Writings Vol. One
THE scripture that bids me be ready to give an answer to
every man that asks a reason of the hope that is in me (i Pet. 15), may, in the
spirit of it, if not the letter, be the justification of the present paper.
Among many of those with whom I have the fullest sympathy and fellowship in
spiritual things it is plain that there is more and more question of such views
as I must acknowledge mine,- branded even as heresy by some; by others,
considered at least to be the result of laborious reasonings - the fruit of
intellectualism intruding upon what is the province of faith (of "leprosy in
the head," as some claim). On the other hand, of all that to my knowledge has
been written upon the subject,- and this will be thought, perhaps, a
sufficiently damaging admission,-I am aware of nothing that exactly expresses
the doctrine for which I am willing to be held responsible, and which I believe
to be the doctrine of Scripture upon the subject.
If, then, "all Scripture be profitable," it would not be of faith to hold back what in my apprehension it teaches upon such a matter as baptism. Even for those who after all may never agree with me, it may do what is of more importance even than this,- it may show how little the faith as a whole is affected by different views about it. and how those who so differ may preserve unhindered the unity of the Spirit, and walk in love and peace together. It is our common shame, indeed, that, with regard to a simple external rite such as this is, Christians orthodox and evangelical, and professing adherence to the Bible only, should yet be unable to agree upon almost any point in connection with it,- form, subjects, meaning. Amid this wide spread confusion, there is little ground indeed for self-satisfaction, much that should keep us humble and distrustful of ourselves. What a reproach, if after all the long patience of God with all of us, we are unable still to have patience with one another, even perhaps enough to understand one another's speech On the other hand, it must be confessed that in the traditional creed upon the subject errors so gross and corrupting have been maintained - preserved in measure even in the creeds of the Reformation, that it is scarcely to be wondered at if that should seem the only true view which was in every way farthest from the "Babylonian" one, and which, in its adoption, would remove at once all danger of contamination with it. Nevertheless it has to be asked whether the truth does not most naturally lie between the extremes,- whether it is not rather, in general, by the perversion of some truth that Satan prevails among Christians, rather than by the introduction of a whole lie in absolute contradiction to it. If it be so in this case, the extreme recoil from traditionalism will not be found the point of rest, but, in fact, will favour oscillation toward the traditional.
Our business is with Scripture, which the writer desires to have brought in the fullest way to bear upon all that is here put forth. He dreads not the keenest criticism, but invites it. Every untruth exposed is an advancement of the truth itself; where the truth is known, it is yet a buttress for it.
i. THE CHURCH OF GOD.
WE need, first of all, to see with what we must not connect - or entangle - the doctrine of Baptism: the idea of baptism into the Church,- that is, of water-baptism introducing into it,- rnust be named in order to be refused, in whatever form it may be presented. What is the Church as we find it in the New Testament? On the one hand, it is a body - the body of Christ. Its members are of Christ - living members of Christ, for there are no others.
What forms this body? No human power, clearly; none is competent: it is the baptism of the Spirit only. (i Cor. xii. 13.) Nor do I take up now the confusion of this with water-baptism, which is habitual in traditional teaching, except to say that when the apostles were baptized of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, (comp. Acts i. 5,) there was plainly no water-baptism at all. As plainly, it was not new birth that the apostles then experienced, but the gift of the Holy Ghost that they received. (Acts ii. 33, 38.) This gift, as something additional to new birth, is that which distinguishes the Church as united to Christ on high: "He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit." (i Cor. vi. 17.)
But the Church, as indwelt of the Spirit, is also spoken of as the "house of God,"- a building which Christ builds, and which is composed of "living stones," just as the body is of living members. (Matt. xvi. i8; i Pet. ii.) In this way, the body and the house are plainly but different aspects of the same thing: in extent, they are exactly the same. But there is another aspect of the house also, which we find both in Ephesians and Corinthians. In Ephesians (chap. ii. 20-22), there is the double thought of the Church - as being built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, growing to a holy temple in the Lord, and of a present "habitation of God in spirit." Here, human instrumentality is seen; and in Corinthians (i Cor. iii. io), the apostle Paul claims himself to to be a "master-builder," and to have laid the foundation, warning those who follow him how they build upon it. The foundation, as he says, is Christ,- the truth as to Him which the first inspired teacher communicated. All after-building is by teaching,- teaching by which are influenced and fashioned those who accept it. Building and edifying are thus the same thing - in the original, the same word. The care was to be as to the material used : "gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble" (v. 12); and these materials therefore refer primarily to doctrines. The day is coming, says the apostle, which will try all,- a day in which the fire will try (and "our God is a consuming fire ") every man's work of what sort it is. "If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; yet he himself shall be saved, yet so as through the fire."
So, in responsibility for the present time, the house of God is being built. But, alas! what responsibility did man ever come under in which he did not fail? So have the builders failed in this case; and thus while in the first epistle to Timothy the apostle writes that he may know how to behave himself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, in the second he makes only mention of a "great house," in which are vessels of gold and silver, of wood and earth, and some to honour, some to dishonour. And now the word is, that "if a man purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use." I do not here go further into the doctrine of the house, because it is clear that whatever builders might in fact build, and with whatever far-reaching results, nothing can affect the fact that Christ's building is only of living stones, and that the Chuch, in either aspect, is thus one thing essentially: none but the living form any part of it. Also as to introduction into it, the two things by which alone any are introduced into it - new birth and the gift of the Holy Ghost - neither is in man's hand to bestow. Man cannot form or introduce into the Church; he can but recognize what God has done.
But here we are brought at once face to face with the view that many have with regard to baptism. They would say at once, That is just what we believe baptism to be - the recognition of the work which God has done, and which He alone could do, in souls. Just as Peter, when the descent of the Spirit upon Cornelius and his house had taken place, asks, "Who shall forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?"
But this is too partial an induction; for if we infer from this that baptism is therefore that in which we recognize that the gift of the Spirit has been received, how entirely out of its place must the same apostle have used it on the day of Pentecost, when he bids the listening Jews "repent, and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts ii. 38)! How wrongly must it have been administered in Samaria, where it is stated that "as yet He was fallen upon none of them, only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." (viii. x6.) And again at Ephesus, where we read of certain disciples of John, that "they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus; and when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came upon them." (xix. 5, 6.) Here it is plain that if baptism with water be the recognition of the reception of the Spirit having taken place, Paul, Philip, and Peter himself must have been mistaken. It is simpler to believe that the inference from the case of Cornelius is the real mistake.
And the more we think of it, the more we may thank God that He has not appointed any ordinance as introduction into His Church on earth. The contention about baptism today perfectly illustrates the confusion which would have arisen. Have you been sprinkled or immersed? as a child, or an adult believer? What was the formula used? Into what faith? By whose hands? How many questions with which to torture my own soul or the souls of others! How beautifully the very case of Cornelius rebukes it all, where the Holy Ghost falls upon those uncircumcised and unbaptized; and to Peter, hesitating with his Jewish scruples about ordinances, the voice from heaven replies, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common"!
If, then, the Church is formed by the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and we find in the inspired history of Christianity at the beginning that the Holy Ghost is bestowed both after and before the baptism of water, we may see clearly that God has guarded His Church from any such usurpation of ordinances over it. Christ has "blotted out the obligation to ordinances, which was against us, which was contrary to us, and taken it out of the way, nailing it to His cross" (Col. ii. 14, Gk.), not to replace them with Christian forms for Jewish: baptism and the supper of the Lord stand upon other ground than this.
2. THE POSITIVENESS OF THE GRACE WHICH THE CHURCH EXPRESSES.
Now, if we will consider but a moment what is implied in being a member of Christ, we shall see that there is in it a positiveness of grace such as was never expressed before, such as we can find nowhere else. In Judaism, the house of God was the temple or the tabernacle, not the people of Israel. The body of Christ was a thing unknown. A Jew might look forward to being under Christ, a happy subject of His righteous rule; but of being a member of Christ he could know nothing. Christ had not come, still less taken His place as the human Head of the Church in heaven. The Spirit of God had not come: there was yet no baptism into a body of which there was no head.
The Christian is a child of God, and there were children of God from the earliest ages of the world; but he has, as none had before, the Spirit of adoption, by which he is able to cry, Abba, Father, and to take his place thus as a child of God. He has received an everlasting salvation. He is in known, near, and eternal relationship, possessor of eternal life, though in the world, no more of it, but dead with Christ, quickened and risen with Him, seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
This is not the place to enter into or discuss the nature of these blessings: for my present purpose, I must assume them to be known, as they are indeed the common blessings of Christianity, though unbelief and bad teaching may obscure them more or less for even the mass of Christians. But all these things imply a security of blessing which Scripture proclaims to us as to be held in full assurance of faith, never would cast a doubt upon, even for a moment.
The conditional texts, (and there are many in the Word of God,) are all, as it is easy to see if one will examine them with this in view, tests of profession: they never imply doubt as to the real child of God. They may say, "Lest, having preached to others, I myself should be a castaway;" never "Lest, after being born again," or "justified," or "having eternal life, I should be a castaway." That could not be supposed without upsetting the gospel. On the contrary, "he that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness "-now! But may be not once have been in the light? no: he is "in darkness even until now." (i Jno. ii.) And if some have gone out from the Christian body, the apostle is assured by that fact that they were not of it: "They went out," he says, "that it might be made manifest that they all are not of us." So, if justified by the blood of Christ, "much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him." (Rom. v. 9.)
All this is peculiar to Christianity. In Israel under the law such blessed assurance was not attainable, however God might and did minister strength by the way. There was no "Abba, Father," from the Spirit of adoption. God was a Father to Israel, a family of the earth brought nigh to Himself, but such relationship involved no necessary salvation, as it implied no new birth. The best saints had to cry, "Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me." (Ps. Il. ii.)
Together under the law, and in the final uncertainty which sprang from that, servants but not sons, the congregation of Israel was a mixed gathering of saints and sinners,- what indeed men have made of the Christian "assembly," but as far as possible from what it was designed to be; the result, too, largely of that Judaizing process going on, which we see at work from the beginning of Christianity, and so steadily resisted everywhere by the apostle of the Gentiles.
3. THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
THE relationship of God to His people Israel was that of King. The temple was His palace, the ark His throne, the human king but His representative, as it is said of Solomon, they "sat upon the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel." (i Chron. xxviii) The law of Moses was the rule of this kingdom, the terms of the covenant between God and the people. (Ex. xxxiv. 28.) Of the covenant itself circumcision was the sign, although, as we know, dating from Abraham: the circumcised man was a debtor to do the whole law. (Gal. v. 3.) Every male in the household had to be circumcised, whether Israelite born or slaves, and only in houses where this was observed could they keep the passover. (Ex. xii. 48.) Israel's condition under the law was that of bond-servants (Gal. iv. 21-26) ; they had no permanent standing before God (Jno. viii. 35): SO that even the children of God among them in spirit differed nothing from bond-servants. (Gal. iv. x.) God has always been gracious, and the just have always lived by faith; but "the law is not of faith," and the questions arising out of this contradiction between the two could not yet be settled. Under Moses the nation went on with the accuser to the judge, and the Babylonian captivity saw the glory removed out of the temple, the temple itself destroyed, and Israel branded with the mark, Lo-Ammi, "not My people." (Hos. 1) The kingdom was now committed to the Gentiles by Him who from heaven governs all things necessarily, as He always did; but with no longer any recognized throne on earth. The Gentile empires that succeed are bestial and without God; and though a remnant of Judah return to their land and rebuild once more the temple, they are still subjected to them, and the decree that has gone out is unrepealed : they are Lo-Ammi still.
So the Lord finds them; but from the Baptist. messenger who has preceded Him a cry has gone forth of recall, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Matthew alone uses this term, for which the other gospels substitute "the kingdom of God." The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are one substantially, whatever difference may be implied in the expression. The parables of the one are able to take their place unchanged as parables of the other. The difference seems to be that while "heaven" is the place of the throne (Matt. v. 34) it is God who sits upon it. The kingdom of heaven seems thus clearly distinct from that which had been in Israel. Then it was "the ark of Jehovah, the Lord of all the earth," that passed through Jordan. (Josh. iii. 13.) At the end of Chronicles, in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel, it is of the God of heaven that we hear continually. And if this implies withdrawal, in a sense, from earth, where the throne is given to the Gentile, yet God's steps are never really retrograde, but in advance. Heaven is now to be opened to us, as Daniel shows us One who is the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven to receive the kingdom. In Matthew, in the sermon on the mount, which is in fact the announcement of the kingdom as it will yet be when Israel shall receive their Messiah, heaven is God's throne, the earth His footstool, Jerusalem the city of the great King; and if on the one hand, there are meek ones (comp. Ps. xxxvii.) whose blessedness will be in an inheritance on earth, there are those whom the world has persecuted for Christ's sake, and whose reward will be great in heaven. Heaven and earth are indeed to be linked together now, as the book of Revelation very distinctly shows us, the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city, coming down from God out of heaven, not exactly to earth, which is not said: there is no confusion between earth and heaven, as now so often made; and yet into such close connection that it can be said, "The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them." This is in the "kingdom and glory" yet to come; but there is a phase of the kingdom now, in which it is joined with another characteristic expression, "the kingdom and patience of Jesus" (Rev. i 9), truly the kingdom of heaven, for He sits upon the Father's throne (iii. 21), waiting to take that throne of His as Son of Man, upon which He will be able to grant His saints to sit with Him. The distinction between these two phases of the kingdom is therefore abundantly plain.
When the Lord came to His own, the kingdom was in His person offered to them; and of that therefore the early announcements, whether of the Baptist or the Lord, speak. But when it becomes plain that He is rejected by Israel, and in the eleventh and twelfth of Matthew He has declared their rejection and judgment in consequence, He disowns His merely natural ties, proclaims that His real kindred were those who did the will of His Father in heaven, and then, leaving the house, and sitting by the seaside, He gives utterance to those parables in which the new phase of the kingdom is presented. (Chap. xiii.)
The ministers of Christ are "stewards of the mysteries of God." (t Cor. iv. I.) And these mysteries are "things hidden from ages and generations, and now made manifest to the saints." (Col. i. 26.) All that we have seen of the Church as the body of Christ is such a mystery (Eph. iii. 9); but there are "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" also, which the Lord opens in these parables (xiii. xi): the parabolic form being evidence that we have in them what was hidden from Israel, according to the prophecy which Matthew quotes: "I will open my mouth in parables: I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world" (vv. 34, 35).
Accordingly, we find in them such a state of things as in the coming kingdom cannot be. It is a kingdom which is brought about, not by the coming of the Son of Man from heaven, but by the sowing of seed -"the word of the kingdom "- upon earth. But here in many, in whom it seems to have taken root, there is yet no fruit. Contrary influences, the world, the flesh, and the devil, destroy much. Worse still, the enemy, not shut up as he will be when the kingdom comes in power (Rev. xx. 1-3), sows his own seed, what is not the word of God, but its semblance only, and tares are found among the wheat, not to be removed till the day of harvest. Then indeed the kingdom seems to root itself in the earth, but to become itself earthly, and shelter the birds of the air, the powers of evil. And into the good bread of life itself the "woman," the professing church, puts the evil leaven which diffuses itself until the whole is leavened. These are the pictures of the kingdom which the first four parables present to us. Every where we see strife of good and evil in it, and even that the victory does not seem with the good, but with the evil ; until indeed the day of manifestation come, and angel-hands apply the remedy when the Son of Man again appears. The first parable gives, as we might expect, the secret of the whole condition. It is a kingdom of truth (Jno. XVIII. 37), into which men are discipled (Matt. xiii. 52, R. V.); and where discipling may mean very different things,- mere head-knowledge, barren profession, or continuance in the Word so as to be disciples indeed. (Jno. viii. 31.) Subjection to Christ may be nominal or real; they may say, "Lord, Lord," and not do the things that He says. But this lasts only till the day of manifestation; and when the kingdom comes in power, then it is written, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," and "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven."
4. THE THREE CIRCLES IN EPH. IV.
IN connection with the sevenfold unity of which the apostle speaks in Eph. iv., a threefold sphere of blessing is plainly to be seen, based upon the relationships of the Godhead to us. "There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all who is over all and through all, and in all." There are here three concentric circles: that of the Church, that of the kingdom, and that of creation. Let us look at them distinctly a little. That of the Church is plain: "one body" is, of course, the body of Christ. It would be impossible to multiply this into many bodies, impossible to have more than one Church. The "one Spirit" unites together the members of the body, and animates them, uniting them also to the head. Then, as the "calling" of the Church is distinct, so must be the special "hope."
The second circle is not less distinct, one would think, yet it is much more disputed. "One Lord" should prepare us, however, to read aright what follows. It has been seen by many that Christ does not take ever in relation to His saints now the title of King. He does not the less reign, surely; and it is His grace only that avoids the distance which might seem implied. Christians are known as those that "call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord." This is for us the title He is pleased to assume.
"One faith" evidently means what some would call one creed, not faith as the principle of dependence upon God, in which sense "one" faith would hardly be intelligible. In connection, then, with "one Lord, one faith," we have "one baptism." This has been thought by some to be the baptism of the Spirit; but this, as what forms the body, would certainly have place in the first circle, and there would be needless, as one Spirit coupled with one body expresses already all. Moreover, "baptism" by itself naturally means the rite; when used with other applications, other words are added in explanation. Water-baptism also, as we shall find fully as we go on, is that which is connected with the sphere of discipleship, that is, of the kingdom, as that of the Spirit is with the Church. We have now a third sphere, one closing unity, "one God and Father of all, who is above (or over) all, and through all, and in all." 'I'his last is undeniably the reading of all the oldest manuscripts though the early versions have "in us all." I apprehend that the manuscripts are right, and that the "Father in us" is not a scriptural thought. It is said of Christ, and of Him alone, who was the Father's representative in the world. But if so, that would forbid the "over all and through all" being said of persons, though "Father of all" must of course be of persons. But how widely, then, does this apply? Is it of all men, or of all believers? It seems to me designedly left vague. Creation is that which gives the first ground of the title; but here the fall has brought in breach and disorder, and the Lord says to the Jews, "If God were your Father, ye would love Me." New creation must, therefore, come, and by new birth we are children of God in a nearer and more wonderful way than before. But new creation does not take us out of creation as such, in which man alone upon the earth has been the transgressor. "Over all, through all, in all," seems to take in the whole sphere of things wherein, blessed be God, we still find Him. There are certainly here three circles. The Church is not the kingdom, whatever the comparative extent of these two may be. And the sphere of creation is different from either. But all this will become clearer as we go on: it is by the comparison of scripture with scripture that, as in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word must be established.
5. THE PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM: ARE THEY JEWISH, OR CHRISTIAN ?
A QUESTION must now be looked at which is of the utmost importance to the whole inquiry. It has of late been taught by some that the parables of the kingdom in the gospels are Jewish, and not Christian,- that they refer to a future time, when the Church of God shall have been removed from the scene, and Israel be in the troubles of the last days, through which they shall be awakened and brought to God. Thus we must not take the kingdom of heaven as applying to the present time, with which it is in entire contrast; the kingdom now is only by the personal presence of the Spirit of God in the individual, and in no other way. Church and Kingdom now are therefore in the strictest sense conterminous : the rule of Christ is only by the Spirit indwelling, and this is what forms the Church, as we have seen.
The arguments as to the parables are these :-
(i) First, and really, as it would appear, the foundation one, the word "then" in Matt. xxv. x, whereby the parable of the ten virgins is shown clearly to refer to the period and events of chap. xxiv. "It is then, when the wide world owns the sovereignty of the beast, (Rev. xiii.) that the kingdom of the heavens, comprising those who are undefiled by the universal worship (Rev. xiv.), shall be like unto ten virgins who . . . go forth to meet Him whom their soul loveth (Song i. and iii.); but in the lull which precedes the storm of the great tribulation (Ezek. xxxviii. 8, last clause), they all slumber and sleep till awakened by the cry, 'Behold the Bridegroom' . . . Then all arise to testify again in the teeth of the beast, the false prophet, and the whole world."
Now, that the "then" which begins the parable refers in some sense to the "period and events" of the chapter before will surely not be denied. If we turn to the questions of the disciples, to which the whole prophecy is in answer, we shall find that they are three: "When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the age (not world) ?" For the Jews, the "present age" was the age of law, the "age to come" the age of Messiah. The coming of the Son of Man would, according to Daniel, introduce the latter, and thus end the former. passing briefly over the answer to the first question, (which Luke, chap. xxi., gives in full,) Matthew dwells upon the last two. The prophecy shows us, first, Israel, then the Church, and then the Gentile nations in connection with the end, giving, naturally, along with this, sufficient of their previous history to make all intelligible. Thus, in the parable of the talents (xxv. 14), He goes back to the time of His going away to heaven, before which He delivers them to His servants. Are these also (as they should be, to make all consistent with the new interpretation,) a Jewish remnant in days yet to come? That is impossible: the Lord is speaking of Christian times; and this parable of the talents is so connected with the previous one as to make it certain that this must be also Christian.
This by itself is enough; for the "then," while it does refer to the coming of the Lord, does not preclude the history of what precedes. But there are other things, as the going out to meet the Bridegroom, which is not an idea suited to Israel, who abide on earth, and are not caught away to meet Him. Then whose is the Bridegroom? I should agree in this with those who hold the new views, that it is Israel's; but then the virgins and the bride must be distinct, as in this case they are not, but confounded. Others have, I know, made similar confusion from the other point of view; but there is no justification of it on this account.
(2) In the second place, it is urged that "in the parable, the wicked are gathered first; in what is now, the saints are gathered first, and afterward come with the Lord. In what is now, the saints are taken out and the wicked left for wrath to come. In the parable, the scene is cleared of the wicked; in this dispensation, it is cleared of the Church; and whereas the former does not occur until the consummation of the age, the last may occur at any moment."
The fundamental facts here are in no wise a new discovery of the writer's, although he states them in a way which is careless enough when one considers his knowledge of much that has been written. In the parable of the tares, they are gathered and bound in bundles to be burned, and then the wheat is gathered into the barn. The interpretation carries the action of the parable further,-the wicked are cast into the fire, and the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Here, the righteous are seen to be heavenly saints, as the figure shows; and also where they shine, for the kingdom of the Father is not the millennial kingdom of the Son of Man. But these must be the wheat of the parable, if the interpretation is interpretation at all. It must surely be, therefore, that the gathering into bundles, though an angelic act, speaks of something different from removal from the earth, as indeed the "bundles" would seem also to imply.
In the net cast into the sea, however, it is different. There, the wicked are taken out of the midst of the just; and there, by the same rule, if the interpretation is really that, then the parable must refer to something outside the present dispensation. The truth seems to be that the parables as a whole take in the whole time from the sowing of the seed of the kingdom by the Lord Himself on earth till the time He comes in glory; and thus take in the present Church-period, and that which follows it, the time of the going forth of the everlasting gospel as in Rev. xiv. In this way all is harmony.
(~) The objection that "these parables summarise all prophecy in relation to God's earthly people," and that "prophecy is not connected with the Pauline dispensation," for proof of which, we are referred to Eph. 5-9, is in many ways strange enough. Of course, if they do summarize all prophecy as to Israel, they cannot primarily, at least,- apply to the Church, the heavenly people: that is clear. But it has to be proved that this is what they do. And if they do, it seems strange that they should be said by Matthew himself to be of "things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." Surely that which was uttered by all the prophets could not at the same time have been "kept secret "! And the reference to Ephesians is on this account still more strange. That Old Testament prophecy does not speak of the "Pauline" dispensation is of course true, though the New Testament is not similarly silent. Thus if the disciples professed their understanding of the parables, it could not be, as the writer states, from their knowledge of prophecy! That was only a knowledge of old things, to which the parables added now the new. (xiii. 52.) Moreover, they could understand, in general, the drift of these parables without the knowledge of the special Church - truth committed to Paul afterward, which is not revealed in them, however much it may enable us to understand better certain details of them.
But it is inferred that the kingdom of heaven involves "the rule of the heavens, therefore of God, over the entire scene," and in such sort that "the bare fact of the existence and triumphant wickedness of the murderers of the upright "- Rome -"should have convinced us that the sphere called 'Christendom' cannot possibly be the sphere of the rule of the heavens and of God."
To this it is sufficient to answer that the parables themselves speak quite differently. The first four parables, which, as spoken to the multitude, and not as the last three - in the house, speak of the open, external aspect of things, present to us a constantly increasing power of evil till the end of that form of the kingdom which they picture. The devil, the flesh, and the world destroy three parts of the good seed in the first parable. In the second, there are tares, the direct growth of Satan's sowing,- not truth, but a lie, therefore,- right among the wheat. In the third, there is but one seed, and the general result is pictured,- the wonder being that a little seed springs into a tree, such as, in Dan. iv., the king of Babylon is compared to, and which shelters the fowls of the air, which in the first parable represent the instruments of Satan; while in the last, the woman (the professing church) hides the leaven in the meal, or corrupts the bread of life with the leaven of falsehood. Here the state of things continually gets worse, and, general as the picture is, it certainly does more than leave room for, rather it implies (if not in all her features,) the woman Jezebel of Revelation.
How, then, can her actual existence in Christendom convince us that the parables do not apply to Christendom? It is the exactness of the picture which should convince us of what it is the picture. And these four parables are exact, even as to their minutest features, in the delineation of Christendom, of those in professed subjection to Christ, which is just the sphere of the kingdom and of discipleship.
6. THE KINGDOM OF GOD's DEAR SON.
MARK and Luke repeat some of these parables of the kingdom of heaven, just substituting for this phrase "the kingdom of God." And among these, Mark introduces another which gives plainly the present form of it (chap. iv. 26-29): "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up he knoweth not how . . . but when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come." This agrees exactly with the present state of the kingdom, as the fruit of the Lord's personal presence and labour in the world, now left apparently to itself, but the field to be reaped when He comes again. Nothing but Christendom can possibly answer to such a picture as this. Israel will not have the Lord personally to cast seed into the ground after the Church is removed, nor will they be brought in as a continuation of present gospel-work. "As concerning the gospel," says the apostle, "they are enemies for your sakes." (Rom. XI. 28.)
But if this be so, it is monstrous to contend that the kingdom of God now is "by the personal presence of the Spirit of God, and in no other way." That "the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power" (i Cor. IV. 20) does not prove it; nor that it is "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." (Rom. xiv. ivi.) These things indeed characterize it where real in the heart, but there are, none the less, subjects that are not really subject, and disciples that are not "disciples indeed." No doubt, where what is thus truly characteristic is spoken of, it is the "kingdom of God" that is the term employed; yet in the parables of the kingdom of heaven also, it is the "good seed" that is "the children of the kingdom." Nor can it be well maintained, with the parables before us, that there are two kingdoms, contemporaneous with one another, unequal in extent, and both of God. The kingdom of God's dear Son, once mentioned (Col. i. 13), is evidently again simply the kingdom of God as it now exists, with the Son sitting on the Father's throne. (Rev. iii. 21.) The apostle speaks of the saints as "giving thanks unto the Father. . . who hath delivered us from the authority of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son," a thing in which every true child of the kingdom may unfeignedly rejoice, spite of the sorrowful fact that others, outwardly in the kingdom, have not in heart bowed to the Son, nor found therefore the deliverance. It will not do to argue from such a scripture, as the writer referred to does, that "saints only are within it." This is not said, and one has no title no say it. Condition is implied, in the kingdom in its present form, as we may now go on to see.
7. THE KINGDOM RUNNING THROUGH THE DISPENSATIONS.
THE Church which is Christ's body we have seen to be peculiar to the present dispensation; and the House of God to be, in God's thought, but the same Church in another aspect. 'l'he Kingdom, on the contrary, in what is essential to it, runs through the Jewish and the Christian dispensations both, though not without a break, when Israel became Lo-Ammi, and the throne on earth was transferred to the Gentiles.
The members of Christ's body have a place in positive relationship to Him, and as children of God, with the Spirit of adoption theirs, able to cry, Abba, Father.
With the subjects of the kingdom as such, on the contrary, all is conditional. In Israel there was no formal separation even between believers and unhelievers. They were one of the "families of the earth" adopted by God as His, but on that very account the true children of God not distinguished from the rest. In the parables of the kingdom of heaven we find a mixture to a large extent similar, tares not for some time distinguishable from the wheat, and never allowed to be separated by servants' hands. Under Israel's legal covenant every thing was of necessity conditional, blessing suspended on obedience simply. In the epistles we are all aware of much conditional teaching also, nowhere connected with the children of God or members of Christ as such, but in view of discipleship and a mixed profession - that is, the kingdom.
In Christianity, however, there is a notable difference from Judaism, because of the grace that has replaced law. The question is now whether this grace has been accepted, not of obedience to any legal code: but the acceptance implies that in case of such acceptance, a real change in heart and life will have resulted from it. Take one of the parables of the kingdom, Matt. Xvlll. 23-35: here the confessedly bankrupt debtor is forgiven freely an immense debt; but, untouched by this forgiveness, he exacts from a fellow-servant a paltry debt to himself, and is cast into prison without hope of redemption. Here, forgiveness itself is in the kingdom-view of it conditional.
In Israel a man was a Jew by nature (Gal. II. 15), the necessary consequence of God's adoption of one of the families of the earth. Yet he must be circumcised, must receive in his flesh the token of it, or he would be cut off. The Israelite was circumcised at eight days old; infant circumcision was the rule and imperative; but if a stranger desired to partake of the passover, he could by circumcision enter the assembly, all the males of his household being circumcised with him. 'I'his was, if one may say so, the grace of the law. But Israel have ceased in the meanwhile to be the people of God; the national birthright entrance into the kingdom has failed therefore with this. There remains but the other form, that of proselyte entrance; the bringing into a kingdom which is the fruit of the word of the kingdom sown as seed in the world, is "discipling." Men are "discipled into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. xiii. 52, Gk.) The grace of the law is that which abides, now that the legal form is passed away. Grace reigns. Circumcision which makes a "debtor to do the whole law" (Gal. v. 3) is passed away with the law. Has anything taken its place, as an outward introduction to the kingdom of God? And in this new "discipling to the kingdom," is there a place provided for the children of proselytes, as under the law when the males were circumcised? 'I'hese questions lead us on directly to the doctrine of baptism.
8. THE BAPTISMS OF THE LAW.
BAPTISM as we find it in Christianity is not an entirely new thing, but has its roots in the previous dispensation. There were Jewish baptisms more than one, which had an important place under the law; and the consideration of these will naturally prepare us for the better understanding of the New Testament form. It is well known that "there is an universal agreement among later Jewish writers that all the Israelites were brought into covenant with God by circumcision, baptism, and sacrifice, and that the same ceremonies were necessary in admitting proselytes" (Smith's Dictionary). But of this, Scripture says nothing, and we can build only on what is found in it. Apart from this altogether there were legal baptisms, although we must go to the New Testament for the word. This is applied in Mark (vii. 4, 8) and Luke (xi. 38) to mere ceremonial and traditional "washings," as to which we have only to note that they were clearly symbols of purification with a supposed sacramental efficacy. Similarly, it is when a dispute had arisen about purifying that John's disciples come and tell him that Jesus was baptizing. (Jno. iii. 26.) It is only in Hebrews beside, and in two passages that we have reference to Jewish baptisms. As clearest we may take the latter first, which the Revised Version gives as follows: "According to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshiper perfect, being only (with meats and drinks and divers washings) carnal ordinances, imposed until a time of reformation." (Heb. ix. io.) But this is not, as to the parenthesis thus introduced, an improvement on the common version. The word (epi) translated "with" has indeed very commonly the meaning of "with, in addition to," but it also means "dependent on," and this removes the parenthesis and brings what is contained in it into the main argument where it surely belongs. For why are they carnal ordinances, these gifts and sacrifices? Plainly, because they depend upon "meats and drinks and divers baptisms"- the real word. How could offerings consisting of such things set at rest the conscience?
The "divers baptisms" belonged, then, to this service of gifts and offerings. They were, according to what we have seen already, the directly purificatory part. In a sacrificial service they can only mean one thing, and that the apostle explains to us in the verses that almost immediately follow here: "For if the blood of goals and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ . . . cleanse your conscience ?" Here are purifications, sacrificial, of diverse character, (blood and ashes,) and those which the apostle is comparing and contrasting with what does now perfect the conscience in the time of reformation which is now come.
One thing only here can be objected in the face of this decisive argument, that these "baptisms" must be in this case sprinklings and not immersions, which, it is granted on all hands, is the primary meaning of the word. The answer is that Scripture has changed many words from their primary meaning, and that this is one of them. The force of "baptism" in the New Testament does not depend upon the mode at all. When Israel were "baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea," they were not immersed in either, and to introduce the thought into the passage would turn its solemn significance into absolute folly. In that wonderful way they were broken off from their past in Egypt and taken into Moses' school: that entrance accompanied by a wonderful lesson of the power and majesty of a Saviour-God. After all this, to turn their Deliverer into a destroyer!
Then take the baptism into one body, baptism into Christ, baptism into His death, nothing surely but very strange prepossession with an idea could make the thought of immersion in one of these cases seem reasonable or right. But we are anticipating what will be more fittingly our subject at another time.
The other passage which speaks of these Jewish baptisms is in Heb. Vi. 2 : "Not laying again the foun-dation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment." These things, from the words immediately preceding them, and from the presence among them of baptism and laying on of hands, have been,by almost general consent taken to be the Christian foundation, despite the evident fact that Christ is not so much as named in it! The common version of "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection;" but which the margin gives literally as "leaving the word of the beginning of Christ." This is Judaism, which could not be more accurately characterized in connection with the full "perfection" of Christianity itself. Writing to Jewish converts, the apostle exhorts them not to go back to what they had left, and lay again a foundation which ignored Christ as come, though it might have many truths beside. Notice, that while repentance, faith in God, resurrection and judgment are spoken of in plain terms, the truth indeed to perfect the conscience, of which Paul speaks in the ninth chapter, is entirely wanting, while in its place we find that very "teaching of baptisms," which he shews there to be but the Jewish shadow of it! That should surely make clear of what he is speaking, while "the laying on of hands" connected with this is easily understood as in Judaism that identification of the offerer with his sacrifice which was of such importance to acceptance through it.
But these things so necessary for the soul, were but taught in type and shadow. How needful to exhort them to leave the word of the beginning of Christ and to go on to perfection! How this strengthens the interpretation of the ninth chapter is easy to be seen.
9. THE BAPTISM OF JOHN AND OF THE LORD BY HIM.
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