The Testimony and the Law.—Ps. lxxviii. 5.
In this historical Psalm, the writer mentions one among the “wonderful works of God,” that he “ established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel.” The prophet calls it a “parable—dark sayings.” So does our Lord, Matt. xiii. 35. Ralph Erskine tried to interpret this “riddle,” and many other good men have also attempted the same task. Still it remains a parable, a riddle to most people to this day. And yet it consists of things “which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.” Is not this a contradiction? There are many such seeming contradictions in the Bible, “hard to be uttered, seeing we are dull of hearing.” Many years ago this parable and riddle was explained, and sundry times since; yet the learned equally with the illiterate, are yet “willingly ignorant.” So they do in misinterpreting Is. lx. 12, persisting to this day, in applying to Christ, or the Lord, instead of to the church, just as if it was parallel to Ps. ii. 12. I have long known the reason of this perversion of ignorance of the Scriptures. These and similar texts, if honestly “opened and applied,” as did our fathers, would shiver their cherished and infidel theory of the relation between the divine ordinances of Church and State. That relation must needs stand.
Every reader of the Bible must notice, at least sometimes, that these two words, law and testimony, or, reversing the order, testimony and law, frequently occur in both Testaments. But, like other words in the Bible, testimony has a variety of meanings; yet, when connected with word, word of God, ark, tabernacle, and some others, it has a specific meaning, a meaning antithetical to law. If the reader please, he may see verified what has now been said, by consulting, besides the Psalm at the head of this Appendix, such passages as the following: Ex. xxv. 16; Num. i. 50; 2 Kings xi. 12; Is. viii. 16, 20; 2 Tim. i. 8; Rev. i. 9, vi. 6, xii. 17. In this last verse, the “commandments of God” are plainly distinguished from “the testimony of Jesus Christ,” which, in verse 11, is called “their testimony.”
Now inquire, When was that “wonderful work of God” done? The certain answer is—at Sinai. The testimony and the law were given audibly and visibly to the Lord’s people. Moses had a high estimate of this “wonderful work.” Deut. v. 4. “The Lord talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire.” The law has never since the fall of man been without the testimony. Paul says, “The law was added” - added to what? Gal. iii. 9. Look at verse 17, and you will see the “covenant”; to it the law was added. Now compare Exod. xx. 1, 3, with Deut. v. 6, and you may see the testimony going before the law, called by our divines in the Catechism, “the Preface to the Ten Commandments.” Then those men of God ask such as are of weaker capacity, “What doth this Preface teach?” Then comes history—three facts: 1. “God is the Lord” (Jehovah). 2. How shall Israel know that? By his miracles in Egypt. 3. How shall they know that he is their God? By his “putting a difference between Israel and the Egyptians.” Now these were facts which their “eyes saw,” as Moses often reminded them during forty years. And these facts were typical of the redemption by Christ from a worse bondage than that of Egypt. Then we may see that the testimony is the preface to the law; and epitome of the covenant of grace, to which the “law is added,” to direct the obedience of a Christian, and to test his character. But this is true not merely of individual disciples, but of them collectively, just as we see them at the foot of Sinai. History interprets prophecy: and since the canon of Scripture closed by the Apocalypse, how can we know the accomplishment of prophecy or the fulfilment of promises but by history? We see that God enjoined the fathers to make known “his testimony and his law” to future generations. Psalm lxxviii. 5; Deut. vi. 7.
Now how shall we know that God is faithful to perform his promise to his friends and to execute the penalty of his law upon his enemies? Only by history. For example: in the Old and New Testaments the rise, reign and final destruction of the Great anti-Christ are predicted. But how shall I identify that enemy of God and man? and how shall I know my duty while he reigns? It is evident from history that for a thousand years the vast majority of the population of Christendom have not identified that enemy. Why? All have access to the same facts. History supplies them alike to all. But as it was of old, so it is now; “though they saw, they did not understand the works of God.” Ps. cvi. 7. Now, the words of God and the conduct of the people and the facts—the history, the testimony—and the meaning of the facts on the part of God in his providence, and their moral character on the part of the people cannot be understood but by the law. The law is the rule of life by which we are to judge ourselves and others. But in social relations and complex cases it may be often difficult for us to decide either as to principle or practice—our own or others’. Then the direction is “to the law and to the testimony.” Is. viii. 20. “To the law” first; but as an additional rule, and a help rightly to apply the law, next, “to the testimony”—“the footsteps of the flock,” as Christ directs the spouse. Song. i. 8. Alas! these “dark sayings of old” are still as dark as before to the most of those who display much zeal for a faithful testimony.” How can anyone find the true interpretation and right application of the law, except by the testimony? He must reason, compare actions, facts with the law; and when opposed—as he certainly will be, he is obliged to argue—“to contend earnestly.” This is to bear testimony; without facts and argument he cannot be among the witnesses.
Has not all this been exemplified in the British Isles and America for centuries? Yes, truly; and today the same is true, covenanted witnesses differing (toto caelo) both about law and testimony, some so ignorant as to confound the two, or even to substitute the one for the other! doctrinal declaration for historical record! But, to present this subject in another aspect and bring the matter closer to ourselves: “That God is the Lord, and our God and Redeemer,” let us put ourselves in the position of Israel in Egypt, for, the Holy Spirit has already done so. Rev. xi. 8. That “God is the Lord” (Jehovah) we can know only by his own manifestation—“I will manifest myself to him.” John xiv. 21. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit.” Rom. viii. 16. “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord (Jehovah) but by the Holy Ghost.” 1 Cor. xii. 3. “They know his voice.” John x. 4. With what delight—“joy unspeakable and full of glory” does the spouse exclaim! “The voice of my beloved!” Song. ii. 8. Yes, unto them which believe Christ is precious; and I never question that he is so to multitudes who never heard of the British Covenants: but I grieve when these are lightly called “the old covenants” by those under the obligation of them, and I cannot but resent the imputation of obscurity to them, which is too true of the person himself. To such—“all these things are done in parables.” Those who were “represented in the taking of them, are yet tied to them, and it passeth the power” of any earthly authority to loose the obligation. The law and the testimony are “cords and bands” which cannot be broken or cast away but with the utmost peril to individuals, families, churches and nations. Deut. v. 3; 2 Sam. xxi. 1, 9.
Public social covenanting by human beings is “required in the first commandment,” enjoined expressly Ps. xxvi. 11, often exemplified and predicted in the Old Testament, and actually observed by the church of Macedonia. 2 Cor. viii. 5.
Now, what can the reader or the present writer know about our fathers’ covenants—their solemn engagements to God for themselves and for us: the very existence of a National and Solemn League and Covenant: the provisions of those famous and precious documents: how they were estimated by different parties in their respective times, and our own concern in them? By uninspired history alone can we know these important things, identify the parties, try their proceedings by the “alone infallible rule,” and join the fellowship only of those who were faithful to their solemn vows. By the same means alone can we certainly trace their footsteps down to our own time. These two consequences will necessarily follow: First, That all who reject any former scriptural attainments, ascertained by history alone, from their terms of communion, do thereby forfeit any just claim to the covenanted inheritance. Second, That they, and the only, who “bind up” all covenanted attainments—to be ascertained only by history and argument, as conditions of fellowship—are the true and only legitimate heirs.
On the rational, historical and scriptural grounds, as briefly indicated in this Appendix, amid many rivals and pretenders, the claim is confidently and openly asserted as exclusively and of right belonging to the Reformed Presbytery.
The continued, sinful and shameful ignorance of this subject—God’s law and covenant—which exists among ministers and people in this age, is a repetition of ancient history. “Israel after the flesh” supply a parallel. Their conduct is ours. Let any one consult that historical Psalm cvi., and he may discover the real cause of prevailing ignorance. Verse 8, “they understood not his wonders in Egypt” (Scotland). Then, of course, verse 13, “they forgat his works;” and finally, verse 21, “they forgat God.”
A people ignorant of God’s “wonders”—testimony, history—are destitute of gospel motives to obey his law, and become an easy prey to seducers. They will not keep God’s covenant, nor walk in his law. Ps. lxxviii. 10; they will mingle among the heathen, and learn their works, cvi. 35, and thus be ready for the adoption of any innovations which the carnal mind may desire or suggest as improvements on divine ordinances. Ancient Israel were more zealous in their own inventions than in God’s institutions, even to the sacrificing of their innocent offspring. Modern covenant breakers differ from them only in a more refined species of idolatry, through ignorance of the integral and essential parts of a FAITHFUL and PROGRESSIVE TESTIMONY.