The following is a
letter I wrote a number of years ago on the subject of Covenant Theology.
I wish I had more
time to delve into some of the things written in the "Covenant
Theology" paper (more accurately, Dispensationalist
Theology). However, I've got seven new potential members coming to a
membership-class tonight with Bible Study hard on its heels!
Anyhow, no disrespect
to the great O Palmer Robertson, but it astounds me that such a learned man
denies the basis of all covenants, i.e. the Eternal Covenant. He seems to deny
it because it doesn't fit his definition of a covenant as "a bond in blood
sovereignly administered." I wonder if he has considered the meaning of
the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" Rev. 13:8b when
looking for blood (not that I want to go down that road). Anyway, it's
also unhelpful to Covenant Theology to hear another great such as John
Murray tell us not to confuse "promise" with "covenant". He
needs to tell this to all the Westminster Divines, and also Charles Hodge
who says that "a covenant is a promise suspended upon a condition".
If viewed as a "conditional promise" the Eternal Covenant, the
Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace, or any other covenant for that
matter, Biblical or otherwise, is not easily misunderstood or confused.
That the Eternal
Godhead (represented by the Father) made an everlasting covenant (or
conditional promise) with the Son (representing the elect) is spelled out very
clearly, e.g., in John chs. 14-17. Try John 17:6 where Jesus says to the
Father, "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out
of the world. They were Yours, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your
word". When did the Father first plan to give Jesus these men? What
was the condition set for Christ to receive them from the Father? Why was Jesus
obedient to the Father unto death on their behalf?
Robert Lewis Dabney
in his Systematic Theology is very good at spelling out the fact that Christ
represented the elect in the Covenant of Grace. Fallen man does not and cannot
represent himself - heneeds a Mediator! Before the Fall Adam needed no mediator
in the sense that we need one after the fall. Adam represented man(kind) in the
conditional promise or covenant God made with him. To say that there was no
covenant here is to say that the covenant was never made with the Seed of the
woman, Christ. In the Covenant of Works we should never look at Adam apart from
Christ, because Christ is the second man, the Last Adam. Yes, everlasting life
was offered or promised to Adam upon condition of works, i.e. perfect obedience
to God's Law, which Ten Commandments were written upon his heart (albeit in
positive terms) see Rom. 2:13-15 e.g. The tree was the outward test of his
The quote from
Klooster in the paper is a good one. Covenant Theologians DO believe in
two ways of salvation. 1. By keeping our God's Law perfectly. 2. By
Christ's keeping God's Law perfectly. Gen. 2:16b, 17 "Of every tree of the
garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die",
Lev. 18:5, "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgements, which
if a man does, he shall live by them...", Gal. 3:12 "Yet the law is
not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them'" etc. Of
course Adam blew it by breaking the conditional promise of life
(everlasting life) thereby closing the door to all his sinful offspring, e.g.
Isa. 5 "The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, because they
have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting
covenant". However, the door for this way of salvation was
closed ONLY for sinners: but the good news is that the Last Adam, the
Seed of the woman is not a sinner. Unlike the first Adam He kept the
everlasting covenant. He saves us THROUGH faith in His good works, not BECAUSE
In summary, all
Christians whether Dispensationalist or Covenantal need to always look to
Christ to understand Covenant Theology (see e.g. Westminster Confession of Faith,
7:3). After all He is the Mediatorof the covenant, He IS the Covenant (Isa.
42:6, 49:8). He is God and man in an everlasting covenant in One Person with
two natures. When did God decide He was going to become also a man? Or put
another way, when did He decided to covenant with man in the Person of Jesus
Christ? The two natures of Christ cannot and must not be separated by us. No
doubt the everlasting covenant in eternity past has a different application to
the Son of God as God than it does to the Son of God as the Son of Man.
However, Christ is not divided. However, as far as the covenant concerns us, He
is God's representative to us and our representative to God - the Mediator.
Whichever way we look
at it, the conditional promise of the covenant of Works or the covenant of
Grace is all the same to you and me. The condition is faith in the One who
keeps on keeping, and has kept the covenant of Works, i.e. our blessed Saviour
and covenant keeper Jesus Christ. Faith in Him and His good covenant works is
the condition for our salvation. This "conditional promise" is the
same before and after Christ.
covenant was that made with Adam which he broke, but is again clearly spelled
out and pictured in the Mosaic administration of the covenant of Grace showing
the impossibility of fallen man keeping it perfectly. The "New"
covenant was that which began to be revealed to Adam and Eve directly after the
Fall, continued with Noah, confirmed with Abraham, and yes, Moses, also David,
So, yes, as the
Scriptures say, the Old Covenant is the Mosaic covenant, which is simply a
dispensation (better to say "administration" because of the confused
Dispensationalists) in which the way of salvation by works was shown to be
still open BUT ONLY TO THE RIGHTEOUS ONE OF PROMISE, i.e. the promised covenant
keeper, and not to those shown up to be bankrupt sinners by the Law! The Mosaic
Covenant shows the great need of a Saviour, a Substitute, a Representative, a
Mediator, i.e. a covenant keeper.
In conclusion, to
claim that there is no "Eternal Covenant" is to open up the pit and
release the hydra-serpent of Dispensationalism. However, the sword of defence
is the unadulterated Gospel which cuts off all of its ugly heads. The Gospel
is merely the proclamation of the Covenant of Grace (Hodge). This covenant
is the Eternal Covenant formed in the Godhead in eternity past and overarches
all those renewed and confirmed promises or covenants in Scripture.
For Christ's Crown
PS. A useful summary
of Covenant Theology and of how the Westminster Divines understood it
is given in "The Sum of Saving Knowledge" at the back of the Free
Presbyterian edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith.