The Two Covenants
August 9th, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
THE TWO COVENANTS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Hebrews Series – Part 29
8-9-59 7:30 p. m.
Will you turn with me now to chapter 8 in the Book of Hebrews? Chapter 8. This morning we left off at verse 5. Tonight we begin at verse 6, and the sermon encompasses the remainder of the chapter. Let’s read together then Hebrews 8:6-13. And the title of the sermon is The Two Covenants. Hebrews 8, beginning at verse 6, all of us together:
But now hath He obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
For finding fault with them, He saith: Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah–
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in My covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will put My laws into their mind and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people.
And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord, ‘ for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest.
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.
By that last verse, he refers to the destruction of the temple and the sacrificial system, and from that day until this, there has been no more sacrifice for sins. "That which decayeth and waxes old," the Old Covenant, "is ready to vanish away" [Hebrews 6:13]. He was speaking prophetically there because when he wrote the epistle, the temple still stood, and the daily sacrifices were still offered, and the high priest entered once a year into the inner sanctuary there to make expiation for the sins of the people. But the Old Covenant "is ready to vanish away" [Hebrews 8:13].
The first part of the eighth chapter of [Hebrews], the first five verses, is an introduction by the author to a great and sublime contrast that he is preparing to make between the Old Covenant and the New, the contrast between the access granted to the people unto God in the Temple and the access we have to God through Jesus Christ, God’s temple in [heaven] – a contrast between the old way and the old ceremony – the old levitical rites and rituals and sacrifices – and the sacrifice in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
Chapters 1 through 7 in the Book of Hebrews, the author has just vindicated and illustrated the greater glory of Jesus Christ: greater than the angels [Hebrews 1:4-14], greater than Moses [Hebrews 3:1-6], greater than Aaron [Hebrews 7:11] with a greater and more enduring priesthood [Hebrews 7:17]. And now he comes to his final argument. It extends through the eighteenth verse of the tenth chapter. Thereafter, beginning in the tenth chapter at the nineteenth verse, is the great and sublime exhortation to steadfastness. But in the eighth chapter, he is coming to the climactic part of his argument and discusses in this last and climactic part the contrast between the old dispensation – the Old Covenant – and the New: the first, which was mediated through Moses, and the second which is mediated through Jesus Christ.
And as he comes to speak of this contrast, he uses a new word that we’ve come to for the first time. In the Greek, it’s diathēkē, diathēkē [Hebrews 8:6]. It refers – the meaning of the word – first to a will, to a testament, to the disposition of property upon a man’s death: a diathēkē. It refers in its second meaning to a contract, to a compact, to an agreement, to a promise or a covenant. One man promises to do such and thus if another man promises to do thus and such. "If you will do this for me – build my house – I will give you thus much money." So they enter into a contract – an agreement, a promise, a pledge, a compact, a covenant – and it is signed and sealed and, in many instances, recorded in the courthouse: a diathēkē. And that’s the word he comes to when he compares the new dispensation with the old. He does it in a comparison of the contracts, the covenants, the promises, the agreements, the pledge in the old and in the new.
That word diathēkē came to refer to the two parts of the Bible itself. The first part is called the he protediathēkē, and the second part is called the he kainediathēkē. I have several Greek Testaments out of which I study, and on the outside of each one of them is written the words he (the) kaine (new) diathēkē, translated "the New Covenant, the New Testament, the new agreement, the new pledge, the new contract, the new promise."
Jesus used those identical words, he kainediathēkē: "This is the new covenant in My blood [Matthew 26:28] – sealed with My blood." So the author comes to speak of the new dispensation and the old with reference to the covenants – the promises, the contract, the pledge – that God had made.
Now, in the course of the Bible, in the course of the story of human history in the Scriptures, theologians can find several covenants. They are plainly there. But this author uses just two: the old dispensation – the covenant of Moses – and the new dispensation, the covenant we have in Jesus Christ. And he compares them and he speaks, first of all, of the Mosaic Covenant: the old covenant, the promises of God to the fathers, made in the giving of the Law [Hebrews 8:9].
Now the Mosaic covenant, the promises God made in the Law: "Do this and thou shalt live" – that’s the contract. "You do this," says God, "and I will give you life," says God [Exodus 19-24]. Now that contract is righteous and holy and pure and just and complete [Romans 7:12].
"Ye shall do Mine ordinances and keep Mine judgments, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man do, he shall live: I am the Lord" [Leviticus 18:4-5]. And that covenant is complete and that Mosaic revelation is perfect and holy and just and righteous. If a man were to add to the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17], it would be altogether superfluous [Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32]. If a man were to take away from the Ten Commandments, he would spoil both tables of stone [Exodus 31:18; Revelation 22:19].
This is the law of heaven, and these are the mandates of God. If a man rebels against an unjust and an unrighteous law, he is to be commended for his rebellion [Mark 2:23-28; Acts 4:18-20]. But if a man rebels against the Ten Commandments, the law of God, he only adds to his transgression and to his guilt in his rebellion [Romans 2:5-11] for God’s law is pure and perfect and righteous and just and holy altogether [Psalm 19:9].
Now we are not only to obey that commandment, we’re not only called upon, righteously so, to keep all the statutes and judgments of the Lord [Psalm 119; Luke 1:6], but that first covenant was made and given in a most sublime and impressive way. It would be impossible to describe the glory of the mediation of that first covenant in the hands of Moses. The Lord God came down and the pavilion beneath His feet was as a sapphire stone in crystal clearness and blue glory [Exodus 24:9-10]. Like the heaven underneath His feet did God stand on the top of the mount. And there in majesty, in sublimity, in unspeakable glory, God spake the words of His law, and the people stood awe struck in astonishment. So great was the manifest power of the presence of God that even Moses said, "I do exceedingly fear and quake" [Hebrews 12:21].
And that first covenant was made with some of the most terrible curses and some of the sweetest blessings that even God Himself could avow. They were to keep that covenant. They were to obey all its statutes, or, says the Lord God:
It shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all of these commandments and these statutes which I give thee this day, that these curses shall come upon thee and overtake thee:
Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field.
Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store.
Cursed shall be the fruit thy body and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kind and the flocks of thy sheep.
Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out. –
God seemingly has drawn a sword against sin and –
If you break these commandments and fail to observe My judgments and My statutes, cursed shalt thou be when thou liest down, and cursed shalt thou be when thou standest up.
When thou goest out and when thou comest in, cursed shalt thou be.
[from Deuteronomy 28:15-19]
But God also promised marvelous blessings:
All these blessings shall come upon thee and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God:
Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field.
Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thine kine and the flocks of thy sheep.
Blessed shalt be thy basket and thy store.
And blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
That was the first covenant, the first contract: "Do this and thou shalt live" [Leviticus 18:5; Luke 10:28].
Now Israel entered with great heart and great spirit into that first covenant:
And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces these words which the Lord had commanded.
And all the people answered together and said, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do." And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord.
And in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Exodus, when God had gone further into the revelation of His statutes and His judgments, they did the same thing. Volitionally, by choice again, they entered into that covenant: "Moses came and told the people the words and judgments . . . And the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the Lord has said will we do’" [Exodus 24:3].
And in the seventh verse: "And they said" – after Moses had written all of them in a book – "And they said, ‘All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient’" [Exodus 24:7]. So the contract was made, and the covenant was sealed with the sprinkling of blood [Exodus 24:4-8]. "Do this," says God, "and thou shalt live."
"And the people answered with one voice, ‘That shall we do and we shall live’" [from Exodus 24:7].
Well, you know what happened. How little they knew themselves. Within seven days after they had entered into that covenant with God, within seven days, they were dancing naked around the golden calf in one of those Oriental orgies that they had witnessed in the land of Egypt. And they were bowing down before gods made out of gold [Exodus 32:1-6]. They break God’s covenant. They violated God’s contract, that first covenant.
"Do this and thou shalt live," has been to us all, as to them, an impossible assignment and task [Acts 15:10; James 2:10-11]. "You be good, and if you’re good enough, I will give you life," says the Lord. "Keep My statutes and My commandments, and there’s no hell for you, no damnation for you, no judgment for you, no death awaiting you. You shall live and live forever. This do and thou shalt live."
Why, bless your heart, the Lord God might as well have said to a paralyzed man: "Here, climb to the top of Mount Everest." And he can’t walk. He’s a cripple; he’s invalid. The Lord God might as well say to a man who’s bankrupt, "Here, pay thy debts," and the man has not wherewithal to pay. He is bankrupt. He’s in poverty and in want.
Because of the frailty and weakness of human nature, the Old Covenant had these two weaknesses: first, it provided no moral, spiritual dynamic for the obedience to the law of God, and second, it offered no effective way for the expiation of the sins of the people when once they fell into disobedience.
So the Lord said: "That old covenant I’m going to fold up like a worn-out garment and cast aside. It’s useless. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t save men." So God says, "Behold, I’m going to make a new contract, a new covenant, a new pledge, a new agreement," and the author here quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34. He quotes the entire passage. That passage you read, almost all of it is a quotation from Jeremiah which in Jeremiah’s day was still future – the new contract, the New Covenant.
But, says the Lord God, I will make a new covenant –
a new contract –
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in My covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. –
All of them broke My law and refused obedience to My statutes and My commandments –
But this is the new covenant that I will make, saith the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind. I will write them in their hearts; I will be to them a God, they shall be to Me a people.
They shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord, ‘ for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest.
And I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
In that He saith, A new covenant, He’s made the first old that is now ready to decay and vanish away.
[from Hebrews 8:8-13]
So God says, "I shall make a new covenant with My people" [Hebrews 8:8-9]. Now look at that new covenant. There is not an "if" in it. When I read it just now, when you read it yourself, did you read an "if" in it? There’s no "if" in it: not an "if" – not, "If you do this, thou shalt live." There’s not an "if" in it, only an "I will" in the new contract and the New Covenant:
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel . . . I will put My laws in their minds and hearts . . . I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people . . .
I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
[from Hebrews 8:10, 12]
Not an "if" in it.
This contract is entered into between God and His Son. "I will do these things," says God, "for the sake of My Son." Isn’t that a marvelous thing? For Jesus’ sake, for the love of God, for the mercy and grace of our Lord, God does all these things for us. Why, we don’t do anything to deserve it. We haven’t done anything to be the recipients of His love and remembrance. God just does it. It’s a gift. It’s something He’s done for us and bestows upon us like a man poor and hungry and somebody comes and makes him rich with a gift – not that he did anything, not that he worked for it. Wouldn’t be a gift if he worked for it; it’d be a wage. This is out of the mercy and love of God – this new contract, this New Covenant.
Look how it works. "This is the covenant I will make: I will put My laws in their mind" [Hebrews 8:10]. God doesn’t say, "I’m coming a second time, and I am coming in thunder and in lightning, and I’m going to be a fury as I look upon these My people." He doesn’t come like that. But He comes and He says in gentleness and in grace: "My Spirit is going to enter their minds and their hearts" [from Hebrews 8:10].
He doesn’t say, "I am coming again, and I’m going to write My laws on tables of stone." No. He says, "I am going to write on the fleshy tables of their hearts."
He doesn’t say, "I’m going to take My finger and incise My commandments in the solid rock." No. He says, "I’m going to reach, through My Holy Spirit, into the soul and deepest life of My people, and there My finger will inscribe the name of God."
He doesn’t say, "I am going to come, and I’m going to force My people into righteousness and goodness and obedience." No. He says, "I’m going to come and give them a new affection, a new devotion, a new gratitude, a new love, a new heart, and they will seek Me because they love Me, and they will follow Me because they delight in My ways."
And the Lord said: "I will put My laws in their mind" – not on tables of stone, no commandments incised in the rocks. But in our minds, God speaks of His Law and His Spirit teaches us His laws.
It’s written in the commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" [Exodus 20:14]. But the Spirit of God speaks to our hearts, and God says: "To look with lust is to commit adultery in your heart" [Matthew 5:27-28]. The Spirit speaking to our souls not out there on a table of stone, not a statute from the law books of the land, but in us. In our hearts, God hath said and taught us these things. God teaches us those things in our souls and in our hearts and in our minds. Sin is no longer there on the commandment of stone, but it lies in the teaching of the Word of God in the sensitivity of our hearts.
It is written in the commandment: "Thou shalt not kill" [Exodus 20:13]. The New Covenant says: "If a man hates in his heart, he is a murderer" [Matthew 5:21-22]. It is no longer on a table of stone. It is no longer incised in the rocks. It is a part of the deep, burning judgments of God that He’s written in our souls. We are murderers in our spirits. God hath taught us the thing in the innermost depths of our souls and our hearts: "I’ll put My laws in their minds and in their hearts" [from Hebrews 8:10]. It becomes inward and no longer outward.
"And they shall not teach every man his neighbor and every man his brother saying, ‘You heathen you, you don’t know the Lord!’" [from Hebrews 8:11]. No longer will we be going around looking at the motes in the other fellow’s eye when we’ve got beams in our own eyes [Matthew 7:3-5], no longer going around passing judgment upon others – "See the splinter in that fellow’s eye" – when we’ve a whole stake in our own eyes. But this New Covenant is the death of self-righteousness. It is the death of pride and boasting.
All of us sense our need of God and our need of a Savior – not just, "He needs to be saved, and he needs to get right, and he needs to know the Lord," but all of us shall become sensitive to the call of God, and all of us, seeing our need, finding an ultimate – an ultimate – desire and prayer for a Savior ourselves. It’s a marvelous thing what the New Covenant does to a man’s soul and a man’s heart: makes him sensitive to things that otherwise he never would have thought of.
No longer does he put light for darkness and darkness for light. No longer does he put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Things that he never thought of before – worldly pleasures that he used to indulge in – now they are reprehensible: they are unattractive; they are impossible. God has done something to his mind and to his heart.
Well, how is it that God makes us anew in this New Covenant? This is the way that He does it: He does it first in regeneration. Under the New Covenant, the Spirit of God remakes us. He gives us a new heart, a new desire, a new love, a new affection. The old desire and the old affection is gone. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; all things have become new" [2 Corinthians 5:17].
And the desires and the loves and the affections of the man under this New Covenant reach out toward God and flow toward God and move toward God not rejoicing in iniquity, rejoicing in righteousness; not happy in hypocrisy and misrepresentation and lying, but happy in truth, happy in righteousness, glad before God, given to the Lord. He’s a new man. He’s a different man. He’s a recreated man. He’s a regenerated man. God has done something to make him a new man, a different man.
I copied this from an old English divine of a century ago. Listen to him as I quote from it.
I spoke yesterday with a man of God who has been preaching the gospel in the New Hebrides, where till lately the people were cannibals; and, by God’s grace, he has brought hundreds, if not thousands, of the former savages to become Christians; and the good brother, when he spoke of hardship said, "Oh, but you do not know in England the joys of those who preach to cannibals!"
True, most of the missionaries who first went out were killed and eaten, and our friend escaped with the skin of his teeth. I looked at him again to hear what his special and peculiar joys were.
"Oh!" he cried, "the joys of converting a cannibal to Christ is a greater bliss than can be known by you, who only bring ordinary people to the Saviour; and," he added, "I tell you that there are no Christians that I know of that excel my converted cannibals. If you want to see the Sabbath day sacredly kept, you must come to my place, and see how these people who used to be cannibals keep it. Those who were accustomed to eat their fellow-men, now never rise without prayer, and never sit at the table without asking a blessing.
"There is not a Christian household but has family prayer in it, morning and evening. These people walk with God," said the missionary, "and live close to Christ."
["God’s Law in Man’s Heart," by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, June 28, 1855]
That’s the New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, you would have gone to the Fiji Islands and the New Hebrides and given them commandments and laws to keep. Under the New Covenant, you go to the Fiji Islands and the New Hebrides and you preach to them the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. And the Spirit of grace enters their souls and their hearts [John 3:3; Ephesians 1:13], and they are a new creation [2 Corinthians 5:17] – new people – bowing in prayer, opening the Bible, singing the hymns of Zion, rejoicing in the Lord.
Why bless you. I could not tell you the number of times I’ve heard these soldier men of ours in the last war who dropped out of the sky in parachutes, who were washed up on the shores of New Guinea or the New Hebrides or the South Pacific isles, and in fear, lest they be destroyed by wild savages hiding behind the shadow of trees in the nighttime, see in the distance a light and going closer hear the singing of those people who, a generation ago, were cannibals, but now in the church house singing the songs of Zion, preaching the gospel, worshiping the Lord: a new creation, the New Covenant of God. And a lot of those boys, some of whom I have met and talked to, who were not Christians here in America were led to Christ by those savages in New Guinea or in the New Hebrides or in the Fiji Islands. What God has done in the new dispensation!
May I say just a word of description of that New Covenant and then I’m through? God gives us in the regeneration of our souls-in the new heart, in the new life – God gives us a new affection [Philippians 3:7-8], a new love. They were probing for a bullet in an old veteran’s heart who’d fought under Napoleon [Napoleon Bonaparte, 1769-1821]. And as the fellow was probing for the bullet in the upper reaches of his chest, the dying veteran said to the doctor, "Probe just a little deeper, and there you’ll find the emperor."
Oh, what a noble, noble devotion: cut open our hearts, look on the inside, and you’ll see there the Lord Jesus Christ. Take a cardiogram, and it’ll spell out our blessed Savior. We have a new affection.
Why, we cuss all we want to. We drink all we want to. We do all of the worldly things that we want to. We just don’t want to, don’t love it. We love other things: we love the Lord; we love to come to church; we love to see God’s people; we love to sing these songs; we love the fellowship. God has given us a new affection.
God has given us a gratitude that could never die. A slave in the household is in obedience to commandments, but a son is free! But out of the love of his father and of the gratitude of what his father’s done for him, the boy is true and obedient to his dad just like our gratitude to God in heaven for what He’s done for us. Oh, I could never, never say it, and never, never tell it, and I could never repay the debt that we owe to Him.
When old Israel died, the brethren of Joseph came and said, "He will surely remember our transgressions!" And they bowed before Joseph and asked forgiveness, and Joseph said, "All of it is in the past. It is taken away" [from Genesis 50:14-21].
That’s what God has done with our sins. He has blotted them out and taken them away [Isaiah 43:25, 44:22], and we are free [John 8:34-36; Romans 8:2]. Oh, the debt of gratitude that we owe to Jesus. And He does it without the violation of our wills. We are still free and our own. No man is forced. I give Him my life. No man is coerced! God puts you in jail and your feet in stocks and in chains, and God says, "If you don’t be good, if you don’t do right, I will keep you in bondage, in prison, in stocks and chains." Nothing of the kind – perfectly free: walk out that door, do as you please. Walk out that door, do as you please. Walk out that door a free man.
God hasn’t violated our integrity, our personality, but we walk out that door to pray before we go to bed tonight. Walk out that door to rise tomorrow in the grace and mercy of Jesus. Walk out that door a free man to do as you please. We just have a new affection, and a new gratitude, and a new love in our hearts. We are trying to please our great Lord and our blessed Savior. This is the New Covenant. This is the new contract. "I give them for Jesus sake, eternal life. I put a new heart, and a new love, and a new mind, and a new affection and a new devotion in their souls" [from Hebrews 8:10]. Here, here, the gift of God.
While we sing our song, and while we make this appeal, somebody you tonight to come down that aisle as God shall open the door and lead the way: "Here I am, and here I come. I accept from His gracious and blessed hands this free gift of life in Christ Jesus. Not working for it, not deserving it, just receiving it as a gift from His precious and nail-pierced hands. Here I come. Here I am. Out of the love of God, here I come. In the grace and mercy of Jesus, here I am." Would you tonight?
There’s a throng of people in the balcony tonight coming down one of these stairwells and to me. On this lower floor, a host of people tonight, into the aisle and down here to me. Would you come? Would you make it now? As God shall say the word and open the door and lead in the way, would you tonight? Maybe a family you to come into the fellowship of the church, or one somebody you. As the Spirit shall make appeal and as we sing this song, as we wait, would you come while we stand and sing?