This post is really in response to a discussion I’ve been having in the previous post to this one (‘The Ground of the Atonement’). Given the nature of Covenant theology, we have “Covenants;” these “Covenants” are parsed out differently, even amongst Federal theologians. Some of these theologians have three, but usually it is two (the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace). Here is how the Westminster Confession of Faith describes these two ‘Covenants’:

I. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant.

II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

III. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe. . . .

Here is how one of the original framers of Covenant theology (or Federal theology), Caspar Olevianus, understood the Covenant of Grace — here recounted by Lyle D. Bierma,

A search for the ground or basis of the covenant of grace in Olevianus will uncover not one but three such foundations, better understood, perhaps, as  a single foundation with three levels. The first and uppermost level is Christ Himself in His role as eternal High Priest. It is as Priest that He offered up Himself as a sacrifice for our sin and obtained our righteousness before God. And it is as eternal Priest, ascended and seated at God’s right hand, that He preserves forever the covenant blessings obtained below. The death of Christ is the foundation of the covenant promised to Abraham, therefore, in the sense that it was on the cross that the covenant promise was “founded,” or established or confirmed. Indeed, it was both a necessary and sufficient foundation. The establishment of the eternal covenant of grace depended on the death of Christ, but His death would have been in vain if it were not also the only way our reconciliation with God could have been procured. (Lyle D. Bierma, “German Calvinism in the Confessional Age,” 76)

In the post below this one, I said: “The ‘Federal Calvinist’ makes God’s love for ‘elect’ humanity a byproduct of something else being met first, viz. the the penalty for ‘Law-breaking’ — the ‘ground’ of His love is that the requirements of the ‘Law’ are met . . . .” This seems to be in agreement with what the Westminster Confession of Faith says on ‘The Covenants’, and it does not disagree with what Bierma is saying per Olevianus’ Federal Theology, in fact it dovetails.

My point here is simply this, in the ‘Federal scheme’ salvation is framed through a contractual arrangement (a bilateral or diplueric covenant system); man (in the first Adam) was to keep His end of the ‘pact’, and then God would keep His (covenant of works) — quid pro quo. Man failed, God initiated His plan of salvation in Christ (based upon His decree — I’m of course speaking temporally here); Christ met the conditions of the covenant of works (in man’s place), but in order to secure this, a penalty had to be paid, first. In other words, God’s grace, and its enactment for man were conditioned or ‘grounded’ upon a ‘forensic’ footing. Since man broke the Law (cov. of works), man must pay for his crime. Since God is gracious, he becomes man, meets the conditions of the Law (active obedience); but none of this means anything unless He also pays for the “crimes against God.” In other words, God’s acceptance of man in Christ all hinges upon this payment (passive obedience) — or as Bierma said above: The death of Christ is the foundation of the covenant promised to Abraham, therefore, in the sense that it was on the cross that the covenant promise was “founded,” or established or confirmed. Indeed, it was both a necessary and sufficient foundation.

God’s grace, God’s love for man, in ‘Federal/Covenant theology’ is grounded upon the atonement of Christ (the cross); if He does not meet the conditions of the Covenant of Works, but more importantly, if He does not ‘found’ or ‘establish’ the Covenant of Grace (payment for sin) at the cross . . . then the contract/covenant is nullified. Love/grace for man is not attainable. This is why I said that the ‘atonement’ or the ‘cross’ serves as the ground of God’s love for humanity (in ‘Federal theology’) — versus God’s free determining life of love. God is subserviant to His decrees, He cannot love us until the conditions and legal requirements are met in the covenant of works and grace.

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