BUY THIS BOOK
The covenants occupy no subordinate place on the pages of divine revelation, as even a superficial perusal of Scripture will show. The word covenant is found no fewer than twenty-five times in the very first book of the Bible; and occurs again scores of times in the remaining books of the Pentateuch, in the Psalms and in the Prophets. Nor is the word inconspicuous in the New Testament. When instituting the great memorial of His death, the Savior said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). When enumerating the special blessings which God had conferred on the Israelites, Paul declared that to them belonged the covenants (Rom. 9:4). To the Galatians he expounded the two covenants (4:24-31). The Ephesian saints were reminded that in their unregenerate days they were strangers to the covenants of promise. The entire Epistle to the Hebrews is an exposition of the better covenant of which Christ is mediator (8:6).
Salvation through Jesus Christ is according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23), and He was pleased to make known His eternal purpose of mercy unto the fathers, in the form of covenants, which were of different characters and revealed at various times. These covenants enter into the very nature, and pervade with their peculiar qualities, the whole system of divine truth. They have an intimate connection with each other and a common relation to a single purpose, being, in fact, so many successive stages in the unfolding of the scheme of divine grace. They treat the divine side of things, disclosing the source from which all blessings come to men, and making known the channel (Christ) through which they flow to them. Each one reveals some new and fundamental aspect of truth, and in considering them in their Scriptural order we may clearly perceive the progress of revelation which they respectively indicated. They set forth the great design of God accomplished by the redeemer of His people.
It has been well pointed out that “it is very obvious that because God is an intelligence He must have a plan. If He be an absolutely perfect intelligence, desiring and designing nothing but good; if He be an eternal and immutable intelligence, His plan must be one, eternal, all-comprehensive, immutable; that is, all things from His point of view must constitute one system and sustain a perfect logical relation in all its parts. Nevertheless, like all other comprehensive systems it must itself be composed of an infinite number of subordinate systems. In this respect it is like these heavens which He has made, and which He has hung before our eyes, as a type and pattern of His mode of thinking and planning in all providence.
“We know that in the solar system our earth is a satellite of one of the great suns, and of this particular system we have a knowledge because of our position, but we know that this system is only one of myriads, with variations, that have been launched in the great abyss of space. So we know that this great, all-comprehensive plan of God, considered as one system, must contain a great many subordinate systems which might be studied profitably if we were in the position to do so, as self-contained whole, separate from the rest” (Lectures by A. A. Hodge). That “one system” or the eternal “plan” of God was comprised in the everlasting covenant; the many “subordinate systems” are the various covenants God made with different ones from time.
The everlasting covenant, with its shadowings forth His temporal covenants, form the basis of all His dealings with His people. Many proofs of this are to be met with in Holy Writ. For example, when God heard the groanings of the Hebrews in Egypt, we are told that He remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob (Ex. 2:24; cf. 6:2-8). When Israel was oppressed by the Syrians in the days of Jehoahaz, we read, And the Lord was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them, and had respect unto them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (2 Kings 13:23; cf. Ps. 106:43-45). At a later period, when God determined to show mercy unto Israel, after He had sorely afflicted them for their sins, He expressed it thus, Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth (Ezek. 16:60). As the psalmist declared, He hath given meat unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant (111:5).
The same blessed truth is set forth in the New Testament that the covenant is the foundation from which proceed all the gracious works of God. This is rendered as the reason for sending Christ into the world: To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant (Luke 1:72). Remarkable too is that word in Hebrews 13:20: Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant. Another illustration of the same principle is found in Hebrews 10:15,16: Whereof the Holy Spirit also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them the words .. supply proof that the good which God does unto His people is grounded on His covenant. Anything which in Scripture is said to be done unto us for Christ’s sake signifies it is done by virtue of that covenant which God made with Christ as the head of His mystical body.
In like manner, when God is said to bind Himself by oath to the heirs of promise - Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath (Heb. 6:17)— it is upon the ground of His covenant engagement that He does so. In fact the one merges into the other, for in Scripture covenanting is often called by the name of swearing, and a covenant is called an oath. That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into his oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day. . . Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath (Deut. 29:12,14). Be ye mindful always of his covenant, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations: even of the covenant which he made with Abraham, and of his oath unto Isaac (1 Chron. 16:15,16). And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul. . .And they sware unto the Lord with a loud voice ... And all Judah rejoiced at the oath (l Chron. 15:12,14, l5).
Sufficient should have already been said to impress us with the weightiness of our present theme, and the great importance of arriving at a right understanding of the divine covenants. A true knowledge of the covenants is indispensable to a correct presentation of the gospel, for he who is ignorant of the fundamental difference which obtains between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace is utterly incompetent for evangelism. But by whom among us are the different covenants clearly understood? Refer unto them to the average preacher, and you at once perceive you are speaking to him in an unknown tongue. Few today discern what the covenants are in themselves, their relations to each other, and their consequent bearings upon the design of God in the Redeemer. Since the covenants pertain unto the very “rudiments of the doctrine of Christ,” ignorance of them must cause obscurity to rest upon the whole gospel system.