Book 4 - Chapter 15: Of the Benefits of the New Testament - by Herman WitsiusThe Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius
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Herman Witsius (1636-1708)
Arguably known for the best work on Covenant Theology in print (at least in the top 5).
Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franeker, Utrecht, and Leyden. A brilliant and devout student, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the age of fifteen, when he entered the University of Utrecht. He was ordained at twenty-one and served in several pastorates, filling both the pulpit and the academic chair over the course of his life.
This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day.
Chapter XV: Of the Benefits of the New Testament
I. As the darkness of the night is only dispelled by the beams of the rising morn, so the Old Testament was abrogated only by the introduction of the New. But at what time this first began to take place, by what degrees it advanced, by what intervals of time it was confirmed and completed, we have explained in the third chapter of the foregoing book. We are now, in the first place, to treat of the benefits of the New Testament; then of the sacraments; the other particulars are obvious, from what we have spoken concerning the covenant of grace, simply considered, and by comparing with them what we have more largely treated of concerning the Old Testament.
II. We rehearse the benefits of the New Testament in the following order: 1. The first is the exhibition of the Messiah made perfect. 2. The Gospel under another name or designation. 3. The calling of the Gentiles. 4. A more abundant and delightful measure of the Spirit. 5. A greater and better liberty. 6. The restoration of Israel. 7. The revival of the whole church, as from the dead.
III. The first spring of our glorying, and the sum of our felicity beyond those that expected the consolation of Israel, is, that “Christ Jesus came into the world,” 1 Tim. 1:15. He, who was promised from the beginning, shadowed forth by so many types, so ardently longed for, and for so many ages expected, came forth in the fulness of time, in that place, from that tribe and family, in that manner from a virgin, and appeared in the flesh, just as the holy prophets had long before prophesied he should come. “Through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us,” Luke 1:78: “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,” John 1:45. This, as the angel told the shepherds of Bethlehem, was matter of great joy, and not only Mary and Zacharias and Simeon, but also the whole choir of the heavenly angels, celebrated this in their songs: see Zech. 9:9.
IV. And the Messiah was not only exhibited, but also “made perfect through sufferings,” Heb. 2:10; and thus being “made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all,” Heb. 5:9. For, in the sufferings and death of Christ, there is a true expiation, a cancelling, a blotting out of our sins, a bringing in of everlasting righteousness, a tearing and removing of the hand-writing, nay, there is an eternal redemption.
V. But this was not all; for he was also received up into glory, and being placed in the throne of his majesty, he brought the kingdom of heaven to us, having removed every thing, by which the spiritual and mystical government of God over the conscience, which is the government of liberty, was formerly obscured. While David, in spirit, had this kingdom of the Messiah before him, as in a figure, he joyfully sung, “Jehovah reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of isles be glad,” Psa. 97:1: “Jehovah reigneth, let the people tremble,” Psa. 99:1. This is that kingdom of heaven which the Baptist so often proclaimed was at hand, and concerning which our Lord declared that there were some of his hearers, “which should not taste death, till they saw the Son of man coming in his kingdom,” Matt. 16:28. It cannot but be most delightful to all, that love the Lord Jesus, “to see him crowned with glory and honour, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death,” Heb. 2:9. This great benefit the apostle has set forth in these important words, 1 Tim 3:6. “God made manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” And our Saviour himself has taught us, that a great part of our happiness consists in the enjoyment of this blessing, Matt. 13:16, 17.
VI. The second benefit is the gospel of the kingdom, “which God had promised afore by his prophets in the Holy Scriptures,” Rom. 1:2. Namely, the gospel as completed, “which, at the first, began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him,” Heb. 2:3. For, this “mystery was kept secret since the world began: but now is made manifest, and, by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith,” Rom. 16:25, 26. Not that they had no gospel before: for, even unto the ancients was the gospel formerly preached, Heb. 4:2. But that this proclamation of future grace was προευαγγελισμὸς, the gospel preached before, Gal. 3:8; and the preaching of the present grace is eminently the gospel now. Hence it is mentioned as an argument of the presence of the Messiah, that the poor have the gospel preached to them, Matt. 11:5.
VII. Moreover, the gospel of the New Testament has the following excellencies above the Old. 1st. That it sets forth Christ as come, and declares that all those things are fulfilled, which were formerly foretold to come to pass long after, 1 Cor. 2:7–10. 2dly. That it declares in clear terms, every thing relating to the common salvation, without the covering of figures, or the labyrinths of dark sayings, 2 Cor. 3:14. 3dly. That it now allures the hearts of believers with the sweetest and most abundant consolations, and without that severity, which, according to the old legal dispensation, mixed the words of grace with so much rigour, whence it is called “the ministration of righteousness,” 2 Cor. 3:9, and “the word of reconciliation,” 2 Cor. 5:18. “The mouth of our beloved is most sweet,” Cant. 5:16; and Isaiah prophesied concerning his servants, chap. 52:7. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings!” &c. Add Isa. 40:1, and Isa. 61:1, and Isa. 66:10–12. 4thly. That it dwells now more abundantly in us, and is preached more fully and frequently, and with a greater demonstration of the Spirit, and a deeper insinuation or sinking into the conscience, Rom. 10:8.
VIII. The third benefit is the calling of the Gentiles by the Gospel, which followed upon the Messiah’s being made perfect: according to the promise, Psa. 2:8. “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession:” likewise Isa. 49:6, Luke 2:40. Paul, as in other places, so especially Eph. 2 and 3, has in a magnificent manner, set forth the perfections of God, as being illustriously displayed in this admirable work, and, above all, the unsearchable riches of the patience, goodness, and manifold wisdom of God in Christ. “And, indeed, who can but stand amazed at such a surprising thing,” we may justly exclaim with Eusebius, “to see those who from the beginning paid divine honour and worship to stocks and stones and devils, to ravenous beasts feeding on human flesh, and to venomous reptiles, to fire and to earth, to the very inanimate elements of the universe; to see, I say, such calling on the most high God, the creator of heaven and earth, the very Lord of the prophets, the God of Abraham and his ancestors, after the coming of our Saviour?” Pray, read what follows; as it is too long to be here transcribed. This very circumstance assures us, that the Lord Jesus is the true and only Messiah, by whose word, Spirit, and ministry, so astonishing a work was accomplished, the like, or equal to it, was never seen or heard, were we to go back to the remotest antiquity.
IX. But we are to observe, 1st. That these things were accomplished by the apostles of Christ, and their fellow labourers, who were not remarkable, either for any excellence of worldly wisdom, or furnished with any charms of Greek and Roman excellence, or supported by any human assistance; but, by the naked demonstration of an admirable and almost incredible truth to the conscience, while the gates of hell raged, the lords and dreaded tyrants of the world opposed, and the schools of conceited philosophers clamoured; that the glory of God and his Christ might shine forth with the greater lustre and brightness, the meaner and less adapted for the work were the instruments he used, 1 Cor. 2:4, 5.
X. 2dly. That the kingdom of Christ was set up among the Gentiles with an astonishing quickness. For, “as the lightning, that lightneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven, so shall also the Son of man be in his day,” Luke 17:24. Isaiah had foretold this, with a kind of astonishment, chap. 66:7, 8: “Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man-child. Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day, or shall a nation be born at once? For, as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.”
XI. 3dly. That this calling extended very far, Rom. 10:18. “Their sound went into all the earth, and their words into the ends of the world,” Col. 1:6, 24, Mark 16:20. Tertullian adversus Judæos, says, c. 7. “In what other person besides, have all the Gentiles believed but in Christ, who is now come? On whom else have the Parthians believed, the Medes, Elamites, the inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Armenia, Phrygia, Egypt, that part of Africa beyond Cyrene; the Romans; the Jews then in Jerusalem, and other nations; and at this day, the various tribes of Getulians, many parts of Mesopotamia, Spain in all its extent, the different nations of Gaul, and the parts of Britain unaccessible to the Roman arms, made subject to Christ; the Sarmatians, Dacians, Germans and Scythians, many nations yet undiscovered, many provinces and islands unknown to you, and which we cannot enumerate? among which the name of Christ, as now come, prevails.” In a like strain has Jerome celebrated this abundance of heavenly grace, in Epitaphium Nepotiani ad Heliodorum, and in Epist. ad Lætam, and in general, the other fathers, exulting in so great a happiness of the New Testament. Yet we are not to think that there was no corner of the world, where the name of Christ was not preached: nor to believe that the apostles sailed over to America, and to countries then unknown to the rest of the world; these universal expressions only intimate, that the gospel of Christ was extensively propagated, without any distinction of countries or people, on each side of the sun’s course. See the expressions, Rom. 1:8, Luke 2:5.
XII. 4thly. The gospel did not reach to the Gentiles till after it was rejected and despised by the Jews. “Through their fall salvation came to the Gentiles. The fall of them was the riches of the world,” Rom. 11:11, 12. We have an exposition of this passage, Acts. 13:46, 47, where Paul and Barnabas speak thus. “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you, (the Jews.) But seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles; for so hath the Lord commanded us,” &c. We may add Acts 18:6.
XIII. 5thly, However the polity of the Jews was not overturned, before the kingdom of the Messiah was made illustrious among the Gentiles. Matt. 24:14. “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come,” namely of Jerusalem and the temple; which was very wisely so ordered; for by this means, 1st. The ungrateful Jews had not the least shadow of excuse left; for what excuse could they have for continuing in their hardness, who had seen his power in a very short space of time, shining like lightning through the whole world? This is Chrysostom’s observation Serm. 76 in Matthæum. 2dly. By the preaching of the gospel he would have all the world know the crimes of the Jews, the guilt they had contracted by the parricide of Christ, and their obstinate and invincible malice in stubbornly rejecting all offers of mercy. Before he would execute so terrible a vengeance on a people, who were under so many obligations to him: that all nations might be obliged to adore his justice with trembling. 3dly. He would not cast off his ancient people by an ultimate destruction, before he had gathered, from among the Gentiles, another people for himself. Nor make the material temple an Anthema, till he had built a spiritual temple of lively stones: for it was never intended, that Christ should be a king without a kingdom.
XIV. The fourth benefit is a more abundant and delightful measure of the Spirit, frequently foretold by the prophets, to be sent together with, and poured out on the church by Christ. To this purpose, if I mistake not, is Zech. 9:12, “even to day, מניד משנה* another declarer do I render unto thee.” That day is meant, on which the king of Zion had, by the blood of the covenant set at liberty those who were bound in Zion, and was delivered from death. At that time, מניד, a declarer, discoverer, or shower forth, is promised, the participle being used as a noun: and he is indeed another discoverer. The first is the Son of God, and who is the other, but the Holy Spirit? who is also a discoverer, as he teaches the elect, and brings all things to their remembrance, John 14:26, “the next to Christ, or another comforter,” ver. 16. Him God promises to give, that is, in place of the Son, after he was gone to the Father, John 16:7. To this likewise I apply, what the Messiah says, Isa. 48:16, “אדני יהוה שלחני ורוח,” which is very properly translated, “the Lord God hath sent me and his Spirit.” Add the like promises Isa. 44:2, 3; and Isa. 35:7; and Joel 2:28. The fulfillment of which is in Christ, who baptizeth his people “with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” Matt. 3:11, compare John 7:38, 39, of which passages we have spoken elsewhere.
XV. The effects of this Spirit are: 1st. A more clear and distinct knowledge of the mysteries of faith, Isa. 11:9, and Isa. 54:13; Jer. 31:34: 1 John 2:27. 2dly. A more generous, a more sublime, and cheerful degree of holiness, Isa. 33:24, and Isa. 35:9, and Isa. 60:21, 22: Zech. 10:5, and Zech. 12:8. 3dly. A more delightful consolation, Isa. 40:1, 2, and Isa. 60:1, 2, and Isa. 55:11, and Isa. 66:12, 13, 14; John 14:16; Acts 9:31. Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22. 4thly, A filial boldness, which is now the greater, as adoption itself and its effects are more conspicuous, Gal. 4:6. 5thly. The extraordinary and altogether miraculous gifts which were plentifully bestowed at the beginning of the gospel, not only on the apostles, but also often to other ministers, nay, on common believers, and even virgins, Mark 16:16–18, Acts 10:45, 46, and Acts 19:6, and Acts 21:8, 1 Cor. 12:7–11. But in what manner the New Testament is to be compared with the Old, we have frequently shown already.
XVI. The Fifth benefit is Christian liberty, which Paul, the most diligent interpreter of, and warmest advocate of usually so considers, that he makes it generally to consist in a freedom from that bondage, which the Jews were under; and he rarely treats of it, unless when he compares Christians with Jews, and sets the Old dispensation in opposition to the New. Yet divines have prudently observed from Paul himself, that Christian liberty may be considered, either as common to believers in every age; or as a special immunity of the children of God, who live under the New Testament dispensation.
XVII. This common liberty consists in a manumission or freedom, 1st. From the tyranny of the devil, whose destruction was promised, as early as in Paradise, Col. 1:13. 2dly. From the reigning and condemning power of sin, Rom. 6:14, Rom. 8:1. 3dly, From the rigour of the law, so far as it is contradistinguished from grace, Rom. 6:14. For, thus far it is to the sinner “the law of sin and death,” opposite “to the law of the Spirit and of life in Christ Jesus,” Rom. 8:2. Moreover this rigour consists, (1) In the severe demand it makes of obedience, without a promise of sanctifying grace. (2) In requiring a most perfect holiness, to be performed by man himself, as the condition of eternal life. (3) In threatening the curse for the least deviation. For, so far the law belongs to the covenant of works, which in regard to all believers, is abrogated, by the introduction of the covenant of grace. 4thly. In a freedom from an accursed death, both of body and soul. For though the body of believers is dead because of sin. Rom. 8:10, yet death has lost its sting, 1 Cor. 15:55, and is become the period of sin and misery, and the passage to eternal life, John 5:24. And thus far believers are freed from that death, with which God threatened sinful man, as a punishment properly so called, and the effect of his dreadful displeasure, John 8:51, 52. Nor is the formal nature of punishment only removed from the death of believers; but whatever belongs to the remains of death, will at last be destroyed by a glorious resurrection, 1 Cor. 15:54. As therefore liberty with respect to sin, as to its right, is adjudged to believers in justification, and as to its power, performed gradually and by some certain steps; the same also is the case with respect to corporal death; the curse and penalty of which so to speak, are removed, so soon as the person is ingrafted into Christ by faith, who is the fountain of life, but at the last day all its powers will be swallowed up in victory. 5thly. From human empire, or constraint with respect to divine worship, and the actions of religion, as such; for God alone has dominion over the conscience, James 4:12. Nor is it lawful for the sons of God, who know themselves to be bought with a price, to become the servants of men, 1 Cor. 7:23, Matt. 15:9, Col. 2:18, 22, 23. Though formerly the Scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses’s chair, yet God never gave them a power, to load the conscience with new institutions, beyond and besides the law of God, to which all were equally bound. Deut. 4:2, and Deut. 12:34. All the authority of the doctors of the law tended to keep the people to the observance of the law of Moses; Christ justly rebuked them, when they went beyond that. Whatever man has devised from his own invention, in matters of religion, has ever been displeasing to God. 6thly. From the obligation to things indifferent, and which are neither good nor bad in themselves, and which God has neither commanded, nor forbidden. When the knowledge and sense of this liberty is wanting, the conscience in that case is disquieted, and superstition has neither measure nor end, Rom. 14:5, 14, 23. The possession, however, is to be distinguished from the use; the right from the exercise of it, the former ought ever to remain inviolable to the conscience, the latter to be circumscribed by the rules of prudence and charity, to avoid giving offence to weak brethren, 1 Cor. 6:12, and 2 Cor. 10:13, Rom. 14:19.
XVIII. The liberty, we have thus described, absolutely belongs to the benefits of the covenant of grace, and should not be reckoned among those, which are peculiar to the New Testament. Unless so far, as it is more clearly explained, more frequently insisted upon, more effectually and abundantly applied by the Spirit of Christ, and insinuated into the conscience for the greater consolation and joy, and finally demonstrated by more glorious effects. And as I imagine, none will question, that the rigour of the old economy greatly obscured the sense and joy of that liberty, which believers in other respects enjoyed. At least none will deny, that the liberty, as to things, in their own nature indifferent, was greatly diminished by the institutions of Moses.
XIX. That liberty, therefore, which is peculiar to the New Testament is, 1st. A discharge from the bondage of the elements of the world, or of the ancient ceremonies, from whose religious obligation, as of things necessary, the consciences of men were first set free, Acts 15:10. Though their arbitrary use continued for some time, and might with prudence be advised, Acts 21:24. Afterwards their use was entirely forbid, so that now we are to abstain from them altogether, Gal. 3:25, 4:5, 6, and 5:1. For, from being in force, they first lose their vigour, of necessary become arbitrary; afterwards, from being dead they become hurtful and deadly; and from being arbitrary become unlawful, never to be revived, after the full promulgation of the gospel, and the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, which was the seat of the ceremonies. 2dly. Liberty with respect to many things indifferent in their own nature, the use of or abstinence from which was formerly enjoined the Israelites, Tit. 1:15, Col. 2:20, 21, 1 Cor. 10:25. 3dly. Immunity from the forensic or judicial laws of the Israelites; not as they were of universal, but as of particular right or obligation, made for the Jews, as such, distinguishing them from other nations, adapted to the genius of the people and country, and subservient, for the greatest part, to the Levitical priesthood, with which almost the whole polity was interwoven. 4thly. There is a clearer and more perfect promulgation, knowledge, and practice of Christian liberty, in all its parts and degrees.
XX. Sixthly. We may reckon among the benefits of the New Testament the restoration of the Israelites, who were formerly rejected, and the bringing them back to the communion of God in Christ. Paul has unfolded this mystery to the Gentiles, Rom. 11:25–27: “For, I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery (lest ye should be wise in your own conceits), that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved; at it is written, There shall come out of Sion the deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.”
XXI. On this place observe, 1st. That the apostle here explains some mystery; that is, a secret thing, not known but by revelation, and taken notice of by few, and happening beyond the expectation and judgment of reason; in fine, the whole method and manner of executing which, lies in a great measure concealed; see 1 Cor. 2:7, 15:51, and Eph. 3:3. 2dly. That it is the interest of the Gentiles to be acquainted with this mystery, to prevent their entertaining higher thoughts concerning themselves, and lower concerning the Israelites: we are therefore to take care to enquire diligently, and with attention, into what the prophets have foretold concerning this matter. 3dly. The apostle here speaks of the people of Israel, not figuratively but properly so called; who were at this time blind, obdurate, stupid, and hardened, of which ver. 7. Isaiah foretold this judgment of God against Israel at large, chap. 6:9, 10, compared with Acts 28:26, Isa. 29:10, 11. To this also seems applicable, that whirlwind of the Lord, that fury, and continuing whirlwind, which shall abide on the head of the wicked, of which Jer. 30:23. In short, this is that forlorn condition of the blinded nation of Jews, which taking its rise in the apostles’ time, continues to this our day. 4thly. That this blindness is in part happened to Israel. The whole nation, from its first origin even to the end of the world, is considered as one whole; a certain part of which are those, who either have, or now do, or hereafter shall live in the days of the wrath and indignation of God: blindness has seized that part only. 5thly. That blindness is to continue upon them no longer, than till the fulness of the Gentiles be come in; that is, till the Gospel is preached among all nations of the world whatever. Which, indeed, began to be done by the apostles and their fellow-labourers; but could not be done perfectly, both on account of the extent of the world, and the shortness of human life, and likewise because many nations (as all the American) were at that time unknown. This therefore still remains to be done successively; God, in his admirable providence, paving the way for his word. The offer of grace was first made to the Israelites. When they refused it, it was sent to the Gentiles; but when the fulness of them shall be brought in, it will be again given to the Israelites, “that the last may be first, and the first last,” Luke 13:30; see Luke 21:24. 6thly. That when the fulness of the Gentiles is brought in, all Israel shall be saved; that is, as our Dutch commentators well observe, not a few, but a very great number, and in a manner the whole Jewish nation, in a full body. Peter Martyr has judiciously explained the fulness of the Gentiles, and the whole body of Israel, in the following words: “But we are to understand a limited fulness, and a fixed or determined collection; which is therefore called fulness, because there will be an exact and a very great number of believers, so that the church shall be publicly owned, and had in great esteem among the Gentiles, just as all Israel is to be taken for a great number of Jews, among whom Christ should be publicly acknowledged; not that some, as well of the Gentiles as Jews, shall not be lost.”
XXII. From what we have said before, it appears, that they depart from the apostle’s meaning, who, by all Israel, understand the mystical Israel, or the people of God, consisting both of Jews and Gentiles, without admitting the conversion of the whole Jewish nation to Christ, in the sense we have mentioned. Notwithstanding this may be confirmed by the following arguments. 1st. The apostle speaks of that Israel, to whom he ascribes his own pedigree, ver. 1; whom he calls his flesh, that is, his kindred, ver. 14, and the natural branches, ver. 21; whom he constantly distinguishes from the Gentiles; to whom, he testifies, blindness is happened. All this is applicable to Israel properly so called. 2dly. He lays before us a mystery; but it was no mystery, that a very few Jews were converted to Christ together with the Gentiles; for we have daily instances of that. 3dly. He reminds the Gentiles, not to exult over, or despise the Jews, from this argument, that, as they themselves were now taken in among the people of God, so, in like manner, the Jews were in due time to be taken in again. But if the apostle meant, that the body of the Jewish nation was to continue in their hardness; and but a few of them to be saved, who, joined to the Gentiles, should form a mystical Israel, the whole of that discourse would be more adapted to the commendation of the Gentiles, than of the Israelites; and encourage, rather than repress, the pride of the Gentiles. 4thly. As the fall and diminishing of Israel, ver. 12, and their casting away, ver. 15, are to be understood; so likewise the receiving and saving them; for here the rules of a just opposition must be observed. But the fall, diminishing, and casting away of Israel, are to be understood of the generality of the Jewish nation; therefore, the receiving and saving of Israel in like manner.
XXIII. From which it is evident, that Grotius trifles, when he is positive, that this prophecy was fulfilled, at that time, when the idols and military ensigns of the Romans were openly seen in the temple; because, that then many who had embraced Christianity, together with those who had been Christians before, were exempted from the following calamities. To which was added the conversion of many Jews, upon the destruction of the city and temple, since now the truth of Christ’s predictions appeared in a much clearer light, and the galling yoke of personal bondage had broke the obstinacy of many, as Vespasian and Titus put no bar in the way; for proving this he quotes a passage from Justin, adversus Tryphonem. But such absurd imaginations are contrary to the light of all history. For, during the siege, the whole of the Jewish nation, which was all over plunged in their guilt and perfidy, were made to suffer the just punishment of their sins. Which is very far from that salvation, which Paul here assures us of. If any joined the Christians at that time, their number was so inconsiderable, compared with the rest, as, that it is ludicrous to give them the name of all Israel. Justin says nothing, but that some of them, being daily instructed in the name of Christ, had quitted the way of error; which differs very much from all Israel. We may add, that by that fancy of Grotius, the times of casting away and receiving are entirely confounded. For never was the breaking off and cutting away the natural branches more palpably seen, according to the Baptist’s prophecy, Matt. 3:10, than at that time that Grotius imagines they were grafted in.
XXIV. In fine, the prophetic testimony, alleged by the apostle from Isa. 59:20, confirms our explanation; where the Hebrew words properly denote, the Redeemer shall come לציון, to Zion; or, according to the Septuagint, ἓνεκεν Σιὼν, on account of Zion, and unto them that turn from defection in Jacob. Paul, generally following the Septuagint, has rendered the words somewhat differently, but to the same purpose and meaning.
XXV. Observe, 1st. That the apostle here very justly explains Zion and Jacob of the Jews; for these are the natural sons of Jacob, natives, citizens of Zion; the others are only naturalized, that name therefore primarily, and of itself, agrees to them. And then also he speaks of those with whom the covenant was made; as it is said in the text, ver. 21, “This is my covenant with them:” but that testament and covenant belong to Israel, “whose are the covenants and promises,” Rom. 9:4; see Lev. 26:44, 45. Moreover, Zion and Jacob denote, not some few of Israel, but the whole body of that notion, as Gen. 49:7. For in Zion all the tribes had a right, Psa. 122:4.
XXVI. 2dly. The נואל Goel is promised to Zion, that is, the Kinsman-Redeemer, who can justly say these are mine, and that in right of consanguinity, for I am the nearest kinsman. True it is, Christ may be called the Goel and near kinsman of all nations, on account of his being of the same human nature with them, which he assumed; yet he is chiefly and first of all the Goel of Israel, because of them are the fathers, of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, Rom. 9:5. And therefore, perhaps, the apostle said, the Redeemer shall come out of Zion; for as the relation, which is expressed by the term Goel, could not be set forth by the Greek ῥυόμενος, he was willing, by this means, to make up the imperfection of the Greek language, by intimating, that the Redeemer was in such a manner to come to Zion, as at the same time, with respect to his human nature, to come out of Zion. The advent of the deliverer supposes also such a time, in which other lords, besides Jehovah, were to rule over Zion, Isa. 26:13, from whose illegal dominion he was, with a stretched-out arm, to set free and deliver his people.
XXVII. 3dly. The work of this redeemer will be to turn away iniquity from Jacob. In the Hebrew it runs, “he shall come to those that return from defection.” The meaning is the same; he will impart his grace and salvation to those who, by a true faith and repentance, shall return unto God. And as they cannot give this repentance to themselves, the Redeemer will bestow it upon them, see Acts 5:31. Not only the Greeks have thus rendered the words of the prophet, but also also the Chaldee, “and to turn the rebellious of the house of Jacob to the law.” And to this purpose is what follows in Isaiah 59:21, concerning giving the Spirit of God in Israel, and the putting his word in their mouth. The sum of the whole is, that, by the efficacy of the Redeemer, the Jews are in due time to be converted from their rebellion and transgressions.
XXVIII. 4thly. As this is not yet accomplished as to the whole body of the Israelites, and yet the Scripture must be fulfilled, the apostle has justly inferred, that in the last times it will be perfectly fulfilled. For, seeing the foundation thereof is God’s covenant with Israel, and this a firm covenant, stable, immutable, and suspended on no ambiguous condition (for what condition could that covenant admit, which allots both remission of sins and repentance to Israel?) it is not possible, but that every thing shall happen exactly according to the promise and prediction. And this is my covenant with them, saith God. But concerning this covenant he speaks as follows, Isa. 54:10: “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith Jehovah, that hath mercy on thee.” And again, Jer. 33:25, 26: “Thus saith Jehovah, if my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then I will cast away the seed of Jacob, and David my servant.” Add Psa. 105:8, 9, and Deut. 4:31. All this being addressed to the whole body of the nation, it must of necessity be fulfilled at the appointed time.
XXIX. 5thly. But because some perhaps might think, that those horrid crimes, of which the Israelites had been guilty, might hinder that blessing of God from coming to them; the apostle adds a testimony whereby God promises to take away their sins, which cannot but be accompanied with repentance and faith in the Messiah, and the communication of his grace. True, indeed, it is, we have not those words in Isa. 54. But yet they are in Isa. 27:9, where the Greek Version has the very words, ὃταν ἀφελωμαι τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν. It is not unusual with the apostle to collect several testimonies into one, and to explain the words of one passage by those of another. And indeed this observation was of great importance; for, if any thing should seem to stand in the way of the restoration of the Jews, it was their extreme impiety. Wherefore there are frequent promises concerning the expiation of the crimes they had committed, as Deut. 32:43, Jer. 33:8, and Jer. 50:20.
XXX. Some perhaps may say, are there not clearer expressions in proof of this matter in the prophets? Why then does the apostle pitch upon these, the force and cogency of which does not at first sight appear? I answer, there are such, which we shall presently produce: but here the supreme and admirable wisdom of the Holy Spirit shines forth, partly because by selecting these he would bring us to consider entire prophecies, which, as it were, he points out to us, and of such a nature, as to give full conviction of this matter. Partly that, by arguing from prophecies less evident, he might constrain us to give credit to such as are more clear and express. For who will take upon him to wrest to a different meaning such evident testimonies, as by the very sound of their words lead to this sense, when he observes, that Paul draws his reasons from such as seemed much more remote from the purpose?
XXXI. Should any one desire clearer testimonies, we offer the following to his consideration: from Moses, Lev. 26:41–45; Deut. 4:30, 31; Deut. 30:1–6; and Deut. 32:43. From the Psalms, Psa. 102:14–18, and Psa. 85:9, 10. From Isaiah, Isa. 11:11, 12; Isa. 19:24, 25; Isa. 49:14, &c.; Isa. 62 throughout. From Jeremiah, Jer. 3:18, &c.; Jer. 31:1, and from ver. 31 to the end; Jer. 32:37, &c.; Jer. 33:24–26. From Ezekiel, Ezek. 36:24, to the end; Ezek. 37 throughout, especially from ver. 15; Ezek. 39:25, to the end. Add Hosea 3:5. All these promises are more sublime, than that the time can be assigned, in which they can be supposed to have been as yet fulfilled. From the New Testament, add Matt. 23:29; Luke 21:24; 2 Cor. 3:16. The reader may please to see what we have said on this head in a particular book concerning the ten tribes of Israel, from chap. 9. to the end; where he will find most of those prophecies carefully, and at greater length explained.
XXXII. From all this it is evident, we are to expect the general conversion of the Israelites in time to come, not indeed of every individual, but of the whole body of the nation, and of the twelve tribes. We choose not to multiply minute questions, either out of curiosity or incredulity, concerning the time, place, manner, means, and the like circumstances of this mystery, which God has reserved in his own power. Let us maintain the thing itself, and leave the manner of it to God. We shall then best of all understand those obscure prophecies which describe it, when we shall be able to compare the event with them. Our Calvin, as his manner is, speaks with prudence and gravity: “Whenever the longer delay is apt to throw us into despair, let us recollect the word mystery, by which Paul clearly puts us in mind that this conversion is not to be in the ordinary or usual manner. And therefore they act amiss who attempt to measure it by their own private sentiments. For what more perverse than to account incredible what falls not in with our opinion? Being therefore called a mystery, because incomprehensible, until the time of its revelation. Moreover, it is revealed to us, as it was to the Romans, that our faith, acquiescing in the word, may support our expectation, until the effect itself be made manifest.” We shall conclude these things with the wish and words of Maimonides, at the end of his More Nevochim. “But may the great and good God himself purify all Israel, according to his promise; then the eyes of the blind will be opened. The people sitting in darkness have seen a great light: to those who sat in the shadow of death the light is arisen.”
XXXIII. Lastly, To this restoration of Israel shall be joined the riches of the whole church, and, as it were, life from the dead, Rom. 11:12: “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fulness!” and ver. 15: “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” The apostle intimates that much greater and more extensive benefits shall redound to the Christian church from the fulness and restoration of the Jews, than did to the Gentiles from their fall and diminution, greater, I say, intensively, or with respect to degrees, and larger with respect to extent.
XXXIV. As to intenseness or degrees, it is supposed that, about the time of the conversion of the Jews, the Gentile world will be like a dead person, in a manner almost as Christ describes the church of Sardis, Rev. 3:1, 2; namely, both that light of saving knowledge, and that fervent piety, and that lively and vigorous simplicity of ancient Christianity, will, in a course of years, be very much impaired. Many nations, who had formerly embraced the Gospel with much zeal, afterwards almost to be extinguished by the venom of Mahometanism, popery, libertinism, and atheism, would verify this prophecy; but, upon the restoration of the Jews, these will suddenly arise, as out of the grave; a new light will shine upon them, a new zeal be kindled up; the life of Christ be again manifested in his mystical body, more lively, perhaps, and vigorous than ever. Then, doubtless, many scripture prophecies will, after their accomplishment, be better understood; and such as now appear dark riddles shall then be found to contain a most distinct description of facts; many candles joined together give a greater light; a new fire laid near another gives a greater heat. And such will the accession of the Jews be to the church of the Gentiles.
XXXV. And not only so, but also many nations, among whom the name of Christ had long before been forgotten, shall be seen to flock again to the standard of salvation then erected. For there is a certain fulness of the Gentiles, to be gathered together by the successive preaching of the Gospel, which goes before the restoration of Israel, of which ver. 25; and another richness of the Gentiles, that comes after the recovery of Israel. For, while the Gospel for many ages was published now to this, then to that nation, others gradually departed from Christ; but when the fulness of the Jews is come, it is altogether probable that these nations will in great numbers return to Christ. An almost innumerable multitude of Jews reside in Asia, and Africa, among the Persians, Turks, Indians, Chinese, Japanese, and Tartars. When, therefore, by the almighty hand of God, these shall be brought to the communion of the Messiah, their love to him will be the more ardent, as their hatred against him had been formerly more bitter. And is it not more than probable, that the nations, among whom they live, being excited by their example and admonitions, shall come into the fellowship of the same faith? Certainly the words of the apostle lead us to this.
XXXVI. Agreeably to which James has said, Acts 15:15–17: “And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down, and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doth all these things. The reparation of the fallen tabernacle of David signifies the restoration of true and spiritual worship, among the Israelites. And when that shall come to pass, the rest of mankind who never gave up their names to Christ, and the nations upon whom his name was formerly called, but who, by their thoughtlessness, lost the benefit of the gospel, will then with emulation seek the Lord.
XXXVII. And what is more evident than that prophecy in Isaiah? The prophet, chap. 59:20, 21, having foretold the restoration of Israel, according to the apostles commentary, immediately, chap. 60:1, exclaims, “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee:” ver. 3, “And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising,” &c. Moreover, the riches of the church at that time are described, ver. 17, “for brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron;” the most magnificent words to the same purpose, follow these. From the consideration of which Peter Martyr has said, “that, indeed, according to almost all the prophets, especially Isaiah, the happiness of the church will be great; which it has not yet attained to, but it is probable that it will then (on the conversion of the Jews) attain to it. We have not, indeed, the least doubt, that there are many prophecies, both in the Old and New Testament, to this purpose, the full meaning of which we ardently pray the Supreme Being may teach his people by the event, the only undoubted interpreter of prophecies. It is, however, our duty to be modest on the head, and not rashly intrude into the secrets of providence, nor boldly abuse, what we are neither allowed to know, nor suffered to search into.