Chapter 7 - Of God's Covenant
The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.
Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, Ch7, P1.
Signed by the Sacred Three in One
In a world full of broken promises and uncertainties, believers can be comforted by the utter, unchanging certainty of the covenant of redemption made before time began. It was revealed to us in God’s Word by him who cannot lie (Titus 1.2). This revelation tells us that the three persons of the Trinity entered into an eternal covenant, where God the Father covenanted with God the Son, and the Son with both the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The purpose of this covenant was to save a fallen and lost humanity for himself (2 Timothy 1.9). In his incomprehensible condescension, he has sworn and confirmed this to us by an oath (Hebrews 6.17).
Following the breaking of God’s law, while pronouncing the curse, this promise was revealed. In his grace, God promised that from the seed of the woman, there would be one who would bruise the serpent’s head. This promise was further revealed to Abraham. Through his seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12.3). In Genesis 15, the promise was unconditionally confirmed to Abraham 430 years before the institution of the covenant of circumcision.Mosaic Covenant.
This promise is nothing less than the new covenant retrospectively revealed and applied. It is the covenant prophesied by Jeremiah in which God speaks of providing his people with a new heart, the knowledge of himself and the forgiveness of sin (Jeremiah 31.31-33). It is the eternal promise ratified and completed through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 22.20).
This promise is reassuring news to the lost and hopeless race of Adam. Because of sin’s consequences, humanity cannot ever gain acceptance with God through perfect obedience. But God, in his unconditional grace, promised freely to save all sinners who come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the promised Saviour, giving them a willing heart and everlasting life (Hebrews 9.15)
Recognising that God made multiple covenants in the Old Testament (for example, with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David) is vital. Each of these covenants, distinct and different from the new covenant, occupies a subservient role. They are all conditional, typical covenants which promise temporal blessings upon obedience. In highlighting man’s inability to secure earthly blessings through his obedience, they serve to lead sinners to the only covenant of which Jesus is the mediator – the new covenant – whereby they might be saved. Jesus has fulfilled all the conditions necessary to secure peace with God.
While this new covenant was not formally inaugurated until Christ, it was still accessible through faith in the promise before the incarnation. The new covenant is nothing less than the application in time of the eternal covenant entered into by the three persons of the Trinity.
When the New Testament refers to this new covenant, it compares and contrasts it to the old covenant of works.
- The old covenant is based upon a works principle. However, the new covenant is the covenant of grace. It is not based on grace plus good human works but on Christ’s work alone which fulfils all the requirements and conditions. What God demands, Christ has secured, and it is the Holy Spirit who applies Christ’s finished work to his people.
- The new covenant is different to the other covenants (Ephesians 2.12). They were only for a time and became obsolete, having served their purpose. The writer says, “Now what is obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8.13).
- God wrote the old covenant on stone tablets, but the new covenant on tablets of flesh.
- The old covenant leads to death and condemnation, the new to life and righteousness (2 Corinthians 3).
Christians should be filled with assurance and praise because God has sworn, confirmed and is applying such blessings to all who believe. For those who do not yet believe, the command goes out to all the world – “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20.31).
With David’s Lord and ours,
A covenant once was made,
Whose bonds are firm and sure,
Whose glories never fade!
Signed by the sacred Three in One
In mutual love, ere time begun.