The Better Ministry and the New Covenant
"That which waxeth old is ready to vanish away"
The apostle has in the preceding chapter reached the highest point in the epistle; I might also add, the highest point which it is possible to reach in any contemplation of Christ as Priest.
How much it involves we saw in the seventh chapter, where the apostle, able now to enlarge upon the truth that he had alluded to several times before, sets before them the fact that the Melchisedec priesthood of Christ involves not only His personal character as possessed of righteousness, but with absolute sway and control over all His people, yea, over all things; a position of infinitely greater glory and honor than could possibly be in connection with an earthly priesthood. Therefore that priesthood displaces entirely the priesthood of Aaron and his descendants. That being the case, there was also a change of the law in connection with which the priesthood was established. Thus the Hebrew believer would find himself face to face with this astounding fact, that a Priest such as he knew Christ to be, the Son of God, having glorified God in connection with sin, and having taken His place on high, displaces entirely every form of that order which had existed before, even though ordained by God Himself.
What an awakening for a genuine believer to enter fully into such a truth as this! He had been taught from childhood to revere the ordinances of the house of God and the temple in Jerusalem. His whole education had been a reverence for the Old Testament Scriptures and all that they contained. What an astounding thought, when that very Word showed him a priesthood foretold by God Himself in the very time when the other priesthood was still going on — a priesthood which was to displace and change absolutely, must displace, the very thing which he had been taught to revere and to regard as the perpetual ordinance of God! No wonder there was a temptation to hold fast to the Jewish forms and rituals! It would only be the energy of a genuine faith that would separate him from such things and just in proportion as that faith was in absolute exercise, so complete would be his severance from all the system that had gone before.
The truth culminates in this way. The apostle had not spoken of this before, but here he distinctly brings out the fact that is emphasized so clearly later on in our epistle, that Judaism and Christianity were mutually exclusive; that you could not have both; that you had to give up the one or the other, and if one was tempted to give up Christ for Judaism, it was an absolute renunciation, and a hopeless one, as we have been seeing. On the other hand, if he was to hold fast to Christ, it involved of very necessity a giving up of the law and the priesthood and all connected with it under Judaism.
"Now of the things of which we are speaking, this is the main point: We have such an one, high priest, who hath taken his seat on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the holy places, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord hath pitched and not man. For every high priest is constituted for the offering both of gifts and sacrifices; wherefore it is of necessity that this one also should have something which he may offer. If then, indeed, he were on earth, he would not even be a priest, seeing that there are those who offer the gifts according to the law, (who serve the representation and shadow of heavenly things, according as Moses was oracularly told when about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern which hath been shown thee in the mount) but now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by so much as he is the mediator of a better covenant, which is established upon better promises."
Now that is connected with "the main point," as the word is here; not merely that it is summarized thus — that "we have such a High Priest." "Such" suggests the wondrous dignity of His person, His finished work, His glory, His sympathy — what we have been dwelling upon in the past chapters. Such a High Priest as that, we have — One suited to us. He has offered His sacrifice, finished it once for all, and now has entered into the presence of God.
Notice, also, the expression — blessed one it is — that He is seated on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. That word "seated" suggests a voluntary act. He has taken His seat as one who had the right to do it. It would suggest what you have in John's Gospel as to our Lord's resurrection, where He says as to His human life, "No man taketh it from Me; I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." While His resurrection is in one connection spoken of as "by the glory of the Father," (that is, God's glory was active in raising Him from the dead) in others it is spoken of as His own voluntary act. He was not merely raised from the dead as though by a power external to Himself, but He rose as one who had right and power to do so, and over whom death had no authority, and who could not be held under its power. Having, therefore, accomplished His work, having glorified God, there is nothing to hinder His taking His seat. Yea, God Himself — His very glory, His character, demand that the One who fully magnified His righteousness on Calvary should have His place in the highest heavens. How perfectly satisfied, yea, glorified, is God that He has placed the very person — from whom He turned, forsaking Him in righteous judgment when He hung, as our Substitute, upon the cross — placed Him now at His own right hand in the heavens.
These words suggest the absolute approval of what has been done. The right hand is the place of honor and of power, the place also which was the token of satisfaction and delight. There is no place in the heaven of heavens higher than the throne of God which is now occupied by our Priest. He sits there as one who has title, with all things beneath His feet, and swaying the sceptre over all things. Such is Christ. And as you think of Him in this glory, it is impossible to have a single disloyal thought as to the glory of His person or the value of His work, or the wondrous dignity of the place He occupies. What creature would dare draw near into the presence of a holy God like this? Here is One who has right and title to take His place at the right hand of that Majesty — equal with it all; as we sometimes sing, —
"Who without usurpation could
Lay claim to heaven's eternal throne?"
So that is the High Priest, and there is the place which He occupies; that is what the apostle emphasizes. It is the sum, the acme of all that has been before us in the first seven chapters.
But now we have His service in that position: "A Minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man." A minister not in the sense of making atonement, for though the earthly priests offered sacrifices day by day, our blessed Lord offered one sacrifice, and no more remains to be offered. His ministering in the heavenly sanctuary is not for purposes of sacrifice. So far as our redemption is concerned, He has taken His seat; not a single stroke can be added to that finished work which He accomplished on Calvary. The cry of victory which re-echoes through heaven and earth and in our hearts, "It is finished," is the declaration that not a single thing remains to be added to the work by which God is fully glorified and we eternally saved. Under the Levitical ordinances the sacrifice was slain outside, and its blood brought into the sanctuary and sprinkled upon the mercy-seat. The work was done and finished outside. The witness of its acceptance was brought within. When one is seated, in that sense he has nothing to do; no need for activity on his part. And I would say to any unestablished soul, If you still feel there is something for you to do in connection with your salvation, you are ignoring, or forgetting, the fact that our Priest is seated.
What rest of conscience, what perfect peace of heart, that gives when it is seen fully! Our Priest has taken His seat, and we in faith may also take our seats, never raising our hands to do another stroke of work for our salvation. If your toiling means that you are seeking to add one iota to the finished work of Christ, fold your hands — if you are truly a believer — until you are called into glory, and your title remains just as good — yea, better; for what an insult it is to the blood of Christ that you should be seeking to add your merits, your feelings, your attainments, to the value of that which has already enabled God to place Him on the throne! I dwell upon this because I am persuaded that in the bottom of many hearts there lurks a vestige of self-righteousness which would intrude, upon every possible occasion, its own works into the place which the blood of Christ alone can fill.
I am perfectly aware that there is a place for works in the believer, a place for all our toil. We may work for the remainder of our lives, and can never do enough for Him who has done everything for us; but so far as our redemption is concerned, we are at rest where He is at rest; the very throne of God is the place for us to rest as regards our salvation. Beloved, when God Himself is at rest, when Christ Himself is at rest, what is your poor heart, that it should still have the slightest flutter of unbelief or uncertainty with regard to that glorious work which He has completed once and forever?
Now, that being permanently settled (and unless it is there can be no genuine growth, no real joy, no true activity for Christ), we have next His priestly ministry in the sanctuary, which still goes on. We know He is in eternal activity with regard to His people's needs here and the glory of God in connection with those needs. As to the character of that work, it is not dwelt upon here except to say He is a minister, and One who serves in the sanctuary. The sanctuary is the holy place, where God manifests Himself. This will come out in our later chapters, and we do not dwell upon it here except to call your attention to the fact that a tabernacle is spoken of here, the one in which He serves, as the true tabernacle in distinction from the earthly type; it is one which "the Lord pitched and not man! "
You remember, when Moses was called up to Sinai, that God showed him the pattern of the tabernacle. He gave him a view, very likely, of all the glories of His court in such a way that Moses could reproduce it in the Tabernacle, which would thus be a model of the sanctuary of God Himself. In fact, that is what we are told here: Which things "serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things."
They were the example of the way of access into the presence of God; they were also the shadow of heavenly things, "as Moses was admonished of God" "for, See, said He, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed thee in the mount." The Tabernacle, then, in the wilderness, was the figure of the way of access to God. The outer court represented the earth, and the first sanctuary, or the holy place, answering to heaven; the holiest of all corresponding to the heaven of heavens, the very presence of God Himself, where His throne was.
The Tabernacle was a pattern, but the true tabernacle, which God pitched and not man, is His whole universe, which is linked with His throne where He Himself abides in all His glory. Our blessed Lord is a minister in connection with that. He brings together, as you might say, the outermost parts of the court — this earth and the created universe — into close connection with the very throne of God, and we who occupy a place in this wilderness world are really in the outskirts, in the outermost precincts of that tabernacle of divine glory; we are ministered to by Him who has access into the innermost presence of that glory. He there maintains a people in relation with Himself. He keeps us in the enjoyment of communion, He sustains and upholds us through all the trials of the way, and His presence there is a pledge that we too belong there, — in one sense can enter there, — and that we shall soon be called up there into the enjoyment of that into which He Himself has entered.
Let us now for a moment connect this with, "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt" — literally, "tabernacled" — "among us" (John 1:14). The Tabernacle was also a figure of the person of Christ. Those of you who are familiar with it remember that the curtains, which were the Tabernacle proper, were the type of Christ in His varied characteristics. The fine white linen typified His perfect humanity; in the blue you see Him in His heavenly character; in the purple, His royal character; in the scarlet, as having world-wide dominion. Thus you have in the curtains of the Tabernacle and in the veils the witness of the humanity of Christ.
In the first chapter of Matthew the Spirit of God quotes the prophecy from Isaiah where our Lord's birth from the virgin is foretold, and says, "They shall call His name Immanuel, God with us" — God making thus His tabernacle among men. But, as John tells us, "the Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us"; and so Joseph, in giving the name to the blessed One who was born, does not call Him "Immanuel," but Jesus. How beautifully that reminds us of the object for which He came, and the basis upon which He abode as God's representative amongst men here! Jesus, "Saviour," is His name; that, too, is the witness that it was God with us, "Immanuel."
Going back to John's Gospel, when it is declared "The Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us," faith adds at once, "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." The covering of the Tabernacle that I have referred to was one that could only be seen when one went inside. There these splendors were unfolded in their order, proportion, and beauty. But the outward covering which greeted the eye of the stranger as he drew near to the camp of Israel, was the dull, unattractive covering of seal, or badger skins. In other words, as faith says, confessing its previous rejection of Christ, "We saw no beauty in Him, that we should desire Him." There was no attractiveness for the natural man, no beauty in Christ save when faith saw Him.
Looking at Christ outwardly, men said, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" "Search and look, for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet;" "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses, and of Juda and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended in Him." Yes, even members of His own house did not believe in Him. This is like the outside of the Tabernacle — sad witness of how men have no eye for that which glorifies God, for I need hardly say how perfectly Christ glorified God in the most casual acts of His daily life; and His holy isolation, which kept Him from contamination with this world, ever spoke with delight to God.
When faith enters, then, and gets the true view of Christ, what does it say? "We beheld His glory, as of the Only-begotten of the Father" none other like Him in heaven or on earth. He was the effulgence of God's glory and "the express image of His person."
So the Tabernacle was a type of Christ, of "God with us" here, the dwelling-place of God with men when our blessed Lord was upon earth. Then the veil was rent, the tabernacle itself was taken down, (if we may use such an expression,) as our Lord said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. . . . But He spake of the temple of His body." The temple was taken down, and then reared in resurrection. He went up on high, the Minister of the true dwelling-place of God with men, "which the Lord pitched and not man."
Now, remembering that He is there in the sanctuary, let us look forward to the time yet to come. There has been a time when God dwelt amongst men, in the person of His Son but He is no longer here. He is with the Father, and faith now sees Him there. But the time is coming when the tabernacle of God is to be with men, and He will dwell with them. When our Lord came at the first He was despised and rejected, and the tabernacle was taken down; it is no longer here, save as we, through infinite grace, represent the dwelling-place of God through the Spirit upon earth. But the time is coming when all evil is to be put out of the world, at the close of the Millennium, at the close of all temporary illustrations of divine power and government, when — out of the distance which it has occupied ever since sin has come into the world — the glorious abode of God Himself comes down in immediate connection with the earth. Then the distance between heaven and earth shall be done away forever, (though we shall ever feel that God is infinitely above us;) then God Himself shall take His place in permanent association with His creation and "tabernacle" is again used to describe that eternal condition. And well may we be sure that the One through whom it is effected is the same blessed Person that the One who was the tabernacle of God when He was here, the One who by His Spirit makes now a dwelling-place for God in His redeemed people, is the One through whom finally will be brought to pass that which we read, "The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them." What precious thoughts cluster thickly here! May these suggestions of them at least lead us to look into them fully and see how much there is in connection with the Tabernacle of which we have been speaking!
"For if He were on earth, He should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law." A question has been raised here, and is important for us to look at, that Christ's work as Priest only began in heaven. I have already indicated the fact that His priestly work had to begin, as far as sacrifice is concerned, upon earth. If the priest was one who offered a sacrifice, then Christ must have been a Priest when He offered up Himself to God. He offered Himself through the eternal Spirit; that is, in His life here He was presented before God and accepted by Him as the Sacrifice; and already at His baptism, when He was anointed by the Spirit, we have practically God's acceptance of Him as being without blemish and without spot, suitable for a perfect Sacrifice. To this high-priestly work therefore, He is then introduced.
But notice that this expression does not confine our Lord's priestly work to heaven; it simply declares that in contrast with earthly priests, if He were here in relation to the law and an earthly sanctuary, He would not have anything to offer or any service to engage in, because everything on earth was under the hand of the priests of Aaron. If we fail to understand this, we will be denying that our Lord's sacrifice upon Calvary was a priestly work. But if He were here now, if He were claiming (if I may use such an expression) priestly functions in connection with the temple at Jerusalem, could it not be said that He was interfering with the order which God Himself had instituted upon earth? If, for instance, He had entered into the temple, had taken up the censer, or gone into the holy of holies and sought to sprinkle the blood upon the mercy-seat, could it not have been said He was intruding? When Uzziah, king of Judah, did a thing like that, the leprosy came out upon him, and he was thrust out of the temple. Inasmuch as all the earthly sacrifices were connected with the priests of Aaron's line, could it not have been said our Lord was assuming a place which the word of God itself did not authorize?
In the provision which is made for the resumption of this priestly order in the latter part of the book of Ezekiel the priests of the house of Aaron are re-established to continue the service according to the earthly ritual. Of course it will be a very different kind of thing in that day than it was before our Lord's sacrifice. Those were types of what was to come, and had a certain amount of merit in them in connection with those who offered them; but then it will all be commemorative, looking back upon that which Christ has accomplished. Still, God will have an earthly display in connection with Israel.
They have an earthly sanctuary and an Aaronic priesthood during the Millennium: no one who reads carefully the book of Ezekiel will fail to see that that is the case. So true it is that "if He were on earth He should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law." But that only brings out more clearly what we are saying as to His place in heaven. His sacrificial work upon earth was in view of heaven; having accomplished His work, He enters by His own blood into heaven itself The earthly priests have been displaced by Him who has gone within. We too are now priests, though upon earth, but in no earthly sanctuary. We do not come in competition with the priests of the law.
We now pass to that which is intimately associated with this in the remainder of our chapter.
"For if that first one were faultless, then would no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault, he saith unto them, Behold days come, saith the Lord, that I will perfect a new covenant as regards the house of Israel and as regards the house of Judah; not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in my covenant, and I did not regard them, saith the Lord. Because this is the covenant that I will make unto the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and will write them also upon their hearts; and I will be God to them, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach each one his fellow-citizen and each one his brother, saying, Know the Lord: because all shall inwardly know me, from him that is little unto him that is great among them; because I will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses and their sins and their lawlessnesses I will remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. But that which is ancient and groweth old is near to disappearing."
We saw in the previous chapter that a change of the priesthood necessitated a change of the law in connection with which the priesthood was given. We have one who is the Minister of a heavenly sanctuary, and who is Priest not after the order of Aaron; therefore it must be upon a different covenant, upon a different basis than that upon which the Aaronic priesthood carried on their service. "He hath obtained a more excellent ministry." Compare the ministry of the priests — who were liable to failure, who could not glorify God in their character because they themselves were sinners — with that more excellent ministry of Christ. The priests could offer only "daily the same sacrifices, which could never take away sins." Christ has offered one sacrifice for sins, and now He has forever taken His seat at the right hand of God. The priest truly had a ministry, but Christ a more excellent ministry, "by how much also He is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises." Here everything is "better," and I might say that in the epistle to the Hebrews you have that word "better" repeated again and again; you might almost write over the head of the whole epistle, "Better Things," as characteristic of Christianity as compared with Judaism.
This second part brings before us the great truth of the new covenant as being a better one than the old. The old covenant was the covenant of the law which God gave to Israel when He brought them out of Egypt. That is distinctly stated for us in this quotation from the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah. I think we can clearly see the difference between these two covenants in the book of Jeremiah itself. In the eleventh chapter of Jeremiah we have the old covenant; then, in the thirty-first chapter we find the new covenant; and then, faith's laying hold upon the new covenant in the fiftieth chapter. Let us look briefly at these three chapters and we will get the truth, I believe, of what is brought out here in Hebrews.
Before touching, however, upon the subject of the new covenant, I would merely mention that you have at least two other covenants suggested as between God and man in the Old Testament. The rainbow was the seal of God's covenant with the earth, an agreement whereby He pledged Himself never again to visit the earth with a flood; so that around the throne, in connection with all the judgments which are going to come from that throne upon the earth prior to the Millennium, the rainbow is seen in a complete circle, as if it were a reminder that God would act according to the terms of that covenant. He will never forget the pledge that He has given; it shall not be obliterated by all the judgments of the great tribulation.
Then, again, in connection with Abraham, we are told that God made a covenant with him and gave him circumcision as the seal of it. That covenant was a distinct promise of blessing; and in connection with that coveenant we have the truth suggested that Israel will abide as a nation forever before God, because "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance;" and therefore a covenant which He has entered into voluntarily on His part will always be maintained. But the Abrahamic covenant is one of another character than what we are going to look at. It was to Abraham individually, and is really, we might say, a foreshadowing of the new covenant; for the apostle in Galatians argues that the law given 430 years after could not set it aside. However, circumcision came later to be identified with the legal covenant, though it was not "of Moses, but of the fathers," and is so used by the apostle in Romans and elsewhere.
But now we come to the question of the old and new covenants: there is one thing always implied in the covenant of the law, and that was a condition. A covenant is an agreement between two parties upon certain conditions being fulfilled. A man promises to do certain things if the other person will fulfil his engagements. That is the covenant of the law. God promises to bless His people if they on their part will obey the law. Look, for instance, at this eleventh chapter of Jeremiah. I would suggest that you read it at your leisure. In the 2nd verse, "Hear ye the words of this covenant, and speak unto the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem" etc., (vers. 1-4); you will find throughout the entire chapter that it is a reminder of the first covenant, of God's promises to Israel in connection with it, and of their promises to fulfil His commandments. I need hardly refer you to the engagement which Israel entered into at Sinai, and how Moses took the blood of that covenant and sprinkled it upon the book where the laws were written, and upon the people, and upon everything, and called God and man to witness that the covenant had been sealed by blood; and we need look onward but a few steps in Israel's history, to the apostasy of the golden calf, to see how they broke the first conditions of blessing under that covenant.
So far as that covenant was concerned, Israel could only get a curse pronounced upon them for disobedience. Look at Moses coming down from the mount with the table of the covenant in his arms. He carries in his arms the conditions upon which God Himself will fulfil His promise to the people. Notice the scene: God on high in His holiness and majesty; Moses with the tables of the law in his hands; and down yonder in the camp a golden calf is set up, and the people dancing in drunken shamelessness. There is a picture of the first covenant, and its futility. There you have God's holiness and man's sin, and here, in the arms of the lawgiver, the witness of that perfect law which could only bring a curse upon them.
What does Moses do? If he goes into that apostate camp with the tables of the covenant in his hands, it can only mean the judgments of Sinai to be visited immediately upon the apostate people. He breaks those tables of stone — not, as some would have us believe, in anger or malice, or anything of that sort; he is not shut out of Canaan because he lost his temper and broke the tables of stone, though he was because he failed to honor God at another time. But we hear not a single whisper of divine displeasure when he took that which God wrote Himself and crushed it at the foot of the mountain, as if he would say, The first covenant is gone already. There could be no blessing under it, for they had violated it.
God in mercy and patience went on with them. He resumed a connection with them through Moses' mediatorial work; but again and again He is obliged to bear witness to their being a stiffnecked people who had forfeited every claim to His blessing or favor. So, as regards that first covenant, you might write "Curse" over it all: "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." And if any man now is trying to be in association with God on the basis of the first covenant, of the ten commandments, he is only under the curse: "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse."
Now turn to the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah, and you will find the new covenant of which we have read in our chapter (Jer. 31:31). Notice the added thought here, which was not the prominent one in Hebrews, for the simple reason that other things are in prominence there; it is made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. The ten tribes of Israel have wandered off. God knows where they are, if we do not, and the time is coming when the whole twelve tribes will be reunited. The staff will become one, the sceptre of God in His hand again, when Israel and Judah will be one nation in the land under the terms of the new covenant. "Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand." How graciously God brought Israel out of Egypt; or, as you read, "I brought you on eagles' wings to Myself." "Which My covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord." In Hebrews it is a quotation from the Septuagint, and the expression is, "but I regarded them not;" that is, they had lost Divine regard because of their failure. It is an instance of the way the Spirit of God makes use of an Old Testament scripture and adds the truth according to His own wisdom, as He sees it is needed. Looking at the people, how true it was that God could not regard them as under the first covenant, and yet how truly God under that covenant was a husband to Israel! He was betrothed to them, as you read in the sixteenth of Ezekiel, — clothing her with His beauty, and decking her with His ornaments, He espoused her to Himself. And, through the prophets, again and again we have the witness of the unfaithfulness of the nation to Him as well.
Now, reading further: "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my law in their inward parts;" (not write it on stone now, but) "I will write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying; Know the Lord; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Here you have the new covenant, and there are two characteristics. The old covenant was upon the condition of obedience. What is the new covenant upon condition of? No condition on their part whatever. Israel will have no glory in connection with the new covenant, but there are two features of it that go together. First, it is the writing of God's law in the heart, instead of writing it upon the tables of stone. That is new birth, as you have it in Ezekiel; as our Lord said to Nicodemus, "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" — the need of regeneration, of a new heart, which delights in the law of God, had been spoken of already.
The other feature of this new covenant is: "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." What two delightful truths are here! Forgiveness of sins for the conscience, and a new heart, that may delight in God, and walk in His ways! Resulting from this, there will be no need to say, "Know the Lord." God will be known and loved by all His people. "My people shall be all righteous." "All thy children shall be taught of God." As a nation Israel will be regenerate, and not merely certain individuals in the nation.
I must say a word as to Christians being under the new covenant. We have already read that it is with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah that this new covenant is to be made. We, as members of the Church of Christ, are under neither the old nor the new covenant. We were never put under the old covenant, and we are not under the new in the sense that Israel will be; that is, as an administrative order in connection with things upon earth. But the blessings of the new covenant, as all other spiritual blessings which will be for Israel, are for us also. The blessings of this new covenant are ministered to us by Christ now. He is "the Mediator of the new covenant," and so He ministers to us these two very things of which we have been speaking. What a delight it is to think that we, through His grace, have had God's blessed will written in our hearts; that in the new birth we received a new nature which delights in the law of God; that being born of God, His children, we have, through His infinite grace, capacity to enjoy Him; that we are indeed thus a new creation in Christ! New birth indeed has for us a wider and fuller meaning than it could have for Israel. We have "the more abundant life" of Christianity, as connected with the new creation. While the life is the same, its scope is amazingly enlarged. I need not add that new birth is not Church truth, but common to all saints.
Then, as to the forgiveness of sins, not only does God forgive, but (if I may use such an expression) He forgets not in the human sense, as if it had passed from His consciousness, but in a divine sense, that it is no more against His people. It is as though our sins had never occurred. He says, "Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." The apostle shows later that if there is no more remembrance of sins, there is no more need for a sacrifice. All is divinely settled.
"What though the accuser roar
Of ills that I have done?
I know them all, and thousands more;
Jehovah findeth none."
These two blessings of the new covenant, then, have been ministered to us by our Priest. He is gone on high, and in the light of the blessings He has made ours, as we look at the law, the earthly priesthood and their sanctuary, we can say: Infinitely more glorious and precious is our portion!
Now we come to the last passage in Jeremiah, the fiftieth chapter, which shows how Israel will come under the blessings of the new covenant, (vers. 4 and 5,) emphasizing again also the reunion of the twelve tribes. There is the activity of the Spirit of God, producing genuine repentance on the part of those who had been so long away from Himself, and, "they shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten. My people have been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have forgotten their resting-place."
And now we see this repentant people turning with weeping to Zion, asking the way thither, and returning there with this resolve formed by the Spirit of God: We will join ourselves to Him by a perpetual covenant which shall not be broken. This is thenew covenant which we have been dwelling upon. A most attractive study in all the prophets is the unfolding of this new covenant for Israel. I will only refer you to the 119th psalm as giving you an illustration of how the terms of the new covenant are written in the hearts of the repentant people. There you will find eight times the entire Hebrew alphabet; every letter of that alphabet repeated eight times over, declaring the perfections of the law of God, that very law which they had despised, now written in their hearts, so that they can say, "Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee" "Oh, how love I Thy law! it is my meditation all the day;" and they can pray, "Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law." This does not mean, I need hardly say, a repetition of Sinai — the law given as God's claim upon the natural man, which could only condemn him, but the will of a gracious God, delighted in by a regenerate people.
Now the conclusion of all that for a believing Israelite would be that the blessings of the new covenant had forever displaced the first covenant, the Levitical priesthood, and the earthly sanctuary. They broke that covenant and inherited only a curse in connection with it. Christ is now set forth; as gone on high, He introduces the believer into the heavenly sanctuary; therefore, with good conscience and full assurance that it is the will of God, they turn away from the old covenant and its whole ritual which is like an aged thing, waxing old and vanishing away.
How good to realize that we have turned from all that which had to do with the flesh and how good to know that the time is coming for Israel when they too shall rejoice under the blessings of the new covenant!