Victor Hugo once said, “Nothing in this world is so powerful as an idea whose time has come”. The covenant idea born in the “mind” of God, effected with Adam at the very dawn of history, and in active operation ever since, proves that statement. This covenant idea, as old as man himself, is the only answer to our modern predicament. It is God’s answer to our time.
The Modern Dilemma
Modern man is painfully impaled on the horns of a dilemma. His pain is tragic because it need not be so. With invincible inevitability man poses his “either” of individualism and his “or” of collectivism. Either man’s individuality remains inviolate, or man lives in the anonymity of a larger unit. To hang on either horn of that dilemma is tragedy, and so we juggle both extremes in the vain hope that some workable combination will chance upon us.
Politically we face the problem. That government is best which governs least, that’s the answer to statism and its peril. But the sufferings of various minorities cry out for justice, and the state moves in to redress the wrong. That government is best which governs all, that’s the answer to selfish individualism and exploitation of the weak by the strong. But the Kremlins of collectivism create undreamed of horrors, and pent up passions break out in war. We must find some workable combination which will win a much coveted security.
Nationalism and internationalism creates the same dilemma. The integrity of every nation must be kept. However, as long as any nation breeds her selfish interests in the soil of imperialism, nation meets nation in blood and death. We know now that this will fail, and in hope we form a council of nations for mutual discussion and cordial cooperation. But present Koreas and possible Malayas cast ominous shadows of doubt in the minds of men. Even though we invented a veto power in the security council to safeguard national integrity we now desperatly cast it aside and submit to a rule of the majority. Nationally and internationally it’s painful to be on the horns of this dilemma. But it need not be so, if only we would listen to God and His covenant.
Economically we press for a solution. Nineteenth century individualism with its “hands off” policy wrought sorrow and sweat for most. Poverty, child labor, hunger, fear, exploitation as thousands crowded into slums, belied the hope that some kind of Cartesian pre-established harmony would somehow iron out the wrinkles in our economic life. But planned economics, politically administered economic programs also fail to answer the question of man’s daily bread. Moscow’s five- year plans drive fear crazed individuals to cut frontier wires in hope of escape. Britain’s nationalized economy runs precariously on borrowed monies. Both horns of the dilemma are painful. To return with Rousseau to a primitive utopia, or to advance with Marx to a future proletariat makes the modern citizen jittery as he tries to juggle up a synthesis between the either and the or.
Ecclesiastically the individual and the group vie for power. The Vatican and her hierarchy stand out as the church collectivists, the guardians of the whole. But the vast and intricate weavings of the web of church life, with its center in the vicar of Christ, was not the answer. The independentists created a polity which kept inviolate the rights of the individual and his church. But mechanical relationships by way of denominational merger or association proved ineffective for the welfare of the whole. Even here the dilemma persists to haunt us.
Risking the inaccuracy of a generalization we can say that late 18th and early 19th century individualism and late 19th and early 20th century collectivism still struggle for supremacy. The checkered and bloody record of history points up clearly the vanity of trying to balance off both extremes in some compromise. By this time we ought to be ready to listen once again to God as He directs us to the answer of the covenant. This covenant idea interwoven in the whole fabric of revelations remains to be discovered anew in its contemporary significance. Having discovered its meaning, the man of God will posses the answer of faith to the enigma of life. And these gifts of grace God gives to share with others for the enrichment of life and the glory of the Covenant God.
The Covenant as Communion between God and Man
As incurably sinful and self-willed man comes into contact with God. The Sovereign God came to his newly made creature and graciously covenanted with him. The first idea embodied in the covenant is that the relation between God and man is personal and voluntary. The personal God meets a created, free personality only because He wills it. Nothing in God or man compelled Him to enter this relationship, and the response of man in faith was a matter of his will. In the covenant God remains God, and man is required to remain a creature. The utter folly of the creature is his attempt to displace the covenant maker.
The intense intimacy and vast distance existing between God and man is beautifully expressed in the covenant idea. Abraham is the friend of God, but at the same time knows himself as “dust and ashes” in His presence. (Gen. 18:27.) Theologically, the covenant idea avoids both pantheism and deism, and refuses to allow man the vain effort of combining these two errors. The covenant points out the only answer.
Secondly, the covenant idea places God and man in an abiding and constant relationship of love, or of wrath. Man the sinner isn’t at one moment in a religious doghouse and the other at a religious feast. Erratic, temporary, arbitrary shiftings of man’s relationship.
Thus no one escapes solidarity with the whole of humanity. Biologically it is true that God “made of one blood all nations of men”, and religiously it is true that man is covenantally related to either Adam or Christ. But, let no one forget that the covenant idea is known only in faith. Only in the Savior does our covenant relationship to Adam and our covenant relationship to Christ become apparent. Those born of the Spirit, whose darkened minds have been illumined, can understand the implications of the reality of covenant solidarity which retains the inviolability of the personality. The covenant idea is a matter of the Spirit, and the spiritual things are strange to the natural man.
It is true that there are numerous empirical facts confirming the concept of covenant solidarity in sin and grace. Man enters this world as born of a small society — the family. Out of the dynamic of love in marriage comes the birth of a social creature. Quite unlike the animal, the child remains dependent upon his social environment in the family for many years. The heritage of culture comes to him only as the product of a community expression of those who have lived before him. The normal child at play evidences clearly the “herd instinct” as he runs with the gang. The biological facts of heredity as well as the complicated inter-relations of the whole of life, point us to the solidarity which lies at the root of the covenant idea. However, the natural man fails to come to the spiritual religious foundations of these evidences as embodied in the fact that the Creator God is a covenant making God. Aristotle with the sharpness of his mind called man a “zoon politikon”, but failed to come to the insight of faith with the covenant God and covenant creature of the Scripture. Men belong together for they are covenant creatures, and thus the Robinson Crusoes will always need their man Friday to remain true to life. But it is only faith as born of God which points us to the covenant relationship we susstain with the First and Second Adam.
Once this insight of faith becomes clear to us, we sense the complete condemnation of individualism. The covenant idea undercuts all the atomistic and mechanistic thinking of the individualist. Herein too lies the only lasting victory over that collectivism which destroys the image bearer of God.
At the same time we must rid ourselves of the idea that the covenant is merely a convenient way of dealing with our children. True, herein lies tremendous implications for the family, the church, and the school, but these must be set aside in this discussion. The covenant idea as revealed in Scripture embraces all of life, all the relationships which make our lives so complicated and interdependent. The covenant not only gives our children a religious foundation and motivation unknown to children born of those who know not the Lord, but embraces life.
In this connection it is more than imaginary that the covenant God included not only Abraham and his seed, but also the household servants, slaves and wealth. It affected every action of this “father of believers.” The covenant at Sinai, fitting into the framework of the one covenant of grace which God already made with our first parents, involved the totality of Israel’s national life. That Lord of Sinai was interested that every ceremonial rite, every social act, every political maneuver, every piece of land, and every person was to be involved in obeying His will.
Though we have no obligation to pattern life on the Old Testament theocratic basis, we must not forget that Israel’s life as a nation is more than history, but also revelation unveiling to us a God of the covenant whose gracious condescending favor extends into every detail of human life. The covenant idea deserves to be rethought as one of the inclusive revealed facts of life in the light of which we are to solve the vexations of body and spirit today. Once we realize that the covenant idea embraces the totality of life we are ready to sense its important implications for our time.
Socially the covenant awakens a new sense of social interest and responsibility. The Pharisee in his “house of prayer” will refuse to neglect the prostitute because he senses a oneness with her in the natural man. The contented suburbanite will cast more than a cursory glance at the pitiably hungry, cold and damp child of the slums in his city. The prosperous white man will remember that he with the negro was conceived and born in sin, and that both may rejoice in the second Adam and his second birth. The Covenantally conscious steward of the union local will realize that although the struggle of class against class may seem to produce hard won gains, it removes the possibility of mutual interest in each other as inviolate personalities. Likewise the covenant honoring employer will refuse to treat his laborers as mere factors of production, but will begin to realize his oneness with them in sin and grace. Those who sense the teaching of the covenant idea will always refuse to live alone, and will certainly refuse to be dissolved in some collectivist’s mold.
Politically we might learn to see less of moral apathy and more consciousness that the governed and governors are one in Adam or Christ. The responsiblity of government will then be to safeguard the rights of inviolate personalities, and to provide the maximum conditions for the mutual development of all. The totalitarian dangers of Facism and Communism must be won by a renewed appreciation of both governed and governors that they are mutually related to each other because they are first of all related to God in the covenant which He has made.
For the church covenant consciousness will effect greater unity than hitherto thought possible. It need not be the artificially created administrations of super organizations but rather the dynamic moving together of those who know themselves covenantally related in the universal church. This is a covenant based upon God’s Word to us, and our response of faith. The exclusive individualism of the saved soul will make way for the movement of the church “like a mighty army”. The modern American disregard for the church as long as the sinner loves the Lord will repent of such individualism and stop its cavil of the church, and join in the concerted efforts of the body of Christ. The disregard of many proponents of ecumenicity for a person’s relation to God in Christ as based upon the truth of Scripture will make way for a renewed appreciation of the fact that Christians related covenantally in Christ are the ones who can speak prophetically to our gasping age.
Indeed, the individual becomes a person, and the group becomes a body, when we begin to proclaim anew the covenant idea. The abstraction of the individual is once again seen in its vanity, and the creating of an absolute, the state, will be seen in all its vicious idolatry. If it is evil, unreal and sinful to make a person an isolated individual, it is equally evil to create the absolutism of a super unit. This is the sin of all collectivism. It abstracts one of life’s relationships, puts it on a throne, proceeds to coronation, and behold all persons lose their lives for the whole. This is the idolatry of Communism in its political expression. This is as evil as putting the individual on the throne. If all men would once again refrain from the folly of dethroning God, and humbly bow beneath his scepter of Love, we once again would have the dynamic to live in power in this our broken world. God spoke and made a covenant with man. The titanic pride of doubt deafens man to all except himself. The covenant God still speaks through Christ in His Word. Let us listen anew to the word of revelation in the covenant. Let us address earnest study to the covenant idea in all its contemporaneous cogency. His idea is ever timely, it is God’s idea made real also in our time.