I. The STAGES of the Covenant of Grace:
A) The Inauguration of the Covenant of Grace (Genesis 3:15): This is the first promise we're given in Scripture of a redeemer who would come into the world to save God's people from the sin and death into which they were plunged in Adam. All the successive divine covenants are built on this promise.
B) The Noahic Covenant (Genesis 6,9): In God's covenant with Noah, we have both a continuation and enlargement of the same gospel mercies that God had announced to Adam in Genesis 3:15. In this covenant with Noah, we come to learn even more about this redeemer and the salvation that He would accomplish for God's people. In the Noahic Covenant, we're pointed to Christ and the gospel primarily through pictures, as both Noah himself and his ark are meant to teach us truths about Jesus.
C) The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12,15,17): In God's covenant with Abraham, we're once again given a continuation and enlargement of the same gospel mercies which God had promised to Adam and confirmed to Noah. But whereas God's covenant with Noah sets forth Christ primarily through pictures, here with Abraham we're pointed to Jesus and the gospel primarily through promises; for the promises that the Lord makes to him of a land, a seed, and blessing are ultimately fulfilled in Christ.
D) The Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 20-24):In God's covenant with Israel under Moses, we have once again a continuation and enlargement of the same gospel mercies which God promised to Adam and confirmed to Noah and to Abraham. Through the Law that God gives at Sinai, we come face to face with the righteous character of our Creator; but there's also more, for in the person of Moses himself, as well as in God's redeeming His people from Egypt, and in the manna, the rock, the sacrifices, and the tabernacle, we're also pointed ahead once again to the person and work of the coming Redeemer.
E) The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89): In God's covenant with David, we have once again both a continuation and enlargement of the same gospel mercies that have gone before. Here in this covenant with David, God comes to him, promising to raise up for him one of his descendants, who would sit on his throne, and who would build for the Lord a house, and whose kingdom would never end; and though it seems at first glance all these promises find their fruition in David's son Solomon, we come to learn that these promises of David's seed and throne are ultimately fulfilled only in Jesus.
F) The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31 and Luke 22:20, etc): In the new covenant, we have the ultimate fulfillment of everything that has gone before. All the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament pointed us forward to Jesus. Now, with the coming of Christ, the pictures have finally become a reality; the shadows have truly taken on their substance; and the promises have at last found their fulfillment. Jesus came into the world as the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, and the seed of David, in order to reverse the work of the snake and accomplish redemption for His people.
II. The UNITY of the Covenant of Grace:
So, to be sure, there are various stages or manifestations, but all these manifestations are part of one single, over-arching covenant—the Covenant of Grace. These various manifestations aren't separated or isolated from each other; and they don't replace or nullify each other, but they're unified and build upon one another. So, the Covenant of Grace isn't to be understood as a series of isolated or separate covenants, but rather as a single, unified covenant that contains various stages and manifestations. We can see the unity of the Covenant of Grace being set forth in Scripture in at least a few different ways:
A) Scripture ties together the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace LINGUISTICALLY: Psalm 25:14 says this: “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant.” (notice the singular tense). We read again in Psalm 74:20: “Consider the covenant”(notice again it's in the singular). And in the same way, Psalm 111 says, “He has given food to those who fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever”; and, “He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever.” (vv5,9). Which covenant is it that all these Scriptures are speaking of? It's the Covenant of Grace. Because though it's true there are many distinct manifestations of the Covenant of Grace, Scripture speaks of the Covenant of Grace as one single over-arching covenant.1
It's also significant that the same phrase,“My covenant,” is used to describe each and every successive stage in the Covenant of Grace. In Scripture, God uses these words, “My covenant,” to describe His covenant with Noah (in both Genesis 6:18 and 9:9ff), His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:2-21), His covenant at Sinai (Exodus 19:5), and His covenant with David (Psalm 89:28,34). I have a favorite coffee mug hanging adjacent to our kitchen. It's always the mug that I use to drink my morning coffee and afternoon tea. If I asked my wife to bring “a mug”, she'd bring any of the other ones we have, but if I ask her about “my mug”, she knows exactly which one I'm talking about. And it's similar with how God speaks in Scripture, when He calls this Covenant of Grace, with which He enters into with man, “My covenant.” This isn't just one covenant among many; it's one-of-a-kind. After Adam violated the Covenant of Works, there's just one covenant to speak of. The covenant which God makes with His people is His covenant—it's His very own, one-of-a-kind, personal and exclusive, Covenant of Grace.2
B) Scripture ties together the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace HISTORICALLY: There's a fundamental unity between the stages of the Covenant of Grace in their historical outworking; and we can see it, first of all, in the unity between the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants. For one thing, the whole reason God sent Moses to deliver His people from Egypt [IE, the Mosaic Covenant] was that He “remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exodus 2:24). So then, the Mosaic Covenant didn't nullify the Abrahamic Covenant at all; rather, God's covenant at Sinai was established in order to bring fulfillment to the promises He had spoken to Abraham. Further, when the people of Israel rebel against the Lord by making a golden calf, and God threatens to destroy them, the way Moses delivers them is by reminding the Lord of the promises He had established in the Abrahamic covenant: “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever'” (Exodus 32:13).
And we see the same unity between the Mosaic and Davidic Covenants, for when God establishes His covenant with David, He identifies himself as the God who had “brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt” (2 Samuel 7:6); and David also, having just received the promises God had made to him in the Davidic Covenant, responds by glorying in the promises God was continuing to uphold to His people Israel in the Mosaic Covenant, saying, “For You have established for Yourself Your people Israel as Your own people forever, and You, O Lord, have become their God.” (vv23-24). And later, as David lay on his death-bed, the charge which he gives to his son Solomon has everything to do with the Law that God had given under the Mosaic Covenant; for he says: “Keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do. . .” (1 Kings 2:3). So again, the Davidic Covenant in no way nullified the covenant God had established at Sinai.
We even see a fundamental unity between the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, for Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, binds these two covenants together at the beginning of the gospel of Luke, and sees the coming of the Christ as the fulfillment of both of them, as he sings: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant. . .to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father. . .” (Luke 1:68-73).
And indeed, as Zacharias understood, all the Old Testament manifestations of the Covenant of Grace are unified together as they find their fulfillment in Christ. We see this most clearly in Ezekiel 37:24-28, where the prophet weaves together all the Old Testament manifestations, looking forward to their ultimate fulfillment in the new covenant. He says: “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd [the Davidic Covenant]; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them [the Mosaic Covenant]. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons' sons, forever [the Abrahamic Covenant]; and David My servant will be their prince forever [the Davidic Covenant]. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them.” So again, the successive manifestations of the Covenant of Grace don't nullify or replace one another, but they're bound together and brought to fulfillment with the coming of the new covenant in Christ.3
C) Scripture ties together the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace THEMATICALLY: Not only are the various manifestations of the Covenant of Grace bound together linguistically and historically; they're also woven together with a single phrase that truly embodies what God's covenant relationship with His people is all about: “I will be their God, and they will be My people.” This is the essence of the Covenant of Grace, and we see it throughout God's covenantal dealings with His people. We see this same phrase in God's covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:7), in His covenant with Israel at Sinai (Exodus 6:6-7; 19:5); and in His covenant with David in the context of speaking of the new covenant in Christ (Ezekiel 34:23-24). This is the essence and goal of God's covenant; for Him to be our God, and us to be His people. Indeed, “the heart of the covenant is the declaration that God is with us.”4
III. The PROGRESSION of the Covenant of Grace:
So then, there's a fundamental unity between each of the successive manifestations of the Covenant of Grace. But there's also a progression in each successive stage. The manifestations of the Covenant of Grace (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sinai, David) aren't just bound together; but they also build on each other. In each successive covenant in the Covenant of Grace, we come to learn more and more about the redemption God would accomplish for His people. A few examples might be helpful for us here:
A) A seed growing into a tree: We might say the story of redemption began in “seed form” with the promise to Adam in Genesis 3:15. And with each successive manifestation of the Covenant of Grace, that seed begins to grow more and more; we come to better understand God's plan of redemption as it progressively unfolds through the Scriptures. The new covenant is the full grown tree—the tree in its fullest and final form. But now, as we look back on that tree as it was a sapling, a sprout, and merely a seed, we understand it was always the same tree from the very beginning, but it was moving through progressive stages of visible growth. The truth is, the gospel that is so clear in its full form in the new covenant is equally present in the Old Testament manifestations of the Covenant of Grace (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sinai, David), but it is so in seed (or sprout or sapling!) form. With each successive manifestation, we learn more about Christ and the redemption He would accomplish for His people.
B) A musical symphony: Each successive covenant in the Covenant of Grace is like another track in the masterpiece of redemption. It starts with the bass; then you add the synthesizer, then the strings, then the percussion, then you throw in the vocals—and it's absolutely breathtaking. Each layer of an orchestra unifies, complements, and builds upon the whole. So too, each successive manifestation of the Covenant of Grace unifies, complements, and builds upon the whole of the story of redemption.5
IV. The DYNAMICS of the Covenant of Grace:
So, again, the Covenant of Grace is about the gospel. It's about Jesus and the redemption He would provide for His people. The Old Testament stages of the Covenant of Grace—God's covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David—all point us forward to the Savior. But if that's so, why is it so hard to see Him? Because they do so softly; in whispers; through pictures and types. They're like shadows of Jesus' figure, or reflections of Him on the water. He's there, but if we don't look carefully, we might miss Him; and this is because each successive manifestation of the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament contains the temporal as well as the eternal. Think about a kernel of rice. It has an outward shell, the husk; and the husk is there to protect the kernel of grain on the inside as it grows. Well, from the outside, you only see the husk. But inside lies the grain. And at the right time—when the rice is ready—the husk is opened up. Then the grain is taken—and the husk is no longer needed.
This is what it's like with the Old Testament manifestations of the Covenant of Grace. We see Jesus, but through shadows and reflections. The gospel is there, but it's wrapped with an outer husk. God's covenant with Noah is meant to teach us about Jesus and His redemption, but it does so through the outward husk of a world-wide flood. God's covenant with Abraham is meant to teach us about Jesus and His redemption, but it does so through outward-husk promises about a land, a seed, and blessing. God's covenant with Israel through Moses is meant to teach us about Jesus and His redemption, but it does so through the outward husk of the Passover, the tabernacle with its sacrifices, the feasts, and God's Law. And God's Covenant with David is meant to teach us about Jesus and His redemption, but it does so through the outward husk of temporal promises about David's kingdom and the house of the Lord. All of these point us to Christ—but we have to look past the husk to get to the kernel.6
V. The ESSENCE of the Covenant of Grace:
The covenants are wrapped with an outward husk, but the inner kernel is the gospel. And as we saw earlier, the essence of the gospel promise is summarized throughout the Old Testament stages of the Covenant of Grace in this way: “I shall be your God, and you shall be My people.” The heartbeat of the Covenant of Grace is that God would come to accomplish redemption on behalf of a sinful and helpless human race. He would redeem a people for himself. He would do it by sending Christ into the world to shed His blood for guilty sinners. He would save them by grace alone (not their merit). He would save them through faith alone (not their good works). And He would save them in Christ alone. Salvation would come as a person. In Adam, humanity was ruined. But in Christ, God would redeem a people from Adam's fallen race. And we would be His people; and He would be our God.
It's important to see that God's provision of salvation has been the same from the very beginning. Old Testament believers weren't saved any other way than we are today. They were saved by God's grace through faith in Christ, the same way that we are. It's just that they looked forward to Him; while we look backward. Up until the coming of Jesus and the inauguration of the new covenant, salvation was promised; now in the new covenant, salvation has been performed. But God's provision of salvation has always been the same. It was no different for Old Testament believers. Whether Old Testament or New, we enter into God's covenant mercies by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.7
VI. The REQUIREMENTS of the Covenant of Grace:
There's one question in particular that arises here: Does the gospel have any conditions? Does grace mean that there's nothing I must do to enter into God's peace and blessing? The Covenant of Grace makes wonderful promises—but does it also contain certain requirements? Theologians would ask it this way: Is the Covenant of Grace conditional or unconditional? Does God's grace have conditions?
In short, Scripture tells us the gospel has no conditions—but it does have requirements. For instance, our Savior warned that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20; cf.13:43). So, righteousness is a requirement in the gospel. Likewise,Jesus said that unless a man is born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5). So, the new birth—regeneration—is required in the Covenant of Grace. The Scriptures also make it clear that both faith and repentance are necessary for salvation, for Hebrews11:6 tells us, “Without faith it is impossible to please[God]”and Jesus says,“unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke13:3,5). So, there's no question that there are requirements in the Covenant of Grace.8
But the beautiful, freeing, wonderful thing about the Covenant of Grace is that everything which God requires of us He also freely provides for us. Indeed, every requirement in the Covenant of Grace is also freely promised as a gift to God's people. There are certain things God requires in His covenant, but since man is completely unable to fulfill those requirements, God has taken the work of fulfilling those requirements upon himself. That's why we call God's covenant with man the covenant of grace. God requires a perfect righteousness, and God's very own righteousness is given to us in justification (see Isaiah 46:13; 51:6; 59:16; Jeremiah 33:16; Romans 5:17; Philippians 3:8-9). God requires a new heart—a circumcised heart—and His Spirit does this work in us in regeneration (Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 36:26-27). God requires of us faith and repentance, and the Scriptures speak of both of these as gifts that God himself gives to His people (cf.Acts 5:31; 2 Timothy 2:25; Ephesians 2:8-9). Indeed, everything that God requires of us, He himself also freely provides for us in the Covenant of Grace.9
VII. The NAMES of the Covenant of Grace:
The name “Covenant of Grace” is a helpful phrase to describe God's covenant with men because this is what God's covenant is all about—it's truly a covenant of grace. Under the Covenant of Works, God gave Adam what he deserved—but in the gospel, God deals with His people according to grace. So, the name is good. But you won't find this exact phrase in Scripture. Rather, when the Bible speaks of the Covenant of Grace, it usually uses these expressions, which also teach us more about its attributes:
A) My covenant (Genesis 6:18; 9:9-15; 17:2-21; Exodus 19:5; Psalm 89:28,34): As we noted earlier, God often refers to the Covenant of Grace as simply, “My covenant.” This phrase reminds us of the fact that God is the sole AUTHOR of the Covenant of Grace. It's not a covenant we make with God; it's a covenant, rather, that God makes with us. This will become crystal clear as we study through the divine covenants together. It's God's covenant—and He establishes it with those whom He chooses.
B) My covenant of peace (Isaiah 54:10; Ezekiel 34:25; 37:26): This phrase describes the NATURE of the Covenant of Grace. It's called a covenant of peace because it results in peace with God. God reconciles real sinners to himself; establishing peace through the blood of the new covenant: “For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in [Christ], and through Him to reconcile all things to himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross. . .” (Colossians 1:19-20).
C) The everlasting covenant (Genesis 9:16; 17:7-19; Psalm 105:10; Isaiah 24:5; 55:3; Jeremiah 32:40; Ezekiel 16:60; 37:26): This phrase highlights the DURATION of the Covenant of Grace. When the Lord enters into covenant relationship with someone, it's forever. This means that God's covenant is absolutely irrevocable; when God covenants with you, it's for all eternity. And it's for this reason that the Scriptures tell us: “Israel has been saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation.” (Isaiah 45:17).
So, to summarize, you are hand-chosen by Godin the Covenant of Grace. You are wholly reconciled to God in the Covenant of Grace. And you are eternally secure in Godin the Covenant of Grace. I hope this is an encouragement, and I pray for God's blessing as we begin our study of the covenants.
1 John Gill explains Psalm 25:14 in this way: “and he will show them his covenant: the covenant of grace, which was made with Christ for them from eternity, [and] is made known to them in time, when they are called by the grace of God, and made partakers of the grace of the covenant; then the Lord reveals himself as their covenant God and Father; shows them that his Son is their surety, Mediator, Redeemer, and Savior; puts his Spirit into them to implant covenant grace in them, to seal up the blessings of it to them, and bear witness to their interest in them, as pardon, justification, and adoption; and to apply the exceeding great and precious promises of it to them.” And again, Gill clarifies Psalm 74:20 in this way: “not the covenant of works, which being broken, no good thing was to be expected from it, not liberty, life, nor eternal salvation, but all the reverse; but the covenant of grace, made with Christ before the world was, and made manifest to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to David, and others. This God has a respect unto, and does look unto it; he looks to the surety and Mediator of it, which is Christ, for the fulfillment of all conditions in it; to the promises of it, that they may be made good; to the blessings of it, that they be bestowed upon the persons to whom they belong; to the blood of it, for the delivering of the church's prisoners, and the salvation of them from wrath to come; and to the persons interested in it, that they be all called and brought safe to glory; and particularly to the things in it, respecting the glory of the church in the latter day, and increase of its members, and of its light, which seem chiefly designed here.” And Charles Spurgeon says of Psalm 111:5,9: “He will ever be mindful of his covenant. No promise of the Lord shall fall to the ground, nor will any part of the great compact of eternal love be revoked or allowed to sink into oblivion. The covenant of grace is the plan of the great work which the Lord works out for his people, and it will never be departed from: the Lord has set his hand and seal to it, his glory and honor are involved in it, yea, his very name hangs upon it, and he will not even in the least jot or tittle cease to be mindful of it. . .” (from The Treasury of David).
2 This is also true for the other names and titles Scripture uses for the Covenant of Grace. Aside from simply calling it, “My covenant”, we'll show later that the Lord also refers to the Covenant of Grace as His “covenant of peace” and “the everlasting covenant”; and both of these names are used to refer to various distinctive manifestations of the Covenant of Grace: 1) The name “covenant of peace” refers to the new covenant in Ezekiel 34:25 and 37:26; but in Isaiah 54:9-10, Scripture emphatically links together God's covenant of peace with the Noahic Covenant. Likewise, “the everlasting covenant,” another title for the Covenant of Grace, is used to describe the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:16); as well as God's covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 17:7ff; Psalm 105:10); His covenant with David (Isaiah 55:3); and the new covenant (Isaiah 55:3; Jeremiah 32:40; Ezekiel 16:60; 37:26). And actually, in the last reference (Ezekiel 37:26), the “everlasting covenant” is linked together with God's “covenant of peace” in describing the coming of the new covenant as the fulfillment of the Covenant of Grace.
3 Many of the insights from this section are gratefully gleaned from Robertson's, Christ of the Covenants (pp28-45). Robertson concludes his section in this way: “The covenant structure of Scripture manifests a marvelous unity. God, in binding a people to himself, never changes. For this reason, the covenants of God relate organically to one another. From Adam to Christ, a unity of covenantal administration characterizes the history of God's dealing with His people.” (Christ of the Covenants, p45).
4 The quote is from Robertson's Christ of the Covenants (p46). Robertson devotes a lot of time to this subject of the thematic unity of the covenants. He says: “The divine covenants of Scripture are bound together not only by a structural unity. They manifest also a thematic unity. This unity of theme is the heart of the covenant as it relates God to his people. Throughout the biblical record of God's administration of the covenant, a single phrase recurs as the summation of the covenant relationship: 'I shall be your God, and you shall be my people.' The constant repetition of this phrase or its equivalent indicates the unity of God's covenant. This phrase may be designated as the 'Immanuel principle' of the covenant. The heart of the covenant is the declaration that 'God is with us.'” (Robertson, pp45-46). Robertson goes on to note of the Immanuel principle: “Several aspects of this unifying theme of God's covenant may be noted: 1) First of all, this theme appears explicitly in connection with the Abrahamic, the Mosaic, the Davidic, and the new covenant [cf. Genesis 17:7; Exodus 6:6-7; Ezekiel 34:24; Hebrews 8:10 and 2 Corinthians 6:16]. . . 2) Secondly, the theme 'I shall be your God and you shall be my people' is developed particularly in association with God's actually dwelling in the midst of His people [IE, through the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple of Solomon, which served to fore-picture the reality of Ezekiel 37:26-28, which, in turn, is ultimately realized in Revelation 21:3]. . . 3) Finally, the theme 'I shall be your God and you shall be my people' reaches its climax through its embodiment in a single person [IE, the Lord Jesus, who came to 'tabernacle' among us; cf. John 1:14].” (pp45-52).
5 As Roberts puts it: “In her infancy He gives her the A B C of the covenant, teaching her to spell His grace, in the promised seed of the woman; and in saving a remnant in the ark by water from perishing with the world of the wicked. In her youth and non-age he trains her up under a more rigid and severe discipline of Mosaical administrations, as under tutors and governors, yet in hopes of after-freedom. In her full age He invests her with new covenant liberties and enjoyments in Christ revealed, delivering her from all her former bondage.” (pp8-9). And again: “Every dispensation of the Covenant of Faith since the fall, preached Christ and the gospel in Him; but the later dispensations do this still much more clearly and fully than the former, and [the] last most fully and clearly of all.” (p1101). And: “The substance of the Covenant of Faith is still the same, but yet it still more and more excels itself in gradual perfections, till it attain[s] to the most perfect of all dispensations, the new covenant. . .Every covenant tends to improve and advance in some regard or other, the further revelation of Christ.” (pp1216-17).
6 As the Westminster Larger Catechism #34 puts it: “The covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the passover, and other types and ordinances, which did all fore-signify Christ then to come, and were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal salvation.” And Robertson notes: “some distinction must be made between the abiding kernel of Old Testament realities and the temporary husk which surrounded them.” (p74). Pink says: “Each covenant that God made with men shadowed forth some element of the everlasting covenant which He entered into with Christ before the foundation of the world on behalf of His elect. The covenants which God made with Noah, Abraham, and David as truly exhibited different aspects of the compact of grace as did the several vessels in the tabernacle typify certain characteristics of the person and work of Christ. Yet, just as those vessels also had an immediate and local use, so the covenants respected what was earthly and carnal, as well as what was spiritual and heavenly.”(Divine Covenants). And Vos also: “The covenant. . .had a double side, one that had in view temporal benefits—like the promise of the land of Canaan, numerous descendants, protection against earthly enemies—and one that had in view spiritual benefits. Nevertheless, this is to be so understood that the earthly and temporal were not for their own sake, but rather so that they would provide a type of the spiritual and heavenly.” (V2, p128).
7 Herman Hoeksema helpfully draws out the essence of the covenant as he defines the Covenant of Grace in this way: “this covenant is not conceived as a means to an end, as a way unto salvation, but as the very end itself, as the very highest that can ever be reached by the creature: not as a way to life, but as the highest form of life itself; not as a condition, but as the very essence of religion; not as a means unto salvation, but as the highest bliss itself. . .as the proper essence of religion and salvation. . .If the essence of the covenant in God is the communion of friendship, this must also be the essence of the covenant between God and man. . .Then the covenant is the very essence of religion. . .The covenant is the relation of the most intimate communion of friendship, in which God reflects his own covenant life in his relation to the creature, gives to that creature life, and causes him to taste and acknowledge the highest good and the overflowing fountain of all good. . .the covenant is not a way to a certain end, is not a means to the attainment of a certain purpose, and is not the manner wherein we are saved. . .Not a way, and not a means, but the final destination and the all-dominating purpose, is the covenant of God.” (Reformed Dogmatics, V1, pp454-60). It might provide some clarity here to distinguish the fact that as it's true the Covenant of Grace isn't itself the means whereby we are saved; yet, the appointed means of entering into the Covenant of Grace is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Roberts also notes: “The substance of God's covenants of Faith was but one, though the circumstances of the several discoveries were diverse. The several covenant discoveries of God's Covenant of Faith, were in several times, to several persons, in several places, upon several occasions, in several ways of manifestation, confirmation, and administration, according to the wise pleasure of the Lord for His peoples' best advantage. The circumstances were very various; but the essence and substance of them all was one and the same, [namely] the revealing and tendering of one and the same Messiah Jesus Christ to His people, as their only all-sufficient Savior through faith.”(Mystery and Marrow, p1222).
8 The distinction between conditions and requirements is important. Conditions usually look to ourselves for fulfillment, but requirements can be met by God. Turretin highlights the massive range of meaning concerning the definition of a condition: a) “A condition can be regarded as something that has meriting power and by its own nature confers a right to the benefits of the covenant, but also as prerequisite and means, as an accompanying disposition in the member of the covenant.” And: b) “A condition can be regarded as to be fulfilled through natural capabilities, or to be fulfilled through supernatural grace.” (Quoted in Vos, V2, p112). We affirm: a) “The covenant of grace is not conditional in the sense that in it there would be any condition with meriting power.” And further: b) “The covenant of grace is not conditional in the sense that what is required of man would have to be accomplished in his own strength. . .[for] What is a condition for all is thus for them also a promise, a gift of the covenant. . .Everything that is required of us toward God is at the same time a gift from Christ to us. . .” (Vos, V2, p113, 116). To eliminate any confusion we have opted for the language of “requirements” over the language of “conditions.” God requires certain things of us (the new birth, faith, repentance, etc), but since these are also things He himself freely provides to His people, it's better to call them requirements. They're not conditions that God expects us to perform. They are indeed requirements—but those that God himself has promised to provide for His blood-bought people. Witsius says: “A condition of a covenant, properly so called, is that action, which, being performed, gives a man a right to the reward. But that such a condition cannot be required of us in the covenant of grace, is self-evident; because a right to life neither is, nor indeed can be founded on any action of ours, but on the righteousness of our Lord alone; who having perfectly fulfilled the righteousness of the law for us, nothing can, in justice, be required of us to perform, in order to acquire a right already fully purchased for us. And indeed, in this all the orthodox readily agree.” (V1, p284). And again: “Here [in the Covenant of Grace] conditions are offered to which eternal salvation is annexed; conditions, not to be performed again by us, which might throw the mind into despondency; but by him who would not part with his life before he had truly said, 'It is finished.'” (V1, pp164-65). John Gill says in his Body of Divinity: “Some, indeed, make it to be a conditional covenant, and faith and repentance to be the conditions of it. But these are not conditions, but blessings of the covenant, and are as absolutely promised in it, as anything else; the promise of a 'new heart', and of a 'new spirit', includes the gift of faith, and every other grace; and that of taking away the 'stony heart', and giving an 'heart of flesh', is fully expressive of the gift of the grace of repentance (Ezekiel 36:26). Besides, if these were conditions of the covenant, to be performed by men in their own strength, in order to be admitted into it, and receive the benefits of it; they would be as hard, and as difficult to be performed, as the condition of the covenant of works, perfect obedience; since faith requires, to the production of it, almighty power, even such as was put forth in raising Christ from the dead, (Ephesians 1:19,20); and though God may give men means, and time, and space of repentance, yet if he does not give them grace to repent, they never will. Christ's work, and the Spirit's grace, supersede all conditions in the covenant, respecting men; since they provide for everything that can be thought of, that is required or is wanting.” And Thomas Boston writes: “The covenant is described to us, by the Holy Ghost, as a cluster of free promises of grace and glory to poor sinners, in which no mention is made of any condition [Hebrews 8:10-12]. These promises with their condition, having been proposed to, and accepted by Christ as second Adam, and the condition performed by him; the covenant comes natively, in the gospel, to be set before us in them, to be by us received and embraced in and through Christ, by faith. . .And in this indeed, the covenant of grace is not conditional, but consists of absolute promises; that is, promises become absolute, through the condition thereof actually performed already; but being considered in its full altitude, and in respect of Christ, the covenant, and all the promises thereof, are properly and strictly conditional.” (Boston, View of the Covenant of Grace, pp99-100).
9 John Ball writes: “The covenant in Scripture does sometimes signify an absolute promise of God, without any stipulation at all. . .Of this kind is the covenant wherein God promises that He will give His elect faith and perseverance, to which promise no condition annexed can be conceived in mind, which is not comprehended in the promise itself (Hebrews 8:10).” (Treatise, p3). And Boston likewise: “According to the Scripture, the elect's believing, repenting, and sincere obedience, do belong to the promissory part of the covenant. If we consider them in their original situation, they are benefits promised in the covenant, by God, unto Christ the Surety, as a reward of his fulfilling the condition of the covenant.” (View, p58). Witsius notes: “Here conditions are offered to which eternal salvation is annexed; conditions, not to be performed again by us, which might throw the mind into despondency; but by him who would not part with his life before he had truly said, 'It is finished.' ” (V1, p165). And again, “For whatever can be conceived as a condition, is all included in the universality of the promises.” (V1, p286). Bavinck writes: “In the covenant of grace, that is, in the gospel, which is the proclamation of the covenant of grace, there are actually no demands and no conditions. For God supplies what he demands. Christ has accomplished everything, and though he did not accomplish rebirth, faith, and repentance in our place, he did acquire them for us, and the Holy Spirit therefore applies them.” (Dogmatics, V3, p230). And Berkhof concludes: “That which may be regarded as a condition in the covenant, is for those who are chosen unto everlasting life also a promise, and therefore a gift of God.” (Systematic Theology).