David Brown: The Blessed Hope 7
In this the seventh article in the series, David Brown claims that “the Gospel Church is not a new thing under the sun: historically and lineally, it is that very ‘Israel of God.'” He writes, “in the light of the New Testament, no position is more unscriptural–none more distorting to all Biblical truth–than that the Church, in the proper sense of that term, had no existence till the day of Pentecost.”
THE BLESSED HOPE.—VII.
BY REV. DAVID BROWN, D.D.
I have endeavoured to make good the following positions: 1. That all ritual distinctions are by the Gospel for ever abolished; 2. That, nevertheless, the national conversion of Israel is explicitly predicted in the New Testament; that in the New Testament we are referred back to the Old, and specially to the terms of the Abrahamic, Covenant, as our primary warrant for this expectation; and, 3. That the people and the land land are so connected in the plainest prophecies of the Old Testament, that whatever literality and perpetuity are ascribed to the one must, on all strict principles of interpretation, belong to the other. One or two other positions must here be added.
4. The connection uniformly held forth in Scripture between defection and dispersion, and between reconciliation and restoration, affords strong ground for expecting that their final conversion will be followed by a final restoration to their fatherland.
“Lord (says the Psalmist), Thou hast been favourable unto Thy Land; Thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob: Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of Thy People; Thou hast covered all their sins” (Psa. lxxxv. 1, 2).
“And (says the Lord by Jeremiah) I will bring Israel again to his habitation, and he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan, and his soul shall be satisfied upon Mount Ephraim and Gilead. In those days and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there, shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found; for I will pardon them whom I reserve” (Jer. 1. 19, 20). And again by Zechariah: “And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day; In that day, saith the Lord, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig-tree” (Zech. iii. 9, 10).
In these and many similar passages, the connection between pardon of the sin which drove them from the covenant-land and restoration to it stands out with striking prominence. Let any one, then, read in this light our Lord’s prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem; let him think, at the same time, whether Israel’s present dispersion is not to be traced to their having filled up the cup of all their previous iniquity by the darkest of all deeds, the crucifying of the Lord of glory, and the formal rejection thereafter of the Gospel offer “to the Jew first—whereby “the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost”—and then let him say whether it is not in beautiful keeping with all God’s past procedure with “the peculiar people,” that whenever this sin is “remembered no more,” the wondrous change should be marked by the ancient token of reconciliation—their return to the delightsome land.
The reader will observe the order in which I have placed reconciliation and restoration—the one as preceding the other. This will be thought to express the opinion that the Jews will not return at all to their own land until after their conversion. But it is not so. It is quite possible they may be induced to return of their own accord, and in their present unbelief—deluded by some groundless expectations. But that is very far from being the predicted and promised restoration; and I think I shall do a service to those who are looking for this sort of restoration, to show them that it is not what is held forth to faith and hope. The law of the Divine procedure in this matter has ever been—No dispersion save as the Divine way of marking the iniquity of foregoing defection; and no restoration but as the Divine token of reconciliation with a penitent and believing people. “Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it,…. and I scattered them, and they were dispersed through the countries.” But “from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you, .. . and ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezek. xxxvi. 17,19, 25,28). There is not, so far as I remember, one passage in which, the promised Restoration is held forth by itself, or apart from the promised Reconciliation. I am not arguing that they will be converted in the countries of their dispersion, and then transported to Palestine. For aught I know, they may all be settled in Palestine ere they get the “new heart.” Not a few of them are there already; and, encouraged by colonization societies or political powers for their own ends, many thousands of them might, in a few years, be seen flocking thither. Some, in fact, think there is Scripture warrant for expecting that they will be re-settled in Palestine, with Jerusalem as of old for the metropolis of their nationality, and that they will there erect a temple, and set up in it their ancient worship, ere they look penitentially upon Him whom nationally they pierced. I confess I think the evidence for all this slender enough, and that some things look to me quite the opposite way. But even though it were so, this is not the predicted restoration. The only light in which the eventual Restoration of Israel is held forth in Scripture is as the Divine sequel and public seal of Reconciliation to the now contrite and converted nation.
What will be the character of this change? The best answer to this will be found in one of the richest Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament—Zech. xii. 10; xiii. 1. From this we gather (1) That there will be a glorious effusion of the Spirit upon the whole nation: “And I will pour upon the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem (rulers as well as people) the Spirit of grace (to soften their hearts) and of supplications (to cry for mercy).” In this process afflictive dispensations will play an important instrumental part: “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face; in all their affliction they will seek me early” (Hos. v. 15). And it should seem as if the call to “seek the Lord” would go through the nation, and meet with a general response; for it is immediately added: “Come, and let us return unto the Lord, for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us, and the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: His going forth is prepared as the morning; and He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain upon the earth” (vi. 1 —3). The contrition here expressed is not more beautiful than the ingenuousness of it, and the calm confidence with which light is expected to arise in their felt darkness, and complete recovery anticipated. Their inward vision, thus clarified, they now see all things in a now light. The spirituality of their own Scriptures breaks upon them, chasing away their old narrow and carnal ideas; and the relief which is there held forth to the guilty, supplants their vague dreams of future exaltation. This is strikingly expressed by the man who, of all others, had passed through the deepest of these waters at the time of his conversion: “But their understandings were hardened; for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament, because it is done away [only] in Christ.  But even unto this day, when Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart. But what time it (that is, their heart) turneth to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Cor. iii. 14—16). In other words, Christ being the sole key of the Old Testament Scriptures, it is impossible that a Christ-rejecting nation can understand them; for they read and hear them with a veil upon their heart: but so soon as their heart shall turn to the Lord, the veil will have fallen off of itself, and the living oracles be full of life and fragrance, warmth and glory.
But the best of Zechariah’s great prophecy is yet to come. (“2.) In Jesus of Nazareth beholding now a pierced Messiah, by their own hands crucified and slain, their hearts will break with bitter but generous grief. “And they shall look on Me, whom they pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” As He hung upon the cross, they looked—and mocked; now they “look—and mourn.” The glorious object is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; but the look—oh! how changed—from bitter derision to bitter distress. To what is this owing? “I will pour upon them (says the Lord) the Spirit of grace and of supplications, and they shall look and mourn.” O, yes, and is there one who has ever cast that heartbreaking look on Christ who will trace it to any other cause? What kind of look is it to be? It is an evangelical look. They shall mourn for Him (pierced by themselves); it is exceeding bitter—as for an only son, and for a firstborn; it is universal—”the land shall mourn, even all the families that remain;” it is domestic—”every family apart;” it is personal—”their wives apart.” What a mourning will that be!” He came unto His own (once), and His own received Him not;” but “at the second time Joseph shall be made known unto His brethren,” amid the astonishment and the tears of those who had evil entreated Him, “and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh shall hear the weeping.”
But the best of all, in this prophecy, is reserved for the last. (3.) In the fountain of that very blood which themselves did shed, they shall be washed at once from the guilt and from the slain of that and all their sins. “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.” Those words on the cross, “It is finished,” followed up by the expiring of the great sacrificial Life, opened the fountain, indeed, once for all. But to unbelief it is as good as shut unto this day. When, however, the eyes of the penitent nation are at length unveiled, they shall descry it open, and opened for them, begetting all the surprise of a new discovery; and as they come forth from it, “washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb,” methinks their mourning, if sweeter, will be yet keener—watering a free pardon with tears. “And the Lord will remove the iniquity of the land in one day.” What land? What but the land that is to “mourn,” as Zechariah says. O, yes, the land and the people will now be for ever identified. “Then will I remember my covenant with Abraham and I will remember the land.” He will be merciful to His land, and to His people. “Upon the land of my people shall come up briers and thorns…. until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high …. and then the wilderness shall be a fruitful field, and the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever.” “Neither will I hide my face any more from them; for I have poured out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord God.”
5. “What shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead”? (Rom. xi. 15).
Scattered as they now are among all nations under heaven, and the most inveterate enemies of the Lord Jesus, the reception of the whole family of Israel must needs be such a stupendous manifestation of the power of God upon the spirits of men, and of the efficacy of the Cross to break the stoutest hearts, as will kindle devout astonishment far and wide, and so change the dominant mode of thinking and feeling on all spiritual things, as to seem like nothing short of a resurrection from the dead. But in what respects? Then, the oldest nation existing shall be seen standing forth in a transformed character, and beautified with salvation! That emphatically truth-hating, mercy-spurning, prophet-killing, Christ-crucifying nation, hasting under the wings of Immanuel and finding glad shelter there—what a proclamation will that be to the wide world of mercy for the chief of sinners; as if a voice should go forth from the whole nation, saying everywhere, Come, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul! Can this fail to arrest an unthinking world, and send a thrill of transport through the Church of God! And what a voice will this be for the faithfulness of God, making those words to stand up in living exemplification for all future time—”The gifts and the calling of God are without repentance!”
Once more on this head:—
6. Israel will than stand forth before the world as the root, of which all other believing nations are but the branches— the parent-stem of that tree which is yet to cover the whole earth.
This definite relation is so clearly expressed once and again by the great apostle, that one should think there could be no mistake. Thus, addressing the Christian Gentile: “If some of the branches (of this Jewish tree) were broken off, and thou, being a wild olive-tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive-tree, boast not against the (broken-off) branches; but if thou do boast (forget not that) thou bearest not the root, but the root thee…. If thou wert cut out of the olive-tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted, contrary to nature, into a good olive-tree, how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Rom. xi. 17, 18, 24). In other words, the Gospel Church is not a new thing under the sun: historically and lineally, it is that very “Israel of God” (Gal. vi. 16) which came out of the loins of Jacob, went down and came up out of Egypt, wandered forty years in the wilderness, and then entered the promised land, gave birth in the fulness of time to the promised Messiah, after whose death, resurrection, ascension, and mission of the Spirit, it opened its bosom to receive its outcast Gentile brother to the fellowship of its own name, and the enjoyment of all its own nearness to God in Christ. The believing Jew has gone out from nothing, but the believing Gentile has come in to everything.
This new “Israel of God” may, at given times, contain very few of the natural Israel. The “remnant” of them, “according to the election of grace,” may at times be reduced to the very lowest. But even if there were but one—as if just “that the purpose of God according to election might stand”—that one would be the root, and all the rest, though embracing myriads of Gentiles, would be but the branches. If this be true, it furnishes us with the key—the only true key, I believe—to those prophetic pictures of the glory of Messiah’s kingdom, as covering the whole earth, where, if “Judah,” “Israel,” “Jacob,” “the people” of the covenant, etc., mean the mere nation of Abraham’s natural descendants, it would irresistibly follow that the whole world is yet to be Judaized and put under Judaic government (which fanatical Jews expect,but what Christian can endure?); whereas, if by these terms—wherever a contrast with the Gentiles does not fix down their application to the nation—we understand primarily the believing portion of Abraham’s natural seed, but along with them as many Gentiles as, “being Christ’s, are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. iii. 29), and so the Church of God in its enlarged Abrahamic character,—all, as it seems to me, will explain quite in harmony with the New Testament.
Let us hear the apostle to the Galatians:—”If ye (once Gentile idolaters) be Christ’s, then are ye”—saved? No; that is not the thought, true enough though it be, but “then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. iii. 29). Still more explicitly to the once Diana-worshipping Ephesians. So long as they were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise,” they were “far off. But now in Christ Jesus, ye who once were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. ii. 12, 13, 19). Of course, then, “the city of God,” to the citizenship of which they were admitted, must have existed before the middle wall of partition was broken down to let them in; and since the Gentiles were certainly not admitted to Judaism or Jewish nationality, if that “city of God” to which the Gentile believers were admitted was not the already existing Church of God, then were the Gentiles admitted to nothing, became “fellow-heirs” of nothing, and “of the same body” with those who were themselves no “body” at all to them as Gentiles?
I have put this as emphatically as I could, because, to my reading of the Bible in the light of the New Testament, no position is more unscriptural—none more distorting to all Biblical truth—than that the Church, in the proper sense of that term, had no existence till the day of Pentecost. And among other truths which this obscures and distorts, is that one which constitutes my present sixth position, now, I trust, sufficiently established—that Israel, as the original depositories and heirs of the Abrahamic promises, the elder brother and natural heir in the family of God, when converted and restored to the land of ancient promise, will be gladly recognized, devoutly honoured, and gratefully looked up to by the whole believing Gentile world, who will then feel, as never before, that “Salvation is of the Jews.”
Having stated some characteristics of the Second Advent which seem to me to preclude any millennium after it, I next proceeded to point out some of the characteristics of the millennial state, as I gather them in the light of the New Testament, Negatively, we have seen that all ritual distinctions between Jew and Gentile are by the Gospel forever abolished, and that the millennial state will not exhibit any ritual separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. But positively we have seen that the natural seed of Abraham, instead of having ceased from their covenant-existence and covenant-destiny under the Gospel, are still beloved for the fathers’ sake, and are destined to be both nationally converted and nationally restored to their own land, where they will be joyfully recognized and honoured by the whole believing world as the root of which they are but the branches, the elder brother in the great family of God, in whose past history of four thousand years’ duration—studded with Miracle and Prophecy, Retribution and Compassion unparalleled, will be seen “Mercy built up for ever, and Faithfulness established in the very heavens”! Nor is it natural that a people of such active life, of such quick intelligence, of such ubiquitous movements, of such linguistic capacities, of such aptitude to mix with all nationalities, while yet preserving their own, should allow these lessons of their past history and final recovery to be learnt only at a distance—themselves staying at home, as they have not for whole millenniums done before: May we not rather deem it probable that turning all their quick and restless habits to high account, their great business men, as they go from home in honourable traffic, will carry the light of their new character everywhere with them, and thus “the remnant of Jacob be in the midst of many peoples, as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, which tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men” (Micah v. 7).
Notes and References
1. The word here used is not the relative pronoun “which” [***]— requiring the supplement “which veil,” as in our Authorised Version—but the conjunction “because” [***], yielding the only natural sense without any supplement at all, though the sense becomes clearer by the supplement [only], as De Wette translates.
- David Brown: The Blessed Hope 1 (creationconcept.wordpress.com)
- David Brown: The Blessed Hope 2 (creationconcept.wordpress.com)
- David Brown: The Blessed Hope 3 (creationconcept.wordpress.com)
- David Brown: The Blessed Hope 4 (creationconcept.wordpress.com)
- David Brown: The Blessed Hope 5 (creationconcept.wordpress.com)
- David Brown: The Blessed Hope 6 (creationconcept.wordpress.com)