[* A correspondent - Mr. G. Wormauld, of Hull - has sent us two questions to which, as they are of general interest and importance, we append the best answers that we know. The first question is this:- "Can you, or any of your readers, satisfactorily explain our Lord's words that " ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled’ ?" Mr. Wormauld’s second question is this: - " ‘How can Paul argue as he does (Gal. 3: 15) when there is no case, in the Word of God, where the singular form of ‘seed’ is not used?" - D. M. Panton.]
What is the meaning of the generation not passing away till all be fulfilled? (1). Most have supposed that by it the Saviour predicted the Roman destruction of Jerusalem within the space of thirty years. But against this there are fatal objections. First, It has been shown that the Roman destruction is not the great scope of this prophecy. Second, It did not occur till FORTY years after. Third, It would make the Saviour contradict himself, describing the time as quite unknown in one part of the discourse, and yet predicting the fulfilment of all within the space of thirty years.
2. Others seeing this difficulty, have taken the word "generation" as signifying "race," "nation," and have supposed the Saviour's meaning to be, that in spite of all the trials which have yet to befall the Jewish nation, it would still subsist. But this idea is liable to the serious objection, that it supposes, that after these words of the Saviour have been fulfilled, THE JEWISH NATION SHALL PASS AWAY. But not so saith the Scripture, "For as the new heaven and new earth which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord. SO SHALL Y0UR SEED AND YOUR NAME REMAIN": Isa. 66:2.*
[* It cannot be translated - "that generation," for the order of the words in the original is different, according as the Greek words are used. In proof of this observation, see Mark 6: 22; Luke 2: 38 7: 21; Rom. 8: 16; 1Thess. 5: 23; Heb. 9: 19; 10: 1; 3 John 12. See Greek.]
But that which relieves the question from every difficulty, is the taking "generation" in a moral sense. And the proofs in favour of this are satisfactory.
(a). The Saviour so regards it continually. He describes it by moral characteristics - as "EVIL AND ADULTEROUS," - "wicked," "faithless and Perverse": Matt. 12: 39,45; 16: 4. It is used in this sense in the Old Testament, "God is in the generation of the righteous": Psa. 14: 5 "The generation of thy children": Psa. 73:15. "There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother. There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness" : Prov. 30: 11-12.
(b). But that which seems to me conclusive, is that the word does not occur in the literal part (A); but only in the moral (B). Hence I judge that it is to be interpreted morally.
In fact God reckons the successive races of men that have arisen since the Flood but as one generation. He calls the men of Moses’ day, who were not to enter the land, "this evil generation": Deut. 1: 35. But when they died out of the host, does he address the remainder as of any better class? Nay, he describes them as a "Perverse and crooked generation, faithless and stubborn:" Deut. 32: 5, 20; Psa. 78: 8. Had it passed away in the Saviour's day? No: for he describes them just as Moses had done "O faithless and Perverse generation": Matt. 17: 17. Such is Peter's testimony. "Save yourselves from this crooked generation" : Acts 2: 4O.*
[* It is the same Greek word throughout.]
But also, as to the extent of the generation it is not spoken of the Jew alone. The very same expression that Moses used is employed by Paul concerning the Gentiles. "In the midst of a perverse and crooked generation" : Phil. 2: 15.
And since the generation of which the Saviour speaks is moral, therefore it is universal and continuous. It is the flesh born of the flesh: or fallen human nature left unrenewed by grace. Hence He argues in the preceding chapter - YOU are children of those that slew the prophets: therefore you, if circumstances permit, will slay them too. O brood of vipers, does not the viper breed the viper? And does not its progeny down to the latest succession venomously bite? So then with you: you are born flesh of the flesh - the lusts of your fathers, and all their evil tendencies you inherit, and will display.
The generation is universal also: and Babylon(Rev. 17: 18) is the great Gentile centre of resistance to God and slaughter of his prophets and saints, as Jerusalem is the great Jewish centre (Rev. 11.). In confirmation of which it may be observed, that the martyrs under the altar raise their appeal against "the inhabitants of the earth."
In this sense then is the Saviour's awful denunciation to be understood, that upon the evil generation is to be visited all the blood of the holy men that have been slain from the beginning. On both Jew and Gentile of this evil, rebellious, faithless character will God's wrath fall. But a new generation, here noticed as "the elect," will spring up. This is the hope of the Lord Jesus in the crucifixion psalm. Though the men of the perverse generation (both Jew and Gentile) crucified him, yet another race would one day appear. "A seed shall serve Him, it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born" : Psa. 22: 30, 31. The "age" and the generation go together. The "age" is the circle of time in which it is given to the generation to move. Thus then, as long as the old age lasts, the old generation will last too; and with the new age, the new generation will spring up. The generation to which the Kingdom of heaven is preached will reject Jesus before his day will appear. This has been long true of the Jews; but if the Gentiles are a part of the generation, it must be fulfilled by them also. And this made Paul say, that Christ's day could not come before the apostacy among the Gentiles had arisen. Nay, and it will take place on the very same ground on which the perverse ones of the Jews rejected Jesus.
THE SINGLE SEED
Abraham moves to the plain of Moreh. The Lord appears to Abraham and says:- "To thy seed will I give this land" Gen. 12: 7. Here first appears the promise to the seed, and here Abraham's self is not named.
Who then is the seed ? The Judaists would say:- "The children of Israel." Paul says,:- "No: it is an individual that is spoken of, and that individual is Christ." How is that be proved?
He quotes from a covenant in which God has named together Abraham and his seed. This is shown by his saying - "And to thy seed."
What, then, is the passage to which he refers? At this point many commentators have stumbled, as if the apostle's argument were a mere quibble; seeing that "seed" in the Hebrew not used in the plural to denote the posterity of any; and that the word "Seed" in the singular, generally means descendants. Now this is true. But the objectors have omitted to study on this point the covenants with Abraham, or they would have seen the truth and force of the inspired statement. Let us then look at the covenant cited.
It is given inGen. 13: 14-17. God was well pleased with Abraham's conduct in his interview with Lot. At once thereon He says:- "Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art, northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward, for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever." "And I will make thy Seed as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it, and in the breadth of it, for I will give it to thee."
In this covenant, then, we have promises to Abraham and his seed, as Paul says; and we have the very words:- "And to thy seed." What, then, is the Seed here spoken of? Is it not Abraham's numerous heirs? Are they not here spoken of as "many"? So many as to be incapable of being numbered? Had we not Paul's inspired comment, we should have thought that but one Seed, and that a numerous one, was spoken of. But his argument shows the mind of God to be more profound in this matter than we should have anticipated. It is true then, that in "the seed as the dust of the earth" we have Abraham's plural seed. But the apostle teaches, that where the word "seed" alone occurs, without additions which prove it to be plural, there an individual is intended; and that individual is Christ.
Now, in the passage before us there is such a clause. "To thee will I give it, and to thy Seed." Here, says the inspired writer, by the word "Seed," one person alone is intended by God.
We establish this more firmly, and show the reasonableness of Paul's statement, by bringing into comparison with it, a passage from the covenant of circumcision, on which the judaizers rested. "I will establish my covenant between Me and thee and thy Seed after thee in their generations:" 17: 7. "I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger."
To which of the two seeds is the land here promised? To the single or to the plural seed? Not to the plural; but to the singular. "The land which thou seest to thee will I give it and to thy seed." To the plural seed the land is not promised, but innumerability. Here, the posterity like the dust of earth is named for the first time. But the "One Seed" is thrice named in the covenants up to Genesis 15., and thrice is the land promised to it :12: 7; 14: 15; 15: 18.
The plural seed like the stars are named inGen. 15., but the land is not promised to them.
Opponents of Paul rested their cause on the land's being, promised to the plural circumcised seed ofGen. 17. That was a promise which depended on their obedience to the covenant. But Israel entering on possession of the land on that footing, have lost it.
Again:- "Thou shalt keep My covenant therefore, thou and thy seed after thee in their generations." Here the seed referred to is not Christ, the individual. The plural circumcised seed of Abraham's flesh are the persons intended. Christ is not the "seed" after Abraham, but before him. "Before Abraham was born, I am."
Moreover, Christ is not Abraham's seed of the earth, but the One that came down from heaven. The Saviour thus distinguishes between Himself and Israel: "Ye are from beneath , I am from above ye are (spring) out of this world ; I am not out of this world :" John 8.
The argument, then, of the apostle, as soon as we bring into view the history of Abraham, and the covenants with him, becomes quite reasonable. Abraham had a numerous family:-
1. In fact (1) Ishmael; (2) Isaac; (3) his sons by Keturah; the sons of the concubines :Gen. 25.
2. In prophecy and promise. He was to have two, posterities: (1) one innumerable as the dust of earth; (2) the other, innumerable as the stars of the heaven. "Do, then, the promises belong equally to all Abraham's numerous family, of fact and of promise?" No! The terms of the ratified covenant ofGenesis 15. point to an individual and that individual is Christ.
Jesus in the mind of God is so pre-eminently "THE SEED" of Abraham, that in His presence the other numerous seeds are not named, save with some mark of discrimination. Thus, Matthew's Gospel begins:- "The book of the generation of Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham." "The Seed" then, taken absolutely, is always Christ. So "the resurrection" in the New Testament, is the blessed, the select one.
And it may be added, in confirmation, that "seed" occasionally means an individual, Eve called her son's name Seth, "For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed, instead of Abel, whom Cain slew:" Genesis 4: 25; also 3: 15.