SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
ENTAIL OF THE COVENANT
THE Christian is a believer in the Lord
Jesus Christ. And this means something altogether different from "belonging to
the Christian religion," and worshipping its "Jesus" (as they call Him),
instead of Mahomet or Buddha. For the Christian has "the faith which is in the
Son of God." l It is not a question of having a right creed, important though
that may be. For the Christian confession is not, "I know what I believe," but
"I know Whom I have believed "- a living faith in a personal Saviour and Lord.
The true effort of the Christian life, therefore, is "to grow in the grace and
knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." And this is impossible without
a reverent and spiritually sympathetic study of the Scriptures which reveal
1 Gal. ii. 20 (R.V.).
2. 2 Peter iii. 18. The beloved disciple "fell at His feet as dead" when he had a vision of His glory (Rev. i. 17). This note is added after reading the following sentence in the annual report of the London (Central) Y.M.C.A. "The main aim of the Association must be to bring young men up against the fact of Jesus as the finest chum a man can find." Even if this gross profanity emanated from an avowed infidel, we might deplore its publication in a land where the Lord Jesus is worshipped as Divine. 1 See p. 20, ante. 2 John v. 40.
I have ventured to suggest that the devout women who "brought even their babies to Him," knew Him better, and therefore (as we would express it) were better Christians, than the disciples who sought to keep them back. And so it may be to-day. A humble believer whose heart and mind are steeped in the words and spirit of His teaching may be nearer and dearer to the Lord than even the most eminent of orthodox divines.
And if we had lived in those days, and moved in the hallowed scenes of His earthly sojourn, should we not have hung upon His words, seeking to know His thoughts and to understand His ways? And when we heard Him say to those hard religious Jews of Jerusalem, "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life," 2 His appeal would have revealed to us the God "who willeth that all men should be saved" the God who has sworn by Himself that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.1 Or if the profane thought had entered our minds that His appeal was uttered with the knowledge that they could not come to Him, how bitterly should we have repented of it if, with that "multitude of the disciples" who accompanied Him in His last journey to Jerusalem, we had witnessed the outburst of His unrestrained grief at the impending doom of that guilty people.2 Or if we had been with Him on the fateful day when, after pronouncing scathing words of judgment, as He turned His back for ever on the Temple He exclaimed, " O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathcreth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not." "Ye will not come to me" was His appeal in the earlier stages of His ministry : "ye would not " was His lament, now that His ministry had reached its close.
1 Ezek. xxxiii. 11.
2 Luke xix. 41, 42. " When He drew nigh, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ' If thou hadst known,.in this day, the things which belong to thy peace.' " At the grave of Lazarus He shed silent tears. But the word here used means to bewail with every outward manifestation of sorrow. The words " in this day" (R.V.) are emphatic. It was the last day of the "69 weeks" of Daniel ix. 25the 173,880th day from the issuing of the commandment to build Jerusalem (Neh. ii.). Full details are given in the author's Coming Prince, and also in Daniel in the Critics' Den.
And if such were His yearnings over evil men who hated, and were about to murder Him, what measure shall be set to His love for the offspring of His believing people? "The entail of the covenant" was the theme of the opening chapters of this book; and now, having endeavoured to clear away difficulties which embarrass the faith and hinder the prayers of Christians in relation to their children, let us, with unbiassed minds, resume our study of His wonderful words recorded in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew.
l Matt, xxiii. 29-39.
Having regard to the fact so prominently mentioned in the narrative of Mark that, when He spoke to them, the Lord was holding a little child in His arms,2 there cannot be a doubt that their primary reference is to little children. This is not a matter to be decided for us by the wise and prudent; we can settle it for ourselves. The "this little child " of verse 4 was certainly the child He called to Him as he sat down in that Capernaum home. No less clear is the reference in verse 5 to " one such little child " And the same may be said of the " one of these little ones" in verse 6. Then, with the "woe unto the world" of verse 7, His teaching seems to take a wider range. But, if we had been among His hearers, the words "one of these little ones " in verse 10 would again have turned our eyes and thoughts to the child He was holding in His arms.1
1 As this is a problem of evidence I speak without reserve. In the only other passage where " little ones " occurs, the inference is that some children were present (Matt, x. 43 ; see Dean Alford's note). These passages are to be distinguished from many others, where paidion or tecknion is used as a term of affection, as e.g. in John xiii. 33, and nine times in 1 John.
2 Mark ix. 36.
Let us deal with the passage then in what is so plainly its primary reference, and we shall find much that is of great importance and solemnity. Who of us has ever adequately realised the special love the Saviour bears to our " dedicated " children ? Who among us has ever given a serious thought to His awfully solemn warning against causing " one of these little ones which believe on Me to stumble " ?
Parents who arc constantly punishing their children are utterly unfit to have a child at all. But there may be times when chastisement is needed; in what spirit is it to be administered? Is it "the chastening of the Lord" ? Among savages a malefactor is always punished in an outburst of passionate anger. But in a civilised country we demand a tone of judicial calm, not only in the court which tries a law-breaker, but in the discipline of the prison where the sentence is administered. And surely we might expect that the children of a Christian home would be treated with at least as much consideration as is accorded to our criminals. And yet punishment is all too commonly inflicted upon them in a fit of temper on the parent's part. And as temper evokes temper, a high-spirited child receives its chastisement in a spirit of passion and resentment. Or if the punishment be unduly severe, the delinquent is completely crushed. 'Could any experience be more likely to stumble a little child that is really trying to live the Christian life? What wonder is it that so many "little ones that believe in Him" need to be "converted" when they pass out of the nursery stage of life!
And what shall be said of other occasions of stumbling - unchristian acts or words, for instance, of which their keen eyes and ears take ready notice? We have heard something of the care that is lavished on the children in a royal palace. What amount of care can be excessive in the case of "the little ones" of the Lord of glory. And if some cynically disposed reader is inclined to dismiss all this as making too much of children, let him take heed to the warning of verse 10, "See that ye do not think slightingly of one of these little ones." l
1 The word is kaiaphroneo. The Lord is here referring back to His words in verse 6.
"For I say unto you (He added) that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of My father which is in heaven." If it be to Christians young in the faith that these words relate, is it not extraordinary that there should not be even the faintest allusion to them in the teaching of the Epistles? And this, moreover, in an age when so many of the Christians were recent converts. No less extraordinary that, throughout the centuries, they should have been ignored in Christian experience. For among the myriads of the martyrs of Pagan and of Papal Rome, was there ever one who looked for help or comfort to an angel! In scenes of torture, and in the hour of death, their faith and hope were set upon the Lord Himself.
I am reminded of a conversation with a friend now gone. When writing her name upon the fly-leaf of a book I presented to her, I added the words of Ecclesiastes ix. 7, and she chided me with forgetting her great sorrows. Owing to her high position in society the events to which she alluded were, to some extent, generally known, but to me she spoke of them without reserve. And then with a smile she went on to tell me of a loss she had suffered in her nursery days. It was so trivial that she looked back upon it with amusement; and yet she assured me that, at the time, she felt it more deeply than any sorrow of her after life. For, as she said, with growing years she had learned that the Lord was a very present help in trouble, whereas in infancy she was thrown back entirely on herself.1
A Christian, however young in the faith, who can draw upon the experience of the past, is able to trust Him even when the sky is darkest. But a little child has no such resource. How natural then, or rather, let us say, how entirely in keeping with His care for "the little ones that believe in Him," that He should "give His angels charge concerning them." And this is confirmed by the sequel. In Luke xv. He used the parable of the lost sheep to silence the taunts of pharisees and scribes : here it was addressed to His disciples to indicate His solicitude for " the little one " who has been " stumbled." 2
1 As I explained to her, the word "merry" in the verse is used in the old English sense (see James v. 13) ; and the Hebrew word is rendered "good" upwards of 300 times. It is the "honest and good heart " of Luke viii. 15 ; cf. 1 John iii. 21.
2 The language of Matt, xviii. 14 makes it clear that in the preceding verse He was still speaking of such. The rest of the chapter deals with wholly different subjects ; and chap. xix. 1, suggests that it records teaching given upon different occasions.
Remembering then that, in common with all the words He spoke during His earthly ministry, these words are eternal and can never pass away, let us seek to rescue them from the neglect to which a mistaken exegesis has consigned them. Not that we should indulge in "guardian angel" talk to children. For even the highest angelsl are but "ministers of His that do His pleasure." The little ones, therefore, should be taught to look to the Lord Himself. And His purpose in these words is clearly to foster in us a deep and deepening sense of the love He bears them, and of the solemnity and dignity of the charge entrusted to Christian parents of nurturing them for Him.
1 i.e. Angels that always behold the face of God (verse 10).
Nor is it only for some of the children of a Christian that this is true. His love and His promises are in nowise limited. And if this should seem to be negatived by facts, it behoves us to seek the cause in ourselves, instead of "casting the blame on God." May it not be that, in the earlier years of married life, children are received as from the Lord, and dedicated to Him in fulness of faith and with watchful prayer, whereas in later years, with declining spirituality, faith and prayer have flagged, and the birth of children has come to be regarded as a matter of course.
Will any Christians testify that the "dedication" of their children has been unreserved, all other considerations being made subordinate - in a word, that in all their plans and projects respecting them they have honoured God by giving Him the first place, and yet that He has failed them? Most certain is it that, where there has been failure, the cause must be found in ourselves and not in God.
That any can think otherwise is proof of the influence which the theology of the Latin Fathers exercises upon Christian thought.1 Assuming, as they did, from the appalling horrors of the capture and destruction of Jerusalem, that the Jewish race was exterminated, and that God had cast away His people, they were led to throw the " mystery " truths of the Christian revelation into " hotchpotch" with all unfulfilled Messianic prophecy. " The Church " was relegated to a position akin to that which Israel was designed to hold in the bygone economy. The truth of the Body of Christ with its heavenly calling and hope, became perverted or obscured; and the truth of the sovereignty of grace was practically lost.2
1 Calvin is said to have devoted twelve years of his life to the study of their writings. That after such an ordeal his teaching should be in the main so intensely scriptural is a signal proof of his eminence both mentally and spiritually.
2 This great basal truth of the distinctively Christian revelation will be sought in vain in the writings of even the greatest of the Latin Fathers. It was lost before the age of the Patristic theologians, and never fully recovered until the Evangelical revival of the nineteenth century.
And the truth of the timeless, heavenly election of this age, which, as we have seen, is inseparably allied with the supreme revelation of " the reign of grace," gave place to a doctrine of election on the principle of the Abrahamic covenant.
More than this, as a restored Israel was ignored in their exegesis of Scripture, all unfulfilled prophecy relating to the covenant people was " spiritualised " to make it applicable to this Christian dispensation, which they regarded as " the last great eon of God's dealings with mankind." And this erroneous system of exegesis still holds the field in our theology, with the result that the sublime visions of the Hebrew prophets relating to divine purposes of future blessing, both for the covenant people and for the nations of the earth, have come to be treated as wild exaggeration or mere hyperbole. And instead of the future which is enfolded in these visions, attention is directed to the sad and shameful story of the "Professing Christian Church," with no further outlook save a deepening apostasy, leading up to the conflagration which is to bring all things to an end.
What wonder is it if Christian thought about "the kindness and love-toward-man of our Saviour God" has impoverished and narrowed, and if thoughtful men of the world are sceptical about the prophetic visions and the threatened conflagration ! This false system of interpretation leaves the Bible an easy prey to sceptical attack.
But "God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew." The covenant with Abraham has not been abrogated. A restored Israel shall yet be the centre and the agency in the fulfilment of God's purposes of blessing for all the nations of the earth. The prophecy of the sacred calendar shall then be realised in every part of it. For the typical festivals, all of which related to the yearly harvest, are a prophecy of the harvest of redemption. The sheaf of the firstfruits at Passover pointed, of course, in a special sense to Christ, and it has an incidental reference to the redeemed of the present age, who are one with Christ. But in its ultimate fulfilment all pertains to the covenant people.
Following Passover came the Feast of Pentecost with its two wave loaves, typifying the two houses of Israel. But while traditional theology concerns itself only with the saved of the past and present dispensations, and a more intelligent exegesis takes account also of the people of the covenant again restored to favour, the great redemption prophecies far transcend these narrow limits. The springtime Feasts of Passover and Pentecost marked only the beginning and progress of the harvest. After all the fruits of the earth had been gleaned and gathered home, there came the greatest of the Festivals when, with palm branches in their hands, the nation assembled to rejoice before the Lord.1 And this will have its fulfilment in the great harvest-home of Redemption when, surpassing seemingly all limits of election and of special covenant, a palm-bearing multitude of the saved of earth, unnumbered and innumerable, will swell the completed triumphs of the Cross.2 And then, indeed, the Lord shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied. And let no one suppose that this pertains to the eternal state, and to the new earth, albeit the new earth is within the range of the Christian's hope ; it will all be fulfilled upon this earth of ours, and within the time-calendars of men.
1 Lev. xxiii. 40.
2 Rev. vii. 9.
In view of this glorious vista of the Divine purposes of blessing for mankind, how can Christian parents doubt that there is full provision in the infinite grace and love of God for all the children divinely entrusted to their care! And so, in conclusion, I would say to every Christian parent, Remember your children are "a heritage of the Lord";l and as, day by day continuously you "dedicate" them to Him,2 let no misgivings or reserve weaken faith or limit prayer on their behalf. As for thoughts about decrees of fate - unchristian thoughts that befit the cult of Islam - let them be banished from your mind. And above all, take hold of the words our Lord and Saviour spoke in that Capernaum home, remembering that, even as He uttered them, He was holding in His arms a little child, just like your own - words that, if you have ears to hear, He speaks to you now from the throne of God :
"IT IS NOT THE WILL OF YOUR FATHER WHICH is IN HEAVEN THAT ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES SHOULD PERISH."
1 Ps. cxvii. 3. 2 See p. 14, ante.
And here I would refer back to Dr. Hamilton's weighty words quoted on p. 25.
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