Herman Bavinck on God's Covenant of Grace
Reformed Free Publishing Association
In the April 1 issue of The Standard Bearer, page 302, Rev. Cory Griess says what follows: "Herman Hoeksema taught us to explain this order of sequence between a God-worked activity in us and certain blessings with the phrase in the way of. He proposed this in opposition to the explanation that used the term and concept condition. This term had been used in the past by Reformed writers to explain this connection between good works and blessings in a Reformed fashion. But the term more and more became a vehicle to carry an errant view of this connection. The term was used by the Arminians to teach that our work of faith (not God’s work in us) is what allows God to give us salvation. Teaching, then, that it was not God’s grace but man’s work that made the difference. The Reformed rejected Arminian theology at the Synod of Dordt, also rejecting the Arminian notion of conditions. For this reason, the term was not used by Reformed writers as often any longer."
In footnote 2, Rev Griess quotes the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854–1921): "In the beginning, Reformed theologians spoke freely of ‘the conditions’ of the covenant. But after the nature of the covenant of grace had been more carefully considered and had to be defended against Catholics, Lutherans, and Remonstrants, many of them took exception to the term and avoided it."
Here is a longer quote so that the reader can enjoy the additional context of the quote.
«Thus in a marvelous way the doctrine of the covenant maintains God's sovereignty in the entire work of salvation. It far surpasses the covenant of works to the degree that Christ exceeds Adam. God's threefold being is manifest much more clearly in the re-creation than in the creation. It is the Father who conceives, plans, and wills the work of salvation; it is the Son who guarantees it and effectively requires it; it is the Spirit who implements and applies it. And into that entire work of salvation, from beginning to end, nothing is introduced that derives from humans. It is God's work totally and exclusively; it is pure grace and undeserved salvation. Despite, or rather because of, the fact that this doctrine of the covenant so purely and fully maintains God's sovereignty in the work of salvation, however, it is all the more important to note that it at the same time beautifully allows the rational and moral nature of humans to come into their own. In the covenant of works, this point has already been explained in detail. But in the covenant of grace, it comes to even more striking expression. In this respect it is very different from election. Admittedly, the two are not so different that election is particular while the covenant of grace is universal, that the former denies free will and the latter teaches or assumes it, that the latter takes back what the former teaches. But the two do differ in that in election humans are strictly passive but in the covenant of grace they also play an active role. Election only and without qualification states who are elect and will infallibly obtain salvation; the covenant of grace describes the road by which these elect people will attain their destiny. The covenant of grace is the channel by which the stream of election flows toward eternity. In this covenant Christ indeed acts as the head and representative his own, but he does not efface and destroy them. He vouches for them but does so in such a way that they themselves, instructed and enabled by the Spirit, also consciously and voluntarily consent to this covenant. Although the covenant of grace has been made with Christ, through him it nevertheless reaches out also to his own, completely embraces and incorporates them body and soul. The pact of salvation expands to become a covenant of grace. The head of the covenant of grace is at the same time its mediator. For that reason, from the moment of its public announcement, it comes with the demand of faith and repentance (Mark 1:15). In the beginning, Reformed theologians spoke freely of ‘the conditions’ of the covenant. But after the nature of the covenant of grace had been more carefully considered and had to be defended against Catholics, Lutherans, and Remonstrants, many of them took exception to the term and avoided it.
In the covenant of grace, that is, in the gospel, which is the proclamation of the covenant of grace, there are actually no demands and no conditions. For God supplies what he demands. Christ has accomplished everything, and though he did not accomplish rebirth, faith, and repentance in our place, he did acquire them for us, and the Holy Spirit therefore applies them. Still, in its administration by Christ, the covenant of grace does assume this demanding conditional form. The purpose is to acknowledge humans in their capacity as rational and moral beings; still, though they are fallen, to treat them as having been created in God’s image; and also on this supremely important level, where it concerns their eternal weal and eternal woe, to hold them responsible and inexcusable; and, finally, to cause them to enter consciously and freely into this covenant and to break their covenant with sin. The covenant of grace, accordingly, is indeed unilateral: it proceeds from God; he has designed and defined it. He maintains and implements it. It is a work of the triune God and is totally completed among the three Persons themselves. But it is destined to become bilateral, to be consciously and voluntarily accepted and kept by humans in the power of God. This is the will of God, which so clearly and beautifully manifests itself in the covenant in order that the work of grace may be clearly reflected in the human consciousness and arouse the human will to exert itself energetically and forcefully. The covenant of grace does not deaden human beings or treat them as inanimate objects. On the contrary, it totally includes them with all their faculties and powers, in soul and body, for time and eternity. It embraces them totally, does not destroy their power, but deprives them of their impotence. It does not kill their will but frees them from sin; it does not numb their consciousness but delivers it from darkness. It re-creates the whole person and, having renewed it by grace, prompts it, freely and independently, with soul mind, and body, to love God and to dedicate itself to him. The covenant of grace declares that God’s honor and acclaim is not won at the expense but for the benefit of human persons and celebrates its triumphs in the re-creation of the whole person, in his or her enlightened consciousness and restored freedom.»
~ Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic 2006), 228-230. The complete set consists of four volumes.
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