« PreviousContinue »
Exodus, iii. 14.
St. John, viii. 58. Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, before
Abraham was, I am.
RESEMBLANCES in words merely between one part of Scripture and another, and especially when those words are looked at by themselves, without any reference to the context, cannot be insisted upon as proving any thing. But when the
passage in St. John from which I was just quoting was chosen for the Gospel of this day, the chapter in Exodus from which I have been also quoting, having been chosen for the first lesson, the resemblance between them to which it was intended to draw our attention was not verbal only but real.
Verbal indeed it is not, as far as the Greek version of the Old Testament is concerned; for the expression there which answers to the “I am that I am" of our English Bible, is not the same with that in St. John's Gospel, which is translated in English by the same words. But the resemblance is real notwithstanding; for He who redeemed His people out of Egypt, and whilst revealing Himself in a visible form described Himself as essentially and eternally existing, is the same with Him who redeemed His people from their sins, and who, whilst again revealing Himself in a visible form, again declared that His existence was not measured by time, that He was the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
Those who are acquainted with controversial theology well know that the words of our Lord are made to bear a lower sense by those who do not acknowledge His Divinity. By them they are interpreted as meaning only, “Before Abraham was, it was determined in the counsels of God that I should be, and as to God all things are eternally present, so I may say that in God's sight before Abraham was I am." Many persons who would without any scruple reject such an interpretation in this case, yet do not hesitate often in explaining the prophecies to adopt a similar rule of interpretation there; that is, they give the words a meaning as far below their simple and obvious meaning,
as the interpretation, “ Before Abraham was, I was present to God, inasmuch as he had determined that I should be,” falls below the simple meaning of the words “ Before Abraham was, I am.” But the fault in both cases consists not in giving such partial interpretations of the words of Scripture as a meaning of them, but as the meaning; as their highest meaning or their only one. It is true that our Lord's Incarnation was determined, so the Scripture tells us, from the beginning of the world ; it is true, therefore, that our Lord was present in the mind of God, if we may so speak, before Abraham was born; and if any Jew who had heard him say these words, and who knew nothing of His divine nature, had understood them in this sense, and therefore, seeing in them nothing which he would think blasphemous, had not joined his countrymen in taking up stones to cast at Him, such a Jew would have understood them well according to his light, and would have gained from them the knowledge of a truth. And so when the Apostles preached the resurrection, they were not wrong who said that the rising from the death of sin to a life of righteousness, was a part of the Christian's resurrection. But those were very wrong, who said that this figurative and partial interpretation of the doctrine expressed the whole of it; and so should we be wrong if taking only the lowest sense which our Lord's words will bear, that sense of
which they are a highly hyperbolical expression, we were to say that this is all which they contain; that he who has learnt without offence to embrace them fully, to take them in their length and in their breadth, in that sense in which they are no longer hyperbolical but literal, has extracted from them more than they were intended to supply.
And thus with respect to the interpretation of prophecy. We do often very right in taking a lower or partial sense; it is that sense which according to the particular view before us may happen to be the true one. For instance, in taking the prophecies in the simple and historical view of them, as relating, for example, to Babylon or to Jerusalem literally, we should then do wrong if we were not to understand them in a sense much lower than the literal one; everlasting destruction, perfect happiness, and perfect glory, belong neither to the one city nor to the other. But then it would not be right to say that this lower meaning is all that the words bear; there is a spiritual Babylon, there is a spiritual Israel, to which the strongest expressions of misery and happiness apply without any hyperbole; nor is it till we have ascended to these, that we can be said to have entered fully into the mind of the prophecy. So again, many persons in the Old Testament are commonly said to be types of Christ; there are points in which they resemble Him, and language
is often used concerning them, which as understood of them is hyperbolical and hyperbolical only; but which when understood of Christ Himself becomes literally true. For Christ being both God and man, language suitable to those human and imperfect types of Him may be applied to Him without blasphemy; while on the other hand language which as applied to them is extreme hyperbole, finds in Him, I do not say its entire, but much more than its entire fulfilment; for what human language can adequately express the perfections of the Eternal God?
The rule then is, that, in all that is said in Scripture of our Lord, or of any type of Him, the full and highest meaning of the words is true of Him without hyperbole, although lower and partial meanings may very often be true also. For instance, when He said to the Jews, that He and His Father were One, there was a lower sense in which this was true of Him even as a prophet; and thus our Lord actually appeals to the Scriptures, to show that similar high expressions had been there used to those who had received God's word, and declared it again to man. But it would be very wrong to rest in this lower sense of the words only; take them in their literal sense,—follow them to a height where they become lost to man's conceptions, in the utmost, and much more than