Cutting the Covenants (Genesis 3:14–21)

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, 
      and between your offspring and her offspring; 
he shall bruise your head, 
      and you shall bruise his heel.”

—Genesis 3:15

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said “The real division of the Bible is this: first, everything you get from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 3:14; then everything from Genesis 3:15 to the very end of the Bible.” Not only is this spot the critical point at which history is divided, it is also the point at which the two main branches of covenant theologians part: credobaptists and paedobaptists. So sharp is the division, that some of my paedo brothers would snicker at me thinking myself a reformed or covenant theologian at all. That’s ok. I’ll make my jokes too. Hang around.

Historically, the fundamental parting point between the two isn’t any text dealing specifically with baptism, but in how we understand what is called the “Covenant of Grace.” The Second London Baptist Confession (LCF), also known as the 1689 Baptist Confession, is a revision of the Westminster Confession (WCF). This speaks to the great affinity we have with our Presbyterian brothers. But in examining chapter 7 of each of these confessions, French Baptist theologian Pascal Denault says, “This is the most discordant passage of the confessions of faith. Knowing that the Baptists made every effort to follow the Westminster standards as much as possible when they wrote their confession of faith, the originality of their formulation of the Covenant of Grace is highly significant.” Where chapter 7 of the WCF has seven articles, the LCF has only three. And even where the LCF follows the WCF in form, the content is significantly different. For instance, WCF 7.5 reads, 

“This covenant [referred to as the “covenant of grace” in the previous article] was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.”

The next section, after speaking of the fulness that comes in gospel and Christ, goes on to state, “There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.” In contrast, the LCF 7.3 reads, 

“This covenant [again previously identified as “the covenant of grace”] is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.”

Our Baptists forefathers didn’t want to speak of there being one covenant with two administrations, but rather, one covenant that is progressively revealed, and further, it is first revealed as a promise. And surprisingly and beautifully, that promise is housed in a curse under the arrangement of the covenant of creation.

I’ve made the statement that while our presbyterian brothers can get too crazy with the glue, we baptists can get too excited with the scissors. Nonetheless, I believe we Baptists are a bit more mature in our use of the scissors. If my presbyterian brothers are like third graders with the paste here and there, we baptists are like fifth graders with the scissors. But we can’t really boast, because what we are cutting away from is a masterpiece of their making. A savant of a third grader made the masterpiece, but then added some silly little bit. It’s like the Mona Lisa, but with a little Superman flying in the corner. All we fifth graders did was cut away that last little bit and make it better. You’re welcome. Semper Reformanda!

Yet, being fifth graders, we must admit there is room for improvement. May I be so bold as to presume to take the scissors to both the 2nd London and the Westminster confessions? I do so with confidence that Scripture demands it and because the best Baptist explanations, in my opinion, demand such a change. 

I don’t think we should speak of a covenant of grace as being “made” at all anywhere in the Old Testament, as both the WCF and LCF do just prior to these statements (WCF 7.3; LCF 7.2). Instead, I would propose we say that the New Covenant itself was promised in Genesis 3. It is a potent promise to be sure, but only a promise at this point. The New Covenant isn’t covertly established here or there in the Old under an alias only to throw off the disguise in the incarnation and crucifixion of Christ. The New Covenant isn’t made or established at this point, it is promised, and that promise continues to expand and be clarified through each successive covenant.

And it is here where I think our Baptist forefathers got a bit wild with the scissors. Again, WCF 7.5 speaks of the covenant of grace being administered in the time of the law by “promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore signifying Christ to come.” While I would never want to speak of the Old Covenant as being an administration of the Covenant of Grace, I do believe we must say that it, along with the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, do minister the New Covenant. They minister it as a promise held out within them. The covenants of old are not themselves administrations of the new, but they do minister the new in promise. This is why Ephesians 2:12 speaks of them as “covenants of promise.” This is why the New Covenant is new! Because in it, what was promised is now established by the shed blood of Christ. We must cut the covenants realizing that covenants are cut. The cutting that establishes the New Covenant is the blood of Christ. 

“Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:15–22).

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