Skip to content

John Davenant on the Covenant: Conditional and Absolute

September 9, 2008

Some relevant quotations:

1) The last argument is taken from a comparison of the twofold covenant, and according to it, of a twofold ordination of men to salvation. As, therefore, in the covenant of nature, that is, the agreement with Adam at the time of creation, salvation was procurable by Adam and all his posterity under the condition of obedience to be paid to the law of nature, and to the express commandment of God; so in the covenant of grace, which was confirmed by the blood of the Mediator, salvation is also understood to be procurable for all men under the condition published in the Gospel, that is, of faith in this Mediator, who hath made satisfaction for the sins of the human race. Moreover, as in the first covenant, God, who ordained salvation as procurable for Adam and his posterity, yet did not predestinate that either Adam himself or any of his posterity should be really saved by that covenant; so God, who in the second covenant ordained salvation as procurable for all under the condition of faith, yet hath not predestinated to give to all men individually this faith. by which they might infallibly obtain salvation. But lest the blood of the Son of God should flow, and through the fault of the human will the same should happen in the second covenant which had happened in the first, namely, that no one should enjoy the benefit of it, God resolved with himself a more deep and secret counsel and determined of his mere and special mercy to give to some persons the ability and will to fulfil the aforesaid condition of faith, and further, that they should actually and infallibly fulfil it. But now, as he would be unjust towards God who should deny that salvation was ordained by God as procurable for Adam and his posterity under the covenant of nature; so he is more unjust towards Christ, who denies that his death was ordained by God, as a remedy for salvation applicable to all under the condition of the new covenant, although many do not obtain salvation by means of it. God himself gave to the world this remedy applicable to all mankind individually; let the world concede to God the liberty of applying it, as it may seem good to his wisdom and justice. Those who think in this manner of the death of Christ do not take away that common loving-kindness of God, of which the Scripture testifies; and yet at the same time they contend, that as many as are saved by the merit of the death of Christ, are saved by special and undeserved grace; and that as many aa are not saved, perish through their own unbelief, or at least. through their own fault. I omit bringing forward any more arguments to corroborate this our opinion. Let us now attend to what is wont to be objected on the other side. John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 364-365.

2) REPLY 1. But I answer, When we affirm the death of Christ according to the ordination of God, and the nature of the thing, to be a remedy applicable to every man, we consider not merely the outward passion of Christ endured at the appointed moment of time, but the eternal virtue of the death of Christ, bringing salvation to mankind in every age. For Christ, as to the intention of God, was a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and the efficacy ofthis propitiatory sacrifice could extend itself as much to those who lived before Christ suffered, as to us who live after his passion. If therefore they only mean, that those could not be relieved by the death of Christ in time, who before his death were by an irrevocable decree adjudged to infernal punishment, we confess the same; because they had then ceased to be living in this world, and therefore were not capable of repentance and faith; but if they mean to contend farther, that the eternal virtue of the death of Christ was not applicable to such persons while they were alive in this world, because the passion of Christ did not regard them any more than the wicked and condemned angels, that we deny. For it may be truly said of Cain, Esau. or any man who died before Christ suffered, that he might have been absolved from his sins, and saved through the virtue of the sacrifice to be offered up by the Messiah, if he had believed in him ; which cannot be said of the condemned angels: because the universal covenant of salvation under the condition of faith, embraces the whole human race, but does not embrace the fallen angels. It is therefore worthy of observation, that God would not that the death of his Christ should either be applied or applicable under any condition to any of the fallen angels: to all these, therefore, God conducted himself alike and equally. But not equally to mankind; for as to these, although he determined and declared that the death of his Son was applicable to any one under the condition of faith, yet he did not determine to cause it by the benefit of his special mercy to be applied equally to every one. John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 367-368.

3) We therefore call Christ the Redeemer of the world, and teach that he made satisfaction for the sins not of some, but of the whole world, not because that on account of the payment of this price for the sins of the human race, all mankind individually are to be immediately delivered from captivity and death, but because by virtue of the payment of this price, all men individually may and ought to be delivered from death, and, in fact, are to be delivered according to the tenor of the evangelical covenant, that is, if they repent and believe in this Redeemer. John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 375.

4) For it is that which is related by the Prophet Isaiah (liii. 10), “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed; and is explained by the Apostle, Heb. viii. 10, This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts, and I will be to them a God, and thy shall be to me a people,” &c. As if he should say, That Christ by his death not only established that conditional covenant which may be published to all men individually in this form, “If thou shalt believe, whosoever thou art, thou shalt be saved through the death of Christ,” but also that secret and absolute covenant concerning the giving of faith to certain persons and infallibly saving them through Christ and for his sake. But it is to be observed, That this latter covenant is known to Christ alone, nor can it be opened to any one by the ministers of Christ, as to the individual persons whom it embraces. For the Apostles themselves could, and we can preach to every man that conditional and revealed covenant, “If thou shall believe, thou shalt be saved.” John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 404-405.

5) Lastly, it is to be observed, although that conditional covenant is not actually made known to all men, yet it is of such a kind, that it may be divulged and announced to every mortal; although every one will not claim for themselves their right in this covenant, yet there is no one to whom it is not lawful, through the merit of the death of Christ, to promise this to himself and to claim it according to the covenant, “If I believe, I shall be saved.” It is established, as to all men individually, but through some special kind of providence of God overruling it, it is revealed and made known to some and not to others. John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 405-406.

6) But, secondly, that remains respecting which there are great scruples, namely, Whether this evangelical covenant, “If thou shalt believe, thou shalt be saved,” which we have shown to be confirmed by the death of Christ, pertains, according to the Divine ordination, to the whole human race, or only to individuals, and to certain persons in particular. We contend that it was confirmed with the whole human race. Which may appear, First, from the command and promise of Christ himself, who, after he had endured and conquered death, sent his Apostles into all the world, (Mark xvi. 15, 16) And he said unto them, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creatures. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, hut he that believeth not shall be damned.” On which words of promise, the learned Calvin has rightly remarked, That this promise was added that it might allure the whole human race to the faith. (Harm. Evang. p. 374). It is therefore understood to have been established with the whole human race. For a promise has no power of alluring others to any action than those for whom it is presupposed to have been made. Secondly, The same appears from the practice of the Apostles, and of all the ministers of the Gospel, conformable to the command and promise of Christ. For these, without any respect of nation or predestination, boldly promise forgiveness of sins on condition of faith to each and every person who assembles to hear them. By this act they acknowledge, that the covenant concerning the forgiveness of sins through faith, confirmed by the blood of Christ, is universal. For a conditional covenant cannot be seriously proposed, and a benefit annexed be promised conditionally to those persons to whom the covenant itself is not extended by the will of the maker of it. For example, if a King makes an agreement with certain persons who have been found guilty of high treason, that he will pardon them if they will humbly ask pardon of him; it would not be lawful for this reason for any of the King’s servants to go to the prison and announce to all persons there promiscuously, that pardon would be obtained from the King, if they would only humbly kneel down and ask it; because this conditional agreement regards those only who are included in it by the Royal clemency. Therefore neither would it be lawful for the ministers of God to promise promiscuously to all men remission and salvation on the condition of faith, unless it appeared to them beyond a doubt, that this conditional covenant was made and established for all by the will of God. But the Apostles did this, and we do it; therefore we acknowledge that this covenant was established with each and every mat), that is, with the whole human race. John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 419-420.

7) It remains that by reason of this universal covenant, established through the death of Christ, with the whole human race; we should shew, that we can affirm in a true and sound sense, that Christ suffered or died for all men, which we wish to dispatch in few words. John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 421.

8) We have taught that Christ died for all men, in the sense, that the evangelical covenant was established, through the death of Christ, with the whole human race; according to which, remission of sins and eternal life is set before all men, under the possible condition of faith. Some persons, fixing the eyes of their mind solely on the secret of predestination and reprobation, cannot conceive how Christ, faith, remission of sins, eternal life, or any spiritual and saving good, can in any way, or under any possible condition, pertain to those who were not included in the number of the predestinated before the foundation of the world ; although Christ may be offered to them in the preaching of the Gospel, although faith may be required of them, although remission of sins and eternal life to be obtained through Christ may be promised to them, under the condition of faith. John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 428-429.

9) WE have exhibited the universal virtue and efficacy of the death of Christ, explained in three prepositions. In the first it was demonstrated, That this death of Christ was appointed by God and proposed to the human race, as an universal remedy applicable to all men individually. In the second we have shown in what sense Christ is said to have died for all, or in what sense the death of Christ may be acknowledged to have been established as an universal, cause of salvation, for the good of the whole human race; namely, not as some assert, by reason of its mere sufficiency, or intrinsic value, in which respect the death of Christ, or the blood of the Son of God, is a price more than sufficient to redeem each and all men and angels; but by reason of the Evangelical covenant established and confirmed by this death and blood of Christ, according to the tenor of which covenant a right accrued to all men individually, on condition of faith, of claiming for themselves remission of sins and eternal life. To these two propositions we have subjoined a third, in which it was shown, That the universal virtue of the death of Christ having been stated, and the universal covenant of the Gospel having regard to every man, yet that every individual person has indeed, by the sole benefit of this death, God under obligation to enter into peace with him, and give him life, if he should believe; but has not actual justification or reconciliation, or an actual state of grace and salvation, before he believes. John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 473.

10) ARGUMENT 1. He who by his death not only established the evangelical covenant which regards all men promiscuously, “Whomsoever believeth shall be saved;” but also that secret covenant which comprehends some certain individual persons known only to God, aud which is described by the Prophet (Jerem. xxxi. 33) in these words, “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people;” He who by his death procured such a covenant, offered his death and merit to God the Father that it might be effectually applied to some elect persons. This proposition is clear and evident, because to “put his laws into the minds of men, and to write them in their hearts, and to make them a peculiar people to God,” denotes an effectual application of the merits of Christ, and describes the privileges of the elect, or the spiritual Israel. Now I add the minor, and affirm, That Christ, by his death, is the Mediator of this secret covenant, which includes its application, and embraces the Israel of God, or the elect children of God, and them alone. Besides the words of the prophet just quoted, we have also the clear testimony of the Apostle, citing the same prophet, (Heb, viii. 6) Our High Priest is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 525-526.

11) Therefore, let this be the sum and conclusion of this whole controversy on the death of Christ; That Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man, in confirming the evangelical covenant, according to the tenor of which eternal life is due to every one that believeth, made no division or separation of men, so that we can say that any one is excluded from the benefit of his death, if he should believe. And in this sense we contend, in agreement with the Scriptures, the fathers. and solid arguments, that Christ suffered on the cross and died for all men, or for the whole human race. We add, moreover, that this Mediator, when he had determined to lay down his life for sin, had also this special intention, that, by virtue of his merits, he would effectually and infallibly quicken and bring to eternal life, some persons who were specially given to him by the Father. And in this sense we contend that Christ laid down his life for the elect alone, or in order to purchase his Church; that is, that he died for them alone, with the special and certain purpose of effectually regenerating and saving them by the merit of his death. Therefore, although the merit of Christ equally regards all men as to its sufficiency, yet it does not as to its efficacy: which is to be understood, not only on account of the effect produced in one and not in another, but also on account of the will, with which Christ himself merited, and offered his merits, in a different way for different persons. Now, the first cause and source of this diversity, was the election and will of God, to which the human will of Christ conformed itself. And from hence Suares rightly deduces, “That this merit of Christ is the very cause of spiritual regeneration, and gives it efficacy, and produces its effect, and at the same time is the cause why that man is regenerated, on account of’ whom he specially offered his merit” (in 3, qu. 19, disp. 41, § 2, p. 635.) For our Divines, let that eminently learned man of pious memory, Robert, Bishop of Salisbury, speak. Thus he says, (in Thomson Diatr. p. 94) “Although we do not deny that Christ died for all men, yet we believe that he died specially and peculiarly for the Church, nor does the benefit of redemption pertain in an equal degree to all. And from the peculiarity of this benefit, and from the human will, in some degree depends the efficacy of all means, that they are for those only, and for their use, “whom Christ redeemed with some peculiar regard to there being elected in him. Nor do they obtain the effect, because of being willing, but because God, according to the purpose of his own grace, works in the elect and redeemed to will that to which he chooses them.” Therefore, He, who by his death merited eternal life sufficiently for all men, so as that it is to be given to all, according to the evangelical covenant, if they believe, also merited most effectually for some, by the peculiar application of his merits, that they should believe, and that they should receive eternal life from the gratuitous gift of God, through and on account of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is the peculiar lot of the elect : Of which may the Father of Mercies make us all partakers! To whom, with the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be honor, praise, and glory now and for ever. Amen. John Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 556-558.

Advertisements
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: