What advantage then has the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?…
I. THE ORACLES OF GOD.
1. The meaning of the term.
(1) Among heathen the word was first used to denote the answers supposed to be given by their gods, and was afterwards applied to the shrines where such answers were given. Whether these answers were forged by the priests, or were the results of diabolical agency, it is not necessary to inquire. Suffice it that though proverbially obscure, they are regarded with veneration and confidence. No enterprise of importance was undertaken without consulting them; splendid embassies, with magnificent presents, were sent from far distant states, with a view to obtain a propitious answer; and contending nations often submitted to them the decision of their respective claims. With these facts the Gentile converts were acquainted; in these opinions they had participated. The word, therefore, could scarcely fail to excite in them some of the ideas and emotions with which it had been so long and intimately associated. No title, then, could be better adapted to inspire them with veneration for the Scriptures.
(2) Nor would it appear less sacred, or important to the Jew, associated as it was with the Urim and Thummim, and with those responses which Jehovah gave from the inner sanctuary. In our version this place is frequently styled The Oracle; and the answers which God there gave to the inquiries of His worshippers were full, explicit, and definite; forming a perfect contrast to the oracles of paganism. By employing this language, he did in effect say to the Gentile converts, All that you once supposed the oracles of your countrymen to be, the Scriptures really are. With at least equal force did his language say to the Jews, The Scriptures are no less the Word of God than were the answers which He formerly gave to your fathers from the mercy seat.
2. This title is given to the Scriptures with perfect truth and propriety. They do not, indeed, resemble in all respects the heathen oracles. They were never designed to gratify a vain curiosity; much less to subserve the purposes of ambition or avarice, and this is, probably, one reason why many persons never consult them. But whatever a man's situation may be, this oracle, if consulted in the manner in which God has prescribed, will satisfactorily answer every question which it is proper for him to ask; for it contains all the information which our Creator sees it best that His human creatures should, at present, possess.
II. THEIR SURPASSING VALUE.
1. In possessing the Scriptures we possess every real advantage that would result from the establishment of an oracle among us; and more. For wherever the oracle might be placed, it would unavoidably be at a distance from a large proportion of those who wished for its advice. But in the Scriptures we possess an oracle, which may be brought home to every family and every individual at all times.
2. But in consequence of having been familiar with them from our childhood, we are far from being sensible how deeply we are indebted to them. We must place ourselves in the situation of a serious inquirer after truth, who has pursued his inquiries as far as unassisted intellect can go; and that he now finds himself bewildered in a maze of conflicting theories into which the researches of men unenlightened by revelation inevitably plunge them. To such a man what would the Scripture be worth? He asks, "Who made the universe?" A mild, but majestic voice replies from the oracle, "In the beginning, God created the heavens, and the earth." Startled, the inquirer eagerly exclaims, "Who is God — what is His nature?" "God," replies the voice, "is a spirit, wise, almighty, holy, just, merciful and gracious, long suffering," etc. The inquirer's mind labours, faints, while vainly attempting to grasp the Being, now, for the first time disclosed. But a new and more powerful motive now stimulates his inquiries, and he asks, "Does any relation subsist between this God and myself?" "He is thy Maker, Father, Preserver, Sovereign, Judge; in Him thou dost live, and move, and exist; and at death thy spirit will return to God who gave it." "How," resumes the inquirer, "will He then receive me?" "He will reward thee according to thy works." "What works?" "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart," etc. "Every transgression of this law is a sin; and the soul that sinneth shall die." "Have I sinned?" the inquirer tremblingly asks. "All," replies the oracle, "have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." A new sensation of conscious guilt now oppresses the inquirer, and with increased anxiety he asks, "Is there any way in which the pardon of sin may be obtained?" "The blood of Jesus Christ," replies the oracle, "cleanseth from all sin. He that confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall find mercy." "But to whom shall I confess them? where find the God whom I have offended?" "He is a God at hand," returns the voice; "I, who speak to thee, am He." "God be merciful to me a sinner," exclaims the inquirer, not daring to lift his eyes towards the oracle: "What, Lord, wilt Thou have me to do?" "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," answers the voice, "and thou shalt be saved." "Lord, who is Jesus Christ? that I may believe on Him? He is My Beloved Son, whom I have set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood; hear thou Him, for there is salvation in no other." Such are, probably, some of the questions which would be asked by the supposed inquirer; and such are, in substance, the answers which he would receive from the oracles of God. Who can compute the value of these answers.
III. THEIR INEXHAUSTIBLENESS. But why should those consult them who are already acquainted with the answers which they will return?
1. Has the man who asks this drawn from the Scriptures all the information which they contain? It may reasonably be doubted whether anyone would have discovered that the declaration of Jehovah, "I am the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob," furnishes a conclusive proof of the after existence of the human soul. And how many times might we have read the declaration, "Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec," before we should have suspected that it involves all those important consequences deduced from it in the Epistle to the Hebrews? And many other passages remain to reward the researches of future inquirers.
2. Many of the oracles contain an infinity of meaning which no mind can ever exhaust. What finite mind will fully comprehend all that is contained in the titles given to Jehovah and Christ, or in the words, "eternity," "heaven;" "hell"? Now he who most frequently consults the oracles will penetrate most deeply into their unfathomable abyss of meaning. He may, indeed, receive the same answers to his inquiries; but these answers will convey to his mind clearer and more enlarged conceptions of the truths which they reveal. His views will resemble those of an astronomer, who is, from time to time, furnished with telescopes of greater power; or what at first seemed only an indistinct shadow, will become a vivid picture, and the picture will, at length, stand out in bold relief. The lisping child and the astronomer use the word "sun" to denote the same object. The child, however, means by this word, nothing more than a round, luminous body, of a few inches in diameter. But it would require a volume to contain all the conceptions of which this word stands for the sign in the mind of the astronomer.
IV. THEIR VITALISING POWER. It may, perhaps, be objected that, as the Scriptures do not speak in an audible voice, their answers can never possess that life which attends the responses of a living oracle, such as was formerly established among the Jews. On the contrary, they are well termed lively or "living oracles" — "alive and powerful." "The words," says Christ, "that I speak unto you, are spirit, and they are life." The living God lives in them, and employs their instrumentality in imparting life. Take away His accompanying influences, and the living oracles become "a dead letter." But he who consults them aright does not find them a dead letter; he finds that the living, life-giving Spirit, by whom they were and are inspired, carries home their words to him with an energy which no tongue can express.
V. THE MANNER IN WHICH THEY ARE TO BE CONSULTED. Thousands, of course, derive no benefit, and receive no satisfactory answers, for they do not consult them, as an oracle of God ever ought to be consulted.
1. They do not consult them with becoming reverence. They peruse them with little more reverence than the works of a human author, as they would consult a dictionary or an almanac.
2. Nor is sincerity less necessary than reverence — a real desire to know our duty, with a full determination to believe and obey the answers we shall receive. If we consult the oracles of God with a view to gratify our sinful inclinations, or to justify our questionable pursuits, practices, or favourite prejudices, the oracle will be dumb. The same remark is applicable to everyone who consults the Scriptures, while he neglects known duties, or disobeys known commands. We may see these remarks exemplified in Saul. He had been guilty of known disobedience; and therefore, when he inquired of the Lord, the Lord answer him not.
3. There are others whose want of success is owing to their unbelief. As no food can nourish those who do not partake of it; as no medicines can prove salutary to those who refuse to make use of them; so no oracles can be serviceable to those by whom they are not believed with a cordial, practical, operative faith. The Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation only through faith in Christ Jesus.
4. Many persons derive no benefit from the oracles of God, because they attempt to consult them without prayer. Consulting an oracle is an act which, in its very nature, implies an acknowledgment of ignorance, and a petition for guidance, for instruction. He, then, who reads the Scriptures without prayer, does not really consult them.
(E. Payson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?