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06 June, 2014

The Covenant of Grace—Part 6

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Excerpts from the book by Thomas Watson: Body of Divinity

Question 20: Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

Answer: No! He entered into a covenant of grace to deliver the elect out of that state, and to bring them into a state of grace by a Redeemer.

"I will make an everlasting covenant with you." Man being by his fall plunged into a labyrinth of misery, and having no way left to recover himself, God was pleased to enter into anew covenant with him, and to restore him to life by a Redeemer.

The great proposition I shall go upon is, that there is a new covenant ratified between God and the elect.

What is the new covenant?

It is a solemn compact and agreement made between God and fallen man, wherein the Lord undertakes to be our God, and to make us his people.

What names are given to the covenant?

(1.) It is called the covenant of peace in Ezek 37:26, because it seals up reconciliation between God and humble sinners. Before this covenant there was nothing but enmity. God did not love us, for a creature that offends God by its sin, cannot be loved by a holy God. Also, we did not love him, since a God who condemns cannot be loved by a guilty creature; so that there was war on both sides. But God has found out a way in the new covenant to reconcile differing parties, so that it is fitly called the covenant of peace.

(2.) It is called a covenant of grace, and well it may; for,

(1) It was of grace, that, when we had forfeited the first covenant, God should enter into a new one, after we had cast away ourselves. The covenant of grace is as a plank after shipwreck. Oh the free grace of God, that he should parley with sinners, and set his wisdom and mercy to work, to bring rebels into the bond of the covenant!

(2) It is a covenant of grace, because it is a royal charter, all made up of terms of grace; that "God will cast our sins behind his back;" that "he will love us freely;" that he will give us a will to accept of the mercy of the covenant, and strength to perform the conditions of the covenant. Ezek 36:27. All this is pure grace!

WHY should God make a covenant with us?
It is out of indulgence, favor, and regard to us. A tyrant will not enter into a covenant with slaves, he will not show them such respect. God's entering into a covenant with us, to be our God, is a dignity he puts upon us. A covenant is the mark of distinction between God's people and heathens. "I will establish my covenant with you." When the Lord told Abraham that he would enter into a covenant with him, Abraham fell upon his face, as being amazed that the God of glory should bestow such a favor upon him. Gen 17:2.

God makes a covenant with us, to tie us fast to him; as it is called in Ezekiel, the "bond of the covenant." God knows we have slippery hearts, therefore he will have a covenant to bind us. It is horrid impiety to go away from God, after covenant. If one of the vestal nuns, who had vowed herself to religion, was deflowered, the Romans caused her to be burnt alive. It is perjury to depart from God after solemn covenant.

How does the covenant of grace differ from the first covenant made with Adam?

(1.) The TERMS of the first covenant were more strict and severe. For,

(a) The least failing would have made the covenant with Adam null and void—but many failings do not annul the covenant of grace. I grant, the least sin is a trespass upon the covenant—but it does not make it null and void. There may be many failings in the marital relation—but every failing does not break the marriage bond. It would be dreadful, if, as oft as we break covenant with God—that he should break covenant with us; but God will not take strict justice with every failing—but in "anger remember mercy."

(b) The first covenant being broken, allowed the sinner no remedy, all doors of hope were shut; but the new covenant allows the sinner a remedy. It leaves room for repentance, and provides a mediator. "Jesus the mediator of the new covenant." Heb 12:24.

(2.) The first covenant ran all upon "working," the second is upon "believing." Rom 4:5.

But are not works required in the covenant of grace?

Yes. "This is a faithful saying, that those who believe in God, should be careful to maintain good works." But the covenant of grace does not require works in the same manner as the covenant of works did. In the first covenant, works were required as the condition of life; in the second covenant, they are required only as the signs of life. In the first covenant, works were required as grounds of salvation; in the new covenant, they are required as evidences of our love to God. In the first covenant, they were required to the justification of our persons; in the new covenant, to the manifestation of our grace.
What is the condition of the covenant of grace?

The main condition is FAITH. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8-9. "Jesus said to the woman—Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Luke 7:50.

Why is faith more the condition of the new covenant, than any other grace?
To exclude all glorying in the creature. Faith is a humble grace. If repentance or works were the condition of the covenant, a man would say, "It is my righteousness which has saved me!" But if it is of faith, where is boasting? Faith fetches all from Christ, and gives all the glory to Christ! Faith is a most humble grace. Hence it is that God has singled out this grace to be the condition of the covenant.

If faith is the condition of the covenant of grace, it excludes desperate presumptuous sinners from the covenant. They say there is a covenant of grace, and they shall be saved even if they have no faith. But the condition of the covenant is faith, and if you have no faith, you have no more to do with the covenant, than a foreigner has to do with the city charter.

See the amazing goodness of God, to enter into covenant with us! He never entered into covenant with angels when they fell. It was much condescension in God to enter into covenant with us in a state of innocence—but more so when we were in a state of enmity. In this covenant of grace, we may see the cream of God's love, and the working of his affections to sinners. This is a marriage covenant. "I am married to you—says the Lord." Jeremiah 3:14. In the new covenant, God makes himself over to us, and what can he give more? He makes over his promises to us, and what better bonds can we have?

Use two: Of TRIAL. 
Whether we are in covenant with God. There are three characteristics of God's covenant people.

(1.) God's covenant people are a HUMBLE people
"Be clothed with humility." 1 Pet 5:5. God's people esteem others better than themselves; they shrink into nothing in their own thoughts. Phil 2:3. David cries out, "I am a worm, and no man:"Psalm 22:6. Though a saint, though a king—yet a worm! When Moses' face shined, he covered it with a veil. When God's people shine most in grace, they are covered with the veil of humility. Pride excludes from the covenant, for "God resists the proud." Surely, such as whom God resist, He will not take to be with Himself in glory. Abraham the father of the faithful, confesses, "I am nothing but dust and ashes." Genesis 18:27.

(2.) A people in covenant with God are a WILLING people
Though they cannot serve God perfectly--they serve Him willingly. They do not grudge God a little time spent in his worship. They do not murmur at sufferings. They will go through a sea and a wilderness—if God calls. "Your people shall be a willing people." This spontaneity and willingness is from the attractive power of God's Spirit. The Spirit does not force--but sweetly draws the will. This willingness in makes all our services accepted. God does sometimes accept of willingness without the work--but never the work without willingness.

(3.) God's covenant people are a CONSECRATED people. They have "holiness to the Lord" written upon them. "You are a holy people to the Lord your God." Deut 7:6. God's covenant people are separated from the world, and sanctified by the Spirit. The priests under the law were not only to wash in the great laver—but were arrayed with glorious apparel. Exod 28:2. This was typical, to show God's people are not only washed from gross sins—but adorned with holiness of heart. They bear not only God's name—but His image. Tamerlane refused a pot of gold, when he saw it had not his father's stamp upon it—but the Roman stamp. Holiness is God's stamp; if he does not see this stamp upon us, he will not own us for his covenant people.

Use three: Of EXHORTATION. To such as are out of covenant—labor to get into covenant, and have God for your God. How glad would the old world have been of an ark! How industrious should we be to get within the ark of the covenant!

(1.) Consider—the misery of such as live and die outside of covenant with God. Such have none to go to in an hour of distress. When conscience accuses, when sickness approaches (which is but a harbinger to bespeak a lodging for death), then what will you do? Where will you flee? Will you look to Christ for help? He is a mediator only for such as are in covenant. Oh, how will you be filled with horror and despair! and be as Saul, when he said, "The Philistines make war against me, and the Lord has departed!" Until you are in covenant with God—there is no mercy. The mercy-seat was placed upon the ark, and the mercy-seat was no larger than the ark. This was to show, that the mercy of God reaches no further than the covenant.

(2.) Consider—the excellency of the covenant of grace.

1. It is a better covenant than the covenant made with Adam—because it is more friendly and acceptable. Those services which would have been rejected in the first covenant are accepted in the second covenant. Here God accepts of the will for the deed, 2 Cor 8:12; here sincerity is crowned in the covenant of grace. Wherein we are weak, God will give strength; and wherein we come short, God will accept of a surety.

2. It is a better covenant—because it is surer. "You have made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things—and sure." The first covenant was not sure, it stood upon a tottering foundation of works. Adam had no sooner a stock of righteousness to trade with—than he lost it! But the covenant of grace is sure; it is confirmed with God's decree, and it rests upon two mighty pillars—the oath of God, and the blood of God.

3. It is a better covenant—because it has better privileges. The covenant of grace brings great blessings. Our nature now is more ennobled, we are raised to higher glory than in innocence, we are advanced to sit upon Christ's throne. Rev 3:21. We are, by virtue of the covenant of grace, nearer to Christ than the angels! They are his friends, we his spouse! God is willing to be in covenant with you. Why does God woo and beseech you by his ambassadors to be reconciled, if he were not willing to be in covenant?

I would gladly be in covenant with God—but I have been a great sinner, and I fear God will not admit me into covenant.

If you see your sins, and loathe yourself for them, God will take you into covenant. "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions." As the sea covers great rocks, so God's covenant mercy covers great sins. Some of the Jews who crucified Christ, had their sins washed away in his blood.

But I am not worthy that God should admit me into covenant.
It never came into God's thoughts to make a new covenant upon terms of worthiness. If God should show mercy to none but such as are worthy, then must he show mercy to none! But it is God's design in the new covenant— to advance the riches of grace, to love us freely; and when we have no worthiness of our own, to accept us through Christ's worthiness. Therefore let not unworthiness discourage you; it is not unworthiness which excludes any from the covenant—but unwillingness.

What shall we do that we may be in covenant with God?

(1.) Seek God by prayer. "Demand compassion from the Lord," Augustine. "Lord, be my God in covenant." The Lord has made an express promise, that, upon our prayer to him, the covenant should be ratified, he will be our God, and we shall be his people. "They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say: They are My people, and they will say: The Lord is our God." Zechariah 13:9. Only it must be an importunate prayer; come as earnest suitors, resolve to take no denial.

(2.) If you would be in covenant with God, break off the covenant with sin. Before the marriage-covenant, there must be a divorce. "If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." 1 Samuel 7:3. Will any king enter into covenant, with that man who is in league with his enemies?

(3.) If you would enter into the bond of the covenant, get faith in the blood of the covenant. Christ's blood is the blood of atonement. Believe in this blood—and you are safely arked in God's mercy! "You are made near by the blood of Christ."

Use four: Of COMFORT to such as can make out their covenant interest in God.

(1.) You that are in covenant with God, all your sins are pardoned. 
Pardon is the crowning mercy. "Who forgives your iniquity, who crowns you." This is a branch of the covenant. "I will be their God, and I will forgive their iniquity." Sin being pardoned, all wrath ceases. How terrible is it when but a spark of God's wrath flies into a man's conscience! But sin being forgiven, there is no more wrath. God does not appear now in the fire or earthquake—but covered with a rainbow full of mercy!

(2.) All your temporal mercies are fruits of the covenant. 
Wicked men have mercies by Providence, not by virtue of a covenant; they have their mercies with God's leave, not with his love. But such as are in covenant have their mercies sweetened with God's love—and they swim to them in the blood of Christ! As Naaman said to Gehazi, "Take two talents," so says God to such as are in covenant, take two talents, take health—and take Christ with it; take riches—and take my love with them; take the venison—and take the blessing with it; take two talents.

(3.) You may upon all occasions plead the covenant. 
If you are haunted with temptations, plead the covenant, "Lord, you have promised to bruise Satan under my feet shortly; will you allow your child to be thus harassed? Take off the roaring lion." If in need, plead the covenant, "Lord, you have said, I shall lack no good thing; will you save me from hell, and not from poverty? will you give me a kingdom, and deny me daily bread?"

(4.) If in covenant with God, all things shall co-operate for your good. 
Psalm 25:10. Not only golden paths—but his bloody paths are for good. Every wind of Providence shall blow them nearer heaven. Affliction shall humble and purify. Heb 12:10. Out of the bitterest medicine, God distills your salvation. Afflictions add to the saints, glory. The more the diamond is cut, the more it sparkles; the heavier the saints' cross is, the heavier shall be their crown.

(5.) If you are in covenant once, then forever in covenant. 
The text calls it an "everlasting covenant." Such as are in covenant are elected; and God's electing love is unchangeable. "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them; but I will put my fear in their heart, that they shall not depart from me." Jer 32:40. God will so love the saints, that he will not forsake them; and the saints shall so fear God that they shall not forsake him. It is a covenant of eternity. It must be so; for whom is this covenant made with? Is it not with believers? and have not they coalition and union with Christ? Christ is the head, they are the body. Eph 1:22, 23. This is a near union, much like that union between God the Father and Christ. "As you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us." John 17:2I. Now, the union between Christ and the saints being so inseparable, it can never be dissolved, or the covenant made void; so that you may die with comfort.

(6.) You are in covenant with God, and you are going to your God. 
Behold a death-bed cordial; death breaks the union between the body and the soul—but perfects the union between Christ and the soul. This has made the saints desire death as the bride the wedding-day. Phil 1:23. "Lead me, Lord, to that glory," said one, "a glimpse whereof I have seen, as in a glass darkly."

Use five: Of DIRECTION. 
To show you how you who have tasted of covenant-mercy should walk, and live as a people in covenant with God. As you differ from others in respect of dignity, so you must in point of life-style.

(1.) You must love this God. 
God's love to you calls for love. It is Amor gratiatusa free love. Why should God pass by others, and take you into a league of friendship with himself? In the law, God passed by the lion and eagle, and chose the dove; so he passes by the noble and mighty. It is Amor plenus—a full love. When God takes you into covenant, you are his Hephzihah; Isa 62:4; his delight is in you; he gives you the key of all his treasure, he heaps pearls upon you, he settles heaven and earth upon you; he gives you a bunch of grapes by the way, and says, "Son, all I have is yours!" And does not all this call for love? Who can tread upon these hot coals, and his heart not burn in love to God?

(2.) Walk holily
The covenant has made you a royal nation, therefore be a holy people. Shine as lights in the world; live as earthly angels. God has taken you into covenant, that you and he may have communion together; and what is it that keeps up your communion with God, but holiness?

(3.) Walk thankfully. 
Psalm 103:1. God is your God in covenant; he has done more for you than if he had made you ride upon the high places of the earth, and given you crowns and scepters! Oh take the cup of salvation, and bless the Lord! Eternity will be little enough to praise him. Musicians love to play on their music where there is the loudest sound, and God loves to bestow his mercies where he may have the loudest praises. You that have angels' reward—do angels, work. Begin that work of praise here, which you hope to be always doing in heaven.