George Stevenson DD from Morebattle was the third minister of the first Secession congregation in Ayr. He died in 1841, in the seventieth year of his age and the forty-third of his ministry. Theologically Stevenson refutes the views of the New England theologians Samuel Hopkins and Timothy Dwight, who taught an indefinite atonement and held that the whole of God’s moral character is summed up in His benevolence.
Stevenson begins with the Prophetic Office of Christ. He first makes some general observations. Moses as the mediator for the Israelites was the great type of the divine Prophet who came from the bosom of the Father to reveal divine truths to men. Jesus was given official gifts, such as the Spirit without measure and the tongue of the learned, which especially fitted Him for this office.
A particular glory in the prophetic office derives from the duration and the extent of the commission. This began immediately after the Fall with the word concerning the seed of the woman and was continued by the prophets who worked by the Spirit of Christ (1 Pet 1:10,11). He appeared at the beginning of each new era: to Abraham with promises, and to Israel at Sinai with the law. At the close of that era He appeared as the Prophet; God “hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” (Heb 1:2). That work continues as He declares the name of the Lord to His brethren (John 17:25, Ps 22:22), and is set to continue till His second coming, for “the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev 21:23). The extent of Christ’s commission covers the whole counsel of God, for “in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. It extends to all men, not to the Jews only: “I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the end of the earth” (Is 49:6).
Our Lord as a Prophet set natural religion and law in a clearer light. He revealed the nature of God as a spirit (John 4:24), and that He is one. In creation and providence we understand by faith that the worlds were framed by the word of God. The Ten Commandments came from God at Sinai and were taught again in the Sermon on the Mount. But the great end of His revelation was the gospel, for the Lord had anointed Him to teach good tidings unto the meek (Is 61:1,2). He taught His own divinity in the Trinity, particular election, substitutionary atonement, justification by faith alone, total depravity and moral inability, the free offer of the gospel and the perseverance of the saints.
Jesus revealed the law as a rule of righteousness for His people based on the will of the Father (Matt 7:21) and extending to all spiritual exercises. Love to God and love to man were of the essence of that law and all must proceed from the good treasure of the heart (Matt 22:37). He taught the unchangeableness and primacy of this law. His followers are to love their enemies to show themselves true sons of God. Jesus taught universal benevolence, supremely to God, then to His creatures, and especially to “the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). We have a duty of prudence towards ourselves in seeking blessed immortality: “What is a man profited if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Self-control is also required over bodily appetites and the desires of the mind. Pride, ambition and revenge are to be mortified while humility, meekness and a forgiving spirit are to be followed: “If ye stand praying, forgive” (Mark 11:25,26). Jesus taught the glory of God as the supreme end of all our actions. He taught this by example: “I have glorified Thee on the earth” (John 17:4), and by precept: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).
Christ the Prophet communicated to the prophets by dreams, visions and words; and these Scriptures – given by the inspiration of God (2 Tim 3:16) – are with the Church still. Finally the divine Prophet came Himself. Christ taught directly, and His teaching was characterised by authority: “I say unto you” (Matt 7:28); by simplicity: “Grace is poured into Thy lips” (Ps 45:2), by majesty and meekness: “He that is from heaven is above all” (John 3:31), yet “He shall not cry nor lift up His voice in the streets” (Is 42:2); and by seasonableness: “He is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb 2:18). As a teacher He was condescending and patient: “the poor have the gospel preached to them” (John 16:12). Integrity and faithfulness were evident in His words to the Pharisees and to His disciples alike, “even as Moses was faithful in all His house” (Heb 3:5). His words showed His ardour in His Father’s service: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me” (John 4:31).
What is the extent of Jesus’ commission as to objects? The smallness of the number who received the words of Christ reflects the hardness of the heart of man. The promise was revealed to Adam in circumstances which were calculated to emphasise the greatness of the blessing, yet this knowledge was rapidly lost and Noah was the only one with grace in his generation. When this knowledge was likely to be lost, God called Abraham and gave him circumcision and the ceremonial law. The Gentiles were free to join Israel on the same conditions: “One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you” (Ex 12:49). The Gentiles had further access to a knowledge of the Word through Jonah in Niniveh and Daniel in Babylon. The rejection was from themselves: “they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved” (2 Thess 2:10). All to whom the Bible comes, Jesus instructs in the way of salvation. His messengers are ambassadors of peace bringing salvation to a house. If it is not received, then the dust is shaken off against that house. Some who hear the gospel are instructed by the Spirit, for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:14). God alone can command the light to shine out of darkness to give “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).
Both individuals and society benefit from the word of Jesus. Firstly, the saved were brought down by the arrows of the King (Ps 45:5) and have begun to give all diligence to make their calling and their election sure. To the unsaved the cross is an offence and a savour of death unto death. The Spirit ceases to strive; “Israel would have none of Me”. The sun that warms the rose, and thus increases its fragrance, also warms the dunghill and increases the odour of decay. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin” (John 15:22). Forbearance is shown to both the saved and the unsaved. In the old world, 120 years passed before the flood came. In the new world, 40 years passed after the death of Christ before the destruction of Jerusalem. Paul speaks also of the longsuffering shown to all believers when he says to Timothy “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting” (1 Tim 1:16).
Secondly, the sovereignty of God is shown forth thus: His will is done with regard only to the rectitude of His nature. In election, He passed by others, including angels, because “so it seemed good in Thy sight”. This is seen in the distribution of the means of grace. In Adam and in Noah the means were available to all, but they were soon lost to most. But Abraham was called from among idolaters. The Children of Israel were reminded that their father was an Amorite and their mother a Hittite; they were not chosen because they were greater than other nations but because the Lord loved them (Deut. 7:6). The Gentile Christians also, though at one time they had “no hope, and [were] without God in the world” (Eph 2:12), were called the Lord’s people because of His sovereign choice (Rom 9:25). The withdrawal of the means is also sovereign but always consistent with divine justice. Because they “received not the love of the truth that they might be saved”, they are given over to the Antichrist (2 Thess 2:8-12). Sovereignty settles the spiritual difference between Jacob and Esau (Rom 9:11). The success of the gospel owes nothing to the will of the creature, for the lost “will not come”.
Thirdly, the glory of God is seen in the justice of God being magnified in those that perish. Though providential judgements may overtake sinners in time, their continuing impenitence will certainly lay up “wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God” (Rom 2:5).
Fourthly, the glory of God is seen in the saved in Christ’s offers and calls in the gospel, and in the power which turns them from darkness to light: “such were some of you, but ye are washed” (2 Cor 10:5). Grace was seen in preserving the unfallen angels and in giving Adam all that he required in Eden, but superlatively in the giving of His Son, so that sinners might say, “Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell” (Ps 86:12). The results of the gospel are to God’s honour, “and who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor 15:16).
Christ’s instructions also serve to advance His own honour. As Christ acts in all places where His gospel comes according to His Father’s work, so He is to be honoured. Thus all the election of grace are brought in by Him. “Other sheep I have . . . them also I must bring”. The work of affirmation came from heaven: “Yet surely My judgement is with the Lord and My work with My God” (Is 49:4). Also Jesus’ teaching brings His official glory to view. The efficacy of His death as high priest shows His wisdom as “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:20). As King, His word is with power, a willing people in the day of His power coming to Him (Ps 110:3). Finally the darkness will be dispelled. By making the gospel the means of such a glorious manifestation, He has magnified His Word above all His name”.
We now consider Jesus as the true and proper Prophet. Notice first His purity of character, for He claimed to be such a prophet: “But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He hath sent Me” (John 7:29). If found true in Himself, then His commission is secured. Notice also His doctrine. Even some heathens have concluded that humanity requires a supernatural intervention, and this is what Christ provides. When revealed, this intervention is beyond human invention and wisdom; “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard . . . “. Further, the intrinsic excellence of the plan commends it. Divine love goes out towards man and man is delivered from sin and made holy, yet God’s holy law is upheld. A system so benevolent and holy must be from God and sent by God.
Again, the Jews had the criteria of Scripture concerning the Messiah, and Jesus continually appealed to those criteria. “If ye believe not [Moses’] writings, how shall ye believe My words?” These criteria were as follows: 1. The time of the birth and death of Jesus; Jacob, Daniel and David spoke of this. 2. The Messiah was of the tribe of Judah and of the family of David, and He would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem. 3. The Spirit was given (Is 11:1,2); “the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me”, and “this day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:16-21). His preaching was free from ostentation and meanness. He would not “cry nor lift up His voice in the streets”, yet He would ” not fail nor be discouraged” (Is 42:2-5). His want of success was also a mark: “Who hath believed our report?” He was to bring forth judgement unto the Gentiles and He commissioned His disciples to go forth unto all nations. Again Christ’s divine mission was attested by the Father. Thus the voice from heaven at His baptism and on the Mount of Transfiguration was, “Hear Him”. And when John saw the descent of the Spirit and heard these words, he knew this to be the Messiah, “for Him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:27).
Christ’s mission was also attested by miracles. Jesus was “a man approved of God by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him” (Acts 2:22). The accomplishment of His predictions proved His prophetic office. This was the Old Testament criterion of a true prophet (Jer 28:9). Jesus predicted His own cruel death by crucifixion, His resurrection, the success of the gospel, the outpouring of the Spirit and the destruction of Jerusalem. These predictions were all fulfilled, and attest His messiahship.
The first promise spoke of Him as a sufferer and conqueror. The sacrificial rites declared His death as an atonement for sin, and the prophets spoke of His suffering and glory. Jesus, as the “faithful witness”, shed His blood as an evidence of His claim and that he might fulfil His work. His resurrection is proof of His divinity and power, as it fulfilled His own prediction. He was seen of Cephas, then of the Twelve, then by more than 500 at once, then by Paul. They were brought together by this event and some of them sealed their testimony to it with their blood. The power of Jesus’ gospel to convert sinners evinces the divine nature of His mission. Gentile philosophers and Jewish teachers could not change mankind. The one who believes has this proof of the gospel within him: “Whereas I was blind now I see”. But this internal change will produce external evidences: “Let your light so shine before men”.
1. This is the first part of a paper given at the 1998 Theological Conference. It summarises the argument of Stevenson’s volume, The Offices of Christ, published in 1845.