God’s Covenant, Part 2 – Introduction

Part of the problem of doing a study of this kind on the overall structure of history is that there are several possible approaches that can be taken. How these different views stack up to what is revealed in Scripture is what will determine the validity of each ones claim. Before engaging in the solution to this problem it is useful to lay out some of the main popular opinions.

One popular approach is to think of history as a progression of random events that unfold throughout history. This is the accidental view of history. In this approach each successive period of  history happens as a result of that which preceded it. The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), had the idea that everything operates as a dialectical process in history. Hegel’s dialectical philosophy suggested that there is a three-part process or cycle that can be observed in nature. He termed this dialectic as crisis, reaction, solution. In other words the development of history is a combination of these three things working together to bring about significance to its overall scheme. Hegel was a skeptic who did not view God or Scripture as relevant to understanding anything. Hegel’s idea was nothing new however, he simply borrowed it from an earlier version of dialectical theory taught by Greek philosophers. These thinkers did not know the God of Scripture, that He is the Sovereign Creator and Ruler of all things. Instead, the Greek concept of history was one which was guided by the gods who warred with each other in the heavens, bringing about chance events and outcomes on earth. Needless to say, such a view as this is not Scriptural but pagan in its assessment of history.

There was another school of Greeks called the Stoics who viewed history through the lense of fatalism. For these men all events of history are predetermined by blind forces in nature. Because everything is predetermined then nothing that anyone can do matters in the final analysis. This idea does not reflect the God of Scripture either.

Another approach to understanding history is one that has been around since before the fourth century. This is a view that sees man as completely deterministic of his future according to the dictates of his free-will. This particular idea is one that was expressed in the writings of the British ascetic Pelagius (354-430?). Pelagius believed that though God intervened in the affairs of man on earth that He was in the end utterly dependant on man to respond to Him and His overtures toward him. Pelagius and his ideas were condemned as heretical, but many since then within the Christian church have embraced them anyway as consistent with Scripture. Even though free-willism has always been popular, nevertheless it too falls short of the Biblical ideal.

The Enlightenment movement began in the seventeenth century and with it came a certain type of view of God and nature. The Enlightenment movement was a reaction to contentions that occurred due to religious reform brought about by the Protestant Reformation. The Enlightenment men viewed God as a benevolent Creator but not as a Ruler of all nature. In this way of thinking God once having set nature in motion then stepped back, letting it operate on its own. This idea of God is often referred to as the watchmaker theory. This too is a view of history where the free-will of men are determinative of its events. The Enlightenment god depends on man to act in order for any progress in history to occur. Without man’s wisdom and effort nothing good can be accomplished. This idea has no parallel in Scripture either.

In the nineteenth century another view of history began which is closer to Scripture in one respect, but still far from it in another. This particular idea was built upon the foundation of an earlier idea that began in the seventeenth century. This idea views God as a Sovereign Creator and Ruler of history just as Scripture reveals Him to be. Its problem however lays within the details of this scheme. This view of history sees God’s will worked out in such a way so as not to violate the supposed free-will of man. Plainly stated, God has a plan which takes into account all of the contingencies of a world of freely acting humans. God’s plan works around a great multitude of individuals all in great detail, bringing to pass everything He desires in spite of all the obvious opposition to it. The way this works is supposed by those of this group to be in a succession of epochal events that occur throughout history. In each age God has a purpose for man which comes to failure each time. Not to be overcome, God moves into the next successive age with its specific plan until finally He has the victory over all opposition to it. In this scheme the God of Scripture is Sovereign and the Lord of His creation. In the end after all is done then God is the absolute victor. This also makes history to show a pattern of working that relates to the Scripture ideal of redemption, with the restoration of all that was lost in an original defection by His creatures. Even though this is a vast improvement over all of the other ideas, yet, it too falls short of what Scripture teaches.

Finally, the last and most biblically sound understanding of history require that it be viewed as a structure which violates neither the Sovereignty of God, nor the freedom of man as he has been created. This requires a different view of things than the previous one on many grounds. First, it is necessary to start with God and not man before coming to any of the details outlined in Scripture on the covenant. This translates into defining the meaning of both created and uncreated nature to determine how Scripture relates these things to history. A series of questions must be addressed in order to bring these two definitions of nature together with God. We must know who is God is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. Closely related to this is the Bibles teaching of what Gods nature is. Since the covenant purpose of God involves His thought we ought to enquire into what the will of God is or isn’t on all of the issues raised in reference to it. The logic of God is behind the things that He does, so that it is imperative for us to determine from Scripture why God does what He intends to do. In fact, this is so fundamental to the study of God’s covenant. God is rational so therefore, His revelation is systematic in nature. It is contrary to God and sense to believe anything that violates what God has revealed in this manner. This logic is often referred to as the analogy of faith. The logic of Scripture is violated when anything foreign to it, or, rationally inconsistent with it when introduced, affects its interpretation.

The second category of question that ought to be considered about God’s covenant is somewhat similar to the first but is focused on man instead. The identity of man as he was created by God according to Scripture must be accurately understood. This involves understanding what the nature of man was from the beginning of creation, both its quality and character and what these are now. The manner in which men think according to their nature and perception of things enters into the discussion of Gods Covenant. Exactly what kind of works are men capable of doing in terms of their nature? God reveals the answer to this in His word that it is not what man thinks according to his wisdom. The motivations behind what men think and do in the things they do is according to what they are by nature. But last of all, God determines providentially how these things play out through His sovereign superintendence of all earths affairs.

Hopefully, all of these issues concerning God and man will be considered at one point or other in this Theological enquiry to determine what Scripture teaches on the purpose, plan, and fulfillment of God’s covenant. The best and most Biblical view of these things are a single covenant view of history which takes into account everything contained in Scripture. The idea of a single covenant view has been around in one form or another since the end of the first century. The single covenant view of Scripture is what the Protestant Reformers adopted as their understanding of the overall structure revealed in Scripture in respect to Gods Purpose. This is the view that will be taken in the present essay. It should also be mentioned that there have been variations on the single covenant theme over the lengthy time it has prevailed in the church. This writer’s specific view will align with all the others in a general way but may and probably will reflect certain specific differences of understanding in some of the details.

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