I have had a good deal of correspondence lately over the nature of the Covenant between Christ and His Father. Some years ago, I gave two lectures at the New Focus Conference on the issue. As I have not the time to write any additional material, I am posting the two lectures on my web-site. If anyone wishes to take up the matter with me further, he or she is most welcome.
The Covenant: What it is not
In commencing, I would like us to notice three things.
1. I do not say ‘Testament’ but the Covenant.
2. I do not say a Covenant between men or even a Covenant between God and men and certainly not a covenant between Gods. I say the Covenant.
3. I do not say the Covenant of Grace, nor the Covenant of Redemption nor the Covenant of Works, nor the New Covenant nor the Old Covenant. I say the Covenant.
To my first point regarding the Testament in its Old and New parts.
The Old and New Testaments are a natural outcome of the Covenant but not the Covenant itself which brought them into being. The Old Testament was the story of the grain of mustard seed finding growth-nutrition amongst the Christ-filled witness of the elect Patriarchs, the elect Prophets and the elect Jews. It was the leaven hidden by God, working secretly, unknown to the Gentile world. The New Testament is the story of the growth of a great tree in whose branches all God’s elect birds find shelter and nourishment. It is the once hidden leaven, now leavening the whole lump for the whole world to see. The Old Testament was the inheritance of a few believers in a few Near Eastern states only. The New Testament is the inheritance of all saints everywhere, going into all the world, and preaching the gospel. The Old Testament is the First Clause in the only will left to us after the vicarious human death of our Saviour-Testator who was slain before the foundation of the world, manifested to us at the Fulfilment of Time. The New Testament is the Second Clause in that gracious will, proclaiming that not only the Good Shepherd’s first sheep come under Christ’s inheritance but also God’s Gentile adopted offspring. God’s will and testament for the Church past, present, future and eternal is thus to be found in all the Scriptures, in Christ’s entire Testament. If we throw one sentence, paragraph or clause of it out, destroy or dismiss any part, however, small, we destroy not only God’s revealed will for the salvation of the Church but also the knowledge of our inheritance as if Christ died intestate. So there is now one fold and one shepherd where neither Jews nor Gentiles in Christ have any separate identity. Neither race, gender, learning, or social standing can stand in the way of those who are chosen to inherit their Heavenly inheritance as the People of God.
However, due to the unique Nature of the Lord Jesus Christ who after his vicarious punishment and substitutionary death was restored to Life from that death by His glorious resurrection, Christ is now not only the Testator but also the Executor of His own will. Notice, however, in the New Testament, Gentiles are told they may enter into the privileges of God’s Old Testament people, not the other way round. It is not that God has done with the Jews, as modern New Covenant Dispensationalists tell us but that the Gentiles are given the same privileges. This is the only evolution you will ever get in God’s creation and it is the only one necessary for real life. It is divine soteriological evolution, which brings with it the development of Christ’s Kingdom on earth, preparing it for Heaven. Dawkins is on the wrong track. He has yet to be evolved himself in the things of God’s Covenant so that that he might see the truth of Romans 16:27 and meet our God who alone is All-Wisdom. At present, he is merely a missing link in his own evolution theory.
Why did God wait, from the perspective of time, so long before the seed grew and the yeast fermented? If we look at the matter from the perspective of eternity, we need not speculate about the whys and wherefores of time. The Fullness of time was to marry time with eternity, the course of time is to bring in the elect. If we look at the matter from the perspective of time, we are in God’s world, run by God’s laws in which seeds in different soils do not develop simultaneously, nor does yeast ferment equally in all environments. There can be no better Gardener and Provisioner than God who has His own schedule in the establishment of His Kingdom.
To my second note on the Covenants essential nature.
There is much talk nowadays about different covenants at different times. The Bible has one, but modern movements who call themselves Biblical have usually from two to an ever increasing number, giving their movements a new form and shape. Some, Covenant Theologies speak mostly of everlasting covenants throughout the Old and New Testaments, others appear to reject all mention of an everlasting Covenant. Indeed, Wells’ and Zaspel’s book on NCT ends with the words, ‘The conclusion seems clear: when NT writers use the word covenant, they normally want to assert discontinuity’.
Thus some modern professing Christians deny the soteriological nature of the Covenant in the Old Testament, others even deny its presence in the gospels. They argue that God’s Covenant first begins in Acts and is Gentile-orientated only. Many who even carry that blessed word ‘Covenant’ in their name, do not even rely on Acts to Revelation but tell us of a new covenantal dispensation to come. Why is this? It is because they have not the foggiest idea what a Biblical covenant is.
Sadly, the Reformation in England soon cooled down and fragmented and the leaven either turned sour or found no nutrition. Legalism once more took over from grace. If one chops and hacks at the One Covenant of the Bible and the Reformation as became popular during the early part of Cromwell’s government until the penny dropped and Cromwell expelled the Presbyterians, one can never understand God’s covenantal purpose in establishing a people for Himself. The first Counter Reformation mistake the Presbyterians made was to define the term Covenant in non-Biblical terms as a religio-political contract of law between a less than ideal God and a supposed ideal Case-Law-ruled State. They had misunderstood God’s dealings with the state of Israel for the very short time of forty years it existed and wanted to force their false idea of a disfunctional God’s State in the Old Testament eternally onto the green and pleasant land of England. Many, still rejoicing in the Reformation now called England The New Eden because of the progress of the Reformation there which had gone further than in all other countries. I have letters from seventeen great German theologians led by Germany’s Synod of Dort delegates such as Dr. Paul Tossanus, writing to the Church in England, saying, ‘Tell us your secret. What are your doctrines of Practical Divinity which are so superior to ours?’ However, this new pan-European hope of a United Reformed Church in the best sense of the word was rejected by people intent on continuing to misinterpret the ideas of Law and Gospel which went hand in hand in the Old Testament. To gain power in Parliament, the Presbyterians cut up the Covenant into too parts, speaking of the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. It was their artificial Covenant of works, however, which they used as their bases for their New Britain, finding that one cannot make laws out of grace. Indeed, they boycotted Cromwell’s attempts to set up a Ministry for Tolerance in Parliament and paid William Prynne to denounce those seeking pan-Reformed unity in the courts. Their idea of Old Testament inheritance was that of a human Government taking over God’s wrath against sin, dictating the shalts and shalt nots of case law to a people whom they enslaved to their law, putting saved and unsaved alike under the yoke of Sinai. If an over eighteen year-old refused to sell away his Christian inheritance for a mess of pottage by signing their Scottish Solemn League and Covenant, he at worse lost his life and at best his property and was banned from Church fellowship and civil rights. As all Episcopalians, who were outlawed in 1643 came under this umbrella and most Independents, who were ranked with the Anglicans as ‘Malignants’, a reign of persecuting terror ensued. Why? One party of fallen men thought they could set up a Demi-Paradise by terrorising the common people who are usually the worse off when tyranny reigns. This was not the New Covenant but old rationalism and pagan tyranny. Sadly, the greatest sins ever committed since the Fall are sins of the churches. What do we learn by this? When man enters into covenant with man under conditions imposed by one side, one can forget the notion of ‘Covenant’ altogether.
However, most modern covenant-based believers, of whatever kind, do not so much speak of a Covenant of Man to man but speak of a Covenant of God with man, as if man and God could be placed in equal partnership. However, I notice in this new theology of the Covenant which I have been looking into from time to time during the last ten years, their gurus explain what they think the term ‘Covenant’ means by giving examples of man’s covenants with man before applying them to God’s covenant with man as if the one confused view made the other more enlightening. One might as well try to merge night with day and produce an eternal twilight as talk of partnerships between our righteous God and sinful man. Or combine summer and winter and have the sun beaming down icicles at us and the ground producing freshly-packed frozen foods. Such things do happen in the make-believe Never-Never Land of Science Fiction. This is the Ersatz-Religion of many modern would-be Covenanters. What a high view of man and low view of God such people must have!
I must be more provocative. Be suspicious when you hear of God entering into separate covenants with sinful Adam with sinful Noah and sinful Abraham or even sinful Jews and sinful Gentiles. None of us can stand before God as one worthy of partnership in a Covenant with God. So you might say to me, ‘What nihilistic thinking is this? George Ella will throw away all theologies connected with the Covenant overboard’. I do not. I throw overboard all theologies based on fallen man as a partner in any covenant whatsoever. No fallen, no redeemed man, can stand as his own Covenant-Keeper.
What about the idea of a God making a covenant with a God which is surprisingly taught in a number of churches in the States some of which profess to be ‘Calvinistic’. Poor Calvin gets blamed for the strangest things! They maintain correctly that God cannot enter into a partnership of equals with man but claim there can be a partnership of equals between Gods. Thus God the Father can enter into a partnership with God the Son. This seems tempting. But wait! Why then the need for the Incarnation? Why did God have to become man? These people, answer the question by saying that Christ never identified Himself with sinful man for our sakes but was ever a divine being in human ethereal form, like the bodies of the resurrected saints. He did not need to become man. The Incarnation was thus a sham, they tell us, as one could not imagine the holy God-Man feeding on the blood of sinful woman and passing through her sinful womb. They conclude thus that it was Christ as a divine Partner with whom the Father made a covenant and not with any man among men. If Christ had become a mere man amongst fallen men, He would have gone the way of all flesh. They even say that Christ withstood the Devil’s temptations only because of His Godhood as He would have failed if He had taken on our manhood. Imagine how useless such a divine contract could be, apart from the fact that the idea is pantheistic. A righteous God barters with another righteous God and comes to an agreement. But the Gods remain Gods in their righteousness and man remains man in his unrighteousness. Of course, if Christ did not carry our sins away from us as a man among men, there could be no reconciliation between God and man. God so designed our salvation that it took a perfect, unfallen man to become sin for us in exchange for His righteousness.
This brings me to my third note:
About all the fancy names which have developed since the Reformation concerning the Covenant which have turned our churches into institutions and denominations which are more to be classified with Secret Societies, Debating Societies, Rabbit Associations, Lodges, Business enterprises, Football Clubs and the like. We can talk about the Covenant of Grace, the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Redemption, New Covenant and Old Covenant or the Solemn League and Covenant but they are all false theologies if they are based on an imagined mixture of God’s provisions and man’s duties. God only knows His duty to His own Righteousness. Man only knows His duty to his own sinfulness. This is what makes all the talk about salvation being by God’s provisions and man’s agency or dutiful exercise of faith all my eye and Peggy Martin.
A perfect covenant, like the one I shall speak about in the next session, must be a transaction between trustworthy, competent, indeed, perfect partners. If there is to be a perfect covenant of any kind between God and man it must be between a perfect God and a perfect man. In the entire universe, there are only two who meet the correct criterium. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and Christ our Righteousness. A covenant between men cannot be eternally effective, a covenant between God and man can only fail because of man. Covenants between gods only happen in mythology and fairy-tales and leave mankind quite out of the picture. There is only one pure righteous Man in this whole universe who has shown Himself worthy to be our advocate before God and that is the Lord Jesus Christ who, when God asked in the Heavenly Tribune, with whom can I establish a Covenant so that I can establish a People for myself and a Bride for my Son, Christ Himself said ‘Here am I send me.’