Archive for August 2011

One at a time

31 August 2011 by Brad Williams

Q. 33. Was the covenant of grace always administered after one and the same manner?
A. The covenant of grace was not always administered after the same manner, but the administrations of it under the old testament were different from those under the new.

Q. 34. How was the covenant of grace administered under the old testament?
A. The covenant of grace was administered under the old testament, by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the Passover, and other types and ordinances, which did all foresignify Christ then to come, and were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal salvation.

Q. 35. How is the covenant of grace administered under the new testament?
A. Under the new testament, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the same covenant of grace was and still is to be administered in the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper; in which grace and salvation are held forth in more fullness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations.

I believe in the sacraments. At least, I believe that grace is offered to us through the sacraments. I believe that this grace is offered to us to be feasted on by faith: whether by preaching, by communion, or by baptism. I believe this because the grace of God is always offered to us by means of the gospel, and the sacraments proclaim the gospel to us for our joy and edification.

I know that Baptists get nervous about talking like this, or even using the word 'sacrament' to describe the Lord's Supper and Baptism. That's okay. Baptists get nervous about dancing and drinking beer, too. Especially when someone else finds out that they have been doing both. So don't let Baptist hang ups keep you from thinking about the matter of grace in the sacraments.

Here's the truth: God is always gracious. Grace comes to us from God in all manner of ways: in kisses, in children, in breath, in rebuke, and even on the internet. No matter what we do or experience, we ought to see enough grace in it to glorify God for it. Should the Lord's Supper be any different?

I want you to consider how you think preaching works. We believe that God uses the means of preaching the Word of God to justify us and sanctify us, right? Well, how does preaching do that, exactly? Isn't it because the Spirit of God uses the preacher's words to impact our hearts and change our lives by agency of the Holy Spirit who works through those words. He justifies us through preaching, and He sanctifies us through preaching.

We are once and for all justified by faith the moment we believe. But sanctification is a life-long process, and it too is part of salvation. When we eat the Lord's Supper by faith, and remember that Christ was broken for us and is still offering Himself to us, we are being saved by that, and humbled by that, and changed by that. We learn to love our brother better because we know we need Jesus to make us clean and him clean, and both of us are happy that the other is willing to admit it. It makes me love Jesus more to know that he gave Himself not just for me, but that He also gave Himself for my beloved brother. This is grace, and this is a feast that God prepares for us.

If you think that Jesus isn't present "in the meal", I wonder where you think He is during it? Is He walking amongst the lampstands or not? Does He only show up for the singing and preaching? Or is He at the table again? Not that He is suffering again or is being eternally crucified. God forbid! Rather, it is more akin to him saying to Thomas, "Come here, and take a look at my hands. Put your finger in my side. Stop disbelieving and believe!" I confess that I have taken up the cup many times, as a believer, with this thought in my heart, "Lord, I do believe. Help me in my unbelief!" And He does help me. One sermon at a time. One meal at a time. One witnessed baptism at a time. One hymn at a time. He gives me grace.

The other day, my three year old daughter Zoe invited me for tea. I sat at a table too small for me with her and a stuffed rabbit named Blossom. We drank tea out of pink plastic cups. Mine was an Earl Gray with a bit of lemon. Zoe had sweet tea, and Blossom only likes carrot tea. I drank mine pinky out, and I told Zoe how wonderful her tea was, and that she looked splendid in her dress.

Of course, there was no tea, really. At least, there wasn't any tea in the cup. It was pretend. But the fellowship with my daughter was quite real. The bread of communion is not the "real" body of Jesus, but the fellowship with the Spirit and the saints in the meal is very real. By the word of God, we preach Christ, in communion we proclaim His death, and in baptism we proclaim our union in Christ and our resurrection with Him. These are means of grace to us, sacraments if we dare, and they ought to be treasured by us as the gifts that they are.

Even Only I am Left

30 August 2011 by Neil


Q. 33. Was the covenant of grace always administered after one and the same manner?
A. The covenant of grace was not always administered after the same manner, but the administrations of it under the old testament were different from those under the new.

Q. 34. How was the covenant of grace administered under the old testament?
A. The covenant of grace was administered under the old testament, by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the Passover, and other types and ordinances, which did all foresignify Christ then to come, and were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal salvation.

Q. 35. How is the covenant of grace administered under the new testament?
A. Under the new testament, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the same covenant of grace was and still is to be administered in the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper; in which grace and salvation are held forth in more fullness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations.


Grey, dull
All I see is pitiful
Don't talk
Don't eat
Sleep is incomplete

I've failed all around
Just a bumbling clown knocked down
God, where have you gone?
Why do things not work out?


Years, drinking in dust
Living on scraps from carrion birds
Faithful though you let the boy die
Harsh! Bitter is your will

All alone
Hated
God cares not that black's my word
Where are they?
Where are the fake few that
Think they can warm this hopeless chill?

I see earthquake, whirlwind, fire, slaughter
WHERE IS GOD?

You're near
Drifting, I left you with cheer
My eyes
Upon me
Why so surprised at what I see?

I am marred and scuffed
Please Potter, smooth out so much rough
Mold me as you wish
And that will be enough




(1 Kings 19)

He Obviously Did

29 August 2011 by Matt Gumm

Q. 33. Was the covenant of grace always administered after one and the same manner?
A. The covenant of grace was not always administered after the same manner, but the administrations of it under the old testament were different from those under the new.

Q. 34. How was the covenant of grace administered under the old testament?
A. The covenant of grace was administered under the old testament, by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the Passover, and other types and ordinances, which did all foresignify Christ then to come, and were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal salvation.

Q. 35. How is the covenant of grace administered under the new testament?
A. Under the new testament, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the same covenant of grace was and still is to be administered in the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper; in which grace and salvation are held forth in more fullness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations.

It's a bit of a mystery how folks were saved in the Old Testament. Oh, we know in part, and see in part, how God could have accomplished such a thing, but in light of all the revelation we have on this side of the cross, the other side at times seems a dim mirror. Those systematic theologians who want every question answered may wish for a bit more detail in regard to this, but they have an answer: the signs and symbols God provided for Israel in the Old Testament were "sufficient to build up the elect."

Now, the cynic in me might say that this phrase, "sufficient to build up the elect," is simply a Calvinist cop-out, playing the God-is-sovereign-over-all-things trump card with a shoulder-shrugging gesture of "I dunno, but He obviously did." But saying that God's provision in the Old Testament was sufficient for the elect is more than just a bunch of nice sounding weasel words; it is another verification of who is really in charge of salvation, and for those of us on the other side of the cross, it should provide great encouragement and hope.

God's active work in salvation is assumed throughout Scripture, and it is not my point here to write a lengthy treatise about it. For those interested, have a look at Ephesians 1, for example, and consider how each member of the Trinity works in harmony to bring about the fullness of salvation in the life of the believer.

The God who planned out salvation to the level of detail that Yahweh did--a God who can orchestrate all of history, including the sinful acts of men, in order to accomplish His purposes--a God like that can ensure that all the ingredients necessary for your salvation and my salvation are present.

The statement that the signs and symbols under the Old Testament administration of the covenant were "sufficient to build up the elect" doesn't tell us that God makes the rules so He can do what He wants; it declares to us that His revelation in all places and all times is adequate for those who are going to be saved. When combined with God being both just and the justifier (Rom. 3:26), the picture Scripture paints is one of a saving God who provides all we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).

Why Blogging is not a Sacrament

28 August 2011 by David Regier

Q. 33. Was the covenant of grace always administered after one and the same manner?
A. The covenant of grace was not always administered after the same manner, but the administrations of it under the old testament were different from those under the new.

Q. 34. How was the covenant of grace administered under the old testament?
A. The covenant of grace was administered under the old testament, by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the Passover, and other types and ordinances, which did all foresignify Christ then to come, and were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal salvation.

Q. 35. How is the covenant of grace administered under the new testament?
A. Under the new testament, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the same covenant of grace was and still is to be administered in the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper; in which grace and salvation are held forth in more fullness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations.


I know a thing or two about golf. Literally. I mean, I took a college course to fulfill my PE requirement, so I learned the fundamentals. Head down, left arm straight, feet apart, knees bent. I know what a good swing looks like and feels like.

I've watched enough golf on TV to know how the pros make it look easy. If I watched you, I could probably even tell you what is wrong with your swing. And if you followed my advice, it just might actually help.

That said, I've golfed about three times in the past dozen years. If you asked me how my game is, I'd have to say that there really is no such thing. The last time I went out, I hit about three shots that felt good, a whole lot of mediocre ones, and an embarrassing amount of plain stinkers.

Because I don't really have the time, money, energy or desire to appropriate the means to becoming a better golfer myself, I'm considering starting up a blog where I analyze other people's golf games. I am sure someone will find it helpful.

The Rough Outline

26 August 2011 by Frank Turk

The difference which the Apostle makes between the Law and the Gospel is this: under the Law was a very rough outline versus what, under the Gospel, is very clear and colorful. So he says again that the Law was not useless, nor its ceremonies not worth anything. Because although the artist was not yet finished with the picture, so to speak, the picture sketched was still of great benefit to the fathers of our faith -- but our condition is better still. And remember: the things they only saw on the horizon, at a distance, are the things we get to see up close. The same righteousness, sanctification, and salvation of Christ is seen by both; and the difference only is in the manner of God's method of painting the picture.

I agree that the kingdom of Christ, which is now present with us, was then announced as the future; but the Apostle’s words mean that we still have a lively image of future blessings. He understands that the full harvest of that blessing is delayed until to the resurrection and the future world.

-- Commentary on Hebrews, 10:1

A Covenant Parable

25 August 2011 by Neil

They had walked more than ten dusty leagues from Megiddo to get here, but this was not what he had imagined.   Crowds surged.  Irritating gadflies buzzed.  Somewhere, a terrified animal screamed.  Men with firewood sledges cursed their way past him.   And the stink, it was way too interesting: a cocktail of sweat, tacky blood, roasting grain, rendered flesh, smoke, feces, perfume, and death.  He retched.  His father was sympathetic.  Their town teemed with pagan Canaanites (Judges 1:27) and hardly anyone there even cared about the Law of Moses, but he and his wife had done their best to teach their son what they could.  Yet this was so different from the heroic Passover stories that they had told the boy during the annual celebration feast, tales of burning bushes and parted waters and safety from wrath.  Now, for the first time, the boy was in the middle of something really ugly.

Now, for the first time, he was in Shiloh (Joshua 18:1).

It had been a huge effort and cost to provision and transport their best stock, but here they were, and in good shape. They had brought two animals: a bull for a burnt offering (Leviticus 1:3-9), and a female goat for a peace offering (Leviticus 3:1, 12-16). They also had finely milled flour from their own fields, which they had just mixed with oil and frankincense to be presented as a grain offering (Leviticus 2:1-2). The boy had helped mill the flour and was looking forward to giving it to the priests. These weren't mandatory offerings but his family wanted to give them, and had worked hard to prepare.

The boy was a sponge; he wanted to know all about these sacrifices.  His father had explained things the best he could, but had trouble answering his son's fundamental question of "Why?".  Even though the father did not really understand it himself, he told the boy that something about these offerings pleased God, and that this was all necessary because of sin. He told his son that his sins were offensive to God, and that God wanted the best offering possible.  It was clear to the boy that his father was determined to give it.

They reached the front of the queue.  Without a thanks or a wink, the grim priest snatched the grain offering from the boy and handed his father a knife.  The father placed his free hand on the forehead of the bull, held contact with its eyes, and slashed. Those eyes bulged wide in pain and terror as blood gushed from the carotid into the basin held ready by the priest's assistant.  There is a lot of blood in a bull, and some got on the boy.  His father set to dismembering the animal while the priests washed the innards and carried away body parts.  Then the father instructed his son to lead the goat forward.  Feeling woozy, the disheartened child had had quite enough of this whole affair, but he had no ruby slippers.  This bloody day would haunt his dreams for the rest of his life.

Camping on the road that night, the boy wept for the bull and the goat, and he wept for himself.  He recoiled from the abyss of his own sins and the death that flowed from them.  He was at a complete loss: he did not know what to do.  Even though he didn't have the whole Law of Moses memorized, he did know the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:1-33) and the Sh'ma (Deuteronomy 6:4-6).  By these standards he could never please God, no matter how many bulls and goats he killed.

Broken and desolate, and he cried out for mercy to the awful I AM (John 8:58), the God of Abraham, Moses, and the Passover. 

He recalled it all as his own son now milled the flour, and asked him why these things were necessary.

More thoughts on Covenants

24 August 2011 by David Kjos

There are differences between the old and new covenants. These differences are important to our understanding of redemptive history, and the catechism offers valuable instruction in them. However, while we frequently talk about the distinctions between the covenants, we less often think of the continuity of God’s redemptive plan that runs through them. While we cannot deny the new covenant language of the New Testament, and should rejoice that we now have a “better covenant,” we should not lose sight of the fact that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” and so is his gospel. Old Testament saints were saved by the very same grace through the very same faith as we are. So, while not denying the newness of the new covenant, I prefer to think of it as completing the old, rather than replacing it.

When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. —Luke 22:14–20

Since the Exodus, every generation of God’s people had commemorated their release from the bondage of Egypt by repeating the sacrifice of a Passover lamb. On that first Passover, the Lord had gone through the land of Egypt and killed every firstborn of man and beast. But at every home where the blood of the lamb was on the door, he passed over, sparing the lives within. By the blood of the lamb, they were spared, and they were set free. And every year following, God’s people were commanded to repeat the sacrifice as a memorial to the day.

Now Jesus gathers his disciples with him in the upper room to celebrate another Passover, but this one will be different. This Passover will be the transitioning point from the old to the new covenant.

This will be the last time God requires a death. When Jesus institutes the new covenant, he doesn’t slice off a hunk of lamb and declare, “this is my body,” even though that lamb was a type of Christ, and as much a symbol of a saving sacrifice as the bread and wine of the new covenant. That lamb has no place in the new covenant; a new lamb has come, a perfect lamb, this one truly without blemish, not only physically, but spiritually. The blood of this lamb, unlike the countless Passover lambs slaughtered by generations of Israelites, can atone for sins, once and for all. So we kill nothing and eat no flesh, yet a symbol of flesh is present in the bread. And since we kill nothing, there is also no blood, yet the symbol of the blood remains in the cup.

Now I join old and new. As the blood of the lamb sprinkled around the doors of Israel caused death to pass over, so the blood of the Lamb applied to our hearts causes death to pass over us. It is the same thing. As we gather on the Lord’s Day and take the bread and wine together, we also share communion with all the Old Testament saints in a new Passover. We sprinkle the blood of the Lamb on our posts and lintels and are not separated by old and new covenants, but joined together in Christ in a fulfilled covenant.

Someone Else's Mail

23 August 2011 by Brad Williams

Q. 33. Was the covenant of grace always administered after one and the same manner?

A. The covenant of grace was not always administered after the same manner, but the administrations of it under the old testament were different from those under the new.


The more I read question 33 of this catechism, the more I like it. I like it because hardly any Baptist I know would even think to ask this question, much less have the theological acumen to begin an answer. I know about Baptists and theology; I am one. This isn't a crass remark coming from the outside, it is the sad confession of one with almost ten years experience in shepherding Baptist sheep.

Baptists, and perhaps other evangelicals as well, struggle with the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New. It is, for them, an uneasy marriage. For Baptists, it is because our theology of the Lord's Supper is about as deep as the thimbles we drink our juice from, and because we call everything a 'symbol' to the extent that we have forgotten the reality.

It's sort of like a guy named O'Reily who takes a vacation to Ireland. His family has lived in America for 200 years, but he has a longing to see the Emerald Isle and the land of his ancestors. While there, he picks up a cool keychain with the O'Reily crest on it. It is a 'symbol' for his family, but he has no idea what the raging lions mean or the bloody severed hand, and so he just buys it because he is an O'Reily. He shows his little trinket to his pals, along with the cool shillelagh he got at the gift shop, without bothering to figure out why this thing has symbolized his family for hundreds of years.

If Baptists know anything, they know that we are saved by faith alone and not by works. We beat one another over the head saying that baptism doesn't save, church membership doesn't save, and the Lord's Supper doesn't save; nothing but the blood of Jesus that can make the sinner clean. So Baptist hoorah salvation by grace alone through faith alone and regulate the Lord's Supper to once every fifth Sunday because, well, we are supposed to do that, not in a saving way, but in a "I got my keychain in Ireland" kind of way. (The shame!)

So Baptists could stand for a preacher of mettle to stand before them and ask, "Beloved, did an Israelite have to offer his little lamb in order to be right with God? And if he did, were people under the Old Covenant saved by grace or by works?" See, that little question right there would obliterate the average Baptist's apple cart. They are just legalist enough to say that the offering is required for salvation, but are able to grasp salvation by grace alone through faith alone enough to recoil at the thought of salvation by works. So they would sit there in gobsmacked silence, with only the sound of rustling bulletins and jangling key chains for comfort.

So allow me to be bold and speak as if insane: God did not justify a single man or woman or child under the Old Covenant by the gift of rams, bulls, or goats. Yet, if a man failed in this duty, it was a sure sign that he was not justified. We simply do not give the OT brethren enough credit: they knew and were looking for the Messiah to come. All the sacrifices and feast days that God called Israel to participate in were beacons that pointed to Jesus. If an Israelite loved God and believed in his promises, he was sanctified by sacrifices and feasts and the law of Moses because they taught him of his own wretchedness, of his need for the people of God, and of his desperate hope that God Himself would provide a sacrifice to save him from his sins.

This is why Jesus broke bread with his disciples. "Do this in remembrance of me" certainly means we ought to remember that Jesus was broken for us just like the broken bread. But that isn't the only thing we are to remember. We must remember where he came from, why he came, whose Son he is, how he treated his brothes, and how great his love for us must be. When we meditate on these things, we grow in grace, and our longing for the reminder that the Lord's Supper brings will also grow.

And how can we recount the glories of baptism? For the one undergoing this ordinance, it is a faith-building, sanctifying thing. That is, and I speak as a Baptist, as the new believer looks upon the sea of faces from the baptistry, he sees a family united by the death and resurrection of Christ. If he is taught to look hard enough, he can see down the corridors of time to those long since dead, entering this same baptism and this same family by grace through faith. This family, this wretched, happy family, is a family born of blood and water and fire. It is a family filled with people who have reached out to grab the gospel through preaching and sacrifices and lambs and fellowship and baptisms and communions, and who have hung onto every gospel promise for dear life.

If only we could begin to understand the various administrations of grace! We might find in them a door for our own sanctification in Christ, and we might start reading the Old Covenant, not as someone else's mail, but a book written by our family to our family and for our salvation.

Plan A, revisited

21 August 2011 by Matt Gumm

There is a progression to the plan of salvation. The Bible isn’t fiction, but it has the feel of a literary narrative, driving forward toward its inevitable conclusion with all the drama of a novel. One of the things that contributes to this is the way Scripture reveals to us the plan of redemption.

The first hint, of course, is in Genesis 3:15, where the promise is made that the offspring will crush the serpent’s head. God makes promises to other Old Testament believers, including Abraham and David, and the Old Testament is packed with hints about the coming messiah and future redemption.

One of my favorite examples of this is found in both Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, which presents the idea of a new heart. These are both Old Testament promises to Israel which also find fulfillment in the New Testament for believers.

Paul augments this when he writes in Romans 9 that the true children of God are not those descended from Abraham by the flesh, but those who are children of the promise. Later in Romans, he tells us that there was a mystery that was “kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations,” to bring about the obedience of the faith. (Rom. 16:25)

Paul also speaks of the mystery of Christ “which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed.” The mystery is that “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:4–6), part of God’s grace promised and given to us before time began (2 Tim 1:9, Titus 1:2). It was spoken about by God to us in bits and pieces through the prophets, but revealed fully through His Son (Heb. 1:1–2).

Whatever the wording of the Catechism, what’s presented here upholds the Biblical notion that God’s plan of salvation is the one plan He had from the beginning, not the backup plan because humanity messed up Plan A. At the same time, there is the parallel truth that God’s plan of redemption has been unfolding throughout recorded history and becomes more clear as time progresses. The pinnacle of that plan was the cross, but the climax is yet to come, when Jesus the future king returns, to judge and to reign.

Himself to Us

19 August 2011 by Frank Turk


This is a good time to point out the titles which the Scripture give us for the Spirit, because it teaches us about our salvation. First, he is called the “Spirit of adoption,” because he is witness to us of the free favor with which God the Father embraced us in his well-beloved and only-begotten Son, so as to become our Fathers and give us boldness of access to him; he dictates these very words, so that we can boldly cry, “Abba, Father.”

For the same reason, he is said to have “sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts,” because, as  pilgrims in the world, and persons in a manner dead, he so brings us to life from above as to assure us that our salvation is safe in the keeping of a faithful God.

Also, the Spirit is said to be “life because of righteousness.” But since it is his secret irrigation that makes us bud forth and produce the fruits of righteousness, he is repeatedly described as water. Thus in Isaiah “See! every one who is thirsty, come to the waters.” Again, “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground.” Corresponding to this are the words of our Savior, to which I lately referred, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” Sometimes, indeed, he receives this name from his energy in cleansing and purifying, as in Ezekiel, where the Lord promises, “Then will I sprinkle you with clean water, and ye shall be clean.”

As those sprinkled with the Spirit are restored to the full vigor of life, he hence obtains the names of “Oil” and “Unction.”

On the other hand, as he is constantly employed in subduing and destroying the vices of our concupiscence, and inflaming our hearts with the love of God and piety, he hence receives the name of Fire.

In fine, he is described to us as a Fountain, whence all heavenly riches flow to us; or as the Hand by which God exerts his power, because by his divine inspiration he so breathes divine life into us, that we are no longer acted upon by ourselves, but ruled by his motion and agency, so that everything good in us is the fruit of his grace, while our own endowments without him are mere darkness of mind and perverseness of heart.

Already, indeed, it has been clearly shown, that until our minds are intent on the Spirit, Christ is in a manner unemployed, because we view him coldly without us, and so at a distance from us. Now we know that he is of no avail save only to those to whom he is a head and the first-born among the brethren, to those, in fine, who are clothed with him. To this union alone it is owing that, in regard to us, the Savior has not come in vain. To this is to be referred that sacred marriage, by which we become bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, and so one with him (Eph 5:30), for it is by the Spirit alone that he unites himself to us. By the same grace and energy of the Spirit we become his members, so that he keeps us under him, and we in our turn possess him.

-- Institutes III 1.3

It's not Jiggery-Pokery

18 August 2011 by Neil

Q. 31. With whom was the covenant of grace made?
A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.

Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
A. The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provides and offers to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promises and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he has appointed them to salvation.

Nothing can contain God, so why would he condescend to actually dwell within you? There is a ready and sufficient answer: to give you access to great power that is not your own.

Now you're woefully harebrained if you think it's the kind of jiggery-pokery power that lets you pull rabbits out of hats or cancerous growths out of your sleeves, or gives you the chutzpah to slay dupes in Toronto and Florida with your cheeky fakery.

Or if you expect us to believe that it shows you replays of the sordid pasts of your hapless congregants in HDTV.

No, the power granted by the Holy Spirit is cleansing and pure. It's not deceptive. It's not prurient.

Perhaps you're now crying foul because you're not like that, but are sincerely a respectable continuationist... so sorry, but you're misguided and missing the point if you aspire to the kind of power that lets you accept or work unverifiable sign-miracles in a manner quite unlike how it happened in the New Testament.

The power of the Holy Spirit is loftier than that. It's more excellent than that (1 Corinthians 12:31).

What you look like

17 August 2011 by Neil

Q. 31. With whom was the covenant of grace made?
A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.

Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
A. The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provides and offers to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promises and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he has appointed them to salvation.


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. -- Galatians 5:22-23

And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. -- Ezekiel 36:27

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. -- Ephesians 2:10

We've spent a lot of time dwelling on the utter turpitude of mankind. The catechism has harped on man's depravity, and so have we. The reason of course is that right out of the gate, we are lost sinners. The Bible tells me so. And so does observation. We're bad. We do bad things. Over and over. We can't stop. Even our "good" deeds are laced with poison.

That was before. But if you are something called “Christian”, then God has extended grace to you. There's plenty more to say about what a Christian is, but for now, let's describe what you look like, if you are truly a Christian.

You remember the Holy Spirit, right?  You, Christian, are not alone.  The Holy Spirit of God dwells in you, not once in a while or in wavering degrees, but full bore, all the time. You are always Spirit-filled.  Knowing God's holy standards, that sobering thought might sound paralyzing, but it's actually the opposite: it's the most freeing and glorious thing you've yet experienced.

The Spirit gives you power, when you yield and submit, to finally do good things.  By yielding and submitting to God, you are freed from the slavery of sin. And it's not haphazard; God's redemptive plan for you and for the world has always integrated a whole pre-planned suite of good things that you have done, are doing, and will do.  God is not foolish, far from it: he knows that you cannot do even one truly good thing on your own. That's why he extended you the grace of dwelling within you, so that you can be...good!

Sound intimidating?  Don't worry, you can't do it!  But the Spirit can.  Christian, when you yield with all your heart and mind and strength, then everything you do, say, think and desire will be rich in self-control, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, kindness, patience, peace, joy, and love. You will be a good man (or woman as the gender may be), just like Barnabas (Acts 11:22-25).  There is no more amazing demonstration of the surpassing power of the Holy Spirit than the transformation of the wicked into the beautiful.

Now we're not being naive.  While still on earth, you will still sin, just like Paul and Peter and Barnabas did (Romans 7:14-19, Galatians 2:11-13).  Christian, you'll fall down, and you will temporarily lapse (Galatians 5:25-26).  But just like Paul, you will no longer be characterized or mastered by sin (Romans 6:13-15).   You won't wallow in the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21).  You, Christian, will recognize yourself as Christian by your fruit (Galatians 5:22-24, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

Enter the Mediator

15 August 2011 by Neil

Q. 31. With whom was the covenant of grace made?
A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.

Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
A. The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provides and offers to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promises and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he has appointed them to salvation.

Recall Question 7, which asked “What is God?” The answer was something like God is a Spirit of infinite existence, glory, blessedness and perfection, all-sufficient, eternal, unchanging, too vast and deep to comprehend, consciously everywhere, all powerful, knower of all knowledge, the wisest, the most holy, and the most just....

These are scary descriptions. If we are thinking at all while we read them, then we shiver with terror, because:
  1. God knows us, inside and out. Our actions, our inactions, our thoughts and desires. He knows our worst, and he knows our anaemic best. He knows that we are pustules of concentrated sin.
  2. God is the most holy and just entity that there is, which means that he will punish sin.
  3. God is definitively powerful, able to do what he decides to do.
The wrath of the holy and just God sits on the shoulders of people (Romans 2:4-6). Because of sin, we are at war with the God of the universe from day one. This is a war that we will not win.  We are doomed.  We're lost.

Yet. We didn't give the full answer to Question 7. We left out the end bit, which says that God is the most merciful and most gracious entity that there is, long-suffering and overflowing in goodness and truth. So maybe we're not lost.  But God is holy and just, so yeah, we probably are -- unless we're not. But if we're not all doomed, then God isn't really very just, is he? If we're not all doomed, then God doesn't actually hate sin, he's just a little allergic to it... instead of most holy, he's somewhat holy.  Well then so am I, let's have a debate...

How can God save anybody without being inconsistent with his own nature?  How can God end the war graciously and mercifully without winking at sin?

Enter the Mediator.

A mediator is a go-between, someone in the middle, who can bring warring factions together and reconcile them, an active agent to bring about peace where there was conflict. In another sense, a mediator can be used to ensure that contracts are carried out in accordance with the original intent. (We'll be talking about that sense of the word on another day.)  My employer frequently uses mediators, although only a few of them are any good at it. A successful mediator has to be as knowledgeable as each of the two sides. A successful mediator must be able to identify with both sides, and must have credibility with both sides.

A mediator will not succeed in bringing about reconciliation unless he is able to satisfy the parties. Don't know about you, but if there is a possibility of saving me from the maw of God's eternal wrath, then I'm not fussy.  But I bring nothing to the table but sin, and if the other party is God, then the mediator will need to satisfy God's holiness and justness as well as his mercy and graciousness.  The mediator will need to demonstrate fulfilment of all of God's requirements before peace can be made between God and man.  This seems an insurmountable barrier.

Nonetheless, we do have a Mediator, the God-Man Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5), the Peace Offering.  Mediator is only one of his roles.  He was thoroughly righteous and sinless as a man, which established his credibility to mediate for men.  Then, in the biggest surprise of history, he took our punishment upon himself (Hebrews 9:15) and actually became our sin, so that we could take credit for his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).  This Mediator intercedes for us with God (Hebrews 7:25), brings our sin to the table, forcefully demonstrates that justice has already been meted out (Romans 5:9) and then presents us cleanly clothed in holy righteousness. Sin and death are defeated.  Peace wins.  The Mediator wins a ransom of many souls.  God is satisfied.

Is God inconsistent?  No way.  God is wondrous.

Unilateral Grace

12 August 2011 by David Kjos

Q. 31. With whom was the covenant of grace made?
A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.

Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
A. The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provides and offers to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promises and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he has appointed them to salvation.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. —Galatians 3:16

Nineteen centuries (according to Ussher) before Christ, a covenant was made with Christ, and through Christ, with all who were chosen in him. There are two (that I see) directions we could go with this discussion. One is union with Christ, or what it means to be in Christ. The other is the unusual unilateral nature of the covenant. The latter will be the focus of this post. Look with me to Genesis 15:
9 [God] said to[Abram], “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. … 17 It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram …
Did you see what happened there? Under normal circumstances, both parties to a covenant would have bound themselves in the covenant by passing between the bifurcated beasts. In this case, however, only one party made a promise and made the symbolic gesture binding himself to his oath. God, in the form of a smoking oven and a flaming torch, passed between the pieces. Abram stood by and watched.

This was a unilateral covenant, a promise made by God alone. God was not working together with Abram. And this is the pattern for all of redemptive history. God makes the promises, and he keeps them, and we are the undeserving recipients of his grace. So it has always been, and so it will always be. Like Abram, we hear God’s promises, and we stand and watch him work. From the beginning, monergism has been at the core of God’s redemptive plan.

The Answer in Search of a Question

10 August 2011 by David Kjos

Editor's Note: There are no presbyterians or hard-reformed guys on the blogging team here at the Calvinist Gadfly. So in that sense, there are no hard-core covenantal theologians on this team, and that may be a defect in our mix from one perspective. I am probably the closest thing we have to a covenantalist (as opposed to a dispensationalist), and I have already admitted that while I see serious limits to the covenantalism of confessional catechisms [holy cacophany, Gadfly!], I also would rather retreat there than to dispensationalist view(s).

Now, that said, David Kjos has always been one of my favorite bloggers (except on the subject of Santa Claus, which we will not get into), and he had a version of this post which I asked him to come at again in order to get this very post.  It will fly into your covenantal ear and make the most horrific buzzing.

Enjoy.

I want to make one thing clear: I understand the importance of covenant in redemptive history. I have read Hebrews, and I know what Jesus did in the upper room. My only objection is to covenantal language applied to the pre-Fall command of God in Eden (the so-called “covenant of works”), and the post-Fall curse on Satan with the redemptive promise (the so-called “covenant of grace”). This will be explained below.

In preparing this post, I have referred to Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. I trust Berkhof will be an acceptable representative of Covenant theology.

Berkhof admits “that the term ‘covenant’ is not found in the first three chapters of Genesis,” but counters with the assertion “that this is not tantamount to saying that they do not contain the necessary data for the construction of a doctrine of the covenant.” He then cites the trinity as an example of an obvious biblical doctrine that stands without the word itself, or any equivalent, appearing anywhere in Scripture. I agree with Berkhof that the absence of a word does not necessarily equal the absence of a doctrine. However, I don’t think his comparison to the Trinity fits as well as he thinks it does, for these reasons:
  • Though the word is never used, the doctrine of the Trinity is explicit. The covenant of works is, at best, only implicit. The covenant of grace is somewhat more readily derived, but seems to me to be dependent on a previous covenant being in force.
  • The word “trinity” is never used, nor is any equivalent term. That is, God chose not to give his three-in-oneness a convenient theological title. “Covenant” is used many times in Scripture. It is, I think (correct me if I’m wrong), used in conjunction with every post-Edenic covenant. It seems odd that the word is omitted from the first covenants, especially in the case of the “covenant of grace,” which would presumably lay the foundation for every covenant to come.
You could argue that those reasons do not disprove the Edenic covenants, and you would be correct. I would answer that I am under no obligation to prove a negative. You must prove the positive. And if your proof depends upon the a priori assumption of a theological construct unknown (says Berkhof) to Calvin, Luther, and the Fathers, you should consider your question-begging ways.

Addressing each “covenant” individually, let’s look at the Scriptural foundation for each.

The covenant of works, Genesis 2:16–17
The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
In the explicit covenants, God offers something to be fulfilled in the future that the second party does not already possess. He does not merely promise what is already given. In this case, nothing new is promised. A command is given, along with the threat of death for disobedience. Berkhof claims that eternal life as a reward for obedience “is clearly implied” in the threat of death for disobedience, but the threat of death is meaningless to someone who is already facing death. Life without the threat of death is eternal life. Adam already had life, without the threat of death, in perfect fellowship with God. In opposition to this view, Berkhof makes this rather odd assertion:
It has been objected that this would only mean a continuation of Adam’s natural life, and not what Scripture calls life eternal. But the Scriptural idea of life is life in communion with God; and this is the life which Adam possessed, though in this case it was still amissible [liable to be lost]. If Adam stood the test, this life would be retained not only, but would cease to be amissible, and would therefore be lifted to a higher plane.
Now, if that isn’t an answer looking for a question, I don’t know what is. Prior to the tree test, Adam’s life was liable to be lost. If he passed the test, the life he had would no longer be liable to be lost. This, of course, assumes that the test would, at some point in time, end. God would have to uproot, chop down, or render fruitless the tree. As long as the tree stands and produces, the situation continues in which Adam lives as long as he doesn’t eat the fruit. At what point has he obeyed long enough to be “lifted to a higher plane”? This is the invention of a theologian desperate to validate a shaky doctrine.

The covenant of grace, Genesis 3:15
I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.
I have, you’ll be happy to know, much less to say about this. You would think that, in a covenant, the first party would address the second. If this is a covenant with Adam, it is oddly formulated, addressed to Satan in the form of a curse. Contained therein is a cryptic messianic prophesy, a promise of redemption, but no word of a covenant. But even aside from the absence of the word, the language is unlike any of the other covenants.

I call this the promise of redemption, and am satisfied with that. If you want to call it a covenant of grace, that’s fine with me. Berkhof states that “the covenant of grace is simply the execution of the original agreement by Christ as our surety.” That is, Christ was obedient where Adam was disobedient, and he did it for us. Take away the covenant language, and I’ll agree with that to the letter.

You’ll have to excuse me, though, while I vehemently object to anything like a covenant of works. Some very non-Reformed folks I have known have held to a doctrine of “saved by grace, kept by works.” If this is any other than that, I’d like to know how. As I see it, life has been all of grace from the very beginning.

The next six questions in the catechism deal with the covenant of grace. How will I approach them? At first, I thought I would just sit them out and watch my covenantal brothers play with them. But looking closer, I saw that while Question 31 is on the covenant of grace, its answer clearly looks to the Abrahamic covenant. So it’s no sweat; I’ve even got a handy commentary on that, called Galatians.

Father to Son

09 August 2011 by David Regier

Q. 31. With whom was the covenant of grace made?
A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.

Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
A. The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provides and offers to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promises and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he has appointed them to salvation.

If we are not cowed by the cogitations of the catechizers concerning the covenants (commonly called), we will be struck (like a right hook) by the gobstopping force of the answer: This promise is to Christ. The promise of the Father is to His Son.

Who can doubt the promise of this Father to this Son?

His Heavy, Humid Breath

08 August 2011 by Neil

Q. 31. With whom was the covenant of grace made?
A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.

Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
A. The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provides and offers to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promises and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he has appointed them to salvation.

The new covenant of grace is between God the Father and God the Son. The parties to this covenant don't have any points of contention and they don't misunderstand each other.  They don't work at cross purposes.  Their natures are the same, and they act on their covenant in harmony.  They don't need a mediator to work out their differences because they don't have any.

But there is also an interested third party peering in through the shop window. He'd break the glass if he could, but he's not strong enough. Good thing too, because he would not like the outcome if he had to face God the Father directly. The third party is a good-for-nothing malcontent. He pawns his good stuff to buy bad stuff, and he spends most of his time and thought cavorting with the wrong sort of woman. He wants what the woman has, but it's lethal to him. He needs what God has, but he cannot afford it. He is an enemy of both the Father and the Son, and given half a chance he would kill the Son [note: in fact, he has and would do so again -- ed.].  This fellow could use a good mediator.

Amazingly, the new covenant has as its aim the welfare of this incorrigible indigent. The new covenant is magnificently simple in its requirements, but deep and layered in its execution. One of the several provisions of the new covenant is to provide a Mediator for that loser and his heavy, humid breath against the window. The Mediator's role will be to stand between God the Father and the third party, in order work out a good end for the poor guy.

And you must get this: The Son volunteers for the job.

Take it or Leave it

04 August 2011 by Frank Turk

We've hit a patch of catechism here where my friends and I get a little squeamish with our baby-baptizing truly-reformed fellow workmen -- the question of covenants as the whole framework of salvation.

Here's why I'm personally squeamish about these questions, and then a brief bit about why it's probably unwarranted.

I'm squeamish because it makes the issues here a little sterile. How many covenants? two covenants. What is God's mercy? An agreement. How does God love? with a promise. As categories, they are fine - perfectly serviceable and systematically puzzled and then machined to an accuracy +/- 0.01%.

As explanations of what the Bible says about the God who made us and holds us together and saves us because we are somehow envious that we ought to have Him instead of Everything Else, it seems to miss the point.

You know: Jesus chastises the Pharisees for being the brother who stays in the house in reward-minded obedience when they have a licentious brother who squanders the family fortune. There, the father doesn't check to see which covenant(s) are necessary to make right the return of his son to the family: he simply pays the price for his son's disobedience -- personally, relationally, socially, legally, emotionally, and with his own dignity -- and runs to him when the young man is seen coming home from a long way off. (Luke 15:11-32)

Talking about the covenants doesn't really uncover that sort of truth about God.

And then there's that fellow Jonah, whom God called to bring salvation to the evil city of Ninevah. I mean: the city was evil -- it was like Sodom except that instead of being sexually violent, they were bloody enemies of Israel, bent of warring with Israel and destroying them. And there the prophet was unwilling to save the city but God was intent to do it. The talk of the covenants -- two covenants -- doesn't even enter into it from God's perspective. He says instead this:
But God said to Jonah, "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" And he said, "Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die." And the YHVH said, "You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?"
No mention of a covenant there -- yet it is the most New Testamenty moment in the Old Testament as God deals not just with the disobedient, not just the errant or sinful, but with his enemies.

But if that's true, what good is it to frame up what we believe about God in two covenants? How about three good reasons, and then you can take it or leave it.

1. God's intention is explicit, and not merely implicit. That is to say, we can use a lot of experiential descriptions of God to sort of feel what God is doing, but God isn't accidentally or vaguely trying to make things better. He's not some kind of performance artist who wants to see if you can figure out what he may or may not mean. He's God, and he loves you, and he has a message which, frankly, he wants understood and acted upon.

2. Christ's work is, explicitly, the new covenant in his own blood. I mean: Jesus says that -- this isn't the invention of some seminarian with a clever interpretive schema which analogically redefines the relationships between the ineffable and the imperfect by analyzing the suzerain treaties of semitic people. Jesus said, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."

3. We fallen, fragile people need something which can give us confidence. I am certain God could have made a perfectly-reliable systematic theology out of cups and saucers if he had conceived of it that way, but he didn't. God knew -- and this, for me, is pretty compelling from a credibility standpoint for Scripture -- how the minds of people work. He knew that we are prone to unbelief, prone to interpret things down and prone to be hopeless in spite of all manner of assurances. So rather than make his message to us especially "deep" by making it somewhat impenetrable, he makes it transparently simple and allows the depth to settle under it as we have confidence and faith and experience with that message. It sort of works like this: you are actually pretty bad; you need a solution; my solution is work that I am doing; you can have confidence in it because it is not just an offer, or a promise, but it is in fact my announcement and decree of salvation sealed with blood so that the commitment and conclusion cannot be broken. This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

So get comfortable with the idea of God's covenant. You might not like the way it tastes when someone makes up their denominational batch of eggs and hash with it, but it is what it is -- and it's for your good.

He saw that

03 August 2011 by Brad Williams

Q. 30. Does God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God does not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell by the breach of the first covenant, commonly called the covenant of works; but of his mere love and mercy delivers his elect out of it, and brings them into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace.

Here is a puzzling statement that Jesus made, and like all the things that Jesus said, if you can get your faith around it you'll have an eternal cause for rejoicing. Once, in a conversation with a group of Jewish interlocutors, he made this statement, "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). Dear reader, I ask you sincerely, when do you think that Abraham rejoiced that he would see Jesus?

I fear that we evangelicals look at the Old Testament as some kind of foreign literature, as if the most of it were written to the Jews and that's it. We like the stories for sure. We like that David whacked Goliath with a rock. We know that Jonah got swallowed by a great fish and stayed there three days. But where is Jesus? In the book of Isaiah? Abraham couldn't see him in Isaiah, Isaiah wasn't born yet. So when did Abraham delight in Jesus?



As shocking as this is, Abraham saw Jesus in a promise made to Satan. Do you doubt this? Look here, "The LORD God said to the serpent...I will put enmity between your seed* and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Gen. 3:14, 15). That seed there is Jesus the Messiah. Abraham got that. He understood this seed would come from the seed of a woman, and that he would crush the head of that old serpent we call the devil.

Abraham knew about this promise. That's why Abraham was in the dumps in Genesis 15, because in Genesis 13 God had promised that his seed would be like dust and that his seed would inherit the land forever. So God comes to his poor, doubting servant and says, "I am your shield; your reward shall be very great...Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them...so shall your seed be" (Gen. 15:1,5). So Abraham "believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (15:6). The covenant did not make him righteous; his faith did. God gave the covenant to a man of faith, to a man who could believe a promise. That's the kind of man or woman that God makes a covenant with: a person who believes God.

You might be thinking, "Seriously? Isn't Genesis 15 talking about 'offspring' in terms of Israel or just Isaac?" Yes and no. We know God isn't talking about simply Isaac because He tells Abraham, "Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your seed be named" (Gen. 21:12). See that? Through Isaac the seed will be named, not that Isaac is that seed.

And if I may go to that Jewish theologian Paul, it isn't just that God is referring to Israel as a whole. Paul writes, "Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman." So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman" (Gal. 4:28-31). You see that? Not just physical children are Abraham's children of promise, but those who are born according to the Spirit.

This promise rolls down the corridor of time and lands on the seed himself: Jesus. Isaiah foresaw this, "By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?...Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his seed; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand: (Is. 53:8,10). How does a guy cut off from the land of the living get to see his seed? He rises from the dead, and he has children, not by the flesh, but by faith in his resurrection power.

And Jesus is telling you that Abraham saw that. He saw that as only a person of faith can see it. If you see it, you see it the same way that Abraham saw it, and you've become his son, or you've become his daughter. You've become a seed of THE seed, Jesus the Messiah, the seed who has come and has crushed the serpent's head, who is now lifted up on high, and by grace he is gathering his elect to himself, they are the seed of promise.

Another Way to Say it

02 August 2011 by Daniel

God made several explicit covenants that are recorded in the Old Testament. There is the Noahic covenant (that God made with Noah), the Abrahamic covenant (which God made with Abraham), the Mosaic covenant (which God made with Israel through Moses), the Davidic covenant (with David), etc. You can't miss these because they are explicit - the bible tells us that God made these covenants, and even gives us the words He used to make those covenants. That is why we call such covenants Biblical covenants: because they are plainly expressed in scripture.

Biblical covenants differ from theological covenants in that biblical covenants are defined explicitly from scripture, while theological covenants are defined implicitly (according to one or more interpretations of specific passages) from scripture.

Covenant Theology, the theology that underscores the Westminster Larger Catechism, recognizes three theological covenants (in this order): the covenants of [1] redemption, of [2]works, and of [3]grace.

The Covenant of Redemption presents all three persons in the Trinity (before the world was created) as covenanting together to accomplish the redemption of the elect through Christ by means of Christ being punished in their place, and includes under it's umbrella, both the covenant of works, and again the covenant of grace and every other covenant that followed thereafter.

The Covenant of Works is said to be implied by God's warning concerning eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. In exchance for perfect adherence to this command (i.e. obedience) Adam's life would be sustained eternally.

The Covenant of Grace promised forgiveness of sins, and a restoration of (eternal) life for all who sought this reconciliation by trusting God's provision for salvation through the sacrifice of Christ, first pictured in animal sacrifices, then eventually revealed in Christ Himself.

Whether it is blinding pride, a lack of understanding, or both (or more?) on my part, I find myself unable to accept these precepts as given. Notwithstanding, that isn't to say that I do not see God's ordination before the world began in scripture, or any such thing, rather it is to say that I don't interpret what scripture records in covenantal categories. To be sure, what Covenantal Theology frames in the language of covenants, I see expressed in terms of God's sovereignty, and am loathe to add more to it than that.

For this reason I find myself dismissing the notion that God's instruction, given to Adam, constitutes a "Covenant of Works", or that Adam's fall invoked a "Covenant of Grace" - and for this reason I do not interpret the remainder of scripture through the lens of such covenants. When I consider some doctrine that requires one to assume the existence of a Theological Covenant in order to draw the same conclusion, I will go only so far as to assume what scripture clearly states, and this can and does affect my interpretations of various doctrines.

In the case of questions 30 through 36, I am unwilling to frame my understanding of the questions in terms of the stated theological covenants, but I am willing, if the reader is patient, to express the same ideas in such terms of what I understand from scripture. My hope of course is that whatever I write, as touches on these particular questions, will look to this post as their caveat.

Fit to be Burned

01 August 2011 by David Regier

Q. 30. Does God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God does not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell by the breach of the first covenant, commonly called the covenant of works; but of his mere love and mercy delivers his elect out of it, and brings them into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace.


Over the course of our last couple of years in this house, we've had the joyful opportunity to reclaim some significant portions of our yard away from their state of nature. Roses and birds of paradise, petunias and cosmos, and pumpkins and tomatoes and zucchini have all taken root where once there was just Bermuda grass, catchweed and thistle. We are a long, long way from finished, but from certain windows, the garden looks great.

Weeds are libertines, going wherever and doing whatever they please. They may even have their own particular beauty, but they spoil a garden by their recklessness. Their seeds waft indiscriminately, their tendrils tangle the grass, their roots strangle the flowers.

Every kind of plant in the garden was once wild, somewhere. In other words, a weed. Someone cultivated each one to be what it is, in a way that it once was not. But that which will not be cultivated is only fit to be burned.

On any given morning, there is a temptation to let it go, to let the weeds have their way; one plant is as good as another. But when the evening comes and the children scamper through soft grass with flowers in their hair, I am glad to have a garden.