The Relation of the OT to the NT

To lay more securely the ground of some of the directions given in the preceding section, and to provide, so far as can be done within a small compass, a clue to the right path in the treatment of those passages, which bear upon the mutual relations between Christianity and Judaism, it seems advisable, before entering on a fresh topic, to devote a little space to the further consideration of these relations. We do this more especially for the purpose of guarding against a twofold error, which is constantly reappearing, in the one or the other of its aspects, with those who have not attained to accurate views of the connection between the Old and the New in God’s dispensations:

  • the error of either ascribing too much of the carnal element to Judaism, or
  • of imposing too much of the Judaistic on Christianity.

These are the two opposite extremes, into which certain diverse tendencies in Christianity are ever apt to run. They both began at an early period to develop themselves.

The Judaizing tendency

The Judaizing tendency naturally appeared first, as it was out of Judaism that Christianity sprung; and in making the transition from the one to the other, many found it difficult to realize the extent of the change which the work of Christ had introduced—they clung to what was temporary in the Old, even after it had been supplanted by something higher and better; like persons, according to the similitude of our Lord, who have been accustomed to old wine, and cannot straightway relish new—although in this case the new was the better. It was providential, that this Judaizing tendency did appear so early at Jerusalem, at Antioch, in the churches of Galatia, and elsewhere—as it obliged the apostles at the very first to meet it. In various parts of the New Testament, we have their formal deliverance on the subject, and their condemnation of the error which it involved. The Epistles to the Galatians, to the Colossians, and to the Hebrews are, in this point of view, especially important; as they show conclusively, that the external forms of the ancient worship, its visible temple, Aaronic priesthood, fleshly sacrifices, stated festivals, and corporeal ablutions [washings], were no longer binding on the conscience, and naturally led, if perpetuated, to carnalize the Gospel. It might have been thought, that these apostolic efforts and explicit deliverances would have been sufficient to check the evil, and prevent its recurrence in the Christian Church. But this was far from being the case. With some non-essential modifications, the old error reappeared, bringing in a train of forms and ceremonies, purgations and sacrifices, feasts and solemnities, which differed only in name from those of the Old Economy; and a Christian priesthood established itself as an essential part of the Church’s constitution, of which the most characteristic feature was, that it should be able to trace up by successive links to Christ its hereditary power and authority, precisely as the ancient priesthood had to show their genealogical descent from the loins of Aaron. And the result has been, that, notwithstanding the strong and repeated protest lodged in New Testament Scripture against such institutions and practices, as at variance with the genius of the Gospel, in what once formed nearly the whole and what still forms the largest part of Christendom, sacred times and seasons, altars and sacrifices, external purifications and an official priesthood, have their recognized place now, much as in ancient Israel. To such a mournful extent has Christianity been Judaized.

Carnalizing tendency

Exactly the opposite tendency, however, began also in early times to discover itself, and still continues to do so, though it has not proved nearly so powerful or so general as the other. The Gnostic spirit, which was just beginning to make its appearance in the Christian Church at the close of the apostolic period, was the first representative of this extreme. In its self-elated and ethereal flights, Gnosticism sought to soar above Christianity— to become spiritual above its spirituality; and to raise at least the loftier and more contemplative believers of the Gospel into a kind of Divine-like superiority to everything outward and material.
In this vain attempt, however, it only corrupted Christianity, by disparaging or denying the great historical facts on which it is based, and entering into profitless speculations respecting heavenly things. Along with this tendency, and as a kind of natural corollary to it, it sought to break the chain between Christianity and Judaism—holding the former to be indeed of God, but not so the latter, on account of the fleshly ordinances and material accompaniments with which it was connected; it was, therefore, assigned to the agency of an evil, or, at least, inferior spirit.
In this anti-scriptural form, Gnosticism was, of course, repelled by the Church; its special views and conclusions were universally reprobated by believers. But the spirit of Gnosticism crept in through many avenues into the Church; and in the case of some of the fathers—more especially Clement of Alexandria and Origen—it led them to draw too broadly the distinction between Christianity and Judaism, and to seek the instruction couched in the ordinances of the Old Testament, not in their immediate design or symbolical import, but in an allegorical interpretation of an entirely fanciful and arbitrary nature. The natural inference from their mode of treating the Old Testament ritual and worship was, that, considered by itself, in its obvious and historical reality, it was too carnal to have much in common with Christianity.
Now, of course, the relations of those times no longer exist; the leaven, which then wrought with insidious and corrupting influence, can scarcely be said to work after the same fashion that it did then. And yet there have been, and there still are, certain sections of the Christian Church, and particular individuals in almost every section, in whom the tendency to over-spiritualize (if we may so express it) in Christianity, and, as a natural consequence, to carnalize in Judaism, does not fail in some way to manifest itself.
Writers belonging to the Baptist communion are under some temptation to give way to this tendency, and not unfrequently do so. Take as an example the following passage, in a commentary, by a late respectable member of that body:

“Israel was a stiff-necked and rebellious people; their law was written on tables of stone, and enforced by temporal sanctions; he that despised Moses’ law died without mercy. But all Christ’s disciples are taught of God; they are the circumcision of Christ; they worship God in the Spirit; His law is written on the fleshly tables of the heart.” source

If there is any propriety in this contrast, it must be, that Israel, as such, were a carnal and ungodly people, yet were not the less entitled to God’s ordinances, nay, these ordinances were just for such a people; whereas the Church of the New Testament, as well in respect to its people as its ordinances, is strictly spiritual and holy. The conclusion, therefore, in regard to the Israelites, as the author distinctly states (p. 193), is, that their privileges were all carnal, that the relation in which they stood to God was carnal, and all properly growing out of it fleshly and temporal; and that the covenant, under which they were placed, had attained its object, if only it preserved a worshipping people visibly separated from the idolatrous Gentiles.
In like manner, another writer, belonging to the same communion, [here] says of circumcision (and, of course, he might equally have said it of any other Jewish ordinance), that it was “quite irrespective of personal character, conduct, or faith,” that the covenant of which it was the sign “included solely temporal blessings;” and that “the rite was instituted to distinguish the Jews from the other nations, and to show their title to the land of Canaan :”—all simply outward and carnal.
Another writer still—and one belonging to an entirely different school, a minister of the Church of England—in a late work, gives forth substantially the same views respecting the people and ordinances of Israel; does so, too, in the most assured tone, as if there could be no reasonable doubt upon the subject—as if, in announcing it, he was entitled to demand the assent of the whole Christian world:

“The Old Covenant [he says] had nothing whatever to do with eternal life, except by way of type or suggestion; it had nothing whatever to do with any, except with the nation of Israel; and nothing whatever with any mere individual in that nation. It was made with the nation collectively [as if the collective nation did not consist of an aggregate of individuals!], and was entirely temporal. God promised to give the land of Canaan to the nation of Israel ; but only so long as the nation collectively acknowledged Jehovah as the one God.”[source]

And, further, as regards the nature of the holiness aimed at by the covenant, he says, that

“…it was quite irrespective of individual righteousness. Notwithstanding any sins, short of the national infraction of the covenant, Israel was still the holy nation.”

And he adds,

“This very manifest sense of the Old Covenant holiness is constantly lost sight of, and errors of the most destructive kind are caused.”[4]

Quotations of a similar kind might be furnished in great profusion, but those given may suffice. They abundantly show what crude and ill-digested notions prevail still among persons, otherwise well informed, and holding evangelical views, respecting the nature of the Old Economy, and the real position of God’s people under it.
On the hypothesis of such views, there are some queries [questions] that naturally suggest themselves to one’s mind, and to which it seems impossible to produce a satisfactory answer.

  1. Circumcision, and the other ordinances of the Old Testament, were (it is alleged) altogether carnal, and irrespective of personal holiness—how, then, could Israel in the wilderness, when simply standing under a covenant with such ordinances, have been reproved and punished for murmuring against God, and want of faith in God’s promises—spiritual acts—acts committed by the people, while they still collectively acknowledged God—and both acts and punishments so personal, that the two individuals (Joshua and Caleb) who stood aloof from the rest in sin, were also excepted from them in judgment?
  2. How could it be reconciled with the notion of a God essentially holy and spiritual, to have imposed such merely carnal services upon His people, with promises of blessing if performed, and threatenings of evil if neglected and despised?
  3. How could He have represented it as the end He had in view in establishing such a covenant, that He might have a godly seed? (Isa. 6:13; Mal. 2:15) How could there come to exist in the midst of Israel such a seed at all—a seed possessing the elements of real holiness? Whence could its members have their being? How were they born? Was it altogether apart from the ordinances? In that case, must not their existence have been an anomaly, a miracle accomplished by Divine power without the intervention of appropriate means? And the more pious individuals of that seed, such as David, and those who acted with him, how could they possibly long for, and rejoice in waiting upon, ordinances which were wholly carnal, and without any adaptation to a spiritual taste?

To such questions no satisfactory answer can be returned, on the supposition of the Old Testament ordinances being what those persons would represent. We know of no way by which a spiritual seed can be expected, in any age, to come into existence, and find life to their souls, otherwise than through the ordinances which God is pleased to appoint; and how God could either appoint ordinances altogether carnal, or how, if appointed, spiritual life and nourishment could be derived from them, is a mystery that seems inexplicable on any grounds of reason or of Scripture.
Without going very minutely into the subject, there are a few leading principles that may be laid down upon it, sufficient, if clearly understood and kept properly in view, to guard us against any material error on either side.

First Principle:

It must be held, in the first place, as a fundamental principle, that whatever difference may exist between Judaism and Christianity, as to their respective services and forms of administration, there still must have been an essential agreement between them at bottom—an essential oneness in their pervading character and spirit. We say, must have been so; there was a Divine necessity in the case, grounded in the nature of Him who is the Author of both covenants, and who makes Himself known as “Jehovah that changes not.” Unchangeable in His own nature, He must be such also in the principles of His government among men, not less than in the personal attributes of His being. The adversaries of the faith in every age have well understood this ; and hence, from the Manicheans of early times to the infidels and rationalistic writers of the present day, they have ever sought to overthrow the foundations of Divine truth by playing off one part of Scripture against another— exposing what they deemed the contrarieties between things established in the Old, and things taught in the New Testament ; or, through alleged defects and immoralities in the one, aiming a blow at the authority of the other. Had they succeeded in such attempts, their object had been gained; since Scripture could no longer be vindicated as the actual product and authoritative revelation of an unchangeable God.
It is true, as indeed appears on a moment’s inspection, that the religion of the Old Testament addressed itself more immediately to the outward man, while that of the New addresses itself more to the inward. In ancient times, the business of religion —if we may so speak—was transacted under the form and aspect of what pertained to visible and earthly relations: its rites and services had respect primarily to a worldly sanctuary, an earthly inheritance and a present life—in these exhibiting the shadow or sensible image of what relates to the concerns of an unseen world, and an eternal existence.
They did, however, present such a shadow of higher realities; and did it, not as an incidental and subsidiary, but as an essential part of their design; and not for some merely, but for all the worshippers. Through the external and corporeal, God continually spake to them of the internal and spiritual. Under the outward shell, and along with it, He conveyed to as many as would receive it, the kernel of Divine truth and holiness;—so that the same description, as to its substance, will serve at once for the true Israelite and for the genuine Christian. As in that given by the Apostle Paul, “He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men (the mere outside observer), but of God (who looks directly upon the heart).”
We find the truth in this respect distinctly apprehended by Augustine, and correctly expressed in the writings he composed against the Manicheans and other errorists of his day. Referring, in his work against Faustus (Lib. xii. 3), to what the apostle says, in Rom. 3 and 9, of the advantage possessed by the Jews in having had God’s oracles and covenants, he asks,

“Why did he say that the covenants belonged to them, had it not been that the Old Covenant was given to them, and that the New was imaged in the Old? These men, in their senseless folly, are in the habit of denouncing the legal institution, which was given to the Israelites, not understanding its dispensation, and because God has thought good now to place us, not under law but under grace. Let them, therefore, give way to the authority of the apostle, who, in lauding the condition of the Israelites, mentions it among their advantages, that to them had belonged the giving of the law, which could not have been matter of praise, if it had been in itself bad.”

And again, in another work, written against one who had published a treatise containing many things of an offensive nature against the law and the prophets, he shows the pervading and essential agreement of these with the Gospel, even in those things, in which this adversary had sought to represent them as utterly opposed to each other. In regard, for example, to the punishment of sin, he both mentions what precepts and examples there were under the Old Testament of a forgiving spirit, and places alongside the temporal inflictions of the one the eternal retributions of the other, thereby making it manifest that “in each Testament alike (as he says) there was at once a goodness to be loved, and a severity to be dreaded.” Then, referring to the inferior nature of the Old Testament dispensation, on account of its having had so much to do with outward and temporal things, he says,
“Nevertheless, in those times also there were spiritual and righteous persons, whom the letter of command did not kill, but the aid-giving Spirit quickened. Whence both the faith of a coming Savior dwelt in the prophets, who announced beforehand that He should come; and now, there are many carnal persons who either give rise to heresies by not understanding the Scriptures, or in the Catholic Church itself are like babes that can only be fed with milk, or, still worse, are preparing like chaff to be burned in the fire. But as God is the sole and true Creator of both temporal and eternal goods, so is He also the Author of both Testaments; because the New is as well figured in the Old, as the Old is revealed in the New (quia et Novum in Vetere est figuratum, et Vetus in Novo est revelatum).”

Second Principle:

Very nearly allied to the fundamental principle just stated is another, viz., that the ordinances of Judaism were all of a symbolical nature, not simply outward or typical. If they had been simply outward as regards the service they required, and typical as regards their religious value, they would have been nothing more than bodily exercises for those who engaged in them —exercises that had respect to their purification from a merely ceremonial uncleanness, and the preservation of a present life; while, in addition to this, a few persons of superior discernment might have descried [seen] through them the higher and better things, which they prefigured for a coming age. This is the whole that many persons would find in the ordinances of the Old Covenant; and thence arises much of the confusion and misconception in which the subject has been enveloped.
An important element is omitted—the symbolical—lying mid-way between the other two, and forming in reality the link that unites them together. By calling them symbolical, we mean, that they expressed, by means of the outward rite or action, certain religious views and principles, which the worshipper was expected in the performance of the service to recognize, and heartily concur in. It was the conscious recognition of these views and principles, and the exercise of the feelings growing out of them, for which more immediately the outward service was appointed, and in which its acceptability with God properly consisted. Without these the whole would have been a false parade—an empty and meaningless form.
Take as an example the corporeal washings, which on so many occasions were required under the law—these were not appointed for the purpose merely of removing bodily defilement. Often, as in the case of the restored leper, purification from the touch of a dead body, or from sprinkling the water of cleansing on others, there was not even the semblance of anything of that sort to be removed. The washing, in every case, was appointed as a natural and appropriate symbol of personal purity on the part of the worshippers, and was perfectly understood by all serious and thoughtful worshippers to carry such an import. Even Pilate, though a heathen, showed his understanding of this symbol, by taking water and washing his hands before the people, to express more emphatically than he could do by words his refusal to participate in the condemnation of Jesus. And the Psalmist, when he spake of “washing his hands in innocency,” and the prophet, when he called on the crimson-stained sinners of his day to “wash themselves, and make themselves clean,” gave plain indication of the symbolical import of the transaction.
In like manner—to refer to the initiatory ordinance of the whole series—the rite of circumcision, when brought into connection with the Divine covenant as its sign and seal, was by no means a merely external badge. Its proper aim and object were not the affixing of a corporeal mark upon the Jew, and thereby distinguishing him from the people of other countries. If that had been all, it should have been very imperfectly fitted to serve the end in view; as it is certain, that at least the Egyptian priesthood, if not also some of the higher grades of the people, and not a few of the Syro-Arabian races, practiced the rite from the very earliest times. It is, in fact, one of those customs, the origin of which is lost in a remote antiquity. But when adopted by God in connection with His covenant as its appropriate token and seal, it thenceforth became a symbol of purification from the guilt and pollution of the flesh —the symbol of a transition from nature’s depravity into a spiritual and holy life. This transition should have been effected in all who stood within the bonds of the covenant; and in those whose state accorded with their profession, it must in reality have been effected. It was, therefore, the distinctive badge of Israel, not simply as a separate people, but as God’s covenant-people, called and bound to cast off nature’s impurity, and walk in righteousness before God.  This, too, was perfectly understood by all the more serious and thoughtful portion of the Israelites; and they did not need the higher revelations of the Gospel to disclose its import. Moses himself pointed to it as a thing which even then was familiarly known and understood, when he represented the people, in their state of impenitence and guilt, as being of uncircumcised hearts (Lev. 26:41) ; and on this very account,—because circumcision had a strictly moral import, it was suspended during the thirty-eight years’ sojourn in the wilderness; since the people being then under the judgment of heaven for their sins, they were held to be in an unfit state for having the ordinance administered to them. Since, at least, appears the main reason for the disuse of the ordinance during that long period. Circumcision, therefore, if viewed according to the design of God, and its own emblematic import, was no more a merely outward and corporeal thing, than baptism now is; the one had respect to the believer’s spiritual position and call to righteousness, not less than the other. In both cases alike the opus operatum might stand alone; the sign might be without the thing signified; since no ordinance of God ever has salvation indissolubly linked to it; while yet the two would always in point of fact be connected together, if the ordinances were used in a spirit of sincerity and truth.
This second principle, which ascribes a symbolical or spiritual import to all the rites and ordinances of the Old Covenant, like the first, has its ultimate ground in the nature of God—in the essential holiness of His character. Precisely as God’s unchangeableness rendered it necessary, that there should be in everything of vital moment a fundamental agreement between Judaism and Christianity; so the pure and unspotted holiness of God, which comes out in the very first revelations of the Bible, and holds in all of them the most prominent place, rendered it necessary, that the Covenant, with every rite and institution belonging to it, should have respect to moral purity. What is essential and preeminent in God Himself must appear also essential and preeminent in His public administration. And hence in the very center of the Mosaic polity—as the standard by which everything was to be judged, and the end to which it pointed—lay the two tables of the moral law—the comprehensive summary of love to God and man.
Hence also, in some of those parts of the laws of Moses, which prescribe the more peculiar ceremonial institutions, the reason of their appointment is placed in immediate connection with the holiness of God; as in Lev. 20:25-26, where the command is reinforced as to the distinction to be put between clean and unclean in food, it is added as the ground of the requirement, “And ye shall be holy unto Me, for I the Lord am holy, and I have severed you from other people, that ye should be Mine.”
So again in chapter 22, after a multitude of prescriptions regarding sacrifice, and the eating of the flesh of peace-offerings, the whole is wound up by pointing to the fundamental reason, “I am Jehovah; therefore, shall ye keep My commandments and do them; I am Jehovah. Neither shall ye profane My holy name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel; I am Jehovah, that hallow you.”
The entire ritual had its foundation in God, in the principles of His character and government, whither the people were directed to look for the ultimate ground of the laws and institutions they were commanded to observe. As the one was preeminently moral, so, of necessity, was the other; and no enlightened Israelite could regard the services of his symbolical worship, any more than the statutes and judgments of his theocratic polity, in any other light than as a system of means and appliances for securing purity of heart and conduct.

Third Principle:

It is clear then—and we state it, as equally a deduction from what has preceded, and a third point to be kept in view, in all the representations that may be made in such matters—that the true Israelites, those who were such in the reckoning of God, were a spiritual, not a fleshly seed; and that the rearing of such a seed, not any outward and formal separation from the world, was the direct aim of the laws and institutions of Moses. That the dwelling of the people alone, in a state of isolation from the other nations of the earth, or antagonism to them, could never of itself have been designed to form the principal reason of the ancient economy, is evident—not only from the considerations already advanced—but also from the very end of their peculiar calling in Abraham, which was to be first blessed in themselves, and then to be a blessing to others—a blessing even to all the families of the earth. It can never be by an isolating and frowning exclusiveness, that they could fulfill this ulterior part of their destination; it could only be by operating in a kindly and beneficent manner upon the nations around them, diffusing among them the knowledge of God, and extending the boundaries of His kingdom.
That this was from the first contemplated by God may certainly be inferred from the admission of proselyte strangers, even in Abraham’s time, into the bosom of the covenant (Gen. 17:12), and from the law afterwards prescribed regarding it (Ex. 12:48). It is still further evident from the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple, which made express mention of the case of strangers coming to intermingle their devotions with those of the house of Israel; and from the fact, that whenever the covenant-people were in a lively and prosperous state, there was a disposition, on the part of others, to share with them in their privileges and blessings, as in the times of David and Solomon (1Chron. 22:2 ; 2Chron. 2:17). So far, indeed, were David and the prophets from thinking it the glory of Israel to be alone, that they anticipated with joy the time when kings would bring presents to Jerusalem, and the Lord’s house should become a house of prayer for all nations.
So long, certainly, as the people of other countries abode in heathenism, it was inevitable that Israel should dwell apart—if they remained faithful to their calling. But the separation in that case was only the necessary result of Israel’s holiness, on the one hand, and the corruptions of the Gentiles, on the other; —nor was it for any other end, than as the fittest means, in the existing state of the world, for producing and maintaining that holiness in the families of Israel, that the laws and ordinances of the Old Covenant were established.
So, indeed, the Apostle Paul distinctly declared, when in Gal. 3:19, he said, “Wherefore, then, serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions,”—added, that is, to the prior covenant made with Abraham, on account of the people’s proneness to transgress. That covenant was not of itself sufficient to restrain them; and the law with its explicit requirements of duty, and its terrible sanctions was given to supplement the deficiency. The law, therefore, when rightly understood and properly used was in perfect harmony with the covenant; it occupied an inferior and subsidiary place, but in that place was alike designed and fitted for qualifying the people to carry into effect the objects of the covenant. And as it was not the aim of the covenant to make Israel merely a separate people, walled-off by certain distinctive peculiarities from others, as little could it be the proper aim of the law. The scope and tendency of both, indeed, was for righteousness, and their common end was accomplished only in so far as there was produced a spiritual and holy seed to God.

Fourth Principle:

It follows from what has been said, in the fourth place, that the difference, as to privilege and character between the genuine members of the Old and of the New Covenants, must be relative only, and not absolute. It should be exhibited, not as a contrast between two opposites, but as an ascending gradation, a rising from a lower to a higher stage of development. A contrast, no doubt, is sometimes presented in the New Testament between law and grace, between the darkness and servile condition before Christ’s coming, and the light and liberty that followed. But the darkness was not that of total ignorance, nor was the bondage properly that of slaves, but of children rather, who from their imperfect discernment and feeble powers required to be hemmed in by outward restraints, and stimulated by artificial expedients. When the Prophet Jeremiah represents (chapter 31), the distinction between the Old Covenant then existing, and the New and better one sometime to be introduced, as consisting in the putting of the Divine laws into the hearts of the people, and engraving them in their inward parts, the representation can only have been meant to indicate a more effectual and general accomplishment of this spiritual result, than had hitherto appeared, not its absolute commencement. For, beyond all question, the internal revelation of the law was to a certain extent possessed also in former times—possessed by every true Israelite, of whom it was written, “The law of God is in his heart,” and “he meditates therein day and night.” And in what chiefly did the reforming agency of David and many of the prophets appear? Was it not in their earnest striving to awaken the people to the insufficiency of a dead formalism, and have them brought to the cultivation of such holiness as the law required?
There was something more, then, in the relation between Judaism and Christianity, than that of type and antitype—in the sense commonly understood by these terms; there was the relation also of germ and development, beginning and end. The Christian Church, if in one respect a new thing in the earth, is, in another, a continuation and expansion of the Jewish. As was long ago well stated by Crucius,

“Israel is the basis and the body itself of the Church, which must continue to grow and diffuse itself more and more; and this it does, not by virtue of its corporeal descent, but on account of its faith and obedience towards God’s covenant of grace with it, in virtue of which it obtains the heritage of the heathen. When Paul in Gal. 6:16, speaks of the true Israel of God, he means thereby believing Israelites, whom he opposes to the enemies of Christ. And these Israelites did not pass over to the heathen, but the heathen to them (Eph. 2:19; Eph. 3:6; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11; Acts 13:32; Acts 26:6-7). In this sense true Christians are reckoned to Israel; and as the ancient Israel of God could, before Christ’s appearance, receive proselytes among themselves, who thereafter became part of the covenant people; so now, since the appearance of Christ, they have by reason of the covenant and the promise, already become greatly enlarged through the incorporation of multitudes of the heathen, and shall at length receive the whole earth for a possession. And this entire body of the Church, of which the believing portion of Israel formed the foundation, shall one day also receive the remnant of the other portion, the apostasy, into its bosom.”

Fifth Principle:

From all these premises, there arises still another conclusion, a fifth point to be kept steadily in view, viz., that the ordinances of the two covenants, like the conditions of their respective members, can admit only of relative differences. Differences certainly exist, corresponding in nature to the change in the Divine economy, and the spiritual condition of those placed under it; and these must be carefully marked and explained in accordance with the truth of things—otherwise, countenance may be given to grievous mistakes.
It was here that Augustine, in common with so many of the fathers, chiefly erred, though holding correct views in the general as to the connection between Judaism and Christianity. The one was clearly enough seen to be the preparation and shadow of the other; but in drawing out the connection to particular points, too little account was made of the rise that had taken place from a lower to a higher sphere; a tendency rather was shown to regard the antitype as equally outward and formal with the type.
Hence, in the first instance, the typology of the Old Testament was caricatured, by having the most fortuitous and superficial resemblances turned into adumbrations [foreshadowings] of Gospel mysteries; and then the theology of the New was carnalized [turned into outward, physical things], by being cast into the form and pattern of the Old; the observance of days and seasons in the one inferring, it was thought, a like observance in the other—and, as of old, so also now, it was held, that there should be an altar, with its consecrated priesthood and material oblations—a visible unity in the Church, from which it was heresy, even in matters of ceremony, to deviate—and, at last, a supreme earthly head, on whose will were conceived to hang the issues of life and death for entire Christendom.
A mournful result in any circumstances; but rendered greatly more so by the consideration, that among the forces tending to produce it must be placed the venerable name of Augustine, who, in his interpretations, often falls into the mistaken carnalism, out of which the evil might be said to have originated.
But while showing this form of error, care must be taken to avoid falling into another. And the principle must be held fast, that in the ordinances of the two covenants there can be room only for differences of a relative kind. The sacrifices and ablutions of the Old Testament were not simply carnal institutions, no more than baptism and the Lord’s Supper now are. They also pertained to the conscience, and, to be acceptably engaged in, required faith on the part of the worshipper. It is true, that “as pertaining to the conscience, they could not make the comers to them perfect;” they could not present to the worshippers a full, complete, and permanent ground of peace; whence a perpetual renewal of the sacrifices was needed to reassure the conscience after fresh acts of transgression. Yet, this by no means proves, that they had to do merely with the purification of the flesh. There were certain fleshly or ceremonial defilements, such as the touching of a dead body, for which purification was obtained by means of water, mixed with the ashes of a red heifer; —and to that the apostle refers in Heb. 9:13. But it is an utter misapprehension of his meaning, to understand him there to assert, that all the offerings of the law were of force merely to purify the flesh. What could purifications of such a kind have availed one, who had been guilty of fraud, or oppression, or deceit, or false swearing? Yet for such sins, forgiveness was attainable through the appointed offerings, Lev. 6:1-7.
We hold it, therefore, as most certain, that there was also a spiritual element in all the services of the Old Covenant, and that their unsuitableness to Gospel times does not arise from their having been exclusively carnal and outward. It arises, partly from their being too predominantly symbolical for a religion, which contains a full revelation of the truth; and partly also from their having been peculiarly adapted for bringing into view the demands of law, and the liabilities of debt, while they provided only a temporary expedient as to the way of relief—no more than a shadow of the real satisfaction. So that for men to cleave to the Old Testament services after Christ had come, as a matter essential to salvation, was in effect to say, that they did not regard the death of Christ as in itself a perfect satisfaction for the guilt of sin, but that it needed the purifications of the law to render it complete—thereby at once dishonoring Christ, and taking the legal ceremonies for something more than they really were. But still, these ceremonies, when rightly understood, differed from the ordinances of the Gospel only in degree, not in kind; and it is perfectly competent for us to draw conclusions from the nature and administration of the one, to the nature and administration of the other. Here, as in so many other things, there is a middle path, which is the right one; and it is just as easy to err from it by carnalizing too much in Judaism, as by Judaizing too much in Christianity.