A contract, or agreement between two or more parties on certain terms. The terms are made use of in the Scriptures for covenant in Hebrew and Greek. The former signifies choosing, or friendly parting; as in covenants each party, in a friendly manner, consented, and so bound himself to the chosen terms; the latter signifies testament, as all the blessings of the covenant are freely disposed to us. The word covenant is also used for an immutable ordinance, Jer. 33:20. a promise, Exod. 34:10. Is. 59:21. and also for a precept, Jer. 34:13,14. In Scripture we read of various convenants; such as those made with Noah, Abraham, and the Hebrews at large. Anciently covenants were made and ratified with great solemnity. The Scriptures allude to the cutting of animals asunder; denoting that, in the same manner, the perjured and covenant-breaker should be cut asunder by the vengeance of God, Jer. 34:18.
The covenants which more especially relate to the human race, are generally called the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.
The covenant of works is that whereby God requires perfect obedience from his creatures, in such a manner as to make no express provision for the pardon of offences, committed against the precepts of it on the repentance of such offenders, but pronounces a sentence of death upon them, Gen. 2. Gal. 4:24. Ps. 89:3,4. The covenant of grace is generally defined to be that which was made with Christ, as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed, Isa. 62:1-6. 1 Pet. 1:20. Is. 52:13.
I. the covenant of works was made with Adam.
The condition of which was, his perseverance during the whole time of his probation; the reward annexed to this obedience was the continuance of him and his posterity in such perfect holiness and felicity he then had while upon earth, and everlasting life with God hereafter. The penalty threatened for the breach of the command was condemnation; terminating in death temporal, spiritual, and eternal. The seals of this covenant were, the tree of knowledge and the tree of life; and, perhaps, the Sabbath and Paradise, Gen. 2, 3. Gal. 6:24. Rom. 5:12,19. This covenant was broken by Adam’s eating of the forbidden fruit, whereby he and his posterity were all subject to ruin, Gen. 3. Rom. 5:12,19; and without the intervention of the divine grace and mercy, would have been lost for ever, Rom. 3:23. The Divine Being, foreseeing this, in infinite wisdom and unspeakable compassion planned the covenant of grace; by virtue of which his people are reinstated in the blessings of purity, knowledge, and felicity, and that without a possibility of any farther defalcation.
II. The covenant of grace.
Some divines make a distinction between the covenant of redemption and that of grace; the former, they say, was made with Christ in eternity; the latter with believers in time. Others object to this, and suppose it a needless distinction; for there is but one covenant of grace, and not two, in which the head and members are concerned; and, besides, the covenant of grace, properly speaking, could not be made between God and man; for what can man restipulate with God, which is in his power to do or give him, and which God has not a prior right unto? Fallen man has neither inclination to yield obedience, nor power to perform it. The parties, therefore, in this covenant, are generally said to be the Father and the Son; but Dr. Gill supposes that the Holy Ghost should not be excluded, since he is promised in it, and in consequence of it, is sent down into the hearts of believers; and which must be by agreement, and with his consent. If we believe, therefore, in a Trinity, it is more proper to suppose that they were all engaged in this plan of the covenant, than to suppose that the Father and Son were engaged exclusive of the Holy Spirit, 1 John 5:6,7. As to the work of the Son, it was the will and appointment of the Father that he should take the charge and care of his people, John 6:39. Heb. 2:13, redeem them by his blood, John 17. Heb. 10. obey the law in their room, Rom. 10:4. justify them by his righteousness, Dan. 9:24, &c., and finally, preserve them to glory, Is. 40:11. Jesus Christ, according to the divine purpose, became the representative and covenant head of his people, Eph. 1:22,23. Col. 1:18. They were all considered in him, and represented by him, Eph. 1:4. promises of grace and glory made to them in him, Tit. 1:2. 1 Cor. 1:20. he suffered in their stead. 2 Cor. 5:21. He is also to be considered as the mediator of the covenant by whom justice is satisfied, and man reconciled to God. He is also the surety of this covenant, Heb. 7:22. as he took the whole debt upon him, freed his people from the charge, obeyed the law, and engaged to bring his people to glory, Heb. 2:13. Is. 49:5,6. He is called the testator of the covenant, which is denominated a Testament, Heb. 7:22. Heb. 9:15. He disposes of his blessings according to his will or testament, which is unalterable, signed by his hand, and sealed by his blood. In this covenant, as we before observed, the Holy Spirit also is engaged. His assent is given to every part thereof; he brings his people into the enjoyment of its blessings, 1 Pet. 1:2. 2 Thess. 2:13. He was concerned in the incarnation of Christ, Matt. 1:18. and assisted his human nature, Heb. 9:14. He takes of the things of Christ, and shows them unto us; cleanses, enlightens, sanctifies, establishes, and comforts his people, according to the plan of the covenant, Rom. 8:15,16.
III. The properties of this covenant are such as these:
1. It is eternal, being made before time, Eph. 1:3,4. 2 Tim. 1:9.—2. Divine as to its origin, springing entirely from free grace, Rom. 11:5,6. Ps. 89:2,3,28.—3. It is absolute and unconditional, Eph. 2:8,9.—4. It is perfect and complete, wanting nothing, 2 Sam. 23:5.—5. It is sure and immoveable, Isa. 54:10. Isa. 55:3.—6. Called new in opposition to the old, and as its blessings will be always new, Heb. 8:6,8.
IV. These two covenants above mentioned agree in some things, in others they differ.
1. “In both,” says Witsius, “the parties concerned are God, and man.—2. In both, the same promise of eternal life.—3. The condition of both is the same, perfect obedience to the law prescribed; for it is not worthy of God to admit man to a blessed communion with him but in the way of holiness.—4. In Both is the same end, the glory of God. But they differ in the following respects: 1. In the covenant of works, the character or relation of God is that of a supreme lawgiver, and the chief good rejoicing to communicate happiness to his creatures. In the covenant of grace he appears as infinitely merciful, adjudging life to the elect sinner, agreeably to his wisdom and justice.—2. In the covenant of works there was no mediator: the covenant of grace has a mediator, Christ.—3. In the covenant of works, the condition of perfect obedience was required to be performed by man himself in covenant. In the covenant of grace the same condition is proposed, but to be performed by a mediator.—4. In the covenant of works man is considered as working, and the reward as to be given of debt. In the covenant of grace the man in covenant is considered as believing; eternal life being given as the merit of the mediator, out of free grace, which excludes all boasting.—5. In the covenant of works something is required as a condition, which being performed entitles to reward. The covenant of grace consists not of conditions, but of promises: the life to be obtained; faith, by which we are made partakers of Christ; perseverance, and, in a word, the whole of salvation, are absolutely promised.—6. The special end of the covenant of works was the manifestation of the holiness, goodness, and justice of God; but the special end of the covenant of grace, is the praise of the glory of his grace, and the revelation of his unsearchable and manifold wisdom.”—7. The covenant of works was only for a time, but the covenant of grace stands sure for ever.
V. The administration of the covenant of grace.
The covenant of grace, under the Old Testament, was exhibited by promises, sacrifices, types, ordinances, and prophecies. Under the New it is administered in the preaching of the Gospel, baptism, and the Lord’s supper; in which grace and salvation are held forth in more fulness, evidence, and efficacy to all nations, 2 Cor. 3:6-18. Heb. 8. Matt. 28:19,20. But in both periods, the mediator, the whole substance, blessings, and manner of obtaining an interest therein by faith, are the very same, without any difference, Heb. 11:6. Gal. 3:7,14. The reader, who may wish to have a more enlarged view of this subject, may peruse Witsius, Strong, or Boston on the Covenants, in the former of which especially he will find the subject masterly handled.
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.