Chapter 7: Of God’s Covenant
1._____ 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 )
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 )
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; Acts 4:12; John 8:56)
Understanding the Confession
Introduction to 1689 Covenantal Theology
I. What is a Covenant?
A Covenant is a commitment with divine sanctions. It is a promise suspended upon a condition. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term used to denote a covenant is bērit which refers to a treaty or an alliance between two parties. There are two major types of covenants that are found in the old Testament: those between men and those between man and God.
Examples of covenants made between Men
1 Samuel 18:3 – Friendship – Jonathan and David
Genesis 21:27 – Parity – Abraham and Abimelech
Joshua 9:15 – Suzerain and Vassal Treaty – Joshua and the Gibeonites
Malachi 2:14 – Marriage
The Covenants made between God and Man
Adamic Covenant – Genesis 2:16-17
Noahic Covenant – Genesis 9:8-17
Abrahamic Covenant – Genesis 15:18; 17:1-14
Mosaic Covenant – Exodus 19-24
Davidic Covenant – 2 Samuel 7:8-17
The New Covenant – Genesis 3:15; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 9:15-20
The concept of Covenant is the overarching theme of Scripture and the singular way by which God has chosen to interact with mankind. Now when we look at these covenants, and what paragraph 1 of chapter 7 of the confession tells us is that it has pleased God to always transact his covenant through a representative head (i.e. Adam, Abraham, etc.).
II. How Does a Covenant Work?
A. The Matter and Form of a Covenant
There are two primary means in which God structures his covenant to man — Laws or Promises. Whichever of these means are used will therefore denote the structure of that covenant. The two Covenantal forms found in Scripture are thus a covenant of works or a Covenant of Grace.
B. The Response of the Covenant Servant
God does not ask permission, he does not negotiate terms with mankind, rather God, as Creator and Ruler over all, imposes his covenant on mankind. God is sovereign and as we look to the covenants that he has made with his people, all of these covenants were given as a blessing for mankind.
Adamic Covenant – Blessing: Eternal Life and Communion with God
Noahic Covenant – Blessing: A preserved World.
Abrahamic Covenant – Blessing: Life in Canaan and the Promise of the Messiah
Mosaic Covenant – Blessing: How to live well in the promised land.
Davidic Covenant – Blessing: An Everlasting King who keeps the Law for his people
New Covenant – Blessing: Resurrection and Eternal life through Christ’s completed work.
Man owes obedience to God no matter what. The fact that God made any covenants with man is a picture of his infinite condescension and the overwhelming abundance of grace and mercy. Now the response of the covenant servant is based upon the form by which God delivers that covenant if it is by law then we respond to that law through obedience, and if by promise then we respond in correspondence with promise by simply receiving it through faith.
C. The Sanctions of a Covenant
This is the third part of a covenant, if the form is given then the response of the covenant servant is always sanctioned. These sanctions are usually revealed via blessings or curses that promote the participation of the parties of the covenant and to warn those who don’t. So if God imposes a covenant through law, that will be sanctioned by blessings or curses for obedience or disobedience (Leviticus 26:14-16). But if God imposes a covenant through promise, and the covenant servant receives the promise, the sanction places the threat upon the one making the covenant (God) in order to guarantee the fulfillment of the promise made (Genesis 15:1-11; 17-18). These sanctions are not easily broken sanctions like we find in the world today, but if they are broken then they will be met with a certain penalty.
Now when God imposes a covenant by law and man pledges obedience, and God threatens the man who must obey, this is known as a covenant of works. Man must obey the law in order to be rewarded. And when God imposes a covenant with a promise and man genuinely believes and receives that promise, the stipulations for the promise were nothing more than man receiving it and the divine sanctions threaten the one making the promise (God), therefore, there are no works involved only a promise. This type of formal covenant is known as a covenant of grace. It is grace because its free, it asks nothing from the one who receives the promise (see Rom. 4:4-5; 11:6; Gal. 3:12, 18).
III. What does a Covenant Do?
A. It Reveals God’s Gracious Condescension towards His Creation
This is beautifully described in the confession above: “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” (1689 LBCF 7.1).
Covenants bridge the gap between the creator and the creature. The creator is infinitely beyond the creator, and one of the things that made creation good, was the clarity that existed between the distinction of creator and the created. The natural relationship between the creator and the creature is one of an infinite gap which can only be bridged by God’s condescension (his moving downwards toward man). Though there is the Noahic covenant which affects all creation, God has chosen to covenant with mankind distinctly, and as such that reveals the special creation of mankind. With such a glorious truth we should all be left crying out with David, “What is man that you are mindful of him” (Ps. 8:4)?
As already noted God has condescended towards his creation through covenant via laws or promises.
Laws – In our context we often abhor the thought of law, but in reality we love law just the ones we choose. Law is not the issue, but who has the authority to establish and enforce those laws is usually where the issue arises. Now there are two forms of Laws: 1) Natural Law or Moral Law —that which is written on the hearts of all men (10 Commandments) 2) Positive Law – all other commands which go beyond moral law. Let us also never forget that God Could have given law after law and been perfectly just in doing so as Sovereign Creator.
Promises – That which God freely offers, on the basis of nothing more than a belief in the promises and the reception of what they offer. When God promises anything to his creation, it is the greatest display of his gracious condescension. He owes us nothing, and yet his promises are freely given and freely received by faith.
Here we must briefly discuss the idea of merit which is a wage that is earned from a labor. When we think of covenantal merit, Man to man this is perfectly normal and acceptable, but we can never put God in our debt (Luke 17:10). In the Adamic Covenant, God chose to condescend and make Adam’s obedience meritorious (i.e. do this and you shall live). Eternal life must be covenanted to you in order for it to be obtained. And there are only two individuals in all history that God has covenanted eternal life with a merit for their obedience—the first Adam and the Last Adam, Jesus Christ. And all humanity relates to God based upon which of those individuals they are represented by. We are either dead in Adam, or alive in Christ.
B. It Establishes and Governs a Kingdom
When America first became a nation we set up documents (The Constitution) that outlined what established and governed us as a nation and it defines the boundaries and parameters in which the government can govern the people. So it is with the kingdoms God establishes. The covenants provide the parameters by which God provides the basis for how that kingdom is to be governed. This is how all the Scripture is framed and how biblical theology should be understood:
The Kingdom of Creation – Covenants that extends over and govern all creation.
The Adamic Covenant
The Noahic Covenant
The Kingdom of Israel – Covenants that extended over and governed the OT Nation of Israel.
Abrahamic Covenant- God gives Israel a realm to have dominion
Mosaic Covenant – God gives Israel a law to govern the people
Davidic Covenant -God gives Israel a king which is to govern the people after his righteous precepts.
The Kingdom of Christ – Covenants that extend over and governs all that are found in Christ.
Covenant of Redemption – Covenant made in eternity past between God the Father and God the Son which establishes who and what Christ’s Eternal Kingdom will entail.
The New Covenant – Made between the Father and all those who surrender and receive his Son, Jesus as Savior and Lord. It is the full realization of the Covenant of Grace, which had been typified and pointed to by the preceding covenants.
God establishes and governs his people through covenant. This for instance is why the church is considered pilgrims and strangers, while simultaneously being referred to as a Holy Nation (1 Peter 1:1; 2:9-11). We belong to another dominion governed not by a king in this world, but by the King of heaven, who rules and reigns at the right hand of his Father. If we get the idea of covenant wrong we will get the gospel wrong, we will miss the beautiful free grace found in the New Covenant of Christ. When we read the Bible through the lens of the Covenants we can see the unity of God’s redemptive work throughout all history. The story of redemption will not be broken up into mutable sections whereby God is constantly changing the narrative based on various circumstances, but rather God through these covenants has progressively revealed his eternal plan of redemption (1689 LBCF 7.3) finding all of their yes and amens in the New and final covenant of grace ushered in by the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ.
Next time we will briefly discuss the 1689 Federalist view seen in the confession which sees the Covenant of Grace progressively revealed throughout all the covenants until being fully realized and offered in the New Covenant of Grace made available through the perfect obedience of Christ, the Last Adam.