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The Covenant of Grace

William Ames (1576-1633) - One of the Greatest Theological Puritans and Writers

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“The first act of religion, therefore, concerns those things which are communicated to us from God. The other concerns those things which we yield to God.”

The administration of the Covenant of Grace before Christ is an important topic in the scheme of systematic and biblical theology. Ames helps us here to understand it.

1. Although the free, saving covenant of God has been one and the same from the beginning, the manner of the application of Christ or the administration of the new covenant has not always been so. It has varied according to the times during which the church has been in process of being gathered.

2. In this variety there has always been a progression from the imperfect to the more perfect.

3. At first the mystery of the gospel was manifested in a general and obscure way and later more specifically and clearly.

4. The manner of administration of the covenant is twofold: One points to the Christ who will appear and the other to the Christ who has appeared.

5. The Old and New Testaments are reducible to these two primary heads. The Old promises Christ to come and the New testifies that he has come.

6. While Christ was still to appear, all things were more outward and carnal, afterwards more inward and spiritual. John 1:17, The law was delivered by Moses; grace and truth came by Christ.

7. The church then had a double aspect: first as an heir and second as a child. Gal. 4:1 ff. So long as the heir is an infant he differs not at all from a servant, though he be lord of all.

8. As an heir the church was free; as a child, in a certain way, not free. Gal. 4:1.

9. As an heir it was spiritual; as a child carnal and earthly, Heb. 9:10; Rom. 9:7.

10. As an heir it had the spirit of adoption, but as a child the spirit of fear and bondage. Rom. 8:15, You have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption.

11. The manner of administration of the covenant, in respect to the coming of Christ, was one before Moses and another from Moses to Christ.

12. Before Moses the polity of the church was rude and loose, as it would be in its childhood. There were as many visible churches as there were families of godly people; the ministry was almost always an extraordinary one conducted by prophets. The masters of families and the firstborn had the right to administer certain holy things as ordinary ministers, according to the direction they received from the prophets.

13. And there was some difference of dispensation from Adam to Abraham from that of the time from Abraham to Moses.

14. From Adam to Abraham it should be noted, first, that redemp­tion by Christ and the application of Christ was promised in general. It was to be carried out by the seed of the woman in order to banish the works of the devil, or sin and death. Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20;

1 John 3:8, The seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head. The God of peace will tread Satan under vow feet shortly. The Son of God was manifested to dissolve the works of the devil.

15. Second, calling was evident in the distinction between the seed of the woman and the seed of the devil, and between the sons of God and the sons of men, Gen. 6:2. Third, the way of justification was set forth by expiatory sacrifices offered and accepted for sins. Eph. 5:2, Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.

16. Fourth, adoption was indicated both by the title of sons, com­mon to all the faithful at that time, and by the translation of Enoch into the heavenly inheritance. Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5.

17. Fifth, sanctification was expressly taught by the prophets and foreshadowed by typical oblations and rites of sacrifice, Jude 14;

Rom. 12.1.

18. Sixth, glorification was publicly sealed by the example of Enoch and the saving of Noah and his family from the flood. 1 Peter 3:20, 21.

19. In this period the building and saving of the ark in the flood was an extraordinary sacrament, Heb. 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20, 21. There was no ordinary sacrament in those times, but in many sacrifices there was something like a sacrament, for those who sacrificed commonly partook of a holy banquet at a holy place with joy before God in their sacrifices, Exod. 18:12. This sealed to them in a certain way the grace of the covenant which is present in the sacraments.

20. From the time of Abraham the church chiefly consisted of his family and his posterity.

21. At that time the benefits of the new covenant were all more clearly and distinctly witnessed to than before.

22. First, election was set forth in the persons of Isaac and Jacob who were beloved before Ishmael and Esau, Rom. 9:11-13.

23. Second, redemption along with its application was majestically shown in the person and blessing of Melchizedek — also in the prom­ise and covenant of blessing to come to all nations from the seed of Abraham.

24. Third, a calling came in the leading of Abraham from Ur of Chaldees to a certain new and heavenly country, Heb. 11:8-10.

25. Fourth, justification was illustrated by the express testimony of God that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness, as the father and pattern of all who should believe. The sacrament of cir­cumcision was also given, which was the seal of that righteousness.

26. Fifth, adoption was declared by giving God’s name to Abraham and all the sons of the promises, and by assigning the inheritance to the sons of the promises, the family of the free woman through grace, Gal. 4:26, 28, 31.

27. Sixth, sanctification was prefigured by circumcision, which stood for the taking away and abolishing of the corruption of sin and the old man so that a new creature might come in their places, Col. 2:11; Deut. 30:6.

28. Seventh, glorification was pointed to in the blessing promised in the land of Canaan, which was a type of the heavenly country.

29. From the time of Moses to Christ, these same things were further adumbrated by extraordinary and ordinary means.

30. Redemption and its application were extraordinary. They were signified, first, in the deliverance from Egypt through the ministry of Moses, who was a type of Christ, Matt. 2:15, and by the entrance into the land of Canaan through the ministry of Joshua, another type of Christ. Second, in the brass serpent, by looking at which men who were about to die were restored to health, John 3:14; 12:32. Third, in the cloud which shielded the Israelites from all injuries from enemies and from the sky. They also had light provided day and night, along with a refreshing of their strength, 1 Cor. 10:2; Isa. 4:4-5. Fourth, in the passing through the Red Sea where a way was opened to the land of promise, their enemies being overwhelmed and destroyed, 1 Cor. 10:2. Fifth, in the manna from heaven and the water from the rock whence they received continual nourishment, so to speak, out of God’s hand, 1 Cor. 10:3, 4; John 6:32, 33.

31. In the ordinary sense Christ and redemption were foreshadowed by the high priest, the altars, and sacrifices for sins.

32. Justification was shown in many sacrifices and ablutions and in the sacrament of the Passover.

33. Adoption was shown in the dedication of the firstborn to God.

34. Sanctification was set forth in all the offerings and gifts as well as in the observances which had anything to do with cleanliness.

35. Glorification was shown in the inheritance of the promised land and the communion which they had with God in the holy of holies.

36. The church of the Jews instituted by Moses, in point of exter­nal coming together, was only one because the whole solemn com­munion prescribed at that time depended upon one temple and was exercised by public profession and rites.

37. The synagogues were not complete churches, for the total wor­ship of God and the whole sacred communion prescribed at that time could not be exercised in them.

38. Therefore, the church of the Jews was a national church-though in some respect catholic or universal, inasmuch as the believ­ing proselytes of every nation under heaven were bound to join them­selves to that one church. Acts 2:5, 6, 8-11; 8:27.

39. The primary ministers were the priest of the family of Aaron in a continued line of succession, and to them were joined the other Levites, Num. 3:6-10.

40. Yet neither priests nor Levites were allowed to minister unless they were first examined, and passed the tests in body, age, and gifts of the mind.

41. The ecclesiastical discipline of that time was ceremonial to a large extent, but sufficient to keep pure all holy things of every kind.

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