Theology Thursday - The Covenant of Grace

The following is the full text of Chapter 7, from the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith.

Chapter VII: Of God’s Covenant with Man

I. The distance between God and the creature is so great that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.1

II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works,2 wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity,3 upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.4

III. Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second,5 commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him that they may be saved,6 and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.7

IV. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the 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.8

V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law and in the time of the gospel:9 under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come,10 which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah,11 by whom they had full remission of sins and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.12

VI. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance13 was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper;14 which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy,15 to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles;16 and is called the New Testament.17 There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.18

Notes

1 Isa. 40:13–17; Job 9:32, 33; 1 Sam. 2:25; Psa. 100:2, 3; 113:5, 6; Job 22:2, 3; 35:7, 8; Luke 17:10; Acts 17:24, 25.

2 Gal. 3:12; [Am. ed. Hos. 6:7; Gen. 2:16, 17].

3 Rom. 5:12–20; 10:5.

4 Gen. 2:17; Gal. 3:10.

5 Gal. 3:21; Rom. 3:20, 21; 8:3; Gen. 3:15; Isa. 42:6.

6 Mark 16:15, 16; John 3:16; Rom. 10:6, 9; Gal. 3:11 [Am. ed. v. 7].

7 Ezek. 36:26, 27; John 6:44, 45.

8 Heb. 9:15–17; 7:22; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25.

9 2 Cor. 3:6–9.

10 Heb., chaps. 8, 9, 10; Rom. 4:11; Col. 2:11, 12; 1 Cor. 5:7; [Am. ed. Col. 2:17].

11 1 Cor. 10:1–4; Heb. 11:13; John 8:56.

12 Gal. 3:7–9, 14.

13 Gal. 2:17; [Am. ed. Col. 2:17].

14 Matt. 28:19, 20; 1 Cor. 11:23–25; [Am. ed. 2 Cor. 3:7–11].

15 Heb. 12:22–28; Jer. 31:33, 34.

16 Matt. 28:19; Eph. 2:15–19.

17 Luke 22:20; [Am. ed. Heb. 8:7–9].

18 Gal. 3:14, 16; Acts 15:11; Rom. 3:21–23, 30; Psa. 32:1; Rom. 4:3, 6, 16, 17, 23, 24; Heb. 13:8.

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There are 4 Comments

TylerR's picture

Here are my quick thoughts on this statement:

  • First paragraph. Agree.
  • Second paragraph. The Scripture doesn't call this a covenant, and I don't think it fits the theological definition of a "covenant," either. I'd be happy to call it a command, though.
  • Third and fifth paragraphs. The Scripture doesn't specifically identify a "covenant of grace." But, to be sure, God has had a single plan to redeem people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. And, throughout every age, God has worked that plan out in different ways, according to His own divine time-table. I'm happy to acknowledge that, but I don't call this a "covenant" at all. I'm happier sticking with something like "divine plan," etc.
  • Fourth paragraph. The Scripture reference in the WCoF are to the Old (i.e. Mosaic) Covenant and the New Covenant; not to a so-called "covenant of grace."
  • Sixth paragraph. Agree, but with the caveat that God's eternal plan to redeem people isn't a "covenant of grace," but something like a "divine plan."

I see both continuity and discontinuity:

  • The outward form and pattern of worship has changed throughout the years
  • The specific content of salvation has also changed with progressive revelation
  • But, I also see continuity with the basic idea that people are saved when they believe in God's promises by faith, and that faith will always produce some spiritual fruit from the heart, out of love for Him.
  • Amd, I also see continuity with God's divine plan to redeem people through the Messiah. This has always been His plan, since Gen 3:15 - actually, before the foundation of creation itself.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Paul Henebury's picture

My chief problem with the covenant of grace (well, apart from its absence from the Bible) is that it is born from deductive theology and leads to more deductive theology

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture

I'm surprised it took you so long to comment on this one! Yes, it is a deductive doctrine, and not taught as a covenant at all in Scripture. My favorite part is when Covenant folks reach for Hosea 6:7 ...

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Paul Henebury's picture

I was waiting to see of any other comments would crop up.  Happy New Year!

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

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