I propose giving in this work, of which Genesis is the commencement, a short synopsis of the principal subjects of each book of the Bible, to aid in the study of this precious volume that our God has given to us. I do not at all pretend to give the full contents of each book, but only (as God shall grant to me) a sort of index of the subjects, the divisions of the books by subjects, and (as far as I am enabled) the object of the Spirit of God in each part, hoping that it may aid others in reading the book of God. The Bible, in its object, is a whole, which presents to us God coming forth from His essential fulness to manifest all that He is, and to bring back into the enjoyment of this fulness with Himself those who, having been made partakers of His nature, have become capable of comprehending and loving His counsels and Himself.
But before this purpose is fully revealed, man is brought upon the scene as a responsible being, and his history, as such, given to us in the various phases through which he has passed, up to the cross, where his enmity against God was manifested, and the foundation laid for the full revelation of that purpose, and the accomplishment of God’s good pleasure in man, and laid by that in which the whole divine character in love and righteousness was revealed and glorified, and God perfectly glorified in every respect in bringing man into glory. The creation has served as a sphere to this manifestation of God; but as a manifestation it would have been in itself altogether imperfect, though in a measure it declared His glory.
Sin moreover having entered, the state of the creation and the effects of providence, which regulated its order and details here below, tended, in the state in which man was, to give a false idea of God. For if he referred this creation and this government to God, he saw a power which belonged to Him alone; while there existed at the same time evil which overthrew every idea he could form of powerful goodness. The mind of man was lost in the effort to explain it, and superstitions and philosophy came in to complete the confusion in which he found himself. On the one hand, superstitions made falser still the false ideas that man had formed for himself of God; and on the other hand, philosophy, by the efforts which man’s natural intelligence made to get rid of the difficulty, plunged him into such obscurity and such uncertainty that he finished by rejecting every idea of God whatever, save the need which had made him seek one.
These superstitions were in truth nothing more than that Satan had possessed himself of the idea of God in the heart, in order to nourish, under this name, its lusts, and degrade it in consecrating them by the name of a god, who was in truth a demon; and philosophy was but the useless effort of the mind of man to rise to the idea of God—a height which he was incapable of attaining, and which in consequence he abandoned, making it a subject of pride to do without it. Even the law of God, while declaring the responsibility of man to God, and thus asserting His authority, only revealed Him in the exercise of judgment, requiring from man what he ought to be, without revealing what God was, save in justice; and in no way in relationship with the scene of misery and ignorance which sin had brought upon the human race. It did not shew what God was in the midst of that misery, nor could do so; for its office was to require from man consistency with a certain line of conduct, of which the Legislator constituted Himself judge, at the end of the career of him who was subjected to it. The Son of God is God Himself in the midst of all this scene, the faithful Witness of all that He is in His relationship with it. In a word, it is the Son of God who reveals God Himself, and who becomes thus necessarily the centre of all His counsels, and of all the manifestation of His glory, as well as the object of all His ways.
We shall find then three great subjects in the Bible—the creation (now under the effect of the fall);1 the law, which gave to man, such as he is now, a rule—to man in the midst of this creation to see if he could live there according to God, and be there blessed; and the Son of God.
The first two, namely, the creation and the law, are bound up with the responsibility of the creature. We shall find all that is connected with these two either guilty or corrupted. The Son, on the contrary—the manifestation of the grace and love of the Father, and of God’s love to the world, when this guilt was already there in lawless sin and lawbreaking; the express image of the subsistence of God, in whom the Father was seen—we shall see suffering in love in the midst of this fallen creation and the contradictions of a rebellious people, and when God had been perfectly glorified in respect of sin, accomplishing all the counsels of God in uniting all things in blessing by His power and under His authority, those even who with hatred had rejected Him being forced to own Him Lord to the glory of God the Father; and at last, when He shall have subjected all things, giving up to God the Father the kingdom of His glory as Son of man, that God may be all in all.
Besides all this, there are in the counsels of God those with whom the God whom we know in Jesus surrounds Himself, who are to be brought into the likeness of Him with whom they are associated as sons, He the firstborn among many brethren who are to enjoy eternally with God His favour and blessing, as it Vests on Him with whom and through whom they enjoy it. There is also an earthly people in whom God manifests the principles of His government here below and His unfailing faithfulness; it is to this last, consequently, that the law was given. Finally, in the purpose of God before the world was (but hidden until the fit moment when, its redemption being accomplished, the Holy Spirit could, by dwelling in it, consequent on the accomplishment of the work of redemption and the glorifying of Christ, reveal to it all the efficacy of its redemption and the whole extent of its blessing), there was a church, chosen in Christ, His bride, to be presented to Himself without spot or wrinkle, His body too, the fulness of Him who filleth all in all, united to Him by the Spirit with which all the members are baptised, and soon to be manifested in glory when He takes that headship.
The cross is the centre of all this in every respect. There the history of man in responsibility, as the child of Adam ends, and there begins anew in grace reigning through righteousness. There good and evil are fully brought to an issue, hatred in man and love in God, sin and the righteousness of God against it.2 There God is perfectly glorified morally, and man judged in sin and redeemed in righteousness, the dominion of evil destroyed, and that of man established in righteousness as God willed it should be, death and he that had the power of it set aside, and this by an act of love which set the Son of God as man at the head of all things in righteousness. All, through the cross, rests secure and immutable in result on the ground of redemption: what shall the end of the despisers of it be?
Hence we shall find, not only the creation, the law, and the Son of God, but the dealings by which God has prepared the way for, and led men to expect, His manifestation; the development of all the principles on which He entered into relationship with men; the consequences of the violation of the law; and lastly, in its place, the manifestation of the church upon the earth, and the directions He has given to it, together with the course of events which are connected with its existence and its unfaithfulness on the earth; with that of the earthly people of God; and with man himself, responsible to God and clothed with authority by Him on the earth: the whole closing with the glory of Jesus, Son of man, maintaining the blessing and union of all things under the reign of God; and, in fine, God all in all. The history of Jesus; the position granted to the church in glory according to the counsels of God, the mystery hidden from the ages; her participation in the sufferings of Jesus, and her union with Him; and in general the testimony of the Holy Ghost given from on high, are clearly revealed in the New Testament. That of which we have spoken previously forms the course of the ages; the church forms no part of them.
This separates the Bible naturally into two parts: —that which speaks of the first two subjects, the creation and man in his relationship with God without law, and His people under law; and that which speaks of the Son come upon the earth, and all that relates to the church and its glory—that is, in general, the Old and New Testament. We shall see, however, that, in the Old, promise and prophecy referred always to the Son, eternal object of the counsels of God; as, in the New, there were prophecies of the future dealings of God with the earth, and so far connected with the Old; and, further, the rejection of the Son gave occasion to the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth—a fact which modified the whole state of the people of God, and introduced special subjects which depended on this presence. For there is this peculiar in the historical part of the New, that the Son was presented first to the world, and to the people under the law, to put them anew to the test. The bearing of His coming at first was not the accomplishment of the counsels of God, but to present to man, still placed under the old order of things, the faithful testimony of what God was, if the heart of man had any capacity to receive it, or to discern Him who returned in grace into the midst of a fallen creation, and did so in the very form and nature of him in whom the fall had taken place; and to the Jews, if they had been willing to receive Him, the Lord of Glory, the object of all the prophecies and of all the promises; and, in fine (the world not having known Him, and His own not having received Him), to accomplish the sacrifice, which could lay the foundation of a new world before God, and place the redeemed in joy before the face of His Father, heirs of all that was established in Him the second Adam to make the church His body and His bride.
From all that I have said, it results also that the Old Testament contains two very distinct parts—often united, it is true, in the same book, and even in a single passage, still distinct in their nature—the history of man as he was, and God’s way with him, or the historical part, whether before the law or under the law; and the revelation of the thoughts and intentions of God as to the future, which are always connected with Christ. This revelation sometimes takes the character of a positive prophecy, sometimes the form of a typical event which prefigures what God would afterwards accomplish. I may cite, as an example of this last way of expressing the thoughts of God, the sacrifice of Isaac. Evidently there is an historical instruction of the utmost importance in the touching example of Abraham’s obedience; but every one easily recognises in it the type of a sacrifice, for which God prepared for Himself a Lamb, of which Isaac, the beloved of his father, was but a feeble figure; and where resurrection, not in figure but in power, is the source of life and hope to every believer.
But perhaps I anticipate too much the details. Let us proceed to the general character of the books of scripture.
1 I confine myself more especially to the lower creation where man was placed. There are fallen angels, and the created heavens are defiled through sin. But angels were a distinct creation, and present to celebrate with joy the creation as we view it, and as it is viewed in Genesis I, after the first verse, as a scene with which man has to do. Still as responsible and creatures, where not preserved of God, they were liable to fall, and in fact did fall. But they were a distinct creation. Hence we have them not in the creation recounted in Genesis.
2 This is morally of the greatest depth and fulness. We have man in absolute evil, hatred against God manifested in goodness; Satan in all his power over all Adam’s children; man in perfection, Christ, in love to His Father, and perfect obedience; God in righteousness against sin, and in love to the sinner; and all this in the very place of sin where man was. Hence all founded on it is immutably stable. A risen Christ is, as to the human state in itself, the result of this, man in a new eternal condition, beyond sin, death, Satan’s power and judgment.