No one has Ever Interpreted it That Way Before!

I’m sure most people who are familiar with the 1689 Confession of Faith have seen the book “A Reformed Baptist Manifesto.”  You may or may not know that this book began as a four sermon series a long time ago.  I first heard the sermons some time in 1996 and I started giving them to friends because they were, quite frankly, AWESOME!  Using Hebrews 8 and Jer. 31 Pastor Waldron displayed the problems of Dispensationalism, Antinomianism, Arminianism & Paedobaptism in a masterful way.

I got into one of the most heated discussions of my life as a result of the fourth tape.  I had given it to a Presbyterian friend, and let’s just say he didn’t take it well.  He must have called every Presbyterian pastor he knew, and that’s a few, so what I got was sort of a group response funneled through one angry Minnesotan.  The discussion went this way and that, but his main objection just blew me away.

Pastor Waldron had expounded Heb. 8:11 “None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.”  He pointed out that one unique aspect of the New Covenant is the fact that every person who is properly a member of that covenant will know the Lord in a saving way.  “…all, from the least to the greatest” leaves no room for anyone in the covenant who doesn’t know God.

This is the response I couldn’t believe.  “No one in the history of the church has ever interpreted that passage that way!”  At the time I simply pointed out that he would need to offer some sort of counter exegesis.  If the text doesn’t actually mean what it plainly states, then what does it mean.  Unfortunately this endeavor appeared fruitless, but we remained friends for many years in spite of our theological differences.

Now step forward a few years, 3 or 4 if memory serves.  I had received a gift from my wife, perhaps one of the best gifts anyone has ever given me.  John Owen’s 7 volume commentary on Hebrews!  John Owen is my favorite author and Hebrews is my favorite book of the Bible, so you can understand my excitement.  Anyway, at some point I began to read Owen’s exposition of chapter 8, which is unbelievably good.  (As an aside, it was reading Owen on Heb. 8 that enabled me to finally understand covenant theology in a way that is fully consistent with the itself and the Bible as a whole. And I was overwhelmed with excitement when it became available in the volume with Cox.)

Back to the point, I am reading through John Owen’s exposition of Hebrews 8 and what do I find?  John Owen interprets the statements about the New Covenant in the same way Samuel Waldron did!  Wait a minute, no one had ever interpreted it that way?  So my eyes must have been deceiving me when I read:

“For such a spiritual knowledge is intended as whereby the mind is renewed, being accompanied with faith and love in the heart. This is that knowledge which is promised in the new covenant, and which shall be wrought in all them who are interested therein.” [1]

“The whole knowledge of God in Christ is both plainly revealed and savingly communicated, by virtue of the new covenant, unto them who do believe…”[2]

“Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the new covenant can be pretended.”[3]

“Persons destitute of this saving knowledge are utter strangers unto the covenant of grace; for this is a principal promise and effect of it, wherever it doth take place.”[4]

Along with these comments on the New Covenant:

“For all those with whom this covenant is made shall as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according unto the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. These are the true Israel and Judah, prevailing with God, and confessing unto his name.” [5]

“For by the making of this covenant with any, the effectual communication of the grace of it unto them is principally intended. Nor can that covenant be said to be made absolutely with any but those whose sins are pardoned by virtue thereof, and in whose hearts the law of God is written; which are the express promises of it.” [6]

“Those whose sins are not pardoned do in no sense partake of this covenant; it is not made with them. For this is the covenant that God makes with them, that he will be merciful unto their sins; that is, unto them in the pardon of them.” [7]

Now of course Owen was not a Baptist.  He qualified his view with the statement “But in respect of the outward dispensation of the covenant, it is extended beyond the effectual communication of the grace of it.”[8]  But I must give the greatest of praise to Owen on this account.  Every other Paedobaptist commentator I have read on Hebrews 8 spends the majority of their time trying to get around what the text actually says.  Owen exegeted and expounded it as it stands, and reading his exposition remains one of the greatest spiritual blessings I can remember experiencing.

The moral of this story?  Perhaps I just wanted an excuse to bring up a few of my favorite Owen quotes.  If you haven’t read Owen on Hebrews 8, treat yourself.  If you haven’t read “A Reformed Baptist Manifesto” please take my advice and get a copy.  Perhaps even share it with friends.  And now you are already prepared for one possible response.

His Throne is Forever and Ever!


[1] Exposition of Hebrews vol. 6, pp 167,168

[2] ibid. p 165

[3] ibid. p. 167

[4] ibid. p. 168

[5] ibid. p 118

[6] ibid. p. 118

[7] ibid. p. 169

[8]  ibid. p. 118


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