Fourth, to make our text and many more like it plain and clear to every reader, as to the real premises they occupy, and which is the only way of coming at the truth intended by what is said, it should always be borne in mind with special regard, that there are three covenant economies which God hath set up, set forth, and declared in the sacred scriptures; as we hinted at our onset of these remarks, and which we will now notice a little further. And in the order in which I would notice them, I would call the first: The Eden covenant of nature: which God made with Adam, and all human nature in him. This covenant was but natural, as it is written, ‘The first man Adam was made a living soul, howbeit that was not first that was spiritual, but that which was natural. The first man is of the earth, earthy. as is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy,’ l Cor 15:45-48. The character of Adam as natural, and not spiritual, and his posterity so likewise in him, declares such to be the nature of this economy, and by which, accordingly, as its entire and distinct extent, he had earthy Eden for his possession, on condition of his obedience. And all the power and property of the obedience hereby required was perfectly in man’s own self; so that do and live, by nature’s own inherent property only, or disobey and die, was the exclusive nature, order and extent of this economy. And as from its altogether separate and distinct nature and design, no help by any inwrought power of saving grace in Christ Jesus could possibly come within this economy, as any accordant part of it, even so, nothing toward the salvation of the lost can possibly come out of this economy in any way whatever; for by the law is the knowledge of sin, and death for sin, and nothing otherwise. So that if faith in our Lord Jesus Christ were of the law, and a duty of the law, it could then have nothing to do with the sinner’s justification to life, because it would be but a deed of the law, and ‘by the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified; either causal, or evidential.
The second covenant economy is the covenant of the land of Canaan, which the Lord, concerning that land, made with Abraham for his natural seed. ‘Israel after the flesh,’ 1 Cor 10:18; ‘the natural branches of the olive tree,’ by natural birth and an external adoption to all the external favors of that covenant ‘which the Lord made with their fathers in the day when he took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt;’ and which was but a repetition, explanation, and confirmation of the covenant made with Abraham, Heb 8:9. This covenant was written on tables of stone only, and not on the heart, Ex 34:28, and therefore it was but external and natural in its requirements of personal state or of obedience, and external only in its favors. The personal state was not required to be a new creature in Christ Jesus, nor was the obedience required of that nature; nor were the favors spiritual blessings unto eternal life. Because according to this covenant, ‘they had ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary,’ Heb 9:1, ‘which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of the reformation,’ verse 10. Now although this covenant ‘was a figure for the time then present,’ verse 9, and ‘a shadow of good things to come,’ to the elect heirs of salvation, as a help to their faith in the great reality, yet it was not the very image of the things,’ chap 10:1; and so it was in itself to them as a people and nation, of external and national favors only, on condition of their own free will natural and moral obedience: supernatural grace by the power of the Holy Ghost being no part of this covenant, and spiritual obedience to eternal life being no part of its requirements of them as a nation.
This covenant economy was perfectly complete, uniform, and entire of itself, after its own kind, and for its own designs; and of which the Lord speaks accordingly, saying, ‘And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard; what could I have done more for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?’ Isa 5:3,4. Why brought it forth idolatry, self-inventions of lies, and running after the customs of the heathen, instead of keeping to the statutes and judgments of the Lord, according to the covenant of their land? If poor mistaken dust and ashes will lift its wormy head and say from this text, that ‘God hath done all that he could to save sinners by his grace in Christ Jesus, and that without effect on many souls, for that they would not be saved, and that he is disappointed of their salvation,’ I envy not the ignorance, self-righteousness, nor the presumption of such; while they must hold themselves prepared to answer the question, ‘Is there any thing to hard for me, saith the Lord?’ Jer 32:27.
The Lord is not speaking here in the language of his omnipotent grace in Christ Jesus, but in the language and order of this covenant economy of external favor only; the very same as our Lord speaks in our text, saying, ‘How often would I have gathered your children, and ye would not;’ and the very same as it is said of our Lord on the very same covenant promises, ‘And he could there do no mighty work; and he marvelled at their unbelief,’ Mark 6:5,6. Their obligations were but natural and of free-will, and these were the Lord’s claims on them by this covenant economy, and their disobedience and rebellion was a robbing of God, Mal 3:8. Their obedience was their life in the land, and their disobedience was their death or expulsion from it by this covenant; and Moses set these as life and death before them, for them to choose; and by their Amen, Deut 27, they professed to choose the path of obedience and live in the land, 30:15,19,20; but from the days of their fathers they went away from the Lord’s ordinances of this covenant and kept them not, Mal 3:7. And therefore the Lord said of them and their land, under the figure of his vineyard, ‘I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned nor digged; but there shall come up briars and thorns; and I will command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it,’ Isa 5:6. The very same thing which our Lord also declared in figure, when he spoke to the fruitless ‘fig tree,’ saying, ‘Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away,’ Matt 21:19; according to the words, ‘Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.’
This covenant, therefore, was not in itself a covenant of eternal salvation, being but ‘a shadow,’ made ‘nothing perfect;’ its sacrifices could ‘never take away sin,’ it was the ‘ready to vanish away,’ and was made up of those ‘things which are shaken, and do not remain,’ Heb 12:27 28. And consequently the removing it, and the people out of their privileges in the land for breaking it, was not a casting away any of God’s people whom he did foreknow, from eternal salvation by another covenant, Rom 11:1,2.
The third covenant economy is of unconditional grace in Christ Jesus as its living head, and of internal power to the production of personal and vital godliness by the renewing of the Holy Ghost unto eternal life. According to this covenant, all the fullness, power, and property required, for the repentance unto life, faith, obedience, and the eternal life of all the interested by divine choice, of all nations, people and tongues under heaven is in Christ, and is in the sovereign dispensation of God alone, in the name and person of our Lord Jesus Christ as mediator and surety of this better covenant of sure mercies, by better promises, ‘According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord,’ Eph 3:11. And all human conditions are as totally and entirely excluded for ever from this covenant economy, as the land of Canaan covenant was wholly and absolutely conditional only, was of external persuasion only to obedience, and was of external favour and privileges only; internal grace by the renewing power of the Holy Ghost forming no part of that covenant with them as a nation.
According to this covenant economy, (1) Christ, as head, is a quickening Spirit and quickeneth whom he will, John 5:21; the spiritual Adam, the heavenly, the Lord from heaven, 1 Cor 15:45,48, ‘Lord of all,’ ‘Head over all,’ ‘Mighty to save,’ ‘The Almighty;’ and we will call this the heavenly covenant, from the character of its Head, and because it is wholly and alone instituted for heaven and eternal life. (2) According to this covenant economy, all the subjects of it are children, and all the children are ‘born of God,’ and are of God alone ‘made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light;’ all the people of God’s eternal praise being formed for the same by himself only, Col 1:12; Isa 43:6,7,21. (3) This everlasting new covenant economy is called God’s ‘new thing,’ Isa 43:19-21, in which, ‘behold, I make all things new,’ Rev 21:5, as that of ‘a new heart,’ ‘a new creature in Christ Jesus,’ ‘a new and living way.’ And according to which, ‘all things are of him, and through him, and to him;’ of his will, through his power, and to his glory, Rom 11:36; as the good pleasure of his will is the first cause of all, the counsel of his will is the rule by which he works all, and the praise of his glory is the end to which he will infallibly bring all the things of this covenant, Eph 1:5,6,11; with the whole church of his ‘chosen, called, and faithful,’ singing and shouting aloud for joy, ‘salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God; Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,’ Rev 17:14; 19:1,6.
John Foreman (1792-1872) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He was appointed the Pastor of Hill Street Chapel, Marylebone, serving this position for close to forty years.