Integrated Covenant Theology (2):
The Nature of
Rev. Angus Stewart
(Slightly modified from an article first published in
the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal)
While Calvin is both clear and biblical in his
treatment of covenant unity, covenant diversity, covenant hermeneutics
and covenant progression, with the benefit of some four and a half centuries since
his death, we shall see that there is room for some correction and
development as to his conception of the nature of the covenant.1
Calvin on the Nature of the Covenant
It is undeniable that Calvin spoke of the covenant as a pact,
compact, contract or agreement. There may be various reasons or sources
for this, including political, legal, ecclesiastical and
lexicographical. First, medieval and sixteenth century political theory
(of which Calvin was not unaware) included a development of the covenant
as a contract between the rulers and the ruled.2 Second, the
legal theory of the day promoted the idea of contractual covenants.2a Third, the
Roman church spoke of the covenant as a compact.3 Fourth, the
biblical lexicons of Calvin’s day (wrongly) viewed the Hebrew and Greek
words for covenant (berith and diatheke respectively) as
meaning contract or agreement.4
Peter Lillback, in a detailed treatment of Calvin’s
conception of the covenant, notes that he also uses the words "oracles,"
"way" and "fellowship" as synonyms for the covenant.5 In
connection with the last of these terms ("fellowship"), Lillback rightly
quotes the first three sentences of that section of the Institutes
(book 2, chapters 10 and 11) in which Calvin most fully treats the
Now we can clearly see from what has already been
said that all men adopted by God into the company
of his people since the beginning of the world were
to him by the same law and by the bond of the same doctrine
as obtains among us. It is very important to make this point.
Accordingly I shall add, by way of appendix, how far the condition
of the patriarchs in this fellowship differed from ours, even
though they participated in the same inheritance and hoped
for a common salvation with us by the grace of the same Mediator
(2.10.1, pp. 428-429).
After further references to the "Mediator,"
"inheritance," "grace," "mercy" and "peace," etc., of God’s "spiritual"
covenant in Calvin’s writings, Lillback concludes,
... the essence of Calvin’s conception of the
covenant is the notion of the binding of God. This binding is God’s
own act of joining Himself with his creatures. Calvin writes,
"Forgiveness of sins, then, is for us the first entry into the
church and kingdom of God. Without it, there is for us no covenant (foederis)
or bond (conjunctionis) with God" [4.1.20, p. 1034]. Thus the
covenant is the means of union with God. It is the "bond" between
God and man. [It is the] gracious self-binding of the infinite God
whereby He condescends to enter into a mutual covenant with His
fallen and unworthy yet sovereignly chosen people ...6
Lillback then notes the "multi-faceted" character of
Calvin’s idea of bond.
First, covenant and bond are used synonymously
... Thus the covenant is that which joins one to God ... or is one’s
union with God ... Second, there is a common bond in the Trinity
itself [1.13.6, p. 128] ... Third, Christ ... and the Holy Spirit
... are bonds in various respects ... Fourth, in the believer’s
salvation, faith is a bond ... Holiness is a bond ... There is a
permanent bond between the double graces of the covenant ... and an
indissoluble bond between election and adoption ... Fifth, there is
a mutual binding in the communion of the saints ... and in the
relationship between God and His covenant people ... Sixth, there is
also a bond in the sacrament of the Supper and the Holy Spirit ...7
Finally, Lillback shows how both God’s "promise" and
the gift of "adoption" into His "family" serve the covenant bond in
In his work on Calvin's Old Testament Commentaries,
British Calvin scholar T. H. L. Parker also describes Calvin's
presentation of the covenant as a bond and union between God and His
The Covenant [for Calvin] was not merely an agreement
between two parties but was a complete and mutual union; complete in
that God entered it with his whole self and for all eternity, and that
he demanded of the Jews that they also should give themselves wholly to
him in every generation. It was such a union that God willed that his
existence and the existence of the Jews should be one forever ... As if
he descended from his heavenly glory, he bound to himself the seed of
Abraham, that he might also mutually bind himself. Therefore God's
election was like the joining of a mutual bond, so that he did not will
to be separate from his people.9
A good example of Calvin’s treatment of the covenant
as a bond of fellowship in his commentaries occurs in his exposition of
Psalm 102:12, which he translates, "And thou, O Jehovah! shalt dwell for
ever; and the memorial of thee from generation to generation." It is
here quoted in its totality, with comments following.
When the prophet, for his own encouragement, sets
before himself the eternity of God, it seems, at first sight, to be
a far-fetched consolation; for what benefit will accrue to us from
the fact that God sits immutable on his heavenly throne, when, at
the same time, our frail and perishing condition does not permit us
to continue unmoved for a single moment? And, what is more, this
knowledge of the blessed repose enjoyed by God enables us the better
to perceive that our life is a mere illusion. But the inspired
writer, calling to remembrance the promises by which God had
declared that he would make the Church the object of his special
care, and particularly that remarkable article of the covenant,
"I will dwell in the midst of you" (Exodus 25:8), and,
trusting to that sacred and indissoluble bond, has no
hesitation in representing all the godly languishing, though they
were in a state of suffering and wretchedness, as partakers of this
celestial glory in which God dwells. The word "memorial" is also to
be viewed in the same light. What advantage would we derive from
this eternity and immutability of God's being, unless we had in our
hearts the knowledge of him, which, produced by his gracious
covenant, begets in us the confidence arising from a mutual
relationship between him and us? The meaning then is, "We are
like withered grass, we are decaying every moment, we are not far
from death, yea rather, we are, as it were, already dwelling in the
grave; but since thou, O God! hast made a covenant
with us, by which thou hast promised to protect and defend thine own
people, and hast brought thyself into a gracious relation to
us, giving us the fullest assurance that thou wilt always dwell
in the midst of us, instead of desponding, we must be of good
courage; and although we may see only ground for despair if we
depend upon ourselves, we ought nevertheless to lift up our minds to
the heavenly throne, from which thou wilt at length stretch forth
thy hand to help us." Whoever is in a moderate degree acquainted
with the sacred writings, will readily acknowledge that whenever we
are besieged with death, in a variety of forms, we should reason
thus: As God continues unchangeably the same—"without variableness
or shadow of turning"—nothing can hinder him from aiding us; and
this he will do, because we have his word, by which he has laid
himself under obligation to us, and because he has deposited with us
his own memorial, which contains in it a sacred and indissoluble
bond of fellowship.
First, we note that Calvin sees the vast gulf between
the transcendent God—seated in "blessed repose" on His "heavenly throne"
(x2), dwelling in "celestial glory" and possessed of "eternity" (x2) and
"immutability" (x3)—and "frail and perishing" man—"languishing … in a
state of suffering and wretchedness" and "besieged with death in a
variety of forms"—as bridged by God’s gracious "covenant" (x3) alone.10
Second, Calvin describes this covenant as a
"relationship" (x2) that is both "gracious" and "mutual … between him
and us." This relationship is "a sacred and indissoluble bond" (x2),
even "a sacred and indissoluble bond of fellowship."
Moreover, in this gracious and sacred relationship of fellowship, God
"dwell[s] in the midst" of us (x2), His "own people" and "Church."
Third, Calvin proves this with appeal to the covenant
formula, "I will dwell in the midst of you" (Ex. 25:8), uttered in
connection with the tabernacle and the ark and presented in various
forms in the Scriptures. The Genevan Reformer calls this "that
remarkable article of the covenant."
Fourth, the "gracious covenant" is that which
"produce[s]" heartfelt "knowledge" of God (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; John 17:3)
and "begets in us the confidence arising from a mutual relationship
between him and us."11
Fifth, in the covenant "promises" (x2), God’s people
have the "advantage," "benefit," "consolation," "encouragement" and
"good courage" that we are the "the object of his special care" so that
He will "protect," "defend," "aid" and "help" us. Indeed, since Jehovah
has "made a covenant with us," He "giv[es] us the fullest assurance
that [He will] always dwell with us." Thus, for Calvin, the
nature of the covenant demands and grants the preservation of the saints
and our assurance of divine preservation in the covenant.
Sixth, the force of the third sentence of Calvin’s
commentary on Psalm 102:12 ought not escape us. The Psalmist, "calling
to remembrance" God’s covenant promises, especially "I will dwell in the
midst of you," and "trusting to that sacred and indissoluble bond," does
not hesitate to portray all the godly, no matter what their earthly
miseries may be, "as partakers of this celestial glory in which God
dwells." Resting in the indissoluble bond of the covenant, the believer
knows that all God’s "suffering" people will dwell with Him eternally in
heavenly bliss, nay, are already "partakers of this celestial
glory in which God dwells" (cf. John 17:20-23; Eph. 2:6). The covenant
assures us that God dwells in us and we will dwell with God both now and
Seventh, Calvin sees this comfort of Jehovah’s
dwelling in the covenant with us as generally known by Scripture-reading
Whoever is in a moderate degree acquainted with
the sacred writings, will readily acknowledge that whenever we are
besieged with death, in a variety of forms, we should … [trust in
the immutable, covenant God] because we have his word, by which he
has laid himself under obligation to us, and because he has
deposited with us his own memorial, which contains in it a sacred
and indissoluble bond of fellowship.
This knowledge of the nature of the covenant as an
"indissoluble bond of fellowship" or God’s gracious "obligation" in
which He has bound himself to us in Jesus Christ—what Lillback calls
"the binding of God"—is what Calvin presents as the "benefit" and
"consolation" of "the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out
his complaint before the Lord" (Ps. 102:title). There is no abstract,
cold covenant theology here!
The most biblical, clear and comforting treatment of
the nature of the covenant in Calvin’s Institutes occurs, as one
might expect, in his most extended treatment of the covenant in book 2,
chapters 10 and 11. Within this section, Calvin makes his most
penetrating remarks on the essence of the covenant in his first two
arguments proving that God’s "spiritual covenant" is "common" to the
saints both before and after the coming of Jesus Christ (2.10.7, p.
In his first argument, Calvin extols the "life" and
"energy" of God’s "imperishable" Word which "quickens the souls of all
to whom God grants participation in it." Through the Word, God’s people
in every age are "join[ed]" and "bound" to Him by a "sacred bond" so
that we possess a "real participation in God." Enlivened and
"illumine[d]" by this Word, the saints "cleave" to God and are "united
more closely" to Him in the "blessing of eternal life." Thus we see
Calvin explaining God’s "spiritual covenant" as our being "join[ed],"
"bound" and "united" with Him, so that we "cleave" to Him and enjoy a
"real participation" in His blessedness (2.10.7, p. 434).
In his second argument, Calvin considers "the very
formula of the covenant," which, he observes, is the same in every age:
"For the Lord always covenanted with his servants thus: ‘I will
be your God, and you shall be my people’ [Lev. 26:12]" (2.10.8, p. 434).12
This covenant formula, Calvin notes, is frequently used in the Old
Testament as a summary of all of salvation: "The prophets also commonly
explained that life and salvation and the whole of blessedness are
embraced in these words." He then quotes various texts from the Psalms,
Habakkuk, Isaiah and Deuteronomy as proof (2.10.8, pp. 434-435).
But not to belabor superfluous matters, this
admonition repeatedly occurs in the Prophets: we lack nothing for an
abundance of all good things and for assurance of salvation so long
as the Lord is our God. And rightly so! For if his face, the
moment that it has shone forth, is a very present pledge of
salvation, how can he manifest himself to a man as his God
without also opening to him the treasures of his salvation? He is
our God on this condition: that he dwell among us, as he
has testified through Moses [Lev. 26:11]. But one cannot obtain such
a presence of him without, at the same time, possessing life. And
although nothing further was expressed, they had a clear enough
promise of spiritual life in these words: "I am ... your God"
[Ex. 6:7]. For he did not declare that he would be a God to
their bodies alone, but especially to their souls.
Still, souls, unless they be joined to God through
righteousness, remain estranged from him in death. On the other
hand, such a union when present will bring everlasting
salvation with it (2.10.8, p. 435).
First, here we see again Calvin’s use of the covenant
formula, "I am ... your God," only this time Calvin elaborates more
fully. For the church as a whole, the Lord is "our God" (x2); and to
each individual son, He is "his God" personally. Being our covenant
Lord, Jehovah is a God to us in both our "bodies" and our "souls."
Second, having God for our God is the same as "dwelling" with Him and
being "joined" to and "united" with Him. Third, Calvin also explains
this covenant bond as seeing God’s shining "face," knowing His
"presence," delving into "the treasures of his salvation" and
"possessing life"—a life that is both "everlasting" and "spiritual."
Fourth, Calvin states that it is almost "superfluous" to cite biblical
texts in this regard, since the prophets "repeatedly" declare that God’s
gracious covenant with us is the summum bonum: "we lack nothing
for an abundance of all good things and for assurance of salvation so
long as the Lord is our God."
By this I do not mean to suggest, however, that union
and dwelling with God was the only or even the dominant way in which
Calvin spoke of the covenant. Such is not the case, for Calvin often
used pact, compact, contract or agreement as synonyms for the covenant.
But the idea of covenant communion is there in Calvin, especially where
he considers "the very formula of the covenant" ("I will be your God,
and you shall be my people;" 2.10.8, p. 434), which he calls elsewhere
"that remarkable article of the covenant" ("I will dwell in the midst of
you;" Comm. on Ps. 102:12).
Development regarding the Nature of the Covenant
Reformed theologians after Calvin, such as Francis
Turretin and Charles Hodge, developed the idea of covenant as a compact
or agreement in much more detail, dealing at great length with the
contracting parties and the stipulations or conditions, etc. Yet in the
Reformed tradition, and especially in the teaching of Olevianus
(1536-1587) in Germany and Cocceius (1603-1669) in the Netherlands,13
the idea of covenant fellowship and friendship has always been present.
English Presbyterian, Matthew Henry, commenting on
the men of Ashdod’s antipathy towards the ark (I Sam. 5:7), speaks of
"[God’s] covenant and communion with him" as synonyms, for in the
covenant God is our "friend."14 Such occasional references to
the covenant as union and communion could be multiplied from a whole
host of authors.
German Lutherans, Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz
Delitzsch, write of God’s "taking Abram into covenant fellowship with
himself" (Gen. 15).15 They enlarge upon the nature of the
The covenant which Jehovah made with Abram was
not intended to give force to a mere agreement respecting mutual
rights and obligations—a thing which could have been accomplished by
an external sacrificial transaction, and by God passing through the
divided animals in an assumed human form—but it was designed to
establish the purely spiritual relation of a living fellowship
between God and Abram, of the deep inward meaning of which,
nothing but a spiritual intuition and experience could give to Abram
an effective and permanent hold.16
Scottish Presbyterian, Andrew Bonar, writes of the
covenant as friendship between God and His people in his comments on
the salt in the meat or meal offering (Lev. 2:13):
[Salt] intimates the friendship (of
which salt was the well-known emblem) now existing between God and
the man. God can sup with man, and man with God (Rev. iii. 18).
There is a covenant between him and God, even in regard
to the beasts of the field (Job v. 23), and fowls of heaven (Hos.
ii. 18). This friendship of God extends to His people's
property ... [By sprinkling the sacrifice with salt] "the
by sacrifice" (Ps. l. 5) is thus confirmed on the part of God; He
declares that He on His part will be faithful.17
In his valuable book on the church, The Glorious
Body of Christ, Christian Reformed theologian, R. B. Kuiper, begins
the chapter "God’s Friends," by stating,
The church consists of God’s covenant people.
This is a way of saying that it consists of God’s friends. For the
covenant of grace spells friendship between God and His own. In
essence the covenant of grace was established when, immediately
after the fall of man, God said to the serpent: "I will put enmity
between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it
shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Genesis
3:15). Enmity with Satan implies friendship with God.18
After explaining the covenant (Gen. 17:7) in terms of
friendship, with appeal to II Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8 and James
2:23, Kuiper continues,
The Psalmist equates the covenant of grace with
friendship between God and His people in the words: "The friendship
of Jehovah is with them that fear him; and he will show them his
covenant" (Psalm 25:14, ASV). Inasmuch as the believers of all ages
are Abraham's seed (Galatians 3:7, 29), they are God's covenant
people, God's friends.19
Kuyper further develops the church’s covenant
relationship with God under the headings: "Sovereign Friendship,"
"Intimate Friendship," "Devoted Friendship," and "Everlasting
Some, while still working within the compact or
agreement framework, have sought to bring out, more than has been
customary, the idea that the covenant is a loving relationship of
fellowship, such as David McKay, a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian
Church of Ireland.21
Similarly, Cornelis Venema writes,
[In II Peter 1:4,] Peter is using covenantal
language. The goal of our redemption, consistent with the general
teaching of Scripture, is covenantal fellowship with the Triune God.
Rather than conveying the strange idea of a commingling of the being
of the creature and the Creator, this language conveys the idea of
communion between God and those who are his. Redemption will find
its consummation in the restoration of perfect friendship between
God and his people.22
John Murray goes further; he argues that the
traditional covenant-contract theology "needs recasting."
It would not be, however, in the interests of
theological conservation or theological progress for us to think
that the covenant theology is in all respects definitive and that
there is no further need for correction, modification, and
expansion. Theology must always be undergoing reformation. The human
understanding is imperfect. However, architectonic may be the
systematic constructions of any one generation or group of
generations, there always remains the need for correction and
reconstruction so that the structure may be brought into closer
approximation to the Scripture and the reproduction be a more
faithful transcript or reflection of the heavenly exemplar. It
appears to me that the covenant theology, notwithstanding the
finesse of analysis with which it was worked out and the grandeur of
its articulated systematization, needs recasting.23
After surveying the views of various theologians, who
see the covenant as an agreement with contracting parties, conditions
and stipulations, Murray states,
There has been, however, a recognition on the
part of more recent students of covenant theology that the idea of
pact or compact or contract is not adequate or proper as a
definition of berith and diatheke and admirable
service has been rendered by such scholars in the analysis and
formulation of the biblical concept.24
John Murray concludes his monograph,
… a divine covenant is sovereign administration
of grace and promise. It is not compact or contract or agreement
that provide the constitutive or governing idea but that of
dispensation in the sense of disposition … covenant is not only
bestowment of grace, not only oath-bound promise, but also
relationship with God in that which is the crown and goal of the
whole process of religion, namely, union and communion with God … At
the centre of the covenant relation as its constant refrain is the
assurance "I will be your God, and ye shall be my people."25
O. Palmer Robertson also rejects the idea of covenant
as a pact, believing it instead to be a sovereign bond between God and
His people through the blood of Jesus Christ:
A long history has marked the analysis of the
covenants in terms of mutual compacts or contracts. But recent
scholarship has established rather certainly the sovereign character
of the administration of the divine covenants in Scripture. Both
biblical and extra-biblical evidence point to the unilateral form of
covenant establishment. No such thing as bargaining, bartering, or
contracting characterizes the divine covenants of Scripture. The
sovereign Lord of heaven and earth dictates the terms of his
covenant … A covenant is a bond-in-blood sovereignly administered.26
Robert Letham declares that the Bible "avoids" the notion
that the covenant is "an agreement made by two co-equal parties, much as
a commercial business contract." In support, he points to the New Testament's
significant use of diatheke ("denoting a sovereign imposition
by one party"), instead of suntheke ("a mutual pact or agreement"), and
the writings of John Murray and O. Palmer Robertson.26a
After noting that "During the course of the Reformation
period ... under the influence of Roman law, many came to
see the covenant as a contract,"
Letham judges this a mistake.
This view of "the
covenant as a contract," he declares, "was a
departure from the biblical teaching." Over against this
contractual view of the covenant, Letham states that "the
heart of [the
biblical teaching of the covenant] is the idea
of fellowship, seen especially in the promise 'I will be
your God, you shall be my people.'"26b
Letham develops his point:
A covenant meal attends both the institution of the
Mosaic covenant (Ex. 24:8-11) and the new covenant (Mt.
26:20-29 and parallels). Abraham's meal with his theophanic
visitors may have had a similar function (Gn. 18:1f.). A
meal of fellowship points to a far greater relationship
between the parties than a contract. It goes beyond a purely
legal relation. The marriage relationship is a far more
accurate picture of the deep reconciliation and friendship
of the biblical covenant. This is the way that the Bible
frequently describes it (e.g. Ezk. 16:1f.; Jer.
2:1f.; Eph. 5:22-33).26c
Next Letham shows that, in the covenant, it is not law
but grace and promise that have "priority" and are
"paramount," for the law serves God's gracious covenant
promise (Gal. 3:17-22).26d "In this sense,
grace is constitutive of the covenant relation, while law is
South African theologian, Adrio König, also views the
covenant in organic terms:
Theologically, I define covenant as a gracious
relationship of love between God and humanity … He binds us to
himself, giving us the right and responsibility to live in his love
and to serve and glorify him in gratitude.27
This is how Anglican J. I. Packer defines "the
life-embracing bedrock reality of the covenant relationship between the
Creator and Christians:" "A covenant relationship is a voluntary mutual
commitment that binds each party to the other."28
Packer roots this bond between God and us in the inter-Trinitarian
communion of the Godhead. In answer to his own question, "Why does God …
desire covenantal fellowship with rational beings?" he answers,
... the nature of such fellowship observably
corresponds to the relationships of mutual honor and love between
Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the unity of the divine being, so
that the divine purpose appears to be, so to speak, an enlarging of
this circle of eternal love and joy. In highlighting the thought
that covenantal communion is the inner life of God, covenant
theology makes the truth of the Trinity more meaningful than it can
In the Protestant Reformed Churches the truth of the
covenant, as a bond of friendship and fellowship between God and His
elect in Jesus Christ, has been developed and maintained most fully,
consistently, antithetically and systematically. This has resulted in
increased insight into and/or practical help regarding, for example, the
living fellowship within the Holy Trinity, the covenant with Adam, Old
Testament history, sovereign grace, infant baptism, Reformed worship,
the unbreakable bond of marriage, Christian schooling, and the Christian
life as one of God’s friend-servants keeping His covenant.30
This development in the understanding of the nature
of the covenant since Calvin’s day ought not surprise us. It is now
over half a millennium since the Reformer’s birth. Many have been the
debates and disputes concerning the covenant. Through the centuries and
the controversies, the Spirit of truth has led the church into a greater
understanding of the nature of the God’s gracious covenant with us in
Next time, Lord willing, we shall consider Calvin’s
teaching on the blessings of the covenant.31
1 As in part 1 of this article, all citations of the Institutes
are from John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion,, ed.
John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, PA: The
Westminster Press, 1960) and all citations of Calvin’s commentaries are
from the 22 volume Baker (repr. 1993) edition.
2 According to this contract (written or unwritten), the people
could revolt against the powers that be, if they were tyrannical,
contrary to Matthew 26:51-52, John 18:36-37, Romans 13:1-7, I Peter
2:13-17 and Revelation 13:9-10.
states, "During the course of the Reformation period ...
under the influence of Roman law, many came to see the
covenant as a contract" (The Work of Christ
[Leicester: IVP, 1993], p. 40).
This idea of the covenant as a contract was used by many in the
Roman church as a framework within which man merited with God
Modern word studies point to God’s covenant as a sovereignly
disposed (diatheke) bond (berith) with His people in Jesus
Christ (cf. Moshe Weinfeld, "berith," Theological Dictionary
of the Old Testament, vol. 2, eds. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer
Ringgren, trans. John T. Willis [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975], pp.
253-255; Gottfried Quell, "diatheke," Theological Dictionary
of the New Testament, vol. 2, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W.
Bromiley [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964], pp. 107-108; Johannes Behm, "diatheke,"
ibid., p. 134). The biblical lexicons of Calvin’s day also let him
down, when he mistakenly stated in his Institutes, "the word
‘baptize’ [baptizein] means to immerse" (4.15.19, p. 1320). See
the thorough treatment of the Greek word baptizein in James W.
Dale’s four volumes: Classic Baptism, Judaic Baptism,
Johannic Baptism, and Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism.
Peter A. Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin’s Role in the
Development of Covenant Theology
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001), p. 134, n. 30.
6 Ibid., p. 137. Thus we have the reason for the first part
of the title of Lillback’s book on Calvin’s doctrine of the covenant:
The Binding of God.
Ibid., pp. 138-139, n. 90.
Ibid., pp. 138-141.
Cf. Westminster Confession 7:1: "The distance between God
and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe
obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any
fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary
condescension on God’s part, which He has been pleased to express by way
Notice that for Calvin the covenant is fruitful, producing and
begetting in His people saving faith, which consists of knowledge of and
confidence in the Triune God (cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A.
Higher critic, Rolf Rendtorff has produced an interesting survey
of the use of the covenant formula in the Old Testament, identifying
three different forms of statements: (1) about God, that He is
our God; (2) about us, that we are His people; and (3) about
God and us, that He is our God and we are His people (The
Covenant Formula: An Exegetical and Theological Investigation,
trans. Margaret Kohl [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1998]).
Cf. W. J. van Asselt, "Amicitia dei as Ultimate Reality: An
outline of the Covenant Theology of Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669),"
Ultimate Reality and Meaning, 21, 1 (March 1998), pp. 35-47.
Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible,
Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson,
repr. 1991), p. 391.
C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament,
Volume 1: The Pentateuch, Three Volumes in One, trans. James Martin
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, repr. 1986), vol. 1, p. 212.
16 Ibid., p. 210; italics mine.
Andrew Bonar, Leviticus (Edinburgh: Banner, 1966), pp.
45, 46; italics mine.
R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ (Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, 1966), p. 330.
19 Ibid., pp. 330-331.
Ibid., pp. 331-338.
David McKay, The Bond of Love: God’s Covenantal Relationship
with His Church (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2001).
Cornelis P. Venema, The Promise of the Future (Edinburgh:
Banner, 2000), pp. 486-487. Here Venema is summarising with approval an
article by Al Wolters in the Calvin Theological Journal.
John Murray, The Covenant of Grace (London: Tyndale
Press, 1954), pp. 4-5.
Murray then gives as examples works by Geerhardus Vos, Herman
Bavinck, G. Ch. Aalders, John Kelly, David Russell and Herman N.
Ridderbos (ibid., p. 7, n. 15).
Ibid., pp. 31-32.
O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants
(Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1980), p. 15.
26a Letham, The Work of Christ, pp.
Adrio König, The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology: Toward a
Christ-Centered Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), p. 55.
J. I. Packer in his "Introduction" to Herman Witsius, The
Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete
Body of Divinity, 2 vols. (Escondido, CA: The den Dulk Christian
Foundation, repr. 1990), vol. 1. There is no pagination for Packer’s