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Owen on Hebrews 6:3-6

November 14, 2016 Leave a comment

Owen makes use of his (1689 Federalism’s) distinction between the promised/established New Covenant. The establishment of the New Covenant refers to it’s being “reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance.”

That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by nenomoqe>thtai, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship… The first solemn promulgation of this new covenant, so made, ratified, and established, was on the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Christ. (Comments on Hebrews 8:6)

From this framework he addresses Hebrews 6:3-6. He correctly notes that the passage has primary reference to Jews who had converted from Judaism by professing faith in Christ. Thus the passage has to do with the historical differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

That all these privileges do consist in certain especial operations of the Holy Ghost, which were peculiar unto the dispensation of the gospel, such as they neither were nor could be made partakers of in their Judaism… The whole description, therefore, refers unto some especial gospel privileges, which professors in those days were promiscuously made partakers of…

The Holy Ghost is here mentioned as the great gift of the gospel times, as coming down from heaven, not absolutely, not as unto his person, but with respect unto an especial work, namely, the change of the whole state of religious worship in the church of God; whereas we shall see in the next words he is spoken of only with respect unto external, actual operations… But when he came, as the great gift of God promised under the new testament, he removes all the carnal worship and ordinances of Moses, and that by the full revelation of the accomplishment of all that was signified by them, and appoints the new, holy, spiritual worship of the gospel, that was to succeed in their room. The Spirit of God, therefore, as bestowed for the introduction of the new gospel-state, in truth and worship, is “the heavenly gift” here intended… And there is an antithesis included herein between the law and the gospel; the former being given on earth, the latter being immediately from heaven. God in the giving of the law made use of the ministry of angels, and that on the earth; but he gave the gospel church-state by that Spirit which, although he worketh in men on the earth, and is said in every act or work to be sent from heaven, yet is still in heaven, and always speaketh from thence, as our Savior said of himself, with respect unto his divine nature, John 3:13…

That, therefore, which is ascribed unto these persons, is, that they had an experience of the power of the Holy Ghost, that gift of God, in the dispensation of the gospel, the revelation of the truth, and institution of the spiritual worship of it; of this state, and of the excellency of it, they had made some trial, and had some experience; — a privilege which all men were not made partakers of… The meaning, then, of this character given concerning these apostates is, that they had some experience of the power and efficacy of the Holy Spirit from heaven, in gospel administrations and worship.

The passage does not teach that one may be a member of the New Covenant and fall away… unless of course you come to the text with the preconceived belief that professing faith and participating in New Covenant worship makes you a member of the New Covenant.

Hebrews 10 & John 15

June 12, 2015 17 comments

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I agree, and because I believe the exegetical basis for the paedobaptist inner/outer covenant membership model is lacking, I remain a credobaptist (see 1689 Federalism, alt link while it’s down: http://confessingbaptist.com/1689Federalism/).

Jared Oliphint recently offered a brief argument for paedobaptism at TGC. He offers two texts – Hebrews 10:26-30 and John 15:1-6 – as arguments to prove that New Covenant membership is not limited to the regenerate alone. These texts supposedly teach that there are people in the New Covenant who are not saved, and thus they teach the doctrine of inner/outer membership in the covenant of grace.

However, to be more precise, the actual argument is not that the paedobaptist inner/outer covenant is established from these texts, but rather that only the paedobaptist doctrine of covenant can explain these passages, in light of Calvinism.

The surface value reading of these texts suggest that one can lose their salvation and that Christ died for those who are not saved (see Why the Author of Hebrews Wouldn’t Have Been a Calvinist @ The Evangelical Arminian, for example). Because the Calvinist believes that Scripture elsewhere clearly teaches the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints as well as limited atonement, and the Calvinist is also committed to the analogy of faith (WCF/LBCF 1.9), which presupposes the non-contradictory nature of Scripture, the Calvinist must offer an alternative reading of the text.

The analogy of faith is “the use of a general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci…, as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts. As distinct from the more basic analogia Scripturae…, the analogia fidei presupposes a sense of the theological meaning of Scripture” (Muller, Dictionary, 33 – see also here).

Because the reformed paedobaptist believes that Christ “procured reconciliation” for “all those whom the father has given unto him” (WCF/LBCF 8.5) through an atonement applied to “the elect in all ages” (8.6) and that the “certainty and infallibility” of the perseverance of the saints is guaranteed by “the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace,” (WCF/LBCF 17.2) he must offer a different explanation of “sanctified” and “the covenant” in Hebrews 10:29. He therefore says “sanctified” does not refer to definitive sanctification, nor progressive sanctification, but simply a non-salvific “set apart” (referencing “holy” in 1 Cor 7:14), and “the covenant” refers to a “dual-sided” covenant that one can be in “outwardly” (which procures different blessings from being in the covenant “internally”). In other words, he applies a doctrine of covenant membership established from other texts to this text in order to avoid theological contradiction. And that is a completely legitimate and necessary aspect of proper biblical interpretation – but let’s not pretend such a doctrine is derived from the text.

Alternative Explanations of Hebrews 10:29

Not all paedobaptists believe that is the best way for a Calvinist to explain the verse. Reformed paedobaptists have been challenged in their interpretation by the Federal Vision (a false gospel), which claims to be reformed, yet denies perseverance of the saints and says that one may lose their covenantal union with Christ (arguing from Hebrews 10:29 and other texts). R. Fowler White participated in the Knox Colloquium on Auburn Avenue Theology (another name for Federal Vision) in which proponents and opponents met together to exchange views and critiques. White’s contribution was a paper titled “Covenant and Apostasy” in which he adopts a more baptistic view of the visible church & false profession of faith in order to deal with the apostasy passages. Baptists argue, with reference to 1 John 2:19, that apostates only appeared to be Christians (members of the new covenant), but their apostasy demonstrates that they never were. White says that “Peter does ascribe to apostates blessings that literally belong uniquely to the elect, and he does so on the basis of their confessed faith.”

In my view, it is precisely the nature of human knowledge and faith that we have to take into account when we interpret those assertions in which the biblical writers, conditionally and otherwise, attribute salvation ordained, accomplished, and/or applied to individuals. If we do so interpret their assertions, we find the necessary suppositions of their warnings include, not the (Arminian’s) inherent reversibility of faith, but the finite nature of human knowledge and the undifferentiated nature of faith initially confessed.

He states his commitment to the paedobaptist two-sided (inner/outer), dual-sanction New Covenant, but he says that is not the best way to explain Hebrews 10:29. “My contention is that we should take our cue from the rhetoric of rebuke and reproach elsewhere in the Bible and interpret the biblical writer’s attribution of sanctification in Heb 10:29 as an example of reproachful irony (sarcasm).”

19th century Scottish Presbyterian John Brown says

Interpreters have differed as to the reference of the clause, “by which he was sanctified,” – some referring it to Christ and others to the apostate. Those who refer it to Christ explain it in this way, – ‘By His own blood Jesus Christ was consecrated to His office as an intercessory Priest.’ Those who refer it to the apostate consider the Apostle as stating, that in some sense or other he had been sanctified by the blood of Christ.

I cannot say that I am satisfied with either of these modes of interpretation. I do not think that Scripture warrants us to say that any man who finally apostatizes is sanctified by the blood of Christ in any sense, except that the legal obstacles in the way of human salvation generally were removed by the atonement He made … I apprehend the word is used impersonally, and that its true meaning is, “by which there is sanctification.” It is just equivalent to—“the sanctifying blood of the covenant.”

An Exposition of the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews, p. 21

However, most baptists agree with yet another interpretation of the text offered by the mature John Owen. James White explains:

The exegesis that we have offered, together with the compelling argumentation (that reaches its climax in Heb. 10:10-18) regarding the perfection that flows from the singular, completed sacrifice of the New Covenant, provides a very strong ground on which to argue that the writer would hardly turn around and vitiate the central core of his apologetic argument within a matter of only a few sentences by robbing the New Covenant of its intrinsically perfect soteriological content. We would actually be in very good company to assert that the depth of the sin of apostasy here noted is magnified by recognition that the one who is sanctified by the blood treated as common or unclean (koino.n) by the apostate through returning to the sacrifice of goats and bulls is actually Christ, the very Son of God who has set himself apart as high priest as well as offering. Owen expressed it forcefully:

The last aggravation of this sin with respect unto the blood of Christ, is the nature, use, and efficacy of it; it is that “wherewith he was sanctified.” It is not real or internal sanctification that is here intended, but it is a separation and dedication unto God; in which sense the word is often used. And all the disputes concerning the total and final apostasy from the faith of them who have been really and internally sanctified, from this place, are altogether vain; though that may be said of a man, in aggravation of his sin, which he professeth concerning himself. But the difficulty of this text is, concerning whom these words are spoken: for they may be referred unto the person that is guilty of the sin insisted on; he counts the blood of the covenant, wherewith he himself was sanctified, an unholy thing. For as at the giving of the law, or the establishing of the covenant at Sinai, the people being sprinkled with the blood of the beasts that were offered in sacrifice, were sanctified, or dedicated unto God in a peculiar manner; so those who by baptism, and confession of faith in the church of Christ, were separated from all others, were peculiarly dedicated to God thereby. And therefore in this case apostates are said to “deny the Lord that bought them,” or vindicated them from their slavery unto the law by his word and truth for a season, 2 Peter 2:1. But the design of the apostle in the context leads plainly to another application of these words. It is Christ himself that is spoken of, who was sanctified and dedicated unto God to be an eternal high priest, by the blood of the covenant which he offered unto God, as I have showed before. The priests of old were dedicated and sanctified unto their office by another, and the sacrifices which he offered for them; they could not sanctify themselves: so were Aaron and his sons sanctified by Moses, antecedently unto their offering any sacrifice themselves. But no outward act of men or angels could unto this purpose pass on the Son of God. He was to be the priest himself, the sacrificer himself, — to dedicate, consecrate, and sanctify himself, by his own sacrifice, in concurrence with the actings of God the Father in his suffering. See John 17:19; Hebrews 2:10, 5:7, 9, 9:11, 12. That precious blood of Christ, wherein or whereby he was sanctified, and dedicated unto God as the eternal high priest of the church, this they esteemed “an unholy thing;” that is, such as would have no such effect as to consecrate him unto God and his office. (Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 6:545-46.)

White, The Newness of the New Covenant, in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage

Lane Keister, PCA, spent a year or more blogging back and forth with Doug Wilson and was called upon as an expert Federal Vision witness in Peter Leithart’s trial in the PCA. In a blog post on this passage, he says

A much more seriously tempting interpretation is that the person who is sanctified is Jesus Christ. The verse would then read as follows: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which that Son of God was sanctified (presumably as an offering).” This is John Owen’s interpretation. It has a great deal to recommend it… I would say that this interpretation is quite defensible.

The rest of the passage works out as follows:

v1-10 The repetitive sacrifices of the old covenant have been done away with by the establishment of Christ’s once for all sacrifice

v11-17 This one sacrifice has perfected for all time those who received the blessings of the new covenant.

v18 There remains no more sacrifices in the new covenant.

v19-25 Therefore draw near to God with full assurance, holding fast our confession of faith.

v26 For if we neglect this confession of faith and go on sinning willingly, there are no more repetitive sacrifices to repeatedly forgive your sin, like in the old covenant.

v27 Only judgement remains for adversaries.

v28 Reminding these Jews who felt secure in the Old Covenant of the punishments under the Old Covenant. Despite old covenant sacrifices, there were still some deliberate, high-handed sins that were punished without mercy (thus don’t test God’s mercy).

v29 How much worse will your punishment be if you despise the gospel.

v30 God was a fierce judge, even in the Old Covenant that you cling to. “Vengeance is mine” comes from Deut 32:35 and “The Lord will judge his people” from the next v36. Neither of these should be interpreted to mean the new covenant contains curses like the old covenant. They are simply establishing the fact, from the Old Covenant the Jews were clinging to, that God is a fierce judge. Owen: “In Deuteronomy it is applied unto such a judgment of them as tends unto their deliverance. But the general truth of the words is, that God is the supreme judge, “he is judge himself, ” Psalm 50:6. This the apostle makes use of, concluding that the righteousness of God, as the supreme judge of all, obligeth him unto this severe destruction of apostates: for “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” This is precisely how Paul applies the same verse (to those outside of covenant) in Romans 12:19.

v31 Fear the living God (who is judge over all).

Nothing in this passage requires us to believe that apostates were once members of the New Covenant but have been cut off or that this judgment and punishment is a New Covenant curse. Quite the contrary, it is clearly referring to the final judgment. The apostates discussed here are specifically referred to as “adversaries” (v27) not as God’s covenant people.

John 15:1-6

Oliphint states “John 15:1–6 throws another kink into the “new covenant = salvation” formula… How can someone be in Christ yet fall away? Scripture reveals an important distinction and nuance between being in Christ/covenant salvifically, and being in Christ/covenant ecclesiologically.”

Notice again that the two-sided covenant of grace is not a doctrine derived from this text (where does the text mention this two-sided covenant?), but a doctrine applied to the text in order to explain it. It is a doctrine based upon the belief that the Old and New covenants are the same covenant – something not taught in this text. That understanding is then applied to passages like this.

John 15 is a central Federal Vision text. They follow Norm Shepherd in arguing that some who are united to Christ are cast into the fire for their disobedience/lack of covenant faithfulness. In responding to this view, reformed paedobaptist Andy Webb warns:

There is always a great danger of forgetting, however, that these statements are allegories and usually couched in parables, so in interpreting them we must ever keep his central point in view and not try to squeeze teachings out of the lesser details that Christ did not intend and which would contradict His teachings elsewhere.The great rule we must always apply is that scripture interprets scripture, and where a doctrine is uncertain in one portion of scripture, we should go to other areas where it that doctrine is more clearly taught on. Above all, we should strive not to atomistically interpret a verse so that it contradicts other clearer verses.

He even quotes the following from D.A. Carson:

But the latter view, that these dead branches are apostate Christians, must confront the strong evidence within John that true disciples are preserved to the end (e.g. notes on 6:37-40; 10:28). It is more satisfactory to recognize that asking the in me language to settle such disputes is to push the vine imagery too far. The transparent purpose of the verse is to insist that there are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity; the alternative is dead wood, and the exigencies of the vine metaphor make it necessary that such wood be connected to the vine.

[D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans, 1991, p.515]

So, according to Webb, using this metaphor to explain covenant union with Christ is to push the imagery too far and to violate the principle that clear passages interpret unclear passages.

So, if Jesus is not talking about the Presbyterian doctrine of a two-sided covenant of grace, what is he talking about?

A vineyard setting [speaking of Jesus physical location when delivering this teaching] would indeed be a highly suggestive environment for Jesus’ teaching, especially since “God’s vineyard” is a frequent OT designation for Israel*

*Although vine imagery is widespread in ancient literature, an OT background for the present passage is favored by the vast majority of commentators, primarily owing to the frequent OT references or allusions and the replacement motif in this Gospel (e.g., Carson 1991: 513; R. Brown 1970: 669-71; Morris 1995: 593; Ridderbos 1997: 515; contra Bultmann 1971: 530; Witherington 1995: 255-57).

In the famous “Song of the Vineyard” in Isa. 5, the prophet makes the point that God carefully cultivated his vineyard (Israel) and in due time expected to collect fruit from it, but Israel had yielded only bad fruit; hence, God would replace Israel with a more fruitful nation. *(This point is taken up by Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants Mark 12:1-12). Yet it is not the church that serves as Israel’s replacement (Beasley-Murray 1999: 272); rather, the true vine is Jesus, who is the new Israel (R. Brown 1970: 670) as well as the new temple and the fulfillment of Jewish festival symbolism (Carson 1991: 513). It is he who embodies God’s true intentions for Israel; Jesus is the paradigmatic vine, the channel through whom God’s blessings flow.

Theologically, John’s point is that Jesus displaces Israel as the focus of God’s plan of salvation, with the implication that faith in Jesus becomes the decisive characteristic for membership among God’s people (Whitacre 1999: 372). Whereas OT Israel was ethnically constrained, the new messianic community, made up of believing Jews and Gentiles, is united by faith in Jesus the Messiah. Jews still have a place in God’s family, but they must come to God on his terms rather than their own (Kostenberger 1998b: 166-67). A paradigm shift has taken place: faith in Jesus has replaced keeping the law as the primary point of reference (Kostenberger 1999: 159-60)…

The OT frequently uses the vineyard or vine as a symbol for Israel, God’s covenant people, especially in two “vineyard songs” found in Isaiah. However, while the vine’s purpose of existence is the bearing of fruit for its owner, references to Israel as God’s vine regularly stress Israel’s failure to produce good fruit, issuing in divine judgment (Carson 1991: 513). In contrast to Israel’s failure, Jesus claims to be the “true vine,” bringing forth the fruit that Israel failed to produce. Thus Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, fulfills Israel’s destiny as the true vine of God (Ps. 80:14-17)…

“I am the true vine” (15:1; cf. Jer 2:21 LXX) is the alst of John’s seven “I am” sayings. “True” vine contrasts Jesus with OT Israel in its lack of fruitfulness and spiritual degeneracy (Morris 1995: 593; Ridderbos 1997: 515; Beasley-Murray 1999: 272; Moloney 1998: 419).

Andreas J. Köstenberger, John 448-50

So the key to this passage is typology. Jesus is the true Israel. God made a covenant of works with Israel for life and blessing in the land of Canaan. They disobeyed and God exiled them as punishment (Is. 5:1-7). But God also promised a future restoration of this vineyard, one that was exceedingly more glorious (Is. 27:1-13). It turns out this was a prophecy of Jesus, the true Israel, the true vine, the obedient one.

In the Old Testament the vine is a common symbol for Israel, the covenant people of God (Ps. 80:9-16; Is. 5:1-7; 27:2ff; Jer. 2:21; 12:10ff; Ezk. 15:1-8; 17:1-21; 19:10-14; Ho. 10:1-2). Most remarkable is the fact that whenever historic Israel is referred to under this figure it is the vine’s failure to produce good fruit that is emphasized, along with the corresponding threat of God’s judgment on the nation. Now, in contrast to such failure, Jesus claims, “I am the true vine’, i.e. the one to whom Israel pointed, the one that brings forth good fruit. Jesus has already, in principle, superseded the temple, the Jewish feasts, Moses, various holy sites; here he supersedes Israel as the very locus of the people of God. (A similar contrast between Israel and Jesus is developed in various ways in the Synoptics: e.g. in the temptation narrative, Mt. 4:1-11 par.)

Perhaps the most important Old Testament passage is Psalm 80, in that it brings together the themes of vine and son of man… The true (alethinos; cf. notes on 1:9) vine, then, is not the apostate people, but Jesus himself, and those who are incorporated in him. The theme would prove especially telling to diaspora Jews: if they wish to enjoy the status of being part of God’s chosen vine, they must be rightly related to Jesus.

[D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans, 1991, p.514-16]

How then are we to interpret the branches who are in Jesus but cut off and the branches that abide in Jesus and bear fruit?

First, E. Calvin Beisner very helpfully explains:

The Federal Visionists’ use of this passage implies that fruit-bearing branches could become nonfruit-bearing and thus be cut off and burned. However, according to the parable, every branch that bears fruit the Father “prunes, that it may bear more fruit,” while every branch that bears no fruit the Father “takes away” (v. 2)…

What does it mean for branches to abide in the vine (Christ)? Clearly it does not mean the same thing as to be a branch in the vine, for Christ explicitly distinguishes between branches in the vine that abide and branches in the vine that do not abide…

The best interpretive pointer we have in the immediate context is what Christ says in 15:7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” The association between the apostles’ abiding in Christ and His words’ abiding in them implies that abiding in Christ means believing in Him–that is, believing the words of the gospel… Abiding in Christ is precisely having faith in Him.

How then are branches that do not have faith in Christ “in him”? Applying what we have noted above (that this is a metaphor that should not push the imagery too far, and it is dealing with typology) we can notice that Jesus is speaking to Jews – that is, he is speaking to Israel. He is telling the vine that He is the vine. He is telling Israel that He is Israel. If Israel wants to remain Israel, they must abide in Israel. If the vine wants to remain the vine, it must abide in the true vine. If they do not, there is a final covenant judgment coming upon the vine, not just an exile, and all who do not abide in the obedient one will be thrown in the fire for their disobedience. Combining Kostenberger and Carson above “A paradigm shift has taken place: faith in Jesus has replaced keeping the law as the primary point of reference… if they wish to enjoy the status of being part of God’s chosen vine, they must be rightly related to Jesus.”

Kostenberger notes “The reference in 15:6 to branches that do not remain in the vine being picked up and thrown into the fire and burned closely resembles the thought of Ezek. 15:1-8, where the prophet likewise warned that a vine failing to produce a fruit would be good for nothing but a fire.” Ezekiel is warning Israel of the temporal curses that will fall upon them and their holy land for their violation of the Old Covenant (which was confined to temporal things). “For thus says the Lord GOD: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast!” (Ezk. 14:21) “And I will make the land desolate, because they have acted faithlessly, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezk 15:8)

Reformed paedobaptist (OPC) Bryan Estelle explains how Ezekiel’s prosecution of Israel proceeds upon their violation of the covenant of works God gave them.

In a word, the life promised upon condition of performing the statues and judgments in its immediate context in Leviticus here [referring to Lev. 18:5] is “the covenantal blessing of abundant (and long) life in the land of Israel.” (Sprinkle)… There is a real connection that exists between the obedience/disobedience of Israel and tenure in the land… the biblical evidence is incontrovertible…

The Bible asserts and scholars have recognized that pollution and defilement of the land could build up and reach intolerable states, triggering the sanctions and leading to banishment. Not only exile is in view, but also ultimate extirpation symbolized in the destruction of the Herodian temple in AD 70 and the potential rejection of the chosen people…

Leviticus 18:5’s influence on Ezekiel is of paramount importance. The purpose of these echoic allusions in Ezekiel is to show that what Israel has failed to do, God will do… Leviticus 18 allusions are seen throughout the entire book of Ezekiel and not merely restricted (as often) to chapter 20 of Ezekiel where three citations of Lev 18:5 have frequently been noted.

Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical Theological Development

Now recall what was mentioned above. Isaiah 5:1-7 describes Israel as a failed vineyard being sent into exile, but God also promised a future restoration of this vineyard, one that was exceedingly more glorious (Is. 27:1-13). Estelle brings out the full meaning of this prophecy.

[In Ezekiel there is a] reversal of fortunes based on divine initiative… In short, there is a “composition connection between the unfulfilled ‘statutes and ordinances’ in chapters 18 and 20 with their fulfillment in 36.27 and 37.24; likewise, there is a connection with the ‘life’ unattained by Israel in chapters 18, 20, and 33 and Israel’s ‘life’ in 37.1-14” (Sprinkle) Whereas Israel’s failure to fulfill the stipulations is highlighted repeatedly in Ezekiel 1-24, there is a dramatic reversal of this failure through divine initiative and fulfillment in Ezekiel 36-37… In short, divine causation replaces the conditions incumbent upon the people. What they are unable to perform in and of themselves, Yahweh will accomplish through his own divinely appointed agency.

However, this prophecy is not isolated to Ezekiel or Isaiah. It is found from the very beginning of Israel. Estelle explains the full meaning of Deuteronomy 30:1-14.

[T]his amazing passage anticipates ahead of time the plight of which the Israelite nation will find itself, destitute and unable to fulfill the stipulations of the covenant on its own. It also describes the new measure of obedience – accomplished by divine initiative – in which they will satisfy the conditions hanging over them. Finally, when Paul creatively brings these two significant passages (i.e., Lev 18:5 and Deut. 30) into closer proximity to one another (Rom 10:1-12), the mystery of the divine plan for fulfillment emerges from the shadows and into the light…

In Deut 10:16, the people are commanded to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts and not stiffen their necks any longer. Verse 6 of Deut 30, however, is no mere allusion to that passage! On the contrary, new covenant language and imagery permeate this Deuteronomy passage because it is clear that divine initiative will supersede human impotence… Verse 8 declares that when God himself circumcises hearts, “you [fronted in the Hebrew] will repent and you will obey the voice of the LORD and you will do all his commandments.” This will happen with the coming of the Spirit in the gospel age…

Just as Leviticus 18:5 is taken up in later biblical allusions and echoes, so also is this Deuteronomy passage. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, the language of the new covenant that was cloaked in the circumcision of heart metaphor is unveiled in this classic passage. I argued above that Deuteronomy 30:1-14 is a predictive prophecy of the new covenant, and, therefore, all that was implicit there becomes explicit in Jeremiah 31. In verse 31, Jeremiah says this will happen “in the coming days” and in verse 33 he says “after these days”; both refer to the new covenant, messianic days.

This new covenant, however, is going to be unlike the old covenant with respect to breaking. The old covenant was a breakable covenant, it was made obsolete… The reader is obliged to say that a works principle in the old covenant was operative in some sense because the text clearly states that it was a fracturable covenant, “not like the one they broke.” Here indeed was a covenant that was susceptible to fracture and breakable! They broke it at Sinai (Ex. 32), and they did it time and again until that old covenant had served its purposes. For the one who holds a high view of God directing history, there must be something going on here…

the point is that the whole old covenant order will be annihilated, it will be wiped out, and it will go down in judgment as a modus operandi.  The new covenant is not like that: it is not subject to breaking because it is built upon God’s initiative to complete it and Christ’s satisfaction in his penalty-paying substitution and his probation keeping. His merit is the surety of the new covenant promises, and therefore it cannot fail. The old Sinaitic covenant by way of contrast is built upon a very fallible hope, and therefore is destined to fail since Israel individually and corporately could not fulfill its stipulations.

This was Jesus’ point in his teaching on the vine. The Old Covenant was broken and its curses were soon to be poured out upon Israel. In this judgment, the dead branches of Israel would be cut off and thrown in the fire. However, there was a true vine who alone obeyed, and those Israelites who believe in Him would be blessed as faithful, fruit-bearing Israel.

John Owen helpfully explained this transition process for the Jews.

Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God…

they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should he set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth.

That this separation and privilege was to cease when the end of it was accomplished and the Messiah exhibited, the very nature of the thing declares…

It is true, the former carnal privilege of Abraham and his posterity expiring, on the grounds before mentioned, the ordinances of worship which were suited thereunto did necessarily cease also. And this cast the Jews into great perplexities, and proved the last trial that God made of them; for whereas both these, — namely, the carnal and spiritual privileges of Abraham’s covenant, — had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations, coming now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Malachi 3) who of the Jews had interest in both, who in one only, those who had only the carnal privilege, of being children of Abraham according to the flesh, contended for a share on that single account in the other also, — that is, in all the promises annexed unto the covenant. But the foundation of their plea was taken away, and the church, unto which the promises belong, remained with them that were heirs of Abraham’s faith only.

The Oneness of the Church

Far from throwing a kink in the “new covenant = salvation” formula, John 15:1-6 beautifully illustrates it.

As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant], so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament [covenant]… I beg of you, however, carefully to observe, as far as you can, what I am endeavouring to prove with so much effort. When the prophet promised a new covenant, not according to the covenant which had been formerly made with the people of Israel when liberated from Egypt, he said nothing about a change in the sacrifices or any sacred ordinances, although such change, too, was without doubt to follow, as we see in fact that it did follow, even as the same prophetic scripture testifies in many other passages; but he simply called attention to this difference, that God would impress His laws on the mind of those who belonged to this covenant, and would write them in their hearts, (Jer 31:32-33)… These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new,—because of the faith whereby we live, of one and the same they lived, believing the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ as future, which we believe as already accomplished.

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