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The Faith of the Church under the Old Testament in and concerning the Person of Christ.
A brief view of the faith of the church under the Old Testament concerning the divine person of Christ, shall close these discourses, and make way for those that ensue, wherein our own duty with respect whereunto shall be declared.
That the faith of all believers, from the foundation of the world, had a respect unto him, I shall afterwards demonstrate; and to deny it, is to renounce both the Old Testament and the New. But that this faith of theirs did principally respect his person, is what shall here be declared. Therein they knew was laid the foundation of the counsels of God for their deliverance, sanctification, and salvation. Otherwise it was but little they clearly understood of his office, or the way whereby he would redeem the church.
The apostle Peter, in the confession he made of him, Matt. xvi. 16, exceeded the faith of the Old Testament in this, that he applied the promise concerning the Messiah unto that individual person: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” — he that was to be the Redeemer and Saviour of the church. Howbeit Peter then knew little of the way and manner whereby he was principally so to be. And therefore, when he began to declare them unto his disciples — namely, that they should be by his death and sufferings — he in particular was not able to comply with it, but, saith he, “Master, that be far from thee,” verse 22. As “flesh and blood” — that is, his own reason and understanding — did not reveal or declare Him unto Peter to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, but the Father which is in heaven; so he stood in need of fresh assistance 101from the same almighty hand to believe that He should redeem and save his church by his death. And therefore he did refuse the external revelation and proposition of it, though made by Christ himself, until he received internal aid from above. And to suppose that we have faith now in Christ or his death on any other terms, is an evidence that we have no faith at all.
Wherefore, the faith of the saints under the Old Testament did principally respect the person of Christ — both what it was, and what it was to be in the fulness of time, when he was to become the seed of the woman. What his especial work was to be, and the mystery of the redemption of the church thereby, they referred unto his own wisdom and grace; — only, they believed that by him they should be saved from the hand of all their enemies, or all the evil that befell them on the account of the first sin and apostasy from God.
God gave them, indeed, representations and prefigurations of his office and work also. He did so by the high priest of the law, the tabernacle, with all the services and services thereunto belonging. All that Moses did, as a faithful servant in the house of God, was but a “testimony of those things which were to be spoken after,” Heb. iii. 5. Howbeit the apostle tells us that all those things had but a “shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things themselves,” Heb. x. 1. And although they are now to us full of light and instruction, evidently expressing the principal works of Christ’s mediation, yet were they not so unto them. For the veil is now taken off from them in their accomplishment, and a declaration is made of the counsels of God in them by the Gospel. The meanest believer may now find out more of the work of Christ in the types of the Old Testament, than any prophets or wise men could have done of old. Therefore they always earnestly longed for their accomplishment — that the day might break, and the shadows fly away by the rising of the Sun of Righteousness with healing in his wings. But as unto his person, they had glorious revelations concerning it; and their faith in him was the life of all their obedience.
The first promise, which established a new intercourse between God and man, was concerning his incarnation — that he should be the seed of the woman, Gen. iii. 15; that is, that the Son of God should be “made of a woman, made under the law,” Gal. iv. 4. From the giving of that promise the faith of the whole church was fixed on him whom God would send in our nature, to redeem and save them. Other way of acceptance with him there was none provided, none declared, but only by faith in this promise. The design of God in this promise — which was to reveal and propose the only way which in his wisdom and grace he had prepared for the deliverance 102of mankind from the state of sin and apostasy whereinto they were cast, with the nature of the faith and obedience of the church — will not admit of any other way of salvation, but only faith in him who was thus promised to be a saviour. To suppose that men might fall off from faith in God by the revelation of himself in this promise, and yet be saved by attending to instructions given by the works of creation and providence, is an imagination that will no longer possess the minds of men than whilst they are ignorant of, or do forget, what it is to believe and to be saved.
The great promise made unto Abraham was, that He should take his seed upon him, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed, Gen. xii. 3; xv. 18; xxii. 18; which promise is explained by the apostle, and applied unto Christ, Gal. iii. 8. Hereon “Abraham believed on the Lord, and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” Gen. xv. 6; for he saw the day of Christ, and rejoiced, John viii. 56.
The faith that Jacob instructed his sons in was — that the Shiloh should come, and unto him should be the gathering of the nations, Gen. xlix. 10. Job’s faith was — that his Redeemer was the Living One, and that he should stand on the earth in the latter day, Job xix. 25.
The revelations made unto David principally concerned His person, and the glory thereof. See Ps. ii., xlv., lxviii., lxviii., cx., cxviii., especially Ps. xlv. and lxxii. compared, which give an account of their apprehensions concerning him.
The faith of Daniel was, that God would show mercy, for the Lord’s sake, Dan. ix. 17; and of all the prophets that the “Redeemer should come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob,” Isa. lix. 20.
Of the same nature were all his personal appearances under the Old Testament, especially that most illustrious representation made of him unto the prophet Isaiah, chap. vi., and the glorious revelation of his name, chap. ix. 6.
It is true that both these and other prophets had revelations concerning his sufferings also. For “the Spirit of Christ that was in them testified beforehand of his sufferings, and the glory that should follow,” 1 Peter i. 11; — an illustrious testimony whereunto we have given us Ps. xxii., and Isa. liii. Nevertheless their conceptions concerning them were dark and obscure. It was his person that their faith principally regarded. Thence were they filled with desires and expectations of his coming, or his exhibition and appearance in the flesh. With the renewed promises hereof did God continually refresh the church in its straits and difficulties. And hereby did God call off the body of the people from trust in themselves, or boasting in their present privileges, which they were exceedingly prone unto.
103In process of time this faith, which wrought effectually in the Church of Israel, degenerated into a lifeless opinion, that proved the ruin of it. Whilst they really lived in the faith of him as the Saviour and Redeemer of the church from all its spiritual adversaries, as he who was to make “an end of sin, and bring in everlasting righteousness,” unto whom all their present ordinances were subservient and directive; all grace, love, zeal, and patient waiting for the accomplishment of the promise, flourished among them. But in process of time, growing carnal, trusting in their own righteousness, and the privileges which they had by the law, their faith concerning the person of Christ degenerated into a corrupt, obstinate opinion, that he should be only a temporal king and deliverer; but as unto righteousness and salvation they were to trust unto themselves and the law. And this prejudicate opinion, being indeed a renunciation of all the grace of the promises of God, proved their utter ruin. For when he came in the flesh, after so many ages, filled up with continued expectations, they rejected and despised him as one that had neither form nor comeliness for which he should be desired. So doth it fall out in other churches. That which was faith truly spiritual and evangelical in their first planting, becomes a lifeless opinion in succeeding ages. The same truths are still professed, but that profession springs not from the same causes, nor doth it produce the same effects in the hearts and lives of men. Hence, in process of time, some churches continue to have an appearance of the same body which they were at first, but — being examined — are like a lifeless, breathless carcass, wherein the animating Spirit of grace doth not dwell. And then is any church, as it was with that of the Jews, nigh to destruction, when it corrupts formerly professed truths, to accommodate them unto the present lusts and inclinations of men.
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