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That the words of my text have never, hitherto, had their accomplishment, but yet wait their proper and peculiar fulfilment in the literal seed of Abraham, is an assertion, the truth of which it might seem hardly possible to doubt, after the most cursory and superficial glance at them.
The process, however, is but too familiar to most of us, by which passages of this kind, in defiance of the context in which they are set, and of their peculiar phraseology, much of it utterly inexplicable, except with reference to a particular people,-are yet turned from their natural and obvious meaning, and considered to have had their completion, in a way which leaves the nation to whom they were originally addressed, and of whom (at least, in the letter) they alone speak, without any interest at all, or, certainly, without any peculiar, and national interest, therein.
Thus, in a deservedly popular commentary of the present day, we meet with the following remarks on the passage before us :
“ Israel, as a nation, typified the true people of God. The old covenant made with them was typical of the new covenant made with all true believers, as one with Christ. This new covenant is not ratified with a nation, as such...... When Israel shall be again called into the Church, it will be by having the law written in their hearts, and
the covenant thus inwardly ratified to them.” And, agreeably to all this, the marginal references, upon the phrases, “house of Israel,” “ house of Judah,” are to certain passages of the New Testament, in which believing Gentiles are called “the Israel of God," “ the circumcision."
So, then, in this easy and indirect way, Israel and Judah are stripped (as I have said) of all particular interest in the promise. It is even denied that the covenant is a national covenant, at all; and the whole is considered as fulfilled in the collective company of believers (Jew and Gentile) under the Gospel, as they are, individually, united to Christ, by faith.
Thus, in the outset of our subject, we are reduced to the strange necessity of proving, that, when God says, he will make a new covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah, he really means what, beyond a doubt, his words, literally taken, express; and is not speaking of Gentiles : however it be true, that, during the season of Israel's rejection of the covenant, Gentile sinners are, according to the wondrous counsels of Divine mercy, admitted to the enjoyment of its blessings: an enjoyment so marvellous, so little to have been looked for, before it was actually vouchsafed, that the apostle Paul everywhere stands amazed at this “ mystery of Christ; which (saith he) in other ages
was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets, by the Spirit:—That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ, by the Gospel.” (Eph. iii. 4–6.)
That believing Gentiles, then, are, at present, interested in this covenant, we do most cordially admit. The Gospel covenant was, in substance, made with Abraham, when he was “in uncircumcision.” Then it was, that “his faith was reckoned unto him for righteousness ;” and therefore, (as St. Paul argues, Rom. iv. 9-11,) he can be, and is, 66 the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised.”
So far, then, we are, all, perfectly agreed. But when our brethren go further than this, and say, the covenant is so the property of the present Gospel Church, that the Jews, as a nation, have no peculiar, distinctive right, or interest, therein; and that the covenant, when made with them, is to be made, only in the same manner that it is, now, made good to us; and that they are to receive it through us, and as part of us, the Church of the present dispensation ;—then we, at once, join issue with them, and protest against such an interpretation of Scripture, as doing the utmost violence to its language.
In truth, such a principle of interpretation just
amounts to this :—that, seeing Israel of old was a type of the Gospel or spiritual Church, therefore, wherever the term “ Israel” occurs, in an unfulfilled prophecy, we may, at our will, substitute “ Gentile believers," as meant, either exclusively, or without any peculiar, and plenary fulfilment, to the literal seed. What reasonable man will venture to defend such a canon of interpretation ? the application of which has led to this palpable absurdity, that, whereas we meet with blessings and curses, predicted of one and the same people, Israel, we have, with all liberality, left the curses to the literal seed, and culled out every promise of blessing, given to that seed, as our own, sole, undisputed possession !
But, to come to the point before us. The real question in debate is, May the Jews of this day say, of the new covenant in my text, It is OUR covenant, which God will, ere long, establish with us, after the same national manner in which he established the old covenant with our fathers : only, now, with permanence? Such, I say, is the extraordinary question, that is raised on these plain words ; a question, which (stranger still) the majority of the present Church answer in the negative; pleading that, though the literal Israel be named, the spiritual Israel is meant.
Now one thing, at least, is manifest. The
burden must fall on our opponents, to prove that what is meant is other than what is said. Do they tell us (as in the commentary referred to) the literal Israel was a type of the spiritual? We instantly grant it. Do they tell us again, that, therefore, there is a spiritual fulfilment of the covenant to believers? We grant it, also. But all this (we say) is nothing to the point. You must go further. What you need to prove is, that Israel of old (whose descendants still exist) was so a type of the spiritual Israel, that they were finally to merge, and be lost, in them whom they typified. Further, that the spiritual fulfilment swallows up, and annihilates the literal, instead of co-existing with it. Further, that, when God gave participation to the spiritual children, he meant, thenceforward, the exclusion, or the extinction as a nation, or the loss of all peculiar privileges, for ever, of the literal children. The proof of this has never been attempted ; and established, I verily believe, it never can be.
God says, here, that he will, one day, make a new covenant with that people, with whose fathers he before made a covenant, in the wilderness. It is confessed, on all hands, that the words, taken literally, must mean the twelve tribes.: for, certainly, Israel in the wilderness can, in no sense, be called the fathers of the present Gospel Church.