Spiritual Robbery and the Covenant of Grace
By Bernard Timmerman
Dear Friend and Brother,
Thank you very much for writing on 14-2-12 and 4-9-12. Please forgive me for not answering your first letter. Both contained questions in regard to the covenant of grace. I thank God and thank you for asking about the covenants.
In regard to your second question, “is it not spiritual robbery to teach that the church came in the place of Israel?” I believe it is "spiritual robbery" to teach that the church has taken the place of God's chosen people - Israel. I believe this very strongly. Many teach what is called "replacement theology". With it, there is too often "anti-Semitism" or a wrong attitude toward Israel, past, present and future.
To understand the covenant of grace as it is often spoken of and written about by the Reformed and Presbyterians, we must also ask, what did God promise in the way they teach? I have found that they almost all differ in their understanding, yet in the main they have one thing in common that they see the covenant of grace in that which was given to Abraham in the covenant of circumcision. In Genesis 17:7 we read, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” They do differ on what God promises to them and their children but agree that this is their basis for infant sprinkling.
God gave to Abraham and to Israel more than one covenant or promise twenty four years before God gave the covenant of circumcision. God gave Abram another covenant or promise in Genesis 12:3, “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed”. This is repeated in Genesis 22:18 and also repeated to Isaac and Jacob. (Referred to in Acts 3:25,26 and Galatians 3:8,17) Genesis 12:3 is more than any another covenant truly a covenant of grace, but seemingly not noticed. Later God gave other covenants to Israel in Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5:2. Still later God said, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah not according to the covenant that I made with the fathers in the day that I took them out of Egypt which my covenant they brake.” Jeremiah 31:31b, 32a. There also were times of renewing the covenant. Deuteronomy 9:15. The true understanding of this covenant of grace must begin with God redeeming a people through Christ. He is doing it in plan and application and the elect receive it and become believers with Abraham. Galatians 3:29: Romans 4:3,16.
There are many examples in scripture. Paul uses two in Romans 4, Abraham and David. We can see it also in Acts 2 of God’s plan and promises are taking place. The promise in Acts 2:38,39 is for us and our children, not by natural birth but by the working of the word and Spirit. The new birth, which is the application of the new covenant, all of grace. John 1:12,13; Romans 9:7,8; Galatians 3:26.
Let me stop here for a moment by trying to explain or show or prove the covenant of grace. The words "covenant of grace" are not found in the bible. The word covenant is found several times as well as the word grace but not together as we often hear and read them. I do believe, like the word trinity for the three persons of the Godhead is used, we can state there is a covenant of grace. Many, many would say they believe in the covenant of grace but not many rightly understand what is meant by that term or who is included in it.
Was it given to Israel? If it was, when and what was covenanted or promised by it? Many that claim to believe in the covenant of grace do not agree what is meant by it or how it applies both to Israel and the church. That difference sometimes manifests itself in, as you state it, "spiritual robbery". With many people the covenant of circumcision and the covenant of grace are thought of as one. I have asked professors who spoke of the covenant of grace to give me some texts of scripture to show the "covenant of grace" as a doctrine taught in scripture. One, that didn't give me an answer said, "I will write you a letter". He did and gave me Genesis 17:7, God's promise to Abraham when He gave him the covenant of circumcision. This is quite usual for the Reformed. One student, while being examined for the ministry was asked, "What is the covenant of grace?' He replied, "the covenant made with Abraham”. It is often thought of as with us and our children as with Abraham. Genesis 17:7
My answer to the question, "What is the covenant of grace?" in regard to proof texts (not a detailed explanation) but I believe the best place to begin would be Galatians 3:17. I write it carefully even slowly because there is so much to state and write. Read Paul's inspired words to the Galatian churches and to us. "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." In this scripture, we have the word covenant. A covenant made of God in Christ. It gives the time made, four hundred and thirty years before the law given in Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments. That law could not disannul or make void this covenant given earlier. The time it was given was when God called Abraham and gave him the promise or as here stated, "the covenant", "in thee or in thy seed shall all families of the earth be blessed". Genesis 12:3. Truly a covenant of grace.
Paul writes in Galatians 3:8, "to Abraham was the gospel preached”, referring to those same wonderful words. That promise or covenant was repeated to Abraham after he showed a willingness to offer Isaac (Genesis 22:18) and again to Isaac (Genesis 26:4b) and later to Jacob (Genesis 28:14b). Peter also referred to this covenant in Acts 3:20 to 26. In verse 25 we read, "ye are the children of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with our fathers saying unto Abraham, and in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed". Then, showing that great blessing in verse 26, amazing grace!
Many possibly stumble because we do not read the word covenant in Genesis 12 or 22, 26, or 28. But, according to Paul's and Peter's statements, it is the covenant of God in Christ for all families, kindreds, and nations. Not just Israel but includes Israel, "to the Jew first". (Romans 1:16)
The covenant of circumcision was for Israel in the flesh of all of Abraham’s fleshly seed. The eternal blessing in Christ, a covenant of grace, is only for the spiritual seed of Abraham. It is only for the spiritual seed of Abraham, believers in Christ. (Romans 9) As the father of believers, he was also an example to believers. (Romans 4) Galatians 3:29
The covenant of grace is I fear, hopelessly mixed because of infant baptism. Many are teaching and believing without any scriptural warrant that baptism (infant) came in the place of circumcision. They begin by using God's promise to Abraham, "I will be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee". In this, they already rob Israel, not seeing the context, "I will give unto thee and to thy seed after thee the land", etc. Genesis 17:8. They take away God's word and substitute their own way, really making it like Judaism - all the children of Abraham are his children spiritually as well as physically. Please read Matthew 3:9. If baptism came in the place of circumcision it would have almost certainly have been stated in Acts 15. Colossians 2:11-12 does not teach that that it does, as some would state. Galatians 5:2,3,4 do not show circumcision as a covenant of grace but rather a covenant under law.
Another aspect of the covenant of grace is as you asked in the first letter. "Does it refer to those in Christ?" Yes, it does. We can think of it in the words of Christ in John 6:37, "All the Father giveth me shall come to me and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." They to whom God gives or who God has chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) will be quickened or made alive, born again by the Spirit, (Ephesians 2:6) taught also by God the Spirit, (John 6:45; 16:8-14) and in-grafted into Christ. Those in the covenant of grace have Christ who died for them. This blessing is given through faith. Ephesians 2:8
All of this is the working out of the covenant of grace sometimes called the covenant of redemption - some separating the two, some not.
We can think of the covenant in Christ and all because of Christ for the whole world, promised as it is in Genesis 12, 22, 26, 28, referred to in Acts 3 and Galatians 3:8, 17. Or, we can think of it in its plan before the foundation of the world. God predestinated us unto adoption (Ephesians 1:4, 11; Romans 8:29) or we can also think of and understand it in light of Romans 8:30, "those whom he did predestinate, them he also called and whom he called them he also justified". In the covenant of grace God planned (Ephesians 1), God promised (Genesis 12), God called and justified. (Romans 8:30) Christ paid the price. (1 Corinthians 15:1-3) God applying, Acts 2:38,39,41; 3:26; Ephesians 2:5-10. “Even as many as the Lord our God shall call”. Acts 2:39. Those are ones truly called and saved.
Is it any wonder that the one on whom all of this is built is rightly called the only foundation for our faith and named Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever. (I Corinthians 3:11; Hebrews 13:8) Planned in eternity, promised in time, sent in the fullness of time (Galatians 4) lived, died on the cross , made a curse for us (Galatians 3:13) rose again, ascended up to heaven, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. God said, sit on my right hand until I make thy enemies thy footstool. Paul was one of them. Thankfully, so am I, all by grace in a covenant made before the world began! All grace. (Romans 11:5-6)
Another outworking of this covenant is given in I Thessalonians 1:4-5. “Knowing your election brethren we came not in word only but in power”. When that covenant manifests itself in power, sinners are saved, redeemed, as the song states, "How I love to proclaim it!" How different than those who read when they sprinkle babies calling it baptism with these words, "for when we are baptized into the name of the Father, God the Father witnesses and seals unto us that he makes an eternal covenant of grace with us and adopts us for his children and heirs". This is wrongly based on the covenant of circumcision as stated later in the form. (Genesis 17:7) This leads to many other errors, concerning both the church and Israel. That statement in the form for infant baptism is without warrant from the scriptures. In what may be true for circumcision isn't true for baptism. Also, God does not give such a promise in the covenant of circumcision that is promised in the blessing of the covenant of grace. (Covenant of circumcision: Genesis 17:7,8; Romans 2:25) (Covenant of grace: Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:17)
There is a lack of understanding between the covenant made with Abraham in Genesis 12 and in what it does and to whom it is made, the covenant made later also with Abraham and his seed, the nation and even all his descendants including Esau who was also given a portion of the land. (Genesis 15:18; 17:7,8; Deuteronomy 2:15) Circumcision was also a seal of the righteousness of faith, a seal of Christ coming from Abraham’s seed. (Romans 4) A seal of the promise of Christ’s coming, not a promise of him to be given or sealed to everyone who is circumcised. A seal carried in the flesh but not believed in the heart by most. Romans 4:11 tells us that circumcision was a seal of the righteousness of his faith and that “righteousness” is the object and foundation for Abraham’s faith. It is Christ. There can be no righteousness from or in faith without an object. The only way Abraham, the ungodly one, could be justified was to have a godly one come and die for him.
The covenant made with Abraham's seed, not of many (Galatians 3) but of one which is Christ, is far different from the covenant made with as many as the sand of the sea and the stars of heaven. There are many temporal promises given to them all. The covenant of circumcision is seen in relation to the law, "circumcision profiteth, if thou keep the law but if thou be a breaker of the law thy circumcision is made uncircumcision". (Romans 2:25 and Galatians 5:2-3) Israel was blessed in the land promised to them to the degree they kept the law.
Not so with the covenant of God in Christ, truly a covenant of grace. "The law which was four hundred and thirty years after cannot disannul" cannot, cannot, all grace in Christ. With circumcision one must keep the law or be wiped out - perish. Do you want a baptism connected with circumcision or the covenant of God in Christ being worked out when called and justified? Galatians 3:26,27.
In regard to Israel and Judah, both are mentioned in Jeremiah 31 and again in Hebrews 8 verse 8. We read in Jeremiah 31:31, "Behold (take a look, watch!) the days come saith the Lord that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. Ezekiel speaks of making them two sticks into one stick. (Ezekiel 37:15-20) God tells through the pen of Jeremiah what this new covenant will be or will do. In verse 33b, "After those days, I will put my law in their inward parts and write it on their hearts, and will be their God and they shall be my people. Further description is given in verse 34, the surety of it and the continuation of this covenant and its blessing in verses 35-37.
We can think of two ways of the covenant of grace. One, the surety of the covenant in Christ Jesus, "this cup is the new testament or covenant in my blood" (Luke 22:20), Christ Jesus being the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth. Here we have the heart of the covenant of grace - the foundation. The other, Jeremiah 31 as well as Romans 11 is the application of the covenant for Israel, yet to come. The same was given at Pentecost and later to the Gentiles and once more to be given to the Jews and others in the latter days. Romans 11:12
We also referred earlier to the application for the Gentiles or even for everyone. (John 6:37 or John 3:16; Luke 24:46,47; Ephesians 1 and 2; Romans 8:29 and 30; I Thessalonians 1:4-5; Acts 3:24-26;) and many many more.
The first fruits, in one way, is shown in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost for three thousand devout Jews who had to be and were saved by God by the covenant of grace in Christ. Later, the same blessing also was given to the Gentiles which is shown in Acts 10 and 11. "For as much then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ who am I that I could withstand God?" (Acts 11:17) Then in verse 18b, "Then hath God granted unto the Gentiles repentance unto life". All by grace, all given in covenant promise for both Jews and Gentiles. All true believers in Christ are saints, fellow citizens (Ephesians 2:19) with the household of God, the saints of Israel, the remnant according to the election of grace. (Romans 11:5) The whole number of circumcised ones is as the sand of the sea, but only a remnant shall be saved. (Romans 9:27) They and they only, not they and their children. John 1:12,13; Romans 9:8,13. These, the remnant with other saints of the Gentiles, are the ones in the covenant of grace. (Ephesians 2:8)
All the Jews had great advantage and privilege, Romans 3:1-3. The children of believers also have a great privilege and a great responsibility. Parents are told to bring their children up in the fear and nurture of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4. Jonathan Edwards rightly wrote that children of believers though privileged are on the path to hell until they are converted, saved through the preaching of repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
All the Jews were to be circumcised, all promised the land then and now but not promised salvation, or remission of sin, or the gift of the Holy Spirit as with baptism. Acts 2:38,41. The first son circumcised with Abraham his firstborn, circumcised the same day but did not have the blessing described in Galatians 3:27, “for as many of you have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Some might say this was the baptism of the Spirit. Even so, Ishmael did not receive that blessing. Those who had the blessing of the Spirit’s baptism do also want to be baptized, as we read of with the Ethiopian, “What doth hinder me to be baptized”. Acts 8:36; 2:41. Ishmael sadly did not have the blessing of his father. Galatians 3:29, “If ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” The promise given in Genesis 12:3 and referred to in Galatians 3:8,17. Read the sad words of Abraham’s son in Galatians 4:29, “He who was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit”. Ishmael carried the seal in his flesh but did not have Christ in his heart. Circumcision yes, the covenant of grace, no. They are not the same.
Pray that we might understand this soon, even speedily. Luke 18 verse 1, “men ought always to pray and not to faint” Verse 7, “and shall not God avenge his own elect which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long time with them? I tell you he will avenge them speedily.” Suddenly. II Chronicles 29:36.
"Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory forever and ever.” Hebrews 13:20,21
Is it any wonder that Christ said, your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Because of that, "to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
The Church, believing these truths wrongly and others not believing with them, has brought death to many, persecution to others and much anti-Semitism. Daniel prayed, “to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes and to our fathers because we have sinned against thee.” We must believe and pray the same so that we might be one as Christ and the Father are one, that the world will know that the Father hath sent Christ. John 17:11, 21,22,23