THE VIEW OF THE COVENANT - A Unity Committee Report

Reproduced with permission from the Clarion Volume 48, No. 16, Aug. 6, 1999

This is an unofficial presentation of the salient features of the doctrine of the covenant as maintained in the Canadian Reformed Churches with the specific purpose of seeking ecclesiastical unity with those who share the same confession and background as the Canadian Reformed Churches. It is merely designed to serve as a representative statement, and in no way seeks to bind anyone to any specific formulation contained herein.

ARTICLE 17 of the Belgic Confession

We believe that, when He saw that man had thus plunged himself into physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, our gracious God in His marvelous wisdom and goodness set out to seek man when he trembling fled from Him. [1] He comforted him with the promise that He would give him His Son, born of woman (Gal 4:4), to bruise the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15) and to make man blessed. [2]

[1] Gen 3:9.

[ 2] Gen 22:18; Is 7:14; Jn 1:14; Jn 5:46; Jn 7:42; Acts 13:32, 33; Rom 1:2, 3; Gal 3:16; 2 Tim 2:8; Heb 7:14.

1. The covenant is a relationship of fellowship and love between two parties, God and man. It was instituted in paradise upon the creation of our first parents, Adam and Eve. It forms the heart and centre of all true religion.

2. The covenant is unilaterally established entirely from God's side, without any worth or merit on the part of man. Hence the covenant in creation may be termed a covenant of favour and love. The covenant is one-sided in origin, two-sided in existence.

3. This relationship is not given in creation, but is an added supplement, factored into and yet augmenting the creation, filling out the potencies that God himself placed in creation. In other words, man was created to the covenant, and creationally equipped to live in the covenant. Being created as image of God is a being created for freedom, and being created to freedom.

4. The covenant is a relationship of mutual rights, duties and obligations. God freely binds himself to his obligations, but also sovereignly calls us to ours. Therefore, although the covenant is unilateral, coming entirely from God, it always must be connected with human responsibility.

5. The fall stamps man as a covenant breaker. The fall into sin was an act of rebellion by which the original blessings and gifts promised to man in paradise were forfeited, and he so inherits nothing but eternal death. Here man forfeits the freedom to which he was created.

6. In an act of overflowing love and favour God not only maintains the terms of the original covenant, but adapts and refits them in such a way that we are extended mercy and redemption from sin through the sacrifice of the eternal Son of God on the cross. In other words, the Son agrees to pay our debt and set us free! He takes our place under the terms of the original covenant. Here the covenant of favour becomes the covenant of grace in Jesus Christ (Gen 3:15). This covenant is made with the believers and their offspring.

7. The relationship of the covenant of grace and its accompanying provisions and implications spans the entire history of the world. All of history is determined by the mother promise (Gen 3:15); namely that there will be constant enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, but the seed of the woman will attain ultimate victory over the seed of the serpent.

8. The promise of the covenant, together with the demand to repent and believe must be preached throughout the whole world. All who are grafted into the covenant are called to repent and believe the promises, and receive Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Those who do so share the fullness of the covenant promises and all its blessings.

9. The covenantal provisions comprise both promise and the demand, and one member cannot be reduced to the other member. "The people who describe the promise in this way so that it is stripped of the demand are gutting the promise of its significance" (K. Schilder).

10. In the old dispensation the covenant is primarily manifested through the law and its requirements. The law was a code of freedom, calling all people in Israel to a life of gratitude before God according to his terms. It represented the code of worship, praise and service before God.

11. Israel failed miserably in keeping the terms of the law. "Through the law comes the knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20). Yet all those who held to the promise of God in true faith found salvation in the blood of the Lamb.

12. The fullness of the covenant of grace is manifested in the fullness of time with the birth of the Saviour. Here the original depth of the Old Testament law comes to light. At the same time all the ceremonies and rituals come to fulfilment in Jesus Christ. Paul's rule is: "by grace you have been saved through faith..." (Eph 2:8 NIV). This is the heart of the covenant in the new dispensation.

13. The death of Christ on the cross represents the fulfilment of all the terms of the old covenant. "Golgotha makes the right of eternal life free again," (K. Schilder). In other words, eternal life is now not only possible but actually granted to all those who through faith believe in the only sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

14. In the covenant of grace the sanctions of the covenant are much richer and deeper, especially in the new dispensation. In the old dispensation, God allowed for a repeated offence, and a repeated call. In the new dispensation, we have come to the last days, (Heb 12). There will be no further dispensations, but only the consummation of all things and the final judgment according to the terms of the covenant.

15. All obedience to the covenant that is required today is a human responsibility. Yet it is given solely of grace (Eph 2:8-10). We obey, not in our own power but only in God's power. Yet God realizes His plan and counsel of election and reprobation only in the way of the believing and obedient response of his children.

16. The covenant will exist to all eternity. God will be manifested as the Head, Source and Completer of the covenant, Jesus Christ will be manifested as the eternal Mediator of the covenant, and the Holy Spirit will be revealed as the Sealer of the covenant. The covenant results in the relationship of eternal fellowship between the one triune God and his chosen elect, through all eternity.


For the Committee for the Promotion of Ecclesiastical Unity of the CanRC,

Dr. J. De Jong professor at the Theological College and convener of the Committee.