By believing this covenant promise made to Abraham—as well as to all the Old Testament people and to the Nation of Israel itself—Christ’s redemptive work was applied to him. This was and is also true of his (plural) offspring: “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham[…].” (Romans 4:16) That is, to all who believed this covenant promise, Old Testament and New Testament.
In my Introductory Post to this series, we presumed to agree that all who have ever been saved, are saved, and ever will be saved, are so because of the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and through faith in Him. But the question was posed, if this is true, how was the redeeming work of Christ administered to the saints in the Old Testament—before Christ had come to do His redeeming work?
The Westminster Confession of Faith expresses well the traditional Reformed Covenant Theological answer to this question. After introducing the “Covenant of Grace” in contrast to that of works, “wherein [God] freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ,” we read,
This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament. (Ch. 7.5)
In short, the answer given was that the redeeming work of Christ was administered in real time to the saints of old by the Old Covenant itself, through the covenant promises of (1) the Seed, (2) the Land, (3) through Circumcision, (4) the Sacrifices, (5) the Law itself, and (6) through Prophecy. Not only were these covenant promises and sacraments the means of administering Christ, they were by His Spirit “sufficient and efficacious” to that end.
(1) The Seed
It is said that the Gospel itself was preached to Abraham; what exactly was preached?
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” […]Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. (Galatians 3:8, 16)
So, Abraham’s faith in the covenant Seed promise was his belief in the Gospel itself and was thereby received as a true faith in Christ. But what was the direct, immediate, temporal object of this faith of Abraham? It was the quite local promise of a son and many offspring:
And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son[b] shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:3-6)
And we are told the content of Abraham’s saving faith by Paul in the Letter to the Romans:
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness[…]. (Romans 4:18-22)
By believing this covenant promise made to Abraham—as well as to all the Old Testament people and to the Nation of Israel itself—Christ’s redemptive work was applied to him. This was and is also true of his (plural) offspring:
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham[…]. (Romans 4:16)
That is, to all who believed this covenant promise, Old Testament and New Testament.
(2) The Land
But on that great day when God covenanted with Abraham and he was declared righteous, by faith, what other promises were given and believed?