The Ministry of the New Covenant.

2 Corinthians 3:6.

That God has not put us under covenant need scarcely be affirmed, yet that in some way or other we get new covenant blessing will scarcely be denied. Speaking generally, any terms by which God sets man in relations of a definite character with Himself may be called a covenant. But Scripture speaks especially of three. The "everlasting," that of the bruising of the woman's seed, and the final overthrow of the power of evil; the "old," which was a covenant of works, and thus conditional, which had, however, grace mingled with it, and which was ordered at Sinai; and the "new," which is purely of grace, and thus unconditional. This last is, in Hebrews 8:8, distinctly seen to be one that has to be made "with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people, and they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. 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." But when we turn to chap. 10, we find this quotation from Jeremiah 31 summarized in these words: "I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more;" and this is distinctly constituted a part of the blessing of Christian believers. So that while it is not made with us, but with the two houses of Israel, we are participants in the blessings of this new covenant, though evidently neither put, in a forensic sense, under this nor any other.

Now, the Lord spoke of the new covenant as in His blood, and the apostle, in Hebrews 13, speaks of "the blood of the everlasting covenant," which it is clear was, as much as the other, the precious blood of Christ. The basis, and the only basis, of all unconditional blessing is thus exhibited in connection with these two covenants. God's original promise of blessing to man through the bruised Seed of the woman, and which embraces in its scope all the blessing, of whatever kind, that has or shall come to man in all ages, and the specific blessing which shall by-and-by be enjoyed by Israel and Judah, and by that re-united nation only, are alike unconditional, and could be unconditional because alike founded on the infinite virtue and eternal efficacy of that blood concerning which the Lord said, "This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for many." Thus, whenever we partake of the cup, having the remission of our sins, having the sense of their forgiveness so that there is no remembrance of them any more between God and us, having His law in our inward parts, and God a known God, that cup is the pledge of these new covenant blessings, and the blood which it symbolizes is the blood of that new covenant, that blood which is the basis of God's righteousness in grace now, and in glory hereafter.

It is consequently not a little important, inasmuch as to most minds covenant and conditions go along together, and conditions imply competency to fulfil conditions, that we should clearly see that, as believers in Christ, we are not judicially set under any kind of covenant, or under conditions of a covenant character. On the other hand, it is happy for us to observe that we have the blessings which the new covenant, when established, will bring to Israel, every one of them already ours, received from Christ in glory! The apostle could fittingly speak of himself as an able or competent minister of the new covenant; for while it is not yet established, because the veil is upon Israel's heart, it is by anticipation (for all things are ours) ministered to the Church of God. And this is really the character which the gospel takes in the 4th chapter; viz., Paul's ministration of the unconditional blessing of the new covenant to the Gentiles, and which glad tidings, if hid, were hid where Satan had cast a veil of moral blindness over his votaries; but where received, was because God, who spake light out of darkness, had shone into hearts for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Referring to chapter 3, he speaks of those to whom he wrote as Christ's epistle ministered by the apostle, the writing of the Spirit of the living God, not, as of old, upon stone tables and ordained by angels, but on the fleshy tablets of their hearts. And the apostle had confidence before God about this; for, disclaiming personal competency for such service, he avows his competency to be of God, who had made him a competent minister of the new covenant, not of letter, but of spirit. Then rising higher, with one inspired touch he marks the contrast between the two things; the letter condemns, but the Spirit giveth life - thus bringing forward the Spirit of God objectively, to whom he returns in the 17th verse, after the digression of verses 7-16, which form a parenthesis, and at which we will now look for a little.

We have here what constitutes the ministry of the new covenant as contrasted with the old. The latter, it is admitted, "began with glory" (see new translation), for it began when Moses' face shone so brightly that the children of Israel could not bear to look upon it. But this was after he had smashed the first tables in holy (may we not say judicial?) indignation, and formed the second in his character as mediator, receiving these written upon with the finger of God on the ground of redemption foreseen. Thus, when he came down this time among the people, he carried the law in his arms and the grace in his face. (Compare 2 Cor. 4:6.) But the latter was a flash of glory they were unprepared for, for men in the flesh are more at ease under law than under grace. But the veil was not only necessary on their part, seeing they could not bear the glory of the mediator, but on God's part, so that they "should not fix their eyes on the end of that" which in Christ is annulled. (See verses 13, 14.) The apostle then is speaking in contrast. He does not here say that the old covenant was glorious, but that the glory it was introduced with was merely temporary; and even that was too much for Israel; moreover the flash of glory it began with did not alter the fact that it was a ministry of death. The ministry of the new was that of a life-giving Spirit, and it subsists in glory, having a glory that shall never be done away. Another contrast is between the ministry of condemnation, which had a measure of glory, as we have seen, and the ministry of righteousness which abounds in glory. Thus the former covenant ministered condemnation and death, but God glorified it in grace (on account of mediatorship, and in connection with the person of the mediator) with a measure of temporary glory accompanied with a veil. But for us the new covenant is a ministration of the Spirit. (His person, His gifts, His operations) and of righteousness; is crowned with immeasurable or surpassing glory; and is without a veil either upon our hearts or upon the face of the Christ who is our Mediator, and the true Moses gone into the presence of the Lord. For, be it remarked, when Moses "went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he took the veil off until he came out." (Ex. 34:34.) Typical there of Christ surely, but also of our own blessed place and portion now in Him; for there is no veil upon our hearts (alas! there is upon Israel's), and there is no veil upon our faces either, any more than there is upon Christ's, when we go in before the Lord. So, also, when Israel shall turn to the Lord, there will be no longer any veil - they will find it is taken away.

There the parenthesis ends, and two things follow connected with verse 6, and which form a corollary to our subject; viz., the liberty of the Spirit which His presence, unless He be grieved and restrained, will certainly secure - a thing totally foreign to the law, which only wrought bondage; and secondly, transformation, equally unknown under that covenant. There could be no transformation in the absence of a transforming object. That object could only be a glorified Christ; the Spirit of God could present no other. Beholding whom (having the face upturned like a burnished mirror to Him upon whose face is no veil, but the glory of God shining) His image is produced in us, such transformation from glory to glory being by the Lord the Spirit.

This, then, constitutes Paul's ministry of the new covenant, its present ministration to the Church before it is yet made; viz., that of the Holy Ghost and of divine righteousness in immeasurable and unending glory from a glorified Christ on high; liberty in the presence of the Holy Ghost, and no veil either on our hearts or on the face of Christ, beholding whom we are transformed by that same Spirit practically into His image from glory to glory! In the higher character it has to us it evidently reaches to the reproduction of a glorified Christ in His saints on the earth; that is to say, not our standing before God in glory, but the direct effect of the glory upon our state here.

May the fruit of this wonderful ministry be more and more seen in us, to His present and eternal praise. W. Rickards. (D).