Saturday, October 18, 2008

Of God's Covenant With Man

The Westminster Confession, Chapter 7

Of God's Covenant With Man
1. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him, as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescencion on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.
2. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.
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: wherein 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 life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ, the testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.
5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.
6. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

(from Creeds of the Church, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

This chapter of the confession is important for understanding God's relationship to man. The covenant is the golden thread woven through the Old and New Testaments. The concept of "covenant," biblically speaking, is always laden with grace. A covenant is basically an agreement between two parties. The covenant of course reveals God as the initiator of the covenant. Mankind is bound into this covenant. If the agreement is kept blessing is received, however if the covenant is broken cursing is received. Man never deserved such a condescension on God's part, thus any covenant of God is a gracious covenant. Had God not taken the initiative, there would be no covenant.

The initial covenant spoken of in scripture is often referred to as the "covenant of works." The scriptural warrant is in Genesis chapters two and three. There is of course no mention of a covenant specifically, but there is sufficient evidence of a covenantal relationship. Most specifically, blessing for obedience, and cursing for disobedience. It is also important to note Hosea chapter six and verse seven, which states, "But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; there they have dealt treacherously against Me." It is possible for some to misunderstand the covenant of works. It should be noted that the covenant of works in no way proposes man's ability to earn favor with God. It is not to be taken as a works based covenant. The covenant of works is a covenant of love, kindness, mercy, and grace; where God graciously entered into fellowship with man, though there was nothing constraining Him to do so.

The covenant of grace is the second covenant we find in the scriptures. After the fall of Adam, man was left without hope under the curse. Yet God in His infinite mercy established another covenant with man. God holds out the conditions of the covenant and then provides all that is necessary for the perfect fulfillment of it. We see this covenant slowly budding throughout the course of God's redemptive history in the Old Testament dispensation and coming into full bloom with the advent of the messiah. The book of Hebrews teaches us, "For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (9:15)."

The administrations of the covenant differs from the Old Testament to the New Testament. In the Old Testament the revelation pointed to a future time, in the New Testament the time was fulfilled. However one looks at the concept of covenantal relations with God, the two testaments must always go together. Never shall we separate the Old and New Testaments to form a theology on covenants. There is Law and there is Gospel they should go together. Law and Gospel combined bring us to the true covenant of grace. God in His mercy gives us the Law to lead us to Christ, to convict us of our sins, to teach us how we ought to walk.

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