Posted by: stpowen | September 7, 2009

The Covenants part II. The Covenant of Grace

The Covenants:  Part Two

 Read:  Eph 1:3-14.

 In the last article, we saw the desperate state of mankind after the Fall of Adam.  He was our Representative or Covenant Head, and when he fell into sin we fell with him, both positionally and actually.  On the one hand, since we were federally joined to him, his sin is imputed to us;  we are constituted sinners in Adam (Rom 5:19 ).  On the other hand, we have actually inherited Adam’s fallen nature and we are sinners, as it were, in our own right.  ‘And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth’ (Gen 5:3 ).  The image of God in which Adam was created is ruined and defaced in fallen man.  Instead we carry the image and the nature of the one who fell.

 There is no way back to Eden for man by his own power.  There was no arrangement to deal with sin under the Covenant of Works.  Its precept was “Do this and live.”  In Adam, we failed, and we die.  Man has lost the original righteousness that Adam possessed.  We owe a debt for Adam’s sin that we can by no means pay, and we are under God’s wrath for our own sin.

 Yet long before Adam was created, God had foreseen his fall and had prepared against it, so that Paul can speak of the, ‘Hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began but has in due time manifested’  (Titus 1:2 ).  The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and His death upon the cross were not therefore mere afterthoughts or God’s reaction to an unexpected crisis, but in fact His plan from eternity past.

 Before we start, it needs to be acknowledged that the term, Covenant of Grace does not appear in the Bible.  Therefore one sees various other terms being used by theologians to describe that arrangement which was made between Father, Son and Spirit to save mankind.  Many Reformed Theologians refer to it as the Council of Redemption and only speak of the Covenant of Grace as the announcement made to Adam and Eve in Gen 3:15.  A. W. Pink speaks of the Eternal Covenant, which has the merit of being biblical (Heb 13:20 etc).  Others call it the Covenant of Peace (Isaiah 54:10 ).  I have tried to follow the Westminster Confession and the Baptist 1689 Confession which use Covenant of Grace throughout.  The name we give is not important, so long as we understand that there was such an arrangement made between the Persons of the Trinity in eternity past and that the whole history of redemption as we read it in the Bible is nothing else than an outworking of that great covenant.

 It may be helpful here to quote from the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession.

Q.30. Doth God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

Ans.  God doth not leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell by the breach of the……. covenant of works; but of His mere love and mercy delivereth His elect out of it, and bringeth them into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace.

Q.31. With whom was the Covenant of Grace made?

Ans.  The Covenant of Grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in Him with all the elect as His seed.

 Let us turn to Eph 1.  In verses 3-14, we see the parts played by each Person of the Trinity in the salvation of mankind.  The text is divided into three parts by the phrase, ‘To the praise of His glory.’  There is glory here for Father, Son and Spirit.  First, the Father’s part in salvation is displayed.  Verses 3-7. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved [Son].’

 In the Covenant of Grace, the Father and the Son have covenanted together.  The Father’s part is to choose or elect a people that He has willed to save out of the wreck of Adam’s fall.  He has predestined them to be adopted as sons and to receive every spiritual and heavenly blessing.  This He has done not for any virtue that He has seen in Man, but solely according to His good pleasure has He lavished grace, or unmerited favour, upon us.  But notice that all these blessings do not come to us by themselves; everything comes through and ‘in’ Christ.  God chose a people ‘in Christ.’  That is, He gave the Lord Jesus a chosen people out of Adam’s fallen posterity, that He should be to them a Covenant or Representative Head, just as Adam was.  ‘The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven’ (1Cor 15:47 ).  

 The part of the Lord Jesus Christ is to succeed where Adam failed, on behalf of those whom the Father has placed in His care.   Like Adam, the Lord Jesus was made a ‘Public Person.’  When He was on earth, He acted, not only for Himself, but also for those whom God had given Him.  Therefore, just as Adam’s sin was imputed to his physical posterity, so our Lord’s perfect righteousness is imputed to His spiritual children whom the Father has given Him (cf. Heb 2:13).  ‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous’ (Rom 5:19).   So it was that no sooner had He been commissioned for His public ministry than He must face Satan in single combat (Mark 1:9-13 ), and all the advantages appeared to be with the devil.  Adam and Eve faced Satan in a beautiful garden filled with delightful things to eat (Gen 2:16 );  Christ faced him weakened by hunger in a howling wilderness.  Yet our Lord was faithful to His part in the covenant.  ‘For I have come down from heaven not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me’ (John 6:38).  And He did it, perfectly and completely, not just in life but also in death (Phil 2:8).  For as the ‘Last Adam,’ Christ needed not only to live the life that we cannot live, but also to die the death that we deserve to die;  in short, to pay the penalty that Adam’s sin and our own sins deserve.  ‘For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2Cor 5:21).  This is what Luther termed ‘The Great Exchange.’  He receives our punishment and takes away our guilt; we receive His righteousness and partake of His inheritance.  ‘For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil’  (1John 3:8).  The devil’s work was the corruption of Adam and Eve and the condemnation of them and their posterity.  Christ has destroyed his work by redeeming a vast crowd of that posterity.  ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1).

 ‘In Him [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself,  that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth–in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.  (Eph 1:7-12).

 The Holy Spirit also played a vital part in that great covenant, bringing the elect to faith and sealing them- being as it were, the certificate of authenticity that believers do indeed belong to Christ:  In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation;  in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory’ (Eph 1:13-14).  It is worth noting briefly here that baptism is not the seal of the covenant as the Westminster Confession claims (WCF. XXX. I);  the Holy Spirit is, and always has been (cf. also Eph 4:30 & 2Cor 1:22 ).

 All this was determined, before ever there was a world, in the Covenant of Grace.  That is why Paul can say of the Thessalonians, ‘But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth’ (2Thes 2:13 ).  The whole of the Bible may be seen as the outworking of this great covenant and the accomplishment of God’s gracious plan for our salvation.

 References to the Covenant of Grace can be found in various parts of the Bible if one is prepared to look for them as the following examples will show:-

 Luke 22:22. “And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined……”  Determined where and by whom if not in the Covenant of Grace?

 John 6:38-39. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.”  Christ has been given a people and the task by the Father which He is determined to fulfil.  What can this refer to if not the Covenant of Grace?

 John 10:16. “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”  Not, “I will bring,” but, “I must bring.”  Our Lord had been given a commission to fulfil.

 John 10:17-18.  “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”  Where did Christ receive this command, the doing of which merited so well the Father’s love?  In the Covenant of Grace, of course.

 Phil 2:6-8 (author’s translation). ‘Who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be held onto, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.’  In the Covenant of Grace, our Lord gave up temporarily that equality with the Father that had existed from all eternity, and became the willing servant of Exodus 21:5-6 and Psalm 40:6-8 in order to rescue those who had been given to Him (John 17:2, 6 ).

 Heb 2:13.  ‘Here am I and the children whom God has given to Me.’  Given by the Father to the Son in the Covenant of Grace to be redeemed from sin and brought to heaven.

 In Isaiah 42:6, Christ is described as the Covenant itself.  He is, in His own Person and work, the very substance of it.  In Mal 3:1, He is, ‘The Messenger of the Covenant’ because He came to proclaim it and make it known.  In Heb 7:22, He is, ‘The Surety of a better covenant.’  Christ came as the representative of fallen Man, being engaged to fulfil the obligations incurred under the Covenant of Works.  In Heb 9:15, He is, ‘The Mediator of the New Covenant’ since He has brought about legal satisfaction between God and man so that covenantal blessings are now imparted to those who had previously forfeited them, and He now stands between the two parties, advocating the cause of man to God (1John 2:1 ) and speaking a word of the comfort of God to the weary man (Isaiah 50:4 ).  I am indebted to A. W. Pink for much of the forgoing;  let us now hear from him direct.  ‘But how could Christ sustain such offices a these unless the covenant had been made with him (Gal 3:17 ) and the execution of it had been undertaken by Him (Heb 10:5-7 )? [Heb 13:20] is quite sufficient to establish the fact that an organic connection existed between the Covenant of Grace and the sacrifice of Christ.  In response to Christ’s execution of its terms, the Father now says to Him, “By the blood of Thy covenant I have set forth Thy prisoners [those given to Him before the foundation of the world, but in Adam fallen under condemnation] out of the pit wherein is no water” (Zech 9:11 ).’

 In the light of all this, various other covenants may now be seen as subsidiary to the Covenant of Grace.  These are the Covenants of Promise (Eph 2:12; Rom 9:4 ).  Let us hear from Pink again:-

 ‘God made covenants with Noah, Abraham, David; but were they, as fallen creatures able to enter into covenant with their august and holy Maker? Were they able to stand for themselves, or to be sureties for others? The very question answers itself. What, for instance, could Noah possibly do which would ensure that the earth should never be destroyed again by a flood? These subordinate covenants were nothing more or less than the Lord’s making manifest, in an especial and public manner, the grand covenant: making known something of its glorious contents, confirming their own personal interest in it, and assuring them that Christ, the great covenant Head, should be of themselves and spring from their seed.
‘This is what accounts for that singular expression which occurs so frequently in Scripture: “Behold, I establish My covenant with you and your seed after you” (Gen 9:9 ). Yet there follows no mention of any conditions, or work to be done by them: only a promise of unconditional blessings. And why? Because the “conditions” were to be fulfilled and the “work” was to be done by Christ, and nothing remained but to bestow the blessings upon His people.  So when David says, “He hath made with me an everlasting covenant” (2Sam 23:5 ) he simply means, God had admitted him into an interest in the everlasting covenant and made him partaker of its privileges.  Hence it is that when the apostle Paul refers to the various covenants which God had made with men in Old Testament times, he styles them not “covenants of stipulations” but “covenants of promise”

 As we consider these things, we may see that the very first ‘Covenant of Promise’ was made, not with Noah, but with Adam, immediately after his disastrous fall from grace.  The words are spoken to the serpent, Satan, but the application is to us through the merits of Christ.  ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.’  There was nothing that Adam could do to bring this about.  It is the work of Christ (1John 3:8 ), the true Seed of the woman (Gal 4:4 ) that comes to us through our union with Him (Rom 16:20 ).  As a sign of this covenant, God graciously provide a covering for the guilty couple (Gen 3:21 ) and for this an innocent creature had to die, foreshadowing the one great sacrifice of the Lamb of God who provides for us the true covering or atonement for sin (cf. Isaiah 61:10; Rev 7:14 ).

 So it was that Abel, having learned from his parents of their great sin and fall, seeing himself lost and mired in sin, took that promise to his parents and made it his own by faith.  He looked down the millennia by that same faith and saw the Seed that should come taking his sin upon His sinless shoulders on the cross, and, filled with love for the God that loved him so much, he took the finest lamb of his flock and sacrificed it to Him who would not withhold His beloved Son to save him.  It was not the sacrifice that wrought salvation for Abel;  it was his faith that united him to Christ in His death and resurrection.  And so it is for us, that if we will look to Christ in repentance and faith, we too will be clothed in His righteousness and know the forgiveness of our sins.  Abel and the Old Testament saints knew only the promise of Christ as they looked forward to His coming; we know the historical fact as we look backwards to the cross;  yet the outcome is the same.  “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”  The one Covenant of Grace, expressed in the will of the Father and the obedience of the Son, has brought about salvation for all of God’s elect, from Adam and Eve themselves, to the very last sinner to be saved before Christ comes again.

‘In Him the tribes of Adam boast,

More blessings than their father lost.’

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