History: Covenant & History

The first day of creation consisted in God creating day and night. God created light and distinguished it from darkness. God created history and filled it with the objects he created, sustains and perfects. What we call “history” is dependent on God, both for its existence, purpose and outcome. This means God interprets history. God’s written word and Spirit provide us the interpretation of history we should have as his image bearers. In saying things about history, then, we are saying things about God.  

According to the Bible, everyone’s view of history is unavoidably theological. Put another way, every historian is a theologian (the reverse is also true). Historians do not choose this; it has already been chosen for them. While it may not be apparent to, or admitted by us, or many historians, how history writing (historiography) is expressing a theology or a view of God, nonetheless it is. This is the unavoidable conclusion forced upon us by God’s word.

Speaking of Jesus, the Apostle Paul tells us that, “all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16). All history has a purpose, a goal, and Jesus, and his eternal and glorious kingdom where righteousness and justice will reign forevermore, is it. Paul went on to write that Jesus is “before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly affirms that all God’s works, and therefore all our thoughts about God and our actions in God’s creation, should be understood from the two doctrinal categories of “creation” and “providence.” Great joy and peace belongs to the one who trusts in the Triune God’s ordering all things in creation after the counsel of his will for his glory, and knows that there is nothing in all creation that can separate him or her from the love of God in Christ Jesus (cf. Eph. 1:3-14; Rom. 8:31-39).

By God’s works of creation and providence, we are directed to think of the entire span of history from two perspectives—1) God’s Old and New covenant, and 2) this created age that is passing away and yielding to the New creation age that has come, is coming and will come. The two realities to which the perspectives refer are organically joined.

The Scripture’s affirm that God’s covenant is with all creation. When God told Noah that he would establish his covenant with Noah (Gen. 6:18) the Hebrew verb form requires us to affirm that God was continuing with Noah an already existing covenant relationship. It raises the question: When did this covenant relationship begin? It began with creation at the time of God creating; of God creating time!

Later we learn from such passages as Genesis 9; Deuteronomy 4:25-31; 30:11-20; Jeremiah 33:19-26, and Romans 8:18-25, among others, that God’s covenant with his people is inseparably joined to his covenant with all creation. Indeed, God’s covenant with his people is an extension of his covenant with creation—we are creatures. While there is plenty of confusion among some, even in reformed circles on these matters, Scripture is not so confusing.

God has a covenant with the day and the night. God gave a covenant sign to all creation (Gen. 9) prior to giving a covenant sign to his redeemed people (Gen. 17). The accomplished work of Jesus, the Creator, who is the Last Adam (John 1:1-5; 1Cor. 15:45; cf. Rom. 5:12-21) brings the covenant blessing promised to Abraham (Gal. 3:6-14) to both Jew & Gentile in and through the Church.

While many debate which terms are best to use in naming God’s covenant (works, law, grace, creation, life and redemption etc.) and which ways the Old and New Covenant relate, we should recognize that history can only rightly be understood according to God’s making and keeping his covenant. Thus, the Bible as well as history, is structured according to the Old Covenant and New Covenant. Notice I did not write covenants. As the Westminster Divines affirmed: “There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations” (WCF VII, 6). One covenant, because there is only one God. But there are various administrations of his covenant.

It seems that many Christians in the West should consider a paradigm shift. Rather than thinking right along with Western culture so that the Christian faith is considered foremost, if not exclusively, in terms of human beliefs and behaviors, so that life is reduced and subordinated to human rationality and projects, we should consider the biblical perspective—God IS. God IS Life. All human beliefs and behaviors throughout all history are an extension of God’s life. History is part of an organism, the organism that is God’s life. One day the knowledge of God will cover the earth like the water covers the sea. Eternal life will reign unchallenged.

Thus, it is not merely that history consists of God’s Old and New Covenant, but that history is God fulfilling his glorious purpose to bring life and conquer sin and death. This age of Sin and Death is passing away and the age to come has come, is coming, and will come (1Cor. 10:11; Heb. 9:23-28; Rev. 1:1-8)! Because history is God’s creation, we must have a view of history that conforms to God’s living covenantal character that conquers death by bringing his kingdom.

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.  

David Smith