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Thoughts on Deuteronomy 30:6

(Continued from page 349)

Part IV.

My Dear Friend,—

A view of the whole argument of these letters, may now be presented in a few words:—that the covenant made with Abraham was a promise of temporal, spiritual, and everlasting blessing to him, to his seed, and to all the families of the earth, not resting on the merit of man, but on the grace of God; the great divine charter of all our spiritual privileges, incapable, from its very nature, of being broken, sure to be fulfilled in any contingency of transgression and ruin; that the law given at Sinai did propose life as the reward of obedience; that this covenant of Sinai was designed to answer a great purpose in the development of the first covenant, in cutting off Israel by its complete and <<395>>eternal failure, from all hope of obtaining life by their own righteousness; that hence there arose in Israel two great classes, separated, not so much by visible marks of distinction, as by a difference in every element of spiritual life, and for this reason always, and necessarily, engaged in deadly mutual spiritual conflict; one class holding to the law as their tree of life, hoping that divine justice will give them the reward of their obedience and suffering; the other class placing their only hope in divine mercy,—in the blessings of the covenant offered to every one “without price;”* one class the children of the law and of the curse, and in the event certainly the victims of complete and eternal disappointment; the other class the heirs of the promise and eternal life; and that with the latter class are all the promises, the true faith, the divine life of the true Israel of God. .From this view it is evident that the curse described in the last letter does not annihilate the hope of Israel; but only the extraneous element of self-righteousness, the presence of which is death to the life of Israel, is detached from this divine hope. The law may present not one ray of hope; yet those trusting in the promise may be saved. Where sin abounds,  grace may superabound. After many ages of suffering under the law, the light of the first and everlasting covenant may break through the dark clouds upon Israel. If man has become so opposed in his moral character, to the will of God, that God repents that he has made man, and is grieved at his heart (Gen. 6:6): yet divine grace may regenerate man. Though the vine which God brought out of Egypt, and planted in Canaan, with all possible cultivation brought forth poison: yet God may, by a miracle, change the nature of this vine. If the law leaves its subjects to utter despair in the עולם הזה: they may nevertheless, find ground of hope in the עולם הבא.

* Isaiah 55:1-3

“And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” Observe that this circumcision of heart, which is the destruction of that evil principle that was the ruin of Israel under the old covenant, is here, most clearly, attributed to God. Remember, in this connexion, the comprehensive and awful import of that inquiry of God; pre<<396>>sented in our last letter, from the fifth chapter of Isaiah:—“What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” This inquiry, taken in its connexion, clearly asserts the insufficiency of all the works of God in the age of the law and prophets, to effect the salvation of his people from moral ruin. That “first work” which we attribute to God in the promised circumcision of heart, is not the ancient wonderful works of God which terminated in the desolation of the vineyard; neither is it the final natural result of these ancient works: it is a new and independent and greater work, a new moral creation. The most powerful eloquence, all moral persuasion, all external miracles, all warnings and promises, all overwhelming afflictions, all influences exclusive of the regenerating power of God, cannot effect this circumcision. It is true that these may be employed as means; but the work itself is essentially the work of God. To illustrate our idea from Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones; the prophet may be required to prophesy in this valley; but it is the Spirit of God that restores to life.

We here present a few verses from the prophecy of Jeremiah, chap. 31, which explain more fully the above promise of Moses, and which exhibit very clearly that hope of Israel that stands in bold independence of the promises and curses of the Law. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt; which my covenant, they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord; but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Here is a promise of a new covenant, essentially different from the covenant made at Sinai. The readers of these letters are requested carefully to mark the following  points in which these two covenants differ:

  1. In the essential moral character <<397>>of the parties. Our idea is, not that there can be any change in the moral character of God; but that the men of the new covenant are essentially different, in moral character, from those of the first covenant. The latter were of uncircumcised heart, were naturally the enemies of God, and no faith could be placed in  them; but all who have part in the new covenant are, from the regenerating power of God, renewed  in their understandings, their hearts, their consciences, their lives.
  2. In the covenant-relation of the parties. In the old covenant, God was to be their God, and they were to be his people, upon the condition of obedience to his law: in the new covenant God is their God, and, without any condition of obedience depending on them, they are made his people. The whole covenant here belongs to God.
  3. In the relation of the moral law to the people.  In the old covenant the law was an external revelation, meeting the people at Sinai in all the terrors of fire, and smoke, and lightnings, and curses, and death: in the new covenant the law is placed within the people,—written in their hearts. In the old covenant the law from without constrained to obedience: in the new covenant the law of the heart, the law from within, naturally, sweetly, effectually,  constrains to obedience.
  4. In the vital principle, or in the foundation of obedience to the moral law. The old covenant exhibited the name of the God of Israel as “glorious and fearful:” the people of the new covenant love the Lord with all their heart and soul. Fear is the vital principle of obedience in the old covenant: love in the new.
  5. In the relations which they establish between the children and the fathers. “In those days,” says Jeremiah, “they shall no more say, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity.” Under the old covenant there is much bitter complaining of children that they suffer for the sins of their fathers; but the new covenant presents infinite reason why we should rejoice in the promises made to the fathers; and, as it offers to all who seek the God of Israel the forgiveness of sin and eternal life, it places at the door of every individual who remains under the curse of the law, all the guilt of a personal rejection of eternal life, freely offered, and the responsibility of the loss of his soul. 
  6. In the conditions in which they find, and in the conditions to which they bring, the people. The following passage ex<<398>>hibits the fearful contrast between the condition in which the law of Sinai found the people, and the condition to which it has brought them. “And it shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you: so will the Lord rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought.”—Deut. 28:63. The following passage exhibits the happy contrast between the condition in which the new covenant first finds the people, and the condition to which it brings them. “And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them to build and to plant, saith the Lord.” The first covenant leads from the most precious sacred privileges to the deepest wretchedness and despair: the second elevates from this abyss of death to the most intimate and holy friendship and communion with God. We may explain farther this wide contrast in the following particulars.
  7. In the result upon the understanding. Isaiah was taught, as he received his prophetic office, that one sure result of the experiment under the law, and of the labours of the prophets, would be the closing of the eyes of the people; byt in the new covenant all are taught of God, and all, from the least to the greatest, know Him.
  8. In the result upon the conscience. The old covenant fills the conscience of the sinner with guilt: the new covenant gives pardon and peace.

You must understand me, however, that this covenant is new, merely in its relation to the covenant given at Sinai. It is really the covenant made with Abraham, as we explained this covenant in our second letter,—the old and everlasting covenant of Israel. We are taught that in the last days of the visitation of the curse upon Israel, God will remember the covenant made with the fathers, and show mercy. This doctrine of free forgiveness was not without abundant manifestation, even at Sinai.

We are now prepared to place ourselves on the high, comprehensive, and commanding position, that this doctrine has been in all ages, the principle of the spiritual life of Israel; that this faith was the only faith, and this hope resting entirely on the mercy of God, the only hope of all the ancient saints. Let us here receive the testimony of four of the most distinguished saints. Probably, the history of no one exhibits more clearly the <<399>>precise spiritual patriarchal life, than the history of Jacob. Now what were his views of himself and his faith in God? Receive his own answer. “I am not worthy,” said he in prayer, as he returned to his father’s house, “of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant.” Here he confessed that he did not deserve the least favour which came to him in fulfillment of the promises made to his father. Here is the true Jew. My  reader, admit not for a moment, the blasphemous thought, that Jacob did not speak as he felt, or that he did not speak in accordance with the true state of the case. Cast not on this grand reality of humble devotion the dark suspicion of assumed humility and empty confession. The same appears to have been the spirit of Moses. In his intercessions to save the people from the anger of God, he never dares to say that the people are righteous, and that they do not deserve sudden and universal death. The threefold argument of the infinite mercy of God, of the glory of God in the earth, and of the promises made to the fathers, is the only argument of all his prayers. When he first received his commission to redeem Israel, he provoked God to anger: on his return to Egypt, God once met him and sought to slay him. Finally, he was forbidden to enter the promised land, and fell in death, the victim of his own sin. With these two mysterious and humbling events, is his glorious career environed. This potent mediator for Israel needed in his death a more potent mediator for himself. We both believe that the dazzling crown of immortal glory was placed on his head in death; but do we not read on that crown, the inscription, Saved by Grace? Let us now hear the sweet singer of Israel. It is true that David often and strongly speaks of his sincerity, his love to God, his delight in the law, and his holy life. It is equally true, that in these passages, we may have nothing other than an exhibition of that new moral life which, we have been endeavouring to prove, belongs to regenerated humanity, and is not the natural life of man. It is clear that David did not trust in the sufficiency of his own efforts, or of all the moral influences with which he was surrounded; but looked directly to God, for the sanctification of his heart. Examine the prayer of Psalm 51. “Cleanse me from my sin.” “Behold I was shapen in iniquity.” “Purge me with hyssop, <<400>>and I shall be clean.” “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” In another Psalm he speaks of his iniquity as a burden too heavy for him. In another Psalm he appears to give us the true messianic idea of spiritual life and obedience, and the precise spiritual condition promised in the text of these letters, when he represents man as coming at the call of God, as delighting to do the will of God, as having the law written in his heart, and as, in this period, released from the obligation of burnt offerings, and sin offerings; see Ps. 40:6-8. The last saint that we here mention is Daniel. Here we might transcribe the whole prayer of Daniel recorded in his ninth chapter; let the following suffice. “O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee.” “Neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.” “For we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercies.”

(To be continued.)