The Ancient Scriptures and the Modern Jew/Chapter 11
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THE RELIGIOUS CONDITION OF THE JEWS AND CAUSES OF JEWISH UNBELIEF IN CHRIST, FROM A CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW
I HAVE special pleasure in embodying in my bird's- eye view of the Jewish nation the following able summary of their religious condition by my dear friend, Rev. C. A. Schonberger :
The present condition of the Jews is intimately connected with their past history, with the dealings of God, of the Lord Jesus, and of the Apostles with them, as narrated in the Old Testament Scriptures, the Gospels, the book of Acts, and the Epistles. All ended, as we know, in the judgment which ultimately came upon them in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and in their forced dispersion among all the nations of the earth.
We know that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah, that He came to His "own" and His own received Him not. How easy should it have been for them to receive Him, for He declared unto them the glad tidings of salvation. He brought to them the fulness of truth and grace of that God who had been
previously declared to them by Moses and the Prophets.
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Me honoured the law, revealing its depth, and came not to destroy but to fulfil it. As an Israelite He came to Israelites. As a Prophet He spake to them as to a people who had been educated and trained by Prophets. He did everything that superhuman wisdom and love could devise in order to win them to Himself, to gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but they would not. He was " rejected and despised " by the very people whose " Crown and Glory " He was to be. Rejecting Him, they rejected Jehovah Himself, the counsel of God and eternal life. How can we understand this ? What can be the true explanation ? Well, it is this : their hearts were not right with God ; they had the form of godliness, but knew not, and denied the power thereof. They boasted of the Temple, and all the while their hearts did not thirst after true communion with the living God. They boasted of the predictions of a Messiah which were given to them, but they did not sigh with broken and contrite hearts after true redemption. They were zealous for the law of God without understanding the spirituality of that law, and instead of its leading them to humble themselves and lament their unworthiness, they rather boasted and prided themselves in the way in which they kept it : and thus it was that hardness as well as blindness of heart fell upon them, and that the judgment of God visited His own beloved nation. It was a terrible visitation. No other nation has ever tasted the bitterness of the cup of the indignation of the Lord like Israel. The word of Amos became true to the letter "You only have I known of all the families of the earth : therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." They were driven away from their beloved city, and having seen the Temple, the sanctuary of the Most High, in which the glory of the Lord was
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revealed, demolished, they wandered fugitives and exiles, till they were scattered over the- whole earth.
God's judgment of Israel is the most terrible thing in history yet they have been preserved to this very day through the power of that very God who punished them so terribly. Here they are a monument of the truth of God's Word a monument, also, of God's faithful- ness. None of the persecutions which they have endured have availed to destroy them, neither have they broken their energy or subdued their indomitable will, or crushed their power of mind ; and no sooner was the great pressure which the nations so-called Christian nations put upon them, removed, than we see them prosper in every country, and take leading positions in every sphere of life, in commerce and politics, as well as in literature and art, showing that the Lord God has made them to be a peculiar people ; a nation to be perpetuated, and that it was He who gave them nerve to endure, in order that in the future, when His grace shall melt their hearts, they may be a mighty instrument to show forth His praise. There is still visible among scattered Israel something of blessing and influence, the effect of God's training through so many centuries. Their history since the rejection of Christ is unspeakably sad, yet we cannot help noticing that in the midst of Christless Israel some traces of the grandeur and beauty of their Father's house still linger. Behold their zeal for God, their zeal for the Scriptures, their zeal for the Sabbath day; behold the sacrifices which they make in order to carry out the injunctions of the law. Yes, there are many features in the Jewish character which we cannot explain in any other way than this that there is still a blessing resting on them, that the voice of God which was heard upon Sinai has still its echo in their hearts and consciences, and that
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the prayers which have been offered up on their behalf by patriarchs, kings, prophets and saints, are still held in remembrance before the throne of God.
But when we look more closely at their religious condition, we find that without Jesus, who is both the centre of the Scriptures, and the key to open them, they are not able to understand the full and true meaning of the Scriptures. They reverence them, they have counted all the verses of the holy Book, and the exact number of its letters, and which is the middle verse and letter of each particular book of the Scriptures. They have watched over every iota and tittle of that record which they believe, and justly believe, was given them by God Himself. They hold in high esteem their Rabbis, who devote their lives to the study of the law and oracles of God ; and yet not knowing the centre and star of the Scriptures, not knowing that Jesus is the Messiah, not knowing the counsel of God, that through suffering He should enter into glory, they are not able to understand the scope of the Scriptures. All their minute knowledge of the letter does not help them. They cannot enter into the spirit of it. Both the Law and the Prophets must remain an enigma to them, for as the greater and more vital part of the law has vanished, as the Levitical dispensation has disappeared, as the Temple has been destroyed, as the sacrifices are no more offered, as the Priesthood, with its head, the High Priest, no more exists, oh! how impossible it is for them to account for the removal of things which God established, the discontinuance of those holy symbols which God Him- self instituted, and the absence of the glory.
Israel at present is exactly in the same condition as their ancestors were in the wilderness, when Moses tarried in the mount and the people said, " We do not know what has become of this Moses," and appealed to
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Aaron, " Now go and make us gods, for gods we must have." And so it is that Israel for the last eighteen centuries says " Moses " the whole Levitical dis- pensation, has been taken from us, our Temple is destroyed, our sacrifices are no longer offered, our whole holy ritual is gone. What shall we do ? We do not understand it. We must make some substitute for that which we have lost. We must invent something to take the place of these sacrifices. We must adopt some theory instead of the theory which God has given to us in His own Word. And thus it is that the Bible has become a sealed book to them,
Look at the Law of Moses, of which they pride them- selves and boast to this very day. We know that that Law is so deep that it takes cognisance of the inmost secret springs of our life ; that it is so high that it aims at nothing less than love to God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength ; that it is so broad and comprehensive that it takes notice of all the details of our daily life, of our thoughts and hidden motives, as well as of our outward actions ; that it is, indeed, the Law of God, divine and wonderful. But, alas ! " the People of the Law " did not and do not understand its true meaning. Why was Jesus so delighted when that scribe said to Him that to love God with all the heart and to love our neighbours as ourselves was the whole law ? Why was the Saviour so pleased with him that He replied, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God " ? Why ? Because it was a rare thing to find a man who in sincerity of heart and mind understood the drift of the Law, its true meaning and original purpose, and who was thus able to condense all the different precepts and injunctions into this, its real aim love to God and to our neighbour.
This had been and yet is the fatal error of Israel, that
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instead of understanding the unity of the Law, they have regarded the Law as a compact which God made with them, in which He laid down a number of regulations ; and that if they observed so many of the 613 command- ments into which the scribes have divided it, they gave themselves credit for honouring it, forgetting that they could not break one commandment without breaking all, as it is so beautifully brought out in the Epistle of James " Do you not know that the Law is one ? " Do you not know that the Law is like a body, like a living organism, and that if you break one commandment you break the whole Law ? That if you transgress the will of God in one particular point you sin against God ?
But Israel did not understand the unity of the Law, or its spirituality, and thus the purpose of the Law was not attained in them. What was the real purpose of the Law? The Law was not given that people should be saved by it, or feel comfortable under it It was given to show people how utterly corrupt is the heart from which comes our outer life ; to show people how exceedingly sinful sin is in the sight of God. It was not given for life, but for death, to bring people to despair about the depravity of their moral nature. In one word it was given that the heart should be broken, and not that it should become proud. In that Pharisee who went into the Temple to pray, enumerating before God his good deeds, and thanking God that he was not like other people, we have a striking example of mis- conception of the Law. In that man and all like him, the object of the Law is frustrated. He thought he had a surplus of credit in his account with God. He came as one eminent, distinguished, superior to all others, who had only to thank God for his own excellences. This Pharisee so much misunderstood the meaning of the Law that he exactly answers to those Romanists who
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imagine that they can do more than both the Law and the Gospel require, and that their so-called saints have actually surpassed the requirements of God, and have thus accumulated merits beyond their own need, which may avail for others also. To such as these the Law in the one case, and the Gospel in the other, have become a cause of pride in the sight of God, instead of humility, and thus it is with the Jews to this day. They are still going about to establish a righteousness of their own, through their own works and merits, and they do not know that there is only one true righteousness for sinners, even the righteousness of God for us. They have the Scriptures, yet are not able to understand them, seeing that the typical dispensation has dis- appeared without being fulfilled. They have the Law, but are not humbled by it, since it has not wrought in them knowledge and conviction of their sin. Oh ! what a sad picture of Israel ! The truth which God ever impressed upon Israel was that in themselves they had nothing but what was bad, but that He was their salva- tion, He and He alone. This is almost entirely hidden from their eyes. That one expression which runs through the whole of the Old Testament, "My righteousness," is sealed to them ; they do not under- stand it. " Jehovah Zidkenu " (Jehovah our righteous- ness) they do not know, their supposed own righteousness stands in the way ; they think that this is sufficient, and sometimes they think it more than sufficient.
This misunderstanding of the law and the sad frustra- tion of its object, dates far back in the history of Israel. The prophets had to contend with those who either made the law void or made it merely external, and the false prophets and their followers did their best to blind the people to its unity and spirituality. Soon after the return from Babylon the scribes and teachers of the law
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abounded, and in the course of time they acquired great power and influence until at last we have those doctors of the law, the Pharisees and Scribes, who are pictured to us in the Gospels, and concerning whom Jesus said that they made the Word of God void through their traditions. Tradition ! Why is it so dangerous ? Because it is heaped upon the Word ; because ultimately the Word of God becomes hidden by it, and lost sight of. They did not only corrupt the Word of God by their tra- ditions, but these theologians and teachers put them- selves between God and the people, drawing away the hearts of the people from God. And so it is that Israel is not only not able to understand the true meaning of the Scriptures, but is altogether misled by the traditions and additions of the elders, following much more their self-invented laws and regulations than the pure and God-ward teaching of the Word of the living God. This is just what Isaiah said : " O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths." And again : " For the leaders of this people cause them to err ; and they that are led of them are destroyed." Just what Jesus said also : " Blind leaders of the blind." And again : "Your house shall be left unto you desolate."
The house is there, the foundations, the walls, the chambers. All is there ; the name of Jehovah, the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath, Passover, Pentecost, the Day of Atonement, the Festival of Tabernacles. It is all there, but it is desolate! He is not there. His life- giving Spirit is not there. They celebrate the Passover, but where is the Lamb which God has ordained for Him- self as a sacrifice ? They keep the Day of Atonement, but where is that blood without the shedding of which there is no remission of sin? They read the law of Moses, they peruse the words of the prophets, but a vail
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is on their hearts, they cannot see Him of whom Moses and the Prophets testify. They weep, they mourn and lament over the destruction of Jerusalem, but they have not yet acknowleged the one great national sin on account of which this evil has come upon them. Joseph's brethren as recently shown in the Zionist Congress at Basle are in sore distress, but they have never yet confessed what they have done to their brother Joseph-Jesus.
Oh, it is very sad ! And well may we have continual sorrow in our hearts on account of Israel. But there is yet another aspect of Israel which is still more melancholy. They have not learned faith in Christ from Christians, but that which they have taken in, is the unbelief of the so-called Christian world. The more educated Jews are well acquainted with everything that is said and written by nominal Christians and anti- Christians against Christ and Christianity. Masses of Jews all over the world speak now on this wise : " We do not see any miracles nowadays, so we do not believe that miracles have ever been. Moses, David, the Prophets, and Jesus were great men, wise men, men of great moral force and character. We respect, we honour them but there has been great progress in everything since their day, and we are not bound to receive what they teach, especially as regards the supernatural." A considerable number of Jews in all lands are decidedly rationalistic and not a few of them are outspoken agnostics, who have renounced all the promises of God to their fathers and are sunk in utter worldliness. They say : " Things remain as they were from the beginning. Where is the promise of the Messiah's kingdom of righteousness and peace ? "
Thus in proportion as the old-fashioned Talmudism lost its hold upon the minds of the Jews, the influences
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of rationalism and scepticism have wrought great havoc among them, leading to downright unbelief in all positive and revealed religion. There are now everywhere Jews to be found who believe in the Old Testament just as little as in the New. And yet they keep together. What power is it that holds them together ? We know from the Word of God that it is God, the God of Israel, who keeps them together. Within the last twenty years the national consciousness of the Jews has been once more roused from its slumber, and now as was lately shown at the Zionist Congress it is more vigorous than ever before. They feel that they are a nation, and separate from the other nations. They feel they are still " a peculiar people," though dispersed among so many nations. They feel something of the peculiar position which God has assigned to them in the world, although they do not know exactly what it is. Thus we have this strange and contradictory condition of things.
On the one hand they seem to be falling away from their old faith, and on the other they are drawing more closely together, reviving their national feeling. But Israel's nationality is unlike all other nationalities. It is more than natural, there is something in it which is beyond nature.
Verily " the dry and dead bones " of Ezekiel's vision and " their coming together" were presented to us in that much spoken of Zionist Congress, but until the Spirit of the Lord breathe upon them there will be no life. Jesus, and Jesus alone, the " Prince of Life," the " Living One," can bring life to this nation. The truth and mystery of Israel is Jesus. What Israel is without Him is manifest, what Israel shall be when it will see and acknowledge and adore Him is beyond human thought, but it is described with prophetic and apostolic pens in the Scriptures. Without Him they do not know the
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way of God, nor the truth of God, nor that life which is life indeed.
Jesus is the Way : " No man cometh to the Father but by Me." There is no other way. Jesus is the Truth, the full and whole truth of God : " The law was given by Moses ; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." And Jesus is Life : " This is life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." Although the Jews have the law, they cannot come to God, because Jesus is the Way. Although they have the Old Testament, they do not know the truth, because Jesus is the Truth and Life ! Until we come to see Jesus, until we come to the atonement He made for us, until we come to know the "Lamb of God," we do not know God the Father. Yes, there are sighs ; there are misgivings ; there are fears ; there are mournings ; there are longings, in the human heart towards God but adoption and true spiritual life there is none, where Christ has not kindled it. Israel in its present state, the Christless Israel, shows this to the whole world. Notwithstanding the great activity and energy of the religious life of the Jews, they have we say it with great sorrow no life indeed what they have is all carnal and this accounts for the phenomena that they have not been of much spiritual use to the world since Christ's coming. In Christ alone will Israel live again and be a blessing to the world.