The Preface to the Trial by Law:

Abraham and the Abrahamic Covenant.

An important period comes now to be considered; not itself forming part of these probationary ages, but having nevertheless the deepest significance in relation to these. The trial by law, it is evident, was the fullest and most detailed trial that man received; as it was the trial of the only religious system that ever was the fruit of man's mind simply. We have seen it in principle already in Cain — a mere natural man, of course; but with the believer also there are thoughts of the natural mind which are no better. God, in the giving of law, does not yet reveal His own way of blessing, but adopts, for the sake of experiment, man's way; only supplying the needful conditions that the experiment may be fully made, and the issue such as may not at all be doubtful.

But in a case of this kind, special care would be needed also to guard against the mistake, so sure otherwise to happen, of confounding this adoption of man's way, for a certain purpose, with the acceptance of it by God as the true one, and His own thought. This in fact has happened, because unbelief in man can set aside the plainest testimonies that can be given; while the systems which set these aside necessarily, in proportion as they do so, deny the simple facts connected with the giving of the law, and which are indeed part of a testimony which He has thus graven upon the history itself.

Thus those who affirm the law to be in any sense God's original thought have endeavored to prove, as it was needful to prove, its universality and its existence from the beginning in a fallen world. Its universality, — for that which was God's way of blessing for man, could not be (according to His own design) shut up from the mass.; its existence from the beginning, partly for the same reason, and partly because God's thought would surely be the one first announced by Him.

To establish its universality, they have had to distinguish between a written and an unwritten law; or, as they assume to call it from Scripture, a law written on the heart. What they mean is in fact conscience, an implicit law which every one has, while the ten commandments are only its explicit form, and as such given to Israel alone. In the same way they prove equally, as they think, its existence from the beginning.

Scripture refuses this, however, utterly. The "law written upon the heart" is only used of Israel's condition when finally converted to God. It is one of the blessings of the new covenant — "I will put My laws in their minds, and write them in their heart;" words which prove conclusively that such a condition is not every man's natural one. While in the passage in Romans often quoted, where at first sight a similar term seems to be applied to the Gentiles, it is in reality a very different one: "Which show," says the apostle, "the work of the law written upon their hearts" — not the law written, but its work written, as the original text declares without any question. The work of the law is conviction: conscience does this work in the one who has not the law, though far less completely: "By the law is the knowledge of sin;" and this knowledge conscience in measure gives to every one, and in that respect they, "having no law" (so the Revised Version correctly gives it), "are a law unto themselves." Had they a law, they would not be a law to themselves.

There is no escape from the plain statement of Scripture that the law written on the heart is conversion, and not the natural state and that if it were, God could not promise to write it for those who already had it written in them. Positive, too, is the statement that the Gentiles had "no law." But beside all this, the introduction of law at the beginning in a fallen world is the subversion of the whole argument of the apostle (Gal. 3:17), that "the covenant, which was confirmed before of God in Christ [or rather to Christ"], the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, could not disannul, that it should make the promise of no effect." For "though it be a man's covenant, if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth or addeth thereunto."

He here shows one of the meanings of this Abrahamic period preceding the dispensation of law. No less than four centuries does God require to put between the promise of grace to Abraham and his seed and the legal covenant between Himself and Israel, to prevent the one being confounded with or added to the other. And the importance of this will be seen, when we compare the real universality of the first with the restricted bearing of the second. "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed," God says to Abraham, speaking to him as the pattern man of faith, the "father of all them that believe." For "they which are of faith," says the apostle, "the same are the children of Abraham." And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would "justify the heathen (the nations) through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, 'In thee shall all nations be blessed.' So then," he adds, "they which be of faith are blessed with faithful (or rather, "believing") Abraham."

Thus God had proclaimed, centuries before the law, that the Gentiles should be blessed upon the principle of faith. Even as, long after the law was given, He had declared by Habakkuk that "the just shall live by faith." "And," adds the apostle again, "the law is not of faith but the man that doeth them shall live in them" — an entirely different and conflicting principle.

Even thus far it is plain that, as God's universal way of blessing, the gospel had possession of the field before the law came in at all. But God would make it more evident; and He confirms this covenant of promise (really) to Christ, when He afterward adds, "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." This is of course the completion (and therefore confirmation) of the former promise and its full significance is seen in connection with that offering up of Isaac, and receiving him back (in figure) from the dead, which so plainly find their antitype in Christ's sacrificial death and resurrection. The true Isaac is that One Seed, as the apostle points out, "to whom the promise was made." If "in thee" showed that the blessing was to be by faith, "in thy seed" reveals the object of faith, the Person and work through whom alone the blessing of all nations could in fact come.

Law is excluded from this covenant of promise. It has absolutely no place there. And what proves this, according to the apostle, is just the fact of its having been made and confirmed of God four hundred and thirty years before the Sinaitic. Even a man's covenant made and confirmed cannot be reopened to insert new conditions. How simply impossible, then, to add the law as a condition to the covenant of grace!

Theological systems would come in here to assure us, however, that the law was written upon man's heart from the beginning, and thus upset altogether the apostle's reasoning. Instead of grace having priority of law, as he affirms, according to these, it is the law that has the priority. Either he or they, then, must be in error.

In the epistle to the Romans also he speaks of a time before law. "For until the law," he says, — or rather, "until law" — "sin was in the world." Law did not introduce it therefore, he means to say; but again they would correct him: according to them, there was no time "until" — that is, before — law. And some would doubtless quote the next words of the apostle in proof: "But sin is not imputed where there is no law." The mistake is in supposing "imputing" here to be the same thing as elsewhere in the epistle; it is in reality a different word: "sin is not put in account" (as the different items of a bill,) is the true thought. "Sin is not put in account where there is no law; nevertheless death reigned" — proving that sin was imputed,"from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression." For Adam had "transgressed;" he had overstepped a positive law under which he was. "From Adam to Moses" is just the time of the most part of the Genesis history; it is the time until law, when sin was already in the world, but when it had not as yet this aggravation. The supposition — for it has been supposed — that infants are in question "from Adam to Moses," is scarcely deserving a refutation.

It is not true, then, that the law given at Sinai was only the explicit announcement of what had been implicitly in existence from the beginning; but on the contrary, law, as a principle of God's dealings in a fallen world, came in then. It is what He was forced into (to speak after the manner of men), rather than desired. Abel, in the world before the flood, declared what was His way from the beginning; and this Noah's altar proclaimed again as His, when those waters had scarcely dried from off the face of the new world.

In this prefatory period of which we are now speaking, the types of the law and its significance the apostle has taught us to find in Abraham's history. How suited their place there should be surely evident. Hagar is thus the "covenant from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage," and every detail of her history is, I am assured, luminous in this way. That she is but handmaid to Sarah, the covenant of grace, every one owns, of course. Sarah's name is "Princess," for "grace reigns." Hagar is an Egyptian, child of fallen nature; and her name is "Fugitive," for, alas! the natural effort now is to get away from God. She is fleeing toward Egypt when the angel finds her at Lahai-roi; and when dismissed with her child in obedience to the divine command, again we find her gravitating toward Egypt. How plainly is it taught, thus, that the law is characterized by "the elements of the world," with which the apostle connects it in Galatians! As a principle, it is man's way, not God's; as specific commandment, holy, just, and good; and in His intent in giving it, surely worthy every way of Him. These things alter in no wise the fact that it is man's way — his experiment with himself — taken up by God, and worked out, in His own perfect manner, to a true result.

Thus it should be very plain why Hagar is first found by God in relation to Abram, manifestly his own shift, through little faith, to Obtain the promised and desired fruit. Finding her thus, He appears to her at the well Lahai-roi, and sends her back to submit herself (mark) into her mistress's hands, and to allow the trial already begun to be fully wrought. But while He allows it, He does not leave the issue for a moment doubtful. The fruit of law is the natural fruit. Ishmael shall be born, but be only the "wild-ass man" — untamed, untamable flesh.

Abraham thus exhibits in his own history the lesson which afterward, for so many centuries, his posterity were set to learn. In his own person, he is the witness of sovereign, electing grace called out of the darkness of heathenism, as Joshua reminds the men of his generation — "Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor; and they served other gods." Here, "the God of glory appeared unto" him, and called him from country, kindred, and father's house, to be the special witness of His name and way.

Before Hagar appears in the history, God gives testimony to Abram, as a man righteous through faith; and it is instructive to see how the apostle, when he brings Abram before us as the pattern man of faith, passes over all the time of his connection with her as so much loss. "Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.' And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness."

In the last words, the apostle seems to ignore the facts of history; for Abram's body was not yet dead when God said to him, "So shall thy seed be," and when his faith was first counted for righteousness. It was after this — probably some time after — that Ishmael was born; and he was thirteen years old at the time of which the epistle to the Romans speaks. All these fifteen years or more the apostle treats as so much lost time, to bring together the period in which he is first spoken of as having the righteousness of faith, and that when he received the covenant of circumcision as the "seal" of that righteousness. Circumcision means, as the same apostle elsewhere tells us, the "putting off of the body of the flesh;" and they are the "true circumcision" who "have no confidence in the flesh." God Himself thus brings these two periods together; and circumcision is seen to be indeed, as the Lord says, "not of Moses." In its spiritual meaning, it is the fundamental opposite of law.

How fully in all this the character and purpose of this intermediate time comes out! Even the natural seed — Israel after the flesh — will find their blessing in the end from God according to the grace of the Abrahamic covenant, and not according to the Sinaitic, — the only one according to which they have yet received the land. The Abrahamic covenant will thus be in very deed to them a new covenant." Thus grace still as a nation holds them fast, as it ever has, for future blessing, — a blessing which, when it comes, will alone be the proper fulfillment of the "covenant of promise."

Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph give us, as types, yet further lessons. Isaac shows us the Seed through whom alone the blessing can come; Jacob, the immediate father of the twelve tribes, in both his character and history, foreshadows theirs; and Joseph, rejected by his brethren, and yet at last received perforce as their saviour and lord, shows in so plain a way their history in respect of One infinitely greater that it needs no insisting on. For our present purpose, enough has been already said to prove how, in this period prefatory to the law, the law itself is guarded from misconception, and grace is declared God's way, and only way, of blessing for man. Even for Israel, God's covenant is the covenant of circumcision. Carnality and unbelief, stopping at the outside, may misread all this from first to last. If those misread it, for whom has come the full and final revelation, "the veil is upon their hearts."

The Age of Law.

In taking up the lessons of the dispensation of law, we must carefully distinguish two different and, in many respects, contrasted elements. As a trial of man, which, in the highest degree, it was, we have already seen it to be the working out (in a divine way, and therefore to a true result) of an experiment which was man's thought, not God's. God could not need to make an experiment. Man needed it, because he would not accept God's judgment, already pronounced before (as a fallen being) he had been tried at all, in the proper sense of trial; "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil, and that continually." God's way of acceptance for him had been, therefore, from the beginning, by sacrifice, in which the death of a substitute covered the sinner before Him, closing his whole responsibility naturally in the place in which he stood as a creature.

The "way of Cain" was man's resistance to the verdict upon himself, and so to the way of grace proclaimed. God then undertook to prove him, taking him on his own ground, and bidding him justify his own thoughts of himself by actual experiment.

But this is only the law on one side of it. It was what made it law, and gave its character to the whole dispensation. Yet underneath, and in spite of all this, God necessarily kept to and maintained His own way, and to the ear of faith told out, more and more, that way of His, although in "dark sayings," from which only Christianity has really lifted off the veil. Thus, and thus alone, a sacrificial worship was incorporated with the law, and circumcision, "a seal of the righteousness of faith," remained as the entrance into the new economy.

First, then, let us look at the law as law, and afterward as a typical system.

As law, or the trial of man, we find him put in the most favorable circumstances possible for its reception. The ten commandments appeal, at the very outset, to the fact of the people having been brought out of the land of Egypt; it was He who had brought them out who bade them "have no other gods" before Him. He had made Himself known in such a way as to manifest Himself God over all gods, His power being put forth in their behalf, so as to bind them by the tie of gratitude to Himself. How could they dispute His authority, or doubt His love? His holiness, too, was declared in a variety of precepts, which, if burdensome as ceremonial, appealed even the more powerfully on that account to the very sense of the most careless-hearted. There were severest penalties for disobedience, but also rewards for obedience, of all that man's heart sinlessly could enjoy. The providence of God was made apparent in continual miracles, by which their need in the wilderness was daily met. Who could doubt, and who refuse, the blessing of obedience to a law so given and so sanctified?

A wall of separation was built up between them and the nations round; and inside this enclosure the divinely guarded people were to walk together, all evil and rebellion excluded, the course of the world here set right, all ties of relationship combining their influence for good; duty not costing aught, but finding on every side its sweet, abundant recompense. Who, one would think, could stumble? and who could stray?

Surely the circumstances here were as favorable as possible to man's self-justification under this trial, if justify himself he could. If he failed now, how could he hope ever to succeed?

That he did fail, we all know — openly and utterly he failed, not merely by unbidden lusts, which his will refused and denied, but in conscious, deliberate disobedience, equal to his father Adam's, and that before the tables of the law had come down to him out of the mount into which Moses had gone up to receive them.

The first trial of law was over. Judgment took its course, although mercy, sovereign in its exercise, interposed to limit it. Again God took the people up, upon the intercession of Moses — type of a greater and an effectual Mediator. Man was ungodly, but was hope irrecoverably gone? Could not mercy avail for man in a mingled system from which man's works should at least not wholly be excluded?

Now this, in fact, is the great question under law: rigidly enforced, it is easily allowed that man must fail, and be condemned. He does not love his neighbor as himself, still less love God with all his soul and strength. Is there nothing short of this that God can admit, then? He can show mercy; can He not abate something of this rigor, and give man opportunity to repent, and recover himself?

And this is the thought that underlies much that is mistaken for the gospel now. A new baptism may give it a Christian name, and yet leave it unregenerate legalism after all. For this — only correcting some mistakes — is what the second giving of the law takes up. It is an old experiment, long since worked out, an anachronism in Christian times. "The law is not of faith;" these are two opposite principles, which do not modify, but destroy, one another.

A second time the tables of the law are given to Israel; and now, along with this, God speaks of and declares the mercy which He surely has: "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty." It is the conjunction of these two things that creates the difficulty. We recognize the truth of both, but how shall they unite in the blessing of man? This doubt perplexes fatally all legal systems. How far will mercy extend? and where will righteousness draw the line beyond which it cannot pass? How shall we reconcile the day of grace and the day of judgment? The true answer is, that under law no reconciliation is at all possible. The experiment has been made, and the result proclaimed. It is of the law thus given the second, time, and not the first, that the apostle asserts that it is the "ministration of death" and "of condemnation."

One serious mistake that has to be rectified here is, that the law can be tolerant to a certain (undefined) measure of transgression. It is not so. It is not on legal ground that God "forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin." The law says, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." If on other ground (in this case, as ever, that of sacrifice,) mercy can be extended, and even forgiveness, — if man be permitted to cancel the old leaf and turn over a new, yet the new must be kept unblotted, as the old was not. "When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness," he must do "that which is lawful and right," to "save his soul alive." And thus the commandments, written the second time upon the tables of stone, though now by the mediator's hand, were identical with the first. Here, the law cannot give way by a jot or a tittle, and therefore man's case is hopeless. The law is the ministration of condemnation only.

That was the foreseen issue, and the divine purpose in it, and God, to make that issue plain, (that man might not, unless he would, be a moment deceived as to it) lets Moses know, as the people's representative, that His face cannot be seen. He does indeed see the glory after it has passed — His back parts, not His face. God is unknown: there is no way to clear the guilty, and therefore none by which man may stand before Him.

Thus the law, in any form of it, is the "ministration of condemnation" only. That it was the "ministration of death also, implies its power, not to produce holiness, but, as the apostle calls it, "the strength of sin." His experience of it — "I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." Forbidding lust, it aroused and manifested it. "Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of lust" — thus "deceived me, and by it slew me."

Of this state of hopeless condemnation and evil, that physical death which God had annexed to disobedience at the first was the outward expression and seal. In it, man, made like the beasts that perish, passed out of the sphere of his natural responsibility and the scene for which he had been created, and passed out by the judgment of God, which cast, therefore, its awful shadow over all beyond death. The token of God's rejection of man as fallen is passed upon all men everywhere, with but one exception in the ages before Moses. Enoch had walked with God, and was not, for God took him. That made it only the plainer, if possible, what was its significance. It was actual sentence upon man for sin, and all men were under it as sentenced, — not under probation.

If God, therefore, took up man to put him under probation, as in the law He manifestly did, He must needs conditionally remove the sentence under which he lay. "The man who doeth these things shall live in them" meant, not that he should die, and go to heaven, as people almost universally interpret it, but the contrary — that he should recover the place from which Adam had fallen, and stay on earth. Faith in Abraham, indeed, looked forward to a better country — that is, a heavenly. But the law is not of faith, nor was Abraham under it. Faith, owning man's hopelessness of ruin, was given in measure to prove the mystery of what, to all else, were God's dark , sayings. To man as man, resisting God's sentence upon himself, the law spoke, not of death, and a world beyond, (which he might, as he listed, people with his own imaginings,) but of the lifting off of the sentence under which he lay — of the way by which he could plead his title to exemption from it.

Thus the issue of the trial could not be in the least doubtful. Every grey hair convicted him as, under law, ruined and hopeless. Every furrow on his brow was the confirmation of the old Adamic sentence upon himself personally; and the law, in this sense also, was the ministration of death, God using it to give distinct expression to what the fact itself should have graven upon men's consciences. It is this (so misunderstood as it is now) that gives the key to those expressions in the Psalms and elsewhere which materialism would pervert to its own purposes: "For in death there is no remembrance of Thee; in hades [it is not "the grave"] who shall give Thee thanks?"

God would have it so plain, that he might run that readeth it, that upon the ground of law, spite of God's mercy (which He surely has), man's case is hopeless. "By deeds of law shall no flesh be justified in His sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin."

Yet, God having declared His forgiveness of iniquity, transgression, and sin, the second trial by law could go on, as it did go on, for some eight hundred years, till the Babylonish captivity. Then the legal covenant really ended. The people were Lo-ammi, a sentence never yet recalled.

As law simply, then, the Mosaic system was the complete and formal trial of man as man all possible assistance being given him, and every motive, whether of self-interest or of gratitude to God, being brought to bear on him the necessity of faith almost, as it might seem, set aside by repeated manifestations of Jehovah's presence and power, such as must force conviction upon all.

The issue of the trial, as foreseen and designed of God, was to bring out the perfect hopelessness of man's condition, as ungodly, and without strength, unable to stand before Him for a moment. But then, the truth of his helplessness exposed, the mercy of God could not permit his being left there without the assurance of effectual help provided for him. In this way, another element than that of law entered into the law, and the tabernacle and temple services, taking up the principles of circumcision and of sacrifice (of older date than law) incorporated them in a ritual of most striking character, which spread before the eye opened to take it in lessons of spiritual wisdom, which in our day we turn back to read with deeper interest and delight the more we know of them.

The language of type and parable God had used from the beginning. As yet, He could not speak plainly of what filled His heart ever, as these bear abundant witness. Unbelief in man had dammed back the living stream of divine goodness, which was gathering behind the barrier all the while for its overflow. In the meanwhile, the Psalms — the very heart of the Old Testament — declare what faith could already realize of the blessedness of "the man whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered." Faith tasted and declared, as the apostle could take up such words afterward, to show, not the blessedness of keeping law, but of divine forgiveness. "It shall be forgiven him" was indeed said, with perfect plainness, in connection with that shedding of blood for man, which testified at once to his utter failure, and of resource in God for his extremest need. It was not, and could not be, perfect peace or justification that could yet be preached or known, but a "forbearance," of which none could predict the limits. Still, faith had here its argument, and, in fact, found ever its fullest confidence sustained.

Very striking it is, when once this dealing of God with faith is seen, how the very burdensomeness of the rigid ceremonial changes its character, and becomes only the urgency of an appeal to the conscience, which, if entertained, would open the way to the knowledge of the blessedness of which the psalmist speaks. These continual sacrifices, if they did indeed, as the apostle urges, by their frequent repetition, proclaim their own insufficiency, nevertheless, by the very fact, became continual preachers, in the most personal way, to the men of Israel, of their ruin, and of its sole remedy. How the constant shedding of blood would keep them in mind of that divine commentary, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood and I have given it to you upon the altar, to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul," (Lev. 17:11.)

How striking, too, that circumcision, which was clearly before the law, was expressly the only way by which even the Israelite-born could claim Jehovah as his covenant-God, or keep the memorial feast of national redemption! For, as the apostle says, it was "the seal of the righteousness of faith," not law-keeping, as the covenant of which it was the token was "of promise" — the promise of an "almighty God," when in Abraham, almost a hundred years old, all natural hope was dead forever. To walk before that omnipotent God in confessed impotence, trusting and proving His power, was that to which he was called. As yet, there was no law to saddle that with conditions; and in memory of this, in token of its abiding significance, the Gentile "stranger" could still be circumcised, with all his males, and keep the passover as an Israelite-born.

How tender, too, the goodness which had provided that whoever of Abraham's seed should turn to the history of his forefather after the flesh, should find written there, and of this very depositary of all the promises, such plain, unambiguous words of divine testimony as these: "He believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness." Of no other was this in the same way written. What hand inscribed it there, just where it should speak most plainly, and to those most in need? Just where, on the incoming of Christianity, it should be ready with its unmistakable testimony to the central principle of Christianity itself. Such is the prophetic character of the inspired Word. The same presaging Spirit who dictated to Peter — in men's thoughts, the first authority in the church — those two doctrines which are the death-blow of ritualism, new birth through the word of the gospel, and the common priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 1:23-25 1 Peter 2:5-9), recorded by Moses this testimony as to Abraham. Blessed be God for His infinitely precious Word!

It was in connection with law that all the books of the Old Testament were given, and Israel, as is plain, were they to whom all was committed. It seems, therefore, here the place to speak briefly of their general character as affected by this. There are certain things, at least, that one may indicate as of special importance, in view of many things around us at the present time.

In the first place, it was not yet the time, for that "plainness of speech" which, as the apostle says, belongs to Christianity. This we have already seen, but it is not superfluous to insist on it still further. The veil between man and God necessitated a veiled speech also--not, indeed, altogether impenetrable to faith, but requiring, in the words of Solomon, "to understand proverb and strange speech,* the words of the wise and their dark sayings." Even as to man himself, while his trial was yet going on, there could not be the full discovery of his condition. We have not yet the New Testament doctrine of "the flesh," nor of new birth, although there was that which should have prepared an Israelitish teacher for the understanding of it when announced. Election was only yet national, not individual, and therefore to privilege only, not eternal life. Adoption, too, was national: the true children of God could not yet claim or know their place as such. No cry of "Abba, Father," was or could be raised. The heirs differed not as yet from servants, being under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the Father. (Gal. 4.) As to all these things, there were preparatory utterances, and all the more as the ruin of man came out, therefore, in those prophetical books which fittingly closed the canon of the Old Testament.

{*Not, as in the Authorized Version, "interpretation," but "what needs interpretation."}

Even the types had in them the character which the apostle ascribes to the law: "having a shadow of good things to come, but not the very image of the things." The unrent veil, the repetition of the sacrifices, the successional priesthood, as he points out, had all this character. They were the necessary witnesses that the "law made nothing perfect," — that under it "the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest." Of these was the intermediate priesthood of Aaron's sons, which was the provision for a people unable themselves to draw near to God; which, with all else, the Judaizing ritualism of the day copies, and maintains as Christian. The apostle's answer to it is, "By one offering. He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us; for after that He had said before, … Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.' Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh, and having a High-Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith." (Heb. 10:14-22.) Sin put away, and distance from God removed, ritualism, in all its forms, becomes an impossibility.

In the second place, as the law dealt with man here and now, and did not relegate the issue of its own trial to another time and place, where its verdict could not be known by men in this life; the earth is that upon which man's attention is fixed, and that whether for judgment or reward. There are hints here also of the fuller truths which the New Testament unfolds; but manifestly there is no promise of heaven to the keeper of the law, nor even threat of hell — that is, of the lake of fire — to the transgressors of it. Judgment there is, and eternal judgment, but death is rather the stroke of it — the horror of this shadowing the eternity beyond. Job speaks of resurrection, and the prophets also, though in them it is only applied figuratively to national restoration; yet this shows they held it as admitted truth. Outside of the Old Testament we learn, from the epistle to the Hebrews, that the patriarchs expected "a better country — that is, a heavenly;" but we should not know it from Genesis. Faith penetrated, in some measure, it is clear, the "dark sayings," and found all not dark. A recognized body of truth was received by the Pharisees, which embraced, not only resurrection for the just, but of the unjust also, and spoke, not merely of hades, but of gehenna also — the true "hell." This only makes the more remarkable the constant style even of the prophets. The confounding of judgments upon the living, by which the earth will be rid of its destroyers and prepared for blessing, with the judgment of the dead at the "great white throne," is one of the errors under which annihilationism shelters itself most securely.

On the other hand, this earthly blessing, still further confused by Israel being (as commonly) interpreted to mean the Church, has been by current "adventism" made to take the place of the true Christian expectation of an inheritance in heaven. And this, too, has linked itself with annihilationism in its extremest and most materialistic forms. We must keep the stand-points of the Old and New Testaments — of Israel and the Church, earthly and heavenly — clear in our minds, and there is no difficulty. "My kinsmen according to the flesh," says the apostle; "to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises." (Rom. 9:3-4.) All of these for them earthly blessings. Christians are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 1:3.)

If this should seem at all to take the Old Testament away from us who belong to another dispensation, we must remember two things: first, that if it has not so directly to do with us, it has, most assuredly, with Christ no less on that account. His glories run through the whole; history, psalm, and prophecy are full of Him. But what reveals Him is ever of truest blessing for the soul. Oh to be simpler in taking in all this, in which the Father gives us communion with His own thoughts of His Son!

And then, when we look at the typical teaching, now fully for the first time disclosed, when even the things that happened to the favored nation, and are recorded in their history, "happened to them for types," we find what is in the fullest way ours — "written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come." Cor. 10:11.) How wonderful this! and how sad to think, on the one hand of the disuse, on the other of the reckless abuse, of that precious teaching!

We have now to look at the history of the age of law.

The History of the Age of Law.

We have seen already that at the very commencement of its history the people failed under the law; and this is the one unvarying lesson of all these ages. Under law it was only more plainly marked, as was indeed to be expected of that which was emphatically the "ministration of condemnation." Still the extent of the failure seems after all amazing. I do not even refer to the worship of the golden calf, although it might seem nothing could more show the desperate wickedness of man's heart than this. The very mount which had flamed and quaked in witness to the divine presence bore witness also to this rapid descent into the abominations of the heathen round about, who "changed the image of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things." Judgment being executed, God took up the people the second time; not, as we know, under the same strictly legal system, which it had been proved they could not endure, but under a mingled system of law and mercy.

It was in this way that the tabernacle with its sacrifices and priesthood was added to the law, although God, in the display of perfect omniscience which could not be taken unawares, had instructed Moses as to it before the sin of the people (Ex. 25 – 31.) And here faith found its provision, and a convicted conscience its pledged forgiveness. These at least, it would be thought, would be prized and welcomed in view of the constant failure which the vigilance of the law detected and condemned. How surpassingly strange, then, that these should have fallen into such utter disuse as God by the mouth of Amos declares they did (v. 25-27). "Have ye offered Me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of Moloch and Chiun, your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves." Thus even Moloch's dreadful altar was preferred to God's and the gracious provisions of His tabernacle dropped into a forgetfulness hard to realize. The failure of the dispensation was already fixed: "Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord."

Incredible almost would this neglect indeed seem, did not the Word of God itself announce it. And there are testimonies in the history itself which show in a still more striking way the extent of it. Especially is the statement of the book of Joshua 5:2-7, remarkable as showing the complete breach of the covenant with Jehovah on the part of the people. Nothing was more fundamental to this than the ordinance of circumcision. The uncircumcised man-child was to be cut off from his people (Gen. 17:14) and none such could eat of the passover at all (Ex. 12:48.) Either these laws must have been disregarded or the passover must have been almost entirely omitted toward the close of the wilderness journey, when no one under forty could have been circumcised at all. For the express statement is, "All the people that came out of Egypt that were males, even all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came out of Egypt. Now all the people that came out were circumcised but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they come out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised." How the patience of the Lord with the people is manifest! but how evident that priesthood and Levitical service must almost have come to an end? If these, as all other of the things that happened to Israel, happened unto them for types (2 Cor. 10:11), what admonition would this convey to us!

Moses, even, dies in the land of Moab for his sin and of all that came as men out of the land of Egypt, Joshua and Caleb alone remained. An entire new generation enter into the land of Canaan, and here a new order of things begins.

For, let us notice, with all the patient goodness manifested toward the people, and which God had declared when He took them up at Sinai the second time, He does not simply continue the trial of them in one form throughout. On the contrary, He varies it in many ways. This, on the one hand, makes it a more perfect trial, as is plain on the other, it repeats again and again the admonition of a watchful holiness which never lapsed into indifference, while mercy warned of the time of long-suffering, however slowly, still surely running out. As we, upon whom the ends of the ages have come, look back upon them, it is blessed to see how, in the various forms of this trial, God presents to us in changing aspects typically His one unchanging theme, — Christ as the justification of His long-suffering patience as of His fullest grace. This, faith might even in those days in measure see, though not in the detailed glories in which we see it. For the voice of prophecy, even in the law itself, spoke of a Prophet to be raised up, a High-Priest of good things to come, — yea, a priestly King greater than Abraham, in whom Levi had once paid tithes. And we can rejoice in thinking how God thus could linger over the picture of Him to whom when at last come He would give out-spoken witness: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I have found My delight."

In the land, then, as I have said, a new order of things begins. Moses had been in the wilderness the representative of the Lord, the channel of the divine communications. In the land, Joshua stands before Eleazar the priest, and the priest it is who communicates to him the word of the Lord. He who is confessedly the leader of the people, and standing in Moses' place, is nevertheless not in the same place of nearness with God. Departure has brought in distance, while intercession based on sacrifice is that on which all depends. The link between God and the people is now the priesthood.

Before they pass over Jordan, all their wilderness history is rehearsed to them, that it may be practical wisdom for their new position, and then they are to take possession of the land which God had promised to Abraham; although not yet do they possess it according to the terms of the covenant with their fathers. They are on the footing of law, and must make good their title to the land by actual victory over the inhabitants of it. "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses." (Joshua 1:3.) Thus the extent of the land, as the Lord describes it to them, they never actually acquire. Only in David and Solomon's time does their dominion extend to the Euphrates, the Abrahamic boundary, while they never properly possess thus far; Philistines, Phoenicians, Hittites, confine them in fact within much narrower limits. Two and a half tribes they leave on the other side of Jordan, defeated by their own success; just as in Christian times the church has gained by its victories a possession the wrong side of death.

In the land, the Lord delivers their enemies into their hands. But failure is everywhere apparent. The sin of Achan, the defeat at Ai, the snare of Gibeon, follow one another in quick succession. They do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, but make gain of their sin by holding them as tributaries, then go after their gods, as the Lord had warned them, and are soon captives in the hands of those they had conquered.

If Gilgal characterizes the book of Joshua, and there the reproach of Egypt — of their slavery there — is rolled away, Bochim (weeping) characterizes the book of Judges, where they return to a more shameful one. The history shows now their broken unity, the inroad of foreign enemies, the uprising of domestic ones. Again and again they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He delivers them out of their distress. A judge is raised up, and is the instrument of their deliverance; and as long as he judges, maintaining the authority and holiness of God among the people, the deliverance lasts. But their weakness (which is only their willfulness,) is fully apparent: the judge dies, and once more they wander; there is a new captivity, followed at length (because the mercy of God does not forsake them,) by a new deliverance.

These revivals become, however, more and more feeble and less decisive. At last, the priesthood itself fails utterly, and that when the judge and high-priest are one. Eli's sons make themselves vile, and he restrains them not. The Lord swears that this iniquity shall not be purged with sacrifice and offering forever. And though He raise up for Himself a faithful priest, as He declares, and will build him a sure house, yet the order is again changed: Joshua stood before Eleazar, but now the priest is to walk before God's anointed (1 Sam. 2:35; 1 Sam. 3:14).

In the meanwhile, ruin is complete. The Philistines come up against Israel, and smite them; they superstitiously send for the ark of God to deliver them — the ark of the covenant so often broken! They are again smitten, Hophni and Phinehas slain, the ark is taken; Eli falls backward at the news and breaks His neck, and Phinehas' wife, expiring, gives to her son a name expressive of the people's terrible condition. "And she named the child 'Ichabod,' saying, 'The glory is departed from Israel.'" The priesthood, as the link between God and Israel, had come to its final end.

Twenty years pass, and all the house of Israel are found lamenting after the Lord. The ark had not indeed remained long in the Philistines' hand, but had wrought its own deliverance apart from the people. It had returned, but not to Shiloh, its former abode, nor to the tabernacle, no more to receive it. Beth-shemesh — a city of priests — to which it had first come, smitten for its irreverence, had had to yield it up to Kirjath-jearim, where it remained in retirement, kept by Eleazar "in the fields of the wood" (Ps. 132:6) until David brought it out (2 Sam. 6:2). All this time was marked thus as a time of disorder and disturbed relation between God and Israel.

This gap of time between Eli and David is bridged by the prophet Samuel, the real link between God and the people even during the reign of Saul. The prominence of the prophets was always a sign of disorder and decline among the people. It was an extraordinary agency, with no provision for succession or permanence at all; in this case, from the first, a note of preparation for the king (1 Sam. 2:10) whom at last it anoints and makes way for.

Before the priesthood is set aside, Samuel is established as the prophet of the Lord; but through the unbelief of the people, twenty years pass, after the return of the ark, before the value of God's gift is realized. Then Israel gather for confession and prayer to God at Mizpeh, and Samuel judges them there. This brings up the Philistines; but the battle is now the Lord's, and Israel has but to pursue a smitten foe. The Philistine yoke is broken, and Samuel becomes the judge of Israel. We see the prophet here, as never before under the law, building his altars and offering to the Lord, the priesthood quite unrecognized.

But Samuel grows old, and his sons, whom he has associated with himself in the judgeship, walk not in his ways. The enemies of Israel begin again to gather strength. The unbelief of the people becomes manifest. They desire a king, explicitly to be like the nations, from whom God had separated them. Now, He intended they should have a king. Moses had spoken of it, anticipating indeed their desire as expressed here (Deut. 17:14-20). Hannah had spoken of God's king to whom He would give strength. And to Eli, God had told, by His prophet, of His anointed one; before whom the faithful priest should walk (2 Sam. 2:35). Self-will might here find its excuse, but nothing more. In fact, as they are forewarned by God through Samuel, the rule of a king among them, while it would bring them into a bondage hitherto unknown, would be the sign of God being further removed from them — another step downward in the long descent they had been making. It does not affect this that under David and Solomon they were in fact freed from their enemies, and attained a worldly eminence such as they had not enjoyed till then. The characters of the kingdom as Samuel depicts them were none the less fully illustrated in these reigns; and the more the grandeur of the monarchy, the more even might the yoke press, the more the distance between king and subject. But above all, God Himself, rejected as their King, dealt now with the people, not on the old familiar terms, but at a distance, through the king himself. Let David be rejected, and the show-bread, even if just sanctified, is but common bread (1 Sam. 21:5).*

{*The passage is otherwise rendered in the Revised Version, and by other translators. The common version is, however, justifiable, and I believe to be preferred, as see the Lord's use of this incident in connection with the Sabbath and His own rejection (Matt. 12.)}

That the king was here also the shadow of the King of God's kingdom in a coming day is true, but neither does it alter the significance of the fact literally. Faith here as elsewhere may find tokens of the coming day, and see also the justification of God's long-suffering then. None the less the links between God and His people were more and more being strained. And if this last endured longest of all, it was surely because it was the last: there was no other, and God's patience lingered.

Saul, the first king, though chosen by God, is given them as one after their own heart, as his name providentially signifies, — "the Asked." After being fully tested, he is set aside for the man after God's heart, David. And Saul, though the anointed of the Lord, is never recognized as the true link between the people and God. He is throughout dependent upon Samuel, who, as he anoints him to his office, announces also his rejection, and before his own death anoints his successor.

David is thus the first king fully owned, — with Solomon, the double type of Christ, the Sufferer-Conqueror and the Prince of Peace. He brings the ark to Jerusalem, appoints the courses of the priests and the service of the Lord's house, for which he provides abundantly the material, and receives the pattern. His kingdom is greatly extended and his enemies are subdued, and Solomon builds and consecrates the house, with "neither adversary nor evil occurrent."

But "man being in honor abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish." And all this glory is like the flower of grass; it has scarcely blossomed before it begins to fade. The first love passes, and there is no indistinct threatening that the candlestick is under sentence to be removed. Solomon loves many strange women, and his heart is drawn after their idols. Adversaries are stirred up against him. He passes away, and a sudden rent tears ten out of the twelve tribes out of the hand of his son; and in the fifth year only of his reign, Shishak sweeps down upon and spoils Jerusalem and the house of the Lord. Henceforth, in Israel, with the worship of the golden calves, it is one monotonous story of evil ever growing worse; in Judah, the descent stopped, indeed, again and again, by the intervention of divine grace acting in an Asa, a Jehoshaphat, a Hezekiah, a Josiah, but still with no recovery really. Blow after blow falls upon them; prophet after prophet warns and threatens in vain: at last, disintegration fully begins. The ten tribes are carried captive into Assyria; Judah, spared for a hundred and thirty years longer, is at last carried into Babylon.

The glory has before this departed from the temple, which the king of Babylon plunders and destroys. The people are now (though not forever) disowned of God. The legal covenant, in fact, is over, although the dispensation of law cannot be said to have ceased. "The law and the prophets were until John." But the history of the people as such is closed, although a feeble remnant return from Babylon. But they return only to await in Messiah their Deliverer, amid the tokens of the ruin in which they have involved themselves. The glory does not return. The ark of the covenant, Jehovah's throne in the midst, is gone from their new temple. The Urim and Thummim, by which the Lord had communicated regularly with them in the past, is also gone. Prophets His mercy raises up to them for a brief time, and every one of them is a witness that the moral and spiritual condition is unchanged. This voice soon passes. The history of the favored people ends in blank and total, most significant silence. The throne of the earth is in the hands of the Gentiles. Israel's dominion is passed away; and those "times of the Gentiles" have begun in which we still are, and which continue until the kingdom of the Son of Man is introduced by His coming in the clouds of heaven.

But the significance of this change we must consider more at length.