Meditations on the Larger Catechism, pt. 20
January 21, 2013
God’s Secret Covenant
We finally come to the glories of our redemption with question and answer 30. Yet I hope you have appreciated this feature of the Larger Catechism. It has spent so much time dealing with the creation, humanity’s fall, and the problem of ongoing sin like a gardener would prepare soil. Now into that soil will be planted and watered a beautiful garden of the doctrine of our salvation in Jesus Christ. To use another illustration, the relationship of sin to salvation is like that of a canvas to paint. Without a background canvas upon which to paint no masterpiece could be created.
To meditate on this question and answer focus your minds and hearts on Psalm 25:14. Listen to that verse: “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” Note well that word “friendship.” Its root speaks of a secret. In the context of one person communicating a secret to another it comes to have the connotation of an intimate friendship between two people. Note also how the poetry of the two lines in this verse fit together. “Those who fear” the Lord are those to whom the Lord “makes known” this “friendship” and “covenant.”
So what is this covenant, God’s Secret Covenant? Who are they who experience it? Do you know the Lord’s secret? Have you become his friend? If so, how are you to respond to this? These are the kinds of questions Psalm 25:14 brings to mind and which question and answer 30 of the Larger Catechism seeks to give answers.
What is this Covenant?
In contrast to the “Covenant of Life” (Q&A 20) or “Covenant of Works (Q&A 30) that God made with humanity in the Garden, and which humanity in Adam breached, the covenant spoken of in Psalm 25:14 is another covenant. Despite Adam’s sin, “God [did] not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell” (Q&A 30). What a God we have! Instead, this is a “Covenant of Grace.” It is not a covenant of life on the condition of the personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience of Adam (Q&A 20), but it is a covenant that graciously bestows that life upon those who have not personally obeyed, who have not perfectly obeyed, and who have not perpetually obeyed. It is not a covenant based on your works, but a covenant of grace despite your works. This why the Catechism goes on to say that it is rooted in the “mere love and mercy” of God and that it “delivereth [the] elect out of” the estate of sin and misery “and bringeth them into an estate of salvation” (Q&A 30). Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! What is this covenant? It is a personal, perfect, and perpetual friendship with the Lord who invites us into it by his grace.
Who are its Members?
With whom does the Lord make this covenant? Who are its members? The Catechism has a wonderfully rich answer to this question that brings together many strands of biblical teaching: “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed” (Q&A 31).
Since Adam failed, God sent forth anther Adam to prevail. One man disobeyed and so another came to obey. So ultimately this covenant is made with Christ. Notice that it’s not said to be made with the eternal Son, since he and Father, along with the Holy, dwell in eternal blessedness and love. Instead, the covenant of grace is made with Christ, the incarnate Son, who came to be the second Adam in real history.
In Adam, we are regarded as covenant breakers; in Christ, believers are regarded as covenant partakers. Thus, in Psalm 25:14 David speaks of those who are in this friendly relationship with God. Hence the Catechism adds that those who are in Christ eternally as the elect as being the members of the covenant of grace.
All this speaks from the eternal, ultimate perspective. Yet we also know from Scripture that from our vantage point, this covenant is administered with real people, who are sinners. This means that we also speak of the covenant of grace as being made with those who make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ also with their households. We see this prior to the Old Covenant with Abraham, his children, and his entire household (Gen. 17); we see this posterior to the Old Covenant, under the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, with professors and their children and their households being regarded as members of the covenant of grace (e.g., Acts 2; Eph. 6).
How Should We Respond?
What does all of this mean for us who belong to the covenant of grace? First, this is a cause of joy and praise to those who were God’s enemies but are now his friends; who were once far from him, but are not close to him in intimate fellowhip. In the words of Psalm 111, because the Lord “remembers his covenant forever” (v. 5) and “commanded his covenant forever” (v. 9), we are to exclaim, “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart” (v. 1); we are to shout, “Holy and awesome is his name!” (v. 9) In the words of Paul, because we are “in Christ” we can bless the Lord: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3).
Second, this should be a cause of fervent prayer for our children who belong with us to the administration of the covenant. Pray for the Holy Spirit to cause them to be born again. Pray for the Holy Spirit to grant them repentance and faith. Pray for the Holy Spirit to implant in them a desire to stand up and profess the Lord’s name.
Third, this should also be a cause of fervent prayer for and evangelism towards those who are lost, those who are strangers, and those who are friendless in their relationship with the God who made them. Look at what God has done for you; do you not want that for everyone else?
Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
Pastor, Oceanside United Reformed Church