The Plan of Salvation is a Covenant. § 2.
Different Views of the Nature of this Covenant.
Parties to the Covenant. § 4.
Covenant of Redemption. § 5.
The Covenant of Grace.
The Identity of the Covenant of Grace under all Dispensations.
§ 1. The Plan of Salvation is a
The plan of salvation is presented under the form of a covenant. This
is evident, --
First, from the constant use of the words
tyriB and diaqh,kh in reference to it. With
regard to the former of these words, although it is sometimes used for a law,
disposition, or arrangement in general, where the elements of a covenant
strictly speaking are absent, yet there can be no doubt that according to its
prevailing usage in the Old Testament, it means a mutual contract between two
or more parties. It is very often used of compacts between individuals, and
especially between kings and rulers. Abraham and Abimelech made a covenant.
(Gen. xxi. 27.) Joshua made a covenant with the people. (Josh. xxiv. 25.)
Jonathan and David made a covenant. (1 Sam. xviii. 3) Jonathan made a covenant
with the house of David. (1 Sam. xx. 16.) Ahab made a covenant with Benhadad.
(1 Kings xx. 34.) So we find it constantly. There is therefore no room to
doubt that the word tyriB when used of
transactions between man and man means a mutual compact. We have no right to
give it any other sense when used of transactions between God and man.
Repeated mention is made of the covenant of God with Abraham, as in Gen. xv.
18; xvii. 13, and afterwards with Isaac and Jacob. Then with the Israelites at
Mount Sinai. The Old Testament is founded on this idea of a covenant relation
between God and the theocratic people.
The meaning of the word diaqh,kh in the
Greek Scriptures is just as certain and uniform. It is derived from the verb
diati,qhmi, to arrange, and, therefore, in
ordinary Greek is used for any arrangement, or disposition. In the Scriptures
it is almost uniformly used in the sense of a covenant. In the Septuagint it
is the translation of tyrIB in all the
cases above referred to. It is the term always used in the New Testament to
designate the covenant with Abraham, with the Israelites, and with believers.
The old covenant and the new are presented in contrast. Both were covenants.
If the word has this meaning when applied to the transaction with Abraham and
with the Hebrews, it must have the same meaning when applied to the plan of
salvation revealed in the gospel.
Secondly, that the plan of salvation is presented in the Bible under
the form of a covenant is proved not only from the signification and usage of
the words above mentioned, but also and more decisively from the fact that the
elements of a covenant are included in this plan. There are parties, mutual
promises or stipulations, and conditions. So that it is in fact a covenant,
whatever it may be called. As this is the Scriptural mode of representation,
it is of great importance that it should be retained in theology. Our only
security for retaining the truths of the Bible, is to adhere to the Scriptures
as closely as possible in our mode of presenting the doctrines therein
§ 2. Different Views of the Nature of
It is assumed by many that the parties to the covenant of grace are God
and fallen man. Man by his apostasy having forfeited the favour of God, lost
the divine image, and involved himself in sin and misery, must have perished
in this state, had not God provided a plan of salvation. Moved by compassion
for his fallen creatures, God determined to send his Son into the world, to
assume their nature, and to do and suffer whatever was requisite for their
salvation. On the ground of this redeeming work of Christ, God promises
salvation to all who will comply with the terms on which it is offered. This
general statement embraces forms of opinion which differ very much one from
1. It includes even the Pelagian view of the plan of salvation, which
assumes that there is no difference between the covenant of works under which
Adam was placed, and the covenant of grace, under which men are now, except as
to the extent of the obedience required. God promised life to Adam on the
condition of perfect obedience, because he was in a condition to render such
obedience. He promises salvation to men now on the condition of ouch obedience
as they are able to render, whether Jews, Pagans, or Christians. According to
this view the parties to the covenant are God and man; the promise is life;
the condition is obedience, such as man in the use of his natural powers is
able to render.
2. The Remonstrant system does not differ essentially from the Pelagian,
so far as the parties, the promise and the condition of the covenant are
concerned. The Remonstrants also make God and man the parties, life the
promise, and obedience the condition. But they regard fallen men as in a state
of sin by nature, as needing supernatural grace which is furnished to all, and
the obedience required is the obedience of faith, or fides obsequiosa,
faith as including and securing evangelical obedience. Salvation under the
gospel is as truly by works as under the law; but the obedience required is
not the perfect righteousness demanded of Adam, but such as fallen man, by the
aid of the Spirit, is now able to perform.
3. Wesleyan Arminianism greatly exalts the work of Christ, the
importance of the Spirit's influence, and the grace of the gospel above the
standard adopted by the Remonstrants. The two systems, however, are
essentially the same. The work of Christ has equal reference to all men. It
secures for all the promise of salvation on the condition of evangelical
obedience; and it obtains for all, Jews and Gentiles, enough measures of
divine grace to render such obedience practicable. The salvation of each
individual man depends on the use which he makes of this sufficient grace.
4. The Lutherans also hold that God had the serious purpose to save all
men; that Christ died equally for all; that salvation is offered to all who
hear the gospel, on the condition, not of works or of evangelical
obedience, but of faith alone; faith, however, is the gift of God; men have
not the power to believe, but they have the power of effectual resistance; and
those, and those only, under the gospel, who wilfully resist, perish, and for
that reason. According to all these views, which were more fully stated in the
receding chapter, the covenant of grace is a compact between God and fallen
man, in which God promises salvation on condition of a compliance with the
demands of the gospel. What those demands are, as we have seen, is differently
The essential distinctions between the above-mentioned views of the
plan of salvation, or covenant of grace, and the Augustinian system, are, (1.)
That, according to the former, its provisions have equal reference to all
mankind, whereas according to the latter they have special reference to that
portion of our race who are actually saved; and (2.) That Augustinianism says
that it is God and not man who determines who are to be saved. As has been
already frequently remarked, the question which of these systems is true is
not to be decided by ascertaining which is the more agreeable to our feelings
or the more plausible to our understanding, but which is consistent with the
doctrines of the Bible and the facts of experience. This point has already
been discussed. Our present object is simply to state what Angustinians mean
by the covenant of grace.
The word grace is usea in Scripture and in ordinary religious writings
in three senses. (1.) For unmerited love; i. e., love exercised towards the
undeserving. (2.) For any unmerited favour, especially for spiritual
blessings. Hence, all the fruits of the Spirit in believers are called graces,
or unmerited gifts of God. (3.) The word grace often means the supernatural
influence of the Holy Ghost. This is preeminently grace, being the great gift
secured by the work of Christ, and without which his redemption weuld not
avail to our salvation. In all these senses of the word the plan of salvation
is properly called a covenant of grace. It is of grace because it originated
in the mysterious love of God for sinners who deserved only his wrath and
curse. Secondly, because it promises salvation, not on the condition of works
or anything meritorious on our part, but as an unmerited gift. And, thirdly,
because its benefits are secured and applied not in the course of nature, or
in the exercise of the natural powers of the sinner, but by the supernatural
influence of the Holy Spirit, granted to him as an unmerited gift.
§ 3. Parties to the Covenant.
At first view there appears to be some confusion in the statements of
the Scriptures as to the parties to this covenant. Sometimes Christ is
presented as one of the parties; at others He is represented not as a party,
but as the mediator and surety of the covenant; while the parties are
represented to be God and his people. As the old covenant was made between God
and the Hebrews, and Moses acted as mediator, so the new covenant is commonly
represented in the Bible as formed between God and his people, Christ acting
as mediator. He is, therefore, called the mediator of a better covenant
founded on better promises.
Some theologians propose to reconcile these modes of representation by
saying that as the covenant of works was formed with Adam as the
representative of his race, and therefore in him with all mankind descending
from him by ordinary generation; so the covenant of grace was formed with
Christ as the head and representative of his people, and in Him with all those
given to Him by the Father. This simplifies the matter, and agrees with the
parallel which the Apostle traces between Adam and Christ in Rom. v. 12-21,
and 1 Cor. xv. 21, 22, 47-49. Still it does not remove the incongruity of
Christ's being represented as at once a party and a mediator of the same
covenant. There are in fact two covenants relating to the salvation of fallen
man, the one between God and Christ, the other between God and his people.
These covenants differ not only in their parties, but also in their promises
and conditions. Both are so clearly presented in the Bible that they should
not be confounded. The latter, the covenant of grace, is founded on the
former, the covenant of redemption. Of the one Christ is the mediator and
surety; of the other He is one of the contracting parties.
This is a matter which concerns only perspicuity of statement. There is
no doctrinal difference between those who prefer the one statement and those
who prefer the other; between those who comprise all the facts of Scripture
relating to the subject under one covenant between God and Christ as the
representative of his people, and those who distribute them under two. The
Westminster standards seem to adopt sometimes the one and sometimes the other
mode of representation. In the Confession of Faith1
it is said, "Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that
covenant [i. e., by the covenant of works], 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." Here
the implication is that God and his people are the parties; for in a covenant
the promises are made to one of the parties, and here it is said that life and
salvation are promised to sinners, and that faith is demanded of them. The
same view is presented in the Shorter Catechism, according to the natural
interpretation of the answer to the twentieth question. It is there said, "God
having out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to
everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of
the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by
a Redeemer." In the Larger Catechism, however, the other view is expressly
adopted. In the answer to the question,2
"With whom was the covenant of grace made?" it is said, "The covenant of grace
was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in Him with all the elect as his
Two Covenants to be Distinguished.
This confusion is avoided by distinguishing between the covenant of
redemption between the Father and the Son, and the covenant of grace between
God and his people. The latter supposes the former, and is founded upon it.
The two, however, ought not to be confounded, as both are clearly revealed in
Scripture, and moreover they differ as to the parties, as to the promises, and
as to the conditions. On this subject Turrettin says,3
"Atque hic superfluum videtur quaerere, An foedus hoc contractum fuerit cum
Christo, tanquam altera parte contrahente, et in ipso cum toto ejus semine, ut
primum foedus cum Adamo pactum fuerat, et in Adamo cum tota ejus posteritate:
quod non paucis placet, quia promissiones ipsi dicuntur factae, Gal. iii. 16,
et quia, ut Caput et Princeps populi sui, in omnibus primas tenet, at nihil
nisi in ipso et ab ipso obtineri possit: An vero foedus contractum sit in
Christo cum tote semine, ut non tam habeat rationem partis contrahentis, quam
partis mediae, quae inter dissidentes stat ad eos reconciliandos, ut aliis
satius videtur. Superfiuum, inquam, est de eo disceptare, quia res eodem redit;
et certum est duplex hic pactum necessario attendendum esse, vel
unius ejusdem pacti duas partes et gradus. Prius pactum est, quod inter Patrem
et Filium intercedit, ad opus redemptionis exequendum. Posterius est, quod
Deus cum electis in Christo contrahit, de illis per et propter Christum
salvandis sub conditione fidei et resipiscentiae. Prius fit cum Sponsore et
capite ad salutem membrorum: Posterius fit cum membris in capite et sponsore."
The same view is taken by Witsius:4
"Ut Foederis gratiae natura penitius perspecta sit, duo imprimis distincte
consideranda sunt. (1.) Pactum, quod inter Deum Patrem et mediatorem Christum
intercedit. (2.) Testamentaria illa dispositio, qua Deus electis salutem
aeternam, et omnia ec pertinentia, immutabili foedere addicit. Prior conventio
Dei cum mediatore est: posterior Dei cum electis. Haec illam supponit, et in
§ 4. Covenant of Redemption.
By this is meant the covenant between the Father and the Son in
reference to the salvation of man. This is a subject which, from its nature,
is entirely beyond our comprehension. We must receive the teachings of the
Scriptures in relation to it without presuming to penetrate the mystery which
naturally belongs to it. There is only one God, one divine Being, to whom all
the attributes of divinity belong. But in the Godhead there are three persons,
the same in substance, and equal in power and glory. It lies in the nature of
personality, that one person is objective to another. If therefore, the Father
and the Son are distinct persons the one be the object of the acts of the
other. The one may love, address, and commune with the other. The Father may
send the Son, may give Him a work to do, and promise Him a recompense. All
this is indeed incomprehensible to us, but being clearly taught in Scripture,
it must enter into the Christian's faith.
In order to prove that there is a covenant between the Father and the
Son, formed in eternity, and revealed in time, it is not necessary that we
should adduce passages of the Scriptures in which this truth is expressly
asserted. There are indeed passages which are equivalent to such direct
assertions. This is implied in the frequently recurring statements of the
Scripture that the plan of God respecting the salvation of men was of the
nature of a covenant, and was formed in eternity. Paul says that it was hidden
for ages in the divine mind; that it was before the foundation of the world.
Christ speaks of promises made to Him before his advent; and that He caine
into the world in execution of a commission which He had received from the
Father. The parallel so distinctly drawn between Adam and Christ is also a
proof of the point in question. As Adam was the head and representative of his
posterity, so Christ is the head and representative of his people. And as God
entered into covenant with Adam so He entered into covenant with Christ. This,
in Rom. v. 12-21, is set forth as the fundamental idea of all God's dealings
with men, both in their fall and in their redemption.
The proof of the doctrine has, however, a much wider foundation. When
one person assigns a stipulated work to another person with the promise of a
reward upon the condition of the performance of that work, there is a
covenant. Nothing can be plainer than that all this is true in relation to the
Father and the Son. The Father gave the Son a work to do; He sent Him into the
world to perform it, and promised Him a great reward when the work was
accomplished. Such is the constant representation of the Scriptures. We have,
therefore, the contracting parties, the promise, and the condition. These are
the essential elements of a covenant. Such being the representation of
Scripture, such must be the truth to which we are bound to adhere. It is not a
mere figure, but a real transaction, and should be regarded and treated as
such if we would understand aright the plan of salvation. In the fortieth
Psalm. expounded by the Apostle as referring to the Messiah, it is said, "Lo,
I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy
will." i. e.. to execute thy purpose, to carry on thy plan. "By the which
will," says the Apostle (Heb. x. 10), "we are sanctified (i. e., cleansed from
the guilt of sin), through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for
all." Christ came, therefore, in execution of a purpose of God, to fulfil a
work which had been assigned Him. He, therefore, in John xvii. 4, says, "I
have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." This was said at the close
of his earthly course. At its beginning, when yet a child, He said to his
parents, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" (Luke ii.
49.) Our Lord speaks of Himself, and is spoken of as sent into the world. He
says that as the Father had sent Him into the world, even so had He sent his
disciples into the world. (John xvii. 18.) "When the fulness of the time was
come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman." (Gal. iv. 4.) "God sent his
only begotten Son into the world." (1 John iv. 9.) God "sent his Son to be the
propitiation for our sins." (Verse 10.)
It is plain, therefore, that Christ came to execute a work, that He was
sent of the Father to fulfil a plan, or preconceived design. It is no less
plain that special promises were made by the Father to the Son, suspended upon
the accomplishment of the work assigned Him. This may appear as an
anthropological mode of representing a transaction between the persons of the
adorable Trinity. But it must be received as substantial truth. The Father did
give the Son a work to do, and He did promise to him a reward upon its
accomplishment. The transaction was, therefore, of the nature of a covenant.
An obligation was assumed by the Son to accomplish the work assigned Him; and
an obligation was assumed by the Father to grant Him the stipulated reward.
The infinitude of God does not prevent these things being possible.
As the exhibition of the work of Christ in the redemption of man
constitutes a large part of the task of the theologian, all that is proper in
this place is a simple reference to the Scriptural statements on the subject.
The Work assigned to the Redeemer.
(1) He was to assume our nature, humbling Himself to be born of a
woman, and to be found in fashion as a man. This was to be a real incarnation,
not a mere theophany such as occurred repeatedly under the old dispensation.
He was to become flesh: to take part of flesh and body; to be bone of our bone
and flesh of our flesh, made in all things like unto his brethren, yet without
sin, that He might be touched with a sense of our infirmities, and able tc
sympathize with those who are tempted, being Himself also tempted. (2.) He was
to be made under the law, voluntarily undertaking to fulfil all righteousness
by obeying the law of God perfectly in all the forms in which it had been made
obligatory on man. (3.) He was to bear our sins, to be a curse for us,
offering Himself as a sacrifice, or propitiation to God in expiation of the
sins of men. This involved his whole life of humiliation, sorrow, and
suffering, and his ignominious death upon the cross under the hiding of his
Father's countenance. What He was to do after this pertains to his exaltation
The Promises made to the Redeemer.
Such, in general terms, was the work which the Son of God undertook to
perform. The promises of the Father to the Son conditioned on the
accomplishment of that work, were, (1.) That He would prepare Him a body, fit
up a tabernacle for Him, formed as was the body of Adam by the immediate
agency of God, uncontaminated and without spot or blemish. (2.) That He would
give the Spirit to Him without measure, that his whole human nature should be
replenished with grace and strength, and so adorned with the beauty of
holiness that He should be altogether lovely. (3.) That He would be ever at
his right hand to support and comfort Him in the darkest hours of his conflict
with the powers of darkness, and that He would ultimately bruise Satan under
his feet. (4.) That He would deliver Him from the power of death, and exalt
Him to his own right hand in heaven; and that all power in heaven and earth
should be committed to Him. (5.) That He, as the Theanthropos and head of the
Church, should have the Holy Spirit to send to whom He willed, to renew their
hearts, to satisfy and comfort them, and to qualify them for his service and
kingdom. (6.) That all given to Him by the Father should come to Him, and be
kept by Him, so that none of them should be lost. (7.) That a multitude whom
no man can number should thus be made partakers of his redemption, and that
ultimately the kingdom of the Messiah should embrace all the nations of the
earth. (8.) That through Christ, in Him, and in his ransomed Church, there
should be made the highest manifestation of the divine perfections to all
orders of holy intelligences throughout eternity. The Son of God was thus to
see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.
§ 5. The Covenant of Grace.
In virtue of what the Son of God covenanted to perform, and what in the
fulness of time He actually accomplished, agreeably to the stipulations of the
compact with thu Father, two things follow. First, salvation is offered to all
men on the condition of faith in Christ. Our Lord commanded his disciples to
go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. The gospel,
however, is the offer of salvation upon the conditions of the covenant of
grace. In this sense, the covenant of grace is formed with all mankind. And,
says, "Foedus hoc gratiae est pactum gratuitum inter Deum offensum et hominem
offendentem in Christo initum, in quo Deus homini gratis propter Christum
remissionem peccatorum et salutem pollicetur, homo vero eadem gratia fretus
pollicetur fidem et obedientiam." And the Westminster Confession6
says, "Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that
covenant [namely, by the covenant of works], the Lord was pleased to make a
second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein He freely offereth unto
sinners [and all 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 able and
willing to believe." If this, therefore, were all that is meant by those who
make the parties to the covenant of grace, God and mankind in general and all
mankind equally, there would be no objection to the doctrine. For it is
undoubtedly true that God offers to all and every man eternal life on
condition of faith in Jesus Christ. But as it is no less true that the whole
scheme of redemption has special reference to those given by the Father to the
Son, and of whom our Lord says, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to
me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John vi. 37), it
follows, secondly, from the nature of the covenant between the Father and the
Son, that the covenant of grace has also special reference to the elect. To
them God has promised to give his Spirit in order that they may believe; and
to them alone all the promises made to believers belong. Those who ignore the
distinction between the covenants of redemption and of grace, merging the
latter in the former, of course represent the parties to the covenant to be
God and Christ as the head and representative of his own people. And therefore
mankind, as such, are in no sense parties. All that is important is, that we
should adopt such a mode of representation as will comprehend the various
facts recognized in the Scriptures. It is one of those facts that salvation is
offered to all men on the condition of faith in Christ. And therefore to that
extent, or, in a sense which accounts for that fact, the covenant of grace is
made with all men. The great sin of those who hear the gospel is that they
refuse to accept of that covenant and therefore place themselves without its
Christ as Mediator of the Covenant.
As Christ is a party to the covenant of redemption, so He is constantly
represented as the mediator of the covenant of grace; not only in the sense of
an internuncius, as Moses was a mediator between God and the people of
Israel, but in the sense, (1.) That it was through his intervention, and
solely on the ground of what He had done, or promised to do, that God entered
into this new covenant with fallen men. And, (2.) in the sense of a surety. He
guarantees the fulfilment of all the promises and conditions of the covenant.
His blood was the blood of the covenant. That is, his death had all the
effects of a federal sacrifice, it not only bound the parties to the contract,
but it also secured the fulfilment of all its provisions. Hence He is called
not only Mesi,thj, but also ;Egguoj
(Heb. vii. 22), a sponsor, or surety. By fulfilling the conditions on which
the promises of the covenant of redemption were suspended, the veracity and
justice of God are pledged to secure the salvation of his people; and this
secures the fidelity of his people. So that Christ answers both for God and
man. His work renders certain the gifts of God's grace, and the perseverance
of his people in faith and obedience. He is therefore, in every sense, our
The Condition of the Covenant.
The condition of the covenant of grace, so far as adults are concerned,
is faith in Christ. That is, in order to partake of the benefits of this
covenant we must receive the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God in whom and
for whose sake its blessings are vouchsafed to the children of men. Until we
thus believe we are aliens and strangers from the covenant of promise, without
God and without Christ. We must acquiesce in this covenant, renouncing all
other methods of salvation, and consenting to be saved on the terms which it
proposes, before we are made partakers of its benefits. The word "condition,"
however, is used in two senses. Sometimes it means the meritorious
consideration on the ground of which certain benefits are bestowed. In this
sense perfect obedience was the condition of the covenant originally made with
Adam. Had he retained his integrity he would have merited the promised
blessing. For to him that worketh the reward is not of grace but of debt. In
the same sense the work of Christ is the condition of the covenant of
redemption. It was the meritorious ground, laying a foundation in justice for
the fulfilment of the promises made to Him by the Father. But in other cases,
by condition we merely mean a sine qua non. A blessing may be promised
on condition that it is asked for; or that there is a willinguess to receive
it. There is no merit in the asking or in the willingness, which is the ground
of the gift. It remains a gratuitous favour; but it is, nevertheless,
suspended upon the act of asking. It is in this last sense only that faith is
the condition of the covenant of grace. There is no merit in believing. It is
only the act of receiving a proffered favour. In either case the necessity is
equally absolute. Without the work of Christ there would be no salvation; and
without faith there is no salvation. He that believeth on the Son hath
everlasting life. He that believeth not, shall not see life, but the wrath of
God abideth on him.
The Promises of the Covenant.
The promises of this covenant are all included in the comprehensive
formula, so often occurring in the Scriptures, "I will be your God, and ye
shall be my people." This involves the complete restoration of our normal
relation to God. All ground of alienation, every bar to fellowship is removed.
He communicates Himself in his fulness to his people; and they become his by
entire conformity to his will and devotion to his service, and are the special
objects of his favour.
God is said to be our God, not only because He is the God whom we
acknowledge and profess to worship and obey, as He was the God of the Hebrews
in distinction from the Gentiles who did not acknowledge his existence or
profess to be his worshippers, but He is our God, -- our infinite portion; the
source to us of all that God is to those who are the objects of his love. His
perfections are revealed to us as the highest knowledge; they are all pledged
for our protection, blessedness, and glory. His being our God implies also
that He assures us of his love, and admits us to communion with Himself. As
his favour is life, and his loving kindness better than life; as the vision of
God, the enjoyment of his love and fellowship wth Him secure the highest
possible exaltation and beatification of his creatures, it is plain that the
promise tc be our God, in the Scriptural sense of the term, includes all
conceivable and all possible good.
When it is said that we are to be his people it means, (1.) That we are
his peculiar possession. His delights are with the children of men. From the
various orders of rational creatures. He has chosen man to be the special
object of his favour, and the special medium through which and by which to
manifest his glory. And from the mass of fallen men He has, of his own good
pleasure, chosen an innumerable multitude to be his portion, as He condescends
to call them; on whom He lavishes the plenitude of his grace, and in whom He
reveals his glory to the admiration of all holy intelligences. (2.) That being
thus selected for the special love of God and for the highest manifestation of
his glory, they are in all things fitted for this high destiny. They are
justified, sanctified, and glorified. They are rendered perfectly conformed to
his image, devoted to his service, and obedient to his will.
§ 6. The Identity of the Covenant of
Grace under all Dispensations.
By this is meant that the plan of salvation has, under all
dispensations, the Patriarchal, the Mosaic, and the Christian, been the same.
On this subject much diversity of opinion, and still more of mode of statement
has prevailed. Socinians say that under the old economy, there was no promise
of eternal life; and that the condition of salvation was not faith in Christ.
The Remonstrants admitted that the patriarchs were saved, and that they were
saved through Christ, i. e., in virtue of the work which the Redeemer was to
accomplish; but they also questioned whether any direct promise of eternal
life was given in the Old Testament, or whether faith in the Redeemer was the
condition of acceptance with God. On this subject the "Apology for the
Confession of the Remonstrants" says7
concerning faith in Jesus Christ, "Et certum esse locum nullum esse unde
appareat fidem istam sub V. T. praeceptam fuisse, aut viguisse." And
says, "Ex his facile col. ligere est, quid statuendum sit de qaestione illa
famosa, An vita aeternae promissio etiam in Veteri foelere locum habuerit, vel
potius in foedere ipso comprehensa fuerit. Si enim speciales promissiones in
foedere ipso veteri expressae videantur, fatendum est, nullam vitae aeternae
promissionem disertam in illis reperiri. Si quis contra sentiat, ejus est
locum dare ubi illa exstat: quod puto impossibile esse. Sed vero, si
promissiones Dei generales videantur, fatendum ex altera parte est, eas tales
esse, ut promissie vitae aeternae non subesse tantum videatur, sed ex Dei
intentione eam eis subfuisse etiam crediaebeat."
The Baptists, especially those of the time of the Reformation, do not
hold the common doctrine on this subject. The Anabaptists not only spoke in
very disparaging terms of the old economy and of the state of the Jews under
that dispensation, but it was necessary to their peculiar system, that they
should deny that the covenant made with Abraham included the covenant of
grace. Baptists hold that infants cannot be church members, and that the sign
of such membership cannot properly be administered to any who have not
knowledge and faith. But it cannot be denied that infants were included in the
covenant made with Abraham, and that they received circumcision, its appointed
seal and sign. It is therefore essential to their theory that the Abrahamic
covenant should be regarded as a merely national covenant entirely distinct
from the covenant of grace.
The Romanists assuming that saving grace is communicated through the
sacraments, and seeing that the mass of the ancient Israelites, on many
occasions at least, were rejected of God, notwithstanding their participation
of the sacraments then ordained, were driven to assume a radical difference
between the sacraments of the Old Testament and those of the New. The former
only signified grace, the latter actually conveyed it. From this it follows
that those living before the institution of the Christian sacraments were not
actually saved. Their sins were not remitted, but pretermitted, passed over.
At death they were not admitted into heaven, but passed into a place and state
called the limbus patrum, where they remained in a negative condition
until the coming of Christ, who after his death descended to hell, sheol,
for their deliverance.
In opposition to these different views the common doctrine of the
Church has ever been, that the plan of salvation has been the same from the
beginning. There is the same promise of deliverance from the evils of the
apostasy, the same Redeemer, the same condition required for participation. in
the blessings of redemption, and the same complete salvation for all who
embrace the offers of divine mercy.
In determining the degree of knowledge possessed by the ancient people
of God, we are not to be governed by our own capacity of discovering from the
Old Testament Scriptures the doctrines of grace. What amount of supplementary
instruction the people received from the prophets, or what degree of divine
illumination was granted to them we cannot tell. It is, however, clear from
the writings of the New Testament, that the knowledge of the plan of salvation
current among the Jews at the time of the advent, was much greater than we
should deem possible from the mere perusal of the Old Testament. They not only
generally and confidently expected the Messiah, who was to be a teacher as
well as a deliverer, but the devout Jews waited for the salvation of Israel.
They spoke as familiarly of the Holy Spirit and of the baptism which He was to
effect, as Christians now do. It is, principally, from the assertions of the
New Testament writers and from their expositions of the ancient Scriptures,
that we learn the amount of truth revealed to those who lived before the
coming of Christ.
From the Scriptures, therefore, as a whole, from the New Testament, and
from the Old as interpreted by infallible authority in the New, we learn that
the plan of salvation has always been one and the same; having the same
promise, the same Saviour, the same condition, and the same salvation.
The Promise of Eternal Life made before the
That the promise was the same to those who lived before the advent that
it is to us, is plain. Immediately after the fall God gave to Adam the promise
of redemption. That promise was contained in the prediction that the seed of
the woman should bruise the serpent's head. In this passage it is clear that
the serpent is Satan. He was the tempter, and on him the curse pronounced was
designed to fall. Bruising his head implies fatal injury or overthrow. The
prince of darkness who had triumphed over our first parents, was to be cast
down, and despoiled of his victory. This overthrow was to be accomplished by
the seed of the woman. This phrase might mean the posterity of the woman, and
in this sense would convey an important truth; man was to truimph over Satan.
But it evidently had a more specific reference. It refers to one individual,
who in a sense peculiar to himself, was to be the sced of the woman. This is
clear from the analogy of prophecy. When it was promised to Abraham that in
his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed; it would be very
natural to understand by seed his posterity, the Hebrew people. But we know
certainly, from the direct assertion of the Apostle (Gal. iii. 10), that one
individual, namely, Christ, was intended. So when Isaiah predicts that the
"servant of the Lord" was to suffer, to triumph, and to be the source of
blessings to all people, many understood, and many still understand him to
speak of the Jewish nation, as God so often speaks of his servant Israel. Yet
the servant intended was the Messiah, and the people were no further included
in the prediction than when it is said that "salvation is of the Jews." In all
these and similar cases we have two guides as to the real meaning of the
Spirit. The one is found in subsequent and explanatory declarations of the
Scriptures, the other is in the fulfilment of the predictions. We know from
the event who the seed of the woman; who the seed of Abraham; who the Shiloh;
who the Son of David; who the servant of the Lord were; for in Christ and by
Him was fulfilled all that was predicted of them. The seed of the woman was to
bruise the serpent's head. But it was Christ, and Christ alone, who came into
the world to destroy the works of the Devil. This he declared to be the
purpose of his mission. Satan was the strong man armed whomn Christ came to
dispossess and to deliver from him those who were led captive by him at his
will. We have, then, the promise of redemption made to our first parents
immediately after the fall, to be by them communicated to their descendants to
be kept in perpetual remembrance. This promise was repeated and amplified from
time to time, until the Redeemer actually came. In these additional and fuller
predictions, the nature of this redemption was set forth with ever increasing
clearness. This general promise included many specific promises. Thus we find
God promising to his faithful people the forgiveness of their sins,
restoration to his favour, the renewing of their hearts, and the gift of his
Spirit. No higher blessings than these are offered under the Christian
dispensation. And for these blessings the ancient people of God earnestly
longed and prayed. The Old Testament, and especially the Psalms and other
devotional parts of the early Scriptures, are filled with the record of such
prayers and longings. Nothing can be plainer than that pardon and the favour
of God were promised holy men before the coming of Christ, and these are the
blessings which are now promised to us.
The Apostle in Heb. xi. teaches that the hopes of the patriarchs were
not confined to the present life, but were fixed on a future state of
existence. Such a state, therefore, must have been revealed to them, and
eternal life must have been promised to them. Thus he says (chapter xi. 10),
that Abraham "looked for the city which hath foundations, whose builder
and maker is God." That this was heaven is plain from verse 16, where it is
said, "They desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is
not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city." He
tells us that these ancient worthies gladly sacrificed all earthly good, and
even life itself, "not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better
resurrection." That this was the common faith of the Jews long before the
coming of Christ appears from 2 Macc. vii. 9, where the dying martyr says to
his tormentor, "Thou like a fury takest us out of this present life, but the
King of the world shall raise us up, who have died for his laws, unto
everlasting life." Our Lord teaches us that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are
still alive; and that where Abraham is, is heaven. His bosom was the
resting-place of the faithful.
Christ, the Redeemer, under both Dispensations.
This is a very imperfect exhibition of the evidence which the
Scriptures afford that the promise of redemption, and of all that redemption
includes, pardon, sanctification, the favour of God, and eternal life, was
made to the people of God from the beginning. It is no less clear that the
Redeemer is the same under all dispensations. He who was predicted as the seed
of the woman, as the seed of Abraham, the Son of David, the Branch, the
Servant of the Lord, the Prince of Peace, is our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son
of God, God manifest in the flesh. He, therefore, from the beginning has been
held up as the hope of the world, the SALVATOR HOMINUM. He was set forth in
all his offices, as Prophet, Priest, and King. His work was described as a
sacrifice, as well as a redemption. All this is so obvious, and so generally
admitted, as to render the citation of proof texts unnecessary. It is enough
to refer to the general declarations of the New Testament on this subject. Our
Lord commanded the Jews to search their Scriptures, because they testified of
Him. He said that Moses and the prophets wrote of Him. Beginning at Moses and
all the prophets, He expounded to the disciples in all the Scriptures the
things concerning Himself. The Apostles when they began to preach the gospel,
not only everywhere proved from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Chmrist, but
they referred to them continually in support of everything which they taught
concerning his person and his work. It is from the Old restament they prove
his divinity; his incarnation; the sacrificial nature of his death; that He
was truly a Priest to make reconciliation for the people, as well as a Prophet
and a King; and that He was to die, to rise again on the third day, to ascend
into heaven, and to be invested with absolute authority over all the earth,
and aver all orders of created beings. There is not a doctrine concerning
Christ, taught in the New Testanient, which the Apostles do not affirm to have
been revealed under former dispensations. They therefore distinctly assert
that it was through Him and the efficacy of his death that men were saved
before, as well as after his advent. The Apostle Paul says (Rom. iii. 25),
that Christ was set forth as a propitiation for the remission of sins, not
only evn tw/| kairw/| but also of the sins
committed before the present time, during the forbearance of God. And in Heb.
ix. 15, it is still more explicitly asserted that He died for the forgiveness
of sin under the first covenant. He was, therefore, as said in Rev. xiii. 8,
the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. This is at least the common
and most natural interpretation of that passage.
Such a revelation of the Messiah was undoubtedly made in the Old
Testament as to turn the eyes of the whole Jewish nation in hope and faith.
What the two disciples on the way to Emmaus said, "We trusted it had been He
who should have redeemed Israel," reveals what was the general expectation and
desire of the people. Paul repeatedly speaks of the Messiah as the hope of
Israel. The promise of redemption through Christ, he declared to be the great
object of the people's hope. When arraigned before the tribunals of the Jews,
and before Agrippa, he uniformly declared that in preaching Christ and the
resurrection, he had not departed from the religion of the fathers, but
adhered to it, while his enemies had deserted it. "Now I stand, and am
judged," he says, "for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers."
(Acts xxvi. 6.) Again he said to the Jews in Rome, Acts xxviii. 20, "For the
hope of Israel I am bound with this chain." See, also, xxiii. 6; xxiv. 15. In
Eph. i. 12, he designates the Jews as oi` prohlpiko,tej
evn tw/| Cristw/|, those who hoped in the Messiah before
his advent. In Acts xiii. 7, he says the rulers of the Jews rejected Christ
because they knew not "the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath
day," which they "fulfilled in condemning Him." In Him was "the promise which
was made unto the fathers," he tells us (verses 32, 33), of which he says,
"God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up
(or brought into view) Jesus," the long-expected Saviour. It is needless to
dwell upon this point, because the doctrinc of a personal Messiah who was to
redeem the people of God, not only pervades the Old Testament, but is
everywhere in the New Testament declared to be the great promise which is
fulfilled in the advent and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faith the Condition of Salvation from the
As the same promise was made to those who lived before the advent which
is now made to us in the gospel, as the same Redeermer was revealed to them
who is presented as the object of faith to us, it of necessity follows that
the condition, or terms of salvation, was the same then as now. It was not
mere faith or trust in God, or simply piety, which was required, but faith in
the promised Redeemer, or faith in the promise of redemption through the
This is plain not only from the considerations just mentioned, but also
further, (1.) From the fact that the Apostle teaches that faith, not works,
was before as well as after Christ the condition of salvation. This, in his
Epistle to the Romans, he not only asserts, but proves. He argues that from
the nature of the case the justification of sinners by works is a
contradiction. If sinners, they are under condemnation for their works, and
therefore cannot be justified by them. Moreover he proves that the Old
Testament everywhere speaks of gratuitous forgiveness and acceptance of men
with God; but if gratuitous, it cannot be meritorious. He further argues from
the case of Abraham, who, according to the express declaration of the
Scriptures, was justified by faith; and he quotes from the old prophets the
great principle, true then as now, that the "just shall live by faith." (2.)
In the second place, he proves that the faith intended was faith in a promise
and not merely general piety or confidence toward God. Abraham, he says,
"staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in
faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what He had
promised He was able also to perform." (Rom. iv. 20, 21.) (3.) The Apostle
proves that the specific promise which was the object of the faith of the
patriarch was the promise of redemption through Christ. That promise they were
required to believe; and that the true people of God did believe. The mass of
the people mistook the nature of the redemption promised; but even in their
case it was the promise of redemption which was the object of their faith.
Those taught by the Spirit knew that it was a redemption from the guilt and
power of sin and from the consequent alienation from God. In Gal. iii. 14, the
Apostle therefore says that the blessing promised to Abraham has come upon the
Gentiles. That blessing, therefore was that which through the gospel is now
offered to all men.
Not only, therefore, from these explicit declarations that faith in the
promised Redeemer was required from the beginning, but from the admitted fact
that the Old Testament is full of the doctrine of redemption by the Messiah,
it follows that those who received the religion of the Old Testament received
that doctrine, and exercised faith in the promise of God concerning his Son.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is designed in great part to show that the whole of
the Old dispensation was an adumbration of the New, and that it loses all its
value and import if its reference to Christ be ignored. To deny, therefore,
that the faith of the Old Testament saints was a faith in the Messiah and his
redemption, is to deny that they had any knowledge of the import of the
revelations and promises of which they were the recipients.
Paul, in Rom. iii. 21, says that the method of salvation revealed in
the gospel had been already revealed in the law and the prophets; and his
definite object, in Gal. iii. 13-28, is to prove that the covenant under which
we live and according to the terms of which we are to be saved, is the
identical covenant made with Abraham, in which the promise of redemption was
made on the condition of faith in Him in whom all the nations of the earth
were to be blessed This is a covenant anterior to the Mosaic law, and which
that law could not set aside or invalidate.
The covenant of grace, or plan of salvation, being the same in all its
elements from the beginning, it follows, first, in opposition to the
Anabaptists, that the people of God before Christ constituted a Church, and
that the Church has been one and the same under all dispensations. It has
always had the same promise, the same Redeemer, and the same condition of
membership, namely, faith in the Son of God as the Saviour of the world.
It follows from the same premises, in opposition to the Romanists, that
the salvation of the people of God who died before the coming of Christ, was
complete. They were truly pardoned, sanctified, and, at death, admitted to
that state into which those dying in the Christian faith are now received.
This is confirmed by what our Lord and the Apostles teach. The salvation
promised us is that on which the Old Testament saints have already entered.
The Gentile believers are to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The
bosom of Abraham was the place of rest for all the faithful. All that Paul
claims for believers under the gospel is, that they are the sons of Abraham,
and partakers of his inheritance. If this is so, then the whole ritual theory
which assumes that grace and salvation are communicated only through Christian
sacraments must be false.
§ 7. Dffferent Dispensations.
First, from Adam to Abraham.
Although the covenant of grace has always been the same, the
dispensations of that covenant have changed. The first dispensation extended
from Adam to Abraham. Of this period we have so few records, that we cannot
determine how far the truth was revealed, or what measures were adopted for
its preservation. All we know is, that the original promises concerning the
seed of the woman, as the Redeemer of our race, had been given; and that the
worship of God by sacrifices had been instituted. That sacrifices were a
divine institution, and designed to teach the method of salvation, may be
inferred, (1.) From the fact that it is the method which the common
consciousness of men has everywhere led them to adopt. It is that which their
relation to God as sinners demanded. It is the dictate of conscience that
guilt requires expiation; and that expiation is made by the shedding of blood.
Sacrifices, therefore, not being an arbitrary institution, but one having its
foundation in our real relation to God as sinners, we may infer that it was by
his command, direct or indirect, that such sacrifices were offered. (2.) This
may also be inferred from God's approving them, adopting them, and
incorporating them in the religious observances subsequently enjoined. (3.)
The fact that man was to be saved by the sacrifice of Christ, and that this
was the great event to which the institutions of the earlier dispensations
refer, renders it clear that this reference was designed, and that it was
founded upon the institution of God.
The Second Dispensation.
The second dispensation extended from Abraham to Moses. This was
distinguished from the former, (1.) By the selection of the descendants of
Abraham to be the peculiar people of God. They were chosen in order to
preserve the knowledge of the true religion in the midst of the general
apostasy of mankind. To this end special revelations were made to them, and
God entered into a covenant with them, promising that He would be their God,
and that they should be his people. (2.) Besides thus gathering his Church out
of the world, and making its members a peculiar people, distinguished by
circumcision from the Gentiles around them, the promise of redemption was made
more definite. The Redeemer was to be of the seed of Abraham. He was to be one
person. The salvation He was to effect should pertain to all nations. (3.)
Subsequently it was made known that the Deliverer was to be of the tribe of
The Third Dispensation.
The third dispensation of this covenant was from Moses to Christ. All
that belonged to the previous periods was taken up and included in this. A
multitude of new ordinances of polity, worship, and religion were enjoined. A
priesthood and a complicated system of sacrifices were introduced. The
promises were rendered more definite, setting forth more clearly by the
instructions of the prophets the person and work of the coming Redeemer as the
prophet, priest, and king of his people. The nature of the redemption He was
to effect and the nature of the kingdom He was to establish were thus more and
more clearly revealed. We have the direct authority ot the New Testament for
believing that the covenant of grace, or plan of salvation, thus underlay the
whole of the institutions of the Mosaic period, and that their principal
design was to teach through types and symbols what is now taught in explicit
terms in the gospel. Moses, we are told (Heb. iii. 5), was faithful as a
servant to testify concerning the things which were to be spoken after.
Besides this evangelical character which unquestionably belongs to the
Mosaic covenant, it is presented in two other aspects in the Word of God.
First, it was a national covenant with the Hebrew people. In this view the
parties were God and the people of Israel; the promise was national security
and prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to
the Mosaic law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect it was a legal
covenant. It said. "Do this and live." Secondly, it contained, as does also
the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the original covenant of works.
It is as true now as in the days of Adam, it always has been and always must
be true, that rational creatures who perfectly obey the law of God are blessed
in the enjoyment of his favour; and that those who sin are subject to his
wrath and curse. Our Lord assured the young man who came to Him for
instruction that if he kept the commandments he should live. And Paul says
(Rom. ii. 6) that God will render to every man according to his deeds;
tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but glory,
honour, and peace to every man who worketh good. This arises from the relation
of intelligent creatures to God. It is in fact nothing but a declaration of
the eternal and immutable principles of justice. If a man rejects or neglects
the gospel, these are the principles, as Paul teaches in the opening chapters
of his Epistle to the Romans, according to which he will be judged. If he will
not be under grace, if he will not accede to the method of salvation by grace,
he is of necessity under the law.
These different aspects under which the Mosaic economy is presented
account for the apparently inconsistent way in which it in spoken of in the
New Testament. (1.) When viewed in relation to the people of God before the
advent, it is represented as divine and obligatory. (2.) When viewed in
relation to the state of the Church after the advent, it is declared to be
obsolete. It is represented as the lifeless husk from which the living kernel
and germ have been extracted, a body from which the soul has departed. (3.)
When viewed according to its true import and design as a preparatory
dispensation of the covenant of grace, it is spoken of as teaching the same
gospel, the same method of salvation as that which the Apostles themselves
preached. (4.) When viewed, in the light in which it was regarded by those who
rejected the gospel, as a mere legal system, it was declared to be a
ministration of death and condemnation. (2 Cor. iii. 6-18.) (5.) And when
contrasted with the new or Christian economy, as a different mode of revealing
the same covenant, it is spoken of as a state of tutelage and bondage, far
different from the freedom and filial spirit of the dispensation under which
we now live.
The Gospel Dispensation.
The gospel dispensation is called new in reference to the Mosaic
economy, which was old, and about to vanish away. It is distinguished from the
old economy, --
1. In being catholic, confined to no one people, but designed and
adapted to all nations and to all classes of men.
2. It is more spiritual, not only in that the types and ceremonies of
the Old Testament are done away, but also in that the revelation itself is
more inward and spiritual. What was then made known objectively, is now, to a
greater extent, written on the heart. (Heb. viii. 8-11.) It is incomparably
more clear and explicit in its teachings.
4. It is more purely evangelical. Even the New Testament, as we have
seen, contains a legal element, it reveals the law still as a covenant of
works binding on those who reject the gospel; but in the New Testament the
gospel greatly predominates over the law. Whereas, under the Old Testament,
the law predominated over the gospel.
5. The Christian economy is specially the dispensation of the Spirit.
The great blessing promised of old, as consequent on the coming of Christ, was
the effusion of the Spirit on all flesh, i. e., on all nations and on all
classes of mnen. This was so distinguishing a characteristic of the Messianic
period that the evangelist says, "The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because
that Jesus was not yet glorified." (John vii. 39.) Our Lord promised tha after
his death and ascension He would send the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, to
abide with his people, to guide them into the knowledge of the truth, and to
convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come. He
charged the Apostles to remain at Jerusalem until they had received this power
from on high. And in explanation of the events of the day of Pentecost, the
Apostle Peter said, "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are
witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having
received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this,
which ye now see and hear." (Acts ii. 32, 33.)
6. The old dispensation was temporary and preparatory; the new is
permanent and final. In sending forth his disciples to preach the gospel, and
in promising them the gift of the Spirit, He assured them that He would be
with them in that work unto the end of the world. This dispensation is,
therefore, the last before the restoration of all things; the last, that is,
designed for the conversion of men and the ingathering of the elect.
Afterwards comes the end; the resurrection and the final judgment. In the Old
Testament there are frequent intimations of another and a better economy, to
which the Mosaic institutions were merely preparatory. But we have no
intimation in Scripture that the dispensation of the Spirit is to give way for
a new and better dispensation for the conversion of the nations. When the
gospel is fully preached, then comes the end.
1. Chap. vii. sec. 3.
2. Ques. 31.
3. XII. ii. 12; edit. Edinburgh, 1847, vol. ii. pp. 157, 158.
4. De OEconomia Foederum, lib. III. ii. 1, edit. 1712, p. 130.
5. XII. ii. 5, edit. Edinburgh, 1847, vol. ii. p. 156.
6. Chap. vii. sec. 3.
7. Edit. Leyden, 1630, p. 91.
8. Institutiones Theologicae, III. iv. 1; Works, Amsterdam,
1650, vol. i. p. 156.