|THE NEW COVENANT - God's Covenant
Watchman Nee and Witness Lee
HIS GLORY REIGNS
May 9 2008
In God's word of grace, three things are included: God's promise, God's fact, and God's covenant. In the first chapter
we spoke of God's promise and God's fact. Now we come to God's covenant. All those who have been taught by grace
will praise God and say, "How great and precious it is for God to make a covenant with man!"
God's promise is precious. When you have illness, pain, or difficulty, God's promises become streams in a dry place.
God's promise is also like a shadow of a great rock in a weary land (Isaiah 32:2).
But there is something which is easier to obtain than God's promise; that is God's fact. God not only gives us the
promise which He will soon fulfill; He also grants us the fact which He has already accomplished. He has truly put the
treasure in earthen vessels to manifest that the excellency of the power is of God and not of ourselves (II Corinthians
Moreover, God has not only given us His promise and the fact which He has accomplished in Christ; God has even
made a covenant with us. The covenant which God has made is more glorious than either His promise or His fact. God
has made a covenant with man. This means that He has condescended to be bound and limited by the covenant. The
reason God is willing to lose His liberty by the covenant is that we may obtain what He intended us to obtain. The Most
High God, the Creator of heaven and earth, condescended to such an extent to make a covenant with man. Oh, what
an unsurpassing grace! Before such a God who is so full of grace, we can only bow and worship.
THE MEANING OF A COVENANT
What is the meaning of a covenant? A covenant speaks of faithfulness and law. In the matter of a covenant, no
preference and grace can be considered. A covenant must be carried out strictly according to faithfulness, justice, and
law. If we make a covenant with someone, clearly recording in writing how we will perform and do not fulfill this
covenant, this means we retract our words; we become unfaithful, unrighteous, and dishonest. Our moral level is
immediately lowered. Moreover, the breaking of a covenant is usually punishable by law.
We see from this that God, by making a covenant with man, has put Himself into a restricted position. Originally, God
could treat man as He liked. He could deal with him in grace, or He could treat him otherwise. He could save, or He
could not save. If God had not made a covenant with man, He could do whatever He liked; He was at liberty. If He
preferred to do something, He could do it; if He did not like to do anything, He need not do it. But once God made a
covenant with man, He must be bound by the covenant. He must perform that which was clearly written.
We know that as far as the covenant is concerned, what is involved is only faithfulness, not grace. But as far as God's
willingness to be bound in making a covenant with man is concerned, the covenant is the highest expression of God's
grace. God condescended and seems to stand in the same position as man. He put Himself into the covenant. After
He made the covenant, He had to be limited by the covenant. Whether He likes it or not, He still must do it. He cannot
act contrary to the covenant which He has made. Oh, how great a thing it is for God to make a covenant with man! How
noble it is!
WHY WOULD GOD MAKE A COVENANT WITH MAN?
Why would God make a covenant with man? To understand this we must start from the first instance of God making a
covenant with man. Strictly speaking, in the Old Testament the first instance was during the time of Noah. Before
Noah, God had not made any covenant with man. His first covenant with man was with Noah.
Through the Covenant God Shows Man His Intention
From the covenant with Noah we see that one of the most difficult things for God is that of causing man to understand
His intention. At Noah's time, the human race had committed sin to the uttermost. Therefore, God intended to destroy
man by the flood. But with this intention God not only remembered Noah's family, but also many creatures. He wanted
to preserve their lives. Therefore, God made a covenant with Noah saying, "I will establish my covenant with thee; and
thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy son, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee. And of every living thing of
all flesh, two of every sort shall thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of
the birds after their kind, and of the cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of
every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and gather it to
thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them" (Genesis 6:18-21). God wanted to preserve their life and even
considered their food. This covenant shows how loving and tender God's heart was toward man.
Then the flood came. All creatures of flesh and blood upon the earth - the fowls, the cattle, the beasts, the reptiles,
and the whole human race - died. Only Noah's family and those creatures which were brought into the ark were
preserved. Thus God fulfilled His covenant.
For one year the eight members of Noah's family were shut within the ark. They saw and heard nothing but the surging
water. When the flood finally receded, the whole family emerged from the ark. However, they were still full of fear.
They were not sure whether or not they would encounter the same dreadful disaster again. Although they were saved,
their hearts were still fearful. We know that God's judgment of the human race by the flood was far from His desire.
Genesis 6:5-6 says, "And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination
of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented Jehovah that he had made man on the earth, and
it grieved him at his heart." We see here what God's heart was really like. Undoubtedly, the flood made a very fearful
impression upon man. God's desire was to change this impression and show man His real intention. He did not desire
to destroy the human race; He wanted to comfort them. He wanted them to know His heart's intent. Therefore, He
especially gave them evidence of His intention, and He came to make a covenant with them.
And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, and I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with
your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth
with you; of all that go out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you; neither
shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of the flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the
earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature
that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant
between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in
the cloud, and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the
waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I
may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And
God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon
the earth (Genesis 9:8-17).
In this covenant God said repeatedly that there would never be another flood. In order to assure the family of Noah
that they need no longer fear, this covenant was given that they might lay hold of the words of the covenant and rest
From this we see the purpose of the covenant: God has a good intention toward man. But man could not understand
or see; therefore, God gave man a covenant, so that he might have some evidence to cling to. God gave man a
covenant to show him clearly what His real intention was. It seems that He was opening His heart to man so that man
could see what His heart was really like. Oh, the Most High God, the Creator of heaven and earth - He even cared and
considered man to such an extent! Should not even the stones be touched!
Through the Covenant God Enlarges the Measure of Man's Faith
Now let us come to the matter of God's making a covenant with Abraham. In saving his nephew Lot, and refusing the
offer of the King of Sodom, Abraham manifested his love, his zeal, his bravery, and his cleanness (Genesis 14:14-23).
Then, after these things, God came to speak to Abraham saying, "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield and thy exceeding
great reward" (Genesis 15:1). This verse shows that at this time Abraham's feeling was on one hand that of anxiety,
fearing that the four kings might come again and on the other hand sorrow for Lot's departure and for his own state of
childlessness. It was at this time that God came to him to strengthen and comfort him. But from Abraham's answer we
see that this promise of God did not fully satisfy him. He asked, "What wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and he
that shall be possessor of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" (verse 2). This shows that he had not yet known or seen
how gracious God's promise was. He was negative. He had his own idea and his own arrangement as well. So what did
God do? God said, "This man shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine
heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and number the stars, if thou be able to
number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be" (verse 4-5). What was it that God spoke here to Abraham?
It was a promise, not a fact. What about Abraham? Now he could believe God's promise; therefore, God reckoned it to
him as righteousness (verse 6). Because Abraham believed in God's promise, he became the father of faith.
After Abraham believed God's first promise, the second came: "And he said unto him, I am Jehovah that brought thee
out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it" (verse 7). Did Abraham believe this promise? No, because
his measure was too narrow. He became doubtful and said, "O Lord Jehovah, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit
it?" (verse 8). Because the promise was too great, Abraham could not believe it. Therefore, he asked God to give him
evidence to which he could cling.
How did God deal with Abraham's unbelief? What did He do? God made a covenant with Abraham (verse 18).
Therefore, the establishment of a covenant makes up that which is lacking of a promise. A covenant is the best way to
deal with unbelief. A covenant enlarges the measure of a man's faith. Abraham may not believe God's promise, but
God could not change what He had promised. Because Abraham could not believe, God made a covenant with him so
that he could do nothing else but believe Him.
God told Abraham, "Take me a heifer three years old, and a she-goat three years old, and a ram three years old, and
a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon. And he took him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each half over
against the other: but the birds divided he not...and it came to pass, that, when the sun went own, and it was dark,
behold, a smoking furnace, and a flaming torch that passed between these pieces (verses 9,10,17). What does this
mean? This means that God was making a covenant with Abraham. It means that the covenant which He made was
something which went through the deepest inward parts and through the blood. The bodies of the sheep and oxen
were divided, the blood was shed, and God went through the halves of the oxen and the sheep. This shows that the
covenant which He made will never change nor become void.
God knew that Abraham's faith was limited. God knew that He had to enlarge the measure of his faith. Therefore He
made a covenant with Abraham. God not only promised Abraham what He would do; God even made a covenant with
him to show that He would do it. Thus Abraham could not but believe, for if God, after making a covenant with man, did
not act according to the covenant, He would be unfaithful, unrighteous, and contrary to law. By the strengthening of
such a covenant, the measure of Abraham's faith was naturally enlarged.
Through the Covenant God Gives Man a Pledge
Now let us see the history of the covenant which God made with David. Second Samuel 7:4-16 speaks of the same
thing as Psalm 89:19-37. However, 2 Samuel 7 does not say clearly how God made a covenant with David. It is in
Psalm 89 where we find that when the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to David, what he spoke to David was a covenant.
Psalm 89 and 2 Samuel 7 speak of the same thing, not of two different things. In both of these passages God gave His
word to David and his descendants as a pledge. He likes for man to take hold of His word and ask Him to fulfill it. He
loves for man to do this. He gave a covenant to man as a pledge, hoping that man would ask Him to fulfill it.
God spoke to David in a very clear way: "If his children forsake my law, and walk not in mine ordinances; if they break
my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with
stripes. But my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not
break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness: I will not lie unto David: His
seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me" (Psalm 89:30-36). This tells how God made a
covenant with David. If David's descendants forsake God's commandments, God will chasten them with a rod and with
stripes. But God cannot forsake the covenant He made with David.
Psalm 89 was written at the time the Jews lost their country and were taken captive to Babylon. At this time it seemed
that God had forgotten the covenant He had made with David. When the psalmist saw the situation, how the country
was lost, he told God, "Thou hast cast off and rejected, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed. Thou hast abhorred
the covenant of thy servant: thou has profaned his crown by casting it to the ground" (verses 38-39). Here he was
reminding God of the covenant He had made with His servant. Then he immediately inquired of God by holding on to
the covenant: "Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy faithfulness?" (verse
49). We need to pay attention to what the psalmist said here. He prayed by holding on to the covenant. The Holy
Spirit especially allowed such a prayer, in which a man inquired of God, to be recorded. In this we see how God
delights that man pray by holding on to the pledge which He was given man, namely, the covenant. This causes God to
be glorified. God delights that man demand Him to fulfill what He has promised in the covenant.
THE APPLICATION OF THE COVENANT
If, having made a covenant with man, God does not fulfill it, He becomes unfaithful and unrighteous. We know that the
reason God makes a covenant with man is that man may become bold enough to inquire of Him and demand Him to
fulfill what He has promised in the covenant according to righteousness. God is bound by the covenant. He must act
according to righteousness. So those who know what a covenant is also know how to pray; they can even pray with
boldness. The following are some examples:
(1) In Psalm 143:1 we read: "Hear my prayer, O Jehovah; give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me,
and in thy righteousness." Here David did not ask God to answer him according to His mercy or His lovingkindness and
grace, but according to His faithfulness and righteousness. He was not begging in a poor way; he was boldly asking
God to answer him. He knew what a covenant was, and by holding on to the covenant, he knew to ask God to answer
(2) When Solomon finished building the temple he said, "Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Israel, who spake with his
mouth unto David my father, and hath with his hands fulfilled it..." (II Chronicles 6:4; II Samuel 7:12-13). Then he knelt
down before the congregation of Israel, raised his hands towards the heavens and said, "O Jehovah, the God of Israel,
there is no God like thee, in heaven, or on earth; who keepest covenant and lovingkindness with thy servants, that walk
before thee with all their heart...Now therefore, O Jehovah, the God of Israel, keep with thy servant David my father that
which thou hast promised him, saying...Now therefore, O Jehovah, the God of Israel, let thy word be verified, which thou
spakest unto thy servant David" (II Chronicles 6:14, 16-17). Solomon knew the covenant which God had made with
David his father. Some parts had been fulfilled, but other parts needed yet to be fulfilled. Therefore, he asked God by
His covenant to fulfill what He had promised. Thus, he prayed and inquired of God by clinging to the pledge which God
had given, namely, the covenant.
(3) We have seen that Psalm 89 was written after the Israelites were captured and brought into Babylon. At that time,
outwardly speaking, it seemed that everything was finished. It seemed that God's promise had become void, and that
God had forsaken the covenant which He had made with David. Therefore, it seems the psalmist was reminding God:
"Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy faithfulness?" (verse 49). This was
praying by the covenant; this was praying by cleaving to the pledge which God had given in His covenant.
HOW CAN WE KNOW GOD'S COVENANT?
How can we truly know and understand God's covenant? Psalm 25:14 tells us: "The secret (lit.) of Jehovah is with them
that fear him; and he will show them his covenant." We know that unless God reveals His covenant to us, there is no
way to know what the covenant is. You may hear others speak of God's covenant; you may also know a little about the
matter of a covenant; but unless God reveals it, you will still have no power; you still cannot hold fast God's word.
Therefore, God must show it to us in our spirit.
What kind of person can have God's revelation? Only those who fear God. The Lord gives His secret only to those
who fear Him, and His covenant to those who fear Him. What does it mean to fear Him? To fear means to magnify and
to exalt Him. A person who fears God is one who seeks God's will with a full heart, with the intention of completely
submitting to God's way. It is to this kind of person that God will reveal His secret and reveal His covenant. Those who
are lazy, careless, double-minded, proud, and complacent can never expect God to reveal His secret to them. Neither
can they expect God to reveal His covenant to them. The Lord only gives His secret and reveals His covenant to those
who fear Him. This is the testimony of those who fear God. Therefore, if we truly want to know God's covenant, we
need to learn to fear God.
THE NEW COVENANT BEING THE BETTER COVENANT
The new covenant is a covenant in which God gives you life and power to do the good He intends you to do, so that He
may be your God and you may be His people (Hebrews 8:10; Titus 2:14). The new covenant enables man to know God
more deeply and in an inward way, without being taught by his fellow citizen (Hebrews 8:11). Therefore, the new
covenant is the covenant of sanctification (Hebrews 10:29), the better covenant (Hebrews 7:22; 8:6), and an eternal
covenant (Hebrews 13:20). We must say, "Hallelujah! How sweet and how glorious is the new covenant! What a grace
THE NEW COVENANT INCLUDES GOD'S PROMISES AND GOD'S FACTS
We have seen before that the word of grace which God has given us includes God's promises, God's facts, and God's
covenants. We have also seen that God's covenants include God's promises and God's facts. Now let us see God's
promises and God's facts which are included in God's covenants. The Scriptures show us that God's covenant is God's
promise, except that God's promise was spoken by God's mouth, and God's covenant was made by an oath (Hebrews
6:17). The promise binds God, and much more, the covenant binds God. When God made a covenant with Abraham
He swore by Himself (Hebrews 6:13-14). "Wherefore God, willing to show more abundantly to the heirs of the promise
the unchangeableness of His counsel, intervened by an oath" (Hebrews 6:17). For "the Lord has sworn and will not
regret it" (Hebrews 7:21). Therefore, a covenant limits God and binds God more than a promise.
Hebrews 9:15-18 clearly shows us that in the new covenant there are promises and there are also facts. Verse 16
says, "For where there is a testament there must of necessity be the death of him who made it." In the original text,
testament and covenant are the same word. Therefore, the word covenant has two meanings in the Scriptures: first it
is a covenant, or contract, and second it is a testament, or will. Hence, we can say that the new covenant is a
covenant, and we can also say that it is a will.
A covenant cannot be established without a promise. Every covenant must have a promise. An ordinary promise does
not necessarily contain any pledge, but the covenanted promise must go through a legal process; it is protected and
enforced by law. Hence, God's covenant must include God's promise. Those who are deeply taught by God's grace
and who deeply know Him, consider that there is very little difference between His promise and His covenant, for they
know that God is faithful even as He is righteous. They believe that if God has promised, He will fulfill His promise. It is
not necessary for all His promises to pass through a legal process. To them, God's promise equals His covenant. But
to those who are weak in faith, there is a great difference between God's promise and God's covenant. To them it
seems that the covenant is the guarantee that God's promise will definitely be fulfilled. We cannot say that all of God's
promises are His covenants, but we dare to say that all of God's covenants include His promises.
Hebrews 8:6 says, "But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry; inasmuch as He is also the Mediator of a better
covenant, which has been enacted upon better promises." This verse tells us that the new covenant is a better
covenant because it is enacted upon better promises.
In God's covenant there is not only the promise, but also the testament. Hebrews 9:15 speaks of "the promise of the
eternal inheritance" and verse 16 speaks of the testament. A testament, or will, indicates that there is an estate, a
bequest. The things bequeathed are the facts. For instance, a father may make a will, specifying how his possessions
should be taken care of and disposed. Either they are to be passed on to his son or to someone else. Then those
who receive the inheritance enjoy what he bequeathed. Therefore a testament, or a will, is not composed of empty
words, but must include some facts. A testament is a covenant. Therefore, we say that the covenant includes God's
A covenant differs from God's promise and God's fact, but a covenant also includes God's promise and God's fact.
Without the promise and fact, the covenant becomes empty words and meaningless. We thank God that He has many
promises which are related to the new covenant. There are also many facts which are related to the new covenant.
We must say, "Hallelujah, the new covenant is so rich and complete!"
The New Covenant, by Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, Copyright 1981, Living Stream Ministry.
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