THE JUBILEE A TYPE OF THE GOSPEL
Leviticus 25:9-11. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound, on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you.
IN order that our Lord’s descent from Judah and from David should be clear and acknowledged, it was necessary that the various tribes and families should be kept distinct. With this view many ordinances were appointed for the continuing of every man’s inheritance in his own family [Note: A difficulty on this subject having occurred, God himself decided it, and grounded a new law on that decision. See Numbers 36:6-7.]. This seems to have been the primary intent of that ordinance which is mentioned in the text. A variety of circumstances in a length of time might produce alienations of property; and if this had been suffered to continue, a confusion of the families and tribes would have at last ensued. To prevent this therefore, God commanded that on every fiftieth year every inheritance should revert to its original possessor. This season was called the Jubilee; which, while it answered many other important purposes, served in a very eminent manner to typify the Gospel.
We may Observe a very strict agreement between the jubilee and the Gospel:
I. In the time and manner of their proclamation—
The jubilee was proclaimed with the sound of trumpets—
[The tendency of great reverses of fortune is, in many instances at least, to produce a torpor of mind, and a stupid indifference to the things we once highly valued. Hence it was but too probable, that they, who had alienated their inheritance and reduced themselves to the lowest ebb of misery, might sink into such a state of ignorance or indolence, as to let the period appointed for their restoration pass unnoticed. To prevent this, God commanded the trumpets to be sounded throughout all the land; that so the attention of all being awakened, and their spirits exhilarated, every individual might be stirred up to claim the privileges to which he was entitled.]
The precise time on which this sacred year commenced, was “the day of atonement”—
[The day of atonement was the most solemn season in the whole year: the people were required to afflict their souls for sin; and peculiar sacrifices were to be offered for the iniquities of the whole nation. It should seem at first sight that this was an unfit season for the proclamation of such joyful tidings; but it was indeed the fittest season in the whole year: for, when could masters and creditors be so properly called upon to exercise mercy, as when they themselves had been obtaining mercy at the hands of a reconciled God? Or when could debtors and slaves so reasonably be expected to receive their liberties with gratitude, and improve them with care, as when they had been bewailing the sins, by which, in all probability, they had been deprived of them?]
The Gospel also is to be publicly proclaimed in every place—
[One would have imagined that it were quite sufficient for God once to make known the way in which he would pardon sinners, and that from that time every sinner would of his own accord exert himself to obtain the proffered mercy. But experience proves that our bereavement of heaven is not felt as any evil; our bondage to sin is not at all lamented; and, if no means were used to awaken men’s attention to their misery, and to stir them up to embrace the blessings of salvation, the greater part of mankind would rest satisfied with their state, till the opportunity for improving it was irrevocably lost. God therefore sends forth his servants to “preach the Gospel to every creature,” and commands them to “lift up their voice as a trumpet.”]
This too has its origin in the great atonement—
[If, as some contend, the year of our Lord’s death was the year of Jubilee, the coincidence was indeed very singular and important. But, however this might be, certain it is, that, “without shedding of blood, there could be no remission;” nor, till our Lord had expiated the sins of the whole world, could the Gospel be universally proclaimed. But no sooner was his sacrifice offered, than God was reconciled to his guilty creatures; and from that time must the commission given to his Apostles be dated. A very few days had elapsed, when they sounded the Gospel trumpet in the ears of that very people who had crucified the Lord of glory; and had the happiness to find thousands at a time “brought from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Thus clearly was the connexion marked between the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and the deliverance of sinners that was purchased by it.]
But the agreement between the two is yet more manifest,
In the blessings conveyed by them—
The privileges imparted by the jubilee were many and of great value—
[There was, in the first place, an universal exemption from every kind of agricultural labour. None were either to reap the produce of the last year, or to sow their land with a view to a future crop; but all were to gather from day to day what had grown spontaneously; and every person had an equal right to all the fruits of the earth [Note: –7, 11.]. A better mode of improving their time was provided for them: public instruction was to be given to all, men, women, and children: in order that none, however their education had been neglected, might remain ignorant of God, and his law [Note: Deuteronomy 31:10-13.]. Now also debts, in whatever way they had been contracted, and to whatever amount, were to be freely remitted [Note: Deuteronomy 15:1-2.]. But, besides these privileges which were common to other sabbatical years, there were others peculiar to the year of jubilee. If any persons had, by their own voluntary act, or by the inexorable severity of some creditor, been sold, they were to receive their liberty, and to be restored to their families, as soon as ever the appointed trumpets should sound [Note: 9–11.]. Yea, if they had formerly possessed an inheritance in the land, they were to be instantly reinstated in the possession of it [Note: 0, 28.]: so that in a moment they reverted to their former condition, with all the advantage of their dear-bought experience.]
Analogous to these are the blessings imparted by the Gospel—
[Varying their order, we shall first mention the forgiveness of sins. Though the debt we owe to God exceeds all possible calculation, it is all freely, and for ever remitted, as soon as ever the Gospel trumpet is heard, and its glad tidings are welcomed to the soul [Note: Acts 10:43.]. Our bondage to sin and Satan is reversed; so that nothing shall ever lead us captive, provided we assert our liberty, and claim our privilege [Note: Romans 6:14.]: being made free by Christ, we shall be free indeed [Note: John 8:36.]. And, notwithstanding we have sold out heavenly inheritance, and alienated it for a thing of nought, yet are we called to take possession of it: we are restored to our father’s house; we are brought again into the family of saints and angels; and, with our title to heaven, have the enjoyment of it renewed [Note: Ephesians 2:19.]. Now too are we commanded to rest from all the works of the law, and from all the works of the flesh; and, every one of us, to subsist from day to day upon the bounties of divine grace [Note: Hebrews 4:10; Galatians 2:20.]. As we sowed them not, so neither are we to reap them as our own, but to receive them on the same footing as the poorest and meanest of the human race; all of us being alike pensioners on the divine bounty. Nor are we to lay up in store of what God gives us; but every day to gather our daily bread. To all these blessings is added that of divine instruction: as we are taught how to improve our leisure, so are eyes given us to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to understand [Note: 1 John 2:20.]: and henceforth it is to be our daily labour to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Such are the blessings bestowed by the Gospel; nor can any unworthiness in us deprive us of them, provided we thankfully accept them as the purchase of Christ’s blood, and the gifts of his grace [Note: For most congregations it would be more edifying to pass over briefly what was common to the sabbatical years, and to insist only on the blessings peculiar to the year of Jubilee, namely, deliverance from bondage, and restoration to one’s inheritance.]
In what way it is that sinners are to be converted to God—
[The priest might have expostulated with the Jewish debtors or bond-slaves on the folly of their past conduct; but it was the sound of the trumpet alone that could bring them to liberty. So we may represent to sinners the evil of their past ways, and denounce against them the judgments threatened in the word of God; but it is the sweet voice of the Gospel alone that will enable them to throw off their yoke, and lead them to the enjoyment of eternal glory. This is told us by the prophet; who, speaking of the conversion of the world in the latter day, says, “In that day the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come who were ready to perish, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem [Note: Isaiah 27:13.].” O that this were duly considered by all who go forth as the Lord’s ambassadors! It is not to preach a scanty morality that we are called; but to publish the glad tidings of a full and free salvation; a salvation founded in the blood of Christ, and suited to those who are weeping for their sins. Behold then, “this is the accepted time; this is the day of salvation:” now the trumpet sounds in our ears; let us all arise, and bless our Deliverer; and improve the privileges so richly bestowed upon us. Then, when the last trumpet shall sound, and the time, which God has fixed for the redemption of his purchased possession, “shall be fully come,” we shall be claimed by him as his property, his portion, his inheritance for ever.]
2. How solicitous is God to counteract the folly and wickedness of man!
[A subordinate end of the Jubilee was, to counteract the cupidity of some, and the prodigality of others. But it is a very principal end of the Gospel to remedy the miseries, which men have entailed upon themselves. Well might God have said to the whole human race, “Ye have sown the wind, and ye shall reap the whirlwind:” but instead of that, He says, “Ye have sold yourselves for nought, and ye shall be redeemed without money [Note: Isaiah 52:3.]:” “I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner: turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?” Let not then these gracious declarations reach our ears in vain; Behold, “the year of the Lord’s redeemed is come [Note: Isaiah 63:1.]:” “the perfect law of liberty” is now proclaimed: the Lord himself now preaches “deliverance to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound [Note: Luke 4:18-19.]:” he says to the prisoners, “Go forth and shew yourselves.” The Lord grant that none may put from them these words of life, or receive this grace of God in vain!]
3. How blessed are they who embrace the glad tidings of the Gospel!
[We can easily conceive the blessedness of one, who is in an instant restored from poverty and cruel bondage to the possession of liberty and affluence. But who can estimate aright the happiness of those who are freed from the curses of the law, the fears of death, the bondage of sin, and the damnation of hell? Who can fully appreciate the joy of a trembling and condemned sinner, who by the sound of the Gospel is enabled to call God his father, and heaven his rightful inheritance? Well does the Psalmist, in reference to this very ordinance or the Jubilee, exclaim, “Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound [Note: Psalms 89:15.].” Surely there is no state on earth to be compared with this. May we seek it as our supreme felicity; and may we all enjoy it as an antepast of heaven!]
THE SABBATICAL YEAR
Leviticus 25:20-22. And if ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase: Then will I command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years. And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come in ye shall eat of the old store.
MANY of the commands of God to his people of old appear to be mere arbitrary impositions, without any other use than that of subjecting their wills to his. But I doubt whether there be one single law that will fairly bear this construction. The reasons of many are not known to us, and perhaps were not fully understood by the Jews themselves: yet we cannot doubt but that if God had been pleased to explain them fully to us, we should have seen as much wisdom and goodness displayed in those which are at present unintelligible to us, as in others which we understand. The command to give rest to the land every seventh year, when the extent of country was so disproportionate to its population, must appear exceeding strange to those who have not duly considered it. The generality of persons would account for it perhaps from its being conducive to the good of the land, which would be too much exhausted, if it were not permitted occasionally to lie fallow. But this could not be the reason: for then a seventh part of the land would most probably have been kept fallow every year, and not the whole at once. Moreover, it would not have been suffered to produce any thing which would tend to counteract the main design; whereas all the seed that had been accidentally scattered on it during the harvest, was suffered to grow up to maturity. Nor can the idea of lying fallow be applied with any propriety to the olive-yards and vineyards, which, though not trimmed and pruned that year, were suffered to bring all their fruit to maturity. We must look then to some other source for the reasons of this appointment. Those which appear the most probable and most important, it is the object of this discourse to set before you.
The ordinance itself is more fully stated at the beginning of the chapter [Note: –7. (Read it.) See also Exodus 23:10-11.]: and it was given,
I. To remind them that God was the great Proprietor of all—
[In the verse following the text. God says to his people, “The laud is mine.” And it was his: he had dispossessed the former inhabitants, and had given it to his own people, assigning to every tribe its precise district, and to every family their proper portion. This they would have been likely to forget in the space of a few years: and therefore, as the great Proprietor, he specified the terms on which he admitted them to the possession of his land, reserving to himself the tithes and first-fruits, and requiring the whole to be left uncultivated and common every seventh year. Thus the people would be reminded from time to time that they were only tenants, bound to use the land agreeably to the conditions imposed on them.
Instructive as this thought was to them, it is no less so to us. Indeed, we should never for one moment lose the remembrance of it. “The whole world is mine,” says God, “and the fulness thereof [Note: Psalms 24:1; Psalms 50:12.].” Nay more, our very “bodies and spirits are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.]:” and consequently, all that we are, and have, should be used for him, and be entirely at his disposal. Of what incalculable benefit would it be to have our minds duly impressed with this truth! How would it lay the axe to the root of all those evils which arise within us from the diversity of our states and conditions in the world! Pride in the attainment of earthly things, anxiety in the possession, and sorrow in the loss of them, would be greatly moderated — — — Instead of being agitated with the keen sensibilities of an owner, we should feel only a subordinate interest, like that of a steward: we should be neither elated with prosperity, nor depressed with adversity, but in every change should be satisfied, if only we were sure that we had done our duty, and that no blame attached to us.]
To keep them from earthly-mindedness—
[When our corn and wine are multiplied, we are apt to be thinking how we may treasure them up, rather than how we shall employ them to the honour of God. To counteract this sordid disposition, God provided, that, when he had given his people the richest abundance, they should think only of the temperate and grateful use of it, and not of amassing wealth. By this ordinance he said to them, what he says to us also, “If riches increase, set not your hearts upon them [Note: Psalms 62:10.].” He would have us live above this vain world; and not, when running for such a prize, be “loading our feet with thick clay [Note: Habakkuk 2:6.].” If we could have the reasons of God’s dispensations fully revealed to us, I have no doubt but that we should find that he has this end in view, when he sends us one bereavement after another: he does it, I say, that we may learn to “set our affections on things above, and not on things on the earth” — — —]
To lead them to trust in him—
[Like the rich fool in the Gospel, they would have been ready to say, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry.” But God is jealous of his own honour. He will not endure that we should “say to gold, Thou art my hope; or to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence.” Indeed, he not only denounces against such conduct his heaviest judgments, but sets forth in most beautiful terms its practical effects [Note: Jeremiah 17:5-6.] — — — The cares of this world are as thorns and briers, which choke the seed which God has sown in our hearts, and prevent it from bringing forth any fruit to perfection. They also weigh down the spirits, and oftentimes prove an insupportable burthen to the soul: whereas the person who has learned to confide in God, is always happy: “he knows in whom he has believed,” and is assured that “he shall want no manner of thing that is good.” Hence David not merely affirms that such persons are happy, but appeals to God himself respecting it; “O Lord God of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.” This was the state to which God designed to bring his people of old; and in it he would have all his people live, even to the end of the world. “I would have you,” says he, “without carefulness:” “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”]
To make them observant of his providential care—
[When they saw that the sabbatical year was at hand, how forcibly would they be struck with the provision which God had made for it! They would have “three years” to live on the produce of one single year [Note: Commentators appear to me to mistake in supposing that the sabbatical year began, like their civil year, in autumn: for then, the sowing and reaping being brought within one year, the loss of that whole time would be felt only for two years: but if their year began, like their ecclesiastical year, in the spring, then they would of course not sow in the sixth year, nor reap in the eighth year; because they could not reap or sow in the seventh year: consequently, they could only sow in the eighth year what they were to reap in the ninth. The language of the 22d verse seems to require this interpretation. Next to this interpretation, I should prefer that of making the words “three years” to signify “one year, and parts of two.”]. But when they saw their barns overflowing with the produce of the earth, and their presses bursting out with new wine, methinks they would say, This is the hand of God: we will love him; we will serve him; we will trust in him: we will shew, that we are not insensible of all his love and kindness.
Such sentiments and conduct would tend exceedingly to exalt and honour God; and would conduce very much to the happiness of all. We are apt to think that there is great comfort annexed to the idea of wealth and plenty: but the comfort which a poor man has in receiving his pittance as from the hand of God, far outweighs all that the rich ever felt in their unsanctified abundance — — — The more we enjoy God in the creature, the more we enjoy the creature itself — — —]
V. To typify the felicity of heaven—
[Canaan was an acknowledged type of heaven: and this ordinance fully represented the blessedness there enjoyed. All the land was common during the seventh year; and every person in it, whether rich or poor, a native or a foreigner, had an equal right to every thing in it. None were to assert an exclusive claim to any thing: none were to reap or treasure up the fruits of the earth: but all were to participate with equal freedom the bounties of heaven. What a delightful picture does this give us of that blessed state, in which there will be no distinction of persons, no boast of exclusive rights, no want of any thing to the children of God: but all will have a fulness of joy at God’s right hand, and rivers of pleasure for evermore! — — — Even in the Church below there was a little of this, when the disciples had all things common, and none said that any thing he possessed was his own; but in the Church above, this will universally prevail, and endure to all eternity.]
This subject, in its different bearings, affords ample matter of instruction to,
The doubtful and undetermined Christian—
[The Jews were required to sacrifice their worldly prospects for the Lord: and were threatened, that, if they did not obey this ordinance, God would expel them from the land. This threatening too was executed in the Babylonish captivity, according to the number of sabbatical years which they had neglected to observe [Note: Leviticus 26:33-35, with 2 Chronicles 36:20-21.]. Shall Christians then be backward to exercise self-denial, or to sacrifice their temporal interests for their Lord and Saviour? Let them not hesitate between duty and interest: the calls, though apparently opposite, are indeed the same: if we sacrifice any thing for the Lord, he will repay us an hundred-fold. If we will lose our lives for his sake, we shall find them: but if we will save them here, we shall lose them in the eternal world.]
2. The careful and worldly-minded Christian—
[If the Jews, whose principal rewards were of a temporal nature, were taught not to place their affections on earthly things, how much less should we! It is really a disgrace to Christianity, when persons who profess godliness are as anxious after this world as those who have no prospects beyond. Yet how common is this character! Happy would it be for them if they would study our Lord’s sermon on the mount; and learn from the very birds of the air to live without anxiety for the morrow [Note: Matthew 6:25-30.]. Not that they should neglect their earthly business, whatever it may be: but, in the habit and disposition of their minds, they should “be content with such things as they have,” and realize the prayer which they profess to approve, “Give us day by day our daily bread!”]
3. The fearful and unbelieving Christian—
[On the command being given respecting the observance of the sabbatical year, some are represented as asking, “What shall we eat the seventh year?” Now thus it is with many Christians, who are anticipating evils, and questioning with themselves what they shall do under such or such circumstances? and fearing, that, if they proceed in the way of duty, they shall not be able to stand their ground. But the answer to such persons is, “Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” We have no right to anticipate evils; at least, not so to anticipate them as to distress ourselves about them. All that we need to inquire, is, What is the way of duty? True, to carnal minds we may appear to act absurdly, and to thwart our own interests: but the path of duty will always be found the path of safety. God is the same God as ever he was: and, if he call us to exercise faith on him, he will never disappoint us. Justly did Jesus reprove his disciples for fearing, when they had him in the same vessel with them. Let us remember, that he is embarked with us, and that they who trust in him “shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end.”]
4. The humble and believing Christian—
[Did you ever, when exercising faith in God, find yourself disappointed of your hope? Did he ever leave you or forsake you? If the command have appeared formidable at a distance. have you not always found that your strength was increased according to your day, and that His grace was sufficient for you? Have you not found also, that, though your obedience might be self-denying, it has always been productive of happiness? In short, are you not living witnesses of the truth and faithfulness of your Lord? Go on then, and be examples of a holy self-denying obedience. Prefer the performance of duty before worldly prospects, how lucrative soever they may appear: and let it be seen in you. what it is to “live by faith on the Son of God, who has loved you, and given himself for you.”]