Sunday, August 24, 2014


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 - he needs 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 obedience.

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 of faith.
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 Mediator of 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. 
The "Old" 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, etc.
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 and Covenant,
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.

See also my e-book "Covenant Simplified" -

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