Chapter 7: Of God’s Covenant

arbitation11. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of Life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant. (Luke 17:10; Job 35:7, 8)

As we begin to look at this chapter, we realize that chapter 7 is not a survey of the Biblical covenants, but instead deals specifically with three covenants: the covenant of works (sometimes called the covenant of life), the covenant of redemption (between the Father and Son), and the covenant of grace. This paragraph begins with a foundational point about covenant: The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator. This great distance is indisputable—the creator versus the created. A.A. Hodge wrote: “The very act of creation brings the creature under obligation (owed obedience) to the Creator, but it cannot bring the Creator into obligation to the creature.”[1] The creator created reasonable creatures—humans. Thus on the basis that God is our Creator, and that God made man a reasonable creature, mankind owes God his obedience.

 Yet they could never have attained the reward of life. Since man owes God obedience, that obedience in and of itself is not the basis for attaining the reward of life. Hodge states, “Creation itself, being a signal act of grace, cannot endow the beneficiary with a claim to more grace.”[2] Thus the Confession continues: but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part. So the reward of life was attainable because God voluntarily stooped down to offer it. The Confession concludes this paragraph by saying: which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant. The reward of life was offered by way of covenant. Thus obedience only brought the reward of life because God was willing to offer it by covenant, not because obedience deserved a reward. But what is a covenant? Michael Kruger states, “Simply put, a covenant is an arrangement or contract between two parties that includes the terms of their relationship, covenant obligations (stipulations), and blessings and curses.”[3] This reward of life was offered by way of a structured agreement (covenant) that was contingent upon certain terms and conditions. R.C. Sproul states: “God’s willingness to enter into a covenant (that is, an agreement, contract, or pact) with us is itself a matter of grace…any covenant into which God enters with us is an act of condescension. Because he is not obligated to be in a covenant relationship with us, even the covenant of works is founded on God’s grace.”[4]

 We now know what a covenant is, but what was this particular covenant? The terms of this covenant were expressed in chapter 4, Of Creation, but as a reminder let’s look at these terms in God’s word found in Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV): “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” God gave them a command that required perfect obedience. The command was: “you shall not eat from the tree.” If this command was broken, God said, “You shall surely die.” So we see the statement contains explicit terms and conditions: eat equals death. Are there any other terms and conditions we can gather from this? It is also implied that if they obeyed then they would live. So while obedience meant that they would live, does this necessarily imply a reward? No it does not if we are confined to Genesis 2:16-17. But we are not confined; we also have Genesis 2:9 and Genesis 3:22-24 where we see another tree mentioned—the tree of life. After the fall, Genesis 3:22-24 states: “Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23  therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24  He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (ESV). The Lord took strong steps to ensure that after the fall Adam and Eve did not eat of the tree of life lest they live forever. It seems that this tree was to be partaken of had Adam and Eve obeyed for an unknown period of probation. It is this tree of life which implies a reward for perfect obedience. I recently watched a conference question and answer session where Lane Tipton made this statement:

“If you think about the way the image of the tree of life is utilized.   In the garden you have a tree of life given to somebody who is already alive. And so that tree cannot be a bare symbol of the continuation of life unless you want to believe that the highest good for Adam and Eve is a losable, mutable communion with God, with the perpetual possibility of sinning against God, the perpetual presence of the dragon (serpent) seeking to devour them and destroy them, and a constant state of death from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So when you look at that situation in Eden it is not as romantic as some would like to think in broader Evangelicalism. It is actually a place that threatens death for disobedience; the serpent is prowling around seeking to destroy the people of God at that time, and Adam and Eve are subject to sin and death and loss of the communion bond with God, the wrath of God and the pains of hell forever. And as long as Adam has not passed probation as a federal head that condition continues perennially.”[5]

So the partaking of the tree of life, it seems, was to occur after the fulfillment of perfect obedience at the end of the probationary period. Once they partook of the tree of life they would live forever in a state where disobedience would no longer be an option. Many believe, and I tend to agree, that the reward of life would also usher in a higher state of the life. The 1689 Confession seems to imply this by referring to the “reward of life,” though opinions differed among the Westminster divines.[6]

The covenant in this paragraph is sometimes called the Adamic covenant, the covenant of life, or the covenant of works. The terminology is not in the Scriptures, but the concepts are. It is called the Adamic covenant because it was made with Adam as the federal head[7] of all mankind. It is called the covenant of life for in the covenant God made with Adam in Genesis 2:16-17 the same terms that threatened death for disobedience implied life for obedience. It is also called the covenant of works because in order to have life, perfect obedience (works) was required. The Confession does not use the phrase “covenant of works” in this chapter, however, the framers have made use of it elsewhere (see 19:6; 20:1), and the concept is implied throughout the chapter. The commentary will further explain the covenant of works as we proceed.

arbitation1

  1. 2. Moreover, Man having brought himself under the curse of the Law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto Sinners Life and Salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal Life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. (Genesis 2:17; Galatians 3:10; Romans 3:20, 21; Romans 8:3; Mark 16:15, 16; John 3:16; Ezekiel 36:26, 27; John 6:44, 45; Psalms 110:3 )

The 1689 Confession states: Moreover, Man having brought himself under the curse of the Law by his fall. [8] As we discussed at the end of the last paragraph, it is important to recognize that Adam is the head of all mankind (i.e. federal head); the Confession implies that by referring to Adam as if he represented all of mankind. As a result, Man brought himself—in Adam—under the curse. God cursed man for his disobedience under the terms of the covenant of works (‘terms’ that were/are legal; therefore Law).

So while it is true that man brought himself under a curse by breaking the covenant of works, nonetheless, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace. The Baptist Catechism 23 asks: “Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?” The answer is: “God having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.” Man failed to obtain the reward of life under the terms of the covenant of works, but it pleased the Lord to make another covenant as a means to deliver them to a state of eternal life. Rather than a covenant conditional upon perfect obedience, God makes an unconditional covenant, a covenant of grace, with his elect.

This covenant he freely offereth unto Sinners Life and Salvation by Jesus Christ. Just as in the Adamic covenant God condescended and promised the reward of life conditioned upon perfect obedience, so God condescends and freely offers the covenant of grace which brings Life and Salvation to the sinner. This covenant of grace is freely offered to all, yet in order to receive its benefits it does require of them faith in him, that they may be saved. This covenant brings eternal life by grace, not by perfect obedience. But while the covenant is unconditional (i.e. without the condition of perfect obedience from the elect), yet the covenant did still require Christ’s perfect obedience and his atonement for their sin, which is credited to them by faith. Pascal Denault writes: “The Baptists considered that the Covenant of Grace started immediately after the Fall, and that the substance of this covenant, even under the Old Testament, was salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”[9] The covenant of grace was revealed and promised immediately after the fall. The Confession will be more specific about the making of that covenant in paragraph three.

There are a couple issues here. First, the covenant of grace is not to be confused with universal reconciliation, as if God entered into this covenant with each of Adam’s race simply because he offers it. He freely offers it, but he requires faith. So the offer of the covenant is not to be confused with the entering into the covenant. Second, the faith required by the covenant of grace contrasts the perfect obedience required by the covenant of works. The danger is that one will think of this required faith merely a different kind of work required, but the required faith is not a work, rather it is a gift freely given to those with whom the covenant of grace is made. Thus faith is not a work; it is simply a receiving and resting action which serves as the instrument by which this unconditional covenant of grace is received. This particular issue (faith is not a work) is dealt with in more detail in Chapter 11, Of Justification, paragraph 1 and 3.

The Confession states: and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal Life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. The covenant of grace is freely offered to all with the requirement of faith for salvation; however, without the work of God in a sinner’s heart, the sinner remains unwilling and unable to believe. Until God supernaturally intervenes and fulfills his promise to give the elect the Spirit, they too remain in a state sin and are unwilling and unable to believe unto salvation. The promise of the Spirit here is seen in places like Ezekiel 36:26-27: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (KJV). God will, in his time, sovereignly give his promised Spirit to the person ordained to eternal life; as a result, the Spirit himself will cause and enable them to believe in Christ unto salvation. If God offered eternal life through the covenant of grace, but he did not intervene on behalf of those ordained to receive it by giving enabling them to believe, the covenant of grace would remain something forever averse to them. We cannot help but see God’s faithfulness here in that those ordained to eternal life also receive the means by which to obtain it. Chapter 9, Of Man’s Free Will, Chapter 10, Of Effectual Calling, and Chapter 14, Of Saving Faith will deal with these in detail.

Man failed to meet the terms of the first covenant of works (and so failed to obtain the reward of life), but God determined by his grace to freely offer another covenant by which his elect will receive the reward of eternal life. This reward of life is not based upon their works, but upon another’s, namely, Christ’s. Christ was perfectly obedient to the terms of the covenant of works, and by faith his obedience is credited to the elect as if it were their own. This is the glorious wonder of that most superior and excellent covenant of grace!

 

arbitation1

  1. 3. This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency. (Genesis 3:15; Hebrews 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 11;6, 13; Romans 4:1, 2, &c.; Acts 4:12; John 8:56 )

It will be helpful to look at the structure of this paragraph (using the exact words):

  1. This covenant [covenant of grace] is revealed in the gospel;
    1. first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and
    2. afterwards by farther steps,
    3. until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament;
  2. and it [covenant of grace] is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect;
  3. and it is alone by the grace of this covenant [covenant of grace] that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality,
    1. man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.

The Confession begins this paragraph by stating: This covenant is revealed in the gospel. “This covenant” refers back to paragraph two which spoke about the covenant of grace.  What does it mean that the covenant of grace (“this covenant”) is revealed in the gospel? It means that the covenant of grace is not separate from the gospel. As well, the sentence “this covenant is revealed in the gospel” is not a stand-alone sentence, rather it serves as a lead in to sections a to c (section I), thus it is saying that the covenant of grace which was revealed in the gospel was revealed first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman. We may notice as stated in paragraph two that it was only after the fall and the breaking of the covenant of works that the covenant of grace was revealed. It was revealed in the form of a promise of something to come: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV). God is speaking to the serpent, ironically. It is a judgment upon the serpent, but for Adam and Eve it is a promise of salvation.   So the covenant of grace is revealed, via the words to the serpent, to Adam by the promise that Eve’s offspring will bruise or crush the devil, which implies salvation from the sin that the serpent’s deceit brought into creation. The revealed covenant of grace is only completed (concluded or ratified) when the promised One actually fulfills the prophecy. We also notice that it was revealed, in part to Adam. What was said? 1) There would be hostility between Eve’s seed and Satan, and 2) Satan would bruise Eve’s offspring, and 3) Eve’s offspring would more severely bruise Satan’s head. Perhaps there are other implications, but from Adam’s perspective and Satan’s not much more detail is given. What is revealed is a promise without its fulfillment then and there.

The Confession continues: and afterward by farther steps. This means that after the revelation to Adam that was only partial continued after him. Not only did it continue afterward, but it was revealed by farther steps (i.e. increasing steps). While the promise of Genesis 3:15 was real, it was also hazy. Thus God graciously continued to progressively add light to this dim revelation. These further steps are found throughout the Old Testament in various ways and various times (1689 1:1).

The Confession now comes to the last of the three points: until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament. The revealing started with Adam; the revelation continued after Adam, with farther steps, but it was fully revealed (i.e. full discovery) until it was completed (fulfilled) in the New Testament. The full discovery (i.e. the full and completed revelation) of the promised covenant of grace was only completed by and in Christ. When the fullness of time came, the mystery hidden was revealed; then we knew who Eve’s offspring was, how Satan bruised Jesus’ heal (Jesus’ death), and how Jesus destroyed the work of Satan. These details were given in shadows and types, and while the revelation given after Adam became more detailed as time went on, yet it was not until this revelation was completed in the New Testament (i.e. the canon of the New Covenant) that the revelation was complete.   But it was not just that the revelation was complete, but that Christ’s work spoken of in Genesis 3:15 and throughout the Old Testament was completed. There are several New Testament passages about this completed revelation and work. “As a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10 ESV). And, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5 ESV). And “In hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:2-3 ESV).

The section we just covered in paragraph two is a key section where Particular Baptists and Presbyterians disagree. In order to stay within the scope of this layman’s commentary, those details will not be covered, but there are some very good books that go into that important topic.[10] I will say that there is a marked contrast between the Particular Baptists and Presbyterian covenant theology, though there are areas of commonality. These differences are very relevant to the position of baptism by Particular Baptists (credo-baptism) and the Presbyterians (paedobaptism), and there are other important and relevant ramifications.

The Confession continues: and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect. “And it” refers to the covenant of grace. Before the covenant of grace there was another covenant made in eternity. The Confession refers to it as that “eternal covenant transaction” between the Father and Son. Theologians often term it the covenant of redemption, or the counsel of redemption. Berkhof defines this covenant transaction as “the agreement between the Father, giving the Son as Head and Redeemer of the elect, and the Son, voluntarily taking the place of those who whom the Father had given Him.”[11] The Confession includes four aspects of this covenant transaction: 1) It is the foundation to the covenant of grace. 2) It is a covenant made in eternity. 3) It is a transaction between the Father and the Son, and 4) It was an agreement about the redemption of the elect. Shedd makes an important point: “The covenant of grace and redemption are two modes or phases of the one evangelical covenant of mercy.”[12] The covenant of redemption logically comes before the covenant of grace, for it is the prior arrangement, but they both together accomplish the redemption of the elect. The covenant of redemption is between the Father and the Son, while the covenant of grace is between the Father and the elect. From Christ’s perspective the covenant of redemption was the voluntary transaction, arrangement or contract with the Father by which Christ would fulfill the terms of the covenant of works on behalf of the elect. The elect would then be credited Christ’s perfect obedience by and through the covenant of grace.

The 1689 Confession states: and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality. “This covenant” refers to the covenant of grace and not to the eternal covenant transaction. The point here is very strong. Adam and Eve and their posterity could not be saved by any other covenant. This brings us full circle for the reward of life was offered by the covenant of works, but since Adam failed to obtain the reward of life by that covenant, another was needed, and thus God freely and graciously provided another covenant—one that guaranteed Adam and the rest of the elect that reward of life (life and blessed immortality).

Why is it though that Adam and Eve could only be saved, given life and blessed immortality by the covenant of grace? Because man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency. The incapability is man’s inability to fulfill the terms of the covenant of works. After the fall, man was left in a pitiful state. Man lost his original righteousness (his state of innocency), and instead received an unrighteous nature. The Confession recognizes that we would be doomed if not for the covenant of grace. This leads us quite nicely to the next chapter—to the only hope for the sinner, Christ, the Mediator of a better covenant, the covenant of grace! Hebrews tells us: “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.” Indeed, we look are grateful for the second covenant, the New Covenant, the completed covenant of grace revealed in the gospel.

_____________________________________________________

[1] A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (1869; reprinted, Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 121

[2] Ibid.

[3] Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and authority of the New Testament Books (Wheaton, Crossway: 2012), 163.

[4] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess, Vol. 1, The Triune God (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P & R Publishing), 205. As a reminder, this commentary by R.C. Sproul is written on the Westminster Confession, not the 1689 Confession. Sproul’s excellent work is useful in the study of the Baptist Confession where the 1689 Confession and the Westminster Confession parallel each other. The 1689 deleted the WCF section two and the Savoy section two. This is what the WCF and the Savoy state in their section II: “The first covenant made with man, was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.”

[5] Lane Tipton, Reformed Forum Conference: Theology 2014, Pre-Conference Discussion. I transcribed this statement, however, there are some slight adjustments made for the sake of better readability.

[6] Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), Kindle location 8903. For a full discussion read location 8840-8903.

[7] The phrase “Federal head” means that someone, in this case Adam, represents all mankind. Thus the covenant of works was made not only with Adam, but with all his posterity. The terms given to Adam in that covenant were also given to all mankind in Adam (see Romans 5:12-21). Those in the covenant of grace have for their federal head Christ, not Adam.

[8] Paragraph two of the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration is removed entirely from the 1689 Confession. This likely has to do with a combination of the economy of words, and the re-organizing of this chapter to adapt it to the Particular Baptist’s perspective of covenant theology. Some have speculated that the removal of the wording “the covenant of works” represents the Baptist rejection of it, but that is not correct for it is mentioned elsewhere in the 1689, and is still implied and assumed here in chapter 7. The concept is still present in chapter 7 even if the precise terminology is not. It is an important aspect of Particular Baptist covenant theology, though there are some differences in how the Presbyterians and Particular Baptists approach it in some areas.

[9] Pascal Denault, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist Federalism (Birmingham, Al.: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013), pg. 56.

[10] I think an excellent starter is Pascal Denault’s, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism (Birmingham, Al.: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013).

[11] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Containing the full text of Systematic theology (1932) and the original Introductory volume to systematic theology (1938), and new preface by Richard a. Muller (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1996), 271.

[12] Shed, Dogmatic Theology II, 360. Cited by Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Containing the full text of Systematic theology (1932) and the original Introductory volume to systematic theology (1938), and new preface by Richard a. Muller (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1996), 265.

This entry was posted in Symbolics. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Chapter 7: Of God’s Covenant

  1. Alex Hutter says:

    From the links and resourced provided it looks like you will be taking the view that the Mosaic covenant was not the covenant of grace but more of a republication of the covenant of works. It also appears that you will not be adhering to any sort of New Covenant Theology. If these things are so, then I am much encouraged. It is a great shame that these very obvious (I think they are obvious from the bible) points are so misunderstood in our day. May the Lord bless you; and thank you for your work. I am currently doing some bible studies through the 1689 and am finding your work most helpful.

    • www.1689commentary.org says:

      Hi,
      Sorry for the slow response. My previous post under this chapter definitely reflected Covenant Theology, as does the 1689 Confession, but I think I missed the Baptist distinctive; my interpretation of the 1689 Confession looked more Presbyterian–which in comparison to New Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism–looks quite friendly. My new post, I anticipate, will be a little more nuanced, and I hope will show the Baptist distinctive of the 1689 Confession. I am still studying the matter so I cannot really comment intelligently on the view you mentioned.

      Thanks for your interest!
      Gary

  2. I highly recommend 2-4, as well as the website. Great resources.

    • 1689 Commentary says:

      Hi Patrick,
      Hey, thanks for the comment. I will have to swing by and spend some time on your site; looks like you have some good stuff there.
      Gary

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s