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In a sermon on Hebrews 8:10 published on October 31, 1912, the English Baptist pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon declared: “The doctrine of the divine covenant lies at the root of all true theology. It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace is a master of divinity. I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and of grace.” Spurgeon was exactly right, and just as the church at the beginning of the twentieth century needed to hear his words, the church in the twenty-first century desperately needs to hear them as well. The church in our day has largely forgotten, ignored, or denied many of the tenets of covenant theology. But to understand the unity of God’s Word rightly, we must understand covenant theology accurately.
The doctrine of covenant is foundational not only to our understanding of God’s promises throughout history, but also to our understanding of everything—in Scripture and in life. Covenant is not only a topic of theology; it is at the core of all theology. When we talk about covenant theology, we are talking not only about one aspect of what we believe as Christians, but we are also talking about that which constitutes part of the bedrock of everything we believe. If we fail to grasp the all-encompassing covenant theology of Scripture, we will fail to accurately grasp the Word of God, the character of God, the plan of God, the prophecies of God, the mission of God, and the redemption of God.
While Christians may differ on our understanding of the nature of covenant theology, all Christians must possess at least some basic understanding of covenant theology if we are to understand what it means to be a Christian. For if we do not grasp that we are sinners who broke the covenant of works in our first father, Adam, and died in our sin, we cannot grasp how Christ, the last Adam, fulfilled the covenant of works so that we might have life. What’s more, if we fail to grasp that after our fall into sin we deserved the eternal condemnation and wrath of God, we will be unable to understand the eternal significance of God’s covenant of grace that He established after the fall. Covenant theology rightly understood is foundational to our faith, and those who meddle with either the covenant of works or the covenant of grace will soon meddle with the gospel of God, the assurance we have in God, and the full and final redemption that is ours in Jesus Christ.