WHEN the fulness of time had come, the Word was made flesh. The Son took unto Himself the nature of man, and was born of the Virgin Mary. In considering His work when on earth, two things are to be kept in mind: first, that He became very man, and that by Him as man all His work was done. He could not cease to be God, but it was as the Incarnate Son that He wrought our redemption. In the power of the Holy Spirit, who descended upon Him at His baptism, He taught and did His mighty works. How He could be at the same time very God and very man, is a mystery that the Church has never explained to our intellectual comprehension; we accept it in faith; He was a man, not in appearance only, but in reality.
Another thing to be kept in mind is, that He took human nature as in His mother; in other words, that He took our fallen humanity—the nature that He came to redeem. This is strongly denied by many who affirm that the taking of our nature, which is sinful, would make Him a sinner and so make it impossible for Him to be our Redeemer from sin. But we remember what Bishop Browne has said (Exposition of the Thirtynine Articles) :"That sin is not a part of human nature, but a fault of it. . . . Original sin is not human nature, but an accident of that nature." If sin were an essential element of our humanity, we could not in this life cease to be sinners, and exhortations to lead a sinless life would be bitter mockery. How idle for St. Paul to say to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1: 8), that they should be "blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ"; and to the Philippians that they should be "children of God without blemish" (Phil. 2: 15); and of the Church that the Lord would present it to Himself, "not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy, and without blemish" (Eph. 5: 27).
As the Redeemer, the Son must first deliver man from the law of sin, then from the law of death. And this could be done only by one in mortal flesh, and yet not a sinner. The Word was made flesh that sin might be condemned in the flesh (Rom. 8: 3). He must be made in all points like unto those He came to save, and be subject to like temptations, and yet remain in all holy, blameless, undefiled (Heb. 2: n, 17; 4: 15). He kept perfectly the law of God; the Father's will was ever His will. Only through perfect and holy obedience in our flesh could He "condemn sin in the flesh."
Such being the relation of the Lord's humanity to our humanity—He being the brother of every child of Adam—let us note His more especial relations to the Jewish people as God's covenant people. The great promise of God to them was the Messiah and His Kingdom. In Eden, it was said as the initial prophecy, that the Seed of woman should bruise the serpent's head. More and more clearly to the successive generations were the Person and work of the Messiah revealed. That His Kingdom would be a righteous and holy one, and, therefore, that those who should enter into it must be righteous and holy, were truths abundantly made known through Moses and the prophets. Forms of worship were given that taught man both his moral condition as sinful, and how through animal sacrifices he might make confession of sin in its various forms, and through the sprinkling of blood be absolved and cleansed. All the Mosaic ritual was, as has been shown, prefigurative of the work of Christ as our Redeemer. The two altars set forth His twofold work, that of Atonement and that of Intercession. First, He must offer Himself upon the brazen altar—the Lamb without blemish or spot—a whole burnt offering; and then, ascending into Heaven, be made the Great High Priest to burn the incense upon the golden altar.
That the Jews should have understood fully the purpose of God in the Messiah as made known by Moses and the prophets, was not to be expected. To them the mystery of His Person was not known, and therefore not the manner of His work in their redemption. Their position was very like that of most Christians of to-day in regard to the yet future work of Christ. They saw through a glass darkly. But one thing they knew: that He would establish a kingdom, and that all nations would be subject to Him. The prophets had strenuously insisted on their righteousness and holiness as conditions of the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom; and had also foretold a special preparation to be made through the ministry of the prophet Elijah. The great question, therefore, was: Were they prepared to receive the Messiah? There was much speculation as to the manner in which He would come. Must not Elijah first come? What proofs would He give of His Messianic claims?
The Lord entered upon His ministry. What was the issue now presented to the Jews? It was a personal one. "Am I, or am I not, the promised Messiah?" (Lukec):18; Matt. 16: 13.) But not unheralded should He come. God sent the Baptist to call the attention of the ecclesiastical rulers to Him, and by the rite of baptism to show them their religious condition as unprepared, and their need of repentance. The Baptist's words and his baptism did so far awaken their attention that they sent a deputation to him at the Jordan to enquire into the grounds of his mission (John 1: 19). To this deputation John declared that the Messiah was at hand, indeed, was already present among them. But his testimony was disregarded, except by a very few. The ecclesiastical and religious leaders did not think it necessary to see Jesus in person, or apparently to make any further inquiries. But their position in regard to Him was from the first a hostile one, and after the healing of the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda He was compelled to leave Judea and go into Gallilee to save His life (John
The Jews were not to receive the Lord as the Messiah upon His mere word. They were entitled to ask proof. What proof should they ask? The Baptist had borne his witness, and they had disregarded it. There were two kinds of proof He might give—one through His redemptive works, and one through His teaching, thus showing that Moses and the prophets had spoken of Him (Luke 24: 44). Through these two, the Work and the Word, must He prove Himself to be the Messiah. Let us then consider the first, the Work, or the miracle—its character, and the place it holds in the redemptive economy. Are the miraculous and the supernatural to be identified?
The Work.—Of miracles various terms are used in the Scriptures, because of the various ways in which they may be viewed. They are termed "signs," "powers," "wonders," sometimes "works," or "mighty works." But we may still ask: What distinguishes a miracle? Is it in the power which is displayed in it? Is it in the end effected by it? Is it in the agent through whom the power is put forth? Is it in the relation of the miracle to the ordinary course of events? In their answers to these questions, writers on miracles are by no means agreed as to what constitutes the distinctly miraculous element.1
1 Mozely (On Miracles) finds the chief characteristic of a miracle to be "the correspondence of a fact with a notification that it will take place." "An event and the announcement of it." "The two taken together are proof of a superhuman agency." Bishop Lyttleton (Place of Miracles in Religion) says: "Miracles are occasional visible acts of power beyond human experience to account for, or human experience to explain, though sometimes wrought through human agency, and are impressed with the character of righteousness." It is said by Dr. Bushnell (Nature and the Supernatural): "A miracle differs from the supernatural working of a man upon nature in that it is the work of another and higher being." This is to say that man can of himself work a supernatural work, but cannot work a miracle. Archbishop Trench affirms "that an extraordinary Divine causality belongs to the essence of a miracle. . . . Beside and beyond the ordinary operations of nature, higher powers intrude and make themselves felt." We have thus a higher and Divine order manifesting itself in a lower. Oehler (Old Test. Theology, Trans.): "Miracles are extraordinary manifestations and occurrences in which God makes known His power for the purposes of His kingdom."
Without criticising the various definitions that have been given, we may note the leading characteristics of God's redemptive work in their bearing on the point before us:
1. That its end is to deliver man from the law of sin and death, and this is effected by words of truth and works of power;
2. That all is done by the Spirit of God, whoever may be the agent through whom the power is put forth, whether angels or men;
3. That redemption is not completed till the Redeemer gives up the Kingdom to the Father;
4. That miracles as redemptive have a place only in Unnature. Miracles wrought by Satanic agency will be spoken of later.
That the present order of the world is not as originally constituted, or no redemptive work would be needed, is plain. Nature has become Unnature, order has become disorder, human life has come under the power of disease and death. In the moral realm, good and evil everywhere struggle for mastery, both in the individual man and in society. In the material realm, there is strife and confusion. But this is not to say that in the present Unnature there is no fixed order, no permanent laws. Were this so, all rational life would be impossible. Law is indispensable to government. A usurper, taking possession of a newly conquered kingdom, must retain its old constitution and laws, or establish new, or anarchy follows. Unnature is not anarchy; there is an order, but it is not the primitive order; the present cosmos is disordered and the fruit of sin. But an exception to this present order would be extraordinary, and would awaken our wonder, and be rightly named miraculous; but not supernatural. We may not take the present order for the original and Divinely appointed standard, and by this judge acts and events, and affirm that miracles, being violations of it, are therefore incredible. The essential characteristic of a miracle, so-called, is that it is redemptive, and could therefore have had no place in the primitive order, where all was good, nor can it have in the future perfect order.
We thus see what is the relation of the miraculous to the supernatural. We know that the present order of nature is not the first and Divinely appointed, but is unnatural, and, therefore, not the standard by which to judge whether any events are truly supernatural. If a miracle is redemptive, it cannot have a supernatural character in the sense in which we have defined this term. It may be extraordinary and superhuman, but it is not a restoration of the primitive order. Take for instance the healings wrought by the Lord. All these miracles were works of restoration from disease. He heals a leper, or a palsied man. These are but temporary deliverances, the disease may return; the healed ones are not finally delivered from its power. He raised the dead, but all those raised died again, they were not set free from the law of death. The order established at the beginning was not restored.
It is from overlooking the fact that miracles are always, directly or indirectly, redemptive, and thus show an existing disorder, that leads many to say that they are violations of a primitive and immutable order, and therefore incredible. But this is to delude ourselves with words. We of ourselves know nothing of an order of nature but what our experience gives us, for through faith we believe that all was good at the first, and what it gives us we must accept. We cannot reject a fact because new to our very limited experience. Any well attested miracle is to be received like any other well attested fact. Our notions of its impossibility, based upon the belief that it has never taken place before, do not affect its reality. This fallacy of Hume, that man's knowledge and experience give a true standard of judgment, has long been exploded. Believing that man through his disobedience came under the law of death, and the earth under "the bondage of corruption," we can find no difficulty in believing in a redemptive work embracing both earth and man. But the object of this is not simply to restore the old, but to bring in the supernatural, the new, which has its beginning in the Resurrection of the Lord. All before this is remedial and transient in its effects; the supernatural is permanent, for it is the perfect.
In all that was done in redemption from the fall of Adam till the Lord ascended into Heaven, we find nothing, therefore, that can be properly called supernatural. There were from the first great and extraordinary workings of God, but all were remedial, tending to remove the evils of sin, to destroy the works of the devil, to bring men again into communion with God. They served also to prefigure the higher and heavenly relations to come through the risen Christ. But all was partial, imperfect, temporary, and preparatory to the next stage, when the supernatural would be made real and manifest under the glorified Lord. Till His Resurrection, no one healed by Him was delivered from the law of death. The curse upon the ground was not removed, men could find no Eden on the earth, the lost Paradise was not regained, the discords of the elements did not cease. Satan continued to be the god and prince of the present cosmos. The redemptive acts of God, however wonderful and mighty, served only as preparatory steps to bring in the perfect and unchangeable. The supernatural was not realised, nor could be till "the day of redemption" (Rom. 8: 23; Luke 21: 28).
To speak here of the Old Testament miracles in detail is impossible. Many were wrought by God through Moses, and later through others, as the prophets Elijah and Elisha. He also so directed the forces of nature as to do His will without human intervention, as in the Deluge, or He made use of the angels as His instruments.
With these remarks upon the place of the miracle in the work of redemption, we may proceed to notice a special class of miracles, because of their peculiar character, those wrought as credentials of a Divine commission. These are usually called "signs." As God makes known His will to men through men commissioned by Him, we are authorised to ask what proof they can give that they are sent by Him. This proof may be of two kinds: they may work miracles, or may appeal to the truth they teach. Let us briefly consider each.
It has already been said that it is a general belief among Christians that when God sends a message to men, He will always accredit the messenger by the power to work a miracle, and that this is a sufficient proof of his Divine commission. In this is a measure of truth. It is true that when God passes onward from one stage of His redemptive work to another, the new demands miraculous proof, but it is because of the new truth which is now brought forth. Those who act for Him in bringing in the new stage must, therefore, authenticate their Divine commission by a sign. An illustration of this is seen in the case of Moses. God was about to begin a new dispensation, to lay its foundations, and to make known its fundamental laws. A people was to be brought into new and special relations to Him, and Moses was therefore obliged to show to them that he had a Divine commission. To this end, God gave him power to work certain signs (Ex. 4:1). The people seeing and accepting these signs as sufficient proof, he then proceeds to fulfil his mission of delivering them from their Egyptian bondage, and of leading them to the Promised Land. But these credential signs are to be distinguished from the miracles which he subsequently wrought in the prosecution of their deliverance. As credentials, their end was accomplished when the people believed that he was sent of God, and were ready to follow him. All later miracles would, indeed, serve as credentials, but they were not wrought for that purpose.
The Word.—A second proof that men are sent of God to reveal His will, is the truth they teach. But this involves the fact that they to whom His messages are sent have already some knowledge of His truth. When God has once spoken, His recorded or remembered words remain the standard of all His future words; their meaning is, perhaps, enlarged or somewhat modified, but never contradicted. The new must be in harmony with the old. This is seen in the case of all the prophets following Moses. The truths he had taught were the norm by which their utterances were to be judged. After the death of Moses, the leading of the people into the Promised Land was given to Joshua, but he wrought no miracle as a credential. He was chosen of God to carry on the work begun by Moses, and therefore he was directed to do all according to the Law which Moses had commanded (Josh. 1: 7). And this Law continued to be the rule for judging all future prophetic utterances, for of none of the prophets, except in the cases of Elijah and Elisha, and one other unknown, do we find that they wrought any miracles. Nor were those of Elijah or Elisha wrought in proof that they were sent as prophets but in discharge of their functions as guides and leaders of the people. The prophets all appeal to the religious discernment of their hearers, based upon the teachings of the Law; the truths they uttered were their own evidence. As God's purpose moved onward, there was ever need of new prophetic light and warning, but the purpose was one, the Law unchanged.
As the Incarnate Son came in person to bring in a new stage of redemption, He, like Moses, must give visible proof that He was sent of God. And this He did. He wrought certain miracles as signs, or credentials, and these were of various kinds. The first, wrought before His mother and newly gained disciples, was the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast. This, indeed, was not so much to awaken as to confirm their faith in Himself, and to show the character of His mission—the change of the lower into the higher. This is called the "beginning of his signs," and is the key to them all (John 2: 11). He wrought other signs soon after at Jerusalem, and we are told that many believed on Him (John 2: 23). One of these was Nicodemus, who said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these signs that Thou doest, except God be with him." But these signs, done by Him in proof of His Divine sending, are, as in the case of Moses, to be distinguished from those done in the subsequent prosecution of His ministry. But they did not convince the Pharisees and Sadducees. They would not believe unless He gave them such a sign as they demanded (Matt. 16: 1).
Besides the initial or credential miracles which addressed themselves to the heads of the people, the Lord wrought many more in fulfilling His work as the Redeemer (John 7: 31). Each was indeed a proof of His Divine commission, but its object was to show that there could be deliverance from the law of sin and death, and that if men would receive Him, He would be their deliverer (Matt. 8: 16, 17). As it is said of Him, He "went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil" (Acts 10: 38). All works done by the Lord when on earth were signs and proofs that whatever was evil in the realms of nature would be overcome, all were foreshadowings of the future redemption, thus proving Him to be the Redeemer. But as He did not correspond to their conception of a conquering Messiah, His miracles were of little avail, and the greatest of these, the resurrection of Lazarus, only made the rulers more eager and persistent to put Him to death.
But the chief appeal of the Lord was to His words, and their truth, not to His miracles. The Jews of His day had Moses and the prophets, and by their teachings they were to judge His words (John 5: 46); and all of them who had studied the Scriptures aright, and had true spiritual discernment, did not need a miracle to convince them that He was sent of God. His first disciples were made through a brief converse with Him, leading to the conviction that He was the promised Messiah (John 1: 41). They asked for no miracle. And it was to the perception of the truth which He taught that He attached the highest importance. The miracle held a subordinate place. Of those who believed, seeing the signs which He did, it is said, "Jesus did not trust Himself unto them" (John 2: 24).
The Jews having the Law and the prophets, should have believed the evidence of His words, as in perfect harmony with them, but if they did not He added the evidence of His works. "Though ye believe Me not, believe My works." "The works that I do, bear witness of Me that the Father hath sent Me" (John 5: 36). In the case of the Baptist, whose faith seems to have failed in his imprisonment, He referred to His works (Matt. 11: 5). Always the word has a higher place than the work, because to receive it shows a receptiveness to the truth already existing. The Lord said: "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me" (John s: 46). He reproved those who would not believe except they saw signs and wonders. St. Paul reasoned with the Jews out of the Scriptures, but he made no appeal to Christ's miracles (Acts 13: I7~)- When many of His disciples went back because of His hard teaching, Peter, who became His disciple through His word, said: "To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life" (John 6: 68).
This rejection of Jesus as the Messiah by the heads of the people led to another form of His ministry, carried on in Galilee, in which His words and works were still to prove His Messianic claims, but were to be addressed to all the people. Foreseeing that the covenant people would not receive Him, He gathered disciples around Him, and taught them the meaning of the Law and the Prophets, and of the nature of His own relations to the Father, that they might serve as the foundation of His Church. From the Apostles, after much instruction, He obtained the confession: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16: 16). Now could He take another step, and tell them of His approaching death. But He does not tell them how His death stood related to their deliverance from the law of sin and death. Only after His Resurrection could they apprehend the significance of His death on the cross as the means of bringing in a new and higher life.
A few words may be said of the Lord's relation to angels, good and evil, during His earthly ministry.
In the previous mention of angels the question was asked as to their powers over the material forces of nature, and the supposition made that they may have been the helpers of the Word in the formation of the earth. It is in itself probable from the part they play in the Divine economy that they may have a knowledge of the qualities of matter and of its forces, and of its possible combinations, far surpassing all that science has yet discovered. If man obtains control over material nature by knowing its laws, how much larger may their knowledge be, and how much greater their control. The most recent discoveries of science may have been long known to them.
But whether the angels have the power to do those extraordinary works which we call miracles, by virtue of their place as angels, or are endowed at the time specially for their service, they have played a most important part in man's redemption, as we see in the Old Testament. Of the various forms of their activity, mention has been made. But there is in the relation of the Lord when on earth to the angels who had served Him, one point of interest to be noted. After He had humbled Himself to take our nature, and was "made a little lower than the angels" (Heb. 2:9), He is never said to have exercised any authority over them, or to have employed them in His service during His earthly ministry. It is the Father who at His prayer sends to Him twelve legions of angels. In the wilderness, after His temptation, and in the garden, after His agony, angels, sent by the Father, came and ministered unto Him. It was not till after His Ascension that it is said, "Angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him" (1 Peter 3: 22), and it is at His return that the Father saith, "Let all the angels of God worship Him" (Heb. 1:6), and they come with Him when He comes to take the Kingdom (Matt. 24: 31).
Of the relation of the Lord when on earth to evil angels, the Gospels give us abundant information. Of demoniacal possessions we need not here speak, except to note that it was His presence that awakened the fear and, doubtless, also stimulated the hostility of the evil spirits. "To cast out devils" is spoken of as an important part of His redemptive work (Mark 1: 34; 3: 11). But His enemies saw in this only a proof that He was acting in collusion with the prince of the devils (Matt. 9: 34).
Of miracles wrought by evil angels, no particular instance is given in the Scriptures, but it is said by Archbishop Trench: "That it is meant in Scripture to attribute real wonders to Satan, there is no manner of doubt." But Satan's work is to mar, to destroy, and the sphere of his operations is in the fallen, the unnatural. The greater the disorder and confusion, physical and moral, the greater is his power. Man separated from God is open to all forms of Satanic temptation. Unwilling to obey the truth, he is ready to accept the lie. False prophets appear, miracle workers abound, and all without spiritual discernment are led astray. Our Lord declared that just before His return, false Christs would arise, and show great signs and wonders (Matt. 24: 24). Satan has his false gospel, and confirms it by lying wonders. He gives credentials through many signs, and especially to his last and chief representative, the man of sin, of whom it is said that his "coming is according to the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders" (2 Thess. 2:9). Of these, Archbishop Trench says: "They are lying wonders, not because in themselves frauds and illusions, but because they are wrought in support of the kingdom of lies." Of the false prophet, the builder of the church of the Antichrist, it is said: "He doeth great wonders [signs, R. V.] . . . and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth, by the means of those miracles [signs] which he had power to do" (Rev. 13 : 13,14).
That there were false prophets in the Lord's day, we know from His warning words (Matt. 7: 15). But who were they, and what was the character of their prophecies? Mention has been made already of two classes of prophets among the Jews—those prophesying through the Holy Spirit given them, and those prophesying out of their own hearts. The last were false prophets, not because they denied Jehovah or a Divine purpose, but because they mistook that purpose, and thus led the people astray. Of this class were many in the Lord's day. They did not believe that the condition of things was so evil as the Baptist declared, or that the Lord's predictions of coming judgments could be fulfilled. God would not deliver His city and temple to be destroyed. The Messiah would speedily come and save them. The burden of their prophecy was peace and safety. They were His covenant people, God would not forsake them. To say this, was blasphemy (Acts 6: 11-).
We do not read of any signs or miracles wrought by these false prophets in attestation of their words. It is by their predictions that they deceive, and this form of deception continues to the end (1 John 4:1). But we are told that before the Lord's return, both forms of Satanic activity —the deceiving word and the deceiving miracle— will be heard and seen (Matt. 24: 11, 24). Satan himself, transformed into an angel of light, will have his teachers of lies who will come in the like guise, and his miracle workers with their flattering predictions; who will confirm the prophetic words by their works. All elements and powers of deception will be seen in full exercise, and it is foretold that multitudes will be deceived: "The whole earth wondered after the beast. . . . All that dwell on the earth shall worship him, every one whose name hath not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb" (Rev. 13: 3, 8).
Prophecy.—We may now ask how far the Lord's prophetic words served as credentials of His mission. He was often called a prophet (Luke 7: 16; John 6: 14), and even in the day of His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the multitude said, "This is the prophet, Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee" (Matt. 21: 11). But in prophecy, which involves a fulfilment in a more or less distant future, there cannot be a proof of the prophet's mission till his words are fulfilled (Deut. 18: 22); and the Lord did not appeal to it. He predicted many things, but His predictions looked forward to events after His own day, and were not proofs to convince those who heard Him of His Divine commission. He foretold His own death, and the speedy destruction of Jerusalem, and the persecution of His disciples. All these were near at hand, but too late to serve as credentials, and most of His predictions referred to a distant future in the history of the Jews and of His Church.1
1 It is no part of the present writing to interpret the Lord's prophecies, but it should not be overlooked in the study of them that they have a wide and far-reaching scope, and look far into the future. This is especially the case in His answer to the question of the disciples: "When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (or" consummation of the age ") (Matt. 24:3). While He makes mention of some signs common to all times, wars, pestilences, and famines, He makes the special sign to be, "The abomination of desolation stand[ing] in the holy place." This sign may have had an early partial fulfilment in the Zealots when the Temple was destroyed, but it awaits its complete realisation at the end of the age, when the lawless one, the man of sin, appears, seating himself in the Temple of God, the last and greatest of the many Antichrists, he whom the Lord will destroy at His coming (Matt. 24: 15; 2 Thess. 2 :8). It may be questioned whether there is in this discourse of the Lord any reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, although He spoke of it at other times (Luke 21 : 20). He seems rather to have looked forward to that capture of the city of which Zechariah speaks (Zech. 14 : 1-8), the day when He shall come and His holy ones with Him, and stand upon the Mount of Olives. To this time, also, the judgment of the nations (Matt. 25 :32) may be referred, and those who then gather against Jerusalem (Zech. 14 : 2) be the same as "the nations" (Rev. 19 : 15), the armies, of the Beast. The standard of this judgment is the treatment of His people during the antichristian persecutions (Matt. 25: 40-45).
We may notice the Lord's relation to the worship of His day. The imperfection, or, rather, mutilation, of the Mosaic ritual, through the emptiness of the Most Holy Place, has already been spoken of, and this must have especially grieved the heart of the Lord whenever He worshipped at the Temple, for it was a continual reminder of the sin of the people. But so long as His Father accepted the remaining rites, and made them a blessing to sincere worshippers, He honoured His Father not only by His own worship, but also by His acts in cleansing the sanctuary from its desecrations by the traffickers who made it a den of thieves (Matt. 21: 13; John 2: 15).
Doubtless, there was much else done within the Temple equally abhorrent to Him, much in the priesthood that was worthy of severest condemnation. There were the high priests, Annas and Caiaphas, who wore upon their foreheads the golden plate, "Holy to the Lord," when their hearts were full of hate toward Him, the Holy One. It is a legitimate inference from the part the priests took in the crucifixion of Christ, that a considerable majority, at least, were bitterly hostile to Him, and rejoiced in His death. Probably, most of them really believed that they were doing God service (John 16: 2; Luke 23: 34). But it is to be noted that the woes pronounced by the Lord were upon the Scribes and Pharisees, and not upon the priests (Matt. 23). We are told that a little later "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).
It is no wonder that the end of this worship, led by those who put His Son to death, should speedily have come, in God's providence, through the destruction of the Temple by Titus.
The Jews were henceforth to be like other nations to whom the Gospel was to be preached. The circumcised must now be baptised, the highest place in the Messianic Kingdom was no longer theirs, but given to the people of the new covenant; and these were to be gathered from all nations. But for the Jews, one privilege was reserved: to them first the Gospel should be preached.
Mention has already been made of the unconscious hypocrisy that had become so marked a feature of the religious life of the people during the post-exilic period. The Lord met it everywhere in His day. It was the belief both of individuals and of the nation, as represented in its religious leaders, that God was so obeyed and honoured by them that He was well pleased with them; and that all words of condemnation were contrary to His will. "We have Abraham to our Father," "We be Abraham's seed," was in their belief a sufficient reply to the stern reproofs of the Baptist and of the Lord (Matt. 3:9; John 8: 33). It seemed to them impossible that God could be really angry with His covenant people.
The same spirit of self-righteousness was seen in individuals. The young ruler could say of the Commandments: "All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?" (Matt. 19: 20.)
The Pharisee thanked God that he was not as other men. "I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all I possess" (Luke 18: 11, 12). Another would pull the mote out of his brother's eye, but considered not the beam in his own eye. The Lord denounced the Scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites in the sevenfold woe (Matt. 23). But they justified themselves. They were maintaining the old truth against Him, who taught doctrines unknown to their fathers. They were not conscious, but unconscious hypocrites, and therefore Jesus could pray for them: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23: 34). They thought themselves to be what they were not. From this delusion they could be set free only by the severe judgments of God teaching them how they appeared in His eyes.
We are to note the words of the Lord in reference to the proselyting work of the Jews in His day. "Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte and when he is made, ye make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves" (Matt. 23: 15). The universal proclamation of the Gospel by the Church in obedience to the command, "Go, . . . make disciples of all the nations," is in striking contrast to the attitude of the Jews to the peoples around them.
The laws of Moses, civil and religious, were for a single people, those living within a very limited territory, and having one central place of worship. There was no command given them to go without their national boundaries, and gather worshippers. That all the nations would be finally brought under the rule of the Messiah, was one of the promises to Abraham, and often repeated by the prophets, but it would not be fulfilled till He came to set up the Messianic Kingdom. There was no command to convert the Gentiles to Judaism as a preparatory step. There were, indeed, prophetic words addressed to them, as by the prophet Amos and others, but these words were spoken at Jerusalem, and it is uncertain whether or not they were ever made known to those addressed. It is true that a mixed multitude went up with Moses out of Egypt, but they were in no true sense proselytes, and that through the dispersion of the Jews at the exile and after, there were many Gentile proselytes in the Lord's day. Through the scattered Jews, some great truths of their religion, especially that of one God, had been made known to many. But the Lord did not look on the proselyting zeal of the Pharisees with favour (Matt. 23: 15). Not till the foundation of redemption had been laid by the sacrifice on the cross, the Crucified One set as the Head of the Church, and the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven, was the command given to preach the Gospel to every creature. Now could the preaching of the cross, without distinction of race, begin. However it might have been in the patriarchal times (and doubtless God had then faithful preachers of His truth), to the Jews no command was given that should go and make converts among the neighbouring peoples. There were occasional proselytes, but no appointed missionary work.
We may see in the spiritual condition of the Jews as seen by the Lord, the ground of His severe condemnation of their labour to make proselytes (Matt. 23: 15). Mistaking the Divine purpose, wholly unconscious of their own sins, and conspiring to kill Him who told them the truth, they were not those to be sent forth to teach the heathen people the righteousness and holiness of God.
The Lord's work among the living ended when on the cross He cried, "It is finished." But He had still a mission to fulfil among the dead. In Hades was an innumerable company—all the generations from Adam downward—and these were of widest diversities of character and knowledge, of all forms of religious beliefs, and of lives of all degrees of goodness and wickedness. No eye but that of God could know their hearts, and judge of the moral condition of each, and assign fitting reward or punishment.
While we speak of Sheol, or Hades, or Hell, as the place where abide the souls of the departed, yet we are told that all do not dwell indiscriminately together. There are distinct places of abode corresponding to moral character—Paradise, Abraham's Bosom, the Pit, the depths of Sheol, or lowest Hell. In affirming our belief that the Lord descended into Hell, or went to the place of separated spirits, we affirm that He had a mission to fulfil toward some of those there gathered. To what class did He go? Those only are specifically mentioned who perished in the Deluge. Did He preach to these alone? Or are these mentioned as a sample or illustration of all? And what was the content of the Lord's preaching? Into these questions, we need not enter. But we cannot believe that He went to announce to any their eternal condemnation, but rather to announce the redemptive work He had done—a message of comfort and of hope. But we note that whatever of change for the better His mission may have made in those to whom He spake, it was one of degree, not of kind. He made known no new probation to be in the disembodied state whereby the evil might become the good, the unholy the holy. The unrepentant remained such, but there might be in all others progress from lower degrees of knowledge and goodness to higher.