But the prophecies further present us with the character of the gospel as well as of its author, and with a description of the extent of His kingdom as well as of His suffering. It was prophesied that the Messiah was to reveal the will of God to man, and to establish a new and perfect covenant,—“I will raise them up a prophet,—and will put my words in His mouth, and He shall speak unto them all that I shall command Him; and it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which He shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.—Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called wonderful, counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth, even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.—There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse;—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,—I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a Light of the Gentiles, to open the blind eyes.—Incline your ear and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and a commander to the people.—I will set up one shepherd over them and he shall feed them; and I will make with them a covenant of peace, and it shall be an everlasting covenant; and I will set my sanctuary in the midst of them; one king shall be a king to them all; neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols. They shall have one shepherd. They shall also walk in my judgments, and my servant David shall be their prince for ever.—Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant;—and this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel. After those days, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, they shall be my people; and they shall teach no more saying,—Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” A future and perfect revelation of the Divine will is thus explicitly foretold. That these promised blessings were to extend beyond the confines of Judea is expressly and frequently predicted—“It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.”
While the prophecies which are descriptive of the glories of the reign of the Messiah refer to its universal extension and to the final restoration of the Jews, they detail and define, at the same time, the nature and the blessings of the gospel; and no better description or definition could now be given of the doctrine of Christ and of the conditions which He hath proposed for the acceptance of man, than those very prophecies which were delivered many hundreds of years before he appeared in the world. The gospel, as the name itself signifies, declares glad tidings. Christ Himself invited those who were weary and heavy laden to come unto Him that they might find rest unto their souls. He was the messenger of peace. He came, as He professed, to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and to reveal the will of God to man. He published the gospel of the grace of God. His word is still that of reconciliation, His law that of love; and all the duty He has prescribed tends to qualify man for spiritual and eternal Felicity, for this is the sum and the object of it all. What more could have been given, and what less could have been required? In similar terms do the prophecies of old describe the new law that was to be revealed, and the advent of the Savior that was to come;—“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; Behold, thy king cometh unto thee.—How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation.—The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek: He hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Having read these words out of the law in the synagogue, Jesus said, “This day is this Scripture fulfilled.” He was a teacher of righteousness and of peace, and in Him alone it could have been fulfilled.
The same character of joy, indicative of the kingdom of the Messiah, is also given by the different prophets. He was to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity; to sprinkle clean water upon the people of God, to sprinkle many nations, to save them from their uncleanliness, and to open a fountain for sin and for uncleanness. “Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him. I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” The Messiah was to be anointed to comfort all that mourn, to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. And in the gospel of peace these promised blessings are realized to all who believe, and to whom He is precious. We now see what many prophets and wise did desire in vain to see. The Christian religion has indeed been sadly perverted and corrupted, and its corruptions are the subjects of prophecy. Bigotry has often tarnished and obscured all of its benignity. Its lovely form has been shrouded in a mask of superstition, of tyranny, and of murder. But the religion of Jesus, from the lips of its Author and the pen of His apostles is calculated to diffuse universal happiness. It is a doctrine of righteousness, a perfect rule of duty; it abolishes idolatry, and teaches to worship God only. It is full of promises to all who obey it; it reveals the method of reconciliation from iniquity, and imparts the means to obtain it; it is good tidings to the meek: it binds up the broken-hearted, and presents to us the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, or the most perfect consolation, under all the evils of life, that can be conceived by man. For the confirmation of all these prophecies concerning it, we stand not in need of Jewish testimony, or that of primitive Christians, or of any testimony whatever. It is a matter of experience and of fact. The doctrine of the gospel is in complete accordance with the predictions respecting it. When we compare it with any impure, degrading, vicious and cruel system of religion that existed in the world when these prophecies were delivered, its superiority must be apparent, and its unrivalled excellence must be acknowledged. Deities were then worshipped whose vices disgraced human nature; and even impiety could not institute a comparison between them and the God of Christians. Idolatry was universally prevalent, and men knew not a higher homage than bowing down in adoration to stocks and stones, and sometimes even to the beasts. Sacrifices were everywhere offered up, and human victims often bled, when the doctrine of reconciliation for iniquity was unknown. And we have only to look beyond the boundaries of Christianity,—to Ashantee, or to India, or to China,—to behold the most revolting of spectacles in the religious rites and practices of man. Regarding the superiority of the Christian religion only as a subject of prophecy, the assent can hardly be withheld, that the prophecies concerning its excellence, and the blessings which it imparts, have been amply verified by the peace-speaking gospel of Jesus.
But, in ascertaining the accomplishment of ancient predictions, in evidence of the truth, the unbeliever is not solicited to relinquish one iota of his skepticism in any matter that can possibly admit of a reasonable doubt. For there are many prophecies, of the truth of which every Christian is a witness, and to the fulfilment of which the testimony even of infidels must be borne. That the gospel emanated from Jerusalem; that it was rejected by a great proportion of the Jews; that it was opposed at first by human power; that pagan idolatry was overthrown before it; that it has already continued for many ages, and that it has been propagated throughout many countries, are facts clearly foretold and literally fulfilled. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, 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. And I will cut the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace unto the heathen, and his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offence, to both the houses of Israel; for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.—The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his Anointed.” In like manner, Christ frequently foretold the persecution that awaited his followers, and the final success of the gospel, in defiance of all opposition.
“The Lord alone shall be exalted in that day, and the idols he shall utterly abolish;—from all your idols will I cleanse you;—I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered. To a servant of rulers, kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship.—The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. The Gentiles shall see thy righteousness;—I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. In that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. Behold, thou shall call a nation that thou knowest not; and that knew not thee shall run unto thee.”
At the time these prophecies were delivered, there was not a vestige in the world of that spiritual kingdom and pure religion which they unequivocally represent as destined to extend in succeeding ages, not only throughout the narrow bounds of the land of Judea, and those countries which alone the prophets knew, but over the Gentile nations also even to the uttermost ends of the earth.