Grace a Divine Attribute

Richard Muller explains the Reformed orthodox doctrine of the gratia Dei as being a divine perfection:

Although by far the larger discussion of divine grace belongs to the soteriology of Reformed orthodoxy, the theologians of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also consistently place the gratia Dei among the divine affections. 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 characteristic of God’s relations to the finite order, apart from sin, in the act of divine condescension to relate to finite creatures. Beyond this, it is a characteristic of the divine being itself, at the very foundation of God’s relationship with finite, temporal beings.

~PRRD vol. 3 pg. 570

Muller even adds a footnote which says:

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.

Now this is probably a point where Muller doesn’t discuss the “discontinuity” in Reformed orthodoxy. There were at least some Reformed thinkers who would have disagreed, though Muller gives the mainstream position. With the development of the covenant of redemption and high Calvinism, one wonders how it could be the case that grace is the fundamental ground of God’s relationship with all men.

But that’s a much larger discussion.

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Letham Against the Covenant of Redemption

In his The Holy Trinity, Robert Letham levels a brief criticism against the notion that Christ’s salvation was but a revelation of a covenant made between the Father and the Son and not their very shared nature. Writing against Warfield, Letham states:

By the same token, we point to the obedience of the incarnate Son in the economy of salvation, reflecting his eternal relation to the Father in loving submission, in identity of being and equality of status. The faithfulness of God also undercuts the suggestion made by Warfield—only a suggestion, for he does not pursue it—that certain aspects of the relationship between the Father and the Son in the history of salvation may have been due to a “covenant” between the persons of the Trinity by which the Son submitted himself temporarily to the Father, intending to abandon such submission upon the completion of our salvation. If this were so, the Son could not have revealed God to us.

~The Holy Trinity pg. 401

Barth levels a similar charge against Cocceius. The Covenant of Redemption construct, if allowed to remain an articulation of a new relationship that was somehow added to the natural relation between the Father and Son, does not reveal God to us in salvation.

But what could be clearer than that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God’s fullness? God is love, and the love of God was shown clearly in the giving of His Son to die for the life of the world.

My suggestion is that we follow Murray and others in defining covenant as not a product of the will, but rather as relationship itself. The Covenant of Redemption can be preserved by making it one reflection of the divine fellowship. God’s covenant is simply His own self-revelation finding its fulfillment in Christ. Covenant is God dwelling with man. It is Immanuel.

Jesus Christ is the covenant.

Calvin’s Commentary on Isaiah 5:7

Truly the vineyard of Jehovah of hosts is the house of Israel.Hitherto he spoke figuratively; now he shows what is the design of this song. Formerly he had threatened judgment against the Jews; now he shows that they are not only guilty, but are also held to be convicted persons; for they could not be ignorant of the benefits which they had received from God.

Thou broughtest a vine from Egypt, says the Psalmist, and, having driven out the nations, plantedst it. (Psalm 80:8.)

Their ingratitude was plain and manifest. Continue reading

Calvin on Unrepentant Covenant Children

It is certainly true that when children of believers reach the age of discernment [and have never repented or believed] they will have alienated themselves from God and destroyed utterly the truth of baptism. But this is not to say that our Lord has not elected them and separated them from others in order to grant them His salvation. Otherwise, it would be in vain for Saint Paul to say that a child of a believing father or mother is sanctified, who would be impure if he were born of and descended from unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:14).

John Calvin, Treatises Against the Anabaptists and Against the Libertines pg. 52

Robert Rollock on the Ground of Justification

It may be demanded, Had it not been sufficient for our good, and to the end he might redeem us, if he had only lived well and holily, and not also so to have suffered death for us? I answer, it had not sufficed. For all his most holy and righteous works had not satisfied the justice and wrath of God for our sins, nor merited the mercy of God, reconciliation, righteousness, and life eternal for us. The reason is, for that the justice of God did require for our breach of God’s covenant, that we should be punished with death eternal, according to the condition denounced and annexed to the promise of that covenant. Therefore, no good works of our own, or of any mediator for us, after the breach of that covenant of works, could have satisfied the justice of God, which of necessity after a sort required the punishment and death of the offender, or certainly of some mediator in his stead. If, then, all the good and holy works of the Mediator could not satisfy that wrath and justice of God for sin, it is clear they could not merit any new grace or mercy of God for us.

But you will say, that the good and holy works of Christ our Mediator have wrought some part at least of that satisfaction, whereby God’s justice was appeased for us, and some part of that merit whereby God’s favour was purchased for us? I answer, these works did serve properly for no part of satisfaction or merit for us: for that, to speak properly, the death of Christ and his passion only did satisfy God’s justice, and merited his mercy for us.

If any will yet farther demand, May we not divide the satisfaction and merit of Christ into his doings and sufferings, that we may speak on this manner, Christ by his death and passion hath satisfied God’s justice, and by his good and holy works he hath merited God’s mercy for us, that so satisfaction may be ascribed to his death, and merit to his works; that the righteousness wherewith we are justified before God may be partly the satisfaction which Christ performed by his death for us, partly the merits which he obtained by his works for us? I answer; to speak properly, the satisfaction and merit which is by the passion of Christ only, both was and is our righteousness, or the satisfactory and meritorious death of Christ, or the satisfaction which was by Christ’s death, or the merit of his death, or the obedience of Christ, as being obedient to his Father unto the death, the death also of the cross, to be short, that justice of Christ which he obtained when in his passion he satisfied his Father’s wrath- this is our righteousness. For we may say, that either the death of Christ, or his satisfaction, or his merit, or his obedience, or his righteousness, is imputed unto us for righteousness. For all these are taken for one and the same thing.

But here it may be replied, If the works of Christ cannot properly procure for us any satisfaction nor merit, nor any part of satisfaction or merit, then it may be demanded, What hath been, and what is the use of Christ’s works, or of his active obedience, or of the obedience of his life? I answer, that the holiness of the person of Christ, and of his natures, divine and human, and of his works, is the very ground or foundation of the satisfaction and merit which we have in the passion of Christ. That is, the excellency and worthiness of that person and of his works did cause that his passion was both satisfactory and meritorious: for if this person which suffered had not been so holy and excellent, as also his life so pure and godly, it is most certain that his passion could neither have satisfied God’s wrath nor merited mercy for us. For which cause the Apostle, (Heb. vii. 26,) speaking of this ground of his meritorious passion of Christ, saith that such an high priest it became us to have, which is holy, blameless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens. And thus far of Christ, and how he may be said to be under the covenant of works.

~ A Treatise of God’s Effectual Calling pg. 53-55 in The Select Works of Robert Rollock Vol. 1 (Woodrow Society 1849)

Let us note that Rollock goes through both the aspects of Christ’s active and passive obedience and their relationship to providing satisfaction and merit.

He says:

A) The active obedience of Christ does not acquire merit.
B) To speak of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, merit, or obedience is the same as saying the imputation of his passive obedience.
C) The active obedience serves as the ground of the passive obedience.
D) The passion of Christ (his death/ passive obedience) is the satisfaction for sins and meritorious ground for our justification.

Secession Theologians and the Covenant

More and more theological conviction (1880) grew that the Covenant is a reality in history which is clearly distinct from God’s eternal decree of election: God has established his Covenant within the time with the believers and their children. In the Covenant He does not ask the question whether we belong to the number of the elect, but whether we accept Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the Covenant. And this ‘question’ is not obligation-free. It requires a response. It is a matter of God calling us. He calls us to believe in Christ, the ‘mirror of our election’ (John Calvin). In this way He fulfills his eternal decree of election unto salvation.

Those who like to join in the celebration of the victory– for it was a victory indeed!– of living in and thinking from the Covenant, can do so by reading the writings of men like W. H. Gispen and others. Those writers point the finger to the fact that, as a result of the influence of Labadism, church life for a long time took its starting-point in election and regeneration, rather than in the Covenant of grace as it was established with Abraham and his seed. Consequently those who desired to do their public profession of faith and to participate in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper were asked whether they by repentance and faith felt assured of their election and regeneration. If they were not aware of that, they were advised to withdraw lest they eat and drink judgment to themselves.


~ J. Kamphuis An Everlasting Covenant pg. 22