One of the things that happens when you move into Reformed or Presbyterian settings is that you start hearing the word covenant a lot. I had a friend who once accused us of talking about covenant peanut butter and covenant jelly. He wasn’t wrong, but then again, neither were we.
“The meek will he guide in judgment: And the meek will he teach his way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies . . . The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; And he will shew them his covenant” (Psalm 25:9-10, 14).
Summary of the Text
The Scriptures are covenantal from front to back. The Old Testament is actually the Old Covenant, and the New Testament is the New Covenant. God made a covenant with Adam in the Garden, but Adam transgressed that covenant of life (Hos. 6:7). God made a covenant with mankind, promising not to inundate the world again (Gen. 9:8). God made a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17:9), and we are gathered here this morning because the covenant-keeping God continues with His faithfulness to Abraham (Rom. 4:13). And marriage is described as a covenant (Mal. 2:14; Prov. 2:17), not a mere contract. In short, our lives together in this community are a tight weave of covenantal bonds.
It is our responsibility to understand what this means. But if we need to learn to judge rightly, it must begin with meekness (Ps. 25:9). If we are meek—teachable, humble, receptive—then God will teach us His way (v. 9). For those who learn what He is teaching, and who keep His covenant and testimonies, all His ways are mercy and truth (v. 10). This shows us that what we learn dictates the way it goes with us in the way as we walk there. We learn mercy and truth, and the Lord shows us mercy and truth as we walk in that way. A few verses later, we are told that the secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, which adds another component (v. 14). We are to fear God, walk before Him in meekness, and He will surround us with mercy and truth. And He will show us His covenant.
A covenant is bigger than the sum of its parts. A covenant is stronger than the mere agreement that caused the parties at the first to enter into it. The covenant over-arches everything, and exists in its own right. Your families are held together by covenant. This congregation is a covenant community. We are also in covenant with all the saints all over the world, and every week we partake of the cup of the new covenant.
I said earlier that a covenant is not a “mere contract.” The signatories to a contract could together decide that neither of them wanted to be under contract anymore, and this means they could shake hands and be done with it. Smith didn’t have to deliver the widgets any more, and Jones didn’t have to pay for them. This is because the parties to a contract (mutually) have authority over it. But this is not true of a covenant. A landlord and a renter could mutually agree to tear up a lease, and nobody did anything wrong. By way of contrast a man and woman could not decide that neither of them wanted to be married any more, and just walk away. A covenant has objective existence outside the current wishes of the parties. A covenant is greater than the sum total of individual choices.
The covenant of grace is like the peace of God—it passes understanding (Phil. 4:7). Also like the peace of God, it serves as a shield. Certain evil darts simply cannot get near you.
Multitude of Sins
Now one of the things we have commented on frequently is the fact our church community is enjoying extraordinary growth. We are grateful to God for all of it, and yet one of the first things we should reflect on and anticipate is the likelihood of increased frictions and difficulties. Why would the devil want to leave us alone? “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1, NKJV).
A multitude of people means a multitude of sins. And why is God bringing us a multitude of sins? So that our love might have something to cover.
“Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”
James 5:20 (KJV)
“And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8 (KJV)
“Hatred stirreth up strifes: But love covereth all sins.”
Prov. 10:12 (KJV)
Love “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
1 Corinthians 13:7 (KJV)
Fervent Charity Among Yourselves
This is Peter’s express instruction to us. Forbearance is characteristic of koinonia fellowship, and it grows out of fervent love, it flourishes because of fervent charity.
When a new member comes into fellowship with us, he is looking out over a sizeable lake of sins and foibles. Not only so, but he is bringing some new ones in. The next new member to come in after him will be looking out over a sizeable lake of sins and foibles, but one that is a little bigger now.
So this is not an arrangement where we all come together once a week, with the implicit agreement that we will all pretend that nobody has ever struggled with anything. Not at all. That is not what church is supposed to be. The covenant community is not a place where nobody sins. Neither is it a place where everybody has acquiesced in their sin, surrendering to it.
The Christ of the Covenant
I said earlier that a covenant has objective reality outside the will of the parties to it. It would be more accurate to say that this objective reality is one of the parties to it—Christ is Lord of the covenant. He is the Head of the church, the new covenant community, but He is also involved in all our lesser covenants, such as marriage.
The reason we are able to love one another fervently, thereby covering a multitude of sins, is because Christ is here.