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Covenant Concepts in Dr. Francis Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology by C. Matthew McMahon

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) - The Most Precise Theologian of the Reformation Era

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“Every decree of God is eternal; therefore it cannot depend upon a condition which takes place only in time. (2) God’s decrees depend on his good pleasure (eudokia) (Mt. 11:26; Eph. 1:5; Rom. 9:11). Therefore they are not suspended upon any condition outside of God. (3) Every decree of God is immutable (Is. 46:10; Rom. 9:11).”

Covenant Concepts in Dr. Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology. This is an look at Turretin’s formulation of the Covenant of Grace and how the Covenant of Redemption was something he thought about or did not think about, and why. It is taken from his Institutes.

In the writings of theologians both past and present, there is a distinction made between the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Redemption.1 This distinction and phraseology is used to pronounce precise theological judgments about the manner in which the student should consider the differences between the intra-trinitarian covenant made before the foundation of the world (The Covenant of Redemption), and how that covenant directly affects men in the created order of time (The Covenant of Grace). The best presentation of the divine covenants is Herman Witsius’ work, “The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man,” a theological treatise that Francis Turretin would not have the pleasure of reading. Turretin, instead, followed the line of thought in keeping to a single Covenant of Grace, but made further precise definitions within that covenant to ascertain exactly the relationship between the Father and the Son from eternity, and the relationship between God and men in time. Turretin, like the Westminster Confession of Faith, does not use the term “Covenant of Redemption.” Instead, he compartmentalizes how the covenant actually works, and that compartmentalization is the subject of this paper.

Turretin begins his magnum opus2 by studying divine revelation and Scripture, then moves onto Theology Proper. After setting down the attributes of God, he explains the manner of the divine will and sets forth predestination in both His elective and reprobative decrees. This is a most critical juncture in his thought process for the foundation of election (i.e. the manner in which men are redeemed after the fall). Turretin does not explicate the doctrine of predestination when he works through the Covenant of Grace. The decrees of God furnish the reader and the student with enough material at that point to make a conscious distinction between how the Covenant of Grace affects the lives of men, and how the decreed counsel of God is preplanned before the foundation of the world. Turretin says that Reformed orthodoxy “holds a twofold decree according to a twofold order of the works of God: the one of providence, the other of predestination.”3 In predestination God eternally decrees the salvation of men based on the pact in which is regulated by the agreement of the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father. Turretin uses Scriptures such as Luke 22:22 “The Son of man goeth, as it was determined…” He defines predestination as the decree of God …about intelligent creatures in order to their ultimate end.”4 He says that the “election of men is made in Christ.”5 This is immediately relevant to his conceptions of predestination and the agreement between the Father and the son. Only in Christ, in the decreed counsel of God, does election take place. The effect of election cannot be the cause of election, so one cannot rightly say that Christ is the cause of it. Rather, the work of Christ procures it but it is the decree of God that causes it. Salvation is the ends and Christ is the means to that end. Turretin says, “Therefore, the destination of salvation to the elect ought to be conceived before the destination of Christ to obtain that end.”6 No one can be given to Christ, or saved by Him, unless they have been ordained to that end, and then given to Him by the Father (cf. John 17:6-7). Thus, for Turretin, election is coextensive with God’s decree to save men through Christ. This, though, is part of the eternal period of the pact in which the Son agrees to save men, not part of the period that takes place in time. All the gracious aspects of the agreement between the Father and son are executed in time under the guise of the Covenant of Grace through the application of the Holy Spirit. If the reader does not grasp the importance of this shift in thought, then the Covenant of Grace will become confusing later on though Turretin attempts to give precise explanations of how that Covenant is divided into various administrations.7

In his second volume, twelfth topic, Turretin explains the Covenant of Grace and its twofold economy in the Old and New Testaments.8 This distinction alone should clue the reader into understanding that Turretin is placing emphasis on the Covenant of Grace in time – in the redemptive framework of the Old Testament and New Testament.

Turretin emphasizes the word “covenant” as an institution made by God being the “center and bond of all religion.”9 In other words, without understanding the proper role and concept of “covenant” in the Scriptures, religion itself will be overthrown. He explains that to “strike and to cut a covenant” fits well with the Old Testament Hebrew derivation of “krth byyth”.10 In the New Testament the Greek word “diatheke” can be referred to “every covenant and agreement.”11 However, he makes a distinction in saying that “covenant” “peculiarly denotes a testamentary disposition with a federal agreement.” This emphasis presses the definition of “covenant” to include “a pact or agreement.”12 He further defines the proper use of the term as “a pact and agreement entered into by God and man, consisting partly in stipulation of duty (or of the thing to be done) and part in the promise of reward (which is the meaning in Genesis 17:2 where God is said to wish to make a covenant with Abraham).”13 This is an important note to be made since, at this point, Turretin is explaining the relationship of covenant in general in particular to the Covenant of Grace between God and man. He is not describing, at this point, the relationship between The Father and Son, which will be a later revision and administration in his mind. This has direct inference upon the idea of “promise” “because it rests entirely upon the divine promise” which is administered to men by the power of the Holy Spirit.14 In terms, then, of the nature of the Covenant of Grace, Turretin says that it represents that, “in which there is a mutual approach of the contracting parties to each other and a close and familiar union (which proves on the part of God his wonderful condescension…).”15

After these preliminary considerations Turretin then defines “Covenant of Grace” as, “a gratuitous pact entered into in Christ between God offended and man offending.”16 Here he explains how God promises the remissions of sin and houses salvation in Christ. He calls it a “gratuitous agreement” that is ratified by Christ. The author of this covenant, though it is a pact between two parties, is God. Turretin notes that the Scripture always calls it the covenant of God and never the covenant of man.17 It is established by the good pleasure of God, that topic Turretin covered in volume 1 of his institutes under the concepts of election and reprobation. God could have simply judged man according to the Covenant of Works, but has, in His good pleasure, decided to engage him in a gracious covenant that saves. The contracting parties of this gracious covenant are God offended and man offending. Through the Mediator, who is Christ, men are reconciled back to God.

At this juncture, Turretin must begin to make a distinction between the parts of the covenant. He differentiates between the pact made with men (between God and man) and the intra-trinitarian covenant between the Father and the son. He says, “it is certain that a twofold pact must be attended to here or the two parts and degrees of the one and same pact.” This is critical. Turretin uses the terminology of “Covenant of Grace” while at the same time making a differentiation between how that covenant is applied to man, and how that covenant was formed before the foundation of the world as a covenant between the Father and the Son. Here, he is making a serious distinction between the administrations of the Covenant of Grace between the Father and Son, and the Covenant of Grace between God and men. Though it is strange to say it in that manner, this is what he means: there are stages to the one Covenant of Grace that involve different periods with different pacts or agreements within them. If this concept is overlooked or seen as unimportant, then a clear understanding of Covenant Theology is impossible. Turretin does not use the more refined terminology of the “Covenant of Redemption”, but does say “the former is the agreement between the Father and the Son to carry out the work of redemption.”18 This is the same thought process that later theologians (just a decade later with Witsius) will use the designation Covenant of Redemption. Turretin, instead, simply divides the Covenant of Grace into two sections (the same division that the Westminster Assembly made in the Westminster Confession of Faith). Section one is the pact or agreement between the Father and the Son, and section two is the pact or agreement between God and offending man. The term, Covenant of Grace, then, becomes a vehicle in expressing these two separate ideas. As Turretin says, “the former the past with the Father and the Son was made with the surety and head for the salvation of its members; the latter was made with the members in the head and surety.”19

After making the crucial distinction between the two administrations of the Covenant of Grace in terms of that which is bound by eternity between the Father and the Son, and that which is bound by time as with God and offending man, Turretin then finds it vital to take time to explain and prove the reality of the pact between the Father and the Son. He defines this pact by stating, “the pact between the Father and the Son contains the will of the Father giving his Son as a lytroten (Redeemer and head of his mystical body) and the will of the Son offering himself as sponsor for his members to work out that redemption (apolytrosin).”20 Here the Father then makes an agreement with the Son, and the Son with the Father in order to fulfill the required demands of the law. Turretin says, “The law of the covenant is established by the Father…”21 The Father provides the Son with that which He needs to fulfill his task, and the Son agrees to the task in order to fulfill his end of the covenant. Turretin says, “The acceptance on the part of the Son consists in this – that to this will of the Father and law of the covenant he voluntarily submitted himself to becoming a surety for us.”22 This is completely dependent upon the Father upholding His side of the agreement. The Scripture affirms that he does. Hebrews 10:5, “but a body have you prepared for me…” Hebrews 10:7 then demonstrates the succession of the Son’s commitment, “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.” John 15:10 speaks to this agreement, “I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” Turretin says that this covenant made between the Father and Son is apparent and undisputed. “All these things are plainly gathered from the Scriptures.”23

After preempting thoughts surrounding the pact between the Father and the Son, Turretin turns to more fully explain it by way of three periods of “that covenant.” Turretin does not say “three periods of the Covenant of Grace.” Nor does he continue his line of thinking in saying “this” covenant, referring back to the opening statements of the Covenant of Grace in volume 2. Rather, in relation to the covenant between the Father and the Son, he says, “that covenant can be considered in three periods.”24 Turretin does believe that the covenant between the Father and the Son is a bona fide covenant. As Turretin says, “that” covenant demonstrates the intra-trinitarian relationship of the decreed will of God seen previously on his treatment of the decrees of God and predestination.25 He says “that covenant” is divided into three periods: 1) in destination, 2) in the promise, and 3) in the execution.

In terms of the destination of the covenant between the Father and the Son, it is “from eternity” where “in the counsel of the most holy Trinity he the Son was given as a sponsor and Mediator to the church. (At this point it is important to pause and consider the relationship of the covenant between the Father and the Son, and the entrance of that covenant in time. The intra-trinitarian agreement is the foundation of the Covenant of Grace. Without such a foundation, there would be no decreed counsel. This foundation is coextensive with salvation. The Covenant of Grace, as Turretin will point out later, is dependent upon a condition, and not necessarily coextensive with salvation. It may be, as with the case of the elect, but may not be as in the case with covenant breakers.) Each time the Scriptures speak of predestination, and ordination of the Mediator before the foundation of the world, the student must recognize the pact between the Father and the Son. This is where predestination takes place as decreed and ordained for every elect member of the church. The Mediator comes on behalf of the church in order to redeem her, but that outward expression of the covenant between the Father and the son will not take place until a time-situation point in redemptive history. However, the decreed reality has been evident even from before the foundation of the world within the decree of God. 1 Peter 1:20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake.” Proverbs 8:23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” Psalm 2:7-8 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” Turretin says, “here Christ describes the eternal destination (made in the decree of God) of Himself, who is the eternally begotten Son of God and on that account alone capable of undertaking so great and office as King of the whole earth.”26

Turretin asserts that the next stage of “that covenant” is “with respect to the promise.”27 The promise of salvation was made immediately after the fall of man in Genesis 3:15. Man as a result of rebellion and sin had now offended God. The Mediator then took up the Old Testament role of divine revelation and took up many operations of the Mediator and His suretyship even while progressing the intrusion of salvation into time. He influences ministers and priests to do his will, creates types and shadows for future prophecies, and manifests Himself to the fathers of the covenant. This substantiates the nature of the divine promise since, as God so swore by Himself, so He, in time, begins to demonstrate the substance of the covenant through outward accidens. 1 Peter 1:10-11 states, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.”

With regard to the third period, Turretin takes up a short mentioning of the incarnation of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ took upon himself human flesh (that which was ordained by His Father) in order to accomplish in it the work of salvation in obedience as the Mediator. Hebrews 10:5-7 states, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” This incarnation, then, is the entrance of the Mediator into time to take upon Himself the Law Covenant (the perfect will of God that binds all rational creatures into perfect conformity in character and conduct) in order to reestablish the relationship between fallen man and God. This second Adam fulfills what the first Adam did not fulfill in the prescription of “Do this and Live.” Thus, underlying even the Covenant of Redemption, or “that covenant” between the Father and the Son, as Turretin states, is the necessity of upholding the character of God in human flesh. Adam in the garden failed to do this, and Christ, incarnate, accomplished it.

Having set down the fundamentals of the intra-trinitarian covenant, Turretin moves to explain the Covenant of Grace set in time after the fall of Adam. God progressively reveals His covenant to men in order that He may be a God to them. Turretin says this communication of God to the creature is not something that God does with all men, but federally with his people.28 God’s plan encompasses all of redemptive history with the same saving benefits to all those eternally elected, though the outward administration of those benefits may differ as to divine revelation through time. Abraham will be saved in the same manner that a Christian today is saved, however, the administration of that salvation (the vehicle in which it is delivered) will be the types and shadows (diverse ways) in the Old Testament and the full revelation of the incarnate Mediator (God’s Son) in the New Testament. Turretin says that in both the Old Testament or the New Testament salvation encompasses, “the bestowal of the Holy Spirit (Ezk. 36:27); the remission of sins (Jer. 31:34); regeneration, designated by the inscription of the law (Jer. 31:33); adoption (2 Cor. 6:18); the taking away of a stony heart and the giving of a new and fleshly heart (Ezk. 36:26); perseverance (Jer. 32:40), the peculiar blessing of this covenant because it ought to be inviolable and eternal; all the spiritual blessings of grace and glory (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:8, 9,14; Acts 3:26; Eph. 1:3). All these are usually designated by the word “salvation,” which implies not only the possession of life (which had a place in the first covenant), but also deliverance from death (which had been introduced by sin).”29 However, even though the covenant bestows life through the Mediator, there are still conditions upon which men may enter that covenant to eternal life.

There are two kinds of people that enter into a “covenantal” status, a federal status, in relation to the Covenant of Grace. The first are the elect, by which the agreement between the Father and Son is beneficial to salvation for them, and then those federally holy, having the outward administration of the Covenant placed upon them (such as in circumcision and baptism). Turretin says that in terms of baptizing infants, this practice is done only to the “covenanted and Christian.”30 There is a difference between being Christian (elected) and covenanted (being one in the “society of persons called by the preaching of the Gospel to the profession of one faith, communion of the same sacred rites and observance of the same order.”)31 The difference is between being covenanted in the church by outward profession, and being a Christian elected from the foundation of the world. Turretin makes a threefold designation for the church, one consisting of the elect, one of society of covenanted members, and one of ruling officers.32 However, he raises the question as to whether or not the reprobate can be covenanted with God. In this way, he says, “Although in external communion, the church includes these also who are connected by a profession alone, the same cannot be said of the internal state of which we speak.”33 Also, “The church can be regarded in two ways: either as to external state and visible form, or as to internal and invisible form.”34 Turretin then makes a twofold designation of the church, and subsequently the covenanted status of the church as inward and outward. Reprobates may be covenanted with God outwardly, but not inwardly as to the substance of election. Here, Turretin distinguishes between members within the church, and “true members.” Those who covenant with God may make a profession of faith, but may indeed be hypocrites. Of these Turretin says a profession of faith sanctifies them externally and apparently. This characteristic is explained when he says, “the apostle distinguishes being in the church as to external profession and the ecclesiastical body; and being of the church as to internal communion and the mystical body of Christ (which belongs to the elect alone).”35 These concepts must be kept in mind in relation to his thoughts on the conditions of the Covenant of Grace.

According to Turretin, the Covenant of Grace is conditional, with mutual blessing dependant upon obedience. He says, “As that formula of the covenant is mutual with the blessings promised by God to the covenanted (including also the duties required of man), we must see now what these are.”36 There are duties that are required of man in the Covenant of Grace. All covenants, by definition, hold this to be true. For instance, Turretin says, “when God wishes that inasmuch as He promises to be our God, we in turn should be His people—”I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33). Here the relation be­tween God and us is designated, implying a mutual exchange of benefits and duties, so that if God is our husband, we should be his chaste and faithful spouse; if he is our Father, we should be sons; if a King and Redeemer, we should be his peculiar people who live as the ransomed of the Lord. However as all God’s bless­ings towards us are comprehended in this one promise alone, so all man’s duties toward God are prescribed in this single condition (which indicates together and at once both what they ought to be and what they are bound to do).”37 The conditions of the Covenant of Grace are given in two ways, a priori – antecedently as the force behind how those conditions are met, and a posteriori – as a condition upon faith and repentance. Though Turretin is being precise with his concepts here, there is an overall failure to clearly recognize what he is saying unless application is practically enforced to what he has already said about the pact between the Father and the Son. Turretin is saying that in light of the eternal decree of God, salvation, and all that it encompasses is wholly gratuitous. However, in terms of the responsibility of man, the Covenant of Grace is conditional upon their faith and repentance for its true reception. This is difficult to sort out since he does not use both the terms Covenant of Redemption and Covenant of Grace and place them in their respective departs. Rather, he melds the two together, calls both of them the Covenant of Grace in different administrations, and then tries to explain adequately how these interrelate in two separate senses. This is typical of scholasticism, but not needful for theological precision.38

Turretin then makes a difference between the conditional nature of the Covenant of Grace and the Law. The Law requires perfect obedience (that which Christ alone upholds) but the Covenant of Grace requires evangelical faith. Law is natural, flowing from the character of God that all men are bound to uphold, where the Covenant of Grace is supernatural and given (as a gift) to men. In the end, the legal condition has a meritorious cause, where the Covenant of Grace is not by legal merit, but by grace received.39 Though what he is saying is true, he is not giving the foundation by which the merit of the Covenant of Grace is employed – the righteousness of Christ on behalf of the sinner. Turretin will not take this up until the thirteenth topic subsequent to this topic. What happens is that Turretin confuses his reader until they read through his works and piece together, in the proper order, a more helpful systematic in terms of his thought on the relationship between the Law, the Covenant of Grace and the work of Christ. It is this writer’s opinion that Turretin is more convoluted in his treatment of systematizing this information, and could have been more precise in dealing with a better structure of relationship in these ideas.

God gives grace to men so that they may fulfill the condition of the Covenant of Grace – faith and repentance. In changing the heart of the sinner, the reflex act of faith ensues and repentance results. The conditions are met first by election, then by the operation of the Spirit to yield the final result of a changed sinner in time. Though this be true, the Law covenant and its conditions are upheld by Christ, so that His work (the agreement in eternity past) may be satisfactory with the Father. The Holy Spirit then applies this to the sinner and the final time related administration of the Covenant of Grace is fulfilled. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament the substance of the Covenant of Grace was the same, and all those who looked by faith to the Messiah were saved. Turretin says, “For Christ saves, not as perfectly known and according to all circumstances, but as truly and seriously apprehended.”40 Thus, the Old Testament was not a “different covenant” but rather, the “external dispensation” still had in it that which “pertains to the substance of the Covenant of Grace and of the gospel promise.” Turretin simply saw the gospel administered in various ways and to various degrees.41 Even when the New Covenant was realized in Christ, Turretin rightly says that it is not new in substance, but as to the circumstances and mode simply being manifested without a veil.42 Turretin says the Reformed differentiate between the Old Testament and the New Testament as to time, as to clarity, as to easiness, as to sweetness, as to perfection, as to freedom, as to amplitude and as to duration. In terms of time, “the orthodox maintain that the difference between the Old and New Testaments (broadly considered) is only accidental, not essential (as to the circumstance, manner and degree of this thing).”43 In terms of clarity, the new mysteries are better set forth than before. In terms of its easiness, because the administration and service in the Old Testament was far more burdensome. As to sweetness, in the Old Testament the law was urged more firmly, where in the New Testament the sweetness of the Gospel is urged, though not to the exclusion of the law. In terms of perfection, the Old Testament did not have the accidental perfection of degree, though it did have the perfection as to substance. In terms of freedom, in the Old Testament the spirit of bondage prevailed unto fear. In the New Testament the Gospel jubilee is pronounced to all who embrace Christ and are freed from bondage and fear. In terms of amplitude, the Old Testament was more restricted to one nation, where the New Testament is indiscriminate to every nation. In terms of duration, the Old Testament lasted only until the time of reformation needful to bring the degree of accidens to their fulfillment. Those in the Old Testament were fully saved by the same blood and sacrifice that New Testament Christians are saved.44 For justification is by faith in every era. It is simply the degree of intensity that differs from one administration of the Covenant of Grace to the other. Otherwise Christ would be a liar in that the thief on the cross went to heaven before Christ was raised from the dead. This demonstrates the reality of the same substance of the covenant through all its administrations.45

Turretin ends his discourse on the twofold economy of the Covenant of Grace with a discussion of the relationship of the Law at Sinai to the New Covenant. Turretin does not see that the Law reiterated at Sinai overthrows the Covenant of Grace in any way and does not dismiss the reality that the Law given at Sinai is different from the Covenant of Grace. He says, “we recognize only two covenants mutually distinct in species (to wit. The covenant of works, which promises life to the doer, and the covenant of grace which promises salvation to the believers.”46 As with all the covenant administrations, the Law at Sinai was simply different in accidents and circumstances, not substance.

Critical Notations on Turretin’s View of Covenant:

Turretin rightly defines the biblical idea of covenant as a pact or agreement between two parties. There have been theological derivations of this linguistic evidence from theologians who attempt to uniformly designate covenant as wholly gratuitous in every area of administration. This however is biblically unfounded. Turretin remains on safe ground here.

Turretin is also correct in marking the confirmation of the agreement between the Father and the Son as the eternal aspect of God’s plan to save fallen human beings. This agreement or pact is essentially important in order to understand the nature of the church, and the visible profession of covenanting in the church and with God as a result of professing faith before Him. The reason for this is that election is based in God’s decreed counsel before time, not based in the Covenant of Grace in time. It is only realized in that sphere. Rather, the covenant concepts that revolve around the sending of the Branch of Righteousness to become High Priest (in the order of Melchizedek) is not a covenant concept agreeable between God and man, but between the Father and the Son.47 Turretin is correct in distinguishing this concept in order to uphold the feasibility of the linguistic term “covenant” in its respective definition. Otherwise, to become indifferent to the agreement between the Father and the Son, is to misplace the nature of the work of the Mediator as the God sent prophet, priest and King. Even in these biblical designations, Turretin still applies them to the eternal aspect and activity of the intra-trinitarian covenant before the creation of any of the created order.

Turretin is correct in asserting that there is a conditional nature to the Covenant of Grace that must be met in order for those who are in the “true church” to partake of its blessing – faith and repentance. This condition is the duty of all those in covenant with God, and without which, the warning passages of Scripture would make little sense to a professing church. He is correct in asserting that men must meet this condition in order to be saved, however, one must take into account that God enables men to meet the condition. The Holy Spirit regenerates the sinner in order to bestow upon him the fulfillment of the Law Covenant’s stipulations of “Do this and Live” through the meritorious work of Jesus Christ who fulfilled righteousness completely and now imputes that work to the elect sinner.48 Once the sinner is regenerated, the reflex act of faith is expressed and repentance results as a simultaneous grace given through the power of the Spirit of God and the new heart he has received. Christ, then, as the prophet, priest and king of God, the Mediator, fulfills the Law’s requirements in order to impute such a righteousness to His people and save them based on the giving of those sinners by the Father to Christ. This was all based on the decree and agreement of God before the foundations of the world. These sinners are then covenanted with God as true church members.

Turretin is correct in saying that those upon profession of faith, or reception by the sacramental sign enter into the outward or external nature of the Covenant of Grace. They do not partake of the substance of that covenant, but rather the external accidens of that administration, whether being circumcised, baptized or by a false profession of faith. Such a relationship to God in this way is the means by which the warning passages of Scripture are fulfilled in those who by external and unregimented profession are seen as apostates (cf. Hebrews 10:29ff).

Turretin is right to make a precise distinction that the Covenant of Grace is divided into the eternal aspect between the Father and the son, the Old Testament administration and the New Testament administration. The agreement between the Father and the Son can be seen in the threefold period of eternity, in shadows in the Old Testament, and in the incarnation. The Old Testament administration is still of the substance of the Covenant of Grace but in various degrees of its external administration. The New Testament is different based solely on the external administration being fulfilled, though the substance of both the Old and New Testament is the same. The New Covenant is, then, the fulfillment of the Covenant of Grace which has never had its essential substance altered in any way, and all who look to the Messiah by faith will be saved, whether before or after the incarnation.

This writer believes Turretin made a grave mistake in not separating, or using proper terminology, in differentiating the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace. Turretin’s structural mistake was one of theological timing in light of the emergence of such terms during church history. If Turretin had taken a twofold approach to explaining God’s redemptive purposes, his thematic structure would have been much easier to cope with. The following serves as a helpful example: The Covenant of Redemption is a pact or agreement between the Father and Son. The Covenant of Grace is the outworking of the fruit of the Covenant of Redemption in time by the application of the Holy Spirit on the church. The Covenant of Grace is not coextensive with salvation necessarily. The elect in that covenant are certainly saved, however, the external administration of the Covenant of Grace allows for the gospel hypocrite to seal the maledictions of the covenant to himself since he openly professes Christ, and covenants with God, but is devoid of saving grace. Such a structure as this is far more easily workable theologically than having to take inordinate amounts of time in explain why various “administrations” or sections of the Covenant of Grace are laid out as Turretin has them. In fact, his differentiation with the Father and Son in “that covenant” seems to indicate he leaned in that position without actually making the necessary advances to use the proper terminology. What happens, then, is that other, more inept theologians follow Turretin, but do not completely agree or understand him. They, then, make grave mistakes in creating the Covenant of Grace as coextensive with salvation in every way, which is often the Baptistic interpretation of Jeremiah 31 and the logical outworking of how the New Testament is different than the Old Testament. In any case, this could be avoided, and more easily taught if Turretin would have taken a different approach in structuring his Covenantal concepts through his works.


[1] The English Puritans followed this distinction resting heavily on Herman Witsius’ work on federal theology after the composition of the Westminster Standards that reflect a combination of Turretin’s distinguishing theological ideas here and Witsius’ later ideas.

[2] Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company call Turretin’s major theological work Institutes of Elenctic Theology that has been recently republished in three volumes (1992-1994).

[3] Turretin, Francis, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1992) 1:428.

[4] Turretin, Institutes, 1:332.

[5] Turretin, Institutes, 1:345

[6] Turretin, Institutes, 1:352.

[7] A perfect example of a confused writer on this subject in mixing up the Covenant of Redemption with how the Covenant of Grace works without making proper distinctions and precise theological formulations is Herman Hanko’s very poorly thought out work, The Everlasting Covenant of Grace. Just within reading a few pages even the keen reader becomes exceedingly confounded at the manner in which Hanko confuses how the Covenant of Grace works. His failure to make proper distinctions and categories within that covenant, as Turretin does, demonstrates his theological ineptness in explaining a crucial doctrine. He says that there is one Covenant of Grace but does not distinguish how that covenant works in the realm of both covenant breakers and the covenant relationship that is intra-trinitarian.

[8] Turretin, Francis, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1994) 2:169.

[9] Turretin, Institutes, 2:169.

[10] Turretin, Institutes, 2:170.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Turretin, Institutes, 2:172.

[14] Turretin, Institutes, 2:173.

[15] Turretin, Institutes, 2:174.

[16] Turretin, Institutes, 2:175.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Turretin, Institutes, 2:177.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Turretin, Institutes, 2:177.

[22] Turretin, Institutes, 2:178.

[23] Turretin, Institutes, 2:177.

[24] Turretin, Institutes, 2:178. Emphasis mine.

[25] For a full explanation of this, the reader is encouraged to study Volume 1, Fourth Topic, on Predestination and the Decrees of God.

[26] Turretin, Institutes, 2:178.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Turretin, Institutes, 2:180.

[29] Turretin, Institutes, 2:183.

[30] Turretin, Francis, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1994) 3:414.

[31] Turretin, Institutes, 3:9.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Turretin, Institutes, 3:13.

[34] Turretin, Institutes, 3:23

[35] Turretin, Institutes, 2:606

[36] Turretin, Institutes, 2:183

[37] Ibid.

[38] It is unfortunate in this writer’s opinion that the Westminster Confession of Faith follows Turretin on this instead of Witsius, though the concepts are mutually the same. Witsius, though, is more precise and better structured in his approach to this topic than Turretin has shown.

[39] Turretin, Institutes, 2:186.

[40] Turretin, Institutes, 2:231.

[41] Turretin, Institutes, 2:230.

[42] Turretin, Institutes, 2:232.

[43] Turretin, Institutes, 2:237.

[44] Turretin, Institutes, 2:249. The Covenant of Grace demands this similarity or the gospel would be overthrown.

[45] Turretin, Institutes, 2:259.

[46] Turretin, Institutes, 2:263.

[47] See Turretin’s comments on Christ’s office as set from eternity in Institutes, 2:393.

[48] Cf. Romans 5:12ff.

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