Owen: The New Covenant Was Inaugurated After The Fall And Christ Was Its Mediator

[5.] We on all accounts stand in need of a surety for us, or on our behalf. Neither without the interposition of such a surety could any covenant between God and us be firm and stable, or “an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.” In the first covenant, made with Adam, there was no surety, but God and man were the immediate covenanters. And although we were then in a state and condition able to perform and answer all the terms of that covenant, yet was it broken and disannulled. If this came to pass by the failure of the promise of God, it was necessary that, on the making of a new covenant, he should have a surety to undertake for him, that the covenant might be stable and everlasting. But this is false, and blasphemous to imagine. It was man alone who failed and brake that covenant. Wherefore it was necessary that, upon the making of the new covenant, and that with a design and purpose that it should never be disannulled as the former was, we should have a surety and undertaker for us; for if that first covenant was not firm and stable, because there was no surety to undertake for us, notwithstanding all that ability which we had to answer the terms of it, how much less can any other be so, now our natures are become depraved and sinful! Wherefore we alone are capable of a surety, properly so called, for us; we alone stood in need of him; and without him the covenant could not be firm and inviolable on our part: the surety, therefore, of this covenant is so with God for us.
[6.] It is the priesthood of Christ that the apostle treats of in this place, and that alone. Wherefore he is a surety as he is a priest, and in the discharge of that office; and is therefore so with God on our behalf. …

(3.) It remaineth that we inquire positively how the Lord Christ was the surety of the new covenant, and what is the benefit we receive thereby. And unto this purpose we must first consider that opinion of some that the whole end of the mediation of Christ was only to procure the new covenant: although at first view it be irreconcilable unto the nature and notion of a surety; for a surety is not the procurer of that whereof he is the surety, but only the undertaker for its accomplishment. But we must more distinctly consider this assertion, and in what sense Christ may be said to procure the new covenant by his death and mediation. And to this end we must observe, that the new covenant may be considered divers ways, in various respects:—

[1.] In the designation and preparation of its terms and benefits in the counsel of God. And this, although it have the nature of an eternal decree, yet is it distinguished from the decree of election, which first and properly respects the subjects or persons for whom grace and glory are prepared; for this respects the preparation only of that grace and glory, as to the way and manner of their communication. It is true, this purpose, or counsel of God’s will, is not called the covenant of grace, which is the express declared exemplification of it. The covenant of grace, I say, is only the declaration of this counsel of God’s will, accompanied with the means and power of its accomplishment, and the prescription of the ways whereby we are to be interested in it, and made partakers of the benefits of it. But in the inquiry after the procuring cause of the new covenant, it is the first thing that ought to come under consideration; for nothing can be the procuring cause of this covenant which is not so of this spring and fountain of it,—of this idea of it in the mind of God. But this is nowhere in the Scripture affirmed to be the effect of the death or mediation of Christ; and so to ascribe it, is to overthrow the whole freedom of eternal grace and love. Neither can any thing that is absolutely eternal, as is this decree and counsel of God, be the effect of, or be procured by, any thing that is external and temporal. And besides, it is expressly assigned unto absolute love and grace: see Eph. 1:4–6, with all those places where the love of God is assigned as the sole cause of the designation of Christ unto his office, and the sending of him.

[2.] It may be considered with respect unto the federal transactions between the Father and Son concerning the accomplishment of this counsel of his will. What these were, wherein they did consist, I have declared at large in my exercitations. Neither do I call this the covenant of grace absolutely, nor is it so called in the Scripture: but it is that wherein it had its establishment, as unto all the ways, means, and ends of its accomplishment; and by it were all things so disposed, as that it might be effectual unto the glory of the wisdom, grace, righteousness, and power of God. Wherefore the covenant of grace could not be procured by any means or cause but that which was the cause of this covenant of the mediator, or of God the Father with the Son as undertaking the work of mediation. And as this is nowhere ascribed unto the death of Christ in the Scripture, so to assert it is contrary unto all spiritual reason and understanding. Who can conceive that Christ, by his death, should procure the agreement between God and him that he should die?

[3.] With respect unto the declaration of it. This you may call God’s making or establishing of it with us, if you please; though making of the covenant in the Scripture is applied only unto its execution or actual application unto persons. But this declaration of the grace of God, and the provision in the covenant of the mediator for the making of it effectual unto his glory, is most usually called the covenant of grace. And this is twofold:—

1st. In the way of a singular and absolute promise; as it was first declared unto and thereby established with Adam, and afterwards with Abraham. This is the declaration of the purpose of God, or the free determination of his will as to his dealing with sinners, on the supposition of the fall and the forfeiture of their first covenant state. Hereof the grace and will of God were the only cause, Heb. 8:8. And the death of Christ could not be the means of its procurement; for he himself, and all that he was to do for us, were the substance of that promise wherein this declaration of God’s grace and purpose was made, or of this covenant of grace, which was introduced and established in the room of that which was broken and disannulled, as unto the ends and benefits of a covenant. The substance of the first promise, wherein the whole covenant of grace was virtually comprised, directly respected and expressed the giving of him for the recovery of mankind from sin and misery, by his death, Gen. 3:15. Wherefore if he, and all the benefits of his mediation, his death and all the effects of it, be contained in the promise of the covenant, that is, in the covenant itself, then was not his death the procuring cause of that covenant, nor do we owe it thereunto.

John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W. H. Goold, vol. 22, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1855), 502–506.


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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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One comment

  1. Owen is a brilliant exegete! Ephesians 1. Redemptive history is the outworking of the God the Father’s love of the Son, and His determination to glorify Him in giving Him the preeminence through a people that were chosen before the world began. That is the source of the covenant of grace that was announced in the garden, cut as a formal covenant with Abraham when God walked through the pieces alone, and fulfilled in the incarnation so that it might be consummated when Christ returns to gather up His people. The covenant of grace is eternal. The new covenant announces that God has fulfilled its terms in His Son, the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world. Rev. 13: 8 That is when God the Father gave this people to His Son and their names were written in the Lamb’s book of life. The cross does not mark the division between the covenant of grace from the covenant of work, rather it is what unifies all of redemptive history under the eternal covenant of grace.

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