The Promises Made to the Fathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), Yet to be Fulfilled in the Setting up of the Kingdom of God upon Earth
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. 15:8). 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:—
“My kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, AND THE PROMISES” (Rom. 9:3–4).
Speaking more definitely on the subject, he says:—
“Now to Abraham and his seed were THE PROMISES made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ … And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:16, 29).
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. 3:16, 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:—
“These all died in faith, NOT HAVING RECEIVED THE PROMISES, but having SEEN THEM AFAR OFF, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13).
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:—
“These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us SHOULD NOT BE MADE PERFECT” (Heb. 11:39, 40).
What were the promises made to the fathers, the substance of which they did not recieve, 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:—
“And now I (Paul) stand (before Agrippa’s judgment-seat) and am judged for the hope of THE PROMISE MADE OF GOD UNTO OUR FATHERS” (Acts 26:6).
“He hath shewed strength with His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away. He hath holpen his servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy, as HE SPAKE to our fathers, TO ABRAHAM, and to his seed for ever” (Luke 1:51–55).
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David (that is, Jesus—see context); as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began; that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy PROMISED TO OUR FATHERS, and to remember His holy covenant, THE OATH WHICH HE SWARE TO OUR FATHER ABRAHAM” (Luke 1:68–73).
“THOU WILT PERFORM THE TRUTH TO JACOB, AND THE MERCY TO ABRAHAM, WHICH THOU HAST SWORN UNTO OUR FATHERS FROM THE DAYS OF OLD” (Mic. 7:20).
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 after 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:—
“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; AND IN THEE SHALL ALL FAMILIES OF THE EARTH BE BLESSED” (Gen. 12:1–3).
“And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed (Christ) for ever. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; FOR I WILL GIVE IT UNTO THEE” (Gen. 13:14–17). (See also 12:7; 15:8–18; 17:8).
“By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord; for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies. And IN THY SEED SHALL ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH BE BLESSED, because thou hast obeyed My voice” (Gen. 22:16–18).
Paul styles Isaac and Jacob “the heirs with him (Abraham) of the same promise” (Heb. 11:9). 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:—
“And the Lord appeared unto him (Isaac) and said … Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee and unto thy seed I WILL GIVE ALL THESE COUNTRIES, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father” (Gen. 26:2, 3).
“And God Almighty bless thee (Jacob) … and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham” (Gen. 28:3, 4).
“I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: THE LAND WHEREON THOU LIEST, TO THEE WILL I GIVE IT, AND TO THY SEED … and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 28:13, 14).
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.
1 st.—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. 9:6–8. 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 nor 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. 9:6–8).
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:—
“God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name” (Acts 15:14).
“By revelation He made known unto me (Paul) the mystery … which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men … that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph. 3:3, 5, 6).
“And he (Abraham) received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also; and the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also WALK IN THE STEPS OF THAT FAITH OF OUR FATHER ABRAHAM, WHICH HE HAD BEING YET UNCIRCUMCISED” (Rom. 4:11, 12).
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. 3:27, 29). Of those in that position, Paul says:—“Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise” (Gal. 4:28).
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 11:52, when Christ will “gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad”; and in II Thess. 2:1, “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him.” Speaking of this time, Jesus says:—
“Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with ABRAHAM, AND ISAAC, AND JACOB, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11).
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. 7:9); 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. 60:21), and having “praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame” (Zeph. 3:19). 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. 17:8). 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. 23:4). Secondly, Paul says, “He sojourned in the land of promise, AS IN A STRANGE COUNTRY” (Heb. 11:9). 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 7:5). 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. 3:16–18:—
“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise; BUT GOD GAVE IT TO ABRAHAM BY PROMISE.”
“The promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the PROMISE MADE OF NONE EFFECT” (Rom. 4:13, 14).
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. 28:15–68). 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. 4:14). 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. 11, will shew this:—
“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place WHICH HE SHOULD AFTER RECEIVE FOR AN INHERITANCE, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in THE LAND OF PROMISE, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise. FOR HE LOOKED FOR A CITY WHICH HATH FOUNDATIONS, WHOSE BUILDER AND MAKER IS GOD..… These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly” (verses 8–16).
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 12:4, 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:—
“Get thee (Abraham) out of thy country and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran, and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into THIS LAND, WHEREIN YE NOW DWELL” (Acts 7:3, 4).
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 2:17).
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. 11:18, 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 105:15]—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. 4:1). 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 establshed there. Hence, says Jesus to the Pharisees:—
“Ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28, 29).
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:—
“The Lord shall inherit Judah his portion in the Holy Land, and shall choose Jerusalem again” (Zech. 2:12).
“But upon Mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions … And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the south. And saviours shall come up on Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esau; AND THE KINGDOM SHALL BE THE LORD’S” (Obadiah 17, 20, 21).
“In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted. And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation; and the LORD SHALL REIGN OVER THEM IN MOUNT ZION FROM HENCEFORTH, EVEN FOR EVER. And thou, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion: the kingdom shall come to the daughter of JERUSALEM” (Mic. 4:6–8).
“Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; AND I WILL REMEMBER THE LAND” (Lev. 26:42).
“Then will the Lord be jealous for His LAND, and pity His people” (Joel 2:18).
“Fear not, O LAND; be glad and rejoice; for the Lord will do great things” (Joel 2:21).
“A LAND which the Lord thy God careth for; the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year” (Deut. 11:12).
“And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by; and they shall say, This land that was desolate is become LIKE THE GARDEN OF EDEN, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited. Then the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the Lord build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate; I THE LORD HAVE SPOKEN IT, AND I WILL DO IT” (Ezek. 36:34–36).
“For the Lord shall comfort ZION; He will comfort all her waste places; and He will make her wilderness LIKE EDEN, and her desert LIKE THE GARDEN OF THE LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (Isa. 51:3).
“Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall THY LAND any more be termed Desolate, but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah; for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married” (Isa. 62:4).
“Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations” (Isa. 60:15).
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.
It will be observed that Abraham’s “seed” is joined with Abraham himself in the promises. Paul says that this seed is Christ (Gal. 3:16), and all who are Christ’s (verse 29). In view of this, we are bound to give an application to the promises which may be a little startling to those who have hitherto read the Bible with an orthodox bias, but which is the only application that a rational reading and a child-like belief in the promises can admit, and that is, that Christ and the saints are destined, in conjunction with Abraham, who, in fact, will be one of them, to possess and occupy “the land of Israel.” From this conclusion, the orthodox mind will doubtless recoil with horror. This is owing to the perverted condition of the orthodox mind, and not to the nature of the conclusion itself. What is there in the conclusion to justify horror? Is it not a beautiful and a fitting conclusion? If it is the purpose of God to rule mankind by Christ and his people, it is meet that they should have a centre of operations and headquarters somewhere on the earth. And where could a more appropriate spot be found than the land promised to Abraham?
Palestine is situate at the conjunction of the three great continents of the eastern hemisphere, and can be approached from any quarter on the great oceans. It is the natural centre of universal government; both for commerce and law-giving, it stands in the finest situation there is on earth. In addition to this, it is the locality that has witnessed all God’s operations in the past, down to the very crucifixion of His Son, and the sending forth of the gospel; and what more fitting than that it should be the place fixed upon for the resumption of His great and mighty acts? The scene of Christ’s humiliation; what more befitting than that it should witness his exaltation as monarch of all the earth? But these considerations pale before the strength of the promise. Nothing is needed after the testimony:—
“The law shall go forth of ZION, and the word of the Lord from JERUSALEM” (Mit. 4:2).
“The redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing UNTO ZION; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away” (Isa. 51:11).
“Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her; rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her, that ye may suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.… As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted IN JERUSALEM” (Isa. 66:10, 13).
“Thine eyes shall see JERUSALEM a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.… For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our king; He will save us” (Isa. 33:20, 22). “He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.… In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah” (Isa. 25:7, 8; 26:1).
“The Redeemer shall come to ZION, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob” (Isa. 59:20).
“At that time they shall call JERUSALEM the throne of the Lord” (Jer. 3:17).
“Moreover, when ye shall divide by lot the land for inheritance, ye shall offer an oblation unto the Lord, AN HOLY PORTION OF THE LAND; the length shall be the length of five and twenty thousand reeds, and tho breadth shall be ten thousand. (English measurement, 43 miles by 17). This shall be holy in all the borders thereof round about … the sanctuary of the Lord shall be in the midst thereof” (Ezek. 45:1; 48:10).
“And they (the nations at the end of the thousand years) went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed THE CAMP OF THE SAINTS about, and the BELOVED CITY; and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them” (Rev. 20:9).
These quotations from the Scriptures illustrate the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham as regards his seed—“Christ and the saints.” They show the sense in which the promise is to be understood, and that is the obvious sense, the plain sense, viz., that when the kingdom of God is established, and Abraham inherits the land, his seed, constituting the divine encampment, will be in the land with him, and in a particular part of it, to be allotted for that purpose. This allotment, which will include the territory of Judah and Jerusalem, will, as we shall see in another lecture, contain an area of about 1,784 square miles, which will be ample enough for the pavilions of the king to be spread on a scale becoming the grandeur and majesty of the kingdom. Abraham’s seed—the bride, the Lamb’s wife—the totality of those who, being “called, and chosen, and faithful,” are “the first fruits unto God and unto the Lamb,” and found worthy of reigning with Christ, will be a numerous progeny; but not too numerous for the country allotted. “Many are called; but few are chosen.” “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life and few there be that find it.”
True, John describes this few as “a great multitude which no man could number”: but this must be taken as expressing the aspect which a large assembly of people would present to the eye, and not as the statement of an arithmetical fact. The expression could never be true in the absolute sense, for numbers can be computed indefinitely; but in the sense of a crowd being so large and dense as that a man could not reckon them, it is quite appropriate. How many people does the reader think could be accommodated with standing room in the section of country to be set apart, according to Ezekiel, for “an holy oblation”? Nearly half the population of the globe: that is to say, about five-hundred millions. The calculation is very simple; it is easy to ascertain how many people could stand in a square mile; multiply that number by the number of square miles—1,784—and you have the result stated. We make these apparently unnecessary remarks on account of the objection raised to the Bible teaching concerning the inheritance of the Holy Land by Jesus and the saints, on the score of the impossibility of such a little place holding them all.
The objection arises from two mistakes; first, the place is not so little; and, second, the number who will be with Christ is not so great as popular tradition presumes. At the end of the thousand years, there will be a great harvest to be reaped, as the result of the thousand years’ dispensation of light and knowledge; but at the beginning, the number to be associated with Christ as the seed of Abraham, to co-operate with him in the blessing of the nations, will be on the limited scale of “first fruits”; they are styled “the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4).
3rd.—That Christ, the seed of Abraham, is to conquer the world.—This is the third feature of the promise made to Abraham. It is expressed in the words “Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” To apprehend the significance of this statement, it is necessary to remember that in Oriental countries, in ancient times, the gate of a city was the seat of authority. It was the place where consultations were held, decrees issued and registered, and where the rulers showed themselves to receive the obeisance of the people. For an enemy to possess this place, then, was to give evidence of having conquered and deposed the original holders of power.
Now it must be evident that the promise that Christ should possess the gate of his enemies has not been fulfilled. In no sense can an orthodox interpreter make it out that Christ has displaced his enemies from the seat of honour, glory, and power. Ungodly men rule the world. Christ’s own country—the land promised to Abraham—is enslaved by the Moslem power, which administers authority and perpetrates its religious abominations in the very city which was called by God’s name, and which Jesus is to make the throne of Jehovah in the future age. Instead of Christ possessing the gate of his enemies, the enemy may be said to tread down Christ in the gate. The horns of the Gentiles have lifted themselves up over the land of Judah to scatter it (Zech. 1:21), and all pertaining to Abraham and his seed is now in waste and desolation. But when the kingdom of God comes, this will be changed. God shall speak to the nations in anger, and have them in derision; Christ shall break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel (Psa. 2:9; Rev. 2:27); He shall come forth as a man of war—as the Lion of the tribe of Judah—to fight the confederated power of his enemies (Rev. 19:19; Zech. 14:3; Ezek. 38:21–23). He shall punish the kings of the earth upon the earth (Isa. 24:21). He shall put down the mighty from their seats, and send the rich empty away (Luke 1:52, 53). He shall then possess the gate of his enemies. All kings shall bow down before him, and all nations shall serve him (Psalm 72:11). All people, nations, and languages shall serve and obey him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed (Dan. 7:14). Then will the proclamation be sounded in loud pæans of joy throughout the whole earth:—
“THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD ARE BECOME THE KINGDOMS OF OUR LORD, AND OF HIS CHRIST; AND HE SHALL REIGN FOR EVER AND EVER” (Rev. 11:15).
4th.—That all nations shall be blessed in Abraham and his seed.—This is the gospel in a sentence; so Paul gives us to understand in Gal. 3:8. The attentive reader will be able to discern in it the substance of what Jesus and the apostles preached. They preached “the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12; 28:29–31). The announcement made to Abraham is neither more nor less than these “things” compressed into a sentence, for it announces in a general form what the others disclose in particulars. It tells of universal blessing in connection with Abraham and Christ; while these make plain the process by which the blessing is carried into effect’ first, in relation to individuals, and then in relation to nations. It must be evident that it is not yet realised. The nations are not in a state of blessing. Not only groaning under misrule, they are in a state of poverty, ignorance, and misery, which is the opposite of blessedness. The world lieth in wickedness. Abraham and his seed are unknown, except as objects of derision. Even in “happy England” unbelief and vice are the order of the day. There is an external appearance of godliness: much church and chapel building, Sunday school teaching, sermon hearing, prayer saying, collection making, bazaar holding, etc.; but what is there inside but rottenness and dead men’s bones? The people who do these things are either selfish, superstitious, or ignorant. There is little fear of God or regard for His word. There is much fear of man and love of the world. People are befooled and degraded: their brains are bemuddled with Paganism in regard to Christianity, and their hearts eaten out by the exigencies of social caste and filthy lucre.
All nations are not yet blessed in Abraham and his seed: but they will be; for we read:—
“Behold a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment … and the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken. The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly” (Isa. 32:1, 3, 4).
“In that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book; and the eyes of the blind shall sea out of obscurity, and out of darkness. The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity am cut off” (Isa. 29:18–20).
“Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold, your God will come with vengeance; even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (Isa. 35:4–6).
“From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same My name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Mal. 1:11).
“The battle-bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace unto the heathen, and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth” (Zech. 9:10).
“Many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord” (Zech. 8:22).
“Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be My people” (Zech. 2:11).
“The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).
“They shall fear Thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth. In His days shall the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth … He shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence; and precious shall their blood be in His sight.… His name shall endure for ever. His name shall be continued as long as the sun, and men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed” (Psa. 72:5–7; 12–14, 17).
These testimonies illustrate the blessing guaranteed for “all families of the earth” in the promises made to Abraham: they show what the blessedness consists of in its full development. It is no imaginary blessedness; but the bestowal of just those substantial boons which the whole world is yearning after, but knows not how to compass. These, however, will not be realised till the kingdom of God comes. They cannot be attained before that time; for it requires a righteous and resistless despot to eject all other rulers from place and power, before they become practicable. It requires power, wisdom, righteousness, and humanity to concentre in a universal king, before the nations can be made righteous, prosperous, and happy. In a word, it requires Christ, the seed of Abraham, to take the world’s affairs into his own hands, before there can ever be “glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” This blessing of Abraham is realised individually, at the present time, in proportion as people lay hold of the promises by faith, and become heirs of future exaltation, through present submission to Christ; but the state of things covenanted to Abraham in the promises, will never be realised until Abraham himself inherits the land, and his seed possesses the gate of his enemies.
In view of the evident conclusion that the promises to Abraham give an unconditional guarantee of “good things to come,” it may be asked, why the law of Moses, and the bitter national experience of the Jews, have been allowed to intervene between them and their fulfilment? Paul anticipates and answers this question in Gal. 3:19: “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” If we wish to know the purpose it served, we find the information fives verses down: “The law was our schoolmaster unto Christ” (verse 24). On account of the almost undisturbed reign of ignorance and sin in the times when the promises were delivered, it was necessary to institute a schoolmaster administration of the divine mind, which should inculcate those first lessons concerning God, without which nothing good could be accomplished, since their existence in the human mind is the very basis of that communion between God and man which honours Him and saves them. It was necessary to engrain those first principles on the mind of the chosen nation, by way of paving the way for the development of the state of things promised to the fathers.
This was done by the establishment of the law of Moses in the midst of Israel—a system which, in itself, was a mere allegory of divine truth, as was meet in the training of children (Gal. 4:1, 2), but which, by its exactions, severities, and scrupulosities, engraved in deep and lasting characters the estimate of the Deity’s relation to mankind, which even now prevails in a mild degree wherever Mosaic tradition has reached. The power, supremacy, and holiness of the Deity were made palpable by it, even to those who were disobedient; and, in the course of centuries, that conception of God was formed which existed in the days of Jesus, as the foundation on which to push forward the operations by which the seed of Abraham (faithful believers) should be provided by the promulgation of the word of faith.
Without the law, there is no doubt that the knowledge of God would have perished from the earth, and mankind would have been wholly enslaved by foolish and unenlightened speculation, and abandoned to the wickedness which prevailed before the flood; the little light of the promises would soon have been extinguished, and the world would have been sunk in the darkness of incurable barbarism—ripe for as complete a destruction as that which overtook it in the days of Noah. This great catastrophe was prevented by the establishment of a system which, while (superficially considered) it offered an obstruction to the glorious consummation promised to Abraham, was potently influential in developing the moral situation among mankind which was necessary to the bestowment of the promised blessing.
The promises form the groundwork of what is termed “the Christian dispensation.” It was necessary that God should create a title to the blessings of His love, for men to lay hold of; because, as sinners, they were without hope, and could not establish a title for themselves. It was necessary He should make the first advance; and He did so, by bestowing an unconditional promise upon Abraham, whom He selected for his faithfulness. These, by the belief of them, gave Abraham a right to the things promised, and vested in him and his seed the sole title. Hence the necessity for becoming Abraham’s seed by connection with Christ before a Gentile can have any hope of a future life and inheritance.
Something in addition to the promise was, however, necessary to secure to Abraham the blessings covenanted: this is styled the “confirmation” of the promises. The precise meaning of this will be apparent on a review of the facts of the case as affecting Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was promised to them that they should possess the land of Palestine for ever. For this promise to be carried out, it is necessary that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob be raised from the dead, and made to live for ever. Hence it may be taken that the promises carry this feature with them; that, in fact, they bear upon the face of them an undertaking on the part of God, that, at the time appointed for the realisation of the promise, He would bring them from the dust of death, and give them eternal life; how else can they inherit the land for ever?
That this was God’s intention toward them was made evident by Christ’s argument with the Sadducees on the resurrection. He says: “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:31, 32). Christ argued that the circumstance of God calling Himself the God of the fathers who had gone to the dust, was proof of His intention to raise them; and the argument overpowered the Sadducees, who were “put to silence.” Thus, the inference that the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob involved the promise of resurrection and immortality, is established beyond question by Christ. This being so, we have to realise the fact that under the circumstances existing at the time of the promise, it is impossible the things promised could be bestowed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were constitutionally under sentence of death. They were “in Adam”—sinners by descent and individual act, and, therefore, precluded from that resurrection to immortality, implied in the promise. Yet the inheritance was guaranteed by “two immutable things”—the promise and the oath—and as “it was impossible for God to lie,” its bestowment was a matter of necessity. How was the impossibility of making sinners immortal to be reconciled with the necessity that God’s promises should be fulfilled?
We find the answer in the work accomplished by Christ at his first advent. “He confirmed the promises made unto the fathers.” How? By making their fulfilment possible. And how did he do this? By “shedding his blood (which he styled “the blood of the new—or Abrahamic—covenant”) for the sins of many.” He took away sin by the sacrifice of himself, thereby unsealing the gates of death, and bringing life and immortality to light—opening the way for the fulfilment of all that had been promised beforehand to the fathers. Thus the impossibility vanished, and the necessity was placed on the triumphant basis of Christ’s accomplished work. This was the great event shadowed in the sacrifices of the law, which were not in themselves of any value, except as a means of connection between God and His nation, typifying a higher and a more enduring connection to be established over the body of the slain “Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”
It will be seen that the things declared in the prophets and preached in the aggregate by the apostles as “the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ,” are but the elaboration of “the promises made of God unto the fathers,” in which they have their legal origin and efficacy. It is important to recognise this fact, so that the position of the saints as “children of Abraham” and “the seed of Abraham” may be clearly apprehended, and that we may see the harmony and completeness of God’s plan, as commenced in the days of Abraham, typified in the law, and gradually unfolded through the prophets, and consummated in the proclamation of Jesus and the apostles.
In view of all these things, well may we exclaim with Paul (Rom. 11:33–36):—“O, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out. For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things; to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”