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Ryle on OT Faith in Christ

I like reading dead guys. Their thoughts have endured the test of time for a reason, and they rarely change their opinions. Here are a few comments from J. C. Ryle on John 8:56:

“[B]y faith [Abraham] looked forward to the day of our Lord’s incarnation yet to come, and as he looked he ‘was glad.’ That he saw many things, through a glass darkly, we need not doubt. That he could have explained fully the whole manner and circumstances of our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary, we are not obliged to suppose. But we need not shrink from believing that he saw in the far distance a Redeemer, whose advent would finally make all the earth rejoice. And as he saw it, he ‘was glad.’

“The plain truth is, that we are too apt to forget that there never was but one way of salvation, one Savior, and one hope for sinners, and that Abraham and all the Old Testaments saints looked to the same Christ that we look to ourselves. We shall do well to call to mind the Seventh Article of the Church of England—‘The Old Testament is not contrary to the New—for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered through Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, who assume that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises.’ This is truth that we must never forget in reading the Old Testament. This is sound speech that cannot be condemned.”


6 Responses

  1. That Abraham was a man of faith is beyond question. We could conjecture about the amount and specificity of revelation he enjoyed. However, wasn’t the point of Jesus’ statement in John 8:58 that Jesus existed during Abraham’s life, and not that Abraham was looking forward to Jesus’ earthly ministry?

  2. Hey, Mark. Hope you’re well.

    Ryle argues that there’s significance in Abraham’s longing to see Christ’s “day,” which he takes as Christ’s coming to earth.

    In context, Jesus is contrasting the Jews’ rejection of Him with Abraham’s hope and joy in Him (cp. 8:39-40 with 8:56). Despite their claims to be children of Abraham, their response to Christ was very different than Abraham’s. So it seems that there’s more going on than just saying that Jesus existed during Abraham’s life, though that comes up in the verses that follow.

  3. I can buy that. :-)

  4. What fun is that?! ;)

  5. I love the Ryle quotation. You said a few posts ago that a British or Scottish accent immediately makes a person sound 60% smarter. I think writing before 1900 does, too.

    Let me add two quotations from Joel Huffstutler’s 2007 dissertation (“He Who Dwelt in the Bush: A Biblical and Historical Theology of the Angel of the Lord”). He’s commenting on the interpretation that Abraham literally saw Jesus, “the Judge of all the earth,” in Genesis 18-19.

    From a footnote on page 77: “Hilary of Poitiers said that the person of the Godhead appearing in this passage may be identified by means of his function. The One acting in judgment upon these cities, he argued, must be the Son of God, because judgment is properly the function of the Son alone. Hilary argued that “the Father has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22, 27, emphasis added) and that this function is exclusively his in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. De Trinitate 4.25-29. Other passages that point to Christ’s unique function as judge include Acts 10:42 and 17:31. Hilary particularly emphasized that Christ was acting in the judgment of Sodom, but Abraham’s question in Genesis 18 also directly points to this function. Yahweh who appeared to him was the “Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25). Genesis 18:17 says, “And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?” In the context what Yahweh is about to do is to personally inspect the cities and judge them accordingly.”

    From pages 237-40, “John contrasts whose who believed that Jesus was the Messenger of the Father (8:30) with those who did not believe (8:58). Between these two points Jesus amplifies his identity as the Messenger of the Father within the framework of the appearances of the Angel of Yahweh to Abraham in Genesis.

    “This framework of the Genesis account is evident not only by the number of times that Abraham is mentioned but also by specific references to Abraham’s relationship to Yahweh. Jesus points out two facts about Abraham that particularly contrast with the Jews’ response to him. The first is the fact that their deeds do not correspond with Abraham’s deeds (v.37-40). Specifically, they are trying to kill him (v.40), which he says Abraham did not do (v.40), implying that Abraham had met him and had, in fact, responded by honoring him and welcoming him with “exemplary hospitality” (cf. Gen 18:1ff.).

    “The second major contrast that Jesus points out between the Jews and Abraham is that “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56, NAU). This statement has been variously interpreted, but the response of the Jews shows what it implies—namely, that Abraham and Jesus had encountered one another in the past. The particular point on which the Jews questioned Jesus next was whether he in fact had seen Abraham. “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” (John 8:57, NAU). Christ’s answer is a striking affirmation to their question. He had not only seen Abraham, but he was also the one who had seen and spoken to Moses. In John 8:58, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am (egw eimi).” Jesus words here clearly indicate that he is the “I AM” (egw eimi) who revealed himself to Moses and sent him to deliver the children of Israel out of Egypt. There could hardly be a clearer statement of the identity between Jesus Christ and the Angel of Yahweh! If we keep in mind that Jesus has already used these words twice, it is easy to see why the Jews now pick up stones to stone him (8:59). He has unequivocally identified himself as the preexistent “I AM” of the Old Testament.

    “The Jewish response to Jesus’ words in John 8:58 alone suggest that Jesus is communicating more than one thing with the words egw eimi. In each of the contexts thus far, egw eimi serves two purposes. In John 4:26, the phrase egw eimi, reveals that he is the Messiah that the woman speaks of, but it also identifies him as the Angel of Yahweh, who revealed himself to Moses (Ex 3:14). In John 6:20, the phrase egw eimi reveals that he is Jesus to his disciples, but he is also revealing himself as the Angel of God who led the children of Israel through the Red Sea (Ex 14:19ff.). In John 8:58 the phrase egw eimi reveals that Jesus had indeed met Abraham, but he also reveals that he as the divine Angel of Yahweh appeared to Abraham.”

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