The prophecies relating to the establishment of the kingdom of God are both conditioned and unconditioned.
PROPOSITION 18. The prophecies relating to the establishment of the Kingdom of God are both conditioned and unconditioned.
By this paradox is simply meant that they are conditioned in their fufilment by the antecedent gathering of the elect, and hence susceptible of postponement (as will be shown, e.g., Props. 58–68); and that they are unconditioned so far as their ultimate fulfilment is concerned, which the conduct or action of man cannot turn aside (as is seen, e.g., at the very time of the kingdom’s manifestation, the nations, Rev. 19, will be arrayed against it). The kingdom itself pertains to the Divine Purpose, is the subject of sacred covenants, is confirmed by solemn oath, is to be the result or end designed in the redemptive process, and therefore cannot, will not, fail. The inheritors of the kingdom, however, are conditioned—a certain number known only to God—and the kingdom itself, although predetermined (Prop. 2), is dependent (for this also is God’s purpose) as to its manifestation upon their being obtained (the time when this will be accomplished being also known to God).
Obs. 1. Some writers (e.g. Hengstenberg, Art. Prophecy, Kitto’s Ency., referred to by Fairbairn, On Proph., p. 72) hold that all prophecy is unconditional; others (e.g. Olshausen, Com. Matt. 24, vol. 2, p. 255) make it conditional; others again (e.g. Fairbairn, On Proph., p. 72) argue that some are conditional and some are unconditional. There is truth in all these positions, and by combining them the whole truth will appear.[*]
Note. Let the reader notice: (1) To make all prophecy unconditional is to contradict the case of Jonah and Nineveh, Hezekiah, the offer of the Kingdom to the Jews, the temple service of Ezekiel, etc. Take e.g. that of Nineveh: the language was absolute, “yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Jonah understood it as absolute. But Jonah did not understand what Jeremiah (ch. 18:7–9) afterward declared, that underneath predictions which related to the moral condition of man there is involved a moral principle of government which God, in justice to His own character and attributes, and also in behalf of the good of man, necessarily cherishes, viz.: that the good or evil predicted of any person or people is dependent upon their moral action. The language of Jeremiah, as Fairbairn justly observes, cannot be otherwise explained: “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it,” etc. (2) It does not follow from this that all prediction is limited by such a restriction, and hence in its fulfilment is conditioned by the action of man. This would be to narrow it down to mere contingency. If dependent on the repentance and faith of man, then there could be no certainty of its truthfulness, for it may fail, or it may not, according to the use made of moral freedom. Whilst this conditionality is evidently true so far as man is personally or individually concerned, to apply this to those predictions referring to the Divine Plan of Redemption is at once to limit the foreknowledge of God, making it impossible to prove that He foreknew the end from the beginning. Such a process would lower prophecy to a very indecisive proof of God’s Omniscience and Power. But if God, on the other hand, evinces His foreknowledge by showing in His predictions (as many do) what this freedom of man’s will accomplish (without interfering with, or curtailing it), and that He can, and often does, overrule it so that it shall not interfere with a set purpose (as e.g. Rev. 17:17), then there is a most decisive proof of God’s Omiscience and Power, of a fixed design which will ultimately be realized; and then, too, His appeals to predictions possess a validity and force which, if altogether conditioned, they otherwise could not possess. (3) While both facts are found to be true, conditioned as to personal freedom and unconditioned as to God’s ultimate purpose, some take advantage of this feature, and under its shelter make more of the prophecies conditional (e.g. in reference to Jewish nation, kingdom, etc.) than is allowable by the positive declarations concerning the Divine Purpose in the Redemption of man and the world. The student, then, must be guarded in the application of the principles which underlie the prophecies.
Obs. 2. The passages (Numb. 23:19, 1 Sam. 15:29, etc.) which speak of predictions as unconditional, and those (Jer. 18:7–10, etc.) which intimate their conditionality, are easily reconcilable from the simple fact, that the purposes of God run in connection with moral freedom, and that whilst the former is not set aside by the action of the latter, yet in the cases of individuals and even nations sufficient latitude is given so that there shall be no violation of that freedom. It may be proper to give some marks by which we may distinguish predictions that will finally be fulfilled from those that are merely conditional. They are the following: 1. Predictions that are bound up with the Divine Plan of Redemption, as e.g. those refering to Christ’s birth, life, death, etc. 2. Those which are confirmed by solemn affirmations or by an oath, as e.g. Numb. 14:20, 28, Heb. 6:17, etc. 3. Those that are incorporated in the Covenants, as e.g. the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. 4. Predictions which expressly declare that they will take place irrespective of what man will do, as e.g. Dan. chs. 2 and 7, the Apocalypse, Ps. 89:33, 34, etc. 5. Predictions that form the basis of succeeding ones and of promises, as e.g. Nathan to David, 2 Sam. 7:5–17 (this at first sight might seem an exception, but in another place its due fulfilment will be proven). 6. Those that are illustrated by a parable, as e.g. parable of the tares, net, nobleman, etc. (the parable enforces, or takes the fulfilment for granted). 7. Predictions relating to the destiny of the good, whoever they may be. 8. Those referring to the destiny of the wicked, whoever they are. 9. Prophecies given to the Jews respecting other nations, and not to those nations themselves for purposes of repentance, as e.g., Babylon, Tyre, etc. 10. Those that relate to the establishment of the Kingdom of God, being a revelation of God’s will and pleasure respecting redemptive ordering. 11. Those that describe the final restoration of the Jewish nation, this being (as will be fully shown hereafter) essential to secure the manifestation of the Kingdom and the Salvation of the Gentiles.[*]
Note. Stillingfleet gives (Orig. Sac., quoted by Fairbairn, On Proph., App. D.) four marks for prophecies of an absolute character, viz.: 1. A prediction accompanied by a miracle, by which authenticated as God’s fixed purpose, 1 Kings 13:3. 2. A prediction, when the things foretold exceed all the probabilities of second causes, as deliverance from Egypt, Babylon, etc. 3. A prediction confirmed by an oath, Numb. 14:28; Ps. 89:31–36; Heb. 6:17. 4. Predictions concerning blessings merely spiritual, because such blessings flow from grace and not merit.
A number of writers, in opposition to us, make prophecy conditional. This arises from (1) applying nearly all predictions (pertaining to the future) to the present dispensation, and not seeing them verified as given, claim that they are conditional. (2) From not noticing that God has a fixed Purpose, and that the unbelief of individuals and of nations cannot defeat that Purpose. (3) In not distinguishing between what relates to the individual and what to the Divine Purpose, as e.g. God purposes to make a certain number of Kings and Priests, which number will be made up notwithstanding the unbelief of many. (4) In not observing that the postponement of fulfilment, occasioned by the unbelief of man, does not warrant the belief that there will be no fulfilment. (5) In not perceiving that if God’s promises relating to the future are conditional, then His Word becomes unreliable to such an extent that fulfilment cannot be predicated of it, and hence history fails to become the witness that God claims. (6) In not noticing that they lower the foreknowledge of God; for if He promises in explicit form a certain event that is to take place and it does not, owing to man’s action, then if prophecy is to be a comfirmatory witness as intended, the failure, or the reason for the same, ought also to be stated. (7) In not seeing that they reverse the test given by God Himself (Deut. 18:21, 22), in answer to the question, “If thou say in thy heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously.” (8) In not considering how they themselves constantly violate such a rule when referring to Christ, their view of the Kingdom, etc., claiming that the things believed by them were predicted and thus realized. A writer in the Princeton Review, Jan., 1861, on “The Fulfilment of Prophecy,” opposes the notion of conditionality on the ground that (1) it is opposed to the inspired criterion, Deut. 18:22; (2) Jeremiah 18:7–10 did not nullify this test, as appears Jer. 28:9; (3) the specific nature of prophecy demands it; (4) Nineveh no objection, for, as Hengstenberg observes, we have only the general statement of the preaching, and not the preaching itself. Comp. p. 12, Lange’s Com. on Hosea.
Obs. 3. In view of the important bearing that this point has upon several subjects connected with the Kingdom, it may prove desirable to answer, briefly, a few of the more generally used objections urged against our position. Fairbairn (avoiding the extremes of many writers, and more or less favoring a due medium) says (p. 60, On Proph.): “The announcements, consisting of direct promises of good things to come, can only be expected to meet with fulfilment in so far as the church is true to her calling.” This is only a half-truth; the promises of future good will be fulfilled, notwithstanding the church’s failings, for this God expressly declares (Lev. 26:44, 45, Lev. 26:42, Isa. 62, Ezek. 14:22, 23, and in numerous passages), not indeed in the unfaithful, but only (and here is the condition) in the faithful. The objection stops short at this half truth, forgetting to add (which makes it unconditional, i.e. not dependent on man) that God will secure the faithful in whom the promise, to its fullest extent, will be realized.[*]
Note. To indicate the correctness of our position, reference is made to Fairbairn’s concession (On Proph., p. 62), when he tells us that the rule applied to good things does not hold good when evil is threatened, for the latter is unconditional. But this is a distinction without any difference; for if the blessing can be forfeited by evil doing, then also the punishment can be averted by repentance and well doing. The truth appears to be this: they are conditional as to individuals, who, according to their action, will be blessed or punished; and they are at the same time unconditional so far as the purpose of God is concerned, which is to fulfil His promises to the good and His threats to the evil, i.e. the promises and threats both will inevitably be verified in actual realization. This also covers the leading objection urged by Olshausen (Com. Matt. 24): “Everything future, as far as it concerns man, can only be regarded as conditional upon the use of this freedom.” This is most certainly true, but only to a certain extent, so far as the individual personally is concerned, and does not affect the prediction or promise itself which is based on two things: (1) God’s purpose, and (2) those will be raised up in whom it will be carried out. So far as we are personally concerned it is conditional, for we can choose, etc., but in reference to man even it is unconditional on the ground that it is based on the foreknown fact that some men would experience it. This really is, after all, both Olshausen’s and Fairbairn’s view, although advantage is taken by others to press their language beyond their intention. Thus, to illustrate, an inheritance is predicted and promised to the saints. The saints are conditioned (i.e. they must possess the required characteristics conditioned), but not the predicted inheritance, which will most assuredly be given to those (others, if necessary) for whom it is intended. The future things, therefore, in themselves are not conditioned, only our personal relationship to the same. The promise and the threat both remain on the same footing, seeing that both will be experienced by some. Even when the individual is specifically mentioned or hinted at (as e.g. Paul, Judas, Peter, John the Baptist), the foreknowledge of God embraces the fact that the person designated will, with use of freedom, perform or experience what is, predicted. Matt. 19:28 is no exception, seeing that Judas (who proved unfaithful) is carefully excluded by the expression: “Ye which have followed me.”
Obs. 4. The Kingdom itself is not dependent on the acceptance or rejection of its doctrine by man. Man’s entrance into and enjoyment of it is conditioned on his character, but the Kingdom itself will most certainly, at the appointed time, appear. It belongs to Jesus the Christ; it is His inheritance, the result and product of Eternal Wisdom in behalf of man and the world. Jews may reject it (some Jews also, Knapp’s Theol., p. 324, reject Jesus as the Christ, and account for the non-appearance of the Messiah and Kingdom on the ground of the conditionality of the promises—sinfulness preventing their realization), Gentiles may pass it by as unworthy of credence, men may even ridicule it as fantastical, etc., but its establishment is so certain, that if absolute necessity required it, God would, rather than failure should intervene, raise up children for it by an immediate (Matt. 3:9), supernatural creation. We hold that (Rom. 11:29) “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” i.e. God changes not; man may change, but God’s purposes to bestow gifts upon man through Jesus Christ and His Kingdom shall never fail, for (Numb. 23:19) “God is not a man that He should lie; neither the Son of man that He should repent; hath He not said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken and shall He not make it good?” (Comp. Zech. 1:5, 6; Isa. 14:24, 27; Ezek. 24:14; 1 Sam. 15:29; Isa. 46:9, 10; Ps. 89:35, 36; Isa. 48:3–6; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18; Jam. 1:17, etc.) Hence two extremes are to be avoided: one is to press the conditional side so far as to involve no settled purpose in God concerning Redemption; the other, to urge the unconditional aspect until it gives hope where none exists.[*]
Note. Let the reader carefully observe this fact, that the Kingdom of God itself is not conditioned, because the promises pertain, in inheriting it, to the seed of Abraham; for if the natural seed at any time makes itself unworthy of it, a seed, engrafted, will be raised up unto Abraham. The promises of God fail not because of the unworthiness of any to whom they are tendered. He will provide, as will be abundantly shown hereafter, the requisite regal body by which the Kingdom shall be powerfully and triumphantly manifested. The inheriting, and not the Kingdom, is conditioned. In this connection, to avoid mistake, another feature must be constantly kept in view, viz.: that the Kingdom is intimately and essentially connected with the Jewish Commonwealth, that it is the Theocratic Davidic throne and Kingdom restored under the mighty Theocratic Personage Jesus Christ, and that hence (1) all inheritors must be engrafted, and (2) the Jewish nation itself must inevitably be restored to its land. This at once indicates the logical and scriptural position of the early church, which insisted that the prophecies pertaining to the Jewish nation, whilst conditional as to individuals, and to the nation for a certain determined period, would finally be realized as given. Therefore, one of the essential elements of prophetical interpretation is this: to observe that the prophecies relating to the future glory of the Jewish nation—indeed postponed on account of sinfulness—are not conditional, but present us an ultimate purpose, which shall be verified in its actual history.
Attention is thus early in the argument called to this feature, that the student may keep it before him as we proceed in the development of scriptural facts and statements. The importance of this is not overestimated, seeing that neglect of these cautions has embarrassed and vitiated the interpretation of much Scripture. Two illustrations may suffice: Dr. Alexander, Com. on Isa., following others in elucidating the predictions pertaining to the Jewish nation, is very careful to show how the curses were fulfilled in the history of that nation, but with equal care bestows the blessings promised to the identical nation—to the church. The Christian church is substituted for the Jewish nation, and prophecy is lavishly accommodated to the substitution. Thus e.g. one of the strongest efforts in this direction is found in the comments of Isa. 63, but he overlooks the entire connection—who is pleading, whose cities are wasted, who is to be restored to the land, the reference to the Sec. Advent, the day of vengeance and year of Jubilee, in which deliverance to a down-trodden people is given. As this passage will be considered at length hereafter, it is passed by with the remark that all such interpretations assume as their foundation that the promises to the Jewish nation are conditional, and the nation failing in meeting the conditions, it will never be restored, and it will never realize the fulfilment. But strange, it is still supposed that the promises themselves remain intact when appropriated to the church, provided some incongruities are let alone, such as the promises of the return of material prosperity to a down-trodden land, etc., which is to be spiritualized. Waggoner (Ref. of the Age to Come, p. 74) plainly says under the heading. “The conditional nature of the promises made to the Jews:” “It may be remarked that all of God’s promises to man are conditional. To deny this is to advocate Universalism, and even to deny Free Agency,” etc., quoting in proof of such conditionality Ex. 19:5–8, and then argues that the Jews being disobedient, not complying with imposed conditions, the promises of God will ever remain unfulfilled. This is taking a one-sided view of the case; it is true to a certain extent and within a given time, but utterly untrue in so far as it implicates the non-fulfilment of the promises ultimately to the nation. For the promises of God, given with the foreknown knowledge of the defection of the nation and its resultant rejection during “the Times of the Gentiles,” are based on and confirmed by the oath of God (Ps. 89, etc.). As already shown, the Divine Purposes are not limited by what man does. Thus e.g. in reference to the Kingdom, with which the Jewish nation is allied, and in which the nation is promised a pre-eminent commanding position, the promise is most specific; and hence, no matter how many reject the conditions, or how the nation must suffer a prolonged punishment for sin, a sufficient number will be gathered out of the obedient who will form its ruling force, and the nation itself will, as also promised, be brought to repentance and faith, resulting in its glory as predicted. We must leave the discussion of the restoration to Props. 122, 123, and 124. It may, however, be added: if the Kingdom and the promises pertaining thereto depend merely upon the reception or rejection of the truth by the Jewish nation, how are God’s promises to be verified to the believing portion of the nation and to that engrafted line? If the fulfilment is conditioned by the disobedience of the unfaithful portion, are the pious Jews to miss the promises of the Kingdom on account of the wickedness of others? Are the promises given to David made null and void? This opens an abyss for our opponents. At present, it may only be said that such a course would neither be just to man nor honorable to the oath-bound promises of God. Therefore, the Bible teaches us that God, foreseeing this defection of the large portion of the nation, postpones this Kingdom, both as a punishment to the nation and as a merciful provision, that He may gather out from among the Jews and Gentiles the people necessary for its re-establishment upon a glorious and triumphant basis. The truth is, that this whole matter rests on the question whether the covenants which declare this Kingdom to pertain to the Jewish nation are temporary or not. This will be discussed in its proper place, and then the reader will be prepared to decide whether the Jewish nation is entitled to any special privileges in virtue of its covenant relationship. Some writers cannot, and do not, distinguish between the Mosaic covenant and the Abrahamic and Davidic, placing all in the same category. Hence a confusion, and worse, a corresponding restricted interpretation, which quotes prophecy just as it can accommodate it to the church.