Revelation, beloved brethren, I am happy to think that you will fully agree with me, is the key to every thing in nature. I do not mean, of course, that nature is absolutely dumb without it. If I said so, I should be contradicting revelation. "The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead."
"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day showeth speech, and night unto night telleth knowledge." True, surely, all that is. What I mean is, that while parts of the lesson of creation are thus learned, they are but fragments of comparatively external knowledge. To the whole as a whole, and to the deepest, fullest, sweetest, of all its teachings we must remain strangers, except we will take revelation to introduce us to them. And if we would do this, what preachers would all things about us become? How would all things be transfigured for us!
Take one of the chief mysteries of creation. Ask the greatest of heathen sages, - ask the men whose glory it is to have emancipated themselves (vain thought!) from the Christianity they had inherited from their fathers, How is it that every where through creation death is the food of life? They will turn the question back to you with a sarcasm or a scoff. With the Mahometan, but without his reverence, they may say, perhaps, "It has so pleased God." But revelation lights up the mystery. Yes, the wail of death is every where, true! It has pleased God, wherever we look, to hang out the warning before his eyes to whom death is a penalty and a dread. But it is not a lesson of judgment merely: "out of death, life" is the law of sacrifice. The Jewish altars do but repeat more solemnly the symbolism of nature. The Christian finds the veil removed in Christ.
Take another instance: "God," says the apostle, "is light." And the man of science preaches to us that light is a trinity of color, bathing all nature with varied brilliance, according as each object reflects partially what it receives. For it receives it: the world's light is from heaven, not self-developed; and practically from the sun. The sun, preaches the scientist, is the great reservoir of force to the globes which roll in their orbits round it, bound by invisible cords, which the faith permitted to men by science recognizes. But what is the sun? It is essentially, the same teachers tell us, what the earth is; but this the light clothes with its glory,- separable from it, but not separate. And God manifest in the flesh, says the Christian, that is Christ, the "Sun of Righteousness."
How much of the mystery of things would pass into glory in which we should be worshippers, if only we realized that creation is a perpetual object-lesson of things which the Word of God alone reveals to us. But this is not an authority for men of science; they have given up "bibliolatry," - the worship of a book. It is ruled out; and therein they have ruled out their highest wisdom, and have fallen into folly.
When we take up the numerals, to ascertain from Scripture their significance, we shall find, on the other hand, what I have only recently begun in any proper way to realize, that this significance of theirs has its roots in nature. Scripture must control and guide our thoughts, or they will be what poor human thoughts are apart from God. Nevertheless, the spiritual does not abhor what is natural, except it be in the sense of what is fleshly, the product of the fall. The first four numbers, at least, are distinctly dependent for the meaning which Scripture gives them upon their natural significance; and from these, all others are built up. It is no great wonder this: it is simply to say that Scripture uses them as what they are. And this is just the beautiful harmony and propriety of Scripture. Everything is in its place: used of God, and illuminated by its use; not arbitrarily applied, and never perverted.
A word or two upon this, because of its importance, before we go on. How wise and appropriate are the Baptist's words when the priests and Levites from Jerusalem asked him why he baptized. Pharisees they were: men who baptized their hands always before eating, lest their souls should be defiled. Note, then, the wisdom of the reply, "John answered them, saying, `I baptize with water.'" Did they not know that? Of course they did. And did not they themselves baptize with water, when they ceremonially washed their hands? Ah, that is just the question. Does the ritualist baptize with water, when he changes a babe's sinful nature by a few drops upon the face? Surely it is not in the power of water to do this? Well, but this, he thinks, is one of the mysteries of Christianity, and the water is sanctified to the washing away of sin! Well, that is exactly what John's quiet words deny. This is not mystery, but magic. Water is water, and God uses it as that, never puts it out of its place; never treats sin as a material thing to be cleansed away after this fashion; never exalts water into a spiritual power; never confounds the spiritual realm with the material. John's baptism was with water, and not an intrusion on the spiritual realm of Christ.
But to return to our numerals. It is only of late that I have seen how few the numbers are which need interpreting. Seven notes in music give us the capacity for the almost infinite variety and harmony of song. The eighth note is but the octave - a first repeated in a higher key. Just so there are seven numbers which have significance in Scripture. Seven is the number of perfection, and we cannot go beyond perfection; although, of course, there may be here, too, a lower and a higher scale. The number 8, at which we have already glanced, is that which we have seen to speak of a new beginning, which just shows the series to be finished. It is the spiritual octave.
We have seven numbers, then, really to consider. Of course I am aware that beyond this there are special numbers which have significance, as, for instance, 10, and 12, and 40. These we shall speak of, if the Lord will. But the meaning attached to them is really only the combined meaning of the numbers which are their factors; 10, for instance, of 5 and 2; 12, of 4 and 3; 28 of 4 and 10. The meaning of these smaller numbers gives us, therefore, in reality, the whole meaning of the numerals of Scripture.
To begin, then, with the number 1. What does it stand for? When it is said, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord," or when it says, "And the Lord shall be King over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Lord, and His name one," we have the simple, primary thought of unity, the exclusion of difference.
But this may be in two ways; in the two quotations just made, the difference is external: there is no other Lord, there shall be no other. It is an assertion of independency, as admitting no other; and implies, of course, a sufficiency which needs no other. To be in this way independent, sufficient to Himself, belongs to God alone. And thus, under this number 1, we begin with God. His title is, "The Beginning;" and Scripture, in fact, begins with Him. What can be right where we do not so begin?
But then this is not the only application. We shall find as we proceed with these numerals that they are, in the case of every one perhaps, used in a bad sense as well as in a good. This is true, not only of the numerals, but of many types beside. Christ is a lion, and Satan is a lion; the birds of heaven are wicked spirits, and yet the bird that dies in the earthen vessel is again Christ. In the case of the numbers we shall have abundant proof; and this does not alter in the least their real significance. Independence in God is His necessary perfection; independence in man is sin and rebellion. Thus it is a question of application only. The first section of the second psalm, as we have seen, speaks, not of God, but of man, and then of man in independence of God, - the rebellion of the nations.
But there is another way in which the number 1 may speak: it may exclude internal difference, may speak of internal harmony of parts or attributes, of self-agreement, perfection in that sense. That is not one which is internally divided, it is clear. "The dream is one," says Joseph: there is complete agreement of meaning in it.
And this is, again, in the fullest and highest way, true of God alone. In His perfection there is no preponderance of any attribute, and no defect. His wisdom must be equal to His power; His love equal to His power and wisdom. Thus again this number speaks of Him; and in this way, although it may have a lower application, an evil sense is quite impossible.
Now if we turn from the cardinal number to the ordinal, the "First" is again a divine title. It speaks plainly of priority, whether in time or rank, of supremacy; as the Sovereign Beginning of all things, of the Creator, the Source of life. His is the will from which all proceeded; His is the plan according to which all is guided; His is the power by which all is executed: election, counsel, sovereign sway, are all His own.
Thus the number 1 has three meanings essentially, - of independency, unity, and supremacy. These things are in the truest and highest way only true of God. We may find them, however, either united under it or separate, and in this latter way in lower applications, and even evil ones; although comparatively seldom in the latter. God and good are one. Evil is contradiction, discord; and in the end, weakness and defeat. Blessed be God it is so!
Now before we take up other numbers, I desire to bring before you, in the briefest way, of course, as illustrating it, the character of the first book of the Pentateuch - Genesis.
It is plain that if there be any truth in that view of Scripture which I am here presenting, the five books of the Pentateuch ought to illustrate these numbers, and confirm our use of them. If they do not you will be entitled - nay, necessitated to set down this use as visionary and human merely. If they do, it will go far toward proving that they are divine. It will be important, therefore, to examine them.
Moreover, I am convinced, and fully hope to convince you, that the Pentateuch - assailed as it is by so many at the present day, - is in fact the very basis of the structure of the whole Bible. It is thus additionally a necessity to bring out the character of it, for with it we shall have to compare a large part of Scripture. At this time also the examination will help to fix upon our minds the significance of the numerals themselves, essential as this is to our whole examination.
Now what is the first thing that would strike any of us as to the book of Genesis? I suppose that it is, in it we find the story of creation. I need not say how fully this agrees with the number we have been considering.
How much this includes within it will be plain if we consider it: supremacy, election, counsel, are all implied, and Genesis in all its parts brings out these.
1. Supremacy. "The Almighty" is the name by which God revealed Himself to the patriarchs, as He declared to Moses (Ex. vi. 3). It is found six times in the book of Genesis, only three times in the Pentateuch beside. In the book of Job it is used largely, but only eight times in the Old Testament beside. It is clearly characteristic of the book, therefore.
2. Election. Genesis is surely the very book of election. I do not mean that the doctrine is found: we shall not find it in any of these early books; but the fact is every where. Abraham (and Israel his seed), Isaac, Jacob, whose lives fill a large part of the book, are all examples of it. They are the very ones that the apostle brings forward in the ninth of Romans.
3. Counsel. Genesis has been often called the seed-plot of the Bible. Every thing almost in the revealed counsels of God finds its place in it in some way; and at the outset, in the six days' work, we find prefigured, not only the work of God in individual souls, but the dispensational steps of blessing, closing with that which is beyond all dispensations - that rest of God into which we labour to enter.
Again, the time of the Genesis-history is emphatically that of the age of promise. The promise of the woman's Seed is what shines with starlike radiance over the first part, followed in the second by the covenant with Abraham, which, the apostle assures us, the law, coming four hundred and thirty years afterward, could never hamper with conditions. Sovereignty in blessing thus marks the period throughout.
It is evident that these are features of the book, as it is also that they answer to the numerical place of the book. The key fits the lock thoroughly. It is not that certain things in it can be taken and made to apply: that, no doubt, would be easy enough to do any where; but the point is, that the numerical structure brings out just what are its characteristic features. And so it is always, and this is what shows its design, and proves it to be of God. It could not be, unless it were designed to be.
We now come to the number 2, and here we have plainly the contrast and opposite of the first number. If 1 excludes difference, 2 affirms it. If 1 says there is not another, 2 says, of course, there is another. And this note of difference runs through all its meanings. "Difference" means, in some sort, contrast, easily passing into opposition, contradiction. Two is the first number that divides: hence it stands for enmity, conflict. When first studying the Psalms in this way it was that I first noticed how, commonly when I came to a second series, or the second psalm in a series, I found the subject to be the enemy. This was before I saw that it was a meaning of the number itself. Of course this is only one side of the number, the bad one.
The other side is essentially the thought of help, confirmation, fellowship. The fundamental text here is Eccles. iv. - "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Moreover, if two lie together, then they have heat; but how shall one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him." That is a thought which again is clearly native in the number; for we speak of "seconding" in the sense of "assisting." I may add that there is involved in it the thought of taking an inferior place in doing so.
How beautifully all this unites in Him who is the second Person of the Godhead, who has taken, in order to befriend our souls, the place of deepest humiliation! In Him, God has laid help upon One that is mighty, and the Son of God has become Christ, the Saviour. Saviour, salvation, in some sense, is thus connected commonly with this number 2. We shall find abundant proof as we go on.
Another meaning connected with it, intimately united with the thought of help, confirmation, is that of competent testimony. "The testimony of two men is true." I would like you to notice also how still the thought of difference enters into this meaning. For what makes the competency of two witnesses more than one? It is just this, that the witnesses are different. In proportion as they are so - different in character, interests, prejudices and prepossessions perhaps, so is their testimony, if nevertheless agreeing, satisfactory and convincing. You may notice it even in God's testimony in His Word. Our Bibles have two parts, - the Old Testament, or Covenant, and the New: these are God's twofold, competent testimony to men; but how different! how contrasted, in many ways! Judaism, ritualistic, restricted, the vail over God's glory in Moses' face; Christianity, with its free grace going out to all, the vail rent, and the glory of God in the unveiled face of Jesus! Yet this is what makes the testimony so complete. How they fit one another! How that old revelation in the hands of the Jew condemns him in rejecting this glorious lifting of the vail in Christianity! And notice, the second Person of the Godhead is, again, the true Witness, and Word of God.
If now we take the second book of the Pentateuch, the great features of it are conspicuous enough, and conspicuously illustrate the numerical law of Scripture. Exodus is the book of salvation, which of course infers the enemy from whose power they are delivered. After the blood has redeemed Israel, God comes down in the pillar of cloud and fire to be with them, and the wondrous tale of deliverance gathers fresh features continually. Then comes Sinai and the breach of the golden calf, and the intercession of the mediator, Moses, type of the great Mediator. The tabernacle of testimony and the priesthood complete the picture of God with them.
Before we go on to the next number, I have again an illustration from natural things which has greatly interested me, and which I hope may have equal interest for you. Comparatively recently, I picked up at a bookstore, second hand, a book on the Geography and Classification of Animals, published in 1835. My interest in it was that I knew it contained what professed to be a Natural System of Classification, first brought forward by Mr. McLeay some sixteen years previously, but revised by his disciple, William Swainson, in the volume I speak of.
Now a truly natural system would give us the analogies and affinities of animals as they really exist, and thus the divine plan of creation to some extent; this was my interest in it. I knew it to be also a numerical system, and in this way also was interested in it.
Of the system itself I need say little. That there is truth in it, I believe, though with many defects, on the ground of one of which Agassiz, in his well-known Essay on Classification, sets it aside as unworthy of serious examination, - a judgment, I believe, too severe and sweeping, he himself commending the ability displayed in it (in matters essentially connected with its main subject) in other parts of the same essay.
Swainson's view is, that there are throughout the animal kingdom, in every natural group, three divisions actually and five apparently. The three actual divisions are, the typical, the subtypical, and the aberrant. These stand, with him, as 1, 2, and 3; and while he sees nothing in the numbers as such, yet these are the characters he gives to his first two groups: -
"The first distinction of typical groups is implied by the name they bear. The animals they contain are the most perfectly organized; that is to say, they are endowed with the greatest number of perfections, and capable of performing to the greatest extent the functions which peculiarly characterize their respective circles. This is universal in all typical groups; but there is a marked difference between the types of a typical circle and the types of an aberrant one. In the first, we find a combination of properties concentrated, as it were, in certain individuals, without any one of these preponderating in a remarkable degree over the others; whereas in the second it is quite the reverse: in these last, one faculty is developed in the highest degree, as if to compensate for the total absence or very slight development of others" (p. 242).
Let any one recall what has been said as to the number 1, and he will see how really this idea of a typical or first group agrees with what was stated then. This combination of balanced attributes is just what gives the thought of internal oneness: nothing in excess, nothing deficient. Yet Swainson says not a word, evidently has not a thought of this. But in his account of the subtypical or second groups, the numerical stamp as I have given it is still more striking, if not more apparent: -
"II. Subtypical groups, as the name implies, are a degree lower in organization than those last described; and thus exhibit an intermediate character between typical and aberrant divisions. They do not comprise the largest individuals in bulk, but always those which are the most powerfully armed, either for inflicting injury on their own class, for exciting terror, producing injury, or creating annoyance to man. Their dispositions are often sanguinary; since the forms most conspicuous among them live by rapine, and subsist on the blood of other animals. They are, in short, symbolically the types of evil; and in such an extraordinary way is this principle modified in the smaller groups, that even among insects where no other power is possessed but that of causing annoyance or temporary pain, we find in the subtypical order of the Annulosa, the different races of scorpions, acari, spiders, and all those repulsive insects whose very aspect is forbidding, and whose bite or sting is often capable of inflicting serious bodily injury" (pp. 245, 246). Now it certainly seems to me that this coincidence of view proceeds from its being truth. My own was derived from Scripture simply, Mr. Swainson's from nature only. He follows a numerical order without perceiving or imagining any thing in the numerals themselves. That there should be in these two cases so real an agreement is surprising, considering the different way by which they have been reached. And this may help to fill the gap left in the proof of a numerical system as regards zoology.
We now come to the number 3. And what does 3 intimate to us naturally? Suppose I were to write upon the board here any number you please, it may be 3 itself, and now I put on the right hand upper corner of this a little 3 (33) - what would every schoolboy say I meant by it? He would say I meant 3 cubed: that little 3 stands for the cube - for cubic measure.
And what is cubic measure? It is solid measure, the measure of contents. Take any two dimensions, and multiply them together; what have you? A measure of surface merely. Take a third dimension; now you have more than surface: this third dimension strikes in deep below the surface, and gives you a measure of solidity.
Three stands then for what is solid, real, substantial, - for fullness, actuality. What are length and breadth without thickness? There is not such a thing in the world: a line that you draw upon paper is more than that. Therefore I say that 3 stands for actuality, reality, realization.
Three is the number of the divine fullness. And in Christ dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; what, then, is the measure of the Man Christ Jesus? A beautiful figure of this you will find twice in Scripture. Abraham puts meal before his heavenly guests; and the woman of the parable puts her leaven into meal. Now what is the food which you can put before God Himself and expect Him to be at the table with you? It is Christ upon whom if we feed, communion with God is secured. Christ is the bread of life; and Christ is, as the Revised Version calls it very well now, the Meal-Offering. And what is it that is in the woman's (the Church's) hands, but just again this meal-offering.
But there was to be no leaven put into the meal-offering: she is putting leaven! What is just that which claims most decisively to be Church-teaching? Alas! it is leavened meal.
But what is the measure of Christ? Only a Man? No: you have no Christ if you have but that measure of meal. "Three measures of meal" in the woman's hand: "three measures of meal" in Abraham's feast; beside that young calf, tender and good, which had yielded up its life. "All the fullness of God" in the Man Christ Jesus; and His death our life!
Three is the number of the Trinity; and the third Person in the Godhead is the Holy Spirit. Note, then, that whether in creation or in new creation, He it is who realizes all the counsels of God. "By His Spirit He garnished the heavens." When the deep lay over the waste and desolate earth, the "Spirit of God brooded over the waters." When men are born again to God, the gospel comes to them, "not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost." What is sanctification, as the work of the Spirit, but that in which salvation is actualized in the soul? Thus this number 3 has its significance all throughout, and without the work of the Spirit there is nothing but outside work: "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit;" that is the third dimension which every saint has.
And the sanctuary, God's dwelling-place, - that too is a cube; ten cubits in the tabernacle; twenty in the temple. The final city, which the glory of God lightens, is a cube also: "the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal." How strange for the dimensions of a city! How blessed to think of there the counsels of God now realized, the holiness He seeks attained!
In the sanctuary God manifests Himself; with the third Person of the Godhead, the Unity becomes a Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit tell out for the first time fully God. And 3 is thus the number of manifestation. So resurrection is plainly that work of His where all human power is at an end; and thus resurrection is on the third day.
Now if we turn to Leviticus, the third book of the Pentateuch, we find full illustration and confirmation of all this. The tabernacle is just set up, and God speaks out of the "tent of meeting" where He meets and welcomes men. The theme of the book is sanctification, and thirty-nine times in connection with the precepts, of which the latter part of it largely consists, is appended the word, "I am Jehovah." Seven times it is repeated, "Be ye holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy."
At the opening of the book the offerings are opened out, the beauteous picture of Him through whom all sanctification is attained, who is the pattern of it. In the middle of the book the holiest is opened, to sprinkle the precious blood upon the mercy-seat. Not yet - for these are but the figures of the true, - is the way made for all to draw near to God, but we have in type the foundation of it.
Thus Leviticus shows the numerical stamp as plainly as Genesis and Exodus. Our convictions that it is of God deepen as we proceed. And now we have God's name fairly written out upon this book of His. When we would show a book to be our own, we write our name upon the opening page. God has written His in three successive pages in the beginning of His Word. In Genesis, we may say, we have the Father, the Life-giver; in Exodus, the Son, the Saviour; in Leviticus, the Spirit, the Sanctifier. God's book is fairly claimed as His, and he who would erase the Name must answer it.