Page images
PDF
EPUB

by the agency of God. God, it is said, “hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." We are to “believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory.And we are to have “ the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The writer shows himself so little conversant with, or occupied by, Jewish interests, that the probability is he was a Gentile, personating Peter.

The book of Revelation has a character of its own, distinguishing it from all other writings of the New Testament. It is decidedly Jewish in its spirit, handling Jewish elements, but with a door set open for the Gentiles, and possibly an acceptance of the Gentile doctrine of the sacrifice of Jesus. It is furthermore in advance of the writings we have been reviewing in maintaining distinctly the pre-existence of Jesus before his appearance on earth. The writer shows a violent animosity towards the pure Gentile faction. He cannot, it may be concluded, pardon them the overthrow they made of the Jewish policy,—the obliteration of all difference between Jew and Gentile,—the transference to the whole race of man of the promises specially assigned to the Jews. While allowing the Gentiles a measure of blessing in the future ages, he takes care that all the supreme manifestations in the coming times, whether on earth or in heaven, shall be of strictly Jewish complexion. The writer says therefore seemingly of the Gentile movement, in the name of the risen Jesus, as if he himself were speaking to those addressed, “Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars ;" " which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” “Behold I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” It was unpardonable not only to deprive the Jews of their cherished privileges, but to do so in the guise of Jewish teachers, armed with the office of apostles. This circumstance the writer, it is clear, had before him; and, as the period in which he wrote would allow of, he was, in all probability, behind the scenes, knowing full well the actuality of the personations he was denouncing. It may be judged that it was just of such scriptures as we have been considering, passed off in the names of Paul and Peter, that he was writing. The house, in truth, is exhibited divided against itself, and the hollowness of its foundations are exposed.

The Jewish features in this book are numerous. We have the Mosaic tree of life translated to the celestial paradise, with its leaves devoted to “ the healing of the nations,” standing apparently in some lower and weaker position to need such support; the doctrines of Balaam and of Jezebel, with abhorrence expressed at the eating things sacrificed to idols; the key of David locking or unlocking all blessing; the lamb as the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root and offspring of David ; the 144,000 sealed of all the tribes of Israel, the Gentiles, of all nations and kindreds, standing as a promiscuous and undistinguished multitude ; the temple of God with its altar, and the outer court left to the Gentiles; the ark of the testament in the temple; the song of Moses raised in combination with that of the Lamb; the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven; the Euphrates dried up and the judgment brought in upon Babylon ; the new Jerusalem, in resplendent form, descending from heaven, bearing on its gates the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and on its foundations those of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; the abolition of the curse. The whole is an evident Jewish rebound against the invasion of Gentilism. The writer's Jewish connection is furthermore shown by his sympathy with Essene doctrines. His saints are ever clothed in white raiment, and the alliance of the sexes is considered a defilement (xiv. 4).

At the same time the book has occurred at a period when the position of the Gentiles, as recipients of the promises in fellowship with Israel, was too firmly established to be disallowed. The Hebrew scriptures gave the warrant for such an admission, on which authority the Paul of the book of Acts had in fact gathered in the Gentiles. The writer is seen also to have been imbued with the doctrine of the efficacy of the blood of Jesus to remove sin, though it is not absolutely clear that he held it to have been poured out sacrificially as an atonement. Jesus is described as having “loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” He is presented in form of “a lamb as it had been slain," and is said to have “ redeemed us to God by his blood out of every kindred, and tougue, aud people, and nation.” These have “washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” They have “overcome” the devil “ by the blood of the Lamb.” The writer may perhaps be accounted a convert such as might be made at this day from the Jewish community, but still with stronger ties to the system departed from than would prevail now that practical Judaism, in the full exigencies of the creed, has been so long in abeyance. He has furthermore advanced to receive the doctrine of the pre-existence of Jesus, but has no note of his divinity. Jesus is “ Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,” “which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty; the first and the last." Still he was only a created being, “the beginning of the creation of God ;” “the root” as well as the “offspring of David.”

The Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians are on the like footing as to doctrine, but are of Gentile proclivities. They purport to be by Paul, but no more is said of his apostleship than that he holds it “ by the will of God," the defiant, independent tone of the other epistles in this name we have examined being wanting. In the Epistle to the Ephesians the writer, so far from making Paul throw aside the older apostles and assert a gospel for himself not obtained from them, acknowleges these apostles thoroughly. The believers, he says, are “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (ii. 20), and he styles them the “holy apostles,” to whom the “mystery” of the salvation of Jew and Gentile in Christ has now been “revealed” (iii. 5). For himself he declares that he is “ less than the least of all saints” (iii. 8). The Paul of the Ephesians is assuredly not the Paul of the Galatians. But he is probably equally a Gentile. The work of Christ has levelled all distinctions between Jew and Gentile. He speaks of those who are called “uncircumcision by that which is called circumcision in the flesh made by hands,” in terms that no Israelite would have employed, and says that these who were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise,” are now “made nigh by the blood of Christ ;" “ peace” is “preached” to those who “were afar off” as well as to those who “ were nigh ;” the Gentiles are become “ fellow-heirs, and of the same body” as the Jews, “partakers” with them of the “promise in Christ by the gospel ;” and “in the dispensation of the fulness of times,” God is to "gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him.” “ Redemption ” and “forgiveness of sins” are to be secured “through his blood;" “he is our peace," “ having abolished in his flesh, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances,” “ that he might reconcile” all “unto God in one body by the cross.” Christ, thus, “ hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God," and God has accepted the sacrifice as a “sweet-smelling savour” gratifying to him. The writer shows himself to have a clear apprehension of the preexistence of Christ. The work of our redemption was “according to the eternal purpose ” of God," which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord;" we were “chosen in him before the foundation of the world;" the “fellowship” of this “ mystery“from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God,” who, it is declared, “created all things by Jesus Christ.” “Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth ? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things)”. The meaning of the writer is not very clear. I would suggest that he may be aiming at the conclusion that the fact of the ascension proves that Christ returned to the place from whence he had come; or, in other words, that he had left heaven, where he had existed from before the foundation of the world, to run his career upon earth. The proper inherent divinity of Christ, nevertheless, is not announced. On the contrary, he is shown to be indebted for his position to the action of God as much as we are ourselves. God has manifested his power “ to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places ;" he “hath quickened us together with Christ ;” and “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

The writer of the epistle to the Colossians refers in like manner as the previous writer to the “circumcision made without hands,” and proclaims that there is now “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian

Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all, and in all.” He has “blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us,” “nailing it to his cross." No one therefore was to judge them in respect of “meat,” or “ drink,”, or “of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days;" and they were not to be subject to ordinances, which were traceable merely to man, were all to “perish with the using," and were “rudiments of the world.” If these are the ordinances the same writer speaks of as put out of our way and nailed upon the cross, it is clear that he was no Jew. In the very words used in the Epistle to the Ephesians (i. 7), he speaks of our having “ redemption " through the “ blood” of Christ, “even the forgiveness of sins” (i. 14). Also, as in the Epistle to the Ephesians (i. 10), of “ peace" being made “ through the blood of the cross,” and God having thus been pleased “ to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (i. 20). We are “reconciled in the body of his flesh through death.” Christ is “the image of the invisible God," but still only a created being, “ the firstborn of every creature” (i. 15). “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (ii. 9). This does not however involve his essential divinity, but only the endowing action of God; for we are told that it “ pleased the Father that in him all fulness” should “dwell” (i. 19). What depended on the pleasure of God to bestow, was then not inherent in Christ.

The Epistle to the Hebrews, unlike the rest of the epistles ascribed to Pau), is anonymous. Its authenticity was disputed in the earliest age, namely by Tertullian, Origen, Jerome, and the Latin Church generally.* Modern critics commonly disallow it. Professing to be addressed by a Hebrew to Hebrews, it is in a language foreign to and not in use among them. The writer is anti-Judaic in his spirit. The first covenant was “ faulty," and put away. It “decayed,” “ waxed old,” and was “ ready to vanish away.” Its services appertained to a “worldly sanctuary,” carried out by means of "carnal ordinances,” relating to “meats, and drinks, and divers washings.” It depended for expiation of sin upon “ the blood of bulls and of goats,” which “it is not possible" "should take away sins." This covenant has therefore been “disannulled," " for the weak

* " The Bible; is it the Word of God ?" 59.

« PreviousContinue »