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ESSAY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT

ROMANS IV.

Ἡνίκα δ᾽ ἂν ἐπιστρέψῃ πρὸς κύριον, περιαιρεῖται τὸ κάλυμμα.
2 Cor. iii. 16.

THUS we have reached another stage in the development of the great theme. The new commandment has become old; faith is taught in the Book of the Law. ‘Abraham had faith in God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.’ David spoke of the forgiveness of sins in the very spirit of the Gospel. The Old Testament is not dead, but alive again. It refers not to the past, but to the present. The truths which we daily feel, are written in its pages. There are the consciousness of sin and the sense of acceptance. There is the veiled remembrance of a former world, which is also the veiled image of a future one.

To us the Old and New Testaments are two books, or two parts of the same book, which fit into one another, and can never be separated or torn asunder. They are double one against the other, and the New Testament is the revelation of the Old. To the first believers it was otherwise: as yet there was no New Testament; nor is there any trace that the authors of the New Testament ever expected their own writings to be placed on a level with the Old. We can scarcely imagine what would have been the feeling of St. Paul, could he have foreseen that later ages would look not to the faith of Abraham in the law, 133but to the Epistle to the Romans, as the highest authority on the doctrine of justification by faith; or that they would have regarded the allegory of Hagar and Sarah, in the Epistle to the Galatians, as a difficulty to be resolved by the inspiration of the Apostle. Neither he who wrote, nor those to whom he wrote, could ever have thought that words which were meant for a particular Church were to give life also to all mankind; and that the Epistles in which they occurred were one day to be placed on a level with the Books of Moses themselves.

But if the writings of the New Testament were regarded by the contemporaries of the Apostle in a manner different from that of later ages, there was a difference, which it is far more difficult for us to appreciate, in their manner of reading the Old Testament. To them it was not half, but the whole, needing no thing to be added to it or to counteract it, but containing everything in itself. It seemed to come home to them; to be meant specially for their age; to be understood by them, as its words had never been understood before. ‘Did not their hearts burn within them?’ as the Apostles expounded to them the Psalms and Prophets. The manner of this exposition was that of the age in which they lived. They brought to the understanding of it, not a knowledge of the volume of the New Testament, but the mind of Christ. Sometimes they found the lesson which they sought in the plain language of Scripture; at other times, coming round to the same lesson by the paths of allegory, or seeming even in the sound of a word to catch an echo of the Redeemer’s name. Various as are the writings of the Old Testament, composed by such numerous authors, at so many different times, so diverse in style and subject, in them all they read only—the truth of 134Christ. They read without distinctions of moral and ceremonial, type and antitype, history and prophecy, without inquiries into the original meaning or connexion of passages, without theories of the relation of the Old and New Testaments. Whatever contrast existed was of another kind, not of the parts of a book, but of the law and faith; of the earlier and later dispensations. The words of the book were all equally for their instruction; the whole volume lighted up with new meaning.

What was then joined cannot now be divided or put asunder. The New Testament will never be unclothed of the Old. No one in later ages can place himself in the position of the heathen convert who learnt the name of Christ first, afterwards the Law and the Prophets. Such instances were probably rare even in the first days of the Christian Church. No one can easily imagine the manner in which St. Paul himself sets the Law over against the Gospel, and at the same time translates one into the language of the other. Time has closed up the rent which the law made in the heart of man; and the superficial resemblances on which the Apostle sometimes dwells, have not the same force to us which they had to his contemporaries. But a real unity remains to ourselves as well as to the Apostle, the unity not of the letter, but of the spirit, like the unity of life or of a human soul, which lasts on amid the changes of our being. The Old Testament and the New do not dovetail into one another like the parts of an indenture; it is a higher figure than this, which is needed to describe the continuity of the Divine work. Or rather, the simple fact is above all figures, and can receive no addition from philosophical notions of design, or the observation of minute coincidences. What we term the Old and New dispensation 135is the increasing revelation of God, amid the accidents of human history: first, in Himself; secondly, in His Son, gathering not one nation only, but all mankind into His family. It is the vision of God Himself, true and just, and remembering mercy in one age of the world; not ceasing to be true and just, but softening also into human gentleness, and love, and forgiveness, and making His dwelling in the human heart in another. The wind, and the earth quake, and the fire pass by first, and after that ‘the still small voice’. This is the great fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets in the Gospel. No other religion has anything like it. And the use of language, and systems of theology, and the necessity of ‘giving ideas through something’, and the prayers and thoughts of eighteen hundred years, have formed another connexion between the Old and New Testament, more accidental and outward, and also more intricate and complex, which is incapable of being accurately drawn out, and ought not to be imposed as an article of faith; which yet seems to many to supply a want in human nature, and gives expression to feelings which would otherwise be unuttered.

It is not natural, nor perhaps possible, to us to cease to use the figures in which ‘holy men of old’ spoke of that which belonged to their peace. But it is well that we should sometimes remind ourselves, that ‘all these things are a shadow, but the body is of Christ’. Framed as our minds are, we are ever tending to confuse that which is accidental with that which is essential, to substitute the language of imagery for the severity of our moral ideas, to en tangle Divine truths in the state of society in which they came into the world or in the ways of thought of a particular age. ‘All these things are a shadow’; that is to say, not only the temple and tabernacle, 136and the victim laid on the altar, and the atonement offered once a year for the sins of the nation; but the conceptions which later ages express by these words, so far as anything human or outward or figurative mingles with them, so far as they cloud the Divine nature with human passions, so far as they imply, or seem to imply, anything at variance with our notions of truth and right, are as much, or even more a shadow than that outward image which belonged to the elder dispensation. The same Lord who compared the scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven to a householder who brought forth out of his treasure things new and old, said also in a figure, that ‘new cloth must not be put on an old garment’ or ‘new wine into old bottles’.

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