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Hebrews Chapter 8:7-13

7. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.

7. Si enim primum ellud reprehensione caruisset, non fuisset secundo quaesitus locus.

8. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:

8. Porro incusans eos, dicit, Ecce dies veniunt, dicit Dominus, quum perficiam super domum Israel, et super domum Juda foedus novum:

9. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

9. Non secundum foedus quod feci cum patribus eorum in die, quo apprehendi manum eorum, ut educerem eos e terra, Aegypti, quai ipsi non perstiterunt in foedere meo, et ego neglexi eos, dicit Dominus.

10. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

10. Quia hoc est foedus quod disponam domui Israel illus diebus, dicit Dominus, Ponam leges meas in mente ipsorum, et in cordibus eorum scribam eos; et ero illis in deum et ipsi erunt mihi in populum:

11. And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

11. Et non docebunt unusquisque civem suum et unusquisque fratrem suum, dicendo, Cognosce Dominum; quia omnes me scient a parvo inter vos usque ad magnum.

12. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.

12. Quoniam propitius ero injustitiis, et peccatorum eorum et iniquitatum non recordabor amplius.

13. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.

13. Dicende novum antiquavit prius; quod autem antiquatur et veterascit prope est ut evanescat.


7. For if that first, etc. He confirms what he had said of the excellency of the covenant which God has made with us through Christ; and he confirms it on this ground, because the covenant of the Law was neither valid nor permanent; for if nothing was wanting in it, why was another substituted for it? But another has been substituted; and from this it is evident that the old covenant was not in every respect perfect. To prove this he adduces the testimony of Jeremiah, which we shall presently examine.

But it seems hardly consistent to say, that after having said that no place would have been sought for the second covenant, had the first been faultless, he should then say that the people were at fault, and that for this cause the new covenant was introduced as a remedy; and thus it appears unjust, that if the blame was in the people it should be transferred to God’s covenant. Then the argument seems not valid, for though God might have a hundred times blamed the people, yet the covenant could not on that account be deemed faulty. The answer to this objection may be easily given. Though the crime of violating the covenant was justly imputed to the people, who had through their own perfidy departed from God, yet the weakness of the covenant is also pointed out, because it was not written in their hearts. Then, to render it perfect and valid, God declares that it needed an amendment. It was not, therefore, without reason that the Apostle contended that a place was to be sought for a second. 132132     This apparent inconsistency is avoided by some by rendering the 8th verse differently, “But finding fault,” that is, with the first covenant, “he” Chrysostom, Beza, Doddridge, our own version, as well as Calvin and the Vulgate, connect “them” with “finding fault with,” and more correctly too; for the Israelites are blamed in the very passage that is quoted. There was a double fault or defect, which is explained in Romans 8:3, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh,” etc. This double fault or weakness more fully sets forth the excellency of the new covenant. —Ed.

8. Behold, the days come, etc. (Jeremiah 31:31-34.) The Prophet speaks of future time; he arraigns the people of perfidy, because they continued not faithful after having received the Law. The Law, then, was the covenant which was broken, as God complains, by the people. To remedy this evil, he promised a new and a different covenant, the fulfillment of which prophecy was the abrogation of the old covenant.

But it may be said, the Apostle seems unreasonably to turn this prophecy to suit his own purpose; for here the question is respecting ceremonies, but the Prophet speaks of the whole Law: what has it to do with ceremonies, when God inscribes on the heart the rule of a godly and holy life, delivered by the voice and teaching of men? To this I reply that the argument is applied from the whole to a part. There is no doubt but that the Prophet includes the whole dispensation of Moses when he says, “I have made with you a covenant which you have not kept.” Besides, the Law was in a manner clothed with ceremonies; now when the body is dead, what is the use of garments? It is a common saying that the accessory is of the same character with his principal. No wonder, then, that the ceremonies, which are nothing more than appendages to the old covenant, should come to an end, together with the whole dispensation of Moses. Nor is it unusual with the Apostles, when they speak of ceremonies, to discuss the general question respecting the whole Law. Though, then, the prophet Jeremiah extends wider than to ceremonies, yet as it includes them under the name of the old covenant, it may be fitly applied to the present subject.

Now, by the days which the prophet mentions, all agree that Christ’s kingdom is signified; it hence follows, that the old covenant was changed by the coming of Christ. And he names the house of Israel and the house of Judah, because the posterity of Abraham had been divided into two kingdoms. So the promise is to gather again all the elect together into one body, however separated they may have been formerly.

9. Not according to the covenant, etc. Here is expressed the difference between the covenant which then existed and the new one which he caused them to expect. The Prophet might have otherwise said only: “I will renew the covenant which through your fault has come to nothing;” but he now expressly declares that it would be one unlike the former. By saying that the covenant was made in the day when he laid holds on their hand to rescue them from bondage, he enhanced the sin of defection by thus reminding them of so great a benefit. At the same time he did not accuse one age only of ingratitude; but as these very men who had been delivered immediately fell away, and as their posterity after their example continually relapsed, hence the whole nation had become covenant­breakers.

By saying that he disregarded them or cared not for them, he intimates that it would profit them nothing to have been once adopted as his people, unless he succored them by this new kind of remedy. At the same time the Prophet expresses in Hebrew something more; but this has little to do with the present question. 133133     See Appendix E 2.

10 For this is the covenant that I will make, etc. There are two main parts in this covenant; the first regards the gratuitous remission of sins; and the other, the inward renovation of the heart; there is a third which depends on the second, and that is the illumination of the mind as to the knowledge of God. There are here many things most deserving of notice.

The first is, that God calls us to himself without effect as long as he speaks to us in no other way than by the voice of man. He indeed teaches us and commands what is right but he speaks to the deaf; for when we seem to hear anything, our ears are only struck by an empty sound; and the heart, full of depravity and perverseness, rejects every wholesome doctrine. In short, the word of God never penetrates into our hearts, for they are iron and stone until they are softened by him; nay, they have engraven on them a contrary law, for perverse passions rule within, which lead us to rebellion. In vain then does God proclaim his Law by the voice of man, unless he writes it by his Spirit on our hearts, that is, unless he forms and prepares us for obedience. It hence appears of what avail is freewill and the uprightness of nature before God regenerates us. We will indeed and choose freely; but our will is carried away by a sort of insane impulse to resist God. Thus it comes that the Law is ruinous and fatal to us as long as it remains written only on tables of stone, as Paul also teaches us. (2 Corinthians 3:3.) In short, we then only obediently embrace what God commands, when by his Spirit he changes and corrects the natural pravity of our hearts; otherwise he finds nothing in us but corrupt affections and a heart wholly given up to evil. The declaration indeed is clear, that a new covenant is made according to which God engraves his laws on our hearts, for otherwise it would be in vain and of no effect. 134134     The Apostle adopts here the Septuagint version. The Hebrew is “I will put my law in their inmost part, and on their heart will I write (or engrave) it.” The word “law” and “heart”, are put here in the plural number, and the “inmost part” is rendered “mind.” These changes are according to the peculiar character of the two languages. — Ed.

The second particular refers to the gratuitous pardon of sins. Though they have sinned, saith the Lord, yet I will pardon them. This part is also most necessary; for God never so forms us for obedience to his righteousness, but that many corrupt affections of the flesh still remain; nay, it is only in part that the viciousness of our nature is corrected; so that evil lusts break out now and then. And hence is that contest of which Paul complains, when the godly do not obey God as they ought, but in various ways offend. (Romans 7:13.) Whatever desire then there may be in us to live righteously, we are still guilty of eternal death before God, because our life is ever very far from the perfection which the Law requires. There would then be no stability in the covenant, except God gratuitously forgave our sins. But it is the peculiar privilege of the faithful who have once embraced the covenant offered to them in Christ, that they feel assured that God is propitious to them; nor is the sin to which they are liable, a hindrance to them, for they have the promise of pardon.

And it must be observed that this pardon is promised to them, not for one day only, but to the very end of life, so that they have a daily reconciliation with God. For this favor is extended to the whole of Christ’s kingdom, as Paul abundantly proves in the fifth chapter of his second Epistle to the Corinthians. And doubtless this is the only true asylum of our faith, to which if we flee not, constant despair must be our lot. For we are all of us guilty; nor can we be otherwise released then by fleeing to God’s mercy, which alone can pardon us.

And they shall be to me, etc. It is the fruit of the covenant, that God chooses us for his people, and assures us that he will be the guardian of our salvation. This is indeed the meaning of these words, And I will be to them a God; for he is not the God of the dead, nor does he take us under his protection, but that he may make us partakers of righteousness and of life, so that David justly exclaims, “Blessed are the people to whom the Lord is God (Psalm 144:15.) There is further no doubt but that this truth belongs also to us; for though the Israelites had the first place, and are the proper and legitimate heirs of the covenant, yet their prerogative does not hinder us from having also a title to it. In short, however far and wide the kingdom of Christ extends, this covenant of salvation is of the same extent.

But it may be asked, whether there was under the Law a sure and certain promise of salvation, whether the fathers had the gift of the Spirit, whether they enjoyed God’s paternal favor through the remission of sins? Yes, it is evident that they worshipped God with a sincere heart and a pure conscience, and that they walked in his commandments, and this could not have been the case except they had been inwardly taught by the Spirit; and it is also evident, that whenever they thought of their sins, they were raised up by the assurance of a gratuitous pardon. And yet the Apostle, by referring the prophecy of Jeremiah to the coming of Christ, seems to rob them of these blessings. To this I reply, that he does not expressly deny that God formerly wrote his Law on their hearts and pardoned their sins, but he makes a comparison between the less and the greater. As then the Father has put forth more fully the power of his Spirit under the kingdom of Christ, and has poured forth more abundantly his mercy on mankind, this exuberance renders insignificant the small portion of grace which he had been pleased to bestow on the fathers. We also see that the promises were then obscure and intricate, so that they shone only like the moon and stars in comparison with the clear light of the Gospel which shines brightly on us.

If it be objected and said, that the faith and obedience of Abraham so excelled, that hardly any such an example can at this day be found in the whole world; my answer is this, that the question here is not about persons, but that reference is made to the economical condition of the Church. Besides, whatever spiritual gifts the fathers obtained, they were accidental as it were to their age; for it was necessary for them to direct their eyes to Christ in order to become possessed of them. Hence it was not without reason that the Apostle, in comparing the Gospel with the Law, took away from the latter what is peculiar to the former. There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.

11. And they shall not teach, etc. We have said that the third point is as it were a part of the second, included in these words, I will put my laws in their mind; for it is the work of the Spirit of God to illuminate our minds, so that we may know what the will of God is, and also to bend our hearts to obedience. For the right knowledge of God is a wisdom which far surpasses the comprehension of man’s understanding; therefore, to attain it no one is able except through the secret revelation of the Spirit. Hence Isaiah, in speaking of the restoration of the Church, says, that all God’s children would be his disciples or scholars. (Isaiah 28:16.) The meaning of our Prophet is the same when he introduces God as saying, They shall know me. For God does not promise what is in our own power, but what he alone can perform for us. In short, these words of the Prophet are the same as though he had said, that our minds are blind and destitute of all right understanding until they are illuminated by the Spirit of God. Thus God is rightly known by those alone to whom he has been pleased by a special favor to reveal himself.

By saying, From the least to the greatest, he first intimates that God’s grace would be poured on all ranks of men, so that no class would be without it. He, secondly, reminds us that no rude and ignorant men are precluded from this heavenly wisdom, and that the great and the noble cannot attain it by their own acuteness or by the help of learning. Thus God connects the meanest and the lowest with the highest, so that their ignorance is no impediment to the one, nor can the other ascend so high by their own acumen; but the one Spirit is equally the teacher of them all.

Fanatical men take hence the occasion to do away with public preaching, as though it were of no use in Christ’s kingdom; but their madness may be easily exposed. Their objection is this: “After the coming of Christ every one is to teach his neighbor; away then with the external ministry, that a place may be given to the internal inspiration of God.” But they pass by this, that the Prophet does not wholly deny that they would teach one another, but his words are these, They shall not teach, saying, Know the Lord; as though he had said, “Ignorance shall not as heretofore so possess the minds of men as not to know who God is.” But we know that the use of teaching is twofold; first, that they who are wholly ignorant may learn the first elements; and secondly, that those who are initiated may make progress. As then Christians, as long as they live, ought to make progress, it cannot surely be said, that any one is so wise that he needs not to be taught; so that no small part of our wisdom is a teachable spirit. And what is the way of making progress if we desire to be the disciples of Christ? This is shown to us by Paul when he says, that Christ gave pastors and teachers. (Ephesians 4:11.) It hence appears that nothing less was thought of by the Prophet than to rob the Church of such a benefit. 135135     It is a sufficient answer to the fanatics here alluded to, that their conclusion from his text militates against the practice of the apostolic Church as established by Christ himself, he having sent apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers. — Ed. His only object was to show that God would make himself known to small and great, according to what was also predicted by Joel 2:28. It ought also in passing to be noticed, that this light of sacred knowledge is promised peculiarly to the Church; hence this passage belongs to none but to the household of faith. 136136     The 12th verse is passed over. It differs in words, though not in substance, both from the Hebrew and the Sept. It is indeed the latter version with the addition of these words, “and their iniquities.” The nouns are in the singular number in Hebrew, “unrighteousness” and “sin.” When the Apostle quotes again the passage in chapter 10:17, he leaves out “unrighteousness,” and mentions only “sins and iniquities.” There is also a shade of difference as to the first verb. In Hebrew remission or forgiveness is its meaning, but here the idea is mercy. The Apostle no doubt considered that the truth was essentially conveyed in the Greek version. — Ed.

13. In that he saith, A new, etc. From the fact of one covenant being established, he infers the subversion of the other; and by calling it the old covenant, he assumes that it was to be abrogated; for what is old tends to a decay. 137137     This verse may be thus rendered, —
   “By saying, ‘a new covenant,’ he has made ancient the first: now what is ancient and becomes old is nigh a dissolution (or disappearing.)”

   It is said to be ancient in contrast with the new; and old or aged is afterwards added to be ancient in order to show its weak and feeble character, being like an old man tottering on the brink of the grave, who, when buried, disappears from among the living. It is supposed that there is here an intimation of the dissolution of the whole Jewish polity, which soon afterwards took place. — Ed.
Besides, as the new is substituted, it must be that the former has come to an end; for the second, as it has been said, is of another character. But if the whole dispensation of Moses, as far as it was opposed to the dispensation of Christ, has passed away, then the ceremonies also must have ceased.

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