Friday, August 05, 2005

A Reformed Baptist Manifesto--Chapter Three

Chapter Three: The New Covenant Constitution of the Church and Arminianism

We have compared Divine covenants to the Constitutions of nations. Yet in one respect at least they are very different. With human Constitutions, the nation already exists, and it creates by its action its own Constitution. 1987 was, for instance, the 200th anniversary of how the 13 original colonies created the Constitution of the United States of America. Even with a human Constitution, of course, there is a sense in which the 13 colonies created a new nation by their action.

With the New Covenant, it is true that it creates the nation it regulates. It is clear from the very terms of that covenant as stated in Jeremiah 31:31-34 that it is God who, by making this covenant, brings into existence the New Israel of God.

The point being addressed in speaking of the origination, building, or source of the Church is that God is, through the instrument of the New Covenant, the sole and sovereign builder, originator, and author of the Church as a whole, and of its individual members. This becomes clear through three matters clearly taught in the Bible and suggested in the passage under consideration (Jer. 31:31-34). These three points will form the outline for this chapter. They are: The Sovereign Determination Behind the New Covenant; The Unbreakable Character of the New Covenant; and The Mediatorial Guarantee of the New Covenant.

The Sovereign Determination Behind the New Covenant

The mere reading of verses 31-34 of Jeremiah 31 makes a tremendous impression of Jehovah's sovereign resolve in making the New Covenant. But that element of sovereign purpose and unalterable determination will be even better appreciated if we come at it by way of the very contrast suggested in our passage, the contrast between the Old and the New Covenants. In Exodus 19:4-6, the terms of the Old Covenant are stated.
'You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you are to speak to the sons of Israel. (Exo. 19:4-6)

With those words ringing in our minds, take note of the contrast in Jeremiah 31. In striking contrast to Exodus 9:4-6, there are no "ifs' or "maybes" in these four verses. Rather, ten times Jehovah says, "I will" or "they shall".

These verses resound with the tone of Divine certainty and sovereign determination. This tone is only strengthened by the verses that immediately follow.
Thus says the LORD
Who gives the sun for light by day,
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for
light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The LORD of hosts is His name;
"If this fixed order departs
From before Me," declares the LORD,
"Then the offspring of Israel also shall cease
From being a nation before Me forever."
Thus says the LORD,
"If the heavens above can be measured,
And the foundations of the earth searched out
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done," declares the LORD. (Jer. 31:35-37)
Jehovah makes this covenant with a sovereign determination backed by all the almighty and infinite resources of His own being. He is absolutely and wholeheartedly determined that it shall result in the salvation of His people. This is further strengthened by Jeremiah 32:40, 41. We will turn to this passage again because it supplements the predictions of Jeremiah 31 with regard to the New Covenant. But now, notice how these verses conclude these additional predictions with regard to the New Covenant. Jehovah says:
And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. And I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul. (Jer. 32:40, 41)

The Unbreakable Character of the New Covenant

Clearly, the New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant, and the point at which the difference is most plainly manifested is that the Old Covenant could be and was broken (Deut. 29:25-28; Psa. 78:10, 11; Jer. 11:9, 10; 22:6-9; 34:13, 14; Eze. 44:6-8). Note verses 31 and 32 of Jeremiah 31:
"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. (Jer. 31:31, 32).
The Old Covenant did not insure that those with whom it was made would finally gain the blessing it promised. The law written on stone could be and was broken. The Old Covenant was broken first in the sin of the golden calf. It was broken by the first generation with whom it was made at Kadesh Barnea. The whole first generation of Israel with whom that covenant was made failed to attain its blessings with the tiny exceptions of Joshua and Caleb.
But in striking contrast with a law written on stone, the writing of the law on the heart assures the keeping of the covenant and the certain attainment of the covenant blessings.
"But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. "And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." (Jer. 31:33, 34)
Note how this is repeatedly sounded in parallel passages.
And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. (Jer. 32:40)
But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says,
Notice the hint in Hebrews 8:8 that the problem with the first covenant was really and ultimately a problem with the people with whom it was made. The Old Covenant did not secure the covenant keeping of those with whom it was made. That was its fault. Its fault was simply that it did not enable those with whom it was made to comply with its conditions.

The purpose of Jehovah expressed in the New Covenant cannot be thwarted. It is a sovereign determination. The New Covenant cannot be broken. It is of unbreakable character. Does this mean, however, that it is unconditional? Perhaps it does, as some people define unconditional. There is an "if" in Exodus 19, but none in Jeremiah 31. But if we describe the New Covenant as unconditional, we must be very careful. The New Covenant is not unconditional in the sense that Jehovah has decided not to insist on His people fearing Him and loving His law. That is clearly just as necessary under the New Covenant as it was under the Old Covenant. It might be better to say that the New Covenant is still conditional, but with a difference. In it, God has determined so to put forth His almighty power in the hearts of His covenant people that they shall fulfill the conditions of His covenant and be the kind of men who do not break His covenant. All that the New Covenant demands it supplies.

But a question still remains. How can God simply sweep aside the demands of His own justice and make a New Covenant like this with the house of Israel after their sins have brought upon them the fierce overflowing wrath of God? Even then, in Jeremiah's day, the wrath of God was sweeping over them. How can the demands of God's holiness and justice permit Him to give such blessings as those promised in the New Covenant to men? What about their sins and iniquities. What about HIs justice and righteousness? This is the great barrier between men and salvation. These questions are answered in our third heading.

The Mediatorial Guarantee of the New Covenant

Jeremiah 31:34 clearly promises that God will forget the sins of His people and forgive their iniquity, but does not tell us how a holy God can do this. We do have, however, only two chapters later in Jeremiah the seed of an answer to this problem.
'Behold, days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall exedute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: the Lord is our righteousness.' (Jer. 33:14-16)
The Book of Hebrews brings to fruition the answer planted in Jeremiah. It enlarges on how Jesus Christ as both priest and sacrifice of the New Covenant insures and secures the establishment of the New Covenant and the impartation of its blessings to God's Israel. Note especially Hebrews 7:22, which says, "so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant." As the Melchezedekian priest-king Jesus is the guarantee or surety of a better covenant. This is the only place in the New Testament where the word translated "guarantee" occurs. According to Moulton and Milligan, "[It] is common in legal and other documents." It means a security, or a surety. It was even used of bailing someone out of prison. In one document there is this statement: "the father assents to the marriage and is surety for the payment of the aforesaid dowry." Another such statement is: "I hold your surety, until you pay me the value of the claims." The use of this word in the Septuagint confirms its common meaning in the world of the New Testament. Proverbs 6:1 says, "My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor,...." and 17:18 says, "A man lacking in sense pledges, And becomes surety in the presence of his neighbor."

The meaning of this word should now be clear. The modern legal equivalent is what we know as a consigner for a loan. Suppose a young person has landed his first good job. Now he wants to have his own car, but when he goes to the bank for a loan, he has no credit record, and the bank will not advance the money. But along comes good old dad. He has good credit, and he becomes surety by co-signing for the loan. Now what has he done by doing this? The very same thing that the surety or guarantor of Proverbs and Hebrews did. He committed himself to pay what was owed if the other person defaulted.

That is exactly what Jesus Christ did. By His blood and righteousness, He paid the debt to the justice and law of God upon which His people had defaulted. He owed nothing for Himself, but by His death He paid to the justice of God and by His life He paid to the law of God what His people owed. Because this debt is paid, the blessings of the New Covenant become a reality. Just as that shiny new car on the show room floor which the young person possessed only in his dreams became a reality in his driveway through the co-signing of this father, even so the blessings of the New Covenant become a reality to the people of God through the suretyship, the substitutionary curse-bearing, of Jesus Christ. All this is expounded in detail in Hebrews 10:10-19. Jesus' priestly sacrifice of Himself, once-for-all, finally, and efficaciously fulfills the demands of God's law and assures the forgiveness of sins for all who are part of the New Covenant people of God.

Concluding Lessons

We learn the truth of the doctrines of grace and the falsehood of Arminianism

Arminianism is the system which teaches that man's free will is sovereign in salvation. The first Arminians summarized their system in five points. The idea of having a five-point summary of a doctrinal system did not begin with Calvinism.

So you will appreciate the relevance of the New Covenant to Arminianism, let's look at what it's five points are.
(1) God has chosen to save those who believe in Christ and persevere in obedience to Him to the end.
(2) Christ died for each and every man, but only those who believe benefit from His death.
(3) In order for men to believe in Christ, God must work by His grace in their heart.
(4) Though this grace is the source of all good in men, yet they may resist this grace and not be saved by it.
(5) Though God will provide everything that men need to persevere to the end, it is not certain that once a man believes in Christ unto salvation, he will persevere to the end and finally be saved.

Most Evangelicals hold to most, if not all, of these five points. They simply assume that in them the gospel itself is summarized. According to the New Covenant, however, not one of them is true. Rather, the five doctrines of grace (i.e., the Five Points of Calvinism) are, instead, the doctrine of the Bible. Let's briefly discuss them one at a time.

Total Depravity

We see the truth of total depravity in the contrast with the Old Covenant mentioned in our passage. What the Old Covenant demanded was simply faith and obedience. God had provided everything Israel could possibly need by way of external inducement to believe in Him and obey His laws, but Israel miserably failed. Israel, however, was no different than any other people. They were simply the test nation. The lesson, which the New Testament draws from the experience of Israel, is that all men are totally depraved. Romans 3:10-12, for instance, says, "There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, there is not even one." Every faculty of man's soul is polluted with sin. All men are unable to do anything of any spiritual good. Even repentance and faith are impossible due to this total depravity and total inability.

Unconditional Election

God's covenant is not made with a nation that has proved itself worthy of His choice. Rather, God, with sovereign, unchangeable purpose has chosen through the New Covenant to make them worthy of His choice. The Arminian idea that God chooses men, because He foresees their faith and they first choose Him, is absolutely foreign to the New Covenant. Many passages teach eternal, unconditional election (Acts 13:48, Rom. 9:14-18, Eph. 1:4, 2 Tim. 1:9).

Limited Atonement

The place at which Arminianism has most fiercely attacked the doctrines of grace concerns the atonement of Jesus Christ. Arminianism of every stripe has always claimed that Christ died for the sins of each and every man. This claim is also falsified by our study of the New Covenant.

Why do we claim that the New Covenant teaches the doctrine of limited atonement? The New Covenant is clearly the context or framework of the work of Jesus Christ. The work of Jesus Christ has no saving power divorced from the New Covenant. If anything should be clear from our studies of the New Covenant, it is that there is no salvation in any other Divine constitution or arrangement. If men are to be saved, they must be saved through the New Covenant.

(To be continued)

1 comment:

grits said...

Thanks so much for posting these! Do you have the Paedobaptism chapter?? I really wanted to read that too.
Take care,