328: Overview of Covenant Theology

When we think about how God, through covenant, brought His people to Himself, we are confronted with three different “covenantal entities.” If you were to lay them out in the order in which they appear as you move from eternity past to the end of the age, you have first, what often is called the Covenant of Redemption; then, you have the Covenant of Works; and finally, you have the Covenant of Grace. Presently, we are calling these “covenantal entities” because there is disagreement about the relationship between the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace. We will get to that in a minute. First, let us define each of these covenants.
First, we have the Covenant of Redemption; also often times called the “Council of Peace”; or the “Pactum Salutis”; there are a couple of different ways of referring to it, but this Covenant of Redemption is a pre-temporal, intra-Trinitarian covenant wherein God the Father covenanted to give the elect to the Son; the Son covenanted to purchase their redemption; and the Spirit covenanted to seal to the elect whom the Father had given the redemption that the Son had purchased. Clearly, this is an intra-Trinitarian covenant; it is a covenant among the Three Persons of the Trinity. And it also is pre-temporal. It occurred before the commencement of time. It is a pre-temporal, intra-Trinitarian covenant in which the elect are chosen and their redemption is guaranteed by the Son. That is the Covenant of Redemption.
The next Divine covenant to “occur” as you move from eternity past to the end of the age is the Covenant of Works. It sometimes is called the Covenant of Life; or the Covenant of Creation; we will discuss why those different names have been suggested; but we will go with the common name of the Covenant of Works. And this Covenant of Works is summed up in section 2 of chapter VII of the Westminster Confession:

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.

The Covenant of Works is the relationship between God and man that existed during man’s innocence in the Garden of Eden. As you know from Genesis and from WCF VII.2, this Covenant of Works stipulated, among other things, that Adam, Eve, and all of their posterity were not to eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As God told Adam, in the day that he ate of that tree, he would surely die. This is the “obligation” for man in the Covenant of Works; the parameter around his relationship with God – he is not to eat of the fruit of this one tree. If he does; if he violates the covenant; he will die. By “good and necessary inference,” as the Confession says, if he does not eat of that tree, he will live. Forever. In this Covenant of Works, we see God bridging the ontological gap between Creator and creature. God is infinite; man is finite; but by covenant, God is entering into relationship with His creature and He is providing a way whereby finite man can obtain infinite life; or eternal life. Man himself would not become infinite; he simply would inherit infinite life. There is no sin at this point; there is no need of a Mediator; but by covenant, God is providing a way whereby finite man can obtain infinite life. That way, of course, is by “perfect and personal obedience,” as the Confession says. That is the Covenant of Works. The covenant wherein God condescends to provide a way whereby the perfect obedience of man will bring infinite life to a finite creature.
As you know, Adam did not fare so well in this Covenant of Works. Adam sinned and fell; all of his posterity sinning in him and falling with him.
This takes us to the third “covenantal entity” – the Covenant of Grace. In the Covenant of Works, we saw God bridge the ontological divide between Creator and creature; in the Covenant of Grace, God overcomes the infinitely greater moral chasm between the Holy God and sinful men. In the Covenant of Grace, Jesus Christ; God the Son; is the Mediator for the elect. You also could call Him the Representative; the Covenant or Federal Head. On behalf of the elect, Christ both suffers the penalty of the Covenant of Works that the elect ought to have to suffer because they broke the Covenant of Works; and He also performs the duty that the elect would have had to perform in order to fulfil or keep the Covenant of Works. By breaking the Covenant of Works; by being sinners; the elect are due the wages of their sin; they deserve death. Christ, in the Covenant of Grace, suffers that death in their place. But even had they not sinned; both