Praying for the Conversion of the Jews
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
13 Mar, 2018

They were on a Scottish hillside in fear of government troops arresting or killing those at this “illegal” worship service. Why would the young preacher pause his sermon and begin to pray for the restoration of the Jews?

It was 11 July 1680, a Lord’s Day. The government was hunting Richard Cameron, just 32 years of age, across the moors and hills of Scotland. His crime was that he would not submit to the government total control of the Church. To worship in secret was considered rebellion and there was a high price on his head.

Within eleven days he would suffer a bloody death at the hands of soldiers. Was he aware of that? Yes, to some extent, he was. He had spent the previous day in prayer and meditation and told one lady gloomily “my carcass shall dung the wilderness, and that within a fortnight”.

Now he was ready to preach to the gathered people on the border of Lanarkshire and Dumfries-shire. It was a powerful sermon on John 5:40, one of his favourite texts. Nearly fifty years later, it remained fresh in the memory of those that heard it. There was much emotion for both preacher and congregation. During the sermon Cameron was overcome and “fell in such a rap of calm weeping, and the greater part of that multitude, that there was scarce a dry cheek to be seen among them”. This obliged Cameron to pause and pray. He “continued long praying for the Jews restoration and ingrafting again” amongst other things.

 

1. The Background

Why would the young preacher pause his sermon and begin to pray for the restoration of the Jews? It was not in fact so unusual. The Church of Scotland had a guide to worship called a Directory for the Public Worship of God. The section on Public Prayer before Sermon advised that prayer be made “for the conversion of the Jews”. Besides the Shorter Catechism they also had the Larger Catechism, which, amongst other things, expounded the Lord’s Prayer. In relation to the petition “Thy Kingdom come” it said:

We pray that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in… that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming

These documents were produced by the Westminster Assembly, which was attended by Scottish representatives. All of these, George Gillespie, Alexander Henderson and Samuel Rutherford referred to the future conversion of the Jews in their preaching. Many of Rutherford’s famous letters contain desires for the restoration of the Jews.  There are a large number of these prayers but we can only consider a few.  In 1631, for instance, he wrote:

I have been this time bypast thinking much of the incoming of the kirk [church] of the Jews. Pray for them. When they were in their Lord’s house, at their Father’s elbow, they were longing for the incoming of their little sister, the kirk of the Gentiles…. (Song 8.8). Let us give them a meeting… That were a glad day to see us and them both sit down to one table, and Christ at the head of the table. Then would our Lord come shortly with his fair guard to hold His great court.

It was a theme that Rutherford was going to return to again and again in his sermons, letters and other writings. He writes with rapture about what he was looking for by faith: “I shall be glad to be a witness, to behold the kingdoms of the world become Christ’s. I could stay out of heaven many years to see that victorious triumphing Lord act that prophesied part of his soul-conquering love, in taking into his kingdom the greater sister, that kirk of the Jews, who sometime courted our Well-beloved for her little sister (Song 8.8); to behold him set up as an ensign and banner of love, to the ends of the world”.

The Jews must “renew their old love with their first Husband, Christ our Lord! They are booked in God’s word, as a bride contracted unto Jesus! Oh for a sight, in this flesh of mine, of the prophesied marriage between Christ and them!” Rutherford was drawing from passages such as Zechariah 8:23: “There is a day when ten men shall take hold, out of all nations, of the skirt of a Jew, saying, We will go with you; we have heard that God is with you.”

 

2. The Biblical Basis

Which other passages of Scripture gave ground for this hope? There is a hint in the following:  “O to see the sight, next to Christ’s Coming in the clouds, the most joyful! Our elder brethren the Jews and Christ fall upon one another’s necks and kiss each other! They have been long asunder; they will be kind to one another when they meet. O day! O longed-for and lovely day-dawn! O sweet Jesus, let me see that sight which will be as life from the dead, Thee and Thy ancient people in mutual embraces.”

Rutherford is echoing Romans 11:15, that the restoration of the Jews would be as “life from the dead”. The Scottish minister and commentator James Durham considered Romans 11 to be undeniably clear on this point.

they shall be brought to a visible Church-state. Not only in particular persons here and there in congregations; but that multitudes, yea, the whole body of them shall be brought, in a common way with the Gentiles, to profess Christ, which cannot be denied, as Romans 11 is clear and that will be enough to satisfy us

Another minister, John Brown of Wamphray produced a commentary on Romans in 1666 that expands further on Romans 11:15:

If the casting away of them, that is, if the slinging away of the Jews, and casting them out of the Church, be the reconciling of the world, that is, be the occasion whereby the gospel should be preached to the Gentile world, that thereby they might be reconciled unto God, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? Will there not be joyful days through the world, and among the Gentiles, when they shall be received into favour again? Will it not be like the resurrection from the dead, when Jew and Gentile shall both enjoy the same felicity and happiness? Seeing out of the dead state of the Jews, when cast without doors, God brought life to the Gentiles, will he not much more do so out of their enlivened estate? Will it not be to the Gentiles as the resurrection from the dead?

The Jews were to be grafted in once more because God had not forgotten his covenant and promises. “Though now the people of the Jews are at a low pass, because of their unbelief, and contempt of the gospel; yet the covenant made with their fore-fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” is not forgotten by God, but is in force; and by virtue thereof, they have some room in God’s affection yet: They are beloved for the father’s sake”.

As David Dickson, another commentator put it: “The Church of the Jews is the mother-church, whereof Abraham and the godly Jews yea and Christ himself were Members; The Church of the Jews is the Olive-tree, whereunto all the converts of the Gentiles are ingrafted, gathered, and made one people with Abraham and the faithful among the Jews”.

 

3. What about the Land?

James Durham also addressed the question of whether the Jews would be restored to the land they had once occupied. He did not wish to be absolute about it but pointed to Scripture passages and promises that seemed to indicate that this would be so such as Ezekiel 37:20-21, Amos 9:11-15 and others. If Paul spoke of them being grafted in as they were broken off it seemed to suggest some national state. He also took into view the promise of the land and the fact that in God’s providence the Jews were still a distinct people even though scattered amongst the nations. Another commentator George Hutcheson also considered it possible for the Jews to return to their homeland in the last days.

David Dickson was slightly more cautious when commenting on Psalm 69:35. This verse shows that God will always “maintain his Church, his Sion and his Judah”. We can find “special evidence of this care among the Jews” no matter how far “they may at some times be from all appearance of his respect to them”. The promise in this verse expressly uses the name of Judah, “He will build the Cities of Judah”. “What outward testimonies of Gods respect to the Jews for Christ’s sake shall be given unto them, after the destruction of their cities…we must leave it to God, to be in due time by his own works interpreted, and to be made out according to what here is said; that the cities of Judah shall be built, that they may dwell there and have it, (i.e. the promised land,) in possession”.

 

Conclusion

Overhearing the prayers of the Covenanters ought to inspire us to pray and long for this great event. “Oh, what a heavenly heaven were it to see them come in”, said Rutherford. John Brown of Wamphray observes that we can draw great encouragement from this teaching. God is “unchangeable in mercy and power” and so “it is not impossible that the Jews shall be recovered, because the Gentiles who were once as evil as they are now, were recovered”. “Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy” (Romans 11:30-31). We should never despair of anyone being converted.

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