Bible Covenants


A Covenant is an agreement or contract between men, or between men and God. Generally it is based on certain conditions agreed upon. Sometimes, as between God and man, it is unconditional. God’s covenants with man originate with Him, and generally consist of a promise based on the fulfilment of certain conditions. God has made eight Covenants with man. They all relate to the earth. Each one introduces a New Dispensation. Six of them were given to individual and representative men, as Adam, Noah and Abraham, and went into effect during their lives except the one given to David, which took effect at the birth of Jesus. Each one has a time element and expires at a certain time. Four of them are distinguished by a “Sign.” See the Chart on The Covenants.


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I. The Edenic Covenant.


Gen 1:28-30; 2:15-17.


This Covenant was given to Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, before the Fall of Man. It ushered in the “Dispensation of Innocence” which was conditioned on obedience.


The Seven Conditions of this Covenant were.
1.To Replenish the Earth with an earthly race of people, the first or Pre-Adamite Race having become extinct, through the earth having been thrown into a chaotic condition. Gen 1:2.
2.To Subdue the Earth to the needs of the human race. What this means is not clear, unless it means to so control the forces of light, heat, electricity, gravitation, etc., as to enable man to use them to supply his needs.
3.To have Dominion Over the Animal Creation. Not over the domestic animals only, but over wild creatures as well. This is beautifully described in Psa 8:3-9.
4.To Restrict Themselves to a “Vegetable Diet.” And from Gen 1:30 it would appear that the animal creation, before the Fall, was limited to a vegetable diet.
5.To Till the Garden in which God had placed him. This was doubtless a pleasure and not a task. There was no curse upon the earth at that time. It was not until after the Fall that “thorns” and “thistles” and “weeds” made the cultivation of the soil laborious. Gen 3:17-19.
6.To Abstain From Eating of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Man was created innocent like the infant. He did not know what sin is. His environment was such that he would have remained innocent if he had obeyed God, and refused to eat of the “Tree” which opened his eyes. The moment he ate of that “Tree” he broke the Covenant and knew the difference between good and evil.
7.The punishment of disobedience was Physical Death. And this would have happened to both Adam and Eve at once if God in His Grace had not intervened and instituted a new covenant, known as the “Adamic Covenant.”


II. The “Adamic” Covenant.


Gen 3:14-19.


This Covenant, like the first, was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before their expulsion. It ushered in the “Dispensation of Conscience.” It was without conditions, and embodied a “Curse” and a “Promise.”
1.The “Curse.”


The Curse was fourfold.


a. As to the Serpent.


The Serpent was Satan’s tool, and from being a most beautiful and attractive creature became a loathsome reptile. It still retains traces of its former beauty and grace. It was condemned to crawl upon its belly and eat dust.


b. As to the Woman.


Her state was changed in three particulars.


(1)—Multiplied Conception. If Adam and Eve had any children before the “Fall” it is not revealed. It is certain Cain was not conceived until after their expulsion from the Garden. Gen 4:1. By “Multiplied Conception” is probably meant that there would be several children born at a time. This would be necessary to rapidly replenish the earth. As a matter of necessity the children of the same parents intermarried, as there were no other human beings on the earth at that time.


(2)—Sorrowful Motherhood. That is, child‐birth was to be accompanied with much pain and anguish. If sin had not entered, child‐birth would doubtless have been painless, and motherhood a pleasure and children a delight.


(3)—Headship of Man. Woman was created the equal of man, but because she caused his fall she lost her equality and man was given the Headship over her. Gen 3:16.


c. As to the Man.


The ground was cursed for his sake, and whereas it had been a pleasure to look after the Garden, now he would have to secure a living from the soil by hard labor and the “sweat of his face,” which would wear out his system and end in physical death.


d. As to the Ground.


Henceforth it was to be cursed with “thorns” and “thistles.” That is, with everything that would make the cultivation of the earth difficult.
2.The “Promise.” The Promise was that the “Seed” of the Woman (Christ) should bruise the “Serpent’s” head, while his “seed” should bruise Christ’s heel. Here is the Promise that Christ shall redeem the world from the power of Satan, and restore the human race and the Earth to their condition before the “Fall.” This Covenant reaches until the Renovation of the Earth by Fire.”


III. The “Noahic” Covenant.


Gen 8:20-22; 9:1-17.


Man having proved himself a failure under the “Dispensation of Conscience,” God sent a Flood to destroy the race from off the earth, sparing only Noah and his family. After the Flood Noah offered a “sacrifice” which was well pleasing to God, and God made an unconditional Covenant with Noah. It ushered in the “Dispensation of Human Government.” It contained the following provisions.
1.That God would not curse the ground any more, nor destroy all the living. And that the “day” and the “night” and the “seasons” should not cease.
2.That Noah and his descendants were to be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.
3.That they should have dominion over the animal creation as before.
4.That from that time they were not to be restricted to a “vegetable” diet, but could eat meat, if they drained the blood from it. Gen 9:3-4.
5.The law of “Capital Punishment” was established. Gen 9:6. This has never been abrogated, though the manner of enforcing it has been more clearly laid down in the account of the Cities of Refuge. Num 35:1-34.
6.That the earth shall never be destroyed again by the “waters of a Flood.”


The “Sign” of this Covenant is the Rainbow, and the Covenant reaches until the “Renovation of the Earth by Fire,” of which it is the Type.


IV. The “Abrahamic” Covenant.


Gen 12:1-3.


The Tower of Babel episode was a turning point in human history. (Gen 11:1-9). Up to that time the human race was a unit. There was neither Jew nor Gentile. The race had become idolatrous. To remedy this God decided to call out an individual of the seed of Shem, and of him form a separated people and nation. The man selected was Abraham. The “Call” came to him while dwelling at Ur of the Chaldees, in Mesopotamia. He obeyed. The Covenant then made with him was afterwards enlarged and confirmed to his son, Isaac, (Gen 26:1-5), and in turn to his grandson Jacob (Israel), Gen 28:10-15. The Covenant was unconditional and ushered in the Dispensation of the Family. It contained seven promises.
1.“I Will Make of Thee a Great Nation.” This was to be fulfilled in a twofold way.


a. Natural Posterity. “As the dust of the earth.” This has been fulfilled through Isaac and through Ishmael. Gen 17:20.


b. Spiritual Posterity. “As the stars of heaven.” Gal 3:6-7; 3:29.
2.“I Will Bless Thee.” This was fulfilled temporally in flocks and herds and lands. Gen 13:14-18; 15:18-21; 24:34-35. Abraham was also blessed spiritually. Gen 15:6.
3.“And Make Thy Name Great.” Abraham, next to Christ, is the outstanding name in the Scriptures.
4.“And Thou Shalt Be a Blessing.” Abraham was a blessing to the people of his own time and to the world, as through him came the chosen seed. Gal 3:14.
5.“I Will Bless Them That Bless Thee.”
6.“And Curse Him That Curseth Thee.” These last two have been wonderfully fulfilled in the past history of the Jewish people and will be more wonderfully fulfilled in the future. Every nation that has treated them well has been blessed and every nation that has mistreated them has suffered.
7.“In Thee Shall All the Families of the Earth Be Blessed.” This promise is fulfilled in Christ spiritually and shall be fulfilled temporally in the Millennium when the Gentile nations shall be blessed through Israel. Deu 28:8-14; Isa 60:3-5; 60:11; 60:16.


After Abraham’s faith had been tested in the offering up of Isaac this Covenant was reaffirmed and confirmed. Gen 22:15-18. It was an Everlasting Covenant. Gen 17:1-8.


The “Sign” of this Covenant is “Circumcision” (Gen 17:9-14), and the Covenant extends to the “End of Time,” taking in the New Earth.


We must not forget that the “Adamic” and “Noahic” Covenants were not done away with or superseded by the “Abrahamic” Covenant. The “Abrahamic” Covenant is confined to the Hebrew Race, while the others cover the whole Gentile world. The Dispensations of “Conscience” and “Human Government” still continue as to the Gentiles.


V. The “Mosaic” Covenant.


The “Mosaic Covenant” was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, shortly after the Exodus from Egypt. It ushered in the “Dispensation of Law.” It was conditioned on obedience, and may be divided into three parts.
1.The Moral Law. Exd 20:1-26. This consists of the Ten Commandments.
2.The Civil Law. Exd 21; 22; 23; 24.
3.The Ceremonial Law. Exd 25:1-40:38. This includes the Tabernacle, the Priesthood, and the order of service. See Chart of Book of Leviticus. The “Sign” of this Covenant is the Sabbath. Exd 31:12-18.


This Covenant continued in force until the Jews were scattered at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It will be renewed when Israel is converted and restored to their own land, and will then be known as the “Palestinian Covenant,” which Covenant ends with the “Renovation of the Earth by Fire.”


VI. The “Davidic” Covenant.


2Sa 7:4-17.


This Covenant was given to King David, through Nathan the Prophet, at Jerusalem. It ushered in the “Dispensation of Grace.” It has but one condition, based on disobedience, this would lead to chastisement and postponement of the promise, but not its abrogation. The Covenant contains four promises.
1.A Davidic House. 2Sa 7:13. That is the posterity of David shall never be destroyed.
2.A Davidic Throne. 2Sa 7:13. The Kingdom of David shall never be destroyed. At present it is in abeyance, but it will be set up again. Since the “Captivity” but one King of the Davidic family has been crowned and He with “thorns” (Mat 27:29), but He will receive the Kingdom and return when Israel’s chastisement is over, and the time comes to restore the Kingdom to David’s Son. Luke 1:30-33.
3.A Davidic Kingdom. David’s Son is to have an earthly “sphere of rule.” It will be over the Millennial Earth. “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” Psa 72:1-20.
4.It Shall Be Unending.


“Thine House and thy Kingdom shall be established Forever; thy Throne shall be established Forever.” 2Sa 7:16. The “Sign” of this Covenant is a Son. Luke 1:30-33; 2:12. This Covenant extends to the “End of Time.”


VII. The “Palestinian” Covenant.


Deu 30:1-10.


This Covenant was given to Israel through Moses, and is conditioned on the repentance of Israel. It will go into effect after their return to Palestine and their repentance. It ushers in the “Millennial Dispensation” and ends with it.


VIII. The “New” Covenant.


Heb 8:7-13.


This Covenant has not yet been made. It is to be made with Israel after they get back to their own land. It is promised in Jer 31:31-37. It is unconditional, and will cover the Millennium and the New Heaven and New Earth. It is based on the finished work of Christ. Mat 26:28. It has nothing to do with the Church and does not belong to this Dispensation. It is the “Eighth Covenant,” and speaks of Resurrection and Eternal Completeness.


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Larkin, Clarence. “The Covenants,” Dispensational Truth. Blue Letter Bible. 12 Jun 2003. 29 Jun 2013.<;.


Calvin’s Concepts of Covenant and Apostasy

Calvin’s Concepts of Covenant and Apostasy

John Calvin is recognized, humanly speaking, as the father of Reformed theology. No one figure enjoys so large a place in the thinking of those called Reformed. But a question has arisen whether Calvin can also be called the father of “Covenant Theology.” Peter A. Lillback in a lecture given at Westminster Theological Seminary (October 21, 1981), entitled “The Place of the Covenant in Calvin’s Theology” (1) stated that there are three views concerning the relation of Calvin to Covenant. The first is that Calvin did not teach covenant theology at all. The second is that Calvin used the covenant idea. This second is then broken down into three views: 1) his covenant was monolateral and unconditional while that of the Rhineland reformers was bilateral and conditional; 2) his was limited to the covenant of grace and subsequent federal theology distorted his views concerning grace, man’s depravity and the continuity of Old and New; 3) again, his was limited to the covenant of grace and later Federal theologians amplified similar ideas only–these ideas were drawn from Zurich, not Geneva. (2) The third view is that Covenant Theology arose as a reaction to Calvin’s and Reformed Orthodoxy’s doctrine of Predestination. This view sees the views of Bullinger and Melanchthon as offering relief from the harsh views of predestination taught by Calvin and Beza. (3) While Lillback recognizes that Calvin does not use covenant as an external organizing tool he maintains that Calvin uses covenant as an internal organizing tool. In fact, he goes as far as to argue that Calvin had the beginnings of what would come to be called the “Covenant of Works.” (4) It shall be my purpose to take the work of Lillback (5) and my own conclusions and synthesize them.

We must first look again at the covenant and secondly, at the concept of apostasy, or covenant breaking. Specifically, I will show that the idea of the covenant as presented in the previous chapter: monopleuric in establishment and dipleuric in administration, is grounded and confirmed in the thought of Calvin. (6)

In Calvin the term “covenant” and all its synonyms are massively present. In the Institutes alone the three main Latin words (Pactum, Foedus, Testamentum) translated covenant are found some 273 times. Two further synonyms (conjunctionis, vincula) occur 176 times. (7) While not all are used in a theological or covenantal manner, yet the large majority are so used. A number of adjectives are also connected with covenant. It is spoken of as “God‘s covenant,” the “Lord’s covenant,” “special,” “sacred,” “perpetual,” “spiritual not carnal,” “freely given,” etc. In the Institutes it is spoken of as the “covenant of peace” (II.6.3), the “covenant of adoption” (II.7.2), the “covenant of grace” (III.17.15), and the “covenant of eternal life” (III.21.7).

Lillback, in his lecture, lists nine components of the covenant:

1)  name of the covenant (IV.16.14)

2)  provisions/laws of the covenant (IV.16.24)

3)   formula of the covenant (II.10.8)

4)   promise of the covenant (IV.16.5)

5)   sponsor and mediator of the covenant (II.11.4)

6)   ratification of the covenant (IV.14.17)

7)   confirmation of the covenant (IV.18.13)

8)   benefit of the covenant (III., 20.25)

a)  grace (II.10.5)
b)  society fellowship (IV.16.24)
c)  right of the covenant (IV.16.15)
d)  inheritance (IV.16.24)

9)   tokens of the covenant (IV.2.11; 15.17; 17.21)

While it is true that these are spread out in Books II through IV, most of them come from Book IV. This is the book entitled “The External Means or Aims by Which God Invites Us Into the Society of Christ and Holds Us Therein.” The word “external” does not mean “merely external” or “physical” as opposed to “spiritual.” Rather, it means that the Church, defined according to the “marks of the Church” (cf., IV.1.7-12), is the “mother of believers” from whose school we cannot be dismissed “until we have been pupils all our lives” (IV.1.4).

Lillback then takes up five related ideas or contexts in which covenant occurs in the Institutes. The five are:

1)  organization of teaching on soteriology (I.6.1; I.10.1; II.10.8; II.11.4, 10; IV.14, 19; I-V.16.3)

2)  contexts of conditionality, mutuality and covenant breaking (II.5.12; II.10.8; III.17.3; III.21.6; IV.8.2; IV.13.6; V.16:24; II.11.8; IV.16.14; III.2.22; III. 17.6; III.21.6; IV.15.17)

3)  Promise (II.6.3, 4; II.10.2, 20; IV.16.9)

4)  Kingdom (II.6.3; II.10.7; III.17.6; IV.1.20; IV.16.7)

5)  Church (II.6.4; II.8.21; II.10.9; III.20.45; IV.1.20; IV.16.7)

The first two are especially important. The covenant forms the center for Calvin’s discussion of God’s grace to sinners. And in discussing the covenant he also goes on to speak of the conditions that inhere in the covenant relation, the mutuality established by the Lord and the present danger of covenant breaking. Calvin’s Institutes (and his Commentaries, too) are a fecund source for covenant thought. (8) It serves not only as an organizational tool, but also as an explanatory tool. The covenant helps us to understand the relation between faith and good works, justification and sanctification, the relation of the Old and New Covenant, etc. But it also serves as a polemical or offensive tool. By it Calvin combats not only the errors of Rome and the Anabaptists, but also those of the Lutherans. Thus it is in his doctrine of the covenant that Calvin sets himself apart from those who oppose him with their errors.

Before setting forth Calvin’s covenant theology one matter must be taken up. In The Standard Bearer, Prof. H. C. Hoeksema stated that it was “certainly not to the credit of a Reformed theologian to make the scope of the covenant broader than the scope of election” (Hoeksema 1978, 221). What view does Calvin take on this matter? Is it not true that Calvin speaks of different degrees of election?

In Book III, chapter 21 (9) Calvin writes concerning “Eternal Election, by Which God Has Predestined Some to Salvation, and Some to Destruction.” Calvin uses the doctrine of election to explain how it is that:

In actual fact, the covenant of life is not preached equally among all men, and among those to whom it is preached, it does not gain the same acceptance either constantly or in equal degree. In this diversity the wonderful depth of God’s judgment is made known. For there is no doubt that this variety also serves the decision of God’s eternal election (II.21.1).

In sections 5-7 Calvin goes on to define and explain predestination in relation to the nation of Israel, and to individuals. Calvin defines predestination as “God’s decree, by which he compacted (10) with himself what he willed to become of each man” (III.21.5). In the paragraph Calvin goes on to point out that not only individual persons are predestined, but also nations.

After reviewing a number of Scripture passages supporting the idea of Israel as being elect, Calvin adds:

Also, the prophets often confront the Jews with this election, to the latter’s displeasure and by way of reproach, since they had shamefully fallen from it.

Calvin goes on to note that “the Israelites are recalled to this principle of a freely given covenant when thanks are to be given to God.” The phrase “He remembers his covenant,” from Psalm 105:42, is presented as the ground for their receiving “the continuing benefits of God as the fruit of election.” Thus election and covenant are brought close together.

Yet this is not the whole of Calvin’s teaching. In III. 21.6  Calvin goes on to say:

We must now add a second, more limited degree of election, or one in which God’s more special grace was evident, that is, when from the same race of Abraham God rejected some but showed that he kept others among his sons by cherishing them in the church.

The race of Abraham, with whom God had established a covenant, was elect according to God’s good pleasure. They had benefits no other people or nation ever had. And yet, only a remnant is gathered from this chosen nation.

For the condition had been laid down that they should faithfully keep God’s covenant, which they had faithlessly violated. Yet this was a singular benefit of God, that he had deigned to prefer them to the other nations (Ps 147:20).

But this is not some type of incipient “historical sphere of the covenant” idea. For Calvin explains, in between the two quotations given above, who was in the covenant relation with God.

Ishmael had at first obtained equal rank with his brother, Isaac, for in him the spiritual covenant had been equally sealed by the sign of circumcision. Ishmael is cut off; then Esau; afterward, a countless multitude, and well-nigh all Israel. . .  By their own defect and guilt, I admit, Ishmael, Esau, and the like were cut off from adoption.

Thus the reason given for being cut off from the spiritual covenant they were in was their failure to uphold the conditions of the covenant. It is not merely the historical actions that are in view. But it is that these historical actions are taking place within a spiritual relation, the covenant of grace.

Calvin next goes on to show why it is that he has set forth “degrees” of election. The first degree, that of the whole nation, displays the fact that it is only of God’s mere generosity that he chose them to be his own. Because of this free grace shown, the faithlessness and impiety of the people is that much more heinous and culpable. As Calvin explains:

For God takes it for granted that, as both [Jacob and Esau] had been begotten of a holy father, were successors of the covenant, and, in short, were branches of a sacred tree, the children of Jacob were now under extraordinary obligation, having been received into that dignity. . .  God accuses them of being doubly thankless, and complains that they were not held by that double bond.

Ishmael, and Esau were, as Isaac and Jacob, in the covenant. But they despised the promise and broke the bond that existed by grace.

In section 7 Calvin writes of “The election of individuals as actual election.” He opens by saying,

Although it is now sufficiently clear that God by his secret plan freely chooses whom he pleases, rejecting others, still his free election has been only half explained until we come to individual persons, to whom God not only offers salvation, but so assigns it that the certainty of its effect is not in suspense or doubt.

Calvin then presents the grounds or causes that bring to pass this certainty.

[First] we must, in order that election may be effectual and truly enduring, ascend to the Head, in whom the Heavenly Father has gathered His elect together, and has joined them to himself by an indissoluble bond . . . in the members of Christ a far more excellent power of grace appears. For, engrafted to their Head, they are never cut off from salvation

[Second] where God has made a covenant of eternal life and calls any People to himself, a special mode of election is employed for a part of them, so that he, does not with indiscriminate grace effectually elect all . . . .

Note especially that Calvin correlates election and covenant. With each establishment of the covenant there is also an election according to grace. But, unless the work of Christ and that of the Spirit is executed only a remnant will “persevere in the covenant to the very end.” By his doctrine of the remnant is the faithfulness and grace of God maintained. As Calvin notes in closing:

Not that it was a vain and unprofitable thing simply to be a child of Abraham; such could not be said without dishonoring the covenant! No, God’s unchangeable plan, by which he predestined for himself those whom he willed, was in fact intrinsically effectual unto salvation for these spiritual offspring alone.

The decree concerning election and reprobation is neither undermined nor relativized by Calvin. Rather, as the conditions of the covenant are kept or broken, the decree is infallibly brought to pass.

As was noted above, covenant is a significant category in Calvin’s thought. As Lillback remarks at the end of his article on Calvin and baptism:

Baptism means covenant to Calvin, and covenant means almost everything else! To preserve the Calvinian system, paedo-baptism is not an option but a prerequisite. It is thus clear that Calvin’s answer to the Anabaptist perspective on baptism was that they failed to understand this foundational doctrine of the covenant between God and his people and their children (Lillback 1982, 232).

This being the case, an exposition shall be made first of Calvin’ s teaching concerning the covenant, and secondly of his teaching concerning apostasy. His teaching concerning the covenant is foundational for understanding his views of apostasy. For it is in the doctrine of the covenant that the relationship between God and man, His image-bearer, is vividly and dynamically portrayed.

In line with his teaching that the grace and good pleasure of God is at the foundation of His work of redemption, so too, the covenant is wholly established by the mercy of God. In a sermon on Deut. 7:7-10 Calvin states

Let us therefore keep this word in mind, and weigh it thoroughly, that Moses declares that the entire covenant which God makes with us lies wholly in his goodness and nowhere else, and that it is not for us to inflate ourselves with foolish presumption as if we were worthy of such benefits (from the Corpus Reformatorum XXVI, 525 as cited in Hoekema 1967, 141; hereafter referred to as CR). (11)

And in a sermon on Deut 26:16-19 he illustrates the great favor that is shown in God’s establishing a covenant by comparing it to that of an earthly king making a covenant with a swineherd (cf., Hoekema 1967, 141).

In a sermon on Deut 4:44-5:3 Calvin brings together a number of elements which are part of his covenant theology. A. A. Hoekema summarizes the sermon in this way:

Calvin states that God could have required perfect obedience of man without having entered into a covenant with him, and that when God promises to bestow his covenant blessings upon his people, these blessings have their origin wholly in his grace (1967, 142).

The portion quoted from the sermon is given here:

For if God should only exact his due of us, we would already be sufficiently bound to cleave to him, and to stick to his commandments. But now, seeing it has pleased him of his infinite goodness to come as it were to a common treaty . . . . and to bind himself mutually to us–though there is no cause why he should be so bound–so that he covenants to be our Father and Savior, to receive us into his flock, to be his inheritance, that we may live under his protection, setting everlasting life before us–seeing he does all these things for us, ought not our hearts to yield, though they should be of stone?

The creatures do see that the living God abases himself so far as to be willing to enter into a treaty with them, as if he should say, Come, let us see at what point we are: indeed, there is an infinite distance between you and me. I might command you what seems good to me without having anything further to do with you, and neither are you worthy to come to me . . . yet despite all that I give up my own right; I offer myself to be your Leader and Savior; I am willing to govern you, and you shall be as my little family I am here ready to enter into covenant . . . with you, and to bind myself to vow (from CR XXVIII., 289, as translated and cited by Hoekema 1967, 142).

Emphasis is placed on the condescension and favor, or grace, of God in establishing the covenant. God does these things for us. On the basis of this grace Calvin admonishes his congregation, and all who claim to be Christ’s disciples, to yield our hearts.

The covenant is established by the grace of God. But within the covenant there is also brought out that the recipient of this grace has serious obligations devolving upon him/her. In the Institutes III.17.5. Calvin closes off his discussion of why God is pleased with the works of His people. On the backdrop of Deut 7:9; I Kings 8:23 and Neh 1:5, he states that

Indeed, in all covenants of his mercy the Lord requires of his servant in return uprightness and sanctity of life, lest his goodness be mocked or someone, puffed up with empty exultation on that account, bless his own soul, walking meanwhile in the wickedness of his own heart (Deut. 29:19). Consequently, in this way he wills to keep in their duty those admitted to the fellowship of the covenant; nonetheless the covenant is at the outset drawn up as a free agreement, and perpetually remains such.

In two sermons on Deuteronomy Calvin makes a similar point. On Deut 7:11-15 he stresses that

Nay, his will is that we should utter another melody corresponding to his voice, that is, that we should show by our whole life that he[God] has not taken pains with us in vain, nor wasted his time, in declaring his will to us . . . So then let us mark that his love is always free in our works, but that he will not be mocked, nor have his goodness abused, nor abide that men should take liberty to do evil when they see him so gentle and freehearted towards them, but, on the contrary, will have us to be responsible again on our side, so that we do not turn a deaf ear to him when he speaks to us . . . . (from CR XXVI:539-539 as cited in Hoekema 1967, 143).

And, again, from Deut 26:16-19 he writes:

We must always have an eye to the end for which our Lord grants us this liberty, namely, that he also may . . . have us for his people. For if we be not answerable on our part with our obedience, is there any reason why he should keep his promise, when we have broken his covenant . . . ? Yet when we reject his covenant, and set light by it through our wicked life, we may not look that he should be any longer bound to us.

Why? For he has become our God upon this condition, that we also should-be his people. And how shall we be his people? It is not by saying simply-with our mouth, We are the people of God, for the veriest hypocrite will boast as much as that . . . but we must show by our deeds that we are the people of God, in that we obey him, listening to the voice of that shepherd which he has given us. When we live quietly under the guidance of our Lord Jesus Christ, then do we give certain proof that we keep the covenant of our God, without denying the faith which we promised to him (CR XXVIII, 292-293 as cited in Hoekema 1967, 143-144).

A similar thought is expressed in his Institutes II.8.18. Here Calvin is commenting on the warning given in the second commandment.

God very commonly takes on the character of a husband to us. Indeed, the union by which he binds us to himself when he receives us into the bosom of the church is like sacred wedlock, which must rest upon mutual faithfulness (Eph. 5:2.9-32). As he performs all the duties of a true and faithful husband, of us in return he demands love and conjugal chastity.

Elton M. Eenigenburg comments on this passage as follows:

It should be observed here that Calvin never treats of the covenant in terms which suggest simple status . . . . The accent is ever upon the exercise of grace and mercy on God’s part as he sustains his part in the covenant, and upon man’s full and hearty obedience in the sustention of his. Each person in the covenant must render this obedience in love anew, and continually (1957, 5).

Eenigenburg’s article is an extremely good summarization of this aspect of Calvin’s covenant thinking. He notes that “Calvin regarded the covenant as coextensive with the kingdom itself,” and that “Calvin never speaks of the kingdom, or of the Church, in static terms. ” He says that

The terms used are dynamic, moving, living; what we today call “existential.” This is not, however, to suggest that the living and the dynamic are to be equated with the uncertain and unpredictable, with absence of status of any kind for the believer. With Calvin’s accent on the election of some and the reprobation of others, he could never be accused of denying status to the believer. What is of importance to note is that the believer has status precisely because he is energized by the Spirit of God to do the will of God. If he’s not found in the will and service of God in the greater part of his life, he has broken the covenant bond either temporarily or permanently (Eenigenburg 1957, 6).

It is the energy of the Spirit working in and through us that is the cause of our attaining eternal life. But that work of the Spirit is not merely spiritual. It is seen and heard. Those who

in spite of everything God does for him both by way of giving him the grace to lead the good life, and by providing him with a constant forgiveness of his sins, . . nevertheless falls away, and remains fallen away, the responsibility is wholly his. He is cut off from the covenant, but the covenant itself does not suffer ill (Eenigenburg 1957, 11).

We do not have here a perversion of Calvin, or if it is faithful to what Calvin taught, a lapse or infelicitous manner of expression. For in a sermon on Deut 27:11-15 Calvin writes:

Blessings in this place, are conditional: that is, blessed is he who observes the law of God, who maintains his service purely. . .  This, I say, implies a condition. . .  Seeing then that we are all sinners, yea, even the faithful, insomuch that when they try to walk uprightly, they make many false steps, what shall become of us then? It is certain that we should be deprived of the hope of salvation, if we had nothing else to lean upon than our own righteousness.

But the promises which imply a condition depend on this, that God has received us for his people, and will have us take him for our father. Now this thing is grounded on nothing but His mercy . . . . And, secondly, it remains that since God has chosen us out, and set us apart for his service, we may not take liberty to do all manner of wickedness, but must endeavor to obey him. For this reason we must be aroused and spurred on by his promises to serve him. Thus ye see how the conditional promises shall not be in vain in respect of us, namely, when they are referred to the freely bestowed goodness of God, whereby he receives us though we are not worthy to be received; and, secondly, when he does not impute our vices to us but, though there are many stains and corruptions in us, yet he hides them and will not call them to account (CR XXVIII, 308-309 as cited in Hoekema 1967, 147).

Here we have covenant, conditions, and justification all drawn together by Calvin. It is on the ground of the imputed righteousness of Christ that anyone’s sins and imperfect works are justified. Those who refuse to look to that perfect righteousness wrought by Christ and daily imputed to cover our sins will break the conditions of the covenant. As Hoekema comments: “these conditions are real, but they are not meritorious” (1967, 155).

This is a difficult area in Reformed theology, and some comments have been made in the previous chapter. Let us look at a few passages from Calvin’s writings to get a better idea of what he means by there being conditions in the covenant. A. A. Hoekema draws our attention to Calvin’s comments on Ps 132:12. Here Calvin writes:

The covenant was perfectly gratuitous, so far as it related to God’s promise of sending a Savior . . . God had not withdrawn his favor from the Jews, having chosen them freely of his grace . . . . This may serve to show in what sense the covenant was not conditional; but as there were other things that were accessories to the covenant a condition was appended to the effect that God would bless them if they obeyed his commandments. The Jews, for declining from this obedience, were removed into exile . . .

God on the other hand took vengeance on the people for their ingratitude, so to show that the terms of the covenant did not run conditionally to no purpose; while on the other, at the coming of Christ there was a free performance of what had been freely promised, the crown being set upon Christ’s head (1967, 156).

 E. M. Eenigenburg draws attention to Ps 103:18 where Calvin remarks that

The keeping, or observing of the covenant, which is here put instead of the fear of God, mentioned in the previous verse, is worthy of notice; for this David intimates that none are the true worshippers of God but those who reverently obey his Word. . .  As the covenant begins with a solemn article containing the promise of grace, faith and prayer are required, above all, to the proper keeping of it (Eenigenburg 1957, 11).

And Eenigenburg comments, a little later, that

By distinguishing carefully between the covenant itself and participants in the covenant, Calvin is able to argue the perpetuity of the covenant as well as the possibility of permanent apostasy for some of the participants (1957, 12).

To confirm this point he appeals to Calvin’s comments on Rom 3:3; Ps 132:12; Luke 1:50; Isa, 45:25; Heb 6:17; Micah 7:20 and Ezek 16:59. On this last passage Calvin comments

[God] says, then, that in agreement it is customary for a person, when deceived, no longer to be necessarily bound to a perfidious breaker of agreements; for covenanting requires mutual faith: but the Jews had violated their agreement, and reduced it to nothing. Hence, through their perfidy and wickedness, God had acquired the liberty of rejecting them, and of no longer reckoning them among his people. . .  he could not be condemned for bad faith in departing from his agreement, because he had to deal with traitors and covenant-breakers who had rendered void their agreement: for there is no covenant when either party declines it (cf., Eenigenburg 1957, 13).

God is faithful to his word as expressed in the covenant. If we follow that word we shall receive, out of pure grace, through the obedience of Christ on our behalf, the blessings of the covenant: communion and fellowship with the triune God. If we fail to heed that word and rely on the work of Christ alone to cleanse us from all sin, then the wrath, the curses of the covenant will justly fall upon us.

One word of comment must be made concerning the phrase in Calvin’s comments on Ezek 16:59,”he could not be condemned for bad faith in departing from his agreement.” Whether or not we as creatures remain true and faithful to our part in the covenant, God always remains faithful to the entire covenant. The question is whether He shall bring upon us the blessings of the covenant or the curses of the covenant. His promise is that He will bless us if we walk according to His word. He has also promised us that if we turn away and serve other gods and walk according to their ways, that He will bring upon us the wrath of the covenant. God fulfills to each person what is revealed in His word. The reception of the blessings of the covenant is only and always of grace in the way of faith. The reception of wrath is due to the inscrutable purpose of God which condemns sinners for their sin.

Calvin’s teaching on the covenant and apostasy is pervasive in his Institutes and Commentaries. In a sense, the concept of apostasy has no meaning apart from the covenant relation. Thus to speak of apostasy is to make some comment concerning the covenant. What shall be given here is but a brief overview of the occurrences of “apostasy” in the Institutes. This will be followed by a look into the Commentaries. (12) The focus will not always be on the covenant relation itself.

In his opening letter to the reader Calvin makes an interesting statement. He writes: “For I trust that God out of his infinite goodness will permit me to persevere with unwavering patience in the path of his holy calling” (Calvin 1960, 4). Here Calvin points out, by way of example, the necessity that it is by grace alone that we persevere to the end. The true believer recognizes that it is of God’s good pleasure that we work out our salvation (cf., Phil 2:12-13).

The concept of apostasy first begins to come into view in Book II. Relevant sections are 8.4, 5, 16, 18; 10.5; 11.8 and 16.1, 7. In II.8.4 Calvin states:

But the Lord is not content with having obtained reverence for his righteousness. In order to imbue our hearts with love of righteousness and with hatred of wickedness, he has added promises and threats. . .  the rewards for virtues are stored up with him, and [that] the man who obeys his commandments does not do so in vain. Conversely he proclaims that unrighteousness is not only hateful to him but will not escape punishment because he himself will avenge contempt of his majesty. And to urge us in every way, he promises both blessings in the present life and everlasting blessedness to those who obediently keep his commandments. He threatens the transgressors no less with present calamities than with the punishment of eternal death. For that promise (“he who does these things shall live in them” Lev. 18:5p.) and its corresponding threat (“the soul that sins it shall die” Ezek 18:4, 20, Vg) without doubt have reference to either never-ending future immortality or death.

Through this Calvin seeks to keep before his readers the fact that obedience to all of God’s word does not cease once we have received the word of reconciliation.

In II.8.16 Calvin warns that we must

let our conscience be clean even from the most secret thoughts of apostasy, if we wish our religion approved of the Lord. For the Lord requires that the glory of his divinity remain whole and uncorrupted not only in outward confession, but in his own eyes, which gaze upon the most secret recesses of our hearts.

We must beware that we do not presume, in any way, upon the grace of God. He has clearly taught us in his word how he is to be worshipped. For us to ignore or despise that word is to make an idol and thus apostatize from the true and living God.

In II.8.18 we find:

Still, our redemption would be imperfect if he [that is, Christ] the Redeemer did not ever lead us onward to the final goal of salvation. Accordingly, the moment we turn away even slightly from him, our salvation, which rests firmly in him, gradually vanishes away. As a result, all those who do not repose in him voluntarily deprive themselves of all grace. . .  we must earnestly ponder how he accomplishes salvation for us. This we must do not only to be persuaded that he is its author, but to gain a sufficient and stable support for our faith, rejecting whatever could draw us away in one direction or another.

Here the necessity of looking to Christ alone is set forth. Our salvation is not merely a moment of conversion that is punched on a time-clock. It is something that is begun and must continue throughout our whole lifetime.

In Book III there are a number of passages that bear on the topic of apostasy. They are 2.6, 11, 12, 23; 3.18, 20, 21; 4.30; 17.6; 20.8; 21.5-7; 22.4, 6, 7, 10; 23.14; 24.6, 7, 8 and 25.1. The sections in chapter two focus on the nature of true faith. In these passages Calvin reminds us that faith and the Word of God are to be permanently related. As long as faith hears, listens and believes God’s Word, it is secure. But if it ceases, it is not true faith but an “uncertain credulity and error of mind.” Chapter three focuses in on the nature and necessity of repentance as that which must characterize us “to the very end if we should abide in Christ.” III.3, 21 is particularly forceful:

With this sort of vengeance the apostle threatens willful apostates who, while they fall away from faith in the gospel, mock God, scornfully despise His grace, profane and trample Christ’s blood (Heb 10:29). yea, as much as it lies in their power, crucify him again (Heb 6:4-6.) For Paul does not . . . cut off hope of pardon from all voluntary sins. But he teaches that apostasy deserves no excuse, so that it is no wonder God avenges such sacrilegious contempt of himself with inexorable vigor.

III.25.1 presents the last quotation concerning apostasy. Calvin admonishes: “Here then, we need more than common patience, that we may not in our weariness reverse our course or desert our post.”

Book IV contains the most material relative to the concept of apostasy as Calvin develops the idea. The sections that are relevant are 1.4, 7, 8, 9, 21; 2.3, 7, 8; 12.9, 10; and 15.3, 12, 13. Again, it must be kept in mind that here Calvin is dealing with the Church, “which as Mother of All the Godly We Must Keep Unity” (Calvin 1960, 1011). In IV.1.4 Calvin speaks of the “Visible church as the mother of believers.” And that

Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives. Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation . . . . By these words God’s fatherly favor and the especial witness of life, spiritual life, are limited to this flock, so that it is always disastrous to leave the church.

We do not have here a lapse back into Romanist patterns of thought. Rather, Calvin is reflecting the fact that we are called as creatures to live by the Word. And it is where the Word is faithfully preached that salvation is realized.

It is with this church that the concept of apostasy must be elucidated. As Calvin goes on to say in IV.1.7:

Sometimes by the term “church” is meant that which is actually in the presence of God those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit . . . Often, however, the name “church” designates the whole multitude of men spread over the earth who profess-to: worship one God and Christ. By Baptism we are initiated into faith in him; by partaking in the Lord’s Supper we attest our unity in true doctrine and love.

But he also recognizes that

In this church are mingled many hypocrites who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance. There are very many . . . Such are tolerated for a time either because they cannot be convicted by a competent tribunal or because a vigorous discipline does not always, flourish as it ought.

As the Word is preached and the keys exercised in their fullness the leaven is removed. Those who are hypocrites will reveal themselves and, by due process, will be cut off from the covenant community.

This is seen a bit more thoroughly in IV.1.8 Calvin notes

For those who seem utterly lost and quite beyond hope are by his goodness called back to the way: while those who more than others seemed to stand firm fall. Therefore, according to God’s secret predestination (as Augustine says),”many sheep are without, and many wolves are within.” For he knows and has marked those who neither know him nor themselves. Of those who openly wear his badge, his eyes alone see the ones who are unfeignedly holy and will persevere to the very end (Matt 24:13)–the ultimate point of salvation.

Calvin ends this section by giving the marks by which we recognize God’s children.

And, since assurance of faith was not necessary, he substituted for it a certain charitable judgment whereby we recognize as members of the church those who, by confession of faith, by example of life, and by partaking of the sacraments, profess the’ same God and Christ with us. (13)

Those who fail these are to be considered as apostates, unless they repent. Thus Calvin comments in IV.1.9.

Individual men who, by profession of religion, are reckoned within such churches, even though they may actually be strangers to the Church, still in a sense belong to it until they have been rejected by public judgment.

Therefore it is a matter for the Church, particularly its officers, to see to it that the whole counsel of God is preached and applied to the congregation. Those who want no part of the obligations laid upon them by Scripture will soon reveal themselves.

IV.1.21 deals with justification, the need to daily have our sins forgiven, and remaining in the church. He writes:

Not only does the Lord through forgiveness of sins receive and adopt us once for all into the church, but through the same means he preserves and protects us there. For what would be the point of providing a pardon for us that was destined to be of no use? Every godly man is his own witness that the Lord’s mercy, if it were granted only once, would be void and illusory, since each is quite aware. . .  of the many infirmities that need God’s mercy. And clearly not in vain does God promise this grace especially to those of his own household; not in vain does he order the same message of reconciliation daily to be brought to them. So, carrying, as we do, the traces of sin with us throughout life, unless we are sustained by the Lord’s constant grace in forgiving our sins, we shall scarcely abide one moment in the church.

This passage serves primarily as a source of comfort for us as we strive against the world, the flesh, and the devil. But also, it reminds us we must daily, even hourly, have recourse to the merits of Christ on our behalf. Not only must there be the granting and receiving of pardon at conversion, but there must also be a daily application of Christ’s merit to us. Without this “we shall scarcely abide one moment.”

IV.2.3 speaks of the false church. Here Calvin continues to elaborate the meaning of apostasy. He points out that   the false church, in this case, the Roman Catholic, has only a pretension to be the church. For,

If that Temple, which seemed consecrated as God’s everlasting abode, could be abandoned by God and become profane, there is no reason why these men should pretend to us that God is bound to persons and places, and attached to external observances, that he has to remain among those who have only the title and appearance of the church (Rom 9:6).

     Here Calvin stresses the corporate, and also the personal, character of the responsibility that the people of God have to remain faithful to the Lord. The concept of the Church must not become abstracted from its expression on earth. None in the Church, nor the Church in its corporate expression, can simply claim to have God as their Father who do not also listen and obey what He has spoken to them. As Calvin goes on to write:

Accordingly, after Paul has expounded the doctrine, he disposes of this difficulty [why the Jews rejected Christ], denying those Jews (as enemies of truth) to be the church, even though they lacked nothing which could otherwise be desired for the outward form of the church. He denies it, then, because they would not embrace Christ. He speaks somewhat more explicitly in the letter to the Galatians, where, in comparing Ishmael with Isaac, he states that many have a place in the church to whom the inheritance does not apply, for they are not the offspring of a free mother (Gal 4:22ff).

The reason why this is the case is given by Calvin. He states: “God willingly admits this and disputes with them on the ground that he is ready to keep the covenant, but that when they do not reciprocate, they deserve to be repudiated.” The covenant is broken, not because God is unwilling or unable, but because we, the apostates, are not willing. He is faithful to His word.

Calvin’s comments on IV.2.7, 8 follow in a similar line. He maintains that the “true church existed among the Jews and Israelites when they kept the laws of the covenant(7). But “having forsaken the law of the Lord, they sank into idolatry and superstition and partly lost that privilege.” Not all forsook the Lord, but many did, and it was to their eternal woe that they did. Calvin goes on in IV.12.8 to point out that there are “certain degrees” in falling away. Decline or apostasy, in most cases, begins slowly, here and there, in individuals, then in groups, finally culminating in the great mass seemingly rushing to perdition.

IV.12 speaks of “The Discipline of the Church.” In IV.12.9 he speaks of the “limits of our judgment according to Church discipline.” Here he states that we can “only judge of the character of each man’s works by the law of the Lord.” The word is the arbitrator, a binding arbitrator. And in IV.12.10 Calvin notes:

For when Christ promises that what his people “bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matt 18:18), he limits the force of binding to ecclesiastical censure. By this those who are excommunicated are not cast into everlasting ruin and damnation, but in hearing that their life and morals are condemned, they are assured of their everlasting condemnation unless they repent.

Those who believe and obey the word of the Lord in the gospel have the assurance of faith, of eternal life. Those who do not believe and obey the gospel have the assurance of eternal death. God is faithful to His word.

The final chapter to be discussed is number 15 on Baptism. Section 3 describes baptism as the “Token of cleansing for the whole life!” Calvin speaks of the fact that:

. . . we are once for all washed and purged for our whole life. Therefore, as often as we fall away, we ought to recall. . .  and fortify our mind with it that we may always be sure and confident of the forgiveness of sins.

But he does go on to say,

Nevertheless, from this fact we ought not to take leave to sin in the future, as this has certainly not taught us to be so bold. Rather, this doctrine is only given to sinners who groan, wearied and oppressed by their own sins, . . . Those who, counting on impunity, chase after the occasion and license to sin, provoke nothing but God’s wrath and judgment.

Not only the righteousness of faith, received from the merits of Christ’s obedience on our behalf, but the obedience of faith, as expressing our union with Christ is necessary. Those who have been properly baptized cannot claim, as Calvin notes of baptism, that “Christ’s purity has been offered us in it; his purity flourishes; it is defiled by no spots, but buries and cleanses away all our defilements.” For the purity of Christ is received by confessing our sins not by continuing them.

In IV.15.12 Calvin stresses the persevering of the saints. On Romans Calvin writes that:

. . . he [Paul) teaches that those whom the Lord has once received, into grace, engrafts into the communion of his Christ, and adopts into the society of the church through baptism--so long as they persevere in the faith in Christ (even though they are besieged by sin and still carry sin about in themselves)--are absolved of guilt and condemnation.

Here Calvin stresses the organic whole of the way of salvation. Perseverance is a constitutive element of that salvation. There is, as it were, an "already/not yet" character to the completed redemption that we have received by faith.

Finally, we come to IV.15.13. Calvin states:

Paul had this in mind when he asked the Corinthians whether they had not been baptized in Christ's name (I Cor 1:13). He thus implied that, in being baptized in his name, they had devoted themselves to him, sworn allegiance to his name, pledged their faith to him before men. As a result, they could no longer, confess any other but Christ alone, unless they chose to renounce the confession they had made in baptism.

Here Calvin, following Paul, challenges all who confess the Lord Jesus Christ as their only Savior: Will you hear, listen and obey the Word of Christ the Lord, or will you publicly renounce Him as you once publicly confessed him in your baptism?

Calvin's teaching concerning apostasy, as presented in the Institutes, can be summarized as follows. The teaching is found mainly in Books III and IV. Thus it centers around the application and retention of the redemption wrought by Christ. The key doctrine that apostasy is related to is that of faith. Calvin shows that it is not the faith that takes for granted the covenant God in the covenant relation, but it is the faith which receives, rests and lives on the basis of the Word of God in Holy Scripture that is given to those who will be kept by the power of God. The doctrine of predestination is not undermined or overthrown but placed in its proper perspective. We must live by the Word of God. That Word teaches us about predestination and the comfort we are to derive from it. But those predestined to eternal life and the predestined to eternal death do not live out their faith in the same way. The former worship and serve the Lord God. The latter worship and serve the creature and seek to deny that the true and living God is owed this obedience. Within the elect covenant community Israel, according to a first degree, there are those who do live up to the obligations stipulated by the Lord in the covenant they have been graciously brought into. This then brings out a second degree which differentiates those who do and those who do not seek God's grace and live by every word that God has spoken. The reason that some do and some do not persevere is located in a third degree of election by which God, secretly, by His Spirit, makes effective His calling and election of those given to Christ before the foundation of the world.

It now remains to take into consideration the teaching of Calvin concerning apostasy as it is found in his Commentaries. In studying the commentaries I have formulated approximately twenty categories to express the range of subjects Calvin relates to apostasy. I propose, in the interests of brevity, to go through the most representative categories and give a quotation of one or two passages for each. The numerous references found to date for each category will be put in an appendix and given in the approximate order that the commentaries themselves were written/published.

The categories are:

1)  Apostasy

2)  Warnings

3)  Threatenings

4)  Israel and Apostasy

5)  Israel and Covenant-Breaking

6)  Covenant

7)  Conditionality

8)  Mutuality

9)  Marks of the True People of God

10)  Hypocrites

11)  Justification and Sanctification

12) Faith

13)  Repentance

14)  Obedience

15)  Perseverance

16)  Election

17)  Reprobation

18)  Second Election/Restitution

19)  Remnant

20)  According to Appearances

21)  God's Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

The first category, and perhaps the most natural one, is that of Apostasy. A representative passage is found in his comments on Gal 4:9.

No words can express the base ingratitude of departing from God when He has once been known. What is it but to forsake voluntarily the light, the life, the fountain of all blessings, as He Himself complains through Jeremiah (2:13).

An example of Threatenings is found in Rom 8:13:

He adds a threatening, in order more effectually to shake off their torpor; by which also they are fully confuted who boast of justification by faith without the Spirit of Christ. . .  for there is no confidence in God, where there is no love of righteousness. It is indeed true, that we are justified in Christ through the mercy of God alone ;but it is equally true and certain, that all who are justified are called by the Lord, that they may live worthy of their vocation. Let then the faithful learn to embrace him, not only for justification, but also for sanctification, as he has been given to us for both of these purposes, lest they render him asunder by their mutilated faith.

In the category of Israel and Covenant-Breaking Calvin comments on Isa 63:8:

Nor does he treat of God's secret decree, but speaks after the manner of met about the mutual consent-between God and believers . . .

The Prophet shows what is the chief part of the service of God: namely, to have a pure and upright heart. Hence it follows that God forsakes us, because we are treacherous and are covenant-breakers.

Concerning the Covenant, the following comment is found concerning Isa 56:6:

Here he describes the zeal and stedfastness of those who submit themselves to God and cleave to his word; and therefore, if we are joined to God by a covenant, we ought t-o lay hold by it constantly, and adhere firmly to sound doctrine, so that it might not be possible to withdraw or separate us from him in any manner.

Another concept that Calvin relates to the Covenant is that of Conditionality. He writes on Isa 65:1:

But the Prophet intended to strip them of the foolish confidence of imagining that God was bound to the posterity of Abraham; for the Lord had not restricted Himself to them but on an absolute condition, and if this were violated by them, they would be deprived, like covenant-breakers and traitors, of all the advantage derived from the covenant.

Note that Calvin speaks of an "absolute condition" and of the possibility of its being "violated."

This leads us into a series of concepts related to Calvin's view of apostasy. The first is that of the Marks of the True People of God, second is Hypocrites, third, that of Justification and Sanctification. These are then followed by the categories of Faith and Perseverance. Representative of the Marks is the section on Ps 73:27:

This will be more easily understood by defining the spiritual chastity of our minds, which consists in faith, in calling upon God, in integrity of heart, and in obedience to the Word. Whoever then submits not himself to the Word of God, that feeling him to be the sole author of all good things, he may depend upon him, surrender himself to be governed by him, betake himself to him at all times, and devote to him all his affections, such a person is like an adulterous woman who leaves her own husband, and prostitutes herself to strangers. David's language then is equivalent to his pronouncing all apostates who revolt from God to be adulterers.

Of Hypocrites note the comment on Isa 26:2:

Now, as the Prophet foretells the grace of God, so he also exhorts the redeemed people to maintain uprightness of life. In short, he threatens that these promises will be of no avail to hypocrites, and that the gates of the city will not be opened for them, but only for the righteous and holy. It is certain that the Church was always a barn, (Matt iii.12), in which the chaff is mingled with the wheat, or rather, the wheat is overpowered by the chaff. . .

Justification and Sanctification are placed together because Calvin sees them as being given together in our union with Christ. I Cor 6:11 and Ezek 11:19-20 show this quite well:

I. Cor 6:11 He makes use of three terms to express one and the same thing, that he may the more effectually deter them from rolling back into the condition from which they had escaped. . .  His meaning is, that having been once justified, they must not draw down upon themselves a new condemnation--that having been sanctified, they must not pollute themselves anew--that having been washed, they must not disgrace themselves with new defilements, but, on the contrary, aim at purity, persevere in true holiness, and abominate their former pollutions.

Ezek 11:19-20 Hence, whenever our salvation is treated of, let these two things be remembered, that we cannot be reckoned God's sons unless he freely expiate our sins, and thus reconcile himself to us: and then not unless he also rule us by his Spirit. Now we must hold, that what God hath joined man ought not to separate. Those, therefore, who through relying on the indulgence of God permit themselves to give way to it rend his covenant and impiously sever it. Why so? Because God has joined these two things together, viz., that he will be propitious to his sons, and will also renew their hearts. Hence those who lay hold of only one member of the sentence, namely, the pardon, because God bears with them, and-omit the other, are as false and sacrilegious as if they abolished half of God's covenant.

Notice that Calvin does not make Sanctification the cause or merit of salvation. It is how, the way in which God leads us into the fullness of possession of the benefits He bestows freely upon us. The covenant consists of Justification and Sanctification. Neither is given without the other.

The category of Faith is taken up in Acts 2:41.

And therewithal he declares the nature and force of faith, when he saith, that with a prompt and ready mind they embraced his word. Therefore, faith must begin with this readiness and willing desire to obey. And because many do show themselves at the first very willing, who afterwards have in themselves no constancy or continuance, lest we should think that it was some sudden pang which by and by fell away, Luke doth also afterward commend their constancy, who (as he said) did willingly embrace this word of the apostles, showing that they were joined Therefore, we must neither be slow to obey, nor yet swift to leap back; but we must stick fast, and stand stoutly to that doctrine which we did forthwith embrace.

On Perseverance, a category related by virtue of disjunction, see Col 1:23:

This is an exhortation to perseverance, by which he admonishes them that all the grace bestowed upon them hitherto would be in vain, unless they remained in the purity of the Gospel. And thus he intimates that they are still enroute and have not yet reached the goal.

He afterwards notices the relationship between faith and the Gospel, when he says that the Colossians will be settled in the faith only if they do not fall away from the hope of the Gospel, that is, the hope which shines forth through the Gospel . . . . Hence he enjoins them here to shun all doctrines which lead away from Christ, and make men's minds occupied elsewhere.

In the next four categories Calvin takes up the relation between the decrees and apostasy. Concerning Election, Calvin's comment on Isa 33:24 is:

Hence, in the Creed we profess to believe in "The Catholic Church and the forgiveness of sins"; for God does not include among the objects of his love any but those whom he reckons among the members of his only-begotten Son, and, in like manner, does not extend to any who do not belong to his body the free imputation of righteousness. Hence it follows, that strangers who separate themselves from the Church have nothing left for them but to rot amidst their curse. Hence, also, a departure from the Church is an open renouncement of eternal salvation.

Two categories remain. These might be put under the idea of God's accommodation of Himself to us. The first is that of According to Appearances. I Cor 1:9 offers a good statement of this category:

Farther, although one cannot judge with the same certainty as to another's election, yet we must always in the judgment of charity conclude that all that are called are called to salvation; I mean efficaciously and fruitfully . . . .

Should any one object that many who have once received the word afterwards fall away, I answer that the Spirit alone is to everyone a faithful and sure witness of his election, upon which perseverance depends. This, however, did not stand in the way of Paul's being persuaded, in the judgment of charity, that the calling of the Corinthians would prove firm and immoveable, as being persons in whom he saw the tokens of God's fatherly benevolence. . . . The sum of all this may be stated thus, --that it is the part of Christian candour to hope well of all who have entered on the right way of salvation, and are still persevering in that course, notwithstanding that they are at the same time still beset with many distempers. . . . For effectual calling ought to be to believers an evidence of divine adoption; yet in the meantimes we must all walk with fear and trembling (Phil ii.12).

The second category is that concerning God's Sovereignty andHuman Responsibility. The two passages which may represent this category are Ezek 9:9 and 20:8.

Ezek 9:9 (From the opening of Lecture Twenty-fifth)

We began yesterday to explain God's answer, when he restrains the Prophet's feelings: for he complained of the destruction of the whole nation. There was a specious reason for it, because he thought in this way God's covenant was made vain. But God simply answers, that he does not exceed propriety in punishment. The question is not answered in this way: for the Prophet might still doubt how God's covenant remained firm and yet the people was cut off. But God does not in every way untie all the knots by which we are entangled: hence he leaves us in suspense, but while he does this, he wishes to prove our modesty, for if he satisfied us altogether, there would be no proof of our obedience.

Ezek 20:18 We know that this does not properly belong to God, but this is the language of accommodation, since first of all, God is not subject to vengeance, and secondly, does not decree what he may afterwards retract. Since these things are not in character with God, simile and accommodation are used. As often as the Holy Spirit uses these forms of speech, let us learn that they refer rather to the matter in hand than to the character of God.

Some categories of a broader scope will complete the discussion of Calvin on apostasy. The first is that of his commentary of the Book of Hebrews. Comments shall be taken from 4:10; 6:6; 11:33; and 12:14.

Heb 4:10 Because the completion of this rest is never attained in this life, we must always be striving towards it. Thus believers enter in, but on condition that they continuously run and press on.

Heb 6:6 In short, the apostle is telling us that repentance is not in men's hands. It is given by God only to those who have not wholly fallen away from faith. This is a very salutary warning for us not to keep putting off until tomorrow and thereby estranging ourselves more and more from God.

Heb 11:33 We must especially notice the clause that says that the promises were received by faith. Although God remains faithful even if we all disbelieve, yet our faithfulness [sic - faithlessness] makes the promises invalid, that is, ineffectual.

Heb 12:14 -Sanctification has special regard to God. . .  we must not let go of sanctification because it is the chain which binds us in union with God.

In these comments on Hebrews we find Calvin neither explaining away the force of the text, nor destroying the assurance of God’s people. He reminds them that apostasy is an ever-present danger, but it is not an ultimate danger. That is, in the sense that God’s decretive will can be overturned.

From the Ezekiel commentary is derived the last category. Given after each lecture, these prayers impress us with the seriousness of the idea of apostasy. The prayers at the end of lectures 19, 27, 44, 46, and 50 relate some important thoughts concerning apostasy. While 44 and 50 relate to the covenant, 19, 27, and 46 deal more with repentance and obedience.

At the end of Lecture Forty-fourth Calvin prays:

Grant, Almighty God, since thou deignest to receive us not only into confidence and dependence, but to the condition of sons, that we may worship thee with sacred love, and revere thee through our whole life as a Father; and may we so submit ourselves to thee as to feel thy covenant firm and sacred towards us; and may we experience that thou never callest men to thee in vain, so long as they obey thee and respond to thy promises; until at length we enjoy that blessedness which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord.

Calvin here speaks of God’s grace and of assurance, yet recognizes that we do not have knowledge of the particulars of the divine counsel concerning election and reprobation. And so there is the recognition that the creature must bow and serve the Creator, who is God and cannot be questioned as to His ways.

In a brief section of comparison, it is interesting that Calvin can pray “since thou deignest to enter into a perpetual and inviolable covenant with us” (Lecture Fiftysecond), and yet in Lecture Fifty will bewail the fact that “we have provoked thee, and rendered thy covenant vain . . . .” The covenant is both perpetual and inviolable and able to be rendered vain and broken. No doubt the resolution of this is to be found in Calvin’s doctrine of accommodation, where we find that we are to believe all that God has spoken to us, even the threatenings, but are never to accuse God of dissimulation, of hypocrisy, when it is clearly we who have failed to live up to the conditions of the covenant that God in His grace has put about us to protect us. Neither the specter of blank determinism nor the flux of indeterminism is the framework of how to understand Scripture (or Calvin).

But it is the covenant which accommodates to us the truths of God’s inviolable and supreme sovereignty and the responsibility that we, created in God’s image, and being renewed in that image, must respond in faith, repentance and obedience to what our loving Father has given us in His word.

The idea of repentance and new obedience is prominent in Calvin’s prayers. At the end of Lecture Nineteenth he prays:

Grant, Almighty God, since thou has recalled us to thyself, that we may not grow torpid in our sins, nor yet become hardened by thy chastisements, but prevent in time thy final judgments, and so humble ourselves under thy powerful hand, that we may seriously testify and really prove our repentance, and so study to obey thee. . .

And in Lecture Twenty-seventh he prays:

. . . as we know from thine ancient people how great our hardness is, unless we are inclined by thy Holy Spirit., nay, totally renewed into obedience to thy doctrine: that as often as we hear thy threatenings, we may, be seriously frightened, and that we may desire to return to true and perfect obedience, not by momentary but by permanent repentance, till-a-t length we are gathered into that happy rest, which has been obtained for us through the blood of thine only-begotten Son–Amen.

And finally, in Lecture Forty-sixth he prays:

Grant. . .  since thou hast hitherto sustained us, and since we are worthy of being utterly destroyed a hundred times, –Grant, I say, that we may repent of ourselves, and prevent that horrible judgment of which thou settest before us a specimen in thine ancient people: and may we so devote ourselves to thee in the true chastity of faith, that we may experience the course of thy goodness until we enjoy the eternal inheritance which thine only-begotten Son has acquired for us by his blood.–Amen.

Here faith, repentance and obedience are joined in an indissoluble relationship as they are the only appropriate response for redeemed creatures to give to their sovereign and gracious Father.

To try to summarize Calvin on Covenant and Apostasy, it is best said, perhaps, that he seeks to do justice to all Scripture. He shows a strong appreciation of the diverse nature of Scripture. He is cognizant of the fact that the truths of Election and Reprobation, and God’s foreordination of all things do not render docetic the truths of covenant breaking and apostasy. In fact, covenant-breaking and apostasy cannot exist or have meaning unless the sovereign purposes of God are true.


1.) He refers to Perry Miller, C. Fred Lincoln and C. C. Ryrie.

2.)  The first view is that propounded in the writings of Leonard Trinterud and J. Wayne Baker. The second lists Donald Bruggink and H. Rolston III as seeing in the federal theology a distortion of Calvin’s doctrine of grace. P. Althaus, K. Barth, A. Lang, J. Moltmann, 0. Ritschl, G. Schrenk and E. Sturm are listed as viewing the covenant as due to Melanchthonian influence.

3.)  Some of the above are also in this list. The additions are H. Heppe, W. A. Brown, J. A. Dorner, G. P. Fisher, C. S. McCoy, Brian Armstrong, J.W. Beardslee, W. Niesel, F. Wendel, etc.

4.)  Cf., Lillback 1981.

5.) For the most thorough documentation of the above, see Lillback 1985. This dissertation, in my opinion, is the most thorough inductive study of Calvin yet attempted concerning the covenant. In addition I have read Eenigenburg 1957, Hoekema 1967 and Kok 1985.

6.)My reason for not discussing Calvin’s views concerning the covenant in chapter two is that I planned to deal with his views of both covenant and apostasy in a separate chapter.

7.) Contra Eenigenburg 1957, 4, who writes: “It shall be observed at this point, too, that a sufficient appreciation and knowledge of Calvin’s views on the covenant and its place in his thinking will not be gained from a study of the Institutes alone. As a matter of fact, the covenant element in the Institutes is relatively minor.

8.) I have in mind here the three areas of the relation of the covenant to hermeneutics, justification, and to sanctification. All three are of immense and perpetual significance to the Christian community. Calvin has insights that have, to a large degree, been lost to the Church.

9.) All citations of Calvin’ s Institutes are from the translation of Ford Lewis Battles (Calvin 1960). All citations from Calvin’s commentaries will be by biblical book, chapter and verse. They are found in the reprint by Baker Book House, Calvin’s Commentaries 1981.

10.) One wonders if there is not a hint here of what will be called the “covenant of redemption” or “Pactum Salutis.”

11.) Unless otherwise indicated Hoekema is using the translation of Arthur Golding Sermons of Master John Calvin upon the Fifth Book of Moses called Deuteronomie (London, 1583).

12.) The commentaries that I have studied to date are those on Psalms 36-92, Isaiah, Ezekiel 1-20, Acts, Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, Peter, John and Jude.

13.) Lillback 1982, 230-232.


By Jack W. Langford

Posted by dtbrents
The idea that the New Covenant was designed for the Church of Jesus Christ is a
major misunderstanding in Christendom. Initially this misunderstanding grew with the
early “Imperial Church” (about 325 A.D.). The Greek and Roman churches presumed
that once national Israel was set aside, all the prophetic promises to Israel were
transferred instead to Christendom. “The Church,” they teach, becomes “The True
Israel.” This false teaching comes under the heading called “Replacement Theology.”
Most of Christendom has lived under this delusion for the last seventeen hundred years. It
is no wonder that ritualistic Christendom has also taken it for granted that some of
Israel’s holy services should be modified and practiced by the Church. The prophetic
promise to Israel of the New Covenant is one very important item which has been stolen
from Israel and theologically transferred to Christendom’s treasure chest. Even most
conservative, evangelical Christians, though not part of the Roman error, are erroneously
taught that they are living under the New Covenant. This is partly due to some honest
misunderstandings concerning several passages in the Gospels and the Epistles.
On the basis of this general misunderstanding our Bibles have been divided into
two sections. They are labeled “The Old Testament” and “The New Testament.” The
Church of course falls under the “New Testament” listing of Scriptures. Please
remember that the inspired writers of the Scriptures did not make these divisions. Like
chapter and verse divisions, the two main divisions were made by later publishers of the
Scriptures. All these were made in order to make the reading of the Bible easier and
more convenient for referencing. In many ways this may be handy and helpful, but at the
same time they are sometimes erroneous and confusing. The producers of many modern
translations of the Bible often feel the necessity of regulating the chapter and verse
indicators to less obvious places in the printed text because of some of the more obvious
errors in certain chapter and verse divisions that had been done in the past.
The same caution must be taken about the use of the terms “Old Testament” and
“New Testament.” The “Old Testament” of course has reference to the Old Covenant
Law of Moses. Yet the Law of Moses did not actually come into existence until after
some twenty-five hundred years of Biblical history had transpired. That means that all
the book of Genesis is most certainly not under the Old Covenant. Neither is the book of
Job which takes place in the vicinity of the times of Abraham. From the book of Exodus
until the death of Jesus Christ is only some fifteen hundred years in Biblical history and
this is the precise time that the Old Covenant was in effect. Of course this does involve
all the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, if we remember that Jesus Christ was
born and raised under the Old Covenant Law system (Galatians 4:4,5), then we can see
that the four Gospels, themselves, can be placed under the Old Testament as well.
True enough, under Christ’s ministry they were anticipating the New Covenant to
be established with the coming reign of the Messiah. However the Messiah was rejected
and the Messianic Kingdom was not set up and, as we shall see, the promised New
Covenant was never established. The promised Messianic Kingdom along with the New
Covenant was postponed till a later date of Israel’s final restoration.
Actually the present Church Age is parenthetical in nature. It was not foreseen by
the prophets and was a “mystery” time period revealed through the Apostle Paul (Eph.
3:1-7). The Church Age does involve a spiritual Kingdom (John 18:33-39; Rom. 14:17;
Col.1:13, etc.). Christendom usually totally confuses this spiritual Kingdom with Israel’s
prophesied physical Kingdom. The Church Age, sometimes called “The Age of Grace,”
more properly falls under the blessings guaranteed for Gentiles within the Abrahamic
Covenant promises (Galatians 3:6-9; Romans 4:13-25, etc.). The last book of the Bible,
the book of Revelation, has to do with the preliminary events leading up to the
establishment of the New Covenant Kingdom Age. Therefore, for clarity’s sake, the best
way to describe the Bible is simply by the designations “The Hebrew Scriptures” and
“The Greek Scriptures.”
The specifics of the New Covenant are clearly spelled out in Hebrews 8:7-13,
which is a quotation from Jeremiah 31:31-34. So now let us read the actual specifications
of the New Covenant as given by Almighty God through the inspired prophet and
through the inspired apostle who wrote the book of Hebrews.
Hebrews 8: v:8 “Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a
New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
v:9 not according to the Covenant that I made with their fathers in
the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land
of Egypt; because they did not continue in My Covenant, and
I disregarded them, says the Lord.
v:10 FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT that I will make with the house
of Israel AFTER THOSE DAYS, says the Lord. I will put My
Laws in their mind and will write them on their hearts; and I will
Be their God, and they shall be my people.
v:11 None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none of them his
brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from
the least of them to the greatest of them.
v:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins
and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
Now we here have the actual New Covenant contract before us. We need not try
to bend or distort it out of shape. It means exactly what it says—and the specifics are very
plain—note the following:
1.) The New Covenant is made with a very specific people, “The house of Israel
and the house of Judah.” There is no mistaking who they are! It is specified as the very
same people who had the Law Covenant made with them! This means flesh and blood
Israel! Now the apostle Paul warns us today to “Give no offense, either to the JEWS, or
to the GENTILES, or to the CHURCH OF GOD” (I Cor. 10:32). This means that in
God’s sight there are three basic peoples in the world. The JEWS are made up of “The
house of Israel and the house of Judah”; the GENTILES are all the other peoples in the
world; the CHURCH OF GOD is made up of saved Jews and saved Gentiles who are
baptized into Christ as “One New Man” (Eph. 2:15; I Cor. 12:13, etc).
Now, the New Covenant is NOT made with the GENTILES, nor is it made with
the CHURCH OF GOD! It is made only with flesh and blood “ISRAEL.”
2.) The specific time of instituting the promised New Covenant is “After those
days” (v:10). In the context of Jeremiah 31:31 is the promise that in the future God will
bring back Israel’s captivity—“I will bring back their captivity” (Jer. 31:23). And again,
“I will watch over them to build and to plant” (Jer. 31:28). So it is clear that after God
brings back the captivity of Israel, He will establish the New Covenant with them! Now
what “captivity” did God have in mind? It cannot be the Babylonian captivity because
that only lasted 70 years and the New Covenant was never established after a remnant of
Jews came back from that dispersion. However, in 70 A.D. the Roman armies totally
destroyed the Israelite nation, and the capital city of Jerusalem, and the Temple mount.
The Jews were led into captivity all over again, being dispersed all over the world and
have remained such for nearly 2000 years. In 1948 a remnant nation was established with
no fully recognized capital and no Temple, as of yet. So the actual time of the
establishment of this New Covenant is yet pending.
Of course THE CHURCH OF GOD has no captivity or dispersion, nor do the
GENTILES as such. Therefore, there is no “after those days” for them.
3.) The specified action of the New Covenant is two-fold: first, God will take
away the “sin” and “unrighteousness” of the nation of Israel; then God will place His
Laws into their “hearts” so that they might obey them.
The result of this two-fold action spells out three things: first, the national
salvation of Israel; and then, the fact that the Law will once again be established under a
New Covenant management by which the nation will operate; and finally, that God will
once again be their God and Israel will once again be God’s people.
4.) The specified effect of the New Covenant being established will mean that
there is no longer a need to evangelize their neighbors or their family members because
“all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.”
Obviously this never happened after Christ died and rose again from the dead
because the Church Age, beginning in the book of Acts, is characterized by the greatest
evangelism ever known on earth till this time.
As noted above, the New covenant will be established “after those days,” meaning
after Israel’s restoration. In addition, according to the divine revelation given to the
apostle Paul, which he shares with us in the book of Romans (Rom. 11:16-27), this
Covenant will be established AFTER the present time of Gentile “out-calling.” By the
metaphor of a tree, Paul gives a clear example of the breaking off of Israel from a place
of nearness to God and the grafting in of the Gentiles. He exhorts the Gentiles to not
boast or act haughtily against Israel, but remember that God can just as well break the
Gentiles off and graft Israel back in again. Then notice carefully what Paul reveals—
Romans 11: v:25 “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of
this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion,
that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness
of the Gentiles has come in.
v:26 And so all Israel SHALL BE SAVED, as it is written:
‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will
turn away ungodliness from Jacob (Israel);
v:27 For this is MY COVENANT with THEM, when
I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.’ (Isa. 59:20,21).”
Consequently, this revelation from the apostle Paul tells us precisely when the
New Covenant will be established in relationship to the present age. It will be established
AFTER the present age wherein God is dealing primarily with the “out-calling” of
individuals from Gentile peoples. (There are many other evidences of the future
establishment of the New Covenant, but these should suffice for the present purpose.)
Hebrews 8:6
Some have argued, “Doesn’t it say in Hebrews 8:6 that the New Covenant ‘WAS
ESTABLISHED’ by Christ!” Yes, it does say “was established.” However, Hebrews 8 is
quoting the whole of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and the words “was established” in verse 6 are
qualified in context as having reference to the New Covenant being “established UPON
BETTER PROMISES” at the time Jeremiah gave the prophecy. In other words, the New
Covenant was established upon better promises than the Old Covenant was. It most
certainly is not saying that the New Covenant was put into effect or “established” by
Christ for this Church Age. In quoting the whole of the prophecy the people of the
Covenant are clear, the time of the Covenant is clear, the results of the Covenant are
clear, and nothing should be changed or modified.
Hebrews 9:15-20
Some have argued, “Does not Hebrews 9:15-20 say that Christ is ‘the Mediator of
the New Covenant’ and that it goes into ‘force after men are dead,’ so that since Christ
died the new Covenant has gone into effect.” Yes, it does say that Christ is “the Mediator
of the New Covenant” and that a covenant “goes into force after men are dead.”
However, this is still not saying that the New Covenant “has NOW gone into force.” The
passage is simply saying that Christ’s death is the basis for the establishment of the New
Covenant. The author of Hebrews argues that such covenants require the shedding of
blood as did the Old Covenant and that Christ’s shed blood is the basis for the
establishment of the New Covenant. Therefore, the New Covenant could not have gone
into effect until some time after Christ, the Mediator of the Covenant, died.
If one remembers that this Age is parenthetical in nature, no one would know how
long a time would pass after the death of Christ before that Covenant would go into
effect. As we have seen, the New Covenant cannot go into effect until after the “fullness
of the Gentiles has come in” and after the restoration of Israel.
In the context of the book of Hebrews, it is repeatedly evident that the inspired
writer is focusing upon Israel’s hope of “the world (inhabited earth) to come” (Heb. 2:5).
He is assuring the Hebrew believers that though the Law “is now ready to vanish away”
(Heb. 8:13), God has not canceled out His promises to flesh and blood Israel. Therefore,
“the world to come” is precisely when the New Covenant promises will be fulfilled. (See
also Hebrews 9:28; 10:13; 10:37 & especially 12:22-28.)
I Corinthians 11:17-34
It is argued that since the apostle Paul passes on to the Corinthian church the
Lord’s Supper, which wine represented “the new Covenant in Christ’s blood,” it must
have meant that the New Covenant is in effect for this Church Age. In this connection it
is also argued that Christ instituted a “new supper” at that last supper before He died.
Now it just so happens that the last supper Christ partook of was “The Lord’s
Passover Supper”—see Luke 22:1, 7, 8, 11, 13 & 15. This supper was never designed for
Gentiles nor for the Church of God. In fact there were clear prohibitions against
uncircumcised Gentiles being present for that supper. At that supper Christ took the wine
and spoke of it as representing His blood, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in My
blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). In the immediate context (Luke 22:16 &18)
Christ twice explains that this supper will “be fulfilled in the Kingdom” at which time
Christ, Himself, would eat it again with them. In other words the New Covenant is a vital
part of the future Kingdom of God for the nation of Israel.
Now, during the book of Acts the Jewish members of the various congregations
still observed the Lord’s Passover Supper as they did most of the Mosaic Law (Acts
21:20-25). The fault of the Corinthians was that some of the Jewish brethren in the
assembly had also on occasion mingled the Lord’s (Passover) Supper with the assembly’s
love feasts in a divisive manner. Thus, Paul rebuked the assembly for allowing this to
happen. He instructed them in the holiness of that supper so that they would never mingle
it again even in the midst of drunkenness and gluttony.
In Acts we have a Transition
Out of Judaism Into pure Christianity
Most of Christendom fails to recognize the importance of the transition period in
the book of Acts. All Bible teachers realize that there was some kind of a transition out
of Judaism into pure Christianity during the book of Acts time frame. However, the exact
nature of it and the magnitude of it are never specified and remain blurred in their minds.
Some teachers even go so far as to condemn the apostles, including Paul, for still
observing the Law of Moses until late in the Acts period (see Acts 21:20-25). However if
one realizes that the Jewish converts were never told to stop the practice of the Law until
after the conclusion of the Acts period (in the book of Hebrews), one will better
understand what was happening.
The principle of progressive revelation to the early Christian community is most
important. The night of His betrayal, Christ told the disciples “I still have many things to
say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). “However,” Christ added,
“when He the Holy Spirit has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). The
Holy Spirit progressively guided the early church. The Holy Spirit directed Peter to go to
the first Gentiles, which meant a break on this subject from the Law of association with
Gentiles (see Acts 10 & 11:1-18). It is not until the middle of the book of Acts, at the first
council in Jerusalem (Acts 15), that Gentiles are clearly told they are exempt from the
practice of the Mosaic Law system (Acts 15:13-29). The Jewish believers are not
specifically told this until the book of Hebrews is addressed to them.
In addition to the Jewish believers still observing the Law during the book of Acts
time period, so it is also a fact that they were still expecting the possibility of the
Israelitish Kingdom with its New Covenant being established (see Acts 1:6; 3:19, etc.).
Like the Law observances that were “passing away” (II Cor. 3: 7,11 & 13), so the
“Lord’s Passover Supper” with its New Covenant promises would also be passing away
in their practice. The “meats and drinks and various baptisms” practiced under the Law
system were only “imposed until the time of reformation (i.e., the close of Acts)” (Heb.
9:10). In the book of Hebrews they are told “Now what is becoming obsolete and
growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13). For a more detailed explanation see
my three studies on the Lord’s Passover Supper, especially the one on I Cor. 11 — /carnal ordinances).
What Does It Mean That The Apostle Paul
Was An “Able Minister Of The New Covenant”?
As stated in II Corinthians 3:6
It has been generally understood that since Paul says they were “able ministers of
the New Covenant” this would mean that the New Covenant was in effect for the church
today! It is true that Paul says this, but the conclusion that the New Covenant was in
effect for the church today does not automatically follow. Paul could also very effectively
teach the Law (see—I Tim. 1:7-9; Galatians 3:19-25; 4:21-31 & Romans 7:1-25), but that
most certainly does not mean that the Old Covenant Law is in effect today. We are seeing
that the same is true of the New Covenant.
The answer to this question involves three primary areas of enquiry. They are the
following: 1) What, and to whom, was Paul’s “calling” as a minister of Jesus Christ?; 2)
What specifically is the New Covenant?; and 3) In what sense is Paul an “able minister
of that Covenant”?
First, as to Paul’s calling. Paul’s primary calling was to the Gentile peoples. Many
Scriptures establish this—see as examples Acts 22:21; 26:17,18; Rom. 11:13; Gal. 1:16;
Eph. 3:1; I Tim. 2:7 & II Tim. 1:11. However, this does not mean that Paul had nothing
to say to the Jewish people. On the very first occasion of Paul’s calling mentioned in the
book of Acts it very plainly says—“for he (Paul) is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My
name before Gentiles, kings, and THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL” (Acts 9:15). Notice
very surely that Christ had something for Paul to say to the Jewish people. This is one of
the very direct reasons why I believe that the apostle Paul most assuredly wrote the letter
to the HEBREW believers. There are clear internal evidences in the book of Hebrews
that scholars have noted for centuries proving the human writer of the book is Paul. In
addition to these reasons is the statement from the apostle Peter (who wrote to the Jews of
the dispersion (I Pet. 1:1) that Paul also wrote an inspired letter to them (II Peter 3:15,
16). All admit that the writer to the Hebrews was well-versed in the Law system. Whom
could Christ better select to write the letter to the Hebrews than the “Hebrew of the
Hebrews” (Philip. 3:5)?
Secondly, as to the particulars of the New Covenant, it is in the book of Hebrews
that we find the primary teachings about the New Covenant. All the particulars are there:
the people of the Covenant, the time of the Covenant, and the effects of the Covenant.
The writer (Paul) was certainly an “able minister of the New Covenant.”
Thirdly, this, of course, is the sense in which Paul was an “able minister of the
New Covenant.” He expounded on all its particulars in the book of Hebrews and also his
comment in Romans is essentially helpful in placing the time of the Covenant as it relates
to the present Age of Grace.
The whole context of II Corinthians 3 is Paul’s contrast of the past ministration of
the Law with the present ministration of the Spirit. Under the New Covenant the Holy
Spirit will be poured out upon the nation of Israel—see Ezek. 36:26,27 & Joel 2:28, etc.
Therefore the New Covenant lends itself to the contrast Paul is using because the very
same Spirit that will be poured out under the New Covenant is the Spirit that is now in
operation during this age of Grace.
What Paul is doing in II Corinthians 3 may be likened to what Peter did on the
Day of Pentecost when he spoke to the Jewish people (Acts 2). Peter likened Joel’s
prophecy to the present outpouring of the Holy Spirit which took place at Pentecost.
Bible students have known all along that nothing prophesied in Joel was actually
FULFILLED at Pentecost. And conversely, nothing that happened at that Pentecost was
actually prophesied by Joel. What then was Peter saying? Simply, that what has happened
there on the Day of Pentecost was the SAME Holy Spirit that Joel spoke of. We could
translate it, “This is that Spirit prophesied by Joel” (Acts 2:16). Never did Peter say that
the prophecy of Joel was “fulfilled” at Pentecost. So it is in this case of II Cor. 3. Nothing
prophesied about the New Covenant in the Hebrew Scriptures was fulfilled in what Paul
teaches about the Holy Spirit in II Cor. 3. Conversely, nothing that Paul says about the
Holy Spirit in II Cor. 3 was prophesied under the New Covenant in the Hebrew
Scriptures. However, it is of course the same Holy Spirit.
The present ministration of the Holy Spirit was unprophesied in the Hebrew
Scriptures. Nevertheless it is the same Spirit that will be poured out under the New
Covenant. Therefore Paul could say that they “are able ministers of the New Covenant—
NOT of the LETTER (the Law) but of the SPIRIT.” Then Paul continues to enlarge upon
the contrast between the Law and the Spirit.
In Finality
Paul would state before the last gathering of Jews he met, when he came to Rome
in chains, these words, “For the hope of Israel am I bound with this chain” (Acts 28:20).
That hope is the New Covenant Kingdom hope which is peculiar to the nation of Israel
and is vouched for in the death and resurrection of their Messiah. Like the earlier
generation of Jews, in the main, this group also rejected this good news. Consequently,
this will be the final recorded time Paul would speak to a group of Jews these words.
Likewise, this is the final time Paul would say—
“Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been
sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it” (see Acts 13:46; 18:6 & 28:28).
The book of Acts closes. After the two years Paul spent there, the inspired book
of Hebrews was composed and sent to all Jewish believers. That book glorified the Lord
Jesus Christ and gave the Jewish believers their own direct liberation papers from the
Mosaic Law system. Now, coupled with Romans, Galatians and the other Prison
Epistles, both Jew and Gentile believers could walk together outside the Law system in
pure Christianity. A few years later Jerusalem and the Temple were totally destroyed.
All the prophecies, definitions and qualifications concerning the New Covenant
were expounded upon in the Hebrew Scriptures—
Isa. 54:7-17; 59:20,21; 61:2b-9; Jer. 31:31-40; 32:36-44; 50:4,5; Ezek. 11:17-
20; 16:60-63; 20:37; 34:22-31; 36:24-28; 37:21-28; Zech. 9:10-17 & Mal. 3:1.
The only new information about the New Covenant that is added in the Greek
Scriptures is that Christ’s shed blood is the basis upon which the New Covenant will be
established. In addition, it will be fulfilled in the Kingdom after this present age of the
“out-calling” of the Gentiles—
Matt. 26:28,29; Mark 14:24,25; Luke 22:16-20; I Cor. 11:25; II Cor. 3:6; Rom.
11:25-27; Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15-22; 10:15-18.


by Rev. Jack Brooks

Two of the most dominant streams in the river of evangelical theology are Dispensationalism and Covenant (or Reformed) Theology. Dispensationalism was initially formulated in the late 1800s by Irish preacher John N. Darby, popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible and numerous Bible conferences, and is taught in most North American Bible colleges. The best-known Dispensational seminary is Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas. Well-known Dispensationalists include Charles Swindoll, Charles Ryrie, and Kay Arthur. Covenant theology has roots in the writing of Augustine and John Calvin, but was more clearly defined in the British Westminster Confession of Faith and leaders of the Dutch Reformation. It has recently been popularized in the Geneva Study Bible. Well known Reformed/Covenant leaders include R.C. Sproul and J.I. Packer. This system is taught at schools such as Reformed Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary.

These two systems share many common, orthodox convictions about Biblical prophecy. Both systems believe in the literal, future return of Christ. They both affirm God’s future judgment of the righteous and the wicked. They both believe in the translation of the saints into glory, and in the resurrection of the just.


However, Covenant Theology differs greatly from Dispensationalism in certain key areas of prophetic theology. Two important differences are listed below:

(1) Most Reformed thinkers do not believe that the reference to a 1000-year reign of Christ should be taken as a future event (Rev. 20:1-5). They regard this section of Revelation as a symbolic “recapitulation” of Christian church history, with Satan spiritually “bound” through Christ’s resurrection, the resurrection of souls being a symbol of new birth, and so on (see Cox’ booklet Amillennialism Today, Presbyterian & Reformed Pub.; also L. Berkof’s standard Systematic Theology, A. Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future). Although this view is often called a-millennialism, this is not quite accurate. The prefix “a” means “no”. Covenant writers do believe in a Millennium; but they define it non-physically and non-futuristically. Most Covenant thinkers accept the general idea of a final period of extreme apostasy and divine wrath just prior to Christ’s return.

There has recently been a resurgence of post-millennialism in Reformed circles as well. This is the belief that all the glorious O.T. predictions of a Golden Age for Israel will be fulfilled through the Christian Church prior to Christ’s return. Post-millennialism is an essential element in the Christian Reconstruction/Theonomy movement.

Some Reformed believers hold to historic pre-millennialism (which could be described as non-dispensational Premillennialism). This could also be called Covenant Premillennialism, and appears to be a minority opinion in Reformed/Presbyterian circles. This viewpoint can be found in several of the professors at Biblical Seminary (Hatfield, PA).

(2) Reformed writers believe that the translation of the saints into glory, the resurrection of the just, (1 Thess. 4:13-18), the return of Christ (Rev. 19:11-16), and the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15) all happen at the same time. (sequentially) I.e., they disagree with the teaching that the Rapture of the Church happens prior to the final tribulation. Most would teach that the Rapture happens at the end of the great tribulation (post-tribulationalism). Christ’s return ushers in the final regeneration of the cosmos, with no intervening millennium.


Covenant eschatology is controlled by several principles:

A non-literal method of O.T. prophetic interpretation (Berkof, pp.712-713)
A corresponding definition of the Kingdom as entirely spiritual (713-714)
A denial of the telescopic characteristic of prophecy (714). This term describes Biblical prophecy’s tendency to compress its features into a single picture early in Scripture, only to have later Scriptures progressively expand the elements both in terms of clarity and chronology.

But, underlying all three principles, is a single ruling doctrinal presupposition held by almost all Covenant theologians. That presupposition is that ethnic Israel is entirely and permanently disenfranchised, or cut off from their special relationship with God. If we assume that Israel is forever out of the picture, one must find some new way to fulfill O.T. prophecies (lest we find ourselves saying that many of God’s prophecies are unfulfilled, and thus open a gaping hole in our doctrine of Scriptural inspiration). Consequently, the O.T. predictions of a golden Messianic Age for Israel are transferred to the Church. The interpretive device used to justify this transfer is allegory. O.T. prophecies pertaining to Israel are taken as no longer pertaining to Israel in the future. Rather, they allegorically pertain to the Church in the present.


The key presupposition is whether Israel has been entirely disenfranchised. The position of the New Testament is that the Jews have never been completely and permanently cast aside by their covenant God. Paul states in his most absolute language that God has not cast away His foreknown nation, regardless of their disobedience and contrariness (Romans 10:20-21, 11:1-2). God is no more free to cast aside the Jews in toto than He is one of the Christian elect.

God’s commitment to Israel in this New Covenant era is illustrated by His salvific preservation of a believing Jewish elect, despite the nation’s generally widespread unbelief (11:3-6). He punished individual Jews for their unbelief toward Christ by hardening their hearts (11:7-10). But Israel’s national privileges (Rom. 9:1-5) and national vocation are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). Though broken off from the vine of His rich blessing through godless unbelief, God swears that He will again engraft the Jews back into their proper place of benediction if and when they repent (11:17-24). Paul writes this in reference to the unbelieving Jews then persecuting the Christians (11:28). It is impossible for the word “Israel” in this section to be an allegory for “Church” since it is a hardened, rebellious, and condemned “Israel”, in contrast to believing Gentiles, of which Paul writes.

In the past traditional Dispensationalism (exemplified by Dr. Lewis S. Chafer) has rendered itself vulnerable to Covenant critique by its one-sided denial of any continuities between Israel and the Church. However, Dispensationalism does not live or die on the assertion of an absolute antithesis between the two bodies. An absolute antithesis cannot be sustained from Scripture. The Christian Church finds her charter in sections of the Abrahamic covenant (see Galatians 3). Israel and the Church are sisters – separated now by the sword of Christ, but one day to be re-united as one (as embodied in the New Jerusalem, the architecture of which features both the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles, Rev. 21:12-14).


Is this topic merely a glass-bead game played by theologians with too much time on their hands? It can become that at times. Theologians are professionals at what they do, and professionals are prone to become so absorbed in the intricacies of their craft the they forget or neglect the practical implications of their findings.

There are some dire consequences for holding to a Covenant view of prophecy.

First, a covenant-theology view of prophecy tends to lead the Church into militant attempts to reconstruct the secular order into a Christian state. The transferal of O.T. predictions of a Kingdom Age from future Israel to the present Church encourages those who hold this view to seek to bring about the Kingdom right now. After all, if the Kingdom is happening right now, in and through the Church despite the absence of the visible Christ, then the Church must be God’s agent for bringing in the Kingdom. This will be accomplished through a two-pronged action: evangelism on one hand, and political force on the other.

This is a fools goal. The New Testament speaks of a preserving and ameliorating effect which the Word of God should have upon the social order. The idea that the law of Moses can, will, or should become the rule of law prior to Christ’s return is Biblically unfounded. Totally depraved souls have no more ability to surrender to the Law culturally than they can do so soteriologically. Covenant theology’s understanding of prophecy invariably leads to the errors of Theonomy/Reconstructionism. It enmeshes the Church into power politics, and leads her to think that God has given her the power of the sword. This is an undesirable regression to “Christian” Europeanism.

Second, a covenant-theology view of prophecy encourages a superficial, double-standard hermeneutic. It is necessary to gloss over the details of prophetic texts in order to sustain Amillennialism. My own substantial exposure to Reformed literature over the years has given me the impression that Reformed writers (with notable exceptions) are strong on philosophy, creeds, and history, but very shallow on ordinary inductive exegesis. The very depths of exegetical oceans may be probed in a commentary on Romans, but prophetic passages such as the latter chapters in Isaiah are handled very lightly and superficially.

Doctrinal generalizations are spun out like web-strands from superficially examined texts. The rules and intensity of exegesis applied to II Corinthians are almost never applied to The Book of Zechariah. I say that the reason for this is that the standard rules for grammatical-historical exegesis, when applied to Old Testamental prophetic literature produces pre-millennialism. Since most Reformed writers have an a priori, creedal, and institutional commitment to Amillennialism, they will not exegetically “permit” a pre-millennial interpretive result to happen.

Third, a covenant-theology view of prophecy leads to an unscriptural view of Satan’s current power. On one extreme we see the “power evangelist” literature, which is almost Zoroastrian in the formidable powers it attributes to the Devil. In the Reformed camp we see not a naturalistic world view (the silly, glib slander which the Vineyard and other Third Wavers use to characterize their critics), but a theological underestimation of Satan’s contemporary abilities. Covenant theology teaches that Satan is “bound” right now – this is their allegorical interpretation of Rev. 20:1-3. Imagine the implications which that assumption would have upon your views of sanctification. Christian counseling? Missions in pagan nations?


Pre-millennialism is important because of the interpretive approach it signifies, and its interrelatedness with one’s doctrine of the Church. Dispensationalism is correct in its belief that God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.

(Rev. Jack Brooks can be contacted via email at

Covenant theology

Covenant theology. Read full article
o of the most dominant streams in the river of evangelical theology are Dispensationalism and Covenant (or Reformed) Theology. Dispensationalism was initially formulated in the late 1800s by Irish preacher John N. Darby, popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible and numerous Bible conferences, and is taught in most North American Bible colleges. The best-known Dispensational seminary is Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas. Well-known Dispensationalists include Charles Swindoll, Charles Ryrie, and Kay Arthur. Covenant theology has roots in the writing of Augustine and John Calvin, but was more clearly defined in the British Westminster Confession of Faith and leaders of the Dutch Reformation. It has recently been popularized in the Geneva Study Bible. Well known Reformed/Covenant leaders include R.C. Sproul and J.I. Packer. This system is taught at schools such as Reformed Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary.

These two systems share many common, orthodox convictions about Biblical prophecy. Both systems believe in the literal, future return of Christ. They both affirm God’s future judgment of the righteous and the wicked. They both believe in the translation of the saints into glory, and in the resurrection of the just.