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Security of God's Covenants; The Covenant of Priesthood. (b. c. 589.)
17 For thus saith the Lord; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; 18 Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually. 19 And the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah, saying, 20 Thus saith the Lord; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; 21 Then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers. 22 As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me. 23 Moreover the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, 24 Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying, The two families which the Lord hath chosen, he hath even cast them off? thus they have despised my people, that they should be no more a nation before them. 25 Thus saith the Lord; If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; 26 Then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them.
Three of God's covenants, that of royalty with David and his seed, that of the priesthood with Aaron and his seed, and that of Peculiarity with Abraham and his seed, seemed to be all broken and lost while the captivity lasted; but it is here promised that, notwithstanding that interruption and discontinuance for a time, they shall all three take place again, and the true intents and meaning of them all shall be abundantly answered in the New Testament blessings, typified by those conferred on the Jews after their return out of captivity.
I. The covenant of royalty shall be secured and the promises of it shall have their full accomplishment in the kingdom of Christ, the Son of David, v. 17. The throne of Israel was overturned in the captivity; the crown had fallen from their head; there was not a man to sit on the throne of Israel; Jeconiah was written childless. After their return the house of David made a figure again; but it in the Messiah that this promise is performed that David shall never want a man to sit on the throne of Israel, and that David shall have always a son to reign upon his throne. For as long as the man Christ Jesus sits on the right hand of the throne of God, rules the world, and rules it for the good of the church, to which he is a quickening head, and glorified head over all things, as long as he is King upon the holy hill of Zion, David does not want a successor, nor is the covenant with him broken. When the first-begotten was brought into the world it was declared concerning him, The Lord God shall give him the throne of his father David and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, Luke i. 32, 33. For the confirmation of this it is promised, 1. That the covenant with David shall be as firm as the ordinances of heaven, to the stability of which that of God's promise is compared, ch. xxxi. 35, 36. There is a covenant of nature, by which the common course of providence is settled and on which it is founded, here called a covenant of the day and the night (v. 20, 25), because this is one of the articles of it, That there shall be day and night in their season, according to the distinction put between them in the creation, when God divided between the light and the darkness, and established their mutual succession, and a government to each, that the sun should rule by day and the moon and stars by night (Gen. i. 4, 5, 16), which establishment was renewed after the flood (Gen. viii. 22), and has continued ever since, Ps. xix. 2. The morning and the evening have both of them their regular outgoings (Ps. lxv. 8); the day-spring knows its place, knows its time, and keeps both, so do the shadows of the evening; and, while the world stands, this course shall not be altered, this covenant shall not be broken. The ordinances of heaven and earth (of this communication between heaven and earth, the dominion of these ordinances of heaven upon the earth), which God has appointed (v. 25; compare Job xxxviii. 33), shall never be disappointed. Thus firm shall the covenant of redemption be with the Redeemer—God's servant, but David our King, v. 21. This intimates that Christ shall have a church on earth to the world's end; he shall see a seed in which he shall prolong his days till time and day shall be no more. Christ's kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; and when the end cometh, and not till then, it shall be delivered up to God, even the Father. But it intimates that the condition of it in this world shall be intermixed and counterchanged, prosperity and adversity succeeding each other, as light and darkness, day and night. But this is plainly taught us, that, as sure as we may be that, though the sun will set tonight, it will rise again tomorrow morning, whether we live to see it or no, so sure we may be that, though the kingdom of the Redeemer in the world may for a time be clouded and eclipsed by corruptions and persecutions, yet it will shine forth again, and recover its lustre, in the time appointed. 2. That the seed of David shall be as numerous as the host of heaven, that is, the spiritual seed of the Messiah, that shall be born to him by the efficacy of his gospel and his Spirit working with it. From the womb of the morning he shall have the dew of their youth, to be his willing people, Ps. cx. 3. Christ's seed are not, as David's were, his successors, but his subjects; yet the day is coming when they also shall reign with him (v. 22): As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, so will I multiply the seed of David, so that there shall be no danger of the kingdom's being extinct, or extirpated, for want of heirs. The children are numerous; and, if children, then heirs.
II. The covenant of priesthood shall be secured, and the promises of that also shall have their full accomplishment. This seemed likewise to be forgotten during the captivity, when there was no altar, no temple service, for the priests to attend upon; but this also shall revive. It did so; immediately upon their coming back to Jerusalem there were priests and Levites ready to offer burnt-offerings and to do sacrifice continually (Ezra iii. 2, 3), as is here promised, v. 18. But that priesthood soon grew corrupt; the covenant of Levi was profaned (as appears Mal. ii. 8), and in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans it came to a final period. We must therefore look elsewhere for the performance of this word, that the covenant with the Levites, the priests, God's ministers, shall be as firm, and last as long, as the covenant with the day and the night. And we find it abundantly performed, 1. In the priesthood of Christ, which supersedes that of Aaron, and is the substance of that shadow. While that great high priest of our profession is always appearing in the presence of God for us, presenting the virtue of his blood by which he made atonement in the incense of his intercession, it may truly be said that the Levites do not want a man before God to offer continually, Heb. vii. 3, 17. He is a priest for ever. The covenant of the priesthood is called a covenant of peace (Num. xxv. 12), of life and peace, Mal. ii. 5. Now we are sure that this covenant is not broken, nor in the least weakened, while Jesus Christ is himself our life and our peace. This covenant of priesthood is here again and again joined with that of royalty, for Christ is a priest upon his throne, as Melchizedek. 2. In a settled gospel ministry. While there are faithful ministers to preside in religious assemblies, and to offer up the spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise, the priests, the Levites, do not want successors, and such as have obtained a more excellent ministry. The apostle makes those that preach the gospel to come in the room of those that served at the altar, 1 Cor. ix. 13, 14. 3. In all true believers, who are a holy priesthood, a royal priesthood (1 Peter ii. 5, 9), who are made to our God kings and priests (Rev. i. 6); they offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, and themselves, in the first place, living sacrifices. Of these Levites this promise must be understood (v. 22), that they shall be as numerous as the sand of the sea, the same that is promised concerning Israel in general (Gen. xxii. 17); for all God's spiritual Israel are spiritual priests, Rev. v. 9, 10; vii. 9, 15.
III. The covenant of peculiarity likewise shall be secured and the promises of that covenant shall have their full accomplishment in the gospel Israel. Observe, 1. How this covenant was looked upon as broken during the captivity, v. 24. God asks the prophet, "Hast though not heard, and dost thou not consider, what this people have spoken?" either the enemies of Israel, who triumphed in the extirpation of a people that had made such a noise in the world, or the unbelieving Israelites themselves, "this people among whom thou dwellest;" they have broken covenant with God, and then quarrel with him as if he had not dealt faithfully with them. The two families which the Lord hath chosen, Israel and Judah, whereas they were but one when he chose them, he hath even cast them off. "Thus have they despised my people, that is, despised the privilege of being my people as if it were a privilege of no value at all." The neighbouring nations despised them as now no more a nation, but the ruins of a nation, and looked upon all their honour as laid in the dust; but, 2. See how firm the covenant stands notwithstanding, as firm as that with day and night; sooner will God suffer day and night to cease then he will cast away the seed of Jacob. This cannot refer to the seed of Jacob according to the flesh, for they are cast away, but to the Christian church, in which all these promises were to be lodged, as appears by the apostle's discourse, Rom. xi. 1, &c. Christ is that seed of David that is to be perpetual dictator to the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and, as this people shall never want such a king, so this king shall never want such a people. Christianity shall continue in the dominion of Christ, and the subjection of Christians to him, till day and night come to an end. And, as a pledge of this, that promise is again repeated, I will cause their captivity to return; and, having brought them back, I will have mercy on them. To whom this promise refers appears Gal. vi. 16, where all that walk according to the gospel rule are made to be the Israel of God, on whom peace and mercy shall be.