Jeremiah 31: The New Covenant

jeremiah-31-new-covenantSamuel Rutherford,
The Covenant of Life Opened, pp. 347-348.

Dr. Crispe [objects] (p. 162), “in Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36; Hebrews 8 and other passages where the Tenor of the Covenant is contained, there is no word of a tie (pp. 163-164), there is not one word that God saith to man, thou must do this. But God takes all upon himself, and saith he will do this: Yea, if faith were the condition of the Covenant, the fault of the broken Covenant should be his who works not faith in us.

The Lord speaks not of the whole Covenant of Grace as preached to all in the visible Church as many suppose (Jer. 31; Ez. 36; Heb. 8).

Answer: Here is the mistake of many who imagine that the Holy Ghost setteth down the whole entire sum and tenor of the New Covenant, which he doth not. For,

1. He speaketh nothing of the whole parties of the Preached Covenant, which is all within the Visible Church: these he speaks of here are only believers in whom he works a new heart.

2. He speaks nothing of Covenant-Commandments, nothing of Covenant duties directly.

3. Nothing of the condition required of us.

4. He speaks not of the Covenant under the reduplication as Preached, or as a treaty offered to elect and reprobate, as Matthew 21:31-32; Luke 1:72; Acts 2:39, and as everywhere holden out as a visible Covenant made with Abraham and his seed in both Old and New Testament, according to the approving will of God.

But he speaks only of the fulfilling of some special promises of the Covenant, heart teaching, and the efficacy of the Covenant. Only upon the elect who shall persevere to the end, Jeremiah 31:35; Jeremiah 32:40; Isaiah 59:20-21. Only according to the Lord’s decree and will of pleasure, not what we ought to do, but what the Lord by his powerful grace will do in us. As,

1. I will engrave my Law in their heart.

2. I will be their God.

3. They shall be my people, to wit, effectually as gifted with a new heart, and such as shall never be cast off, but shall persevere to the end (verse 35-37; Jeremiah 32:40), otherwise by external calling all the carnal and stiff-hearted Jews were his people in Covenant (Isaiah 1:3; Isaiah 5:25; Psalm 81:8; Psalm 50:7; Deuteronomy 7:7 as is in every page almost of the Old Testament).

4. They shall be taught of God (verse 34).

5. I will forgive their iniquity (verse 34).

6. I will give them perseverance, and never cast them off (verses 35-37) so that the Covenant is a metonymy. This is my Covenant that I will make with them: that is, these are effects, fruits, and blessings of the Covenant which I shall by my effectual and mighty grace work in them.

The scope of the Epistle to the Hebrews is not to treat of the Covenant Preached in its nature, parties, promises, precepts, conditions, but to treat of the excellency of Christ above angels, Moses, priests, sacrifices, and in acting of the Covenant upon the heart of the elect, especially Christ excels all.

The Apostle to the Hebrews hath no purpose to expound the Covenant of Grace made with Abraham, that Covenant (saith he) they break; Yea it is contrary to the scope of the Apostle to set down the Doctrine of the Covenant of Grace. He purposes in the Epistle to the Hebrews to exalt Christ above the Angels (chapter 1), above Moses (chapter 3), above all the Priests, the High Priest, and above all the Sacrifices, bullocks, Lambs, Goats, etc. He, through the eternal Spirit, once offered himself to God. And (chapter 8) he proves Christ to be a more excellent High Priest, a Minister of a more excellent Tabernacle, and a more excellent Ministry, because he is Mediator of a better Covenant: he is a days-man [i.e. Mediator] who lays his hands upon both parties at variance, both upon God and man, to bring them together (see Job 9:32-33), that is, a Mediator of a Covenant; so that here he saith, Christ is engaged to the Father in a more spiritual and heavenly Covenant. None could engrave the Law of God in the heart by Christ: one might say, was not the Law engraved in the heart of some, and their sins pardoned? Were not Moses, Aaron, and many of the people of God, sanctified, pardoned, and justified according to the Covenant? Answer: They were justified and sanctified, but not by the letter of the Covenant of Grace, nor by sacrifices, shadows, conditional promises, threatenings, but by Christ, I the Lord Redeemer will write my Law in their heart, etc.

It is then contrary to the Apostle’s scope (Hebrews 8) to enter the discourse of the Doctrine of the literal Law-Covenant, or the conditional Covenant of Grace, it strongly concludes his point, to speak but of the half (though the choicest half) of the Covenant, as fulfilled in the elect, and that exalts Christ and his Ministry, that he hath a Ministry upon the heart. Now it is a shame to lay the blame of our not believing on Christ, be it a condition of the Covenant, or be it none: Christ works all our works in us, and by this reason it must be his fault (hallowed be his Name) that we sin at all because he works not in us contrary acts of obedience. But to whom is the Sovereign Lord debtor? And therefore this Antinomian way must be refused.

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