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I will, secondly, lay down what appears to be the Scriptural distinction between covenant and testament. In doing which, I will mention every place where the word diatheké is used in the New Testament, and fix the rendering of each passage by only one of the words, testament or covenant, as the sense of the context may require.
I will, thirdly, consider the single place in the Old Testament, with its quotation in the New, where the term "new" is added "covenant."
And, lastly, I will compare some places in the Old, with their parallels in the New Testament, where a future covenant is mentioned, which evidently appears the same new covenant.
And may the Lord give grace to his church to prove all things and hold fast only that which is good; and prevent his servant from handling the word of the Lord deceitfully, or wresting the Scripture to his own destruction!
I. My position is, that we are not under the new, but the old, covenant-that is, the Abrahamic covenant. We are under A new dispensation, in opposition to the former dispensations; and we are under THE new testament, in opposition to the old, or Mosaic, testament, which was the symbolic acting of prospective faith but the new covenant is still future.
God's covenant with Abraham before Christ's advent, is the covenant we are now under, though diverse in its circumstances or accidents before Christ, there was a looking forward to conditions to be performed; whereas during the present dispensation there is a looking back to the conditions which have been performed. "Now I say, that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers; and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy." (Rom. xv. 8.) "To perform the mercy (promised) to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he sware unto our father Abraham." (Luke i. 72.)
Christ completed the conditions of the covenant on his part: thereby he freed the old covenant from the super-addition of the Mosaic testament, with the curse of the Law, and left the Abrahamic covenant as his testament. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law,....that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles through him." (Gal. iii. 13, 14.) The condition of the covenant of imputed righteousness was, that it should become a testament-namely, "that by means of death....they which are (or have been) called, might receive the promise of eternal life." (Heb. ix. 15.)
This is the outline of my view.
I have now to shew from the opinions of others that we are not under a covenant distinct from the Abrahamic, but only a different administration of the same covenant. Dr. Owen is the
first writer I shall cite; not only because his authority is great, but because his arguments are strong.
"Here then," says he, "ariseth a difference of no small importance-namely, whether there are indeed two distinct covenants, as to the essence and substance of them; or only different ways of the dispensation and administration of the same covenant. And the reason of the difficulty lieth herein: we must grant one of these three things:
"1. That either the covenant of grace was in force under the Old Testament; or,
"2. That the church was saved without it, or without any benefit by Jesus Christ, who is the Mediator of it alone; or, "3. That they all perished everlastingly. And neither of the two latter can be admitted.
Suppose, then, that this (new) covenant of grace was extant and effectual under the Old Testament, so as the church was saved by virtue hereof, and the mediation of Christ herein; how could it be that there should at the same time be another covenant between God and them, of a different nature from this, accompanied with other promises and other effects?"
I must here observe, that, according to the position laid down above, the covenant of which he is speaking is not the new ; that being the question in agitation. Nor can the covenant of grace be any distinction, because all covenants between God and the creature must be of mere grace: this I shall shew from Owen hereafter. But, as by the expression, "this new covenant of grace," the present dispensation is intended, it does not affect the point he is urging, so I will pass on to the method which he takes to remove the objection.
"On this consideration it is said that the two covenants mentioned, the new and the old, were not indeed two distinct covenants as to their essence and substance, but only different administrations of the same covenant. Called two covenants, from some different outward solemnities and duties of worship attending them. To clear this, it must be observed,
"1. That by the old covenant, the original covenant of works made with Adam, and all mankind in him, is not intended; for this is undoubtedly a covenant differing in the essence and substance of it from the new.
"2. By the new covenant, not the new covenant absolutely and originally, as given in the first promise, is intended; but in its complete Gospel administration, when it was actually established by the death of Christ, as administered in and by the ordinances of the New Testament. This, with the covenant of Sinai, were, as most say, but different administrations of the same covenant.
"But, on the other hand, there is such express mention made,
not only in this, but in sundry other places of the Scripture also, of two distinct covenants or testaments; and such different natures, properties, and effects ascribed to them, as seem to constitute two distinct covenants."-Owen on Heb. viii. 6. Vol. vi. p. 82.
Thus Owen's method of overcoming the difficulty is, by opposing the old covenant in its New-Testament form, to the same covenant in its Old-Testament form.
Roberts, holding the same fallacy, says: "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."— Roberts's Mystery and Marrow, p. 1255.
This, undoubtedly, is the preferable of the two common ways of treating it. Upon the supposition of there being radically but one covenant, testament and covenant must then be synonimous, or the thing signified must partake of the nature of both as expressed by Roberts, "they are fœderal testaments, or testamentary covenants." (Roberts, p. 1262.) I must add the reason he assigns for the present New Testament being called the second covenant: Seeing (says he) the Sinai covenant was not the first.....nor is the new covenant the second after the Sinai covenant".....but "because they are the first and 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." His second reason is more to my purpose: "The Greek word, Diatheké, translated covenant in Heb. viii. 6, 7, alleged for this denomination, may also as well be rendered testament; for if the first testament had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second;' and thus the same Greek word is often translated testament; and then the difficulty is easily removed. For these two covenants being the only testamental covenants, the old covenant was the first testament, and the new covenant was the second testament.”
Witsius says, book iii. ch. ii. "If we view the substance of the covenant, it is but one only; nor is it possible it should be otherwise..... But if we attend to the circumstances of the covenant, it was dispensed at sundry times and in divers manners; under various economies, for the manifestation of the manifold wisdom of God."" After proving this at some length, he concludes: "To sum up the whole then, in short: the Apostle here, Acts xv.11, declares three things: 1st, that the fathers were saved: 2dly, by the very same covenant that we are: 3dly, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: intimating likewise, by all this reasoning, that there can possibly be but one way of salvation."
In book iii. ch. iii. sect. 3 and 4, he says: of the common salvation which is in Christ, whether formerly made to the fathers, or to us at this day, does not belong to the Old and New Testament, as such; but absolutely to the testament or covenant of grace.
Witsius also, in common with all who treat it in this "testament" and "covenant as synonymous; but in so doing, he is guilty of the sophism of interchanging the words testament and covenant as the argument requires, and thereby making the alone covenant the new covenant, because it is the NewTestament administration of the only covenant revealed. What follows, is precisely the view I take of the covenants and testaments, if I may be allowed to preserve the distinction between the two words:
"The difference of the testaments consists in the different manner of proposing and dispensing the same saving grace, and in some different adjuncts and circumstances. Whatever was typical in that dispensation, and denoted imperfection, and an acknowledgment that the RANSOM was not yet paid, belongs to the Old Testament: whatever shews that the redemption is actually wrought out, is peculiar to the New Testament. Without adverting to this, it is not possible we can have a distinct knowledge of the nature of both testaments.
"But let us insist a little further on this point, if possibly we may advance what may set the truth in a clear light. Three things are to be distinguished: The TESTAMENT of grace [or rather, as I should say, the covenant], the old, and new testaments. To each its own inheritance is to be assigned: that of the testament [covenant] of grace is eternal salvation, with every thing belonging to it, through Jesus Christ; which is equally common to believers in all ages. The old and new testaments, being different economies of this one testament [covenant] of grace, which they comprise, suppose also, and include the same heavenly inheritance."-Witsius on the Covenants.
"The Old Testament was pure Gospel promising Christ, as the New Testament is pure Gospel performing and exhibiting Christ. The time of the Old Testament, was a time of signifying Christ; the time of the New, was a time of manifesting Christ."-Roberts, p. 987.
Roberts quotes from Clemens Alexandrinus, as follows: "The saving testament or covenant is but one, from the beginning of the world; although in the manner of giving it may seem diverse. For substance, the Old and New Testaments are but one, confirmed by the death of one and the same Testator: for manner of administration, they are two; the Old promising the Testator in the types, the other performing him in the truth. In the Old Testament the New is veiled: in the New Testament
the Old is revealed. And Lactantius saith, they are not diverse, because the New is the fulfilling of the Old, and in both is the same Testator Christ."-Roberts, Mystery, &c.
This sufficiently establishes our now being under the covenant of imputed righteousness, as confirmed in the New-Testament dispensation.
The other ordinary method of treating the covenants is more dangerous and reprehensible; as, in consequence of universally rendering diatheké by covenant, great violence is done to that passage of Scripture, Heb. ix. 15-17, where the Holy Ghost defines most exactly the nature of a testament.
I will, in the first place, instance Dr. Doddridge on Heb. ix. 16: “For where a covenant (is),' answerable to that which typified this of which I now speak, 'it necessarily imports the death of that by which the covenant is confirmed. For you know that sacrificial rites have ever attended the most celebrated covenants which God hath made with men : so that I may say, ' a covenant (is) confirmed over the dead;' so that it does not avail, nor has any force at all, while' he by whom it is confirmed liveth." Doddridge adds this note:
By which the covenant is confirmed.' Mr. Pierce would render it, of that sacrifice which is appointed by God to pacify. And he brings a remarkable instance from Appian, where diathemenon signifies a pacifier. He saith, The scope of the writer requires that it should be so translated here; and accordingly in the next verse he renders it, the pacifier can do nothing as long as he liveth.' But I think if it be rendered,' He by whom it is confirmed,' the argument will be clearer. Yet I confess considerable difficulties attend both these interpretations; though the connection with what follows appears easier upon that which I have given. The reader will do well if he consult Dr. Whitby upon this passage; who assigns and vindicates an interpretation much the same with that which is proposed in this version and paraphrase. The phrase which I have rendered 'necessarily imports,' is very strong. The death must be produced; it must not only be effected, but also made apparent. Elsner hath shewn (Observ. vol. ii. p. 361) that the word is used in a forensic sense for what is produced and proved, or made apparent in a court of judicature."-Doddridge's Expos.
vol. vi. 65.
Dr. Whitby quotes from Mr. Le Clerc as follows:
"This discourse is to be looked upon merely as the play of an Hellenistic writer, who, because he saw that diatheké was used for that covenant whereof Christ is the Mediator, and signified also a testament, and Christ was dead, thence deduced consectaries, which are true indeed considered in themselves, but here rely upon weak principles; rather to set off his discourse