John Newton on Christ in the Old Testament
In his Review of Ecclesiastical History, John Newton provides a glimpse for us into his Christ-centered view of the Old Testament. To summarize Newton’s teaching:
- After Adam’s fall, both he and his posterity were corrupt, depraved, and sent into a perpetual state of misery.
- God immediately after Adam’s fall revealed the remedy to this desperate situation.
- The Lord Jesus was promised as the “seed of the woman.” He would come as the great deliverer who would repair the breach made by sin and rescue God’s children from their ruin.
- In the OT, this revelation of a Savior was veiled under types and shadows.
- This revelation was like the coming dawn; it became brighter and brighter as the time of Christ’s manifestation drew near.
- Though this revelation was veiled in types and shadows, it was always sufficient to sustain the hopes, and purify the hearts of all the true worshippers of God in the OT.
- In this sense, all the patriarchs and prophets from the OT were Christians; their joy and trust centered in the promised Messiah.
- This was the same faith in the same Lord as ours as demonstrated in NT passages such as Romans 6; Galatians 3:16-17; and Hebrews 11.
- Throughout the OT, God’s grace always preserved a spiritual people whose faith in the Messiah to come taught them the true meaning of the Levitical law and all the other shadows and types.
- The future advent of the Messiah had been revealed from the beginning and a remnant in every generation had faith in that revelation.
- The OT saints beheld Christ’s day from afar off and rejoiced in His name (John 8:56; see also, 1 Peter 1:10-12; Hebrews 11:13).
Newton demonstrates that the time of the coming of Christ, after many centuries of shadows, types and prophecies, was not arbitrary. Rather, Christ came at the perfect time—a time that had been frequently predicted with increasing clarity and precision.
The coming of Christ was a wise and gracious appointment that put the truth of the depravity and helplessness of man, the mercy of God, and the truth of the Scriptures in the strongest possible light. It was at the time that most glorified Jesus Christ as the only remedy for sin and as the great Savior foretold through the ages that so many had already placed their faith upon.
So why, with Newton, should we be committed to seeking Christ in the Old Testament when He is so much more accessible in the New? Let me give you seven reasons to encourage you in this direction.
It strengthens our apologetics: Christ and His Apostles repeatedly used the revelation of Christ in the Old Testament to prove who Jesus was and why He came to this earth. They use the powerful argument that this Messiah was predicted with great frequency and precision long before His birth in Bethlehem. If we neglect this ammunition, we are defending our faith with one hand tied behind our back.
It encourages Christian devotion: When Christ showed himself in all the Scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the effect was “spiritual heartburn.” One reason why so much Christianity is so cold and dead is because we know so little of the spiritual warming that results from finding and enjoying Christ in the Old Testament.
It honors the whole Bible: If we neglect the Old Testament or never preach or teach Christ from the Old Testament, we are unwittingly undermining the Bible. It looks as if the New Testament is inspired by God and useful, but the Old Testament is really quite irrelevant or mistaken.
It exalts the sovereign wisdom of God: The most common response I’ve had when preaching Christ from the Old Testament is that it moves people to be in awe of God’s amazing wisdom and power in having the same plan in both Old and New Testaments, rather than Plan A in the Old and, when that didn't work, Plan B in the New.
It unites us with Old Testament believers: If they were just theists who mixed up some faith with some sacrifices and some doing their best, we can have no fellowship with them. They are just a bunch of superstitious legalists. But if we understand that they were saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, then we are going to be comfortable sitting down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11).
It gives us an extra teaching tool: Many pastors and teachers are drawn to doctrine that is presented in logical, systematic, and dogmatic form (e.g. the Pauline Epistles). Although the Old Testament teaches the same doctrines of grace as the New Testament, it does so with pictures, poems, songs, narratives, and ceremonies. These often reach and connect with many people who are left cold and untouched by all our structured arguments.
It has many helpful precedents: We’re not doing anything novel by seeking for and preaching Christ from the Old Testament. Apart from following in the footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles, we can also follow the example of great men of God in church history. Newton’s Review of Ecclesiastical History is one such example of a work that provides a number of biblical presuppositions to help us approach the Old Testament in a Christ-centered way.
1. John Newton: “Of the First Period of Christianity” from A Review of Ecclesiastical History
Excerpted from: Newton, John. The Works of John Newton, Vol. 3:3-15. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985.