by Wilhelmus à Brakel
Previously, we beheld humanity in its sacred essence, abiding with God in a resplendent Covenant of Works; thereafter, we witnessed humanity mired in wretchedness under sin and punishment, through the breach of this Covenant of Works; now, we shall contemplate humanity under grace, and for this purpose, first address the Covenant of Grace.
Designation in the OLD TESTAMENT
I. The Hebrews call the word Covenant תרב Berith; it is more consistent with the nature of that language to derive it not from ארב Bara to create, but from חרב Barah to choose; for indeed, in a covenant, persons and conditions are chosen. The covenant was often consecrated and confirmed with various ceremonies; among these was the slaughtering of beasts; they were cut in half, and the pieces laid opposite each other, and the covenant-makers would pass between these pieces, thereby declaring: thus should I be cut asunder, should I break this covenant. See this in Gen. 15:9, 10; also Jer. 34:18. And I will give the men who have violated My covenant... which they made before My face, with the calf which they had cut in twain, and had passed between the pieces thereof.
Hence, making a covenant in Hebrew is called Berith kerot, Ps. 50:5 and in Latin percutere foedus, to strike a covenant. It was also customary to eat and hold feasts when making a covenant. Gen. 31:44, 45. For this purpose, salt was used, which in itself is pure and enduring, preserves food from corruption, and renders it tasty; perhaps for this reason, a steadfast and a pleasant covenant is called a covenant of salt. 2 Chron. 13:5.
In the NEW TESTAMENT
The Greeks call a covenant Diatheke; with this word, the LXX - the Septuagint - translates the Hebrew Berith. In the NEW TESTAMENT, it is sometimes rendered Covenant, other times Testament. It is without basis, and contrary to the Greek authors, the LXX translators, and against various texts of the New Testament to want the word Diatheke to be translated not as Covenant but solely as Testament, subtly undermining the covenantal act with God, and the practice of faith.
Distinction between covenant and testament.
Among other differences between a testament and a covenant is that in the making of the former, the consent of the heir is not required, whereas the latter necessitates the consent of both parties. The word diatheke fits very aptly and emphatically with the Covenant of Grace; for it is a covenant that includes something of a testament, and it is such a testament that it carries something of a covenant within. It is a Covenantal Testament, and a Testamentary Covenant.
Covenant in our language is derived from binding, whereby things that were previously separate from one another are joined together and united. In a covenant, parties that were not one but separate from each other are bound together and thus united.
II. The word covenant has various meanings in God’s Word, due to the resemblance with one aspect or another of a covenant. Thus it means:
(a) an immutable promise: Gen. 9:9, 10. But behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you, of the birds, of the cattle, and of all the beasts of the earth with you. Here there is no consent on the part of the creatures, and yet it is said that a covenant is made with them, which is nothing else but a promise, because in a covenant there are promises, at least on one side.
(b) Ordinance. A fixed unbreakable ordinance: Jer. 33:20. If you could break My covenant of the day, and My covenant of the night, so that there would not be day and night in their season.
(c) Peace. Peace is a fruit of the covenant, hence it bears the name of covenant by analogy: Job 5:23. For you shall have a covenant with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you.
(d) Watchfulness. The confederate must take great care not to do anything against the covenant, therefore careful watchfulness is called a covenant. Job 31:1. I made a covenant with my eyes.
(e) Command. In a covenant, there are laws that are demanded as conditions, therefore a command bears the name of covenant: Deut. 4:13. And He declared unto you His covenant, which He commanded you to perform, even ten commandments. The ten words were not actually the covenant itself, for the covenant had been made earlier; but they were laws according to which the confederates had to live as a rule.
(f) Ministry of the covenant. The ministry of the covenant also sometimes bears the name of the covenant: Gen. 17:10. This is My covenant ... every male among you shall be circumcised. Thus, also the new ministry of that single covenant, which took place immediately after the fall with Adam and Eve, is called a covenant. Jer. 31:31 ... that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. These all are figurative meanings of the word covenant.
III. Properly speaking, a covenant is a mutual commitment between two or more persons, promising certain matters under certain conditions to each other. Between God and man, there is such a proper Covenant of Grace, which is a holy, magnificent, well-ordered, and everlasting agreement or pact between the All-Sufficient, Good, Almighty, Just, Faithful, Truthful, and Unchangeable God on one side; and on the other side, the elect, who by nature are sinful, condemnable, powerless, repulsive, hateful, and unbearable; in which God promises deliverance from all evil, and the conferment of all bliss out of Grace, through the Mediator Jesus Christ; and in which man, with all his heart and full satisfaction in those promises, and in the way to come into possession of those promised goods as presented in the Word, consents, accepts them, and surrenders himself to God in that Covenant, which God, to assure the confederates, seals with Sacraments; all to the glorification of God's free and inscrutable Grace.
IV. It will be necessary and beneficial for us to lay out these matters more plainly.
God interacts with man in the manner of making a covenant.
If one is to engage with God in the manner of a covenant, and is to derive the right benefit from the established covenant, he must first be very clearly convinced in his heart that God establishes a covenant with man, invites man to enter into that covenant, and that man may, can, and does interact with God in the manner of a covenant.
To persuade your soul of this, pay close attention to all those texts of the Holy Scripture, in which talk of a Covenant, the establishment of a Covenant, entering into a Covenant is mentioned. It is true that believing, accepting Christ, and surrendering to Him encompass the covenantal actions, and that the simple-minded, engaging with God through Christ under that conception, partake in the Covenant and its benefits, such that the proposal of covenantal actions should not hinder or grieve them if they notice that they have not acted so strictly under that conception; but because the covenantal action provides more clarity, firmness, comfort, and more steadfast progress, we wish to motivate everyone to engage under this notion of entering into a covenant with God, because the Holy Scripture speaks so clearly and frequently of it. See these:
Which is demonstrated, as much on the side of God.
V. Gen. 15 presents a covenant between God and Abraham, with several notable circumstances. In which God, conforming to the manner of men, commands Abraham to slaughter animals, cut them in half, and lay the pieces opposite each other. Abraham obeys, gives his consent thereto, and prepares everything. God causes a smoking furnace and a fiery torch to pass between those pieces, thus confirming a covenant with Abraham.
- Gen. 17:7. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and your seed after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto you, and to your seed after you.
- Jer. 31:31, 33. I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel... But this is the covenant... I will put my law in their inward parts... and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
- Jer. 32:38-40. Yes, they shall be My people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
In the NEW TESTAMENT, this Covenant is also often spoken of, just as much on the side of God:
- Luke 1:72. That He would show mercy to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant.
- Ephesians 2:12. Strangers from the covenants of promise.
- Hebrews 7:22. Jesus has become the surety of a much better covenant.
- Hebrews 8:6. The mediator of a better covenant.
As on the side of man.
Also consider these texts, which speak of man's entering into that Covenant:
- 2 Chronicles 30:8. Give the Lord your hand.
- 2 Chronicles 15:12. They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul.
- Ezekiel 20:37. I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.
- Nehemiah 9:38. In view of all this, we are making a firm covenant.
- To this end serves: Isaiah 44:5. This one will say, 'I am the Lord’s'... and another will write on his hand, 'The Lord’s.'
From all these texts, it is clear that there is a covenantal action between God and the believers, and that it is established from God’s side by offering, promising, and from the side of man by accepting and surrendering.
Has been taught and practiced at all times in the Church.
Just as the Holy Scripture presents this covenantal action, so has it always been taught and practiced in the Church, not only before the antichrist but also at the onset of reformation. The reformers presented and impressed it both with words and pen; it is urged in the forms of Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and of marriage. The subsequent teachers have written extensively and powerfully on several of these. So, it is not a truth that has been elucidated only in recent years, as some, in search of glory, would have it because they perhaps were ignorant of both the matter and the writers.
VI. To understand the nature of this Covenant more clearly and to lose oneself in wonder over this matter, it is necessary to consider attentively the parties that come together and are united in the Covenant. Never have such opposing parties been reconciled, never have such unequal been united. Here is God, the Creator of everything, here is the holy Lord, and a despicable sinner.
Let us consider each one in particular, that the matter may be recognized as more glorious and surpassing all admiration, thereby enticing everyone to enter into this Covenant, and arousing those who have entered to rejoice and glorify God.
The one is God, as all-sufficient.
VII. One party and Covenant-maker is the Lord God; who in this Covenant must be considered:
as all-sufficient. God is self-sufficient; He does not need to be served by human hands. Man's goodness does not affect Him. He gains no benefit from someone entering into this Covenant or living righteously; it is solely for the benefit of the confederate. And as He is self-sufficient, so He is also Shaddai, sufficient for all and each confederate, to fill and satisfy them with so much light, love, peace, joy, and bliss that they desire nothing but God alone, or can desire. Yes, they find that they can only grasp a tiny droplet of that sufficiency; and if a soul experiences the slightest ray of it, she says: Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. It is good for me to be near God. Psalm 73:25, 28. In your presence is fullness of joy, Psalm 16:11. I will be satisfied with your likeness, Psalm 17:15. They are abundantly satisfied with the fatness of your house Psalm 36:9. This all-sufficient God establishes a covenant with man, who lacks everything. Oh, how fortunate is he who stands in covenant with this God! Who will, who can refuse to enter into a covenant with this All-Sufficient? Who is not enlivened to do so immediately?
As good. VIII. Moreover, God presents himself as good. God is truly good.
- Nahum 1:7. The Lord is good.
- Ex. 34:6. The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.
- Ps. 119:68. You are good and do good.
- Ps. 136:1. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endures forever. That is God's nature, and from this goodness comes the doing of good, and especially this Covenant of Grace.
- Luke 1:78. Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the Dayspring from on high has visited us.
- Titus 3:4, 5. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.
It pains any lover of God that many always carry with them a misrepresentation of God. Many view the good God always, indeed as it lies at the core of their hearts and their actions testify, as harsh, unmerciful, without pity, unforgiving, having no regard for the small and the humble. With such a heart they come to prayer, and have little or no hope of being heard; with such a heart they carry themselves all day long after they have sinned, as if there were now no grace to be obtained. Thus, they dishonor God and ruin themselves. Let those who turn away from God, who do not desire or seek Him, tremble before Him as an avenger; but you, who are about Him and His grace, yet see Him as good; for that is how He makes Himself known in nature, in Scripture, to other believers, and how He has also often revealed Himself to you. Lamentations 3:25. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.
Therefore, whoever you are, come with fear to the Lord, and to His goodness, Hosea 3:5. With such a good God, man has to deal in making the covenant. Who then would not desire and take courage to enter into a covenant with the Lord?
- As Almighty.
IX. In the covenant, God also presents Himself as an almighty God, one who not only wills but is also able to impart His sufficiency and goodness. When the Lord made the covenant with Abraham, He declared beforehand:
- "I am God Almighty." Gen. 17:1.
- "He who is mighty has done great things for me," sang Mary, Luke 1:49.
- "I am... the Almighty," says the Lord, Revelation 1:8.
- "He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think," Ephesians 3:20. How secure, then, is the one who is in covenant with this God! How peacefully may he rest in Him! How surely can he expect the promises!
- As Faithful.
X. In establishing this Covenant, the Lord reveals Himself as faithful, one who will not forsake His confederates or let them lack anything. He is the faithful Creator: 1 Peter 4:19. His faithfulness endures forever, Psalm 146:6. "Great is Your faithfulness," Lamentations 3:23. "He will not let your foot slip; He who watches over you will not slumber. The Lord will keep you from all harm; He will watch over your life," Psalm 121:3, 7. Behold, all is faithfulness that the faithful God does. Yes, even when He afflicts, it is out of faithfulness, Psalm 119:75. "If we are faithless, He remains faithful," 2 Timothy 2:13. "I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered," Psalm 89:34, 35. Believe this, have no suspicions, rest in this, all you who have entered the covenant, for your God is a faithful God. He will complete everything for you.
- As True.
XI. God is also true and unchangeable. He is JEHOVAH, "I am who I am," Exodus 3:14. "I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed," Malachi 3:6. He does not lie, He who is the Glory of Israel does not change His mind, 1 Samuel 15:29. "God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable," Romans 11:29. Thus, a confederate may await the goods as surely as if they were already in hand, and rejoice in them without care, as Abraham did. "He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He had promised," Romans 4:20, 21.
- As Holy and Just.
XII. In this Covenant, God also reveals Himself as holy and just. "He does not leave the guilty unpunished," Exodus 34:7. When Joshua brought the people into a covenant with God, he said: "You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God," Joshua 24:19. One might think: this deters, who would dare to enter into a covenant with such a holy and just God? But they must know that it should attract them; because the righteousness has been satisfied by the Mediator, so the righteousness of God is now for the confederates, and therefore the Covenant remains unshakeable. "He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins," 1 John 1:9. Dwell upon these divine attributes displayed above, and see God in such a light, until the soul is truly persuaded that God as such truly precedes in the establishing of this Covenant, thereby taking boldness to enter into this Covenant, and once entered, to rest with great certainty in that God. This is the one party.
The other party is a wretched human.
XIII. The other party is mankind, as wretched, as sinful, as condemnable, as powerless, as we have depicted them above. Compare these two together. Could one believe that between such two unequal parties there could ever be a covenant, and such a covenant, unless God Himself revealed it? And now that such a covenant has come to pass between the two, what wonder and joy does it deserve? Let angels, let heaven and earth, let humanity stand amazed that the high, holy, and glorious God takes such filthy, wicked, and worthless creatures into a covenant, yes, into such a close covenant of friendship, and leads them by that Divine path to salvation.
The Conditions. Promises.
XIV. To more fully understand the nature of this magnificent covenant, it is necessary that we recognize the conditions, stipulations, or promises of this Covenant.
- First, we shall present the goods and promises extended by God's side;
- and then we shall observe what conditions must be contributed by man's side. Take heed, reader, whoever you are, pay close attention to the articles of this Covenant, whether it might stir your desire, your wonder, your joy. Is it not a Covenant of God? That alone would be sufficient to investigate. But in addition, the promised goods are so plentiful, so great, that they surpass all understanding. In each matter lies an infinite bliss. We shall present only some principal matters with brevity. We will condense them into fourteen articles. • The first seven are the miseries from which the Lord promises to deliver the confederates; • the second seven encompass the goods that the Lord promises to bestow. Would to God that we could view these with an understanding and believing heart as the promised goods of the Covenant, and not hear or read them in passing, but contemplate them until we could affirm them with an 'amen' and hold them very dear! Hear then! These are the terms of the Covenant. From these seven evils, God promises deliverance to those who wish to enter into this Covenant with Him.
- Redemption from Sins.
XV. God offers as a condition of the Covenant, redemption from all sins. See this: Jer. 31:33, 34. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD... "I will forgive their wickedness." God promises such forgiveness:
(a) That He retains not a single sin but forgives them all, small, great, known, unknown, brazen, often repeated, out of weakness, out of impetuosity, persistently clinging, even the sinfulness of nature, with none excepted: Jer. 33:8. "I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion."
(b) God promises such forgiveness that He forgives them forever, never to recall them again: Jer. 31:34. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." Isa. 43:25. "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." Isa. 44:22. "I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist."
(c) Thus, God promises to forgive sins in such a way that He no longer regards the sinner as a sinner, but as if he had not transgressed against Him, as if he had fully atoned for all his sins and accomplished all righteousness. Col. 2:10. "And you have been given fullness in Christ." 2 Cor. 5:21. "So that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
(d) God promises to forgive sins so that He will henceforth view their sins with compassion, as a father does when his frail child falls. Blessed is the one whose sins are forgiven.
From Wrath. XVI. God promises deliverance from His wrath. Because of sin, every person is subject to wrath. We were by nature children of wrath, Ephesians 2:3. This wrath is unbearable: Psalm 76:7. "Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?" From this, the confederates are fully delivered: 1 Timothy 1:10. "Who rescues us from the coming wrath."
From Curse. God promises liberation from the curse. This curse lies upon every person: Deuteronomy 27:26. "Cursed be anyone who does not uphold the words of this law." God completely removes this: Galatians 3:13. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us."
From Adversities. God promises salvation from all bodily adversities and from death, insofar as they would harm the confederates and not be to their advantage: Hosea 13:14. "I will ransom them from the power of the grave."
From the Devil. God promises deliverance from the power of the devil; every person in nature is caught in the snare of the devil at his will, 2 Timothy 2:26. From this, God delivers His own, by the power of this covenant: Acts 26:18. "To open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God."
From Sin’s Dominion. God promises liberation from the dominion of sin: Romans 6:14. "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace."
From Condemnation. God promises deliverance from eternal condemnation: Romans 8:1. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
What do you think of these conditions, you who have ever felt what sin, wrath, curse, death, the power of the devil, the dominion of sin, and condemnation are? Are these matters not precious? Are these conditions not acceptable? Are they at all to be rejected?
XVII. It was not enough for the Lord to free His confederates from all these woes; He also sets forth other conditions, by which He promises all blessings that can contribute to the felicity of the confederates. Namely:
- God to be their God. God offers Himself to be the God of a poor, repentant sinner: Gen. 17:7. "I will establish my covenant to be God to you." Jer. 31:33, 34. "This is my covenant... I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
- In this lies all happiness, yet none knows what it is, save for those who partake of it. It is not about receiving a gift from God, but having God Himself as one's portion: Jer. 10:16. "The Portion of Jacob is not like these, for he is the Maker of all things."
- In this, the Church rejoiced: Lam. 3:24. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."
- In this, Asaph found rest and comfort in all adversities: Psalm 73:25-26. "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Who can articulate such vast happiness? It's to be overshadowed by God's gracious presence; to be encircled by His helping and preserving omnipotence; to rest in His infallible faithfulness; to rejoice in God’s eternal blessedness, majesty, and glory; to be illuminated by His light; to be warmed by His goodness and love; to be satisfied with His sufficiency; to lose oneself in His infinity and incomprehensibility; it's that contented and loving surrender to Him, that placing oneself under Him, that adoration of Him; it's, in the sight and feeling of His perfections, with heart, tongue, and deeds to give Him honor and glory, for He is worthy; it's to fear Him, to serve Him, and in all things to be united with His will, because He is God; it's that which I cannot comprehend, and you cannot fathom, but in whose infinity we must lose ourselves, exclaiming: Hallelujah! Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, Psalm 33:12. That alone encompasses everything.
Nevertheless, it has pleased the Lord to set forth various specific blessings as conditions, stipulations, and promises of the Covenant of Grace, which we shall then present for clearer knowledge and greater stirring.
Spirit. God promises to give His Spirit to His confederates: Isaiah 44:3. "I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring." Ezek. 36:27. "I will put my Spirit in you." Joel 2:28. "I will pour out my Spirit on all people." Gal. 4:6. "Because you are his children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts."
Friendship. God offers friendship with Him, as close as father and children. By the power of this Covenant, Abraham was called a friend of God, James 2:23. And Christ says of His own: "You are my friends," John 15:14. "Behold, you are beautiful, my love," Song of Solomon 4:1. The Church calls Jesus her Beloved, Song of Solomon 5:16. Indeed, God desires to be a Father to them, and they shall be His children. 2 Cor. 6:18. "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters." What a privilege, how glorious and sweet it is to be able to cry out: Abba, Father!
Peace. God offers peace: Isaiah 54:13. "All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children." This peace is with God, with angels, with conscience; indeed, one is in such a state as if all creation were at peace with them; it's such a sweet condition that it is indescribable, surpassing all understanding. Philippians 4:7. It is a foretaste of heaven. "For the kingdom of God is peace," Romans 14:17.
Sanctification. God offers sanctification in all aspects. (a) Enlightenment: Isaiah 54:13. "All your children shall be taught by the Lord." "This is my covenant... they will all know me." (b) Life. Malachi 2:5. "My covenant was with him, a covenant of life." (c) Truth: Isaiah 61:8. "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that their offspring shall be known among the nations." (d) Freedom: 2 Corinthians 3:17. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (e) Willingness: Psalm 110:3. "Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments." (f) And to sum it all up: godliness, faith, hope, love, fear, obedience, humility, meekness, wisdom, etc. Jeremiah 31:33. "This is my covenant... I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts." Ezekiel 36:26, 27. "I will give you a new heart... And I will make you walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." This is what the godly so ardently long for, and over whose lack they mourn so bitterly; this is what is pledged here.
Preservation. God guarantees that He will preserve His confederates in the state of grace and friendship, so that neither they themselves nor any creature shall rob them of this. The stability of their state will not depend on the confederates themselves, for a hundred times in a day they would fall away, and He promises that He Himself will never leave nor forsake them: Jer. 32:40. "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing good to them, and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me." How firm and certain is the state of a confederate! They can confidently say: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Rom. 8:35.
Salvation. God offers as a condition of this covenant eternal salvation: Luke 22:29. "And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me." John 10:28. "I give them eternal life." Matt. 25:34. "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world."
These are the proposed articles of the covenant. Take these fourteen articles together and consider if there is any article that displeases you, that you wish to remove; ponder if there is perhaps something more you would desire, and you will find it is perfect and more glorious than all people together could have devised or dared to ask for. Is it not enough to be freed from all evil under which one might fall, and to enjoy all blessedness into eternity? Is it not sufficient to compel your soul to wholeheartedly decide to enter into this Covenant with God? What do you think, is he not bereft of reason who would not enter into such a Covenant, on such terms, and that with God? Unless God should demand from man unacceptable conditions.
Man is required to offer nothing as a condition.
XVIII. Let us see what conditions God demands in return from man. I do not say what conditions, which man offers, for man knows nothing of the covenant and is not inclined to enter into a covenant with God; therefore, he makes no petition and sets forth no promises to move God to make a covenant; but God comes first (oh, wonder!) to petition and promises conditions to move and entice man. Now the question is: What are the conditions that God demands from man in return, and which He would promise in return? I answer: God demands no conditions from man; man promises nothing upon which he would enter into the Covenant. It is important for the mind to be well-instructed in this, to step into this Covenant more boldly and to stand in the Covenant more steadfastly with fewer doubts. I say then: on man’s side, there are absolutely no conditions that God demands as conditions, and that man promises as conditions. This is evidenced by: Proof 1. From Scriptures.
XIX. From specific texts:
- Isaiah 55:1. "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost."
- Revelation 21:6. "I will give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life without payment."
- Revelation 22:17. "Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price." Nothing could be stated more clearly.
- Possesses and can contribute nothing.
What could the impoverished man offer and promise? He possesses nothing; he is capable of nothing. Should he pledge anything, it would be deceitful; what he would vow must be within his power, for he cannot pledge what belongs to another; he himself has nothing, and God cannot be satisfied with a dishonest promise. God knows him well and is aware that he can do nothing and will do nothing of himself. God delights in truth.
- It is a Covenant of Grace.
It is entirely a Covenant of Grace, entirely excluding the Covenant of Works; accordingly, all conditions on the part of man are utterly excluded; for if it is by grace, then it is no longer from works; otherwise, grace is no longer grace, Rom. 11:6.
- Otherwise, the Covenant would be breakable.
If something were demanded from man as a condition or stipulation and was promised by him, then the Covenant of Grace would be breakable and mutable, for whoever does not fulfill the condition breaches the covenant made upon that condition. Now, if man were to promise something, he would not fulfill it, and thus he would break the Covenant, never partaking of any salvation through this Covenant's power. Then the sanctified could fall away, which is against the Bible.
- What he would promise, God promises.
And if man could do anything, and thus promise, what would that be? Repentance, love, holiness, obedience? Besides his inability, these matters are promised by God as conditions on His side. God offers to give these to the man who enters into this Covenant with Him, as shown above. If they are conditions that God promises to work in man on His side, they cannot be conditions that man would promise to do on his side.
XX. One might think, is it not necessary for man to will and to believe; for all promises are under the condition of faith, and there are threats for those who do not believe. Where there are conditional promises and threats, conditions are demanded and promised by man.
- The conditional promises and threats are motives by which God draws and entices man to the Covenant to enter into it.
- The conditional promises and threats relate to the greater or lesser application of the Covenant's goods to the confederates and are means to invigorate them. This does not imply that willing and believing are conditions of the Covenant of Grace itself, which, strictly speaking, has only promises and no threats.
- Willing and believing are prerequisite qualities in someone who enters into the Covenant. Now, prerequisites are not conditions but merely make one capable of making a covenant. The willingness and acceptance of a suitor’s proposal, the commitment in the marriage covenant of a daughter, are not marriage conditions but the act of marriage itself; similarly here, at most, willing and believing could be called a conditio sine qua non, a condition without which not, which does not form the essence of the matter itself.
Objection 2. One might further think: If God does not demand anything from man in establishing the Covenant, and God alone promises to do everything for him, then God alone is bound, and man is not bound, and may thus live as he pleases.
I answer: A poor daughter, who commits to a rich suitor who promises conditions solely for the good of that poor daughter, is as much bound without offering conditions, as the rich suitor with all his conditions. So it is here: a believer, entering into the Covenant, binds himself to the Lord and says and writes: I am the Lord’s. But to what does the believer commit? To be owned by the Lord. To be a recipient of all the goodness of God. To be led and governed by the Holy Spirit in all his ways. The fifth article of the blessings mentioned above was sanctification in all aspects. If a man is to enter into this Covenant, he must have a true desire and love for that article, and he, being enamored with sanctification, thus lets himself into this Covenant. So, he does not wish to live ungodly, but godly. Besides many other ties which he feels bound to sanctification, love binds him to it. The commitment makes the marriage, and therefore it is not a condition of the covenant. This about the conditions.
III. Christ the Surety.
XXI. Since the majesty, holiness, righteousness, and truth of God do not allow for God to deal with the sinner as a sinner, it is necessary that a Surety and Mediator come between them, who removes everything that was in the way. This Surety is Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, truly God and man, and thus equally close to both parties. In Him, both natures are united, to unite God with man. He intercedes for man before God, takes upon Himself all the sins of the elect as if He had committed them Himself, and guarantees to pay the debt, having also borne their sins in His body on the tree, 1 Peter 2:24. He commits Himself to fulfill the law for the elect and has made them righteous by His obedience, Rom. 5:19. He also stands, so to speak, for God before man, and confirms that God will uphold the promises promised in this Covenant, and dies upon it as the Testator, in whose death the Testament is irrevocable. For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it; for a testament is in force after men are dead, Heb. 9:16, 17. Thus, He brings those two, God and man, together and brings the sinner to God in reconciliation and peace, 1 Peter 3:18. How desirable, how steadfast is this Covenant, in which all heavy conditions lie upon the Surety, and all blessings come upon the confederates through the Mediator Jesus Christ, in whom all the promises are yes and amen! 2 Cor. 1:20.
IV. Form, mutual consent.
XXII. Now we come to the consideration of the form and the very essence of the covenant, which consists in mutual consent. Not the goods, not the charm, not the love makes a marriage, but the mutual consent declared to one another. This is known to all: when both parties consent to the terms, then peace is made between those who were previously at war. So it is here. For clearer understanding, these four things must be noted:
- God’s offer to the sinner to take him into a covenant.
- The attraction by offering many advantageous conditions.
- The consent and acceptance of that offer.
- The right that the confederate acquires by virtue of this established Covenant to request those goods, promised by God, to which he is now entitled, through prayer in faith.
On God’s side is consent, for He makes the offer and extends the invitation. When man, understanding the terms, desiring them wholeheartedly, and believing the truth of the offer, turns away from all else and turns solely to God, and in calmness, truth, and splendor declares his consent to that Covenant, and commits himself to God in Christ, the Covenant is made, and it shall remain eternally steadfast. Blessed is he whom God has opened his eyes, bent his will, and brought to such earnest consent. He can be assured of his present and future blessed state, even if he enters into much obscurity: for his state is not dependent on his feelings or faith, or holiness, but on this Covenant. However, this is not to be imagined by those who merely consider these matters and acknowledge them as lovely in themselves, yet have not earnestly and truly engaged in dealings with God in Christ, and therefore have never partaken of the first fruits of this Covenant, which is the transformation of the heart. But all who choose Jesus Christ, accept Him, look to Him, long for Him, and wait upon Him to receive forgiveness of sins, peace, comfort, and strength for sanctification through Him, truly enter into this Covenant, even if they do not expressly have this Covenant and making of a covenant in view, due to a lack of clearer light and guidance; which should serve to strengthen the faith of the small in faith.
V. End, the glorification of free grace.
XXIII. The purpose of this Covenant should also be specially noted, for it gives great boldness to the poor man. Since God alone promises conditions and demands nothing in return from man, what then is the purpose of God establishing a Covenant with man? I answer: not His benefit; for He does not become more blessed, more perfect, or more glorious by it; but on His side, it is a revelation of His grace, goodness, wisdom, righteousness, and power, and on man's side, to lead him in love to salvation. See this:
- Ephesians 1:5-6. "He predestined us for adoption to sonship 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."
- Romans 9:23. "What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—"
- Ephesians 3:10-11. "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."
If this is the purpose for which God undertakes the grand work of redemption in the manner of a Covenant, who would not gladly desire to be its subject? Even if we are incapable of all else, we are yet capable of having infinite Grace, a Divine and all-conquering goodness, shown to us. If God wishes to be the God of a sinner, and desires to lead them as children to glory, … is it not then well with us, and do we not have ample reason to enter into that Covenant with confidence, and to repeatedly commit ourselves to it? Come then: if the demonstration of grace is God's end, let that also be your end, and accept this Covenant out of love for the glorification of God's great and free grace, and let yourself be made blessed to that end; aiming at this in the making of the Covenant glorifies God, and gives the soul both humility and confidence, and a sweet stillness.
XXIV. For a clearer understanding of the nature of the Covenant, and its loveliness, it also helps to contemplate its attributes. These are both varied and exceedingly lovely.
Unilateral. This Covenant is largely unilateral; for God conceives it, God alone promises the conditions, God provides the Surety, God makes the first appeal, God works the knowledge, the will, and the action; therefore, it is commonly said in Scripture: I will establish My covenant. I will make a Covenant. I will bring them into the bond of the Covenant. However, since the making of a covenant requires the consent of both parties, man must consent on his side to it, and to that extent, it is bilateral, from both sides.
Gracious. This is an entirely gracious Covenant. Here, there are no good works, no good condition of the heart, no good will; no attractiveness, no pitiable misery, nothing, nothing on the side of humans, which would move God to consider a redemption, a covenant, to be first moved by man’s side to help him. God wants to show Grace, and man wishes to receive everything solely out of Grace. God appears as Gracious, Exodus 34:6. And man receives from His fullness, grace upon grace, John 1:16.
Holy. It is a holy Covenant. Holy is the Lord, holy is the Mediator, holy is the way through which the confederates obtain the promises, holy are all the promises, and the confederates too are sanctified, so that everything on every side is a holy Covenant. Luke 1:72. "To remember his holy covenant."
Glorious. It is a glorious Covenant. The Lord God possesses all glory, the Mediator is glorious and crowned with glory, high and glorious are the goods that are promised; and it is particularly glorious for man, that he is so exalted, that he becomes a confederate of God, and that he is led by the way of this Covenant to glory, Hebrews 2:10. Thus may every confederate say: "He who is mighty has done great things for me," Luke 1:49.
Well-Ordered. It is a well-ordered Covenant: 2 Samuel 23:5. "Yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure." Everything fits together: beginning, middle, end, and there is such a neat order that on all sides the manifold wisdom, the pure righteousness, the unquestionable goodness, the irresistible power shines through. There is that eternal purpose to be glorified in inconceivable grace, and that seeing it would be the joy and blessedness of angels and men; upon this God creates man perfectly holy, and lets man by his own will break the Covenant through sin, and so concludes them all under sin. Thereupon, the Lord sets forth another way to be saved, namely, the Covenant of Grace. The Lord promises the Surety, and lets Him be portrayed through the ceremonies, lets Him be born at the appointed time, and through suffering pays for sin; exalts Him at His right hand, and puts everything in His hands. He lets the Gospel be proclaimed, and thereby draws His elect to this Covenant, and leads them through many remarkable and wondrous ways to glory. Thus, it is all well-ordered.
Love. It is a Covenant of peace and friendship: Isaiah 54:10. "The covenant of my peace shall not be removed." Hence come the mutual names of friend and beloved. Yes, it is an offensive and defensive Covenant, so to speak. God says to Abraham, Genesis 12:3: "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse." And the confederate in turn says, Psalm 119:63: "I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts." Psalm 139:21-22: "Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies."
Marriage Covenant. It is a marriage covenant: as a man and a woman are bound together in love and are one, so too a close union and unity come between God and Christ on one side, and between the confederates on the other side. Ezekiel 16:8. "When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine." Hosea 2:19-20: "I will betroth you to me forever." Isaiah 54:5: "For your Maker is your husband." Hence come the mutual names of Bridegroom and Bride, and that mutual mine: Zechariah 13:9: "They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'They are my people'; and they will say, 'The Lord is my God.'" Song of Solomon 2:16: "My beloved is mine, and I am his."
Eternal. It is an everlasting Covenant. It is not for ten or twenty years, it is not for as long as one lives, but it is a Covenant without end. Therefore, it is often called an everlasting Covenant, Jeremiah 31:33-34. It is, therefore, steadfast, firm, and unbreakable. This is evident:
(a) Isaiah 54:10, "The mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed."
(b) It flows from the purpose according to election, which stands firm, Romans 9:11.
(c) It is grounded on the covenant of redemption and the counsel of peace, which is unbreakable. Psalm 89:34: "I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips."
(d) It is confirmed in the death of the Testator. "For a will takes effect only at death," Hebrews 9:17.
(e) It rests on the truth and faithfulness of God. Psalm 146:6: "The Lord who keeps faith forever."
(f) It is ratified by the oath of God. Hebrews 6:17: "So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath." These are the attributes.
Consider these attributes and qualities of this Covenant attentively. Is it not wondrous and lovely on all sides? Who can resist committing their whole heart to it at once? Which of the confederates does not leap for joy over such great salvation, and rest sweetly in God through this Covenant?
XXV. This Covenant also has seals attached to assure its confederates of its steadfastness. The confederates do not set their seal upon the Covenant, for they promise nothing; but because God alone makes promises, He alone also seals it. Under the old administration, Circumcision and the Passover were seals, and under the new administration, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the seals. God desires first to prepare man to be a possessor of eternal blessedness out of that free Grace and leads him through many marvelous paths, as Israel in the wilderness, which seem to go off from heaven. And lest he faint on the way, the Lord gives him seals.
The power of them.
- That he may continually bring to mind the promised goods, deeply perceive them, and steadfastly gaze upon them.
- That he may be increasingly strengthened in faith and assured of the certainty of the promises made to him.
- That he may continually get a foretaste of the heavenly goods and savor their power somewhat.
- That he may be continually awakened to willingly forsake the world, to fight against his desires, to take up his cross, and to seek honor and glory through good deeds. Thus, one must use the Sacraments, and not rest in the act itself, in that performed work; but see in it on one side, as in a picture, the suffering and death of the Mediator Jesus Christ, and on the other side draw from it the unbreakability of all the promises promised in this Covenant.
XXV. This Covenant is also endowed with seals to assure its confederates of its firmness. The confederates themselves do not affix their seal to the Covenant, for they promise nothing; but since God alone makes promises, He alone seals it as well. Under the old dispensation, Circumcision and the Passover were seals, and under the new dispensation, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper serve as seals. God intends to first prepare humanity to be inheritors of eternal blessedness out of His free Grace, leading them through many wondrous paths, like Israel in the wilderness, which seem to veer away from heaven. And lest they falter on the journey, the Lord grants them seals.
The efficacy of these seals is manifold:
- That they may repeatedly recall the promised goods, deeply contemplate them, and fix their gaze upon them.
- That they may be increasingly fortified in faith and assured of the certainty of the promises made to them.
- That they may regularly receive a foretaste of the heavenly goods and taste their power to some degree.
- That they may be continually invigorated to depart from the world in spirit, to combat their own desires, to take up their cross, and to seek honor and glory through righteousness. Thus, one must approach the Sacraments, not resting in the act itself, but in it seeing on one side, as in a mirror, the suffering and dying of the Mediator Jesus Christ, and on the other side deriving from it the unbreakability of all the promises made in this Covenant.
Causes why many do not enter into the Covenant.
XXVI. Thus, the excellence of the Covenant of Grace has been presented to you. Who would not desire to be a confederate of it? Who does not affirm all these, acknowledging, "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes"? Yet, many are found who will not. The Lord Jesus marveled at the unbelief of the Jews, and so will all who know this Covenant in its glory marvel at how many have no desire for it and do not enter in. One might wonder: How is it possible? And one might ask: What are the reasons for this? I answer:
Ignorance. What is unknown is not desired. Many do not pay attention to what preaching means, what is proclaimed, and if they hear it somewhat, they do not linger on it, they do not strive to understand the matter in depth, and thus it remains hidden from them. Others consider it only to know and to be able to speak of it, to gain the esteem of being knowledgeable. Thus, they regard the excellence of the Covenant as something foreign, of no concern to them.
Unbelief. They hear the matters, regard them as good and lovely, but they do not know if it is the truth; although they dare not dismiss it as untrue, they do not believe that people could partake of these things and come into such a state; thus, they let the matters be and turn away, and the word of preaching is of no benefit to them because it is not mixed with faith.
Indolence. Lethargic laziness. Some see something, they would like to have it: but it is the desire of a sluggard, who does not want to work; it is the dreaming of someone half asleep, who falls asleep with the desire, and simultaneously loses both desires and efforts; therefore, they gain no part in it; one finds upon seeking, and not otherwise. Proverbs 2:4-5. "If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." But for these, any work is too much, they would let it come of its own accord if they could; but to investigate, to pray, to struggle to believe, and to grasp it by faith, and to keep busy in it, that is too arduous a work for them, it is not worth the trouble.
Worldly concerns. Many have a desire for it and are sometimes moved to enter in, but adversities, excessive busyness, the fear of once again lacking, the consuming thoughts and considerations take the heart away, and make them abandon the good movements with a sigh; these are the thorns that choke the good seed and weigh down the heart, keeping a person in their state.
Desires of the flesh. These might have a desire for the goods of the Covenant in themselves, but in the context that they would then have to give up their honorable, profitable, pleasurable sins, to hate and fight against them, then they do not fancy the goods of the Covenant; the present is too sweet, the fleshly too delightful, therefore they choose this with action, and leave the spiritual aside; if they cannot come to heaven in any other way, patience, sin cannot be abandoned; if one will not let go, that is certain, let it go as it may.
Erroneous imaginings. Many have knowledge of the truths, regard them as glorious and lovely, and consider it very blessed those who are confederates; they attend church, they are outwardly religious, they guard themselves against the gross pollutions of the world; and so they consider themselves as confederates, although they: (a) do not know the inner truth, do not consider the matters in their spiritual nature, do not value the Surety of this Covenant dearly in their hearts, and love Him alone. (b) Though they do not stand apart from the alliances and covenants, in which they are by nature with the world and their flesh, do not break them, and do not consider them as their enemy, and act overtly as enemies, but inwardly remain united with their affections and love. (c) Though they have no dealings with the Surety of this Covenant, and with the God of the Covenant, to enter into the Covenant with heart and tongue, but only consider the promises as lovely. (d) Though they are content, even if they do not possess and feel the goods of this Covenant; even though they live separated and far from God; even though they have no holiness, but live in the earth and in themselves, and in inward sins, with their heart, thoughts, affections, and endeavors not above with God, but in the bodily and visible. These things are in all true confederates, and because they are not in the presumptuous and temporary believers, they should be convinced that they have been deceiving themselves with false reasoning until now.
XXVII. You who are convinced that you have not yet entered into this Covenant, listen to me and be moved to become a true confederate by entering into this Covenant.
Encouragement to enter into the Covenant.
Outside this Covenant, there is nothing but misery. God is to you an angry Judge; you have no share in the Surety and His fullness; you have no part in a single promise, but all threats, all judgments are upon you; everything you enjoy in the world merely accumulates your sins and aggravates your judgment, and eternal damnation will be your inheritance. See this, Ephesians 2:11-12, "Therefore, remember that... at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." Awaken at last, come to yourself, tremble and fear, and let the terror of the Lord move you to faith, flee from the wrath to come by entering into this Covenant of Peace.
In this Covenant, there is all blessedness; go back, examine all the promises of this Covenant presented above, and see if there is anything else you would desire, and if not, as there is nothing lacking, embrace it, and give the Lord your allegiance. It is but filth that you will forsake; it is but a heavy burden that you will lay aside; it is a harsh and cruel master whom you will renounce; and conversely, it is God with whom you will live in peace and friendship; it is pure light, love, joy, and unadulterated holiness that the confederates will enjoy for now and forever; why then do you hesitate, come, make a decision and cross over.
You are personally solicited by God Himself. He comes before you and calls you: "Turn to me and be saved." He sent His own Son, and through Him, He speaks to you. Will you not listen to God? Will you turn away from Him who is from heaven? The Lord sends His servants, and currently me to you; what effort they make, how they plead with you, what heartrending reasons they use, even tears, to draw you to this Covenant! Please, be moved, be reconciled to God. Be overcome by the compulsion of love, and by all the prayers of the ministers to God for you.
The Lord will reject no one who comes to Him in truth through Christ, even if you have been disobedient to this friendly offer for so many years, even if your entire life to date has been nothing but sin, even if you have committed abominations, even if you have been a murderer, an adulterer, a fornicator, a thief, a blasphemer, and a liar up to this time, if only you recognize your sins, truly repent, and truly desire this Covenant in all its parts, and the Surety, to partake of those goods solely through Him; do not be disheartened, there is hope in this regard, just come; for the Lord will certainly not reject you, but will accept you, for He has said: see all the promises, among others: John 6:37, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."
Exhortation for those who have entered.
XXVIII. And to you, who have truly entered into this Covenant, which you can recognize from what we have said in section 26, 6.
- Rejoice and delight in your share of all the goods, and in the steadfastness of this Covenant, though you do not yet enjoy as much of it as you desire, you will yet enjoy it all in full measure.
- Always regard God as He now is in this Covenant, and interact with Him as a confederate, graciously accepted by Him, employ humble boldness to commune with Him, pray in faith for the enjoyment of those goods, await them with patience, and rely on Him in every way, trusting that He will make all things well.
- Now walk worthy of the Gospel, as befits a confederate, look not back to your friends, the world, and all that is therein, deny carnal desires. Be heavenly minded, let your conduct be in heaven, let your light shine before men, that they may see that a more excellent spirit is in you than in them; strive for humility, meekness, to love enemies, act wisely in the upright way, and be holy, as He who has taken you into His Covenant is holy.
- Walk in love and peace with the confederates, show the world that you are of one heart and one soul, and by your example stimulate all other confederates, that the love of many for each other may kindle a fire and also ignite those who are outside.
- Glorify God for this great work, make every effort to not only mention but deeply perceive the perfections of God that are revealed in this Covenant, so that your soul may lose itself in wonder, and your tongue be loosed, to proclaim the virtues of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name, make known His deeds among the peoples! Declare that His name is exalted. Sing to the LORD, for He has done glorious things; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you, Isaiah 12:4-6.
The Covenant began with Adam.
XXIX. Alongside this Covenant, we have two questions to answer. The first question is: When did this Covenant of Grace begin? The Socinians and the Remonstrants, who agree with them in this matter, even though they do not correctly understand the nature of the Covenant of Grace, claim that it did not exist during the days of the Old Testament. Although they concede that it was revealed to them that a Savior would come and that a Covenant of Grace would be established, they maintain that they did not have it, were not confederates of this Covenant, had no promises of eternal salvation, and did not obtain eternal life through faith and hope in the coming Savior, but out of Grace, through their virtuousness. We say, although the administration is very different in both Testaments, that the same Covenant, in respect to its essence, has been in the OLD TESTAMENT, beginning with Adam, as it is now in the NEW TESTAMENT. This is evident:
XXX. It was established immediately after the fall in the Paradise, in the promise, Genesis 3:15, "He (the seed of the woman) shall bruise your (serpent's) head." This Seed of the woman is the Lord Jesus, who was born of the virgin Mary without the intervention of a man, unlike any other human has been or will be. And Christ alone, and no other, has crushed the serpent, the devil, as is evident: Hebrews 2:14, "That through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil." 1 John 3:8, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." Christ, the Seed of the woman, who would crush the devil's head, is promised here, and it is noteworthy that it is in the form of a threat, and that to the serpent; it is not said to Adam and Eve, but only within their hearing; from which it is clear that the Covenant of Grace was not established with Adam and Eve and in them with all their descendants, as the Covenant of Works was established with him; but Adam and Eve, hearing this promise, had to accept the promised Savior for their own consolation, as every believer thereafter did, which will become evident in the following reason.
XXXI. The Gospel, which is the offering of this Covenant, was preached in the OLD TESTAMENT as well as in the NEW TESTAMENT. See this in Galatians 3:8, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.'" In you, that is, in your seed, which is Christ, v. 16. He does not say, "and to seeds," as of many, but as of one: "And to your seed," which is Christ. Abraham believed this joyful message, not for the Gentiles who would come and believe, but for himself; he then benefited from it, namely, justification, which is a free declaration from guilt and punishment, and an entry into the right to eternal life. See this in Genesis 15:6, "And he believed (note: not the LORD, but) in the LORD, and He counted it to him for righteousness." James 2:23, "And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'—and he was called a friend of God." That this was not an extraordinary privilege to Abraham alone, that the Gospel was preached to him, but that the same happened to the church of the OLD TESTAMENT, is evident from Hebrews 4:2, "For good news came to us just as to them." It is preached to us so that we might accept it for our benefit, so also for their benefit; and that many derived no benefit from it was not because it was not offered to them, but because they did not accept it by faith. But the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. Therefore, if Christ in the OLD TESTAMENT was proclaimed and offered through the Gospel, and everyone was obliged to believe in Christ for justification, as Abraham did, then the Covenant of Grace existed in the OLD TESTAMENT.
Behold this also in Moses, Hebrews 11:24-26, "By faith Moses... considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward." Moses knew Christ, believed in Christ, esteemed Christ as precious, and focused on the promises through Christ. This chapter enumerates a complete register of believers in the OLD TESTAMENT and the benefits they partook of through faith in Christ.
XXXII. The Surety of the Covenant was in the OLD TESTAMENT just as powerful as in the NEW TESTAMENT, hence the Covenant was present then as it is now. See this in Hebrews 13:8, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." By "today" the present time is indicated, by "forever" the future, and by "yesterday" the past. The apostle does not merely say that Christ was, is, and will be; he states that Christ has always been the same, for reconciliation, for consolation, and for aid, and therefore one must not falter under persecution. By "yesterday" we cannot understand the time just before Paul, the time of Christ's sojourn on earth; for it is clear that the apostle encourages believers to remain steadfast because Christ has been the same faithful Savior for all time, as soon as there was a Church, and as long as there will be a Church; so "yesterday" is the time before Christ's coming in the flesh, the time of the OLD TESTAMENT, which is also evident from the fact that Christ is said to have been slain from the foundation of the world. See Revelation 13:8, "And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." The words "from the foundation of the world" should not be connected by jumping to "whose names are not written in the book of life," there is no need for such a leap, and Christ is never said to have been slain without some addition or description; and moreover, if one were to take the words in that manner, "whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb from the foundation of the world," it remains certain that from the foundation of the world, there was a book in which the names of the believers were written, and that this book was of the Lamb, that is: of Christ, and consequently Christ's death is considered as present in power, because no one can be written in His book except by the power of His death by slaying. But it is simple and clear that the words should be joined as the apostle has joined them: "of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
Question. But how has Christ been slain from that time? For the apostle seems to contradict this in Hebrews 9:26, "Otherwise, He would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world."
Answer. The apostle demonstrates that the death of Christ had to happen but once, and that single offering was powerful from the foundation of the world, and thus he emphatically confirms that the single death of Christ was then as powerful as if He had suffered both at that time and immediately thereafter, and so he confirms that Christ is the same yesterday and today. Christ, then, was not actually slain from the foundation of the world, but in power, in offering; and the believers from that time believed in Him through the offerings, in which they saw the death of the coming Savior, and accepted it by faith for justification. As is evident in Abel, Hebrews 11:4-5, "By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts." Abel offered in faith, Abel pleased God, Abel was righteous; all this unequivocally indicates that Abel represented Christ in his offering.
Proof 4. In the OLD TESTAMENT, the spiritual goods.
XXXIII. The believers in the OLD TESTAMENT had all the spiritual benefits of the Covenant of Grace, thus they had the Covenant itself, just as we in the NEW TESTAMENT.
(a) God was their God and their Father: Exodus 20:2, "I am the LORD your God." Isaiah 41:10, "I am your God." Isaiah 64:8, "But now, O LORD, You are our Father." Jeremiah 3:4, "Will you not from this time cry to Me: 'My Father!'"
(b) They had forgiveness of sins: Psalm 65:3, "But with You is forgiveness." Psalm 32:5, "You forgave the iniquity of my sin."
(c) They had the spirit of adoption as children: Romans 9:4, "Theirs is the adoption to sonship." 2 Corinthians 4:13, "Since we have the same spirit of faith." Psalm 143:10, "Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground."
(d) They had peace of conscience with God: Psalm 4:7, "You have put more joy in my heart." Psalm 62:1, "For God alone my soul waits in silence."
(e) They had a childlike fellowship with God: Psalm 139:18, "When I awake, I am still with You." Psalm 73:28, "But for me it is good to be near God."
(f) They were partakers of sanctification: Psalm 119:97, "Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day."
(g) They looked to enter into blessedness after death: Hebrews 11:10, 16, "For he was looking forward to the city with foundations... But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one."
(h) They attained that blessedness: Acts 15:11, "But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." The apostle here does not speak of the Gentiles, nor would he set the salvation of the Gentiles before that of the Jews, but he speaks of the fathers, who could not bear the yoke and yet were saved by faith, from which he infers that they too expected salvation by faith and not by the works of the ceremonial law, and from this, he concludes that the Gentiles should not be compelled to be circumcised to observe the law of ceremonies.
From all these, it is evident that the believers in the OLD TESTAMENT enjoyed the goods of the Covenant of Grace, thus they had this Covenant itself, and were confederates in the same Covenant with us, having all eaten the same spiritual food and drunk the same spiritual drink, 1 Corinthians 10:3-4. Therefore, the apostle Peter calls the Jewish nation: "Children of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.'" Acts 3:25.
XXXIV. In the OLD TESTAMENT, they did not obtain the promises. Hebrews 11:13, "These all died in faith, not having received the promises." Answer. The promises to which the apostle here refers are of Christ in the flesh, whom they saw from afar, believed in, and embraced.
Hebrews 7:19, "For the law made nothing perfect." Answer. The ceremonial laws, of which the apostle speaks, did not have the power of atonement but pointed to Christ and were thus a prelude to a better hope; through faith in a coming Messiah, they were perfect in Him, Colossians 2:10.
Hebrews 9:8, "The Holy Place was not yet revealed while the first tabernacle was still standing." Answer. Christ is the Way, John 14:6. Christ inaugurated the way to God and to glory through the veil, that is, His flesh, Hebrews 10:19-20. The text says that Christ had not yet actually paid the ransom and acquired salvation for His people as long as the rites still stood; but once that was accomplished, they had served their purpose. The apostle does not say that no one had entered heaven at that time, which the parties themselves would not dare to say. Enoch, Elijah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would contradict them. The apostle also does not say that the way to heaven was not yet known; for where there is faith, hope, and love, there the way is known; but he says that Christ Himself had not yet come in the flesh, who would do what the entire tabernacle service could not accomplish, namely, bring salvation.
XXXV. 2 Timothy 1:10 states that Christ has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. Thus, there was neither light nor life before Christ's coming in the flesh. Answer. The text indeed says that Christ is the one who has brought life and immortality to light; however, it does not say that Christ has done this only with His coming and not before. We have shown above that Christ, the same yesterday and today, has also done this in the OLD TESTAMENT; for the Gospel was preached to them as well. But the text regards the degree of revelation, and the revelation to the Gentiles, previously given to Israel alone, as evident from the following verse 11. I am appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. This is explicitly shown by the apostle: Ephesians 3:5, 6, 8, Which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed... namely, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs... To me, the least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. Thus, Romans 16:25 is also to be understood, about the revelation of the mystery hidden for ages and generations, vs. 26, But now revealed, and through the prophetic writings made known by the command of the eternal God, so as to lead to the obedience of faith among all nations. This shows that the contrast is not between the OLD and NEW TESTAMENTS regarding the revelations of the way to salvation but between the Jewish nation, who then had the revelations exclusively, and the Gentiles, who now also possess them.
XXXVI. Hebrews 11:39, 40, All these, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promises: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. Also, 1 Peter 1:12, It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you. From these texts, it appears that they in the OLD TESTAMENT did not possess these goods. Answer. The texts clearly speak of the coming of Christ in the flesh, and it is apparent that they did not obtain the promises in their time. They proclaimed that Christ would come, but they did not expect Him in their era; in that respect, they served not themselves but us, who live after the coming of Christ and see and enjoy the fulfillment of that promise. And so, we enjoy better things than they, as much better as the fulfillment is better than the promise. This shows that the texts do not speak of the enjoyment of the goods of the Covenant, which they partook in as much as we do, as has been shown, and the apostle himself indicates in the text when he says: that they without us should not be made perfect. Thus, they were made perfect, not by the works of the law but by Christ, whose coming they had in the promises and have in the fulfillment, and so they are saved not by a different cause than we are, but we and they by the same Mediator; yet in terms of administration, the New Testament is better than the Old.
Whether There is an External Covenant
XXXVII. The second question is: Besides the Covenant of Grace, has God established another external covenant, whether in the Old Testament or the New? Answer. Before we respond to this question, it is necessary to define what an external covenant is. An external covenant is:
(a) A commitment between God and man; it is a covenant of friendship, of union.
(b) The parties are: on one side, the holy God, whose eyes are so pure that He cannot behold evil; Habakkuk 1:13; who takes no pleasure in wickedness, with whom the wicked shall not dwell, before whose eyes the foolish shall not stand, who hates all workers of iniquity, who shall destroy those who speak lies, who abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man, Psalm 5: 5-7. The other party are the unconverted, whose throat is an open sepulchre; with tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace have they not known; there is no fear of God before their eyes; Romans 3:13-18 and being and remaining thus, they are children of wrath; Ephesians 2:3 and vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, Romans 9:22. These would have to be the parties.
(c) The promises are only physical blessings, whether the land of Canaan or beyond that, food and clothing, money, delicacies, and pleasures in this world.
(d) The condition is external obedience; they would suffice with the law of the ten commandments and of the ceremonies to be outwardly kept; and now with attending church, making a confession of faith, partaking in the sacraments, and all this just outwardly without involving the heart.
(e) This covenant would have no Mediator, but it would be directly between God and man.
(f) In the Old Testament, this would be the national covenant established with Abraham's seed alone, it would be a figurative covenant, to depict the spiritual service in the days of the NEW TESTAMENT. And in the NEW TESTAMENT, it would serve to create an outward church. This assertion must define the external covenant, for it is set to be distinct in nature from the Covenant of Works, and also distinct from the Covenant of Grace.
When one closely examines this external covenant, although perhaps some may not wish it to be scrutinized so closely, the question arises: is there an external covenant? Some deny its existence in the NEW TESTAMENT, but assert it in the OLD TESTAMENT. Others posit it also in the NEW TESTAMENT. We distinguish between an external admission into the Covenant of Grace and an external Covenant itself. We affirm that at all times there have been those who externally entered into the Covenant of Grace, and behaved outwardly among the covenant people without true faith and conversion, but their external behavior does not constitute an external covenant; and God is not satisfied with mere outward conduct but will extraordinarily punish those who flatter Him with their mouths and lie to Him with their tongues. Thus, there is an external admission into the Covenant of Grace, but no external Covenant; which we demonstrate as follows.
No One Intends an External Covenant.
XXXVIII. 1. No one aims for such a covenant when joining the Church, or has ever intended to join, by which one would only obtain some physical advantages; rather, one aims for salvation. Thus, such a covenant would be without covenant partners. Not that man does not love physical goods, but he does not seek them through such a covenant; he does not acknowledge, does not believe in such a covenant, nor is man presented with such a covenant, nor is he solicited or enticed to enter into it; not a single text in the entire Word of God serves this purpose. Therefore, what is not offered, and what no one aims for, does not exist.
It Cannot Coexist with God’s Holiness.
XXXIX. 2. It cannot coexist with the holiness of God, that God, who is as we have just described Him, would enter into a covenant of friendship with man, who is as we have just depicted him. It cannot conform to God's nature to be pleased with outward work without the heart. God demands the heart, even when He promised Canaan and other external blessings. Deuteronomy 6:5, 10: "And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. And it shall be when the LORD thy God hath brought thee into the land, etc."
God severely threatens those who serve Him without heart. Isaiah 29:13, 14: "Therefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me. Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder." Thus, it cannot conform to God's nature to be satisfied with outward obedience, and by virtue of a covenant of friendship to grant outward blessings upon outward obedience. Further still; how can it conform to God's truthfulness to have external friendship and internal and genuine hatred; outwardly to bless by a covenant, and inwardly and truly to condemn; externally to be a possession in friendship, and internally and truly to be a people of wrath? If humans made such covenants with one another, would not such dealings be abhorred even by the ungodly? Far be it then from the Almighty to do wrong! And even if it were possible, which it certainly is not, it would be an imperfect covenant of works; it had work as a condition, and physical promises. Now, God cannot establish a covenant of works with the powerless sinner, as will be shown in its place.
God grants many, because of their outwardly good behavior, external blessings, as seen in Ahab, the wicked king of Israel. 1 Kings 21:29. "Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? Because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days."
It is one thing for God in His common goodness to grant outward blessings to the ungodly on certain occasions, which we readily admit; for, the Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works, Psalm 145:9. And it is another thing whether God does this through an external covenant, through a commitment with the unconverted and wicked, to give them external blessings for outward good behavior; this we earnestly deny. The example of Ahab serves no proof; for the kindness shown to him upon his external humiliation was not by virtue of an external covenant, the matter in dispute here, and which had to be proven, but it was due to the ordinary goodness and forbearance of God.
Then Christ Would Not Be Needed.
XL. 3. If God could enter into a covenant of friendship with the unconverted without a Mediator of reconciliation, as it is posited and must be posited, then the Surety Jesus Christ would not be needed, and one could be saved without satisfying the righteousness of God; for if God can establish a covenant of friendship with a sinner without a Mediator of reconciliation, to give external blessings for outward obedience, then God could also establish a covenant of salvation without a Mediator of reconciliation, promising eternal life to all sincere godly ones. And if that could happen, Christ would not be needed; it could happen without Him. But this is impossible, as will be shown in the next chapter, and so is such an external covenant; from which it also appears that the driving of an external covenant undermines the truth of the Reformed religion and gives foothold to parties.
An External Covenant Lacks Sacraments.
XLI. 4. This covenant either has sacraments or it does not; if it does not, then it is not a covenant; for God has never established a covenant without signs. If there are any, what are they? Circumcision and the Passover in the OLD TESTAMENT, and Baptism and the Lord's Supper in the NEW TESTAMENT? It cannot be; for then the same signs would seal two covenants distinct in nature, which is absurd. Moreover, the seals of the Covenant of Grace relate only to Christ and are signs and seals of the righteousness of faith, Romans 4:11. This covenant, however, did not have Christ as a Surety, nor did it have spiritual promises or the righteousness of faith; thus, the seals are not sacraments of an external covenant. Furthermore, no one has the right to use the seals of the Covenant of Grace for themselves unless they are a true believer because these are seals of the justification of faith. Now, the unconverted are posited to be true members of the external covenant, yet they have no right to the sacraments; thus, the sacraments cannot be seals of this external covenant. Consequently, there is no external covenant.
The Covenant of Grace Encompasses Everything.
XLII. 5. Everything proposed in the external covenant is encompassed by the Covenant of Grace, which includes outward obedience arising from and united with the inward holy disposition of the heart; the Covenant of Grace has both all external promises necessary for salvation as well as the spiritual. Consider the first: 1 Corinthians 6:20. "For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." Romans 12:1. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God."
Regarding the latter, see: Genesis 17:8. "And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." 1 Timothy 4:8. "For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come."
Since the Covenant of Grace also obligates outward obedience and has external promises, there is no need for an external covenant, nor can there be an external covenant by which matters and goods, included in the Covenant of Grace, would be demanded and promised.
XLIII. It will be said that all these arguments have no weight because the external covenant presupposes and goes along with the Covenant of Grace.
(a) This is irrelevant because this covenant is posited as entirely different in nature: thus, it must be considered on its own, and so all the arguments remain fully effective.
(b) The unconverted, though they outwardly enter into the Covenant of Grace, are not truly in it; but in the external covenant, they would be actual and true members, and thus without any regard for the Covenant of Grace: they, not being true members of the Covenant of Grace, and thus without Christ and without promise, are posited as true members of this external covenant. Therefore, the Covenant of Grace does not come into consideration here; it does not matter that an external covenant is established with them, presuming the Covenant of Grace; thus, this evasion is powerless, and our proof stands firm.
XLIV. In the OLD TESTAMENT, the entire nation, every individual, both the godless and the godly, had to enter; they all had to use the sacraments, and they were all in that covenant and used the sacraments, and many of them broke that covenant; thus, there was an external covenant distinct in nature from the Covenant of Grace; for that is established only with believers, and it cannot be broken.
(a) The Covenant of Grace is an incomprehensible grace and benevolence of God; when God offers it to anyone, it is the utmost impiety to scorn it and refuse to enter into it; thus, everyone to whom the Gospel is preached is obliged to accept it eagerly with all their heart and enter into the covenant. This is a certain and indisputable matter. Hence, the obligation to enter is no evidence that it is an external covenant.
(b) The godless, being obliged to enter into the Covenant of Grace, should not remain godless; for the promise of this Covenant was also sanctification, for which they must have a desire, and the desire for sanctification should move them to enter. If someone remained godless, that was a sign that they were not truly dealing with God as they were obliged to do, but that they were only outwardly entering for the appearance before people, and that they were not true covenant members.
(c) They were to use the sacraments in faith, and if they did not so use them, they provoked the Lord. A godless person has no right to the use of the sacraments, neither in the OLD TESTAMENT nor in the NEW TESTAMENT; to such God says, Psalm 50:16-17 "But to the wicked God says: 'What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?'"
(d) Just as the godless only outwardly enter, so they also break it again, make shipwreck of their faith, and show by their actions that they had neither part nor lot in the word of the promises. Their breach was not with respect to an external covenant but with respect to the Covenant of Grace, into which they had outwardly entered; the nature of their entry was such that the breaking was likewise.
(e) God had established the covenant with the entire nation, viewed collectively, but not with each individual, head for head; each had to truly enter into that Covenant for themselves through faith. See the nature of the covenant in the OLD TESTAMENT in the second part.
XLV. In the NEW TESTAMENT, the Church consists of true believers and the unconverted, who are generally the majority. The unconverted are not in the Covenant of Grace, yet they are covenant members, so they must be in an external covenant, in respect to which there is also an external Church, and in that regard, the children of believers also, who show themselves to be godless as they grow up, are called holy, 1 Corinthians 7:14, which can only be a holiness of the external covenant. Thus, such a covenant exists.
(a) The unconverted are in, but not of the Church; they are not true members that make up the Church, but are mere followers. All those who are in someone's house are not therefore of the house and household. They are in the Church through an external admittance; and external admittance into the Covenant of Grace does not constitute an external covenant.
(b) There is no external Church other than in respect of the external gathering, and not in respect of the membership, with evil being mixed among the good.
(c) The children of believers are called holy, not with respect to an external, but with respect to the Covenant of Grace, into which the parents have entered, whether truly or outwardly only, and into which they may also commit their children, as they do when they baptize them; for they aim for no other Covenant than that through which they and their children might be saved. Thus, we have presented the Covenant of Grace in all its aspects, wishing that everyone would fall in love with it and truly enter into it. AMEN.