The Covenant Of Grace Its Scriptural Origins and Development in Continental Reformed Theology - Rev. C. A. Schouls
These lectures were originally delivered at the Niagara Ligonier Study Centre, March and April of 1996 by Rev. C. A. Schouls, who at that time was the Pastor of the Free Reformed Church in Vineland, Ontario, Canada.
Covenant - the very word is enough to create strong reactions on the part of some and quizzical grunts on the part of others. The fact that you are here and have signed up for these lectures shows that you are more than "grunters". Also, I assume that your interest in this topic shows that you have, at least, some basic knowledge of the subject matter so that not everything will have to be explained. However, if at any time there are questions, please be sure to stop me and ask them. As far as strong reactions go, I am not sure if I am ready for that. Strong reactions are sometimes dispensed by people who are defensive, not quite sure of their positions and therefore, assuming the best defence is offense, they go on the attack. Sometimes they really become offensive. That is not the way we want to do it in these classes. Our study of the Covenant is to be a spiritual study; to study spiritual things, we must have a spiritual frame of mind. This cannot be stressed enough at the outset of our course. We are going to be dealing with the very tender and precious truth of how and why God relates with his people. Part of the proper preparation for this will involve constant prayer that the Lord may reveal to us the secret of his covenant, as He promised in Ps. 25:14.
It must be admitted, with some sadness, that the doctrine of the covenant has created dissension and confusion within the Reformed community. It may be said, with little exaggeration, that the divisions between the denominations belonging to the Reformed family are, in no small part, directly related to the matter of the covenant, more particularly, the Covenant of Grace. It is, therefore, quite a legitimate task and undertaking for a Reformed Study Centre, such as this is trying to be, to consider this topic and to lay out certain lines and to do this in such a way that various Reformed strains can come to a better understanding of each other. Such a better understanding is the least that can be striven for in this time in which we see quite some upheaval in some parts of the Reformed world.
When we speak about "The Covenant" we must, at the outset, agree on which covenant we mean. What does the term "covenant" mean? In the broad sense, a covenant is an agreement between two or more parties which involves obligations, penalties and rewards. In that sense, we can say that most contracts are covenants: an agreement of sale is a covenant and a marriage is a covenant.
The Bible mentions various covenants. Theologians, by good and logical consequence, have pointed out others, not mentioned as such in Scripture. The word 'covenant' ('berith') is used in the Old Testament about 250 times while the New Testament form ('diatheke') appears only 33 times, either as 'covenant' or 'testament' (in the AV). The Old Testament usage of the word is not limited to the covenants which God has made with man; mention is made of covenants between people - e.g. David and Jonathan, Abraham and Abimelech, etc. The New Testament, however, uses it only in that frame of reference which deals exclusively with the relation between God and his people.
The Bible speaks of a covenant made with Noah, in Genesis 6, where in vs. 18 we come across the word 'covenant' for the first time. This is sometimes referred to as 'The Covenant of Nature'; it is further set forth in Genesis 9; its sign is the rainbow.
Although the word 'covenant' is not used in this setting, Reformed theologians do speak of the 'Covenant of Works' to describe the relation between God and Adam prior to the Fall. Not all agree this term is suitable (1) but many have accepted it as a workable one. We will do that, too. This is not the covenant that will have our main focus of attention, although we will refer to it from time to time.
The Covenant of Grace is the focus of our attention. Although it may be true that among the general Reformed church public this receives little attention currently, it certainly was not always so. In fact, there are so many books written and so many thoughts expressed that it will be impossible for us to deal with the broad spectrum of ideas. We will limit ourself to what was developed in 'Continental' (i.e. Dutch) theology. We recognize that the English Puritans contributed much to this field but to deal with all their input will simply make the subject too vast and too unwieldy for our purposes. (2)
Recently we have observed two major anniversaries in the Reformed church world - 1992 saw the 100th anniversary of the Union of 1892; 1994 marked the 50th year since the "Liberation" of 1944 in which the Reformed Churches (Liberated) were born. The marking of these events has focussed attention on various questions, not least of which is "What is the importance of the Covenant of Grace?" The ongoing debate within the pages of Christian Renewal, between primarily Rev. Woudenberg (Protestant Reformed) and Rev. J. Tuininga (Independent Reformed) have kept the issue before us.
In an article which forms part of a collection entitled Perspectives on the Christian Reformed Church (3) the late professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Seminary, Anthony Hoekema, presents these six practical values of the doctrine of the covenant of grace:
1. It teaches that, although the preaching of the Word to the congregation must seek to build believers up in the faith, "... the evangelistic note, however, must never be lacking in the preaching which is addressed to covenant people, as it is not lacking in the prophets or epistles." (emphasis added - C.S.) The unconverted within the congregation must be called to come to Christ.
2. The doctrine of the covenant gives guidance to the church in its evangelistic outreach.
3. The doctrine of the covenant has important implications for Christian ethics. (Ethics deals with the "how" of living and involves the proper response of thankfulness on the part of the Christian for God's covenant mercies.)
4. The covenant of grace has implications for the individual and social aspects of Christianity.
5. The covenant of grace is very important for the proper understanding of the family.
6. The covenant of grace is significant for Christian education.
But, these are ministers and theologians writing. These are discussions at a certain level of expertise. One may ask the question, "Is the doctrine of the covenant really still relevant? Does it still function in the lives of Reformed people?" The answer must be a resounding 'Yes'. Even if it is not discussed as it may have been fifty or one hundred years ago in connection with the movements just mentioned, the practical results of years of teaching and preaching from the perspective of a certain covenant view are visible in Reformed churches and families all around us.
When we consider that every inter-human relationship involves a covenantal aspect and when we then consider that God has entered into relationship with man and that this relationship is governed by covenantal regulations, we must see how important this subject really is. God always deals with man in a covenantal way. Man always responds to God in a covenantal way. It is incumbent upon us to learn more of this, simply because it involves the very structure of our relationship with God. This, in itself, is of such importance that a study of the covenant is warranted; however, there is another reason why this subject is still very much relevant.
Reformed churches are more and more being faced with the influence of 'evangelical' churches. Although many things can be said about why these churches are attractive to people raised and educated in the Reformed truths, one underlying reason is often not recognized. Evangelical churches stress very much the individual. The theological structure of evangelicalism falls right in step with the prevailing mind set of our age which fosters, in many different ways, individualism. People who have been conditioned to think it is good to be concerned about the individual (and does that not sound "right"?) will readily be open to a theology which stresses this aspect. Understanding the meaning of the Covenant of Grace will provide a counter balance to the allure of individualisitic evangelicalism.
"The covenant of grace opposes all religious and spiritual individualism. In the covenant of grace God takes us to himself and reestablishes community among people. Within this community, in which we learn to give ourselves in the response of love, the individual personality is not destroyed but rightly developed." (4)
In order to deal with our subject properly, we must come to defining it. A good definition will express, concisely and accurately, just what we are trying to say. Each theologian tends to provide his own definition of the Covenant of Grace and, of course, by so doing, injects his own particular emphases. A few representative definitions follow:
A. Hoekema (1983) - that gracious arrangement which God establishes with believers and their children in which God promises them salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and requires of them a life of faith and obedience. (5)
L. Berkhof (1938) - that gracious agreement between the offended God and the offending but elect sinner, in which God promises salvation through faith in Christ, and the sinner accepts this believingly, promising a life of faith and obedience. (6)
W. W. Heyns (1916) - the Covenant of Grace is that special institution for the salvation of man in which the Triune God binds Himself with a covenant and an oath to believers and their seed, to be their God: their Father, their Redeemer and their Sanctifier, and binds them to Himself to be His own and to serve Him, thus insuring their salvation, unless they break the Covenant by unbelief and disobedience. (7)
M. J. Bosma (1927) - the gracious agreement between God and his people, whereby God promises them complete salvation in the way of faith, and they accept this in faith. (8)
These four men may be considered representative of Christian Reformed theology during this century. Aspects of their definitions show they were strongly influenced by the theology of the 1834 Secession churches. There are, to be sure, other voices which strongly echo the views of Dr. Abraham Kuyper who taught that the Covenant of Grace is established with the elect only. One of these was John Van Lonkhuyzen who in 1916 wrote his book about baptism in which he strongly defends Kuyper's view that the covenant is made with the elect only. (A view which was not original with Kuyper, but which we find already in the seventeenth century.) The response to this by men such as L. J. Hulst, also a CRC minister, who strongly reacted to this and called it a "shift in the doctrine of the covenant", shows clearly that the influence of Kuyper's covenant views was not without opposition.
Covenant theology and definitions were also expounded in other Reformed churches. As stated earlier, the various disruptions which took place in reformed churches during this century were, in almost every case, effected by or, at least, tied in to, divergent covenant views.
H. Hoeksema (Protestant Reformed) It 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. (9)
Rev. Hoeksema was the theologian in the thick of the 1924 controversy regarding the "Common Grace" question which resulted in his ouster from the Christian Reformed Church and the subsequent establishing of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The debate really started in the Netherlands and we should hear what several theologians there had to say. Some of these men are very well known; others are lesser known but did exert considerable influence on the churches in which they served. We mention:
A. Kuyper - although there is no succinct definition of his hand available, his recorded dogmatics make it clear that he saw the covenant established with the elect only. His covenant views, although not directly instrumental in the formation of the Gereformeerde Kerken van Nederland, did mould those churches in a certain direction and were definitely one of the major causes for not all of the earlier (1834) Secession churches to go along with the Union of 1892. The fact that these views were ratified and made part of recognized church doctrine by the Synod of Utrecht in its "Conclusions" (1905), which conclusions were adopted by the CRC at its synod of Kalamazoo (1908), gave further definition to the differences between various sections of the reformed church world.
G. H. Kersten was the man under whose leadership various small denominations and splinter groups united to form the "Reformed Congregations" in 1908 (Netherlands Reformed Congregations). Generally, these churches were marked by a degree of piety and conservatism which set them off from some of the other denominations, although there was (and still is) considerable overlap between the various grouping. Rev. Kersten also held that this covenant is made with the elect only and was at some pains to point out that the Covenant of Grace is, in essence, the same as the Counsel of Peace, which is the agreement, made in eternity, between the three Persons of the Trinity, in which the subsequent salvation of the elect is determined. In this, Kersten agreed with Kuyper; however, in the practical application of this, they stood poles apart. We will deal with this later.
Also here we must say we cannot find a succinct definition of the Covenant of Grace. Inquiries led to the book Bible Doctrine for Teens and Young Adults (10). Since this book bears the stamp of approval from the following bodies: the Netherlands Reformed Synodical Education Committee, N. R. Book and Publishing Committee, NR. Christian Educators' Association, it may be assumed that it represents official Netherlands Reformed doctrine. In a rather lengthy and detailed section on the Covenant of Grace, we learn not only what their views are but also how they see others. The latter is rather interesting.
As far as their own views are concerned, it is made very clear that the covenant is with the elect only. Interestingly, they refer not only to the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace but to these being two aspects of the same covenant. So closely do they identify them that they call the former "The Covenant of Grace from Eternity" the latter, "The Covenant of Grace in time". The former is defined as "...the agreement from eternity with God Himself to save His elect church through Christ its covenant Head. In this agreement, God the Father represented and included the entire Trinity and God the Son represented and included His entire church (all His elect children or true believers)." The latter is then defined in a minor position as "...the performance or execution of this agreement in time; the actual saving of the church through Christ its covenant Head." (11) This definition is followed by the statement, "Being born as children of wrath, God's elect are ingrafted into the covenant of Grace in time by regeneration through which they are adopted to be children of God and actually receive the rich benefits this covenant relationship includes." This is very puzzling, indeed and will be discussed later. For now, we note again that Kuyper and Kersten, although in formal agreement on some aspects of their theology, stood miles apart on the practical issues. Kersten's view led, practically, to the idea that one must know he is elect, a knowledge gained by observing some marks of grace within oneself, before one may deduce real, meaningful covenant membership in which the promises of God may be appropriated.
A mid position was taken by men such as Dr. K. Schilder (Liberated Churches), Rev. J. Woelderink ("Reformed Alliance") and Prof. J. J. Vander Schuit (CGK [Free Reformed])
K. Schilder - again, we have no definition from his hand directly. However, the book The Liberation: Causes and Consequences, copyright by the Senate of the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches, in a lecture by Dr. J. Faber on the doctrinal causes of the 1944 schism, makes it clear that the covenant view held by various men and rejected by the synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken was one in which God is seen as making a promise to believers and all their seed; a promise which requires faith in the response on the part of covenant members in order to have the fulfilment of the promise. (12) It must be remembered that a major reason for the "Liberation of 1944" was synod's decision to demand binding adherence to its pronouncements. Some of these men may have been able to live with the Kuyperian views on the covenant, including presumed regeneration, but they could not live with the idea that they were bound to subscribe to these as their own views.
J. J. Vander Schuit - The Covenant of Grace is that particular form of the administration of salvation in which God, in Christ, gives himself as Mediator to the sinner who, in the way of the Covenant, becomes the possession of God. Here we do have a definition taken from unpublished dogmatics classroom notes: " (13) When Vander Schuit states that the covenant is "that particular form of the administration of salvation" one may rightly asked if this, taken at face value, does not shut one up to the conclusion that it is made with the elect only. This certainly was not Vander Schuit's intention.
You will note that these definitions are all somewhat similar yet contain enough diversity in them that they gave rise to or are indicative of serious controversies. These are lamentable.
We will next consider the Biblical data for the doctrine of the Covenant of Grace.
In discussing the Covenant, the danger is not imaginary that we discuss various theological positions without consciously grounding them in the Scriptures. These positions, as such, were originally grounded in Scripture (or, at least, someone's interpretation of Scripture) but if we discuss them in the abstract, without examining the Scripture beyond them, we run the risk of cutting our discussions loose from the Bible. Then, we inevitably end up in scholasticism and speculation.
Anyone who reads the Old Testament with care and takes note of the relation between God and man, will conclude that the Covenant has a very important place in this part of God's Word. The Hebrew word which we have translated "covenant" is "b'rith" It occurs nearly 300 times in the Old Testament and has as its basic meaning "to cut". It is a word associated with the existing custom, when making a covenant, to cut animals in half, placing the halves over against each other and walking between them, thus signifying that if the parties to the covenant would not keep their promises and obligations, they would suffer a fate similar to these animals. This is the picture used in Genesis 15. It is striking to note that only God walked between the halves. This indicates that He alone established the covenant (see below). This also points to the fulfilment of the covenant in Christ who was killed because his people, with whom the covenant was made, did not keep their covenant obligations. Not only is this same picture used in Genesis 15, we also find it in various ancient records. For example, one such treaty (between the Hittite Mursillis and Duppi-Tessub of Amurru) reads in its concluding curse, as follows:
"The words of the treaty and the oath that are inscribed on this tablet - should Duppi-Tessub not honor these words of the treaty and the oath, may these gods of the oath destroy Duppi-Tessub together with his person, his wife, his son, his grandson, his house, his land and together with everything he owns." (14)
This treaty, and many others like it of which some form of record has survived to the present, were treaties between kings and their vassals. A higher king (a suzerain) would have in subjection to him many lower kings (vassals). Such a relationship existed between the Roman emperor and such local kings as the various Herods. These vassal kings were bound to their master (the suzerain) by treaties or covenants which the suzerain imposed upon them. For their loyalty and support he would reward them with protection and certain privileges; their disloyalty would bring upon them terrible penalties. Not only did such treaties involve the vassal personally but also his house and descendants; hence, in the secular records, mention is often made of them as being parties to that covenant. One can find the same arrangements referred to in the records of the kings of Israel and Judah with respect to the frequent covenants they made with powerful neighbouring kings (suzerains). By definition, making such a covenant meant breaking the covenant with God, the ultimate suzerain who had imposed his covenant upon Israel.
Now, although it is true that the Biblical form of covenant making is similar to then existing pagan practices, it is not true that therefore we must conclude that this form of covenant making indicates that Israel, in its religious practices, simply adopted the cultus of the surrounding nations. This is no more so than that the creation narrative is an Israeli adaptation of some Babylonian myth which seems to have parallel thoughts or that the rite of circumcision as enjoined by God in Genesis 17 is the incorporation into Jewish life of another's society rite of passage. Higher criticism of Scripture does lead into such direction but we reject this out of hand.
The question may be asked whether "covenant" is the correct translation of "b'rith". Some have thought the emphasis should be on obligation. This is certainly an element in the term "b'rith". Then the question is: who is obligated to whom? Is it an obligation which God takes upon Himself or is it an obligation which he places on man? (15)
Although there is room for this argument, proving that the term "b'rith" is complex and expandable, nevertheless, the very notion of the suzerain/vassal treaty does have in it the idea of obligations placed upon both parties. Our classic Reformed form for the Administration of Baptism reflects this dual obligation when it states, "Whereas in all covenants there are contained two parts: therefore are we by God through baptism admonished of and obliged to new obedience". The implication is that, since there are two parts to every covenant and since this is a covenant and further since we are now obliged to something, therefore the other part must also have spoken of some kind of obligation. As an aside here, it must be mentioned that the Form speaks of two parts; there has been some debate over the meaning of this. Does it refer to two parties to the covenant or two parts of the covenant. The problem is that the original Latin word (pars) can be translated either way. Wielenga, in his study on this Form published in 1906, moves from the one position ("parties") to the other ("parts") without making a clear break between them. (16) J. G. Woelderink, in his equally influential study of some thirty years later, takes the position that, no matter how we view the term "parts", the emphasis is in the shift from the active to the passive; herein the duality of the covenant is maintained in its unity. He means this: whereas God has actively promised, and in promising has taken a form of obligation upon himself, we, who are baptized, do not actively promise and take no obligation upon ourself but, rather, it is imposed upon us. It is active on the part of God; it is passive on the part of man. (17) Yet, these two modes do belong together and they close upon each other to create a unit: the unit of the Covenant of Grace in which God and man stand in relation to each other. It is a relation initiated by the promising God, who, by promising has taken certain obligations upon himself for when He makes promises, they are achored in His own truthfulness. Yet, although we recognize this obligation aspect, we must not so stress it that we replace the covenant idea, in which promises stand so much on the foreground, with the obligation motif. "B'rith" contains the notion of mutual obligations; however, these obligations are founded upon the promise aspect and not the other way around.
Further, a "b'rith" speaks not only of obligations but also of relations. It is not always a relation between equals. There are instances of such in the O.T. but where it concerns the relation of God and man, there can be no thought of equality. God and man did not decide to solidify their relation with a treaty of some kind. God came to man. He did not say "Let us make a covenant together" but He said "I will establish my covenant with you." (Gen.17:7) In that sense, the covenant is unilateral although, for it to function as a covenant, it must, by definition, exist as a bilateral entity. However, this agreement, this covenant between God and man, is different in character from another formal relationship which God, unilaterally, imposed upon man - the relationship of the Law. Although that Law is the expression of God's demands for the details and substance of covenantal living, its essential character is different from the Covenant. The covenant is the covenant of Grace. Its prime aspect is the promise, coupled to the demand (of obedience according to the Law). This promise is made to sinful people, people who are not deserving of any gift. It is, therefore, a covenant which speaks of grace both in its origin and in its existence. (18)
Although most Reformed theologians speak of two or three covenants (Covenant of Redemption or Counsel of Peace, Covenant of Works or Adamic Administration, and Covenant of Grace) others do not. Hoeksema speaks of the one Covenant whose essence is perfect friendship between God and man as reflective of the perfect harmony within the Trinity. Kersten and Kuyper speak of two covenants, since they equate the Covenant of Redemption with the Covenant of Grace. The same is true of most English Puritans. Most other Reformed men hold to three covenants. Nevertheless, all will admit that there are various administrations of the Covenant, no matter how they ultimately define it. O. Palmer Robertson in The Christ of the Covenants has done some interesting work in this area. He makes the following distinctions:
1. The Covenant of Creation - Genesis 1 & 2 ("Covenant of Works")
2. The Covenant of Redemption (Covenant of Grace)
a. Covenant of Commencement - Gen.3:15
b. Covenant of Preservation (Noah) - Gen. 6, 8, 9
c. Covenant of Promise (Abraham) - Gen. 12, 15, 17
d. Covenant of Law (Moses) Exod. 20, Deut.
e. Covenant of the Kingdom - 2 Samuel 7
f. Covenant of Consummation - Jeremiah 31:31-34
We agree with Robertson that these are not different covenants but progressive revelation of the various aspects of the one Covenant of Grace. (19) Nevertheless, we do find the use of these six different names for aspects of the one covenant a little confusing. We prefer to consider another method, not at all in conflict with what he has done, and simply refer to the Covenant of Grace in its various forms as these are revealed chronologically.
Genesis - is truly the book of 'beginnings'. In Genesis 3:15 we have the "mother promise": it is not only the promise that Eve would become a mother but it is also the mother of all promises. Bavinck states that "Genesis 3 in principle contains the entire history of mankind, all the ways of God for the salvation of that which is lost and for the victory over sin. Essentially, the entire gospel and all of the covenant of grace is here present." (20) When God comes with his promise of redemption through the victory of the woman's Seed over the serpent, He is, in fact, laying out all the promises which are to be repeated, in ever clearer form, throughout the entire Old dispensation, until they are fulfilled in and by the Lord Jesus Christ.
The first time the word "covenant" is used is when God speaks to Noah (Gen. 6:18) "But with you I shall establish my covenant and you shall come into the ark..." Here God makes a unilateral provision with a limited goal for a restricted period of time: Noah and his family are to be saved during the Flood by means of the Ark. This Ark is construed by some to be a picture of Christ. Although we must be careful to guard against spiritualising ("the window in the ark is the wound in Christ's side"!), we may, nevertheless, see in this gracious provision for Noah and his family a picture of what God does for all of his people: He saves them through judgment. The second part of this administration of the covenant we meet in Genesis 9 when God gives the rainbow as a sign of this covenant and promises that such judgment will never take place again, but, rather, that the seasons will continue in their regular pattern. This is sometimes referred to as "the Covenant of Nature".
When we speak of the Covenant of Grace, we usually refer to that form of the covenant which was made with Abraham. Indeed, this does stand central. When God made this with him, He put his promise first: "I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto you and to your seed forever" (Gen.17:7). As we have seen, this was not the first promise of salvation (Gen. 3:15), nor is it the first time God made a wide reaching promise to Abraham. When God called him out of Ur, He made the promise (Gen. 12:3) "...in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed". This is a messianic promise, fulfilled in Christ in whom Jew and gentile are joined together in salvation. There is a line from Gen. 12:3 to Ephesians 2:14 "For he is our peace, who has made both (i.e. Jew and gentile) one and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us". The promise to Abraham is repeated and accompanied with a sign. In Gen. 15 we have the record of Abraham killing the animals and laying the halves over against each other and then the smoking furnace and the lamp pass through them. To us this is a very strange picture, indeed, but to Abraham it would be very clear that this was a suzerainty treaty being made. God is the suzerain, Abraham the vassal. This is further confirmed by the promise of land, strictly defined according to its borders, and the control over the tribes living there. In vs. 18 we read "In the same day the Lord made a covenant with "bram". It is important to note that this took place 10 years after Abram had been called originally; he is now 85 years old. The Lord is never in a hurry, according to our standards. This fact caused Abraham to take things into his own hands and in Gen. 16 we read the sordid account of Hagar and the cruel way in which she was treated by both Abraham and Sarah. Years pass again before the Lord comes back to the promises made. Abraham is 99 when we read the account in Gen. 17
Now the covenant receives further delineation and the Lord promises to give Himself to Abraham and to his generations. The covenant is made to be everlasting and to run in the river bed of continued generations. This aspect, of the covenant running in the line of generations, is crucial to our understanding of the Covenant of Grace today. Isaac and Jacob receive the same promises. There is also a sign which belongs with this administration of the covenant: all the males who belong to the house of Abraham, even the servants and the foreign born, must be circumcised (Gen.17:9-14)
Among Biblical scholars there has been much debate as to the theological significance of this covenant. (21) Much of it is linked to the higher critical view that the Pentateuch (five books of Moses) were not written by Moses but were derived from various sources and compiled at a very late date, even as late as the time of Israel's exile. If we should, indeed, buy into this theory, we would have difficulty recognizing this as another development in the Covenant of Grace. If, however, we hold to the traditional view of inspiration and origin of Scripture, these problems melt away. We consider the Scriptural record factual and inerrant.
The covenant made at Sinai was not, as some have proposed, a covenant different from the one made with Abraham. Scripture states so itself: "The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise." (Gal.3:17NIV) Bavinck points out that this covenant "...is essentially no other than that with Abraham." "This covenant with the patriarchs stays, also when later, at Sinai, it assumes another form; it is the foundation and the core of the Sinaitic covenant, Ex. 2:24; Deut. 7:8" (22). There is continuity so that also this covenant bears the character of a gracious covenant. Indeed, there is the Law but what is it other than God spelling out how He wants his covenant people to live, in distinction from the other nations with whom He had not entered into a relationship? This idea is confirmed by the prologue to the Law in which God states who He is and what He has done for his people and that is done in a format reminiscent of the prologues to the various suzerain treaties which were in effect. "I am the Lord your God who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." Some claim that this covenant, although not a covenant of works as such, has a form strongly reminiscent of a covenant of works. (23) However, even this is too much to say. Paul, in his various letters, but especially to the Romans (ch. 3 & 4) and Galatians (ch.3) makes it abundantly clear that the righteousness by the law is not sufficient. It is a rule for life but it is a rule which cannot be kept by sinners, even by sinners who are covenant members and in that sense, the law pointed to Christ, the gracious gift of God supplied to fulfil not just the Law but all the promises of the covenant.
The passages which come into focus here are Jer. 31:31-34; 32:37-41; Ezek.37:24-28. The question arises whether this is a new covenant or a renewal of the covenant made with Abraham and Israel. Is this a further development of the revelation of covenantal truth or is it a totally new beginning? The further question then is: was the bond between God and Israel as laid down at Sinai, purely external, objective and national and is the bond, mentioned in these prophesies, purely internal and spiritual? If this is so, are we then not forced to conclude that in this "new" covenant election and covenant membership are identical? If the new covenant is purely spiritual, it has been made only with spiritual (or potentially spiritual) people; they must be elect otherwise they would not be, nor would they ever become, spiritual. If we go into this direction we must come close to saying that there is complete discontinuity between Sinai/Abraham and the "new" covenant of these prophets. But there is also another way to look at it and then we see that there is not this discontinuity. There are similarities as well as differences and we must have an eye for both. Following the line of van Genderen (24), we remark as follows:
1. In essence it is one covenant which God makes with his people. When the covenant made with Abraham was confirmed at Sinai with Israel, it kept the character of a gracious covenant. In Jeremiah 31 it is not otherwise; in a surprising manner God gives form to promises made to people who were most undeserving of them. He renews his gracious covenant with them.
2. The new covenant is none other than the old. The law which will be written in the hearts is none other than the law which has already been given. The promise was: "I will be a God to them and they shall be a people to me." This promise was in effect in the days of Moses. In Leviticus 26:12 we read, "And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people." The later prophesies of Jeremiah ought not to lead us to the conclusion that earlier the law would not have been written in the hearts or that forgiveness of sin and knowledge of the Lord were not realities. In fact, the exhortation to circumcise the foreskin of the heart (Deut. 10:16) and the promise that the Lord God himself will do this in them and their offspring so that they may live (Deut.30:6) is proof that the spiritual and internal aspect of the covenant was surely a reality for Israel at the time of Moses.
3. God's manner of dealing with his people has not changed in the "new" covenant. Promises such as recorded in Jer. 31:31-34 are not just for those who have been chosen to eternal life but they demand a response of faith, even as do the promises of Genesis 17 and Exodus 19.
4. There is clear progress in the history of the covenant, which is also redemptive history. "Behold, the days come, says the Lord..." More blessings may be expected in the future. What was essentially given in the old covenant is given in fuller and richer measure under the new.
5. The fulfilment of this prophecy is seen by some as taking place in the return from captivity, when there will be a new appreciation for and observance of the law. Nehemiah 9:38 - 10:31 certainly points in that direction. However, we must not lose sight of the notion of prophetic perspective which causes events and degrees of fulfilment to be fore shortened. There is fulfilment in the days of Nehemiah but there is a greater fulfilment to come in the days when Christ completed his work and when the Spirit was poured out. Hebrews 8:6-13 and 2 Cor. 3:6. The Hebrews reference to the "old covenant" has been used by those who argue against infant baptism, as evidence that there is complete discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments and that, therefore, the covenant sign applied to young children is no longer appropriate. Although we will deal with the basis for infant baptism later, let it be pointed out now that the reference in Heb. 8:13 to the old covenant being put away is to the form and not to the substance. This new form of the covenant will be lasting; believers from amongst the Jews and from all nations of the world are the proof that God does fulfil his promises (Rom.9:24-26; 2 Cor.6:16-18) and that the church of Jesus Christ is the people of the new covenant.
While the Hebrew "b'rith"(;n9v) provided us with some questions as to the limits of its meaning, the Greek "diaqeke" is a little more precise, although also here some shades of meaning apply. The original meaning had to do with provisions for distribution of wealth and property, such as in our use of the term "testament". It is used in that sense in Gal. 3:15; Hebr. 9:16, 17. But it also refers especially to the covenant relation which God has provided to be between himself and his people.
The N. T. is very clear in expressing that in the covenant God comes to us with his promises. Luke 1:72 draws a parallel between the mercy promised to the fathers, and the covenant. The promise of salvation is an essential element of the covenant. In Gal. 4:24 mention is made of two covenants: the one is of promise, the other of law. We think of two covenant dispensations: the one with Abraham, the other at Sinai which made concrete the promises made earlier.
There is also a striking reference to the new covenant by the Lord Jesus. On the eve of his death, he institutes the Lord's Supper and speaks of the new covenant (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25, Matt. 26:28). He seals the new covenant with His life. The blood of the covenant, which Moses sprinkled on the people (Exod. 24:8) at the inauguration of the Sinaitic covenant, has now been replaced by the blood of Jesus. When His blood is shed, it is the fulfilment of all the pictures given throughout the entire Old Testament era of covenantal administration. Now the reality begins. In that sense, all the old is replaced for it is fulfilled. Nothing is said as such by Jesus about the new covenant of Jeremiah, but according to the words spoken by Him then, at that solemn moment, the strength and certainty of this new covenant are determined by his self sacrifice.
In 2 Cor.3:6 a contrast is made between two covenants: Moses and Christ; letter and Spirit. This is to be seen in the context of the running battle which Paul had with the legalists who always reached back to the Law. The Law cannot save; the Law is the old covenant; the Law is works - but the Spirit, the new covenant, the finished work of Christ which we can enter upon only by faith, that is what matters now.
Finally, the letter to the Hebrews sheds yet another light on the new covenant. Here the contrast is made with the old which could not be brought to perfection by the Levitical priesthood. That old was good, but the new is better; its scope is broader, its rests upon better promises (Hebr. 8:6). They are not different promises, but their effect is greater. And so, the first covenant must make way for the second. This certainly falls in line with the words spoken by the Lord himself when He instituted the Lord's supper. This is the new covenant, sealed in His blood. We live in the time of greater blessings, clearer promises. All the more reason, then, that we understand how these blessings come to us and what they mean.
When we deal with the question of the position of Christ in the Covenant of Grace it may seem as if we are sliding into one of those areas of obscure and abstract debate which really means very little and of which little good can come. This reaction is all the more likely since we live in an age of doctrinal indifference. It was not always so and the development of covenant theology was often expressed in strong language. Indeed, when we read some of the dogmatic writings produced in the earlier part of this century, we note a distinctly combative style and there is a willingness to condemn one another which, to our mind, is all too near the surface. Listen to a few examples of how we should not deal with one another in our differences:
Vander Schuit, writing in his lecture notes about Kuyper's views:
"How absurd is all this: to be a child of the covenant is, in Kuyper's mouth, to be the same as to be a child of God. To be regenerated but not yet to be incorporated into Christ! But the best is yet to come...(quotes Kuyper)... what a mixture of concepts. A word of the Saviour to the Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the body, is torn out of context, without a blush, and applied to the spiritual resurrection... Truly, if the grace of the covenant must be maintained in such a manner; if this is explaining the Scriptures, then I do not know what twisting the Scriptures is (emphasis added)." (25)
Not to be outdone was Rev. Kersten in his Dogmatics:
"Heyns, Woelderink, Schilder and many CGK (Free Reformed) develop the same idea and in this they completely deviate from all the Reformed theologians. Their reprehensible system denies the Covenant of Grace in its essential power and Christ as representing Head of the Covenant of Grace, while he really can represent only the elect; it rocks people to sleep as being covenant members, having a right to salvation and it opens the door to practical Arminianism (Remonstrantism)...This doctrine must be warned against with great seriousness, so that the congregation will not be knocked off its sure foundation" (26)
We may honour these men as ministers of God's Word, we may even agree with them but we do not wish to use the same strong language which they did. This does not mean that we cannot put our positions sharply and clearly but it would not be God honouring if we did this with a degree of vigour which would hurt some of God's precious people.
It is important to keep this in mind at all times, especially when we deal with such fundamental issues as the place of Christ in the Covenant. In order to do this, we must first deal briefly with two very difficult but important issues: a. The order of God's decrees; b. The relation between the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace.
The debate on this issue has been hot and heavy and not always edifying; often people with little knowledge would debate as if they all were theologians who had received some special insight from the Lord as to just how He had planned his work. I would prefer not to touch the issue at all for it is an area in which we can so easily overstep the boundaries set by Scripture. My only reason for mentioning it is that the position taken on this issue has had a direct effect on the covenant views held.
When we talk about the order of God's decrees we use the terms supra-lapsarian and infra-lapsarian. Kuyper, Kersten and Hoeksema were supra-lapsarians; Heyns, ten Hoor, Woelderink, Schilder & van der Schuit were infra-lapsarians. Just what do these terms mean? They have to do with the order in which God made his decrees and they relate to the fall. Keep in mind that the word "lapse" means "fall". "Supra" means above or before the Fall; "infra" means below or after the Fall.
In Supra-lapsarianism the order of God's decrees is seen to be as follows:
1. The glory of God in Christ and his church.
2. The election of Christ as the Head of the church.
3. The election of the church in Christ (and reprobation)
4. The fall of all men.
5. The creation of the world and of man
In Infra-lapsarianism the order of the decrees is as follows:
1. The glory of God in Christ and his church.
2. The creation of the world and of man.
3. The fall of man.
4. The election of some to salvation; the passing by of others.
5. The appointment of Christ, as Mediator, to effect the redemption of the elect.
You will note that the Infra order reflects the historical order. This is how it happened in time; this is how the Bible presents it to us. It begins with Creation and Fall, then it speaks of redemption and Christ. This is also the order observed in the Reformed creeds. If a choice must be made between the two, this will be my choice. Now, it may be that in the mind of God He worked it out in a different order. It may even be that in the mind of God our concept of order does not even apply. However, since these distinctions have been made by men in the past, we have to acknowledge them and consider their impact. Theologians of the 'supra' mind have tended to let election dominate their view of the covenant. They have also, by and large, adopted the view that the Covenant of Grace is to be identified with the Covenant of Redemption.
The Covenant of Redemption (also known as the Counsel of Peace) is the agreement made within the Trinity in which the plan of salvation is established in all its parts. We can summarize all this as follows, borrowing from the Manual of Reformed Doctrine by W. Heyns (1926):
a. In eternity an agreement has been made among the three divine Persons with respect to the restoration of the Kingdom of God and the salvation of the elect.
b. In this covenant, the Father has appeared as first Party (Maker of the Testament), who has demanded and promised, and the Son has appeared as the second Party (Heir, Hebr. 1:2), who has accepted these demands and promises.
c. The Father has entrusted the Son with providing, as Mediator of God and man, satisfaction for the divine righteousness by becoming man, by placing himself under the Law, by obeying it perfectly not only, but also by suffering and dying for the satisfaction of its demands which had been violated through sin.
d. The Father has promised to the Son, as a reward for the execution of this task, a special glory as Mediator and King, has granted Him the elect as his own, and has promised Him their complete salvation and redemption.
e. The Son has accepted both the task and the reward.
f. The Holy Spirit took upon Himself to apply this merited redemption according to the will of the Father and the Son.
(Proof texts for these various statements: John 17:4; John 6:39; Luke 22:29; Hebr. 12:2
Phil.2:9; Psalm 2:7, 8) (27)
The criticism has been made that this covenant construction is abstract and speculative; there is no mention of a Covenant of Redemption or a Counsel of Peace in Scripture. This is true. The reference in Zechariah 6:13 "...the counsel of peace shall be between them both" can hardly be applied to this as it refers to the union of the priestly and kingly work of the BRANCH, Joshua, which union is ultimately perfectly displayed in our royal high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. Still, it cannot be denied that the idea is woven throughout Scripture and the texts mentioned will bear this out.
The problem arises when we ask if this Covenant of Redemption is to be seen as distinct from the Covenant of Grace or as a certain phase of it. Although the Covenant of Grace is built upon it, we believe it is not to be identified with it. Here we side with Heyns, Schilder, Van der Schuit, e.a. against Hoeksema, Kersten and Kuyper. We do that for the following reasons (again following Heyns):
a. There are different parties. In the Covenant of Redemption, the parties are the Divine Persons. In the Covenant of Grace the parties are the Triune God as the first and believers and their seed as the second.
b. These covenants were established at different times: Covenant of Redemption in eternity; Covenant of Grace in time with Abraham, Genesis 17. To say that the covenant with Abraham is only a revelation of the covenant made with Christ in eternity is to disregard the plain meaning of Scripture.
c. The characters of these covenants is different:
1. In the covenant of Redemption Christ is representative head, as Adam was head of thehuman race; in the Covenant of Grace there is no representative head - receiving of covenant blessings or curses is a personal matter.
2. The Covenant of Grace can be broken; the other cannot for it belongs to the eternal counsel of God.
d. Their purposes are different: The Covenant of Redemption has to do with the acquiring of salvation; the covenant of Grace pertains to the imparting of salvation. (28)
We have taken some pains to make these distinctions, not to perpetuate some scholastic, hair splitting speculation, but because these different views did have a profound effect on the covenant theology of many ministers and, thus, were determinative for their approach to the congregations. What you and I have heard over the years from the respective pulpits we have been under, is, in no small measure, determined by where the preachers stood on these issues. But this we hope to consider further at a later date. We now go back to our main point of interest, the place of Christ in the Covenant of Grace.
There is a striking reference in Isa. 42:6, in the midst of the prophesies about the servant of the LORD. "I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant to the people, for a light to the Gentiles." According to one theologian (van Genderen (29)) the term "a covenant to the people" could mean "the covenant mediator for the people". We believe this points to the fact that the covenant is personified in Him and guaranteed by Him. The fact that this Servant of the LORD, which is the Lord Jesus Christ, is also given as a light to the Gentiles means that the covenant is not restricted to Israel alone. This and other prophetic words make it clear that Christ will be the One to bring salvation and righteousness for the whole world.
Isaiah 53 does not mention the word "covenant"; yet, in this well known passage depicting the sufferings of the Servant, the covenant idea is not far from the surface. The chapter must be read in the light of the New Testament. When the Lord Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, he spoke of the blood of the covenant. Matt. 26:28 NIV "This is my blood of the covenant (KJ:'testament' - Greek ) which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." This is a reference to Isaiah 53:12 which the Lord sees being fulfilled here. Add to this Hebrews 9:15, 28 which refers to Christ being the mediator of the new covenant who was once offered to bear the sins of many and we see that Isaiah 53 adds to our understanding of the work of the mediator of the covenant.
Other references to Christ in the covenant are found in the prophecies of Ezekiel (34:21-30 & 37:24-28). Although the Lord there speaks of David who shall rule over his newly gathered people as a royal shepherd over the flock, we know this must refer to the Son of David. These prophesies also go into fulfilment in stages. Prophetic perspective must not be lost out of sight. The fulness of fulfilment, however, is in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the New Testament Christ is referred to as the mediator of the new covenant (Hebr. 9:15), the mediator of a better covenant (Hebr. 8:6) and also the surety of a better covenant.
"Mediator" refers to one who stands between two opposing parties. Originally the word referred to one who would make two parties agree on a contract. So, a mediator acts in the making of a treaty, although he can also function as referee and peace maker. In the Old Testament, particularly Moses and Aaron were mediators. Think of Moses in Exodus 32, mediating for the people with God when He wanted to destroy them for their sin of idolatry at Mt. Sinai. Think also of the entire priesthood of Aaron and sons which was one of primarily mediation through the bringing of sacrifices.
"Surety" refers to one who takes legal obligations upon himself. If you co-sign a loan you make yourself legally responsible for the payment of the loan should the first party default. This may cost you dearly.
As mediator of the new and better covenant, Christ replaces Moses and Aaron. Their mediatorial work pointed to Christ and, as with all other things of the Old Testament, asked to be fulfilled in Christ. As pointed out in Hebrews 9:14, 26, the mediator of the new covenant offered himself without spot to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. The way to God is unlocked: we receive "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus" (Hebr.10:19).
As surety Christ guarantees the covenant and its realisation. Canons of Dort II, 8 states "...that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem...". It is true, indeed, that when Jesus said "It is finished" he did confirm "...with his death and shedding of his blood, the new and eternal testament, that covenant of grace and reconciliation..." (30).
We see then that the Lord Jesus Christ is both the mediator and the surety of the Covenant of Grace. This is not some theological construction; this is taught in the Scriptures. Although it may seem like a fine point whether Christ is head or mediator of the covenant, the practical implications of this distinction are telling.
Why even raise the question? Again, this question has been raised by others and the answer has far reaching consequences for the person in the pew.
Older theologians named Him the Head of the covenant without giving good grounds for this. To be sure, the New Testament refers to Christ as the firstborn of all creatures, the head of the body, the church (Col.1:15, 18), the head (Eph.4:15). This same truth is also expressed in the image of vine and branch. However, nowhere do we read explicitly that Christ is the head of the covenant. Still, this is being taught by various theologians. A striking fact is that this is taught by men who hold to the "supra" position and who equate the Covenant of Grace with the Covenant of Redemption. Among them we find both Kuyper and Kersten.
Followers of Kuyper state that the total membership of the covenant is not a collection of loose individuals but a body of which Christ forms the head. Based on Romans 5 especially, they hold that as Adam was the head of the Covenant of Works, so is Christ the head of the Covenant of Grace. However, some of them point out that Christ is also the mediator of this covenant. So, in their view, Christ fills a double covenant function: head and mediator. (31)
As stated, also Kersten held to this view. He saw the Covenant of Grace as the fulfilment, in time, of the Covenant of Redemption, made in eternity with the elect, in Christ as their representative covenant Head. Listen to what he wrote in his "Dogmatics":
"The leaders amongst the Reformed have spoken of Christ as the representative Head of the Covenant of Grace and they who separate the covenant from election and who do not want to acknowledge Christ as representative covenant Head, banish from the church the truly reformed, through whose writings the congregation has been built upon the sure foundation of the apostles and prophets. Apparently many would rather forsake their reformed fathers than that they will let go of their pestiferous ("verderfelijke") theories. This is what one comes to when one teaches a covenant that is not really a covenant but which is but merely an offer of salvation and which stands loose from election. However, it is only with the elect that God makes his covenant in time and whom, in his free grace through faith, he makes covenant members." (32)
There is no question on where he stood on this issue. He then goes on to state that both Rome and Luther believed that the grace of regeneration could be lost. Then he adds, "And behold, Prof. Heyns, Rev. Woelderink and many Christelijk Gereformeerden ('Free Reformed) e.a. teach that one can fall out of the covenant of Grace". Guilty by association!
The Scriptural grounds for the position that Christ is the Head of the Covenant of Grace are weak. Reference is usually made to Romans 5:12-21. There Paul makes a parallel between Christ and Adam - but it is an antithetical parallel. He places one over against the other. Adam is the cause of sin: Christ is the cause of life. Christ is the head of the new human race as Adam was the head of the old human race. Christ is this head because his own are chosen in Him and given to Him by the Father (Eph.1:4; John 17:6) The term 'covenant" is not even mentioned in this passage. The same applies to 1 Cor. 15:22 "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive"; this says nothing about covenant headship. It is no more legitimate to base this idea on this text than it is to state that all who die in Adam shall be made alive in Christ.
We must make distinctions between covenant and election (33):
1. God choses his own before the foundation of the world but He establishes his covenant in time; this covenant has an historical development;
2. Election is God's gracious decision involving lost people and the Covenant of Grace is the gracious relationship which God wanted to establish with believers and their children;
3. Covenant and election are not quantitatively identical. The numbers are not the same. Not all the children of the covenant share in the communion with God to which he has chosen his people.
From this we must conclude that the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Redemption are not to be equated with each other.
1. In the Covenant of Redemption, the contracting parties are equal, being the three Persons of the Trinity; in the Covenant of Grace the parties are very much unequal: God and the sinner.
2.The Covenant of Redemption demands that Christ bear the punishment and fulfil the demands of the law for the elect. The Covenant of Grace demands of us faith and repentance, something which Christ does not do in our place.
We have mentioned several times that the headship of Christ in the covenants has practical consequences. They are as follows:
a. if Christ is the Head of the Covenant of Grace, which then is essentially the same as the Covenant of Redemption, only those who are in Him are in the Covenant; the covenantal promises and seals in the sacraments are meant only for the elect;
b. if this position is consistently maintained, the full reality of the covenant, the validity of the covenant promises and the truth of the sacraments, cannot be maintained for the entire congregation.
We may consider Kuyper and Kersten and their followers as representative of the school of thought which holds to the supra-lapsarian position which, as a result, equates the Covenant of Redemption made in eternity with the Covenant of Grace made in time and which, therefore, sees Jesus Christ as the Head of that one covenant. It is interesting to note how they worked out the consequences of their views. Although we now make general, sweeping statements, it may be said that Kuyper had a broad view of the covenant and considered most members of the "visible church" to be elect. Kersten, on the other hand, had a much narrower view and considered that there were relatively few elect. We will say more of these matters later.
To conclude: the Scriptures make it clear that Christ is the covenant Mediator and as such, he is the head of his elect church. We can more readily come to this conclusion when we consider the historical development of revelation and adopt the infra-lapsarian position. Then, by good and logical consequence, based on various Scriptural givens, we conclude that the Covenant of Redemption was made in eternity between the divine Persons of the Trinity, the Covenant of Grace in time, with believers and all their seed.
1. The term is not found in the Three Forms of Unity; it makes its appearance in The Irish Articles of Religion, 1615 and in the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647. Charles Hodge deals with it rather extensively in his Systematic Theology,Vol. II, Pp.117 ff. John Murray rejects it and prefers "Adamic Administration" (Collected Writings Vol. II,Pp. 48, 49).
2. If we are familiar at all with Puritan theology, we will recognize that they, by and large, held to the view that the Covenant of Grace was made with the elect only. This view, tied in to their concept of double predestination, ultimately created various pastoral problems with which the Puritans dealt quite masterfully in their approach to "Cases of Conscience".
3. Anthony Hoekema, "The Christian Reformed Church and the Covenant" in Perspectives on the Christian Reformed Church, eds. Peter de Klerk and Richard de Ridder. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), Pp. 199, 200.
4. Op. cit. p.198 .
5. Ibid., p.185.
6. Ibid., p.195.
7. Ibid., p.190.
8. Ibid., p.189.
9. H. Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1973) p.322.
10. James W. Beeke, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.),1987.
11. Op. cit. p.331.
12. J. Faber "The Liberation: the Doctrinal Aspect" in C. Van Dam, editor, The Liberation: Causes and Consequences , (Winnipeg: Premier Publishing), 1995, Pp. 1-29.
13. J. J. Vander Schuit, "Dictaten Dogmatiek" (unpublished, in stencil form) (Apeldoorn, 1920's).
14. Quoted by Meredith G. Kline, By Oath Consigned, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 86.
15. Cf. J. van Genderen & W. H. Velema, Beknopte Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, (Kok: Kampen, 1992), p.498.
16. B. Wielenga, Ons Doopsformulier,. (Kok: Kampen, 1906), Pp.113ff.
17. J.G. Woelderink, Het Doopsformulier, ('s Gravenhage: Uitgeverij Guido De Bres, 1938)Pp.311ff.
19. O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1982). p. 61.
20. H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, (Kok: Kampen, 1929), Vol. III, p.179.
21. Robertson, op. cit. p.167.
22. Bavinck, op. cit. p. 201.
23. van Genderen, op. cit. p. 500, referring to G. Ch. Aalders, Het Verbond Gods, 1939.
24. Op.cit.. p.501ff.
25. Van der Schuit, Dictaten Dogmatiek, p.40.
26. G. H. Kersten, De Gereformeerde Dogmatiek,(Utrecht: De Banier, 1950) Deel I, p. 313.
27. W. Heyns, Manual of Reformed Doctrine, (Grand Rapids:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1926), p.54.
28. Op. cit. Pp. 124, 125.
29. Beknopte Dogmatiek, p. 505.
30. Form for the Administration of the Lord's Supper, in The Psalter, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p.61.
31. See, for example, A. G. Honig, Handboek van de Gereformeerde Dogmatiek,(Kok: Kampen, 1938), p.430.
32. Kersten, op.cit. p.326.
33. Van Genderen, op. cit. p. 508.
Rev. C. A. Schouls, pastor of the Free Reformed Church in Vineland, Ontario, and the Niagara Ligonier Study Centre, are to be commended for presenting their students, as well as a wider audience, a helpful Biblical, historical, and theological explanation of the Covenant of Grace. Current discussions surrounding covenant theology will be facilitated and guided by the content as well as the approach taken by Rev. Schouls. For many of the students who are not familiar with the developments in Continental Reformed theology, this will be a good introduction.
The lectures were delivered on consecutive evenings during the months of March and April, 1996. The students in attendance were from a variety of Christian churches associated with the Calvinist and Reformed heritage.
The Niagara Ligonier Study Centre, under the able direction of Mr. Jack Schoeman, exists in order to promote and propagate the study and understanding of the message of the holiness of God according to the whole counsel of God. This title will contribute to understanding the relationship which a holy God is able to carry out with His people.
May I also add a personal note to this foreword? My father, Rev. Cornelius Hegeman, was a minister in the Netherlands Reformed Congregations, which are mentioned in relation to the teaching of Rev. G. H. Kersten. The theology of the covenant was an important concern. When I felt the call of God to enter into full time ministry service, my wife and I visited the Netherlands on a family visit and I took the opportunity to ask my father's advice on which church to work with. Our conversation consisted of one question. "What is your view of the covenant," he asked. I explained what my view was on the Old and New Covenant. "That wouldn't go over in the NRC," he explained. And so it was. Now, many years later, Rev. Schouls' explanation helps to clarify that point: my views did not develop much beyond the sixteenth century language of Old and New Covenant.
Yet, isn't it amazing that even though we differ on our views of the covenant, the God of the covenant views all His people the same, by grace and grace alone. Rev. Schouls' explanations are helpful and also presented in a temperate and kind way. May not only what he says but also how he says it be contagious in our circles. May it help us be more informed and gracious in our dialogue about the Covenant of Grace.
Dr. Neal Hegeman
Ligonier Ministries of Canada