I. The ESSENCE of the New Covenant: What's the same in the New Covenant?
We mentioned in our first lesson that Thomas Boston began his treatise, A View of the Covenant of Grace with these words: “As man's ruin was originally owing to the breaking of the covenant of works, so his recovery, from the first to the last step thereof, is owing purely to the fulfilling of the covenant of grace.” The gospel is the story of man's ruin and his redemption; and, as another put it, “Covenant Theology is just the gospel.” I hope you've seen this in our study together. The Covenant of Grace is simply the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus. In Adam, we were ruined. But God has made a way for redemption in and through Christ. And this is the singular message of the Scriptures. Both the Old Testament (or Old Covenant) and the New Testament (or New Covenant) declare the same truth: Salvation is freely offered to sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.1
In each manifestation of the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament, we've seen Jesus: When God drew near to Adam and his wife in the garden after they had sinned, and made a promise in Genesis 3:15, it was a gospel promise. To be sure, it was veiled in strange and mysterious language—but it was a gospel promise nonetheless. And God's covenant with Noah was just as much about the gospel, for as we saw, Noah himself was saved from the coming judgment only by sovereign grace (Genesis 6:8); and indeed, this grace was upheld and mediated only in and through sacrificial atonement (8:20-21). Even Noah was set forth as a type of Christ, through whom all who were together with him in the ark were saved from the judgment and preserved safely to the new earth. God's covenant with Abraham was likewise a gospel covenant. In fact, Paul explicitly tells us that the Scripture “preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham” (Galatians 3:8); for when God told him: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22:18), He was speaking of Christ, who would come forth from him, and bring blessing to the world. God's covenant with Israel at Sinai was no less a gospel covenant, for as Scripture clearly tells us, they had the same good news preached to them under Moses that we do (Hebrews 4:2,6); and even Christ himself said to the Jews: “if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me” (John 5:46). Last but not least, God's covenant with David was all about the gospel; for the promises the Lord made to him in 2 Samuel 7 had to do with the distant future, in which God would raise up one of his descendants, and establish the throne of His kingdom forever.
What we're saying is that there's a fundamental unity between the new covenant and all the previous old covenant manifestations of the Covenant of Grace. It's one Covenant of Grace. New Testament or Old, it's all about the gospel. Old covenant or new, it's all about Jesus. Every manifestation of the Covenant of Grace is like an instrument playing in a brilliant orchestra; and starting with the promise in the garden, God began conducting His masterpiece. Each manifestation is like another instrument joining in, adding to the whole. And with the inauguration of the new covenant, there's a culmination as the symphony rises to its climax. But the music hasn't changed; it's all about Jesus and the gospel.2
II. The ECONOMY of the New Covenant: What's different in the New Covenant?
And so, the first thing we have to understand is that the new covenant is exactly the same as the old as it relates to its essence: Both are equally about the gospel, both serve to point us to Jesus, and in both we are not only saved, but also called upon to live our lives as Christians by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. But though the new and the old covenants are the same in their essence—the way they differ is in their economy. Or, to put it another way, though they are the same in substance, they're different in administration. This is the way Paul speaks about the new covenant in Ephesians 1:10, where he marvels that we now live in “an administration suitable to the fullness of the times. . .” (cf. 3:8-9). In the new covenant, we live in a different administration of the Covenant of Grace. The old covenant is about the gospel as much as the new; but as we mentioned earlier, if the old covenant is like a mango plucked from the tree, the new covenant is that same mango when it's peeled, sliced up, and ready to eat. The difference doesn't have to do with the nature of the covenant, but with how it's outwardly presented. The way the new covenant is different from the old is in its administration.3
A) The DISTINCTIVES of the New Covenant: What does this look like in particular? In the new covenant, there's a difference in emphasis. In the old covenant, the mango came to us in its skin; the kernel was packaged together with the husk. Gospel truths were set forth to us, but those truths were communicated in and through earthly pictures. But now in the new covenant, the gospel is set forth to us front and center, extracted from its earthly and temporal packaging. And as a result, there's also a difference in clarity with the new covenant. While the gospel kernel was wrapped with an outward husk, it was more hidden from view. Old Testament believers had enough gospel light to guide them in their way, but whereas their light was like the light of dawn, ours is like the brightness of noonday. In the new covenant, the Covenant of Grace also reaches its consummation; for now, Christ himself has come. What had been promised in the old covenant is now actually performed in the new; and what had been foretold in the old covenant is now truly fulfilled in the new covenant administration. And as a result, there's also an abrogation of the old covenant ceremonies and institutions, for these things were only given to a particular people (the Jews), and for a particular time (before the coming of Christ); and thus, they served only a temporary purpose. But now that Christ has come, they're no longer needed; for now that we have the kernel, we can do away with the husk. And in turn, believers in the new covenant now also enjoy a greater measure of freedom; for though it's true that the former ceremonies and institutions set forth Christ; still, they were also heavy and burdensome requirements for the people of God; and from these we've been liberated in the new covenant administration. The gospel is now also preached with much greater effect; for though the content was the same in the old covenant, yet now, God applies His Word powerfully to the hearts of His people, by His Spirit, in a much greater proportion. Indeed, if we are to make a comparison between the two administrations, we have to acknowledge that though the old was full of glory—it's eclipsed by the glory of the new.4
The difference in the administration of the new covenant also extends to THE CHURCH. Again, it's not that the ESSENCE of the church has changed: God's old covenant people were the church just as much as we are today. And just as that church was visible and invisible—made up of both those who truly embraced the covenant reality and those merely under its realm — so it is now. Further, as their church included as members all professing believers, together with their children, so does ours. And as they were called to follow their Lord as the church militant, before entering glory and transforming into the church triumphant, so must we. The essence hasn't changed, but the ADMINISTRATION is different now in the new covenant: For under the old covenant, Christ was promised, salvation was promised, an inheritance was promised. But now, Christ has come, redemption has been purchased, and the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us; so that whereas the church under the old covenant was comparable to a child in its minority—yet to receive his inheritance— we've now entered into a full possession of all the benefits of the Covenant of Grace under the new covenant administration. And whereas the church in the old covenant was essentially limited to the Jews—the new covenant church has taken on a universal scope, made up of men and women from every tribe and tongue and nation under heaven. The difference in administration also extends to THE SACRAMENTS. Under the old covenant, the sacraments unfolded progressively: The first sacrament was given under Abraham (circumcision), and the second under Moses (passover). The purpose of circumcision was to initiate someone into the covenant community; and the passover served to continue to nourish them in their faith. In the new covenant, God has given us the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper. Like circumcision, baptism is administered just once, and it serves to initiate someone into the community of God's people; whereas the Lord's supper is to be received often by the people of God as a means strengthening and nourishing their faith. There's also a difference in administration as it relates to THE OFFICES of the church in the new covenant. Again, the essence doesn't change. It's not that God has done away with shepherds and overseers in the new covenant church; but now these offices have taken a new form: Whereas formerly there were prophets, priests, and kings, the new covenant church is shepherded by elders appointed to equip God's people for the upbuilding of the whole.5
B) The DESIGNATIONS of the New Covenant: What are the names and titles that Scripture uses to refer to the new covenant? In three short verses in the book of Hebrews, we're given three unique designations for the new covenant: In Hebrews 8:6, the new covenant is called a better covenant; in Hebrews 8:7, it's called a second covenant; and in Hebrews 8:8, the author refers to it in the way that we're most familiar with, calling it a new covenant. We'll take these one by one, starting with the last.
1) In Hebrews 8:8, the author quotes from Jeremiah 31, where the Lord declares through the prophet: “'Behold, days are coming,' says the Lord, 'when I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. . .” Here in this passage, God promises to make A NEW COVENANT with His people; and this is set in contrast with the covenant that He made with them at Sinai, which would be the old covenant. Most of the time we've used this phrase, the old covenant, we've taken it as referring to all the Old Testament manifestations of the Covenant of Grace, together as a whole; and this is, indeed, one way this phrase can be used. But it can also be used to refer exclusively to the covenant that God made with Israel at Sinai; and this is how it's being used as it's contrasted here with the new. We've already examined this passage in Jeremiah 31 earlier in our study; and it's not our purpose to get back into the details here. But what is Scripture telling us when it describes this as being a new covenant? What is it about this covenant that's new? Well, the first thing we could say is that it's new in all the ways we just finished talking about. This covenant isn't new at all, as it relates to its true essence or substance; for as we've seen, Israel's covenant at Sinai was just as much about the gospel as our covenant is today. The newness, rather, has to do with its form and administration.
The new moon is called new, not because it's a different moon than the one that appeared in the sky a day earlier, but because it marks the very beginning of the monthly lunar cycle. It's not new at all in its essence—but only in its form and outward appearance. In the same way, the new covenant is called new, not because it's something completely different than the old, but because of its outward form and administration. The new covenant is also called new because it replaces the former covenant, rendering it old and obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). New wine is called new, not because it comes from different grapes, but because it comes from the most recent harvest, replacing the old. In the same way, the new covenant is called new because it has come as the latest and most recent of God's covenantal dealings, and because it serves to replace the old. Indeed, God's previous covenant was rendered old only with the arrival of the new; but now that the new has come, the old is obsolete. Finally, the new covenant is called new because it continues to be the administration of God's choice for as long as the world endures. Scripture tells us, “The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease. . .They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). God's mercies are new each and every day because they never cease to exist; and so, because the Lord's mercies perpetually flow to us, they are counted as being ever new. It's the same with the new covenant; for since this is the administration of the Covenant of Grace that will endure forever and never end, it's for this reason that it's called new.6
2) The new covenant is also called A SECOND COVENANT. In Hebrews 8:7, we're told: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.” So then, Scripture is referring to the new covenant as a second covenant; but this can create some confusion if we're not careful. One reason for the confusion is that these same terms, first and second covenant, are also used to describe the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. And indeed, these are fitting names, for the very first covenant that God made with man was the Covenant of Works, which the Lord made with Adam while he was yet sinless in the garden. And it was after he had sinned that God drew near to him once again and entered into a second covenant with him, which was rooted in the Lord's mercy, known as the Covenant of Grace. But this is not the way the author of Hebrews is using these terms here in this passage. When he refers to the first and second covenants, he's rather (once again) contrasting the new covenant with the covenant that God had made with Israel at Sinai. This resolves some questions, but it also creates questions of its own. For though the covenant which God made with Israel at Sinai, and the new covenant, both belong to the Covenant of Grace; still, it's difficult to understand why they would be called the first and second. Indeed, as we just mentioned, the first manifestation of the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament was God's promise to Adam, after he had fallen, in Genesis 3:15. And this was followed by God's covenant with Noah, as well as His covenant with Abraham. So it's difficult to see how Sinai is spoken of as the first covenant. And it's equally difficult to understand how the new covenant is spoken of as the second, especially in light of the fact that it's the Davidic covenant, not the new covenant, that comes after the covenant at Sinai! In short, these two covenants are called first and second because they are set forth as representing the two distinct administrations of the Covenant of Grace. For though there were many manifestations of the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament, God's covenant at Sinai was the most illustrious; so that it serves to represent all the others. It's in this respect that Sinai is counted as the first covenant. And as Hebrews 8:7 reminds us, it's because the first was flawed that God made place for the second. We might well think of the contrast as that of a special old book from antiquity. Most of the time, it's the first edition that's most prized. But often, after that initial edition has already been published, it goes through some significant changes and revisions, which are made to further expand upon, clarify, and perfect the edition, bringing it to final form. It's the same book; but now it's the second edition that's become more valuable than the first. In the same way, we might think of Sinai and the new covenant as being different editions of the same book: The first is to be prized; but the second even more so.7
3) Lastly, the new covenant is also termed A BETTER COVENANT. Hebrews 8:6 says, “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.” In what sense is the new covenant better than the old? It's better in all the ways that we've been talking about here in this section: The new covenant is better than the old as the light of noonday is better than that of a candle. It's better than the old as a lavish feast is better for a hungry man than a painting of one; or as a gushing river is better for a thirsty man than it's shadow. The new covenant is better than the old as having my wife face to face is better than looking at a picture of her; and as being married to her is better than the promise of having her hand in marriage. The new covenant is better than the old as being a free man is better than having to live in custody; and as growing into maturity is better than remaining a child. The new is better than the old as having a torrential downpour of God's Spirit is better than having drops. And indeed, the new covenant is better than the old as having a church made up of all nations is better than a church that's limited to just one. Again, it's not that the new covenant is something different from the old in its true essence or substance. Just as the new moon is the same as the old in its essence, and just as the older wine came from the same grapes as the new, both old and new covenants belong to the Covenant of Grace. But if compare these two distinct administrations, we have to acknowledge the new is better.8
C) The DIGNITY of the New Covenant: There is a beautiful passage in Ezekiel 37, where the Lord proclaims: “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons' sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.” (vv24-28). In one sense, the prophet is looking forward to a day yet to come; but in a very real sense, he's also speaking of the new covenant.
1) And as he does so, the first thing we see is that the new covenant is THE FULFILLMENT of all the previous manifestations of the Covenant of Grace. In verse 27, the Lord declares, “and I will be their God, and they will be My people.” This, of course, isn't anything new. This has been the heartbeat of the Covenant of Grace from the very beginning. It was the goal of God's covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:7-8); just as it was the goal of God's covenant at Sinai (Exodus 6:6-7). But it's in the new covenant that it finds it's fulfillment, because this doesn't happen apart from Jesus. It's in Christ that God the Creator has become God our Redeemer; that we've become His people, and He's become our God. So again, the new covenant is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament manifestations of the Covenant of Grace; and we also see this in verse 26, where it's called “an everlasting covenant.” This is significant, because this same phrase was also used to describe God's covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:16); His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:7-19), and His covenant with David (2 Samuel 23:5); but now, all these old covenant forms are brought to their true and proper fulfillment in and through the new covenant. And we don't only see this truth in verse 26, we also see it throughout this passage. For in the new covenant, David will be king over God's people (verse 24). And in the new covenant, God's people will be characterized as a people who keep God's Law, which He gave to them at Sinai (verse 24). Moreover, in the new covenant, the people of the Lord will live on the land that God had given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (verse 25). In other words, the new covenant is the fulfillment of the Noahic Covenant; it's the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant; it's the fulfillment of the Mosaic Covenant; and it's the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. What we see here in Ezekiel 37 is that the new covenant brings to fulfillment all the Old Testament manifestations of the Covenant of Grace.9
2) As the new covenant is the fulfillment of the Covenant of Grace, it's also THE FINAL EDITION of the Covenant of Grace. In other words, the new covenant administration is permanent; it will never be replaced or come to an end. While the Old Testament manifestations of the Covenant of Grace were temporary, the new covenant will endure as long as the world remains. We see this emphasized throughout this passage as well, for as the prophet looks ahead to the new covenant, he clearly speaks of it using a language of permanence and perpetuity. For indeed, in the new covenant, God's people will live on the land, together with their sons, and sons' sons, forever (verse 25). In the new covenant, David, the specially appointed servant of the Lord, will be prince of God's people forever (verse 25). And in the new covenant, God himself will set His sanctuary in the midst of His people forever (vv26, 28). And just as we mentioned above, verse 26 tells us the new covenant is “an everlasting covenant.” God's covenants with Noah, Abraham, and David were described in the same way, but whereas they were everlasting as it related to their essence and substance (as being part of the Covenant of Grace), the new covenant is also everlasting as it relates to its form and administration. Indeed, the Covenant of Grace itself is permanent; but whereas the old covenant is described as that which fades away, the new covenant is described as being that which remains (2 Corinthians 3:11). And it's under this new covenant administration that Jesus himself will continue to shepherd His people until the day that He comes again “to be glorified in His saints. . .and to be marveled at among all who have believed. . .”10
1 Thomas Boston's quote is from his View of the Covenant of Grace, p1. The quote about Covenant Theology just being the gospel is attributed to Mark Dever; it's cited from Ligon Duncan's course on Covenant Theology in his lesson on the Gospels.
2 As Ball says: “the Old and New Testament. . .for substance [are] one and the same. They both flow from the free grace and mercy of God looking at poor sinners in Jesus Christ. They have both one common matter: the obedience of faith required, and life everlasting, and all secondary good things promised by the imputation of the righteousness of faith, and free adoption in Jesus Christ. They have both one object Jesus Christ, who being promised to the fathers in prophetical Scriptures, God has in due time exhibited under the Gospel. They have both one general end, [namely], the praise of the glorious grace of God in Jesus Christ. Both covenants are struck with mankind, as. . .sinners, and those which work not, but believe in him that justifies the ungodly. In both the same spirit sealed up the truth of the covenants to all under covenant; for seeing the adoption, and inheritance in some measure belonged to the fathers in the Old Testament, the earnest of that inheritance cannot be denied them. But the new covenant does in many things out-strip the old, which do[es] nothing [to] derogate from their substantial and real unity and agreement.” (pp163-64). And Roberts notes: “Every dispensation of the Covenant of Faith since the fall, preached Christ and the gospel in Him. . .” (p1101). And again: “The substance of the Covenant of Faith is still the same, but yet it still more and more excels itself in gradual perfections, till it attain[s] to the most perfect of all dispensations, the new covenant.” (p1216). And: “The substance of God's covenants of Faith was but one. . .The circumstances were very various; but the essence and substance of them all was one and the same [namely] the revealing and tendering of one and the same Messiah Jesus Christ to His people, as their only all-sufficient Savior through faith.” (Roberts, p1222). Again: “Jesus Christ was represented, in the first covenant, as the seed of the woman; in the second, as the true Noah; in the third, as the seed of Abraham; in the fourth, as the seed of Israel; in the fifth, as the seed of David; in the sixth, as the true David; in the seventh, which is the new covenant, as actually God-man, Immanuel, God with us.” (Roberts, Preface). And lastly: “The agreement between the old covenant, given at Mount Sinai, and this new covenant, from Mount Sion (that I may use the Apostle's terms), does stand especially in these particulars, and such like, [namely], 1) Both of them are covenants of the same sort and nature. . . [being] covenants not of works but of faith, and through Jesus Christ revealing righteousness, life and salvation to lapsed sinners in and by Jesus Christ through faith. . . 2) Both of them have the same Author of efficient cause, the Lord God. . . 3) Both of them have the same impulsive or moving causes, [namely] the riches of God's mere grace, in and through the merit of Jesus Christ alone. . . 4) Both of them expressed in general the same bounty and benevolent affection to their federates, accepting into covenant with God, not only parents, but also their seed and posterity together with the parents. . . 5) Both of them contain for substance, the same subject matters or articles of agreement between God and His federates. . . 6) Both of them have for substance one and the same Mediator, Jesus Christ. Though typically represented in the mediation of Moses, in the old covenant; truly, in His own person actually exhibited in human flesh, in the new. . . 7) Both of them have the same general way of sanction, dedication or fundamental establishment, [namely] by blood, and death of sacrifices. . . 8) Both of them had the like general season of publication; [namely] about fifty days after the sacrificing of the passover. The old, fifty days after the typical passover was offered up in Egypt (Exodus 12:6-7, 18 with 19:1). The new covenant was published on the Feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Christ our true passover was offered up for us at Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-2; 1 Corinthians 5:7). . . 9) Both of them were further confirmed and established in the same way, for the general, [namely] I. By promises. . . [and] II. By visible tokens of the covenants. . . 10) Both of them effect, produce and constitute one and the same Church of Christ essentially and substantially. . . 11) Finally, both old and new covenant agree in the same common end, [namely]. . .the revealing of Jesus Christ for sinner's happiness. . .and the glory of their covenant God in all. . .” (Roberts, pp1703-06). And Bavinck likewise writes: “The Old and the New Testaments are in essence one covenant. . .They have one gospel. . .one mediator, namely, Christ, who existed also in the days of the Old Testament. . .exercised his office of mediator. . .and is the only mediator for all humans and in all times. . .It included one faith as the way of salvation. . .the same promises and benefits of God's communion, forgiveness, justification, and eternal life. . .The road was the same on which believers in the Old and the New Testaments walked, but the light in which they walked was different.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, V3, p223).
3 Calvin says: “The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one and the same. Yet they differ in the mode of dispensation.” (Institutes, 2.10.2). And again: “I freely admit the differences in Scripture, to which attention is called, but in such a way as not to detract from its established unity. . .I say that all these [differences] pertain to the manner of dispensation rather than to the substance. . .” (Institutes, 2.11.1). Interestingly, the Greek word for “administration” in Ephesians 1:10 and 3:9 is oikonomia, which is also where we get the English word economy. This sheds light on why this term, “economy” seemed to be interchangeable with the term “administration” in some of the older writers (most notably in the title of Herman Witsius' work, The Economy of the Covenants). Regarding the Scripture in Ephesians 1:10, there is some dispute about whether the “administration” Paul is speaking of is the present or the future; but Charles Hodge says this about oikonomia in Ephesians 1:10 and its meaning:“The apostle is speaking of God’s purpose, of what He intended to do. It was a purpose having reference to a plan or economy of his own; an economy here designated as that of the fulness of times. This phrase does not indicate a protracted period—the times which remain—but the termination of the times; the end of the preceding and commencement of the new dispensation. The prophets being ignorant of the time of the Messiah’s advent, predicted his coming when the time determined by God should be accomplished. Hence the expressions, 'end of the ages,' (1 Corinthians 10:11); 'end of days,' (Hebrews 1:1); 'fulness of the time,' (Galatians 4:4); and here, 'the fulness of times,' are all used to designate the time of Christ’s advent. By the economy of the fulness of times is therefore to be understood, that economy which was to be clearly revealed and carried out when the fulness of time had come.”
4 Please see this lesson for a more thorough treatment of this subject. Roberts begins his treatment of the differences between the old and new covenants by informing us what those differences are not: “The disagreement or difference between the old and this new covenant is manifold. . .But the difference is not so easily assigned as the agreement between these two covenants; because sundry false differences, either corruptly devised, or inconsiderately embraced, are pretended and obtruded. . .Here therefore I shall [first] propound the disagreements between the old and new covenant, negatively, what they are not. . .The disagreement and difference between the old and new covenant, does not stand in these particulars following, [namely] 1) Not in this, that the old covenant is a Covenant of Works, holding forth righteousness, life and salvation, only upon terms of perfect and perpetual personal doing; but the new covenant is a Covenant of Grace, holding forth righteousness, life and salvation upon terms of believing in Christ. . . 2) Not in this, that the old covenant is a mere carnal earthly covenant, containing mere carnal, external and earthly blessings, as Canaan, honor, [and] riches, but the new covenant is a spiritual and celestial covenant, containing also spiritual and eternal blessings. . . 3) Not in this, that the old covenant is a mixed covenant, partly legal, partly evangelical; mixed of two diverse covenants, the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. . .But the new covenant is a pure evangelical covenant. . . 4) Not in this, that the old covenant (in a far other sense) is mixed, [namely]. . . having promises mixed; some evangelical, belonging to those to whom the gospel belongs; some domestic or civil, especially respecting the house of Abraham, and policy of Israel; but that the new covenant is purely evangelical. . . 5) Not in this, that God's covenant is threefold: of nature, of grace, and subservient to the Covenant of Grace. . . 6) Not in this, that the old covenant admitted and accepted, as federates with God, all the natural seed of Abraham, Isaac, [and] Jacob, though only professing faith; but the new covenant accepts none as federates, but elect and regenerate persons. . . 7) Finally, the true difference between old and new covenant stands not in this, that the old covenant comprised in it as federates with God all persons professing true faith and obedience to God, and all their seed, but the new covenant is made so personally with them that actually make such profession, that it terminates in their persons, not taking in their seed as federates with them. . .These especially are those unsound and unjustifiable differences between the old and new covenant, some whereof are unadvisedly expressed by men of sounder judgement; others are most corruptly contrived for the abetting of error by men of corrupt minds.” (pp1706-08). Calvin says: “The Lord held to this orderly plan in administering the covenant of his mercy; as the day of full revelation approached with the passing of time, the more he increased each day the brightness of its manifestation. Accordingly, at the beginning when the first promise of salvation was given to Adam (Genesis 3:15) it glowed like a feeble spark. Then, as it was added to, the light grew in fullness, breaking forth increasingly and shedding its radiance more widely. At last—when all the clouds were dispersed—Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, fully illumined the whole earth (cf. Malachi 4).” (Institutes, 2.10.20). Accordingly, Roberts notes: “Every dispensation of the Covenant of Faith since the fall, preached Christ and the gospel in Him; but the later dispensations do this still much more clearly and fully than the former, and [the] last most fully and clearly of all.” (p1101). And again: “God's covenants with Adam and Noah, were as the day-dawning of saving light and grace to poor sinners; His covenant with Abraham was as the sunrise; His old covenant, comprising those with David and the captives, was as the morning light growing clearer and clearer till the perfect day; but His new covenant, is as the brightest noon-tide, the perfect day; the mid-day of clearest light, wherein the Sun of righteousness shines forth in His strength most gloriously.” (p1713). So that: “This new covenant outshines the old, as far as the sun outshines the moon. Yea as the moon derives and borrows all her clear light from the sun, having nothing but a dim blackish darkness of her own; so the old covenant (having only a darkish blackish body of itself) derived and borrowed as it were all her clearest light from Christ, and the mysteries of the new covenant.” (p1714). Bavinck explains the differences in this way: “The Old and the New Testaments as different dispensations of the same covenant of grace are related as promise and fulfillment (Acts 13:32; Rom.1:2), as shadow and substance (Col.2:17), as the letter that kills and the Spirit that makes alive (2 Cor.3:6ff), as servitude and freedom (Rom.8:15; Gal.4:1ff; etc). . .as particular and universal (John 4:21; Acts 10:35; etc). . .The new thing in the New Testament, therefore, is the shedding of the non-arbitrary but still temporary sensory national forms under which one and the same grace was revealed in the old day. . .Factually the old dispensation may long linger, but legally it has been abolished. Better still, nothing was abolished, but 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. . .Israel only possessed a shadow, but now the substance itself has emerged.” (Dogmatics, V3, pp223-24). And Vos asks: “Is the covenant under the administration of the new day different from the earlier covenant? Not in essence; certainly in form. It contains greater blessings. Its essence and its benefits are more clearly revealed. It extends to all nations. It no longer has a ceremonial and typological service. The record of sin that was against us has been destroyed or nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). There are no longer intermediaries between the believing covenant member and God, except the one Mediator, Christ. The Holy Spirit has been poured out. The glory of Christ Himself is beheld in the mirror of the gospel. There will be no more change in administration until the end of the world.” (Dogmatics, V2, p136).
5 Many of these things we've dealt with in detail over the course of our study; our purpose here is only to briefly summarize some of the things we've learned. On the church: Of the church in her minority (in the old covenant) and maturity (in the new covenant), see especially Galatians 4:1-5. Calvin notes: “The young man, though he is free, 'though he is lord of all' his father's family, still resembles a slave; for he is under the government of tutors. But the period of guardianship lasts only 'until the time appointed by the father' after which he enjoys his freedom. In this respect the fathers under the Old Testament, being the sons of God, were free; but they were not in possession of freedom,while the law held the place of their tutor, and kept them under its yoke. That slavery of the law lasted as long as it pleased God, who put an end to it at the coming of Christ.” (Galatians 4:1). And Roberts notes that though the church of Christ “was essentially one under both old and new covenant”, yet, among other things, they were different in that, “The Church under the old covenant was as an heir in minority; but the Church under the new covenant is as an heir come to maturity of age.” (p1712). Of the church's universal scope in the new covenant, see especially Ephesians 3:1-7. Roberts writes: “The old covenant was of less and more limited extent, only to the nation of the Jews, the natural seed of Abraham. . .and [only] to some few Gentile proselytes embracing the Jewish religion . . .But this new covenant is enlarged and extended to all nations of the world. . .” (p1710). Roberts draws out how incredible this is for us as Gentiles when he notes: “[God's] own peculiar people the Jews must wait many ages for this [new] covenant, and pass many gradual perparatories, especially under the old covenant, before they could be fitted for, and capable of this covenant; and yet we strangers, aliens, enemies to God, were at once exalted from our deepest pagan misery, to this highest new covenant felicity.” (p1718). On the sacraments: Roberts says: “Ever since God's promises were in Scripture called covenants, they have been confirmed by visible and sensible tokens: As the covenant with Noah, by the token of the rainbow; the covenant with Abraham and Israel at Sinai, by the ordinary tokens of circumcision and the passover, and for a time in the wilderness by the four extraordinary tokens, the cloudy fiery pillar, sea, manna, and water out of the Rock; the covenant with David and with the captives, by circumcision and the passover. Thus this last and most excellent covenant is confirmed by two sacramental tokens excelling all that went before, [namely] baptism and the Lord's supper; which are, in signification, clearer; in virtue, greater; in utility, better; in act, easier; [and] in number, fewer. . .Those sacraments were bloody, these not bloody; those signified darkly Christ to come afterwards, these signify clearly Christ come already; those were painful and costly, these without pain, and cheap; those did wax old and vanish away with the Old Covenant, these are still to continue in force till the world's end with the New Covenant. Now both in those Old, and these New covenant tokens; some were first, for initiating of persons visibly into the mystical body of Christ the Church, as circumcision. . .which, baptism under the New Testament most fully answers, and plainly succeeds them (Colossians 2:10-13; 1 Corinthians 10:1-2). Some were second, for continuing and nourishing up persons initiated in the Church by Christ the spiritual meat and drink of the soul. As the passover. . .which the Lord's supper under the New Testament most fully answers, and evidently comes in the room of them (1 Corinthians 5:7; 10:3-4, 16-17; 11:23-30).” (pp1678-79). And: “Baptism signifies, our putting on Christ, and union to Him; the Lord's Supper our continued communion with Him (1 Corinthians 10:16). . .Baptism denotes our admission into the mystical body of Christ the Church; the Lord's Supper, our spiritual maintenance and continuance in that body (1 Corinthians 12:13).” (p1325). Vos categorizes the sacraments in this way: “Before Christ, a) From Adam to Abraham—no sacrament; b) From Abraham to Moses—one sacrament; c) From Moses to Christ—two sacraments.” (V2, p137). On the offices: Roberts writes: “The new covenant ministry [is both] extraordinary, as apostles, prophets, evangelists; and ordinary, as pastors and teachers were given of Christ to his church, for the perfecting of the Saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. . .” (p1236). There are other differences in administration as it has to do with Christ's governing of His church in the new covenant, such as: When are we to gather and what are we to do when we gather? Who are those that partake of the sacraments and how are they to be administered? What are the offices that Christ has instituted in further detail (IE, teaching versus ruling elders; and deacons), and how can it be known when God calls a man to service in such an office? These questions are important but best suited for another study; we've done what we can here to simply give a brief overview of the main differences in administration.
6 Roberts says: “This covenant is already above 1600 years old, and yet it is still new. . .It is called a new covenant, because: 1) It is a recent and lately established covenant. . .In Scripture, late, fresh, recent things, lately done or made, or lately begun, are called new. So, fruit lately brought forth, is called new fruit. . .So this covenant, being in comparison of all other covenants of God with man, but lately made. . .and the last covenant that ever God made, is justly called, a new covenant. 2) It succeeds, and antiquates or makes old the former covenant, which was given at Mount Sinai [cf. Hebrews 8:13]. . .As the Sinai covenant is counted old, because it gives place to this covenant to succeed, so this covenant is called new, because it supersedes and comes in place of the Sinai covenant. 3) This covenant is another and very diverse from that Sinai covenant which it succeeds, supersedes, and antiquates. In Scripture phrase, that which is another, diverse, or any way different from what was before, is called new. . .John calls [love] both an old commandment and a new; old, for the matter and substance, new, for the manner and circumstance of urging it upon them. In this sense, this covenant, being another and a very diverse covenant, both from the old covenant and from all that went before; not in substance, but in circumstance; not in essence, but in accidents; not in inward constitution, but in outward administration; is called a new covenant. . . 4) This covenant does advance the Church of God and members of Christ to a new state and condition. Under this covenant the Church is so reformed, refined, renewed, and the whole face of all things in the Church made new; that effectively it may well be called, a new covenant. . . 5) This covenant was a very unknown covenant, and wholly unheard of by the Church of the Jews till the days of Jeremiah, who first mentions the same prophetically. Now things unknown and unheard-of, are called new; as the Athenians and strangers spent their time in nothing else but to tell or hear some new thing (Acts 17:21). . . 6) This covenant is eminent, excellent, admirable, far surpassing all former covenant expressures; therefore it may fitly be called a new covenant. In Scripture-language choice, rare, eminent, excellent, admirable things, are called new. . .New wine (Psalm 4:7). . .that is, most excellent, admirable wine indeed. . . 7) Finally, because this covenant is still to continue recent, fresh, vigorous, new; and never to wax old or wear away while this world lasts, therefore in a special manner it is called new; as the former by reason of its waxing old, and wearing away, is called old [Hebrews 8:13]. . .Nor is it unusual with Scripture, to style things new in this sense. As the new heavens and new earth, which the Lord has promised to create; are so called, not only because of their admirable excellency, and the perfection of their renewed state; but also in regard of their constant continuance, they shall still remain before the Lord; as it were fresh, vigorous, [and] new (cf.Isaiah 66:22).” (pp1254-59). And again, “The Church of Christ. . .was essentially one under both old and new covenant, as the new moon and the old is one essentially, differing only accidentally.” (p1712). Turretin says: “It is called 'new' not as to the substance of the covenant (which is the same in both) but: 1) as to the circumstances and mode. . .in which way it can be called new both intensively as to degree of light and extensively as to amplitude, extending itself indiscriminately to all nations; 2) as to the excellence and glory of this dispensation which far surpasses the old (2 Corinthians 3:9-10), as new is elsewhere taken for what is remarkable and superior (Revelation 5:9; Psalm 33:3); 3) as to perpetual duration, by which it happens that it is as it were always new, while those things which ought to cease are called old.” (Institutes, V2, p232).
7 Regarding the confusion we noted above, William Strong wrote a book called A Discourse of the Two Covenants, in which he compared the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace; and Ezekiel Hopkins wrote a volume called The Doctrine of the Two Covenants, in which he examined the same two covenants. As we quoted earlier in our lesson on Sinai, Roberts says, “It's evident [in Hebrews 8:7], that he calls that Sinai covenant the first covenant, and the new covenant, the second. But how can we understand this; seeing the Sinai covenant was not the first covenant; God's covenants with Adam, Noah and Abram going before it? Nor is the new covenant the second after the Sinai covenant, God's covenants with David, and with his captives in Babylon, coming between them. . .The Sinai covenant, and the new covenant, are the two most illustrious, famous and eminent covenant expressures among all the rest. For, 1) These were made with greatest solemnities. 2) These were tendered to the greatest number of people; the old covenant to the whole national Church of Israel, the new covenant, to the whole ecumenical or general Church gathered out of all nations in the world Jewish and Gentile. Whereas the covenants with Adam, Noah, Abram, [and] David, were directed but to their particular persons, families and their seed. . .[Moreover], these two covenants, beyond all other, were managed with peculiar administrations most remarkably distinct and opposite to each other. The three covenants preceding the Sinai covenant being preparatory and homogeneal in their ministrations to it; the [covenant] following the Sinai covenant being [an additional explanation] of it. . .So that in these regards, these two covenants may be called the first, and the second; because they are the first and second most illustrious covenants; although in regard of time, and order of discovery, the old covenant was not precisely the first; nor this new, the second.” (pp1263-64).
8 As Roberts says: “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 circumstance; [namely] 1) Because it is established on better promises. . .more spiritual and heavenly; more clear. . .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. . .the true sacrifice and blood of Jesus Christ crucified. . . 4) Because it is administered by a better priesthood. . . [the] priesthood of Jesus Christ. . . 5) Because it [thus] has many excellencies, privileges, and prerogatives above the old covenant. . .” (pp1264-65). And again: “The new covenant is deservedly said to be established upon better promises, [namely] upon better promises than the old covenant was established upon. Why? For this reason especially: Because the old covenant did principally run upon promises of outward and temporal blessings, as the inheritance of the land of Canaan, long life there, honor, wealth, peace and all outward prosperity there. . .But here the whole current of the new covenant runs only upon spirituals. That, was a more carnal; this, a more spiritual covenant. That, had more of earth in it; this, more of heaven.” (Roberts, p1350). In another place, Roberts further clarifies how the new covenant promises are better: “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 to extent. . . 5) [and] Better in regard of duration. . .” (pp1673-75).
9 Roberts puts it thus: “As God's covenants surpass all other covenants, so this new covenant is the last and best of all God's covenants.” (p1696). And again: “As God's covenants are the marrow of Holy Scriptures; and the new covenant the flower and spirits of the covenants; so Jesus Christ our mediator, is the life and soul of the new covenant.” (p1650). He adds: “The New Covenant is the Rock, Christ the water that flows from it. The New Covenant is the cloud, Christ the manna that rained from it. The New Covenant is the honey-comb, Christ the honey that drops from it. The New Covenant is the cabinet, Christ is the jewel that's locked up in it.” (p1694). And, “Hence, how great are the privileges of God's new covenant people! . . . To be in covenant with God not only by outward, but also by inward federation, is most advantageous; such are safe in the ark, when the rest of the world is drowned; such are blessed with Abraham, when all the rest of the world are cursed; such are God's peculiar treasure and special people with Israel, when all the rest of the world are not His people. But to be God's sincere new covenant people, in power as well as form, in truth as well as name, is most glorious. As the new covenant's pre-eminencies are above those of all other covenants, so the new covenant people's privileges are above all other federate's privileges.” (Roberts, p1714). On the theme and goal of the Covenant of Grace, Boston writes: “Hebrews 8:10 [says], 'I will be their God.' This is more than reconciliation, and adoption; it is the height of the relation to God, which a sinful creature could be advanced unto. They were by nature 'without God' (Ephesians 2:12); but foreasmuch as the Son of God did, in the covenant, undertake to give himself for them, in their nature perfectly to satisfy the law, in his holy birth, righteous life, and exquisite death; a ransom of infinite value, quite beyond all created things whatsoever, grace, pardons, heavens; there was made, upon that consideration, a promise of God's giving himself to them, as the adequate reward of that service; which being performed by the Mediator, this reward was purchased for them. Hence God says to Abraham, 'Genesis 15:1, 'I am thy exceeding great reward.' Now, to the believer being justified, reconciled, and adopted into the family of God, this heritage falls in accomplishment of this promise, Romans 8:17: 'And if children, then heirs; heirs of God.' Galatians 4:7, 'And if a son, then an heir of God through Christ'; God himself being the heritage. He becomes their God. . .” (p131). And Rhodes notes: “Matthew also draws our attention to the fact that Jesus will be called Immanuel, which means: 'God with us.' 'I will be your God, and you will be my people' has been the recurring melody of the covenant. Jesus quite literally embodies this principle—he is God with us.” (Chapter 7).
10 Roberts says: “All other covenant administrations have waxed old and worn away; only this covenant administration remains still fresh and new, and shall not vanish away till the world's end. This new covenant succeeds and supersedes them all; but no other shall succeed or supersede this new covenant.” (pp1238-39). Again: “The old covenant endured only from the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, till the death of Jesus Christ. . .But the new covenant abolishing the old. . .continues still new from Christ's death till the end of the world. . .” (p1712). And in another place, in speaking of Hebrews 13:20-21, he writes, “This new covenant is everlasting in a double sense; [namely] 1) Absolutely Everlasting, so as it shall never know any end, in regard of the primary essence and substance of it. The Lord will be their God, and they His people forever, even in glory. . . 2) Respectively Everlasting. . .[that is,] everlasting in respect of the. . .administration of it. This New Testament ministration. . .shall continue till the world's end. The Old Testament ministration [IE, of the Covenant of Grace] is called, 'that which is done away'; the New Testament's ministration is called, 'that which doth remain' [2 Corinthians 3:11].” (p1265). He also says: “This new covenant also is better in this respect, that it continues forever, from the death of Christ till the end of the world; forasmuch as Christ Jesus the Surety of this covenant, was made an everlasting Priest with an oath, whereof God will never repent: 'The Lord sware and will not repent, thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek; by so much was Jesus made a Surety of a better Testament.' Christ's New Testament priesthood is everlasting and unchangeable; consequently the New Testament itself is everlasting and unchangeable.” Roberts also applies the everlasting nature of God's covenant with us as a comfort in facing death. He writes: “the serious apprehensions of death approaching, sometimes perplex the children of God, fill them with fears, sadness, and discomfort. They had need therefore to store up choicest cordials against that hour. Now against death what cordial can more comfort and revive God's people than this; that the Lord is their God by his everlasting new covenant? . . . The Lord is still the God of his covenant people in death as well as in life; and in death they all live unto him. He is their God by an everlasting covenant, therefore he is their God forever; their God in life, their God in death, their God to all eternity. Death cannot disannul an everlasting covenant. . .After Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God's covenant people, had been dead and buried long ago, God told Moses out of the burning bush; 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob...' God's covenant with them lived still, though they were dead; and they were still his covenant people, and he their God. Even death dissolved not this covenant union and relation. . .What a comfort is this! The Lord will continue thy God in death, as well as life; in the grave, as well as in the land of the living.” (Roberts, pp1548-49).