Challenging Covenantalism: The Covenant of Grace

I have been attempting to reveal the reality that there is not a covenantal scheme found in Scripture as is presupposed by those who believe in Covenantal Theology (CT). This belief system, built upon the assumption that there was a covenant between God and man, i.e. the Covenant of Works, is pervasive and subtle in all of its insinuations. The conclusions of such a system have become foreign to the actual statements of Scripture to an alarming degree. Over the next few posts, I will continue to lay the groundwork that is necessary in order to review these conclusions so that at least it can be understood what I am saying. Given the fact that I have little to no response from anyone on these posts, I can only assume that what I am writing is being considered, at least.

Last post we verified the reality that there is/was no Covenant of Works. One may believe that there was, but that does not make it real. Did God actually make a covenant in the garden, pre-fall, with Adam with conditions, stipulations, rewards, and blessings? No. That is a contrived system super-imposed over the Scripture. Adam already had full access to the Tree of Life, not contingent upon obedience. Adam already was blessed of God, not contingent upon obedience. Adam was instructed/commanded directly to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil under penalty of death, without condition. There was nothing to which Adam had to agree. He was under the sovereignty, authority, and care of his Creator who created all things simply according to His will (Revelation 4:11). There was no compulsion to create a covenant (an agreement, conditional or otherwise) in that perfect world which God created. As said in the previous post, love cannot be regulated by law (Galatians 5:22-23).

We come now to consider the next covenant as stated by CT, the Covenant of Grace. This covenant is stated as follows:

“The covenant of grace  is a compact between God and the elect sinner; God on His part declaring His free good-will concerning eternal salvation, and every thing relative thereto, freely to be given to those in covenant, by, and for the mediator Christ; and man on his part consenting to that good-will by a sincere faith” (Witsius, Economy of the Covenants, p.165).

It must be stated that the philosophical nature of CT is very appealing to many, which causes its popularity. This popularity is especially keen in the world of young men. There is a particular thrill that comes from engaging in dialogue and contemplation about deep things, contrived or true. The structure of CT is no different. Because of its philosophical nature, CT draws many to its system simply because it affords an exercise of the mind to a large degree. However, there is no greater exercise of the mind, heart, and will than to meditate upon truth. What God actually did is far more profound and engaging than anything man could dream of. Plus, truth is humbling. It breaks the will and sanctifies the person. This, to the glory of God.

As we come to the Covenant of Grace, we come to a subject that is indeed “deep”, profound, and eternal. We are talking about the work of God in Christ on behalf of sinners. The Covenant of Works discussion dealt with God’s dealing with Adam pre-fall. However, this “covenant” deals with Adam’s offspring post-fall. The redemption of sinners is the heart of the gospel. It is near to the heart of all that God has accomplished in Christ. It is territory to tread slowly and carefully upon. Of its nature, it demands absolute precision and care. Zeal is no substitute for accuracy. Zeal without truth cannot save (Romans 10:1-3).

This covenant states that God made a covenant, agreement, pact, with elect sinners that they might be saved. R. Scott Clark, who has written very detailed upon the entire subject and nature of CT, writes, “The term covenant of grace can be used broadly and narrowly. When used broadly, it refers to everyone who is baptized into the Christ confessing covenant community. When used narrowly, it refers to those who have received the double benefit of Christ: justification and sanctification” (R. Scott Clark, http://clark.wscal.edu/covtheses.php , accessed 9/10/2012). Dr. Kim Riddlebarger writes, “The covenant of grace is the historical outworking of an eternal covenant of redemption (the so-called “covenant before the covenant”) in which the members of the Holy Trinity decreed that Jesus was to be the redeemer of those whom the Father had chosen in him, and that Jesus would do this on behalf of, and in the place of, all those sinners chosen from before the foundation of the world (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14)” (http://wscal.edu/blog/entry/3636 , access 9/10/2012). Both descriptions assume a pre-creation covenant between God and Christ which is entitled, “The Covenant of Redemption".” Both authors state that that pre-Adamic covenant is the basis upon which all other covenants, and their accomplishments, flow. I am not attempting to deal with the topic of the Covenant of Redemption at this time. I will wait until a future post. However, it is enough to say, as I have said before, it is entirely unnecessary to assign a covenantal structure to God’s plan of redemption, outside of the stated covenants of Scripture, to which the New Testament writers explicitly refer based upon the teaching of the Old Testament. There is no need to subsume the biblical covenants under a larger one. For example, using the reference from Dr. Riddlebarger, Ephesians 1 makes it extensively clear that there was no compelling covenant in eternity pre-Adam demanding that God do what He did in creating the world, ordaining the fall of man, and the death of His Son. It was simply the expression of His free will. Consider these passages:

Ephesians 1:5–6 (NASB95)

5 In Love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,

6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:7–11 (NASB95)

7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace

8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight

9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him

10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him

11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,

Now, if we take these truths (God predestined us to become sons according to the kind intention of His will, for His glory, freely given to us, according to His rich grace, according to the kind intention of His will, according to His purpose, after the counsel of His will) and assign to them a pre-creation covenant that supposedly explains the initial compulsion of God to do what He has done in Christ, we have just confounded these verses. It is no longer according to the free counsel of His will, but counsel of His will based upon an agreement that He made with Christ and then the elect. Those are two very different statements. God is unaffected by any outside influence or compulsion. He does what He pleases (Psalms 115:3; 135:6). He is not compelled by any covenant, except what is stated in Scripture. He does what He pleases based upon His will. Some might say, “Yes, and it pleased God to make this covenant with Jesus Christ and the elect.” If that is true, then God’s compulsion was no longer to freely give, but to give out of duty. This is not freely giving. The essence of giving freely is that there is no previous cause compelling one to do what he is doing. Even the actual biblical covenants, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly, Davidic, and New, were still initialized by God’s will, whether bilateral or unilateral. Paul teaches that the entire plan of redemption is the result of God’s will, not agreement. But we will deal with this further at another time.

The covenant of grace is fanciful on a number of fronts. First, it is not stated in Scripture. To take the terms Scripture does use (justification, sanctification, predestination, election etc.) and assign them to a concluding covenant out of which they flow does not make that covenant true. Again, Scripture does not indicate that God made an agreement with the elect, nor continues to do so when the elect are saved. The salvation of the elect is based upon the freedom of God’s purpose in Christ and that is all (Ephesians 2:8-9). Second, the elect are saved on the basis of the New Covenant, not a covenant of grace. The two are not the same. The New Covenant is the basis upon which our sins are forgiven since that is what the Scripture actually says: “

Hebrews 8:12 (NASB95)

12 “For I will be merciful to their iniquities,

And I will remember their sins no more.”

This “better covenant” is based upon better promises than the Mosaic Covenant which could never cleanse the conscience. The salvation from the curses of the Mosaic Covenant for disobedience because of our depravity and God’s just wrath upon us for our disobedience is not based upon an agreement between God and man, elect or not. It is based upon the work of Jesus Christ through the New Covenant which was based upon better promises, the Abrahamic promise, which itself is based upon the promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3:15. Once Jesus Christ entered into the true tabernacle of heaven, after “offering Himself without blemish to God” (Hebrews 9:14), He obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12). That eternal redemption is because Jesus Christ fulfilled the New Covenant, not the covenant of grace (or redemption, for that matter). Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:15; 1 Timothy 2:5). The true covenantal structure of the Scriptures are self-contained and sufficient for elucidating all that God has done and is doing and will do in the redemption of mankind and the entire creation. To go beyond that and state all of that is still the result of a larger covenant, the covenant of grace or redemption, is adding to what the Scripture has actually revealed and what God has actually done.

Third, as with the entirety of CT, if one believes in the covenant of grace, he teaches himself to impose upon Scripture and thus develops the habit of adding to the Scripture. No matter the subject, if we say something God has not said, it is never true (Jeremiah 23:25-32). Covenant Theology, as a system, is foreign to Scripture. Therefore, to impose it upon Scripture does damage to the Scripture.

Fourth, if the elect choose to enter into a covenant with God, how does that affect the sovereign nature of salvation. Calling the sinner to repent and follow Jesus Christ does not indicate a covenant or agreement. It is a command. To do so, is to disobey and be subject to eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:6-10). If a sinner calls upon the Lord for salvation, is very different than saying that he agrees to a covenantal relationship with God. It does not appear that the idea of “covenant” ever describes the justification, sanctification, and glorification of a sinner (Romans 8:28-20). It is, again, the expression of the will  of God. We must maintain the purity of the will of God in all that He does.

In future posts, I will be dealing with the following subjects:

  1. The Covenant of Redemption.
  2. God’s Purpose in Christ.
  3. The True Covenantal Structure of God’s Plan.
  4. The Gospel.
  5. The Difference Between Israel and the Church.
  6. Eschatology and the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ.
  7. The True Nature of the Church.

There may be further topics as well as the need arises.