IN Lord Beaconsfield’s Life of Lord George Bentinck there is a pathetically interesting chapter about the treatment meted out to the Jews by Christendom. He attributes their persistent rejection of Christianity to the fact that it was by a campaign of persecution and outrage that “the Christian religion” sought to force itself upon their acceptance. His own Jewish ancestors, as we know, were driven out of Spain by the Inquisition. “Is it wonderful, therefore,” he might well ask, “that a great portion of the Jewish race should not believe in the most important portion of the Jewish religion?” For thus he correctly describes the atonement of Calvary. The “orthodox” figment that Christ came to found a new religion was in effect the gravamen of the charge on which the Apostle Paul was arraigned by his Jewish persecutors. For preaching a new religion was an offense against Roman law. And the Apostle’s defense was an emphatic repudiation of that charge. In his ministry among them, he declared, he taught “nothing but what the prophets and Moses did say should come.” ( Acts 26:22,23) Blessing for Gentiles is not a New Testament truth. It was assured by the promise to Abraham, and explicitly foretold in Hebrew prophecy. But that “the people of the covenant” should lose nationally the privileged position of earthly testimony is a New Testament “mystery,”( Romans 11:25) albeit Christians in general regard it as a matter of course. The <451101> 11th chapter of Romans teaches explicitly that the present economy is abnormal and temporary. For the olive tree is not the symbolism of a heavenly calling, but of the place of earthly testimony. And the “natural branches” of the olive tree are the covenant people.
But were not the natural branches broken off? Such is the false belief of Christendom religion. The teaching of Scripture is that “some of the branches” were broken off, and that, “contrary to nature,” wild olive branches (i.e. Gentiles) have been “grafted in among them.” But the root of the olive remains, and the root is the people of the Abrahamic covenant. ( Romans 11:17-24) For “to them pertaineth the covenants.” ( Romans 9:4) This cannot be evaded by the plea that, when the Epistle to the Romans was written, the “Pentecostal Dispensation” was still current, and therefore a place of repentance was still open to the Jews. For the very same principle obtains with reference to the heavenly Church, the full revelation of which is found in “the Captivity Epistles.” Gentile Christians seem to regard the Church, the Body of Christ, as theirs in a peculiar sense, whereas in Ephesians 3:6 the Apostle represents it as a signal proof of Divine grace “that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs (with Israelites) and fellowmembers of the body.”
Appealing to the Savior’s intercessory prayer upon the Cross as securing Divine forgiveness for Israel for crucifying the Messiah, Lord Beaconsfield rightly challenges the received belief that the destruction of Jerusalem was a judgment for that greatest of all human sins. And yet that it was a Divine judgment is unquestionable. And if not for the crucifixion, how can it be accounted for. Here Lord Beaconsfield entirely misses the significance of the facts, and the nature of the question to which the facts give rise. It is a question, moreover, of exceptional interest, and of great importance in relation to the present inquiry. And a clew to the solution of it will be found in the events of the Babylonian era.
Because of national apostasy, the Divine judgment of the Servitude to Babylon fell upon Judah in the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim.
But owing to their continued impenitence, the severer judgment of the “Captivity” followed, nine years after the “Servitude” began. Even this, however, failed to move them; and in the seventeenth year of the “Servitude,” their persistent obduracy brought on them the third, and far more terrible, judgment of the seventy years’ “Desolations.” That era began on the day when, for the third time, the Babylonian army invested Jerusalem; and the capture and burning of the city followed. (See Appendix 1.)
A national repentance after the “Servitude” began would not have canceled that judgment. Nor would a repentance after the people were carried into captivity have brought them back to their land. But all further chastisement would have been averted; and when the seventy years of the Servitude ended, and the decree of Cyrus permitted their return, they would have found their city intact and the holy temple still standing.
Now mark the parallel between all this and the events of the Apostolic age.
The proto-martyr Stephen was the messenger sent after the banished king to say, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” His murder was the nation’s response to the Pentecostal promise that a national repentance would bring Christ back to them. But repentance even after that murder, though it would not have restored them to the privileged position which they had forfeited, would have saved them from further punishment.
And the parallel may be carried further still. For forty years before the city was captured and burned by Nebuchadnezzar, the prophet’s warning voice was never silent in their midst. So for forty years before Jerusalem was taken and destroyed by Titus, the gospel was preached unceasingly in every place where Hebrews congregated.
During all the forty years of Jeremiah’s ministry, as the chronicler records, God in mercy waited, “because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy.” ( 2 Chronicles 36:15,16) These words might have been repeated without the slightest variation with reference to the forty years that elapsed between the ministry of Christ and the time of that awful judgment, when Jerusalem was sacked and burned by the Roman army. “They misused His prophets.” The murder of Stephen was due to no sudden burst of passion; and their Roman governors had no share in it. It was the execution of a judicial sentence passed by the great Council of the nation. Not even the Crucifixion itself was more unequivocally the act of “the Commonwealth of Israel”; and the inspired narrative which records it marks its deep significance by recording as its sequel the call of the Apostle of the Gentiles.
But God is “abundant in mercy,” and though Israel thus forfeited the national blessing which a national repentance would have brought them, the Apostle of the Gentiles was charged with a special mission to the Jews of the dispersion; and in every place his first appeal was to the synagogue. And can we doubt that if his testimony had been accepted, God, who would have spared Sodom for the sake of even ten righteous, would have certainly spared Jerusalem? But in all the wide circuit of the Apostle’s ministry, there was not a single provincial Sanhedrin or local synagogue that accepted the proffered mercy. Divine forbearance met with no response. “There was no remedy.” So at last the judgment fell. Amid circumstances of unparalleled horror Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Jews were driven out as homeless wanderers from the land of their inheritance.
Now but for that judgment the Jews would have remained in a position akin to that assigned to them in the Servitude to Babylon — a nation in vassalage to Gentile sovereignty, but with their own land and their own city. And it is a fact of extreme importance that this was their actual condition when the Epistle to the Romans was written. But ignoring all this, the 11th chapter of that Epistle, which ought to be read in the clear light of Holy Scripture, came to be misread in the dim and discolored light of human inferences from human history. The destruction of Jerusalem was supposed to be the end of Jewish hopes and Jewish story. And as Romans was written prior to the time of that disaster, the 11th chapter of the Epistle was taken as canceled; and Old Testament prophecy relating to the future glory of Israel was “spiritualized” to mean the present glory of “the Church.”
And this explains a fact which Protestantism struggles to evade, namely, that the writings of the Fathers laid the foundations on which the fabric of the apostasy of Christendom was reared. For the figment that “God has cast away His people whom He foreknew,” and therefore that the present economy is the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy and the realization of Divine purposes for earth, is in the warp and woof of the theology of Christendom. Hence the baneful superstitions about “the Christian Church” which are the secret of Rome’s aggressive influence. There is never a Protestant drawn into that fold who is not the dupe of these superstitions.
And even evangelical and spiritual Christians are corrupted by them; for they are so congenial to human nature that the exposure of them, not only by the Reformers, but by eminent divines of our own day, is generally ignored.
Blessing for Gentiles, I repeat, is not a New Testament revelation. Witness the words of the promise to Abraham and, as a Divine commentary upon that promise, the inspired prayer at the dedication of the Temple’ “Moreover concerning the stranger, which is not of Thy people Israel, but is come from a far country for Thy great name’s sake, and Thy mighty hand, and Thy stretched out arm; if they come and pray in this house; then hear Thou from the heavens, even from Thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to Thee for; that all the people of the earth may know Thy name, and fear Thee.” ( 2 Chronicles 6:32, Cf . 33; Isaiah 56:3-7) But “the Jewish Church” was false to its trust, though not so grossly false as “the Christian Church” has proved. For while the Jew treated the Gentile as a pariah, Christendom has regarded Jews as enemies to be shunned, if not as vermin to be exterminated. Hence the fact that so few Gentiles came within the blessing during the old economy, and that, during the new, so few Jews have accepted Christ. “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you” ( Romans 2:24) was the scathing charge brought against “the Jewish Church” in its apostasy, and it is due to the deeper apostasy of “the Christian Church” that the name of Christ is blasphemed among the Jews.
But in modern times British Christianity has done not a little to clear itself from this reproach. And the question is germane to the present inquiry only in so far as it bears upon the character of the professing Church on earth.
For Christian thought, even among Evangelicals, is leavened with the root error of the Roman Apostasy, namely, the confounding the true and heavenly Church, the Body of Christ, with “the Christian Church” on earth, or, to adopt Dean Alford’s synonym for it, “the outward frame of so-called Christendom.”
It is a sad proof that we have lapsed from the teaching of Scripture and the principles of the Reformation. With the Reformers “the Holy Catholic Church” was not an unholy alliance with all Christendom, but “the whole congregation of Christian people dispersed throughout the whole world.” Thus it was that they sought to break the entail of hideous guilt attaching to the historic Church. They had drunk deep of the spirit of the Apostle’s words to the Ephesian elders in days of incipient apostasy’ “I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” ( Acts 20:32.) Let us then seek to follow their noble example; and clearing our minds of the prevalent superstitions about the Church on earth, let us take our stand with them upon Holy Scripture and the faithfulness of God.
The next branch of our inquiry relates to other “mystery” truths of the New Testament revelation, which, no less than that of the present phase of the olive tree, are well-nigh forgotten. And the mystery of grace enthroned in heaven claims priority of notice.