By Al Stoner
“No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better” (Lk. 5:39). The transition from old to new is difficult for many to make because they have become relentlessly accustomed to the old. In almost all of life’s situations the preference for that which is old and the disdaining of a new thing is excusable. But not when it comes to God’s covenants! For a man or a woman to taste (cf. Heb. 6:4-6) of the manner and ways of the new covenant, and then, out of preference, to revert back to the modus operendi of the old covenant (of course, they still call it the new covenant) is grievously reprehensible! To all such ones, the Apostle would say: “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Gal. 4:11)!
The transition from old to new entails a very real translation of the essential person “from the power of darkness” “into the kingdom of” God’s “dear Son” (Col. 1:13). And wherever this passage is made by men, new creatureship most certainly ensues, for “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (II Cor. 5:17). The change is real, not metaphorical! But it is “spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). And let us say at this point that this transition is made wherever men obey the gospel.
Incidentally, just because a man or a group uses primarily the new covenant scriptures (Matthew to Revelation) does not necessarily mean that such ones are living and operating under the new covenant. There is a lot of old-covenant-type religion that comes in the name of the new covenant. Such individuals give lip service to the death of Christ and to His resurrection to the right hand of God, but they live, practically speaking, as though remission of sins and reconciliation to God are types and shadows of things yet to come and not present realities to be received and joyed in by faith. But the situation with which we have to do is this: We “have eternal life” (I Jn. 5:13) and our sins are forgiven us for His name’s sake (cf. I Jn. 2:12). Thus, men either participate in the new covenant by faith in an accomplished salvation, or they do not have a part in it at all.
There are many in our day who profess to be constituents of the new covenant, but who do not give solid evidence of having made the transition, by faith, from “the oldness of the letter” to the “newness of spirit” (Rom. 7:6) which characterizes the better covenant to which we have come. Such ones are actually living as though they are yet under the old covenant regardless of what they profess. They have not come by faith to Mt. Zion, but are still, for all practical and experiential purposes, at the foot of Mt. Sinai. They give little evidence of possessing that “faith” which “is the substance of things hoped for,” and “the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). They are primarily citizens of this present world, and, for the most part, are strangers to the one which is to come.
Are we going to excess in making these indictments? The ones to whom we refer do not speak with “great plainness of speech” about “the things which are not seen” and which “are eternal” (II Cor. 4:18). If they were spiritually conversant with “the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18), they could not refrain from speaking about it with great joy and fervency. But they have traded the hope that is set before us for a self-contrived system of orthodoxy. Such ones are sticklers for what they consider to be correct doctrine, but they are strangers to the doctrine of “the world to come” of which the Apostles continually spoke (Heb. 2:5).
Such are those, for example, who insist on what they call “the divine pattern of acceptable worship.” Their insistence upon this so-called pattern evidences their experiential alienation from the God with whom we have to do. (Conformity to their pattern takes the place of being “transformed by the renewing of” the mind (cf. Rom. 12:1-2) and of putting on the new man.) It also demonstrates their complete estrangement from the very life which the new covenant imparts to men. The law of God is apparently not written “in their hearts” and “in their minds” (cf. Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10), which divine writing involves experiential reconciliation to God, and which is the norm for all new covenant subjects. And like the Pharisees of old, they “search the scriptures; for in them” they “think” they “have eternal life” (Jn. 5:39). But in the same way, they “will not come to” the Savior, that they “might have life” (vs. 40). They come to Him by their religious profession, but not in actuality and not in heart.
“The two covenants” (Gal. 4:24), with which we have to do, are not only different in their words and content, they are also completely diverse in the purpose and intent for which they were given. “Now we know that what things soever the law (the first covenant) saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). Thus, it was God’s purpose in giving the law to make men guilty, to make sin appear to be exceeding sinful unto men, and so to prepare them for the Savior from sin. Contrastively, “the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God” (Heb. 7:18-19).
The new covenant is this “better hope.” It is not a new system of law for men to measure up to, for the law of God is now written upon the heart. We keep God’s law because we are accepted of Him, not in order to be so. The first and second covenants (Heb. 8:7; 9:1) are also diverse as regards the status of the persons which are under them. In the new covenant, the persons are raised up to “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). Their citizenship is in heaven, from whence also they look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Phil. 3:20-21). They were “sometimes darkness,” but now are they “light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8). They “are washed,” they “are sanctified,” they “are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:11). This was not the case with those who were under the first covenant.
The new covenant also wonderfully affects the realm of experience for those who are partakers of it. Men are made to taste“of the heavenly gift” and the “good word of God” and “the powers of the world to come.” By faith, they are made to taste, or experience, both things that are outside of themselves, and things that are outside of natural experience. Men and women in the new covenant are often given to “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Pet. 1:8). This was not the case with Israel under the law, nor is it the case with those under law today. Rejoicing in God Himself and in Christ Jesus is virtually unheard of in their camps.