“Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;” – Hebrews 8:1 KJV
One of the biggest disputed topics between Reformed Baptists and Reformed Presbyterians is that of the New Covenant. More specifically, what is new within the New Covenant.
What’s not new about the New Covenant.
Before I begin, I think it is important to discuss what is not new in the New Covenant. Our main passage is going to be Hebrews 8, and many of the things said here about the new covenant is not really new at all. The following things are often presented as new realities of the new covenant, however , as we will see, these were all precious realities within the old covenant.
Those who argue against Paedobaptism often use the passage in Hebrews to prove that the new covenant is new in two aspects, both in its essential nature and in its membership. The passage often used in support of this is verse 11 in Hebrews 8. As we look further, we will see that neither are new in the new covenant.
“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.” – Hebrews 8:10 KJV
Many people believe the newness of the new covenant is that it is an internal religion. The assertion is that believers in the old covenant did not have this internal reality that we do. However, scripture seems to indicate otherwise...”And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart.” – Deuteronomy 6:6 KJV (Emphasis mine)
We know that regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit, and since there were regenerate people prior to Christ’s incarnation (Hebrews 11.), we must assert that they were made alive by the inward working of the Spirit of God.
“I delight to do thy will, O my God: Yea, thy law is within my heart” – Psalm 40:8 KJV (Emphasis mine)
Knowledge of the Lord
This is one of the characteristics of the new covenant, but itself is not what is new of the new Covenant. Credobaptists argue that those of the new covenant will know the Lord savingly, or that the entire new covenant is made up only of the elect. However, we know that not everyone in the new covenant is saved. Covenant membership does not equate with election. This is the fatal error many Federal Visionists make. We have many warnings and exhortations throughout Scripture to prove ourselves as covenantally faithful, not covenant rebels. Even our Lord said that the church would be mixed of believers and unbelievers. We must understand that this verse, within context, is about how some form of teaching is going to cease that was present within the old covenant administration.
Some believe that the full pardoning of sin was not present within the old covenant administration, however this simply cannot be. Does God change? Of course not! Those of faith within the old covenant administration were saved just as we are today: By faith alone in Christ alone.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.” – Psalm 103:12 KJV
“But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him and His righteousness unto children’s children.” – Psalm 103:17 KJV
So what is new about the new covenant? We’ve established that within the old covenant there was total forgiveness of sins, that there is still apostasy within the new covenant, and that there was an internal reality to the worship and faith of the old covenant saints. As I’ve noted earlier, we see that knowledge of the Lord characterizes the new covenant, but not in the way credobaptists believe. Some form of teaching is going to cease.
A Priest Not of This World
Lets look at Hebrews 7, 8, and 9 for the context of how Paul introduces the New Covenant.
“For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrafices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if He were on earth, He should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law;” – Hebrews 8:3-4 KJV
“Then verily the first covenant had also irdinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.” – Hebrews 9:1 KJV
The context given here is of worship, namely through the offerings of the priesthood by the ceremonial law.
Looking at Hebrews 8:11, we come across the phrase “all shall know me, from the least of them to the gratest of them.” As I’ve noted before, this is not saying that this knowledge is knowing the Lord savingly. I feel that this verse, in context, is speaking about the abrogation of the Priesthood, whose role was one of instruction and teaching of the laymen of Israel. (Deuteronomy 33:8,10; Malachi 2:6-7)
The Priesthood held the honor of being “known” by the Lord because they were the ones who served the Lord in his tabernacle, and made offerings “before the Lord.”
What has ceased under the new administration of the covenant of Grace is the need of an earthly priesthood to offer ceremonial sacrifices. Looking at the other aspects of the old administration, we see they too existed. (Divine initiative, Inward/Spiritual realities, total forgiveness of sins, etc..) The only difference is that now we no longer need a priesthood to perform these ceremonial sacrifices and feasts that would tell us of what the Christ would do. Rather, We now have a new administration with sacraments that point back to what the Christ has done, no longer teaching us, but causing us to reflect upon the reality rather than learn about the type.
Another way of showing this is that the phrase, “from the least of them to the greatest of them,” is about ranks, or classes, of people. We see it used this way numerous times throughout both testaments. (Genesis 19:11, Deuteronomy 1:17, Acts 26:22, and even Jeremiah uses this phrase 7 times, each speaking of ranks or classes of people.)
The newness of the new covenant is that we no longer need an earthly preist to teach us of what Christ will do, because we now have Christ as our high priest who has in Himself fulfilled the ceremonial law that taught of what He would do.
“Hebrews 8:11 explains that part of the newness of the new covenant is found in the removal of the Levitical preisthood-an office that was especially engaged in teaching and representing the knowledge of the Lord to the people. This function is something that Jeremiah explained would one day no longer occur; it would cease. And this teaching that would cease would have a pervasive effect on all the covenant people. Now that God removed this way of teaching the knowledge of the Lord and is bringing in the Gentiles in significant measure, it is accurate to say that “all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.” – Jeffrey D. Niell, The Newness of the New Covenant.