Our Reformed Heritage
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©2014
Lesson 4 – “A Renewed Promise and Hope” – Jeremiah 31:31-34
Promises are important to us. We rely on them when we buy things, hire people, or when we get hired to do a job. We expect promises to be kept when we get engaged or married, and when we send our children off to school or college. Nations make treaties and agreements which are expected to be binding when they’re signed.
But our sad experience with human agreements is that they aren’t perfect, they often don’t last, and many times they don’t accomplish what we expect them to. Their reliability usually depends upon someone having the authority and power to enforce them.
God’s Covenant with us is a perfect promise.
It isn’t just a mutual agreement.
God’s Covenant to redeem his people is a one sided act of mercy and grace to reclaim an unworthy people rather to just destroy them. Our part is to trust and obey. God’s part is to bless his people forever, and to judge forever those who are his enemies.
When God was ready to reveal the nature of is promises in more detail, he had directed the ancient people in his providence to develop a special form for their treaties and agreements. The word they used for that was “berit” (בּרית). Our Bibles just translate it as “Covenant”.
Covenants were one-sided. A conquering King would spare those he conquered by offering a covenant. He would promise not to kill them and to protect them, as long as they were loyal subjects. It was sealed in a ceremony where animals were cut up showing what happens to covenant breakers.
We deserve death, physical, spiritual, and eternal, at the hand of God as covenant breakers (Genesis 2:17, Romans 5:12). He sovereignly made a covenant to justify, forgive, protect, and care for his people. All the sacrifices pointed toward the Cross where the Savior paid the price for those chosen eternally. This covenant shows that God’s promises are sovereignly offered, infallible and sure. The Book of Deuteronomy exactly follows the outline and form of these ancient covenants.
As history unfolded the details of God’s covenantal plan were revealed more and more. He didn’t tell us everything at once. He started with Adam, told more to Noah and revealed more to Abraham, Moses, David and the Prophets. It became most fully known through Jesus Christ and through the writers of Books of Scripture that came after his crucifixion.
There are different ways to study what the Bible tells us.
One method is called Systematic Theology. That’s where we take a topic like the nature of God, the structure of the church, or salvation from sin, and it’s organized into sub-topics taking in everything the Bible says about it.
This is what we do when we explain the way of salvation, try to understand the final judgment, or advise our children about what’s morally good and spiritually healthy for them. It’s the method used in the Westminster Confession and it’s Catechisms.
Another method is Dogmatic or Polemic Theology. That’s where we study and compare different views of what the Bible teaches. As Christians, we want to know how each view compares with Scripture.
This is how we look at the differences between Presbyterians, Methodists or Baptists. We compare the models of Premillennialism with Amillennialism and Postmillennialism. It’s how we learn to deal with the cults and other religions.
Another approach is called Biblical Theology. That doesn’t mean that this one is true to Scripture and the others aren’t. It’s one of those terms we’re stuck with but probably wasn’t the best choice to choose. It means tracing what God said at each point in history. We study each passage in its historical context. It studies what God made known before the fall of man, what Adam understood after his sin, and how Moses and David each understood God’s plan in their own time.
It’s a very helpful approach that helps us interpret each Bible text more accurately. It helps to know what the readers and the writer already knew and what they didn’t know yet as each event took place and revelation was received. It helps us see the unified flow of God’s truth in history.
We live in the age of what’s called the New Covenant. It’s not new as if it replaced something old and worn out. It’s the newest and most complete form of God’s Covenant of Grace. It’s the era where the promises made before Christ are now fulfilled in ways beyond the comprehension of the Old Testament believers. There is just one unchanging God with an unchanging plan — a covenant that will not and cannot fail or be modified.
There will be another era after this, an eternal one. Just as what we know now is more than Moses or David could imagine, our conception of glory and heaven now, will one day be surpassed by its reality.
Geerhardus Vos is sometimes called the Father of Biblical Theology
He didn’t invent Biblical Theology, but he perfected it and made it more useful.
He was born on March 14th, 1862 in Heerenveen, Friesland. His father was a Pastor in the Dutch Christian Reformed Church. In 1881 they boarded a ship and immigrated to the United States.
He attended what later became Calvin Theological Seminary, then studied at Princeton Seminary. He became one of the strong ties between the old Dutch Reformed Churches and the American Presbyterians.
To work on advanced studies he returned to Europe. He worked under some of the world’s best Bible scholars in Berlin where earned his doctorate. Then he continued his studies in Strassburg. His education gave him special insights in the growing battle with Theological Liberalism.
Vos became Professor of Theology at Calvin Seminary in 1888, then in 1893 Professor William Henry Green persuaded him to accept a Professorship at Princeton. There he became associated with the PCUSA.
In 1894 he married Catherine Frances Smith. They were neighbors and good friends with Princeton Professor, B. B. Warfield. Their son Johannes Vos carried on his father’s scholarship. He served as Professor of Bible at Geneva College in Beaver Falls near Philadelphia. Their daughter Marianne wrote several noteworthy children’s books.
In the summers he, his wife and their 4 children, lived in a peaceful setting far from Princeton. They had a large home in Roaring Branch, Pennsylvania where he did a lot of his writings. There he could be relaxed and very productive in writing. He was able to work with the conflicts between the different worlds and ideas he had come to know.
His books and articles on Biblical Theology brought together good Bible exegesis and good theology. He helped build a solid foundation that strengthened the conservative side of the church.
In his later years he saw the decline of the PCUSA and the expelling of Machen and other conservatives from Princeton. He saw the forming of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Seminary. He worked hard with the fundamentalist branches of the church in the battle with Liberalism, but became troubled when some fundamentalists embraced unbiblical ideas and an intolerant divisiveness.
Geerhardus Vos retired in 1932 to Santa Ana, California. He died in 1949 leaving several of his books in the hands of Johannes for publication. He was buried in Roaring Branch, PA where he’d spent his most productive and best years.
One of his most important lessons
was about the nature of the New Covenant .
The primary text is Jeremiah 31:31-34:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
It would be way beyond our scope to get into the details of this passage. Here In Jeremiah 31 is a promise that is fulfilled in Christ and in us as his church.
Jeremiah compared the New form of the Covenant with the Old form, and showed that it was going to be much better. It’s better because it’s all that the Old aspired to be, and in a greater way than those who lived under it imagined.
Jesus applied this language to what he was about to do on the cross. In the Institution of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:25, it says of Jesus, “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
The New didn’t replace the Old. It fulfilled it, completed it. The New Testament Church is called God’s Israel, Spiritual Israel, and heirs of the promise to Abraham. All that God promises is ours in Christ. It’s ours infallibly by the power and pledge of God himself.
As Vos traced the church of God through the ages from Eden to the final Day of Judgment, he drew some amazing conclusions.
One was that the Church of Christ is strongly identified with God’s Kingdom on earth. He points out that the church isn’t just a means to a later end, as if we are only here to recruit for the future, for a Kingdom that isn’t here yet.
The church is a dynamic influence in the world as the presence of God’s Kingdom. We are not here just to reproduce and grow. We are here to influence all of life for God’s glory. We are here to stand firmly against sin and evil and to declare the solemn wonders of God and to worship him.
Vos writes of the Church, “She consists not of mere doing, but likewise of fruition, and this fruition pertains not exclusively to the future; it is the most blessed part of the present life.”
We have authority to live as God’s children in God’s world.
What’s all around us doesn’t belong to Satan and to his false claims to kingship. It belongs to our Father, and he puts us over it all as his overseers. We should respect the duties and rules he sets up for us to live by here.
We are here to be victorious every day in all we do, not just to limp along worried and complaining — hoping that someday Christ will be Lord. He is the Lord now! Though Heaven will be better, we reign with him as Princes, as Kingdom heirs — even if the world doesn’t recognize it.
This should give us that kind and meek boldness that without arrogance openly and humbly lives in honor of the one who truly is King and Lord of all.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
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