The Covenants of Salvation
May 23rd, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
THE COVENANTS OF SALVATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-23-82 10:50 a.m.
This is also the day that the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, namely, I, this is the day we begin one of the most meaningful of all of the sections in the long series on the “Great doctrines of the Bible.” This is the section on soteriology, on how we can be saved. As such, every sermon will be one of evangelistic appeal. It was announced, and it’s in your bulletin, that the title of the sermon will be Concerning Covenants And Dispensations, but as I studied, I found that, if I had ten hours or a day, I could not encompass what ought to be preached in presenting that subject. What I have done then is to narrow it down to one facet, one segment, and it is entitled The Covenants of Salvation. We read from God’s Word, and the message is an exposition of this passage, Galatians chapter 4, beginning at verse 21. Galatians, chapter 4, beginning at verse 21, Paul writes to the churches in Galatia:
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do you understand what you think? Do you hear the law?
It is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a slave, the other by a freewoman.
Now he who was of the slave was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
Which things are an allegory: for they are the two covenants; the one from Mount Sinai, which gendereth to slavery, which is Hagar.
For this Hagar is Mount Sinai . . . and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in slavery with her children.
But Jerusalem which is above is free, 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.
[Galatians 4:21-26, 28-31]
Just by way of memory, I recount in capsule form the story in Genesis: God said to Abraham and to Sarah, “You shall have a son, born out of your flesh, out of your love” [Genesis 15:4-5]. But the years passed, and the years multiplied, and Abraham became an old, old man, and Sarah became an old, old woman, and no child was born [Galatians 21:2]. Sarah then did something contrary to the plan and the purpose and the grace of God. She took her slave, an Egyptian slave, and placed that slave in the bosom of her husband, that by that slave she might have a son. And the slave woman Hagar, an Egyptian, gave birth to a son of the flesh. They called his name Ishmael [Genesis 16:1-16].
Then God, in His great mercy and grace, kept the promise that He made to Abraham and to Sarah, and when Abraham was a hundred years old and Sarah was ninety years old [Genesis 17:16-17], the child of promise and of grace was born, and they called his name Isaac [Genesis 21:1-5].
As the days again passed and Ishmael was thirteen years old, he made fun and mocked Isaac, the child of promise and of grace [Genesis 21:9]. And when Sarah saw it, she said, “This slave and her son shall not stay in this house, nor shall he be a joint heir with my child of promise” [Genesis 21:10]. So the slave, the Egyptian, and her son Ishmael were cast out [Genesis 21:14].
Paul, writing of that story says that this, that story, is an allegory [Galatians 4:24]. It is a metaphorical story; that is, it has another meaning. And the meaning, Paul says, is that those two women and those two sons represent metaphorically, allegorically, the two covenants: one, the Old Testament, the old covenant, the old law [Galatians 4:24]. In the second Corinthian letter, chapter 3, Paul refers to it as hē palai diathēkē, the Old Testament, the old compact, the old contract, the old covenant, the covenant of the law [2 Corinthians 3:14-16]. Then Paul says, but Sarah and her child of grace, of promise, represent the new covenant, hē kainē diathēkē, the new compact, the new contract, the new promise, the new covenant [2 Corinthians 3:6; Galatians 4:24]. If you have a Greek New Testament, on the outside of it will be printed hē kainē diathēkē, the New Covenant, the New Testament. Now, we shall follow what Paul says in contrasting those two covenants, those two testaments. The old, the covenant of the flesh, of law represented by a slave, Hagar; and the covenant of grace, the covenant of promise represented by Sarah and her child—a gift of God—Isaac [Galatians 4:25-28].
First, Paul writes about the covenant of the flesh, the covenant of the law, the covenant of Sinai, the Old Testament, the old compact. Hagar, he says, is a slave, and as a slave, she has service to do [Galatians 4:22-24]. So the old compact, the old law, is a slave, and it has a service to do. Paul writes of it in Galatians 3:24, “Wherefore the law, the old covenant, was our ‘paidagōgos’ to bring us unto Christ, that we might be saved, justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a paidagōgos [Galatians 3:24-25]. A paidagōgos was a Roman slave in the household of an affluent Roman, and his appointment was to take the child to school and then after school to take the child back home: a paidagōgos , a “child-leader.” Paul says the old compact, the old covenant, the covenant of the law was to bring us to Jesus [Galatians 3:24].
And the law does that, as Paul writes in Romans 7:7, by showing us how sinful we are. “For we had not known sin, but by the law.” That law is written in the Bible, the law is written on tables of stone, the law is written in statutes, the law is written by all of the congressional actions in the whole world, and the law is written in our members. We are conscious of sin by the law. It is a mirror held up before us, and as we look at it, we see how far short we fall of the expectation, the glory of God. The law is a slave, like Hagar, to bring us to Jesus [Galatians 3:23-24].
Now, he says that that compact, that law, that Old Testament, that old covenant, carries with it a fearful and an awesome judgment: “This do, and thou shalt live” [Deuteronomy 4:1; Luke 10:28]. That is the covenant of the law. You do this, and you will live. But it has with it, I say, a terrible corollary. You fail in this, you break the law, “and you shall surely, surely die”: a fearful and awesome judgment [Hebrews 10:28]. You find that illustrated in the garden of Eden. God said to our first parents: “Of everything in the garden, you may freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat it, neither shalt thou touch it: for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:16-17].
In one transgression, not forty dozen, in one transgression you will surely die. As James wrote in James 2:10—the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, James, the Lord’s brother—”If a man keep the whole law, and yet fail in one part, he is guilty of all of it.” A beautiful porcelain vase that has one crack in it is not perfect, and when one link in a chain is broken, the chain is broken. That is a terrible compact made between God and man: do this, obey this, and thou shalt live, but disobey this, and thou shalt surely die [Genesis 2:17].
The twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews describes the terror of the giving of the law. On Mt. Sinai Moses received it from the hands of God, and when he did, the thunder roared and the lightening flashed, and the earth trembled and quaked [Exodus 19:18], and Moses said, “I do exceedingly fear” [Hebrews 12:21]. That is the giving of the law [Exodus 20:1-17]. It comes in terror, the judgment of Almighty God! God said, as in Ezekiel 18, “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. God wrote again in Romans 6, “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. And if you have broken God’s law, one of them, you face the inevitable judgment of everlasting death.
In a village where I pastored as a youth, there was a brilliant boy, smart, gifted, and as a young man he became the—what you would call today the CPA in the bank, in the county seat town. The young fellow, in his gifted brilliance, manipulated the accounting in the bank, and over a period of years, he embezzled money out of the bank. As inevitably it always happens, it was discovered, and the young man was arraigned before the court and found guilty. When he appeared before the federal judge in the largest city in that state, the family asked that I go with the young man and stand by him. If I were to live a thousand lifetimes, I could never forget how I felt when I stood before that federal judge by the side of that brilliant young man. The judge said, “You will stand,” and he walked up to the bench and stood there, facing that federal judge, and I stood to his right just a little behind him. And the federal judge took out sheaves of papers and looked through them and read to the boy some of those things that he had done. Then, when he had finished reading the transgressions, he looked into the face of the boy and said, “Guilty or not guilty?” And the lad replied, “Guilty,” and stood there to be sentenced.
All mankind is like that! When we stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God [1 Peter 4:5] and He reads the transgressions, and the shortcomings, and the sins, and iniquities of our lives—the imaginations of our hearts, the things we think, the things we do, the things of omission as well as commission, our entire life filled with dereliction and shortcoming, and God asks us, “Guilty or not guilty?” We have no alternative but to reply, “Your Honor, Your Majesty, the great and omnipotent God who knows all about us, guilty.”
It would be foolish for a moralist to make a golden calf of his fancied goodnesses and bow down before it and say, “This, the god of my own making, shall deliver me.” When we stand before the Judge of all of the earth, our little smidgen or mite of righteousness, our little grain of having done good is in nowise comparable to the great roll of the endless shortcomings that characterize even the finest life. “Guilty!” Nor can we stand before the Lord and say, “Education has delivered me from the sin of my soul.” An uneducated sinner or an educated sinner are both lost before God. Nor can the guilty sinner stand before the Judge of all of the earth and say, “These litanies, and these ceremonies, and this holy water, and these holy days, these rites and rituals, these have delivered me from the sin of my soul.” “Guilty,” however many rituals or litanies or genuflections we may go through.
Nor can the man stand before God and say, “This social reconstruction has delivered me and my social order from the guilt of sin.” Whether we are in one kind of a social structure or in another, we’re all sinners before God [Romans 3:23]. And for us to hope that by doing good we can earn our way into heaven and deliver our souls from the judgment of death is to be like a blind horse grinding at a cane mill, around and around and around on a treadmill, every day no further than the day before, whipped and driven but nowise better; weary and worn. Like a thunderclap out of heaven is God’s word in [Galatians 2:16]: “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified,” never. All we can do is to stand before God and say, “Guilty.”
Our covenant of works between God and us is always broken by us. “Do this and thou shalt live” [Deuteronomy 4:1], but I don’t do this. “In the day you sin thereof you shall surely die” [Genesis 2:17], and I have sinned! And I incur the penalty and the judgment of death inexorably: physical death—my body dies—and spiritual death, my body in the grave and my soul separated from God.
And the Bible calls that soul separation the “second death” or “hell” [Revelation 20:14-15]. Hell is such a curse word it has lost its spiritual meaning, but the depths of its sorrow in being shut out from God and eternally damned in darkness—it is an awesome and a terrible covenant, this covenant of the law, this Old Testament, this old compact; it leads us to death. It judges us worthy of condemnation and damnation. God never purposed it. God never planned it. Hagar, the slave, was never purposed of God. Ishmael, born of the flesh, was never in the plan of God [Genesis 16:1-16].
God had another compact, another covenant, another contract, another promise for us: the promise of grace, of the gift of the love and mercy of our Lord. God never plans or purposes our damnation and our destruction. Always God’s plan and purpose is for our deliverance and our salvation; His gift of loving redemption illustrated, the apostle Paul says, in the allegory of the story of Sarah and her son Isaac [Galatians 4:24-31].
Abraham is a hundred years old, and Sarah is ninety years old [Genesis 17:15-17]. And if they have a son, he will be a gift of God, born out of the grace and promise of the Lord. The flesh cannot do it. He’s too old, and her womb has dried away. But God said, “You shall have a son” [Genesis 15:4; 17:16-19], born not of the flesh, but of the spirit of the love and mercy and grace of God. And in keeping with the promise of the love of God, at a hundred years old for Abraham and ninety years old for Sarah, the child of promise and of grace was born—something God did [Genesis 21:1-3].
And the apostle says we are like that, the children of promise. The whole second chapter of Ephesians is that we were born, we were in trespasses and in sins, dead in trespasses and in sins, and God quickened us [Ephesians 2:1-7]. Then he explains it, “For by grace are we saved through faith; and not of yourself: it is a gift of God: Not of the works of the flesh, lest any man should say, ‘I did it,’ lest he boast” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Our salvation is from the loving hands, a gift of God, something He does for us. Not that we do for ourselves. He does it.
Then he illustrates it, I say, in this allegory of Sarah [Galatians 4:24-31]: Sarah is a freewoman. She was never a slave, and Sarah was the wife of Abraham before Hagar was ever heard of, before the slave ever entered the life of either Abraham or Sarah. She was the original wife, the original freewoman. So it is: the covenant of grace was the original covenant, the original compact. It began in heaven before the world was made. And that avowal is repeated again and again in the Holy Scriptures. Before the foundation of the world, the Bible says, Jesus was slain [Revelation 13:8]. Before the foundation of the world, we were elect in Him, “Come, ye chosen of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world” [Matthew 25:34].
The original compact, the original covenant was the covenant of grace, of mercy, of redemption, of salvation, and it was made before the foundation of the world was laid [Ephesians 1:4]. There has never been but one way to be saved, just one, always just one, and that was through the redemptive love and grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord [John 14:6]. From the garden in Eden to the garden in the New Jerusalem, from the eternity that was to the eternity that is yet to come, that way of salvation has never changed: the redemptive love and mercy in Christ Jesus, the compact made before the world fell, and that compact faithfully kept to the end of eternity [1 Peter 1:18-20].
You see it through the Bible with unerring wisdom. In the garden of Eden, when our parents transgressed and fell into the judgment of death [Genesis 3:1-6], God took an innocent animal and slew it [Genesis 3:21]. Somewhere in the garden of Eden, the earth drank up its crimson blood. And God took coats of skin and covered the nakedness of our first father and mother [Genesis 3:21]. Fig leaves [Genesis 3:7], the works of the flesh, will not cover our nakedness; only innocent blood. And God slew an innocent animal and made coats of skins to cover the nakedness of our first parents [Genesis 3:7, 21].
That’s it, that covenant of blood, of grace, of redemption. You see it again in what God said to our first parents. “The Seed of the woman”? Woman doesn’t have seed; the man has seed. But He said, God said, “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15]; there it is, the promise of redemption. You see it again in the acceptance of the sacrifice of Abel, who came before God with a lamb and offered it unto God [Genesis 4:2-4]: the covenant of redemption. You see it again in the beautiful story of Abraham [Genesis 22:1-14]. When he raised the knife to plunge it into the heart of his only son, God stayed his hand and pointed to the ram caught in the thicket [Genesis 22:10-13]: God hath provided the lamb.
The covenant of redemption, of sacrifice: you see it again in the story of David and Araunah [2 Samuel 24:10-25]. David saw the angel of death standing over Jerusalem with a sword drawn, and he buys the threshing floor of Araunah and offers there a sacrifice unto God to deliver the people. He says, “These lost sheep”; there it is, the covenant of sacrifice, of blood [2 Samuel 24:17-25]. You see it beautifully in the prophecy of Isaiah 53:
He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace is upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.
The compact of redemption, the grace of God: you see it in the life of our Lord. “This is the blood of the new covenant,” the new compact, the New Testament, “shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28]. You see it in the Revelation, in the sixth chapter of the Revelation, the fifth seal; the sainted apostle John sees the souls of the sainted people of God under the altar [Revelation 6:9]. Why under the altar? Because they’re under the blood, they’re under the sacrifice, their sins have been atoned for in the blood and the mercy of Jesus [Revelation 7:13-14]: a gift of grace of God [Ephesians 2:8]. It is an unconditional compact, covenant.
The first covenant is conditional. God says to the man, “You do this and you will live, but you break this and you will die” [Luke 10:28; Hebrews 10:28]. It is conditional.
The compact, the covenant of grace is unconditional. It is between God the Father and God the Son [Hebrews 10:7-9], and it is it signed and sealed and ratified from eternity. In that second compact, God says to Jesus, “You die for the sins of the people, You pay the price for their iniquity, You assume in Yourself all of the judgment for their sins, and I will appoint, elect for You a people [Romans 8:29]. You will not die in vain. Your sacrifice [Matthew 22:32-50], Your redemptive love on the cross [Galatians 2:20], the pouring out of the blood of atonement [Romans 5:11; Hebrews 2:17], will bring to You a people.” God promised that—contracted that, compacted that—to the Lord Jesus. And that was done in eternity, unconditionally: “You die for the sins of the people, and I will give You a people who will love You, praise You, serve You, follow You.” That’s what God promised Jesus. “If You suffer and die, it will not be in vain. I will give You a people.”
Now, sweet friends, the Bible calls that election [Romans 9:11], and when I speak of that compact, that covenant up there in heaven between God and His Son Christ Jesus—”You die for the sins of the world, and I will give You a people”—I’m talking about a heavenly language. That’s the way it is up there in heaven; God promised Jesus a people if He would die for the sins of the world. That’s heavenly language up there [Romans 8:29].
Down here when I speak in earthly language, this is what I see: there are those who will listen to the gospel message, and I had as well be talking to a stone image, to a brass monkey, to a post, or a tree, or a rock. I have that experience all the time. I will pray, I will plead, I will talk with a man. He has in his heart no response at all, none at all; unmoved. But when I preach the truth of the gospel message of Jesus, and when I sit down with a man and pray with him and talk to him about his soul and about Jesus, some of them, listening, will be moved in their hearts. Some of them well break into tears and sobs. Some of them will fall on their knees: “O Lord, be merciful to me. Save me.” How do I explain that? That’s earthly language when I see that here.
When I’m talking in heavenly language, that is the “election” [Ephesians 1:4]. There are some that are not going to be saved no matter what you do. But God hath covenanted, God hath compacted, God hath promised to Jesus that if He dies for the sins of the world, God will give Him some. There will be some who will hear, there will be some who will turn, there will be some who will respond.
I’ve been watching it for fifty-four years down here, and it goes back to the day when my own soul was moved to trust the Lord. When I think of it in heaven, Lord, I thank Thee, praise Thee, that before I was born, You wrote my name in that book, the Book of Life [Revelation 17:8]. Before the foundation of the world, You wrote my name in that Book of Life. It’s up there in glory, saved by the blood of the Crucified One [Revelation 13:8]. That’s heaven. And down here, I praise God for the preacher who stayed in our home for the weekday, ten o’clock morning service, and for my sainted old mother who turned to me and said, “Son, today, will you accept Christ as your Savior?” and with many tears, my heart spoke and said, “Mother, today I accept the Lord as my Savior.”
Election: that’s God’s word up there in heaven when He promised Jesus, “You die for the world, and I will give You a people.” That’s up there [Romans 8:29]. Down here, when I see somebody respond, somebody whose heart is moved to answer, that is the grace and mercy of God in this earth [Titus 3:5].
Oh, how blessed you are to find in your heart when the gospel is preached, a praise and a song of gladness and gratitude. Oh! Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, for He hath redeemed us to Himself by His blood [Revelation 5:9]. Oh, praise God for His wonderful goodness that reached down even to me! That’s the covenant of grace. That’s the compact of the promise: saved by the blood of the Crucified One.
All praise to the Father,
All praise to the Son,
All praise to the Spirit,
The great Three in One.
[adapted from “All Creatures of Our God and King,” Francis of Assisi, 1225]
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One: the covenant of grace [Romans 5:9]. May we stand together?
Our wonderful Savior, dear, dear Lord, how could we ever think about Thee without our hearts overflowing with infinite gratitude and gladness for what Jesus has done for us? Poor, lost sinners, facing the judgment of death, condemned by the covenant of the law, and in His mercy, God reaches down and lifts us up, saves us, washes us clean and white, presents us in the presence of His great glory [Jude 1:24], without spot or wrinkle [Ephesians 5:27], saved by the blood of the Crucified One [Romans 5:9]. In keeping with the unconditional promise of God to Jesus, “You die for them, and I will give You a people” [Romans 8:29], Lord, that I could be one of them. Praise, blessed, Thy glorious name.
And in the preaching of the gospel of salvation, if the Spirit has spoken to your heart, “Pastor, I’m also with you, answering with my life, and here I stand,” a family you to come, a couple you, a one somebody you, in the balcony round, down one of those stairs; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles,”This is God’s day for us, and pastor, we’re coming,” and our Lord bless them. May angels attend them as they answer. In Thy saving name, amen. While we sing, welcome, come.