(See Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 7, paras 4-6)
All Biblical covenants are one. All Biblical covenants are one covenant because the Triune God is One God. The triune God is in eternal covenant relationship with Himself. Therefore it is little wonder then that the Triune God should reveal and express Himself to man by way of covenant. Thus when the Triune God created man in His own image He entered into a covenant arrangement with man.
The first covenant arrangement is commonly known as the Covenant of Works. In the Covenant of Works God put man (Adam) on probation. In that arrangement God promised man life upon condition of perfect and personal obedience. The penalty for disobedience in that covenant arrangement was death. Death was to be the penalty man received for breaking the Moral Law of God, which Law God had written in the heart of man at his creation. God also gave man an outward test, forbidding man to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The first covenant, i.e., the Covenant of Works was sovereignly administered by God to man. Man was to be obedient to God by expressing the covenantal nature of the eternal God in creation. As each Person in the Godhead loves the other Persons, so man was to love God and his neighbour as himself in all his undertakings at the creaturely level.
So we see then that the Covenant of Works is the revelation and expression of God – of His covenantal nature – to man in his unfallen state. God, therefore, revealed and expressed Himself to man by way of the Covenant of Works. In other words, the Covenant of Works was the pre-Fall in time administration of God’s eternal covenant. And since God’s covenant is an eternal covenant, it, like God, has no beginning and no end. And as Heaven overarches Earth, and Eternity overarches Time, so God’s everlasting covenant overarches all temporal Biblical covenants.
In a word, all Biblical covenants are simply earthly expressions of, and administrations of, the one eternal covenant in the Godhead. In human terms, God has His eternal covenant written in His heart – of which His Moral Law (of love for God and neighbour) is its eternal expression. And, in real terms man has the everlasting covenant of God written in his heart. Love for God and neighbour is its temporal or earthly expression. Therefore, since God is progressively bringing to pass in time all things that He has decreed in eternity, the administrations of His covenant on earth is progressive. Which is to say that there have in time been different administrations of the one eternal covenant.
The Old Testament Administration
We’ve already mentioned that the first or pre-fall administration of the one covenant is the Covenant of Works. It’s ancient history that Adam, man’s covenant or federal representative, broke that first covenant arrangement. We know this because God’s covenant revelation, the Bible – the very Word of God – tells us. Therefore, the Bible is revelation of the History of the one covenant. Hence the revelation of God’s covenant is progressive – progressive revelation.
The next administration in time of God’s eternal covenant was the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace began to be administered immediately upon man’s breaking of the first covenant, (i.e., the way the eternal covenant was set up pre-Fall in the Covenant of Works). Hence this second covenant is most commonly referred to as the Covenant of Grace.
In the Covenant of Grace salvation is promised to man through the One who would crush the Serpent’s head, but would Himself be wounded for our transgressions. Genesis 3:15b, “…He [i.e., the Promised One] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” And Isaiah 53:5, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, and was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”
For the Old Testament saints this, of course, referred to the promised Christ who was to come. And for the New Testament saints it refers to the promised Christ who has come. Therefore, for both Old Testament and New Testament saints it refers to Christ – the Anointed One. Therefore, the Covenant of Grace refers to the Person and the works of the One God promised to send into the world to salvage or save those condemned by the broken Covenant of Works. And it is on account of this salvation that this administration of the one covenant is called the Covenant of Grace.
To be sure, the Covenant of Works was full of grace, but the Covenant of Grace is even more so on account of man’s sin. This covenant of Grace was differently administered in the Old Testament or before Christ, than it is in the New Testament after Christ has come.
There are various administrations of the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament. From Adam to Noah the administration of the Covenant of Grace was very broad and general. From Noah to Abraham the administration became more particular. And it became even more particular again from Abraham to Moses. And from Moses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ it was very, very particular. But in all these administrations of the one covenant, the revelation of God and the expression of His gracious covenant was historically progressive. In other words, it was all leading to, or going somewhere. All history has a goal or purpose. That goal or purpose is revealed and expressed by God to us by way of covenant – His covenant.
If it is God’s covenant, then that covenant is eternal because it is the expression of the triune God who is eternal. But this doesn’t mean that any particular administration in time of the eternal covenant will be the final administration. However, it does mean that there are certain principles pertaining to the covenant that are to be administered for eternity. In other words, God’s grace will be administered to His elect for evermore. The grace never changes, but the period of administration does.
After making the promise to send One to destroy the Devil and his works, the LORD confirmed His covenantal promise to Adam and Eve by clothing them: “Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them” Genesis 3:21. Don’t miss the covenant significance of this. The tunics of skin speak of the shedding of blood. And the tunics or coats or garments of skin are literally “coverings”. Therefore the LORD God confirmed or established His covenant with Adam and Eve by covering them with a sign or token of that promise, even the skin of animals.
The Hebrew word for “skin” in Genesis 3:21 has to do with nakedness. Therefore the LORD made an animal or animals naked to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve. Literally, the LORD God covered their nakedness with skin. And don’t forget to think about this in terms of the covenant promise of the shed blood of the Seed of the Woman who was going to be bruised temporarily while bruising the Serpent’s head.
We see the continuity of this covenantal promise with Noah. In Genesis 9:11, God speaking to Noah says, “Thus I establish My covenant with you…” Notice that God calls the covenant “My covenant.” “Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
So, God has made a covenant promise. And in Genesis 9:16 we see the heart of that covenant promise: “The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” Therefore, when we look at a rainbow we are reminded with God of God’s everlasting covenant. It is the sign or token-reminder that God is overarching or covering our sins. However, the rainbow doesn’t detail to us the particulars of God everlasting covenant. However, Noah’s ark was a type of the Christ to come, as the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 4. For he speaks there of the Flood in terms of a baptism which points to the Christ who saves us from God’s judgment.
After the flood when Noah came out of the ark he planted a vineyard. Genesis 9:21-23, “Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.”
Just as the LORD God Himself covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve, so the offspring of Noah covered his nakedness. And according to the covenant promise, One was coming to cover the sins (i.e., the spiritual nakedness) of all His people. And He would do so by being nailed naked to a tree while shedding His blood unto death. But His death would bring with it the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, everything that was promised to Adam in the Covenant of Works.
The revelation of the everlasting covenant becomes progressively clearer by the time you get to Abraham. God revealed His everlasting covenant to Abraham in more detailed terms. In fact, in Genesis 12ff. we see that God makes covenant promises to Abraham. The LORD promised Abraham offspring as numerous as the stars. And we see the LORD also promise Abraham a place for his descendants to live in.
But most remarkably we see the LORD cut a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. That’s when the LORD God temporarily incarnated Himself in the form of a smoking fire pot – a Theophany. The smoking oven and burning torch passed between the animals Abraham had cut down the middle and had laid out as per the LORD’s instruction. “On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram…” Genesis 15:18. Literally the Lord God “cut” a covenant with Abram, for that’s what the word means.
So we should note that the shed blood of animals figures prominently in the Covenant of Grace. As it has since God clothed Adam and Eve after the Fall in the Garden, so the sacrificial shedding of the blood of animals represents God covering the nakedness of His people. It all was pointing to the promised Seed of the Woman who would destroy sin and its workers.
His shed blood would cover all the sins of all His people, i.e., the people for whom He died. As David, the sweet psalmist of Israel says, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” Psalm 32:1. As Paul the Apostle while quoting him says, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are covered” Romans 4:7.
To be covered is to be clothed spiritually by the Covenant of Grace. To be spiritually naked is to be still dead in your sins. As Noah’s offspring clothed him when he was naked, so the Offspring or Seed promised to Adam and Eve, and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will clothe the Old Testament Fathers. But not only will He clothe the Old Testament Fathers, He will also clothe all true descendants of Abraham.
This promise was confirmed or established with Abraham by the administration of circumcision. Genesis 17:10&11, “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.” Circumcision was to make the male member naked – to reveal his nakedness. And as the male member needs skin for a covering, so man needs the LORD God to cover his nakedness (just as the LORD God covered Adam and Eve with skin after the Fall). In a word, circumcision was the LORD God cutting a covenant with His people. It spoke of the promised Seed of the Woman – the One who would cover our sin by being “cut off”.
By the time we get to Moses we see all these administrations of the Covenant of Grace become something spectacular. The priesthood clothed in the fancy priestly garb ministered daily in the glorious Temple. There even were annual feasts, including Passover, for the people to attend at Jerusalem.
But in short, the Covenant of Grace was administered in the Old Testament by promises, prophesies, sacrifices, circumcision, the Passover Lamb, and other types and ceremonies entrusted to Old Testament Israel. These all fore-signified the Christ to come, and for that time were sufficient and effective; which, through the operation of the Spirit, instructed and built up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had complete forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation, by whom they had their sins covered.
The New Testament Administration
I hope you can see that just as the covenant is one, so the New Testament church is one with the Old Testament church – same church! There only ever has been one covenant people of God because there has only ever been one covenant. To be sure, we’ve seen that in the Old Testament the Covenant of Grace was differently administered at different times. But surely we can all see that it was always one and the same covenant that was being administered.
So, in light of what we’ve looked at thus far, what is the main crux of the covenant? It’s about having your sins covered, isn’t it? It’s about having your spiritual nakedness covered by Christ. In a word, it’s about putting on, or being clothed in and by Christ. E.g., Galatians 3:27, “For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ.” So, that means that the Old Testament promises, prophesies, sacrifices, circumcision, the Passover Lamb, and other types and ceremonies, were simply calls to put on Christ, doesn’t it? In a word, all Old Testament calls to put on Christ are simply the Gospel in the Old Testament. For Christ could be seen in Old Testament promises, prophesies, sacrifices, circumcision, the Passover Lamb, and other types and ceremonies.
But why don’t we in the New Testament need the Temple with all its elaborate symbolism with the Ark of the Covenant, and the Seat of Atonement in the Holy of Holies, etc.? Why don’t we need all these painted signposts that met Old Testament Israel’s eyes at every turn? Well, just as you don’t need blatant reminders to go to the doctor when the doctor has come to you, so you don’t need the same reminders that the Messiah is coming when He is come.
We no longer need all the outward glory of the Old Testament administration now that Christ the substance has come. In the New Testament the Covenant of Grace is now dispensed or administered by: 1. The preaching of the Word. 2. The administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These, of course, have less outward glory than that of the Old Testament, but in them is communicated greater fullness, clarity, and spiritual power. And most importantly, this greater fullness, clarity, and spiritual power is held forth to all nations, Jew and Gentile alike, whereas the Old Testament administration of the Covenant of Grace, especially from Moses onward, was mainly restricted to Old Testament Israel. So, in a word, we New Testament saints have the Gospel in its simplicity.
The church today is to preach the word and administer the two sacraments. We don’t need glorious temples or men clothed in fancy priestly garb. All we need are the Bible, water, bread and wine. The Bible records the covenant history with its promises. And the water and the bread and the wine confirm or establish those promises in Jesus’ name.
To preach from the Book of the Covenant, i.e., to preach the whole Word of God, is to uncover and expose people’s spiritual nakedness. While at the same time it is to point people to the place to go for covering for our sins, i.e., Christ. It‘s the proclamation of the shed blood of Christ who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 53:5. But more than that, it’s the proclamation that the One who was bruised by the Serpent (while He was bruising the Serpent), has been raised to life again. He is the One who says, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.” And because He was dead, the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it can now be bequeathed to the elect covenant people of God.
Good Reformed men have differed on how Hebrews 9:15-17 ought to be translated into English. The following is a common translation: “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.”
The first covenant being referred to there is not the Covenant of Works, but rather the Covenant of Grace (as it was administered immediately prior to Christ’s arrival). The writer to the Hebrews says of that previous administration, “Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood” Hebrews 9:18.
The blood has always spoken of the death of the testator. The Testator is Jesus Christ. A testator is the maker of a will. And when he dies the testator is the one leaving the will. Therefore Jesus Christ by the shedding of His own blood, i.e., by dying, has bequeathed to His people the covering for their sins. And not only that, by His death He has bequeathed to His people every spiritual blessing.
God declared Jesus Christ dead by raising Him from the dead! If Jesus was not dead before He was raised, then Christianity is a farce! But the Scriptures make it very plain that He was dead before He was buried. Therefore when He was dead and buried His will was executed. But are those covenanted blessing to be revoked now that He has been raised again? Does God ever renege on His promise? Jesus Christ fulfilled all the conditions of the everlasting covenant. He lived a perfect life for His people and He laid down His perfect life for His people. Because He was perfect, i.e., without sin of His own, this means that death could not hold Him. Therefore, God according to His covenant promise had to raise Him.
And since all God’s promises are yes and amen in Jesus Christ, preaching the resurrected Christ is the proclamation of God’s promise to all nations. Therefore the whole world is sharing in the covenanted blessings in Jesus Christ. The covenant is proclaimed to the nations by the preaching of the Word. The covenant is confirmed to the nations by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. New Testament Baptism means the same as Old Testament Circumcision. And the Lord’s Supper means the same as the Passover. However, now that Christ literally has shed His blood we no longer need the literal shedding of blood in Circumcision and the Passover Lamb. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are bloodless, but both still speak of the blood of Christ that covers our nakedness, even the nakedness of our sins.
I hope you can see the Gospel in this. Adam and Eve with all other Old Testament saints certainly could!
When Adam and Eve sinned God covered their nakedness with animal skin. The animal skin was the reminder to them both of their nakedness and also their need of the promised Messiah.
God used sacrificed animals all through the Old Testament to show His people the One who would cover us, i.e., Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. And since Scripture says in Revelation 13:8b, that Jesus is “…the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”, then He was slain in principle before any animal. But now that the Lamb has been slain in time and space, i.e., 2,000 years ago at Calvary’s cross, a new era or new administration of the Covenant of Grace has arrived.
But it’s my hope you can see that there only ever has been one covenant differently administered. The Old Testament pictured the death of the Testator, Jesus Christ, in all animal sacrifices. Therefore the everlasting inheritance, and all things belonging to it, had to wait until the death of the Testator pictured in the Old Testament sacrifices – right from the Fall onward. But now that the reality revealed and expressed in those Old Testament administrations has come, we can proclaim the blessings of the Covenant of Grace to all nations, including Australia!
Therefore, repent and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ to have the nakedness of your sins covered by His shed blood, and receive His blood-bought blessings.