Here is the first part of chapter 3. I must give it to you one piece at a time because it is too long for one blog. This is the part that may especially need your “brutal critique”. Please let me hear from you.
“God Himself will be with them as their God” Revelation 21:3
In the Bible God’s love for us sinners is truly A Many Splendored Thing! I see His love for us as the single most beautiful part of the Bible and its grand story of salvation. It is a breath-taking wonder that dazzles our hearts with sheer glory and lifts us by faith into the joys of eternal life.
Students of scripture understand that God’s love for us comes in the setting of what they call THE COVENANT OF GRACE. I hope you will see that theological term as valuable. As I noted in the last chapter, it is kind of a shorthand way of describing the various aspects of God’s love in brief form. It is a brief but comprehensive description of God’s love for us. We will take a step toward understanding it through the definition I am suggesting here. I will begin with a question.
How would you “define” a diamond?
I bet you have never been asked to do that. We are only asked to describe diamonds, never to define them. When I was in London I remember gazing in amazement at the various displays of jewels imbedded in the crowns of previous kings and queens of England, fabulous diamonds alongside rubies and emeralds and gems I cannot even name. Later, I made a few feeble attempts to describe those truly splendid displays, but I never tried to define them. I was giving “descriptions” not “definitions”.
God’s love for us in this Covenantal setting is like those English crowns – a Many Splendored Thing.
While I recognize the difficulty in defining something as “many splendored” as the COVENANT OF GRACE, I believe there is value in making the effort. I commend to you Dr. O. Palmer Robertson’s definition which he gives in his book, THE CHRIST OF THE COVENANTS*1. He uses the entire first chapter of his book to develop his definition, showing that the word cannot mean “testament” as Dr. J. Barton Payne*2 proposed, nor can it mean a kind of “dynastic succession document” or “suzerainty treaty” as Dr. Meredith Kline*3 argued. Robertson concludes with this very simple definition:
A COVENANT IS A BOND-IN-BLOOD SOVEREIGNLY ADMINISTERED.*4
Though Robertson comments that this is “like asking for a definition of ‘mother’”, he suggests this definition. It seems to me that it qualifies as Biblical and it certainly fits the requirement for brevity. So thank you Dr. Robertson for your book! I have used it often when I teach or preach about the Covenant in recent years, occasionally referring to your definition.
While recognizing the real value of this definition, however, I prefer a more lengthy version. My definition is in full harmony with Dr. Robertson’s but simply amplifies it, incorporating elements found both in later chapters of his book and in other studies I have done on the COVENANT over the years. My definition is based on the entire Bible, promises found in the Old Testament and then fulfilled in the New Testament:
The COVENANT OF GRACE is God’s promise to fallen man to lovingly restore us to glory through the redemptive work of our lord jesus christ.
Yes, this is a bit too long for a good definition. It may qualify more as a “description”, as I suggested above. Sorry, but I must define the Covenant in this way. I am compelled to get all of this even into a definition simply because of the sheer “splendor” of this “many splendored thing.”
The wonderful fact about the COVENANT is that it is a product of the love of God both for lost sinners and for struggling saints. This is what makes it just too grand for a brief definition. The Gospel itself unfolds from this definition. Then the gospel breathes the life-giving love of God into our lives through this splendid wonder of God: His COVENANT OF GRACE. Perhaps it is also helpful to notice that the Covenant and the love of God are so closely intertwined that you cannot really define one without including the other.
It is also important to recognize Genesis 3:15 as the first expression of GOD’S COVENANT OF GRACE. Some Godly scholars fail to see this, primarily because the word “covenant” is not used in this text. Many careful students of scripture, however, see this text as God’s initial statement of the COVENANT. I will postpone fuller development of this important fact until later in our study, but it is valuable to note at this point that GOD’S COVENANT develops out of Genesis 3:15. Then the Covenant simply adds other significant features as the story of our redemption unfolds. It is the beautiful story of God’s love for us.
I am proposing this definition as a means to help us develop a practical understanding of God’s love for us, a practical understanding of His Covenant of Grace at work in our lives, our marriages, our families, our churches, our entire world. In this way we can continue the process of Discovering God’s Love as we work and pray our way through this life. Notice the Revelation 21:3 text cited above in this regard.
This verse from Revelation 21 is the last specific allusion in the Bible to the Covenant. Occurring so late in scripture it is pointing to the ultimate goal of this promise, that glorious point in history when “God himself will be with them as their God.” This will be the ultimate success of the COVENANT, the moment when God will draw us into perfect communion with Himself forever. G.K. Beale appropriately calls this the “consummate blessing of God’s people”*5. God’s love for us will triumph through His COVENANT OF GRACE. What a challenge just to attempt a definition! We must cry out with the Apostle Paul, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift.” II Corinthians 9:15