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Lowell Brueckner

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Spurgeon, Ryle and the Jews


I want to present to you an important study for our times, according to two of the most important figures of the 19th Century, C. H. Spurgeon, a Baptist preacher, and J. C. Ryle, a bishop in the Church of England. I have gotten my material from two sources: One on Spurgeon from Dennis M. Swanson of The Master’s Seminary and the other on J. C. Ryle from the Middletown Bible Church. My purpose is to use the direct quotes from these two men and not to refer to personal comments, which the sources may have added.

The object, which we will pursue, will be to see the viewpoint that each of these men had, concerning the return of the Jews to their Promised Land. This is an extremely important issue in our day, because Israel was reestablished as a sovereign nation in 1948, fulfilling prophecies which are 2,500 to 2,700 years old. Yours and my viewpoint on the subject will determine, whether or not we have concrete evidence to point to the soon return of Christ to reign upon the earth.

Spurgeon and Ryle were contemporaries, both English, and died just before the beginning of what is known as the Zionist Movement… the return of the Jews to Palestine from all points of the globe. Without further ado, let us first allow Charles Spurgeon to relate to us his view on a pre-millennial rapture of the church. He will also show that there will be two resurrections, that of the just, separate from that of the unjust. Later, of necessity, both Spurgeon and Ryle will tell us about the literal interpretation of Bible prophecy:


“If I read the word aright, and it is honest to admit that there is much room for difference of opinion here, the day will come, when the Lord Jesus will descend from heaven with a shout, with the trump of the archangel and the voice of God. Some think that this descent of the Lord will be post-millennial—that is, after the thousand years of his reign. I cannot think so. I conceive that the advent will be pre-millennial; that he will come first; and then will come the millennium as the result of his personal reign upon earth.”

“Paul does not paint the future with rose-color: he is no smooth-tongued prophet of a golden age, into which this dull earth may be imagined to be glowing. There are sanguine brethren who are looking forward to everything growing better and better and better, until, at the last this present age ripens into a millennium. They will not be able to sustain their hopes, for Scripture gives them no solid basis to rest upon. We who believe that there will be no millennial reign without the King, and who expect no rule of righteousness except from the appearing of the righteous Lord, are nearer the mark. Apart from the Second Advent of our Lord, the world is more likely to sink into pandemonium than to rise into a millennium. A divine interposition seems to me the hope set before us in Scripture, and, indeed, to be the only hope adequate to the situation. We look to the darkening down of things; the state of mankind, however improved politically, may yet grow worse and worse spiritually.”

The resurrection of the just, separate from the unjust:

“We expect a reigning Christ on earth; that seems to us to be very plain, and put so literally that we dare not spiritualize it. We anticipate a first and second resurrection; a first resurrection of the righteous, and a second resurrection of the ungodly, who shall be judged, condemned, and punished for ever by the sentence of the great King.

“You have perhaps imagined that all men will rise at the same moment; that the trump of the archangel will break open every grave at the same instant, and sound in the ear of every sleeper at the identical moment. Such I do not think is the testimony of the Word of God. I think that the Word of God teaches, and teaches indisputably, that the saints shall rise first… I have nothing to do except with the fact that there are two resurrections, a resurrection of the just, and afterwards of the unjust,—a time when the saints of God shall rise, an after time when the wicked shall rise to the resurrection of damnation.”

And now we will see Spurgeon’s position regarding the literal return of the Jews to their land. Each paragraph was given on a different occasion:

“There will be a native government again; there will again be the form of a body politic; a state shall be incorporated, and a king shall reign. Israel has now become alienated from her own land. Her sons, though they can never forget the sacred dust of Palestine, yet die at a hopeless distance from her consecrated shores. But it shall not be so forever, for her sons shall again rejoice in her: her land shall be called Beulah, for as a young man marrieth a virgin so shall her sons marry her. ‘I will place you in your own land,’ is God's promise to them . . . They are to have a national prosperity which shall make them famous; nay, so glorious shall they be that Egypt, and Tyre, and Greece, and Rome, shall all forget their glory in the greater splendour of the throne of David . . . If there be anything clear and plain, the literal sense and meaning of this passage [Ezekiel 37:1-10]—a meaning not to be spirited or spiritualized away—must be evident that both the two and the ten tribes of Israel are to be restored to their own land, and that a king is to rule over them.

"It is certain that the Jews, as a people, will yet own Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David as their King, and that they will return to their own land, and they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the old cities, the desolations of many generations."

“The hour is approaching, when the tribes shall go up to their own country; when Judea, so long a howling wilderness, shall once more blossom like the rose; when, if the temple itself be not restored, yet on Zion's hill shall be raised some Christian building, where the chants of solemn praise shall be heard as erst of the old Psalms of David were sung in the Tabernacle . . .I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews. We do not think enough about it. But certainly, if there is anything promised in the Bible, it is this. I imagine that you cannot read the Bible without seeing clearly that there is to be an actual restoration of the Children of Israel . . . For when the Jews are restored, the fullness of the Gentiles shall be gathered in; and as soon as they return, then Jesus will come upon Mount Zion with his ancients gloriously, and the halcyon days of the millennium shall then dawn; we shall then know every man to be a brother and a friend; Christ shall rule with universal sway.

“If we read the Scripture's aright the Jews have a great deal to do with this world's history. They shall be gathered in; Messiah shall come, the Messiah they are looking for—the same Messiah who came once shall come again—shall come as they expected him to come the first time. They then thought he would come a prince to reign over them, and so he will when he comes again. He will come to be king of the Jews, and to reign over his people most gloriously; for when he comes Jew and Gentile shall have equal privileges, though there shall yet be some distinction afforded to that royal family from whose loins Jesus came; for he shall sit upon the throne of his father David, and unto him shall be gathered all nations.

"There may even be in that period certain solemn assemblies and Sabbath days, but they will not be of the same kind as we now have."

Spurgeon taught that literal interpretation must always be the preferred way to look at Scripture:

"The first sense of the passage must never be drowned in the outflow of your imagination; it must be distinctly declared and allowed to hold the first rank; your accommodation of it must never thrust out the original and native meaning, or even push it into the background.

One visitor to Spurgeon's study commented:

“I was at first surprised to find Mr. Spurgeon consulting both the Hebrew and Greek texts. ‘They say,’ he said, ‘that I am ignorant and unlearned. Well, let them say it; and in everything, by my ignorance, and by my knowledge, let God be glorified.’ His exegesis was seldom wrong. He spared no pains to be sure of the exact meaning of the text.

I leave one comment by Dennis Swanson: “Spurgeon himself interpreted the text quite literally, he took its promises at face value and used them in his personal prayer life and preaching. He refused to retreat to a ‘spiritualized’ interpretation which either negated or obfuscated what he viewed as a clear teaching of the text. In fact he once chastised a famous commentator for spiritualized interpretation of the resurrection in Revelation 20 by saying, ‘Would any man believe this to be its meaning, if he had not some thesis to defend?’”


“I believe that the Jews shall ultimately be gathered again as a separate nation, restored to their own land, and converted to the faith of Christ, after going through great tribulation (Jer. 30:10-11; 31:10; Rom. 11:25-26; Dan. 12:1; Zech. 13:8-9).”

“Christ will come again to this world with power and great glory....He will take to Himself His great power and reign, and establish an universal kingdom. He will gather the scattered tribes of Israel, and place them once more in their own land....As He literally rode upon an ass, was literally sold for thirty pieces of silver, had His hands and feet literally pierced, was numbered literally with the transgressors and had lots literally cast upon His raiment, and all that Scripture might be fulfilled so also will He come, literally set up a kingdom and literally reign over the earth, because the very same Scripture has said it shall be so (Acts 1:11; 3:19-21; Ps. 102:16; Zech. 14:5; Isa. 24:23; Jer. 30:3,18; Dan. 7:13-14).” 

“I beseech you to take up anew the prophetical Scriptures, and to pray that you may not err in interpreting their meaning.  Read them in the light of those two great polestars, the first and second advents of Jesus Christ.  Bind up with the first advent the rejection of the Jews, the calling of the Gentiles, the preaching of the gospel as a witness to the world and gathering out of the election of grace.  Bind up with the second advent the restoration of the Jews, the pouring out of judgment on unbelieving Christians, the conversion of the world and the establishment of Christ's kingdom upon earth.”

“Reader, however great the difficulties surrounding many parts of unfulfilled prophecy, two points appear to my own mind to stand out as plainly as if written by a sunbeam. One of these points is the second personal advent of our Lord Jesus Christ before the Millennium.  The other of these events is the future literal gathering of the Jewish nation, and their restoration to their own land.  I tell no man that these two truths are essential to salvation, and that he cannot be saved except he sees them with my eyes.  But I tell any man that these truths appear to me distinctly set down in holy Scripture and that the denial of them is as astonishing and incomprehensible to my own mind as the denial of the divinity of Christ.”  

J. C Ryle also had something to say about literal interpretation of prophecy, according to the normal and natural sense of language:

“I believe that the literal sense of the Old Testament prophecies has been far too much neglected by the Churches, and is far too much neglected at the present day, and that under the mistaken system of spiritualizing and accommodating Bible language, Christians have too often completely missed its meaning.”

“I believe we have cherished an arbitrary, reckless habit of interpreting first advent texts literally, and second advent texts spiritually.  I believe we have not rightly understood "all that the prophets have spoken" about the second personal advent of Christ, any more than the Jews did about the first.”

Ryle imagines a conversation between a Christian and a Jew. The Christian attempts to show that Jesus fulfilled literally the prophecies of the Old Testament in the first advent of Christ:

“But suppose the Jew asks you if you take all the prophecies of the Old Testament in their simple literal meaning. Suppose he asks you if you believe in a literal personal advent of Messiah to reign over the earth in glory, a literal restoration of Judah and Israel to Palestine, a literal rebuilding and restoration of Zion and Jerusalem.  Suppose the unconverted Jew puts these questions to you, what answer are you prepared to make?  Will you dare to tell him that Old Testament prophecies of this kind are not to be taken in their plain literal sense?  Will you dare to tell him that the words Zion, Jerusalem, Jacob, Judah, Ephraim, Israel, do not mean what they seem to mean, but mean the Church of ChristWill you dare to tell him that the glorious kingdom and future blessedness of Zion, so often dwelt upon in prophecy, mean nothing more than the gradual Christianizing of the world by missionaries and gospel preaching?  Will you dare to tell him that you think it "carnal" to expect a literal rebuilding of Jerusalem, "carnal" to expect a literal coming of Messiah to reign?  Oh, reader, if you are a man of this mind, take care what you are doing!  I say again, take care.”

“It is high time for Christians to interpret unfulfilled prophecy by the light of prophecies already fulfilled.  The curses of the Jews were brought to pass literally; so also will be the blessings.  The scattering was literal; so also will be the gathering.  The pulling down of Zion was literal; so also will be the building up.  The rejection of Israel was literal; so also will be the restoration.” 

“What I protest against is, the habit of allegorizing plain sayings of the Word of God concerning the future history of the nation of Israel, and explaining away the fullness of the contents in order to accommodate them to the Gentile Church. I believe the habit to be unwarranted by anything in Scripture, and to draw after it a long train of evil consequences.”

“Cultivate the habit of reading prophecy with a single eye to the literal meaning of its proper names.  Cast aside the old traditional idea that Jacob, and Israel, and Judah, and Jerusalem, and Zion must always mean the Gentile Church, and that predictions about the Second Advent are to be taken spiritually, and First Advent predictions literally. Be just, and honest, and fair.  If you expect the Jews to take the 53rd of Isaiah literally, be sure you take the 54th and 60th and 62nd literally also.  The Protestant Reformers were not perfect.  On no point, I venture to say, were they so much in the wrong as in the interpretation of Old Testament prophecy.” 

“Time would fail me, if I attempted to quote all the passages of Scripture in which the future history of Israel is revealed. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Zechariah all declare the same thing.  All predict, with more or less particularity, that in the end of this dispensation the Jews are to be restored to their own land and to the favor of God.  I lay no claim to infallibility in the interpretation of Scripture in this matter.  I am well aware that many excellent Christians cannot see the subject as I do.  I can only say, that to my eyes, the future salvation of Israel as a people, their return to Palestine and their national conversion to God, appear as clearly and plainly revealed as any prophecy in God's Word.”


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