Tuesday, November 29, 2011

“The Two Covenants”

Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons “The Two Covenants” For the week of November 27 – December 3, 2011

This week we have a beautiful presentation of the 1888 view of the two covenants presented in our Sabbath School quarterly. It sweeps away the confusion of years of misunderstanding and explains the covenants in the simplest manner possible. As I studied this lesson, “every fiber of my heart said, ‘amen’”. Lesson ten is truly a blessing.
Sabbath afternoon’s study tells us, “The two covenants are not matters of time; instead, they are reflective of human attitudes.” The popular understanding has long been that the primary issue distinguishing the covenants is whether one lives before the cross or after the cross. This was the understanding of some of our pioneers. Jones and Waggoner presented a more accurate understanding. “These two covenants exist today. The two covenants are not matters of time, but of condition. Let no one flatter himself that he cannot be bound under the old covenant, thinking that its time has passed” (E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 100).

Sunday’s lesson explains the fundamental elements of a covenant. Waggoner said it this way:
The covenant and promise of God are one and the same . . . God’s covenants with men can be nothing else than promises to them . . . . After the Flood God made a “covenant” with every beast of the earth, and with every foul; but the beasts and the birds did not promise anything in return (Genesis 9:9-16). They simply received the favor at the hand of God. That is all we can do—receive. God promises us everything that we need, and more than we can ask or think, as a gift. We give Him ourselves, that is, nothing. And He gives us Himself, that is, everything. That which makes all the trouble is that even when men are willing to recognize the Lord at all they want to make bargains with Him. They want it to be an equal, “mutual” affair—a transaction in which they can consider themselves on a par with God…

The gospel was as full and complete in the days of Abraham as it has ever been or ever will be. No addition to it or change in its provisions or conditions could possibly be made after God’s oath to Abraham. Nothing can be taken away from it as it thus existed, and not one thing can ever be required from any man more than what was required of Abraham. -- E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 71-73

Monday’s lesson brings us to the “Abrahamic covenant” and reinforces the message of Waggoner cited above. God promised Abraham everything. Yet Abraham was not required to promise anything. The word of God says, “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). This is the secret of entering the new covenant—believing God as Abraham did. You will notice that the narrative presented in Genesis reveals that this was an active faith. Abraham’s faith in God led him to finally offer up the promised son, expecting that God was able to raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). This was true faith! Monday’s lesson also mentions the remarkable lengths to which God went to confirm the covenant to Abraham. “For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:13-18). God pledged His very existence as the guarantee of the covenant. The symbols of His presence passed between the dead bodies of the animals which God had instructed Abraham to prepare (see Genesis 15). This is God’s assurance that he is well able to accomplish everything that He has promised.

Tuesday’s lesson focuses on a time when Abram’s faith waivered. The fruit of his union with Hagar is a long standing object lesson showing the terrible results of unbelief. “Thus Abraham was brought to depend upon and trust in the naked promise of God alone, for all that the promise contained. And if Abraham had stood there from the first and refused Sarai's suggestion with regard to Hagar, there would have been no such family trouble as came between Sarai and Hagar; Ishmael never would have been born; and Abraham would never have been called to offer Isaac. Had he from the first "staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief" (Romans 4:20), but been strong in faith, giving glory to God, fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform, righteousness might have been imputed to him throughout” (A. T. Jones, Review and Herald, July 3, 1900).
On Wednesday’s lesson: “Instead of responding to God’s promises in humility and faith, the Israelites responded with self-confidence.” Waggoner says, “In short, the law was given to show them that they had not faith and so were not true children of Abraham, and were therefore in a fair way to lose the inheritance. God would have put His law into their hearts even as He put it into Abrahams’ heart, if they had believed. But when they disbelieved, yet still professed to be heirs of the promise, it was necessary to show them in the most marked manner that heir unbelief was sin. The law was spoken because of transgression, or (what is the same thing) because of the unbelief of the people” (E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 74).

The church today is composed of those represented by Isaac as well as those represented by Ishmael. Therefore, Thursday’s lesson warns, “As spiritual descendents of Isaac, we should not be surprised when we suffer hardship and opposition, even from within the church family itself.”

Friday’s summary cannot be better stated: “The stories of Hagar, Ishmael, and the children of Israel at Sinai illustrate the foolishness of trying to rely upon our own efforts to accomplish what God has promised.” If only we could honestly believe this summary. 

--Mark Duncan