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Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Book Notes

Written by Rev. P. VanderMeyden
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The Christ of the Covenants, O. Palmer Robertson, (Philipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1980), 300pp.

O. Palmer Robertson served as professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis. He has also taught at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) and at Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson). He is presently professor of Old Testament at African Bible College in Malawi, East Africa.

This work is a thorough biblical-exegetical study of the concept of the covenant in its essential character as well as its development throughout redemptive history. Robertson develops the Biblical concept of the covenant exegetically and defines a covenant as "a bond in blood sovereignly administered" (p.15). He traces both the unity of the covenant as well as the diversity in its administration. He shows that the covenant does not oppose nature and any nature-grace (works-faith) dichotomy is not Biblically sound presentation of the Covenant administration. "The grace of God in salvation is not against creation's order; it is against sin"(p.40).

As Robertson shows the biblical aspects of the covenant it is note-worthy that the real life dynamic in covenant history involves many dimensions of tension. The covenant is made with one genetically united family, the people of Israel. Yet, there is also a grafting in of Gentiles, and a "pruning," a cutting off which warns against sin and presumption (p.34-41).

In the middle and at the heart of the book (ch.8 & 9) Robertson expounds the covenant established with Abraham: its ceremonial inauguration as recorded in Genesis 15 and the giving of circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant. His use of New Testament passages not only adds strength and clarity to his exegesis, but confirms that as to the principles of the covenant there is a profound unity between its Old and New Testament administration.

Though the plural "covenants" may suggest that dispensational concepts are in the air, such suspicion is dispelled even before chapter eleven. Robertson uses the term "covenants" to represent the differing revelational structures used by the Lord to unfold the various aspects of the mystery of salvation. In this chapter Robertson analyses and critiques the views presented by Charles Ryrie and the Scofield Bible.

One of the most significant aspects of this study as a contribution to the development of a balanced Covenant theology, is Robertson's presentation throughout this work of exegetical observations about the "tensions" which characterize the covenant of grace. The covenant promises blessings, but also declares curses. It is initiated sovereignly by God (Gen.15). But "woe to the covenant-breaker who once has pledged himself death" (p.135). "And thy carcass shall be meat unto all fowls of the air, and unto the beasts of the earth, and no man shall fray them away." (Deut. 28:26)

The continuing prophetic application of these curses throughout Israel's history demonstrates the vitality of covenant self-consciousness throughout the nation. The ultimate judgment of devastation can only be understood in terms of the original pledge to life and death at Sinai, which in turn reflected the covenantal form employed by God in binding Himself to Abraham (p.137)

Toward the end of the book Robertson expounds the prophecy of the "new covenant" in Jeremiah 31:31-34. As a help to identify the most significant aspects of these debated issues he indicates that there are three "points of tension" that need to be noted: 1) "continuity versus newness in the new covenant," 2) "corporateness individuality in the new covenant," and 3) "internal reality versus external substance in the new covenant." These aspects of tension form the focal points for a balanced covenant theology.

One would have enjoyed a further exposition of the continuing place of ethnic Israel in the Covenant dealings of the Lord. Robertson ends his book on a traditional and rather abrupt a-millenial note.

The exegetical contribution this book makes will be very helpful in the development of a Biblically defensible and theologically balanced Covenant theology. This book is highly recommended for Reformed students of Scripture.

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