We have looked at the first three numbers, then, beloved brethren; and these have a peculiar place and eminency in Scripture over the others. No wonder, if they signify what they do. Of course, as the commencement of the series, they must occur more frequently than the others. But that is not all, nor what I mean. There is this distinctive difference between these first three numbers and those which follow them: they are prime numbers: not simply in an arithmetical, but in a Scripture sense. Of course, arithmetically they are prime numbers: they can be divided by no others; but this is as true of 5 and 7 which come afterward, and which are not prime numbers in the Scripture-sense.
For Scripture has its own method of division of these numbers, and we must pay the closest attention to all its methods, if we would obtain the insight into it that we seek. Thus 4, we shall find, divides here not only in the ordinary way, but as 3 and 1 also. Seven divides very commonly indeed into 4 and 3. Five, I believe, also, though the proof is more obscure, into 4 and 1. And the mere fact of the division is not the whole: the numbers obtain their significance from the combined meanings of those into which they divide. Thus the difference between the first three and the rest is as the difference between a primitive and a manufactured article. Very significant indeed it is, in view of what we have been considering, that those now before us have their meaning derived from the former ones, connected as they are with the display of God; for "of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever, Amen."
We shall find also that the meanings of these latter are less comprehensive by far. They are more definite, for to define is to limit. Thus a fourth section is perhaps the easiest of all to recognise. It appeals to us in a sadly intelligible way. Yet, as the minor notes in music, all this falls into the general harmony, and adds an expression to it very sweet and necessary. The shadows outline the landscape, and give it tone and tenderness. Such is God's triumph over sin.
The number 4 is the first one capable of true division, and which the number 2 divides. This gives it its character. It is significant of that which yields itself up to this division, as material to the hand that fashions it. It is thus the number of the world, and implies weakness necessarily, therefore, which may give way under trial, and yield to another hand than the One who has title over it. And this the creature has done. Therefore the world is what it is to-day, and all the trial and evil of which it is the scene.
Thus we have "four corners of the earth," and, as disturbing influences, the "four winds of heaven." The way in which these are used may be well seen in that passage in the seventh of Daniel, in which he says, "Behold, the four great winds of heaven strove upon the great sea, and four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from the other." It was indeed amid the encounter of the powers of the earth that the Gentile empires predicted here arose. And such still is the condition of the world through which we pass - a scene of various and constant strife, which is Satan's sieve to sift us with, though God be over all. In this, failure and evil come out plentifully in us, and with this the number commonly, but not necessarily, connects itself.
As I have said, there are two ways in which it is divided in Scripture. Often, as in the four Gospels, it is divided into 3 and 1. The first three gospels are confessedly kindred in view, and widely different from John, which, in the character of truth, and even of its narrative, is a second division rather than a fourth. This we shall hope to examine at another time. A similar division we shall find in other cases. But here, the division of four, the world-number, brings out two of the specially divine ones: 3, the number of divine manifestation; 1, that of the Creator. And this is the ideal result of all the trial of the creature - the manifestation of the Creator. This is what, after all, we find in the world; it is its illuminated side, so to speak. And in a higher way altogether was it true of Him who as Man perfectly glorified God under every possible trial. This is the meaning of the four gospels, and of that division of the four which we have just glanced at.
On the other hand, the seven parables of the kingdom in the thirteenth of Matthew divide, as usually, into 4 and 3. The first four are given in the hearing of the multitude at large; the last three, to disciples in the house. The first four, in accordance with the significance of the number, give the world-aspect, in which the testing and failure of man are seen abundantly; the last three, in similar accordance, give the divine accomplishments, recognized by faith alone.
But these first four parables, as we might expect, are not divided as the gospels are. Here, that other division of the number which I have spoken of is found: the first two parables are clearly to be distinguished from the latter two; in the first, we have individuals simply; in the second, the collective whole. The division is the true division arithmetically, from which the significance of the number is derived, and which testifies to the weakness of the creature and the agency of evil.
The proof in all this will appear stronger the more it is considered. As we go on, we shall find it constantly receiving confirmation in ever-increasing proportion to the examples produced. Here, I must limit myself to one other illustration of the number before us, and that will be, as before, by the corresponding book of the Pentateuch, which is the book of Numbers.
Numbers is a book very clear in its general meaning, and its witness for the numerical structure is so much the more evident. It is the history of the wilderness, as one of its Hebrew titles indicates, of Israel's journeyings from Sinai to the land of Moab, over against the promised land, where Deuteronomy gives them its final word. It is essentially their history; for though Exodus gives the account of the first part of the way as for as Sinai from the Red Sea, yet its object is very different, namely, to show God's care over them and provision for them, according to the grace of that deliverance which is the theme of the book. And surely Numbers is not wanting in this grace; but that it may be grace, the people are permitted to show out fully what they are, - what we are, no less than they. Then the resurrection-priesthood displays its virtues for them; and the root of sin being reached and judged in the brazen serpent, the accusation of the enemy is turned into full unchallengeable blessing.
This is in general the character of the book, which typically tells of our pilgrimage to our heavenly land, of the trials and the failure by the way, still of the Shepherd's love and power for us no less, and of the priestly intercession of the One risen out of death, upon which all depends.
In the cleansing of the leper, and in the consecration of the priest alike, the blood is put upon three parts of man, which together manifest what he is, - the tip of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the great toe of the right foot. By the ear he is to receive the word of God; with the hand, to do the enjoined work; with the foot, to walk in His blessed ways. This is evidently the man in his whole responsibility.
Each of these parts is stamped with the number 5. The ear is the avenue to the higher pert; and there are five of such senses, by which man is put in connection with the whole scene around: the avenues of perception, by which alone he can be appealed to. The hand of man is that by which he moulds and fashions the natural world around him. It is the ex- pression of active power; the four fingers, with an opposing thumb, the consecrated because the governing part. These on the two hands give 10, the number of the commandments in the two tables of the law, the measure of natural responsibility.
The foot, the expression of personal conduct, gives a similar division, much less marked however, and the two feet a similar 10. Five stands thus as the number of man, exercised and responsible, under the government of God.
The 4 and 1, so strikingly marked upon his hands, the instrument by which he takes hold upon the world around him, are striking figures, easy to be read in this connection. They speak of the created world submitted to its Creator, - of God's government, in short, itself. Of this, man is in measure, as seen in his hand, the representative; while as the representative, he is pre-eminently the subject of it.
The exercise of which man is the subject is not alone as to the path before him, but often also as to the governmental ways of God with him; and although the Christian now knows God as his Father, yet the exercise remains and is needful. In God's government still it is true that clouds and darkness are round about Him, and that we cannot meet Him face to face. Just on this very account most of all is it that "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; but afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto those who are exercised thereby." How profitable the earnest searching of heart and inquiry which may result from God's hidden ways with us, we are often witness to ourselves.
Under the number 5 we shall find these exercises, then, and their fruit, - how "tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope." Above all in those didactic books of the Old Testament, which are specially its human voice, in which we find just five books, often, as in the Psalms, dividing into just five books again, beautifully closing in this case with five halleluiahs. For thus our harps of praise are strung and tuned in sorrow.
But we must now learn a little to discriminate. Twelve has been mentioned before as a number speaking of divine government; here we find 5 to speak of it again; and yet again 1 would seem to be the rightful expression of divine supremacy. Is there no collision here? or does it not seem as if these numbers were thus capable of so much latitude as to take away the definiteness we might reasonably look for, and leave them to be moulded by the imagination at its will?
In fact, it is the very reverse, which a comparison of these numbers shows. They reveal, the more we examine them, a delicacy of application which will satisfy the observant mind of the reality of their indications. No doubt their meanings often approach one another, and this is only what we might expect; yet there is never wanting a real distinction which redeems them from all vagueness, and the examination of these three numbers will fully establish this.
One, then, is indeed the number which speaks of supremacy as none else can. This is so obvious that there is no need to dilate upon it much. It is the number, therefore, which speaks of the government or kingdom of God from its divine side.
Five, as we have seen, contains this number, but as 4 and 1. This is seen in another way also than in that I have already indicated, and in a way more simply scriptural. For the usual division of 7 in Scripture is 4 plus 3; and here we have 4 as a first completed series, and the last three another, which therefore 5 begins. It would in this case be, of course, a 4 plus 1. No doubt the proof is here more obscure than usual. A further research may make it clearer, and I believe will.
For what is the meaning of this 4 plus 3? It is the world-number, and the number of divine manifestation added to it; and it is when God is thus manifested in connection with His works that He can rest; therefore the seventh day is the day of God's rest, and His creation-rest is but the type of the full rest to come.
But if, then, the last three in this 7 be the number of the Trinity - of God fully revealed - it would seem as if it would result that 5 would be a 4 plus 1; and 6, a 4 plus 2; and that here the former divine numbers would afresh reveal their significance. What can we have, in fact, more than God and the world? What can we expect, then, but a repetition here of the divine 1 and 2? And when this suits and illustrates as it does the meaning otherwise obtained, why should we hesitate to accept it as the true key?
But thus it is no wonder if a shadow of the first number be apparent in the number before us. Five has the meaning of 1 in it, just because indeed it is a 4 plus 1. Yet this does not make it a mere repetition. There is this number 4 which stands before it, the number of the world - the creature, and it is from the human side we have approached it therefore. It is, in fact, the human side of divine government that is conveyed by it, as the divine side is by the number 1. Thus it speaks, not so much of the throne as of the ways of God - ways which expressed in commandments, become the guidance and define the responsibility of the creature; while, as they are more strictly ways of a sovereign God, they give him needed exercise, humbling, and so blessing.
As to 12, it lies outside of the series we are considering, but finds its meaning in the numbers which are its arithmetical factors; and these are 4 and 3, not added, of course, but multiplied together. It is only in the relation of the two numbers, therefore, that it differs from 7: the number of the world and of divine manifestation prevail in it; but these are not side by side merely, but acting upon each other. It is God manifesting Himself in the world of His creation as 7 is, but in active energy laying hold upon and transforming it. Thus 12 is the number of manifest sovereignty, as it was exercised in Israel by the Lord in the midst of them, or as it will be exercised in the world to come, while 1 and 5 apply to His government all through the dispensations - to a throne which is never given up; for he who is not sovereign is not God.
Thus the three numbers have each their distinct sphere and meaning, and the examination cannot but deepen our sense of their precision and power of utterance. We have yet to look at the last book of the Pentateuch - Deuteronomy, and obtain its final witness of the numerical stamp upon it.
Deuteronomy is as plain as the other books. We have in it, first of all, the rehearsal of Israel's journeyings through the wilderness, - of God's ways with them, and of the conduct on their part which necessitated these ways. Then the divine commandments are put before them, and the way of obedience shown to be the way of blessing, as of disobedience the way of curse. Finally, it is prophesied how the future would, to their sorrow and shame, confirm all this, while God would be as sovereign in their blessing in the end as holy in the way by which he brings them into it.
Here the Pentateuch closes, then, and we shall have no similar book to illustrate the two final numbers. For Joshua is not a sixth book (in the sense we are considering), but a new first - the opening of a new series; neither does any book of Scripture go beyond a fifth. The Pentateuchal structure, as we may by and by see, is the structure of the whole Bible, - of the Old Testament and the New alike.
We come now to the number 6. According to the parallel of 5 and 7, it will consist of 4 plus 2, but its arithmetical division would be 3 x 2. It is a number which is thus, like 4, capable of true division.
Six days make up man's week of labour - a labour which has come in through sin. This stamps his life, which also has its limit - narrow and fixed by God. Six speaks thus of divine limit imposed, of restraint upon man's will, which breaks out against it and submits, as the sea against its margin of sand, which it cannot pass.
Thus, if 2 be taken here as the stamp of the enemy and sin his work, the arithmetical division, which is true division, speaks of God manifest in opposition to this - of His victory over it. But if 3 be taken as manifestation itself, not necessarily divine, then it may stand for the manifestation of the evil itself, which its end in due time brings about. On the other hand, if 3 stands (as we have seen it may) for fullness, then 6 may speak of the full development of evil, though always probably with this underlying thought of the divine control of it in spite of all.
The number of the beast, 666, whatever else it may have in it, would thus speak of the full development of evil in the very highest opposition to God; while also the stamp of vanity and weakness of the creature, limited and restrained by Him, would be only proportionately the more apparent.
In any case, the limitation, restraint, and perhaps judgment of evil seem to be inseparable from the number. Discipline would thus come under it.
This is but a meagre account, no doubt, and further research would assuredly enlarge our conceptions; yet it is a number which Scripture seems to avoid, if one may so say, and we shall have comparatively few examples of it in what is before us.
Last of the series, we have the number 7, whose significance has been already noted. The division of 7 almost always is into 4 and 3, as also we have seen. The number of divine manifestation is added to the world-number, - God is made known in connection with the work of His hands: then He rests. Seven is thus the number of perfect divine accomplishment.
Thus the series of numbers is manifestly complete. God is the beginning and end of it, the "First and with the last." There is room for nothing more. There is nothing that may not be resolved into what is contained herein. All higher numbers, - save one, which, as we have seen, is added to give confirmation, as it were, of the fact that the series is finished, - are but multiples of the lower ones, and as already said, gain their meaning from these which are (not merely arithmetically) their factors. We have seen 12 to be thus 4 x 3, and 10 to be a 5 x 2. Forty, again, the number of complete probation, is thus obviously only 4 x 10. There are few other of the larger numbers which seem to have any special prominence in Scripture.
Seven is the number which in its full sense speaks of the perfect accomplishment of the divine work. But we must not suppose that it is, any more than the others of the series, to be read only in this way. It seems indeed always to speak of perfection in some sense; but the sense is often a much lesser and lower one. Nor only so, it is occasionally used even in application to what is evil, as in the case of the man out of whom the unclean spirit had departed, but who returns with "seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there." Now here, it seems to me that 6 is not used, as we might have expected, just because 6 implies, as we have seen, the control of the divine hand over the evil; and this, in such a warning as the Lord is giving, would not be in place. The man is given over to them; although, of course, there is, in another sense, and always, divine control. The seven heads upon the apocalyptic beast have again a different meaning. They express only a complete phase of the beast's existence, which gives place to that under the eighth head, in which all the full height of spiritual evil is reached. Thus the 7 here is not the stamp of perfect evil, plainly.
This book of Revelation is full of sevens, as we must be all aware. The seven candlesticks, which are the seven churches, give us the light for the earth; in responsibility, a perfect testimony. The seven addresses give us the perfect judgment of how that responsibility has been discharged. The seven spirits before the throne represent the plenitude of the Spirit's energy. The seven seals and trumpets both terminate in the complete accomplishment of God's purposes as to the earth. In the seven vials, "the wrath of God" is expressly said to be "filled up." These will give us sufficient illustration of the use of the number 7, which is in general no very difficult one. Every application, indeed, requires careful consideration, and from this we shall never be released in studying Scripture. It is the labor in which assuredly there is profit.
Thus the numerical series ends, for of the number 8 all has been already said that need be said. As expressing (as in the first day of a new week) what is new, in contrast with the old, now passed away, it marks the former series as complete. It is the stamp of the new covenant, new creation, only characterizing them as that. It adds, therefore, no thought morally or spiritually; all this is summed up in the previous series.
We have, then, the series complete, however little the interpretation may be. Yet true, I believe it is, and while already there has been given some proof of this, it will be tested abundantly in that which lies before us. Certainly it is of a nature to expose itself in the fullest way to testing. We have yet to find also how the numerical division of Scripture works practically in bringing out its meaning; as only now are we furnished for this inquiry. The practical test is the great one. Is the metal gold, or a counterfeit? Yet if it be in Scripture, its genuineness and its profit are alike assured us. "All Scripture....is profitable." If God has been pleased to stamp all Scripture with this numerical stamp, how great must be the profit intended for us in it!
Now I propose, if the Lord enable me, to take up, in the lectures following this, the Bible as a whole, and to show how this numerical key opens to us its structure, the meaning of its individual books, and their relation to one another. I desire to show how the seal of perfect inspiration is thus set upon every part, - that there is nothing in excess, nothing lacking, so that every stone in the building being in its place, filling exactly the place appointed it, its symmetry and beauty shall be apparent to every eye opened of God to see spiritually. This is much to do assuredly. If it be done, will not the numerical structure approve itself, not only as a fact, but one of immense importance?
But before we proceed to proof upon this larger scale, let us, for the remainder of this present lecture, attempt it upon a smaller one. And let us take up some part sufficiently known to be grasped with some ease in its main features, then let us apply to it the law of Scripture which we believe we have discovered in it - that every part is marked with some number which conveys to us its real significance, and let us see what the result may be.
And for this purpose we will take up a passage which shall exhibit to us the whole series of numbers we have had in consideration, - a passage which divides into seven main parts, as well as whatever number of smaller parts. The sermon on the Mount, familiar as it must be to all of us, will be in this way as suitable a passage perhaps as could be found.
In speaking of these divisions, let me remark that, in order that they may be clearer to us, and for this reason only, I shall call the largest portions of all, divisions; the portions of these, parts; and of these again, sections. When we have to go further than this, we shall speak in the same arbitrary way of subdivisions, and of subsections. This will have the advantage of enabling us without confusion to keep the rank of these various portions in our mind, and therefore I shall adhere to this language with scrupulous exactness.
The gospel of Matthew has for its theme what is only in it called the "kingdom of heaven." The first division introduces the King Himself, in two parts: His title; and the testimony to Him rejected by the people, and His glory vailed because of their unbelief. This occupies the first two chapters.
The second division occupies chaps. iii.-vii. It treats of the "announcement of the kingdom," and divides into three parts. In the first, the King comes forth and receives the Father's acknowledgment at His anointing with the Holy Ghost. In the second part, we have the testimony of the King Himself. The third part occupies from chap. v.-vii, and here we have our subject - the Sermon on the Mount.
It is a true third part, treating as it does of the sanctification belonging to the kingdom, and this throughout.
The Sermon on the Mount divides into 7 sections, as already said, a number which stamps it with the perfection necessary to it as that which is the code of heaven's kingdom, from the lips of the Holy One of God.
The first section gives (v. 1-16) the beatitudes; which reveal in fact, the principles of the kingdom, as seen in the character of those who enter it. The blessings are pronounced upon them in three characters: first (1-9), as what they are personally, their righteousness, the kingdom controling and forming them, as chap. vi. 33; secondly (10-12), as persecuted by a world in opposition to them; thirdly, as salt amid the corruption, and light amid the darkness of the world. The second section is a longer one, and has seven subdivisions. It occupies the rest of the chapter, and in it we find the law confirmed, expanded and supplemented. Observe, too, how there runs through the whole the contrast between what was said to them of old time and what He now says. In all of this, a second section is manifest.
The first subdivision (17-20) gives the maintenance of its authority, with the whole authority of the kingdom itself.
The second (21-26) begins the expansion of it with that of the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill;" forbidding the enmity of the heart in its least outflow, and establishing the law itself as the adversary to be reconciled by one against whom his brother thus has ought.
The third (27-32) goes to the heart and the root of lust there, while in the revision of the law of divorce it forbids one being the occasion of it in another.
The fourth (33-37) forbids oaths in recognition of the place of the creature before God, and of creature- weakness.
The fifth (38-42) treats of legal recompense on the principle of ver. 5, meekness, not resisting evil, an appeal and a submission, in fact, to divine government.
While the sixth (43-47) enjoins love to enemies - the truest and highest victory over evil, in imitation of God's own patient goodness toward such.
And the seventh (v. 48) closes with a plain injunc- tion to perfection, even as our Father in heaven is perfect.
Thus to the end of this second section the numerical structure is clear and manifest, and points out the special features of every part. The closer the attention given to it the more manifest it will be. The third section occupies the first eighteen verses of chap. vi. It treats of righteousness in the presence of the Father, who seeth in secret: practical righteousness, of course. (The Revised Version rightly reads this instead of "alms" in the first verse.)
This divides into three subdivisions - three different examples of what righteousness is, very different from any thing man would have given: first, alms, the expression of mercy, goodness undemanded save by the misery it relieves. This is the imitation in a creature of God's free bounty. Secondly, prayer, the expression of dependence, of the inferior place; thirdly, fasting, the keeping under of the body, and bringing it into subjection - the expression of sanctification as led of the Spirit (Rom. viii. 12-14).
The fourth section fills the rest of the chapter. It gives the remedy for the cares and temptations of the world. First, in having one only place for heart and treasure; secondly, in refusing divided service, the darkness of an evil eye; thirdly, in the assurance of being under a Father's eye.
The first fourteen verses of the seventh chapter, as a section, give results in government. First, of the measure you mete, which will be measured to you again; secondly, of not dividing between holy and unclean; thirdly, you must ask to receive, seek to find, knock that it may be opened, and a Father's love will give good gifts; but fourthly, take care you do what you would have done; and fifthly, only the strait gate and the narrow way lead to life.
The sixth section is a warning against false prophets - whose end shall be according to their works: a double exemplification of the number as it seems to me, for the false prophet is surely himself covered by it (vii. 15-23).
Finally, the seventh section puts the seal upon Christ's teachings: His perfect words are a rock-foundation for one that builds upon them; when the final storms come, his building shall not be overthrown. this is the seal eternity will set upon Christ's word. Meanwhile, the authority of the Speaker shines through His decisive, inimitable sayings. This is the present seal: "He spake as One that had authority, and not as the scribes."
This is but the skeleton of a living and breathing reality. Still even a skeleton may exhibit something of a symmetry of structure which in fact we are now seeking to point out. Surely I have succeeded in showing that the numerical stamp is on this whole dis- course of our Lord, and that it gives the real significance of the various parts. A closer examination would show this better, but it must suffice me for the present to have shown it.
And if this be shown as to these chapters of Matthew's gospel, then there is no shadow of reason for doubting that the numerical structure pervades all Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. The chapters we have looked at have been chosen out of hundreds of others merely because they are a completely marked off subject, furnish examples of all the numbers, and are quite familiar, it is supposed, to all of us. They may be safely taken as illustrations of a pervading law; which, binding Scripture as it does together, we may challenge the keenest scepticism to dissolve its organic unity, or untie the knot of its perfect inspiration.