The Two Covenants
November 12th, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
THE TWO COVENANTS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-12-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Two Covenants. In our preaching through the Book of Galatians, we are in the last verses of chapter 4, and these are the inspired words:
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Hagar.
For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
But Jerusalem which is from above is free, which is the mother of us all.
For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath a husband.
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuteth him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
Nevertheless what saith the Scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.
So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
The difference between law and grace is the difference between up and down, east and west, light and dark, fire and water. God hath made it so. Yet seemingly there is a propensity, a weakness, a depravity in human nature that forever fails in its understanding of the difference. It is like two gods in a pantheon and both of them are worshiped by the spiritual unknowing.
Among the Hebrew people there was a little Jewish congregation who had come into the knowledge of Christ and had been saved. And yet, as Christian Hebrews they were contemplating going back under all of the rituals, and ceremonies, and blood sacrifices of the ancient law. And that is why in the New Testament we have that letter to the Hebrews.
It was an appeal on the part of the inspired author to keep the little Jewish church in the grace of Christ, trusting just in Him and not to merit salvation unto the works of the law. And as though that were not enough, here in this instance are heathen, pagan Gentiles who were wondrously saved out of their idolatry by just trusting in Jesus, and yet these Gentile Christians in Galatia are about to apostasize and to seek their favor in the presence of God by their own works, to commend themselves to the Lord by keeping laws, and obediences, and rituals, and ceremonies, and observances. And that is why this polemic, this letter to the Galatians; an appeal that they stay in the merit and favor and grace of Christ, and not seeking salvation through their own good works.
And what we see in that little Jewish congregation, to whom the letter to the Hebrews was addressed, and what we see in these churches in the Roman province of Galatia, we also see everywhere in modern Christendom today, as through the centuries past. Those who have been saved, who have found life and liberty in Christ, seemingly always have a tendency to go back to the works of the law that they might be commended to the favor of God by their good deeds. They will observe rituals, ceremonies, seasons, days, commandments, obediences in order that they might find themselves acceptable in the sight of God.
Now Paul, in writing about that and inveighing against it, uses an allegory, as he calls it, in the life of Abraham: Abraham and Sarah and Isaac; Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael [Galatians 4:21-26]. And he says that that historical occurrence, back there in the Book of Genesis, is an allegory of the spiritual truth of the difference between grace and law in our lives. Now, to remind us of the story; in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, Abraham came before God and said:
Thou hast promised a son to me, and to Sarah, out of our loins, out of our blood; one born in our home. Yet the years and the years and the years have passed, and this Eliezer of Damascus is the heir in mine house. And Thou hast given me no son. And the Lord God took Abraham out under the starry skies at the night, and said, Count for Me that infinitude of stars that look down from heaven. And God said to Abraham, So shall thy seed be, from one born out of thy loins and from the womb of Sarah. And Abraham believed God; and it was accounted to him for righteousness, trusting in God for the child of promise.
That is Genesis 15.
Genesis 16 is this. As the years continued to pass and Abraham now is eighty and six years of age, and Sarah is now seventy and six years of age, Sarah has given up hope. So she comes to Abraham and says––and this is a part of the depraved custom of the day––Sarah says to him, “My slave girl, Hagar, this Egyptian, I shall place her in your bosom, and she shall be your wife. And maybe God will give us a son by her, by Hagar, by this slave woman” [Genesis 16:1-2]. Abraham demurred, but Sarah pressed it. So Abraham took the slave woman to wife, and there was born to them a son whom they called Ishmael [Genesis 16:3-4, 15]. That is the sixteenth chapter of Genesis.
The seventeenth chapter of Genesis; when Abraham is ninety and nine years of age, and when Sarah is eighty-nine years of age, the Lord God visits Abraham and says, “This child of promise is to be given into your arms, born of Sarah your wife” [Genesis 17:16]. And Abraham laughs, and he says, “Shall a man who is a hundred years old have a child? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, give birth to a son?” [Genesis 17:17]. And God says, “Nothing is too hard for the Lord” [Genesis 18:14].
And according to the time of life, when Abraham was a hundred years old, and Sarah was ninety years old, Isaac was born, whom they called Laughter, Isaac [Genesis 21:2-3]. And as the days passed, when Isaac was weaned, Abraham made a great feast upon the occasion, and Sarah saw Ishmael, who is then sixteen years of age, mocking, and ridiculing, and deriding little Isaac [Genesis 21:8-9]. So Sarah said to Abraham, “This slave woman and her son shall not stay in this household, neither shall he find an inheritance with my son. Cast out the bondwoman and her son; he shall not be a fellow heir with my son Isaac” [Genesis 21:10].
So according to the providences of God and the acquiescence of the Lord, Hagar the slave woman was cast out, and her son [Genesis 21:12-14]. And Isaac, the child of promise, became the sole heir in the family of Abraham.
Now Paul uses that story, and he says, “Which things are an allegory; for these are the two covenants. Hagar represents Sinai and the law. She is a slave and her son is a bondsman. But Sarah represents Calvary and the grace of God who is free. And her son is the heir and is free” [Galatians 4:22-26].
So Hagar represents the law. She is a slave in the household. And after the passing of the years and the years, she is still a slave. And after the passing of the years and the years, her duties are still the same. She is still working. She is still striving. She is still a bondswoman and so are her children.
Thus it is, Paul says, with those who seek their salvation by the works of the flesh, by doing good, by observances, by rituals, by ceremonies, by things that commend them to the favor of God. They work, and they work, and they work, and at the end of a lifetime they are still striving and they are still working. They are slaves under the law. For all the good they do, they should have done. And when they come to the end of the way, they still must strive because, “This do and thou shalt live” [Deuteronomy 4:1]; and if you fail in it, thou shalt die.” There is no more rigorous taskmaster than the law; for it drives, and it drives, and it drives. And the poor sinner goes round, and round, and round, and round and still never knows whether he’s done it good enough in order to be saved.
I think of Samson, with his eyes put out, blind, and his hands bound, and he grinds at the prison mill, round and round and round [Judges 16:21]. And I can hear the taskmaster with that whiplash, “Faster, faster, harder, harder.” So it is the law, driving the poor sinner and when you ask him, “Are you saved?” he replies, “I don’t know.” And when time comes for him to die, you ask him, “Are you saved?” And he says, “I don’t know. Was I good enough? Did I observe the rituals just right? Did I obey the injunctions and the commandments fully and completely?” Are you saved? And he says, “I don’t know.” He never knows! Ah, what a rigorous taskmaster is the law; Hagar, the slave woman, all her life a slave [Galatians 4:23-30].
And her children, represented by Ishmael, are also bondsmen. Look at Ishmael. He’s the older. He’s the firstborn, and that is the way it is in our lives. First, when we are born we are introduced to the disciplines of life. The child must be trained. He is no different than a slave, than a servant and a bondsmen. He must be guided and disciplined. He must be taught all of those rigorous things, without which the child is undisciplined.
We are first under paidagōgoi, under tutors, and under governors [Galatians 4:1-2]. Ishmael is the older. He is also the bigger, and the rougher, and the tougher. As the Book of Genesis says, “Ishmael shall be a wild man; his hands shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him” [Genesis 16:12]. He is rough, and he is tough; for the law is inexorable and impersonal.
When they found a man picking up sticks on the Sabbath day, the law says, “He shall be stoned to death.” And they took him outside the camp and stoned him to death. That’s the law. Mercy, forgiveness, loving kindness, understanding, sympathy is something else; that’s grace. But the law is impersonal and inexorable. “Stone him to death,” and they stoned him to death [Numbers 15:32-36].
When Achan was found with his family, hiding those garments and those wedges of gold and silver from the spoil of Jericho, the law said, “Stone them to death.” And Achan and his wife and his children were taken outside the camp and were stoned to death [Joshua 7:24-25]. When the woman in sin was brought before Jesus, the Pharisees rightly said, “The law says she must be stoned to death” [John 8:5]. That is the law.
Ishmael is rough, and tough, and big. That is the law. Ishmael was also a child of the flesh; he is of this world. He is, as Paul says, “of the Jerusalem which now is under the law” [Galatians 4:25]. A man who seeks to commend himself to God by good works gets his reward. God never fails to pay him off, He does. When the Pharisee stands praying to be seen of men, verily he has his reward. That’s what he wanted, that’s what he gets. When the Pharisee gave an order to be commended of men, blowing trumpets to call attention to it, he got what he wanted.
God never fails to pay off. But when he’s paid off, he’s dismissed! He’s a slave, he’s a servant, he works and God pays the wage. He’s a child of the flesh, he’s a child of this world, he’s a child of the Jerusalem that now is [Galatians 4:25]. This is the old covenant, and this is the way that men seek to save themselves by commending themselves to God.
“Sarah and Isaac belong to the Jerusalem which is free, which is above, and which is the mother of us all” [Galatians 4:23, 26]. For you see, God purposed, not that the promise, the blessing, should come through Abraham and Hagar and Ishmael, slaves, servants, workers—God purposed that the blessing should come through Sarah and through Isaac, through trust, through faith, and through grace [Galatians 4:22-26].
Though in our lives, the first is the law. As children we are disciplined, we are taught, we are trained, and sometimes that with a vigorous hand. Though in our lives the law is first, yet in God’s purpose, in His mercy and grace, always the loving kindness of the remembrance and forgiveness of God was always first, from the beginning!
Christ was the Lamb slain from the beginning of the foundation of the earth [Revelation 13:8]. It was the purpose of God that the man that He made [Genesis 2:7], should be saved in His mercy, and in His grace, and in His forgiveness. For four hundred years before the law, before Moses, God saved Abraham by grace, by faith: “For Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” [Genesis 15:5-6]. And all through the unfolding of the revelation of the heart and mind of the Almighty, that was always it! When Adam fell [Genesis 3:1-6], God foreseeing it, provided an atoning, loving sacrifice; in type and in symbol, in the shed blood of an innocent animal, the skins of which covered their nakedness [Genesis 3:21]: a picture of the atoning death of the Seed of promise in Christ Jesus our Lord!
And Sarah is always free [Galatians 4:23-30]. And she is always by the side of Abraham. She is never cast out. If you go to Hebron today, after these thousands of years, there will you see the tomb of Abraham and the tomb of Sarah, side by side; for these thousands of years, and forever, Abraham and Sarah, the free woman who is never a slave. And their child is a child of promise [Genesis 18:9-14], a representative and a type of the children of God by faith, by trust, by casting themselves upon the mercies of the Lord. Look at him. His birth is miraculous [Genesis 21:1-8].
Whoever saw a man a hundred years of age, whoever saw a woman ninety years of age give birth to a little son? His birth is miraculous [Genesis 21:1-8]. He is a child of promise [Galatians 4:23]. God said it and God did it! So it is with the children of the Lord, by faith, by grace, they are all miraculously born. They are not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God! [John 1:13].
All of the training in the world, all of the discipline in the world, all of the culture in the world, all of it together cannot produce the miracle of the birth of an Isaac. It is something God does. So it is with the children of grace and the children of Christ; all of them are born, in the love and mercy of God, into the kingdom of our Lord [John 3:3, 7]. We didn’t work for it. We didn’t deserve it. We weren’t good enough for it. It is something God did for us [Titus 3:5].
Paul writes of it so powerfully in the second chapter of Ephesians: for we hath God quickened, made alive, made anew, who were dead in trespasses and in sins; and when we were dead in sins God quickened us in Christ [Ephesians 2:1]. “For by grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God, not of works” [Ephesians 2:8-9], not something that a man deserves, lest he say, I did it. Look at me, I deserve it [Ephesians 2:9]. No, the man is saved by bowing, by confessing, by repenting, by casting himself upon the loving kindness and the goodness of God [Ephesians 2:8-9].
O Lord, the sin in my life, and the undeserving waywardness; O God, the mistakes, the depravity, the lack, the loss, it attends me every day in everything I do. Lord, for Jesus’ sake, remember me. For Jesus’ sake, save me. O Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner [Luke 18:13].
And when the man does that, he is saved, he is born again, he is a new creation [2 Corinthians 5:27]. The Holy Spirit borns him by promise, by faith, into the kingdom of God. It is a miracle. It is something God does. And not only that, but he is an heir of the Lord. He is an heir of God [Romans 8:17].
“So then, brethren, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free” [Galatians 4:30-31]. And as the children of the free woman, we are heirs with Christ, joint heirs with our blessed Lord [Romans 8:1-17]. We are sons, sons, sons [Romans 8:14]. God doesn’t take us as though we were ex-convicts and ex-criminals, and we are there in the sufferance of the Lord, we’re there just barely tolerated! No. We come into the kingdom forgiven, as though we have never sinned, and we are sons [Romans 8:16]. As the father welcomed the prodigal boy, “Come, come, let us be merry, let us sing; for this my boy was dead, and is alive again, he was lost and is found. Bring the best robe. Bring the ring for his finger, and shoes for his feet. This is my son” [Luke 15:22-24].
That is God’s gracious invitation to us. “Not by works of righteousness we have done, but according to His grace and His mercy does the Lord save us” [Titus 3:5]. Oh come! Come, come.
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you wait till you are better,
You will never come at all.
I will arise and go to Jesus;
He will embrace me in His arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.
[from “Come ye Sinners Poor and Needy,” William Walker, 1835]
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
Come unto Me and rest
Lay down, thou weary one,
Lay down thy head upon My breast
I came to Jesus as I was
Weary and worn and sad
I found in Him a resting place,
And He hath made me glad.
[“I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” Horatio Bonar. 1864]
That’s how it is God saves us, in faith [Ephesians 2:8], in trust, believing God [Acts 30:15-16]. And our faith, our trust is counted for righteousness [Galatians 3:6-7, 11].
We don’t commend ourselves. Jesus commends us [Matthew 10:32]. Never good enough are we, but He is. And in His grace, and mercy, and love, and divine forgiveness [Ephesians 1:7] we are accepted into the household of God as sons, as fellow heirs [Romans 8:16-17]. Come, come, come.
In this moment that we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, in the balcony round, you, the press of people on this lower floor, you, accepting the invitation of God to be a son in His kingdom, a daughter in His household, come. Down one of these stairways; there’s time and to spare; into this aisle, down to the front: “Pastor, today, I make that decision for our Lord, and I’m coming.” A family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, while we prayerfully, earnestly sing this hymn of appeal, on the first note of that first stanza, into the aisle or down one of these stairways and to the front: “Here I am, pastor. Here I come.” Make the decision now in your heart, and when we stand up, stand up walking down that aisle. “Here I am, pastor, here I come.” Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. God has made the
tremendous distinction between grace and law
a tendency for those saved by grace to go back and seek merit and salvation
through works of the law
C. Paul’s effort to
distinguish between the two
Uses allegory – story of Sarah and Isaac and Hagar and Ishmael(Genesis 15:1-6, 16:1-16, 17:1-19, 21:9)
a. The two women are
types of the two covenants – law and grace
b. The two sons are
types of those who live under each covenant
II. Hagar – symbolic of Mt. Sinai and
covenant of works(Galatians 4:24-25)
A. She is a slave; her
children are slaves
B. Represents those who
seek to be saved by their works
like a man at a treadmill keeping the law (Judges 16:30)
and works and works, and dies a slave
III. Ishmael – the type of the legalists
A. He is the older son
– so we all are born of the flesh first
be disciplined, taught, trained by the law
B. He is bigger,
rougher, tougher(Genesis 16:12)
law is impersonal, inexorable; knows nothing of grace(Numbers 15:32-36)
C. Born of the flesh,
and as such he gets his reward
IV. Sarah – symbolic of covenant of grace
A. The original plan
is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world
were elected and loved long before we fell(Genesis
was never a slave
V. Isaac – symbol of the New Jerusalem
A. The miracle of his
B. A son, freeborn –
the inheritance was his
are as loved and welcomed as God’s Son into the family
a. The prodigal(Luke 15:22-29)
b. Hymn, “Come, Ye
by works, but according to His mercy (Titus 3:5)