After reading through some modern works defending alternative “covenant theologies” (Denault and the like), I am always left wondering how the saving work of Christ was administered or dispensed to the saints of the Old Testament on these alternative terms?
We all agree, I presume, that there were many saved saints in the Old Testament. We would also agree that all who ever have been or will be saved, were saved by the work of Christ through faith. We read in the New Testament:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)
Therefore he [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)
But how was this saving work of Christ administered or dispensed to the saints of the Old Testament?
Before He came in the flesh, was crucified, and resurrected, there was no formula to be taken upon the lips and believed in the heart such as the following:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:5)
There was no Baptism into the Triune God, as in the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations—no formula of the form,
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)
Or no prescribed means of putting on Christ:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)
Nor was there the administration of the Lord’s Supper to participate in His flesh and blood, wherein it is said,
“Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)
Nor was there the Office of the Keys, opening or closing the Kingdom of Christ to them. Yet the Old Testament saints were nevertheless saved just as we are, by the saving work of Christ and faith in Him.
Traditional Reformed Covenant Theology has answered this question by arguing that the one work of Christ has been (and is) applied to those who are Christ’s, but was administered or dispensed differently in the Old Covenant than in the New. The Old Covenant itself was an administration of the one saving work of Christ just as is the New Covenant. Chapter VII of the Westminster Confession of Faith explains well:
III. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.
IV. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.
V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.
VI. Under the Gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.
So I ask those who reject Traditional Reformed Covenant Theology: if the one saving work of Christ is the only salvation of the Old Testament people as well as the New, how was it administered or dispensed to them? We know the righteousness they had was by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ just as for us, “for the just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4). But what was the content of their faith in the Old Testament, for surely faith without actual content is nothing at all. So, what was the direct, immediate, real-time content of their faith? What were the actual promises given that were to be believed—that is, what was the preached Gospel to be believed in the Old Testament? What were the signs given to raise their minds to the true and everlasting fulfillment of their faith? What were the confirming sacraments of their faith? What were the warnings and sanctions for not having this faith? What were the means of confession of sin and what the access to atonement? What was the system of discipline guarding this faith? What was the actual worship required in accordance with this faith? Etc.
In what other way could the saving work of Christ have been administered or dispensed than “by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews”, viz., in what other way than by the Old Covenant itself?
Was the saving work of Christ somehow administered mystically, with no specific words, sacraments, or structures, as if Christ were applied to the saints of old in spite of the Old Covenant, without them even really knowing, placing their hope in merely ethnic, national, and earthly covenantal promises? In short, how do those who reject the one Covenant of Grace in Christ, for all time, under two Administrations (the Old and the New) explain this?
We believe that the saving work of Christ was truly administered or dispensed to the faithful in the Old Testament through the Promise of the Seed, the Promise of the Land, through Circumcision, the Sacrifices, the Law itself, and through Prophecy; and these were all “sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation”. It is my intention in the following series of brief posts to demonstrate, from the Scripture, that Christ was indeed sufficiently and efficaciously administered through each of these promises and institutions of the Old Covenant; that is, that the Old Covenant itself administered Christ to the saints of old.
“For the good news came to us just as to them…” (Heb. 4:2)