by Patrick Fairbairn
Daniels & Smith
There is only one principle more, which we find to have any thing like a large and prominent place in the typical developments of that portion of Old Testament history to which our view is at present limited; that, namely, which respects the hope of the inheritance ultimately to be conferred on the heirs of promise. It is a large field, and will require a pretty lengthened investigation. It is also in regard to the point of view properly belonging to the present inquiry, of a more involved nature than those already considered; we mean, the principle as developed in the type, is not so easily viewed apart from the antitype, but naturally runs into the latter, and terminates in it, even in the case of the earlier believers. And instead of endeavouring to keep the one throughout carefully separate from the other, it will contribute both to the greater freedom and the fuller satisfaction of our inquiry, if we first of all consider the subject in its proper bearing and extent, as concerns the patriarchal worshippers themselves, and only afterwards point out what there was typical in their position or circumstances.
What, then, had these patriarchal worshippers to hope for? And on what was their hope founded? We have already seen, when considering the first symbols of worship in connexion with the facts of primeval history, that man had from the very first proposed to him the hope of an inheritance, and in connexion with that, the prospect of an after state of being. His natural position after the fall, was that of a defeated and ruined being, a prodigal, who had suffered himself to be spoiled of his fair inheritance; and as a subject of manifested grace, he was elevated to the hope of an ultimate recovery from the evil, and stood, in so far as he exercised faith toward God, in the attitude of an expectant of good things to come. The views he had of these good things to be expected, or the inheritance to be looked for, would naturally take their shape and hue from what he had lost; and, seeing still before him the garden of Eden with its tree of life, and its visible tokens of divine glory, the removal of those ministers of vengeance that now guarded its approach, and his re-instalment in the possession of its fulness of life and blessing, would probably be the whole that he at first anticipated as the result of that work of righteousness, which was one day to counteract the evil of sin. But as age after age rolled on, and the inhabitants of the world multiplied into an exceeding great number, while still there was no appearance of the promised recovery and restitution, something different from that identical Eden which was lost, something higher and more enlarged would naturally come to be the object of hope. For what was that garden to so many? And if the abode of purity and bliss was to reach beyond and above that, the thought was obvious, that some strange work of purification must needs be done upon the earth at large; for all now, excepting that still hallowed but secluded spot, bore the withering curse of its Maker—bore it, indeed, at last so heavily, that poor human nature groaned beneath the burden, and the readiest thought that occurred to a pious man on the birth of his son was, "This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed." (Gen. v. 20.)
Still, however, their view and prospect of what was to come, would chiefly fashion themselves after the model of what had been—for they had no other rule to go by, and the hope given them was wholly of a restitutionary character, leading them to think of the recovery of an old, not of the acquirement of a new possession. We take it to be incredible, that they should have looked for any portion out of the domain of this very earth; for how should they have dreamt of a victory over evil in any other region, but that in which the evil had entered and prevailed? Or how could the hope of restitution have expected to realize itself any where, but just where the loss had been sustained? And then, however enlarged might be the idea which the progress of events constrained them, to form of the good to be obtained, above any thing that had hitherto been seen on earth, yet the pattern from which it drew its shape and character, could be no other than the paradise which sin had alienated from them. That expanded and prepared anew for the dwelling-place of redeemed multitudes,—made to embrace, it may be, the whole circumference of the globe,—wrested for ever from the serpent's brood, and rendered throughout all its bounds beautiful and good as it was on creation's morn—that, and no more, no other, must have been what the first race of patriarchal believers hoped and waited for, as the inheritance they were destined to possess.
But the deluge came, changing the outward appearance of the earth, in some respects also the constitution and government, under which it was placed, and so, preparing the way for a corresponding change in the hopes that were cherished of a coming inheritance. The old world then perished,—being not only swept of its corrupt inhabitants, but shorn also of its paradisaical remains, at once the monuments of what had been lost, and the symbols of what was in due time to be won. The new world, on which Noah and his family now entered, soon proved itself no paradise restored,—for sin and death had their dwelling in it as before, and the serpent still had his brood to war with the seed of God, and man was yet doomed to earn his bread by hard labour from the unwilling earth. Only, a restraint was laid on the evil tendencies of nature, so that man's wild and tumultuous passions were not henceforth to have the ungovernable scope they had before, and no second deluge was to interrupt, with its wasting desolation, the settled order of providence. But however much the people of God had gained in some respects by the deluge, in regard to the hope of a final inheritance of blessing, it rather placed them in a worse position than before; for it utterly destroyed the primeval emblems of it, and left men with nothing for hope to feed on, but the general promise of restitution. This, however, was only for a time; and the generation had scarcely passed away, which had witnessed those emblems of a better world, till the Lord gave, in the call to Abraham, a new shape and direction to the prospect of an inheritance. This was now made to assume the aspect, not of a garden, as for one man and his single partner, but of a whole region, as for a numerous family,—the pleasant and fertile land of Canaan, a vast territory when viewed as Heaven's gift to the father of the faithful.
It is of importance, that we mark the precise words of the promise to Abraham, concerning this inheritance. As it first occurs, it runs, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee, and I will-make of thee a great nation," &c. Gen. xii. 1. Then, when he reached Canaan, the promise was renewed to him in these terms, "Unto thy seed will I give this land," v, 7. More fully and definitely, after Lot separated from Abraham, was it again given, "Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever," xiii. 14, 15. Again, in chap. xv. 7, "I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it;" and toward the close of the same chapter, it is said, "In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt, unto the great river." In chap. 17th, the promise was more formally converted into a covenant, and sealed by the ordinance, of circumcision; and there the words used respecting the inheritance are, "I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God." We read only of one occasion in the life of Isaac, when he received the promise of the inheritance, and the words then used were, "Unto thee, and Unto thy seed, will I give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father," chap. xxvi. 8. Such also were the words addressed to Jacob at Bethel, "I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac, the land whereon thou liest to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;" and in precisely the same terms was the promise again made to Jacob many years afterwards, as recorded in chap. xxxv. 12.
It cannot but appear striking, that to each one of these patriarchs successively, the promise of the land of Canaan should have been given, first to themselves, and then to their posterity,—while, during their own life-times, they never were permitted to get beyond the condition of strangers and pilgrims, and, as having no right to any possession within its borders, were obliged to purchase, at the marketable value, a small field for a burying-ground. How shall we account for the promise, then, so uniformly running, "to thee," and to "thy seed?" Some, as Ainsworth and Bush, tell us that and here is the same as even, to thee, even to thy seed; as if a man were all one with his offspring, or the name of the latter were but another name for himself! Gill gives a somewhat more plausible turn to it, thus: "God gave Abram the title to it now, and to them the possession of it for future times; gave him it to sojourn in now when he pleased, and for his posterity to dwell in hereafter." But the gift was the land for an inheritance, not for a place of sojourn; and a title, which left him personally without a foot's-breadth of possession, could not be regarded in that light as any real boon to him. Warburton, as usual, confronts the difficulty more boldly: "In the literal sense it is a promise of the land of Canaan to Abraham and to his posterity; and in this sense it was literally fulfilled, though Abraham was never personally in possession of it; since Abraham and his posterity, put collectively, signify the Race of Abraham; and that race possessed the land of Canaan. And surely God may be allowed to explain his own promise: now, though he tells Abraham, he would give him the land, yet at the same time, he assured him, that it would be many hundred years before his posterity should be put in possession of it, Gen. xv. 13, &c. And as concerning himself, that he should go to his fathers in peace, and be buried in a good old age. Thus we see, that both what God explained to be his meaning, and what Abraham understood him to mean, was, that his posterity, after a certain time, should be led into possession of the land."
But if this were really the whole meaning, the thought naturally occurs, it is strange so plain a meaning should have been so ambiguously expressed. Why not simply say, "thy posterity," if posterity alone were intended, and save commentators from the clumsy expedient of having to throw a man, with his immediate descendants, into the same bundle with his later posterity, as together making up one race, in order to cover the palpable incorrectness of the words in their obvious meaning? Why also should the promise have been renewed at a later period, with a pointed distinction between Abraham and his posterity, yet with an assurance that the promise was to him, as well as to them, "And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger?" And why should Stephen have made such special reference to the apparent incongruity between the personal condition of Abraham and the promise given to him, as if there were some further meaning in what was said than lay on the surface,—"He gave him none inheritance in it, no not so much as to set his foot on, yet he promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him?" Acts vii. 5.
We do not see how these questions can receive any satisfactory explanation, so long as no account is made of the promise personally given to the patriarchs. And there are others equally left without explanation. For no sufficient reason can be assigned on that hypothesis, for the extreme anxiety of Jacob and Joseph to have their bones carried to the sepulchre of their fathers, in the land of Canaan—betokening, as it evidently seemed to do, a conviction, that to them also belonged a personal interest in the laud. Neither does it appear how the fact of Abraham and his immediate offspring, "confessing that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth," which they did no otherwise, that we are aware of, than by living as strangers and pilgrims in Canaan, should have proved that they were looking for and desiring a better country, that is, a heavenly one. And then, strange to think, if nothing more were meant by the promise than the view now under consideration would imply, when the posterity who were to occupy the land did obtain possession of it, we find the men of faith taking up precisely the same confession as to their being strangers and pilgrims in it, which was witnessed by their forefathers, who never had it in possession. Even after they became possessors, it seems they were still like their wandering ancestors, expectants and heirs of something better, and faith had to be exercised, lest they should lose the proper fulfilment of the promise, (Ps. xxxix. 12, xcv., cxix. 19; 1 Chron. xxix. 15.) Surely if the earthly Canaan had been the whole inheritance they were warranted to look for, after they were settled in it, the condition of pilgrims and strangers no longer was theirs—they had reached their proper destiny—they were dwelling in their appointed home—the promise had received its due fulfilment.
These manifold difficulties and apparent inconsistencies will vanish— (and we see no other way in which they can be satisfactorily removed)—by supposing, what is certainly in accordance with the tenor of revelation, that the promise of Canaan as an inheritance to the people of God was part of a connected and growing scheme of preparatory arrangements, which were to have their proper outgoing and final termination in the establishment of Christ's everlasting kingdom. Viewed thus, the grant of Canaan must be regarded as coming in the room of the garden of Eden, with its symbols of the tree of life, and the cherubim of glory—as representing and typifying the inheritance of the purchased possession, which, in the fulness of time, was to be brought in for the whole elect family of God. And if so, then we may naturally expect the following consequences to have arisen:—First, that whatever transactions may have taken place concerning the actual Canaan, these would be all ordered so as to subserve the higher design, in connexion with which the appointment was made; and, second, that as a sort of vail must have been allowed meanwhile to hang over this ultimate design, (for the issue of redemption could not be made fully manifest till the redemption itself was brought in,) a certain degree of dubiety would attach to some of the things spoken regarding it—these would appear strange, or impossible, if viewed only in reference to the temporary inheritance—and would have the effect, with men of faith, as no doubt they were intended, to compel the mind to break through the outward shell of the promise, and contemplate the rich kernel enclosed within. Thus the promise being made so distinctly and repeatedly to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while personally they were allowed no settled footing in the inheritance bestowed, could scarcely fail to impress them, and their more pious descendants, with the conviction, that higher and more important relations were included under those in which they stood to the land of Canaan during their earthly sojourn, and such as required another order of things to fulfil them. They must have been convinced, that for some great and substantial reason, not by a mere fiction of the imagination, they had been identified by God with their posterity as to their interest in the promised inheritance. And so, must have felt shut up to the belief, that when God's purposes were completely fulfilled, his word of promise would be literally verified, and that their respective deaths should ultimately be found to raise no effectual barrier in the way of their actual share in the inheritance; as the same God, who would have raised Isaac from the dead, had he been put to death, to maintain the integrity of his word, was equally able, when the same reason required it, to raise them up.
Certainly the exact and perfect manner, in which the other line of promise, that which respected a seed to Abraham, was fulfilled, gave reason to expect a fulfilment in regard to this also, in the most proper and complete sense. Abraham did not at first understand how closely God's words were to be interpreted; and after waiting in vain for some years for the promised seed by Sarah, he began to think, that God must have meant an offspring, that should be his only by adoption, and seems to have thought of constituting the son of his steward his heir. Then, when admonished of his error in entertaining such a thought, and told, that the seed was to spring from his own loins, he acceded, after another long period of fruitless waiting, to the proposal of Sarah, to go in to Hagar, under the impression, that though he was to be the father of the seed, yet it should not be by his proper wife: the expected good was to be obtained by a worldly expedient, and to be his only in a kind of secondary sense. Here again, however, he was admonished of error, commanded to cease from such crooked ways, and walk in uprightness before God, reminded that he, who made the promise, was the Almighty God, to whom, therefore, no impossibility connected with the age of Sarah could be of any moment, and assured that the long promised child was to be the son of him and his lawful spouse. (Gen. xvii. 1-17.) And when Abraham was thus taught to interpret one part of the promise in the most exact and literal sense, how natural was it to infer, that he must do the same also with the other part? If when God said, "thou shalt be the father of a seed," it became clear that the word could receive nothing short of the highest possible fulfilment; what else, what less could be expected, when God said, "thou shalt inherit this land," than that the fulfilment was to be equally proper and complete? The providence of God, which furnished such an interpretation in the one case, could not but beget the conviction that a similar spirit of interpretation was to be applied to the other, and that as the promise of the inheritance was given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as to their seed, so it should be made good in their experience not less than in that of their posterity.
No doubt, such a belief implied, that there must be a resurrection from the dead before the promise could be realized; and to those, who conceive that immortality was altogether a blank page to the eye of an ancient Israelite, the idea may seem to carry its own refutation along with it. The Rabbis, however, with all their blindness, seem to have had juster, because more scriptural, notions of the truth and purposes of God, in this respect. For, on Ex. vi. 4, the Talmud in Gemara, in reply to the question, "Where does the law teach the resurrection of the dead?" thus distinctly answers, "In that place where it is said, I have established my covenant with thee, to give thee the land of Canaan. For it is not said, with you, but with thee, (lit. yourselves.) The same answer substantially, we are told, was returned by Rabbi Gamaliel, when the Sadducees pressed him with a similar question. And in a passage quoted by Warburton (B. vi. sec. 3,) from Manasseh Ben-Israel, we find the argument still more fully stated: "God said to Abraham, I will give to thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger. But it appears, that Abraham and the other patriarchs did not possess that land; therefore it is of necessity that they should be raised up to enjoy the good promises,—else the promises of God should be vain and false. So that we have here a proof, not only of the immortality of the soul, but also of the essential foundation of the law, namely, the resurrection of the dead." It is surely not too much to suppose, that what Jewish Rabbis could so certainly draw from the word of God, may have been perceived by wise and holy patriarchs. And the fact, of which an inspired writer assures us, that Abraham so readily believed in the possible resurrection of Isaac to a present life, is itself conclusive proof, that he would not be slow to believe in his own resurrection to a future life, when the word of promise seemed no otherwise capable of receiving its proper fulfilment. Indeed, the doctrine of a resurrection from the dead, not that of the immortality of the soul, is the form which the prospect of an after-state of being must have chiefly assumed in the minds of the earlier believers, because that, which most obviously and naturally grew out of the promises made to them, as well as most accordant with their native cast of thought; and nothing but the undue influence of the Gentile philosophy on men's minds could have led them to imagine, as they generally have done, the reverse to have been the case.
In the writings of the Greeks and Romans, especially those of the former, we find the distinction constantly drawn between matter and spirit, body and soul,—and the one generally represented as having only elements of evil inhering in it, and the other elements of good. So far from looking for the resurrection of the body, as necessary to the final well-being of men, full and complete happiness was held to be impossible so long as the soul was united to the body. Death was so far considered by them a boon, that it emancipated the ethereal principle from its prison house; and their visions of future bliss, when such visions were entertained, presented to the eye of hope scenes of delight, in which the disembodied spirit alone was to find its satisfaction and repose. Hence it is quite natural to hear the better part of them speaking with contempt of all that concerned the body, looking upon death as a final, as well as a happy release from its vile affections, and promising themselves a perennial enjoyment in the world of spirits. "In what way shall we bury you?" said Crito to Socrates, immediately before his death. "As you please," was the reply. "I cannot, my friends, persuade Crito that I am the Socrates that is now conversing, and ordering every thing that has been said; but he thinks I am that man whom he will shortly see a corpse, and asks how you should bury me. But what I have all along been talking so much about,—that when I shall have drunk the poison I shall no longer stay with you, but shall, forsooth, go away to certain felicities of the blest,—this I seem to myself to have been saying in vain, whilst comforting at the same time you and myself." And in another part of the same dialogue (Phaedo,) after speaking of the impossibility of attaining to the true knowledge and discernment of things, so long as the soul is kept in the lumpish and impure body, he is represented as congratulating himself on the prospect now immediately before him: "If these things are true, there is much reason to hope that he who has reached my present position, shall there soon abundantly obtain that, for the sake of which I have laboured so hard during this life; so that I encounter with a lively hope my appointed removal." No doubt such representations give a highly coloured and far too favourable view of the expectations which even the better part of the heathen world cherish of a future state of being,—for to most of them the whole was overshadowed with doubt and uncertainty, too often, indeed, the subject of absolute unbelief. But in this respect the idea it presents is perfectly correct, that so far as hope was exercised toward the future, it connected itself altogether with the condition and destiny of the soul; and so abhorrent was the thought of a resurrection of the body to their notions of future good, that Tertullian did not hesitate to affirm the heresy, which denied that Christian doctrine to be the common result of the whole Gentile philosophy.
It was precisely the reverse with believers in ancient and primitive times. Their prospects of a blessed immortality were mainly associated with the resurrection of the body; and the dark period to them was the intermediate state between death and the resurrection, which even at a comparatively late stage in their history presented itself to their view as a state of gloom, silence and forgetfulness. They contemplated man, not in the light in which an airy, speculative philosophy might regard him, but in the more natural and proper one of a compound being, to which matter as essentially belongs as spirit, and in the well-being of which there must unite the happy condition both of soul and body. Nay, the materials from which they had to form their views and prospects of a future state of being, pointed most directly to the resurrection, and passed over in silence the period intervening between that and death. Thus, the primeval promise, that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent, taught them to live in expectation of a time when death should be swallowed up in victory,—for death being the fruit of the serpent's triumph, what else could his complete overthrow be, than the reversal of death—the resurrection from the dead? So also the prophecy embodied in the emblems of the tree of life, still standing in the midst of the garden of Eden, with its way of approach meanwhile guarded by the flaming sword, and possessed by the cherubim of glory,—implying, that when the spoiler, should be himself spoiled, and the way of life should again be laid open for the children of promise, they should have access to the food of immortality, but only, of course, by rising out of death, and entering on the resurrection state. The same conclusion grew, as we have just seen, most naturally, and we may say inevitably, out of that portion of the promises made to the fathers of the Jewish race, which assured them of a personal inheritance in the land of Canaan,—for dying as they did without having obtained any inheritance in it, how could the word of promise be verified to them, but by their being raised from the dead to receive what it warranted them to expect? In perfect accordance with these earlier intimations, or ground promises, as they may be called, we find, as we descend the stream of time, and listen to the more express utterances of prophecy regarding the hopes of the church, that the grand point on which they are all made to centre, is the resurrection from the dead;—and it is so, no doubt, for the reason, that as death is from the first represented as the wages of sin, the evil pre-eminently under which humanity groans, so the abolition of death by mortality being swallowed up of life, is understood to carry in its train the restitution of all things.
The Psalms, which are so full of the experiences and hopes of David, and other holy men of old, while they express only fear and discomfort in regard to the state after death, not unfrequently point to the resurrection from the dead as the great consummation of desire and expectation: "My flesh also shall rest in hope, for thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption," Ps. xvi. 9, 10. "Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling; but God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for he shall receive me," xlix. 14, 15. The prophets, who are utterly silent regarding the state of the disembodied soul, speak still more explicitly of a resurrection from the dead, and evidently connect with it the brightest hopes of the church. Thus Isaiah, "He will swallow up death in victory," xxv. 8; and again, "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise ; awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust," xxvi. 19. To the like effect, Hosea xiii. 14, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death; O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction." The vision of the dry bones in the thirty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel, whether understood of a literal resurrection from the state of the dead, or of a figurative resurrection, a political resuscitation from a downcast and degraded condition, strongly indicates, in either case, the characteristic nature of their future prospects. Then, finally, in Daniel we read, ch. xii., not only that he was himself, after resting for a season among the dead, "to stand in his lot at the end of the days," but also that at the great crisis of the church's history, when they should be for ever rescued from the power of the enemy, "many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth should awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."
Besides these direct and palpable proofs of a resurrection in the Jewish scriptures, and of the peculiar place it holds there, the Rabbinical and modern Jews, it is well known, refer to many others as inferentially teaching the same doctrine. That the earlier Jews were not behind them, either in the importance they attached to the doctrine, or in their persuasion of its frequent recurrence in the Old Testament scriptures, we may assuredly gather from the tenacity with which all but the Sadducees evidently held it in our Lord's time, and the ready approval which he met with when inferring it from the declaration made to Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob." It is nothing to the purpose, therefore, to allege, as has often been done, against any clear or well-grounded belief, on the part of the ancient Jews, regarding a future and immortal state of being, such passages as speak of the darkness, silence, and nothingness of the condition immediately subsequent to death, and so long as the body rests in the tomb. Of a heathenish immortality, which ascribed to the soul a perpetual existence separate from the body, and considered its happiness in such a state as the ultimate good of man, they certainly knew and believed nothing. But we are persuaded, no tenet was more firmly and sacredly held among them from the earliest periods of their history, than that of the resurrection from the dead, as the commencement of a final and everlasting portion of good to the people of God. And when the Jewish doctors give to the resurrection of the dead a place among the thirteen fundamental articles of their faith, and cut off from all inheritance in a future state of felicity, those who deny it, we have no reason to regard the doctrine as attaining to a higher place in their hands, than it did with their fathers before the Christian era.
There was something more, however, in the Jewish faith concerning the resurrection, than its being simply held as an article in their creed, and held to be a fact that should one day be realized in the history of the church. It connected itself peculiarly with the promise made to the fathers, as some of the foregoing testimonies show, and especially with the work and advent of Messiah. They not only believed, that there would be a resurrection of the dead, to a greater or less extent, when Messiah came, (see Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. John i. 21, v. 25,) but that his work, especially as regards the promised inheritance, could only be carried into effect through the resurrection. Levi holds it as a settled point, that "the resurrection of the dead will be very near the time of the redemption," meaning by the redemption the full and final enjoyment of all blessing in the land of promise, and that such is the united sense of all the prophets, who have spoken of the times of Messiah. In this, indeed, he only expresses the opinion commonly entertained by Jewish writers, who constantly assert that there will be a resurrection of the whole Jewish race, to meet and rejoice with Christ, when he comes to Jerusalem, and who often thrust forward their views regarding it, when there is no proper occasion to do so. Thus, in Sohar, Genes. fol. 77, as quoted by Schoettgen, II. p. 367, R. Nehorai is reported to have said on Abraham's speaking to his servant, Gen. xxiv. 2, "We are to understand the servant of God, his senior domus. And who is he? Metatron, (Messiah,) who, as we have said, will bring forth the souls from their sepulchres." But a higher authority still may be appealed to. For the apostle to the gentiles thus expresses—and with evident approval as to the general principle—the mind of his countrymen in regard to the Messiah and the resurrection; "I now stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers; unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come—for which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?" (Acts xxvi. 6—8.) The connexion, in which the resurrection of the dead is here placed with the great promise of a Messiah, for which the Jews are represented as so eagerly and intently looking, evidently implies, that the two were usually coupled together in the Jewish faith, nay that the one could reach its proper fulfilment only through the performance of the other, and that in believing on a Messiah risen from the dead, the apostle was acting in perfect accordance with the hopes of his nation.
But now, to apply all this to the subject under consideration, the promised inheritance,—if that inheritance was promised in a way, which from the very first implied a resurrection from the dead, before it could be rightly enjoyed,—and if all along, even when Canaan was possessed by the seed of Abraham, the men of faith still looked forward to another inheritance, when the curse should be utterly abolished, the blessing fully received, and death finally swallowed up in victory—then, a twofold boon must have been conveyed to Abraham and his seed, under the promise of the land of Canaan; one to be realized in the natural, and the other in the resurrection state,—a mingled and temporary good before, and a complete and permanent one after, the restitution of all things by the Messiah. So that, in regard to the ultimate designs of God, the land of Canaan would serve much the same purpose as the garden of Eden, with its tree of life and cherubim of glory—it was to the eye of faith a type, and a pledge of the final inheritance, the everlasting rest which remaineth for the people of God. There was this difference, indeed, between the two, that the former was a type only to the eye, but this in some measure also to the taste—the one could only be seen and contemplated by the heirs of promise, while the other was actually possessed by them. The difference, however, is not essential, and only indicates an advance in God's revelations and purposes of grace, making what was ultimately designed for the faithful more sure to them by their instalment, through a singular train of providential arrangements, in a present inheritance of good. They thus enjoyed a real and substantial earnest of the better things to come, which were to be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
But what were these better things themselves? What was thus indicated to Abraham and his believing posterity, as their coming inheritance of good? If it was clear that they must have attained to the resurrection from the dead, before they could properly enjoy the possession, it could not be Canaan in its natural state, as a region of the present earth, that was to be inherited. For that considered as the abode of Abraham and all his elect posterity, when raised from the tomb and collected into an innumerable multitude, must have appeared of far too limited dimensions, as well as of unsuitable character. Though it might well seem a vast inheritance for any living generation, that should spring from the loins of Abraham, yet it was palpably inadequate for the possession of his collected seed, when it should have become like the stars of heaven for multitude. And not only so, but as the risen body is to be, not a natural, but a glorified one, the inheritance it is to occupy must be a glorified one too. The fairest portions of the earth, in its present fallen and corruptible state, could be a fit possession for men only so long as in their persons they are themselves fallen and corruptible. When redeemed from the power of the grave, and entered on the glories of the new creation, the natural Canaan will be as unfit to be their proper home and possession, as the original Eden would have been with its tree of life. Much more so, indeed, for the earth in its present state is adapted for the support and enjoyment of man, as constituted, not only after the earthly Adam, but after him as underlying the pernicious effects of the curse; and the ultimate inheritance destined for Abraham and the heirs of promise, which was to become theirs after the resurrection from the dead, must be as much higher and better than any thing, which the earth can furnish as it now is, as man's nature, when glorified, shall be higher and better than it is while in bondage to sin and death.
Nothing less than this certainly is taught in what is said of the inheritance, as expected by patriarchs, in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things, declare plainly, that they seek a country. And truly if they had been mindful of that country, from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he hath prepared for them a city." (Heb. xi. 13-16.) Without entering into any minute commentary on this passage, it cannot but be regarded as perfectly conclusive of two points: First, that Abraham, and the heirs with him of the same promise, did understand and believe, that the inheritance secured to them under the promise of Canaan, (for that was the only word spoken to them of an inheritance,) was one in which they had a personal interest. And then, secondly, that the inheritance as it was to be occupied and enjoyed by them, was to be not a temporary, but a final one,—one, that might fitly be designated a "heavenly country," a city built by divine hands, and based on immovable foundations,—in short, the ultimate and proper resting-place of redeemed and risen natures. This was what these holy patriarchs expected and desired,—what they, were warranted to expect and desire, for their conduct in this respect is the subject of commendation, and said to be the necessary result of God's not being ashamed to be called their God; and it was, finally, what they found contained in the promise to them, of an inheritance in the land, in which they were pilgrims and strangers, for to that promise alone could they look for the special ground of the hopes they cherished of a sure and final possession.
But the question again returns, what is that possession itself really to be? That it cannot be the country itself of Palestine, either in its present condition, or as it might become under any system of culture of which nature is capable, is too obvious to require any lengthened proof. The twofold fact, that the possession was to be man's ultimate, heavenly inheritance, and that it could be attained only after the resurrection from the dead, clearly forbids the supposition of its being the literal land of Canaan, under any conceivable form of renovated fruitfulness and beauty. This is also evident from the nature of the promise, which formed the ground of Abraham's hope,—which made mention only of the land of Canaan,—and which, as pointing to an ulterior inheritance, must have belonged to that combination of type with prophecy, which we placed first, viz. having the promise or prediction, not in the language employed, but in the typical character of the object, which that language described. The promise made to Abraham was simple enough in itself, holding out for an inheritance the land of Canaan, as distinctly marked off by certain geographical boundaries; it was not properly in the words of that promise, that he could read his destiny to any future and ultimate inheritance; but putting together the two things, that the promised good was to be realized only in an after-state of being, and that all the relations of the church then were preparative and temporary representations of better things to come, he might then perceive, that the earthly Canaan was a type of what was finally to be enjoyed, that the establishment of his offspring there would constitute a prophecy, in fact, of the exaltation of the whole of an elect seed to their destined state of blessing and glory. But that being the case,—the prediction standing altogether in the type,—the thing predicted and promised must, in conformity with all typical relations, have been another and far higher thing than that which served to predict and promise it,—Canaan could not be the type of itself,—it could only represent, on the lower platform of nature, what was hereafter to be developed on the higher platform of the kingdom of God,—and as far as the things of fallen and corrupt nature differ from, and are inferior to, those of redemption, so far must the rest of Canaan have differed from, and been inferior to, "that rest which remaineth for the people of God."
What that final rest or inheritance, which forms the antitype to Canaan, really is, we may gather from the words of the apostle concerning it in Eph. i. 14, where he calls the Spirit "the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession." It is plain, that the subject here discoursed of, is not our persons, but our goods; not what believers in their souls and bodies are to be hereafter, but what is prepared for their enjoyment. For the inheritance which belongs to a person, must always be separate from the person himself; and as that, which is called an inheritance in the one clause, is undoubtedly the same with that, which in the other is named a possession, purchased or acquired, but not yet redeemed, the redemption of the possession must be a work to be accomplished for us, and not to be wrought in us; it must be a change to the better effected, not upon our persons, but upon the outward provision secured for their final happiness and well-being.
It is true, that the church of God, the company of sound and genuine believers, is sometimes called the inheritance or purchased possession of God. In Old Testament scripture his people are styled his "heritage," "his treasure;" and in New Testament scripture we find Peter addressing them as "a peculiar people," or literally, a people for a possession—namely, a possession of God, acquired or purchased by the precious blood of his dear Son. The question here, however, is not of what may be called God's inheritance, but of ours; not of our redemption from the bondage of evil as a possession of God, which he seeks to enjoy free from all evil, but of that, which we are ourselves to possess and occupy as our final portion. And as we could with no propriety be called our own inheritance, or our own possession, it must be something apart from, and out of ourselves, which is here to be understood,—not a state of being to be held, but a portion of blessing and glory to be enjoyed.
Now, whatever the inheritance or possession may be in itself, and whatever the region where it is to be enjoyed, when it is spoken of as needing to be redeemed, we are evidently taught to regard it as something that has been alienated from us, but is again to be made ours; not a possession altogether new, but an old possession, lost, and again to be reclaimed from the powers of evil, which now overmaster and destroy it. So was it certainly with our persons; they were sold under sin; with our loss of righteousness before God, we lost, at the same time, our spiritual freedom and all that essentially belonged to the pure and blessed life, in the possession of which we were created. Instead of this we became subject to the tyrannous dominion of the prince of darkness, holding us captive in our souls to the foul and wretched bondage of sin, and in our bodies to the mortality and corruption of death. The redemption of our persons is just their recovery from this lost and ruinous state, to the freedom of God's children, and the blessedness of immortal life in his presence and glory. It proceeds at every step by acts of judgment upon the great adversary and oppressor, who took advantage of the evil, and ever seeks to drive it to the uttermost; and when the work shall be completed by the redemption of the body from the power of the grave, there shall then be the breaking up of the last bond of oppression that lay upon our natures,—the putting down of the last enemy, that the son of wickedness may no longer vex or injure us.
In this redemption-process, which is already begun upon the people of God, and shall be consummated in the glories of the resurrection, it is the same persons, the same soul and body, which have experience both of the evil and of the good. Though the change is so great and wonderful, that it is sometimes called a new creation, it is not in the sense of anything being brought into existence, which previously had no being. Such language is simply used on account of the happy and glorious transformation, that is made to pass upon the natures, which already exist, but exist only in a state of misery and oppression. And when the same language is applied to the inheritance, which is used of the persons of those who are to enjoy it, what can this indicate, but that the same things are true concerning it? The bringing in of that inheritance, in its finished state of coming fulness and glory, is in like manner called "the making of all things new;" but it is so called only in respect of the wonderful transformation, which is to be wrought upon the old things, which are thereby to receive another constitution, and present another aspect, than they were wont to do before. For that the possession is to be redeemed, bespeaks it as a thing to be recovered, not to be made,—a thing already in being, though so changed from its original destination, so marred and spoiled, overlaid with so many forms of evil, and so far from serving the ends for which it is required, that it may be said to be alienated from us, in the hands of the enemy from the prosecution of his purposes of evil.
Now, what is it, of which this can be affirmed? If people say heaven, and mean by that, what is commonly understood, some region far removed from this lower world, in the sightless realms of ether, then, I ask, was heaven in that sense ever man's? Has it become obnoxious to any evils from which it must be delivered? or has it fallen into the hands of an enemy and an oppressor, from whose evil sway it must again be redeemed? None of these things surely can be said of such a heaven; it would be an altogether new inheritance, a possession never held, consequently never lost, and incapable of being redeemed. And there is nothing that answers such a description, or can possibly realize the conditions of such an inheritance, but what lies within the bounds and compass of this earth itself, with which the history of man has hitherto been connected both in good and evil, and where all the possession is, that he can properly be said either to have held or to have lost.
Let us throw ourselves back to the commencement of things, and ask, what was man's original inheritance, when formed in his Creator's image, and placed in that sphere which God designed him to occupy? His being endowed with God's likeness, replenished with the powers of a holy and blessed life, and possessed of faculties which fitted him for high service and communion with Heaven, all this belonged merely to the constitution of his person; in naming such things, we just speak of the kind of being that man then was; but the inheritance he possessed must have been something different—and what was it? What, indeed, could it be but the earth itself? of which it is said, that "the Lord hath given it to the children of men," (Ps. cxv. 16.) Man's original inheritance was a lordship or dominion, stretching over the whole earth, but extending no farther; entitling him to the ministry of all creatures within its borders, and the enjoyment of all fruits and productions upon its surface—one only excepted, for the trial of his obedience, (Gen. i. 28-31, Ps. viii.) When he fell, he fell from his dominion, as well as from his purity; the inheritance departed from him; he was driven from paradise, the throne and palace of his kingdom; labour, servitude, and suffering became his portion in the world; he was doomed to be a bondsman, a hewer of wood and drawer of water, on what was formed to be his inheritance, and all that he has since been able, by hard toil and industry to acquire, is but a partial and temporary command over some fragments of what was at first all his own.—Nor is that the whole. For with man's loss of the inheritance, Satan was permitted to enter, and extend his usurped sway over the domain, from which man has been expelled as its proper lord. And this he does by filling the world with his instruments of evil and works of darkness,—spreading disorder through the elements of nature, and disaffection among the several orders of being,—above all, corrupting the minds of men, so as to lead them to cast off the authority of God, and to use the things he confers on them for their own selfish ends and purposes, for the injury and oppression of their fellow-men, for the encouragement of sin and suppression of the truth of God, for rendering the world, in short, as far as possible, a region of darkness and not of light, a kingdom of Satan and not of God, a theatre of malice, corruption and disorder, not of love, harmony and blessedness.
Now as the redemption of man's person consists in his being rescued from the dominion of Satan, from the power of sin in his soul, and from the reign of death in his body, which are the two forms of Satan's dominion over man's nature; what can the redemption of the inheritance be, but the rescuing of this earth from the manifold ills, which through the instrumentality of Satan have come to lodge in its bosom,—purging its elements of all mischief and disorder,—changing it from being the vale of tears and charnel-house of death, into a paradise of life and blessing,—restoring to man, himself then redeemed and fitted for the honour, the sceptre of a real dominion over all its fulness,—in a word, rendering it in character and design what it was on creation's morn, when the sons of God shouted for joy, and God himself looked with satisfaction on the goodness and order and beauty which pervaded this portion of his universe? To do such a work as this upon the earth, would manifestly be to redeem the possession which man by disobedience forfeited and lost, and a new title to which has been purchased by Christ for all his spiritual seed; for were that done, the enemy would be completely foiled and cast out, and man's proper, inheritance restored.
But some are perhaps ready to ask, is that, then, all the inheritance that the redeemed have to look for? Is their abode still to be upon earth, and their portion of good to be confined to what may be derived from its material joys and occupations? Is paradise restored, to be just the re-establishment and enlargement of paradise lost? We might reply to such questions by putting similar ones regarding the persons of the redeemed. Are these still, after all,to be the same persons they were during the days of their sojourn on earth? Is the soul, when expatiating amid the glorious scenes of eternity, to live in the exercise of the same powers and faculties which it employed on the things of time? And is the outward frame in which it is to lodge and act and enjoy itself, to be that very tabernacle which it bore here in weakness, and which it left behind to rot and perish in the tomb? Would any one feel at a moment's loss to answer such questions in the affirmative? Does it in any respect shock our feelings, or lower the expectations we feel warranted to cherish concerning our future state, when we think that the very soul and body which together constitute and make up the being we now are, shall also constitute and makeup the being we are to be hereafter? Assuredly not; for however little we know what we are to be hereafter, we are not left in ignorance, that both soul and body shall be purged of all evil; and not only so, but in the process shall be unspeakably refined and elevated. We know it is the purpose of God to magnify in us the riches of his grace by raising our natures higher than the fall has brought them low, to glorify while he redeems them, and so to render them capable of spheres of action and enjoyment beyond, not only what eye has seen or ear has heard, but even what has entered into the mind of man to conceive.
And why may we not think and reason thus also, concerning the inheritance which these redeemed natures are to occupy? Why may not God do a like work of purification and refinement on this solid earth, so as to transform and adapt it into a fit residence for man in glory? Why may not, or rather, why should not that, which has become for man as fallen, the house of bondage and the field of ruin, become also for man redeemed the habitation of peace, and the region of pre-eminent delight? Surely He, who from the very stones can raise up children unto Abraham, and will bring forth from the rotting corruption of the tomb forms clothed with honour and majesty, can equally change the vile and disordered condition of the world, as it now is, and make it fit to be "the house of the glory of his kingdom,"—a world, where the eye of redeemed manhood shall be regaled with sights of surpassing loveliness, and his ear ravished with sounds of sweetest melody, and his desires satisfied with purest delight,—aye, a world it may be, which, as it alone of all creation's orbs has been honoured to bear the footsteps of an incarnate God, and witness the performance of his noblest work, so shall it be chosen as the region, around which he will pour the richest manifestations of his glorious presence, and from which, perhaps, he will continually send, by the ministry of his redeemed, communications of love and kindness to the farthest bounds of his habitable universe!
Oh! no, it is not, when rightly considered, a low and degrading view of the inheritance which is reserved for the heirs of salvation, to place it in the possession of this very earth, which we now inhabit, after it shall have been redeemed and glorified. I feel it for myself to be rather an ennobling and comforting thought; and were I left to choose, out of all creation's bounds, the place where my redeemed nature is to find its local habitation, enjoy its Redeemer's presence, and reap the fruits of his costly purchase, I would prefer none to this. For if destined to so high a purpose, I know it will be made in all respects what it should be,—the very paradise of delight, the very heaven of glory and blessing, which I desire and need. And, then, the connexion between what it now is, and what it shall have become, must impart to it an interest, which can belong to no other region in the universe. If any thing could enhance our exaltation to the lordship of a glorious and blessed inheritance, it would surely be the feeling of possessing it in the very place where we were once miserable bondsmen of sin and corruption. And if any thing should dispose us to bear meekly our present heritage of evil, to quicken our aspirations after the period of deliverance, and to raise our affections above the vain and perishable things around us, it should be the thought, that all we can now either have or experience from the world is part of a possession forfeited and accursed, but that it only waits for the transforming power of God to be changed into the inheritance of the saints in light, when heaven and earth shall be mingled into one.
But if this renovated earth is to be itself the inheritance of the redeemed—if it and no other is to be the heaven, where they are to reap life everlasting, how, it may be asked, can heaven be spoken of as above us, and represented as the higher region of God's presence? Such language is never, that we are aware of, used in Scripture to denote the final dwelling-place of God's people; and if it were used there, as it often is in popular discourse, it would need, of course, to be understood with that limitation, which requires to be put upon all our more definite descriptions of a future world. To regard expressions of this kind, just referred to, as determining our final abode to be over our heads, were to betray a childish ignorance of the fact, that what is so by day, is precisely the reverse of what is so by night. Such language properly denotes the superior nature of the heavenly inheritance, and not its relative position. God can make any region of his universe a heaven, for that is heaven where he manifests his presence and glory: and why might he not do so here, as well as in any other part of creation?—But is it not said, that the kingdom, in which the redeemed are to live and reign for ever, was prepared for them before the foundation of the world; and how, then, can the scene of it be placed on this earth, still waiting to be redeemed for the purpose? The preparation there meant, however, cannot possibly be an actual fitting up of the place which believers are to occupy with their Lord; for wherever it is the apostle tells us it still needs to be redeemed; in that sense it is not yet ready; and Christ himself said, in reference to his leaving the world, that he was going to prepare it, which he does by directing, on his throne of glory, the events which are to issue in its full establishment. Still, from the first, it might be said to be prepared, because destined for Christ and his elect people in the mind of God, even as he was himself "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world;" and every successive act in the history of the mediatorial kingdom is another step toward the accomplishment of the purpose.—Are we not again told, however, that the earth is to be destroyed, its elements made to melt with fervent heat, and all its works consumed? Unquestionably this is said—though not by any means necessarily implying that the earth is really to be annihilated. We know that God makes many changes, pass over the works of his hands, but that he actually annihilates any, we have no ground, either in nature or in Scripture, to suppose. If in the latter we are told of man's body, that it perishes, and is consumed by the moth, yet what can be more certain, than that it is not doomed to utter destruction, but shall live again? When we read of the old world being destroyed by the flood, we are at the same time assured, that the material fabric of the earth continued as before. Indeed, much the same language that is applied to the earth in this respect, is also extended to the heavens themselves; for they too are represented as ready to pass away, and to be changed as a vesture, and the promise speaks of new heavens, as well as a new earth. And in regard to this earth in particular, there is nothing in the language used concerning it to prevent us from believing, that the fire which, in the day of God's judgment, is to burst forth with consuming violence, may, like the waters of the deluge, and in a far higher respect than they, act as an element of purification—dissolving, indeed, the present constitution of things, and leaving not a wreck behind of all we now see and handle, but at the same time rectifying and improving the powers of nature, refining and elevating the whole framework of the earth, and impressing on all that belongs to it a transcendent, imperishable glory—so that in condition and appearance it shall be substantially a new world, and one as far above what it now is, as heaven is above the earth.
There is nothing, then, in the other representations of Scripture, which appears, when fairly considered, to raise any valid objection against the renovated earth being the ultimate inheritance of the heirs of promise. And there is much to shut us up to the conclusion that it is so. We have enlarged on one testimony of inspiration, not because it is the only, or the chief one on the subject, but because it is so explicit, that it seems decisive of the question. For an inheritance, which has been already acquired or purchased, but which must be redeemed before it can be really our possession, can be understood of nothing but that original dominion, which sin brought along with man, into the bondage of evil at the fall. And of what else can we understand the representation in the eighth Psalm, as interpreted by the pen of inspiration itself, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, chap. ii. 5-9, and in 1 Cor. xv. 27, 28? These passages in the New Testament put it beyond a doubt, that the idea of perfect and universal dominion, delineated in the Psalm, is to be realized in the world to come, over which Christ, as the head of redeemed humanity, is to rule, with his people in him and under him. The representation itself in the Psalm, is evidently borrowed from the first chapter of Genesis, and considered as a prophecy of good things to come, as a prediction of the dignity and honour already obtained for man in Christ, and hereafter to be revealed, it may be regarded as simply presenting to our view the picture of a restored and renovated creation. "It is just that passage in Genesis, which describes the original condition of the earth," to use the words of Hengstenberg, "turned into a prayer for us," and we may add, into an object of hope and expectation. When that prayer is fulfilled, in other words, when the natural and moral evils entailed by the fall have been abolished, and the earth shall stand to man, when redeemed and glorified, in a similar relation to what it did at the birth of creation, then shall the hope we now possess of an inheritance of glory, be turned into enjoyment. In Isa. xi. 6-9, the final results of Messiah's reign are in like manner delineated under the aspect of a world, which has obtained riddance of all the disorders introduced by sin, and is restored to the blessed harmony and peace which characterized it, when God pronounced it very good. And still more definitely, though with reference to the same aspect of things, the Apostle Peter, (Acts iii. 21,) represents the time of Christ's second coming as "the time of the restitution of all things," that is, when every thing should be restored to its pristine condition—the same condition in kind, all pure and good, glorious and blessed, but higher in degree, as it is the design and tendency of redemption to ennoble whatsoever it touches.
It is precisely on the same object, a redeemed and glorified earth, that the Apostle Paul, in the 8th chap. of the Romans, fixes the mind of believers as the terminating point of their hopes of glory. An incomparable glory is to be revealed in them, and in connexion with that, "the deliverance of a suffering creation from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God." What can this deliverance be, but what is marked in the Epistle to the Ephesians, as "the redemption of the purchased possession?" Nor is it possible to connect with any thing else, the words of Peter in his second Epistle, where, after speaking of the dreadful conflagration which is to consume all that belongs to the earth in its present form, he adds,—as if expressly to guard against supposing, that he meant the actual and entire destruction of this world as the abode of man,—"Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
It is only by understanding the words of Christ himself, "the meek shall inherit the earth," of the earth in that new condition, its state of blessedness and glory, that any full or adequate sense can be attached to them. He could not surely mean the earth as it then was, or as it is to be during any period of its existence, while sin and death reign in it. So long as it is in that condition, not only will the saints of God have many things to suffer in it, as our Lord immediately foretold, when he spake of the persecutions for righteousness' sake, which his people should have to endure, and on account of which he bade them look for their "reward in heaven;" but all the treasure it contains must be of the moth-eaten, perishable kind, which they are expressly forbidden to covet, and the earth itself must be that city without continuance, in contrast to which they are called to seek one to come. To speak, therefore, as many commentators do, of the tendency of piety in general, and of a mild and gracious disposition in particular, to secure for men a prosperous and happy life on earth, is quite beside the purpose as regards the fulfilment of the promise, that they shall "inherit the earth." If it could even command for them, the whole that earth now can give, would Christ on that account have called them blessed? Would he not rather have warned them to beware of the deceitfulness of riches, and the abundance of honours thus likely to flow into their bosom? To be blessed in the earth as an inheritance, can only import, that the earth has become to them a real and proper good, such as it shall be, when it has been transformed into a fit abode for redeemed natures. All which is further confirmed, and apparently rendered as clear and certain as language can make it, by the representations constantly made by Christ and the inspired writers, of his return to the earth and manifestation on it in glory, as connected with the final scenes and issues of his kingdom. When he left the world, it was as a man going into a far country, from which he was to come again; (Matth. xxv. 14; Luke xix. 12; John xiv. 3;) the heaven received him at his resurrection, but only until the times of the restitution of all things; (Acts iii. 21;) the period of his residence within the vail, is coincident with that during which his people have to maintain a hidden life, and is to be followed by another, in which they and he together are to be manifested in glory. (Col. iii. 4; Heb. ix. 28: 1 John iii. 2; Rev. i. 7.) And in the book of Revelation, while unquestionably the scenes are described in typical language, yet when exact localities are mentioned as the places where the scenes are to be realized, and that in connexion with a plain description of the condition of those who are to have part in them, we are compelled by all the ordinary rules of composition to regard such localities as real and proper habitations. What, then, can we make of the ascription of praise from the elders, representatives of a redeemed church, when they give glory to the Messiah, as "having made them kings and priests unto God, and they shall reign with him upon the earth?" Or, what of the closing scenes, where the evangelist sees a new heaven and a new earth, in the room of those which had passed away, and the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven to settle on the renovated earth, and the tabernacle of God fixed amongst men? (Rev. v. 9, 10, xx. 1-5.) Granting that the delineations of the book are a succession of pictures, drawn from the relations of things in the former ages of the world, and, especially under the Old Testament economy, and that the fulfilment to be looked for is not as of a literal description, but as of a symbolical representation, yet there must be certain fixed landmarks as to time and place, persons and objects, which, in their natures or their names, are so clearly defined, that by them the relation of one part to another must be arranged and interpreted. For example, in the above quotations, we cannot doubt who are kings and priests, or with whom they are to reign; and it were surely strange, if there could be any doubt of the theatre of their dominion, when it is so expressly denominated the earth. And still more strange, if when heaven and earth are mentioned relatively to each other, and the scene of the church's future glory fixed upon the latter us contradistinguished from the former, still earth should stand for heaven, and not for itself. As well surely might it be affirmed, that when the name of God occurs there, or Jesus Christ, or the saints, it is not these, but some other objects that are to be understood by them. And, on the whole, we are forced to conclude with Usteri, that "the conception of a transference of the perfect kingdom of God into the heavens, is properly speaking modern, seeing that according to Paul, and the Apocalypse, (and he might also have added, Peter and Christ himself,) the seat of the kingdom of God is the earth, inasmuch as that likewise partakes in the general renovation."
Having now closed our investigation, we draw the following conclusions from it.
1. The earthly Canaan was neither designed by God, nor from the first was it understood by his people, to be the ultimate and proper inheritance, which they were to occupy; things having been spoken and hoped for concerning it, which plainly could not be realized within the bounds of Canaan.
2. The inheritance was one which could be enjoyed only by those who had become the children of the resurrection, themselves fully redeemed in soul and body from all the effects and consequences of sin, made more glorious and blessed, indeed, than if they had never sinned, because constituted after the image of the heavenly Adam;— and as the inheritance must correspond with the inheritor, it can only be man's original possession restored,—the earth redeemed from the curse which sin brought on it, and, like man himself, rendered exceedingly more beautiful and glorious, than in its primeval state,—the fit abode of a church, made like, in all its members, to the Son of God.
3. The occupation of the earthly Canaan by the natural seed of Abraham, was a type, and no more than a type, of this occupation by a redeemed church, of her destined inheritance of glory; and consequently every thing concerning the entrance of the former on their temporary possession; was ordered so as to represent and foreshadow the things which belong to the church's establishment in her permanent possession. Hence, between the giving of the promise, which though it did not terminate in, yet included the land of Canaan, and under that infolded the prospect of the better inheritance, a series of important events intervened, which are capable of being fully and properly explained in no other way, than as having a typical bearing on the things hereafter to be disclosed respecting that better inheritance. If we ask, why did the heirs of promise wander about so long as pilgrims, and withdraw to a foreign region, before they were allowed to possess the land, and not rather, like a modern colony, quietly spread, without strife or bloodshed, over its surface, till the whole was possessed? Or, why were they suffered to fall under the dominion of a foreign power, from whose cruel oppression they needed to be redeemed, with terrible executions of judgment on the oppressor, before the possession could become theirs? Or, why before that event also should they have been put under the discipline of law, having the covenant of Sinai, with its strict requirements and manifold obligations of service, superadded to the covenant of grace and promise? Or, why again should their right to the inheritance itself, have, to be vindicated from a race of occupants, who had been allowed for a time to keep possession of it, and whose multiplied abominations had so polluted it, that nothing short of their extermination could render it a fitting abode for the heirs of promise? The full and satisfactory answer to all such questions, can only be given, by viewing the whole in connexion with the better things of a higher dispensation,—as the first part of a plan, which was to have its counterpart and issue in the glories of a redeemed creation, and for the final results of which the church needed to be prepared by standing in similar relations, and passing through like experiences, in regard to an earthly inheritance. No doubt, with one and all of these, there were connected reasons and results for the time then present, amply sufficient to justify every step in the process, when considered simply by itself. But it is only when we take the whole as a glass, in which to see mirrored the far greater things, which from the first were in prospect, that we can get a comprehensive view of the mind of God in appointing them, and know the purposes which he chiefly contemplated.
For example, the fact of Abraham and his immediate descendants, being appointed to wander as pilgrims through the land of Canaan without being allowed to occupy any part of it as their own possession, may be partly explained, though in that view it must appear somewhat capricious, by its being considered as a trial to their own faith, and an act of forbearance and mercy toward the original possessors, whose iniquities were not yet full. But if we thus find grounds of reason to explain why it may have been so ordered, when we come to look upon the things which happened to them, as designed to image the things which were afterwards to distinguish the relation of God's people to a higher and better inheritance, we see the absolute necessity of those earlier transactions being so ordered, and how it would have been unsuitable for the heirs of promise, either entering at once on the possession, or living as pilgrims and expectants, any where but within its borders. For thus alone could their experience fitly represent the case of God's people in gospel times, who have not only to wait long for the redemption of the purchased possession, but while they wait, must walk up and down as pilgrims in the very region which they are hereafter to use as their own, when it shall have been delivered from the powers of evil, who now hold it in bondage, and purified from their abominations. Hence, if they know aright their relation to the world as it now is, and their calling as the heirs of promise, they must sit loose to the things of earth, even as the patriarchs did to the land of their sojourn,—must feel, that it cannot be the place of their rest, so long as it is polluted, and that they must steadfastly look for the world to come as their proper home and possession. And thus also the whole series of transactions, which took place between the confirmation of the covenant of promise with Jacob, and the actual possession of the land promised, and especially of course the things which concerned that greatest of all the transactions, the revelation of the law from Sinai, is just to be regarded as a delineation in the typo, of the way and manner in which the heirs of God arc to obtain the inheritance of the purchased possession. Meanwhile, apart from these later transactions, there are two important lessons, which the church may clearly gather from what appears in the first heirs of promise, and which she ought never to lose sight of:—First, that the inheritance, come when and how it may, is the free gift of God, bestowed by him, as sovereign lord and proprietor, on those whom he calls to the fellowship of his grace: And, second, that the hope of the inheritance must be received as an animating principle into their hearts, influencing all their procedure; they must in spirit and character be seekers, as in condition they are heirs, of that better country, which is a heavenly; and Christ is never truly formed in the heart at all, until he be formed as "the hope of glory."
The latter part of our investigations necessarily brought us to the edge of this question; and if some application were not made of the views that have been unfolded toward its solution, the subject would be left in an unsatisfactory state. The typical relations of Abraham and his posterity, in this respect, have been represented thus: Their possession of the land of Canaan was a pledge and type of the inheritance of the redeemed and glorified earth, conferred in Christ on the whole of his elect church. This seems to contemplate the heirs of salvation at large as equally interested in the antitypical Canaan, and to exclude the seed of Israel from any special pre-eminence in regard to it. Are they, then, to have no farther connexion with the earthly Canaan? And does it follow, from the view taken of their former relation to it, that they stand on a footing with men of other nations, in respect to the inheritance of the purchased possession? Are they heirs of it merely in the same sense and to the same extent, in so far as they become children of faith?
In replying to such questions, it is to be observed at the outset, that if there be any soundness in the principles of typological interpretation we have endeavoured to establish, there can be no propriety in the representation not unfrequently made by recent writers on unfulfilled prophecy, that the original possession of the land of Canaan by the seed of Jacob was "only a token and earnest of a more glorious occupation of the land hereafter to be enjoyed by them." It is against the very nature of predictions of this sort, as determined by the history of previous fulfilments, to make an event foreshadow itself—to make one occupation of the land of Canaan the type of another and future occupation of it. The type is a fact in providence, or an institution in religion on a lower and earthly ground, embodying the principles which were to re-appear in something of a corresponding, but much higher nature in the kingdom of God. The natural Israel inheriting an earthly possession, can never, therefore, with truth be regarded as typifying a recurrence of the same event, in however improved and altered circumstances; and as well might it be alleged, that the natural Israel's having eaten manna in the desert was a type of their eating manna again in some more glorious manner, or that their former killing of the passover foreshadowed their doing so hereafter in some new and higher style, as that their ancient occupation of the land of Canaan prefigured some future and more glorious possession of it.
In truth, the very same considerations which would lead us to regard the former occupation of Israel as typical of another and better one, would also infer the re-establishment of that economy under which they held possession of Canaan, the rebuilding of the temple, the resuscitation of the Levitical priesthood, the revival of sacrifices, and the services generally which were ordained by the law of Moses. This is now, we believe, not only admitted, but contended for by most of those who entertain the opinion we have been controverting; they hold, that the more glorious occupation of the land of Canaan by Israel shall be succeeded by a more glorious celebration of the Old Testament worship; and in doing so, they have only followed to its legitimate results the idea, that the former possession of Canaan was typical of another—for if that former possession bespoke a future one, the establishment of the religious economy connected with it must also have bespoke its own future restoration. We feel, however, when this is maintained, as if an indescribable confusion were spread over the whole field of inquiry, as if the first principles of the subject were called in question, and no common ground remained, on which we might stand and hold with them a disputation respecting the future. Not only the entire spirit, but some also of the plainest declarations of New Testament scripture, seem to stand in irreconcilable opposition to the views they advocate. When they tell us, that Jerusalem is again to be what it was in the days of old—the chosen place, where the one temple is to be reared, where the blood of slain victims is to be presented on the altar, and every worshipper is to repair to it for the purpose of offering them, we naturally think of the word of Malachi, that "in every place incense shall be offered to the Lord, and a pure offering," and of the assertion of Jesus to the woman of Samaria, "The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor yet in Jerusalem, shall men worship the Father," that is manifestly, shall not worship him there peculiarly, these places shall possess no distinctive privileges. That the church, in its most advanced and ripened state on earth, when fitted even for enjoying the personal presence of her glorious Lord, should find her proper food and becoming exercises in the imperfect and carnal ordinances, which are represented by the apostle as suited only to men in bondage, or in the comparative childhood of their religions being, from which they were to escape like the heir on completing his minority, (Gal. iii. 24-26, iv. 1-6,) appears to us an incongruity utterly inexplicable. And when, we read further in New Testament scripture concerning the law of Moses, that the abolition of that hand-writing of ordinances was among the benefits procured for the church by the death of Christ—that to return to its services is to attempt to honour God by acts of will-worship, (Col. ii. 16-23,) —that for any one to insist on their observance now is as much as to make void the work of Christ, and cut themselves off from the hope of his salvation, (Gal. iv. 9, 10, v. 4-8,)—that the law, which ordained such services, was of necessity changed and disannulled by the introduction of a new priesthood after the order of Melchisedec, or the establishment of a new and better covenant, (Heb. vii. 12-18, viii. 7-13, ix. 1-14;)— when we put all these things together concerning the law of Moses, and consider how, in contra-distinction to it, the church of Christ is constantly represented as henceforth the temple of God, true believers its only priesthood, and their spiritual exercises its real sacrifices, we cannot see how it is possible to retain our faith in the testimony of evangelists and apostles, and at the same time believe, that the law commanding the seed of Abraham to offer animal sacrifices has never been abrogated, that it is even now binding upon them, and that it is again to be restored in all its rigour amid the glories of the new Jerusalem.
It might have been thought, that the plain and irreconcilable contrariety, which the views now stated regarding the typical relations of ancient Israel, carry to the explicit declarations of New Testament scripture, would have proved an effectual bar against their reception. It is not a very promising indication of the present state of biblical science, that they have already obtained, it is said, an extensive belief, and are still, in some quarters at least, making progress. We conceive it utterly hopeless to argue with persons, who can set at naught such clear testimonies of Scripture, and believe it would be vain to attempt convincing them of the unsoundness of their mode of understanding the typical relations of Old Testament things. For they seem to have lost sight of the very first elements of typological interpretation. Thus Fry deliberately states, "that the ceremonial rites enjoined by the covenant (of Sinai,) besides being 'shadows of good things to come,' were endowed, by the ordination of God, with a certain virtue and efficacy for the purification of earthly things, and sanctified to the purifying of the flesh," p. 191. Why, it was the very circumstance of their being ordained to effect these carnal purifications, which fitted them for being typical of gospel things; these were not two separate ordinations, but in serving the one purpose, they at the same time served the other, and without their instrumentality to purifyings of the flesh, they could not possibly have been "shadows of good things to come."' It is impossible to reason, where there is no common ground to stand upon; and merely referring to the first part of our investigations for such proof as can be given of the soundness of our own principles, we must content ourselves at present with briefly re-stating the New Testament view of Israel's typical relations. The natural Israel, who were chosen to be God's peculiar property out of all the nations of the earth, were types of the elect seed, the royal priesthood, whom Christ was to choose out of the world to his kingdom and glory. When this latter purpose began to be carried into effect, the former of necessity began, as a shadow, to pass away, just as the shedding of Christ's blood upon the cross swallowed up the whole body of sacrifices appointed by the law. Hence, to indicate that the type in this respect had passed into the antitype, believers in Christ, of Gentile as well as Jewish origin, are called Abraham's seed, (Gal. iii. 20,) Israelites, (vi. 16, Eph. ii. 12, 19,) comers unto Mount Zion, (Heb. xii. 22,) citizens of the free or heavenly Jerusalem, (ib., Gal. iv. 26,) the circumcision, (Phil. iii. 3, Col. ii. 11,) and in Revelation, which is written throughout in the language of type and symbol, they are even called Jews, (chap. ii. 9,) and the sealed company in chap, vii., who are the representatives of the Christian church, at a certain period in the Roman empire, are identified with "the twelve tribes of Israel."
This being the case, the possession of the land of Canaan by the natural seed of Abraham, which, as a type, could only foreshadow the possession by Christ's elect seed of the everlasting inheritance, must be reckoned among the things which are past and gone, from the time that this seed came to assume a separate and substantive being in the world, and was called to the "hope of an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away." Accordingly, when Christ's kingdom was really introduced, it was to this inheritance, and to it alone, that the hopes and expectations of the heirs of salvation were pointed. Paul never so much as alludes to any other, though he often treats of the case of the Jew, and expressly handles the subject of their conversion to the Christian faith. And though Peter, in his first Epistle, professedly writes only to converts from Judaism, the one inheritance, which he represents them as called to hope for, is that glorious one, free from all corruption and decay, "which is reserved in heaven for those who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." The possession of that inheritance, this, and nothing else, will constitute the fulfilment in the kingdom of God of the typical relation, which was held by ancient Israel to the land of Canaan. And the former existence of such a relation affords no more warrant for expecting the re-occupation of that particular land by them, than Adam's original occupation of the garden of Eden brought any warrant lo him, after the promise of recovery entered, that he should possess anew the identical garden with its tree of life, or than Noah's preservation in an ark amid the waters of the deluge, embodied a prediction of some future, more terrific deluge, coupled with a more glorious ark.
This, however, by no means settles the question as to the restoration of the Jews to the land of their fathers. It only disposes of one ground, on which it is sometimes injudiciously based and advocated. The typical relation of the natural seed to that land, does not by itself require, or properly admit of, such a restoration; for in so far as that is concerned, an antitype of another and higher kind is needed to satisfy the conditions of the type,—the possession of a heavenly, everlasting inheritance, and that by the whole multitude of the redeemed. At the same time, it is quite possible, that there may be reasons connected with the future purposes of God, which require the restoration of the Jews as a people to their ancient territory, and that though this is not involved in their original connexion with Canaan, it may be predicted with sufficient clearness in the word of prophecy, to render it a matter of well-grounded expectation. It must, therefore, be determined by a fair and candid examination of the prophecies bearing on the subject,— an examination, which, notwithstanding all that has been written on it, has not, so far as we know, been yet made in a correct and satisfactory manner. We might have abstained from entering on such an examination, as the determination of the question is not essentially connected with that branch of our inquiry, from which we have taken occasion to raise it; for that, as we have seen, points in another and higher direction. But as it is in itself a matter of considerable interest, and especially as the prophecies which refer to it, form one of the most numerous and important class of examples, in which the typical relation of the Old Testament furnished the pattern, and the language for delineating the events of the New, we cannot be regarded as taking up either an unseasonable or a profitless line of inquiry.
In entering upon this investigation, we must first of all endeavour to ascertain the leading principles that ought to guide our inquiries. We perfectly accord with the oft-repeated, but frequently misapplied maxim of Hooker, that "where a literal construction will stand, the farthest from the letter is generally the worst." It is rather too brief, however, to be of much service in the interpretations of prophecy, and may with almost equal facility be applied to serve the purpose, either of a false, or of a sound exposition. The principle is more safely and properly expressed by Vitringa: "It is an indispensable canon of interpretation, in regard to divine, as well as human writings, that we must not, without solid and necessary reasons, depart from the primary, proper, and grammatical sense, which the genuine signification of the words and phrases, the circumstances of time and action, and the occasions and scope of the words uttered by the prophets present to the reader; that is, it must only be done, when attributes are connected with subjects, which, in the primary and proper sense, are not suitable to them, for reason then obliges us to go farther, and to think of an analogous subject." One can make something of the principle, when embodied in a canon like this, but very little of it, as laid down by Hooker, in prophetical inquiries. For the language of prophecy has so much to do with the figure, it takes its shape and hue so much from the circumstances and occasions out of which it arose, and from its very nature and design it so necessarily required to be wrapt in a certain measure of obscurity, that an interpretation according to the letter, strictly so called, is very rarely applicable to the word of prophecy. For example, the first prophecy, which gave the tone to the general style of the prophetic record, was delivered in the language of symbol, such as was naturally suggested by the occasion and circumstances, which called it forth: The serpent having appeared as the agent of evil, and the adversary both of God and man, he is regarded as the permanent representative and head of a cause opposed to the purposes of Heaven, and the best interests of mankind. And it is only in this point of view, that the prediction about the existence of an enmity between the woman's seed and the serpent's, and the bruising of the heel in one case, and of the head in the other, can be intelligibly read and correctly understood. The nearest letter is by no means, in such a case, the most just and faithful exhibition of the truth; but, in conformity with the canon of Vitringa, the primary, proper, and grammatical sense is to be carefully sought and determined, not simply by giving the natural signification to the words and phrases, but by viewing these in the light of the circumstances of time and action, and the occasion and scope of the prophecy. Thus only can we arrive at its real import, which is the main thing, whether men may choose to call it the literal or the spiritual meaning; for the sense, in which these terms are now applied, is "infinitely ambiguous." Whatever the true and substantial meaning of any prediction, as fairly determined in the manner above stated, is, in that and no other way are we to look for its fulfilment. And in the case of the prophecy just referred to, the thing really predicted undoubtedly was,—that a conflict was henceforth to be maintained between two parties of opposite characters and designs; that in this conflict the offspring of the woman, comprehending all who should not apostatize to the interest of the adversary, should sustain considerable, though not mortal injury; but that the opposite party should receive in the issue an irrecoverable and fatal blow. (The prophecy, of course, enclosed a promise of Christ, but only as pre-eminently the woman's seed, in whom all the others were to have their life, and power, and victory.)
This, then, we take as our chief canon or principle of interpretation for guiding us to the understanding of the true and proper import of the prophecies, and consequently for enabling us to ascertain the kind of events, in which their fulfilment is to be expected. But in regard to the prophecies now under consideration, prophecies which point to events, in whole or in part still future, additional light may be derived from its fair and legitimate application to these, by a consideration of those other prophecies, which have already met with their fulfilment. Mr. M'Neile has justly stated, as a general principle, that "the species of interpretation, which events have rendered imperative, as it respects fulfilled prophecies, ought to be adhered to with constancy and candour, in the examination of those prophecies which are as yet unfulfilled." We must beware, however, lest in searching for light in this direction, we really embrace a shadow; for, like Hooker's maxim, this general principle is capable of being applied so as to mislead. We are not to suppose, that all fulfilled prophecies can equally serve the purpose of throwing light on all unfulfilled ones. The prophecies compared must themselves be parallel, delivered in like circumstances, and bearing on events of like character, so far alike at least as to belong to the same dispensation. It will not do, for example, to take a prophecy referring to events which had respect only to the Old Testament dispensation, such as Jeremiah's prophecy of the seventy years' captivity, or Isaiah's prophecy regarding the destruction of the Assyrian army of Sennacherib, and make the fulfilment these received a standard for the interpretation and fulfilment of all future prophecies respecting the Jews and Assyrians, which were to fall out in the dispensation of the New Testament. For however commonly that may be done. it is not a consistent and candid application of the light furnished by past fulfilments; it is making what was spoken and accomplished under one class of relations, the gauge and criterion for deciding upon what was spoken, and to be accomplished, in regard to another and very different class of relations. The coming of the Messiah, and the introduction of the kingdom of heaven under him, so deeply affected all existing relations and elevated the divine administration so far above its former level, that another rule and measure, than what was observed before, might be expected to hold for what was to come after; and it might be to put the word of prophecy, as it certainly would be to put the word of instruction and encouragement, in bondage, were it ruled precisely by the ancient line of things. The merest babe in theology knows, that while both Old and New Testament worshippers are alike declared to have had the gospel preached to them, to be eaters at an altar, to have their persons purified by the blood of sprinkling, and their bodies washed with pure water, the things meant by such expressions are very different, and much higher in the one case than in the other, the relations being all heightened and enlarged; and to hold the Christian to the Jewish measure in this respect, were to confound things that most materially differ, and grossly to misapprehend the real meaning of scripture. Now, as the necessity for this elevation and enlargement arises from the very nature of the change, which Christianity has brought into the condition of the church and economy of God, we have reason to expect, that it must also have affected, in a like ratio, the utterances and anticipations of prophecy, as regards the two periods respectively. So that the fair and consistent application of the principle in question, would lend us—not to set up a prediction, which ran out in the one period, as the criterion in all respects for determining the sense and fulfilment of a prediction running out into the oilier—but to take such prophecies as have certainly had their fulfilment, wholly, or in part, in the earlier objects and events of the Messianic kingdom, and by such fulfilment to judge of what may justly be expected to satisfy the conditions of those prophecies which seem to point to objects and events still future. For thus only do we compare like with like, and bring properly related or corresponding parts of the divine plan into juxta-position with each other.
Now there is a class of predictions of considerable number, which may be ascertained by clear, well-defined, and, we may say, indubitable marks, to have entered on their fulfilment certainly not later than the first age of the gospel; if they had not received their accomplishment before, they must then at least have begun to do so—unless they have been attended with absolute failure. This, we know, cannot have been the case; and, therefore, in looking into the prophecies which respect the state and destinies of the later Jews, the commencement ought clearly to be made with those which must at the latest have met with their accomplishment at the threshold of the Christian era —that by first carefully ascertaining their import, as compared with the necessary fulfilment, we may be prepared for judging of others less definite in their meaning, and more indeterminate as to their fulfilment.
We can have no hesitation in referring to the class of prophecies now in question, the prophecy of Jeremiah, for the fulfilment of which Daniel prayed in Babylon: "For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord; thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord; and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive," (ch. xxix. 10-14.) The express mention of the period of seventy years from the Babylonish captivity, as the era when this visitation of mercy and promise of return should begin to take place, leaves no room to doubt that the restoration spoken of is the one already past. And there are two peculiarities, which must be carefully noted, in the terms of the prediction, as furnishing a key for the proper interpretation of similar language when it occurs elsewhere. 1. It speaks of other countries besides Babylon as the regions from which the captives were to be brought back, "all nations," and "all places," whither they had been driven. 2. It speaks of a general result—the return of the nation as such to the land of their fathers, and their sincere, hearty return also to the God of their fathers. The prophet expressly states that they were then, at the expiration of the seventy years, to seek and to find God—to search for him with all their heart,—and to be gathered from all nations whither they had been driven.
Now it is matter of fact, attested by the word of God himself, especially in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, that only a remnant after all did the things here mentioned; many of them preferred living in Babylon, and in other planes, after the call and the opportunity was given them to return; and of those who did listen to the call, and avail themselves of the opportunity, the severe reproofs contained in the last three prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, that in many there was a grievous mixture of selfishness and hypocrisy, and that the men of real faith and piety were comparatively few. How, then, are we to explain the wide, general, and comprehensive terms of the prediction? So far as the first point is concerned, very little explanation is required; for, if rightly considered, the language will be found to carry scarcely even the appearance of contradiction to the facts of the case. For though we speak of the Babylonish exile, and the restoration from Babylon, our language in this respect is by no means strictly correct; Babylon did not in reality comprehend all the exiles, nor did the restored come merely from her borders. Those who were carried by the proud conqueror direct to Babylon, evidently formed but a portion, probably the smaller portion, of the whole multitude that were dispersed; many thousands fled elsewhere, as is manifest from the judgments pronounced against Edom, Tyre, Gaza, &c., for their cruelty in intercepting and cutting off, or delivering up some of these miserable fugitives, (Amos i. 6-9, Obad. 12;) while of those who did fall into the hands of the conqueror, many would no doubt be settled in other parts of the empire. Besides, the decree of Cyrus, which permitted and even enjoined the rebuilding of the temple, and the return to Palestine, although it might be said to bear more immediate reference to the Jews settled in and about Babylon, yet it was by no means confined to them; "the proclamation was made through all his kingdom," and was addressed to "all the people of the God of heaven remaining in any place where they sojourned," (Ezra i. 1-4,) as the decree of Artaxerxes also was made "for all the people of Israel, and the priests, the Levites, in his realm," (chap. vii. 13,)—decrees and proclamations obviously comprehensive of the house of Israel, as well as of the house of Judah, and clearly implying that the persons invited to share in its privileges were most widely scattered. Hence also Zechariah speaks of them as having been "scattered among all the nations whom they knew not," ch. vii. 14. How far the invitation was accepted by the dispersion belonging to the house of Israel, we have no exact means for determining; we only know, that some from that house did return and joined themselves to the house of Judah, so that at the dedication of the temple a sin-offering of twelve he-goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel, was offered for all Israel, as if all were alike interested in the service, (Ezra vi. 17.) All which conclusively shows, that the first dispersion was to many countries, as well as Babylon, and that in so far as the call on the part of God, and liberty on the part of the people, were concerned, there was no restriction, the whole remnant of the natural Israel, wherever they might be located, both could and should have returned.
In point of fact, however, they did not; they did not all return, nor did the whole of those who actually returned search for the Lord with all their hearts, and find him in truth. How, then, do we here, where the second peculiarity above noticed comes in, reconcile the terms of the prophecy with the facts of the case? Shall we take refuge in what is called a spiritual sense? By no means. The prophecy has but one fair and proper meaning, and in that it has unquestionably been fulfilled. Has been, we say, for referring as it does so expressly to the circumstances connected with the return from the Babylonish exile, it would be a mere quibble and evasion to transfer it to any other period of the church's history. It is true, that in the prophecy God addresses Israel as such; but making mention, as it specially does, of spiritual as well as temporal blessings, are we thereby warranted to infer, that the whole of the natural Israel then surviving were included? Is it not a principle running through all the history of God's dealings, in connexion with such promises, that the elect seed alone are viewed as the heirs of promise, and that if others share with them in the fulfilment as to the temporal part of what is promised, it is only as the mixed multitude from Egypt shared with Israel at first—that is, only by way of indulgence, and not as included in the word and purpose of God? That, we assert, is the principle on which the prophecy is to be explained—a principle which pervades the whole word of prophecy, in so far as it contains promises of life and blessing to his church. The eye of God in such cases ever rests, not upon the visible and professing, but the elect and real portion of the church; and when he speaks, it is as if none but they were to be accounted of. Thus, to give only a few examples:—in the first promise he spake generally of the seed of the woman as going to bruise the head of the serpent, although it was to be only an elect seed, and pre-eminently one individual of that seed, that was to do so; the promise of Canaan was made to Abraham's posterity at large, although it was from the first intended to be limited to the line of Isaac, and even to an election out of that seed; so also the promises made to this elect seed, as to their inheritance of privilege and blessing in Canaan, such as Ex. xix. 5, 6, Deut. xxviii. 1-24, xxxiii. were made to them and verified in them, no farther than as they were true children of God,—though expressed in the most general and comprehensive terms, yet to these alone were they properly addressed, these alone attained to the full and actual experience of what they predicted, and in so far as others partook with them it was merely as retainers, whose place secured for them a portion in the common goods and liberties of the house, while the children of promise kept theirs; in like manner, the prophecy of Joel ii. 28, &c., concerning the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh, yet fulfilled, as Peter expressly tells us, Acts ii. 16, in the case of an elect and believing remnant, as, indeed, it never could fairly be understood to mean by all flesh, any but those who were children of the Spirit. Of the same kind also are many promises or declarations of good to be experienced in the New Testament, such as John viii. 28, xii. 32, where the principle we speak of appears in what maybe called its strongest form, Christ making promise of results from his being lifted up on the cross, as to all without exception, while, from the very nature of the case, a limited number only must have been understood,—the whole, but no more than the whole of those, with whom, as the crucified Saviour, he should properly have to do.
There is another prophecy in Jeremiah nearly related to the one we have been considering, and with it also another modification of the principle just unfolded. It is the prediction contained in ch. xxiv. 5-7, where, alter having shown Jeremiah the two baskets of figs, the one very good, and the other very bad, the Lord declares: "Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them, and not pull them down, and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God; for they shall return unto me with their whole heart." There is a speciality in this promise, which compels us to refer it to the events connected with the restoration from Babylon: for the Lord speaks of following the persons addressed into the land of the Chaldeans, and bringing them up again with remarkable tokens of his favour. And the contrast, which is so expressly drawn between their case, and that of the others, whom the evil figs represented, and whom the curse of the Lord was to pursue even in the land of their captivity, ver. 8-10, manifestly shuts us up to the necessity of understanding the promise of a restoration from the captivity then impending, and puts out of the question a far distant, final, and universal restoration. This is rendered still more certain by a comparison of ch. xlii. 10, where the same things are promised, and in the very same words, to the remnant that were left in the land after the captivity had been carried away, if they would but seek the Lord. Yet of the Jewish people, as having the promise of that first restoration, it is said, that they should have a heart to seek and know the Lord, and that he would build them and not pull them down, plant them and not pluck them up. How shall we account for such language, considering the turn and issue, which matters ultimately took with them? Would not the fair and natural import of the words have led us to expect a different result? Undoubtedly it would, if viewed simply in itself, as a promise addressed to the whole people, and without respect to the spiritual condition, in which they might come to be placed. But God never made any such absolute and unqualified promises of good; they are all given, as has been already said, to the real children of faith, who alone have a heart to receive them; and not only so, but in giving them to these, God always has respect to his own kind and gracious propensions, without for the most part taking into account any perverse and wilful obstinacy on the part of the heirs of promise, which may possibly arise to check the flow of his goodness. Such contingent and future obstinacy, and its inevitable results, are not contemplated in the declaration he gives of his purposes, which are propounded without limitation or reserve, to show how large the goodness of the Lord is to his people, and how safely it may be reckoned on by them, so long as their heart is steadfast toward him. Every prophecy in the Bible might be brought under the category of this principle, in so far as it holds out the prospect of blessings stretching onwards for a long while to come; and, in particular, we may refer, besides the one before us, to such promises as that in 2 Sam. vii. 16, comp. with Amos ix; 11, or Ps. lxxxix. 38-45, which both indicate a partial failing on account of sin in what was originally promised in the most unqualified terms, having respect to the kind and benevolent intentions of God; Deut. xxxiii., and the promises generally which were given to Israel regarding the good he was to experience after his establishment in Canaan, which were commonly expressed in the most absolute and comprehensive terms, but, at the same time, were always understood to bear respect to the holy ends for which Israel was called lo inherit the land, and to be susceptible of a more or less accurate fulfilment, according as those ends were served or otherwise, so that in times of great defection the Lord did not hesitate to speak of breaking his promise or covenant with them. Numb. xiv. 34, Zech. xi. 10; or again in Mal. ii. 4—9, where, after declaring the divine purpose to reject and cast off the priests and Levites, the prophet holds it to be a keeping of the covenant with Levi, in the proper sense, on God's part, and charges them with a breach of it through their wickedness. Of the same nature, and requiring substantially the same explanation, are the general promises of unqualified blessing given to the righteous and his seed; such as Ps. i. xxxvii., Jer. xvii. 7, 8, &c.; and on the other side, such absolute and peremptory threatening, as those addressed to Nineveh in Jonah, or to Tyre and the cities of the Philistines, which, proceeding on the supposition of an existing state of wickedness. might either be wholly averted by a timely repentance, or, at least, in the case of a godly remnant, might be changed into blessings, (comp. Zech. ix. 7, Isa. xxiii. 18.)
It is by thus viewing the above predictions of coming good, in
connexion with the every where recognised, if not expressed,
distinction between the real and merely professing church, a church
prepared to fulfil the high ends for which it was called, and a church
not so, that we get at the true bearing and import of them. For we thus
obtain an important element for determining, if not the purport of the
predictions themselves, yet the range or circle within which their
fulfilment was fairly and legitimately to be expected. And even if we
could have offered a less satisfactory explanation, the facts of the
case would still have been sufficient to prove, beyond a doubt, our
substantial correctness as to the meaning; for if the event in
providence has not falsified the word in prophecy, it must be
understood in a way, which admits of a fulfilment being found in the
affairs connected with, and subsequent to, the restoration from
Babylon. But we thus cut off a series of conclusions, which are
constantly drawn by certain writers on prophecy, from other predictions
of a similar nature—in which, for example, it is foretold, that the
people of Israel or Judah, or both, are to be brought from all
countries whither they had been driven, and settled again in the land
of their fathers. We are told, that this must imply a future
restoration, because they have never yet been gathered from all
countries, and that it was only a partial restoration of Judah and
Benjamin, with a few scattered members of the other tribes, which
returned at the expiration of the Babylonish exile. If this be a
correct inference —if it proceed on a sound principle of
interpretation, then it is obvious, that the prediction of Jeremiah,
which expressly promised a gathering from all countries, and a settled
occupation in the land, after seventy years' exile, must have failed.
Or, such a prophecy as that in Jer. xxxiii. 7 is taken, where the Lord
promises to build them as at the first, and the conclusion is drawn,
that there must be a future restoration to accomplish it; while such a must, such a necessity, can only be
proved on a principle, which would disprove the truth of what, in much
stronger terms, was predicted by the same prophet, at ch. xxiv. 6, of
what should lake place at the end of the seventy years. Or once more,
the prediction in Jer. xxiii. 6 is selected, which speaks of the
righteous Branch, that was to be raised up to David, the King that was
to reign and prosper, and of whom it is said, "that in his days Judah
shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is the name
whereby he shall be called, The Lord our righteousness." And it is
argued, that there must be a future restoration of the natural Israel,
in order to verify this title of Christ; because, though Christ is made
to his people righteousness, yet his being so "is stated only to the
ear and heart of faith;" it is not universally acknowledged, nor
confessed to by all even in the professedly Christian church. "Besides,
the speaker is a Jew; the subjects of the king just mentioned in the
preceding words are Jews; and the plain construction of the passage
requires, that the pronoun our
be referred to the Jews; so that the prophecy declares the name, by
which the king shall be called amongst his Jewish subjects in those
days, to be Jehovah our Righteousness. Now, have the Jews acknowledged
Jesus of Nazareth as Jehovah their righteousness?" It is Mr, M'Neile's
own admitted principle, that "the species of interpretation, which
events have rendered imperative, as it respects fulfilled prophecies,
ought to be adhered to with consistency and candour in the examination
of those prophecies which are as yet unfulfilled." Let us, then, just
lake one of those other prophecies already cited from Jeremiah, one of
a parallel nature to that above commented on, the prediction in ch.
xxix., which unquestionably is, or at least should be a fulfilled
prophecy, and we know not by what possible ingenuity the species of
interpretation required for the one, can be made to consist with that
adopted for the other. The latter prediction expressly states, that at
the end of seventy years the Lord would visit his people in mercy, and,
among other things, that they should "search for him with all their
heart," and that they should "be gathered from all the nations and
places, whither they had been driven." But were they indeed so
gathered? Was it not a comparatively small number after all? And did
they then, as a people, so search for the Lord? Even of those who
returned, was it not a mere remnant that did so? And were not the last
three prophets sent with the severest denunciations against the
majority of the people for their impenitence, worldliness, and open
transgressions? There can be but one answer to these questions, and
only one of two conclusions drawn from it,—either that this prediction
has utterly failed, or that the species of interpretation adopted in
the above quotation in regard to the other, is not that which is
warranted, much less rendered imperative, by the fulfilment that is
There are other prophecies in Jeremiah, which with no less certainty than those already considered may be referred to the post-Babylonish period for their fulfilment. Of this kind is the prediction in ch. xxxii., which, by the symbolical action of Jeremiah's buying his cousin's field, and the explanation subsequently delivered regarding it, made promise of a return from a Babylon, and the usual transactions of merchandise thence arising, as in a quiet and settled country. That it must be understood of an early return, is evident from the care taken to preserve the evidences of Jeremiah's purchase, as instruments that would be required in the course of a generation or two; from the introduction to the main part of the prophecy, which specified the Lord's visiting them in Babylon, as the period of coming mercy, ver. 5; and from the special mention of the land of Benjamin, the places about Jerusalem, and the cities of Judah, as again to be possessed, implying that the return intended was to be one more especially of the two tribes. That the prophecy also speaks of their being gathered from other countries, having one heart to fear the Lord, and living under a sure and perpetual covenant of blessing, ver. 37-41, is in perfect accordance with the predictions already considered, and is to be explained on the same principles. We might also mention the prophecy in the next chapter, as one that must have begun to receive its fulfilment in the affairs connected with the return from Babylon, as appears from the localities specified in ver. 13, which were to be re-occupied, and which are the same as in ch. xxxii.; but as in the second part of it, the prophet goes on to foretell, in plain terms, of Christ's kingdom, we postpone the consideration of it till afterwards. The prophecy in ch. xvi. 14, 15, also, evidently refers to the period of the return from Babylon, but calls for no particular remark.
In Zechariah we find language used of the restored people and their reviving commonwealth, very similar to that contained in the predictions of Jeremiah; and we pass on to his statements, as the next in order to those we have been examining. In ch. i. 16, the Lord declares, that he "was returned to Jerusalem with mercies," and that not only should his house be again built in it, but "his cities should yet through prosperity be spread abroad," and he would "yet comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem." In ch. ii. 4, the prophet is assured, that "Jerusalem should be inhabited (or rather, should dwell) in towns without walls, for the multitude of men and cattle therein." Such a great increase and flow of prosperity would be given to her, that the ancient boundaries would be quite insufficient to contain them; and so near would the Lord dwell to her, so gracious and faithful would he be in his dealings to her, that he would be himself "a wall of fire round about, and the glory in the midst of her." And that this referred, not to some far distant period and altogether different era in the church's history, is evident from the circumstances in which the word was delivered, being designed to comfort the afflicted remnant, and, still more conclusively, from the call immediately addressed to the children of Zion, to make haste and "deliver themselves from the land of the north, and from the winds of heaven, whither they had been driven," ver. 7. Then follow intimations to the effect, that in consequence of the Lord's having returned to choose Jerusalem and manifest in her his glory, the nations of the earth would be restrained from doing them harm, and not only so, but would "be joined to the Lord and become his people," ver. 8-11. Again, in ch. viii., the Lord begins with declaring his jealousy for Zion, and says, "I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts, the holy mountain." The populous and flourishing state of Jerusalem is then described, ver. 4 and 5; and, conscious that such prospects were fitted to provoke a smile of unbelief or ridicule, from the extreme contrast they presented to the existing desolations, the Lord asks, ver. 5, "If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvellous in mine eyes?" He declares it to be his purpose "to bring his people from the east and from the west, and make them dwell in the midst of Jerusalem," and that "they should be his people, and he their God, in truth and in righteousness," ver. 7, 8. Then follows an exhortation to the people, who were engaged in building the temple, to be strong and of good courage, for the Lord was going to deal differently with the residue of his people from what he had done before they began to build, that he would make their land prosperous, and themselves, "both the house of Judah and the house of Israel, a blessing." He had thought good to punish them when their fathers provoked him by their sins, but now, says he, "I have thought in these days to do well unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah," ver. 9-15. Commands are next given to hate sin and do good, and to keep the statutes of God—clearly implying, that thus only could they now, as always, secure the promised blessings, which disobedience would inevitably alienate from them, however definitely guarantied. And then, as the result of the whole, it is foretold, that other nations, and the inhabitants of other cities, should yet vie with each other in going to seek and pray before the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem; and that, so great should be the regard cherished toward the Jew, and so evident the blessing which rested on him, that as many as ten men of other tongues would be found taking hold of the skirt of his garment, and saying, "We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you." The whole is evidently a continuous line of prophecy, containing a series of promised blessings to the good portion of the returned captives, as the threatenings delivered in the preceding chapter were addressed to the hypocritical and bad portion. And that "the primary, proper, and grammatical sense" of the prediction was designed to have its fulfilment in the state of things then being, and afterwards to arise in connexion with that second city and temple, is clear from two indubitable marks: 1. From the mention of "these days" in the portion, ver. 9-15, the now and henceforth so pointedly stated, in contrast to the then and in former days. 2. From the reference in ver. 19, to the fast days, which had been set apart in commemoration of, and in humiliation for, the different stages of God's judgments towards them by the hand of the Babylonians— the laying siege to Jerusalem, the capture of the city, the burning of the temple and their other fine buildings, and the slaying of Gedaliah, causing the dispersion of the remnant that had still been left, (comp. Jer. lii. 4, 6, 7, 12, 13; 2 Kings xxv. 25.) It was in connexion with one of these, that the prophecy in the 7th and 8th chapters was delivered—the fast of the fifth month, kept on account of the destruction of the temple, and which the people thought might now be discontinued, as the new temple was, in the good providence of God, well nigh finished. They, therefore, sent to inquire at the priests and prophets in the temple concerning this matter, ch. vii. 1, 2, on which the prophet delivers a twofold message, one of severe reproof and solemn warning to the hypocritical portion of the people, to the effect that they had never yet properly fasted to the Lord, because they were still at heart wedded to the sins which had provoked the judgments of Heaven, and that they had reason to fear a repetition of the punishments inflicted on their fathers; but in the other, which occupies the whole of the 8th chapter, he speaks to the better portion, and does so in words of the greatest promise and encouragement. And in ver. 19, he tells them, that so happy would be the change, which the Lord was going lo bring over their affairs, that those days of fasting would become days of joy and gladness—which could only be said, of course, in reference to the Jerusalem then existing, and the state of things immediately in prospect.
We shall speak to the fulfilment of the above prophecy, after we have produced another of a somewhat similar nature from a different prophet. Meanwhile, let the fact be borne in mind, that whatever the fulfilment may be, it must, if the prophecy has proved true, have already taken place; and by this let us judge what account is to be made of the conclusions often so confidently drawn from other prophecies, less definite and precise as to the time when the fulfilment was to be expected, but precisely similar in language and import. Thus Isa. i. 26-28, Zech. xiv. 20, 21, and many such, are brought forward, in which it is declared, that Jerusalem was not only to be rebuilt and inhabited anew, but to be filled with righteousness, and be emphatically a holy city; and it is affirmed, that as this has never been literally verified in the history of Jerusalem as a whole, another Jerusalem has yet to be built, in which that character will be fully realized. If such conclusions be well founded, it is manifest, that we must have one principle for interpreting such prophecies, and another for the one before us,—or, as that cannot be admitted, that if they can only stand by the future establishment of such a universally holy city, this has not been verified. For of the Jerusalem built after the return from Babylon, the Lord expressly said, that "he had returned to it, that he would dwell in it, that it should be called, a city of truth, a holy mountain," &c. But if this was a true prediction, and has been verified in its real import, and if there is only one species of interpretation for prophecies already fulfilled, and prophecies yet future, those other prophecies referred to, supposing them to be still future, cannot absolutely require a third Jerusalem, having all its people holiness to the Lord.
The other prophecy to which we referred, belonging to a different prophet, is the eminent one in Hag. ii. 6-9; "For thus saith the Lord of Hosts, Yet once it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of Hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of Hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of Hosts; and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of Hosts." It is now admitted, we believe, by all expositors of competent learning and judgment, that what is here rendered "the desire of all nations," cannot refer to Christ personally. It was so understood by Jerome, who explained it as meaning "the person desired by all nations," (desideratus cunctis gentibus.) He was followed by many of the older interpreters. Calvin, however, even in his day, though he did not altogether reject this view, and raised no objection against it on philological grounds, yet seeing how ill it suited the connexion, preferred understanding the words, "of the nations coming and bringing with them whatever was precious, to consecrate it to the worship of God; they would not come empty, but would collect all their treasures, as a sacred offering to God." Hengstenberg has so thoroughly investigated the subject in his Christology, that it is scarcely possible for any one, who candidly considers what he has written, to entertain a doubt of the inapplicability of the expression to the person of Christ,—although that by no means destroys, as Davison insinuates, the Christian sense of the prediction. Sack thus briefly states the two reasons, which conclude against such a personal reference: "It cannot denote the Messias, partly because of the plural, (it is literally, the desires, or rather, as Hengstenberg shows, the beauties—the beautiful, precious, or glorious things of the nations,) partly on account of the connexion, according to which the shaking of the heathen, and the filling of the temple with silver and gold requires, ***, (desires or beauties,) to be taken in the sense of, 'precious things of the heathen.' This is confirmed by the passage, Hosea xiii. 15, and Neh. ii. 9, where vessels of desire (or beauty) are spoken of; also 1 Sam. ix. 20." If any thing can be reckoned certain about this remarkable prophecy, it is the necessity of finding its fulfilment in the affairs connected with that second temple; for the things which were to happen are all viewed in immediate reference to "this house,"— the temple then in process of erection. Its mean outward appearance, as compared with that of Solomon, had filled the people with desponding thoughts, who naturally regarded it as a fair indication of what their condition generally was to be. But the prophet comes forth in the name of the Lord to assure them that it was to be the centre of a power and influence far beyond what ever Solomon's attained to, that the surrounding heathen nations, shaken from their carnal security by mighty commotions, would come to it, bringing with them their silver and gold and precious things, and that not only should its glory exceed that of the first temple, but it should become in the highest sense a scene and centre of peace. A flowing of the nations to Jerusalem, a free and liberal contribution of their wealth and glory to the temple of God there, and the ratification, while it stood, of the covenant of peace, properly so called, are what the prophet Haggai clearly warranted the church to expect some time, at least, before that state and constitution of things passed away, which commenced at the restoration from Babylon.
Before speaking to the true interpretation of this prophecy and the preceding one, we may just advert to the ground, which this one point concerning it, viz. its clear and palpable reference to the affairs connected with, or growing out of the second temple, provides for convicting of falsehood, the species of interpretation, which is applied to a parallel class of prophecies,—of which the 60th chapter of Isaiah may be taken as the most eminent example. The delineation given there, is entirely of a piece with the prophecy in Haggai. For what are its leading features? The erection of a city and temple surpassingly beautiful and glorious, to which the nations of the earth bring their contributions, vieing one with another in their endeavours to advance the work, and to lavish on it what is most rare, precious, and costly, and which the Lord also distinguishes with his peculiar presence and blessing. The vision is a mere extension and filling up of the outline, which is drawn by Haggai, (as also still more briefly by Zech. ii. 11,) where, as we have seen, a temple filled with glory, sought unto and adorned by the heathen nations and blessed with the peculiar manifestations of God's presence and goodness, are promised to those who waited for the consolation of Israel after the return from Babylon, and in connexion with the state of things then existing, or immediately in prospect. Now if the delineation in Isaiah imperatively demands a future restoration of Israel, and stands over till then for its fulfilment, the conclusion is inevitable, that the parallel delineation in Haggai must in like manner stand over for the same. But what, then, becomes of the faithfulness of God, and the veracity of his prophet, who expressly joined those coming glories to that second temple, and on that ground alone proclaimed its superiority to the first? To transfer these glories to some future temple, not to be built till thousands of years after the second one had been laid in ruins, is as much as to say. that they were put by the prophet in the wrong place, and that as spoken by him, a false vision has been given. But if we shrink from such conclusions,—if the prophecy has met with its fulfilment in the past, then there being only one legitimate species of interpretation for like prophecies, whether referring to past or future, it is vain to point to such predictions as that in Isaiah, for conclusive proof of a still coming restoration.
What, however, is the true mode of interpreting those prophecies in
Haggai and Zechariah, by which, as having entered already on their
fulfilment, we would rule the interpretation of so many others? Shall
we go about to distinguish between a literal and a spiritual
interpretation? Not certainly in the sense in which these expressions
are commonly understood. For we believe the language has but one
primary, proper, and grammatical sense,—only in searching for that, we
must not look at the bare words, but, according to the canon of
Vitringa, must view them in connexion with the circumstances of time
and action, and the evident scope and design of the prophet. We must
remember that it is the characteristic of prophecy and promise in
general, to take its hue and shape from the occasion and circumstances
that gave rise to it, and that we can only get at the real substance by
looking through the peculiar type and form, in which it happens for the
time to lie embodied. Who can fail to discern this in the first
prophecy? Is he not fitly taken for an ignorant novice or a shallow
unbeliever, who sees there nothing but the outward serpent? That was
merely the shell, which the existing circumstances happened to supply,
the kernel lies within. And so we may say of, by far the greater part
of the delineations given of prospective blessedness and glory,—at
least, when the scene is laid in a state of things essentially
different from the present. It is under the form and aspect of the
present, that the future must then be pictured to our view; for thus
only can we obtain any distinct and fitting apprehension of the object
in prospect. Thus, the promise is given to a downcast and mourning
people, that the Messiah would come to give them "beauty for ashes, the
oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of
heaviness," (Isa. lxi. 3.) Would it not have betrayed childish
ignorance of the language and purport of holy writ, for any one to have
expected Christ to go about with vessels of oil, and changes of
raiment? In like manner, to a people who had long observed days of
fasting and humiliation on account of past calamities, the prophet
Zechariah holds out the promise, that these days should be turned into
seasons of mirth and gladness, on account of the prosperity that should
be poured into their lot. Would any one but a simpleton ever think of
turning over the pages of history, to learn whether precisely those
very days had been set apart and observed as special holy days? The
Psalmist declares, that the Lord would rain "fire and brimstone" upon
his adversaries, (Ps. xi. 6,) and Isaiah predicts of Idumea, that "its
streams should be turned "into pitch, and its dust into brimstone,"
that the land should become "burning pitch, and its smoke go up for
ever," (chap, xxxiv. 9, 10.) Do we find any traces of such rain and
burnings in history? No, neither should we ever dream of finding
them,—for the prophets are manifestly foretelling judgments upon the
wicked, with the doom of Sodom and Gomorrah before their eyes, viewing
that as a type of what was to come, and throwing it into that form
merely to give it a more vivid realization to the mind. Or, to look
forward to the still indubitably future world, when we are told of the
remembrance-books of the great assize, or a place in Abraham's bosom,
or access to the tree of life, in the midst of the paradise of God, or
the wearing of a crown of righteousness and glory, and many other
things of a like nature,—is it for a moment to be supposed, that the
gross reality is what is there to be expected? Is not rather the unseen
future clothed in the hue and aspect of what is known and familiar,
that the idea may assume in the mind a more vivid and substantial
existence? It is for this purpose that prophecy throws its delineations
of coming good or evil so much into the form, of existing relations,
and current or past transactions, which were all so ordered and
arranged by God, as fitly to represent and image forth the things that
were to be hereafter; and hence the glowing character of those
delineations, which, but for such a reference to the present and the
past, must have been comparatively cold and lifeless. If we do not bear
in mind this characteristic of prophecy, we can never apply to it a
uniform principle of interpretation, and we shall be in danger of
stumbling at every step.
Let us view the prophecy in Haggai in the light of these remarks, and we shall find no difficulty in understanding its real import. "What was to believers the deepest ground of their distress in beholding the plan of the new temple? Certainly, not that the taste was not satisfied by a beautiful edifice. They beheld rather in the relation of the new temple to the former, a copy of the present relation of God to themselves, a matter-of-fact declaration, that his favour had departed from them, a matter-of-fact prophecy, that it would not return. From the temple, the existing seat of the divine kingdom, they argued to the nature of the kingdom itself. The distress, therefore, related to what was external, only so far as they regarded it as a copy of what was internal. This form of the distress determined also the form of the consolation. Like the distress, it also had a shell. Without this, it would not have been consolation for them. They stood on the point of view belonging to the Old Testament, under which they lived. To them, as their distress showed, the kingdom of God was inseparable from the temple. God, therefore, caused the assurance to be imparted to them, under the form of a prediction of the glorification of the temple, which they were to be encouraged to build, that he had not rejected his people, that all his promises were ever yea and amen, that his now despised kingdom should hereafter, when his time arrived, surpass all the kingdoms of the world in glory. There is, undeniably, a true divine accommodation, which distinguishes itself from the unjustly praised art, by having to do only with the form of the truth, while that perverts its very essence. This true accommodation runs through all God's deeds and discourses from paradise to Christ, (and we may add, from Christ to paradise again.) What else was it, when he promised to his disciples a hundred-fold more of earthly goods, than they should lose on his account? What else, when he encouraged them by the prediction, that they should sit on twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel? When he allowed their supposition, that there was such a thing as sitting on his right hand and on his left,and did not correct this form, in which the idea must necessarily be represented, in accordance with their education and spiritual taste, but only their erroneous view regarding the conditions of this honour, which had respect to the essence and was rooted in sin? Or when, without meeting the erroneous physical conceptions, which might in the minds of his disciples be so easily connected therewith, he taught them to pray to a God in the heavens? Such an accommodation is found in all that he reveals, either personally, or by his apostles, concerning the state after death,and the kingdom of glory. He gives it to us precisely as the description of the paradisiacal condition, in the form in which we can comprehend it. Should he entirely withhold from us the idea, because it is inconceivable by us in its own proper form? Or, ought we not to speak with children at all of heaven, because we can only speak with them concerning it in a childish manner? Rather, the childish form of the idea is exactly the true one for the child. For only in this form is the idea comprehensible by him. Every other would lead him into error in respect to the very essence."
We have given the whole of this admirable statement, because it brings more fully out the principle, which must be applied to determine the real sense of this, and many similar prophecies. In fact, on any other principle we must find both promise and prediction failing us at almost every step. Certainly the above prophecy of Haggai must do so, on the ground taken up by recent writers, as well as that occupied by the Jews; for if the idea must have been realized in its very form—if an actual glorification of the temple by the contributions of the heathen nations, in costly and precious things, so as to make it surpass Solomon's, was absolutely necessary, according to the terms of the prophecy, in their more obvious sense, then the destruction of that temple has proved the fallacy of the prediction, and no future temple can possibly verify it. No destruction of it, as Hengstenberg has justly remarked, "could consist with the credibility of the prophet, but one, which according to the idea would be a glorious improvement—a decay, like that of the seed-corn, which perishes in the earth in order to bring forth much fruit." In this sense, but only in this, the prophecy has already received a glorious fulfilment, and will be ever receiving it more and more—though only in the new heavens and the new earth will the truth it unfolds be realized in its fullest magnitude. The temple, considered as the seat and centre of the kingdom in its second stage of development, has been unspeakably glorified. It first of all received Christ, God manifest in the flesh, himself the head of the kingdom, in whom, along with his redeemed church, the temple, so to speak, cast off, like the chrysalis, its exterior form, and was raised aloft to the region of things spiritual and divine. This new and living temple, into which the other had properly risen and merged, and not that outer shell, was henceforth the seat and centre of the kingdom of God; to this the nations have from the first continued to flock, bringing their consecrated gifts; from this the covenant of peace has been perpetually going forth; and when this temple shall be set up in all its glory on the renovated earth, as a place prepared for its reception, nothing shall be wanting to complete the sublime idea of the vision.
The same principle every where appears in the prophecies of Zechariah. We have already referred to his prediction about the fast days being turned into holydays of joy, as one proof. So also in the same chapter must be understood what is said of the flowing of men to the theocracy—which is represented under the form of ten men, out of all languages, taking hold of a Jew's garment and insisting upon going along with him, (to the temple, of course, the seat of the theocracy,) because God was so manifestly with him. Must precisely ten men do this? And must every Jew, like his forefathers, wear long and flowing garments, that he may have breadth of skirt enough to admit of its being done? Shall we not rise above such wretched puerilities, and believe, that the Jew stands there for the representative in every age of the members, as he alone was then a member, of the kingdom of God —that his going to the temple is the outward form of the idea of fellowship and communion with God, arising out of the nature of the Old Testament worship—and that the action of ten men towards him, denotes the passing away of the depression and reproach then resting on the members of the kingdom, and the coming in its stead of the highest honour and enlargement! Such, undoubtedly, is the substance of the prophecy, which is already realized in part, and only waits for the manifestation of the sons of God, to be so in full. In like manner must be understood what is said also, in that chapter, of the character of Jerusalem, as a city of truth, a mountain of holiness—and what is said in Jeremiah to the same effect, both in the passages already quoted and elsewhere. During the time that the temple and Jerusalem stood, and formed the centre of the divine kingdom and worship, there was a partial fulfilment of what in this respect was promised; but only, of course, in so far as it was such a centre, and was the resort of the true covenant-people. Viewing the predictions as promises, it was to these alone that they were made, and in their character and experience alone that the expected good was in any measure realized. But from the moment that Christ was glorified, as the temple and Jerusalem lost their original character, and were no longer the one, the proper dwelling-place of Jehovah, the other, the chosen city—as the Jerusalem and the temple in this sense, that is, as the habitation of God, and the seat of the true religion, then rose heavenwards with its divine Head, waiting the times of restitution, (Gal. iv. 26, Rev. xx. 2,) it is in that higher region, or in the history and destiny of the Now Testament church, that we are to look for what yet remains to be fulfilled of such predictions. So long as God's house needed to have an outward and local position upon earth, it continued to have it; he encamped round about it, according to his own word, drew towards it all his sincere worshippers from every quarter, and made it the fountain of whatever holiness and peace existed in his church; and when Christ came and finished his work, he did not mean to take from his people a centre-place of meeting and fellowship with God, but only shifted its position, so to speak, from earth to heaven, made it independent of time and place, and instead of saying, "You shall find me here," or "go to meet me there," he said, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world," and to the uttermost parts of the earth. So that Zion, considered as the seat of his kingly government, is always a holy mountain, and Jerusalem, as the centre of true worship and holy influences, abides still, and in higher perfection, than before; beyond the reach of accident or violence, it cannot be removed or plucked up for ever.
It would cause us to travel over an immense field, were we to take thus all the passages of prophetical scripture which bear upon the subject before us. But that cannot be necessary, as if once the principle, on which they are to be expounded, is fairly established, there is comparatively little difficulty, or room for difference of opinion in regard to particular examples. We shall, therefore, select only such as more clearly and conclusively bring out the principle; after which, we shall confirm what they establish, by adducing examples of predictions, which the providence of God, the great interpreter of prophecy, has rendered absolutely impossible of fulfilment on any other principle—both in the case of the Jews and in that of other nations and countries.
As a clear and incontrovertible proof of the soundness of view given concerning the temple, chiefly from the prophecy of Hosea, we appeal to the prediction in Zech. vi. 9—15. Here we have Joshua, the high-priest, set up as a type of Christ, and by the action of a crown, (lit. crowns or diadems, but only one, made up of several, to be expressive of a higher dignity, comp. Rev. xix. 12,) formed of the silver and gold brought by the deputies from Babylon, and placed upon the high-priest's head, was signified, what Christ should be and do. He was to be both priest and king, a priest upon his throne; and he should build the temple of the Lord. In predicting this latter part, the words are peculiarly emphatic, "And he shall build the temple of the Lord, even he shall build the temple of the Lord;" as much as to say, "The temple you are now building is but a preparatory and temporary concern—it is only the shell and shadow of what is to be—the temple, in its true and proper sense, is to be built by other and nobler hands, it shall be the work of Messiah, though he will admit inferior instruments to share with him in the work—persons that shall come even from the farthest distances, (ver. 15,) and who are represented by these deputies who have come from Babylon, bringing their contributions to aid in erecting this material building.'' Here we have a word of prophecy given apparently for the express purpose of teaching the church in what sense the temple was to be understood, when spoken of in reference to Messianic times. The prophet speaks as if it were that very fabric then in process of erection, which Messiah was to build, while yet nothing can be more certain, than that it is of another and higher kind of edifice that he is discoursing. He is endeavouring, in fact, to get the people to elevate their ideas, as to what the temple or dwelling place of the Lord must really be;—the habitation of one, who is emphatically a Spirit, it could not fitly be a gross and material framework built by men's hands, but something of a far higher order, composed of living stones, and beautified with ornaments of the Spirit. Such unquestionably is the only house of God Messiah could with any propriety be said to build; and as his doing this is described here as the building of the temple, we are furnished with a striking proof of the principle, that prophecy often writes out its delineations of the future under the shape and aspect of the past, and are prepared to expect similar exemplifications of the principle in other prophecies.
Very similar is the expression, and requiring a similar explanation, found in Dan. ix. 24. respecting the Messiah, "to anoint the Most Holy," or rather, a holy of holies. That this cannot refer to any act of consecration upon the second temple is evident; for even the first temple was not anointed with holy oil, and the Jews themselves admit, that such oil was wanting during the second. Besides the expression in the original here is not the, but a holy of holies, which is never used of the most holy place in the earthly sanctuary. Neither can it be referred, with many, to the Messiah, for the expression is never used of persons, but always of things, such things as possessed a peculiarly sacred character, and were holy in a higher sense than other holy things,—the altar of burnt-offerings, the vessels in the sanctuary, &c. (see Hengst. in loco.) The Lord commanded Moses to anoint with holy oil the tabernacle and its vessels, as well as the ministering priests, (Ex. xxx. 22, sq. xl. 9, sq.,) and it is well known, that all such anointings were typical of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, (1 Sam. x. 1, 6, xvi. 13, 14, Jas. v. 14, 1 John ii. 20, 27, Acts x. 38, &c.) What is it, then, that at the coming of Christ was to be anointed as a holy of holies, with the gifts and graces of the Spirit? Plainly, the new temple or tabernacle, the church of the living God, which even under the Old Testament was sometimes represented under that appellation, as appears not only from the prophecy last considered in Zechariah, but such passages also as Ps. xv. 1, xxvii. 4, 5, lxxxiv. 4. And much more is the language appropriate now, under the dispensation of the Spirit, which is poured out for the purpose of converting the dead hearts of men into living stones, and building them up as a holy temple to the Lord. At the very time, therefore, that Daniel was foretelling the desolation which was to come over the material temple, he was intimating the consecration of a new and higher one. And speaking, as he thus does, of the church, in language precisely adapted to the material temple, presenting the spiritual idea under that type and form, he teaches us how to understand such language when used elsewhere; in other words, he confirms the principle of interpretation, that when future things are predicted in the shape of past or existing things, it is the reproduction, not of the outward and literal form, but of the inward and essential idea, that is to be expected. We might also adduce in proof of the same from Daniel, what he says in ch. viii. 14, about "the sanctuary being cleansed,"—if that be, as is very commonly thought, a still prospective event. The expression, says a late writer, an advocate for the literal restoration of the Jews, "cannot mean, that the beggarly elements of the Jewish law are to be restored. It must be understood in a gospel sense. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink... Applied to the Jews, to whom the passage immediately refers, the cleansing of the sanctuary signifies their conversion to God," &c. (Wodrow, p. 79.) But why natural Jews, if a spiritual sanctuary? Are we to have one species of interpretation for one part of the prophecy, and a different one for another? No; the prophecy is another example of the principle, that not the very form and image, but the essence in a higher style, of Old Testament things is predicted in such language—something bearing the same relation to the New, that they did to the Old Testament church.
Another example may betaken from Zechariah, in a prediction very closely related to that recently explained, ch. iii. 6-10, where Christ is foretold as the antitype of Joshua and his fellows, (that is, the one who should truly and properly fill the priestly office,) and when he should come, the Lord says, he would "remove the iniquity of that land in one day." What land? Undoubtedly the land of Judea. And why only that? Not, certainly, because the people who dwelt in it should alone experience the benefits of Christ's mediation; but simply, because it was then the proper abode of God's covenant-people, and is hence taken as a fit designation of their abode every where and in all ages. But a more striking and unequivocal example may be found in another vision of Zechariah, that contained in ch. v. 5-11, under the image of a woman, whose name was Wickedness, being put into an ephah, (a measure somewhat less than our bushel, and consequently incapable of holding a female figure without considerable violence,) compressed into it and kept down, by a heavy weight upon the top, and afterwards carried away on the wings of the wind and set down for a permanent dwelling in the land of Shinar or Babylon. It is not the judgment and ruin of Babylon which is here predicted, as our translators have unhappily written in the heading of the chapter; for the punishment threatened is evidently an exile to the land of Shinar, and how could that be predicted of the inhabitants of the land itself? It had been no punishment for them, but the reverse, to be settled and built as a house in the land of Shinar. There can be no doubt that it is the people of Judea who form the subjects of the vision, and who are represented as again growing up to a state of extreme wickedness, first restrained and chastened for their iniquities, and then, when that would not suffice, driven, as before, into a region of banishment. The region is called "the land of Shinar," not as if it were to be that very district, but, in accordance with the principle now under consideration, because that had already been, and was familiarly known, as a land of banishment. The people were going to repeat substantially the wickedness of their fathers, and the doom of their fathers was to be meted to them. The same thing is intimated in plain terms in ch. vii.
Another passage in this prophet may also be referred to, as an unanswerable proof of the prophetic style being what we represent it; that, viz., in ch. xi. 13, which speaks of what was to be done with the thirty pieces of silver, the price at which the ungrateful and wicked people (personified at last in Judas) rated the good Shepherd. "And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter; a goodly price that I was prized at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord," i. e. cast them down in the house of the Lord, that they might be conveyed to the potter; its being done in the temple indicates, that it was a solemn transaction, but the money being the price of blood, and also in the strictest sense unlawful gain, it could not be allowed to remain thereat must be sent to the potter. But why specially to the potter? Who was he? And do we hear of any such person actually existing at the time when this symbolical transaction became matter of history? We hear of none such, nor have we any reason to suppose, that any real personage in that line of business had the least connexion with the money given to Judas for his treachery. It is here, that the principle of interpretation, which we advocate, comes in, and on it alone can we educe a meaning from the words of the prophecy conformable to the truth of history. The prediction here rests on that of Jer. xix., and must be interpreted in connexion with it. By referring thither we learn, that the potter wrought in an unclean place, in the valley of the son of Hinnom, which had been the scene of the most horrid and abominable rites of idolatry, and marked as a place of infamy. Josiah polluted it with bones and dead flesh, 2 Kings xxiii. 10. Hence the Jews used to say of it, that there was the mouth of hell. And just as Jeremiah was there commanded to break the bottle in pieces, in token of the Lord's purpose to shatter and destroy the people because of their sins, so here the price of the good Shepherd was to be, as it were, cast there— into the very place where their abominations in former times had cried so loud for vengeance, and where, by the action of Jeremiah, it had been foreshown, that as an abominable thing they were to be thrown down and dashed in fragments, as fit only for destruction, and that in the most detestable of places. The children were substantially to repeat over again the guilt of their fathers, and to make that guilt appear more palpable and offensive it is brought again into contact with the worst characters and relations of ancient times.
Zechariah is by no means singular in the use of such language. We find the other prophets adopting the same method, and sometimes in a way which prevents almost the possibility of any mistake as to their meaning. Thus Hosea, ch. viii. 13, ix. 3, says, "Now will he remember their iniquity and visit their sins; they shall return to Egypt." Why to Egypt? Manifestly because that had been once the house of bondage, and is the type or representative of the future house; to make the idea of the future more striking and palpable, it is thrown into the terrific form of the past. Even Horsley, with all his predilection for another mode of interpretation, admits this to be the meaning of the prophet here, and calls "returning unto Egypt" a proverbial expression for conveying the idea above mentioned— although it is no more a proverbial expression than many others of a like nature, with which the word of prophecy abounds. We find a precisely similar use of the past in ch. ii. 14, where Israel is made to pass again through the wilderness, as on her way from Egypt, visited there with peculiar tokens of the Lord's kindness, and even the valley of Achor is specified as the scene of a trouble which should issue in hope. Is it for one moment to be supposed, that the journeyings in the desert are to be literally retraced by the natural Israel, and the same transactions, which occurred there centuries before, repeated over again? Assuredly not. Horsley, therefore, speaks in his comment of "her outcast state in the wilderness of the Gentile world," and treats those past events in Israel's history as only representing similar ones in her future history. But if the transactions were typical, why not also the people whom they concerned, and the land that people were going at the time to occupy? Surely if the prophecy speaks in one respect of a recurrence of past scenes, merely that it may more vividly portray and certainly indicate similar ones in the future, it must be a similar people also, in whose case they are to happen—that is, not the natural Israel, but the spiritual—those, who are now, what they were then, the true covenant-people. And there can be no more a future restoration in Canaan, than there shall be a future deliverance from Egypt, a future wilderness, or a future valley of Achor.—Precisely similar is the representation given in Mal. iii. 2, 3, of the effect of Christ's appearing under the image of refining and purifying the members of the old covenant, and in particular the sons of Levi—which even Horsley cannot avoid explaining thus: "The worship of God shall be purged of all hypocrisy and superstition, and reduced to a few simple rites, the natural expressions of true devotion. 'And then shall this offering of Judah and Jerusalem (i. e. of the true members of God's true church) be pleasant unto the Lord.'"
The many prophecies, which speak of David as the future king of the returning or restored people, belong also to this head. Those who insist on a fulfilment according to the very letter, should of course hold, that the identical son of Jesse, who of old reigned over Israel, must do so again. There cannot be, if we are to have one species and a uniform principle of interpretation, a literal Israel, and an antitypical David. If the word Jew still stands simply for a Jew, the word David must in like manner do so for David. Or if, on the other hand, Christ comes in the room of David, Christ's people must surely come in the room of David's subjects. And it is a mongrel species of interpretation which would make only the one and not the other pass into the antitype, which insists on having the literal Israel only for the heritage of the spiritual David. Nay more, David must have his sons again succeeding him on the throne: for what says Jeremiah? "As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured; so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me," (Jer. xxxiii. 22.) To such absurdities are we reduced by the method of interpretation which looks to the naked words merely, and does not take into account the occasion and scope, the circumstances of time and action. Is it not clear as noon-day, that the prophet is here assuring the church of a perpetual King, a glorious Head to watch over, defend, and guide her affairs, and a never-failing supply of faithful and 'holy ministrations—and that, as the condition requisite for this under the old covenant was a constant succession in the houses of David and Levi, so he presents it under this form, as the one most easily and distinctly apprehensible by those who then lived? But if we must so understand what is there written of David and Levi, and the multiplication of their seeds respectively, with what consistence can we understand what is also written there of Judah and Jerusalem, of their restored prosperity and glory, otherwise than as a prediction of the good awaiting the whole church and kingdom of Christ—the city and people whereof he is King? No, say many, it must be the very city, the very throne, the very people of David—and till Christ come in the flesh, as the son of David, and Jerusalem be built again, and the national Israel restored to it, "the throne of David must want its king, and the kingdom of David its Lord." But as David himself, as well as his seed, is said to reign, must he occupy it along with Christ? And as David's seed is to be multiplied like the stars, to secure an interminable succession, are both David and Christ to be subject to removal, that others may come in their room? For we say, in the language of the writer above referred to, "If we must take one part literally, let us be consistent, and take the whole in the same manner.'' But what says Peter to such a kind of literalities? He says, "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ;" and again, "Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins," (Acts ii. 30, v. 31.) Does this look like David's throne wanting its king? If Christ hath been exalted to be a Prince, is he not seated upon a throne? And if seated on a throne, what throne is it? Is it David's, or some other? Was there any other ever promised him? And if not David's, why should Peter be so anxious for all the house of Israel knowing that Christ had risen to his dominion? Can we, in fairness and candour, give any other exposition of Peter's sentiments than this: Jesus of Nazareth is the long-predicted son of David; he has taken possession of his father's throne; and it concerns all the seed of Israel to place themselves beneath his sway? We can see no other honest interpretation of Peter's words, and we read in them a plain attestation to the principle, that such prophecies take their hue and shape, indeed, from Old Testament relations, but that we must search farther and rise higher for the substance they contain.
We shall produce only another example of this, under the present series. It is the prophecy regarding the sending of Elijah in Malachi, which in the true spirit of ancient, as well as modern Jewish interpretation, we are told, must have its literal fulfilment in the resurrection and re-appearance of that prophet. The explanation of the angel, that John the Baptist was to be the messenger going before the Lord's face, that he should go in the spirit and power of Elijah, and that he should do precisely what the prophet foretold as the peculiar work of Elijah, viz. turn the hearts of the children to the fathers, &c.; all this goes for nothing with the writers in question. We even found one of them asserting that John did the very reverse of what the angel said he was to accomplish, and what the prophet predicted of Elijah. We have no hesitation, however, in taking the words of the angel in their native import, especially as we find that import confirmed, in the most express and unequivocal terms, by Christ himself, who, in answer to the question put to him by the disciples, "Why then say the scribes, that Elias must first come?" replied, "Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at naught. But I say unto you, that Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him." There is an apparent contradiction here, which the disciples could not reconcile, and which our Lord was desirous of making plain to them. There were two difficulties in the matter. 1. The non-appearance, or rather the sudden disappearance of Elias, after he had for a moment appeared on the mount of transfiguration, which did not seem to accord with the current opinion, that Elias was personally to come and do a great work in Israel before Christ. The removal of this difficulty consisted in the assurance that John was the person meant by Elias, having come in his spirit, and to do substantially his work over again. 2. But then, admitting this, another difficulty presented itself, viz. that John did not appear to have done the work, for which, as the second Elias, he was sent,—a work of effectual, permanent reformation, such as would restore the degenerate children of that generation to the spiritual condition of their pious forefathers, and make parent and child substantially one, had not, in point of fact, except to a very limited extent, been accomplished. And how was this to be explained? On the principle, our Lord told them, of which we had formerly occasion to adduce several examples, viz. that in foretelling what this Elias was to do, the Lord had respect to his own bountiful gift and gracious intentions, not to the way in which sin-might frustrate these. He refers to his own case, as precisely similar in this respect. Though foretold as the great restorer of Israel, who should redeem his people, and save them from the hands of all their enemies, he should suffer the most unworthy treatment, and the deepest sufferings at the hands of men, which would inevitably imply the exclusion of many from an interest in his work. In regard both to the Lord and his forerunner, it was true, that many "rejected the counsel of God against themselves," (Luke vii. 30.) Christ even says this was written of John.—not expressly written in Malachi's prediction of him, or any other, but implied in the very name by which he was designated, and the kind of work assigned him; for sent, as he was, to stir up such a thorough reformation and spiritual revival, as Elias was called to, he could not expect any thing but the like rough treatment. But still the counsel stood in regard to the elect few, whom God chiefly respected, and so far the promise was verified. Here, then, again, we have a prediction written out so exactly in the style of what was past in Israelitish history, that a carnal Jew or superficial inquirer was led to expect the personal appearance of Elias, while still the highest of all authority has assured us that quite another person was meant,—that the thing predicted was a New Testament idea, moulded after an Old Testament form;—and is it not simply to follow out the species of interpretation we are compelled and warranted to adopt in regard to this, and so many other cases, when in regard to precisely similar prophecies, written out in like manner, in the language of Old Testament events—the prophecies which speak of a restored Israel, a rebuilt Jerusalem, and a glorious temple, we cast off the form, and take the substance of the idea unfolded? When we think, in short, of a converted people, a redeemed and glorified church, and a renovated, blessed world for her possession and enjoyment? It is but to make the spirit of prophecy consistent with itself, and read the delineations of coming events by the light of past developments.
Were we to take into account the prophecies contained in Revelation, those written there concerning Babylon might be cited as eminent examples of the great principle we have been endeavouring to establish. For it admits of no question, that these refer, not to the ancient city of Babylon, nor to any city at all, but to a system or spiritual kingdom, which in many important respects has the same relation to the church now, that Babylon had of old; the same enemy, scourge, and oppressor, which the one had been to the election of the seed of Abraham, the other was to be for a time, to the spiritual election under the gospel dispensation; and hence the history and doom of the latter are presented to the eye of the evangelist under the aspect of those of the former, with the addition of certain features derived from ancient Tyre, in order to fill up and complete the picture. No one supposes it to be necessary that the ancient site or dominion of Babylon has any thing to do with the fulfilment of these New Testament prophecies; and it only requires the like mode of interpretation to be applied to the Old Testament prophecies concerning the restoration of the Jews, and the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, to arrive at the conclusion, that the real import of these is equally irrespective of the land and people of the literal Israel. Instead of enlarging further, however, upon any prophecies belonging to the class from which we have already cited so many examples, we shall rather direct attention very briefly to two special classes, which lend a peculiar confirmation to our principle of interpretation, as the providence of God, the great interpreter of prophecy, has rendered their fulfilment, on any other principle, absolutely impossible.
1. One of these classes bears reference in its terms to the Jews themselves, and their future destiny;—such, for example, as Zech. xii., where the different families of David, Nathan, Levi, and Shimei, are mentioned as having a separate existence, and as families partaking of the same spiritual experiences; and if these, of course the natural and obvious inference is, that the other ancient families might in like manner have been particularized, as the whole, land and all its families are described as sharing in the blessed revival. But it is matter of undoubted certainty, that all such distinctions have long ago ceased; the course of Divine Providence has swept them entirely away; not only the smaller branches and divisions of the Jewish family, but also the tribes themselves, have lost their separate existence; and from the very nature of the case, such distinctions, when once lost, can never be recalled,—the revival of them would imply, not the resuscitation of an old, but the creation of a new state of things. So long as any prophecies were depending for their fulfilment on the distinction of tribes and families, the distinction was preserved, and so too were the genealogical records to attest the fulfilment. These prophecies terminated in the son of Mary, the branch of the house of David, and lion of the tribe of Judah; and when he finished the work given him to do, as the vail, which separated the most holy place, was rent in twain, destroying the grand distinction at the centre, so every other distinction, to the utmost bounds of the system, was to be understood as falling along with it. Hence, we find the apostle discharging all from giving heed to endless genealogies, as no longer of any service in the church of God; and the providence of God shortly afterwards confirms the word, by scattering their genealogies to the winds, and fusing together in one undistinguishable, inextricable mass, the surviving remnants of the Jewish family. This prophecy, therefore, of Zechariah, (and the same substantially may be said of many similar ones,) being plainly rendered, by the providence of God, incapable of fulfilment in the literal sense, is a convincing proof of the soundness of our leading principle of interpretation; and when it speaks as if the old distinctions between Israel and Judah, of tribes and families and houses, were still in existence at the time to which it points, it is only to give life and colour to the delineation it presents of future things. It is a word both of mercy and of judgment. The judgment begins at the house of God, the nations of the earth coming up in hostile array against it, with the design of utterly subverting it: but God turns their counsel into foolishness; the stone they sought to roll for ever away, rushes back upon them with resistless fury; deliverance is obtained from the hand of the enemy; Jerusalem, the city of the living God, continues to sit secure in her place; and not only is the outward danger and distress made to pass away, but inward refreshment and life come in their room, and the church, through all her members and in all her families, presents a scene of extraordinary revival, as of life from the dead,—beginning, as such a work ever does, in deep abasement for sin, and yearnings of heart after Christ, and issuing in the complete abandonment of all that is idolatrous and unclean, (chap. xiii. 2-4.)
We cannot enter into any inquiry for the purpose of determining more exactly the import and bearing of the prophecy. But as another example of the same class, we would refer to Isaiah Ix. 13, where, speaking of the magnificence of the New Jerusalem, the prophet says, "The glory of Lebanon shall be brought to thee." That there was a glory of Lebanon in Isaiah's time, in its spacious forests of lofty cedars, we sufficiently know; but where is that glory now? "The flower of Lebanon languisheth," and "the fire hath devoured her cedars." It is from what Lebanon was to Jerusalem of old, not from any thing it is ever to be again, that we are to learn what the Spirit means in such a prediction; the best things of the past are employed to picture out the glories of the future; and in any other view the expression can hardly be said to have a meaning.
2. The other class of prophecies we referred to are such as make mention of other nations in respect to the future, sometimes alone, and at other times in connexion with Israel. Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Moab, &c., are constantly spoken of as having to do, whether for good or evil, in the promised restoration; and the three former, in particular, are named as the countries from which the restored are to come. No reason, except what is wholly fictitious and imaginary, can be rendered for this, but the fact, that these were the countries from which a restoration had already been, or was soon to be effected; the Jews have had no peculiar connexion with them since, for many centuries far less connexion than with various other regions, and such countries, as national powers, in which respect they are principally alluded to, are long since and irretrievably gone. The countries from which, the monarchies in spite of which, the restoration is to be effected, must be understood typically, as the most strenuous advocates of a literal restoration are constrained to allow; and how, then, in candour and consistence, can we avoid regarding typically also the country to which, and the people in whom? How incongruous were it not to mix up in one prediction, and interchange with one another, the antitypical adversary and a literal Israel, an antitypical Egypt or Babylon, and a literal Judah or Jerusalem? It is impossible, that the tried words of God can be so arbitrary and capricious. And then, if we take all in one sense, and that the simply literal, the whole ancient world of the east will need to be reproduced and come back again into life and action, as it was before. There must again appear the Midianites, the Philistines, the Edomites, the ships of Tarshish, &c., (Isa. Ix. 6, 9, xi. 14, lxiii., &c.) Tyre must also rise anew into existence, and with a better spirit, but with like success, ply her pursuits of merchandise, (Ps. xlv. 12, Isa. xxiii. 18.) Nay, the literal restoration of Israel to the holy land is to be no singular boon for them; the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Elamites, and others, not excepting even Sodom and the cities of the plain, are also to return from their captivity and resume their original position round Israel, (Jer. xlviii. 47, xlix , Ez. xvi.) Must we deny all history, and prostrate all reason to believe such things? Shall we not rather view the providence of God, in rendering them impossible, as clearly pointing the way to another mode of understanding this whole series of predictions, and putting its seal of confirmation upon the principle of interpretation we have been labouring to establish? Shall we not conclude, that the ancient objects, indeed, are past and gone, but that the ancient relations still substantially live, and that the future events foretold under the form and shadow of these shall be verified, not in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the spirit, on the far higher territory and more expansive field, which belongs to the church of the New Testament?
We can no otherwise give consistence to the revelations of God's mind and will, and obtain either a uniform or an enlarged view of his purposes. It has ever been the general character of his communications to his church, that they stand associated with manifold circumstances of place and time; and when prospective, as well as when immediate in their reference, they necessarily bear on them the type of past and present realities. And they do so, not arbitrarily, but from a reason grounded in the very nature of things. For all former good to the church, and evil to the adversaries of God, is a real pledge, a prophecy in action of similar good or evil hereafter in like circumstances to arise ; because the church, through all ages, is essentially one in its character and interests; its history, from first to last, is the history of one great family of God; and its prospects of future good are made to take their starting-point and their form from what has actually been experienced in the days that are past, in order, not only to convey a more distinct and palpable idea of the future, but also to keep before the eye of the church the important fact of her essential oneness, to lead her members in one age to realize her interest in what befell, or was promised to befall those of another, and especially to lead her to regard the past good, under the form of which the future was presented to her hope, as a reason for the promises respecting the latter being conferred, and a pledge of their certain fulfilment. For the fact that God had already blessed his people with much good, was a proof that he would do so again whenever their spiritual condition was such as to allow of him doing so. Hence, the great mass of God's promises to his church take the form of a recovery, a restoration, or restitution, to a state of things previously existing, and varying from time to time in its particular aspect according to the pre-existing state immediately in the eye of the prophet. The state of things before the fall is the type, after which one great class of prophecies is modelled, (for ex. Ps. viii., Isa. xi. 6-9, lxv. 17-25, Rev. xxiii.;) the signal deliverance from Egypt first, and afterwards from Babylon, the type of another, (for ex. Isa. xi. 10-16, where both deliverances are intermingled in he representation, and that in immediate succession to the promised return of paradisiacal bliss, Jer. 1., li., &c.;) the blessed rest, fulness of enjoyment, and manifold goodness, which was inherited in Canaan, especially in the times of David and Solomon, the type of another and far larger class, given for the most part when every thing wore an entirely different aspect, and pointing sometimes more immediately to one, sometimes to another feature of the departed good—such as the recovery of the land, or the new erection and revived glory of the temple, or the re-exaltation of the house of David, or the uninterrupted flow of peace and prosperity. And to regard all such prophecies, as we conceive they should be, in the light of typical delineations, drawn out in the form and pattern of former things, and to be interpreted by an eye to these as containing "not the very image, but a shadow only" of the other and better things to come, is just to suppose that God dealt by the facts of his special providence, as he did by the institutions of his symbolical worship—that both had, as we trust we formerly proved, sulistantially one character and design, and were capable of being alike employed in furnishing the ideas and the language for depicting the future prospects of the church. As the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in pressing on their acceptance the good things which had then come, takes his standing-point on the floor of the earthly tabernacle, so the prophets, in describing the prospect of the good things that were still to come, take their standingpoint on the floor of earthly dispensations, descrying in these the pattern of what was hereafter to be. And we should be as far from apprehending the real import of their representations by imagining the recurrence of the events to which they refer, as we should be in regard to the Epistle of the Hebrews by supposing the necessity in the New Testament church of a visible outer and inner sanctuary, real sprinklings with blood, or an actual door-way into the presence of God.
We conclude our dissertation by briefly noticing some of the leading arguments which are advanced on the other side.
1. That part of the predictions, respecting the Jews, which foretold what evils were to befall them, has been fulfilled to the letter; and it is unreasonable to suppose, and betrays something like an ungenerous spirit toward them, even to conceive, that the other and brighter side of the picture shall not be realized too. This is, no doubt, a plausible objection, but it is superficial; for it proceeds on an ignorance or disregard of the true ground of the prophetical delineations, viz. the typical character of the old relations. Admit this, and then of necessity there must be a literality so long as these stood, but no longer; whenever the antitype has come, the literality in that respect ceases. All interpreters are obliged to see ihis, whether they will or not, in regard to Egypt, Babylon, Moab, Tyre, Edom, &c.; and if they would go without prejudice or bias to the interpretation of Scripture, and with well-defined, well-grounded principles, we are persuaded they would soon see it in regard to the Jews also. But these Jews, it is said, as a people, inherit to this day a curse; and if they do, so long after the gospel antitypes have come, why may they not become subjects of blessing, as a people, when they return to the Lord, and get in their separate capacity the fulfilment of the promises? Just because their return carries in its very bosom the destruction of their separate being. So long as they maintain their separation, they are apostates and outcasts, and cannot but inherit, in the most literal sense, the curse, as all must do, who are in that condition. But though Levi and other Jewish, as well as many Christian writers, complain of it as a harsh supposition, that while the curse is thus literal and national, the promise is no farther to be fulfilled in them, than by their entering, on conversion, into the present blessings and future hopes of the Christian church, as if no proper good could be enjoyed by them, unless it were-earthly in its nature, and held by themselves alone,—this is merely to play upon appearances, and misapprehend the real nature of things. No man surely, who is looking for a solitary piece of bread, has reason to complain if he is treated in company with others to a sumptuous feast. The prophecies, viewed in the light we have endeavoured to represent them, unfold to the whole church of God far greater and better things, than the carnal Jew is anticipating; and if, coming to a better mind, he is treated to the possession of these, and at last rises to the inheritance of the saints in light, he will have reason to thank God for having done more and better for him, lhan he had conceived, and will find his portion of good enhanced, rather than diminished, by his having so many to share with him in its enjoyment.
2. It is further argued in support of a literal restoration of the Jews, that many of the prophecies bearing on the subject are very precise in their terms, and go much into detail—specifying, for example, the houses both of Israel and Judah, as alike interested in the coming good, and mentioning definite places and boundaries as again to be occupied. There can be no doubt that there are such specifications; but these by no means infer the unsoundness of our mode of interpretation, and the correctness of the other. A certain degree of speciality and detail was absolutely needful for the one view, as well as the other; and we may have the less hesitation in regarding the particulars actually given as typical delineations and individualizings of the general truths intended to be conveyed, since, if viewed otherwise, they will sometimes cross one another, or express manifest impossibilities. Thus, according to Malachi i. 11, every place is to be consecrated to God for the offering of incense and oblation; while, according to Isa. Ixvi. 23, and Zech. xiv. 16, all are to repair to the one temple at Jerusalem, to worship and keep the appointed feasts. And how often repair? Zechariah says only to keep the feast of tabernacles, (implying, by the very limitation, that not the carnal rite itself, but the idea symbolized by it, was in the mind of the prophet,) but Isaiah says from sabbath to sabbath. That this, in the naked and literal sense, exceeds all bounds of probability, and was consequently designed to teach, thai it should not be so understood, even Mr. Fry substantially admits, when he speaks of being doubtful "how far it is to be literally accomplished, or in what manner it is symbolical of something new in the kingdom of God;" although, we have no doubt, that the grand idea it embodies is, to use a portion of his own words, that "a real theocracy shall be established over all the nations, and shall extend its dominion to the utmost limits of the globe." But if the language here must be symbolical, why should we doubt its possessing this character elsewhere, when similar delineations are employed? In like manner, the accounts given in Zech. xiv., and Isa. lxvi., of the destruction of the Lord's enemies in the last great conflict, are considerably different,—perfectly consistent if viewed as symbolical representations of a grand idea, the sudden, complete, and terrible nature of the destruction, but contradictory if viewed as literally descriptive of an outward occurrence; for in the one case it is said to proceed by fire and sword, in the other by a plague. Again, what various, and in a literal sense, opposing representations are given of the state of things succeeding the restoration? Sometimes the land is spoken of as too narrow for its proper occupants, (Isa. xlix. 20,) and again, as able to accommodate strangers besides, (Ez. xlvii. 22;) sometimes as all converted into a level plain around Jerusalem and elevated, (Zech. xiv, 10,) and again as retaining its mountainous form, with the exception of the site of the temple, (Isa. ii.;) now it is David, who is to rule in the land, again a branch of David, and again a prince with sons, &c.:—all admitting of an easy explanation, if considered as typical or symbolical representations, but otherwise, at irreconcilable variance with each other. We do not need to except the most minute and specific descriptions, such as those given in Jer. xxxi. 30—40, Zech. xiv. 10, or the concluding chapters of Ezekiel, of the city to be rebuilt, which are all pregnant with great and important truths concerning the kingdom of God, though it would take us too long to investigate them here. For the first two, however, see Hengstenberg's Christology.
3. But certain declarations of Christ are alleged to prove the fact of a literal restoration and its several results. Luke xxi. 24, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled;" i. e. we are told, only till then—then she again revives—the identical Jerusalem again from a heap of ruins becomes a splendid city. Unwarranted and groundless inference, springing from a desire, too often manifested, to make Christ's testimony more express and positive than it really was. His words here simply declare, that as the kingdom was now to be taken from the Jews, and an earthly centre, like Jerusalem, was no longer needed, and as such a city would, if it existed, be but a delusion and a mockery, the providence of God would so order events, that it should never rise from its state of depression and misery during the whole continuance of this gospel-age. But the declaration goes no farther—it leaves all beyond a blank page, and to make it express more, is to fill it up with words of our own.—Acts i. 6, "Lord, (said the disciples to Jesus,) wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them. It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in his own power;" which means, it is confidently affirmed, that the kingdom is some time to be restored to Israel in the sense in which the disciples used the expression, only that they were to be kept ignorant of the time when that was to take place. Again, an inference without a just foundation. The disciples ask an improper question, prying with unsanctified curiosity into the hidden future, and the Lord returns an evasive answer, which was intended simply to rebuke such curiosity and to turn their thoughts into a more salutary direction. Just as, when Peter, (John xxi.) with unbecoming forwardness, asked what John was to do, and was repelled by the answer, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" from which, it would seem, the early disciples drew as hasty and groundless an inference as many in the present day do from the other.
4. The views and expectations of the Jews themselves are not unfrequenily appealed to as a proof, that the Hebrew prophets predict a real restoration; for that the Jews confidently expect such a restoration, admits of no doubt. But to go to them for light on such a question, is truly to go in the wrong direction; it is like asking the way from men whose eyes are sealed in darkness. If Christ could charge the most enlightened of them in his day with ignorance of the simplest truths, and the most grievous misapprehensions of the meaning of Scripture, much more might they be so charged now, when given up to judicial blindness and wedded to almost every form of error. That they should so uniformly look for a literal restoration and an earthly Jerusalem, should rather be taken as evidence to the contrary; more especially, as it is well known their expectations assume precisely the same carnal form that they did in the days of our Lord's flesh, and are mixed up with the most puerile absurdities. "They do not look," says Hyam Isaacs, "for a spiritual reign, but a temporal one, and Jerusalem they look upon as their paradise. And all the Jews, who have died and been buried since the creation of the world, will work their passage underground the same as moles, and rise on the very spot where the temple stood in the days of old." Then are to follow the royal banquet, the entertainment with flesh, fish, and fowl, at the golden table, exquisite wines, music and dancing, the carnal marriage of Messiah, &c. It is by a literal, or, as it should rather be termed, a carnal application of Scripture, that they have come to entertain such unworthy views. And the fact of their doing so, should not only be sufficient to prevent any appeal to them as authorities, but also to demonstrate the folly of such a mode of handling the word of God.
5. Lastly, the extraordinary preservation and unchanging nationality of the Jews is often pointed to as a clear sign from Heaven, that they are reserved for important purposes in their separate position, and that in their converted, as well as in their unconverted state, they are not to be mingled with the nations, but to dwell alone. Certainly there are many great purposes to be wrought out by the events of their history in both its stages. In their present peeled and scattered condition they are witnesses to the truth of God's threatenings, his righteous indignation against apostasy and unbelief, and the utter impossibility of men hardening their heart against him and yet prospering in their course. When they are brought back, as we know they shall be, by extraordinary manifestations of divine power and mercy, from all their wanderings, and look in faith to him whom they have pierced, they shall be witnesses, such as the world has never seen, on an extensive scale at least, to the everlasting truth of God's promises, the amazing depth of his goodness and mercy, and the omnipotence of his grace; so that their reception into the church shall be like life from the dead. But it is the church that is to receive them, not they who are, as it were, to receive the church; and beyond these results connected with their reception, we are not warranted by New Testament scripture to go concerning them. The apostle is silent in the Epistle to the Romans as to any thing farther. In Revelation also there is an ominous silence; not a word is dropt respecting them as a separate people, having a distinct and isolated standing in the Christian church, either before or after the final restitution of all things—most strange and unaccountable, if such a standing is really to belong to them, and is to possess the breadth and magnitude so often assigned to it. There is a sealed company of Jews there, but these beyond a question are a portion of the election of grace, connected with the present dispensation; also a Jerusalem, a temple, and an altar, but all belonging to the Christian church as a whole. And that the distinction was intended to cease always, and whenever the faith of the gospel was embraced, seems the plain and incontestable meaning of the declarations, that "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile," that "the middle wall of partition is broken down," &c.; nor was less indicated by the significant fact, at the threshold of the Christian dispensation, that the chief apostle of the circumcision first opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, while the apostle to the Gentiles every where made known the message of salvation in the first instance to the Jews—as if purposely to show how completely the two divisions of the human family were now to be amalgamated in Christ. And for what, indeed, was the separation at first made? Why were Abraham and his seed called out from the other nations of the earth? Not to stand in a direct and proper antagonism to these nations, as if the real interests of the one could only be promoted at the expense of those of the other. On the contrary, the separation was avowedly made from the very first for the accomplishment of the ultimate good of the nations, being designed to secure for them a blessing, and for enabling them also to rejoice with the seed of Abraham, as partakers of one salvation and joint-heirs of one inheritance, (Gen. xii. 3, Deut. xxxii. 43.) So that when the calling of the Gentiles effectually began, the distinct and peculiar calling of the seed of Abraham necessarily ceased; and for them to abide still in the separation is their sin, their misery, and their punishment, which God overrules indeed for good to the church, but which he would rather see finally and for ever abolished by their coming again in faith to be ingrafted into the one good olive tree.
It was one of the capital errors, into which the Jewish people fell, even when they were in covenant with God, and which led to one of their most grievous and dangerous delusions, that their separate position was not simply a means to a further end, but a good of itself, so fixed, that it rendered them, as a whole, the objects of blessing, and so important, that God's purposes could not proceed without it. They hence, as before remarked, too often looked upon their mere descent from Abraham as sufficient to secure their well-being. And it was one great object of God's revelations by the prophets, especially in times of corruption, to point out their entire misapprehension of his meaning in this respect—to convince them, that his purpose of election was for a holy end in regard to themselves, for a good and gracious end in regard to others—that he ever had in view, not simply the seed of Abraham, but that seed in so far as it possessed the faith and character of Abraham—that if individuals from among the Gentiles possessed this spirit, they might (as in the case of Ruth and others) attain to the most peculiar blessings of the covenant, while, if they themselves lost it, they became in God's sight as the heathen, and worse even than they. And if this were the case, even when the distinction stood in all its rigour—if the circumcision in the flesh were chosen and endowed with peculiar privilege, only that God might thereby obtain a circumcision in heart, it were against all reason to suppose, that when the circumcised in flesh shall become again circumcised in heart, they shall stand apart from others, to whom this characteristic already belongs. This were to make God a respecter of persons—a builder up of mere outside distinctions, as something good in themselves—which he has ever repudiated. It is just conceivable, that if the Jews are converted as a people some time before the final restitution of all things, and after a period of backsliding on the part of the Gentile churches, a supposition which has much to favour it in the word of prophecy; they may for a season, though it can only be for that, be so much more circumcised in heart than others, so much more deeply imbued with the spirit of Abraham, and qualified for the service of God in the latter days, that they shall rise on that account to a higher standing than the rest of the church, and again occupy a kind of centre-place in the kingdom of God. If so, however, it will be less because they are of the seed of Abraham, than because they are of his heart and his faith. It were no doubt conceivable, also, that if thus raised for a period to the highest position in the church, they might at the same time be restored to a temporary occupancy of the land of their fathers, (as Dr. Candlish seems to think probable, p. 318;) but we can see no ground for this, which would not equally go to prove the re-establishment of the entire Jewish polity, and that for the whole earth,—no ground, in fact, but what virtually destroys the typical relations of the Old Testament church, and renders it impossible to give a uniform and consistent interpretation to the word of prophecy. The more the subject is considered, the more we are persuaded it will be found, that there is no middle point to stand upon, between the views set forth in the preceding pages, and those which require the literal and exact reproduction of the Old Testament state of things.