The Coming of Christ: The Fulfillment of Covenant Promise

Our Creator God has always, by grace, extended covenants to His children. To Adam, He clearly stated that he might eat of “every tree of the garden,” except “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:16–17). God obligated Adam to mere faithful obedience.

To Noah, who found grace in the eyes of the Lord, God spoke thusly: “With thee will I establish My covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee” (Genesis 6:18). Noah’s reward came through obedience and trust.

After the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of the people, God still offered grace through covenant with Abraham:

I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

Genesis 12:2–3

Over the centuries, theologians have placed emphasis on the covenants of God. For reformers John Calvin and John Knox, the very substance of the covenants of the Old and New Testaments was the same: Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation from the beginning of Creation to the fulfillment of the Second Coming.

Other theologians also saw a covenant of works, along with Calvin and Knox’s covenant of grace. The covenant of works is sometimes called a legal or natural covenant, founded in nature, but also founded in the law of God, written (engraven) in man’s heart from the beginning. For obedience, God promised Adam eternal life, yet Adam could not obey. Though Adam could not obey in his own strength, God’s grace transcends. Truly, man always and from the beginning needed God’s sovereign and unilateral grace in a relationship of faith with Him.

Reformation thought heavily influenced our early American churches. Especially cherished among the writings of the Reformers was that of one Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661). Rutherford wrote what he embraced as “the covenant for life,” owing all that we are and have to Him, who gave Himself for us.

Writing in his Covenant of Life, Rutherford declared, “The Lord punished Christ for us to declare the glory of His justice in punishing sin in His own Son, who was the sinner by imputation.”1

His book Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners To Himself provides another example of Rutherford’s depth of understanding. He alerts us to the fact that the atoning sacrifice for sin was much more profound than the satisfaction of justice. The sacrifice took place in the inner heart, the inner person of Jesus Christ.2

As Christmas approaches and we contemplate celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and his fulfillment of the covenant of grace, how do we experience that covenant in a very personal way? As we think of the baby Jesus in a manger, can we even fathom the Father’s only begotten Son, before the world began already appointed the sacrificial Redeemer of the Father’s creation?

How difficult even to imagine the love leading to the Son taking on human flesh, submitting himself to the law, suffering the death of the cross, and redeeming all who believe from sin and death. Before the world began, Christ agreed to pay the price for our redemption and purchased for us all the benefits of free grace and reconciliation.

The sacraments of circumcision, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper foretell or remember the covenant of grace. The sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb beautifully portrays what should constantly enrich our everyday life and bow us to constant worship.

Respected contemporary theologian Dr. Morton H. Smith taught in several seminaries, including Reformed Seminary in Mississippi and Greenville Presbyterian Seminary in South Carolina, where he served as dean of the faculty. He also served as stated clerk in the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America from its founding in 1973 to 1988.

Dr. Smith’s writing on covenant theology would likely bring a new revival to many churches if taken to heart by pastors. We highly recommend it.3 Writing on the covenants, he reminds us, “The covenant idea stressed the legal, binding relation between God and His people.… Since the covenant binds men to God, covenants can only be effected on the basis of reconciliation between the holy God and sinful men. It is this that is the essence of the covenant designated the covenant of grace.”4

When a person accepts Christ by faith as their personal savior, a spiritual union binds us to God. The covenant of grace provides the judicial ground of that union. Sin separated us from God as the just legal consequence of it. In response, Christ sealed the covenant with His own blood, the only possible legal payment for our sin. This glorious Truth, writes Dr. Smith, enables us “to become partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ through the federal, spiritual, and vital mystical union with Him. Scripture sets forth this union as embracing every phase of the saving relation, both in the purpose of God and in its realization.”5 In other words, Christ represents both the spiritual cause for our reuniting with God, and the cause of the resulting full and good life in His people, now and for eternity.

First Corinthians 15:19–49 and Romans 5:12–21 establish that, just as Adam was head of the fallen human race, Christ constitutes the Head of the new redeemed humanity. Christ represents life to His elect. We die because of our relation to the first Adam, but we live by faith in Christ. Yes, He gives us both present and eternal life.

Romans 16:25 addresses the “mystery” kept “secret since the world began.” Paul also speaks of the “mystery” in Ephesians chapter 1 (vv. 4–9), and again in Colossians chapter 1, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (vv. 26–27). The very thought of the God of the universe loving us enough individually to indwell us is beyond human understanding. Scriptures promise and declare fulfillment of our unity with other believers. Read John 17 over and over, and then rejoice in the glory found there.

Glorious union with Christ gives us daily, even moment-by-moment, communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We can experience the continual love of Christ the Bridegroom, since, through His Covenant, He reconciles us to Him.

God’s covenant of grace represents the central unifying theme of the entire Bible. Once we are united in Christ, no power can remove us from His grace (John 6:39 and John 10:28–30).

As we next gather together to sing our Christmas carols and to reach out to others at this glorious time of the year, may the covenant remain our focus. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).


  1. Samuel Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened: Or a Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, ed. Matthew McMahon (Edinburgh: Andro Anderson, 1654; repr., New Lenox, IL: Puritan Publications, 2005), 71.
  2. Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself (Glasgow: Niven, Napier & Khull, 1803), 687.
  3. For more information about Dr. Morton H. Smith’s writing on covenant theology, a good source is the bookstore of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, P.O. Box 690, Taylors, SC 29687, or online at
  4. Morton H. Smith, “Covenant Theology,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (March 1978): 68–86.
  5. Morton H. Smith, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1994), 491.

This article, first appearing in the Alabama Gazette, Montgomery, Alabama, is now available as a chapter in the Nordskog Publishing book by Bobbie Ames—Land that I Love: Restoring Our Christian Heritage

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One Response to The Coming of Christ: The Fulfillment of Covenant Promise

  1. Johnny Schlissel December 23, 2021 at 6:58 pm #

    Blessed legacy!

Leave a Reply