Excerpt taken and adapted from, “A Summary of Institutes of Elentic Theology”, ‘Twelfth Topic: The Covenant of Grace and Its Twofold Economy in the Old and New Testaments,'” written by Francis Turretin, Translated by George Musgrave Giger, Edited by James T. Dennison Jr., Summarized by Nathan E. Lewis
[“You must understand the law of God to grasp the Covenant of Grace. This covenant is “the center and bond of all religion, consisting in the communion of God with man and embracing in its compass all the benefits of God towards man and his duties towards God.” In this study “peculiar accuracy” is needed!]
The N.T. usage explains the peculiar nature of the covenant of grace by reference to “testament.” (Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; Gal.4:24);
(Nathan’s Notes: Some would insist that the covenant has been replaced by a testament. A testament is one person deciding to give his inheritance upon his death to whomever he chooses. This is certainly what Christ did for us. But he did it within the terms and context of the covenant of grace. In his life and death he kept the terms of the covenant and paid the penalty for Man’s breaking of the terms. He did not do this to abolish the covenant, to render it null and void, but rather to maintain it as the communal bonds between God and Man. What about Hebrews 8? See excursis below.)
In Hebrews 9:15 the idea of “testament” is not only emphasized, but linked to the covenant! (Now, it is not a peculiar use of “covenant” but of “testament” that we encounter. For in a testament, nothing is expected of the heir. But in this testament, which is a covenant, the heir is expected to exhibit faith and obedience. Read the whole of Hebrews.)
“foedus” – A Greek term referring to a pact/agreement entered into between God and Man, consisting partly in stipulation of duty (or of the thing to be done) and partly in the promise of a reward.
A little LXX (Septuagint) study:
1) in Genesis 9:9 the meaning refers solely to promise;
2) in Genesis 17, I Kings 8:21 the meaning refers to the symbols of covenant reality (also in Luke 22:20);
3) in Daniel 11:28,30 the meaning refers to the people of the covenant as “the covenant” itself!
4) in Isaiah 49:8 unusually refers to the Messiah as “the covenant” himself!
Hebrews 8: Bible students may be wondering up to this point, “If the covenant of grace begins at the Fall of Man into sin and endures until the second coming of Christ, what about Hebrews 8?” Hebrews 8 seems to declare the covenant that was operative in the days of Moses to be “obsolete,” replaced by a new covenant established with the first coming of Jesus. The Westminster Divines used Hebrews 8 as a proof text for their distinction between two “administrations” of the covenant of grace: 1) the administration of law; and 2) the administration of gospel (Chapter 7. V – VI). Why did they opt for this distinction when it seems as if the language points to two distinct covenants, not two administrations of one covenant? The answer: The language is a distinction not of terms , but rather a distinction between the promise of the terms fulfilled and their actual fulfillment in Christ. The second administration is an unfolding of the mediatorial fulfillment of the covenant of grace while the first administration was the promise of such mediatorial fulfillment.
(1-6) The terms of the first have not become obsolete; Jesus, the great high priest, comes to fulfill all that the high priests in the first administration communicated through roles and rites of promise; the second administration is “a better covenant” because the promise has been fulfilled in the coming of Christ who keeps the terms of the covenant of grace. Once he has done so, the covenant of grace takes on a profoundly different administration! Why then, “which has been enacted on better promises” ? Have the promises changed? No, but the surety of them has come. Prior to the first coming of Christ, the promise was that he would indeed fulfill the demands of the covenant of grace. In his first coming, these demands are met in his work of perfect obedience and perfect sacrifice. All of God’s children are thus justified! His work is once for all. So now, what are the promises that still remain after the work of the first advent is accomplished? The promises of Sanctification and eternal glorification – a final end to all of the curse of sin and death upon God’s good creation. These promises are better in the sense that the finished work of Christ has occured and is the down-payment, thus the absolute surety that the completion of our salvation shall occur upon his second advent.
(7-12) What was “faulty” in the first administration of the covenant? Certainly not God’s promise but Man’s participation. What was wrong with Man’s participation? It was connected to the symbols pointing to the fulfillment. Israel’s failure to be obedient resulted in their losing the benefits of the symbols – i.e. the Promised Land. But the Promised Land is a symbol of the new heavens and new earth. Just because it is a symbol does not mean that it is “fake” nor “intangible.” Israel lost real land; God “did not care for them” (9). But with the coming of Christ Jesus, the reality is secured. The symbol promises are lost forever since they are part of this cursed age and have served their purpose in pointing to the fulfillment. But there is still hope for covenant breakers who look to faith in Christ who ushers in the ultimate promises of the covenant which shall surely be fulfilled for all of God’s children in Christ Jesus. (10-12) is prophetic language from the first administration that is assigned to the reality of the new heavens and new earth in the book of Revelation, part of the second administration’s literature!
(13) So how do we interpret this verse? It seems quite clear that there are two distinct covenants after the Fall of Mankind (Genesis 3). Don’t be so quick. Take into consideration the points above, then read (13) in context. What aspect(s) of the first administration of the covenant are “obsolete” ? Certainly all that symbolically pointed to Christ, the fulfillment since he has come in the flesh! Have the terms become obsolete? NO. Jesus said, “I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” Does the law, then have an enduring role in the church in these last days? YES. So there is continuity between the first and second administrations of the covenant. Hence it is the same covenant which takes on a drasticly new look because of the coming presence of Jesus. Has the aspect of grace become obsolete? No. Under the first administration, only through the forgiveness and gifts of God do the blessings flow. And so it is in the second administration. Therefore it is essentially one covenant of grace which explodes into a greater flowering of blessings than ever could be imagined prior to the coming of Jesus.
What does the last sentence mean?!! Simply this: the day of glorification is soon approaching. When the final and eternal reality dawns, we will cease this talk and longing for it, for we shall be consumed in it, enjoying the blessing forevermore.