God works through covenants
(note: this discussion may not be that easy to follow as I might be assuming some of my readers, and I might not fully understand the whole issue as well as I think, but I will try and make the clear things as clear as possible)
It should be noted that all Christians pretty much agree on the fact that God works through covenants. But where I am indebted to Presbyterians is that they largely think explicitly about covenants to help understand the one storyline of Scripture, whereas the traditions I grew up in do not. The Westminster Confession of Faith refers to the “covenant of works”, which was the agreement between God and Adam at creation, which is why there is a curse on the world now; and it also refers to the “covenant of grace”, which is the agreement with God and His Son, that all those who trust in Christ will be saved. The covenant of grace finds different expressions throughout the Bible, culminating in the New Covenant. Adam is the first covenant head, Jesus is the second covenant head.
It really does help piece the whole Bible together. Everyone is born into the covenant of works, so everyone is condemned through our covenant head, Adam. But all those who enter the covenant of grace are saved through our covenant head, Jesus. That is all right out of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. That is why it is very accurate to say (as I once heard that Mark Dever has said, and this sounds like him) that covenant theology is the gospel.
What I have found to be a problem with the Presbyterian understanding of the covenant of grace is that there seems to be a loophole. Presbyterians argue that children of believers are partakers of the Covenant of Grace. That is why they baptize them. We also would agree that in the Covenant, God is making promises to all who receive the covenant signs. So my question is: If God is making promises to those who receive the sign, shouldn’t every child of a Presbyterian should end up being justified, sanctified, and glorified? If not, then the covenant is not a sure thing.
The two ways (I think) they would respond is that, one, the covenant of grace is a conditional covenant (which, to me, flies in the face of grace, according to Romans 4.16), and, two, the covenant members are not the same as the elect (which, to me, calls into question the reason for this covenant of grace, and would mean that there is no single covenant in the Bible that is a guarantee for any human being; in other words, there would be no single covenant exclusively God and the elect).
I think the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith is helpful when it says that the Covenant of Grace “is founded in that eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect.” (Reformed) Baptists are explicit about the Covenant of Redemption, an agreement within the Trinity to redeem an elect people from all tribes, tongues and nations through the blood of the Son. The two parties: the Father and the Son. It is a sure thing. Therefore, the different covenants of the Bible work out that one eternal covenant (Hebrews 13.20). It makes all those who are a part of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31) completely confident that God will provide exactly what we need to receive all the covenant blessings.
This, I believe, still makes me covenantal, but, also in my opinion, more consistent. And at the end of the day, it is more comforting for believers. As you might see, it is difficult to talk about covenants without talking about covenant signs (the Sacraments). So that is where I plan to turn next.