The following are excerpts from plenary addresses delivered at this year's Philadelphia Conference on Reformation Theology. The theme was "the Covenant of Grace."
James Montgomery Boice, Senior Minister,
Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia
..Verse 21: "The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them." It's an obvious picture. We see it much clearer today this side of the cross, but it's an obvious picture of being clothed in the righteousness of Christ as the fruit of his atonement. It is a picture of our justification! Justification which follows faith, without which there's no salvation.
I think we ought to put ourselves in the mind of Adam as he stood there on that occasion. What we're told is that God made garments of skin. He had to kill animals to do that, and Adam and his wife were there; they were watching, and they must have seen God kill the animals. They hadn't seen death before, so far as I am aware, and here for the first time before their eyes was death. It must have been a shocking thing for them.
I don't know what these animals were. In view of the symbolism that we find throughout the Bible, it's natural to suspect that they were lambs. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; that's the picture. Here are these frisky, lovely, little lambs, or some other animal, and God kills them, and Adam and Eve must have said, "Oh, so that's what death is! I had no idea death was so bad." So when they saw the death of the animals they must have said in shocked amazement, "Sin really is bad if this is what it does."
But they would have said something else, too. You have to remember now, Adam had been instructed by God. He was in an unfallen state just moments before. He hadn't lost that intelligence that he must have been created with, and certainly he would have figured out that God is doing something, and he must have said to himself something like this: "Here, God has killed these animals. Look, that's a terrible thing, but I don't want to get entirely hung up on that; there's something else involved there. What I remember is that God said to me 'The day in which you eat of that tree you will surely die.' This is the day I ate of it, but I did not die. Does that mean that God is not keeping his word, gracious as it may be for him not to submit us to execution?"
"No, no," Adam said, "we have not died, but the animals died. They died in our place. That's what's going on here. What do I call it? That's the principle of substitution. That's what it is. The animals are our substitutes. What's more, they are innocent. They didn't do anything wrong. An innocent dying-it's vicarious. It's really a vicarious atonement." Furthermore, Adam would have said, "When God has taken those skins and has clothed us with them instead of those fig leaves of our own righteousness, God is pointing to a restoration-by his grace!-of something which we have no opportunity of achieving. We had an original innocence once, we lost it. There's no way we can ever go back to that original innocence, but thank God we can go forward to the cross and receive there the righteousness of Jesus Christ."
And so, though Adam didn't know this name, he had the idea. He said, "God has clothed us with the skins to show that he will give to us a righteousness which we do not have." Furthermore, that's what he believed. And it was through that trust that he was reckoned right before God….
Harry Reeder, Senior Pastor,
Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham
…God signs, seals and affirms this covenant himself. Abram's still wondering now, not [only] about his seed, [but also], "What about that land you said, Lord? What about that land? How do I know I possess that land?"
And God cuts the covenant. "Go get a heifer. Go get the goat. Go get the ram. Get the pigeon; get the dove." And you'll note, Abram needs no instructions here, for he knows how the covenant is cut. And he cuts it.
But then something amazing happens. Unlike all of the other covenantal enactments that he would be familiar with, it is not Abram that takes the oath of fidelity and walks through the covenant, walks through the carcasses to the king. It is the King of Kings himself. The smoking oven, the lighted oven, the theophany-it is the one whom we just sung. The fire, the pillar, the cloud, the smoking oven. It is God himself that comes through the covenant for Abram. He not only initiates it sovereignly-he achieves it personally, by oath, and he walks through it himself. Thus he enacts it, he affirms it, he signs it, and he seals it.
…What should it mean for you who are the children of Abraham by faith?… I've got a word for you from this covenant of grace. The first is this: my friend, live confidently and courageously in Jesus Christ and heed the exhortation of the covenant: do not fear. Do not fear! Your Savior has ratified this document. Do not fear.
Don't fear Satan, not because you're greater than he, but because greater is he that's in you than he that's in the world. Don't fear Satan! We will not fear him. Why? Our Savior has triumphed over him. We won't fear what is around us, though the world would rise up as a flood to overwhelm us. We will not fear eternity; we will not fear death; we will not even fear the reality of our own sins. Why? For we have cast it all aside and put our trust in Jesus Christ. He is our defender. He is the one that paid for the sins. "So if you confess your sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive you of your sins." He is faithful and just-he tells the Father: "Father, forgive them. I paid for it." He is your defender…. Cower not at the steps of the grave, either, for your Savior has overcome sin, death, hell and the grave, and has the keys of everlasting life. We will not fear.
And the last exhortation I would give you is this: a covenant of grace has been given, that you would come to the one who ratified it. I am asking you: fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross. This one, who has sat down at the right hand of the Father, fix your eyes on him. And never let them be moved. And glory in the cross, the cross alone.
I praise God for the empty tomb, for he tells me he's won the victory. And I praise God for the ascension, because I know he's coming again. But I ask you first to fix your eyes on the cross! Glory only in Christ and him crucified, for there, at that cross, you see the need of grace, don't you? Don't you see the need of grace there?
For one time in human history, two thousand years ago, men and women had God where they could put their hands on him-and what did they do? They crucified him! Jew, Gentile, Roman, religious, non-religious-they all cried out for it!
That's the heart you and I are born with. That's why this covenant of grace is so dear to us. For we have a Christ-killing heart! We have a heart of cosmic treason and rebellion against God.
I don't need self-help from God. I need God to save me from my sin. Jesus didn't come to send me a Nike message, "do it!" He didn't come to say, "Get better!" He didn't come to one who was wounded-he came to one who was absolutely impotent, absolutely dead in his sins, and I have no hope apart from him! I need his grace. I need it every hour….
Friend, can you see not only your need of grace and this Christ who ratifies this covenant? Can you not also see the victory of grace? Can you not see that moment when God's Son goes to the cross? Two thousand years ago, God's wrath and judgment (hear me out here; I'm not being irreverent, but I want to get the point across)-God's wrath and judgment fell from heaven two thousand years ago to the one place and upon the one person it had no right to go! But God himself took the oath. God himself walked through the covenant and died for our sins.
And the Father was pleased to crush him, that we might have everlasting life.
Can you not imagine in that moment how the legions of angels (I don't know how many are there), but can you not see how they must, at that moment, peering into this world-how they must have somehow been tethered? Can you not know how they would want to come and rescue this one whom they sing his praises, whom they glory in, this one whom they serve, now on a cross-dying, naked, mocked, ridiculed, at the very hands of men and women-how they would not yearn to come to take him from there, and wreak absolute havoc and judgment upon all of us?!
But it is the Savior who goes to the cross, and he speaks to those angels: "Stay! Stay! I am saving my people from their sins."
That's the grace we have in the covenant. Fix your eyes on Jesus and be fearless-for he is your courage and your confidence. You will never be moved.
Joel Nederhood, Radio Minister,
The Christian Reformed Church
…All that which occurred in the Old Testament era in the tabernacle, and all the sacrifices that were brought-were pointing forward to the fact that there would come a day when God would shed his own blood. Oh, let us not be too squeamish about this tonight.
We Reformed people, with our theology (oh, it is a beautiful theology, and of course I love it), but we often talk about election and predestination, and God's decrees and an atonement that occurred in the courts of heaven when Jesus died on Calvary's cross. But let us not forget that all that theology must be understood in terms of blood!
I just turned to the book of Ephesians, first chapter, where we read of predestination: "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ." And then in verse seven: "In him we have redemption through his blood"-his blood. Our salvation had to be achieved in history-in history, just as we live in history, right now, celebrating two thousand years from the birth of Jesus Christ, four thousand years from Abraham. God had to come here, into this place, into this world, where we live. He had to come into history! And he had to walk the road, and take the steps, and make the journey from Bethlehem to Calvary. Every step had to be taken, and he had to die. And so we speak of the "holy mystery" of redemption.
We gaze at it, and we try in this season [of Lent] somehow to think about the fact that this man Jesus had to endure so much, and he did. The sheer physical nature of his suffering is terrible. But that's not what we have on this page. The blood was the great sacrifice of the second person of the Trinity, bringing that sacrifice, precisely the sacrifice that was necessary-he was bringing to his Father in the power of the eternal Spirit exactly what was necessary in order that all of this sin that we've just been thinking about-this sin could be removed and paid for.
And so the covenant finally comes to this. Think of it. The God who wanted so much to enter into a covenant-love relationship with his created image-bearer finally, after humankind had stumbled again and again along the road of the centuries-finally God had to come himself and pay the price. So we stand at the cross tonight and we think about what he did there. The blood of goats and animals were of no value compared to this.
This was a new and better sacrifice. This was a man who hung there! He was one of us! He was the last Adam, the second Adam. As Adam was our representative there in the garden and he fell so horribly, this is our Covenant Head upon a cross bringing the sacrifice, and it's perfect. The holy mystery. We try to understand what happens when we read all those things about the tabernacle in the Old Testament. We scratch our head and we say, "What was that really all about?"
But tonight we look at this-when God himself fulfilled the covenant-and we say, "Something happened here. Something happened here that we will never understand. God did what we never could."