Joseph and Benjamin: A Series of Letters on
The Controversy Between Jews and Christians:
Comprising the Most Important Doctrines Of the Christian Religion

Joseph Samuel C. F. Frey
1841

"The faith of a true Christian is the same as that of Moses and the Prophets."

 

Part 4. Jesus of Nazareth the Promised Messiah

 

Letter 1. Introduction

Dear Brother,

Having in my former letters shown that the Messiah must have come long since, I will now inform you, as Philip did Nathaniel, saying, "We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth" (John 1:45).

1. I will endeavor to show, that in Jesus Christ have been fulfilled all the predictions relating to the Messiah, as it respect the time of his first advent—his descent and birth—his character—his miracles—his prophetical, priestly, and kingly offices—his sufferings, death and burial—his resurrection from the dead—his ascension into glory. After this, I shall endeavor to answer the chief objections brought against the Messiahship of Jesus.

2. That there has been such a person as Jesus of Nazareth, as described by the Evangelists, is a fact which a Jew has no more reason to doubt, than a Christian has to call in question the existence of Moses, the deliverer of our nation. Yet a late nameless writer, styling himself "an Israelite,'' dares to call in question the real existence of Jesus Christ. He compares the evidences in favor of the existence of Moses, our legislator, and Christ, the founder of the Christian religion. Having stated, that, besides the sacred Scriptures, we have also the testimony of an Egyptian writer, Manathon; of Choeremon of Greece, as also of Lysimachus, Appion, Diodorus Siculus, and Tacitus, in favor of the existence of Moses; he boldly asserts that

"the Nazarenes have no other evidence to establish the existence of the founder of their religion, than the testimony of 'four unlettered and interested men of our nation'; and that the Roman historian, Tacitus, has not only taken no notice of them, (i. e. the miracles of Jesus,) but even as to the person called Jesus, whom the Nazarenes worship, his history is wholly silent."(1)
To convince my dear Benjamin that we have a great many more testimonies in favor of Jesus, than the Israelite has produced in favor of Moses, and particularly that Jesus Christ was publicly known as the founder of the Christian religion, from his death to the time at which it is alleged that his religion was first propagated, viz. A. D. 300, I shall transcribe the following testimonies, collected by an investigator. Says he(2):

a. "In the Toldoth Yeshu which, there is good reason for believing, originally constituted a part of the Talmud, and in another book, entitled Machril, it is asserted of Jesus that he was the offspring of Joseph and Mary—that he was born in Bethlehem—that he was of the tribe of Judah, and of royal lineage—that he was remarkably acute in learning—that at an early age, he discovered great courage and boldness towards the elders—that he was skilled in magic—that he pretended to be born of a pure virgin—that he claimed to be the son of God, and applied to himself the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14—that he claimed to himself the creation of the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that therein is—that the dry bones of a dead body were brought to him out of a sepulchre, and that he united bone to bone, clothed the whole with sinews, flesh, and skin, and that the body arose, stood upon its feet, and lived—that he healed a leper—that the Jews fell down and worshiped him, and said to him ''truly thou art the Son of God,"—that he entered Jerusalem upon an ass, and that the whole city went out to meet him—that he applied to himself Zechariah 9:9—that he wrought great wonders—that he charged the Jews with being a stiff-necked people—that he applied to himself the 2d and the 110th Psalms—that he prophesied of his ascension, and that he should sit at the right hand of God—that he walked upon the sea—that he was betrayed by Judas—that the number of his disciples amounted to 2000—that the Jews scourged him—that they crowned him with thorns—that they gave him vinegar to drink—that he applied to himself Psalm 69:21, 22:1—that he alleged his blood should be an atonement for all mankind, and applied to himself (Isa 53:5)—that he was put to death in the evening of the Passover—that he was buried before the Sabbath began—that the belief in him increased more and more for thirty years next after his decease, and that his followers, called Nazarenes, gathered themselves together, by thousands and tens of thousands—that such belief became strong and spread abroad—that he had twelve disciples, who traveled into twelve kingdoms and prophesied of him—that Israel went after them, and that some of them were men of reputation, and confirmed the doctrine of Yeshu, (Jesus,) and declared they were his messengers, and gathered unto them a great multitude from among the children of Israel. But these facts do not rest upon the Toldoth Yeshu and the Machril only, passages to the same effect are now to be found in both the Babylonish and the Jerusalem Talmuds. Vide Sanhedrim, Sabbath, Avodah Sarah, Masachteth Kallah, Sota, Gittin, Zeror Hammor, and many other Jewish writings."

b. "In a Samaritan chronicle, beginning with Joshua and ending with Mahomet, Jesus is spoken of as the Messiah, and honorable mention is made of him and his disciples."—Bishop Chandler. Dr. Hemdington.

c. "The Koran of Mahomet testifies to the extraordinary character of John the Baptist; the miraculous conception of Christ; that he restored the dead to life, and performed most of the miracles related in the Gospels; that he will, at his second coming, unite all religions, and kill antichrist."—Sale's Koran, passim.

d. "The Pagan writers of Greece and Rome abound with evidences, in regular succession, of the existence, character, and death of our Lord, and of his extraordinary mission; and they are to this effect: that at or about the time of his crucifixion, there was a miraculous darkness over different parts of the earth, at noon day, accompanied with an earthquake."—Phlegon, Eusebius, Tertullian, Origen, Bishop Wilson, Dr. McKnight.

e. "That an account of the character and crucifixion of our Lord was, immediately after that event had happened, rendered to the emperor Tiberius by Pontius Pilate, and that, in consequence, the emperor proposed to the senate that Jesus should be added to the list of the Roman gods."—Acta Pilati. Justin Martyr's Ap. 76. Tertullian's Ap. c, 2. p. 22. Grotius. Bishop Pearson. Dr. McKnight. Dr. Lardner.

f. "That he was born, lived, and promulgated a new religion in Judea, in the reign of Tiberius; that he had many disciples; that he was crucified during the government of Pontius Pilate; that his followers became very numerous in the reign of Nero, and were exposed to dreadful persecutions, and amongst others, to that of being burned in the 'troublesome coat' (tunica molesta.)"—Annals of Tacitus, lib. 13-15. The 'troublesome coat' alluded to by Tacitus, was made, like a sack of paper, or coarse linen cloth; and having been first besmeared within and without with pitch, wax, rosin, sulphur, and other combustible materials, or dipped into them, was put upon the person accused; and to keep him upright, so as to encourage the fire, his chin was fastened to a stake fixed in the ground. The testimony of Tacitus, as to this circumstance, is confirmed by Martial, lib. 10, Ep. 25, and by Seneca, Ep. 14. Juvenal Lat. 1. v. 155. 8, 285. Dr. Lardner.

g. "That there was amongst the Jews a considerable sect, whose leader was Christ, in the reign of Claudius, viz. within fifty years after our Lord's death; that Christians were punished by Nero from the year 54-68."—Suetonius in Claudio, c. 25. Suet. Nero, c. 16.

h. "That in the reign of Domitian (A. D. 95) the Christians suffered persecution: but that in the reign of Nerva (A. D. 96) the persecution was somewhat abated."—Dion. Cassias. Dr. Lardner. Dr. McKnight.

i. "That in the reign of the emperor Trajan, which was in the year of the Christian era 107, or within seventy-five years after our Lord's death, the Christians were extremely numerous throughout Pontus, Bithynia, and the whole Roman empire, and that they worshiped Christ as God."—Pliny, lib. 10. 97, 98.

j. "That Christians or Galileans were known as a separate sect in the year 109."—Arrian's discourses of Epictetus, lib. 4, ch. 7.

k. "That Christianity was an increasing and prevailing religion (particularly in Asia) in the reign of Adrian, who was himself favorable to it, A. D. 117."—Euseb. chron. 167. Justin Martyr. Dr. McKnight. Milner.

l. "That Christians were numerous in the reign of Titus, Antoninus Pius, A. D. 138."—Dion. Cassius. Xiphilinus. Eusebius. Justin Martyr.

m. "That the Christians were numerous and well known in the reign of Marcus Antoninus, A. D. 161. That they had undergone severe persecutions, and that their fortitude in martyrdom was such as to be termed obstinacy."—Meditations of Marcus Antoninus, lib. 11, c, 3. Orosius. Mosheim.

n. "That in the year 176 it was a common belief that, immediately before the birth of Christ, the Jews had uniformly expected a Messiah, who was to be the universal Judge and Lord of all the earth; that there were then extant, accounts of Jesus Christ, admitted by the enemies of Christianity to have been written by his disciples, which contain the history of his nativity, baptism, preaching, miracles, death and resurrection, and which expressly accorded with the relations of the Evangelists, especially the genealogies of St. Matthew and St. Luke, the miraculous conception, the star in the east, &c. together with many passages in the Acts of the Apostles and in the different Epistles, and which are so numerous and so various as effectually to establish the general authenticity of the whole."—Celsus passim, as quoted by Origen.

o. See also the dialogue at the end of Lucian's works, called Philopatris; see also Lucian de Morte Peregrini, who expressly asserts "that Jesus was crucified in Palestine because he introduced a new religion, and that he was worshiped by his followers as a God." To the same period I add the testimony of AElius Aristides in his orations.

p. "That Christ was known in the year 180 as having founded a new religion amongst the Jews, and in some connection with that of Moses."—Galen de differentia pulsuum.

q. "That in the reign of Septimus Severus, A. D. 202, the Christians were persecuted as a distinct sect."—Spartian.

r. "That in the reign of Heliogabalus, A. D. 220, the Christians were well known, and that the emperor proposed to the senate that their religion should be introduced into the public religion of Rome."—Lamprid. Heliog. c. 3. 796.

s. "That the Christian religion was tolerated in the reign of Alexander Severus, (A. D. 222,) who numbered Christ among the deities, and that several minutiae of that religion, such as the ordination of ministers, &c. were then familial to the heathen world."—Lamprid. Alex. Sever.

t. "That in the reign of Maximin, the Thracian, A. D. 255, the persecution against the Christians raged violently."—Salpicius Severus, lib. 2. c. 32.

u. "That the Gospel of St. John, and especially the first chapter, was known in the year 263."—Amelius. Eusebius. Dr. Lardner.

v. "That in the reign of Aurelian, A. D. 270, the Christians were known as a religious sect."—Vopiscus, Vita. Aurel.

w. "That in the year 270, the Christian religion was well known, and the several books of the New Testament, recognized as containing the doctrines of that religion, corresponding with those we now have, including the genealogies of St. Matthew and St. Luke."—Porphyry passim, as quoted by Jerome and others.

Pardon me, my dear Benjamin, for detaining you so long with so many testimonies; but I thought it important to prove, not only that there existed such a person as Jesus Christ, but also that he was publicly known, in person and in his followers, from the day of his death to the present period.

3. I will now proceed to show why the Messiah is called Jesus, and why Jesus of Nazareth. It is evident, from the writings of the prophets, that to be called by such or such a name does not infer that the thing or person so to be called shall be commonly known by that name, as a man is by the name by which he is known and distinguished from other men. It is enough that they shall be that which they are called, and that which is foretold shall truly belong to them. Thus it is said, "He that is left in Zion shall be called holy," i. e. he shall evidently appear to be holy (Isa 4:3, 4, 60:14, 62:4; Jer 3:17, &c.). Hence the Messiah was described by the Prophets by different names; some of which were descriptive of his natures, person, offices, &c. When the Messiah appeared, he was generally known by the name of Jesus. Thus, when the man born blind was asked who opened his eyes, he replied, "a man that is called Jesus" (John 9:11). This was typified by the change in the name of Moses' successor, whose original name was Oshea, but was changed into Yehoshua, which signifies the Lord shall save. The name Jesus was given and explained by the Angel who announced his conception, saying, "thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). It is descriptive of the great and blessed work for which he came into our world. It literally signifies a Savior; for he delivers his people from all evil, procures for them all that is good; and maintains the objects of his salvation in a state of security and blessedness for ever. "In the name of Jesus," says a pious writer, "the whole Gospel lieth hid; it is the light, food, and medicine of the soul" (Acts 4:12; Phil 2:9,10).

The next name by which Jesus was frequently called, is Nazarene, Jesus of Nazareth; and his disciples are stigmatized as Nazarites, or Nazarenes. Jesus was called by this name because he was brought up and dwelt at Nazareth, which place was so called because it was surrounded by bushes or branches.

4. The enemies of Christianity mightily triumph, and charge the evangelist with manifest falsehood, as citing a passage out of the prophets which is not to be found in them. But this is without a cause. Suppose there were no such passage to be found in the writings of the prophets, that could be no greater objection to the writings of Matthew than when we read in the Old Testament that such and such acts of kings, &c. ''are written in the books of the wars of the Lord," whilst we neither have such books nor know any thing about them (Num 21:14). Observe further, that the evangelist does not say, as it is written, but only, as it was spoken. These are the words of St. Matthew: "and he dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, he shall be called a Nazarene" (2:23). Now the knowledge of what had been spoken on this subject may have come down by tradition, and been well known in the days of the evangelist, like that of Jannes and Jambres, who withstood Moses, as mentioned by the apostle Paul (2 Tim 3:8); or that Moses, at the giving of the law, exceedingly feared and quaked. Neither of these instances is to be found in the Old Testament, but they were only handed down by tradition, and yet they are facts believed by our people. But that which most effectually removes all objections, and fully justifies the declaration of the evangelist is, that the prophets did actually write and call the Messiah a Nazarene. I have already mentioned that the city was called Nazareth, because it was surrounded by many bushes and branches. Now it is well known that the prophets frequently call the Messiah Nezer, which signifies a branch (Isa 11:1; Jer 23:5; Zech 3:8, 6:12).

[For more on Jesus as the branch, please see The Branch, or, Four Aspects of Messiah's Character by David Baron.]
All these passages are applied to the Messiah by the Targum, Kimchi, &c. And very remarkable is that prediction in Jeremiah 31:6, "There shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto Jehovah our God." The word translated watchmen, is, in the original, Nozrim, i. e. Nazarenes, the very word by which the followers of Jesus are called (Acts 24:5). Memorable and much to our present purpose are the words of R. Abarbinel, one of the most renowned of our Rabbins, on this passage. Saith he:
"The prophet by the Holy Ghost foresaw that the Romans would believe in Jesus of Nazareth, and therefore would be called Nazarenes from him."
Now, if the prophets foretold that the followers of the Messiah would be called Nazarenes, then he himself must be called so, from whom they take the denomination. That you, my dear Benjamin, may know experimentally Jesus as a Savior and be numbered amongst the Nazarenes, is the prayer of your affectionate brother. Farewell.
Jesus, I love thy charming name,
'Tis music to my ear;
Fain would I sound it out so loud
That earth and heav'n might hear.

I'll speak the honors of thy name
With my last lab'ring breath;
And, dying, clasp thee in my arms—
The antidote of death.

 

Letter 2. Jesus Came at the Time Predicted

Dear Brother,

I now invite your attention more particularly to the proofs that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah.

1. The first proof arises from his being born at the exact period foretold. The prophecy of our venerable father Jacob (Gen 49:10), has been remarkably fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

2. a. He answers all the significations of the word Shiloh. He is the Lord as well as the Son of David and Judah; to him belong the kingdoms; all civilized nations have already acknowledged him as their rightful sovereign; to him the wise men presented their gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. He is our peace, who has laid down his life a sacrifice, and bore the weight of punishment which would have crushed the shoulders of angels (though they excel in strength) and sunk the whole creation, and by the merit of his oblation he removed the displeasure of God, and procured his mercy and friendship. He is the Prince of Peace, the most peaceable personage that ever lived, and in his hands the pleasure of the Lord does, and ever shall prosper.

3. b. Jesus Christ was born before the tribe of Judah ceased, or the lawgiver from between his feet. The tribe of Judah was preserved in a remarkable manner as a distinct tribe, until Jesus Christ was born, and his descent from Judah established. The providence of God watched over this tribe particularly. It was numbered apart in David's time (1 Sam 11:8; 2 Sam 24:9); and the prophets were very careful of the genealogy of this tribe, even in the times of the captivity, as appears from Ezra and Nehemiah. But soon after the death of Jesus, Jerusalem was destroyed, and the tribe of Judah was dispersed over the whole earth, and their genealogies confounded and lost. There is now not a family, not even the house of David, that know for certainty or can prove their line of descent. The following judicious observation is from the manuscript of a Mr. Barnet, one of our nation, who lived and died a pious Christian:

"The word Shevet, here mentioned in Jacob's prophecy, and commonly translated sceptre, meaning; royal dominion, should, in my opinion, be literally understood the tribe, as expressed in the 28th verse of this chapter—'these are the tribes.' Judah was not to cease being a tribe, (although ten were removed and carried away,) distinguished and known, by its preserved genealogies as such, until Shiloh came; nor till then was the lawgiver to cease from between his feet, for the Sanhedrim were still in Jerusalem when our Savior came; and as these genealogies subsisted only to prove him, in his human nature, Son of Abraham, Son of Judah, and Son of David. The tribe, at his coming, was to withdraw from Judah, and unto Shiloh were the nations to be gathered; and this prophecy was literally fulfilled; for the ten tribes were carried away captive, but Judah remained, and remained a tribe distinct from Benjamin and Levi in the days of Jesus, even till the destruction of the second temple. Until the days of Jesus the genealogies of the tribe of Judah, as a known distinct tribe, were preserved; and the Jews themselves allow that Jesus was of the tribe of Judah: but as soon as the Christian church was established, or the aggregation of the people was to Shiloh, then fell down the partition wall between Jew and Gentile. He came, for whom was ordered the distinction of tribes and genealogies, to mark his descent: for him they subsisted; and having finished their design and destination, they exist no more."
The last clause of the prediction hath also been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, viz.

4. c. "To him the gathering of the people shall be." We have already seen that the expectation of the people had been excited to the highest degree, both among Jews and Gentiles, when Jesus was born. In like manner, as soon as He began to preach, the people of all nations, and from all quarters, flocked unto him (Matt 4:25). On the day of Pentecost, what a multitude of various nations believed! (Acts 2:5,9,12,45, 5:14). Thus Jews and Gentiles became united in Christ, and obedient to his commands (Eph 2:14-16,19). And what an innumerable company out of every nation, people, kindred and tongue, have believed in him since that day! and the blessed time is rapidly approaching, when "all nations shall be blessed in him, and all men shall call him blessed." Most cordially do I join in the sentiment of one of our German divines, who saith,

"Blessed be God, he has fulfilled his word, which he had sworn to David. He has said to Christ, the Son of David, 'Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.' By the power of his glorious Gospel, Jesus Christ has conquered the nations of the earth; he has established peace among men, and has united both Jews and Gentiles in one body, under himself, the only Shepherd and supreme head. Already is his mighty empire extended to all the quarters of the earth. In every place has he, by his religion, brought some of mankind to adore the true God. From the rising to the setting sun, prayer is made to the Eternal Father and his Son, by whom he made the world. The voices of countless thousands resound, Praise and honor, thanksgiving and glory, be unto Him that is, and was, and is to come! Hallelujah! Praise him, ye heavens! All ye nations of the earth, proclaim the glory of our God!"(3)
5. Thus, dear Benjamin, I have briefly shown that this ancient prediction of the patriarch has been literally fulfilled in Jesus. This passage could not fail to involve our nation in an inextricable dilemma, were the Messiah now to be born. For the prophecies do declare, and our nation believe, that the Messiah shall be born of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Judah, and of the house and family of David. To ascertain all this, it is necessary that, at the time of his birth, there should yet subsist the distinction of tribe and family so clear as not to admit of so much as a suspicion or shadow of mistake or imposture; for which purpose, not only tribes, but even the genealogies of every tribe and family, should appear upon register. So that, were the Messiah now to be born, where are these undoubted genuine registers, to prove his pedigree and the fulfilling of the prophecies, since those necessary records have been long since lost and extinct? From hence, then, it is most evident that the Messiah is already come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth: his name be blessed for ever. Amen.

6. The prophecies of Haggai and Malachi next invite our attention. In these predictions we have shown that the period of the Messiah's appearance was stated, and several circumstances peculiar to his advent. In Jesus Christ they have received their complete fulfillment. He was born whilst the second temple was yet standing, and visited it frequently. At the age of twelve he was found there, sitting and disputing with the doctors, to their great astonishment. In this temple he wrought many miracles, and taught the people; and here he was acknowledged as the Messiah, the children crying Hosannah to the Son of David. As the glory of God was the glory of Solomon's temple, and as that glory was but a shadow of better things to come, Jesus, who was the substance of those shadows, made the second temple more glorious than the former. It deserves our notice, that, a little before the appearance of Christ there was a great "shaking" in the political world, which was followed by a universal Peace; and his death "shook" the ecclesiastical world to its very foundation (Heb 12:26,27). And this may well be said to be "but a little" more, when compared with the first promise of a Messiah. Yarchi and Eben Ezra understand by the shaking of the heavens, &c. wonders and miracles. And of the miracles of Jesus it is witnessed that such things had never been seen in Israel.

7. But, as the second temple is again mentioned in the prophecy of Daniel, as a characteristic of the coming of Messiah, I shall proceed to show that that prediction also has been fully accomplished in Jesus Christ. This will clearly appear, if we consider what is said concerning the Messiah and the Prince that should come after him.

8. First: with respect to the Messiah. a. He is to be anointed. "To anoint the Most Holy." This well agrees with Jesus Christ, who was typified both by the High Priest and the Temple, and was to be anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows. Our blessed Jesus was perfectly holy, both in nature and life; and being anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power, he went about doing good, and healing all manner of diseases, preaching the Gospel to the meek, expiating the sins of his people, and now reigns as God's anointed King, upon his holy hill of Zion. Hence he is called Meshiach, in Hebrew, and Christ, in Greek; for both signify anointed, not with material oil, but with the Holy Ghost, without measure.

b. "The Messiah is to be cut off.'' Thus Jesus was tried, condemned, and adjudged to death, in a judicial way, by men, as well as made a curse by God. But, lest it should be thought that he was cut off for any iniquity that was found in him, it is added, "not for himself" (comp. Isa 53:5, &c.). And that Jesus Christ was innocent, will be shown in the description of his character.

c. The effects of the death of the Messiah are such as are ascribed to the death of Jesus, and realized by all them that believe. Jesus Christ, by his doctrine, by his Spirit, by his grace, and by the power of his Gospel, "restrained," and set bounds to the rage of wickedness, rooted out the old idolatry of the world, and turned unnumbered millions of our race unto righteousness. By his death he atoned for our sins, reconciled us unto God, and brought in an everlasting righteousness.

9. Secondly. As it respects the Prince. We might first inquire who is meant by this title? Some suppose that it is the Messiah himself, who is to confirm the covenant of grace by his doctrines and miracles, by his death and resurrection, by the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's supper, as the seals of the New Testament. This covenant he confirmed with, or to many, to Gentiles and Jews; and that by offering up himself a sacrifice once, for all, he put an end to all the Levitical sacrifices. Others think that by the Nagid, the prince, a leader or general, with a mighty army, is to be understood, I am inclined to adopt the latter opinion. The word Havba, "that shall come," is not in construction with Am, "the people," but with Nagid, "the prince or leader." The Jewish writers understand by it, Titus Vespasian, the Roman general, with his army.(4) History informs us;(5) that, just before Jerusalem was besieged, peace was established, or, as it is here expressed, the covenant was confirmed, which continued a few years, "a week," or seven years. In the midst of that period the sacrifices and oblations ceased.(6) Great desolation followed, or, as the original may be rendered, upon the wings or battlement, (i. e. of the temple,) shall be the abominations of the desolator. By this is meant the ensigns of the Roman army, which had the images of their gods and emperors upon them, which they set up in the holy place and sacrificed unto. Nothing could be a greater abomination to our people; and thus the city and sanctuary were to continue in their ruin and desolation until the consummation of God's vengeance, determined by him, should be fully poured out upon the desolate people of our nation; which has been poured out, and continues to this very day. Now, all this was to come to pass during the last of the seventy weeks. It might naturally have been expected that this last week, or seven years, would have commenced at the death of Christ, at the end of the 69 weeks, or 483 years; but no such events took place until 30 years after. The reason why these judgments were deferred, may be, to display the goodness, patience and long-suffering of God towards our nation, as he did to the old world, when he gave them 120 years' time for repentance, before he brought the flood.

10. The late pious and venerable Dr. Scott, who truly and sincerely loved our nation, closes his exposition of this prediction in the following manner:

"It is undeniable that Daniel foretold that the Messiah would come within less than five hundred years from a decree granted for rebuilding Jerusalem; he showed that he would be put to death by a legal sentence, (for so the word implies,) and he expressly predicted that, in consequence, Jerusalem and the temple would be desolated, and the nation of the Jews exposed to tremendous punishments, of which no termination is mentioned. Within that time Jesus of Nazareth appeared: he answered in every respect to the description given of him by all the prophets: he was put to death as a deceiver; yet vast multitudes became his disciples, and Christianity gained a permanent establishment. After a time, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed; and the state of the Jews, to this day, is a striking comment on the prediction. How can it then be denied that Daniel spake by divine inspiration? or that Jesus is the promised Messiah? Both these important points might be fully demonstrated by this one prophecy, even if it stood single: how much more, when it is only one star, so to speak, in a resplendent constellation; or one among a vast number of predictions, all of which combine with united evidence to demonstrate the same grand truths."
11. Now, my dear brother, I have, at considerable length, shown that the Messiah must have come long since, for the tribe of Judah is no longer known by genealogies as a distinct tribe; the sacrifice and oblations have long since ceased, and our holy city and temple have been destroyed; and in spite of the repeated attempts of our people to rebuild the temple,(7) they have continued, (as it was foretold, Hosea 3:4,) for nearly 1800 years, "without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim." I have also shown that Jesus of Nazareth did appear at the very time predicted, and died, to accomplish the work assigned him; and that soon after his death, the events predicted by Daniel have been literally fulfilled. O that our beloved brethren would at length begin to examine the sacred Scriptures, and believe what is written in the law, and in the prophets, and in the book of Psalms, concerning the Messiah; and I doubt not but the second part of Hosea's prediction would soon be fulfilled, viz. "Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek Jehovah their God, and David their king; and shall fear Jehovah and his goodness in the latter days." Merciful Father, hasten it, for thy name's sake. Amen.

 

Letter 3. The Nativity of the Messiah

Dear Brother,

1. In this letter I propose to prove, from a variety of circumstances connected with the nativity of Jesus Christ, that he is the promised Messiah. This is indeed a subject in some respects most mysterious and incomprehensible. It is "the mystery of godliness, God manifested in the flesh." The child called Immanuel, i. e. God with us, or God in our nature; the Memra, or Word, made flesh. My object, however, is not to speak of the mode of this union of natures, but to prove its necessity and reality.

2. The union of the divine and human nature, in the person of Messiah, was necessary to the accomplishment of the work he had undertaken to perform. As it was necessary that the Mediator should be truly man, that he might be capable of subjection to the law, both in its precepts and penalty; so it was equally necessary that he should be truly God, in order that his human nature might be able to bear the avenging wrath of the Almighty, and its sufferings be adequate to the intrinsic evil and demerit of sin. Had he been man only, and not God, his obedience and satisfaction could have been only of finite value and worth. Such as the cause is, such must the effect be. But if the humanity he assumed, and in which he satisfied the law, in both its precepts and penalty, subsisted all along in his divine person, then, from the divinity of his person, its services and sufferings must have derived infinite value and worth.

3. That the Messiah was really to unite the two natures in one person, is very evident from the faith of the patriarchs, from the sentiment of the Jews in our Lord's time, from the acknowledgment of modern Rabbins, and from abundant declarations of Scripture. This is indeed boldly denied by Dr. Priestly, in his history of corruptions.(8) Says he:

"The Jews were taught by their prophets to expect a Messiah who was to descend from the tribe of Judah; but none of their prophets gave them an idea of any other than a man like themselves, in that illustrious character; and no other did they ever expect, or do they expect, to this day."
This all important assertion, which changes the Rock of Ages, the foundation of the Christian religion, into a mere heap of sand, stands altogether without a single proof. If this assertion were confined merely to the benefit and expectation of our people, we might pass it by unnoticed. For, even if it were true that they did not expect more than a mere man, yet it would no more prove that the Messiah was not to be a divine Savior, than their expectation of a mere worldly king and conqueror proves that the Messiah was not first to suffer and die, and then enter into his glory. But his assertion affects the testimony of the prophets, as well as the belief and expectation of the Jews. I shall therefore show that the doctor's assertion is not only without proof, but utterly false. He says that "none of their prophets gave them an idea of any other than a man like themselves. God willing, I shall show, at large, hereafter, that all the prophets who spoke of the Messiah, spake of him plainly and explicitly as more than man and angel, yea, as Jehovah. A few words at present will suffice to show tho sentiment of our ancient Rabbins on this subject.

4. With respect to our fathers under the Old Testament. It is evident from sacred Scripture, that all true Israelites, like Abraham, were saved through faith in the promised and future Messiah. But how could they have any ground for faith, as to his sufficiency for their salvation, or how could he be, without idolatry, an object of their faith and joy, unless they knew assuredly the all-sufficiency of his person? And how could they then know him, if he were not then existent, or rather pre-existent, and divine? and how could he be divine, but in being Jehovah? And if they had not a knowledge of the personality of Jehovah, how could they possibly think of being reconciled to Jehovah by Jehovah; and that through assumption of the woman's seed in order to perform their redemption? They had no idea of a created God, but of God a creator; no conception of an inferior deity, but of a deity supreme; nor any notion of an everlasting salvation being accomplished without a goodness and a strength equally infinite and everlasting.

5. With respect to the Jews in our Savior's time, we find that they also expected the Messiah to be more than a mere man. What other sense can be put on their declaration, "That when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is" (John 7:27). This must refer either to his miraculous conception or to his divine nature. This further appears from their confusion and silence to the following question put to them by Jesus Christ: "What think ye of Christ?" (or the Messiah;) "whose son is he? They say unto him, the son of David. He saith unto them, How then does David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word: neither durst any man, from that day forth, ask him any more questions" (Matt 22:42-46).

"Let any man of a plain, common understanding, read this passage, and then determine for himself. Will it not instantly strike him that our blessed Lord meant to infer that something above the nature of a human being was appointed to distinguish the character of a Messiah? that notwithstanding Christ, according to the flesh, was to spring from the seed of David, yet, at the same time, he was to be David's Lord? Nor can there be a doubt that our Savior's argument was considered in this light by his hearers; and that it wrought such conviction upon their mind, is evident from their silence."(9)
6. Some of our later Rabbins have acknowledged that God might and would assume human nature. R. S. Yarchi(10) says,
"This is my God; he revealed himself in his glory, and they pointed at him with their finger."
Again, in ch. 22:2:
"I am the Lord thy God," &c. "Because God appeared unto them at the Red Sea like a warrior, and at the giving of the law like an aged man, full of compassion, it might be supposed there were two Gods; therefore said he, I am that same God."
And Rab. Eliezer said,(11)
"The blessed God will in future (or as the word Athid is frequently understood in the Talmud, in the days of the Messiah upon earth) make a feast for the righteous, and he will sit amongst them in Paradise, and every one of them shall point at him with the finger."
7. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament abound with proofs of the unity of the divine and human natures in the person of Messiah. "Unto us a child is born," saith the prophet, "unto us a son is given,"—"the mighty God" (Isa 9:6). Here is his humanity and his divinity. He, who, in respect of his humanity, is a child born, in respect of his divinity, is the mighty God. His natures are two, but, as a person, he is one. Jehovah also testifies; "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous branch, and a king shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called, Jehovah our righteousness" (Jer 23:5,6). That this prediction belongs to the Messiah we have already seen. Now, in respect of his humanity, he is affirmed to be a branch raised up unto David; for, as man, he was of the tribe of Judah, and of the household of David; but, with respect to his divinity, he is called Jehovah. This is the ineffable, the incommunicable name, which is never applied to any living creature besides the Messiah, as will be shown hereafter. Memorable are the words of Zechariah 13:7, "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and (or rather, even) against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts." The same person is here styled man, and Jehovah's fellow. Hence, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul, one of the greatest Hebrew scholars and the most expert in all Jewish learning, as well as inspired by the Holy Ghost, speaking of the privileges belonging to the Jewish nation, saith, "whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen." (Rom 9:5). How full and plain the assertion of the two natures in the one person Christ! Concerning the flesh, or in respect of his humanity, he was a descendant of the Jewish fathers, and yet was the supreme God. One of the leading mysteries of godliness is, "God manifested in the flesh" (1 Tim 3:16). Another inspired writer informs us, "that the Word which was in the beginning with God, and was God, was in due time made flesh" (John 1:1,14). The divinity of the Messiah will be a distinct subject for our future consideration. I will add no more at present, but proceed to show the fulfillment of various prophecies in his descent, and the circumstances which attended his nativity.

8. First. His descent. Here let us consider the nation, the tribe, the family, and the individual. a. The nation from whom the Messiah was to descend. The first promise or prophecy of a Messiah (Gen 3:15), left it entirely undetermined as from what particular people or nation he should spring. Had he arisen from any nation or any family among men, it would have been sufficient to have verified that promise; but after the promise and oath were made to Abraham, it was necessary that he should be of his seed. This was also foretold by the prophet, Jeremiah 30:21: "Their nobles, or rather Adiro, his noble one, shall be of themselves and his governor shall proceed out of the midst of them." Though this was the case with all the kings of Israel, for no stranger was to sit on the throne of Israel, yet it had a particular reference to the Messiah. The Targum paraphrases it thus:

"Their king shall be anointed from among themselves; even their Messiah shall be revealed from the midst of them."
Kimchi, on the passage, says,
"It is very well known that the king Messiah shall be of Israel."
It is also applied to the Messiah in the Talmud.(12) Nor is it denied by our people, that the Messiah was to be of the seed of Abraham, and that Jesus Christ was of that seed; yea, an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile. In this, indeed, lies principally the glory and preference of our nation above the heathens or Gentiles, that "of them, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever" (Rom 9:5). And when Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22), he had, no doubt, reference to his descent from Abraham. Hence it is evident that no stranger could be the Messiah; neither Herod, who was an Idumean, nor Vespasian, who was a Roman.

9. b. That the Messiah was to descend from the tribe of Judah, we have already proved from Genesis 49:10; and on this account, that tribe had the pre-eminence of the rest: for Judah prevailed above his brethren, because of him the Shiloh, the chief ruler, the Messiah was to come (1 Chron 5:2). And it is evident, as the apostle observes (Heb 7:14), "that our Lord sprang out of Judah." Hence he is called, "The Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Rev 5:5).

c. As the descent of the Messiah was limited to one peculiar nation, and to a particular tribe in that nation, so also a particular family was pointed out, viz. the family of David. This is evident from many passages of sacred Scripture. See Psalm 132:11; Acts 2:30. In Isaiah 11:1, he is promised as the root of Jesse; on which the Targum saith,

"A king shall come forth from the sons of Jesse, even the Messiah shall be anointed from his children."
Many of our Rabbins acknowledge that this verse, and the 10th verse, are predictions of the Messiah.(13) In our prayer book to this day, he is called "the Son of Jesse."(14) And nothing is more common than for Messiah to be called Ben David, "the Son of David." Hence, in the days of our Savior, the ignorant as well as the learned were acquainted with this title; and when our Savior asked, "What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?" they very readily replied, "the son of David." Thus the sick called him the "son of David," and the children cried, "Hosannah to the son of David." For the same reason the Messiah is sometimes called by the prophets by the name of David, as in Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23, 24, 37:24, 25; Hosea 3:5, and all these passages are applied to the Messiah by our Rabbins. Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23, 37:24, by Kimchi, Hosea 3:5, by the Targum; and Ab. Ezra, Psalm 144:10, by Michlol yophi; and 1 Kings 11:39, and Haggai 2:23, by Abendana. Nat. in Michl. Yophi. That Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, is of the family of David, is abundantly evident. Because Mary, as well as Joseph, belonged to the family of David, therefore they both went to Bethlehem, the city of David, to be taxed. The angel who was sent to announce her conception of the holy child Jesus, declared her to be of the house of David.

10. It is objected that Jesus could not be said to be of David, although Mary his mother be of that family, because it is a common principle that "the family of the mother is not considered a family," i. e. the family is always reckoned from the father's side; be it so, but it is also considered a principle that the offspring is considered the "seed of the man"; but the Messiah was promised emphatically as "the seed of the woman," because he was not to have an earthly father, and therefore his descent must necessarily be reckoned from his mother. Nor ought any of our people to find fault with the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, though some difficulty should now exist in reconciling them, seeing that the Jews in our Lord's time did not object to them; and certainly they understood them better than we can, after the lapse of 1800 years, and the loss of ancient documents. Besides, if Jesus was not the Messiah, and the true one is yet to come, how will he prove his descent from David? For it is a fact that will not be denied by any candid and honest Jew, that there are no genealogies preserved among our people, either in private families or in the synagogue. Should it be said that he will prove his descent by miracles, it is not at all likely that he will show greater miracles, signs and wonders, than Jesus did. Further, is it not a fact that our people have intermarried with their proselytes of all nations, and sometimes with others, insomuch that there is not one Jew in the world who can with certainty affirm that he is of the pure and unmixed blood of Abraham, the father of the faithful.

11. Notwithstanding all the objections brought by our people against the proofs that Jesus Christ is of the family of David, I appeal to their own Talmud, which you, my dear Benjamin, know, they consider of greater weight and authority, than the Bible itself. In Sanhedrim, fol. 43. Ed. Venit. it is said, that Jesus was hanged on the evening of the passover; that a crier went before him for 40 days, to proclaim, that if any one knew any cause why he should not be put to death, he should declare it; that there was none to be found that could speak on the behalf of Jesus; and that one, whose name was Ulla, gives the reason of this proceeding to be, that Jesus was related to the kingdom; which he could not be, except he were ex semine regio, i. e. of the Davidical family.

12. Bishop Kidder observes,(15)

"I take this to be a very considerable testimony, as it now lies before us in the Talmud; but yet it is in the printed copies so delivered, that it gives too great a suspicion that the Jews have, in the printed Talmud, used some fraud and artifice in this matter, to obscure the tradition. They who have more time and leisure, will bestow it well in a farther search. I have seen a copy of a M. S. of Sorbon, written towards the end of the 13th century, in which this matter is related with much greater perspicuity than we find it now in the printed copies of the Talmud. For there Ulla, after the account before rehearsed, is brought in, saying expressly, 'Sed hoc factum est de Jesu Nazareno, quia consanguineus erat regno'; and the Dominican who gives us that translation, tells us that the same words are to be found in the book called Moed in the title Sabbath, which now (though there be still mention made of Jesus) is, in the printed copies, entirely left out."
The bishop continues,
"I very well know the Jews have been accused of erasing out of the late editions of the Talmud, what was found in the ancient copies to our present purpose. I will not charge them with what I cannot prove, but wish that learned men, who have the opportunity of comparing the several copies, would make it their business to inquire into this matter with great application."
Whilst regard to truth compels me to acknowledge the fact, i. e. that almost every thing relating to the Christian religion, that was in the ancient copies of the Talmud, has been left out in the modern copies, yet the prelate was mistaken to the motive and design. It was not "fraud and artifice," but fear of persecution, as will be seen by the following circular, which was sent from a council of elders, convened in Poland, in the year 5,391, A. M.

13. "Great peace be to our beloved brethren of the, house, of Israel. Having received information that many Christians have applied themselves with great care to acquire the knowledge of the language in which our books are written, we therefore enjoin you, under the penalty of the great Ban, (to be inflicted upon such of you, as shall transgress this our statute,) that you do not, in any new edition, either of the Mishnah or Gemara, publish any thing relative to Jesus of Nazareth; and that you take especial care not to write any thing concerning him, either good or bad, so that neither ourselves nor our religion may he exposed to any injury; for we know what those men of Belial (Mumrim, or Jews who had embraced Christianity), have done to us, when they became Christians; and how their representations against us have obtained credit. Therefore, let this make you cautious. If you should not pay strict attention to this our letter, but act contrary thereto, and continue to publish our books in the same manner as before, you may occasion, both to us and to yourselves, greater afflictions than we have hitherto experienced, and be the means of our being compelled to embrace the Christian religion, as we were formerly; and thus our latter troubles might be worse than the former. For these reasons we command you, that if you publish any new edition of those books, let the places relating to Jesus the Nazarene be left in blank, and fill up the space with a circle like this "O.". But the Rabbins and teachers of children well know how to instruct the youth by word of mouth. Then Christians will no longer have any thing to show against us upon this subject, and we may expect deliverance from the afflictions we have formerly labored under, and reasonably hope to live in peace."

14. I have now shown that the prophecies concerning the nation, the tribe, and the family from whom the Messiah was to descend, have been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth; but I cannot proceed without observing and admiring the wonderful provision which was made for this purpose in the law of Moses. Our nation was not only divided into several tribes, but each tribe into its several families; and as every tribe had a distinct inheritance, which obliged them to keep genealogies of their several families, so, to make them more exact and punctual in this, no alienation of inheritance, was allowed for longer than the year of jubilee, which returned every fifty years; and then every one that could clear his pedigree, and make out his right of the inheritance of his ancestors, was to be reinstated in the possession of it: this made it every one's interest to preserve his genealogy: but that which still further contributed to this, and made them still more careful in this matter, was the law of lineal retreats; i. e. upon failure of an heir in any family, the next of kin was to be heir at law; which obliged every tribe not only to take care of their own genealogy, but those also of the several families of their kindred; that, by knowing the several degrees of proximity of blood, they might be able at any time, upon failure of an heir, to make out their title to the inheritance of their fathers.

This was the method to be taken throughout their generations; so that when the fullness of time should come for the promised Messiah to appear, he might by this means easily and certainly prove his lineal descent from the seed of Abraham; from the tribe of Judah and the family of David.

15. I shall now point out the individual of whom he was to be born. Not a few of the most ancient and most learned of our Rabbins have acknowledged that the Messiah was to be without having an earthly father, and to be born of a virgin. Some express it in one way, and some in another.

"The birth of the Messiah alone shall be without any defect." "His birth shall not be like that of other creatures, into the world." "None shall know his father before he tells it." "The birth of the Messiah shall be like the dew from the Lord; as drops upon the grass expects not the labor (action) of men."(16)
Rabbi Moshe Haddarshan declares his sentiment in these words:
"The Redeemer whom I will raise up from among you shall not have a father, according to Zechariah 6:12, 'Behold the man whose name is the Branch, and he shall grow up out of his place,' i. e. he shall have another principle of generation. So also Isaiah 53:2, 'And he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.' So also David saith of him, Psalm 110:3, 'In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning; thou hast the dew of thy youth.' Again it is written, Psalm 2:7, 'Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.'"(17)
In Bereshith Ketannah the words, Genesis 19:32, are thus explained: Rab. Tanchuma has said it is not written a son, but seed, that seed, viz. who shall come from another place, and that is Messiah. In Ber. Rab.(18) on the words "another seed," the same author saith, in the name of R. Samuel,
"this is that seed which shall arise from another place; and what is that? it is the king Messiah."
The same language is ascribed in Medrash, Ruth,(19) to R. Nechoniah and to R. Jacob, the son of Abin. In Bereshith Rabbah there is a remarkable passage to the same purpose:
"R. Joshuah, the son of Levi, has said, come and see that the way of the blessed God is not like that of flesh and blood, i. e man; for flesh and blood wounds with a knife and heals with a plaster; but the way of the blessed God is not of this nature for he heals by the very means by which he wounds. It is this that is written, Jeremiah 30:17, 'For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds.' And this shalt thou find in Joseph and in Israel, when he shall heal them by the very means by which he hath wounded them. Did not Israel sin in a virgin? as it is written, Ezekiel 23:3, 'There they bruised the teats of their virginity.' And they are punished in a virgin; as it is written, Lamentations 5:11, 'They ravished the women in Zion, and the maids in the cities of Judah.' But he will return and give comfort by a virgin, as it is declared, Jeremiah 31:21, 22, 'Turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these thy cities. How long wilt thou go about, O thou backsliding daughter? for the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth, a woman shall compass a man.'"
R. Hunnah, in the name of Rabbi Idi, and R. Joshuah, the son of Levi, have said,
"This is the King Messiah, of whom it is written, Psalm 2:7, 'Thou art my Son,' &c. And concerning this, Isaiah saith, 'For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.' And it is this that the holy Scripture hath said, Judges 5:8."(20)
The Jews, in our Lord's time, had the same notion respecting the generation of the Messiah, viz. that his father, should not be known: and on this account they objected to Jesus being the Messiah, supposing that Joseph was his real father. Thus, when Jesus told them that he was the bread of life, they murmured and said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?" (John 6:42). Again: "Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ? Howbeit, we know this man, whence he is; but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is."

16. That the Messiah was to be born of a virgin was promised in Isaiah 7:14: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" Messiah is the sum and substance of the Scriptures; still, like the natural sun, so the light of the Sun of Righteousness arose gradually upon the sons of men, and shone brighter and brighter unto the perfect clay. Some ages had but a very faint and glimmering view; others enjoyed a clearer and more perfect revelation of his person, offices, &c. The manner in which the first promise was expressed, "the seed of the woman," no doubt contained this mystery, that he was to be without an earthly father, and to be born of a virgin; yet probably few understood the truth thus taught, but the prophecy under consideration is clear and distinct.

I shall endeavor to prove that by the child promised is meant the Messiah, and that his mother was to be a virgin. a. Consider the scope and design of this prophecy. This was evidently to comfort the dejected house of David, who were in the utmost confusion at the tidings of the conspiracy formed against them by the kings of Syria and Israel; upon which Isaiah was sent with a message to Ahaz; and upon meeting him with his nobles, he bids him ask a sign of the Lord his God, either in the height above or in the depth; but the king, in a haughty, irreverent, and irreligious manner, rejected it, under a specious pretence of not tempting God; upon which the prophet turned himself from him to the distressed house of David, and comforts them with the news of a Messiah's birth, who was to spring from them. Surely nothing could be more supporting to them under their present fears than this; for hereby they were assured that they should never be destroyed or cut off before the Messiah was born. This was a confirmation of the patriarch's prediction concerning Judah, lately considered, from which it appears that the tribe of Judah must remain until Shiloh, the Messiah, should appear.

b. Consider the manner in which the prophecy was delivered. The birth of this Son is represented as something stupendous and extraordinary, as a sign, prodigy, wonder, or miracle, and therefore introduced by the word Behold.

c. Consider, further, the description given of the mother. The Hebrew word Almah, signifies a virgin, and no other. This appears to be the constant and universal meaning of the word, in all places of the Old Testament. See Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Psalm 68:25; Song 1:3, 6:8. Nor can Proverbs 30:19 be made a just objection; for it does not appear that the maid and the adulterous woman are one and the same person. But, even supposing they were one and the same person, yet, as it has been justly observed,(21) she might, though vitiated, be called a maid or virgin, according to her own profession of herself, or as she appeared to others, who knew her not, or in reference to what she was before she became defiled. Thus we read, Deuteronomy 22:28, "if a man lying with a virgin," i. e. one who was a virgin before her defilement. Thus we say the house is burned to ashes, i. e. that which was a house is now changed to ashes.

17. Now this prophecy had its literal accomplishment in Jesus of Nazareth, our blessed Savior. The evangelist (Matt 1:19,22,23), gives us the following account: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise; whereas his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child by the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But whilst he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take onto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which, being interpreted, is, God with us." This account was not contradicted, or attempted to be disproved by our people in Christ's time, who were most capable of discovering the fraud or imposture, if there had been any. It is therefore as vain as it is strange for any modern adversary to attempt to disprove the fact, after all the genealogies are lost. Another passage of Scripture which proves the Messiah to be born of a virgin, is that in Jeremiah 31:22, ''Jehovah hath created a new thing in the earth, a woman shall compass a man." The context evidently shows that this is a prophecy of the Messiah. The blessing promised in verses 10-14, the Jews expected only in his days, and could be had from him only. The slaughter of the children (v 15), is applied to the Messiah Jesus. It is said to be a new thing, and a creation, which is not applicable to the conception of a child in a natural way. The word Savav, to compass, very fitly expresses the conception of a child, as signifying the cause or occasion of any thing (1 Sam 22:22). Some of our Rabbins have acknowledged that the Messiah is here intended, and that by the woman, is to be understood a virgin.(22)

Now, my dear brother Benjamin, knowing, by personal experience, that the mysterious part of the subject of this letter is a great stumbling-block to our nation, let me beseech you, most affectionately, to read it over again and again, carefully and prayerfully, with deep humility for divine illumination; and should there be any objections in your mind, let me know them, and I will endeavor, by the help of God, to remove them. And may the Holy Spirit form Christ in your heart, the hope, of glory. Amen. Farewell.

 

Letter 4. Objections Answered

Dear Brother,

I was much gratified in perusing your last letter. It hath confirmed my hopes that you have paid considerable attention to my former letters. The objections you have brought against the statement of my last letter, are neither new nor unanswerable. They have all been collected and brought against the Christian religion, by R. Isaac in Chizick Emunah, and by R. Lipman in his Carmin, and they have been answered by Wagenseil and others. To some of them I have already alluded in my last letter, and thought once to enter fully on the refutation of them, but was prevented by the exhortation of the apostle to Timothy and Titus, "not to give heed to the vain and endless genealogies" (1 Tim 1:4; Titus 3:9).

1. The genealogy of Christ is, however, an exception, and you have justly styled it the "turning point of the Messiahship of Jesus." I fully agree with you, that "if Jesus Christ be not of the family of David, he could not be the Messiah." Hence Christians, though much divided and subdivided in their opinions almost on every subject, are yet agreed that Jesus of Nazareth is of the family of David; nor has any of our people attempted to disprove it. I think you have very judiciously comprised your objections into a few, and this will greatly facilitate my labor in answering them in their order.

2. In the first place, you seem to have taken it for granted that both St. Matthew and St. Luke give us the genealogy of Joseph only. This is a subject much disputed. Many eminent writer's are of opinion that St. Matthew hath given us the genealogy of Joseph, and St. Luke that of Mary. I feel, however, much pleasure in being able to agree with you. I am fully persuaded that both the evangelists have given us the genealogy of Joseph; and I am aware that this opinion is liable to objections, and you have properly stated them. Here you observe that the two evangelists contradict each other; for St. Matthew saith that the father of Joseph was Jacob, but Luke saith Joseph was the son of Heli; and you lay it down as a principle, that no man can have two fathers. This is true in one sense, but not in another. By nature there can be but one father, but a man may have several fathers upon different grounds. For example, A. may be said to be the natural son of B. and the legal son of C. The former is a relation formed by nature, B. having begotten A, and so he is his natural son; but the latter is a relation arising from a law either human or divine. By human laws, I refer to the laws of adoption and marriage. By the former, the adopted person becomes a son to him that adopted him; and by the latter, the husband of the wife becomes a son to her father, and the son of a woman by a former husband becomes the son of her present husband. By a divine law, I refer to the law of raising up seed to the name of a dead brother (see Deut 25:5,6). By this law, the memory of the first-born of a family, who died childless, was preserved, and the inheritance kept in a direct line. According to this law, A. may be said to be the son of B. and of C. He is the son of C. by nature or generation, and the son of B. by law, bearing his name, and taking his place in the inheritance. Thus it has been considered that Joseph was the natural son of Jacob, as mentioned by St. Matthew, and the legal son of Heli, mentioned by St. Luke. This mode of reconciling the seeming contradiction of the evangelists seems the most natural, and is of very ancient date. Eusebius gives it as the opinion of Julius Africanus, in the following words:

"That the genealogies among the Jews were of descents either natural or legal; the natural are the genuine offspring; the legal were those who take place by virtue of a received law. Thus the natural child of the surviving brother, was reputed the child of the deceased; for there not being among the Jews under the law, any express and clear hope of a resurrection, God thought fit to allow them a symbol of it in that law; whereby the name of the deceased was to be preserved and kept alive. Those names which are inserted in these genealogies, (i. e. Matthew and Luke,) are of two sorts; some the genuine children, who succeeded to their parents; some are such who are legally esteemed and reputed the children of those who did not beget them. So that the evangelists are not inconsistent with each other, when they give in the number of those who were naturally and legally the children of different parents, they being the sons of divers parents, either naturally or legally."
Eusebius approves of this opinion, and saith that it was given by the kindred of our Savior.(23)

3. The following extracts from a letter addressed by the Rev. J. Oxlee to J. R. an Israelite, is very much to the point:

"I must be permitted to remind you of similar discrepancies to be found in the books of the Old Testament, for which like solutions (viz. as that of Julius Africanus) are offered by the ablest expositors: so that, for the conviction of a Jew, the contradictory accounts of the Evangelists ought to seem sufficiently reconciled, if they can be made to harmonize together on the same principles with those to which they themselves are obliged to have recourse in expounding their own Scriptures.

"In the Old Testament there certainly occur two remarkable contradictions of this sort. In the books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra, Zerubbabel is uniformly styled the son of Salathiel; but in the book of Chronicles he is said to have been the son of Pedaiah, who was either the son or the brother of Salathiel; so that, either way, Zerubbabel could not have been the son, but either the nephew or the grandson of Salathiel. Kimchi asserts that he was the grandson, but called his son, in the same manner that other grandsons are sometimes styled sons, in certain parts of Scripture. Aben Ezra, on the contrary, maintains that he was only his nephew; but called his son, because he had educated him and brought him up; a practice, of which the Scriptures, he observes, do furnish many instances."

Mr. Oxlee mentions another palpable contradiction with respect to Hiram, 1 Kings 7:14, and 2 Chronicles 2:14, and the methods of Yarchi, Kimchi, and Abarbanel to reconcile it, and then proceeds:
"These contradictory statements, together with their solutions, I have brought forward, not with a view of raising a cavil against tho Jewish Scriptures, which I believe to have been dictated by the infallible Spirit of God, but for the purpose of reminding you, that whatever objections may be supposed to lie against the truth of the Gospels, from the discrepancies of the text, the same objections will hold good with respect to your own Scriptures; and whatever candor and indulgence may be claimed by you for the due elucidation of such passages as seem repugnant to each other, the same indulgence ought in justice to be extended to the interpretation of the New Testament."(24)
Saith the revered author just mentioned,(25)
"St. Austin has proposed another method for adjusting the differences, viz. that Joseph was the son of Jacob ana Heli, but of the one by nature, and of the other by adoption; it having been with the Jews a common thing, for those who had been brought up and educated by others than their own parents, to be called their children; and in asserting their pedigrees, to deduce their descent from the registers of those families."
That sonship was acquired by adoption as well as by generation, we have the evidence of the Talmud: Sanhedrin Perek 2; Aben Ezra; Haggai 1:1; R. Isaac Abarbinel; 2 Samuel 21:8. Saith the pious and learned Mr. Oxlee,
"I affirm that in the genealogy of Joseph, by St. Matthew, the adoptive takes place of the natural order, at least in two instances; that is to say, in Zerubbabel being made the son of Salathiel, who, according to Aben Ezra, was only his uncle; and in Jacob being asserted to have begot Joseph, who seems, indeed, to have been brought up and educated by him, but was doubtless the real and natural son of Heli, as declared by St. Luke. The difference of the two pedigrees, therefore, is to be charged wholly to the account of St. Matthew; who, as the reader may easily perceive, hath contented himself with the vulgar and popular register of the seed royal, as well with respect to that part of the 'genealogy which falls within the period of the Old Testament, as to that which comes after it. Nor is the veracity of St. Matthew, as a sacred historian, hereby impeached. In making Joseph the son of Jacob, when he was only his son by adoption and education, he followed the practice of the inspired penmen themselves, and of the Jewish church in general; who, as I have demonstrated above, appear to have acknowledged the fitness and propriety of this mode of genealogizing, and especially when an honor might accrue from it to the subject of the pedigree. He affirms, indeed, that Jacob begat Joseph; and so does he affirm, that Salathiel begat Zerobabel, which we know to be literally false. He incurs thereby no more just censure than the writers of the Old Testament, who have stated in one place, that Michael bare five sons to Adriel; though we are certain, from another testimony of Scripture, that she never had a child at all till the day of her death, that is, saith Isaac Abarbinel, during the whole of her life.

"There are, besides, some other reasons for believing it to be a genealogy of this complexion. The author has preserved the line of Solomon entire, though there is strong ground for suspecting that it had become extinct, even before the termination of the Babylonish captivity. He has curiously divided the genealogy into three distinct periods, and assigned to each of them fourteen generations; to accomplish which he must have passed over several steps of the descent, and omitted the names of the less renowned characters; as it is incredible, that between the commencement of the Babylonish captivity and the birth of Christ, there should not have intervened more than fourteen generations. These and such like considerations, naturally arising from an impartial survey of the narrative itself, move me to conclude that the pedigree here given by St. Matthew was what the author had found preserved in some document or register belonging to the foster-father of Joseph, and which he therefore prefixed to the front of his Gospel, in honor of his birth, as deducing his descent from David, in the line of Solomon.

"But the pedigree given by the evangelist Luke, whether we regard the completion of its numbers or the height of its repetition, has every appearance of being his natural and genuine descent, and exhibits, at this day, the most extraordinary specimen of genealogical composition extant, either in the Scriptures or in any other work. Instead of coinciding with St. Matthew in making Joseph the tenth from Zerubbabel and Shealtiel, he places him the nineteenth; the number of generations interposed bearing a just proportion to the extent of the interval. There is, indeed, fair ground to believe that this evangelist had access to the registers of some distinguished Jewish families, which have since been lost by their scattered posterity; for on any other supposition than this it must appear wholly incredible that, circumstanced as he was, with the Scriptures before him, he should have either presumed or given himself the trouble to hand down a pedigree of Zerubabbel and Shealtiel so much at variance with the one already recorded in the Chronicles of the Old Testament. It is fully apparent that he regarded Shealtiel as the adopted successor, rather than the natural son of king Jechonias; and Joseph as the foster or adopted, and not the real son of Jacob, in the pretended line of Solomon. To remedy these defects in the other evangelist, was, I make no doubt, the sole design of his inserting this pedigree; and for which there is every reason to presume that he was possessed of documents to furnish him with authority. The two genealogies, therefore, are sufficiently reconciled, on the ground that Joseph was indeed the foster-son of Jacob, but the real and natural son of Heli."(26)

4. I will now proceed to consider your next objection, viz. "Seeing that both evangelists give the pedigree of Joseph, and not of Mary; and believing, as Christians do, that Joseph was not the natural father of Jesus, but that he was conceived by the virgin Mary, by the power and energy of the Holy Ghost; we want the pedigree or genealogy of Mary to assure us that she is of the family of David."

a. This objection has been answered by Raymund des Martins, on the authority of Damascenus, in the following manner:

"Levi, who, according to St. Luke, was the great grandfather of Joseph, begat both Matthat and Panter; Panter begat Bar Panter, and Bar Panter begat Joachim, the father of Mary; so that Joseph and Mary were distant relations, being descended, as to the father's side, from one and the same ancestry. Now Mary is affirmed to have been an only daughter; and in order that the paternal estate might not be transferred into any other tribe or family, she was espoused to Joseph, her remote kinsman, in strict compliance with the custom of the country. The genealogy of the virgin, therefore, would in a great measure be the same with that of Joseph, and Jesus, her son, must have been the lineal offspring of David the king." "That the parents of Mary were Joachim and Anna, and that she was espoused to her kinsman Joseph, in the manner and for the reasons above mentioned, we have the joint authorities of Epiphanius and Damascenus, the one of the fourth and the other of the eighth century, who do not present us with this historical account of the virgin mother as a scheme of their own invention, but as a tradition which they had received from their predecessors in the church, and which, at the time, was known to others equally with themselves."(27)
Besides the above tradition, I think it is very evident, both from the Gospel of St. Matthew and St. Luke, that Mary was of the family of David. St. Luke 1:26, 27 informs us that "in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary." Saith Bishop Kidder,(28)
"I can see no cause from the Greek text, why we should not connect those words, of the house of David, to those, to a virgin; and then I would read them with a parenthesis, thus: to a virgin (espoused to a man whose name was Joseph) of the house of David. Here is nothing forced: for certain it is, that the virgin is the subject of the text. It is the message to her that is there related, and she is there particularly described.

  1. By the place of her habitation; ver. 26, a city of Galilee, named Nazareth.
  2. By her relation to Joseph; espoused to a man whose name was Joseph.
  3. By her family; of the house of David.
  4. By the name by which she was commonly called, Mary.

The mention of Joseph in that place is not upon his own account, but upon the account of the virgin Mary, to whom the angel is directed; and the virgin is so particularly described, that there can be no doubt remaining which was she. That she was a virgin, was not enough; because there were, doubtless, many virgins in Nazareth. That her name was Mary, was not sufficient, for there might be several of that name; but add to this, that she was of the house of David, and espoused to Joseph, and all doubt is removed out of the way. Hence there was no necessity of the genealogy of Mary; for, in giving the genealogy of Joseph, the genealogy of Mary is included. Thus Abraham married Sarah, his brother's daughter: he that gives an account of the ancestors of Abraham, must be allowed to give an account of the ancestors of Sarah at the same time."

b. Zacharias the priest, who, by the Holy Ghost, prophesied, said that God raised up an horn of salvation for us, in the house of his servant David (Luke 1:69).

c. When Augustus Cæsar commanded that all the world should be taxed, Mary, as well as Joseph, went to Bethlehem, the city of David. Now, if Mary had not been of the family and house of David, it is not likely that she would then, in her peculiar situation, have accompanied Joseph (Luke 2:3-5).

5. Your next objection is against the miraculous conception of Christ, which, you say, has no other foundation than the story of the angel, and is too mysterious to be believed. Allow me, dear Benjamin, to show that you are mistaken with respect to the first, and unreasonable with respect to the second part of your objection.

You assert that the miraculous conception of Christ rests on the mere story of the angel. Herein you are mistaken. I have already shown, in my last letter, that it was predicted that the Messiah was to be born of a virgin, and that our ancient Rabbins expected the Messiah to be without an earthly father. Both the evangelists, Matthew and Luke, refer the birth of Christ to some other energy or cause than the paternity of Joseph.

"St. Matthew, whoso uniformity of phrase in connecting the links of the pedigree, continues uninterrupted till he arrives at Jesus, there suddenly stops short, and instead of subjoining 'and Joseph begat Jesus,' in the same manner as he had said before, 'and Jacob begat Joseph,' changes his style and saith, 'the husband of Mary, of whom was born Christ'; and St. Luke, saying of Jesus, 'being, as was supposed, the Son of Joseph,' and the expression, as was supposed, though in a parenthesis in the English translation, is of equal authority with any part of the Gospel, it being found, without any variation, as far as I can trace it, in all the Greek MSS. ancient as well as modern: in all the old versions, and especially in the Syriac, which, according to the most probable computation, must have been made as early as the first century, and therefore of considerable weight in establishing the true reading, either of this, or of any other passage."(29)
6. With respect to the second part of your objection, that the miraculous conception of Christ is so mysterious or unparalleled that you cannot believe it; I fully agree that it is mysterious and unparalleled, and therefore it was foretold as a new creation (Jer 31:22); but it is unreasonable to reject it on that account. The same almighty power which could form Adam out of the dust, and Eve out of a rib, could, with equal ease, form the Messiah in the womb of a virgin. I shall once more borrow the words of the reverend author mentioned above. In his sixth letter to the Israelite, he saith,
"That Christ should have been thus miraculously born, so far from redounding to the prejudice of Christianity, is one of the strongest arguments in favor of its truth, if truth is to be collected from the narratives of the Old Testament. For what, I pray, forms so striking a feature in the history of the most distinguished characters of holy writ as the sterility of the womb from which they were generated, and the interposition of Omnipotence to effect their formation. Did not the Almighty, to produce the birth of Samuel, as well as that of Samson, first remove the barrenness of the mothers; that is, to take the words of the sacred penmen in the most qualified sense, that natural inaptitude under which they labored, of bearing children in any manner; and which could be remedied only by a suppletion of those organs and powers on which fecundity depends? Certainly, both these were instances of generation being at least promoted, if not effected, in a supernatural way. But not to dwell on the foregoing and similar occurrences, what shall we say to the birth of Isaac? Sarah, when visited by the hand of the ever-gracious Jehovah, was ninety years old, and had never born a child during her life, and with whom it had now ceased to be after the manner of women, an infallible criterion of her natural inability to sustain conception; and yet, marvellous to relate, she brought forth Isaac, that immaculate and highly favored patriarch, who, in many circumstances of his life, no less than in that of his birth, was a typical representation of the predicted Messiah. That the conception of Isaac by Sarah was wholly miraculous, and required as extraordinary an effort of power to accomplish it, as the birth of Christ, narrated by the evangelists, is not to be denied."
Mr. Oxlee, after showing that the Rabbins consider that both Sarah's youth and her virginity were restored to her by God at that time, to enable her to do what Jehovah had promised, he saith,
"Now, if, to show the exuberancy of his grace, and to confer upon the patriarch the gift of a son in the decline of life, the Lord was pleased to work a miracle in the visitation of Sarah, and to effect, in the sight of the whole world, a change, which, without the creative aid of Omnipotence, must have been physically impossible; what ground can you lawfully state for objecting to the miraculous conception of Christ, seeing that the birth of the Messiah must have been an event of greater magnitude and importance, in proportion as his dignity and character were regarded as superior to those of that patriarch? The narrative of the one is as much entitled to credit and respect as that of the other; and whoever refuses not to admit the marvellous circumstances attendant on the conception of Isaac, will act a most uncandid part in rejecting the doctrines of the miraculous conception of Christ, as an incredible and impossible story."(30)
Now, my dear Benjamin, I pray God to accompany this letter with his peculiar blessing to remove your objections, and I hope the importance of the subject will be a sufficient apology for its length. Farewell.

 

Letter 5. Predictions of Several Circumstances Connected with the Birth of the Messiah, Fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth

Dear Brother,

1. As the coming or advent of the Messiah in general, so his birth in particular, has been the subject of many predictions. Several circumstances are mentioned in the law, in the prophets, and in the book of Psalms concerning it. The place of his birth was pointed out by Micah 5:2, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, 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."

That this prophecy relates to the birth of the Messiah, is evident,

a. from the scope and connexion of the text; which was to comfort and support the people of Israel under the severe judgment announced in verse the first. The birth of Messiah is announced, the true source of joy, comfort and support. Hence one of the names given to the Messiah by our Rabbins is Menachem, i. e. "he shall comfort."

b. From the character given of him in the text. Messiah is frequently called a Prince, Ruler and Governor, and he is the Eternal Jehovah, (as shall be proved hereafter). Indeed, no words can more forcibly express the pre-existence of the Messiah from eternity, than those used in the text.

''The words do naturally import an original, distinct from the birth of Christ, which is here declared to have been from eternity, for so the word Mickedem, translated here 'from of old,' but rendered from everlasting (Hab 1:12), and the expression Meolamim, rendered 'from the days of eternity,' do plainly signify."(31)
Yarchi applies it to the Messiah, and explains it by Psalm 72:17, "Before the sun was, his name was Yinon," i. e. "a Son."

That this is a promise of the Messiah, is acknowledged by the Targums and other Jewish writers.(32) The Jews in our Lord's time applied it to the Messiah; for when the wise men came to Herod, and inquired where the new born King of Israel was to be found, he sent for the chief priests and scribes, and demanded of them where Christ should be born; to which they very readily replied, "In Bethlehem of Judea"; and to prove the truth of their assertion, they cited this very prophecy of Micah. See Matthew 2:5, 6. The evangelist hath been charged with misquoting the passage of the Old Testament, but the difference is so trifling that it scarcely deserves notice; and if the difference were material and important, no blame could be attached to the evangelist, who acted merely the part of a faithful historian, and related the answer just as given by the priests and scribes. If there be a mistake, error, or corruption, the blame falls on the priests and scribes.

That Jesus Christ was born at Bethlehem, is a fact which has never been denied, and wants therefore no proof. The circumstance, however, which caused him to be born there is too remarkable to be overlooked. Mary lived at Nazareth, and there the holy child was conceived, and would, no doubt, have been born there, but the Scripture cannot be broken. Augustus made a decree for the enrolling or taking the names of his subjects and tributaries, upon which account Joseph and Mary removed from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a town of their own tribe, and family of David, and there was Mary delivered of her first-born, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world (Luke 2:1,7). It is remarkable that Augustus had made this decree 27 years before, and was already proclaimed in Tarracon, a city in Spain; but, because disturbances broke out, it was not carried into effect. Surely this was the Lord's doing.

2. The second prediction, respecting the birth of Messiah, is the divine worship which was to be paid him by the angels. That the Messiah was to be worshiped by angels, we are informed by the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Hebrews (1:6). Amongst the arguments used by him to show the superiority of Jesus over the angels, he saith, "And again, when he bringeth in the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him." The manner in which the apostle introduces this sentiment, and the proof of it, show that both were well known to the Hebrews. The passage in the Old Testament to which the apostle alludes, is generally supposed to be Psalm 97:7, "Worship him, all ye gods." The object to be worshiped is repeatedly called Jehovah in the preceding verses, and distinguished from the idols. It is very evident that this Psalm is a part and continuation of the preceding one, the title of which is "A New Song"; and Yarchi observes that it is to be referred to the world to come, i. e. the time of the kingdom of Messiah. Kimchi also affirms "that this Psalm, and that which follows, respect the time when the people shall be delivered from the captivity out of all nations," i. e. the time of the Messiah. The Targum also calls the next Psalm "a prophecy of the kingdom and reign of the Messiah." It further appears, from the matter of this Psalm, that it speaks of the kingdom of Messiah; a kingdom wherein God would reign, who should destroy idolatry and false worship; a kingdom wherein the isles of the Gentiles should rejoice, being called to an interest therein; a kingdom that was to be preached, proclaimed, declared unto the increase of light and holiness in the world, with the manifestation of the glory of God unto the ends of the earth. This prediction was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who was worshiped by the multitudes of angels, "praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:13,14). Other instances might be mentioned when Jesus Christ was worshiped by angels, which must be considered in a future letter. I therefore pass on to the third prediction, viz.

3. That a remarkable star should appear. This prediction was delivered by Balaam, Numbers 24:17: "There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth." That this is a prediction of the Messiah is acknowledged by Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, and Aben Ezra saith that many (i. e. Rabbins) expound it of the Messiah.(33) Our people still expect the appearance of a star at the coming of Messiah.(34) Hence we read of one whose name was Bar Cochvah, i. e. the Son of a star, who gave himself out for the Messiah, and had many followers; but, after his death, not rising again from the dead, they became convinced that he had been a deceiver, and therefore called him Bar Cosivah, i. e. the son of a lie. Abulpharagius, an Arabic writer, tells us that Zoroastres, who lived four or five hundred years before Christ, instructed his magicians of the coming of Messiah, and that at his birth there should appear a wonderful star, which would shine by day as well as by night; and therefore left it on command with them, that when that star appeared they should follow its direction, and go to the place where he was to be born, and there offer gifts and pay their adorations to him.(35) Now this Zoroaster appears to have been a Jew, both by birth and religion, and servant to one of the prophets of Israel, and well versed in the sacred writings, and therefore may well be supposed to have learned all this from the prophecy of Balaam.(36) All this was remarkably fulfilled in Jesus Christ. At his birth an unusual star appeared, which led the magi, or wise men, from the East to Bethlehem, where they found the holy child Jesus, "and they fell down and worshiped him; and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh" (Matt 2:1-11): and thus another Scripture was fulfilled, which saith, "the kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts" (Psa 72:10). This leads me to notice two other circumstances, which, though perhaps not directly prophecies, yet may be said to be fulfilled in Jesus.

4. The first is the slaying of the children at Bethlehem, which the Evangelist Matthew thus describes: "Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceedingly wroth, and sent forth and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men: then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not" (Jer 31:15-17). The truth of this cruel and barbarous transaction is acknowledged in Toldoth Yeshu.

5. The other circumstance is the remarkable preservation of the Messiah. "The Lord knoweth how to deliver his saints." Joseph being directed in a dream, fled into Egypt, and there remained till the death of Herod, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, out of Egypt have I called my Son." No doubt the evangelist refers to Hosea 11:1, which had its first accomplishment in Israel's deliverance from Egypt, and secondary, in Christ the antitype, called Israel (Isa 49:3). Our brethren ought not to think it strange, much less to find fault with the evangelist for applying this passage to the Messiah; for this was the common practice of our ancient Rabbins. Thus, when Jehovah saith of our nation, "Israel is my son, even my first-born," it is applied to the Messiah in Mid. Tehillim Rabb. on Ps. 2 "the actions of the Messiah are related in the law, in the prophets, and in the books called Hagiography: in the law (Exo 4:22), 'Israel is my -first-born'; in the prophets (Isa 52:13), 'Behold, my servant shall deal prudently'; in the Psalms, as it is written (Psa 110:1), 'the Lord said unto my lord.' On their return, Joseph, finding that Archelaus reigned in the stead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go to Judea; and being warned of God, they went into Galilee, and dwelt at Nazareth; by which was fulfilled what was said by the prophets: "He shall be called a Nazarene" (Matt 2:22,23). A vindication of this last passage I have given already, in a preceding letter. From the predictions fulfilled in several circumstances connected with the birth of the Messiah, we shall proceed to those relative to his character. May Jesus Christ, our Emmanuel, who was worshiped by the angels from heaven, and the wise men from the East, prepare you, my beloved Benjamin, to worship him here on earth, and to join hereafter in the worship of all the redeemed in glory. Amen. Farewell.

 

Letter 6. The Character of the Messiah

Dear Brother Benjamin,

1. Humbly relying on the aid of the Holy Spirit, I propose, in this letter, to show that the prophetical description of the character of the Messiah has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. By selecting the description given by Isaiah and Zechariah, we shall have an epitome of the whole. It has already been shown that the 11th chapter of Isaiah is applied by our Rabbins to the Messiah. His manifold endowments and qualifications for the work which he had undertaken, are thus expressed, verse 2-5: "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord: and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: but with righteousness shall he judge the poor and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins." The various expressions here used denote the manifold endowments of the human nature of the Messiah. They comprise every kind of divine knowledge and sagacity, of wisdom and prudence, of piety and boldness, of holy affections and spiritual relish for heavenly things, of vigor and strength of mind for obedience; and suffering with unabated courage, zeal and patience. So perfect would be his knowledge, wisdom and justice, that he would in no case judge by appearances or report; but would distinguish characters and decide causes with the most exact discernment and impartiality.

2. A similar description of the Messiah's character, as it regards his righteous principles, his benevolence to the poor, and his faithfulness to his people, we have in the 72d Psalm, and in Isaiah the 53d, both of which passages I pass by at present, and mention the description given of him by the prophet Zechariah 9:9, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass."

3. That the Jews, in Christ's time, believed that this prophecy relates to the Messiah, is evident: for when our Lord applied it to himself, by entering into Jerusalem upon an ass, it so affected the multitude, that they spread their garments and palm branches in the way: nay, his disciples took occasion from this sight, to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice, whilst the multitude exclaimed: "Hosanna unto the Son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Matt 21:4,5; John 12:14,15). Perhaps no passage of Scripture is more frequently applied to the Messiah by our wise men in general, than that now before us. Rabbi Solomon Jarchi saith: it is impossible to apply it to any one else than to King Messiah. In Pirke Eliezer,(37) it is said that the ass which Abraham saddled (Gen 22:3), was created on the eve of the Sabbath: and that Moses rode upon the same ass when he came into Egypt; and that the Son of David, i. e. the Messiah, should ride upon the same, as it is written, Zechariah 9:9, "Behold, thy king", &c.(38)

4. This prediction has been literally fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Was the Messiah to be a king; so is Jesus, as will be seen hereafter. He is invested with regal powers and prerogatives; a sovereign prince and absolute monarch, having all power both in heaven and on earth. He is Zion's king (Psa 2:6). There his glory, as of a king, shines; thence his law went forth of old; and his spiritual kingdom is still administered in his church; by him its ordinances are instituted, its officers are commissioned; its subjects protected, and its enemies conquered. Was the Messiah to be just or righteous; so was Jesus Christ. He was just and righteous in all his actions, both towards God and man He rendered to Cæsar the things that were Cæsar's, and to God the things that are God's. Malice itself could not deny this fact. His enemies were not able to procure two witnesses to prove any thing against him. The judge that condemned him, declared that he found nothing in him worthy of death. "Having salvation." Jesus of Nazareth answers the description. His very name signifies to save. He is become the author of salvation to all them that obey him. As a prophet, he grants salvation from ignorance and error, by leading us into the knowledge of the glory of God. As a priest, he brings salvation from condemnation and misery, by making our peace with God, and assuring us of his favor and immutable love. And as a king, he bestows salvation from rebellion and slavery, subduing our iniquities, and bringing every thought into voluntary subjection to himself; setting us free from the tyranny of sin, defending us from the power of Satan, and making us more than conquerors over our spiritual enemies, and finally conforming us to the will and image of God.

Messiah was to be lowly, or poor. In either sense, the description is applicable to Jesus Christ. His meekness and lowliness of mind are unparalleled. Well might he say, "learn of me." His whole life was a display of meekness and condescension. It appears in his assumption of our nature; in his courteous and affable carriage to persons far inferior to him, even publicans and sinners, and in his ministering to his own disciples, especially in washing their feet. He was poor also—yes, never was there poverty like unto his. Nor was he ashamed to own it. When a certain scribe said he would follow him, Jesus replied, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." In another man's stable he was born, to another man's tree he was nailed, and in another man's sepulcher he was buried. O how condescending and how kind was God's eternal Son! O the riches of his grace, that "though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich!"

Another description given of the Messiah is, that he should "ride upon an ass." That Jesus entered Jerusalem in such a manner, is narrated by the evangelists, and frequently mentioned by the Rabbins. This is generally considered, by commentators, as an act of condescension and humiliation, but erroneously. However low, mean, and despicable it might now appear, to see a great personage riding upon an ass, it was not so of old. Governors, patriarchs, princes, and judges used to ride on asses before the introduction and multiplication of horses in Solomon's time, which were forbidden by the law of God. It became him to fulfill all righteousness. Whilst entering Jerusalem as King of Zion, the Son of David, and King of Israel, it was very suitable that he should strictly observe the law given to the kings of Israel, and ride in such a manner as they formerly did. We notice once more, "that he was to speak peace to the heathen." This was the great design for which Jesus Christ came into the world. He has made peace by the blood of his cross; and by the preaching of the Gospel of peace, wars have been checked, and peace made between Jews and Gentiles, and between man and man.

5. To any one who attends to the Gospel history, it must appear that humility and self-denial, zeal for God's glory and compassion to souls, usefulness to all and disinterested goodness, contempt of this world and heavenly-mindedness, patience under sufferings and resignation to the will of God in all things, eminently shone forth in Christ Jesus, our blessed Lord and Savior; that he redeemed his time, improved all opportunities for service, sought the honor of God in all his actions, fervently prayed to him in all difficulties, trusted in him in all dangers, counted no service, no suffering too hard to which he called him, and was obedient even unto death. My dear brother, I feel I have undertaken a task infinitely above my power to perform. The character, temper, and disposition of Jesus far exceed the prophetic description. It was in every respect perfect, without spot, and without blemish. The pious Bishop Newcome, speaking of the character of Christ, says,

"He set an example of the most perfect piety to God, and of the most extensive benevolence, the most tender compassion to men. He does not merely exhibit a life of strict justice, but of overflowing benignity. His temperance has not the dark shades of austerity; his meekness does not degenerate into apathy; his; humility is signal, amidst a splendor of qualities more than human; his fortitude is eminent and exemplary in enduring the most formidable external evils, and the sharpest actual sufferings. His patience is invincible; his resignation entire and absolute. Truth and sincerity shine throughout his whole conduct. Though of heavenly descent, he shows obedience and affection to his earthly parents: he approves, loves, and attaches himself to amiable qualities in the human race; he respects authority, religious and civil; and he evidences regard for his country, by promoting its most essential good in a painful ministry dedicated to its service, by deploring its calamities, and by laying down his life for its benefit. Every one of his eminent virtues is regulated by consummate prudence; and he both wins the love of his friends, and extorts the approbation and wonder of his enemies. Never was a character at the same time so commanding and natural, so resplendent and pleasing, so amiable and venerable. There is a peculiar contrast in it between an awful greatness, dignity, and majesty, and the most conciliating loveliness, tenderness, and softness. He now converses with prophets, lawgivers, and angels, and the next instant he meekly endures the dullness of his disciples and the blasphemies and rage of the multitude. He now calls himself greater than Solomon; one who can command legions of angels; the giver of life to whomsoever he pleases; the Son of God, who shall sit on his glorious throne to judge the world. At other times we find him embracing young children; not lifting up his voice in the streets, not breaking the bruised reed, nor quenching the smoking flax; calling his disciples not servants, but friends and brethren, and comforting them with an exuberant and parental affection. Let us pause an instant, and fill our minds with the idea of one who knew all things, heavenly and earthly; searched and laid open the inmost recesses of the heart, rectified every prejudice, and removed every mistake of a moral and religious kind; by a word exercised a sovereignty over all nature, penetrated the hidden events of futurity, gave promises of admission into a happy immortality, had the keys of life and death, claimed a union with the Father; and yet was pious, mild, gentle, humble, affable, social, benevolent, friendly, and affectionate. Such a character is fairer than the morning star. Each separate virtue is made stronger by opposition and contrast; and the union of so many virtues forms a brightness which fitly represents the glory of that God who inhabiteth light inaccessible."
Notwithstanding the imperfect description I have given of the character of Jesus Christ, I earnestly pray that the Lord may give me and you, my dear Benjamin, grace to imitate his example; and may "the same mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, thought it no robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." To him be glory for ever. Amen. Farewell.

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