by Louis Berkhof
In a discussion of the nature of the covenant of grace several points come up for consideration, such as the distinction between it and the covenant of works, the contracting parties, the contents, the characteristics of the covenant, and the place of Christ in the covenant.
A. COMPARISON OF THE COVENANT OF GRACE AND THE COVENANT OF WORKS.
1. POINTS OF SIMILARITY. The points of agreement are of a rather general nature. The two covenants agree as to (a) the author: God is the author of both; He only could establish such covenants; (b) the contracting parties, which are in both cases God and man; (c) the external form, namely, condition and promise; (d) the contents of the promise which is in both cases eternal life; and (e) the general aim, which is the glory of God.
2. POINTS OF DIFFERENCE. (a) In the covenant of works God appears as Creator and Lord; in the covenant of grace, as Redeemer and Father. The establishment of the former was prompted by God’s love and benevolence; that of the latter, by His mercy and special grace. (b) In the covenant of works man appears simply as God’s creature, rightly related to his God; in the covenant of grace he appears as a sinner who has perverted his ways, and can only appear as a party in Christ, the Surety. Consequently, there is no mediator in the former, while there is in the latter. (c) The covenant of works was contingent on the uncertain obedience of a changeable man, while the covenant of grace rests on the obedience of Christ as Mediator, which is absolute and certain. (d) In the covenant of works the keeping of the law is the way of life; in the covenant of grace, it is faith in Jesus Christ. Whatever faith was required in the covenant of works was a part of the righteousness of the law; in the covenant of grace, however, it is merely the organ by which we take possession of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. (e) The covenant of works was partly known by nature, since the law of God was written in the heart of man; but the covenant of grace is known exclusively through a special positive revelation.
B. THE CONTRACTING PARTIES.
Just as in the covenant of works, so in the covenant of grace God is the first of the contracting parties, the party that takes the initiative, and graciously determines the relation in which the second party will stand to Him. He appears in this covenant, however, not merely as a sovereign and a benevolent God, but also, and especially, as a gracious and forgiving Father, willing to pardon sin and to restore sinners to His blessed communion.
It is not easy to determine precisely who the second party is. In general it may be said that God naturally established the covenant of grace with fallen man. Historically, there is no definite indication of any limitation until we come to the time of Abraham. In course of time it became perfectly evident, however, that this new covenant relation was not meant to include all men. When God formally established the covenant with Abraham, He limited it to the patriarch and his seed. Consequently, the question arises as to the exact limits of the covenant.
Reformed theologians are not unanimous in answering this question. Some simply say that God made the covenant with the sinner, but this suggests no limitation whatsoever, and therefore does not satisfy. Others assert that He established it with Abraham and his seed, that is, his natural, but especially his spiritual, descendants; or, put in a more general form, with believers and their seed. The great majority of them, however, maintain that He entered into covenant relationship with the elect or the elect sinner in Christ. This position was taken by earlier as well as by later representatives of federal theology. Even Bullinger says the “covenant of God includes the entire seed of Abraham, that is, the believers.” He finds this to be in harmony with Paul’s interpretation of “the seed” in Gal. 3. At the same time he also holds that the children of believers are in a certain sense included in the covenant.[Cf. the quotations in A. J. Van ‘t Hooft, De Theologie van Heinrich Bullinger, pp. 47, 172.] And Olevianus, co-author with Ursinus of the Heidelberg Catechism, says that God established the covenant with “all those whom God, out of the mass of lost men, has decreed to adopt as children by grace, and to endow them with faith.”[Van het Wezen des Genade-Verbondts Tusschen God ende de Uitverkorene, Afd. I, par. 1.] This is also the position of Mastricht, Turretin, Owen, Gib, Boston, Witsius, à Marck, Francken, Brakel, Comrie, Kuyper, Bavinck, Hodge, Vos, and others.
But now the question arises, What induced these theologians to speak of the covenant as made with the elect in spite of all the practical difficulties involved? Were they not aware of these difficulties? It appears from their writings that they were fully conscious of them. But they felt that it was necessary to contemplate the covenant first of all in its most profound sense, as it is realized in the lives of believers. While they understood that others had a place in the covenant in some sense of the word, they nevertheless felt that it was a subordinate place, and that their relation to it was calculated to be subservient to the full realization of it in a life of friendship with God. And this is no wonder in view of the following considerations:
1. They who identified the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, and considered it un-Scriptural to distinguish the two, naturally thought of it first of all as a covenant established with Christ as the representative Head of all those whom the Father had given Him; a covenant in which He became the Surety of the elect and thus guaranteed their complete redemption. In fact, in the covenant of redemption only the elect come into consideration. The situation is practically the same in the case of those who distinguish two covenants, but insist on their close relationship and represent the covenant of redemption as the eternal basis of the covenant of grace, for in the former only the grace of God, as it is glorified and perfected in the elect, comes into consideration.
2. Even in the history of the establishment of the covenant with Abraham, interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture, Reformed theologians found abundant evidence that fundamentally the covenant of grace is a covenant established with those who are in Christ. The Bible distinguishes a twofold seed of Abraham. The beginning of this is distinctly found in Gen. 21:12, where we find God saying to Abraham, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called,” thus ruling out Ishmael. Paul, in interpreting these words speaks of Isaac as a child of promise, and by “a child of promise” he does not simply mean a promised child, but a child that was not born in the ordinary way, but, in virtue of a promise, by a supernatural operation of God. He also connects with it the idea of a child to whom the promise belongs. According to him the expression, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called,” indicates that “it is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed.” Rom. 9:8. The same idea is expressed in Gal. 4:28, “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise,” and as such also heirs of the promised blessings, cf. vs. 30. This is entirely in harmony with what the apostle says in Gal. 3:16: “Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” But the seed is not limited to Christ, but includes all believers. “And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.” Gal. 3:29. W. Strong in his Discourse of the Two Covenants calls attention to the following subordination in the establishment of the covenant. He says that it was made “(1) first and immediately with Christ the second Adam: (2) in Him with all the faithful: (3) in them with their seed.”[p. 193.]
3. Still another factor should be taken into consideration. Reformed theologians were deeply conscious of the contrast between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. They felt that in the former the reward of the covenant was dependent on the uncertain obedience of man and as a result failed to materialize, while in the covenant of grace the full realization of the promises is absolutely sure in virtue of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. Its realization is sure through the operation of the grace of God, but, of course, sure only for those who are partakers of that grace. They felt constrained to stress this aspect of the covenant especially over against the Arminians and Neonomians, who virtually changed it into a new covenant of works, and made salvation once more dependent on the work of man, that is, on faith and evangelical obedience. For this reason they stressed the close connection between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, and even hesitated to speak of faith as the condition of the covenant of grace. Walker tells us that some of the Scottish divines were opposed to the distinction of two covenants, because they saw in it a “tendency . . . to Neonomianism, or, as the covenant of reconciliation (i.e., the covenant of grace as distinguished from that of redemption) was external in the visible Church, even a sort of bar to immediate dealing with the Saviour, and entrance by an appropriating faith into living union with Him.”[Scottish Theology and Theologians, pp. 77 f.]
4. All in all it would seem safe to say that Reformed theology contemplated the covenant, not primarily as a means ministering to an end, but as an end in itself, a relation of friendship; not first of all as representing and including a number of external privileges, a set of promises, conditionally held out to man, a good merely offered unto him; but primarily as the expression of blessings freely given, of privileges improved by the grace of God for spiritual ends, of promises accepted by a faith which is the gift of God, and of a good realized, at least in principle, through the operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart. And because in its estimation all this was included in the covenant idea, and the blessings of the covenant are realized only in those that are actually saved, it stressed the fact that the covenant of grace was established between God and the elect. But in doing this it did not intend to deny that the covenant also has a broader aspect.
Dr. Vos says with reference to this view: “Het behoeft nauwelijks herinnerd to worden, hoe met dit alles geenszins bedoeld is, dat de verbondsbediening van de verkiezing uitgaat, noch ook dat alle niet-uitverkorenen buiten iedere relatie tot deze verbonds-bediening staan. Het is veelmeer zoo bedoeld, dat uit ‘t gesterkt verbonds-bewustzijn de zekerheid aangaande de verkiezing zich ontwikkelen moet; dat door heel de verbonds-bediening heen, ook de volstrekte, alomvattende beloften Gods, zooals zij uit de verkiezing voortvloeien moeten worden in het oog gehouden, bij Woord en Sacrament beide; dat eindelijk het wezen des verbonds, deszelfs volle realiseering slechts bij de ware kinderen Gods wordt aangetroffen, en dus niet wijder is dan de uitverkiezing. Vooral op het tweede punt dient gelet te worden. Behalve dat er overal, waar Gods verbond bediend wordt, eene verzegeling is van dezen inhoud: In de vooronderstelling der aanwezigheid van geloof, wordt u het recht op alle verbondsgoederen verzekerd — behalve dat, zeggen wij, is er steeds een plechtige betuiging en verzegeling, dat God in alle uitverkorenen den geheelen omvang des verbonds will verwerkelijken.”[That is, “It need hardly be said that with all this it is not meant that the administration of the covenant originates from the election, nor that all who are not elect stand outside of every relation to this administration of the covenant. It is far more intended thus, that out of the strengthened covenant consciousness the certainty respecting the election must develop itself; that through the entire administration of the covenant, also the absolute, all-comprehensive promises of God, as they issue from the election, must be borne in mind in connection with both Word and Sacrament; that, finally, the essence of the covenant, its full realization, is found only in the true children of God, and therefore is not more extensive than the election. Attention should be paid especially to the second point. Besides that everywhere, where God’s covenant is administered, there is a seal having this content: In the supposition of the presence of faith, you are assured of the right to all the blessings of the covenant, — besides that, we say, there is always a solemn testimony and seal, that God will realize the whole content of the covenant in the elect.” De Verbondsleer in de Gereformeerde Theologie, pp. 46 f.]
The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly Scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-12. Moreover, it is also entirely in line with the relation in which the covenant of grace stands to the covenant of redemption. If in the latter Christ becomes Surety only for the elect, then the real substance of the former must be limited to them also. Scripture strongly emphasizes the fact that the covenant of grace, in distinction from the covenant of works, is an inviolable covenant, in which the promises of God are always realized, Isa. 54:10. This cannot be intended conditionally, for then it would be no special characteristic of the covenant of grace, but would apply to the covenant of works as well. And yet, this is exactly one of the important points in which the former differs from the latter, that it is no more dependent on the uncertain obedience of man, but only on the absolute faithfulness of God. The covenant promises will surely be realized, but — only in the lives of the elect.
But now the question arises, whether in the estimation of these Reformed theologians all the non-elect are outside of the covenant of grace in every sense of the word. Brakel virtually takes this position, but he is not in line with the majority. They realized very well that a covenant of grace, which in no sense of the word included others than the elect, would be purely individual, while the covenant of grace is represented in Scripture as an organic idea. They were fully aware of the fact that, according to God’s special revelation in both the Old and the New Testament, the covenant as a historical phenomenon is perpetuated in successive generations and includes many in whom the covenant life is never realized. And whenever they desired to include this aspect of the covenant in their definition, they would say that it was established with believers and their seed. It should be borne in mind, however, that this description of the second party in the covenant does not imply that the covenant is established with men in the quality of believers, for faith itself is a fruit of the covenant. Dr. Bavinck correctly says: “Maar het verbond der genade gaat aan het geloof vooraf. Het geloof is geen voorwaarde tot het verbond, maar in het verbond; de weg, om al de andere goederen van dat verbond deelachtig te worden en te genieten.”[That is, “But the covenant of grace precedes faith. Faith is not a condition to the covenant, but in the covenant; the way to obtain possession of and to enjoy all the other blessings of the covenant.” Roeping en Wedergeboorte, p. 108.] The description “believers and their seed” merely serves as a convenient practical designation of the limits of the covenant. The question of harmonizing these two aspects of the covenant will come up later on. The covenant of grace may be defined as that gracious agreement between the offended God and the offending but elect sinner, in which God promises salvation through faith in Christ, and the sinner accepts this believingly, promising a life of faith and obedience.
C. THE CONTENTS OF THE COVENANT OF GRACE.
1. THE PROMISES OF GOD. The main promise of God, which includes all other promises, is contained in the oft-repeated words, “I will be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” Gen. 17:7. This promise is found in several Old and New Testament passages which speak of the introduction of a new phase of the covenant life, or refer to a renewal of the covenant, Jer. 31:33; 32:38-40; Ezek. 34:23-25,30,31; 36:25-28; 37:26,27; II Cor. 6:16-18; Heb. 8:10. The promise is fully realized when at last the new Jerusalem descends out of heaven from God, and the tabernacle of God is pitched among men. Consequently we hear the last echo of it in Rev. 21:3. This grand promise is re-echoed time and again in the jubilant exaltation of those who stand in covenant relationship to God, “Jehovah is my God.” This one promise really includes all other promises, such as (a) the promise of various temporal blessings, which often serve to symbolize those of a spiritual kind; (b) the promise of justification, including the adoption of children, and a claim to life eternal; (c) the promise of the Spirit of God for the application, full and free, of the work of redemption and of all the blessings of salvation; and (d) the promise of final glorification in a life that never ends. Cf. Job 19:25-27; Ps. 16:11; 73:24-26; Isa. 43:25; Jer. 31:33,34; Ezek. 36:27; Dan. 12:2,3; Gal. 4:5,6; Tit. 3:7; Heb. 11:7; Jas. 2:5.
2. THE RESPONSE OF MAN. The assent or response of man to these promises of God naturally appears in various forms, the nature of the response being determined by the promises. (a) In general the relation between the covenant God and the single believer or believers collectively is represented as the close relationship between man and wife, bridegroom and bride, a father and his children. This implies that the response of those who share the covenant blessings will be one of true, faithful, trustful, consecrated, and devoted love. (b) To the general promise, “I will be thy God,” man responds by saying, “I will belong to thy people,” and by casting his lot with the people of God. (c) And to the promise of justification unto the forgiveness of sins, the adoption of children, and eternal life, he responds by saving faith in Jesus Christ, by trust in Him for time and eternity, and by a life of obedience and consecration to God.
D. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE COVENANT OF GRACE.
1. IT IS A GRACIOUS COVENANT. This covenant may be called a gracious covenant, (a) because in it God allows a Surety to meet our obligations; (b) because He Himself provides the Surety in the person of His Son, who meets the demands of justice; and (c) because by His grace, revealed in the operation of the Holy Spirit, He enables man to live up to His covenant responsibilities. The covenant originates in the grace of God, is executed in virtue of the grace of God, and is realized in the lives of sinners by the grace of God. It is grace from the beginning to the end for the sinner.
2. IT IS A TRINITARIAN COVENANT. The triune God is operative in the covenant of grace. It has its origin in the elective love and grace of the Father, finds its judicial foundation in the suretyship of the Son, and is fully realized in the lives of sinners only by the effective application of the Holy Spirit, John 1:16; Eph. 1:1-14; 2:8; I Pet. 1:2.
3. IT IS AN ETERNAL AND THEREFORE UNBREAKABLE COVENANT. When we speak of it as an eternal covenant, we have reference to a future rather than to a past eternity, Gen. 17:19; II Sam. 23:5; Heb. 13:20. Past eternity can be ascribed to it only, if we do not distinguish between it and the covenant of redemption. The fact that the covenant is eternal also implies that it is inviolable; and this is one of the reasons why it can be called a testament, Heb. 9:17. God remains forever true to His covenant and will invariably bring it to full realization in the elect. This does not mean, however, that man cannot and never will break the covenant relationship in which he stands.
4. IT IS A PARTICULAR AND NOT A UNIVERSAL COVENANT. This means (a) that it will not be realized in all men, as some Universalists claim, and also that God did not intend that it should be realized in the lives of all, as Pelagians, Arminians, and Lutherans teach; (b) that even as an external covenant relation it does not extend to all those to whom the gospel is preached, for many of them are not willing to be incorporated in the covenant; and (c) that the offer of the covenant does not come to all, since there have been many individuals and even nations who were never made acquainted with the way of salvation. Some of the older Lutherans claim that the covenant may be called universal, because there have been periods in history when it was offered to the human race as a whole, as for instance, in Adam, in Noah and his family, and even in the days of the apostles. But there is no ground for making Adam and Noah representative recipients of the offer of the covenant; and the apostles certainly did not evangelize the whole world. Some Reformed theologians, as Musculus, Polanus, and Wollebius, and others, spoke of a foedus generale, in distinction from the foedus speciale ac sempiternum, but in doing this they had in mind the general covenant of God with all creatures, men and beasts, established by Noah. The New Testament dispensation of the covenant may be called universal in the sense that in it the covenant is extended to all nations, and is no more limited to the Jews, as it was in the old dispensation.
5. IT IS ESSENTIALLY THE SAME IN ALL DISPENSATIONS, THOUGH ITS FORM OF ADMINISTRATION CHANGES. This is contradicted by all those who claim that Old Testament saints were saved in another manner than New Testament believers, as for instance, Pelagians and Socinians, who hold that God gave additional help in the example and teachings of Christ; the Roman Catholics, who maintain that the Old Testament saints were in the Limbus Patrum until Christ’s descent into hades; the followers of Coccejus, who assert that Old Testament believers enjoyed only a paresis (a passing over) and no aphesis (full forgiveness of sins); and present-day dispensationalists, who distinguish several different covenants (Scofield mentions 7; Milligan 9), and insist on the necessity of keeping them distinct. The unity of the covenant in all dispensations is proved by the following:
a. The summary expression of the covenant is the same throughout, both in the Old and New Testament: “I will be thy God.” It is the expression of the essential content of the covenant with Abraham, Gen. 17:7, of the Sinaitic covenant, Ex. 19:5; 20:1, of the covenant of the Plains of Moab, Deut. 29:13, of the Davidic covenant, II Sam. 7:14, and of the new covenant, Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10. This promise is really an all-comprehensive summary and contains a guarantee of the most perfect covenant blessings. Christ infers from the fact that God is called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that those patriarchs are in possession of eternal life, Matt. 22:32.
b. The Bible teaches that there is but a single gospel by which men can be saved. And because the gospel is nothing but the revelation of the covenant of grace, it follows that there is also but one covenant. This gospel was already heard in the maternal promise, Gen. 3:15, was preached unto Abraham, Gal. 3:8, and may not be supplanted by any Judaistic gospel, Gal. 1:8,9.
c. Paul argues at length over against the Judaists that the way in which Abraham obtained salvation is typical for New Testament believers, no matter whether they be Jews or Gentiles, Rom. 4:9-25; Gal. 3:7-9,17,18. He speaks of Abraham as the father of believers, and clearly proves that the covenant with Abraham is still in force. It is perfectly clear from the argument of the apostle in Rom. 4 and Gal. 3 that the law has not annulled nor altered the covenant. Cf. also Heb. 6:13-18.
d. The Mediator of the covenant is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, Heb. 13:8. In none other is there salvation, John 14:6; for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, whereby we must be saved, Acts 4:12. The seed promised to Abraham is Christ, Gal. 3:16, and those that are identified with Christ are the real heirs of the covenant, Gal. 3:16-29.
e. The way of salvation revealed in the covenant is the same. Scripture insists on the identical conditions all along, Gen. 15:6, compared with Rom. 4:11; Heb. 2:4; Acts 15:11; Gal. 3:6,7; Heb. 11:9. The promises, for the realization of which the believers hoped, were also the same, Gen. 15:6; Ps. 51:12; Matt. 13:17; John 8:56. And the sacraments, though differing in form have essentially the same signification in both dispensations, Rom. 4:11; I Cor. 5:7; Col. 2:11,12.
f. It is both conditional and unconditional. The question is repeatedly asked, whether the covenant is conditional or unconditional. This is a question that cannot be answered without careful discrimination, for the answer will depend on the point of view from which the covenant is considered.
On the one hand the covenant is unconditional. There is in the covenant of grace no condition that can be considered as meritorious. The sinner is exhorted to repent and believe, but his faith and repentance do not in any way merit the blessings of the covenant. This must be maintained in opposition to both the Roman Catholic and the Arminian position. Neither is it conditional in the sense that man is expected to perform in his own strength what the covenant requires of him. In placing him before the demands of the covenant, we must always remind him of the fact that he can obtain the necessary strength for the performance of his duty only from God. In a sense it may be said that God Himself fulfills the condition in the elect. That which may be regarded as a condition in the covenant, is for those who are chosen unto everlasting life also a promise, and therefore a gift of God. Finally, the covenant is not conditional in the sense that the reception of every separate blessing of the covenant is dependent on a condition. We may say that faith is the conditio sine qua non of justification, but the reception of faith itself in regeneration is not dependent on any condition, but only on the operation of the grace of God in Christ.
On the other hand the covenant may be called conditional. There is a sense in which the covenant is conditional. If we consider the basis of the covenant, it is clearly conditional on the suretyship of Jesus Christ. In order to introduce the covenant of grace, Christ had to, and actually did, meet the conditions originally laid down in the covenant of works, by His active and passive obedience. Again, it may be said that the covenant is conditional as far as the first conscious entrance into the covenant as a real communion of life is concerned. This entrance is contingent on faith, a faith, however, which is itself a gift of God. When we speak of faith as a condition here, we naturally refer to faith as a spiritual activity of the mind. It is only through faith that we can obtain a conscious enjoyment of the blessings of the covenant. Our experimental knowledge of the covenant life is entirely dependent on the exercise of faith. He who does not live a life of faith is, as far as his consciousness is concerned, practically outside of the covenant. If in our purview we include not only the beginning, but also the gradual unfolding and completion of the covenant life, we may regard sanctification as a condition in addition to faith. Both are conditions, however, within the covenant.
Reformed Churches have often objected to the use of the word “condition” in connection with the covenant of grace. This was largely due to a reaction against Arminianism, which employed the word “condition” in an un-Scriptural sense, and therefore to a failure to discriminate properly.[Cf. Dick, Theol. Lect. XLVIII.] Bearing in mind what was said in the preceding, it would seem to be perfectly proper to speak of a condition in connection with the covenant of grace, for (1) the Bible clearly indicates that the entrance upon the covenant life is conditioned on faith, John 3:16,36; Acts 8:37 (not found in some MSS.); Rom. 10:9; (2) Scripture often threatens covenant children, but these threatenings apply exactly to those who ignore the condition, that is, who refuse to walk in the way of the covenant; and (3) if there were no condition, God only would be bound by the covenant, and there would be no “bond of the covenant” for man (but cf. Ezek. 20:37); and thus the covenant of grace would lose its character as a covenant, for there are two parts in all covenants.
g. The covenant may in a sense be called a testament. In view of the fact that a testament is an absolute declaration and knows of no conditions, the question is raised whether it is proper at all to apply the term “testament” to the covenant. There is but one passage in the New Testament where it seems to be justifiable to render the word diatheke by “testament,” namely, Heb. 9:16,17. There Christ is represented as the testator, in whose death the covenant of grace, considered as a testament, becomes effective. There was a testamentary disposal of the blessings of the covenant, and this came into force through the death of Christ. This is the only passage in which the covenant is explicitly referred to as a testament. But the idea that believers receive the spiritual blessings of the covenant in a testamentary way is implied in several passages of Scripture, though the implied representation is slightly different from that in Heb. 9:16,17. It is God rather than Christ who is testator. In both the Old and the New Testament, but especially in the latter, believers are represented as children of God, legally by adoption, and ethically by the new birth, John 1:12; Rom. 8:15,16; Gal. 4:4-6; I John 3:1-3,9. Now the ideas of heirship and inheritance are naturally associated with that of sonship, and therefore it is no wonder that they are frequently found in Scripture. Paul says: “And if children, then heirs,” Rom. 8:17; cf. also Rom. 4:14; Gal. 3:29; 4:1,7; Tit. 3:7; Heb. 6:17; 11:7; Jas. 2:5. In view of these passages there is no doubt that the covenant and the covenant blessings are represented in Scripture as an inheritance. But this representation is again based on the idea of a testament, with this difference, however, that the confirmation of the covenant does not imply the death of the testator. Believers are heirs of God (who cannot die) and joint-heirs with Christ, Rom. 8:17. It is perfectly evident that for the sinner the covenant has a testamentary side and can be regarded as an inheritance; but now the question arises, whether it can also assume this character for Christ. An affirmative answer would seem to be required in view of the fact that we are called co-heirs with Christ. Is He then also an heir? This question may be answered in the affirmative in view of the statement found in Luke 22:29. The inheritance referred to here is the mediatorial glory of Christ, which He received as an inheritance from the Father, and which He, in turn, communicates as an inheritance to all those that are His. But though there is undoubtedly a testamentary side to the covenant, this is but one side of the matter, and does not preclude the idea that the covenant is really a covenant. It can be called a testament, because (1) it is as a whole a gift from God; (2) the New Testament dispensation of it was ushered in by the death of Christ; (3) it is firm and inviolable; and (4) in it God Himself gives what He demands of man. Yet this should not be interpreted to mean that there are no two sides to the covenant, and that it is therefore absolutely monopleuric. However unequal the parties in themselves may be, God condescends to come down to the level of man and by His grace enables him to act as the second party in the covenant. A monopleuric covenant in the absolute sense of the word is really a contradictio in adjecto. At the same time those theologians who stress the monopleuric character of the covenant did this to emphasize an important truth, namely, that God and man do not meet each other half way in the covenant, but that God comes down to man and graciously establishes His covenant with him, freely giving all that He demands, and that man is really the only one that profits by the covenant. It is essential, however, that the dipleuric character of the covenant be maintained, because man really appears in it as meeting the demands of the covenant in faith and conversion, though it be only as God works in him both to will and to do, according to His good pleasure.
E. THE RELATION OF CHRIST TO THE COVENANT OF GRACE.
Christ is represented in Scripture as the Mediator of the covenant. The Greek word mesites is not found in classical Greek, but does occur in Philo and in later Greek authors. In the Septuagint it is found but once, Job 9:33. The English word “Mediator,” as well as the Holland “Middelaar” and the German “Mittler,” might lead us to think that it (mesites) simply designates one who arbitrates between two parties, an intermediary in the general sense of the word. It should be borne in mind, however, that the Scriptural idea is far more profound. Christ is Mediator in more than one sense. He intervenes between God and man, not merely to sue for peace and to persuade to it, but as armed with plenipotentiary power, to do all that is necessary to establish peace. The use of the word mesites in the New Testament justifies our speaking of a twofold Mediatorship of Christ, namely, that of surety and that of access (Gr. prosagoge, Rom. 5:2). In most of the passages in which the word is found in the New Testament, it is equal to egguos, and therefore points to Christ as one who, by taking upon Himself the guilt of sinners, terminated their penal relation to the law and restored them to the right legal relationship to God. This is the meaning of the word in Heb. 8:6; 9:15, and 12:24. In Heb. 7:22 the term egguos itself is applied to Christ. There is one passage, however, in which the word mesites has a meaning that is more in accord with the ordinary sense of the word “mediator,” as one who is called in to arbitrate between two parties and to reconcile them, namely, I Tim. 2:5. Here Christ is represented as Mediator in the sense that, on the basis of His sacrifice, He brings God and man together. The work of Christ, as indicated by the word mesites, is twofold. He labors in things pertaining to God and in things pertaining to man, in the objective legal sphere, and in the subjective moral sphere. In the former He propitiates the just displeasure of God by expiating the guilt of sin, makes intercession for those whom the Father has given Him, and actually makes their persons and services acceptable to God. And in the latter He reveals to men the truth concerning God and their relation to Him with the conditions of acceptable service, persuades and enables them to receive the truth, and directs and sustains them in all circumstances of life, so as to perfect their deliverance. In doing this work He employs the ministry of men, II Cor. 5:20.
From Systematic Theolgy by Louis Berkhof