Our Lord's command is: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." The history of missions shows that the gospel can be preached with success to the most degraded tribes -- to the Hottentots of South Africa and the cannibals of the South sea islands, and that this is the only remedy for their barbarism. But the gospel did not begin among savages, nor does it have its centres of power and influence among them. Christ came at the culminating point of ancient civilization and culture; not that he might conform his gospel to existing institutions and ideas, but that he might through his gospel infuse into them (as far as they contained elements of truth) the purifying and transforming leaven of divine truth. As the gospel began in the midst of civilization, so does its introduction among barbarous tribes always bring civilization in its train.
3. When we have learned to regard the revelation of which we have a record in the Old Testament as preparatory to the gospel, we see it in its true light. This view furnishes both the key to its character and the answer to the objections commonly urged against it. It is not a revelation of abstract truths. These would neither have excited the interest of the people, nor have been apprehended by them. God made known to the covenant people his character and the duties which he required of them by a series of mighty acts and a system of positive laws. The Old Testament, is, therefore, in an eminent degree documentary -- a record not simply of opinions, but rather of actions and institutions. Of these actions and institutions we are to judge from the character of the people and the age in connection with the great end proposed by God. This end was not the material prosperity of Israel, but the preparation of the nation for its high office as the medium through which the gospel should afterwards be given to the world. The people were rebellious and stiff-necked, and surrounded by polytheism and idolatry. Their training required severity, and all the severity employed by God brought forth at last its appropriate fruits. The laws imposed upon them were stern and burdensome from their multiplicity. But no one can show that in either of these respects they could have been wisely modified; for the nation was then in its childhood and pupilage (Gal.4:1-3), and needed to be treated accordingly.
An objection much insisted on by some is the exclusive character of the Mosaic institutions -- a religion, it is alleged, for only one nation, while all the other nations were left in ignorance. To this a summary answer can be given. In selecting Israel as his covenant people, God had in view the salvation of the whole world: "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen.12:3) -- such was the tenor of the covenant from the beginning. His plan was to bring one nation into special relation to himself, establish in it the true religion, prepare it for the advent of Christ, and then propagate the gospel from it as a centre throughout all nations. If men are to be dealt with in a moral way, as free, responsible subjects of law (and this is the only way in which God deals with men under a system of either natural or revealed religion), can the objector propose any better way? He might as well object to the procedure of a military commander that, instead of spreading his army over a whole province, he concentrates it on one strong point. Let him wait patiently, and he will find that in gaining this point the commander gains the whole country.
4. Having seen the relation of the Old Testament as a whole to the system of divine revelation, we are now prepared to consider the place occupied by its several divisions.
(1.) To prepare the way for our Lord's advent, one nation was to be selected and trained up under a system of divine laws and ordinances -- the theocracy established under Moses. The Pentateuch records the establishment of the theocracy, with the previous steps that led to it, and the historical events immediately connected with. it. Hence the five books of Moses are called emphatically the Law; and as such, their province in the Old Testament is clear and well defined.
(2.) The end of the Mosaic law being the preparation of the Israelitish people, and through them the world, for Christ's advent, it was not the purpose of God that it should be hidden as a dead letter beside the ark in the inner sanctuary. It was a code for practice, not for theory. It contained the constitution of the state, civil as well as religious; and God's almighty power and faithfulness were pledged that it should accomplish in a thorough way the office assigned to it. The theocracy must therefore have a history; and with the record of this the historical books are occupied.
(3.) God did not leave the development of this history to itself. He watched over it from the beginning, and directed its course, interposing from time to time, not only in a providential way, but also by direct revelation. Sometimes, for specific ends, he revealed himself immediately to particular individuals, as to Gideon, and Manoah and his wife. But more commonly his revelations were made to the rulers or people at large through persons selected as the organs of his Spirit; that is, through prophets. The prophet held his commission immediately from God. Since God is the author, not of confusion, but of order, he came to the people under the Law, not above it; and his messages were to be tried by the Law. Deut.13:1-5. No prophet after Moses enjoyed the same fulness of access to God which was vouchsafed to him, or received the same extent of revelation. Numb.12:6-8; Deut.34:10-12. Nevertheless, the prophet came to rulers and people, like Moses, with an authority derived immediately from God, introducing his messages with the words: "Thus saith the Lord." In God's name he rebuked the people for their sins; explained to them the true cause of the calamities that befell them; recalled them to God's service as ordained in the Law, unfolding to them at the same time its true nature as consisting in the spirit, and not in the letter only -- 1 Sam.15:22; Isa.1:11-20; 57:15; 66:2; Jer.4:4; Ezek.18:31; Hosea 10:12; 14:2; Joel 2:12, 13; Amos 5: 21-24; Micah 6: 6-8 -- denounced upon them the awful judgments of God as the punishment of continued disobedience; and promised them the restoration of his favor upon condition of hearty repentance. In the decline of the Theocracy, it was the special province of the prophets to comfort the pious remnant of God's people by unfolding to them the future glory of Zion -- the true "Israel of God," and her dominion over all the earth. From about the reign of Uzziah and onward, as already remarked (ch.15.12), the prophets began, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to reduce their prophecies to writing, and thus arose the series of prophetical books that form a prominent part of the Old Testament canon. Their office is at once recognized by every reader as distinct from that of either the Pentateuch or the historical books; although these latter were, as a general rule, written by prophets also.
(4.) There is a class, more miscellaneous in character, that may be described in general terms as the poetical books, in which the elements of meditation and reflection predominate. It includes the book of Job, which has for its theme divine providence, as viewed from the position of the Old Testament; the book of Psalms, that wonderful treasury of holy thought and feeling embodied in sacred song for the use of God's people in all ages; the book of Proverbs, with its inexhaustible treasures of practical wisdom; the book of Ecclesiastes, having for its theme the vanity of this world when sought as a satisfying good; and the book of Canticles, which the church has always regarded as a mystical song having for its ground-idea, under the Old Testament, that God is the husband of Zion, and under the New, that the church is the bride of Christ. How high a place this division of the canon holds in the system of divine revelation every pious heart feels instinctively. Without it, the revelation of the Old Testament could not have been complete for the work assigned to it.
5. We have seen the relation of the Old Testament as a whole to the entire system of revelation, and also the place occupied by its several divisions. It will further appear, as we proceed, that each particular book in these divisions contributes its share to the perfection of the whole.
6. Although the revelation contained in the Old Testament was preparatory to the fuller revelation of the New, we must guard against the error of supposing that it had not a proper significance and use for the men of its own time. "Unto us," says the apostle, "was the gospel preached, as well as unto them." Heb.4:2. And again: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better tiling for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." Heb.11:13, 39, 40. They had a part of the truth, but not its fulness; and the measure of revelation vouchsafed to them was given for their personal salvation, as well as to prepare the way for further revelations. The promise made to Abraham -- "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" -- was fulfilled in Christ. In this respect Abraham "received not the promise." Nevertheless, it was a promise made for his benefit, as well as for that of future ages. Into the bosom of the patriarch it brought light and joy and salvation. "Your father Abraham," said Jesus, "rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad." John 8:56. "He believed in the Lord," says the inspired record, "and he counted it to him for righteousness." Gen.15:6. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt typified the redemption of Christ; and it was, moreover, one of the grand movements that prepared the way for his advent. But it was neither all type nor all preparation. To the covenant people of that day it was a true deliverance; and to the believing portion of them, a deliverance of soul as well as of body. "The law," says Paul, "was our school-master to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." Gal.3:24. But while it had this preparatory office, it was to the Israelitish nation a true rule of life; and under it many, through faith, anticipated its end. The prophets prophesied for the men of their own age, as well as for distant generations. The sweet psalmist of Israel, while he foreshadowed the Messiah's reign, sung for the comfort and edification of himself and his contemporaries; and Solomon gave rules of practical wisdom as valid for his day as for ours. The revelation of the Old Testament was not complete, like that which we now possess; but it was sufficient for the salvation of every sincere inquirer after truth. When the rich man in hell besought Abraham that Lazarus might be sent to warn his five brethren on the ground that, if one went to them from the dead they would repent, Abraham answered: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead."
7. There is another practical error against which Christians of the present day need to be warned. It is the idea that the full revelation of the New Testament supersedes in a great measure the necessity of studying the previous revelation contained in the Old Testament. Few will openly avow this, but too many inwardly cherish the delusion in a vague and undefined form; and it exerts a pernicious influence upon them, leading them to undervalue and neglect the Old Testament Scriptures. Even if the idea under consideration were in accordance with truth, it would still be to every earnest Christian a matter of deep historical interest to study the way by which God prepared the world for the full light of the gospel. But it is not true. It rests on a foundation of error and delusion. For, (1.) The system of divine revelation constitutes a whole, all the parts of which are connected, from beginning to end, so that no single part can be truly understood without a knowledge of all the rest. The impenetrable darkness that rests on some portions of Scripture has its ground in the fact that the plan of redemption is not yet completed. The mighty disclosures of the future can alone dissipate this darkness.
"God is his own interpreter, And he will make it plain."
(2.) We know that the writers of the New Testament constantly refer to the Old for arguments and illustrations. A knowledge of the Old Testament is necessary, therefore, for a full comprehension of their meaning. How can the reader, for example, understand the epistles to the Romans and Galatians, or that to the Hebrews, without a thorough acquaintance with "Moses and the prophets," to which these epistles have such constant reference? (3.) The Old Testament is occupied with the record of God's dealings with men. Such a record must be a perpetual revelation of God's infinite attributes, and of human character also, and the course of human society, every part of which is luminous with instruction. (4.) Although the old theocracy, with its particular laws and forms of worship, has passed away, yet the principles on which it rested, which interpenetrated it in every part, and which shone forth with a clear light throughout its whole history -- these principles are eternal verities, as valid for us as for the ancient patriarchs. Some of these principles -- for example, God's unity, personality, and infinite perfections; his universal providence; his supremacy over all nations; the tendency of nations to degeneracy, and the stern judgments employed by God to reclaim them -- are so fully unfolded in the Old Testament that they needed no repetition in the New. There they became axioms rather than doctrines. (5.) "The manifold wisdom of God" in adapting his dealings with men to the different stages of human progress cannot be seen without a diligent study of the Old Testament as well as the New. Whoever neglects the former, will want breadth and comprehensiveness of Christian culture. All profound Christian writers have been well versed in "the whole instrument of each Testament," as Tertullian calls the two parts of revelation. Chap.13, No.2.
Modern skepticism begins with disparaging the Old Testament, and ends with denying the divine authority of both the Old and the New. In this work it often unites a vast amount of learning in regard to particulars with principles that are superficial and false.