Pictet On The Similarities And Differences Between The Covenants Of Grace And Works

God having thus entered into covenant with our Surety Christ Jesus, was pleased also to enter into covenant with us in him. Now this covenant we define to be, a free and gratuitous agreement between an offended God and offending man, in which God promises to man pardon and salvation through the merits and satisfaction of Christ, and man on his part promises faith and obedience. The only author of this covenant is God, who alone could raise fallen man, and make a new covenant in the place of the old. God is here considered as offended, but at the same time as a merciful Father, capable of being propitiated, and willing to be reconciled to offending man. Man, with whom the covenant is entered into, is considered as a sinful creature, but conscious of his guilt and misery. The Mediator of the covenant is Christ. In this covenant God promises that he will be our God, which promise includes both our reconciliation and communion with him, and also the communication of those good things which are necessary for us, particularly holiness, life, and immortality Again, God requires from us that we should be his people, namely, he requires of us faith, repentance, worship, and obedience, all which he produces in us by his Spirit. The seals of this covenant are the sacraments. It is called the new covenant, because the old is abolished and the covenant of grace, because man in no way whatever could merit it, but God of his mere mercy entered into it with man; and also to distinguish it from the first covenant, which is called the covenant of works, which was entered into with Adam, and renewed on Mount Sinai.

These two covenants indeed agree with each other in various particulars:—of both, God is the author; in both there are the same contracting parties; in both is promised eternal life and happiness: but they differ also in many respects; in the covenant of works God is considered as Creator and Lord, in the covenant of grace as Redeemer and Father; in the first there were was no mediator, in the second Christ is the Mediator; in the one God dealt with man as upright, in the other he deals with man as a sinner; the former depended on man’s own obedience, the latter depends on the obedience of Christ; in the former was promised life, namely, a state consisting of all good things; in the latter is promised salvation, which, along with life, includes also deliverance from sin and death; in the first God required works, saying, Do this and live; in the second he requires faith, saying, Believe, and thou shall be saved. The covenant of grace does indeed require works of righteousness, but not that we may merit eternal life by them; nor does the imperfection of Christian obedience, provided it be sincere, stand in the way of our salvation.

—Benedict Pictet (1655–1724, Christian Theology, trans. Frederick Reyroux (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, n.d.), 281–82.

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  1. What a great summary and explanation. The golden nuggets keep coming, showing forth the truth of God’s redemption in Christ. No righteousness to be had for sinners by works of the law, only through faith in Jesus, the one with whom God is well pleased. Thanks once again!

  2. Wow! Somebody who uses the word “immortality” to mean what the Bible means by it!

    • Thank you for asking, Robert – Without understanding this point, you could fall a prey to the annihilationist heresy packaged under the title of “Conditional Immortality”, initially by the late Basil Atkinson (but put into print first by the late Archdeacon H.E.Guillbaud, who, prior to being deceived by Atkinson, had been sound and profitable to read) and then, either by active propagation or by mere compromise, by people like the late John Stott and John Wenham.
      It is essentially the same fallacy as is propounded by some cults, but substituting the words immortal and immortality for words like death and life. Here and over the pond where (I assume) you are, people are on their guard to believe that “eternal life” isn’t synonymous with “eternal conscious existence”, at least as far as its Scriptural use is concerned (I assume you understand the difference – please come back at us if you don’t). Well, far too many people over here have failed to realise that the word “immortality” in Scripture is synonymous with “eternal life” in Scripture, and also does not mean merely “eternal conscious existence”, but eternal bliss, spritual blessings now, and eternity with Christ.
      The difference between the two expressions, and a possible reason why people are getting deceived by one and not by the other, is that the seed of the misunderstanding has been sown by otherwise sound, genuinely evangelical preachers (in fact, almost everyone since Puritan times) in phrases like “Think of your immortal soul!”. Our souls are only immortal if we are in Christ, and that not because we have immortality (only the only wise God has that), but because we have it imparted to us moment by moment and eternity by eternity by God Himself. The souls of those outside of Christ are not immortal or never dying: They are ever mortal and ever dying. Satan is not immortal in the Scriptural sense of the word. He is merely never-to-be-annihilated.
      I, personally, would say that every being whom God holds morally responsible He also retains in the never-to-be-annihilated category; and the elect among these will be in the immortal category.

    • John I actually do hold to “Conditional Immortality”’ but I don’t propagate
      it here or on other Reformed sites & Forums for a variety of reasons like the
      fact that sites of this ilk hold to Reformed Confessions which teach the
      Traditionalist view, so I submit to their rules on their sites, not desiring
      to “advance positions contrary to the Reformed confession”,which would create unnecessary strife, but try to maintain peace & charity, this is not the place for
      that discussion. by the way I’m in Sydney, Australia.

  3. I had always thought that the only redemptive covenant which God has made with Man is with ‘The man Christ Jesus’, and to which covenant’s fruits we are heirs, because we are in Him.

    Does the Spirit truly make us personally, covenant keepers?

    • Allan,

      He is distinguishing between the sorts of conditions in the covenant of works and the consequent conditions in the covenant of grace. Since we have been redeemed, by grace alone, through faith alone, and since we have been incorporated into the covenant of grace, we ought to respond in a certain way. I think that is all he is saying.

      Yes, by his grace, we are becoming covenant keepers.

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