Category Archives: Theology

Christ, The Mediator of the New Covenant Part 2

In a long overdue post on the New Covenant I’d like to look at Hebrews 9:15 and see if it helps round out what has been discussed here in previous posts.

Hebrews 9:15 “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”

In the last post we looked at the relationship between Christ’s mediatorial work through His death on the cross and the inauguration of the New Covenant (see also Hebrews 8:6-13) and we again see that in the first part of this passage, “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant”.  Recall that in the last post on Christ as Mediator we also concluded that membership in the New Covenant was limited to those who have been born again or regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  The evidence of their regeneration is repentance and faith, outwardly displayed in baptism, and continuing with their participation in the Lord’s Supper.  However, we made mention of a particular view that some within the Reformed Baptist tradition hold, namely the inclusion of all the elect in the New Covenant.  Others in this tradition, such as myself, hold to a more narrow view of those included in the New Covenant, i.e. what we’ve previously defined as the regenerate.  But this brings up a couple questions 1) How does God’s election unto salvation relate to the New Covenant benefits given to the regenerate? 2) If Christ’s death inaugurates the New Covenant, on what basis did the OT saints receive eternal life?

First, the question of election and its relation to the New Covenant.  As pointed out above, some have concluded that all the elect are in the New Covenant, but really this confuses the issue and as we’ve seen expressed clearly in Scripture, the New Covenant benefits are reserved for those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit and have shown evidence of this new birth, or regeneration, by the fruits of repentance and faith.  However, note in the passage above the author of Hebrews states that Jesus is “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance”.  The language of calling here is significant.  This calling, the Greek word kaleo, is familiar in the New Testament.  We see a form of it in 1 Thess. 5:24 as God is the one who calls, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”  Also in 1 Timothy 1:9, “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” And again in 1 Peter 5:10 “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”  God’s calling is not general, but rather  an effectual call that accomplishes all that it intends, namely the salvation of sinners.  With this understanding of God as the “Caller” our foundation is set to look briefly at another use of calling found in Paul’s letter to the Romans,

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30

Again, the emphasis is on God who calls “according to his purpose”, but here we read of some preceding events that must come prior to God’s calling, namely God’s “foreknowledge” and “predestination”, two words which have distinct meaning, but each of which reference God’s election according to grace.  Foreknowledge implies that God in His omniscience knows all things that are to come, literally knowing the beginning from the end (Isaiah 46:8-11); while predestination implies that not only does God possess knowledge of future events, but that He has ordained all things that will come through the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11).  In practical terms they refer to the plan of God that was made before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-14) and is unfolded in the calling of sinners to salvation.

Why all of this background on a passage from Hebrews discussing the mediatorial work of Christ?  Because, while the view that sees the elect as members of the New Covenant may lead to some confusion, it’s no less true that there is a relationship between God’s electing purposes and Christ’s inauguration of the New Covenant through His death.  Some theologians have sought to reconcile this confusion by describing the electing plan of God, established in Christ before the foundation of the world, as a Covenant of Redemption (see John 6:39, 17:2, 9, 24).  In this way, ALL those who the Father has given the Son, defined in the Covenant of Redemption and called the elect in Scripture, will be called and will be regenerated and will be partakers of the New Covenant, “so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.”  In his commentary on Hebrews, John Owen writes, “Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the New Covenant can be pretended.” This distinction sets clear the boundaries of New Covenant membership and maintains the integrity of this covenant with those whom have expressed evidence of their relationship to Christ through repentance of their sins and faith in Him.

Which brings us to our second question, of whether the OT saints even go to heaven and if so, then on what basis?  If you’ve followed along up to this point, then a likely question might be what became of those saints of the Old Testament who were under the Old Covenant (Abrahamic, Davidic, and Mosaic) ?  For this answer, we can also look to our passage from Hebrews above where we will find, “since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”  Christ’s work as Mediator of the New Covenant is not limited to only those who have believed on Him subsequent to His death.  The Old Testament saints had a forward looking faith (see Hebrews 11) in the coming of the Messiah to fulfill the promises, types, and shadows that God had expressed under the Old Covenant.

In Romans 4, we read of Abraham’s faith and the righteousness of Christ that  was imputed to him because of that faith, “Abraham believed God and it was counted [imputed – KJV] to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).  This isn’t strictly a New Testament concept because the passage that Romans 4 refers to can be found in Genesis 15:6, where we are told that “he believed the Lord” and God “counted [imputed] it to him as righteousness.”  This righteousness credited, accounted, or better imputed to Abraham was not one that he earned, nor one that was inherent to his nature.  Instead it was, as Martin Luther states, an alien righteousness.  In other words, in the life of Abraham 2000 years before even the birth of Christ, Abraham was imputed with the righteousness of Christ.  Because the death of Christ was the culmination of God’s plan for redemption, there was no uncertainty as to its accomplishment.  Therefore when we read in Hebrews 9:15 that the death of Christ redeemed those who lived under the Old Covenant we can rest assured that it was not through obedience to the law that they received eternal life, but through the precious blood of the Lamb.  Abraham, and those saints who believed, were not redeemed by way of the Old Covenant, but through the New Covenant promised in Genesis 3:15 and reaffirmed throughout the pages of the Old Testament until the inauguration of the New Covenant was made at the specified time (Gal. 4:4) through the death of Christ.  “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forebearance he had passed over former sins.” Rom. 3:25

Any discussion on the afterlife of OT saints often leads to additional questions, but it should be clear on the basis of Romans 3 and 4 that through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and His death on the cross, both aspects of Christ’s work as Mediator of the New Covenant, the OT believers are partakers of the same covenant benefits as those of us who believe in Christ today.

The Necessity of Providence

Recently I was checking through the feed of blogs I follow and came across a timely post from a well-known blogging team on the doctrine of providence.  Timely because I recently experienced an accident through which I was able to observe the providence of God (more on that in another post).  This particular blog post began with the following statement: “Reading providence is a fool’s game, yet it never lacks players.”  God’s providence can simply be defined as the manner in which the Sovereign Lord cares and provides for, governs, and orders His creation. The blog author continues:

“Discontented with Scripture, yearning for something God never promises, countless Christians read feelings, circumstances, events, hoping to discern God’s personal coded messages in them. They may not use tea-leaves and chicken gizzards, but they no less are acting as diviners rather than divines. The results can be devastating and enslaving.”

Keep in mind the context of this particular post was supposed to be the doctrine of providence and it’s thesis statement was that “reading providence is a fool’s game”.  After another statement describing how “feelings” of individuals cannot adequately describe one’s relationship or closeness to God when encountering a certain experience, the post then proceeds to reference the account of Jesus walking on the water from Mark 6:46-50.  The following observation is made from this passage, “It was Jesus they saw; it was not Jesus they perceived. What they experienced did not mean what they thought it meant. Read God’s stance towards you, and discern God’s will for you, in the perspicuous volume of Scripture—not in the opaque codebook of Providence.”

Up to this point in the post, I’m not sure if they’re trying to discourage the observation of God’s providence or the elevation of Christian experience above Scripture, but the author makes the following conclusion:

“Is the Lord “in the storm”? I think it depends on what we mean by that. Rather than guessing and second-guessing, we must at least embrace that the Lord owns the storm, and He controls the storm (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11), and can either send it (Jonah 1:4), or still it (Psalm 107:29; Mark 4:39  [“Hush! Be still!”]).

But the storm is not what tells you whether God loves you or is pleased with you, or what He holds you accountable for doing. That is found in the Word, and in Jesus Christ to whom the Word points. In Him we find God’s love, and His unshakable purpose for good, a good that brings life’s storms into its train of invincible purpose (Romans 8:28).”

Finally, the post is concluded with the following summation:

“Providence, when it can be read at all, is usually read only in retrospect, in the “afterwards,” the “later” — as in “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).”

At this point, I’ve asked myself if the blog quoted extensively above is meant to be a polemic against observing God’s providence or if it is an argument for the sufficiency of scripture over against the elevation of experience above God’s written word.  The two issues seemed to be blended and confused, quite frankly leading to misunderstanding the Christian life.  If their argument is the latter case, then I can fully agree; if the former then I must object on the basis of Scripture.

Let me first point out that the post with which I’m interacting provides no scriptural proof against observing God’s providence in the Christian life, but would seem to agree to its potential by stating its occurrence “after the fact”, if at all.  I’d like to provide 3 passages affirming the practice of observing God’s providence in the life of believers.

  1. Matthew 6:25-34 25 Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

With a simple study of this passage we can glean several details on the Providence of God.  In the context of the Sermon of the Mount, this particular passage is an exhortation against the sin of anxiety.  The first detail is  in verse 26, “Look at the birds”.  Here Jesus is encouraging His hearers (and us) to observe the providence of God over the rest of His creation, in this case the birds.  Note how anxiety is combated with the observation of God’s providence.  Jesus then connects this example of observing the providence of God in operation with the birds to the lives of His followers, “Are you not of more value than they?”  It’s important not to miss the progression of His argument here A) Observe the Providence of God in the life of birds B) God cares for His people more C) God will be providential in providing for them.

Secondly, we Jesus turning from anxiety over food to anxiety over clothing by drawing observation to flowers, “Consider the lilies of the field.”  Here, Jesus directs our attention to the work of God’s providence in clothing the lillies and connects this to unecessary anxiety over the provision of clothing.

2. Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

In our second example concerning the ongoing activity of God’s providence, we arrive at a well-known passage in which Christ informs us that it is He who will build His church.  This verse is the response to Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus affirms Peter’s confession, concluding that upon it and Peter, as a representative of the apostles, He would build His Church.  Our focus is upon the surety that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  How can Jesus make a guarantee like this if God is not actively providential in both the building and the defense of His church?  Likewise, what comfort can His church take when they are faced with persecution, slander, tribulation, and suffering for the sake of the Gospel if they cannot look with confidence to this promise from Christ?  Therefore, it is with great assurance that we can observe the providence of God in the life of His church as He executes His mission to build His church.

3. Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Finally, we come to one of the great providential and assuring passages for the Christian life; one which was actually referenced in the blog post quoted above.  We see here that “those who love God” can rest assured that “all things work together for good”.  The implication here is not a generic good, but for the good of the believer who loves God and has been “called according to [H]is purpose.”  This means that in the life of the believer, he/she can look to the circumstances which they face, be it death of a loved-one, terminal disease, financial woes, or whatever may come and take great comfort in knowing that God, the providential, sovereign Lord of His creation, is working all things together for good…and for their good too, which ultimately is to make them more conformed to the image of Christ.  It therefore is a great assurance for the believer, regardless of the circumstance, to observe God’s providence working in their life.

In the blog post referenced above the author stated that “Reading providence is a fool’s game”, while I remain uncertain whether that particular post is a polemic against feelings, impressions or “casting lots” and leaving the choice up to God or if it is argument against observing the providence of God in the believer’s life.  But it is clear in the passages above that we see the Word of God pointing straight toward the providence of God as a comfort to the anxious soul,  strength for the church, and a balm for the weary Christian.  Meditating on God’s providence is far from foolish, it’s a necessity.  In closing, three thoughts on neglecting the duty of mediating on God’s providence, by Puritan John Flavel, author of The Mystery of Providence:

1. Without due observation of the works of Providence no praise can be rendered to God for any of them.

2. Without this we lose the usefulness and benefit of all the works of God for us or others.

3. It is a vile slighting of God not to observe what He manifests of Himself in His providences.

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 30: The Lord’s Supper

1. The supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by him the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his churches, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice of himself in his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to all duties which they owe to him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other.
( 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17,21 )

2. In this ordinance Christ is not offered up to his Father, nor any real sacrifice made at all for remission of sin of the quick or dead, but only a memorial of that one offering up of himself by himself upon the cross, once for all; and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God for the same. So that the popish sacrifice of the mass, as they call it, is most abominable, injurious to Christ’s own sacrifice the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect.
( Hebrews 9:25, 26, 28; 1 Corinthians 11:24; Matthew 26:26, 27 )

3. The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed his ministers to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to a holy use, and to take and break the bread; to take the cup, and, they communicating also themselves, to give both to the communicants.
( 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, etc. )

4. The denial of the cup to the people, worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about for adoration, and reserving them for any pretended religious use, are all contrary to the nature of this ordinance, and to the institution of Christ.
( Matthew 26:26-28; Matthew 15:9; Exodus 20:4, 5 )

5. The outward elements in this ordinance, duly set apart to the use ordained by Christ, have such relation to him crucified, as that truly, although in terms used figuratively, they are sometimes called by the names of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ, albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.
( 1 Corinthians 11:27; 1 Corinthians 11:26-28 )

6. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood, commonly called transubstantiation, by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason, overthroweth the nature of the ordinance, and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions, yea, of gross idolatries.
( Acts 3:21; Luke 14:6, 39; 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25 )

7. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.
( 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 )

8. All ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Christ, so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table, and cannot, without great sin against him, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto; yea, whosoever shall receive unworthily, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, eating and drinking judgment to themselves.
( 2 Corinthians 6:14, 15; 1 Corinthians 11:29; Matthew 7:6 )