God’s Covenant and The Promise.

God’s covenant with man, we have maintained thus far, is wholly unconditional. To be sure, our calling and covenant obligation must be maintained. We must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and hope unto the end. We must fight the good fight of faith that no man may take our crown. We must put off the old man with all his evil works and lusts and put on the new man which is created after God in true righteousness and holiness. We must repent and turn from evil unto the Lord and love Him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. Moreover, we also have a word to address those, in the name of the Lord, who walk not in the way of His precepts. Of course, not a word of peace and life and comfort. Not even an Arminian can address a word of comfort and life to those who continue to walk in the ways of sin. To them we declare that they are responsible for their iniquity, that the wages of sin is death, that the Lord requires of them their repentance and will hold them accountable, yea, that they who have known the way of truth but have not walked therein will be beaten with double stripes. Indeed, our churches maintain the responsibility of man. But, this does not annul or weaken in any sense of the word the unconditional character of the covenant of the Lord with man. God’s covenant is wholly unconditional. This, we noted in our preceding article, is taught throughout the Scriptures. Such is also the clear teaching of our Baptism Form, to which we also called attention. Let us therefore emphasize the unconditional character of God’s covenant and our calling. Our calling, our obligation to walk in all the precepts of the Lord is not the condition but the fruit of Jehovah’s covenant with us. This, we noted, does not excuse man when he tramples the precepts of the Lord underfoot. However, man’s responsibility and duty to serve the Lord must never be presented as contradictory to the unconditional character of the grace of the Lord our God.

God’s Covenant and the Promise—Inseparably Connected.

That God’s covenant with man and the promise are inseparably connected Is evident from many things. This is evident, first of all, from the struggle which is being waged in the present day in the Netherlands in regard to the issue of the Covenant. Dr. H. Ridderbos, professor at the theological school of the Reformed or “Synodical” Churches in the Netherlands, wrote a pamphlet entitled “The Promise of the Covenant of Grace.” He evidently associates, as is evident from this title, the two concepts “covenant” and “promise”. According to the Liberated Churches all are in the covenant and the promise is for all. Such is the presentation of the views of these churches as appearing in this pamphlet of Dr. Ridderbos, page 6, and we have no reason, it seems to me, to doubt the truthfulness of this observation of Dr. Ridderbos. This quotation from the pamphlet, “The Promise of the Covenant of Grace”, reads as follows: “If one asks, what prompts the grieved or departed brethren (did these brethren simply withdraw from the Reformed Churches or were they cast out?—the Christian Reformed Churches of our land also prefer to speak of us as having withdrawn, whereas it is a fact that we were cast out—H.V.) to lay thereupon such great emphasis and even to disrupt the church for that reason, rather than submit to the confession of the church, then one must refer to the collectivist point of procedure of their conception. According to them all children of the believers are comprehended in the covenant in the same sense, they all receive in the same sense the whole Baptism and the entire promise. That is the great, all-controlling thought of their entire conception, because otherwise, so they believe, one should fall short of the certainty of the covenant and the certainty of faith within the covenant.” (The translation is of the undersigned). The meaning of this passage is clear: if we merely preach that the promise is only for the elect, then the sacrament of baptism cannot bestow certainty and assurance because one must know first whether he is in the covenant and any assurance, therefore, must be based on an assumption—we must assume of our children that they are elect. The Liberated Churches of the Netherlands declared that they demand certainty and will therefore have nothing to do with an assumption. And as far as the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands are concerned in this present controversy, although they would maintain that the promise is only for the elect, yet they, too, wish to say something of or for all the children of the believers. They proceed from the principle of presumptive regeneration and teach that we must assume the regeneration of all the children who receive the sacrament of baptism. However, it is evident from this conflict in the Netherlands, that a discussion of the covenant must revolve about and include a discussion of the promise.

That God’s covenant with man and the promise are inseparably connected is evident also from the writings of Reformed theologians of the past. We have already quoted from Dr. Ridderbos of the Netherlands. We could also quote from men as Kuyper and Bavinck in support of this contention. Professor Berkhof, in his “Reformed Dogmatics” surely associates the covenant and the promise. On pages 265-271, when discussing the so-called “Covenant of Redemption” or “Counsel of Peace” between the Father and the Son, the professor speaks of Requirements and Promises. And speaking of the contents of the Covenant of Grace (page 277) he speaks of the Promises of God and the Response of Man. It is evident, therefore, that Professor Berkhof surely associates the Covenant of Grace and the Promise. And the same is also true, we know, of the late Prof. W. Heyns. He sought the essence of the covenant in the promise. And the promise, we knew, he explained in the Arminian sense. That God established His covenant with us and with our children simply meant, according to the late professor, that God promised or offered His salvation to all. The sacrament of baptism he explained as a seal of God whereby the Lord confirmed the salvation of all, gave to all without distinction the assurance that He would bestow upon them eternal life and glory. Be this as it may, it is a fact, therefore, that also the late Professor Heyns associated the covenant and the promise.

Thirdly, this connection between the covenant and the promise is also evident from the sacrament, the sign and seal of the covenant. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant in the Old Dispensation. This sign, administered to all the male children of believers, consisted in the cutting away of the foreskin. Is it not evident, therefore, that this sign was a picture of God’s realization of His promise in and through Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord? It was a symbol, was it not, of the realization of our redemption through the blood of Christ—the sign itself was bloody. And, besides, it also directed the attention of the believing Israelite to the fact that the Christ would come into our flesh and blood in the organic life of the covenant. And Baptism is the sign of the covenant in the New Dispensation. In our Baptism Form we read in paragraph 2 of Part One: “In like manner, when we are baptized in the name of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost assures us, by this holy sacrament, that He will dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of Christ, applying unto us, that which we have in Christ, namely, the washing away of our sins, and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.” In other words, the Lord assures us in the holy sacrament of Baptism that He will realize and fulfil His promise of salvation in us even unto the uttermost. It is evident, therefore, also from our Baptism Form that the sacrament of the covenant and the promise of God are inseparably connected.

That the covenant of God with man and the promise are inseparably connected lies in the very nature of the case. Fact is, they are inseparable. We would not merely affirm that the heart of the covenant is the promise, understanding the promise now in the Reformed sense of the word. This would imply that the establishment of God’s covenant with us consists in His bestowing upon us of His promise of salvation. But we would affirm that the heart of the promise is surely the covenant and its realization. This is surely true of Genesis 3:15, where we read: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” What does the Lord promise here, at the very dawn of history, in this key text which discloses to us, fully and completely, all of history? Merely that He will grant His Church, in Christ, the victory over all her enemies? This, to be sure, is implied in this text of Holy Writ. But notice, God will put enmity between His people and the party of the world and of darkness. And enmity is nothing else than the love and friendship of Jehovah. Hence, God promises here that He will put His love into our hearts, and grant us the eternal victory, the victory of His eternal and heavenly tabernacle. And this is also taught in Gen. 17:7-8: “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” Notice how the covenant and the promise are identified here. God is promising Abraham something here—what? He promises His friend in this passage that He will establish His covenant with him and with his seed for an everlasting covenant. And what will the Lord establish with Abraham and his seed when He establishes with them His covenant? The Lord declares that He will be a God unto him and to his seed after him (see 2 Cor. 6:16-18 and our reference to this passage in a previous article, Feb. 1 issue). And all this, we read, will be realized in the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession. As Reformed people we are aware of the fact, of course, that the land of Canaan in the Old Dispensation was a type and symbol of the heavenly Canaan. Fact is, Abraham himself, we read in Acts 7:5, never received any inheritance in that earthly land of the Old Testament. Hence, in Gen. 17:7-8 the Lord promises to Abraham that He will cause him and his seed to be His people forever in the heavenly renewal of all things in glory. And this promise is identified with His covenant in this passage of Holy Writ. Christ, who is centrally our salvation, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by Whom we receive Christ and His salvation, the new heavens and the new earth (and all this surely constitutes the establishment of God’s covenant, communion and friendship, with us) are surely held before tis in Holy Writ as the content of the blessed promise of the Lord. Consequently, that the promise and the covenant should be inseparably connected and that our conception of the one must also determine our conception of the other, lies in the very nature of the case. It is clear, therefore, why a discussion of the covenant must also include a discussion of the promise.

The Idea of The Promise.

God’s promise must not be confused with an offer. There is, of course, a fundamental difference between a promise and an offer. An offer always presupposes three things. It presupposes, in the first place, a willingness on the part of him who makes the offer to bestow something. God, then, declares His willingness to bestow salvation upon all. It presupposes, in the second place, that the Lord actually offers this salvation to all. Mind you, this does not mean that He announces or proclaims to all His salvation. We also believe that the Lord proclaims His salvation to others besides the elect. But an offer implies that the Lord declares it to be His Divine desire and intention that all may accept the proffered salvation. And an offer presupposes, in the third place, that man, the recipient of this offer of salvation, is also able of himself to accept this invitation. God offers salvation; man must accept it.

Let us now attempt to read the word “offer” instead of “promise” into the following passages. We read in Gen. 3:15 the oft-repeated words: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Need anything be said here? Does the Lord offer His love to the seed of the woman? If so, who, then, would ever fight the battle of the Lord? The Lord will put enmity, etc. He does not offer something here: He promises to do something. In Gen. 12:2-3 we read: “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Doesn’t the text sound absurd if you insert the word “offer” into this passage? Besides, does not Holy Writ inform us that both, Abraham and Sarah, had died as far as the bringing forth of children was concerned? In Deut. 9:26-29 we read: “I prayed therefore unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, destroy not Thy people and Thy inheritance, which Thou hast redeemed through Thy greatness, which Thou hast brought forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; look not unto the stubbornness of this people, nor to their wickedness, nor to their sin: Lest the land whence Thou broughtest us out say, Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land which He promised them, and because He hated them, He hath brought them out to slay them in the wilderness. Yet they are Thy people and Thine inheritance, which Thou broughtest out by Thy mighty power and by Thy stretched out arm.” Does Israel’s entrance into Canaan, in this passage, depend upon the people? Fact is, they had sinned, were utterly unworthy. And fact is also that Moses here appeals to the faithfulness of the Lord. The Lord had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses here pleads upon the promise, of the unchangeable Jehovah. In Ps. 105:42 we read: “For He remembered His holy promise, and Abraham His servant.” Why, according to the context of these words, did the Lord open the rock that the waters gushed out, and why did Jehovah satisfy them with quails and with bread from heaven? Did He offer these to His people? He did so only because He remembered His promise to Abraham. It would be absurd, would it not, to read “offer” here instead of promise? In the following passages from Isaiah, chapter 9, verse 6 and chapter 59; verses 16 and 21, we have the Lord’s promise of salvation to His people in Christ, and how ridiculous they would sound if that salvation were actually an offer instead of a promise of the Lord: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty Cod, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. . . . And He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore His arm brought salvation (did He offer it—H.V.?) unto Him; and His righteousness, it sustained Him. . . . As for Me, this is My covenant with them, saith the Lord; My Spirit that is upon thee, and My words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.” How could the word of God express this absolute and positive and certain language if the matter of our salvation were to be regarded as an offer? And so we could continue. We could refer you to Rom. 9:24-26, Heb. 11, Acts 13:23, and a host of other passages. The promise of the Lord, whereof we read over and over again in the Scriptures, is never to be confused with an offer. To the contrary, it is God’s announcement, not of what He universally offers and we must accept, but of that which He, and He alone, will perform, faithfully and irresistibly.

The Content of the Promise.

We need not dwell at length on this point, because of the nature of these articles. We can be brief. Sometimes the word “promise” emphasizes the idea of “Goddelijke toezegging”, the divine pledge, God’s announcement, although even then one can never separate the pledge from its content, that which is pledged—the word probably used in this sense in Acts 13:23. In Hebrews 11:39, on the other hand, the emphasis falls upon the content of the promise. We read there: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.” It is a fact, we know, that these did receive the promise as far as the announcement is concerned. But the promise from the viewpoint of its content they had as yet not received. And to this the apostle makes reference in the following verse, vs. 10. Sometimes we read of promise in the singular as in Hebrews 11:39 and then again of promises as in 2 Cor. 1:20. The distinction is clear. When Scripture speaks of the promise in the singular it refers to the one, great promise of salvation in Christ Jesus, our Lord. The plural “promises” refers to that promise of the Lord from the aspect of its many variations. Finally, the content of the promise of God is viewed from several points of view. At times the content of the promise is identified with the Christ, as in: Gen. 3:15; 2 Cor. 1:20; Is. 9:6; Deut. 18:15; Num. 24:17. In Acts 2:33 and in Eph. 1:13 the Holy Spirit is identified with the promise. In the former passage He is called the “promise of the Spirit” and in the latter passage we read of Him as the “Spirit of promise”. Acts 2:33 emphasizes the truth, not only that He is the promised Spirit, but that the Spirit Himself is the promise, because in Him the actual realization of God’s promise of eternal life occurs. In 2 Tim. 1:1 and 1 John 2:25 we read of the “promise of life”. In 2 Pet. 3:4 the apostle Peter, speaks of the “promise of His future”. And in Rom. 4:13 the promise which the Lord gave to Abraham assured that man of God that he would become the “heir of the world”. All these various passages speak, essentially, of the same promise of the God of our salvation, but merely from slightly different viewpoints.

In the light of all this, we would define the promise as the announcement of the eternal Jehovah, that He, and He alone, in and because of and through Christ Jesus, our Lord, and by His Spirit, the Spirit of the risen and highly exalted Lord, will bestow upon His people, whom He sovereignly elected, and who by nature are conceived and born dead in sins and trespasses, the life of His blessed covenant fellowship in eternal and heavenly perfection, and that in connection with the glorious renewal of all things, and using all things unto the realization thereof as means. It is this promise of salvation in Christ Jesus which enabled the child of God throughout the Old Dispensation to endure all the sufferings of this present time, only clause this promise was the pledge of the eternally faithful God. The unspeakable glory of this promise but also the certainty of it sustained the child of God in the midst of all his trials and afflictions. And now we purpose to show in subsequent articles the particular and wholly unconditional character of this promise or these promises of the alone blessed God, the God of our salvation.