An article out of Baptist Press entitled “Scripture dislodged prof from infant baptism” was posted discussing how Professor John Yeo left his denomination (PCA) over the issue of paedo-baptism.
In the article Professor Yeo recounts the text that helped convince him that in the New Testament baptism was for believers. The text?
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).
A common question/observation is that there appears to be a distinction in how God’s law works for those in the Old Testament and those in the New. Were the Old Testament saints regenerate? Calvin makes note that this is unheard of. Because the regenerate of the Old Testament had the same source of their regeneration as we who are in the New Covenant…from Jesus. In the Old Testament they did not receive the grace of regeneration from the Law rather it was received in the way it was in the New Testament…from the Gospel.
This leads to another question “what is meant by ‘Law’ here?” Again Calvin is helpful, citing Romans 7:6 and 2 Corinthians 3:6 as an example he argues that the Law is “that of the letter.” Calvin restates another way to read this:
The Law was written on stones, and was therefore a letter. But the Gospel — what is it? It is spirit, that is, God not only addresses his word to the ears of men and sets it before their eyes, but he also inwardly teaches their hearts and minds. This is then the solution of the question: the Prophet speaks of the Law in itself, as apart from the Gospel, for the Law then is dead and destitute of the Spirit of regeneration.
We should observe also that the Law that is placed inside man is not a “new Law”. It is the same Law that had been delivered to the Saints of the Old Testament. Therefore it is right to understand the distinction between substance and form. The substance of the Law would remain the same but the form would be different. Jeremiah states the same thing in two different ways, that the Law would be in his inward parts and in his heart. Why the redundancy? Because as Scripture says we cannot be considered disciples of Jesus unless as Calvin says “we deny ourselves and the world”. (Mat 6:24; Luke 14:26-27) That is why the Law is said to be in their in minds and hearts because someone cannot be turned to obey the Law till they are regenerate in their heart by God.
“And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” A familiar phrase for even the casual reader of the Old Testament. This is a covenant promise God is making that is tied with the covenant promise He made to Abraham. Those who will be in this New Covenant that Jeremiah is referring to will be members of the same covenant that was made with Abraham. The New Covenant is new, but it has not obliterated the covenant made with Abraham. This is the substance of the covenant. Calvin:
For whenever God declares that he will be our God, he offers to us his paternal layout, and declares that our salvation is become the object of his care; he gives to us a free access to himself, bids us to recumb on his grace, and, in short, this promise contains in itself everything needful for our salvation.
In the New Covenant we are aliens to the Kingdom of God, but through it God reconciles us to Him. In the proclamation of the Gospel God continues to tell us that He will be our God and we will be His people. These two are co-existent to the point that one cannot be without the other. In the covenant we have with God, the purpose of this covenant relationship is that we would call upon him and seek him for our salvation. In doing so we are his people who have his grace more abundantly than in former times.
In Hebrews there is an abrogation of the ceremonies when mentioning that the blood of the sacrifice was no longer needed daily. Therefore there is something new and better in the New Covenant. If the Old Covenant (Mosaic) had been sufficient then the New Covenant with a new mediator (Jesus) wouldn’t be necessary. But it was because the function of the Mosaic was to be a tutor and protector of the nation of Israel. The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
I also think it is helpful to look at the verse that precedes this verse:
Jer 31:31 “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, Jer 31:32 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.
This is a foretelling of the New Covenant but see how the new covenant is contrasted with….the Mosaic. Verse 32 “not like the covenant that I made with their faithers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” Circumcision was not a sign of the covenant of Moses. It was a sign of the covenant of Abraham. Jeremiah was writing of a New Covenant that was coming, but this New Covenant would not abrogate the Abrahamic but rather fulfill Sinai. This verse should not be seen as a proof text against paedo-baptism.