But Rayburn effectively spoke of the efficacy of baptism in the relationship. By comparison, the following is a short snippet of Lig Duncan’s presentation:
The administrations of the covenant of grace in the Bible, and their signs, are all about our assurance of God’s promise. This is what every sacrament fundamentally sets forth. They do not effect or inaugurate God’s promise to us or our reception of it, but rather confirm and assure us of our interest in God’s promise.Two things strike me about this snippet. First, these “things” are generally sterile, self-implementing effects. Second, even the subjective “things” are very self-centered. I don’t want to be overly critical of Reverend Duncan, but I wish he would shift his perspective a little to incorporate the personality of Yahweh. For example, consider his statement, “They do not effect or inaugurate God’s promise to us or our reception of it, but rather confirm and assure us of our interest in God’s promise.” I would agree with this statement, but I would probably agree in a way that he would not expect. It is actually Yahweh who “effects or inaugurates God’s promise.” But He does it through these “things.” Therefore, they do more than simply impact the believer. They elicit a response from God, a response to which he has bound himself..
Objectively, covenant signs do at least four things: (1) they display God’s promise; (2) they are, by the Holy Spirit, God’s means of confirming that promise to and in those who receive it by faith; (3) they openly manifest the church-world distinction; and (4) the (sic) visibly obligate us to respond, by grace, in faith to the promises, and in obedience to the obligations of the covenant of grace.
Subjectively, covenant signs do at least four things: (1) they enable the believer to apprehend God’s promise tangibly; (2) they assure the elect of God’s promise, and of its products for and in those who receive it by faith; (3) they impress upon the believer the particularity of the covenant of grace; and (4) they impel the disciple to a grace-based discipleship.
Two examples should suffice. First, there is a interesting interaction between Yahweh, Moses and his wife, Zipporah. At Exodus 4, verse 21 and following read as follows:
21And the LORD said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, 23and I say to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me." If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'"This is an interesting transition between Yahweh’s introduction of himself to Moses as the great I AM to the actual events of the plagues and the exodus. Yahweh begins by claiming Israel as his first borne son so that that son will serve or worship Him. Yahweh promises to kill Egypt’s first born son if His son is not released.
24At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. 25Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!" 26So he let him alone. It was then that she said, "A bridegroom of blood,"because of the circumcision.
However, at the lodging place, it becomes apparent that Moses has not followed the covenant that Yahweh made with Abraham. In Genesis 17, verse 10 and following, Yahweh says:
10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.There is a bit of irony going on here. Yahweh promised to be faithful to his covenant, but Moses had not. Since Moses broke the covenant by failing to circumcise his son, Yahweh sought to execute his judgment for the failure, to cut off the covenant breaker from his people. It was only upon Zipporah’s quick action that Moses was returned to a right relationship with Yahweh. “So he let him alone.” Circumcision did indeed do more than impact the believer. It appeased Yahweh, who sought faithfulness to His covenant.
Exodus 24 tells a similar story involving the covenant renewal worship service at Mount Sinai. Exodus 19 tells of Yahweh warning the people not to go up the mountain.
When Moses told the words of the people to the LORD, 10the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, 'Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.' When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain."
That warning is repeated again later. “24And the LORD said to him, "Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them." 25So Moses went down to the people and told them.” But in chapter 24, Yahweh commanded Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar.” There is a change. The priests and the elders were commanded to “come up to Yahweh.” What happens next is important, for they did not immediately go up, and the delay is significant. In response, Moses built an alter and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings on it. He took half of the blood and threw it against the alter. He read the book of the covenant. Then he threw the rest of the blood on the people and declared, “Behold the blood of the covenant.” Then the people went up and saw the God of Israel and ate and drank with him. And the people were not destroyed.
Two things are worthy of note beyond the fact that the people were not destroyed. First, Moses declared the blood to be the blood of the covenant, the same phrase that Jesus took on his lips in initiating his memorial meal. Second, the peace offering was to be eaten. One can only conclude that it was the peace offering that the people ate in the presence of God. The conclusion is clear that the appointed sacrifices brought the people to a place of peace with God. They did more than simply communicate the truth of the covenant to the people. They were the means by which Yahweh accepted his people.