From Robert M’Cheyne’s “The New Covenant” reprinted in Spurgeon’s Sword and Trowel in 1870.
First of all, let us inquire into the covenants that are spoken of in the word of God.—The first covenant that is mentioned in the word of God is the covenant of works, which was made in Paradise with Adam. Now, it is evident that it is not called a covenant in the Bible, and therefore it has been quarreled with by some people, —namely, our calling it a covenant ; but if we look at the transaction, we will see, that, by whatever name we call it, it was a covenant or agreement. When God placed Adam in the garden of Eden, he promised that he would give him life on condition of perfect obedience. We have no mention, indeed, of the promise ; but the ever-green tree of life showed, that it would be so ; but if he transgressed, he should die. And we are quite sure that Adam accepted it, for it was what he owed to God. This, then, was the first covenant God made with man; but this is not the covenant mentioned in the passage before us. It is not the covenant mentioned here—for these two reasons; First, the covenant of works had no mediator, and it needed none. Before Adam sinned there was no need of a mediator. The other reason why it is not the covenant mentioned here is, verse 9,—”Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers,” &c.
There is a second covenant mentioned in the Bible—it is the covenant God made with Noah after the Flood. You remember Noah built an altar unto the Lord, and took of every clean beast and of every clean fowl and offered burnt-offerings unto the Lord ; and it is said, God smelled a sweet savour, and he said, “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake.” And a little after, God said, “I will establish my covenant with you and with your seed after you.” And God placed the rainbow in the heavens, as a sign of the covenant. Now, it appears to me, that this was intended to be a type of the covenant of grace.
There is a third covenant mentioned in the Bible,—namely, that made with Abraham. You may read of it in the 17th chapter of Genesis at the beginning, —”And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect,” &c. This was the first promise that was made in the covenant when established. And then, verse 8—”And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” That was the second promise made. Now, it appears to me that this was a type of the covenant that was to be afterwards.
A fourth covenant which was made by God was, when he brought the children of Israel out of Egypt. Verse 9—”Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” The time when this covenant was made, was the time when God took them by the hand : It was the time when God spoke to them from heaven—when they were at Mount Sinai, which is a rocky mountain in the desert of Arabia. It was there God made the covenant with them. We are told of the making of the covenant in Hebrews xii. 18-21. It was an awful day. Now, some of you will ask, “What was the subject matter of the covenant ?” You may read of it in Exodus xxiv. 1-8. You will observe, that in the making of this covenant, there was—First, a revival of the holy law of God. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, and he went and showed them to the people, and they said, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” The second part was touching the building of the Tabernacle. So this was the double object of the covenant. There is another point I would like you to notice,—that is, what was the use of the covenant. You will see it mentioned in Galatians iii. 19—”Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” Here the very question is asked. And then, verse 23—”But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.” Now, here you will see the true object of the law : It was intended to convince men of their sin. That was the great object of the covenant. It was intended to let men see their sins, that they might be shut up to the faith, and that they might wait for Christ. This, then, is the old covenant mentioned in this chapter.
Now, it remains for me to show you the new covenant. The new covenant is that made between the Father and the Son. Now, here the same objection is raised, that we have no account of the covenant transaction. Now, it is true that we have no express mention of it in the Bible, yet we have many hints of it : For example, we are told in Revelations of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. And then, in the 17th of John, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” And we are told in this verse, that “he is the mediator of a better covenant.” So that, although we have no express mention of the covenant, we gather from these and many other passages that there was ; and in the covenant, God promised to the Lord Jesus that he would give life to sinners, if he would die for them ; and he promised that he would die. As the children of Israel said at the foot of Mount Sinai, “All that the Lord hath said will we do.” So Christ said, “All that the Father hath given me to do I will do it.” Now, this is the better covenant here spoken of.
My dear friends, I fear I have wearied some of you in going over this. I would have you learn from it, the amazing love of God in entering into a covenant at all. The covenant which he made with Noah was a covenant of grace ; and the covenant he made at Sinai, it was also a covenant of grace ; but the covenant that was made with Christ was beyond all others the covenant of grace.