…”Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers…For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord”
Baptists tend to argue from Jeremiah’s prophecy that the attributes promised in God’s declaration of the New Covenant are altogether new and exclusive to the elect in the New Covenant and that because this is true, no one outside of the elect can be members of this covenant.
1. The law being written on one’s heart is not what makes the New Covenant new.
I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts…” Hebrews 8:10
It is not true that the New Covenant is new because matters of faith and religion are now internal rather than external. This occurs prior to the New Covenant:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. Deuteronomy 6:4-6
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Psalms 40:8
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. Psalms 37:30-31
The law being on someone’s heart is not something radically new and exclusive to the New Covenant; it is something that had been realized within the true religion and the true faith.
2. Knowledge of the Lord is not what makes the New Covenant new.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,‘ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. Hebrews 8:11
It is nothing new that God’s people should and did know the Lord, I don’t think there is much debate on this. However, this characteristic of the New Covenant is stated in the negative, “they shall NOT teach…” So we see here that one attribute is the cessation of some sort of teaching.
We know that the type of teaching that ceases with the New Covenant is not the teaching which is a gift which was given to the Church as mentioned in Ephesians 4:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, Ephesians 4:11
…nor it is a cessation of parents to stop teaching their children in the way of the Lord as Paul also mentions in Ephesians 6.
3. The membership of those in the New Covenant does not change, and therefore is not what makes the New Covenant new.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. Hebrews 8:11
Baptists argue not just regarding the essential nature of the covenant, but also of its membership. Their position is that “they shall all know me…” means that everyone in the New Covenant is saved. However, it is not the case that everyone in the New Covenant is saved and is of the elect. This would be contrary to all the warning passages in the New Testament which speak of covenant members breaking the covenant and falling away.
Take a look, for example, at this passage:
How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”
In this passage:
1. Who was sanctified by the blood of the covenant? The one who trampled underfoot the Son of God.
2. In what manner were they sanctified? Covenantally. God does not take vengeance on his elect.
3. Who profaned the blood of the covenant? The one who was sanctified – covenantally.
4. Who outraged the Spirit of grace? The one who was sanctified – covenantally.
5. Who trampled underfoot the Son of God? The one who was sanctified – covenantally.
6. Who will the Lord repay with vengeance? His people.
In what way are these whom the Lord will repay with vengeance his people? It can only be in the manner of being members of the visible body of professing believers – members of the New Covenant. They cannot be the elect of God because the Lord’s wrath was taken out on Jesus Christ and God would be unjust to require double punishment from someone whose sins have already been paid for. Covenant member ≠ elect.
So that leaves us with the burning questions, “What is new about the New Covenant?”
1. The external ceremonial aspects once practiced are no longer observed.
How does this actually tie in with the passage? In light of point #2 above, in what way do we not teach one another “know the Lord”? Surely this doesn’t refer to any form of evangelism, for when did you ever see an Israelite tell his brother or fellow citizen to know the Lord?
I would argue that this teaching had to do with the Levitical priesthood. The Levitical priesthood held a certain relationship to God that no other Israelite did. They knew the Lord in an intimate way in being the people who ministered from the people TO God and FOR God to the people.
then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.” Jeremiah 33:21-22
The priests were the go-betweens – the priests would represent the people before God -, and were given the task of teaching the people of Israel. Speaking of Levi, God says,
They shall teach Jacob your rules and Israel your law; they shall put incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar. Deuteronomy 33:10
and communicate from God,
So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. Malachi 2:4-7
*What about “the least to the greatest”?
This phrase is used throughout the book of Jeremiah and always refers to classes and ranks, not an expression of complete totality of every single person as Baptists would like to believe. It would be similar to me saying, “They all saw me preach, from the homeless man to the president.”