Puritan Board Freshman
I'm a big fan of John Owen and have just recently come to learn of his work, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Volume 6 where he breaks away from many other Reformed folks in his covenant theology as described in his commentary from Hebrews 8:6.
Does anyone know if there has been a Presbyterian or Reformed 'response' that interacts with John Owen's work that I could review? Or would anyone help me to understand the error (perceived, real, or otherwise) in the conclusions he draws?
A few excerpts below for those who, like me until today, may have been unaware of John Owen's position, feel free to skim and interact with it here for the edification of the saints:
Does anyone know if there has been a Presbyterian or Reformed 'response' that interacts with John Owen's work that I could review? Or would anyone help me to understand the error (perceived, real, or otherwise) in the conclusions he draws?
A few excerpts below for those who, like me until today, may have been unaware of John Owen's position, feel free to skim and interact with it here for the edification of the saints:
As therefore I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition, so I shall propose sundry things which relate unto the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace:—
1. This covenant, called “the old covenant,” was never intended to be of itself the absolute rule and law of life and salvation unto the church, but was made with a particular design, and with respect unto particular ends. This the apostle proves undeniably in this epistle, especially in the chapter foregoing, and those two that follow. Hence it follows that it could abrogate or disannul nothing which God at any time before had given as a general rule unto the church. For that which is particular cannot abrogate any thing that was general, and before it; as that which is general doth abrogate all antecedent particulars, as the new covenant doth abrogate the old. And this we must consider in both the instances belonging hereunto. For,—
(1.) God had before given the covenant of works, or perfect obedience, unto all mankind, in the law of creation. But this covenant at Sinai did not abrogate or disannul that covenant, nor any way fulfil it. And the reason is, because it was never intended to come in the place or room thereof, as a covenant, containing an entire rule of all the faith and obedience of the whole church. God did not intend in it to abrogate the covenant of works, and to substitute this in the place thereof; yea, in sundry things it re-enforced, established, and confirmed that covenant. For,—
[1.] It revived, declared, and expressed all the commands of that covenant in the decalogue; for that is nothing but a divine summary of the law written in the heart of man at his creation. And herein the dreadful manner of its delivery or promulgation, with its writing in tables of stone, is also to be considered; for in them the nature of that first covenant, with its inexorableness as unto perfect obedience, was represented. And because none could answer its demands, or comply with it therein, it was called “the ministration of death,” causing fear and bondage, 2 Cor. 3:7.
[2.] It revived the sanction of the first covenant, in the curse or sentence of death which it denounced against all transgressors. Death was the penalty of the transgression of the first covenant: “In the day that thou eatest, thou shalt die the death.” And this sentence was revived and represented anew in the curse wherewith this covenant was ratified, “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them,” Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10. For the design of God in it was to bind a sense of that curse on the consciences of men, until He came by whom it was taken away, as the apostle declares, Gal. 3:19.
[3.] It revived the promise of that covenant,—that of eternal life upon perfect obedience. So the apostle tells us that Moses thus describeth the righteousness of the law, “That the man which doeth those things shall live by them,” Rom. 10:5; as he doth, Lev. 18:5.
Now this is no other but the covenant of works revived. Nor had this covenant of Sinai any promise of eternal life annexed unto it, as such, but only the promise inseparable from the covenant of works which it revived, saying, “Do this, and live.
Hence it is, that when our apostle disputeth against justification by the law, or by the works of the law, he doth not intend the works peculiar unto the covenant of Sinai, such as were the rites and ceremonies of the worship then instituted; but he intends also the works of the first covenant, which alone had the promise of life annexed unto them.
And hence it follows also, that it was not a new covenant of works established in the place of the old, for the absolute rule of faith and obedience unto the whole church; for then would it have abrogated and taken away that covenant, and all the force of it, which it did not.
(2.) The other instance is in the promise. This also went before it; neither was it abrogated or disannulled by the introduction of this covenant. This promise was given unto our first parents immediately after the entrance of sin, and was established as containing the only way and means of the salvation of sinners. Now, this promise could not be abrogated by the introduction of this covenant, and a new way of justification and salvation be thereby established. For the promise being given out in general for the whole church, as containing the way appointed by God for righteousness, life, and salvation, it could not be disannulled or changed, without a change and alteration in the counsels of Him “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Much less could this be effected by a particular covenant, such as that was, when it was given as a general and eternal rule.
2. But whereas there was an especial promise given unto Abraham, in the faith whereof he became “the father of the faithful,” he being their progenitor, it should seem that this covenant did wholly disannul or supercede that promise, and take off the church of his posterity from building on that foundation, and so fix them wholly on this new covenant now made with them. So saith Moses, “The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, who are all of us here alive this day,” Deut. 5:3. God made not this covenant on mount Sinai with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but with the people then present, and their posterity, as he declares, Deut. 29:14, 15. This, therefore, should seem to take them off wholly from that promise made to Abraham, and so to disannul it. But that this it did not, nor could do, the apostle strictly proves, Gal. 3:17–22; yea, it did divers ways establish that promise, both as first given and as afterwards confirmed with the oath of God unto Abraham, two ways especially:—
(1.) It declared the impossibility of obtaining reconciliation and peace with God any other way but by the promise. For representing the commands of the covenant of works, requiring perfect, sinless obedience, under the penalty of the curse, it convinced men that this was no way for sinners to seek for life and salvation by. And herewith it so urged the consciences of men, that they could have no rest nor peace in themselves but what the promise would afford them, whereunto they saw a necessity of betaking themselves.
(2.) By representing the ways and means of the accomplishment of the promise, and of that whereon all the efficacy of it unto the justification and salvation of sinners doth depend. This was the death, blood-shedding, oblation, or sacrifice of Christ, the promised seed. This all its offerings and ordinances of worship directed unto; as his incarnation, with the inhabitation of God in his human nature, was typed by the tabernacle and temple. Wherefore it was so far from disannulling the promise, or diverting the minds of the people of God from it, that by all means it established it and led unto it. But,—
3. It will be said, as was before observed, ‘That if it did neither abrogate the first covenant of works, and come in the room thereof, nor disannul the promise made unto Abraham, then unto what end did it serve, or what benefit did the church receive thereby?’ I answer,—
(1.) There hath been, with respect unto God’s dealing with the church, οἰκονομία τῶν καιρῶν,—a “certain dispensation” and disposition of times and seasons, reserved unto the sovereign will and pleasure of God. Hence from the beginning he revealed himself πολυτρόπως and πολυμερῶς, as seemed good unto him, Heb. 1:1. And this dispensation of times had a πλήρωμα, a “fulness” assigned unto it, wherein all things, namely, that belong unto the revelation and communication of God unto the church, should come to their height, and have as it were the last hand given unto them. This was in the sending of Christ, as the apostle declares, Eph. 1:10, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might bring all unto a head in Christ.” Until this season came, God dealt variously with the church, ἐν ποικίλῃ σοφίᾳ, “in manifold” or “various wisdom,” according as he saw it needful and useful for it, in that season which it was to pass through, before the fulness of times came. Of this nature was his entrance into the covenant with the church at Sinai; the reasons whereof we shall immediately inquire into. In the meantime, if we had no other answer to this inquiry but only this, that in the order of the disposal or dispensation of the seasons of the church, before the fulness of times came, God in his manifold wisdom saw it necessary for the then present state of the church in that season, we may well acquiesce therein. But,—
(2.) The apostle acquaints us in general with the ends of this dispensation of God, Gal. 3:19–24: “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not of one, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid; for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Much light might be given unto the mind of the Holy Ghost in these words, and that in things not commonly discerned by expositors, if we should divert unto the opening of them. I will at present only mark from them what is unto our present purpose.
There is a double inquiry made by the apostle with respect unto the law, or the covenant of Sinai: [1.] Unto what end in general it served. [2.] Whether it was not contrary to the promise of God. Unto both these the apostle answereth from the nature, office, and work of that covenant. For there were, as hath been declared, two things in it: [1.] A revival and representation of the covenant of works, with its sanction and curse. [2.] A direction of the church unto the accomplishment of the promise. From these two doth the apostle frame his answer unto the double inquiry laid down.
And unto the first inquiry, “unto what end it served,” he answers, “It was added because of transgressions.” The promise being given, there seems to have been no need of it, why then was it added to it at that season? “It was added because of transgressions.” The fulness of time was not yet come, wherein the promise was to be fulfilled, accomplished and established as the only covenant wherein the church was to walk with God; or, “the seed” was not yet come, as the apostle here speaks, to whom the promise was made. In the meantime some order must be taken about sin and transgression, that all the order of things appointed of God might not be overflowed by them. And this was done two ways by the law:—
[1.] By reviving the commands of the covenant of works, with the sanction of death, it put an awe on the minds of men, and set bounds unto their lusts, that they should not dare to run forth into that excess which they were naturally inclined unto. It was therefore “added because of transgressions;” that, in the declaration of God’s severity against them, some bounds might be fixed unto them; for “by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
[2.] To shut up unbelievers, and such as would not seek for righteousness, life, and salvation by the promise, under the power of the covenant of works, and curse attending it. “It concluded” or “shut up all under sin,” saith the apostle, Gal 3:22. This was the end of the law, for this end was it added, as it gave a revival unto the covenant of works.
Unto the second inquiry, which ariseth out of this supposition, namely, that the law did convince of sin, and condemn for sin, which is, “whether it be not then contrary to the grace of God,” the apostle in like manner returns a double answer, taken from the second use of the law, before insisted on, with respect unto the promise. And,—
[1.] He says, ‘That although the law doth thus rebuke sin, convince of sin, and condemn for sin, so setting bounds unto transgressions and transgressors, yet did God never intend it as a means to give life and righteousness, nor was it able so to do.’ The end of the promise was to give righteousness, justification, and salvation, all by Christ, to whom and concerning whom it was made. But this was not the end for which the law was revived in the covenant of Sinai. For although in itself it requires a perfect righteousness, and gives a promise of life thereon, (“He that doeth these things, he shall live in them,”) yet it could give neither righteousness nor life unto any in the state of sin. See Rom. 8:3, 10:4. Wherefore the promise and the law, having diverse ends, they are not contrary to one another.
[2.] Saith he, ‘The law hath a great respect unto the promise; and was given of God for this very end, that it might lead and direct men unto Christ;’—which is sufficient to answer the question proposed at the beginning of this discourse, about the end of this covenant, and the advantage which the church received thereby.
What hath been spoken may suffice to declare the nature of this covenant in general; and two things do here evidently follow, wherein the substance of the whole truth contended for by the apostle doth consist:—
(1.) That whilst the covenant of grace was contained and proposed only in the promise, before it was solemnly confirmed in the blood and sacrifice of Christ, and so legalized or established as the only rule of the worship of the church, the introduction of this other covenant on Sinai did not constitute a new way or means of righteousness, life, and salvation; but believers sought for them alone by the covenant of grace as declared in the promise. This follows evidently upon what we have discoursed; and it secures absolutely that great fundamental truth, which the apostle in this and all his other epistles so earnestly contendeth for, namely, that there neither is, nor ever was, either righteousness, justification, life, or salvation, to be attained by any law, or the works of it, (for this covenant at mount Sinai comprehended every law that God ever gave unto the church,) but by Christ alone, and faith in him.
(2.) That whereas this covenant being introduced in the pleasure of God, there was prescribed with it a form of outward worship suited unto that dispensation of times and present state of the church; upon the introduction of the new covenant in the fulness of times, to be the rule of all intercourse between God and the church, both that covenant and all its worship must be disannulled. This is that which the apostle proves with all sorts of arguments, manifesting the great advantage of the church thereby.
These things, I say, do evidently follow on the preceding discourses, and are the main truths contended for by the apostle.
4. There remaineth one thing more only to be considered, before we enter on the comparison between the two covenants here directed unto by the apostle. And this is, how this first covenant came to be an especial covenant unto that people: wherein we shall manifest the reason of its introduction at that season. And unto this end sundry things are to be considered concerning that people and the church of God in them, with whom this covenant was made; which will further evidence both the nature, use, and necessity of it:—
(1.) This people were the posterity of Abraham, unto whom the promise was made that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. Wherefore from among them was the promised Seed to be raised up in the fulness of time, or its proper season,—from among them was the Son of God to take on him the seed of Abraham. To this end sundry things were necessary:—
[1.] That they should have a certain abiding place or country, which they might freely inhabit, distinct from other nations, and under a rule or sceptre of their own. So it is said of them, that “the people should dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations,” Num. 23:9; and “the sceptre was not to depart from them until Shiloh came,” Gen. 49:10. For God had regard unto his own glory in his faithfulness as unto his word and oath given unto Abraham, not only that they should be accomplished, but that their accomplishment should be evident and conspicuous. But if this posterity of Abraham, from among whom the promised Seed was to rise, had been, as it is at this day with them, scattered abroad on the face of the earth, mixed with all nations, and under their power, although God might have accomplished his promise really in raising up Christ from among some of his posterity, yet could it not be proved or evidenced that he had so done, by reason of the confusion and mixture of the people with others. Wherefore God provided a land and country for them which they might inhabit by themselves, and as their own, even the land of Canaan. And this was so suited unto all the ends of God towards that people,—as might be declared in sundry instances,—that God is said to have “espied this land out for them,” Ezek. 20:6. He chose it out, as most meet for his purpose towards that people of all lands under heaven.
[2.] That there should be always kept among them an open confession and visible representation of the end for which they were so separated from all the nations of the world. They were not to dwell in the land of Canaan merely for secular ends, and to make as it were a dumb show; but as they were there maintained and preserved to evidence the faithfulness of God in bringing forth the promised Seed in the fulness of time, so there was to be a testimony kept up among them unto that end of God whereunto they were preserved. This was the end of all their ordinances of worship, of the tabernacle, priesthood, sacrifices and ordinances; which were all appointed by Moses, on the command of God, “for a testimony of those things which should be spoken afterwards,” Heb. 3:5.
These things were necessary in the first place, with respect unto the ends of God towards that people.
(2.) It becomes not the wisdom, holiness, and sovereignty of God, to call any people into an especial relation unto himself, to do them good in an eminent and peculiar manner, and then to suffer them to live at their pleasure, without any regard unto what he hath done for them. Wherefore, having granted unto this people those great privileges of the land of Canaan, and the ordinances of worship relating unto the great end mentioned, he moreover prescribed unto them laws, rules, and terms of obedience, whereon they should hold and enjoy that land, with all the privileges annexed unto the possession thereof. And these are both expressed and frequently inculcated, in the repetition and promises of the law. But yet in the prescription of these terms, God reserved the sovereignty of dealing with them unto himself. For had he left them to stand or fall absolutely by the terms prescribed unto them, they might and would have utterly forfeited both the land and all the privileges they enjoyed therein. And had it so fallen out, then the great end of God in preserving them a separate people until the Seed should come, and a representation thereof among them, had been frustrated. Wherefore, although he punished them for their transgressions, according to the threatenings of the law, yet would he not bring the חֵרֶם, or “curse of the law,” upon them, and utterly cast them off, until his great end was accomplished, Mal. 4:4–6.
(3.) God would not take this people off from the promise, because his church was among them, and they could neither please God nor be accepted with him but by faith therein. But yet they were to be dealt withal according as it was meet. For they were generally a people of a hard heart, and stiff-necked, lifted up with an opinion of their own righteousness and worth above others. This Moses endeavoureth, by all manner of reasons and instances unto the contrary, to take them off from, in the book of Deuteronomy. Yet was it not effected among the generality of them, nor is to this day; for in the midst of all their wickedness and misery, they still trust to and boast of their own righteousness, and will have it that God hath an especial obligation unto them on that account. For this cause God saw it necessary, and it pleased him to put a grievous and heavy yoke upon them, to subdue the pride of their spirits, and to cause them to breathe after deliverance. This the apostle Peter calls “a yoke that neither they nor their fathers were able to bear,” Acts 15:10; that is, with peace, ease, and rest: which therefore the Lord Christ invited them to seek for in himself alone, Matt. 11:29, 30. And this yoke that God put on them consisted in these three things:—
[1.] In a multitude of precepts, hard to be understood, and difficult to be observed. The present Jews reckon up six hundred and thirteen of them; about the sense of most of which they dispute endlessly among themselves. But the truth is, since the days of the Pharisees they have increased their own yoke, and made obedience unto their law in any tolerable manner altogether impracticable. It were easy to manifest, for instance, that no man under heaven ever did, or ever can, keep the Sabbath according to the rules they give about it in their Talmuds. And they generally scarce observe one of them themselves. But in the law, as given by God himself, it is certain that there are a multitude of arbitrary precepts, and those in themselves not accompanied with any spiritual advantages, as our apostle shows, Heb. 9:9, 10; only they were obliged to perform them by a mere sovereign act of power and authority.
[2.] In the severity wherewith the observance of all those precepts was enjoined them. And this was the threatening of death; for “he that despised Moses’ law died without mercy,” and “every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward.” Hence was their complaint of old, “Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish. Whosoever cometh any thing near unto the tabernacle of the LORD shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?” Num. 17:12, 13. And the curse solemnly denounced against every one that confirmed not all things written in the law was continually before them.
[3.] In a spirit of bondage unto fear. This was administered in the giving and dispensation of the law, even as a spirit of liberty and power is administered in and by the gospel. And as this respected their present obedience, and manner of its performance, so in particular it regarded death not yet conquered by Christ. Hence our apostle affirms, that “through fear of death they were all their lifetime subject unto bondage.”
This state God brought them into, partly to subdue the pride of their hearts, trusting in their own righteousness, and partly to cause them to look out earnestly after the promised deliverer.
(4.) Into this estate and condition God brought them by a solemn covenant, confirmed by mutual consent between him and them. The tenor, force, and solemn ratification of this covenant, are expressed, Exod. 24:3–8. Unto the terms and conditions of this covenant was the whole church obliged indispensably, on pain of extermination, until all was accomplished, Mal. 4:4–6. Unto this covenant belonged the decalogue, with all precepts of moral obedience thence educed. So also did the laws of political rule established among them, and the whole system of religious worship given unto them. All these laws were brought within the verge of this covenant, and were the matter of it. And it had especial promises and threatenings annexed unto it as such; whereof none did exceed the bounds of the land of Canaan. For even many of the laws of it were such as obliged nowhere else. Such was the law of the sabbatical year, and all their sacrifices. There was sin and obedience in them or about them in the land of Canaan, none elsewhere. Hence,—
(5.) This covenant thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. 3:9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works. And,—
(6.) Hereon occasionally fell out the ruin of that people; “their table became a snare unto them, and that which should have been for their welfare became a trap,” according to the prediction of our Saviour, Ps. 69:22. It was this covenant that raised and ruined them. It raised them to glory and honour when given of God; it ruined them when abused by themselves to ends contrary to express declarations of his mind and will. For although the generality of them were wicked and rebellious, always breaking the terms of the covenant which God made with them, so far as it was possible they should, whilst God determined to reign over them unto the appointed season, and repining under the burden of it; yet they would have this covenant to be the only rule and means of righteousness, life, and salvation, as the apostle declares, Rom. 9:31–33, 10:3. For, as we have often said, there were two things in it, both which they abused unto other ends than what God designed them:—
[1.] There was the renovation of the rule of the covenant of works for righteousness and life. And this they would have to be given unto them for those ends, and so sought for righteousness by the works of the law.
[2.] There was ordained in it a typical representation of the way and means whereby the promise was to be made effectual, namely, in the mediation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ; which was the end of all their ordinances of worship. And the outward law thereof, with the observance of its institution, they looked on as their only relief when they came short of exact and perfect righteousness.
Against both these pernicious errors the apostle disputes expressly in his epistles unto the Romans and the Galatians, to save them, if it were possible, from that ruin they were casting themselves into. Hereon “the elect obtained,” but “the rest were hardened.” For hereby they made an absolute renunciation of the promise, wherein alone God had inwrapped the way of life and salvation.
This is the nature and substance of that covenant which God made with that people; a particular, temporary covenant it was, and not a mere dispensation of the covenant of grace.
That which remains for the declaration of the mind of the Holy Ghost in this whole matter, is to declare the differences that are between those two covenants, whence the one is said to be “better” than the other, and to be “built upon better promises.”
Those of the church of Rome do commonly place this difference in three things: 1. In the promises of them: which in the old covenant were temporal only; in the new, spiritual and heavenly. 2. In the precepts of them: which under the old, required only external obedience, designing the righteousness of the outward man; under the new, they are internal, respecting principally the inner man of the heart. 3. In their sacraments: for those under the old testament were only outwardly figurative; but those of the new are operative of grace.
But these things do not express much, if any thing at all, of what the Scripture placeth this difference in. And besides, as by some of them explained, they are not true, especially the two latter of them. For I cannot but somewhat admire how it came into the heart or mind of any man to think or say, that God ever gave a law or laws, precept or precepts, that should “respect the outward man only, and the regulation of external duties.” A thought of it is contrary unto all the essential properties of the nature of God, and meet only to ingenerate apprehensions of him unsuited unto all his glorious excellencies. The life and foundation of all the laws under the old testament was, “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy soul;” without which no outward obedience was ever accepted with him. And for the third of the supposed differences, neither were the sacraments of the law so barely “figurative,” but that they did exhibit Christ unto believers: for “they all drank of the spiritual rock; which rock was Christ.” Nor are those of the gospel so operative of grace, but that without faith they are useless unto them that do receive them.
The things wherein this difference doth consist, as expressed in the Scripture, are partly circumstantial, and partly substantial, and may be reduced unto the heads ensuing:—
1. These two covenants differ in the circumstance of time as to their promulgation, declaration, and establishment This difference the apostle expresseth from the prophet Jeremiah, in the ninth verse of this chapter, where it must be more fully spoken unto. In brief, the first covenant was made at the time that God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, and took its date from the third month after their coming up from thence, Exod. 19, 24. From the time of what is reported in the latter place, wherein the people give their actual consent unto the terms of it, it began its formal obligation as a covenant. And we must afterwards inquire when it was abrogated and ceased to oblige the church. The new covenant was declared and made known “in the latter days,” Heb. 1:1, 2; “in the dispensation of the fulness of times,” Eph. 1:10. And it took date, as a covenant formally obliging the whole church, from the death, resurrection, ascension of Christ, and sending of the Holy Ghost. I bring them all into the epocha of this covenant, because though principally it was established by the first, yet was it not absolutely obligatory as a covenant until after the last of them.
2. They differ in the circumstance of place as to their promulgation; which the Scripture also taketh notice of. The first was declared on mount Sinai; the manner whereof, and the station of the people in receiving the law, I have in my Exercitations unto the first part of this Exposition at large declared, and thither the reader is referred, Exod. 19:18. The other was declared on mount Zion, and the law of it went forth from Jerusalem, Isa. 2:3. This difference, with many remarkable instances from it, our apostle insists on, Gal 4:24–26: “These are the two covenants; the one from mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.” That is, Agar, the bondwoman whom Abraham took before the heir of promise was born, was a type of the old covenant given on Sinai, before the introduction of the new, or the covenant of promise; for so he adds: “For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth unto Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.” This mount Sinai, where the old covenant was given, and which was represented by Agar, is in Arabia,—cast quite out of the verge and confines of the church. And it “answereth,” or “is placed in the same series, rank, and order with Jerusalem,” namely, in the opposition of the two covenants. For as the new covenant, the covenant of promise, giving freedom and liberty, was given at Jerusalem, in the death and resurrection of Christ, with the preaching of the gospel which ensued thereon; so the old covenant, that brought the people into bondage, was given at mount Sinai in Arabia.
3. They differ in the manner of their promulgation and establishment. There were two things remarkable that accompanied the solemn declaration of the first covenant:—
(1.) The dread and terror of the outward appearance on mount Sinai, which filled all the people, yea, Moses himself, with fear and trembling, Heb. 12:18–21; Exod. 19:16, 20:18, 19. Together herewith was a spirit of fear and bondage administered unto all the people, so as that they chose to keep at a distance, and not draw nigh unto God, Deut 5:23–27.
(2.) That it was given by the ministry and “disposition of angels,” Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19. Hence the people were in a sense “put in subjection unto angels,” and they had an authoritative ministry in that covenant. The church that then was, was put into some kind of subjection unto angels, as the apostle plainly intimates, Heb. 2:5. Hence the worshipping or adoration of angels began among that people, Col. 2:18; which some, with an addition unto their folly and superstition, would introduce into the Christian church, wherein they have no such authoritative ministry as they had under the old covenant.
Things are quite otherwise in the promulgation of the new covenant. The Son of God in his own person did declare it. This he “spake from heaven,” as the apostle observes; in opposition unto the giving of the law “on the earth,” Heb. 12:25. Yet did he speak on the earth also; the mystery whereof himself declares, John 3:13. And he did all things that belonged unto the establishment of this covenant in a spirit of meekness and condescension, with the highest evidence of love, grace, and compassion, encouraging and inviting the weary, the burdened, the heavy and laden to come unto him. And by his Spirit he makes his disciples to carry on the same work until the covenant was fully declared, Heb. 2:3. See John 1:17, 18.
And the whole ministry of angels, in the giving of this covenant, was merely in a way of service and obedience unto Christ; and they owned themselves the “fellow-servants” only of them that have “the testimony of Jesus,” Rev. 19:10. So that this “world to come,” as it was called of old, was no way put in subjection unto them.
4. They differ in their mediators. The mediator of the first covenant was Moses. “It was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator,” Gal. 3:19. And this was no other but Moses, who was a servant in the house of God, Heb. 3:5. And he was a mediator, as designed of God, so chosen of the people, in that dread and consternation which befell them upon the terrible promulgation of the law. For they saw that they could no way bear the immediate presence of God, nor treat with him in their own persons. Wherefore they desired that there might be an internuncius, a mediator between God and them, and that Moses might be the person, Deut. 5:24–27. But the mediator of the new covenant is the Son of God himself. For “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all,” 1 Tim. 2:5. He who is the Son, and the Lord over his own house, graciously undertook in his own person to be the mediator of this covenant; and herein it is unspeakably preferred before the old covenant.
5. They differ in their subject-matter, both as unto precepts and promises, the advantage being still on the part of the new covenant. For,—
(1.) The old covenant, in the preceptive part of it, renewed the commands of the covenant of works, and that on their original terms. Sin it forbade,—that is, all and every sin, in matter and manner,—on the pain of death; and gave the promise of life unto perfect, sinless obedience only: whence the decalogue itself, which is a transcript of the law of works, is called “the covenant,” Exod. 34:28. And besides this, as we observed before, it had other precepts innumerable, accommodated unto the present condition of the people, and imposed on them with rigour. But in the new covenant, the very first thing that is proposed, is the accomplishment and establishment of the covenant of works, both as unto its commands and sanction, in the obedience and suffering of the mediator. Hereon the commands of it, as unto the obedience of the covenanters, are not grievous; the yoke of Christ being easy, and his burden light.
(2.) The old testament, absolutely considered, had, [1.] No promise of grace, to communicate spiritual strength, or to assist us in obedience; nor, [2.] Any of eternal life, no otherwise but as it was contained in the promise of the covenant of works, “The man that doeth these things shall live in them;” and, [3.] Had promises of temporal things in the land of Canaan inseparable from it. In the new covenant all things are otherwise, as will be declared in the exposition of the ensuing verses.
6. They differ, and that principally, in the manner of their dedication and sanction. This is that which gives any thing the formal nature of a covenant or testament. There may be a promise, there may be an agreement in general, which hath not the formal nature of a covenant, or testament,—and such was the covenant of grace before the death of Christ,—but it is the solemnity and manner of the confirmation, dedication, and sanction of any promise or agreement, that give it the formal nature of a covenant or testament. And this is by a sacrifice, wherein there is both bloodshedding and death ensuing thereon. Now this, in the confirmation of the old covenant, was only the sacrifice of beasts, whose blood was sprinkled on all the people, Exod. 24:5–8. But the new testament was solemnly confirmed by the sacrifice and blood of Christ himself, Zech 9:11; Heb. 10:29, 13:20. And the Lord Christ dying as the mediator and surety of the covenant, he purchased all good things for the church; and as a testator bequeathed them unto it. Hence he says of the sacramental cup, that it is “the new testament in his blood,” or the pledge of his bequeathing unto the church all the promises and mercies of the covenant; which is the new testament, or the disposition of his goods unto his children. But because the apostle expressly handleth this difference between these two covenants, chap. 9:18–23, we must thither refer the full consideration of it.
7. They differ in the priests that were to officiate before God in the behalf of the people. In the old covenant, Aaron and his posterity alone were to discharge that office; in the new, the Son of God himself is the only priest of the church. This difference, with the advantage of the gospel-state thereon, we have handled at large in the exposition of the chapter foregoing.
8. They differ in the sacrifices whereon the peace and reconciliation with God which is tendered in them doth depend. And this also must be spoken unto in the ensuing chapter, if God permit.
9. They differ in the way and manner of their solemn writing or enrolment. All covenants were of old solemnly written in tables of brass or stone, where they might be faithfully preserved for the use of the parties concerned. So the old covenant, as to the principal, fundamental part of it, was “engraven in tables of stone,” which were kept in the ark, Exod. 31:18; Deut. 9:10; 2 Cor. 3:7. And God did so order it in his providence, that the first draught of them should be broken, to intimate that the covenant contained in them was not everlasting nor unalterable. But the new covenant is written in the “fleshy tables of the hearts” of them that do believe 2 Cor. 3:3; Jer. 31:33.
10. They differ in their ends. The principal end of the first covenant was to discover sin, to condemn it, and to set bounds unto it. So saith the apostle, “It was added because of transgressions.” And this it did several ways:—
(1.) By conviction: for “by the law is the knowledge of sin;” it convinced sinners, and caused every mouth to be stopped before God.
(2.) By condemning the sinner, in an application of the sanction of the law unto his conscience.
(3.) By the judgments and punishments wherewith on all occasions it was accompanied. In all it manifested and represented the justice and severity of God.
The end of the new covenant is, to declare the love, grace, and mercy of God; and therewith to give repentance, remission of sin, and life eternal.
11. They differed in their effects. For the first covenant being the “ministration of death” and “condemnation,” it brought the minds and spirits of them that were under it into servitude and bondage; whereas spiritual liberty is the immediate effect of the new testament. And there is no one thing wherein the Spirit of God doth more frequently give us an account of the difference between these two covenants, than in this of the liberty of the one and the bondage of the other. See Rom. 8:15; 2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 4:1–7, 24, 26, 30, 31; Heb. 2:14, 15. This, therefore, we must a little explain. Wherefore the bondage which was the effect of the old covenant arose from several causes concurring unto the effecting of it:—
(1.) The renovation of the terms and sanction of the covenant of works contributed much thereunto. For the people saw not how the commands of that covenant could be observed, nor how its curse could be avoided. They saw it not, I say, by any thing in the covenant of Sinai; which therefore “gendered unto bondage.” All the prospect they had of deliverance was from the promise.
(2.) It arose from the manner of the delivery of the law, and God’s entering thereon into covenant with them. This was ordered on purpose to fill them with dread and fear. And it could not but do so, whenever they called it to remembrance.
(3.) From the severity of the penalties annexed unto the transgression of the law. And God had taken upon himself, that where punishment was not exacted according to the law, he himself would “cut them off.” This kept them always anxious and solicitous, not knowing when they were safe or secure.
(4.) From the nature of the whole ministry of the law, which was the “ministration of death” and “condemnation,” 2 Cor. 3:7, 9; which declared the desert of every sin to be death, and denounced death unto every sinner, administering by itself no relief unto the minds and consciences of men. So was it the “letter that killed” them that were under its power.
(5.) From the darkness of their own minds, in the means, ways, and causes of deliverance from all these things. It is true, they had a promise before of life and salvation, which was not abolished by this covenant, even the promise made unto Abraham; but this belonged not unto this covenant, and the way of its accomplishment, by the incarnation and mediation of the Son of God, was much hidden from them,—yea, from the prophets themselves who yet foretold them. This left them under much bondage. For the principal cause and means of the liberty of believers under the gospel, ariseth from the clear light they have into the mystery of the love and grace of God in Christ. This knowledge and faith of his incarnation, humiliation, sufferings, and sacrifice, whereby he made atonement for sin, and brought in everlasting righteousness, is that which gives them liberty and boldness in their obedience, 2 Cor. 3:17, 18. Whilst they of old were in the dark as unto these things, they must needs have been kept under much bondage.
(6.) It was increased by the yoke of a multitude of laws, rites, and ceremonies, imposed on them; which made the whole of their worship a burden unto them, and insupportable, Acts 15:10.
In and by all these ways and means there was a spirit of bondage and fear administered unto them. And this God did, thus he dealt with them, to the end that they might not rest in that state, but continually look out after deliverance.
On the other hand, the new covenant gives liberty and boldness, the liberty and boldness of children, unto all believers. It is the Spirit of the Son in it that makes us free, or gives us universally all that liberty which is any way needful for us or useful unto us. For “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;” namely, to serve God, “not in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the spirit.” And it is declared that this was the great end of bringing in the new covenant, in the accomplishment of the promise made unto Abraham, namely, “that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve God without fear … all the days of our life,” Luke 1:72–75. And we may briefly consider wherein this deliverance and liberty by the new covenant doth consist, which it doth in the things ensuing:—
(1.) In our freedom from the commanding power of the law, as to sinless, perfect obedience, in order unto righteousness and justification before God. Its commands we are still subject unto, but not in order unto life and salvation; for unto these ends it is fulfilled in and by the mediator of the new covenant, who is “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth,” Rom. 10:4.
(2.) In our freedom from the condemning power of the law, and the sanction of it in the curse. This being undergone and answered by him who was “made a curse for us,” we are freed from it, Rom. 7:6; Gal. 3:13, 14. And therein also are we “delivered from the fear of death,” Heb. 2:15, as it was penal and an entrance into judgment or condemnation, John 5:24.
(3.) In our freedom from conscience of sin, Heb. 10:2,—that is, conscience disquieting, perplexing, and condemning our persons; the hearts of all that believe being “sprinkled from an evil conscience” by the blood of Christ.
(4.) In our freedom from the whole system of Mosaical worship, in all the rites, and ceremonies, and ordinances of it; which what a burden it was the apostles do declare, Acts 15, and our apostle at large in his epistle to the Galatians.
(5.) From all the laws of men in things appertaining unto the worship of God, 1 Cor. 7:23.
And by all these, and the like instances of spiritual liberty, doth the gospel free believers from that “spirit of bondage unto fear,” which was administered under the old covenant.
It remains only that we point out the heads of those ways whereby this liberty is communicated unto us under the new covenant. And it is done,—
(1.) Principally by the grant and communication of the Spirit of the Son as a Spirit of adoption, giving the freedom, boldness, and liberty of children, John 1:12; Rom. 8:15–17; Gal. 4:6, 7. From hence the apostle lays it down as a certain rule, that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” 2 Cor. 3:17. Let men pretend what they will, let them boast of the freedom of their outward condition in this world, and of the inward liberty or freedom of their wills, there is indeed no true liberty where the Spirit of God is not. The ways whereby he giveth freedom, power, a sound mind, spiritual boldness, courage, contempt of the cross, holy confidence before God, a readiness for obedience, and enlargedness of heart in duties, with all other things wherein true liberty doth consist, or which any way belong unto it, I must not here divert to declare. The world judges that there is no bondage but where the Spirit of God is; for that gives that conscientious fear of sin, that awe of God in all our thoughts, actions, and ways, that careful and circumspect walking, that temperance in things lawful, that abstinence from all appearance of evil, wherein they judge the greatest bondage on the earth to consist. But those who have received him, do know that the whole world doth lie in evil, and that all those unto whom spiritual liberty is a bondage are the servants and slaves of Satan.
(2.) It is obtained by the evidence of our justification before God, and the causes of it. This men were greatly in the dark unto under the first covenant, although all stable peace with God doth depend thereon; for it is in the gospel that “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith,” Rom. 1:17. Indeed “the righteousness of God without the law is witnessed by the law and the prophets,” Rom. 3:21; that is, testimony is given to it in legal institutions and the promises recorded in the prophets. But these things were obscure unto them, who were to seek for what was intended under the veils and shadows of priests and sacrifices, atonements and expiations. But our justification before God, in all the causes of it, being now fully revealed and made manifest, it hath a great influence into spiritual liberty and boldness.
(3.) By the spiritual light which is given to believers into the mystery of God in Christ. This the apostle affirms to have been “hid in God from the beginning of the world,” Eph. 3:9. It was contrived and prepared in the counsel and wisdom of God from all eternity. Some intimation was given of it in the first promise, and it was afterwards shadowed out by sundry legal institutions; but the depth, the glory, the beauty and fulness of it, were “hid in God,” in his mind and will, until it was fully revealed in the gospel. The saints under the old testament believed that they should be delivered by the promised Seed, that they should be saved for the Lord’s sake, that the Angel of the covenant would save them, yea, that the Lord himself would come to his temple; and they diligently inquired into what was foresignified concerning “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” But all this while their thoughts and conceptions were exceedingly in the dark as to those glorious things which are made so plain in the new covenant, concerning the incarnation, mediation, sufferings, and sacrifice of the Son of God,—concerning the way of God’s being in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. Now as darkness gives fear, so light gives liberty.
(4.) We obtain this liberty by the opening of the way into the holiest, and the entrance we have thereby with boldness unto the throne of grace. This also the apostle insists upon peculiarly in sundry places of his ensuing discourses, as chap. 9:8, 10:19–22: where it must be spoken to, if God permit, at large; for a great part of the liberty of the new testament doth consist herein.
(5.) By all the ordinances of gospel-worship. How the ordinances of worship under the old testament did lead the people into bondage hath been declared; but those of the new testament, through their plainness in signification, their, immediate respect unto the Lord Christ, with their use and efficacy to guide believers in their communion with God, do all conduce unto our evangelical liberty. And of such importance is our liberty in this instance of it, that when the apostles saw it necessary, for the avoiding of offence and scandal, to continue the observance of one or two legal institutions, in abstinence from some things in themselves indifferent, they did it only for a season, and declared that it was only in case of scandal that they would allow this temporary abridgment of the liberty given us by the gospel.
12. They differ greatly with respect unto the dispensation and grant of the Holy Ghost. It is certain that God did grant the gift of the Holy Spirit under the old testament, and his operations during that season, as I have at large elsewhere declared; but it is no less certain, that there was always a promise of his more signal effusion upon the confirmation and establishment of the new covenant. See in particular that great promise to this purpose, Joel 2:28, 29, as applied and expounded by the apostle Peter, Acts 2:16–18. Yea, so sparing was the communication of the Holy Ghost under the old testament, compared with his effusion under the new, as that the evangelist affirms that “the Holy Ghost was not yet, because that Jesus was not yet glorified,” John 7:39; that is, he was not yet given in that manner as he was to be given upon the confirmation of the new covenant. And those of the church of the Hebrews who had received the doctrine of John, yet affirmed that “they had not so much as heard whether there were any Holy Ghost” or no, Acts 19:2; that is, any such gift and communication of him as was then proposed as the chief privilege of the gospel. Neither doth this concern only the plentiful effusion of him with respect unto those miraculous gifts and operations wherewith the doctrine and establishment of the new covenant was testified unto and confirmed: however, that also gave a signal difference between the two covenants; for the first covenant was confirmed by dreadful appearances and operations, effected by the ministry of angels, but the new by the immediate operation of the Holy Ghost himself. But this difference principally consists herein, that under the new testament the Holy Ghost hath graciously condescended to bear the office of the comforter of the church. That this unspeakable privilege is peculiar unto the new testament, is evident from all the promises of his being sent as a comforter made by our Saviour, John 14–16; especially by that wherein he assures his disciples that “unless he went away” (in which going away he confirmed the new covenant) “the Comforter would not come; but if he so went away, he would send him from the Father,” chap. 16:7. And the difference between the two covenants which ensued hereon is inexpressible.
13. They differ in the declaration made in them of the kingdom of God. It is the observation of Augustine, that the very name of “the kingdom of heaven” is peculiar unto the new testament. It is true, God reigned in and over the church under the old testament; but his rule was such, and had such a relation unto secular things, especially with respect unto the land of Canaan, and the flourishing condition of the people therein, as that it had an appearance of a kingdom of this world. And that it was so, and was so to be, consisting in empire, power, victory, wealth, and peace, was so deeply fixed on the minds of the generality of the people, that the disciples of Christ themselves could not free themselves of that apprehension, until the new testament was fully established. But now in the gospel, the nature of the kingdom of God, where it is, and wherein it consists, is plainly and evidently declared, unto the unspeakable consolation of believers. For whereas it is now known and experienced to be internal, spiritual, and heavenly, they have no less assured interest in it and advantage by it, in all the troubles which they may undergo in this world, than they could have in the fullest possession of all earthly enjoyments.
14. They differ in their substance and end. The old covenant was typical, shadowy, and removable, Heb. 10:1. The new covenant is substantial and permanent, as containing the body, which is Christ. Now, consider the old covenant comparatively with the new, and this part of its nature, that it was typical and shadowy, is a great debasement of it. But consider it absolutely, and the things wherein it was so were its greatest glory and excellency; for in these things alone was it a token and pledge of the love and grace of God. For those things in the old covenant which had most of bondage in their use and practice, had most of light and grace in their signification. This was the design of God in all the ordinances of worship belonging unto that covenant, namely, to typify, shadow, and represent the heavenly, substantial things of the new covenant, or the Lord Christ and the work of his mediation. This the tabernacle, ark, altar, priests, and sacrifices did do; and it was their glory that so they did. However, compared with the substance in the new covenant, they have no glory.
15. They differ in the extent of their administration, according unto the will of God. The first was confined unto the posterity of Abraham according to the flesh, and unto them especially in the land of Canaan, Deut. 5:3, with some few proselytes that were joined unto them, excluding all others from the participation of the benefits of it. And hence it was, that whereas the personal ministry of our Saviour himself, in preaching of the gospel, was to precede the introduction of the new covenant, it was confined unto the people of Israel, Matt. 15:24. And he was the “minister of the circumcision,” Rom. 15:8. Such narrow bounds and limits had the administration of this covenant affixed unto it by the will and pleasure of God, Ps. 147:19, 20. But the administration of the new covenant is extended unto all nations under heaven; none being excluded, on the account of tongue, language, family, nation, or place of habitation. All have an equal interest in the rising Sun. The partition wall is broken down, and the gates of the new Jerusalem are set open unto all comers upon the gospel invitation. This is frequently taken notice of in the Scripture. See Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15; John 11:51, 52, 12:32; Acts 11:18, 17:30; Gal. 5:6; Eph. 2:11–16, 3:8–10; Col. 3:10, 11; 1 John 2:2; Rev. 5:9. This is the grand charter of the poor wandering Gentiles. Having wilfully fallen off from God, he was pleased, in his holiness and severity, to leave all our ancestors for many generations to serve and worship the devil. And the mystery of our recovery was “hid in God from the beginning of the world,” Eph. 3:8–10. And although it was so foretold, so prophesied of, so promised under the old testament, yet, such was the pride, blindness, and obstinacy, of the greatest part of the church of the Jews, that its accomplishment was one great part of that stumbling-block whereat they fell; yea, the greatness and glory of this mystery was such, that the disciples of Christ themselves comprehended it not, until it was testified unto them by the pouring out of the Holy Ghost, the great promise of the new covenant, upon some of those poor Gentiles, Acts 11:18.
16. They differ in their efficacy; for the old covenant “made nothing perfect,” it could effect none of the things it did represent, nor introduce that perfect or complete state which God had designed for the church. But this we have at large insisted on in our exposition of the foregoing chapter.
Lastly, They differ in their duration: for the one was to be removed, and the other to abide for ever; which must be declared on the ensuing verses.
It may be other things of an alike nature may be added unto these that we have mentioned, wherein the difference between the two covenants doth consist; but these instances are sufficient unto our purpose. For some, when they hear that the covenant of grace was always one and the same, of the same nature and efficacy under both testaments,—that the way of salvation by Christ was always one and the same,—are ready to think that there was no such great difference between their state and ours as is pretended. But we see that on this supposition, that covenant which God brought the people into at Sinai, and under the yoke whereof they were to abide until the new covenant was established, had all the disadvantages attending it which we have insisted on. And those who understand not how excellent and glorious those privileges are which are added unto the covenant of grace, as to the administration of it, by the introduction and establishment of the new covenant, are utterly unacquainted with the nature of spiritual and heavenly things.
There remaineth yet one thing more, which the Socinians give us occasion to speak unto from these words of the apostle, that the new covenant is “established on better promises.” For from hence they do conclude that there were no promises of life under the old testament; which, in the latitude of it, is a senseless and brutish opinion. And,—
1. The apostle in this place intends only those promises whereon the new testament was legally ratified, and reduced into the form of a covenant; which were, as he declares, the promises of especial pardoning mercy, and of the efficacy of grace in the renovation of our natures, But it is granted that the other covenant was legally established on promises which respected the land of Canaan. Wherefore it is granted, that as to the promises whereby the covenants were actually established, those of the new covenant were better than the other.
2. The old covenant had express promise of eternal life: “He that doeth these things shall live in them.” It was, indeed, with respect unto perfect obedience that it gave that promise; however that promise it had, which is all that at present we inquire after.
3. The institutions of worship which belonged unto that covenant, the whole ministry of the tabernacle, as representing heavenly things, had the nature of a promise in them; for they all directed the church to seek for life and salvation in and by Jesus Christ alone.
4. The question is not, What promises are given in the law itself, or the old covenant formally considered as such? but, What promises had they who lived under that covenant, and which were not disannulled by it? for we have proved sufficiently, that the addition of this covenant did not abolish or supercede the efficacy of any promise that God had before given unto the church. And to say that the first promise, and that given unto Abraham, confirmed with the oath of God, were not promises of eternal life, is to overthrow the whole Bible, both Old Testament and New. And we may observe from the foregoing discourses,—
Obs. X. That although one state of the church hath had great advantages and privileges above another, yet no state hath had whereof to complain, whilst they observed the terms prescribed unto them.—We have seen in how many things, and those most of them of the highest importance, the state of the church under the new covenant excels that under the old; yet was that in itself a state of unspeakable grace and privilege. For,—
1. It was a state of near relation unto God, by virtue of a covenant. And when all mankind had absolutely broken covenant with God by sin, to call any of them into a new covenant relation with himself, was an act of sovereign grace and mercy. Herein were they distinguished from the residue of mankind, whom God suffered to walk in their own ways, and winked at their ignorance, whilst they all perished in the pursuit of their foolish imaginations. This a great part of the Book of Deuteronomy is designed to impress a sense of upon the minds of the people. And it is summarily expressed by the psalmist, Ps. 147:19, 20; and by the prophet, “We are thine: thou never barest rule over them: thy name was not called upon by them,” Isa. 63:19.
2. This covenant of God was in itself holy, just, and equal. For although there was in it an imposition of sundry things burdensome, they were such as God in his infinite wisdom saw necessary for that people, and such as they could not have been without. Hence on all occasions God refers it even unto themselves to judge whether his ways towards them were not equal, and their own unequal. And it was not only just, but attended with promises of unspeakable advantages above all other people whatever.
3. God dealing with them in the way of a covenant, whereunto the mutual consent of all parties covenanting is required, it was proposed unto them for their acceptance, and they did accordingly willingly receive it, Exod. 24, Deut. 5; so as that they had not whereof to complain.
4. In that state of discipline wherein God was pleased to hold them, they enjoyed the way of life and salvation in the promise; for, as we have showed at large, the promise was not disannulled by the introduction of this covenant. Wherefore, although God reserved a better and more complete state for the church under the new testament, having “ordained better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect;” yet was that other state in itself good and holy, and sufficient to bring all believers unto the enjoyment of God.
Obs. XI. The state of the gospel, or of the church under the new testament, being accompanied with the highest spiritual privileges and advantages that it is capable of in this world, two things do thence follow:—
1. The great obligation that is on all believers unto holiness and fruitfulness in obedience, unto the glory of God. We have herein the utmost condescension of divine grace, and the greatest effects of it that God will communicate on this side glory. That which all these things tend unto, that which God requireth and expecteth upon them, is the thankful and fruitful obedience of them that are made partakers of them. And they who are not sensible of this obligation are strangers unto the things themselves, and are not able to discern spiritual things, because they are to be spiritually discerned.
2. The heinousness of their sin by whom this covenant is neglected or despised is hence abundantly manifest. This the apostle particularly asserts and insists upon, Heb. 2:2, 3, 10:28, 29.
Owen, J. (1854). An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (W. H. Goold, Ed.; Vol. 23, pp. 77–100). Johnstone and Hunter.