Saturday, April 17, 2010

Differences Between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant

We have spent some time discussing the similarities between the old and new covenants.  Calvin takes time in chapter 11 to discuss the differences between the two.  He is going to point out four differences, but also says that he would not argue with someone claiming five differences.  In his introductory paragraph he does stipulate that the promises of the Old and New Testaments remain the same and they both have the same foundation for the promises - Christ!

Before I get too deep into discussing today's reading, I have come to realize that I misunderstood what Calvin was saying yesterday about God not fulfilling promises in this world.  There was some discussion about this on the Coffee with Calvin Facebook page.  After reading today's lesson I now know that I originally misread what Calvin wrote because he becomes much clearer about it today.

The first of the four (or five) differences is that the old covenant used earthly benefits as illustrations of what was to come.  The new covenant focuses on the heavenly benefits directly.  Calvin puts it like this: in the Old Testament, the Lord "willed that his people direct and elevate their minds to the heavenly heritage; yet, to nourish them better in this hope, he displayed it for them to see and, so to speak, taste, under earthly benefits.  But now that the gospel has more plainly and clearly revealed the grace of the future life, the Lord leads our minds to meditate upon it directly, laying aside the lower mode of training that he used with the Israelites."  We are given a clearer picture of things to come through Christ Jesus.  We are given a better ability to focus our minds on God's will for us through the new covenant therefore the earlier symbols are no longer used as examples.  Calvin writes that Old Testament Scripture showed that God wanted to lead his people "by his own hand to the hope of heavenly things."  Also, "in the earthly possession they enjoyed, they looked, as in a mirror, upon the future inheritance they believed to have been prepared for them in heaven."

Although we are promised the exact same inheritance as the Israelites, Calvin uses the illustration given by Paul in Galatians 4:1-3 that the Israelites were "not yet old enough to be able to enter upon it and manage it.  The same church existed among them, but as yet in its childhood.  Therefore, keeping them under his tutelage, the Lord gave, not spiritual promises unadorned and open, but foreshadowed, in a measure, by earthly promises."  The Land of Canaan given to the Israelites was not "the final goal of their hopes."  But the Land of Canaan was a symbol of the heavenly inheritance that they were to receive.  The psalmists wrote of this hope often, such as in Psalm 16:5 where it is written, "O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot" or Psalm 142:5, "I cried out to You, O LORD: I said, “You are my refuge, My portion in the land of the living."  Calvin says about this, "Those who dare speak thus surely profess that in their hope they transcend the world and all present benefits."  These psalmists surely did recognize the eternal nature of God's promises.

Physical benefits enjoyed and physical punishments endured in this world are only representations of the eternal benefits or punishments that we will receive.  The saints under the "Old Testament esteemed mortal life and its blessings more than we ought today."  They did recognize that God's promises did not end at the end of their mortal lives.  The rewards earthly benefits they received, "foreshadowed spiritual happiness by such types and symbols, so on the other hand he gave, in physical punishments, proofs of his coming judgment against the wicked.  Thus, as God's benefits were more conspicuous in earthly things, so also were his punishments."

The second difference that Calvin points out "consists in figures: that, in the absence of the reality, it showed but an image and shadow in place of the substance; the New Testament reveals the very substance of truth as present."  Calvin focuses here on Hebrews 7-8 and dissects much of these chapters.  He concludes the section on Hebrews by stating, "Therefore its [the old covenant's] sole function was to be an introduction to the better hope that is manifested in the gospel."

He returns to the illustration of the church "growing up" from childhood to manhood upon receiving the new covenant.  "...the Jews were led to Christ by the tutelage of the law before he appeared in the flesh.  He [Paul] also confesses that they were sons and heirs of God, but because of their youth they had to be under the charge of a tutor.  It was fitting that, before the sun of righteousness had arisen, there should be no great and shining revelation, no clear understanding."  The prophets gave the people a taste of what was to come, but Christ was able to clearly reveal it in the flesh.

Calvin curiously points out that the great saints of the Old Testament remained under the law and within the limits of the Old Covenant.  Calvin states that Abraham's faith is beyond comparison in the Christian church, he like all the other Old Testament heroes were still blinded to the true hope of Christ.  Luke 10:24 records Jesus' words, "for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it."  And Matthew 13:16, "But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear."  We are blessed by God because we are a witness to the new covenant.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.11.7-2.11.10

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