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David Brown: The Blessed Hope 6

November 11, 2011

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In this the sixth article of his series on the Blessed Hope, David Brown discusses Romans 11 and the promise of Israel’s restoration.

THE BLESSED HOPE.—VI.

BY REV. DAVID BROWN, D.D.

The Christian, 22 Dec. 1870.

In my last paper I stated at some length why, with the New Testament in my hand, I could not possibly believe that a Levitical temple, under Divine direction, is yet to rise at Jerusalem, and the very priesthood of Aaron to be restored, and the blood of animal sacrifices to flow during all the millennial era, and be one of the prime glories of that bright period. And I fortified my own conclusions by an extract from the “Finished Mystery” of the Duke of Manchester, who, though one of the most decided premillennialists of his day, and one of the closest students of the letter of prophetic Scripture, could not endure this way of understanding the last eight chapters of Ezekiel, and held that either the New Testament must be discarded, or that expectation be wholly abandoned. How his grace himself understood those difficult chapters, on the literal sense of which most, or nearly all, premillennialists now take their stand, I promised to state in my next paper; but to save space, and not to be led away by it from the proper subject of this paper, I must throw it into a footnote, though somewhat long. [1]

But I promised next to state in this paper what I judge the future of the Jewish nation is to be according to the Scriptures, taking my stand, as before, on the New Testament.

1. The national conversion of Israel is explicitly predicted in the New Testament.

I think I could show that this is referred to as a settled truth in Matt, xxiii. 39; in Luke xxi. 24; in Acts i. 6, 7, and iii. 19; and in 2 Cor. iii. 15, 16. But I will confine myself to Rom. xi., the great seat of the doctrine. The substance of what this chapter teaches is, that the rejection of Israel under the Gospel is neither total nor final. It is not total; for “even at this present time [of rejection] there is a remnant according to the election of grace”: nor is it final; for a time is coming when “all Israel shall be saved.” This is so clearly what is here taught, that the wonder is how any intelligent and impartial student of the chapter should doubt it. My own belief is, that it would be at once admitted, were it not that the national conversion of Israel is seen to involve their national restoration to the promised land, and that this is thought to involve the restoration of the temple services at Jerusalem. But how do those who deny all these things understand this statement, “So all Israel shall be saved”? They confound and identify the “remnant” of believing Israelites which “even at this present time” there is, and has been all along since their rejection, with the “all Israel” who are “yet to be saved,” and tell us that the nation, as such, having accomplished all for which they were separated at the first, nothing more is meant from beginning to end of the chapter than that individual Jews shall, like sinners of the Gentiles, from time to time receive the Gospel, and so be absorbed and lost, as Jews, in the saved Church. I will not waste time and space in refuting this. Enough to say, that as an interpretation of this chapter, it puts a sense upon it to which almost every verse of it and its whole strain is directly opposed.

2. The New Testament sends us back to the Old, and specially to the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant, as our primary warrant for expecting the recovery of “all Israel.”

“And so (reasons the apostle) all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is my covenant unto them when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the Gospel, they are enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. xi. 2(3—29). Here the apostle—instead of giving it on his own authority that “all Israel shall be saved”—carries his appeal to two of the prophets, Isaiah (lix. 20) and Jeremiah (xxxi. 31—34), giving the substance rather than the very words of their prophecies. When he says, “They are beloved for the fathers’ sakes,” he can mean nothing else than that the bulk and body of the nation—now out of covenant, and even in their unbelieving state—are “beloved” of God because of their lineal descent from and oneness in covenant with “the fathers,” with whom God originally established his covenant. How different a view does this give of the Abrahamic covenant from that of those who deny the permanent national standing of Israel. It was for purely temporal purposes, they say, that Abraham and his natural seed were chosen; purposes which were all accomplished on the completion of Christ’s work and the opening of the new economy. As it was in connection with these temporary purposes that the land was conferred upon them, and without it they could not have been attained, so when the object was gained, the grant of the land ceased, the covenant-standing of the nation came to an end—and the grace of the covenant—of which Abraham and his natural seed were but the temporary depositaries and trustees—alone remains, to flow from age to age through the blood of the covenant to all the spiritual seed of Abraham, whether Jew or Gentile. But, in direct opposition to this, the apostle tells us not only that the national standing of Israel has not ceased, but that they are, even in their unbelieving, outcast, scattered condition, dear to God by reason of their ancestral connection with the patriarchal father of the covenant. And lest it should be thought (as the late Dr. Arnold did) that this is merely a lingering fondness (so to speak) for the children of one with whom God made special arrangements, now at an end, the apostle expressly says, “For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance,” and therefore unrecalled. He cannot mean that the gifts to and the calling of elect individuals are without repentance; for how would that have proved that the Israelitish nation, even under the Gospel and abiding still in unbelief, is dear to God for their fathers’ sakes? No, it is the irrevocableness of the Abrahamic covenant in all its articles that the apostle is here urging. Nor is it this only which we learn here— we get besides a great principle of Old Testament interpretation established by apostolic authority. Those who deny that the Old Testament has anything to say of Israel nationally after Christ tell us that the terms, “Jacob,” “Israel,” etc., can have no reference, under the Gospel, to the natural Israel, who are thenceforward either lost or swallowed up in the Christian Church, and that such terms must therefore be understood of the Gospel Church. But if so, the apostle’s proofs from Isaiah and Jeremiah are inconclusive; for he proves from what those two prophets say of “Jacob” in the future that the literal Israel is still in covenant-standing, and “beloved for the fathers’ sakes.”

3. The people and the land of Israel 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 also.

To begin with the Abrahamic covenant itself, as made and successively renewed to the patriarch himself and to Jacob (Gen. xii. 1—3; xvii. 3—8 ; xxii. 17,18; xxviii. 12—14). It is essentially a covenant of promise, and the promises are three: (1) “The Land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed”; (2) “And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth; (3) “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Well, of the three articles of this covenant, the apostle pronounces two to be still in as full force as the day they went out of God’s mouth. First, the “seed”; that is, the natural seed of Abraham: they “are beloved for the fathers’ sakes,” and this because “the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance,” and this even during their present unbelieving and outcast condition. Second, the grace, or spiritual blessing of the covenant (“I will make an everlasting covenant with thee, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee”) is still in store for them against the day when “there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” Since, then, two of the three articles of this Abrahamic covenant are at this day in as full force as ever they were, is it reasonable to say that the only remaining one—the land—has lost its force under the Gospel? [2]

In Lev. xxvi., Moses gives the people one of those prophetic sketches of their future history, in the way of warning and encouragement, which form the basis, and constitute, in fact, the substance of all that is to be found in the later prophets as respects the literal Israel. No doubt the judgments there threatened and the mercies there promised are both held forth conditionally“if they should walk contrary unto Him, and not hearken unto Him,” and, on the other -hand, “if they shall confess their iniquity.” But since the conditions are turned, as in other places, into absolute announcements of what was to take place, the conditional forms of expression are plainly employed as the fitting language of warning against defection and encouragement to repentance; just as the apostle says of the rejected Jews, “They, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in, for God is able to graff them in, while yet He is in no doubt that this it to be the happy issue, for he says, “There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” With these explanations, then, observe the closing announcements of this chapter: “If they shall confess their iniquity…. if, then, their uncircumcised heart be humbled, and they then accept the punishment of their iniquity: then will I remember my covenant with Jacob …. and Isaac …. and Abraham, and I will remember the land,” etc. It is impossible to deny that the remembrance of the covenant here, and the remembrance of the land go together. And as to the time referred to, can “their latter end” in this prophecy mean only or even chiefly their return from Babylon, considering that at this very moment the Jews are smarting under another, more judgment-like and of far longer continuance, than that of Babylon? Moreover, when we read in this prophecy that God will yet “remember the covenant of their ancestors,” while the apostle assures us, speaking expressly of the standing of the nation, that the gifts and “the calling of God are without repentance,” who can well doubt that it is their final in-bringing—when God “shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” once for all—which is contemplated in both? But if so, the question about the land would seem to be settled, for the same terms are applied to it as to the people. In the covenant they stand or fall together. [3]

Deut. xxxii. is another of those prophetic sketches of the fortunes of Israel, poured forth in song. I will refer only to the last verse of the song; and I do this because, though its sense is clear enough of itself, the apostle’s quotation of it fixes the sense in which he reads it: “Rejoice, 0 ye Gentiles with His people for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will…. be merciful unto His land, and to His people.” In Rom. xv., the apostle quotes the first clause of this verse, as one of four proofs from the Old Testament of the union of Jews and Gentiles in Christ under the Gospel—”And again He saith [namely, in this place of Deuteronomy] Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with His people” (Rom. xv. 10). Now what people? Surely the same “people” who are expressly distinguished from the Gentiles in this verse; and since “His land” and “His people” are thus indissolubly united in this prediction, as both equally the Lord’s, it follows that the “mercy” promised to the land, being “without repentance,” must be yet to come.

Coming now to the Prophets, I limit myself to the three following:—

Isa. xix. 23—25, seems to me decisive. That it refers to the latter day cannot surely admit of a doubt; and what says it? It predicts an intimate union between Egypt, Assyria, and Israel—powers at that time in perpetual jealousy and frequent hostility with each other, in the service of Jehovah and the enjoyment of His favour:—”In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptians into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve [God alone] with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the laud: whom the Lord of Hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.” Here, then, we have Israel described geographically as embosomed securely in the latter day between Assyria and Egypt in their own land, in equal enjoyment of the Divine favour, and exhibiting to the world a refreshing spectacle of the “brotherly covenant.” On any other view of it than that of their territorial restoration, I do not see how the latter part of this chapter is to be tolerably explained.

Jer. xxiii. 5—8, “Behold the days come …. that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is His name whereby He shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness. Therefore, behold the days come…. that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but the Lord liveth which brought up and led …. Israel …. from all countries whither I had driven them, and they shall dwell in their own land.” That this restoration refers to a time subsequent to the coining of Christ, is plain, from its being preceded by so bright a promise of Christ himself; and I can read it only in one light, that of the ultimate restoration of Israel in Christ to dwell in their own land.

In Ezek. xxxvii., after the vision of the dry bones, the prediction runs thus: “Behold I will bring…. Israel from among the heathen, and…. bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel. Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their detestable things,…. but I will save them out of all their dwelling places wherein they have sinned; so shall they be my people, and I will be their God, and David my servant …. shall be their Prince for ever. Moreover, I will make …. an everlasting covenant with them,…. and will set my sanctuary among them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them And the Gentiles shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.” On this glorious prophecy I will simply ask the following questions of those who see not Scripture ground for expecting the literal restoration of Israel to their own land: —Are not Israel and the Gentiles distinguished here, and throughout all this chapter? and can even a tolerable sense he made out of it if applied to any but the natural seed of Abraham? If not, since God’s sanctuary is to be from and after the time here predicted, in the midst of them for evermore, and this in their own land, how is it possible, on any strict principles of interpretation, to get rid of the future restoration and permanent re-establishment of the Jews in the land of promise?

I dare say most readers of The Christian will think my labour in establishing this point rather superfluous, as they not only hold it, but can hardly understand how any one can doubt it. But as one-half, and even more, of all I have read in defence of this position is to me insufficient to prove it, and mixed up with much which I think untenable, I thought it desirable to state the grounds on which I think it can be unanswerably shown that this is as scriptural an expectation as it is delightful to cherish. The Lord hasten it in his time!

I must, however, reserve for another paper what I have to say on the relation of converted and restored Israel to the Gentile world in the latter day, and relative topics.

Notes & References

1. “I find in prophetic language sacrifices used figuratively, to denote prayer (Ps. cxli. 2); praise (Ps. liv. 6; Jer. xvii. 26; xxxiii. 11); thanksgiving (Ps. cvii. 22; cxvi. 17) ; joy (Ps. xxvii. 6; righteousness (Ps. iv. 6; li. 19); confession (Ps. lxvi. 13); contrition (Ps. li. 17); judgments (Isa. xxxiv. 6; xlvi. 10; Ezek. xxix. 17—19; Zeph. i. 7, 8). I find that some of the instances adduced by the advocates of literal sacrifices, if taken literally, would prove more than those advocates would admit, for they refer not to the Jews, but to the Gentiles; for example, Isa. xix. 21 [‘ The Egyptians in that day shall do sacrifice and oblation‘], Isa. lvi. 7 [‘The sons of the stranger will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people‘], Mal. i. 11 [‘From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same’—or from east to west, meaning over the whole world—’my name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name and a pure meat offering, and my name shall be great among the Gentiles’]. And when I find in the New Testament that believers are a royal priesthood (1 Pet. ii. 6, 9), and as priests partake of the altar (Heb. xiii. 10; 1 Cor. x. 16, 21), as priests offer spiritual sacrifices, whether of praise (Heb. xiii. 15) and good works (Heb. xiii. 13, 16; Phil. iv. 18), or whether of themselves, either in life or death (Rom. xii. 1; xv. 16 ; Phil. ii. 17; 2 Tim. iv. 6—I am induced to believe that the prophets refer to the spiritual and reasonable services indicated by the typical ordinances, rather than, the beggarly elements themselves.”  The rest of this passage is equally worthy of attention, but I have not room for it—nor for some remarks of my own which this whole topic suggests.

2. “What reasons (says Durham, of Glasgow, who lived during the days of the Commonwealth, and was no premillennialist) do plead for the Jews’ conversion do in some degree plead for a temporal restitution. Thus God’s electing to be His people, and making an everlasting covenant with them; the promise of their dwelling for ever in that land, which peculiarly was given to that race—in a more special manner, and by more singular rights and titles than any other in the world—is comprehended in that covenant. For it is not simply that He covenanted with them in a covenant of grace—for so hath he done with many others—but in a covenant with special promises, and grounds that make it a singular tie in those things beyond what others have: see Rom. xi. 28.”—(Commentary on Revelation, 410.)

3. “Neither (says Durham) can that promise made to Israel (Deut, xxx. 2—4, etc.), that whenever they should repent, the Lord would gather them from the nations whither they were scattered, and return them to their own land, be thought void and null after Christ’s coming, especially considering the general repentance and mourning which is to accompany their conversion. Therefore it would seem by that promise they may expect their own land, it being a part of God’s engagement to the natural seed of Abraham.”—(Comm. on Rev.)

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