Chapter 7: Of God's Covenant
What is Covenant Theology? How many covenants does the Bible have and which are those? What is the Reformed Baptist and Paedobaptist understanding of the covenants? What is 1689 Federalism? Is the New Covenant the Covenant of Grace? Was the Covenant of Grace established before the New Covenant? Were the Old Testament covenants administrations of the Covenant of Grace?
Here we come to a chapter that is different than the one in the Westminster and Savoy confessions (see the confessions side by side here). Were the Baptists trying to be original or were they trying to communicate something else? I and many other brothers do believe that the framers of the Confession were trying to communicate a different Covenant Theology than that of their Westminster and Savoy brethren. Let not the reader suppose that I will exhaustively deal with every point or seek to rebut oppositions and answer objections. My objective here is to lay an understanding of Covenant Theology as I see it in the Scripture and as I was helped by the books and men mentioned below. This is not meant to be lengthy (although I guess it will kinda be), but concise. [22/09/2015 – It did become lengthy]
§1 The Covenant Of Works
- The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.1
- Job 35:7-8; Ps. 113:5-6; Isa. 40:13-16; Luke 17:5-10; Acts 17:24-25
Introduction to Covenant Theology
Covenant theology (also known as Covenantalism, Federal theology, or Federalism) is a Calvinist conceptual overview mand interpretive framework for understanding the overall flow of the Bible. It uses the theological concept of covenant as an organizing principle for Christian theology. The standard description of covenant theology views the history of God's dealings with mankind, from Creation to Fall to Redemption to Consummation, under the framework of the three overarching theological covenants of redemption, works, and grace.
Covenant Theology helps us see the story of the whole Bible. Covenant Theology unites the people of God and their purpose. Covenant Theology helps us see the importance given to covenants in the Bible. Covenant Theology is opposed to Dispensationalism which seeks to divide the people of God, their purpose and focuses on the discontinuity of the covenants. In this chapter, I will try to lay out how I understand 1689 Baptist Covenant Theology and make a case for it from Holy Writ. I've been greatly helped by the following books and men:
I don't pretend to have an answer to every question or have all the details worked out, but Lord willing, I will change this post if I become persuaded of some things that I think are necessary to mention. It is a subject that has fascinated me and it's a subject I want to learn more about. In this chapter, I will try to lay out all the major covenants of the Bible and see how they are fulfilled or still await fulfillment in Christ and His people. The covenants that I would like to deal with are the following:
- The Covenant of Redemption [§2] [go]
- The Covenant of Grace [§3] [go]
- The Covenant of Works [§1] [go]
- The Covenant with Noah (Noahic Covenant) [§3] [go]
- The Covenant with Abraham (Abrahamic Covenant) [§3] [go]
- The Covenant with Israel through Moses (Mosaic Covenant) [§3] [go]
- The Covenant with David (Davidic Covenant) [§3] [go]
- The Covenant with the Church (New Covenant) [§3] [go]
What Is A Covenant?
Before going into the covenants let us define what a covenant actually is. A covenant may simply be defined as: A commitment with divine sanctions. To add more input it may be said this way:
In the general sense, a covenant is simply a binding agreement or compact between two or more parties; in legal terms, it is a formal sealed agreement or contract.
Simply said, covenant is the way that God communicates with man. It must be noted that the covenants made by God are made up by God - what I mean is, God doesn't ask people's opinion about what they think of the covenant, blessings and curses. It is something imposed by God. It is a sovereign covenental arrangement. This is seen in Nehemiah Coxe's definition of Covenant:
“A declaration of his sovereign pleasure concerning the benefits he will bestow on them, the communion they will have with him, and the way and means by which this will be enjoyed by them.”
Walter Chantry defines a covenant as “a sovereignly given arrangement by which man may be blessed.” A. W. Pink defines it as:
Briefly stated, any covenant is a mutual agreement entered into by two or more parties, whereby they stand solemnly bound to each other to perform the conditions contracted for.
The Covenant of Works
We begin our study of the covenants with the Covenant of Works because that is the way our Confession starts this chapter. Some may be searching for the word Covenant of Works in paragraph 1 or the whole chapter. You won't find it. But that does not mean that the concept of the Covenant of Works is not here.
A few reasons may be given as to why the Confession does not use the phrase "covenant of works" in this chapter, while the sister confessions do. First of all, if we compare the title of the chapter, in the Westminster and Savoy confessions we have "Of God's Covenant with Man", while in the 1689 we have "Of God's Covenant." The 1689 focuses upon the revelation and establishment of the Covenant of Grace, while the others treat God's covenants from the beginning and not only focusing upon the Covenant of Grace. The 1689 "concentrates on the covenant of grace and either assumes or implies the covenant of works, making its explicit mention superfluous." The fact that the Confession by its omission is not denying the doctrine of the Covenant of Works is seen in that it is both explicitly (19:6 [2x]; 20:1) as well as implicity (6:1; 19:1) implied elsewhere.
But what is a covenant of works? Simply said: a covenant wherein one needs to earn its blessings. Pascal Denault defines it thus:
The Covenant of Works had a simple way of functioning: if Adam had obeyed, he and his posterity after him would have retained life and would have been sealed in justice; but his disobedience marked the entrance of death into the world. The fall placed Adam and all of his posterity under condemnation. The Covenant of Works was conditional and provided no way to expiate the offence in case of disobedience.
Nehemiah Coxe, probably the chief editor of the Confession, defined it thus:
If the covenant be of works, the restipulation [condition, requirement] must be by doing the things required in it, even by fulfilling its condition in a perfect obedience to its law. Suitably, the reward is of debt according the terms of such a covenant. (Do not understand it of debt absolutely but of debt by compact.)
When Adam, as a Federal Head (see chapter 6), was placed in the Garden, he was told to obey upon the threat of punishment. Life and blessing were not simply given to him; he had to earn the enjoyment of that which he had and the higer blessing which awaited him by his obedience in his time of probation (which the Bible does not say how long it would have lasted). Simply said, Adam had to obey for the blessing; disobey for the curse.
As the Federal Head for the whole human race, his disobedience brought condemnation upon all men (Rom. 5:12-21). Had he obeyed and earned eternal life, his righteousness would have been credited to all his posterity, much like Christ's (see Romans 5:12-21). The Covenant of Works does not imply that God treated Adam strictly according his works. Our Confession declares that God condescended Himself, even before the Fall, to make a covenant with Adam. God was far more gracious to Adam even in Adam's innocence than he deserved. Indeed, God has no obligation to bless man, but He condenscends to do that for His glory and the joy of man. It was of pure grace that God walked with Adam in the Garden, that God revealed Himself to Adam and communed with him. Thus, a covenant of w...