“Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants . . . Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise” (Gal.4:21-24, 28).
As Ishmael was born altogether of the flesh, without any promise of God, but from distrust and unbelief of the promise of God, so was the first covenant—the covenant from Sinai.
And as Isaac was born altogether of the promise of God, solely from dependence upon that promise, so is the new covenant—the everlasting covenant.
The first covenant rested upon the promises of the people, and depended solely upon the efforts of the people. The second covenant consists solely of the promise of God, and depends upon the power and work of God.
The first covenant runs: “If YE will” do so and so. The new covenant has neither “if” nor any of men’s doing, but is altogether the doing of the Lord. Look at them as they stand together: —
The Old Covenant
“If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” “Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: SO shall ye be my people, and I will be your God” (Ex. 19:5, 6; Jer. 7:23; 11:4).
The New Covenant
“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” (Heb. 8:10-12).
Let us read the new covenant, beginning with at “If ye will,” etc.: “If ye will put my laws into your minds, and write them in your hearts, then I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” “Put my laws in your minds, and write them in your hearts, that I may be your God, and ye may be my people.”
If the new covenant read thus, how many persons could ever become the Lord’s people? And of how many persons could He ever be their God? —None at all; because no person can write the law of God in his heart; no person can put the law of God into his mind; for “the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Nothing short of the power of God alone, through the eternal Spirit, can ever put the law of God in anybodys mind, or write it in his heart.
Yet, to do just this, was practically what the people of Israel agreed to do at Sinai, in the old covenant. For they agreed to keep the law of God “indeed,” which no person can do without that law being put into his mind, and written in his heart. They agreed to keep the law of God “indeed,” SO that, in order that, they could be his people, and he be their God. Their agreement, therefore, was plainly in effect that they themselves would put the law of God in their minds, and write it in their hearts; and this when, as yet, they knew only the birth of the flesh; when, as yet, they had only the carnal mind, which “is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”
Thus it was by their own efforts that they were to be righteous; and by this righteousness they were to make themselves God’s people, and win him to be their God.
Thus that covenant was altogether one of works; of righteousness by works; of winning the favor of God by works; of salvation by works.
It was a covenant in which, because of their works, the reward was to be not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
It was a covenant by which there was no such thing as the forgiveness of sins: it was of bondage, and gendered only to bondage.
And this is why that covenant is brought into this letter of instruction to the Galatians. The Galatians were seeking righteousness by works, by their own efforts. They were seeking to be “made perfect by the flesh.” But whatsoever Christian seeks righteousness, or to be perfect, in that way, has fallen from grace. He has indeed forsaken grace; because “to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” And “if it be of works, then it is no more grace” (Rom. 4:4; 11:6).
This was the position and the condition of “the Pharisees, which believed,” who had led the Galatians astray. Into a system of righteousness by works, and of seeking to be made perfect by the flesh, the Pharisees that believed had turned everything that God had given them to save them from the bondage of self-righteousness and the works of the flesh; and they would even have perverted to that false system the very gospel of Christ itself.
On the other hand, the new covenant is wholly of grace, and of the work of God by grace.
It is a covenant in which the work is solely the work of God, and righteousness is the righteousness of God.
It is a covenant in which every one who shares it is born of the Spirit, and who thus receives a new mind and a new heart, in which mind the law of God is put, and upon which heart that law is written by the Spirit of the living God.
It is a covenant in which, by the creative power of the promise of God, each one who submits to that promise is created a child of God. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
It is a covenant in which, solely because of the mercy of God, and by his promise, there is obtained forgiveness of sins, full and free: the sins and iniquities to be remembered no more forever.
It is a covenant by which indeed forgiveness must be found for the sins of the people even under the first covenant. For “he [Christ] is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15).
Note, again, that in the new covenant there is no mention of any doing on the part of the people. The doing is all of God: “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.” “I will be to them a God.” “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 8:12).
In the new covenant it is God who is the worker. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). It is “through the blood of the everlasting covenant,” that “the God of peace” makes “you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ.” who is the “surety” of this “better testament” (Heb. 13:20, 21; 7:22).
The only way in which the people come into this covenant is passively: the must submit themselves unto the righteousness of God. (Rom. 10:3). They “yield” themselves unto God and their “members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:13).
Thus, whoever is partaker of this covenant in any way whatever, is partaker of it wholly by the promise of God; and so becomes, “as Isaac was,” a child of promise.
There is no other way to be a partaker of the new covenant than by the promise of God: for there is nothing in the covenant but the naked promises of God. There is no way to be a child of God, but by the promise of God: that promise accepted by faith. Our sins are forgiven, our unrighteousness is pardoned, because God says it, and by the word of that promise we know it. He who accepts and depends only on the promise of God is of the people of God because God has said it. God is his God, because God has said it. The law of God is in his mind, and is written upon his heart, because God has promised that he will put it in his mind and write it on his heart; and he has submitted himself to God to have it done by God. And having so submitted himself to the righteousness of God, he rests securely in the promise of God in Christ, who is the mediator and the surety of the new covenant. And “this is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29).
The old covenant consisted, and ever consists, of the promises and the works, of the people who know only the birth and the mind of the flesh. The new covenant consists forever of the promises and the works of righteousness of God in those who know the birth of the Spirit by the promise of God.
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | July 24, 1900]