The concept of the covenant might well be described as the normative idea of biblical revelation. It does justice to two important elements in that revelation, namely its unity and its progressive character. There is in Scripture a divine unfolding of the eternal purposes of God; but amid all the diverse modes by which that revelation is made there is an inner coherence, so that the complete revelation is the Word of God, the one perfect and fully coherent utterance of the Most High. Yet it is probably a fairly safe generalization to say that even in evangelical thought, which claims to be biblical, this normative concept has tended to become a peripheral idea.
A covenant is essentially a pledged and defined relationship. There are three main elements in it—the parties contracting together, the promises involved, and the conditions imposed. It is clearly possible to have a covenant between equals or one which is imposed unilaterally by a superior. It is obvious, however, that any covenant between God and man can never be as between equals, but must be imposed from above. The LXX translators clearly saw this point when they translated berith not by suntheke but by diatheke which still retained something of its original connotation of a sovereign disposition.
Grace after the Fall. In God’s dealings with man, the Fall presents a clearly-defined line of demarcation. Prior to that point it is with man in a state of innocence that God deals. Afterwards it is to man as a guilty rebel that God extends his free and undeserved favor. Hence the distinction has been drawn between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The former in so far as it is still a gracious act of condescension might be better described in Matthew Henry’s ...1
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