Common Understanding of the Covenant of Grace

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kceaster

Puritan Board Junior
In the interest of fostering good debate on covenant theology, I would like for us all to participate in an exercise that will define the covenant of grace. Because we have deemed our confessional standards to be criteria for debating these issues, we should try to understand the covenant of grace from a common view point which may be arrived at by paralleling the confessions.

To that end, I will post the appropriate chapters from both the WCF and the 1689 LBCF so that we may see the exact wording of both. I think this is a good starting point for our definition. We will then be able to argue our certain points in light of a common definition that everyone can agree on. Once these texts are presented, I will make premises based upon the language common to both.

[quote:7362b26d78]WCF VII:I. The distance between God and the creature is go great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

LBCF VII:I. 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.[/quote:7362b26d78]

[quote:7362b26d78]WCF VII:III. Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the 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 life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

LBCF VII:II. 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.[/quote:7362b26d78]

[quote:7362b26d78]WCF VII:V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come: which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called, the Old Testament.

WCF VII:VI. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory; yet, in them, it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.

LBCF VII:III. 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.[/quote:7362b26d78]

For matters of expediency, I will omit the chapter number since it is chapter VI in both of these confessions.

[b:7362b26d78]Premise 1:[/b:7362b26d78] Section I of both the WCF and LBCF are essentially the same except for the differences in wording describing the deficiencies of man's relationship to God.

[b:7362b26d78]Premise 2:[/b:7362b26d78] The gist of both of these statements is that without God condescending in a covenant, man would not be in proper relationship with God.

[b:7362b26d78]Premise 3:[/b:7362b26d78] Section III of the WCF and II of the LBCF are essentially the same except for the following:

[i:7362b26d78]The LBCF explains how man has become incapable by explaining that he has brought himself under the curse of the law.

The LBCF, since not stating the covenant of works, does not refer to the covenant of grace as a "second" covenant.

The LBCF specifies "those that are ordained unto eternal life," whereas the WCF states, "those that are ordained unto life."[/i:7362b26d78]

[b:7362b26d78]Premise 4:[/b:7362b26d78] The summation of both section III of the WCF and II of the LBCF is that God made a covenant called the covenant of grace, whereby sinners are offered life and salvation by Christ, requiring of them faith; and by giving those who are ordained to this life and salvation, His Holy Spirit who will make them willing and able to believe.

[b:7362b26d78]Premise 5:[/b:7362b26d78] Although there are parallels in WCF V and VI with LBCF III, they no longer tract section by section and will have to be dealt with where they are equivalent.

[b:7362b26d78]Premise 6:[/b:7362b26d78] LBCF III wherein is stated: "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," is parallel to WCF VI wherein is stated: "Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited...it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles and is called the New Testament."


[b:7362b26d78]Premise 7:[/b:7362b26d78] The summary of these two parallels is that the covenant of grace was revealed in the gospel which was present immediately after the fall, though in shadows, and did progressively reveal itself until coming to completion in Christ in the New Testament.

[b:7362b26d78]Premise 8:[/b:7362b26d78] LBCF III wherein is stated: "...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," is parallel to WCF V wherein is stated, "all fore-signifying Christ to come: which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation."

[b:7362b26d78]Premise 9:[/b:7362b26d78] The summary of these two parallels is that the covenant of grace is the main instrument of salvation and was operative and did save unto eternal life all of the elect from Adam through the rest of time.

In the follow up posts, please state whether or not you believe a premise to be true and if it not, please explain why. After we have all come to a consensus on the premises, then we can start to draw some conclusions.

In Christ,

KC
 

kceaster

Puritan Board Junior
Does anyone want to come to a common understanding about this? Many of you have viewed it. Am I to understand that by your silence you have agreed?

We need to agree on what the confessions say before we can even debate what the covenant of grace really is.

Anyone? Bueller?

Blessings,

KC
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
KC:
As a point of interest, I believe that the Three Forms of Unity avoid the term "Covenant of Works". The idea would seem to be that, since man was created out of God's good pleasure and design, that man's place in the Garden and man's destiny was all of grace and God's pleasing, and not of man's doing. He neither earned nor kept his place, but was there in relationship to God by God's design. I have seen this referred to as a covenant of favour (reading in Spindleworks, I as recall).

Therefore it is from that emmanance that man fell, not from anything he had earned or striven for. So the contrast of the covenants in the Reformed Churches that hold to the Three Forms of Unity seems to be more a contrast of pre-advent to post-advent administrations than to a difference of covenantal conditions or prerequisties between the OT and NT.

For example, one could not say that there was a difference in the intent of the Law before Christ's advent in relation to afterward. When Christ explained the Law in Matt. 5, He was not reinstating an old covenant legalism, but rather showing how the original intent of the law was to point to grace and the coming Redeemer. He was, in fact, revealing what the OT was intending in its Law, for no sacrifice of animal was ever able to wash away even the slightest of man's sins. Nor does temporal punishment suffice to atone for trespasses. So Christ came with nothing new, and yet it was new in that it revealed what before had been concealed. This, then, is a continuation of that favour of God upon man, that was present from the start.

I don't know if I have faithfully represented the Continental view. But all the same, it is of interest to this discussion.
 

wsw201

Puritan Board Senior
KC,

What you have stated is on point. There is no significant difference between the WCF and the LBCF in how they define the Covenant of Grace.

In my humble opinion, where things get off kilter is when the discussion moves to who is and who is not "in the Covenant". Though the WLC Q. 31 comments on who is in the Covenant, the LBCF does not appear to make this distinction. But then again I may be getting ahead of the discussion. :wink:

Wayne
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I agree, Wayne. [quote:880245e8c9]...where things get off kilter is when the discussion moves to who is and who is not "in the Covenant". Though the WLC Q. 31 comments on who is in the Covenant, the LBCF does not appear to make this distinction.[/quote:880245e8c9]The particular givens for each side seem to be implied rather than overtly stated. Or they are just assumed. Perhaps we should devote ourselves to discovering the Scriptural basis and context of being "in the Covenant" before we can figure out who is in it and who is not.

Up until now I have been representing the Kuyperian covenantal view (cf. the presumptions threads), though I am not fully or exclusively of that persuasion. I am more and more appreciating my new Presbyterianism, though also learning more of what left I behind in the continental theology, also with appreciation. Maybe I'm following in Van Til's Princeton steps (but hope for a better result than Presuppositionalism. :wink1: )

As you say, we have a lot of ground to cover perhaps before we get that far, but it is for discussions like this that we hope the best for a Board like this.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
John, did you know the first theologians to establish the term "covenant of works" were Dutch? Though it didn't make it into a Confession until the Irish Articles in the early 1600's. Ursinus was one of those few. I think Cocejus is credited with the first mention of it. I'll have to dig up my Dutch theology books again to make sure.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Patrick:
Yes, indeed, I knew that, or at least assumed it, being Dutch myself :biggrin:. I will even correct your spelling of Coccieus for you. Oops, now I don't know if I have it right. :shocked2:

I was going to add that I had learned about the covenant of works in my catechism classes in the CRC. It is definitely in the Dutch Reformed theology. And Coccieus is a big name in that sphere. But the fact that it is not mentioned does say something about how they view it.

I think Kevin has the right idea here. We will need to use our heads together to use these and other premises to solve the impasse. One thing that I think needs to be taken into account is the "early" and "late" concepts that Van Til brought up. Using these terms indicates the fact that, though those whom God elects are elect, yet there is a timetable as well, a process, if you will, to the whole of it. And this is God's timetable.

Justification and sanctification are separate, but are yet part of the same election. What we tend to do is assume total sanctification when we use the term "elect", whereas that is still being accomplished. This is just as true for adults as it is for children, and perhaps moreso. Those who are elect are elect from eternity, but they still undergo sanctification throughout their lives. Sin remains in our mortal bodies as a constant thorn. And some of us fall for a time. We are not to suppose that these are therefore not elect, but are yet to treat even apostate brothers as brothers, as fellow covenant members, in the hopes of their retrun, that their fallenness is only for a season. But we are to administer upon them the admonishments and disciplines that they require to keep them from adding to their sin, and as a check on sin itself and the influences of indulged sins.

We are never to look at fellow members as if their membership makes everything all right. That is not part of either of our systems. We are to recognise that the elect are undergoing sanctification. Perhaps this is the genius of the continental Reformed system of theology. I believe that this is the basis for presuming the election of all those born into the Covenant, not declaring it, but presuming it in the same sense that those who do profession of faith are presumed elect, but not declared into sainthood. We determine to treat all these as if they are in the Covenant until it is proven that they are not. And even then it is difficult to declare them utterly lost.

The effects of being born into a family given to the worship of God is an everlasting influence upon them, one that is not easily erased. It is not that a child who is lost to the Covenant has fallen from being elect, but rather that the benefits of grace have been deliberately refused by him. It cannot be assumed at anytime that a child is born in a saved state on account of his parentage, for that is rejected by all. But it also cannot be denied that such a child is indeed priveleged to be raised in a home that God blesses from the start for him, and that he is brought near to the throne of God daily when the family worships and praises their God.

These are just a few thoughts. I say these things in the hopes that we are continuing our mutual hope for unity in doctrine as much as we are united in our hope and love, and the unity we enjoy in so many of issues of faith.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Oh thanks for the correction John. The reason I borught it up is because some have alleged that when Ursinus takes about the "law" in the HC, he is actually refering to a covenant of works, since he was one of the originators of that idea. If you read through the Catechism with that perspective, it does seem to fit. But it's been awhile since I studied this issue in the Dutch standards. I'll have to review it again.
 

blhowes

Puritan Board Professor
I wanted to get some feedback on some thoughts about the members of the covenant of grace.

Berkhof opens the section about the covenant of grace (in 'A Summary of Christian Doctrine') with:
[quote:15a35a3b06]On the basis of the covenant of redemption God established the covenant of grace.[/quote:15a35a3b06]
Since the covenant of redemption involves only the elect, doesn't it make sense that the covenant of grace, which rests upon the covenant of redemption, would also involve only the elect?

The argument is made, and it makes sense, that the covenant of grace includes both saved and unsaved members, because circumcision was required for inclusion in the OT administration of the Abrahamic covenant. All family members who were circumcised (or, for women, were under the federal headship of their father or husband) were in the covenant and, since it turns out that not all were saved, it stands to reason that the covenant contained both saved and unsaved members.

Here's another way to look at it that also makes sense to me. In the OT, God used things in the physical, or natural realm, to represent spiritual truths. The covenant of grace is revealed historically to amplify and help us understand the covenant of redemption. We learn different things about the covenant of redemption through the covenants revealed in history. Some of the things we can gather from the revealed covenants include:

1. Adamic Covenant: God demands an obedience that man can't meet. All sinned in Adam and in Christ (the last Adam) all (elect) are freed from the consequences of sin.

2. Noahic Covenant: God is the judge and sin will be punished.

3. Mosaic Covenant: God demands obedience, which we can't keep. The law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. The passover points to salvation by grace.

4. Davidic Covenant: Jesus is king and we are servants.

5. Abrahamic Covenant: Sinners are blessed through Abraham's seed, Jesus. Just as only those included in the OT administration of the covenant are those who are physically circumcised, in the same way only those who are spiritually circumcised are included in the covenant of grace.

Is there any validity to that train of thought?
 

Ianterrell

Puritan Board Sophomore
Well the covenant of redemption was the undertaking of Christ to save all those God had elected to be in Christ. The Covenant of Grace is the working out of that plan. Agents such as ourselves do not know who the elect are (it is a secret). We know the normative means God uses to save, and the assembly we are called to (a city on a hill).

Every bit of sunshine, rain, and shelter is the provision of God. It comes to both the elect and reprobate. Those gifts will become further reasons for judgment for the reprobate.

There will always be wheat amongs the tares, and unregenerates amongst the regenrate, until Christ seperates the tares, and removes the goats. Unti he removes the last bit of leaven from the loaf. But there are external benefits that people partake of. Being a part of the community, leaving some of the pollutions of the world behind, particpating in the ordinances, but in the end all of these things shall be further curses upon them if they are not truly redeemed creatures.
 

blhowes

Puritan Board Professor
Ian,
I agree with what you say, though what you say I think would apply to the baptist view as well as the CT view. In baptist churches, there are (most likely) tares among the wheat, unsaved among the saved. Who's who is a secret, known by God. Those who attend the church are blessed in that they are away from the world for a while and come under the preaching of the gospel, etc. Those who don't repent and believe will be held accountible for what they rejected while at church.
 

VanVos

Puritan Board Sophomore
As a credobaptist I see the covenant of grace in exact same way as paedobaptist or WMC does, apart from a few issues relating to the Abrahamic Covenant. I see the Abrahamic covenant as serving the purposes of the Cov of Grace and is in that sense an administration of the Cov of Grace (bit like the Noahic) but it is not the Cov of Grace it self. The Cov of Grace is that unbreakable covenant that began in Gen 3:15 being fully revealed in the New Covenant. In in other words the Covenant of Grace is the Gospel.

VanVos
 

pastorway

Puritan Board Senior
One note, the LBCF understood in context, can be seen to identify the CoG as the New Covenant! If we take the 1689 by itself then we might come away with a Presbyterian understanding of the CoG, but when we see what the FIRST London Confession says clearly about the CoG we see that the Baptist Confessions do not agree with the WCF on the CoG!

The First London Confession, second edition published in 1646 identifies the CoG as the New Covenant, one in the same covenant. Five of the original seven signing churches also endorsed the Second Confession in 1677 (published in 1689). They would have sopken up I am sure if the terms were redefined between the two!

[quote:11043faad1][i:11043faad1]First London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1644, (first edition)[/i:11043faad1]
10. Touching his Office, Jesus Christ only is made the Mediator of [b:11043faad1]the new Covenant, even the everlasting Covenant of grace[/b:11043faad1] between God and Man, to be perfectly and fully the Prophet, Priest and King of the Church of God for evermore.

2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 9:15; John 14:6; Heb. 1:2; 3:1, 2; 7:24; Isa. 9:6, 7; Acts 5:31.


[i:11043faad1]First London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1646 (second edition)[/i:11043faad1]
10. Jesus Christ is made the mediator of [b:11043faad1]the new and everlasting covenant of grace[/b:11043faad1] between God and man, ever to be perfectly and fully the prophet, priest, and king of the Church of God for evermore.

1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:15; John 14:6; Isaiah 9:6, 7. [/quote:11043faad1]

So historically, Baptists do not see the NC as an administration of the CoG, but they see the two as one and the same covenant. To see otherwise is to read into the Second Confession too much from the WCF to the neglect of Baptist History!

Phillip
 

Philip A

Puritan Board Sophomore
With all respect, two-'L'ed Phillip, I have to disagree. If the 1st and 2nd confessions are saying the same thing, as you suggest, then in reality the 2nd sheds more light on what is said in the first, not the other way around. For if that first confession had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second! :D The 2nd would therefore explain in what sense the 1st identifies the NC with the CoG, namely that the former is the fullest revelation of the latter. Of course, one could argue that this means that the NC is identical to the CoG, which could be an allowable summary, unless one draws improper implications from that identity.

one-'L'ed Philip
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
I agree, and if our search function worked, could show you threads where I have agreed with you, Philip A.

It is also exactly how Walt Chantry understands the 1689 - I personally asked him a few months ago.
 

5 Solas

Puritan Board Freshman
John V "As a point of interest, I believe that the Three Forms of Unity avoid the term "Covenant of Works". The idea would seem to be that, since man was created out of God's good pleasure and design, that man's place in the Garden and man's destiny was all of grace and God's pleasing, and not of man's doing. He neither earned nor kept his place, but was there in relationship to God by God's design."

John V I remember hearing a tape a while back that said the reason why the Heidelberg Catechism doesn't mention Cov. Works / Cov. Grace as it was very prominent in the Larger Catechism that was earlier is because at that time the Lutherans in Germany were strongly criticizing Reformed theology so one of the cheif aims of the heidelberg catechism was to present the reformed faith to lutherans in a ecumenical tone.
 
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