Gen 17:9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.”
Gen 18:19 “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”
When Jeremiah contrasts the new covenant with the one made with the fathers, the contrast is to the Mosaic covenant and not to the Abraham covenant. But neither is it accurate to say that the new covenant is only a renewal of the Abrahamic covenant. As Genesis 17 and 18 suggest, the Abrahamic covenant also had its “conditional” aspects.
One way some people put this all together is to say that the unconditional aspect of covenants only refers to God’s promise to save a people, but that which INDIVIDUALS are part of the people is conditioned on covenant obedience.
I speak not only of Arminians, who say that Jesus died for everybody and that the difference is their faith and obedience.
Instead of saying that all blessing is conditioned only on the imputed righteousness, many Calvinists bring into the picture the sovereign grace of God which enables the elect to meet the conditions of the covenant.
This failure to glory only in the cross is supported by a view of the new covenant which separates “covenant” from election and particular redemption. Abraham stayed in because he was enabled to obey, but some who are in get broken off because they do not obey.
The “state” of those in the new covenant does not depend on our conduct and walk. Those who try to walk to life will never arrive there. The Christian walk is a fruit of life and a guaranteed “stand in grace”. (Romans 5:1-2).
I want to think about Meredith Kline’s By Oath Consigned (Eerdmans, 1968). Despite Kline’s use of new information about extra-biblical treaties to talk about “covenant”, his conclusions are more traditional than many Reformed writers who are now distancing themselves from ANY conditional/unconditional distinctions.
I interact with Kline because I agree with his holding the line on the law/gospel antithesis. Ultimately of course Kline’s book is about infant baptism. Unlike the confessions which speak of the water as a means of assurance, Kline says that the water puts individuals into a conditional covenant, and introduces them to potential curse as well as potential blessing. But my focus in this short essay is not baptism, but Kline’s view of covenants.
If there is such a thing as “being in the covenant” but not being in Christ, what are the blessings of “being in the covenant” for those for whom Jesus did not die? Is there a “common grace” of being “in the covenant”, if one assumes that the non-elect can be included for a time in the covenant? Kline cautions that “we are not to reduce the redemptive covenant to that proper purpose.”
Those who don’t continue to believe the gospel are condemned. (John 3:18). But this is something different from saying that the non-elect are in the new covenant, and will be cursed and broken off if they don’t continue to believe..
But Kline resists the “bent toward such a reduction of covenant to election. To do so is to substitute a logical abstraction for the historical reality…” The historical reality for Kline is the reality of covenant threats and “actual divine vengeance against the disobedience as covenantal elements”. I agree about divine vengeance but my question is if this wrath is “covenantal”.
Do those who are never initiated into the new covenant experience wrath? I am sure Kline would agree with me that they do. But this is something different from saying that those who experience the wrath of God were once members of the new covenant. This is one way that the new covenant is not like the Abrahamic covenant.
Those who hear the gospel and reject it face greater condemnation but this does not prove that they EVER knew the Lord covenantally. Matthew 7 teaches us that there are those who never knew the Lord. I agree that the blessing of the new covenant comes through covenant curse on Jesus Christ. But if Christ has kept the covenant for all those in the new covenant, then how can Kline speak of “dual sanctions” for those in the new covenant?
Kline thinks that those who were never elected and those for whom Jesus never died can be initiated into the new covenant. And his pattern for this is not only the Mosaic covenant but the Abrahamic covenant. Not all the children of Abraham are children of Abraham. It was possible to be in that covenant but not be justified like Abraham was.
Not all Israel is Israel, and there is nothing the non-elect can do about it. The non-elect cannot get themselves out of the Abrahamic covenant, no matter how much they might want to, and they can never get themselves into Christ (not that the non-elect ever want to saved by the true Christ.)
Kline agrees that Jeremiah 31 sounds like “discontinuity” with earlier covenants. “Jeremiah speaks, to be sure, only of a consummation of grace; he does not mention a consummation of curses in the new Covenant.” p76. But Kline maintains this is only a matter of focus: the emphasis is on eschatological blessing but curse is not denied
Kline asks: “But the theologian of today ought not to impose on himself the visionary limitations of an Old Testament prophet.”But why should we take this (Marcionite? to turn the tables!) attitude to Jeremiah? Perhaps the prophet really is seeing a new covenant which has no “dual sanctions” because it is altogether conditioned on the obedience of Christ.
Yes, there is excommunication in the New Testament. But what Kline needs to show is that those judgments are exclusions of those who are in the new covenant. Otherwise we simply assume the paradigm with which we begin. I John 2:19 says that those who sent out “were not of us.”
But John 15 says that those who do not abide in the vine are thrown away. Is the right exegesis here that those who began to abide were later broken off from “the covenant”?
As for me, I don’t see how saying that the vine is the covenant fits with Christ saying He is the true vine. Certainly there is such a thing as a false profession and assurance about Christ, but does it really answer any questions to introduce into John 15 a covenant with dual sanctions?
But Kline argues that the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 is ultimately not about now but about after the second coming. Thus he says that we who say that only the elect are now in the new covenant “prematurely precipitate the age to come.” (p77, footnote about Jewett). In other words, Kline does the already/ not yet number, with an emphasis on the not yet. The new covenant is really not yet, he thinks, because now there are those in it who do not know the Lord.
Kline argues from the covenant breaking of Israelites in Romans 11:17-21. If gentiles in the new covenant are grafted into the Abrahamic covenant, then we must not say that the new convent is unconditional because the Abrahamic covenant was not unconditional. Verse 21: “he may not spare you either”.
Of course we have the promise of Romans 8:32 that all those for whom God did not spare His Son will be spared. The condition of this blessing is Christ’s obedience (even to death) . So I think it is possible to warn and threaten folks ( he may not spare you either) without telling them that they have been initiated into the new covenant. I think Kline would agree: not all are in the new covenant, we have to be initiated.
But are there some in the new covenant who will not be spared? What good would it do to warn people in the new covenant about this if it were not possible for them to be broken off? Then again, what good would it do to warn people about any disobedience if they are so reckless as to put all their hope in Christ as the only condition of blessing?
Since I reject the theology of paradox, I seek reconciliation of all the biblical data. I don’t want a reduction which leave out the warnings. But I would argue that the issue in Romans 9 to 11 is not about “covenant keeping” but about continued faith in the righteousness of Christ.
When Romans 9:32 complains that some of the children of Abraham did not seek righteousness by faith, this does not mean that they did not work in the right way. Faith in the righteousness means NOT TO WORK AT ALL. Those who rejected Jesus were perfectly willing to give God credit for their works. They were just not ready to be told by Jesus that their works were not only unprofitable but also ungodly! .
The reason the works of the Israelites who stumbled were evil was not simply a lack of sincerity or moral effort. Their works were evil because they were done without faith in the gospel Abraham believed.
That gospel says that God justifies the ungodly who do not work (Romans 4:5). It was not a situation of being in a covenant but failing to meet certain conditions. The problem was people not believing the promise of the gospel.
Romans 10:3 “for they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. “
This is not a “premature” anticipation of the age to come. ALREADY in Romans 9-11, Paul makes two points:
1. Not every Jew is elect or justified: one could be in the Abrahamic covenant but not justified by God as an individual. So far, with this even the Jew who stumbled could agree. Yes, we are elect because God has made us able to keep the covenant. Thus we teach grace but also conditional covenant.
2. Paul has a second point to make in Romans 9:11, and this is the one many stumble upon. Paul claims that we cannot establish our own righteousness, not even if we give God the credit for our doing.
The claim of Romans 11:32 is finally that “God has committed them all to disobedience, to have mercy on all.”.This is not a claim that every individual will be justified. All for whom Christ kept all conditions will be justified. But this gospel hope is not founded on the obedience of those who will be justified.
There was a law-aspect to the Abrahamic covenant so that we can speak of some Israel being broken off. Some who once got into the Abrahamic covenant will not stay in. Not all Israel is Israel.
But those for whom Christ died will be spared. To tell a person that “you may not be spared either” is to warn her that she may not yet be in the new covenant.