IV. Principles for Our Discussion:
(Since we do not have the time and space to bring out the detailed issues which are debated in connection with the covenant, let us propose some questions to bring some of the issues to our attention and also some answers to indicate the principles which should guide us in our discussion.)
1. What important Scripture passages are there that should be considered first of all in our study of the covenant?
There are many passages which you can find by means of a concordance in both the Old and New Testaments. But there is the important history of God’s revelation of the covenant to Abraham which is basic to a Scriptural conception of the covenant. In this connection we find that,
a. The Lord Jehovah reveals the reality of His covenant to Abram first of all in the form of promises. (Genesis 12).
b. The Lord after assuring Abram of these same promises again gives Abram a tangible, legal right to the covenant promises. (Genesis 15). In a vision Abram was given to see the work of God in Christ’s blood whereby he and all of us have a title or legal evidence that we are possessors of eternal life with God. The Lord binds Himself in this transaction or contract in His righteousness to give us the covenant.
c. God reveals His covenant to Abraham that He Himself will cause Abraham and his seed to be worthy participants of His promises. He reveals in Genesis 17 that He will establish, or keep, or set up permanently in His covenant people the life of sanctification, without which there can be no covenant realization. The demands of the covenant are presented which are inherent in the very relationship with God, and it is solemnly promised that the Lord will realize the demands. Abraham is thereupon commanded to keep this covenant, that is, to believe and confess that word of the Lord, in the sign of circumcision.
d. God finally also deals with Abraham as a covenant friend, reveals His plan to realize His counsel in the way of reprobation and judgment upon Sodom, deliberates with Abraham in order to take His ordained friend into His covenant as an individual, who trusts, believes, and prays to the Judge of heaven and earth. Genesis 18 ff.
- How ought we to define the covenant?
We cannot define the concept covenant from, the word only. The word covenant may mean as such, a contract, or agreement, oath, testament, promise, pact, or bargain. Although Scripture does not make its own language, but uses our language, the language particularly of the Hebrews and the Greeks, and however the Scripture may use these various elements of the; word covenant in different connections, the concept covenant as it is given to Abraham and to all His people must be first of all determined from the particular context and then in the second place must be understood with a divine limitation. That last statement means that we cannot ascribe to God anything which essentially is human, nor which God does not reveal of His own Being and Works.
3. What definition serves us best as a guide to return to the individual passages of Scripture to think the thoughts of God’s revelation?
That definition which points us to the relationship between God and His people in Christ, as determined by His counsel as an everlasting relationship, the object of the hope of the believers. There are several definitions which have been given which agree in important elements and which point us to the eternal character of the covenant in God’s counsel. Other definitions disagree in the fundamental element by -emphasizing the temporal forms. The definition of Rev. Hoeksema in his “Essentials of Reformed Doctrine” ought to serve us best. There are also several texts which are the basis of this conclusion. Which are they?
- How are we to judge of other “views” of the covenant?
It is impossible to make a judgment without a careful examination of each individual view. This is necessary although almost beyond our scope at this time. We should take the position that although we value our definition it does not mean that other views of the covenant will not aid us to see some of the elements of the Scripture which are given us for our instruction and enjoyment. In that good sense of the word all the correct views of the Word of God aid us and enrichen our understanding. Also contrary views aid us to see the value of our point of view and sharpen our defense of the Word of God. Without minimizing the value of definitions we ought to see that there is not one that will comprehend all the riches of God’s Word. A definition serves as a working basis. Further we should see that some view’s fail to search out the deep controlling thoughts of Scripture and raise subordinate elements to receive primary attention. Such elements as contract, agreement, and others are taken as premises from which erroneous conclusions are drawn to confuse the Church with dilemmas as it seeks to understand all the Scripture as the Word of our Sovereign God.