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the first hearers of it. Abel learned it from his father. Enoch and Noah learned it by tradition from their fathers. Abraham, long after, had it preached again to him yet more clearly, not in the form of an enigmatic prediction merely, but of an explicit engagement or covenant, the basis, the bond of which, was not law, or work, or merit, but grace,—what is called the “Abrahamic Covenant," of which Paul speaks so mnch in his Epistle to the Galatians, showing how entirely gracious, gratuitous it was. No doubt the Israelitish covenant, spoken of here (ver. 31) came after that, in point of time,-succeeded it, (and this is what perplexes many readers of the Bible); but though it succeeded, it did not supersede, displace, or disannul it. It did not, because it could not. That had been “confirmed before of God, in Christ,” or unto Christ, whose day Abraham saw, centuries before, “four hundred and thirty years” before (Gal. iii. 17), and being confirmed, —that is, attested, ratified," though it had been but a man's covenant, no man could disannul it, or add thereto." It was “the word which Jehovah commanded, to a thousand generations,” that He might remember it for ever.
The reason why this Israelitish covenant is called “ old," and spoken of as “the first,” is that, though not in reality, yet in form and administration, it was a revival of the original paradisaical covenant made with Adam, while yet unfallen. It was “a covenant of works,” under which “ the fathers of the house of Israel” had an opportunity given them, for the benefit of an onlooking world, of showing how far they were capable of taking advantage of it; of showing whether or not, with their peculiar facilities and helps to obedience, they could afford to dispense with any other,—to be independent of Grace. It was an experiment, on a large scale, by which God meant to settle, for all time, the question of man's ability, as a fallen creature, to do what God made him able to do while unfallen, viz., to justify himself as a keeper of His law.
And you know how readily they fell in with the proposal, how willing they were to covenant with God, how confident they were of their ability. They tried hard to show that they both would and could “serve the Lord.” They “went about," as their posterity are going about to this day, very laboriously “to establish a righteousness of their own.” They clung to the “old covenant,” because it had the look and form of legality; because it left room, as it seemed, for their doing something, whereof they might boast, whereon they might stand; because, according to it, they might hope to save themselves, without being indebted to any one else, such as a crucified Nazarene, calling himself The Messiah, to save them. They used it, in order to prove that they were better than the rest of mankind,—that they were good enough! God used it, at the same time, to prove how greatly they were mistaken—that really “there was no difference.” It was added, super-added (Rom. iii. 22), because of transgression, “that by the law might be the knowledge of sin,” as a preparative, educative instrument, “till the seed should come to whom the promise was made,” till the second Adam came to claim the fulfilment of the promise—the promised inheritance “of life”—which the first Adam had forfeited and lost.
It is in contrast with this legal paction or covenant, whether as made before the fall, or as in outward form revived afterwards—when Israel became a nation—that the covenant of grace is called “new.” It is new, I have said, in form, though not in substance. It was new to Adam, the first covenant-transgressor, when, instead of doom, he found in it deliverance. It was new to Abraham, when his faith in it was counted to him for (or unto) righteousness, when he received the seal of his acceptance with God, not after, but “ before he was circumcised.” It was new to as many of Abraham's posterity, under the law, as had faith enough to discern its newness through the haze, and amid the shadows of that comparatively dark economy,—devout men like Simeon, and devout women like Anna, who waited for the “consolation of Israel.” It was new—a new revelation to the world—when that new thing was created in the earth of which the prophet speaks (ver. 22), the sinless humanity of Christ, when “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,” to be the keeper of the law, of the old covenant, in their room. It is new still to every newly awakened sinner, when he first gets a sight of it, reads it with his own eyes, and finds out that there is a place in it for him. It is new in this respect, that it shall never be “old,” or become obsolete, or go out of date, or lose its charm, or disclose all that is wonderful in it, never, even in eternity! The “new and better covenant," the "new and living way,” the “new name," the “new song," the “new Jerusalem,” will always, for evermore, be fitly so named.
“Newness” means novelty, and one novelty about this covenant is, that its clauses or articles are all promises. None of them are precepts. It has no conditions, such as might be enforced by
the “rigours of law.” It has no other condition but that which arises out of the very nature of it, viz.: that, being of the nature of a promise, in order to the implementing of that promise, the person to whom it is given must believe it to be true, as a promissory note at the bank must be presented, in order to be paid.
It is thus, in its form, one-sided. It seems to bind no one but the Maker, the Issuer of it. It looks as if it were misnamed, only another name for a gratuity, a bounty, which is a thing that often does more harm than good—which proves to be a bounty on indolence, or thriftlessness, or sin. It looks especially as if it were even intended to “make void,” rather than to “establish,” the authority of the Moral Law, which the old covenant seemed so much to honour.
And so it has been common, in all ages, to misrepresent, to defame it. But this is another novelty about it—that, by absolving us from the law in one sense, it binds us to the keeping of it in another. It binds us, by loosing us. It binds us more effectually without conditions, than with them. It does, in a way of grace, through the working of that grace on our affections, more than it ever did in its ancient form, or ever can do, through the working of its authority on our consciences, or of its terror on our fears.
How it does so, is the question—the practical question for practical men; and the Lord Jehovah himself supplies the answer, in the announcement which He makes here of its several provisions, in these two grand verses which lie before us (verses 33, 34), in this Protocol from the Court of Heaven. The covenant of grace is self-acting, self-fulfilling, as it is self-contained.
There are four clauses, or articles, in it, setting forth the fourfold provision which He has made for carrying it into effect, i.e., for carrying out what has been His invariable purpose, in all His transactions with men as His creatures, from the beginning, even to “ bless them,” by making, and keeping them obedient to Himself—to make them happy, in their being obedient and holy.
These four articles are exhibited, not in the order of time or experience, but of importance; and so, that which is contained in the clause forming our text is put first because it is first,—because it represents what is the terminating object of the whole plan of grace, what is the most gracious thing that God can either promise or do for a sinner,—viz., through the grace of the Gospel, its message of redeeming, forgiving love, to establish, to re-establish within his soul the authority, the supremacy of the Law. “I”
(saith the Lord, speaking of, and to the house of Israel, and, through them, of and to us), “I will put my law in their inward parts” (or in their mind) “and I will write it in their heart." I will certainly do this. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The form of expression used is evidently in allusion to the giving of the law from Mount Sinai. It was there written and graven on stones, and the stones thus graven were “put” into the ark. The writing was distinct and legible, the place of deposit was sacred and secure. But, under the Gospel, God's purpose is to increase both its distinctness, or legibility, and its security: its legibility, by transferring it from those cold, dull, lifeless stone tables, to the legible, intelligible lives of living, breathing men; and its security, by depositing it in their minds and hearts, to form a part of their very being, the life of their life, the germ of their immortality.
The promise includes four things, which will be found to correspond exactly with the four chief impediments, within ourselves, to the keeping of God's law, to our living an obedient, holy life. I cannot now illustrate them, but I shall name them, and they scarcely need more than to be named. It is a promise which contains the idea—first, that we shall get a clear understanding of the law—what it is. Then, moreover, that we shall get such an impression of it as shall be permanent. More than that, that we shall learn to find pleasure, to take delight in it. And then, last and best of all, that we shall be brought under its abiding, practical influence.
1. Clear understanding. “I will put my law into their mind.” God does this when He gives us the discovery, which He gave to Saul of Tarsus (as described by himself, in Rom. vii.), when He lets us see ourselves as the breakers of it, and Christ as the keeper, the fulfiller of it,—when he reveals to us the length, the breadth, the spirituality, the beauty of the law,-in Christ's living and dying obedience to it,-how it was “magnified” by Him! We never understand, we always mistake it, till then.
2. Permanent impression. “I will put my law into their mind,"—to dwell there. I will “write it in their hearts," so as to be indelible, and so as to be ever at hand, available, as a rule of of duty, a standard of appeal. This is the remedy for our way. wardness, our inconstancy, as the former is for our blindness, our mistakes, our proneness to forget, or throw off the remembrance of our responsibility, to forget that we are “under law," and cannot but be,—that to be released from the law's jurisdiction, or to escape beyond it, is alike impossible. It is the Gospel alone which discovers the secret of how to feel at ease, to “dwell at ease," under a government so absolute, so holy, as Jehovah's government is, and here He promises to reveal it. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and His covenant, He will make them to know it.”
3. There is, however, something more engaged for on our behalf than mere acquiescence or approval. There is pleasure and delight. What is “written in the heart” is the object of the heart's esteem, love, complacency. And this is true of God's law; when He writes it, then He makes its very strictness look beautiful, its severity seem “sweetly reasonable.” Its perfection becomes its charm. “O, how love I Thy law !” said the devout king of Israel, “It is my study all the day. Thy word is very pure. Therefore Thy servant loveth it. I have seen an end of all perfection: Thy commandment is exceeding broad.” When Paul was most “dead to the law,” in one respect, he was most alive to it in another. And it was because he was dead to it, to any expectation whatever of being saved by it, that he learned to love it, for its own sake, to delight in it after the “inward man.”
4. Where there is clear intelligence, and constant remembrance, and cordial choice of the law, there will also be—there cannot but be—an abiding, practical influence,-a loyal subjection to it, such as the legal, carnal mind, that is so fond of making a bargain with God, will not, cannot yield. And this, of course, is the thing mainly intended in the promise of the text. God engages for it. He covenants for it, on behalf of whoever of “the house of Israel," of whoever among the sons of men in the name of Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant) covenants with Him. And He will not break His word, nor violate His oath, nor fail in His undertaking. For this is our security, that the covenant is not, after all, made with us, but made with another, even with Christ, for us. Its promises are "yea, and amen,” because they are “in Him," and they are in Him because He has deserved the fulfilment of them, because He has implemented the conditions in which we failed. Its blessings are offered and served to us unconditionally, because it cost Him so dear to purchase them, because they are all blood-bought. So that, we“ being in Him” (so many of us as are), and “abiding in Him,” are as sure of its fulfilment as if it had been made with our individual selves,-yea, far surer. Whatever unfaithfulness there may be on our part,