The Covenants of Salvation
May 23rd, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
THE COVENANTS OF SALVATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-23-82 8:15 a.m.
And God bless the great host of you who are listening to this hour on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message. It has been announced that the message would be entitled Concerning Covenants and Dispensations. It is the first in the series in the great doctrinal studies of the Bible on salvation, on soteriology. They will be eminently, preeminently evangelistic, sermons on how God saves us and how we can be saved. But I could not begin to encompass in these hours, if I had hours, the presentation of God’s revelation concerning covenants and dispensations. I had hoped to; I couldn’t begin to do it. I have narrowed the subject down, therefore, to The Covenants of Salvation. And the reading of the Scripture is in Galatians chapter 4, beginning at verse 21. Galatians, Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia, chapter 4, beginning at verse 21:
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 handmaid, by a slave, the other by a freewoman.
But he who was of the bondwoman, of the slave, 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 Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, to slavery, which is represented by Hagar the slave.
For this Hagar, this slave, is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in slavery with her children.
But Jerusalem which is above all is free, which is the mother of us all,
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
As then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
Nevertheless what saith the Scripture? Cast out the slave and her son: for the son of the slave shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.
So then, brethren, we are not children of the slave, but of the free.
Paul is avowing there that he finds in the story of Hagar and Sarah an allegory of the two covenants of salvation: the covenant of the law of works, the old covenant; and the covenant of grace.
The story is familiar to us. God had promised to Abraham and to Sarah a son [Genesis 15:4-5]. But the days passed, the years multiplied, Abraham became an old, old man, and Sarah became an old, old woman. And Sarah despaired, as naturally she would, that she could ever give birth to a child [Genesis 16:2]. So Sarah took her slave named Hagar, an Egyptian slave, and placed her in the bosom of Abraham; and a child of the flesh was born, named Ishmael [Genesis 16:3-16]. But God said, "I will visit you at a time appointed, and you shall have a child promised" [Genesis 18:14]. And in the goodness of God, when Abraham was a hundred years old, and Sarah was ninety years old, God gave them a child promised. His name was Isaac [Genesis 21:1-5]. And in the course of time, when Ishmael, the child of the flesh, mocked Isaac, the child of promise, Sarah said, "This slave and her child shall not stay in the household and be an heir with my son" [Genesis 21:9-10]. So Hagar the slave and her child of the flesh, Ishmael, was sent away [Genesis 21:14].
Now, Paul says in that is an allegory. An allegory is a metaphorical story. A metaphor is a figure of speech whereby you call a thing something that’s not what you’re referring to, but it resembles it. For example, the Bible is filled with metaphors. Jesus is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah [Revelation 5:5]. He is no lion; but it’s a metaphor representing the strength of this Son of David and of Judah. He is called "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world" [John 1:29]. He is no lamb; but it’s a metaphor: the atoning sacrifice of God for our sins [1 Peter 1:18-19]. Now, a metaphorical story would be a story that follows a certain line and path, but it means something else. Some of the greatest pieces of literature are allegories. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory; it tells a story, but it means something else. Spenser’s "Fairy Queen" is an allegory, one of the greatest poems in English literature. Dante’s Divine Comedy, one of the mightiest of all of the creations of the mind of a man, is an allegory.
So this allegoria – that’s a Greek word meaning "to say something but to mean something else." It’s a strange thing, that word. In Latin it’s spelled exactly like that, allegoria. In English we translate it, Anglicize it into "allegory." So Paul, reading the story in the Old Testament of Hagar and Sarah and the birth of Ishmael and Isaac, says this is an allegory: it teaches a great spiritual truth. And the truth that the apostle says the allegory teaches is this: that there are two covenants; and Hagar and her son by the flesh represents one of them, hē palai diathēkē, "the old covenant." But Sarah and her son of promise, of grace, Isaac, represents hē kainē diathēkē, "the new covenant" [Galatians 4:24-31]. If you have a Greek Bible, a Greek Testament, it’ll have that on the outside of it: hē kainē diathēkē, "the new compact, the new testament, the new covenant," diatheke. In the [third] chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul refers to hē palai diathēkē , "the old testament, the old covenant, the old compact, the old promise" [2 Corinthians 3:14-16]. Therefore, following this allegory that Paul finds in the story of Hagar and Sarah, we present this morning God’s revelation of our redemption: how we are saved [Galatians 4:31].
The first covenant, the old covenant, the covenant of the flesh is represented by Hagar and her son Ishmael. Hagar was a slave, and her son was the result of human effort, human works; he was a child of the flesh [Galatians 4:22-24]. Paul sees in that the dispensation, the covenant, the compact of the law of works. It is a slave, and its ordination, its purpose is to serve. And Paul spells it out very plainly in the third chapter of the Book of Galatians, verse 24, he says, "Wherefore the law was our paidagōgos to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified, saved by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a paidagōgos" [Galatians 3:24-25]. A paidagōgos was a slave in the Roman household, and the assignment of the paidagōgos, the slave, was to take the child and bring the child to school; and then after school, bring the child back home. Paul says this first dispensation, this first law, this first covenant is for the purpose of bringing us to Christ. The law was to bring us to Jesus [Galatians 3:24]. It’s a slave, to serve.
Now what happens, Paul says, when we’re brought to Jesus, is we are made conscious, vividly so, of our sins, of our shortcomings. In the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul teaches us that if there were no law we wouldn’t know of our sins. It’s because of the law written in stone and in our flesh that we are conscious of our sins [Romans 7:7-12]. It is a mirror held up before us to reveal to us our shortcomings. The law is represented by a slave that takes us to Jesus and that shows us our iniquities [Galatians 3:24]. Now, that first covenant, that old covenant, the Old Testament, the covenant of law is a frightful and a terrible thing in its judgments [2 Corinthians 3:6; Galatians 4:24-25]. That is well illustrated in the garden of Eden when God said to our first parents, "In the day that you transgress, in the day that you sin, in the day that you eat thereof, thou shalt surely die" [Genesis 2:17]. In one transgression, as James says in his pastoral epistle, James 2:10, "If a man keep the whole law, and offend in one part, he is guilty of all of it"; he has broken the law, and he incurs the judgment of death. The law is a terrible and a frightful thing!
A description of that is found in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews. He describes the mount on which God gave to Moses the law: and the mount burned with fire [Hebrews 12:18], and so terrible was the sight that Moses himself said, "I do exceedingly quake and tremble" [Hebrews 12:21]. And as the thunder roared, and the lightning flashed, and the fire burned, and the earthquakes shook the very foundations of the mountain, God said, "If even an animal shall touch it, it shall die" [Hebrews 12:20]. The judgment that follows the giving of the law is a frightful and a terrible thing. So God says in His Word, "The soul that sins shall surely die" [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. It is a covenant of death. God says, "The wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23]. And if a man were to keep every part of the law and offend in one, sin one time, it’s like a beautiful porcelain vessel: if it’s cracked, it’s not perfect. It’s like a chain: if one link is broken, it’s no longer a chain. So it is in the covenant of works, in the covenant of law: it ministers the terror of judgment and death.
I one time did something that burns in my heart; I’ll never forget that. In the village church that I pastored as a youth, there was a brilliant young fellow who worked in the bank in the county seat town. And the boy was smart, and he maneuvered and changed the accounting procedures in the bank and was embezzling thousands and thousands of dollars. It became, of course, a federal offense. And the young fellow was taken to the biggest city in the state. And the family asked me to stay by his side. So I went with the young fellow to appear before the federal judge to be sentenced. Well, when the boy was called up before the judge, the federal judge, you stand – I stood right there, a little to the back and to his side – and the judge, an illustrious man, had before him the indictment and the record of what the boy had done, and he read that to him. And then looking straight in the face of the lad, he asked, "Guilty or not guilty?" And the boy replied, "Guilty."
I suppose the reason that burned itself in my mind and memory through a half a century now; that’s exactly we, someday to stand before the judgment bar of Almighty God. And the Lord asks, "Guilty or not guilty?" Being guilty, there is no other reply: "Guilty." Now what amazes me – maybe it’s because I have studied the Bible and read the Bible and listen to the Word of God – what amazes me is the endless effort on the part of the flesh to justify itself by the works of the law, by keeping the law, by trying to save ourselves with our good works. And the futility of that can be easily demonstrated, and I propose to do it now.
There comes first the moral groups, and they approach the judgment bar of Almighty God. And the moral man and those moralists say, "If you want to balance my life out, put the good on this side and the bad on this side, then the good of my life outweighs the bad of my life; therefore, I ought to be saved." That’s what the moralist says, universally says: "I’m going to be saved by my good works." You know a strange thing, when I was younger, much younger, I would preach in the jails and in the penitentiaries, I never met a man in the penitentiary or in the jail but who avowed to me that he was innocent and better than anybody on the outside of those bars. Isn’t that a strange turn? So the moralist stands before God: "I am keeping the law, and I am worthy to enter into God’s beautiful heaven."
Then the Lord God answers, "This mite, this smidgeon of goodness you have done, and this peccadillo, this small inconsequential of your goodness"; then the Lord God unrolls a vast, vast sheet of derelictions and shortcomings and sins of mind and heart and deed and imagination, and the Lord God says, "You say to Me that this mite, this crumb, this sand that you say is good, outweighs all of the vast evil of your life?" The man bows down before his fancied goodness: he’s made a golden calf that he thinks will deliver him. The moralist is condemned by the very iniquity of his life that he cannot wash away. It’s in the record. That’s his life.
Then there comes up before God’s almighty judgment bar the educators. And they say to the great Judge of all the earth, "We can educate morality and goodness. And we can keep the law by education." Don’t you wish perfection could come by just teaching, by just education? But the Lord God points out, saying, "There is more crime in Congress of the United States than there is in the lowest ghetto in Detroit." As though education trained us to keep the law and to be perfect: the Lord God answers, saying, "The most educated of all the nations that have ever existed in the history of mankind has been the Nazi Germans; and there has never been a race or a nation so vile and so terrible!" Education just makes educated sinners out of uneducated sinners; that’s all it does.
There comes up before the judgment bar of Almighty God the ecclesiastics: "We’re going to bring perfection to mankind. We’re going to keep the law, and that’s going to save us by all kinds of rituals, and rites, and ceremonies, and litanies. It’ll be holy water and holy days and a thousand things by which we’re going to wash our sins away, and we’re going to present ourselves faultless before God by religious ceremonies," as though religious ceremonies could change the heart and the life of a man.
Then there comes up before the Lord God these who are socialists. They are societal in their conceptions and minds, and they say before the Lord God, "We’re going to redeem humanity, and we’re going to save the human soul by restructuring the social order." Don’t you wish it would work? I have never seen slums as they are, say, in Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil. Nilson Fanini, the pastor of the biggest church down there in Brazil, said in this pulpit just a few Sundays ago, "The government of Brazil, in order to dispense with those slums, built two million new homes for those people." And he said, "Within six months the two million new homes were as slummy as the original homes were." You don’t change the human soul by changing the structural environment.
Then there comes last these who are eclectic, they are synthetic in their approach. "We admit," they say, "that there is need of a Savior, of Jesus. But He has to help our help, He has to have our help. We’re going to be saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus and by our own good works. We’re going to put them together." You know, that’s a strange thing: God says in Isaiah 42, "I will not give My glory to another" [Isaiah 42:8]. When the Lord God made this world He made it by Himself. The Book says Jesus made this world. When Jesus made this world, He did it by Himself; He did it [John 1:3; Colossians 1:16]. He did not say, "Now Gabriel, I want you to come and flap your wings over this molten lava and cool it down." He never said anything to Gabriel. And He never said to one of those angels, "I want you to perfect that ring around Saturn," and to another angel, "I want you to perfect this toe on this microscopic little animal here." No, He did it Himself. God did it Himself. And when we get to heaven, it’s going to be a song like this: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive honor and glory and power [Revelation 5:12]; for He hath redeemed us unto God by His blood, out of all the peoples and nations of the world" [Revelation 5:9]. The song’s not going to be, "Glory be to me, and to the Lamb; for we both redeemed my soul from the damnation of hell." It’s never that. It is He, and it is He alone, always it is Jesus. He did it. He does it.
Now isn’t that a strange thing? The man says, "I’ve got a better way. This way of grace and redemption, that’s God’s way; but I can improve upon it, I’ve got a better way. I’m going to work myself into heaven; I’m going to do good and then present myself before the Lord God." Isn’t that a strange thing? The fleshly man says, "I’m going to stand before the Judge of all the world, and I’m going to, I’m going to, I’m going to say to the Lord God, ‘I am as good as any man that lives, and I deserve entrance into the glorious New Jerusalem.’" Isn’t that a strange thing?
And equally wonderful is the child of grace, the child of God, who says, "I am not worthy. I am a lost sinner, but Jesus died for me. I’m a child of promise, and I’m leaning on His strong arms." You know, God says, "Rest in Me." Here is one of them: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" [Matthew 11:28]. But the man of the flesh says, "We must strive, and we must slave, and we must work, and we must toil, and we must labor in order to be saved." The child of the flesh is like a blind horse working at a cane mill, going around and around and around and around, never getting any further, just that treadmill around and around and around. And he’s whipped and grows weary and tired, but he grinds and he grinds and he grinds. That is the man of the flesh who tries to save himself by being good, by keeping the law: he never achieves, he never finds rest, he never has assurance. How do you know whether you’re good enough? How do you know whether you’ve tried hard enough? How do you know whether you’ve succeeded well enough? And you live your life in consternation, in dread, in terror. How do you ever know? That is the old covenant of the law: "This do, and thou shalt live; but if you don’t do, thou shalt surely die." That is Hagar the slave and her child of the flesh, Ishmael [Galatians 4:22-23].
Then the apostle says, "Sarah represents the covenant, the compact of grace. And her child is a child of promise, a gift of God" [Galatians 4:23- 28]. He, Abraham, was a hundred years old, and she, Sarah, was ninety years old [Genesis 17:17]; and if a child was born, it had to be of grace, it had to be of a gift, it had to be of promise. God had to do it. So Paul says our salvation is never of the flesh, it is never of ourselves. He will write in Ephesians 2, "For we being dead in trespasses and in sins," like Abraham and Sarah, as good as dead, "He hath quickened us" [Ephesians 2:1- 5]. Then he goes on to say in the verses that follow, "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" [Ephesians 2:8-9].
Now may I point out to you in the allegory: Hagar was not first; Sarah was first [Genesis 11:29, 16:1-4]. Long before Abraham received Hagar, a slave into his bosom, Sarah was his wife. The original covenant was of grace. If a man was ever saved, it was never by the law; it was of grace [Ephesians 2:8]. And the Bible will speak of that in how many wonderful ways. Jesus is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world [Revelation 13:8]. We are elect in Him before the foundation of the world, "Come, ye chosen of the Father, ye elect of the Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" [Matthew 25:24], before there was any law. Before there was any such thing as even the fall of man [Genesis 3:1-6], there was grace promised. It was first. And the way we are saved has never changed; it’s always been in grace, in the goodness and gift of God. It’s never changed.
In the garden of Eden when our first parents sinned [Genesis 3:1-6], God took an innocent animal, shed its blood, poured out its life, and covered their nakedness with skins [Genesis 3:21]. Well, why wouldn’t fig leaves do? [Genesis 3:7]. Somehow fleshly works don’t deliver us from the judgment of death. Blood; in that same third chapter of the Book of Genesis, God said, "This Son of the woman, the Son of promise, shall bruise, crush Satan’s head" [Genesis 3:15]. Isn’t that remarkable? And when Abel came before God with a lamb, God accepted his sacrifice [Genesis 4:4]. The way of salvation has never changed. When Abraham offered up Isaac [Genesis 22:2, 9-10], God pointed to a substitute. God hath provided a Lamb [Genesis 22:11-13]; the way of salvation never changes. When David saw the angel standing over Jerusalem with a drawn sword to slay the people, he bought the threshing floor of Araunah and offered sacrifices unto God to deliver the people [2 Samuel 24:16-25]. It never changes. The Lord said, "This is My blood of hē kainē diathēkē, the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins" [Matthew 26:28].
Did you ever think about the Revelation? In the sixth chapter, the fifth seal, the apostle John says, "I saw the souls of God’s saints under the altar" [Revelation 6:9]. Well, what in the earth? It’s very apparent: they’re covered by the blood; they are saved by the blood of the Crucified One. They are under the altar; they’re under the altar of sacrifice, of the blood. It has never changed. From the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:15], to the garden in the New Jerusalem, from eternity to eternity [Revelation 21:1-22:21], it’s always been the same. And that covenant of law, of works, was just to show us how sinful we are, and how we needed a Savior, and to bring us to Jesus [Galatians 3:24].
I must fast conclude. The covenant of grace is unconditional; it is forever and ever because that covenant, that compact, is made between God the Father and God the Son [Hebrews 10:7-9]. The compact, the covenant of works, is between God and a man, and the man breaks it, and he’s lost [James 2:10]. But the covenant of grace is between God and His Son, and it goes like this: God says to His Son, "You die for the sins of the people, You bear their iniquities, You pay the price of their transgressions, You shed Your blood as an atonement for their sins," and God says, "I promise You, You will not die in vain: I will give You a people [John 17:9, 12, 24]. You will have converts and souls that believe in You and trust in You and receive You as Savior. You die for their sins, and I promise You a people." Now you call that "election," election; God’s promise to Jesus if He suffers and dies for us, God promises Him a people.
Now when I speak of that – I’m talking about heavenly language – God promises Jesus a people if He dies, if He comes down here into this world and takes a human body and suffers for our sins. God promises, that’s the compact, "I will give You a people. You will not die in vain; there will be a people who will love You and believe in You." Now when I speak like that, I’m talking about heavenly language up there. Now, I want to come down and talk about the earthly language. There are some always who will turn, who will believe; and there are some who will not. The elect will turn; the non-elect will not listen, they won’t hear. And I see that every day of my life.
I can talk and talk and talk and talk, and pray and pray and pray, and that man there, I had might as well be talking to a post. I might as well be preaching to a stone image, to a brass monkey. But at the same time, as I preach the grace of Jesus, there’ll be somebody who, hearing, will hear; it’ll touch his heart. And he’ll turn, and he’ll come down that aisle, and he’ll take the preacher by the hand, and he’ll say, "Jesus has spoken to my heart, and I’m coming." That’s the way I see it here in my human life. Up there in heaven, that man is one of those that God promised to Jesus: "You die for the sins of the people, and I will give You souls who will love You, and adore You, and pray to You, and call upon Your name, and someday will live with You forever in heaven."
Dear God, how could I praise Thee enough that in that Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27] up there in glory You wrote my name before I was born? From the beginning of the foundation of the world, You wrote my name, and I praise You, Lord [Ephesians 1:4]. I couldn’t thank You enough.
And aren’t you glad that in the goodness and grace of God He elected you? When you heard the gospel message, you turned; it meant something to your heart, and you came and gave your soul in faith to the Lord Jesus. Aren’t you glad? Aren’t you glad? May we stand together?
Our Lord, dear God, precious Savior, bear the message of hope and victory and rest and salvation on the wings of the Spirit. And while we wait this moment, praying for you, a family, come, and welcome; a couple you, or just one somebody you. In the balcony round, down one of those stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, God has spoken to us, and we’re answering with our lives." And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest this day, in Thy saving name, amen. Come, welcome, while we sing, while we sing.
TO THE CHRISTIANS
I. The message delivered and preached by
Paul, sealed with his blood
A. His scars for the
Lord(Galatians 6:17, 2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
B. What gives power to
the gospel message is the sacrifice in it
II. Our gifts should represent some
measure of sacrifice, cost
A. David and the
threshing floor of Araunah(2 Samuel 24:10-25)
B. Jesus moved by the
gift of the widow(Mark 12:41-44)
III. The unspeakable thing
A. Offering the
cast-off, the unwanted to the Lord (Malachi 1:8,
B. The church-member
IV. The impulse to give to God a strange
phenomenon in the story of humanity
A. Does God have need
of our little to offer?(Psalm 50:9-12)
B. From creation, the
impulse to give
1. Altar before
Eden – Cain and Abel(Genesis 4:3-4)
2. Salem –
Abraham before Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20)
3. Bethel – Jacob’s
4. The early
church(Acts 4:34-35, 1 Corinthians 16:2)