And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.—Luke 24.27.

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The Standing Use and Authority

Of the OLD TESTAMENT.

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TrueCovenanter.com Editor’s Introduction.

The following article is taken from the Reformed Presbyterian magazine issue for January, 1855.  As post-reformation Christianity has gradually come under the influence of Anabaptist doctrines, it has increasingly grown out-of-liking with the Old Testament Scriptures, though these are clearly the comfort and admiration of all the New Testament writers.  Along with this, Christians have become subject to a common slight of men whereby a professed admiration for the supremacy of the New Testament is used as the occasion to offer an understanding and interpretation of the New Testament which is not affected by the themes and character of the Old Testament.  But this is a ploy.  The New Testament requires much information and doctrine for interpretation, and if it does not come from the Old Testament, it will no doubt be coming from the invention of teachers who take our Old Testament away from us.

Another source for study on this current topic, worthy of commendation, is the Institutes of Francis Turretin, in his chapter on the Holy Scriptures, specifically Question 8, “Are the books of the Old Testament still part of the canon of faith and rule of practice in the church of the New Testament?”  His answers is, “We affirm against the Anabaptists.”  And he offers us several reasons and explanations.

Here in this article is a call from brethren of former generations, not to lose sight of the reality and excellence of that “much every way” blessedness entrusted unto us in “oracles of God.”  (Rom. 3.1-3.)  Whatever man’s wisdom can find out only by the light of nature, human philosophy, worldly policy, debated tradition, or pretended motions of “the Spirit,” is yet forever inferior to the “Thus saith the Lord,” of the word of God.  Hear this call.  Believe your whole Bible.  And, being ruled by the Word of God, if there is any matter for your life left undetermined by the New Testament, by all means, hearken to those directions and answers of the Old Testament which evidently needed no elucidation in the New.

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“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness;” and this applies to the Old as well as to the New Testament.  The practice of placing these two portions of Holy Writ in contrast, as if to show that the former no longer continues to be a rule of faith and manners, is extremely absurd, and evinces deplorable ignorance of the spirit and tenor of the Scriptures.

God is one, he changeth not; and, therefore, his revelations to man exhibit constantly and connectedly his abiding moral character.  Although some parts of his Word may, and when necessary for us, do, condescend to the low position, attainments, and habits of those to whom they are committed, or they may respect observances enjoined on the Old Testament church, the obligation of which passes away in the lapse of time; yet we are not to conclude that these are useless or unimportant portions.  Far from it, for even in these the authority and character of the one unchanging Jehovah are abundantly evident, and their study assists us in our conceptions of the Most High, and in estimating our duty towards him.

Taken as a whole, the authority of the Old is established by the very same argument as that of the New Testament, and the reasoning in the case is, if possible, more manifest and conclusive, and the evidence more overpowering.  The writers of the Old Testament appeal to miracles in proof of their mission, and some of these are most wonderful.  But waiving this consideration, we may notice that the prophecies contained in many of the books are alone sufficient to establish their divine authority. {326}

1st.  The prophecies regarding the Jewish nation are most remarkable, relating to their days of prosperity and adversity, their captivities and returns, their being outcasts among the nations, and their final restoration to their own land.  In short, all the particulars of that people’s history are recorded with minutest accuracy of detail from the writers’ days down along the future; and we have but to read the Old Testament, to this day, in order to know the past, present, and future condition of the Israelitish nation.

2d.  The predictions about our Saviour are full and varied, and manifest their divine origin.  Every trait in his character is fully displayed; all his mediatorial engagements from everlasting or ever the earth was, his unique sufferings, and his unparalleled rewards are unfolded in the Old Testament in the ancient solitary predictions—in a ritual burdened with the announcement of a Saviour to come—in the beautifully pure and spiritual Messianic Psalms, exalted in thought to the very throne of the Eternal—in the singularly graphic, but glowing descriptions of enraptured prophets, carried away without and above themselves in heavenly visions.  In all, the conceptions as they are presented to us in the Old Testament are not only elevating, they are above all mere human efforts, and divine.  And thus presented and accredited, the history of the Covenant of Grace is more full in many respects in the Old than in the New Testament.

3d.  The miraculous preservation of these writings is a most powerful argument for their authority.  Since they were written, nations great and mighty, that figured in earth’s history, have passed away; monuments have crumbled into dust; tomes innumerable have perished in Old Time’s withering embrace; and now, in these last days, even his own eventful youth had become shrouded in oblivion, but for these ancient writings, which, dictated and preserved by him who directs all events, have survived all changes—dare we say it—unchanged as their Author.[1]

Internally considered, their authority and use cannot be questioned.  The grand system of morals which they contain, owes its origin to God alone.  It is pure, simple, unsparing and comprehensive, every way manifesting the holy, just, and wise character of the one true and eternal God; and its use and importance are unchanging and constant.  The standing, use and authority of the Old Testament are clearly proved from the teaching of Christ and his apostles.  They seem to have inculcated most particularly the study of the Bible, in order that the character and doctrines of the Messiah may be properly understood.  Not only are the prophets, who foretold Christ, introduced to upbraid their ignorance; but the books of Moses, the Psalms, and every department of the Old Testament are made the basis of their remarks, and brought to bear on the things then being accomplished. {327}

1st.  Instead of finding fault with the Jews for reading the Old Testament, the very reverse was the case.  They are reproved by the Saviour for their carelessness in not receiving and acting upon the statements laid down therein.  Said he to the chief priests and elders of the people, “Did ye never read in the Scriptures, the stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?” Matt. 21.42.  To the multitude, “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me.  But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words.” John 5.46-47.  Whence may we not see the very way in which the Jews are yet to be brought to a knowledge of the truth; not, indeed, by a laying aside or neglect of the Old Testament, but by a reverential study of it, and the blessing of the Spirit accompanying it; and that thus the veil of ignorance shall be removed, and they brought to bow at the feet of the Great Teacher himself?  Then shall he say to them like as he did to the two disciples that journeyed with him to Emmaus: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” Luke 24.25.  Such references plainly intimate not only the necessity and importance of these writings, but stimulate to a continued and close examination of their bearing in order to a cordial reception of the truths which he taught.

2d.  When Jesus was tempted of the devil, though he could, by the arm of his omnipotence, have at once hurled him and his legions back whence they came, defeated; yet, strange to say, he suffered the deceiver to confront him—the Innocent One—and taking upon him our infirmities, he employed against Satan the weapons he would have us to wield.  He set us an example that we should follow in his steps.  By the words of the Old Testament Scriptures did Christ oppose his arch insinuations, thereby inculcating their use, and teaching us not only to resist the devil and he will flee from us; but that these same Scriptures are the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit, the weapon of attack in the armor of righteousness provided by the Captain of our salvation.

3d.  Not only have we Christ’s example, which we should follow, but his plain and pointed command: “Search the Scriptures.” John 5.39.  This, of course, at the time in which it was spoken, referred to the Old Testament, and thereby its authority and use are established to all generations.

4th.  In the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Epistles, we have its perusal commended and enjoined, and its statements introduced to corroborate the truths published.  Of the Christians in Thessalonica, it is recorded as exemplary and praiseworthy; they “searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Acts 17.11.  Again, “the righteousness of God without the law” is said to be now “manifested, being witnessed by the law {328} and the prophets;” and this is explained in the next verse to be “the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe,”—a righteousness “without the law” in this sense, that our personal obedience has no influence in procuring the sinner’s justification, “by the deeds of the law, there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” Rom. 3.20, 21, 22.  And this righteousness of faith then is “witnessed by the law and the prophets”—the usual expression among the writers of the New Testament, for the Old.  How important the testimony, both by reason of the witness, which is the Spirit himself, and because of the object, which is Christ with all new covenant benefits for our salvation.

We have the Old Testament so interwoven with the apostles’ instructions that to separate the two would be to rend and destroy the whole.  Their connection is so completely established in the Epistles, their harmony so clearly maintained, that, by neglecting the Old, we render the New, as far as we are concerned, in many places, useless and unmeaning.  The Epistle to the Hebrews would be unintelligible without Leviticus—the perpetual reference to the former dispensation renders necessary the continuance of this book for our instruction.  Moreover, how could we aright understand the Epistle to the Romans, and the words “atonement,” “reconciliation,” “blood,” etc., without the Pentateuch?  Is it not by a constant reference to the Old, and by comparing Scripture with Scripture, that our ideas are properly formed and enlarged?  In truth, the distinguishing doctrines of the Church of Christ regarding his substitutionary sufferings, his resurrection, his exaltation, and the exercise of his mediatorial power over the nations, can only be fully proved by having recourse to the Old Testament in connection with the New.

Not only is the former part of Scripture necessary for our edification with regard to the meaning of the latter, but we also find that Christ and his apostles assert that the moral precepts of the Old Testament are the will of God abiding for ever, and enforce the keeping of them, as they are there, and there only, handed down to us in the proper form and order.  Yea, the expression for the whole sum of duty, embraced in Christ’s injunction, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” seems to have been taken from, or at least founded upon, that passage in Lev. 11.44. “Ye shall be holy, for I am holy;” and is repeated by Peter, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” 1 Pet. 1.16.  So that not only is the attention of men directed to the tables of the law as they were delivered, and to each command as it appears there singly: “Keep the commandments;” but also to all the precepts collectively—to the sum of them all in the very words of the Lawgiver himself in the Old Testament, once and again repeated; and, finally, their attention is fixed, by {329} the endearing way in which Christ crowns the Old Testament idea, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

The examples of the Old Testament saints are referred to in the New, implying the standing use of such records for our imitation.  The instance of Elijah as an example in prayer. James 5.17.  The long catalogue of “worthies,” remarkable for their faith. Heb. 11.  These and a multitude of similar references take for granted a knowledge of the Old Testament, and clearly show its abiding use to Christians in all ages.  Besides, there are some particulars of faith and practice, which are learned from, and can only be fully established by, the Old Testament.  It contains the sublime account of creation, and subsequently narrates the fall of man.  The moral obligation of the Sabbath, of baptism, and of the worship of God in the family capacity; the scriptural institution of marriage and of civil rule, and the nature and importance of federal engagements and national covenanting cannot, we think, be satisfactorily established but by the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The Old seems to contain the history and prophecy of the church in all time and in eternity too.  It furnishes examples of lasting influence and the germ of all doctrines, and it guides us in our devotions at the throne of grace.  The New may be regarded as an enlargement on the character and sufferings of Christ, as these were witnessed by his disciples; it unfolds the manner of his life and the matter of his teaching, and declares the nature and design of the ordinances and institutions of the New Testament church.  We do not say that because of these things greater importance is to be attached to the New than to the Old, but rather that on all the leading doctrines of the Christian religion, much more enlarged and accurate views are obtained by a careful collation of the whole Word of God.

Christians are much indebted to many parts of the Old Testament for elevating ideas of the Deity and directions in his worship.  What soul-breathings after God are contained therein, suitable to every age and every clime!  It is not our object to extol one portion of the Bible above another, nor prefer one book of the Old Testament before the rest; and, therefore, lengthened remarks laudatory of the book of Psalms would be improper in this place.  Yet it is necessary to say, that placed, (like the commandment regarding the Sabbath among the ten) as it were, in the middle of the books—more frequently quoted by our Lord and his apostles than any other book of the Old Testament—and more highly prized by Christians in all ages as expressive of the true spirit of devotion, it is thus most reasonable to suppose, that it would retain its value and use to the church in all ages.  But, as if with the passing away of a former dispensation and the introduction of a new order of things, this book also should be {330} improved or superseded, or become, like the others, in some measure, at least, obsolete, so have too many professedly Christian churches treated the holy songs.  Alas! that they should not know or regard it, that they are thus robbing religion of its spirituality, stopping the pulsations of the new life in heart and seat of its animation in the Bible, forbidding the blood, so to speak, its flux and reflux by the channels and conduits which God has appointed for it.

Some are inclined to overlook certain portions of the Old Testament, and labor under the mistake, that the divine character as therein revealed is far different from that in the New.  This error seems to arise from incorrect views of the law and the gospel.  The thunders of Sinai and the fearful punishments threatened on offenders are the true representations of God’s justice in taking vengeance on those who violate his holy law.  The minister of the gospel should see the important use of the Old Testament in giving weight to his warnings, and the sinner should be driven by its threats to flee from the wrath of an angry God to the covert of the covenant.

This error arises also from an idea entertained that there are not such gospel invitations and comforts contained in the Old as in the New.  But though we have the moral law and its accompanying terrors, we have likewise most lively and encouraging traces of the Covenant of Grace.  The sinner finds salvation in the Old as well as in the New; and the terrors of the law as well in the New as in the Old.  The “Sun of Righteousness” is equally the light of both: in the one his benign beams burst forth from amid lowering clouds; in the other the clouds may be said to have passed away, and we behold him fully revealed.  Certain it is, that much in the Old should no longer be practiced under the New Testament dispensation, for we are come to a more glorious and spiritual economy; but we do not say that such parts as refer to the past economy are no longer useful.  On the contrary they are in many ways indispensable—as they declare still the infinitely holy character of the Most High, the necessity of awe and reverence the most profound in approaching him, and of a strict regard to the divine glory and the welfare of the church in administering civil and ecclesiastical law; and taken in connection with the New, we find most valuable aid and direction from these laws and observances in practice obsolete.  In short, they are, so to speak, the mould in which the mind of the Church of God in past and present ages was formed and fashioned.

To conclude, God as he is in himself, and as he manifests himself in the display of his perfections in the works of creation, providence, and redemption, is presented in his true character in the Bible, taken as a whole.  The God who is our hope, our trust, our all, is pleased to give to man this revelation of himself, and {331} taken from first to last, the view is connected, perfect, and, we had almost said, unbounded.  Isolate from the other part, either the Old or New, and a void is left which all created wisdom never can fill up.  The Bible, as we have it, is precious and inestimable.  It is dependent in all its parts—a golden chain suspended from the eternal throne, its links secure and inseparable.  To vary the figure, it is a mine of knowledge, too deep for man, where every new discovery leads to others more valuable still, and thus we may go on from one degree of Scriptural wealth to another, until we arrive at the source and fountain of all; there to enjoy the riches of his glory.

“This book, this holy book, on ev'ry line
Marked with the seal of high divinity,
On every leaf bedewed with drops of love
Divine, and with the eternal heraldry
And signature of God, all stamped
From first to last.”


Footnotes:

1. An important book on the preservation of the text of Holy Scripture, including the very words which were originally inspired, was published in 2017.  Readers interested in this topic should acquire a copy of Garnet Milne’s “Has the Bible been kept pure? The Westminster Confession of Faith and the providential preservation of Scripture.”  Some notes on this book have been provided by Jeremy T. Kerr.