The relation that the Kingdom sustains to "the covenants of promise," enables us to appreciate the prophecies pertaining to the Kingdom.
PROPOSITION 51. The relation that the Kingdom sustains to “the covenants of promise,” enables us to appreciate the prophecies pertaining to the Kingdom.
All predictions, all promises, all preparative measures, relating to the Kingdom, are based on, and result from, these covenants. The prophecies constantly keep in view what God has covenanted and confirmed by oath, and enlarge and expand the same by amplification, explanation, etc. Therefore, to appreciate the utterances of the prophets, notice must continually be taken of the foundation upon which they are erected. To isolate them is to defeat one intent of prophecy, viz.: to instruct us in the manner by which God will ultimately fulfil His covenants and establish His Theocratic rule over the nations.
Obs. 1. The one covenant singles out Abraham and his seed, and, in the words of another (Fairbairn, On Proph., p. 189), “linked indissolubly with it the better destinies of the world.” The other covenant promises the same Seed, narrowed down in the Davidic line, a specific throne and Kingdom from which “the better destinies of the world” are secured. This connection is observed by the prophets, and is held up so prominently that many writers (however they explain it) have designated it as “the Abrahamic type,” or “the Davidic type.” Whatever additions are made to these two (really one, as the latter is only an amplification of the other in one of its aspects, or rather, perhaps, an outgrowth preparatory to a realization of the other) covenants, they spring from them as from a root, and give ample evidence of the vitality of the covenants sending them forth, and consequently afford additional assurances of a continued development toward completeness.[*]
Note. Hence, in interpreting prophecy, it should be observed how it is founded on, and united with, the covenants; and any interpretation, however plausible, which militates against them, which contradicts or changes their promises, should at once be discarded as of foreign origin. For it is unreasonable to suppose that God will invalidate the most solemnly given of all His revelations, or that the Spirit will deliberately contradict Himself in His utterances. Therefore, e.g., all applications of prophecy which do not incorporate as fundamental the restoration of the Jews, is radically defective, simply because it makes the fulfilment of the Davidic covenant an utter impossibility. To rid ourselves of the covenant, and the prophecies relating thereto, by spiritualizing, etc., is unworthy of faith in God’s promises.
Obs. 2. God is jealous of His covenanted Word, and after having confirmed it by oath, by the sending of His Son, etc., He presents it in a form, through additional revelation, admirably adapted to test the faith of His people. Much of it, the most precious portion of it, the distinctive features of it, still belong to the future and are dependent upon the Sec. Advent of Jesus, the Messiah. Hence the predictions of the Old and New Test., unless viewed in the light of the covenant, cannot be duly apprehended. They only form additional links to a previously forged chain, and the places in which they fit must be found and matched. God having supplied the material, and given the key for placing them in the covenant, is pleased with the faith that honors His oath-bound Word.
Obs. 3. We see the fatal mistake of those systems of Biblical and Systematic Theology, which entirely ignore the Davidic covenant. The Abrahamic covenant, probably, obtains the merest mention; the Davidic is not noticed, although confirmed as strongly as language can make it; and both are practically discarded for the most elaborate theories concerning covenants of grace (just as if there were not such)—covenants made some time in the ages of eternity, etc. The result follows, that these covenants, being more or less (especially the Davidic) deemed unessential to the development of doctrine, a one-sided, defective system arises, lacking unity; and, in addition, a large portion of Scripture relating to these covenants, particularly prophecy, is either passed by without incorporation, or else so spiritualized that it may somehow fit into the hypothesis.[*]
Note. To whom are we indebted for a departure so wide from the Scriptural standard? Need we wonder, when the Bible testimony is so much ignored, that men to-day are afraid to adopt its covenanted language; that the early Patristic Theology is cast aside as too “carnal;” and that the doctrine of the Kingdom is covered with a heap of rubbish, the accumulated work of Alexandrian philosophers, monks, Popish schoolmen, mystics, etc., who could not make these covenants blend with their systems. Is it not true, that if a man were to present the Davidic covenant and the Scriptures relating to it, and the hope to the world contained in it, to almost any congregation throughout the land, he would be regarded, such is the ignorance on the subject, as foolish in his belief and as weak in his intellect? What has caused this change, and who are responsible for it? Let us repeat: it is a fundamental defect in any professed system of Biblical truth, when it endeavors to give an exhibit of doctrines of God and of Christ without incorporating as living roots those blessed, precious “covenants of promise.” Instead of erecting new foundations and building on them, we have them already laid and built upon in the Word.
Obs. 4. The Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph. 2:20). This includes, of course, their teaching and the doctrines pertaining to Christ. Nothing is fundamental in the Christian system which cannot be found in their writings, and this embraces a knowledge of the Old Test. as well as of the New, and particularly the things relating to Jesus Christ.* Now, the great theme of both the prophets and the apostles, and which appertains so largely to Jesus, is that of the Messianic Kingdom, and this is specially contained in the Davidic covenant and the prophecies resulting from the same found in the Old and New Testaments.
Obs. 5. The rejection of these covenants in their totality, and a resultant spiritualistic conception of the Kingdom, with a consequent mystical treatment of the prophcies, lead some of our most eminent writers to present utterly unwarranted doctrinal constructions.[*]
Note. We append several additional (comp. e.g. Prop. 50, III., Obs. 10, 12, etc.) illustrations. Dr. Meyer (Com. Matt. 3:2) says: “With Christ and the apostles the idea of a Messianic Kingdom is not national but universal, i.e. so that the participation in it is not conceived as depending on a connection with Abraham, but on faith in Christ.” Here is a mixture of things which, as joined together, are misleading. Why did Christ and the apostles at first confine themselves to the Jewish nation, if the Kingdom was not national? (Comp. Props. 54 to 69.) If there is no connection with Abraham, why accounted as his seed, inherit with him, etc.? (Comp. note to Obs. 10, under third division of Prop. 50.) The Kingdom, the Theocracy, is first national as covenanted, but this forms the basis, as the prophets predict, from which it will be extended into a universal dominion. The inheritance of David’s Son forms the groundwork of the universal Theocratic reign. While it is true that Gentiles, all believers, inherit the Kingdom because of faith in Jesus Christ, yet it is also true that the promises remain covenanted to Abraham and his seed, and that it is by this very faith they become (are adopted as) his seed and thus inheritors. It is a sad mistaking of “the hope of our calling” to deny “a connection with Abraham.” However done by various theologians, it is, in fact, allowing one important truth to overshadow and obliterate another of great value. Again: Neander (Life of Christ, p. 20), in order to get rid of the Davidic covenant, with the prophecies pertaining thereto, informs us that David being a type of Christ, is a reason why Christ is sprung from the line of David. It is no reason whatever; the valid reason lies in the covenanted Theocratic promise, that a Son of David should, at some future time, receive David’s throne and Kingdom, etc. But the same author proceeds (His. Plant. Ch. Church, vol. 1, p. 506, footnote) to tell us: “Paul himself, to the common Jewish idea of a Messiah belonging, as a descendant of David, peculiarly to the Jewish nation, who would never break through the forms of their Theocracy, in Rom. 1:3, 4, describes Jesus as the Son of God, who by natural descent belonged to thep osterity of David, but evinced Himself to be the Son of God in a powerful manner by His resurrection through the Holy Spirit; that is, after His resurrection He divested Himself of all those peculiar, earthly national relations in which He appeared to stand as a native Jew of the family of David.” One stands amazed at such bold interpretation (comp. e.g. Props. 81, 82, 84, 200, 203, 204, 122, etc.). What, then, becomes of the promises given to David, that his Son, “according to the flesh” (in His humanity, Acts 2:30, comp. with Rom. 1:3, etc.), should reign as David’s Son on his throne? Besides, the Kingdom is never promised to the Son of God, but invariably to the Son of Man (Prop. 81), because it is not the Divinity but the Humanity that is brought into covenanted relationship with God. No! the resurrection and the subsequent glorification has not stripped Him of His Humanity or of His earthly relations. They only qualify Him the better to carry out the promises relating to that Humanity. He is to-day David’s Son, the covenanted Seed, who shall fulfil the promises. To-day He glories in the message that He sends us (Rev. 22:16), “I am (continues to be) the root and offspring of David.” Paul makes no such erroneous deductions, as Neander supposes; far from it, as he unmistakably shows in the same epistle in the fulfilment of covenanted blessings. Such illustrations could be multiplied, but these sufficiently serve to show that if men once cast aside the covenants, then, their views of the Kingdom being antagonistic to those covenants, all Scripture, and even the person of Jesus, must bend to their preconceived theories.
Obs. 6. By observing this relationship of the covenants and of prophecy to the Kingdom, those erroneous deductions are at once removed, which writers of ability have drawn from alleged differences in the teaching of the apostles. One party, it is asserted, derive their Christianity from a Jewish covenanted standpoint; and another, theirs from a form distinctive from the Old Jewish covenanted relation. This has led to a false distinction or classification, called the Petrine, Pauline, and Johannine Theologies. The simple truth is, that they all unite in this renewed covenant as a central point; all insist upon our becoming engrafted among the covenanted people (the children of Abraham) through faith in Christ, and that all express their faith in, and hope for, a realization of the covenanted promises through Jesus at the Sec. Advent. While there is some diversity in their manner of expressing truth, resulting from temperament, style, etc., instead of being in conflict with “the sure mercies of David,” they are unanimous in holding up the original “everlasting covenant” confirmed by the death of Jesus (comp. e.g. Props. 187–191).
Obs. 7. One reason why so many Messianic predictions in the Old Test., especially in the Psalms, are explained away as relating to David, Solomon, Hezekiah, etc., arises from the fact that the prophecies do not agree with the writers’ preconceived notions of the covenants and of a spiritual Kingdom. The covenanted foundation of the predictions is overlooked or perverted, and, of course, the superstructure is correspondingly untenable. Thus valuable Scripture is given up to unbelief. Even pious and able writers, who recognize such passages as Messianic, under the influence of the idea formed of the covenants and Kingdom, will call the very words given (as they admit) by God “very one-sided” (as e.g. Kurtz, His. Old Cov., vol. 3, p. 438, on Balaam’s prophecy), because they seem to them too earthly or too Jewish, forgetting that the Theocracy proclaimed pertains both to this earth and to the Jewish nation.
Obs. 8. The covenants outline the Plan of the Divine Purpose; prophecy partially fills up and deepens the lines thus drawn. Agreeing with Hengstenberg, Fairbairn, and others, that the prophets are not mere soothsayers to predict future events, and that their predictions are based on something higher than mere foretelling, yet we dare not go so far as they do in saying that “a mere knowledge of the future is itself a matter of indifference.” The knowledge of the future is an important and essential element to a correct apprehension of the Plan of Salvation.[*]
Note. The prediction being a foreshadowing of God’s purposes, must necessarily relate to the future; and as we value truth, all such information imparted, even the slightest, possesses great weight. They add to our knowledge of the covenants and Kingdom, and God Himself regards all such testimony, derived from a foreknowledge of the future, as evidence of inspiration, credibility, etc. Besides this, as our hopes all lay in the future, and the covenants upon which these hopes are based give the merest outlines, we need these extended and enlarged in order the better to appreciate them. A neglect of prediction, therefore, is a weakening of tendered strength and a diminishing of offered hopes. The covenants themselves, in their most precious aspects, relate to the future, and now for any additional information respecting them, we are dependent on that class of men to whom God by His Spirit vouchsafed a knowledge of the future. Prophecy thus becomes more than “a prediction of some contingent circumstance or event in the future, received by immediate and direct revelation;” for it is a communication or message from God, a pre historic record of the Divine Purpose, and if properly linked together forms a continuous chain of evidence, evincing the unity of the Divine Plan in establishing the Kingdom. To perceive this unity, so confirmatory to faith, a knowledge of the future is indispensably necessary; hence it is graciously given, that we may, beholding the future as present, see the unfolding of covenanted grace, realize the evidences of a prevailing Sovereignty of the Most High, and have excited within us faith, childlike trust, hope, and love.
Obs. 9. History does not become, as some make it, a measure of prophecy concerning the Kingdom; and hence, to make history accord with a notion entertained respecting the Kingdom, prophecy must be so spiritualized and explained as to correspond with the standard adopted. No! History is only a witness to the fact that the history of the Church and world, as it progresses, is foreknown to God, and that He orders all things in such a manner that what He purposes to perform shall be ultimately accomplished. History, instead of being a measurer of that which so largely pertains to the future, only gives us the assurance, from the testimony of the past and present, that all God’s predictions will be verified in actual accomplishment.[*]
Note. Thus e.g. it is predicted that at the close of this dispensation the nations of the earth shall be arrayed against the truth, the church shall be persecuted, etc.; now those who live during or at that period will see history (i.e. fulfilment) bearing witness to the truthfulness of God; and more, they, if believing and receptive of the testimony, will know, in the faith of additional predictions, that this arrogant union of the enemy is doomed to a terrible overthrow, and that, however victorious for a time, it cannot retard the Divine Purpose concerning the Kingdom. History may reliantly testify to fulfilment, but it cannot measure prophecy by the fulfilment, simply because the prophecy includes the foreknowledge of God, a divinely inspired Plan, covenants as its foundation to which it stands related, and Christ in His Theocratic ordering as its goal. Besides this, prophecy contains, indeed, that which becomes historical reality, not because God predicts and then causes or allows the fulfilment, but because He foreknows what will arise through the free agency of man and permits it, and yet, in view of such knowledge, provides means and agencies to counteract the evil and carry out His own purposes. Thus e.g. He foretells the successive beasts in Daniel, the beasts in Revelation, etc., and as the time arrives they respectively appear, but affirmative as they are and ever will be to the truth of prophecy, their naked history by no means exhausts the meaning of the predictions, which stand related to a progressive and ever-maturing Divine Purpose.