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The basic definition of a covenant is an agreement between two or more parties. Covenants include parties, stipulations, promises, and threats. Some covenants, like that between Jacob and Laban, are between equals (Gen. 31:43–55). Others are between unequals. God’s covenants with mankind are always between unequals. God’s covenant of grace in Christ takes the form of a last will and testament, in which Christ, the Testator, represents the elect before God, fulfilling all the stipulations of the law, securing its promises, and bearing its curse (Heb. 9:15–17; Gal. 3:13). The elect do nothing but receive the inheritance by receiving Christ.

Christ and the covenant of grace are the core of redemption in the Westminster Larger Catechism. The Westminster Shorter Catechism leaves the covenant of grace as the unspoken backdrop of redemption. However, the Larger Catechism brings the covenant to the foreground. The covenant fills out the biblical story of redemption and it opens the door for the doctrine of the church, which is based on the covenant (WLC 62–64). It also roots redemption applied in union and communion with Christ in grace and glory (WLC 65–90). In Westminster Larger Catechism 30–31, we learn that Christ is the Mediator of the covenant of grace who saves His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). We have seen in previous installments of this series that because of the sin of Adam, we are plunged into an estate of sin and misery. The good news is that God did not leave us to perish in that estate. He rescues us by the covenant of grace in Christ.

God Did Not Leave Us to Perish in Sin and Misery

God did not leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell by breach of the first covenant, commonly called the covenant of works; but of his mere love and mercy delivereth his elect out of it, and bringeth them to an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace. (WLC 30)

All people need to be saved from sin and misery. We deserve to perish for our sins, and it would have been just for God to let us all die in our sins. However, God has purposed to save some, but not all will be saved. We must learn two biblical truths: “God did not leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery,” and “out of his mere love,” He delivers the elect out of the estate of sin and misery.

While some people ask why God did not save everyone, the Scriptures glory in the fact that God saves anyone. We have seen in previous articles that sin deserves punishment in this life and the next (WLC 28–29). This is because Adam broke the “first covenant” that God made with mankind (WLC 20, 22). This was a “covenant of life” because it promised everlasting life, embodied in the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22). It was a “covenant of works” because it was conditioned on Adam’s “personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience” (WLC 20). God and Adam were the parties, obedience was the condition, life was the promise, and death was the threat. After the fall, the cherubim and the flaming sword blocked access to the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:24), revealing that their sin had cut off our access to eternal life.

To which covenant do we belong? The covenant of works or the covenant of grace? How do we know? Do we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20)? Or do we rest in our own works?

The good news is that God made a “second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace.” This covenant is rooted not in anything we can do but only in God’s “mere love.” By this covenant, God saves “his elect,” whom the Father chose, whom Christ purchased, and whom the Spirit seals for the day of redemption (Eph. 1:3–14; 4:30). The second covenant brings the elect out of the misery brought on by the broken first covenant, transferring them to “an estate of salvation.” God promised to save His people from their sins after Adam and Eve’s fall, saying to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Eve’s sin resulted in enmity with God through friendship with the serpent. God would break her friendship with the serpent by putting enmity between them. Yet Satan and the woman have offspring. Satan’s offspring are those who remain his servants and friends through sin. Her offspring are those who are servants and friends of God in Christ. This promise thus distinguished the church from the world thereafter. However, the great Seed of the woman, Christ, would crush the serpent’s head, while His heel would be “bruised” at the cross. Satan’s ruin would be permanent, while Christ’s would not be. The seed of the woman, the church, would share in the victory of the Seed of the woman, Christ. God will crush Satan under our feet just as He crushed him under Christ’s feet (Rom. 16:20), reversing the curse of sin.

All of this means that we must be saved by grace and not by works, with no middle ground: “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Rom. 11:6). Only if through faith in Christ we become parties to the covenant of grace will we be redeemed.

Christ Rescues Us from Sin and Misery in Covenant

The Covenant of grace was made with Christ as the Second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed. (WLC 31)

Like the covenant of works, the covenant of grace has parties, conditions, promises, and threats. The parties of the covenant of grace are God and Christ, with the elect in Him. Christ is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). Christ is also the surety of “a better covenant” (Heb. 7:22), guaranteeing our salvation by standing in our place before God (Heb. 7:26–28). The Seed (singular) of the woman came to save the seed (plural) of the woman. He is the Seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16). If we belong to Christ, then we, too, are Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:29). Christ, the “Captain of our salvation,” brings “many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10).

While the elect are parties of the covenant of grace (Jer. 31:31–34), they always approach God in Christ as Mediator and surety. The Father Himself, who predestined them to adoption as sons in Christ, is pleased with them (Eph. 1:5). The Father so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might be saved (John 3:16). God showed that He is love in that “he sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). God abides in us and His love abides in us “because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). The Mediator of the covenant of grace brings the Father’s plan to fruition for the elect, and the Holy Spirit brings us to God and keeps us in fellowship with Him through faith in Christ.

Conclusion

Christ did not come to save everyone. Faith unites us, the bride, to Christ, the Bridegroom, and Christ unites us to God. The Friend of the Bridegroom, the Holy Spirit, engages us to Christ and will consummate this engagement in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6–9). To which covenant do we belong? The covenant of works or the covenant of grace? How do we know? Do we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20)? Or do we rest in our own works?

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series. Previous post. Next post.

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