Was the saving work of Christ somehow administered mystically, with no specific words, sacraments, or structures, as if Christ were applied to the saints of old in spite of the Old Covenant, without them even really knowing, placing their hope in merely ethnic, national, and earthly covenantal promises? In short, how do those who reject the one Covenant of Grace in Christ, for all time, under two Administrations (the Old and the New) explain this?
After reading through some modern works defending alternative “covenant theologies” (Denault and the like), I am always left wondering how the saving work of Christ was administered or dispensed to the saints of the Old Testament on these alternative terms?
We all agree, I presume, that there were many saved saints in the Old Testament. We would also agree that all who ever have been or will be saved, were saved by the work of Christ through faith. We read in the New Testament:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)
Therefore he [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)
But how was this saving work of Christ administered or dispensed to the saints of the Old Testament?
Before He came in the flesh, was crucified, and resurrected, there was no formula to be taken upon the lips and believed in the heart such as the following:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:5)
There was no Baptism into the Triune God, as in the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations—no formula of the form,
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)
Or no prescribed means of putting on Christ:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)
Nor was there the administration of the Lord’s Supper to participate in His flesh and blood, wherein it is said,
“Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)
Nor was there the Office of the Keys, opening or closing the Kingdom of Christ to them. Yet the Old Testament saints were nevertheless saved just as we are, by the saving work of Christ and faith in Him.
Traditional Reformed Covenant Theology has answered this question by arguing that the one work of Christ has been (and is) applied to those who are Christ’s, but was administered or dispensed differently in the Old Covenant than in the New. The Old Covenant itself was an administration of the one saving work of Christ just as is the New Covenant. Chapter VII of the Westminster Confession of Faith explains well: