The New Covenant
By Rev. S. W. Lynd, D. D.
In this annual letter we call your attention to the subject of the New Covenant. It is the opinion of many that the covenant made with Abraham was the covenant of grace, and that circumcision was the sign and seal of this covenant, confirming its blessings to Abraham and his posterity, and that baptism now supercedes the rite of circumcision, and is the sign and seal of spiritual blessings. How far this is true or false, will be seen when the Scriptures are allowed to speak for themselves.
A covenant is a voluntary agreement between two parties, and, in ancient times, was generally ratified by sacrifice. Such was the covenant between Isaac and Abimelech, and also that between Jacob and Laban. From the definition given, it will be seen that a covenant, in its primary sense, could not be made between God and men. because the parties are not on equal ground, and the will of the one party constitutes the law to the other party. When God is said to make a covenant with man, it is the language of condescension. The term is accommodated to signify the plan by which God promises to deal with His creatures, and the laws which he lays down for their government, in order to secure the promises. The most important of the covenante made with men were those to Noah to Abraham, and to the children of Israel at Sinai, all ratified by sacrifice. These are never called covenants of grace, but covenants of promise. God's eternal purpose, which He purposed in Christ concerning the salvation of His people, is called by divines, the covenant of grace, and by the Scriptures, the new covenant.
This subject has been so completely mystified by the definitions, and distinctions, and reasonings of theologians, that nothing can extricate it but an abandonment of all these and an appeal to the simple history contained in the Bible and its divine illustrations.
It must be obvious to all careful readers of God's word that the eternal purpose of God's mercy which He purposed m Christ Jesus, formed an important part of the covenants made with Abraham, and a prominent point in all the references made to these covenants.
The first revelation of this purpose which was made to Abraham was made when he was in the land of Haran. (Genesis 12:1-2.) Nothing is said of a covenant in this place. The promise embraces two points; first, that God would make of Abraham a great nation; and, secondly, that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed. This last was a promise of spiritual blessing, and was to be fulfilled through Messiah, the promised seed, as the Apostle Paul states in his letter to tho Galatians. (Galatians 3:16.) As soon as he entered the land of Canaan, it was made over to him for his posterity. "Unto thy seed will I give this land." But how were these promises to be fulfilled? How could he become a great nation? And how could Messiah, according to the flesh, proceed from him, if he had no heir? Eight years after the second revelation, God appeared again to Abraham, and assured him of an heir, and in addition to this, of a numerous posterity. (Genesis 15:3-5.) Abraham believed the promise, and his faith was accounted to him for righteousness. He was personally justified before God. In that same day the grant of the land of Canaan was renewed, and confirmed by solemn covenant.
Now, notwithstanding the spiritual and temporal promises were both given, circumcision was not instituted. Here was every thing embraced in what is called the covenant of grace, and what was afterwards embraced in the covenant which the martyr Stephen called "the covenant of circumcision."
Sixteen years after this transaction, God made a covenant with Abraham embracing in it botli the spiritual and the temporal promise, and instituted circumcision to be observed throughout all their generations. He promised to multiply him exceedingly, and to give to his posterity the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession. The spiritual promise was renewed in the words, "Thou shalt be the father of many nations." (Genesis 17:1-8.)
This is the simple history of the facts as given in the Bible. Here are the elements of the new covenant, and of the old covenant combined in one federal transaction.
By the combination of the spiritual, and the temporal, God exhibited himself as sustaining a twofold relation to Abraham's posterity - a spiritual relation, which included only spiritual persons, or persons having the faith of Abraham - and a political relation, including the whole nation descending from him through Isaac and Jacob. Hence, while all Jews were the natural descendants of Abraham, only a part of them constituted the spiritual seed by faith. Here were two distinct seeds in one visible, political body, and the rite of circumcision has reference distinctly to each seed. It was given for two purposes, clearly recognizing the two branches of Abraham's family.
1st. It was given as a standing memorial of the temporal promise of God to all the seed included in this promise.
It made an indelible mark upon every Jew, showing his descent from Abraham, and confirming to him the faithfulness of Jehovah in the fulfillment of his promises. "It shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you."
2d. But there was a higher design, which is stated by the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans. It was a seal, or a memorial of the fact that Abraham was justified by faith, and that righteousness could be obtained in no other way. In this sense it was designed to be emblematic of a real Jew, a son of Abraham, and an heir of the promises, not by natural descent, but as his spiritual seed. And hence that circumcision which rendered a Jew one of the people of God by faith was the circumcision of the heart. (See Romans 2:28, 29.)
These are the only purposes for which circumcision was given, so far as the word of God throws light upon the transaction; and as to the views of men, they can only darken counsel by words without knowledge.
None but those who believe in Jesus Christ can receive the blessing of faithful Abraham, and hence, if they expect righteousness and acceptance with God, by deeds of law, or by any presumed spiritual relationship to Abraham, or to believers, his spiritual children, in consequence of natural descent, they sadly deceive themselves. The promise was made to Abraham and his seed. "He saith not, And to seeds as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed which is Christ." This must be fulfilled, for God has promised to his Son, the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession.
Much light is tlirown upon this subject by the reply of the Apostle Paul to the objection of the Jews, that if they were cut off, God would prove unfaithful to His promise. He says, "Not as though the word of God had taken no effect; for they are not all Israel which are of Israel. Neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed." (Romans 9:6-8.)
This is as though he had said, What if the whole nation should be cut oft' from the visible congregation? The promises of God are not forfeited. "They are not all Israel which are or Israel." Abraham had children of the flesh, i.e., Ishmaet, and his children by Keturah, and they were circumcised, but the promise did not include them. He had also children of promise, i.e., Isaac and his posterity; but not all of these were included. The promise was limited to Isaac through Jacob, while Esau was respected. Every intelligent mind will perceive that all the natural seed of Abraham were not necessarily the children to whom the temporal promise was made, for it
was limited to Isaac. Those only were counted for the seed who should constitute the nation formed of the twelve tribes and should inherit the land of Canaan. Ishmael, and the children by Keturah, could not charge God witn unfaithfulness to His promise, not being included in it. All the children of Isaac did not constitute the seed to whom the promises were given, for Jacob was adopted to the exclusion of Esau. Esau could not charge unfaithfulness to the promise upon the part of God, for he was not embraced in it. These were the temporal promises. But Abraham had a spiritual offspring, and the promise to these is found in the words, "A father of many nations I have made thee." The natural seed, the Jews, could not reasonably impeach the faithfulness of God in this promise, as they were not included in it. It was limited to those of all nations who should exercise the faith of Abraham.
Here the Scriptural development of the new covenant is plain and satisfactoiy. We perceive that the covenant with Abraham, as a spiritual man, included all persons justified by faith in Christ, but the covenant made with him, as a natural man, or, as the father of a numerous offspring through Isaac and Jacob, included only that part of his posterity which constituted the Jewish nation, and the possessors of the land of Canaan.
Confounding the covenant of grace, or more properly the new covenant, with the covenant of circumcision, because the revelation of this covenant was given in connection with the temporal promises of the latter, and so connected with it. in consequence of Christ, who was to spring from Abraham's posterity, and in whom the new covenant was confirmed that they were incapable of separation, many have gone into very erroneous conclusions. They have said that as there was but one covenant made witb Abraham, it must be still in force, and secure to Christians a spiritual inheritance. This places the whole subject in a very awkward position. It secures to Christians a temporal inheritance, the possession ol the land of Canaan, which is not true. And if it secures to Christians a spiritual inheritance, then it secures to them more than it did to the children of the covenant for ages. Every Jew was in the covenant, and yet every Jew did not receive a spiritual inheritance. If it be said that the covenant of circumcision limited its promises to true believers, it denies the Bible statement. If the new covenant and the covenant of circumcision are identical, then all its blessing belong to every one who is in that covenant, and it will not be denied that every Jew was in the covenant of circumcision.
We have now shown from the Scriptures all that can be shown in reference to covenants. We have shown why the spiritual promise, based upon the new covenant, was united with the temporal promise. We have seen that the covenant of circumcision, in which both promises were repeated, embraced a
twofold seed, and that the rite by which it was confirmed, had distinct reference to each; and we have further seen that the covenant of grace and the covenant of circumcision are not identical.
The new covenant, of which Christ is the sacrifice and the mediator, has God for the one party, and Christ, and the purchase of ffis blood or Abraham's children by faith, who are regarded as one with Jesus Christ, for the other party. This covenant did not include the children of Abraham by natural descent. It is opposed directly to the old covenant, so called because it was to pass away. This was the covenant of circumcision, and hence, all Jews were called "the circumcision," in distinction to the Gentiles.
One thing is perfectly obvious - The covenant of circumcision was not necessary to the confirmation of the new covenant, because it was confirmed sixteen years before, in the day that Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness. And let it be kept in mind that this is the promise, the covenant, and the time to which all the arguments of the Apostle Paul have reference. And all the inspired men refer to the same when they speak of the new covenant. Children of believing parents are not united with their parents in the new covenant by virtue of natural descent. Believing parents cannot exhibit for their children connection with the church. This assumed covenant relation is a broken reed. The child of a believer has no more covenant relation with Grod than the child of a heathen. All who come into the new covenant must come by faith. "He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life." Those who believe not, are "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise." Let none deceive themselves with the idea that baptism has come in the place of circumcision. Even if it had, it could seal nothing to unbelievers. Circumcision never conferred spiritual blessings. The token is now abolished. Spiritual blessings, according to the new covenant, were secured by faith then, as now, and this covenant stands forever. No one can be in the covenant of grace but by faith. No one can be entitled to the privileges of the public institutions of religion, under the new covenant dispensation, but believing in Jesus Christ buried with Him by baptism into death. Let us then with firmness maintain the doctrine and practice of the new covenant, and wonders will be wrought in the name ot Jesus.
[From Miami Baptist Association Minutes 1863, 17-21. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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