What is to be compared with the salvation of the soul? What are riches, honors, health, long life? What are all the pleasures which the world can offer, sin promise, or the flesh enjoy? What is all that men call good or great? What is everything which the outward eye has seen, or natural ear heard, or has entered into the carnal heart of man—put side by side with being saved in the Lord Jesus Christ with an everlasting salvation? For consider what we are saved from—as well as what we are saved unto. From a burning hell—to a blissful heaven; from endless wrath—to eternal glory; from the dreadful company of devils and damned spirits, mutually tormenting and tormented—to the blessed companionship of the glorified saints, all perfectly conformed in body and soul to the image of Christ, with thousands and tens of thousands of holy angels, and, above all, to seeing the glorious Son of God as he is, in all the perfection of his beauty, and all the ravishments of his presence and love!
To be done forever with all the sorrows, troubles, and afflictions of this life; all the pains and aches of this poor clay tabernacle; all the darkness, bondage, and misery of the body of sin and death; to be perfectly holy in body and soul, being in both without spot, or blemish, or any such thing, and ever to enjoy uninterrupted union and communion with Father, Son, and Blessed Spirit—O what a heaven lies before the believing children of God as the end of their faith in the salvation of their soul.
Now it was of this salvation that the prophets of the Old Testament inquired and searched diligently. To them it was but dimly revealed, nor did they perfectly understand the meaning or extent of their own prophecies about it. They knew from the power of the word in their own heart, and the way in which it was spoken in them and unto them that it was the word of the Lord, and that they were but penmen of the Holy Spirit, simply writing down, as bidden and influenced by him, what he inwardly dictated. They were, therefore, we will not say altogether unconscious agents in the hands of the Holy Spirit, for doubtless they not only felt the power, but also to a considerable extent understood the meaning of what they wrote. But such is the depth of the word of God, it is so enriched with treasures of grace and truth, it so contains stored up in its bosom the fullness of God's wisdom so far as it can be revealed to man, that they were but as little children now who when they are taught their lessons may to a certain extent understand their meaning, but not the whole or the fullness of their meaning, that being reserved for their riper years.
To these ancient prophets, then, a salvation was revealed to be accomplished and brought to light in God's own time and way, and this they inquired and searched diligently into both as to its nature and the time of its fulfillment. When, for instance, Isaiah wrote such a prophecy as, "I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry, and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory" (Isaiah 46:13), he would see that there was a righteousness, which God called his righteousness, to be brought near, that it would not be far off, and that he would "place salvation in Zion for Israel his glory." He would, therefore, search and inquire in his own mind what this righteousness would be, as distinct from the righteousness of Moses, and what was this salvation which would be placed in Zion for Israel, in whom he would be glorified.
So when that wondrous chapter (Isaiah 53.) was dictated to the prophet by the Holy Spirit, he would have a foreview of the blessed Redeemer as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; he would see that there was One to come who would be "wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities," and that "the Lord had laid on him the iniquity of us all." He would see, also, how it would please the Lord to bruise this man of sorrows, and yet that he would make his soul an offering for sin, and that this blessed Sin-bearer would "see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied." Now all this foreview of the sufferings of Christ, and of the glory that would follow—for he would behold that glory as the necessary fruit of Christ's seeing his seed, prolonging his days, and the pleasure of the Lord prospering in his hand—all this revelation of the mind and counsels of God would be to the prophet a subject of deep and solemn meditation; and though he would not fully understand the whole meaning of what was thus revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, he would inquire and search diligently, and would sedulously compare Scripture with Scripture, to ascertain the mind of the Spirit in them.
He would, for instance, look back to his own prophecy that "a rod would come out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch would grow out of his roots," on whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest. He would see his mighty power in smiting the earth with the rod of his mouth, and slaying the wicked with the breath of his lips; and yet he would see righteousness and faithfulness cleaving to him, and worn by him as the belt of his loins. He would see also in this wondrous Redeemer the child born of a pure Virgin, and the Son, God's own only begotten and eternal Son, given, would view the government upon his shoulder, and that "his name would be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father (or Father of the everlasting age), and the Prince of Peace." (Isa. 9:6.) The Spirit of Christ was in him, and in dictating those prophecies, not only testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow, but enlightened his understanding and fed his faith by a personal experience of what he thus revealed.
And what was true in Isaiah was doubtless true in all the other prophets, for the same Spirit of Christ which was in him was in them, and testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow. The incarnation of the Son of God, his sufferings, blood shedding, and death, with his resurrection from the dead, ascension into heaven, and present glory there, were all revealed by the Spirit of Christ to the prophets of old, and were embraced by them by a true and living faith. It is true that these heavenly mysteries were dimly seen by them—but not the less really. The faith of the Old Testament saints looked forward to the Christ who was to come—as ours looks back to the Christ who has come. But as the Object of their faith was the same, so their faith was the same, for there is but "one faith." And as Abraham rejoiced to see Christ's day, and saw it, and was glad, so these ancient prophets saw that same day of Christ and rejoiced in it with believing Abraham.
But the point which they chiefly inquired into and searched diligently was at "what, or what manner of time" the promised Messiah would come. It was with them as we read in Daniel—""How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?" (Dan. 12:6.) They had a kind of holy impatience for the day of Christ's appearing, a longing for the time when he would come "to put down rebellion, to bring an end to sin, to atone for guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to confirm the prophetic vision." (Dan. 9:24); and thus as Daniel "understood by books the number of the years whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem" (Dan. 9:2), so these Old Testament prophets searched and examined what indications they could find in the internal testimony of the Spirit of Christ which was in them, as to the time when he would come to finish the work which the Father had given him to do, and what manner of time that would be. Their spirits were often bowed down and burdened by the wickedness of the generation in which their lot was cast; they mourned over the unbelief, infidelity, obstinacy, and determined resistance to every admonition, warning, or reproof, manifested by the people to whom they spoke in the name of the Lord. They saw the general oppression of the people of God, marked the groans and tears of the widow and the fatherless, and longed for the appearance of the promised Redeemer, for they foresaw by the eye of faith that there was a grace to be revealed in and by him; for as the law was given by Moses, so grace and truth were to come by Jesus Christ. He was to reveal the hidden counsels of God, and to bring life and immortality to light through the gospel. Upon him the Spirit of the Lord was to rest, and as he would be anointed to preach good tidings unto the meek, as he would be sent to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that were bound, so would he save the children of the needy, and break in pieces the oppressor. Before their eyes lay outstretched the glorious scroll of prophecy, and contrasting the happy, holy, and peaceful times there shadowed forth which would flow from the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that would follow him, in his sitting at the right hand of the Father in majesty and power—their spirits yearned for those blessed days.
But they also searched and inquired "what manner of time" it would be. Would it be a time of great distress to the children of Israel? Would the season be favorable for the appearance of the Messiah? Would Israel nationally be under a foreign yoke? and how would all this harmonize with redemption, and the work which the Redeemer would accomplish? These to them were doubtful points; but one thing was to them abundantly clear, and on that they chiefly fixed their eyes in subordination to their view of the Redeemer himself. The Spirit of Christ which was in them spoke plainly of a "grace which was to be revealed" under a preached gospel, of the power which would attend it, and of the blessings which would follow a large outpouring of the Holy Spirit after the ascension and glorification of the Son of God. They therefore clearly and distinctly prophesied of the grace that would come unto those who would believe in the Son of God; and it was revealed unto them that the gift of prophecy was bestowed on them was not so much for their own benefit and blessing—as for those more highly favored ones to whom the gospel, as preached by the apostles, would be made the power of God unto salvation.
From those words of the Apostle we may gather several important and instructive LESSONS—
1. We see with what singular wisdom and with what heavenly and holy inspiration the Scriptures are written; for we may apply to the whole word of God what is here intimated as regards prophecy, and expressed by the same apostle in another place—"For prophecy came not in old times by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:21.) The Holy Spirit inspired the words in which the prophets clothed their testimony, and in so doing framed those words with such a depth of heavenly wisdom that the writers themselves only partially understood their meaning. But they understood this—that the two points which were the grand ends of all their prophecies were the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that would follow. In his sufferings they saw redemption accomplished, sin put away, and all Israel saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation. How far they saw Israel after the flesh rejected and set aside for unbelief and disobedience, and the Gentiles, as the spiritual Israel, called to inherit national Israel's blessings, we cannot pronounce; but they clearly saw that there was a glory which would follow the sufferings of Christ, not only as regarded his own Person after the resurrection, but as regarded the glory of that grace which would be manifested as the fruit and consequence of his sufferings.
In that grace to be thus manifested, whether to Jew or Gentile, they rejoiced. The glory of the Redeemer was dear to their heart, and this glory they saw to consist in the riches of his grace which they knew would not be fully manifested until after his entrance into his glory. This corresponds and harmonizes with the words of our gracious Lord to the two disciples journeying to Emmaus—"Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things—and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." (Luke 24:25-27.) The Lord here clearly showed that all the prophets, beginning at Moses, prophesied of his sufferings—and of his entrance after his sufferings into his glory. These were the two grand subjects of all prophecy to which every other part was subordinate; and well might their hearts burn within them when such a gracious Interpreter opened to their wondering minds the Scriptures which, under his explanation, came with such warmth and power to their souls.
If our readers will examine the sermons preached by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, they will see how fully they correspond with his words now before us. Thus in his sermon on the day of Pentecost he quotes the prophet Joel to show that the pouring out of the Spirit then witnessed was foreshown by him (Acts 2:16-21), and he brings forward the testimony of David as a prophet to the death and resurrection of Christ. (Acts 2:25-31.) So in his sermon in Solomon's porch he thus speaks—"But those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ would suffer, he has so fulfilled." (Acts 3:18.) And again—"Yes, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days." (Acts 3:24.) "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev. 19:10); and "to him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins." (Acts 10:43.)
2. The second thing worthy of notice is the sweet spirit of union between Old and New Testament saints. It was revealed unto these ancient prophets that the grace of which they spoke, and the blessings which would follow the sufferings and glorification of Christ, would not be bestowed on themselves, or at least only as a foretaste of the fullness of those mercies which would be manifested to believers in the ages to come. And yet such was their union of spirit with the whole of the Church of God that they could, without envy or jealousy, rejoice in the blessedness which was to be given to those who would hear and believe the gospel which would be preached unto them by the apostles and ministers of the New Testament with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven.
It was the same Spirit, whether called the "Spirit of Christ," as coming from, and sent by him, or "the Holy Spirit," as especially distinctive of his divine Person, who testified in them as prophesying of a suffering and glorified Christ to come, and testified to New Testament believers, who saw these prophecies fulfilled, of a suffering and a glorified Christ who had come. They know that God had provided some better thing than they themselves then enjoyed, or could enjoy, for the New Testament saints—and that this was necessary for the edification of the whole body of Christ, and that the Old Testament believers without the New could not be made perfect. (Heb. 11:40.)
Thus they could stretch forth the right hand of fellowship over all the intervening years, and grasp in a loving embrace those more highly-favored souls who would live under the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as on the day of Pentecost; and they could feel an honor in ministering to them that food in its fullness, of which they had, in Old Testament days and under a legal dispensation—but crumbs and tastes. And thus they meditated on their own prophecies, fed on what was revealed in them of the sufferings and glory of Christ, and looked forward in faith and patience to the day when Messiah would come to suffer and to reign. They saw with him of the travail of his soul in a rich harvest of called saints, in whose blessings they could rejoice; for they knew that a fullness of blessing could not be given except by the fullness of a preached gospel.
These, we confess, are somewhat difficult and intricate subjects to understand, but they are full of blessedness when we can see and enter into the depth of their spiritual meaning. And do not these things deserve our thoughtful examination and meditation? Surely they do, for they are the subject not only of prophetic—but of angelic inquiry and examination. "Which things the angels desire to look into." It is literally, "stoop down and look into," as the word is translated, John 20:5. There seems to be some allusion here to the posture of the cherubim on the mercy seat or the ark of the covenant—"And the cherubim shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be." (Exod. 25:20.) Whether it be so or not, for there is a considerable difficulty as to the spiritual meaning of the cherubim in Scripture, one thing is abundantly clear—that the holy angels are engaged in contemplating and admiring the riches of God's grace as revealed in his dear Son to the members of his mystical body, the Church. Thus the Apostle says "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." (Eph. 3:10.) Nor are they mere admiring spectators of the wisdom and grace of God, but ministering messengers to the suffering saints in this their day of tribulation—"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14.)
But we shall reserve our thoughts on this point to a future paper.