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Posts Tagged ‘Covenant of Grace’

Is the Covenant of Grace a unilateral (or unconditional) covenant of promise (as maintained by theologians such as Dr. Michael Horton in such works as “God of Promise,” now retitled “Introducing Covenant Theology“)? Or is that merely a Lutheran innovation?

No less than the Reformed Orthodox theologian Francis Turretin (1623-87), at least, argued for a unilateral formulation of the Covenant of Grace:

Not without reason did the Holy Spirit wish to designate the covenant of grace under the name of “promise,” because it rests entirely upon the divine promise. In this it wonderfully differs, not only from all human covenants (which consist of a mutual obligation and stipulation of the parties), but from the covenant of works (which although it also had its own promise on the part of God to the doers and so was founded on the goodness of God, still it required obedience on the part of man that it might be put into execution). But here God wished the whole of this covenant to depend upon his promise, not only with regard to the reward promised by him, but also with regard to the duty demanded from us. Thus God performs here not only his own part, but also ours; and if the covenant is given for the happiness of only the one party, it is guarded and fulfilled by the fidelity of only one party. Hence not only God’s blessings fall under the promise, but also man’s duty; not only the end, but also the means and conditions leading us to it. – Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 12.1.11.

And although the promise of the covenant is conditionally proposed and applied to individuals, it does not follow that the promise itself depends upon man’s will and so is not absolute.  That conditional promise is a consectary [consequence] of an absolute promise and it is thus commanded as the duty of man that it may be produced at the same time and at once in the elect as the gift of God. – Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 12.6.3 

Thus, at least for Turretin, it is not wrong to conceive of the Covenant of Grace as a unilateral (or unconditional) arraignment. Although faith is certainly the condition apart from which the promise is void, even this faith is a gift of God and secured by God as part of the promise.

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Reading through Turretin’s section on the ‘Covenant of Grace and Its Twofold Economy’ has been simply brilliant. Speaking of the Mosaic Law, he picks up the idea of the “spirit of bondage” (Rom 8:15):

This bondage, the spirit of bondage attended (adjusted to the servile economy, Rom. 8:15), which commonly wrought a servile fear of God, the judge, and a dread of punishment. From this continual anxiety and solicitude as it were by the law and its threats sounded daily in their ears (more than alacrity) by the doctrine of grace preached sparingly and somewhat obscurely; not that believers were absolutely destitute of the spirit of adoption…, but because it excited emotions suitable to that condition, in which the heir being still a child did not differ much from a servant.

Hence rigor and severity arose from the legal discourses frequently mingled and the promises of grace repeated somewhat rarely and obscurely; also through compulsion, by which they were impelled to duty through fear of punishment rather than from the love of God and of righteousness; Moses continually like a hard master with his rod, not so much persuading as extorting obedience. Here belongs the terrible apparatus under which the law was given, by which not only the people, but Moses himself also is said to have been terrified. That rigor was not without purpose; the wantonness of Israel could hardly otherwise be thoroughly tamed, whom moses and the other prophets so often reproached for its hard neck and adamantine hearts.
Institutes of Elenctic Theology, volume 2, Section 12, p. 229.

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What comes first, logically: Federal union, or voluntary union?

There is a federal (covenantal) union with Christ which is antecedent to all actual union, and is the source of it.  God gave a people to his Son in the covenant of redemption.  Those included in that covenant, and because they are included in it – in other words, because they are in Christ as their head and representative -receive in time the gift of the Holy Spirit and all other benefits of redemption.  Their voluntary union with Christ by faith, is not the ground of their federal union, but on the contrary, their federal union is the ground of their voluntary union.  It is, therefore in Christ, i.e. as united to him in the covenant of redemption, that the people of God are elected to eternal life and to all the blessings therewith connected. – Charles Hodge

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485px-Charles_Haddon_Spurgeon_by_Alexander_MelvilleCovenant theology might not be something one necessarily expects from a Baptist preacher.  But it is apparent that at least this Baptist preacher had an extremely high regard for the doctrine — even to the point of distinguishing a covenant of works from a covenant of unconditional grace.  Read my friend, and drink to your heart’s rest, peace, and joy.

“If anything in the world can make a man praise his God it is the covenant, and the knowledge that he is in it. I will leave off preaching and ask you to think over the love of God in the covenant. It does not belong to all of you. Christ is not the Shepherd of the whole herd of men; he is only the Shepherd of the sheep, and he has not entered into any covenant for all mankind, but for his sheep alone. The covenant is for his own people; if you believe in him it is a covenant for you, but if you reject him you can have no participation in that covenant; for you are under the covenant of works, which condemns you. But now, believer, just sit down for a moment and think over this exceeding mercy. Your God, the everlasting Father, has entered into a solemn compact with Christ on your behalf; that he will save you, keep you, and make you perfect. He has saved you; he has performed a large part of the covenant in you already, for he has placed you in the way of life and kept you to this day; and if, indeed, you are his, he will keep you to the end. The Lord is not as the foolish man who bedpan to build and was not able to finish. He does not commence to carry out a design, and then turn from it. He will push on his work till he completes it in you. Can you really believe it? With you, a poor puny mortal, who will soon sleep in the grave—with you he has made an everlasting covenant! Will you not say with our text, “To whom be glory.” Like dying David you can say, “Though my house be not so with God, yet hath he made with me an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure.” I am sure you will joyfully add, “Glory be to his name.”

Our God deserves exclusive glory. Covenant theology glorifies God alone. There are other theologies abroad which magnify men; they give him a finger in his own salvation, and so leave him a reason for throwing up his cap and saying, “Well done I;” but covenant theology puts man aside, and makes him a debtor and a receiver. It does, as it were, plunge him into the sea of infinite grace and unmerited favor, and it makes him give up all boasting, stopping the mouth that could have boasted by filling it with floods of love, so that it cannot utter a vainglorious word. A man saved by the covenant must give all the glory to God’s holy name, for to God all the glory belongs. In salvation wrought by the covenant the Lord has exclusive glory.”

“How I wish Christ’s ministers would spread more and more of this covenant doctrine throughout England. He who understands the two covenants has found the marrow of all theology, but he who does not know the covenants knows next to nothing of the gospel of Christ. You would think, to hear some ministers preach, that salvation was all of works, that it was still uncertain who would be saved, that it was all a matter of “ifs,” and “buts,” and “peradventures” and if you begin to give them “shells,” and “wills,” and purposes, and decrees, and pledges, and oaths, and blood, they call you Calvinistic. Why, this doctrine was true before Calvin was born or thought of! Calvin loved it as we do, but it did not come from him. Paul had taught it long before; nay, the Holy Ghost taught it to us in the word, and therefore we hold it. The bringing back of this truth to the front will be a grand thing for the church. From the mouth of this cannon the Lord will blow the Pope and all his myrmidons into a thousand shivers, but no other doctrine will do it. By God’s good grace, we must live this doctrine as well as preach it, and may he that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will. Then will he have glory through the covenant and through you, both now and for ever. Amen and amen.”

– Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Taken from, “The Blood of the Covenant”. Delivered on Lord’s-Day Morning, August 2nd, 1874
Full sermon can be found here: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1186.htm

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