A Walk through the 1689 Baptist Confession, pt.15: The Progressive Unfolding of the Covenant of Grace

1689conf

Chapter 7: Of God’s Covenant, para. 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

The Progressive Unfolding of the Covenant of Grace

The Baptists who drafted the 1689 LBCF, which we are currently walking through, held to a different understanding of covenant theology than that of their Westminster brothers. The basic premise of the Westminster divines and many other Reformed thinkers since has been that God made a covenant of works with Adam, and then immediately after the fall, God made a second covenant with man–the Covenant of Grace. This covenant transcends all of redemptive history, and has been placed under two different administrations. The first administration is that which we find in the Old Testament. This administration was both elementary and temporary. The second administration of the covenant of grace is what is found in the New Testament and it is perfect and definitive, unlike the first. So this is the most common understanding of covenant theology today held by many reformed thinkers including many reformed baptists.

This view, however, is not the covenant theology that was put forward by the 1689 baptists. Instead of the one covenant under two administrations view noted above, seventeenth-century baptists held to one covenant revealed progressively throughout the Old Testament, and concluded formally and substantively under the New Covenant. This view argues that not only do the Old and New Covenants differ in administration, but in substance as well. Now how was the covenant of grace progressively revealed in the Old Testament, but not fully offered? I understand this as happening in two phases: the phase where the Covenant of Grace was revealed and promised (Genesis 3-till the death of Christ) and the phase where it was concluded and fully offered (post-crucifixion). So you can look at your Bible as seeing the Old Testament as the Era of Promise, and the New Testament as the Era of Fulfillment. Therefore, Baptists considered that no other covenant besides the New Covenant, was the Covenant of Grace. In other words, the New Covenant and the Covenant of Grace were synonymous.

 You may ask, “If the new covenant did not exist before Jesus Christ, while the covenant of grace existed before the coming of the Messiah, does this not mean that both covenants are distinct and therefore completely disconnected?”  It is true, substantively speaking, that the new covenant did not exist as a covenant before Jesus Christ; however, it did exist as a promise (see Jer. 31:31). The covenant of grace revealed to Adam (Gen. 3:15), and then to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3) was the new covenant promised. Therefore, before Jesus Christ, the new covenant did not exist as a formal covenant, and with it neither did the covenant of grace. Before the establishment (νενομοθέτηται) of the new covenant, the covenant of grace did not have a concrete manifestation, cultus, or any ceremony; it was not a covenant, but a promise revealed in an obscure manner under temporary types and shadows: “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17).

Those who were saved before Christ were saved because of an oath; those who were saved after him were saved because of a covenant. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes this distinction when it bases the faith of believers of the old covenant on the oath that God made to Abraham (Heb. 6:17–18). However, the assurance of the believers of the new covenant rests on a testament that is the achieved work of Christ (Heb. 7–9). We also find this distinction in the relationship between justification and divine justice as set forth in Romans 3: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”(Rom. 3:25–26) 

The time of God’s patience is situated between the fall of man and the death of his son; this is the period when the covenant of grace was not formally concluded in the blood of Christ. In establishing this alliance, God has finally manifested that he is just, even while he has been justifying the impious since the creation of the world. Galatians 3:17–18 is another passage that clearly indicates that the covenant of grace was first presented in the form of a promise and not as a formal covenant — This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.” 

The New covenant is not simply a newer administration of The covenant of Grace, but it is the Covenant of Grace to which all other subsequent covenants pointed to and served to advance God’s purposes in bringing about this final covenant. My understanding of the covenant through a 1689 lens is based upon what I believe is a redemptive-historical hermeneutic of biblical theology.

The Kingdom of Creation – Man’s Common Curse and God’s Common Grace

As we saw in our previous post, the Covenants of the Bible fall under three Distinct Kingdoms: The Kingdom of Creation, the Kingdom of Israel, and the Kingdom of Christ. The Kingdom of Creation is governed by the Covenant of Works made with and broke by Adam, and the Noahic Covenant.  All of creation is born into this kingdom with Adam as its federal head, and thus all creation in Adam remains under the curse and condemnation of the broken covenant of Works, and the Protoevangelium in Gen. 3:15 was the promise of hope that this curse would be broken eventually, and it is that promise in Gen. 3:15 that is progressively revealed through “farther steps” in the covenants which followed (LBCF 7.3).

In the Noahic covenant, God promises to preserve the Kingdom of Creation by not destroying it by flood because of his common grace, but also mandates two very important features: that man is to continue to procreate and fill the earth in accordance with God’s familial standards (Gen. 9:7), and the establishment of legal and judicial retribution to protect society from those who seek to do it harm (Gen. 9:5-6). So the Kingdom of Creation is a common cursed kingdom under the headship of Adam that is preserved by God’s common grace best seen in the building (family) and protection (judiciary) of society. 

The Kingdom of Israel – Typological and Temporary

Within this cursed, but stabilized kingdom of Creation, God established a new realm, a new kingdom, covenanted to a special people through a federal head. This was the Kingdom of Israel. From Gen. 12 through the entirety of the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures this is the kingdom that is in view, and it is in this kingdom that we see the most progressive typological revelation of the mystery of Christ. The Kingdom of Israel and its covenants serve as a subservient kingdom because they prepare the world for the unveiling of the mystery, the New covenant of Grace, and the kingdom of Christ. It will be the foundation by which the eternal plan of God will be fully realized.

The federal head of the Kingdom of Israel is Abraham (Gen. 12, 15, 17). The Abrahamic serves as the central covenant for the Kingdom of Israel, where the Mosaic Covenant simply expands on the Abrahamic covenant’s demand for loyalty (Gen. 17:9-14), and the Davidic Covenant expands on the Abrahamic covenant’s promise of royalty (Gen. 17:6). The Kingdom of Israel was pregnant with the New Covenant of Grace, but it was not the Covenant of Grace. An offspring of Abraham would bless all the nations, this offspring would perfectly fulfill the demands of the Law of Moses, and this offspring would forever sit on the throne of David. The Covenant of Grace had been promised to Adam and through the further steps of the three covenants which governed the Kingdom of Israel, the silhouette of the One would usher it in had become more and more clear. All of the promises of these covenants found their “yes and amen” in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20). This is why Paul could refer to these covenants as “covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12). In other words, the Kingdom of Israel and the covenants which governed it were both typological and Temporary

The Kingdom of Christ – The Yes and Amen of All God’s Promises

Now the confession tells us that though the covenant of grace, fulfilled in the New covenant, had been progressively revealed throughout redemptive history, it also tells us that it was “founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect.” This eternal covenant was the Covenant of Redemption. We get glimpses of this in Paul’s pastoral epistles, in 2 Tim. 1:8-10 we read, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” And then in Titus 1:2, Paul writes that eternal life was promised ‘before the ages began.’ 

Now this intra-Trinitarian covenant which laid out the plan of redemption is often referred to in Scripture as the Counsel of God, the eternal purpose of his will, the counsel of his will. Ephesians 1:7-12 gives us a picture of this, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” So the Covenant Redemption is an eternal covenant which reveals the eternal intentions of the Triune God in redeeming a people for himself, and was made specifically between the Father and the Son.

Jesus accepted the mission of the Father and he perfectly accomplished it. In so doing he fulfilled the commitments of the covenant of redemption and earned the reward being raised from the dead and forever glorified given the name above every name (Phil. 2:5-11). We see these pictures of fulfillment in Peters Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:32-33, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. And again in the book of Hebrews 10:12-14, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

After successfully offering his sacrifice, the Son sat down at the right hand of God, in exaltation and glory, and the angels of heaven and the saints who are their praise this ascended Christ, as we see in Revelations 5:12, “saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”  The Lamb entered heaven to a loud praise, he was worthy because he was slain, he was glorified because he was successful. Christ had perfectly fulfilled the Covenant and he has received his reward in full. What the Father planned, the Son accomplished, and the Spirit applies. The result of the Father’s commitments, the Son’s commitments, and the Spirit’s participation is nothing other than the eternal salvation of the people of Christ. A salvation that is mediated through the final covenant made and offered to man — the New Covenant of Grace.

The Writer of Hebrews argues that the New Covenant is a better covenant because it was legally established on superior promises to that of the Old.  Hebrews 8:6  reads, “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 (νενομοθέτηται) on better promises.” In other words, the New Covenant is not only a greater administration than the Old, but it is of greater substance.

One of the reasons for the New Covenant’s superiority to the Old is that the death fo Christ accomplished far more than the blood of the Old Covenant’s sacrificial animals. By means of animal blood, high priests cleansed the nation once a year, yet the blood never drew people near the inner sanctuary of the temple or tabernacle, the most holy place, where the glory of God rested. Jesus’ blood however brings His people directly into the heavenly presence of God’s glory and places them there by removing, once and for all, the sins the first covenant could not take away.

Hebrews 9:11-15 – But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.  15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 

Both the Old and New Covenants were inaugurated with the shedding of blood, but the blood of Christ, the eternal spotless lamb of God, cleanses once and for all, and though the benefits of this covenantal sacrifice has been enjoyed throughout history (believing on the promise to come, i.e. Hebrews 11), the legal establishment (νενομοθέτηται) of it took place at the end of the ages:

Romans 3:23-26 –  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Hebrews 9:24-26 – For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

The death of Christ established HIs people in the New Covenant on the basis of a perfect and permanent sacrifice, and these benefits of the New Covenant extend beyond forgiveness to a more complete restoration and transformation of the sinner. When Jesus said that his blood was the New Covenant (Luke 22:20), the promise of Jeremiah 31 was now being fully realized:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 – 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

The long promised covenant of Grace had now fully and finally come in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

God covenanted a kingdom to Adam in the Covenant of Works, and Adam fell in sin bringing a curse upon it all. God used a flood to show his hatred of the sin brought into the world, while covenanting with Noah a promise of preservation to bring about a plan of redemption. God then covenanted a kingdom to Abraham enclosing within its boundaries a promised blessing that the entire world needed—free, full, and final salvation. God in eternity past covenanted a kingdom to his Son Jesus, and Jesus mediated that Kingdom to the world through the New Covenant of Grace providing the promised blessing first told to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15) and then again to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3).

The Kingdom of Christ exists presently in the church, which consists of a redeemed people awaiting their arrival to a home they have not seen. They know that this inheritance is guaranteed because it belongs to their federal Head, their Lord, their Savior, Jesus Christ, and they by grace alone through faith alone, inseparably belong to him. Because God has given them the greatest of all things, His Son, how could he not give them all other things as well (Rom. 8:32). Jesus has died, risen, ascended, sat down on the throne of Heaven, and he will return to consummate his Kingdom once and for all.

Until then we wait for our Lord, and we work in the Kingdom mandate to “go an make disciples off all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He has commanded us, and resting in the fact that he is with us always” (Matt. 28:19-20). One day he will come back and remove all that hinders and hurts, and we will dwell with him for all eternity in the New Heaven and Earth.

This is God’s plan of redemption as told by His Covenants.

 

***If you would like to hear a more in depth discussion on the covenants, I did a Bible study through them last year at my church which were recorded and can be listened to here***

One thought on “A Walk through the 1689 Baptist Confession, pt.15: The Progressive Unfolding of the Covenant of Grace

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