Covenant of Grace (foedus gratiae) by Andy Hynes

Guest blogger Andy Hynes is a PhD candidate at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow him @ABHYNES on Twitter.

Westminster Confession of Faith, 7.3

Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called The Covenant of Grace: whereby He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. (italics mine).[1]

The Covenant of Grace was the third and final salvific covenant.  The use of the covenant established a unity to the Scripture concerning redemptive history:  God’s continual work of redeeming His elect children.  The Puritans began with the protoevangelium, made to Adam in Genesis 3:15, and culminated in the work of Christ as the Mediator of the covenant.[2]  They sought to preach the grace of God through every text and to reflect the pattern of the biblical narrative, which showed the gradual unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes.[3]

The progress of revelation throughout the stages of Scripture was in the administration of one covenant, and thus the whole of the biblical story was stage for the drama of the history of salvation.[4]  God’s intended plan from the beginning was the culmination of His redemptive purposes, resulting in Christ’s sacrifice.  A sinner could not depend upon himself, being incapable of attaining to the heights necessary for perfect and personal obedience.

John Owen said,

Wherefore, this covenant being once established between God and man, there could be no new covenant made, unless the essential form of it were of another nature . . . What grace soever might be introduced into it, that could not be so which excluded all works from being the cause of justification. But if a new covenant be made, such grace must be provided as is absolutely inconsistent with any works of ours, as unto the first ends of the covenant.[5]

The old covenant of works was fulfilled in Christ.  He met ever condition in a perfect way.  Every work that Adam failed, Christ achieved.  Therefore the Puritans in their preaching could emphasize the new covenant, a covenant of grace.

The Puritans emphasized a difference in the Old Testament and the New Testament covenants. The Old was a covenant of works, the New a covenant of grace. The Old led to despair, while the New, through the mediatorship of Christ, imputes righteousness to the believer, engages him to serve God cheerfully, and gives him the grace to perform this religious life.[6]

The second Adam, Jesus Christ, was the emphasis for the Covenant of Grace.  Jesus was the person of emphasis throughout all the covenants.  If it were not for Him, no salvific purposes would have been accomplished.  Puritan clergy concluded that preaching Christ from all the Scriptures was necessary.

The Work of the Second Adam

The original covenant made with mankind, the Covenant of Works, was made with a perfect Adam, before the Fall.  An interesting component to the Covenant of Grace was the understanding that the same God of the works covenant now entered into a new covenant with sinful mankind.  There was no hope for personal or perfect obedience, but yet the same sovereign God made a new covenant, not for Himself, but for man.  Once the Fall had occurred mankind’s only hope was in grace.  While the second covenant was unique it was not totally separated, and in a certain sense remained intact.  The covenant of works was made with Adam and his progeny, all humans who would follow, and therefore all are under the sanctions of the Covenant of Works, and all are in desperate need of a Covenant of Grace.[7]  Jesus Himself talked about not abolishing the Law, Covenant of Works, but fulfilling it for the purpose of the Covenant of Grace.  He accomplished the Covenant of Works, and was the only one who could; therefore, God accepted Christ’s personal and perfect obedience to the Covenant of Works in the elect’s place.[8]  There was the substitutionary aspect to the Covenant of Grace.  One could see the fulfillment of the Covenant of Redemption, as Jesus Christ willingly fulfilled the Covenant of Works on behalf of God’s elect.

John Owen saw Jesus taking on flesh as a step in obedience to the fulfillment of the covenant.  God’s son must take on human flesh and be fully God and man.  Jesus also demonstrated obedience by his willingness to offer Himself up for the sin of the elect. Thirdly, He would intercede for us.  After Jesus fulfilled the earthly portion, He would continually intercede on our behalf.[9]

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 theoldadam March 28, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Great post!

But the proper quotation from the Bible is “the sins of the world”. The elect. Surely. But that death was for all. The whole world. Even though not all will come to faith or go to Heaven.

It’s good to be accurate with language.

2 Jeff March 28, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Where is this “covenant of grace” found in the Bible? Nowhere! The Bible refers to covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David and to a new covenant, but NEVER to a covenant of grace. Instead of referring to a “covenant of grace,” why not refer to God’s “purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him” (Ephesians 1:9-10)?

The idea of a “covenant of grace” causes Covenant Theology to flatten out redemptive history, viewing later covenants as just different administrations of one covenant of grace. This causes Covenant Theology to say that Christians are still under the Mosaic law and that they must tithe, observe Sunday as a Sabbath, and baptize infants. But the New Testament never refers to the contrast between a covenant of works and a covenant of grace. Rather, the fundamental contrast in the NT is between the “old covenant” (Mosaic covenant) and the “new covenant.”

Since we never find the “covenant of grace” in the Bible, the burden of proof lays upon covenant theologians to prove its existence, NOT upon anybody else to disprove its existence.


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