Rev. G. H. Kersten
The Covenant of Grace is the execution of the Covenant of Redemption that was made with the elect in Christ their representative Head. In essence they are both the same. If we make a difference it is only in this respect that the Covenant of Redemption is the eternal immanent working from eternity, and the Covenant of Grace is the performance of it eminently, immediately after the fall. Hence, the two covenants are essentially one, the genus, the higher classification, includes both as works of God; the species, the lower classification, are the immanent and the eminent works. Establishing the Covenant of Grace places those who are in the covenant from eternity, in an immediate gracious covenant relationship with God at the moment determined by the Father according to His good pleasure. They also are by nature children of wrath as all others. (Eph. 2:3) Their being in the broken covenant of works also includes them under the judgment of death; but by regeneration they are ingrafted in the Covenant of Grace, and are adopted to be children of God. “And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” (Isa. 55:3)
In nature and in essence there is no difference between the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace. Concerning the salvation of the elect there is but one covenant, as our doctrinal standards and forms always speak of only two covenants in relation to man’s eternal state, namely, the Covenant of Works, broken by all men in Adam to condemnation, and the Covenant of Grace made with the elect in Christ unto life eternal. “For these are the two covenants.” (Gal. 4:24)
Scripture also speaks of the covenant of day and night, and of the covenant with Noah, but these covenants do not concern the eternal state of man. “Thus saith the LORD; If ye can break My covenant of the day, and My covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season.” (Jer. 33:20) “Thus saith the LORD: If My covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth.” (Jer. 33:25) “And I, behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you: and with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark to every beast of the earth.” (Gen. 9:9, 10)
These texts clearly show that even the ordinances are placed by God as by way of a covenant, and also that in the Noachian Covenant God has sworn to the whole world, “Neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Gen. 9:11; Isa. 54:9) Here we have no promise of grace unto salvation but only of common grace; here nothing is said of election as it is in the Covenant of Grace because the grace promised here concerns all men, indeed, even the cattle and the grass of the field and the ordinances of heaven. Hence we are not considering these covenants; they do not concern man’s eternal state, and thus differ from the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace.
Thus God’s Word speaks of only two covenants that concern the eternal state of man, and in Art. 17 the Belgic Confession of Faith says likewise, “that our most gracious God, in His admirable wisdom and goodness, seeing that man had thus thrown himself into temporal and eternal death, and made himself wholly miserable, was pleased to seek and comfort him, when he trembling fled from His presence, promising him that He would give His Son, Who should be made of a woman, to bruise the head of the serpent, and would make him happy.” Also the Form for Holy Baptism speaks of only one covenant of grace, as also that of the Lord’s Supper, which speaks of “the new and eternal Testament, the Covenant of Grace and reconciliation when He said, `It is finished.’ And that we might firmly believe that we belong to this Covenant of Grace, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His last Supper, took bread, etc.”
Also the Westminster Catechism does not speak of an essential difference between the Counsel of Peace and the Covenant of Grace. This famous catechism teaches that the Covenant of Grace is made with Christ as the second Adam, and in Him, with all the elect as His seed. (Gal. 3:16; Rom. 5:15; Isa. 53:10, 11)
Herewith we oppose those who, like Prof. Heyns, many Christian Reformed men, Rev. Woelderink, Prof, Schilder, and others, make an essential difference between the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Redemption, following in this matter Arminius, for he was the first that separated the Covenant of Redemption from that of Grace as two essentially different covenants. It is true, he had then not yet developed his pernicious doctrine, as he later would do, but the poison was already there. By ascribing another nature to the Covenant of Redemption than to the Covenant of Grace, Arminius served very well his wrong views that Christ died for all men. In the Covenant of Redemption the Mediator then would have represented all men without exception, but only they would receive salvation who would comply with the conditions of the Covenant of Grace. Arminius taught a Covenant of Grace with the conditions of faith and repentance to be wrought by man himself. Thus the doctrine of the three covenants serves the doctrine of general redemption held by Arminius and his spiritual adherents, following the footsteps of Pelagius.
Also the Saumurian divines erred. Those French theologians tried to reconcile the Arminians and the Reformed. Against Arminius they taught a personal election, but dropped the personal suretyship and satisfaction of Christ. His covenant made with the Father in eternity included, according to them, a general redemption to be applied only to those who satisfied the conditions of the Covenant of Grace merited by Christ. The reason why all do not partake of the pardon merited by Christ is not in the first place God’s good pleasure by which He has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth, but only because they do not fulfill the conditions upon which the partaking depends. This doctrine of universal redemption, however, is in flagrant opposition to the Word of God, and each condition that fallen man must fulfill in order to obtain salvation nullifies free grace. They may still speak of a Covenant of Grace, but in fact they seek to establish a new Covenant of Works. But salvation is free by the Covenant that gives grace to lost, condemnable children of Adam, and only for that reason it is called the Covenant of Grace. “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works then is it no more grace, otherwise work is no more work.” (Rom. 11:6)
Lately both in America and in the Netherlands a covenant idea has been presented that differs entirely from the doctrine presented by Scripture and by the old Reformed theologians. By separating the Covenant of Grace in this respect that they hold that it was made also with the non-elect, namely with Abraham’s natural seed, and thus with all who are baptized, they present a doctrine of the covenant that entirely enervates the covenant. Prof Heyns, Rev. Jongeleen, and Rev. Woelderink have spread this pernicious system. Also Prof. Schilder shares this view. He writes, “In the Covenant of Grace are those who are Christ’s as well as those who are not purchased by Him. Hence, haters of God are in it as well as lovers of God. Yea, those loved by God are in the covenant in the same way as those who are hated by Him, (Jacob and Esau).” This new view of the covenant says that the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace are two essentially different covenants; that the Covenant of Grace can be broken, and that those who are in the covenant from birth can fall out of it, since it is only an offer of salvation, of which salvation the covenant makes us partakers, if it is accepted by faith.
How is it possible that any Reformed theologian can speak of the covenant of grace in such a general sense, as the above-named men teach, stating that it is established with Abraham and his natural seed, and therefore also with Ishmael, and under the New Testament dispensation with the believers and their natural children! God’s Word, however, teaches emphatically that they are children of Abraham who are children of the promise, as Isaac was. “And if ye be Christ’s, then ye are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:29)
Ishmael is emphatically excluded, for the Lord says: “But My covenant will I establish with Isaac.” (Gen. 17:21) So it is far from correct to say that the covenant was made with Abraham’s natural’ seed.
How is it possible to declare that also to the non-elect the benefits of the covenant are granted by God! Then God would give Himself and “all blessings for time and eternity” to reprobates. Such an unbiblical statement must then be made to sound right by making a distinction between granting and imparting. Without that impartation God’s grant has no power. What a powerless Divine grant! And that impartation takes place when that “member of the covenant” accepts the covenant by faith. If he does not do so, he is lost because of his unbelief. What a sophism! In the next chapter we shall show that the Covenant of Grace was made with the elect as all the Reformed of old have taught, and not with the natural seed of the “believers.” The Covenant of Grace is an actual covenant, not merely a proffer of Christ and His saving benefits; it imparts Christ to each member of the covenant. When God grants Himself to a lost child of Adam, that is only in Christ, and of such strength that it in fact makes the condemnable sinner by free grace a partaker of that which he needs for his eternal salvation. This granting cannot be separated from the impartation.
Moreover, Christ is the Surety of the covenant, Who gave His life as a ransom for those who are in the covenant. Therefore, if the Covenant of Grace were also made with the non-elect, Christ would also have become a Surety for them, and would have shed His blood for reprobates. To state this is to count the blood of Christ an unholy thing. But then we must also conclude that the new view of the covenants by Heyns and his followers is unscriptural.
Beside this, those mentioned above, who deprive the covenant of all its strength, hold the necessity of accepting the covenant by demanding faith as a condition of those born in the covenant. But is saving faith then a fruit of our own field? If they held this they would decline to full Pelagianism. So far, however, they do not go, for they say that faith and obedience are conditions for remaining in the Covenant, and not for entering into it. But if we speak of remaining in the covenant, then making the covenant must have preceded it, and that does not take place without faith. Thus their entire presentation falls into ruin.
Moreover, remaining in the covenant is also only a matter of grace; it is never in the power of the believer himself, and therefore it is a promise, not a condition of the covenant.
Furthermore, being in the covenant cannot be of another nature than remaining in it. If remaining in it is by faith, then being in it must also be by faith, but this those that want to hold to the three covenants deny. If those who teach that there are three covenants would hold fast that man by nature is in a broken Covenant of Works we could allow much. But no! They say that each natural child of believing parents is already in the covenant “from his birth”, and therefore has a right to all the benefits of the covenant; indeed, the benefits of the covenant are already granted them. Heyns, Woelderink, Schilder, and many Christian Reformed ministers carry on the same thought, and deviate in this matter from all the Reformed theologians. Their objectionable system denies the Covenant of Grace in its essential power, and Christ as the representative Head of the Covenant of Grace, since He can represent only the elect; it lulls men to sleep as being covenant members that have a right to salvation, and it opens the door for a practical Arminianism which credits faith and obedience with power to keep one in the covenant. With great earnestness we must warn against this doctrine so that the congregations will not be thrust off from their firm foundation.
The Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace are one in essence; they are not two essentially different covenants.
Yet there have been several among the sound divines who make some distinction between the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace, although they do not teach that we have here two covenants that are essentially different from each other.
In the Covenant of Redemption they saw the negotiation between the Father and Christ, in eternity, concerning the ransom of the elect, and they made the redemption of the elect firm upon the only ground of the active and passive obedience of Christ to which He had obliged Himself in that covenant. But in the Covenant of Grace as distinct from the Counsel of Peace, they saw the negotiation between God and the person of the elect in the time of love upon the condition of faith and repentance. The fulfilling of these conditions would then rest upon the conditions accomplished by Christ, and are not only demanded by God as indispensable to salvation, but are also wrought by the Holy Spirit. The fulfilling of these conditions, then, cannot merit grace, for Christ alone has merited it. In this matter, therefore, these theologians are contrary to all Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians who ascribe to man the power to fulfill the conditions of the covenant.
Thus we see the great and essential difference between what these men taught and that which many teach in these days. The former hold firmly that the Covenant of Grace is established only with the elect, while this is denied by Heyns and others.
The theologians referred to above who say there is an essential difference between the Covenant of Redemption and that of Grace as we mentioned, seek to prove their point by quoting those texts that speak of making a covenant in time with the elect, such as Gen. 17:2, “And I will make my covenant between Me and thee.” “And I will make an everlasting covenant with you.” (Is. 55:3) “I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee.” (Ezek. 16:8) “And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.” (Ezek. 20:39) They also bring in those texts that speak of conditions placed before the elect such as Rom. 10:9: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
Finally, these theologians bring in another objection against those who in the Covenant of Redemption not only see a negotiation between the Father and Christ concerning suretyship for the elect, but also see Christ as representing the elect in establishing the covenant. This objection is that then the Covenant of Grace would come before the Covenant of Works, which is contrary to the nature of the covenants.
These objections are not so serious that they would force us to make a separation between the covenant made in eternity and the Covenant of Grace made in time.
A. Concerning establishing the Covenant of Grace with the elect in time of which the texts mentioned above speak, this establishing only means the subjective incorporation into the covenant, for objectively the elect in Christ, their representative Head, are already in that covenant. For how can there be any negotiation between God and a fallen sinner except in Christ? For God is a consuming fire and everlasting burning with Whom no sinner can dwell. If He approaches the sinner outside of Christ the sinner must perish eternally. What can establishing the covenant between God and the elect, who in himself, because of his covenant relationship to Adam is a condemnable sinner, mean but that the eternal Jehovah deals with him as being included in the eternal covenant, and hence actually incorporates the sinner in it? The Form for the Administration of Holy Baptism so clearly expresses it, saying that the Holy Spirit applies unto us that which we, that is the elect, already have in Christ. They already have in Christ the covenant relationship, and therein all the benefits of the covenant. The incorporation into the covenant in this time-state is indeed so much a one-sided work of God that all actions of man are entirely excluded. Therefore the Reformed theologians always speak of a one-sided covenant, although they know that there must always be at least two parties in a covenant. In establishing the covenant in time the elect is not actually a party, for in Christ he was in the covenant from eternity. The texts quoted all speak of the work that God the Lord, and He alone, does when the covenant is established in time. Thus God spoke to Abraham, “I will make my covenant between Me and thee.” (Gen. 17:2) Likewise to Israel: “I entered into a covenant with you.” “I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.” (Ezek. 16:8; 20:37) Repeatedly the Bible speaks of establishing the covenant, and this is ascribed only to the Lord. (Gen. 6:18; 9:9; 17:7, 21; Ezek. 16:8,60, 61.) With this we do not at all deny that the Covenant of Grace is established in time with the elect; he who would deny that must contradict the whole Bible. And that establishing means more than just becoming aware that one is already from eternity in the covenant; it is a divine incorporation in the covenant, an implanting in Christ. Also the elect are by nature children of wrath, because in Adam’s breach of the covenant they lie condemnable before God. At the time of His good pleasure determined by God they are taken out of the broken Covenant of Works and translated into the Covenant of Grace. But this establishing of the covenant is only the execution of the Covenant of Redemption. Thus the elect in time become a party in establishing the covenant in Christ by faith, depending upon Him entirely.
B. Concerning the conditions of the Covenant of Grace, which some have said are faith and obedience, not one orthodox theologian can state a condition that man can fulfill in himself. All the conditions of the covenant are perfectly fulfilled by Christ, and by Him alone, for all the elect. Can a fallen man fulfill one condition to enter into Covenant with God? By stating this we would sweep away all grace and place the free will of man upon the throne. A conditional covenant of grace is no covenant of grace; it leads to Pelagianism and to Rome, since Rome demands that man himself shall preserve and use the grace which the church gave him. The Arminians have devised the doctrine of a conditional covenant, and everyone would do well to oppose it.
To teach that the covenant of grace between God and the sinner is established upon the conditions of faith and repentance is only teaching a new covenant of works instead of this covenant. The demand only is changed: faith and repentance replace the probationary command. To state this would be altogether absurd!
No orthodox theologian has ever favored such a conditional covenant; on the contrary, he has always opposed it, tooth and nail. But why then should we speak of faith and repentance as conditions instead of benefits of the covenant? Even if we would state the conditions to be fulfilled for Christ’s sake, they are still rejectable, since Christ not only acquired, but also applies the benefits of the covenant, included among which are certainly faith and obedience. Without any condition, out of mere grace, He applies salvation to His people when He establishes the covenant with them. Those utterly miserable are invited to salvation without any condition, while those who seek to establish their own righteousness are punished and cut off. (Isa. 1:10-15) For the wise and prudent these things are hidden, but they are revealed to the babes according to the Father’s good pleasure. (Matt. 11:26, 26) “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:25)
Christ has not only fulfilled perfectly all the conditions of the covenant, even the smallest ones, but also the promises of the Covenant are yea and amen in Him to the glory of God. (II Cor. 1:20)
Moreover, a conditional Covenant of Grace would be breakable, like the Covenant of Works, since it would depend on the works of man, that is his faith, repentance, and obedience. But the Covenant of Grace is unbreakable. “Although my house be not so with God; yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant.” (II Sam. 23:5) “I will make an everlasting covenant with you.” (Isa. 55:3)
Also the Form for Holy Baptism says that God has made an eternal Covenant of Grace with us.
Brakel also teaches it clearly: “How desirable, how firm is this covenant in which all the heavy conditions are laid upon the Surety, and all the blessings come to the members of the covenant by the Mediator Jesus Christ, in Whom all the promises are yea and Amen.”
Justus Vermeer also can testify here. In his precious treatise on the Covenant of Grace he writes: “The Gospel consists only of promises, and therefore it prescribes nothing as a duty. It neither demands nor commands, not even this: believe, trust, hope; rather, the Covenant of Grace tells, announces, and lets us know what God in Christ promises out of the covenant, what He wants to do, and what He shall do.”
Whence would the elect obtain faith and repentance if they were not the benefits of the covenant? By nature they are incapable of doing anything but evil; they have not even one sigh for good. Even after having received grace they experience that they are sooner able to touch the sky with their hand than of themselves to believe. The faith they received would faint, if Christ did not pray for them that their faith would not fail.
Faith and repentance are worked by God; they belong to the promises, and are blessings, but not conditions of the covenant.
Yet it has pleased God several times in His Word to give a conditional form for obtaining salvation. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36) “Be ye reconciled to God.” (II Cor. 5:20)
This manner of presentation, however, does not mean that we of ourselves can believe in the Son. But in that way God teaches us that faith and repentance are necessary to salvation. Without faith it is impossible to please God. (Heb. 11:6) Also by this way of speaking the Lord wants to humble His people, so that by the discovering of the Holy Spirit they will be more desirous after Christ, Who is the end of the law. Indeed, thus the Lord shows us that the promises of the covenant can only be embraced by faith. Thus the faith of Abraham is counted unto him for righteousness, (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3) not at all because of his faith, but because of the righteousness of Christ which was revealed to him in the promises, and upon which he could rely by faith.
So it is far from it that faith and repentance are conditions that are to be considered as the work of man in establishing the covenant. Brahč in his explanation of Psalm 89 asks what then must happen to elect children who die young, and have not been able to exercise faith, nor show repentance. They are not yet able to refuse the evil, nor to choose the good. (Isa. 7:16) They are without any condition incorporated into the Covenant of Grace by God. The Surety of the covenant, Christ, has fulfilled all the conditions of the covenant for them, and not only for the elect who die in early youth, but for all those who were given Him by the Father. All the conditions to be fulfilled by man are excluded by grace. A conditional covenant of grace is actually a covenant of works.
The comforting doctrine of the unconditional Covenant of Grace, however does not erase the responsibility man carries for the preaching of God’s Word brought to him. Everyone who has heard the Word must one day give an account of it before the judgment seat of God, and then it shall be a savor of death unto death, unless it has become a savor of life unto life. The Lord’s righteous judgment shall shine the more gloriously in proportion as God has enlightened the hardened man by His Word and has brought him into a certain relationship to the Covenant of Grace. “For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.” (II Cor. 2:15)
Finally, however unconditional the covenant may be in its establishment, those who are converted to God are admonished of and obliged unto new obedience, as our Form for Baptism says. Sovereign grace does not make men careless and wicked; on the contrary, the renewed will of the elect becomes itself active. [Canons of Dort III, IV, Art. 12] Speaking of the Antinomian who abuses the sovereign grace of God to live in sin freely, the apostle writes, “whose damnation is just.” (Rom. 3:8) But although God demands the sanctification of His people without which no man shall see God, nevertheless this demand does not make the covenant conditional. On the contrary, it is one of the promises of the covenant: “And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them.” (Ezek. 36:27) “To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant; the oath which He sware to our father Abraham, that He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:72-75)
The Covenant of Grace not only offers all benefits for time and eternity, but also gives salvation without any condition to all those who are given to Christ by the Father. The dead are quickened; the lost are found, and enemies are reconciled to God. Indeed, the absoluteness of the Covenant of Grace is not nullified by the exercise of faith that follows the incorporation in the covenant, and by which God’s children in the assurance of received faith give themselves completely to the Lord, and establish the covenant, “believingly, humbly, and uprightly,” agreeing with all the demands as well as with all the promises of the covenant. For it is in that exercise of faith that God’s people are brought off from all their own grounds, and are led to the full acknowledgement that all conditions are fulfilled by Christ, and by Him alone. Without any exception they give themselves over to Him, Who of the Father is made unto them wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. (I Cor. 1:30) “If the Son Therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
C. We have rather extensively considered the character of the Covenant of Grace, that excludes all thoughts of conditions. Now we must answer the third objection that is brought against the Covenant of Grace being from eternity; namely that the Covenant of Grace, if this of one essence with the Covenant of Redemption, would precede the Covenant of Works, what would be contrary to the nature of covenants, because grace can only be glorified after there is guilt.
There is, however, no basis for that objection. The revelation of the Covenant of Grace follows the breaking of the Covenant of Works. So it was in time. The promise of the Seed of the woman in Gen. 3:15 could only be given to fallen man. But thus it also was in God’s unchangeable and unfathomable counsel, both the Covenant of Works and the wanton breaking of it by man’s disobedience was decreed by God. In the Divine order this decree precedes the establishment of the Covenant of Redemption, or as Boston calls it, the Covenant of Grace from Eternity. The Covenant of Redemption is not only a negotiation between the Father and Christ about the Surety, but it awards salvation to the elect. “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” (II Tim. 1:9)
This grace was given to the elect before the world began, that is from eternity, before they were brought forth; given in Christ, their representative covenant Head; the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Rev. 13:8) But this is only possible since man in the Covenant of Redemption, in which matter it differs from predestination, is considered as having broken the Covenant of Works which was established in time. For in predestination, which was an act of pure sovereignty, man was not considered as having been created and having fallen, but in the Covenant of Redemption he was considered as such. Thus the Covenant of Grace was built upon the Covenant of Works, following it, both in God’s Counsel and in its revelation in time. Thus the last objection is removed of those who see in the Covenant of Redemption another covenant than that of grace. The Covenant of Grace is from eternity in Christ, and is being executed in time by incorporating the elect into the covenant. The Covenant of Works is decreed from eternity, the Covenant of Grace is devised before the foundation of the world.
Establishing the Covenant of Grace with Christ means that the elect are counted in Him as their representative Head; that they are the objects of God’s love and shall never be condemned. Therefore God shall keep them from committing the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit, and at His time will regenerate them. For regeneration is indispensable for them; they must be resurrected out of spiritual death and be implanted into Christ. The presentation is untrue to say that by teaching that the Covenant of Grace is established in eternity with the elect in Christ means that they do not enter the world under the debt and the curse of the Covenant of Works. Alas! some have fallen into such foolishness. But does not the Scripture say emphatically that also the elect are by nature children of wrath, even as others? (Eph. 2:3) They are enemies (Rom. 5:10) dead in trespasses and sins (Ezek. 37; Eph. 2:1) cast out in the open field. (Ezek. 16) But in the time of God’s good pleasure they were made to be the objects of God’s love (Isa. 63:9; Jer. 31:3) they were reconciled to God; quickened; and God spread His skirt over them. (Ezek. 16)
Thus we maintain, together with the doctrine that the Covenant of Grace is of eternity, and in essence is one with the Covenant of Redemption, that every elect, as long as he has not been incorporated into the covenant, is counted in Adam’s breach of the covenant, and therefore lies under the curse of the Covenant of Works, walking on the way of perdition without Christ, being strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. (Eph. 2:12) Therefore in order to be saved each of the elect must actually be taken up into the covenant. They are incorporated into Christ, and thereby made partakers of all His benefits, and brought into covenant relationship with God. Although happening at the same moment of time, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, together with the removal of guilt in justification (on God’s side) precedes washing away the pollution. Both benefits are applied to the elect in the actual establishing of the covenant.
This incorporation is not merely, as we have already remarked, that those who are given by the Father to Christ become conscious of the fact that already in eternity they were in the covenant, but it is actually being translated out of the broken Covenant of Works into the Covenant of Grace, out of the state of condemnation into the state of reconciliation.
Just as a person may be described in the testament as the heir or possessor of the goods bequeathed, still, in order to accept it, it must be awarded to him after the death of the testator; yes, just as a prisoner who was acquitted must necessarily have the door opened, and must actually be brought out and set at liberty, so the elect needs an actual entrance into the Covenant of Grace to be saved from their state of misery in which they were conceived and born. Let everyone take heed that he does not misuse the Scriptural doctrine of the Covenant of Grace. Such misuse, however, cannot condemn this doctrine itself. Nor may this doctrine of free grace be blamed as if it would make men careless or wicked. Such objections only show the old hatred of the Romanists and the Arminians against sovereign grace. Against all enemies of the pure doctrine, we maintain that God at the time decreed by Him, incorporates the elect who already in eternity are included in Christ their covenant Head, into the Covenant of Grace by His Holy Spirit, our of pure grace, without their having to fulfill any condition. The Covenant of Grace is not conditional.
Since the character of the Covenant of Grace has been determined to be the carrying out the Covenant of Redemption, it will not be difficult to see the unbreakable connection between election and the Covenant of Grace. The elect are in the Covenant of Grace from eternity, as we have seen in the discussion of this covenant that they were given by the Father to the Son. Those that were given by the Father are purchased by the blood of Christ, and are incorporated by regeneration into the Covenant of Grace by the Holy Spirit, so that they and they alone become partakers of the benefits of the covenant. The elect, and only they, receive an actual right to the riches of the Covenant, and the Lord shall be their God and they shall be His people.
It is our serious objection to those who lately disturbed the church by their new views of the covenant, stating that the non-elect have rights to the benefits of the covenant. Entirely unjustly they appeal to Calvin for support for their covenant-enervating doctrine. Never did anyone who loved the Reformed doctrine with heart and soul break the connection between predestination and the covenant. Calvin did not either. Calvin does say in his commentary on Gen. 17:7, that God has made covenant with the sons of Abraham that were to be born of him naturally, but in his further explanation he clearly shows that he does not thus sever the tie to predestination. He asks whether this does not conflict with what was said earlier, that God only counts those for legal sons of Abraham that by faith are one house with him? Then he answers that the solution is very easy. He says that the unbelieving among Abraham’s sons were even called sons of the heavenly kingdom by Christ Himself, but, “here, then, a twofold class of sons presents itself to us, in the Church; for since the whole body of the people is gathered together into the fold of God, by one and the same voice, all without exception, are, in this respect, accounted children; the name of the Church is applicable in common to them all: but in the innermost sanctuary of God, none others are reckoned the sons of God, than they in whom the promise is ratified by faith. And this difference flows from the fountain of gratuitous election, whence also faith itself springs.”
We do Calvin an injustice when we say that he separated the Covenant of Grace from predestination, and made this covenant so general as if it was also made with the non-elect, so that also the reprobates had a right to the benefits of the covenant.
In the covenant that was made in eternity and performed in time, He appeared for them as their representative covenant Head. Thus He acted only for the elect, and not at all for the reprobates. That this is true not only for the Covenant of Redemption but also for this covenant that was performed in time, is evident in such texts in which Christ is called the last or second Adam, as in I Corinthians 15:45, 47. In the first Adam all men are included. He represented all his posterity in the Covenant of Works, and when he broke it, his posterity broke it in him. Christ, however, represents only the elect in the Covenant of Grace. For them are all the benefits of the covenant to their salvation. Salvation was no longer entrusted to the obedience of a man who could fall, and did fall, but to Him Who could not fall, and Who made the eternal testament and Covenant of Grace irrevocable in His death. The Covenant of Grace is established only with the elect. Although it is true that many reprobates have a certain relationship to the covenant, they are never incorporated into the covenant. The various relationships to this one covenant may not lead us to consider this covenant itself as something external, as if it were established also with those whom God did not elect. Nor may we speak of a Covenant of Grace without a Head.
Who represents the elect in establishing the covenant. In His relationship to the Covenant of Grace He has three names:
a. He is called the Mediator of the covenant. “But now hath He obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the Mediator of a better covenant.” (Heb. 8:6) “For this cause He is the Mediator of the New Testament.” (Heb. 9:15) “And to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” (Heb. 12:24)
The Mediator is Christ, because He stands in the middle between a righteous God, Who cannot surrender His justice, and a condemnable sinner, who cannot satisfy the demand of that justice, in order to bring these unequal and opposing parties together. To that end He is not only a Mediator of intercession, but also a Mediator of reconciliation.
b. He is the Surety of the covenant. “By so much was Jesus made a Surety of a better testament.” (Heb. 7:22) As surety He has obligated Himself to make satisfaction for all the debts of the elect, and all their sins are imputed to Him.
c. Christ is the Head of the covenant.
For the meaning of “Head of the covenant” we refer to what we have said about it when speaking of the Covenant of Works. In Rom. 5: 12-19 Paul speaks of the two covenant heads. From verse to verse he compares Adam and Christ. In verse 14 he calls Adam the figure of Him who was to come. And in what was Adam a figure of Christ, except in that he also was the Head of a covenant? Moreover, how shall they who deny Christ as Head of the covenant and representing the elect, escape the pernicious doctrine of universal atonement? The grace of God does not come to all men unto justification of life, but only to the elect, for they and they alone have Christ, not only as Head of the church, but also as Head of the covenant, in Whom they are reckoned.
God has always established the covenant with heads: with Adam, with Noah, with Israel, with Phinehas, with David, and in them with those who were included in them. Thus God dealt in the covenants that were shadows, would the actual covenant, then, be without a head?
The principal Reformers spoke of Christ as the representative Head of the Covenant of Grace. Those who want to separate the covenant from predestination banish out of the church those true Reformed men by whose writings the church is built upon the firm foundation of the apostles and prophets. But many would rather bid farewell to our Reformed fathers than to lay aside their pernicious theories. Many reach that point when they teach a covenant that is not a real covenant, but is only an offer of salvation that is separate from election. However, it is only with the elect that God in time makes the covenant, and whom He by free grace makes partakers of it.
The Romanists do not acknowledge a sovereign election. Their separation of the Covenant of Grace is a consequence of their Semi-Pelagianism. Neither did Luther see the connection, and even stated (with Rome) that the grace of regeneration, one of the benefits of the covenant, that would also be given to non-elect, could be lost again. And, actually, Prof. Heyns, Rev. Woelderink, and many Christian Reformed and others, teach that one can again fall out of the Covenant of Grace.
To such ungodly doctrines they are led who separate predestination and the covenant.
Those who teach a Covenant of Grace that only consists of an offer of God that He will give salvation on condition of faith and repentance, actually return to Rome. For Rome teaches that the Covenant of Grace does not give salvation, but only the possibility of being saved. Calvin opposed this doctrine with all his might, and with him all right minded Reformed theologians. Not one of them separated the Covenant of Grace from election. In election those who shall be saved are, as the body of Christ, united in Him in Whom they were elected. For the election does indeed extend to certain persons known to God, but according to Eph. 1:4 they are chosen in Him Who is the Head of the church, which is His body. And now this organic unity of the elect as the body of Christ and the spiritual offspring of Abraham, is fully revealed in the Covenant of Grace. Scripture refers to this when it speaks of the covenant established with Abraham and his seed. That was the great promise of the covenant: “I will be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee,” not as if grace were transplanted from father to son, but rather that God would bring forth a spiritual seed out of Abraham, that is the children of promise as Isaac was. They form a spiritual offspring, one body, one church, chosen by the Father, purchased by the blood of Christ. Thus election and the covenant are not to be separated. He who states that the Covenant of Grace was established with Abraham and his natural seed must include in Gen. 3:15 also the children of Keturah, indeed, all posterity of Adam and Eve in the covenant. For the first promise in which the very first establishing of the covenant immediately after the fall took place, speaks not only of Christ, but in a broader sense, of the seed of the woman. Doubtless Christ is the seed of the woman that bruised Satan’s head, but in the “seed” of the woman all the elect in Christ are included, as opposed to the seed of the serpent.
As this first covenant revelation did not speak of the natural seed of the woman, so this covenant does not apply to the natural seed of Abraham. God Himself made the separation. Cain and his seed are excluded from the covenant; from Noah the covenant does not extend to his natural seed, but only to Shem, for Ham and Japheth were excluded; and also in Abraham’s seed God made a separation. The Lord excluded Ishmael, although he was circumcised and many temporal blessings were promised to him, outside of the Covenant of Grace. “But My covenant will I establish with Isaac.” (Gen. 17:21)
Ishmael is sent away, and shall not be heir with the son of the free woman, although he also belonged to the natural seed of Abraham. The Lord established the covenant with Abraham and his spiritual seed, in other words, with the elect. They, and only they, are incorporated in the covenant.
This covenant extends only to the elect Church of God. In contrast with Esau, the reprobate, Hebrews 12 says to God’s chosen people, “But ye are come . . . to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” And Peter indeed said, “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off,” but then he emphatically limits it by adding, “even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” And those called by God are the elect. In this way election limits the Covenant of Grace. To this Covenant of Grace the Lord Himself gave various —
When speaking of these forms of administration we must remember that the difference in administration does not make an important difference in the covenant itself. That was the error of Cocceius that we have discussed and rejected in the introduction to the chapter on the Covenant of Works. There is but one Covenant of Grace revealed in time, and this covenant is unchangeably the same from Paradise to the end of time. There is indeed a difference in the form in which God revealed this covenant, but this difference does not concern the essence of the covenant. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8)
Here we can distinguish between four periods:
a. The first period extends from Adam to Abraham;
b. the second from Abraham to Moses;
c. the third from Moses to Christ; and
d. the fourth from Christ to the day of judgment.
a. In the first period from Adam to Abraham the covenant has a personal form. The Lord did limit the covenant to the generations of Seth and Shem, but still the covenant did not have an external and visible form as from Abraham to Moses. Nor did the covenant before Abraham have a sign and seal as God instituted when He established the covenant with Abraham. Nothing is said about sacraments for the Covenant of Grace before the time of Abraham. God’s promise was the only anchor of faith while expecting the promised Seed of the woman.
b. This particular form of the covenant changed in the days of Abraham. The second form of administration began with the calling of Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, and continued until Moses. It was the patriarchal form. The Lord separated Abraham unto Himself, not only from his land but also from his kindred. God established the covenant with him and his seed. The promise given in Paradise to Eve and her seed is limited in this period to the patriarchs and was sealed with the sacrament of circumcision. Although externally all that were of Abraham’s family received the sacrament, yet not all were in the Covenant of Grace. Ishmael was circumcised, “But,” said the Lord, “My covenant will I establish with Isaac.” (Gen. 17:21) The election of God is decisive. Even before the birth of Esau and Jacob the Lord said to Rebekah, “The elder shall serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:23) “That the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth.” (Rom. 9:11) “Neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” (Rom. 9:7)
God did not at all establish the Covenant of Grace with all that came out of Abraham. The line of separation was drawn visibly before the eyes of all. Ishmael and Esau, although they were circumcised, were excluded from incorporation in the covenant. And among those who live in the confines of the revelation of the covenant, God also draws the line of separation by His sovereign election. “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” (Rom. 9:6)
The external form of the covenant may not be identified with the essence of the covenant. Nevertheless it has pleased the Lord to give His covenant an external form ever since Abraham was called. This is even more obvious in:
c. the third period, in which the covenant receives a national form, since God took the twelve tribes into covenant relationship with Himself. The Covenant of Grace was made at Mount Sinai, although in the shell of the law. This Sinaitic covenant was no covenant of works which God could not establish with fallen man; nor a covenant with only outward blessings. This is very evident from the fact that Israel received the law out of the hand of Christ. He is the Angel, called the Messenger, because the Father sent Him to be a Mediator and Savior of His people, thus being different from all created angels. This Angel appeared unto Moses on Mount Horeb, and out of His hand Moses received the law. “This (Moses) is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the Angel which spake to him in the Mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us.” (Acts7:38) “It was ordained by angels in the hand of a Mediator.” (Gal. 3:19)
Moses could not be satisfied with the promise that an angel would go with them to the land flowing with milk and honey, and he could not go unless the Lord Himself went with them. Thus, he desired God’s favor, and not merely external benefits. From this manner of making a covenant it is very evident that the Covenant of Grace was made in Christ and not a Covenant of Works, nor an external Covenant. “I will give Thee for a covenant of the people.” (Isa. 42:6) “And I will preserve Thee, and give Thee for a covenant of the people.” (Isa. 49:8)
All the signs of the covenant refer to Him. His blood is the blood of the covenant and speaks better things than that of Abel. One must be blind if he does not see that the Sinaitic covenant contains infinitely more than external promises, as for example the land of Canaan and a prosperous life. The form was external, but all that is external here is merely a type and pledge of the perfect redemption in Christ. At Sinai the Covenant of Grace was established which in Christ is to the salvation of God’s elect.
And still to this covenant an external national form was given; a form that concerned all the twelve tribes of Israel, and revealed before the eyes of all nations what God in His eternal good pleasure had prepared for His elect. He shall be their God and they shall be His people.
The shadowy dispensation of the national covenant was abolished with the coming of Christ.
The Sinaitic form, the form in which God poured out the Covenant of Grace, is spoken of as an old covenant.
A better dispensation is given, in which the shell of the law is broken, and grace is revealed in its fulness. “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring.” (Isa. 44:3) “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” (Jer. 31:31) “In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” (Heb. 8:13)
d. The fourth and last period of the administration of the Covenant was given to the Church of the New Testament. The boundaries of this covenant relationship is the visible, instituted Church. Here also we must distinguish between essence and form. Certainly not all who receive the seal of the covenant enter into the Covenant of Grace. Only faith makes us partakers of Christ and His benefits, and this is the faith of God’s elect (Pit. 1:1), a gift of God (Eph. 2:8), a benefit of the covenant, given to them who are incorporated in the Covenant of Grace by the Holy Spirit. Anyone who keeps silent about this, and says that all those baptised are partakers of the benefits of the Covenant is unfaithful. He rocks souls to sleep, and is not free from their blood. Because of our being in Adam, in whom we broke the Covenant of Works, we have by nature a right only to eternal death. And a right to life no one has unless God the Holy Spirit takes him into the Covenant of Grace by incorporating him in Christ by heart-renewing grace. Historical and temporary believers, hypocrites, and those who do not repent sincerely never come into the Covenant of Grace, and have no part in the benefits of the covenant. It is true what Beukelman says, that many professors only imagine they are in the covenant.
The external form, however, is not without significance for them; they have a certain relationship to the Covenant of Grace. Thus we distinguish two kinds of relationships in which those who live under the light of the Gospel are to the covenant, namely, an external and an internal relationship. Because the Lord gave a certain form to the covenant other than the personal form, the revelation of the covenant spread beyond its actual boundaries, in other words, many came into a certain external relationship to the Covenant of Grace who did not have an internal relationship to the covenant by faith. In that way Israel was the people of the covenant, and in that way the instituted church is the church of the covenant. Neither Israel nor the church could be called thus merely because they had the form, but because in the form was the essence of God’s chosen heritage. The instituted church is no corpse; it is the revelation of the church which Christ has purchased by His blood. Thus we must also see the covenant which is visibly expressed in it. But all men have not faith. Many are admitted who are not actually in the covenant. Many Reformed theologians could be mentioned who clearly differentiate between being in the covenant internally and externally. Some even speak of an internal and an external covenant, but then they do not teach that these are two covenants, but they wanted to show the two kinds of relationship that are possible for those living under the revelation of the covenant. The reprobate, who live under the Word of God, and the elect, as long as they live in their state of death, live together under the external administration of the covenant. God’s law is placed before them as a rule of life; God’s righteous demand is set before them, and in God’s stead they are admonished, “Be ye reconciled to God.” And for all this they are answerable to God.
Calvin already taught that the unconverted do not belong to the covenant, although they live in the covenant and in the church. We will name just a few Netherlands theologians: Jacobus Trigland emphasized the difference between an external and internal covenant.
Gomarus described the external covenant as the connection to the visible church, by which men are separated from the uncleanness of the world, and the internal covenant as the connection between God and those who have received the Spirit of living faith.
Voetius also taught that many who lived in the covenant died in their sins. He asks: “Is the privilege of an external covenant or an external grace of the covenant enjoyed anywhere without being a partaker of internal grace?” And Voetius answers, “Yes, in an external sense.”
Van Mastricht, Lodesteyn, and Koelman taught the same. Koelman rejects the idea that there is a separate external covenant, as does also W. á Brakel, saying, “There is no external Covenant of Grace.” Koelman describes his viewpoint very clearly when he says, “It is one and the same covenant, but all are not in the covenant in the same way. Some are in it only by an outward confession for the present, partaking of external privileges; but some are in it by accepting it with their whole heart to the enjoyment of saving benefits by means of its privileges.”
Van der Kemp, Smytegelt, van Mastricht, and several others, also distinguish a twofold relationship to the covenant. But they all hold firm to the oneness of the Covenant of Grace. In this covenant they saw bequeathed to the elect what they needed for their salvation. But on the other hand they did not rush blindly on to place savingly in the covenant all those that lived within the confines of the revelation of the covenant. Thus the covenant was preserved in all its power and comfort for God’s people, and at the same time it was held up to everyone for self-examination to see whether he was truly incorporated in the covenant, and whether he had by faith become a partaker of Christ and His benefits. At the same time this viewpoint maintains the great responsibility of each person that has an external relationship to the covenant. For they who walk on in their own way, and do not sincerely repent are:
Can then the Covenant of Grace be broken as the Covenant of Works was? No!
From everlasting to everlasting the covenant is firm. No one shall pluck the true members of the covenant out of the Father’s hand, (John 10:29) nor out of the hand of Christ. (John 10:28) The covenant is firm in the obedience of Him Who has fulfilled all the conditions of the covenant. He is the great Testator and in His death the Testament, or Covenant of Grace became irrevocable. “And for this cause He is the Mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead.” (Heb. 9:15, 16, 17a) “Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.” (Gal. 3:15)
In accordance with this the Form for Holy Baptism speaks of the eternal Covenant of Grace, and the Form for the Lord’s Supper speaks of the new and eternal testament, that Covenant of Grace and reconciliation which Christ confirmed when He said, “It is finished.” He with whom God made this covenant shall not be lost. There is no apostasy of saints. “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee.” (Isa. 54:10) “For thus saith the LORD; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel.” (Jer. 33:17) “Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” (Heb. 6:17, 18)
So the Covenant of Grace cannot be broken.
Nevertheless, the Word of God often speaks of breaking the Covenant of Grace. “He hath broken My covenant.” (Gen. 17: 14b) “Which My covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD.” (Jer. 31:32) “But they like men have transgressed the covenant.” (Hos. 6:7) “Because they have transgressed My covenant.” (Hosea 8:1)
How can we reconcile the fact that the Covenant of Grace, as the eternal testament is firm in the death of Christ with the statement that unfaithful Israel has broken this covenant? The solution is not difficult for those who may understand Scripture correctly. Do not the blessings God gives man, especially when He places him in a certain relationship to the Covenant of Grace, and confirms to him by Holy Baptism that He is the faithful Covenant God, calls him by His Word, yes, urges him to seek salvation, do not all these, and so many more blessings, oblige man to seek God in Christ? Do you not know that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? (Rom. 2:4) And the Scriptures tell us repeatedly that those who have been brought into an external relationship to the Covenant of Grace even have some relationship to Christ.
Paul teaches this clearly in I Cor. 10:1-5, saying that all that were led out of Egypt, were bapitzed unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual meat; and all drank the same spiritual drink: for they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. And still, although they all had some relationship to Christ, yet with most of them God was not well pleased.
So it is possible to have some relationship to Christ and still be lost, since that relationship is only external, hence, insufficient for salvation.
Thus Christ Himself also speaks in John 15 of branches that are in the vine, but are taken away and cast into the fire and burned. But they were never in the vine Christ in the right sense. They had only an external, not an internal-spiritual relationship to Christ, and for that reason they bore no fruit.
Peter must also be understood in this way, when he writes: “There were false prophets also, as there shall be false teachers among you, even denying the Lord that bought them.” (II Peter 2:1)
Those purchased by the Lord deny Him to their own perdition. And still not one of those truly purchased by Christ shall be lost. No one shall pluck them out of His hand, nor out of the hand of His Father. (John 10:28, 29) But these false teachers were never included in the purchase of Christ. They had only drunk out of the spiritual Rock as the Israelites did who died in the wilderness. They also pretended to have been bought by Christ, but they had only an outward portion in Christ. Nevertheless this purchase by Christ was revealed to them in the Gospel, and represented in the covenant. Instead of this making them desirous after Christ, they denied the Lord to their righteous, eternal condemnation.
Thus the external relationship of the covenant, and the administration of baptism and of the Word resulting from it, makes each person responsible before God. If under this administration he remains unconverted, hardening his heart, he cannot lay the blame on God, nor on Christ, offered therein. (Canons of Dort, III-IV:9) It shall be his own fault if he is lost, condemned not only by the law, but also by the Gospel. The children of the kingdom (those who only belong to the external revelation of it) shall be cast out. (Matt. 8:12)
Christ began to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not. He spoke the awful words: “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matt. 11:20-22) Upon Capernaum the Lord pronounced the same judgment. And, to mention no more, Paul teaches that as a servant of Christ he will be a savor of death unto death in them that perish. (II Cor. 2:15, 16) God shall one day demand of us the blessings given us in our external relationship to the covenant. Therefore, knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men. (II Cor. 5:11) “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” (II Cor. 6:20)
Moreover the Lord in holy earnestness reproached Israel that it had broken even the outward relationship to the covenant. Although it had bound itself at Sinai to serve only the Lord, they bowed themselves to the idols in a terrible manner, and violated their relationship to the covenant. But the Covenant of Grace itself is unbreakable.
And still it remains unshakably certain “that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Cor. 2:14) To the people of the covenant Christ said, “And ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:40) His saying is hard to them, who can hear it? (John 6:60) No one shall believe in Him, no one shall enter into covenant with Him, except those of whom Christ said, “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me.” (John 6:37) They are those given by the Father, those given to Christ when He made the covenant in eternity; they shall come to Him, and him that cometh to Him, Christ shall in no wise cast out. “For” says the Lord Jesus Himself, “I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me.” (John 6:38) Christ gave the reason why those that were given Him by the Father shall come to Him: it was His Father’s will, His sovereign good pleasure, the election that is performed in the Covenant of Grace, and shall prosper in the hand of the Lord.
Thus although God in the external administration of the Covenant calls many, and even gives to those He calls various gifts, if those gifts do not bring the recipient to true conversion, they shall serve to aggravate their judgment, so that God’s righteousness shall be the more glorified. Notwithstanding this, the reprobate shall never be incorporated in the Covenant of Grace, they never shall receive a right in Christ to the benefits of the covenant, and they shall never be justified and sanctified. The covenant is unbreakable. “For this is as the waters of Noah unto Me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee.” (Isa. 54:9, 10.)
Even the unfaithfulness of those in the covenant will not make God’s faithfulness to fail. “If his children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments; if they break My statutes, and keep not My commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless My lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break.” (Ps. 89:30-34)
Finally we must devote a few words to the promises of the Covenant of Grace which are of such great significance that the covenant is called the covenants of promise. (Eph. 2:12) The apostle here speaks of covenants in the plural, not because there is more than one Covenant of Grace, but because the covenant first made in paradise, was often renewed, such as with Abraham, Israel, and David. Every time the promise of the covenant was renewed, although there is but one Covenant of Grace, and that is the covenant of promise. In this name Paul shows the character of the covenant as of pure grace. Also the Covenant of Works had a promise, namely, eternal life. Still this covenant is never called the covenant of promise because life would be attained by the works of the law. In Gal. 3:18 the contrast between law and promise is clearly stated: “For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise.” Thus the Covenant of Grace is the covenant of promise, because God promises the elect sinner the blessings of the covenant and makes him a partaker of them without any merit or condition. These promises are bequeathed only to the elect in Christ. God never gave the promises of life to the reprobate, and those who ascribe the rights to the promises of the Covenant of Grace to all those who are baptized mislead themselves and others, for God is faithful and will certainly fulfill His promises. “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19) “Faithful is He that calleth you, who will also do it.” (I Thess. 5:24)
The Covenant of promise concerns in the first place Christ, and in Him all His elect.
The promises given to Christ Himself, are of a seed that shall be given Him. “I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance.” (Ps. 2:8) “When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed.” (Isa. 53:10)
Further, upon His performance of the conditions of the covenant Christ has been promised His resurrection from the dead. “For Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.” (Ps. 16:10)
Also the justification of Christ, who was a debtor because of the sins of His people was one of the promises given to Him. “He is near that justifieth Me.” (Isa. 50:8) “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit.” (I Tim. 3:16)
His glorification as Mediator also belonged to the promises of the covenant, so that His Godhead, hidden behind the veil of His human nature would shine eternally in full brightness. “He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.” (Isa. 52:13) “And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.” (John 17:5)
Thus Christ is the great Heir of the covenant (Heb. 1:2) and unto Him is given all power in heaven and on earth. “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thy enemies Thy footstool.” (Ps. 110:1)
These promises of the covenant concern Christ as the representative Head of His elect, and therefore apply to them all. The promises for their salvation they receive out of the hand of Christ, in whom all promises are yea and Amen unto the glory of God. (II Cor. 1:20) Indeed, no promise is firm if it is not sealed in Christ, the Head of the covenant. The promises given would be lost because of the severe assaults of Satan, the inveterate enmity of the world, and the incesant wandering of God’s people, but they are firm in Christ and unto eternal life. “In hope of eternal life, which God that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” (Pit. 1:2) “And this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.” (I John 2:25)
Therefore everything that belongs to the happiness of God’s elect, both for their spiritual as well as for their natural life, is included in the benefits promised to them in the Covenant of Grace. For also their natural needs are fulfilled out of the merits of Christ, and all that takes place in the world is directed for the benefit of the elect. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)
God supports the whole world by virtue of the covenant with Noah, which is the covenant of common grace, but His people, purchased with both body and soul, He keeps, supports, and preserves by showing His favor, and blessing them out of the Covenant of Grace in Christ. Therefore “A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.” (Ps. 37:16) Differing with Dr. A. Kuyper, Sr., we, with our Reformed fathers, see the fulfilling of the natural needs of the children of God as coming out of the Covenant of Grace, and not out of the Noachian covenant. Among all the things bequeathed to the believers Paul also includes the things present: “Whether things present or things to come; all are yours.” (I Cor. 3:22)
Not only the soul, but also the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (I Cor. 6:13) Their bodies by virtue of the covenant are preserved and prepared unto eternal glory. “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body.” (Phil. 3:21) “But godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (I Tim. 4:8)
The covenant of promise also contains everything that belongs to the natural life of God’s people. “Bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.” (Isa. 33:16)
When the black horse of hunger comes forth, and one measure of wheat will be sold for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny, then the oil for refreshing and the wine to cheer God’s people will not be hurt. (Rev. 6:6) God shall support His people by the strength of His covenant, until they have finished serving His counsel. Therefore He shall provide for them, even though the young lions lack and suffer hunger. (Ps. 34:10) He shall also protect them: “For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” (Ps. 91:11) “And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as a shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” (Isa. 32:2)
Even in their illnesses He will make all his bed, (Ps. 41:3) and all evils that He sends upon them in this valley of tears as fatherly covenant chastisements He will turn to their advantage. Indeed, for them death is swallowed up in victory, (Isa. 25:8) and has become a passage into eternal life, which the souls of God’s children shall enter immediately, and both their soul and body shall inherit on the last day.
Among the spiritual benefits of the covenant that are granted to God’s elect in this life we must include the promise of the Holy Spirit: “I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed.” (Isa. 44:3) “And I will put My Spirit within you.” (Ezek. 36:27) In this promise all other promises are comprehended, as the promise of quickening. “And I shall put My Spirit in you and ye shall live.” (Ezek. 37:14) “And you hath He quickened.” (Eph. 2:1)
Also the promise of faith. Therefore the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of faith and faith is called a gift of God. “We having the Spirit of faith.” (II Cor. 4:13) “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8)
Also the promise of their justification. “By His knowledge shall My righteous servant justify many.” (Isa. 53:11) “In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” (Isa. 45:25)
Also the promise of perseverance: “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts, that they will not depart from Me.” (Jer. 32:40)
Also the promise of communion with God. It is the continually repeated, great promise of the Covenant of Grace: “I shall be their God, and they shall be My people.” Since righteousness and holiness are bestowed upon the elect out of the covenant, God can have communion with them in Christ, and the breach made in Adam is healed. “I shall say to them which were not My people, Thou art My people, and they shall say, Thou art my God.” (Hos. 2:23) “That we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Gal. 4:5)
Finally, in the Covenant pf Grace the heavenly benefits are bequeathed to God’s elect. Immediately at their death their soul shall be taken up to Christ their Head, and at His coming on the clouds their body shall be resurrected to praise their God and King with body and soul, perfectly, without sin, unto all eternity.
Thus the Covenant of Grace comprises all the benefits for time and eternity for the perfect happiness of all the elect. Therefore they shall sing of the mercies of the Lord forever. “For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: Thy faithfulness shalt Thou establish in the very heavens. I have made a covenant with My chosen.” (Ps. 89:1-3)
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This article is taken from Reformed Dogmatics: A Systematic Treatment of Reformed Doctrine by Rev. G. H. Kersten, Volume I, pp. 233-258. It was presented for publication by the Netherlands Reformed book and Publishing Committee and printed by (Wm. B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 1980.