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An Introduction to the Covenant of Grace (Lesson 1.5)

I. The STAGES of the Covenant of Grace:

A) The Inauguration of the Covenant of Grace (Genesis 3:15): This is the first promise we're given in Scripture of a redeemer who would come into the world to save God's people from the sin and death into which they were plunged in Adam. All the successive divine covenants are built on this promise.

B) The Noahic Covenant (Genesis 6,9): In God's covenant with Noah, we have both a continuation and enlargement of the same gospel mercies that God had announced to Adam in Genesis 3:15. In this covenant with Noah, we come to learn even more about this redeemer and the salvation that He would accomplish for God's people. In the Noahic Covenant, we're pointed to Christ and the gospel primarily through pictures, as both Noah himself and his ark are meant to teach us truths about Jesus.

C) The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12,15,17): In God's covenant with Abraham, we're once again given a continuation and enlargement of the same gospel mercies which God had promised to Adam and confirmed to Noah. But whereas God's covenant with Noah sets forth Christ primarily through pictures, here with Abraham we're pointed to Jesus and the gospel primarily through promises; for the promises that the Lord makes to him of a land, a seed, and blessing are ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

D) The Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 20-24):In God's covenant with Israel under Moses, we have once again a continuation and enlargement of the same gospel mercies which God promised to Adam and confirmed to Noah and to Abraham. Through the Law that God gives at Sinai, we come face to face with the righteous character of our Creator; but there's also more, for in the person of Moses himself, as well as in God's redeeming His people from Egypt, and in the manna, the rock, the sacrifices, and the tabernacle, we're also pointed ahead once again to the person and work of the coming Redeemer.

E) The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89): In God's covenant with David, we have once again both a continuation and enlargement of the same gospel mercies that have gone before. Here in this covenant with David, God comes to him, promising to raise up for him one of his descendants, who would sit on his throne, and who would build for the Lord a house, and whose kingdom would never end; and though it seems at first glance all these promises find their fruition in David's son Solomon, we come to learn that these promises of David's seed and throne are ultimately fulfilled only in Jesus.

F) The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31 and Luke 22:20, etc): In the new covenant, we have the ultimate fulfillment of everything that has gone before. All the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament pointed us forward to Jesus. Now, with the coming of Christ, the pictures have finally become a reality; the shadows have truly taken on their substance; and the promises have at last found their fulfillment. Jesus came into the world as the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, and the seed of David, in order to reverse the work of the snake and accomplish redemption for His people.

II. The UNITY of the Covenant of Grace:

So, to be sure, there are various stages or manifestations, but all these manifestations are part of one single, over-arching covenant—the Covenant of Grace. These various manifestations aren't separated or isolated from each other; and they don't replace or nullify each other, but they're unified and build upon one another. So, the Covenant of Grace isn't to be understood as a series of isolated or separate covenants, but rather as a single, unified covenant that contains various stages and manifestations. We can see the unity of the Covenant of Grace being set forth in Scripture in at least a few different ways:

A) Scripture ties together the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace LINGUISTICALLY: Psalm 25:14 says this: “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant.” (notice the singular tense). We read again in Psalm 74:20: “Consider the covenant”(notice again it's in the singular). And in the same way, Psalm 111 says, “He has given food to those who fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever”; and, “He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever.” (vv5,9). Which covenant is it that all these Scriptures are speaking of? It's the Covenant of Grace. Because though it's true there are many distinct manifestations of the Covenant of Grace, Scripture speaks of the Covenant of Grace as one single over-arching covenant.1

It's also significant that the same phrase,“My covenant,” is used to describe each and every successive stage in the Covenant of Grace. In Scripture, God uses these words, “My covenant,” to describe His covenant with Noah (in both Genesis 6:18 and 9:9ff), His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:2-21), His covenant at Sinai (Exodus 19:5), and His covenant with David (Psalm 89:28,34). I have a favorite coffee mug hanging adjacent to our kitchen. It's always the mug that I use to drink my morning coffee and afternoon tea. If I asked my wife to bring “a mug”, she'd bring any of the other ones we have, but if I ask her about “my mug”, she knows exactly which one I'm talking about. And it's similar with how God speaks in Scripture, when He calls this Covenant of Grace, with which He enters into with man, “My covenant.” This isn't just one covenant among many; it's one-of-a-kind. After Adam violated the Covenant of Works, there's just one covenant to speak of. The covenant which God makes with His people is His covenant—it's His very own, one-of-a-kind, personal and exclusive, Covenant of Grace.2

B) Scripture ties together the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace HISTORICALLY: There's a fundamental unity between the stages of the Covenant of Grace in their historical outworking; and we can see it, first of all, in the unity between the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants. For one thing, the whole reason God sent Moses to deliver His people from Egypt [IE, the Mosaic Covenant] was that He “remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exodus 2:24). So then, the Mosaic Covenant didn't nullify the Abrahamic Covenant at all; rather, God's covenant at Sinai was established in order to bring fulfillment to the promises He had spoken to Abraham. Further, when the people of Israel rebel against the Lord by making a golden calf, and God threatens to destroy them, the way Moses delivers them is by reminding the Lord of the promises He had established in the Abrahamic covenant: “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever'” (Exodus 32:13).

And we see the same unity between the Mosaic and Davidic Covenants, for when God establishes His covenant with David, He identifies himself as the God who had “brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt” (2 Samuel 7:6); and David also, having just received the promises God had made to him in the Davidic Covenant, responds by glorying in the promises God was continuing to uphold to His people Israel in the Mosaic Covenant, saying, “For You have established for Yourself Your people Israel as Your own people forever, and You, O Lord, have become their God.” (vv23-24). And later, as David lay on his death-bed, the charge which he gives to his son Solomon has everything to do with the Law that God had given under the Mosaic Covenant; for he says: “Keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do. . .” (1 Kings 2:3). So again, the Davidic Covenant in no way nullified the covenant God had established at Sinai.

We even see a fundamental unity between the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, for Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, binds these two covenants together at the beginning of the gospel of Luke, and sees the coming of the Christ as the fulfillment of both of them, as he sings: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant. . .to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father. . .” (Luke 1:68-73).

And indeed, as Zacharias understood, all the Old Testament manifestations of the Covenant of Grace are unified together as they find their fulfillment in Christ. We see this most clearly in Ezekiel 37:24-28, where the prophet weaves together all the Old Testament manifestations, looking forward to their ultimate fulfillment in the new covenant. He says: “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd [the Davidic Covenant]; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them [the Mosaic Covenant]. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons' sons, forever [the Abrahamic Covenant]; and David My servant will be their prince forever [the Davidic Covenant]. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them.” So again, the successive manifestations of the Covenant of Grace don't nullify or replace one another, but they're bound together and brought to fulfillment with the coming of the new covenant in Christ.3

C) Scripture ties together the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace THEMATICALLY: Not only are the various manifestations of the Covenant of Grace bound together linguistically and historically; they're also woven together with a single phrase that truly embodies what God's covenant relationship with His people is all about: “I will be their God, and they will be My people.” This is the essence of the Covenant of Grace, and we see it throughout God's covenantal dealings with His people. We see this same phrase in God's covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:7), in His covenant with Israel at Sinai (Exodus 6:6-7; 19:5); and in His covenant with David in the context of speaking of the new covenant in Christ (Ezekiel 34:23-24). This is the essence and goal of God's covenant; for Him to be our God, and us to be His people. Indeed, “the heart of the covenant is the declaration that God is with us.”4

III. The PROGRESSION of the Covenant of Grace:

So then, there's a fundamental unity between each of the successive manifestations of the Covenant of Grace. But there's also a progression in each successive stage. The manifestations of the Covenant of Grace (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sinai, David) aren't just bound together; but they also build on each other. In each successive covenant in the Covenant of Grace, we come to learn more and more about the redemption God would accomplish for His people. A few examples might be helpful for us here:

A) A seed growing into a tree: We might say the story of redemption began in “seed form” with the promise to Adam in Genesis 3:15. And with each successive manifestation of the Covenant of Grace, that seed begins to grow more and more; we come to better understand God's plan of redemption as it progressively unfolds through the Scriptures. The new covenant is the full grown tree—the tree in its fullest and final form. But now, as we look back on that tree as it was a sapling, a sprout, and merely a seed, we understand it was always the same tree from the very beginning, but it was moving through progressive stages of visible growth. The truth is, the gospel that is so clear in its full form in the new covenant is equally present in the Old Testament manifestations of the Covenant of Grace (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sinai, David), but it is so in seed (or sprout or sapling!) form. With each successive manifestation, we learn more about Christ and the redemption He would accomplish for His people.

B) A musical symphony: Each successive covenant in the Covenant of Grace is like another track in the masterpiece of redemption. It starts with the bass; then you add the synthesizer, then the strings, then the percussion, then you throw in the vocals—and it's absolutely breathtaking. Each layer of an orchestra unifies, complements, and builds upon the whole. So too, each successive manifestation of the Covenant of Grace unifies, complements, and builds upon the whole of the story of redemption.