Sermon 14. The Christian Church a Continuation of the Jewish

"The remnant that is escaped from the house of Judah shall again take rest downward, and bear fruit upward." Isa. xxxvii. 31.

{180} WHEN the power and splendour of the family of David were failing, and darkness was falling on the Church, and religious men were fighting against dismay and distrust, then the Prophets foretold that the kingdom of the saints should one time be restored; and that, though its glories were then setting, a morrow would come in due course, and that a morrow without an evening. Has this promise yet been fulfilled or no? and if fulfilled, in what sense fulfilled? Many persons think it has not yet been fulfilled at all, and is to be fulfilled in some future dispensation or millennium; and many think that it has indeed been fulfilled, yet not literally, but spiritually and figuratively; or, in other words, that the promised reign of Christ upon earth has been nothing more than the influence of the Gospel over the souls of men, the triumphs of Divine {181} Grace, the privileges enjoyed by faith, and the conversion of the elect.

On the contrary, I would say that the prophecies in question have in their substance been fulfilled literally, and in the present Dispensation; and, if so, we need no figurative and no future fulfillment. Not that there may not be both a figurative and a future accomplishment besides, but these will be over and above, if they take place, and do not interfere with the direct meaning of the sacred text and its literal fulfilment.

In the text, the prophet Isaiah, upon Sennacherib's invasion, makes to Hezakiah the encouraging promise, that, in spite of present misfortunes, "the house of Judah should again take root downward and bear fruit upward." Other prophecies, parallel to the text, are such as the following:—"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah … I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be My people." [Jer. xxxi. 31-33.] Again: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah … For thus saith the Lord, David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel, neither shall the priests, the Levites, want a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually." [Jer. xxxiii. 14-18.] Ezekiel speaks the same language {182} as Jeremiah: "I will set up one shepherd over them, and He shall feed then, even My servant David; He shall feed them, and He shall be Their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God: and My servant David a prince among them: I, the Lord, have spoken it." [Ezek. xxxiv. 23.] And Zechariah: "Thus saith the Lord, 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." [Zech. viii. 3.] And the prophet Isaiah again: "Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel: I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument, having teeth; thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff." [Isa. xli. 14, 15.] And again: "For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness and all kings thy glory; and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name." [Isa. lxii. 1, 2.]

Now, first, that these and a number of other prophecies which speak still more distinctly of a conquest, a kingdom, a body politic, a ritual, and a law, are fulfilled in the Dispensation under which we live, which immediately succeeded upon the Jewish, not in one future and disconnected, is plain from the express assertions {183} of inspired persons. Such as the Apostle St. James in the Acts, who, after declaring with St. Peter, "how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His Name," adds, "to this agree the words of the Prophets, as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David which is fallen down, and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up; that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom My Name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things." You see that, according to the Apostle, at that very time the fulfilment of the prophecy was commencing; the reconstruction of the kingdom of David was no future and detached event, it was then in progress; it was coming to pass in the conversion of the heathen. What confirms this view of the subject is, that it serves as an explanation of the strong language of Moses, in which the perpetual obligation of the Law as asserted, in spite of inducements of whatever kind to abandon it. "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it;" for the Gospel was but a development of the Law. "Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." "If ye shall diligently keep all these commandments, … then shall no man be able to stand before you." And after punishment, return of prosperity was promised them, on condition of their returning to the Law. "When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are {184} come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto His voice, … He will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers, which He sware unto them." [Deut. iv. 2, 30; vi. 7; xi. 22-25.] The latter days are mentioned, yet without a hint that obedience to the Law was to be relaxed, which holds only on the principle that the Gospel is its continuation.

And, on the other hand, it is no mere figurative sense in which such words as "power," "kingdom," rule," "conquest," "princes," "judges," "officers," and the like are used (as if the promised dominion were to be but moral, the promised Church invisible, the promised reign of Christ but spiritual), for this simple reason, that there has been, in matter of fact, in Christian times a visible Church, a temporal kingdom, a succession of rulers, such as the prophecies do describe; which have been most variously and minutely fulfilled in their literal sense; and we know, in such cases, what has been laid down by a great authority in our Church,—"I hold it," he says, "for a most infallible rule in expositions of sacred Scripture, that where a literal construction will stand, the farthest from the letter is commonly the worst." [Note] Indeed, these figurative interpretations have given special occasion to the infidel to scoff against the Bible, as if the prophecies had failed even by the confession of their friends, who, to hide their failure, are forced to pretend that they never were intended to have a literal fulfilment, only a spiritual one. {185} History indeed shows their fulfilment, but we enable him to deny it.

Temporal, then, as well as spiritual greatness, a visible dominion as well as a secret influence, was both, under the Law, promised to the Church in the future, and according to the promise has already come to pass in Gospel times. And now I will observe upon one or two difficulties, which at first may be felt in receiving a view of God's dealings with His Church, which in itself is most simple and satisfactory.

1. First, it may be said that the prophecies have not been, and never will be, fulfilled in the letter, because they contain expressions and statements which do not admit, or certainly have not, a literal meaning. Thus, in one of the passages just now quoted, it is said that David shall feed the chosen people. Now, by David, cannot be meant any one but Christ; that is, the prophecy is figurative, for if one part is not literal, why should another be? Again, it is said that "the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings;" [Mal. iv. 2.] and "behold I will bring forth My Servant the Branch;" [Zech. iii. 8.] and again, "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid." [Isa. xi. 6.] Again, "I will write My law in their hearts." The fulfilment of the prophecy then is either spiritual, or, where it admits of being taken literally, it is future.

Now this objection is surely not well grounded, and presents no real difficulty at all, as a very slight consideration will show us; for it stands to reason that the use of figures in a composition is not enough to make it {186} figurative as a whole. We constantly use figures of speech whenever we speak; yet who will say on that account that the main course of our conversation is not to be taken literally? We talk of a cutting wind and a threatening sky, without meaning that literally the sky is able to threaten, or the wind to cut; yet, in spite of these figures, we mean what we say, as to the general run and drift of our sentences.

One of the two disciples said that their heart "burnt" within them, as our Lord talked to them; are we not literally to understand that He conversed with them, because their heart did not literally burn? St. Paul calls the Church "the pillar and ground of the truth;" is Church not literal, and truth not literal, because pillar is not literal? And in like manner we speak of the Christian minister as a pastor, and his charge as his flock; yet without any intention to be allegorical or poetical.

Again, to take another class of instances, St. Peter calls Rome Babylon; does that make his epistle an allegory? our Lord calls Herod "that fox;" does this show that His whole speech is a figure, and that He did not mean in a literal sense, what He said, that He was casting out devils and doing cures, and that "no prophet could perish out of Jerusalem"? And again, when He calls Simon by the name of Peter or Rock, what is this more than giving him a name? Peter, which is in its origin a figure, becomes a mere proper name. And so when He Himself is called a Lamb, this is but His sacred Name, taken from His gracious office; and when St. John Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of {187} God, which taketh away the sin of the world," he must be taken to mean, that our Lord does really and literally take away the world's sin, though He is called the Lamb by a figure.

Now this will apply to the language of the Prophets: the words "David," "Israel," "Jerusalem," and the like, are not so much figures, as proper names which have a figurative origin, or words which, having first had a confined sense, come, as language proceeds, to have a wide one. Of course, there are in the Prophets figurative words and sentences too, because they write poetically; but even this does not make the tenour of their language figurative, any more than occasional similes show an heroic poem to be an extended allegory. It does not follow, because they speak figuratively of the lion lying down with the kid, with an allusion to the state of brute animals before the fall, or of the desert blossoming, that therefore all they say about the temporal greatness of the Church, its power over high and low, rich and poor, one with another, is figurative too. Again, in the text, hardly any one word admits of a literal interpretation; yet to give it a mere spiritual sense, as if no house or family were spoken of, and no extension or triumph of a family, would be to explain it away. However, such passages as these are not of common occurrence; the more common figures, if they must be so called, are the use of David for Christ, Israel for the chosen people, Jerusalem for the Church, and so on. Now is it a difficulty with any one, that Christ should be called David, or the second David, as Simon may be called Peter? is it not quite consistent with a {188} literal announcement that He was to come upon earth, being the very God, and to redeem us? And if so, why should we find it a difficulty that Israel does not mean simply the Israelites, but the chosen people, wherever they are, in all ages; and that Jerusalem should be used as a name for the body politic, or state, or government of the chosen people, in which the power lies, and from which action proceeds? according to the Psalm, "there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David." [Ps. cxxii. 5.] Thus, when it is said, that Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth, the sacred text will mean, that that divinely appointed seat of revelation and power, which then happened to be at Jerusalem, and had then fallen into error, should in time to come be illuminated with heavenly knowledge. And when it is said, "Neither shall the priests, the Levites, want a man before Me to offer burnt-offerings," this indeed implies, of course, that there would ever in the Church be priests, and ever offerings; yet these need not be a Levitical priesthood, or offerings of burnt victims. And when it is said, "Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel," this will mean, "Fear not, little flock, My elect people, who at present are children of Israel, and are called by the name of Jacob." All these words, I say, convey a literal truth in their substance; the meaning need not be explained away, though it is conveyed in a figure; the persons and things spoken of existed then and exist now.

2. But then it may be asked, whether it is possible to consider the Christian Church, which is so different {189} from the Jewish, a continuation of it; or to maintain that what was promised to the Jewish, has been fulfilled in substance in the Christian. It may be argued that our Lord founded His Church as a new thing in the earth; and that it is manifestly distinct from the elder Church; that the one was local, Jewish, carnal; the other Catholic, Gentile, spiritual. Perhaps the following considerations will lessen this difficulty.

(1.) Let it be observed, then, that the chosen people had in former ages gone through many vicissitudes, many transformations, before the revolution which followed on the coming of the promised Saviour, and which was the greatest of all. There are nations on the face of the earth which have remained for thousands of years the same, in site, in institutions, in relations to the rest of mankind. Such were not the people of God's choice. They had led a wandering life as shepherds in the land of Canaan, in the time of the Patriarchs; they had been slaves in Egypt; and then again, after a time of miracles in the wilderness, they had gained renown as conquerors and kings in the land where their forefathers sojourned. And again had they been slaves, and in a farther country; and again, quite as strangely, though not so marvelously, had they been restored. The place of God's presence had moved about, being first in the wandering tabernacle, then at Shiloh, then at Jerusalem. They had been governed first by a lawgiver, then by occasional judges, then by kings, then by priests. This then is what must be carefully considered, should it at first sight be thought that the Gospel {190} made changes in the state of religion, too great to allow of the Jewish Church being reckoned one with the Christian. If it be asked, What likeness is there between a Church spread over the whole earth, and a Church pent up in one corner of it, between a national Church and a Catholic? I answer, Surely the mere extent of a Church, and its fortunes generally, are but an accident of its being: externals cannot destroy identity, if it exists, which is something inward. In spite of the vast, nay, even organic changes in its constitution, which had taken place before, its identity had remained. When the Church was made up of Abraham's household, to external appearance a mere Arab horde or family, roaming through the desert or sojourning in the vale, it was as unlike itself in its regal form, as that local sovereignty in Canaan was unlike its Catholic state under the Gospel. Again, that Joseph, a foreign slave, should become governor of all Egypt, or that Pharaoh's carnal and cowardly bondsmen should become Joabs and Abners, was as startling a change as that by which twelve fishermen and peasants were set over the world to bind and to loose. Consider again the state of Israel in Babylon; or its state when Christ came, partly settled in a part of Canaan, partly in Alexandria, with a rival temple, and partly scattered all over the face of the earth, like a mist, or like the drops of rain. And let it be observed, as this last instance suggests, its change when Christ came, from a local into a Catholic form, was not abrupt but gradual. What was first a dispersion, became a diffusion; during the last centuries of Judaism, the Church was in great {191} measure Catholic already. Besides Jerusalem and Alexandria, it had a number of centres or metropolitan posts scattered over the Roman empire, as we read in the book of Acts; and about these were collected a number of proselytes from the heathen, waiting for the promised Paraclete to make the dead bones live. And, in matter of fact, these centres did become the first channels of the Gospel, and starting-points of its propagation, as we learn from the same inspired history. Such changes, however, whether gradual or not, do not interfere with the Church's being considered one and the same under them. How different is a human being in different stages of his existence! how different all his states here below from that body which shall be! yet the same body shall rise which dies, though it be made a spiritual body. It is no objection, then, rather it gives countenance, to the notion of the identity of the Jewish Church with the Christian, that it is so different from it; for the Jewish Church was at various eras very different from itself; and worms of the earth at length gain wings, yet are the same, and man dies in corruption, and rises incorrupt, yet without losing his original body.

And, let it be observed, a change in externals, for instance, of name and site, was anticipated as regards the city of God in the Old Testament. "Thou shalt be called by a new name," says the Prophet, implying that the old name of Jerusalem would no longer apply. And much stress is laid in the Law upon God's free choice of the place where He was to fix His presence, as if to show that it might change. "There shall be a place which {192} the Lord thy God shall choose, to cause His Name to dwell there." [Deut. xii. 11.]

(2.) But, further, it may be objected, that the change was internal, not external only: not only did the Church change from local to Catholic, but it became a Church of Gentiles instead of a Church of Jews. Its members were changed as well as its locality, though Christ and His Apostles happen to have been Jews. This certainly is a weightier objection, yet this too will perhaps be removed on an attentive consideration of the subject.

Consider, then, that changes also of this kind had already occurred in the history of Israel, yet the Church remained one and the same. How unexpected, for instance, was the change which destroyed the substantive existence of the ten tribes, which amalgamated Judah and Benjamin almost into one, and absorbed into them the fragments of the ten whose sceptres were broken! At first, the principle of continuity seemed to lie in the twelve sons of Jacob; then one is set apart for a peculiar office in the body politic,—the priesthood, and is deprived of its share of the territory; and another of the twelve is divided into two to make up the full number without that one; and then, at length, the favoured line is narrowed to Judah. Again, in an earlier age, only two of those who left Egypt with Moses entered the promised land. The line of continuity, surely, was not less definite when the Church became Christian. Christ and His Apostles were all Jews; the first converts were Jews; the centres of conversion throughout the Roman empire were composed {193} of Jews. In one place, we are even told, that "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." [Acts vi. 7.]

And let it be observed, that the sacred writers show themselves quite aware of this peculiarity in the mode in which God's purposes are carried on from age to age. They are frequent in speaking of a "remnant" as alone inheriting the promises; the phenomenon of a remnant has been a sort of law of the Divine Dispensations towards man hitherto, and is declared, especially by St. Paul, to be such. "God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew. Wot ye not what the Scripture saith of Elias? ... but what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to Myself seven thousand men;" and then the Apostle adds, "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace." [Rom. xi. 2-5.] No word is more frequent in the Prophets than this word remnant, as we must be very well aware. Thus, in the first chapter of the prophet Isaiah, "Unless the Lord had left us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom." And it was promised that "the Lord should set His hand to recover the remnant of His people." And the very threat denounced against the people was, not that the nation should be lost, for that was too certain, but that even the remnant should perish. "I will take the remnant of Judah," says Almighty God by Jeremiah, "that have set their faces to go into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, and they shall all be consumed." [Jer. xliv. 12.] And Ezekiel asks, "Wilt Thou make a full end of the remnant?" [Ezek. xi. 13.] {194} And Johanan wishes to take a certain course, lest "the remnant of Judah perish." And Ezra confesses the sin of his people, who had sinned again, when, "now for a little space grace had been showed from the Lord their God, to leave them a remnant to escape." [Jer. xl. 15. Ezra ix. 7, 8.] And Haggai says, that "the Lord stirred up the spirit of all the remnant;" as if it were an acknowledged and almost technical term. And, in like manner, to the remnant is the great recovery and the victory promised, as in the text, "The remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward." And in Joel, "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call." [Hagg. i. 14. Joel ii. 32.] And Micah, "The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people, as a dew from the Lord, … and the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, in the midst of many people, as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through, both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver." And Zephaniah, "The coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; ... the residue of My people shall spoil them, and the remnant of My people shall possess them." [Micah v. 8. Zeph. ii. 7-9. Zech. viii. 12.] And Zechariah, after promising that "the seed shall be prosperous, and the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew," adds, in the Name of the {195} Lord, "I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things." It was not promised then that all Israel should be a light of the earth, and should possess the nations, but that the remnant should thus be favoured: to the remnant it was promised; and how small the remnant might be, is plain from St. Paul's reference to the time of Elijah, when it was but seven thousand men. As then no one would say that the chosen people did not continue one and the same after the captivity in Babylon, though instead of Israelites they had become Jews; as the Church remained the same as before, though the nation was gradually changing; so when it changed altogether and became Gentile for Jewish, still there was no substitution of a new Church for an old: it was but a manifestation of the old law of "the remnant," by which the many were called and the few were chosen. And so it has been ever since; the Church has lasted, but as a pilgrim upon earth, having a secure dwelling-place in no country; first identified with one nation, then with another; losing children and gaining them; sure of a sojourn nowhere, yet sure of it somewhere; Israel being but the first of many nations in which she had been lodged, and from which she takes her name in prophecy.

I consider, then, that the word "remnant," so constantly used in Scripture, is the token of the identity of the Church, in the mind of her Divine Creator, before and after the coming of Christ. Express and precise as are the sacred writers in declaring that the Gentiles shall be called, and again, that the Jews as a body shall be rejected, still, instead of stating the solemn appointment {196} of God in a simple contrast like this, and thus drawing a line of demarcation between His two Dispensations, they are accustomed to speak of the remnant of Israel inheriting the Gentiles; as if to make the Law run into the Gospel, and to teach us, as St. Paul expressly inculcates, that the promises made to Israel are really accomplished, without any evasion, in the Divine protection accorded to Christians.

To conclude: the object of the foregoing remarks has been to remove some difficulties in the way of looking upon the prophecies made in the Old Testament to the Church, as having been already fulfilled, and literally fulfilled, in Gospel times. At first sight, any one, looking first at the prophecies, then at the history of the Christian Church, would say that they have been strikingly fulfilled; but still, in spite of this broad fulfilment, there are certain points to clear up, and with these I have been engaged.

1. I will but observe, first, that whether we can clear them up satisfactorily or no, they are not greater than the difficulties which attend on other confessedly fulfilled and very chief and notable prophecies, as that of the dispersion of the Jews. No one surely can read the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, and then survey the actual state of the Jews at this time and since our Lord came without being sure that their present state is indeed a fulfilment of the prophecy; yet, observe, they were threatened with the evils which have befallen them, supposing they did not keep their Law; whereas in the event the punishment has come upon them, apparently for keeping it; because they would not {197} change the Law for the Gospel, therefore have they been scattered through the nations. If then the prophecy of Moses is really fulfilled in their case, as we believe it to be, it is implied of necessity, that in rejecting the Gospel they in some way or other rejected their Law; or that the Gospel is the continuation or development of the Law. But if the Gospel may be considered as a new state or condition of the Law, surely it is not stranger or harsher to consider the Church of the Gospel as a continuation of the Church of the Law; and as the prophecies concerning the reprobate body of the nation are fulfilled in the past and present history of the Jews, in spite of this difficulty, whatever it is, so, in spite of a less difficulty, are the prophecies concerning the elect remnant fulfilled in the history of the Christian Church.

2. Secondly, and lastly, let it be observed, that if the prophecies in their substance certainly have had a literal fulfilment, as I think any one might see who considered the matter, so that the Jewish Church and Christian are really one, then this will follow, viz. that that very appearance of separation and contrast between them which I grant does exist, does but make it more necessary that there should be some great real agreement and inward unity between one and the other, whether we can discover what it is or not, on account of which they are called one. What has taken place in the Christian Church is of course no fulfilment at all of promises made to the Jewish, unless in some very true sense they may be called one Church. The greater the difficulty on the surface, so much the firmer and stronger must be the principle of continuity and identity within, to {198} counterbalance it. And what are these points of intimate union between the Church in her Jewish and in her Christian form, it is of course important to inquire.

All Scripture has its difficulties; but let us not, on account of what is difficult, neglect what is clear. Let us be sure there are many things said in Scripture most clearly, many things which any one, under God's grace, might gain for himself from Scripture, which we do not gain from it; many truths, which all men, if they carefully thought over the sacred text, would one and all agree in finding there. Perchance, if we had learnt from it what we can learn by our own private study, we should be more patient of learning from others those further truths which, though in Scripture, we cannot learn from it by ourselves.

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Note

Hooker, Eccles. Pol. v. 59 2.
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