Historically, the doctrine of the covenants has sent many Baptists to their death (drowning, burning, beating) and it has sent many Presbyterians to Hell. It is not something to be taken lightly, and we must admit that there is a vast difference between the belief that there is one Covenant (Covenantalism) and at least two major Covenants (Dispensationalism). This article will seek to define and repudiate the heresy of Covenantalism, drawing all readers to a firm belief in the New Covenant of Grace.
According to the Covenantal document, the Westminster Confession of Faith (hereafter WCF), the singular Covenant is expressed in two dispensations, "This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel (WCF Chapter VII, Para V)..." The covenant was administered through sacrifices, circumcision, and the like under the law, but under the gospel, they are administered through the preaching of the Word, and in Baptism and the Lord's Supper (WCF Chapter VII, Para VI).
The result of the law and the gospel, according to this anathema religion, is "full remission of sins, and eternal salvation (WCF Chapter VII Para V)..." They conclude by saying, "There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations (WCF Chapter VII Para VI)."
The simplest definition of Covenantalism is that the covenant is between God and men, under works it was circumcision, and under grace it is baptism.
The Dispensational document, the Bible, utterly refutes this Papist heresy by clearly differentiating between two Covenants, a covenant of works, and a covenant of grace. The primary places to find these are John 10, Hebrews 7-8, 2 Corinthians 3, Jeremiah 31, and Ezekiel 36; discussion of the covenants is not at all limited to these chapters, but is best expressed in them. Portions of each chapter will be quoted in this article, and I encourage you to read each in its context and entirety.
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it this way,
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,Note that there are two primary things happening, that two covenants are clearly expressed, and that the First is unable to save, and the Second makes a perfect salvation between God and his people. This is a direct quote of Jeremiah 31:31-34, but I quoted it from Hebrews in order to point out that the author here calls the first Covenant faulty (Hebrews 8:7) and obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), and the new covenant better (Hebrews 8:6).
__when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
__and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
__on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
__and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
__after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
__and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
__and they shall be my people. - Hebrews 8:8-10
The Old Covenant was conditional between men and God, but the New Covenant is conditional between the Father and the Son, for Christ says "I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand (John 10:28-29)."
Dispensationalism, defined most simply, is that the Old Covenant was a covenant between God and man, which man always fails, and the New Covenant is a covenant between the Father and the Son, which the Son fulfills perfectly.
The Sign and Seal of the Covenants
Covenantalism and Dispensationalism take another radical departure when the sign and seal of the covenants is discussed. The WCF states, "Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ...to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life (WCF Chapter XXVIII Para I)."
The Bible refutes this by saying "when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)..." and "the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30)." and "circumcision is not outward and physical...circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit (Romans 2:28-29)." and "And I will give you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will put within you (Ezekiel 36:26)."
The sign and seal of the Old Covenant was circumcision, the seal of the New Covenant is the Holy Spirit and the sign is a new heart. The Covenantal view of an outward and physical sign is modern day Judaising, placing people under bondage and works by requiring adherance to the (misrepresented) law in order to be saved. Furthermore, the unforgiveable sin is Blasphemy of the Spirit, of attributing the works of the Holy Spirit to unclean spirits. Covenantalism seems to commit this sin unashamedly, by claiming that men seal themselves into salvation with a mere ritual.
Covenantalism is called, "The ministry of death" in 2 Corinthians 3. The Apostle Paul expands stating, "the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me (Romans 7:10)." The Covenant between God and men is perfectly upheld by God, who cannot break a Covenant. If men do good, they will be blessed, but a single sin results in their cursing. This Covenant is therefore weak and useless, for the law made nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:18-19). It is obsolete, and its only use is to show men their need for a better hope (Hebrews 7:19): the guarantor of a better Covenant (Hebrews 7:22).
Jesus Christ has made us sufficient to be ministers of a New Covenant, the ministry of the Spirit, not the ministry of condemnation, but the ministry of righteousness (2 Cor 3:6-9). Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17, Hebrews 4:15), suffering completely for our sin, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). For the Old Covenant brings curses to cursed humanity, but Christ brings blessing to an unconditional covenant for men, because he fulfilled all of the conditions.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith." But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. - Galatians 3:10-14Invitation
Dear reader, if you are bewitched into the soul damning doctrine of Covenantalism, then I implore you to come out of her, to flee from the terror of Sinai to the glory of Zion and the city of the living God, to look not to your own works or covenant making, but to the perfect obedience of Christ who saved a people from every nation, tribe, and tongue because of the Covenant he made with his Father, which is partaken of by faith, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and expressed in the power of reborn life.
If you stay, then heed this terrifying warning and be sure that your end is eternal damnation, "How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29)?" There is no salvation in the Obsolete Covenant, in fact it has passed away, so seek the Son while he may be found, place your faith in his faithfulness, not your own, and receive his blessings as he received your curse.
Dispensationalists, stand against this resurging Presbyterian heresy, your forefathers did and tasted death for it, their light momentary affliction preparing for them an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor 4:17). Obadiah Holmes, Baptist minister in 1651, received 30 lashes and nearly died at the hands of Covenantalists, yet his words to his persecutors are left to encourage us, "You have struck me as with roses. Although the Lord hath made it easy to me, yet I pray God it may not be laid to your charge." Do not consider Covenantalists your brothers, or be surprised when they show no fruit of the Spirit, for they have embraced a law that has cursed them and a veil lies over their hearts that only Christ can raise.
Above all, look to the perfection of the New Covenant which has made the Old Covenant obsolete and shown its weakness and uselessness. Look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.