A Transcript Of The Video Study
In our previous studies, I have highlighted the importance of reading the Bible against the backdrop of a timeline. There are three main divisions of a biblical timeline—the first 2,000 years, between the creation of the world and the birth of Abraham, which are focused on the Gentiles; the second 2,000 years, between the birth of Abraham and the birth of Christ, which are focused on the Jews; the third 2,000 years, between the birth of Christ and our present day, which are focused on the Jews and Gentiles. I have also explained the significance of the Jewish people—they have ended as a nation, never to be restored, but they continue as a race to this day. Well, this leads us to the broader question, What Is The Leading Message Of The Bible?
The message of the Bible can be reduced to a single idea—testament. Now, you’re familiar with the word testament. It is the label given to the first and second parts of the Bible—the Old Testament and the New Testament. Another word that is used interchangeably with the term testament is covenant. We could call the first and second parts of the Bible, the Old and New Covenants. Covenant—that is the central message of the Bible.
What exactly is a covenant? A covenant is an agreement between two or more persons, with certain obligations binding them together. The significance of a covenant is usually overlooked. Did you know, every relationship is based upon the authority of some type of covenant? A relationship cannot exist without the authority of a covenant. Whether it be the relationship between husband and wife, or between parents and children, or between brothers and sisters, or between best friends—every relationship is based upon the authority of some type of covenant. What is more, relational conflict is the result of violating the obligations of that covenant which binds those people together. If, for instance, there is conflict between husband and wife, it is always the result of the husband and/or wife violating their obligations towards each other within their marriage covenant. Likewise, if there is conflict between a child and his/her parents, it is always the result of either the parents failing to discharge their parental duties towards their child, or, the child failing to fulfill his/her obligations towards his/her dad and mom.
And so, the message of the Bible is centered on this idea of a covenant. It is on the basis of a covenant that the human race is given the authority to have a relationship with God. The scriptures highlight two perpetual covenants under which members of the human race are in relationship to or with God. Allow me to explain this against the backdrop of something called the Framework of Sovereign Grace.
You are familiar with a timeline. Well, the TriUne Jehovah, the Lord God, exists outside of the timeline. He is eternal. Time is part of God’s creative works, whereas eternity is an attribute of the Godhead. You often hear people speak about eternity past, eternity present and eternity future. There is no such thing. To speak of eternity in terms of time is to conflate the autonomy of the self-existent and eternal God with the dependency of the created universe. Time and eternity are entirely separate. Henceforth, it is best to view the time continuum as existing under the sovereign reign of the eternal God.
It is from eternity that the TriUne Jehovah drew up His masterplan for the ages. It began with God the Father, envisioning the entire human race, out from which He set apart some persons as special objects of His love, identified in Scripture as His elect people, or, vessels of honor; and setting aside the other members of the human race as objects of less love, identified as the non-elect, or, vessels of dishonor.
The Father then determined how He would bring the human race into existence. He would set in motion the time continuum and create the world which would serve as the habitation for the elect and the non-elect. It pleased the Father to establish with the first man, Adam, a covenant of works, on behalf of the human race, which would serve as the authority upon which humans would be in relationship to God. The obligations binding upon humans, under the covenant of works, is a twofold law inscribed upon their hearts—first, to love God supremely; second, to love one’s neighbor as himself. If humans transgress these laws, then the covenant of works is violated, and humans are made subject to the wrath and condemnation of God. And, that is precisely what has happened. Adam, by transgressing the law inscribed upon his heart, not only brought upon himself the wrath and condemnation of God, but also brought sin, wrath and condemnation upon all his posterity. Henceforth, the entire human race, the elect and the non-elect, are conceived in sin and shaped in iniquity, spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. They come into this world in an unregenerate condition. However, while they do not have a relationship WITH God, yet they remain in a relationship TO Him, for they are subject to their Maker and Lawgiver under the authority of the covenant of works.
It then pleased the Father, now viewing the human race in sin, to leave the non-elect to themselves, making them vessels of wrath, and vessels of wood and earth, and fitting them to destruction. However, since the Father had already obligated Himself to the elect, having set His love upon them, He devised a of plan salvation to deliver His elect people from their sins, and to satisfy justice and to appease His wrath. It was a twofold plan of salvation. First, the Father gave His elect people to His Son, appointing Him to serve as their Mediator and Redeemer. The Son of God received the elect unto Himself, setting His love upon them, and agreeing to redeem them in the fulness of time. It is in this way God the Father is just and the justifier of the ungodly—the Father has freely justified His elect people by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, thereby making them vessels of mercy. Second, the Father and the Son gave their Elect people to the Spirit, appointing Him to serve as their Sanctifier. The Spirit of God received these elect and redeemed persons to Himself, setting His love upon them, and agreeing to sanctify them at the appointed time throughout the course of history. The work of sanctification begins when the Holy Spirit effectually regenerates the souls of each and every sinner given to Him by the Father and the Son, thereby making him/her a vessel of gold and silver. And, it is in this way that the Father has prepared His elect people unto glory. And let me make it clear, when the elect sinner is born again, it is at that time he/she is made alive unto God through his/her spiritual union with the Lord Jesus Christ, and is enabled to exercise saving faith and godly repentance. It is at that time, the regenerate sinner is experientially delivered from the authority of the covenant of works, and liberated from the obligations of the heart law, and is brought under the authority of the covenant of grace, and made subject to the blessings of the gospel law. What is the gospel law? It is none other than the regenerate sinner’s spiritual union with Christ.
Now, what I have just explained to you is called the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace is the agreement drawn up by the three Persons of the Godhead, from eternity, with certain obligations binding on each of them, for the salvation of their elect people. On the one hand, the covenant of grace is conditional—it is conditional upon the Father’s electing love, and the Son’s redeeming grace and the Spirit’s sanctifying power. On the other hand, the covenant of grace is unconditional—for there are no obligations binding upon the elect sinner in order to become a partaker of this gracious covenant. All of the obligations are binding upon the TriUne Jehovah, each Person of the Godhead discharging those obligations for, and on behalf of, and in their elect people.
This, my friends, is God’s masterplan for the ages. And so, what is the leading message of the Bible? In a single word, the central message of the Bible may be reduced to the term covenant. In a single sentence, the leading message of the Bible may be set forth as the administration of God’s grace in the lives of the elect and the non-elect throughout the course of history. The word grace simply refers to the favor and good will of God. And it is important to understand, God has a favor and good will towards everything He has made. There is a common grace of God towards the entire human race as He is the Creator and Lawgiver. It is in this sense that God is administering His grace unto the non-elect—He is administering His common grace unto creation to them. Just as He feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field, so He blesses the non-elect with food and allows them to enjoy richly the many blessings and comforts of this world. And such is His common grace, that He endures with much long-suffering the non-elect, allowing them to live long lives on this earth, granting them a stay of execution, for it is appointed unto men once to die, but after that the judgment, and it is to destruction they have ultimately been fitted. On the other hand, there is a special grace of God unto salvation designed for the elect, as He is their Redeemer and Sanctifier. He not only bestows upon them the same common grace given to the non-elect, for He is also their Creator and Lawgiver, but He also bestows upon them a special grace that is designed only for them. It is a saving grace, sovereign grace, covenant of grace.
And you see, while reading through the Bible, this is the message you are witnessing unfold from page to page. Every person recorded in the pages of the Old and New Testaments is either an administration of God’s common grace unto creation, or, an administration of God’s special grace unto salvation. Every unregenerate sinner is accountable to God under the authority of the covenant of works and subject to the heart law, whereas every regenerate sinner is accountable to God under the authority of the covenant of grace and subject to the gospel law. These are the two perpetual covenants running throughout the course of history, and they are the key to understanding the leading message of the Bible. And of course, God has designed His Word to be a mirror, insomuch that what we see revealed in the scriptures, discloses what is true of ourselves. Henceforth, the main point of application when reading the Bible is this: To which of these groups do I belong—am I under the authority of the covenant of works, dead in trespasses and sins; or, am I under the authority of the covenant of grace, made alive unto God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus? That, my friends, is the leading message and ultimate application of the Bible.
Jared Smith served twenty years as pastor of a Strict and Particular Baptist church in Kensington (London, England). He now serves as an Evangelist in the Philippines, preaching the gospel, organizing churches and training gospel preachers.