Communicable Attributes: Covenant Love & Faithfulness

"May you live in interesting times" is an English expression that purports to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. While seemingly a blessing, the expression is normally used ironically; life is better in "uninteresting times" of peace and tranquility than in "interesting" ones, which are usually times of trouble.[i]

No one can argue that our generation certainly lives in “interesting times”!  From Covid 19 to efforts to defund the police, from geo-political unrest to the death of truth in the media, from what appears to be an insurmountable national debt to an election season that promises to end in more civil unrest; we find ourselves living in a chaotic and uncertain world.  Where does a believer find peace?  A partial list includes:

  1. the omnipotence and justice of God
  2. the certainty that Christ will restrain and conquer all his and our enemies[ii]
  3. Christ’s promise to build his church[iii]

There is more.  Just prior to His ascension, Jesus makes a wonderful promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."[iv]

If Jesus is with you, then every attribute of the Godhead is “with” you.  His wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth[v]; all come to us.  Perhaps this is why (in part) Peter writes: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,[vi]

While it is comforting to know that Jesus is with us in these dark days, it is important to recognize that the certainty of His promise in Matthew 28, is rooted in an attribute we call “covenant love and faithfulness”.

Genesis 15 is an amazing narrative in which God “cuts a covenant” with Abram.  As the chapter open Abram asks how God’s promise in Genesis 12:1-3 would be fulfilled since Abram has no son.  The Apostle Paul understands Genesis 12:1-3 as “God preaching the gospel to Abram”.[vii]  God assures Abram that his descendants will be like the stars.[viii]  Abram believes God and “it is credited to him as righteousness”.[ix]  Having believed God, having been credited with righteousness, Abram still seeks assurance, asking God:  “How shall I know…?”[x]  One of the communicable attributes of God is “truth”.[xi]  The fact that God, who does not lie,[xii] has promised should be enough to settle the issue.  God graciously condescends to Abram giving him a tangible sign.  God “cuts a covenant” with Abram.  Animals are slain, cut in half,  and laid side by side; creating a pathway between the pieces.  Normally each party to the covenant would walk through the pieces thereby signifying:  “May this be done to me if I break my word to you”.  Shockingly, a deep sleep falls on Abram.[xiii]  Abram is unable to walk through the pieces.  Instead God walks through… twice![xiv]  In essence, God assures Abram that not only will He be faithful to the covenant, He will take the penalty for Abram’s violation of the Covenant![xv]  God, who is truth, and cannot lie; swears to Abram that He will be faithful to His covenant promises. The writer of Hebrews references this when he states: 

“For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, "Surely I will bless you and multiply you." [xvi]

God’s choice to enter into covenant with His people is unilateral.  The fact that God cannot lie should be sufficient, but He condescends to us for us to basing his covenant on tender love and mercy.  He knows our frame[xvii] and takes upon Himself the violation of the covenant terms that we are unable to fulfill.  Christ has died in our place.  God will be faithful.  He cannot deny himself![xviii]  Thus we know that Christ will never leave us or forsake us.[xix]   God has spoken.  God has sworn.  God has paid the price of our violation.  Even when we mess up, He is “with us”.  Even when we live in “interesting times”, He is with us!  This is our sure and steadfast anchor for our souls.[xx]

Martin B. Blocki has served since 2003 as the Associate Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North Hills in Pittsburgh, PA since 2002.  Rev. Blocki graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington (BME), Arizona State University (MM), and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological  Seminary (MDiv).  Martin and his wife, Kathy, have two married sons, one daughter, and four grandchildren.


[ii] Westminster Shorter Catechism questions #26.

[iii] Matthew 16:18

[iv] Matthew 28:18-20

[v] Westminster Shorter Catechism questions #4.

[vi] 2 Peter 1:3

[vii] Galatians 3:8 

John Calvin understands the logic as follows: 

  1. 12:3 God tells Abram that He (God) will make Abraham a blessing
  2. Abraham recognizes he is a sinner.
  3. The natural question is “how can I be a blessing”?
  4. Using the language of Galatians:  How can all the nations be blessed in me?!?!
  5. Ah!  God must be telling me that one of my descendants will be the seed of the woman who will:  crush the head of the serpent!

 

[viii] Genesis 15:5

[ix] Genesis 15:6

[x] Genesis 15:8

[xi] Westminster Short Catechism questions #4.  A communicable attribute of God is one in which mankind shares.  We can be “truth tellers”. 

[xii] Numbers 23:19

[xiii] Genesis 15:12

[xiv] Genesis 15:17 Note the smoking pot AND the flaming torch pass through the pieces.  Just like the pillar of fire and the cloud of smoke during the Exodus!

[xv] An incredible shadow of the work of Christ in the gospel!

[xvi] Heb 6:13-14.  The reader should read 6:13-20 which directly references Genesis 22:16-17.  The same principle is certainly present in the God’s invocation of a self maledictory oath upon himself in Genesis 15!

[xvii] Psalm 103:14

[xviii] 2 Timothy 2:13

[xix] Hebrews 13:5

[xx] Hebrews 6:19