Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
It is very striking that the word promise is found much more often in the New Testament than in the Old. We find two reasons for this. The New Testament gives us the fulfillment of the promise with the coming of Jesus Christ. And, most often when a promise of God is spoken in the old dispensation, the word promise is not used, but we simply read “And the Lord God said…” (Gen. 3:15), or “And I will…” (Gen. 17:7). There “are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises” (II Pet. 1:4). And we understand from the outset that the promises of God differ radically from the promises of men. Our promises, however seriously intended, are always subject to circumstances beyond our control. God’s promises are not conditional in any sense. His promise is itself the power which brings it to pass. God promising is God keeping promise!
All God’s promises are in Christ. “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen” (II Cor. 1:20). This means that, first of all, God’s promises are to Christ. They were made to Abraham and his seed: “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Gal. 3:16). To Christ is given the promise of victory (Gen. 3:15); the promise of the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession (Ps. 2:8); and the promise of the Spirit as His Spirit (Acts 2:33). Because this is true, every promise of God to usward contains Christ and is based on the work of Christ. The promise of Canaan as a picture of heaven (Deut. 9:28). The promise of the eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15) which is incorruptible, undefiled, and never fades away (I Pet. 1:4). The promise of the resurrection of the body (I Cor. 15:21, 22). The promise of the covenant with us and with our children (Acts 2:39). The promise of Christ to be with us even to the end of the world, even as He gathers the church (Matt. 28:20).
God’s promise is unconditional in that it does not depend upon man for its fulfillment. “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Adam and Eve were hiding from God when He sought them, found them, and made promise to them (Gen. 3). Abraham and Sarah were past the age of child-bearing, yet they staggered not at the promise of God (Rom. 4:20). Rebekah was barren (Gen. 25:21). In the fullness of time the royal line out of which the Christ must be born according to God’s promise to David (Ps. 89:34-36) ended in a virgin. With God, who does not depend upon man, all things are possible (Luke 1:28).
The promises of God are certain, for reasons which are to be found in Him. He remembers His promise (Ps. 105:42); He cannot lie regarding His eternal promise (Tit. 1:2); He sware an oath by Himself that the heirs of the promise might have strong consolation (Heb. 6:13, 18); for He is faithful who has promised (Heb. 10:23); and even though ignorant scoffers mock God’s promise, God is not slack concerning it, refusing to send Christ until the last elect comes to repentance (II Pet. 3:9).
The precious promises of God are particular with respect to their intended recipients. Just as election is in Christ, so are the promises for those alone who are in Christ by election. As we saw above, the promise of God is first of all to Christ. And then it goes out to all those who are ingrafted into Him by faith. The blessing of Abraham comes upon the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14). And, “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). So the recipients of the promise are the true seed of Abraham as they are born in his generations (Gen. 17:7). They are for Jews and Gentiles, and their children, even as many as the Lord our God shall call (Acts 2:39). They are for the Israel of God, the seed of Abraham, the children of God according to the Spirit, the children of the promise, that is, those who are brought forth unto everlasting life by the power of the promise of God; for the children of the promise are counted for the seed (Rom. 9:6-8). All these shall receive the crown of life “which the Lord has promised to them that love him” (James 1:12).
We must not let these promises slip (Heb. 2:1), but rather receive them, embrace them, and confess them (Heb. 11:13). This enables us to live as sojourners and strangers in the earth, spiritually dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with Abraham of the same promise (Heb. 11:9). Then we follow them, who through faith and patience inherit the promise (Heb. 6:12), and are willing to suffer all things “not accepting deliverance, that we might obtain a better resurrection” (Heb. 11:35). For there is one aspect of God’s promise that remains to be fulfilled, Christ’s great and glorious second coming. “Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12). That is the crown to all God’s promises in Christ! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!