Patrick Gillespie: Christ as the Sum of the Covenant of Grace
August 1, 2017
In my previous post, I provided a sketch of Patrick Gillespie’s arguments for the distinction between the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace. Yet some have objected to this distinction by appealing to Westminster Larger Catechism 31, which states, “The Covenant of Grace is made with Christ, as the Second Adam, and in him, with the elect as his seed.” The argument goes that Christ since Christ is the primary party in both covenants, there is one covenant instead of two, with eternal and temporal aspects. In light of this argument, Gillespie’s last chapter in his Ark of the Covenant shows how Christ is the sum of the Covenant of Grace without eliminating the need for the Covenant of Redemption. This material helps us better understand WLC 31 in its context and it directs us to look to Christ himself as the chief blessing and promise of the Covenant of Grace.
Gillespie began by citing Isaiah 42:6 and 49:8, both of which refer to God giving Christ as a covenant for the people (453). This involves summing up the covenant in him and committing the whole business of the covenant to him (454). Citing Ps. 89:19. Gillespie listed several reasons why Christ is the sum of the Covenant of Grace.
First, “all this covenant is comprised in Christ.” This means that Christ is the covenant “originally and fundamentally.” He is its ancient foundation from the beginning of the world. Citing Gen. 3:15. His is the eternal foundation of this covenant in the decrees of God. This point draws from the Covenant of Redemption and puts it forward as the foundation of the Covenant of Grace, highlighting Christ’s relationship to both covenants. Citing Tit. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:9. 2 (455). Christ is thus the covenant “primarily and by propriety.” The covenant was made with him as “the chief party” (456) Citing Ps. 89:3, 33; Is. 55:3 (mistakenly listing Is. 53). He is the covenant eminently as the chief blessing of the covenant. Jn. 4:10. Jn. 3:16. He is the covenant “comprehensively or summarily” (457). All the parties of the Covenant of Grace are comprehended in him. This is based on the union of Christ’s two natures in one person (which I plan to treat in the next post). His person is on both sides of the covenant (458) and “he contracts for both the parties” (458).
Gillespie’s second broad point as that, “the sum of all the articles of the covenant is in Christ” (458). While this appears redundant with the preceding point, he advanced his argument in the following ways. He noted that the sum of the covenant promises consists in God being our God and we being his people. Though Christ is not the cause of God’s covenant love he is the cause of God’s relation to us (459). Citing Ps. 89:26. God becomes ours only through union with Christ. We come to God in Christ and God comes to us in him. This includes every benefit of the covenant, such as justification, adoption, and sanctification (see WLC 69). His next four points were briefer.
Third, the sum of the mutual stipulation is in Christ. He obtains the consent of both parties. Citing Prov. 8:22-23, 30. He received the covenant to fulfill it on both sides (460). Citing Ps. 89:17, 19. Christ is the stipulation on both sides of the covenant, as given and received. The gospel covenant craves stipulations and duties from us, but “it filleth the hand with Christ” to make the payment of our rent.
Fourth, Christ is the sum of all of the blessings and promises of the covenant. Again citing Is. 42:6 and Gen. 3:15. (461)
Fifth, “Christ is the sum of all the properties of the covenant” (461). It is free in Christ. Citing Is. 53:10-12 (462). He is not the cause of the eternal transaction with the Father concerning the elect, but he is the cause of all covenant graces in the elect. It is everlasting because of Christ. Citing Prov. 8:23; Ps. 89:30-35; Is. 53:10 (463). The covenant is also well ordered in Christ. It is stable and sure in Christ (464). Citing Heb. 13:8. It is a perfect covenant by which we are made complete in our perfect Savior. Citing 1 Cor. 1:30.
Sixth, the transaction of the covenant is comprised in Christ. The covenant of grace is a “soul-satisfying covenant, and he is a soul-satisfying Christ” (465).
Seventh, “Christ is the sum of all covenant blessings.” Citing Col. 3:11, etc. In this way, Gillespie demonstrated why Christ was the sum of the Covenant of Grace without negating his prior arguments for a distinct Covenant of Redemption between the Father and the Son, which was the foundation of the Covenant of Grace with the elect.
While WLC 31 does not negate the need for the distinction between the Covenants of Redemption and Grace, noting that God makes this covenant with the elect in Christ teaches us something important. In his uses, Gillespie argued that we must not only come to God with Christ, but we must actually be in Christ (474). One difference between the Covenants of Redemption and Grace lies in their parties. The parties of the eternal covenant are God and Christ respecting the elect while the parties in the temporal covenant are God and the elect in Christ. Through saving union with Christ alone believers receive all of the benefits of redemption in communion with Christ (See WLC 65-90, which couches the application of the gospel to the elect in these terms). Gillespie added that while “temporary” believers come to Christ for salvation only, true believers find in Christ something better than salvation (475). In other words, true Christians must regard Christ himself as the highest blessing of the Covenant of Grace, since Christ is the sum and substance of God’s covenant with him. It is better to know Christ than to be justified, adopted, and sanctified, though when we receive Christ through faith we have all of these things and more in him.