The Covenant of Grace

The genius of Particular Baptist covenant theology is seen in the 2nd London Confession of Faith 1677/1689 (2LCF) Chapter 7. In paragraph 1, the general necessity of God’s working through covenant is stated. It is because of “voluntary condescension on God’s part” that he establishes the covenant of grace to bring the “reward of life” to his elect. In paragraph 2, the essential elements of the covenant of grace are highlighted:

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.

In the first place, man brought himself under the curse of the law by violating the covenant of works in the Garden of Eden. [1] Adam did not stand for himself alone but he also stood as a federal representative, and because of this all his posterity fell in him. This means that no creature can ever successfully carry out the “personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience” (2LCF 19:1) required by God in fulfillment of the covenant of works.

Second, the covenant of grace was instituted, not because of man’s attempt to repair the breach between him and God, but solely and alone due to God’s initiative. He was “pleased to make a covenant of grace.” As Thomas Manton wrote, “God bringeth all-sufficiency to the covenant, we bring nothing but all-necessity.”[2]

Third, in the covenant of grace, God freely offers sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; the instrumental means by which sinners come into the realm of redemptive benefit is “faith in him, that they may be saved.” The Scripture repeatedly highlights the necessity for sinners to hear and believe the gospel that they might be saved.[3]

Fourth, God supplies what he demands by promising the gift of the Holy Spirit who makes men willing and able to believe. In Acts 2:33, the apostle Peter interprets the real significance of the tongues-speaking which took place on the Day of Pentecost: “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” The miraculous display of tongues was not the primary focus on the Day of Pentecost, but rather a means by which God demonstrated that Christ took his position of authority at the right hand of the Father and was now the giver of the Holy Spirit to the church.

Finally, the Adam/Christ parallel is also important to consider with reference to the covenant of grace. The covenant of works was made with Adam and his descendants in the Garden. As the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) points out in question and answer 31, “With whom was the covenant of grace made? The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” Like the covenant of works, the covenant of grace has a federal head, namely the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect benefit because of his redemptive work.

Chapter 7 in paragraph 3 of the 2LCF locates the outworking of the covenant of grace in history. The covenant of grace is revealed in the gospel and the gospel is first announced in the Garden after the breach of the covenant of works:

“This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman.”

The Confession refers to Genesis 3:15, a passage that is foundational for the later development of this covenant subsequent to its declaration in the Garden. Later revelation demonstrates how this promise was applied in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The deliverer promised in the Garden was the man Christ Jesus who would achieve victory through suffering and death, and the one who would destroy “him who had the power of death, that is the devil” (Heb. 2:14; see also Col. 1:13; 2:15; 1 John 3:8).

Next, the promise made in the Garden is progressively developed in redemptive history “by farther steps,” i.e., the various historical covenants that are fleshed out in redemptive history.

The covenant made with Noah provided the common grace context for the operation of God’s special grace in his dealings with the elect. The covenant made with Abraham broadened the scope of the covenant of grace: in the seed of Abraham (identified by Paul in Gal. 3:16 as Christ) all the nations of the earth would be blessed; in other words, both Jews and Gentiles would be participants in the redemptive plan of God.[4] The Old Covenant separated the nation of Israel to ensure that the Messiah would be brought forth in the fullness of the times.

The Old Covenant also functioned as a republication of the covenant of works which, among other things, set before the nation of Israel a pedagogical use of the law to show them their need for a deliverer, specifically the Messiah that would do what they failed to do in their history.[5] The covenant made with David in 2 Samuel 7 provided the framework for the coming deliverer; he would be a king from the line of David. He would be a son to God (2 Sam. 7:14), would build a house for God (2 Sam. 7:13), and would possess the throne of his kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:13).[6] These “farther steps,” i.e., the historical covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, terminate in the Lord Jesus Christ. Samuel Petto notes this connection when he writes:

All the ancient covenant expressures run jointly to Jesus Christ, and also to believers, which are his seed. The promises to Adam, Abraham, David, and &c. were not so many distinct covenants of grace; they were but various gradual discoveries of the same covenant, according to the variety of occasions in the several ages, every new one being for some new end, and bringing with it a further degree of manifestation – and all run to Jesus Christ and us.[7]

The covenant of grace comes to its historical fulfillment and realization in the New Covenant: “until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament” (2 LCF 7:3). The Old Testament contained several promises concerning the New Covenant: Deut. 30:1-10; Jer. 31:31-34; 32:36-41; Ezek. 36:22-37; 37:24-28. The New Testament clearly demonstrates that this covenant comes to fruition in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ: Matt. 26:26-29; 2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8, 10; 13:20. It is Christ, with whom the covenant of grace was made, who secures all the redemptive benefits promised by God in the matter of the salvation of the elect.

The covenant of grace is the historical application of the pretemporal covenant of redemption: “and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect” (2LCF 7:3). The covenant of redemption was the “eternal basis of the covenant of grace” and “its eternal prototype.”[8] What the Father and the Son transacted in eternity comes to pass in history through the covenant of grace which is fully discovered in the New Covenant.

The Confession highlights the exclusivity of salvation by the covenant of grace alone:

and it is alone by the grace of his 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 (2 LCF 7:3).

 

 

Also in this series:

  1. The Covenant of Redemption
  2. The Covenant of Works

   [1] 2LCF 20:1 makes it clear that this was the covenant of works which was broken: “The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ…”

   [2] Thomas Manton, “Sermon upon Matthew viii. 5-10” in The Works of Thomas Manton (reprint, Homewood, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2008), 1:150.

   [3] For instance, John 8:24; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:17; Eph. 1:13; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23.

   [4] The reader should consult Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen, From Adam to Christ, eds. Ronald D. Miller, James M. Renihan, Francisco Orozco (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005), and Pascal Denault, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, (Vestavia Hills, AL: Solid Ground Christians Books, 2013) for helpful treatments of a Particular Baptist approach to the Abrahamic covenant.

   [5] The reader should consult John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (reprint, Edinburgh/Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), Volume 22.

   [6] Davies and Allison helpfully show that this Davidic covenant is the backdrop to Matt. 16:16-18. Peter confesses that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16) and it is this son of God who builds the church, the house of God (Matt. 16:18), and this house will triumph over against the gates of Hades (Matt 16:18). See W.D. Davies and D.C. Allison, Matthew 8-18, Volume 2, International Critical Commentary (London/New York: T&T Clark LTD, 1991), 641-643.

   [7] Petto, The Covenant of Grace, 63. Elsewhere, Petto describes this connection with reference to the promised “seed” in the Garden: “Thus he primarily was the seed of the woman, that was promised to break the serpent’s head, Gen iii. 15. Heb ii. 14. 1 John iii. 8. He is that seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations are blessed, Gen. xxii. 18. Gal. iii. 16. He is the royal seed of David, to be enthroned, of whose kingdom there shall be no end, Luke i. 32, 33.” (75)

   [8] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (1939; reprint, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 268.

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