Friday, December 07, 2007

Law & Gospel: Are we clear about the covenants?

Confusing law and gospel leads to soul destroying theological error. There is, however, no confusion in Scripture about this. The distinction is there in the text, it can be arrived at exegetically. Reformed theologians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did not invent two systematic categories called the "covenant of works" and the "covenant of grace" and impose them on Scripture. No, as they looked at the texts that spoke of God's covenants they saw two different types of covenant. Horton helpfully summarizes it this way:

The deepest distinction in Scripture is not between the Old and New Testaments, but between the covenants of law and the covenants of promise that run throughout both.

The two covenant traditions are distinguished both in form and content. There is a covenant of law (the prelapsarian covenant with humanity in Adam as well as the Sinai covenant), according to which each and every person swears to personally fulfill the stipulations.

There is also a covenant of promise (including the promise made to Adam and Eve after the fall, to Abraham and Sarah, Noah, David, and the new covenant), according to which God swears to bring redemption through the promised heir (seed).

These two covenants traditionally are united by many bonds, yet always remain distinguished. As we will see, they come into sharp contrast only when the question is raised as to the justification of the ungodly.

Michael Horton, Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ, p. 17-18


Dave K said...

These are genuine questions, because I have only recently come across this idea in such a clearly described way, and I'm still trying to make my mind up about it. I wonder does Horton have an answer for them... or do you? If so I would really appreciate your answers.

Does this viewpoint mean that there were no elements of the covenant of promise within the Sinai covenant (e.g. in the Sacrifices)?

Is this viewpoint really more Lutheran rather than Reformed? I have been reading a little about Luther (and Lutheranism) recently and this seems to be quite Lutheran and quite different to most Reformed writing I have ever read (which is largely Calvin and contemporary writers).

I've recently bought 'God of Promise' by Horton so hopefully that will answer some of my questions.

Martin Downes said...

Hi Dave,

"God of Promise" will answer both of those questions.

There were elements of the covenant of promise in the Sinai covenant that were typological of the work of Christ (land, temple, sacrifices).

On this point there is a common, core, Reformation voice. Just read Horton.