Home > Literalism, Postmillennialism, The 1,000 years, The Gospel > David Brown: The Blessed Hope 5

David Brown: The Blessed Hope 5

November 11, 2011

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Below is David Brown’s fifth article in the series on The Blessed Hope.

THE BLESSED HOPE.—V.

BY REV. DAVID BROWN, D.D.

The Christian, 15 Dec. 1870.

In the three preceding papers I have pointed out three several New Testament characteristics of the Second Advent which seem to me quite incompatible with a Millennial state on earth—in the ordinary sense of that phrase—after it. I now proceed to inquire what light the New Testament throws upon the glory of the Latter Day—confining myself, as before, to those passages which seem the plainest and least disputable.

1. All ritual distinctions between Jew and Gentile are by the Gospel for ever abolished.

If this proposition can be made good, the whole premillennial theory of the state of the earth during the millennium must be baseless:—I mean, the expectation of ‘a restored temple at Jerusalem, with a restored Levitical priesthood and animal sacrifices, with altars as before of burnt-offering and of incense, and a holy of holies, the converted and restored Jewish nation reconstituted under this ceremonial system, and by it ritually separated from the uncircumcised Gentile world, who are to be permitted and required to come up from year to year to Jerusalem to keep one, at least, of the restored festivals—the feast of tabernacles—but shall have no access to the consecrated parts, and take no part in the peculiar services of the circumcised nation.’ It is not a great many years since the premillennial expectation was so far from including all this, that only those few who were reckoned ultra-literalists expected anything of the kind; and good Increase Mather (father of the well-known Cotton Mather), as a premillennialist, wrote a book in favour of the literal restoration of Israel, in which he uses these memorable words:—”The truth is, that Christ by His coming abolished the ceremonial law, and nailed it to His cross, and buried it in His grave. And a most loathsome work do they perform, both to God and man, that dig up the ceremonies out of that grave where Jesus Christ buried them above sixteen hundred years ago.” Such, however, is the force of consistency, that the principles of interpretation on which the premillennial theory has come to be vindicated and explained have gradually brought nearly all who now hold it to maintain it in that very form which I have expressed; and therefore, that I may not beat the air, I shall have respect to that particular form of it in what follows, though my object is simply to state what I myself find in the New Testament on this subject. In so doing, I will, as above stated, confine myself to the plainest and least disputable passages—beginning with the teaching of our Lord Himself.

Under the ancient economy one spot was Divinely appointed for the ceremonial, sacrificial services of the covenant people. This was Mount Zion in Jerusalem, on which, was erected the temple, with its altar of sacrifice without and its altar of incense within, which none but the officiating priests were permitted to approach; the worshipping Israelites occupying an outside position, though within sight of what was going on (Luke i. 8—10), while heathen proselytes—who abounded as the Gospel era drew near, and many of whom came up to worship at the festivals—were permitted to occupy a position outside their more favoured Jewish brethren at the hours of public service. The woman of Samaria, whose people affirmed that their temple on Gerizim was the divinely appointed spot, and not Jerusalem, referred the question to our Lord in these terms: “Our (Samaritan) fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Hear now the pregnant answer of our Lord: “Woman, believe Me, there cometh an hour when ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father. Ye worship what ye know not; we worship what we know; for salvation, is of the Jews. But there cometh an hour, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeketh such worshippers” (John iv. 20—23).

Of course it was lawful under the Jewish economy to worship God anywhere; and it was done in secret, done in households, done in every synagogue on the Sabbath-day. The one question was about the appointed, consecrated spot for temple-worship, and priestly oblation, and all ceremonial ordinances. On this question our Lord is most explicit with the woman of Samaria, ‘Ye are wrong in all your worship, and the Jews are wholly right: of your worship you can give no good account; ours at Jerusalem has all a Divine warrant, on which we can take an intelligent stand; for the salvation which God has in store for men is to issue from the Jews, and with them as its Divinely-chosen depositories are all the ceremonial prefigurations of it for which alone a temple has been reared.’ But our Lord, instead of stopping here, gives the woman to know that the whole question would speedily be superseded. For when He says that already the hour was come when neither at the one spot nor at the other should men worship the Father, He means beyond doubt to say that all temple worship, and consequently the temple itself, and of course the priesthood, and the whole sanctity of places and persons and rites—were to be done away. And what was to take their place? The “worship of the Father, in spirit and truth —’spiritual,’ as opposed to ‘ritual,’ and ‘true,’ as opposed to legal shadows. Wherever and by whomsoever this worship shall be presented to the Father—north or south, or east or west, in gorgeous temples, in humble barns, or under the open canopy of heaven, by sea or land, by congregated multitudes or by “two or three gathered together”—it will come up before Him as incense, even as the evening sacrifice. And am I to believe that this sublime and spiritual worship is once more to be wrapt up in. an elaborate ritualistic service at Jerusalem, of which the Divinely-appointed celebrants are to be the restored Aaronic priesthood, and the outside participants the covenant-people, while “the uncircumcised and (ceremonially) unclean Gentile world, though full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, are to be strictly excluded—though they, it seems, are required to be on certain occasions at the holy city, to pay homage to the God of restored Israel, and under them, of the whole earth?

But from the Lord Himself, let us now pass to His apostles.

The Galatian churches had been imposed on by “certain men,” who “came down from Judaea, and taught the brethren, that except they were circumcised after the manner of Moses, they could not be saved” (Acts xv. 1); and this was urged so plausibly, that those who for their father in the faith “would, if possible, have plucked out their own eyes,” came almost to view him as “their enemy, because he told them the truth.” In his Epistle to them, what does he say of the system they were doating on? “After that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye back again, to the weak and beggarly elements (poor, or sorry rudiments) whereunto ye desire again to he in bondage? Ye observe days and months, and seasons and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain ” (Gal. iv. 8—12). The Galatian converts had been Gentile idolaters: but instead of exposing the absurdity of Gentiles desiring to be Judaized in order to salvation, he identifies them with the Church of God, which had received from God himself the Levitical system (on the principle stated in chap. iii. 26—29), but which had by the Gospel been happily relieved of that yoke, “which neither they nor their fathers had been able to bear;” and his question is, How comes it that ye “desire again to be in bondage” to such a system? And am I to believe that any apostle of Christ would have ventured to speak of this system as “weak and beggarly rudiments”—to desire the continuance or restoration of which is to desire a state of “bondage”—if after all it is to be reimposed in all its splendour, and the exhibition of which at a re-erected temple, as the appointed meeting place of Christ after His Second Appearing with His restored Israel, is to constitute the chief glory of the millennial era? In another part of the same Epistle he speaks of these legal trammels as educational restraints during the minority of the Church—as “tutors and’ governors,” until “the heir,” destined to be “Lord of all,” should come of age, and as his “schoolmaster, to bring him to Christ. But now that faith is come (he says), ye are no longer under a schoolmaster” (iii. 24, 25). And am I to understand by this, merely that the schoolmaster’s occupation is gone for the present, but only to be resumed and to constitute a prime part of the glory of the millennial era?

The same view of the Jewish peculiarities is given to the Ephesians. In the cross, the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile was broken down—not to put the Jews out, but to let the Gentiles in, to a Church relieved of the separative system—whereby they are “both one” in Christ Jesus (ii. 13, 14). And what is this but another way of saying what our Lord said to the woman of Samaria, that all ritual separation between the two is now at an end?

To the Colossians he writes in the same strain: “Blotting out the handwriting in ordinances [1] that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross. . . . Let no man then judge you in respect of eating and drinking, or in the matter of a festival, or new moons, or sabbaths, which are a shadow of the things that were to come, hut the body is of Christ. . . . Wherefore if ye died with Christ, from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?” (Col. ii. 14,16, 17, 20.) Here again, these Colossian Gentiles are identified, as believers, with the Church which had once received from God Himself those very ordinances;” and reminding them that in the cross of Christ they had been “taken out of the way,” as mere “shadows” of which “Christ” was the “body” or substance, He asks them why, if they had “died with Christ from these rudiments of the world,” they allowed themselves still to be “subject” to them. And is thisone of the greatest effects of Christ’s deathone day to cease? Is thereto come a time when that which the cross “took out of the way” is to reappear and resume its place at Jerusalem, under the very eye, and in the manifested presence, of the glorified Redeemer of men from it?

But the most decisive of all statements on this subject are to be found in the Epistle to the Hebrews. There we read (1) that “the Levitical priesthood” would not have been set aside “if perfection” had been by it—by which the apostle means the “purgation of the conscience” (x. 1, 2)—nor would there have been in that case any “need that another priest should arise after the order of Melchizedek (vii. 11). But (2) “the priesthood being (thus) changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law, for He of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to a different tribe, from which no man hath given attendance at the altar. . . . For there is verily a disannulling of the foregoing commandment, [2] for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof;” and this weakness and unprofitableness of the law is explained in the very next verse to mean that it “made nothing perfect,” and that it is only by “the bringing in of a better hope that we draw nigh to God:”—in other words, the law only exhibited and dramatically performed the drawing nigh of sinners to God, on the gorgeous stage of the Levitical institutions, but never availed to bring one sinner really nigh to God, because the blood of bulls and of goats could not take away the sin that shuts men out from God, and there was no other blood for sinners then. But (3) the Aaronic priesthood was set aside, not only because their office was unavailing for the one great object of a priesthood, but because it was a mortal priesthood, “not suffered to continue by reason of death,” and so the office passed from father to son from age to age; whereas “this Priest, because He continueth ever, hath His priesthood untransferable,– and so is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him (that is, to save to the last soul that shall need salvation at His hands), seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” (vii.). Coming next to the covenant form of his question with those who seemed ready to go back to Judaism, he says (4) that “had the first covenant been faultless no place would have been Bought for a second.” But, “finding fault with them,” He expressly promised to “make a now covenant” with them. Now, “in that He saith, ‘a new covenant,’ He hath made the first old. But that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (viii.). And is it conceivable that the whole ritual system should be represented as “decaying, antiquated, and evanescent,” if it was to be only temporarily set aside, to be brought back, with only a few changes, to more than its pristine splendour? If such expectations, or anything in the least like them, are not in the teeth of all that the apostle says on the subject of the temple service, he has used language which it was at least very difficult not to misunderstand—language which, in point of fact, the whole Church, with hardly any exception worth noticing until now, has misunderstood. But I have yet to notice (5) by far the most important disclosure on this subject in the Epistle before us.—”For the law having (only) a shadow of the good things that were to come, and not the very image (or reality) of the things, can never, with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually, make them that draw near  [3] perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered t because that the worshippers, once purged, should have had no more conscience of sins.” But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bolls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore, when He cometh (prophetically) into the world, He saith (in Ps. xl.), “Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body didst Thou prepare me. In whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hadst no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I am come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do Thy will, O God. . . . He taketh away the first (Aaron and his beasts), that He may establish the second (the doing of His will, in this body of mine which He hath prepared me), by the which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (x.). The great truth here written as with a sunbeam is, that “the worshippers once purged,” the Levitical sacrifices, as a matter of course, “ceased to be offered.” The apostle does not lay this down as a truth to be received on his authority, but appeals to his readers whether it was not obvious that “then” the offering of them behoved to “cease.” If, then, they are ever restored by Divine authority on earth, one of two things would seem irresistibly to follow:—Either the offering of them from year to year continually will proclaim that though Christ’s blood has been shed and sprinkled on their conscience, the worshippers have Not been purged by it, and their conscience of sins still remains; Or, the Apostle’s statement is untrue and misleading.

Is there any escape from one or other of these conclusions? The one reply to this question that I know of is this: ‘”We cannot get over the last eight chapters of Ezekiel, which predict in the plainest terms the restoration of the Levitical system at Jerusalem; but then, it is not as propitiatory, but merely as commemorative sacrifices, that we expect them to be restored.’ This, in fact, is what all who contend that they are to be restored must hold; for no Christian supposes that the sacrifice of Christ has not completely put away sin, or even if it had not, that “the blood of bulls and of goats” could add anything to its efficacy. And is it come to this, that the sacrifice of Christ is one day to be commemorated by that of a beast? Who can endure the thought? Is there one against whose best Christian feelings, the very idea, when first broached to him, does not rasp? I must here beg to be excused for so speaking against what so many excellent Christians are now making up their minds to, and writing to defend; for my feelings will not admit of any softer language, and I am not writing to attack anything; I am only stating my own convictions—as I consented with some reluctance to do—and in so doing, stating how I come to be shut up to them, unable even to look at the opposite view on this branch of the subject. [4]

But on what ground is it alleged that the restored sacrifices are not to be propitiatory, but only commemorative? If I must interpret the last eight chapters of Ezekiel so literally as to be forced to expect all that it predicts to be literally set up, what entitles me to convert all the names which in the Old Testament denote propitiatory sacrifices into sacrifices which are not propitiatory at all, but merely commemorative? On this subject the Duke of Manchester—though an ardent premillennialist, but who could not endure the restoration of animal sacrifices—writes in his “Finished Mystery,” with a clearness and a force which I cannot equal. I have room only for a sentence or two. “The sacrifices mentioned by Ezekiel are those very ones which are done away by Christ. In Ezekiel there is provision for slaying the sin-offering and the trespass-offering (xl. 39)… Again, there is mention made of the bullock whose body was to be burnt without the sanctuary (xliii. 21), which the apostle applies to Christ’s sufferings without the gate, and to the necessity which there was for those who would enjoy the benefits to be derived from Christ of going without the pale of Jewish ordinances; while those who continue in the use of the ceremonial law have ‘no right’ to partake of Christ (Heb. xiii. 10—18) … Perhaps the advocates for the restoration of sacrifices would say, they are to be commemorative or eucharistic. I say this view appears more objectionable than the spiritual hypothesis, because that only evades Scripture, this opposes it. For the object of these sacrifices is expressly declared—they are for him that erreth, and they are to reconcile, to cleanse, and to purge (xlv. 20; xliii. 20; xlvi. 20). If they were intended as euoharistic, they would not be called ‘sins ‘ and ‘trespasses’; they would rather be called ‘peace’ and ‘thank-offerings’; but we have these mentioned also (xlv. 17, margin), and distinct from the ‘sin’ and ‘burnt-offerings.’ I think it possible that the prophecy of Ezekiel may in part become the occasion of those Jews who reject the Messiah having recourse to those ‘beggarly elements’; and I think it a subject of very grave consideration whether we Christians may not be a stumbling-block in the way of the Jews, by admitting that the restoration of sacrifices, after they have been done away in Christ, can be in accordance with the will of God. …. To think now of re-establishing any sacrifices which must be done away in Christ, would be utterly unsuitable to the Church; it would be turning again to the weak and beggarly elements; therefore all that portion of Ezekiel’s vision which refers to them, to use the apostle’s expression, must have grown old.” [5]

How this vision of Ezekiel is interpreted by the Duke of Manchester, and what view is to be taken of this whole subject of the future restoration of the Jews, of their relation to the converted Gentile world, and kindred topics, I must reserve for another paper.

Notes and References

1. ***.

2. ***.

3. ***.

4. We are accustomed to say to Romanists that their doctrine of the mass as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins both of the living and the dead, is dishonouring to the perfection of the “offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all; to which the answer of intelligent Romanists is that they understand the whole expiatory virtue of their sacrifice to lie in, and be derived from, the one offering of Christ, of which theirs is but a palpable exhibition and commemoration. And what difference is there in principle between this view and that of the advocates of future animal sacrifice on a restored altar at Jerusalem—save that the former is the more refined, and the latter decidedly the coarser conception?

5. “Finished Mystery,” pp. 253, etc.

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