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The Covenants and the Law

by Edward Heppenstall


The Covenants and the Plan of Redemption

I-Introduction

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been entrusted with the Word of God. The Word of God presents both gospel and law. The great responsibility of the church has always been and still is to teach and to preach the Word of God as both law and gospel. The great task of Seventh-day Adventists can be seen in contrast with the antinomian teachings through the centuries, and with the decline of true righteousness in our time.

The problems and issues connected with the relationship of the law and the gospel appear exceedingly complex. The first problem centers in the place and function of the covenants in the great controversy. The Bible describes two covenants: one everlasting, the other temporal; one new, the other old; one perfect, the other faulty. The problem is whether these reveal two methods of God in dealing with men.

The position has often been taken that Israelís readiness in accepting the Sinaitic covenant presented to them by God implies that they accepted without due consideration, and without realizing their utter inability to fulfill the terms of this covenant. It is believed, further, that "the old covenant" experience predominated for the next fifteen hundred years, until the time of Christ, when the new covenant became the constitutional basis of the church.

These two covenants have been interpreted by many Christians to represent two dispensations -- one, a dispensation of law, which continued until the cross; the other, a dispensation of grace, when Christians are no longer under law but under grace. In the fullness of time, when manís utter inability to keep the law had been demonstrated perfectly, when the dispensation of law was proved incompetent for salvation, Christ came to fulfill both the law and the prophets. Hence, the law has no longer any rights or claims. The Decalogue, we are told, was abrogated at the cross, and is part of that covenant which "gendereth to bondage."

It is further believed by some that although the Decalogue was part of the old covenant, which has passed away, God has given a new law as the basis of the new covenant of grace, designated variously as the law of the Spirit, the law of Christ, or the law of love.

Seventh-day Adventists have held that the law of God has been at the heart of the controversy from the very beginning; that the Christian Era is pre-eminently the age when the law of God, as revealed in the Decalogue and as constituting the standard of righteousness, is to be kept as never before, not as the means of salvation, but as the fruit of a life that is hid with Christ in God. We further believe that there never was a time when men were saved by law; that the covenant of grace was established from before the foundation of the world; that all men are saved by grace alone.

We also believe that there is no such thing in the plan or purpose of God as a dispensation of law and a dispensation of grace; that whatever changes and transitions are made throughout the history of man, are based upon progressive revelation and the unfolding of Godís purpose; that the Old and the New Testament are wholly complementary and not antithetical or antagonistic.


II - Meaning of Covenant

Throughout the Bible the relationship between God and His people is designated by the word covenant. Whatever is involved or experienced in this covenant relationship makes up the content of the Bible. God chooses individuals or a nation to be His people. To these people of His choice God commands His covenant. The people who accept the terms of this covenant become conscious of a special contractual relationship existing between themselves and God. This relationship carries with it certain obligations, the keeping of which is a life-and-death matter.

In ordinary parlance, we mean by the term covenant, "an agreement or contract between two parties." Either party is free to enter into the agreement or not as he chooses. But the Biblical term is somewhat different in meaning. The Hebrew word berith means "to bind," "to fetter," "a binding or a bond." The relation of Godís people to Him is expressed in a berith. The Greek word diatheke implies a free promise on the divine side and an undertaking of obligations on the human side. In both cases it implies an obligation imposed by a superior upon an inferior. The initiative is taken by God, and only in a secondary way does man have any initiative at all. Man has freedom as to whether he will enter into a covenant relationship. But he has no privilege to reject the terms or to suggest others. God the Creator is in an altogether different position from man the creature. "I alone am God" is the fundamental statement of all divine revelation. It reveals the absolute barrier that separates the divine God from man. All relationships between God and man are a gracious condescension on the part of God.

The first characteristic of Godís covenant relationship is that of lordship. God remains Lord. He is the Sovereign. The covenant is an expression of Godís will, not manís. It is manís responsibility to listen to God, to seek to understand His terms. In Godís first covenant with Adam, Adam instituted nothing. The Israelites at Sinai instituted nothing. They did, however, exercise their privilege in choosing to obey the covenant.

When God reveals His covenant, there is inevitably a call to unreserved obedience and surrender to God. There is no place for a bargaining relationship. The covenant of God places man on probation. Man has life only if he obeys and meets the terms of the covenant.

The second characteristic of Godís covenant is fellowship. "I . . . will be your God, and ye shall be my people." Lev. 26:12. "They saw God, and did eat and drink." Ex. 24:11. This was the covenant meal, when God and the people sat down together, as it were, in a symbol of communion and fellowship. The identical idea is found in the Lordís supper. "This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me." 1 Cor. 11:25, R.V.

Hosea represents the relation of Israel to God under the figure of marriage. Jeremiah uses also the figures of father and son, shepherd and sheep. So God, through His covenant, seeks to establish a personal fellowship with man. This communion is offered as a gracious gift of God. The covenant is a relation of grace. In Genesis 17:2, God gives a covenant, nathan berith. He bestows it as a gift of grace.

The tragic mistake of Israel was that they came to regard the covenant as a juridical relationship, a legal transaction. The fundamental reality of Godís covenant is that men enjoy the favor and blessing of God irrespective of their past, without discharging any formal debt or performing any special work to secure the favors of God irrespective of their past. Grace and truth do not come through legislation.

The vital responsibility of the church is to lead sinful men into a covenant relationship with God, acknowledging Jesus as Lord, at the same time enjoying a fellowship of love and unity.


III. The Sinaitic Covenant

Two Covenants or One

In Godís covenant with Israel at Sinai, just what is the relationship between them? Are there two covenants held out to Israel or only one? Did God make a covenant that He knew could not be kept, in order that Israel might learn the folly of trying to keep the law in their own strength? Is God actually offering to make the old covenant with Israel the gateway to the everlasting covenant, indicating two stages in Godís dealing with men?

Mrs. White states that "the covenant that God made with His people at Sinai is to be our refuge and defense," and that it is of "just as much force to-day as it was when the Lord made it with ancient Israel."í[Ellen G. White in The Southern Watchman, March 1, 1902, p. 142] Why, then, is the Sinaitic covenant called the "old covenant"?

In the actual operating of the covenants of the Bible there are two parties. Each enters into a relationship with the other. Each has some response to make in relationship to the covenantís promises and terms. The judgment of the New Testament on the Sinaitic covenant is that it was faulty. It is obvious that there can be nothing wrong from Godís side. He cannot be charged either with desiring or planning a faulty covenant. He makes everything perfect. Therefore the fault must lie with Israel.

What kind of covenant was God seeking to make with Israel? Was the "old covenant" at Sinai one of divine appointment, or a divine adjustment to Israelís faulty response? Is not God limited by the nature of sinful man?

Godís Purpose and Approach to Israel at Sinai

1. In the first place, the covenant that God planned to make with Israel at Sinai was none other than the same covenant He made with Abraham. Three times in Genesis, chapter seventeen, the covenant made with Abraham is called the everlasting covenant. Nine times it is designated "my covenant." The occasion for Godís plan to deliver Israel from bondage is that "God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob." Ex. 2:24. In calling Moses to lead the children of Israel, He states that His purpose in delivering Israel is to establish "my covenant." (Ex. 6:3-5.)

In Exodus, chapter 19, there is the record of the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. Israel is led to Mount Sinai. Moses makes the first of eight ascents to receive instruction from God. God tells Moses that before proceeding with the giving of the law, He requires a positive commitment on the part of the people. They are to pledge themselves to keep "my covenant." (Ex. 19:5.)

Surely, it was not in the mind of God, when the children of Israel came to Sinai, to say: "Now I will make a different covenant with them from what I made with Abraham. I am going to teach these people by giving them a covenant they cannot keep. I intend to show them how impossible it is for them to keep My laws, My statutes, and My judgments. I will therefore offer them, at least to begin with, something less than I did Abraham." If He did, then Israel lived up completely to His expectations. If Israel broke the old covenant when they sacrificed to the golden calf, there is no case to be made. Was not the old covenant made to operate that way? How could Israel be held responsible?

Israel had to meet the same requirements as Abraham. They received the same sign of circumcision that God gave to Abraham. Both Abraham and Israel were brought face to face with the same covenant. Yet both experienced the old covenant in their lives. Abraham failed when he distrusted God regarding His promise to give him an heir, and had a child by Hagar. Paul states in Galatians that this represented the old covenant experience of Abraham. The reason for Israelís failure was not that they were given a different covenant from that given to Abraham. God is no respecter of persons. Where is there any indication that Israel were conscious they were under a different covenant from that of their father Abraham?

The Old Testament knows nothing about covenants in the plural. The word is always found in the singular. There is constant reference to one covenant designated by God as my covenant," "his covenant," phrases that occur throughout the Bible.

2. In the second place, the Lord was pleased with the response that Israel made at Sinai when they said, "All that the Lord bath said will we do." Ex. 24:7. Moses declared that God told him it was the right response to make. "And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye spake unto me; and the Lord said unto me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken." Deut. 5:27, 28.

3. In the third place, the whole tenor of Godís approach, His attitude and relationship, definitely indicated the everlasting covenant in an adapted form to be the one that confronted Israel at Sinai.

Was there the element of stern command that was supposed to mark the old covenant? On the contrary, before any revelation of the law was given, Israel was reminded of Godís gracious and loving dealing with them. In Exodus, chapter twenty, even as God began to speak the words of the Decalogue, Jehovah reminded them that He is their Redeemer, who brought them out of the land of Egypt. But the fulfillment of Godís gracious promises was conditioned by obedience. Thus we see here that the gospel precedes obedience. The principles of salvation and of becoming children of God are the same here as they have always been. It is imperative that grace conserve law.

The covenant was entirely reasonable. Nothing was forced upon them or done in haste. Negotiations were prolonged, so that the people might have the opportunity of pondering well the character of the proposed engagement. Three times the children of Israel declared: "All that the Lord hath said will we do." Intervals of time ensued between responses. Moses carefully recited to them "all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments." Ex. 24:3. The second time they promised full obedience. Even then the matter was allowed to stand over till the next day. Then Moses appeared with the written book, the book of the covenant, and they were finally asked whether they would adhere to what they had said. (Ex. 24:7.) Greater precautions against any rash committal could scarcely have been taken.

Furthermore, the fulfillment of the terms of Godís covenant was not impossible or exceedingly difficult. God had done everything to render it possible of fulfillment. Israel were told by Moses that the commandments were not hard to be understood or to perform. They were not to think of the fulfillment of the terms as an inaccessible height they could not scale. Nor was it something too deep for them to understand, like the depths of the sea. It was near to them, even in their mouths. (Deut. 30:11-14.)

The testimony of the writers of the Old Testament is that Sinai was a glorious demonstration of the love of God. Mosesí final words regarding the giving of the law at Sinai are significant: "The Lord came from Sinai . . . , and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them. Yea, he loved the people; all his saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words." Deut. 33:2, 3.

Hosea undoubtedly refers to the Sinaitic covenant as follows: "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. . . . I taught Ephraim to walk. I took them on my arms." Hosea 11:1-3, A.R.V.

What beautiful figures are used here. God is embracing His children with one arm while giving them a fiery law with the other. Here we see the fatherhood of God taking His children, the subjects of His covenant, into His arms in order that He might instruct them in the right way.

To say that God is responsible, even indirectly, for the faultiness of the faulty response of the people, which led to a hopeless covenant of works, makes God also responsible for the apostate Judaism of Jesusí day. Mosesí interpretation of Sinai is anything but that. (Deut. 4:12, 13, 23, 31, 36, 37.)

"Those who claim that Christ came to abrogate the law of God and to do away with the Old Testament, speak of the Jewish age as one of darkness, and represent the religion of the Hebrews as consisting of mere forms and ceremonies. But this is an error. . . . Never has He given to the sons of men more open manifestations of His power and glory than when He alone was acknowledged as Israelís ruler, and gave the law to His people. . . . The stately goings forth of Israelís invisible King were unspeakably grand and awful.

"In all these revelations of the divine presence, the glory of God was manifested through Christ. Not alone at the Saviourís advent, but through all the ages after the fall and the promise of redemption, ĎGod was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.í . . . Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses understood the gospel. They looked for salvation through manís Substitute and Surety. These holy men of old held communion with the Saviour who was to come to our world in human flesh; and some of them talked with Christ and heavenly angels face to face. . . . Jesus was the light of His people . . . .before He came to earth in the form of humanity." [Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 365-367]

4. In the fourth place, the covenant which God sought to make with Israel at Sinai and with which He confronted Israel was based upon righteousness by faith.

Great care was taken to safeguard Israel from what is referred to as the old covenant experience. Clear and definite warnings were given against self-righteousness.

Moses was, it appears, as much enlightened on righteousness by faith and righteousness by the works of the law as was Paul. One of the great passages on this grand theme is found in Deuteronomy 30:11-14. Paul quotes this entire passage in Romans chapters 9 and 10 in explaining Israelís failure, as support for the doctrine of righteousness by faith. (See also Deut. 9:1-6.)

In other words, both Moses and Paul emphasized the same truth. They both proclaimed the gospel of the everlasting covenant. Both of them met with opposition and unbelief. Both saw much the same results among the Israelites. Always a remnant knew that God would provide Himself a lamb. Always the law of God was written upon the heart of the remnant. Always the majority failed to enter in because of unbelief. Always God held them responsible for breaking the covenant. The reason God held them responsible was that He had done everything that could be done to give them cause for living the life of faith.

5. In the fifth place, the numerous appeals by leaders and prophets to return to Godís covenant were but a call to renew the original covenant made with God at Sinai and previously with their fathers, the patriarchs. As it was with God at Sinai, so it was with Israelís leaders and prophets. All were in harmony in seeking to lead the people in righteousness under the holy covenant of the Lord.

The word covenant is used almost 250 times in the Old Testament. Seven times it is used with reference to the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; 74 times miscellaneously to covenants in human relationships; and 159 times directly to the Sinaitic covenant. If the covenant at Sinai was but a covenant of works, and this is how it is interpreted by the New Testament writers, how could Israel hope to produce any other kind of record than the one they had? Men become like what they hear and what they think. If the leaders and prophets were continually calling them back to the old covenant, then why blame the Jews and Israel for making such a failure?

There were several occasions in the later history of Israel when God reminded His people through the prophets of their covenant obligations and privileges.

The first occasion was the public rehearsal of the law and the Sinaitic covenant by Moses at the close of his life as contained in the book of Deuteronomy. Moses appealed to Israel to be faithful to the Sinaitic covenant, and by so doing, to fulfill the covenant made with their fathers.

"After the public rehearsal of the law, Moses completed the work of writing all the laws, the statutes, and the judgments which God had given him, and all the regulations concerning the sacrificial system. The book. . . was for safe-keeping deposited in the side of the ark." [Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p 466]

This book of the law is first mentioned in Exodus 24:7. There it contained only the Ten Commandments and the seventy laws and judgments. Later additions were made, including also the book of Deuteronomy. The whole thing came to be known as the law of Moses, the book of the law, the book of the covenant, the book of the law of God. (Deuteronomy 4, 5, 7, 9, 26 to 33.)

The question may be raised that Deuteronomy distinguishes between the Abrahamic and Sinaitic covenants. "The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day." Dent. 5:2, 3. Moses is not emphasizing the difference between covenants. He is saying that each man must renew that covenant for himself. God made a covenant with Abraham; nevertheless both Isaac and Jacob renewed that holy covenant for themselves. And it must be renewed by their descendants. They cannot be excused by saying that God made this covenant only with their fathers, and so it is not binding. No, he made it with them, "with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day." What avails it to be children of Abraham according to the flesh, since God is able of the stones to raise up children unto Abraham? This is a covenant that needs to be ratified by every individual for himself apart. Similarly, we urge our own children to seek and to gain a Christian experience for themselves, for they do not inherit it from their parents. This is exactly what Moses was asking the Hebrews to do just before he died.

The second occasion for the renewal of the covenant was under Joshua, when Israel had come into possession of the land of Canaan. Again a solemn appeal was made at the close of the life of one of Israelís great leaders. The occasion was especially significant. The tabernacle had been removed to Shechem, the scene of Godís first covenant with Abraham. The location was well calculated to inspire the Israelites, not only with deep emotions, but with a deep sense of responsibility. Joshua briefly reviewed the history of Israel from the call of Abraham. Israel was charged "to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses." Joshua 23:6. Three times Joshua called upon them to serve the Lord, and three times, just as at Sinai, the people responded, "The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey." (Joshua 24:16, 21, 24)

"And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there. . . . And Joshua said unto all the people, . . . It shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God." Verses 26, 27.

This occasion had many points similar to Israelís experience at Sinai, except for a time it showed better results. "And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that over-lived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel." Verse 31. It is evident that many of these people knew something better than the "old covenant experience."

The third occasion for the renewal of the covenant was during the reign of Josiah, when the lost book of the covenant was discovered. Josiah called for a public recitation of the covenant. "And all the people stood to the covenant." 2 Kings 23:3. A great revival followed as king, priests, and people stood to the covenant of the Lord.

The fourth occasion was on the return of Israel from exile. Under Ezra and Nehemiah this was undoubtedly the greatest attempt since Sinai to call Israel to stand by the covenant of the Lord. The book of the covenant was read day after day before the people. Synagogues were established throughout the land, in order that the people might receive instruction from the book of the covenant every Sabbath. Again there followed a great religious revival. (Nehemiah 8 to 10.) Yet between Ezraís time and the time of Christ, a period of more than four hundred years, Israel retrograded into a legalism that surpassed anything in all of their history, and which reached its nadir in that system that Christ met and utterly repudiated when He came to earth.

The final occasion constituted a prophecy for the Christian church. Almost the last words in the Old Testament are an appeal to the Sinaitic covenant. "Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments." Mal. 4:4. Its connection with the work of John the Baptist under the figure of the return of Elijah is particularly significant, indicating the reverence and respect for the ancient covenant that all Godís true servants and prophets had manifested through the centuries.

6. In the sixth place, the testimony of the Spirit of prophecy is conclusive as to the spirituality and the permanency of the Sinai covenant.

"I have been instructed to direct the mind of our people to the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah. This chapter contains important lessons for those who are fighting on the Lordís side in the conflict between good and evil. ĎThus saith the Lord, keep ye judgment, and doí justice; for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. . . .Every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain.í This is the covenant spoken of in . . . [Exodus 19:3-8]."[Ellen G. White in Review and Herald, June 23 1904, p. 8]

"The covenant that God made with His people at Sinai is to be our refuge and defense. . . . ĎAnd Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words.í ĎAnd all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.í This covenant is of just as much force to-day as it was when the Lord made it with ancient Israel." [Ellen G. White in The Southern Watchman, March 1, 1904, p. 142]

What shall we say, then, as to the Godward side of the Sinaitic covenant? Since Godís attitude and approach are identically the same in both covenants, why not say that there is, in the mind of God, but one covenant? And since that is true, then the covenant is none other than the one everlasting covenant.

Let us now examine the human factor at Sinai and the nature of the response. From the manward side, how came the Sinaitic covenant to be spoken of as the old covenant?


IV-The Old Covenant

If we accept this interpretation of the Godward aspect of the Sinaitic covenant, then certain questions remain yet to be answered: In view of the evidence in the Scriptures and in the Spirit of prophecy, how can one deny that the old covenant was made by God at Sinai? Does not Paul testify in Galatians to the old covenant "from mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage"? Gal. 4:24. And again in Hebrews, "In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old." Heb. 8:13. Surely it must be concluded that there are two covenants, since the new covenant is to take the place of the old, indicating two plans of Godís dealing with man, two ways of serving God, one a preparation for the other.

Exactly what constitutes the difference between the old and the new covenants?

First, since the new covenant writes the law of God on the heart, it must be concluded that under the old covenant the law was not written on the heart. Paul defines this condition in 2 Corinthians 3, indicating that the old covenant was of the letter and not of the spirit. Under the old covenant manís heart was not right with God. This was remedied under the new covenant.

Second, the old covenant is based upon works of law, the new covenant upon faith. "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" Gal. 3:2. These Galatians had already received the work of the Holy Spirit in their heart at their conversion. Jewish leaders had led them away from righteousness by faith into legalistic works of righteousness. They had been led to believe that they were now fitted and able to fulfill the law as a natural duty.

Third, the old covenant stands upon the faulty promises of men, whereas the new covenant stands upon the eternal promises of God. (Heb. 8:6-8; Rom. 10:3, 4.) Under the new covenant, God promises to do all: to keep the heart, to give all power to men, in order that they might obey His will and His law. Under the old covenant, man endeavors of himself to attain righteousness.

Fourth, those who leave the new covenant to live under the old covenant fall from grace. As long as they remain under the new covenant they are under grace. Grace means two things: the quality of Christís character and the divine power of that character which God makes available for the salvation of men. When man lives according to the "old covenant," he is under the condemnation of the law, because of his own failures. To live by the covenant of grace means to enter into personal fellowship with God.

When and how did the old covenant originate? It grows out of the very nature of man. That God made a covenant with Adam is obvious from Hosea 6:7: "They like men ["like Adam," margin] have transgressed the covenant." This covenant with Adam was a covenant of works. It is also called a commanded covenant, also a covenant of life. A covenant of works before sin entered would be both acceptable and in harmony with the character of God and the nature of man. There would be no conflict between the law of God and the nature of Adam. It is called the covenant of works, because by the terms of it man was to have life or death in accordance with what he did.

The entrance of sin still left man face to face with Godís requirements of obedience but with no power to obey. Even with his loss of freedom and his ability to do what God commanded, he still possessed a strong desire to be justified by his own efforts.

"The spirit of Phariseeism is the spirit of human nature. . . . In the days of Christ the Pharisees were continually trying to earn the favor of Heaven, in order to secure the worldly honor and prosperity which they regarded as the reward of virtue." [Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (1900 ed.), p. 120]

But more important than this, Satan is the originator of the spirit of the old covenant. The basic premise of sin itself is the work of Satan in leading Adam to place his own ego at the center of his existence instead of Christ.

"The principle that man can save himself by his own works, lay at the foundation of every heathen religion; it had now become the principle of the Jewish religion. Satan had implanted this principle. Wherever it is held, men have no barrier against sin." [Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 36]

The Sinaitic covenant, then, from the manward side is based upon the will to owe manís life to himself, and is manifested in that pride which does not want to live by grace but by manís own doing. This is that phase of the old covenant that Paul calls the righteousness of the law. This spirit is deeply ingrained in all men. It is not the sole prerogative of the Israelites. They are but an illustration of what can happen to any man and in fact to every believer. And until self is crucified it will inevitably happen.

This spirit of pride, independence, and self-effort toward the law was the outstanding sin of Israel. The revelation of the law at Mount Sinai was to lead them to Christ. This was in harmony with Godís plan, even as it is today. But salvation by works never was.

The reason the old covenant takes such prominence at Sinai is the peopleís spiritual condition. Adam was conscious of his fall as were the rest of the fathers. There were but eleven patriarchs before the Flood. It needed only four of them to span the period from creation to Abraham. By the time Israel had spent more than two hundred years in slavery, sin had almost obliterated the impressions of the law written in their hearts. The instructions and laws of their fathers had almost faded from their minds. When such a thing happens the commandments of God become a stern command, not a delight. The law entered that Adamís offense might abound.

"If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept Godís law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai, or engraved upon the tables of stone." [Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 364.]

Why did the Lord see it needful for a re-declaration of the law from Sinai? The sooner to compel Israel to come to Christ for salvation. But this particular function of law is just as significant today as in the days of Israel. At Sinai God provided them with the opportunity of making a response by promising to keep His law. But the nature of that response is entirely the responsibility of man.

The old covenant experience of Israel sprang just as much out of their relation to the ceremonial law representing the gospel as it did out of their relation to the Decalogue. They used the ceremonial law in the same way they used the Decalogue. They looked upon their sacrifices without discerning their true significance. They thought that the cold, formal presentation of a sacrifice was acceptable unto God. They conceived that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin, so what they lacked in fulfilling the moral law, they thought to make up in the ceremonial law. Thus they separated Christ from both the moral and the ceremonial law. They rested in the works of the law, both moral and ceremonial.

For the few, the ceremonial law had real significance. They apprehended Christ in the sacrifices. Such were Abel and Abraham. It is obvious that this ceremonial law, consisting of those sacrifices that pointed forward to Christ, did not arbitrarily belong to the old covenant any more than circumcision arbitrarily belonged to the everlasting covenant. For by the time of Christ and Paul, circumcision had become the hallmark of the old covenant. Neither does baptism nor the Lordís supper belong arbitrarily to the new covenant. Such classifications depend entirely upon the attitude and response of the worshipers in both the Old and the New Testament eras.

The fact that God gives men the law to live by does not mean that the law constitutes the old covenant. "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" asked the rich young ruler. "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments," was Christís reply. Does this sound anything like the stated requirements at Sinai? What was Christ counseling the young man to do? Try the impossible? Or was He telling him the truth?

Failure to see Christ in the law is the failure of faith. The failure is not so much a lack of mental and intellectual understanding of the will of God. Christ rebuked the two disciples for being slow of heart to believe, not stupid of mind to perceive. It is in heart apprehension of God and in living faith that men are seriously retarded. In mental and hairsplitting differences in theology, men have always been far ahead of heart experience; hence the animosity and persecution in the name of Christianity.

The psalmist points to the sin of Israel: "How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel." Ps. 78:40, 41.

If the law presented at Sinai was intended to lead them to Christ, why did Israel fail, and fail so continually through their history?

"It was their own evil heart of unbelief, controlled by Satan, that led them to hide their light, instead of shedding it upon surrounding peoples; it was that same bigoted spirit that caused them either to follow the iniquitous practices of the heathen, or to shut themselves away in proud exclusiveness, as if Godís love and care were over them alone." [Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 370.]

But are there not many sincere Christians today who live in the spirit of the old covenant and yet whose righteousness is not that of the Pharisees? As an elemental stage of Christian growth resulting from ignorance and spiritual immaturity, that is one thing. But the willful and persistent offering of an external and formal religion of self-righteousness in the face of the revelation of righteousness by faith, that is something else. It is stubborn unbelief in the face of light that becomes a serious sin before God.

The revelation of God at Sinai was of such a marvelous character as to present to the Israelites the full knowledge of the everlasting covenant. The sin that destroyed them was that in the face of all that God had done and revealed to them, the leaders molded a people in the rigid orthodoxy of pharisaical righteousness, and set forth to the world a totally false picture of the character of God, until the name of God was blasphemed and despised among the nations and the Jewish nation became a byword.

There is nothing clearer than this: that God will judge the level of oneís Christian experience and development by the measure of Godís revelation. What made Christís judgments of Israel so final and irrevocable was that the Jews throughout their history had received increasing revelation and counsel through the prophets on the true meaning of the everlasting covenant, and still came out with a religion known as Pharisaism.

There can be no more serious charge made than that the Laodicean church is following in the footsteps of ancient Israel. The full revelation of the glory of God in the third angelís message leaves us without excuse. Such light is both our privilege and our sacred responsibility.

"That which God purposed to do for the world through Israel, the chosen nation, He will finally accomplish through His church on earth to-day. He has Ďlet out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, even to His covenant-keeping people, who faithfully Ďrender him the fruits in their seasons.í Never has the Lord been without true representatives on this earth who have made His interests their own. These witnesses for God are numbered among spiritual Israel, and to them will be fulfilled all the covenant promises made by Jehovah to His ancient people." [Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 713, 714.]


V. Why Called the "New Covenant"?

If the covenant mentioned in the Old Testament, from Sinai to Malachi, is none other than the everlasting covenant, why should there be need for those days spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel"? Jer. 31:31. Surely this indicates that the covenant existing in Jeremiahís day is to be abrogated by the coming of the new covenant. Otherwise, why not continue with the same covenant found all the way through the Old Testament? What is the force of Paulís words: "In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." Heb. 8:13.

The answer is contained in the correct understanding of the term "new covenant" and the reason for its being called new.

In the first place, the established interpretation is that it was ratified by the blood of Christ at the cross. Daniel declares of Christ, "He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week." Dan. 9:27. The word "confirm" means to cause to prevail. During the brief period of His earthly ministry, Jesus fulfilled the terms of the ancient covenant made with the seed of Abraham. Paul says of this: "Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers." Rom. 15:8. Thus Christ secured the benefits of the ancient covenant to "many," that is, to the believers in Israel.

In the second place, this covenant is called new because Godís everlasting covenant had been so completely lost sight of that it appeared to be an entirely new covenant. This text is taking cognizance of the fact that while both God and His servants the prophets thought mostly in terms of the everlasting covenant, the nation of Israel thought in terms of the old covenant of works.

"Even the people of Israel had become so blinded to the precious teaching of the prophets concerning God, that this revelation of His paternal love was as an original subject, a new gift to the world." [Mount of Blessing, p. 114.]

The Jews had lost sight completely of the everlasting covenant. The new covenant was to write the law of God in their hearts, but writing the law in the hearts of men was not new. Isaiah spoke of it as sealing "the law among my disciples." (Isa. 8:16.) The whole of Hebrews 11 is a historical record of it.

"Through the grace of Christ they may be enabled to render obedience to the Fatherís law. Thus in every age, from the midst of apostasy and rebellion, God gathers out a people that are true to Him, -- a people Ďin whose heart is his law.í" [Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 338]

It is this writerís suggestion that the later prophets and the New Testament writers were obliged to deal with the utterly mistaken conceptions concerning the Sinai covenant. We must never forget that the Judaism of Christís day represented a perversion of the economy and testimony given by God to Moses. It is to offset these misrepresentations of the old covenant idea that the gospel writers are strong in their assertions of an opposite tenor and direction. This swing away from Judaism in the New Testament has been falsely interpreted as the abrogation of the law of God. The New Testament writers are compelled under the circumstances to press home the differences on account of Jewish errors and their hardness of heart. The real battle of Christ, John, and Paul was to deliver the church from every shred of Jewish legalistic bondage that had been fastened on Israel during the previous fifteen hundred years.

In the third place, the use of the term "new covenant" is occasioned by new revelation that came with Christís incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. Progressive revelation is an important part of the Bible record.

"Godís work is the same in all time, although there are different degrees of development, and different manifestations of His power, to meet the wants of men in the different ages. Beginning with the first gospel promise, and coming down through the patriarchal and Jewish ages, and even to the present time, there has been a gradual unfolding of the purposes of God in the plan of redemption." [Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 373]

"Christ in His teaching presented old truths of which He Himself was the originator, truths which He had spoken through patriarchs and prophets; but He now shed upon them a new light. How different appeared their meaning! A flood of light and spirituality was brought in by His explanation. And He promised that the Holy Spirit should enlighten the disciples, that the word of God should be ever unfolding to them." [Ellen G. White, Christís Object Lessons, p. 127.]


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