Understanding Covenant Theology #4

I found the following material on the website of the Western Reformed Seminary.  It is a good coverage of what I have attempted to teach in this series already, and more clearly stated to boot. 

It is by John Battle as taken from WRS Journal 2:1 (February 1995) 2-6, retrieved from the web site http://www.wrs.edu/Materials_for_Web_Site/Journals/2-1%20Feb-1995/Battle%20-%20Premillennialsim%20&%20Covenant%20Theol.pdf:

“The Bible contains many covenants and many dispensations. Those who put primary emphasis on the differences between these covenants and dispensations often are referred to as dispensationalists. Those who see a unity in these covenants and dispensations are called covenant theologians.


Covenant theology understands that God has one over-arching purpose in his dealings with our universe—and that is the establishing of his eternal kingdom through the plan of redemption.


Dispensationalists rather see God’s plan as manifold, involving one plan and purpose for his earthly people Israel, and a separate plan and purpose for his heavenly people the church. They see a unity only in the common thread of God’s glorifying himself in all his plans. The main distinctive of dispensationalism is the belief that Old Testament Israel is totally distinct from the New Testament church. In fact, the church, in their view, did not exist until Pentecost.


Covenant theologians say that the invisible church began with the first saved person (Adam!), and that the visible church as an institution started long before New Testament times, with Abraham.


While dispensationalists divide the Bible into dispensations, covenant theologians detect an underlying unity—all these dispensations, and the biblical covenants which define them, are outworkings of one great covenant of grace. The Westminster Confession of Faith defines this covenant of grace as follows:


Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant [the covenant of works made with Adam], the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. (7:3)


Reformed theologians often speak of another covenant which undergirds this covenant of grace. That is the covenant of redemption, which was made between God the Father and God the Son before the world began. It is by this covenant that Jesus Christ was ordained to obey his Father, come into this world, and redeem his people to salvation in himself. This covenant provides for Jesus his eternal kingdom, in which his elect ones will find their place of glory and service forever.”


If you happened to visit the link provided, you might have discovered that while Mr. Battle is a Covenant Theologian, he is not amillennial, but is in fact a premillennialist.


Why do I mention this?  Because it is very common in this day to assume that if one is a premillennialist, he is also a dispensationalist.  But the fact is that premillennialism existed centuries before dispensationalism was ever heard of.


But I need to remind my readers at this point that Covenant Theology and its counterpart Dispensationalism is an overall view of the entire Bible, not just a view of the end times.  But as you might expect, your view of the overall message of the Bible is bound to affect your view of that particular portion.  We will deal with the four primary views of the end times in due time, but for now, let’s keep focused on the idea of Covenant.


Here is the chronological order of the three primary Covenants:


1.  The Covenant of Redemption

– In eternity past God the Father decreed that in time God the Son would obtain, and God the Spirit would apply redemption to the elect.*


 2.  The Covenant of Works

– In the Garden of Eden God required Adam to obey the command in order to live.  Adam failed and came under the curse of the Covenant.


3.  The Covenant of Grace

– After the Sin of Adam, God promised to send a redeemer (Christ) that would crush the head of the serpent (Satan).  Since Adam did not deserve a redeemer, God saved Adam because of His inexplicable gracious motives, hence the Covenant of Grace.

Hence, the entire Bible is the story of how God brings about that plan of redemption and executes the Covenant of Grace in saving his elect from their deserved damnation under the covenant of works.


This has been somewhat repetitive of the previous entry but we shall try to make more progress in the next installment.




*Traditional reformed theologians teach that the covenant of redemption involved the Father and Son only.  I do not agree with them on this point.


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