“O ye seed of Abraham his servant, ye children of Jacob his chosen. He is the LORD our God: his judgments are in all the earth. He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant: Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance.” (Psalm 105:6-11)
The persons here addressed are people, not spirits, mortal men with mortal enemies, and Canaan and Egypt are earthly countries. The fact that the promises were made to the man Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob and their descendants to a thousand generations, ensures the covenant from father to son for twenty thousand years.
In contrast, the spiritualizing theory is a view of the Abrahamic covenant which takes Ephraim-Israel and the promises to be nonphysical, in contradistinction to literal; in other words that the House of Israel, the ten tribes, is only a spiritual people, while the Jews are a physical people. They attempt to buttress their position by acknowledging that originally there was a material Israel, God’s chosen people, but that at some period they became extinct as a mortal body and transformed into a spiritual Israel, which spiritual Israel they say is the universal Gentile Christian Church of today. We are told that Abraham thought the promises he received were of earthly possession and greatness whereas it was a heavenly inheritance and country that God had in His mind.
In contrast to such views, some of the greatest Christian expositors have warned against such an interpretation:
Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752), a famous Protestant theologian and champion of “Biblical Realism,” stated that the spiritualizing of Scripture “brings death on all correct interpretation.”
Early British-American theologian, Thomas Hooker (1586-1647), stated, “there is nothing more dangerous than this licentious and deluding art which changeth the meaning of words as alchemy doth or would do the substance of metals, making of anything what it listeth, and bringing in the end all truth to nothing.”
Dr. John Charles Ryle (1816-1900), evangelical Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, England, counselled, “I warn you that unless you interpret the prophetic meaning of its words, you will find it no easy matter to carry on an argument with an intelligent Jew. Will you dare to tell him that Zion, Jerusalem, Jacob, Judah, Ephraim, Israel, did not mean what they seem to mean, but mean the Church of Christ? I believe it is high time for the Church to wake out of its sleep about Old Testament prophecy. From the time of the Old Fathers down to the present-day men have gone on in a pernicious habit of spiritualizing the words of the prophets until their true meaning has been well-nigh buried.” (From his “Expository Thoughts On The Gospels”)
In the “Journal of the Rev. Joseph Wolff,” an account of his extensive nineteenth-century missionary labors (London: James Burns, 1839), he maintains that spiritualizing “has been already most fatal to the whole system of Christianity and has been the nursing mother of infidels like Voltaire and Diderot.” To whom we may add Hume, Paine and Bradlaugh, and many others since their time.
The late British-Israel scholar, J.G. Taylor, stated, “The notion that these prophecies were intended to be taken spiritually, not literally, is incessantly put forward as if it were both sacred and unanswerable. It does not seem to be realized that the spiritualizing theory is a mere subterfuge; a vicious, dangerous, and illogical system which has been condemned by all the greatest of theologians.”
A good example of the errors of spiritualizing was related in an incident reported by the late B.I. Welsh expositor, Idrisyn Jones. In a church sermon on the Apostle Paul’s sea journey to Rome in Acts 27:13 to 28:5, Paul’s shipwreck was spiritualized by a minister in these words: “That ship, brethren, means the Church, the sailors in that ship represented the saints, and the Island of Melita where they landed represented heaven.” But someone who differed with the expositor said, “I don’t think that ship meant the Church, for it went to pieces. I don’t think those sailors represented the saints, for they were barbarians and wanted to kill the prisoners; and I don’t think Melita represented heaven, for there were snakes there, and one bit the apostle!”
The parables of Christ dealing with subjects such as the two coins and the two sons (Luke 15 and 16) is spiritualized and watered down into nothing more than a sweet moral “Aesop’s fable” type story with no literal application to the two houses of Israel, which is the actual focus.
Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918), theologian and Scotland Yard official, was an early leading exponent of Dispensational Futurism who nonetheless was able to see the errors of the spiritualizing tendency. He remarked, “One of the great difficulties which undermine the faith of earnest Christians is Gentile exegesis of Scripture. We have all cut and dried views come down to us from the ‘Fathers’ but the writers of this book were, without exception, the covenant people, whereas the ‘Fathers’ were all Gentiles, and most of them converted from heathenism in early life. Take one matter for example. Open your Bibles and read the Book of Isaiah. What is the meaning of Judah and Israel? When it is the blessing, that means the Church, and when it is a curse, that means the Jews; and that is Gentile exegesis.”
The late Church of England scholar, Frederic William Farrar (1831-1903), Archdeacon of Westminster and Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, had a spiritual view of the Israel prophecies, never suspecting that there was a literal, physical fulfillment underlying it. He stated, “Lord Beaconsfield in reality gives the British race Israel’s place in the regeneration of the world. In ‘Tancred’ he dwells upon our having become the natural ally of the Jew, our possession of the Hebrew spirit, and the Hebrew basis of our national life. He says: ‘The life and property of England are protected by the Laws of Sinai. Her hard-working people are secured in every seven days a day of rest by the laws of Sinai. Who is the most popular poet in this country, the soother of the troubled spirit? The sweet singer of Israel. Since the days of the heritage, when every man dwelt safely under his vine and under his fig-tree, there never was a race who sang so often the odes of David as the people of Great Britain. Vast as the obligations of the whole human family are to the Hebrew race, there is no portion of the modern population so much indebted to them as the British people. It was the sword of the Lord and of Gideon that won the boasted liberties of England; chanting the same canticles that cheered the heart of Judah amid their glens, the Scotch upon their hill sides achieved their religious freedom.’” Israel is thus found in the people of Britain, Dean Farrar taught, but only in a spiritual sense.
Likewise, Scottish historian and Anglican theologian, Dr. Robert Henry, had a similar view. In his ten-volume “History Of Great Britain,” first published in 1780, Dr. Henry gave many parallels and identifications between Israel and the Celto-Saxons. Dr. Henry’s history was organized around seven major aspects of culture which distinguished these peoples: civil and military, religion, law and government, science (what Dr. Henry called, “learning”), arts, commerce, and manners and customs. Dr. Henry considered this mass of physical evidence linking the peoples of Western Europe to Israel as proof of a spiritual association between them.
In 1837 British professor John Wilson visited a London bookshop and purchased Rev. Henry’s work. As Wilson read, he noted that repeated correlations were made between the ancient Hebrews and modern Celto-Saxons, which supposedly proved a spiritual connection. In contrast, Wilson realized that physical evidence proves physical descent, not spiritual descent. Further, he began to recognize the massive amount of physical evidence linking the Hebrews and the Celto-Saxons. Wilson credited Dr. Henry for inspiring him to begin the biblical and historical research that led to the founding of the British-Israel movement, a work that we faithfully carry on today.