About a year ago I answered some questions about this subject. In that answer I maintained—and my questioners agree with me on this point—that God’s covenant is unbreakable, that is, eternal and faithful. In the course of my answer I also made the following statement: “Finally, I think it should be pointed out that we sometimes speak rather loosely and inaccurately in connection with the sins of those who are brought up in and live in the sphere of God’s covenant in the midst of the world of those sins as being a breaking of the covenant. . . .” The reader may, if he wishes, look up my complete answer in Volume 51, pp. 368, 369. My answer at that time occasioned questions from three different persons in various parts of the country. All of these questions refer to passages from the Old Testament which speak of breaking the covenant. I will not quote the letters in detail, nor will I mention all the passages. One questioner sent me a long list of passages in which this expression is found, In the course of my answer I will refer to at least some of these passages. The basic question is, of course, this: If it be true that God’s covenant is unbreakable, how must these passages of Scripture be understood?
First of all, let us get before us some of the Scripture passages in question. I quote them, of course, from the King James Version. In Deuteronomy 31:16 we read: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I’ have made with them.” Two of my questioners also referred me toLeviticus 26:14-16: “But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will note do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant: I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you. terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.” The context here goes on to mention more judgments which God will send among the children of Israel. Joshua 23:16 does not use the term “break,” but speaks of transgressing the covenant. Judges 2:20 uses the same language. In Jeremiah 11:10 we read: “They are turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, which refused to hear my words; and they went after other gods to serve them: the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers.”
Many other references might, of course, be cited.
I cannot very well take the space to explain each one of the Scriptural references to the breaking of the covenant separately. I will, however, make a few explanatory remarks in general.
In the first place, the term that is translated by “break” is the same term that is used more than once in Scripture with respect to breaking a commandment or breaking a law. Now, obviously, when a commandment or a law is broken, this cannot mean that the law as such is broken in the sense that it no more stands whole and complete and valid. The opposite is true. That law remains in force. The same is true with respect to the covenant. The term “break” refers to a violation, a transgression of the covenant, even as the same term can be used to refer to a violation or transgression of God’s commandments. At the same time this term, we must remember, points to the seriousness and heinousness of the sin. On the part of the sinner it is so serious that it constitutes a breaking of the law, or a breaking of the covenant.
In the second place, you will notice, if you check up on the various Scripture passages, that they refer to the Old Testament situation. This, too, is an important factor to remember in connection with this entire question. We must bear in mind that the peculiar dispensation of the covenant in the Old Testament was the dispensation of the law. At Sinai, the Mosaic law—not only of the ten commandments, but of the types and ceremonies—was the form which was given to God’s covenant. This is undoubtedly a large factor in Scripture’s speaking so often of the breaking of the covenant on the part of Israel. It was precisely because that covenant was under the dispensation of the law that it could be and was broken in the sense of not observing and keeping that law. If you will take the trouble to consult the passages of Scripture in question, you will find that this is indeed the case. One example is the passage in Leviticus 26, quoted above.
In the third place, in close connection with this fact stands the fact that Scripture speaks more than once of “the house of Israel” as breaking God’s covenant. This also stands connected with the fact that the dispensation of the covenant was the dispensation of the law and, at the same time, a national dispensation in the Old Testament. And when the carnal element in Israel had the upper hand in the nation, then it could be said that the “house” of Israel broke God’s covenant.
All of this, I believe, is quite in harmony with what I wrote earlier on this subject. If my questioners have further questions, they are welcome to call again.
About Having Our Flesh in Heaven
From a Wisconsin reader I received the following question: “The resurrection of our Lord was glorious and spiritual. In the light of this, how must we understand that we have our flesh in heaven? (Lord’s Day XVIII)”
My questioner refers to the expression found in Question and Answer 49, which speaks of the advantage to us of Christ’s ascension. In mentioning a three-fold advantage, the Catechism speaks of the fact “that we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, as our head, will also take up to Himself us, His members.” My questioner is evidently troubled by the term flesh, in the light of the fact that Christ’s resurrection was spiritual and glorious.
In reply to this question I will quote the following passage from The Triple Knowledge, Volume 2, pp. 72 and 73:
“We have our flesh in heaven!
“By the term ‘flesh’ here must be understood our entire, human nature, as to soul and body. Christ, in His incarnation, assumed our human nature, in the likeness of sinful flesh. As such, that nature was wholly unfit to enter into heavenly glory. For, not only was it of the earth earthy, abut it was also corrupt through sin, under the wrath of God, lying in the midst of death. Nor did we have the right to be delivered from the corruption of our nature, and to enter into heavenly glory. Heaven was closed to us. That nature, although without sin, yet as it was earthly, and in the likeness of sinful flesh, Christ assumed. And in that nature He obediently suffered all that was required to satisfy God’s justice, to merit for us righteousness, and to obtain the right to heavenly glory. And He, the Son of God, glorified that nature in Himself. He took it through death into the glory of the resurrection, and having thus glorified it by His resurrection, He took it into heaven, into the sanctuary of God.
“For His ascension does not mean that He put aside our human nature. The human nature is not and never shall be separated from the divine.
“Our flesh, therefore, is in heaven.
“It is not in heaven as ‘flesh’ in the form in which He assumed it, and in which we know it, but in its glorified form. It has been changed into the image of the heavenly. For ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ But it is, nevertheless, our flesh, the real human nature, which He took into the highest heavens, when He ascended up on high.”
With the above explanation I am in agreement.