We began our discussion of this subject in our March 1 special issue on the subject of the Covenant. At that time, after calling attention to various passages of Scripture which make mention of the breaking of the covenant in one way or another, as well as to passages which speak of God’s covenant as unbreakable, we began to discuss the subject particularly from the viewpoint of the text in Isaiah 24:5. In our discussion last time we called attention, first of all, to the fact that the text speaks of God’s everlasting—and therefore, unbreakable—covenant. Secondly, we called attention to the meaning of the breaking of that covenant by men. The reader who wishes to refresh his memory as to that discussion may consult our March 1 issue.
Now in connection with this breaking of God’s covenant the text in Isaiah speaks of two related items: “because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.” The text is not speaking of three separate items, but the three are related. And they are related in such a way that the breaking of the everlasting covenant takes place through the transgression of the laws and the changing of the ordinance. We might paraphrase the statement of the text as follows: because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, andthus broken the everlasting covenant.
When the text speaks of the law and of the ordinance (or statute) it refers to essentially the same thing by both terms. They both refer to the will of God in relation to the life of man. But there is a distinction in the viewpoint of the terms. The term law is the more general term, while the term statute is the more particular. The former has reference to the fact that the Lord has made known His will for man; the latter, statute refers to the fact that God’s law draws the lines and sets the limits for man in his entire life, for his thinking and willing, his desiring and inclination, his seeing and hearing, his touching and tasting, his enjoying and acting—his entire life.
Also the terms transgress and change point to essentially the same thing. They both indicate that man is a sinner: in the whole of his life he misses his purpose. Precisely because he breaks, puts to naught, tramples God’s covenant, he also never strikes the mark, the target, of the law; he never remains within its boundaries, its limits; he always goes astray. The word ‘”transgress” really indicates that he tramples God’s law. He pays no attention to it; he does not really inquire concerning it; he bans it from his thoughts. In all his life he simply tramples that law under foot. The changing of the ordinance, or statute, looks more at the fact that man goes beyond the limits set for him by God. He does not walk according to the lines of God’s will. He goes aside. He simply chooses his own way and determines for himself what is right and what is wrong.
Such is the sinner who breaks God’s covenant. Thus he lives in his entire existence.
Now the question arises: how can the whole world be intended here? How can it be said of the entire world that it breaks God’s covenant? How can there be a breaking of the covenant where there is not even any knowledge of that covenant?
The answer to this problem is twofold.
In the first place, we must remember that in the organic sense of the word our entire race literally breaks God’s covenant. True, not all men personally come equally in contact with this covenant of God. But, understood organically, it is not difficult to see that our entire race breaks God’s covenant. All men are covenant creatures in Adam, their first father. And in Adam, their head and their first father, they are all covenant breakers, even as the first sin was that of covenant-breaking. In that sense all the wicked are apostates from God’s covenant. However, this is not only a matter of original sin. This sin of covenant-breaking is accomplished by men in their actual lives and in their actual sins. They transgress the laws and change the statute, and thus in their actual lives break the everlasting covenant by all their actual sins. They demonstrate that they agree with and that they own Adam’s sin. Moreover, this is true of the heathen as well as of those who come personally in contact with God’s covenant. And that brings us to the second aspect of the answer to the problem mentioned above. Scripture teaches us that all men have the work of God’s law written in their hearts, Romans 2:14, 15. Mind you, they do not have the law written in their hearts: then they would be regenerated children of God. But they have the work of the law, that is, what the law does, written in their hearts. And what is that work of the law? What does the law do? The answer is that the law distinguishes between what is right and what is wrong, what a man may and must do and what a man may not and must not do. Because of this, even the heathen are not excusable but are guilty of transgressing the laws and changing the ordinance and breaking the everlasting covenant.
All of this becomes plain in the course of history.
First of all, as we have already suggested above, this is realized historically in Adam as first father and head of the race. In him the entire race stood originally in God’s covenant. And in him they have broken the covenant. Not only did they break that original, earthly manifestation of God’s covenant of friendship as they are comprehended in Adam. But they daily demonstrate that they agree with and have a delight in Adam’s sin.
But there is more.
God maintains His covenant in Christ. And immediately after the fall He makes His covenant known in the well-known mother-promise of Genesis 3:15. Moreover, He continues to make that covenant known throughout the ages of history, and that, too, in ever clearer light. Along with that goes the fact that at various moments of history our entire race is again included in that covenant in the historical sense of the word.
Thus it is already soon after the fall. God makes known His covenant in Christ to Adam and Eve after the fall,Genesis 3:15. At that moment in the organic sense the entire human race was historically in God’s covenant. Cain and Abel—and later Seth—were children of the covenant. Cain, mind you, as well as Abel! The effect of this was that Cain and his generations revealed themselves over against that covenant as revealed in Christ (the Seed of the woman) as covenant-breakers. That is, they were covenant-breakers not only in relation to the covenant as originally established with Adam, but also in relation to the revelation of the covenant in Christ.
The same was true at the time of Noah. The first world perishes in the Flood because they transgress the covenant. After the Flood only the church remains, and God establishes His covenant with Noah and his seed. But the striking fact at that time is that the church and the human race are coextensive. At that moment again the entire race is in God’s covenant in the organic sense. That includes, mind you, the generation which presently builds the tower of Babel. That is a generation which came out of the church and which broke God’s covenant.
In the narrower sense of the word the same is true with respect to Abraham and his seed, with respect to Israel and with respect to Jerusalem. True, in this instance there is no longer a revelation of God’s covenant in Christ to the entire race, to all men. For a time that revelation of God’s covenant is restricted to one nation, the nation of Israel. But the principle is the same. For also then all is not Israel that is of Israel. And carnal, wicked Jerusalem again and again reveals itself as one with the entire wicked world in this, that it breaks God’s covenant as that covenant came to revelation in their midst in ever clearer light.
Finally, this is also true in the new dispensation. The revelation of God’s covenant in Christ is now complete. The light of that covenant is full. Through the preaching of the gospel Christ enters among the nations. And when He does so, God’s covenant is always established in the line of the generations of His people. And always in those generations there is a twofold seed. Always the carnal, covenant-breaking element comes to, manifestation. Over against the full light of God’s covenant the wicked must and do come to manifestation as breakers of God’s covenant. This ends in and comes to full fruition in the final manifestation of Antichrist. This is one reason why the Antichrist must arise out of nominal Christendom, why he must arise out of the false church. He must be revealed as the covenant-breaker par excellence. This is also one reason—be it a negative one—why the gospel must be preached to all nations: not to every individual, but to all nations, throughout the entire world. That world must become manifest organically as being principally a covenant-breaking world, and that, too, over against God’s covenant as it has been revealed in the Son of His love, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The result shall be that in the day of judgment all the world shall stand condemned as covenant-breakers. And the vengeance of Him that sitteth upon the throne and of the Lamb shall be in the very real sense of the word covenant vengeance.