What is a Covenant and what covenants do we see in Scripture? This survey, complied by Jack Kettler
In Reformed Theology, the idea of covenant is the interpretive grid for understanding the Scriptures and the idea of covenant plays a central role in Reformed theology. Said another way, Reformed theology sees the idea of covenant as the model for understanding how God works with man in Scripture. In short, covenant theology is the idea that God enters into a contract or agreement with mankind. In this survey of Reformation thinking on God’s covenants, we will look at a number of leading theologians that will prove to be valuable indeed.
To start, let’s consider:
“ALL GOD’S dealings with men have had a covenant character. It hath so pleased Him to arrange it, that he will not deal with us except through a covenant, nor can we deal with Him except in the same manner. Adam in the garden was under a covenant with God and God was in covenant with Him.”1
Francis Turretin (1623-1687) was professor of theology at Geneva and a outstanding Reformed theologian:
“A covenant denotes the agreement of God with man by which God promises his goods (and especially eternal life to him), and by man, in turn, duty and worship are engaged…This is called two‐sided and mutual because it consists of a mutual obligation of the contracting parties: a promise on the part of God and stipulation of the condition on the part of man.”2
Herman Witsius, was a Dutch theologian, pastor, and a leading professor of the seventeenth century:
“A covenant of God with man, is an agreement between God, about the way of obtaining consummate happiness; including a commination of eternal destruction, with which the contemner of the happiness, offered in that way, is to be punished.”3
Charles Hodge, (1797-1898), an American Presbyterian theologian’s thoughts on the Covenant from his systematic theology:
1. The Plan of Salvation is a Covenant
The plan of salvation is presented under the form of a covenant. This is evident,—
First, from the constant use of the words בְּרִית and διαθήκη in reference to it. With regard to the former of these words, although it is sometimes used for a law, disposition, or arrangement in general, where the elements of a covenant strictly speaking are absent, yet there can be no doubt that according to its prevailing usage in the Old Testament, it means a mutual contract between two or more parties. It is very often used of compacts between individuals, and especially between kings and rulers. Abraham and Abimelech made a covenant. (Genesis 21:27.) Joshua made a covenant with the people. (Joshua 24:25.) Jonathan and David made a covenant. (1 Samuel 18:3.) Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David. (1 Samuel 20:16.) Ahab made a covenant with Benhadad. (1 Kings 20:34.) So we find it constantly. There is therefore no room to doubt that the word בְּרִית when used of transactions between man and man means a mutual compact. We have no right to give it any other sense when used of transactions between God and man. Repeated mention is made of the covenant of God with Abraham, as in Genesis 15:18; 17:13, and afterwards with Isaac and Jacob. Then with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. The Old Testament is founded on this idea of a covenant relation between God and the theocratic people.
The meaning of the word διαθήκη in the Greek Scriptures is just as certain and uniform. It is derived from the verb διατίθημι, to arrange, and, therefore, in ordinary Greek is used for any arrangement, or disposition. In the Scriptures it is almost uniformly used in the sense of a covenant. In the Septuagint it is the translation of בְּרִית in all the cases above referred to. It is the term always used in the New Testament to designate the covenant with Abraham, with the Israelites, and with believers. The old covenant and the new are presented in contrast. Both were covenants. If the word has this meaning when applied to the transaction with Abraham and with the Hebrews, it must have the same meaning when applied to the plan of salvation revealed in the gospel.
Secondly, that the plan of salvation is presented in the Bible under the form of a covenant is proved not only from the signification and usage of the words above mentioned, but also and more decisively from the fact that the elements of a covenant are included in this plan. There are parties, mutual promises or stipulations, and conditions. So that it is in fact a covenant, whatever it may be called. As this is the Scriptural mode of representation, it is of great importance that it should be retained in theology. Our only security for retaining the truths of the Bible, is to adhere to the Scriptures as closely as possible in our mode of presenting the doctrines therein revealed.
3. Parties to the Covenant
At first view there appears to be some confusion in the statements of the Scriptures as to the parties to this covenant. Sometimes Christ is presented as one of the parties; at others He is represented not as a party, but as the mediator and surety of the covenant; while the parties are represented to be God and his people. As the old covenant was made between God and the Hebrews, and Moses acted as mediator, so the new covenant is commonly represented in the Bible as formed between God and his people, Christ acting as mediator. He is, therefore, called the mediator of a better covenant founded on better promises.
Some theologians propose to reconcile these modes of representation by saying that as the covenant of works was formed with Adam as the representative of his race, and therefore in him with all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation; so the covenant of grace was formed with Christ as the head and representative of his people, and in Him with all those given to Him by the Father. This simplifies the matter, and agrees with the parallel which the Apostle traces between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12-21, and 1 Corinthians 15:21,22, 47-49. Still it does not remove the incongruity of Christ’s being represented as at once a party and a mediator of the same covenant. There are in fact two covenants relating to the salvation of fallen man, the one between God and Christ, the other between God and his people. These covenants differ not only in their parties, but also in their promises and conditions. Both are so clearly presented in the Bible that they should not be confounded. The latter, the covenant of grace, is founded on the former, the covenant of redemption. Of the one Christ is the mediator and surety; of the other He is one of the contracting parties.
This is a matter which concerns only perspicuity of statement. There is no doctrinal difference between those who prefer the one statement and those who prefer the other; between those who comprise all the facts of Scripture relating to the subject under one covenant between God and Christ as the representative of his people, and those who distribute them under two. The Westminster standards seem to adopt sometimes the one and sometimes the other mode of representation. In the Confession of Faith it is said,
“Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant [i.e., by the covenant of works], the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the 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 life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.”
Here the implication is that God and his people are the parties; for in a covenant the promises are made to one of the parties, and here it is said that life and salvation are promised to sinners, and that faith is demanded of them. The same view is presented in the Shorter Catechism, according to the natural interpretation of the answer to the twentieth question. It is there said,
“God having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.”
In the Larger Catechism, however, the other view is expressly adopted. In the answer to the question,
“With whom was the covenant of grace made?” it is said, “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in Him with all the elect as his seed.”4
Louis Berkhof, (1873 – 1957), was a Reformed theologian who is best known for his Systematic Theology. His comments on the Biblical definition of the Covenant will be of importance:
1. IN THE OLD TESTAMENT. The Hebrew word for covenant is always berith, a word of uncertain derivation. The most general opinion is that it is derived from the Hebrew verb barah, to cut, and therefore contains a reminder of the ceremony mentioned in Gen. 15:17. Some, however, prefer to think that it is derived from the Assyrian word beritu, meaning “to bind.” This would at once point to the covenant as a bond. The question of the derivation is of no great importance for the construction of the doctrine. The word berith may denote a mutual voluntary agreement (dipleuric), but also a disposition or arrangement imposed by one party on another (monopleuric). Its exact meaning does not depend on the etymology of the word, nor on the historical development of the concept, but simply on the parties concerned. In the measure in which one of the parties is subordinate and has less to say, the covenant acquires the character of a disposition or arrangement imposed by one party on the other. Berith then becomes synonymous with choq (appointed statute or ordinance), Ex. 34:10; Isa. 59:21 ; Jer. 31:36; 33:20; 34:13. Hence we also find that karath berith (to cut a covenant) is construed not only with the prepositions ’am and ben (with), but also with lamedh (to), Jos. 9:6 ; Isa. 55:3 ; 61:8 ; Jer. 32:40. Naturally, when God establishes a covenant with man, this monopleuric character is very much in evidence, for God and man are not equal parties. God is the Sovereign who imposes His ordinances upon His creatures.
2. IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. In the Septuagint the word berith is rendered diatheke in every passage where it occurs with the exception of Deut. 9:15 (marturion) and I Kings 11:11 (entole). The word diatheke is confined to this usage, except in four passages. This use of the word seems rather peculiar in view of the fact that it is not the usual Greek word for covenant, but really denotes a disposition, and consequently also a testament. The ordinary word for covenant is suntheke. Did the translators intend to substitute another idea for the covenant idea? Evidently not, for in Isa. 28:15 they use the two words synonymously, and there diatheke evidently means a pact or an agreement. Hence there is no doubt about it that they ascribe this meaning to diatheke. But the question remains, Why did they so generally avoid the use of suntheke and substitute for it a word which denotes a disposition rather than an agreement? In all probability the reason lies in the fact that in the Greek world the covenant idea expressed by suntheke was based to such an extent on the legal equality of the parties, that it could not, without considerable modification, be incorporated in the Scriptural system of thought. The idea that the priority belongs to God in the establishment of the covenant, and that He sovereignly imposes His covenant on man was absent from the usual Greek word. Hence the substitution of the word in which this was very prominent. The word diatheke thus, like many other words, received a new meaning, when it became the vehicle of divine thought. This change is important in connection with the New Testament use of the word. There has been considerable difference of opinion respecting the proper translation of the word. In about half of the passages in which it occurs the Holland and the Authorized Versions render the word “covenant,” while in the other half they render it “testament.” The American Revised Version, however, renders it “covenant” throughout, except in Heb. 9:16,17. It is but natural, therefore, that the question should be raised, What is the New Testament meaning of the word? Some claim that it has its classical meaning of disposition or testament, wherever it is found in the New Testament, while others maintain that it means testament in some places, but that in the great majority of passages the covenant idea is prominently in the foreground. This is undoubtedly the correct view. We would expect a priorily that the New Testament usage would be in general agreement with that of the Septuagint; and a careful study of the relevant passages shows that the American Revised Version is undoubtedly on the right track, when it translates diatheke by “testament” only in Heb. 9:16,17. In all probability there is not a single other passage where this rendering would be correct, not even II Cor. 3:6,14. The fact that several translations of the New Testament substituted “testament” for “covenant” in so many places is probably due to three causes: (a) the desire to emphasize the priority of God in the transaction; (b) the assumption that the word had to be rendered as much as possible in harmony with Heb. 9:16,17; and (c) the influence of the Latin translation, which uniformly rendered diatheke by “testamentum.”5
Herman Ridderbos is considered one of the twentieth century’s most influential New Testament Reformed theologians. His views of covenant, will likewise be of importance:
“In the Septuagint διαθηκη is regularly used as the translation of the covenant of God (berith), rather than the apparently more available word συνθηκη. In this there is already an expression of the fact that the covenant of God does not have the character of a contract between two parties, but rather that of a one-sided grant. This corrresponds with the covenant-idea in the Old Testament, in which berith, even in human relations, sometimes refers to a one-party guarantee which a more favored person gives a less favored one (cf. Josh. 9:6, 15; 1 Sam. 11:1; Ezek. 17:13). And it is most peculiarly true of the divine covenantal deed that it is a one-party guarantee. It comes not from man at all, but from God alone. This does not rule out the fact, of course, that it involves religious and ethical obligation, namely that of faith and obedience (Gen. 17:9-10), and that thus the reciprocal element is taken up in the covenant. Still, such an obligation is not always named, and there is no room to speak at all of a correlation, in the sense that each determines and holds in balance the terms of the other, between the promise of God and the human appropriation of it. It is not the idea of parity, or even that of reciprocity, but that of validity which determines the essence of the covenant-idea. God’s covenant with Noah, for example, lays down no stipulations, and it has the character of a one-party guarantee. It does of course require the faith of man, but is in its fulfillment in no respect dependent on the faith, an it is validly in force for all coming generations, believing and unbelieving (cf. Gen. 9:9). And in the making of the covenant with Abraham, too, in Gen. 15, the fulfillment of the law is in symbolical form made to depend wholly upon the divine deed. Abraham is deliberately excluded — he is the astonished spectator (cf. Gen. 15:12, 17). True, in the Sinaitic covenant, the stipulations which God lays down for his people sometimes take the form of actual conditions, so that the realization of the promise is conditioned by them (cf. Lev. 26:15 ff. and Deut. 31:20), but this structural change in the covenant-revelation can be explained in connection with the wider promulgation — it is to extend to the whole nation of Israel — of the covenant, by means of which the covenant-relationship takes on a wider and more external meaning. It comprises not merely the unconditional guarantee of God to those who walk in the faith and obedience of their father Abraham: it also lays down a special bond constituted by the offer of salvation, on the one side, and by responsibility, on the other side, for those who will not appear to manifest a oneness with their spiritual ancestor. Meanwhile, of course, the fact remains that in all the different dispensations of the covenant of grace, God’s unconditional promise to Abraham constitutes its heart and kernel. Consequently, when the “new covenant” (Jer. 31:33) is announced, one thing is expressly made clear: namely, that the disposition which is indispensable for the human reception of the covenant-benefits will itself be granted as the gift of God Himself. In other words, that very thing which in the Sinaitic covenant was so plainly set down as a condition, belongs in the new covenant to the benefits promised by God in the covenant itself. The New Testament concept of διαθηκη lies quite in the line of that development, particularly as Paul thinks of it, as is evident in [Galatians 3 and 4], and in such a place as Rom. 9. That New Testament concept points to a salvation whose benefits are guaranteed by God and as a matter of fact are actually given, because in Christ and through Him the conditions of the covenant are fulfilled.”6
The Significance of the Abrahamic Covenant seen in Genesis 15:17 from Keil and Delitzsch:
“When the sun had gone down, and thick darkness had come on (היה impersonal), “behold a smoking furnace, and (with) a fiery torch, which passed between those pieces,” – a description of what Abram saw in his deep prophetic sleep, corresponding to the mysterious character of the whole proceeding. תּנּוּר, a stove, is a cylindrical fire-pot, such as is used in the dwelling-houses of the East. The phenomenon, which passed through the pieces as they lay opposite to one another, resembled such a smoking stove, from which a fiery torch, i.e., a brilliant flame, was streaming forth. In this symbol Jehovah manifested Himself to Abram, just as He afterwards did to the people of Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire. Passing through the pieces, He ratified the covenant which He made with Abram. His glory was enveloped in fire and smoke, the produce of the consuming fire, – both symbols of the wrath of God (cf. Psalm 18:9, and Hengstenberg in loc.), whose fiery zeal consumes whatever opposes it (vid., Exodus 3:2). – To establish and give reality to the covenant to be concluded with Abram, Jehovah would have to pass through the seed of Abram when oppressed by the Egyptians and threatened with destruction, and to execute judgment upon their oppressors (Exodus 7:4; Exodus 12:12). In this symbol, the passing of the Lord between the pieces meant something altogether different from the oath of the Lord by Himself in Genesis 22:16, or by His life in Deuteronomy 32:40, or by His soul in Amos 6:8 and Jeremiah 51:14. It set before Abram the condescension of the Lord to his seed, in the fearful glory of His majesty as the judge of their foes. Hence the pieces were not consumed by the fire; for the transaction had reference not to a sacrifice, which God accepted, and in which the soul of the offerer was to ascend in the smoke to God, but to a covenant in which God came down to man. From the nature of this covenant, it followed, however, that God alone went through the pieces in a symbolical representation of Himself, and not Abram also. For although a covenant always establishes a reciprocal relation between two individuals, yet in that covenant which God concluded with a man, the man did not stand on an equality with God, but God established the relation of fellowship by His promise and His gracious condescension to the man, who was at first purely a recipient, and was only qualified and bound to fulfil the obligations consequent upon the covenant by the reception of gifts of grace.”7
Puritan, John Gill says this on the Abrahamic Covenant:
“God made a covenant with Abram, as appears from Genesis 15:18; and, as a confirmation of it, passed between the pieces in a lamp of fire, showing that he was and would be the light and salvation of his people, Abram’s seed, and an avenger of their enemies; only God passed between the pieces, not Abram, this covenant being as others God makes with men, only on one side; God, in covenanting with men, promises and gives something unto them, but men give nothing to him, but receive from him, as was the case between God and Abram: however, it is very probable, that this lamp of fire consumed the pieces, in like manner as fire from heaven used to fall upon and consume the sacrifices, in token of God’s acceptance of them.”8
The following is an excellent overview of Covenant theology and the covenants from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The nature of God’s covenantal relationship with his creation is not considered automatic or of necessity. Rather, God voluntarily condescends to establish the connection as a covenant, wherein the terms of the relationship are set down by God alone according to his own will.
In particular, covenant theology teaches that God has established one, eternal covenant, under different administrations. Having created man in His image as a free creature with knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, God entered into a covenant of works whereby the mandate was “do this and live” (Romans 10:5, Galatians 3:12). “Like Adam, they have trespassed the covenant” (Hosea 6:7) is the classic reference to the covenant of works; Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24 the reference that explains God’s work of redemption in the Covenant of Grace.
Covenant of redemption
The covenant of redemption is the eternal agreement within the Godhead in which the Father appointed the Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit to redeem his elect people from the guilt and power of sin. God appointed Christ to live a life of perfect obedience to the law and to die a penal, substitutionary, sacrificial death (see penal substitution aspect of the atonement) as the covenantal representative for all who trust in him. Some covenant theologians have denied the intra-Trinitarian covenant of redemption, or have questioned the notion of the Son’s works leading to the reward of gaining a people for God, or have challenged the covenantal nature of this arrangement. Those who have upheld this covenant point to passages such as Philippians 2:5-11 and Revelation 5:9-10 to support the principle of works leading to reward; and to passages like Psalm 110 in support that this is depicted in Scripture as a covenant .
Covenant of works
The covenant of works was made in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam who represented all mankind as a federal head. (Romans 5:12-21) It promised life for obedience and death for disobedience. Adam, and all mankind in Adam, broke the covenant, thus standing condemned. The covenant of works continues to function after the fall as the moral law.
Though it is not explicitly called a covenant in the opening chapters of Genesis, the comparison of the representative headship of Christ and Adam, as well as passages like Hosea 6:7 have been interpreted to support the idea. It has also been noted that Jeremiah 33:20-26 (cf. 31:35-36) compares the covenant with David to God’s covenant with the day and the night and the statutes of heaven and earth which God laid down at creation. This has led some to understand all of creation as covenantal: the decree establishing the natural laws governing heaven and earth. The covenant of works might then be seen as the moral law component of the broader creational covenant. Thus the covenant of works has also been called the covenant of creation, indicating that it is not added but constitutive of the human race; the covenant of nature in recognition of its consonance with the natural law in the human heart; and the covenant of life in regard to the promised reward.
Covenant of grace
The covenant of grace promises eternal life for all people who receive forgiveness of sin through Christ. He is the substitutionary covenantal representative fulfilling the covenant of works on their behalf, in both the positive requirements of righteousness and its negative penal consequences (commonly described as his active and passive obedience). It is the historical expression of the eternal covenant of redemption. Genesis 3:15, with the promise of a “seed” of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head, is usually identified as the historical inauguration for the covenant of grace.
The covenant of grace became the basis for all future covenants that God made with mankind such as with Noah (Genesis 6, 9), with Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17), with Moses (Exodus 19-24), with David (2 Samuel 7), and finally in the New Covenant founded and fulfilled in Christ. These individual covenants are called the biblical covenants because they are explicitly described in the Bible. Under the covenantal overview of the Bible, submission to God’s rule and living in accordance with his moral law (expressed concisely in the Ten Commandments) is a response to grace – never something which can earn God’s acceptance (legalism). Even in his giving of the Ten Commandments, God introduces his law by reminding the Israelites that he is the one who brought them out of slavery in Egypt (grace).
Covenant theology first sees a covenant of works administered with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Upon Adam’s failure, God established the covenant of grace in the promised seed Genesis 3:15, and shows his redeeming care in clothing Adam and Eve in garments of skin — perhaps picturing the first instance of animal sacrifice. The specific covenants after the fall of Adam are seen as administered under the overarching theological covenant of grace.
The Noahic covenant is found in Genesis 8:20-9:17. Although redemption motifs are prominent as Noah and his family are delivered from the judgment waters, the narrative of the flood plays on the creation motifs of Genesis 1 as de-creation and re-creation. The formal terms of the covenant itself more reflect a reaffirmation of the universal created order, than a particular redemptive promise.
The Abrahamic covenant is found in Genesis chapters 12, 15, and 17. In contrast with the covenants made with Adam or Noah which were universal in scope, this covenant was with a particular people. Abraham is promised a seed and a land, although he would not see its fruition within his own lifetime. The Book of Hebrews explains that he was looking to a better and heavenly land, a city with foundations, whose builder and architect is God (11:8-16). The Apostle Paul writes that the promised seed refers in particular to Christ (Galatians 3:16).
The Abrahamic covenant is
1. Exclusive: It is only for Abraham and his (spiritual) descendants. Genesis 17:7
2. Everlasting: It is not replaced by any later covenant. Genesis 17:7
3. Accepted by faith, not works: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. “Genesis 15:6
4. The external sign of entering into the Abrahamic covenant was circumcision. Genesis 17:10, but it has to be matched by an internal change, the circumcision of the heart. Jeremiah 4:4
5. According to Paul, since the Abrahamic covenant is eternal, the followers of Christ are “children of Abraham” and therefore part of this covenant through faith. “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.” Galatians 3:7
6. Paul makes it clear that baptism is the external sign of faith in Christ (“…you were baptized into Christ…”), and that through faith in Christ the believer is part of the Abrahamic covenant (“Abraham’s seed”). This provides the basis for the doctrine that baptism is the New Testament sign of God’s covenant with Abraham.
Galatians 3:26 “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
The Mosaic covenant, found in Exodus 19-24 and the book of Deuteronomy, expands on the Abrahamic promise of a people and a land. Repeatedly mentioned is the promise of the Lord, “I will be your God and you will be my people” (cf. Exodus 6:7, Leviticus 26:12), particularly displayed as his glory-presence comes to dwell in the midst of the people. This covenant is the one most in view by the term Old Covenant.
Although it is a gracious covenant beginning with God’s redemptive action (cf. Exodus 20:1-2), a layer of law is prominent. Concerning this aspect of the Mosaic Covenant, Charles Hodge makes three points in his Commentary on Second Corinthians: (1) The Law of Moses was in first place a reenactment of the covenant of works; viewed this way, it is the ministration of condemnation and death. (2) It was also a national covenant, giving national blessings based on national obedience; in this way it was purely legal. (3) In the sacrificial system, it points to the Gospel of salvation through a mediator.
The Davidic covenant is found in 2 Samuel 7. The Lord proclaims that he will build a house and lineage for David, establishing his kingdom and throne forever. This covenant is appealed to as God preserves David’s descendants despite their wickedness (cf. 1 Kings 11:26-39, 15:1-8; 2 Kings 8:19, 19:32-34), although it did not stop judgment from finally arriving (compare 2 Kings 21:7, 23:26-27; Jeremiah 13:12-14). Among the prophets of the exile, there is hope of restoration under a Davidic king who will bring peace and justice (cf. Book of Ezekiel 37:24-28).
The New Covenant is anticipated with the hopes of the Davidic messiah, and most explicitly predicted by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 31:34). At the Last Supper, Jesus alludes to this prophecy, as well as to prophecies such as Isaiah 49:8, when he says that the cup of the Passover meal is “the New Covenant in [his] blood.” This use of the Old Testament typology is developed further in the Epistle to the Hebrews (see especially chs. 7-10). Jesus is the last Adam and Israel’s hope and consolation: he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17-18). He is the prophet greater than Jonah (Matt 12:41), and the Son over the house where Moses was a servant (Hebrews 3:5-6), leading his people to the heavenly promised land. He is the high priest greater than Aaron, offering up himself as the perfect sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 9:12, 26). He is the king greater than Solomon (Matthew 12:42), ruling forever on David’s throne (Luke 1:32). The term “New Testament” comes from the Latin translation of the Greek New Covenant and is most often used for the collection of books in the Bible, can also refer to the New Covenant as a theological concept.
Covenantal signs and seals In Reformed theology, a sacrament is usually defined as a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. Since covenant theology today is mainly Protestant and Reformed in its outlook, proponents view Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the only two sacraments in this sense, which are sometimes called “church ordinances.” Along with the preached word, they are identified as an ordinary means of grace for salvation. The benefits of these rites do not occur from participating in the rite itself (ex opere operato), but through the power of the Holy Spirit as they are received by faith.
The above outline is online at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenant_theology
References from Wikipedia:
1. Westminster Confession of Faith. vii, 5,6.
2. M. E. Osterhaven, “Covenant Theology” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell, ed. 279-80.
3. Westminster Confession of Faith”. Ch. XXVII Sec. 1.
From the Westminster Confession and Larger Catechism:
Covenant of Works:
The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised
to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal
obedience. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 7.2)
Of God’s Covenant with Man:
God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his
posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the
fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and
ability to keep it. (WCF, 19.1 Law of God)
The covenant being made with Adam as a public person, not for himself only, but for his
posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and
fell with him in that first transgression. (Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 22)
Covenant of Grace:
Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was
pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely
offers 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. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 7.3)
Of God’s Covenant with Man:
This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in scripture by the name of a testament, in
reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance,
with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed. (WCF, 7.4)
God does not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell
by the breach of the first covenant, commonly called the covenant of works; but of his
mere love and mercy delivers his elect out of it, and brings them into an estate of
salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace. (Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions 30)
In conclusion, God’s Word is profitable for doctrine (2Timothy 3:16). The study of Scriptural theology is the most important that we can ever do. By God’s grace, may we be ever diligent!
1. The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant, A Sermon (No. 273) Delivered on Sabbath Morning, September 4th, 1859, by the REV. C. H. Spurgeon http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0277.htm
2. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, translated by G. M. Giger (Phillipsburg, 1992), Locus 8, Q3, para 3 (1.574).
3. Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Reformation Heritage Books, reprinted 2010), p. 45.
4. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1982), pp. 354-358
5. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, 1949), pp. 262,263.
6. Herman Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), pp. 130-31.
7. Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans), Reprinted 1986, p. 216,217.
8. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments 9 Volumes, John, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 286,287.
Mr. Kettler is an ordained Presbyterian Elder and the owner of http://www.Undergroundnotes.com
where his theological, philosophical and political articles can be read. He has worked in corporate America for over 30 years and is now realizing his dreams as a successful home business entrepreneur.
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