Understanding the Covenants. Part one. What is a Covenant?

Taken and adapted from, “The Doctrine of the Two Covenants”
Written by, Ezekiel Hopkins


Our English Word “Covenant”…

…seems to be borrowed from the Latin convenire, or conventus, which signifies mutual agreement and accord upon Conditions propounded and accepted by the Parties concerned. And it may be thus described. A Covenant is a mutual consent and agreement entered into between Persons, whereby they bind each to other to perform the Conditions contracted and indented for. And thus a Covenant is the very same thing as a contract.

Now to a strict and proper Covenant there are two things presupposed.

First, that in the persons contracting, there be a natural liberty and freedom, both the one and the other; that is, that the one be not bound to the other as to the things covenanted for, antecedently to the contract or agreement made between them. For where an obligation to a duty is natural, there it cannot be strictly and properly “federal,”* or arising from a Covenant: If children should indent with their parents to yield them obedience upon condition that they on their part will afford them sufficient provision [room and board], this cannot in strict sense be called a covenant, because neither of the Parties were free from the obligation of a natural Law, which obliges them antecedently to this compact in a proper covenant the things promised by each party must be due only upon consent and agreement, so that there must be an equality of the persons covenanting, if not in other respects, yet in respect of that for which they do covenant, that the right of both in what they mutually promise be equal. If one man covenant with another to serve him faithfully upon condition of such a reward and wages, though there may be much disparity in the other accounts between them, yet as to the things covenanted for, there is none; the one having as much right to the wages, as the other to the service; and neither having right to either before the agreement.

Secondly, in a proper covenant there must be mutual consent of the persons covenanting. This is called a stipulation, whereby each Party freely and voluntarily engage himself to the other for his own particular benefit and advantage. For where both are free and disobliged, it is generally the apprehension of some good that will accrue unto them, that brings them to enter into a “Federal Engagement.”**


*  “Federalism” is theologically defined as one’s acting on behalf or in place of another. It is almost always contractual or covenantal, in that it entails a legal bond between the one acting and those for whom he acts.
** Federal Engagement is where one or more parties are acting on behalf of another. Such as Adam acting on behalf of man, as in sin. Or, Christ working on behalf of man, as in terms of redemption.