CHAPTER II.

COVENANT OF GRACE.

THE THREE DIVINE PERSONS CO-OPERATE IN MAN'S SALVATION ACCORDING TO AN ETERNAL COVENANT.[1]

On a former occasion, it was shown that the Scriptures use the term covenant with great latitude of meaning. The propriety of its use in the present case, cannot well be questioned. We have three divine persons, who are parties in this covenant; and the doctrine of God's unity cannot exclude the notion of a covenant, without, at the same time, excluding the distinction of persons in the Godhead. We are not to imagine, as included in this covenant transaction, a proposal of terms by one party, and a deliberation, followed with an acceptance or rejection of them, by the other parties. These things occur, in the making of human covenants, because of the imperfection of the parties. In condescension to our weakness, the Scriptures use language taken from the affairs of men. They speak as if a formal proposal had been made, at the creation of man, addressed by one of the parties to the others: "Let us make man:" but this is in accommodation to our modes of conception. An agreement and co-operation of the divine persons, in the creation of man, is what is taught in this passage. This agreement and co-operation extend to all the works of God: "Who worketh all things after the counsel of his will."[2] The idea of counsel in all these works, accords with that of consultation which is presented in the account of man's creation. In every work of God, the divine persons must either agree or disagree. As they alike possess infinite wisdom, disagreement among them is impossible. The salvation of men is a work of God, in which the divine persons concur. It is performed according to an eternal purpose; and in this purpose, as well as in the work, the divine persons concur; and this concurrence is their eternal covenant. The purpose of the one God, is the covenant of the Trinity.

In the work of salvation, the divine persons co-operate in different offices; and these are so clearly revealed, as to render the personal distinction in the Godhead more manifest, than it is in any other of God's works. Beyond doubt, these official relations are severally held, by the perfect agreement of all; and, speaking after the manner of men, the adjustment of these relations, and the assignment of the several parts in the work, are the grand stipulations of the eternal covenant.

That the covenant is eternal, may be argued from the eternity, unchangeableness, and omniscience of the parties, and from the declarations of Scripture which directly or indirectly relate to it: "Through the blood of the everlasting covenant."[3] "His eternal purpose in Christ Jesus."[4] "In hope of eternal life promised before the world began."[5] "Grace given in Christ Jesus before the world began."[6]

Although God's purpose is one, we are obliged, according to our modes of conception, to view it, and speak of it, as consisting of various parts. So, the eternal covenant is one; but it is revealed to us in a manner adapted to our conceptions and to our spiritual benefit. The work of redemption by Christ is presented in the Gospel as the great object of our faith; and the stipulation for the accomplishment of this work, is the prominent point exhibited in the revelation which is made to us respecting the covenant of grace. The agreement between the Father and the Son is conspicuously brought to view, in various parts of the sacred volume: "Thine they were, and thou gavest them me."[7] "Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession."[8] "Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire. Then said I, Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O God:"[9] and in Isaiah, chapter xlix., the stipulations between the Father and the Son are presented, almost as if they had been copied from an original record of the transaction.

According to the covenant arrangement, the Son appeared in human nature, in the form of a servant; and, after obeying unto death, was exalted by the Father to supreme dominion. The Holy Spirit also is revealed as acting in a subordinate office; but appears as sustaining the full authority of the Godhead, sending the Son, giving him a people to be redeemed, prescribing the terms, accepting the service, rewarding and glorifying the Son, and sending the Holy Spirit. In all this the Father appears as the representative of the Godhead, in its authority and majesty. The Son also sustains a representative character. The promise of eternal life was made, before the world began, to the people of God, in him as their representative. The reconciliation between God and men is provided for by the covenant engagement between the Father and the Son; the Father acting as the representative of the Godhead, and the Son as the representative and surety of his people. The Holy Spirit concurs in this arrangement, and takes his part in the work, in harmony with the other persons of the Godhead. His peculiar office is necessary to complete the plan, and to reward the obedience of the Son by the salvation of his redeemed people. The promises of the Father to the Son include the gift of the Holy Spirit; and, therefore, the sending of the Spirit is attributed to the Son;[10] and sometimes to the Father at the petition of the Son.[11]

In this order of operation, inferiority of nature is not implied, in the subordination of office to which the Son and the Spirit voluntarily consent. The fulnes of the Godhead dwells in each of the divine persons, and renders the fulfilment of the covenant infallibly sure, in all its stipulations. The Holy Spirit, in the execution of his office, dwells in believers; but he brings with him the fulness of the Godhead, so that God is in them, and they are the temple of God, and filled with the fulness of God. The Son or Word, in the execution of his office, becomes the man Jesus Christ; but the fulness of the Godhead dwells in him; so that, in his deepest humiliation he is God manifest in the flesh, God over all, blessed for ever.

The order of operation in this mysterious and wonderful economy, can be learned from divine revelation only. Here we should study it with simple faith, relying on the testimony of God. In the representation of it here exhibited, we may discover that the blessings of grace, proceeding from God, appear to originate in the Father, "of whom are all things," to be conferred through the Son, "by whom are all things," and by the Spirit, who is the immediate agent in bestowing them, the last in the order of operation. The approach to God, in acts of devotion, is in the reverse order. The Spirit makes intercession in the saints, moving them, as a spirit of supplication, and assisting their infirmities, when they know not what to pray for. Their prayers are offered through Christ, as the medium of approach; and the Father, as the highest representative of the Godhead, is the ultimate object of the worship. Through him [Christ] we have access by one Spirit to the Father.[12] The Spirit moves us to honor the Son and the Father: and for this purpose takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us, that we may believe in him, and through him approach the Father. In this work he acts for the whole Godhead, and therefore his drawing is ascribed to the Father: "No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him."[13] When we come to Jesus Christ, the whole Godhead meets us again in the person of the Mediator: for "God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself."[14] And when we address the Father, as the ultimate object of our worship, the whole Godhead is there, and receives our adorations. In the covenant of grace, the triune God is so presented to the view of the believer, that he may worship without distraction of thought, with full confidence of acceptance, and with clear perception that God is to him all and in all. In the retirement of the closet, the devotional man addresses God as present in the secret place, and holds communion with him, as a friend near at hand. When he comes forth into the busy world, he sees God all around him, in the heavens, and in the earth; and holds converse with him in this different manifestation of himself. When he lifts his thoughts to the high and holy place where God's throne is, and prays, "Our Father which art in heaven," his mind is directed to the highest and most glorious manifestation of the Deity. In all this he suffers no distraction of thought. The same omnipresent One is addressed, whether conceived to be in the closet, or in the world, or in the highest heavens. With equal freedom from distraction we may worship the Infinite One, whether we approach him as the Holy Spirit, operating on the heart; or as the Son, the Mediator between God and men; or as the Father, representing the full authority and majesty of the Godhead. We worship God, and God alone, whether our devotions are directed to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit; for the divine essence, undivided and indivisible, belongs to each of the three persons.

To guard against mistake, it should be observed, that the covenant which we have been considering is not identical with the new covenant of which Paul speaks in the epistle to the Hebrews. The latter made, according to the prophecy which he quotes, "with the house of Israel and the house of Judah;"[15] whereas the covenant of which we have treated, is not made with man. There is, however, a close connection between them. In the eternal covenant, promises are made to the Son, as the representative of his people: in the new covenant, these promises are made to them personally, and, in part, fulfilled to them. The promises are made to them: "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:"[16] and they are, in part, fulfilled. "I will put my law in their minds, and write it in their hearts."

[1] Ps. ii. 8; xl. 6--8; lxxxix. 3; Isaiah xlix. 3--12; John xvii. 6; Heb. xiii. 20; Titus i. 2.

[2] Eph. i. 11.

[3] Heb. xiii. 20.

[4] Eph. iii. 11.

[5] Tit. i. 2.

[6] 2 Tim. i. 9.

[7] John xvii. 6.

[8] Ps. ii. 8.

[9] Ps. xl. 6--18.

[10] John xvi. 7.

[11] John xiv. 16.

[12] Eph. ii. 18.

[13] John vi. 44.

[14] 2 Cor. v. 19.

[15] Heb. viii. 8.

[16] Heb. viii. 10.