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The Difference Between The Old And New Covenants

God called Israel in order to reveal Himself through them to all the inhabitants of the earth. For this purpose He commanded them to keep themselves distinct from the idolatrous nations around them.

It was just as necessary then as it is now that God’s people be pure, “unspotted from the world.” But God did not intend that His people should shut themselves away from the world so that they could have no influence upon it. It was their evil heart of unbelief that led them to hide their light instead of shedding it upon surrounding peoples, to shut themselves away in proud exclusiveness as if God’s love and care were over them alone.

The covenant of grace was first made with man in Eden. After the Fall, there was given a divine promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. To all men this covenant offered pardon and the assisting grace of God for future obedience through faith in Christ. It also promised eternal life on condition of fidelity to God’s law. Thus the patriarchs received the hope of salvation.

This same covenant was renewed to Abraham in the promise, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 22:18. Abraham trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It was this faith that was accounted unto him for righteousness. The covenant with Abraham also maintained the authority of God’s law. The testimony of God was, “Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Genesis 26:5. Though this covenant was made with Adam and renewed to Abraham, it could not be ratified until the death of Christ. It had existed by the promise of God; it had been accepted by faith; yet when ratified by Christ, it is called a new covenant. The law of God was the basis of this covenant, which was simply an arrangement for bringing men again into harmony with the divine will, placing them where they could obey God’s law.

Another compact—called in Scripture the “old” covenant—was formed between God and Israel at Sinai, and was then ratified by the blood of a sacrifice. The Abrahamic covenant, ratified by the blood of Christ, is called the “second,” or “new” covenant, because the blood by which it was sealed was shed after the blood of the first covenant.

But if the Abrahamic covenant contained the promise of redemption, why was another covenant formed at Sinai? In their bondage the people had to a great extent lost the knowledge of the principles of the Abrahamic covenant. In delivering them from Egypt, God sought to reveal His power and mercy, that they might be led to love and trust Him. He bound them to Himself as their deliverer from temporal bondage.

But they had no true conception of the holiness of God, of the exceeding sinfulness of their own hearts, their utter inability, in themselves, to render obedience to God’s law, and their need of a Saviour.

God gave them His law with the promise of great blessings on condition of obedience: “If ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, … ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” Exodus 19:5, 6. The people did not realize the sinfulness of their own hearts and that without Christ it was impossible for them to keep God’s law. Feeling able to establish their own righteousness, they declared, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” Exodus 24:7. They readily entered into covenant with God. Yet only a few weeks passed before they broke their covenant and bowed down to worship a graven image. Now, seeing their sinfulness and their need of pardon, they were brought to feel their need of the Saviour revealed in the Abrahamic covenant and shadowed forth in the sacrificial offerings. Now they were prepared to appreciate the blessings of the new covenant.

The terms of the “old covenant” were, Obey and live: “If a man do, he shall even live in them.” Ezekiel 20:11. But “cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” Deuteronomy 27:26. The “new covenant” was established upon “better promises,” the promise of forgiveness and the grace of God to renew the heart and bring it into harmony with God’s law. “This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts… . I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:33, 34.

The same law that was engraved upon tables of stone is written by the Holy Spirit upon the heart. We accept the righteousness of Christ. His blood atones for our sins. His obedience is accepted for us. Then through the grace of Christ we shall walk even as He walked. Through the prophet He declared of Himself, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart.” Psalm 40:8.

Paul clearly presents the relation between faith and the law under the new covenant: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh”—it could not justify man, because in his sinful nature he could not keep the law—“God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 5:1; 3:31; 8:3, 4.

Beginning with the first gospel promise and coming down through the patriarchal and Jewish ages to the present time, there has been a gradual unfolding of the purposes of God in the plan of redemption. The clouds have rolled back, the mists and shades have disappeared, and Jesus, the world’s Redeemer, stands revealed. He who proclaimed the law from Sinai is the same that spoke the Sermon on the Mount. The great principles of love to God are only a reiteration of what He had spoken through Moses. The Teacher is the same in both dispensations.

~ Quoted from the book “From Eternity Past” p. 258-261, Ellen White

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