We saw that God's blessings freely flow to His people by grace alone. We also see in the Davidic Covenant that God's blessings flow to His people THROUGH FAITH ALONE. This is how it was for David, and it's how it is for us. We see this most clearly back in Isaiah 55:3: “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David.” We already looked at “the faithful mercies” shown to David; and what they were. But here we can notice how it is that we enter into those blessings: “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live. . .” The context of the passage is that God has prepared a lavish feast, and He's extending an open invitation to all: “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (55:1). The banquet is prepared, and the invitation is extended to all men without exception. We're being beckoned; all we need to do is listen and come. Further, there's no “cover charge” to pay at the door. All are beckoned to come “without money and without cost.” There's no price to pay; no gift to bring. Well, the scene is put forward as a picture for us of God's free offer of salvation. Just as the banquet is set already, God has already done everything on our behalf. All He's asking us to do is listen to what He's done for us and come and receive it. It's the language of faith. We're ashamed to come empty-handed; we think we need to bring something in return; a gift to offer our host. But God requires us to come empty-handed! His blessings flow to us through faith alone.1
This language of listening in Isaiah 55:3 is the language of faith. And one of the reasons we know this is that Paul picks up this same language of listening to speak about faith in Galatians 3:1-5. Here, the Galatian church had gotten off track, and Paul has a few questions for them to help them understand what had happened. So he writes: “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? . . . So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” The Galatians knew that they had entered into God's blessing by faith alone (v2). But somewhere along the way, they started thinking that though faith alone was enough to enter into God's blessing, it wasn't enough to continue in God's blessing every day in their Christian life. They knew they had obtained God's blessing by faith alone—but then after they became Christians, they started thinking they had to maintain that blessing through their obedience. And don't we fall into the same trap? We know we entered into God's blessing by faith alone, but we start thinking that in the Christian life, His blessing runs on our obedience. We long that God would pour out His blessing upon us, but we believe that whether He actually will or not is directly related to the latest figures in our monthly obedience report (hot off the press). We desire that God would anoint us with His Spirit; and we long to be powerfully used of God, but we don't think it will happen because there's not enough obedience in our checking account to afford blessings like that (maybe if we've saved enough up we can transfer from savings?). But Paul's whole point to the Galatians is that if they entered into God's blessing at the beginning by faith alone (v2), it's by faith alone they continue to receive His blessing every day in their Christian life (v5). God doesn't just freely pour out His blessing upon us in Jesus at the beginning. It's not just at the beginning that we're invited to come with empty hands. His blessing continues to flow to us every day in our Christian life in exactly the same way. We receive it with empty hands. . .by faith alone.2
OBJECTION: If it's true that the Davidic Covenant is part of the Covenant of Grace, and the only requirement for entering into these blessings is faith—and faith alone—then how are we to understand certain passages that seem to say that this covenant was conditional on obedience? There are some Scriptures where David, recounting God's covenant with him, seems to tell us that this covenant was based on the obedience of Solomon, and his sons, and Israel on the whole. In 1 Kings 2:2-4, David admonishes his son Solomon: “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 and wherever you turn, so that the Lord may carry out His promise which He spoke concerning me, saying, 'If your sons are careful of their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.” God himself tells Solomon that if he would walk before the Lord, his throne would be established, but He also warns him, saying: “But if you or your sons indeed turn away from following Me, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them, and the house which I have consecrated for My name, I will cast out of My sight. . .And they will say, 'Because they forsook the Lord their God, who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and adopted other gods and worshiped them and served them, therefore the Lord has brought all this adversity on them.'” (1 Kings 9:6-9). And Psalm 132:12 recounts God's covenant with David, saying: “If your sons will keep My covenant and My testimony which I will teach them, their sons also shall sit upon your throne forever.” Was this covenant conditional on obedience after all?3
The main thing we have to realize with all these Scriptures is that the Lord is speaking with reference to His people as a whole. In these passages, God isn't talking about His dealings with individuals as it relates to their salvation; He's talking about how it is that He would deal with the entire body of the visible church corporately, as a whole. And He's warning them that He cannot and will not bless an unrepentant church. In earlier days, God's people had made the mistake of trusting in the ark of the covenant to deliver them instead of truly trusting in the Lord (1 Samuel 4). In days still yet to come, the prophet Jeremiah would warn God's people against trusting in the temple instead of truly trusting in the Lord (Jeremiah 7:1-15). Here, God himself is warning his people against trusting in David's throne instead of truly trusting in the Lord. David's throne wasn't some kind of good-luck charm that would always just automatically make Israel's enemies go away. If Israel turned away from the Lord, God himself would turn against her as an enemy. Earlier in the study, we saw that the first generation under Moses in the wilderness broke faith with the Lord, and they missed out on the blessing. They rejected the Covenant of Grace and so they missed out on entering the land. Here, the Lord is giving His people a similar warning: If God's people break faith with Him, even David's throne wouldn't be able to keep them from being exiled from the land. It may come as a surprise to some, but this is the way God deals with His people corporately in the Covenant of Grace. It's no different for us today. In Revelation 2:5, Jesus says to the church at Ephesus: “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” Jesus wasn't speaking about individuals here; He was speaking about the whole body; and His message was one and the same: He cannot and will not bless an unrepentant church. The fact is: “No church has a secure and permanent place in the world. It is continuously on trial.” During the time of David and Solomon, it's as if all Israel was one enormous mega-church. And in these passages, the Lord is warning His people. Because when the church as a whole embraces Christ and follows her Lord, the result is indeed corporate blessing. But when the church as a whole rejects her Lord and forsakes His ways, the result is always corporate judgment.4
1 Calvin says of Isaiah 55:3: “Besides, this is a description of the nature of faith, when he bids us 'come to himself.' We ought to hear the Lord in such a manner that faith shall follow; for they who by faith receive the word of God have laid aside their desires and despised the world, and may be said to have broken their chains, so that they readily and cheerfully 'draw near to God.' But faith cannot be formed without hearing, (Romans 10:17) that is, without understanding the word of God, and so he bids us 'hear' before we 'come to him.' Thus, whenever faith is mentioned, let us remember that it must be joined to the word, in which it has its foundation.” On the requirement of faith in the Davidic Covenant, Roberts says: “The covenant duties and conditions imposed upon David and his seed. . . [necessitate] their keeping covenant by true faith in Jesus Christ, the great mercy and mystery promised both in this [covenant]. . .That Jesus Christ was. . .revealed and chiefly intended in this covenant, I have in this chapter evidenced. . .Therefore true faith in this Christ is necessary to the keeping of this covenant. For, 1) Without true faith Christ herein revealed could not be apprehended by David or his seed. 2) And without true faith, neither their persons nor performances could be accepted. For without faith it is impossible to please God.” (p1054; cf. p1067).
2 We could paraphrase Paul's question in Galatians 3:5 like this: “So then, does God continue to pour out His blessing upon you every day as a Christian because you're keeping His commands, or because you've trusted in Christ?” Verses 2 and 5 are similar, but the main difference is that verse 2 is in the past tense, while verse 5 is in the present. Paul's asking: “How did you enter in to God's blessing at the beginning” (v2)? Was it not by faith alone? “So then, why would you think that His blessing continues to flow to you now every day as a Christian in any other way” (v5)? This same truth is echoed in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” We tend to think that God gives us salvation freely by grace—but every other blessing in the Christian life comes to us based on our level of obedience. Not so: All things He continues to give to us freely. When we're living as though God's blessing was based on our obedience, we're functionally no better than those who used to buy indulgences from the Roman Catholic Church. It's just that instead of buying salvation in the next life, we're trying to buy spiritual blessings in this life. And instead of using for our currency the treasury of merit of the saints and martyrs, we're using our own private treasury of merit; our own off-shore bank account. But this dishonors God, because when we obey, we expect God's blessing for the completely wrong (and off-based reasons); and when we don't, we feel doomed because our account has run dry. Truth is, God's blessing flowing to us doesn't come from our own bank account at all. It comes from Christ's. And we have free access to it by faith alone in Him.
3 Other passages that fall into this category are 1 Chronicles 28:5-8 and 2 Chronicles 7:17-22. A similar passage is 1 Kings 6:12, but I believe this particular passage has a different emphasis. We'll get back to it later and deal with it at some length.
4 So then: Individual faith saves; but in the Covenant of Grace God must also deal in a certain manner with the visible church as a whole. And that body is always made up of those who have truly believed and those who haven't. Now if the body as a whole is characterized by those who have embraced the covenant from the heart and are walking in God's ways, that body will experience special measures of God's blessing. But if the body as a whole is characterized by those who are unbelieving and have turned away from following the Lord, that body is ripe for corporate judgment. Leviticus 14 talks about a leprous house; and this is the case of any church or denomination that has been infected with the leprosy of unbelief and rebellion against the Lord; and just as that house was to be torn down and thrown outside to an unclean place, so it was with the house of Israel at the exile; and so it will be for any church or denomination that, on the whole, has turned away from following the Lord. This is the way the Lord deals with His people corporately as a whole: Individual faith saves; but corporate apostasy will result in corporate judgment. Calvin writes the following on Psalm 132:12: “the covenant was perfectly gratuitous, so far as related to God's promise of sending a Savior and Redeemer. . .This may serve to show in what sense the covenant was not conditional; but as there were other things which were accessories to the covenant, a condition was appended, to the effect that God would bless them if they obeyed his commandments. The Jews, for declining from this obedience, were removed into exile.” And Roberts notes: “For [certain] sins God is wont to withdraw his presence and residence from a people; and for most of these he forsook Zion and Jerusalem, that once was his delightful rest and habitation.” (p1048). There is one more aspect that will help unlock these passages; we'll get to it in the next section. (Quote is from John Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, p31).