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Lecture Ninety-first

We began yesterday to explain the promise by which our Prophet designed to sustain the minds of the faithful, lest they should despair in their heavy trial. He reminds them, as it has been stated, of the commencement of the kingdom: as David had been raised as it were from nothing, and God has given in him an example of his wonderful grace, the Prophet reminds the godly, that the same is now to be expected, that God will again raise up the fallen kingdom. “Go forth then from Bethlehem, he says, shall one who is to be a Ruler in Israel, though it was but a mean town. He calls him a Ruler in Israel; for he had before declared that there would be such a dreadful judgment, that the enemy would strike with the hand the face of the judge; and this was the same as though the Prophet had said, that no honor would be shown to the people, for the chief himself would be beaten. He therefore now promises a new Ruler, he promises that there would be again some civil order to be found among the people; for a governor could not have been struck on the check, except all authority and honor had departed. We then see what the Prophet intended by mentioning the word, Ruler; it was to show, that God would again cause that a new Prince would arise to govern the people. It was therefore a remedy to their devastation.

But the Prophet subjoins, His going forth is from the beginning, or from far antiquity and from the days of ages, that is from the days of eternity. He intimates here that it would not be a sudden thing, that a prince should arise to govern the people; for it had been already long ago determined by God. This is the plain meaning. Some, I know, pertinaciously maintain, that the Prophet speaks here of the eternal existence of Christ; and as for myself I willingly own that the divinity of Christ is here proved to us; but as this will never be allowed by the Jews, I prefer taking the words simply as they are, — that Christ will not come forth unexpectedly from Bethlehem, as though God had previously determined nothing respecting him. His goings forth, then, are from the beginning. But others bring a new refinement, — that the Prophet uses the plural number, his goings forth, to designate the twofold nature of Christ: but there is in this an absurdity; for the Prophet could not properly nor wisely mention the human nature of Christ with the divine, with reference to eternity. The Word of God, we know, was eternal; and we know, that when the fullness of time came, as Paul says, Christ put on our nature, (Galatians 4:4.) Hence the beginning of Christ as to the flesh was not so old, if his existence be spoken of: to set them together then would have been absurd. It is a common thing in Hebrew to use the plural for the singular number. He says then, that the going forth of Christ is from eternity; for he will not go forth suddenly from Bethlehem, as one who rises unexpectedly to bring help, when things are in a hopeless state, and so rises, when nothing had been foreseen. But the Prophet declares that the going forth of Christ would be different, — that God had from the beginning determined to give his people an eternal king.

At the same time, we must repudiate that gloss with which the Rabbis are pleased; for they say that the Messiah was created before the creation of the world, and also the throne of eternity, and the Law, and other things; but these are insipid fables. The Prophet shows simply, that even before the world was made Christ was chief, no he is also called the Firstborn of every creature, for by him all things were created, (Colossians 1:15) and the same Word of God, by whom the world was created, is to be the Head of the Church and by him what has been lost is to be recovered. We now then comprehend what the Prophet meant by saying, the goings forth of Christ are from eternity But I would not concede to the Jews, that only by the perpetual appointment of God the going forth of Christ has been from the beginning, or from all ages: but two things must be noticed by us, — that Christ, who was manifested in the flesh that he might redeem the Church of God, was the eternal Word, by whom the world was created, — and then, that he was destined by the eternal counsel of God to be the first-born of every creature, and especially to be the Head of the Church, that he might restore a fallen world by his grace and power.

We now then see the reason why the Prophet connects together these two things, — that there would go forth one from Bethlehem who would rule among Israel, — and yet that his goings forth have been from eternity: for if he had only said what I explained yesterday, an objection might easily have been made, and this might have come into the mind of some, — “Why dost thou say that one will come from Bethlehem who will govern the chosen people, as though God were to contrive a new remedy on seeing that it is all over with respect to the deliverance of his Church?” The Prophet here anticipates this objection, and reminds us, that his goings forth have been from eternity, that they have been already decreed, even from the beginning; for with God there is nothing new, so that he should stand in need of holding any unlooked for consultation; as is the case with us when any thing happens which we in no degree apprehended; we then find it necessary to devise some new measures. The Prophet shows that nothing of this kind can happen to God: but all this, — that people are reduced to nothing, — and that they are again restored by Christ, — all this is overruled by his secret and incomprehensible providence. His goings forth then are from the beginning, and from the days of eternity. Let us proceed —

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