In his fourth and final conference address on the doctrine of justification, Michael Horton discusses the important contrast that we find throughout Paul’s writings between law and promise. In the Abrahamic covenant, God made unconditional promises while the patriarch slept, whereas in the Mosaic covenant the people promised “all this we will do.” Keeping these two covenants distinct is crucial for a clear understanding of justification by grace alone through faith alone.
Michael Horton: How many of us go to work and say, we’re going to put in these hours and then I hope my employer gives me a gift. That’s not a gift, it’s a salary. It’s wages. That’s how a lot of people think of their relationship with God. It doesn’t cost very much to get into heaven. Do your best, God will do the rest. But Paul says, no, it’s not wages, it’s gift. And to the one who does not work—listen to how crazy that sounds to us—to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
Term to Learn
“Covenant and Kingdom”
The kingdom of God is not a generic concept that can simply be applied in any epoch; its character is determined in every era of history by the covenant according to which it is administered. Some of the biblical covenants are of the suzerainty type: on the basis of the victory of the suzerain (great king), the lesser king pledges entire loyalty, and if he fails to keep the stipulations imposed by the suzerain, he will fall under the sanctions of the treaty. It is a “do or die” type of covenant. There are other covenants that are more along the lines of a royal grant: on the basis of a previous victory, the heirs are simply beneficiaries of an inheritance. The covenant with Abraham as “the father of many nations” is clearly such a grant, especially as interpreted in the New Testament. In contrast, the Mosaic covenant is dependent on Israel’s obedience.
(Adapted from Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, p. 537)