In our previous post today, we looked at the temptation of Eve, the fall of man, and total depravity.
In this post, we will examine the covenant of grace that God established after the fall.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states as follows:
7.3. Man, by his fall, having made himself uncapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.
Following the fall, God says something remarkable to the serpent:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15, KJV)
God indicates that there will be “enmity” between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Moreover, the seed of the women shall “bruise [his] head”, suggesting a victory over the curse God pronounced in this chapter for breaking the covenant of works. The victory of the serpent is only temporary. Ultimately, God had already purposed to reconcile man to himself.
Many Reformed believers confess that it was at this point that God established His covenant of grace, whereby He promised eternal life with the stipulation that one have faith in Christ. Here’s Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Witsius on this topic:
“In the covenant of works God promised life to man, on condition of perfect obedience; but he did not promise to produce or effect this obedience in man. In the covenant of grace, he not only promises life eternal, but also at the same time faith and repentance, and perseverance in holiness, without which life cannot be attained, and which being granted, life cannot but be obtained. And even in this sense it may be said, that the covenant of which Christ is the Mediator is “more excellent, and established on better promises,” Heb. 8:6; because it does not depend on any uncertain condition, but is founded on the suretiship and actual satisfaction of Christ, does infallibly secure salvation to the believer, and as certainly promise faith to the Elect.”
The condition of the covenant of works was obedience to the command of God to not eat of the tree. Man broke that command. The condition of the covenant of grace is faith in Christ.
This means that at the fall, Adam and the regenerate believers of the church since, have all been in one covenant of grace with God, founded on the condition of faith in Christ. This is a faith that God graciously gives to the believer in regeneration.
At this point it may be objected that speaking of a “condition” makes it sound as though there is some “work” we need to do to be in covenant. Not so. Some theologians (à Brakel) speak of it being an unconditional covenant, by which they mean that man can bring nothing to the covenant. In this sense, I am in complete agreement.
In my use, a condition doesn’t refer to the work we do; it merely refers to the basis by which one has covenant with God. It is the “requirement” that the Westminster Confession speaks of above. What God requires in this covenant he gives to us unconditionally (we bring nothing to the table) but the condition (requirement) of the covenant is faith in Christ. The spirit of Christ in us gives us faith to believe and witnesses to the fact that we are in covenant with God (Romans 8:14).
The covenant of grace is the outworking of the Reformation principles of Sola Fide (faith alone) and Sola Christus (Christ alone). The basis by which we have all been in covenant with God since the fall has been faith, graciously given. The mediator of that covenant is a man – Christ – who was obedient to the Father, unlike the surety of the first covenant – Adam – who was disobedient. This is Paul’s point in Romans 5, when he establishes two federal heads for two covenants:
For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. (Romans 5:19, KJV)
Also, in reading Hebrews 11, one finds that the substance of the covenant has always been the same – Christ – and that the church of God since the fall has always looked to Christ in faith for salvation.
This should be a great comfort to us. God hasn’t had multiple plans or dispensations throughout redemptive history. God has always had one plan – one covenant – and the mediator of that covenant is Christ.
Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. (John 8:56-58, KJV)