A Primer on Covenant Theology
An interaction with Witsius’ work, The Economy of the Covenants and Edwards’ work, The doctrine of Original Sin
Scott P. Bushey
TH741 Puritan Theology II
February 1, in the year of our Lord 2016
By Scott Bushey
Most all reformed theologians agree that Herman Witsius’ work on covenant is by far the best ever written on the subject. It is the gold standard. In this work, Witsius painstakingly exhausts all avenues of God’s scriptures and paves the way for a streamlined view of Covenant Theology and the redemptive work of Christ. In his work, he addresses the how and why of covenant and how it is to be applied to the believers walk. Witsius presents his understanding of the subject in in a way that one cannot avoid the framework he lays down; this framework is used in a foundational sense so that further studying of God’s word will always be supplanted by a covenantal mentality. It is akin to a boat floating in a large ocean. The boat being the word of God and covenant the body of water that it rests upon. As well, Since Covenant is generally based upon agreements and conditions, Jonathan Edwards’ work on Total Depravity was addressed in this treatise. Much like Witsius, Edwards exhausts the doctrine, refuting all objections to anything less than a sinful totality when we consider the nature of man in regards to his fallen state.
Deut 7:9 Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;
Understanding covenant is paramount to understanding the bible and how God works. The bible is a systematic diary of sorts that help the reader understand God’s character, His holiness and the requirements of the creature. It starts with creation and ends with the return of Christ victoriously for the elect. Imbedded in all of this is covenant; it is how God deals with creation and His creatures. Covenant is the epicenter of God’s decree and purpose. To miss covenant is to miss one of the most important facets of God’s word and in result, many of the doctrines are affected.
One of the most important elements to bible study is hermeneutics. Bad hermeneutic, bad theology. Good Hermeneutic and we’re in business and in good company. Praise the Lord! Having said that, I want to create a backdrop of sorts for this paper as to assist the reader in getting a better understanding in how my bad hermeneutic initially, left me in one of these potholes I mentioned earlier.
In years passed, I was saved in a Dispensational, Charismatic, credo-Baptist setting. I recall reading the scriptures, in a different fashion than I do now. The main backdrop for any reading I did was through the lens of what I already knew presuppositionally, and how I had been discipled. Most all of the emphasis was placed on the New Testament, and as I read the Old Testament, it was in the light of the New. Later in my walk, I found that these presuppositions paved the way for most of my erred doctrine. We were always told by the Elders to interpret the old from the new. In that, many miss the emphasis on God’s covenants, based on the idea that what was being done in the New Testament was entirely different and the New Testament should be appreciated as such. It is of the utmost importance when we study to use both testaments to help with our interpretation of both. One does not supersede the other in importance. Many times we must think chronologically. God is outside of time, but mankind is in time. Hence, God’s word is a history book of sorts and should be read accordingly. One of the greatest study rudiments I learned was to ‘Think like a Jew!’
In the early days of my walk, the emphasis in this dispensational setting was placed on externals; there were lots of bells and whistles, this to include elaborate musicians, music, intense lighting and large speaker systems. The gospel was a synergistic message; generally watered down so that it was not offensive in any way. Most all meetings had a crescendo pitch with an altar call finale. It was all about getting the numbers and professions of faith. This particular church did not have a membership, hence, discipleship was not at the forefront. They were faithful in teaching verse by verse, book by book and were instrumental in where I am at in many ways as I used this precept as I grew in the Lord. Both my wife and I can attest to this. Not everything they did was wrong; some things were very profitable to our walks! As time passed, I ended up leaving the previous setting for a particular Baptist setting. A beautiful congregation of reforming believers. In the 5 years I was there, I continued studying God’s covenant and ultimately left for a confessional, Presbyterian congregation. Yet, even in this setting, I was not understanding it as I do now. I said to someone yesterday that three major paradigms occurred in my life; when I was saved, when the Doctrines of Grace became real to my heart, and when I understood covenant properly. I want to add at the front that my theology is less than perfect. Given the grace I have been given, I have a respectable idea of God’s word and His covenants-but I grow, thank the Lord!
One of the stumbling blocks for me had been paedo-baptism. I grew up in a split family of sorts; my maternal grandparents were Jewish and Roman Catholic. I was educated in the Parochial setting; family holidays were spent bifurcating between Jewish holidays and Roman Catholic-we were on a fence of sorts. In this, paedo-baptism was always delineated along the lines of how Rome understood the doctrine, hence when I became a true believer, I rejected it as error; as well, most evangelicals make the mistake of relating any baptism of infants to be a Roman Catholic doctrine, also. In my research of covenant, I came to the conclusion that God did have a plan for infants in covenant families. I checked the Puritans on the issue and some of the beloved confessions; yes, Rome held to paedo-baptism, but so did the early church. It was the norm. All the historic Reformed held to this doctrine. Most of this error is secondary to the idea that these believers do not understand God’s word in the way I describe above and surely do not understand covenant, rightly. As I advanced in my studies, I began to see that God works in a fashion, from Genesis to Revelation in a covenantal way, always. He decrees and ordains. God commands and men respond. Even within the framework of the Godhead, outside of time, God worked this way. Lights began to come on. I considered the perpetuity of all the covenants; I asked myself, ‘are any of these covenants abrogated?’ My answer to these inquiries was that none were abrogated, ‘God does not lie’. Surely, some of the covenants were finalized, but the essence of those concluded covenants were continuing, ‘for all generations’. It was here that the final chapter in my covenant theology came to fruition. I read Genesis chapter 17; specifically, God commanding the sign of covenant to be placed on infants. I thought about the New Testament sign and how that transition would work. I did not see any cases in the New Testament where infants received the sign. However, since we have primarily Jewish believers in the initial stages of the New Testament, you would think that if something the Jews had done so religiously, based on divine command, (if abrogated), we would see this clearly in the initial stages of scripture and this would be the rationale in why we do not seen any actual conversions of children or baptisms; one needs to make the distinction between a new adult believer coming to faith and that which was done by default based on the Abrahamic Covenant command. We find nowhere in either testament to cease the practice of covenantal paedo-baptism nor any alluding to it to be done away with. I thought deeply about this transition and automatically recalled how the Sabbath day changed from the last day of the week to the first. It was relevant! In the same way we see no specific command to change the day, i.e. consider the 4th commandment, I compared the two thoughts, placing the covenant sign on infants and changing the day from the last to the first-there was a similarity, didactically. Consider good and necessary consequence and inference in our biblical hermeneutics. This is rationale. It was at this point, considering all the things I mention, to move onward into covenant theology as a sound biblical approach to God’s word. I finally got it.
Gods covenants are perpetual
As mentioned earlier, no covenants have been abrogated. Consider, for one example, the Noahic covenant. Will God ever flood the earth with water again? This covenant is completed but remains perpetual. There is nothing more to be done, per se. God ordained and decreed and that is final. This finality doesn’t in any way abrogate the principle that this covenant holds. We have God’s word that He will never again flood the earth with water. We can faithfully hold God to His word and in that, this is at the basis for our confidence. Lam 3:22-23.
I want to take some time in explaining how the covenants of God function, practically. As mentioned earlier, there are two covenants, the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. Both of these covenants have internal and external distinctions. The church as well, is made up of two distinctions; visible and invisible. The visible would encase all peoples that have made professions of faith. Some are the elect and others, not. The invisible church is made up of the true Israel; all in the invisible distinction are elect. An example, a child who is baptized as an infant but in reality is a reprobate would be in the external aspect of the Covenant of Grace and in the visible, local expression of the church; the elect infant, would be considered a communicant member and in the internal side in a divided sense. The same can be said for any adult confessors. The same can be said of the Covenant of Works; believers who are regenerated are in Christ and would be in the internal aspect of the Covenant of grace and external aspect of the Covenant of Works. As well, reprobate confessors would be in the internal aspect of the Covenant of Works and the external aspect of the Covenant of Grace.
I have read in various places by some renowned theologian of days past that one cannot be in two covenants at the same time, i.e. the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of grace.
Considering what I have posited above, this is qualified when we consider the internal aspects only. It is either one is under grace or one is under works; it can’t be both! Being under a covenant truly is directly related to it’s internal qualification and not externally and in that way, it is always really just one.
In James Fishers Catechism, he writes:
Q. 23. If both covenants, of grace and works, were exhibited on Mount Sinai, were not the Israelites, in that case, under both these covenants at one and the same time?
They could not be under both covenants in the same respects, at the same time; and therefore they must be considered either as believers or unbelievers, both as to their outward church state and inward soul frame.
24. In what respects were the believing Israelites, in the Sinaitic transaction, under both covenants?
They were internally and really under the covenant of grace, as all believers are, Rom. 6:14, and only externally, under the above awful display of the covenant of works, as it was subordinate and subservient to that of grace, in pointing out the necessity of the Surety-righteousness, Gal. 3:24.
25. In what respects were unbelievers among them, under these two covenants of works and grace?
They were only externally, and by profession, in respect of their visible church state, under the covenant of grace, Rom. 9:4; but internally, and really, in respect of the state of their souls, before the Lord, they were under the covenant of works, chap. 4:14, 15.
More here on the subject: Internal and external aspects of covenant discussed
When we attempt to look into eternity, we cannot avoid the fact that God has always been. He is the Eternal God! We struggle to put into understandable terminology this fact. Our minds cannot rightly perceive this idea. Our thinking is absolutely linear. To attempt to quantify this reality is to say that God existed, which cannot be; as to exist places a timeline on God. God never existed per se; He has always been. To say that God exists is to possibly break the 2nd commandment. In this case, we are using the term to define things that are undefinable. Think of it as a condescension of sorts, but to be accurate, what I propose is biblical. It is difficult for the mind to comprehend this fact and hence we speak in these terms to assist. Most times, we imagine that there is this darkness or a void of sorts. In this void is the Godhead. What was God doing at this time? How long is, eternally? It would be wrong to think that the Godhead was bored or anxious in some manner as that would attribute human characteristics to God and we know that God is Spirit. Additionally, prior to creation, there was no time. There were no days or nights. No ticking clocks. Nothing aged. There wasn’t an age at all! Think about our understanding of time. How does one measure a thing that is immeasurable? How does one delineate where there has never been a beginning? We know from the scriptures that the Godhead communicated within itself. What did they communicate? Did they have conversations? If so, about what? If they are omniscient, why would they ever need to communicate? If they communicated, was it audible? Well, we have really no idea outside of the facts revealed to us through God’s word. What we know is that the Godhead covenanted prior to creation and that will be the subject of this paper. Particularly, the how, what, and why of covenant.
As previously mentioned, the general Reformed view on covenant is that there are two; the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. For both of these covenants, there is a federal headship, Adam for the Covenant of Works and Christ for the Covenant of Grace.
45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. 46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. 47 The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is cthe Lord from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. 1 Cor 15:45-49
Prior to going into a fuller detail about the various covenants, I believe it would be profitable to clarify a bit about the Covenant of Grace and its administration; The Covenant of Grace is exactly that, gracious. The only condition in the Covenant of Grace is the faithfulness of our savior, Christ Jesus; hence, there is a condition on Christ’s side. When we look deeply into some of these administrations, it would look as if they have additional conditions outside of Christ’s work. This is what I call ‘secondary conditions’. They are not soteriologic. In other words, the elect cannot destroy the work of Christ by not keeping the secondary conditions commanded. For example, in Genesis 17, it says that if the federal head does not place the sign on his infant, that man is ‘cut-off’. This cutting off is not a spiritual cutting off as but a local cutting off, i.e. from the tribe, local church, socially. Many of the blessings that would come by keeping said covenant would be denied, based on a rebellious heart. Consider Ziporah as she spoke to Moses when he had failed to place the sign upon their child. She called Moses, ‘husband of blood’. Ex 4:25; having said that, knowing that the elect cannot fall away and as the Holy Spirit sanctifies, these rebellions will be eventually reconciled and the elect person will respond accordingly. The elect cannot fall away. Many times, in our age, the elect rebel and are placed under discipline in the church for the saving of their souls; they are cut off from the table; they do not loose their salvation as that is in Christ. However, they loose many benefits that come with repentance, i.e. the Supper and close fellowship. So, it is in this way that this defiant, rebellious person is ‘cut off’. See it as an excommunication. For some, it is internally and others, externally. Having said what I have, these seeming conditions do not usurp the primary condition in place, that being the work of Christ. In this, they are secondary. Hence, since the administrations all fall under the primary covenant, i.e. the Covenant of Grace, all are conditioned on the work of Christ, and are, gracious.
I will begin by addressing the Covenant of Redemption; I want to say that it was the first covenant, but it was outside of time, hence saying that it was the first covenant puts a timeline on it and as I already said, it was outside of time. The remaining covenant is the Covenant of Grace; we will follow the description of the Covenant of Redemption with the Covenant of Grace and its administrations.
Signs and seals
All covenants are accompanied by signs and seals. The sign is what God commands, i.e. circumcision and the seal is a visible, authentication that the elect apprehend through faith alone. Example, in the Noahic covenant we have the rainbow. God promises that he will never flood the Earth again with water. The believer apprehends and possesses this covenant of God by believing God. Consider circumcision; both Esau and Ishmael had the sign placed upon their flesh. Yet, these two covenant people had no faith and hence, the sign was not sealed to them. They remained covenant breakers, not covenant keepers. The sign and thing signified are not one and the same thing! The unbeliever is unable to ‘believe’ God. They, by nature suppress godliness by their ungodliness. The believer however, by faith, believes God at His word and take full possession of this promise. God makes this promise real to each one of the elect by the faith that is given through a sealing of said faith. Titus 3:5. This ‘sealing’ however, is not tied to the moment it is placed. In other words, the faith required to make the sign effectual by this sealing can happen at the time it is administered or at a different time.
The Covenant of Redemption
Covenant Sign: None
The contracting parties in the Covenant of Redemption are God the Father and God the Son.
This covenant is conditional
The Covenant of Redemption is an eternal aspect of the C of G. It is not an administration of said covenant. There is a difference. I will quote the good Reverend, Matthew Winzer on the subject. The Reverend Winzer makes a point in clarifying what I am saying:
The covenant of works and covenant of grace are theological categories required by the biblical structure of two overarching historical administrations which are represented by two Adams. Once it is recognized that there are only two representative men it will follow that there can only be two covenants. The “covenant of redemption” is nothing other than the covenant of grace as made with Christ. The biblical word “covenant” is used in relation to the theological category which we call the covenant of grace. I personally cannot see how the word could be used of the covenant of works when it is so integral to the unfolding of God’s purpose of grace. The traditional argument is that the word itself does not need to be used in order for a covenant to be present. This suffices to establish a covenant of works in the garden of Eden. There is no need to alter the meaning of words or to impose a creation-covenant in order to account for the concepts which make up the covenant of works as a theological construct. One benefit of traditional covenant theology is its recognition of the testamentary concept which allows for greater clarity in distinguishing old and new administrations of the covenant of grace. The rejection of this concept has led to much confusion concerning the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. (Winzer 2013)’
In the Covenant of Redemption, the Father and Son agree to a number of specific terms. The agreement is cut in blood between the Father and the Son, better known as the Pactum Salutis, the de raad des vredes and Counsel of Peace. The terms are that the Son agrees to condescend to creation as a man, be born of a sinful human being, live a sinless life (all the while suffering under the disposition of this life), be handed over to His creation for charges He is innocent of and die at their hands; paying the penalty owed to God for the sins of the elect. The Father agreeing to give the Son the elect as a love gift. In this covenant, Christ fulfills the prophesy of our Prophet, Priest and King. Deut 18:15, Psalm 2, Psalm 110:1-4; Westminster Confession, chapter 8:1,2., Louis Berkhof , Westminster Larger Catechism  Thus, we have the parties involved in this particular covenant and the agreement. Consider that the scriptures tell us that the ‘Lamb’ was ‘slain’ before the foundation of the world. Rev 13.8 We understand this statement as a ‘now’ and ‘not yet’ fact. We know that Christ died in time at Calvary. What could John have meant when he said this? Obviously, John is referring to the covenant made between the Father and Son.
I want to also mention that when theologians and Westminster make mention that this covenant is between the Father and Son, they are in no way attempting to convey that the Holy Spirit, the 3rd person of the Trinity was missing from the equation or that the Godhead was severed in this instance. As of recently, I have read of certain theologians, i.e. H. Hoeksema, who wrestle with this concept, even arguing against a Covenant of Redemption being logical, secondarily to the statement by Westminster which at face value excludes the Holy Spirit. I am confident that when Westminster made the statement, they take for granted that the readers of said document understand that the Godhead is omnipresent and when they make this statement, they are not excluding the spirit of God. In this, I reject Hoeksema’s interpretation of Westminster and am comfortable that this is what they meant when they used just the Son and Father in this portion of the Confession.
The development of the Covenant of Redemption through scripture
If we read through Psalm 2, Zech 6:12-13, Psalm 89:19-37; Isaiah 53:10-12, Luke 22:29, Eph 1:3-14, Gal 3:16-17; we can see the obvious development of the Covenant of redemption; we see the plan of the Godhead in relation to redeeming the unredeemable. We can see that the Father and Son agree to certain requests and conditions; the Father agreeing to give the Son the elect as a gift, and the Son agreeing to die in the place of sinful men and redeem them unto Himself and reconciling the elect back to their position in the Lord prior to the fall of Adam.
David Dickson writes:
The summe of the Covenant of Redemption is this, God having freely chosen unto life, a certain number of lost mankind, for the glory of His rich grace, did give them before the world began, unto God the Son appointed redeemer…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 applying actually the purchased benefits unto the elect; and that he doth 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 an interest in himself, and to all his blessings.
When we consider the idea of covenant, we need to examine the Hebrew term used:
Berith; ‘To cut’: H1285 בְּרִית bᵉriyṯ 287x
n.f. [root of: 451, 1253, 1357]. covenant, treaty, compact, agreement, an association between two parties with various responsibilities, benefits, and penalties; “to cut a covenant” is “make a covenant,” a figure of the act of ceremonially cutting an animal into two parts, with an implication of serious consequences for not fulfilling the covenant.
בְּרִית berith (136b); from an unused word; a covenant:—allied(1), allies*(1), covenant(275), covenants(1), El-berith*(1), league(2), treaty(4). Robert Shaw writes: “A covenant is generally defined to be an agreement between two parties, on certain terms. In every covenant there must be two parties, and consequently two parts-a conditionary and a promissory; the one to be performed by the one party, and the other to be fulfilled by the other party. If either of the parties be fallible, a penalty is often added; but this is not essential to a covenant.” 
Another fine example would be Genesis 15:7-17 and Hebrews 6:13-20
The Holman Bible Dictionary helps:
COVENANT Oath-bound promise whereby one party solemnly pledges to bless or serve another party in some specified way. Sometimes the keeping of the promise depends upon the meeting of
certain conditions by the party to whom the promise is made. On other occasions the promise is made unilaterally and unconditionally. The covenant concept is a central, unifying theme of Scripture, establishing and defining God’s relationship to man in all ages.
In the OT, the Hebrew word translated “covenant” is berit. The term probably derives from the verb bara, “to bind.” The noun berit originally denoted a binding relationship between two parties in which each pledged to perform some service for the other. The NT, following the Septuagint, uniformly uses the Greek word diatheke for the covenant idea, avoiding the similar term suntheke, which would wrongly portray a covenant as a mutual contract or alliance rather than an oath-bound promise. This does not mean that a covenant may not, in some cases, take on characteristics common to a mutual agreement or contract, but the essence of the covenant concept is clearly that of a binding pledge.
Thomas Blake writes:
it must not be of one alone, but at least of two parties, one can make no bargain or agreement. Secondly, there must be a mutual consent of these parties.
Do you feel the gravity of covenant? What we see is God swearing against His own character:
13 For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, 14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16 For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. 17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: 19
One might be pressed to ask, why did God covenant at all? Why didn’t He just decree a thing and be done with it? In my humble opinion, it is the primary way God deals with His relationships, i.e. with the Son and Godhead, with creation, with mankind and with the elect. Since God is a God of perfection, this perfection must be delineated along the lines of this perfection; the only way this can be drawn out practically is through law. Law cannot be law unless there are contracts and parties involved. This may beg the question, was there law between the Godhead, prior to creation? That answer must be, yes. Since God is perfect, he cannot go against that perfection and in doing so, substantiates criteria of this perfection which is drawn out in His holy law. So, essentially, God covenants because it is a characteristic of who He is. It is everything He is about. His law is the way he communicates; it is a revealing of the personality of God. It and covenant give the creature a front row seat in light of our sinful nature into the mind of God and guide us into holiness, through His Son, Christ Jesus. When Christ tells us that he is the way, the truth and the life, he is essentially telling us in this short sentence everything that the scriptures comprise.
The Covenant of Works
Covenant Sign: Tree of Life, Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, The Sabbath
The contracting parties in the Covenant of Works are God and man
This covenant is conditional
WCF 7:2 “The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, (Gal. 3:12) wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, (Rom. 10:5, Rom. 5:12–20) upon condition of perfect and personal obedience. (Gen. 2:17, Gal. 3:10)
Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were set in the garden; all was perfect and good. Adam was commanded to obey God, be the federal head of his wife and keep the garden. Outside of the moral law, which Adam was well aware of, he was given two positive commands:
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Gen 2:16,17 
The first command was in the giving of certain trees to use as food. The second command was to not eat of the tree of good and evil. Many reformed theologians define these commands as ‘do this and live’. The contrasting idea would be, ‘Don’t do this and die’. We all know the story; Adam and Eve did not die physically, but they did die spiritually after eating, which was even worse. If you consider the creation account, mankind was not created to age and die. We were made to live with God and fellowship with Him for all eternity. Adam and Eve would not have aged, gotten sick, or any of the other things we now are burdened by. Time would never had been an issue. This says much in regard to how the spirit of God sustains us. Without the spirit, we perish. With the spirit we flourish. In this, after the sin, God withdrew certain aspects of His spirit from Adam. The pair was cast out of the garden forever. In the fall, the eating of the forbidden fruit, mankind was plunged deep into depravity. This depravity was not partial, but total. It sets itself deep in the genome of all mankind. None are above this plight. Many confuse this doctrine and attempt to posit that Adam was not a murderer or sodomite, hence he was not as a bad as he could have been, hence it must not be seen as a depravity in totality. I want to spend a few minutes dispelling this error.
Depravity is total based on the imputation by the first Adam
“Depravity refers both to the damaged relationship between God and humans and to the corruption of human nature such that there is within every human an ongoing tendency toward sin. Total depravity refers to the extent and comprehensiveness of the effects of sin on all humans such that all are unable to do anything to obtain salvation. Total depravity, therefore, does not mean that humans are thoroughly sinful but rather that they are totally incapable of saving themselves. The term suggests as well that the effects of the Fall extend to every dimension of human existence, so that we dare not trust any ability (such as reason) that we remain capable of exercising in our fallen state.”
In Genesis 6:5,7 we can see that mankind was evil to the degree that ‘all of the thoughts were evil, continually’. This word, ‘continually’ shows that there was no ceasing. The Hebrew word, ‘Kol’ is rendered as: ‘always, throughout, entirely’. The evil that mankind embraced was without recess. The scriptures teach us that this totality begins at birth; from the womb we are speaking lies. Psalm 58:3 In the book of John, Jesus tells us that if we commit sin, we are ‘slaves to sin’. John 8:34. It is emphasized again in Peter’s epistle. 2 Peter 2:19. Galatians 4 goes on to contrast the difference between believers and the unregenerate:
8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. 9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
In Titus we can see the level of depravity in men who are without the Holy Spirit: Titus 1:15,16, in Romans 7:18, in Isaiah 1:5,6. One of the most poignant passages in all of scripture tells us that it is impossible for the Ethiopian to change the color of his skin or a leopard, it’s spots on it’s own. Jer 13:23. Solomon goes on to emphasize this depravity:
23 This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
A.H. Strong adds:
Depravity partial or total?
The Scriptures represent human nature as totally depraved. The phrase “total depravity,” however, is liable to misinterpretation, and should not be used without explanation. By the total depravity of universal humanity we mean:
Negatively,—not that every sinner is: (a) Destitute of conscience, for—the existence of strong impulses to right, and of remorse for wrongdoing, show that conscience is often keen; (b) devoid of all qualities pleasing to men, and useful when judged by a human standard,—for the existence of such qualities is recognized by Christ; (c) prone to every form of sin,—for certain forms of sin exclude certain others; (d) intense as he can be in his selfishness and opposition to God,—for he becomes worse every day.
Having said all of this, I believe one cannot walk away from these biblical facts thinking that there is anything good in a man who does not have the changed heart that only God brings. Outside of Christ, mankind is under the evil of blindness and that blindness renders itself to the deepest caverns of our nature. We are slaves in totality and nothing good can be found in us when we are contrasted to the holiness of God. The only way a man can be considered holy is if God changes the heart, forgives our sin in Christ Jesus and imputes Christ’s holiness to us. The book of Isaiah tells us that our offerings are as filthy rags, prior to regeneration and conversion; we are at full enmity with God and are considered enemies:
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
Final thoughts on the Covenant of Works:
Since the fall, the entire unregenerate world is condemned. Outside of Christ, all men have this disposition, even before leaving the starting blocks. The failure of Adam is translated down the lineage even before birth. Romans 5:12 tell us:
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
In this way, the sin of Adam has rendered the Covenant of Works, futile. Consider the Orthodox Jew; trying to keep this covenant is useless as it is already rendered null and void by the initial fall of Adam. Yes the covenant still exists, but it is without reconciliation. No one is able to keep it any longer based on the totality of the depravity in mankind and the original sin that has stained all of us in Adam. God’s word tells us:
10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all, and 22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission..
God does not grade on curves. The Roman Catholics and Arminians are wrong! There is no other way-it must be through Christ alone and the work the redeemer did on behalf of the elect. Given that the Covenant of Works has been rendered useless, secondary to the Adamic fallout, there is only one way to be saved since that fall and that in the man, Christ Jesus 1 Tim 2:5, Acts 4:12
Some thoughts on the issue of Republication
I believe it is prudent to discuss an idea that is frequently touched upon in recent years; most of the idea comes out of Westminster Seminary of California. Some of it originates with Meredith Kline’s view of covenant, that being the topic of republication of the Covenant of Works. It is posed that the Covenant of Works was given to Israel in the form of a republication. One might be compelled to ask, ‘Why would God need to republish anything to His people once He said it?” The word of God is forever, right? If you consider covenant, you have to understand how republication is a silly notion.
Herman Witsius helps here:
“we observe that, in the ministry of Moses there was a repetition of the doctrine concerning the law of the covenant of works.”
“The covenant made with Israel at Mount Sinai was not formally the covenant of works. 1st. Because that cannot be renewed with the sinner, in such a sense as to say, if, for the future, thou shalt perfectly perform every instance of obedience, thou shalt be justified by that, according to the covenant of works.”
“However, the carnal Israelites, not adverting to God’s purpose or intention, as they ought, mistook the true meaning of that covenant, embraced it as a covenant of works, and by it sought for righteousness. Paul declares this, Rom. 9:31, 32: “But Israel which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness; wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law; for they stumbled at that stumbling stone.”
An example, I often use this analogy:
The C of W’s was a brand new car; overtime and secondary to the fall of Adam, the car’s axel was demolished rendering it inoperable. The car no longer ran, but it’s engine was fine. At Sinai, God took the engine out of the vehicle, i.e. the engine was the decalogue. The engine itself is NOT the Covenant of Works. A car is so much more than the engine. As well, the Covenant of Works so much more than just the Decalogue, just like the Noahic covenant is much more than the ark. The spirit of the Covenant of Works is the law. It is the gas that ran the car. There was no need to republish the whole Covenant of Works.
As well, as Fisher and Erskine points out in his catechism, thinking along the lines in regard to republication causes much friction. (Erskine 2006) op. cit.
OPC Pastor Patrick Ramsey writes:
Consequently, it is correct to say that part of the content of the covenant of works was republished at Mt. Sinai and for that matter in the new covenant since the moral law is restated there as well. This is what Brent Ferry calls material republication (see TLNF, 91-92). It is important to note, however, that this is republication of the law and not the covenant of works. This is why it is misleading to refer to material republication as a sense of the republication of the covenant of works. There is a difference between law and covenant or at least the Puritans thought there is. In other words, to say that the law (or content of the covenant of works) was republished is different from saying that the covenant of works was republished at Mt. Sinai.
As well John Owen:
“For the most part, theologians who spoke in this way, whether dichotomists or trichotomists, made a number of careful qualifications in order to show that the moral law was republished not as a covenant but as a rule of righteousness for those in covenant with God. In other words, the moral law was not republished at Sinai to serve as a means of justification before God. For example, John Owen made clear in his work on justification by faith that the old covenant was not a revival of the covenant of works strictly (i.e., “formally”). Rather, the moral law was renewed declaratively (i.e.,“materially”) and not covenantally: “God did never formally and absolutely renew or give again this law as a covenant a second time. Nor was there any need that so he should do, unless it were declaratively only, for so it was renewed at Sinai.”
76. Owen, Justification by Faith, in Works, 5:244.
The Covenant of Grace
Covenant Sign: Circumcision/Baptism
The contracting parties in the Covenant of Grace are God and the elect. Christ as mediator
This covenant is conditional
The Westminster Confession amplifies the idea:
7:3. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, (Gal. 3:21, Rom. 8:3, Rom. 3:20–21, Gen. 3:15, Isa. 42:6) 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, (Mark 16:15–16, John 3:16, Rom. 10:6–9, Gal. 3:11) and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe. (Ezek. 36:26–27, John 6:44–45)
7:4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed. (Heb. 9:15–17, Heb. 7:22, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25)
7:5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: (2 Cor. 3:6–9) under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; (Heb. 8–10, Rom. 4:11. Col. 2:11–12, 1 Cor. 5:7) which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, (1 Cor. 10:1–4, Heb. 11:13, John 8:56) by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old Testament. (Ga. 3:7–9, 14)
7:6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, (Col. 2:17) 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: (Matt. 28:19–20, 1 Cor. 11:23–25) 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, (Heb. 12:22–27, Jer. 31:33–34) to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; (Matt. 28:19, Eph. 2:15–19) and is called the New Testament. (Luke 22:20) There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations. (Gal. 3:14, 16, Acts 15:11, Rom. 3:21–23, 30, Ps. 32:1, Rom. 4:3, 6, 16–17, 23–24, Heb. 13:8)
Westminster Larger Catechism, questions 35 & 36 help for further study
Immediately after the fall and the expulsion from the garden, God shows how He is a merciful God and administers grace in the form of another covenant. We see the first example of the gospel, i.e. protoevangelium, in Genesis 3:15. It is here where we see the result of the sin and the reconciliation of that sin by a redeemer through the grace of God in Christ Jesus. In this covenant, Christ, who is fully God, agrees to be incarnated, born of a human, to live a holy life, sinless, to suffer throughout the life, ultimately coming to the place where He would die as a sacrifice for the elect as the lamb of God and final sacrifice for the sins of His people.
In my earlier mentioning of the fact that there are two covenants that the reformed acknowledge, (not counting the Covenant of Redemption due to the idea that that covenant is between the Godhead and not mankind), these two I speak of are the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. Possibly in your reading of this you may be thinking, ‘Scott, there are many more covenants that God made with mankind other than these two. Yes, there is. Let’s discuss that. We have the Noahic, the Abrahamic, the Mosaic, the Davidic and finally, the New Covenant. You will notice that all these covenants come after the proclamation of the protoevangelium in Gen 3. Hence, all these covenants are actually an outworking of the Covenant of Grace or administrations of the Covenant of Grace and are all gracious covenants, meaning, God saves men through Christ’s sacrifice, in all these epochs, when there are no deserving men on Earth, for His good pleasure and His glory alone. Outside of God’s grace, all men are deserving of Hell. God in His mercy, decides to save the elect from eternal torment, based on nothing in the person, but by the sacrifice of His Son, alone. This is the fulfilling of the Covenant of Redemption, spoken of earlier in this paper. Men are saved by faith alone, in Christ alone to His glory alone; whether it be the Mosaic, Abrahamic etc. One gospel. These administrations of the Covenant of Grace are what I referred to previously as ‘secondary conditions’. Again, they are not soteroiologic. Since all of the members of the Covenant of Grace are elect, not keeping these secondary conditions will not affect their position in Christ.
In regard to the surety of Christ and imputation as the second Adam
In the same way Adam’s sin was imputed to the whole of mankind, the benefit of Christ is imputed to the elect alone through propitiation based on the agreement in the Covenant of Redemption. It is different from the propitiation of Adam in that Adam’s sin affects the entire human race; Christ’s benefit is for only the select few that God has decided to redeem in Christ Jesus, by grace alone. To some, this is unfair. It is often said ‘God should save everyone, not just a select number’ or give salvific opportunity for every single person, not just the elect. I respond that it is as miraculous that God has mercy on any person at all based on our depraved dispositions. God is not obligated to save anyone and all men deserve the same that happened in the days of Noah when the world was flooded and all but Noah’s family perished. One needs to start with this premise to truly understand grace. Outside of this mentality, it is no wonder that you would come to a conclusion that God should be required to either save all or make salvation synergistic.
The WCF helps with understanding the surety which Christ brings:
The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience, and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of His Father; (Rom. 5:19, Heb. 9:14, 16, Heb. 10:14, Eph. 5:2, Rom. 3:25–26) and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him. (Dan. 9:24, 26, Col. 1:19–20, Eph. 1:11, 14, John 17:2, Heb. 9:12, 15)
Christ had to be a Redeemer
The book of Ruth is one of the finest examples of redeeming grace. Consider Ruth who was a Moabite woman and her redeemer in Boaz. For the Covenant of Grace to be true, Christ had to redeem the unredeemable. In the same way Boaz offered grace to Ruth, Christ comes to us undeserving sinners and tells us to glean from His field, in surety. Since it was prophesied, Christ had to be a redeemer of the elect.
2 Samuel 7:23 “And what one nation on the earth is like Your people Israel, whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people and to make a name for Himself, and to do a great thing for You and awesome things for Your land, before Your people whom You have redeemed for Yourself from Egypt, from nations and their gods?
25 If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold.
Administrations of the Covenant of Grace
The Noahic Covenant
Sign: The Rainbow-The ark was a type of Christ
The contracting parties in the Noahic Covenant are God, Noah and creation
This covenant is unconditional (in a secondary sense) *It is conditional in the primary sense
that Christ fulfills the requirements for all the following administrations.
Earlier in this treatise, I made mention of ‘secondary conditions’ in regard to the administrations of the Covenant of Grace; in these conditions, God makes formal agreements with the creature. This is secondary to the conditions presented in the primary covenant, i.e. Covenant of Grace. This distinction needs to be acknowledged and understood. In the instance of the secondary Noahic Covenant, Noah and his family are spared from the flood after agreeing to the command of God to build the ark, (it took Noah 120 years). This shows Noah’s devotion to the covenant itself. Once the waters had receded, Noah is commanded to ‘repopulate’ the Earth; God promises never again to flood the earth with water. The Lord signs and seals this covenantal promise by placing a rainbow in the sky as a sign for mankind. Imagine for the moment, the first seeing of the rainbow; probably as shocking as rain falling on a world that had never seen rain before. As well, it is interesting to note that the first thing Noah did after departing the ark was sacrificing to His God. This says so much in defense of Noah’s righteousness and his covenantal faithfulness. He lived to God. Imagine all the things that needed to be done at the moment they dropped the door to the ark, yet Noah chose the better thing. The rainbow should remind the Christian that God is faithful and a gracious God and works within covenant always and is good for His word to us.
Gen 6:17 And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die. 18 But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee.
Gen 9:12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. 14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: 15 And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. 17 And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.
The Abrahamic Covenant
The contracting parties in the Abrahamic Covenant are God and Abraham’s seed.
This covenant is unconditional (in a secondary sense) *
Abraham is commanded to place the sign of circumcision upon all his male family members and those under his roof. There are obvious warnings against failing to do so; again, not soteriologically.
I always am a bit tickled (no pun intended) when I consider the delivery of this message to the rest of Israel. I can hear the crowd murmuring to each other, ‘Did Abraham just say what I believe he said?’ I have always wondered why God did not tell Israel to clip off one ear lobe or the tip of a pinky finger instead of the male organ. Consider the level of sensitivity of the male organ. One must consider that the sign placed on the male organ and the seed that passes through the cut itself. The seed of all Christian men pass through this cut and confirm their devotion to covenant. To be without the sign was a sign of being a gentile. To be with the sign was a validation of being ‘in’ covenant with the God of Abraham. It is, of course, important to note that all of God’s people understand that the sign and thing signified are not one and the same and regeneration is not tied to the moment that the sign is applied. However, God in His mercy and sovereignty, based on the great counsel of His decrees, is able to regenerate a child if He so wills at this time, whether it be the cutting of the flesh or waters of baptism. See WCF chapter, 28.
Gen 17: 1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou cperfect. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. 3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. 5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. 6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. 11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. 12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. 13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. Gen 17: 21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year. 22 And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham Gen 26:2 And the Lord appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of: 3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father; 4 And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed
Rom 4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
The Mosaic Covenant
Sign: The Sabbath and the law of God
The contracting parties in the Mosaic Covenant are God and Israel
This covenant is unconditional (in a secondary sense) *
Being that the law is a direct reflection of God’s character and who God is, the law is at the crux of why God covenants. It is the epicenter. However, when it comes to the Mosaic covenant, the majority of believers mess this one up. They believe the law and the sacrificial system was put in place so that men could attempt to be saved outside of the righteousness of Christ. Much of this can be rooted in Rome’s Arminianism. The gospel of Rome is synergistic. God grades on curves. One can often hear the Roman Catholic tell you they are ‘doing the best they can’ and that God will look at all the good they do in this life and that is how they will be considered for a place in glory. As earlier referred to, since the fall, this concept died a quick death when Adam fell. Adam died spiritually and so did the Covenant of Works. As I have extrapolated earlier in this paper, men are not saved by keeping the law. As James notes in his epistle, keeping of the law is an outworking of sanctification that God does in all believers lives. No law, no Christ. The law of God is the schoolmaster of the Church.
The Mosaic Covenant has secondary conditions-much like the Abrahamic Covenant. If you recall, I made mention of Moses and Zipporah. Consider the implications of Moses delay in keeping with the command of God. Zipporah well understood. One may ask, ‘Why did Moses delay in being faithful?’ Consider your faithfulness and failings at times. In Moses’ failing, God is greatly angered. Moses is on God’s hit list, at least for the moment. Taking the Lord’s supper can result in the same result, ‘many sleep’. 1 Cor 11:30. Could it have been Moses complacency secondarily to the fact that he married out of the tribe and was unequally yoked? This happens often to believers who sin in the same way. An unyoked relationship will never bring the believer closer to God. The compromise breeds more compromise. It causes a tailoring of our walks to the world so as to not offend the unyoked spouse. This results in God ‘meeting’ with us; it brings on threatening’s and even death sometimes. Why did it anger God? Faithlessness. God is never moved by our sins of omission nor our faithlessness. In the walk of believers, there are times where we grieve the Spirit of God, reject the Spirits admonition and warning and out rightly rebel against His law. This never finishes well. Worse for the reprobate of God and painful for the elect. In this way, the Sabbath is the sign of the Mosaic Covenant. In Exodus we read in chapter 31, verses 15-18:
15 Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. 16 Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. 18 And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.
The Davidic Covenant
Sign: God’s faithfulness
The contracting parties in the Davidic Covenant are God, David and Israel
This covenant is unconditional (in a secondary sense)*
God speaks to Israel and David through Nathan the prophet. He commands that a house be built for Himself. He promises to cease the roaming about for Israel and ‘plant’ them finally. He goes on to tell Nathan that he will lift up David and his seed and that the kingdom will be without end. This foreshadowing is a birdseye view or snapshot of the Earthly kingdom of Messiah. David, like all the elect was raised up specifically for this purpose and God’s glory. From his lowly shepherding to victory over Goliath; to the anointing with the oil of the Holy Spirit, being crowned King of Israel to the actual house of God being built by his son, Solomon, the Davidic Covenant is a glorious story of God’s dealing with the people He loves. Much like the previous administrations, it is unconditional secondarily to the work Christ already accomplished outside of time and what He will do inside of it. 1 Samuel 16:14, 17:38-51, 2 Samuel 7:3-4, 1 Chron 17:11-14, 2 Chron 6:16.
The New Covenant
Sign: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
The contracting parties in the New Covenant are Christ and the Israel of God
This covenant is unconditional (in a secondary sense)*
The New Covenant is a consummation of the administrations of the Covenant of Grace. The New Covenant, on one hand, is new at the death of Christ and on the other, is not a New Testament phenomenon as some might claim. Considering the obvious, that all men through the ages have only been saved by justification by faith alone, only proves this point. There is only one gospel and that gospel was valid in every age after the fall. The New Covenant is simply a consummation of that which began in Genesis chapter 3. The justification of Christ was lifted high in victory 2000 years ago at Calvary’s cross.
Chapter 28 of the Westminster Confession says in regard to baptism:
Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church,b but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ,d of regeneration, of remission of sins,f and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world
And the Larger Catechism amplifies it a bit more:
- Q. 165. What is baptism?
- A. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself,f of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit;h of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life;k and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.m
- Q. 166. Unto whom is baptism to be administered?
- A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descended from parents, either both or but one of them professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are, in that respect, within the covenant, and to be baptized.o
Washings are not nouveau for Old Testament Israel. We can see them often throughout scripture and more prominently shown through the ministry of John the Baptist. See Ex 19:10-11, Ex 19:14; Ex 40:12-15; Nu 8:5-7, 21-22. Some of these washings had to do with clothes that had become contaminated, women during their feminine cycles and sin. They were never meant to sanctify in a spiritual realm per se. They were never used soteriologically; however, John called out all of Israel at times to be washed for the repentance of sins. This in no way implied the actual washings saved but that the repentance that those that made themselves available to the washings were showing signs of sanctification in the Lord which was an evidence of one’s heart towards God. Failure to wash is akin to the example I earlier posed in regards to Moses and his wife, Zipporah. The rebellious would be cast out of the camp and fellowship would cease. In essence, the person, being excommunicated from the congregation.
John came crying in the wilderness; calling all peoples to Christ. The transition seems to have taken hold in that it was a typical example for the New Testament Church to use as a response to the gospel. The baptism John did was not the same thing as Christian Baptism. The Apostle Paul clarifies:
Acts 19:3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.  3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. 4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 1 Peter 3:21
The Lords Supper
Jesus Himself tells us that the Lords’ supper is the sign of the New Covenant. Consider Luke 22:20 and 1 Cor 11:25. The supper (and baptism) as tangible signs for the believer. We can apprehend them spiritually through the mediation of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and are felt by our senses, practically. In the same way Jesus tells Thomas to ‘come touch and feel’, we are able to bring a portion of Heaven down to us by experiencing the sacraments. The Lord’s supper is communicative; both baptism and the supper communicate things to us. Think of the supper as a cell phone. The line is never busy. It is a hotline to God, through the operator, Christ Jesus. In this act, we ‘commune’ with God in a way that is more than our typical communion. Yes we commune in prayer and in worship, but in the communion that happens during the supper is so much more. We are baptized only once in this life. We can take the supper as often as the church deems it. This is a difficult doctrine to unwind; much of it is so spiritual that it becomes hard to put into words. Much like attempting to explain the Trinity to someone. As mentioned earlier, the Apostle warns against taking the supper irresponsibly. Some have been put into a deep sleep for having done so.
Surely God is in our midst in the realm of worship; personal and private. But something is occurring during the sacraments that happens at no other time. In baptism, the sign is applied and the elect are sealed; as mentioned, sometimes in a divided sense and others in the compound. In the supper, Christ is meeting with His people in a higher degree. We are, symbolically, eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Consider the Last Supper and how this is laid out in Holy Writ. It was an event that Christ tells us that He will not ‘drink of the vine’ again until we are all in glory. It was the last tribute and we were left with it’s remnant. I guess the question to be asked is will we have a need for the Lord’s Supper as we know it on Earth, later in glory or since we will eat with the Son, there will be no need any longer for a remnant memory of the Lamb that had been slain on our behalf. Most likely it will be a never ending celebration in Christ’s behalf.
Thomas Doolittle writes of the Supper:
In sacraments there is something seen and something understood; something perceived by sense and something apprehended by faith. Sacraments are glasses for our understanding and monuments for our memories, that by means and visible sights we might perceive and call to mind sublime and invisible things. Here is bread, even the bread of life, to fill the hungry soul; and here is wine to satisfy the thirsty and cheer the drooping soul.
The only difference between the New Covenant and the Covenant of Grace are the signs
There are some in the reformed community that believe the New Covenant and the Covenant of Grace to be synonymous. For example, how is the New Covenant really ‘new’? As mentioned earlier, the New Covenant was consummated in Christ at Calvary’s cross. We do have a change in signs, but otherwise, it is the same. It is based on this that many believe they are one and the same. For example: Compare WLC 162 with WSC 92:
162 What is a sacrament?
A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, (Gen. 17:7,10, Exod. 12 (containing the institution of the passover), Matt. 28:19, Matt. 26:26–28) to signify, seal, and exhibit (Rom. 4:11, 1 Cor. 11:24–25) *unto those that are within the covenant of grace, (Rom. 15:8, Exod. 12:48) the benefits of his mediation; (Acts 2:38, 1 Cor. 10:16) to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; (Rom. 4:11, Gal. 3:27) to oblige them to obedience; (Rom. 6:3–4, 1 Cor. 10:21) to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another; (Eph. 4:2–5, 1 Cor. 12:13) and to distinguish them from those that are without. (Eph. 2:11–12, Gen. 34:14)
- Q. 92. What is a sacrament?
- A. A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, *and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.
Q. 166. Unto whom is baptism to be administered?
A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descended from parents, either both or but one of them professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are, in that respect, within the covenant, and to be baptized
Westminster Confession of faith, Chapter 7:
This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed. (Heb. 9:15–17, Heb. 7:22, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25)
This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: (2 Cor. 3:6–9) under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; (Heb. 8–10, Rom. 4:11. Col. 2:11–12, 1 Cor. 5:7) which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, (1 Cor. 10:1–4, Heb. 11:13, John 8:56) by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old Testament. (Ga. 3:7–9, 14)
Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, (Col. 2:17) 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: (Matt. 28:19–20, 1 Cor. 11:23–25) 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, (Heb. 12:22–27, Jer. 31:33–34) to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; (Matt. 28:19, Eph. 2:15–19) and is called the new Testament. (Luke 22:20) There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations. (Gal. 3:14, 16, Acts 15:11, Rom. 3:21–23, 30, Ps. 32:1, Rom. 4:3, 6, 16–17, 23–24, Heb. 13:8)
The official website of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church uses the term ‘New Covenant of Grace’.
“Through the prophet Jeremiah, God revealed to the children of Israel that he would make a new covenant with them. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31–34).
The important question is, why was it necessary for God to make a new covenant of grace with man? The reason God entered into a new covenant was because of the limitations of the old covenant. The old covenant was not sufficient to accomplish God’s full purpose of grace as given to Adam and more particularly to Abraham. In the words of the writer to the Hebrews the old covenant was not “faultless”; it had definite limitations (Heb. 8:6–7).
Christ, according to the New Testament, became the mediator of this new and better covenant of grace. “He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Heb. 8:6). Christ made a similar claim when he declared at his institution of the Lord’s Supper, “This is my blood of the new testament [covenant] which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Christ as our prophet is the great revealer of this new covenant of grace.
Under the new covenant of grace man was to receive a greater degree of blessing than that which the Old Testament saints received.
Under the new covenant of grace man received a clearer and fuller revelation of grace than that received by the Old Testament saints.
*Covenant of Promise and New Covenant are synonymous. (My emphasis added in bold)
Baptism replaces circumcision in the New Testament Church
Circumcision was a bloody rite. It pointed to Christ who would eventually bleed for the people of God. Baptism is refreshing. It is almost the opposite of circumcision; blood is messy and as it coagulates, it is sticky. Blood smells. It attracts flies if left to sit. Some children died in the act. It was extremely painful. You recall the story of Jacob and his daughter Dinah and the violation of her by the Hivite, Schechem. In Genesis, chapter 34 we see how painful circumcision actually is.
25 And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males. 26 And they slew Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword
Water is cleansing. In fact, water was used to wash away blood after the ritual in the same way scripture tells us the blood of Christ washes us from sin.
Col 2:11,12 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: 12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
The Apostle Paul clearly demonstrates that water baptism is the New Testament equivalent. Baptism is a Christian circumcision. It is a circumcision made without hands; without cutting and blood. As stated earlier in this paper, since all covenants are perpetual we see no abrogation of placing the sign upon our children, anywhere. In contrast to that, one can clearly see through the book of Act’s that the act of circumcision was being done away with; however, in light of covenantal thinking, to consider that the Abrahamic covenant and command is done away with it as well, is flawed. God clearly promises that this covenant will be ‘in your flesh for an everlasting covenant’. Op. Cit. Will God ever flood the Earth again with water or does he just mean He will use swimming pools this time around?
Many pages can be filled addressing the covenants of God and most of the men quoted in this paper have done a greater service to the Church of Christ than I could or ever will. This is a humble attempt, in the Spirit of God, to amplify the doctrine in how I have learned it. God is a covenant keeping God whom we all can trust. We have His word as proof. Shall we be as Thomas in the midst of trials and adversary? I would rather walk away from a weak God who cannot be held to His word. This would be a human innovation in the least if he be so; unable to hold up the universe with His fingers and unable to even save one, never mind the mass of elect who go before us.
2 Cor 1:20For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. 21 Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; 22 Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
* I received an ‘A’ for this assignment!
Berkhof, Louis. Summary of Christian Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1938.
Blake, Thomas. The Covenant of God. Edited by C. Matthew McMahon/Therese McMahon. Coconut Creek, Fl: Puritan Publications, 2009.
Cowan, Steven B. “Covenant.” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Edited by Chad et. al. Brand. Holman Bible Publishers. Nashville, TN, 2003.
Cummings, Calvin Knox. “The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” The Covenant of Grace. n.d. http://www.opc.org/cce/covenant.html.
Dickson, David. The Summe of Saving Knowledge with the practical use therof. Glascow: Robert Sanders, 1669.
Erskine, Erskine and Fisher. The Westminster Shorter Catechism Explained. Edited by Crown Rights Book Company. Dahlonega, GA: Crown Rights Book Company, 2006.
Grenz, Stanley, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. InterVarsity Press. Doweners Grove, IL, 1999.
Shaw, Robert. n.d.
—. An Exposition of the Confession of Faith of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. 2nd edition. New York, New York: Blackie and Sons, 1857.
—. “ICL.” Internet Christian Library. n.d. http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-10/web/shaw-faith.html#_Toc411063200.
Strong, Augustus Hopkins. Systematic Theology. American Baptist Publication Society. Philadephia, PA, 1907.
“The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version.” 1 Co 15:45–49. . Logos Research Systems, Inc. . Bellingham, WA, 2009.
The Holy Bible: King James Version, version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized. Logos Research Systems, Inc. Bellingham, WA, 2009.
The Westminster Confession of faith. Logos research Systems, Inc. Oak Harbor, WA, 1996.
The Westminster Larger Catechism: with scripture proofs. Logos Systems, Inc. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos research Systems, Inc., 1996.
Thomas, Robert L. New American StandardHebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated edition. Anaheim: FoundationPublications. 2003.
Winzer, Matthew. “PuritanBoard.” PuritanBoard. 12 18, 2013. http://www.puritanboard.com/showthread.php/81528-How-many-covenants-in-traditional-Covenant-Theology-6-2-or-1.
Witsius, Herman. “The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man.” Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity. Translated by William Crookshank. T. Tegg and Son. London, 1837.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Dt 7:9.
 (Erskine 2006)
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 1 Co 15:45–49.
 (Winzer 2013)
 The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
 Louis Berkhof, Summary of Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 109–110.
 The Westminster Larger Catechism: With Scripture Proofs. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
 (Dickson, The Summe of Saving Knowledge 1669)
 Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).
 (Shaw, An Exposition of the Confession of Faith of the Westminster Assembly of Divine 1857)
 Steven B. Cowan, “Covenant,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 355.
 (Blake 2009)
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Heb 6:13–19.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ge 2:16–17.
 Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 37.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ga 4:8–9.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ec 9:2–3.
 Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 637–638.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ro 5:10.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ro 5:12.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Jas 2:10.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Heb 9:22.
 Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity, trans. William Crookshank, vol. 2 (London: T. Tegg & Son, 1837), 187.
 Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity, trans. William Crookshank, vol. 2 (London: T. Tegg & Son, 1837), 189.
 Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity, trans. William Crookshank, vol. 2 (London: T. Tegg & Son, 1837), 1
 The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
 The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Le 25:25.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ge 6:17–18.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ge 9:11–17.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ge 17:1–7.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ge 17:10–13.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ge 17:21–22.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ge 26:2–4.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ro 4:11.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ex 31:15–18.
 Westminster Assembly, The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition (Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1851), 146.
 Westminster Assembly, The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition (Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1851), 346–347.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ac 19:3.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ac 19:3–5.
 The Westminster Larger Catechism: With Scripture Proofs. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
 Westminster Assembly, The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition (Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1851), 422.
 Westminster Assembly, The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition (Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1851), 347.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
 The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Cummings, Calvin Knox: The Covenant of Grace)
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ge 34:25–26.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Col 2:11–12.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 2 Co 1:20–22.