Last Updated on : Saturday, October 11, 2014
From The Bible
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NO ATTENTIVE reader of the New Testament can be ignorant of the prominence given in the apostolic writings to "THE PROMISES MADE UNTO THE FATHER." He may not understand what is meant by the phrase, but he can scarcely avoid acquaintance with the phrase itself, as a thing of importance, because it is used in such a way as to show that whatever it refers to, it expresses something that has a fundamental relation to the scheme of truth apostolically delivered.
Those who are not New Testament readers, or Old Testament readers either, will know nothing about it. For their benefit and the general elucidation of the subject, we call attention to the state of the matter, by quoting Paul's statement that "Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm THE PROMISES MADE UNTO THE FATHERS" (Rom. xv, 8). This at once brings the subject to a point, declaring a connection between the mission of Christ and that which is styled "THE PROMISES "; and thereby imposing upon us the necessity of recognising the importance of the stem and branch of truth so expressed, instead of turning away from the subject with indifference, as is the custom with the majority of religious people, not excepting those professing to be New Testament Christians. If Christ came to "confirm the promises made unto the fathers," it is obviously of the first importance that we know something about these promises, and we need have no difficulty in getting the knowledge desired. Paul incidentally declares that whatever they are, the promises belong to the Jews :--
Speaking more definitely on the subject, he says :--
From this, it is evident that if we would know something about "the promises" which Paul had in his mind, we must refer to the history of Abraham, from which he derived his information. With this history most people are familiar; but as a rule, they are ignorant of anything in connection with it which answers to Paul's words in Gal. iii, 16, 29. They know that Abraham emigrated from Chaldea, by divine command, became a settler in Canaan, and that God promised to greatly multiply his posterity, and make them a great nation in the country where he was then a stranger; they believe that it was promised to him that Christ, the Saviour of the world, should come in his line, and that in this way, through the preaching of the gospel, all nations should ultimately be blessed through him; but they have no idea of any promises which form the groundwork of the Christian faith, or the subject-matter of the gospel. They admit there were promises, but, practically, they consider them past and done with. They consider them as applicable only to the now insignificant events of Jewish history.
They certainly have no idea of any "promises made unto the fathers," in which they can hope to have any personal interest, or from which, indeed, Abraham himself can have any future benefit. They have no idea of themselves or any one else "inheriting the promises" made 3,000 years ago to the fathers. The promises, in their estimation, are an affair of the past, a part of the first dispensation which, having waxed old, has vanished away. The thing to be looked for from their point of view, is the thing that, in their opinion, has happened to the fathers themselves and to all righteous men ever since--an event before which all parties are on a dead level, promises or no promises; and that is, going to heaven when death comes, if righteous. They sing and teach their children to sing--Where is now the prophet Daniel? Safe in THE PROMISED LAND.
In their estimation. the promised land is heaven; thither they sing of all the faithful having gone--the "souls" having according to their creed, "departed to glory," when death laid their bodies low. They consider that the promises made to them have been amply realised. It is evident there is a great mistake in this. Paul says:--
This affirms that the fathers died without receiving what had been promised; in direct opposition to orthodoxy, which says they died and thus received the promises, being one and all "safe in the promised land." Paul repeats the statement at the end of the chapter. He says :--
What were the promises made to the fathers, the substance of which they did not receive, and which Paul here declares they will not receive until the totality of the chosen ones "from every nation, kindred, people, and tongue" is completed? In answer to this, we affirm that they relate to matters forming the very essence and foundation of the salvation offered through Christ. We do so on the strength of the following testimonies, to begin with:--
These passages show that the promises made to the fathers were unfulfilled at so recent a date as the first century--that is, nearly two thousand years alter they were made--and further, that they have reference to the things to be accomplished, through Christ, instead of having, as the generality of religious people suppose, been fulfilled in Jewish history.
But, for the better discussion of the question, and to come closer to the subject, let us look at the promises themselves. In seeking for them, we act under the guidance of Paul, who says, "To Abraham and his seed were the promises made." This is an infallible clue: we go to the history of Abraham, and find the following promises recorded:--
Paul styles Isaac and Jacob "the heirs with him (Abraham) of the same promise" (Heb. xi, 9). It will therefore lay the foundation more securely to quote the promises made to them, which it will be seen are, as Paul's words give us to understand, identical with those made to Abraham :--
Now, in analysing these "promises made to the fathers," it will be found that they consist of several distinct items, which it will be well to enumerate for the sake of clearness, and the consideration of each of which separately will enable us to see the truth of the proposition that stands as the subject of the lecture, viz., that these promises will only be fulfilled when Christ, having returned from heaven, and raised his people from the dead, reigns in Palestine as universal ruler, to whom all nations will bow in blessed allegiance.
1st.--That Abraham's posterity should become a great and mighty nation.--This has not been fulfilled in the sense of the promise. It is true that Abraham's descendants, according to the flesh, have multiplied and filled a large place in history; but this is not the only event contemplated in the promise, as is evident from Rom. ix, 6-8. The natural Jews from the day that they murmured against Moses and Aaron, in the wilderness, till now, when they reject the prophet like unto Moses, have ever been a stiff-necked, disobedient generation, walking after the ways of the heathen, and persecuting and slaying the servants of God sent to bring them to the right way. This is not the "great nation multiplied above the stars of heaven," that was promised to Abraham; it were no blessing to surround a man With such. a. race of flesh-born rebels. Paul says, "They are not all Israel which are of Israel, neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children; but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called: that is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God, BUT THE CHILDREN OF THE PROMISE ARE COUNTED FOR THE SEED" (Rom. ix, 6-8).
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob pleased God by their faith and obedience: those of their descendants who were not of this disposition, were not of Israel, although they inherited their flesh and blood, and, therefore, were not "counted for the seed." They were not reckoned as constituents of the great nation promised to Abraham. The great majority of the Jews have been of this class, and are, therefore, rejected. Whence, then, comes the promised race of children? The principal part of them will be furnished by the Jewish nation after the flesh; for in all their history, there has been a remnant, that were truly Abrahamic, not only in blood, but in faith and obedience: these are "the children of the promise," and will be raised at the coming of Christ. The other part will come from the Gentiles, who, after ages of darkness, were visited in the apostolic era, with an invitation to become adopted into the stock of Abraham. This fact is made known in the following words :--
Hence those who embrace the faith of Abraham, and become circumcised by putting on Christ in baptism, thus partaking imputatively of the literal circumcision of which Christ was subject under the law, become the children of Abraham, and heirs of the promises made to him. This is Paul's testimony:--" For as many of you as have been BAPTISED INTO CHRIST have put on Christ... And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and HEIRS ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE" (Gal. iii, 27, 29). Of those in that position, Paul says:--" Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise" (Gal. iv, 28).
This is the class contemplated in the promise made to Abraham; but the point of time at which they are contemplated is not the present time, when they are a weak and scattered family, and the great bulk of them in the dust. It is the time referred to in John xi, 52, when Christ will "gather together IN ONE the children of God that are scattered abroad"; and in II Thess. ii, 1, "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him." Speaking of this time, Jesus says :--
When this takes place, Abraham will behold the fulfilment of the promise that he should become a great and mighty nation, above the stars of heaven in multitude; his children of the royal order, raised from the dead of all ages, will be "a great multitude which no man can number" (Rev. vii, 9); and his descendants according to the flesh, disciplined and renovated as a nation, by trial in the wilderness a second time, will be the mightiest people on the globe, all righteous, and inheriting the land (Isa. Ix, 21), and having "praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame" (Zeph. iii, 19). This will be when the Kingdom of God is established in the manner set forth in the last lecture.
2nd.--That Abraham and his seed should receive possession of the land indicated in the promise, viz., "THE LAND from the river of Egypt Unto the great river Euphrates," styled in the promise to Abraham, "the land wherein thou art a stranger" (Gen. xvii, 8). That this part of the promise is unfulfilled, requires but a feeble effort to. see. First, Moses records that Abraham had to buy a field of the original possessors of the country, wherein to bury his dead, and said to them, "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you" (Gen. xxiii, 4). Secondly, Paul says, "He sojourned in the land of promise, AS IN A STRANGE COUNTRY" (Heb. xi, 9). Thirdly, Stephen says, "God gave him none inheritance in it, NO, NOT SO MUCH AS TO SET HIS FOOT ON: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession" (Acts vii, 5). If Abraham was a stranger and a sojourner in the land of promise, as in a strange country, and received none inheritance in it, not so much as a foot-breadth, surely, so far as he is concerned, the promise is unfulfilled. If so; it remains to be fulfilled at a future time. "Not so," says the orthodox objector: "the promise has been fulfilled in Abraham's descendants; the Jews possessed the country for many centuries, and this was the fulfillment of the promise." The answer to this is found in Gal. iii, 16-18 :--
Now, let the reader observe that the Jews occupied the land under the law of Moses, which stipulated in the most stringent terms that their occupation should depend upon their conformity to its requirements (Deut. xxviii, 15-68). Their inheritance of the country was altogether "of the law "; it provided that if they kept the law, they should dwell in the land in prosperity; and that if they broke it, they should be dispersed among the nations in suffering. History records how continually they failed in the matter, and how repeatedly they were subject to foreign yoke and captivity in consequence, and how at last, when hopeless rebellion had established itself in the whole house of Israel, culminating in the rejection of "the prophet like unto Moses," the Romans came and "took away their place and nation," scattering them in the wide dispersion of the present day.
It is impossible in the face of these facts to maintain that the Jewish occupation of Palestine was a fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham: for Paul says, in the words quoted, that the promise was not to Abraham or his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. God gave it to Abraham by promise, free and unconditional. Therefore, says Paul, if they which are of the law be heirs, the promise is made of none effect (Rom. iv, 14). It follows that the promise that Abraham and Christ should possess the land of Palestine is wholly unfulfilled, but will have its fulfilment when Abraham rises from the dead to enter the kingdom of God, then and there to be established. A consideration of what Paul says in Heb. xi, will shew this :--
Let the reader carefully peruse and re-peruse this quotation from Hebrews, and having done so, let him realise its purport. Abraham, says Paul, was called to go into a country which he should afterwards receive for an inheritance. What country was this? Let the reader consult Gen xii, 4, 5, and he will have an answer: "So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him... and into the Land of Canaan they came." To make the matter certain beyond dispute, we will quote the words of Stephen :--
The land which Abraham was "after to receive for an inheritance," was the land inhabited by the Jews in the days of the apostles, modern Syria. He lived in it as a stranger, with Isaac and Jacob, to whom the promise of possession was afterwards renewed. This sojourn was the result of faith. But for this, on finding, as years rolled on that he was not put in possession of the land, but left to wander without inheritance, he would have returned in disgust to his native country, and spent his days among his kindred. Paul says he and his sons "had opportunity to have returned"; but they did not avail themselves of the opportunity, but steadfastly remained in the country to which they had been commanded to emigrate. Paul says the reason of this was, that they were "persuaded of the promises and embraced them." Notwithstanding that appearances were against them, they believed that God would in time fulfil His words, and give them the promised possession, and believing this, they were able to crucify the natural desire to go back to a country where they would have had both inheritance and friends, but in going back to which, they would have forfeited the promises. They saw that the thing promised was more worthy than "the country from whence they came out" They looked for a city (polity) which had foundations, and desired a heavenly country. The country from which they came out was without foundation; based upon flesh, which is of earth, earthy, it was ephemeral and passing away: as John says: "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God, abideth for ever" (I John ii, 17).
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob saw in the promises the guarantee of a heavenly order of things in which, God being the founder, there would be the stability of "foundations" that could never be removed; therefore, they consented to live as strangers in a foreign land, waiting in faith for the things promised. They saw that the promises were "afar off"; they, therefore, in faith, accepted exile, confessing themselves for the time strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Paul says, "They died without receiving the promises." What is it, then, but that they must rise to receive them? When? At the time described in Rev. xi, 18, as "the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets --[Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were prophets-- Psalm cv. 15]--the time, the reader will perceive by the context, when "the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ" (verse 15). It is the epoch mentioned by Paul in the following words: "Jesus Christ shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom" (II Tim. iv, 1). When Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob come forth from their graves to judgment and reward, they will "receive the land for an inheritance," according to the promise. On doing this, they will inherit the kingdom of God, for the kingdom of God is to be established there. Hence, says Jesus to the Pharisees :--
If any one doubt that this will be in the very land promised to the fathers, and in which they wandered as strangers, let him read the following testimonies from the prophets:--
When the state of things depicted in these testimonies passes out of the domain of prophecy into that of accomplished fact, the "city having foundations" and the "heavenly country," which were the objects of faith with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the subject of promise to them, will be realised. The Scriptural meaning of these phrases will then be exemplified. Orthodox interpreters of Paul make them apply to "heaven above the skies": they overlook the fact, that the promises related to the land in which the fathers sojourned; and forget the absurdity of calling heaven a "heavenly country." Palestine will be a heavenly country when Christ, having re-established the kingdom of David, rules in it as monarch of the whole earth: and his kingdom will be "a city having foundations," for it will stand upon a rock which no rude assault of rebellion whether of democrats or kings, will be able to shake.