New Covenant Theology: A Critical Evaluation
Part 2 A New Approach to the Covenant of Grace
George M. Ella | Added: May 07, 2007 | Category: Theology
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There is no new law
The Socinian and New Covenant idea which teaches that Christ came to add to the law and make it more perfect must be rejected on the grounds that God’s Word itself denies the need for such a development. As the law is the reflection of God’s perfect nature and will for mankind, it is thus God’s perfect will for mankind (Psalm 19:7). It is, at the same time, His perfect standard of righteousness and shows “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). In other words, the law shows man what law-duties he has in relation to God, both regarding what he should do and what he should not do. No other law is necessary for this purpose. The gospel shows man what he cannot do of himself, i.e. keep the perfect law, but also how Christ not only kept the law on man’s behalf but covenanted with the Father in eternity to take on Himself the elect’s punishment that they might go free and not receive the condemnation they deserve. No other gospel is necessary for this purpose.
Rejecting the covenant of grace
Reformed Christians believe that this eternal covenant of grace was the basis for the gospel of salvation for the elect which came into action as soon as Adam sinned. John Reisinger teaches in his book Abraham’s Four Seeds that there was never such a covenant of grace in either Testament. He considers the term to be unbiblical and quotes Galatians 3:8 as evidence that the gospel to Abraham excludes by definition a covenant of grace with Abraham:
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.1
Though the entire chapter, one would think, is a clear reference to the covenant of grace, Reisinger says:
Nowhere in all the Word of God does the Holy Spirit call the gospel the Covenant of Grace nor does any verse remotely imply that when God graciously makes known the gospel promise to an individual, or to a whole nation, that he is thereby putting the individual under a covenant of grace. If Covenant Theology is correct, then Paul should have said, ‘God made a covenant of grace with Abraham.2
The Romanists included the notorious Marcionite Prologues into their Vulgate Bibles to show their allegiance with Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament, especially its teaching on saving grace. New Covenant Theology follows in their wake. Furthermore, Reisinger has wrenched his Galatians ‘proof text’ out of its covenant context. Paul is arguing in the Galatians text for a gospel of salvation anchored clearly in the covenant with Abraham. He is indeed stressing that “God made a covenant of grace with Abraham” saying of it, “And this I say, that the covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” Here, Paul is distinguishing clearly between the covenant of grace and the law. Grace was plentiful within the covenant but the condemning law came much later and cannot disannul that covenant. Reisinger must be familiar with Luke 1:54 ff. where the covenant with Abraham made for eternity is described as one of mercy (eleous), a term used synonymously with grace as in Jude 21 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. Reisinger, oddly enough, rejects the covenant of grace because he feels it is not in Biblical terms, yet his own gospel is clothed in theological jargon reminding us of American New-Lighters, Two-Seeders and New Divinity who developed a new religious meta-language. So New Covenanters explain their gospel in terms such as ‘protoevangelium’; ‘escatalogical transcendence’; ‘unique seed’; ‘natural seed’; ‘special natural seed’; ‘spiritual seed’; the ‘four seeds’; ‘the doctrines of grace’ and ‘covenant of redemption’. Whether valid or not, this is not Biblical terminology.
John Gill gives us the lead by telling us that the term ‘covenant of grace’, though not literally and explicitly found as a technical theological term in Scripture, is used:
... properly enough, since it entirely flows from and has its foundation in the grace of God: it is owing to the everlasting love and free favour of God the Father, that he proposed a covenant of this kind to his Son; and it is owing to the grace of the son that he so freely and voluntarily entered into engagements with the Father; the matter, sum and substance of it is grace; it consists of grants and blessings of grace to the elect in Christ; and the ultimate end and design of it is the glory of the grace of God.3
By excluding the covenant of grace from the gospel, Reisinger is merely showing his disregard for the Old Testament. He finds no traces of gospel redemption there. Thus, the gospel promised to Abraham, for Reisinger, did not take place savingly in the lives of the Old Testament saints but was merely an eschatological promise of what was to come after Christ came but in no wise before. However, the Genesis account of the everlasting covenant of grace with Abraham from Genesis 12 on is pure gospel in its teaching that God, even then, was choosing out a people for himself. Indeed, without the OT teaching of the Covenant with Abraham, proclaiming the righteousness which is of faith as experienced by Abraham, we cannot possibly understand aright what the New Testament teaches. For instance, when Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8 ff. on the work of grace in salvation, he places it in a covenantal context outside of which one is a stranger to the gospel ‘having no hope and without God in the world’.
There is no limbus partum in the Christian faith
The Roman Catholic idea of a place where Old Testament believers were detained until Christ arose from the dead and then were set free is void of Scriptural and historical backing. The similar New Covenant idea that the Old Testament saints were under their fallen obligations until Christ paid the price of their sins in future time is equally unscriptural because Christ obligated Himself to pay for those sins in eternity. John Reisinger, in keeping with Rome, teaches that the status of Old Testament saints is different to the status of New Testament saints and that they were in a grey zone between being saved and entering into a future Church, being grafted into the vine and becoming part of the Body of Christ. In his chapter, ‘Who is the Great Nation?’ in his book Abraham’s Four Seeds, Reisinger accepts that there were believing souls in Old Testament times but they nevertheless had not what he calls ‘hope realised’ until Christ came in time. He appears thus to suggest that there was a kind of suspended salvation for OT saints which turned into real, empirical salvation at the point in time when Christ atoned for their sins and Pentecost (why Pentecost?) became a historical event.
This is not Biblical theology; whatever Zaspel and Reisinger call it. The nature of the Church has always been faith in Christ and not rational trust in Christ by sight. There is thus no difference in a saving aspect between the faith of Abraham and the faith of Paul. Indeed, Abraham is depicted in the Scriptures as being the father of the faithful. ‘Hope realised’ will be the lot of the entire Body of Christ on the Resurrection Morning. Indeed, when the author to the Hebrews describes Christian faith, he begins with the faith of the fathers in times past and, before listing their names, tells us (11:1) that, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Thus, the Old Testament saints are presented to us as exemplary in their true faith and not as second class believers.
Truth to tell, Reisinger declares himself and his followers to be second-class Christians as they base their belief in an eschatological ‘hope realised’ rather than a hope substantiated through faith. Indeed, Reisinger, in keeping with most of the ‘American Religion’ sects influenced by freemasonry and the then budding Mormon movement, has a multi-tiered-view of believers even more complicated than that of the old papist system. He depicts coming to ‘realised hope’ as a hierarchical climb. Starting from believing Jews who are not yet Christ’s Bride, the Church, he moves up to those who have not attained hope realised and then to those who have. Then he arrives at the Non-Baptist Christians and then proceeds higher to ordinary Baptists until he has his Four Seeders sitting right at the top of the ladder of progression.
Reisinger clearly contradicts Genesis 15:6 “And he (Abraham) believed in the Lord and he accounted it to him for righteousness”. Could Abraham have been more saved than at that time? Furthermore, Jesus told the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). This was before Christ’s vicarious death on the cross, before the resurrection and before Pentecost! We note, too, that Paul speaking to the Roman Christians of their common father in the faith in chapter 4, echoed the words of Genesis 15:6. Indeed, Paul uses Abraham as the prime example of one who believed in Jesus. There is thus no reason whatsoever to disbelieve the fact that those Old Testament saints mentioned in Hebrews 11, and the myriad more whom the author had not time and parchment enough to name, died safely in the Christian faith and entered into the eternal inheritance of the saints, God’s true elect. Hebrews 11:13-16 is worth quoting here:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
1 Abraham’s Four Seeds, p. 38.
2 Ibid, p. 38-39.
3 Of the Everlasting Covenant of Grace, Body of Divinity, Vol. I, p. 310.
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