"A Summary of Institutes of Elentic Theology, 'Twelfth Topic: The Covenant of Grace and Its Twofold Economy in the Old and New Testaments,'" by Francis Turretin, Translated by George Musgrave Giger, Edited by James T. Dennison Jr.

Summarized by Rev. Nathan Lewis

Question 1: What are the origins and meanings of the words, "bryth," "diathekes," "foedus," "epangelias," and "evangelium," ?

(Introductory remarks: "You must understand the law of God to grasp the Covenant of Grace. This covenant is "the center and bond of all religion, consisting in the communion of God with man and embracing in its compass all the benefits of God towards man and his duties towards God." In this study "peculiar accuracy" is needed!)

"bryth" - Possible Hebrew derivations:

  1. "to eat" (covenant ceremonies usually included a feast for both parties);
  2. "to choose" (the action of establishing parties, conditions, & sanctions);
  3. "he has purified and declared" (a covenant does both);
  4. *The best option = "To cut in pieces" (Genesis 15; Jer 34:18; Gal 3:15-17)

    Excursis - Galatians 3:15-18:

    (15) In a covenant between two human parties, once the terms are set, they can't be changed;

    (16) "The promises" are part of the terms of the covenant; in God's covenant with Man, God spoke the terms. These promises were set for Abraham and his seed, Jesus Christ;

    (17) The law does not set aside the terms already set at an earlier date; the covenant's terms set in Abraham's day were "the promises;" the law is a further explanation and unfolding of these terms; the law is not a new covenant that nullifies the previous covenant, it is an extension of the same covenant of grace; (what about Hebrews 8? see excursis below);

    (18) The inheritance depends upon the terms of "promise," not upon "law." The key = the seed = Jesus Christ, who fulfills the legal terms so that the terms of promise may apply for all children of Abraham.

    "diatheke" - Greek word referring to a covenant or agreement (Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; 7:8; Romans 9:4; Gal.3:15);

    -also used peculiarly to refer to "a testament" (Mt.26:28; I Cor.11:25; Hebrews 9:15-16) Why?

    1) an inheritance is promised in the covenant of grace, (which necessarily demands the death of the testator);

    2) for our advantage only was this covenant made, as in a testament where the advantage is not of the testator but of the heirs;

  5. the execution of the conditions are peculiarly entrusted to the virtue and fidelity of only one party, that is, to God!

-The N.T. usage explains the peculiar nature of the covenant of grace by reference to "testament." (Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; Gal.4:24);

(Nathan's Notes: Some would insist that the covenant has been replaced by a testament. A testament is one person deciding to give his inheritance upon his death to whomever he chooses. This is certainly what Christ did for us. But he did it within the terms and context of the covenant of grace. In his life and death he kept the terms of the covenant and paid the penalty for Man's breaking of the terms. He did not do this to abolish the covenant, to render it null and void, but rather to maintain it as the communal bonds between God and Man. What about Hebrews 8? See excursis below.)

-In Hebrews 9:15 the idea of "testament" is not only emphasized, but linked to the covenant! (Now, it is not a peculiar use of "covenant" but of "testament" that we encounter. For in a testament, nothing is expected of the heir. But in this testament, which is a covenant, the heir is expected to exhibit faith and obedience. Read the whole of Hebrews.)

"foedus" - A Greek term referring to a pact/agreement entered into between God and Man, consisting partly in stipulation of duty (or of the thing to be done) and partly in the promise of a reward.

A little LXX study:

1) in Genesis 9:9 the meaning refers solely to promise;
2) in Genesis 17, I Kings 8:21 the meaning refers to the symbols of covenant reality (also in Luke 22:20);
3) in Daniel 11:28,30 the meaning refers to the people of the covenant as "the covenant" itself!
4) in Isaiah 49:8 unusually refers to the Messiah as "the covenant" himself!

Excursis - Hebrews 8: Bible students may be wondering up to this point, "If the covenant of grace begins at the Fall of Man into sin and endures until the second coming of Christ, what about Hebrews 8?" Hebrews 8 seems to declare the covenant that was operative in the days of Moses to be "obsolete," replaced by a new covenant established with the first coming of Jesus. The Westminster Divines used Hebrews 8 as a proof text for their distinction between two "administrations" of the covenant of grace: 1) the administration of law; and 2) the administration of gospel (Chapter 7. V - VI). Why did they opt for this distinction when it seems as if the language points to two distinct covenants, not two administrations of one covenant? The answer: The language is a distinction not of terms , but rather a distinction between the promise of the terms fulfilled and their actual fulfillment in Christ. The second administration is an unfolding of the mediatorial fulfillment of the covenant of grace while the first administration was the promise of such mediatorial fulfillment.

(1-6) The terms of the first have not become obsolete; Jesus, the great high priest, comes to fulfill all that the high priests in the first administration communicated through roles and rites of promise; the second administration is "a better covenant" because the promise has been fulfilled in the coming of Christ who keeps the terms of the covenant of grace. Once he has done so, the covenant of grace takes on a profoundly different administration! Why then, "which has been enacted on better promises" ? Have the promises changed? No, but the surety of them has come. Prior to the first coming of Christ, the promise was that he would indeed fulfill the demands of the covenant of grace. In his first coming, these demands are met in his work of perfect obedience and perfect sacrifice. All of God's children are thus justified! His work is once for all. So now, what are the promises that still remain after the work of the first advent is accomplished? The promises of Sanctification and eternal glorification - a final end to all of the curse of sin and death upon God's good creation. These promises are better in the sense that the finished work of Christ has occured and is the down-payment, thus the absolute surety that the completion of our salvation shall occur upon his second advent.

(7-12) What was "faulty" in the first administration of the covenant? Certainly not God's promise but Man's participation. What was wrong with Man's participation? It was connected to the symbols pointing to the fulfillment. Israel's failure to be obedient resulted in their losing the benefits of the symbols - i.e. the Promised Land. But the Promised Land is a symbol of the new heavens and new earth. Just because it is a symbol does not mean that it is "fake" nor "intangible." Israel lost real land; God "did not care for them" (9). But with the coming of Christ Jesus, the reality is secured. The symbol promises are lost forever since they are part of this cursed age and have served their purpose in pointing to the fulfillment. But there is still hope for covenant breakers who look to faith in Christ who ushers in the ultimate promises of the covenant which shall surely be fulfilled for all of God's children in Christ Jesus. (10-12) is prophetic language from the first administration that is assigned to the reality of the new heavens and new earth in the book of Revelation, part of the second administration's literature!

(13) So how do we interpret this verse? It seems quite clear that there are two distinct covenants after the Fall of Mankind (Genesis 3). Don't be so quick. Take into consideration the points above, then read (13) in context. What aspect(s) of the first administration of the covenant are "obsolete" ? Certainly all that symbolically pointed to Christ, the fulfillment since he has come in the flesh! Have the terms become obsolete? NO. Jesus said, "I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it." Does the law, then have an enduring role in the church in these last days? YES. So there is continuity between the first and second administrations of the covenant. Hence it is the same covenant which takes on a drasticly new look because of the coming presence of Jesus. Has the aspect of grace become obsolete? No. Under the first administration, only through the forgiveness and gifts of God do the blessings flow. And so it is in the second administration. Therefore it is essentially one covenant of grace which explodes into a greater flowering of blessings than ever could be imagined prior to the coming of Jesus.

What does the last sentence mean?!! Simply this: the day of glorification is soon approaching. When the final and eternal reality dawns, we will cease this talk and longing for it, for we shall be consumed in it, enjoying the blessing forevermore.

"epangelia" - Greek for "promise"

-not "fleshly seed" but sprititual seed;

-distinguished from the land of Canaan (Heb.11:9) and all other earthly promises given to the Israelites;

-distinguished from the promise of life to the doer (which, the laws having been once violate become void through the fault of man);

*refers to the Messiah, spiritual & eternal benefits to be bestowed by him (Rom.4:13,14; Gal.3:16-18; Rom.9:8; Eph.1:13; Acts 1:41)

Promise = God fulfilling both parts of the covenant! "not only God's blessings fall under the promise, but also man's duty; not only the end, but also the means and conditions leading us to it."

"evangelium" - Greek for "good & joyful tidings"

-Old Testament referred to as "gospel" (Rom.10:16; Gal.3:8; Rom.1:1-2)

-New Testament referred to as "gospel" (Gal.3:14; 2 Tim.1:1) (another reason to view the present covenant of grace to be one unified covenant from the Fall til the end.)

-Other words used to refer to the covenant of grace:

    -"the oath" (Luke 1:73);
    -"sure mercies" (Is.55:3);
    -"the law of faith" (Romans 3:7);
    -"ministration of righteousness" (2 Cor.3:6,9).

Question 2: What is the Nature of the Covenant of Grace?

(Introduction: The Motivation for God to enter into Covenant of Grace. "God wished in every age to have a church in which he might dwell and which might cherish communion with him for the fruition of happiness, so it pleased him to institute that communion in no other way than that of a covenant."

The Necessity of the Covenant of Grace was the vast chasm between God and Man which was bridged by "wonderful condescension through which God was willing to let himself down from the incomprehensible splendor of his majesty to the most miserable state of his creatures." - compare to WCF, Ch.7.I)

A. "A Quasi-Contract"

"Properly and strictly speaking there can be no covenant between God & Man because they are entering into a "contract between 2 equals."

B. Two Covenants:

1. Legal covenant made with innocent Adam, with the promise of eternal life to the man perfectly fulfilling the law & threat of death for the sinner;

2. Evangelical covenant with fallen & sinful children of God, promising safety in Christ on account of Christ.

-The first covenant is broken; God is pleased, then, to instituted the second.

-What is the covenant of grace? "a gratuitous pact entered into in Christ between God offended and Man offending." In it God promises remission of sins & salvation to Man on Christ's account; In it Man, relying upon Christ, promises faith and obedience.

C. The Author of the Covenant = God

-Why does he author the covenant? "it is his good and free will to do so."

-Who specifically? The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

D. Instruments of the Covenant:

1) The Word - moral law kills the sinner; gospel reveals the grace of God, and the righteousness of Christ;

2) The Sacraments....

a) signs of the substance of the covenant;
b) seals of God's Promise (Rom.4:11);
c) restipulations by which we bind ourselves to God (I Peter 3:21);
d) symbols of our confederation.

E. The Contracting Parties:

1. God offended

-Which role of God is primary in the covenant of grace?

Creator Lord? No. Legislator Judge? No. Father Redeemer? Yes. (Rom.5:8-11; 8:15-17; Eph.2:3-10)

-Have we offended God in all of these roles? YES. But most profoundly we have offended him as Father Redeemer.

2. Man offending

-Not simply in our role as creature or upright and just creature have we offended God;

-But in our role as children of wrath, alienated from God and his life.

3. The Mediator - Reconciling offending Man with his offended God!

-As Man, the Mediator suffered bloody death, the only way sin could be expiated. (= the means of atonement).

-As God, the Mediator's work has infinite value, surpassing the measure of the creature and power to overcome death once for all.

(It is "superfluous to dispute whether this covenant of grace was made with Christ as the contracting party, as the 2ne Adam, or not.)

F. The Pact Between the Father and the Son:

1) The will of the Father giving his Son;

2) The will of the Son offering himself (Philippians 2:1-11).

-The pact is expressly mentioned in Luke 22:29; Isaiah 42:1-6; 49:6,8.

G. The Mediator's Three Roles:

1) Priest (Psalm110:4);

2) Prophet (Isaiah 61:2);

3) King (Psalm 2:8).

The Son accepts and accomplishes these roles! (Heb.10:5-7; Gal.4:4; John 17:4,5, 11, 17).

H. Three Periods of the Covenant of Grace:

1) In destination - "from eternity in the counsel of the most holy Trinity, Christ was given as a sponsor & Mediator to the church (Prov.8:223;

I Peter 1:20; Psalm 2:7,8);

2) In promise - "God immediately, as the offended party at the Fall, offered himself for the actual performance of those things which he had promised from eternity." He also began to initiate the three roles of the Mediator prior to Christ coming in the flesh;

3) In execution - The incarnation of Christ (Hebrews 10:5,7)

I. The Two-Fold Obstacle to the Covenant of Grace had to be Removed:

1) On God's part, his emnity on account of man's sin;

2) On Man's part, his emnity on account of God's righteousness.

The Mediator:

1) Reconciles God to Man by receiving God's wrath, meant for us, upon himself;

2) Reconciles Man to God by bestowing his righteousness upon the elect of God.

J. The Things Covenanted:

1) God's Part - That he would be our God (Gen.17:7,8; Ex.20:2; 29:45; Dt.5:2-6; Jer.24:7;30:22; 31:33; Ez.11:20; Zech.13:9; 2 Cor.6:16 Heb.8:10).

2) What is implied in this promise? (not the broad reality of God's authority, care, and dominion. This applies to all his creation...)

BUT, it refers to:

a) Federal relation (Christ is our representative just as Adam was our representative.)

b) Gracious communion (resulting in immortal life and happiness).

3) All the saving benefits are inumerable! But there are 4 principle benefits:

a) Reconciliation (God is not only at peace with us, but gives himself to us!)

b) Communion of goods (All good things are given by God to us!)

c) Conformity to God (through the work of God transforming us!)

d) Constant & eternal love (God uniting us to himself!)

4) Man's Part - Our Duties Required in the Covenant of Grace:

a) Separation from the world & consecration to God;

b) Worship & obedience;

c) Faith & repentance.

Question 3: Is the Covenant of Grace conditional and if so, what are its conditions?

(Introductory explanation: "This question was occasioned in a former age by the controversy about justification against the papists and was agitated among the evangelicals themselves, some of whom denied that the promises of the gospel [or of the covenant of grace] are conditional, while others affirmed that they are; those holding the former position that the law might not be confounded with the gospel and the promises of each; those holding the latter, however, that the necessity of faith and holiness might not be impaired and libertinism introduced. But it is easy to reconcile these views by laying down some distinctions.)

Concern #1 - The Bible presents the Covenant of Grace depending upon the sole good will (eudokia) of God and not upon the merit of Man;

Concern #2- Yet the Bible also presents expressed condition in the Covenant of Grace (John3:16; Romans 10:9; Acts 8:37; Mark 16:16); God is bound to Man thus Man is bound to God in the Covenant of Grace;

Concern #3- The promises in the Covenant of Grace are made upon the conditions of faith and repentance, but the promises that God will himself give faith and repentance are not conditional;

Concern #4- Without these conditions (which are freely given by God) met, no one shall see God.

Explanation = The Law and Gospel are Distinct:

Difference #1 - "in the matter"

1) the legal condition is an entire & perfect obedience to the law (Romans 10:5);

2) the evangelical condition is faith, not perfect & free from all blemish, but living & sincere (I Tim.1:5; James 2:14);

Difference #2 - "in origin"

1) the legal condition is natural from natural strength;

2) the evangelical condition is supernatural depending upon grace;

Difference #3 - "in the end"

1) the legal condition connects a meritorious cause with the promised result, "Do this and live";

2) the evangelical condition is based upon (charisma) "pure gift" of God (Romans 6:23).

*The evangelical condition is merely an instrument (necessary nonetheless)! (Acts 26:18; Rom.5:15; Heb.11:6)

Example of the Differences = "When Christ answers the young man inquiring what he must do to inherit eternal life ("Keep the commandments" Mt.19:17), he does not mean to teach that the same obedience is demanded in the same manner in both covenants. In his answer to the man, he did not act as an interpreter of the covenant of grace, but of the Mosaic Law, that he might convict this boastful legalist (wishing to be saved by the law) of his own inability and thus bring him to the Mediator."

What are the condition(s) ?

1) Faith:

-Faith is an instrument of God's grace;

*Faith is a "package-deal" inseparable from...

1) Man's sinful condition; "faith can consist only with the condition of sinful man because in the first moment of justification there is nothing in him except faith which can please God."

2) satisfaction and righteousness of the Mediator who is the object of faith;

3) eternal life and the gift and inheritance of God (Rom.3:24,25; I Cor.1:30; Eph.1:3,4; 2:8);

4) promise of life in the gospel already purchased by Christ!

*Faith does not consist of but subsists with righteousness and obedience:

faith = instrumental righteousness

obedience = organic righteousness

gives vs. faith receives

righteousness consists in the mutual love of God


faith consists in a persuasion of God's love!

(Faith always leads us to Christ to submit to him and to enjoy him. Faith leads us to be united to Christ Jesus.)

2. Are there any other conditions?

-If the broad, improper sense of "condition" is used to refer to all that Man is bound to afford in the Covenant of Grace, then repentance and obedience unto life can be classified as conditions....

-But if the narrow, proper sense of "condition" is applied, then, faith alone is the condition.

-If "condition" is used to refer to the sole antecedent to entering the Covenant of Grace, than faith is the sole condition....

-But if "condition" is used to refer to subsequently, necessary action within the Covenant of Grace, then repentance and obedience can be referred to as "conditions."

Question #4: How do the covenants of works and of grace agree with and differ from each other?

A. They agree in these generalities:

1) in their author being God;

2) in their contracting parties being God and Man;

3) in their general end being the glory of God;

4) in their extrinsic form being that of a covenant;

5) in their promise being life and happiness, heavenly & eternal.

B. They disagree in these details:

1) author

Covenant of Works = Creator & Lord;

Covenant of Grace = Redeemer & Father;

2) parties

Covenant of Works = God & Man;

Covenant of Grace = God, the Mediator, and Man;

3) foundation

Covenant of Works = Man's obedience and strength & nature of his free will;

Covenant of Grace = Christ and his obedience;

4) promise

Covenant of Works = life and happiness;

Covenant of Grace = salvation unto life and happiness;

5) condition

Covenant of Works = "Do this and you shall live";

Covenant of Grace = "Believe and you shall be saved";

6) end

Covenant of Works = declaration of justice;

Covenant of Grace = mercy & exceeding love of God;

7) manifestation

Covenant of Works = in nature and upon the hearts and consciences of Man;

Covenant of Grace = supernatural revelation to spiritually blinded people whose eyes are opened by H.S.

8) order

Covenant of Works = precedes;

Covenant of Grace = follows;

9) extent

Covenant of Works = universal;

Covenant of Grace = for the elect;

10) effects

Covenant of Works = drives Man away from God because no one can do it;

Covenant of Grace = calls Man back to God through Christ who has done it.

Question 5: Was the covenant of grace one and the same as to substance under each dispensation? We affirm against the Socinians, Anabaptists and Remonstants.

The Issue = The Unity of the Covenant of Grace:

1) The three above mentioned groups are listed together by Turretin as those who affirm that "the fathers of the Old Testament were not saved by the gratuitous mercy of God in Christ, the Mediator (God-Man) through faith in him about to come."

-Turretin quotes proof from the Socinian's Racovian Catechism;

-Turretin quotes proof from the Remonstrant's allegiance to Arminius' writings;

-Turretin quotes proof from the Anabaptist's Frankenthal Colloquy.

Statement of the Question: Turretin clarifies that the issue is not whether or not there are differences between the dispensations of the covenant of grace, but whether or not there are differences in the substance and essential parts of the covenant of grace in the Old Testament from the covenant of grace in the New Testament.

The question is not whether or not the Old Testament fathers were saved by God, but whether or not they were saved through Christ just as we are.

Did they receive spiritual as well as temporal blessings? Did they receive the Holy Spirit? Did they receive eternal life?

Turretin says "Yes" to all of these questions...

Reasons for the answer:

1) The Bible connects the covenant made with Abraham with the covenant made in the New Testament (Luke 1:68;70-73; Gal.3:8; Acts 3:25; Romans 4:3;Gal.3:17);

2) The principal parts of the covenant is similar in both dispensations;

3) The Mediator is present and same in identity in both dispensations - He is the seed of the woman (Gen.3:15; Heb.2:14; Rom.16:20; Gen.22:18; Gal.3:16; Is.63:9; 42:6; 49:8; 53:5,6; I Tim.2:5; Heb.13:8; 8:6;9:15; Acts 10:43; 4:12; John 14:6);

-Turretin makes reference to his opponents who object to his use of Hebrews 13:8 as support for this continuity. They insist that this text refers to the doctrines Jesus taught. Turretin insists that it refers to the person and work of Jesus.

-He also refers to his difference in interpretation of Acts 15:11. His opponents say the comparison is between the Apostles, Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians, who are not apostles. Turretin insists that the proximate context compares New Testament Christians to Old Testament Christians. Peter's point is this: He wishes that the yoke of the ceremonial law not be placed upon these Gentile Christians because the Old Testament fathers themselves were not able to bear that yoke! "If the apostles had wished to join themselves with the Gentiles in the manner of salvation, they would not have said we believe that we are saved even as they; but rather visa versa, they even as we."

-He also takes issue with his opponents insistence that Acts 4:12 applies only to the New Testament age.

-Turretin uses Revelation 13:8 to illustrate that we must take all of the connected phrases together. "from the foundation of the world" is necessarily connected to "the Lamb slain." This statement is true and operative for all citizens of heaven whether they lived upon the earth prior to Christ's first advent or after.

4) The condition of faith is the same in each;

5) "The same spiritual promises were given to them with us, although often under the shell and veil of temporal things." Certain spiritual blessings are conferred upon believers under the New Testament which had already been promised and given to Abraham (Acts 3:25,26; Gal.3:8,9) including the gift of the Holy Spirit (Gal.3:14; Ezk.36:26,27), justification and remission of sins (Gen.15:6; Ps.32:1; Is.43:25; Jer.31:33; Acts 10:43), sanctification (Dt.30:6; Ezk.36:26; Ps.51:12), eternal life and the resurrection (Mt.22:31-32, Gal.3:18; Heb.9:15; 11:10; Is.55:3; Job 19:25; Ps.16:10; 22:26; Dan.12:1,2).

Other Objections Addressed:

1) Not valid argument that the promises were given "to" the fathers but not "for" them;

2) Not valid argument that Christ's prophecy in Mt.22:32 was too obscure to be perceived by the father or that it refers only/specifically to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to no one else;

3) Not valid argument that Abraham and the fathers looked for a heavenly city not because it was promised to them but because they wanted it;

4) Not valid to interpret Job 19:25 as referring only to temporal deliverance;

5) Not valid to restrict Daniel 12:2 to the restoration of the Jewish people from the terrible calamity they suffered under Antiochus;

6) The sacraments under both dispensations are same in substance, both signifying and sealing Christ and his benefits.

-circumcision is called the "seal of the righteousness of faith" in Rom.4:11;

-The Passover is fulfilled in Christ (I Cor.5:7);

-Both baptism and the Lord's Supper are ascribed to the fathers (I Cor.10:1-4);

-To us circumcision is ascribed (Colossians 2:11,12) and the Passover (I Cor.5:7).

7) The Law of Moses instructed the fathers concerning grace (see past lessons).

Further Explanations:

-The gospel is spoken of in two ways: 1)The gospel promised and 2)the gospel manifested. The former refers to the Old Testament, the latter to the New Test.;

-In Mark 1, "The beginning of the gospel" refers to the historical account of the fulfillment of the gospel coming in Christ Jesus. It is not teaching us that this is the first mention nor promise of it to God's people;

-The Law and the prophets "prophesied until John" (Mt.11:13) does not mean that now, in this New Testament, there is no legal aspect to the covenant, nor that grace was never legally declared in the Old;

-It is one thing to say that the covenant of grace is less clear in the Old Testament than in the New, and it is quite another thing to say that the covenant of grace does not exist under the Mosaic Law, but does exist under the New Testament;

-I Peter 1:12 refers to the fathers not seeing Christ in the flesh, but does not exclude them from the benefits of Christ the Mediator;

-(Heb.11:39,40) The better thing offered us that the fathers did not have is not faith, nor salvation but the clarity of the apostolic witness;

-The gospel is sufficiently declared in the Old Testament;

***The Law of Moses does not encompass the entire concept and substance of "covenant" in the Old Testament. It is a tool used of God to drive his people to embrace Christ by his grace. (Heb.7:19) refers to this law and does not prove that Old Testament fathers were not made perfect by the covenant;

-(Heb.9:8) does not mean that Old Testament fathers were not received into heaven for (Matthew 22:32) proves that they did. Rather this text teaches that the tabernacle ceremonies in themselves could not open the way to heaven on account of their weakness and inefficacy and that as long as these ceremonies existed, the more clear revelation of the way to heaven, that is, Christ Jesus' appearance and testifying, would not yet appear;

-People losely use the term "Old Covenant" to refer to the covenant of works made with our first parents, or to the second covenant of grace, made with them after the fall and confirmed in the dispensation of the Mosaic economy. The term "New Covenant" is taken generally to refer to the covenant of grace as it is illustrated in the New Testament. The "Old Covenant" is antiquated in the sense of its administration not in its substance!

-"The promises of the new covenant" are said to be "more excellent" (Heb.8:6), relatively, not simply. -Not in regard to substance, but to clarity of presentation;

-(Rom.3:21; 4 point to the fathers being justified by the righteousness of faith;

-There is no conflict between Moses, the mediator, pointing toward Christ Jesus, the Mediator;

*The faith of the fathers was not only "the believing that Christ was to come," but "the believing in Christ who was to come." (Acts 19:4,5);

-Just because the two men on the road to Emmaus misunderstood the nature of Jesus' kingdom, does not mean that all the fathers misunderstood;

-Not ingnorance but spiritual blindness makes one unable to see the light of the gospel;

-The Holy Spirit promised in the New Testament does not prove that he was never granted to believers in the Old Testament (Ps.51:11,12, 143:10; Is.44:3; 59:21; Ezk.36:27; 39:29; Hag.2:5). The Holy Spirit was relatively "dispensed both more sparingly and to fewer persons and, as it were, drop by drop. Now it flows in great abundance and like a river inundates the whole church (Jn.7:39). What was visibly begun on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17,18) ought to be continued invisibly under the kingdom of Christ even until the consummantion of the ages."

Question 6: Was the covenant of grace ever universal either as to the presentation or acceptance? NO.

Is the covenant of grace made with every single person who has ever lived or who will live? NO.

The Issue: The extent of the covenant of grace.

I. The Remonstrants: The covenant was made with the whole human race so that no nation nor individual ought to be said to be excluded from it.

II. The Universalists: The covenant was made with the whole human race so that no nation nor individual ought to be said to be excluded from it.

This camp is split into 2 groups:

A) Those who say that the covenant of grace applies to every single nation and person in regard to presentation (objective grace);

B) Those who say that the covenant of grace applies to every single nation and person not only in regard to presentation but also acceptance (objective and subjective grace).

II. The Reformed:

The covenant of grace is particular, applying only to the true elect of God.

-An important distinction:

1) Invisible Church = the exact number of the elect, which only God knows, who have been granted the "internal calling;"

2) Visible Church = all those who have associated with the community of the saints and who regularly receive the covenant blessings that flow from the "external calling," namely, the preaching of the word, the administration of the sacraments, the fellowship of the saints....

III. The Statement of the Question:

A. It is clear to most members of all the above mentioned groups that innumerable persons perish and are without the benefits of the covenant of grace;

The real question concerns "the purpose and intention of God in sanctioning the covenant of grace - whether he regarded each and all or only certain persons." We deny it.

B. It is clear that the external call to faith was particular in the Old Testament and that most members of the above mentioned groups agree. (Psalm 147:19f);

The real question = "Does God summon each and all to the covenant of grace by a real call through the works of nature?" We deny it.

C. The question is not whether or not there are more than one way unto salvation;

The real question = "May a person be saved through Christ without the knowledge of Christ?" We deny it.

D. The question is not whether or not God bestows blessings upon all people;

The real question = "Are these blessings saving, flowing from the covenant of grace and the merit of Christ and are dispensed by God, as Father and Redeemer, with the intention of their salvation?" We deny it.

IV. The Covenant of Grace is Particular

A. From its destination:

"There was no universal purpose and will in God to pity the whole human race, but a particular will to select and appoint unto salvation a certain number from the common, corrupt mass."

B. From its procurement (to obtain or accomplish):

-Christ accomplished the work of uniting God the Father to his children. The result of this work is particular so the work itself, if it was accomplished, is particular. Therefore, the intent of God, in executing the work and the result, must be particular.

-The other option is to assert that God did not accomplish what he intended to do in full.

C. From its promises:

-The promises belong to the elect, not each and all. Therefore the fulfillment belongs to the elect alone.

D. From the promulgation (to openly declare):

-The covenant of grace has never in history been declared to each and all. The declaration is made universally but this does not assure that every single person hears it. The declaration is broadcast by children of God, with no consideration for special qualifications in the hearers; and no boundaries are set for the declaration. In this sense, it goes out universally.

But this does not mean that each and all hear it.

-Our 20th Century goals to translate the Bible into every tongue are proper and we may achieve these goals by the mid 21st Century. But what we can not do is make every single person read or hear the declaration. The fact of the matter is that in Abraham's day, innumerable persons never heard the declaration because it was never given to them. The same is true in our day, and most likely true for the future.

-As soon as we translate the Bible into the last tribal language on the Wycliffe list, three generations of Americans will include masses who have never cracked open an English Bible, nor darkened the doorway of a Church to hear the declaration, nor ever hear from a friend the gospel.

-None of this is meant to be an argument against our doing everything possible to declare the covenant of grace to everyone. We are commanded to do so.

-The issue is this: Can we in our failures and shortcomings, cause God's plan to fail? Did God will that every single person hear the declaration and now, we have ruined his plan?

-Romans 10:14f.

-Acts 14:14-18.

-"Nor does what is added have any force - if the gospel is not preached everywhere, it is owing to the negligence of men who are wanting in their duty or to the righteous judgment of God, punishing in this way the unbelief of parents who formerly (when it was offered to them) made themselves unworthy of it. For from whatever source the deficiency may arise, it is a fact that the gospel has never been preached to multitudes who, therefore, have no knowledge either of Christ or of the covenant of grace. Now if God seriously intended their salvation, if he willed to extend the covenant of grace to them, why was he unwilling that it should be revealed to them? Why did he not correct the negligence of men, which he undoubtedly foresaw? Again when it is said that God deprives people of the light of the gospel because of their parents rendered themselves unworthy of it by their unbelief, two things are assumed which need proof. First, that the gospel has already been offered to all people without exception (which no one would readily say of the inhabitants of the New World.) Second, that God willed in this way to punish in the children unbelief of their parents ( which can hardly be admitted by those who deny the imputation of sin.)"

E. From the knowledge of Christ:

-The covenant of grace extends to those who have also been granted knowledge of Christ as Mediator.

-What about infants or retarded people?

"These two things are so connected that they cannot be separated with respect to adults. Christ does not save except as known and apprehended by faith. Otherwise what need would there be of the gospel, if salvation could reach us without the knowledge of Christ? Nor is this crude doctrine confirmed either by the example of infants, who are saved by Christ without knowledge of him. It is clear that they are not capable of having it on account of their age ( which cannot be said of adults); or of the believers of the Old Testament, who were saved without at least a distinct knowledge of Christ. Besides being a gratuitous supposition that they were without knowledge of Christ (the opposite of which was proved in the previous question), the divines with whom we treat do not deny that a t least under the New Testament a distinct knowledge of Christ is necessary. And since multitudes still at this day are without it, it cannot be said that they were included in the covenant of grace, which is founded upon Christ."

F) From the sealing of the covenant:

-The external sealing - the sacraments - is the "peculiar property of the Church."

-The internal sealing by the Holy Spirit is given only to the members of Christ (Ephesians 1:13).

G) From the absurdity of confounding nature and grace:

-The first gospel promise, Genesis 3:15, is "far from being universal." It is particular.

-"seed of the woman" is contrasted with "seed of the serpent." (Hebrews 2:14,15);

-The New Testament applies this first promise to believers to the exclusion of others (Rom.16:20; I John 2:14, 5:4,18; 2 Cor.2:14; Heb.2:14,15; Rev.12:11);

-The wicked are called the seed of the serpent (John 8:44, I John 3:8; Acts 13:10; Mt.3:7; Eph.2:2).

-The covenant made with Noah was universal in regards God's promise to never again destroy by deluge the world. But it does not follow that the covenant of grace (renewed with Noah as to eternal salvation) was made universally. This promise is particular (Gen.9:25,26; 10:11,12).

Question 7: Why did God will to dispense the single covenant of grace in different ways? In how many ways was it dispensed? And what was its economy?


1) The substantial unity of the covenant of grace has been already proven in prior questions;

2) There are two main economies of the covenant of grace - the Old Testament and the New Testament. These are best summarized and distinguished in Hebrews 1:2;


A. His mode of acting demanded it:

-He does not seem to accomplish great things together and at once in redemptive history, but rather, successively and by various steps;

-Why? So that his wisdom and power might be more clearly perceived;

B. The condition of the Church demanded it:

-Galatians 4:1 - God deals with her in infancy differently than when she has bloomed into maturity....

-This explains the progressive unfolding of revelation.

C. The dignity of the Messiah and the excellence of the work to be accomplished by him:

-Christ was not revealed, nor began his earthly mission from the beginning of the covenanat of grace, but rather, "In the fullness of time," came....

D. The nature of things demanded it:

-Until the fulfillment, the apex of Christ's first coming into history, the nature of things is properly obscure;

-But when Christ is revealed, the nature of things is properly clear.

-Sample of the progression of revelation in the Old Testament:

1) Gen.3:15............2) Gen.12:2.........3)Gen.49:10..........

4) II Sam.7:13........5) Is.7:14.............6) Mic.5:2.............

7) Dan.9:24-27.......8) Is. 53...............9) Mal.3:1............

II. The Old Testament stretches from Adam to Christ:

*The Old Testament does not solely refer to the Mosaic economy (II Cor.3:14; Heb.9:15; 8:13);

*Sometimes, for particular reasons, the Bible connects the Old Testament specifically to the Mosaic economy (John 7:22).

-Much is made in some circles concerning this connection in the following texts:

(Dt.5:2,3; Jer.31:32; Gal.4:24). The best explanation of these texts is that the connection concerns only the mode of communicating the covenant of grace, not the substance/content of the covenant of grace;

-The Mosaic economy does not change the substance of the covenant of grace, but presents it in a different manner with more form than what preceded; -i.e. There was shedding of blood sacrificially prior to the Mosaic economy, so when the New Testament refers to this, we must not only assume the reference is to the Mosaic economy, but the whole of the Old Testament (Heb.9:18; 10:20; John 2:22); (Here Turretin also lists three citings from the apocryphal book of I Maccabees).

III. Three ages in the Old Testament of the Covenant of Grace:

A) The first age - from Adam to Abraham;

-Gospel in seed form (Gen.3:15);

-It is expressed in terms of the ultimate conflict between Christ and Satan, with the promise of Christ's victory.

B) The second age - from Abraham to Moses;

-Genesis 12:3 proclaims not only temporal blessings but spiritual and heavenly blessings to Abraham and his seed;

-Galatians 3 applies this gospel promise to 1) justification; 2) adoption;

3) conversion; 4) promise of the Holy Spirit; 5) glorification (Mt.8:11; Lk.16:23);

-The promise is federal, "to Abraham and to his seed after him" (Gen.17: 17);

-Conditions are present: 1) Faith (Gen.15:6); 2) conversion and the desire of sanctification (Gen.17:1);

-Difference between this second age and the first age: first had sacrificial rites, but the second has a sacramental seal, namely, circumcision.

C) The third age - from Moses to Christ:

-gospel proclaimed in sacrificial ceremony (Ex.24:6-8; Mt. 26:28); Passover is instituted;

-The Law was openly declared (as we have seen the law in the Mosaic economy preaches the gospel as well, driving everyone to Christ and the merciful forgiveness of God the Father);

-The author and Giver of the Law is God himself;

-Angels are ministers in bringing the law to God's people (Heb.2:2; Gal.3:19; Acts 7:53; Dt.33:2);

-Moses is the human mediator of the law (Acts 7:35; Heb.3:2,5; Dt.5:31);

-The manner of giving the law was majestic and terrible (Ex.19:13;16-19; Heb.12:18,19, 21);

-Is the Decalogue the covenant of grace? (Here we go again!)

-Yes, in the sense that grace cannot be conceived without the holy demmands of God in his law; The decalogue is part of the gospel presentation;

**The law was not declared to give life in itself (Gal.3:21), or that the promise made to Eve and to Abraham might be abrogated (Gal.3:17); Instead, the law was declared so that the sins of God's humanity might be clearly exposed so that grace might be clearly seen, understood, and appreciated.

-The law is a "schoolmaster" convincing pupils of their sin, instilling in them the fear of death and despairing of themselves; bringing them face to face with God's holy and righteous demands;

-In other words, we cannot have a presentation of grace in any age which does not include the righteous and holy law of God;

-"Therefore it pleased God to administer the covenant of grace in this period under a rigid legal economy - both on account of the condition of the people still in infancy and on account of the putting off of the advent of Christ and the satisfaction to be rendered by him...In this respect, the law is called the letter that kills (2Cor.3:6) and the handwriting which was contrary to us (Col.2:14), because by it men professed themselves guilty and children of death, the declaration being written by their own blood in circumcision and by the blood of victims. The other relation was evangelical, sweeter, inasmuch as the 'law was a schoolmaster unto Christ.' and contained 'the shadow of things to come' (Heb.10:1), whose body and express image is in Christ."

IV. The External Economy of the Old Testament:

-The law's three aspects - moral, ceremonial, forensic;

-The moral is fundamental while the ceremonial and forensic are appendices of it;

-The purpose of this external economy = to move people to reject their own righteousness and to embrace God's provided righteousness of his true Son;

-The marks of this external economy: 1) promise of the Messiah; 2) obscurity; 3) bondage for those who only embrace the external apart from the internal (to be discussed next); 4) rigor and severity; 5) purity of the flesh.

-The external economy is also: 1) weak in itself because it has no true ransom in itself, nor the accompanying power of the Spirit to subdue the flesh and to furnish strength to fulfill the law; it can drive you to the source of your salvation but it can not save you in itself; 2) mutability because it consists of outward and temporal signs and symbols; 3) glory and splendor because it was presented by God who is holy and glorious.

V. The Internal Economy of the Old Testament:

-latent under the external economy;

-the internal pertains to the substance of the covenant of grace;

-it contains both Christ himself and his sufferings, crucifixion, death, and glory; *Hence the gospel is said to have been formerly a hidden mystery (Rom.16:25);

-it also contains the promises of God, both temporal and spiritual: 1) remission of sins and justification; 2) adoption; 3) sanctification; 4)the gift of the Spirit; 5) resurrection; 6) eternal life.

VI. The New Dispensation:

A) Consists of the incarnation of the Messiah;

B) Consists of the abrogation of the ceremonial law;

C) Consists of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Question 8: How do the old and new covenants differ from each other; whether essentially (as to substance of doctrine) or accidentally (as to the manner of dispensation)?


* The Old Testament broadly embraces 1) old doctrine, partly legal, partly evangelical; 2) an old servile form of worship and ecclesiastical service, laborious and shadowy; 3) the old method of external polity bound to one people and place;

*The Old Testament strictly denotes the covenant of works, or the moral law given by Moses - the unbearable burden of legal ceremonies being added, absolutely apart from the promise of grace. These two, since they are presented intertwined are often confused. The Jewish system has confused them and so Paul makes the two clear (Romans 10:3-5; II Cor.3:14).

*The new covenant broadly refers to the covenant of grace made with sinners throughout history, not only in the New Testament but also in the Old Testament.

Differences between the Old and New Testaments:

The orthodox maintain that the difference between the Old and New Testaments is only accidental, not essential (as to the circumstance and manner and degree of the thing); not as to the thing itself, which was the same in each.

1) Time - The Old precedes Christ, and the New follows him; The Old refers to Christ who is to come, while the New declares that he has come. (Lk.10:23-24)

2) Clarity - The Old is shadowy in ceremonies and types of things to come; The New presents the mysteries clearly. (II Cor.3:18; Heb.10:1; Titus 2:11)

3) Easiness - The Old administration and service were burdensome; The New is straightforward and simple in comparison.

4) Sweetness - The Old emphasizes the law and its demand for perfect obedience more than the New which offers more frequent gospel promises.

5) Perfection - Although the Old Testament had an essential perfection as to the substance of the covenant of grace, still it did not have an accidental perfection as to degree. The whole of that economy was typical and shadowy, differing from the new not less than a shadow from the very image; a thin shadow and rude outline from a living and express image.

Hence the apostle attributes weakness to it (Heb.7:8-10) while treating of the imperfection of the Levitical priesthood.

This imperfect priesthood is replaced with the perfect priesthood after the order of Melchizadeck.

6) Freedom - The Old held saints under the spirit of bondage (Rom.8:15). Although they were sons of God, they were treated as minors, or infants, held under the strict schooling of the law (Gal.4:12). But in the New, a freedom is declared because Christ has appeared! (Gal.4:26; Is.61:1,2; Rom.8:15; II Cor.3:17)

7) Amplitude - The Old was mostly restricted to one nation while the New is universal.

8) Duration - The Old has become antiquated (Heb.9:10; Jer.31:31); The New is immutable and perpetually endures until the consummation of the ages. (Heb.7:16; Rev.14:6)

Question 9: Did Christ, under the Old Testament, have a surety giving security or a surety promising security?

*A mediator is a necessity in the covenant of grace, in order to reconcile the sinful human party to the Holy God.

*The question is concerned with Christ, the Mediator, paying the debt for sin in history. The demand for payment was made of the Old Testament saints, yet Christ did not pay it until his earthly mission.

Although under the Old Testament, the payment had not as yet been made, it does not follow that the fathers were still so bound to it that it could be demanded from them. The payment was to be made only by the sponsor, from whom alone it must be sought and expected, according to God's eternal decree and covenant. However, on account of the union subsisting between us and Christ (while Christ has satisfied for us) it is the same as if we ourselves had made satisfaction by him (II Cor.5:15,21); still less accurately could the faithful under the Old Testament be said to have been bound to the payment to be made by the Mediator.... For neither did we put Christ in our own place; yea, we did not even form any such idea, but he was freely given to us. Nor could we give to him any power or ability to do what he did for us.

*Some people may wonder or argue whether Christ Jesus could legally take our place and bear our sin. This is not an issue since the Bible makes it clear that Christ voluntarily undertook this work (John 10:18; Phil.2:5f)

Question 10: What is the state of the fathers under the Old Testament?

(The question is not, whether actual obtainment of reconciliation and of the remission of sins by the payment of the ransom was made in the death of Christ for Old Testament saints. But rather, "when was it applied to them?" The question is not, whether remission of sins effectively came to them through the animal sacrifices, for we know this is not the case (Heb.7:;18; 10:1-3). Rather, "Did the grace of Christ effectively come to them as it was communicated to them through the animal sacrifices and other rituals. The question is not whether the understanding and receiving of remission of sins, of peace, and of consolation occurred to the same degree in the Old as it does in the New. Rather, "Did the fathers have actual remission of sins....?")

The question = Were the sins of the Old Testament saints so translated to Christ, the surety, that in virtue of the payment to be made in his own time, they obtained a true and full remission of all their sins and from a sense of it (if not full and perfect, still true and real), they could have a tranquilized conscience and enjoy solid consolation? YES.

"We do not deny that an important distinction comes between the state of believers of the Old and New Testament....the law ( by its threatenings) terrified the consciences of sinners and held them under a slavish yoke."

Proof that the fathers were not under guilt:

1) from the surety of Christ - The work of Christ assures true and absolute deliverance for all people of faith, for all of the elect;

2) from the nature of the covenant of grace - this covenant promises reconciliation with God by grace;

3) from the guilt of sin - both original sin and actual sin produce the guilt of sin. All who are under the guilt of sin are obligated to receive the punishment for sin; the fathers of the Old Testament must have experienced, then, freedom from the guilt of sin;

4) from the justification and salvation of the fathers - Abraham was justified by faith, as were David, Daniel and a host of others;

5) from justifying faith - (Rom.4:3-5; Gal.3:6; Heb.11:2; II Cor.4:13).

6) from their sanctification - sanctification frees a person from the dominion of sin while justification frees a person from the guilt of sin. The two go together. The person who receives justification also receives sanctification. We believe that the Old Testament saints were free from the guilt and dominion of sin in virtue of the death of Christ working retroactively on their behalf.

Helpful Notes:

"It is one thing to live under a legal economy; another, however, to be under the law as a covenant or to be of the works of the law. The fathers are rightly said to have been under the legal economy, but not in like manner can they be said to have been under the law as under a covenant for seeking righteousness and life under it (or to be of the works of the law). As many as are under the law in this manner are under the curse (Gal.3:10), which cannot be said of believers."

"Since the Devil has no power over man except from sin, either as to its guilt (by accusing him before God) or as to its dominion (by tempting him and holding him under a state of sin) or as to its punishments (afflicting and tormenting him, in accordance with the avenging justice of God), it cannot be truly asserted that the fathers were still under the power of the Devil. They were delivered both from the guilt of sin by justification and from its dominion by sanctification and from the punishments following it by the redemption of Christ and the power of the covenant of grace. Now although sin was not as yet abolished (i.e. expiated by an actual expiation through Christ), still it was abolished with respect to believers by remission (already granted in virtue of the transference of it to the surety and of the satisfaction to be made by him). "

Excursus on Expiation:

expiation = the casting away of sin from us; blotting out the record of our sin.

(Since Turretin's day, the use of the term "expiation" has become controversial. Recent translators have used the term "expiation" where properly the term "propitiation" ought to be used. What's the difference between the two?)

Propitiation = the turning away of God's wrath by an offering.

This term does not mean merely the cancellation of sin nor merely the forgiveness of sin. It also means that God's wrath is satisfied in finding its target upon the representative for the guilty parties, who becomes the offering for the whole group. It refers to God's relationship with humanity being affected by sin. If God's wrath was not propitiated, then actual persons would be destroyed by his wrath, not merely their sin, as something separate from their nature.

Expiation refers to the removal of sin from the the person who committed it. This term may be properly used, but should not replace the term propitiation in contexts where the message is more than the removal of sin. In contexts where the message is clearly that sin has ruined God's relationship with humanity, and that this relationship is the primary concern, then the term "propitiation" ought to be used.

Note: Many of us have been taught to "hate the sin but love the sinner." In other words, we are to distinguish between the sinner and his sin in regards to our responses and relationship with that person. This is sound advice for us. However, the just God who is the Almighty Sovereign of the universe does not make this distinction. The sinner can not be separated from his sin. His sin deserves the wrath of God and so he himself, as a person, deserves the wrath of God. The term "propitiation" preaches the good news by explaining how it is then, that God's wrath has been turned away from being poured out upon the sinful children of God. Only through a representative, a perfectly righteous Man, the second Adam, standing in the place of God's elect, to receive the wrath of God justly prepared to be poured out upon not only the sin but the sinners. Jesus, upon the cross, bore the sins of the world, receiving upon himself the very wrath of God.

(In other words, propitiation is a richer term than expiation, which is better considered as describing a part of the whole description given through the term "propitiation.")

Bible Study: Psalm 78:38; Lam.3:42-43 (585 references to God's wrath in the O.T.); Rom.1:18,24,26, 28; Rom.3:25; Heb.2:17; I John 2:2; 4:10.

 Question 11: Were the souls of the Old Testament fathers cast into limbo or were they immediately received into heaven after death.

(The Roman Catholics in Turretin's day uses the term "limbus" to refer to the upper level of hell. The papists developed a four-level hell: 1) eternal punishment of the wicked; 2) the temporal punishment of sinful people, known as purgatory; 3) holding place for infants who died prior to being baptized; 4) holding place for the Old Testament saints.)

Reasons for the orthodox belief that Old Testament saints' souls were immediately received into heaven upon death:

1) The formula of the covenant of grace does not include any language or terms of a interim holding place; (Christ's teaching in Luke 20:34-40);

2) The example of Lazarus (Luke 16:22,23) suggests immediate reception into the presence of God; the "bosom of Abraham" describing real presence and loving interaction between brothers and sisters in heaven. Just as John reclined at table against the bosom of his Lord Jesus, so we shall at the marriage feast of the Lamb. This common image of feasting, to which this "bosom" language refers, paints the picture of heaven.

3) The thief on the cross was told that he would be with Jesus in paradise upon his death (Luke 23:43);

4) Both Enoch and Elijah were caught up into heaven (Heb.11:5; II Kings 2:11);

5) The consolation of the ancients was a heavenly city (Heb.11:10). Jacob (Gen.49:18), and David (Psalm 31:5) do not seem to have any sense that upon death they would be anywhere else but in God's heavenly presence;


1) The term "Hades" refers to the grave into which a person descends after death, not to a state of limbo, which is a part of hell; This is the term, "sheol;"

2) Zechariah 9:11 refers to being freed from the Babylonian captivity, which is properly applied as a figure for our being freed from the bondage of sin;

3) John 3:13 Jesus is contrasting himself with the Old Testament prophets as he makes his case to Nicodemus as the prime authority on spiritual matters. The Old Testament prophets did not receive their message by ascending into heaven, but rather from God's Spirit who descended to them! God met Moses on the mountain to give him the heavenly message. But the message that Jesus brings comes straight from the heavenly court room, where he, as a person of the Godhead rules and communicates. In other words, the ascension referred to here is not the physical rising of anyone into the heavenly presence of God, but much more than this. To be in God's heavenly presence does not mean that one will gain complete knowledge of God and his truth. Study Romans 10:6 and Proverbs 30:4.

To " ascend into heaven" here refers to divine mysteries and authority. Study John 1;18 and Mt.11:27);

4) I Peter 3:19 and the use of the term "prison" is not speaking of a limbo state in hell; Christ, by his Spirit, preached through Noah to the wicked generation of his day for 120 years. None of them repented and so they are drowned and descended into hell. These are the ones who are the "spirits in prison." Jesus did not descend to hell to preach the gospel to them. Why would he do that? The gospel is preached in contexts where people are able and willing to respond. They resisted Christ's preaching through Noah.

Question 12: Was the Sinaitic legal covenant, made by Moses with the people of Israel a certain third covenant distinct in species from the covenant of nature and the covenant of grace?

1) John Cameron in 1642 published a three-fold covenant position. He was the first, as far as Turretin knew, to have done so in the Reformed schools of Europe;

2) The commonly held position in Turretin's day was a two-fold covenant.

3) Both these positions affirmed that the Old Testament saints were saved by Christ alone. Both also agree that there is difference in economy between the covenants listed.

**The positions differ from each other concerning whether or not the differences between the economies are substantial enough to classify three distinct covenants.

-Cameron's position is that the economies are substantially different and so they are indeed three distinct covenants;

-Turretin's position is that the Mosaic economy is not substantially different from the covenant of grace and therefore is not a separate covenant.

Reasons Against a Three-fold Covenant:

1) Scripture only list two covenants (Galatians 4:24; Hebrews 8);

2) There can only be as many covenants as there are modes to obtaining happiness and communion with God. There are only two modes: 1) works and 2) faith;

3) Dt.7:11,12; 29:10-13 prove that the Mosaic economy is part of the covenant of grace;

4) The ceremonial law, which was wholly typical, communicates the essence of the covenant of grace (I Cor.10:2-4);

5) The Sacraments of the Old Testament instituted prior to the Mosaic economy were included as the sacraments under the Mosaic economy. If circumcision was the sign in Abraham's day, a day under the covenant of grace, then the covenant of grace must include Moses' day, for circumcision was the sign then as well;

6) If the Mosaic economy was a separate and new covenant, then it had to replace the Abrahamic covenant which preceded. Only one covenant can be in force at a time.


1) Jeremiah 31 presents the new covenant in opposition to what has come before. It is not necessary to assume that the opposition is between distinct covenant but rather should be understood as differences which distinguish one economy from another.

2) The Mosaic economy was not without Christ. Moses testified to Christ (John.5:45; Luke 24:44; Acts 3:22,23; 26:22,23. Also compare Ex.19:5 with I Peter 2:9, 10. Consider once again the preface to the decalogue. The ratification of the covenant by the blood of victims typified the blood of Christ. The legal types and shadows chiefly pointed to no other than Christ. The principal scope and spirit of the law was Christ, without whom it is nothing else than a corpse and a letter that kills (Romans 10:4; Gal.3:24).

3) And thus in sweet harmony the law and the gospel meet together in this covenant. The law is not administered without the gospel, nor the gospel without the law. So that it is as it were a legal-gospel and an evangelical-law; a gospel full of obedience and a law full of faith. So the gospel does not destroy the law, but establishes it (Romans 3:31) by giving us Christ, who perfectly fulfilled it. And the law is not against the gospel, since it refers and leads us to it as its end.

4) The promise of the land of Canaan, given to the people was not primary or principal, but only secondary and less principal...a pledge and symbol of the heavenly Canaan (Heb.4; 11:15,16).

The Reading Room | Home