2. Different Views Of The Covenant, (continued)
To this we may add the consideration that this follows also from the fact that the covenant is historically established in the line of continued generations and that infants as well as adults are comprehended in the covenant of God. How could they be included in the covenant if the establishment of it were a pact and depended upon the consent of the covenanting parties. Reformed theologians generally have felt that it is absurd to speak of the covenant as an agreement, a mutual alliance, between the infinite God and the covenant as an agreement, a mutual alliance, between the infinite God and the speck of dust that is man; and therefore they usually admit that it is unilateral in its establishment. But if this be true, it depends throughout on God alone. It is no longer a pact; it has no conditions; and God sovereignly performs all that belongs to the establishment and realization of the covenant. He alone, and sovereignly, determines who are to be received into the covenant relation with Him; and on His faithfulness alone it is based. God is faithful: that is the reason why the covenant is eternal. He maintains it: that is why it cannot be broken. It is an everlasting covenant.
And here lies another reason why the Scriptural idea of the covenant cannot be correctly represented by those notions of it that make it a way to salvation, or a means to an end. It is an everlasting covenant: “I will make an everlasting covenant of peace with you.” . “I will make an everlasting covenant with them.” . “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear into their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” . “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, .and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.” . Similarly our Baptism Form speaks of an eternal covenant of grace. Now a way is not everlasting: when the destination is reached, the way is come to an end. A means is not eternal: when the thing to be effected by it has been attained, the means has served its purpose. An everlasting covenant, therefore, is not a way or a means, but is the destination, the end itself. It is not accidental, but essential.
We must, therefore, look for a definition of the idea of the covenant in a different direction.
3. The Idea Of The Covenant.
We can agree with Dr. Bavinck when he states that the covenant is the very essence of religion,—of religion, that is, in the sense of fellowship with the living God. And we would express this somewhat more clearly and concisely by maintaining that the very essence of the covenant is fellowship with the ever blessed God. We can also agree with Dr. Kuyper when he defines the covenant as an act of friendship. And again, we would emphasize this idea by insisting that the covenant itself is essentially a relation, a bond, of friendship. Accordingly, we would define the idea of the covenant as that living bond of fellowship between God and man that assumes the particular form of friendship. And by friendship we mean such a bond of fellowship and intimate communion of love that subsists between persons on the basis of the highest possible equality, but that differ in respect to personal properties. Friends have no secrets; they enter into each other’s life. And this is possible only on the basis of equality. Like knows like. On the other hand, true friendship is fellowship; and fellowship cannot subsist between persons that are identical in every respect. They must supplement each other. Perfect, friendship is a bond between persons that, together form a perfect unity, that lacks nothing, and into which no other can ever enter. Hence, on the basis of equality there must also be personal distinction. And the idea of the covenant is briefly expressed in the term friendship, or bond of friendship, between God and man. In that bond God is the friend-sovereign, who reveals Himself to man, leads him into the secrets of His counsel, opens His heart to him, and causes him to taste His blessed grace. And man is the friend-servant of God, who dwells in His house, walks and talks with Him, loves him with his whole being, and consecrates himself and all things in the house of God to His praise and glory. Indeed, the covenant is the very essence of religion.
The deepest ground of this covenant relationship between God and man is the triune God Himself, of whose triune life it is at the same time the highest revelation. For God is in Himself, apart from any relation to the creature, a covenant God. For He is one in being, yet three in Persons. The equality of the Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is absolute, for it rests in the oneness of the divine essence. One in being and nature, one in mind and will, one in all the essential and ethical attributes, in eternity and immensity and immutability and independency, in simplicity and sovereignty, in knowledge and wisdom, in holiness and righteousness, in grace and beauty, in love and mercy,—absolutely one and equal are the Three Persons of the Godhead. In infinite perfection they enter into one another’s nature and life. Each knows the others as he is known, yet they are personally distinct and possess their own personal properties, as is expressed in their personal names. The Father eternally subsists in the divine essence as Father, the Son as Son, the Holy Ghost as Spirit. And, yet, also in their threeness they constitute d completeness, a unity, an exclusive whole or union. They belong together. No other person could possibly be conceived as added to that adorable threeness. The Father generates the Son and breathes forth the Spirit unto the Son. The Son is generated by the Father and breathes forth the Spirit unto the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father to the Son as the Spirit of the Father, and returns as the Spirit of the Son unto the Father. And on the basis of that absolute equality by personal distinction the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity live an eternally perfect covenant life of friendship. The Father knows and beholds and loves the Son through the Spirit. The Son knows and loves and beholds the Father through the Spirit. The Holy Ghost, searching the depths of God, knows the Father through the Son in Himself. The covenant life of the triune God is the ultimate ground for the covenant relationship between God and the creature.
That this idea of the covenant is based on the teaching of Holy Writ is not difficult to demonstrate. In paradise God reveals Himself to Adam and speaks to Him as a friend with His friend; and Adam knew God in the cool of day. The first creation is concentrated in Paradise, the house of God. Paradise has its significant center in the tree of life, that symbol of life in God’s fellowship. And the whole is concentrated in man, who is placed over the whole house of God to have dominion over all creatures. In the heart of man is the ethical center of the whole creation. And through that heart all creation is united to the heart of God. Adam is the house-servant of God in the covenant friendship. Of the early saints we read that they walked with God, a term denoting intimate fellowship and friendship. ng from them. ; . We read that they talk with God, that God reveals His counsel to them and hides nothi ; ; ng God, and she has the promise ff. Abraham is called the friend of God. ; . To Moses the Lord spoke as a man speaketh with his friend. . And the Lord knew him face to face. Moreover, it is the idea of the covenant that is symbolized in .the tabernacle and the temple, expressing the idea of God’s dwelling with His people under one roof. And it is well-known that the covenant relation between God and Israel is presented as a marriage relation, that most intimate of all human relationships, and that unfaithfulness, too, and transgression of the covenant is called adultery. The highest realization of the relation of God’s people to Him in Christ is expressed in the words of the sacerdotal prayer: “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfect in one.” . Almost defined is this idea of the covenant in : “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them his covenant.” The Church is the temple of the livi: “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” . And the end of all, the highest realization of God’s purposes of salvation, is expressed in the words of the great voice out of heaven: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.” . In the new Jerusalem God’s people shall walk in the light of the glory of God, and they shall see His face. . God’s covenant of friendship shall have been realized in its highest heavenly perfection.
Reformed theology is no doubt correct when it emphasizes that the reason for and purpose of all the works of God ad extra is the glory of God. God wills to glorify Himself; and God’s self-glorification is His revelation, the revelation of all His glorious and blessed virtues in the greatest possible creaturely measure and on the highest possible plane. To this will to glorify Himself and to reveal Himself in all the beauty of His adorable perfections and in all the blessedness of His divine life belongs His eternal purpose to reveal Himself in His blessed covenant life of eternal friendship. But how could this covenant life of God be revealed otherwise than unto and through a people that would have a place in His fellowship, to whom He would reveal His secrets and that would be able to taste His marvelous love and grace. The triune God, therefore, from before the foundation of the world determined to form a people that would have a creaturely place in the fellowship of the divine family. And if we must speak of a covenant of redemption, a pactum salutis, a covenant of peace, I would say that it is the eternal purpose of the triune God to reveal His own covenant life to the highest possible degree and on the highest possible plane by establishing the covenant relation of friendship between Himself and His people.
But this required the formation of a people, of a creature that would be in the highest possible creaturely measure like unto Himself. For, as we said, the bond of friendship presupposes a basis of likeness. Hence, God in His everlasting counsel determined upon and conceived of a people that shall be conformed according to the image of His Son, that He may be the firstborn among many brethren. The first of these covenant creatures in the divine conception is the Christ, the Son of God in human flesh, and that, too, as the resurrected Lord. The risen Lord is the firstborn of every creature in the counsel of God. In Him the likeness of God is realized in the highest possible degree and measure. You understand that this means that I conceive of the counsel of God in a strictly supralapsarian light. History may be, and no doubt is, infra in its order of events. But God’s eternal purpose and good pleasure dare not be conceived otherwise than according to the supralapsarian order: what is ultimate in history or in the realization of God’s pleasure is first in His eternal counsel. Not the first world, but the new creation is the goal from the beginning, because it is first in the decree of God. Not the first covenant, but the eternal tabernacle of God on a heavenly plane has the first place in the counsel of God. Salvation is no repair work, but the realization of God’s eternal pleasure, of Him who knows all His works from the beginning. And since all things in the new world are concentrated in the glorified Son of God in the flesh, and He is the Head of all things in that new world, and all things are created unto Him and for
Him, we repeat with emphasis that in the eternal good pleasure of God the risen and glorified Christ is the firstborn of every creature. In Him God wants to reveal His glory. He is the highest central realization of that likeness of God which is the conditio sine qua non for the highest possible realization of God’s covenant of friendship with men. This is the meaning of that marvelous passage in Col. 1:15ff.; “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell.”
With Him, then, the covenant of friendship is first of all established. And in the incarnated, crucified, and resurrected Christ there is the highest possible creaturely likeness of God. And to Him are given all the elect, the sons whom God wants to lead to glory, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. They are chosen in Him and unto Him; and they are ordained to be conformed according to His image, in order that the covenant of friendship, centrally realized in the risen Lord, the Head of the Church, might be reflected in millions upon millions of sons of God, and so all might redound to the praise of the triune God. And what is more, unto Him and His Church all things in heaven and on earth are given: for Christ is the Head of heaven and earth. In Him as the Head all things must be gathered together. And in God’s counsel they are conceived as united in Him, so that the whole creation is a house of God in Christ and through His Church. The covenant of God embraces every creature, and all things must serve the new man in Christ, that he may serve his God. Of this all-embracing idea of the covenant the rainbow which God established in the heavens after the flood is a sign and symbol. And unto that glorious realization of God’s heavenly and all-embracing covenant all things that are accomplished and must be accomplished in time are subordinated and made subservient. Even creation and the fall, sin and death, reprobation as well as election,—all must serve the realization of God’s everlasting covenant of friendship in Christ and His Church.
You understand that I refer now to the counsel of God, not to the order of things in time. If you bear this in mind, you will also discern the sharp difference between this and the Barthian idea of the covenant, as presented, for instance, by Walter Kunneth in his book under the title, “Die Theologie der Auferstehung”. He expresses a view very similar to that presented above, but he refuses to proceed from a supralapsarian conception of the counsel of God, applies the truth that the risen Lord is the firstborn of every creature to creation and its development, and leaves at least the impression that creation culminates and reaches its perfection in the resurrection of Christ, and that, too, in the way of development and in virtue of an inherent “Triebkraft” in creation as originally called into existence by the Word of God. To this view we can, of course, not subscribe.
But we do believe that when God created the first world He had the second in view; when He formed the first Adam, He did so with a view to the last Adam, the Lord from heaven, the risen Christ, the firstborn of every creature. The original creation is an image of the new world that is to come. But it is not its beginning. The first man is the image of the second, but he can never develop into him. The chasm between the two can be bridged only by the wonder of grace, that has its central revelation in the incarnation of the Son of God, and through His death in the resurrection and glorification of Christ the Lord. It is not by the Triebkraft of the original creation, but by the irresistible power of the wonder of grace that all things are raised from their original earthly level, and that, too, through the depth of sin, death, and the curse, to the height of glory in God’s eternal covenant of friendship.
In the first paradise we behold the first, the earthly realization of the covenant of friendship. That covenant was not an agreement between God and Adam, made sometime after his creation as something new and additional. But it was the living bond of fellowship, according to which Adam was the friend-servant of God, set over God’s entire earthly house, so that all things must serve him, that he might serve his God. And also this covenant relationship functioned a parte hominus on the basis of the fact that he was created in the image of God, in true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. Even as Adam in his nature reflected the nature and virtues of His Creator, so his relation to and life with God reflected from the moment of his creation the life of the Triune.
But Adam did not regard his exalted position. Through the instigation of Satan he violated the covenant of God and made himself worthy of His fierce anger, death, and the curse. He dies and becomes corrupt, dead in trespasses and sins, an exile from the house of God. And in him all men, including the elect, the sons God had ordained unto glory, fell into sin and death. There was no way out as far as man was concerned. As far as it lay in his power, he had destroyed the covenant of God. The return to the fellowship of God had, from man’s viewpoint, become forever impossible.
But man’s impossibility is God’s medium for the revelation of His glorious grace. He had provided some better thing for us, the perfection of His covenant of friendship in Christ. Adam violated the covenant of God, but God maintains it. Adam and all the elect fall upon Christ, Who stood behind them, according to God’s eternal good pleasure. And God at once reveals His covenant as it is eternally fixed in Christ. For He announces that He will put enmity between Satan and the woman and between their mutual seed and that the cause of the Son of God shall have the victory. That covenant is to follow the antithetical line of election and reprobation. And for the revelation of this covenant of Christ in the elect, with its antithesis in the reprobate, the stage is set in all creation. Man is subjected to temporal death, separated from the tree of life. The conception of the woman is multiplied, in order that Christ may come quickly, as always, and her sorrow shall be great. The ground is cursed and will produce thorns and thistles. Not only will man eat his bread in the sweat of his face, but he will also eat and drink his own death. And the creature is made subject to vanity, so that all real culture by the fallen lord of the earthly creation is forever become impossible. But upon that stage God reveals His covenant; and through that darkness He causes the light of the promise, the light that shines from the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to penetrate, filling the heirs of the promise with hope.
He reveals that covenant to Noah and his seed as a covenant that embraces the whole creation, so that also the creature, groaning in the bondage of corruption, may look forward in hope to the glorious liberty of the children of God. He reveals that covenant to Abraham, His friends, as running in the line of generations, but as embracing nevertheless all the nations of the earth. He establishes that covenant at Sinai, placing it, however, under the law, in order that sin might abound and under the taskmaster the children of the promise might look the more earnestly for the telos of the law in Christ. And all through the dispensation of that covenant of Sinai the powers of darkness and an adulterous people exerted themselves to violate and to destroy the covenant of Jehovah. Yet, in the fullness of time He realized the covenant of friendship, uniting Himself with His people centrally in the incarnation, the Son of God come in the flesh, God of God tabernacling with us, laying the basis of righteousness in the atoning sacrifice and perfect obedience of the servant of Jehovah, and raising the firstborn among many brethren and the firstborn of every creature from the dead to exalt Him at His right hand in heavenly glory. He establishes that eternal bond of friendship in the new covenant through the Spirit of the risen Lord indwelling in the Church, by whom He writes His law in their hearts so that they all know Him from the smallest to the greatest.
And still the counsel of God concerning His everlasting covenant is not finished. One more revelation of the wonder of grace is yet to be expected, when the glorified Son of God shall be revealed from heaven, the old things shall pass away, and all things shall be made new. Then He shall make our mortal bodies like unto His most glorious body by the power whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself. Even creation shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption to participate in the glorious liberty of the children of God. And all things shall be made conformable to the glory of the risen Lord. The tabernacle of God shall be with men in heavenly glory; and as friend-servants in the house of God, a royal priesthood, we shall have perfect fellowship with the triune Jehovah, see Him face to face, know even as we are known, and taste and declare that the Lord is good forever and ever.