As it is particularly the Old Testament promises of which Dispensationalists would deprive the Christian, a more definite and detailed refutation of this error is now required--coming, as it obviously does, within the compass of our present subject. We will here transcribe what we wrote thereon almost twenty years ago.
Since the Fall alienated the creature from the Creator, there could be no intercourse between God and men but by some promise on His part. None can challenge anything from the Majesty on high without a warrant from Himself, nor could the conscience be satisfied unless it had a Divine grant for any good that we hope for from Him.
God will in all ages have His people regulated by His promises, so that they may exercise faith, hope, prayer, dependence upon Himself: He gives them promises so as to test them, whether or not they really trust in and count upon Him.
The Medium of the promises is the God-man Mediator, Jesus Christ, for there can be no intercourse between God and us except through the appointed Daysman. In other words, Christ must receive all good for us, and we must have it at second hand from Him.
Let the Christian ever be on his guard against contemplating any promise of God apart from Christ. Whether the thing promised, the blessing desired, be temporal or spiritual, we cannot legitimately or truly enjoy it except in and by Christ. Therefore did the Apostle remind the Galatians, "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (3:16)--in quoting
Genesis 12:3, Paul was not proving, but affirming, that God's promises to Abraham respected not all his natural posterity, but only those of his spiritual children--those united to Christ. All the promises of God to believers are made to Christ, the Surety of the everlasting covenant, and are conveyed from Him to us--both the promises themselves and the things promised. "This is the [all-inclusive] promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life" (1 John 2:25), and, as 5:11 tells us, "this life is in His Son"--so grace, and all other benefits. "If I read any of the promises I found that all and every one contained Christ in their bosom, He Himself being the one great Promise of the Bible. To Him they were all first given; from Him they derive all their efficacy, sweetness, value, and importance; by Him they are brought home to the heart; and in Him they are all yea, and amen" (R. Hawker, 1810).
Since all the promises of God are made in Christ, it clearly follows that none of them are available to any who are out of Christ, for to be out of Him is to be out of the favour of God. God cannot look on such a person but as an object of His wrath, as fuel for His vengeance: there is no hope for any man until he be in Christ. But it may be asked, Does not God bestow any good things on them who are out of Christ, sending His rain upon the unjust, and filling the bellies of the wicked with good things (Ps. 17:14)? Yes, He does indeed. Then are not those temporal mercies blessings? Certainly not: far from it. As He says in Malachi 2:2, "I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart" (cf. Deut. 28:15-20). Unto the wicked, the temporal mercies of God are like food given to bullocks--it does but "prepare them for the day of slaughter" (Jer. 12:3, and cf. Jam. 5:5).
Having presented above a brief outline on the subject of the Divine promises, let us now examine a striking yet little-noticed expression, namely "the children of the promise" (Rom. 9:8). In the context the Apostle discusses God's casting of the Jews and calling of the Gentiles, which was a particularly sore point with the former. After describing the unique privileges enjoyed by Israel as a nation (verses 4 and 5), he points out the difference there is between them and the antitypical "Israel of God" (verses 6-9), which he illustrates by the cases of Isaac and Jacob. Though the Jews had rejected the Gospel and had been cast off by God, it must not be supposed that His word had failed of accomplishment (verse 6), for not only had the prophecies concerning the Messiah been fulfilled, but the promise respecting Abraham's seed was being made good. But it was most important to apprehend aright what or whom that "seed" comprised. "For they are not all Israel [spiritually speaking], who are of Israel [naturally]: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called" (verses 6 and 7).
The Jews erroneously imagined (as modern Dispensationalists do) that the promises made to Abraham concerning his seed respected all of his descendants. Their boast was "we be Abraham's seed" (John 8:33), to which Christ replied, "If ye were Abraham's children ye would do the works of Abraham" (verse 39 and see Romans 4:12). God's rejection of Ishmael and Esau was decisive proof that the promises were not made to the natural descendants as such. The selection of Isaac and Jacob showed that the promise was restricted to an elect line. "The children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted [regarded] as the seed. For this is the word of promise. At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son (Rom. 9:8,9). The "children of God" and the "children of promise" are one and the same, whether they be Jews or Gentiles. As Isaac was born supernaturally, so are all of God's elect (John 1:13). As Isaac, on that account, was heir of the promised blessing, so are Christians (Gal. 4:29; 3:29). "Children of the promise" are identical with "the heirs of promise" (Heb. 6:17, and cf. Rom. 8:17).
God's promises are made to the spiritual children of Abraham (Rom. 4:16; Gal 3:7), and none of them can possibly fail of accomplishment. "For all the promises of God in Him [namely Christ] are yea, and in Him amen" (2 Cor. 1:20). They are deposited in Christ, and in Him they find their affirmation and certification, for He is the sum and substance of them. Inexpressibly blessed is that declaration to the humble-minded child of God--yet a mystery hid from those who are wise in their own conceits. "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32). The promises of God are numerous: relating to this life and also that which is to come. They concern our temporal wellbeing, as well as our spiritual, covering the needs of the body as well as those of the soul. Whatever be their character, not one of them can be made good unto us except in and through and by Him who lived and died for us. The promises which God has given to His people are absolutely sure and trustworthy, for they were made to them in Christ: they are infallibly certain for fulfillment, for they are accomplished through and by Him.
A blessed illustration, yea, exemplification, of what has just been pointed out above is found in Hebrews 8:8-13, and 10:15-17, where the Apostle quotes the promises given in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The Dispensationalists would object and say that those promises belong to the natural descendants of Abraham, and are not to us. But Hebrews 10:15 prefaces the citation of those promises by expressly affirming, "Whereof the Holy Spirit is [not "was"] a witness to us." Those promises extend to Gentile believers also, for they are the assurance of grace founded in Christ, and in Him believing Jews and Gentiles are one (Gal. 3:26). Before the middle wall of partition was broken down, Gentiles were indeed "strangers unto the covenants of promise" (Eph. 2:12), but when that wall was removed, Gentile believers became "fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph. 3:6)! As Romans 11 expresses it, they partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree (verse 17)! Those promises in Jeremiah 31 are made not to the Jewish nation as such, but to "the Israel of God" (Gal 6:16), that is to the entire election of grace, and they are made infallibly good unto all of them at the moment of their regeneration by the Spirit.
In the clear light of other New Testament passages, it appears passing strange that anyone who is familiar with the same should deny that God has made this "new covenant" with those who are members of the mystical body of Christ. That Christians are partakers of its blessings is plain in 1 Corinthians 11:25, where quotation is made of the Savior's words at the institution of His supper, saying, "This cup is the new testament [or "new covenant"] in My blood"; and again by 2 Corinthians 3:6, where the Apostle states that God "hath also made us able ministers of the new testament," or "covenant," for the same Greek word is used in those passages as in Hebrews 8:8, and 10:16, where it is translated "covenant." In the very first sermon preached after the new covenant was established, Peter said, "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off" i.e. the Gentiles: Ephesians 2:13--qualified by "as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39). Furthermore, the terms of Jeremiah 31:33,34 are most certainly made good unto all believers today: God is their covenant God (Heb. 13:20), His law is enshrined in their affections (Rom 7:22), they know Him as their God, their iniquities are forgiven.
The Holy Spirit's statement in 2 Corinthians 7:1, must, for all who bow to the authority of Holy Writ, settle the matter once and for all of the Christian's right to the Old Testament promises. "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Which promises? Why, those mentioned at the close of the preceding chapter. There we read, "And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (6:16). And where had God said this? Why, as far back as Leviticus 26:12, "And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people." That promise was made to the nation of Israel in the days of Moses! And again we read, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. 6:17, 18), which words are a manifest reference to Jeremiah 3 1:9, and Hosea 1:9,10.
Now observe very particularly what the Holy Spirit says through Paul concerning those Old Testament promises. First, he says to the New Testament saints, "Having these promises." He declared that those ancient promises are theirs: that they have a personal interest in them and title to them. That they were theirs not merely in hope, but in hand. Theirs to make full use of, to feed upon and enjoy, to delight in and give God thanks for the same. Since Christ Himself be ours, all things are ours (1 Cor. 3:22,23). Oh, Christian reader, suffer no man, under pretense of "rightly dividing the word," to cut you off from, to rob you of any of "the exceeding great and precious promises" of your Father (2 Pet. 1:4). If he is content to confine himself unto a few of the New Testament Epistles, let him do so--that is his loss. But allow him not to confine you to so narrow a compass. Second, we are hereby taught to use those promises as motives and incentives to the cultivation of personal piety, in the private work of mortification and the positive duty of practical sanctification.
A striking and conclusive proof that the Old Testament promises belong unto present-day saints is found in Hebrews 13:5, where practical use is again made of the same. There Christians are exhorted, "Let your conversation be without covetousness: be content with such things as ye have." That exhortation is enforced by this gracious consideration: "for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Since the living God be your portion your heart should rejoice in Him, and all anxiety about the supply of your every need be for ever removed. But what we are now more especially concerned with is the promise here cited: "For He hath said, I will never leave thee," etc. And to whom was that promise first given? Why, to the one who was about to lead Israel into the land of Canaan--as a reference to Joshua 1:5 shows. Thus it was made to a particular person on a special occasion, to a general who was to prosecute a great war under the immediate command of God. Facing that demanding ordeal, Joshua received assurance from God that His presence should ever be with him.
But if the believer gives way to unbelief, the devil is very apt to tell him, That promise belongs not unto you. You are not the captain of armies, commissioned by God to overthrow the forces of an enemy: the virtue of that promise ceased when Canaan was conquered and died with him to whom it was made. Instead, as Owen pointed out in his comments on Hebrews 13:5, "To manifest the sameness of love that is in all the promises, with their establishment in the one Mediator, and the general concern of believers in every one of them, howsoever and on what occasion given to any, this promise to Joshua is here applied to the condition of the weakest, meanest, and poorest of the saints; to all and every one of them, be their case and condition what it will. And doubtless, believers are not a little wanting in themselves and their own consolation, that they do so more particularly close with those words of truth, grace, and faithfulness, which upon sundry occasions and at divers times have been given out unto the saints of old, even Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and the residue of them, who walked with God in their generation: these things in an especial manner are recorded for our consolation."
Let us now observe closely the use which the Apostle made of that ancient but ever-living promise. First, he here availed himself of it in order to enforce his exhortation unto Christians to the duties of mortification and sanctification. Second, he draws a logical and practical inference from the same, declaring, "So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Heb. 13:6). Thus a double conclusion is reached: such a promise is to inspire all believers with confidence in God's succour and assistance, and with boldness and courage before men--showing us to what purpose we should put the Divine pledges. Those conclusions are based upon the character of the Promiser: because God is infinitely good, faithful, and powerful, and because He changes not, I may trustfully declare with Abraham, "God will provide" (Gen. 22:8); with Jonathan, "There is no restraint to the Lord" (1 Sam. 14:6); with Jehoshaphat, "None is able to withstand Him" (2 Chron. 20:6); with Paul, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31). The abiding presence of the all-sufficient Lord ensures help, and therefore any alarm at man's enmity should be removed from our hearts. My worst enemy can do nothing against me without my Savior's permission.
"So that we may boldly say [freely, without hesitating through unbelief], The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." Note attentively the change in number from the plural to the singular, and learn therefrom that general principles are to be appropriated by us in particular, as general precepts are to be taken by us personally--the Lord Jesus individualized the "ye shall not tempt the Lord your God" of Deuteronomy 6:16, when assailed by Satan, saying, "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (Matt. 4:7). It is only by taking the Divine promises and precepts unto ourselves personally that we can "mix faith" with the same, or make a proper and profitable use of them. It is also to be carefully noted that once more the Apostle confirmed his argument by a Divine testimony, for the words "The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" are not his own, but a quotation of those use by David in Psalm 118:6. Thus again we are shown that the language of the Old Testament is exactly suited to the cases and circumstances of Christians today, and that it is their right and privilege freely to appropriate the same.
"We may boldly say" just what the Psalmist did when he was sorely pressed. It was during a season of acute distress that David expressed his confidence in the living God, at a time when it looked as though his enemies were on the point of swallowing him up; but viewing the omnipotence of Jehovah and contrasting His might with the feebleness of the creature, his heart was strengthened and emboldened. But let the reader clearly perceive what that implied. It means that David turned his mind away from the seen to the unseen. It means that he was regulated by faith, rather than by sight-- feelings or reasonings. It means that his heart was occupied with the Almighty. But it means much more: he was occupied with the relationship of that omnipotent One unto himself. It means that he recognized and realized the spiritual bond there was between them, so that he could truly and rightly aver, "the Lord is my helper." If He be my God, my Redeemer, my Father, then He may be counted upon to undertake for me when I am sorely oppressed, when my foes threaten to devour me, when my barrel of meal is almost empty. That "my" is the language of faith, and is the conclusion which faith's assurance draws from the infallible promise of Him that cannot lie.