Understanding the Covenants. Part Two. The Conditions of a Covenant

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


In a proper covenant…

…there must be mutual consent of the persons covenanting. And this is called a stipulation, whereby each Party freely and voluntarily engages himself to the other for his own particular benefit and advantage. For where both are free and unobligated, it is generally the apprehension of some good that will accrue unto them, that brings them to enter into a federal Engagement.

Now this being plainly the Nature of a Covenant, it clearly follows that there neither is nor can be, a strict and proper covenant between God and Man. For, both Parties covenanting are not naturally free the one from the other.

God is indeed naturally and originally free, and has no obligation to Man antecedent to his own gracious will and promise. But man hath a double bond to duty; in both his natural obligation as a Creature, and his federal obligation, as he is a covenanter; And therefore he is bound to obedience, not only by his stipulation and engagement, but also upon that natural relation wherein he stands to God as his Creator, and which alone would have been a sufficient obligation upon him had he never entered into covenant.

The creature’s consent and agreement is not necessary for the covenant which God makes with it.

And that is because the terms of it being so infinitely to our advantage, as there can be no reason imaginable why we should dissent, so neither is there any reason to expect an explicit consent for the ratification of it. Neither are we Lords of our ourselves; but he that made us may impose on us what Laws he pleases; and if he condescends to encourage us by promises of reward, this voluntary obligation which God is pleased to lay upon himself, lays a further obligation upon us to do what he requires out of love and thankfulness, faith and hope, whereby we cheerfully expect and embrace what he hath promised; which likewise of itself is so vastly transcendent and disproportionate to all our performances, so that it cannot be seen as our due consideration upon a strict and proper covenant (for in every such contract the datum and acceptum, or that which is promised by both parties must be each valuable, at least in the estimation of the covenanters) but rather, that which is bestowed by God is so far above the due consideration, that it must be recognized as a free benefit by an arbitrary promise.

So that between Man and Man a Covenant is a mutual and an equal obligation, but between God and man is only a mutual obligation, on God’s part to a free performance of his promises, and on Man’s part to a cheerful performance of his duty; wherein as there is no equality either in rights or values, so neither is there any necessity that man should give an explicit and formal consent unto it.

And as God’s transactions with us are not strictly and properly a covenant, so neither are they strictly and properly a Law; although they are often called The Law of Works, and the Law of Faith. For God does not deal with us merely out of absolute Sovereignty, but he is graciously pleased to oblige himself to us by promise, which does not belong to a Sovereign acting as such, but carries some resemblance of a covenant.

So that the Agreement which God hath made with Man is not merely a covenant, nor merely a Law, but mixture of both. If God had only said, “Do this, without adding thou shalt live, this would not have been a Covenant, but a Law. And if he had only said Thou shalt live, without commanding “Do this, it would not have been a covenant but a promise. Remove the condition and you make it a simple promise, remove the promise and you make it an absolute Law. But both these being found in it, it is both a law and a covenant, and both are in a large measure

And thus you see what a covenant is, and how the transactions between God and Man may be said to be a covenant, and wherein they differ from the proper notion of it.

End of Part Two.