The Old Testament
Romans 15:4
For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning…

The apostle's purpose in making the quotation of ver. 3 was to bring about a more brotherly feeling between the two great divisions of the Roman Church (ver. 1). He might have illustrated his point by referring to many acts in our Lord's life, but he refers to a passage in Psalm 69. instead. But although David in it is describing his own troubles, a Jewish Christian would not have been surprised at St. Paul's applying the words to our Lord, for he would have known that some Jewish books already understood these words of the promised Messiah; but a convert from heathenism would have had many difficulties to get over in accepting this. "Why should a psalm written by David, and referring to David's circumstances more than a thousand years before, be thus used to pourtray the life and character of Jesus?" This difficulty Paul meets by laying down a broad principle which includes a great deal else besides. "Whatsoever things," etc. Consider some of the truths which this statement seems to imply.


1. Unless a book or a man be trustworthy, it is impossible to feel confidence in it or in him, and confidence is the very first condition of receiving instruction to any good purpose. Just as wilful sin is incompatible with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul, so inveracity is incompatible with the claim of a book to have been inspired by the Author of all truth. Thus in the Book of Deuteronomy, long addresses are ascribed to Moses, and Moses describes a series of events of which he claims to have been an eyewitness. If, then, these addresses and narratives were composed by some Jew, who lived many centuries after Moses, and imposed the book upon the conscience of the Jewish people as the work of Moses himself, such a representation is irreconcilable with the veracity of the book. Or if a striking prediction in Daniel 8 about Antiochus Epiphanes was really written after the event, the book in which it occurs is not a trustworthy book. Unless there be such a thing as inspiration of inveracity we must choose between the authority of some of our modern critics and any belief in inspiration — nay, more, any belief in the permanent value of the Scriptures as source of Christian instruction. Nobody now expects to be instructed by the false Decretals. Certainly every trustworthy book is not inspired; but a book claiming inspiration ought at least to be trustworthy, and a literature which is said to be inspired for the instruction cf the world must not fall below the level which is required for the ordinary purposes of human intercourse.

2. For Christians it will be enough to know that our Lord has set the seal of His infallible sanction on the whole of the Old Testament. He found the Hebrew canon just as we have it, and He treated it as an authority which was above discussion. Nay, more, He went out of His way to sanction not a few portions of it which our modern scepticism too eagerly rejects. When He would warn His hearers against the dangers of spiritual relapse, He bade them remember Lot's wife; when He would point out how worldly engagements might blind the soul to the coming judgment, He reminds them how men ate and drank, etc., until the day that Noah entered the Ark; when He would put His finger on that fact in past Jewish history which, by its admitted reality, would warrant belief in His own coming resurrection, He points to Jonah three days and nights in the whale's belly; when standing on the Mount of Olives with the Holy City at His feet, He would quote that prophecy, the fulfilment of which would mark for His followers that this impending doom had at last arrived, He desires them to flee to the mountains, when they shall see "the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet standing in the Holy Place." The trustworthiness of the Old Testament is inseparable from the trustworthiness of our Lord.

II. THAT THE JEWISH SCRIPTURES HAVE A WORLD-WIDE AND ENDURING VALUE. Some instruction, no doubt, is to be gathered from the literature of every people, but on the other hand, there is a great deal in the very finest uninspired literature that cannot be described as permanently or universally instructing; and, therefore, when the apostle says of a great collection of books of various characters and dates, and on various subjects, that whatsoever was contained in them had been set down for the instruction of men of another faith and a later age, we think it an astonishing assertion. Clearly, if the apostle is to be believed, these books cannot be like any other similar collections of national laws, records, poems, and proverbs. There must be in them some quality or qualities which warrant this lofty estimate. And here we may observe that as books rise in the scale of excellence, they tend towards exhibiting a permanence and universality of interest. They rise above the local and personal incidents of their production; they show qualities which address themselves to the minds and heart of the human race. This is the case within limits of our own Shakespeare. And yet by what an interval is Shakespeare parted from the books of the Hebrew Scriptures! His great dramatic creations we feel are only the workmanship of a very shrewd human observer, with the limitation of a human polar of view, and with the restrictive moral authority which is all that the highest human genius can claim. But here is a Book which provides for human nature as a whole, which makes this profession with aa insight and faithfulness that does not belong to the most gifted. Could any moral human author ever have stood the test which the Old Testament has stood? For what has it been to the Jewish people through the tragic vicissitudes of their wonderful history — to Christendom for nineteen centuries? It has formed the larger part of the religious note-book of the Christian Church, it has shaped Christian hopes, largely governed Christian legislation, supplied the language for Christian prayer and praise; the noblest and the saintliest souls have fed their souls on it. Throughout the Christian centuries the Old Testament has been a mine constantly worked, and far to-day from being exhausted. Its genealogies, apparently so long and so dry, may remind us when we examine the names attentively of the awful responsibility which attaches to the transmission of the gift of life, of a type of character which we had ourselves perchance modified, to another, and, perhaps, a distant generation; or sometimes they suggest the care with which all that bears upon the human ancestry of our Lord and Saviour was treasured up in the records of the people of revelation. Those minute ritual directions of the law should bring before us first one and then another aspect of that to which assuredly they point — the redeeming worth of our Lord Jesus Christ.


1. Nobody, of course, would ever expect to find the second sense in an uninspired book, however well written. In Macaulay's History, e.g., we read what he has to say about the events which he describes, and there is an end to it. But this is not true of the Old Testament Scriptures. In the account in Genesis of Abraham's relations with Hagar, Sara, Ishmael, and Isaac, the apostle bids us see the Jewish and the Christian Covenants, and the spiritual slaves of the Mosaic law, and the enfranchised sons of the mother of us all. And in like manner St. Paul teaches the Corinthians in his First Epistle to see in the Exodus and in the events which followed it, not a bare series of historical occurrences, but the fellowship of Christian privileges and of Christian failings.

2. The neglect of this secondary and spiritual sense of Scripture has sometimes led Christians to mis-apply the Old Testament very seriously. Thus, for instance, both the soldiers of Raymond of Toulouse and the Puritans appealed to the early wars of the Israelites as a sanction for indiscriminate slaughter. Dwelling on the letter of the narrative they missed its true and lasting but deeper import, the eternal witness that it bears to God's hatred of moral evil, and the duty of making war upon those passions which too easily erect their Jericho or their Ai within the Christian soul itself, and are only conquered by resolute perseverance and courage.

3. This second sense of Scripture is especially instructive as a guide to the knowledge and love of Christ, who is the end as of the law, so of the whole of the Old Testament, to every one that believeth. Prophecies such as Isaiah's of the virginal birth, and of the Man of Sorrows, or of Psalm 22 and 110, can properly be referred to no one else. But there is much which has a primary reference to some saint, or hero, or event of the day, which yet in its deeper significance points on to Him. All this great deliverance from Egypt and Babylonia, foreshadowed a greater deliverance beyond; all these elaborate rights of purification and sacrifice, which have no meaning apart from the one sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and that succession of saints and heroes who, with all their imperfections, point onwards and upwards to One who dignifies their feebler and broken lives by making them in not a few respects anticipations of His glorious self.

(Canon Liddon.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

WEB: For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through patience and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

The Holy Scriptures a Source of Comfort
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