More From Calvin On The Unity Of The Covenant Of Grace

Both can be explained in one word. The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one and the same. Yet they differ in the mode of dispensation. But because no one can gain a clear understanding from such a short statement, a fuller explanation is required if we wish to make any progress. Now, in showing their similarity—or rather, unity—it would be superfluous to examine afresh the details that have already been reviewed; and it would be inappropriate here to mingle matters to be discussed elsewhere.

Here we must take our stand on three main points. First, we hold that carnal prosperity and happiness did not constitute the goal set before the Jews to which they were to aspire. Rather, they were adopted into the hope of immortality; and assurance of this adoption was certified to them by oracles, by the law, and by the prophets. Secondly, the covenant by which they were bound to the Lord was supported, not by their own merits, but solely by the mercy of the God who called them. Thirdly, they had and knew Christ as Mediator, through whom they were joined to God and were to share in his promises. The second of these, because perhaps we do not yet sufficiently understand it, will be explained at length in its place. For by numerous clear testimonies of the prophets we shall confirm the truth that all those blessings which the Lord has ever given or promised to his people arose solely out of his goodness and kindness. Here and there we have also given clear proofs of the third point; and we have not left even the first point untouched.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.10.2. (HT: Keith Giles)


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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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    • Post revised. Thanks for pointing us to this passage. His reply to the objection that the administration of the covenant of grace under the patriarchs was not “carnal” suggests that he was replying to the same sorts of objections Baptists make today.

  1. It did strike me that it’s tough to ‘love’ Calvin, yet to be prepared to ignore/disregard/disagree with his foundation of covenant theology.

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