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The Old and New Covenants (2)

The Old and the New Covenants (2)

A reader asks, “What are the implications of Jeremiah 31:34 for the church today? Concerning the new covenant it says, ‘And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, 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.’ Does it teach, as I have heard, that under the new covenant the church is to be a purer institution than it was under the old covenant, made up only of those who ‘know the Lord,’ i.e., truly born again believers?”

In the last News, I set forth some of the blessings of the new covenant (mentioned in Jeremiah 31:34), developing the truths of the knowledge of God through the forgiveness of sins in the light of our three-fold office as prophets, priests and kings in Christ.

Other parts of Scripture give yet one more blessing of the new covenant. Hebrews 10:16 speaks of the fact that a part of the new covenant is “I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.” Hebrews 8:10 says the same thing. The significant part of this verse is that this is a blessing of the new covenant which has come to take away the old covenant (7-8, 13). This new covenant stands in contrast with the old covenant that God made with Israel when He took them out of the land of Egypt (9). That covenant is described in Exodus 19:5: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine.”

That covenant had as its main theme: “Keep My commandments and live; but accursed thou shalt be if thou dost not keep all the words of the law.” Covenant blessings rested upon those who kept God’s law.

But Israel could not keep God’s law and so they perished ultimately in captivity. The covenant depended upon Israel’s obedience. This was the old covenant.

We must not interpret this to mean that God had first hoped that Israel would keep the law and thus be, by their obedience, His covenant people, but that He abandoned that idea when He learned that Israel would and could never do this. That is emphatically not the point. The point was that God had to drive home to His people this great truth: Only those who kept the law, that is, who were as holy as God is, could be His covenant people. There was no room in God’s covenant for sinners. But no man can keep that law. No man! What then? Would the covenant never be realized? Yes, it would, but only when someone else would keep the covenant for them. And that was our Lord Jesus Christ!

Christ does keep the law for all His people. He kept it especially on the cross. He kept it while the wrath of God drove Him into the bottom of hell. He kept it when He was a forsaken derelict abandoned by His Father. He kept it when all He knew was the fury of God’s wrath against sin. He kept it when the horror of God’s wrath was so great that He momentarily did not know why He had to endure such awful suffering (Matt. 27:46). Even when He dared not call God His Father, He kept the law.

He bore the wrath of God for all His people. He stood in our place and suffered what was rightly due to us. But in hell’s blackest moment, when He was overwhelmed with God’s fury, He still said, “I love Thee, O My God. I love Thee with all My heart and mind and soul and strength. I cannot bear the horror of being abandoned by Thee. It is so dark here. But whether I know the reason why Thou hast forsaken Me or not, I still love Thee and will always love Thee!” This is Calvary!

And so our Lord not only suffered beyond all knowing—for us, poor sinners—but He also fulfilled the law for us. He kept what we could not keep. He did what we could never do. He loved the Lord His God, when we were enemies of God. And, wonder of wonders, He did this for us! This is the new covenant!

And so, now, in the days of the new covenant, when Christ finished His work and poured out His Spirit on His church, He gives to His people, by faith in Him, the spiritual ability to keep the law. He writes the law on our hearts. The Holy Spirit engraves with irresistible power, on our hearts, the perfect law so that we keep it and are made worthy to be God’s covenant people. 

In the old covenant, we had to do everything. But the old covenant, of itself, was useless because we could not keep God’s law and be a holy people. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second” (Heb. 8:7). But God found fault with them with whom He established His covenant and with the covenant of the law because it could not save sinners; and so, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the [old] 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” (8-9).

And so, a new covenant was made, for “he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (13). We live in these better days, the days of the new covenant, for the old covenant has passed away!

In the new covenant, we do not have to do anything—either to enter that covenant or to remain in it. We cannot do anything and we need not do anything. Bold and crass is the man who thinks that he must and can fulfil conditions to be a part of God’s covenant. How thankful we must be and are when we realize that Christ has done it all. By grace we are saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is all the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9).

Does that mean that we never do anything at all? No, of course not. Part of that covenant is that the law, which we can never keep, is written upon our hearts by the Spirit of Pentecost. Since the law is written upon our hearts, we do keep it. We must! We can! And we do! But it is not of us; it is the work of the Spirit who works in us to will to keep those commandments and to keep them (Phil. 2:13). And if we sin, our sins are remembered no more and our iniquities are pardoned.  Prof. Herman Hanko

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 14
  • Issue: 24
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001


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