WHAT THE OLD TESTAMENT TEACHES
"From the time at which this great and far-reaching promise or gospel was given to ABRAHAM, the universal scope of the divine Redemption is insisted on with growing emphasis, even in those Hebrew Scriptures, which we too often assume to be animated only by a local and national spirit." - Salvator Mundi.
"The whole history of the world is the uninterrupted carrying through of a divine plan of salvation, the primary object of which is His people: in and with them however also the whole of humanity." - Delitzsch on Ps. xxxiii. 11.
From the Church I turn next to the Old Testament. There we shall find abundant, perhaps to many readers, unexpected confirmation of the larger hope, though I can merely attempt to give an outline of its teaching. True, in the Old Testament, the promises are, it may be said, mainly temporal; but still we have unmistakable evidence of a plan of mercy revealed in its pages, and destined to embrace all men. Nor need this interpretation of the older volume of God's word rest on mere conjecture: let me call as a witness, no less a person than the Apostle S. PETER. The Apostle in one of the very earliest of his addresses, Acts iii. 21, takes occasion to explain the real purpose of God in Jesus Christ There is to come, finally, a time of universal restoration, "restitution of all things." He adds the significant words that God has promised this "by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began ;" and, therefore, we who teach this hope are but following in the steps of all God's holy prophets. Thus S. PETER would have us go to the Old Testament, and weave, as it were, its varied predictions into one concordant whole, till they, with one voice, proclaim the "restitution of all things."
Of the Gospel of Creation I have already spoken: here it is enough to note that, in the divine act which stamps upon man the Image and Likeness of God, we have the Gospel in germ. Thus the opening chapters of Genesis "give to us the largest views of the loving sovereignty of God; and of the divine origin, and destiny of mankind." - WESTCOTT, Rev, of the Father. In this great fact, that mankind comes from God, and returns unto (or into) God - Rom. xi. 36, and in the divine plan to insure this return, lies the center of unity of the Bible, - the point to which its "many parts" and "many modes" (Heb. i. 1) converge.
Thus we see the true meaning of the Jewish economy- "Its work was for humanity, the idea of Judaism is seen not in the covenant from Sinai, but in the covenant with ABRAHAM." - ib.
*Here I may note that even those who take extreme views of future punishment seem to agree in the belief that ADAM and Eve found mercy. But, if so, it may well be asked - shall they who were the authors of the Fall, and all its woe, escape; shall they who, created upright, fall - yet find mercy at the last, while so many involuntary inheritors of a fallen nature are doomed?
I have not space to consider minutely the promises of blessing to all men contained in the Old Testament, though they can be traced almost everywhere. At the very moment of the Fall is given a promise, that the serpent's head shall be bruised, intimating a complete overthrow. Two points are very significant here. The promise is not of the serpent's wounding only, but of such a wound as involves his destruction; and next the promise is conveyed in close connection with a terrible judgment; it is part of the sentence, it is embedded, so to speak, in it. Passing on, we find that with the promise to ABRAHAM was blended an intimation of blessing to the race of man. And this intimation of a worldwide blessing, as has been often pointed out, grows more frequent as the stream of Revelation flows on. We find that in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, are traces, clear and distinct, of universal blessing. Thus of the teaching of the Law a fundamental part rested on the institution of the "firstfruits" and the "firstborn."
Elsewhere in this volume has been pointed out the extreme significance of this as bearing on the larger hope, and as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. As the "firstfruits" pledge the whole harvest, and the "firstborn" the whole family, so are the elect people, i.e., God's "firstborn" ("Israel is my son, my firstborn"), a pledge that all are God's, that all are destined to share His blessing (to this the whole story of the Jewish race, when rightly viewed, bears witness; as "first-fruits" they are the channels of blessing to all mankind). Hence it is that we have the repeated promises to ABRAHAM, that "in his seed should all the families of the earth be blessed." Thus the Jewish patriarch becomes in the apostle's striking phrase, "heir of the world," and no less.
This principle, by which the elect become a means of blessing to all the rest, is strikingly affirmed in the Jewish law. A sheaf of the "firstfruits" was to be presented to the Lord as pledging and consecrating the whole harvest. (Lev. xxiii. 10 and 11.) All the "firstborn" of the herds and flocks were the Lord's (Deut. xv. 19), as a pledge that all were His. So were the "firstborn" of their sons. (Ex. xxii. 29.) If now we turn to the New Testament, we learn the essential bearing of all this on Christ's kingdom. First the Apostle assures us that if the "firstfruits" be holy, the lump is also holy. (Rom. xi. i6.) Next he asserts that not Israel only, but in a higher sense Christ is the "firstfruits." (x Cor. xv. 23.) And the context implies that Christ conveys, actually imparts, life to all as did ADAM death to all. And as Israel was the "firstborn" son (Ex. iv. 22), so in a sense far higher is Christ the "firstborn" of every creature (Col. 1. 15-20), (the head of every man, 1 Cor. xi. 3.) Here, too, the context involves the reconciliation through the "first born," Christ, of every creature to God. We have thus a double "firstfruits," i.e., Christ, the true "firstfruits," and His people, "a kind of firstfruits." (James i. 18.) Christ the "firstborn" (Col. i. 18), and again His people (His elect) the "Church of the firstborn." (Heb. xii. 23) Now it is very striking to find all this exactly prefigured in the Law; for it speaks of a double firstfruits; one which was offered at the Passover, and on the very day on which Christ rose, on "the morrow after the Sabbath" (Lev. xxiii. 10,11); the other also distinctly called "firstfruits," (though distinguished by a separate name) which was offered fifty days later at Pentecost. * (Lev. xxiii. 17.) Thus does even the Law contain intimations of universal blessing to accrue to all men.
Let us pass on to the Psalter and there also trace this promise of the restitution of all things; for the Psalmists, too, are God's prophets, and are full of the largest forecasts. "When they speak of the coming Messiah, they are at the farthest from claiming the blessings of His reign exclusively for themselves; on the contrary, they say, 'His name shall endure for ever: His name shall be continued as long as the sun; and men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed"' * *"They constantly breathe forth the invitation, O praise the Lord all you nations; praise Him all you people.'" - Salv. Mundi.
Other examples of the same address to all nations - to all peoples - bidding them join in God's praise, and surely anticipating that they would one day do so, are frequent in the Psalms. Take, for example, those our Prayer Book has made familiar, e.g., Cantate Domino. - Ps. xcviii. In it all lands are bidden to show themselves joyful unto the Lord. To the same effect is the familiar clause of the Jubilate, Ps. c., "O be joyful in the Lord all you lands." To show how deeply this idea is embedded in the Psalter, let me add a few passages here. "Praise the Lord all you nations." - Ps. cxvii. 1. "Unto You shall all flesh come." - Ps. lxv. 2. "You shall inherit all the nations." - Ps. lxxxii. 8. "All nations shall come and worship You." - Ps. lxxxvi. 9. "Al? the earth shall worship You ." - Ps. lxvi. 4. "Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth." - Ps. xcvi. 1. And so we read, "All nations shall do Him service * * All the heathen shall praise Him, All the earth shall be filled with His Majesty." - Ps. lxxii. 11-19. "Let all flesh give thanks unto His holy name, for ever and ever." - Ps. cxlv. 21. So again, "Praise the Lord you kings of the earth and all people." - Ps. cxlviii. 11. "Bless the Lord all you His works." - Ps. ciii. 22. "Let all the people praise You." - Ps. lxvii. 3-5. "All the ends of the world shall fear Him." - ib. 7.
"All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before You." - Ps. xxii. 27. This text has a special significance on account of the close connection of this Psalm with the Atonement; as a result of which all the ends of the world shall turn, as it predicts, unto the Lord. Surely all this constitutes a remarkable array of evidence for the complete universality of Christ's kingdom. Can any fair mind accept the traditional creed as a satisfactory explanation of these passages. Here, as ever, men have delighted to narrow the breadth of the divine purpose, and dwarf its proportions. But would these promises, worldwide in their range, be fairly met, by saying that out of all the countless generations of man, only those, yet unborn, shall indeed fully learn to know God? It is impossible so to think; impossible not to see here a foreshadowing of those times of "restitution of all things"- Which must come if the Bible speaks truly. In this universal hope is to be found the true spirit of the Psalms, in these invitations addressed, not to Israel, but to all nations - nay, to whatsoever exists. Note how, as the Psalter draws to its end, the tone of triumph rises, expands, broadens into the very widest anticipations of universal blessedness (Ps. cxlviii. cl.). In this spirit it closes, "LET EVERYTHING THAT HAS BREATH, praise the Lord." - Ps. cl. 6.
Of the greater Prophets the same is true; though I need not speak in detail of them. From amid their varied contents, at times break forth promises of the widest, amplest hope; anticipations of a time of universal bliss and joy; of a world in which all pain and sorrow shall have passed away. But these passages are in the main familiar to you, and I need hardly quote them. They have found their way to the heart of Christendom, and have stamped themselves on its literature.
"Take, however, only this one sentence from the evangelical prophet, and take it mainly because S. PAUL echoes it back, and interprets it as he echoes it. It is Jehovah Who speaks these words by the mouth of ISAIAH: 'Look unto Me and be you saved, all you ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none other: I have sworn by Myself and the word is gone out of My mouth in righteousness and shall not return, that unto Me every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.' Could any words more emphatically declare it to be the divine purpose that the whole earth, to the very end of it shall be saved; that every knee shall bend in homage before God, and every tongue take the oath of fealty to Him? Are we not expressly told that this declaration, since it has come from the righteous mouth of God, cannot return unto Him void, but must accomplish its object; that object being the salvation of the human race? S. PAUL echoes this great word (in Rom. xiv. ix,) and again in the epistle to the Philippians, and though on his lips it gains definiteness and precision, assuredly it loses no jot or tittle of its breadth: he affirms, Phil. ii. 9-11, 'that God has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name, in order that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow; not only every knee of man - for now the promise grows incalculably wider - but every knee in heaven and on earth, and under the earth: 'and that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.' It is hard to understand ISAIAH as proclaiming less than an universal redemption, but if S. PAUL did not mean to proclaim a redemption as wide as the universe, what use or force is there in words ?" - Salvator Mundi.
On one passage I must briefly dwell. "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and be SATISFIED." - Is. liii. 2. By what ingenuity can hopeless, endless evil be reconciled with these words? How can I accept a creed that asks me to believe that Christ is satisfied, while His own children are given over to endless ruin. Who believes this of Jesus Christ? Who can believe Him "satisfied" with the final and utter ruin of any one soul for whom He died ? - "satisfied" that His cross should fail? - "satisfied" with the victory of evil, in so much as a solitary case?
Remember how full are the Prophets, and the Psalms no less, of pictures of the vastness of the divine mercy, of His tenderness that never fails. Even from amid the sadness of the Lamentations, we hear a voice assuring us that "the Lord will not cast off for ever, but though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies." - Lam. iii. 31.
Or take these words, 'I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth, for the spirit should fail before Me, and the souls which I have made." - Is. lvii. 16. This idea is a favorite one; the contrast between the short duration of God's anger, and the enduring endless character of His love. "So in a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the Lord Your Redeemer." - Js. liv. 8. Let us pause here for a moment to dwell on the significance of this fact of the limited duration of the divine anger, so clearly taught in the Old Testament. Take a few instances, " I am merciful, says the Lord, I will not keep anger for ever." - Jer. iii 12. "His anger endures but a moment." - Ps. xxx. 5. "While His mercy endures for ever," - Ps. cxxxvi .- a statement repeated no less than twenty-six times in this one Psalm. "He will not always chide, neither keeps He His anger for ever."- Ps. ciii. 9. "He retains not His anger for ever, because He delights in mercy." - Mic. vii. 18.
But if this be true, what becomes of the popular creed? If God's anger is temporary, how can it be endless? If it endure but a moment, how can it last for ever in even a solitary instance? I would invite our opponents fairly to face these plain and reiterated assertions: and to explain why they feel justified in teaching that God's anger will in many cases last for ever, and that His mercy will not endure for ever.
I may in passing ask attention to two passages in the Book of Daniel. In one, ch. vii. 14, a dominion absolutely universal is promised to the Son of Man, words which may be compared with the numerous passages to the same effect noted in the next chapter. In the other, ch, ix. 24, a promise is made of a decree to finish transgression, and to make an end of sins.
We have spoken of the pictures of universal blessedness that are to be found in the greater prophets, "perhaps," says the author already quoted, "some of you may not be equally familiar with the fact that these same pictures are also to be found in the minor prophets;" (a fact very suggestive) that "every one of these brief poems, or collections of poems, has its tiny Apocalypse. And mark this point well, while each of the minor prophets sees the vision of a whole world redeemed to the love and service of righteousness, this vision of redemption is invariably accompanied by a vision of judgment" - (see ch. vi. on judgment.) At least, if not all, yet very many of the minor prophets do predict the coming of a time of universal redemption. So HOSEA xiii. 14, exclaims, "O death, I will be your plagues. O grave, I will be your destruction." - (See 1 Cor. xv. 55)
So JOEL ii. 28, tells of the spirit as being poured upon all flesh. HABAKKUK can look beyond the terrors of judgment and see the "earth filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." - ch. ii. 14. Is not this wonderful? Can you not enter into S. PETER'S words as he stood forth, while yet Christianity was scarcely born, to proclaim as its glorious aim and scope, the universal restoration - the paradise of God regained for mankind - all things made new.- Acts iii. 21.
I resume. In ZEPHANIAH we read the same glorious prospect, the same universal hope. He speaks of God's judgments as being terrible to the nations, in order that "men may worship Him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen." - ch. ii. 11. And again, in the same prophet, we are told how God is to send His fiery judgments to purify men, "that they may all call upon the name of the Lord to serve Him with one consent" (ch. iii. 8-9). So MALACHI closes the prophetic line with an intimation indeed of judgment - of a refining fire - but together with this is the prospect unfolded, that from the "rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, God's name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense and pure offerings shall be offered to Him." - ch. i. 11. The words that introduce this prospect "from the rising up of the sun unto the going down of the same," may well recall the beautiful and suggestive phrase of Zech. xiv. 7, "At evening time it shall be light."
Brief as the above survey has been, it has, I trust, served to indicate how, even through all the Old Testament, the thread of universal hope runs: how the Law, Prophets and Psalmists of Israel did foreshadow a coming age, when sin should be no more, and sorrow and sighing should flee away for ever.