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to us and to our children *, and is to be applied to something beyond itself t. When the goodness of God is acting for the benefit of some of his saints, and (as inexperience might suppose) for the benefit of them only, his foreknowledge is acting for us all, and a record of the matter becomes prophetical. Many passages, therefore, of the Scripture, when properly understood, and discreetly applied according to the rule of the apostle, will turn out to be highly significant, even though they may seem at first sight to have no relation to us; and, in some cases, even to contradict the laws of divine wisdom and justice.
I shall now produce some examples: and, that this may be done in an orderly manner, I shall begin with the case of our father Abraham. We read that he had a son by an Egyptian bond-maid, whose name was Hagar; which thing, though contrary to the moral or social law of God, is yet perfectly agreeable to the laws of his providence and the sense of his promises. The apostle has, therefore, treated of this case without any censure; instructing us that the whole is an allegory, a prophetical transaction: that in the two persons of Sarah and Hagar we are to see the two characters of the spiritual and the temporal Jerusalem: and from the conditions and characters of their two children Isaac and Ishmael, we are to learn how it was to be with the natural and spiritual seed of Abraham. The allegory is in force to this day. The children of the bondwoman, who were under the yoke of the law, are even now in that state of servitude, to which they were cast out, along with their mother the Jewish church; and the Gentiles, as the children of the promise, are now admitted to
* Deut. xxix. 29.
† 2 Pet. i. 20.
dwell as inheritors in the house of their Father. The case of Abraham's concubinage, thus applied, is still teaching us the will of God concerning Jews and Gentiles, and will continue to do so as long as Jerusalem shall be trodden down, and the Christian church shall consist of converts taken from the Heathen world. The act of Abraham in taking a bond-woman, can never be drawn into a precedent, because no man can be in his circumstances, standing in a prophetic character, as the progenitor of two orders of people, a carnal and a spiritural Israel, the sons of his nature and the sons of his faith, and furnishing us with an allegory, which has been fulfilling in its several parts for more than half the age of this world.
The fraud of Jacob, in obtaining the blessing from his elder brother, is to be accounted for as a prophetical act, under which we have a figure of the Gentiles, as the younger brother, supplanting the Jews, and taking from them that spiritual inheritance which they knew not how to value. The case of Jacob and Esau would admit of an extensive application in all its circumstances. The elder brother is a man of a worldly spirit, and obtains a temporal establishment; while the younger leads a wandering life, as a stranger upon earth, under terrors for himself, and his family, and his flock, from worldly power; all of which was fulfilled in the different tempers and fortunes of the Jews and the Christians. The Jew is still saying in his heart, with the profane Esau, what profit shall this birthright do to me ; and so takes the provision this world affords for his hope and inheritance, and commonly gets a plentiful share of it.
The polygamy of Jacob is to be considered as ano
ther act, in which the allegory is still carried on; and as such it is no precedent for any man to take a plurality of wives. Jacob, whose name is Israel, is the father, or head, under whom the church was formed, which still bears the name of the Israel of God. The twelve patriarchs might have been raised up, if it had so pleased God, from one wife; but they were born of several; of the bond and the free, the ill-favoured and the beautiful, to foreshew the different characters of which the church of God should be composed in different times. In Leah the elder, less beloved and tender eyed, we have the person of the Jewish church, first taken, but not able to see by faith the mysteries of the Gospel. In Rachel, we see a wife well-beloved, as the Christian church was afterwards to be; at first barren, as Sarah also had been before; but at length travailing in pain, and bringing forth sons of sorrow and affliction. Rachel is accordingly represented by the prophet, and the passage is applied by the evangelist, as weeping for those children who first suffered in the cause of Christ. Her spiritual children, by their profession, are in general such as she called that child of which she died, sons of affliction: as such they are to consider themselves, and be prepared to act and to suffer in their proper character. As the tender-eyed Leah, was, for an appointed time, fraudulently substituted in the place of Rachel, so was the Jewish church, though not the best beloved, taken first in order: to which case those words of the apostle may be applied, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterwards that which is spiritual
In the lives of the prophets many things are to be found, which seem to be in themselves either super
fluous or unaccountable; but when such things are considered as the signs of other future things which are of infinite importance to mankind, they assume a different form, and become worthy of the divine wisdom.
This mode of prophesying by significant actions was remarkably used under God's direction in the ministry of the prophet Ezekiel; where the judgment on Jerusalem is shewn by the boiling of a pot with its scum: the profanation of the sanctuary by the death of the prophet's wife: in which, and other like figurative actions, the prophet Ezekiel was unto them a sign*; and the people, not being able to see the sense of his actions, said, wilt thou not tell us what these things are to us, that thou doest so?
On another occasion, the prophet Jeremiah was commanded to carry a linen girdle, and hide it in a hole of the earth near the river Euphrates; there to lie till it should be rottent: as a sign, that the people, whom God had taken to be nearest to himself, should be pulled off from him, and carried away, to be hidden and consumed in a remote land.
With these examples before us, we are to learn, that in like things there is a like intention; and when we see any thing that appears strange and unaccountable, we may assure ourselves there is some wise reason, and that probably of universal concern, at the bottom; in which case we are to ask, as the people did of Ezekiel, what are these things unto us? We know that God could have formed Eve of the earth, as he had formed Adam; but his wisdom acted for our information, that we may know the certainty of those things wherein we have been instructed:
he derived the woman from the man, to shew that the church, which like Eve is the mother of us all, should derive its existence from Christ, the second Adam; and particularly from the death of Christ, and from the side of Christ, as from the sleep and from the side of Adam. The apostle hath taught us that this affair is to be understood as a mystery ; and that when we speak of Adam and Eve, we speak of Christ and the Church in other words. God could have healed Naaman, the Syrian, by a motion of the prophet's hand; but he sent him to wash, and that in a river of the holy land, even in Jordan, where Christ was to be baptized; that from this case the Gentiles might afterwards be convinced, how necessary it is for all men, under the leprosy of sin, to be washed by the waters of baptism, sent into all the world from the land of Judea : the story of Naaman is wonderfully instructive in all its circumstances * Upon another occasion, the prophet made iron to swim, when the head of an axe was lost in a river. How are we to justify the wisdom of God, in recovering a thing of little value by the exercise of a power so extraordinary ? The reason of this, being not in the thing itself, must be found in the use and sense of the thing; and we must ask here, as the people did on the occasion, when Ezekiel acted in a manner they could not account for, what are these things unto us? When this miracle is examined according to the rule of faith, we see in it a pledge of our own recovery from the consequences of the Fall, by the power of Christ's death and resurrection. For let us mark the circumstances, and they will speak for themselves t. The sons of the prophets complain of dwelling in a
* 2 Kings v.
+ 2 Kings i. 6.