|Vol. II, No. 10
Tebeth 5605, January 1845
The better to show the insufficiency of the arts and inventions, mentioned in my last, it is necessary to instance some prophecies, which being explained according to those rules, you will then be the better able to judge the vanity of all such arts, and how absurd it is to pretend by such evasions to prove either the fulfilling of the prophecies, or to support any claim. It is pretended, “that the prophets intimated clear enough, that a new dispensation was to be introduced, and a new covenant different from that which God made with their fathers.”* To prove this they refer to a passage of Jeremiah, which I will transcribe at length, give you its literal meaning, and then consider it according to the application made by their arts. The passage is as follows:—
“Behold! the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the days that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, which my covenant (Berith) they broke, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my law (Torah†) in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars, for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; the Lord of Hosts is his name. If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord; then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. Thus saith the Lord, If heaven above can be measured, and the foundation of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel, for all that they have done, saith the Lord. Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that the city shall be built to the Lord from the tower of Hananel unto the gate of the corner, and the measuring line shall yet go forth over against it, upon the hill Gareb, and shall compass about to Goath, and the whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes and all the fields, unto the brook Kedron, unto the corner of the horse-gate towards the east shall be holy unto the Lord; it shall not be plucked up nor thrown down any more for ever.”‡
Now from this prophecy it plainly appears, that God was to make a new covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah, or Jewish nation, which covenant should not be broken like that made with their fathers. The condition on the people’s part is, that they are to observe the law, (signified by God’s writing it on their hearts, and fixing it in their inwards parts,) and be God’s peculiar people: and God, on his part, was to forgive and forget their iniquity and sin, was to restore, preserve them, and be their God, and cause their city to be built, never more to be destroyed. This, in few words, are the contents of the promised covenant, according to the clear sense and obvious meaning of the prophet; conformable and agreeable to the repeated promises made to the nation, by all the prophets. The plain meaning of this prophecy, and the peculiar terms in which it is delivered, ought, one would think, to deter people from practising their arts, and imposing meanings thereon so different, and so entirely contradictory to that of the prophet. He has entered into a particular description of the people who were to be parties or partakers of the new covenant. And he has also particularized and declared, not only its contents, but likewise in what it was to differ from the former one. Thus it plainly appears, that God would enter into a new covenant with the Jews; but that a new law, or any new dispensation, was to be introduced, has no manner of foundation. That the new covenant was to be different from that which their fathers entered into, is likewise plain and evident. But what has that to do with a new dispensation which is pretended was to be introduced? does not the prophet declare in what the difference was to consist? The former covenant had been conditional; by it the nation’s happiness and welfare were made to depend entirely on the observance of that which they stipulated; but they continually failed, and broke the conditions, and, in consequence, often received exemplary punishments. But the new covenant was to be formed upon an entirely new plan; by it the nation’s happiness was to be permanent, lasting, and unconditional; for they were to have such knowledge of God, from the least to the greatest, as was to insure duty and fidelity ever after; and this in such a manner, that though all nations failed, yet the Jews should never be cast off, or cease to be a nation; for the same Almighty Power that created the universe, and gave laws to nature, would preserve and protect them. This, then, are the contents and condition of the new covenant; and the difference from the old to the new is this, by the old, the nation’s happiness was only conditional; whereas, by the new, it is to be absolute and unconditional. The old they often broke, but the new they never should break, for it was to be as lasting as nature itself.
The reasoning of St. Paul on this passage is most remarkable, and ought not to be passed in silence. He will have Jesus to be the mediator of it,* and reasons, “that if the first covenant had been faultless, there had been no place for a second.”† To these two assertions, I shall only say, 1st, that the prophet neither points out Jesus, nor intimates any thing concerning a mediator; and 2dly, that, had any other than St. Paul declared that what God did was faulty, so many arguments would be urged against him by Christian divines, and such a defence be made of God’s goodness and conduct, that the impossibility of his committing any fault would be made so evident as should silence all such opinions. And there appears so little connexion between the new covenant promised by the prophet, and the transaction related to have happened in the time of Jesus, that I cannot see the least resemblance of the prophecy to the completion. The comparing of a few instances may help to set this in a clear light.
It is pretended that Jesus was the mediator of the new covenant; but how was this performed? did he enter into any agreement or covenant with the house of Israel? No, the Jews know of none, and history is entirely silent, as to this circumstance, and not the least footstep of any such contract is to be traced. Besides no contract can be made without the consent of the parties; and if they did not give either their express or tacit consent, the covenant, or contract, can never be either valid or binding. But was it at that time that God entered into a special relation with the houses of Israel and Judah, of being their God, and taking them for his chosen people?
Was it then that they were full of the knowledge of God, even from the least to the greatest?
Was it at that time that God forgave their sins and iniquity?
Were they at that time restored, never more to be cast off, or cease to be a nation?
Was then the time in which their city should be rebuilt, never after to be plucked up or thrown down?
These particulars, it is well known, never came to pass, neither then nor since. How, then, could the promised covenant take place? Should not every particular circumstance of the prophet’s description be fulfilled and accomplished, before they lay their claims? and are not things represented in the very opposite, or contrary extreme?
For, instead of having God’s law fixed in their hearts, they are represented as the wickedest generation that ever existed.
Instead of having a perfect knowledge of God, and being his people, they are represented as the most abominable and reprobate nation under heaven.
Instead of having their city and temple rebuilt, never more to be destroyed, behold both miserably laid waste!
Instead of being a nation never to be cast off, behold them struggling under every species of hardship, oppression and dependence.
Instead of having their sins forgiven, they are represented as committing at that very time, the most heinous and atrocious crimes, particularly that of refusing the Messiah, and putting him to an ignominious death.
Instead of continuing a glorious nation, behold them miserable, conquered, and dispersed throughout the four corners of the earth, persecuted in turn by every nation.
How, then, is this prophecy fulfilled? Has the application the least shadow of agreement with the promise therein continued?
But here they take shelter in their evasions, and fly for refuge to their arts and inventions, the strength of which let us examine.
They say that by the names of Israel and Judah, not the Jews, but the gentiles, are thereby intended and meant. It is the Christian church, under those denominations, that was to enjoy the peculiar privileges and advantages promised by the new covenant. Were they able to make out their claim, it would be but reasonable to grant their pretensions; but it happens that the prophet is so minutely circumstantial in his description, that it effectually excludes any people or nation from being thereby intended, excepting the literal house of Israel, or natural seed of Jacob. Nothing, under the utmost violence done to the text, and a most unnatural meaning imposed on it, can give it a contrary sense. But certainly the liberty of imposing a sense and meaning on words different from that which they import according to their first and known acceptation and signification, is such a violation as ought never to be admitted.
For if words are made use of as signs to denote our ideas, what a confusion and subversion of language must ensue, if a meaning contrary to that which the word stands as a known sign of, be arbitrarily imposed on them at pleasure? What is there, according to this scheme, that a person may not be made to say? But as this is the greatest and grossest abuse of language, the bare mentioning of it is sufficient to expose its absurdity. However, I should be glad to know from whence the authority of imposing an opposite, contrary, or different sense on Scripture is derived. I am sure no such liberty would be allowed to any person; no, not even in the most common affairs of life. Ought not the pretenders to this privilege (supposing in this prophecy) at least to have referred to some passage wherein mention is made of the houses of Israel and Judah, and showing the inconsistency and absurdity of applying these terms to the literal seed of Israel or Judah, or the Jewish nation, and then show their pertinency and exact agreement as applied to the Christian church? Was it for want of words in the Hebrew language, that the gentiles are called by that very name by which the Jews are always meant and intended? Can it be supposed that God would do that which must appear highly absurd in man? By no means; the very passage is plain and explicit against any such pretensions, and puts it out of all soubt, that none but the literal houses of Israel and Judah were intended. For the new covenant was to be made with those whose fathers the Lord brought up from the land of Egypt; with whose fathers He made a former covenant; with those whose fathers had broke that covenant, notwithstanding He had behaved like a husband unto them. Now pray, whom does this description fit, the Jews or the gentiles? If the Jews, then it was with them that God was to make the new covenant; and as it is they, literally, to whom the preceding particulars are alone applicable to, so it is with them literally that the covenant was to be made. But since the gentiles are so fond of being thought to be meant by the name of Israel, why do they not undertake to prove that it was not the ancestors of the Jews (literally) but theirs who entered into a former covenant—that it was not the fathers of the Jews (literally) who broke the covenant, and were punished, but theirs? and then, after they have properly made all this out, it will be time to put in for that name, and claim the privilege of the new covenant. But as it is natural to think that they can never make out all this, they may, perhaps, make use of another invention, and pretend that the new covenant was to be spiritual. To this I answer that God made no such distinction; and, as the former covenant was worldly, so also must the new one be; for it particularizes things entirely of worldly nature—particularly, that the house Israel should never be cast off, nor cease to be a nation.
It may likewise be pretended that this covenant was to take place in heaven, and you may be referred to paradise for its accomplishment; it is but putting heaven for Jerusalem, an invention often made use of. To this I answer, that the prophet intimates the very contrary; and, lest any such pretension should be made, he carefully and minutely describes the earthly Jerusalem, and describes the tower Hananel, the gates, the hill Gareb and Goath, the valley of dead bodies and of ashes, the fields, the brook Kidron, and the Horse-gate; all which puts it beyond dispute that he meant Jerusalem literally and not paradise nor heaven. Besides, the words “shall not be plucked up or thrown down any more for ever” imply that the place had been destroyed, which never could be said of a heavenly one.
In short, it seems as if God had carefully provided that his meaning should not be misapplied in any part of it, by circumstantially describing every particular; and that He has done so minutely, as strongly enforces his plain meaning in such a manner as to render it impracticable consistently to apply this prophecy in any other sense.
These are the arts and evasions to which the most learned and eminent men have recourse; it is to these, and such like subterfuges, that they fly for shelter; it is from such chimerical and vain pretensions, that they undertake to prove the fulfilling of prophecy. As they write to people of the same persuasion and way of thinking, it is very rare that their reasoning meets any opposition; but every thing they say, though ever so absurd, is received with applause and approbation, as if they had demonstratively proved their point, or convinced their opponents. They exult and sing Te Deum for their victory. They triumph and exclaim against the Jews for wilfully shutting their eyes and hardening their hearts against the plain arguments and dictates of truth; concluding them to be under a national blindness, an infatuation. They will, indeed, invite people to make their objections; but wo then to the poor creatures who undertake the task, for they are to expect no quarter; heresy, infidelity, and apostacy, will be proved against them; and defamation and ill-language will certainly ensue, for they are generally very eloquent and expert at these weapons.
Allow me, sir, to ask one question, and this is: “Supposing a prophet had positive orders from God to promise and fulfil any thing which was to happen and befall the house of Israel or Judah, or their literal descendants, would it be possible for the prophet to deliver or make known God’s will, and reveal his purpose to them, in words and terms more significant and proper than those very words which the prophet has in the passage now under consideration, delivered his commission in?” I challenge any person to do it in words more expressive and less liable to objections or exceptions; and if this is the case, as it certainly is, what reasons are there to think that when He has chosen the most unexceptionable terms, He has deceived those He spoke to, and intended the contrary. Shall we impute that to God which we should condemn as the greatest absurdity and abuse in men?