Touching the subject or persons to whom it is appropriate, faith is the proper and peculiar gift of God’s elect, which only [alone] distinguishes them from the rest of the world; for all other graces, be they never so bright, or shining, are common with the reprobate; but faith, with the fruits thereof, is proper to the godly. Whereupon, (Tit. 1:1) it is called, The “faith of God’s elect”: for only they, and of them all and every one, are in their time, by virtue of God’s covenant, brought to believe (John 6:37). “Every one that the Father gives me, comes to me.” Else, in what better case are we now, then when the covenant of works did hold us, seeing it is as impossible of our selves, and by our own strength, to repent, and believe the gospel, (which is the condition of the covenant of grace) as it was to fulfill the law?
Wherefore we must understand, that God, to speak properly, does not require the same, as a mutual re-stipulation of our part, as it was in the former covenant, where nothing is imposed which man’s nature could not wield: but here it is rather a declaration of his pleasure, what he would have us do, and whereunto he will enable us: not a condition to endanger the covenant, but an assurance that he will give us strength to keep it. So as the whole covenant properly and in truth rises of his part, and lies upon him: like his other covenant (brought to confirm this) with the sun and moon, and stars, whom (otherwise unable of themselves) he makes to run their course. But howsoever, all come from his only grace and virtue, yet to us that are not stocks and stones, but endued with a reasonable soul, understanding, will, and other faculties, this covenant is wont to be expressed, sometimes by words conditional, sometimes in commanding wise; that the greatness of the peril, and the difficulty of the precept might make us to bestir ourselves, to use with care and conscience the mean that he appoints, for the attaining of that precious gift, and to work together with God, when we are once wrought upon by his Spirit.
And herein lies one other main difference between the law and the gospel, or the covenant of works, and this covenant of grace: The law only commands obedience, but gives no power to obey; and therefore is called, “the dead letter,” “written with ink,” and “in tables of stone,” ready indeed to be read and seen, but having no life in it to change the heart, which remains as stony as before. The Gospel not only commands, but gives faith and newness of life; and is therefore said to be written in our hearts, and called The ministration of the Spirit, because it gives the Spirit of Christ, and righteousness through him.
The law therefore, pronouncing nothing but judgement and condemnation against us, as that which commands things impossible, by reason of our weakness, terrifies and amazes the conscience: In which respect it is called, “the ministry of death and condemnation.” Contrariwise, the gospel bringing glad tidings of peace and reconciliation, quiets and appeases the conscience (Rom. 5:1) “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Both parts of this difference are found (Rom. 10:5, 6, 7, 8). For Moses thus describes the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which does these things, shall live thereby. But the righteousness which is of faith, speaks on this wise, “Say not in your heart, ‘who shall ascend into heaven?’ That is to bring Christ from above. Or, ‘Who shall descend into the deep?’ That is, to bring Christ again from the dead. But what says it? The word is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart. This is the Word of Faith which we preach.”
—John Downame (†1652), The Summe of Sacred Divinite (London, 1620), 406–08. [spelling and punctuation modernized]
Thanks for sharing and for the source 🙂 Interesting how he describes the covenant of grace once as having a “condition” (belief) and then being “expressed, sometimes by words conditional.” Not sure what he means by the later. Consequences, I hope.
What are your thoughts on the helpfulness of calling the COG conditional vs unconditional? I understand there are different ways of using these terms that can be orthodox. But I’m curious about the Protestant Reformed (PRCA)’s view that FV is primarily an error of a conditional covenant and secondarily a justification error. Thoughts? Would you agree? Thank you 🙂
As always it’s a question of what is intended. Many Reformed writers spoke of faith as the “condition” of the covenant of works but just after that they, as Downame, go on to explain in what sense they are using the word condition. It’s seems quite clear here that Downame meant to distinguish between the covenant of works, the condition of which is “do this and live” and the covenant of grace, the “condition” of which is faith, which itself is a gift of grace. In the covenant of works, obedience is the antecedent condition and in the covenant of grace, faith is the antecedent condition. The potential (and sometimes actual) confusion over using condition in two senses at the same time is why Witsius said that he preferred to speak of faith as the instrument of the covenant of grace.
Downame seems clear that our obedience is a consequent of grace. This is why he specifies that one of the differences between the covenants of works and grace is that our obedience is not a “re-stipulation” as it was under the “former covenant,” i.e., the covenant of works, which, in his commentary on the Pentateuch, he identified also with the Sinai covenant.
Perhaps the most interesting paragraph is this one:
Here he wrote just as Ursinus, and Perkins, and so many other Reformed writers had. This categorical distinction must be remembered when reading the passage. His intent is not to put us back under the covenant of works. It is just the opposite. It is because we no longer under the covenant of works that we can now, by grace alone, through faith alone, obey as a consequence of grace.
Here is a resource post on matter of conditions in the covenant of grace:
My analysis of the FV is that their chief error is refusing to distinguish the two ways of being in the one covenant of grace: internally and externally. They collapse the decree with the administration of the covenant of grace. Whenever that happens, either the decree swallows up history, so that the administration is of no real value or the administration controls the decree, which is the error of the Federal Visionists.
Certainly the FV, like all moralists, do teach falsely about the nature of conditions in the covenant of grace. They, like all moralists, reject the distinction between antecedent and consequent conditions and thus, like all moralists, turn the covenant of grace into a covenant of works—as if it were actually possible.