In the last lesson, we gave several reasons for why we take Sinai as being, in essence, a gracious covenant. It's hard to deny the fact that the Mosaic Covenant belongs to the Covenant of Grace. But there are also important objections that we need to deal with. There are certain Scriptures that seem to contradict the things we've been affirming. Some passages of Scripture seem to speak quite negatively about the Mosaic Covenant, making Sinai appear to be something entirely different than the Covenant of Grace. We read for instance in John 1:17: “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” And in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul refers to the Law as a letter that kills, a ministry of death, and a ministry of condemnation; where in contrast, the Spirit gives life and is a ministry of righteousness. And in Galatians 3:23, Paul writes that “before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.” If Sinai truly belongs to the Covenant of Grace, how do you explain what Scripture says about the NATURE of the Mosaic Covenant? Further, Scripture seems to tell us that what God requires under Moses is something very different than what He requires of us now in the gospel. Paul says in Romans 10:5: “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows. . .” And again, in Galatians 3:11-12, Paul says: “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident, for, 'The righteous man shall live by faith.' However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, 'He who practices them shall live by them.'” If Sinai truly belongs to the Covenant of Grace, how do you explain what Scripture says about the REQUIREMENT of the Mosaic Covenant? There are also certain Scriptures that seem to teach that the Law is now null and void for us as Christians. For instance, Paul says in Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” And he writes again a chapter later in Romans 7:4 that we “were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ” and that “we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound” (v6). Paul also testifies of himself in Galatians 2:19: “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.” If Sinai truly belongs to the Covenant of Grace, how do you explain what Scripture says about the AUTHORITY of the Mosaic Covenant as it relates to us now as believers? These are important questions that require thoughtful explanation. In fact, they're so important that we are going to devote the entirety of this lesson to answering these questions in detail:
So: First, if Sinai truly belongs to the Covenant of Grace, how do you explain what Scripture says about the nature of the Mosaic Covenant? Secondly, if Sinai truly belongs to the Covenant of Grace, how do you explain what Scripture says about the requirement of the Mosaic Covenant? And lastly, if Sinai truly belongs to the Covenant of Grace, how do you explain what Scripture says about the authority of the Mosaic Covenant?
OBJECTION I TO A GRACIOUS SINAI: THE NATURE OF THE MOSAIC COVENANT
So then, the first objection has to do with the nature of the Mosaic Covenant. If Sinai is part of the Covenant of Grace, how do you explain the ways that certain Scriptures seem to speak negatively about the Mosaic Covenant, contrasting it, and even seeming to oppose it to the grace of the gospel? This is an important question. What we're going to see is that many of these Scriptures can be understood in light of what the older writers referred to as differences in administration between the old and new covenants. That is, there are indeed differences between the way the Covenant of Grace was revealed in the Old Testament and the way it's revealed in the New Testament. Further, these differences seem to be most pronounced at Sinai. Still, these are not differences that have to do with the essence or core content of the covenant (its substance), but rather differences that relate to the outward form or application of the covenant (its administration). To give an example: Say that yesterday, you picked a delicious mango off the tree. Today, you peeled off the skin, cut the mango into bite-size pieces (yummy!), and then placed those pieces in a bowl. Is there a difference between the mango from yesterday and the one from today? Yes! Yesterday, the mango still had its skin; today it's been peeled, cut up, and ready to eat. But it's still the same mango. Well, just like that mango, there are differences between the old and new covenants, to be sure. Yet, those differences don't have to do with the nature of the covenant, but simply with the way that covenant is outwardly presented. Speaking of the Covenant of Grace, the Westminster Confession says: “This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: Under the Law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come. . . Under the Gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited. . .it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament.”1 So then, the old covenant no less belongs to the Covenant of Grace, but it was “administered” differently than the new. Just like the mango, it was the same Covenant of Grace—just presented in a different way. But how so, exactly? There are at least seven differences in administration between the old and new covenants:2
1. EMPHASIS: One of the contrasts of “administration” between the old and new covenants has to do with what seems to take center-stage. In the old covenant, the earthly and temporal are set forth most visibly, while it's the heavenly and eternal that are front and center in the new covenant. This can create confusion as we think about the old covenant. But what we have to realize is this: Gospel truths were no less present in the old covenant—it's just that those truths were set forth in and through earthly pictures. That is, the old covenant set forth earthly benefits in order to teach us about eternal ones. We see this in Hebrews 11:8-10: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Verse 8 tells us that Abraham left his home in order to receive another land, which God was promising to give him as an inheritance. And as we read through the rest of Genesis, the focus is clearly on the geographical territory we know as the land of Canaan. But verses 9-10 clarify that the inheritance God was promising Abraham was never just a physical piece of property. Even as he dwelt in Canaan, Abraham lived as an alien, as in a foreign land; because his heart was set on inheriting the city that would last forever. So then, in the Old Testament, the focus was on the physical land of Canaan. But the New Testament helps to clarify that all along, it only served as a picture or type of the heavenly inheritance that God was promising His people. And so, though it was physical, temporal things (like Canaan) that were often emphasized in the Old Testament; still, those physical, temporal things were always meant to signify spiritual realities.3 Just as a kernel of rice is wrapped in an outer husk, so too, gospel truths were wrapped with an earthly husk in the old covenant.4 God was teaching His Old Testament people gospel truth—but He was doing it using things that were tangible and physical; much like we do with our children in Sunday school.5 As one writer explained: “the Lord dealt with [Israel] as with children in their infancy and under age, leading them on by the help of earthly things, to heavenly and spiritual, because they were but young and tender. . .their covenant did first and chiefly promise earthly blessings, and in and under these it did signify and promise all spiritual blessings and salvation. . .These, and some other circumstantial differences in regard to administration, there were betwixt their way of salvation, or covenant of grace, and ours. . . but in regard to substance, they were all one and the very same. . .in these covenants Jesus Christ is the subject matter of both, salvation the fruit of both, and faith the condition of both.”6
2. CLARITY: Because gospel truth in the old covenant was wrapped in the outer husk of the earthly and temporal, it was more hidden from view. In the old covenant, God spoke gospel realities to His people, but He did so indirectly, through pictures and types; whereas now in the new covenant He speaks to us directly, face to face. There is a measure of clarity in the new covenant that old covenant believers didn't get to experience.7 Perhaps this is why the author of Hebrews uses the imagery of shadows (rather than pictures or types) to describe the ministry of the old covenant (8:5; 10:1); there was an element of murkiness involved.8 The new covenant is at times contrasted with the old because, with the coming of Christ, the things that were formerly dark or obscure have now become crystal clear. Calvin likens it to the light of dawn compared to noonday.9 And another writer put it this way: “The revelation of faith before and under the Law was so small, imperfect, dim and obscure, in comparison of the clear, full and glorious manifestation of faith afterwards under the New Testament, that till then it seemed as [if] it were not. . .revealed at all.”10 This is what Paul is speaking of when he says in Ephesians 3:5 that the mystery of Christ “. . .in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit. . .”11 The mystery that Paul is referring to is a certain aspect of gospel truth—that the Gentiles are also fellow inheritors of the promises to Abraham. And Paul is saying that this aspect of gospel truth, though present in the old covenant, had nevertheless been much less clear. But now it has been revealed to the apostles as clear as day.12 As Bridge puts it: “though the covenant of grace was made with the Jews that were saved, yet it was given more darkly and obscurely; there was a veil upon Moses. . .'But now we all with open face behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord,' says the apostle, as speaking of the difference between the one and the other (2 Corinthians 3:18).”13
3. CONSUMMATION: Your children can tell you there's all the difference in the world between looking at the sign of the ice-cream shop and actually going in and devouring two scoops of mint chocolate-chip. So too, when I was first getting to know my wife, it was a long-distance relationship. And though it was great talking over the phone and looking at her picture, there was a massive difference between that and finally seeing her face to face. Well, that's what it was like with the ushering in of the new covenant. When Christ came into the world, all the signs and pictures of the old covenant finally became a reality. Jesus had come. The signs gave way to the substance. Christ took on flesh and dwelt among us. In the old covenant the Covenant of Grace was fore-pictured, but in the new it was actually fulfilled. What was promised in the old was finally and actually performed in the new. Scripture often contrasts the old and new covenants in this way.14 The author of Hebrews tells us that under the old covenant, “both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.” (9:9). And again, he says, “the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.” (10:1).15 The author's point isn't to bash the sacrifices of the Old Testament (after all, it was God himself who commanded them). His point is rather to show us that those sacrifices, in and of themselves, could do nothing—considered apart from Christ whom they signified. The sacrifices were only the shadow—Christ himself is the substance to which all the Old Testament shadows had for so long been pointing. Think of it this way: If you are a man dying of thirst in a scorching desert, the shadow of a gushing river—in and of itself—won't do you any good. It's the actual gushing river you need. So too, the Old Testament sacrifices—in and of themselves, considered apart from Christ—could do nothing to take away sins. But they were meant to point us to the One who would. As Calvin put it: “in the absence of the reality, [the old covenant] showed but an image and shadow in place of the substance; the New Testament reveals the very substance of truth as present.”16
4. ABROGATION: Another way we can understand the contrasts in Scripture between the old and new covenants is through the principle of abrogation. Now, it's important to understand that when we speak here of abrogation, we're not saying that the Law as a whole is now abrogated for believers in Christ (we'll deal with this in more depth later). Rather, we're speaking of particular aspects of the Mosaic Law. As we saw in the last lesson, the Mosaic Law may be divided up into three sub-categories: the Moral, the Ceremonial, and the Civil (or Judicial) Law.17 The Moral Law is summarized in the 10 Commandments; it is the eternal expression of God's will for mankind, and thus perpetually binding for all men. But the Ceremonial and Civil Laws were never meant to be perpetually binding. The Ceremonial Laws had to do with Israel's worship; the Civil Laws had to do with Israel's civil State. And these were added as appendixes to the Moral Law.18 They were given to a particular people (the Jews) for a particular time (before the coming of Christ), and thus served a temporary purpose.19 In the words of the Confession (19:3): “Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth diverse instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the New Testament.” And again (19:4): “To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.” This is why Jesus declared all foods to be clean in the new covenant. And it's what Paul was speaking of when he wrote in Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”20 If you've ever watched the launching of a space shuttle, you might have noticed that after a certain time, part of the shuttle disconnects and falls back to the earth. The piece that disconnects is the external fuel tank; it provides the fuel needed to get to space; but after it serves its purpose, it's no longer needed and disconnects from the shuttle. The Ceremonial and Civil Laws of Israel were like that external fuel tank. They served a temporary purpose, but now that Christ has come, they're no longer needed. Now that we have the kernel, we can do away with the husk.21
5. FREEDOM: Because the Ceremonial Laws have been abrogated and the Judicial Laws have expired, New Testament believers now in turn have a greater measure of freedom. It's this distinction that Paul seems to be referring to in Galatians 3:23, where he says, “But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.” Most traditional commentators understand the phrase, before faith came, as referring not to the message of faith (IE, before the way of salvation was revealed), nor to the reception of faith (IE, before we put our trust in Christ), but rather to Christ, the object of faith (IE, before Jesus took on flesh and inaugurated the new covenant).22 And Paul is saying, before Christ came into the world, God's Old Testament people “were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.” Well, it sure doesn't sound very good, and it's a definite contrast, but this verse is not here putting the old covenant against the new. In the context of the passage, Paul has been describing how the Moral Law condemns us all for our sin (v22). We are guilty sinners, and the Moral Law is hunting us down to execute judgment against us. It's in this light that Paul begins to talk about the Ceremonial Law. For the Old Testament people of God, being under the Ceremonial Law was like being “in custody”—it was burdensome, to be sure—but it was a gracious custody. How so? As Calvin beautifully puts it: “They were besieged on every hand by the curse, but this siege was counteracted by an imprisonment which protected them from the curse; so that the imprisonment by the law is here proved to have been highly generous in its character.”23 Think about all those families in Germany during the reign of Hitler who risked their lives to hide Jewish people in their homes. Now, for those Jewish people hiding behind bookcases and in secret rooms, life for them was very much like an imprisonment. They were restricted and confined; it was unpleasant and burdensome—but it was this very imprisonment that actually served to protect them. Well, the Ceremonial Laws were just like this for God's people. They were burdensome, and yet also merciful, because it was those very laws that taught them of Christ, so that those pictures and sacrifices were the very means by which they were saved. After all, as one pointed out, “by the Law they were, not shut up from the faith, but shut up unto the faith, that after should be revealed.”24 The Ceremonies served to protect God's people until the coming of Christ. But in the new covenant we are set free from the bondage connected with them. Those Jews in hiding must have been grateful beyond words for those secret rooms; but after all, it was just a temporary arrangement. Once the country was liberated, they no longer needed to keep living “in custody.”25 And so it is for us as new covenant believers in Jesus.26
6. EFFECT: You may be familiar with the theologian Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening that became associated, in part, with his ministry. It was at the height of the Great Awakening, in July 1741, that Edwards preached a sermon called, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. God spoke to the listeners of this particular sermon in such a powerful way that Edwards was interrupted several times by people audibly moaning, and crying out, “What shall I do to be saved?” But not everyone knows that this was actually the second time Edwards preached this sermon. He preached the same sermon to his own congregation earlier, and as far as we know, there wasn't nearly the same effect. Sometimes God is pleased to work more powerfully than at other times. And this is another way that Scripture seems to contrast the old and new covenants. In Jeremiah 31:33, the Lord tells His people about the new covenant He would make with them, contrasting it with the covenant He had made with them at Sinai, saying: “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,' declares the Lord, 'I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.'” This is truly an amazing promise; but it also leaves us wondering: Didn't God do the same thing in the Old Testament? Did God only begin to write His Law in the hearts of His people in the new covenant? Wasn't it David who wrote, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11)?27 How then are we to understand the prophecy in Jeremiah? I think in this way: God did write His Law on the hearts of His old covenant people. There were indeed many in the Old Testament, such as David, who embraced God's covenant through faith. God took His Word and applied it effectually to their hearts. But, sadly, there were also countless others who remained unchanged. Moses told his whole congregation in the wilderness: “Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:4).28 And Isaiah cried out, “For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant within them will return. . .” (10:22).29 So then, though many in the old covenant embraced the message of the gospel, many more remained unchanged. Though there were periods of revival and decline in Israel, it seems on the whole that few embraced Christ. But it would be different in the new covenant. This is the point of Jeremiah's contrast. God would write His Law on the hearts of His people on a much greater scale. So that if we think of the multitude of those whom God is now effectually drawing to himself in the new covenant Church, we have to say that those who embraced the covenant in ancient Israel were few by comparison. Just as with Edwards' sermon, the content was the same in the Old Testament; the old covenant was no less about the gospel (Hebrews 4:2,6). But the effect would be different in the new covenant, because God now applies His Word powerfully to the hearts of His people, by His Spirit, in a much greater proportion.30 As one writer put it: “as one star differs from another in glory, thus did the Church of the Jews, from that of Christians. They had drops, but we have the fountain. . .”31
7. COMPARISON: The last difference in administration between the old and new covenants is in many ways a summary of all that has gone before. We've seen that in the new covenant, we have the gospel kernel removed from its outward, earthly husk. The gospel clarity we now enjoy in the new covenant is like high-noon compared with the light of dawn by which the old covenant saints walked. Instead of merely the shadow of gushing water in a desert, we have Christ, the fountain himself. We enjoy a greater measure of gospel freedom, having been released from the burdens of the Ceremonial Laws. And now in the new covenant, God writes His Law on the hearts of His people in a much greater proportion than ever before. In light of these things, though the old covenant was full of gospel glory, it's almost as if it had no glory at all when we compare it to the new covenant. Well, this was exactly what Paul was saying in 2 Corinthians 3:7-11: “But if the ministry of death. . .came with glory. . .how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.” A little later we'll deal with this passage in much more detail. But for now, just notice that Paul is affirming that the ministry of Moses had glory; he's just saying that the glory of the new covenant is so much more by comparison. Francis Roberts puts it beautifully: “This New Covenant out-shines the Old, as far as the sun out-shines the moon. Yea as the moon derives and borrows all her clear light from the sun. . .so the Old Covenant. . .derived and borrowed as it were all her clearest light from Christ, and the mysteries of the New Covenant. There was a gloriousness in the Old Covenant: but a far greater glory in the New.”32 The painting of a lavish feast is fine and good, but it can never compare with the banquet itself (especially if you're hungry). Looking at a picture of my wife is wonderful, but it can never compare to being with her face to face. This is Paul's whole point in 2 Corinthians 3. It's also what the author of Hebrews was speaking of when he calls the new covenant “a better covenant” (7:22; 8:6). The new covenant is infinitely better than the old because we now have Christ minus the husk, we have Christ without any obscurity, we have Christ himself instead of the shadows, we have Christ without the burdens of the Ceremonial Laws, and we have Christ applying His Word effectually to our hearts through the Holy Spirit. It is truly an amazing privilege to be a Christian in the new covenant church.33
SUMMARY: We've been trying to answer the question: If the Mosaic Covenant is really part of the Covenant of Grace, why is it that certain Scriptures seem to speak so negatively about Sinai? And we've seen that many of these Scriptures speak this way because they're comparing and contrasting the ministry of the old covenant with that of the new. The difference isn't in what the covenant is—but rather in how it's administered. The essence is still the same: The Old Testament is about Jesus and the gospel just as much as the New Testament. But the way it's presented; the outward form or administration would be much better in the new covenant. So then, this is what we have to understand: In all these Scriptures, the contrast isn't between the old covenant and the Covenant of Grace; the contrast is rather between the administration of the Covenant of Grace in the old covenant and the administration of the Covenant of Grace in the new covenant. Scripture isn't telling us that the Mosaic Covenant doesn't belong to the Covenant of Grace. It's simply telling us that the Mosaic Covenant doesn't belong to the new covenant.34
1 WCF 7:5-6. In the original, “under” and “law” are not capitalized; I did so to make the intended comparison more clear.
2 For a summary of some of the differences in administration, see: Calvin's Institutes, 2.9.1-2; 2.11.1-13; Burgess, pp251-57; Bridge, pp49-50; Blake, pp205-210; Witsius, V2, pp362-78; Bavinck, V3, pp223-24; Hodge, V2, pp376-77.
3 Other examples here would include the ceremonial laws; including the temple furnishings, sacrifices, and ritual cleansings.
4 “The Old Testament...and the New, are sometimes compared and considered by sacred writers, as the thing including and included, the husk and the grain. The gospel before Christ's time, was in the Law as the corn new set in the ear.” (Ball, p117).
5 We see this in Galatians 4:1-4: “Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.” Paul is speaking about the Old Testament church, comparing them to children; and he's likening the ceremonies, pictures, and types of the old covenant to guardians and managers. Calvin uses this text as the clearest example of this first difference: “Although Paul applies this comparison chiefly to the ceremonies, nothing prevents us from applying it most appropriately here as well. Therefore the same inheritance was appointed for them and for us, but they were not yet old enough to be able to enter upon it and manage it. The same church existed among them, but as yet in its childhood. Therefore, keeping them under this tutelage, the Lord gave, not spiritual promises unadorned and open, but ones foreshadowed, in a measure, by earthly promises.” (Calvin, Institutes, 2:11:2).
6 Fisher in The Marrow, pp69,71. As we noted, Calvin taught that spiritual blessings in the old covenant were represented by the temporal. He explains it thus: “Now this is the first difference: the Lord of old willed that his people direct and elevate their minds to the heavenly heritage; yet, to nourish them better in this hope, he displayed it for them to see and, so to speak, taste, under earthly benefits.” (Institutes, 2.11.1). Calvin also later retorted: “But away with this insane and dangerous opinion—that the Lord promised the Jews, or that they sought for themselves, nothing but a full belly, delights of the flesh, flourishing wealth, outward power, fruitlessness of offspring, and whatever the natural man prizes! Christ the Lord promises to his followers today no other 'Kingdom of Heaven' than that in which they may 'sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob' (Matt. 8:11).” (Institutes, 2.11.23). Ball says: “The good things promised in this Covenant [IE, the old covenant] are temporal or spiritual; but the temporal as types of spiritual.” (p130). Witsius puts it: “The difference of the economies [between the Old and New Testaments] consists in this, that the same inheritance is held forth different ways: in the New Testament clearly and without any veil; in the Old wrapped up in many types and earthly pledges. . .” (Economy, V2, p318). In the new covenant, “the fruit was ripe and broke through the husk. . .Nothing of the Old Testament is lost in the New, but everything is fulfilled, matured, has reached its full growth, and now, out of the temporary husk, produces the eternal core.” (Bavinck, V3, p224).
7 As Calvin writes: “But now that the gospel has more plainly and clearly revealed the grace of the future life, the Lord leads our minds to meditate upon it directly, laying aside the lower mode of training that he used with the Israelites.” (Institutes, 2.11.1). Blake says: “The Jew was in the same covenant in his time, as Christians are in gospel times. There is not a promise in the new covenant, whether it be for privileges conferred upon us, or graces wrought in us, but by the help of that light, we may find in the old covenant, the same held out. . .The better-ness is in the greater ease being freed from that bondage of the ceremonial yoke, and in their more distinct clearness.” (p208). Roberts distinguishes: “The Sinai-covenant or Old Testament, and the Sion-covenant or New Testament, are for substance one and the same; though they differ never so much in the circumstance or manner of administration. . .In that, Christ was set forth darkly. . .In this, Christ is set forth clearly. . .” (p786).
8 As Blake puts it: “In the Old covenant, all was held out to the people under types, figures, shadows; all about the tabernacle and temple, persons, utensils [?], sacrifices, did lead to Christ; all of these, darkly holding him forth. They had a shadow of good things to come, and not the image of the things themselves (Hebrews 10:1); a little of reality in a great bulk of ceremony. In the New Testament, the truth of it is clearly, and manifestly (without figure or type) held forth unto us.” (p207).
9 Calvin understands Galatians 3:23 to be speaking of a difference in Clarity. Here's the quote used above in its fuller context: “Faith was not yet revealed, not because the fathers wanted [IE, lacked] light, but because they had less light than we have. The ceremonies might be said to shadow out an absent Christ, but to us he is represented as actually present, and thus while they had the mirror, we have the substance. Whatever might be the amount of darkness under the law, the fathers were not ignorant of the road in which they ought to walk. Though the dawn is not equal to the splendor of noon, yet, as it is sufficient to direct a journey, travelers do not wait till the sun is fully risen. Their portion of light resembled the dawn, which was enough to preserve them from all error, and guide them to everlasting blessedness.” (Galatians).
10 Francis Roberts, p768.
11 This is also how Calvin explains Galatians 3:23 (above); it's also how Roberts sees Galatians 3:23: “Though the Apostle says, 'Before faith came, we were kept under the Law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed' (Galatians 3:23); as intimating that Faith was not revealed before, or under, but after the Law; yet his words are not to be taken simply and absolutely, as if Faith was not at all revealed till after the Law, for Faith was revealed before the Law, as is evident in the covenant with Abraham, and with Noah; and under the Law, as I have formerly manifested, and as Paul himself plainly testifies; but they must be understood only comparatively and respectively, that till after the Law faith was not revealed so fully and clearly.” (p768). Calvin also explains Luke 16:16 as a difference of Clarity: “Not that the holy patriarchs were without the preaching that contains the hope of salvation and of eternal life, but that they only glimpsed from afar and in shadowy outline what we see today in full daylight.” (Institutes, 2.7.16). And again of Luke 16:16: “What did the Law and the Prophets teach to the men of their own time? They gave a foretaste of that wisdom which was one day to be clearly disclosed, and pointed to it twinkling off. But when Christ could be pointed out with the finger, the Kingdom of God was opened.” (2.11.5; cf. 2.11.10).
12 As Hodge explains: “That the Gentiles were to partake of the blessings of the Messiah's reign. . .is not only frequently predicted by the ancient prophets, but Paul himself repeatedly and at length quotes their declarations on this point to prove that what he taught was in accordance with the Old Testament; see Romans 9:25-33. The emphasis must, therefore, be laid on the word as. This doctrine was not formerly revealed as, ie, not so fully or so clearly as under the gospel.” (Ephesians).
13 Bridge, Christ and the Covenant, p49. This is how Hodge understands 2 Corinthians 3:12-13: “And not as Moses, that is, we do not do what Moses did. Paul had just said that he used great plainness of speech, that he practiced no concealment or reserve. Of course he means that Moses did the reverse. He did use concealment and practice reserve. This is no impeachment of the character of Moses. Paul is not speaking of his personal character, but of the nature of his office. The truth concerning man’s redemption was not 'in other ages made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit,' Ephesians 3:5. It was not consistent with the nature of the ministry of Moses to use the parraesia, the openness, in communicating the doctrines of redemption, which it is the glory of the Christian ministry to be permitted to employ. He was sent to speak in parables and in types, to set forth truth in the form of significant rites and ceremonies. He put a veil over the glory, not to hide it entirely from view, but to obscure its brightness. The people saw the light, but only occasionally and imperfectly. Paul had already spoken of the brightness of Moses’s face as a symbol of his ministry, and therefore he represents him as veiling himself, to express the idea that he communicated the truth obscurely. Paul was sent to let the truth shine forth clearly; he did not put a veil over it as Moses did, and was commanded to do.” Another passage that draws out this difference in administration is 1 Peter 1:10-12: “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. . .” David Murray notes of this passage: “the prophets studied their predictions. Because it was not always immediately or entirely clear to the prophets what their predictions meant, they 'inquired and searched carefully' into the salvation they prophesied. . .Peter then said the prophets knew their predictions would be even better understood by future generations. . . Though the prophets grew in understanding of the Savior they were looking for, Peter told us they knew their predictions would fully make sense to their readers only when they happened. . .Peter was. . .expressing a lack of full understanding.” (Jesus on Every Page, pp21-23).
14 Ball writes, “The Old [Testament] doth involve the doctrine of the grace of the Messiah under the shadows of types and rites; the New doth contain the fulfilling of the types and figures. Moses is the typical Mediator of the Old Testament; Christ is the true Mediator of the New. The Old is sealed by the blood of sacrifices; the New is ratified by the blood of the Mediator and death of the Testator. The Old by oblations did not pacify the wrath of God, nor purge the conscience; the New contains the true propitiation in the blood of Christ. . .” (p96); and again: “the first covenant. . .must bring forth a second, in which is fulfilled that which in the first is prefigured.” (p119). Roberts notes: “This unusual way of the Sinai-covenant's administration, was notwithstanding. . .accommodate to that time and people. . .the Ceremonial Law, wherein as in their A,B,C of Christianity they might learn to spell out C-h-r-i-s-t, and sinners' salvation by him; till they should come to ripeness of age in the fullness of time, when Christ himself was actually revealed. They could not ascend to Christ's spirituality; God condescends to their carnality.” (p755,757). Bridge says:“Then Christ was in the hand of Moses, now Moses is in the hand of Christ.” (p50).
15 Again, the Scripture references are from Calvin; who sees much that's written in the book of Hebrews as understood in this light. He says: “a fuller discussion of it is to be found in the letter to the Hebrews than anywhere else.” (Institutes, 2:11:4).
16 Calvin's full quote is: “The second difference between the Old and New Testaments consists in figures: that, in the absence of the reality, it showed but an image and shadow in place of the substance; the New Testament reveals the very substance of truth as present. . . the Old Testament of the Lord was that covenant wrapped up in the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies and delivered to the Jews; it was temporary because it remained, as it were, in suspense until it might rest upon a firm and substantial confirmation.” (Institutes, 2.11.4). This is largely how Ball understands John 1:17: “the Law prefiguring Christ, and redemption in him, and teaching and commanding what ought to be done, but neither giving grace to do it, nor containing the substance of the thing prefigured, was given by Moses; but grace to do what was commanded came from Christ, in whom also the substance of what was prefigured by the ceremonies, is fulfilled.” (Ball, 119). So also Roberts: “Moses gave the Law; but Jesus Christ brings grace and truth. That is. . .Christ brings. . .the true substance and accomplishment of the legal types and shadows now under the New Testament. For truth is here opposed, not to lies and falsehood, but to types and shadows.” (p770). And Colquhoun likewise says of John 1:17: “Considered as a rule of duty in the covenant of grace, and in the hand of Moses the typical mediator, [the Law] was a ministration of shadows, as opposed to truth. . .It is truth, as opposed. . .to shadows. . .While Jesus Christ has brought to his Church, the clearest discoveries of redeeming grace, he himself is the substance of all the Jewish types, and the accomplishment of all their predictions and promises.” (p81).
17 Calvin writes: “The moral law. . .is contained under two heads, one of which simply commands us to worship God with pure faith and piety; the other, to embrace men with sincere affection. Accordingly, it is the true and eternal rule of righteousness, prescribed for men of all nations and times, who wish to confirm their lives to God's will. For it is his eternal and unchangeable will that he himself indeed be worshiped by us all, and that we love one another. The ceremonial law was the tutelage of the Jews, with which it seemed good to the Lord to train this people, as it were, in their childhood, until the fullness of time should come (Galatians 4:3-4; cf. 3:23-24), in order that he might fully manifest his wisdom to the nations, and show the truth of those things which then were foreshadowed in figures. The judicial law, given to them for civil government, imparted certain formulas of equity and justice, by which they might live together blamelessly and peaceably.” (see 4.20.15).
18 The Ceremonial Laws had to do with Israel's worship; they dealt with things such as the tabernacle and its furnishings, the priesthood, the sacrifices, purifications, and the feasts. They were added as an appendix to the first table of the Law—which dealt with the relationship between man and his God. The Judicial Laws had to do with Israel's civil state; they dealt with the things that related to judicial sentences and proceedings in the court of law. They were thus added as an appendix to the second table of the Law—which dealt with the relationship between man and his neighbor. Roberts notes: “The Ceremonial Laws may all be referred to the first table; the Judicial Laws to the second table of the Moral Law, as explications thereof to that people of Israel.” (p659). And again: “The Ceremonial and Judicial Laws are nothing else but special appendixes to the Moral Law. . .special ordinances peculiarly concerning the Jewish Church and Commonwealth. The Ceremonial Laws are the exercises of the first table, determining the worship of God prescribed in the first table by external circumstances. The Judicial Laws are the exercises of the second table, determining in like sort righteousness towards men prescribed in the second table by outward circumstances. . .For, the Ceremonial Laws vanished at Christ's death, having received their accomplishment in him; and the Judicials expired at the dissolution of the Jewish Commonwealth.” (pp662-663). Colquhoun writes: “He gave the moral law to them, as the primary rule of the obedience, which he required in this covenant (Deut. 4:13). He gave them also, the ceremonial and judicial laws, as appendages to it. . .The ceremonial institutions, which, in the sacred history, are frequently called Statutes, were, for the most part, reducible to precepts of the first table; and the judicial laws, which, in the same history, are often styled Judgments, were mostly reducible to precepts of the second table.” (p73). Roberts is in agreement, adding that the Moral Law was often called “commandments”, “laws” or “testimonies” (pp661-62).
19 This is even reflected in one way Roberts categorizes them: “God's Law given to Moses and Israel on Mount Sinai, is. . . most usually divided into three sorts; [namely], Moral, Ceremonial, and Judicial. Or, if we rather affect a dichotomy, into two sorts; [namely], 1) Perpetual, of obligatory force and power forever, as the Moral Law, contained in Ten Commandments. 2) Temporary, of obligatory power and force only for a certain time, and then determinable; and this concerning, a) the worship and service of God, as the Ceremonial Law; b) the Civil State and Polity of the Jews, as the Judicial Law. Both of which were to determine and expire after the death of Christ; Christ being the substance or body of those shadows, the accomplishment of those ceremonies; and the Commonwealth of the Jews not long after Christ's death being utterly dissolved.” (Roberts, p661).
20 Together with the principle noted earlier of Emphasis, the principle of Abrogation is also part of what Paul was speaking of in Galatians 4:1-11. The Old Testament Church was under the guardians and managers of the ceremonial laws (vv2-3), but now that Christ, the substance, has come (v4), there's no need to continue to observe the Old Testament shadows whose sole purpose was to point to Him (vv9-10). This passage in Galatians 4 is one of the main proof texts for the portion of WCF 20:1 which reads that, “But, under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected. . .” Citing Galatians 4:1-4, Ball likewise writes: “The Jews were children and heirs, but tutored and kept under with many ceremonial ordinances and observations as appendices to the Law, expedient for that time and state.” (p141). Galatians 3:25 also in part refers to the “tutelage” of the ceremonial laws that have now been abrogated. We'll talk more about this in the next section (Freedom), but here we could briefly note that 3:25 looks back to both v22 and v23: we are free both from the Law's condemnation (v22) as well as the Law's ceremonies (v23).
21 I love how Burgess puts it: “The Law, in that Mosaic administration, was to endure but till Christ the fullness came; and then, as the scaffolds are pulled down when the house is built, so were all those external ordinances to be abolished, when Christ himself came. A candle is superfluous when the sun appears. A school-master is not necessary to those that have obtained perfect knowledge. Milk is not comely for those who live on solid meat. The chaff preserves the corn, but when the corn is gathered, the chaff is thrown away. And when the fruit comes, the flower falls to the ground. . .” (Burgess, p256). Calvin explains it this way: “For because the Old bore the image of things absent, it had to die and vanish with time. The gospel, because it reveals the very substance, stands fast forever” (Institutes 2:11:8). Burgess says: “The second excellency [of the ministry of the gospel above that of the Law] is in regard of continuance and duration. The ministry of Moses was to be made void and abolished; which is to be understood of that Jewish pedagogy, not of every part of it; for the Moral, as given by Moses, does still oblige us Christians, as has been already proven; but the ministry of the gospel is to abide always. . .” (p268). Fisher writes, “the old covenant, in respect of the outward form and manner of sealing, was temporary and changeable; and therefore the types ceased, and only the substance remains firm. . .” (p71). But Calvin also reminds us: “The ceremonies. . . have been abrogated not in effect but only in use. Christ by his coming has terminated them, but has not deprived them of anything of their sanctity; rather, he has approved and honored it. . .Let it be regarded as a fact that, although the rites of the law have ceased to be observed, by their termination one may better recognize how useful they were before the coming of Christ, who in abrogating their use has by his death sealed their force and effect.” (Institutes, 2.7.16).
22 Not the message of faith, because that message was revealed far before the Law was declared, beginning with the promise of Genesis 3:15; not the reception of faith, because the verse isn't speaking of us coming to faith, but rather of faith coming to us. As Calvin says: “Faith was not yet revealed, not because the fathers wanted light, but because they had less light than we have. The ceremonies might be said to shadow out an absent Christ, but to us he is represented as actually present, and thus while they had the mirror, we have the substance.” (Galatians). Perkins says of Galatians 3:23: “Paul in the 19th verse had said, that the law was for transgressions, till the seed come, to which the promise was made. And here [in Galatians 3:23] he makes a more large declaration of his own meaning. . .Faith [signifies] the gospel, or, the doctrine of remission of sins and life everlasting by Christ, exhibited in the flesh.” (p198). In other words, the “faith” that “came” in 3:23 refers back to the “seed” yet to “come” in 3:19. John Gill says: “But before faith came. . .This is to be understood, not of the grace of faith, which was under the former dispensation, as now; the Old Testament saints had the same Spirit of faith, and the same grace of faith, as for its nature, object, and use, as New Testament saints have; Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham [etc] believed in Christ, and were justified by faith in his righteousness, as we are. . .it is best to interpret it of Christ, the object of faith, who was to come, and is come in the flesh, to fulfill the law; and, by so doing, has put an end to it; and to redeem his people from under it, and to save them with an everlasting salvation. . .” Luther says of Galatians 3:23, “We know that Paul has reference to the time of Christ's coming. It was then that faith and the object of faith were fully revealed. But we may apply the historical fact to our inner life. When Christ came He abolished the Law and brought liberty and life to light. This He continues to do. . .”
23 From Calvin, Galatians, on his note for 3:23. How does the entire passage of 3:19-25 fit together? I take the “Therefore” of v24 as referring back not only to verse 23, but also to the whole passage of vv19-23. So how did the Law thus become our tutor (IE, the tutor of the OT people of God and with us as secondarily application)? In two ways primarily: 1) It condemned us for our sin (what Paul said in vv19-22); and 2) it bound us to the ceremonies (what we just saw from v23). Put simply, the condemnation of the Moral Law as outlined in v22 (IE, the Law strictly taken--Do this and live, do it not and die) served to drive them to the Ceremonial Law as outlined in v23 (IE, the Law largely taken--including the promises and pictures of the gospel), which was their gospel as it fore-pictured Christ. As we quoted Edward Fisher saying earlier: “the moral law did teach and show them what they should do, and so what they did not; and this made them go to the ceremonial law; and by that they were taught that Christ had done it for them; the which they believing, were made righteous by faith in him.” Then for v25: it is in these two ways that we are no longer under the Law. We are still under the authority of the Moral Law as believers. But we are no longer under the Law 1) as it condemns us for our sin—cf. v22 (this aspect was also true for OT believers); nor are we under under the Law 2) as it binds us to the ceremonies—cf. v23 (this aspect is true only for us as new covenant believers).
24 Here's the full quote from Francis Roberts: “the Law. . .is not against the promises, or Covenant of faith. It is diverse, but not adverse; subordinate, not contradictory to the New Testament. . .by the Law they were, not shut up from the faith, but shut up unto the faith, that after should be revealed.” (pp744-45). It's an important distinction. If Paul had said that the Law shut us up from the faith, it would be opposed to the new covenant. But the Law actually shut us up unto the faith that was later to be revealed. Galatians 3:23 isn't saying that the Law kept us from Christ, but rather that the (Ceremonial) Law kept us for Christ. The verse is saying that the Ceremonial Laws were actually God's way of protecting His Old Testament people.
25 Another example here could be Noah's ark. I'm sure it wasn't a pleasant place to live for an entire year—it would have been restrictive, like being shut up in a prison—and yet it was the very means of Noah and his family being saved and entering into the new heavens and the new earth. So too, after the flood was over, there was no need to continue living in the ark.
26 Together with Emphasis and Abrogation, we also see this truth in Galatians 4:1-11. Calvin: “The Old held consciences bound by the yoke of bondage; the New by its spirit of liberality emancipates them into freedom. . .Further, we shall deny that [even the patriarchs] were so endowed with the spirit of freedom and assurance as not in some degree to experience the fear and bondage arising from the law. For, however much they enjoyed the privilege that they had received through the grace of the gospel, they were still subject to the same bonds and burdens of the ceremonial observances as the common people. They were compelled to observe those ceremonies punctiliously, symbols of a tutelage resembling bondage (cf. Gal. 4:2-3); and the written bonds (cf. Col. 2:14). . .” (2:11:9). Hodge: “when contrasted with the new or Christian economy, as a different mode of revealing the same covenant, it is spoken of as a state of tutelage and bondage, far different from the freedom and filial spirit of the dispensation under which we now live.” (V2, p376). The Westminster Confession says: “under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected” (20:1). Shaw comments on WCF 20:1 saying: “Christians are now freed from the yoke of the ceremonial law. The Jewish Church was kept 'in bondage under the elements of the world' (Gal. 4:3); but that burdensome yoke is not imposed on the Christian Church (Acts 15:10). The ancient ceremonies were abrogated, in point of obligation, by the death of Christ; and though, for a time, the use of them was indifferent, yet, upon the full promulgation of the gospel, and the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, the observance of them became unlawful; and the Apostle Paul exhorted Christians to 'stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free, and not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.' (Gal. 5:1).”
27 See also Psalm 37:31, where David, writing in the old covenant, says of the righteous that the Law of God is in his heart.
28 And Deuteronomy 32:5 declares, “They are not His children, because of their defect; but are a perverse and crooked generation.” Witsius: “In that one nation of Israel, very few were partakers of saving grace. . .and therefore Moses said to the whole people, with a reference to the generality of them, Deut. 29:4, 'Jehovah hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear;' for they who were favored with that grace, compared with the rest, were inconsiderable” (V2, p372).
29 Isaiah is full of this kind of language; see Isaiah 1:4; 5:2; 65:2, etc. So is Jeremiah: 6:13; 7:25-26; 8:10; 9:26; 22:21; etc.
30 Writing on Jeremiah 31:33, Calvin grapples with the question: “Was the grace of regeneration wanting to the Fathers under the Law? But this is quite preposterous. What, then, is meant when God denies here that the Law was written on the heart before the coming of Christ?. . .this grace of God was rare and little known under the Law; but. . . under the Gospel the gifts of the Spirit have been more abundantly poured forth, and. . .God has dealt more bountifully with his Church.” And again: “But it may be asked, whether there was under the Law a sure and certain promise of salvation, whether the fathers had the gift of the Spirit, whether they enjoyed God’s paternal favor through the remission of sins? Yes, it is evident that they worshipped God with a sincere heart and a pure conscience, and that they walked in his commandments, and this could not have been the case except they had been inwardly taught by the Spirit; and it is also evident, that whenever they thought of their sins, they were raised up by the assurance of a gratuitous pardon. And yet the Apostle, by referring the prophecy of Jeremiah to the coming of Christ, seems to rob them of these blessings. To this I reply, that he does not expressly deny that God formerly wrote his Law on their hearts and pardoned their sins, but he makes a comparison between the less and the greater. As then the Father has put forth more fully the power of his Spirit under the kingdom of Christ, and has poured forth more abundantly his mercy on mankind, this exuberance renders insignificant the small portion of grace which he had been pleased to bestow on the fathers.” (Hebrews 8:10). He then clarifies: “If it be objected and said, that the faith and obedience of Abraham so excelled, that hardly any such an example can at this day be found in the whole world; my answer is this, that the question here is not about persons, but that reference is made to the economical condition of the Church.” And the Westminster Annotations on Jeremiah 31:33 says: “that spiritual grace is withall here promised, whereby they should be enabled to become God's people, not in title and profession alone, but in truth (John 1:47; Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 6:15-16).”
31 The full quote is: “The second particular difference is in respect of the measure of grace. Hence the Scripture speaks, as if they had under the Old Testament none at all, merely because there was not such a plentiful effusion of his Spirit upon them; not but that if we consider some particular persons, they might have such degrees of grace, that few under the Gospel can be compared unto them, as Abraham and David; but this was not according to the ordinary dispensation of his graces then. So that as one star differs from another in glory, thus did the Church of the Jews, from that of Christians. They had drops, but we have the fountain; they had glimmerings, but we have the sun itself.” (Burgess, p254). Thomas Brooks: “There is more abundance of the Spirit of grace, of light, of knowledge, of holiness, poured out generally upon the people of God now, than there was in those times. Though then some few eminent saints had much of the Spirit, and much of grace and holiness, both in their hearts and lives; but now the generality of the saints have more of the Spirit, and more grace and holiness, than the generality of the saints had in those times.” (V5, p287). Calvin: “We are not to surmise from this difference between letter and spirit that the Lord had fruitlessly bestowed his law upon the Jews, and that none of them turned to him. But it was put forward by way of comparison to commend the grace abounding, wherewith the same Lawgiver. . .honored the preaching of the gospel. For suppose we reckon the multitude of those whom he gathers into the communion of his church from all peoples, men regenerated by his Spirit through the preaching of the gospel. Then we will say that in ancient Israel there were very few—almost none—who embraced the Lord's covenant with their whole hearts and minds. Yet, reckoned by themselves without comparison, there were many.” (Institutes, 2.11.8). Roberts: “Under the Old Covenant the Spirit of God was given but so sparingly, so restrictively, to an handful of people the Jews, and in such small measure, and producing so few and small effects; that it is said, not to be given; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. But under the New Covenant the Spirit was shed forth abundantly, in great variety of graces and gifts, both upon Jews and Gentiles, beginning at Pentecost to be poured forth upon the Apostles, and afterwards falling upon private believers.” (p1256). Again: “The Efficacy of former administrations, was very weak and small, in comparison of this New Covenant administration which is great and powerful. Under those the Holy Spirit was but as it were sparingly sprinkled upon them; their knowledge and love of God was dark, feeble childlike; their hearts were very stony hard and inflexible, as God intimated to them in writing his Laws upon stones, etc. But under this, the Holy Spirit is plentifully poured forth as in streams and rivers upon them; and into them; their knowledge and love of God is clear, strong, ripe, man-like: their hearts very fleshy and flexible to God and his will, etc. Hence, the Old Testament ministration is called the ministration of the letter, that condemns and kills, viz, an ineffectual ministration, showing the letter of the duty and death in case of non-performance, but affording no ability for that duty; but the New Testament ministration is called the ministration of the Spirit that quickneth, and is a ministration of righteousness, viz, an effectual and powerful ministration, that affords sufficiency of ability for the duty which it requires. Hence, the Spirit is said not to be given, till Christ was glorified: not as if it had not been given at all; but because it was bestowed so sparingly and slenderly, in comparison to what is now, that it might seem not to be given at all. [Also,] the Extent of former Covenant administrations, was but to particular families, as of Adam, Noah, Abraham, David; or to some particular tribes, as to the captives of Judah and Benjamin, or to a select nation, as to the Jews at Mount Sinai: Alas, how few, what a small handful were all these to the rest of the world! And yet of this small number, how few were there that had any saving inscription of Gods Laws upon their hearts at all? And we say, minimum in magne nihil, a small thing in that which is great is as nothing; a drop is as nothing in the sea, a grain of sand is as nothing in the earth: so the writing of God's Laws in the hearts of so few, is as nothing in the world. But the extent of this New Covenant administration is universal, to all nations in the whole world; and consequently Gods writing of his Laws in mens hearts is proportionably extended to all Gods people in all those nations: to many thousands and ten thousands more then under all former Covenant expressures.” (pp1383-86). Why was the old covenant was less efficacious? Roberts says: “Under the Old Testament, as the foederates knowledge of God was less clear and less perfect, so it was less efficacious. The power and efficacy thereof was proportionable. They rested much in a literal and notional knowledge; few of them had a spiritualized knowledge; consequently the efficacy of their knowledge upon them was either none at all, or very slender. Literals and mere notionals have no efficacy; weak spirituals have but weak efficacy upon the hearts and lives. But under the New Covenant the foederates knowledge of God, etc, is much more powerful, strong, and efficacious. The Apostle signifies this excellently, saying, 'But we all with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.'” (p1408). MORE THOROUGH EXPOSITION OF JEREMIAH 31:31-34: I wanted to add a bit more detail here. Many understand the words “new covenant” in Jeremiah 31:31 as encompassing all of the differences in administration that we've been speaking of between the old and new covenants (IE, emphasis, clarity, consummation, abrogation, freedom), as well as that of efficacy, but while all of these may be mentioned, still it seems Jeremiah is mainly speaking of the difference in efficacy between old and new covenants. He's not contrasting the old and new covenants in general, but especially one aspect of them in particular: in the old covenant, God's people broke his covenant, because, it is inferred, God's Law was written externally on stone but not in their hearts; whereas in the new covenant, God's Law would be written internally in their hearts, and thus they would be covenant keepers rather than covenant breakers. IE, in the old covenant God's people turned away because they didn't have God's Law in their hearts; but in the new they would never turn away because they truly would have His Law in their hearts. For full understanding, we need to clarify a few things from the passage: 1) The essence or substance of the two covenants is exactly the same: Notice that the word “Law” is actually used of the new covenant, not the old. Jeremiah isn't saying that the Law was what was written in the old covenant, but the gospel would be written in the new. Nor does Jeremiah say a new Law would be given, but rather that a new covenant would be made, in which the same Law would be written in a different place. The difference isn't in what was written but rather in where it was written. So it's not that the Mosaic Covenant was about the Law, whereas the new covenant will be about the gospel. The Mosaic Covenant was no less about the gospel. So when we read that Israel broke this covenant, we're not to think that Jeremiah means that Sinai was a legal dispensation and the people broke the Law (as all of us do). After all, if that's what Jeremiah is saying, how do we make any sense of the contrast? If we also in the new covenant break God's Law by not keeping it perfectly, what sense can we make of Jeremiah's contrast, where the new will be so different from the old? No, when Jeremiah speaks of Israel breaking the covenant, he's not talking about breaking the Law, he's actually talking about breaking the covenant itself—which was a Covenant of Grace. In other words, he means they failed to embrace the covenant from the heart, by faith. And this is what would be different in the new covenant: God's new covenant people would embrace the covenant from the heart. 2) The members of the two covenants are spoken of in general: When God says that “they” broke the old covenant (v32), he's not speaking of every single individual, as we've seen, but rather about Israel in general, on the whole. Again, there were indeed many who embraced God's covenant from the heart under the old covenant, but taken on the whole, the people turned away. Well, the same principle applies to the objects of the new covenant. When God says that in the new covenant He will put His Law within “them”, He's not talking about every single individual, but of the people on the whole. If it is objected that verse 34 tells us that God is indeed speaking of every individual, in that it says “they will all know Me”, we would simply refer back to verses 29-30, which clarify that not every single individual is meant, but again the population on the whole, for even in the new covenant there will be some who yet eat the sour grapes and die for their own iniquity. This is confirmed by that expression in verse 34, “from the least of them to the greatest of them”, for Jeremiah uses the same phrase twice before this passage (6:13; 8:10) in speaking of how Israel in his day had turned away from the Lord; but surely no one takes him to be speaking of every single individual; the prophet is rather characterizing the vast majority of the people. Jeremiah is not saying there were no individuals who knew God in the old covenant, nor is he saying that every individual would know God in the new covenant, but rather that on the whole, God's people turned away from Him in the old, but that they would know and walk with Him in the new. 3) The reason for this contrast between old and new covenants is that God would cause His Word to take effect upon His people in a much greater proportion in the new covenant, as we've shown above. This isn't to say that there were periods in the old covenant when the Spirit was so powerfully at work that it seemed as if that time belonged to the new covenant; or in turn, that there will be periods in the new covenant when the workings of the Spirit seem so small and insignificant that it will resemble more the times of the old covenant. But the comparison is a general one; Jeremiah is speaking of the two dispensations on the whole when he tells us that the old covenant was characterized by the writing of God's Word externally on stone (even though He also wrote that same Word in the hearts of His people), and that the new covenant would be characterized by the writing of God's Word internally in the hearts of His people (even though it is no less still written externally on the pages of our Bibles). The old covenant included God's Law written internally on hearts; and the new covenant includes God's Law written externally on paper, but the difference is that the old would be marked and characterized by the external writing, whereas the new would be marked and characterized by the internal writing. And the reason is that God would take His Word and apply it effectually to the hearts of His people unto salvation in such a greater proportion in the new covenant than in the old.
32 Roberts, Mystery and Marrow, p1714; cf. pp1410, 1689. Hodge says, “It was of the same kind, though less in degree, as the glory of the gospel. The one dispensation was indeed glorious, but the other was more so.” (2 Corinthians; p78).
33 Roberts likewise understands the new covenant to be “better” in many of the same ways we have been describing: “Now this New Covenant is called a Better Covenant and Testament in opposition to the Old Covenant and Testament. And this, not in essence and substance; but in accidents and circumstances, viz: 1) Because, it is established upon better promises. The promises of the Old Covenant were a) more carnal and earthly; b) more obscure, in Christ to come afterwards; c) more restrained, to one nation of the Jews. . .But the promises of this New Covenant are a) more spiritual and heavenly; b) more clear and conspicuous in Christ come already; c) more extensive and universal, to all nations. 2) Because, it is not an earthly, servile, slavish, terrible dispensation. . .but a heavenly, free, filial and comfortable dispensation. . . 3) Because, it was dedicated with better sacrifice and blood, than the Old Covenant. Not with the typical sacrifices and blood of slain beasts; but with the true sacrifice and blood of Jesus Christ. . . 4) Because, it is administered by a better priesthood, even the perfect, everlasting, unchangeable Melchizedeckian priesthood of Jesus Christ himself. . . 5) Because, upon all the grounds why it's called, A New Covenant, it may also deservedly be counted a better covenant.” (pp1264-65). Later, he adds: “The New Covenants promises are better promises, than those of the Old Covenant, and consequently much more than those of the fore-going covenants, in many regards; as: 1) Better in regard of perspicuity and clearness. . . 2) Better in regard of spirituality. . . 3) Better in regard of divine efficacy and sufficiency. . . 4) Better in regard of extent. . . 5) Better in regard of duration. . .” (pp1674-75). See also Witsius, V2, pp362ff. We could summarize by saying: “The same redemption, sanctification, justification, adoption and glorification, even the same complete salvation by Christ, was revealed in both covenants; though in different manners and degrees. . .The New Testament promises are better than those of the Old; not in kind, but in degree.” (Roberts, p784).
34 Roberts draws out this distinction beautifully in the course of his discussion of Jeremiah 31:33. He says, “The Sinai-Covenant, made with Israel when God brought them out of the land of Egypt, is said to be unlike, or not according to the New Covenant; but it is not said either by the prophet or apostle to be unlike to the Covenant of Faith [IE, Grace]. And the dissimilitude or difference here intimated betwixt the Sinai-Covenant and the New Covenant, is not in substance or kind, for in both the Lord says, 'I will be their God and they shall be My people;' but only in manner of administration and degree. God promising in His New Covenant a greater, fuller, and clearer measure of grace upon His people, then under the Sinai Covenant. . .They are both Covenants of Faith, but the New Covenant every way more excellent, complete and perfect.” (Roberts, pp769-70). There are other differences in administration that we didn't explicitly mention here. For example, another difference is that the old covenant was primarily limited to the Jews, whereas the new covenant is meant to spread to every tribe and tongue and nation. Also, the graces of the Spirit are more generally poured out on believers now in the new covenant than in the old. Further, the old covenant was always meant to be temporary, but the new covenant is permanent.