1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
—John 1:1–5 (ESV)
As you prepare to board the gospel of John the pilot hands you a special piece of carry-on luggage necessary for a proper flight. Don’t stow it in the overhead bin. Do not put it under the seat. This carry-on luggage is carry-through luggage. Hold on to it tightly throughout the flight. John’s prologue (1:1–18), especially the first five verses, and supremely the first verse, are your carry-through luggage. The Methodist theologian C.K. Barrett has this travel advice, “John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true, the book is blasphemous.”
When John hails Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” don’t forget that the Lamb is the Word who was in the beginning. When Jesus cleanses the temple, don’t forget that He is the Word who was with God in the beginning. When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again, don’t forget that He is the Word who was and is God. When Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well, don’t forget that He is the Word who became flesh.
Carry the beginning with you through to the end. But also, go to the end to carry it with you from the beginning. This gospel, like all the gospels, must be read backwards. You really must read any one of them twice to really have read them once, for they must be read in light of the ending. Martin Kähler, a critical theologian, is famous for his statement concerning Mark’s gospel, which has sense been applied to all of them. They are all of them, in his words, “passion narratives with extended introductions.” The last days of Jesus’ life are roughly the subject of between a quarter and a third of the synoptics. This is amplified in John. The second section of this gospel, beginning in chapter 13, is known as the “book of glory” or the “book of the Passion.” Near half of John’s gospel concerns His last days from the Passover forward.
But it is also at the end of this gospel that John makes explicit his purpose in writing. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31). Do you see all the parallels there with John’s prologue? This book is written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and from the beginning, John wants you to know this critical aspect of that confession:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
O LORD God of hosts,
who is mighty as you are, O LORD,
with your faithfulness all around you?
You rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, you still them.
You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours;
the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.
The steadfast love and faithfulness of God’s covenant is sure to endure forever because the might of God lies behind it. That might is spoken of here using the most striking of metaphors. In order to grasp it, it may be helpful to take an inventory of all the elements laid before us. We have sea, heaven, and earth, that is, we have creation as a noun. We also have creation as a verb, as an act. And then there is the might of God and the defeat of his enemies. But most uniquely, we have Rahab. The might of God that lies behind his forever steadfast love is that which crushes Rahab. Surely this doesn’t mean crushing a Canaanite woman. What is Rahab here?
Awake, awake, put on strength,
O arm of the LORD;
awake, as in days of old,
the generations of long ago.
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,
who pierced the dragon?
Was it not you who dried up the sea,
the waters of the great deep,
who made the depths of the sea a way
for the redeemed to pass over?”
—Isaiah 51:9–10; emphasis mine
“The pillars of heaven tremble
and are astounded at his rebuke.
By his power he stilled the sea;
by his understanding he shattered Rahab.
By his wind the heavens were made fair;
his hand pierced the fleeing serpent”
—Job 26:11–13; emphasis mine
This is very similar to the language used of Leviathan in Psalm 74.
“You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.
Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.
You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
you have made summer and winter”
Piecing our clues together, it appears as though Rahab is a sea dragon, as in the Mesopotamian myths; a creature associated with chaos. For example, Marduk is said to have defeated the primordial sea goddess Tiamat and to have made heaven and earth from the rent carcass. Thus it is that some accuse the Bible of appropriating pagan mythology at this point.
But earlier in Isaiah we read this, “Egypt’s help is worthless and empty; therefore I have called her ‘Rahab who sits still’” (Isaiah 30:7; emphasis mine). Rahab is also clearly a nation in Psalm 87:4.
What are we to make of this? Back up. Take in the big story. When God delivered His people from Egypt in covenant faithfulness he did so with signs and wonders, with a mighty arm judging not only Egypt, but her gods (Exodus 12:12). Egypt is likened to a sea monster of chaos and by defeating her, by crushing the serpent’s head, a people are formed and brought into a land of milk and honey.
Listen to Isaiah 59 again: “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?” (emphasis mine). At the Red Sea, Rahab was slain. The serpent crushed. The people of God delivered. The chaos stilled.
And here, all this is being reflected on in reference not to God’s covenant faithfulness to Moses, but to David. And of the King the psalmist will soon say, “I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers” (89:25). Here is anticipated the serpent-crushing Seed of the woman who calms the chaos of the seas cursed with the serpent. One cannot but think of the Anointed One, the Christ, who after rebuking the tempest on the sea of Galilee then rebuked the Gaderene demoniacs so that the demons went into the pigs who then rushed down a steep bank and into the sea and drowned (Matthew 8).
Behold the Christ, the Son of David whose hand is on the seas and whose foot is on the serpent’s head. At the cross, when it seemed the King was forsaken, it was then that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness were most manifest as it was there, that the pierced foot crushed the dragon’s head.
“And Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.’”
—2 Samuel 7:3
Why does Nathan so quickly green light David’s implicit proposal? Some might fault Nathan for not telling David that he will seek the word of the Lord on this and get back to him. Perhaps with a proposal as significant as this David should of at least have asked the priest to give Urim or Thummim on this.
Some might say that Nathan approved the project because it was all the rage among the pagan kings to so do. As an expression of their gratitude to the gods who gave them victory, they built them houses of worship. But I don’t think this was what prompted Nathan. I believe two factors led to his thumbs up.
First, there was no wickedness involved. It was a righteous and good request. Too many of us are fearful of failure. We want revelation. We look for it in a feeling. But it isn’t really that we want to please God; it is that we want to be a god. We want to be successful. We don’t want to look foolish. But attempting such daring and good endeavors should be our default posture. Do good things. Trust providence. If your desire is righteous, Yahweh is with you. Do all that is in your heart. And if it fails, well, it really didn’t, for the goal was to work hardily, as to the Lord and not to men. The goal isn’t success. It is glory—God’s glory, not our own.
Second, I’ve little doubt Nathan heard this request and thought of something promised and outlined in the Mosaic Covenant; something very likely long hoped for and now, at this precise moment, earnestly anticipated by those who studied the law.
“But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God…” (Deuteronomy 12:10–13).
Frequently the Mosaic Covenant speaks of “the place Yahweh your God will chose, to make his name dwell there.” After rest, there was to be an established place of rest for the house of God. Again, this is to happen after Yahweh gives them rest from their enemies. It is this very rest which God will go on to promise to David. David’s proposal is rejected because God has a bigger promise. David is not to build God a house because God will build David a house. David will not build a dwelling for God, God will build a dynasty for David.
“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” —Deuteronomy 30:6
When—then, then—when, and in between the two thens, the heart of the passage, which is a passage about the heart. That’s the structure of our text. Antecedent, consequent, the heart, consequent, antecedent.
But as we begin to analyze the antecedent, it is critical that we determine if the antecedent is temporal or conditional. Is the antecedent an “if” or a “when?” Is this an if-then or a when-then statement? While there is indeed an “if-ness” that is sensed on the surface, it is the “when-ness” of this passage that is most pronounced. This passage is not so much telling us what should be, though it does speak to that, as it is telling us what will be.
The central portion of our text is made up of promises, the consequents. At the heart of these promises is a promise that stands out. It is a promise that meets the conditions necessary for all the other promises. If you just lump all the promises together, you have a chicken or the egg conundrum. It appears that the chicken is laying the egg that hatches the very same aforementioned chicken. When Israel returns to Yahweh and loves Him with all her heart and all her soul, then God will restore her. But then, we are told that Yahweh will circumcise the hearts of His people so that they love him with all their heart and all their soul. Here is a promise that meets the temporal conditions that result in the consequent blessings promised. Here is a promise that guarantees all the other promises. That is why we have a “when” instead of an “if.” God will give them a new heart. They will return. He will bless.
The Old Covenant is not identical to the New, but neither is it antithetical to it. The Old is not an administration of the New, but it does advance it. The Old holds forth the New in promise. The gospel flower of the New that comes into full bloom in Christ is held forth at this point by the stem of the law as a bud of promise. Everything about the Old shouts flower, but, again, it holds it forth as a bud of promise. It is with Christ that spring comes and the bud blooms. And with the budding flower, seed falls to the ground. And that seed does not return void. It accomplishes God’s purpose. It brings forth life. And that life is a new heart—anew heart that loves Yahweh with its all, that hears his voice, that obeys His commands.
“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7–8)
When critics try to take potshots at the Bible, our response shouldn’t be embarrassment, but laughter. What they thought was an easy hit, is miles off the mark. When they think they’ve blown a whole through the Bible, we snigger because we know the Bible is nowhere downrange of where they’re aiming.
Bible assassins will ridicule the injustice of the conquest of Canaan. They may compare this holy war to the Jihad of Islam. Or they might liken Israel’s actions to the Hutu genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda. The problem is that you can’t aim at such apples and think you’re hitting the Bible’s oranges.
When you read the Bible, you have to read it on its own terms. If it is what it says it is, it changes everything. The Bible says it is the word of God. The Bible says that this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel, is the Creator of all things and that He is sovereign. God plainly spells out the implications of this through the prophet Jeremiah. He is the Potter. We are the clay (Jeremiah 18). God is responsible for every pot made and for every pot smashed. He opens the womb. He closes the grave.
God is responsible for one hundred percent of all deaths all the time. Man may sin in taking a life, but God never sins in using one sinner to take another sinner’s life. Foundationally then, we must understand that the conquest of Canaan was not a matter of ethnic genocide nor the arrogance of one people thinking their religion superior to another’s. In the conquest of Canaan, the holy God of heaven brings righteous judgment to bear on a wicked people (Deuteronomy 7:1–2; 9:4–5).
Israel is to destroy, but they are to be a willing sword in the hand of their God. And God uses this sword against a people whose iniquity is now full (Genesis 15:16). The destruction of Sodom was a preview both of what the Canaanites were to become and what was to become of them as a result. Recall how Abraham pled for that city to be spared if there were found fifty, forty-five, thirty, twenty, even ten righteous souls therein. Lot would be rescued out of Sodom, but Sodom was not to be rescued. Her iniquity was full. the Judge of all the earth does not sweep away the righteous with the wicked. He does what is just (Genesis 18:23, 25). As Sodom was full, so now the land as a whole is full. The land is full of sinners who sin is full. Leviticus 18 speaks of the Canaanites so polluting the land that it vomits them out.
Alongside the critic, what we are often uncomfortable with isn’t the death itself, but the sword used. Such an objection fails to take into account the utterly unique position Israel then enjoyed. Israel was the only absolute theocracy that has or will exist as a geo-political state in this age. She was a rusty sword, but God personally forged her and owned her as His own. Her armies were His armies. These are the oranges you have to deal with.
But that these oranges are not being shot at is most apparent in this: God brings this judgment as mercy. The conquest of Canaan is an act of mercy towards Israel. Deuteronomy 9:4–5 explains,
“Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
D.A. Carson comments, “It may be true to say that the Israelites won because the Canaanites were so evil. It does not follow that the Canaanites lost because the Israelites were so good.” Here is where the real rub is. Why should Israel receive mercy and the Canaanites wrath? The funny thing about our cries of injustice are that what we are crying out against is mercy. I will agree that mercy is not fair. It’s merciful. As R.C. explains, mercy is in the category of non-justice, but it is not in the category of injustice. The Potter, Yahweh, has mercy on whom He will have mercy.
And this mercy toward Israel is for the purpose of God’s mercy toward the world. God promised Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The God who had His son Israel spill blood, did so only as part of a plan to have His eternal Son spill His own. Through the judgment of Canaan, God was bringing salvation to the world, just as by His judgment on the Son, He brought salvation, purchasing for Himself in mercy a bride from every people, tribe, and tongue. He will return to bring judgment in full, and in its wake, salvation in full, the inheritance of the meek, the earth made new.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” —Deuteronomy 5:6
Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote, “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.” Spot on, and yet, we must also say that here we come to another major dividing line, not simply within Scripture itself, but especially in the church. Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum state, “It is the interpretation of the relation of the old covenant to the new the is the basis of all the major divisions among Christians, i.e., all the denominational differences derive ultimately from different understandings of the covenant at Sinai to us today.” While I would argue that the differences between we Reformed Baptists and our Presbyterian brothers go all the way back to Genesis 3, it is here that they come to a head.
Also, it is here that we diverge sharply with our Dispensational friends. And the division is growing generally among Christians and Evangelical churches for whom the Old Testament, the Law, is avoided like the Judean wilderness. No one lives there anymore. It’s flyover territory. We may mine the OT for some illustrations and inspirational stories. We may rip some sentimental lines from the Psalms or grab a proverb or two when needed, but can we say with Psalmist, “Oh how I love your law! It is my mediation all the day,” (Psalm 119:97).
I’m afraid that Andy Stanley’s asinine exhortation that the church needs to unhitch her faith from the Old Testament, though many reacted against it and Andy himself tried to walk it back, wasn’t really a needed exhortation. We largely are unhitched.
As for those of us who are hitched, or who wish to be, do we know what it is that we’re pulling? We know we’re hauling law, but do we recognize that the trailer itself on which the law rests is covenant? Further, do we realize that this covenant is one of redemption and grace? Hijacking Paul’s contrast of the Old and the New and driving it places he never intended, we pit the Old and the New against one another. Because we do, we now don’t know where we’re going. While we will largely still agree that the law is meant to drive us to grace, we’ve forgotten that grace also leads us back to the law.
Additionally, because we don’t know the Old, our supposed knowledge of the New is hollowed out. We’ve lost the plot, the background, the anticipations, the images, the shadows, the promises, the types, and the covenant soil out of which the New Covenant blooms. In short, we’ve become strangers to the covenants of promise.
1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” —Genesis 17:1–2
When the covenant was cut with Abram in Genesis 15, God walked it alone. Concerning the covenant promises, Abram had asked God, “How shall I know…?” (Genesis 15:8). God instructed Abram to bring him several animals. Abram cut them in half and laid the pieces opposite one another. Manifest as something like a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, God passes between the pieces. Normally, when a covenant was made, both parties would walk through the pieces, pledging covenant loyalty and invoking a curse on themselves should they fail to keep covenant. But God walked it alone.
In Genesis 12, Abram walks, leaving Haran to journey to the land God would show him. In Genesis 17, Abraham walks before God, keeping covenant, circumcising all the males in his household. Between Abraham’s two walkings, God walks it alone. and it is there, in Genesis 15, where Abram does nothing but believe God’s word, that we are told, “he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
Paul makes a big deal of this order in Romans 4 telling us that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Romans 4:11–12; emphasis mine). The order is critical. It is an order one must keep in mind when they read “walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (Genesis 17:1–2; emphasis mine).
Before the sign, the signified. God circumcises before Abraham does. There is a circumcision without which circumcision means nothing. Because God walked it alone, Abraham walks. His covenant faithfulness ensures ours.
Saints, Jesus walked it alone. He walked before God all His days to be your righteousness. He walked to the cross to bear the wrath of the Almighty for your sin. He walked out of the tomb conquering death and Satan. Because He walked it alone, you walk in Him. Because He died and rose, you have died and risen and may be baptized. Because He circumcised your heart, you may love. Because of His covenant faithfulness you may keep covenant.
“And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’
And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’
Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’
And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” —Genesis 15:4-6
When all you have is God’s covenant word, you already have all you need. Twice Yahweh comes to Abram repeating His covenant promises (15:1, 7). Twice Abram replies with a lament of faith mingled with doubt.
“O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?…
O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” (Genesis 15:2, 8; emphasis mine).
“What will you give?” While Yahweh does lead Abram to look at the stars, these simply serve as an illustration of the Word. When Abram doubts the Word, Yahweh gives him the Word. Abram has nothing more in his hand, but the Word is once again laid on his heart.
“How am I to know?” While Yahweh does formally establish a covenant with Abram at this juncture, nothing of the promise is realized. This covenant act is simply one reinforcing the covenant promises already made. God has spoken. Now He speaks louder as it were, still, this covenant act is essentially the promise spoken again. God had spoken. It will certainly be. He speaks again in this act to emphasize to Abram the certainty of His promise. When Abram doubts the Word, God still essentially gives him the Word.
All the days of our pilgrimage, the fullness of the promise will ultimately lie ahead of us. All the days of our pilgrimage, we will have nothing but the Word, sacraments, and our Lord’s covenant presence with us as His people. This is all we need. As we sojourn, as far as the promise of full and final deliverance from sin and of a land not marred by its curse, we have nothing but the Word. And in this, we have all that we need, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. When you doubt the Word, cry out to your covenant Lord, that by His Spirit, He would minister the word of Christ to you afresh.
What has he given? He has given us Christ. He has given us His Word testifying of Christ.
How are we to know? He has given us Christ. He has given us His Word testifying of Christ.
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. —Genesis 9:12–15
Everyday of humanity’s existence is full of complaint at the curse come for man’s violating the covenant of creation while little gratitude is shown for God’s faithfulness to the Noahic covenant that preserves creation despite our unceasing sinfulness. We complain of the curse we have merited and offer no thanks for the faithfulness of God in relation to the rainbow that hangs in the sky.
The Noahic covenant might be the most unappreciated of covenants by those bound by it. At least mankind acknowledges the covenant of creation in a sense by his grumbling at its enduring curse. But the common grace that rains down on all man in the Noahic covenant is unacknowledged. It is assumed. It is too common to treat God’s common grace as a common thing. It is not.
All that is, is now, because God remains faithful to this covenant. Even among the saints this covenant is neglected. We study the others. That’s where the controversy and interest is. But among orthodox theologians, everyone agrees for the most part on the substance of the Noahic covenant. Ho hum. So common.
We are the poorer for our lack of attention to this covenant of common grace, this covenant of preservation. Brown and Keele write,
“At the end of God’s multi-colored bow rests a theological pot of gold. The Lord’s promise not to destroy the world is a covenant, with an integral place in Reformed theology. The Noahic covenant is the covenant of common grace, the realm of our everyday lives under the sun. Its theological significance extends in several directions. It broadcasts how God governs this world and its goodness. It discloses some of man’s obligations and roles in the world, and it even points us to Christ. The Noahic covenant is crucial to a biblical understanding of the world and is a necessary part of covenant theology.”
God’s common grace is comely. It is surprising and stunning. His common grace is uncommonly wondrous. It doesn’t save, but it does preserve. Without this preservation of humanity there would be no humanity to save. Let’s not fail to gaze upon God’s bow hung in the sky and wonder at the rich colors of this covenant with all its blessings of common grace upon creation fallen under the curse for man’s disobedience.
"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.”
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).