Book traversal links for Preface to Volume 3
Translated from the French Edition as appearing in “Etudes sur La Parole.”
J. N. Darby.
I present to you in these pages the beginning of a work which I trust will be of use to you in the study of the precious Word of God. I also desire that the outlines you will find therein, giving you a glimpse of part of the wealth contained in the Word, may induce you to study it more carefully. I feel conscious, even more conscious than you could be, of the great and numerous imperfections that are found in this outline. However small one’s value of the Word may be; however little one may have felt its divine character, any work of man referring to it will be, in the eyes of a believer, quite colourless and poor. I feel this, and wish to say a few words to explain to you my object in publishing these thoughts, and to let you know what to expect in perusing them.
A few years ago a brother suggested that I should undertake this work, but until now, I have shrunk from the task, more because of a sense of my inability for such an undertaking, than because of my being occupied in the Lord’s service, although the latter may have accounted somewhat for the delay. The feeling that the Lord is near inclined me to devote myself to service rather than to undertake work in my study. The needs of brothers who are also in the Lord’s field, and most of them in a more useful way than I am, caused me to decide to set about this work, without, I hope forsaking a fitting humility, which I would rather maintain than accomplish any kind of work whatsoever. Several matters, however, weighed in the balance to hinder my commencing this task.
Firstly, the immense responsibility, which, when it is a question of the Word of God, attaches to the one who would give guidance to the thoughts of Christians; and however modestly it might be, to present ideas as being the intention of the Spirit of God. How grave an error to wrongly direct the dear children of God in the understanding of His thoughts and of His will; or to present as the purpose of His precious communications, that which may not be it!
Another consideration also checked me; it was the fear that anyone might assume to find in this work, the whole contents of the Word. The grave and serious harm of all commentaries is that they make room for this thought, lending themselves thus to the slothfulness of heart and the lack of spirituality which are satisfied with a few explanations, good, perhaps, in themselves, but which only give a few thoughts suggested by the Word and fall infinitely short of communicating its life, its power and its wealth. Nothing is more harmful than this laziness which prefers to dwell on a few thoughts rather than fathom the divine Word itself, which latter is denied to the soul who does not earnestly seek of the Lord, with diligence, spirituality and devotion, the knowledge which He alone can give. The reader therefore, will not find here any pretension to give him the whole contents of the Word. He will find— at least, such has been my desire and the object of my work—a few indications which will help him in the study of the Bible, but which will be useless to him without this study. I should have rendered him an injurious service had I helped him to gather up ideas, at the same time diverting him from the living and true Word which puts us in touch with God Himself, places our hearts beneath that eye which sees all, which judges all; but which sees it in order to heal us and bless us.
A further and more personal consideration weighed with me a little—the fact that the task truly was very great. The influence of this thought vanished in the hope of being of service to my brethren; and, in the great joy I anticipated in performing the work, which joy indeed, I have not failed to experience. Even if my reader does not derive any great gain from it, I, at any rate, have the consolation that it has been of immense gain to me. Whatever may be, I do not regret having undertaken it. I beseech the reader not to read these pages without accompanying them with those of the Word, and to use them only for the study of the Word. My purpose is that the Word should be studied, and I even hope that it will be impossible to use these writings otherwise than in the study of the Word.
Finally, I did not propose to speak of the result the truth has produced in myself, nor give utterance to the godly emotions which gush up in the heart when the Word is rightly read. I intended to help my reader to understand that which should produce these feelings. I prefer to let them spring up through grace in his heart, rather than to impart to him much of what has taken place in mine. I simply express the desire that the effect may be not only the joy of knowledge, but of true communion with God.
I have only one word to add. I intended to publish a summary of all the books of the Bible, indicating as far as it may be given to me the intent and thought of the Holy Spirit in each book. As it is a great undertaking it seemed that the work could very well be published in parts. The Pentateuch suggests itself naturally as a group which could appear separately. My work on the other books is well advanced, so that I hope to be able, God willing, to resume shortly the publication of this work. It is sweet to think that my brethren will help me with their prayers that I may have guidance from God in this work, and that His Spirit may preside over it, and that thus it may be a blessing to us all.
I must not finish this Preface without informing my reader that if he finds that which edifies in these pages, he will be largely indebted to the care and affectionate interest brought in by our brother M. H. Parlier, who has greatly helped me in editing.
May the teaching of the Holy Spirit Himself be granted to you, dear reader; may the Word become always more precious in these last days, and may an obedient spirit, mingled with love for all that belongs to Christ, be with you. This is the desire of your affectionate brother in Him.
J. N. Darby
Introduction To The New Testament
In pursuing these scripture studies, it is with a certain kind of fear that I approach the New Testament, great as may be the blessing attendant on so doing. The concentration and at the same time expansion of divine light in this precious gift of God, the immense reach of the truths contained in it; the infinite variety of the aspects and true applications of one and the same passage, and of its relations with the whole circle of divine truths; the immense importance of these truths, whether considered in themselves or with reference to the glory of God or in relation to the need of man; the manner in which they reveal God and meet that need—all these considerations, which I can but imperfectly express, would cause any humble-minded person to retire from the pretension of giving a true and (even in principle) adequate idea of the purpose of the Holy Ghost in the books of the New Testament. And the more truth itself is revealed, the more true light shines, the more one’s incapacity to speak of it must be felt, and the more one must fear to darken that which is perfect. The more pure the truth is with which we have to do (and here it is truth itself), the more difficult is the endeavour to lay it before others without in some respects injuring its purity; and the more fatal also is this injury. In meditating on such or such a passage, we may communicate, for the profit of others, the measure of light granted to us. But in attempting to give an idea of the book as a whole, all the perfection of truth itself, and the universality of the purpose of God in the revelation He has made of it, present themselves to the mind; and one trembles at the thought of undertaking to give a true and general idea, if it be not a complete one, which no really christian person would pretend to do.
The Old Testament may perhaps appear more difficult to some persons than the New, and with respect to the interpretation of certain isolated passages it may be so; but, although the inspired writers of that part of scripture reveal the mind of God as communicated to them by Him (and we can admire the wisdom there unfolded), yet God Himself was still hidden behind the veil. We may mistake or overlook the meaning of an expression, and we suffer loss, for it was God who spoke; but in the New Testament it is God Himself—meek, gentle, human, on earth, in the Gospels; instructing with divine light in the subsequent communications of the Holy Ghost; yet still God—who manifests Himself. But if the light is brighter, both for our personal guidance and for the knowledge of Himself, it becomes a yet more serious thing to misinterpret these living communications, or to disguise by our own thoughts that which is the truth itself. For we must remember that Christ is the truth. He is the Word. It is God who speaks in the Person of the Son, who, while truly man, manifests also the Father.
As regards even interpretation itself, the truth itself, the light, eternal life, being in that which is revealed to us in the New Testament, it may be looked at in so many aspects, that the practical difficulty is much greater. For this truth may be looked at in its intrinsic and essential value: we may view it as the manifestation of the eternal nature of God, or in its manifestation with respect to the glory of the Son; we may examine its connections and its contrasts with the partial communications of the Old Testament, which it fulfils and eclipses by its own brightness, with the economy of God’s earthly government, which is set aside in order to introduce that which is eternal and heavenly. It may be viewed in its relations to man, for the life was the light of men, God having been pleased to manifest and to glorify Himself in man, to make Himself known to man, and to constitute him the means of the revelation of Himself to His other intelligent creatures. On every passage there would be something to say with respect to each of these aspects; for the truth is one, even as it is of God, but it shines on all things, and displays their true character.
Two things, however, encourage me: first, that we have to do with a God of perfect goodness, who has given us these wondrous revelations that we may profit by them; and, in the second place, that, although the source of truth is infinite and perfect, although these revelations flow from the fulness of truth in God, and its communication to us is perfect, after the perfection of Him that made it, nevertheless it is made by means of divers instruments, in themselves of a limited capacity, of which God makes use in communicating this or that portion of truth to us. This pure and living water has been in no wise corrupted, but in each communication it has been limited by the purpose of God, in the instrument used by Him to dispense it, while still in connection with the whole, according to the perfect wisdom of Him who has communicated all truth. The channel is not infinite. The water which flows through it is infinite, but not infinite in its communication. They prophesied in part, and we know in part. The aspect and the application of truth has even an especial character, according to the vessel through which it is communicated. The living water is there in its perfect pureness. As it exists in its source, so it gushes forth: the form of the fountain through which it flows before men is according to His wisdom who has formed it to be His instrument for that purpose. The Holy Ghost acts in man, in the vessel thereunto prepared. God had created, formed, fashioned and adapted the vessel, morally and intellectually, for such and such a service in respect to the truth. He acts in the vessel according to the object for which He has prepared it. Christ was and is the truth. Others have communicated it, each one according to that given him, and in connection with those elements with which God had brought his mind and heart into unison, and with that object for which the Holy Ghost had thus prepared him.
Leaving therefore my fears behind, I address myself confidingly to the accomplishment of this service, my heart resting on the perfect goodness of God who delights to bless us. May the just sense of my responsibility prevent my hazarding anything not according to God; and may the Lord Himself, in His grace, deign to direct me, and furnish me with that which shall be a blessing to the reader!
The New Testament has evidently a very different character from the Old. That which I have already remarked constitutes the essence of this difference. The New Testament treats of the revelation of God Himself, and shews us man brought in righteousness into glory in the presence of God. Formerly God had made promises, and He had executed judgments. He had governed a people on earth, and acted towards the nations without, having this people in view as the centre of His counsels as to earth. He had given them His law, and bestowed on them, by means of the prophets, a growing light, which announced, as nearer and nearer, His coming, who should tell them all things from God. But the presence of God Himself, a Man amongst men, changed the position of everything. Either man must receive, as a crown of blessing and of glory, the One whose presence was to banish all evil, and develop and perfect every element of good, furnishing at the same time an object which should be the centre of all affections, rendered perfectly happy by the enjoyment of this object; or, by rejecting Him, our poor nature must manifest itself as being enmity against God, and must prove the necessity for a completely new order of things, in which the happiness of man and the glory of God should be based upon a new creation.
We know what happened. He who was the image of the invisible God had to say, after the exercise of a perfect patience, “Righteous Father, the world hath not known thee.” Alas! yet more than that: He had to say, “They have seen and hated both me and my Father.”
Nevertheless this condition of man has in nowise prevented God from fulfilling His counsels; on the contrary it became the means of His doing so. He would not reject man until man had rejected Him (as in the garden of Eden man, conscious of sin, being unable to bear the presence of God, withdrew from Him before God had driven him out of the garden). But now that man on his part had entirely rejected God come in mercy into the midst of his misery, God was free—if one may venture to speak thus, and the expression is morally correct—to carry out His eternal purposes. But it is not judgment that is carried into effect, as was the case in Eden, when man had already departed from God. It is sovereign grace which, when man is evidently lost and has declared himself the enemy of God, carries on its work to magnify His glory, before the whole universe, in the salvation of poor sinners who had rejected Him.1
But in order that the perfect wisdom of God should be manifested, even in the details, this work of sovereign grace, in which God revealed Himself, must be seen as having its due connection with all His previous dealings revealed in the Old Testament, and also as leaving its full place to His government of the world.
All this is the cause that (apart from the one great idea which reigns throughout) there are four subjects in this wonderful book which unfold themselves to the eye of faith.
First, the great subject, the dominant fact, is, that the perfect light is manifested: God reveals Himself. But this light is revealed in love, the other essential name of God.
Christ, who is the manifestation of this light and love, and who, if He had been received, would have been the fulfilment of all the promises, is then presented to man, and especially to Israel (looked at in their responsibility), with every proof, personal, moral, and of power—proofs which left them without excuse.
Secondly, being rejected (a rejection by means of which salvation was accomplished), the new order of things—the new creation, man glorified, the assembly sharing with Christ in heavenly glory—is put before us.
Thirdly, the connection between the old order of things upon earth, and the new, with respect to the law, the promises, the prophets, or the divine institutions on earth, is set forth; whether in exhibiting the new as the fulfilment and setting aside of that which had grown old, or in stating the contrast between the two, and the perfect wisdom of God, which is demonstrated in every detail of His ways.
Finally, the government of the world, on the part of God, is prophetically displayed; and the renewal of God’s relations with Israel, whether in judgment or in blessing, is briefly but plainly stated, on the occasion of the rupture of those relations by the rejection of the Messiah.
It may be added, that everything necessary for man, as a pilgrim, on earth until God shall accomplish in power the purposes of His grace, is abundantly supplied. Come forth, at the call of God, from that which is rejected and condemned, and not yet in possession of the portion that God has prepared for him, the man who has obeyed this call needs something to direct him, and to reveal the sources of the strength he requires in walking towards the object of his vocation, and the means by which he can appropriate this strength. God, in calling him to follow a Master whom the world has rejected, has not failed to supply him with all the light and all the directions needed to guide and encourage him on his way, as well as point him to the sources of strength and how to obtain the supply of it.
Every reader of the Bible will understand that these subjects are not treated methodically and separately in the New Testament. Were it so, they would be much less perfectly understood. It is in life and in power, whether that of Christ or that of the Holy Ghost in the inspired writers, that they develop themselves to our hearts.
The Gospels, in general, set Christ before us as light and grace—still, though not doctrinally, as God Himself, first presented to men in this world, as well as the One in whom the promises made to Israel would be accomplished; and then openly as a divine Person in whom the purposes of the Father would be accomplished, the Jews being looked at as reprobate in their then standing. The Apocalypse—the introduction of the government of God over this world, in connection with the responsibility under which its relations to a revealed God have placed it. The writings of Paul—man’s acceptance and place before God by redemption, the new creation, and the assembly according to the counsels of God, the mystery of God. Various subjects connected with these are, however, found everywhere in the Epistles, and each separate development of one of these subjects throws light upon all the rest. The writings of John, we may add, treat particularly of the manifestation of God, and of the divine life in Christ, and then in quickened man, corresponding as they must, to one another; those of Peter, of the Christian’s pilgrimage, founded on Christ’s resurrection, and of the moral government of the world.
But, I repeat it, whether in the Person of Christ or in the communications of the Holy Ghost (Christ’s life being, in one way or other, the light of men), the truth shines out in the living manifestation of God, and in its living application to men; and also, according to the wisdom of God, it is connected with the progressive development2 inherent to truth when communicated to man, and adapted to the especial wants and to the spiritual capacities of the men to whom it was addressed.
No doubt the revelations of the New Testament are for the saints in all ages; but they were addressed, speaking historically, to living men, and adapted to their condition. But this circumstance weakens in no manner the truth communicated: it is of God, even as the apostle expresses it, “We are not as many which corrupt the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ.” And again, “Not handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” He adds nothing to this pure wine, he does not adulterate it. That which he received flows from him as pure as he received it.3
But the word of God addressed to men has even greater reality than any mere abstract truth; it is more immediately of God. We have not men’s ideas with respect to God, nor the reasonings of men’s minds even with truth for their subject; nor is it even truth, as it is in God, submitted abstractedly to the capacity of men that they may judge it. It is God who addresses Himself to man, who speaks to him, who communicates His thoughts as being His own. For if man is to judge them, they are not the words of God proclaimed as such. “Ye received the word of God,” says the apostle, “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the word of God.”
The effect produced on man, which causes him to own the truth and authority of the word, has been often confounded with a judgment formed by man upon the word as upon something submitted to him. Never can the word thus present itself. It would be denying its own nature; it would be saying, It is not my God who speaks. Can God say that He is not God? If not, He could not speak, and say that His word has not authority in itself.
The word is adapted to the nature of man: the life is the light of men. There are many things that produce an effect according to the nature of the thing to which they are applied, without their being judged by that thing. It is the case in all chemical action. A medicine is administered to me; I experience its effect. It has this effect according to my nature. Thus I am convinced of this effect, and of the power of the medicine. It is not a question of my forming a judgment on the medicine as submitted to my capacity. It is the same thing, through grace, with the revelation of Christ, save that the wicked will of man opposes also and rejects it, so that it becomes a savour of death unto death. The word of God is never judged when it produces its effect; it judges “the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Man is subject to it; he does not judge it.
When man has, through grace, received the word of truth, which addresses itself to him as such, he is in a condition to understand all its bearings by the help of the Holy Ghost; and, in this case, the circumstances of the persons, to whom it was addressed historically, become a means of understanding the intention of the mind of God in that part of the word which is under consideration. These circumstances, as we have seen, do not at all affect the divine pureness of the word; but, since God speaks to men according to their condition, this condition, as set before us in the word itself, is a very great assistance in understanding that which is said. This condition itself is only understood by the word, and by the help of the Holy Ghost. Sometimes it is the effect of the wickedness of the human heart; sometimes it partly depends on the dispensations of God.
However this may be, grace addresses itself to men according to their condition,4 according to the faithfulness of God to His promises, and in connection with His ways, which He has already taught them. It is not that (the true light being come) this light is dimmed or lowered to accommodate it to the darkness. Were this done, it would no longer be itself nor be capable of raising man by delivering him from the condition he is in; but it is so communicated as to be within the reach of men and applicable to their condition. It was this which they needed, it was this which was worthy of God. He alone could do it. And this is equally true as applicable to the subjects of which the Lord speaks, and to those spoken of by the Holy Ghost through the apostles. He may address Himself to Jews, converted but still attached to the Jewish system, in order to bring out the intentions of God (ever faithful to His promises) with regard to this people; as He might also, when raised on high, communicate by His Spirit all the consequences of the union of the church with Himself in the heavenly places, outside all the dealings of God upon the earth. And to those souls that were feeding on worldly elements, contrary to this heavenly elevation, and who did not lay hold in it of that which would deliver them from this worldly and carnal tendency— to such He might display the proofs of the evil into which they were falling; and this He might do by means that would bring them into unison with the eternal truths of God, in a manner which, although elementary, would judge this carnal disposition that is found at all times in those who do not rise to the height of God’s purposes. Or the Spirit might reveal the truth more simply in the elevation proper to it. He might dwell upon the essential characteristics of the nature of God, in order to judge all that pretended, under the most plausible forms, to be christian light, but which sinned against that nature in the most simple things; and thus link the most simple and most immature souls with the most exalted qualities of God Himself, in the essence of His nature.
The understanding (derived from the scriptures themselves, in which these things are found) of the position of those to whom they are addressed is of great use, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, in apprehending the divine truth contained in them; truth which is absolute, but, by the grace of God, applied truth, practical truth, realised in the soul by the power of God working in it, and guarding it by means of this truth, from the carnal tendency of the heart to fall into those evils which were the occasion of the scriptures that speak of them; truth that comes down to us, whatever our condition may be, not by altering its own character to accommodate itself to us, not by taking a form according to our condition, though suited to it, but comes down to us in order to raise us up to the source from whence it came down, and from which it never separates itself (for the truth communicated to us is ever the truth in God and in Christ, in order to raise us up morally to all the height of the divine nature); “which thing is true in him and in us, because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.” It is the effect of the intervention of Christ, to whom we are united by the Holy Ghost, and who is one with God the Father.
This truth, that the communications of God are adapted to the position of those who historically received them, brings us into intelligence of all the counsels of God; for He reveals Himself in His authority, His wisdom, and His sovereignty, in these counsels, as He makes Himself known in His nature by the revelation of Himself in Christ. Christ is the centre of these counsels, but every family in heaven and earth is ranged under the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Angels, principalities, powers, Jews, Gentiles, everything that is named, shall be placed under His authority (the church being united to Him in His glory). Now, the counsels of God with respect to us are revealed in His word; and, although God does not speak to us in order to gratify our curiosity, many subjects, outside salvation strictly speaking, which are connected with this supremacy of Christ, are connected also with that which God sets before us for our instruction, as the development of this in His dealings here below.
Thus, although His intentions with regard to the Jews may naturally be much more developed in the Old Testament, yet the connection of their history with the subjects of the New, the historical transition from the old economy to the new, the reconciling the promises made to the Jews with the universality of the gospel economy: —all these subjects must necessarily have a place in the New Testament, if the ways of God are to be known by us. I say, the ways of God; for we have not to think of the Jews only; it is God who acts and who makes Himself known in His dealings. Thus, although the full light displays itself in the New Testament, we find there things addressed to the Jews, and to the disciples who had formed a part of that people, and which reveal the dealings of God towards them. And without these revelations, and if they did not refer to the position of that people, there would be no harmony in the ways of God; at least it would be hidden from us, and would not exist morally. This refers to doctrine, to history (that is, to the presentation of the Messiah), to prophecy, which shews the faithfulness of God, and to the judgment upon that people.
In order that we may know God—the God who has condescended to interpose in the affairs of this world—mere light is not enough. He must be known, not only as He is in His nature, although that is the essential and principal thing, but as He has revealed Himself in the totality of His ways; in those details in which our little narrow hearts can learn His faithful, patient, condescending love; in those dealings which develop the abstract idea of His wisdom, so as to render it accessible to our limited intelligence, which can trace in it things which have been realised amongst men—although entirely above and beyond all their prevision, but which have been declared by God, so that we know them to be of Him. Above all, God has been pleased to connect Himself in a special way with man in all these things; marvellous privilege of His feeble creature! Philosophy—senseless, narrow-minded, and even essentially stupid in its arguments—would have it that the world is too small for God thus to expend Himself on an impotent being like man, on that which is but a mere point in an immense universe. Contemptible folly! As if the material extent of the theatre were the measure of the moral manifestations wrought upon it, and of the war of principles which is there brought to an issue. That which takes place in this world is the spectacle that unfolds to all the intelligences of the universe the ways, and the character, and the will of God. It is for us to receive thereby, through grace, understanding, and power, that we may enjoy it, and that in us God may be glorified—not only by us, which will be true of all things, but in us. This is our privilege, through the grace that is in Christ, and by our union with Him who is the wisdom of God and the power of God. The more we are as little children, obedient and humble, the more we shall realise this glorious position. Hereafter we shall know as we are known. Meanwhile, the more Christ is objectively our portion and our occupation, the more shall we resemble Him subjectively. Thanks be to God! He has hid these things from the wise and prudent, and has revealed them unto babes. “Howbeit,” says the apostle, “we speak wisdom among them that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought; but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.”
Let us now present a general idea of the contents of the New Testament, or rather of the order in which the truths contained in it are revealed.
We need not depart from the order in which the books are usually placed, without, however, attaching any importance to it.5
The first subject that presents itself is the history and Person of the Lord Jesus Himself, contained in the four Gospels.
The second is the founding of the assembly, and the propagation of the gospel in the world after His ascension. The history of this is given in the Acts of the Apostles.
Afterwards the development of the true doctrine of Christ, the care bestowed by the apostles on the assemblies and on individual souls, with the directions necessary for a walk that would glorify the Lord while waiting for His return, the refutation of errors by which the enemy sought to corrupt the faith, and the instructions needful to preserve the faithful from the seductions of the instruments of his malice. All these subjects, the first especially, include the personal glory of the Lord. We refer evidently to the contents of the Epistles.
In the last place, we find the prophecies which announce the evil that would tarnish and corrupt the testimony rendered to Christ in the world, and which, when fully developed, would lead to judgment. These prophecies reveal also the progress of God’s judgments, which will end with the destruction of those enemies who will dare to rebel openly against the Lamb, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords; and likewise the glory and blessing which will succeed those judgments. This last subject links christian teaching with the revelation of the ways of God as to the government of the world. It is largely developed in the Apocalypse; but in divers epistles its connection with the decay of the church is exhibited.
We shall naturally begin with the Gospels, which give us the history of the Lord’s life, and present Him to our hearts, whether by His actions or by His discourses, in the various characters which make Him precious in every way to the souls of the redeemed, according to the measure of intelligence bestowed on them, and according to their need—characters which, though He be seen here in humiliation (compare 1 Corinthians 2:8), together form the plenitude of His personal glory, so far as we are capable of apprehending it here below in these our earthen vessels.6
It is evident that, according to the counsels of God, and according to the revelations of His word, the Lord must unite in Himself more than one character on earth, for the accomplishment of His glory, and for the maintenance and manifestation of the glory of His Father. But, that this might take place, He must also be something, that He might be viewed in the light of His real nature, as walking down here. He must needs accomplish the service which it behoved Him to render to God, as being Himself the true servant; and that, as serving God by the word, in the midst of His people, according to Psalm 40 (for instance, verses 8, 9, 10), Isaiah 49:4, 5, and many other passages.
A multitude of testimonies had announced that the Son of David should sit, on the part of God, on His father’s throne; and the accomplishment of God’s counsels with regard to His earthly people is linked in the Old Testament with Him who should thus come, and who on earth should stand in the relation of Son of God to the Lord God.
The Christ, the Messiah, or, which is but the same word translated, the Anointed, was to come and present Himself to Israel, according to the revelation and the counsels of God. And this promised seed was to be Emmanuel, God with the people.
But this character of Messiah, although the expectation of the Jews scarcely went beyond it—and they looked even at that in their own way, merely as the exaltation of their own nation, having no sense of their sins or of the consequences of their sins—this character of Messiah was not all that the prophetic word, which declared the counsels of God, had announced with respect to the One whom even the world was expecting.
He was to be the Son of man—a title which the Lord Jesus loves to give Himself—a title of great importance to us. It appears to me, that the Son of man is, according to the word, the Heir of all that the counsels of God destined for man as his portion in glory, all that God would bestow on man according to those counsels (see Daniel 7:13, 14; Psalms 8:5, 6; 80:17, and Proverbs 8:30, 31). But in order to be the Heir of all that God destined for man, He must be a man. The Son of man was truly of the race of man—precious and comforting truth! born of a woman, really and truly a man, and, partaking of flesh and blood, made like unto His brethren.
In this character He was to suffer, and be rejected; that He might inherit all things in a wholly new estate, raised and glorified. He was to die and to rise again, the inheritance being defiled, and man being in rebellion—His co-heirs as guilty as the rest.
But He was then to be the Servant, the great prophet, though the Son of David, and the Son of man, and therefore truly a man on the earth, born under the law, born of a woman, of the seed of David, heir to the rights of David’s family, heir to the destinies of man according to the purpose and the counsels of God. But in order to this He must glorify God according to the position man was in as fallen in his responsibility, meet that responsibility so as to glorify God there, but while here bearing a prophet’s testimony, the faithful witness.
But who was to be all this? Was it only an official glory which the Old Testament had said a man was to inherit? The condition of men, manifested under the law, and without law, proved the impossibility of making them partakers of the blessing of God as they were. The rejection of Christ was the crowning proof of this condition. And, in fact, man needed above all to be himself reconciled to God, apart from all dispensation and special government of an earthly people. Man had sinned, and redemption was necessary, for the glory of God and the salvation of men. Who could accomplish it? Man needed it himself. An angel had to keep and fill his own place, and could do no more; he could not be a saviour. And who among men could be the heir of all things, and have all the works of God put under his dominion, according to the word? It was the Son of God who should inherit them; it was their Creator who should possess them. He then, who was to be the Servant, the Son of David, the Son of man, the Redeemer, was the Son of God, God the Creator.7
The Gospels, in general, develop these characters of Christ, not in a dogmatic manner (that of John alone having to a certain degree that form), but by so relating the history of the Lord as to present Him in these different characters, in a much more living way than if it were only set before us in doctrine. The Lord speaks according to such or such a character; He acts in the one or in the other; so that we see Him Himself accomplishing that which belonged to the different positions that we know to be His according to scripture.
Thus, not only is the character much better known in its moral details, according to its true scriptural import, as well as the meaning and purpose of God therein revealed, but Christ Himself becomes in these characters more personally the object of faith and of the heart’s affections. It is a Person whom we know, and not merely a doctrine. By this precious means which God had deigned to use, truths with respect to Jesus are much more connected with all that went before, with the Old Testament history. The change in God’s dealings is linked with the glory of the Person of Christ, in connection with which this transition from God’s relations with Israel and the world to the heavenly and christian order took place. This heavenly system, while possessing a character more entirely distinct from Judaism than would have been the case if the Lord had not come, is not a doctrine that nullifies, by contradicting, that which preceded it. When Christ came, He presented Himself to the Jews as on the one hand subject to the law, and on the other as the Seed in whom the promises were to be fulfilled. He was rejected; so that this people, not only had broken the law, which they had done from Sinai on,8 but forfeited all right to the promises, and promises without condition always distinguished (see Rom. 10). God could then bring in the fulness of His grace. At the same time the types, the figures, had their accomplishment; the curse of the law was executed; the prophecies that related to the humiliation of Christ were fulfilled; and the relations of all souls with God —always necessarily attached to His Person, when once He had appeared—were connected with the position taken by the Redeemer in heaven. Thence the door was opened to the Gentiles, and the purpose of God with respect to the assembly, the body of the ascended Christ, fully revealed. Son of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power by resurrection from the dead, He was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. He was the firstborn from the dead, the head of His body the assembly, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence.
The glory of the new order of things was so much the more excellent, so much the more exalted above all the earthly order that had preceded it, that it was attached to the Person of the Lord Himself, and to Him as man glorified in the presence of God His Father. And at the same time, that which took place puts its seal upon all that had preceded it, as having had its true place, and having been ordained of God; for the Lord presented Himself on earth in connection with the system that existed before He came.
The first three Gospels give to us the presentation of Christ to responsible man, and especially to Israel. John presents to us the divine and eternal character of the Lord Himself, Israel from chapter 1 being viewed as having rejected Him, and themselves hardened and rejected, and the world as insensible to the presence of its Creator; hence effectual and sovereign grace, and being born again, and the cross as the foundation of heavenly things, come fully out in this Gospel.
1 See Titus 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:9, 10, and compare Proverbs 8:22-31, specially 30, 31, and Romans 16:25, 26 (reading “prophetic scriptures”), Ephesians 3:5, 10, Colossians 1:26. Under the law God never came out, and man could not go in. In Christianity God is come out, and man is gone in; and these things are of the essence of both. Before there was promise. These are characteristic relations.
2 It must be clearly understood that I speak here of the truth revealed in the New Testament. Its communication, in this revelation, became gradually more clear, the Holy Ghost having been given after the Lord was glorified. The apostle could say, when speaking of the nature of God Himself, “Which thing is true in him [Christ] and in you, because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.” It is a Christ who is the wisdom of God. In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. All the fulness was pleased to dwell in Him. He sanctified Himself that we might be sanctified through the truth. The Holy Ghost, having taken the things of Christ and revealed them unto the apostles, led them into all truth. Now all things that the Father hath are Christ’s: therefore He has said that the Holy Ghost should take of His, and should shew it unto them.
This being the case, the question of a subsequent development is judged. Is there anything more than “the fulness of the Godhead”? anything more than “all that the Father hath”? anything clearer than the “true light”? But it is this which is revealed. If one thinks of man whose ideas originate in himself, as the spider spins a web out of its own substance, development may no doubt be spoken of; but if the question is the revelation of Christ, by the gift of the true light already come, Christ does not increase. And, assuredly, we shall find nothing good outside “all that the Father hath given him.” This is what we possess by revelation. The development inherent in the communication of truth to man, belongs to his capacity of reception (in this there is progress for each one of us), and to the manifestation of Christ, from the time of John the Baptist unto His full revelation by the Holy Ghost— a revelation which we possess in the New Testament. No tradition can add to the revelation of that which Christ is. No development can give us one new truth with respect to His fulness. But this is everything. It is thus that the lofty pretensions of man are brought to nothing.
3 The statements of 1 Corinthians 2 are very striking as to this, and in these days of all importance. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him “(that was the Old Testament state), “but God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit”; that is revelation. “Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth,” that is the communication of them, inspiration. Thirdly, “They are spiritually discerned”: that is the reception of them. The revelation, the inspired testimony, and the receiving them by the grace and power of the Spirit only, are all distinctly affirmed.
4 It is God come in grace in the midst of evil—grace adapted to man in it. It reveals God as nought else does, but is adapted to man however evil he may be, yea as evil. So that while it gives what is purely heavenly and divine, it does it, and so much the more as it is so adapted, in meeting the evil here. This, though it reveals God as He will be known in heaven, is, as to the fact of its operation, unknown in an earthly or heavenly paradise—good in the midst of evil. The angels desire to look into it. Further it is sovereignty, grace, and wisdom, what simple good cannot be, though leading into it in its highest form.
5 In some German Bibles, as well as in several Roman Catholic editions, and in many manuscripts, the order is different. For the proposed object this difference is of no importance. Every one knows that the arrangement of the books has nothing to do with the revelation itself.
6 In order to be clearly understood, I should perhaps except His relationship with the assembly—a subject which we find in the Epistles; but I do not include, in the expression “His personal glory,” this very precious part of the doctrine of Christ. With the exception of the fact that He would build a church on the earth, it is only by the Holy Ghost sent down after His ascension that He made known to the apostles and prophets this priceless mystery.
7 The act of creation, when not spoken of God generally, but distinguishing the Persons in Deity, is always ascribed to the Son or the Spirit.
8 It is solemn but instructive to remark that in everything God has set up, the first thing man has done has been to ruin it. Man himself first of all. Then Noah, the new head of the world, he got drunk. Then the golden calf when the law was given, the priesthood offering strange fire the first day. Solomon turning to idolatry and ruining the kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar making the golden image and persecuting the servants of the true God. God went on in grace, but the system was fallen. So I doubt not with the church. All will be made good more gloriously in the second Adam.