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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC Reformation Lectures, 2004-10-26

Text: Psalm 25:1-14

1.   The Reformation and Covenant Theology  

�        'The Doctrine of the Covenants is a peculiarly Reformed doctrine.' (Vos)

�        With the Reformation came a general return to the study of the Scripture using grammatical-historical-biblical hermeneutics.

�        Covenant Theology emerged on Swiss soil, particularly at Geneva (John Calvin, 1509-1564) and Zurich (Ulrich Zwingli, 1484-1531, and Johann Heinrich Bullinger, 1504-1575).

�        From there is spread to Heidelberg in Germany (Caspar Olevianus, 1536-87 and Zacharias Ursinus, 1534-83), and to the Netherlands (Johannes Cocceius, 1603-1669).

�        During the persecution of Protestants in England by Queen Mary, many preachers and scholars who fled from there to Geneva and Zurich came under its influence, including:

o       Robert Rollock and Robert Howie in Scotland

o       Thomas Cartwright, John Preston, Thomas Blake and John Ball in England

o       James Ussher in Ireland

�        The Westminster divines (1643-1649) placed the concept of the covenant in the foreground of the Confession of Faith, Shorter and Larger Catechism.

�        'The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.' (Westminster Confession of Faith, 'Of God's Covenant With Man', 7.1)

 

2.   The Covenant Concept in the Bible

Psalm 25:14 'The secret of the LORD is with them that fear Him; and He will shew them His covenant.' 
 

�        The word 'secret' connotes a very close relationship - the wonderful relationship that God has with His people.

�        The words 'His Covenant' tells us what God discloses to His people. 
Through this they receive special benefits no one else can receive 
(Cf. Deuteronomy 7:6; 29:10-13). 

A covenant is a compact or agreement between two parties binding them mutually to fulfill certain conditions toward each other (cf. marriage).

 

3.   The Origin of the Covenant Concept

It originated from the ancient practice of making a treaty (berith) between two parties in Near Eastern nations, which involved:

�        The sacrifice and cutting of an animal ('to cut a covenant')

�        Walking between the divided pieces (cf. Jeremiah 34:18)

�        Burning part of it in honour of God

�        Eating part of it at a covenantal meal  

Two main types of treaties occured:

�        A Parity Treaty: Between two equal parties.

�        A Suzerainty Treaty: Between two unequal parties.  

The scheme for treaties:

�        Preamble or introduction

�        Historical prologue

�        Stipulations

�        Provisions for safe-keeping and continued observance

�        Witnesses

�        Curses and blessings 

Because the covenant relationship was so familiar to the people in the ancient Near East the Lord chose to use it to give expression to His relationship with His people. 

(e.g. The Book of Deuteronomy follows the pattern of the Suzerainty treaty.)
God's covenant is entirely the expression of God's voluntary condescension (cf. WCF 7.1) This covenant concept is the unifying principle of all biblical doctrines.

4.   The Covenant of Works

WCF 7.2 'The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.' 

A. The Representative: Adam

�        Romans 5:12 'Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.'
 

�        1 Corinthians 15:22 'For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.'
 

�        Adam represented all mankind before God (cf. Abraham in Genesis 17:7).
 

�        We have all violated the covenant through Adam, and we all are now subject to death. 

B. The Condition: Obedience

�        The covenant of works is implied in the two trees in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9,17) 
 

�        Adam was presented with two alternatives:

1.      Obedience and Life

2.      Disobedience and Death

�        It is given the name the 'covenant of works' because it required Adam to obey God's commandment.  

C. The End of the Covenant of Works

�        When Adam disobeyed God, the covenant of works expired.
 

�        There is no longer any promise of life available through works of obedience.  

D. The Implications

�        People are already guilty of sin from the time they are conceived.
 

�        Although the covenant of works is no longer in force, they suffer physical and spiritual death. 
 

�        There was a need for another covenant. 

5. The Covenant of Grace

WCF 7.3 'Man, by his fall, having made himself uncapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the Covenant of Grace, whereby He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.' 

A. The Representative: Jesus Christ

�        The covenant of grace has Christ as its representative 
(cf. Romans 5:14, Adam was 'the figure of Him that was to come.')  
 

�        Christ is the 'Second Adam' (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:22). 

B. The Condition: Grace

�        Unlike Adam, Christ obeyed the law of God perfectly for us.

�        Since we are represented by Him, we now bear the righteousness of Christ in us.

�        But man needs a change of nature as well, because sin has made him totally depraved.

�        The sinful nature makes all men sinners in their own right, making them guilty for their own sins, beside Adam's.

�        It also makes them incapable of choosing salvation, when they are given the choice to be saved.

�        This covenant is called the Covenant of Grace because God does everything to save and to bless His people with everlasting life.

�        Isaiah 42:6 'I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles'  

 

C. The Beginning of the Covenant of Grace

�        It began to be in effect just after the Fall, because the coming of Christ is foretold, and blood sacrifices were instituted to make atonement for sins. 
 

o       Genesis 3:15 'And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel.' 

o       Genesis 3:21 'Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.'

�        Salvation was always by grace through faith in Christ�s sacrifice, even before Jesus died on the cross.

 

D. The Different Administrations of the Covenant of Grace

�        WCF 7.5 'This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel; under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.' 

�        WCF 7.6 'Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.' 

 

 

Other Covenants mentioned in the Bible:

�        They are all part of the Covenant of Grace and all are finally fulfilled in Christ.

�        God initiated every one of them, and used them to reveal little by little what His grace is.

o        Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:9-17, God's grace to living things)

o        Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:3, 17:6,8; God's grace to Abraham)

o        Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 29:12,13; Exodus 34:27, God's grace to Israel)

o        Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:11-14; Psalm 89:3,4; God's grace to David)

o        New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34, God's grace to Israel and the Church) 

 

6.   Covenant Theology versus Dispensational Theology

�        Dispensational Theology divides history into dispensations.

�        In each dispensation, the method by which God dispenses salvation is different.

�        Each dispensation ends with man's failure and God's judgment, before a different method is used.  

�        2 Timothy 2:15, �Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.'

 

A. Origin of Dispensational Theology 

�        Liberalism infected many churches in the early 1800s.

�        Many were very unhappy with the sad state of the established Church and decided to separate from it.

�        This gave rise to the Brethren Movement in 1827 first in Dublin and later at Plymouth.

�        One of the founders of this movement was John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), who sought to incorporate all futuristic Bible prophecies into a single interpretative system.

�        From 1837 to 1859 he preached extensively in the British Isles, and from around 1859 he made six tours to America.

�        By 1900, dispensationalism had become a bedrock, and a systematic way to study the Bible for vast numbers of conservative Protestants.

�        Its rise paralleled the Fundamentalist movement in America which opposed Darwinism, liberal theology, and textual criticism.

�        In 1909 Cyrus Ingerson Scofield published the Scofield Reference Study Bible, which helped the average layman to better understand the Scriptures, and it became one of the mainstays of the Dispensationalist and Fundamentalist movements.

�        People could understand the purpose of God from Genesis to Revelation, and see the plan of the Lord for the Church Age and, as well, the unfolding Prophetic Plan into the future.

�        After some discussions and prayer in 1924, Lewis Sperry Chafer founded the Evangelical Theological College, as a centre for Dispensational theology, and it was later renamed Dallas Theological Seminary. 

B. The Key Differences in Dispensational Theology

�        It is wrong to think that dispensationalists teach that there is more than one way of salvation.

�        Dispensationalists do not believe that salvation has ever been by works or by anything other than faith (cf. Romans 4:3).

�        But they believe that though the Old Testament saints were saved by grace through faith, they were not saved through a conscious faith in a suffering Christ:

�        'It was historically impossible that [Old Testament] saints should have had as the conscious object of their faith the incarnate, crucified Son, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), and that it is evident that they did not comprehend as we do that the sacrifices depicted the person and work of Christ [and] that they did not understand the redemptive significance of the prophecies and types concerning the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet 1:10-12)' (Doctrinal Statement of Dallas Theological Seminary)

�        The faith that the OT saints had was just a general faith toward God, manifested in other ways (e.g. Hebrews 11:1-40).

�        Dispensationalists also believe that Christ originally came to set up the Davidic Kingdom of Israel, but because the Jews rejected Him, the present Church Age was introduced, and the inauguration of the Kingdom by Christ was postponed to the end of the Church Age.

�        Dispensational theology therefore stresses the discontinuity of the history of God's redemption.

�        The dispensation of promise should have continued, but it came to an end when Abraham's descendants 'rashly accepted the Law' at Mt Sinai and 'exchanged grace for law'. (Scofield Reference Bible, note on Genesis 12:1)

C. Two Flaws in Dispensational Theology

i.    The Old Testament Saints' Faith in Christ-s Death

�        It is claimed that knowledge and understanding of Christ's death for sinners was a mystery that was 'locked up in the secret counsels of God' until the Jews rejected Christ. (New Scofield Reference Bible, 996)

�        However, the following must be considered:

a.   2 Timothy 3:15

o       Paul wrote to Timothy, 'And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.'

o       Hence there must be enough information about Christ in the Old Testament that can bring sinners to trust in Him for salvation.

b.   Acts 3:18 and 10:43

o       'But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all His prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.' 

o       'To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.'

c.   Luke 2:25,26

o       When Mary and Joseph brought the infant child Jesus to the Temple to dedicate Him, Simeon who was waiting for the promised Messiah took Jesus in his arms and said: 

Luke 2:29-32 'Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,  Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.�

o       Thus Simeon identified Christ with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.

o       Cf. vv.34,35 'Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;  (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.'

d.   Zechariah 12:10 and 13:7

o       'And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.'

o       'Awake, O sword, against My shepherd, and against the man that is My fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn Mine hand upon the little ones.'

e.   Isaiah 53:4-6

o       'Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.'

o       In earlier prophecies Isaiah had already announced that the one who would be born of a virgin would be called 'Emmanuel' 'God with us', 7:14) and 'The Mighty God.' (9:6)

f.    Psalm 2:2, 22:16 and 16:10

o       'The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against His anointed'

o       'the assembly of the wicked have inclosed Me: they pierced My hands and My feet.'

o       'For Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.'

g.   Hebrews 11:26

o       'Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward..

o       Cf. John 5:46 'For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me.'

o       The Lamb that was sacrificed in the Passover was a picture of Christ.

h.   Hebrews 11:10

o       'For [Abraham] looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.' 

o       Cf. John 8:56 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad.'

�        The OT saints knew much more about Christ's sufferings than is generally credited to them.

ii.   Christ came not to die on the cross, but to set up the Davidic Kingdom of Israel

�        Because the Jews rejected Him, that kingdom was postponed to the end of the Church Age.

�        'In the knowledge of God not yet disclosed, lay the rejection of the kingdom and the King, the long period of the mystery-form of the kingdom, the world-wide preaching of the cross and the out-calling of the Church.' (New Scofield Reference Bible, 996)

�        The following must be considered:

a.   John 1:29

o       John the Baptist introduced Christ as 'the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.'

b.   John 2:19 and 3:14,15

o       'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'

o       'And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.'

c.   Luke 23:1,2

o       'And the whole multitude of them arose, and led Him unto Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ a King.'

o       If it was the original intention of Jesus to set up the political Davidic kingdom of Israel, then what the false witnesses testified about Christ at His crucifixion trials was true!  

d.   Revelation 13:8

o       'the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.'

 

o       If Israel had accepted its Messiah and King, He would not need to die for them, and this means that the cross was not absolutely essential to the sinner's salvation. 

D. How should we regard Dispensationalism?

�        A.W. Pink described its findings as 'dreadfully superficial and faulty.'

�        Some have gone to the extent of regarding all who hold such teachings as cultist, false teachers and heretics.

�        Philip Mauro wrote: 'evangelical Christianity must purge itself of this leaven of dispensationalism ere it can display its former power and exert its former influence.... 
The entire system of "dispensational teaching" is modernistic in the strictest sense.'

�        However, let us remember that:

o       In the time when modernists were attacking the church, those who were at the forefront in the Fundamentalist camp were the Dispensationalists.

o       It was the Dispensationalist emphasis on in-depth study of the Bible and a literal interpretation of Scriptures that sparked off a great sustained interest in studying the Word of God within the last one and a half centuries.

 Conclusion

  • While we rightly differ from Dispensationalists in the theological framework we use to understand history, that we should not be so averse to fellowshipping with them.

  • There is a movement of dispensational brethren who have realized that there is more continuity than discontinuity in the history of redemption, known as 'progressive dispensationalists.'

  • Though we are covenantal in theology, we are premillennial in our eschatology, because we believe that God will literally fulfill the promises He made to the nation of Israel.

  • The majority of covenantalists are amillennial or postmillennial who believe that the Church has replaced Israel in God's plan.

  • The Covenantal-Premillennial view takes the Bible literally within its historical and grammatical context.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25