Christ of the Covenants

O. Palmer Robertson introduces The Christ of the Covenants with two aims: To foster a correct understanding of the significance of God’s covenants and the relation of the two testaments. He argues that the various covenants and the testaments are organically unified in Christ; they are unified by the “Immanuel principle”–a principle that “binds the whole of Scripture together” (51). Christ is the fulfillment of that principle; Jesus Christ is the Immanuel–God with us. Below is an extended quote from Robertson’s book:

Classically, covenant theology has spoken of a “covenant of works” and a “covenant of grace.”

The term “covenant of works” has been applied to God’s relation to man prior to his fall into sin. This relationship has been characterized as a covenant of “works” in an effort to emphasize the testing period of Adam. If Adam should “work” properly, he would receive the blessings promised by God.

The phrase “covenant of grace” has been used to describe the relationship of God to his people subsequent to man’s fall into sin. Since man became incapable of works suitable for meriting salvation, this period has been understood as being controller primarily by the grace of God.

This division of God’s covenant dealings with men in terms of “covenant of works” and a “covenant of grace” has much to commend it. It emphasizes properly the absolute necessity of recognizing a pre-fall relationship between God and man which required perfect obedience as the meritorious ground of blessing. In this structure, Adam cannot be regarded purely as a mythical figure. In real history God bound himself to the man he had made to be “very good.”

This distinction also provides an overarching structure to unite the totality of God’s relation to man in his fallen state. Because of its inherent emphasis on the unity of God’ redemptive program, this structure delivers the church from the temptation to draw too strongly a dichotomy between old and new testaments.

However, the terminology traditionally associated with this scheme has significant limitations. No criticism may be offered with respect to the general structure of this distinction. Two basic epochs of God’s dealings with man must be recognized: pre-fall and post-fall. All the dealings of God with man since the fall must be seen as possessing a basic unity….The terms “covenant of creation” and “covenant of redemption” may serve much more appropriately as categorizations of God’s bond with man before and after the fall. The “covenant of creation” refers to the bond with God established with man by creation. The “covenant of redemption” encompasses the various administrations by which God has bound himself to man since the fall.