Coming Events and Present Duties
Being Plain Papers on Prophecy
J.C. Ryle, 1879
“Hear the Word of the Lord, O you nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say: He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd does his flock.” Jeremiah 31:10
The text which heads this page is singularly full and comprehensive. It contains both history and prophecy.
It speaks of the scattering of Israel — this is history.
It speak of the gathering of Israel — this is prophecy.
It demands the attention both of the Jew and the Gentile.
To the Jew it holds out a hope, “Israel,” it says, “shall be gathered.”
On the Gentile it lays a command, “Hear the Word of the Lord,” it says, “O you nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, He who scattered Israel will gather him.”
Reader, the whole body of Gentile Christendom is specially addressed in this text. There is no evading this conclusion on any fair interpretation of Scripture. We ourselves are among the “nations” to whom Jeremiah speaks. Upon us devolves a portion of the duty which he here sets forth. The text is the Lord’s voice to all the Churches of Christ among the Gentiles. It is a voice to the Churches of England, Scotland, and Ireland. It is a voice to the Churches of Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, and America. It is a voice to all Christendom. And what does the voice say? It bids us proclaim far and wide the will of God concerning the Jewish nation. It bids us keep one another in memory of God’s past and future dealings with Israel. “He who scattered Israel will gather him.”
Reader, I ask your serious attention for a few minutes while I try to place the Jewish subject before you in a connected and condensed form. I propose in this address to show you from Scripture the past, the present, and the future of Israel. I know few texts in the Bible which contain such a complete summary of the subject as the one before you. This text I shall endeavor to unfold.
I entreat you not to dismiss the subject as speculative, fanciful, and unprofitable. The world is growing old. The last days are come upon us. The foundations of the earth are out of course. The ancient institutions of society are wearing out and going to pieces. The end of all things is at hand. Surely it befits a wise man, at a time like this, to turn to the pages of prophecy and to inquire what is yet to come. At a time like this, the declarations of God concerning His people Israel ought to be carefully weighed and examined. “At the time of the end,” says Daniel, “the wise shall understand” (Daniel 12:10).
There are four points on which I purpose to dwell in considering the words of Jeremiah which stand at the head of this address.
1. The meaning of the word “Israel,” both here and elsewhere in Scripture.
2. The present condition of Israel.
3. The future prospects of Israel.
4. The duty which Gentile Churches owe to Israel.
1. The MEANING of the word “Israel.” The definition of terms is of first importance in theology. Unless we explain the meaning of the words we use in our religious statements, our arguments are often wasted, and we seem like men beating the air. The word “Israel” is used nearly seven hundred times in the Bible. I can only discover three senses in which it is used.
First, it is one of the names of Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes; a name specially given to him by God.
Second, it is a name given to the ten tribes which separated from Judah and Benjamin in the days of Rehoboam and became a distinct kingdom. This kingdom is often called Israel in contradistinction to the kingdom of Judah.
Thirdly and lastly, it is a name given to the whole Jewish nation, to all members of the twelve tribes which sprang from Jacob and were brought out of Egypt into the land of Canaan. This is by far the most common signification of the word in the Bible. It is the only signification in which I can find the word “Israel” used through the whole New Testament. It is the same in which the word is used in the text which I am considering this day. That Israel, which God has scattered and will yet gather again — is the whole Jewish nation.
Now, why do I dwell upon this point? To some readers it may appear mere waste of time and words to say so much about it. The things I have been saying sound to them like truisms. That Israel means Israel, is a matter on which they never felt a doubt. If this be the mind of any into whose hands this address has fallen, I am thankful for it. But unhappily there are many Christians who do not see the subject with your eyes. For their sakes I must dwell on this point a little longer.
For many centuries there has prevailed in the Churches of Christ a strange, and to my mind, an unwarrantable mode of dealing with this word “Israel.” It has been interpreted in many passages of the Psalms and Prophets, as if it meant nothing more than Christian believers. Have promises been held out to Israel? Men have been told continually that they are addressed to Gentile saints. Have glorious things been described as laid up in store for Israel? Men have been incessantly told that they describe the victories and triumphs of the Gospel in Christian Churches. The proofs of these things are too many to require quotation. No man can read the immense majority of commentaries and popular hymns without seeing this system of interpretation to which I now refer.
Against that system I have long protested, and I hope I shall always protest as long as I live. I do not deny that Israel was a peculiar typical people, and that God’s relations to Israel — were meant to be a type of His relations to His believing people all over the world. I do not forget that it is written, “As face answers to face, so does the heart of man to man” (Proverbs 27:19), and that whatever spiritual truths are taught in prophecy concerning Israelitish hearts — are applicable to the hearts of Gentiles. I would have it most distinctly understood that God’s dealings with individual Jews and Gentiles — are precisely one and the same. Without repentance, faith in Christ, and holiness of heart — no individual Jew or Gentile shall ever be saved.
What I protest against is the habit of allegorizing plain sayings of the Word of God concerning the future history of the nation Israel and explaining away the fullness of their contents in order to accommodate them to the Gentile Church! I believe the habit to be unwarranted by anything in Scripture, and to draw after it a long train of evil consequences. Where, I would venture to ask, in the whole New Testament shall we find any plain authority for applying the word “Israel” to anyone but the nation Israel? I can find none. On the contrary, I observe that when the Apostle Paul quotes Old Testament prophecies about the privileges of the Gentiles in Gospel times, he is careful to quote texts which specially mention the “Gentiles” by name. The fifteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a striking illustration of what I mean. We are often told in the New Testament that under the Gospel believing Gentiles are “fellow-heirs and partakers of the same hope” with believing Jews (Ephesians 3:6). But that believing Gentiles may be called “Israelites,” I cannot see anywhere at all.
To what may we attribute that loose system of interpreting the language of the Psalms and Prophets, and the extravagant expectations of universal conversion of the world by the preaching of the Gospel, which may be observed in many Christian writers? To nothing so much, I believe, as to the habit of inaccurately interpreting the word “Israel,” and to the consequent application of promises — to the Gentile Churches with which they have nothing to do!
The least errors in theology always bear fruit. Never does man take up an incorrect principle of interpreting Scripture, without that principle entailing awkward consequences and coloring the whole tone of his religion. Reader, I leave this part of my subject here. I am sure that its importance cannot be overrated. In fact, a right understanding of it lies at the very root of the whole Jewish subject, and of the prophecies concerning the Jews. The duty which Christians owe to Israel, as a nation, will never be clearly understood, until Christians clearly see the place that Israel occupies in Scripture.
Before going any further, I will ask all readers of this address one plain practical question. I ask you to calmly consider — What sense do you put on such words as “Israel,” “Jacob,” and the like — when you meet with them in the Psalms and Prophecies of the Old Testament? We live in a day when there are many Bible readers. There are many who search the Scriptures regularly and read through the Psalms and the Prophets once, if not twice, every year they live. Of course you attach some meaning to the words I have just referred to. You place some sense upon them. Now what is that sense? What is that meaning? Take heed that it is the right one.
Reader, accept a friendly exhortation this day. Cleave to the literal sense of Bible words and beware of departing from it — except in cases of absolute necessity. Beware of that system of allegorizing and spiritualizing and accommodating, which the school of Origen first brought in, and which has found such an unfortunate degree of favor in the Church. In reading the authorized version of the English Bible, do not put too much confidence in the “headings” of pages and “tables of contents” at beginnings of chapters, which I consider to be a most unhappy accompaniment of that admirable translation. Remember that those headings and tables of contents were drawn up by uninspired hands. In reading the Prophets, they are sometimes not helps, but real hindrances and less likely to assist a reader than to lead him astray. Settle it in your mind, in the reading the Psalms and Prophets, that Israel means Israel; and Zion means Zion; and Jerusalem means Jerusalem.
And, finally, whatever edification you derive from applying to your own soul the words which God addresses to His ancient people — never lose sight of the primary sense of the text.
2. The second point in the text on which I proposed to dwell, is the PRESENT CONDITION of Israel. The expression used by Jeremiah describes exactly the state in which the Jews are at this day, and have been for nearly eighteen hundred years. They are a “scattered” people. The armies of Assyria, Babylon, and Rome have, one after another, swept over the land of Israel and carried its inhabitants into captivity. Few, if any, of the ten tribes appear to have returned from the Assyrian captivity. Not fifty thousand of Judah and Benjamin came back from the captivity of Babylon. From the last and worst captivity, when the temple was burned and Jerusalem destroyed — there has been no return at all. For eighteen hundred years, Israel has been dispersed over the four quarters of the globe. Like the wreck of some goodly ship, the Jews have been tossed to and fro on all waters and stranded in broken pieces on every shore.
But though Israel has been “scattered,” Israel has not been destroyed. For eighteen hundred years, the Jews have continued a separate people, without a king, without a land, without a territory — but never lost, never absorbed among other nations. They have been often trampled underfoot — but never shaken from the faith of their fathers. They have been often persecuted — but never destroyed. At this very moment, they are as distinct and peculiar a people as any people upon earth — an unanswerable argument in the way of the infidel, a puzzling difficulty in the way of politicians, a standing lesson to all the world. Romans, Danes, Saxons, Normans, Belgians, French, Germans have all in turn settled on English soil. All have in turn lost their national distinctiveness. All have in turn become part and parcel of the English nation, after the lapse of a few hundred years. But it has never been so with the Jews.
Dispersed as they are, there is a principle of cohesion among them which no circumstances have been able to melt. Scattered as they are, there is a national vitality among them which is stronger than that of any nation on earth. Go where you will, you always find them. Settle where you please, in hot countries or in cold, you will find the Jews. But go where you will and settle where you please, this wonderful people is always the same. Scattered as they are, few in number compared to those among whom they live, the Jews are always the Jews. Three thousand years ago Balaam said, “The people shall dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations.” Eighteen hundred years ago our Lord said, “This generation shall not pass away until all be fulfilled.” We see these words made good before our eyes (Num. 23:9; Luke 21:32).
But by whose hands was this scattering of Israel wrought? The text before us today declares expressly that it was the hand of God. It was not the armies of Tiglath-Pileser or Shalmanezer, of Nebuchadnezzar or of Titus. They were only instruments in the hand of a far higher power. It was that God who orders all things in Heaven and earth, who dispersed the twelve tribes over the face of the earth. It was the same God who brought Israel out of Egypt with a high hand and mighty arm and planted them in Canaan — who plucked them up by the roots and made them “wanderers among the nations” (Hosea 9:17).
And why did God send this heavy judgment upon Israel? To what are we to attribute this surprising dispersion of a people so highly favored? The inquiry is a very useful one. Let us mark well the answer. The Jews are a “scattered” people — because of their many sins. Their hardness and stiff-neckedness, their impenitence and unbelief, their abuse of privileges and neglect of gifts, their rejection of prophets and messengers from Heaven, and finally their refusal to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, the King’s own Son — these were the things which called down God’s wrath upon them. These were the causes of their present dispersion.
The vine which was brought out of Egypt bore wild grapes. The gardener to whom the vineyard was let out, rendered not of the fruit to the Lord of the vineyard. The people that were brought out of the house of bondage, rebelled against Him by whom they were set free. Hence the wrath of God rose until there was no remedy. Thus He says, “You only have I known among the inhabitants of the earth, therefore I will punish you, because of your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). “They killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last!” (1 Thessalonians 2:15,16).
Israel was “scattered” to be a perpetual warning to the Gentile Churches of Christ. The Jews are God’s beacon or pillar of salt to all Christendom, and a silent standing lesson which all who profess to know God, ought never to forget. They proclaim to all Christians . . .
God’s hatred of spiritual pride and self-righteousness,
God’s high displeasure with those who exalt the traditions of men and depart from His Word,
God’s hatred of formality and ceremonialism.
If any man desires to know how much God hates these things, he has only to look at the present condition of the Jews. For eighteen hundred years, God has held them up before the eyes of the world, and written His abhorrence of their sins, in letters which he who runs may read.
I cannot pass away from this part of my subject without entreating all who read this address, to learn a practical lesson from the scattering of Israel. I entreat you to remember the causes which led to their dispersion, and to beware of the slightest approach to their peculiar sins. I am sure the warning is needed in these latter days. I am sure that the opinions which are boldly broached and openly maintained by many religious teachers in all Churches of Christendom, call loudly on all Christians to stand on their guard. It is not without good reason that our Lord said, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Sadducees and Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6).
Look to your own heart. Beware of tampering with false doctrines. Churches are never safe unless their members know their individual responsibility. Let us each look to ourselves and take heed to our own souls.
The same God lives, who scattered Israel because of Israel’s sins. And what does He say to the Churches of Christ this day? He says, “Be not high-minded, but fear. If God spared not the natural branches — take heed lest He also spare not you!” (Romans 11:20, 21).
The third part of the text on which I propose to dwell is the FUTURE PROSPECTS of Israel. In taking up this branch of my subject, I feel that I am entering on the region of unfulfilled prophecy. I desire to do so with all reverence, and with a deep sense of the many difficulties surrounding this department of theology, and the many diversities of opinion which prevail upon it. But the servant of God must call no man master on earth. Truth is never likely to be attained, unless all ministers of Christ speak out their opinions fully, freely, and unreservedly — and give men an opportunity of weighing what they teach.
Reader, however great the difficulties surrounding many parts of unfulfilled prophecy, two points appear to my own mind to stand out as plainly as if written by a sunbeam. One of these points is the second personal advent of our Lord Jesus Christ before the Millennium. The other of these points is the future literal gathering of the Jewish nation and their restoration to their own land. I tell no man that these two truths are essential to salvation and that he cannot be saved, unless he sees them with my eyes. But I tell any man that these truths appear to me distinctly set down in holy Scripture, and that the denial of them is as astonishing and incomprehensible to my own mind, as the denial of the divinity of Christ.
Now what says our text about the future prospects of the Jews? It says, “He who scattered Israel — will gather him.” That gathering is an event which plainly is yet to come. It could not apply in any sense to the ten tribes of Israel. They have never been gathered in any way. Their scattering has never come to an end. It cannot be applied to the return of the remnant of Judah and Benjamin from the Babylonian captivity. The language of the text makes such an application impossible.
The text is addressed to the Gentiles, “the nations.” The declaration they are commanded to make is, “to the isles of the sea.” In the days of the Babylonian captivity, the “nations” of the earth knew nothing of the Word of the Lord. They were sunk in darkness and had not even heard the Lord’s name. If Jeremiah had told them to proclaim the return of the Jews from Babylon under such circumstances, it would have been useless and absurd. There is but one fair and legitimate interpretation of the promise of the text. The event it declares is yet future. The “gathering” spoken of is a gathering which is yet to come.
Reader, I believe that the interpretation I have just given, is in entire harmony with many other plain prophecies of Scripture. Time would fail me, if I were to quote a tenth part of the texts which teach the same truth. Out of the sixteen prophets of the Old Testament, there are at least ten in which the gathering and restoration of the Jews in the latter days are expressly mentioned. From each of these ten I will take one testimony. I say “one” testimony deliberately. I am anxious not to overload the subject with evidence. I would only remind the reader that the texts I am about to quote are only a small portion of the evidence that might be brought forward.
1. Hear what Isaiah says: “In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:11,12).
2. Hear what Ezekiel says: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land.” (Ezekiel 37:21).
3. Hear what Hosea says: “The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.” (Hos. 1:11). “For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.” (Hos. 3:4,5).
4. Hear what Joel says: “Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem through all generations.” (Joel 3:20).
5. Hear what Amos says: “I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them, says the LORD your God.” (Amos 9:14,15).
6. Hear what Obadiah says: “But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance.” (Obad. 1:17).
7. Hear what Micah says: “In that day,” declares the LORD, “I will gather the lame; I will assemble the exiles and those I have brought to grief. I will make the lame a remnant, those driven away a strong nation. The LORD will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and forever.” (Micah 4:6,7).
8. Hear what Zephaniah says: “Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you; I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they were put to shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes, says the LORD.” (Zeph. 3:14-20).
9. Hear what Zechariah says: “I will strengthen the house of Judah and save the house of Joseph. I will restore them because I have compassion on them. They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God and I will answer them. The Ephraimites will become like mighty men, and their hearts will be glad as with wine. Their children will see it and be joyful; their hearts will rejoice in the LORD. I will signal for them and gather them in. Surely I will redeem them; they will be as numerous as before. Though I scatter them among the peoples, yet in distant lands they will remember me. They and their children will survive, and they will return. I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to Gilead and Lebanon, and there will not be room enough for them.” (Zech. 10:6-10).
10. Hear, lastly, what Jeremiah says: “The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their forefathers to possess,’ says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 30:3). “I am with you and will save you,’ declares the LORD. ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.” (Jeremiah 30:11).
Reader, I place these texts before you without note or comment. I only wish that they may be weighed and examined, and the several chapters from which they are taken read carefully. I believe there is one common remark that applies to them all. They all point to a time which is yet future. They all predict the final gathering of the Jewish nation from the four quarters of the globe and their restoration to their own land. I must ask you to believe that the subject admits of being drawn out at far greater length than the limits of this address allow. I am resolved, however, not to encumber it by entering on topics of comparatively subordinate importance. I will not complicate it by dwelling on the manner in which Israel shall be gathered, and the particular events which shall accompany the gathering. I might show you by Scriptural evidence, that the Jews will probably first be gathered in an unconverted state, though humbled; and will afterwards be taught to look to Him whom they have pierced, through much tribulation. I might speak of the future glory of Jerusalem, after the Jews are restored, and the last siege which it shall endure, as described by Zechariah and by our Lord Jesus Christ.
But I forbear. I will not travel beyond the bounds of my text. I think it better to present its weighty promise to you in its naked simplicity. “Israel scattered — shall yet be gathered.” This is the future prospect of the Jew.
Now is there anything contrary to this gathering in the New Testament? I cannot find a single word. So far from this being the case, I find a chapter in the Epistle to the Romans where the subject is fully discussed. An inspired Apostle speaks there of Israel being once more “received” into God’s favor, “grafted in,” and “saved.” (See Romans 11:1532.) Is there anything impossible in this gathering of Israel? Who talks of impossibilities? If an infidel, let him explain the present condition and past history of Israel, if he can. And when he has solved that mighty problem, we may listen to him. If a Christian, let him think again before he talks of anything being impossible with God. Let him read the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel, and mark to whom that vision applies. Let him look to his own conversion and resurrection from the death of trespasses and sins, and recall the unworthy thought that anything is too hard for the Lord.
Is there anything inconsistent with God’s former dealings in the gathering of Israel? Is there any extravagance in expecting such an event? Why should we say so? Reasoning from analogy, I can see no ground for refusing to believe that God may yet do wonderful things for the Jewish people. It would not be more marvelous to see them gathered once more into Palestine, than it was to see them brought from Egypt into the promised land. What God has done once, He may surely do again. Is there anything improbable in the gathering of Israel?
Alas! reader, we are poor judges of probabilities. God’s ways of carrying into effect His own purposes are not to be judged by man’s standard, or measured by the line and plummet of what man calls probable. In the day when the children of Israel went forth from Egypt, would anyone have said it was probable that such a nation of serfs would ever produce a book that should turn the world upside down? Yet that nation has done it. From that nation has come the Bible.
Four thousand years ago, would anyone have said it was probable that God’s Son would come to earth and suffer in the flesh on a cross — before He came to earth in glory to reign? Yet so it has been. Christ has lived, and Christ has suffered, and Christ has died. Away with this talk about improbabilities! The ways of God are not our ways.
Finally, is there anything fanatical or enthusiastic in this expectation that Israel shall be gathered? Why should men say so? Your own eyes tell you that the present order of things will never convert the world. There is not a church, or a parish, or a congregation — where the converted are more than a little flock. There is not a faithful minister on earth, and never has been — who has ever seen more than the “taking out of a people” to serve Christ. A change must come before the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. A new order of teachers must be raised up and a new dispensation ushered in. These teachers, I firmly believe, shall be converted Jews. And then shall be seen the fulfillment of the remarkable words, “If the casting of them away be the reconciling of the world — what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15.)
I may not dwell longer on this branch of my subject. I leave it with one general remark, which may sound to some readers like a bald truism. Whether it be a truism or not, I believe the remark to be of vital importance, and I heartily wish that it was more deeply impressed on all our minds. I ask you, then, to settle it firmly in your mind that when God says a thing shall be done — we ought to believe it. We have no right to begin talking of probable and improbable, likely and unlikely, possible and impossible, reasonable and unreasonable. What is all this but veiled scepticism and infidelity in disguise?
What has the Lord said? What has the Lord spoken? What says the Scriptures? What is written in the Word? These are the only questions we have a right to ask; and when the answer to them is plain — we have nothing to do but believe. Our reason may rebel. Our preconceived ideas of what God ought to do may receive a rude shock. Our private systems of prophetic interpretation may be shattered to pieces. Our secret prejudices may be grievously offended. But what are we to do? We must abide by Scripture, or be of all men most miserable. At any cost, let us cling to the Word. “Let God be true and every man a liar.”
In all matters of unfulfilled prophecy, I desire, for my own part, to fall back on this principle. I see many things I cannot explain. I find many difficulties I cannot solve. But I dare not give up my principle. I am determined to believe everything that God says. I know it will all prove true at the last day. I read that He says in the text before us this day, “He who scattered Israel — shall gather him.” It must be true, I feel, whatever be the difficulties. That Israel shall be gathered, I steadfastly believe.
The last point on which I propose to dwell is one purely practical. It is the duty which Gentile Churches owe to Israel.
Reader, in touching on this point, I would not have you for a moment suppose that the future gathering of Israel depends on anything that man can do. God’s counsels and purposes are independent of human strength. The sun will set tonight at its appointed hour, and neither Queen, Lords, nor Commons, Pope, President, nor Emperors — can hasten, prevent, or put off its setting. The tides of the sea will ebb and flow this week in their regular course, and no scientific decree nor engineering skill can interfere with their motion. And just in like manner, the promises of God concerning Israel will all be fulfilled in due season, whether we will hear, or whether we will forbear.
When the “times and seasons” arrive which God has “put in His own power,” Israel will be gathered; and all the alliances and combinations of statesmen, and all the persecution and unbelief of apostate Churches shall not be able to prevent it. But seeing that we look for such things, it befits us all to be found in the path of duty. It behooves us to consider gravely the solemn question: What manner of people ought we to be? And in what way can we testify our full assent to God’s purposes about the Jews? Can we in no sense be fellow-workers with God? Should we not remember that remarkable saying of Paul, “Through your mercy, they shall obtain mercy” (Romans 11:31). This is the question to which I now desire briefly to supply a practical answer.
1. I believe, then, for one thing, that it is a duty incumbent on all Gentile Christians to take a special interest in the spiritual condition of the Jewish nation, and to give their conversion a special place in our prayers. I say, advisedly, their spiritual condition. I leave alone their civil and political position. I speak, exclusively, of our duty to Jewish souls. I say that we owe them a special debt, and that this debt ought to be carefully paid. We prize our Bibles, and we are right to do so. A sky without a sun would not be more blank, than a world without a Bible. But do we ever reflect that every page in that blessed book was written under God’s inspiration by Israelitish hands? Remember that every chapter and verse you read in our Bible, you owe under God to Israel.
There is not a religious society that meets in London in the month of May which is not constantly working with Israelitish tools. We prize the glorious Gospel of the grace of God, and we are right to do so. A land without the Gospel, like Mongolia or China, is nothing better than a moral wilderness. See the vast difference between Europe and America with the Gospel, notwithstanding all their vices — and Africa and Asia without it. But do we ever reflect that the first preachers of that Gospel were all Jews? The men who, at cost of their lives, first carried from town to town the blessed tidings of Christ crucified, were not Gentiles. The first to take up the lamp of truth, which was passed from hand to hand until it reached our heathen forefathers — were all men of Israel.
We rejoice in Christ Jesus and glory in His person and work. Well may we do so! Without a living Savior and the blood of His atonement once made on the cross — we would indeed be miserable. But do we ever reflect that when that Savior became a man, in order that as man’s substitute He might live, and suffer and die — He was born of a Jewish woman? Yes, let that never be forgotten! When “God was manifest in the flesh” and was “born of a woman,” that woman was a virgin of the house of David. When the promised Savior took flesh and blood that He might bruise the serpent’s head and redeem man — He took not flesh and blood of any royal house among the Gentiles — but of one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Reader, I know well that these are ancient things. They have been often urged, often alleged, often pressed on the attention of the Churches. I am not ashamed to bring them forward again. I say, that if there be such a thing as gratitude in the heart of man, it is the duty of all Gentile Christians to take special interest in the work of doing good to the Jews.
2. I believe, furthermore, that it is a duty incumbent on all Gentile Christians, to be especially careful that they take up stumbling blocks out of the way of Israel, and too that they do nothing to disgust them with Christianity or hinder their conversion. This is a matter which is expressly mentioned in Scripture. There we find Isaiah bidding us, “Take up the stumbling blocks out of the way of God’s people” (Isaiah 57:14). Truly the Prophet might well speak of this. No man can look round the Gentile Churches, and fail to see that he had cause. What shall we say of the glaring unholiness and neglect of God’s Ten Commandments which prevail so widely in Christendom? What shall we say of the open unblushing idolatry which offends the eye in all Roman Catholic Churches? What shall we say of the rationalistic mode of interpreting Old Testament history, which has crept so extensively into modern commentaries — the system of regarding the histories of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and the like, as so many myths or ingenious fables, but not as narratives of facts which really took place? What shall we say of the traditional mode of interpreting Old Testament prophecies, in which so many Christians indulge the system of appropriating all the blessings to the Church of Christ and handing over all the bitter things to poor despised Israel; the system of interpreting all prophecies about Christ’s first advent literally — and all prophecies about His second advent figuratively; requiring the Jew to believe the first in the letter — and refusing in turn to believe the second, except in what is called (by a sad misnomer) a spiritual sense?
What shall we say of all these things but that they are stumbling blocks — great stumbling blocks in the way of the conversion of the Jews? What are they all but great barriers between the Jew and Christ, and barriers cast up by Christian hands?
Reader, we must all do our part in aiding to take these stumbling blocks away. Here at least all may help. Here, at any rate, every Gentile Christian can aid the Jewish cause. The more pure and lovely we can make our holy faith — the more we are likely to recommend it to Israel. The more we can check the progress of the Roman apostasy, and protest against its idolatries and corruptions — the more likely is the Jew to believe there is something in Christianity. The more we can promote the habit of taking all of Scripture in its plain literal sense, the more we are likely to remove prejudices in the minds of honest inquirers in Israel, and to make them ready to hear what we have to say.
3. Finally, I believe it is a duty incumbent on all Gentile Christians to use special efforts in order to promote the conversion of the Jews. I say special efforts advisedly. The Jews are a peculiar people and must be approached in a peculiar way. They are peculiar in their state of mind. They require an entirely different treatment from the heathen. Their objections are not the heathen man’s objections. Their difficulties are not the heathen man’s difficulties. They believe many things which the heathen man never heard of. They have a standard of right and wrong, with which the heathen man is utterly unacquainted. Like the heathen, they need to be converted. Like the heathen, they need to be brought to Christ. But the lines of argument to be pursued with the Jew and the heathen, are widely dissimilar. A faithful missionary might do admirably well among the heathen, who might find it difficult to reason with a Jew.
They are peculiar in their position in the world. They are not to be found all assembled together, like the Africans at Sierra Leone, or the Hindus, or New Zealanders, or Chinese. They are emphatically a scattered people, a few in one country and a few in another. An effort to get at them, must aim at nothing short of sending missionaries in search of them all over the world.
Circumstances like these appear to me to point out clearly that nothing less than a special effort will ever enable Christians to discharge their debt to Israel. There must be a division of labor in the missionary field. There must be a special concentration of preaching, praying, and loving fellowship on the Jewish people — or the Church of the Gentiles can never expect to do them much spiritual good. Without such special effort, the cause of Israel will inevitably be lost sight of in the cause of the whole heathen world. Without such special effort, I cannot see how the command of the text can be rightly obeyed.
I leave the whole subject with three remarks, which I pray God to impress on the minds of all into whose hands this address may fall.
1. For one thing, I charge every reader of this address to remember the special blessing which God has promised to all who care for Israel. Whatever a sneering world may say, the Jews are a people “beloved for their fathers’ sake.” Of Jerusalem it is written, “They shall prosper, who love you” (Psalm 122:6). Of Israel it is written, “Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you” (Num. 24:9). These promises are not yet exhausted. We see their fulfillment in the blessing granted to the Church of England since the day when the Jewish cause was first taken up. We see their fulfillment in the peculiar honor which God has put from time to time on individual Christians who have labored especially for the Jewish cause. Charles Simeon, Edward Bickersteth, Robert M’Cheyne, Haldane Stewart, and Dr. Marsh are striking examples of what I mean. Is there anyone that desires God’s special blessing? Then let him labor in the cause of Israel, and he shall not fail to find it.
2. For another thing, I charge every reader of this address never to forget the close connection which Scripture reveals between the time of Israel’s gathering — and the time of Christ’s second advent to the world. In one Psalm it is expressly declared, “When the Lord shall build up Zion — He shall appear in His glory” (Psalm 102:16). Where is the true believer who does not long for that blessed day? Where is the true Christian who does not cry from the bottom of his heart, “May Your kingdom come”? Let all such work and give and pray, so that the Gospel may have free course in Israel. The time to favor Zion is closely bound up with the restitution of all things. Blessed indeed, is that work of which the completion shall usher in the second coming of the Lord!
3. Finally, I charge every reader of this address to make sure work of his own salvation. Rest not in mere head knowledge of prophetic subjects. Be not content with intellectual soundness in the faith. Give diligence to make your own calling and election sure. Seek to know that your repentance and faith are genuine and true. Seek to feel that you are one with Christ and Christ in you, and that you are washed, sanctified, and justified. Then, whether the completion of God’s promises to Israel are near or far off — your own portion will be sure. You will stand safely, when the kingdoms of this world are passing away. You will meet Christ without fear, when He comes the second time to Zion. You will join boldly in the song, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” You will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God and go out no more.