SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
ENTAIL OF THE COVENANT
THE lawyer will understand the title of
this book, and the sub-title will indicate its meaning to the layman. "The
Entail of the Covenant" is a phrase which enshrines a great truth; and the
author of it, whoever he be, deserves our gratitude.
The question may suggest itself to some, why the important matter of the Appendix was not incorporated in the text. It is due to the fact that the publication of the book has been delayed on account of the war; and in the interval during which these pages were in type it was pressed upon me that a somewhat fuller treatment of their secondary subject was desirable. And having to choose between recasting several chapters, or relegating the new matter to an Appendix, I adopted the latter alternative.
THE ENTAIL OF THE COVENANT
"SUFFER the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not." No incident recorded in the Gospels is more widely known than that to which these words pertain. For it appeals to the better side of human nature, and sacred art has made even the most ignorant familiar with it. Can we not picture the scene? The women crowding round the Lord Jesus, with their children clinging to their skirts; and the Saviour rebuking the disciples for trying to keep them back, while with gracious looks and words He encourages the little ones to come to Him. A delightful picture, truly. And yet in one respect of principal importance it is altogether false to fact; for the children of the narrative were new-born babes that lay nestled in their mothers' arms. This Gospel narrative throws new light upon one of the most popular of Old Testament promises and precepts: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."1 The Hebrew word here rendered "child" has no such narrow meaning as the Greek term used by the Evangelist Luke in the above cited passage from his Gospel.2 But the initial word of the precept claims attention. For "train up" fails to convey a thought that is latent in the Hebrew. In the other passages where the word occurs it is rendered "dedicate" in our English Bible.
1. It is used of the dedication of the Temple, and also of houses for human habitation. 1 Prov. xxii. 6.
2 Luke xviii. 15. Primarily and strictly the word brephos signifies an unborn child (see ch. i. 41 and 44) ; and then, secondarily, an infant newly born (see ch. ii. 12 and 16). It has no other meaning in Greek. The above cited incident is recorded also in Matt. xix. 13-16, and Mark x. 13-16. Deut. xx. 5 twice) ; 1 Kings viii. 63 ; 2 Chron. vii. 5.
And from this we may learn that the dedication of a child implies not only a definite setting apart, but also a purpose as deliberate and continuing as the dedication of a building - a surrender as unreserved as that of Hannah's vow, "I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life."1 And we may learn from it also that a dedication is by no means necessarily to religious uses ; for "religion" is not a synonym for piety.2 It is our privilege thus to dedicate our children to the Lord, but it does not rest with us to decide in what life path they are to serve Him.
1 1 Sam. i. 11
2 The Reformers - those masters of classical English - knew this : witness their words "truth and justice, religion and piety." See also Trench's Synonyms (threakeia).
The case of Eunice and her son Timothy illustrates the training of a child in a godly Jewish home. It was indeed a case of wholly exceptional interest; for Lystra was a heathen city, without a synagogue, and destitute apparently even of "a place of prayer " - a proof that Jewish residents were few. Strange, it seems, that Eunice should have come to live there. Stranger still that she should have been married to a heathen.1 And yet though reared amid surroundings so uncongenial and untoward, Timothy inherited the unfeigned faith that had dwelt in his grandmother Lois and in his mother Eunice. But grace does not run in the blood, as sin does, and the Apostle Paul reveals the secret of his blessedness: From a babe thou hast known the Holy Scriptures.2 The passage is linked in my mind with an incident of long ago, that occurred during a visit to a certain country rectory. When passing the drawing-room on the morning after my arrival, I heard my hostess' voice, and on entering the room I found her standing by the window with her infant in her arms ; and bending over it she was repeating the hallowed words of the twenty-third Psalm. And I could hear the baby chuckling at the music of its mother's voice. We are used to hear women talking to their infants in language both trivial and silly,
and this was to me a pleasant experience; and as I withdrew unobserved I thought of Eunice and her home at Lystra. At what age an infant's brain begins to put a meaning upon spoken words, we cannot tell; but from the earliest dawn of his intelligence the mind of Eunice's child was stored with words of Holy Scripture.
1 Acts xvi. 1 tells us that he was a Gentile, and the fact that his son was not circumcised (verse 3) indicates that he was not even a proselyte.
2 2 Tim. i. 5 and iii. 15. The word babe is that used in Luke xviii. 15, See p. 14, ante.
Dr. Edersheim cites an Old Testament instance of this, which is so interesting, and yet so little known, that I quote it here in his own words. There can be no question, he says, that the word translated "prophecy." in our Authorised Version of Proverbs xxx. 1 and xxxi. 1 (and " oracle " in the Revised) is simply Massa, the name of a district mentioned in Genesis xxv. 14, and 1 Chronicles i. 30. And he writes :
"Whether Massa was occupied by a Jewish colony which there established the service of the Lord; or whether through the influence of Hebrew immigrants such a religious change had been brought about, certain it is that the two last chapters of the book of Proverbs introduce the royal family of Massa as deeply imbued with the spiritual religion of the Old Testament, and the queen mother as training the heir to the throne in the knowledge and fear of the Lord. Indeed so much so is this the case that the instruction of the queen of Massa, and the words of her two royal sons, are inserted in the book of Proverbs as part of the inspired records of the Old Testament. According to the best criticism, Proverbs xxx. 1 should be thus rendered : ' The words of Agur, the son of her whom Massa obeys. Spake the man to God-with-me, God with me, and I was strong.' Then Proverbs xxxi. embodies the words of Agur's royal brother, even ' the words of Lemuel, king of Massa, with which his mother taught him.' If the very names of these two princes - Agur, 'exile,' and Lemuel, 'for God 'or 'dedicated to God'- are significant of her convictions, the teaching of that royal mother, as recorded in Proverbs xxxi. 2-9, is worthy of a 'mother in Israel.' No wonder that the record of her teaching is followed by an enthusiastic description of a godly woman's worth and work (Proverbs xxxi. 10-31), each verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, like the various sections of Psalm cxix.- as it were, to let her praises ring through every letter of speech." 1
1 Sketches of Jewish Life, p. 113. But see The Speaker's Com., vol. iv. pp. 518, 519.
In this connection the case of King Josiah is of intensest interest. The Divine response accorded to Hezekiah's supplication illustrates both the reality of prayer and its extreme solemnity; for one outcome of his fifteen added years of life was the birth of Manasseh, the wickedest king of Bible story. But "the entail of the covenant" is a Divine truth ; and it often happens that the child of a godly home, though he may wander far away in sin, is at last restored; and in the bitterness of his imprisonment in Babylon, Manasseh was brought back to God. But his son Amon had been already trained in his evil ways, and Amon was Josiah's father. What hope could there be for the child of such a parent! And yet that child's story pourtrays him as the most godly king who ever sat upon the throne of David. What then can have been the influence that was used of God to achieve such a miracle of grace? The commentaries here will tell us nothing; so we must trust to our knowledge of human nature, and of the heart of a penitent who has been Divinely rescued from a sinful life. And can we doubt that as the poor old king surveyed his dreadful past, and the evil he had brought upon his people, and as he realised that his son was rushing headlong down the evil path from which he himself had been so lately turned, he would bethink him of that son's child who was yet to rule the land ? Can we doubt that Manasseh took his baby grandson to his heart, and sought with unceasing prayer to guide his infant steps in the way of life! And God " remembered His covenant," and Josiah became a second Samuel.
But to revert to the Gospel narrative, these mothers were women of the Eunice type. And their action illustrates the fact so often noticed, that in the days of the Lord's earthly ministry spiritual women were spiritually nearer to Him even than His specially chosen disciples. So full and simple was their faith, so unreserved their devotion, that " they brought even their babies to Him."1 This it was, indeed, that roused the indignation of the disciples. No devout Jew would have barred the approach of children of an intelligent age; but to bring newly born infants to the Lord seemed an intrusion quite unwarrantable.
1 Luke xviii. 15. To render kai by "also" in this sentence makes it meaningless. And the article before brephe has the force of "their" (Bloomfield's Greek Testament).
And the Lord's response to their appeal illustrates the truth that faith and devotion such as theirs bring abounding blessing. For what they asked was that He would touch their infants, and He not only put His hands upon them, but " took them up in His arms and blessed them."
If only He were now on earth, as in those wonderful days long past, what Christian mother is there who would not emulate their faith and follow their example ! But He is gone to heaven, far, far away beyond the stars, and that makes all the difference. He said, no doubt, that it was expedient for His people that He should go away ; but who among us really believes it ? We dare not frame the thought in words, but it lurks in many a heart, that His heavenly glory separates us from Him. It has in truth made a difference of the greatest import; but the import of it is that, whereas in the time of His humiliation grace was restrained, it is now enthroned. HE is not changed, and He now wields all power in heaven and on earth.
The Pentateuchal records, we are told, were written for our admonition; is this not quite as true of the Gospel narratives? Surely they are given us not only to stimulate, but to guide our faith. What the Lord did for those godly Jewish mothers, He will do for Christian mothers now. This is no mystic theory of pious visionaries, but a truth of Holy Writ; and a truth that is abundantly attested by Christian experience. For " the ' entail of the covenant' is largely borne out by religious biography, and our Churches are mainly composed of the pious children of Christian parents."
If statements such as these should appear to be out of date to-day, it is not because the faithful Word has failed, but because the teaching of our Churches is now so leavened with German scepticism that Christians are losing faith in Scripture, and, as a natural result, they are losing hold on God. And the effects of the change are far-reaching, for they influence not only our Christian life but our national character. The following pregnant words upon this subject are quoted from an address delivered not long since at the University of London by one who has earned fame in several spheres of public life :
"The kind of teaching that was at one time imparted at the mother's knee, or from the lips of the father of the family, is largely a fast fading memory. ' Back to the Bible ' should be a patriotic, as well as a religious cry ; for the preservation of our liberties, and of our cherished institutions, depends much upon the maintenance of the Bible-taught heart-principles and stout convictions of our fathers."
Sad to say, the average Christian of to-day has lower thoughts of God than the Hebrew saints of the olden time. For they knew Him as " the faithful God who keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments, to a thousand generations "
1 - "a God whose righteousness is unto children's children."
2 The essential thought in righteousness is compliance with a standard of right; and when the word is thus used of God it can only mean consistency with Himself. " The Same " is one of His self-chosen titles.
3 He is the unchanging God with whom is no variableness, neither shadow cast by turning. Therefore, while with men the use of absolute power is often arbitrary, it is never so with God. No element of caprice ever marks the exercise of sovereign grace. " The entail of the covenant " is a phrase that enshrines a glorious truth.
Hannah made unreserved surrender of her child to God, and the life of Samuel was His answer to that mother's vow - a life of which the record is one of the brightest passages in Israel's chequered history. And what God did for Hannah and Elkanah, He will do for His people still. To finish the quotation of which a part has been already cited, "Where there is faithfulness to God, as well as affection to one's children; where there are earnest prayer and a corresponding pattern; and especially where both parents are of one mind as touching this thing, God will do it for them, and the promise will still hold true, 'to you and to your seed after you.' " 1
1 Quoted from The Royal Preacher, by Rev. James Hamilton, D.D., a noted preacher of last generation. He was at one time assistant minister to the great Dr. Chalmers in Edinburgh, and for many years minister of a church in London.
While writing this chapter I received a report of an ordination service held this year in a district of China where half a century ago the name of Christ was unknown. The father of the new minister, himself a greatly revered native pastor, was one of the ordinants ; and addressing his son he said with a choking voice, " The prayers of your father and mother even from before your birth have been answered this day."
And the following is culled from an obituary notice in The Christian of June llth. After recording that all the children of the family named " became active Christian workers," it tells that when one of the daughters told her mother of the call she felt to mission work in China, her mother's answer was : " Well, the parting is to come, but not the giving up, for you have all been given up long ago." Hannah's vow and God's answer !
Go To Chapter Two
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