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Two correspondents have written in recent days to ask about whether those who confess the Reformed confessions (e.g., the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Westminster Standards) and the Reformed confession, which is a broader category that includes the orthodox Reformed theologians, should speak of “breaking” the covenant of grace or “covenant breakers” relative to the covenant of grace.
My response is a cautious, qualified yes. We may so speak but speaking this way requires qualification and explanation. The pedagogical issue is whether the yes needs so much qualification that it might almost be better to say no.
Distinction - Reformed - Understanding - History - Covenant
The first essential distinction is this: the Reformed understanding of redemptive history is that there is one covenant of grace with multiple administrations. We confess this in Westminster Confession chapter 7:
5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: 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 foresignifying Christ to come; 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, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.
Gospel - Christ - Substance - Ordinances - Covenant
6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new...
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