Was the Mosaic Covenant a Redemptive Covenant of Grace?
Characters for the Dialogue:
Smith: Alias the writer of this article. He believes that the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of grace legally administered.
Cleaver: Makes objections to the article. He believes that the Mosaic Covenant was a temporal covenant of works relating only to the temporal blessings of Canaan. However, Cleaver does not believe that Jewish believers who were under that covenant received their eternal salvation by that covenant. Instead, that was given to them by the Abrahamic Covenant, which continued to have force at the same time as the Mosaic Covenant but remained distinct from it.1
Smith, answering the door: "Welcome, Cleaver. I appreciate you coming over."
Cleaver: "But of course, always interested in a little interaction. So what's this article you've written?"
Smith: "Just a little something I've put together. Please, have a seat. Something to drink?"
Cleaver: "Oh, no thank you. I'm fine. But I wouldn't mind a copy of the paper so I can read along."
Smith: "Yes, of course. And please interrupt any time; you're good at that."
Cleaver: "That's what my wife says."
Smith: "No, no, I'm sorry. I mean, I appreciate your critique. Anyways, here we go."
Was the Mosaic Covenant simply a typological covenant of works, promising temporal blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience?3 We deny.
The state of the question: The question is not, "Did the Mosaic Covenant promise temporal blessings for obedience and temporal curses for disobedience?" For we affirm this. The question is not, "Do these temporal blessings and curses carry over into the New Covenant in their earthly/temporal manifestation?" For (we agree that) they do not. Again, the question is not, "Were these temporal blessings and curses types of the eschatological blessings and curses of the New Covenant?" For we affirm this. The question is not, "Were the sanctified works of Israel under the Old Covenant uniquely a type of Christ's work (insofar as they were rewarded with various degrees of blessings and curses)?" For we affirm this.
Instead, the question resolves itself into four major questions. 1) Was the Mosaic Covenant a redemptive covenant of grace (in which the above typological framework functioned)? We affirm. 2) Were the temporal blessings simply temporal blessings or were they foretastes/intrusions of the eschatological blessings yet to come in Christ? We deny that they were simply temporal blessings and affirm that they were intrusions of eschatological blessings in Christ. This resolves itself into another question, "Is it possible to speak of the blessings of the Mosaic Covenant as intrusions of future blessings in Christ if the Mosaic Covenant was not a covenant of grace?" We deny.
3) Were the works of Old Testament believers (by which they received temporal blessings and curses in the land) strictly meritorious? We deny. 4) Is it possible to speak of the Mosaic Covenant as a typological covenant if its blessings were not an intrusion of future eschatological blessings? We deny. Instead, we affirm that the blessings (promised to obedience) must have been intrusions of the kingdom to come. Otherwise, they could not have been types of that kingdom. This resolves itself into a similar question, "Is it possible to speak of the Mosaic Covenant as a typological covenant if it was not a covenant of grace?" We deny. Instead, we affirm that the Mosaic Covenant must be a covenant of grace in order to be typological.
The position taken (by those with whom we dispute) on questions 2 through 4 (above) is not always clear. However, resolving these questions will support our main pointthat the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of grace (and its uniquely typological structure must be understood within this larger framework). Therefore, the main question resolves itself into this, "Was the covenant given at Mt. Sinai a covenant of grace?" We affirm this, and those with whom we dispute seem to deny it. (And if they don't deny it, it is not clear to us in what way they affirm it.)
We will deal with this subject in the order of the four questions above.
1) Was the Mosaic Covenant a redemptive covenant of grace? We affirm.
The state of the question. The question is not, "Was the Mosaic covenant a redemptive covenant of grace in the exact same way (and in all respects) as the Abrahamic covenant or the new covenant?" For we affirm that there are differences. For one, the Abrahamic covenant (as administered before the law) did not promise its recipients (in their own lifetimes) the same earthly blessings as the Mosaic covenant. And the theocratic blessings of the law do not carry over into the new covenant in their temporal/earthly form (as we have said). Instead, new covenant believers receive them in their eschatological fullness, even now (semi-eschatologically). In addition, God mediated these blessings to Israel through her sanctified obedience. These blessings partially relieved Israel from the curse upon her inheritance in the land. Therefore, God partially relieved Israel from the curse upon her inheritance by Israel's own sanctified obedience. However, in the new covenant there is no curse upon our inheritance that is lifted by our sanctification. Nor is the question, "Was this arrangement a unique type of Christ's work and future reward?" For we affirm this, calling these unique elements of the Mosaic covenant its "legal administration."
Neither is the question, "Did this legal administration follow the pattern of the covenant of works?" For we may say that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of grace legally administered according to the pattern of the covenant of works.4
Nor is the question, "Is the unique legal arrangement of the Mosaic covenant revealed in the fact that Israel took oaths during the covenant ratification ceremony?" For if this is the case, it would only underscore the uniquely legal character of the Mosaic covenant, which we acknowledge. For, as noted, we believe that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of grace legally administered.
However, the main question amounts to this, "Is the legal administration of the Mosaic covenant best understood within the context of the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of grace or simply as a typological works covenant?" We affirm the former (i.e., as a covenant of grace). The next four sections seek to answer this question.
Limiting the question to the confines of this section, we ask, "Was the Mosaic covenant a covenant of redemptive grace (that united old covenant saints to Christ to come)?" We affirm.
In this discussion, we hope to show that the covenant given at Mt. Sinai is central to the Mosaic Covenant. The following distinction would not hold: the Sinaitic Covenant was simply a covenant of works; it should be distinguished from the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Covenant, which was a covenant of grace.5 The redemptive nature of the Sinaitic Covenant undermines such a distinction. This assumption will be supported as we look at Exodus 20-24.
The argument: The Mosaic Covenant bound Israel to God as their God. After the fall, no covenant can bind sinful people to God unless it is a redemptive covenant of grace.
That the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of eternal redemptive grace is proved by:
a) The Covenant Union between God and his People, as revealed in:
i) The prologue to the Sinaitic covenant"I am the Lord your God."
It begins by affirming God's covenant union with his people. This union is underscored with the words "your God." As Ruth later says, "Your people will be my people and your God my God" (Ruth 1:16). The language represents exclusive covenant union. Such a bond is itself a foretaste of the eschatological future in which the Lord says, "They shall be his people, and God himself shall be among them" (Rev. 21:3). God's union with Israel was an eschatological intrusion.
Here I will use the term "partially mixed eschatology" to describe this eschatological intrusion in Israel to distinguish it from the "semi-eschatological" experience of new covenant saints. Thus, the language "blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Ps. 33:12) is the language of covenant union with God. In it, God uniquely identified with the nation. So the nation was a possessor of partially mixed eschatology. In this way, God was uniquely present in the land.
After the fall, union with God can only take place through redemptive grace. Therefore the prologue continues"who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Ex. 20:2). This covenant is a redemptive covenant. And it is this redemption that provides the basis of Israel's covenant bond with God that will be necessary for the giving of the law.
Cleaver: "Can I interrupt you for a moment?"
Smith: "Yes, go ahead."
Cleaver: "Wasn't Israel already bound to God prior to the exodus?6 For God said to Abraham, 'I will . . . be God to you and to your descendants after you' (Gen. 17:7)."
Smith: "Yes, I agree. However, that bond was based on a covenant oath with Abraham, which was itself a foretaste of the exodus. And it was a foretaste of the exodus insofar as the exodus was a foretaste of the work of Christ's death and resurrection."
Cleaver: "How do you get that?"
Smith: "Well, take a look at Genesis 15. There are some things here that anticipate the exodus. For instance, 'I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans' (v. 7) sounds a lot like the prologue to the law (Ex. 20:2). In verse 8 Abraham asks 'how may I know that I shall possess it (that is, the land)?' Thus, the ceremony that follows will confirm this promise. The exodus itself is elaborated among these promises (v. 14). In scripture, redemptive promises are confirmed by uniting people to the reality to be confirmed. Thus, this ceremony will partially unite Abraham to the exodus event and entrance into the land.
It may be that there is also an allusion to the exodus in that the flaming torch goes through the midst of the pieces (v. 17) in darkness (v. 12) just as the light of God's presence went through the midst of the sea in darkness (Ex. 14:19-22)."
Cleaver: "How can Genesis 15 be an intrusion of the exodus, if the exodus had not yet taken place? Mind you, I grant intrusions of eschatology, but that's eschatology."
Smith: "But if you grant that the exodus is an intrusion of the future work of Christ, what prohibits this ceremony from being an intrusion of that intrusion?"
Cleaver: "Well, perhaps, but these comparisons do not prove that Genesis 15 was an intrusion of the exodus event. They only prove that Genesis 15 looks forward to the exodus."
Smith: "However, it is precisely this anticipatory language that usually indicates to us that an Old Testament event is an intrusion of the work of Christ to come. Why shouldn't it also indicate to us that one Old Testament event is a partial intrusion of another Old Testament event yet to come? Or should we think that we are the only ones who participate in all of redemptive history?"
Cleaver: "You mean Old Testament saints were united with all of redemptive history just as we are?"
Smith: "Yes; this is not to deny that new covenant saints participate in the events of redemptive history in greater fullness. Thanks be to God, we do. However, we must not deny to Old Testament saints some degree of participation in all of redemptive historyeven during their earthly pilgrimage.
Thus, I would suggest that the exodus and the Abrahamic covenant are organically interdependent as the progressive unfolding of the eschatological life of God himself. Therefore, the covenant bond with Abraham was dependent upon the future accomplishment of the exodus just as the exodus was dependent upon the future accomplishment of Christ's obedient life, death and resurrection."
Cleaver: "Sounds like you're denying the progress of redemptive history."
Smith: "I don't think so. This does not mean that there is not progress in the history of redemption when we come to Exodus 20. The fact that the exodus redemption has already been accomplished is the basis for the giving of the law. It also seems to be the basis for a fuller union of God with Israel, giving new meaning to 'I am the Lord your God.' For now, after the exodus and the giving of the law, God will more fully dwell with his people."
Cleaver: "That's enough; read on."
ii) The Tabernacle.
God's union with his people comes to central expression in the tabernacle. And thus the language of covenant union is used to describe it. "I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar . . . And I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God" (Ex. 29:44-45). God, in his heavenly presence, truly dwelt in the tabernacle. Not in the same degree and fullness as he dwells in heaven, nonetheless he was present there. And Israel truly communed with him as they worshipped at the temple.7
The language of Exodus 29:44-45 not only implies this; it is also necessary if we are to believe that any eschatological intrusions took place within the land of Canaan. For it was precisely the presence of God in the tabernacle which brought the eschatological intrusion of his wrath in the theocracy. The ark of the covenant was to go before Israel into battle to bring God's wrath on Israel's enemies. And if he was truly present in his wrath, he must have also been truly present in his blessing.
This presence of God was administered to Israel through the Mosaic covenant. This should need no argument since the tabernacle was unique to the theocracy. Its administration (Ex. 29) flows from the Sinaitic covenant (Ex. 20-24) and the presence of God on Mt. Sinai. Thus, it was to be made according to "the pattern which was shown you on the mountain" (Ex. 25:40, Heb. 8:5).
Therefore, since the Mosaic covenant administers the presence of God in Israel, it is a covenant of grace.
Cleaver: "Let me stop you there. Admittedly, the Mosaic covenant administered an eschatological intrusion of wrath. But how does that make it a covenant of grace?"
Smith: "No, that alone wouldn't make it a covenant of grace. But with that wrath comes blessing. The Mosaic covenant (like the new) is a savor of life to some and a savor of death to others (2 Cor. 2:14-16). Clearly, the new covenant administers final eschatological wrath (Heb. 2:2-3; 10:28-29; 12:22-26) and is still a covenant of grace. The wrath is visited on God's enemies, not his people. It is an administration of God's covenant of grace. For, in his grace, God promises his people that he will save them from destruction, and also that he will destroy their enemies."
Cleaver: "Alright, go ahead and continue."
Thus, the presence of God in the tabernacle further proves that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of grace. This will be further proved when we notice that the people were required to bring sacrifices to worship in the temple. And by partaking in these sacrifices, they had union with Christ, participating with him in a fellowship meal in his heavenly house.
iii) In the Announcement of the New Covenant. When Jeremiah announces the new covenant, he does it by way of contrast to the old covenant (Jer. 31:31- 32). However, at the same time, God says that by the old covenant "I was a husband to them" (v. 32). If God is a husband to them, clearly they have a covenant bond with God. If this bond arose from the Mosaic covenant, it is a covenant of grace. Indeed this bond did arise from the Mosaic covenant. For Jeremiah says, "It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them."
This bond is also central to the new covenant: "I will be their God and they will be my people" (v. 33). Surely, a closer bond results from the final accomplishment of redemption. For in the new covenant, the people of God will not be cursed in regard to anything that is their inheritance in God.8 "For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more" (v. 34). The very text that teaches discontinuity between the old and new covenants, also teaches this continuity between them. Both covenants bring God's people into union with God himself.
And since he is a father to Israel, their bond of sonship is in his Son, Jesus Christ. Before the time, theirs was a participation in the age to come, in Christ, the resurrected Son of God (Rom. 1:3, 4). Yes, before Christ, their heavenly participation was not as full as ours. But now their bond is as full as ours. For our God is the God of Israel, and he is the God of the living.
b) Old Testament Sacrifices.
i) The sacrifices expiated sins.
On this subject Francis Turretin states, "This appeared most of all in the sacrifices which (for no other reason than as types of the sacrifices of Christ) expiated sins. Hence 'an offering made by fire is said to be a savour of rest unto the Lord' (Lev. 1:9, 13, 17), i.e. most acceptable, which makes God (provoked by sins) rest and pleases him. Since however that expiation could not be made by the victim's own virtue (Heb. 9:9, 10), it must necessarily be made by another, namely by Christ prefigured."9 In other words, the animal sacrifices pleased God. But how can animal sacrifices, which can't take away sin, please God? Only if Christ's blood is mediated through them.
Turretin then deals with an objection. Some point out that sacrifices "belonged to external purity and immunity from temporal punishments in the court of earth."10 Presumably, they wished to limit the significance of sacrifices to this alone. Turretin admits that "this may be a use of ceremonies." However, he goes on to say that they must embody more than this if they are to point to Christ.
Our point is similar. If God was pleased with the sacrifices at that time, they must have been a partial eschatological intrusion of the blood of Christ to come. And if Christ's saving grace is mediated through the sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant, then the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of grace. This grace was also necessary for the sacrifices to have an effect in the "external purity and immunity from temporal punishments," as we hope to examine in the future.
ii) Sacraments of Grace.
Argument: If old covenant saints partook in the sacrifices as sacraments of saving grace, then the Mosaic covenant (which administered these sacrifices) must have been a covenant of grace. If the Mosaic covenant was simply a typological works covenant, what would its sacraments present to believers? Nothing more than temporal (typological) life. No doubt, they had this function for believers in the land. But they offered more than that. They offered real union with God by faith.
In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul teaches that through the sacrifices, Israelites participated in the altar (1 Cor.10:14-22). This both proves: 1) that they experienced real union with God at the temple; and 2) that the Mosaic covenant which administered this union was a covenant of grace.
The sacrifices mediated to them a real union with God. For he says, "Look at the nation of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?" (v. 18). The word Paul uses here is koinonos, almost identical to koinonia which it explicates in verse 16. There, partaking in the bread and the cup involve fellowship with Christ. This is no mere external participation in Christ, but involves vital union. For it is the very fellowship to which they were called in Christ (1 Cor. 1:9).
This is further strengthened with its contrast to partaking in demons (vv. 20, 21). Such partaking provokes the Lord to jealously (v. 22) which indicates that the fellowship established in the table of the Lord is a vital union. As a result, when it is broken (as in a marriage bond), it provokes him to jealousy.
And so we must think of the children of Israel who were sharers in the altar of God by faith. They possessed a real vital fellowship with the altar. But of course Paul cannot simply mean that they had vital communion with an inanimate object. He must mean that they were sharers in God himself through the altar. If not, the analogy that he is using between the Lord's supper and the altar seriously breaks down.
Therefore, we may argue as follows: 1) God can only bring sinners into union with himself through redemptive union with Christ. 2) Israel possessed real vital union with God through their sacrifices. 3) Many of these sacrifices were unique to the Mosaic covenant; thus, they were administrations of the Mosaic covenant. 4) Therefore, the Mosaic covenant was a redemptive covenant of grace in Christ to come.
Cleaver: "Good try Smith. But you failed to recognize that all Israel partook in the altar, even those who perished. You see, your text is parallel to 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 where they all partook in the same spiritual food and drink (vv. 3, 4). In spite of this, God wasn't pleased with most of them and they were judged (vv. 5-10). Thus, not all who partook were united with God. And so participating in the altar didn't unite them to God."
Smith: "It must have been a long night, Cleaver. I mean, you believe this is true in the new covenant as well, don't you?
Cleaver: "What do you mean?"
Smith: "Well, I mean, 'these things . . . were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come' (v. 11). Thus, the same thing is true in the new covenant. Those who partake of the Lord's supper and live as idolaters will be judged with the judgment of the new covenant. But this does not obscure the fact that those who partake with true faith commune in union with the Lord through his supper. So it is with Israel. Many partook externally without true faith and were condemned. But those who partook with saving faith communed in union with the Lord."
In fact, only if the old covenant was a covenant of grace, can Israel's life-history come upon us in fullness at the end of the ages (v. 11).
Cleaver: "Well, it doesn't matter anyway. For when Paul says, 'look at the nation of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?' he refers to Israel sharing in idolatry. Verse 14 says 'flee idolatry' and Paul follows up verse 18 with the words 'What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything' (v. 19). Thus, Paul is suggesting that Israel shared in demons when they sacrificed to the golden calf, getting up to play (v.7 with Ex. 32:4-6). Aaron called this a 'feast to the Lord,' allowing Paul to contrast it to the Lord's supper. Thus, Paul's point is that many Israelites partook of the Rock/Christ and then participated in the cup of demons in the golden calf. But they were judged. Paul does not want this for the Corinthians. Therefore, Paul is not referring to Israel partaking in God but partaking in idolatry."
Smith: "I don't deny that this may be one aspect of what Paul is saying. However, I would suggest that verse 18 is an explanation of 'sharing' in the Lord's supper in verses 16 and 17. Thus, if Paul is also reflecting on Israel's evil participation in idols in verse 18, it is a two edged sword. Who they vitally partook in was the one whom they vitally shared in, either idols or God. Thus, those who partook in saving faith partook in God himself through the sacrifices."
Smith: "This is a good place to pick up the reading."
Yes, indeed, Israel had true vital union and communion with God through the sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant. She did not simply possess this fellowship by means of the Abrahamic covenant, for many of the sacrifices to which Paul alludes came with the giving of the law. They are unique to the Sinaitic covenant. And so, Israel possessed this union through the Mosaic covenant itself which administered these sacrifices.
Obviously, the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of eternal redemptive grace. For how else could the apostle of Romans 3 conceive of it? If, after the fall, sinners are to have fellowship with God it can only be by eternal grace. And if they participate in that eternal fellowship through the sacrifices, it can only be because those sacrifices were sacraments of a covenant of saving grace.
c) Sinai's Covenant Ratification Ceremony.
This brings us back to Exodus 20-24 and the covenant ratification ceremony for the Sinaitic covenant.
That it ratified the covenant made at Mt. Sinai (in Ex. 20ff.) is clearly indicated, for: 1) "Moses . . . recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances" (Ex. 24:3); and 2) read the "book of the covenant" (v. 7). Then, 3) Moses sprinkled the people with the "blood of the covenant" which the Lord made with them in "accordance with all these words" (v. 8). The fact that the Sinaitic covenant had to be ratified with the shedding of blood indicates that it is a covenant of redeeming grace.
Further, this ratification ceremony consummated the bond between God and his people. While not embodying the fullness of the final consummation, it is a clear anticipation of it. The elders laid hold of the end of the world (before the time). For they "saw the God of Israel" (v. 10). This is repeated a second time; they "beheld God" (v. 11). And his appearance has striking eschatological overtones. "Under his feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself" (v. 10 with Rev. 21:11, 19). Finally, they "ate and drank" before him (v. 11). They participated in a fellowship meal of communion with God. In this they participated in the Last Supper, the eschatological supper, with Jesus himself and through it laid hold of the wedding supper of the lamb. Such a glorious communion can only be the result of a covenant of grace to sinful men. Therefore, the Sinaitic covenant, which this ceremony ratified, had to be an eternal covenant of grace.
Cleaver: "Smith, you're failing to recognize that this covenant ratification ceremony is different from those of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 15) and new covenant (Matt. 26:28, Mk. 14:24, Lk. 22:20), i.e., the Last Supper. The difference is that in Exodus 24 the people make oaths to the Lord while in Genesis 15 and the Last Supper they do not. These oaths are repeated in both Exodus 24:3 and 7; 'all that the Lord has spoken we will do.' I don't deny that the Abrahamic and new covenants require oaths from the people. However, these oaths were not given during the historical, foundational covenant ratification ceremony. Therefore, the Mosaic covenant was unique. Obviously, it was a typological covenant of works."
Smith: "I concede that this distinction between the covenant ratification ceremonies may be significant. But you're drawing an invalid conclusion from it. It doesn't follow that the Sinaitic covenant is simply a covenant of works. The unique element in the covenant ratification ceremony of Exodus 24 may single it out as having a unique legal administration. However, the surrounding context (as we've seen) clearly indicates that the Sinaitic covenant was an eternal covenant of redemptive grace. Therefore, at most, this unique feature indicates that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of grace legally administered. It cannot prove that the Mosaic covenant was simply a typological works covenant without coming into conflict with the surrounding context."
Cleaver: "I don't know Smith. The book of Hebrews seems to give a completely opposite interpretation of this passage. It does agree with you that this ceremony ratified the Mosaic covenant (Heb. 9:18 with 19-21). However, it contrasts these sacrifices with the sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 9:23). Therefore, they don't mediate eternal grace, only typological grace."
Smith: "I admit there is a distinction between the animal sacrifices (in so far as they mediated the covenant of grace) and the sacrifice of Christ, received directly at this point in the history of redemption. For after Christ's resurrection, we possess the eternal inheritance (9:15) above in a way that surpasses Israel, while her inheritance in the land was under curse. The covenant of grace as mediated through the old covenant sacrifices could not finally take away sin and curse from the inheritance (10:3-4). This is accomplished in the new covenant era (Heb. 8:12, 10:17-18). As a result, we have a fuller access to God (10:19, 20). However, I think you're suggesting too sharp a distinction between the Sinaitic covenant and the new covenant.
For the distinction between the covenants is comparable to the distinction between their sacrifices. And the writer to the Hebrews is not suggesting that those sacrifices did not mediate the covenant of grace. In fact, he implies the opposite. For several verses before the covenant ratification (9:18-21) he compares and contrasts the blood of goats and calves to the blood of Christ (9:13, 14). This language suggests a relative distinction between them rather than simply an absolute distinction. This relative distinction is suggested by the fact that the same heavenly grace is found in both, just in different degrees. Of course, it also implies an absolute contrast in so far as the blood of Christ alone is the foundation of all redemptive grace. Still, a relative contrast is also represented in the text in so far as the animal sacrifices were means of the redemptive grace of Christ."
Cleaver: "How can you say that?"
Smith: "By comparing these verses to other verses in Hebrews that use similar language. Verse 13 begins with 'for if' and verse 14 begins with 'how much more.' Similar constructions are found in Hebrews 2:2, 3; 10:28, 29; and 12:25.
In these texts, it is the eschatological wrath of God, partially mediated through old covenant penalties (etc.) that comes to full expression in the final judgment of the new covenant. By way of analogy, this construction suggests that it is the eschatological grace of Christ, partially mediated through old covenant sacrifices that comes to full expression in the final sacrifice of Christ.11
Therefore, the old covenant, which was ratified with these sacrifices (Heb. 9:18-21) must have the same nature. It must be a covenant of grace that administers the true realities of heaven, though the new covenant administers these realities with greater fullness. The old covenant possessed an eschatological vector. Therefore, in it saints possessed the heavenly city before the time (Heb. 11:1 and 10 with 32-34)."
Cleaver: "I've been thinking about your overall argument, Smith, and I think it has some serious flaws. Going back to God's presence administered in the old covenant, I would suggest that the presence of God described here is simply the temporal/typological presence of God, i.e., it is not God's saving presence of eternal union and communion."
Smith: "Haven't we gone over this?"
Cleaver: "Yes, but I'm still not satisfied. You see, it seems to me that the exodus was typological grace and thus only administered a typological union with God."
Smith: "Perhaps I should tell you what I think I'm hearing when I hear that distinction. It appears that this distinction implies that the typological presence of God in Israel was simply an external presence of God, not one that eternally transformed the heart."
Cleaver: "No, I grant that God's typological presence included temporary internal movements of the Spirit. Certainly, God's typological presence moved men to deeds. For the Spirit of God moved Saul to action (1 Sam. 11:6). Thus, in some sense, it moved his heart."
Smith: "Yes, and I'm using the term 'external' to include that influence of the Spirit. Of course, I'm sure we both agree that this external presence did not move Saul's heart savingly."
Cleaver: "Oh, of course."
Smith: "But according to your view, God did not eternally transform men's hearts through the Mosaic covenant. (Eternal salvation was only mediated to Israel through the Abrahamic covenant.) In this sense, I'm calling your view 'external,' so that you believe that the typological presence of God was simply external."
Cleaver: "That sounds good enough."
Smith: "But on what grounds do you still make that claim?"
Cleaver: "Well, for one, the presence of God in the land is given to all those dwelling in the land, not just the elect. Therefore, these statements do not reflect the eternal saving presence of God with his people."
Smith: "But doesn't this go back to what we've said before? For the New Testament speaks of God's saving presence with the whole church without always distinguishing between the wheat and the tares. Still, we do not think the New Testament is speaking about a typological presence of God. Instead, it is speaking of God's saving presence with his people which is only experienced externally by the reprobate, but internally by the elect alone. Thus, we're looking back to the distinction between the visible and the invisible Church, made famous by Augustine.12
Cleaver: "I've sometimes wondered about that distinction."
Smith: "Well, it's not simply in Augustine. This distinction is implicit in Hebrews 6:1-9. Let me look it up. Yes, I would suggest that Hebrews 6:4-6 (following Heb. 3:7-4:11) seems to reflect the experience of the children of Israel in the exodus and wilderness wanderings. Israel was 'enlightened' by the pillar of fire. They 'tasted of the heavenly gift' in the manna and quail from heaven. They were 'partakers of the Holy Spirit' in the cloud (Isa. 63:11 and Neh. 9:20). They heard the word of God and received a foretaste of the age to come in all these blessings. However, the majority of them fell away. Therefore, they experienced these things in a way that was not accompanied with salvation. The writer implies this when he says, 'we are convinced of better things concerning you, things that accompany salvation' (Heb. 6:9). Thus, we say that apostate Israel experienced these blessings externally without receiving an internal transformation of their hearts. And Hebrews implies that such a possibility is at work in the new covenant church as well."
Cleaver: "Fair enough. But how does this relate to Israel?"
Smith: "Well, the nation and the church were coextensive in Israel. Therefore, the saving presence of God in the nation was experienced internally by the elect as a foretaste of their future eschatological glory. But it was only experienced externally by those who would later apostatize. As noted, Hebrews 6:1-9 implies that the same type of distinction that is at work in the new covenant was at work in the old. We could also consider the comparison we saw with Israel in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5.
Cleaver: "So what does this have to do with the distinction between the typological presence of God and his saving presence?"
Smith: "Well you suggested that this distinction might be grounded in the fact that the presence of God in the land is given to all those dwelling in the land, not just the elect. From this you drew the conclusion that God's presence in the land was not his eternal saving presence. But I would suggest that the distinction between the visible and invisible Church is sufficient to account for this. God was present in the land (which was the visible church), but his presence in the land only transformed the elect. But note, it was his presence in the land, mediated through the old covenant that eternally transformed the elect."
Cleaver: "I don't buy that."
Smith: "Yes, I realize that. However, we do know that the distinction between the visible and invisible Church is found in scripture. So I ask you, What is the ground for claiming that there is another kind of distinction found in the old covenant, one that would separate God's presence mediated through the Mosaic covenant from his eternal saving presence?"
Cleaver: "I suppose it's found in the typological nature of God's presence in the land."
Smith: "Certainly, I agree that there is exegetical ground for saying that the presence of God in the old covenant had a unique typological function not found in the new. However, what ground is there for claiming that the presence of God mediated through the old covenant is to be reduced to the typological (as if that could be separated from an eternal vital union between God and his people)?"
Smith: "In fact, as I later note in my paper, I suggest that the typology of the old covenant is dependent on an eschatological intrusion. That is, on the old covenant blessings being a real eschatological intrusion of the grace of Christ to come. They cannot be based on a mere external presence of God with his people."
Cleaver: "Why not?"
Smith: "Well, I'll give you one example. For instance, the typology found in David is based on the internal transformation of his heart. As a man after God's own heart, David is a type of Christ, the true man after God's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). Therefore, the covenant bond that is the foundation of this typology must be none other than the covenant of grace.
Therefore, you cannot say that the presence of God in the land was merely external because it was typological."
Cleaver: "I'll have to think about that."
Smith: "So, what grounds are left for the claim that God's covenant union with his people (administered through the Mosaic covenant) was merely external?"13
Smith: "And if there are none (as it would appear), we should draw the conclusion that the distinction between the visible and invisible Church (implied in Heb. 6:1-9) is sufficient to account for God's covenant union with the nation of Israel. Therefore, the Mosaic covenant administered God's presence to Israel. This presence was only experienced externally by the reprobate. However, it eternally justified and transformed the elect in Christ to come.14 The Mosaic covenant was truly a covenant of eternal saving grace. And if I'm right that the Abrahamic covenant was an intrusion of the exodus deliverance (Gen. 15:13, 14), then the exodus deliverance was an intrusion of the work of Christ. For all acknowledge the Abrahamic covenant to be one of eternal redemptive grace. If this grace was given to Abraham by means of the future exodus event, then the exodus event itself must have been a vital intrusion of eternal redemptive grace and not a mere external type of it. (And God's union with Israel that flowed from the exodus would also have the same nature.)"
Cleaver: "Alright, I'm worn out. Why don't we go back to the paper."
Smith: "Certainly. We had just finished up with the covenant ratification ceremony. Alright, more reasons for believing that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of eternal saving grace."
d) The Nature of Covenant Union in Redemptive History.
God's eschatological presence, his eternal love, is experienced as a mighty torrent flowing through redemptive events (1 John 4:8-11). That is, our eschatological union with God is in Christ. Even in our heavenly life, we will participate in the person of Christ as he embodies his redemptive events (Rev. 5:12). We will see the eschatological God through Christ and his death and resurrection.
If the presence of God in the land was merely external, then the redemptive event of the exodus did not mediate to Israel the eschatological love of God in Christ. They did not experience their glorious Lord through the exodus event as an overflowing torrent of love and grace penetrating their souls.
Cleaver: "What kind of argument is that?"
Smith: "It attempts to show that if you make the exodus into a purely external redemptive act, it cannot stir the heart with eternal gratitude to God."
Cleaver: "But why should it since it only introduced Israel into temporal blessings?"
Smith: "Don't you believe that those blessings were an eschatological intrusion?"
Cleaver: "Of course, I'm not denying that those blessings were an eschatological intrusion, just that God's eschatological presence in the land didn't transform people's hearts."
Smith: "But if the eschatological intrusion in the theocracy (mediated through the Mosaic covenant) did not eternally transform people's hearts and justify them, it is hard to see how it is an aspect of redemptive history. For then it did not touch men and women in their greatest need."
Cleaver: "The same eschatological presence of God at work typologically in the theocracy culminated in Christ's resurrection Spirit. It was this Spirit that was given eschatologically at Pentecost. This same Spirit was experienced before the time by the Israelites through the Abrahamic covenant in their eternal salvation. So there is a redemptive historical connection between the Spirit's presence in the land and their regeneration, just not an immediate connection. The Spirit's typological presence in the land is mediated to them through its fullness in Christ which then is given to them through the Abrahamic covenant before the time.
Smith: "I don't want to deny these connections. However, I would suggest that these connections took place within the Mosaic covenant itself. So the presence of the Spirit in the land immediately transformed their hearts through the mediation of the future risen Christ by means of the Mosaic covenant."
Cleaver: "Doesn't that really amount to the same thing? For in both cases the same Spirit who was at work in the typology of the theocracy was at work in regenerating Old Testament saints through the Abrahamic covenant."
Smith: "There I think is the principle difference. And that brings me back to the point of my paper. You say it is through the Abrahamic covenant and not through the exodus event with it's Mosaic covenant. If this is true, then the exodus event was not itself an intrusion of the work of Christ. It was only an intrusion of the presence of the Spirit, which would later be culminated in the work of Christ. For if the exodus event itself was an intrusion of the work of Christ then it should have moved the hearts of the Old Testament saints, thus making the old covenant a covenant of grace. However, if the supernatural work of the Spirit was only to culminate in the work of Christ then the Israelites were only led to Christ as future and could only see his work as actually mediated to them through the ratification of the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 15. They would not look back to the exodus itself as a mighty act of God that mediated to them the work of Christ. They would only look back to the establishment of the Abrahamic covenant.
Smith: "In this way, the exodus event would be cut out of the organic unfolding of the mighty acts of God in redemptive history."
Cleaver: "I see; well, why don't you continue with your paper."
And if Christ is not behind the exodus, what becomes of our union with the exodus and the other redemptive historical events of the Mosaic covenant? If Israel had no real vital connection with the eschatological life of God through these events, how about us? How can we be vitally united with these events and through them find vital connection with the eschatological Christ? How can we find our life hidden in those events and in them experience the overflowing love and mercy of Christ toward us? We cannot.
Again, if the exodus did not embody the resurrection life of Christ, it was not a real eschatological intrusion, in spite of claims to the contrary. Neither were any of God's mighty acts under the law, including the conquest of the land and the establishment of the Davidic kingdom. Instead, the old covenant becomes flat. It possesses no real eschatological vector. So, its mighty acts become for us mere pictures. And on this theory, as we shall see, they can't even be that.
Further, if we cannot find our lives in the exodus (or God's other mighty acts under the law) neither can it inspire us with love for the Church. For then we cannot find in the exodus the life of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We cannot see them united to Christ and his love through the exodus event. Therefore, preaching the exodus event can have no effect on our love for our fellow saints. For it is precisely our recognition of their union with Christ (as well as our own) that is the foundation for Paul's appeal that we love one another, not to mention John (1 Jn. 4:11). Therefore, the exodus event ceases to have significance for the life of the Church.
Finally, and most importantly, we cannot see the glory of Christ in the exodus or in his mighty acts in the land. Christ reigns supreme. The history of redemption is the story of his progressive triumph over the powers of darkness. God's mighty acts under the law are organically connected to this progressive triumph of Christ, coming to final expression in his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.
e) Old Testament Saints Rejoiced in the Law of God.
i) Psalm 119
Psalm 119 shows that the Mosaic Law was intimately bound to God's saving grace. In this psalm the psalmist rejoices in the law (vv. 14, 111, 162) and delights in it (vv. 16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 143, 174). He longs for God's commandments (vv. 20, 40, 131), which he loves (vv. 47, 48, 97,113, 119, 127, , 140, 159, 163, 165, 167). They have become his songs (v. 54).
The law binds him to God. For his love for the law is simply the mirror reflection of God's lovingkindness (vv. 41, 88, 149; especially 159) and faithfulness (v. 90). God's face will shine upon him in keeping the law (v. 135a with v. 135b and v. 134b).
This is underscored when he connects the law with salvation. First, with his own salvation (vv. 41, 81-83, 156, 166, 173, 174). Then with the salvation that eludes the wicked. "Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek thy statutes" (v. 155). In fact, this connection between the law and salvation is quite striking in the Resh section (vv. 153-160). Verses 156 and 159 have interesting parallels.
V. 156: "Great are thy mercies, O Lord;
Revive me according to thine ordinances."
V. 159: "Consider how I love thy precepts;
Revive me, O Lord, according to thy lovingkindness."
Is this a chiastic pattern? Perhaps. Verses 156a and 159b contain God's mercies and lovingkindness. Verses 156b and 159a contain God's ordinances or precepts. Interestingly, "ordinances" and "lovingkindness" can be interchanged in the phrase "Revive me according to thy ______." The ordinances of the law are here placed in the most intimate relationship with God's lovingkindness. The law is intimately connected with redemption.
Since the law is so intimately bound up with salvation it can be none other than an eschatological intrusion of the life of God in Christ. And thus, "all things are thy servants" (v. 91).
The psalmist believes that the law is his hiding place (v. 113b with 114), as if the law embodies his union with God himself as his hiding place. Thus, the law cannot simply represent God's eternal character in abstraction from his salvation. The psalmist associates the law with God as his hiding place. And God cannot be considered his hiding place apart from redemption. Thus, the law must be an intrusion of redemptive saving grace in Christ.
This is not to deny that the law can be viewed in abstraction from redemption, as a repetition of the covenant of works, by which it only condemns sinners. The point is that it can also be viewed as a whole (moral, ceremonial, and judicial) in which it was Israel's means of identifying with the eschatological life of God in Christ. Together moral, ceremonial, and judicial law draw the psalmist to Christ's objective work of redemption. As a result, they also embody his vital union with Christ, functioning as imperatives in the Mosaic covenant of grace. As he follows these imperatives, he is living out of his union with Christ, laying hold of Christ's life with greater and greater fullness.
Therefore, he finds in the law his covenant bond in God. "I am thine, save me; for I have sought thy precepts" (v. 94). Certainly he hopes that his eschatological salvation will be anticipated in his theocratic deliverance (vv. 94, 95, 109, 110, 117, 126, 134, 135).
However, the psalmist would be disappointed indeed to learn that in the law he was merely seeking a temporary salvation of earthly blessings. No, this man wants God. He will be satisfied with nothing less. He seeks progressive identification with the eschatological life of God. In this he seeks progressive sanctification, being sanctified unto God's own arena.
What then of the earthly blessings? He desires them because God is present in the land. The blessings of the land are the blessing of his presence. Therefore, the psalmist desires to anticipate this salvation (of greater union with God) in theocratic deliverance.
However, this is no strictly meritorious reward, for it is salvation, and salvation is ultimately from the Lord. Of course, the difference with the new covenant is that this anticipated salvation that he receives through sanctification removes curse from his inheritance. This is not at work in new covenant saints, whose justification involves their final deliverance from the curse of the law so that nothing that is their inheritance in God is cursed. But if this is reflected in this psalm, it does not indicate that the Mosaic covenant was simply a typological works covenant.
If the law was simply a covenant of works (for external blessings), how could it effect his heart in longing for God himself? Presumably, it wouldn't effect his heart to lay hold of God. His heart would simply be filled with the temporary, the earthly, and the transitory. Only a law that promises God himself as its reward can fill the heart with God.15 And only a law that promises this within the context of redeeming grace can be a comfort to sinners. Therefore, it must be an expression of the covenant of grace in Christ, binding him to God in the Spirit.
Further, if the law is not an expression of the covenant of grace how could he rejoice in it? True rejoicing only comes to lost sinners through redemption. But, you might say, could he not rejoice in temporary earthly deliverance? Sure. But the rejoicing described here is so full that this alone is not sufficient to account for it. Besides, are those who simply rejoice in temporary deliverance truly rejoicing (according to the scriptures)?
But you will say, he does rejoice in his salvation through the Abrahamic covenant. So he truly rejoices. However, the psalmist makes it clear that he rejoices in the law. Thus, the law itself must be an expression of his salvation (and of the Abrahamic covenant).
Ah, but you will say, "Once he is truly delighted with his salvation through the Abrahamic covenant, he can truly delight in other things, such as temporal blessings (since he already possesses the greatest delight)."
If this is so, why does he spend so much time describing his love for the law, if his greatest delight is found elsewhere?
Again, the blessings of the law cannot be limited to the earthly. For he goes on to say "trouble and anguish have come upon me; Yet thy commandments are my delight" (v. 143). In the midst of trouble and anguish, God's commandments are his delight. Therefore his delight transcends the earthly. In it, he possesses the heavenly arena of God's superlative presence.
In conclusion, the Psalmist does not view the law as bare commandment. The law for him is the expression of the very eschatological life of God himself. And since God has bound himself to his people in his redemptive acts, the eschatological life of God has been given to them in redemption. The law identified Israel with God's redemptive acts, yea with the God of Israel himself, even with the heavenly city in Christ Jesus.
ii) Romans 7
Paul implies the very same thing in Romans 7. In this chapter Paul weaves together his positive and negative statements about the law. In fact, he shows that these positive and negative statements cannot be separated from one another.
Here, I will be advocating the position that Romans 7:13-25 deals with the struggle of old covenant saints. This is not to deny that new covenant saints have struggles, but only to point out that this is not the immediate focus of this passage. We will not have room to fully present this claim. However, let us note a few structural indicators.
Romans 8:1 states, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." This statement is similar to Romans 3:21 ("but now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been manifested") indicating a redemptive historical transition from the age of the law to the age when there is "no distinction" between Jew and Gentile (v. 22). This implies that the material immediately prior to Romans 8:1 was discussing the age of the law.
Romans 7:6's use of "now" anticipates the "now" of Romans 8:1, linking them thematically. "But now we have been released from the law." That this is a redemptive historical transition is further revealed by the fact that we now "serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter."
This indicates that the language used in the immediately preceding verse (v. 5) refers to the era of the law. It further supports our claim that 7:13-25 refers to the era of the law. For verse 5 is intimately connected with 7:7-25. "The sinful passions, which were aroused by the law" (v. 5) are displayed in 7:7-25 where "the commandment produced in me coveting of every kind" (vv. 7, 8, 11). Verse 13 picks up on this: "affecting my death through that which is good." And this statement of verse 13 is in the rhetorical question that introduces verses 13-25. Therefore it colors the whole discussion in this section. The repetition of "for" in verses 14 and 15 is the first indication of this.
Further, "members of my body" in verse 5 sets up its use in verse 23. And their connection with "death" in verse 5 anticipates the same connection with death in verse 24.
Therefore, we suggest that Romans 7:5 and 7:6 set us up for the rest of chapter 7 and chapter 8. Verse 5 refers to 7:7-25 and verse 6 refers to chapter 8. Verses 7:7-25 describe the era of the law. And they must focus on Israel according to her greatest representatives, her saints, for no unregenerate person can "joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man" (v. 22).16
This brings us to the main point of our discussion. Using the first person singular (a literary "I"), Paul places into the mouth of the old covenant saint these words: "I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man" (v. 22). This reflects the language of Psalm 119 and strengthens our analysis of this psalm, the claim that this is the inner joy of eternal salvation in Christ to come.
Cleaver: "Are you sure this joy of the inner man has anything to do with salvation? Isn't Paul simply making the general distinction between the inner man and outer body that we find in all people?"
Smith: "Certainly this general distinction lies behind what he says. However, in Romans 7:22-23, Paul doesn't simply distinguish the inner man from the law in the members of the body. He contrasts them. But in the natural man, the inner man is darkened and has the same desires as the body (Eph. 4:17, 18). The two are not contrasted to one another as they are in Romans 7 (v. 22, 23, 25).
Thus, the real question is 'What lies behind Paul's contrast between the joy of the inner man and the desires of the sinful body?' The only similar thing we find in his epistles is the contrast between the inner and outer man in the believer (2 Cor. 4:16). In 2 Corinthians 4:16, the outer man is associated with the body which is decaying. This strengthens the probability that the contrast in Romans 7 (with the members of the body) is similar.
Now we may ask 'What allows Paul to make this contrast in 2 Corinthians 4:16?' Only the fact that the inner man is oriented to the eschatological dimension in contrast to the temporal (v. 18). For instance, the 'outer man' is 'decaying' (v. 16). Therefore, it is related to this 'temporal' age, 'the things that are seen' (v. 18). However, the 'inner man' is being renewed (v. 16). This renewal is oriented to the 'eternal' realities that 'are not seen' (v. 18). Since Paul's contrast in Romans 7 is similar, it's also dependent on the fact that the inner man rejoices in the possession of unseen eschatological realities. In this case, he possesses them before the time. However, if the law were simply a typological covenant of works, Israel's rejoicing in it would only be tied to this world."
Cleaver: "How can you draw that conclusion? For 2 Corinthians 4:18 is within chapters 3-6 (framed by 2:13 and 7:5), all of which expound the contrast between the old and new covenants related in chapter 3. Thus, when Paul says 'we look not at the things which are seen,' he contrasts his situation with the old covenant in which they looked at the things which are seen in the theocracy. Thus, Israel in Romans 7 is also looking at the things that are seen. In fact Paul says as much. For he speaks about Israel's desire to be delivered from present death. This would be the outer man as you see it. For he says, 'who will deliver me from this body of death?'" (v. 25)
Smith: "I admit that Paul's distinction between the things that are seen and the things that are not seen is a relative contrast to the law. For the semi- eschatological situation of 4:7-11 exists as a result of the treasure of the glory of the new covenant (4:6, 7 with 3:18). Thus it is contrasted to the old covenant. But this is only a relative contrast. For 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 states that the old covenant had glory while the new covenant possesses more of this glory (v. 8), i.e., the glory of God's presence.
However, if anyone goes back to the old covenant after the coming of Christ (Gal. 3:1), it is as if he is saying the revelation of Christ's kingdom in the old covenant is not important. All that is important are the earthly blessings which revealed that kingdom. This is what the super apostles of 2 Corinthians 10-12 were doing. They are among those who 'take pride in appearance, and not in heart' (2 Cor. 5:12). Thus, in 4:18 Paul is making an absolute contrast to the old covenant (as the super apostles laid hold of it) and a relative contrast to it (as it was before the coming of Christ). This is the way the saints before Christ possessed the law (Rom. 7). Thus, we should expect to find a mixture of the old and new man in their experience under the law in so far as this is contrasted to the new covenant.
Therefore, we may also say that the outer/inner man distinction does not express itself in the exact same way in both covenants. Israel hoped to anticipate her eschatological blessings in the outer life while Paul sees the outer life tied more to a life of suffering.
Our point here is not to exclude the outer man from Israel's desire for deliverance, but to show that the inner man has an eschatological orientation that transcends the present earthly arena. Even the outer man in Israel's experience had an eschatological orientation tied to the inner man. Thus, Israel's desire for bodily redemption (anticipated in the theocracy's outward blessings) transcended present temporal earthly blessing. For her desire for bodily salvation is only answered in the resurrection of Christ (v. 24-25). Her entire desire was eschatologically oriented.
In the same epistle, Paul contrasts inward and outward circumcision (Rom. 2:28-29), the inward oriented to the age of the Spirit. Thus, in Romans 7, when he speaks of Israel rejoicing in the law of God in the inner man, he cannot have forgotten himself. Paul is not talking about a bare external typological desire in abstraction from eternal salvation. He must be implying that their desire for the law had an eschatological orientation to life in the Spirit.
If I may continue I think you'll find some further support for that in the paper."
Cleaver: "Go ahead."
The law is spiritual (v. 14) governs the verses that follow, including "rejoice in the law of God in the inner man." Law is an eschatological intrusion of the world to come. (It is Spiritual.) Thus, it gives him such a taste of eschatology that causes him to long for the fuller manifestation of the world to come in the eschatological Spirit.
The law is eschatological in nature, binding us in covenant fidelity to God. Such a taste of the Spirit (in the law) can only come through an administration of grace to sinful men and women.
Cleaver: "I don't know. How do we not know that the inner man joyfully concurred with the law because it pointed him to Christ (by way of contrast to his own disobedience)? For Romans 7 emphasizes Israel's inability to keep the law by way of Christ's fulfillment of it (Rom. 8:3, 4)."
Smith: "Certainly, the emphasis in this chapter is finally on Israel's futility in keeping the law and the curse that resulted (v. 24). However is this all we can say about it? I suggest not. For he joyfully concurred in his own doing of the law. In fact, the phrase 'I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man' is connected to 'the good that I wish, I do not do' (v. 19).17 By implication, his inner man wanted to do the good found in the law. He wanted the substance of the law.
He rejoices in his own doing of the law. Thus, his own active identification with the law must arise from redemptive grace."
Cleaver: "You are saying the law arises from redemption because he rejoices in actually doing the law. But the text doesn't say that he actually does the law. It simply implies that he would rejoice in it if he did it. That is, he would rejoice in it if he was perfect like Adam. And this does not require redemption."
Smith: "I don't think that follows. For the text says that he actually rejoices in the law in the inner man. If he actually rejoices in it, he must actually do it to some extent. Or else he would not find any joy in it. He would only know that he should have joy in it. That is, if it was simply a covenant of works, he would only recognize his obligation to rejoice in God's law, but he wouldn't actually rejoice in it."
Cleaver: "But he could rejoice in it in so far as it gave him earthly blessings."
Smith: "Well, then, I must return to my previous point. In fact that brings me to the next part."
Romans 7-8 presents an absolute and relative contrast to the law simultaneously. For Israel rejoices in the law of God. Therefore, it must represent the covenant of grace to her. On the other hand, Israel fails to do the law.
In this failure, what precisely does Israel fail to do? What Christ has done in Romans 8:3 and 4. "What the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh God did." Therefore, they failed to keep the law perfectly (as an absolute covenant of works) in order to bring in the eschatological age. Israel failed to do this. And that which she failed to do is said to be the very thing she wanted to do. Thus, she wanted to bring in the eschatological age through her perfect obedience.
This is underscored by the fact that the failure to do this was not the law's inability but the failure of the flesh (8:3) which is recorded in 7:14-25 (see "flesh" in vv. 14, 25). Thus, it must have been the desire of Israel, which she failed to do, due to the flesh.
However, there was only one way for sinful Israel to rejoice in that very law which she sought to keep perfectly. She had to positively lay hold of it as a good in order to rejoice in it. And she couldn't do this apart from grace. Thus, we could reason: 1) she had to rejoice in the law; otherwise she would not have the desire to keep it (to bring in the eschatological age). But 2) in order to rejoice in it, she had to lay hold of it by grace. However 3) this very situation (bound up with her inability to keep it perfectly) showed her that she could not bring in the eschatological age. Therefore 4) she realized she needed an eschatological deliverer (v. 24). Finally 5) she anticipated the spiritual resurrection-life of her deliverer (8:2, 4, 6, 9, 11) in so far as she rejoiced in the spiritual law of God (7:14 and 22), although her participation in the Spirit was not as full as ours (8:1-4 and thus 5-17, especially v. 15 with Gal. 4:4-7).
In conclusion, righteous Israel rejoiced in the law in the inner man. Therefore, this rejoicing was eschatologically oriented. And since he was anticipating this eschatological reality in his own doing of the law, it must have been a covenant of grace to him, one in which he laid hold of the risen Christ before the time."
Cleaver: "I have one more question for you. How about Galatians 3:15-25? There Paul clearly distinguishes between the law covenant of Moses and the covenant of promise in the Abrahamic and new covenants. Thus, Paul seems to teach that the Mosaic covenant is a typological covenant of works."
Smith: "Well, I deal with that in some detail in a later section of my paper, but I can say a few things about it here.
First, Paul's contrast between promise and law here is not simply an absolute one. For Paul applies the term 'covenants of promise' (Eph. 2:12) to all of Israel's previous identity, and thus to all her covenants, including the Mosaic covenant.
Galatians 3:15 makes it clear that the Abrahamic covenant still continues to have its own distinct nature and continuing validity apart from the latter additions of the law. But it does not deny that the Mosaic covenant itself is the Abrahamic covenant with legal stipulations added, making it a covenant of grace legally administered. This would still allow for the difference between the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant, which Paul is affirming, while also doing justice to the other texts we have discussed."
Cleaver: "Well, I'm not sure. I suppose I'll wait for your further exposition."
Smith: "Then I guess I'll read on."
Final conclusion to question one: Was the Mosaic covenant a redemptive covenant of grace? Yes; we have seen that Israel's covenant bond with God was dependent on his mighty acts in history (especially the Exodus). These acts must have been eschatological intrusions of the resurrection life of Christ. Otherwise Israel could not have laid hold of her eschatological salvation through them. And these acts would be cut off from the organic unfolding of redemptive history.
Since they mediated eternal salvation, the bond that they establish (with those who lay hold of them by faith) must be the eternal bond of intimate union with God in Christ. And the Mosaic covenant that administers these blessings (Ex. 20-24) must be a covenant of eternal redemptive grace. This is further confirmed by the fact that Israel laid hold of the law of God with her inner man, revealing that the law was tied to her eschatological salvation. For in it she laid hold of the world to come in Christ. And since the law that was given through Moses is an administration of grace, the Mosaic covenant that administered this law must be a covenant of grace. Yes, the Mosaic covenant had a true eschatological vector in Christ Jesus.
And this is the point of this whole discussion. The Mosaic covenant revealed Christ, not just by way of negation (the law contrasted to Christ) but by way of positive affirmation. For the Mosaic covenant was a real vertical intrusion of the eschatological life of Jesus Christ to come. In it, Israel was possessed by the world to come. Christ Jesus himself possessed her, as his bride.
If our preaching of the Old Testament is to draw the Church into a vital relationship with Christ, we must not neglect this. We must do justice to this vertical eschatological intrusion of the heavenly life of Christ in the Mosaic covenant. Otherwise we will fail to see it consistently in Israel's history, which was a living out of that covenant. Only when we see Christ's vertical life in Old Testament history can we see it in Old Testament revelation. And only then can we have an eschatological hook to show its greater fullness in the new covenant. What is at stake is the fullness of the vertical eschatological revelation of Christ at the end of the ages. And without that, Christ's transcendent glory in the midst of his suffering Church is eclipsed. The Church can have no transcendent eschatology nowno transcendent age to come in the midst of this present agesemi-eschatological life. And without it, she cannot lay hold of the transcendent glory of Christ in the midst of suffering. (Therefore, even the distinction between the old and new covenants is diminished and flattened).
But thanks be to God, Christ has revealed his glory in the mighty acts of the old covenant, that the culmination of this victory may have the full character of eschatological triumphone of resurrection power and grace to all those who believe. Their history is Christ's history in the old covenant and in its final triumph in the new. For the end of the ages has truly come upon us in Christ Jesus.
Smith: "Well, that's the end of the first question. I don't suppose you're up for the second one?"
Cleaver: "Perhaps not today. That's plenty to think about. Got to get back to the wife, you know."
Smith: "Well, thanks for coming over. I appreciate it."
Cleaver: "Maybe we can finish it off another time. Give me a ring."
Smith: "Sounds good. Take care."
Northwest Theological Seminary
Bolton, Samuel. The True Bounds of Christian Freedom. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001.
Fisher, Edward. The Marrow of Modern Divinity. With notes by Thomas Boston. Reprinted by Still Waters Revival Books, 1991.
Sanborn, Scott F. "Paul and the Law." Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary 17/2 (September 2002): 24-53.
Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2. Translated by George Musgrave Giger and edited by James T. Dennison, Jr. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1994.
Vos, Geerhardus. The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1956.
Westerholm, Stephen. Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The Lutheran Paul and His Critics. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 2004.
1 For want of better names, I have chosen "Cleaver" because he cleaves the covenants apart, while "Smith" seeks to forge things together.
2 Since I have found the style of Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology helpful in clarifying the theological question being discussed, I have followed its format in this article. Also, the use of "we" should be understood as a literary "we," not a claim to represent an ecclesiastical body or any other group.
3 Turretin seems to ask a similar question in his Institutes, Twelfth Topic, Twelfth Question (Vol. 2, p. 262). See also Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, pp. 112-13. However, the position discussed by Turretin and Bolton may differ from the position of those with whom we argue, for the latter seem to contend that strict merit was the foundation of Israel's blessings in the land. At least, this is not always clear.
4 In accordance with Samuel Bolton's words, "Still others say that there were never more than two covenants made with man, one of works, the other of grace, the first in innocency, the other after the fall. Yet, they add, this covenant of grace was dispensed to the Jews in such a legal manner that it seems to be nothing else but the repetition of the covenant of works" [emphasis mine] (Bolton, True Bounds, p. 90).
5 This appears to be the position of Edward Fisher in his Marrow of Modern Divinity (Chapter II, Section II, 4, the last comment of Evangel, and Chapter II, Section II, 3, the fifth comment of Evangel). However, in Thomas Boston's notes on the Marrow, he disagrees with Fisher on this point (Chapter II, Section II, 3, footnote 4). In response to Fisher's claim, we may say that the following interpretation is sufficient to account for the words of Deuteronomy 5:3: God made not this covenant (a covenant of grace legally administered) with your fathers.
6 Many of the objections presented in this article are purely hypothetical. While no one may hold them, we have tried to answer possible objections that may arise in the minds of some of our readers as they read along.
7 Geerhardus Vos continually notes the epistle to the Hebrews's distinction between shadow and reality. However, he implies that this is only a relative distinction when he says, "Christ is the core of the heavenly, spiritual world. Therefore a real contact existed between that world and the Old Testament house. The Old Testament house was therefore also in vital contact with the heavenly, spiritual reality" [emphasis his] (Vos, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 67).
8 For further elaboration of this (and other themes in this article) see my "Paul and the Law" in Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary 17/2 (September. 2002): 24-53.
9 Turretin, Institutes, Twelfth Topic, Twelfth Question, XV (Vol. 2, p. 266).
11 The placement of Hebrews 9:15 (where Christ's death has taken place for the redemption of the sins committed under the first covenant) may be instructive in this context.
12 Geerhardus Vos finds in Isaiah "the birth of the idea of a church within a church, the idea of the invisible church" [emphasis his] (The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 61).
13 And if we say that the Mosaic covenant was a typological works covenant and not the covenant of grace, what else is that but to say but that the presence of God which it administered was simply external, that is, that it did not eternally transform the heart?
14 Here I am using the terms "elect" and "reprobate" as are used in classic doctrinal categories. It can be argued that Paul uses the term elect to apply to the whole visible Church. We may then draw the distinction between the visible elect and the invisible elect.
15 That is, the reward of a progressive sanctification that presumes the positive imputation of Christ's righteousness.
16 Contra the traditional Arminian interpretation of Romans 7:14-25, which states that Paul is simply referring to unbelievers. For a modern representation of this view by a Lutheran see, Westerholm, Perspectives, pp. 144-45.
17 The connective gar of verse 22 connects it to verse 21, which is a conclusion to verses 15-20. That verses 15-20 form a unit is indicated by the precise correspondence (in wording) between verse 15 and 19 ("for not that which I will" with "this I practice") and again between verses 16a and 20a. And finally, the concluding words of verses 17 and 20 are similar, "but sin dwells in me."