Classical Covenant Theology

Edited by and some translations by R. Scott Clark

On Law and Gospel

John Calvin (1509-64). Hence, also, we see the error of those who, in comparing the Law with the Gospel, represent it merely as a comparison between the merit of works, and the gratuitous imputation of righteousness. This is indeed a contrast not at all to be rejected. For Paul often means by the term “law” the rule of righteous living by which God requires of us what is his own, giving us no hope of life unless we completely obey him, and adding on the other hand a curse if we deviate even in the slightest degree. This Paul does when he contends that we pleasing to God through grace and accounted righteous through his pardon, because nowhere is found that observance of the law for which the reward has been promised. Paul therefore justly makes contraries of the righteousness of the law and that of the gospel (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559; 2.9.4).

John Calvin. This is confirmed by the testimony of Paul, when he observes that the Gospel holds forth salvation to us, not under the harsh arduous, and impossible terms on which the Law treats with us, (namely, that those shall obtain it who fulfill all its demands,) but on terms easy, expeditious, and readily obtained (Institutes, 2.5.12).

John Calvin. But they observe not that in the antithesis between Legal and Gospel righteousness, which Paul elsewhere introduces, all kinds of works, with whatever name adorned, are excluded, (Galatians 3:11, 12). For he says that the righteousness of the Law consists in obtaining salvation by doing what the Law requires, but that the righteousness of faith consists in believing that Christ died and rose again, (Romans 10:5-9.) Moreover, we shall afterwards see, at the proper place, that the blessings of sanctification and justification, which we derive from Christ, are different. Hence it follows, that not even spiritual works are taken into account when the power of justifying is ascribed to faith (Institutes, 3.11.14).

John Calvin. The Law, he says, is different from faith. Why? Because to obtain justification by it, works are required; and hence it follows, that to obtain justification by the Gospel they are not required. From this statement, it appears that those who are justified by faith are justified independent of, nay, in the absence of the merit of works, because faith receives that righteousness which the Gospel bestows. But the Gospel differs from the Law in this, that it does not confine justification to works, but places it entirely in the mercy of God (Institutes, 3.11.18).

John Calvin. For the words of Paul always hold true, that the difference between the Law and the Gospel lies in this, that the latter does not like the former promise life under the condition of works, but from faith. What can be clearer than the antithesis — “The righteousness of the law is in this wise, The man who doeth these things shall live in them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh thus, Whoso believeth,” etc. ( Romans 10:5.) To the same effect is this other passage, “If the inheritance were of the law, faith would be made void and the promise abolished. Therefore it is of faith that in respect of grace the promise might be sure to every one that believeth.” ( Romans 4:14.) As to ecclesiastical laws, they must themselves see to them: we acknowledge one Legislator, to whom it belongs to deliver the rule of life, as from him we have life (Antidote to the Council of Trent, 1547).

John Calvin. I besides hold that it is without us, because we are righteous in Christ only. Let them produce evidence from Scripture, if they have any, to convince us of their doctrine. I, while I have the whole Scripture supporting me, will now be satisfied with this one reason, viz., that when mention is made of the righteousness of works, the law and the gospel place it in the perfect obedience of the law; and as that nowhere appears, they leave us no alternative but to flee to Christ alone, that we may be regarded as righteous in him, not being so in ourselves. Will they produce to us one passage which declares that begun newness of life is approved by God as righteousness either in whole or in part? But if they are devoid of authority, why may we not be permitted to repudiate the figment of partial justification which they here obtrude? (Antidote to the Council of Trent, 1547).

John Calvin. Verily the law, though it could justify, by no means promises salvation to any one work, but makes justification to consist in the perfect observance of all the commandments. (Commentary on Psalm 106:31)

John Calvin. In reference to Galatians 3:13  Paul assumes that these, even faith and law, are contrary, the one to the other; contrary as to the work of justifying. The law indeed agrees with the gospel; nay, it contains in itself the gospel. And Paul has solved this question in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, by saying, that the law cannot assist us to attain righteousness, but that it is offered to us in the gospel, and that it receives a testimony from the law and the Prophets. Though then there is a complete concord between the law and the gospel, as God, who is not inconsistent with himself, is the author of both; yet as to justification, the law accords not with the gospel, any more than light with darkness: for the law promises life to those who serve God; and the promise is conditional, dependent on the merits of works. The gospel also does indeed promise righteousness under condition; but it has no respect to the merits of works. What then? It is only this, that they who are condemned and lost are to embrace the favor offered to them in Christ. (Commentary on Habakkuk 2:4)

John Calvin. If we are not righteous except according to the covenant of the law, then we are not righteous except through a full and perfect observance of the law. This is certain. (Commentary on Habakkuk 2:4)

John Calvin. Paul confirms this testimony that in the gospel salvation is not offered under that hard, harsh, and impossible condition laid down for us by the law that only those who have fulfilled all the commandments will finally attain it but under an easy, ready, and openly accessible condition. (in reference to Romans 10) (Institutes, 2.5.12).

John Calvin. If it is true that in the law we are taught the perfection of righteousness, this also follows: the complete observance of the law is perfect righteousness before God. By it man would evidently be deemed and reckoned righteous before the heavenly judgment seat. (Institutes, 2.7.3).

John Calvin. For since the teaching of the law is far above human capacity, a man may indeed view from afar the proffered promises, yet he cannot derive any benefit from them… so that we discern in the law only the most immediate death. (Institutes, 2.7.3).

John Calvin. But as soon as he begins to compare his powers with the difficulty of the law, he has something to diminish his bravado. For, however remarkable an opinion of his powers he formerly held, he soon feels that they are panting under so heavy a weight as to stagger and totter, and finally even to fall down and faint away. Thus man, schooled in the law, sloughs off the arrogance that previously blinded him. (Institutes, 2.7.6).

John Calvin. Thus it is clear that by our wickedness and depravity we are prevented from enjoying the blessed life set openly before us by the law. Thereby the grace of God, which nourishes us without the support of the law, becomes sweeter, and his mercy, which bestows that grace upon us, becomes more lovely. (Institutes, 2.7.7).

John Calvin. Not that the law no longer enjoins believers to do what is right, but only that it is not for them what it formerly was: it may no longer condemn and destroy their consciences by frightening and confounding them. (Institutes, 2.7.14).

John Calvin. For Paul often means by the term «law» the rule of righteous living by which God requires of us what is his own, giving us no hope of life unless we completely obey him, and adding on the other hand a curse if we deviate even in the slightest degree. This Paul does when he contends that we are pleasing to God through grace and are accounted righteous through his pardon, because nowhere is found that observance of the law for which the reward has been promised. Paul therefore justly makes contraries of the righteousness of the law and of that of the gospel [Romans 3:21 ff.; Galatians 3:10 ff.; etc.] (Institutes, 2.9.4).

John Calvin. the law contains here and there promises of mercy, but because they have been borrowed from elsewhere, they are not counted part of the law, when only the nature of the law is under discussion. They ascribe to it only this function: to enjoin what is right, to forbid what is wicked; to promise a reward to the keepers of righteousness, and threaten transgressors with punishment; but at the same time not to change or correct the depravity of heart that by nature inheres in all men. (Institutes, 2.11.7).

John Calvin. But when through the law the patriarchs felt themselves both oppressed by their enslaved condition, and wearied by anxiety of conscience, they fled for refuge to the gospel. (Institutes, 2.11.9).

John Calvin. First, God lays down for us through the law what we should do; if we then fail in ally part of it, that dreadful sentence of eternal death which it pronounces will rest upon us. Secondly, it is not only hard, but above our strength and beyond all our abilities, to fulfill the law to the letter; thus, if we look to ourselves only, and ponder what condition we deserve, no trace of good hope will remain; but cast away by God, we shall lie under eternal death. (Institutes, 3.2.1) for men cursed under the law there remains, in faith, one sole means of recovering salvation (Institutes, 3.11.1).

John Calvin. For faith totters if it pays attention to works, since no one, even of the most holy, will find there anything on which to rely. (Institutes, 3.11.11)

John Calvin. In short, whoever wraps up two kinds of righteousness in order that miserable souls may not repose wholly in God’s mere mercy, crowns Christ in mockery with a wreath of thorns [Mark 15:17, etc.]. (Institutes, 3.11.12).

John Calvin. a man who wishes to obtain Christ’s righteousness must abandon his own righteousness. (Institutes, 3.11.13).

John Calvin. Do you see how he makes this the distinction between law and gospel: that the former attributes righteousness to works, the latter bestows free righteousness apart from the help of works? This is an important passage, and one that can extricate us from many difficulties if we understand that that righteousness which is given us through the gospel has been freed of all conditions of the law. (Calvin commenting on Romans 10:9) (Institutes, 3.11.17)

John Calvin. How would this argument be maintained otherwise than by agreeing that works do not enter the account of faith but must be utterly separated? The law, he says, is different from faith. Why? Because works are required for law righteousness. Therefore it follows that they are not required for faith righteousness. From this relation it is clear that those who are justified by faith are justified apart from the merit of works»”in fact, without the merit of works. For faith receives that righteousness which the gospel bestows. Now the gospel differs from the law in that it does not link righteousness to works but lodges it solely in God’s mercy. (Institutes, 3.11.18).

John Calvin. They [ed. the Papists] prate that the ceremonial works of the law are excluded, not the moral works [but] let us hold as certain that when the ability to justify is denied to the law, these words refer to the whole law. (Institutes, 3.11.19)

John Calvin. For since no perfection can come to us so long as we are clothed in this flesh, and the law moreover announces death and judgment to all who do not maintain perfect righteousness in works, it will always have grounds for accusing and condemning us unless, on the contrary, God’s mercy counters it, and by continual forgiveness of sins repeatedly acquits us. (Institutes, 3.14.10)
John Calvin. Works righteousness consists solely in perfect and complete observance of the law. From this it follows that no man is justified by works unless, having been raised to the highest peak of perfection, he cannot be accused even of the least transgression. (Institutes, 3.15.1).

John Calvin. The fact, then, remains that through the law the whole human race is proved subject to God’s curse and wrath, and in order to be freed from these, it is necessary to depart from the power of the law and, as it were, to be released from its bondage into freedom it is spiritual freedom, which would comfort and raise up the stricken and prostrate conscience, showing it to be free from the curse and condemnation with which the law pressed it down, bound and fettered. (Institutes, 3.17.1)

John Calvin.With a clear voice we too proclaim that these commandments are to be kept if one seeks life in works. And Christians must know this doctrine, for how could they flee to Christ unless they recognized that they had plunged from the way of life over the brink of death? How could they realize how far they had wandered from the way of life unless they first understood what that way is like? Only, therefore, when they distinguish how great is the difference between their life and divine righteousness that consists in accepting the law are they made aware that, in order to recover salvation, their refuge is in Christ. To sum up, if we seek salvation in works, we must keep the commandments by which we are instructed unto perfect righteousness. But we must not stop here unless we wish to fail in mid-course, for none of us is capable of keeping the commandments. (Institutes, 3.18.9)

John Calvin.The consciences of believers, in seeking assurance of their justification before God, should rise above and advance beyond the law, forgetting all law righteousness. For since, as we have elsewhere shown, the law leaves no one righteous, either it excludes us from all hope of justification or we ought to be freed from it, and in such a way, indeed, that no account is taken of works»¦ If consciences wish to attain any certainty in this matter, they ought to give no place to the law. (Institutes, 3.19.1)

John Calvin. The whole life of Christians ought to be an exercise of piety, since they are called to sanctification. It is the office of the law to remind them of their duty and thereby to excite them to the pursuit of holiness and integrity. But when their consciences are solicitous how God may be propitiated, what answer they shall make, and on what they shall rest their confidence, if called to his tribunal, there must then be no consideration of the requisitions of the law, but Christ alone must be proposed for righteousness, who exceeds all the perfection of the law. (Institutes, 3.19.2)

John Calvin. Consciences observe the law, not as if constrained by the necessity of the law, but that freed from the law’s yoke they willingly obey God’s will. For since they dwell in perpetual dread so long as they remain under the sway of the law, they will never be disposed with eager readiness to obey God unless they have already been given this sort of freedom… For unless its rigor be mitigated, the law in requiring perfect love condemns all imperfection. Let him therefore ponder his own work, which he wished to be adjudged in part good, and by that very act he will find it, just because it is imperfect, to be a transgression of the law. (Institutes, 3.19.4)

John Calvin.No one can maintain in this life the perfect obedience to the law which God requires of us. (Institutes, 4.13.6)

John Calvin. A young man asks by what works he shall enter into eternal life [Matthew 19:16; cf. Luke 10:25]. Christ, because the question concerned works, refers him to the law [Matthew 19:17-19]. And rightly! For, considered in itself, it is the way of eternal life; and, except for our depravity, is capable of bringing salvation to us. By this reply Christ declared that he taught no other plan of life than what had been taught of old in the law of the Lord. So also he attested God’s law to be the doctrine of perfect righteousness, and at the same time confuted false reports so he might not seem by some new rule of life to incite the people to desert the law. Our opponents vainly give a general interpretation to this particular instance, as if Christ established the perfection of man in renunciation of goods. Actually, he meant nothing else by this statement than to compel the young man, pleased with himself beyond measure, to feel his sore, that he might realize he was still far removed from the perfect obedience to the law which he was falsely claiming for himself. (Institutes, 4.13.13)

John Calvin.The law in itself contains perfect righteousness; and this appears from the fact that its observance is called the way of eternal salvation. (Institutes, 4.13.13).

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83) Q.36 What distinguishes law and gospel? A: The law contains a covenant of nature begun by God with men in creation, that is, it is a natural sign to men, and it requires of us perfect obedience toward God. It promises eternal life to those keeping it, and threatens eternal punishment to those not keeping it. In fact, the gospel contains a covenant of grace, that is, one known not at all under nature. This covenant declares to us fulfillment of its righteousness in Christ, which the law requires, and our restoration through Christ’s Spirit. To those who believe in him, it freely promises eternal life for Christ’s sake (Larger Catechism, Q. 36).

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83) on the organization of the Heidelberg Catechism. The chief and most important parts of the first principles of the doctrine of the church, as appears from the passage just quoted from the Epistle to the Hebrews, are repentance and faith in Christ, which we may regard as synonymous with the law and gospel. Hence, the catechism in its primary and most general sense, may be divided as the doctrine of the church, into the law and gospel. It does not differ from the doctrine of the church as it respects the subject and matter of which it treats, but only in the form and manner in which these things are presented, just as strong meat designed for adults, to which the doctrine of the church may be compared, does not differ in essence from the milk and meat prepared for children, to which the catechism is compared by Paul in the passage already referred to. These two parts are termed, by the great mass of men, the Decalogue and the Apostles’ creed; because the Decalogue comprehends the substance of the law, and the Apostles’ creed that of the gospel. Another distinction made by this same class of persons is that of the doctrine of faith and works, or the doctrine of those things which are to be believed and those which are to be done.

There are others who divide the catechism into these three parts; considering, in the first place, the doctrine respecting God, then the doctrine respecting his will, and lastly that respecting his works, which they distinguish as the works of creation, preservation, and redemption. But all these different parts are treated of either in the law or the gospel, or in both, so that this division may easily be reduced to the former.

There are others, again, who make the catechism consist of five different parts; the Decalogue, the Apostles’ Creed, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Prayer; of which, the Decalogue was delivered immediately by God himself, whilst the other parts were delivered mediately, either through the manifestation of the Son of God in the flesh, as is true of the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, and the Eucharist, or through the ministry of the apostles, as is true of the Apostles’ Creed. But all these different parts may also be reduced to the two general heads noticed in the first division. The Decalogue contains the substance of the law, the Apostles’ Creed that of the gospel; the sacraments are parts of the gospel, and may, therefore, be embraced in it as far as they are seals of the grace which it promises, but as far as they are testimonies of our obedience to God, they have the nature of sacrifices and pertain to the law, whilst prayer, in like manner, may be referred to the law, being a part of the worship of God.

The catechism of which we shall speak in these lectures consists of three parts. The first treats of the misery of man, the second of his deliverance from this misery, and the third of gratitude, which division does not, in reality, differ from the above, because all the parts which are there specified are embraced in these three general heads. The Decalogue belongs to the first part, in as far as it is the mirror through which we are brought to see ourselves, and thus led to a knowledge of our sins and misery, and to the third part in as far as it is the rule of true thankfulness and of a Christian life. The Apostles’ Creed is embraced in the second part inasmuch as it unfolds the way of deliverance from sins. The sacraments, belonging to the doctrine of faith and being the seals that are attached thereto, belong in like manner to this second part of the catechism, which treats of deliverance from the misery of man. And prayer, being the chief part of spiritual worship and of thankfulness, may, with great propriety, be referred to the third general part.

Zacharias Ursinus. In What Does The Law Differ From The Gospel? The exposition of this question is necessary for a variety of considerations, and especially that we may have a proper understanding of the law and the gospel, to which a knowledge of that in which they differ greatly contributes. According to the definition of the law, which says, that it promises rewards to those who render perfect obedience; and that it promises them freely, inasmuch as no obedience can be meritorious in the sight of God, it would seem that it does not differ from the gospel, which also promises eternal life freely. Yet notwithstanding this seeming agreement, there is a great difference between the law and the gospel. They differ, 1. As to the mode of revelation peculiar to each. The law is known naturally: the gospel was divinely revealed after the fall of man. 2. In matter or doctrine. The law declares the justice of God separately considered: the gospel declares it in connection with his mercy. The law teaches what we ought to be in order that we may be saved: the gospel teaches in addition to this, how we may become such as this law requires, viz: by faith in Christ. 3. In their conditions or promises. The law promises eternal life and all good things upon the condition of our own and perfect righteousness, and of obedience in us: the gospel promises the same blessings upon the condition that we exercise faith in Christ, by which we embrace the obedience which another, even Christ, has performed in our behalf; or the gospel teaches that we are justified freely by faith in Christ. With this faith is also connected, as by an indissoluble bond, the condition of new obedience. 4. In their effects. The law works wrath, and is the ministration of death: the gospel is the ministration of life and of the Spirit (Rom. 4:15, 2 Cor. 3:7) (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 92).

Caspar Olevianus (1536-87) For this reason the distinction between law and Gospel is retained. The law does not promise freely, but under the condition that you keep it completely. And if someone should transgress it once, the law or legal covenant does not have the promise of the remission of sins. On the other hand, the Gospel promises freely the remission of sins and life, not if we keep the law, but for the sake of the Son of God, through faith (Ad Romanos Notae, 148; Geneva, 1579).

Theodore Beza (1519-1605) We divide this Word into two principal parts or kinds: the one is called the ‘Law,’ the other the ‘Gospel.’ For all the rest can be gathered under the one or other of these two headings…Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity (The Christian Faith, 1558)

William Perkins (1558-1602) The basic principle in application is to know whether the passage is a statement of the law or of the gospel. For when the Word is preached, the law and the gospel operate differently. The law exposes the disease of sin, and as a side-effect, stimulates and stirs it up. But it provides no remedy for it. However the gospel not only teaches us what is to be done, it also has the power of the Holy Spirit joined to it….A statement of the law indicates the need for a perfect inherent righteousness, of eternal life given through the works of the law, of the sins which are contrary to the law and of the curse that is due them…. By contrast, a statement of the gospel speaks of Christ and his benefits, and of faith being fruitful in good works (The Art of Prophesying, 1592, repr. Banner of Truth Trust,1996, 54-55).

Edward Fisher (c.1601-1655) Now, the law is a doctrine partly known by nature, teaching us that there is a God, and what God is, and what he requires us to do, binding all reasonable creatures to perfect obedience, both internal and external, promising the favour of God, and everlasting life to all those who yield perfect obedience thereunto, and denouncing the curse of God and everlasting damnation to all those who are not perfectly correspondent thereunto. But the gospel is a doctrine revealed from heaven by the Son of God, presently after the fall of mankind into sin and death, and afterwards manifested more clearly and fully to the patriarchs and prophets, to the evangelists and apostles, and by them spread abroad to others; wherein freedom from sin, from the curse of the law, the wrath of God, death, and hell, is freely promised for Christ’s sake unto all who truly believe on his name (The Marrow of Modern Divinity; 1645, repr. 1978, 337-38).

William Twisse (1578-1646) How many ways does the Word of God teach us to come to the Kingdom of heaven?Two. Which are they? The Law and the Gospel. What says the Law? Do this and live. What says the Gospel? Believe in Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Can we come to the Kingdom of God by the way of God’s Law? No.Why so? Because we cannot do it. Why can we not do it? Because we are all born in sin. What is it to be none in sin? To be naturally prone to evil and …that that which is good. How did it come to pass that we are all borne in sin? By reason of our first father Adam. Which way then do you hope to come tot he Kingdom of Heaven? By the Gospel? What is the Gospel? The glad tidings of salvation by Jesus Christ. To whom is the glad tidings brought: to the righteousness? No. Why so? For two reasons. What is the first? Because there is none that is righteous and sin not. What is the other reason? Because if we were righteous, i.e., without sin we should have no need of Christ Jesus. To whom then is this glad tiding brought? To sinners. What, to all sinners? To whom then? To such as believe and repent. This is the first lesson, to know the right way to the Kingdom of Heaven.: and this consists in knowing the difference between the Law and the Gospel. What does the Law require? That we should be without sin. What does the Gospel require? That we should confess our sins, amend our lives, and then through faith in Christ we shall be saved. The Law requires what? Perfect obedience. The Gospel what? Faith and true repentance. (A Brief Catechetical Exposition of Christian Doctrine, 1633).

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) To be unable to see any difference between law and gospel, truth an error, Protestantism and Popery, the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of man, is a sure proof that we are yet dead in heart, and need conversion. (Expository Thoughts on John, 2:198-199).

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) A new and more powerful proclamation of law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law. As it is, they are turning aside from the Christian pathway; they are turning to the village of Morality, and to the house of Mr. Legality, who is reported to be very skillful in relieving men of their burdens… ‘Making Christ Master’ in the life, putting into practice ‘the principles of Christ’ by one’s own efforts-these are merely new ways of earning salvation by one’s obedience to God’s commands (What Is Faith?, 1925).

Louis Berkhof (1873-1957) The Churches of the Reformation from the very beginning distinguished between the law and the gospel as the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace. This distinction was not understood to be identical with that between the Old and the New Testament, but was regarded as a distinction that applies to both Testaments. There is law and gospel in the Old Testament, and there is law and gospel in the New. The law comprises everything in Scripture which is a revelation of God’s will in the form of command or prohibition, while the gospel embraces everything, whether it be in the Old Testament or in the New, that pertains to the work of reconciliation and that proclaims the seeking and redeeming love o God in Christ Jesus (Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 612).

John Murray (1898-1975) …the purity and integrity of the gospel stands or falls with the absoluteness of the antithesis between the function and potency of law, one the one hand, and the function and potency of grace, on the other (Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957], 186).

On the Covenant of Redemption (Pactum Salutis)

John Calvin (1509-64). Since there is nothing substantial in it (the OT shadows), until we look beyond it, the Apostle contends that it behoved to be annulled and become antiquated, (Heb. 7: 22,) to make room for Christ, the surety and mediator of a better covenant, by whom the eternal sanctification of the elect was once purchased, and the transgressions which remained under the Law wiped away (Institutes, 2.11.4)

John Calvin. For the righteousness of Christ (as it alone is perfect, so it alone can stand the scrutiny of God) must be sisted for us, and as a surety represent us judicially (Institutes, 3.14.12).

Belgic Confession (1561) Art. 26. …But this Mediator, whom the Father has appointed between himself and us, ought not terrify us by his greatness, so that we have to look for another one, according to our fancy. For neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more than Jesus Christ does.

Caspar Olevianus (1536-87). Q. 1: God is just and requires that we either keep the law with a perfect love of God and neighbor or be eternally punished. However, we have been so corrupted by the fall of Adam that by nature we hate God and our neighbor and daily increase our guilt. Therefore, unless we want to be lost for eternity, we must look for a Surety who completely satisfies the judgment of God for us. But where will we find such a Mediator and Surety? A: …First, since the angels are neither guilty nor obligated to suffer on humanity’s account, the justice of God does not demand of them that they should pay what humanity owes…. Second, since our surety and mediator had to bear and overcome the infinite, eternal wrath of God, there is no doubt that than an angel would have been too weak for that…. (Vester Grund, 1567; trans. Lyle Bierma, in A Firm Foundation; Grand Rapids, Baker: 1995).

Caspar Olevianus. Q: 3 Why do you call Christ the only way to salvation? A: Because he alone is the mediator of the covenant [of grace] and the reconciliation by which humanity is reunited with God the Lord…. (A Firm Foundation)

Caspar Olevianus. Q: 4 Why is the redemption or reconciliation of humanity with God presented to us in the form of a covenant, indeed a covenant of grace? A: God compares the means of our salvation to a covenant, indeed an eternal covenant, so that we might be certain and assured that a lasting, eternal peace and friendship between God and us has been made through the sacrifice of His son. After a bitter quarrel, the disputants have peace of mind first and foremost when they commit and bind themselves to each other with a promise and sworn oath that on such-and-such a matter they wont peace. God acts in the same way toward us: in order that we might have rest and peace in our consciences, God was willing our of His great goodness and grace, to bind himself to us, His enemies, with His promise and His oath. He promised that He would have his only begotten Son become human and die for us, and that through the sacrifice of his Son He would establish a lasting reconciliation and eternal peace….He would be our God and bless us, that is, forgive our sins and impart to us the Holy Spirit and eternal life — and all this without any merit on our part. All we would have to do is accept the Son — promised and sent — by faith (A Firm Foundation).

Caspar Olevianus. Q. 5: But how did Jesus Christ make the covenant between the Father and us? That is, how did he reconcile us to the Father so that our sins are eternally forgotten and the Holy Spirit and eternal life are bestowed on us? A: By his sacrifice on the cross He completely reconciled us to the Father with an eternal covenant. The Son himself cried out on the cross that the covenant was completely ratified (“It is finished!” [Jn 19:30] and the Holy Spirit says in Heb. 10[:14], “By one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” (A Firm Foundation).

Caspar Olevianus. The Son of God, having been appointed by God as Mediator of the covenant, becomes the guarantor on two counts: 1) He shall satisfy for the sins of all those whom the Father has given him; 2) He shall also bring it to pass that they, being planted in him, shall enjoy freedom in their consciences and from day to day be renewed in the image of God (De substantia, 1585; 1.2.1).

Canons of Dort (1619). First Head: Article 7. Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace,] according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from the primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation. This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call an draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace; as it is written “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Eph 1:4-6). And elsewhere: “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Rom 8:30).

Simon Ash. This covenant being transacted betwixt Christ and God, here, here lies the first and most firm foundation of a Christian’s comfort (A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London, 1645, preface).

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). Chapter 8: Of the Mediator. 8:1. It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and men, the prophet, priest, and king; the head and Savior of the Church, the heir or all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did, from all eternity, give a people to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified. 8:2. The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

The Sum of Saving Knowledge (1647). 2a) Albeit man, having brought himself into this woeful condition, is neither able to help himself, nor willing to be helped by God out of it, but rather inclined to lie still, insensible of it, till he perish; yet God, for the glory of his rich grace, has revealed in his word a way to save sinners, that is, by faith in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, by virtue of, and according to the tenor of the covenant of redemption, made and agreed upon between God the Father and God the Son, in council of the Trinity, before the world began. 2b) The sum of the covenant of redemption is this: God having freely chosen to life a certain number of lost mankind, for the glory of his rich grace, did give them, before the world began, to God the Son, appointed Redeemer, that, upon condition he would humble himself so far as to assume the human nature, of a soul and a body, to personal union with his divine nature, and submit himself to the law, as surety for them, and satisfy justice for them, by giving obedience in their name, even to the suffering of the cursed death of the cross, he should ransom and redeem them all from sin and death, and purchase to them righteousness and eternal life, with all saving graces leading there to, to be effectually, by means of his own appointment, applied in due time to every one of them. This condition the Son of God (who is Jesus Christ our Lord) did accept before the world began, and in the fulness of time came into the world, was born of the Virgin Mary, subjected himself to the law, and completely paid the ransom on the cross: But by virtue of the foresaid bargain, made before the world began, he is in all ages, since the fall of Adam, still upon the work of applying actually the purchased benefits of the elect; and that he does by way of entertaining a covenant of free grace and reconciliation with them, through faith in himself; by which covenant, he makes over to every believer a right and interest to himself, and to all his blessings. 2c) For the accomplishment of this covenant of redemption, and making the elect partakers of the benefits of it in the covenant of grace, Christ Jesus was clad with the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King: made a Prophet, to reveal all saving knowledge to his people, and persuade them to believe and obey the same; made a Priest, to offer up himself a sacrifice once for them all, and to intercede continually with the Father, for making their persons and services acceptable to him; and made a King, to subdue them to himself, to feed and rule them by his own appointed ordinances, and to defend them from their enemies.

John Owen (1616-83).Q. 1. By what means did Jesus Christ undertake the office of an eternal priest? A. By the decree, ordination, and will of God his Father, whereunto he yielded voluntary obedience; so that concerning this there was a compact
and covenant between them.. (The Greater Catechism (1645), ch.12).

Johannes Cocceius (1603-69). The declaration of his good pleasure is itself a promise, which is the the foundation of the covenant of grace…. Which is a free disposition by by God the Savior concerning his goods by his heir, to be possessed in accordance with voluntary generation and nomination beyond all danger of alienation (Rom 4.14)…..[quotes Gal 3.15-18] Behold in this institution the heir, the testament, the promise and the ratification of the testament are through the promise and the faith of Abraham. (Summa theologiae,
1648; 4.86).

Helvetic Consensus (1675). Canon XIII: As Christ was elected from eternity the Head, the Leader and Lord of all who, in time, are saved by his grace, so also, in time, he was made Guarantor of the New Covenant only for those who, by the eternal election, were given to him as his own people, his seed and inheritance. For according to the determinate counsel of the Father and his own intention, he encountered dreadful death instead of the elect alone, and restored only these into the bosom of the Father’s grace, and these only he reconciled to God, the offended Father, and delivered from the curse of the law. For our Jesus saves his people from their sins (Matt 1:21), who gave his life a ransom for many sheep (Matt 20:24, 28; John 10:15), his own, who hear his voice (John 10:27-28), and he intercedes for these only, as a divinely appointed Priest, arid not for the world (John 17:9). Accordingly in expiatory sacrifice, they are regarded as having died with him and as being justified from sin (2 Cor 5:12): and thus, with the counsel of the Father who gave to Christ none but the elect to be redeemed, and also with the working of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies and seals unto a living hope of eternal life none but the elect. The will of Christ who died so agrees and amicably conspires in perfect harmony, that the sphere of the Father’s election, the Son’s redemption. And the Spirit’s sanctification are one and the same (The Formula Consensus Helvetica [1675]).

Herman Witsius (1636-1708). In order the more thoroughly to understand the nature of the covenant of grace, two things are above all to be distinctly considered. 1st The covenant which intervenes between God the Father and Christ the Mediator. 2ndly. That testamentary disposition by which God bestows by an immutable covenant, eternal salvation, and every thing relative thereto, upon the elect. The former agreement is between god and the Mediator: the latter between God and the elect. This last pre-supposes the first, and is founded upon it (The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man).

Herman Witsius. When I speak of the compact between the Father and the Son, I thereby understand the will of the Father, giving the Son to be the Head and Redeemer of the elect; and the will of the Son, presenting as a Sponsor or Surety for them; in all which the nature of a compact and agreement consists. The scriptures represent the Father, in the economy of our salvation, as demanding the obedience of the Son even unto death; and upon condition of that obedience, promising him in his turn that name which is above every name, even that he should be the head of the elect in glory: but the Son, as presenting himself to do the will of the Father, acquiescing in that promise, and in fine, requiring, by virtue of the compact, the kingdom and glory promised to him. …[I]t cannot, on any pretence, be denied that there is a compact between the Father and the Son, which is the foundation of our salvation (The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man).

J. H. Heidegger (1633-98). The covenant of God the Father with the Son is a mutual agreement, by which God the Father extracted from the Son perfect and obedience to the Law unto death, which he must face on behalf of his chosen seed to be given him (Marrow of Christian Theology [1696]).

Johannes Cloppenburg (1592-1652). Here there arises before us the twofold diatheke or dispensation of the new covenant (covenant of grace) of which Christ speaks in Luke 22:29. 1) The one which Father covenantally ordains to the guarantor, 2) The one in which the Son as the Father’s guarantor ordains the promise of life and heavenly glory for our sake. As for the first arrangement, the covenant is said to be previously ratified by God in him, Gal. 3:17. Here the full covenant concept remains, namely a two-sided agreement of mutual trust. As for the second arrangement, the covenant is called a testament established for us by the dying Testator, Heb. 9:14-17 (Opera Omnia 1.503).

Franz Burman (1632-79). It is a mutual pact between Father and Son, by which the Father gives the Son as Redeemer (lutrotes) and the head of foreknown people and the Son in turn sets himself to complete that redemption (apolutosis) (2.15.2).

Johannes Cocceius (1603-69). In consequence of this covenant Christ is called the second Adam. As with the first Adam God made a covenant of works concerned among other things with the inheritance of the image of God which was to be transmitted to his successors, should he maintain his stand (it actually fell out the opposite way), so he made one with the Son as the man to be concerned with the inheritance of righteousness and life for his seed through obedience to the law (De foedere, 5.90).

Charles Hodge (1797-1878). Two Covenants to be Distinguished. This confusion is avoided by distinguishing between the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son, and the covenant of grace between God and his people. The latter supposes the former, and is founded upon it. The two, however, ought not to be confounded, as both are clearly revealed in Scripture, and moreover they differ as to the parties, as to the promises, and as to the conditions. 4. Covenant of Redemption. By this is meant the covenant between the Father and the Son in reference to the salvation of man. This is a subject which, from its nature, is entirely beyond our comprehension. We must receive the teachings of the Scriptures in relation to it without presuming to penetrate the mystery which naturally belongs to it. There is only one God, one divine Being, to whom all the attributes of divinity belong. But in the Godhead there are three persons, the same in substance, and equal in power and glory. It lies in the nature of personality, that one person is objective to another. If, therefore, the Father and the Son are distinct persons the one may be the object of the acts of the other. The one may love, address, and commune with the other. The Father may send the Son, may give Him a work to do, and promise Him a recompense. All this is indeed incomprehensible to us, but being clearly taught in Scripture, it must enter into the Christian’s faith. In order to prove that there is a covenant between the Father and the Son, formed in eternity, and revealed in time, it is not necessary that we should adduce passages of the Scriptures in which this truth is expressly asserted. There are indeed passages which are equivalent to such direct assertions. This is implied in the frequently recurring statements of the Scripture that the plan of God respecting the salvation of men was of the nature of a covenant, and was formed in eternity. Paul says that it was hidden for ages in the divine mind; that it was before the foundation of the world. Christ speaks of promises made to Him before his advent; and that He came into the world in execution of a commission which He had received from the Father. The parallel so distinctly drawn between Adam and Christ is also a proof of the point in question. As Adam was the head and representative of his posterity, so Christ is the head and representative of his people. And as God entered into covenant with Adam so He entered into covenant with Christ. This, in Rom. v. 12-21, is set forth as the fundamental idea of all God’s dealings with men, both in their fall and in their redemption. The proof of the doctrine has, however, a much wider foundation. When one person assigns a stipulated work to another person with the promise of a reward upon the condition of the performance of that work, there is a covenant. Nothing can be plainer than that all this is true in relation to the Father and the Son. The Father gave the Son a work to do; He sent Him into the world to perform it, and promised Him a great reward when the work was accomplished. Such is the constant representation of the Scriptures. We have, therefore, the contracting parties, the promise, and the condition. These are the essential elements. of a covenant. Such being the representation of Scripture, such must be the truth to which we are bound to adhere. It is not a mere figure, but a real transaction, and should be regarded and treated as such if we would understand aright the plan of salvation. In the fortieth Psalm, expounded by the Apostle as referring to the Messiah, it is said, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will,” i. e., to execute thy purpose, to carry out thy plan.” By the which will,” says the Apostle (Heb. x. 10), ‘` we are sanctified (i. e., cleansed from the guilt of sin), through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Christ came, therefore, in execution of a purpose of God, to fulfil a work which had been assigned Him. He, therefore, in John xvii. 4, says, “ I have finished the work which thou gayest me to do.” This was said at the close of his earthly course. At its beginning, when yet a child, He said to his parents, `’ Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke ii. 49.) Our Lord speaks of Himself, and is spoken of as sent into the world. He says that as the Father had sent Him into the world, even so had He sent his disciples into the world. (John xvii. 18.) ‘` When the fulness of the time war. come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman.” (Gal. iv. 4.) ” God sent his only begotten Son into the world.” (1 John iv. 9.) God `’ sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (Verse 10.) It is plain, therefore, that Christ came to execute a work, that He was. sent of the Father to fulfil a plan, or preconceived design. It is no less plain that special promises were made by the Father to the Son, suspended upon the accomplishment of the work assigned Him. This may appear as an anthropological mode of representing a transaction between the persons of the adorable Trinity. But it must be received as substantial truth. The Father did give the Son a work to do, and He did promise to Him a reward upon its accomplishment. The transaction was, therefore, of the nature of a covenant. An obligation was assumed by the Son to accomplish the work assigned Him; and an obligation was assumed by the Father to grant Him the stipulated reward. The infinitude of God does not prevent these things being possible. Christ as Mediator of the Covenant. As Christ is a party to the covenant of redemption, so He is constantly represented as the mediator of the covenant of grace; not only in the sense of an internuncius, as Moses was a mediator between God and the people of Israel, but in the sense, that it was through his intervention, and solely on the ground of what He had done, or promised to do, that God entered into this new covenant with fallen men. And, (2.) in the sense of a surety. He guarantees the fillfilment of all the promises and conditions of the covenant. His blood was the blood of the covenant. That is, his death had all the effects of a federal sacrifice, it not only bound the parties to the contract, but it also secured the fulfilment of all its provisions. Hence He is called not only Mesites, but also Egguos (Heb. vii. 22), a aponsor, or aurety. By fulfilling the conditions on which the promises of the covenant of redemption were suspended, the veracity and justice of God are pledged to secure the salvation of his people; and this secures the fidelity of his people. So that Christ answers both for God and man. His work renders certain the gifts of God’s grace, and the perseverance of his people in faith and obedience. He is therefore, in every sense, our salvation (Systematic Theology, vol. 2: Anthropology, ch. 6).

G. Vos (1862-1949). If man stood in a covenant relation to God before the fall, then it is to be expected that the covenant idea will dominate in the work of redemption. …It was merely the other side of the doctrine of the covenant of works that was seen when the task of the Mediator was also placed in this light. A Pactum Salutis, a Counsel of Peace, a Covenant of Redemption, could then be spoken of. There are two alternatives: one must either deny the covenant arrangement as a general rule for obtaining eternal life, or granting the latter, he must also regard the gaining of eternal life by the Mediator as a covenant arrangement and place the establishing of a covenant in back of it. Thus it also becomes clear how a denial of the covenant of works sometimes goes hand in hand with a lack of appreciation for the counsel of peace (“The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” Selected Shorter Writings, 245).

G. Vos. In the dogma of the counsel of peace, then, the doctrine of the covenant has found its genuinely theological rest point (“The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” Selected Shorter Writings, 247).

G. Vos. [I]t is apparent that the dogma of the covenant of redemption is something other than a reworking of the doctrine of election. It owes its existence not to a tendency to draw the covenant back and take it up in the decree, but to concentrate it in the Mediator and to demonstrate the unity between the accomplishment and application of salvation in Him, on the one side, and the various stages of the covenant, on the other. From this it follows that that much less emphasis than one generally attributes to the theologians is placed on its transcendent eternity still has a different character than that of the decrees. It is eternal insofar as it falls within the Trinity, within the divine being that exists in eternity, but not eternal in the sense that it was elevated above the reality of history (“The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” Selected Shorter Writings, 251).

Louis Berkhof (1873-1957). Basically, the covenant of grace is simply the execution of the original agreement by Christ as our surety (Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 214).

Louis Berkhof. Though the covenant of redemption is the eternal basis of the covenant of grace, and as far as sinners are concerned, also its eternal prototype, it was for Christ a covenant of works rather than a covenant of grace. For him the law of the original covenant applied, namely, that eternal life could only be obtained by meeting the demands of the law. As the last Adam Christ obtains eternal life for sinners in faithful obedience, and not at all as an unmerited gift of grace. And what he has done as the Representative and Surety of all his people, they are no more in duty bound to do. The work has been done. The reward is merited, and believers are made partakers of the fruits of Christ’s accomplished work through grace (Systematic Theology, 268).

William Hendriksen (1900-82). In a sense we must go back even farther to trace the origin of the covenant of grace. It is rooted in God himself! God is the God of the covenant, and this not only because he established a covenant with man but also and especially because from all eternity there exists between the persons of The Holy Trinity a voluntarily assumed relation of love and friendship, each working for the glory and honor of the other…. This covenant relationship existing between the persons of the Trinity is the foundation of the covenant of grace (The Covenant of Grace, rev. edn. 1978; 17).

On the Covenant of Works

Martin Luther (1483-1546). Before Adam’s fall it was not necessary for him to have Christ, because he was righteous and without sin, just as the angels have no need of Christ. If Adam had not fallen, it would not have been necessary for Christ to become our Redeemer. …The argument is true that eternal life is in the given to him who keeps the law without Christ, because whoever keeps the law is righteous.  Adam would have entered into the kingdom of heaven without Christ, if he had not fallen. …The conclusion is that Adam alone kept the commandments of God before the Fall, but after the Fall and no one has truly been found who has fulfilled the law   (Disputatio de iustificatione, 1536; Luther’s Works, 26.185, 187)

John Calvin (1509-64). We must, therefore, look deeper than sensual intemperance. The prohibition to touch the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil was a trial of obedience (obedientiae examen), that Adam, by observing it, might prove his willing submission to the command of God (Institutes,2.1.4)

John Calvin. The promise, which gave him hope of eternal life as long as he should eat of the tree of life (arbore vitae), and, on the other hand, the fearful denunciation of death the moment he should taste of the Tree of Knowledge of of good and evil, were meant to test and exercise his faith (Institutes, 2.1.4).

John Calvin. There is no obscurity in the words, “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Institutes, 2.1.6).

Belgic Confession (1561) Art. 14: The Creation and Fall of Man, And His Incapacity to Perform What is Truly Good. We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and made and formed him after his own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will agreeably to the will of God. But being in honor, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin and consequently to death and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life; having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death. And being thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he has lost all his gifts which he had received from God, and retained only small remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse; for all the light which is in us is changed unto darkness, as the Scriptures teach us, saying: The light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not apprehended it; where St. John calls men darkness.

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83) What does the divine law teach? The sort of covenant which God began with man, in creation; by which man should have carried himself in serving God; and what God would require from him after beginning with him a new covenant of grace; that is, how and for what [end] man was created by God; and to what state he might be restored; and by which covenant one who has been reconciled to God ought to arrange his life (Larger Catechism [1561] Q. 10)

Heidelberg Catechism (1563) Q. 6: Did God create man thus wicked and perverse?

A: No, but God created man good and after His own image, that is, in righteousness and true holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness, to praise and glorify Him.

Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 7: From where then comes this depraved nature of man?

A: From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise whereby our nature became so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin (Heidelberg Catechism, 1563).

Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 9: Does not God then do injustice to man by requiring of him in His Law that which he cannot perform?

A: No, for God so made man that he could perform it, but man, through the instigation of the devil, by willful disobedience deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts (Heidelberg Catechism, 1563).

Zacharias Ursinus. What is this covenant? A covenant in general is a mutual contract, or agreement between two parties, in which the one party binds itself to the other to accomplish something upon certain conditions, giving or receiving something, which is accompanied with certain outward signs and symbols, for the purpose of ratifying in the most solemn manner the contract entered into, and for the sake of confirming it, that the engagement may be kept inviolate (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, 97).

Caspar Olevianus (1536-87). This obedience of the Son was superior to all the justice of the Law. For Adam also, if he willed, could have remained in the righteousness of the Law. And to the degree that the curse was owed for every sin of the elect, to the same degree he had to fulfill all righteousness without any complaint, not even all the Angels were able to do this. Therefore, this obedience of the Son was not only regarding the righteousness of the Law, such as Adam received in creation, and such as the Law required of him, but also it exceeded the righteousness of all the Angels (Ad Galatas Notae, 57; Geneva, 1578).

Caspar Olevianus. At the beginning of the human race that old serpent led humanity away from the word of the law, and thus from the covenant of creation by a false interpretation….The summary of this law shining forth in the image of God was that he love the Lord his God with all his heart…and as a testimony of this love refrain from eating from the one tree (De substantia, 2.27; Geneva, 1585).

Heidelberg Catechism Q. 62. But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?

Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment-seat of God, must be perfect throughout and wholly conformable to the divine law;1 but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

William Perkins (1558-1602). God’s covenant, is his contract with man, concerning the obtaining of life eternal, upon a certain condition.

This covenant consists of two parts: God’s promise to man, Man’s promise to God.

God’s promise to man, is that, whereby he binds himself to man to be his God, if he perform the condition.

Man’s promise to God, is that, whereby he vows his allegiance unto his Lord, and to perform the condition between them.

Again, there are two kinds of this covenant. The covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. Jer. 31:31, 32, 33.

Behold the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant, I made with their fathers, when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; the which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband to them, saith the Lord. But this shall be the covenant, that I will make with the house of Israel: after those days, says the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

The covenant of works, is Gods covenant, made with condition of perfect obedience, and is expressed in the moral law.

The Moral Law, is that part of God’s word, which commands perfect obedience unto man, as well in his nature, as in his actions, and forbids the contrary. Romans 10. 5. “Moses thus describes the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doth these things, shall live thereby.” 1. Timothy 1. 5. “The end of the commandment, is love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and faith unfeigned.” Luke 16. 27. “You shalt love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Rom. 7. 14. “We know that the law is spiritual.”

The Law has two parts. The Edict, commanding obedience, and the condition binding to obedience. The condition is eternal life to such as fulfill the law, but to transgressors, everlasting death.

The Decalogue, or ten commandments, is an abridgement of the whole law, and the covenant of works. Exod. 34:27.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Write these words, for after the tenor of these words, I have made a covenant with thee, and with Israel. And be was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights, and did neither eat bread, nor drink water, and he wrote in the tables the words of the covenant, even the ten commandments. 1. King. 8. 9. Nothing was in the Ark, save the two tables of stone, which Moses had put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the children of Israel, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.

Mat. 22:40. “On these two commandments hangs the whole law and the prophets.” Golden Chaine (Cambridge, 1616), 32. [spelling and punctuation updated]

Robert Rollock (c.1555-99). The covenant of God…is twofold; the first is the covenant of works; the second is the covenant of grace (Select Works 1.33-34)

Robert Rollock. Man, after the fall, abides under the covenant of works; and to this day, life is promised him under condition of works done by strength and nature. But if he will not do so well, death and the everlasting curse of God is denounced against him, so long as he is without Christ and without the gospel. And being freed from the covenant of works…he is admitted to the covenant of grace…. Christ, therefore, our Mediator, subjected himself to the covenant of works, and unto the law for our sake, and did both fulfill the condition of the covenant of works in his holy and good life…and also did undergo that curse with which man was threatened in the covenant of works, if that condition of good and holy works were not kept…Wherefore we see Christ in two respects, to wit, in doing and suffering, subject to the covenant of works, and in both respects he has most perfectly fulfilled it, and that for our sake whose Mediator he is become (Select Works, 1.52).


God’s covenant is a bargain which God hath made with men, in which God promises to men some good, and requires of them again, that they perform those things which he commands.

And that covenant is either eternal or temporal.

The eternal covenant is a covenant in which God promises men eternal life.

And that is twofold: the covenant of works or the covenant of grace.

The covenant of works, is a bargain of God made with men concerning eternal life, to which is both a condition of perfect obedience adjoined, to be performed by man, and also a threatening of eternal death if he shall not perform perfect obedience. Gen. 2. 17.

The repetition of the covenant of works is made by God, Exod. 19. 5. Deut. 5. 2. 1. King. 8. 21. Heb. 8. 9. and that chiefly for four causes.

  1. That God by all means might stir up men to perform obedience.
  2. That every mouth might be stopped, and all the world might be made subject to the condemnation of God for not performing perfect obedience. Rom. 3. 19.
  3. That he might manifest mans sin, and naughtiness. Rom. 3. 19. 20. and 7. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.
  4. That he might thrust us forward to seek to be restored in the covenant of grace. Gal. 3. 22. and 5. 23.

The Substance of Christian Religion, trans. E. W. (London, 1595), 87–88. [Spelling modernized]


A Sacrament, is an outward sign, which [note] God joineth to his covenant, which he hath made with men.

And that is either of an eternal, or temporal covenant.

A Sacrament of an eternal covenant, is a Sacrament, whereby God doth confirme the promise of eternal life.

And that is either of the covenant of works, or of the covenant of grace.

The Sacrament of the covenant of works, is a Sacrament, which God gave our first parents in the state of their first integrity.

And that was two fold, the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The tree of life was a Sacrament of the covenant of works, whereby that life was signified, which man should have lived, if he had stood in the obedience of God. Gen. 2. 9.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was a Sacrament by which was signified to man, in how good estate he was whilest he performed obedience to God his creator: and into how evil and miserable estate he should cast himselfe if he obeyed not God. Gen. 2. 17 & 3. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

The Substance of Christian Religion, trans. E. W. (London, 1595), 116–17. [Spelling modernized]

Canons of Dort (1619) 3/4.1 Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright, all his affections pure, and the whole man was holy. But, revolting from God by the instigation of the devil and by his own free will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and an in the place thereof became involved in blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment; became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.

Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629). I. God made a double covenant with man, the one of works and the other of grace; the former before, the latter after the fall.

II. The covenant of works was confirmed by a double sacrament, to wit, the Tree of Life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil both being planted in the midst of paradise.

III. They had a double use. 1. That man’s obedience might be tried, by using of the one, and abstaining from the other. 2. That the Tree of Life might ratify eternal happiness to those that should obey, but the Tree of Knowledge should signify to the disobedient, the loss of the greatest happiness and the possession of the greatest mercy.

IV. Therefore the Tree of Life was so called, not from any innate faculty it had to give life, but from a sacramental signification.

V. Likewise the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, had this denomination from signifying the chief good and evil and from the event.

VI. The happiness of man being yet in his integrity, consisted chiefly in the image of God.

XIV. Man even in respect of his body was immortal, but not simply, as though his body being composed of the elements could not be resolved into its principles, but by Divine Covenant; not as thought it could not die, but because it had a possibility not to die (posse non peccare). (Compendium of Christian Theology, 1626).

 John Ball (1585-1640). The Covenant of Works, wherein God covenanted with man to give him eternal life upon condition of perfect obedience in his own person. The Covenant of Grace, which God made with man promising eternal life upon condition of believing…This Covenant [of works] God made with man without a Mediator for there needed no no middle person to bring man into favor and friendship with God, because man did bear the image of God, and had not offended: nor to procure acceptance to man’s service because it was pure and spotless. God did love man being made after his Image and promised to accept of his obedience performed freely, willingly, entirely, according to his Commandment. (A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London, 1645, 8,9).

James Ussher (1581-1656). Man being at the beginning created according to the image of God…had the covenant of law ingrafted in his heart; whereby God did promise unto him everlasting life, upon the condition that he performed entire and perfect obedience unto his Commandments (Irish Articles, 1615; Art. 11).

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). Chapter 7: Of God’s Covenant with Man. 7:1. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him, as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant. 7:2. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 20. What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created? A. The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth; putting the creatures under his dominion, and ordaining marriage for his help; affording him communion with himself; instituting the sabbath; entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 21. A. Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, through the temptation of Satan, transgressed the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit; and thereby fell from the estate of innocency wherein they were created.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 22. Did all mankind fall in that first transgression? A. The covenant being made with Adam as a public person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him in that first transgression.

The Sum of Saving Knowledge (1647). 1b) God originally made everything from nothing, perfect. He made our first parents, Adam and Eve, the root of mankind, both upright and able to keep the law written in their hearts. This law they were naturally bound to obey upon penalty of death. God was not bound to reward their service, till he entered into a covenant or contract with them, and their posterity in them. He promised to give them eternal life, upon condition of perfect personal obedience. If they failed they would die. This is the covenant of works.

Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675). Canon VII: As all his works were known unto God from eternity, (Acts 15:18), so in time, according to his infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, he made man, the glory and end of his works, in his own image, and, therefore, upright, wise, and just. Having created man in this manner, he put him under the Covenant of Works, and in this Covenant freely promised him communion with God, favor and life, if indeed he acted in obedience to his will.

Canon VIII: Moreover that promise connected to the Covenant of Works was not a continuation only of earthly life and happiness but the possession especially of eternal and celestial life, a life namely, of both body and soul in heaven, if indeed man ran the course of perfect obedience, with unspeakable joy in communion with God. For not only did the Tree of Life prefigured this very thing unto Adam, but the power of the law, which, being fulfilled by Christ, who went under it in our place, awards to us nothing other than celestial life in Christ who kept the same righteousness of the law. The power of the law also threatens man with both temporal and eternal death.

Canon IX: Wherefore we can not agree with the opinion of those who deny that a reward of heavenly bliss was offered to Adam on condition of obedience to God. We also do not admit that the promise of the Covenant of Works was any thing more than a promise of perpetual life abounding in every kind of good that can be suited to the body and soul of man in a state of perfect nature, and the enjoyment thereof in an earthly Paradise. For this also is contrary to the sound sense of the Divine Word, and weakens the power of the law considered in itself.

Canon X: God entered into the Covenant of Works not only with Adam for himself, but also, in him as the head and root with the whole human race. Man would, by virtue of the blessing of the nature derived from Adam, inherit also the same perfection, provided he continued in it. So Adam by his sorrowful fall sinned and lost the benefits promised in the Covenant not only for himself, but also for the whole human race that would be born by the flesh. We hold, therefore, that the sin of Adam is imputed by the mysterious and just judgment of God to all his posterity. For the Apostle testifies that “in Adam all sinned, by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Rom 5:12,19) and “in Adam all die” (I Cor 15:21-22). But there appears no way in which hereditary corruption could fall, as a spiritual death, upon the whole human race by the just judgment of God, unless some sin of that race preceded, incurring the penalty of that death. For God, the most supreme Judge of all the earth, punishes none but the guilty.

Canon XV: But by the obedience of his death Christ, in place of the elect, so satisfied God the Father, that in the estimate of his vicarious righteousness and of that obedience, all of that which he rendered to the law, as its just servant, during his entire life whether by doing or by suffering, ought to be called obedience. For Christ’s life, according to the Apostle’s testimony (Phil 1:8), was nothing but submission, humiliation and a continuous emptying of self, descending step by step to the lowest extreme even to the point of death on the Cross; and the Spirit of God plainly declares that Christ in our stead satisfied the law and divine justice by His most, holy life, and makes that ransom with which God has redeemed us to consist not in His sufferings only, but in his whole life conformed to the law. The Spirit, however, ascribes our redemption to the death, or the blood, of Christ, in no other sense than that it was consummated by sufferings; and from that last definitive and no blest act derives a name indeed, but not in such a way as to separate the life preceding from his death.

Herman Witsius (1636-1708).. In the covenant of works there was no mediator: in that of grace, there is the mediator, Christ Jesus….In the covenant of works, the condition of perfect obedience was required, to be performed by man himself, who had consented to it. In that of grace, the same condition is proposed, as to be, or as already performed by a mediator. And this substitution of the person, consists the principal and essential difference of the covenants (The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, 1677, 2 vol;1.49).

John Owen (1616-83). Q. 3. Wherefore did God make man? A.For his own glory in his service and obedience. Q. 4. Was man able to yield the service and worship that God required of him? A. Yea, to the uttermost, being created upright in the image of God, in purity, innocence, righteousness, and holiness. Q. 5. What was the rule whereby man was at first to be directed in his obedience? A. The moral or eternal law of God, implanted in his nature and written in his heart by creation, being the tenor of the covenant between him, sacramentally typified by the tree of knowledge good and evil. Q. 6. Do we stand in the same covenant still, and have we the same power to yield obedience unto God? A. No; the covenant was broken by the sin of Adam, with whom it was made, our nature corrupted, and all power to do good utterly lost. (The Greater Catechism (1645), ch.6).

Francis Turretin (1623–87). II. Although properly and strictly speaking, there can be no covenant between God and man because there is no room for a contract (which takes place between equals), nor any obligation of God, but a spontaneous communication of himself (as was proved in Part 1, Topic VIII, Question 3), still God by singular grace willed to enter into a covenant with man, in the sense of what lawyers call a”quasi-contract.” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology [1679-85] ed. J. T. Dennison [Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1994];12.2.2 ).

Samuel Annesley (1620–96) QUESTION II. What ground we have to speak of “God’s covenant with Adam,” and to call it “a covenant;” there being no mention of it here in the text, nor elsewhere in scripture do we read of “God’s covenant with Adam.”

ANSWER. However the name be not here, yet the thing is here and elsewhere, comparing scripture with scripture. It is a nice cavil in Socinians to call for the word “satisfaction;” others, for the word “sacrament;” others, for the word “Trinity;” others, for the words “faith alone justifying;” others, for the word “sabbath” for Lord’s day, etc.; and thence to conclude against satisfaction, sacraments, Trinity, justification by faith alone, and sabbath, for want of express words, when the things themselves are lively set down in other words. So, in this case of God’s covenant with Adam, we have:

  1. God’s command, which lays man under an obligation.
  2. We have God’s promise upon condition of obedience.
  3. We have God’s threatening upon his disobedience.
  4. We have their understanding it so, as appears in Eve’s words to the serpent. ( Gen. iii. 3.)
  5. We have the two trees as signs and symbols of the covenant.
  6. We have a “second covenant” and a “new covenant;” therefore there was a first and old covenant: a covenant of grace supposes one of works.

OBJECTION. If any shall say, “By ‘first and old covenant’ was meant God’s covenant with Israel, and not with Adam; and so, by ‘covenant of works’ the same is meant; namely, that which the Lord made at Mount Sinai:” (Heb. 8:7—9:)

ANSWER. Hereunto I answer, There is a repetition of the covenant of works with Adam in the law of Moses; as in that of the apostle to the Galatians: “The law is not of faith: but, The man that does” these things “shall live in them.” (Gal. 3:12) So likewise to the Romans: “Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, That the man who does those things shall live by them.” (Rom. 10:5.) Thus it was with Adam principally and properly: therefore he was under a covenant of works, when God gave him that command in my text.

QUESTION III. Wherein, then, does this covenant of works consist? What is the nature, tenor, and end of it, as such?

ANSWER 1. This covenant required working on our part, as the condition of it, for justification and happiness; [and is] therefore called “a covenant of works.” Thus before: “The man that does” these things “shall live in them.” (Gal. 3:12) Working, indeed, is also required under grace now; but, (1.) Not to justification; (2.) Not from our own power; (Eph. 2:8) (3.) Not previous to faith, which “works by love,” (Gal. 5:6) and lives by working; (James 2:20;) but man lives by faith.

2. A second characteristic sign of the covenant of works is this,— that in and under it man is left to stand upon his own legs and bottom, to live upon his own stock and by his own industry; he had a power to stand, and not to have fallen. This is meant, when it is said, “God created man in his own image.” (Gen. 1:27) And again: “Lo, this only have I found, that God made man upright.” (Eccles. 7:29)

3. In the first covenant, namely, that of works, man had no need of a mediator; God did then stipulate with Adam immediately: for, seeing as yet he had not made God his enemy by sin, he needed no daysman to make friends by intercession for him. After man’s creation God said, he “saw every thing which he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31) And after the covenant made in Gen. ii., it is said, “They were naked, and were not ashamed:” (verse 25:) that is, they had not contracted guilt by committing of sin, from whence only arises shame. Therefore under the covenant [of works] there needs no mediator. And hence Moses’s law was not properly a covenant of works, because that law was given “in the hand of a mediator.” (Gal. 3:19)

4. The covenant of works once broken, God abates nothing of his justice, no, not upon repentance; but the soul that sinned, died. Mark our text: “Thou shalt die the death;” by which doubling of the words in the Hebrew idiom of speech, is meant vehemency and certainty;  which was effected, and so had continued inevitably, without the help of another covenant, hinted in that first promise, Gen. 3:15. For the first covenant gives no relief to a poor sinner, when he hath broken it; but leaves him hopeless and helpless, under “a fearful expectation of” wrath “and fiery indignation.” (Heb. 10:27)

5. The Lord in the covenant of works accepts the person for the work’s sake: that is, he mainly looks at the work, how adequate it is to the command and rule; which he so exactly heeds, that upon the least failure his justice breaks out in wrath, neither can any personal excellency in the world salve the matter: “Cursed is he that continues not in all the words of the law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen;” (Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10) a doleful Amen! And, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:1) Note that “whosoever;” God respects no man’s person in that case.

6. The covenant of works, in performance of the condition, leaves a man matter of boasting and glorying in himself, and makes God a debtor to him: “Where is boasting? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay.” (Rom. 3:27) As if he had said, “The covenant of works affords matter of boasting to him that workS to justification by his own personal power and righteousness.” “Now to him that works is the reward reckoned, not of grace, but of debt;” (Rom. 4:4) that is, it obliges God to pay it him as a due; which is the language of Pharisees and Papists; which were justly challenged and claimed, (1.) Were we indeed under a covenant of works, and not of grace; (2.) Were our works perfect; (3.) Did we not lie at God’s mercy, for our guilt:—all which declare man impotent, and grace necessary; and, withal, Jews and Papists to be enemies to the cross of Christ and covenant of grace, and under a covenant of works, of which more anon.

7. The covenant of works leaves a man still in doubt while resting in it, in that state; because it is a mutable state at best. He had all in his own hands, and then Satan cunningly rooked him of all. God puts him into a good bottom, and leaves him to be his own pilot at sea: the devil assaults him, and sinks him. And therefore the second covenant takes all into God’s hands, that it may continue safe under his fatherly care and custody; (1 Peter 1:4, 5; John 10:28, 29) and so gives the soul good security against death and danger, which Adam had not while he stood: much less can any rich or honorable man, in his fool’s paradise here in this world, say, his mountain is unmovable, his glory unchangeable; seeing it “passeth away” as a “pageant.” (1 Cor. 7:31) If Adam’s Paradise was so mutable, much more theirs: if he stood not in his integrity, how shall they stand in their iniquity?

8. The covenant of works was made with all men in Adam, who was made and stood as a public person, head and root, in a common and comprehensive capacity; I say, It was made with him as such, and with all in him:

[Quo mansit remanente, et quo pereunte peribat; “He and all stood and fell together.” For even the elect may say, “We are all by nature the children of wrath, as well as others;” and that of St. Paul: “We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Rom.3:19) But the covenant of grace is a discriminating thing; it takes-in some, and leaves out others. Christ is not a head in covenant with all, as Adam was; but of his elect only: for we find many in the world under the headship of Satan and antichrist and old Adam, who are out of Christ; not only because unconverted, as saints themselves are before regeneration; but out of Christ in the account of God’s election, donation, and covenant; who have none of his special love, nor ever shall have.

Thus I have briefly opened the distinguishing characters of the covenant of works; which might have been more enlarged by those of the covenant of grace, which is easily done by way of opposition and comparison one with the other….

The morning exercises at Cripplegate 1679–81, ed. James Nichols (London: Thomas Tegg, 1844), 5.96–99. [Spelling and Punctuation modernized]

Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711). Acquaintance with this covenant is of the greatest importance, for whoever errs here or denies the existence of the covenant of works will not understand the covenant of grace, and will readily err concerning the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus. Such a person will very readily deny that Christ by His active obedience has merited a right to eternal life for the elect. This is to be observed with several parties who, because they err concerning the covenant of grace, also deny the covenant of works. Conversely, whoever denies the covenant of works, must rightly be suspected to be in error concerning the covenant of grace as well (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 1700; 1.355).

Charles Hodge (1797-1878). God having created man after his own image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience, forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil upon the pain of death. According to this statement, God entered into a covenant with Adam. (2.) The promise annexed to that covenant was life. (3.) The condition was perfect obedience. (4.) Its penalty was death.

1. God entered into Covenant with Adam. This statement does not rest upon any express declaration of the Scriptures. It is, however, a concise and correct mode of asserting a plain Scriptural fact, namely, that God made to Adam a promise suspended upon a condition, and attached to disobedience a certain penalty. This is what in Scriptural language is meant by a covenant, and this is all that is meant by the term as here used. Although the word covenant is not used in Genesis, and does not elsewhere, in any clear passage, occur in reference to the transaction there recorded, yet inasmuch as the plan of salvation is constantly represented as a New Covenant, new, not merely in antithesis to that made at Sinai, but new in reference to all legal covenants whatever, it is plain that the Bible does represent the arrangement made with Adam as a truly federal transaction. The Scriptures know nothing of any other than two methods of attaining eternal life: the one that which demands perfect obedience, and the other that which demands faith. If the latter is called a covenant, the former is declared to be of the same nature. It is of great importance that the Scriptural form of presenting truth should be retained. Rationalism was introduced into the Church under the guise of a philosophical statement of the truths of the Bible free from the mere outward form in which the sacred writers, trained in Judaism, had presented them. On this ground the federal system, as it was called, was discarded. On the same ground the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices of Christ were pronounced a cumbrous and unsatisfactory form under which to set forth his work as our Redeemer. And then the sacrificial character of his death, and all idea of atonement were rejected as mere Jewish drapery. Thus, by the theory of accommodation, every distinctive doctrine of the Scriptures was set aside, and Christianity reduced to Deism. It is, therefore, far more than a mere matter of method that is involved in adhering to the Scriptural form of presenting Scriptural truths. God then did enter into a covenant with Adam. That covenant is sometimes called a covenant of life, because life was promised as the reward of obedience. Sometimes it is called the covenant of works, because works were the condition on which that promise was suspended, and because it is thus distinguished from the new covenant which promises life on condition of faith.

2. The Promise. The reward promised to Adam on condition of his obedience, was life. (1.) This is involved in the threatening: `’In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” It is plain that this involved the assurance that he should not die, if he did not eat. (2.) This is confirmed by innumerable passages and by the general drift of Scripture, in which it is so plainly and so variously taught, that life was, by the ordinance of God, connected with obedience. “ This do and thou shalt live.” “The man that doeth them shall live by them.” This is the uniform mode in which the Bible speaks of that law or covenant under which man by the constitution of his nature and by the ordinance of God, was placed. (3.) As the Scriptures everywhere present God as a judge or moral ruler, it follows of necessity from that representation, that his rational creatures will be dealt with according to the principles of justice. If there be no transgression there will tee no punishment. And those who continue holy thereby continue in the favor and fellowship of him whose favour is life, and whose loving-kindness is better than life. (4.) And finally, holiness, or as the Apostle expresses it, to be spiritually minded, is life. There can therefore be no doubt, that had Adam continued in holiness, he would have enjoyed that life which flows from the favour of God. The life thus promised included the happy, holy, and immortal existence of the soul and body. This is plain. (1.) Because the life promised was that suited to the being to whom the promise was made. But the life suited to man as a moral and intelligent being, composed of soul and body, includes the happy, holy, and immortal existence of his whole nature. (2.) The life of which the Scriptures everywhere speak as connected with obedience, is that which, as just stated, flows from the favour and fellowship of God, and includes glory, honour, and immortality, as the Apostle teaches us in Romans ii. 7. (3.) The life secured by Christ for his people was the life forfeited by sin. But the life which the believer derives from Christ is spiritual and eternal life, the exaltation and complete blessedness of his whole nature, both soul and body.

3. Condition of the Covenant. The condition of the covenant made with Adam is said in the symbols of our church to be perfect obedience. That that statement is correct may be inferred (1.) From the nature of the case and from the general principles clearly revealed in the word of God. Such is the nature of God, and such the relation which He sustains to his moral creatures, that sin, the transgression of the divine law, must involve the destruction of the fellowship between man and his Creator, and the manifestation of the divine displeasure. The Apostle therefore says, that he who offends in one point, who breaks one precept of the law of God, is guilty of the whole. (2.) It is everywhere assumed in the Bible, that the condition of acceptance under the law is perfect obedience. “cursed is every one who continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.” This is not a peculiarity of the Mosaic economy, but a declaration of a principle which applies to all divine laws. (3.) The whole argument of the Apostle in his epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, is founded on the assumption that the law demands perfect obedience. If that be not granted, his whole argument falls to the ground. The specific command to Adam not to eat of a certain tree, was therefore not the only command he was required to obey. It was given simply to be the outward and visible test to determine whether he was willing to obey God in all things. Created holy, with all his affections pure, there was the more reason that the test of his obedience should be an outward and positive command; something wrong simply because it was forbidden, and not evil in its own nature. It would thus be seen that Adam obeyed for the sake of obeying. His obedience was more directly to God, and not to his own reason. The question whether perpetual, as well as perfect obedience was the condition of the covenant made with Adam, is probably to be answered in the negative. It seems to be reasonable in itself and plainly implied in the Scriptures that all rational creatures have a definite period of probation. If faithful during that period they are confirmed in their integrity, and no longer exposed to the danger of apostasy. Thus we read of the angels who kept not their first estate, and of those who did. Those who remained faithful have continued in holiness and in the favour of God. It is therefore to be inferred that had Adam continued obedient during the period allotted to his probation, neither he nor any of his posterity would have been ever exposed to the danger of sinning.

6. Perpetuity of the Covenant of Works. If Adam acted pot only for himself but also for his posterity, that fact determines the question, Whether the covenant of works be still in force. In the obvious sense of the terms, to say that men are still under that covenant, is to say that they are still on probation; that the race did not fall when Adam fell. But if Adam acted as the head of the whole race, then all men stood their probation in him, and fell with him in his first transgression. The Scriptures, therefore, teach that we come into the world under condemnation. We are by nature, ‘. e., as we were born, the children of wrath. This fact is assumed in all the provisions of the gospel and in all the institutions of our religion. Children are required to be baptized for the remission of sin. But while the Pelagian doctrine is to be rejected, which teaches that each man comes into the world free from sin and free from condemnation, and stands his probation in his own person, it is nevertheless true that where there is no sin there is no condemnation. Hence our Lord said to the young man, ” This do and thou shalt live.” And hence the Apostle in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, says that God will reward every man according to his works. To those who are good, He will give eternal life; to those who are evil, indignation and wrath. This is only saying that the eternal principles of justice are still in force. If any man can present himself before the bar of God and prove that he is free from sin, either imputed or personal, either original or actual, he will not be condemned. But the fact is that the whole world lies in wickedness. Man is an apostate race. Men are all involved in the penal and natural consequences of Adam’s transgression. They stood their probation in him, and do not stand each man for himself (Systematic Theology (1872-73) Vol. 2: Anthropology, Ch. 6).

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). In the covenant of works and the covenant of grace [there is] but one highest ideal for man and that is eternal life. (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 4 vol. 1895-1901; II.526).

Herman Bavinck. The commandment given to Adam was essentially a covenant, because, like God’s covenant with Israel, it was intended to grant eternal life to Adam in the way of obedience. (Herman Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II.526)

Herman Bavinck. Paul with his parallel between Adam and Christ gave rise to thinking of the status integritatis [state of integrity] as a covenant. In distinction from the foedus gratitae [covenant of grace], then, this was named the foedus naturae or operum [covenant of nature or works]. It was called the covenant of nature not as if it sprung, of itself and naturally, from God’s nature or that of man. Rather, it was called that because the foundation on which it rested, that is, the moral law, was known by man in nature, and because it was established with man in his original state and could be kept by man with the capacities given to him by creation, without supernatural grace (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II. 528-29)

Herman Bavinck. Our confessional documents do not make mention of the covenant of works] in so many words. But it is already included materially in articles 14 and 15 of the Belgic Confession, where it is taught that through Adam’s transgression of the commandment of life human nature in its entirety corrupted, in Sundays 3 and 4 of the Heidelberg Catechism, where man is said to be created in God’s image so that he might live with God in eternal life, but is also called totally corrupt because of Adam’s fall, and in the Canons of Dort 3:2, where it is said that the corruption of Adam is passed on to us “according to God’s righteous judgment. (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II.529).

Herman Bavinck. But the doctrine of a covenant of works rests on a scriptural foundation and is of surpassing value. (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 529-30).

M. J. Bosma (1874-1912). Covenant of Works. What was the covenant of works? A covenant is an agreement. The covenant of works was an agreement between God and Adam, wherein God promised eternal life to Adam and all his posterity, upon condition of perfect obedience to the probationary command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God threatening that Adam would die in case he broke this command. The elements of this covenant therefore were: 1. A condition expressed: perfect obedience. 2. A promise implied: eternal life. 3. A penalty threatened: death. Adam stood in a two-fold relation towards God: as creature and as covenant head. Adam as a creature of God was naturally under obligation to love and serve his Maker, but to this natural relation of Creator and creature God added the covenant relation. As God’s creature Adam had to obey his Maker individually for himself, without any regard to his descendants. As placed under the condition of the covenant of works by God he acted not alone for himself, but was the representative of the human race: if he was faithful to the trial command of God he would have secured eternal life for all his posterity, if he broke the trial command he would bring upon all his descendants the penalty: “in the day thou eatest thereof thou shall surely die.” Adam was the covenant or federal head of the human race. The covenant of which Adam was the head is carted “covenant of works,” because it was through work of obedience that he was to gain eternal life, in contrast to the covenant of grace, wherein eternal life is obtained as a free gift of God’s grace. Why do we believe this doctrine of the covenant of works? 1. We must admit it is not systematically taught in Scripture as we have explained it above, nor does the name covenant of works occur in the Bible, yet we are justified and necessitated for a clear apprehension of Adam’s original position and of his relation to us to use the term “covenant of works” and to give to it the meaning above described, since all the elements of a covenant are distinctly found in the descriptions of Adam; all we do is to put the various elements in systematic order and call the whole “the covenant of works.” We do not imply that an actual transaction of covenant making occurred between God and Adam as between two equals, for God and man are not equals, and so the original relation of Adam towards God was not a compact entered into by. mutual consideration, rather was the covenant of works a constitution imposed upon man by God, to which man readily consented, since he was in fullest harmony with God. The Sovereign ‘Creator revealed the way to life eternal, to this way Adam consented,-thus the covenant was formed. 2. Hosea 6:7, (R. V.): “But they, like Adam. Have transgressed the covenant.” Here it is plainly stated that Adam stood in covenant relation with God. 3. In Rom. 5:12-21, Paul draws a parallel between Adam and Christ. He declares that sin and death have come to us from Adam as righteousness and life come to us from Christ. Righteousness and life are secured to us without any action of our own, are imputed and given to us because of the work of Christ, so sin and death are our portion because of what Adam has done, without any conscious effort or work of our own, but as a result of covenant relationship. Adam and Christ are both covenant heads, their acts are imputed and charged to those they represent. To refuse to believe that Adam was our covenant head would require refusal to believe that Christ’s merits could become ours.” Rom. 5:12-21 … 4. The fundamental principle of one representing many underlies all the religious institutions ever ordained by God for men. God always deals with us according to this principle. Why did God enter into covenant relation with Adam? Because he desired the free and voluntary love and service of man. Man, as the angels, was gifted with the power of reason and a free will, and nothing less than a willing service of man could satisfy God. This would be best understood and secured if man stood in covenant relation to God. All other creatures God controlled without any choice of their own, he influences their instinct or constrains them to involuntarily do his will. With them he makes no agreement, to them he makes no appeal and offers no reward. A covenant relation with the animal and vegetable world is impossible. But man, made in God’s image, can understand God and agree or disagree to serve him. That man might show whether he would freely serve his Maker, God entered into a covenant with him, and tried him by the probationary command not to eat of the forbidden tree. The special command not to eat of the forbidden tree was given to be the outward and visible test to determine whether Adam was willing to obey God in all things. The eating of the tree was not wrong in its own nature, but was wrong because God had forbidden it. By leaving alone the fruit he would show that his whole life was subject to God, and his eating would prove that his heart was contrary to the holy will of his Creator. No fairer trial than the human race thus had in Adam can be conceived of, since he was created in full possession of all his faculties and in the image of God. What did the promise of eternal life include? It included the happy, holy and immortal existence of soul and body. Eternal life flows from the favor and fellowship of God, and includes glory, honor, and immortality; the exaltation and complete blessedness of both soul and body. Thus privileged with life Adam would have been prophet, priest and king on earth, and everything else would have been subdued unto him in the service of God. This blessed state will be the heritage of those saved by Christ, and they will never lose it, because they, for the merits of their Redeemer’s sake, are kept by the power of God. Can we gain eternal life at present through the covenant of works? No, for we can never fulfill the condition of the covenant of works. If we could be born without sin and should never thereafter sin, we might gain eternal life as reward for obedience, but this is impossible. The penalty of the covenant of works rests upon all, for all are sinners. The covenant of works condemns us (Exposition of the Reformed Doctrine [Grand Rapids, 1907]).

G. Vos (1862-1949). According to the Reformed view the covenant of works is something more than the natural bond which exists between God and man. The Westminster Confession puts this in such a pointedly beautiful way (7.1) …If we are not mistaken, the instinctive aversion which some have to the covenant of works springs from a lack of appreciation for this wonderful truth [i.e., God’s voluntary condescension]. (“The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” 1891, Selected Shorter Writings, 244).

Louis Berkhof (1873-1957). All the elements of covenant [of works] are indicated in Scripture, and if the elements are present, we are not only warranted but, in a systematic study of the doctrine, also in duty bound to relate them to one another, and to give the doctrine so construed an appropriate name (Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 213).

Louis Berkhof. There was [in the covenant of works] a promise of eternal life….Now it is perfectly true that no such promise is explicitly recorded, but it is clearly implied in the alternative of death as the result of disobedience (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 214).

Meredith G. Kline. The active obedience of Jesus is his fulfilling the demands of the covenant probation. By the passive obedience of his atoning sacrifice he secures for us the forgiveness of sins. But he does more than clear the slate and reinstate us in Adams original condition, still facing probation and able to fail. Jesus, the second Adam, accomplishes the probationary assignment of overcoming the devil, and by performing this one decisive act of righteousness he earns for us Gods promised reward. By this achievement of active obedience he merits for us a position beyond probation, secure forever in Gods love and the prospect of God’s eternal home. This grand truth is a fruit of covenant theology. It grows out of the soil of the Reformed doctrine of federal representation, which is based on the biblical teaching about the two Adams whose responses under covenant probation are imputed to those they represent. Thus, God imputes to those whom Christ represents the righteousness of the victory of his active obedience in his probationary battle against Satan. Here was Machen’s strong comfort in death. He knew that the meritorious work performed by his Savior had been reckoned to his account as if he had performed it. God must certainly bestow on him the glorious heavenly reward, for Jesus had earned it for him and God’s name is just (“Covenant Theology Under Attack”, 1994).

On the Covenant of Grace

John Calvin (1509-64). For Paul’s inquiry is not so much whether the unbelief of men neutralizes the truth of God, so that it should not in itself remain firm and constant, but whether it hinders its effect and fulfillment as to men. The meaning then is, “Since most of the Jews are covenant-breakers, is God’s covenant so abrogated by their perfidiousness that it brings forth no fruit among them? To this he answers, that it cannot be that the truth of God should lose its stability through man’s wickedness. Though then the greater part had nullified and trodden under foot God’s covenant, it yet retained its efficacy and manifested its power, not indeed as to all, but with regard to a few of that nation: and it is then efficacious when the grace or the blessing of the Lord avails to eternal salvation. But this cannot be, except when the promise is received by faith; for it is in this way that a mutual covenant is on both sides confirmed. He then means that some ever remained in that nation, who by continuing to believe in the promise, had not fallen away from the privileges of the covenant (Commentary on Romans 4.3, Strasbourg, 1539).

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83). Q: 1 What firm comfort do you have in life and in death? A: That I was created by God in his image and for eternal life. After I, of my own accord, lost this image in Adam, God out of his immense and gracious mercy, received me into his covenant of grace, so that, on the basis of the obedience and death of his Son, who was sent in the flesh, he gave to me, a believer, righteousness and eternal life. Moreover, He sealed his covenant in my heart through his Spirit who renews me in God’s image and who cries in me “Abba, Father,” and through his Word and the visible signs of his covenant (Summa theologie, 1561).

Heidelberg Catechism (1563). Q: 19. From where do you know this? A: From the Holy Gospel, which God Himself revealed first in Paradise; afterwards proclaimed by the holy Patriarchs and Prophets, and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; and finally fulfilled by His well-beloved Son.

Robert Rollock (c.1555-99). Whereas God offers the righteousness and life under condition of faith, yet he does not so much respect faith in us, which is also his own gift, as he does the object of faith, which is Christ, and his own free mercy in Christ, which must be apprehended by faith; for it is not so much our faith apprehending, as Christ himself, and God’s mercy apprehended in him, that is the cause wherefore God performs the promise of his covenant unto us, to our justification and salvation (Select Works, 1.40).

Canons of Dort (1619). First Head: Article 17. Since we are to judge of the will of God from His Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they together with the parents are comprehended, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy (Gen 17:7; Acts 2:39; 1 Cor 7:14).

Canons of Dort (1619). Rejection of Errors Second Head: Paragraph 2. [We reject those:]Who teach: That it was not the purpose of the death of Christ that He should confirm the new covenant of grace through His blood, but only that He should acquire for the Father the mere right to establish with man such a covenant as He might please, whether of grace or of works. For this is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant that is a new covenant …” and that “it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. (Heb 7:22; 9:15, 17).”

Canons of Dort (1619). Fifth Head: Paragraph 1. Who teach: That the perseverance of the true believers is not a fruit of election, or a gift of God gained by the death of Christ, but a condition of the new covenant which (as they declare) man before his decisive election and justification must fulfill through his free will. For the Holy Scripture testifies that this follows out of election, and is given the elect in virtue of the death, the resurrection, and the intercession of Christ: “What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened (Rom 11:7).” Likewise: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:32-35)?”

John Preston (1587-1628). It is said, “the promise is made to the Seed,” yet the promise is made to us, and yet again the covenant is made with Abraham: How can all these stand together? Answer: The promises that are made to the Seed, that is to Christ himself are these: You shall sit on that throne; you shall be a prince of peace, and the government shall be upon your shoulders; likewise, you shall be a prophet to my people….These are the promises that are made to the Seed. The promises that are made to us, though they be of the same covenant, nevertheless differ in this respect: the active part is committed to the Messiah, to the Seed himself, but the passive part consists of the promises made to us…. So the promise is made to us…..The meaning is that they are derivative promises. They primary and original promises were made to Jesus Christ (The New Covenant, 1639; 374-75).

John Ball (1585-1640). The Covenant of Grace is that free and gracious Covenant which God of his mere mercy in Jesus Christ made with man a miserable and wretched sinner, promising unto him pardon of sin and eternal happiness, if he will return from his iniquity, embrace mercy reached forth, by faith unfeigned, and walk before God in sincere, faithful and willing obedience, as becomes such a creature lifted up unto such enjoyment, and partaker of such precious promises. This covenant is opposite to the former in kind, so that at one and the same time, man cannot be under the Covenant of works and the Covenant of grace. For he cannot hope to be justified by his perfect and exact obedience, that acknowledging himself to be a miserable and lost sinner, does expect pardon of the free mercy of God in Jesus Christ embraced by faith. (A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London, 1645, 14-15).

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). Chapter 7:3. Man, by his Fall, having made himself incapable 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 life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. 7:4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ, the testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed. 7:5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of t law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in he promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.


Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 30. Doth God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God doth not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell by the 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 into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the covenant of grace.


The Sum of Saving Knowledge (1647). 3b) The covenant of grace, set down in the Old Testament before Christ came, and in the New since he came, is one and the same in substance, albeit different in outward administration: For the covenant in the Old Testament, being sealed with the ordinances of circumcision and the paschal lamb, did set forth Christ’s death to come, and the benefits purchased by it, under the shadow of bloody sacrifices, and various ceremonies: but since Christ came, the covenant being sealed by the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper, does clearly hold forth Christ already crucified before our eyes, victorious over death and the grave, and gloriously ruling heaven and earth, for the good of his own people.


Francis Turretin (1623-87). XI. Not without reason did the Holy Spirit wish to designate the covenant of grace under the name of “promise,” because it rests entirely upon the divine promise. In this it wonderfully differs, not only from all human covenants (which consist of a mutual obligation and stipulation of the parties), but from the covenant of works (which although it also had its own promise on the part of God to the doers and so was founded on the goodness of God, still it required obedience on the part of man that it might be put into execution). But here God wished the whole of this covenant to depend upon his promise, not only with regard to the reward promised by him, but also with regard to the duty demanded from us. Thus God performs here not only his own part, but also ours; and if the covenant is given for the happiness of only the one party, it is guarded and fulfilled by the fidelity of only one party. Hence not only God’s blessings fall under the promise, but also man’s duty; not only the end, but also the means and conditions leading us to it (as will be shown in the proper place) (Institutes of Elenctic Theology [Topic 12, Q. 1.11).


Francis Turretin. II. ( 1 ) Condition is used either antecedently and a priori, for that which has the force of a meritorious and impulsive cause to obtain the benefits of the covenant (the performance of which gives man a right to the reward); or concomitantly and consequently a posterior), for that which has the relation of means and disposition in the subject, required in the covenanted. (2) A condition is either natural, flowing from the strength belonging to nature; or supernatural and divine, depending upon grace. (3) The federal promise is twofold: either concerning the end or the means, i.e., either concerning salvation or concerning faith and repentance (because each is the gift of God). (4) The covenant can be considered either in relation to its institution by God or in relation to its first application to the believer or in relation to its perfect consummation (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.2)


Francis Turretin. III. These things being laid down, we say first, if the condition is taken antecedently and a priori for the meritorious and impulsive cause and for a natural condition, the covenant of grace is rightly denied to be conditioned. It is wholly gratuitous, depending upon the sole good will (eudokia) of God and upon no merit of man. Nor can the right to life be founded upon any action of ours, but on the righteousness of Christ alone. But if it is taken consequently and a posterior) for the instrumental cause, receptive of the promises of the covenant and for the disposition of the subject, admitted into the fellowship of the covenant (which flows from grace itself), it cannot be denied that the covenant is conditional. (a) It is proposed with an express condition (Jn. 3:16, 36; Rom. 10:9; Acts 8:37; Mk. 16:16 and frequently elsewhere). (b) Unless it was conditional, there would be no place for threatenings in the gospel (which could not be denounced except against those who had neglected the prescribed condition)-for the neglect of faith and obedience cannot be culpable, if not required. (c) Otherwise it would follow that God is bound in this covenant to man and not man to God (which is perfectly absurd and contrary to the nature of all covenants, in which there always is a mutual agreement and a reciprocal obligation because the contracting parties are bound on both sides-as between a husband and wife, I a king and his subjects, etc.) (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.3).


Francis Turretin. V. Third, if the covenant be viewed in relation to the first sanction in Christ, it has no previous condition, but rests upon the grace of God and the merit of Christ alone. But if it is considered in relation to its acceptance and application to the believer, it has faith as a condition (uniting man to Christ and so bringing him into the fellowship of the covenant). If, however, in relation to its consummation with faith (obedience and the desire of holiness), it has the relation of condition and means because without them no one shall see God (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.5).


Francis Turretin. XV. Thus we have demonstrated how faith is a condition in this covenant. Now we must see whether it performs this office alone or whether other virtues are with it, particularly repentance. Concerning this, the orthodox dispute among themselves-some denying and others affirming. We think the matter may be readily settled by a distinction, if we bear in mind the different senses to a condition. It may be taken either broadly and improperly (for all that man is bound to afford in the covenant of grace) or strictly and properly (for that which has some causality in reference to life and on which not only antecedently, but also causally, eternal life in its own manner depends). If in the latter sense, faith is the sole condition of the covenant because under this condition alone pardon of sins and salvation as well as eternal life are promised (]n. 3:16, 36; Rom. 10:9). There is no other which could perform that office because there is no other which is receptive of Christ and capable of applying his righteousness. But in the former, there is nothing to hinder repentance and the obedience of the new life from being called a condition because they are reckoned among the duties of the covenant (Jn. 13:17; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 8:13) (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.15).


Francis Turretin. XVI. Second, the condition is either antecedent to the acceptance of the covenant (which holds the relation of the cause why we are received into it) or subsequent (holding relation of means and the way by which we go forward to its consummation). In the former sense, faith is the sole condition of the covenant because it alone embraces Christ with his benefits. But in the latter sense, holiness and obedience can have the relation of a condition because they are the mean and the way by which we arrive at the full possession of the blessings of the covenant. If they do not have causality either with respect to justification (or eternal life flowing from it), still in other respects they pertain to this covenant both as inseparable attendants of true and sincere faith because “faith ought to be effectual through love” (Gal. 5:6), as the qualities of those to be saved (Mt. 5:8; 25:35, 36, Heb. 12:14), as fruits of the Spirit in Christ (Rom. 8:2, 9,10) and marks of our conformity with Christ (Rom. 6:4, 5; Col. 3:1; Eph. 2:4, 5), as proofs of our gratitude towards God (Tit. 2:14), as testimonies of our sonship (I ~n. 3:3; Rom. 8:15) and as duties which the rational creature owes to God (Lk. 17:10) (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.16).


Francis Turretin. XVII. There is not the same relation of justification and of the covenant through all things. To the former, faith alone concurs, but to the observance of the latter other virtues also are required besides faith. These conduce not only to the acceptance of the covenant, but also to its observance. For these two things ought always to be connected-the acceptance of the covenant and the keeping of it when accepted. Faith accepts by a reception of the promises; obedience keeps by a fulfillment of the commands. “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” And yet in this way legal and evangelical obedience are not confounded because the legal is prescribed for the meriting of life, the evangelical, however, only for the possession of it. The former precedes as the cause of life (“Do this and thou shalt live”)) the latter follows as its fruit, not that you may live but because you live. The former is not admitted unless it is perfect and absolute; the latter is admitted even if l imperfect provided it be sincere. That is only commanded as man’s duty; this is also promised and given as the gift of God (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.17).


Francis Turretin. VII. Nor can it be objected here that faith was required also in the first covenant and works are not excluded in the second (as was said before). They stand in a far different relation. For in the first covenant. faith was required as a work and a part of the inherent righteousness to which life was promised. But in the second, it is demanded-not as a work on account of which life is given, but as a mere instrument apprehending the righteousness of Christ (on account of which alone salvation is granted to us). In the one, faith was a theological virtue from the strength of nature, terminating on God, the Creator; in the other, faith is an evangelical condition after the manner of supernatural grace, terminating on God, the Redeemer. As to works, they were required in the first as an antecedent condition by way of a cause for acquiring life; but in the second, they are only the I subsequent condition as the fruit and effect of the life already acquired. In the l first, they ought to precede the act of justification; in the second, they follow it (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.4.7).


Francis Turretin. XV. There is not the same opposition throughout between the Old and New Testaments as there is between the law and the gospel. The opposition of the law and the gospel (in as far as they are taken properly and strictly for the covenant of works and of grace and are considered in their absolute being) is contrary. They are opposed as the letter killing and the Spirit quickening; as Hagar gendering to bondage and Sarah gendering to freedom, although the law more broadly taken and in its relative being is subordinated to the gospel. But the opposition of the Old and New Testaments broadly viewed is relative, inasmuch as the Old contained the shadows of things to come (Heb. 10:1) and the New the very image (ten eikona) (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.8.15).

Consensus Formula Helvetica (1675). Canon XVI: Since all these things are entirely so, we can hardly approve the opposite doctrine of those who affirm that of his own intention and counsel and that of the Father who sent him, Christ died for each and every one upon the condition, that they believe. [We also cannot affirm the teaching! that he obtained for all a salvation, which, nevertheless, is not applied to all, and by his death merited a salvation and faith for no one individually but only removed the obstacle of divine justice, and acquired for the Father the liberty of entering into a new covenant of grace with all men. Finally, they so separate the active and passive righteousness of Christ, as to assert that he claims his active righteousness as his own, but gives and imputes only his passive righteousness to the elect. All these opinions, and all that are like these, are contrary to the plain Scriptures and the glory of Christ, who is Author and Finisher of our faith and salvation; they make his cross of none effect, and under the appearance of exalting his merit, they, in reality diminish it. Canon XXIII: There are two ways in which God, the just Judge, has promised justification: either by one’s own works or deeds in the law, or by the obedience or righteousness of another, even of Christ our Guarantor. This justification is imputed by grace to those who believe in the Gospel. The former is the method of justifying man because of perfection; but the latter, of justifying man who is a corrupt sinner. In accordance with these two ways of justification the Scripture establishes these two covenants: the Covenant of Works, entered into with Adam and with each one of his descendants in him, but made void by sin; and the Covenant of Grace, made with only the elect in Christ, the second Adam, eternal. [This covenant] cannot be broken while [the Covenant of Works] can be abrogated. Canon XXIV: But this later Covenant of Grace according to the diversity of times has also different dispensations. For when the Apostle speaks of the dispensation of the fullness of times, that is, the administration of the last time (Eph 1:10), he very clearly indicates that there had been another dispensation and administration until the times which the Father appointed. Yet in the dispensation of the Covenant of Grace the elect have not been saved in any other way than by the Angel of his presence (Isa 63:9), the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8), Christ Jesus, through the knowledge of that just Servant and faith in him and in the Father and his Spirit. For Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). And by His grace we believe that we are saved in the same manner as the Fathers also were saved, and in both Testaments these statutes remain unchanged: “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him,” (the Son) (Ps 2:12); “He that believes in Him is not condemned, but he that does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:18). “You believe in God,” even the Father, “believe also in me” (John 14:1). But if, moreover, the holy Fathers believed in Christ as their God, it follows that they also believed in the Holy Spirit, without whom no one can call Jesus Lord. Truly there are so many clearer exhibitions of this faith of the Fathers and of the necessity of such faith in either Covenant, that they can not escape any one unless one wills it. But though this saving knowledge of Christ and the Holy Trinity was necessarily derived, according to the dispensation of that time, both from the promise and from shadows and figures and mysteries, with greater difficulty than in the NT. Yet it was a true knowledge, and, in proportion to the measure of divine Revelation, it was sufficient to procure salvation and peace of conscience for the elect, by the help of God’s grace.

Peter van Mastricht (1630-1706). I think we must distinguish most carefully between those promises of the covenant of grace which are of the nature of means to an end, such as are the obtaining of redemption through Christ, regeneration, conversion, the conjunction of faith with purpose of amendment; and those which are of the nature of an end, e.g., justification, adoption, glorification etc. If this is done, we seem bound to say that the promises of the covenant of grace of the first kind are plainly absolute. It involves a manifest contradiction to require of man dead in sins a preliminary condition for the redemption of Christ, like redemption etc. But promises of the second class, like justification, adoption, etc. are altogether conditioned, yet in such a way that the satisfaction of the conditions depends not upon the strength of the free will (liberum arbitrium), but on the absolute promises of this covenant (Theoretica et practica theologia, 5.1.37).

Charles Hodge (1797-1878). The Condition of the Covenant.The condition of the covenant of grace, so far as adults are concerned, is faith in Christ. That is, in order to partake of the benefits of this covenant we must receive the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God in whom and for whose sake its blessings are vouchsafed to the children of men. Until we thus believe we are aliens and strangers from the covenant of promise, without God and without Christ. We must acquiesce in this covenant, renouncing all other methods of salvation, and consenting to be saved on the terms which it proposes, before we are made partakers of its benefits. The word “ condition,” however, is used in two senses. Sometimes it means the meritorious consideration on the ground of which certain benefits are bestowed. In this sense perfect obedience was the condition of the covenant originally made with Adam. Had he retained his integrity he would have merited the promised blessing. For to him that worketh the reward is not of grace but of debt. In the same sense the work of Christ is the condition of the covenant of redemption. It was the meritorious ground, laying a foundation in justice for the fulfilment of the promises made to Him by the Father. But in other cases, by condition we merely mean a sine qua non. A blessing may be promised on condition that it is asked for; or that there is a willingness to receive it. There is no merit in the asking or in the willingness, which is the ground of the gift. It remains a gratuitous favour; but it is, nevertheless, suspended upon the act of asking. It is in this last sense only that faith is the condition of the covenant of grace. There is no merit in believing. It is only the act of receiving a proffered favour. In either case the necessity is equally absolute. Without the work of Christ there would be no salvation; and without faith there is no salvation. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life. He that believeth not, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him (Systematic Theology).

G. Vos (1862-1949). It is equally easy to demonstrate that the [Reformed] theologians did not place election and covenant side by side in a dualistic fashion, but related them organically. It is a well-known fact that for many election circumscribes the extent of the covenant even in their definition of the covenant (“The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology,” Shorter Writings, 259).

M. J. Bosma (1874-1912). Thanks to the grace of God that he has revealed another covenant, the covenant of grace, in the stead of the broken and condemning covenant of works. What Adam lost, Christ has gained for his people. What is the second part of justification? Adoption to be children and heirs of God. Every person is naturally under the demands of the covenant of works. To gain eternal life according to this covenant he would have to lead a perfect life; but this is impossible at present, for we are all born in sin and live in sin. But what we can not do Christ has done for us. He has taken away the penalty of sin not only, but has also by his active obedience fulfilled the demands of the law for us as a condition to gain eternal life. When God justifies us he counts all of Christ’s merits to our credit, and reckons us in Christ. For Christ’s sake we are therefore also adopted as heirs of eternal life. All the promises of the covenant of grace accrue to the justified. Christ and his people share together. We are not merely forgiven and then told to earn eternal life by our own works, but are made children of God forever. What is the ground of justification? The only ground is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God never declares any one just unless the law is satisfied, and nothing less than absolutely perfect righteousness can fulfill the law. This Christ as our representative has rendered, and his merits are the sole legal ground of justification. There is nothing in us to which God has regard when he justifies us, no inherent righteousness, no faith, or good works. Christ died “the just for the unjust,” he came “to give his life a ransom for many,” “he was made sin for us,” “made a curse for us.” (Exposition of the Reformed Doctrine [Grand Rapids, 1907]).

On Justification

John Calvin (1509-64). To be justified in the sight of God, to be Justified by faith or by works. A man is said to be justified in the sight of God when in the judgment of God he is deemed righteous, and is accepted on account of his righteousness…Thus we simply interpret justification, as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (Institutes, 3.11.2).

John Calvin. To justify therefore, is nothing else than to acquit from the charge of guilt, as if innocence were proved. Hence, when God justifies us through the intercession of Christ, he does not acquit us on a proof of our own innocence, but by an imputation of righteousness, so that though not righteous in ourselves, we are deemed righteous in Christ (Institutes, 3.11.3).

John Calvin. That Christ, by his obedience, truly purchased and merited grace for us with the Father, is accurately inferred from several passages of Scripture. I take it for granted, that if Christ satisfied for our sins, if he paid the penalty due by us, if he appeased God by his obedience; in fine, if he suffered the just for the unjust, salvation was obtained for us by his righteousness; which is just equivalent to meriting. Now, Paul’s testimony is, that we were reconciled, and received reconciliation through his death, (Rom. 5: 11.) But there is no room for reconciliation unless where offense has preceded. The meaning, therefore, is, that God, to whom we were hateful through sin, was appeased by the death of his Son, and made propitious to us. And the antithesis which immediately follows is carefully to be observed, “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,” (Rom. 5: 19.) For the meaning is – As by the sin of Adam we were alienated from God and doomed to destruction, so by the obedience of Christ we are restored to his favour as if we were righteous. The future tense of the verb does not exclude present righteousness, as is apparent from the context. For he had previously said, “the free gift is of many offenses unto justification.” (Institutes, 2.17.3)

John Calvin. The Sophists, who make game and sport in their corrupting of Scripture and their empty caviling, think they have a subtle evasion…For, according to them, man is justified by both faith and works provided they are not his own works but the gifts of Christ and the fruit of regeneration (Institutes 3.11.14)

John Calvin. The verbal question is, What is justification? They [the Council of Trent, Session Six] deny that it is merely the forgiveness of sins, and insist that it includes both renovation and sanctification. Paul’s words are, “David describeth the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness by not imputing sin; and the same Apostle, without appealing to the testimony of another, elsewhere says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself,not imputing unto men their trespasses.” Immediately after he adds, “He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor 5.19.) Can anything be clearer than that we are regarded as righteous in the sight of God, because our sins have been expiated by Christ, and no longer us under liability.

John Calvin. …What! can the justification of the publican have any other meaning (Luke 17) than the imputation of righteousness, when he was freely accepted of God. And since the dispute is concerning the propriety of a word, when Christ is declared by Paul to be our righteousness and sanctification, a distinction is certainly drawn between these two things, though the Fathers of Trent confound them.

John Calvin. …I would be unwilling to dispute about a word, did not the whole case depend upon it. But when they say that a man is justified, when he is again formed for the obedience of God, they subvert the whole argument of Paul, “If righteousness is by the law, faith is nullified, and the promise abolished (Rom 4.14). For he means, that not an individual among mankind will be found in whom the promise of salvation may be accomplished, if it involves the condition of innocence; and that faith, if it is propped up by works will instantly fall. This is true; because, so long as we look at what we are in ourselves, we must tremble in the sight of God, so far from having a firm and unshaken confidence of eternal life

John Calvin. …while I shall admit that we are never received into the favor of God without being at the same time regenerated to holiness of life, contend that it is false to say that any part of righteousness (justification) consists in any quality, or in the habit which resides in us….

John Calvin. …It is just as if they [Trent] were to say, that forgiveness of sins cannot be dissevered from repentance, and therefore repentance is a part of it. The only point in dispute is, how we are deemed righteous in the sight of God, and where our faith, by which alone we obtain righteousness, ought to seek it.

John Calvin. When they [Trent] quote the passage of Paul, ‘Faith which worketh by love,’ (Gal 5.6) they do not see that they are cutting their own throats. For if love is the fruit and effect of faith, who sees not that the unformed faith which they have fabricated is a vain figment! It is very odd for the daughter thus to kill the mother! But I must remind my readers that this passage is irrelevantly introduced into a question about Justification, since Paul is not there considering in what respect faith or charity avails to justify a man, but what is Christian maturity; as when he elsewhere says, ‘If a man be in Christ he is a new creature.’ (2 Cor 5.17). (revised slightly from Antidote to the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent 1547, Calvin’s Selected Works, ed. and trans. H. Beveridge, repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983; 3.114, 115, 117, 118, 119).

John Calvin. When you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or of works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle. (Commentary on Galatians 5.6, 1548).

John Calvin. Being justified freely, etc. A participle is here put for a verb according to the usage of the Greek language. The meaning is, — that since there remains nothing for men, as to themselves, but to perish, being smitten by the just judgment of God, they are to be justified freely through his mercy; for Christ comes to the aid of this misery, and communicates himself to believers, so that they find in him alone all those things in which they are wanting. There is, perhaps, no passage in the whole Scripture which illustrates in a more striking manner the efficacy of his righteousness; for it shows that God’s mercy is the efficient cause, that Christ with his blood is the meritorious cause, that the formal or the instrumental cause is faith in the word, and that moreover, the final cause is the glory of the divine justice and goodness. With regard to the efficient cause, he says, that we are justified freely, and further, by his grace; and he thus repeats the word to show that the whole is from God, and nothing from us. It might have been enough to oppose grace to merits; but lest we should imagine a half kind of grace, he affirms more strongly what he means by a repetition, and claims for God’s mercy alone the whole glory of our righteousness, which the sophists divide into parts and mutilate, that they may not be constrained to confess their own poverty. — Through the redemption, etc. This is the material,–Christ by his obedience satisfied the Father’s justice, (judicium — judgment,) and by undertaking our cause he liberated us from the tyranny of death, by which we were held captive; as on account of the sacrifice which he offered is our guilt removed. Here again is fully confuted the gloss of those who make righteousness a quality; for if we are counted righteous before God, because we are redeemed by a price, we certainly derive from another what is not in us. And Paul immediately explains more clearly what this redemption is, and what is its object, which is to reconcile us to God; for he calls Christ a propitiation, (or, if we prefer an allusion to an ancient type,) a propitiatory. But what he means is, that we are not otherwise just than through Christ propitiating the Father for us (Commentary on Romans 3.24; Strasbourg, 1539).

John Calvin. This is not a tautology, but a necessary explanation of the previous verse. Paul shows that the offence of the one man is such as to render us guilty ourselves. He had previously said that we are condemned, but to prevent anyone from laying claim to innocence, he desired also to add that everyone is condemned, but because he is a sinner. When he afterwards states that we are made righteous by the obedience of Christ, we deduce from this that Christ, in satisfying the Father, has procured righteousness for us. It follows from this that righteousness exists in Christ as a property, but that that which belongs properly to Christ is imputed to us. At the same time he explains the character of the righteousness of Christ by referring to it as obedience]. Let us note here what we are required to bring into the presence of God, if we wish to be justified by works, viz. obedience to the law, and not a partial obedience, but absolute obedience in every respect. If a righteous man has fallen, none of his former righteousness is remembered. We are also to learn from this the falsity of the self-conceived schemes which men thrust upon God for the purpose of satisfying His justice. Only when we follow what God has commanded us do we truly worship Him, and render obedience to His Word. Let us, therefore, have nothing to do with those who confidently lay claim to the righteousness of works, which can exist only when there is a full and complete observance of the law. This, it is certain, nowhere exists. We similarly deduce that those who boast before God of works of their own invention, which He regards as being not better than dung, are out of their minds, for obedience is better than sacrifice. (Commentary on Romans 5:19; 1540; in Calvin’s Commentaries: The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians. Trans. Ross MacKenzie, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), 118.

John Calvin. Here it is proper to remember the relation which we previously established between faith and the Gospel; faith being said to justify because it receives and embraces the righteousness offered in the Gospel. By the very fact of its being said to be offered by the Gospel, all consideration of works is excluded. This Paul repeatedly declares, and in two passages, in particular, most clearly demonstrates. In the Epistle to the Romans, comparing the Law and the Gospel, he says, “Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the Law, That the man which does those things shall live by them. But the “righteousness that is of faith” [Rom 10.6] announces salvation….Do you see how he makes the distinction between the Law and the Gospel to be, that the former gives justification to works, whereas the latter bestows it freely without any help from works? This is a notable passage, and may free us from many difficulties if we understand that the justification which is given us by the Gospel is free from any terms of Law. Here is the reason why he so often opposes the promises to the Law, as things mutually contradictory: “If the inheritance is by the Law, it is no longer by promise.” [Gal 3.18]. …Undoubtedly the Law also has its promises; and, therefore, between them and the Gospel promises there must be some distinction and difference, unless we are to hold that the comparison is inept. And in what can the difference consist unless in this that the promises of the Gospel are gratuitous, and founded on the mere mercy of God, whereas the promises of the Law depend on the condition of works? (Institutes, 3.11.17)

John Calvin. We, indeed, acknowledge with Paul, that the only faith which justifies is that which works by love, (Galatians 5:6) but love does not give it its justifying power. Nay, its only means of justifying consists in its bringing us into communication with the righteousness of Christ (Institutes, 3.11.20).

John Calvin. We dream not of a faith which is devoid of good works, nor of a justification which can exist without them: the only difference is, that while we acknowledge that faith and works are necessarily connected, we, however, place justification in faith, not in works. How this is done is easily explained, if we turn to Christ only, to whom our faith is directed and from whom it derives all its power. Why, then, are we justified by faith? Because by faith we apprehend the righteousness of Christ, which alone reconciles us to God. This faith, however, you cannot apprehend without at the same time apprehending sanctification; for Christ “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” (1 Corinthians 1:30.) Christ, therefore, justifies no man without also sanctifying him. These blessings are conjoined by a perpetual and inseparable tie. Those whom he enlightens by his wisdom he redeems; whom he redeems he justifies; whom he justifies he sanctifies (Institutes, 3.16.1).

Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575). So then as often as the godly doth read that our own works do justify that our own works are called righteousness that unto our works is given a reward and life everlasting he doth not by and by swell with pride nor yet forget the merit of Christ (Decades 1.119).

Belgic Confession, Article 22: The Righteousness of Faith. We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him. For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely. Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God–for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.” However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us–for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness. But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits. When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.

Belgic Confession, Article 23: The Justification of Sinners. We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained, as David and Paul teach us when they declare that man blessed to whom God grants righteousness apart from works. And the same apostle says that we are justified “freely” or “by grace” through redemption in Jesus Christ. And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him. That is enough to cover all our sins and to make us confident, freeing the conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God’s approach, without doing what our first father, Adam, did, who trembled as he tried to cover himself with fig leaves. In fact, if we had to appear before God relying– no matter how little– on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up. Therefore everyone must say with David: “Lord, do not enter into judgment with your servants, for before you no living person shall be justified.”

Belgic Confession, Article 24: The Sanctification of Sinners. We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,” causing him to live the “new life” and freeing him from the slavery of sin. Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned. So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,” which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word. These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification– for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place. So then, we do good works, but nor for merit– for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure”– thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’ ” Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works– but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work. So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.

Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Q: 21. What is true faith?

A:True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits (Heidelberg Catechism).

Heidelberg Catechism, Q: 31 Why is He called Christ, that is Anointed?

A:Because He is ordained of God the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of His body, has redeemed us, and ever liveth to make intercession for us with the Father; and our eternal King, who governs us by His Word and Spirit and defends and preserves us in the redemption obtained for us.

Heidelberg Catechism, Q: 60. How are you righteous before God?

A:Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart (Heidelberg Catechism).

Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 61. Why do you say, that you are righteous by faith only?

A:Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only (Heidelberg Catechism).

Caspar Olevian (1536-87). Faith is to assent to God, as the only true and omnipotent God, his will known in his every word, and so to give glory to God and not to consider anything in ourselves or other creatures which seems to oppose him. And to regard this word as his special purpose, the promise of the gospel, that the Father reveals himself truly in Christ, and that he justifies freely and daily sanctifies those united to Christ through the Holy Spirit and preserves us through the same power by which Christ was raised from the dead by which he has subjected all things to himself so that, grounded in his power, the hope of everlasting life might be most certain (Expositio Symbolici Apostolici, 14; Frankfurt, 1584).

James Ussher (1581-1656). By justifying Faith we understand not only…a persuasion of the truth of God’s Word in general: but also a particular application of the gratuitous of the gospel, to the comfort of our own souls…So that a true believer may be certain, by the assurance of faith (Irish Articles, 1615; Art. 37).

Canons of Dort (1619). Rejection of Errors Second Head: Paragraph 3. [We reject those:] Who teach: That Christ by His satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for any one, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated; but that He merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as He might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions. For these adjudge too contemptuously of the death of Christ, in no wise acknowledge that most important fruit or benefit thereby gained and bring again out of the hell the Pelagian error.

Canons of Dort (1619). Rejection of Errors Second Head: Paragraph 4. [We reject those:] Who teach: That the new covenant of grace, which God the Father, through the mediation of the death of Christ, made with man, does not herein consist that we by faith, in as much as it accepts the merits of Christ, are justified before God and saved, but in the fact that God, having revoked the demand of perfect obedience of faith, regards faith itself and the obedience of faith, although imperfect, as the perfect obedience of the law, and does esteem it worthy of the reward of eternal life through grace. For these contradict the Scriptures, being: “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood (Rom 3:24-25).” And these proclaim, as did the wicked Socinus, a new and strange justification of man before God, against the consensus of the whole Church.

Canons of Dort (1619). Second Head: Paragraph 5. [We reject those:] Who teach: That all men have been accepted unto the state of reconciliation and unto the grace of the covenant, so that no one is worthy of condemnation on account of original sin, and that no one shall be condemned because of it, but that all are free from the guilt of original sin. For this opinion is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3).

Canons of Dort (1619). Rejection of Errors Third and Fourth Head: Paragraph 6 [We reject those:]Who teach: That in the true conversion of man no new qualities, powers, or gifts can be infused by God into the will, and that therefore faith, through which we are first converted and because of which we are called believers, is not a quality or gift infused by God but only an act of man, and that it cannot be said to be a gift, except in respect of the power to attain to this faith. For thereby they contradict the Holy Scriptures, which declare that God infuses new qualities of faith, of obedience, and of the consciousness of His love into our hearts: “”This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts (Jer 31:33).” And: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants (Isa 44:3).” And: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (Rom 5:5).” This is also repugnant to the constant practice of the Church, which prays by the mouth of the prophet thus: “Restore me, and I will return (Jer 31:18).”

John Ball (1585-1640). For faith which the righteousness of nature presupposes, leans on the title of entire nature, and therefore after the fall of Adam it has no place; for although God love the creatures in themselves, he he hates them corrupted with sin. No man therefore can persuade himself, that he is beloved of God in the title of a creature; (for all have sinned) nor love God as he ought. But the faith, of which there is mention in the Covenant of Grace, does lean upon the Promise made in Christ. (Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London,
1645, 12).

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God (11.1)

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love (11.2)I

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 70.

What is justification?

Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 71.

How is justification an act of God’s free grace?

Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet in as much as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 72.

What is justifying faith?

Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

Westminster Larger Catechism. Q. 73.

How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?

Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.

Thomas Boston (1676-1732). The gospel method of sanctification, as well as of justification, lies so far out of the ken of natural reason, that if all the rationalists in the world, philosophers and divines, had consulted together to lay down a plan for repairing the lost image of God in man, they had never hit upon that which the divine wisdom has pitched upon, viz: that sinners should be sanctified in Christ Jesus, (1 Cor 1:2), by faith in him, (Acts 26:18); nay, being laid before them, they would have rejected it with disdain, as foolishness, (1 Cor 1:23). In all views which fallen man has towards the means of his own recovery, the natural bent is to the way of the covenant of works. This is evident in the case of the vast multitudes throughout the world, embracing Judaism, Paganism, Mahometanism, and Popery. All these agree in this one principle, that it is by doing men must live, though they hugely differ as to the things to be done for life (In the preface of the 1726 edn of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, 1645, repr. 1978, 9-10).

John Owen (1616-83). Q. 13. What is this new covenant? A. The gracious, free, immutable promise of God, made unto all his elect fallen in Adam, to give them Jesus Christ, and in him mercy, pardon, grace, and glory, with a re-stipulation of faith from them unto this promise, and new obedience (The Greater Catechism, 1645; ch.12).

John Owen. Q. 1. By what means do we become actual members of this church of God?

A. By a lively justifying faith, of his Father the whole mystery of godliness, the way and truth whereby we must come unto God. Christ, the head thereof. Q. 2. What is a justifying faith? A. A gracious resting upon the free promises of God in Jesus Christ for mercy, with a firm persuasion of heart that God is a reconciled Father unto us in the Son of his love (The Greater Catechism, 1645; ch.17).

John Owen. Q. 1. Are we accounted righteous and saved for our faith, when we are thus freely called? A. No, but merely by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ apprehended and applied by faith; for which alone the Lord accepts us as holy and righteous. Q. 2. What, then, is our justification or righteousness before God? A. The gracious, free act of imputation of the righteousness of Christ apprehended and applied by faith; for which alone the Lord accepts us as holy and righteous. righteousness of Christ to a believing sinner, and for that speaking peace unto his conscience, in the pardon of his sin, pronouncing him to be just and accepted before him (The Greater Catechism, 1645; ch.19).

M. J. Bosma (1874-1912). What is justification? Justification is that gracious act of God whereby he pardons the guilt of sin and adopts as his children and heirs unto eternal life, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone (WCF 11.4) What is the nature of justification? It is first of all a judicial act of God, that is, an act of God as judge. The sinner appears before the tribunal of God as guilty of breaking God’s. Laws, and as eternally condemned by the justice of God because of his guilt. Now when God justifies the sinner he imputes to the sinner the righteousness of Christ, that is, he credits or puts to the account of the sinner the merits of Jesus’ obedience, and on the ground of this obedience the sinner is pardoned and restored as a child of God forever. The root meaning of the word justification is to make just or righteous; But in its secondary and scriptural sense it means to count or pronounce just, to declare that a person is not guilty but righteous. The opposite of justification is condemnation. This last is the act of a judge in a court of justice, so also is justification a judicial act. All people can stand in only one of two relations towards God’s law; they are either guilty or righteous, guilty if they have broken the law, righteous if they have kept the law. All have broken the law, all stand guilty. To his people God imputes the righteousness of another, of the Savior, and now declares them righteous. From this description it will be seen that justification does not change a person’s inner heart or. character, it changes his legal relation before God; it does not remove the pollution of sin, the internal corruption of the heart, as regeneration and sanctification do, but justification makes right the relation towards God’s law, and if the law no longer condemns us, we shall not perish in sin. The controversy between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics turned largely on the nature of justification. The Protestants used the word in a forensic or legal sense alone, the Roman Catholics used the word in both a moral and judicial sense. The Roman Church defines justification “to be not only the remission of sins, but also the renewal and sanctification of the inner man.” According to the Church of Rome, therefore, justification consists in remission of sin and a change of moral character produced by the infusion of righteousness. But this Roman Catholic view confuses justification with sanctification, which are two distinct acts of God’s grace. Among Protestants there are also many who seek to give an exclusive moral sense to the word justification, depriving it of its legal meaning. They are those who hold the moral influence theory of the atonement of Christ, as if Christ had died merely to make a good moral impression on us for our benefit, and not to satisfy the justice of God for us. These teachers take the element of guilt out of sin, and thus the element of pardon out of salvation. Men need cure and not pardon. Sin brings suffering; help the sinner to improve himself to the end that he may not suffer. We go to heaven because we are holy, not because we are righteous through Christ. This doctrine, taught in many protestant pulpits is worse than that of Rome, for, false as the Romish doctrine of justification is, it proceeds on the recognition of the guilt of sin and the need of expiatory character of the atonement of Christ, while the moral influence theory of some protestants denies these cardinal doctrines. Why can not our good works be the ground of our justification? 1. Our good works are not perfect. The law demands perfect obedience. And though by the grace of God we should obey, this act of obedience at one time does not atone for the disobedience of another time. Gal. 3: l0, ll. 2. If we are justified by works, Christ has died in vain. Gal 2. 21. 3. The good works of God’s people are due to the Holy Spirit in them, therefore the credit for these works is due to God alone. Good works follow but do not gain justification. What is the means of securing justification? Faith in Jesus Christ alone. Scripture declares we are justified by faith or through faith, but never on account of faith. Faith is not the ground or cause that merits justification, it is the means of appropriating Christ and his righteousness, and on the ground of the righteousness thus appropriated by faith we are justified. Justification is a gift of God’s infinite grace, faith is our receiving of the gift. The more active faith is therefore the more will there be the enjoyment of justification. That God should have ordained faith for this particular office of being the instrument of justification is not an arbitrary appointment, but is most wise and necessary. The nature of our own heart and the nature of salvation commends faith as the only instrument to receive justification. Faith is reliance, a deep sense of dependence on God, it looks away for the soul’s necessities to God, and it therefore also ascribes all honor to God. The purpose of salvation is the glory of God. Faith seeks the glory of God and ends in praising God. Thus faith is eminently fit to be the means of justification. Do all agree with us that we are justified by faith alone? No, some declare that works must be added to faith. Sometimes we read the same language in regard to this subject as we employ, but it is evident on close examination that very different things are meant. also says we are justified by faith. The Romanist also says we are justified by faith. But what does he mean ? He has two justifications and two faiths. The first justification is the removal of original sin, which occurs in baptism. A person must believe that the Church is a divine institution for saving men. He therefore comes to be baptized by the Church and receives thereby the power of spiritual life in the soul, which renders the soul inherently holy or just. This receiving of baptism with its regenerating influence must do in faith, faith merely as intellectual assent, and this is the predisposing cause of justification. After a man is thus rendered holy by the first justification, his faith must work in love, and on the ground of these works of love he receives eternal life, this is the second justification. Romanists make faith to have a twofold sense: as mere intellectual assent to what the Church says, and as synonymous with love. Wesley, the father of Methodism, expresses himself thus: “In asserting salvation by faith we mean this: (1) That pardon (salvation begun) is received by faith producing works. (2) That holiness (salvation continued) is faith working by love. (3) That. heaven (salvation finished) is the reward of this faith.” What are the effects of justification? That the justified are no longer subject to condemnation, the anger of God is removed, and his love is shown to their hearts. They now have peace with God, and joy in the Holy Spirit. They are also by the gratitude of their hearts moved to a holy life. Sanctification will follow justification. The effect of pardon of sin through grace alone can never be a licentious life, as some urge against the biblical doctrine. They say, if God accepts the chief of sinners as well as the most moral man, on the simple condition of faith in Christ, what is the need of good works? Why not get justified and then indulge in sin? (The people here referred to are known as Antinomians, which means “against the law.” Traces of their views are found in the N. T. in 2 Peter 3:16, 1 Cor. 5:16, and most likely were part of the doctrines of the Nicolaitans mentioned in Revelation. The “Libertines” who appeared in the Netherlands about 1525, and were comated by Calvin were Antinomians. The “Ranters” of England, mentioned by Bunyan and Mrs. Ann Hutchinson and others of New England, promoted the same views. H. B.) (Exposition of the Reformed Doctrine [Grand Rapids, 1907]).

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937). At the centre of Christianity is the doctrine of “justification by faith.” Christianity and Liberalism (New York: MacMillan, 1923), 141.

G. Vos (1862-1949). A forensic treatment of man and a loving treatment of man are not to Paul n any sense mutually exclusive in God. “The Alleged Legalism in Paul’s Doctrine of Justification,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1980), 392-393.

G. Vos (1862-1949). As we have already seen, the doctrine of justification cannot be relegated to a subordinate place in the Pauline teaching. If error attaches to it, it must needs be a “vitium originis” which will corrupt the system in all its ramifications. “The Alleged Legalism in Paul’s Doctrine of Justification,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1980), 387.


On Union with Christ

John Calvin (1509-1564) So long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us. Accordingly, he is called our Head, and the first-born among many brethren, while, on the other hand, we are said to be ingrafted into him and clothed with him, all which he possesses being, as I have said, nothing to us until we become one with him.

Now we know that he is not no avail save only to those to whom he is head and the first-born among the brethren, to those, in fine. Who are clothed with him. To this union alone it is owning that, in regard to us, the Savior has not come in vain. To this is to be referred that sacred marriage, by which we become bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, and so on with him. For it is by the Spirit alone that he unites himself to us. By the same grace and energy of the Spirit we become his members, so that he keeps us under him, and we in our turn possess him (Institutes, 3.1.1., 3.1.3).

Belgic Confession (1561) However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us– for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness. But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits. When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins (Art. 22)

Heidelberg Catechism(1563) …from the beginning to the end of the world, the Son of God, by His Spirit and Word, gathers, defends and preserves for Himself to everlasting life a chosen communion in the unity of the true faith….  (Q. 54)

Canons of Dort (1619) Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from the primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation. This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call an draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace…. (1.7)

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). All saints that are united to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as to conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man (26.1).

This communion which the saints have with Christ, doth not make them in any wise partakers of the substance of the Godhead, or to be equal with Christ in any respect: either of which to affirm, is impious and blasphemous (26.3)

Westminster Larger Catechism

Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?

The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of GodÂ’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.

Q. 69. What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?

The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.

Q. 83. What is the communion in glory with Christ which the members of the invisible church enjoy in this life?

The members of the invisible church have communicated to them in this life the firstfruits of glory with Christ, as they are members of him their head, and so in him are interested in that glory which he is fully possessed of; and, as an earnest thereof, enjoy the sense of GodÂ’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, and hope of glory; as, on the contrary, sense of GodÂ’s revenging wrath, horror of conscience, and a fearful expectation of judgment, are to the wicked the beginning of their torments which they shall endure after death.

Herman Witsius (1636-1708). To set the ground of imputation in a clearer light, we must observe [Â…] that the elect, before the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them for justification of life, are so closely united to him by faith, as to be one body, and which is still more indivisible, or indissoluble, one spirit with him, nor are they only united, but he and they are one, and that by such an unity or oneness, in which there is some faint resemblance of that most simple oneness, whereby the divine persons are one among themselves.  But in virtue of this union or oneness, which the elect have with Christ by faith, they are accounted to have done and suffered whatever Christ did and suffered for them (Economy of the Covenants, 1.403).

Francis Turretin (1623-87). As long as Christ is outside of us and we are outside of Christ, we can receive no fruit from anotherÂ’s righteousness.  God willed to unite us to Christ by a twofold bond – one natural, the other mystical – in virtue of which both our evils might be transferred to Christ and the blessings of Christ pass over to us and become ours.  The latter is the communion of grace by mediation.  By this, having been made by God a surety for us and given to us for a head, he can communicate to us his righteousness and all his benefits.  Hence it happens that as he was made of God sin for us by the imputation of our sins, so in turn we are made the righteousness of God in him by the imputation of his obedience (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.647).


On the Administration of the Covenant of Grace

John Calvin (1509-64). It is not difficult now to infer what we ought to think of vows in general. All believers have one common vow which, made in baptism, we confirm and, so to speak, sanction by catechism and receiving the Lord’s Supper. For the sacraments are like contracts by which the Lord gives us his mercy and from it eternal life; and we in turn promise him obedience. But this is the form, or at least a summary, of the vow: that, renouncing Satan, we yield ourselves to God’s service to obey his holy commandments but not to follow the wicked desires of our flesh. It is not to be doubted that this vow, since it is attested by Scripture and indeed is required of all children of God, is holy and salutary. And there is no obstacle in the fact that no one can maintain in this life the perfect obedience to the law which God requires of us. For inasmuch as this stipulation is included in the covenant of grace under which are contained both forgiveness of sins and the spirit of sanctification, the promise which we make there is joined with a plea for pardon and a petition for help. (Institutes, 4.13.6)

John Calvin. At the same time, as he works not effectually in all, but only where the Spirit, the inward Teacher, illuminates the heart, he subjoins, To every one who believeth. The gospel is indeed offered to all for their salvation, but the power of it appears not everywhere: and that it is the savor of death to the ungodly, does not proceed from what it is, but from their own wickedness. By setting forth but one Salvation he cuts off every other trust. When men withdraw themselves from this one salvation, they find in the gospel a sure proof of their own ruin. Since then the gospel invites all to partake of salvation without any difference, it is rightly called the doctrine of salvation: for Christ is there offered, whose peculiar office is to save that which was lost; and those who refuse to be saved by him, shall find him a Judge. But everywhere in Scripture the word salvation is simply set in opposition to the word destruction: and hence we must observe, when it is mentioned, what the subject of the discourse is. Since then the gospel delivers from ruin and the curse of endless death, its salvation is eternal life (Commentary on Romans 1.16).

John Calvin. And that this is the case, is proved without difficulty; for the promise by which the Lord had adopted them all as children, was common to all: and in that promise, it cannot be denied, that eternal salvation was offered to all. What, therefore, can be the meaning of Paul, when he denies that certain persons have any right to be reckoned among children, except that he is no longer reasoning about the externally offered grace, but about that of which only the elect effectually partake? Here, then, a twofold class of sons presents itself to us, in the Church; for since the whole body of the people is gathered together into the fold of God, by one and the same voice, all without exception, are in this respects accounted children; the name of the Church is applicable in common to them all: but in the innermost sanctuary of God, none others are reckoned the sons of God, than they in whom the promise is ratified by faith. And although this difference flows from the fountain of gratuitous election, whence also faith itself springs; yet, since the counsel of God is in itself hidden from us, we therefore distinguish the true from the spurious children, by the respective marks of faith and of unbelief  (Commentary on Genesis 17:7).

John Calvin (1509-64): But that all doubt may be better cleared away, this principle should ever be kept in mind, that baptism is not conferred on children in order that they may become sons and heirs of God, but, because they are already considered by God as occupying that place and rank, the grace of adoption is sealed in their flesh by the rite of baptism. Otherwise the Anabaptists are in the right in excluding them from baptism. For unless the thing signified by the external sign can be predicated of them, it will be a mere profanation to call them to a participation of the sign itself. But if any one were inclined to refuse them baptism, we have a ready answer; they are already of the flock of Christ, of the family of God, since the covenant of salvation which God enters into with believers is common also to their children. As the words import, I will be thy God and the God of thy seed after thee. Unless this promise had preceded, certainly it would have been wrong to confer on them baptism. Now I ask whether the word of God is sufficient by its intrinsic virtue for our salvation, or whether some aid must be borrowed elsewhere to supply its defect, or help its infirmity? If this promise is not believed to be efficacious in itself, not only the virtue of God, but also his grace and truth will be attached to the external sign. Thus those men, while they strive to honor baptism, cast serious ignominy on God. Now what will become of so many passages in which Christ is represented as satisfied with faith alone? They will deny that faith is separated from baptism. I admit it, where an opportunity of receiving it is afforded. But if a sudden death carry off any one who shall have embraced the gospel of Christ, will they therefore doom him to destruction, because he has been deprived of the outward washing with water? Do not ancient histories furnish us with some examples of martyrs, who were dragged away by tyrants to execution before they had presented themselves for baptism? And for this want of water, will the blood of Christ be of no avail to the holy martyr, who does not hesitate to shed his own blood for the faith of the gospel in which is placed the common salvation of all? Assuredly the Papists were more moderate, who, at least in this case of necessity, substitute for the washing of water the baptism of blood. In one word, unless we choose to overturn all the principles of religion, we shall be obliged to confess that the salvation of an infant does not depend on, but is only sealed by its baptism. Whence it follows that it is not rigorously nor absolutely necessary. And should we even grant what they perversely demand, viz., that when the danger of death is imminent, infants ought to be baptized, still it should be administered according to the institution and command of Christ (Letter 438, To John Clauberger in Selected Works of John Calvin, Letters 1554-1558, Vol. 6, pp. 278-279).

Belgic Confession (1561). Article 33: The Sacraments. We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge his good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith. He has added these to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what he enables us to understand by his Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us.

Heidelberg Catechism (1563). Q. 74. Are infants also to be baptized? A: Yes, for since they belong to the covenant and people of God as well as their parents, and since redemption from sin through the blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit who works faith, are promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by Baptism, as the sign of the Covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old Testament by Circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is instituted.

Heidelberg Catechism (1563). Q. 82. Are they then also to be admitted to this Supper who show themselves by their confession and life to be unbelieving and ungodly? A: No, for thereby the covenant of God is profaned and His wrath provoked against the whole congregation;1 wherefore the Christian Church is bound, according to the order of Christ and His Apostles, to exclude such persons by the Office of the Keys until they amend their life.

Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83). Q. 291. Are infants, since they have no faith, properly baptized? Yes, faith and the confession of faith are required of adults, since they can in no other way be included into the covenant. For infants it suffices that they are sanctified by the Spirit of Christ in a manner appropriate to their age (Summa theologiae, 1561).

Caspar Olevian (1536-87). Therefore one has in the preaching of the Word an offer of the promise of grace and a summons to embrace it; both are directed in this way to the elect as well as to the reprobate. But only in the elect does God work what he commands. In order that out of that entire multitude a church might appear, united by God himself in Christ, God begins that solemn negotiation, as in a marriage compact, not with a sealing of grace offered, in general (for many reject it openly so that it cannot be sealed to them; and moreover the Lord does not desire to enter into covenant with the hypocrites, who secretly harden themselves, as would be the case if he himself were the first to affix the seal). Rather in the foundation by visible signs, he begins with what was last in the offer of grace, namely, so that we may subject ourselves with our seed and not harden our hearts to the divine command by which he summons us to receive the offered grace. Then follows the sealing of the grace first offered in the gospel and also the special bond of God (De substantia, 1585; 2.54).

Theodore Beza (1534-1605). The situation of children who are born of believing parents is a special one. They do not have in themselves that quality of faith which is in the adult believer. Yet it cannot be the case that those who have been sanctified by birth and have been separated from the children of unbelievers, do not have the seed and germ of faith. The promise, accepted by the parents, in faith, also includes their children to a thousand generations…. If it is objected that not all of them who are born of believing parents are elect, seeing that God did not choose all the children of Abraham and Isaac, we do not lack an answer. Though we do not deny that this is the case, still we say that this hidden judgment must be left to God and that normally, by virtue of the promise, all who have been born of believing parents, or if one of the parents believes, are sanctified (Confession of the Christian Faith, 4.48).

Jerome Zanchi (1516-1590). Some infants, as well as some adults, are given the Spirit of faith, by which they are united to Christ, receive the forgiveness of sins and are regenerated before baptism; this is not the case with others, to whom these gifts are given in baptism (Commentarius ad Ephesios, Cap. 5; De baptismo, 3.31).

Amandus Polanus (1561-1610). The covenant common to all believers is made with every believer in baptism….God made both covenants (old and new) only with the elect (Syntagma, 6.33).

Franciscus Junius (1545-1602). We call it false to argue that infants are completely incapable of faith; if they have faith in the principle of the habitus, they have the Spirit of faith…Regeneration is viewed from two aspects, as it is in its foundation, in Christ, in principle, and as it is active in us. The former (which can also be called transplanting from the first to the second Adam) is the root, from which the latter arises as its fruit. By the former elect infants are born again, when they are incorporated into Christ, and its sealing occurs in baptism (Theses theologicae, 51.7).

Canons of Dort (1619). Second Head: Article 5. Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.

James Ussher (1581-1656). What must we think of the effect of baptism in those elect infants whom God allows to mature to years of discretion? There is no reason ordinarily to promise them an extraordinary work of God, if God purposes to give them ordinary means. Though God can at times sanctify from the womb, as in the case of Jeremiah and John the Baptist, and at other times in baptism, it is difficult to determine, as some are accustomed to do, that each elect infant ordinarily before or in baptism receives the principle of regeneration and the seed of the faith and grace. If, however, such a principle is infused, it cannot be lost or hidden in such a way that it would not demonstrate itself (Body of Divinity, 417).

Synopsis purioris theologiae, (1625). WE reject the opinion of the Lutherans who tie the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to the external water of baptism in such a way that, either it is present in the water itself or at least the principle of regeneration will only work in the administration of baptism. This, however, is opposed to all the places in Scripture, where faith and repentance and hence the beginning and seed of regeneration are antecedently required in the one who is baptized…. Therefore, we do not bind the efficacy of baptism to the moment in which the body is sprinkled with external water; but we require with the Scriptures antecedent faith and repentance in the one who is baptized, at least according to the judgment of charity, both in the infant children of covenant members, and in adults. For we maintain that in infants too the presence of the seed and the Spirit of faith and conversion is to be ascertained on the basis of divine blessing and the evangelical covenant (44.27, 29).

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) 7:6. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

The Sum of Saving Knowledge (1647). 3a) The outward means and ordinances, for making men partakers of the covenant of grace, are so wisely dispensed, as that the elect shall be infallibly converted and saved by them; and the reprobate, among whom they are, not to be justly damned….

Johannes Cloppenburg (1592-1652). We posit that the children of believers are incorporated into Christ by the immediate secret work of the Holy Spirit, until whether in this life or at the moment of death, the period of infancy is completed, so that, whether in the flesh or not, they may confess by faith or sight what God has given them and us together by grace (Excirtationes, 1.1097).

Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675). Canon XIX: Likewise the external call itself, which is made by the preaching of the Gospel, is on the part of God also, who earnestly and sincerely calls. For in his Word he most earnestly and truly reveals, not, indeed, his secret will respecting the salvation or destruction of each individual, but our responsibility, and what will happen to us if we do or neglect this duty. Clearly it is the will of God who calls, that they who are called come to him and not neglect so great a salvation, and so he earnestly promises eternal life to those who come to him by faith; for, as the Apostle declares, “It is a trustworthy saying: For if we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we disown Him, He will also disown us; if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself (2 Tim 2:12-13). Neither is this call without result for those who disobey; for God always accomplishes his will, even the demonstration of duty, and following this, either the salvation of the elect who fulfill their responsibility, or the inexcusableness of the rest who neglect the duty set before them. Certainly the spiritual man in no way determined the eternal purpose of God to produce faith along with the externally offered, or written Word of God. Moreover, because God approved every truth which flows from his counsel, it is correctly said to be his will, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have everlasting life (John 6:40). Although these “all” are the elect alone, and God formed no plan of universal salvation without any selection of persons, and Christ therefore died not for everyone but only for the elect who were given to him; yet he intends this in any case to be universally true, which follows from his special and definite purpose. But that, by God’s will, the elect alone believe in the external call which is universally offered, while the reprobate are hardened. This proceeds solely from the discriminating grace of God; election by the same grace to those who believe, but their own native wickedness to the reprobate who remain in sin, who after their hardened and impenitent heart build up for themselves wrath for the Day of Judgment, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God

Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706). Our opponents on the other side argue from this text: ‘Now ye not that  so many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?’ (Romans 6:3). To this I answer, this text means only that all the elect, being true believers, baptized according to institution, have communion and participation in the death of Christ, which is sealed to  them by baptism. But it is not said that this communion is effected particularly baptism, much less that this communion is absolutely connected with baptism (A Treatise on Regeneration  [Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, repr. 2002], 55-56).

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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