by Louis Berkhof
A. THE PROPER CONCEPTION OF THE DIFFERENT DISPENSATIONS.
The question arises, whether we ought to distinguish two or three, or with the modern Dispensationalists, seven or even more dispensations.
1. THE DISPENSATIONAL VIEW. According to Scofield “a dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.”[Scofield Bible, p. 5.] In further explanation of this he says on page 20 of his pamphlet on Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth: “Each of the dispensations may be regarded as a new test of the natural man, and each ends in judgment, — marking his failure.” Every dispensation has a character of its own, and is so distinct that it cannot be commingled with any of the others. Seven such dispensations are usually distinguished, namely, the dispensation of innocency, of conscience, of human government, of promise, of the law, of grace, and of the kingdom. In answer to the question, whether God is then so fickle-minded that He must change His will as regards man seven times, Frank E. Gaebelein replies: “It is not God who has vacillated. Though there are seven dispensations, they are all one in principle, being throughout based upon the single test of obedience. And had man been found able to keep the conditions laid down by the first dispensation, the other six would have been unnecessary. But man failed. Yet, instead of casting off His guilty creature, God was moved with compassion, and gave him a fresh trial under new conditions. Thus each dispensation ends with failure, and each dispensation shows forth God’s mercy.”[Exploring the Bible, p. 95.] There are serious objections to this view. (a) The word “dispensation” (oikonomia), which is a Scriptural term (cf. Luke 16:2-4; I Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2.9; Col. 1:25; I Tim. 1:4) is here used in an un-Scriptural sense. It denotes a stewardship, an arrangement, or an administration, but never a testing time or a time of probation. (b) The distinctions are clearly quite arbitrary. This is evident already from the fact that dispensationalists themselves sometimes speak of them as overlapping. The second dispensation is called the dispensation of conscience, but according to Paul conscience was still the monitor of the Gentiles in his day, Rom. 2:14,15. The third is known as the dispensation of human government, but the specific command in it which was disobeyed and therefore rendered man liable to judgment, was not the command to rule the world for God — of which there is no trace—, but the command to replenish the earth. The fourth is designated the dispensation of promise and is supposed to terminate with the giving of the law, but Paul says that the law did not disannul the promise, and that this was still in effect in his own day, Rom. 4:13-17; Gal. 3:15-29. The so-called dispensation of the law is replete with glorious promises, and the so-called dispensation of grace did not abrogate the the law as a rule of life. Grace offers escape from the law only as a condition of salvation — as it is in the covenant of works —, from the curse of the law, and from the law as an extraneous power. (c) According to the usual representation of this theory man is on probation right along. He failed in the first test and thus missed the reward of eternal life, but God was compassionate and in mercy gave him a new trial. Repeated failures led to repeated manifestations of the mercy of God in the introduction of new trials, which, however, kept man on probation all the time. This is not equivalent to saying that God in justice holds the natural man to the condition of the covenant of works — which is perfectly true — but that God in mercy and compassion — and therefore seemingly to save — gives man one chance after another to meet the ever varying conditions, and thus to obtain eternal life by rendering obedience to God. This representation is contrary to Scripture, which does not represent fallen man as still on probation, but as an utter failure, totally unable to render obedience to God, and absolutely dependent on the grace of God for salvation. Bullinger, himself a dispensationalist, though of a somewhat different type, is right when he says: “Man was then (in the first dispensation) what is called ‘under probation.’ This marks off that Administration sharply and absolutely; for man is not now under probation. To suppose that he is so, is a popular fallacy which strikes at the root of the doctrines of grace. Man has been tried and tested, and has proved to be a ruin.”[How to Enjoy the Bible, p. 65.] (d) This theory is also divisive in tendency, dismembering the organism of Scripture with disastrous results. Those parts of Scripture that belong to any one of the dispensations are addressed to, and have normative significance for, the people of that dispensation, and for no one else. This means in the words of Charles C. Cook “that in the Old Testament there is not one sentence that applies to the Christian as a Rule of Faith and Practice — not a single command that is binding on him, as there is not a single promise there given him at first hand, except what is included in the broad flow of the Plan of Redemption as there taught in symbol and prophecy.”[God’s Book Speaking For Itself, p. 31.] This does not mean that we can derive no lessons from the Old Testament. The Bible is divided into two books, the Book of the Kingdom, comprising the Old Testament and part of the New, addressed to Israel; and the Book of the Church, consisting of the remainder of the New Testament, and addressed to us. Since the dispensations do not intermingle, it follows that in the dispensation of the law there is no revelation of the grace of God, and in the dispensation of grace there is no revelation of the law as binding on the New Testament people of God. If space permitted, it would not be difficult to prove that this is an entirely untenable position.
2. THE THEORY OF THREE DISPENSATIONS. Irenæus spoke of three covenants, the first characterized by the law written in the heart, the second, by the law as an external commandment given at Sinai, and the third, by the law restored to the heart through the operation of the Holy Spirit; and thus suggests the idea of three dispensations. Coccejus distinguished three dispensations of the covenant of grace, the first ante legem, the second sub lege, and the third post legem. He made a sharp distinction, therefore, between the administration of the covenant before and after Moses. Now it is undoubtedly true that there is considerable difference between the administration of the covenant before and after the giving of the law, but the similarity is greater than the difference, so that we are not justified in co-ordinating the work of Moses with that of Christ as a dividing-line in the administration of the covenant. The following points of difference may be noted:
a. In the manifestation of the gracious character of the covenant. In the patriarchal period the gracious character of the covenant stood out more prominently than in the later period. The promise was more in the foreground, Rom. 4:13; Gal. 3:18. Yet even this should not be stressed unduly, as if there were no legal burdens, both moral and ceremonial, before the time of Moses, and no gracious promises during the period of the law. The substance of the law was in force before Moses, and sacrifices were already required. And gracious promises are found in great abundance in the post-Mosaic writings. The only real point of difference is this: because the law constituted for Israel an explicit reminder of the demands of the covenant of works, there was a greater danger of mistaking the way of the law for the way of salvation. And the history of Israel teaches us that it did not escape the danger.
b. In the emphasis on the spiritual character of the blessings. The spiritual character of the blessings of the covenant stands out more clearly in the patriarchial period. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were mere sojourners in the land of promise, dwelling there as strangers and pilgrims. The temporal promise of the covenant was not yet fulfilled. Hence there was less danger of fixing the mind too exclusively on the material blessings, as the Jews did later on. The early patriarchs had a clearer understanding of the symbolical significance of those temporal possessions, and looked for a heavenly city, Gal. 4:25,26; Heb. 11:9,10.
c. In the understanding of the universal destination of the covenant. The universal destination of the covenant was more clearly evident in the patriarchal period. Abraham was told that in his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed, Gen. 22:18; Rom. 4:13-77; Gal. 3:8. The Jews gradually lost sight of this important fact, and proceeded on the assumption that the blessings of the covenant were to be restricted to the Jewish nation. The later prophets, however, stressed the universality of the promises, and thus revived the consciousness of the world-wide significance of the covenant.
But while these differences existed, there were several important points in which the pre- and post-Mosaic periods agreed, and in which they together differed from the Christian dispensation. While their difference from each other is simply one of degree, their common difference from the New Testament dispensation is one of contrast. As over against the Christian dispensation, the two Old Testament periods agree:
a. In the representation of the Mediator as a seed that was still future. The whole Old Testament points forward to the coming Messiah. This forward look characterizes the protevangel, the promise given to the patriarchs, the whole Mosaic ritual, and the central messages of the prophets.
b. In prefiguring the coming Redeemer in ceremonies and types. It is perfectly true that these increased after the giving of the law, but they were present long before that time. Sacrifices were offered as early as the days of Cain and Abel, and also had a piacular character, pointing forward to the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Those who served as priests foreshadowed the coming of the great High Priest. In distinction from the Old Testament, the New is commemorative rather than prefigurative.
c. In prefiguring the vicissitudes of those who were destined to share in the spiritual realities of the covenant in the earthly career of those groups which stood in covenant relationship with God. The pilgrimage of the patriarchs in the Holy Land, the servitude in Egypt, the entrance into Canaan, all pointed forward to higher spiritual things. In the New Testament all these types reach their fulfilment and therefore cease.
On the basis of all that has been said it is preferable to follow the traditional lines by distinguishing just two dispensations or administrations, namely, that of the Old, and that of the New Testament; and to subdivide the former into several periods or stages in the revelation of the covenant of grace.
B. THE OLD TESTAMENT DISPENSATION.
1. THE FIRST REVELATION OF THE COVENANT. The first revelation of the covenant is found in the protevangel, Gen. 3:15. Some deny that this has any reference to the covenant; and it certainly does not refer to any formal establishment of a covenant. The revelation of such an establishment could only follow after the covenant idea had been developed in history. At the same time Gen. 3:15 certainly contains a revelation of the essence of the covenant. The following points should be noted:
a. By putting enmity between the serpent and the woman God establishes a relation, as He always does in making a covenant. The fall brought man in league with Satan, but God breaks that newly formed alliance by turning man’s friendship with Satan into enmity and re-establishing man in friendship with Himself; and this is the covenant idea. This rehabilitation of man included the promise of sanctifying grace, for it was only by such grace that man’s friendship with Satan could be turned into enmity. God Himself had to reverse the condition by regenerating grace. In all probability He at once wrought the grace of the covenant in the hearts of our first parents. And when God by His saving power generates enmity to Satan in the heart of man, this implies that He chooses the side of man, that He becomes man’s confederate in the struggle with Satan, and thus virtually establishes an offensive and defensive covenant.
b. This relationship between God and man on the one side and Satan on the other side, is not limited to the individuals, but extends to their seed. The covenant is organic in its operation and includes the generations. This is an essential element in the covenant idea. There will not only be a seed of man. but also a seed of the serpent, that is, of the devil, and there will be a prolonged struggle between the two, in which the seed of man will be victorious.
c. The struggle, then, will not be indecisive. Though the heel of the woman’s seed will be bruised, the head of the serpent will be crushed. It can only bite the heel, and by doing this endangers its very head. There will be suffering on the part of the seed of the woman, but the deadly sting of the serpent will terminate in its own death. The death of Christ, who is in a preeminent sense the seed of the woman, will mean the defeat of Satan. The prophecy of redemption is still impersonal in the protevangel, but it is nevertheless a Messianic prophecy. In the last analysis the seed of the woman is Christ, who assumes human nature, and, being put to death on the cross, gains the decisive victory over Satan. It goes without saying that our first parents did not understand all this.
2. THE COVENANT WITH NOAH. The covenant with Noah is evidently of a very general nature: God promises that He will not again destroy all flesh by the waters of a flood, and that the regular succession of seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night will continue. The forces of nature are bridled, the powers of evil are put under greater restraint, and man is protected against the violence of both man and beast. It is a covenant conferring only natural blessings, and is therefore often called the covenant of nature or of common grace. There is no objection to this terminology, provided it does not convey the impression that this covenant is dissociated altogether from the covenant of grace. Though the two differ, they are also most intimately connected.
a. Points of difference. The following points of difference should be noted: (1) While the covenant of grace pertains primarily, though not exclusively, to spiritual blessings, the covenant of nature assures man only of earthly and temporal blessings. (2) While the covenant of grace in the broadest sense of the word includes only believers and their seed, and is fully realized only in the lives of the elect, the covenant with Noah was not only universal in its inception, but was destined to remain all-inclusive. Up to the days of the covenant transaction with Abraham there was no seal of the covenant of grace, but the covenant with Noah was confirmed by the token of the rainbow, a seal quite different from those that were later on connected with the covenant of grace.
b. Points of connection. Notwithstanding the differences just mentioned, there is a most intimate connection between the two covenants. (1) The covenant of nature also originated in the grace of God. In this covenant, just as in the covenant of grace, God bestows on man not only unmerited favors, but blessings that were forfeited by sin. By nature man has no claim whatsoever on the natural blessings promised in this covenant. (2) This covenant also rests on the covenant of grace. It was established more particularly with Noah and his seed, because there were clear evidences of the realization of the covenant of grace in this family, Gen. 6:9; 7:1; 9:9,26,27. (3) It is also a necessary appendage (Witsius: “aanhangsel”) of the covenant of grace. The revelation of the covenant of grace in Gen. 3:16-19 already pointed to earthly and temporal blessings. These were absolutely necessary for the realization of the covenant of grace. In the covenant with Noah the general character of these blessings is clearly brought out, and their continuance is confirmed.
3. THE COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM. With Abraham we enter upon a new epoch in the Old Testament revelation of the covenant of grace. There are several points that deserve attention here:
a. Up to the time of Abraham there was no formal establishment of the covenant of grace. While Gen. 3:15 already contains the elements of this covenant, it does not record a formal transaction by which the covenant was established. It does not even speak explicitly of a covenant. The establishment of the covenant with Abraham marked the beginning of an institutional Church. In pre-Abrahamic times there was what may be called “the church in the house.” There were families in which the true religion found expression, and undoubtedly also gatherings of believers, but there was no definitely marked body of believers, separated from the world, that might be called the Church. There were “sons of God” and “sons of men,” but these were not yet separated by a visible line of demarcation. At the time of Abraham, however, circumcision was instituted as a sealing ordinance, a badge of membership, and a seal of the righteousness of faith.
b. In the transaction with Abraham the particularistic Old Testament administration of the covenant had its beginning, and it becomes perfectly evident that man is a party in the covenant and must respond to the promises of God by faith. The great central fact emphasized in Scripture, is that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. God appears unto Abraham again and again, repeating His promises, in order to engender faith in his heart and to prompt its activity. The greatness of his faith was apparent in his believing against hope, in his trusting in the promise even when its fulfilment seemed to be a physical impossibility.
c. The spiritual blessings of the covenant of grace become far more apparent in the covenant with Abraham than they were before. The best Scriptural exposition of the Abrahamic covenant is contained in Rom. 3 and 4, and Gal. 3. In connection with the narrative found in Genesis these chapters teach that Abraham received in the covenant justification, including the forgiveness of sins and adoption into the very family of God, and also the gifts of the Spirit unto sanctification and eternal glory.
d. The covenant with Abraham already included a symbolical element. On the one hand it had reference to temporal blessings, such as the land of Canaan, a numerous offspring, protection against and victory over the enemies; and on the other, it referred to spiritual blessings. It should be borne in mind, however, that the former were not co-ordinate with, but subordinate to, the latter. These temporal blessings did not constitute an end in themselves, but served to symbolize and typify spiritual and heavenly things. The spiritual promises were not realized in the natural descendants of Abraham as such, but only in those who followed in the footsteps of Abraham.
e. In view of this establishment of the covenant of grace with Abraham, he is sometimes considered as the head of the covenant of grace. But the word “head” is rather ambiguous, and therefore liable to misunderstanding. Abraham cannot be called the representative head of the covenant of grace, just as Adam was of the covenant of works, for (1) the Abrahamic covenant did not include the believers that preceded him and who were yet in the covenant of grace, and (2) he could not accept the promises for us nor believe in our stead, thereby exempting us from these duties. If there is a representative head in the covenant of grace, it can only be Christ (cf. Bavinck, Geref. Dogm. III, pp. 239,241); but, strictly speaking, we can consider Him as the Head only on the assumption that the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace are one. Abraham can be called the head of the covenant only in the sense that it was formally established with him, and that he received the promise of its continuance in the line of his natural, but above all, of his spiritual, descendants. Paul speaks of him as “the father of all them that believe,” Rom. 4:11. It is clear that the word “father” can only be understood figuratively here, for believers do not owe their spiritual life to Abraham. Says Dr. Hodge in his Commentary of Romans (4:11): “The word father expresses community of character, and is often applied to the head or founder of any school or class of men, whose character is determined by the relation to the person so designated; as Gen. 4:20,21. . . . Believers are called the children of Abraham, because of this identity of religious nature or character, as he stands out in Scripture as the believer; and because it was with him that the covenant of grace, embracing all the children of God, whether Jews or Gentiles, was re-enacted; and because they are his heirs, inheriting the blessings promised to him.”
f. Finally, we must not lose sight of the fact that the stage of the Old Testament covenant revelation which is most normative for us in the New Testament dispensation, is not that of the Sinaitic covenant, but that of the covenant established with Abraham. The Sinaitic covenant is an interlude, covering a period in which the real character of the covenant of grace, that is, its free and gracious character, is somewhat eclipsed by all kinds of external ceremonies and forms which, in connection with the theocratic life of Israel, placed the demands of the law prominently in the foreground, cf. Gal. 3. In the covenant with Abraham, on the other hand, the promise and the faith that responds to the promise are made emphatic.
4. THE SINAITIC COVENANT. The covenant of Sinai was essentially the same as that established with Abraham, though the form differed somewhat. This is not always recognized, and is not recognized by present day dispensationalists. They insist on it that it was a different covenant, not only in form but in essence. Scofield speaks of it as a legal covenant, a “conditional Mosaic covenant of works,”[Ref. Bib., p. 95.] under which the point of testing was legal obedience as the condition of salvation.[Ibid, p. 1115.] If that covenant was a covenant of works, it certainly was not the covenant of grace. The reason why it is sometimes regarded as an entirely new covenant is that Paul repeatedly refers to the law and the promise as forming an antithesis, Rom. 4:13 ff.; Gal. 3:17. But it should be noted that the apostle does not contrast with the covenant of Abraham the Sinaitic covenant as a whole, but only the law as it functioned in this covenant, and this function only as it was misunderstood by the Jews. The only apparent exception to that rule is Gal. 4:21 ff., where two covenants are indeed compared. But these are not the Abrahamic and the Sinaitic covenants. The covenant that proceeds from Sinai and centers in the earthly Jerusalem, is placed over against the covenant that proceeds from heaven and centers in the Jerusalem that is above, that is, — the natural and the spiritual.
There are clear indications in Scripture that the covenant with Abraham was not supplanted by the Sinaitic covenant, but remained in force. Even at Horeb the Lord reminded the people of the covenant with Abraham, Deut. 1:8; and when the Lord threatened to destroy the people after they had made the golden calf, Moses based his plea for them on that covenant, Ex. 32:13. He also assured them repeatedly that, whenever they repented of their sins and returned unto Him, He would be mindful of His covenant with Abraham, Lev. 26:42; Deut. 4:31. The two covenants are clearly represented in their unity in Ps. 105:8-10: “He hath remembered His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed the same unto Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant.” This unity also follows from the argument of Paul in Gal. 3, where he stresses the fact that an unchangeable God does not arbitrarily alter the essential nature of a covenant once confirmed; and that the law was not intended to supplant but to serve the gracious ends of the promise, Gal. 3:15-22. If the Sinaitic covenant was indeed a covenant of works, in which legal obedience was the way of salvation, then it certainly was a curse for Israel, for it was imposed on a people that could not possibly obtain salvation by works. But this covenant is represented in Scripture as a blessing bestowed upon Israel by a loving Father, Ex. 19:5; Lev. 26:44,45; Deut. 4:8; Ps. 148:20. But though the covenant with Abraham and the Sinaitic covenant were essentially the same, yet the covenant of Sinai had certain characteristic features.
a. At Sinai the covenant became a truly national covenant. The civil life of Israel was linked up with the covenant in such a way that the two could not be separated. In a large measure Church and State became one. To be in the Church was to be in the nation, and vice versa; and to leave the Church was to leave the nation. There was no spiritual excommunication; the ban meant cutting off by death.
b. The Sinaitic covenant included a service that contained a positive reminder of the strict demands of the covenant of works. The law was placed very much in the foreground, giving prominence once more to the earlier legal element. But the covenant of Sinai was not a renewal of the covenant of works; in it the law was made subservient to the covenant of grace. This is indicated already in the introduction to the ten commandments, Ex. 20:2; Deut. 5:6, and further in Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:24. It is true that at Sinai a conditional element was added to the covenant, but it was not the salvation of the Israelite but his theocratic standing in the nation, and the enjoyment of external blessings that was made dependent on the keeping of the law, Deut. 28:1-14. The law served a twofold purpose in connection with the covenant of grace: (1) to increase the consciousness of sin, Rom. 3:20; 4:15; Gal. 3:19; and (2) to be a tutor unto Christ, Gal. 3:24.
c. The covenant with the nation of Israel included a detailed ceremonial and typical service. To some extent this was also present in the earlier period, but in the measure in which it was introduced at Sinai it was something new. A separate priesthood was instituted, and a continuous preaching of the gospel in symbols and types was introduced. These symbols and types appear under two different aspects: as the demands of God imposed on the people; and as a divine message of salvation to the people. The Jews lost sight of the latter aspect, and fixed their attention exclusively on the former. They regarded the covenant ever increasingly, but mistakenly, as a covenant of works, and saw in the symbols and types a mere appendage to this.
d. The law in the Sinaitic covenant also served Israel as a rule of life, so that the one law of God assumed three different aspects, designated as the moral, the civil, and the ceremonial or religious law. The civil law is simply the application of the principles of the moral law to the social and civic life of the people in all its ramifications. Even the social and civil relations in which the people stood to each other had to reflect the covenant relation in which they stood.
There have been several deviating opinions respecting the Sinaitic covenant which deserve attention.
a. Coccejus saw in the decalogue a summary expression of the covenant of grace, particularly applicable to Israel. When the people, after the establishment of this national covenant of grace, became unfaithful and made a golden calf, the legal covenant of the ceremonial service was instituted as a stricter and harsher dispensation of the covenant of grace. Thus the revelation of grace is found particularly in the decalogue, and that of servitude in the ceremonial law. Before the covenant of Sinai the fathers lived under the promise. There were sacrifices, but these were not obligatory.
b. Others regarded the law as the formula of a new covenant of works established with Israel. God did not really intend that Israel should merit life by keeping the law, since this had become utterly impossible. He simply wanted them to try their strength and to bring them to a consciousness of their own inability. When they left Egypt, they stood strong in the conviction that they could do all that the Lord commanded; but at Sinai they soon discovered that they could not. In view of their consciousness of guilt the Lord now reestablished the Abrahamic covenant of grace, to which also the ceremonial law belonged. This reverses the position of Coccejus. The element of grace is found in the ceremonial law. This is somewhat in line with the view of present day dispensationalists, who regard the Sinaitic covenant as a “conditional Mosaic covenant of works” (Scofield), containing in the ceremonial law, however, some adumbrations of the coming redemption in Christ.
c. Still others are of the opinion that God established three covenants at Sinai, a national covenant, a covenant of nature or of works, and a covenant of grace. The first was made with all the Israelites, and was the continuation of the particularistic line which began with Abraham. In it God demands external obedience, and promises temporal blessings. The second was a repetition of the covenant of works by the giving of a decalogue. And the last a renewal of the covenant of grace, as it was established with Abraham, in the giving of the ceremonial law.
These views are all objectionable for more than one reason: (1) They are contrary to Scripture in their multiplication of the covenants. It is un-Scriptural to assume that more than one covenant was established at Sinai, though it was a covenant with various aspects. (2) They are mistaken in that they seek to impose undue limitations on the decalogue and on the ceremonial law. It is very evident that the ceremonial law has a double aspect; and it is clear also that the decalogue, though placing the demands of the law clearly in the foreground, is made subservient to the covenant of grace.
C. THE NEW TESTAMENT DISPENSATION.
Little need be said respecting the New Testament dispensation of the covenant. The following points should be noted:
1. The covenant of grace, as it is revealed in the New Testament, is essentially the same as that which governed the relation of Old Testament believers to God. It is entirely unwarranted to represent the two as forming an essential contrast, as is done by present day dispensationalism. This is abundantly evident from Rom. 4 and Gal. 3. If it is sometimes spoken of as a new covenant, this is sufficiently explained by the fact that its administration differs in several particulars from that of the Old Testament. The following points will indicate what is meant.
2. The New Testament dispensation differs from that of the Old in that it is universal, that is, extends to all nations. The covenant of grace was originally universal; its particularism began with Abraham, and was continued and intensified in the Sinaitic covenant. This particularism, however, was not intended to be permanent, but to disappear after it had served its purpose. Even during the period of the law it was possible for Gentiles to join the people of Israel and thus to share in the blessings of the covenant. And when Christ brought His sacrifice, the blessing of Abraham flowed out to the nations; — those that were afar off were brought nigh.
3. The New Testament dispensation places greater emphasis on the gracious character of the covenant. The promise is very much in the foreground. In fact, it is clearly brought out that in the covenant of grace God freely gives what He demands. In this respect the new dispensation connects up with the Abrahamic rather than with the Sinaitic covenant, as Paul clearly brings out in Rom. 4 and Gal. 3. This does not mean, however, that there were no gracious promises during the period of the law. When Paul in II Cor. 3 contrasts the ministry of the law with that of the gospel, he has in mind particularly the ministry of the law as it was understood by the later Jews, who turned the Sinaitic covenant into a covenant of works.
4. Finally, the New Testament dispensation brings richer blessings than the Old Testament dispensation. The revelation of God’s grace reached its climax, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among men “full of grace and truth.” The Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Church, and out of the fulness of the grace of God in Christ enriches believers with spiritual and eternal blessings. The present dispensation of the covenant of grace will continue until the return of Christ, when the covenant relation will be realized in the fullest sense of the word in a life of intimate communion with God.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY. How did the introduction of the doctrine of the covenant affect the presentation of the truth in Reformed theology? Why did this doctrine meet with little favor outside of Reformed circles? Who were the first to introduce this doctrine? What characterized the federal theology of Coccejus? Why did some insist on treating the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace as a single covenant? Why do others prefer to treat them separately? What can be said in answer to the flippant rejection of the covenant idea as a legal fiction? How can Christ be both party and surety in the same covenant? What can be said against the idea of Blake that the covenant of grace is a purely external relationship? What objections are there to the idea of two covenants, the one external, and the other internal? Why does Kuyper maintain that Christ, and Christ only, is the second party in the covenant of grace? In what sense does he regard the covenant of grace as an eternal covenant? What must we think of the tendency of modern Premillennialism, to multiply the covenants and the dispensations? How did modern dispensationalism originate? How does it conceive of the relation between the Old and the New Testament?
LITERATURE: Bavinck, Geref. Dogm. III, pp. 199-244; Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., De Foedere, pp. 118-154; ibid., Uit het Woord, De Leer der Verbonden; Vos, Geref. Dogm. II, pp. 76-140; ibid., De Verbondsleer in de Geref. Theol.; Hodge, Syst. Theol., II, pp. 354-377; Dabney, Syst. and Polem. Theol., pp. 429-463; H. H. Kuyper, Hamabdil, van de Heiligheid van het Genadeverbond; A. Kuyper, Jr., De Vastigheid des Verbonds; Van den Bergh, Calvijn over het Genadeverbond; Heppe, Dogm. der Ev-Ref. Kirche, pp. 268-293; ibid., Dogm. des Deutschen Protestantismus, II, pp. 215-221; ibid., Geschichte des Pietismus. pp. 205-240; Mastricht, Godgeleerdheit, II, pp. 363-412; a Marck, Godgeleerdheid, pp. 463-482; Witsius, De Verbonden, pp. 255-299; Turretin, Opera, Locus XII Q. 1-12; Brakel, Redelijke Godsdienst, I, pp. 351-382; Pictet, Theol., pp. 280-284; Strong, Discourse on the Covenant, pp. 113-447; Owen, The Covenant of Grace; Gib, Sacred Contemplations, pp. 171-389; Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace; Boston, The Covenant of Grace; Girardeau, The Federal Theology: Its Import and its Regulative Influence (in the Memorial Volume of the Semi-Centennial of Columbia Seminary); W. L. Newton, Notes on the Covenant, A Study in the Theology of the Prophets (Roman Catholic); Aalders, Het Verbond Gods.
From Systematic Theolgy by Louis Berkhof