God, and the Witnesses Chosen of Him.

Acts 10:41, 43.

There is (as I judge) in the word of God a revelation of Himself and of His counsels, made to us who are called out to be one in Christ above; and there is likewise an unfolding of His mind and of His ways in blessing to others with whom He walked below. There are also various relations in which He has been pleased to declare Himself in connection with His heavenly and earthly people at different epochs, and to be fulfilled in and with Jesus Christ the Lord. The latter of these great subjects is the present theme, and this was made known in the Old Testament days by types and promises and prophecies, which pointed to and waited "till the fulness of the time was come for God to send forth His Son," made of a woman, and made under the law, in order that the heirs of promise "might receive the adoption of sons" at "the season appointed of the Father."

The complete revelation of God and of His glory in and through Christ, as the last Adam and the second Man, is the most wonderful of all the marvellous records in the Bible, and is in fact to faith the very "word of God." Indeed from its own nature it embraces the Person, and work, and relations, and offices, and glories of Christ from first to last, "as the Alpha and the Omega," and overtops everything else, though all besides be connected with Himself, and with His wisdom and power in the final application and display. In the unfolding of these relations, and of this revelation by the Spirit, there must needs be "sundry times" in which God spoke to the fathers by the prophets, and "divers manners" in which He acted for their fulfilment. Moreover, there were varying ministries - such as mediation by Moses, or sacrifices and priesthood by Aaron; so that Jehovah might dwell amongst His Israel as a nation on the ground of their redemption by blood as well as their deliverance by power out of Egypt. Beside these intermediate ministers, and their respective ministrations, there were likewise figures "of things in the heavens," given out in the Pentateuch, with the injunction to Moses, "See thou make all things according to what was shown thee on the mount." It is marvellous thus to see how God transferred the thoughts and purposes of His own mind through Moses, and then by Bezaleel, into forms and patterns which were constructed in shittim-wood, and colours, and pure gold, that the people might be lifted up, by means of these things with which they were familiar, to the perception of "the secret things of God," with which they were unacquainted. Christ was in this way foreshadowed, as also the anointing by the Holy Ghost, in all that the veils and the curtains of the tabernacle enshrined, with the cherubims of glory upon the mercy-seat in the holiest of all during the journeyings and the encampments of the children of Israel. Other and precious lessons were taught them of the meaning and value of these vessels of the sanctuary, as they saw the candle-stick and the table of showbread with their coverings, etc., committed to the care of the sons of Aaron, and preceded by the ark of the covenant of the Lord "which went before to search out a resting-place for them." What must those have thought and felt who followed this symbolical, but divine, guidance through the wilderness, and understood the meaning of these sacred deposits for the encouragement of faith - those most of all whose eyes were opened, and could look afar off through these signs to the Person and work signified? Nor was this enough; for God had not only typical things by which to unfold His mind, but He always had a pattern man upon the earth who answered to the revelation He pleased to make of Himself at any given time for His own wisdom and glory, as well as of the relation into which man was brought thereby before God as the object of His grace.

For example, as the Creator of the heavens and the earth He formed the creature Adam "in His own image," and placed him in the midst where all was good and untainted. Also as Saviour God in "the world that now is, He brought Noah out of the ark under the savour of the sweet-smelling sacrifice," by which He established a covenant with every living thing, and left an abiding token by the bow in the cloud that He would no more destroy the earth by a flood. Again, as God Almighty, He appeared to Abraham, whom He called out of the world when "righteousness by faith" was the new principle adopted for a walk with Him as "the friend of God;" and even as regards ourselves, He made him the head of the family of faith, and "the father of us all." Nor can Joseph be over-looked as closing up the line of the Patriarchs, whether as the object of his father's love, or as the rightful wearer of the mysterious "coat of many colours." In all these presentations, and in many others - whether in his own country or in Egypt - he stands before us as the living expression and interpreter of the mind of God. Moreover, "the birthright and the blessing belong to Joseph," and the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush crowned him.

If we leave the book of Genesis for Exodus, who has not lingered over the Hebrew servant that refused to go out free, but so loved his master, and his wife, and his children, as willingly to become a servant for ever, submitting his ear as the obedient One to the awl and the door-post? In a book of service and devotedness as Exodus is, how perfect, and in keeping with the mind of God, is this pattern of the elect servant Son! In Leviticus too, where worship is the subject, the priest and the leper in his leprosy are the prominent picture. But the leper, though defiled in nature, and witnessed to publicly by the covering on the upper lip, and the cry of "unclean, unclean," can approach God as a worshipper unchallenged, and take his place in the congregation of Israel when the priest has pronounced him clean, and he has offered for his cleansing what was appointed for his acceptance by the law of Moses.

So in Numbers, where a walk with God in the wilderness journey is the theme, who does not recall "the law of the Nazarite in his vow of separation to Jehovah" to eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernel to the husk, and to come at no dead body? In the same correspondence with the onward ways of God, we find in the book of Deuteronomy, when "the Israelite had crossed over Jordan, and took his stand as an heir of Canaan," he was to fill a basket of first-fruits with the produce of the land, in right of possession, and go unto the priest, who was to set it down "before the altar of the Lord his God," and say, "A Syrian ready to perish was my father." In the book of Joshua also, where the holy wars of the twelve tribes against the thirty and one kings of Canaan are recorded, the leader and commander of the Lord's host comes into distinguished prominence at the city of Jericho with his drawn sword in his hand; for the set time was come for "the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth" to take possession of the promised land. Nor was this all; for "the witnesses" in this book of Joshua must needs correspond to the immensity of the title of "the God of the whole earth," who is passing through Canaan with His people Israel. Therefore by the might of His power Jordan fled from before Him, and in the sovereignty of his grace the faith of Rahab drew her by the secret of the scarlet line to rest under "the shelter and blessing of the ark of the covenant of the Lord." At the blast of the priests' trumpets, and the shout of His people, the walls of Jericho fall down flat; and in the confederacy of Adonizedec in Jerusalem the battle was the Lord's, like that at the Red Sea under Moses, till all the enemies were slain. Yea, the Lord cast down great stones from above; for He it was "who fought for Israel," for they were His witnesses.

But our main point is to show that, whatever "the sundry times and divers manners" may be, God has always formed some one upon earth to answer to the particular revelation He makes of Himself. Nor does Joshua come behind this correspondence in his day; for if it be as "the God of the whole earth" that He proclaims Himself, and as "the King of Jeshurun who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in His excellency on the sky," this man of faith and power under the "captain of the Lord's host" commands (in His name) even the sun and the moon at noonday to stand still upon Gibeon and Ajalon, and they obey him. In the records of Israel there was no day like that before it or after it that the Lord hearkened to the voice of a man; and Joshua said unto the captains of the men of war, "Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings; and they came, and put their feet upon the necks of them."

Nor is this "purpose of God" concerning the revelation He makes of His mind, and the relation of "the man of faith" thereto, compromised by Israel's declension and fall as related in the times of the judges. On the contrary, Jehovah's faithfulness to His people rises up into its own height of sovereign grace, as their unfaithfulness towards Him sinks them deeper by departure into the wretchedness and oppression which they reaped. In proof of His unchanging goodness, what words can be more touching than these, "His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel "? And if at such an hour the energy of manly faith is feeble in Barak as a deliverer, God can take up the weaker vessel (as He has often done since), and put courage into the heart of Deborah to press onward for the day of victory - yea, qualify her to become "a mother in Israel." Precious is her song of triumph when she and the son of Abinoam take the place of Moses and Miriam, and say, "Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves. Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes, I, even I, will sing unto the Lord." These notes and their composition may be different (as indeed they should be) from the song at the Red Sea; but each is beautiful in the sundry times and divers manners of Jehovah.

It may be too that this song of Deborah and Barak to the Lord "for the avenging of Israel" reached the ears of others who were waiting for this hour of consolation to come in from above. In this light it is interesting to observe that at this period "Naomi heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited His people in giving them bread." This drew her forth, and her two daughters-in-law to return into the land of Judah, which introduces the book of Ruth to us as the fitting answer to "the mother in Israel" who perfects herself in this relation by her daughter Naomi, and her granddaughter Ruth. She (like another Rahab) shines in her own light by "coming to trust under the wings of the God of Israel." These two weaker vessels - Deborah and Ruth, or the mother and daughter - serve in the hand of God to bring out into this picture of faith, "the mighty man of wealth of the family of Elimelech too, whose name was Boaz." Thus they distinguish him, in their turn, as the fit and proper answer to the mind and ways of God in the midst of the darkness and misery of Israel "to do worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem."

Again, a covenant God "puts a son" into the house, as He did when He gave Isaac to Abraham and Sarah as the child of promise. He acts above and beyond all the ruin and wretchedness around, and turns the darkness of night into the brightness of the morning. Who has not, and does not to this day, read the book of Ruth in the light of the sovereign grace and purpose of Jehovah to bless His people, and bring in His own glory? Isaac "received back again from the dead" was the appointed son and heir for the promises of prosperity and peace "to be made sure" by resurrection finally in Immanuel's land. And now in its turn the kingdom is to come forward in king David, as the son born to Naomi, and the distinguished monarch of the throne and sceptre of Israel. "And the women, the neighbours of Ruth, called her son's name Obed; he is the father of Jesse, the father of David."

All these witnesses - from Abraham, the friend of God, and the head of covenanted blessing, or the patriarchs with their magnificent promises handed on from generation to generation "till the seed should come" - form an unbroken line as the heirs of Immanuel's land, and rightly made their boast in the flesh, and by natural descent, as they blazoned forth their genealogies. Besides this circle of birth and pedigree the Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from mount Seir that He might establish a government upon the earth. The Lord came from mount Paran, and He came with ten thousand of His saints. From His right hand went a fiery law; "for the Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance. … Yea, He loved the people; all His saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words." An entire system of jurisprudence from God exists to this day in the Pentateuch, and was then set up in the world, and maintained through Moses, and Aaron, and the Levites, and their rulers by statutes and judgments. These became connected ultimately with royal authority and majesty under king David in Jerusalem, when the tabernacle of the wilderness, and its haltings and pitchings were over, as well as the travelling days of the people of Israel finished. David, the warrior king, gave place to his son Solomon, the king of peace, who sat upon "the throne of the Lord," and thus established formally the theocracy. The tabernacle likewise made way for the temple in all its magnificence and splendour, which became the wonder of the world. The journeyings of the wilderness led on to, and made room for the "promised rest" in the habitation of God, which He then took possession of and filled with His glory.

Jehovah had come out with His chosen witnesses in all these varying characteristics before the eyes of men that they might learn the ascending steps to majesty and greatness, by which such glory was reached, and had been displayed in the kingdom, and upon the throne under the sceptre of its sovereign, that nothing before could be compared with it, and nothing that should ever follow could be likened to it under the sun. Personally, too, Solomon had reached as a man the highest place of honour and power out of heaven itself; for God had said, "Wisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee: and I will give thee riches and wealth and honour, such as none of the kings have had that have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like." Every previous "witness" had led on to Solomon in all his power and glory, and prosperity and peace were established in the land of Immanuel, and in "the city of the great king," as the appointed centre of order and blessing for Israel and the whole world. Not a bud of early promise to the fathers but had blossomed and brought forth its ripe fruit, and the nation, with its great potentate, sat under its vine and its fig-tree, none daring to make them afraid. There was but one name of celebrity in the wide world, and that name was Solomon's; but one man of universal homage under the sun, and this witness from Jehovah was Solomon. Yea, more, this figure-man to Israel and the nations of the coming Messiah (like Adam was to an unfallen creation at the beginning) was God's ultimatum, and given forth to the confidence and faith of His elect people, as finishing up "God's own line of witnesses" in this golden chain of conditional blessing. Even Solomon was allowed to challenge the whole race of mankind, and say in defiance, "What can the man do that cometh after the king?"

On the other hand, the prophets came in with their ministry, and God demanded by the prophet Isaiah, in the reign of Uzziah and Hezekiah, "What more could have been done for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" How soon is the fine gold become dim? Alas! another "Ichabod" has been proclaimed by the Spirit of prophecy on these heights of majesty and glory in the kingdom of Jehovah, and echoed back to the heavens from the north, and the south, and the east, and the west, like was aforetime uttered over the departing glory of the priesthood in the sanctuary, when the ark of God was carried off into the house of Dagon.

In the face of this new collapse of power and glory we may stop, and put the question naturally enough, Why then have we followed this long line "of the witnesses of God," from Adam in one world to Noah in another? Why then, again, the line of Abraham and the patriarchs, or of Moses and Israel in Egypt, and of Joshua on their way into Canaan? Why also the priesthood of Aaron in the sanctuary, and the royal majesty of David the king, which culminated in the exceeding glory and greatness of Solomon? Why speak of all these illustrious men as "the witnesses chosen of God," when historically they have become the witnesses of failure and of forfeited blessing, so that "Ichabod" is written on the throne and temple of Jerusalem as plainly as "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin" is upon the walls of the Gentile monarchs in the palace of Babylon? Why occupy us with a jurisprudence and a political economy for government, set up in a theocracy which has collapsed, and which from its own nature lies outside and beyond the reach of man's imitation? The narrative of such failures and forfeitures would, it is true, be unavailing, and even cruel and tormenting, could there be no adequate resources in the living God. What avails proving man's ruin and the world's bankruptcy, if there were no second Adam in reserve, to begin a new history of His own, as the anointed One before God, in tins present world of sin and death, and open another lesson-book to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places? The answer to all these questions, and a thousand more, is one and the same, and, like every efficient reply, a short one too - "Christ is all and in all." Be it so, "that God and the witnesses chosen of Him" have closed up a first history, yet were these men likewise serving in a double character, as patterns and figure-men of Him who was to come from God (to those who can receive it), as well as witnesses to God in their day and generation of the inefficiency of all else.

For example, view Adam as the first of these witnesses. And what was he "but a figure of Him that was to come," when we are able to see everything in the true light of faith and promise, and no longer read God and these witnesses in the blotted pages of their own history? So again view Solomon, the last and most wonderful "of all these witnesses," and who and what was he but a royal and glorious figure of Him that was to come - Jesus, who drew aside the veil of that covering with His own hand, when He said, "A greater than Solomon is here."

And what shall be said of all the intermediate "witnesses" between Adam, the created man in innocency, and Solomon, the endowed king in splendour - the man "whom God magnified" and made so great? What do we say? Why, that they were one and all but figures and patterns, each in their times and seasons, of Him that was to come in as "the faithful and true witness" - one who alone could bear witness to Himself and His Father, who sent Him. True, and most true it is, that all "these witnesses chosen aforetime" were most illustrious, and shone as lights across this dark and dreary world; yea, men of whom the world was not worthy. Yet would they one and all, if challenged, give place to John as "the forerunner of Christ," and the brightest of all this "cloud of witnesses," and allow him to be their spokesman as they retire, or say with him, "Whose shoes' latchet I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose." Or else perhaps be greater still in His greatness when he adds, "He must increase, but I must decrease." No; even David "only served his day and generation," as did they all, whether prophets, or priests, or kings; and in his last days and with his last words, when he looked onward in the consciousness that his house was not so with God, yet in confidence of the coming One could say, "He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure." So Moses, when departing, bore witness to a greater than himself when he said to the children of Israel, "A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you like unto me, him shall ye hear in all things."

We may fairly close these applications by the words of the greatest of those born of women, as well as on the behalf of his previous witnesses, "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly, because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled."

The secret upon which the recovery and manifestation in blessing of all that these illustrious witnesses had forfeited on the earth was known in heaven, and came out when two of these witnesses appeared in glory on mount Tabor at the transfiguration of Christ, and spake to Him of "the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem." But we must stop at this mount, this mountain of the Lord, and the voice from the excellent glory, which tells its own tale, and established all the rights of Christ as Messiah beyond the need of any further witnesses. His decease and redemption through His blood sets aside all the mighty obstacles that stood in the way of permanent blessing on the earth, and His resurrection was witness enough on God's part that the exalted One was the appointed Heir of all things, and King of kings, and Lord of lords. Witness too of His all-sufficiency; for that all things were put under His feet, and He made head over all things; yea, that "all power was given to Him in the heavens and on the earth" for the deliverance of creation from the bondage of corruption, and to fill the whole world with the glory of God.

Coming events cast their shadows before them, and that is what these witnesses in their varying ministries were doing, and very precious too, as foreshadowing the millennium, and the "times of restitution, of which God had spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began;" and this is the outline as well as the consummation which was proposed to be traced out in these meditations. Well may we say with the apostle, when speaking of the earthly people, and God's ways and actings with them in dispensational government, whether past, present, or future, as in Rom. 11:33, 35, "O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out. … For of Him and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen." J. E. B.