R.C. Sproul writes, “The covenant of grace, rather than annihilating the covenant of works, makes provision for someone else to fulfill the covenant of works for us…We are still justified by works—the works of Jesus, not our own.”
Previously, we saw the importance of understanding a covenant as an agreement in Scripture, and that the Covenant of Works existed with Adam before the Fall with the promise of life for obedience (which we qualified typologically as temporal, not eternal—earthy, not heavenly). All these details were to fully appreciate God’s plan for Jesus Christ to fulfill the Covenant of Works as eternal God and earn Christians eternal life. Now the Confession transitions into the Covenant of Grace stressing that the only possibility for anyone’s everlasting security is Solus Christus (in Christ Alone).
WCF 7.3: Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second,(e) commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him that they may be saved,(f) and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.(g)
After the Fall, the Covenant of Works is still binding on all Adam’s posterity, but it only condemns. Adam became “incapable of [maintaining] life.” E. Clark Copeland explains, “… that the covenant of grace brings to consummation the covenant of life and confirms its principle of perfect obedience to the Lord God is confirmed through the Scripture in the command to be perfect as He is perfect, and in man’s accountability at the judgment …” The Covenant of Grace is gracious in terms of what it bestows to us, but it is a reward for perfect obedience in relation to Jesus Christ on our behalf.
Still, the Confession teaches that this salvation does have a condition: the requirement of faith (see WLC 32). Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and thus to be saved. Copeland writes, “The gospel offer is made in covenant terms.” Wayne Spear instructs, “In one sense, then, the Covenant of Grace may be said to be conditional. Its command is to believe, and the promised salvation is given only to those who believe … those whom God has chosen from eternity are enabled to fulfill the condition of the Covenant of Grace.” Indeed, faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). God ordains our salvation, and He meets His condition by making us “willing and able to believe”—so it is all His sovereign grace. Still, as Watson emphasizes, “Faith is the condition of the covenant of grace; without faith, without covenant; and without covenant, without hope.”
Some add a distinction of the “Covenant of Redemption” as the Trinity’s eternal commitment to the Covenant of Grace for the redeemed realized in time. However, A.A. Hodge instructs that our standards
“…say nothing of two covenants…but assume that there is but one covenant contracted by Christ in behalf of the elect with God in eternity, and administered by him to the elect in the offers and ordinances of the gospel and in the gracious influences of his Spirit…The Confession of Faith in these sections teaches how that same covenant is administered by Christ to his people.”
So the Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 31 reads, “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.”
WCF 7.4: This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a Testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.(h)
The Greek word for “testament” is usually translated as “covenant” in Scripture, but it is appropriately rendered by the Confession here reflecting Hebrews 9:15 with Christ passing on our inheritance to us through His “last will and testament” enacted by the cross. O. Palmer Robertson points out that “the theme of Hebrews 9:15ff is covenant inauguration,” and explains that the idea of “testament” here relates to Christ agreeing to take on the death penalty of the Covenant of Works and so put it and its curse to death, thus bequeathing us His righteous life in the Covenant of Grace (see Rev. 21:7).
WCF 7.5: This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel:(i) under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come:(k) which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah,(l) by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called, the Old Testament.(m)