Classical Covenant Theology

Edited by and some translations by R. Scott Clark

On Law and Gospel

John Calvin (1509-64). Hence, also, we see the error of those who, in comparing the Law with the Gospel, represent it merely as a comparison between the merit of works, and the gratuitous imputation of righteousness. This is indeed a contrast not at all to be rejected. For Paul often means by the term “law” the rule of righteous living by which God requires of us what is his own, giving us no hope of life unless we completely obey him, and adding on the other hand a curse if we deviate even in the slightest degree. This Paul does when he contends that we pleasing to God through grace and accounted righteous through his pardon, because nowhere is found that observance of the law for which the reward has been promised. Paul therefore justly makes contraries of the righteousness of the law and that of the gospel (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559;2.9.4).

John Calvin. This is confirmed by the testimony of Paul, when he observes that the Gospel holds forth salvation to us, not under the harsh arduous, and impossible terms on which the Law treats with us, (namely, that those shall obtain it who fulfill all its demands,) but on terms easy, expeditious, and readily obtained (Institutes, 2.5.12).

John Calvin. But they observe not that in the antithesis between Legal and Gospel righteousness, which Paul elsewhere introduces, all kinds of works, with whatever name adorned, are excluded, (Galatians 3:11, 12. For he says that the righteousness of the Law consists in obtaining salvation by doing what the Law requires, but that the righteousness of faith consists in believing that Christ died and rose again, (Romans 10:5-9.) Moreover, we shall afterwards see, at the proper place, that the blessings of sanctification and justification, which we derive from Christ, are different. Hence it follows, that not even spiritual works are taken into account when the power of justifying is ascribed to faith (Institutes, 3.11.14).

John Calvin. The Law, he says, is different from faith. Why? Because to obtain justification by it, works are required; and hence it follows, that to obtain justification by the Gospel they are not required. From this statement, it appears that those who are justified by faith are justified independent of, nay, in the absence of the merit of works, because faith receives that righteousness which the Gospel bestows. But the Gospel differs from the Law in this, that it does not confine justification to works, but places it entirely in the mercy of God (Institutes, 3.11.18).

John Calvin. For the words of Paul always hold true, that the difference between the Law and the Gospel lies in this, that the latter does not like the former promise life under the condition of works, but from faith. What can be clearer than the antithesis — “The righteousness of the law is in this wise, The man who doeth these things shall live in them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh thus, Whoso believeth,” etc. ( Romans 10:5.) To the same effect is this other passage, “If the inheritance were of the law, faith would be made void and the promise abolished. Therefore it is of faith that in respect of grace the promise might be sure to every one that believeth.” ( Romans 4:14.) As to ecclesiastical laws, they must themselves see to them: we acknowledge one Legislator, to whom it belongs to deliver the rule of life, as from him we have life (Antidote to the Council of Trent, 1547).

John Calvin. I besides hold that it is without us, because we are righteous in Christ only. Let them produce evidence from Scripture, if they have any, to convince us of their doctrine. I, while I have the whole Scripture supporting me, will now be satisfied with this one reason, viz., that when mention is made of the righteousness of works, the law and the gospel place it in the perfect obedience of the law; and as that nowhere appears, they leave us no alternative but to flee to Christ alone, that we may be regarded as righteous in him, not being so in ourselves. Will they produce to us one passage which declares that begun newness of life is approved by God as righteousness either in whole or in part? But if they are devoid of authority, why may we not be permitted to repudiate the figment of partial justification which they here obtrude? (Antidote to the Council of Trent, 1547).

John Calvin. Verily the law, though it could justify, by no means promises salvation to any one work, but makes justification to consist in the perfect observance of all the commandments. (Commentary on Psalm 106:31)

John Calvin. In reference to Galatians 3:13 “Paul assumes that these, even faith and law, are contrary, the one to the other; contrary as to the work of justifying. The law indeed agrees with the gospel; nay, it contains in itself the gospel. And Paul has solved this question in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, by saying, that the law cannot assist us to attain righteousness, but that it is offered to us in the gospel, and that it receives a testimony from the law and the Prophets. Though then there is a complete concord between the law and the gospel, as God, who is not inconsistent with himself, is the author of both; yet as to justification, the law accords not with the gospel, any more than light with darkness: for the law promises life to those who serve God; and the promise is conditional, dependent on the merits of works. The gospel also does indeed promise righteousness under condition; but it has no respect to the merits of works. What then? It is only this, that they who are condemned and lost are to embrace the favor offered to them in Christ. (Commentary on Habakkuk 2:4)

John Calvin. If we are not righteous except according to the covenant of the law, then we are not righteous except through a full and perfect observance of the law. This is certain. (Commentary on Habakkuk 2:4)

John Calvin. Paul confirms this testimony that in the gospel salvation is not offered under that hard, harsh, and impossible condition laid down for us by the law — that only those who have fulfilled all the commandments will finally attain it — but under an easy, ready, and openly accessible condition. (in reference to Romans 10) (Institutes, 2.5.12).

John Calvin. If it is true that in the law we are taught the perfection of righteousness, this also follows: the complete observance of the law is perfect righteousness before God. By it man would evidently be deemed and reckoned righteous before the heavenly judgment seat. (Institutes, 2.7.3).

John Calvin. For since the teaching of the law is far above human capacity, a man may indeed view from afar the proffered promises, yet he cannot derive any benefit from them… so that we discern in the law only the most immediate death. (Institutes, 2.7.3).

John Calvin. But as soon as he begins to compare his powers with the difficulty of the law, he has something to diminish his bravado. For, however remarkable an opinion of his powers he formerly held, he soon feels that they are panting under so heavy a weight as to stagger and totter, and finally even to fall down and faint away. Thus man, schooled in the law, sloughs off the arrogance that previously blinded him. (Institutes, 2.7.6).

John Calvin. Thus it is clear that by our wickedness and depravity we are prevented from enjoying the blessed life set openly before us by the law. Thereby the grace of God, which nourishes us without the support of the law, becomes sweeter, and his mercy, which bestows that grace upon us, becomes more lovely. (Institutes, 2.7.7).

John Calvin. Not that the law no longer enjoins believers to do what is right, but only that it is not for them what it formerly was: it may no longer condemn and destroy their consciences by frightening and confounding them. (Institutes, 2.7.14).

John Calvin. For Paul often means by the term “law” the rule of righteous living by which God requires of us what is his own, giving us no hope of life unless we completely obey him, and adding on the other hand a curse if we deviate even in the slightest degree. This Paul does when he contends that we are pleasing to God through grace and are accounted righteous through his pardon, because nowhere is found that observance of the law for which the reward has been promised. Paul therefore justly makes contraries of the righteousness of the law and of that of the gospel [Romans 3:21 ff.; Galatians 3:10 ff.; etc.] (Institutes, 2.9.4).

John Calvin. the law contains here and there promises of mercy, but because they have been borrowed from elsewhere, they are not counted part of the law, when only the nature of the law is under discussion. They ascribe to it only this function: to enjoin what is right, to forbid what is wicked; to promise a reward to the keepers of righteousness, and threaten transgressors with punishment; but at the same time not to change or correct the depravity of heart that by nature inheres in all men. (Institutes, 2.11.7).

John Calvin. But when through the law the patriarchs felt themselves both oppressed by their enslaved condition, and wearied by anxiety of conscience, they fled for refuge to the gospel. (Institutes, 2.11.9).

John Calvin. First, God lays down for us through the law what we should do; if we then fail in ally part of it, that dreadful sentence of eternal death which it pronounces will rest upon us. Secondly, it is not only hard, but above our strength and beyond all our abilities, to fulfill the law to the letter; thus, if we look to ourselves only, and ponder what condition we deserve, no trace of good hope will remain; but cast away by God, we shall lie under eternal death. (Institutes, 3.2.1) “for men cursed under the law there remains, in faith, one sole means of recovering salvation… (Institutes, 3.11.1).

John Calvin. For faith totters if it pays attention to works, since no one, even of the most holy, will find there anything on which to rely. (Institutes, 3.11.11)

John Calvin. In short, whoever wraps up two kinds of righteousness in order that miserable souls may not repose wholly in God’s mere mercy, crowns Christ in mockery with a wreath of thorns [Mark 15:17, etc.]. (Institutes, 3.11.12).

John Calvin. a man who wishes to obtain Christ’s righteousness must abandon his own righteousness. (Institutes, 3.11.13).

John Calvin. Do you see how he makes this the distinction between law and gospel: that the former attributes righteousness to works, the latter bestows free righteousness apart from the help of works? This is an important passage, and one that can extricate us from many difficulties if we understand that that righteousness which is given us through the gospel has been freed of all conditions of the law. (Calvin commenting on Romans 10:9) (Institutes, 3.11.17)

John Calvin. How would this argument be maintained otherwise than by agreeing that works do not enter the account of faith but must be utterly separated? The law, he says, is different from faith. Why? Because works are required for law righteousness. Therefore it follows that they are not required for faith righteousness. From this relation it is clear that those who are justified by faith are justified apart from the merit of works—in fact, without the merit of works. For faith receives that righteousness which the gospel bestows. Now the gospel differs from the law in that it does not link righteousness to works but lodges it solely in God’s mercy. (Institutes, 3.11.18).

John Calvin. “They [ed. the Papists] prate that the ceremonial works of the law are excluded, not the moral works… [but] let us hold as certain that when the ability to justify is denied to the law, these words refer to the whole law. (Institutes, 3.11.19)

John Calvin. For since no perfection can come to us so long as we are clothed in this flesh, and the law moreover announces death and judgment to all who do not maintain perfect righteousness in works, it will always have grounds for accusing and condemning us unless, on the contrary, God’s mercy counters it, and by continual forgiveness of sins repeatedly acquits us. (Institutes, 3.14.10)

John Calvin. works righteousness consists solely in perfect and complete observance of the law. From this it follows that no man is justified by works unless, having been raised to the highest peak of perfection, he cannot be accused even of the least transgression. (Institutes, 3.15.1).

John Calvin. The fact, then, remains that through the law the whole human race is proved subject to God’s curse and wrath, and in order to be freed from these, it is necessary to depart from the power of the law and, as it were, to be released from its bondage into freedom… it is spiritual freedom, which would comfort and raise up the stricken and prostrate conscience, showing it to be free from the curse and condemnation with which the law pressed it down, bound and fettered. (Institutes, 3.17.1)

John Calvin. With a clear voice we too proclaim that these commandments are to be kept if one seeks life in works. And Christians must know this doctrine, for how could they flee to Christ unless they recognized that they had plunged from the way of life over the brink of death? How could they realize how far they had wandered from the way of life unless they first understood what that way is like? Only, therefore, when they distinguish how great is the difference between their life and divine righteousness that consists in accepting the law are they made aware that, in order to recover salvation, their refuge is in Christ. To sum up, if we seek salvation in works, we must keep the commandments by which we are instructed unto perfect righteousness. But we must not stop here unless we wish to fail in mid-course, for none of us is capable of keeping the commandments. (Institutes, 3.18.9)

John Calvin. the consciences of believers, in seeking assurance of their justification before God, should rise above and advance beyond the law, forgetting all law righteousness. For since, as we have elsewhere shown, the law leaves no one righteous, either it excludes us from all hope of justification or we ought to be freed from it, and in such a way, indeed, that no account is taken of works… If consciences wish to attain any certainty in this matter, they ought to give no place to the law. (Institutes, 3.19.1)

John Calvin. The whole life of Christians ought to be an exercise of piety, since they are called to sanctification. It is the office of the law to remind them of their duty and thereby to excite them to the pursuit of holiness and integrity. But when their consciences are solicitous how God may be propitiated, what answer they shall make, and on what they shall rest their confidence, if called to his tribunal, there must then be no consideration of the requisitions of the law, but Christ alone must be proposed for righteousness, who exceeds all the perfection of the law. (Institutes, 3.19.2)

John Calvin. consciences observe the law, not as if constrained by the necessity of the law, but that freed from the law’s yoke they willingly obey God’s will. For since they dwell in perpetual dread so long as they remain under the sway of the law, they will never be disposed with eager readiness to obey God unless they have already been given this sort of freedom… For unless its rigor be mitigated, the law in requiring perfect love condemns all imperfection. Let him therefore ponder his own work, which he wished to be adjudged in part good, and by that very act he will find it, just because it is imperfect, to be a transgression of the law. (Institutes, 3.19.4)

John Calvin. no one can maintain in this life the perfect obedience to the law which God requires of us. (Institutes, 4.13.6)

John Calvin. A young man asks by what works he shall enter into eternal life [Matthew 19:16; cf. Luke 10:25]. Christ, because the question concerned works, refers him to the law [Matthew 19:17-19]. And rightly! For, considered in itself, it is the way of eternal life; and, except for our depravity, is capable of bringing salvation to us. By this reply Christ declared that he taught no other plan of life than what had been taught of old in the law of the Lord. So also he attested God’s law to be the doctrine of perfect righteousness, and at the same time confuted false reports so he might not seem by some new rule of life to incite the people to desert the law…. Our opponents vainly give a general interpretation to this particular instance, as if Christ established the perfection of man in renunciation of goods. Actually, he meant nothing else by this statement than to compel the young man, pleased with himself beyond measure, to feel his sore, that he might realize he was still far removed from the perfect obedience to the law which he was falsely claiming for himself. (Institutes, 4.13.13)

John Calvin. the law in itself contains perfect righteousness; and this appears from the fact that its observance is called the way of eternal salvation. (Institutes, 4.13.13).

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83). Q.36 What distinguishes law and gospel? A: The law contains a covenant of nature begun by God with men in creation, that is, it is a natural sign to men, and it requires of us perfect obedience toward God. It promises eternal life to those keeping it, and threatens eternal punishment to those not keeping it. In fact, the gospel contains a covenant of grace, that is, one known not at all under nature. This covenant declares to us fulfillment of its righteousness in Christ, which the law requires, and our restoration through Christ’s Spirit. To those who believe in him, it freely promises eternal life for Christ’s sake (Larger Catechism, Q. 36).

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83) on the organization of the Heidelberg Catechism. The chief and most important parts of the first principles of the doctrine of the church, as appears from the passage just quoted from the Epistle to the Hebrews, are repentance and faith in Christ, which we may regard as synonymous with the law and gospel. Hence, the catechism in its primary and most general sense, may be divided as the doctrine of the church, into the law and gospel. It does not differ from the doctrine of the church as it respects the subject and matter of which it treats, but only in the form and manner in which these things are presented, just as strong meat designed for adults, to which the doctrine of the church may be compared, does not differ in essence from the milk and meat prepared for children, to which the catechism is compared by Paul in the passage already referred to. These two parts are termed, by the great mass of men, the Decalogue and the Apostles’ creed; because the Decalogue comprehends the substance of the law, and the Apostles’ creed that of the gospel. Another distinction made by this same class of persons is that of the doctrine of faith and works, or the doctrine of those things which are to be believed and those which are to be done.

There are others who divide the catechism into these three parts; considering, in the first place, the doctrine respecting God, then the doctrine respecting his will, and lastly that respecting his works, which they distinguish as the works of creation, preservation, and redemption. But all these different parts are treated of either in the law or the gospel, or in both, so that this division may easily be reduced to the former.

There are others, again, who make the catechism consist of five different parts; the Decalogue, the Apostles’ Creed, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Prayer; of which, the Decalogue was delivered immediately by God himself, whilst the other parts were delivered mediately, either through the manifestation of the Son of God in the flesh, as is true of the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, and the Eucharist, or through the ministry of the apostles, as is true of the Apostles’ Creed. But all these different parts may also be reduced to the two general heads noticed in the first division. The Decalogue contains the substance of the law, the Apostles’ Creed that of the gospel; the sacraments are parts of the gospel, and may, therefore, be embraced in it as far as they are seals of the grace which it promises, but as far as they are testimonies of our obedience to God, they have the nature of sacrifices and pertain to the law, whilst prayer, in like manner, may be referred to the law, being a part of the worship of God.

The catechism of which we shall speak in these lectures consists of three parts. The first treats of the misery of man, the second of his deliverance from this misery, and the third of gratitude, which division does not, in reality, differ from the above, because all the parts which are there specified are embraced in these three general heads. The Decalogue belongs to the first part, in as far as it is the mirror through which we are brought to see ourselves, and thus led to a knowledge of our sins and misery, and to the third part in as far as it is the rule of true thankfulness and of a Christian life. The Apostles’ Creed is embraced in the second part inasmuch as it unfolds the way of deliverance from sins. The sacraments, belonging to the doctrine of faith and being the seals that are attached thereto, belong in like manner to this second part of the catechism, which treats of deliverance from the misery of man. And prayer, being the chief part of spiritual worship and of thankfulness, may, with great propriety, be referred to the third general part.

Zacharias Ursinus. In What Does The Law Differ From The Gospel? The exposition of this question is necessary for a variety of considerations, and especially that we may have a proper understanding of the law and the gospel, to which a knowledge of that in which they differ greatly contributes. According to the definition of the law, which says, that it promises rewards to those who render perfect obedience; and that it promises them freely, inasmuch as no obedience can be meritorious in the sight of God, it would seem that it does not differ from the gospel, which also promises eternal life freely. Yet notwithstanding this seeming agreement, there is a great difference between the law and the gospel. They differ, 1. As to the mode of revelation peculiar to each. The law is known naturally: the gospel was divinely revealed after the fall of man. 2. In matter or doctrine. The law declares the justice of God separately considered: the gospel declares it in connection with his mercy. The law teaches what we ought to be in order that we may be saved: the gospel teaches in addition to this, how we may become such as this law requires, viz: by faith in Christ. 3. In their conditions or promises. The law promises eternal life and all good things upon the condition of our own and perfect righteousness, and of obedience in us: the gospel promises the same blessings upon the condition that we exercise faith in Christ, by which we embrace the obedience which another, even Christ, has performed in our behalf; or the gospel teaches that we are justified freely by faith in Christ. With this faith is also connected, as by an indissoluble bond, the condition of new obedience. 4. In their effects. The law works wrath, and is the ministration of death: the gospel is the ministration of life and of the Spirit (Rom. 4:15, 2 Cor. 3:7) (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 92).

Caspar Olevian (1536-87). For this reason the distinction between law and Gospel is retained. The law does not promise freely, but under the condition that you keep it completely. And if someone should transgress it once, the law or legal covenant does not have the promise of the remission of sins. On the other hand, the Gospel promises freely the remission of sins and life, not if we keep the law, but for the sake of the Son of God, through faith (Ad Romanos Notae, 148; Geneva, 1579).

Theodore Beza (1534-1605). We divide this Word into two principal parts or kinds: the one is called the ‘Law,’ the other the ‘Gospel.’ For all the rest can be gathered under the one or other of these two headings…Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity (The Christian Faith, 1558)

William Perkins (1558-1602). The basic principle in application is to know whether the passage is a statement of the law or of the gospel. For when the Word is preached, the law and the gospel operate differently. The law exposes the disease of sin, and as a side-effect, stimulates and stirs it up. But it provides no remedy for it. However the gospel not only teaches us what is to be done, it also has the power of the Holy Spirit joined to it….A statement of the law indicates the need for a perfect inherent righteousness, of eternal life given through the works of the law, of the sins which are contrary to the law and of the curse that is due them…. By contrast, a statement of the gospel speaks of Christ and his benefits, and of faith being fruitful in good works (The Art of Prophesying, 1592, repr. Banner of Truth Trust,1996, 54-55).

Edward Fisher (c.1601-1655). Now, the law is a doctrine partly known by nature, teaching us that there is a God, and what God is, and what he requires us to do, binding all reasonable creatures to perfect obedience, both internal and external, promising the favour of God, and everlasting life to all those who yield perfect obedience thereunto, and denouncing the curse of God and everlasting damnation to all those who are not perfectly correspondent thereunto. But the gospel is a doctrine revealed from heaven by the Son of God, presently after the fall of mankind into sin and death, and afterwards manifested more clearly and fully to the patriarchs and prophets, to the evangelists and apostles, and by them spread abroad to others; wherein freedom from sin, from the curse of the law, the wrath of God, death, and hell, is freely promised for Christ’s sake unto all who truly believe on his name (The Marrow of Modern Divinity; 1645, repr. 1978, 337-38. NB: The author of the Marrow was designated only as E.F. Therefore some scholars doubt whether Edward Fisher was actually the author).

William Twisse (1578-1646). How many ways does the Word of God teach us to come to the Kingdom of heaven?Two. Which are they? The Law and the Gospel. What says the Law? Do this and live. What says the Gospel? Believe in Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Can we come to the Kingdom of God by the way of God’s Law? No.Why so? Because we cannot do it. Why can we not do it? Because we are all born in sin. What is it to be none in sin? To be naturally prone to evil and …that that which is good. How did it come to pass that we are all borne in sin? By reason of our first father Adam. Which way then do you hope to come tot he Kingdom of Heaven? By the Gospel? What is the Gospel? The glad tidings of salvation by Jesus Christ. To whom is the glad tidings brought: to the righteousness? No. Why so? For two reasons. What is the first? Because there is none that is righteous and sin not. What is the other reason? Because if we were righteous, i.e., without sin we should have no need of Christ Jesus. To whom then is this glad tiding brought? To sinners. What, to all sinners? To whom then? To such as believe and repent. This is the first lesson, to know the right way to the Kingdom of Heaven.: and this consists in knowing the difference between the Law and the Gospel. What does the Law require? That we should be without sin. What does the Gospel require? That we should confess our sins, amend our lives, and then through faith in Christ we shall be saved. The Law requires what? Perfect obedience. The Gospel what? Faith and true repentance. (A Brief Catechetical Exposition of Christian Doctrine, 1633).

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900). To be unable to see any difference between law and gospel, truth an error, Protestantism and Popery, the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of man, is a sure proof that we are yet dead in heart, and need conversion. (Expository Thoughts on John, 2:198-199).

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937). A new and more powerful proclamation of law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law. As it is, they are turning aside from the Christian pathway; they are turning to the village of Morality, and to the house of Mr. Legality, who is reported to be very skillful in relieving men of their burdens… ‘Making Christ Master’ in the life, putting into practice ‘the principles of Christ’ by one’s own efforts-these are merely new ways of earning salvation by one’s obedience to God’s commands (What Is Faith?, 1925).

Louis Berkhof (1873-1957). The Churches of the Reformation from the very beginning distinguished between the law and the gospel as the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace. This distinction was not understood to be identical with that between the Old and the New Testament, but was regarded as a distinction that applies to both Testaments. There is law and gospel in the Old Testament, and there is law and gospel in the New. The law comprises everything in Scripture which is a revelation of God’s will in the form of command or prohibition, while the gospel embraces everything, whether it be in the Old Testament or in the New, that pertains to the work of reconciliation and that proclaims the seeking and redeeming love o God in Christ Jesus (Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 612).

John Murray (1898-1975) …the purity and integrity of the gospel stands or falls with the absoluteness of the antithesis between the function and potency of law, one the one hand, and the function and potency of grace, on the other (Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957], 186).

On the Covenant of Redemption (Pactum Salutis)

John Calvin (1509-64). Since there is nothing substantial in it (the OT shadows), until we look beyond it, the Apostle contends that it behoved to be annulled and become antiquated, (Heb. 7: 22,) to make room for Christ, the surety and mediator of a better covenant, by whom the eternal sanctification of the elect was once purchased, and the transgressions which remained under the Law wiped away (Institutes, 2.11.4)

John Calvin. For the righteousness of Christ (as it alone is perfect, so it alone can stand the scrutiny of God) must be sisted for us, and as a surety represent us judicially (Institutes, 3.14.12).

Belgic Confession (1561) Art. 26. …But this Mediator, whom the Father has appointed between himself and us, ought not terrify us by his greatness, so that we have to look for another one, according to our fancy. For neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more than Jesus Christ does.

Caspar Olevianus (1536-87). Q. 1: God is just and requires that we either keep the law with a perfect love of God and neighbor or be eternally punished. However, we have been so corrupted by the fall of Adam that by nature we hate God and our neighbor and daily increase our guilt. Therefore, unless we want to be lost for eternity, we must look for a Surety who completely satisfies the judgment of God for us. But where will we find such a Mediator and Surety? A: …First, since the angels are neither guilty nor obligated to suffer on humanity’s account, the justice of God does not demand of them that they should pay what humanity owes…. Second, since our surety and mediator had to bear and overcome the infinite, eternal wrath of God, there is no doubt that than an angel would have been too weak for that…. (Vester Grund, 1567; trans. Lyle Bierma, in A Firm Foundation; Grand Rapids, Baker: 1995).

Caspar Olevianus. Q: 3 Why do you call Christ the only way to salvation? A: Because he alone is the mediator of the covenant [of grace] and the reconciliation by which humanity is reunited with God the Lord…. (A Firm Foundation)

Caspar Olevianus. Q: 4 Why is the redemption or reconciliation of humanity with God presented to us in the form of a covenant, indeed a covenant of grace? A: God compares the means of our salvation to a covenant, indeed an eternal covenant, so that we might be certain and assured that a lasting, eternal peace and friendship between God and us has been made through the sacrifice of His son. After a bitter quarrel, the disputants have peace of mind first and foremost when they commit and bind themselves to each other with a promise and sworn oath that on such-and-such a matter they wont peace. God acts in the same way toward us: in order that we might have rest and peace in our consciences, God was willing our of His great goodness and grace, to bind himself to us, His enemies, with His promise and His oath. He promised that He would have his only begotten Son become human and die for us, and that through the sacrifice of his Son He would establish a lasting reconciliation and eternal peace….He would be our God and bless us, that is, forgive our sins and impart to us the Holy Spirit and eternal life — and all this without any merit on our part. All we would have to do is accept the Son — promised and sent — by faith (A Firm Foundation).

Caspar Olevianus. Q. 5: But how did Jesus Christ make the covenant between the Father and us? That is, how did he reconcile us to the Father so that our sins are eternally forgotten and the Holy Spirit and eternal life are bestowed on us? A: By his sacrifice on the cross He completely reconciled us to the Father with an eternal covenant. The Son himself cried out on the cross that the covenant was completely ratified (“It is finished!” [Jn 19:30] and the Holy Spirit says in Heb. 10[:14], “By one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” (A Firm Foundation).

Caspar Olevianus. The Son of God, having been appointed by God as Mediator of the covenant, becomes the guarantor on two counts: 1) He shall satisfy for the sins of all those whom the Father has given him; 2) He shall also bring it to pass that they, being planted in him, shall enjoy freedom in their consciences and from day to day be renewed in the image of God (De substantia, 1585; 1.2.1).

Canons of Dort (1619). First Head: Article 7. Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace,] according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from the primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation. This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call an draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace; as it is written “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Eph 1:4-6). And elsewhere: “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Rom 8:30).

Simon Ash. This covenant being transacted betwixt Christ and God, here, here lies the first and most firm foundation of a Christian’s comfort (A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London, 1645, preface).

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). Chapter 8: Of the Mediator. 8:1. It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and men, the prophet, priest, and king; the head and Savior of the Church, the heir or all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did, from all eternity, give a people to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified. 8:2. The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

The Sum of Saving Knowledge (1647). 2a) Albeit man, having brought himself into this woeful condition, is neither able to help himself, nor willing to be helped by God out of it, but rather inclined to lie still, insensible of it, till he perish; yet God, for the glory of his rich grace, has revealed in his word a way to save sinners, that is, by faith in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, by virtue of, and according to the tenor of the covenant of redemption, made and agreed upon between God the Father and God the Son, in council of the Trinity, before the world began. 2b) The sum of the covenant of redemption is this: God having freely chosen to life a certain number of lost mankind, for the glory of his rich grace, did give them, before the world began, to God the Son, appointed Redeemer, that, upon condition he would humble himself so far as to assume the human nature, of a soul and a body, to personal union with his divine nature, and submit himself to the law, as surety for them, and satisfy justice for them, by giving obedience in their name, even to the suffering of the cursed death of the cross, he should ransom and redeem them all from sin and death, and purchase to them righteousness and eternal life, with all saving graces leading there to, to be effectually, by means of his own appointment, applied in due time to every one of them. This condition the Son of God (who is Jesus Christ our Lord) did accept before the world began, and in the fulness of time came into the world, was born of the Virgin Mary, subjected himself to the law, and completely paid the ransom on the cross: But by virtue of the foresaid bargain, made before the world began, he is in all ages, since the fall of Adam, still upon the work of applying actually the purchased benefits of the elect; and that he does by way of entertaining a covenant of free grace and reconciliation with them, through faith in himself; by which covenant, he makes over to every believer a right and interest to himself, and to all his blessings. 2c) For the accomplishment of this covenant of redemption, and making the elect partakers of the benefits of it in the covenant of grace, Christ Jesus was clad with the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King: made a Prophet, to reveal all saving knowledge to his people, and persuade them to believe and obey the same; made a Priest, to offer up himself a sacrifice once for them all, and to intercede continually with the Father, for making their persons and services acceptable to him; and made a King, to subdue them to himself, to feed and rule them by his own appointed ordinances, and to defend them from their enemies.

John Owen (1616-83).Q. 1. By what means did Jesus Christ undertake the office of an eternal priest? A. By the decree, ordination, and will of God his Father, whereunto he yielded voluntary obedience; so that concerning this there was a compact
and covenant between them.. (The Greater Catechism (1645), ch.12).

Johannes Cocceius (1603-69). The declaration of his good pleasure is itself a promise, which is the the foundation of the covenant of grace…. Which is a free disposition by by God the Savior concerning his goods by his heir, to be possessed in accordance with voluntary generation and nomination beyond all danger of alienation (Rom 4.14)…..[quotes Gal 3.15-18] Behold in this institution the heir, the testament, the promise and the ratification of the testament are through the promise and the faith of Abraham. (Summa theologiae,
1648; 4.86).

Helvetic Consensus (1675). Canon XIII: As Christ was elected from eternity the Head, the Leader and Lord of all who, in time, are saved by his grace, so also, in time, he was made Guarantor of the New Covenant only for those who, by the eternal election, were given to him as his own people, his seed and inheritance. For according to the determinate counsel of the Father and his own intention, he encountered dreadful death instead of the elect alone, and restored only these into the bosom of the Father’s grace, and these only he reconciled to God, the offended Father, and delivered from the curse of the law. For our Jesus saves his people from their sins (Matt 1:21), who gave his life a ransom for many sheep (Matt 20:24, 28; John 10:15), his own, who hear his voice (John 10:27-28), and he intercedes for these only, as a divinely appointed Priest, arid not for the world (John 17:9). Accordingly in expiatory sacrifice, they are regarded as having died with him and as being justified from sin (2 Cor 5:12): and thus, with the counsel of the Father who gave to Christ none but the elect to be redeemed, and also with the working of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies and seals unto a living hope of eternal life none but the elect. The will of Christ who died so agrees and amicably conspires in perfect harmony, that the sphere of the Father’s election, the Son’s redemption. And the Spirit’s sanctification are one and the same (The Formula Consensus Helvetica [1675]).

Herman Witsius (1636-1708). In order the more thoroughly to understand the nature of the covenant of grace, two things are above all to be distinctly considered. 1st The covenant which intervenes between God the Father and Christ the Mediator. 2ndly. That testamentary disposition by which God bestows by an immutable covenant, eternal salvation, and every thing relative thereto, upon the elect. The former agreement is between god and the Mediator: the latter between God and the elect. This last pre-supposes the first, and is founded upon it (The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man).

Herman Witsius. When I speak of the compact between the Father and the Son, I thereby understand the will of the Father, giving the Son to be the Head and Redeemer of the elect; and the will of the Son, presenting as a Sponsor or Surety for them; in all which the nature of a compact and agreement consists. The scriptures represent the Father, in the economy of our salvation, as demanding the obedience of the Son even unto death; and upon condition of that obedience, promising him in his turn that name which is above every name, even that he should be the head of the elect in glory: but the Son, as presenting himself to do the will of the Father, acquiescing in that promise, and in fine, requiring, by virtue of the compact, the kingdom and glory promised to him. …[I]t cannot, on any pretence, be denied that there is a compact between the Father and the Son, which is the foundation of our salvation (The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man).

J. H. Heidegger (1633-98). The covenant of God the Father with the Son is a mutual agreement, by which God the Father extracted from the Son perfect and obedience to the Law unto death, which he must face on behalf of his chosen seed to be given him (Marrow of Christian Theology [1696]).

Johannes Cloppenburg (1592-1652). Here there arises before us the twofold diatheke or dispensation of the new covenant (covenant of grace) of which Christ speaks in Luke 22:29. 1) The one which Father covenantally ordains to the guarantor, 2) The one in which the Son as the Father’s guarantor ordains the promise of life and heavenly glory for our sake. As for the first arrangement, the covenant is said to be previously ratified by God in him, Gal. 3:17. Here the full covenant concept remains, namely a two-sided agreement of mutual trust. As for the second arrangement, the covenant is called a testament established for us by the dying Testator, Heb. 9:14-17 (Opera Omnia 1.503).

Franz Burman (1632-79). It is a mutual pact between Father and Son, by which the Father gives the Son as Redeemer (lutrotes) and the head of foreknown people and the Son in turn sets himself to complete that redemption (apolutosis) (2.15.2).

Johannes Cocceius (1603-69). In consequence of this covenant Christ is called the second Adam. As with the first Adam God made a covenant of works concerned among other things with the inheritance of the image of God which was to be transmitted to his successors, should he maintain his stand (it actually fell out the opposite way), so he made one with the Son as the man to be concerned with the inheritance of righteousness and life for his seed through obedience to the law (De foedere, 5.90).

Charles Hodge (1797-1878). Two Covenants to be Distinguished. This confusion is avoided by distinguishing between the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son, and the covenant of grace between God and his people. The latter supposes the former, and is founded upon it. The two, however, ought not to be confounded, as both are clearly revealed in Scripture, and moreover they differ as to the parties, as to the promises, and as to the conditions. 4. Covenant of Redemption. By this is meant the covenant between the Father and the Son in reference to the salvation of man. This is a subject which, from its nature, is entirely beyond our comprehension. We must receive the teachings of the Scriptures in relation to it without presuming to penetrate the mystery which naturally belongs to it. There is only one God, one divine Being, to whom all the attributes of divinity belong. But in the Godhead there are three persons, the same in substance, and equal in power and glory. It lies in the nature of personality, that one person is objective to another. If, therefore, the Father and the Son are distinct persons the one may be the object of the acts of the other. The one may love, address, and commune with the other. The Father may send the Son, may give Him a work to do, and promise Him a recompense. All this is indeed incomprehensible to us, but being clearly taught in Scripture, it must enter into the Christian’s faith. In order to prove that there is a covenant between the Father and the Son, formed in eternity, and revealed in time, it is not necessary that we should adduce passages of the Scriptures in which this truth is expressly asserted. There are indeed passages which are equivalent to such direct assertions. This is implied in the frequently recurring statements of the Scripture that the plan of God respecting the salvation of men was of the nature of a covenant, and was formed in eternity. Paul says that it was hidden for ages in the divine mind; that it was before the foundation of the world. Christ speaks of promises made to Him before his advent; and that He came into the world in execution of a commission which He had received from the Father. The parallel so distinctly drawn between Adam and Christ is also a proof of the point in question. As Adam was the head and representative of his posterity, so Christ is the head and representative of his people. And as God entered into covenant with Adam so He entered into covenant with Christ. This, in Rom. v. 12-21, is set forth as the fundamental idea of all God’s dealings with men, both in their fall and in their redemption. The proof of the doctrine has, however, a much wider foundation. When one person assigns a stipulated work to another person with the promise of a reward upon the condition of the performance of that work, there is a covenant. Nothing can be plainer than that all this is true in relation to the Father and the Son. The Father gave the Son a work to do; He sent Him into the world to perform it, and promised Him a great reward when the work was accomplished. Such is the constant representation of the Scriptures. We have, therefore, the contracting parties, the promise, and the condition. These are the essential elements. of a covenant. Such being the representation of Scripture, such must be the truth to which we are bound to adhere. It is not a mere figure, but a real transaction, and should be regarded and treated as such if we would understand aright the plan of salvation. In the fortieth Psalm, expounded by the Apostle as referring to the Messiah, it is said, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will,” i. e., to execute thy purpose, to carry out thy plan.” By the which will,” says the Apostle (Heb. x. 10), ‘` we are sanctified (i. e., cleansed from the guilt of sin), through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Christ came, therefore, in execution of a purpose of God, to fulfil a work which had been assigned Him. He, therefore, in John xvii. 4, says, “ I have finished the work which thou gayest me to do.” This was said at the close of his earthly course. At its beginning, when yet a child, He said to his parents, `’ Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke ii. 49.) Our Lord speaks of Himself, and is spoken of as sent into the world. He says that as the Father had sent Him into the world, even so had He sent his disciples into the world. (John xvii. 18.) ‘` When the fulness of the time war. come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman.” (Gal. iv. 4.) ” God sent his only begotten Son into the world.” (1 John iv. 9.) God `’ sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (Verse 10.) It is plain, therefore, that Christ came to execute a work, that He was. sent of the Father to fulfil a plan, or preconceived design. It is no less plain that special promises were made by the Father to the Son, suspended upon the accomplishment of the work assigned Him. This may appear as an anthropological mode of representing a transaction between the persons of the adorable Trinity. But it must be received as substantial truth. The Father did give the Son a work to do, and He did promise to Him a reward upon its accomplishment. The transaction was, therefore, of the nature of a covenant. An obligation was assumed by the Son to accomplish the work assigned Him; and an obligation was assumed by the Father to grant Him the stipulated reward. The infinitude of God does not prevent these things being possible. Christ as Mediator of the Covenant. As Christ is a party to the covenant of redemption, so He is constantly represented as the mediator of the covenant of grace; not only in the sense of an internuncius, as Moses was a mediator between God and the people of Israel, but in the sense, that it was through his intervention, and solely on the ground of what He had done, or promised to do, that God entered into this new covenant with fallen men. And, (2.) in the sense of a surety. He guarantees the fillfilment of all the promises and conditions of the covenant. His blood was the blood of the covenant. That is, his death had all the effects of a federal sacrifice, it not only bound the parties to the contract, but it also secured the fulfilment of all its provisions. Hence He is called not only Mesites, but also Egguos (Heb. vii. 22), a aponsor, or aurety. By fulfilling the conditions on which the promises of the covenant of redemption were suspended, the veracity and justice of God are pledged to secure the salvation of his people; and this secures the fidelity of his people. So that Christ answers both for God and man. His work renders certain the gifts of God’s grace, and the perseverance of his people in faith and obedience. He is therefore, in every sense, our salvation (Systematic Theology, vol. 2: Anthropology, ch. 6).

G. Vos (1862-1949). If man stood in a covenant relation to God before the fall, then it is to be expected that the covenant idea will dominate in the work of redemption. …It was merely the other side of the doctrine of the covenant of works that was seen when the task of the Mediator was also placed in this light. A Pactum Salutis, a Counsel of Peace, a Covenant of Redemption, could then be spoken of. There are two alternatives: one must either deny the covenant arrangement as a general rule for obtaining eternal life, or granting the latter, he must also regard the gaining of eternal life by the Mediator as a covenant arrangement and place the establishing of a covenant in back of it. Thus it also becomes clear how a denial of the covenant of works sometimes goes hand in hand with a lack of appreciation for the counsel of peace (“The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” Selected Shorter Writings, 245).

G. Vos. In the dogma of the counsel of peace, then, the doctrine of the covenant has found its genuinely theological rest point (“The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” Selected Shorter Writings, 247).

G. Vos. [I]t is apparent that the dogma of the covenant of redemption is something other than a reworking of the doctrine of election. It owes its existence not to a tendency to draw the covenant back and take it up in the decree, but to concentrate it in the Mediator and to demonstrate the unity between the accomplishment and application of salvation in Him, on the one side, and the various stages of the covenant, on the other. From this it follows that that much less emphasis than one generally attributes to the theologians is placed on its transcendent eternity still has a different character than that of the decrees. It is eternal insofar as it falls within the Trinity, within the divine being that exists in eternity, but not eternal in the sense that it was elevated above the reality of history (“The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” Selected Shorter Writings, 251).

Louis Berkhof (1873-1957). Basically, the covenant of grace is simply the execution of the original agreement by Christ as our surety (Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 214).

Louis Berkhof. Though the covenant of redemption is the eternal basis of the covenant of grace, and as far as sinners are concerned, also its eternal prototype, it was for Christ a covenant of works rather than a covenant of grace. For him the law of the original covenant applied, namely, that eternal life could only be obtained by meeting the demands of the law. As the last Adam Christ obtains eternal life for sinners in faithful obedience, and not at all as an unmerited gift of grace. And what he has done as the Representative and Surety of all his people, they are no more in duty bound to do. The work has been done. The reward is merited, and believers are made partakers of the fruits of Christ’s accomplished work through grace (Systematic Theology, 268).

William Hendriksen (1900-82). In a sense we must go back even farther to trace the origin of the covenant of grace. It is rooted in God himself! God is the God of the covenant, and this not only because he established a covenant with man but also and especially because from all eternity there exists between the persons of The Holy Trinity a voluntarily assumed relation of love and friendship, each working for the glory and honor of the other…. This covenant relationship existing between the persons of the Trinity is the foundation of the covenant of grace (The Covenant of Grace, rev. edn. 1978; 17).

On the Covenant of Works

Martin Luther (1483-1546). Before Adam’s fall it was not necessary for him to have Christ, because he was righteous and without sin, just as the angels have no need of Christ. If Adam had not fallen, it would not have been necessary for Christ to become our Redeemer. …The argument is true that eternal life is in the given to him who keeps the law without Christ, because whoever keeps the law is righteous.  Adam would have entered into the kingdom of heaven without Christ, if he had not fallen. …The conclusion is that Adam alone kept the commandments of God before the Fall, but after the Fall and no one has truly been found who has fulfilled the law   (Disputatio de iustificatione, 1536; Luther’s Works, 26.185, 187)

John Calvin (1509-64). We must, therefore, look deeper than sensual intemperance. The prohibition to touch the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil was a trial of obedience (obedientiae examen), that Adam, by observing it, might prove his willing submission to the command of God (Institutes,2.1.4)

John Calvin. The promise, which gave him hope of eternal life as long as he should eat of the tree of life (arbore vitae), and, on the other hand, the fearful denunciation of death the moment he should taste of the Tree of Knowledge of of good and evil, were meant to test and exercise his faith (Institutes, 2.1.4).

John Calvin. There is no obscurity in the words, “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Institutes, 2.1.6).

Belgic Confession (1561) Art. 14: The Creation and Fall of Man, And His Incapacity to Perform What is Truly Good. We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and made and formed him after his own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will agreeably to the will of God. But being in honor, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin and consequently to death and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life; having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death. And being thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he has lost all his gifts which he had received from God, and retained only small remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse; for all the light which is in us is changed unto darkness, as the Scriptures teach us, saying: The light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not apprehended it; where St. John calls men darkness.

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83) What does the divine law teach? The sort of covenant which God began with man, in creation; by which man should have carried himself in serving God; and what God would require from him after beginning with him a new covenant of grace; that is, how and for what [end] man was created by God; and to what state he might be restored; and by which covenant one who has been reconciled to God ought to arrange his life (Larger Catechism [1561] Q. 10)

Heidelberg Catechism (1563) Q. 6: Did God create man thus wicked and perverse?

A: No, but God created man good and after His own image, that is, in righteousness and true holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness, to praise and glorify Him.

Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 7: From where then comes this depraved nature of man?

A: From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise whereby our nature became so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin (Heidelberg Catechism, 1563).

Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 9: Does not God then do injustice to man by requiring of him in His Law that which he cannot perform?

A: No, for God so made man that he could perform it, but man, through the instigation of the devil, by willful disobedience deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts (Heidelberg Catechism, 1563).

Zacharias Ursinus. What is this covenant? A covenant in general is a mutual contract, or agreement between two parties, in which the one party binds itself to the other to accomplish something upon certain conditions, giving or receiving something, which is accompanied with certain outward signs and symbols, for the purpose of ratifying in the most solemn manner the contract entered into, and for the sake of confirming it, that the engagement may be kept inviolate (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, 97).

Caspar Olevianus (1536-87). This obedience of the Son was superior to all the justice of the Law. For Adam also, if he willed, could have remained in the righteousness of the Law. And to the degree that the curse was owed for every sin of the elect, to the same degree he had to fulfill all righteousness without any complaint, not even all the Angels were able to do this. Therefore, this obedience of the Son was not only regarding the righteousness of the Law, such as Adam received in creation, and such as the Law required of him, but also it exceeded the righteousness of all the Angels (Ad Galatas Notae, 57; Geneva, 1578).

Caspar Olevianus. At the beginning of the human race that old serpent led humanity away from the word of the law, and thus from the covenant of creation by a false interpretation….The summary of this law shining forth in the image of God was that he love the Lord his God with all his heart…and as a testimony of this love refrain from eating from the one tree (De substantia, 2.27; Geneva, 1585).

Heidelberg Catechism Q. 62. But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?

Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment-seat of God, must be perfect throughout and wholly conformable to the divine law;1 but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

William Perkins (1558-1602). God’s covenant, is his contract with man, concerning the obtaining of life eternal, upon a certain condition.

This covenant consists of two parts: God’s promise to man, Man’s promise to God.

God’s promise to man, is that, whereby he binds himself to man to be his God, if he perform the condition.

Man’s promise to God, is that, whereby he vows his allegiance unto his Lord, and to perform the condition between them.

Again, there are two kinds of this covenant. The covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. Jer. 31:31, 32, 33.

Behold the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant, I made with their fathers, when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; the which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband to them, saith the Lord. But this shall be the covenant, that I will make with the house of Israel: after those days, says the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

The covenant of works, is Gods covenant, made with condition of perfect obedience, and is expressed in the moral law.

The Moral Law, is that part of God’s word, which commands perfect obedience unto man, as well in his nature, as in his actions, and forbids the contrary. Romans 10. 5. “Moses thus describes the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doth these things, shall live thereby.” 1. Timothy 1. 5. “The end of the commandment, is love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and faith unfeigned.” Luke 16. 27. “You shalt love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Rom. 7. 14. “We know that the law is spiritual.”

The Law has two parts. The Edict, commanding obedience, and the condition binding to obedience. The condition is eternal life to such as fulfill the law, but to transgressors, everlasting death.

The Decalogue, or ten commandments, is an abridgement of the whole law, and the covenant of works. Exod. 34:27.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Write these words, for after the tenor of these words, I have made a covenant with thee, and with Israel. And be was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights, and did neither eat bread, nor drink water, and he wrote in the tables the words of the covenant, even the ten commandments. 1. King. 8. 9. Nothing was in the Ark, save the two tables of stone, which Moses had put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the children of Israel, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.

Mat. 22:40. “On these two commandments hangs the whole law and the prophets.” Golden Chaine (Cambridge, 1616), 32. [spelling and punctuation updated]

Robert Rollock (c.1555-99). The covenant of God…is twofold; the first is the covenant of works; the second is the covenant of grace (Select Works 1.33-34)

Robert Rollock. Man, after the fall, abides under the covenant of works; and to this day, life is promised him under condition of works done by strength and nature. But if he will not do so well, death and the everlasting curse of God is denounced against him, so long as he is without Christ and without the gospel. And being freed from the covenant of works…he is admitted to the covenant of grace…. Christ, therefore, our Mediator, subjected himself to the covenant of works, and unto the law for our sake, and did both fulfill the condition of the covenant of works in his holy and good life…and also did undergo that curse with which man was threatened in the covenant of works, if that condition of good and holy works were not kept…Wherefore we see Christ in two respects, to wit, in doing and suffering, subject to the covenant of works, and in both respects he has most perfectly fulfilled it, and that for our sake whose Mediator he is become (Select Works, 1.52).


God’s covenant is a bargain which God hath made with men, in which God promises to men some good, and requires of them again, that they perform those things which he commands.

And that covenant is either eternal or temporal.

The eternal covenant is a covenant in which God promises men eternal life.

And that is twofold: the covenant of works or the covenant of grace.

The covenant of works, is a bargain of God made with men concerning eternal life, to which is both a condition of perfect obedience adjoined, to be performed by man, and also a threatening of eternal death if he shall not perform perfect obedience. Gen. 2. 17.

The repetition of the covenant of works is made by God, Exod. 19. 5. Deut. 5. 2. 1. King. 8. 21. Heb. 8. 9. and that chiefly for four causes.

  1. That God by all means might stir up men to perform obedience.
  2. That every mouth might be stopped, and all the world might be made subject to the condemnation of God for not performing perfect obedience. Rom. 3. 19.
  3. That he might manifest mans sin, and naughtiness. Rom. 3. 19. 20. and 7. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.
  4. That he might thrust us forward to seek to be restored in the covenant of grace. Gal. 3. 22. and 5. 23.

The Substance of Christian Religion, trans. E. W. (London, 1595), 87–88. [Spelling modernized]


A Sacrament, is an outward sign, which [note] God joineth to his covenant, which he hath made with men.

And that is either of an eternal, or temporal covenant.

A Sacrament of an eternal covenant, is a Sacrament, whereby God doth confirme the promise of eternal life.

And that is either of the covenant of works, or of the covenant of grace.

The Sacrament of the covenant of works, is a Sacrament, which God gave our first parents in the state of their first integrity.

And that was two fold, the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The tree of life was a Sacrament of the covenant of works, whereby that life was signified, which man should have lived, if he had stood in the obedience of God. Gen. 2. 9.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was a Sacrament by which was signified to man, in how good estate he was whilest he performed obedience to God his creator: and into how evil and miserable estate he should cast himselfe if he obeyed not God. Gen. 2. 17 & 3. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

The Substance of Christian Religion, trans. E. W. (London, 1595), 116–17. [Spelling modernized]

Canons of Dort (1619) 3/4.1 Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright, all his affections pure, and the whole man was holy. But, revolting from God by the instigation of the devil and by his own free will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and an in the place thereof became involved in blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment; became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.

Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629). I. God made a double covenant with man, the one of works and the other of grace; the former before, the latter after the fall.

II. The covenant of works was confirmed by a double sacrament, to wit, the Tree of Life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil both being planted in the midst of paradise.

III. They had a double use. 1. That man’s obedience might be tried, by using of the one, and abstaining from the other. 2. That the Tree of Life might ratify eternal happiness to those that should obey, but the Tree of Knowledge should signify to the disobedient, the loss of the greatest happiness and the possession of the greatest mercy.

IV. Therefore the Tree of Life was so called, not from any innate faculty it had to give life, but from a sacramental signification.

V. Likewise the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, had this denomination from signifying the chief good and evil and from the event.

VI. The happiness of man being yet in his integrity, consisted chiefly in the image of God.

XIV. Man even in respect of his body was immortal, but not simply, as though his body being composed of the elements could not be resolved into its principles, but by Divine Covenant; not as thought it could not die, but because it had a possibility not to die (posse non peccare). (Compendium of Christian Theology, 1626).

 John Ball (1585-1640). The Covenant of Works, wherein God covenanted with man to give him eternal life upon condition of perfect obedience in his own person. The Covenant of Grace, which God made with man promising eternal life upon condition of believing…This Covenant [of works] God made with man without a Mediator for there needed no no middle person to bring man into favor and friendship with God, because man did bear the image of God, and had not offended: nor to procure acceptance to man’s service because it was pure and spotless. God did love man being made after his Image and promised to accept of his obedience performed freely, willingly, entirely, according to his Commandment. (A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London, 1645, 8,9).

James Ussher (1581-1656). Man being at the beginning created according to the image of God…had the covenant of law ingrafted in his heart; whereby God did promise unto him everlasting life, upon the condition that he performed entire and perfect obedience unto his Commandments (Irish Articles, 1615; Art. 11).

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). Chapter 7: Of God’s Covenant with Man. 7:1. 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. 7:2. 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 Larger Catechism. Q. 20. What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created? A. The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth; putting the creatures under his dominion, and ordaining marriage for his help; affording him communion with himself; instituting the sabbath; entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 21. A. Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, through the temptation of Satan, transgressed the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit; and thereby fell from the estate of innocency wherein they were created.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 22. Did all mankind fall in that first transgression? A. 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.

The Sum of Saving Knowledge (1647). 1b) God originally made everything from nothing, perfect. He made our first parents, Adam and Eve, the root of mankind, both upright and able to keep the law written in their hearts. This law they were naturally bound to obey upon penalty of death. God was not bound to reward their service, till he entered into a covenant or contract with them, and their posterity in them. He promised to give them eternal life, upon condition of perfect personal obedience. If they failed they would die. This is the covenant of works.

Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675). Canon VII: As all his works were known unto God from eternity, (Acts 15:18), so in time, according to his infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, he made man, the glory and end of his works, in his own image, and, therefore, upright, wise, and just. Having created man in this manner, he put him under the Covenant of Works, and in this Covenant freely promised him communion with God, favor and life, if indeed he acted in obedience to his will.

Canon VIII: Moreover that promise connected to the Covenant of Works was not a continuation only of earthly life and happiness but the possession especially of eternal and celestial life, a life namely, of both body and soul in heaven, if indeed man ran the course of perfect obedience, with unspeakable joy in communion with God. For not only did the Tree of Life prefigured this very thing unto Adam, but the power of the law, which, being fulfilled by Christ, who went under it in our place, awards to us nothing other than celestial life in Christ who kept the same righteousness of the law. The power of the law also threatens man with both temporal and eternal death.

Canon IX: Wherefore we can not agree with the opinion of those who deny that a reward of heavenly bliss was offered to Adam on condition of obedience to God. We also do not admit that the promise of the Covenant of Works was any thing more than a promise of perpetual life abounding in every kind of good that can be suited to the body and soul of man in a state of perfect nature, and the enjoyment thereof in an earthly Paradise. For this also is contrary to the sound sense of the Divine Word, and weakens the power of the law considered in itself.

Canon X: God entered into the Covenant of Works not only with Adam for himself, but also, in him as the head and root with the whole human race. Man would, by virtue of the blessing of the nature derived from Adam, inherit also the same perfection, provided he continued in it. So Adam by his sorrowful fall sinned and lost the benefits promised in the Covenant not only for himself, but also for the whole human race that would be born by the flesh. We hold, therefore, that the sin of Adam is imputed by the mysterious and just judgment of God to all his posterity. For the Apostle testifies that “in Adam all sinned, by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Rom 5:12,19) and “in Adam all die” (I Cor 15:21-22). But there appears no way in which hereditary corruption could fall, as a spiritual death, upon the whole human race by the just judgment of God, unless some sin of that race preceded, incurring the penalty of that death. For God, the most supreme Judge of all the earth, punishes none but the guilty.

Canon XV: But by the obedience of his death Christ, in place of the elect, so satisfied God the Father, that in the estimate of his vicarious righteousness and of that obedience, all of that which he rendered to the law, as its just servant, during his entire life whether by doing or by suffering, ought to be called obedience. For Christ’s life, according to the Apostle’s testimony (Phil 1:8), was nothing but submission, humiliation and a continuous emptying of self, descending step by step to the lowest extreme even to the point of death on the Cross; and the Spirit of God plainly declares that Christ in our stead satisfied the law and divine justice by His most, holy life, and makes that ransom with which God has redeemed us to consist not in His sufferings only, but in his whole life conformed to the law. The Spirit, however, ascribes our redemption to the death, or the blood, of Christ, in no other sense than that it was consummated by sufferings; and from that last definitive and no blest act derives a name indeed, but not in such a way as to separate the life preceding from his death.

Herman Witsius (1636-1708).. In the covenant of works there was no mediator: in that of grace, there is the mediator, Christ Jesus….In the covenant of works, the condition of perfect obedience was required, to be performed by man himself, who had consented to it. In that of grace, the same condition is proposed, as to be, or as already performed by a mediator. And this substitution of the person, consists the principal and essential difference of the covenants (The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, 1677, 2 vol;1.49).

John Owen (1616-83). Q. 3. Wherefore did God make man? A.For his own glory in his service and obedience. Q. 4. Was man able to yield the service and worship that God required of him? A. Yea, to the uttermost, being created upright in the image of God, in purity, innocence, righteousness, and holiness. Q. 5. What was the rule whereby man was at first to be directed in his obedience? A. The moral or eternal law of God, implanted in his nature and written in his heart by creation, being the tenor of the covenant between him, sacramentally typified by the tree of knowledge good and evil. Q. 6. Do we stand in the same covenant still, and have we the same power to yield obedience unto God? A. No; the covenant was broken by the sin of Adam, with whom it was made, our nature corrupted, and all power to do good utterly lost. (The Greater Catechism (1645), ch.6).

Francis Turretin (1623–87). II. Although properly and strictly speaking, there can be no covenant between God and man because there is no room for a contract (which takes place between equals), nor any obligation of God, but a spontaneous communication of himself (as was proved in Part 1, Topic VIII, Question 3), still God by singular grace willed to enter into a covenant with man, in the sense of what lawyers call a”quasi-contract.” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology [1679-85] ed. J. T. Dennison [Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1994];12.2.2 ).

Samuel Annesley (1620–96) QUESTION II. What ground we have to speak of “God’s covenant with Adam,” and to call it “a covenant;” there being no mention of it here in the text, nor elsewhere in scripture do we read of “God’s covenant with Adam.”

ANSWER. However the name be not here, yet the thing is here and elsewhere, comparing scripture with scripture. It is a nice cavil in Socinians to call for the word “satisfaction;” others, for the word “sacrament;” others, for the word “Trinity;” others, for the words “faith alone justifying;” others, for the word “sabbath” for Lord’s day, etc.; and thence to conclude against satisfaction, sacraments, Trinity, justification by faith alone, and sabbath, for want of express words, when the things themselves are lively set down in other words. So, in this case of God’s covenant with Adam, we have:

  1. God’s command, which lays man under an obligation.
  2. We have God’s promise upon condition of obedience.
  3. We have God’s threatening upon his disobedience.
  4. We have their understanding it so, as appears in Eve’s words to the serpent. ( Gen. iii. 3.)
  5. We have the two trees as signs and symbols of the covenant.
  6. We have a “second covenant” and a “new covenant;” therefore there was a first and old covenant: a covenant of grace supposes one of works.

OBJECTION. If any shall say, “By ‘first and old covenant’ was meant God’s covenant with Israel, and not with Adam; and so, by ‘covenant of works’ the same is meant; namely, that which the Lord made at Mount Sinai:” (Heb. 8:7—9:)

ANSWER. Hereunto I answer, There is a repetition of the covenant of works with Adam in the law of Moses; as in that of the apostle to the Galatians: “The law is not of faith: but, The man that does” these things “shall live in them.” (Gal. 3:12) So likewise to the Romans: “Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, That the man who does those things shall live by them.” (Rom. 10:5.) Thus it was with Adam principally and properly: therefore he was under a covenant of works, when God gave him that command in my text.

QUESTION III. Wherein, then, does this covenant of works consist? What is the nature, tenor, and end of it, as such?

ANSWER 1. This covenant required working on our part, as the condition of it, for justification and happiness; [and is] therefore called “a covenant of works.” Thus before: “The man that does” these things “shall live in them.” (Gal. 3:12) Working, indeed, is also required under grace now; but, (1.) Not to justification; (2.) Not from our own power; (Eph. 2:8) (3.) Not previous to faith, which “works by love,” (Gal. 5:6) and lives by working; (James 2:20;) but man lives by faith.

2. A second characteristic sign of the covenant of works is this,— that in and under it man is left to stand upon his own legs and bottom, to live upon his own stock and by his own industry; he had a power to stand, and not to have fallen. This is meant, when it is said, “God created man in his own image.” (Gen. 1:27) And again: “Lo, this only have I found, that God made man upright.” (Eccles. 7:29)

3. In the first covenant, namely, that of works, man had no need of a mediator; God did then stipulate with Adam immediately: for, seeing as yet he had not made God his enemy by sin, he needed no daysman to make friends by intercession for him. After man’s creation God said, he “saw every thing which he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31) And after the covenant made in Gen. ii., it is said, “They were naked, and were not ashamed:” (verse 25:) that is, they had not contracted guilt by committing of sin, from whence only arises shame. Therefore under the covenant [of works] there needs no mediator. And hence Moses’s law was not properly a covenant of works, because that law was given “in the hand of a mediator.” (Gal. 3:19)

4. The covenant of works once broken, God abates nothing of his justice, no, not upon repentance; but the soul that sinned, died. Mark our text: “Thou shalt die the death;” by which doubling of the words in the Hebrew idiom of speech, is meant vehemency and certainty;  which was effected, and so had continued inevitably, without the help of another covenant, hinted in that first promise, Gen. 3:15. For the first covenant gives no relief to a poor sinner, when he hath broken it; but leaves him hopeless and helpless, under “a fearful expectation of” wrath “and fiery indignation.” (Heb. 10:27)

5. The Lord in the covenant of works accepts the person for the work’s sake: that is, he mainly looks at the work, how adequate it is to the command and rule; which he so exactly heeds, that upon the least failure his justice breaks out in wrath, neither can any personal excellency in the world salve the matter: “Cursed is he that continues not in all the words of the law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen;” (Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10) a doleful Amen! And, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:1) Note that “whosoever;” God respects no man’s person in that case.

6. The covenant of works, in performance of the condition, leaves a man matter of boasting and glorying in himself, and makes God a debtor to him: “Where is boasting? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay.” (Rom. 3:27) As if he had said, “The covenant of works affords matter of boasting to him that workS to justification by his own personal power and righteousness.” “Now to him that works is the reward reckoned, not of grace, but of debt;” (Rom. 4:4) that is, it obliges God to pay it him as a due; which is the language of Pharisees and Papists; which were justly challenged and claimed, (1.) Were we indeed under a covenant of works, and not of grace; (2.) Were our works perfect; (3.) Did we not lie at God’s mercy, for our guilt:—all which declare man impotent, and grace necessary; and, withal, Jews and Papists to be enemies to the cross of Christ and covenant of grace, and under a covenant of works, of which more anon.

7. The covenant of works leaves a man still in doubt while resting in it, in that state; because it is a mutable state at best. He had all in his own hands, and then Satan cunningly rooked him of all. God puts him into a good bottom, and leaves him to be his own pilot at sea: the devil assaults him, and sinks him. And therefore the second covenant takes all into God’s hands, that it may continue safe under his fatherly care and custody; (1 Peter 1:4, 5; John 10:28, 29) and so gives the soul good security against death and danger, which Adam had not while he stood: much less can any rich or honorable man, in his fool’s paradise here in this world, say, his mountain is unmovable, his glory unchangeable; seeing it “passeth away” as a “pageant.” (1 Cor. 7:31) If Adam’s Paradise was so mutable, much more theirs: if he stood not in his integrity, how shall they stand in their iniquity?

8. The covenant of works was made with all men in Adam, who was made and stood as a public person, head and root, in a common and comprehensive capacity; I say, It was made with him as such, and with all in him:

[Quo mansit remanente, et quo pereunte peribat; “He and all stood and fell together.” For even the elect may say, “We are all by nature the children of wrath, as well as others;” and that of St. Paul: “We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Rom.3:19) But the covenant of grace is a discriminating thing; it takes-in some, and leaves out others. Christ is not a head in covenant with all, as Adam was; but of his elect only: for we find many in the world under the headship of Satan and antichrist and old Adam, who are out of Christ; not only because unconverted, as saints themselves are before regeneration; but out of Christ in the account of God’s election, donation, and covenant; who have none of his special love, nor ever shall have.

Thus I have briefly opened the distinguishing characters of the covenant of works; which might have been more enlarged by those of the covenant of grace, which is easily done by way of opposition and comparison one with the other….

The morning exercises at Cripplegate 1679–81, ed. James Nichols (London: Thomas Tegg, 1844), 5.96–99. [Spelling and Punctuation modernized]

Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711). Acquaintance with this covenant is of the greatest importance, for whoever errs here or denies the existence of the covenant of works will not understand the covenant of grace, and will readily err concerning the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus. Such a person will very readily deny that Christ by His active obedience has merited a right to eternal life for the elect. This is to be observed with several parties who, because they err concerning the covenant of grace, also deny the covenant of works. Conversely, whoever denies the covenant of works, must rightly be suspected to be in error concerning the covenant of grace as well (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 1700; 1.355).

Charles Hodge (1797-1878). God having created man after his own image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience, forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil upon the pain of death. According to this statement, God entered into a covenant with Adam. (2.) The promise annexed to that covenant was life. (3.) The condition was perfect obedience. (4.) Its penalty was death.

1. God entered into Covenant with Adam. This statement does not rest upon any express declaration of the Scriptures. It is, however, a concise and correct mode of asserting a plain Scriptural fact, namely, that God made to Adam a promise suspended upon a condition, and attached to disobedience a certain penalty. This is what in Scriptural language is meant by a covenant, and this is all that is meant by the term as here used. Although the word covenant is not used in Genesis, and does not elsewhere, in any clear passage, occur in reference to the transaction there recorded, yet inasmuch as the plan of salvation is constantly represented as a New Covenant, new, not merely in antithesis to that made at Sinai, but new in reference to all legal covenants whatever, it is plain that the Bible does represent the arrangement made with Adam as a truly federal transaction. The Scriptures know nothing of any other than two methods of attaining eternal life: the one that which demands perfect obedience, and the other that which demands faith. If the latter is called a covenant, the former is declared to be of the same nature. It is of great importance that the Scriptural form of presenting truth should be retained. Rationalism was introduced into the Church under the guise of a philosophical statement of the truths of the Bible free from the mere outward form in which the sacred writers, trained in Judaism, had presented them. On this ground the federal system, as it was called, was discarded. On the same ground the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices of Christ were pronounced a cumbrous and unsatisfactory form under which to set forth his work as our Redeemer. And then the sacrificial character of his death, and all idea of atonement were rejected as mere Jewish drapery. Thus, by the theory of accommodation, every distinctive doctrine of the Scriptures was set aside, and Christianity reduced to Deism. It is, therefore, far more than a mere matter of method that is involved in adhering to the Scriptural form of presenting Scriptural truths. God then did enter into a covenant with Adam. That covenant is sometimes called a covenant of life, because life was promised as the reward of obedience. Sometimes it is called the covenant of works, because works were the condition on which that promise was suspended, and because it is thus distinguished from the new covenant which promises life on condition of faith.

2. The Promise. The reward promised to Adam on condition of his obedience, was life. (1.) This is involved in the threatening: `’In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” It is plain that this involved the assurance that he should not die, if he did not eat. (2.) This is confirmed by innumerable passages and by the general drift of Scripture, in which it is so plainly and so variously taught, that life was, by the ordinance of God, connected with obedience. “ This do and thou shalt live.” “The man that doeth them shall live by them.” This is the uniform mode in which the Bible speaks of that law or covenant under which man by the constitution of his nature and by the ordinance of God, was placed. (3.) As the Scriptures everywhere present God as a judge or moral ruler, it follows of necessity from that representation, that his rational creatures will be dealt with according to the principles of justice. If there be no transgression there will tee no punishment. And those who continue holy thereby continue in the favor and fellowship of him whose favour is life, and whose loving-kindness is better than life. (4.) And finally, holiness, or as the Apostle expresses it, to be spiritually minded, is life. There can therefore be no doubt, that had Adam continued in holiness, he would have enjoyed that life which flows from the favour of God. The life thus promised included the happy, holy, and immortal existence of the soul and body. This is plain. (1.) Because the life promised was that suited to the being to whom the promise was made. But the life suited to man as a moral and intelligent being, composed of soul and body, includes the happy, holy, and immortal existence of his whole nature. (2.) The life of which the Scriptures everywhere speak as connected with obedience, is that which, as just stated, flows from the favour and fellowship of God, and includes glory, honour, and immortality, as the Apostle teaches us in Romans ii. 7. (3.) The life secured by Christ for his people was the life forfeited by sin. But the life which the believer derives from Christ is spiritual and eternal life, the exaltation and complete blessedness of his whole nature, both soul and body.

3. Condition of the Covenant. The condition of the covenant made with Adam is said in the symbols of our church to be perfect obedience. That that statement is correct may be inferred (1.) From the nature of the case and from the general principles clearly revealed in the word of God. Such is the nature of God, and such the relation which He sustains to his moral creatures, that sin, the transgression of the divine law, must involve the destruction of the fellowship between man and his Creator, and the manifestation of the divine displeasure. The Apostle therefore says, that he who offends in one point, who breaks one precept of the law of God, is guilty of the whole. (2.) It is everywhere assumed in the Bible, that the condition of acceptance under the law is perfect obedience. “cursed is every one who continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.” This is not a peculiarity of the Mosaic economy, but a declaration of a principle which applies to all divine laws. (3.) The whole argument of the Apostle in his epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, is founded on the assumption that the law demands perfect obedience. If that be not granted, his whole argument falls to the ground. The specific command to Adam not to eat of a certain tree, was therefore not the only command he was required to obey. It was given simply to be the outward and visible test to determine whether he was willing to obey God in all things. Created holy, with all his affections pure, there was the more reason that the test of his obedience should be an outward and positive command; something wrong simply because it was forbidden, and not evil in its own nature. It would thus be seen that Adam obeyed for the sake of obeying. His obedience was more directly to God, and not to his own reason. The question whether perpetual, as well as perfect obedience was the condition of the covenant made with Adam, is probably to be answered in the negative. It seems to be reasonable in itself and plainly implied in the Scriptures that all rational creatures have a definite period of probation. If faithful during that period they are confirmed in their integrity, and no longer exposed to the danger of apostasy. Thus we read of the angels who kept not their first estate, and of those who did. Those who remained faithful have continued in holiness and in the favour of God. It is therefore to be inferred that had Adam continued obedient during the period allotted to his probation, neither he nor any of his posterity would have been ever exposed to the danger of sinning.

6. Perpetuity of the Covenant of Works. If Adam acted pot only for himself but also for his posterity, that fact determines the question, Whether the covenant of works be still in force. In the obvious sense of the terms, to say that men are still under that covenant, is to say that they are still on probation; that the race did not fall when Adam fell. But if Adam acted as the head of the whole race, then all men stood their probation in him, and fell with him in his first transgression. The Scriptures, therefore, teach that we come into the world under condemnation. We are by nature, ‘. e., as we were born, the children of wrath. This fact is assumed in all the provisions of the gospel and in all the institutions of our religion. Children are required to be baptized for the remission of sin. But while the Pelagian doctrine is to be rejected, which teaches that each man comes into the world free from sin and free from condemnation, and stands his probation in his own person, it is nevertheless true that where there is no sin there is no condemnation. Hence our Lord said to the young man, ” This do and thou shalt live.” And hence the Apostle in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, says that God will reward every man according to his works. To those who are good, He will give eternal life; to those who are evil, indignation and wrath. This is only saying that the eternal principles of justice are still in force. If any man can present himself before the bar of God and prove that he is free from sin, either imputed or personal, either original or actual, he will not be condemned. But the fact is that the whole world lies in wickedness. Man is an apostate race. Men are all involved in the penal and natural consequences of Adam’s transgression. They stood their probation in him, and do not stand each man for himself (Systematic Theology (1872-73) Vol. 2: Anthropology, Ch. 6).

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). In the covenant of works and the covenant of grace [there is] but one highest ideal for man and that is eternal life. (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 4 vol. 1895-1901; II.526).

Herman Bavinck. The commandment given to Adam was essentially a covenant, because, like God’s covenant with Israel, it was intended to grant eternal life to Adam in the way of obedience. (Herman Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II.526)

Herman Bavinck. Paul with his parallel between Adam and Christ gave rise to thinking of the status integritatis [state of integrity] as a covenant. In distinction from the foedus gratitae [covenant of grace], then, this was named the foedus naturae or operum [covenant of nature or works]. It was called the covenant of nature not as if it sprung, of itself and naturally, from God’s nature or that of man. Rather, it was called that because the foundation on which it rested, that is, the moral law, was known by man in nature, and because it was established with man in his original state and could be kept by man with the capacities given to him by creation, without supernatural grace (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II. 528-29)

Herman Bavinck. Our confessional documents do not make mention of the covenant of works] in so many words. But it is already included materially in articles 14 and 15 of the Belgic Confession, where it is taught that through Adam’s transgression of the commandment of life human nature in its entirety corrupted, in Sundays 3 and 4 of the Heidelberg Catechism, where man is said to be created in God’s image so that he might live with God in eternal life, but is also called totally corrupt because of Adam’s fall, and in the Canons of Dort 3:2, where it is said that the corruption of Adam is passed on to us “according to God’s righteous judgment. (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II.529).

Herman Bavinck. But the doctrine of a covenant of works rests on a scriptural foundation and is of surpassing value. (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 529-30).

M. J. Bosma (1874-1912). Covenant of Works. What was the covenant of works? A covenant is an agreement. The covenant of works was an agreement between God and Adam, wherein God promised eternal life to Adam and all his posterity, upon condition of perfect obedience to the probationary command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God threatening that Adam would die in case he broke this command. The elements of this covenant therefore were: 1. A condition expressed: perfect obedience. 2. A promise implied: eternal life. 3. A penalty threatened: death. Adam stood in a two-fold relation towards God: as creature and as covenant head. Adam as a creature of God was naturally under obligation to love and serve his Maker, but to this natural relation of Creator and creature God added the covenant relation. As God’s creature Adam had to obey his Maker individually for himself, without any regard to his descendants. As placed under the condition of the covenant of works by God he acted not alone for himself, but was the representative of the human race: if he was faithful to the trial command of God he would have secured eternal life for all his posterity, if he broke the trial command he would bring upon all his descendants the penalty: “in the day thou eatest thereof thou shall surely die.” Adam was the covenant or federal head of the human race. The covenant of which Adam was the head is carted “covenant of works,” because it was through work of obedience that he was to gain eternal life, in contrast to the covenant of grace, wherein eternal life is obtained as a free gift of God’s grace. Why do we believe this doctrine of the covenant of works? 1. We must admit it is not systematically taught in Scripture as we have explained it above, nor does the name covenant of works occur in the Bible, yet we are justified and necessitated for a clear apprehension of Adam’s original position and of his relation to us to use the term “covenant of works” and to give to it the meaning above described, since all the elements of a covenant are distinctly found in the descriptions of Adam; all we do is to put the various elements in systematic order and call the whole “the covenant of works.” We do not imply that an actual transaction of covenant making occurred between God and Adam as between two equals, for God and man are not equals, and so the original relation of Adam towards God was not a compact entered into by. mutual consideration, rather was the covenant of works a constitution imposed upon man by God, to which man readily consented, since he was in fullest harmony with God. The Sovereign ‘Creator revealed the way to life eternal, to this way Adam consented,-thus the covenant was formed. 2. Hosea 6:7, (R. V.): “But they, like Adam. Have transgressed the covenant.” Here it is plainly stated that Adam stood in covenant relation with God. 3. In Rom. 5:12-21, Paul draws a parallel between Adam and Christ. He declares that sin and death have come to us from Adam as righteousness and life come to us from Christ. Righteousness and life are secured to us without any action of our own, are imputed and given to us because of the work of Christ, so sin and death are our portion because of what Adam has done, without any conscious effort or work of our own, but as a result of covenant relationship. Adam and Christ are both covenant heads, their acts are imputed and charged to those they represent. To refuse to believe that Adam was our covenant head would require refusal to believe that Christ’s merits could become ours.” Rom. 5:12-21 … 4. The fundamental principle of one representing many underlies all the religious institutions ever ordained by God for men. God always deals with us according to this principle. Why did God enter into covenant relation with Adam? Because he desired the free and voluntary love and service of man. Man, as the angels, was gifted with the power of reason and a free will, and nothing less than a willing service of man could satisfy God. This would be best understood and secured if man stood in covenant relation to God. All other creatures God controlled without any choice of their own, he influences their instinct or constrains them to involuntarily do his will. With them he makes no agreement, to them he makes no appeal and offers no reward. A covenant relation with the animal and vegetable world is impossible. But man, made in God’s image, can understand God and agree or disagree to serve him. That man might show whether he would freely serve his Maker, God entered into a covenant with him, and tried him by the probationary command not to eat of the forbidden tree. The special command not to eat of the forbidden tree was given to be the outward and visible test to determine whether Adam was willing to obey God in all things. The eating of the tree was not wrong in its own nature, but was wrong because God had forbidden it. By leaving alone the fruit he would show that his whole life was subject to God, and his eating would prove that his heart was contrary to the holy will of his Creator. No fairer trial than the human race thus had in Adam can be conceived of, since he was created in full possession of all his faculties and in the image of God. What did the promise of eternal life include? It included the happy, holy and immortal existence of soul and body. Eternal life flows from the favor and fellowship of God, and includes glory, honor, and immortality; the exaltation and complete blessedness of both soul and body. Thus privileged with life Adam would have been prophet, priest and king on earth, and everything else would have been subdued unto him in the service of God. This blessed state will be the heritage of those saved by Christ, and they will never lose it, because they, for the merits of their Redeemer’s sake, are kept by the power of God. Can we gain eternal life at present through the covenant of works? No, for we can never fulfill the condition of the covenant of works. If we could be born without sin and should never thereafter sin, we might gain eternal life as reward for obedience, but this is impossible. The penalty of the covenant of works rests upon all, for all are sinners. The covenant of works condemns us (Exposition of the Reformed Doctrine [Grand Rapids, 1907]).

G. Vos (1862-1949). According to the Reformed view the covenant of works is something more than the natural bond which exists between God and man. The Westminster Confession puts this in such a pointedly beautiful way (7.1) …If we are not mistaken, the instinctive aversion which some have to the covenant of works springs from a lack of appreciation for this wonderful truth [i.e., God’s voluntary condescension]. (“The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” 1891, Selected Shorter Writings, 244).

Louis Berkhof (1873-1957). All the elements of covenant [of works] are indicated in Scripture, and if the elements are present, we are not only warranted but, in a systematic study of the doctrine, also in duty bound to relate them to one another, and to give the doctrine so construed an appropriate name (Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 213).

Louis Berkhof. There was [in the covenant of works] a promise of eternal life….Now it is perfectly true that no such promise is explicitly recorded, but it is clearly implied in the alternative of death as the result of disobedience (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 214).

Meredith G. Kline. The active obedience of Jesus is his fulfilling the demands of the covenant probation. By the passive obedience of his atoning sacrifice he secures for us the forgiveness of sins. But he does more than clear the slate and reinstate us in Adams original condition, still facing probation and able to fail. Jesus, the second Adam, accomplishes the probationary assignment of overcoming the devil, and by performing this one decisive act of righteousness he earns for us Gods promised reward. By this achievement of active obedience he merits for us a position beyond probation, secure forever in Gods love and the prospect of God’s eternal home. This grand truth is a fruit of covenant theology. It grows out of the soil of the Reformed doctrine of federal representation, which is based on the biblical teaching about the two Adams whose responses under covenant probation are imputed to those they represent. Thus, God imputes to those whom Christ represents the righteousness of the victory of his active obedience in his probationary battle against Satan. Here was Machen’s strong comfort in death. He knew that the meritorious work performed by his Savior had been reckoned to his account as if he had performed it. God must certainly bestow on him the glorious heavenly reward, for Jesus had earned it for him and God’s name is just (“Covenant Theology Under Attack”, 1994).

On the Covenant of Grace

John Calvin (1509-64). For Paul’s inquiry is not so much whether the unbelief of men neutralizes the truth of God, so that it should not in itself remain firm and constant, but whether it hinders its effect and fulfillment as to men. The meaning then is, “Since most of the Jews are covenant-breakers, is God’s covenant so abrogated by their perfidiousness that it brings forth no fruit among them? To this he answers, that it cannot be that the truth of God should lose its stability through man’s wickedness. Though then the greater part had nullified and trodden under foot God’s covenant, it yet retained its efficacy and manifested its power, not indeed as to all, but with regard to a few of that nation: and it is then efficacious when the grace or the blessing of the Lord avails to eternal salvation. But this cannot be, except when the promise is received by faith; for it is in this way that a mutual covenant is on both sides confirmed. He then means that some ever remained in that nation, who by continuing to believe in the promise, had not fallen away from the privileges of the covenant (Commentary on Romans 4.3, Strasbourg, 1539).

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83). Q: 1 What firm comfort do you have in life and in death? A: That I was created by God in his image and for eternal life. After I, of my own accord, lost this image in Adam, God out of his immense and gracious mercy, received me into his covenant of grace, so that, on the basis of the obedience and death of his Son, who was sent in the flesh, he gave to me, a believer, righteousness and eternal life. Moreover, He sealed his covenant in my heart through his Spirit who renews me in God’s image and who cries in me “Abba, Father,” and through his Word and the visible signs of his covenant (Summa theologie, 1561).

Heidelberg Catechism (1563). Q: 19. From where do you know this? A: From the Holy Gospel, which God Himself revealed first in Paradise; afterwards proclaimed by the holy Patriarchs and Prophets, and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; and finally fulfilled by His well-beloved Son.

Robert Rollock (c.1555-99). Whereas God offers the righteousness and life under condition of faith, yet he does not so much respect faith in us, which is also his own gift, as he does the object of faith, which is Christ, and his own free mercy in Christ, which must be apprehended by faith; for it is not so much our faith apprehending, as Christ himself, and God’s mercy apprehended in him, that is the cause wherefore God performs the promise of his covenant unto us, to our justification and salvation (Select Works, 1.40).

Canons of Dort (1619). First Head: Article 17. Since we are to judge of the will of God from His Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they together with the parents are comprehended, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy (Gen 17:7; Acts 2:39; 1 Cor 7:14).

Canons of Dort (1619). Rejection of Errors Second Head: Paragraph 2. [We reject those:]Who teach: That it was not the purpose of the death of Christ that He should confirm the new covenant of grace through His blood, but only that He should acquire for the Father the mere right to establish with man such a covenant as He might please, whether of grace or of works. For this is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant that is a new covenant …” and that “it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. (Heb 7:22; 9:15, 17).”

Canons of Dort (1619). Fifth Head: Paragraph 1. Who teach: That the perseverance of the true believers is not a fruit of election, or a gift of God gained by the death of Christ, but a condition of the new covenant which (as they declare) man before his decisive election and justification must fulfill through his free will. For the Holy Scripture testifies that this follows out of election, and is given the elect in virtue of the death, the resurrection, and the intercession of Christ: “What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened (Rom 11:7).” Likewise: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:32-35)?”

John Preston (1587-1628). It is said, “the promise is made to the Seed,” yet the promise is made to us, and yet again the covenant is made with Abraham: How can all these stand together? Answer: The promises that are made to the Seed, that is to Christ himself are these: You shall sit on that throne; you shall be a prince of peace, and the government shall be upon your shoulders; likewise, you shall be a prophet to my people….These are the promises that are made to the Seed. The promises that are made to us, though they be of the same covenant, nevertheless differ in this respect: the active part is committed to the Messiah, to the Seed himself, but the passive part consists of the promises made to us…. So the promise is made to us…..The meaning is that they are derivative promises. They primary and original promises were made to Jesus Christ (The New Covenant, 1639; 374-75).

John Ball (1585-1640). The Covenant of Grace is that free and gracious Covenant which God of his mere mercy in Jesus Christ made with man a miserable and wretched sinner, promising unto him pardon of sin and eternal happiness, if he will return from his iniquity, embrace mercy reached forth, by faith unfeigned, and walk before God in sincere, faithful and willing obedience, as becomes such a creature lifted up unto such enjoyment, and partaker of such precious promises. This covenant is opposite to the former in kind, so that at one and the same time, man cannot be under the Covenant of works and the Covenant of grace. For he cannot hope to be justified by his perfect and exact obedience, that acknowledging himself to be a miserable and lost sinner, does expect pardon of the free mercy of God in Jesus Christ embraced by faith. (A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London, 1645, 14-15).

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). Chapter 7:3. 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 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. 7:4. 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. 7:5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of t law, and in the time of the gospel: 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, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in he promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.


Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 30. Doth God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God doth 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 delivereth his elect out of it, and bringeth them into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace.


The Sum of Saving Knowledge (1647). 3b) The covenant of grace, set down in the Old Testament before Christ came, and in the New since he came, is one and the same in substance, albeit different in outward administration: For the covenant in the Old Testament, being sealed with the ordinances of circumcision and the paschal lamb, did set forth Christ’s death to come, and the benefits purchased by it, under the shadow of bloody sacrifices, and various ceremonies: but since Christ came, the covenant being sealed by the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper, does clearly hold forth Christ already crucified before our eyes, victorious over death and the grave, and gloriously ruling heaven and earth, for the good of his own people.


Francis Turretin (1623-87). XI. Not without reason did the Holy Spirit wish to designate the covenant of grace under the name of “promise,” because it rests entirely upon the divine promise. In this it wonderfully differs, not only from all human covenants (which consist of a mutual obligation and stipulation of the parties), but from the covenant of works (which although it also had its own promise on the part of God to the doers and so was founded on the goodness of God, still it required obedience on the part of man that it might be put into execution). But here God wished the whole of this covenant to depend upon his promise, not only with regard to the reward promised by him, but also with regard to the duty demanded from us. Thus God performs here not only his own part, but also ours; and if the covenant is given for the happiness of only the one party, it is guarded and fulfilled by the fidelity of only one party. Hence not only God’s blessings fall under the promise, but also man’s duty; not only the end, but also the means and conditions leading us to it (as will be shown in the proper place) (Institutes of Elenctic Theology [Topic 12, Q. 1.11).


Francis Turretin. II. ( 1 ) Condition is used either antecedently and a priori, for that which has the force of a meritorious and impulsive cause to obtain the benefits of the covenant (the performance of which gives man a right to the reward); or concomitantly and consequently a posterior), for that which has the relation of means and disposition in the subject, required in the covenanted. (2) A condition is either natural, flowing from the strength belonging to nature; or supernatural and divine, depending upon grace. (3) The federal promise is twofold: either concerning the end or the means, i.e., either concerning salvation or concerning faith and repentance (because each is the gift of God). (4) The covenant can be considered either in relation to its institution by God or in relation to its first application to the believer or in relation to its perfect consummation (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.2)


Francis Turretin. III. These things being laid down, we say first, if the condition is taken antecedently and a priori for the meritorious and impulsive cause and for a natural condition, the covenant of grace is rightly denied to be conditioned. It is wholly gratuitous, depending upon the sole good will (eudokia) of God and upon no merit of man. Nor can the right to life be founded upon any action of ours, but on the righteousness of Christ alone. But if it is taken consequently and a posterior) for the instrumental cause, receptive of the promises of the covenant and for the disposition of the subject, admitted into the fellowship of the covenant (which flows from grace itself), it cannot be denied that the covenant is conditional. (a) It is proposed with an express condition (Jn. 3:16, 36; Rom. 10:9; Acts 8:37; Mk. 16:16 and frequently elsewhere). (b) Unless it was conditional, there would be no place for threatenings in the gospel (which could not be denounced except against those who had neglected the prescribed condition)-for the neglect of faith and obedience cannot be culpable, if not required. (c) Otherwise it would follow that God is bound in this covenant to man and not man to God (which is perfectly absurd and contrary to the nature of all covenants, in which there always is a mutual agreement and a reciprocal obligation because the contracting parties are bound on both sides-as between a husband and wife, I a king and his subjects, etc.) (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.3).


Francis Turretin. V. Third, if the covenant be viewed in relation to the first sanction in Christ, it has no previous condition, but rests upon the grace of God and the merit of Christ alone. But if it is considered in relation to its acceptance and application to the believer, it has faith as a condition (uniting man to Christ and so bringing him into the fellowship of the covenant). If, however, in relation to its consummation with faith (obedience and the desire of holiness), it has the relation of condition and means because without them no one shall see God (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.5).


Francis Turretin. XV. Thus we have demonstrated how faith is a condition in this covenant. Now we must see whether it performs this office alone or whether other virtues are with it, particularly repentance. Concerning this, the orthodox dispute among themselves-some denying and others affirming. We think the matter may be readily settled by a distinction, if we bear in mind the different senses to a condition. It may be taken either broadly and improperly (for all that man is bound to afford in the covenant of grace) or strictly and properly (for that which has some causality in reference to life and on which not only antecedently, but also causally, eternal life in its own manner depends). If in the latter sense, faith is the sole condition of the covenant because under this condition alone pardon of sins and salvation as well as eternal life are promised (]n. 3:16, 36; Rom. 10:9). There is no other which could perform that office because there is no other which is receptive of Christ and capable of applying his righteousness. But in the former, there is nothing to hinder repentance and the obedience of the new life from being called a condition because they are reckoned among the duties of the covenant (Jn. 13:17; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 8:13) (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.15).


Francis Turretin. XVI. Second, the condition is either antecedent to the acceptance of the covenant (which holds the relation of the cause why we are received into it) or subsequent (holding relation of means and the way by which we go forward to its consummation). In the former sense, faith is the sole condition of the covenant because it alone embraces Christ with his benefits. But in the latter sense, holiness and obedience can have the relation of a condition because they are the mean and the way by which we arrive at the full possession of the blessings of the covenant. If they do not have causality either with respect to justification (or eternal life flowing from it), still in other respects they pertain to this covenant both as inseparable attendants of true and sincere faith because “faith ought to be effectual through love” (Gal. 5:6), as the qualities of those to be saved (Mt. 5:8; 25:35, 36, Heb. 12:14), as fruits of the Spirit in Christ (Rom. 8:2, 9,10) and marks of our conformity with Christ (Rom. 6:4, 5; Col. 3:1; Eph. 2:4, 5), as proofs of our gratitude towards God (Tit. 2:14), as testimonies of our sonship (I ~n. 3:3; Rom. 8:15) and as duties which the rational creature owes to God (Lk. 17:10) (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.16).


Francis Turretin. XVII. There is not the same relation of justification and of the covenant through all things. To the former, faith alone concurs, but to the observance of the latter other virtues also are required besides faith. These conduce not only to the acceptance of the covenant, but also to its observance. For these two things ought always to be connected-the acceptance of the covenant and the keeping of it when accepted. Faith accepts by a reception of the promises; obedience keeps by a fulfillment of the commands. “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” And yet in this way legal and evangelical obedience are not confounded because the legal is prescribed for the meriting of life, the evangelical, however, only for the possession of it. The former precedes as the cause of life (“Do this and thou shalt live”)) the latter follows as its fruit, not that you may live but because you live. The former is not admitted unless it is perfect and absolute; the latter is admitted even if l imperfect provided it be sincere. That is only commanded as man’s duty; this is also promised and given as the gift of God (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.17).


Francis Turretin. VII. Nor can it be objected here that faith was required also in the first covenant and works are not excluded in the second (as was said before). They stand in a far different relation. For in the first covenant. faith was required as a work and a part of the inherent righteousness to which life was promised. But in the second, it is demanded-not as a work on account of which life is given, but as a mere instrument apprehending the righteousness of Christ (on account of which alone salvation is granted to us). In the one, faith was a theological virtue from the strength of nature, terminating on God, the Creator; in the other, faith is an evangelical condition after the manner of supernatural grace, terminating on God, the Redeemer. As to works, they were required in the first as an antecedent condition by way of a cause for acquiring life; but in the second, they are only the I subsequent condition as the fruit and effect of the life already acquired. In the l first, they ought to precede the act of justification; in the second, they follow it (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.4.7).


Francis Turretin. XV. There is not the same opposition throughout between the Old and New Testaments as there is between the law and the gospel. The opposition of the law and the gospel (in as far as they are taken properly and strictly for the covenant of works and of grace and are considered in their absolute being) is contrary. They are opposed as the letter killing and the Spirit quickening; as Hagar gendering to bondage and Sarah gendering to freedom, although the law more broadly taken and in its relative being is subordinated to the gospel. But the opposition of the Old and New Testaments broadly viewed is relative, inasmuch as the Old contained the shadows of things to come (Heb. 10:1) and the New the very image (ten eikona) (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.8.15).

Consensus Formula Helvetica (1675). Canon XVI: Since all these things are entirely so, we can hardly approve the opposite doctrine of those who affirm that of his own intention and counsel and that of the Father who sent him, Christ died for each and every one upon the condition, that they believe. [We also cannot affirm the teaching! that he obtained for all a salvation, which, nevertheless, is not applied to all, and by his death merited a salvation and faith for no one individually but only removed the obstacle of divine justice, and acquired for the Father the liberty of entering into a new covenant of grace with all men. Finally, they so separate the active and passive righteousness of Christ, as to assert that he claims his active righteousness as his own, but gives and imputes only his passive righteousness to the elect. All these opinions, and all that are like these, are contrary to the plain Scriptures and the glory of Christ, who is Author and Finisher of our faith and salvation; they make his cross of none effect, and under the appearance of exalting his merit, they, in reality diminish it. Canon XXIII: There are two ways in which God, the just Judge, has promised justification: either by one’s own works or deeds in the law, or by the obedience or righteousness of another, even of Christ our Guarantor. This justification is imputed by grace to those who believe in the Gospel. The former is the method of justifying man because of perfection; but the latter, of justifying man who is a corrupt sinner. In accordance with these two ways of justification the Scripture establishes these two covenants: the Covenant of Works, entered into with Adam and with each one of his descendants in him, but made void by sin; and the Covenant of Grace, made with only the elect in Christ, the second Adam, eternal. [This covenant] cannot be broken while [the Covenant of Works] can be abrogated. Canon XXIV: But this later Covenant of Grace according to the diversity of times has also different dispensations. For when the Apostle speaks of the dispensation of the fullness of times, that is, the administration of the last time (Eph 1:10), he very clearly indicates that there had been another dispensation and administration until the times which the Father appointed. Yet in the dispensation of the Covenant of Grace the elect have not been saved in any other way than by the Angel of his presence (Isa 63:9), the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8), Christ Jesus, through the knowledge of that just Servant and faith in him and in the Father and his Spirit. For Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). And by His grace we believe that we are saved in the same manner as the Fathers also were saved, and in both Testaments these statutes remain unchanged: “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him,” (the Son) (Ps 2:12); “He that believes in Him is not condemned, but he that does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:18). “You believe in God,” even the Father, “believe also in me” (John 14:1). But if, moreover, the holy Fathers believed in Christ as their God, it follows that they also believed in the Holy Spirit, without whom no one can call Jesus Lord. Truly there are so many clearer exhibitions of this faith of the Fathers and of the necessity of such faith in either Covenant, that they can not escape any one unless one wills it. But though this saving knowledge of Christ and the Holy Trinity was necessarily derived, according to the dispensation of that time, both from the promise and from shadows and figures and mysteries, with greater difficulty than in the NT. Yet it was a true knowledge, and, in proportion to the measure of divine Revelation, it was sufficient to procure salvation and peace of conscience for the elect, by the help of God’s grace.

Peter van Mastricht (1630-1706). I think we must distinguish most carefully between those promises of the covenant of grace which are of the nature of means to an end, such as are the obtaining of redemption through Christ, regeneration, conversion, the conjunction of faith with purpose of amendment; and those which are of the nature of an end, e.g., justification, adoption, glorification etc. If this is done, we seem bound to say that the promises of the covenant of grace of the first kind are plainly absolute. It involves a manifest contradiction to require of man dead in sins a preliminary condition for the redemption of Christ, like redemption etc. But promises of the second class, like justification, adoption, etc. are altogether conditioned, yet in such a way that the satisfaction of the conditions depends not upon the strength of the free will (liberum arbitrium), but on the absolute promises of this covenant (Theoretica et practica theologia, 5.1.37).

Charles Hodge (1797-1878). The Condition of the Covenant.The condition of the covenant of grace, so far as adults are concerned, is faith in Christ. That is, in order to partake of the benefits of this covenant we must receive the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God in whom and for whose sake its blessings are vouchsafed to the children of men. Until we thus believe we are aliens and strangers from the covenant of promise, without God and without Christ. We must acquiesce in this covenant, renouncing all other methods of salvation, and consenting to be saved on the terms which it proposes, before we are made partakers of its benefits. The word “ condition,” however, is used in two senses. Sometimes it means the meritorious consideration on the ground of which certain benefits are bestowed. In this sense perfect obedience was the condition of the covenant originally made with Adam. Had he retained his integrity he would have merited the promised blessing. For to him that worketh the reward is not of grace but of debt. In the same sense the work of Christ is the condition of the covenant of redemption. It was the meritorious ground, laying a foundation in justice for the fulfilment of the promises made to Him by the Father. But in other cases, by condition we merely mean a sine qua non. A blessing may be promised on condition that it is asked for; or that there is a willingness to receive it. There is no merit in the asking or in the willingness, which is the ground of the gift. It remains a gratuitous favour; but it is, nevertheless, suspended upon the act of asking. It is in this last sense only that faith is the condition of the covenant of grace. There is no merit in believing. It is only the act of receiving a proffered favour. In either case the necessity is equally absolute. Without the work of Christ there would be no salvation; and without faith there is no salvation. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life. He that believeth not, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him (Systematic Theology).

G. Vos (1862-1949). It is equally easy to demonstrate that the [Reformed] theologians did not place election and covenant side by side in a dualistic fashion, but related them organically. It is a well-known fact that for many election circumscribes the extent of the covenant even in their definition of the covenant (“The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” Shorter Writings, 259).

M. J. Bosma (1874-1912). Thanks to the grace of God that he has revealed another covenant, the covenant of grace, in the stead of the broken and condemning covenant of works. What Adam lost, Christ has gained for his people. What is the second part of justification? Adoption to be children and heirs of God. Every person is naturally under the demands of the covenant of works. To gain eternal life according to this covenant he would have to lead a perfect life; but this is impossible at present, for we are all born in sin and live in sin. But what we can not do Christ has done for us. He has taken away the penalty of sin not only, but has also by his active obedience fulfilled the demands of the law for us as a condition to gain eternal life. When God justifies us he counts all of Christ’s merits to our credit, and reckons us in Christ. For Christ’s sake we are therefore also adopted as heirs of eternal life. All the promises of the covenant of grace accrue to the justified. Christ and his people share together. We are not merely forgiven and then told to earn eternal life by our own works, but are made children of God forever. What is the ground of justification? The only ground is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God never declares any one just unless the law is satisfied, and nothing less than absolutely perfect righteousness can fulfill the law. This Christ as our representative has rendered, and his merits are the sole legal ground of justification. There is nothing in us to which God has regard when he justifies us, no inherent righteousness, no faith, or good works. Christ died “the just for the unjust,” he came “to give his life a ransom for many,” “he was made sin for us,” “made a curse for us.” (Exposition of the Reformed Doctrine [Grand Rapids, 1907]).

On Justification

John Calvin (1509-64). To be justified in the sight of God, to be Justified by faith or by works. A man is said to be justified in the sight of God when in the judgment of God he is deemed righteous, and is accepted on account of his righteousness…Thus we simply interpret justification, as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (Institutes, 3.11.2).

John Calvin. To justify therefore, is nothing else than to acquit from the charge of guilt, as if innocence were proved. Hence, when God justifies us through the intercession of Christ, he does not acquit us on a proof of our own innocence, but by an imputation of righteousness, so that though not righteous in ourselves, we are deemed righteous in Christ (Institutes, 3.11.3).

John Calvin. That Christ, by his obedience, truly purchased and merited grace for us with the Father, is accurately inferred from several passages of Scripture. I take it for granted, that if Christ satisfied for our sins, if he paid the penalty due by us, if he appeased God by his obedience; in fine, if he suffered the just for the unjust, salvation was obtained for us by his righteousness; which is just equivalent to meriting. Now, Paul’s testimony is, that we were reconciled, and received reconciliation through his death, (Rom. 5: 11.) But there is no room for reconciliation unless where offense has preceded. The meaning, therefore, is, that God, to whom we were hateful through sin, was appeased by the death of his Son, and made propitious to us. And the antithesis which immediately follows is carefully to be observed, “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,” (Rom. 5: 19.) For the meaning is – As by the sin of Adam we were alienated from God and doomed to destruction, so by the obedience of Christ we are restored to his favour as if we were righteous. The future tense of the verb does not exclude present righteousness, as is apparent from the context. For he had previously said, “the free gift is of many offenses unto justification.” (Institutes, 2.17.3)

John Calvin. The Sophists, who make game and sport in their corrupting of Scripture and their empty caviling, think they have a subtle evasion…For, according to them, man is justified by both faith and works provided they are not his own works but the gifts of Christ and the fruit of regeneration (Institutes 3.11.14)

John Calvin. The verbal question is, What is justification? They [the Council of Trent, Session Six] deny that it is merely the forgiveness of sins, and insist that it includes both renovation and sanctification. Paul’s words are, “David describeth the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness by not imputing sin; and the same Apostle, without appealing to the testimony of another, elsewhere says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself,not imputing unto men their trespasses.” Immediately after he adds, “He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor 5.19.) Can anything be clearer than that we are regarded as righteous in the sight of God, because our sins have been expiated by Christ, and no longer us under liability.

John Calvin. …What! can the justification of the publican have any other meaning (Luke 17) than the imputation of righteousness, when he was freely accepted of God. And since the dispute is concerning the propriety of a word, when Christ is declared by Paul to be our righteousness and sanctification, a distinction is certainly drawn between these two things, though the Fathers of Trent confound them.

John Calvin. …I would be unwilling to dispute about a word, did not the whole case depend upon it. But when they say that a man is justified, when he is again formed for the obedience of God, they subvert the whole argument of Paul, “If righteousness is by the law, faith is nullified, and the promise abolished (Rom 4.14). For he means, that not an individual among mankind will be found in whom the promise of salvation may be accomplished, if it involves the condition of innocence; and that faith, if it is propped up by works will instantly fall. This is true; because, so long as we look at what we are in ourselves, we must tremble in the sight of God, so far from having a firm and unshaken confidence of eternal life

John Calvin. …while I shall admit that we are never received into the favor of God without being at the same time regenerated to holiness of life, contend that it is false to say that any part of righteousness (justification) consists in any quality, or in the habit which resides in us….

John Calvin. …It is just as if they [Trent] were to say, that forgiveness of sins cannot be dissevered from repentance, and therefore repentance is a part of it. The only point in dispute is, how we are deemed righteous in the sight of God, and where our faith, by which alone we obtain righteousness, ought to seek it.

John Calvin. When they [Trent] quote the passage of Paul, ‘Faith which worketh by love,’ (Gal 5.6) they do not see that they are cutting their own throats. For if love is the fruit and effect of faith, who sees not that the unformed faith which they have fabricated is a vain figment! It is very odd for the daughter thus to kill the mother! But I must remind my readers that this passage is irrelevantly introduced into a question about Justification, since Paul is not there considering in what respect faith or charity avails to justify a man, but what is Christian maturity; as when he elsewhere says, ‘If a man be in Christ he is a new creature.’ (2 Cor 5.17). (revised slightly from Antidote to the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent 1547, Calvin’s Selected Works, ed. and trans. H. Beveridge, repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983; 3.114, 115, 117, 118, 119).

John Calvin. When you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or of works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle. (Commentary on Galatians 5.6, 1548).

John Calvin. Being justified freely, etc. A participle is here put for a verb according to the usage of the Greek language. The meaning is, — that since there remains nothing for men, as to themselves, but to perish, being smitten by the just judgment of God, they are to be justified freely through his mercy; for Christ comes to the aid of this misery, and communicates himself to believers, so that they find in him alone all those things in which they are wanting. There is, perhaps, no passage in the whole Scripture which illustrates in a more striking manner the efficacy of his righteousness; for it shows that God’s mercy is the efficient cause, that Christ with his blood is the meritorious cause, that the formal or the instrumental cause is faith in the word, and that moreover, the final cause is the glory of the divine justice and goodness. With regard to the efficient cause, he says, that we are justified freely, and further, by his grace; and he thus repeats the word to show that the whole is from God, and nothing from us. It might have been enough to oppose grace to merits; but lest we should imagine a half kind of grace, he affirms more strongly what he means by a repetition, and claims for God’s mercy alone the whole glory of our righteousness, which the sophists divide into parts and mutilate, that they may not be constrained to confess their own poverty. — Through the redemption, etc. This is the material,–Christ by his obedience satisfied the Father’s justice, (judicium — judgment,) and by undertaking our cause he liberated us from the tyranny of death, by which we were held captive; as on account of the sacrifice which he offered is our guilt removed. Here again is fully confuted the gloss of those who make righteousness a quality; for if we are counted righteous before God, because we are redeemed by a price, we certainly derive from another what is not in us. And Paul immediately explains more clearly what this redemption is, and what is its object, which is to reconcile us to God; for he calls Christ a propitiation, (or, if we prefer an allusion to an ancient type,) a propitiatory. But what he means is, that we are not otherwise just than through Christ propitiating the Father for us (Commentary on Romans 3.24; Strasbourg, 1539).

John Calvin. This is not a tautology, but a necessary explanation of the previous verse. Paul shows that the offence of the one man is such as to render us guilty ourselves. He had previously said that we are condemned, but to prevent anyone from laying claim to innocence, he desired also to add that everyone is condemned, but because he is a sinner. When he afterwards states that we are made righteous by the obedience of Christ, we deduce from this that Christ, in satisfying the Father, has procured righteousness for us. It follows from this that righteousness exists in Christ as a property, but that that which belongs properly to Christ is imputed to us. At the same time he explains the character of the righteousness of Christ by referring to it as obedience]. Let us note here what we are required to bring into the presence of God, if we wish to be justified by works, viz. obedience to the law, and not a partial obedience, but absolute obedience in every respect. If a righteous man has fallen, none of his former righteousness is remembered. We are also to learn from this the falsity of the self-conceived schemes which men thrust upon God for the purpose of satisfying His justice. Only when we follow what God has commanded us do we truly worship Him, and render obedience to His Word. Let us, therefore, have nothing to do with those who confidently lay claim to the righteousness of works, which can exist only when there is a full and complete observance of the law. This, it is certain, nowhere exists. We similarly deduce that those who boast before God of works of their own invention, which He regards as being not better than dung, are out of their minds, for obedience is better than sacrifice. (Commentary on Romans 5:19; 1540; in Calvin’s Commentaries: The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians. Trans. Ross MacKenzie, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), 118.

John Calvin. Here it is proper to remember the relation which we previously established between faith and the Gospel; faith being said to justify because it receives and embraces the righteousness offered in the Gospel. By the very fact of its being said to be offered by the Gospel, all consideration of works is excluded. This Paul repeatedly declares, and in two passages, in particular, most clearly demonstrates. In the Epistle to the Romans, comparing the Law and the Gospel, he says, “Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the Law, That the man which does those things shall live by them. But the “righteousness that is of faith” [Rom 10.6] announces salvation….Do you see how he makes the distinction between the Law and the Gospel to be, that the former gives justification to works, whereas the latter bestows it freely without any help from works? This is a notable passage, and may free us from many difficulties if we understand that the justification which is given us by the Gospel is free from any terms of Law. Here is the reason why he so often opposes the promises to the Law, as things mutually contradictory: “If the inheritance is by the Law, it is no longer by promise.” [Gal 3.18]. …Undoubtedly the Law also has its promises; and, therefore, between them and the Gospel promises there must be some distinction and difference, unless we are to hold that the comparison is inept. And in what can the difference consist unless in this that the promises of the Gospel are gratuitous, and founded on the mere mercy of God, whereas the promises of the Law depend on the condition of works? (Institutes, 3.11.17)

John Calvin. We, indeed, acknowledge with Paul, that the only faith which justifies is that which works by love, (Galatians 5:6) but love does not give it its justifying power. Nay, its only means of justifying consists in its bringing us into communication with the righteousness of Christ (Institutes, 3.11.20).

John Calvin. We dream not of a faith which is devoid of good works, nor of a justification which can exist without them: the only difference is, that while we acknowledge that faith and works are necessarily connected, we, however, place justification in faith, not in works. How this is done is easily explained, if we turn to Christ only, to whom our faith is directed and from whom it derives all its power. Why, then, are we justified by faith? Because by faith we apprehend the righteousness of Christ, which alone reconciles us to God. This faith, however, you cannot apprehend without at the same time apprehending sanctification; for Christ “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” (1 Corinthians 1:30.) Christ, therefore, justifies no man without also sanctifying him. These blessings are conjoined by a perpetual and inseparable tie. Those whom he enlightens by his wisdom he redeems; whom he redeems he justifies; whom he justifies he sanctifies (Institutes, 3.16.1).

Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575). So then as often as the godly doth read that our own works do justify that our own works are called righteousness that unto our works is given a reward and life everlasting he doth not by and by swell with pride nor yet forget the merit of Christ (Decades 1.119).

Belgic Confession, Article 22: The Righteousness of Faith. We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him. For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely. Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God–for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.” However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us–for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness. But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits. When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.

Belgic Confession, Article 23: The Justification of Sinners. We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained, as David and Paul teach us when they declare that man blessed to whom God grants righteousness apart from works. And the same apostle says that we are justified “freely” or “by grace” through redemption in Jesus Christ. And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him. That is enough to cover all our sins and to make us confident, freeing the conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God’s approach, without doing what our first father, Adam, did, who trembled as he tried to cover himself with fig leaves. In fact, if we had to appear before God relying– no matter how little– on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up. Therefore everyone must say with David: “Lord, do not enter into judgment with your servants, for before you no living person shall be justified.”

Belgic Confession, Article 24: The Sanctification of Sinners. We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,” causing him to live the “new life” and freeing him from the slavery of sin. Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned. So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,” which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word. These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification– for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place. So then, we do good works, but nor for merit– for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure”– thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ ” Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works– but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work. So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.

Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Q: 21. What is true faith?

A:True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits (Heidelberg Catechism).

Heidelberg Catechism, Q: 31 Why is He called Christ, that is Anointed?

A:Because He is ordained of God the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of His body, has redeemed us, and ever liveth to make intercession for us with the Father; and our eternal King, who governs us by His Word and Spirit and defends and preserves us in the redemption obtained for us.

Heidelberg Catechism, Q: 60. How are you righteous before God?

A:Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart (Heidelberg Catechism).

Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 61. Why do you say, that you are righteous by faith only?

A:Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only (Heidelberg Catechism).

Caspar Olevian (1536-87). Faith is to assent to God, as the only true and omnipotent God, his will known in his every word, and so to give glory to God and not to consider anything in ourselves or other creatures which seems to oppose him. And to regard this word as his special purpose, the promise of the gospel, that the Father reveals himself truly in Christ, and that he justifies freely and daily sanctifies those united to Christ through the Holy Spirit and preserves us through the same power by which Christ was raised from the dead by which he has subjected all things to himself so that, grounded in his power, the hope of everlasting life might be most certain (Expositio Symbolici Apostolici, 14; Frankfurt, 1584).

James Ussher (1581-1656). By justifying Faith we understand not only…a persuasion of the truth of God’s Word in general: but also a particular application of the gratuitous of the gospel, to the comfort of our own souls…So that a true believer may be certain, by the assurance of faith (Irish Articles, 1615; Art. 37).

Canons of Dort (1619). Rejection of Errors Second Head: Paragraph 3. [We reject those:] Who teach: That Christ by His satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for any one, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated; but that He merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as He might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions. For these adjudge too contemptuously of the death of Christ, in no wise acknowledge that most important fruit or benefit thereby gained and bring again out of the hell the Pelagian error.

Canons of Dort (1619). Rejection of Errors Second Head: Paragraph 4. [We reject those:] Who teach: That the new covenant of grace, which God the Father, through the mediation of the death of Christ, made with man, does not herein consist that we by faith, in as much as it accepts the merits of Christ, are justified before God and saved, but in the fact that God, having revoked the demand of perfect obedience of faith, regards faith itself and the obedience of faith, although imperfect, as the perfect obedience of the law, and does esteem it worthy of the reward of eternal life through grace. For these contradict the Scriptures, being: “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood (Rom 3:24-25).” And these proclaim, as did the wicked Socinus, a new and strange justification of man before God, against the consensus of the whole Church.

Canons of Dort (1619). Second Head: Paragraph 5. [We reject those:] Who teach: That all men have been accepted unto the state of reconciliation and unto the grace of the covenant, so that no one is worthy of condemnation on account of original sin, and that no one shall be condemned because of it, but that all are free from the guilt of original sin. For this opinion is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3).

Canons of Dort (1619). Rejection of Errors Third and Fourth Head: Paragraph 6 [We reject those:]Who teach: That in the true conversion of man no new qualities, powers, or gifts can be infused by God into the will, and that therefore faith, through which we are first converted and because of which we are called believers, is not a quality or gift infused by God but only an act of man, and that it cannot be said to be a gift, except in respect of the power to attain to this faith. For thereby they contradict the Holy Scriptures, which declare that God infuses new qualities of faith, of obedience, and of the consciousness of His love into our hearts: “”This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts (Jer 31:33).” And: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants (Isa 44:3).” And: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (Rom 5:5).” This is also repugnant to the constant practice of the Church, which prays by the mouth of the prophet thus: “Restore me, and I will return (Jer 31:18).”

John Ball (1585-1640). For faith which the righteousness of nature presupposes, leans on the title of entire nature, and therefore after the fall of Adam it has no place; for although God love the creatures in themselves, he he hates them corrupted with sin. No man therefore can persuade himself, that he is beloved of God in the title of a creature; (for all have sinned) nor love God as he ought. But the faith, of which there is mention in the Covenant of Grace, does lean upon the Promise made in Christ. (Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London,
1645, 12).

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God (11.1)

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love (11.2)I

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 70.

What is justification?

Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 71.

How is justification an act of God’s free grace?

Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet in as much as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 72.

What is justifying faith?

Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 73.

How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?

Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.

Thomas Boston (1676-1732). The gospel method of sanctification, as well as of justification, lies so far out of the ken of natural reason, that if all the rationalists in the world, philosophers and divines, had consulted together to lay down a plan for repairing the lost image of God in man, they had never hit upon that which the divine wisdom has pitched upon, viz: that sinners should be sanctified in Christ Jesus, (1 Cor 1:2), by faith in him, (Acts 26:18); nay, being laid before them, they would have rejected it with disdain, as foolishness, (1 Cor 1:23). In all views which fallen man has towards the means of his own recovery, the natural bent is to the way of the covenant of works. This is evident in the case of the vast multitudes throughout the world, embracing Judaism, Paganism, Mahometanism, and Popery. All these agree in this one principle, that it is by doing men must live, though they hugely differ as to the things to be done for life (In the preface of the 1726 edn of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, 1645, repr. 1978, 9-10).

John Owen (1616-83). Q. 13. What is this new covenant? A. The gracious, free, immutable promise of God, made unto all his elect fallen in Adam, to give them Jesus Christ, and in him mercy, pardon, grace, and glory, with a re-stipulation of faith from them unto this promise, and new obedience (The Greater Catechism, 1645; ch.12).

John Owen. Q. 1. By what means do we become actual members of this church of God?

A. By a lively justifying faith, of his Father the whole mystery of godliness, the way and truth whereby we must come unto God. Christ, the head thereof. Q. 2. What is a justifying faith? A. A gracious resting upon the free promises of God in Jesus Christ for mercy, with a firm persuasion of heart that God is a reconciled Father unto us in the Son of his love (The Greater Catechism, 1645; ch.17).

John Owen. Q. 1. Are we accounted righteous and saved for our faith, when we are thus freely called? A. No, but merely by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ apprehended and applied by faith; for which alone the Lord accepts us as holy and righteous. Q. 2. What, then, is our justification or righteousness before God? A. The gracious, free act of imputation of the righteousness of Christ apprehended and applied by faith; for which alone the Lord accepts us as holy and righteous. righteousness of Christ to a believing sinner, and for that speaking peace unto his conscience, in the pardon of his sin, pronouncing him to be just and accepted before him (The Greater Catechism, 1645; ch.19).

M. J. Bosma (1874-1912). What is justification? Justification is that gracious act of God whereby he pardons the guilt of sin and adopts as his children and heirs unto eternal life, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone (WCF 11.4) What is the nature of justification? It is first of all a judicial act of God, that is, an act of God as judge. The sinner appears before the tribunal of God as guilty of breaking God’s. Laws, and as eternally condemned by the justice of God because of his guilt. Now when God justifies the sinner he imputes to the sinner the righteousness of Christ, that is, he credits or puts to the account of the sinner the merits of Jesus’ obedience, and on the ground of this obedience the sinner is pardoned and restored as a child of God forever. The root meaning of the word justification is to make just or righteous; But in its secondary and scriptural sense it means to count or pronounce just, to declare that a person is not guilty but righteous. The opposite of justification is condemnation. This last is the act of a judge in a court of justice, so also is justification a judicial act. All people can stand in only one of two relations towards God’s law; they are either guilty or righteous, guilty if they have broken the law, righteous if they have kept the law. All have broken the law, all stand guilty. To his people God imputes the righteousness of another, of the Savior, and now declares them righteous. From this description it will be seen that justification does not change a person’s inner heart or. character, it changes his legal relation before God; it does not remove the pollution of sin, the internal corruption of the heart, as regeneration and sanctification do, but justification makes right the relation towards God’s law, and if the law no longer condemns us, we shall not perish in sin. The controversy between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics turned largely on the nature of justification. The Protestants used the word in a forensic or legal sense alone, the Roman Catholics used the word in both a moral and judicial sense. The Roman Church defines justification “to be not only the remission of sins, but also the renewal and sanctification of the inner man.” According to the Church of Rome, therefore, justification consists in remission of sin and a change of moral character produced by the infusion of righteousness. But this Roman Catholic view confuses justification with sanctification, which are two distinct acts of God’s grace. Among Protestants there are also many who seek to give an exclusive moral sense to the word justification, depriving it of its legal meaning. They are those who hold the moral influence theory of the atonement of Christ, as if Christ had died merely to make a good moral impression on us for our benefit, and not to satisfy the justice of God for us. These teachers take the element of guilt out of sin, and thus the element of pardon out of salvation. Men need cure and not pardon. Sin brings suffering; help the sinner to improve himself to the end that he may not suffer. We go to heaven because we are holy, not because we are righteous through Christ. This doctrine, taught in many protestant pulpits is worse than that of Rome, for, false as the Romish doctrine of justification is, it proceeds on the recognition of the guilt of sin and the need of expiatory character of the atonement of Christ, while the moral influence theory of some protestants denies these cardinal doctrines. Why can not our good works be the ground of our justification? 1. Our good works are not perfect. The law demands perfect obedience. And though by the grace of God we should obey, this act of obedience at one time does not atone for the disobedience of another time. Gal. 3: l0, ll. 2. If we are justified by works, Christ has died in vain. Gal 2. 21. 3. The good works of God’s people are due to the Holy Spirit in them, therefore the credit for these works is due to God alone. Good works follow but do not gain justification. What is the means of securing justification? Faith in Jesus Christ alone. Scripture declares we are justified by faith or through faith, but never on account of faith. Faith is not the ground or cause that merits justification, it is the means of appropriating Christ and his righteousness, and on the ground of the righteousness thus appropriated by faith we are justified. Justification is a gift of God’s infinite grace, faith is our receiving of the gift. The more active faith is therefore the more will there be the enjoyment of justification. That God should have ordained faith for this particular office of being the instrument of justification is not an arbitrary appointment, but is most wise and necessary. The nature of our own heart and the nature of salvation commends faith as the only instrument to receive justification. Faith is reliance, a deep sense of dependence on God, it looks away for the soul’s necessities to God, and it therefore also ascribes all honor to God. The purpose of salvation is the glory of God. Faith seeks the glory of God and ends in praising God. Thus faith is eminently fit to be the means of justification. Do all agree with us that we are justified by faith alone? No, some declare that works must be added to faith. Sometimes we read the same language in regard to this subject as we employ, but it is evident on close examination that very different things are meant. also says we are justified by faith. The Romanist also says we are justified by faith. But what does he mean ? He has two justifications and two faiths. The first justification is the removal of original sin, which occurs in baptism. A person must believe that the Church is a divine institution for saving men. He therefore comes to be baptized by the Church and receives thereby the power of spiritual life in the soul, which renders the soul inherently holy or just. This receiving of baptism with its regenerating influence must do in faith, faith merely as intellectual assent, and this is the predisposing cause of justification. After a man is thus rendered holy by the first justification, his faith must work in love, and on the ground of these works of love he receives eternal life, this is the second justification. Romanists make faith to have a twofold sense: as mere intellectual assent to what the Church says, and as synonymous with love. Wesley, the father of Methodism, expresses himself thus: “In asserting salvation by faith we mean this: (1) That pardon (salvation begun) is received by faith producing works. (2) That holiness (salvation continued) is faith working by love. (3) That. heaven (salvation finished) is the reward of this faith.” What are the effects of justification? That the justified are no longer subject to condemnation, the anger of God is removed, and his love is shown to their hearts. They now have peace with God, and joy in the Holy Spirit. They are also by the gratitude of their hearts moved to a holy life. Sanctification will follow justification. The effect of pardon of sin through grace alone can never be a licentious life, as some urge against the biblical doctrine. They say, if God accepts the chief of sinners as well as the most moral man, on the simple condition of faith in Christ, what is the need of good works? Why not get justified and then indulge in sin? (The people here referred to are known as Antinomians, which means “against the law.” Traces of their views are found in the N. T. in 2 Peter 3:16, 1 Cor. 5:16, and most likely were part of the doctrines of the Nicolaitans mentioned in Revelation. The “Libertines” who appeared in the Netherlands about 1525, and were comated by Calvin were Antinomians. The “Ranters” of England, mentioned by Bunyan and Mrs. Ann Hutchinson and others of New England, promoted the same views. H. B.) (Exposition of the Reformed Doctrine [Grand Rapids, 1907]).

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937). At the centre of Christianity is the doctrine of “justification by faith.” Christianity and Liberalism (New York: MacMillan, 1923), 141.

G. Vos (1862-1949). A forensic treatment of man and a loving treatment of man are not to Paul n any sense mutually exclusive in God. “The Alleged Legalism in Paul’s Doctrine of Justification,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1980), 392-393.

G. Vos (1862-1949). As we have already seen, the doctrine of justification cannot be relegated to a subordinate place in the Pauline teaching. If error attaches to it, it must needs be a “vitium originis” which will corrupt the system in all its ramifications. “The Alleged Legalism in Paul’s Doctrine of Justification,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1980), 387.


On Union with Christ

John Calvin (1509-1564) So long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us. Accordingly, he is called our Head, and the first-born among many brethren, while, on the other hand, we are said to be ingrafted into him and clothed with him, all which he possesses being, as I have said, nothing to us until we become one with him.

Now we know that he is not no avail save only to those to whom he is head and the first-born among the brethren, to those, in fine. Who are clothed with him. To this union alone it is owning that, in regard to us, the Savior has not come in vain. To this is to be referred that sacred marriage, by which we become bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, and so on with him. For it is by the Spirit alone that he unites himself to us. By the same grace and energy of the Spirit we become his members, so that he keeps us under him, and we in our turn possess him (Institutes, 3.1.1., 3.1.3).

Belgic Confession (1561) However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us– for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness. But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits. When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins (Art. 22)

Heidelberg Catechism(1563) …from the beginning to the end of the world, the Son of God, by His Spirit and Word, gathers, defends and preserves for Himself to everlasting life a chosen communion in the unity of the true faith….  (Q. 54)

Canons of Dort (1619) Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from the primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation. This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call an draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace…. (1.7)

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). All saints that are united to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as to conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man (26.1).

This communion which the saints have with Christ, doth not make them in any wise partakers of the substance of the Godhead, or to be equal with Christ in any respect: either of which to affirm, is impious and blasphemous (26.3)

Westminster Larger Catechism

Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?

The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of GodÂ’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.

Q. 69. What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?

The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.

Q. 83. What is the communion in glory with Christ which the members of the invisible church enjoy in this life?

The members of the invisible church have communicated to them in this life the firstfruits of glory with Christ, as they are members of him their head, and so in him are interested in that glory which he is fully possessed of; and, as an earnest thereof, enjoy the sense of GodÂ’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, and hope of glory; as, on the contrary, sense of GodÂ’s revenging wrath, horror of conscience, and a fearful expectation of judgment, are to the wicked the beginning of their torments which they shall endure after death.

Herman Witsius (1636-1708). To set the ground of imputation in a clearer light, we must observe [Â…] that the elect, before the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them for justification of life, are so closely united to him by faith, as to be one body, and which is still more indivisible, or indissoluble, one spirit with him, nor are they only united, but he and they are one, and that by such an unity or oneness, in which there is some faint resemblance of that most simple oneness, whereby the divine persons are one among themselves.  But in virtue of this union or oneness, which the elect have with Christ by faith, they are accounted to have done and suffered whatever Christ did and suffered for them (Economy of the Covenants, 1.403).

Francis Turretin (1623-87). As long as Christ is outside of us and we are outside of Christ, we can receive no fruit from anotherÂ’s righteousness.  God willed to unite us to Christ by a twofold bond – one natural, the other mystical – in virtue of which both our evils might be transferred to Christ and the blessings of Christ pass over to us and become ours.  The latter is the communion of grace by mediation.  By this, having been made by God a surety for us and given to us for a head, he can communicate to us his righteousness and all his benefits.  Hence it happens that as he was made of God sin for us by the imputation of our sins, so in turn we are made the righteousness of God in him by the imputation of his obedience (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.647).


On the Administration of the Covenant of Grace

John Calvin (1509-64). It is not difficult now to infer what we ought to think of vows in general. All believers have one common vow which, made in baptism, we confirm and, so to speak, sanction by catechism and receiving the Lord’s Supper. For the sacraments are like contracts by which the Lord gives us his mercy and from it eternal life; and we in turn promise him obedience. But this is the form, or at least a summary, of the vow: that, renouncing Satan, we yield ourselves to God’s service to obey his holy commandments but not to follow the wicked desires of our flesh. It is not to be doubted that this vow, since it is attested by Scripture and indeed is required of all children of God, is holy and salutary. And there is no obstacle in the fact that no one can maintain in this life the perfect obedience to the law which God requires of us. For inasmuch as this stipulation is included in the covenant of grace under which are contained both forgiveness of sins and the spirit of sanctification, the promise which we make there is joined with a plea for pardon and a petition for help. (Institutes, 4.13.6)

John Calvin. At the same time, as he works not effectually in all, but only where the Spirit, the inward Teacher, illuminates the heart, he subjoins, To every one who believeth. The gospel is indeed offered to all for their salvation, but the power of it appears not everywhere: and that it is the savor of death to the ungodly, does not proceed from what it is, but from their own wickedness. By setting forth but one Salvation he cuts off every other trust. When men withdraw themselves from this one salvation, they find in the gospel a sure proof of their own ruin. Since then the gospel invites all to partake of salvation without any difference, it is rightly called the doctrine of salvation: for Christ is there offered, whose peculiar office is to save that which was lost; and those who refuse to be saved by him, shall find him a Judge. But everywhere in Scripture the word salvation is simply set in opposition to the word destruction: and hence we must observe, when it is mentioned, what the subject of the discourse is. Since then the gospel delivers from ruin and the curse of endless death, its salvation is eternal life (Commentary on Romans 1.16).

John Calvin. And that this is the case, is proved without difficulty; for the promise by which the Lord had adopted them all as children, was common to all: and in that promise, it cannot be denied, that eternal salvation was offered to all. What, therefore, can be the meaning of Paul, when he denies that certain persons have any right to be reckoned among children, except that he is no longer reasoning about the externally offered grace, but about that of which only the elect effectually partake? 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 respects 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 although this difference flows from the fountain of gratuitous election, whence also faith itself springs; yet, since the counsel of God is in itself hidden from us, we therefore distinguish the true from the spurious children, by the respective marks of faith and of unbelief  (Commentary on Genesis 17:7).

John Calvin (1509-64): But that all doubt may be better cleared away, this principle should ever be kept in mind, that baptism is not conferred on children in order that they may become sons and heirs of God, but, because they are already considered by God as occupying that place and rank, the grace of adoption is sealed in their flesh by the rite of baptism. Otherwise the Anabaptists are in the right in excluding them from baptism. For unless the thing signified by the external sign can be predicated of them, it will be a mere profanation to call them to a participation of the sign itself. But if any one were inclined to refuse them baptism, we have a ready answer; they are already of the flock of Christ, of the family of God, since the covenant of salvation which God enters into with believers is common also to their children. As the words import, I will be thy God and the God of thy seed after thee. Unless this promise had preceded, certainly it would have been wrong to confer on them baptism. Now I ask whether the word of God is sufficient by its intrinsic virtue for our salvation, or whether some aid must be borrowed elsewhere to supply its defect, or help its infirmity? If this promise is not believed to be efficacious in itself, not only the virtue of God, but also his grace and truth will be attached to the external sign. Thus those men, while they strive to honor baptism, cast serious ignominy on God. Now what will become of so many passages in which Christ is represented as satisfied with faith alone? They will deny that faith is separated from baptism. I admit it, where an opportunity of receiving it is afforded. But if a sudden death carry off any one who shall have embraced the gospel of Christ, will they therefore doom him to destruction, because he has been deprived of the outward washing with water? Do not ancient histories furnish us with some examples of martyrs, who were dragged away by tyrants to execution before they had presented themselves for baptism? And for this want of water, will the blood of Christ be of no avail to the holy martyr, who does not hesitate to shed his own blood for the faith of the gospel in which is placed the common salvation of all? Assuredly the Papists were more moderate, who, at least in this case of necessity, substitute for the washing of water the baptism of blood. In one word, unless we choose to overturn all the principles of religion, we shall be obliged to confess that the salvation of an infant does not depend on, but is only sealed by its baptism. Whence it follows that it is not rigorously nor absolutely necessary. And should we even grant what they perversely demand, viz., that when the danger of death is imminent, infants ought to be baptized, still it should be administered according to the institution and command of Christ (Letter 438, To John Clauberger in Selected Works of John Calvin, Letters 1554-1558, Vol. 6, pp. 278-279).

Belgic Confession (1561). Article 33: The Sacraments. We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge his good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith. He has added these to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what he enables us to understand by his Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us.

Heidelberg Catechism (1563). Q. 74. Are infants also to be baptized? A: Yes, for since they belong to the covenant and people of God as well as their parents, and since redemption from sin through the blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit who works faith, are promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by Baptism, as the sign of the Covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old Testament by Circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is instituted.

Heidelberg Catechism (1563). Q. 82. Are they then also to be admitted to this Supper who show themselves by their confession and life to be unbelieving and ungodly? A: No, for thereby the covenant of God is profaned and His wrath provoked against the whole congregation;1 wherefore the Christian Church is bound, according to the order of Christ and His Apostles, to exclude such persons by the Office of the Keys until they amend their life.

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83). Q. 291. Are infants, since they have no faith, properly baptized? Yes, faith and the confession of faith are required of adults, since they can in no other way be included into the covenant. For infants it suffices that they are sanctified by the Spirit of Christ in a manner appropriate to their age (Summa theologiae, 1561).

Caspar Olevian (1536-87). Therefore one has in the preaching of the Word an offer of the promise of grace and a summons to embrace it; both are directed in this way to the elect as well as to the reprobate. But only in the elect does God work what he commands. In order that out of that entire multitude a church might appear, united by God himself in Christ, God begins that solemn negotiation, as in a marriage compact, not with a sealing of grace offered, in general (for many reject it openly so that it cannot be sealed to them; and moreover the Lord does not desire to enter into covenant with the hypocrites, who secretly harden themselves, as would be the case if he himself were the first to affix the seal). Rather in the foundation by visible signs, he begins with what was last in the offer of grace, namely, so that we may subject ourselves with our seed and not harden our hearts to the divine command by which he summons us to receive the offered grace. Then follows the sealing of the grace first offered in the gospel and also the special bond of God (De substantia, 1585; 2.54).

Theodore Beza (1534-1605). The situation of children who are born of believing parents is a special one. They do not have in themselves that quality of faith which is in the adult believer. Yet it cannot be the case that those who have been sanctified by birth and have been separated from the children of unbelievers, do not have the seed and germ of faith. The promise, accepted by the parents, in faith, also includes their children to a thousand generations…. If it is objected that not all of them who are born of believing parents are elect, seeing that God did not choose all the children of Abraham and Isaac, we do not lack an answer. Though we do not deny that this is the case, still we say that this hidden judgment must be left to God and that normally, by virtue of the promise, all who have been born of believing parents, or if one of the parents believes, are sanctified (Confession of the Christian Faith, 4.48).

Jerome Zanchi (1516-1590). Some infants, as well as some adults, are given the Spirit of faith, by which they are united to Christ, receive the forgiveness of sins and are regenerated before baptism; this is not the case with others, to whom these gifts are given in baptism (Commentarius ad Ephesios, Cap. 5; De baptismo, 3.31).

Amandus Polanus (1561-1610). The covenant common to all believers is made with every believer in baptism….God made both covenants (old and new) only with the elect (Syntagma, 6.33).

Franciscus Junius (1545-1602). We call it false to argue that infants are completely incapable of faith; if they have faith in the principle of the habitus, they have the Spirit of faith…Regeneration is viewed from two aspects, as it is in its foundation, in Christ, in principle, and as it is active in us. The former (which can also be called transplanting from the first to the second Adam) is the root, from which the latter arises as its fruit. By the former elect infants are born again, when they are incorporated into Christ, and its sealing occurs in baptism (Theses theologicae, 51.7).

Canons of Dort (1619). Second Head: Article 5. Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.

James Ussher (1581-1656). What must we think of the effect of baptism in those elect infants whom God allows to mature to years of discretion? There is no reason ordinarily to promise them an extraordinary work of God, if God purposes to give them ordinary means. Though God can at times sanctify from the womb, as in the case of Jeremiah and John the Baptist, and at other times in baptism, it is difficult to determine, as some are accustomed to do, that each elect infant ordinarily before or in baptism receives the principle of regeneration and the seed of the faith and grace. If, however, such a principle is infused, it cannot be lost or hidden in such a way that it would not demonstrate itself (Body of Divinity, 417).

Synopsis purioris theologiae, (1625). WE reject the opinion of the Lutherans who tie the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to the external water of baptism in such a way that, either it is present in the water itself or at least the principle of regeneration will only work in the administration of baptism. This, however, is opposed to all the places in Scripture, where faith and repentance and hence the beginning and seed of regeneration are antecedently required in the one who is baptized…. Therefore, we do not bind the efficacy of baptism to the moment in which the body is sprinkled with external water; but we require with the Scriptures antecedent faith and repentance in the one who is baptized, at least according to the judgment of charity, both in the infant children of covenant members, and in adults. For we maintain that in infants too the presence of the seed and the Spirit of faith and conversion is to be ascertained on the basis of divine blessing and the evangelical covenant (44.27, 29).

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) 7:6. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance 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; 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, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

The Sum of Saving Knowledge (1647). 3a) The outward means and ordinances, for making men partakers of the covenant of grace, are so wisely dispensed, as that the elect shall be infallibly converted and saved by them; and the reprobate, among whom they are, not to be justly damned….

Johannes Cloppenburg (1592-1652). We posit that the children of believers are incorporated into Christ by the immediate secret work of the Holy Spirit, until whether in this life or at the moment of death, the period of infancy is completed, so that, whether in the flesh or not, they may confess by faith or sight what God has given them and us together by grace (Excirtationes, 1.1097).

Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675). Canon XIX: Likewise the external call itself, which is made by the preaching of the Gospel, is on the part of God also, who earnestly and sincerely calls. For in his Word he most earnestly and truly reveals, not, indeed, his secret will respecting the salvation or destruction of each individual, but our responsibility, and what will happen to us if we do or neglect this duty. Clearly it is the will of God who calls, that they who are called come to him and not neglect so great a salvation, and so he earnestly promises eternal life to those who come to him by faith; for, as the Apostle declares, “It is a trustworthy saying: For if we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we disown Him, He will also disown us; if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself (2 Tim 2:12-13). Neither is this call without result for those who disobey; for God always accomplishes his will, even the demonstration of duty, and following this, either the salvation of the elect who fulfill their responsibility, or the inexcusableness of the rest who neglect the duty set before them. Certainly the spiritual man in no way determined the eternal purpose of God to produce faith along with the externally offered, or written Word of God. Moreover, because God approved every truth which flows from his counsel, it is correctly said to be his will, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have everlasting life (John 6:40). Although these “all” are the elect alone, and God formed no plan of universal salvation without any selection of persons, and Christ therefore died not for everyone but only for the elect who were given to him; yet he intends this in any case to be universally true, which follows from his special and definite purpose. But that, by God’s will, the elect alone believe in the external call which is universally offered, while the reprobate are hardened. This proceeds solely from the discriminating grace of God; election by the same grace to those who believe, but their own native wickedness to the reprobate who remain in sin, who after their hardened and impenitent heart build up for themselves wrath for the Day of Judgment, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God

Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706). Our opponents on the other side argue from this text: ‘Now ye not that  so many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?’ (Romans 6:3). To this I answer, this text means only that all the elect, being true believers, baptized according to institution, have communion and participation in the death of Christ, which is sealed to  them by baptism. But it is not said that this communion is effected particularly baptism, much less that this communion is absolutely connected with baptism (A Treatise on Regeneration  [Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, repr. 2002], 55-56).

Tesis Sobre la Teología del Pacto

1. Prolegómenos

  1. La teología del Pacto estructura la totalidad de la
    revelación Bíblica.
  2. La forma de los pactos revelados en la Escritura se tomó
    prestada del mundo antiguo del cercano oriente, se acomoda a
    él, y debe ser entendida en ese contexto.
  3. El pacto es la explicación más coherente de la
    revelación Bíblica y la naturaleza y autoridad del canon.

2. Histórica

  1. La teología del pacto no surgió de novo en los siglos 16
    y 17 sino que virtualmente todos los elementos que
    conformaban la teología Reformada del pacto existían de
    manera incipiente en épocas tempranas.
  2. La ortodoxia Reformada se volvió a la teología del pacto
    para darle una expresión histórica redentora a su teología
    exegética (bíblica) y dogmática.
  3. Tal y como fue entendida y practicada por la ortodoxia
    Reformada, no había una distinción significativa entre la
    teología del pacto y la teología federal.
  4. El Luteranismo Ortodoxo parece haber rechazado la
    teología pactal Reformada porque miraban en ella una
    confusión entre la Ley y el Evangelio.
  5. Sin embargo, la teología Reformada se volvió a la
    teología del pacto no para modificar o rechazar el avance de
    Lutero, sino para preservar la soteriología Protestante y
    relacionar de manera coherente la justificación y la
  6. La teología Reformada clásica enseñaba tres pactos: el
    pacto de redención (pactum salutis), el pacto de obras (foedus
    operum) y el pacto de gracia (foedus gratiae).

3. Bíblica / Exegética

  1. El Dios de la Biblia se relaciona con Sus creaturas
    pactalmente desde la eternidad (pactum salutis), en la
    creación (pacto de obras), en la providencia (pacto de
    preservación) y en la redención (pacto de gracia).
  2. Oseas 6:7 (“como Adán”) confirma la conciencia de los
    autores Bíblicos de un pacto de obras prelapsario.
  3. El Apóstol Pablo presupone la existencia de una pacto de
    obras prelapsario en pasajes como Romanos 2:13 y 4:4.
  4. La excomunión del árbol de la Vida (Génesis 3:22-24)
    confirma la naturaleza probatoria del pacto de obras.
  5. Hubo múltiples señales y sellos del pacto de obras
    incluyendo los relacionados con la creación como lo son el
    Sabbath, el árbol del conocimiento del bien y del mal y el
    árbol de la vida.
  6. La primera promesa Evangélica en Génesis 3:15 anuncia el
    pacto de gracia, i.e., la redención de los elegidos por el
  7. El pacto de gracia es el registro histórico progresivo
    de la administración del Evangelio en la historia de la
  8. El primer pacto con Noé (Génesis 6:17-19) fue particular
    y una administración del pacto de gracia.
  9. El segundo pacto con Noé (Génesis 9:8-17) fue un pacto
    universal no-salvífico que prometía la restricción del
    juicio hasta el último día.
  10. El pacto Abrahámico es una renovación de la promesa/pacto
    post-lapsario hecha a Adán (Génesis 3:15; 17).
  11. En la historia de la redención el pacto de gracia fue
    renovado en Abraham de tal forma que él es el padre de todos
    los que creen (Romanos 4:11; Juan 8:56).
  12. El pacto Abrahámico es, lógica e históricamente,
    anterior al pacto Mosaico.
  13. El pacto Mosaico no fue renovado bajo Cristo, pero el
    pacto Abrahámico sí lo fue.
  14. La promesa de la tierra hecha a Abraham (Génesis 15:18;
    éxodo 6:4; Jueces 2:1) era típica de las bendiciones
    venideras del Nuevo Pacto (Génesis 2:4; Gálatas 3:14;
    Hebreos 8) y del estado final (Hebreos 11:10).
  15. Todos aquellos justificados bajo Moisés fueron
    justificados solo por gracia, por medio de sólo la fe en
    Cristo solamente.
  16. Con respecto a la promesa de la tierra el pacto Mosaico
    fue, por mutación, una republicación del pacto Adánico de
  17. Con respecto a la justificación y la salvación, el pacto
    Mosaico fue una administración del pacto de gracia.
  18. A los Israelitas se les entregó la tierra y la
    mantuvieron por gracia pero fueron expulsados por la falla
    de no mantener el pacto temporal y típico de obras (Génesis
    12:7; éxodo 6:4; Deuteronomio 29:19-29; 2 Reyes 17:6-7;
    Ezequiel 17).

4. Sistemática / Dogmática

  1. La teología del pacto es tan de la esencia de la
    teología Reformada que modificar su teología del pacto es
    modificar la sustancia de la teología Reformada.
  2. La disposición pactal de la historia de la redención y
    la revelación pactal progresiva de la Escritura no es un
    mero convencionalismo, sino más bien un reflejo de las
    relaciones intra-Trinitarias.
  3. Todos los pactos revelados en la Escritura contienen
    tanto bendiciones prometidas como amenazas de peligros.
  4. El pacto pre-temporal de redención (pactum salutis) se
    halla detrás del pacto de obras y del pacto de gracia y
    ordena la historia de la redención.
  5. En la historia de la redención el pactum salutis
    significa obras para el Hijo y gracia para nosotros.

5. El pactum salutis

  1. El pactum salutis se halla bíblicamente fundamentado en
    el Salmo 110, Juan 5:30; 6:38-40; 17; Gál. 3:20 entre otros
  2. Cristo cumplió las obligaciones legales del pactum
    salutis en su obediencia activa y pasiva como el
    representante de los elegidos.
  3. La acusación de que el pactum salutis tiende al
    triteísmo parece ignorar la distinción entre la Trinidad
    económica y la Trinidad ontológica.
  4. La obra del Espíritu Santo no siempre ha sido discutida
    bajo el pactum salutis solo porque se enfoca en la
    realización de la redención en lugar de enfocarse en la
    aplicación de la redención.
  5. Dado que el Espíritu ciertamente consintió en aplicar la
    obra de Cristo a los elegidos (Juan 15:26), no hay razón por
    la cual la obra del Espíritu Santo no pueda ser integrada en
    el pactum salutis.

6. El Pacto de Obras (foedus operum)

  1. El pacto pre-lapsario puede ser llamado un pacto de
    obras con respecto a sus términos, un pacto de vida con
    respecto a sus metas y un pacto de naturaleza con respecto a
    su escenario. Todos los tres nombres describen el mismo
  2. En la teología Reformada el pacto de obras es idéntico a
    la Ley que dice: Haz esto y vivirás.

    Jesucristo cumplió el pacto de obras en su obediencia activa
    y pasiva a la ley de Dios a favor de su pueblo.

  3. El pacto de obras fue abrogado como camino a la vida
    eterna por la caída.
  4. Los términos del pacto de obras continúan post-lapsum
    para obligar a todas las creaturas racionales y debe ser
    cumplido perfectamente tanto personal como vicariamente.
  5. Cualquiera que niegue al pacto prelapsario de obras pone
    en peligro la doctrina Bíblica y Protestante de la
    justificación solo por gracia, a través solo de la fe en
    Cristo solamente.

7. El Pacto de Gracia (foedus gratiae)

  1. Cuando hablamos en términos pactales siempre debiésemos
    especificar a cuál pacto nos referimos.
  2. El pactum salutis es distinto del pacto de gracia y es
    la base del mismo.
  3. Es un grave error teológico confundir el pacto de obras
    con el pacto de gracia.

    El término pacto de gracia se puede en un sentido amplio y
    en un sentido más restringido.

  4. Usado en el sentido más amplio, el pacto de gracia no es
    sinónimo de elección de modo que todos los elegidos están en
    el pacto de gracia, pero no todos en el pacto de gracia son
  5. Usado en el sentido más restringido, el pacto de gracia
    se refiere únicamente a los elegidos.
  6. Existe una distinción justa y necesaria que ha de
    hacerse entre aquellos que están en el pacto de manera
    amplia (externamente) y aquellos que están en el pacto tanto
    de manera amplia como restringida (internamente).
  7. La distinción interna/externa es un corolario de la
    distinción entre la iglesia considerada de manera visible e
  8. El Evangelio no es una promesa de elección sino una
    salvación soberana y llena de gracia del pecado cuya
    salvación es recibida por medio de la fe sola.
  9. Existen dos beneficios principales del pacto de gracia:
    justificación y santificación, de las cuales la
    justificación tiene prioridad lógica.
  10. El único fundamento de la justificación es el
    cumplimiento de la condición del pacto de obras por parte de
    Cristo en su obediencia activa y pasiva.
  11. El único objeto de la fe justificadora es Cristo, el
    Garante del pacto de redención para nosotros, y el
    cumplimiento del pacto de obras para nosotros, y el Mediador
    del pacto de gracia para nosotros.
  12. El único instrumento y condición de la justificación del
    pacto de gracia es una fe pasiva, extraspectiva y receptiva
    que confía en la capacidad de Cristo para guardar el pacto
    de obras.
  13. Solamente los creyentes reciben los principales
    beneficios del pacto.
  14. En la teología Reformada el pacto de gracia es un pacto
    Evangélico que tiene precisamente los mismos términos y
    condiciones del Evangelio.
  15. Se puede decir que la fe justificadora es la única
    condición o instrumento apropiado del pacto de gracia.
  16. El pacto de gracia fue inaugurado post-lapsum y ha de
    distinguirse en agudo contraste del pacto de obras.
  17. El pacto de gracia es monopleural en origen y dipleural
    en administración, i.e., la oferta del Evangelio es
    incondicional en su origen pero la recepción de sus
    beneficios está condicionada por la fe justificadora que es,
    en sí misma, el solo don gratuito de Dios a los elegidos.
  18. El monopactismo o la negativa de distinguir entre el
    pacto de obras y el pacto de gracia implica una confusión de
    la Ley y el Evangelio.
  19. El eslogan “dentro por gracia, permanece dentro por las
    obras,” es nada menos que la herejía de los Gálatas
    condenada por el Apóstol Pablo.
  20. Es innecesario yuxtaponer los aspectos legales y
    relacionales de la teología del pacto. En todos los tres
    pactos, se presuponen las relaciones personales en las
    relaciones legales justas.
  21. La santidad es el segundo beneficio del pacto de gracia
    y fluye de la justificación.
  22. La santidad es un don tan lleno de gracia como la
  23. La santidad es lógica y moralmente necesaria como
    evidencia de la regeneración, la fe y la justificación.
  24. Considerada con relación a la santificación (en
    distinción de la justificación) se puede decir que la fe es
    activa y es iniciada y sustentada por la gracia pero
    involucra la cooperación humana con la gracia santificadora.
  25. La santidad no es instrumento o fundamento de la
  26. La santidad fluye a partir del uso apropiado de las
    señales y sellos pactales divinamente ordenados.
  27. El tercer uso de la ley moral es la norma de la vida del
  28. La negación del tercer uso de la Ley (tertius usus legis)
    conduce al antinomismo.
  29. El tercer uso de la ley, como el primero, también nos
    conduce a Cristo.
  30. Relación del Antiguo y el Nuevo Pacto
  31. El término “Antiguo Pacto,” como se usa en la Escritura,
    se refiere a la época Mosaica y no a todas las épocas antes
    de la encarnación ni a todas las Escrituras Hebreas y
    Arameas de manera indiscriminada.
  32. El Antiguo Pacto fue temporal y tipo del Nuevo Pacto.
  33. En términos históricos y redentores el Antiguo Pacto (Mosaico)
    tiende a favorecer el ministerio de la Ley (“la letra”)
    mientras que el Nuevo Pacto tiende a favorecer el ministerio
    del Espíritu Santo (2 Corintios 3).
  34. El Nuevo Pacto es el cumplimiento de la promesa hecha a
    Adán (Génesis 3:15) y el (Abrahámico) pacto de gracia.
  35. El Nuevo pacto es la realidad tipificada por los tipos y
    sombras previos a la encarnación (2 Corintios 1:20; Juan
    6:32; Hebreos 7-9).

8. Teología del “Nuevo Pacto”

  1. Igual que el Dispensacionalismo, la teología del “Nuevo
    Pacto” (TNP) no es suficientemente Trinitaria en su
  2. La TNP ignora la unidad del pacto de gracia.
  3. Es algo confuso como la TNP no tiende hacia una
    discontinuidad radical entre Moisés y Cristo.
  4. La TNP no explica la distinción entre Moisés y Abraham.
  5. La TNP tiende hacia el antinomismo.

9. El Dispensacionalismo

  1. De las tres etapas en la historia del Dispensacionalismo
    (clásico, modificado, progresivo), las primeras dos son
    hostiles a la teología del pacto.
  2. El Dispensacionalismo clásico y el modificado tienden
    hacia una disyunción radical (Marcionita) entre Moisés y
  3. Igual que la Teonomía, el Dispensacionalismo
    erróneamente hace del pacto Mosaico la meta en lugar de
    verlo como una disposición temporal y típica.
  4. Al postular dos pueblos el Dispensacionalismo resucita
    la pared divisoria que Cristo abolió en su carne.

10. La ética

  1. Debido a que las leyes civiles y ceremoniales estaban
    vinculadas, de manera específica e intencional, al Antiguo
    pacto (Mosaico), estas fueron cumplidas en la obra Real (referida
    a la realeza) y Sacerdotal de Cristo, y por lo tanto, ya no
    son obligatorias para el Cristiano.
  2. La ley civil Mosaica, debido a que estaba vinculada
    específica e intencionalmente al antiguo pacto (Mosaico)
    temporal y típico, nunca tuvo el propósito de servir como
    norma para cualquier otro estado más que para la teocracia
  3. Cualquier intento de re-imponer las leyes civiles
    Mosaicas o sus penalidades falla al no entender el carácter
    tipológico, temporal y nacional del Antiguo pacto (Mosaico).
  4. La ley moral, en el grado en que exprese la sustancia de
    la voluntad moral de Dios y que no esté vinculada a las
    ceremonias del Antiguo pacto continúa siendo obligatoria
    para todos los seres humanos.
  5. En el Nuevo Pacto, se puede decir que solamente la
    segunda tabla de la Ley es obligatoria para el estado.
  6. Existen dos reinos: el de la mano derecha y el de la
  7. Ambos reinos se hallan bajo la autoridad de Cristo, pero
    son administrados de maneras diferentes.
  8. En cada reino los Cristianos viven bajo el señorío de
    Cristo de acuerdo a la naturaleza de ese reino.
  9. El reino de la mano Derecha describe el ministerio de la
    Palabra y los sacramentos.
  10. El reino de la izquierda describe el ejercicio del poder
    en los ámbitos eclesiástico y civil.
  11. Debido a la distinción entre los dos reinos y debido a
    que el decálogo es sustancialmente idéntico con la ley
    natural, los Cristianos debiesen abogar por leyes y
    políticas en el ámbito civil sobre la base del conocimiento
    universal y natural de la segunda tabla de la ley.

11. Eclesiástico

  1. La iglesia es tanto la comunidad pactal, universal y
    local, que confiesa a Cristo.
  2. Dios ha ordenado tres oficios especiales en la comunidad
    pactal que confiesa a Cristo: ministro, anciano y diácono.
  3. Los Cristianos están obligados a unirse y formar parte
    de una verdadera comunidad pactal que confiese a Cristo.
  4. Las señales de una verdadera comunidad pactal que
    confiesa a Cristo son la predicación pura del
  5. Evangelio (el pacto de gracia), la administración pura
    de las señales y sellos pactales (los sacramentos) y la
    administración de la disciplina.
  6. Una vida genuinamente Cristiana no puede ser vivida, de
    manera ordinaria, fuera de una verdadera comunidad pactal
    que confiese a Cristo.
  7. Los miembros de la comunidad pactal que confiese a
    Cristo que hayan recibido la señal y sello del pacto están
    moralmente obligados a vivir en fidelidad a esa comunidad y
    a hacer un uso regular y consistente de los medios de gracia
    (la Palabra y los sacramentos).
  8. Se puede decir que el asistir y participar de los medios
    de gracia son las estipulaciones, obligaciones morales, o
    incluso condiciones de segundo orden del pacto de gracia en
    tanto que se distingan de la condición o instrumento
    apropiado del pacto de gracia.
  9. La Palabra y el Espíritu del Pacto
  10. La Palabra del pacto se halla en dos partes: Ley y
  11. La proclamación del Evangelio es el medio divinamente
    ordenado por el cual el Espíritu Santo opera fe en los
    corazones en los corazones de los miembros del pacto de
  12. Señales y Sellos del Pacto (Sacramentos)
  13. Hay dos señales y sellos (sacramentos) del pacto de
    gracia, el Bautismo y la Cena del Señor.
  14. Los sacramentos significan y sellan la identidad y la
    unión del creyente con la muerte y sepultura de Cristo.
  15. Como señales y sellos del pacto de gracia son Evangelio,
    no Ley.
  16. Los sacramentos son señales para todos y sellos para los
  17. Las señales y sellos del pacto son una bendición para
    los elegidos pero también vienen con peligros para los
  18. Debido a la distinción visible/invisible (interna/externa)
    es posible participar en las señales y sellos del pacto con
    perjuicio de uno (1 Corintios 10; Hebreos 6; 10).
  19. Las señales y sellos del pacto son medios de gracia para
    todos los creyentes por los cuales su fe es genuinamente
    fortalecida y su santificación impulsada.
  20. Debido a que niegan la distinción de lo interno/externo,
    los que abogan por la “objetividad del pacto” enseñan una
    visión de los sacramentos que es virtualmente indistinguible
    de la visión ex opere operato Romana.

12. El Bautismo

  1. A diferencia de la Cena del Señor, el Bautismo es la
    señal y sello de iniciación en el pacto de gracia.
  2. En la historia de redención el bautismo sucedió a la
    circuncisión como la señal y sello de iniciación.
  3. Se puede decir que todas las personas bautizadas están
    en el pacto de gracia en el sentido más amplio.
  4. No todos los que son bautizados reciben la sustancia o
    beneficios del pacto de gracia.
  5. El bautismo por sí mismo no regenera o no une
    necesariamente al bautizado con Cristo.
  6. La Escritura requiere el bautismo de los adultos
    conversos que no hayan sido previamente bautizados.
  7. La Escritura enseña el bautismo de los hijos en el pacto.
  8. No bautizamos a los niños del pacto sobre la
    presuposición de su regeneración, sino sobre la base del
    mandamiento y promesas divinas que acompañan al bautismo.
  9. Por esa razón, toda objeción hecha contra el bautismo
    pactal (de infantes) y que se pueda hacer contra la
    circuncisión pactal (de infantes) tal y como se practicó
    bajo Abraham el padre de los creyentes del Nuevo Pacto, es
  10. Así como la antigua señal y sello de la iniciación
    pactal (circuncisión) podía ser observada una vez así la
    nueva señal y sello de la iniciación pactal (el bautismo)
    solamente puede ser observado una vez.

13. La Cena del Señor

  1. A diferencia del Bautismo, la Cena es la señal y sello
    de la renovación del pacto.
  2. Como señal de la renovación del pacto la Cena no es
    apropiada para aquellos que no puedan entender la naturaleza
    de la presencia de Cristo o la bendición y el peligro que
    acompañan a la Cena.
  3. La Cena del Señor es el cumplimiento de todas las
    festividades típicas de Israel.
  4. Así como los creyentes se alimentaron del cordero de la
    Pascua, como el verdadero Cordero de Dios, así Cristo se
    halla realmente y verdaderamente presente en la Cena.
  5. En la Cena, los creyentes se alimentan del verdadero
    cuerpo y sangre de Cristo por la fe, por medio de la
    operación del Espíritu Santo.
  6. Debido a que la antigua comunidad del pacto festejaba
    cada vez que se reunía, y debido a que la Cena es la señal y
    sello de la renovación del pacto ordenada por Cristo debiese
    ser observada cada vez que la comunidad pactal se reúne.

Theses on Covenant Theology

1. Prolegomena

  1. Covenant theology structures all of Biblical revelation.
  2. The form of the covenants revealed in Scripture was borrowed from and is accommodated to the ancient near eastern world and must be understood in that context.
  3. Covenant is the most coherent explanation for Biblical revelation and the nature and authority of the canon.

2. Historical/Theological

  1. Covenant theology did not arise de novo in the 16th or 17th centuries but virtually all the elements which made up Reformed covenant theology existed inchoately in earlier epochs.
  2. Reformed orthodoxy turned to covenant theology to give redemptive historical expression to their exegetical (biblical) and dogmatic theology.
  3. As understood and practiced by Reformed orthodoxy, there was no meaningful distinction between covenant and federal theology.
  4. Orthodox Lutheranism appears to have rejected Reformed covenant theology because they saw in it a confusion of Law and Gospel.
  5. Reformed theology turned to covenant theology however, not to revise or reject Luther’s breakthrough, but in order to preserve the Protestant soteriology and relate coherently justification to sanctification.
  6. Classical Reformed theology taught three covenants: the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis), the covenant of works (foedus operum) and the covenant of grace (foedus gratiae).

3. Biblical/Exegetical

  1. The God of the Bible relates to his creatures covenantally from eternity (pactum salutis), in creation (covenant of works), in providence (covenant of preservation) and in redemption (covenant of grace).
  2. Hosea 6:7 (“like Adam”) confirms the consciousness of the Biblical authors of a prelapsarian covenant of works.
  3. The Apostle Paul presupposes the existence of a prelapsarian covenant of works in passages such as Romans 2:13 and 4:4).
  4. The excommunication from the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:22–24) confirms the probationary nature of the covenant of works.
  5. There were multiple signs and seals of the covenant of works including the creational Sabbath, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.
  6. The first Gospel promise in Genesis 3:15 announces the covenant of grace, i.e. redemption of the elect by the Mediator.
  7. The covenant of grace is the progressive historical account of the administration of the Gospel in the history of redemption.
  8. The first Noahic covenant (Genesis 6:17–19) was particular and an administration of the covenant of grace.
  9. The second Noahic covenant (Genesis 9:8–17) was a universal non-soteric covenant promising the restraint of judgment until the last day.
  10. The Abrahamic covenant is a renewal of the postlapsarian covenant/promise made to Adam (Genesis 3:15; 17).
  11. In the history of redemption, the covenant of grace was renewed in Abraham such that he is the father of all who believe (Romans 4:11; John 8:56).
  12. The Abrahamic covenant is logically as well as historically prior to the Mosaic.
  13. The Mosaic covenant was not renewed under Christ, but the Abrahamic covenant was.
  14. The land promise made to Abraham (Genesis 15:18; Exodus 6:4; Judges 2:1) was typical of the coming blessings of the New Covenant (Genesis 2:4; Galatians 3:14; Hebrews 8) and the final state (Hebrews 11:10).
  15. All those justified under Moses were justified by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
  16. With regard to the land promise, the Mosaic covenant was, mutandis, for pedagogical reasons (Galatians 3:23—4:7), a republication of the Adamic covenant of works.
  17. With regard to justification and salvation, the Mosaic covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace.
  18. The Israelites were given the land and kept it by grace (2 Kings 13:23) but were expelled for failure to keep a temporary, typical, pedagogical, covenant of works (Genesis 12:7; Exodus 6:4; Deuteronomy 29:19–29; 2 Kings 17:6–7; Ezekiel 17).
  19. The covenant of grace, initiated in history after the fall, was
    in its antepenultimate state under Adam, Noah, and Abraham, its penultimate state under the New Covenant administration and shall reach its ultimate (eschatological) state in the consummation.
  20. The term “Old Covenant” as used in Scripture refers to the Mosaic epoch not every epoch before the incarnation nor to all of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures indiscriminately.
  21. The New Covenant is new relative to Moses, not Abraham.
  22. The Old Covenant was temporary and typical of the New Covenant.
  23. In redemptive historical terms, the Old (Mosaic) Covenant was weighted toward the ministry of the Law (“the letter”) whereas the New Covenant is weighted toward the ministry of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3).
  24. The New Covenant is the fulfillment of the promise made to Adam (Genesis 3:15) and the (Abrahamic) covenant of grace.
  25. The New Covenant is the reality typified by the pre-incarnational types and shadows (2 Corinthians 1:20; John 6:32; Hebrews 7—9).
  26. Law (covenant of works) and gospel (covenant of grace) may be distinguished historically and hermeneutically.
  27. The hermeneutical distinction between law (covenant of works) and gospel (covenant of grace) is the distinction between our personal and perpetual obligation to keep the law perfectly for justification and the announcement that Christ has kept the law perfectly for us.
  28. The historical distinction between law and gospel may be reckoned as the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.
  29. The historical distinction between law and gospel may also be reckoned as the distinction between Moses and Christ.
  30. When the law/gospel distinction is reckoned as that between Moses and Christ, there may be said to be gospel in the law and law in the gospel. This way of speaking, however, may not be used properly when considering the law/gospel distinction hermeneutically or theologically.

4. Systematic/Dogmatic

  1. Covenant theology is so of the essence of Reformed theology that to revise its covenant theology is to revise the substance of Reformed theology.
  2. The covenantal arrangement of the history of redemption and the covenantal progressive revelation of Scripture is not a mere convention, but rather a reflection of the intra-Trinitarian relations.
  3. All the covenants revealed in Scripture contain both promised blessing and threatened jeopardy.

5. The Covenant of Redemption (pactum salutis; consilium pacis)

  1. The pre-temporal covenant of redemption (pactum salutis) stands behind the covenant of works and covenant of grace and orders the history of redemption.
  2. In the history of redemption, the pactum salutis means works for the Son and grace for us.
  3. The pactum salutis is biblically grounded in Psalm 110, John 5:30; 6:38–40; 17; Gal 3:20 among other places.
  4. Christ fulfilled the legal obligations of the pactum salutis in his active and passive obedience as the representative of the elect.
  5. The allegation that the pactum salutis tends to tritheism seems to ignore the distinction between the economic and ontological Trinity.
  6. The work of the Holy Spirit has not always been discussed under the pactum salutis only because it focuses on the accomplishment of redemption rather than the application of redemption.
  7. Since the Spirit certainly consented to apply Christ’s work to the elect (John 15:26), there is no reason why the Holy Spirit’s work cannot be integrated into the pactum salutis.

6. The Covenant of Works (foedus operum)

  1. The pre-lapsarian covenant may be called a covenant of works in respect to its terms, a covenant of life in respect to its goals and a covenant of nature in respect to its setting. All three names describe the same covenant.
  2. In Reformed theology, the covenant of works is identical to the Law which says: Do this and live.
  3. Jesus Christ fulfilled the covenant works in his active and passive obedience to God’s law on behalf of his people.
  4. The covenant of works was abrogated as a way to eternal life by the fall.
  5. Post-lapsum the terms of the covenant of works continue to obligate all rational creatures and must be perfectly fulfilled personally or vicariously.
  6. Anyone who denies the prelapsarian covenant of works jeopardizes the Biblical and Protestant doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

7. The Covenant of Grace (foedus gratiae)

  1. When we speak in covenantal terms we should always specify to which covenant we refer.
  2. The pactum salutis is distinct from and the basis of the covenant of grace.
  3. It is a grievous theological error to confuse the covenant of works with the covenant of grace.
  4. The term covenant of grace can be used broadly and narrowly. When used broadly, it refers to everyone who is baptized into the Christ confessing covenant community. When used narrowly, it refers to those who have received the double benefit of Christ: justification and sanctification.
  5. Used in the broader sense, the covenant of grace is not synonymous with election so that all the elect are in the covenant of grace, but not all in the covenant of grace are elect.
  6. Used in the narrow sense, the covenant of grace refers only to the elect.
  7. There is a just and necessary distinction to be made between those who are in the covenant broadly (externally) and those who are in the covenant both broadly and narrowly (internally).
  8. The internal/external distinction is a corollary of the distinction between the church considered visibly and invisibly.
  9. Denial of the “internal/external” distinction leads necessarily to confusing election and the decree or to positing two types of election, decretal and “covenantal” (i.e., a temporary, historical, conditional election) as is evident in the so-called “Federal Vision” theology.
  10. The Gospel is not a promise of election but of a gracious and sovereign salvation from sin which salvation is received through faith alone.
  11. There are two chief benefits of the covenant of grace: justification and sanctification of which justification has logical priority.
  12. The sole ground of justification is the fulfillment of the condition of the covenant of works by Christ in his active and passive obedience.
  13. The sole object of justifying faith is Christ the Surety of the covenant of redemption for us, and the fulfillment of the covenant of works for us, and the Mediator of the covenant of grace to us.
  14. The sole instrument of justification and condition of the covenant of grace is a receptive, resting, extra-spective, faith which trusts in Christ’s keeping of the covenant of works.
  15. Only believers receive the chief benefits of the covenant.
  16. In Reformed theology the covenant of grace is a Gospel covenant having precisely the same terms and conditions as the Gospel.
  17. Justifying faith may be said to be the only proper condition or instrument of the covenant of grace.
  18. The covenant of grace was inaugurated post-lapsum and is to be distinguished sharply from the covenant of works.
  19. The covenant of grace is monopleural in origin and dipleural in administration, i.e. the Gospel offer is unconditional in origin but the reception of its benefits is conditioned upon justifying faith which is itself only God’s free gift to the elect.
  20. Monocovenantalism or refusal to distinguish between the covenants of works and grace implies a confusion of Law and Gospel.
  21. The slogan “in by grace, stay in by works,” sometimes associated with the so-called “New Perspective on
    Paul,” is nothing less than the Galatian heresy condemned by the Apostle Paul.
  22. Faith receives the benefits of the covenant of grace because of God’s grace and the virtue of its object (Christ) not because of its qualities, virtues, or sanctity.
  23. It is unnecessary to juxtapose the legal and relational aspects of covenant theology. In all three covenants, personal relations are premised upon just legal relations.
  24. Sanctity is the second benefit of the covenant of grace and flows from justification.
  25. Sanctity is as gracious as justification.
  26. Sanctity is logically and morally necessary as evidence of regeneration, faith and justification.
  27. Considered relative to sanctification (in distinction from justification) faith can be said to be active and is begun and sustained by grace but involves human cooperation with sanctifying grace.
  28. Sanctity is no instrument or ground of justification.
  29. Sanctity flows out of proper use of the divinely ordained covenant signs and seals.
  30. The third use of the moral law is norm of covenant life.
  31. Denial of the third use of the Law (tertius usus legis) leads to antinomianism.
  32. The third use of the law, like the first use, also drives us to Christ.

8. Ecclesiastical

  1. The church is both the universal and local Christ confessing covenant community.
  2. God has ordained three special offices in the Christ confessing covenant community: minister, elder and deacon.
  3. Christians are obligated to join themselves to a true Christ confessing covenant community.
  4. The marks of a true, Christ confessing, covenant community are the pure preaching of the Gospel (the covenant of grace), the pure administration of the covenant signs and seals (sacraments) and the administration of discipline.
  5. A genuinely Christian life cannot ordinarily be lived outside a true Christ confessing covenant community.
  6. Members of the Christ confessing covenant community who have received the sign and seal of the covenant are morally obligated to live in fidelity to that community and to make regular and consistent use of the means of grace (Word and sacrament).
  7. Attendance to the means of grace may be said to be stipulations or moral obligations or even second order conditions of the covenant of grace so long as they are distinguished from the proper condition or instrument of the covenant of grace.
  8. The Word of the covenant is in two parts: Law and Gospel.
  9. The proclamation of the Gospel is the divinely ordained means by which the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of members of the covenant of grace.
  10. There are two signs and seals (sacraments) of the covenant of grace, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
  11. The sacraments signify and seal the identity with and union of the believer with the death and burial of Christ.
  12. As signs and seals of the covenant of grace, they are Gospel not Law.
  13. The sacraments are signs to all and seals to the elect.
  14. The covenant signs and seals are a blessing to the elect but come also with jeopardy to the reprobate.
  15. Because of the visible/invisible distinction (internal/external) it is possible to participate in the covenant signs and seals to one’s harm (1 Corinthians 10; Hebrews 6; 10).
  16. The covenant signs and seals are means of grace for all believers whereby their faith is genuinely strengthened and their sanctification advanced.
  17. Because they deny the internal/external distinction, advocates of “covenant objectivity” teach a view of the sacraments which is virtually indistinguishable from the Roman ex opera operato view.
  18. In distinction from the Lord’s Supper, Baptism is the sign and seal of initiation into the covenant of grace.
  19. In the history of redemption, baptism succeeded circumcision as the sign and seal of initiation.
  20. All baptized persons can be said to be in the covenant of grace in the broad sense. Not everyone who is baptized receives the substance or benefits of the covenant of grace.
  21. Baptism does not itself regenerate or necessarily unite the baptized to Christ.
  22. Scripture requires the baptism of adult converts who have not been previously baptized.
  23. Scripture teaches the baptism of covenant children.
  24. We do not baptize covenant children on the presumption of their regeneration, but on basis of the divine command and promises attached to baptism.
  25. Every objection made against covenant (infant) baptism which can be made against covenant (infant) circumcision as practiced under Abraham the father of New Covenant believers is for that reason invalid.
  26. Just as the old sign and seal of covenant initiation (circumcision) could only be observed once so the new sign and seal of covenant initiation (baptism) can only be observed once.
  27. In distinction from Baptism, the Supper is the sign and seal of covenant renewal.
  28. As a sign of covenant renewal the Supper is not appropriate for those who cannot understand the nature of Christ’s presence or the blessing and jeopardy which attach to the Supper.
  29. The Lord’s Supper is the fulfillment of all the typical Israelite feasts.
  30. Just as believers fed on the Passover lamb, as the true Lamb of God, Christ is really and truly present in the Supper.
  31. In the Supper, believers feed on Christ’s true body and blood by faith, through the operation of the Holy Spirit.
  32. Because the old covenant community feasted every time they assembled and because the Supper is Christ’s ordained sign and seal of covenant renewal it ought to be observed every time the new covenant community assembles.

9. Polemics

  1. Like Dispensationalism, “New Covenant” theology (NCT) is not sufficiently Trinitarian in its hermeneutic.
  2. NCT ignores the unity of the covenant of grace.
  3. It is unclear how NCT does not tend toward a radical discontinuity between Moses and Christ.
  4. NCT does not account for the distinction between Moses and Abraham.
  5. NCT tends toward antinomianism.
  6. Dispensationalism
  7. Of the three stages in the history of Dispensationalism (classic, modified, progressive), the first two are inimical to covenant theology.
  8. Classic and modified Dispensationalism tend to a radical (Marcionite) disjunction between Moses and Christ.
  9. Like Theonomy, Dispensationalism wrongly makes the Mosaic covenant the goal rather than a temporary, typical arrangement.
  10. By positing two peoples, Dispensationalism resurrects the dividing wall which Christ abolished in his flesh.
  11. Because the civil and ceremonial laws were specifically and intentionally tied to the Old (Mosaic) covenant, they were fulfilled in the Kingly and Priestly work of Christ and are therefore no longer binding on the Christian.
  12. The Mosaic civil law, because it was specifically and intentionally tied to the temporary and typical Old (Mosaic) covenant, it was never intended to serve as norm for any other state than Mosaic-Davidic theocracy.
  13. Any attempt to re-impose the Mosaic civil laws or their penalties fails to understand the typological, temporary, national character of the Old (Mosaic) covenant.
  14. The moral law, to the degree it expresses the substance of God’s moral will and is not tied to the ceremonies of the Old
    covenant continues to bind all human beings.
  15. In the New Covenant, only the second table of the Law can be said to bind the state.
  16. There are two kingdoms: that of the right hand and that of the left.
  17. Both kingdoms are under the authority of Christ, but are administered in diverse ways.
  18. In each kingdom, Christians live under Christ’s lordship according to the nature of that kingdom.
  19. The kingdom of the Right hand describes the ministry of Word and sacrament.
  20. The kingdom of the left hand describes the exercise of power in the ecclesiastical and civil realms.
  21. Because of the distinction between the two kingdoms and because the Decalogue is substantially identical with natural law, Christians should advocate laws and policies in the civil realm on the basis of the universal, natural knowledge of the second table of the law.

On the New Covenant

Arguably two of the issues that separate confessional Reformed folk from their Baptist friends are the Sabbath and Baptism. For many Baptists (but not all—there are confessional Baptists who agree with the Reformed on the Sabbath) it is a given that the Sabbath was entirely Mosaic and any Sabbath observance expired with the fulfillment of the Mosaic covenant. To the best of my knowledge, Baptists hold that infant initiation belonged to the old covenant and expired with it. Under the new covenant, because of the nature of the new covenant, there could be no infant initiation. The prevailing Baptist view of the Sabbath and baptism are symptoms of a deeper disagreement. The real, underlying issue here is the nature of the new covenant. Let us then define our terms.

A Caveat About “Baptists”

Broadly there are two kinds of Baptists in the world: confessional and non-confessional. Confessional Baptists, e.g., those who hold the 1st (1644) or 2nd London Baptist Confession (1689), or the Philadelphia Baptist Confession (1742), tend to identify more closely with historic Reformed theology and thus tend to agree with the Reformed about the Sabbath and other ethical matters. Some confessional Baptists read the history of redemption much like the Reformed in several respects. Nevertheless, on the matter of the nature of the new covenant and its relations to Abraham and to Moses, there remain significant differences and thus Reformed and confessional Baptists continue to come to significantly different conclusions about the nature of baptism and its administration.

About the Sabbath and Baptism

A critical reader might wonder if the point of this series has been to vindicate the Reformed confessional view of Baptism and the Sabbath. That would be a misunderstanding of the nature of the relations between Baptism, the Sabbath, and Reformed theology. The latter is not built on the former. Rather, the Reformed view of Baptism and the Sabbath grow out of a hermeneutic, a way of understanding redemptive history, and a view of the church. This series is not an attempt to convince anyone about the Sabbath or Baptism. The intent of the series is to describe and demonstrate briefly and in broad strokes how Reformed theology looks at the new covenant and thereby to illustrate the differences between the Baptist view(s) of the new covenant, covenant theology generally, and Reformed theology. If one adopts a Reformed view of redemptive history as outlined here, one will likely also adopt the Reformed view of the Sabbath and of Baptism.

The major thesis of this essay is that the new covenant is essentially a new administration of the Abrahamic covenant.

The New Covenant in Jeremiah 31

The expression “new covenant” occurs first in Scripture in Jeremiah 31:31. Yahweh says, “Behold the days come when I will cut a new new covenant (berith chadasha) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” The new covenant will not be like the “the covenant that I cut with their forefathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke” (v.32; emphasis added). Jeremiah makes an explicit distinction between the coming new covenant and a very specific complex of redemptive-historical events: the Exodus culminating with the Mosaic covenant that Yahweh made at Sinai. The new covenant is contrasted with the Mosaic covenant, which v. 32 qualifies as a covenant that was broken. There is another contrast implicit here between the Mosaic, Sinaitic covenant that was broken and the new covenant that cannot be broken. Already, in Jeremiah 31, there is a new covenant coming and, implicitly, an old covenant and that covenant is associated with constitution of national Israel and with Moses. Jeremiah continues to qualify the differences between the old and new covenants. Under the new covenant Yahweh will “put my law within them,” i.e., he will “write it on their hearts.” Yahweh will “be their God, and they shall be my people” (v.33). Under the new covenant, there will be no need for one to say to another, “Know Yahweh,” because everyone will already know him. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (v.34).

If we consider the nature of the new covenant, as promised through Jeremiah, we can see, however that it is not absolutely “new” at all. Long before Jeremiah, long before Moses, God had promised to Abraham to be a “God to him and to your children” (Gen 17:7).

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

Scripture repeats the same promise under the Mosaic covenant: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God” (Isa 6:7). That promise recurs in Jeremiah before the promise of the new covenant (:23; 11:4; 30:22). This is perhaps the most fundamental promise of the covenant. It was this sort of language that caused some older Reformed writers (e.g., Cocceius) to define the covenant as “friendship with God.” Of course, before the fall, that friendship was premised upon Adam’s obedience for us. After the fall, that friendship is premised upon the obedience of Christ the Last Adam in place of his elect (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15).

Thus, whatever is new about the new covenant, new cannot mean “never happened before” or “never before promised” or “a relationship with God” or “a spiritual state” that has never existed before in redemptive history. Yahweh was a God to Abraham and to his children for most of 500 years before Moses. The promises of the Abrahamic covenant, which had already been expressed relative to the land and a national people (see Gen chapters 12 and 15; there are national and land promises in chapter 17 also) came to expression in a temporary national covenant inaugurated at Sinai. That national covenant, however, does not exhaust the covenant promises of God. The Apostle Paul says (Gal 3; see below)  that the national, Israelite, Sinaitic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, was a temporary addition, a codicil, added to the Abrahamic promises. That temporary national covenant expired with the death of Christ (see also all of Colossians and Hebrews).

The other thing to be noted is that the promises of Jeremiah 31 are cast in Mosaic, typological, and prophetic categories. We need to read it the same way we read prophetic literature generally. The old covenant prophets were writing to God’s national covenant people. Promises that looked forward to his saving acts and words in history, chiefly in the incarnation of God the Son, were cast in Mosaic terms. Failure to recognize this fact lies behind much confusion in biblical interpretation and biblical theology. For one thing it has caused many Christians to look forward to a re-establishment of the old, Mosaic covenant in history, after the incarnation of the Christ, complete with temple and sacrificial system.  Such an expectation, of course, is flatly contrary to the explicit teaching of the NT (Eph 2). In Christ the dividing wall has been broken down. In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile (Gal 3).

The contrast, then, in Jeremiah 31 is not between Abraham and the new covenant but between Moses and the new covenant. The novelty or newness of the new covenant is measured relative to Moses, relative to the national covenant made with Israel at Sinai, and not with Abraham and the covenant promise God gave to him: I will be a God to you and to your children. That promise remains intact. The promise is not Mosaic, it is not old, it is Abrahamic.

Thus far we have begun to arrive at a definition of “new covenant” in light of its use in Jeremiah 31:31. According to the prophet the essence of the promise is, in fact, not absolutely new: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” In Jeremiah, the new covenant is contrasted not with everything that occurred prior to Christ’s incarnation but rather the new covenant is contrasted with the Mosaic, Sinaitic covenant. The new covenant is said to be new relative to Moses not Abraham or Noah. The great features of the new covenant, according to Jeremiah 31, are:

  • An immutable Covenant
  • An Interior Piety
  • An Immediate Knowledge
  • An Iniquity Forgiven

“Old Covenant” and “New Covenant” in the NT

All of these features, however, were part and parcel of the covenant of grace God promised to Abraham and they are promised throughout the history of redemption to those who believe. Further, we observed that, this passage must be understood in its literary context. In other words, the it is a restatement, in prophetic idiom, of the essential benefits of the covenant of grace made with Abraham. One finds these benefits promised in Ezekiel (36:28; 39:29) and perhaps most notably in Joel 2:28.

The expressions “old covenant” (2 Cor 3:14) and “new covenant” occur just a few times in the NT but often enough and with sufficient context for us to be able to determine the intended sense. The NT writers pick up the expression “new covenant” from Jeremiah 31, which, in the LXX (Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures) is expressed as a new covenant. Our Lord uses the expression “new covenant” as part of the institution of holy communion (Luke 22:20). The Apostle Paul re-states the connection between Christ’s death, the holy Supper, and the new covenant in 1 Corinthians 11:25 invoking the same essential elements. There he certainly means to invoke the Ancient Near Eastern covenant-treaty making pattern. The new covenant is not in the blood of bulls and goats but in his own blood. He is to become, for us, the ritual sacrifice, God’s pledge of fidelity, and more than that he will suffer the wrath of our covenant breaking even as he keeps covenant and fulfills God’s covenant promise to be our God. The new covenant is the realization of the promises that had hitherto been expressed typologically and prophetically but the new covenant is not utterly new insofar as it is made through death and the shedding of blood and the propitiation of wrath. These are ancient biblical themes that antedate the “new covenant” by thousands of years.

2 Corinthians 3

The NT view of the “new covenant” becomes clearer in 2 Corinthians 3 when, as part of his self-defense (v. 1), Paul appeals to the nature of the new covenant in order to vindicate his fidelity to his office and to the Corinthians. The Corinthian congregation itself is Paul’s “letter of recommendation” (v. 2). That letter is “written on our hearts.” As he invokes the imagery from Jeremiah 31 he creates an analogy that he completes through the passage. The congregation is a letter written by the Holy Spirit (v. 3) not on tablets of stone, but on fleshy tablets. One should not miss the significance of the contrast here between “tablets of stone” (Moses, the Sinaitic covenant) and “tablets of flesh.” The contrast established is not between Abraham (or Noah) and the new covenant, but between Moses and the new covenant. This is the conceptual background in place when Paul finally uses the expression “new covenant” in vs. 6. The old covenant was such that it could be broken, but the new covenant cannot be broken. Paul is a minister of an immutable covenant and he connects his trustworthiness to the nature of the covenant. This is the conceptual framework within which one must read the contrast between “Spirit” (the Holy Spirit) and “letter.” The letter is the Mosaic law, the old covenant. The Mosaic law was intended to drive sinners to the knowledge of their sin and to cause them to seek a Savior. The Spirit gives (new) life. He sovereignly regenerates and now, in the new covenant, we live in light of the fulfillment of the promises embedded in the typological revelation generally and in the Mosaic (old) covenant specifically.

Again, this sort of contrast is not utterly new. The promise of “tablets of flesh” and the contrast between them and “tablets of stone” come from Ezekiel 11:9 and 36:26. In the old, Mosaic covenant itself Yahweh called the Israelites to “circumcise the foreskin of your hearts” (Deut 10:16) and promised that he himself would “circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut 30:6). Thus, the promises and the realities, for those who believe, are not utterly new.


The writer to the Hebrews, facing the possibility of the defection of Jewish Christians back to the Mosaic system and to Judaism, argues that the Mosaic law, “a former commandment,” has been “set aside because of its weakness and uselessness” (Heb 7:19). Indeed, the argument of this section of the epistle to the Hebrew Christians is an extended case for the superiority of the new covenant to the old and thus it’s important to note how he thinks of the “old covenant” (to use Paul’s language). According to Hebrews, Jesus is the “surety of a better covenant.” He argues from the inferiority of the old covenant priesthood and for the superiority of Christ’s priesthood (Heb 7:27–8:5).

In 8:6 the writer argues “Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.” Here we see Hebrews equating the old promises to the old covenant. The new covenant covenant has better promises and is, to the same degree the promises are superior, a better covenant. The old covenant here refers not to Abraham or to Noah but to Moses. Failure to observe this distinction will result is significant confusion about the message of the writer to the Hebrews. Remember, he is writing to Jewish Christians who are being tempted to become Judaizers, to place themselves back under the Mosaic law, to forget that the Mosaic law/covenant/priesthood was intentionally temporary and, having been fulfilled by Christ, has expired. Indeed, the Ebionite movement in the early church testifies to the fact that not a few Hebrew Christians succumbed to the temptation to go back to Moses.

We do not have to wonder about the true meaning of Jeremiah 31:31 since the writer to the Hebrews gives us a divinely inspired interpretation of the passage. In vv. 8-12 he quotes Jeremiah. In v. 7 he says that if the “first [covenant]” had been “faultless” there would have been no need for a second covenant. It is clear in context that the “first covenant” here refers to the covenant described in v. 6. The only covenant under consideration here, apart from the new, better covenant, is the Mosaic, old, obsolete, inferior covenant. These are the sorts of adjectives Hebrews uses in 8:13. The old covenant is “worn out” and “old.” Here the writer to the Hebrews uses the same distinction as Paul but intensifies it.

We can be sure that Hebrews has Moses in mind because in chapter 9 he begins to illustrate the old, worn out, inferior covenant by describing the tabernacle. The tent of meeting and subsequent developments were part of the Mosaic cultus (worship) not the Abrahamic or Noahic. He calls this the regulations for worship belonging to the “first” [covenant]. It’s so obvious to the writer that he simply uses the adjective because the noun to be qualified, covenant, is implied. In 9:4 he speaks of the “tablets of the covenant” and the “ark of the covenant.” He pursues this line of argumentation in 9:15. This is a difficult passage to be sure but for our purposes we need only observe that the contrast here is between the “new covenant” and “the first covenant.” In 10:16 he closes this major section of the letter (sermon?) by going back to the passage with which he began, Jeremiah 31:31. Throughout the entire section the contrast has been between the “new covenant” (which is made with blood) and the “first covenant” which is “old,” “worn out,” and “inferior.” None of these adjectives are used to describe the promise given to Abraham. The problem is not inherent to the Abrahamic (or Noahic) promises but the Mosaic covenant can be described thus because it was (Gal 3) never intended to be anything but temporary.

The fundamental contrast here is between typology (illustration of something to come) and reality or fulfillment. This is why Hebrews 12:26 contrasts the blood of Christ, the blood of the new covenant with the blood of Abel (a pre-Mosaic character) since, Abel was a martyr looking forward to the reality, to Christ by faith. Unlike Abel, we have the reality. The point here is to contrast even righteous Abel with the even more holy, more righteous, and ultimately efficacious death of Jesus the Mediator. One might argue that, inclusion of Abel in the “old covenant” is implied by the use of the expression “new covenant” but that would miss the point of his inclusion. It comes at the end of an explicit contrast between Sinai (which is, strictly speaking “the old covenant” throughout Hebrews and elsewhere in the NT) and Zion. In v. 23 he associates the “assembly of the firstborn” in heaven with the “spirits of the righteous made perfect” with Jesus “the mediator of the new covenant.” The invocation of Jesus as the covenant mediator (opposite Moses) leads him to “sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” By the end of v. 24 his attention has arguably moved beyond the contrast between Moses and Sinai to a broader contrast between all typological elements and the reality in Christ. The invocation of Abel here does not change the essential identification of the “old covenant” with Moses and Sinai.

Whatever potential difficulties might be created for the general thesis of this essay, by the inclusion of Abel, the overwhelming evidence from 2 Corinthians 3 and from Hebrews chapters 7–10 is that the NT identifies the “old covenant” with Moses and with Sinai. The figure of Abraham and the promises of the new covenant, expressed in the old covenant in typological terms and quoted in the NT, function rather differently. Abraham is the paradigm of the new covenant Christian. Paul uses him so explicitly in Romans 4. Abraham is the father of Gentile Christians, because he believed before he was circumcised, and he is the father of Jewish Christians because he believed after he was circumcised. Abraham is Paul’s proof that circumcision is immaterial to justification (acceptance with God). What matters if faith and Abraham is the father all Christians, of all believers.

Galatians Chapters 3–4

The Galatian Christians faced a grave threat to their spiritual life. Judaizing Christians wanted not only to take them back to the Mosaic laws and ceremonies but they made obedience to them a condition of justification (acceptance with God). They did not overtly deny the need to trust in Jesus but they marginalized him by attempting to add the Mosiac ceremonies to his finished work as the sole ground of acceptance with God. In chapter 2 Paul brutally exposes their error and its effects even going so far as to highlight the Apostle Peter’s fall into theological error. In our politically correct culture, were one to write such a letter he would certainly find himself facing ecclesiastical charges for violating the ninth commandment. After all Peter was only being selective in his choice of dinner companions. Who was Paul to judge? Apparently Peter took a rather different view and he repented of his corruption of the gospel of Christ.

In chapter 3 Paul puts the question directly. Either the Galatians stand before the righteous God on the basis of their doing or by trusting in the finished work of Christ for sinners. As in Romans 4, the paradigm of the believing sinner justified by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith (resting and receiving) alone (sola fide), is Abraham (Gal 3:6). Of course the Scribes and Pharisees laid claim to being Abraham’s children (John 8). Jesus denied their claim. He called them children of Satan because they were not trusting in Christ but in their own, inherent righteousness. Paul takes up our Lord’s prosecution of moralism and legalism. It is not those who want to present themselves to God on the basis of their doing who are Abraham’s children (Gal 3:7). Rather it is those, whether Jew or Gentile, who trust in Jesus alone for their righteousness who are Abraham’s children (v.8).

Again, it is the blessing of Abraham (v. 14) who comes to those sinners who trust in Jesus’ finished work. As in 2 Corinthians 3, to illustrate and confirm his case, Paul appeals to the nature of covenants and then to the history of redemption. In v. 15 he establishes his first premise. Covenants, in their nature, are inviolable. Once in place, covenants do what they do because they are what they are.

The second premise is that God made an immutable covenant with Abraham (v. 16). For Paul, the Abrahamic covenant is, if you will, the baseline account of the covenant of grace. This does not mean that there are no other manifestations of the covenant of grace in redemptive history but that when he wants to explain the covenant of grace and give its clearest manifestation he appeals to the Abrahamic covenant, i.e., the promises God made to Abraham: I will be your God and a God to your offspring (seed). Contrary to the Judaizers (John 8) national Israel is not the seed. Jesus is the seed, i.e., the fulfillment of the promise. Whatever blessing there is to be had from God, whatever blessings there are in the covenant are by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

From these two premises Paul tackles the inevitable Judaizing question: But what about Moses, what about the Sinai covenant? Did not God make an inviolable covenant with us through Moses? In other words, like many American evangelicals and a few Reformed folk, the Judaizers want to make the Abrahamic covenant temporary and the Mosaic, Sinaitic, old covenant permanent.

Paul, however, has it the other way round. The Abrahamic covenant is the baseline and the Mosaic covenant, as important as it was, is subordinate to it. The law, i.e., the Mosaic covenant (as becomes clear in chapter 4) which came 400 years later cannot annul the Abrahamic covenant. Paul leverages Moses with Abraham. On the basis of Gal 3:15 we might even say that if the Abrahamic covenant is the definition of “covenant” then the Mosaic law was not a “covenant,” at least not in the same sense. Paul’s point here is that, in the terms in which he’s speaking about Moses and Abraham they operate on utterly different principles. The law, the Mosaic covenant, says “do and live.” The Abrahamic covenant says, “Receive freely, through faith alone, benefits you have not earned but that were earned for you by another.”

It would not follow at all to conclude that, for Paul, those under Moses were saved by works. That would contradict his basic principle in 3:18. The inheritance can only come to sinners by grace alone, through faith alone (see 2:16). For Paul, the legal nature of the law (the old, Mosaic covenant) was fundamentally pedagogical. it was intended to teach sinners that they could not meet the terms of the law and to drive them to seek a Savior outside of themselves. This becomes clearer in v. 19. The law was added, i.e., it was superimposed upon the Abrahamic covenant of grace. In it’s nature it was temporary and pedagogical. it was not intended to nor could it change the essentially gracious nature of the Abrahamic covenant. It had a specific function. it was designed to be obsolete. The pedagogical function and intent of the Mosaic (old) covenant is evident in the words: “because of transgressions.” The temporary character of the Mosaic covenant is evident in the words “until the seed should come come” That Sinai is in view is clear in the phrase “through angels.” This is a reference to the giving of the law at Sinai, at which angels were said to be present (see Heb 1–2).

The Mosaic law is not contrary to the promises (v.21). In God they cohere completely! For us sinners, however, the law could not give life (v. 21). Righteousness before God by the law is not possible for sinners. To make the law a vehicle for life, for sinners, is to turn the world on its head. “Scripture imprisoned everything under sin” by the law. Righteousness and life are given to sinners only “by faith in jesus Christ” (v. 22). The Mosaic law was schoolmaster, a harsh tutor (vv. 23-24). The intent of the law was that we might turn to Christ and be “justified by faith” (v. 24).

The great point of Galatians chapter 4 is to illustrate and elaborate on the tutorial, temporary, pedagogical function of the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic covenant was a re-statement of the law given to Adam. This is why Paul calls the law the “stoicheia” (creational principle; see also v.9). The Mosaic covenant was temporary but Jesus came in the “fullness of time” (v.4). The Mosaic covenant is contrasted with the arrival of the reality. Jesus came to redeem those who were under the law, whether expressed in creational or Mosaic terms. Ultimately it’s all the same thing: do this and live. Adam was under a “do this and live eschatologically” principle. He failed. The Second Adam was born of a woman, under the (Mosaic and creational) law to fulfill it and to dispense to us sinners a gracious adoption (vv. 5–6).

He completes his contrast between Moses and Abraham by turning back to the story of Abraham. He had two sons, one from Hagar and one from Sarah (vv. 21–22). One is of “the flesh” and the other “of promise.” He makes Hagar stand for law and doing and Sarah, the sinner, to stand for the covenant of grace. He makes it explicit. Hagar = Sinai (Moses and the old covenant) who gives birth to slaves (vv.24–25). Those who are obsessed with the earthly Jerusalem (i.e., the Judaizers) are still in slavery. Those who have received the promises of the covenant of grace, through faith alone, look to the true Jerusalem, the real Jerusalem, in heaven (v. 26).

Again, everyone who was justified under Moses was justified (accepted by God) solely by grace alone, through faith alone. Hebrews chapters 11 and 12 say that all the believers who lived during the typology, before Moses and under Moses, were looking forward to Christ. The covenant of grace is the only way sinners are justified and, after Adam’s fall and in Adam’s fall, we are all sinners (Romans 3). The Abrahamic covenant was operative under and during the temporary, typological Mosaic covenant. They co-existed temporarily to accomplish a specific purpose.

These are rich chapters but remember the point here is that at every point Paul norms the Mosaic, old covenant with the Abrahamic covenant. To return to Hebrews for a moment, this is essentially the same argument made there. In Heb 3:1–6 the writer says, in effect, that the Judaizers want to make Jesus work for Moses. Not at all. Moses works for Jesus. The old covenant serves the new covenant. Moses was a servant in God’s house but Jesus is the eternally begotten, consubstantial Son of the builder. By analogy, the model for the new covenant is the Abrahamic covenant. The Mosaic covenant was intended to nothing more than to serve as a historical footlight, to bring attention to the covenant of grace. More than that the substance of the new covenant is the Abrahamic covenant.

The Benefits of the New Covenant Are the Benefits of the Covenant of Grace

There are some who understand these promises to be realized entirely in the future. There are reasons, however, why this is not the best way to understand Jeremiah 31. First, as we have already seen, however, each of these benefits was already promised under the covenant of grace to Abraham. The Lord himself characterized his covenant with Abraham as featuring just these benefits. Further, the NT interprets Jeremiah 31 and the Abrahamic covenant (which we surveyed in parts 1-3) as having these qualities.

The second great reason the futurist reading of Jeremiah 31 is unlikely is that it would mean, in effect, that the believers to whom these promises were given were not in present possession of them. It seems impossible to say that believers, who lived under the Mosaic covenant from 1500 BC to the first advent of our Lord, possessed none of these benefits in any way. The witness in the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures is that believers possessed these benefits. Certainly the witness of the NT is that believers in Jeremiah’s day possessed them.

This chapter is often described as the “faith chapter” but faith is often misconstrued. The great list of exemplars is too often taken to say, “These people had faith, you should have as much faith as they did.” Though there may be some truth to that characterization of Hebrews 11 it largely misses the point of the chapter.

Remember the original context of Hebrews. The writer is trying to persuade his readers that they should not apostatize by going back to Judaism. In 10:1 he argues that the Torah (the 613 commandments of the Mosaic covenant) were only a “shadow” of the new covenant realities. The entire sacrificial system (vv.1–14) was, in redemptive-historical terms, an illustration, a pointer to Christ and to the new covenant. In this context he quotes and interprets Jeremiah 31 on the new covenant (vv. 15–17).

The reality of the things promised has come in Jesus Christ. This is why we are the priesthood, why we enter the holy places with confidence (v.19) because the entire tabernacle-temple system was nothing more than a pointer to Christ who is our high priest, sacrifice, and temple. He has entered the holy of holies and we have entered it with him.

These new covenant believers are being tempted to “throw away” their “confidence” by going back to the types and shadows (10:36). The “faith” theme actually begins in 10:37–38. The writer quotes Habakkuk 2:4. The righteous shall live by faith. In v. 39, it is those who believe who “preserve their souls.” Only then does he characterize faith as looking forward to what cannot be seen. The point in 11:1 is that even though the Jewish Christians are suffering for their faith, largely at the hands of other Jews, they should continue to trust Jesus to save them even as their believing forefathers trusted Jesus. This is the intent behind citing Abel (v. 4), Enoch, Noah (v.7), Abraham (v.8), and Sarah (v.11).

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar…..

From this Hebrews concludes that they were looking for a better, heavenly country (v.16).

He returns to Abraham, “who had received the promises,” (v.17), who believed in the resurrection (v. 19) and who, “figuratively speaking” (v. 19) received Isaac back from the dead. Moses was looking forward to the new covenant realities by faith (vv.23–28). The people went through the Red Sea on dry ground by faith.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

What was it that they did not receive? If we read Jeremiah 31 absolutely, the way some would have us read it, then we should should have to say that none of these received the forgiveness of sins. Of course the analogy of Scripture makes it impossible to say that. Our Lord himself says that “Abraham saw my day and rejoiced” (John 8:56) and Paul says that Abraham was “justified” (Rom 4) and the writer to the Hebrews says that all believers are justified by faith, as we saw above.

What they did not receive was the fulfillment of all of God’s promises in the new covenant. They had the realities by faith but they did not have the realities by sight. We have what was promised to them. We have the new covenant. We have semi-eschatological blessings. Heaven has broken into history and we, in Christ, have been taken up to heaven. The types and shadows have been fulfilled. What they only saw typologically, we see in reality. We are not yet bodily in glory, however, and thus we must persevere in faith. This is why we must “lay aside also every weight” (12:1).

The great point of the “faith chapter” is that the believers who lived in the typological periods of redemptive history did have, by faith, the benefits promised in the covenant of grace. They had an immutable covenant. God would be their God and their children’s God. The universality of the covenant of grace throughout redemptive history is evident in the way the writer to the Hebrews moves seamlessly from one epoch of redemption to another. From the pre-Noahic, to the Abrahamic, to the Mosaic. They all had the same faith because they were all members of and beneficiaries of the covenant of grace by faith alone, in Christ alone. According to Hebrews their lives give evidence that they had a hearty faith (interior piety), that they trusted Jesus, that they expected him to come. They had no need of anyone to say “know the Lord” because, by the sovereign grace of the Holy Spirit who operates through the preaching of the gospel, even the typological preaching of the gospel, they had an immediate knowledge of the Lord. They had the forgiveness of sins.

The evidence is that the new covenant is substantially identical with the covenant of grace.

Thus far we have looked at Jeremiah 31, Hebrews chapters 7–10, Galatians chapters 3–4. We’ve seen that the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 is not absolutely new. It is new relative to the Mosaic, old covenant that expired with the death of Christ. We’ve seen that the NT consistently interprets Jeremiah 31 this way. This final installment of this series explores some of the implications for covenant theology of the passages examined and argues that the covenant theology held by most contemporary evangelical Baptists cannot be reconciled with the NT interpretation of Jeremiah 31 (and its corollaries in the minor prophets). Insofar as a certain understanding of the new covenant is essential to all Baptist understandings of redemptive history, to that degree they all fail.

Hermeneutical Differences

One of the great questions between Reformed and Baptist theology is the question of how to interpret Scripture. The Reformed have tended to let the New Testament not only interpret the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures but also to provide a pattern for how to interpret the typological revelation. Thus, not only do Romans, Hebrews, and Galatians give us specific direction about specific passages but they also demonstrate how other typological passages not specifically addressed in the NT ought to be interpreted. Reformed theology has not always been consistent in the application of this principle. In the 17th century many Reformed readers were chiliasts, i.e., they believed in a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth. Before the late 18th-century, most Reformed folk were also theocratic, a position that is very difficult to square with the hermeneutical theory which underlay the Reformed critique of the Romanist reinstitution of the Mosaic cultic system. It is also quite difficult to square the earlier Reformed theocratic ethics with the equally early Reformed understanding of the history of redemption. In other words, until the modern period, there were unresolved tensions in Reformed theology. Gradually, the covenant theology worked out in the 16th and 17th centuries acted as a sort of leaven and most Reformed folk resolved those tensions in favor of their covenant theology what recognized the Mosaic covenant as a temporary, typological overlay upon the permanent and fundamental Abrahamic covenant of grace. We recognized that if the Mosaic civil law had expired and if the Mosaic national covenant was unique then there are no theocratic, national covenants after the expiration of the old, Mosaic theocracy. In a similar way most Reformed folk realized through the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries that it was no longer plausible to reify a figurative passage in the most symbolic book in the NT (Rev 20).

Our Baptist friends, however, seem to operate on a different hermeneutical theory and especially as it regards the new covenant. Even confessional Baptists, who would agree with most Reformed hermeneutical theory, step off the train when it comes to Jeremiah 31 and the new covenant. Behind this dissent lies a different view of the relations between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. Baptists (whether confessional or non-confessional) tend to treat everything that happened before the incarnation as if it were under the “old covenant.” To be sure, in colloquial speech we might speak of the entirety of typological revelation and redemptive history as “the old covenant” but that would be a loose or broad (and perhaps even improper) way of speaking. As we’ve seen, the NT consistently identifies the “old covenant” with Moses and not with Abraham. All of redemptive history prior to the incarnation is typological but it is not all Mosaic. All the typologies have been fulfilled in Christ but not all the typologies are Mosaic. Failure to recognize the distinction between Moses and Abraham (or Noah) lies behind the rejection of the Sabbath by most contemporary Baptists. They assume that the Sabbath was instituted under Moses. They do not recognize the category of creational ethics. There are reasons for this. More on this below.

In short, Abraham was not Moses. Remember, Paul reckons the Mosaic, Sinaitic, old covenant as a temporary, national, pedagogical, typological arrangement superimposed upon the Abrahamic covenant of grace. It is a layer of law in the form of 613 commandments summarized in the Decalogue (Ex 20; Deut 5) intended to teach the Israelites the greatness of their sin and misery and to point the them to the promised Messiah. The Abrahamic covenant, in contrast, is permanent in a way that the Mosaic, old covenant was not and could not be. Thus, the Abrahamic covenant of grace, even though it contained typological elements, could not be obsolete.

Administration of the Covenant of Grace

My Baptist friends tend to talk about the new covenant in ways that do not actually conform to what Scripture says about the new covenant. My Baptist friends tend to make the new covenant more eschatological than it actually is. Were the new covenant as eschatological as they seem to think we would not expect to find the sort of language about the administration of the covenant of the new covenant that one finds in Hebrews 10.

According to Hebrews 10:26–31 members of the new covenant church may find themselves in even more jeopardy than existed under Moses. If the new covenant has the sort of characteristics some would have us believe we would not have expected this sort of language:

Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:28–29)

In other words, the covenant of grace is not so eschatological that it does not need to be administered. It is not so eschatological that there are not members of new covenant assemblies who turn out to have been hypocrites. This reality, of course, lies behind our Lord’s institution of the ministry of the keys (Matt 16) and church discipline (Matt 18). There are some who’ve been admitted to the visible covenant community (Heb 6), who have participated in the life of the new covenant church, who have probably even participated in the administration of the sacraments (“been enlightened” and “tasted of the powers of the age to come”) who nevertheless fall away. Reformed theology explains this phenomenon by observing that there are two ways of existing in the one covenant of grace (Rom 2:28; see also this booklet). Not everyone who is admitted to the visible covenant community actually receives the benefits of the covenant of grace. Those benefits are received only by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and only the elect ultimately receive them.

In other words, the new covenant is not described in Hebrews any differently than the Abrahamic covenant. Indeed, it is significant that the writer to the Hebrews compares the new covenant church to the church under the Mosaic covenant. He makes a lesser than-greater than comparison. If it was bad to do something under Moses, which was typological, how much more to do the same thing under the new covenant, under which administration the reality is present? The Apostle Paul makes a similar argument in 1 Corinthians 10 when he compares the new covenant church to the church of the Exodus and wilderness wandering.

It is these sorts of considerations that lead Reformed folk to see a strong continuity between the Abrahamic administration of the covenant of grace, which required the initiation of covenant children and under which blessings were promised to believers and to their children, and the new covenant. The covenant of grace had to be administered under Abraham. Under Abraham Ishmael was admitted to membership in the covenant community. He received the sign and seal of the covenant of grace, even though Scripture clearly says that he was not in the line of the promise. It’s hard for Reformed folk to see how a Baptist could have obeyed our Lord’s command to initiate Ishmael.

The new covenant is a new administration of the Abrahamic covenant. The typological elements have been fulfilled. The Mosaic overlay has expired. The bloodshed is finished. Circumcision is now indifferent. The pattern of initiating believers and their children into the covenant community continues. Baptists tend to argue that the command, in Acts 2:28 to “repent and believe” and the inclusion of Gentiles in v. 39 so conditions the clause, “for the promise is to you and to your children” that event that passage, in their reading, proves that, in the new covenant, only believers (or at least those who profess faith) can be baptized.

The different ways of reading Acts 2;38–39 illustrate the great gulf that lies between Reformed and Baptist hermeneutics. When Reformed folk look at v. 38 and the command to the heads of thousand of households to “repent and be baptized” we see the analogy with Abraham, who was not an infant, but who was also the head of a household. He was initiated into the covenant community as an adult and his children were initiated into the covenant community as infants. Those heads of those households were in the same position as Abraham. The analogy with Abraham is only strengthened by the invocation of the Abrahamic covenantal formula: “for the promise is to you and to your children.” The essence of the covenant of grace remains unchanged: “I will be a God to you and to your children.” My Baptist friends object by pointing out the inclusion of Gentiles. I reply by saying, so what? The Reformed argument is not that Abraham was not typological. Of course Gentiles are being included. That is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, that God would make him the father of many nations. This is exactly what Paul argues in Romans 4. Abraham is the father of all who believe, both Jew and Gentile. The inclusion of Gentiles does not weaken the Reformed case; it strengthens it by completing the analogy with Abraham.

If Abraham is, as God’s Word says, the father of all believers, and if God promised blessings to believers and to their children, and if he commanded the initiation of covenant children, and those covenant promises and command remain in effect, then we must initiate children into the covenant community just as father Abraham did. Yes, females are also initiated as part of the administration of the new (Abrahamic) covenant. We do not expect the Lord to call us to sacrifice our children on a mountain. The typological administration has been fulfilled.

Nature, Grace, and Eschatology in the New Covenant

The Baptists are not, strictly speaking, Anabaptists (even though they share a common view of Baptism and even though modern Baptists invoke the Anabaptists as their forebears when it suits them) but they do have one thing in common with them: an over-realized eschatology. Where the medieval church thought of grace as perfecting inherently flawed (by finitude) nature, and the Protestants thought of grace (in redemption) as renewing nature in sinners, the Anabaptists thought about grace or salvation as the destruction of nature. The Baptist movements from 1611 continue a form of this eschatology and nature-grace relationship in the way they look at the new covenant.

Reformed covenant theology reads the promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 in light of the new covenant explanation and we read it in the way prophetic literature is intended to be read. The new covenant is described in eschatological, absolute terms. The coming of the Messiah is also described in prophetic literature in absolute, eschatological terms. We understand, however, in light of redemptive history that what was described in prophetic literature in absolute terms is fulfilled progressively. Christ did not bring the consummation in his first advent. He inaugurated the Kingdom of God but he did not consummate it. Arguably this is one reason why the Jews demanded his crucifixion, because he did not satisfy their demand for an earthly, millennial, glorious kingdom.

In discussions with my Baptist friends it seems as if this question, eschatology, is a central element to the discussion. When Baptists speak about the new covenant they tend to speak in eschatological (consummation) terms rather than in semi-eschatological (inaugurated) terms. The new covenant is part of the inauguration of the last days but inauguration is a beginning not the end. Baptists, however, cannot initiate children into the new covenant community because that would contradict their over-realized eschatology. For them, the new covenant is what it is, and has to be what it has to be, because their eschatology is what it is. This is the usually unstated a priori assumption that Baptists make when then think and speak about the new covenant.

Baptists know that they, like Reformed congregations, have unregenerate members but by administering baptism only to those who make a profession of faith they are doing what they can to ensure a regenerate membership. From a Reformed view of covenant theology it is quite difficult to see how this is not, at bottom, a form of rationalism. If it is rationalism that would not be surprising since an over-realized eschatology, which Luther called a theology of glory (theologia gloriae is just another form of rationalism.

The new covenant is new, it is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Adam, Noah, and to Abraham. It is a new administration of the Abrahamic covenant. The typologies have been fulfilled. The old covenant is the Mosaic covenant. It was obsolete and inferior. Such things are never said in the new covenant about the Abrahamic covenant. Instead, the NT reaffirms Abraham as the paradigmatic figure and carries out the Abrahamic pattern by initiating believers and their children into the administration of the covenant of grace. This is why the NT simply assumes the “household” pattern throughout Acts. This is the new administration of the Abrahamic covenant.

Related Resources

Resources On Covenant Theology And Infant Baptism

Three Ways of Relating to the One Covenant of Grace

Sometime back the question was raised:

We know that there are at least two categories of people within Scripture, the elect, and the non-elect. However, it might be apparent that there is a third class of people, those who have taken the physical sign of the covenant but are not elect. We know that not all of the Jews were literally God’s people, but there were those who took the sign of the covenant although they weren’t elect. Also, we know that not all Christians are saved, even though they profess faith in Christ and have taken on the sign of the new covenant, that of Baptism. Could we then say there is a third category of human beings, those who have placed themselves as covenanted with God, but whom God has not Himself covenanted with?

To these we could add the class of those who profess make a credible profession of faith but who fall away.

These are good and important questions, the answers to which greatly affect the way we understand the whole of Scripture. They touch on the nature of the covenant of grace, the continuity of the covenant of grace, its administration throughout redemptive history, and the nature of the new covenant. They also relate to the question of apostasy in the new covenant.

Rather than thinking of three or four classes of people it might be clearer and more helpful to think of different ways of relating to the one covenant of grace.

  1. Some are in the visible covenant community and believe. They have both in external relation (i.e., they have received the sign and seal of initiation, have made a profession of faith, and participate in the life of the covenant community) and an internal relation (i.e., by God’s free favor they have new life and believe and are actually united to Christ) to the covenant of grace.
  2. Some are in covenant of grace outwardly but do not believe (and let us suppose that they will never believe). These are hypocrites and reprobate but they do participate in the administration o the covenant of grace. They are not actually united to Christ (contra the self-described Federal Vision theology) but they, like Esau Ishmael, have received the signs and seals of the covenant of grace. They do “taste of the powers of the age to come” (Heb 6) but since those signs/seals are not mixed with faith (because they are not elect; Rom 9) the signs/seals ultimate testify to their destruction (though we cannot necessarily know that at the time). Hypocrites in the administration of the covenant of grace may well make a credible profession of faith, i.e., they may confess the orthodox faith and live outwardly in such a way as to give no evidence of unbelief or ground for church discipline.
  3. Then there is a class of folk who have no relation to the covenant of grace at all. They are outside its administration and its substance altogether. These, like those who are involved in the administration but who have not yet believed, are proper objects of evangelism— though we are all proper objects of evangelism in some sense. As White Horse Inn fellows rightly remind us, the gospel is for Christians too.

By recognizing that non-elect folk are actually, really, involved in the administration of the covenant of grace we avoid the (Baptist) error of excluding all but the elect from the covenant of grace altogether and we avoid the (FV) error of conflating the administration of the covenant with its substance, i.e. of confusing administration and decree (thus setting up their temporary, conditional union, election, justification, adoption etc). To put it plainly: the administration of the covenant of grace works for God’s eternal decree. The administration of the covenant of grace does not change or leverage God’s decree but God nevertheless achieves his eternal purposes through the temporal administration of the covenant of grace through the use of the keys of the kingdom: the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, and the use of church discipline.

If we confuse the substance of the covenant with its administration we get one of two errors, either the Baptist view that the new covenant is so eschatological (identified with the decree) that there can be no administration and no hypocrites in it or the FV error that says that every person who receives the administration is, by that fact, necessarily a recipient of the substance of the covenant of grace, if only temporarily.

In the Baptist view of the new covenant, the reality of the administration of the covenant is virtually wiped out. In the FV view, the administration of the covenant of grace controls or becomes the eternal decree. Both problems are avoided if we distinguish, as Scripture does, between the reality of the covenant of grace and its administration and if we affirm both at the same time in their proper place.

The answer to both problems is in Paul’s distinction in Romans 2:28 between those who were Jews only outwardly and those who were Jews outwardly and inwardly. This is how Paul explains the phenomena of Esau and Ishmael. They both received the administration of the covenant of grace but neither received its substance by grace alone, through faith alone. We continue to see Esaus and Ishmaels, i.e., those who participate in the administration but who never receive the reality there too.

Against the FV and the Arminians we should say that there are no examples in Scripture of those who actually possessed the benefits, i.e., the reality of the covenant of grace but who nevertheless fall away. Apostasy is a reality but there is no such thing in Scripture of the elect apostatizing. There are examples, however, of those who make a credible profession of faith apostatizing. The key is not to confuse a credible profession of faith with true faith or participation in the substance of the covenant of grace.

The biblical doctrine of the covenant of grace includes both the reality of the covenant of grace and the administration of the covenant of grace. Though we must distinguish between them we may never set them against each other.

No one ordinarily participates in the substance without participating in the administration but participation in the administration does not guarantee participation in the substance. Only election (and consequently, regeneration, faith, and union with Christ) determines whether one who participates in the outward administration (via baptism) of the covenant of grace also participates in the inward substance of the covenant of grace.

Since God promised to Adam that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:14–16), since God made (Gen 6) a gracious covenant with Noah, since God entered into a covenant of grace with Abraham and his children (Gen 12, 15, 17), since and since God made a covenant with David (Ps 89:3; Jer 33:21) there has only and ever been one covenant of grace. There has been, however, a variety of administrations. The covenant of grace has been administered under Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses (Gal 3), David, and under the New Covenant (2 Cor 3; Heb 7-10).

In the history of the covenant of grace there has always been three ways of relating to it: outwardly, inwardly, and not at all but everyone has some relation to the covenant of grace. Simply participating in its administration guarantees nothing. The history of salvation is replete with examples of those who were in the (administration) of the covenant of grace but who were not of the covenant of grace or who “went out” from the covenant community because they were not “of” the covenant community inwardly (1 John 2:19).

This is how we should understand the problem of apostasy in Hebrews chapters 6 and 10. The writer to the Hebrews was speaking of those who participated (“tasted of goodness of the Word of God and of the powers of the age to come” Heb 6:5) in the administration of the covenant of grace and nevertheless “profaned the blood of the covenant” (Heb 10:29) by turning away from Christ and his promises in order to go back to the Mosaic ceremonies, the types and shadows (Heb 10:1) that were intended to illustrate the reality: Christ.

The administration of the covenant of grace is a reality, i.e., people really do participate, but it is not the ultimate reality. In view of the exalted language of Hebrews 6:5 (“tasted…of the powers”) we can hardly say otherwise. We should say, however, that to taste is apparently not to inwardly digest.

Those who apostatize from the covenant community actually do participate in the covenant of grace but they do so only outwardly. We need to overcome the bias that leads us to think that the outward participation is not a really any sort of participation. The Scriptures simply do not speak that way nor do they encourage us to think or speak thus.

At the same time we need to understand that participating in the administration of the covenant of grace is not the same thing as receiving its substance, i.e., Christ and unconditional acceptance with God (and union with Christ and adoption as sons etc) because those things are given only to believers and only those to whom God has freely, unconditionally given the gift of faith (Eph 2) have it and receive all that it brings.

Finally, the administration of the covenant of grace involves not a little mystery. We must understand that the same person may have more than one relation to the covenant of grace in his lifetime. A person may be outwardly initiated into the covenant of grace but not receive its benefits by grace alone, through faith alone for some time after. When and if that happens is up to the sovereign Holy Spirit (John 3). Some who are initiated outwardly may already possess its benefits by grace alone, through faith alone. Some who are initiated may make a credible profession of faith but may not actually have taken possession of the benefits of Christ by faith (e.g., Judas). Others may participate in the life of the covenant community, make a credible profession of faith, deny that profession, and return again in repentance and faith. Consider the Apostle Peter who denied our Lord more than once and yet who doubts that he truly believed?

There is only one covenant of grace but there is more than one way of relating to it. To sort out this question we must not forget the essential distinction between “inward” and “outward” and its corollary “substance” and “administration.” When we confuse those things all sorts of mistakes ensue. When we distinguish them, without separating them, we are prepared to understand the full range of the biblical teaching about the covenant of grace, believers, and those who apostasize.


For more on these topics:

Baptism and the Benefits of Christ

Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace.

On the New Covenant

Resources on Covenant Theology

Resources on the Federal Vision

A Contemporary Defense of Infant Baptism

The Church: The Christ-Confessing Covenant Community

How Did We Come To Faith?

Presbyterians And Presbyterians Together: A Call To Charitable Theological Discourse

NOTE: This document is posted here for historical interest and research only. This document was published in April, 2006  and provoked considerable discussion in conservative Presbyterian and Reformed world in connection to the Federal Vision controversy. Since that time the original publication site has been removed. Here are some responses from the period that are still available on the web:


United in Mission
We are followers of Christ and heirs to Presbyterian and Reformed traditions, particularly as embodied in historic confessional standards. As such, we are committed to our Reformational heritage and believe it has an indispensable role in the mission of the Triune God, alongside and in cooperation with other churches, in our local communities, in North America, and throughout the world.

We embrace the highest view of Scripture’s absolute authority and trustworthiness and a fidelity to the Reformed theology of our doctrinal standards. These commitments are in no tension with the church’s missional calling to function, by Christ’s Spirit, as an alternative society within our dominant cultures. These commitments do not undermine, but support the larger shape of that calling:

  • worshipping our God who meets us in Christ through Word and Sacrament.
  • proclaiming his Gospel of grace to the ends of the earth.
  • serving others in deeds of love and mercy, embodying God’s justice and peace.
  • engaging and countering our cultures with the renewing power of Christ.
  • nurturing healthy, growing, and reproducing churches.
  • developing gifts the Spirit has granted to men and women among God’s people.
  • uniting with other Christians in mission as an expression of Reformed catholicity.

In these areas God calls us in Christ, empowered by his Spirit, and guided by his Word, to proclaim and be a sign of the reign of God to the eyes of a watching world.

To remain faithful to this calling, we must not allow legitimate differences and diversity within our own tradition to become obstacles to witness or to obscure the Gospel’s power in forming a new humanity around the person of Jesus Christ.

Together in Diversity The Reformed tradition, particularly as expressed confessionally, represents a definite set of dogmatic contours, doctrinal boundaries, and exegetical trajectories. And that is a tradition we happily and warmly embrace as our own, in conformity with Holy Scripture.

Nevertheless, the Reformed tradition itself has evolved, and even in its formative years, always included differing perspectives on matters of theological detail. Moreover, our tradition typically allows those submitting to its fundamental system of doctrine nonetheless to dissent conscientiously from specific confessional expressions and propositions where such dissent is neither hostile to the system as a whole nor strikes at the vitals of religion, as determined by the judgment of our gathered presbyters.

There are numerous areas in which acceptable differences historically exist. Among others, these include:

  • how we interpret the biblical doctrine of creation as to chronology, timing, and process
  • how we characterize the pre-lapsarian covenant, particularly as to probation, grace, merit, and reward, and its relationship to and distinction from the covenant of grace
  • the way we prioritize and integrate the tasks of biblical theology, historical-grammatical exegesis, apostolic typology, redemptive historical thinking, and study of ancient contexts
  • the relative role we grant to specific experiences of conversion in relation to practices of Christian nurture and the ordinary means of grace within the covenant life of God’s people
  • how we best characterize the spiritual life of covenant children prior to their coming to a maturing faith through the ministry of the Word
  • whether we regard sacraments truly to offer Christ and whether, when effectual, they confer grace instrumentally or are only occasions for the imparting or promise of grace
  • how we interpret and enact biblical teaching on worthy participation in the Lord’s Supper
  • how we apply the regulative principle of worship practically to worship style and order, frequency of communion, the church year, and the like.
  • how we translate scriptural teaching on the Jewish Sabbath into a new covenant understanding of resting upon Christ and celebrating the Lord’s Day.
  • how we construe and implement biblical principles of church polity in accordance with our respective church orders
  • how the church rightly relates to the civil magistrate and wider culture while maintaining her proper spiritual identity and mission.
  • the way we apply Scriptural teaching on election to the lived experience of God’s people as the church visible.
  • how we confess the return of our Lord and the final judgment in relation to the millennium and progress of the Gospel.

Of these differences, some are more matters of doctrinal content, emphasis, or articulation, while others are more matters of pastoral application or expression of our doctrine.

Such diversity, we believe, is healthy and welcome as part of the ongoing life of God’s people as we seek to grow up into unity of faith and live together in the peace of Christ. John Calvin himself writes,

For not all articles of true doctrine are of the same sort. Some are so necessary to know that they should be certain and unquestioned by all men as the proper principles of religion…Among the churches there are other articles of doctrine disputed which still do not break the unity of faith…Does this not sufficiently indicate that a difference of opinion over nonessential matters should in nowise be the basis of schism among Christians? (Institutes 4.1.12)

We lament our past failures to love our brothers and sisters as we ought, the ways we have broken the unity of faith over inessentials, and how we have countenanced foolish controversies, strife, and disputes within God’s church.

In virtue of the church’s mission, we purpose together to seek truth, all the while bearing patiently with and listening carefully to one another. We thereby seek to resolve our differences in the bonds of peace and unity, as is befitting those who confess the name of Jesus Christ, seek to live the Christian story, and work to advance his kingdom.


Súler D. Acosta
Associate Pastor
New Life Philadelphia PCA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

James Adams
Village Seven PCA
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Daniel Adamson
Assistant Pastor
All Souls Fellowship PCA
Decatur, Georgia

Kirk Adkisson\
Organizing Pastor
All Souls PCA of Boulder
Boulder, Colorado

Vito Aiuto
Organizing Pastor
Resurrection PCA
Brooklyn, New York

Paul H. Alexander
Pastor, Ukraine Mission Pastoral Resource
Mission to the World, PCA
Odessa, Ukraine

Daniel Allen
Ruling Elder
Redeemer PCA

Joshua Anderson
Trinity PCA
Charlottesville, Virginia
MDiv student
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Seima Aoyagi
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

John H. Armstrong
Carol Stream, Illinois

Alex Arnold
PhD student
University of Notre Dame
Member, CRC
South Bend, Indiana

James Lincoln Ashby
Assistant Minister
Christ the King PCA
Houston, Texas

David L. Bahnsen
Ministry Leader
Redeemer PCA
Newport Beach, California

John Allen T. Bankson
John Knox PCA
Ruston, Louisiana

Michael Wilson Barber
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

William S. Barker
Professor of Church History Emeritus
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Adjunct Professor of Church History
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri
Attending Old Orchard PCA
Webster Groves, Missouri

Tuck Bartholomew
Organizing Pastor
City Church PCA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Jeffrey Baumbach
Ruling Elder
First PCA
Dothan, Alabama

Paul Baxter
Church of the Good Shepherd PCA
Durham, North Carolina

Robert Beatty
Christ Covenant PCA
Lexington, Kentucky

Loren Bell
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Brett Bonecutter
Ancient Hope CREC
Mission Viejo, California

Jonathan Bonomo
Student, PCA
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Langhorne, Pennsylvania

David A. Booth
Amoskeag OPC
Merrimack, New Hampshire

Randy Booth
Grace Covenant CREC
Nacogdoches, Texas

Cal Boroughs
St Elmo PCA
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Arthur Boulet
MDiv student, PCA
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Matt Boulter
Assistant Pastor
Christ the King PCA
Austin, Texas

Anthony Bradley
Assistant Professor
Apologetics & Systematic Theology
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Dennis A. Bratcher
Lay member
Canadian Reformed Churches
Norristown, Pennsylvania

Lawrence E. Bray
Reformed PCA of Boothwyn
Boothwyn, Pennsylvania

Uri Brito
Intern / Seminarian
New Life PCA
Casselberry, Florida

Tobey Brockman
Associate Pastor
Zion PCA
Lincoln, Nebraska

Matthew Brown
Organizing Pastor
Park Slope PCA
Brooklyn, New York

Matthew Paul Buccheri
Assistant Pastor
Redeemer PCA
New York, New York

Kevin James Bywater
PhD student
University of Durham, England
Cheyenne Mountain PCA
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Ray Cannata
Organizing Pastor
Redeemer PCA
New Orleans, Louisiana

Franklin Tanner Capps
MAR student, PCA
Westminster Theological Seminary
Westminster, South Carolina

N.A. Carswell
Ruling Elder
Community PCA
Louisville, Kentucky

David Cassidy
Redeemer PCA
Austin, Texas

Robert Chapa
Cornerstone Community PCA
Artesia, California

Biao Chen Pastor
Chinese Evangelical Church
Third Millennium Ministries
Orlando, Florida

Ken Christian, Jr.
Assistant Pastor
New Life PCA
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Stewart Clem
Director of Arts
Grace PCA
Stillwater, Oklahoma

Matthew Clement
St. Peter Church
Bristol, Virginia

Scott Collins-Jones
Woodland PCUSA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philip Court
Part-time student
Presbyterian Theological College
Yarraville, Victoria, Australia

Randy Crane
West Friesland PCA
Ackley, Iowa

Garrett Craw
MA student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Thomas Crawford Member
Christ the King PCA
Austin, Texas

Scott Cunningham
Redeemer PCA
Athens, Georgia

John Cunningham
Ruling Elder & Church Counselor
Trinity PCA
Charlottesville, Virginia

Rob Davis Ruling Elder
Christ the King CREC
Springfield, Missouri

Bill DeJong Pastor
Covenant URCNA
Kansas City, Missouri

John Dekker Candidate for the Ministry
Presbyterian Church of Tasmania
Melbourne, Australia

Jonathan DiBenedetto Youth Intern
Faith PCA
Cincinnati, Ohio

Dan Dillard
Grace Reformed OPC
Bend, Oregon

Douglas B. Doll
MDiv student
Visiting Instructor of Greek
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Justin Dombrowski
MA student, Ancient Judaism
Emmanuel PCA
New York, New York

Justin Donathan
Incoming student
Covenant Theological Seminary
Christ the King PCA
Norman, Oklahoma

Gilbert F. Douglas, III
Ruling Elder
Trinity Presbyterian CREC
Birmingham, Alabama

J. Darren Duke
Harvest PCA
Jacksonville, North Carolina

Joshua Aaron Eby
Assistant Pastor
Redeemer Church PCA
Knoxville, Tennessee

George Edema
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Peter Enns
Old Testament and Biblical Hermeneutics
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Michael A. Farley
PhD student
Historical Theology
Saint Louis University
Music Director
Crossroads PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Andrew Field
Grace PCA
Palo Alto, California

Travis Finley
CDL Truck Driver, DC
Baltimore, Maryland
Member, PCA

Bruce R. Finn
Church Planting Coordinator, PCA
Metro Philadelphia Church Planting Partnership
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Michaela M Forbes
MATS student
Covenant Theological Seminary
Youth and Community Worker
Edinburgh, Scotland

Jonathan Foster
MDiv student, PCA
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Alan Foster
East Lanier Community PCA
Buford, Georgia

John Frame
Systematic Theology and Philosophy
Reformed Theological Seminary
Orlando, Florida

Gene Franklin
Grace Covenant CREC
Hockley, Texas

Diana S Frazier
Member, PCA
Chapter President
Women in the Church
Signatory, The Cambridge Declaration

Nathan Froyd
Christ the King PCA
Houston, Texas

Jamison Galt
MDiv student
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Charles Garland
Ivy Creek PCA
Lawrenceville, Georgia

S. Joel Garver
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
La Salle University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Keith Ghormley
Associate Pastor
Zion PCA
Lincoln, Nebraska

Shane F. Gibson
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Rick Gilmartin
Director of Worship & Discipleship
Tabernacle PCA
Waynesboro, Virginia

James Graves
Ruling Elder
Amoskeag OPC
Manchester, New Hampshire

Douglas J. Green
Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Troy Greene
MDiv, Beeson Divinty School
Park Cities PCA
Dallas, Texas

Jason Greer
MDiv student, PCA
Reformed Theological Seminary
Charlotte, North Carolina

Bryan Gregory
Associate Pastor
Back Creek ARP
Charlotte, North Carolina

Bobby G. Griffith, Jr. MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Matthew T. Grimsley
Chief Musician and Assistant Pastor
Redeemer Church PCA
Knoxville, Tennessee

David Hagopian Teaching Elder
Ancient Hope CREC
Mission Viejo, California

Joshua Hahne Church Planter
King of Kings PCA
Buckeye, Arizona

John K. Haralson, Jr. Pastor
Grace Church Seattle, PCA
Seattle, Washington

Jeff Harlow Pastor
Christ the Redeemer CREC
Pella, Iowa

Todd R. Harris Headmaster
Covenant Classical School
Fort Worth, Texas

Ken Harris Visiting Instructor in Old Testament
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Barb Harvey Member
Covenant OPC
Dayton, Ohio

Jonathan Hays
Ministerial Intern
New Song PCA
Salt Lake City, Utah

Walter Henegar Associate Pastor
Christ Church PCA
Atlanta, Georgia

Weston Hicks Member
Redeemer PCA
Austin, Texas

Will Hinton Member
Intown Community PCA
Atlanta, Georgia

Theo Hoekstra Pastor
Grace Covenant Church (Independent)
Gibsons, British Columbia, Canada

Mark Horne Assistant Pastor
Providence Reformed PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Joel Hunter Elder
Tates Creek PCA
Lexington, Kentucky
Virgil Hurt Pastor
Providence CREC
Lynchburg, Virginia

J. Nelson Jennings
Teaching Elder, PCA
Associate Professor of World Mission
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Greg Johnson Associate Pastor
Memorial PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Joseph Johnson Chair, Religion Department
Greenwood Christian School
Due West ARP
Greenwood, South Carolina

Clay Johnson MDiv student
Covenant Theological Seminary
New City PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Charles Johnson Ruling Elder
Director of Christian Education & Community
Twin Oaks PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Tony Johnson (Joncevski) Minister
St. Kilda-Balaclava
Presbyterian Church of Australia
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

David Jones Campus Minister, PCA
RUF at Stanford University
Stanford, California

Joan Jones
Evergreen PCA
Portland, Oregon

Glenn Jones Seminary student
Reformed Theological Seminary
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Russell S. Jung MDiv Student
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Michael Kelly Assistant Professor of Old Testament
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ewan P Kennedy Pastor
Westminster PCA
Elgin, Illinois

Reggie M. Kidd Professor of New Testament
Reformed Theological Seminary
Orlando, Florida
Pastor of Worship
Orangewood PCA
Maitland, Florida

Iron Kim Associate Pastor
City Church PCA of San Francisco
San Francisco, California

J. Al LaCour
Campus Minister for Internationals
RUF – International, PCA
Atlanta, Georgia

Edwin Lang Headmaster
Geneva Academy PCA
Monroe, Louisiana

Wayne Larson Pastor
Redeemer PCA
Des Moines, Iowa

Timothy R. LeCroy
MDiv 2006, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
PhD student
Saint Louis University
St. Louis, Missouri

Thomas Lee Pastor
Cornerstone PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Peter J. Leithart Teaching Elder, PCA
Trinity Reformed Church
Senior Fellow
New St Andrews College
Moscow, Idaho

Stephen K. Leung Ruling Elder, PCA
Chinese Christian Church of Virginia
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

John P. Lindsay Pastor
West Hopewell PCA
Hopewell, Virginia

David Linton
Ruling Elder, PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Samuel T. Logan Executive Director
World Reformed Fellowship
Chancellor and Professor of Church History
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tremper Longman III Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies
Westmont College
Santa Barbara, California

Glenn Lucke PhD student, Sociology
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia

Kris Lundgaard Member
Redeemer PCA
Austin, Texas

Kurt Lutjens Pastor
Grace & Peace Fellowship PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Gregg MacDougall Associate Pastor
Calvary PCA
Willow Grove, Pennsylvania

Sean Mahaffey Teaching Elder
Grace Covenant CREC
Texarkana, Arkansas

Andrew Malkus Ruling Elder
Grace and Peace Fellowship PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Rick P. Martin Ruling Elder
Community PCA
Louisville, Kentucky

Andrew Vander Mass
Crossroads PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Stephen R. Master
Assistant Professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Drew Matter
MDiv Student
Westminster Theological Seminary
CityChurch PCA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Amanda McClendon
Redeemer PCA
Waco, Texas

Jonathan D. McGuire
Pastoral Intern
Director of Student Ministries
Trinity PCA
Rye, New York

James McGuire
Senior Pastor
Ward EPC
Northville, Michigan

Daniel McKinney
Assistant Pastor
Jordan PCA
West Jordan, Utah

Herb Melton III
Ruling Elder
Community PCA
Louisville, Kentucky

Rogers Meredith Pastor
Christ Reformed Church
Meeker, Colorado

Sara Mersfelder Minister of Congregational Life
City PCA
Denver, Colorado

Jeffrey J. Meyers
Providence Reformed PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

J. Dawson Miller
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Joseph Minich Member,
Catholic University of America
Hyattsville, Maryland

Melissa Partain Moore
Treatment Foster Care Case Worker
Delta Community Supports, Inc
Member, Trinity OPC
Hatboro, Pennsylvania

William Murray Member
Christ Covenant PCA
Cullman, Alabama

Sam Murrell Pastor
Forest Park PCA
Baltimore, Maryland

Bob Myers
Covenant PCA
Doylestown, Pennsylvania

A. Randy Nabors
New City Fellowship PCA
Chattanooga, Tennessee

William J. Nielsen
North Texas Presbytery, PCA
MDiv Graduate
Westminster Theological Seminary
Dallas, Texas

Cynthia R. Nielsen
PhD student, University of Dallas
MAR, Westminster Theological Seminary
Park Cities PCA
Dallas, Texas

Joost Nixon
Christ Church CREC
Spokane, Washington

David Bruce Noble
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Leon Pannkuk
Regional Director
Evangelism Explosion
St. Louis, Missouri

Patrick R. Park
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Michael N. Parker
Associate Pastor
New City Fellowship PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Brian Penney Pastor
Covenant Christian Fellowship CREC
Copiague, New York

Lloyd Pierson Pastor
Faith Covenant OPC
Kalispell, Montana

Brian Prentiss Associate Pastor
Grace PCA
Palo Alto, California

Sean Radke
Youth & College Ministry Team Leader
Twin Oaks PCA
Ballwin, Missouri

Matt Redmond
Pastor of Student Discipleship
Westminster PCA
Greenwood, Mississippi

William Reichart Assistant Pastor
Big Creek PCA
Alpharetta, Georgia

Andrew Richardson Pastor of Children’s Ministries
Redwood Chapel Community Church (Non-denominational)
Castro Valley, California

Meredith Riedel DPhil candidate, PCA
University of Oxford
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Stephen Robertson
Valley Presbyterian PCA
North Hills, California

Peter Rowan MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

P. Andrew Sandlin President, Teacher
Center for Cultural Leadership
Church of the King CREC – Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, California

Michael Saville ThM, Covenant Theological Seminary
Licentiate, Western Canada Presbytery PCA
Calgary, Alberta

Ronald W. Scates Senior Pastor
Highland Park PCUSA
Dallas, Texas

Matthew Seilback MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Jeremy Sexton MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Michael Sharrett Pastor
Redeemer PCA
Lynchburg, Virginia

Amy L. Sherman
Senior Fellow & Director
Sagamore Institute Center on Faith in Communities
Charlottesville, Virginia

Gil Shivers Elder
Grace Covenant CREC
Hockely, Texas

Laurence C. Sibley, Jr. Minister, OPC
Lecturer in Practical Theology
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Riga, Latvia
Visiting Professor
Baltic Reformed Theological Seminary

Christopher T. Smith
Associate Pastor
Providence Reformed PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Jason S. Smith
Humanities Teacher
Oak Mountain Classical Christian School
Birmingham, Alabama

William Smith
Community PCA
Louisville, Kentucky

Brian Steadman
MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Michael Stevens
All Nations PCA
Oakland, California

Josh Stevenson
All Saints CREC
Elverson, Pennsylvania

Anthony Stiff Student, PCA
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Daniel Stoddart Deacon
Christ Church Mission, PECUSA
Wilmington, Delaware

Donald S. Stone Pastor
Lehigh Valley PCA
Allentown, Pennsylvania

Jon Storck MDiv student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Gregg Strawbridge Pastor
All Saints Presbyterian CREC
Augustine Presbytery
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

George Stulac Pastor
Memorial PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Michael Quinn Sullivan Deacon
Redeemer PCA
Austin, Texas

Travis Tamerius Pastor
Christ the King PCA
Columbia, Missouri

Stephen S. Taylor Associate Professor of New Testament
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Michael Taylor
Cornerstone PCA
St. Louis, Missouri

Robert Terry
Ruling Elder
Christ PCA
Flower Mound, Texas

Russ Theisens Director of Student Ministries
Faith PCA
Cincinnati, Ohio

Greg Thompson Pastor
Trinity PCA
Charlottesville, Virginia

Ryan Tompkins Pastor
Trinity Harbor PCA
Rockwall, Texas

Joseph Tong President and Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophical
International Theological Seminary
Los Angeles, California

Mark Traphagen MDiv student
Westminster Theological Seminary
liberti PCA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Robert Ulrich
Laguna Niguel, California

Hendrik van Dorp, III Member
Covenant URCNA
Pantego, North Carolina

Garry Vanderveen Pastor
Christ Covenant CREC
Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Michael Vendsel MAR student, PCA
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Andrew Voelkel Assistant Pastor
South Baton Rouge PCA
Baton Rouge, Lousiana

Bryan J. Walker
MDiv Student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Richard Wattenbarger Member
Tenth PCA
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Jeremy A. Weese MA student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Sam Wheatley Pastor
New Song PCA
Salt Lake City, Utah

Shayne Wheeler Organizing Pastor
All Souls Fellowship PCA
Decatur, Georgia

Andy White
MDiv Student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Hank Whitmore Ruling Elder
Auburn Road PCA
Venice, Florida

Jonathan W. Williams
Bridwell Heights PCA
Bristol, Tennessee

Michael D. Williams Teaching Elder, PCA
Professor of Systematic Theology
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Laurence Windham Member
St. Peter Church
Bristol, Virginia

Brandon G. Withrow PhD candidate, PCA
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Bradley G. Wright Associate Pastor
Grace Woodlands PCA
Grace Woodlands, Texas

Stephen Young
MDiv Student
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Jeff Zehnder Seminary student, PCA
Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri

Donald Zylstra Member
Lynwood URCNA
Lynwood, Illinois

Presbyterians & Presbyterians Together is an inter-denominational grass-roots movement among Reformed pastors and leaders that desires to heal and move beyond the various rifts that seem to perennially surface in our tradition. While we acknowledge that important and substantive issues need to be considered and worked-through, we want to do so in the bonds of peace, not in a context of mistrust, suspicion, and sectarianism.

Christian charity assumes the best of the brethren, not the worst. Unfortunately, it seems that our ability to dialogue in profitable ways is often circumvented by assuming the worst of each others’ motives, commitments, intelligence, and diligence. Our hope and prayer is to encourage a renewed commitment to vigorous dialogue that is salted with love and affection, rather than rancor and animosity.

We do this all for the sake of Christ’s Gospel and our Triune God’s mission to a lost and broken world.  God calls us in Christ, empowered by his Spirit, and guided by his Word, to proclaim and be a sign of his reign before the eyes of a watching world.  Living as people shaped by that calling, we remain committed to truth and pursuing truth in love.  It is in that spirit that we offer the petition of this document.

“For many years I have felt that Presbyterians have wasted valuable time debating one another, time that could better be spent in worship, evangelism, and nurture. Pure doctrine is important, but total unanimity on every disputable issue is impossible, and that is not required by Scripture. So we need to be more careful about our priorities. We also need to take much greater care to be fair and gracious to one another when debates do arise. The principles expressed by the Presbyterians Together document give us biblical guidance in this area.” 
— John Frame

“Jonathan Edwards believed that censoriousness among Christians was one of the reasons why the Great Awakening lost its revival power. I believe he was right! And I believe that censoriousness is having the same kind of negative effect in our conservative Presbyterian circles today. The document ‘Presbyterians and Presbyterians Together’ is a wonderful Edwardsean call to orthodox and evangelical Presbyterians to avoid censoriousness for the sake of the Gospel. I am honored to sign the document and I hope that many, many others will do so as well.”
— Samuel T. Logan 

“Presbyterian and Reformed people often seem bent on using their marvelous insights into Scripture and Christian tradition in ways that do not provoke others to love, but rather to controversy. Some of this is, sadly, necessary. We are told to ‘earnestly contend for the faith’ as ministers of the Word of God. But the mission of Christ, in this increasingly dark time in Western history, can ill afford the continued border wars that keep promoting new schisms about boundary issues that should not be allowed to divide us further. I humbly and wholeheartedly support this present expression of unity with regard to our fundamental oneness in the great confessional tradition that Reformed Christians still happily embrace. It is not without reason that my own tradition speaks of accepted confessions as our ‘Forms of Unity.'” 
— John H. Armstrong 

“What impressed me at first glance was that the document called for ‘charitable theological discourse.’ It is not a call to silence differing views or to put an end to debate. Instead, it is a call to debate theological issues in love and respect for one another. If the Reformed Church starts down the path of suppressing different view points from being discussed in a charitable way, then it starts down the same path as the popish inquisition. Rooting out and expelling heresy is of utmost importance in the Church of Christ, but it cannot be done without love (1 Cor 13). I am reminded of what Matthew Henry said in his commentary on 1 Corinthians – ‘In the great things of religion be of one mind: but, when there is not unity of sentiment, let there be a union of affections.”
–Lawrence E. Bray

Who started this?

Through informal discussion, a group of Reformed leaders, pastors, seminarians, and laity found they shared a burden for more irenic and profitable theological dialogue on substantive issues of faith and practice.  They went on to draft an inter-denominational document toward that end and circulated it to early signatories.

Is this an effort to cease dialogue?

The exact opposite is true. We long for true dialogue that escapes the rhetoric of division and derision. Our tradition must mature by working through these issues in a more profitable manner than we have heretofore pursued and, in that context, calling for trust in how our church structures function.

Are you trying to circumvent the work of church courts?

Absolutely not. We want to encourage the courts to work carefully through these issues without being politicized by certain factions, and to cultivate charity so these courts can continue functioning in a healthy and proper way.

Why now?

The level of rancor in our tradition has been elevating over the past several years and threatens our witness and ability to co-labor for the sake of the Gospel. We felt it was time to encourage greater unity before unnecessary schism erupted.

Are you starting a new organization?

Not at this time.

Doesn’t this threaten true unity by compromising the truth of the Gospel?

No. The Gospel is threatened more when we factionalize into sects over issues that should be lovingly and thoughtfully considered – and even tolerated within certain bounds.

Can people who are Reformed, but not Presbyterian sign this?

Of course. Anyone who is Reformed or who is a concerned observer is welcome to add their voice to the chorus.

Is this motivated by an effort to promote a particular agenda?

Not at all. This document does not advocate a particular point-of-view on any issue, but only suggests that various differences have always found their home within the bounds of the historic Reformed tradition and that the church must be allowed to discern appropriate boundaries without needlessly hostile rhetoric.

A Brief History of Covenant Theology


The roots of Reformed covenant theology are as deep as the Christian revelation and tradition is old. Its importance to the Reformed faith cannot be overstated. The great Princeton theologian, B. B. Warfield called federal (covenant) theology, “architectonic principle” of the Westminster Confession of Faith

Early Fathers: Present But Undeveloped.

Until the Pelagian controversy (late 300’s) and the semi-Pelagian (early 400’s) controversies following that, the church did not have a highly developed doctrine of salvation. The early church also had a theology of the covenant which is best described as latent, but undeveloped. The early fathers used the doctrine of the covenant in five ways:

1. To stress the moral obligations of Christianity;

2. To show God’s grace in including the Gentiles in the Abrahamic blessings;

3. To deny that Israelites received the promises simply because they were physical descendents of Abraham;

4. To demonstrate the unity of the divine economy of salvation;

5 To explain the discontinuity between the old and new covenants in Scripture.

The greatest of all the early fathers, however, was Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), the giant upon whose shoulders the rest of the church has stood. In his greatest work, The City of God (16:27), he clearly taught the outlines of what would become central elements in classic Reformed theology, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.

But even the infants, not personally in their own life, but according to the common origin of the human race, have all broken God’s covenant in that one in whom all have sinned. Now there are many things called God’s covenants besides those two great ones, the old and the new, which any one who pleases may read and know. For the first covenant, which was made with the first man, is just this: “In the day ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die.” Whence it is written in the book called Ecclesiasticus, “All flesh waxeth old as doth a garment. For the covenant from the beginning is, Thou shall die the death.”

There are two Adams in the history of salvation. As the Puritans had it, “In Adam’s fall, sinned we all.” He was our federal representative. Christ, of course, is the Second Adam, the federal representative of all the elect. Augustine considers that God made a legal covenant with Adam, that he was under the Law and he distinguishes here and later in the chapter, between the Law and the Gospel. This distinction was largely lost in the Medieval church, but it was one of the great recoveries of the Reformation.

Considering the history of salvation, the old and new covenants are both expressions of the Gospel. Most importantly we must note that Augustine turned to covenant theology against the Pelagians (who denied original sin) and against the semi-Pelagians, who affirmed original sin, but who argued that we could cooperate with divine grace for our righteousness before God.

Medieval Period

For most of the Medieval period, the Western (Latin) church and the major theologians agreed that God says what he says about us, because we are what we are. That is, God can only call people righteous, if they truly are righteous, inside and out. This, they thought, will happen when sinners are infused with grace so that they become saints. Justification was a matter of cooperation with divine grace, faith is obedience and doubt is of the essence of faith.

The major development in medieval covenant theology was the proposition by great Franciscan theologian, William of Ockham (1285-1347) and later by Gabriel Biel (1420-95) that God does not say what he says (e.g., “you are just”) because we really are just, but rather, because we have met the terms of the covenant to cooperate with God. This is known as the Franciscan Pactum theology. Their slogan was, “To the one who does what he can, God will not deny grace.” You know this teaching as, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Ockham and Biel were teaching that God rewards sinners with a kind of merit when they do their best. He overlooks their sins and treats them as if they had fulfilled the terms of the covenant, i.e., as if they had kept the Law. It was against this very teaching that Martin rebelled in the Protestant Reformation.

Covenant Theology in the Reformation

Though Martin Luther (1483-1546) came to hate the covenant theology of the Franciscans, he did not abandon every part of it. Though he did not work out a complete covenant theology, as he became a Protestant (1513-19) Luther taught Paul’s doctrine of original sin, absolute divine sovereignty in salvation (double predestination), the imputation of our sin to Christ and his righteousness to us and faith as the alone instrument of justification. According to Luther, we are not justified because we are sanctified. He, with Calvin and all the Protestants, did not reject the idea of merit, but he learned that it is not our merits produced by grace which satisfies God, it is Christ who merited our justice and his merits are imputed to sinners.

Luther expressed these truths in his distinction, in justification, between Law and Gospel. The latter is the good news about what Christ has done for sinners. The former is bad news for sinners. Any time Scripture says, “Do this and live” (Luke 10:28) it is speaking Law. Whenever it says, “I have done that you might live” it is speaking Gospel. Though some Reformed theologians have suggested that we disagree with Luther on this principle, B. B. Warfield reminded us that it is “misleading to find the formative principle of either type of Protestantism in its difference from the other; they have infinitely more in common than in distinction.” Our doctrine of justification is one of those things we have in common.

One reason why Luther did not speak much about covenant in his later writings was that the idea had come to be associated with the Franciscan theologians whom he had publicly repudiated. Another possible reason is that Huldrych Zwingi (1484-1531) spoke more about the covenant. Zwingli, however, also taught a covenant of works before the fall and a covenant of grace after the fall. He especially described the sacraments in terms of the covenant, and our response to grace. His emphasis on our responsibility in the covenant made it sounds to Luther as if he agreed with Ockham.

One of the lesser-known Protestants between Luther and Calvin was Johannes Oecolampadius (†1531). For the time, Oecolampadius taught a remarkably mature covenant theology including the doctrine of the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Indeed, the great Reformed theologian Amandus Polanus considered Oecolampadius the first Reformed covenant theologian.

For example, the covenant of redemption, though a relatively new doctrine and though not worked out in detail, is found more fully in Oecolampadius’ than in other theologians of the period. In 1521 He spoke of the Father’s covenant with the Son, and taught that the covenant of grace is an outworking of this covenant.

As it came to be expressed in 17th century Reformed theology, the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis or consilium pacis, the counsel of peace) taught that the Father required that the Son should obey in the place of the elect, that he should be their surety, i.e., he would meet the legal obligations of the elect, to atone for their sins, to bear the punishment for their sins and to meet the demands of the covenant of works (Law) and to merit the forgiveness of sins and positive righteousness (imputed) to his people.

The Son, as the second party to this covenant, graciously, freely, willingly accepted the terms of this covenant. The Father promised several things, among them a sinless humanity, the Holy Spirit without measure, cooperation in the Son’s work, the authority to dispense the Holy Spirit and all authority on heaven and earth, numerous rewards for completing the probation as the 2nd Adam. Should the Son meet the terms of this covenant, he would merit the justification of his people and be vindicated by his resurrection.

His most important work on covenant theology were his lectures on Isaiah delivered in 1523-24. In those lectures he described the covenant of grace as one-sided in origin and two-sided in administration. Therefore, the covenant of grace, considered as God’s Gospel offer to sinners, must be said to be unconditional in the sense that we do not prepare for it, nor do we cooperate with it. We simply believe the Gospel promise. The covenant of grace can be said to be conditional when we consider the administration of the covenant in the life of the church. Christians are obligated, as a response to grace to attend to the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. These are the basic lines of all Reformed covenant theology through the 19th century.

Like Luther, John Calvin (1509-1564) taught the substance of the more highly developed federal theology. Like Bullinger, most of his discussion of the covenant concerned the history of redemption from Adam to Christ and the continuity of the covenant of grace. Nevertheless, he taught the substance of what became classic Reformed federal theology: the covenant of redemption in eternity (pactum salutis), the covenant of works before the fall and the covenant of grace after the fall.

Some scholars deny that Calvin taught the same covenant theology as the later Reformed theologians since he did not use the same vocabulary as they did. This is ironic since Calvin himself complained about the Romanists who would not allow him to use the expression “faith alone” (Institutes, 3.11.19) since the word “alone” (sola) is not used expressly in Scripture. For Calvin the Law (covenant of works) kills sinners and the Gospel (covenant of grace) justifies and sanctifies them through faith alone, in Christ alone. He used the covenant to express those fundamental truths.

Beginning with the basic distinction between Law (guilt) and Gospel (grace) he also used the covenant to include a more prominent place for sanctification or gratitude. We know these as the three parts of our catechism.

Heinrich Bullinger (1504-75) published perhaps the first treatise devoted to explaining the covenant in 1534. Like Calvin and the early fathers, he used the covenant to teach the unity of God and his salvation. He contributed to the Reformed tradition of using the covenant of grace as a summary of biblical theology. Caspar Olevian (1536-87) would later do this same thing in three works, chiefly in his book, On the Substance of the Covenant of Grace Between God and the Elect (1585) and Johannes Cocceius (1609-69) and Herman Witsius (1636-1708) write entire systematic theologies structured by the covenants of redemption, works and grace.

Covenant Theology in Reformed Orthodoxy

The two most important Reformed covenant theologians of the late 16th century were the chief authors of our catechism, Caspar Olevian (1536-87) and Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83). Ursinus lectured on the covenant theology of the catechism in Heidelberg for about fifteen years and later, until his death, at his school in Neustadt. His covenant theology is clear from his lectures and Larger Catechism (1561) which he used in his seminary and university classes.

Ursinus defined covenants in general in terms of the covenant of works, since the Gospel can only be understood against the background of the Law. In the covenant of works, God placed conditions upon Adam, the head of all humanity, which he accepted, to obey his covenant God. The sign of the covenant was the tree of life. If Adam had kept the covenant, he would have entered a state of eternal blessedness. For the same reason, transgression of the Law covenant meant eternal punishment.

According to Ursinus (and all the classic Reformed theologians) Christ, the representative of all the elect, fulfilled this covenant in his active and passive (suffering) obedience. Because Christ obeyed the Law for his people, there is a Gospel covenant. Unlike the covenant of works made with sinless Adam, the covenant of grace is made with sinners, who need a mediator, a covenant keeping Savior, who fulfilled the Law, satisfied God’s just wrath for sinners. This is the difference between Law and Gospel (Larger Catechism, Q. 36).

For Ursinus, as for Olevian and the mainstream of Reformed Orthodoxy, the covenant of works stands for the Law, which is not gracious but relentless in its demand for perfection. The covenant of grace stands for Gospel, which means that Christ our Mediator and substitute has met the terms of the Law for us. It was a covenant of works for Christ and he has made and Gospel covenant for us.

In his On the Substance of the Covenant, Caspar Olevian argued that the covenant can be considered in a broader and narrower sense. In the narrower sense, the covenant can said to have been made only with the elect. It is the elect who are united to Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, who receive the benefits of the covenant, strictly speaking.

Considered relative to the administration of the covenant of grace, the covenant must be said or thought to be with all the baptized, since only God knows who is elect. Therefore we baptize on the basis of the divine command and promise, and we regard covenant children (before profession of faith) and all who make a credible profession of faith as Christians until they prove otherwise. Those who are in the covenant in the broader sense or externally, do receive some of the benefits of the covenant (Hebrews 6:4-6), but they do not receive what Olevian called the “substance of the covenant,” or the “double benefit of the covenant: justification and sanctification. Only those who are elect actually appropriate, by grace alone, through simple faith alone, the “double benefit” of the covenant. Both Olevian and Ursinus taught the pactum salutis, the covenant of works as a Law covenant and the covenant of grace as a Gospel covenant.

Why is the covenant not more prominent in the Heidelberg Catechism? The answer is in two parts. One of the chief aims of the catechism was to present the Reformed faith to Lutherans in the Palatinate. By 1562, when the work on the catechism was underway, the Lutherans had strongly criticized Reformed covenant theology. Therefore, the committee wanted a more ecumenical tone for the catechism. The second reason is that Ursinus and Olevian were commissioned to explain the catechism in the schools in terms of what we know as the classic Reformed federal theology: covenant of redemption, covenant of works and covenant of grace. Even though the catechism did not use the technical covenant language, the authors of the catechism clearly understood the catechism to teach the substance of covenant theology.

The theology of the early 17th century Reformed theologians William Ames (†1633), Johannes Wollebius (†1629) and Amandus Polanus (†1610) was written in the same direction as that of Olevian and Ursinus. The high point of Reformed federal theology was doubtless the work of Johannes Cocceius (†1669), Francis Turretin (†1687), J. H. Heidegger (†1698) and Herman Witsius (†1708).

Cocceius is notable for writing the most comprehensive account of the Biblical covenants, perhaps in Christian history. He was opposed in several respects by Gisbert Voetius (†1676). Cocceius’ chief work was his Summary of the Doctrine Concerning the Covenant and Testament (1648). He is most famous for doctrine of the progressive abrogation of the covenant of works in history. This along with his rather more liberal view of the Sabbath along with his support of the new philosophy of Rene Descartes (†1650), provoked a strong reaction from the Voetians. He was primarily a Biblical theologian interested in the progressive revelation of the accomplishment of salvation. His opponents were more interested, perhaps, in systematic theology and the application of redemption to sinners.

Like most of the earlier federal theologians, he saw the history of salvation as the expression of the eternal covenant of redemption. He distinguished strongly between the covenant of works as Law and the covenant of grace as Gospel. On these main points, he found complete support in Heidegger, Turretin and Witsius.

Francis Turretin is most famous for his Institutes of Elenctic Theology (1679-85) which was the theology text for Princeton Seminary until Charles Hodge wrote his own system in English. Turretin supported the mainlines of Reformed covenant theology and defended them against the Socinians, Arminians and Amyrauldians, all of whom attacked Protestant theology and Reformed federalism because they believed it would give Christians an excuse to sin and because they thought it unreasonable.

J. H. Heidegger and Turretin produced the Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675), a brilliant summary of Reformed covenant theology in the late 17th century. In Canon VII they taught that, “Having created man in this manner, he [God] put him under the Covenant of Works, and in this Covenant freely promised him communion with God, favor and life, if indeed he acted in obedience to his will.” If Adam kept the covenant, he would enter into eternal blessedness, which was signified by the Tree of Life (Canon VIII). What Adam refused to do Christ the Second Adam did for us. They explicitly criticized the Arminians who rejected the covenant of works (Canon IX). Following the Reformed mainstream, they also taught the eternal covenant of redemption (Canon XIII). Against the Remonstrants, they upheld faith (sola fide) as the only condition for entering the covenant. Obedience flows from justification out of gratitude. “In accordance with these two ways of justification the Scripture establishes these two covenants: the Covenant of Works, entered into with Adam and with each one of his descendants in him, but made void by sin; and the Covenant of Grace, made with only the elect in Christ, the second Adam, eternal. [This covenant] cannot be broken while [the Covenant of Works] can be abrogated.”

Herman Witsius attempted to explain, summarize and develop Reformed covenant theology, trying to build bridges between the Cocceians and the Voetians. Like the tradition before him, he identified the covenant of works with the Law and the covenant of grace with the Gospel. The difference between the two covenants is that Christ our Mediator has met the terms of the Law for all elect sinners.

One of the tensions, which remained unresolved in the 16th and 17th centuries, was the matter of the nature of Israel’s relations to the covenant of works. All the classic theologians took some account of the works language, while maintaining the essential unity of the covenant of grace. Some, such as Cocceius and Witsius suggested that Israel was in a sort of probation relative to the land, but not justification.

Since Calvin, Reformed theologians have also spoken of God’s graciousness in entering into covenant relations with Adam. This language has often been misunderstood. John Owen and John Ball (like Herman Bavinck later) called attention to the disproportionality between God and Man and God’s freedom in making the covenant of works. None of these theologians, however, denied that the covenant of works was a legal covenant and none of these theologians said that the covenant of works was a gracious covenant. This important distinction has sometimes been ignored.

Modern Developments

In the United States the Princeton theologians e.g., Charles Hodge (†1878), B. B. Warfield (†1921) G. Vos (†1941) and J. G. Machen (†1936), and in the Netherlands H. Bavinck (†1921) followed the main lines of the classic view, teaching the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works (Law) and the covenant of grace (Gospel).

The single greatest influence on covenant theology in the 20th century has been that of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (†1968). Having rejected genuine historicity of Scripture in favor of a theology of personal encounter with the Word, Barth rejected much of classic Reformed covenant theology as “scholastic” and unbiblical. He rejected the covenant of redemption and the classic distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace as “legalistic.” In Barth’s theology, grace overwhelmed Law. Many contemporary Reformed theologians, including T. F. Torrence and G. C. Berkouwer followed this critique of the Reformed tradition.

In the Netherlands, with the 1892 merger of the Afscheiding (1834) and the Doleantie, (1886) tensions grew between the followers of Abraham Kuyper (†1920) and some of the Secession theologians, culminating with the deposition of Dr. Klaas Schilder (†1952) near the end of Synod Sneek-Utrecht (1939-43). Like the tradition, Kuyper taught the three-covenant view, distinguishing between those who were in the covenant only outwardly and those who were in the covenant inwardly. He also revised the traditional views in certain places.

Whereas some in the Reformed tradition had discussed the possibility of eternal justification, Kuyper elevated that speculation to a central place in his doctrine of the covenant, identifying it with the covenant of grace, concluding that we baptize on the basis of presumed regeneration rather than on the basis of command and promise. From the perspective of the tradition, this was a move bound to provoke a reaction.

Worried about the possibility of moral laxity among the covenant people, Schilder rejected the Kuyperian distinctives, emphasizing the unity of a gracious covenant before and after the fall, and the responsibility of those within the covenant to appropriate its benefits. In so doing, he also rejected important aspects of the traditional view including the covenant of redemption and the distinction between the covenants of works and grace as well as the distinction between the broader and narrower senses of the covenant of grace.

In the controversy between the Kuyperians and the Schilderites, however, covenant theology turned away from relating covenant to justification in favor of relating covenant to election.

In the first half of the 20th century, in the United States, M. J. Bosma and Louis Berkhof (†1957) upheld the classic view. At Westminster Seminary, however, John Murray (†1975) was also re-formulating covenant theology. He rejected the terms “pactum salutis” and “covenant of works,” though he continued to teach the substance of both. In reaction to fundamentalist dispensationalism which rejected the unity of the covenant of grace, Murray emphasized the continuity of the covenant by defining the covenant primarily in terms of grace. Nevertheless, he taught the Protestant doctrine of justification.

As in the case of Schilder, Murray’s revision of the tradition left a tension between his covenant theology and his doctrine of justification. Professor Norman Shepherd, also of Westminster, resolved the tension by proposing a revision of the doctrine of sola fide, which created a serious controversy culminating in his departure from the seminary in 1981.

In reaction to Murray and Shepherd, Meredith Kline of Westminster Seminary in California has returned to the classic correlation between the Law and Gospel dichotomy and the dichotomy between the covenant of works and grace. To answer the liberals and dispensationalists, he has argued that there is one covenant of grace in the history of salvation, but that the Mosaic covenant, though gracious with respect to justification, had a works element relative to Israel’s tenure in Canaan. In this way, the Mosaic theocracy becomes a re-publication of the covenant of works and a foreshadowing of Christ, the obedient 2nd Adam. Though it appears novel in our time, this view is quite traditional. His view that the Mosaic Covenant was a temporary, legal, superimposition upon the covenant of grace, though hinted at in the earlier tradition, is an development of the earlier theology.


It is clear that, through the 20th century, the great consensus which had been sustained since the Reformed covenant theology since the 1520’s has fragmented. The causes seem to be three: The influence of Barth, even among confessional theologians has been greater than many recognize. Second, in reaction to Modernity, many have become practical fundamentalists, little interested in the Reformed tradition and third, we have forgotten our Protestant ABC’s in the doctrine of justification. Certainly, a first step toward repairing the consensus is to take a serious look back at our greatest covenant theologians.