Horton’s Retroactive New Covenant

H/T Nathan White.

There are clear passages indicating that ‘the forgiveness of sins’ is unique to the New Covenant (“remember their sins no more”; Jer 31:34). This is not because OT saints were under God’s wrath but because God overlooked their sins; he covered them over through the sacrificial system. This I take to be Paul’s point in Romans 3:25 (ESV), referring to Christ “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” They were forgiven truly but only by anticipation and were not yet propitiated in history. The old covenant was successful only to the extent that it directed faith and hope toward Christ, but it could not in itself bring this reality into history. These sacrifices could never “take away sins” once and for all. They had to be offered repeatedly, reminding the worshiper’s conscience of transgressions (Heb 10:1-4). “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (vv. 12-14). From there, the writer quotes Jeremiah 31:33, which I have cited above, linking forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.

If this is accurate, then Old Testament believers were forgiven and justified through faith in the one to whom the sacrifices pointed (continuity); however, the sacrifices could not themselves provide this experiential assurance to the conscience (discontinuity). On the contrary, the Mosaic covenant by itself could only keep the covenant people under supervision until they reached their maturity and could inherit the estate by promise (Gal 3:24-25). Kuyper seems to confirm this conclusion. He argued that the energies of the Spirit at Pentecost worked retroactively in the lives of OT saints.

-Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, p152ff.

8 thoughts on “Horton’s Retroactive New Covenant

  1. Mickey nhismrcy

    This is informative and timely. I am just ending 4 months adult study in Rom 1 and moving on. This will give me plenty of time to digest and prep for ch 3:25. Thanks Brandon

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Derek Vester

    Great quote! Curious what your thoughts are on his statement that through the OT sacrifices “he covered them [sins] over through the sacrificial system.” Would you state it that way? Could you elaborate on that?


    1. I almost added an editor’s note at that line saying that I disagree 🙂 No, I would not say it that way. The OT sacrifices forgave Old Covenant sins and kept them in the land with God dwelling in their midst. Their standing in heaven was never affected one way or another by OT sacrifices. OT sacrifices did not temporarily cover their sins so as to be acceptable (for a time) at the final judgment.


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