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is thought to allude either to a painter, who, when he is about to execute the likeness of a person, first sketches the mere outline which is afterwards to be filled up ; or to the approaching body of the sun casting forth the shadow of the object on which it shines, so that the shadow is seen some time before the object itself arrives. * So the law was a shadow of good things to come—the mere outline of what was afterwards to be filled up. But although the words may be taken in either of these senses, it is most probable that the latter is that in which the apostle designed they should be understood.
This description is strictly applicable to the former state of things under which the people of God were placed. The law served a present purpose, but it was to its connection with good things to come that it was indebted; especially for the moral and spiritual benefits which it conferred. That there were some of the most holy and happy characters that ever the world contained living under former dispensations it requires but little acquaintance with sacred biography to be convinced: they were men of whom the world was not worthy;t and as these were found in connection with that economy, it was very natural to conclude, as the Jews did, that to that economy itself belonged the credit of their formation. That they are to be ascribed to that source, too, many even in the present day are sometimes apt to consider; and if the case is so with them who are blessed with the truth and grace that came by Jesus Christ,
• See Doddridge on the place. + Heb. xi. 38.
we ought not to be surprised that the Jews themselves should think it was in the power of the rites and ceremonies which they observed with so much exactness to make them complete and acceptable in the sight of God. This was to be expected, especially as it was very rarely the case that any spiritual explanation was given to those things by the persons who instituted them, or by others, or any reference made by the Old Testament saints to the higher sources to which they knew they were indebted as the cause of all they were as holy persons.
But whatever of faith, or repentance, or love to God, or of any other grace of the Spirit was manifested in them, was all acquired and sustained by the grace of Christ, by means of the Gospel then preached to them in types and shadows; but seen more fully in the distance of the future. So Abraham rejoiced to behold the day of Christ; he saw it and was glad.* If the Old Testament saints were pardoned, it was not by virtue of the sacrifices which they offered, but by faith in one to be presented; and the services to which they attended carried forward their minds to the days of Jesus Christ, of whom those sacrifices were only types. If they were sanctified, it was not the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, and the purifying of the flesh, that made them holy, but the renewing influences of the Holy Ghost who is given in connection with the Saviour's sacrifice. Their peace flowed from the same source; and whatever graces of the Spirit they cultivated, they were implanted in anticipation of the com
* John viii. 56.
plete satisfaction to be yielded to Divine justice in the fulness of time.
As a shadow, the preceding dispensation was distinguished by the correctness of the representation which it made. A correct shadow is a perfect simile of the object from which it issues. It may not agree
with it in size, but it contains a fac-simile of all its parts. It will show nothing more than the substance contains. It cannot do so, and it will represent nothing less.
In this respect the law was a shadow. It set forth all that is found in the Gospel ; but while it professed to make men holy and blessed, it could do nothing more than impart the semblance of what it offered. It claimed an ability to give pardon ; and to secure it, the various victims, from the national sacrifice slain on the great day of atonement down to the daily lamb, and others laid upon their altar, were offered; but none of them could take away the real guilt and burden of sin. Justification was not unknown among the Jews; but being inseparably connected with forgiveness of sin, one being but a shadow, such of necessity was the character of the other. They were not destitute of sanctification, but it consisted in outward washings and ceremonial purifications. As the manifest people of God, they were distinguished from all the other nations of the earth, and in the land of Canaan had a rest, of which heaven is the antitype; nor were there any privileges or duties growing out of the relation which they sustained to each other which were not enjoyed in a sense peculiar to that period. So much was this the case that, had not ability and disposition been
wanting on their parts, the Israelites of old might have anticipated every blessing which was to be fully revealed at the end of the dispensation under which they lived.
Yet the law was but a shadow, on account of the want of a spiritual substance by which it was characterised. A shadow is a correct representation of the object, but there is nothing tangible about it; consequently when an attempt is made to grasp it, a disappointment is experienced. Precisely of this nature were the blessings of the Mosaic dispensation, considered apart from the antitype: “The law made nothing perfect; but the bringing in of a better hope did, by the which we draw nigh unto God." * So, again, the same Apostle, when describing the peculiarities of the tabernacle more especially, employs another mode of representation, and says: “Which things were a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, which could never make him that did the service perfect as pertained to the conscience." for
Ignorant as many persons living under the former dispensation were of its true nature and character, and ardently desirous as they fre. quently must have been to be absolved from their burden of guilt, it was very natural for them to expect that when they had yielded to the requirements of the ritual, and brought the sacrifices which the law prescribed, a sense of pardon and peace of mind would be the sure result. This, however, was by no means the case ; for, with whatever punctuality they might • Heb. vii. 19.
† Heb. ix. 9.
comply with the directions given, and however they might endeavour to persuade themselves for a time that their reconciliation to God was effected, they soon found that the blessing was not real. Hence, the Apostle says, “ They could never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereto perfect;'*—and then, to show the completeness of the offering of Christ by the contrast which in point of permanence it formed with those of the Levitical priesthood, he adds: “ And every priest standeth daily, ministering, and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool : for by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified."* Repetition is not in every case a proof of deficiency; but in regard to pardon and reconciliation to God, the renewing of the attempt to procure it is an evidence of former failure.
Besides all this, it was of a transitory nature. As a shadow contracts and becomes shorter as the object which reflects it approaches, until at last it is completely absorbed in the substance, so it was with the ceremonial law. It appears to have been in its highest state of perfection in the days of David and Solomon; and though to trace the marks of its decay may be difficult, it is pretty certain that for about four hundred years before Christ no prophet had spoken the will of God by Divine inspiration, -at least, * Heb. x. 1.
† Heb. x. 14.