Dear Church Family,
Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday we covered questions 29-30. Here is a brief review.
WLC 29 What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?
A. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire for ever.
In the Scriptures, we learn that a person’s eternal destiny is in only one of two places: heaven or hell (WCF 32.1). So, for those who die in their sins apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the punishment is everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God in the continual torment of hellfire forever. Point in fact, the Scriptures actually speak of the eternal punishment in hell as both a separation from God’s love and mercy (2 Thessalonians 1:9) and the presence of His wrath (Revelation 6:15-17).
Though this understanding of hell and the punishments of the sin in the world to come is the traditional orthodox view of Christianity throughout the ages, there are some who reject this view. For instance, universalism is the idea that all humanity will be saved, thus there is no hell. Also, annihilationism is the belief that the unsaved will be annihilated or extinguished after death. Unitarians hold to the former view while Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses hold to the latter.
WLC 30 Doth God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A. God doth not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell by the breach of the first covenant, commonly called the Covenant of Works; but of his mere love and mercy delivereth his elect out of it, and bringeth them into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the Covenant of Grace.
WLC 20 spoke of “the covenant of life” which is the same covenant which is spoken of here in WLC 30 as “the covenant of works.” This covenant of works (or covenant of life) is the first covenant which God entered into with man in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:16-17). As we’ve previously noted, man fell by breaking this covenant (Genesis 3:6-8).
So, here in this question and answer we are introduced to a second covenant, the covenant of grace. Since the fall, man is unable to fulfill the requirements of the covenant of works (Romans 3:20-21; Galatians 3:21). Thus, God made a second ‘covenant of grace’ requiring faith in Jesus Christ to be saved (John 3:16-18, 36). Romans 5:12-21 is an important passage in understanding the two covenant heads of each of these covenants. A good summary verse of this passage is found in verse 19, “For as through the one man’s [Adam’s] disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One [Jesus Christ] the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
This then, is the essence of covenant theology. By the works of the Law no flesh is justified in God’s sight (Romans 3:20); in Adam all die (1 Corinthians 15:22a). Yet, apart from the Law, through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the righteousness of God (Romans 3:21-22); in Christ, all will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22b).
In the next several questions of the WLC we will learn more about the covenant of grace, but here are two graphics that may help as we seek to better understand the similarities and differences between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.
In this first chart, we consider the expression (the place or context of each covenant), the promise given by God in each covenant, the covenant head in each covenant, and what is required for us to fulfill the obligations of each covenant.
In this second graphic, we have a timeline showing how these two covenants are revealed to us in Scripture. We will discuss this graphic in more detail in future lessons. For now, it’s important to simply note that the covenant of grace is not confined to the New Testament. The covenant of grace is God’s provision of salvation for His people in both the old and new covenants. We may traced the expression of this covenant of grace beginning in the garden of Eden in Genesis 3:15, continuing throughout redemptive history, and culminating in the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1-18).
In our study of the Westminster Larger Catechism, we’ve learned a lot about the bad news of sin, the fall, and the condemnation under which all men are born due to the punishments we incur through the covenant of works. We have finally arrived at the good news of God’s mercy and forgiveness in the covenant of grace.
In the covenant of works, righteousness in based on Adam’s – and our – ability to perfectly keep the Law of God, but we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Scripture has condemned everyone under sin, but we have the promise of forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:21-22).
In the covenant of works, the Lord demands perfect obedience. But, in the covenant of grace, we have the Lord’s promise: “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch