God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,…
The great object of the Epistle is to describe the contrast between the old and the new covenant. But this contrast is based upon their unity. The new covenant is contrasted with the old covenant, not in the way in which the light of the knowledge of God is contrast d with the darkness and ignorance of heathenism, for the old covenant also is of God, and is therefore possessed of Divine glory. Great is the glory of the old covenant; yet greater is the glory of the new dispensation, when in the fulness of time God sent forth His own Son and gave unto us the substance of those things of which in the old times He had shown types and prophecy. "God hath spoken unto the fathers"; and by that expression "unto the fathers" the apostle reminds us that without a church, without a union of believers, without a manifestation of God in grace, historically, among a people whom He had set apart for His service, there would have been no Scripture; and that there was a congregation of the Most High from the very beginning of the world. "Unto the fathers " whom He had chosen that they might have fellowship with Him, God spake in old times, even as in the last times unto the Church — unto those who are called both from among Jews and Gentiles — He has made fully known His purpose in Christ Jesus. This, then, is the great resemblance. The Father is the author of revelation in both. The Messiah is the substance and centre of the revelation in both. The glory of God's name in a people brought nigh unto Him, to love and to worship Him, is the end of the revelation in both. The two are one. Martin Luther has quaintly compared it to the two men who brought the branch with the cluster of grapes from the promised land. They were both bearing the same fragrant fruit; but one of them saw it not, yet he knew what he was carrying. The other saw both the fruit and the man who was helping him. Thus is it that the prophets who came before Jesus testified of Him, although they did not yet behold Him; and we who ,ire in the fulness of limes see both the Christ of whom they testified and themselves who were sent by God to witness of Him. But let us consider the marvellous unity of the two covenants. "Sod hath spoken." This is the first point. Oh, how little do we think of the grandeur and majesty and all-importance of this simple declaration, "God hath spoken." A living God and a loving God must needs speak. The god of the philosophers is a silent god, for he hath neither life nor affection; but our God, who created the heavens and the earth, who is and who loves, must speak. Even in the creation, which is an act of the condescension of God, He utters His thoughts; and when He created man as the consummation of the world, it was for this purpose, that man should hear Him and love Him, and should rejoice in His light and in His life. When sin enters into the world silence ensues. Man dreads God, and the melody of praise and prayer ceases; but the need of a revelation remains continually the same. When man forsakes the fountain of living water he cannot get rid of the thirst, and he cannot divest himself of the nature with which God had endowed him; so that there is still within man the same absolute necessity for a revelation of God from on high. And God does speak. Often we read the words and do not realise what marvel of condescending love they reveal, what great and central mystery they unfold. Unless God speaks we do not know the thoughts of God. But notice, secondly, man having by his own sin fallen away from God, and silence reigning now, it is only the infinite compassion and love of God that induces Him to speak. If there was no redemption, there would be no revelation. The love of the Father, and the blood of Jesus Christ, and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; behold, these are the three" necessary foundations upon which the Scripture rests. God, the Triune Covenant God, hath spoken. God hath spoken: in old times unto the fathers by the prophets; fully and perfectly unto us by His Son. In both dispensations the same God, on account of the same sacrifice, impelled by the same love, and for the same sublime and gracious purpose. Both Old and New Testaments are of God; the New Testament, as the Church-father said, is enfolded in the Old, and the Old Testament is unfolded in the New. Nor can we, who live in the times of fulfilment, dispense with the record of the preceding dispensation. As an old author writes: "As the brilliancy of the sun appears far greater when contrasted with the darkness of the shade, so this epistle compares the light of the gospel with the shadows and types of the Old Testament, and by this means displays the glory of the gospel in full relief; for as shadows are images of bodies, so the ancient shadows are images of Jesus Christ, of His power and of His graces, and assist us to recognise more and more the substance and the truth; but from hence we derive also this additional advantage, that although the shadows of other bodies serve only to obscure them, the shadows of the Old Testament are so many reflectors, contributing light to the gospel." But now let us consider the contrast. Jesus Christ was not born till four thousand years after the creation of the world. "At sundry times and in divers manners" did God speak unto the fathers by the prophets. These three things constitute a prophet: direct commission from God Himself, gift of the Holy Ghost, and being entrusted with the very thoughts and words of the Most High. It is not merely by the prophets that God spake. They were chosen not merely as the channels of separate and isolated revelation. God spake in them. They were the personal bearers of the message, the representatives and exponents of Divine truth, Their words and typical actions were inspired, and in them the word of the Lord came unto Israel. Yet let us consider what were the imperfections of these messengers. The first imperfection was this — that they were numerous; they were many. One succeeded another. They lived in different periods. Another imperfection was, that it was "in divers manners," in dreams, in similitudes, in visions, in symbols. Each prophet had his peculiar gift and character. Their stature and capacity varied. They were men of different temperament and tone of mind. The manner in which the revelation of God was given to them varied; even in the case of the same prophet the One Spirit appeared in various manifestations. Another imperfection was that they were sinful men. Another imperfection was that they did not possess the Spirit constantly. Of a sudden, after a long pause, the Spirit of God came upon them. God spake unto them', and gave unto them His message. But it was not like a continuous river. The word came to them from time to time; they did not possess the word. Another imperfection was this, that of that message that was entrusted to them they did not understand the heights and the depths. They themselves had to search diligently, and to inquire what the Spirit that was in them did signify of the sufferings and glory that should come. Another imperfection was that, as they did not understand adequately that portion of the message that was given unto them, they could still less comprehend and contain the whole message. They saw only one aspect of it, only one portion of it in connection with the peculiar history and the peculiar trials of the people at the period to which they were sent. Another imperfection was, that they all testified, like John the Baptist, "I am not the light. I am only sent to witness of the light." They were only finger-posts directing the pilgrim, as he was in pursuit of the heavenly city, to go on further, until he would come to the pearly gates of the new Jerusalem. We notice the imperfect and fragmentary character of the old dispensation, when we consider n,4 merely the words, but the types, which are living prophecies. There was not a single one which could stand by itself, it had always to be supplemented. Wherever we go we find it is in fragments. There is an altar; there is a sacrifice. There is a fourfold sacrifice, a sin-offering, a burnt-offering, a peace-offering, a meat-offering. There is a high priest; there is a tabernacle; there is a holy of holies; there is a candlestick; there is a shewbread; there is a veil. Everything a fragment; everything in itself showing unto us some aspect of truth, some portion of the pressure, without which we would be poor; but we must combine them all to see the fell and blessed truth. But now the time of fragmentary, imperfect, and temporary revelation is past. God speaks to us now in another and more glorious manner. Look now at the contrast. The whole contrast is in one word — in our language in one syllable — "by the Son." The prophets were many: the Son is one. The prophets were servants: the Son is the Lord. The prophets were temporary: the Son abideth for ever. The prophets were imperfect: the Son is perfect, even as the Father is perfect. The prophets were guilty: the Son is not merely pure, but able to purify those that are full of sin and pollution. The prophets point to the future: the Son points to Himself, and says, "Here am I." God has spoken to us "by His Son." He is the true and faithful witness, whose testimony is co-xtensive, if I may so say, with the counsel and the things of God: the Prophet whose mind is adequate to understand the mind of the Father. He is not merely the true and faithful witness because He is from everlasting, He is also the beloved of God. Notice this in the word " Son." "The only begotten," says John, "who was in the bosom of the Father," who is His treasure and delight, the infinite object of His love. in whom from all eternity was His rejoicing, who shares with Him all His counsels. This beloved one of God — oh. surely He is the true messenger who will reveal all the secrets of the Father's heart, and who will tell unto us all the fulness of His counsel, and all the purposes of His grace! God hath spoken to us by His Son. Let me remind you how in the Son all the message of God is contained. You who know the Scripture, and you especially who have come through the law unto the gospel, will understand me when I say that if the sinner knew nothing else but this, "God has sent a messenger, and this messenger is His own Son," he might discover in this the whole gospel; for, in order to send unto us condemnation, in order to give unto us the knowledge of our sin and of our desert, His own Son is not needed. Any angel would suffice for this work; any servant could proclaim this message. When God sends His own Son into the world, when God makes the stupendous sacrifice of allowing His only begotten to take upon Him our flesh and blood, there can be only one meaning in it — salvation. It can only have one purpose — our redemption. It can only have one motive — the overwhelming love of God. God has spoken to us by His Son, and therefore we know that He has spoken peace to us. But notice, secondly, as the Sonship is the beginning of the gospel, so it is also the end and purpose of God's message. God, speaking to us by His Son, shows unto us that we also are to become the sons of God. In the Incarnate Son the Father has brought many sons unto glory. The only begotten of the Father has, after His death on the cross, become the firstborn among many brethren. The Holy Ghost, coming through the glorified humanity of Jesus, unites us to Him, who is the beloved Son, and in whom the eternal and it, finite love of the Father zests upon all His believing people. In the Son we know and have the Father; in the Son we also are the children of God. Lastly, remember this is the ultimate revelation. There can be nothing higher; there can be nothing further. If Christ is our life, then, when the Son of God shall appear, we also who are the sons of God — nosy in weakness, suffering, temptation — shall be made manifest with Him in glory.
Parallel VersesKJV: God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,