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On the Covenant of Grace.
THE covenant of grace, when understood in the most extensive sense, comprehends all the designs and transactions respecting the redemption of man by Jesus Christ, in opposition to the covenant of works, or law of works, under which man was first made; and is the 85same with the gospel, considered in its original, and the form in which it is administered, and the effects of it.—In this view, it comprehends the eternal purpose of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, to redeem man, fixing the manner of it, and every thing that relates to it, and entering into a mutual agreement or covenant; in which the part which each person should perform, as distinguished from the other, was fixed and voluntarily undertaken. The Father is represented in scripture, as first in this great affair, as giving and sending the Son to redeem man; and determining the number and the individuals of the human race to be redeemed, and giving them to the Son, to redeem them, and promising that he should be upheld in this work, and carried through it, and be satisfied in his reward, and the salvation of those who were given to him. The Son agreed to all this, and undertook the part he was to act, saying, “Lo, I come: I delight to do thy will, O my God.” The Holy Spirit undertakes to do the great part assigned to him in this work, particularly as the agent by whom the application of redemption is made to the elect, by sanctifying them, and effecting a union between the Redeemer and them; and by dwelling in them forever, us the spirit of love and holiness. But this covenant transaction is more particularly and often mentioned, as taking place between the Father and the Son; though not excluding the Holy Spirit.
It is needless to recite the numerous passages of scripture which represent the matter in this light, and refer to this covenant, to him who is acquainted with his Bible. That such a covenant must take place between the persons of the adorable trinity, is certain from the divine decrees; and necessarily implied in this one sentence of the apostle James, “known unto God are all his works, from the beginning of the world.”148148 Acts xv. 18. This covenant may be considered as including the whole of redemption of man, as every thing relating to it is hereby fixed, and they who are to be redeemed have redemption secure to them; and the Mediator covenanted as the public head of his people, 86and their salvation was made sure; and in this respect they are all included in this covenant. And this may be called a covenant of grace, as it is the effect and expression of sovereign love and grace, and is the foundation of all the favour and free grace which is to be given to the redeemed church to eternity, and comprehends it all.
But there is a covenant transaction, which takes place between God in Christ, and every believer, when the gospel is cordially embraced. This is often mentioned in scripture, and God is said to enter into covenant with men, and believers are said to be in covenant; and to make a covenant with him, and enter into covenant; and lay hold of God’s covenant, &c. This is a covenant distinct and different from that which has been mentioned between the persons in the Trinity, or more expressly, between the Father and the Son; though this eternal covenant comprehends that made in time with. believers, in the manner which has been mentioned. This distinction, therefore, must be made and kept in view, would we think and speak clearly and intelligibly on this subject. They who have been sensible of this, have distinguished them by different names, calling the first, the covenant of redemption, and the last, the covenant of grace, without designing hereby to exclude grace from the former, or to consider it as not comprehending the latter, in the sense above explained. But the difference consists partly in the different parties covenanting; the former is between the divine persons of the Godhead, or the Father and the Son; the latter between these divine persons, or God in Christ, and sinful man: Partly, in the different promises and mutual engagements between the parties covenanting.
This may be illustrated in some measure, perhaps, by the following instance. The son of a great king, and the king himself, had compassion on a poor wretched woman, who had been guilty of a capital crime, and was condemned to be put to death; and devised means to save her, and bring her to the honour and happiness of being the wife of the son. In order to this, and to make it consistent with the laws of the kingdom, and the honour of the father and son, the latter must go through a 87scene of suffering and disgrace. The son willingly undertook this; and the father engaged to give him all the necessary assistance and support through the whole: And in consequence of his doing this, and as a proper reward for his virtue, to give him a place on his throne, and to cause the woman to consent to be his wife, though she was now a great enemy to him; and to grant to her a free pardon, and that the son should make her as rich, honourable and happy as he desired; taking her into the nearest relation and union to himself. This agreement and covenant being made between the father and the son, the latter went through all the suffering and disgrace, which he had promised to do, and was received to the power and honour which the father had promised.
The son being invested with authority and power to reclaim the woman, and bring her to consent to marry him, applied to her, and let her know all that had been done by him, in order to her being pardoned, and received to the greatest honour and happiness, upon her consenting to be his wife; and offered himself to her to be her friend and husband, and do all for her which she could want or desire, if she would consent to be his wife; and give herself up to him to be thus related and united to him. The woman freely consented to the proposal of the prince, and accepted of his kind offer; and relying on his faithfulness and goodness, engaged to do the duty of a wife to him. Thus a particular covenant was made and took place between them, by their mutual promises to each other.
When Christ, the Mediator, had finished the part assigned to him, and which he had engaged in the covenant of redemption, in taking upon him the form of a servant, and becoming obedient unto death, he was raised from the dead, and exalted to the throne of the universe, and made head overall things to the church, as a reward for the great work which he had finished by his obedience and sufferings, by which he was openly approved and justified, as Mediator between God and man; and power was given unto him over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as were given to him by the Father.149149 John xvii. 2.88
And he has ordered the gospel to be preached to men, declaring his character, works and designs, and publishing the way of salvation by him, and freely offering it to all who will accept of it, and promising that all who believe on him, giving themselves to him to be his disciples and servants, shall be saved. This is the sum of the covenant of grace, as it is published and preached in the gospel of the grace of God: And every one who embraces it enters into this covenant; for this is the only condition on man’s part; and by this, men are entitled to all the promises of the covenant, and salvation is made sure to them.
The following things may be observed, concerning this covenant.
1. All the promised blessings and good things contained in this covenant are made sure to the believer on his first believing, and entering into covenant; because one of the promises of this covenant, as proposed to men by God, is, that he who once believes and accepts of the offer made, shall persevere in his adherence to it, and never fall from it, so as to fail of the blessings of it. It is in this respect an everlasting covenant, as it ensures everlasting life, and can never fail, or be broken, by either party in covenant. This is the covenant described in the following words, “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.”150150 Jer. xxxii. 40. This is the covenant of which David speaks, as comprising the whole of his salvation, and all his desire.151151 2 Sam. xxiii. 5. The tenor of the covenant of grace is stated as follows: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: And I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord; for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins, and their iniquities will I remember no more.”152152 Heb. viii. 10, 11, 12.89
2. This covenant is called in scripture, a new and second covenant, in distinction from another and foregoing covenant.
The covenant between God the Father, and the second person of the Trinity, is a new and second covenant. The first covenant was between God and the first Adam, as representing all mankind, as their public head. That between God, and the last Adam, the Redeemer of men, the second public head, is a second covenant, and a new one. And this lays the foundation of the covenant between God and man, of which we are now speaking, and really implies it, as has been observed.
But this covenant between God the Redeemer, and those who believe in him, is expressly called a new covenant, as it is a covenant of grace, and herein distinguished from the covenant of works, under which all mankind were, antecedent to redemption by Christ: And which was brought into view, and kept most in sight under the Mosaic dispensation. The covenant made with the children of Israel was in the form of a covenant of works. The law of works was exhibited first, and brought most clearly into sight, that it might be known to be what it really is: And the covenant of grace, or the gospel, though revealed, and contained in that covenant, was not set in open light, but covered, and in a measure hid under the types and shadows of that covenant; and under the form of a covenant of works, as the nucleus or kernel is covered and hid with the husk or shell that surrounds it: So that they who were not spiritual, discerning and attentive, saw only the outside, and considered it as wholly a covenant of works; and hoped for justification by it, in that view. It is certain this was the case with the nation of the Jews in general, in the apostles’ days. They sought righteousness and justification, as it were, by the works of the law. They were ignorant of God’s righteousness, and attempted to establish their own righteousness, the righteousness of the law.153153 Rom. ix. 32. x. 3. This form of a covenant of works is represented by the veil which Moses put over his face, when speaking to the people. “So that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the 90end of that which was to be abolished: But their minds were blinded: For even to the days of the apostles, the same veil remained in the reading of the Old Testament, (or the old covenant;) but even to that day, when Moses was read, the veil was upon their heart.”154154 2 Cor. iii. 13, 14, 15. In this view of it, and considered as exhibiting the covenant of works, St. Paul calls the giving the law from Mount Sinai, and that dispensation, “The ministration of death and condemnation, written and engraven on stones.”155155 2 Cor. iii. 7, 9. It is therefore said, “The law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”156156 John i. 17. The dispensation under Moses was a legal dispensation, exhibiting: law, in the form of a covenant of works: One particular, and perhaps the principal design of it, was to reveal the divine law, in the strictness, extent and glory of it; as necessary to prepare for the clear and open manifestation of the covenant of grace; which was then in a great measure hid, and more obscurely revealed under shadows and types, and in other ways; so that the whole was but a shadow of the good things of the covenant of grace.157157 Heb. x. 1.
Therefore, the revelation made by Moses, is called the law: And the covenant into which the children of Israel entered, is represented as a legal covenant, a covenant of works, to which the covenant of grace is opposed, as another and a new covenant. A few quotations from scripture, out of many that might be mentioned, will ascertain this. “But now he (Jesus) hath obtained a more excellent ministry, (than the high priests under the law of Moses) by how much also he is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith. Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.”158158 Heb. viii. 6. 7, 8, 9. Therefore the gospel is called 91the New Testament and the Mosaic dispensation is called the Old Testament.159159 The same word, in the original, is translated testament and covenant. “Who hath made us able ministers of the New Testament. For until this day, remaineth the same veil untaken away, in reading the Old Testament, which veil is done away in Christ.”160160 2 Cor. iii. 6. 14.
3. The covenant of grace has been revealed to man, and has been administered in different forms, and by various methods, ever since the first intimation of mercy to sinners, made soon after the first apostasy; and by it all true believers have been saved from that time to this; and none have been saved in any other way; nor will any be saved in any other way but this, to the end of the world. And in this respect it is an everlasting covenant. This covenant was made known to Adam, and was administered, to the salvation of all the truly pious from Adam to Noah, and from Noah to Abraham, and from him to Moses. And nothing but the wickedness of man, and his opposition to the things contained and implied in this covenant, has prevented the publication of it to every one of the human race, and their salvation by it. And from Moses to the coming of Christ, the covenant of grace was made known and administered; and the gospel was preached to the children of Israel, through all that time, and all the pious were saved by it, though it was covered under the form of a covenant of works, as has been observed and explained.
The law, as a covenant of works, was not exhibited in the revelation made to the children of Israel by Moses, as it has been now explained, under the notion that any man could obtain the favour of God, and be saved by this law or covenant; for this was impossible. But this law was thus revealed and added, that it might be known what the law was, and that men might be hereby convinced, that no man can be justified by the works of the law, as by his sins he is under the curse of it; and that under this conviction, and despairing of salvation by the covenant of works, they might be led to understand and embrace the covenant of grace, the way of salvation by faith in the Redeemer. This is the light in which this point is set by the apostle Paul. “Is the 92law then against the promises of God? God forbid. For if there had been a law which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”161161 Gal iii. 21, 22. This was the end which the revelation of this law answered, to those who were saved under that dispensation; and it is suited and designed to answer this same end to those who shall be saved, to the end of the world: For by the law thus revealed, is the knowledge of sin, and the curse of God, under which all men are, who do not believe in Christ. Thus St. Paul states the matter, with regard to himself. “I had not known sin but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet: For without the law sin was dead. I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”162162 Rom. vii. 7, 8, 9.
Though the Redeemer had not actually performed and gone through what he had undertaken to do and suffer; yet it being engaged and made certain, all believers who lived before his incarnation, were saved by virtue of his sufferings and obedience, which were certain to take place, in due time.
4. The difference and opposition between the covenant of works and the new covenant, the covenant of grace, has been particularly stated in the two preceding sections. The former requires perfect obedience, as the condition of life, as the price to recommend to the favour of God, which is the righteousness of the law of works. The latter consists in a testimony and promise on God’s part, requiring nothing of man, but that belief of this testimony and promise, which implies a cordial reception of the good things, exhibited and offered in this covenant, without offering any thing as the price of them; but receiving them as a free gift to a sinner, infinitely guilty and wretched. The condition of the first is out of the reach of man. It is impossible he should obtain righteousness by it, because he is a sinner. The last is possible to all, and saves every one who believeth.93
The apostle Paul states the difference and opposition between these two covenants, from the writings of Moses; which proves that both these covenants were revealed in that dispensation. His words are these: “Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doth those things, shall live by them.163163 See Levit. xviii. 5. But the righteousness which is of faith, speaketh on this wise: Say not in thine heart, who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down) or who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart.164164 See Deut. xxx. 11, 12, 13, 14. That is, the word of faith which we preach, that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”165165 Rom. x. 5-9.
5. In the preaching of the gospel, the covenant of grace is proposed, and the blessings it contains are offered to all to whom it comes, upon their believing, and heartily approving the way of salvation therein proposed. For all who thus comply, come up to the condition of the covenant, on their part, and consequently are interested in all the promises of it.
The atonement and righteousness of Christ is sufficient for the justification and salvation of all them who believe, be they ever so many, even all the human race. Therefore the offer of salvation is made to all, without exception, and salvation is promised to all who believe, or willingly embrace the offer, to which they are invited and commanded. The direction and command is to preach the gospel to all nations, to every creature. But this cannot be done if the blessings of the covenant of grace be not offered to all, even pardon, justification and salvation, who are willing to receive them. For it is no gospel, no good news, to those to whom this offer and invitation cannot be made. The gospel cannot be preached to the devils, because the offer of salvation cannot be made to them, on any condition whatsoever: And if there be any of mankind to whom this offer may not be made, the gospel can no more be preached to them, than to the fallen angels.94
The gospel may be preached, and all die blessings of die covenant of grace be offered to those who are not willing to accept of the offer, and never will believe the report, and be saved. It is contrary to all reason and common sense, to say, that no good thing can be offered to him who is not, and never can be persuaded to be willing to accept it; that his rejecting the thing offered, renders it no offer to him, and annihilates the good will and kindness of him who made the offer: Therefore, that there can be no goodness manifested or exercised, in making an offer of the greatest good to him who does not receive it; and there is really nothing offered. But all this is implied in saying that salvation by Christ cannot be offered to those who, by rejecting him, shall not be saved, but perish forever.
It is known to God, that some to whom the gospel is preached, and salvation by Christ offered, will reject it, and who they are who will do so, and consequently fail of salvation. But if their refusing the offer, be consistent with their having it really made to them; then the knowledge that they will refuse to accept it, cannot render the offer less real and sincere.
But that the blessings of the covenant of grace are offered to all, without exception; and all to whom the gospel comes, are invited and commanded to repent and believe, is as evident and certain a truth, as any contained in the Bible. When Christ sent his disciples to preach, he directed them to say to all, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” “And they went out and preached that men should repent.”166166 Mark vi. 12. And they offered peace and salvation to every person in the houses, into which they entered.167167 Luke x. 5. And Christ himself “preached the gospel of the kingdom of God, paying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent ye, and believe the gospel.”168168 Mark i. 14, 15. And “now God commandeth all men every where to repent.”169169 Acts xvii. 30. That is, to comply with the condition of the covenant of grace, and be saved: For, as has been shown, repentance is put for the whole of conversion, and implies faith, and is connected with pardon and salvation. Christ says, he 95“that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him.”170170 John xii. 48. None can reject him, to whom he is not offered. Therefore he, with all his benefits, is offered to all who hear the gospel. The apostle Paul offered salvation to all who were present and heard him preach in a synagogue of the Jews: “Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, (that is, all who are not of the stock of Abraham, but proselytes from other nations) to you is the word of this salvation sent.”171171 Acts xiii. 26. And when the Jews contradicted him, and blasphemed, he and Barnabas said to them, “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: But seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.”172172 verse 46. But to quote any more of this kind is needless. And not so much would have been offered on this head, were it not that there are some who think that salvation by Christ cannot be offered to any but to those who are elected, and shall believe, and be saved. And as no man can know who they are, so as certainly to distinguish them from others, salvation cannot be offered to any, on any condition or terms whatever. How contrary this notion is both to the scripture and to reason, and how inconsistent with preaching the gospel to any, will appear from the observations which have been now made.
How great is the privilege, which all enjoy, who live under the gospel! Salvation is sent unto them, and laid at their feet, and Christ is waiting for their acceptance, standing at the door, and knocking for admittance. How amazing, how inconceivably great is their folly, madness and guilt, who reject this most benevolent counsel of God against themselves, and perish by slighting this offer, and despising the Redeemer!
How safe and happy are they who lay hold of this covenant of grace! By infinite wisdom it is formed and 96suited to the state and circumstances of man, and contains every thing he can want to eternity. They may espouse the language of St. Paul, “God hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus, before the world began.”173173 2 Tim. i. 9. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”174174 Rom. viii. 35, 36, 39.
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