by R.B.C. Howell
THE OLD COVENANT AND THE NEW COVENANT.
The two classes of covenants,
resolved into two covenants; their
nature, and contrast; old covenant fulfilled, and superseded by
the new; preparation of the Gentile world for Messiah?s coming;
nature and excellence of the gospel.
In addition to the covenant of works, which, as has been said, is peculiar in its character, and stands by itself, we have traced in the preceding chapters, two classes of covenants, of three each, and seen their nature, their purpose, their mutual relations, and their true interpretation. To all who study them attentively and intelligently, it must be apparent that they resolve themselves into substantially, two covenants; the one relating to Christ directly, and the other relating to him indirectly, being embodied in the circumstances which preceded his coming, and prepared the minds of men to receive him. You turn to the teachings of the evangelists and apostles, and your convictions on this subject are established and confirmed. Everywhere they speak of the one class (that which embraces all the covenants of the law) as the old covenant; and of the other class (that which includes all the covenants of the gospel) as the new covenant; and which to us are more familiarly known, as the Old Testament and the New Testament. The three covenants which composed the law, and which are therefore, one in effect, fixed the circumstances of which I have spoken, which preceded and prepared for the coming of Messiah. They grew naturally out of the promise to Abraham, that the Saviour should spring, according to the flesh, from his family. This promise of God in Christ to him, bore, consequently, the same relation to the covenants of the law, or the old covenant, that a constitution does to legislative enactments; the latter being designed to carry out in the best possible manner, the provisions of the former. With these facts before us, the reasons are obvious, why the whole dispensation of Moses is so often, and so appropriately denominated "the law;" not eminently the "moral law," but especially that law which was contained in "ordinances," and which the Saviour removed, "nailing it to his cross." In like manner, the three covenants that comprise the gospel, and which, also, in substance, are one, form the new covenant in the blood of Christ ;" "the everlasting gospel;" older than the law, but not visibly administered until after the law had been perfectly fulfilled, and had consequently passed away. As previously determined, "All the prophets, and the law, prophecied until John "the Baptist." "Since that time the kingdom of God [the gospel] is preached, and every man presseth into it."
If this statement of the subject needs further confirmation, the evidence is abundant, and at hand. Of the law, and the gospel?the Old, and New covenants?Paul speaks in language which can hardly be misunderstood. He characterises them, not as one covenant, developing itself in different forms; nor as two of the covenants which marked the history of the divine government; but as "the two covenants" of God. Both were in their place supremely excellent, and perfectly adapted to secure the ends for which they were respectively designed. Both were made necessary, by the original violation of the covenant of works. Both were predicated upon the infinite grace of God. The one was the auxiliary of the other. But they were not both alike exalted. The gospel was unspeakably more glorious than the law, since this was the very soul of the plan of salvation, while that was a temporary institution only, "added because of transgression, till the seed [Christ] should come." Such were their nature and reciprocal relations. They are by an apostle, held up before you in contrast. "If," says Paul, "the ministration of death, [the old covenant; the law] written and engraven on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses, for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be done away; how shall not the ministration of the Spirit [the new covenant; the gospel] be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious, had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious."
No part of the old covenant failed of its purposes. The law, and the prophets, were designed, as we have seen, to bear witness to Christ. When that office was performed, their mission was ended. Therefore, said our Redeemer, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle, shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." They were fulfilled. Messiah finished his work. The old covenant existed no more. The dispensation of Moses terminated. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." Faithfully were all these truths taught in the days of the apostles, and yet it was then, and it is still difficult, to withdraw the minds of even intelligent Christians, from the observances of the old covenant, and fix them unwaveringly upon a present Messiah. They "cannot steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished." "Their minds are blinded." The disposition is perpetually manifesting itself, "to engraft Judaism upon the gospel of Christ." To all such Christians Paul addresses himself thus:- "It is written that Abraham had two sons; the one by a bond maid, the other by a free woman. But he of the bond woman was born after the flesh; and he of the free woman by promise. Which things are an allegory; for these are the two covenants; the one [the law, or old covenant] is from Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Hagar; for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem that now is, and is in bondage with her children." The other [the gospel, or new covenant] is from Mount Zion, which gendereth to freedom, which is Sarah; for Sarah answereth to "Jerusalem which is above, which is free, and which is the mother of us all," who believe. In other words, Ishmael, although the son of Abraham, could not legally inherit his father?s estate, because he was born of a slave, and was, therefore, himself a slave. So Israel after the flesh, were the children of Abraham, but were not on that account entitled to the gospel inheritance. "The children of the promise," not of the flesh, "were counted for the seed." Under the law, the children of the flesh, were the sons of the covenant of Sinai, and remained in bondage. Therefore, when introducing the gospel, John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, "Bring forth fruits meet for repentance; and think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stone; to raise up children unto Abraham." Isaac was by promise. He was the son of a lawful wife, answering to the new covenant. He was free, and the legitimate heir of all. As he was, so are all true Christians, whether Jews or Gentiles?the children of promise. For with God their is no difference; "no respect of persons." They are free. They are the true "heirs of God, and joint heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ," of all that constitutes the kingdom of glory. Among the many that are found in the epistles, I will offer but one other apostolic exposition of the "two covenant;" and which will also serve to show the abrogation of the law, and the independent, and effective character of the gospel:- "Christ hath obtained a more excellent ministry [than that of Moses] by how much also, he is the Mediator of a better covenant [than that of the law, and] which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. But finding fault with them, he saith, Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make [bring into visible administration] a new covenant, with the [spiritual] house of Israel, and the [spiritual] house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, [the old covenant] when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, because they continued not in my covenant, [did not obey it] and I regarded them not [cast them off] saith the Lord. For this is the covenant [a gracious gospel covenant] that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their heart; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people; and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest; for I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins, and their iniquities, will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth, and waxeth old, is ready to vanish away."
Thus have we seen that the old covenant, or law, was fulfilled, and superseded by the new covenant, or gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Permit me in passing, briefly to observe, that there was also a preparation for the coming of Christ, necessary among the Gentile nations, as well as among the Hebrew people. This preparation was peculiar, and essential to the ends proposed by divine grace.
The truths of the gospel, and especially those which teach that by the deeds of the law, whether of the original moral code, common to all the covenants, and which our first parents transgressed, or of the law of Moses, "no flesh living can be justified; that if man be saved at all, it must be by the intervention of another; that all even the holiest of his acts, are sinful since they are defective, either in themselves, or in their motives; and that even if it could be shown that any single acts are perfect, there are others that are sinful; these are the last truths that men are disposed to believe or admit. They needed to be proved by experiment. And their practical demonstration is found, in the history of all nations, and ages. The world was not without some light from heaven; but this light was disregarded. Four thousand years past, and who sought after God? The Gentiles did not like to retain God in their knowledge; and the Jews corrupted, and abused the revelation with which they were entrusted. So far was man everywhere, from showing any tendency to
Regain, self-raised, his native seat,
that in all places his depravity became more and more intense, until at the time of the advent of Messiah, the world, and the civilized world especially, had reached an unsurpassed pre-eminence in wickedness. "Civil Government had no power to reclaim men from sin. The experiment had been tried under every form, and all were found alike incapable of raising him from his corruptions. Unless, therefore, help could arise from some other source, it was evident that his condition was hopeless. Learning was fully tested. From Pythagoras to Socrates, questions of physical, and moral truth, had been incessantly discussed. The wisdom of that age of the world reached its perfection, in the intellectual and moral reign of the Sophists. And what were the results? The noblest of all their philosophers, who proved ?from the things that are made,? the existence and attributes of God; and from his character, the relations he sustains to men, paid for his fidelity to his principles, with the forfeiture of his life. His sentiments revived in the teachings of Plato, whose themes were indeed beautiful, but like the stars, they were too high above us to be of any real use. Aristotle too, with all his strength, and clearness of intellect, contributed nothing to practical morals and religion? What could philosophy do? It could analyse with matchless skill, the passions that sway the human heart, but it had no power to break the bondage of sin. And sculpture, and poetry, and eloquence, had all framed their faultless models, and had all ministered to vice. Taste presided in every department of life; but it was taste revelling in licentiousness. Forms of government, learning, art, poetry, eloquence, taste, all bad failed to win men from sin, and the proof was complete that ?the world by wisdom knew not,? and never could know God.
Yet science, literature, cultivation, which thus in the providence of God had arisen, were, in another aspect, of unspeakable value. They were indispensible as a preparation of the Gentiles for Messiah?s advent. The new covenant?the gospel?to be promulgated by "God manifest in the flesh," embodies a system of spiritual truth, which without such training, the people could never have understood, nor appreciated. While, therefore, all these advantages clearly proved that something higher was needed, they placed men in an attitude to examine, and intelligently to receive that exalted boon. The claims of the gospel must, for example, be tested by miracle. But the state of knowledge in a barbarous age, would have rendered miracles? which in all cases, must suspend, or change, or reverse the laws of nature?wholly useless, since unless these laws are to a certain extent known, it cannot be determined when, in specified instances, any of these results actually occur. Therefore the people could not have known whether the wonders they saw, were really miracles, the proper results of certain natural laws, or mere delusions practiced upon their credulity. And so in regard to other forms of testimony, by which the gospel is sustained. An uncultivated community would have been incompetent judges; and even had they been convinced themselves, their witness would have been met by others, with utter incredulity. The cultivation of philosophy therefore, and the sciences generally, prepared men to examine, approve, and embrace the glorious Messiah. And a highly cultivated literature was also equally demanded. The language of an ignorant people, would have been unequal to the task of embodying, and transmitting the sublime conceptions of Christianity. This could have been done only by a language which had reached the highest point of cultivation of which language is capable. The Greek was selected, as the medium of the New Testament, and in every excellence, never has it been surpassed. Indeed for strength, and flexibility, for the expression of logical distinctions, and of the tenderest sentiment, for lyrical softness, the highest imagination and the full power of eloquence, it is inimitable. This language had immediately preceding Messiah?s advent, become the passion, and was the prevailing speech of the civilized, and especially of the learned world. Whatever was written in Greek, was at once studied by all who were familiar with books. These successive advances necessarily tardy, in science, literature, and art, which had now reached their highest point of excellence, were thus rendered effective preparations among the Gentiles, for his coming, whose claims were to be so tested as never afterwards to be called in question, and whose doctrines are to be examined, and believed by the whole world.
We now for a moment, in conclusion, consider the exalted design, and nature of this new covenant? the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These are presented in a single sentence, by the Saviour himself:?"God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." And Paul said to the Corinthian; "I declare unto you the gospel, which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand, by which also ye are saved;" "how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures." To Timothy he said, "this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." "We preach," said he, in another place, "Christ crucified; to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but to them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." But still more fully and explicitly;?"The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they who live, should not, henceforth, live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again." "Therefore, if any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature. Old things have passed away; behold all things have become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us unto himself by Jesus Christ." "For God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them;" and "hath made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." In these, and like inspired expositions, we have a true representation of the gospel covenant. It teaches us that we are depraved, and sinful, and that while we remain in this condition, we must continue under the wrath of God, and thus wholly disqualified for happiness, and heaven; it teaches us that the mercy of God, originating exclusively in himself, could reach the estate of guilty and lost men, only through the great sacrifice of his Son, our adorable Redeemer, who came into our world, fulfilled in our behalf all the claims of divine justice, and through his own mediation offers us salvation, and eternal life; it teaches us that "with this sacrifice God is well pleased," and can through him, consistently pardon the sinner, and does pardon all, however guilty, who believe in his Son our Saviour; and it teaches us that he sends into the heart of every true penitent, the Holy Spirit, by whose ministry he is regenerated, sanctified, and prepared to be an eternal inhabitant of the kingdom of glory.
Thus have we seen that the two classes of covenants, which have passed in review before us, are resolved in effect, into two covenants; that they are so received, and expounded by Christ, and his apostles; that the old covenant, or testament?the Mosaic law?was in its nature, although glorious in itself, and in its purposes, necessarily temporary, and superseded by the gospel?the new covenant, or testament; that the Gentile, as well as the Jewish world, needed a preparation, and what that preparation was, for the coming of Messiah; and the nature and excellence of that new covenant, which is "the glorious gospel of the blessed God." Thanks to "the Father of all our mercies," redemption is now no longer a matter of promise merely. It is a joyful reality. Christ Jesus, the Messiah, the Deliverer, has come, and accomplished his exalted mission. The work is done. It is our privilege, and honor, to live in the midst of the light and glory of the gospel.
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