known, as answering to the spirit of prophecy, are immediate to my present purpose. In this point all Christians of every denomination are agreed, and it is needless, therefore, to dwell upon them. The great and only object now in view is, to ascertain, if possible, what was to be the real character of the promised Messiah, according to the language of prophecy; and I shall have no further recourse to the Scriptures of the prophets, than as they tend to the illustration of this important article.

Among the writings of those inspired men, we find the Messiah so minutely described, under one or other of his offices, that an attentive mind cannot help beings truck when he beholds the wonderful vein of prophecy which runs through the whole of their works. Some of them so very plain and obvious, that even an ordinary reader, who considers them in a prophetic sense, must be in­stantly led to make application of them to the person of our blessed Lord. Others, indeed, are rather hidden and obscure, and such as we should not have been able, with any precision or certainty, to have known Christ by, if the apostles, in their expositions of those Scrip­tures, under the assistance of the Spirit of God, had not pointed out their allusion. Those who have leisure and ability to go through the whole of the prophecies on this important subject, will find enough to excite their admiration, and confirm their conviction; but I am necessarily limited to selections only. And of these the first place is due, in priority of time, to the predictions of the royal prophet David.

He speaks of Christ, in his Book of Psalms, under so many and various particulars of his incarnation, his sufferings, his death, and exaltation at the right hand of power, that it would extend the subject much beyond what I propose, to bring before you every prediction we meet with in his writings, which hath a clear refer­ence to the person of our Lord.

If the second Psalm can be supposed to have any prophetic meaning, nothing can be more to the purpose in proof of the divinity of him to whom it is applicable. The anointed of the Lord is there said to be “the King of Zion,” and “the Son of God,” whose inheritance was to be “over the heathen,” and his possessions to extend “to all the kingdoms of the world.” Similar to this in the 89th Psalm, we find the same person predicted under the title of “the Holy One,” and “one that is mighty,” and declared to be God’s “firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.” And that these things were not spoken of David himself, but as a type of the Messiah, is evident, both from the expressions made use of, and the characters by which he is distinguished. For David, in his highest glory, could not be called the “Holy One,” and the “mighty.” Nor could he pos­sibly possess those properties ascribed to the King of Zion. Nor did the ancient Jews, indeed, ever consider them as applicable to any but their expected deliverer. But had we any doubts remaining to whom they re­ferred, the apostles Paul and John would remove them; for the one calls Christ the “first-born of every creature,” (Col. 1:15), and the other “King of kings, and Lord of lords,” (Rev. 19:16).

The children singing songs of triumph before our Lord at his entrance into Jerusalem, which the Psalmist predicted, (Ps. 8); his persecutions by the princes of the earth, (Ps. 2 & 69); the reproaches and sufferings sustained by his sacred person; the circum­stances which attended his crucifixion; the soldiers piercing his side; the parting his garments, and casting lots for his vesture; nay, the very words our Lord used in those trying moments, (Ps. 22)—all these par­ticulars, and many more to the same purpose,(See Ps. 110 and compare the Ps. 40 with Heb. 10) which we find in the writings of this prophet, and which are either by our Lord himself, or his apostles, declared to refer to him, clearly imply a superiority of his nature whom they predicted.

But, above all, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, his ascension into heaven, and his possession of an eternal throne at the right hand of power; these are such predictions as, when explained by the correspond­ing events, can leave no room to doubt the Godhead of that person to whom they referred, and in whom they are all accomplished. When we hear, therefore, the royal prophet declaring the impossibility of the Messiah’s seeing corruption, and find the apostle Peter applying this prophecy so expressly to Christ, in his first sermon after the descent of the Holy Ghost, (compare Ps. 16 with Acts 2); when again we read the magnificent description the prophet hath given of his “ascending up on high, leading captivity captive, and receiving gifts for men;” and see the whole verified in the day of our Lord’s ascension, and his sending down the gifts of his Holy Spirit on his followers at the feast of Pentecost, (compare Ps. 68 with Eph. 4); and when the prophet says of him, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre;” and behold the very words quoted by an infallible expositor that cannot be mistaken, and without hesitation applied to him whom he calls “God’s eternal Son, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, (compare Ps. 14 with Heb. 1): I would ask any candid and ingenuous mind, what possible ideas we can annex to such qualities but those which are divine? and therefore, what less than a divine being could the prophet have meant to predict in the promised Messiah?

From David let us pass on to Isaiah, who, from the great variety of events, as well as the striking particulars he hath spoken of, when sketching the outlines of the Messiah’s character, is, by way of eminence, distinguished by the title of the Evangelical Prophet. Such, indeed, are the writings of this wonderful man on the subject of Christ’s person and offices, that the most striking scenes of our Lord’s passion are delineated by the prophet’s pencil, with the same truth and exactness as if they had been drawn on the spot, when the secret volume of the divine decrees was unrolled, and when that which had been foreseen in vision was exhibited in reality.

The prophet begins his description of the person of the future Messiah with the nicest discrimination of character, when predicting his miraculous conception. “Behold” (says he) “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” An angel hath testified the application of this prophecy in the person of Jesus, and an apostle hath recorded the fact itself of its being accomplished: “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophets,” (compare Isa. 7:14 with Matt. 1:22).

In another chapter Isaiah again foretells the birth of the Messiah, and with such additional marks of divinity which he ascribes to him, as impress the mind with the fullest conviction of the greatness of his character to whom they belong. “Unto us” (says he) “a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful; Counsellor; The Mighty God; The Everlasting Father; The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end,” (Isa. 9:6). What a cluster of attributes and titles of divinity is here! Al­though I believe there is not a single perfection belong­ing to the Father, but what in one part or other of sacred Scripture is equally applied to the Son, yet in this verse the incommunicable characters of Godhead shine out like a full constellation. The inspired writer appears to want words to denote “the fulness of him who filleth all in all,” (Eph. 1:23). How could the prophet be so daring and presumptuous as to describe the Messiah under such great and eternal properties, if, after all, no more than a mere man was expected in him? Would he have said this of any, even of the highest and greatest of all created beings? Could such attributes, in the smallest degree, be applicable to any less than the Great Supreme? and what then were the expectations of the Jews, from the predictions of Isaiah, of the character of their Messiah?

The same prophet, after having enumerated those wonderful properties of the nature of the Messiah, goes on to mention other particulars, descriptive of his person and character. He foretells the herald which should usher in his approach, the name and title by which he should be proclaimed, the manner of his appearance, and the great events by which his life would be distin­guished. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert an highway for our God.” “Lift up thy voice, be not afraid; say, unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” (Isa. 40:3, 9). “Behold, your God will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped; then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing,” (compare Isa. 35:5-6 with Matt. 11:2-6). Observe these expressions, I beseech you, and then turn to the evangelist’s history of the life of Jesus, and behold the correspondence of the prediction with the event! Recollect what the pro­phet hath said, that it was their God who was to come and save them, “when the eyes of the blind were opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;” and then view the blessed Redeemer of mankind going about the streets of Jerusalem, continually performing those gracious works of mercy, and referring the messengers of John the Baptist to those very actions, as proofs that he was the character predicted; and then determine what stronger proofs can be required of the divinity of his person, in whom all these properties were united.

Nor will the predictions of the other prophets con­cerning the Messiah be found less expressive of his nature and dignity, though they are not so diffused and particular as those of David or Isaiah.

What less than a Divine Being did Jeremiah teach the Jews to look for in their expected deliverer, when he declared the name by which he should be known was the incommunicable name of the great Jehovah? “This is the name” (says he) “whereby he shall be called, The Lord our righteousness,” (Jer. 23:6). What character could the prophet Daniel expect he was to appear in, whom he describes as the “Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven; and to whom there was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom; and whom all people and nations should serve, whose dominion was to be an everlasting dominion?” (compare Dan. 7:13-14 with Matt. 24:30).

This prophet also, in a very particular manner, de­clares the precise time of the Messiah’s appearing, and of his being cut off, together with the great end of his sacrificial merits and death; all which were literally ful­filled, according to his predictions, in the person of Christ: but I mention these things only as additional proofs, to whom the prophet evidently referred from those corresponding circumstances.

The prophet Micah hath so clearly defined the person and character of our Lord, in that memorable prophecy which points to the very spot which was to give birth to the Redeemer, that no one who admits the prediction to have a reference to Jesus Christ, can hesi­tate in believing also that it ascribes deity to him whom it predicted. “Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlast­ing,” (Micah 5:2). If this passage can be supposed to have reference to the expected Messiah, and we have the testimony of the Scriptures in full proof of this opinion, (Matt. 2:5-6; John 7:42), it plainly follows, that this Messiah, whom the Jews were taught to look for, was a being possessed of an eternal nature, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

And if Haggai means anything by that remarkable prophecy, that the glory of the latter house shall be greater than of the former, (Hag. 2:6-9), it could only be derived from the divinity of his presence, who appeared in it during his incarnation: for we read in Scripture, that the second temple was so far inferior to the first, that many of the priests and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of the second was laid before their eyes, “wept with a loud voice.”1

But Zechariah hath yet more particularly defined the character of the expected Messiah, by the Spirit of pro­phecy with which he wrote, when he says, “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord. And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people; and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee,” (Zech. 2:10-11). Here are evidently very discriminating marks by which the Messiah’s character should be ascertained. He is called the Lord, and said to be sent by the Lord of hosts: by which the incommunicable name of Jehovah is equally applied both to the Father and to the Son. And to express this still more, in a subsequent part of his prophecy, he uses this remarkable language: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts; smite the shep­herd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” Our Lord him­self hath so clearly explained this prophecy, that the sense and application of it cannot be doubted. And what then shall we conclude his nature to have been, who is called fellow to the Lord of hosts? (compare Zech. 13:7 with Matt. 26:31 & Mark 14:27).

I will detain you with but one quotation more from the predictions of the prophets on this subject, and that is of Malachi, who lived about three hundred and fifty years before Christ’s advent, and with whose prophecy the sacred volume of the Old Testament closes. “Be­hold,” (says he) “I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in; behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts,” (compare Mal. 3:1 with Matt. 3:1, et seq.). That this prophecy refers to the person of our Lord, and his harbinger John the Baptist, will not, I believe, be doubted. The ques­tion, then, arising from hence is, what less than a divine being were the Jews taught to look for, in one whose way his forerunner proclaimed to be “the way of the Lord;” and who, when he came, was to come as “the Lord to his temple?” How should it be called his temple unless he was the Lord of it; and to whom but God himself could a temple be dedicated?

Now, then, review these evidences, arising from the predictions of the prophets, coolly and impartially, and then say under what character the great Deliverer of Israel was to appear. If language may be at all de­pended upon, and the Holy Spirit which guided the pro­phet’s pen be supposed free from error, no one truth can be more clearly revealed, nor any one fact more fully assured to us, than that the possession of divine attri­butes was to be the distinguishing feature of his nature and person. And how any man in the face of those Scriptures, can be presumptuous enough decidedly to assert, that the Jews never looked for, nor were they taught to expect, any other than a man like themselves in their Messiah, is incredible indeed!

But though the prophets predicted the future Saviour under those great and eternal distinctions which could only belong to a divine Being, yet, they as expressly de­scribed certain characters and qualities at the same time, by which he should be known, and which as evidently demonstrated an human nature.

Though it was said of him, that he should be a Prince which should reign over all, and of his kingdom there shall be no end; though the Gentiles were to come to his light, and kings to the brightness of his rising; yet no less was this desire of all nations, this Lord of his temple, to be a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; he was to pour out his soul unto death; he was to give his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. When we saw him, there was nothing that we should desire him, his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men. He was to be wounded for our transgres­sions, and bruised for our iniquities; to be led as a lamb to the slaughter; to be taken from prison, and from judg­ment; and to be cut off out of the land of the living.

Predictions so seemingly contradictory in one and the same character, required somewhat more than human comprehension to unravel, before the events foretold were accomplished. Accordingly, the ancient Jews, un­able to reconcile them, universally rejected the idea of a suffering Messiah, and fondly embraced that which flat­tered their notions of worldly greatness, by looking for a triumphant Saviour. But their ignorance and perpetual perversion of the Scriptures do not prevent more en­lightened and dispassionate minds (and especially when enabled to judge from the events now in a great mea­sure fulfilled) from seeing things in a different point of view. We perceive in those Scriptures clear and ma­nifest declarations of the union of two distinct characters in one and the same person. The Messiah was evi­dently to be “Emmanuel, God with us,” and no less a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” And well might the prophet, wrapped in the contemplation of so mysterious a character, declare his name should be called “Wonderful;” for, beheld in any light, either as God or man, or as God and man, he is altogether wonderful.

I have dwelt so largely in reciting the quotations from the prophets, to show the specific marks of the divine nature by which the Messiah, it was said, should be distinguished, that I cannot trespass longer upon your time in more particularly selecting those which de­scribe him under his manhood. On this point, indeed, it is less necessary to enlarge. They who differ from us in opinion respecting the divinity of our Lord, will not require proofs, I believe, of his humanity. I would only beg it may be remembered, therefore, that we are equally anxious with them to preserve the belief of Christ’s hu­man nature, as the doctrine of Scripture, and an essential article of salvation. While we glory in the gracious plan of redemption by Christ, that the Lord laid help “upon one that is mighty,” and sent his Son “to be the Saviour of the world;” it is the peculiar joy also, and consolation of our hearts, that this blessed Redeemer, when he came upon this beneficent errand, “took not upon him the nature of angels, but was made like unto us in all things, yet without sin, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make recon­ciliation for the sins of the people,” (Heb. 2:16 and 4:15).

I have now finished the single object proposed in this discourse, having selected a few of the most striking passages from the prophets (and I hope sufficient to the purpose), to show what were the leading characters their Scriptures taught mankind to expect in the promised Messiah. And from these premises the fair conclusion deducible is obvious. As those unerring oracles of holy writ, penned under the immediate inspiration of God, have very clearly revealed, that an unity of nature, divine and human, should constitute the expected Re­deemer; if Jesus Christ be no more than man, he answers not to this prediction, and consequently is not the true Messiah. But if, in the person of our Lord, we evidently trace marks of this mysterious union, then have we con­fidence to conclude that he is the promised Saviour, “to whom give all the prophets witness,” (Acts 10:43).

With these discriminating characters in view, let us now direct our inquiry unto the gospel; and, under the gracious assistance of that blessed Spirit whom we humbly trust hath hitherto guided our researches, and will accompany our future progress through this subject; let us examine, and with the most scrupulous exactness, whether our Lord brought with him those infallible marks by which his claims to the person and offices of the Messiah should be ascertained and known.—But this, with divine permission, must be the subject of the next discourse.

ENDNOTES:

1 Ezra 2:12. The Jews have themselves observed five distinguishing excel­lencies in the first temple, which the second wanted; namely, 1st, The Urim and Thummin, by which the high priest received instructions in the will of God. 2dly, The ark of the covenant, from whence the voice of the Lord was heard. 3dly, The fire upon the altar, which came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. 4thly, The divine presence, manifested by a shining glory; and 5thly, The Spirit of prophecy. And, added to these, as the building of the second temple, in point of ornament and structure was, in the eyes of the people, as nothing in comparison with the first; how was the divine promise completed by filling this house with glory, according to the prophecy of Haggai, unless by the visible appearance of Him to whom it was dedicated?
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