Is the Covenant of Grace conditional or unconditional?

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PaulMc

Puritan Board Freshman
Is the covenant of grace conditional, unconditional, or both?

I have been reading Thomas Blake's The Covenant of God in which he argues strongly for both faith and sincere obedience as conditions called for by God upon man in the covenant.

He defines the new covenant thus:
"A gracious covenant of God with fallen man whereby God engages Himself upon faith in Christ and return to God in sincere obedience, to confer on man remission of sins and all whatsoever that tends to everlasting happiness. They that profess to believe and return to God are in covenant. They that do believe and sincerely return enjoy the blessings and mercies of the covenant."

I realise that many claim that the covenant is unconditional, however. Is it dependent upon considering it as an external covenant as well as internal (as Blake does)?

I have understood that the covenant is conditional, but that of course God provides us the strength to work those conditions, i.e. faith and repentance (sincere obedience too?), being gifts from Him. Is this right?

Any insights and discussion welcomed!
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Just based on the excerpt, it's hard to evaluate the entirety of Blake's position. Sentences two and three seem to have administrative (outward) and substantive (inward) "conditions" in view, respectively.

If you think of elements or aspects of the defined relationship as sine qua non (that without which) for the Covenant to include men existentially, then yes, in a qualified sense they are conditions. We cannot be in the covenant substantively and historically if faith/repentance is absent. Such a thought is absurd, because it assumes that God may impart saving faith, which activated faculty nonetheless does not see what it is in the nature of that faculty to apprehend.

The Covenant of Grace is not conditioned in any antecedent manner on on any prior fulfillments, otherwise we could not have any such doctrine as "unconditional election." Election is not based on anything foreseen or preexisting in the creature; but it is the very thing that vouchsafes a personal and everlasting salvation to an elect person. It is an absolute and unconditional gratuity. This is the "chosen in Christ" aspect of an individual's redemption, and in that eternal (but not historical) perspective, men are in the Covenant of Grace apart from conditions of any kind.

The Covenant of Grace may be said to have "conditions," in the qualified sense of consequent conditions, conditions that are the necessary consequences or results of specific divine activity on behalf of his elect. If such things as true faith, repentance, love for God and Christ, etc. are not present in the least degree (not even saying they must be visible or detectable traits); it is not possible to speak of such a person with respect to eternity. We might be speaking of a reprobate, or we might be speaking of a person who is elect but not converted. Nothing of his present (or future!) "condition" has impacted the divine decree concerning him. But in the nature of the case for an elect person, the divine determination for his everlasting felicity must eventually produce blessed conditions in keeping with election.

I would also say, with respect to history: faith, repentance, love, etc. considered under any visible manner (not excluding participation in sacrament and church-life), demands a kind of acknowledgement from the rest of us who are only capable of reckoning with whatever "conditions" are set before us to observe. I don't know on which side of the baptism divide Blake is coming from; but as a Presbyterian, to "profess to believe and return to God" is properly descriptive of all the baptized, including the infants. For the latter, all we basically have to lean upon is the objective fact of the baptism; but we extend the judgment of charity (rather than skepticism), having confidence in the full panoply of the means of grace to do their work unto the end, 1Pet.1:9.

In every case, our judgment is purely provisional. And the reason is obvious: because at best we are speaking of consequent conditions, and our recognition of them accurately is imperfect.

Listen to R Scott Clark, Heidelcast #46 & #47
Heidelcast 46: Conditions And The Covenant Of Grace (Pt 1) | The Heidelblog
Heidelcast: Conditions And The Covenant Of Grace (pt 2) | The Heidelblog
 
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SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
The title and first line of the OP talk about the covenant of grace. Then you cite Blake's definition of the New Covenant and the rest of your post simply talks about "the covenant."


I just want to point this out because "the Covenant of Grace" and "the New Covenant" are not synonyms. Thus, when you simply ask about "the covenant," I have to ask, which one?
 

PaulMc

Puritan Board Freshman
The title and first line of the OP talk about the covenant of grace. Then you cite Blake's definition of the New Covenant and the rest of your post simply talks about "the covenant."


I just want to point this out because "the Covenant of Grace" and "the New Covenant" are not synonyms. Thus, when you simply ask about "the covenant," I have to ask, which one?

I agree, thanks for pointing this out. This did occur to me when reading the particular chapter of Blake that I'm in; it seems that he speaks of them interchangeably. For example, at the beginning of this chapter (entitled 'What Degree of Obedience the Covenant of Grace calls for from Christians') he writes "what degree of obedience this new covenant calls for". Later in the chapter, "In the last place I shall conclude that sincerity in the way and work of God…is that which the covenant of grace doth require and that which it accepteth". And to conclude the chapter he gives the above quoted definition of the new covenant.

So I'm not sure!
 

PaulMc

Puritan Board Freshman
Just based on the excerpt, it's hard to evaluate the entirety of Blake's position. Sentences two and three seem to have administrative (outward) and substantive (inward) "conditions" in view, respectively.

If you think of elements or aspects of the defined relationship as sine qua non (that without which) for the Covenant to include men existentially, then yes, in a qualified sense they are conditions. We cannot be in the covenant substantively and historically if faith/repentance is absent. Such a thought is absurd, because it assumes that God may impart saving faith, which activated faculty nonetheless does not see what it is in the nature of that faculty to apprehend.

The Covenant of Grace is not conditioned in any antecedent manner on on any prior fulfillments, otherwise we could not have any such doctrine as "unconditional election." Election is not based on anything foreseen or preexisting in the creature; but it is the very thing that vouchsafes a personal and everlasting salvation to an elect person. It is an absolute and unconditional gratuity. This is the "chosen in Christ" aspect of an individual's redemption, and in that eternal (but not historical) perspective, men are in the Covenant of Grace apart from conditions of any kind.

The Covenant of Grace may be said to have "conditions," in the qualified sense of consequent conditions, conditions that are the necessary consequences or results of specific divine activity on behalf of his elect. If such things as true faith, repentance, love for God and Christ, etc. are not present in the least degree (not even saying they must be visible or detectable traits); it is not possible to speak of such a person with respect to eternity. We might be speaking of a reprobate, or we might be speaking of a person who is elect but not converted. Nothing of his present (or future!) "condition" has impacted the divine decree concerning him. But in the nature of the case for an elect person, the divine determination for his everlasting felicity must eventually produce blessed conditions in keeping with election.

I would also say, with respect to history: faith, repentance, love, etc. considered under any visible manner (not excluding participation in sacrament and church-life), demands a kind of acknowledgement from the rest of us who are only capable of reckoning with whatever "conditions" are set before us to observe. I don't know on which side of the baptism divide Blake is coming from; but as a Presbyterian, to "profess to believe and return to God" is properly descriptive of all the baptized, including the infants. For the latter, all we basically have to lean upon is the objective fact of the baptism; but we extend the judgment of charity (rather than skepticism), having confidence in the full panoply of the means of grace to do their work unto the end, 1Pet.1:9.

In every case, our judgment is purely provisional. And the reason is obvious: because at best we are speaking of consequent conditions, and our recognition of them accurately is imperfect.

Listen to R Scott Clark, Heidelcast #46 & #47
Heidelcast 46: Conditions And The Covenant Of Grace (Pt 1) | The Heidelblog
Heidelcast: Conditions And The Covenant Of Grace (pt 2) | The Heidelblog

Thanks for the reply Bruce, I will listen to those episodes of the Heidelcast.

Thomas Blake was a paedobaptist. Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology says "Perhaps no one worked out the doctrine of an external covenant with greater consistency than Thomas Blake".
The Covenant of God was republished by Puritan Publications a few years ago - it can be found here:
The Covenant of God - Thomas Blake (1597-1657) | Catalog Products | Shop | The Puritan Shop
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology says "Perhaps no one worked out the doctrine of an external covenant with greater consistency than Thomas Blake".

Louis Berkhof has a chapter in his Systematic Theology on the duality of the covenant.

I think it depends with what perspective you look at the covenant, in what sense it is condional or unconditional.

Since Christ in the CoG has done all that is necessary for the elect, and since faith is a gift of God, all the conditions of the CoG have been fulfilled by Christ for the elect. In that sense the covenant is fundamentally unconditional. The word "testament" better expresses the unconditionality of the covenant.

But faith is necessary to enter into the life of the Covenant, and sincere obedience as evidence of faith, and also to walk in the way of the covenant.

Indeed, certain covenantal privileges - e.g. access to the Lord's Table - are to be withdrawn in the case of those within the covenant administration who are engaged in unrepented presumptuous or scandalous sin; although the sign of baptism can never be removed in this life, and to that extent, such are always within the covenantal administration, even if they remain unbelievers unto death. This expresses God's faithfulness to them in the covenant administration.

What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! (Romans 3:1-4)
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Is the covenant of grace conditional, unconditional, or both?

It is unconditional in essence but administered with conditions. It is a part of the covenant of grace to give grace to fulfil the conditions. Faith is a duty required of all but it is also a gift bestowed on the elect. The same applies to repentance, obedience, perseverance, etc.
 

Justified

Puritan Board Sophomore
The Covenant of Grace may be said to have "conditions," in the qualified sense of consequent conditions, conditions that are the necessary consequences or results of specific divine activity on behalf of his elect. If such things as true faith, repentance, love for God and Christ, etc. are not present in the least degree (not even saying they must be visible or detectable traits); it is not possible to speak of such a person with respect to eternity. We might be speaking of a reprobate, or we might be speaking of a person who is elect but not converted. Nothing of his present (or future!) "condition" has impacted the divine decree concerning him. But in the nature of the case for an elect person, the divine determination for his everlasting felicity must eventually produce blessed conditions in keeping with election.
I found this very helpful; although I am wondering who you consider apart of the covenant of grace: all men, the elect, or the elect and the children?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The Covenant of Grace may be said to have "conditions," in the qualified sense of consequent conditions, conditions that are the necessary consequences or results of specific divine activity on behalf of his elect. If such things as true faith, repentance, love for God and Christ, etc. are not present in the least degree (not even saying they must be visible or detectable traits); it is not possible to speak of such a person with respect to eternity. We might be speaking of a reprobate, or we might be speaking of a person who is elect but not converted. Nothing of his present (or future!) "condition" has impacted the divine decree concerning him. But in the nature of the case for an elect person, the divine determination for his everlasting felicity must eventually produce blessed conditions in keeping with election.
I found this very helpful; although I am wondering who you consider apart* of the covenant of grace: all men, the elect, or the elect and the children?
*[apart = a part, yes?]

Evan,
My answer has to be: none of the choices you offer there. The list elements are either false or inadequate. If "all men," then the Covenant of Grace is not particular in any way, but a common thing. If "the elect," then the whole Covenant of Grace is referred to the realm of invisibility, and there can be no temporal administration. If "the elect and the children [of the elect]" then we have an impossible condition where men are apparently tasked (contrary to Dt.29:29) with knowing the secret things of God, and that with respect to only a portion of the membership.

So let me expand your possibilities, if I may. When speaking of the covenant of grace, it is necessary (if one subscribes to the Westminster Standards or Three Forms of Unity, as I do) to distinguish between 1) substance/essence and 2) administration (N.B. armourbearer's post #7). I do not believe men are tasked with monitoring the humanly unknowable elect population (which is Holy Spirit's administrative realm of the substance of the Covenant); but only with the shepherding of those designated as disciples

Only the elect are found essentially in the Covenant of Grace. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 31:
Q: With whom was the covenant of grace made?
A: The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.
Here, the eternal, inter-Trinitarian Covenant of Redemption is viewed through the lens of its historic realization in Christ the Surety, toward its beneficiaries, which terms we experience as the Covenant of Grace.

On the other hand, the Covenant in history and the world is administered by appointed agents and institutions, through the various covenant-expressions (i.e Mosaic, Davidic, New, etc.). So today, the visible members of the covenant of grace are those who outwardly profess faith in Jesus Christ, belonging to the Church, having or seeking her acknowledgment of them, together with their children.

Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 62
Q: What is the visible church?
A: The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children
Children of professing believers are owed proper recognition as citizens of their parent's kingdom. Evidently, there are expectations into which they are expected to mature; and failure to do so will only reveal them (presumably) as administrative members only, and not as substantive/essential members; but no less subject to the discipline--yea, the most grievous discipline the church may mete out.

Being "merely" an external or a purely administrative member of the church is not inconsequential. Only to those who trivialize the solemnity of earthly matters that have been invested with heavenly significance and freighted with divine promises of blessing unto faith, is church membership rendered a formality. The author of the book of Hebrews seems to differ. To be so nearly connected to the blessings, but to be a practical robber of them, is just to sit and eat at the wedding feast, despising the provision of proper attire, Mt.22:11-13.

WLC Q&A 166
Q: Unto whom is Baptism to be administered?
A: Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.
"Covenant of promise" is synonymous with Covenant of Grace. "In that respect" refers to their (those children's) descent from professing, previously recognized Kingdom-citizens. It is also limiting language, implying the possibility of other "respects" that may be pertinent to covenant identity, but are not determinative of this question. "Within the covenant" refers to the realm of human administration of the Covenant of Grace, which includes the physical application of water to the body.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
"I just want to point this out because "the Covenant of Grace" and "the New Covenant" are not synonyms. "

The Westminster Standards use “Covenant of Grace” and “New Covenant” interchangeably

No they don't (unless, of course, I am missing something!). The WCF speaks of the covenant of grace being displayed in various dispensations, the WLC speaks of differing administrations of the covenant of grace.
The New Covenant is an administration of the Covenant of Grace. Just as was the Mosaic Covenant, Abrahamic Covenant, etc.
 

Justified

Puritan Board Sophomore
The Covenant of Grace may be said to have "conditions," in the qualified sense of consequent conditions, conditions that are the necessary consequences or results of specific divine activity on behalf of his elect. If such things as true faith, repentance, love for God and Christ, etc. are not present in the least degree (not even saying they must be visible or detectable traits); it is not possible to speak of such a person with respect to eternity. We might be speaking of a reprobate, or we might be speaking of a person who is elect but not converted. Nothing of his present (or future!) "condition" has impacted the divine decree concerning him. But in the nature of the case for an elect person, the divine determination for his everlasting felicity must eventually produce blessed conditions in keeping with election.
I found this very helpful; although I am wondering who you consider apart* of the covenant of grace: all men, the elect, or the elect and the children?
*[apart = a part, yes?]

Evan,
My answer has to be: none of the choices you offer there. The list elements are either false or inadequate. If "all men," then the Covenant of Grace is not particular in any way, but a common thing. If "the elect," then the whole Covenant of Grace is referred to the realm of invisibility, and there can be no temporal administration. If "the elect and the children [of the elect]" then we have an impossible condition where men are apparently tasked (contrary to Dt.29:29) with knowing the secret things of God, and that with respect to only a portion of the membership.

So let me expand your possibilities, if I may. When speaking of the covenant of grace, it is necessary (if one subscribes to the Westminster Standards or Three Forms of Unity, as I do) to distinguish between 1) substance/essence and 2) administration (N.B. armourbearer's post #7). I do not believe men are tasked with monitoring the humanly unknowable elect population (which is Holy Spirit's administrative realm of the substance of the Covenant); but only with the shepherding of those designated as disciples

Only the elect are found essentially in the Covenant of Grace. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 31:
Q: With whom was the covenant of grace made?
A: The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.
Here, the eternal, inter-Trinitarian Covenant of Redemption is viewed through the lens of its historic realization in Christ the Surety, toward its beneficiaries, which terms we experience as the Covenant of Grace.

On the other hand, the Covenant in history and the world is administered by appointed agents and institutions, through the various covenant-expressions (i.e Mosaic, Davidic, New, etc.). So today, the visible members of the covenant of grace are those who outwardly profess faith in Jesus Christ, belonging to the Church, having or seeking her acknowledgment of them, together with their children.

Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 62
Q: What is the visible church?
A: The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children
Children of professing believers are owed proper recognition as citizens of their parent's kingdom. Evidently, there are expectations into which they are expected to mature; and failure to do so will only reveal them (presumably) as administrative members only, and not as substantive/essential members; but no less subject to the discipline--yea, the most grievous discipline the church may mete out.

Being "merely" an external or a purely administrative member of the church is not inconsequential. Only to those who trivialize the solemnity of earthly matters that have been invested with heavenly significance and freighted with divine promises of blessing unto faith, is church membership rendered a formality. The author of the book of Hebrews seems to differ. To be so nearly connected to the blessings, but to be a practical robber of them, is just to sit and eat at the wedding feast, despising the provision of proper attire, Mt.22:11-13.

WLC Q&A 166
Q: Unto whom is Baptism to be administered?
A: Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.
"Covenant of promise" is synonymous with Covenant of Grace. "In that respect" refers to their (those children's) descent from professing, previously recognized Kingdom-citizens. It is also limiting language, implying the possibility of other "respects" that may be pertinent to covenant identity, but are not determinative of this question. "Within the covenant" refers to the realm of human administration of the Covenant of Grace, which includes the physical application of water to the body.
So there is a distinction between those who are in the covenant essentially and those who are administrative members, much like the distinction between the visible church and the invisible (universal) church? I think I understand what you are saying. It sure clears up a lot of things for me.
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Freshman
Petto:
Object. Is the new covenant absolute to us, or conditional?
Are there not conditional promises therein to us, as there were in the old unto Israel? Can we expect any mercy, but upon our performing some condition it is promised to?
Ans. 1.
If condition be taken improperly, for that which is only a connex action, or, medium fruitionis, a necessary duty, way, or means, in order to the enjoyment of promised mercies. In this sense, I acknowledge, there are some promises belonging to the new covenant which are conditional; and thus are many scriptures to be taken which are urged this way. That this might not be a strife of words, I could wish men would state the question thus, Whether some evangelical duties be required of, and graces wrought by Jesus Christ in, all the persons that are actually interested in the new covenant? I should answer yes...
...Answer. 2.
There is no such condition of the new covenant to us, as there was in the old to Israel. For, the apostle comparing them together; and, in opposition to the old, he gives the new altogether in absolute promises, and that to Israel, Heb. viii.; and, showing that the new is not according to the old, he discovers wherein the difference lay, verse 9.Because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not; saith the Lord;and, Jer. xxxi. 32. which covenant they broke, &c...
…2._ The Lord has given assurance that there shall never be an utter violation of the new covenant, and therefore it has no such condition as was annexed to the old; for, the Lord declares that they had broken his covenant, Jer xi. 3, 4, 10. Jer xxxi. 32. But the new covenant is secured from such a violation: it cannot be disannulled so as the persons interested in it should be deprived of the great blessings promised therein, Jer. xxxii. 40.
…4._ Our obedience, though evangelical, is no such condition of the new covenant, as there was of the old unto Israel.
See full quote here Petto: Conditional New Covenant? | Contrast

Owen:
And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional ; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.

(6.) Unto a full and complete interest in all the promises of the covenant, faith on our part, from which evangelical repentance is inseparable, is required. But whereas these also are wrought in us by virtue of that promise and grace of the covenant which are absolute, it is a mere strife about words to contend whether they may be called conditions or no. Let it be granted on the one band, that we cannot have an actual participation of the relative grace of this covenant in adoption and justification, without faith or believing; and on the other, that this faith is wrought in us, given unto us, bestowed upon us, by that grace of the covenant which depends on no condition in us as unto its discriminating administration, and I shall not concern myself what men will call it.

Commentary on Heb 8:10

Jeffrey Johnson outlines the different answers to this question provided by paedobaptists in his book the Fatal Flaw (Ch. 7):
Covenant of Grace is unconditional
Covenant of Grace condition is Faith
Covenant of Grace has terms of Unconditionality
Covenant of Grace both conditional and unconditional

You can hear a discussion of these views on this podcast: Interview #20: Jeff Johnson (Note, the discussion is from a credobaptist view)
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
It is true that the OT was provisional and was made in such a way as it could be broken collectively by the people of God and be dispensed with by God and give way to the New Covenant.

It was apparently came close to being irrevocably broken in the 6th century BC and yet in God's grace it continued.

In the first century AD it was collectively broken by God's people when they largely rejected Messiah.

It is sometimes presumed that because the designedly provisional Old Covenant could be collectively broken by God's and people and be dispended with by God and give way something else, viz. the New Covenant/ Testament, that this is clear evidence that the Old Covenant was a Republication of the Covenant of Works. I don't see how this follows, but this is probably for another thread.

Sent from my HTC Wildfire using Tapatalk 2
 
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