A covenant is a contract or agreement between two or more parties. Covenant is how God has chosen to communicate to us, to redeem us, and to guarantee us eternal life in Jesus. These truths, revealed in the Bible, are the basis of Christianity. The Bible is a covenant document. The Old and New Testaments are really Old and New Covenants. The word "testament" is Latin for Covenant.
There is a pattern to the covenants found throughout Scripture. Basically, it is as follows. The initiating party describes himself and what He has done, then there is a list of obligations between the two (or more) parties. What follows is the section dealing with rewards and punishments that govern the keeping and breaking of the covenant. The Ten Commandments fit this pattern and are a covenant document. The Covenant law is given in Deuteronomy 5, and it is then followed with the promised blessings and curses in the rest of Deuteronomy.
Covenant is how God first decided to deal with Mankind. We know this from studying the Eternal Covenant mentioned in Heb. 13:20, Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant. In this covenant God the Father and the Son made an agreement with regard to the elect.
Note that the covenant between God the Father and God the Son is in regard to the elect. The subjection of the Son to the Father is in regard to redemption. Elsewhere, the Son is presented as totally equal with the Father.
Scripture teaches that within the Godhead there are three persons, the same in essence, glory, and power, objective to each other.
The Father loves the Son, commissions him, gives him a people, the right to judge, and authority over all mankind (John 3:16; 5:20, 22, 36; 10:17 - 18; 17:2, 4, 6, 9, 24; Ps. 2:7 - 8; Heb. 1:8 - 13);
the Son loves the Father, delights to do his will, and has shared his glory forever (Heb. 10:7; John 5:19; 17:5).
In this covenant, the Spirit agrees to draw to the Son all the Father gives to the Son, and to glorify the Son by working in the elect to give them the desire to please God.. (John 6:65, 16:14, 21:19) The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit commune with each other; this is one of the meanings of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
This covenant between the Father, Son and Spirit was made before the universe was created and it consisted of the Father promising to bring to the Son all whom the Father had given Him (John 6:39; 17:9, 24). The everlasting covenant agreement was that the Son would submit himself to the Father as he took on the flesh of a man (Col. 2:9; 1 Tim. 2:5), become for a while lower than the angels (Heb. 2:7), and be found under the Law (Gal. 4:4-5). The Son would sacrifice his body and blood for the sins of the elect (1 John 2:2; 1 Pet. 2:24) and the Father would raise the Son from the Dead (Psalm 2).
The Eternal Covenant, then, leads to the Covenant of Grace.
Where the Eternal Covenant was made between the Father and the Son, the Covenant of Grace is made between God and Man. This latter covenant is where God promises to Man eternal salvation based upon the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The manifestation of that covenant occurs in our world in a sequence of additional covenants that God made with individuals: Adam (Gen. 2:15-17), Noah (Gen. 9:12-16), Abraham (Gen. 17), the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28), believers in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-37), etc.
The covenant between the members of the Tri-Une God is in regard to the salvation of the elect; that is, subjection of the Son to the Father and Spirit to the Son is in regard to redemption. The three members are totally equal, and their names are used interchangeably, even in the matter of redemption.
The covenant of grace, as established in history, is founded on still another covenant, the covenant of redemption, which is defined as the eternal pact between God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit concerning the salvation of mankind.
This covenant has been made by God with mankind. In it he offers life and salvation through Christ to all who believe. Inasmuch as none can believe without the special grace of God, it is more exact to say that the covenant of grace is made by God with believers, or the elect. Jesus said that all those whom the Father had given him would come to him and that those who come would surely be accepted (John 6:37). Herein is seen the close relation between the covenant of grace and the covenant of redemption, with the former resting on the latter. From eternity, the Father has given a people to the Son; to them was given the promised Holy Spirit so that they might live in fellowship with God, as was agreed upon in the covenant between the Tri-Une God.
Christ is the mediator of the covenant of grace inasmuch as he has borne the guilt of sinners and restored them to a saving relationship to God (Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). He is mediator, not only in the sense of arbitrator, although that is the sense in which the word is used in 1 Tim. 2:5, but in the sense of having fulfilled all the conditions necessary for procuring eternal salvation for his people.
Thus Heb. 7:22 calls Jesus the "surety" or "guarantee" of the new covenant, which is better than that which came through Moses. Within the context of this last passage, repeated mention is made of God's promise to Christ and his people. He will be their God and they will be his people. He will bestow on them the grace they need to confess his name and live with him forever; in humble dependence on him for their every need, they will live in trustful obedience from day to day. This latter, called faith in Scripture, is the sole condition of the covenant, and even it is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8 - 9).
Although the covenant of grace includes various dispensations of history, it is essentially one. From the promise in the garden (Gen. 3:15), through the covenant made with Noah (Gen. 6 through 9), to the day that the covenant was established with Abraham, there is abundant evidence of God's grace. With Abraham a new beginning is made which the later, Sinaitic covenant implements and strengthens. At Sinai the covenant assumes a national form and stress is laid on the law of God. This is not intended to alter the gracious character of the covenant, however (Gal. 3:17 - 18), but it is to serve to train Israel until the time would come when God himself would appear in its midst. In Jesus the new form of the covenant that had been promised by the prophets is manifest, and that which was of a temporary nature in the old form of the covenant disappears (Jer. 31:31 - 34; Heb. 8). While there is unity and continuity in the covenant of grace throughout history, the coming of Christ and the subsequent gift of the Holy Spirit have brought rich gifts unknown in an earlier age.
1. We learn that God deals with Man covenantally, or through covenants.
2. Since a Covenant is an agreement, it is a promise made by God. Since we can rely on God's word for eternity, we can take great comfort in His covenant promising us eternal life in His Son.
3. It helps us to see the Bible as a covenant document. The Old and New Testaments are Old and New Covenants.
4. With Covenant understood as a framework through which the Bible was written, we can better understand it, God's dealings with us through it, and our responsibilities to God as well as His to us.
5. We can better understand the symbols used by God in covenant ratification: The Lord's Supper and Baptism.
1. Requirements and Promises in the Eternal Covenant
1. The Father required of the Son, that He should atone for the sins of those whom the Father had given Him (1 John 2:2; John 6:39; 10:11,15), and should do what Adam failed to do by keeping the law (Gal. 4:4-5; 1 Pet. 2:22).
2. This requirement included the following particulars:
1. That he should assume human nature (John
1:1,14; Col. 2:9).
2. That He should place Himself under the law (Gal. 4:4-5)
3. That He, after accomplishing forgiveness of sins and eternal life, should apply them to the elect (Rom. 5:18; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 5:14).
2. The Relation of the Eternal Covenant and the Covenant of Grace
1. The Eternal Covenant is the model for the Covenant
of Grace. The former is eternal, that is, from eternity, and the
latter temporal in the sense that it is realized in time. The
former is a compact between the Father and the Son as a surety
and head of the elect, while the latter is a compact between the
triune God and the elect sinner.
1. If there had been no Eternal Covenant between the Father and the Son, there could have been no Covenant of Grace between God and sinful man.
2. The Holy Spirit, which produces faith in the sinner, was promised to Christ by the Father, and the acceptance of the way of life through faith was guaranteed by Christ.
3. The Covenant with Adam also known as the Covenant of Works
1. This was a covenant made between God and Adam where
Adam would have everlasting life based upon obedience to God.
This apparently was possible since Adam did not have a sin nature.
1. "And the LORD God commanded the man, You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die'" (Gen. 2:16-17).
2. God entered into a covenant with Adam.
1. The promise connected to that covenant was life. The condition was perfect obedience. Its penalty was death.
4. The Covenant with Noah
1. This covenant was God's promise to Noah to never
again destroy the world with a flood. God gave the rainbow as
1. Gen. 9:9-17.
5. The Covenant with Abraham
1. God promised a land and descendants to Abraham,
who was commanded to "keep" the covenant (Gen. 17:9f.,
14) and was given circumcision as the sign (Gen. 15:8-18; 17:1-14).
1. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates" (Gen. 15:18).
6. The Covenant with Moses
1. In the giving of the Law, the nation of Israel
was constituted a holy nation and given stipulations to follow
to ensure fellowship with God. The covenant was ratified by a
covenant sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood (Exodus 24:4-8).
2. Exodus 24:4-8
7. The Covenant with David
1. God gave a promise to David that his descendants
should have an everlasting kingdom and be known as his sons.
1. "You said, I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations'" (Psalm 89:3).
2. It was through the descendants of David that Jesus was born.
8. The New Covenant
1. This is the new covenant of the Messianic age where
the Law of God would be written upon the hearts of men.
1. "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah...This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people" (Jer. 31:31,33).
2. It was promised in Eden
1. "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" (Gen. 3:15).
3. It was proclaimed to Abraham
1. "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Gen. 12:3).
4. It was fulfilled in Christ
1. Luke 1:68-79.
9. The Covenant of Grace
1. This may be defined as that gracious agreement between the offended God and the offending sinner, in which God promises salvation through faith in Christ, and the sinner accepts this by faith, promising a life of faith and obedience (John 1:12-13; 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10).
10. Comparison of the Covenant of Works (the Adamic Covenant) and the Covenant of Grace
Just as in the covenant of works, so in the covenant of grace God is the first of the contracting parties; He takes the initiative and determines the relation in which the second party will stand to Him.
It is not easily determined who the second party is. But in general, it may be said that God naturally established the covenant of grace with fallen man.
The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:21-34; Heb. 8:8-12. It is also entirely in line with the relation in which the Covenant of Grace stands to the Eternal Covenant.
See: L Berkhof, Systematic Theology; C Hodge, Systematic Theology, II; H Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics; H Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith; G Schrenk, Gottesreich und Bund in alteren Protestantismus; H H Wolf, Die Einheit des Bundes.