Man Is Covenantally Related To God As Creator

Those who see any relationship within Scripture, and so creation, between our God and mankind in general, are simply not looking at those relationships given to us (not “suggested” to us) by our God in His special revelation, which is the Scriptures.

From Adam, to Noah, to Abraham and the other Patriarchs, to Moses, to David, one cannot find a relationship which is not predicated and founded in the covenant construct. Indeed, our God is covenantal, and so gives us the paradigm of His relationship with both Israel and our parent of the flesh:

Hosea 6:7:  But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.

This is a paradigmatic statement of mankind’s relationships with God throughout Scripture, and since Scripture defines man’s relations with God as they occur within natural revelation, this is a paradigmatic statement of man’s relations with God throughout history. Continue reading “Man Is Covenantally Related To God As Creator”

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Creation Then Covenant

In our first installment, we noticed that eschatology drives revelation, and revelation, in turn, drives the illumination of that covenantal structure by which our God has deigned to communicate His will to us in an ever-increasing manner of promise, via the historic covenants, which promises find their final form in that which we call the ratified Covenant of Grace, which is the New Covenant.

In our second installment, we noted that God relates to us, in His revelation, by covenants. We also noted that “covenant” is not a construction superimposed upon the Scripture, and so revelation, but that it is imbedded within it by our God from before the world began, so it behooves us to pay attention.

Creation came before God instituted covenants with man, and this is, necessarily, founded in the eternal transaction between the Father and the Son which we have, with covenant theologians from Paul, the apostle, to the Reformers, to the post Reformation scholastics in the 17th century, and on into the present day, among those who hold to the orthodox, Reformed faith (which is to say, Biblical Christianity), called, variously, the Eternal Covenant, The Covenant of Peace, or the Covenant of Redemption (as noted in our last installment, all these designations are found within Scripture).

Here, however, we note this: Man was created prior to the covenantal structure of Scripture being revealed. We see, first of all, the creation of all things and all other living creatures, then man (Genesis 1:26). Man was not immediately in covenant with God through virtue of God creating him, but was placed in the Garden of Eden and given that moral law to obey God (Genesis 2:7-8; 15-17). Thus, the first covenant we have in Scripture has come to be known, by covenant theologians, as “The Covenant of Works,” for it required Adam’s perfect obedience to God in cultivating the Garden and keeping himself from eating of the forbidden fruit. We call this the first publication of the Moral Law of God in that the entirety of obedience to God is encompassed by both the positive and the negative aspects of the commandments given. Although it is not said, in precise words, that the Lord our God commanded Adam to cultivate the Garden, the implication of positive obedience is strongly implied, while the explicit negative obedience – “do not eat” was given, with consequences. The implications of keeping (and the Hebrew word may also mean “guard,” as it is used of the tabernacle and temple duties of the priests) the Garden has consequences to the way man will relate to the world God created, which in turn has reference to the second table of the Moral Law (last 6 Commandments of The Decalogue), while the explicit command to refrain from doing that which God has forbid has direct relation to the first table of the law (first 4 commandments of The Decalogue). Thus, in both a positive and negative sense of obedience, in order to not only retain the righteousness/goodness with which he was created (and attain to a still higher righteousness/goodness in the eternal state), Adam must obey God by doing that which he was commanded to do (cultivate/guard the Garden) and not doing that which he was forbidden (disobey God), with the consequence that failing to obey God perfectly would result in the loss of life. Scripture reveals, as it unfolds, that this loss of life was first spiritual communion with God, and secondarily physical loss of life (Romans 5:14; cf. Galatians 3:21).

In noting that creation comes before Covenant, we are merely affirming that which was given in our first post in this series, which is that fact that eschatology not only drives Covenant Theology, but drives that very vehicle which gives rise to our ability to understand Covenant Theology, which is revelation. Without the decree of our God, we would have none of the building blocks of revelation, and those building blocks invariably resolve themselves into the covenantal structure by which God has been pleased to communicate His decree (and so His revelation), to mankind.

May we be blessed to understand that this communication of covenantal dealings has, as its model, that first covenantal dealing before time and creation began, in the Covenant of Redemption within the counsel of our God with Himself, and by disclosure, He has deigned to reveal His pleasure in that counsel to we who are His created creatures, to our benefit, and His glory. The unfurling of redemptive history echoes both the dealings of God with His elect in Christ Jesus, and His dealing with those who will not have Him as their king. These are the two main themes which we will find again and again throughout the history of mankind, which is to say, quite simply, redemptive history.

May God use these inadequate words from an inadequate disciple to bless and nourish those who are considering these truths.

Revelation is Covenantal – Covenant Theology – A Continuing Overview

Revelation is Covenantal

From our previous posts, we can see that covenant theology is not a construct we impose upon the Scripture, but rather, that paradigm which God has been pleased to reveal His dealings with those He created, for His glory, in revealing those dealings. That these dealings have to do with the Covenant of Redemption made by God eternally and unchangeably with Himself gives the proper weight to what we have come to know as Covenant Theology.

Consider the record: Acts 13:32-33:  And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ Hebrews 1:5: For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?  And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.” But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.”

Hebrews 6:16-20: For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

This is the eternal counsel of the Almighty breaking in for our benefit to know that which He has done in the Son from before the world, or creation, began. That which He promised by an oath of everlasting and unchanging decree, He has deigned to reveal to us within His written Word. That which was decreed before the world began (eschatology), He has deigned to show us (revelation).

Because of this, we can see that as God has decreed to relate to us by means of the covenants He made with His people throughout redemptive history, so those covenants all contained within them, to varying degrees and in progressive manner, the unfolding of the Eternal/Everlasting Covenant. So, the revelation of that which He discloses to us in Holy Writ is none other than the means by which He also communicates with us, and the covenantal structure is plain to see throughout Scripture. The first promise made – the proto-evangelion (first gospel) unfolds further with each historic covenant, and the shadows become more substantive in each additional covenant, with key aspects of the promise being unfurled for us as we go through them. With the Noahic, we see the promise of the New earth and heavens, and a picture of salvation; with the Abrahamic, that of the further establishment of the people, the Priesthood of the Messiah (Genesis 12:3; 14:18-20; 17:1ff; Psalm 110:1-4; Hebrews 6:20; 7:1-3, 11, 17), and the nation the Messiah would come through, with further pictures of salvation; with the Mosaic, the continuation and guarding of that line and the establishment of the Kingship the Messiah would inherit through the Davidic (Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:34-35; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 1:13; 10:12-13; 12:2) both with more types and promises (Hebrews 8:5; 10:1) concerning the Prophet who would come. All these were guardians of the lineage that brought about the Messiah, with hints and typical aspects of that which would be finalized by Him when He came into the world. Notice how that which was typical was realized in the anti-type of our Lord, and is being realized in His body (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:20-22).

May we see that which God intended for us to gather from His disclosure of His divine purpose from before the world was formed, rather than to read into His revelation our predictions to justify our particular paradigms of that which He has communicated to us in His grace.

Soli Deo Gloria – Bill H

What Is Covenant Theology – A Continuing Introduction

Creation Then Covenant

In our last installment, we noticed that eschatology drives revelation, and revelation, in turn, drives the illumination of that covenantal structure by which our God has deigned to communicate His will to us in an ever-increasing manner of  promise, via the historic covenants, which promises find their final form in that which we call the ratified Covenant of Grace, which is the New Covenant.

Man was created prior to the covenantal structure of Scripture being revealed. We see, first of all, the creation of all things and all other living creatures, then man (Genesis 1:26). Man was not immediately in covenant with God through virtue of God creating him, but was placed in the Garden of Eden and given that moral law to obey God (Genesis 2:7-8; 15-17). Thus, the first covenant we have in Scripture has come to be known, by covenant theologians, as “The Covenant of Works,” for it required Adam’s perfect obedience to God in cultivating the Garden and keeping himself from eating of the forbidden fruit. We call this the first publication of the Moral Law of God in that the entirety of obedience to God is encompassed by both the positive and the negative aspects of the commandments given. Although it is not said, in precise words, that the Lord our God commanded Adam to cultivate the Garden, the implication of positive obedience is strongly implied, while the explicit negative obedience – “do not eat” was given, with consequences. The implications of keeping (and the Hebrew word may also mean “guard,” as it is used of the tabernacle and temple duties of the priests) the Garden has consequences to the way man will relate to the world God created, which in turn has reference to the second table of the Moral Law (last 6 Commandments of The Decalogue), while the explicit command to refrain from doing that which God has forbid has direct relation to the first table of the law (first 4 commandments of The Decalogue). Thus, in both a positive and negative sense of obedience, in order to not only retain the righteousness/goodness with which he was created (and attain to a still higher righteousness/goodness in the eternal state), Adam must obey God by doing that which he was commanded to do (cultivate/guard the Garden) and not doing that which he was forbidden (disobey God), with the consequence that failing to obey God perfectly would result in the loss of life. Scripture reveals, as it unfolds, that this loss of life was first spiritual communion with God, and secondarily physical loss of life (Romans 5:14; cf. Galatians 3:21).

In noting that creation comes before Covenant, we are merely affirming that which was given in our first post in this series, which is that fact that eschatology not only drives Covenant Theology, but drives that very vehicle which gives rise to our ability to understand Covenant Theology, which is revelation. Without the decree of our God, we would have none of the building blocks of revelation, and those building blocks invariably resolve themselves into the covenantal structure by which God has been pleased to communicate His decree (and so His revelation), to mankind.

May we be blessed to understand that this communication of covenantal dealings has, as its model, that first covenantal dealing before time and creation began, in the Covenant of Redemption within the counsel of our God with Himself, and by disclosure, He has deigned to reveal His pleasure in that counsel to we who are His created creatures, to our benefit, and His glory. The unfurling of redemptive history echoes both the dealings of God with His elect in Christ Jesus, and His dealing with those who will not have Him as their king. These are the two main themes which we will find again and again throughout the history of mankind, which is to say, quite simply, redemptive history.

May God use these inadequate words from an inadequate disciple to bless and nourish those who are considering these truths.

Soli Deo Gloria – Bill H

Covenant Theology – An Overview From An Introduction

It has come to my attention that, although I would not consider myself the best expositor of the Covenant Theology of the Particular Baptists of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (what today is called 1689 Federalism), that there is an interest in my posts regarding these doctrines.

At the outset, let me say that covenant theology, of whatever camp among the orthodox Reformed (of which I, and others, count our Particular Baptist brethren of past years, and so ourselves), must, of necessity, deal with various motifs which occur in such theological constructs. As a result, it is unavoidable that eschatology, the “temple motif” of Scriptures, and various other doctrines, which are inextricably intertwined with the doctrine of the covenants should be left out of such discussions (at least, to me, it is unavoidable).

To this end, I posted my first post entitled “What Is Covenant Theology,” which deals quite briefly with these various elements, but brings them to the attention of the reader for further consideration.

Subsequent posts will follow seeking to define, in an introductory manner, some of these elements.

What should not be mistaken is that this is to addressof Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology (i.e., 1689 Federalism) in exhaustive, or even slightly exhaustive detail. This is simply to give the reader some building blocks to consider upon which to build.

May our God see fit to bless you as we meditate upon these series of posts as they are forthcoming. Please be patient – I am working on more than one project, and the synthesis of certain documents to bring about these articles will take some time.

In His name, to His glory alone, in and by the application of our Lord’s merits to those who undeservedly gain such benefit – Bill H

What is Covenant Theology?

Covenant Theology

Introduction

What it is:

Covenant Theology is not a new understanding of Scripture; in fact, it is that system which God, in His divine providence, established to communicate His sacred Word to His chosen people throughout what we know as “redemptive history.” The difference between what the world calls “history” and what we call “redemptive history” is simply the fact that God is the Author of all history, and the ultimate goal – the eschatological culmination which our God has decreed He has been pleased to communicate to us by means of covenants.

The driving force behind revelation, and so Covenant Theology, is eschatology – eschatology precedes revelation – (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2) – The end of revelation, and so Covenant Theology, is also driven by eschatology, and is the renewal of all things, beginning with Christ, and having its completion is the ultimate salvation in the New Heavens and Earth where He gives us our glorified, sinless eternal bodies to go with the regenerate nature we received when we were saved Romans 8:19-23; Ephesians 1:7-10; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; 2 Corinthians 2:4-5; Revelation 21-22). This makes the importance of Covenant Theology obvious. As we know all things are moved along by God’s decree (which is understood to have always existed unchangeably, as God does not change and is infinite and eternal – this is an eschatological statement, as well as a statement regarding God), it is through the revelational understanding of Covenant Theology that we are privileged to be given the comprehension of the outworking of that decree. In this sense, we may say that Scripture is the outworking of God’s covenantal dealings with those He created.

In other words, Covenant Theology is the system God imbedded in His Scriptures to show how we are to see and understand who He is, how He relates to His chosen people and those who are not, and how we, as His people, relate to one another. For us, it is the history of salvation, with all the promises, admonishments and teaching necessary to grow in holiness with and by God, and that means it is indispensable for us to work as individual yet joined (organically unified) members of Christ’s body. For the reprobate, it is the history of idolatry leading to damnation where individualism is not only celebrated, but worshipped. In Covenant Theology, which is simply to say the true manner in which we read God’s truth, we are shown the “interconnectedness,” or harmony, of Scripture, and how God saves His people to His glory and their benefit, as well as how He judges those who are not His people, also to His glory.

To give some idea of the importance of the covenantal construction of Scripture, in the English versions, the word “covenant” appears 292 times in the KJV, 293 times in the NJKV, 319 times in the ESV, and 315 times in the NASB (the difference in the number of times between English translations is due to the translations of certain words into other, related terms, such asdecree,“statutes,” “testament,” and etc.). This alone would indicate the way God relates to His people is especially considered by Him to be by way of covenant. That our Creator built this system of doctrine into His Scriptures shows the importance it carries, and the key to that covenantal doctrinal emphasis is our Lord Jesus Christ (the New Testament has the word occur 32 times in the ESV, 33 in the NASB, 28 in the NKJV and 20 in the KJV).

Of Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms and Christianity

In my limited time as one who believes the historic ecumenical creeds of the church universal, as well as the further and most necessary fleshing out of our “faith once for all delivered to the saints” in the historic Reformed confessions and catechisms of the 16th and 17th centuries, I have found what had been lacking in my own knowledge (and experience, by that transformative truth of Scripture), in what I shall call, for the purposes of this article, both Calvinism and evangelical Christianity.

Coupled with reading various historical accounts of both the development of the exposition of the great doctrines of evangelical Christianity throughout the history of the church universal, which our great God willed we recover and make known among the nations through the Protestant Reformation, I have also read various historical accounts of the opposition to that which has come to be called Calvinism (in the historic sense), by which I intend the Reformed (which is to say Biblical) faith.

The book I finished reading, most recently, is The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray. Despite the title, the book concentrates not so much on biographical materials as it does the main controversies which were a part of Charles H. Spurgeon’s time of ministry. The most obvious, most insidious of these was, in my opinion, what has come to be called The Downgrade Controversy.

Now, I know that not all the Reformed confessions are in lock-step with each other, and this is proven by the reticence and outright hostility of some who hold to paedobaptist confessions of faith to acknowledge that such formulations as the London Baptist Confession of Faith (to be fair, the door swings both ways, mostly due to ignorance on either side[1])  deserve their due place in the history of the long line of those who followed, and still follow, in the footsteps of the first and subsequent Reformers of the church. Such details, however, are beyond the scope of this article, and I shall confine myself to those areas where we are agreed, as was the greater intention of all the great Reformed confessions.

By both Calvinism and evangelical Christianity, I intend that body of doctrines given us by our Lord and God which permeate the Scriptures[2]. These doctrines are included in a frame of what has come to be known as Covenant Theology, which is set forth in no uncertain terms in the great Reformed confessions. Such includes the soteriology which has come to be known, variously, as the Five Points of Calvinism and the Doctrines of Grace.

Now, many have recovered his soteriology, yet have not accepted the covenantal structure of Scripture. While we rejoice at the many who have been taught the truth of such monergistic salvation which glorifies our God, we must note that without the understanding of the covenantal structure in which it takes place, that there have been errors which cannot help but come forth when the covenantal structure of the Scripture is unacknowledged. The doctrine of Scripture is a coherent whole, a harmony of God’s teaching that cannot be taken apart and considered apiece, unless it once again be looked at together in the final analysis.

Past these introductory comments, what I wish to observe, in this article, is that the faith once delivered to the saints has faced its enemies, without and within the church catholic, throughout redemptive history. This can be said to be true of the entity which was the church prior to the establishment of the New Covenant, that national entity which alone was elected by God to give witness of His inestimable glory to the world at large, and which is known in Scripture, and world history, as Israel.

Objectors will no doubt point out that Israel was not the church of the New Testament; this is true. However, it was the body elect of those who were to put forth the truth of God to the people of not only their own nation, but the world, and as such, being that elect body, comprised the vast majority of those who were the chosen people of God, during that long period of time, for that purpose. In noting that such was the case, it must be noted, also, that the greatest challenge to the purity of God’s people witnessing to His glory was not the surrounding nations, or those false gods they worshipped, or those nations’ paganistic cultures, but rather, the assimilation of all these various elements of the seed of the Evil One, the Devil, who deceived the woman and whose deception was readily and freely embraced by the first man, Adam.

The history of the world is a composite of the redemptive purposes of God for His people, and the efforts of the Evil One to subvert and destroy those redemptive purposes. Ultimately, it is all about God’s redemptive purposes, for none of that which the Devil has, can, or will yet do, can stand against God’s purposes, anymore than a solitary straw could stand still being exposed to the wind of a hurricane. (All through the Scriptures, God’s sovereign power is represented in no uncertain terms, such as in Job 42:2 and Daniel 4:34-35). The force of the will of the sovereign uncreated Creator can no more be thwarted by the Devil than any other being God created, and this is part and parcel with our hope of salvation.

In Reformed Covenant Theology, which is supremely represented in the great Reformed confessions, there was a recovery of that structure by which God deals with His creation, primarily directly with man, whom He created in His image. The fall – the marring of that image of God in man – was intended to show man the futility of endeavoring to reach that blessed communion with his Creator of his own efforts, yet it was also the beginning of the plan of God in redemptive history – set forth from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-11; Titus 1:1-3; 2 Timothy 1:9) – brought forth in the first promise of the gospel (Genesis 3:15).

This structure is readily apparent throughout the Scripture, and is shown to go forth in progressive steps[3] towards those two momentous events which are the pivot and end of history: The first advent of our Savior, in order to suffer the wrath of God on our behalf, reconcile us to God by His solitary work, and give us that life eternal He alone worthily earned, and the second advent, where He will come to grant us those bodies which will no more suffer and sin, but be like His glorified body, at the same time judging those who hate Him.

With these two objective truths of Scripture in mind, we see the slowly revealed progress of each historic covenant to serve that purpose of God which culminated in our Lord, and we see the two main structures of Covenant Theology, which have two representative heads, or federal heads:[4] Adam, for those who are yet trying to be justified by their own efforts, and Christ, who justifies those who place their faith in His completed work to the Father’s glory and His people’s eternal benefit. Every other historic covenant, with regard to membership, is a mixture of these two,[5] where the evil seed of the Devil (the children of the flesh), and the righteous seed of the Messiah (those born again of His Spirit by grace through faith), abide side-by-side, yet at purposes opposed.

This brings us to our next point in this article, which is this: The children of the Devil are not only known to be represented by Adam, but every time we see opposition to God and elevation of man in Scripture, we see a microcosm of that final salvation and judgment which will come when our Lord returns for the second, and last time. There is the world which hates God, recognizing there are those who are God’s, who are in the world, yet not of the world (1 John 2:15-16; John 15:18-19; 1 John 4:2-5; 5:19). These two federal bodies of people must exist together, yet distinct, until the end of things, and this is also something that is brought out in the great Reformed confessions. This dichotomy has been referred to by various labels, but for our purposes, we merely note its existence.

Which, finally, brings us to our main point: Everywhere the church of our Lord Jesus Christ has flourished, it has been with, at least, a minimal understanding of the progressive and intermixed purposes of the historic covenants, and most especially the two conglomerations represented by their respective heads, the first and last Adam, in what has commonly and explicitly come to be called the Covenant of Works (first Adam) and the Covenant of Grace (last Adam, Jesus Christ). Where these have been denied, idolatrous autonomy, falling in line with the respective judgments which are shown to take place every time man seeks His own glory above that of His God’s glory, has ensued, along with like judgments (One example of this would be the teaching of dispensationalism, which has formed a system that professing believers could shallowly embrace, thinking themselves free of having to deal with persecutions and tribulations).[6]

Furthermore, all these things have been painstakingly set forth as plainly as possible by our God in His Holy Scripture – at least, plainly enough for His purposes and our understanding.

This brings us to our final point: The church of our Lord Jesus Christ realized, in its infancy, the truth of these things in a manner which was lost sight of, for a time, then recovered and expounded upon by what we know as the Protestant Reformation. As the Light of the World shone forth in the pages of Scripture during His first advent, so He willed to again shine forth the light of His truth in the pages of church history by the recovering of the very doctrines which God had set forth through His Son, apostles, and prophets for our instruction, admonishment, and worshipful service to Him and one another.

These truths, despite some disagreements, are set forth the most explicitly in the great Reformed confessions, which are a compendium of the great doctrines of Scripture in synthetic format (by which we mean separate doctrines, joined together, comprise the whole of that glorious body of truth God has given us). To say that these are not an exposition of greater understanding of those truths laid out for us in Scripture would be to dismiss those very truths, as the God who set them forth for us laid them out to be discovered, meditated upon, and expounded upon for the benefit of His people, to His everlasting and redounding glory. More, it would be to discount the very sovereign purposes of God, and so at least a tacit denial of Him to various degrees, to disallow that this is what He intended.

These truths were set forth to be discovered; first, by direct revelation to the apostles and prophets, and secondly, by the enlightenment which comes from studying such truths from the same Spirit of God who indwelt the first believers of the church, up to believers of this present time. They were not meant to be discovered in a vacuum, but in the broad context of the history of the church, by men so gifted of the Holy Spirit.

This is exactly what happened with the recovery of these truths in the Protestant Reformation, and it is exactly what continued to happen since that time, with the high expression of the grand body of Scriptural doctrine being set forth plainly, yet robustly, in the great Reformed confessions of faith.

Since these confessions have been penned, there has not been one moment in church history where these truths have not been promoted and expounded upon with greater clarity. There has been ebb and flow of such discovery and exposition, but where the church has flourished, so have these sublime doctrines, and where the church has floundered, it has been because of the willingness of various segments, large and small, of the church of Jesus Christ to embrace the elements of the world to the sacrifice of these truths for the sake of a seeming unity which discounts these very same truths.

It has been well said, in several ways, that there can be no true unity of the church which sacrifices the great teachings of the Christian faith. This is proven and shown in the very pages of the New Testament, was proven and shown in the very pages of the Old Testament, and continues to be proven and shown in the pages of the history of the church.

Men cry “The Bible alone is our creed!” while knowingly, or unwittingly, failing to acknowledge that the creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the church, most especially since the time of the Reformation onward, are the highest standard of revering both that Word of God and the God who gave us that Word.

Where men have failed to uphold the truths of Calvinism, the church has invariably followed the nuances and predispositions of those who built the tower of Babel in Genesis, who arrogantly sought to establish their own prominence and glory over that of the God who created them, saying “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4) Seeking to make a name for themselves, even well-meaning men have set the creature above the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. They affirm their independence, and that they can approach the glory of heaven by their own strong arm, which always turns out to be a flimsy reed that breaks under the weight of such arrogance. Also invariably, God confuses their purposes and scatters them to seek that which they were after, as at Babel, yet within such judgments, His purpose always inexorably forges ahead, for it could not be otherwise.

Also, when men set themselves to deny those splendid doctrines which have the covenants as their structure, and the New Covenant (which is to say, the Covenant of Grace realized and ratified in redemptive history), they open, either inadvertently or purposely, the doors of the church to new methods of interpretation of the blessed Scriptures of our God, which methods turn out to be nothing other than new forms of Babel, set for judgment, to the detriment of the church and the misery of men.

In conclusion, it is our contention that where the great Reformed confessions, creeds, and catechisms have held sway, and the people have applied themselves to learning those great Biblical truths of the evangelical church contained therein, the church has met with much success, and God has received the doxology of praise which is only rightfully His. However, that which brother Spurgeon experienced, to his grief, and the churches of that day’s demise, already mentioned above as The Downgrade Controversy, has been a constant companion of the truth of God – the peoples yet remain mixed, and the churches, individually and as a whole, where they depart from these great truths of the Reformed confessions, find themselves not only adapting to the world, but adopting its ways, and so rather than being a light to the world which reflects The Light of the World, they become mirrors of the world, reflecting its own self-righteous aggrandizement back to it, where the simple gospel becomes a simpleton’s gospel, devoid of those truths which are the backbone, foundation and cement of the church, for as our Lord said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17).

Such is the case today that we have seen, yet again, another recovery of “the old paths;” yet, as always, it is not without the admixture of Babel seeking to reach heaven by the strength of men without the strength of Christ.

To continue on the narrow path, we need those old truths which are timeless, because they issue from He who is outside of time, and directs all time to His ends. We need to once again be confessional, creedal, and covenantal in our approach to and application of God’s Word, if we wish to see the current atmosphere of recovering the true faith, the Reformed faith, continue. We need to let our God’s prescribed methods of the ordinary means of grace in the singing and preaching of the Word dictate our worship.

Where any church, or group of churches, stray from these things, Babel will once again seek to raise its ugly tower of man’s preeminence, where he seeks to be like God, and brings judgment upon himself and his fellows. God grant that we continue along that path He has willed until that glorious day, and that He downgrades the Downgrade that yet seeks to undermine His Holy Purposes. We know He will prevail, for it cannot but be so.

[1] Thanks to Patrick McWilliams for pointing this out to me; also, thanks to my brother for reading and suggesting valuable edits to the article. Patrick proofreads professionally, so for those of you looking for professional help with editing of books and articles, you can find his email address at his blog, The Sovereign Logos.

[2] I cannot help but refer the reader to Spurgeon’s outstanding defense of these doctrines at http://www.spurgeon.org/calvinis.htm

[3] The language of “further steps” is used in describing the progressive nature of God’s revelation of His gospel promise in the Covenant of Grace through promissory and typological form in chapter 7, paragraph 3, entitled Of God’s Covenant, in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (hereafter 2 LBC). This points to a difference in the formulation of Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology from that of our paedobaptist brethren. For a comparison, go to http://www.proginosko.com/docs/wcf_sdfo_lbcf.html.

[4] LBC chapter 7. The language of “federal” and “federalism” is used to define that system of theology, inherent in the Scriptures, by which all individuals in history (whether one calls it divine history, redemptive history, or simply, history, it remains the same), line up under one or the other of the two active covenants which remain until the New Heavens and New Earth are inaugurated by our Lord Jesus Christ. These two covenants are, respectively, under their federal heads, the Covenant of Works (Adam as the federal head of all unsaved peoples) and the Covenant of Grace (Christ Jesus as the federal head of all saved peoples). As such, “federalism” is synonymous with Covenant Theology.

[5] By “mixture,” we do not intend the dual administration model adopted by our paedobaptist brethren, but rather, the co-existing of the substance of the Covenant of Grace in promises and types alongside the physical and material promises of the historic covenants, whereby the substance of the Covenant of Grace is not conjoined to that of the substance of the historic covenants. Although together in the historic covenants, they are not of the substance of the historic covenants, but rather, that of the promises of the gospel, which would be ratified in the coming, life, death and resurrection of the Messiah.

[6] This, of course, is not true of all that hold to dispensationalists, but of those who embrace the doctrine with no question for the purpose of holding to that which appeals to the flesh. Persecution is not welcome, but it is promised us (Acts 14:22b; 2 Timothy 3:12), and with a shallow embrace of what amounts to escapist eschatology by immature believers, this truth is one which is dismissed all too readily.

SDG – Bill

A “Marrow” Man on Sanctification

The following is a quote from Thomas Boston, a man involved in the “Marrow” controversy, on sanctification. This quote is fitting in light of the recent controversy on sanctification. It is rather strange that people are trying to lump Tullian Tchividjian with the” Marrow” men. The following quote would seem to be something that Tullian would seem uncomfortable with – exhorting believers to holiness with the use of the Law and also with threats.

This double seal answers to the two parts of the covenant; Jer. 32:40, “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” This covenant shall not fail on God’s part, for it hath this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his;” nor on the part of the saints, for it hath this seal, “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Let us attend,

1. To the seal itself, which, in its general nature, is a command of sanctification; in which consider, to whom it is directed, upon whom this awful charge is laid. They are the Lord’s own words, directed to every one that nameth the name of his Son, that is, to all who profess Christ. And this character of professors serves not only to distinguish them from those without the church, who are incapable of apostacy; but also shows the obligation laid on them to holiness by their profession, the holy name named by them binding them to a holy life. The inconsistency between the holy profession and an unholy life, which, though men join together, God will have separated, sooner or later, for he will strip them either of their fair name, or their foul heart and life, in time or in eternity. Consider, the duty commanded, “to depart from iniquity,” as from a thing one formerly stood to and followed. Iniquity is that thing which we all naturally follow as a master and leader; but there must be a falling off from it, an apostacy, or falling away from sin, as the word imports. And this is the way to prevent apostacy from the Lord; for this does import, that it is some one iniquity or other indulged, and left to reign in the heart, which betrays professors into apostacy, as Judas, Demas, &c. Consider,

2. How this can be a seal to secure the saints and elect ones from apostacy, since it is but a commandment? To this I answer, that the nature of the preceding seal would seem to have required this expression, “And they that are his depart from iniquity.” But it is in form of a command, to show that the saints depart from iniquity by choice, and that they are by the Lord himself powerfully determined to this choice; so that their perseverance is both rational and gracious. It is a command, at the same time it is a powerful and efficacious command of God, like that in Gen. 1:3, “And God said, Let there be light, and there was light;” a command which effects what it requires in all who are his. It is such a command as that in Num. 16:26, (quoted above), which brought away from the tents of Dathan and Abiram, all who were not to be swallowed up with them. And this command is going through wherever the gospel is preached, and will go till the last day; like a brisk wind separating the corn from the chaff, carrying away from the tents of sin all who are ordained to eternal life, though others dwell on in them still. Thus, though the profane and hypocritical, and all who are not the Lord’s, are still held by some one bond of sin or other which is never broken: yet this powerful word looses the bands of all sin, sets them and their sins asunder, and keeps them asunder, who, being sealed with the first seal, are his. And all this God’s efficacious word can do, as well as keep the world from returning into its primitive mass of confusion; Heb. 1:3, “Upholding all things by the word of his power.” And so it is a seal securing them from apostasy.”*
*Boston, T. (1851). The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: A Series of Sermons and the Christian Life Delineated. (S. M‘Millan, Ed.) (Vol. 10, pp. 11–12). Aberdeen: George and Robert King.

The Everlasting Covenant

Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

This is the first promise made to Abram by God, concerning those aspects of the promise given in Genesis 3:15, in which the Seed of the woman will ultimately bring about the grace of God to all nations through that Seed, which is Jesus Christ. [1]

Historically and Biblically, this is looked upon, in Covenant Theology, as the historical establishment of the Covenant of Grace; however, the covenant made with Abraham is not mentioned until Genesis 15:18, and the rudiments of that covenant, when it is mentioned, are the promises of the land for the people which shall spring out of Abraham’s loins. This is set forth in Genesis 17:

Genesis 17:7-13: “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.

There has been much great study, and subsequently much written, on the nature of what constitutes a covenant in Scripture, therefore it is not the intention of this article to explore that which has been so adroitly handled by many qualified men of God throughout the history of the church. What will be looked at is the difference between a promise of God (particularly “the promise,” as given in seed form in Genesis 3:15, and fleshed out in the promises to Abraham concerning his seed), and a covenant of God. Particularly, we will explore the meaning of “everlasting covenant” as it occurs in the cited verses, with the aid of Scripture, both those under consideration, and subsequent revelation which clarifies the understanding of the words “promise” and “everlasting.” That these terms must be considered in the context of that covenant in which they occur should be needless to mention, for, according to the analogia fides [2] (analogy of faith) and the analogia Scripturae [3] (analogy of Scripture), there is clearer light to be shed on every aspect of Scripture which is difficult to determine in and of itself; i.e., Scripture interprets Scripture, and the overall theology of Scripture, being consistent in and of itself as that which determines our faith and practice, clarifies itself in consideration of the organic whole.

We have also already shown this relation of the words rendered “everlasting” and “eternal,” in regards to the historical covenants God has made with mankind, in a former blog article entitled “Forever in Scripture and Covenant Language,” [4] which should be of some value to the reader regarding the usage of this word.

Now, concerning God’s words to Abraham in the first instance, it must be noted that this was not the institution of the Covenant of Grace with Abraham, but contained both the seed of that former promise in the Garden, regarding the woman’s seed, and the seeds of that covenant which God would establish with Abraham in the latter instance. In the establishment of the covenant with Abraham, God tells him that He shall establish His covenant with Abraham’s seed, Isaac (Genesis 17:19, 21), in direct contradiction to the prayer of Abraham to God that Ishmael might live before God (Genesis 17:18).

Now, we know that Ishmael was considered before God from these verses, and that his seed was established after him, pertaining to becoming a great nation, and fathering twelve princes; however, although Ishmael was considered before God, and even a part of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 17:28), it was not with a view to that election through which all the nations and peoples of the world would be blessed, so, at least regarding Ishmael, there was an application of the covenant made with Abraham which did not encompass and insure the eternal life and attendant blessings with which the people, land, nation and kingdom of God’s (elect) people would be further demonstrated through additional covenants. (5) It must also be insisted upon, at this point, that those who were foreigners who were added to the covenant were also not necessarily encompassed in the promises of the Covenant of Grace. It can be said that this is a foreshadowing of those of the church of Christ which would be encompassed within the Covenant of Grace who were not of ethnic, national Israel, but a foreshadow is not the substance, anymore than a promise is a covenant (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5-6; Galatians 3:17-18). This can also be applied to ethnic, national Israel, who, though receiving so much by way of covenants God made with them, were, of themselves, not all necessarily encompassed within that which the apostle denotes as not being of Israel, although descended, according to the flesh, from Abraham (Romans 9:1-8). That this is a clear delineation between the spiritual seed of Abraham (and so spiritual Israel) and the fleshly seed of Abraham (and so ethnic, national Israel), none will deny.

The question naturally arises: Are all who are of the natural seed encompassed within the eternal covenant given to Abraham, in regard to that spiritual Seed, who is Christ?

The apostle again gives an answer in the negative to this question:

Galatians 3:16: Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. It does not say, “And to seeds,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your seed,” who is Christ.

It must also be noted that the promises were that which within the New Covenant were, in shadow form, then present, especially from consideration of the verses we have cited; therefore, the Abrahamic Covenant itself, although given with promises, was not the ratification of that Covenant of Grace which we now know to be the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, and to this, the writer to the Hebrews gives irrefutable evidence:

Hebrews 9:15-18: For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood.

It is therefore without controversy that the Covenant of Grace, in order to be ratified in God’s redemptive history, was in need of the death of the testator for that ratification. Historically, it cannot be said, with any degree of truth, that the historic ratification of the Covenant of Grace took place before the death of He who inaugurated it by His life, and sealed it by His death. Likewise, the shadowy form of the Sinaitic Covenant is shown to be that which showed, by such types and figures, the pattern, but not the substance, of that heavenly covenant which God alone gave and sanctioned in His Son.

Now, the phrase, everlasting covenant (or eternal covenant), as it pertains to that covenant made with Abraham by God, must be ascertained with regard to the elements of which it pertained; I do not say that such must be done regarding the promises made to Abraham concerning God blessing all the earth in his Seed, which is Christ, and in whom we are incorporated, by His life, death, and resurrection, to be of that spiritual seed of the spiritual Israel (which also means the spiritual seed of Abraham), for I trust that has been well established, as to its meaning.

That there was the reemphasizing and expansion, in the Abrahamic Covenant, of the promise made to the woman after the fall, none will doubt or take exception to; that this was yet in shadow, as to the final form in which our Savior and Lord was and is the surety and substance concerning, none will doubt, either. Again we note, however, that a shadow, however expanded it may be, is not the substance of the antitype which it represents in less clear form, so we say that the promises in the Abrahamic Covenant, regarding the historical entry into actual form, concerning the Covenant of Grace, could not be that which our final Testator Himself sealed with His own life blood.

What, then, does it mean, when God tells Abraham that He has made an everlasting covenant with him? Since it is not the redemptive historical entry and finalizing of that Covenant of Grace promised by God immediately after the fall of man, but, rather, a furthering of that promise (as indeed all the historic covenants hold shadows of various shades of that which our Savior alone gave form too), what, exactly, was eternal about the covenant itself?

Since the terms of a covenant that God makes with man determine the contextual meaning of the words we find in Scripture regarding that covenant, it is important to note that the covenant made with Abraham was deemed eternal in regards to the context of his offspring which would inherit the land of Canaan. We see this in the above cited text of Genesis 17. Furthermore, the seed of Abraham which would be bound to the terms of this covenant are identified, in that text, as those who would be circumcised in their flesh – this is coextensive with the promise of the land and temporal blessings of being in the land in obedience to God, according to the conditions He set forth. This is why the Abrahamic Covenant is also referred to, in later Scripture, as the covenant of circumcision (Acts 7:8).

Therefore, this covenant contained, as its main condition, that of being circumcised in the flesh, and from Scripture, we understand that this sign of circumcision carried with it an obligation to follow and obey the Lord, to the extent that He had revealed Himself and His precepts at that time, which is explained by God in Genesis 18:19: “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” The promise referenced here is not the seed comprised of the yet-unrealized, yet-unratified CoG, but the inheritance of the land of Canaan (which is a type of that which is to come, and we know that types are not intended to last, but point to and somewhat define the substance of the antitype they represent). Thus, at this point, eternal covenant is not intended to go beyond the terms of the covenant God gives to Abraham (which covenant is not coextensive with the eternal promise of the CoG), which terms were all temporal, and context demands that the understanding of eternal, within the bounds of this particular, temporal covenant, must be understood as referring to these terms and conditions, so that the definition of the word at this point should be understood as applying to the people as long as the economy of that particular covenant was operational. This covenant was eternal in the sense that it applied to the fleshly seed and the spiritual seed of the first gospel promise, which promise was also reiterated (but not ratified by the death of the testator) in further, yet still shadowy form, to Abraham, but it was eternal to both seeds as a covenant in the sense that it was to them throughout their generations, according to the sign in the flesh, and the obedience they rendered God, without which said sign and obedience the covenant would be broken.

In the second sense, it may be said it represented that CoG which was yet to be ratified in redemptive history by the coming Seed who would bruise the serpents head, but since this part of the Abrahamic Covenant was given in promissory form only (a covenant must be ratified by the blood of the sacrifice, and in the sense of the culmination of the CoG, this also was by that new and better wayHebrews 7:22; 9:11-15), it has reference to that which was to come, not in a temporal sense, but in that exact eternal sense contained within the promise. Since the promise had been in effect, it was neither nullified nor changed by the Abrahamic and other historic covenants (such as Sinai, mentioned in the context of the above quoted Scripture), but had reference to that which was yet to come. Thus, all the great Reformed Confessions state that none were ever saved to eternal life but by this same CoG, by its promise prior to ratification, and by its real presence and substance afterwards – (see Chapters 7 of the WCF, Savoy Declaration [hereafter SD] and LBCF 2) [6].

This, however, is the thrust and sense of our article, which should already be apparent to the reader: Whereas the WCF and SD declare it to be properly administered, as to its substance, within the various historic covenants in diverse manners, the LBCF 2 declares that this administration of the substance was done not according to the historic covenants having that substance in and of themselves, but of the original promise in the protoevangelium. That is, the promises of spiritual blessing contained within (but distinct from) the Abrahamic Covenant are of the same nature as the first promise of the gospel in Genesis 3:15, and the substance of all these promises, while being within the historic covenants, concerning the elect of all ages of the church of God, remained in promissory form (as we have said above). These promises alone containing the substance of the CoG, they alone were of the first promise and subsequent types and shadows in further historic covenants, not as pertaining to the covenantally established substance of each of the historic covenants, which, while containing the promise of the CoG – that the graces and blessings of eternal life in Christ were administered to the elect recipients in all ages – nevertheless, themselves, were not that confirmation or administration of the original CoG, especially as pertaining to their exact substance, whether under the formative historic covenants, or subsequent to the historic establishment of the CoG in the New Covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, it cannot be said that this substance of the CoG was necessarily contained within, or the same, as the substance of any of the historic covenants, including but not limited to the Abrahamic. This is because these covenants, while holding within them, in various shades, forms, and promises, the substance of the original promise, were themselves to give that present form to the church which God decreed for the bringing about of said promise as a formal covenant. This they did, utilizing various religious and moral forms in types and shadows which represented the ongoing efficacy of the promise without, themselves, being of the same substance of that promise, their substance being of an entirely different nature which would pass away when that which was the ratified CoG, which we call the New Covenant, came into existence in redemptive history at the proper time, as we have noted, and which is further proven by various Scriptures of the New Testament (1 Timothy 2:5-6; Titus 1:2-3).

This is why the apostle calls the historic covenants the covenants of promise (Ephesians 2:12), because in those historic covenants, the promise was inherent, having its own substance, but not of the same substance as the historic covenants themselves. These historic covenants were, broadly speaking and reiterating, for the purpose of bringing about the realization of those promises, specifically of the new covenant as a formal covenant in particular, when and by the One who did ratify the CoG came into this world.

In this sense, all the historic covenants contained, in seed form, the promise, additionally defined by various and further promises, types and shadows within these covenants, which covenants may be understood to be types and shadows of that final covenant themselves. If we apply the appellation eternal or everlasting to any of the historic covenants, in the sense in which they would last into and after the eschaton, we do a disservice to the contextual usage of the word within those historical covenant perimeters, for it is plain, as to their own substance and the administration thereof, they were only intended as vehicles which would bring about the final form of the CoG in the New Covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is true of the promise; it never was true of any of the historic covenants themselves until that final historic covenant made actual by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Until such a time, the historic covenants themselves never were intended to save any unto eternal life, so that the words eternal and everlasting were to be understood within the boundaries set forth by the very context of those covenants. Having such contexts, the perimeters were defined and set forth by God.

In our concluding thoughts, two things must be again stressed: 1. regarding the understanding put forth, in Scripture, concerning the words eternal and everlasting, as applied to the historic covenants through which the promise of the Redeemer was carried, these words must be understood as referring, regarding the substance of each historic covenant, to that economy which God brought about to insure the line of the Redeemer, and when said economy ceased to function in such a manner, that was the terminus to which these words referred, regarding finite ends they were to insure. This sense of the words only relates to the substance of each historic covenant, not that initial promise of the protoevangelium, which is to say, not their own substance, since the historic covenants were to bring about the people, land, nation and kingdom through which the promise of the Redeemer would be, ultimately, fulfilled. Once these historic covenants were fulfilled regarding bringing about the people, land, nation and kingdom through which the Redeemer would come, their particular functions, being fulfilled, ceased, at the proper time appointed by God to establish His CoG in historic, redemptive form as the New Covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2. That which was truly eternal, or everlasting, of the historic covenants was never other than the promise of the Redeemer, which alone had, and has, that eternal substance that none of the historic covenants had as their primary substance to administer, since their form fulfilled a finite end subservient to the eternal end realized in the coming of the Redeemer. The CoG was not a formal covenant until the birth, life and death of the testator, the Lord Jesus Christ. In this manner, that which is said of the Abrahamic Covenant (in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed) was and is realized not within the context, or of the substance of the Abrahamic Covenant itself, but in the true everlasting covenant which was contained only in promissory form within that covenant with Abraham (Galatians 3:8).

In Christ Jesus, our God established as a formal covenant, in His redemptive history, the CoG promised since the fall in Adam, as decreed from before the foundation of the world. None other covenant had the administration of this except by types, shadows and promises which expanded the original CoG promise. Thus, the only formal administration of this CoG is realized in the New Covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was only administered in such types, shadows and promissory form until that final, formalized covenant should be set forth.

Soli Deo Gloria – Bill

[1] Many thanks to my brothers in Christ Brandon Solberg and Patrick McWilliams for reading this and offering their suggestions.

[2] The analogy of faith; the use of a general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci (q.v., locus), as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts. As distinct from the more basic analogia Scripturae (q.v.), the analogia fidei presupposes a sense of the theological meaning of Scripture. Richard A. Muller. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Kindle Locations 325-326). Kindle Edition

[3] Analogy of Scripture; the interpretation of unclear, difficult, or ambiguous passages of Scripture by comparison with clear and unambiguous passages that refer to the same teaching or event. SE analogia fides – Richard A. Muller. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Kindle Locations 327-328). Kindle Edition.

[4] Available for viewing on Means Of Grace, Forever in Scripture and Covenant Language, published 1/16/2014 by the author

[5] This is expressed as “further steps” in Chap. 7.3 of the 1689 LBCF, regarding how God progressively revealed the CoG in promissory, shadowy and typical form until such a time as that substance contained within the promises of the historic covenants was, itself, brought forth in redemptive history through the person and work of Christ.

[6] The 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith; The 1658 Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, and The 1677/1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith

A Preview of Jeffrey Johnson’s The Kingdom of God

The Davidic Covenant

Our effort to understand the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic covenant may be helped by observing a similar dichotomy  in the Davidic covenant. Was the Davidic covenant a covenant of works or of grace? That is to say, was the promise to David  conditional or unconditional? The answer depends upon who is asked. If we asked King David, he would respond by saying that the promise of an eternal kingship was unconditional. Yet if we asked any of David’s children, they would have to answer by saying that they had been given a legal condition to obey.

These unconditional and conditional dimensions of the Davidic covenant are clearly seen in Psalm 132:11-12: ” The LORD swore [unconditionally] to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: ‘One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne. If your sons [conditionally] keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit on your throne’” (words in brackets are Jeffery Johnson’s).

For this reason, David sternly warned his son, Solomon, to obey God:

When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying,  “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn,  that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel’ (1 Kings 2:1-4).

Years later Jeremiah reminded the sons of David that they were under the covenant of works:

Thus says the LORD: “Go down to the house of the king of Judah and speak there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people. But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation (Je 22:1–5).

Admittedly, it would have been pointless for God to give a promise to David that was dependent upon David’s children keeping the law if it were not for the fact that the promise was speaking of Christ Jesus and His future obedience. Solomon succeeded David, but it was not Solomon whom God ultimately had in mind when He established the Davidic covenant. Rather, it was Jesus Christ. For Christ was not only a descendant of David, He was the only descendant of David that perfectly kept the law, as evidenced by His resurrection from the dead.

Peter picked up on this theme in his famous sermon on the day of Pentecost. After pointing out that David was convinced that one of his descendants would sit upon his throne forever, Peter went on to proclaim that this promise was fulfilled at the resurrection of Christ from the dead:

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,  he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:29-36).

Christ, the son of David, is qualified to sit upon an everlasting throne because He was declared righteous in His resurrection. Without this legal righteousness, Christ would have remained in the grave, and the establishment of the kingdom, promised to Abraham and David, would not have been accomplished.

Many other parallels could be pointed out between the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, such as types and antitypes and eternal elements, and the natural and supernatural dimensions of each. Nevertheless, this understanding of the unconditional and conditional sides of the Davidic covenant is sufficient to help us better understand the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic covenant.*

* Jeffery Johnson, The Kingdom of God (Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2014), p. 43-46