Guest essay by Bobbie Ames
Our Creator God has always extended covenants to His children. To Adam, it was clearly stated that he might eat of “every tree in the garden, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:16-17 NLT). Adam’s obligation was merely obedience.
To Noah, who found Grace in the eyes of the Lord, God spoke, “With thee I will establish my covenant, thou shall come into the ark, thou and thy sons and thy sons’ wives, with thee” (Gen. 6:18 KJV). Noah’s reward came through obedience and trust.
After the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of the people, God still offered Grace through a covenant with Abraham. “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless them, and make thy name great, and thou shall be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee, and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3 KJV).
Over the centuries, theologians have placed an emphasis on the Covenants of God. For John Calvin and John Knox, the very substance of the Covenants of the Old and New Testaments were the same: Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Salvation, from the beginning of Creation to the fulfillment of the Second Coming.
Other theologians saw two distinct covenants: one, a Covenant of Works, and the second, a Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Works is sometimes called a legal or “natural” covenant, founded in nature, but also founded in the Law of God, which was written (engraven) in man’s heart in the beginning. And in that, Adam was promised eternal life.
Our early American churches were heavily influenced by Reformation thought. Especially cherished was the writing of the Reformers such as Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661). Rutherford wrote what he embraced as The Covenant of Life Opened, owing all that we are and have to Him, who gave Himself for us.
Writing in his Covenant for Life, Rutherford declared, “The Lord punished Christ for us to declare the glory of His justice, in punishing sin in His own Son, who was the sinner by imputation.”
The depth of Rutherford’s writing is found in his book, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself. He alerts us to the fact that the atoning sacrifice for sin was much more profound than the satisfaction of Justice—it was what took place in the inner heart, the inner person of Jesus Christ.
So as Christmas approaches and we contemplate celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, and his fulfillment of the Covenant of Grace, how do we experience that covenant in a very personal way? As we think of the baby Jesus in a manger, can we even fathom the Father’s only begotten Son, before the world began, already the appointed Redeemer of the Father’s Creation?
It is difficult to even imagine the love that would lead to the Son taking on human flesh of soul and body, and submitting himself to the Law, suffering the death of the Cross, redeeming all who believe from sin and death. Before the world began, Christ agreed to pay the price for our redemption and purchased for us all the benefits of “free” Grace and reconciliation.
The Covenant of Grace is foretold in the sacraments of Circumcision, of Baptism, and of the Lord’s Supper. It is beautifully pictured in the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb, which should enrich our everyday life and constant worship.
One of the respected theologians of today is Dr. Morton H. Smith, who taught in several seminaries, including Reformed Seminary in Mississippi and Greenville Presbyterian Seminary in South Carolina, where he was Dean of the Faculty. He served as Stated Clerk in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America from its founding in 1973 to 1988.
His writing on Covenant Theology would likely bring a revival to many churches if taken to heart in today’s church culture. We highly recommend it. Writing on the Covenants, he reminds us, that “the covenant idea stressed the legal, binding relation between God and His people. Since the covenant idea binds men unto God, this can only be effected on the basis of reconciliation between the Holy God and sinful men. This is the essence of the Covenant designated as the Covenant of Grace.”
When a person accepts Christ by faith as their personal Savior, there is a spiritual union. The judicial ground of that union is found in the Covenant of Grace. Christ sealed the Covenant with His own blood. This glorious truth, writes Dr. Smith, enables us “to become partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ through the federal, spiritual, and mystical union with Him. Scripture sets forth this union as embracing every phase of the saving relation, both in the purpose of God and in its realization.”
I Corinthians 15:19-49 and Romans 5:12-21 established that, just as Adam was head of the human race, Christ is the constituted head of the new humanity, and acted in a representative capacity to His Elect. We die because of our relation to the first Adam, but we live by faith in Christ. Yes, He gives us eternal life.
Romans 16:25 addresses the “mystery” which was kept “secret” since the world began. Paul speaks of the “mystery” in Romans chapter 5, and again in Colossians chapter 1, which is “Christ in you, the hope of Glory.” The very thought of the God of the Universe loving us individually enough to indwell us, is beyond human understanding. And our being united with other believers is promised and fulfilled. Read John 17 over and over, and rejoice in the Glory.
This glorious Union with Christ gives us daily, even moment by moment, communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We can experience the continual love of the Bridegroom, because through His Covenant, we are reconciled to Him.
God’s Covenant of Grace is the central unifying theme of the entire Bible. Once we are united in Christ, there is no power that can remove us from His Grace (John 6:39 & John 10:28-30).
As we gather together and sing our Christmas carols, and reach out to others at this glorious time of the year, may the Covenant remain our focus. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 KJV).
For more information about Dr. Morton H. Smith’s writing and Covenant Theology, a good source is the Bookstore of Greenville Presbyterian Seminary, P.O Box 690, Taylors, SC. 29687.
Mrs. Ames is a lifelong educator and advocate for the faith of Jesus Christ and liberty under law. In 1965, with her husband’s help, she co-founded what would eventually become Emerald Mountain Christian School in Montgomery, Alabama. The associated Hoffman Educational Center and Emerald Mountain School continue to serve the community and nation.
© 2016 Used by Permission