Covenants

Since the days of Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) who, more than any other, introduced a one-covenant-of-grace idea, many theologians have promoted the notion that God is undertaking but one objective throughout human history. Scripture must be ignored or greatly misinterpreted to the end that such idealism may be advanced. The onecovenant idea could not avoid being a means with which to close the Scriptures from human understanding. It does not necessarily follow—as some contend—that because there is but one righteous ground upon which God can deal graciously with sinners, namely, by the blood of Christ shed for them, there must be but one covenant relationship between God and man. That God has earthly as well as heavenly purposes and in addition transforming blessings adapted to each group and the sphere to which they belong will be seen by any unprejudiced student of the Sacred Text. In relation to His earthly people, Israel, and their blessings God has made various covenants. Some of these are conditional and some unconditional, which terms suggest that in some covenants God has them to depend upon human faithfulness, while in others He merely declares what He will do wholly apart from the question of human worthiness or faithfulness.

Without much Scripture upon which to base it, Covenant theologians have supposed the existence of a covenant between the Persons of the Godhead in relation to the part each would assume in the whole divine program of the ages, especially in redemption. The most that can be said for this contention is that it is reasonable; yet, all the same, difficulties are engendered. For this assumes that there was a beginning in the plan and purpose of God and that separate Persons of the Godhead sustained individual interests.

God has nevertheless entered into nine covenants with man on the earth. With these nine agreements all Scripture is related. Attention therefore to their provisions will be most essential. It is true that the earlier relationships between God and man included here are not termed covenants, but still they partake of the nature of covenants. The first three covenants—Edenic, Adamic, and Noahic—defined human life at its beginning. The Edenic Covenant conditioned unfallen man's life in Eden and is in seven parts. The Adamic Covenant governed fallen man in his estate outside of Eden and falls into seven parts. The Noahic Covenant provided for man after the flood and is likewise in seven parts. These along with all the remaining covenants have a more complete treatment earlier, under Bibliology (Vol. I). The fourth covenant in order is the Abrahamic, which also falls into seven divisions—(1) "I will make of thee a great nation," (2) "And I will bless thee," (3) "And make thy name great," (4) "And thou shalt be a blessing," (5) "And I will bless them that bless thee," (6) "And curse him that curseth thee," (7) "And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:1-3).

In the fifth covenant, which has been named the Mosaic (Ex. 19:5), is a covenant made with Israel as a nation alone and that in the conditional manner. An unconditional covenant cannot be broken by man since it places no dependence upon him. A conditional covenant may be disrupted, and the Mosaic Covenant indeed, which is more familiarly known as the law, was broken. God declares so much in Jeremiah 31:32 (cf. Heb. 8:9). This covenant had governed Israel's conduct as a redeemed people. It was given to them, however, not as a means of redemption or attainment unto a covenant relation to God, but because they were in right relation to God as a redeemed nation under God's covenant with that people descended from Abraham. It should take no effort to recognize that the Mosaic Covenant was never addressed to Christians; yet certain divisions of the professing church have failed to see why the saints of God of the present age cannot be under the law (John 1:17; Rom. 6:14; 7:4, 6; 2 Cor. 3:6-13; Gal. 3:2325).

The sixth covenant, which is the Palestinian (cf. Deut. 30:1-10), presents the conditions upon which Israel entered their promised land. It, too, is expressed in seven parts, which are clearly set forth in the one passage bearing upon it. The land will be for them an everlasting possession and to it they will yet return, for Jehovah's covenants with Israel cannot be broken. The seventh covenant is the Davidic, which was made with David (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14-15) and comes in five parts. David's posterity fails not; his throne is established forever; a kingdom or sphere of rule continues forever; and Jehovah reserved the right to chasten David's sons, but the covenant cannot be broken. It is unconditional (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 89:1-37). David therefore must never lack for a son to sit upon his throne (Jer. 33:17); and as the eternal Son of God, who in His humanity is a son of David, will sit on that throne forever (Luke 1:31-33), there has not lacked one in all generations before Christ was born of David's line, or since, to sit upon the throne (cf. Ps. 2:6-9; Matt. 25:31). The eighth covenant is with Israel and conditions their life in the kingdom (cf. Jer. 31:31-34). It replaces and yet includes the Mosaic commandments (cf. Deut. 30:8), though in heightened form. It, too, is unconditional and falls into four parts.

There remains to be recognized a heavenly covenant for the heavenly people, which is also styled like the preceding one for Israel a "new covenant." It is made in the blood of Christ (cf. Mark 14:24) and continues in effect throughout this age, whereas the new covenant made with Israel happens to be future in its application. To suppose that these two covenants—one for Israel and one for the Church—are the same is to assume that there is a latitude of common interest between God's purpose for Israel and His purpose for the Church. Israel's covenant, however, is new only because it replaces the Mosaic, but the Church's covenant is new because it introduces that which is God's mysterious and unrelated purpose. Israel's new covenant rests specifically on the sovereign "I will" of Jehovah, while the new covenant for the Church is made in Christ's blood. Everything that Israel will yet have, to supply another contrast, is the present possession of the Church—and infinitely more.

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