The Present Truth : December 17, 1896
“But, and if our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that are perishing; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them.” 2 Corinthians 4.3, 4, R.V.
“And it came to pass, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him.” (Better, as in the margin of the Revision, “Because he talked with Him.”) Exodus 34.29. Because Moses talked with God, his face shone even after he had left God’s immediate presence. “And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him. And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him; and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh; and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. But when Moses went in before the Lord, to speak with Him, he took the veil off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone; and Moses put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.” Verses 30-35.
Unbelief blinds the mind. It acts as a veil, to shut out the light. It is only by faith that we understand, Moses had deep and abiding faith; therefore he “endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” He needed no veil over his face even when he was in the immediate presence of the glory of God. The veil, which he put on his face when he came down to talk with the children of Israel, was solely on their account, because his face shone so that they could not look upon him. But when he went back to talk with the Lord, he took the veil off.
The veil over the face of Moses was a concession to the weakness of the people. If he had not put it on, then each of them would have been obliged to put a veil over his own face, in order to come near to listen to Moses. They were not able, as Moses was, to look upon the glory of the Lord with unveiled face. Practically, therefore, each one of them had a veil over his own face. The face of Moses was unveiled.
That veil over the face of the children of Israel represented the unbelief that was in their hearts. So the veil was really over their hearts. “Their minds were blinded;” and “even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.” This is true not of the Jewish people alone, but of all who do not see Christ set forth in all the writings of Moses.
A veil interposed between people and the light, leaves them in the shadow. So when the children of Israel spread out the veil of unbelief between themselves and “the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ,” they naturally got only the shadow of it. They received only the shadow of the good things promised them, instead of the very substance. Let us note some of the shadows, as compared with the realities.
Shadow and Substance
1. God had said, “If ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then . . . ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests.” But they never became a kingdom of priests. Only one tribe, the tribe of Levi, could have anything whatever to do with the sanctuary, and of that tribe only one family, that of Aaron, could be priests. It was certain death for any one not of the family of Aaron to presume to serve as priest in any way. Yet all who are really the children of God through faith in Christ Jesus are “a royal priesthood,” even “an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2.5. This was what God promised to the nation of the Jews, at Sinai; but they never attained to it, because they did not keep His covenant of faith, but trusted in their own strength.
2. Instead of being brought to the heavenly sanctuary which God’s hands established, and being planted in it, they had a worldly sanctuary made by man, and were not allowed to go into even that.
3. The throne of God, in the sanctuary above, is a living throne, self-moving, coming and going like a flash of lightning, in immediate response to the thought of the Spirit. Ezekiel 1. On the contrary, they had in the earthly sanctuary but a feeble representation of that throne in the shape of an ark of wood and gold, which had to be carried about on the shoulders of men.
4. The promise in the covenant with Abraham, which God’s people were to keep, was that the law should be put into the heart. The children of Israel got it on tables of stone. Instead of by faith receiving “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8.2), that is, upon “the living stone” in the midst of the throne of God (See I Peter 2.3, 4; Revelation 5.6), which would impart life to them, making them also living stones, they received the law only on cold, lifeless stones, which could give them nothing but death.
5. In short, instead of the ministration of the righteousness of God in Christ, they got only the ministration of death; for the very same thing, which is a savor of life to them that believe, is a savor of death to them that do not believe.
But see the kindness and mercy of God even in this. He offered them the bright shining of His glorious Gospel, and they interposed a veil of unbelief, so that they could receive only the shadow. Yet that very shadow was an ever-present reminder of the substance. When a thick, passing cloud casts a shadow on the earth, we know, if we are not too dull to think, that it could not cast a shadow if it were not for the sun; so that even the cloud proclaims the presence of the sun. If therefore people nowadays, even professed Christians, were not as blind as the children of Israel ever were, they would be always rejoicing in the light of God’s countenance, since even a cloud always proves the light to be present, and faith always causes the cloud to disappear, or else sees in it the bow of promise.
God’s Witness in Unbelief
It was better for the Jews to have the law even as a witness against them, than not to have it at all. It was a great advantage to them in every way, to have committed unto them the oracles of God. Romans 3.2. It is better to have the law present to upbraid us for our sins, and to point out the way of righteousness, than to be left entirely without it. So the Jews, even in their unbelief, had an advantage over the heathen, because the Jews had “the form of righteousness and of the truth in the law.” Romans 2.20. While that form could not save them, and only made their condemnation the greater if they rejected the instruction designed to be conveyed by it, yet it was an advantage in that it was a constant witness to them of God. God did not leave the heathen without witness, in that He spoke to them of Himself through the things that He had made, preaching the Gospel to them in creation; but the witness which He gave to the Jews, besides the other, was the very image of His own eternal realities.
And the very realities themselves were for His people. Only the veil of unbelief over their hearts kept them from having the substance of which they had the shadow; but “the veil is done away in Christ,” (2 Corinthians 3.14), and Christ was even then present with them. Whenever the heart shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Even the blindest could see that the sanctuary of the old covenant, and the ordinances of Divine service that were connected with it, were not the realities that God had sworn to give to Abraham and his seed. So they all might at once have turned to the Lord, even as individuals did throughout the whole history of Israel.
Moses talked with God with unveiled face. When the others “stood afar off,” “Moses drew near.” It is only by the blood of Christ that any can draw nigh. By the blood of Jesus we have boldness to enter even into the holiest, into the secret place of God. The fact that Moses did this shows his knowledge of the power of the precious blood and his confidence in it. But the blood that was able to give boldness and access to Moses, could have done the same to all the others, if they had believed as he did.
Do not forget that the presence of a shadow proves the present shining of the sun. If the glory of God’s righteousness had not been present in its fullness, the people of Israel could not have had even the shadow. And since it was unbelief that caused the shadow, faith would have brought them at once into the full sunlight, and they could have been “to the praise of the glory of His grace.”
Moses saw the glory with unveiled face, and was transformed by it. So if we believe, “we all, with unveiled face, reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3.18. Even so it might have been with the children of Israel, if they had believed, for the Lord was never partial. That which Moses shared, all might have shared.
“That Which was Abolished”
“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” Romans 10.4. He “hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel;” (2 Timothy 1.10); and that Gospel was preached to Abraham, and to Israel in Egypt, and in the desert. But because of the unbelief of the people they “could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.” 2 Corinthians 3.13. Because their faith did not lay hold on Christ, they got only the law as “the ministration of death,” (Verse 7), instead of “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.”
People talk about “the Gospel age” and “the Gospel dispensation,” as though the Gospel were an afterthought on the part of God, or at the most something, which God long delayed to give mankind. But the Scriptures teach us that “the Gospel dispensation” or “Gospel age” is from Eden lost to Eden restored. We know that “this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Matthew 24.14. That is the end of it, but the beginning was at the fall of man. The Apostle Paul directs our attention to man in the beginning, crowned with glory and honor, and set over the works of God’s hands. Directing us to fix our gaze upon man in Eden, lord over all that he saw, the apostle continues, “But now we see not yet all things put under him.” Hebrews 2.8. Why not? —Because he fell, and lost the kingdom and the glory. But we still look at the place where we first saw man in the glory and power of innocence, and where we saw him sin and come short of the glory, and “we see Jesus.” Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost; and where should He seek except where it was lost? He came to save man from the fall, and so He necessarily went where man fell. Wherever sin abounds, there does grace much more abound. And so “the Gospel dispensation,” with the cross of Christ shedding the light of the glory of God into the darkness of sin, dates from the fall of Adam. Where the first Adam fell, there the second Adam rises, for there the cross is erected.
“Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead,” because the second man Adam is a quickening Spirit, (1 Corinthians 15.21, 45), being “the resurrection and the life.” Therefore in Christ death was abolished, and life and immortality were brought to light in the Gospel, the very day that Adam sinned. If it had not been so, Adam would have died that very day. Abraham and Sarah proved in their own bodies that Christ had abolished death, for they both experienced the power of the resurrection, rejoicing to see Christ’s day. Long before their day, Enoch’s translation without seeing death had proved that its power was broken; and his translation was due to his faith in Christ. Much more, then, was “the Gospel dispensation” in full glory as far down in the history of the world as Sinai. Whatever other dispensation than the Gospel dispensation any people have ever shared, has been solely because of their hardness and impenitent heart, which despised the riches of God’s goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, and treasured up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath.
So right there at Sinai the ministration of death was done away in Christ. The law was “in the hand of a Mediator,” (Galatians 3.19), so that it was life to all who received it in Him. Death, which comes by sin, and the strength of which is the law, was abolished, and life put in its place to every one that believeth, no matter how many or how few they were. But let no one forget that as the Gospel was in full glory at Sinai, even so the law just as given at Sinai, is always present in the Gospel. If the law on the lifeless tables of stone was but a shadow, it was nevertheless an exact shadow, of the living law on the living stone, Christ Jesus. God would have all men know, wherever His voice is heard, that the righteousness, which Christ’s obedience imparts to the believer, is the righteousness that is described in the law spoken from Sinai. Not one letter can be altered. It is an exact photograph of the character of God in Christ. A photograph is but a shadow, it is true; but if the light is clear it is an exact representation of some substance. In this case the light was “the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God,” (2 Corinthians 4.4), so that we may know the Ten Commandments to be the literal and exact form of God’s righteousness. They describe to us just what the Holy Spirit will print in living letters of light upon the fleshy tables of our hearts if they are but sensitized by simple faith.