Thomas Scott on the Mosaic Covenant
A.W. Pink quoted portions of the following comments on Exodus 19:5 by Thomas Scott (1747-1821) in Scott’s The Holy Bible with Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations, and Copious Marginal References (1788-). Scott was friends with John Newton and was one of the founding members with him of the Church Missionary Society.
The national covenant with Israel here meant the charter upon which they were incorporated as a people under the government of Jehovah. It was an engagement of God, to give Israel possession Canaan, and to protect them in it; to render the land fruitful and the nation victorious and prosperous, and to perpetuate his oracles and ordinances among them; so long they did not, as a people, reject his authority apostatize idolatry and tolerate open wickedness. These things constituted a forfeiture of the covenant, as their national rejection of Christ did afterwards. True believers them were personally dealt with according to the covenant of mercy and grace even as true Christians now are; unbelievers were under the covenant of works and liable condemnation by it, as at present: yet the national covenant was not strictly either the one or the other but something in it of the nature of each. It did not refer the final salvation of individuals; nor was it broken by disobedience, or even idolatry, of any number of them, provided this was not sanctioned or tolerated by authority. It indeed, in many respects, prefigured dealings of God with his people, under the Christian dispensation; in which the new covenant of grace and mercy, made with all true believers, is more clearly exhibited under any of the preceding dispensations; yet it “had not the very image,” but only “a shadow of good things come.” When therefore, the nation had broken covenant; the Lord declared that he would make “a new covenant with the house of Israel… putting his law,” only in their hands, but “in their inward parts;” and “writing it,” not upon tables of stone, “but in hearts; forgiving their iniquity, and remembering sins no more.” (Jer xxxi 32-34. Heb viii 7-12. x. 16, 17) In the scriptures referred to, the covenant of, “as ready to vanish away” is evidently not the covenant of works but the national covenant with Israel, which the Israelites had vacated by their sins. Unless we carefully attend to this distinction, we shall be liable to fall into perpetual mistakes in reading the Old Testament. Hardly any thing can be more absurd, than to suppose, that the whole nation of the Jews was under the covenant of works, which contains nothing about repentance, faith in a Mediator, forgiveness of sins, or grace; yet we often meet language in Christian authors, which conveys this idea. And it is perhaps more common to hear the whole of Israel spoken of, as if they all bare the character, and possessed the privileges of true believers, actually interested in the covenant of grace; and conclusions are continually drawn from such premises, as if undeniable! But in fact, the Israelites were under a dispensation of mercy, and had outward privileges and great advantages in various ways for salvation; yet like professing Christians the most of them rested in these and looked no further. “For they are not all Israel which are of Israel.” The outward covenant was made with the nation, entitling them to outward advantages, upon the condition of outward national obedience: and the covenant of grace was ratified personally with true believers, and sealed and secured spiritual blessings to them, by producing a holy disposition of heart, and spiritual obedience to the divine law. In case Israel kept the covenant, the Lord promised, that they should be to him “a peculiar treasure,” which is safely reposited because highly valued. The whole earth being the Lord’s, he might have chosen any other people instead of Israel: and this implied that as his choice of them was gratuitous, so, if they rejected his covenant he would reject them, and communicate their privileges to others: as indeed he hath done since the introduction of the Christian dispensation.
A peculiar treasure. Deut 7:6. 14:2. 26:18. 1 Chron 24:3. Mal 3:17. – The LXX render it “a peculiar people.” See Tit. 2:14 Gr.
Israel was formed into “a kingdom of priests,” an honourable, and sacred kingdom, under Jehovah himself as their King, who manifested his special presence among them, from above the Mercy-seat. They were also distinguished from other kingdoms, by laws and statutes immediately given them from God, and bearing the stamp of his holiness. He, in an especial manner, was then Protector against every foe; and they were his professed worshippers, according to the oracles and ordinances which he gave them. Thus they were a “kingdom of priests,” and “a holy nation,” separated from other people, consecrated to God, permitted to approach him, to offer sacrifices and supplications, and possessing a sacred character among the nations of the earth. Israel had these outward distinctions; but the nation was only a type of all true Christians, in their spiritual privileges and real character, in the sight of God, and before the world. (Notes, 1 Pet ii 9, 10. Rev i 4-6. v8-10).
It has repeatedly been observed, that all unbelievers continued personally under ‘the covenant of works;’ and that believers were personally interested in ‘the covenant of grace,’ by faith in the Messiah who was to come (Note, Ex. xix. 5). The Mosaick dispensation contained in it a typical gospel, and its ordinances were to believers ‘means of grace,’ as well as acts of worship. But the covenant here referred to was that made with Israel as a nation, securing the possession of Canaan, and various temporal benefits to them, on prescribed conditions: and the promises of all spiritual blessings, and of eternal life, to believers of all nations and through all succeeding ages, which were openly revealed by the gospel, and ratiried through Christ, are of infinitely greater value, than any temporal advantages to a single nation could be.
The Mosaick law indeed, and the Sinai covenant, were well suited to introduce the promised Messiah, and the gospel dispensation, and to form, as it were, a proper scaffolding for that magnificent edifice: (Note, Deut xxxii. 4:) yet they did not secure the sanctification and salvation of the people; nor did they even prevent such national apostasies, as were a forfeiture of all their privileges…
Jeremiah 31:31-34… was fulfilled in the conversion of multitudes of Judah and Israel, in the primitive times of the gospel, and it foretells the future conversion and restoration of that people: but it is also fulfilled to all the spiritual Israel, who are really “a holy nation,” as Israel according to the flesh was relatively. And as it can be said of no other company, that they “all know the LORD;” it must be meant of them especially. – The repentance, faith, divine and efficacious teaching, and the sanctification of the chosen people of God, as well as the complete and final forgiveness of all their sins, how many and great soever, so that they should never more be remembered against them, were provided for, in the “better promises of this new covenant:” and thus their holy obedience, their final perseverance, and their eternal salvation were secured. The apostle, therefore, inferred conclusively from this prediction, that the promise of the new covenant had in effect “made the first old,” or antiquated: and this was as much to say, that it was “decaying, and about to vaish away.” So that the abolition of the national covenant made with Israel and the abrogation of the Mosaick law, would have been expected by the Jews, at the coming of the Messiah, according to their own prophets, if they had not erred from ignorance of the scriptures. (Notes, vii. 1-22).
Note particularly: the new covenant is the covenant of grace, not the old covenant. And individual Israelites, who had true faith, were members of the new covenant. This is what Romans 9:6 means. “They are not all Israel” = new covenant, “who are of Israel” = old covenant. And the nation of Israel was not the church – it was a type of the church. To treat all of Israel as if they were interested in the covenant of grace and to draw conclusions from that is wrong.