Results tagged “covenant theology” from Reformation21 Blog

In a remarkable scene at the end of David's life, the sweet singer of Israel reflects on his life and his hope for the future.  We can well understand that David would be concerned for the future well-being of his line.   But he looks with confidence on the assurance of God's covenant: "For does not my house stand so with God?  For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure" (2 Sam. 23:5). 

How significant that David would speak of God's covenant being secure because it is "ordered."  Covenant theology is sometimes maligned as overly focused on legal arrangements.  But David rejoices that it is so!  God pledges himself by stipulations that, when fulfilled, provide what the writer of Hebrews called "a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul" (Heb.6:19).  The Christian can thus rejoice in the covenant of grace.  It has conditions that must be fulfilled by God through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus must "fulfill all righteousness" (Mt. 3:15) by his perfect law-keeping life.  He must also make atonement for the sins of his people through the blood of his cross (Lk. 22:20).  These stipulations were perfectly fulfilled by our Savior.  But there is a condition to be fulfilled on the side of the sinner, namely, faith in Christ and his work.  This, too, God fulfills through the gift of faith and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:8).  The result is that the Christian, with Spirit-wrought faith and looking to the perfect fulfillment of Christ, may join David in rejoicing that all things for his salvation are ordered and secure.

In a careful study of this passage, the great Puritan John Owen enumerated three reasons why believers should rest secure in God's covenant of grace and thus refuse to trust in anything of this world or any merit in ourselves.  First, Owen pointed out who is the author of this covenant: "Why, it is the Rock of Israel, the God of Israel - He hath made it.  It is not a covenant that man made with me, nor an angel; but it is a covenant that God hath made with me."  Second, David describes it as an "everlasting covenant" (2 Sam. 23:5).  It is, Owen comments, "everlasting in respect of the beginning of it; it is a covenant that comes from everlasting love, 'I have loved thee with an everlasting love... Therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee' (Jer. 31:3)."  Moreover, "it is everlasting in respect of the end of it: it ceases not until it brings the whole person, soul and body, into everlasting glory."  Third, Owen teaches, the covenant is ordered and sure not only in that the conditions are fulfilled but also as it is also sealed by the oath of God and supported by the never-ending intercession of Christ in heaven.  Owen writes: "He is made the surety of a better covenant.  And he lives for ever to make intercession for them that come unto God by him, and so is able to save to the uttermost (Heb. 7:22, 25)."[1]

David reflected on the ordered certainty of God's covenant fulfillment, urging all who hear to enter in through faith.  For his own cause, he faces death with supreme confidence: "For will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?" (2 Sam. 23:5).  But he is equally certain of the condemnation of sinners who persist in unbelief: "But worthless men are all like thorns that are thrown away, for they cannot be taken with the hand; but the man who touches them arms himself with iron and the shaft of a spear, and they are utterly consumed with fire (2 Sam. 23:6-7).  David is thinking of the way an iron tool is used to grasp thrown bushes and cast them into a consuming fire.  How certain is God's wrath, ordered and secure, for those who will not believe on Jesus Christ!  Secure in his own future, even in his death, David warns everyone to prepare to meet the final judgement.  There is absolute security in the day of wrath through faith in the blood of Christ, which "cleanses us from all sin" (1 Jn. 1:7).  But only faith in Jesus can benefit from God's only way of salvation, the covenant of grace.  Only its ordered and secure covenant arrangement can "deliver us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:10).

[1] John Owen, "The Everlasting Covenant: The Believer's Support Under Distress," in The Works of John Owen, 23 vols. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, reprint 1965), 9:416-19.

A covenantal heritage

Recovering-a-Covenantal-Heritage-Essays-in-Baptist-Covenant-Theology.jpgI am looking forward to reading a new publication from Reformed Baptist Academic Press called Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology, edited by Rich Barcellos. It is a delight to see reformed Baptists wrestling through the rich heritage we have of a robust covenantal theology that respects the continuities between the old and the new covenants while at the same time properly recognising the newness of the new covenant. I have thoroughly appreciated the work that these brothers have done, while still seeking to explore the nuances and emphases and consequences of what is being eagerly propounded, and I am looking forward to seeing what these gentlemen have produced. The contents of the volume are as follows, and it is available through Amazon in the US and the UK, as well as directly from RBAP. Confessional Baptists would do well to obtain and carefully ponder this material.


1. A Brief Overview of Seventeenth-Century Reformed Orthodox Federalism (Richard C. Barcellos)
2. Covenant Theology in the First and Second London Confessions of Faith (James M. Renihan)
3. By Farther Steps: A Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist Covenant Theology (Pascal Denault)
4. The Puritan Argument for the Immersion of Believers: How Seventeenth-Century Baptists Utilized the Regulative Principle of Worship (G. Stephen Weaver, Jr.)
5. The Antipaedobaptism of John Tombes (Michael T. Renihan)
6. The Abrahamic Covenant in the Thought of John Tombes (Michael T. Renihan)
7. John Owen on the Mosaic Covenant (Thomas E. Hicks, Jr.)
8. A 'Novel' Approach to Credobaptist and Paedobaptist Polemics (Jeffrey A. Massey)


9. The Fatal Flaw of Infant Baptism: The Dichotomous Nature of the Abrahamic Covenant (Jeffrey D. Johnson)
10. The Difference Between the Old and New Covenants: John Owen on Hebrews 8:6 (John Owen)
11. The Newness of the New Covenant (Part 1) (James R. White)
12. The Newness of the New Covenant (Part 2) (James R. White)
13. Acts 2:39 in its Context: An Exegetical Summary of Acts 2:39 and Paedobaptism (Part 1) (Jamin Hübner)
14. Acts 2:39 in its Context: Case Studies in Paedobaptist Interpretations of Acts 2:39 (Part 2) (Jamin Hübner)
15. An Exegetical Appraisal of Colossians 2:11-12 (Richard C. Barcellos)


16. Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology (Micah and Samuel Renihan)
Is Jesus on every page in the Old Testament? According to the title of a recent book, he may be. Is Christ in every sentence (e.g., "tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!" Ps. 58:6b)? Should we employ the exegetical genius, or perhaps lack thereof, to find him in every definite article, specific referent, or conjunction (e.g., "But..." - Eph. 2:4)? Should we employ a certain apostolic hermeneutic that will help us develop a Christocentric lens through which to read the Old Testament?

For the last several years, I have noticed these type of questions being asked. They may take different forms; nevertheless, the substance is essentially the same. Whether one is discussing the grammatical historical hermeneutic, redemptive historical approach, a combination thereof, or the law/gospel distinction, people are desirous to know to what extent Jesus is in the Old Testament.

As I continue to read the debates on this topic, some of which have more recently been centered around a Christotelic understanding of the scriptures, I began wondering something, perhaps, more fundamental to the discussion. How are we allowing uninspired subtitles and versification to influence us?

As a budding Hebrew linguist, there are certain things I prefer when reading the Hebrew Bible. I prefer the MT arrangement of the Old Testament--not the English arrangement. I enjoy reading about redaction theory, source criticism, and looking more deeply at the textual criticism apparatus. One idea that I have always desired was to acquire and read the Hebrew scriptures without the 10th or 11th century invention of the pointing system and without the 12th and 15th centuries versification system. That is a different Old Testament than we read today in our English Bibles, particularly as it relates to arrangement and versification. 

So as we consider the nature and manner of Jesus on every page (in the Old Testament), how do we understand the ebb and flow of the narrative based on our English Bibles? As Paul preached the kingdom of God and his Christ at Rome (Acts 28), he was not contained by subtitles. When Christ confronted his hearers by claiming that the scriptures testify of him (John 5), he wasn't guided by versification exactly as we are.

It seems to me that defining how we are using the Old Testament may be a helpful idea to further narrow the conversation. I am almost certain someone has already mentioned this. Despite my lack of ability to recall other works on this specific idea, I wonder if there is any merit to this suggestion, and if so, how will this help?

Let's use one example. Many of our Old Testament books are in narrative form. Due to the current versification and subtitle listings in our English Bibles, we often follow the headings and verses that were set for us. While that may be helpful to consider and even preach from, our divisions of the narratives sometimes inhibit a holistic view of the story and potentially create an environment where exegetes feel like they are gasping for air to find Jesus. 

Of course one can take that idea too far and not divide the narrative at all on the basis of the understanding that it is one entire narrative and therefore should not be fragmented. That is not my point. There may be certain coordinating or disjunctive conjunctions that indicate a scene change. At that scene change, it may be appropriate to end that section of the narrative. Sometimes that means we must read beyond the subtitles listed in our English Bibles. It may create a longer sermon; it may mean we have to read longer sections of scripture; or it may mean we cannot highlight, to our congregation, the exegetical precision that we would normally in smaller sections of scripture, but if it presents a clearer image of the overall story and thus prepares the way for better exegesis to preach Christ, it is worth it.

Taking the narrative in larger sections may help some of the exegetical gymnastics that can occur to find Jesus under every rock. (By the way, it is acceptable to find him on the rock - Exod. 17:1-7; 1 Cor. 10:1-4). Yes, I believe Jesus is in the Old Testament (Heb. 4); yes, I believe the scriptures point to him as the pinnacle of redemptive history (Luke 24);  yes, I believe the gospel--perhaps I should define that--should be preached in every sermon; but I also believe pastors must be careful in their exegesis. We do not want to misguide our churches toward an inappropriate understanding of seeing Christ in the Old Testament.

Of Baptists and covenants

The friends over at The Confessing Baptist have posted some resources trying to help Baptists think through the furore regarding republication. You can find some of them here, from where you can follow other trails. Others are working on the same material here. Although there remain some differences of opinion (no, really?) there are some distinctive elements in Baptist thought on the covenants that are well represented.

Baptibits (and more) at Logos

A few weeks ago I drew attention to some community pricing offers at Logos that might be of interest to Baptists. Of those, the Baptist Covenant Theology Collection has now crept over the edge and is now available (as a pre-order until Friday) at around $20, dropping lower if there are more orders. As they say, what are you waiting for?

However, in addition to this, there is plenty more that could be available with a little more interest:

  • The Works of Abraham Booth: this looks more like it is gathering dust than interest. "My brothers, these things ought not to be so!" When I remind you that - for what might at the moment be only $15 - you would get not only the magnificent Reign of Grace but also his Glad Tidings to Perishing Sinners and his Apology for the Baptists - no snickering at the back! - then you really have no cause to be sitting on your hands.
  • The Works of John Gill: whatever you say about John Gill, he cannot be ignored in the history of Baptist theological thought and development. This puppy has been languishing for too long in the 'gathering interest' section and could do with a little momentum being added to it. Besides, who would sniff at 19 volumes for about $40?
  • The Works of John Brown of Haddington: not a Baptist, I know, but what a doozy of a collection - 14 volumes currently running at about $30. His self-interpreting Bible would be worth this alone, but add in his material on the Shorter Catechism, his work on the Psalms, and other gems, and you're on to a real winner.
  • Might I also add The Works of Patrick Fairbairn? Some penetrating stuff on typology and prophecy, a magnificent pastoral theology, and a few other bits and pieces, make this a cracking collection.

So, if you are interested, head over to Logos and start dipping.

Baptist gold: Logos community pricing offers

I have recently been looking into and using Logos a little more (review on its way, I hope) and I thought I might draw attention to a few bits and pieces. For those who don't know, the Logos reader is free and you then just tack on the substance you want. In addition, when looking for new material, Logos do something called "community pricing" which is basically a way of pre-ordering stuff at a great price, with higher number of bidders driving down the price.

Of interest to Reformed Baptists might be some of the following:

  • Baptist Covenant Theology Collection: yes, you can easily define and defend yourself as a Reformed, Particular and covenantal Baptist with this cracking collection of 17 volumes of primary source material. As a bonus, you can cause apoplexy in certain circles simply by using the words "covenant" and "Baptist" in the same sentence - throw in Reformed for some real fireworks! The bidding finishes on Friday 14 March, and the more bids we get, the lower we will drive the already happily-ridiculous price of about $30. Join the fun and reap the benefits.
  • The Works of John Gill: whatever you say about John Gill, he cannot be ignored in the history of Baptist theological thought and development. This puppy has been languishing for too long in the 'gathering interest' section and could do with a little momentum being added to it. Besides, who would sniff at 19 volumes for about $40?
  • The Works of John Brown of Haddington: not a Baptist, I know, but what a doozy of a collection - 14 volumes currently running at about $30. His self-interpreting Bible would be worth this alone, but add in his material on the Shorter Catechism, his work on the Psalms, and other gems, and you're on to a real winner.
  • The Works of Abraham Booth: back with the Baptists, and the outstanding Abraham Booth. Again, this looks more like it is gathering dust than interest. "My brothers, these things ought not to be so!" When I remind you that - for what might at the moment be only $15 - you would get not only the magnificent Reign of Grace but also his Glad Tidings to Perishing Sinners and his Apology for the Baptists - no snickering at the back! - then you really have no cause to be sitting on your hands.

So, ladies and gentlemen, please crack on, get your orders in, and make sure you help us all share in a feast of good things.

Confessional Baptist covenant theology

You may be interested to know that a new site explaining and promoting Reformed/Particular/Covenantal/Confessional/Calvinistic Baptist covenant theology (choose whichever label least offends you) is alive and kicking. Catchily entitled 1689 Federalism, the key piece at present is a helpful video providing an introduction to covenant theology from a Baptist perspective, though there is plenty of other material (videos, charts, books) there as well. Do have a look.

Results tagged “covenant theology” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 7.3

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.

The rest of this chapter on the covenant is focused on the covenant that God established with man because of, and after, the fall of man into sin. That covenant is "commonly called the covenant of grace."

On a first reading, one might think that the covenant of grace is confined strictly to the New Testament. The Confession says that, once Adam disobeyed and "made himself incapable of life," the Lord established the covenant of grace "wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ." Since life is offered "by Jesus Christ," surely this can refer only to that time when and after Christ became flesh and dwelt among us.

The beauty of covenant theology, however, is that it has its focus in Christ from Genesis 3:15 into eternity future. As the Confession goes on to say: "This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament." (section 5)

That is, while it is recognized that the covenant of grace was administered differently in redemptive history, there is no need or biblical burden to turn the recognition of different dispensations into an "-ism." All of the dispensations have the promised Messiah as their central focus, in recognition that the promised Messiah would himself come, finally and fully, to redeem. So, the promises, prophecies, sacrifices, etc. under the Old Covenant foresignify Christ; they were meant to turn the spiritual eyes and hearts of the Lord's people to Him and His gracious provision of a Redeemer (cf. Job 19:25). The Old Covenant was not "Plan A," to which another "Plan" needed to be amended, given Israel's failure. The continuity of redemptive history, set in bold relief in the Old Covenant, is seen in the continual indications and signs, which were a part of daily Old Covenant existence, which themselves were meant and designed to point beyond themselves to a need for and promise of One who would redeem (cf. Heb. 9:7-18).

In and since the era of the New Testament, "when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper..." (section 6). That is, the plan of God for the people of God is the church of Jesus Christ and its new covenant administration. So, says the Confession, "There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations." Note, there is no difference "in substance" between the Old and New Covenants, because the substance of the covenant of grace is Christ Himself.

One of the most significant and potentially life-changing applications of this latter truth is that, when we read, teach or preach the Scriptures, we ought to see Christ there. We ought to see that the one plan of God, since the fall, was to redeem a people and to defeat His enemies, and that the entirety of redemptive history is caught up with that plan, and all to His glory. The announcement of Genesis 3:15 sets the terms of the rest of history, and everything revealed to the Lord's people after that is pointing to the glory of the One who came, and who dwelt among us, who defeated Satan, and the last enemy, death, at the cross, and who now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Westminster Confession Chapter 7 will change the life of anyone who has ears to hear. It begins and it ends with God's gracious condescension. That condescension is on display now and into eternity future as, now by faith but then by sight, we see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, who is the substance of the covenant.

Chapter 7.2

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.

The reason we needed to spend the time that we did on the first section of this chapter on the covenant is twofold. First, we need to emphasize, as does the Confession, that the focus of any relationship that man has to God is in God's free, merciful and good condescension. God did not have to create. In deciding to create, he did not have to reveal Himself; He did not have to create someone(s) in His image. He was not bound to enter into a relationship with His creatures at all. This was all a matter of His mercy and grace. But He determined to create and to reveal. And He determined to initiate a relationship with creatures made in His image. He did that because He is good.

The phrase "covenant of works" in paragraph two carries with it some ambiguities that could serve to confuse. It is worth noting that in the Westminster Larger Catechism as well as the Shorter Catechism the divines chose to use the term "covenant of life" rather than "covenant of works" (see WLC Q/A20 and WSC Q/A12). The phrase "covenant of life" is preferable in that it focuses on the reward graciously offered by God, rather than on its means.

With respect to the means of this reward of life, the Confession (as well as the Catechisms) are clear that life is offered to Adam "upon condition of perfect and personal obedience." About this there is no dispute, biblically speaking. But there is some dispute with respect to what we might call the ground of Adam's reward, according to those means. In other words, must we confess that this particular covenant, and its reward, had its ground and foundation in the justice of God with respect to the  "works" of Adam themselves, such that the basis of the reward of life, were it given, would be based on God's justice, according to Adam's merit?

The answer to that question is disputed presently. The Confession's answer to that question, however, is consistent with Reformed theology historically, and can be structured this way: Any covenant that God initiates with man depends, for its initiation, its conditions and its maintenance, on the "voluntary condescension" of God (thus, section one). That is, because God did not have to initiate any covenant at all, because it was a free decision of his that was in no way provoked by anything in creation or in us, the ground and foundation of any and every covenant is God's unmerited favor. For that reason, it is not improper to denominate that favor as "gracious." The graciousness that grounds the covenant of life is not a graciousness defined in terms of sin and the fall, obviously, but it is grace that issues in certain conditions, the obtaining of which will bring forth the merciful reward of eternal life. God did not have to create; He did not have to condescend; He did not have to offer life. But He did, and He did so based strictly on His underserved favor.

This is what Herman Bavinck has in mind: 
There is no such thing as merit in the existence of a creature before God, nor can there be since the relation between the Creator and a creature radically and once-and-for-all eliminates any notion of merit. This is true after the fall but no less before the fall. Then too, human beings were creatures, without entitlements, without rights, without merit. When we have done everything we have been instructed to do, we are still unworthy servants (Luke 17:10). Now, however, the religion of Holy Scripture is such that in it human beings can nevertheless, as it were, assert certain rights before God. For they have the freedom to come to him with prayer and thanksgiving, to address him as "Father," to take refuge in him in all circumstances of distress and death, to desire all good things from him, even to expect salvation and eternal life from him. All this is possible solely because God in his condescending goodness gives rights to his creature. Every creaturely right is a given benefit, a gift of grace, undeserved and nonobligatory. All reward from the side of God originates in grace; no merit, either of condignity or of congruity, is possible. True religion, accordingly, cannot be anything other than a covenant: it has its origin in the condescending goodness and grace of God. It has that character before as well as after the fall.(1)
Bavinck makes plain that his negation of the ground of merit (not the means) is in the context of God's "condescending goodness." Because this condescension is a free determination of God's, it can have no conditions placed upon it from the outside, nor can it be anything other than the ground of any and every covenant relation that God determines to have with man.

As it turns out, Bavinck is echoing the consistent refrain from the Reformed. In a section discussing the Reformed orthodox notions of the love and grace of God, Muller argues that, historically, God's condescension, even before the fall, was seen to be an act of his grace. 
Divine grace, as indicated both in the doctrine of the divine attributes and in the developing Reformed covenant theology of the seventeenth century, is not merely the outward favor of God toward the elect, evident only in the post-lapsarian dispensation of  salvation; rather is it one of the perfections of the divine nature. It is a characteristic of God's relations to the finite order apart from sin, in the act of divine condescension to relate to finite creatures...There is, both in the orthodox Reformed doctrine of God and in the orthodox Reformed covenant theology of the seventeenth century, a consistent identification of grace as fundamental to all of God's relationships with the world and especially with human beings, to the point of the consistent assertion that the covenant of nature or works is itself gracious.(2)
This is clearly what the Confession is affirming.

One more historic source might bolster these points. In his clear and helpful presentation on the notion of merit (the total of which would be read with great profit), Turretin argues that 
there now can be no merit in man with God by works whatsoever... They are not undue, but due; for whatever we are and can do, all this we owe to God, whose debtors we are on this account called. ...Hence it appears that there is no merit properly so called of man before God, in whatever state he is placed. Thus Adam himself, if he had persevered, would not have merited life in strict justice, although (through a certain condescension [synchatabasin]) God promised him by a covenant life under the condition of perfect obedience (which is called meritorious from that covenant in a broader sense). (3)
God's Covenant of Life has its initiation, ground and foundation in his eternal decision to condescend and to commit himself to finite creatures such as us. In that commitment, he requires obedience, and when it was possible for man to obey, had he done so, in due time he would have gained eternal life. But that life, "upon condition of perfect and personal obedience," would be obtained only against the background of God's eternal, unmerited favor to man.

1. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, trans. John Vriend, vol. 2, ed. John Bolt, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2004), 570, my emphases.

2. Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics : The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, Ca. 1520 to Ca. 1725: The Divine Essence and Attributes, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002), 570, my emphases.

3. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1994), 713, my emphases.

Chapter 7.1, Part Three

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 hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

Point 3. We have seen, in the last two posts, that the Confession rightly begins its discussion of covenant with the incomprehensibility and aseity of the Triune God. That must be affirmed before anything else can be understood, especially with respect to God's relationship to creation and to His creatures. We have also seen that the initiation of the relationship of God to His creatures was a "voluntary" initiation. It was a free determination of God, and it was a free determination that took place "before the foundation of the world," i.e., in eternity. This free determination included an agreement between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, an agreement sometimes called the pactum salutis, or covenant of salvation. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit agreed, before the foundation of the world, to create and to redeem a people. They committed themselves to a certain relationship in, with and for creation. This in itself was a free decision, and it was a decision of "condescension."

We said last time that we needed to think carefully about those two wonderful words contained in section one of this chapter of the Confession - "voluntary condescension." We can now focus on this latter term. What meaning is the word "condescension" meant to have in this context?

The word itself means "to come down," and as with the word "distance" that we looked at in our first post, this word, too, is a spatial word. As it was with the word "distance," "condescension is used metaphorically to communicate something that is much deeper and more glorious than might initially be realized. Just as there is no spatial distance between God and His creatures, so also can there be no "coming down" or "condescension" of God such that He begins to occupy a space that He did not otherwise occupy. In other words, because God is everywhere, there is nowhere where He is not, and thus no place that He begins to occupy by coming down. He always and everywhere occupies all places, fully and completely.

So, what does this "condescension" mean? The best way to understand this, I think, is to look to that supreme and ultimate example of condescension in Holy Scripture - the incarnation of the Son of God. In the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity "comes down" in order to live an obedient life and die an obedient death in behalf of His people. What did this "condescension" entail for Him? It did not mean that He began to occupy a place that He did not otherwise occupy. As the Son of God, thus fully and completely God, He was and is omnipresent. What it meant was that He took on a human nature so that He might fulfill the plan of redemption that was decreed before the foundation of the world. He took on, in other words, characteristics, properties and attributes - call them covenantal characteristics - in order that He might relate to us in a way that He did not otherwise. His "condescension" just was His taking on a human nature in order properly, according to what the Triune God had decreed, to relate Himself to creation generally and to His people more specifically.

When the Confession affirms God's voluntary "condescension," then, this is, in the main, what is meant. It means that God took on characteristics, properties and attributes that He did not have to take on (remember this condescension is voluntary) in order that He might relate Himself to the creation, and to His creatures. His commitment to that which is other than Himself - His creation - included, by definition, a condescension. He freely bound Himself to His creation, including His creatures, such that there would, from then to eternity, be characteristics, attributes and properties that He would take on, and all by the sheer freedom of His will. These characteristics are such that He could walk in the garden with Adam and Eve, meet and negotiate with Abraham concerning Sodom, meet with Moses on the mountain and the in tent of meeting, wrestle with Jacob, as the Divine Warrior confront and rebuke Joshua, etc. And, preeminently, come to save a people for Himself.

This "voluntary condescension," therefore, just is the gospel. It is the "coming down" of God Himself; it is God with us in the Person of Emmanuel, Jesus Christ.

This section on the covenant is our doorway into the awe-inspiring truth that just is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without this doorway, any view of God will be either too anemic, such that the wonder of His majestic plan is diminished by man-centeredness, or too aloof, such that God's character is only confessed and understood in non-relational terms. This section of the Confession marvelously, because biblically, avoids both of these dangerous extremes.

Chapter 7.1, Part One

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 hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

What the Confession asserts in section one of Chapter 7 has massive and profound implications, first, for theology proper, then for our understanding of God's activity in history, and the order of these two is crucial. This first section deserves the meditative attention of every serious Christian, and it seems, for the most part, not to have gotten the attention it deserves.

There are three things worth noting in this majestic entree to the Covenant:

Point 1. In a chapter devoted to a summary of God's covenant with man, the first thing that the divines determined to express was the infinite distance between God and man. But just what is this distance? Surely the notion of "distance" must be a metaphor, since, in reality, there never was nor will there ever be a spatial distance between God and man. God is repletively present; he is present, fully and completely, in all places at all times, and into eternity, both in the new heaven and new earth and in hell. So the distance cannot be a spatial distance.

What is it then? It is a distance that has its focus in the being of God in comparison to the being of his creatures. That is, it is an ontological distance. God is, as the Confession has already affirmed, "infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible..." As infinite in being, as immutable, immense and eternal, God is wholly other; he is beyond anything that mere creatures can think or experience. We cannot conceive of what God's infinity is; our minds cannot grasp or contain what God's eternity is. He is limited by nothing, not by space and not by time. So, there is a "distance," a separation of being between God and his creatures. God, and He alone, is independent (a se). Everything else is dependent on Him.

This is no philosophical idea or human speculation. It is rather a necessary implication of the first words of the Bible - "In the beginning, God..." These words affirm that at the beginning of creation (including of time), God was. Given that truth, we confess that God alone is independent; what could God have needed when there was nothing existing but Him alone? He existed before creation and nothing else did. His existence was not dependent on anyone or anything else; it could not be dependent. Before there was creation, there was only God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There was no time and there was no space; there was no "when" of God's existence, nor was there a "where." There was only the Triune God.

It is incumbent on the Christian to recognize this before, and in the context of, our thinking about God's covenantal relation to creation. This is why the Confession begins where it does. The problem with any theology that will not confess the absolute independence and sovereignty of God is that it does not begin to think about God's existence and independence prior to his act of creation and of covenant. A theology that begins with "God-in-relationship" is a theology that will inevitably veer from the truth of Scripture, and from a true confession of God's character, as well as His covenant with man