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Thursday, June 15, 2023

Matthew Henry's Commentary on Jeremiah 31 (The New Covenant)

Let us note what John Calvin stated in his commentary concerning The Lord's desire in regard to those who would worship him.

God disdains the forced services of men, and chooses to be worshipped freely and willingly

I'm sure the Calvinist has some theological explanation for Calvin's apparently clear statement here. He is stating that God Himself will never "force" men against their wills to serve Him. For such an idea is abhorrent to God. I think it is reasonable to conclude that Calvin is arguing that our service to God must originate from our own free will. We must choose to serve him.

I note this statement from Calvin, because, I believe, it is a good example of how truths can find there way through error. Personally, I think Calvin's view of the will is far more flecible than those who call themselves Calvinist's in our day. 

Previously, we have looked at Calvin's somewhat nuanced position on those some call the "Early Church Fathers. We also looked at Calvin's view of the conscience and its ability to determine that which is right and that which is wrong. In these (and in other posts quoting Calvin), in my estimation, we see a bit of flexibility in Calvin's views that we don't always see in those who take his name. That said, Calvin's lack of clarity on certain subjects is the result of his inability to separate the plan of God for the earth and the plan of God for the heavenly places.

The failure to make these distinctions has led Calvin and other Calvinists, like Matthew Henry, to try and insert themselves (rather selectively) into both plans. Let's take a brief look at Matthew Henry;s commentary on Jeremiah 31:31.

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah (1599 Geneva Bible)

That God will renew his covenant with them, so that all these blessings they shall have, not by providence only, but by promise, and thereby they shall be both sweetened and secured. But this covenant refers to gospel times, the latter days that shall come; for of gospel grace the apostle understands it (Hebrews 8:8; Hebrews 8:9, c.), where this whole passage is quoted as a summary of the covenant of grace made with believers in Jesus Christ. Observe, 1. Who the persons are with whom this covenant is made--with the house of Israel and Judah, with the gospel church, the Israel of God on which peace shall be (Galatians 6:16), with the spiritual seed of believing Abraham and praying Jacob. Judah and Israel had been two separate kingdoms, but were united after their return, in the joint favours God bestowed upon them so Jews and Gentiles were in the gospel church and covenant.

-Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible (Jeremiah 31, excerpt)

Note the use of "they" and them" in his opening statement. We like to note the importance of pronouns.  Henry is pointing to "the house of Israel, and the house of Judah," yet he is so determined to see God as having only one plan for all men of all ages that he forces himself to make Israel and Judah into the "church" (as he defines it). He states "but this covenant refers to gospel times" without warrant. He refences Paul's quote of the passage in Jeremiah, but fails to note that Paul, in the Acts Age, still speaks of the New Covenant as yet future and having not come in yet. The apostle also continues to use "the house of Israel, and the house of Judah."

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 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 did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

-Hebrews 8:8-10 (NKJV)

In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

-Hebrews 8:13 (NKJV)

The word translated "becoming obsolete" is the Greek word "palaióō." The King James Version translates this word as "decayeth." The idea is that it is essentially dead, but it has not fully gone away. The New Covenant could not come in because Israel had not repented. 

Peter promised in Acts 3 to "Ye men of Israel" that if they repented, God would send back Christ to restore all things. And we know from Acts 1 that the Lord taught the Apostles to the Circumcision that the Kingdom would be "restored" in Israel one day (Acts 1:6). He taught those who will one day sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30) for 40 days about that kingdom, but he gave no timeline. The timeline is dependent on Israel's repentance.

When Paul writes late in his ministry of the Acts Age that the New Covenant is still future and that the Old Covenant is decaying, he is telling us that Israel had not repented. In Acts 28, Paul spoke with the Jewish leaders of Rome concerning "the hope of Israel" (Acts 28:20). He was "bound" for that hope.  We note here here that in his Post-Acts epistle of Ephesians, Paul states that he is in chains, "for you Gentiles." 

While the commentaries of Calvin and Henry can offer valuable thoughts and insights, their failure to see God's divisions, hopes, and ages in scripture blinds them to their own words of contradiction. 

The Old Covenant was a rotting corpse waiting for Israel to come to faith so the New Covenant could come in in full (as revealed in Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 61, etc.). When God revealed his new economy through the apostle Paul at the end of the Acts age, all covenants with Israel and the plan for the earthly blessings were set aside temporarily.

We have today, the enlightenment unto the truth of this age and calling which we must accept (Ephesians 1:18, etc.). This age will end and God will once again call out for Israel to repent and the offer of Acts 3 will again be in sight. Believing Israel, a remnant, will believe, and God will install the promised, restored Kingdom in the land.