Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.
There are moments in life which are simply irreparable. For example, getting an unknown individual’s gender wrong on first meeting them; there is no recovery from that. Or even worse, getting your fiancée’s name wrong in the middle of your marriage vows in front of all your (and more importantly their) friends and family!! The Fall, which we meditated on last week, was another one of those irreparable situations. A scenario from which there was no recovery. This was the case not just for individuals but for all humanity. Albeit this is nowhere near as funny as the previous two examples…
The reason that Adam and Eve’s first sin, and all the sin that everyone has perpetrated since, is so damaging is because God is completely other. This is abundantly evident from the prophecy of Isaiah. At the beginning of Isaiah we are taught that God is perfectly holy (6:3), and this holiness sets God apart as He Himself tells us later in Isaiah. God proclaims that He will not give His glory to another (42:8), for He is the first and the last, apart from Him there is no God (44:6). Therefore, He asks, ‘To whom will you compare me
or count me equal?’ (46:5). The conclusion is that He alone is God, there is no other; He is God, and there is none like Him (46:9). For that reason the Confession asserts: ‘The distance between God and the creature is so great’ (pg. 48).
In fact, not only are we incapable of bridging this gap, we are not even willing. Our natural propensity is to ignore it, reject God and strive for our own perceived happiness (Rom. 1:21-23). There needed to be some solution to this irreparable situation, and it required ‘some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant’ (pg. 48).
This voluntary condescension by God in the form of a covenant was an immense solution to this irreparable situation. As the Confession puts it:
[I]t pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved (pg. 48)
Jesus himself used similar phraseology:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16)
The solution was that God himself sacrificed His only Son to offer a plethora of benefits to humanity which when considered together are salvation. This covenant, enacted when faith is exercised in Christ, brings (among many things): eternal life, the presence of the Holy Spirit and both an ability and willingness to obey God (pg. 48).
In a great display of God’s otherness, this covenant was not promised after the heat had died down and the memory of Adam and Eve’s provocative rebellion had faded. It was first pronounced in the immediate aftermath of the Fall. God declares this covenant ‘first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman’ (pg. 49; see Gen. 3:15). That was not the final pronouncement though, as it was proclaimed ‘afterwards by further steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament’ (pg. 49; see Heb. 1:1ff.). Yet this was not further pieces of the puzzle being put together as God attempted to redeem the irreparable situation. Rather, it was the progressive revelation of the plan which had been initiated ‘before the ages began’ (2 Tim. 1:9, Tit. 1:2), to use biblical phraseology. The immensity of this is fully realised when it is appreciated that it is only by the grace of this covenant that salvation is achieved (pg. 49).
Does this chapter of the Confession have any implications for us this week? I believe it does. Here are three implications for us as we think about God’s grace in this covenant:
- Comfort: We all know that we are sinful and our propensity is to revel in our sin, even though it makes us sick. This constant battle against our sinful nature can wear us down, break our spirits and laden us with guilt. We know we are helpless to remedy the situation. However, God’s covenant of grace reminds us that salvation is all of His doing; it empowers us with the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives; and gives us the comfort that God has acted, and continues to act, on our behalf and for our salvation.
- Perspective: While some of us are introspective, prone to crushing ourselves and in need of the comfort this great grace of God provides, others of us think far too highly of ourselves. Therefore, this chapter of the Confession aids us in offering a little perspective. There is a massive chasm between who God is and who we are; our sin has damaged us and perverted our view of self; we need to be reminded that we are helpless, unable to redeem and rescue ourselves (in any shape or form) in our own power. This covenant of grace reminds us that we are in need of a great and gracious God to act on our behalf. It gives us a right view of ourselves.
- Willingness: If the above two points fall into place correctly (and for some of us we need to dwell on both of them at different points in our lives) the third implication is that the covenant of grace will spur us into action. We noted above that we do not have the ability, or willingness, to obey God. This covenant gives us the ability with the dwelling of the Holy Spirit within us. However, perhaps greater than that, it also gives us a willingness as we come to a realisation of the great condescension of God in acting for us. We don’t end up obeying under compulsion, but willingly in loving response to God’s immense solution to our irreparable situation.