An Introduction into baptist Covenant Theology from Jeremiah 31:31-34

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “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. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
— Jeremiah 31:31-34

This section of Jeremiah starts off with, “Behold, days are coming,” giving us the emphasis of something new that Yahweh is going to bring about. Israel has been warned of their idolatry by Yahweh sending prophets to preach His word of repentance to them but like a harlot they chased after other gods. Babylon came and conquered their land and kingdom in a righteous judgment by God.  While in this judgment God gives them a message of hope, very reminiscent of the Garden when Adam had his darkest moment and upon judgment God gives him the greatest hope, the preaching of the Covenant of Grace. New things are coming in how God will manifest His ways with His people, “In those days they will not say again, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge.” (Jer. 31:29-30) How God will judge His cursing’s and blessings will not have a “community” form such as the Old Covenant but each person will be dealt with on an individual bases.

 

            The new economy under which God will work with His people is called the new covenant. In description of the same New Covenant that Jeremiah speaks of, Ezekiel calls it a covenant of peace…an everlasting covenant…(Ezek. 37:26) But before going much further we must have a working understanding of what a covenant is. A covenant can be described as, “A biblical and divine covenant is a solemn promise or oath of God to man, each covenant’s content being determined by revelation concerning that covenant. Any other position adds to revelation by an erroneous inference.”5

 

            After establishing a definition of a covenant we must see “when” this covenant takes place. Our passage states, “…days are coming…when…” This New Covenant is something that is yet to take place, future. To further add to our definition of a covenant we must understand when a covenant can be established in time and how. Hebrews 9:16-18 states, “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood.” The first covenant which these Israelites were under was established when, “…Moses…he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.’” (Heb. 9:19-20) Before we can see when this covenant was established we must see “which” covenant this was.

 

            The longest quotation of an Old Testament passage in the New Testament is Jeremiah 31:31-34 being used in Hebrews 8:7-13 and the new covenant being described in Jeremiah is the New Covenant in Hebrews. The New Covenant being the Covenant of Grace preached throughout the Old Testament was always preached in promise form. This is the same promise that was preached to Abraham that Paul speaks of in Galatians as being a promise which was not annulled by the law. But being in promise form it was not yet absolutely established as indicated in our passage in Jeremiah, for it was still yet future. Its establishment clearly came, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption… For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” (Heb. 9:11-12, 15) The new covenant in Jeremiah is the same Covenant of Grace that Christ, by His death, established and by which God now deals with His people. John Owen further clarifies this distinction,

 

“When we speak of the ‘new covenant.’ We do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though that were not before in this place. For it was always the same, as to the substance of it, from the beginning…The apostle indeed says, that the covenant was confirmed of God in Christ, before the giving of the law, Gal. 3:17. And so it was, not absolutely in itself, but in the promise form and benefits of it. The nomothesia, or full legal establishment of it, whence it became formally a covenant unto the whole church, was future only, and a promise under the old testament…but now, under the new testament, this covenant, with its own seals and appointment, is the only rule and measure of all acceptable worship…So that although by ‘the covenant of grace,’ we oftentimes understand no more but the way of life, grace, mercy, and salvation by Christ; yet by ‘the new covenant,’ we intend its actual establishment in the death of Christ, with that blessed way of worship which by it is settled in the church.”6

 

Benjamin Keach describes the ordo salutis (the order) of the Covenant of Grace in four sequences: 1. It was first decreed in past eternity, 2. It was secondly revealed to man after the fall of Adam and Eve, 3. It was executed and confirmed by Christ in his death and resurrection, 4. It becomes effective for its members when they are joined to Christ through faith.7 Since the Covenant of Grace was established as a covenant on the cross, naturally we must ask by which covenant were the saints under the Old Testament saved by? Pascal Denault says, “Those who were saved before Christ were saved because of an oath; those who were saved after Him were saved because of a covenant…salvation was given under the Old Covenant, but not by virtue of the Old Covenant; during the time period of the Old Covenant but not by the Old Covenant.”8 The Old Testament saints were saved by the same covenant we are today as Christians, the only difference is they were under its saving effects as an oath but us as a covenant economy.

 

            In Jeremiah it goes on to say of the New Covenant in verse 32, “not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.” The covenant in which these people were under is described as a covenant which was and/or could be broken. One that had stipulations in which the one party could break. This covenant that God had established that is being described is known as the Mosaic Covenant. For when a person under the Old economy received circumcision which was a sacrament establish under the Abrahamic Covenant that person then was placed under the whole of the Mosaic Law went it was established afterwards, “And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.” (Gal. 5:3) The Mosaic and Abrahamic covenants should not be seen in practical religious life of a Jew as two separate covenants but subservient. They are essentially two different covenants but both operating parallel within the Old economy because the Abrahamic had both temporal and eternal aspects that made this possible. But this law was added by God for the purpose of pointing or directing one’s affections towards the New Covenant by which they would obtain eternal life, “But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead is to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:23-24)

 

            The efficacious difference of the New Covenant from the Old Covenant comes from verse 33, “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.” Paul borrows language from this in 2 Cor. 3:3, “…being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” The law of God will no longer be a mere external code for His covenant community, but it will be written upon their hearts, each and every one of them. This is language of regeneration. Those under the Old Covenant were under the entire law of God (ceremonial, judicial, moral) as a covenant. Obedience to this was prerequisite to covenant membership, which is why they would break God’s first covenant. This law in its entirety finds its “culmination” in Christ, “For Christ is the ‘telos’ of the law for the righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom.10:4; Also, Matt. 5:17-18) For when Christ came He was the substance in which the righteousness of the Law foreshadowed and “He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb. 10:9)  And Galatians 3:25 says, “But now faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” The “tutor” being the Old Covenant. We are no longer under a covenant which can be broken by a party but an eternal covenant by which Christ has obtained eternal redemption once and for all by His own blood. The circumcision in which one was placed under the Old Covenant was a type or symbol of regeneration. When Paul is speaking in Romans two of what it means to be a true Jew and what circumcision really meant he says, “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” (Rom. 2:29) In this New Covenant, one will now be circumcised of the heart not the flesh. He will be given a heart of flesh from a heart of stone. This will allow them now to obey God’s law (moral) in their Christian life as a fruit or sign of that regeneration fulfilling Jesus’ own words, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who love Me; and he who loved Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” (John 14:21) This is also in line with Paul’s own teaching, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Rom. 3:31) Christ has fulfilled the stipulations of the New Covenant, there is no longer any law each covenant member is under to keep covenant membership, this is why Paul says to those who have been justified by faith have “peace” with God.

 

            The necessary result of this monergistic work of God on behalf of the New Covenant member is, “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Every person whom The Lord regenerates by necessity in the New Covenant will have their iniquity and sins forgiven. Owens states on this, “Indeed this is the excellence of this covenant, and so it is here declared, that it does effectually communicate all the grace and mercy contained in it to all and every one with whom it it’s made; with whomsoever it is made, his sins are pardoned.”9 And this covenant is made with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Now are we to assume this efficacious covenant that regenerates all its members and forgives their sins is made with all and only the Israelites? Paul speaks on behalf of this in Romans 9:3-5, “…of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” He identifies that it is Israel whom is given these great blessings by God, but narrows down who it really is that partakes of the salvific covenant, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants… so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.” (Rom. 9:6,11) Those who partake of this New Covenant are the elect of God whom Paul calls in Galatians the Israel of God