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Did the Covenant of Grace Exist During the Old Testament?

On 03, Jul 2017 | In | By admin

1689 Federalism teaches that only the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. Neither the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, nor Davidic covenants were the Covenant of Grace. Neither was the Covenant of Grace established in Genesis 3:15.

The question then naturally arises: Did the Covenant of Grace exist during the Old Testament? The 1689 Federalism answer to this question centers around the meaning of “established”/”enacted” (Hebrews 8:6).

First, the 2LBCF states in 7.3 that “it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality…” Among its references on this particular statement are Hebrews 11:6, 13 “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him… by faith Noah… by faith Abraham… All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Rom 4:1, 2, &cWhat then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'” and John 8:56 “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Thus when we identify the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant alone, we do not exclude those who lived before the establishment of the New Covenant – notably Abraham – from “the grace of this covenant.” Nor do we believe that they waited to receive this grace until the death of Christ. In sum, this New Covenant of Grace was extant and effectual under the Old Testament, so as the church was saved by virtue thereof.

How can we affirm this while at the same time holding that the New Covenant of Grace was not established until the death of Christ? In the same way that we can affirm that Abraham and other OT saints were covered by the blood of Christ prior to Christ’s actual death on the cross (2LBCF 8.6). Christ promised the Father he would fulfill his work in the Covenant of Redemption, thus securing the redemption of the elect. Thus it was a guaranteed certainty that the OT saints could “take to the bank.”

If the New Covenant of Grace was “in effect” since Genesis 3:15, then how can we say it was not established until the death of Christ? First, because its legal effectiveness as a covenant is entirely rooted in the death of Christ. Second, because the “establishment” of the New Covenant refers also to its being reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance – to its being made visible. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, was then made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church. When the New Covenant was given out only in the way of a promise (Gen 3:15, etc), it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was then brought to light, and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was then solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. All the obedience required in it, all the worship appointed by it, all the privileges exhibited in it, and the grace administered with them, were all given for a statute, law, and ordinance unto the church.

The basic idea of the Covenant of Grace revealed and “in effect” prior to its legal establishment (where it is given ordinances of worship) is articulated by Louis Berkhof. “The first revelation of the covenant is found in the protevangel, Gen. 3:15. Some deny that this has any reference to the covenant; and it certainly does not refer to any formal establishment of a covenant… Up to the time of Abraham there was no formal establishment of the covenant of grace. While Gen. 3:15 already contains the elements of this covenant, it does not record a formal transaction by which the covenant was established. It does not even speak explicitly of a covenant. The establishment of the covenant with Abraham marked the beginning of an institutional Church.” We would simply say that the New Covenant, not the Abrahamic Covenant, was the formal establishment of the Covenant of Grace.

The following are statements by 1689 Federalism theologians affirming the above.

Samuel & Micah Renihan:

Christ is the one and only federal head of the covenant of grace, the New Covenant… [T]he covenant of grace is the retro-active application of the New Covenant…

The fact that we see this redemption promised and typified from the fall onward has led Reformed theologians to see God’s grace extending into history prior to the incarnation and death of Christ. Where God’s grace extended into the past, it came by way of covenant, wherein Christ’s blood of the New Covenant was retroactively applied to those who believed in the promise, and that retroactivity of the New Covenant was and remains distinct from the Old Covenant. Thus, Christ’s people have always been those who were promised to him by the Father, and it is those people for whom he spilled his blood.

Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology, in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage, p. 487, 490

Nehemiah Coxe

During the time of the law… [t]he children of God after the Spirit (though as underage children they were subject to the pedagogy of the law, yet) as to their spiritual and eternal state, walked before God and found acceptance with him on terms of the covenant of grace… this spiritual relationship to God [was] according to the terms of the new covenant which the truly godly then had[.]

Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ, p. 133

Samuel Renihan

The language of administration is extremely nebulous and problematic. Many responses to the above videos and data [referring to] have pushed back by saying that the old covenant(s) were means through which OT believers obtained salvation, and thus were “Administrations” in the sense of “getting thing A to person B.” Surely that is the case. LBCF 8.6 confesses this…

But while the use of administration in the WCF includes the notion of “getting thing A to person B,” its use of “Administration” refers more fully to “a diverse manner of dispensing, and outward managing the making of the covenant with men, but the covenant was still one and the same, clothed and set forth in a diverse manner, and did no other ways differ then and now, but as one and the self same man differeth from himself, cloathed sutably one way in his minority, and another in his riper age.” [David Dickson, Therapeutica Sacra (Edinburgh: 1697), 142.] The administration is the outward visible form of covenantal life and organization…

The question is, was the old covenant a visible organizational form of covenantal life for the covenant of grace? The question is not, were the benefits of Christ’s mediation available in the old covenant? All are agreed on the second question. It is the first question that needs careful answering. This is the difference between the substance of the covenant of grace being revealed in the old covenant and actually being the old covenant in an older form.

Particular Baptists and the Substance/Administration Distinction

Jeffery Johnson

The 1689 does not claim that the Mosaic Covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace. Rather, it simply says that the covenant of grace was innately revealed in the protoevangelium (Genesis 3:15), and then with greater clarity it was revealed throughout the progression of the Old Testament dispensation until it came to its fullest manifestation in the New Testament: “This covenant is revealed [not established] in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by further steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament” (7:3).

More explicitly, the 1689 says that the covenant of grace, which was established by the blood of Jesus, was retroactive during the Old Testament dispensation: “Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ until after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages” (8:6). This is in agreement with Benjamin Keach who said: “All believers, who lived under the Old Testament, were saved by the covenant of grace, which Christ was to establish.”2

This implies that the covenant of grace is identical to the New Covenant. So rather than the covenant of grace being established through various administrations of the different covenants of the Old Testament (Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic), it was established by Christ in the New Covenant. Therefore, Old Testament believers were saved by faith in Christ, in the same way New Testament believers are saved by faith in Christ. Or as paragraph 3 states: “It is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality” (7:3).

The Confession of 1689 and Covenant Theology

Pascal Denault

The covenant of grace is, simply put, salvation by grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone… The Epistle to the Hebrews attributes directly to the grace of the New Covenant (the covenant of grace), the salvation of those who were called since the fall:

And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).

Even if the sacrifice of the covenant of grace by which all blessings proceed was not shed till long after the promise was made, many had already been called and did possess by faith the eternal inheritance. The retroactive efficacy of the New Covenant is one of the main reasons why many Particular Baptists equated the covenant of grace with the New Covenant…

Where Was the Covenant of Grace During the Old Covenant Time?

If the Old Covenant was not an administration of the covenant of grace what was it and where was the covenant of grace during this time? The first part of LBC 7:3 answers this question:

This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament…

The 1689 federalism replaced the paedobaptist concept of one covenant of grace under different administrations by the one covenant of grace revealed by farther steps model…

The New Covenant is the concrete manifestation of the heavenly realities in the visible world. It’s only by this covenant (New Covenant) that the eternal inheritance (eternal covenant of redemption/covenant of grace) is given (Hebrews 9:15).

The confession ends this section by affirming that “it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality”. Thus, from all time, all those that were saved, were saved by the grace offered in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. Before it was established in the form of a covenant sealed in the blood (Hebrews 13:20) it was revealed by a promise guaranteed by God’s oath (Hebrews 6:17). This covenant of grace revealed and concluded in history is founded on the eternal covenant between the Father and the Son for the redemption of the elect. It is the exclusive source of salvation according to what Scripture expressly declares: “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

From the Covenant of Works to the Covenant of Grace

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