Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Same Covenant, Better Administration
But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. Hebrews 8:6NKJV
Question 35 of the Larger Catechism asks, “How is the covenant of grace administered under the New Testament?” It gives the answer, “Under the New Testament, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the same covenant of grace was and still is to be administered in the preaching of the word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; in which grace and salvation are held forth in more fulness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations.” Last time we considered this question, we looked at how Jesus Christ was the one and only substance of every administration of the Covenant of Grace. So that from the Garden until Abraham, from Abraham through Moses, and from Moses to the New Testament, every saved person was always directed to place his faith and hope in the promise that when the time was right the ultimate Seed, Savior, Messiah, King, Son, Prophet, Servant, Shepherd, Branch and Lord was coming into the world. Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament were and are in the same Covenant by the power of the same grace and with the hope of the same salvation. They were saved by grace through faith just as we are. And we are commanded to do good works of obedience to God’s Law just as they were. What was different was the way in which the Covenant of Grace was administered.
As we saw in Question 34, God in the Old Testament gave many more ways in which the grace and salvation of the Covenant were held forth to His people. They had sacrifices, feasts, ceremonies, laws, institutions (the priesthood and kingship), and many other things by which they were given types and symbols of the still future accomplishment of their salvation. These ways were efficacious means of grace for them in that time. But now that Jesus has come and accomplished the promised salvation, the number of ways of administering the Covenant are reduced to just two: “the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments,” but their power is greatly increased. For in them “grace and salvation are held forth in more fullness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations.”
First we consider the greater fullness of grace and salvation held forth in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. New Testament preaching directly and distinctly proclaims the Savior and His accomplishment of our salvation. We know how He took away our guilt, how He satisfied God’s wrath, and how he secured our righteousness. We proclaim the name of the Messiah is Jesus, and that He is one with the Father and the Spirit, who are three Persons in one God. We plainly declare that God’s salvation is spiritual, unto eternal life, it includes every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, and that it was always God’s plan to save Gentiles as well as Jews, through Abraham’s greater Seed. And our two sacraments plainly and directly signify and seal to us these things through our faith.
Second, by preaching and the sacraments grace and salvation are held forth in more evidence to us. Evidence is that which enables us to see truth more clearly and with greater assurance. The New Testament revelation powerfully convicts us of the spiritual nature of sin, righteousness, life, and salvation. Moreover, by the Spirit of God even the Old Testament Scriptures are much clearer to us. We can see what all of those types and shadows were pointing to and the different ways in which the Messiah fulfilled each one of them: that He is the Lamb of God, that He is our high priest, that He is our eternal King. Finally, we have so many more reasons to believe God as we get to see how hundreds of prophesies were fulfilled in Jesus.
Third, grace and salvation are held forth in greater efficacy by preaching and the sacraments than they were under all of the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Having accomplished all of the work to save us, our Lord Jesus now sits at the right hand of God ruling over all things for us. We have His Spirit living in us in a more perfect way, so that we do not need to worship God from a distance or have to go through human mediators and symbolic cleansing rituals. Each one comes boldly before the throne of grace, assured of our full adoption into the family of God. The sacraments pledge to us that we are clean and that we, by the Spirit, have ongoing fellowship and communion with the Father and Son. Praise God for the grace we have in Christ!