The Covenant of Life Opened chapter XI

The Covenant of Life Opened
Chapter XI

The Three-fold Covenant Considered.
The Law Pressed upon Israel was not a Covenant of Works, but a darker dispensation of Grace.

The three-fold Covenant of Arminians refuted.
Diverse considerations of the Law and the Gospel

Samuel Rutherford
edited by Randy Martin Snyder

CHAP. XI. 1. The three-fold Covenant considered. 2. The Law pressed upon Israel was not a Covenant of Works, but a darker dispensation of Grace. 3. The three-fold Covenant of Arminians refuted. 4. Diverse considerations of the Law and the Gospel.


 There are those who hold that there are three Covenants.

  1. Covenant of Nature, whereby God as Creator required [pg 58] perfect obedience from Adam inParadise, with promise of life, and threat of death.
  2. The Covenant of Grace, whereby he promises life and forgiveness in Christ’s Blood to believers.
  3. subservient Covenant, made
    1. With Israel, not with Adam, and all mankind.
    2. For a time with Israel, not forever, as the natural Covenant.
    3. In Mount Sinai, not in Paradise.
    4. To terrify and keep in bondage (the other from an inward principle required, obedience.)
    5. To restrain Israel from outward sins, to prove the people, “that the fear of God might be before their eyes, that they should not sin.” So they expound Ex. 20:20.  The other Covenant was to restrain from all sin. Yea and so was that on Mount Sinai, to do all that are written in the Book of the Law, Deut.27:26Deut. 28:1-4etc. to that same end, “to love God with all the heart, and with all the soul,Deut. 10:12. Deut. 5:1-3. Deut. 6.1-3. Deut. 5:29. Deut. 6:5. “With all the heart, with all the soul, with all the might,” which is expounded by Christ, Matt. 22:37, Luke 10:27. in as full a height of perfection as ever was required of Adam.
    6. It was written to Israel in Tables of stone: The natural Covenant was written in the heart; so was there a circumcised heart promised to Israel, (Deut. 30:6) though sparingly.
    7. It was (say they) given by the Mediator Moses, as that of nature was without a Mediator. Yea,Moses was the Typical Mediator of the young Covenant of Grace.


The differences between the subservient Covenant, and that of Grace.

  1. In the subservient [covenant], God only approves righteousness and condemns sin in [the covenant] of Grace he pardons and renews. We answer: Acts 15.11: “We believe through the Grace of the Lord Jesus, we shall be saved even as they under that Covenant.” Acts 10.43: “To him gave all the Prophets witness, that through his Name, whosoever believeth in him, shall receive remission of sins.” Abraham and Davidwere justified, in that “sin was not imputed to them, not by works” (Rom. 4:1-3, 6-9, etc.; Gen. 15:6).Psalm 32:1-2, 5: “I said I will confess my transgression, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Isa. 43:25.I, euen I am he that blots out [pg59] thy transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” So David was a man according to the heart of God, So Asa, Josiah, Jehosaphat, Samuel, Barack, Gideon, Daniel, the Prophets, under that subservient Covenant (except they be under a fourth Covenant) were renewed, justified, and saved by faith (Heb. 11) as under a Covenant of Grace.  
  2. The former [subservient covenant] was, “do this and live,” this [covenant of grace] was, “believe and live.” We answer” Doing and living was but a shutting them up under the Law, that they might flee to Christ in whom they believed; otherwise the fathers must be saved and justified by works contrary to Rom. 2, Rom.4, and Heb. 11.
  3. In antiquity, the former came in as added 430 years after the promise of grace (Gal. 3.17).  We answer:True, but he speaks of the Covenant in Sinai, according to the strict Law part, which could not save, and so it is different. But that does not prove two Covenants.
  4. In the former [subservient covenant] there is compulsion and the Spirit of bondage, in this [the covenant of grace] heart inclining freedom and the Spirit of Adoption. We answer: Yet the differences are accidental, there was a legal awing of the hearts, as if they had been Servants, yet Heirs and Sons they were (Gal. 4:1-2.  The whole Book of the Proverbs spoke to the Godly as to Adopted Sons. They were believers (Heb.11; Rom. 4; Acts 10:43) and so Sons as touching a spiritual state (John 1.11-12). In regard to the Economy, it was somewhat more rigid and legal, they were restrained as servants. Yet it was the Covenant of Grace, by which believing Jews were justified and saved (Acts 15:11; Acts 10:43).
  5. In the former [the subservient covenant] man is dead, in this [the covenant of grace] man is humbled for sin.We answer. Legally dead, except they would flee to Christ, and legally condemned, but there was true humiliation for sins under that Covenant: As David, Josiah, Hezekiah, and all beleivers then, as now, were pardoned and justified.
  6. In the former [subservient covenant] there are commands, not strength, but here [the covenant of grace] there be promises and grace given? We answer: the full abundance of grace and of a new heart, was reserved until now. And the Law could not make perfect nor give pardon, in the blood of beasts; as touching that legal dispensation: But both grace, the Spirit, [pg. 60] pardon, righteousness and life were received and believed; by looking upon Christ to come.
  7. In the former [subservient covenant], Canaan was promised, in this [the covenant of grace], Heaven. WeanswerCanaan is promised only but sacramentally, and that was a pedagogical promise for the infancy of that Church, but a type which was then in that Covenant, and is not now, make not two Covenants, one then, and another now?  Except you say, there was then a Lamb in the Passover, which was a Type of Christ to come, and there is now no such Type, because the body is come, and Christ the true High Priest offered himself. Therefore there are two Christ’s, one then to come, another now who hath come already. The Lord’s dispensation with Israel is often called a Covenant, now it must either be a Covenant of Works, or of Grace, or a third Covenant.

But the truth is, the Law as pressed upon Israel was not a Covenant of Works.


  1. The Law as the Law or as a Covenant of Works is made with perfect men who need no mercy; But this Covenant is made with sinners, with an express preface of mercy: “I am the Lord your God that brought you out of the land of Egypt, etc.” It is made with stiff-necked Israel, (Deut. 29; Deut. 30, 31, 32).  And that is called a Covenant from the end and object, as motions are denominate from their end: for the end of the Lord’s pressing the Law upon them was to bring them under a blessed necessity to seek salvation in their true City of Refuge, Christ Jesus, who redeemed them out of the spiritual bondage of sin.
  2. It was the Covenant made with Abraham, which was a Covenant of Grace: and though it be called, (Deut.29:1) a Covenant beside that which was made in Horeb, because [it was]
    1. Renewed again after their breach.
    2. Repeated a little before the death of Moses, Deut.
    3. Because there were some additions of special blessings, cursings, Ceremonial Commands, that were not in the formerly proposed Covenant, (Exod. 20).  Yet the same it was in substance, to love the Lord with all the heart (Deut. 2:10, 12-14).  The same with that of Abraham, Deut. 8:18: “That he may establish his Covenant, which he swore unto your fathers, as it is this day,” when he is to deliver them out of Egypt (Exod. 2:24). And God [pg61“heard their groaning, and remembered his Covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.” So the Lord expones [expounds?] it in his appearing to Moses, Exod. 3:6. Jer. 31:32: “Not according to the Covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the Land of Egypt.”  Now that was the Covenant which God made with Abraham, of which Circumcision was a seal (Gen. 17), not of a temporary Canaan only, but of heart Circumcision, (Col. 2.11). For the Lord expressly tells them, when he “took them by the hand” as his married people, “to bring them out of the Land of Aegypt, and out of the house of bondage” (Exod. 20). He meant no other Covenant then he made withAbraham, of believing, (Gen. 15) and of walking before him and being perfect, (Gen. 17:1-2) which is somewhat more legal, as Moses and the Lord himself expones [expounds?] it (Exod. 2:24, 3:6.Exod. 20:1-2). And he shows them, (Lev. 26:42) if in their enemies’ land they repent and shall come out and meet the rod, and their “uncircumcised hearts shall willingly accept of the punishment of their iniquity.” “Then (saith the Lord) I will remember my Covenant with Jacob, and also my Covenant with Isaacand also my Covenant with Abraham will I remember.”  Besides there are not here three Covenants, but one, there is no word of the subservient Covenant with Israel in Sinai. Except that when he mentions the one, he excludes not the other. For to walk before the Lord required inAbraham’s Covenant (Gen. 17”1) is to walk in all the ways of the Lord, to fear and love him (Deut.10:12-13) and Samuel (1 Sam. 12:22) and Joshua (Josh. 24:22-25). And Mary (Luke 1.55) andZachariah (Luke 1:70-73) refer to the Covenant made with Abraham, and Deut. 6:10, the Covenant at Horeb, the Lord made with Abraham to give Canaan to his seed. Deut. 7:12: “If you hearken to these judgments to do them, it shall come to pass that the Lord your God will keep unto you the Covenant of mercy that he swore unto your fathers, etc.”
  3. This Covenant hath the promise of a circumcised heart (Deut. 30:6). and “of the word of faith that is near in the mouth,” and of the righteousness of faith clearly differenced from the righteousness of the Law by doing. For so Paul (Rom. 10:5-7, etc.) expones [expounds?] Moses (Deut. 30:11-14. [pg. 62]
  4. The Covenant of Works taught nothing of the way of expiation of sin by blood typifying the Ransom of blood that Christ was to pay for our sins, as this Covenant, all along had sacrifices and blood to confirm it.Exod. 24:8: “And Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, behold this is the Blood of the Covenant which the Lord has made with you, concerning all these words. Now the words were the Ten Commandments. See: Heb. 9:18-24.
  5. This Covenant is made with Israel only (Exod. 20; Deut. 5:6; Deut. 6:5-7, 12). The Covenant of Works is made with all mankind.
  6. No people under the Law can be justified and saved thereby, nor have their sins pardoned (Rom. 3:9-11, 19-20; Rom. 4:1-4; Rom. 9; Rom. 10; Psalm 130:3; Psalm 143:2; Gal. 3.1-3, 10-13).  But in this Covenant, Abraham, David (Gen. 15; Psalm 32; Rom. 4.1-9). And the Jews by faith, have remission of sins and salvation, as also the Gentiles have (Acts 10:43. Acts 15:11).
  7. The Lord minds to lay aside the Law as inconsistent with the Covenant of Grace. Gal. 3:18: “If the inheritance be by the Law, then it is not by promise, but God gave it to Abraham by promise.”  For to live by this Covenant, is a life of promises, all being here promised, both faith the condition, and perseverance therein, and a new heart, righteousness, pardon, and life. A man that has his estate in papers and in good words that are transient things, may seem a poor man, but to live by promises here is the rich life of the heirs of hope, this is strong consolation under deadness, absence, faith working underground in the dark. Gal.3:21: “If there had been a Law which could have given life, verily righteousnesse should have been by the Law.

Though he commanded them to do the Law, it was not that they should live thereby, and though he commanded us the same, it is another command, as it were, it is not so much now that we obey from the Authority of God the Law-giver under pain of damnation (though that be not laid aside, but urged in a Gospel intention upon heirs) as from the love of God, a Grace-giver; as also there is an intrinsic amenity in Christ drawing, and obedience now becomes connatural, free, delightful. Let these consider, to whom the yoke of obedience is a torment and a man-mill. [pg63]

  1. The Passover and Circumcision (Gen. 17:7) all along were seals of the Covenant, as Baptism one with Circumcision in substance (Col. 2.11) is the seal of the same Covenant, (Acts 2.39, 40, 41). Now the Law required no Circumcision, no shedding of blood, no Repentance, no new heart, but eternal condemnation followed the least breach thereof. Paul says indeed, Gal. 5:3: “If you be Circumcised (as the false Apostles would have, that thereby you may be justified & saved) you are debtors to keep the whole Law” perfectly, as the only way to life, and by no other Covenant can you be justified and saved, now Abraham was not circumcised that way, circumcision did bind Abraham to keep the Law, as a Ceremony and Seal of the Covenant of Grace commanded of God. But the Law as a Covenant of Works commands no Ceremony, no Sacrifice, no Type of Christ Mediator at all.


 It is true that first Covenant had Moses for its mediator, but as he was a Type of Christ, so Christ yesterday and today was the real Mediator, but veiled. The New Covenant has better promises, (Heb. 8:6; Heb. 7:22) it is a better Covenant (Heb. 7:22) has a better real, not a Typical surety, a better Priest who offered himself through the eternal Spirit (Heb. 9:14), a better Sacrifice, because of the plainness (John 16:29; 2 Cor. 3:18), because the real promises are made out to us, because of a larger measure of Grace (2 Cor. 3:1-4). And the first “Covenant isfaulty,” (Heb. 8:7) not because there was no Salvation by it, the contrary is Heb. 11, but that is comparatively spoken: because the blood of beasts therein could not take away sins (Heb. 10.1-4), because forgiveness of sins is promised darkly in the first Covenant, but plainly in the other, because Grace is promised sparingly in the former, but here abundantly, the Law being written in the heart, (John 7:39. Is. 54.13).


And it is true (Gal. 4.22-24, etc.) they seem to be made contrary Covenants: 1. But Paul speaks, Gal. 3. of the Law as relative to that people, and so it pressed them to Christ, and keeps them as young Heirs under nonage. 2. He speaks of the Law absolutely, as contradistinguished from the Gospel (Gal. 4:21) so it is a Covenant of Works begetting children to bondage: 2. Who come short of righteousness and the inheritance, and shall not be [pg. 64] saved. 3. Who are cast out of the Kingdome of Grace. 4. Who persecute the Godly the Sons of promise, so is the Law as it was in Adam’s days, and is now to all the Reprobate; so the Godly are not under the Law and the Covenant of Works. The Covenant urged upon Believers is to prove them, when they stand afar off and tremble,Exod. 20:20. “Fear not (says Moses) God has come to prove you (not to damn you) and therefore Calvin solidly observes that PaulCor. 3. speaks with less respect of the Law then the Prophets do, for their cause, who out of a vain affectation of the Law-Ceremonies, gave too much to the Law and darkened the Gospel, and says the one was 1. Literal. 2. Written in stone. 3. A Sermon of death and wrath. 4. To be done away and less glorious, whereas the Gospel is Spiritual. 2. Written on the heart. 3. The Ministry of life. 4. And glorious: and praises put upon the Law, agree not to it of its own nature, but as it was used by the Lord to prove them, (Exod. 29:20) and chase them to Christ.


The Arminians also (especially Episcopius) make three Covenants.

  1. One with Abraham, in which he requires sincere worship and putting away strange gods: Beside 2. Faith and Universal obedience, and promised Canaan to his seed and Spiritual blessings darkly.
  2. One in Mount Sinai in these three Laws Moral, Ceremonial and Judicial, with a promise of Temporal good things, but to no sinners promise of life Eternal.
  3. A Covenant of Grace, with a promise of pardon and life to all that believe and repent, to all mankind, but he denies 1. All infused habits, contrary to Isa. 44:1-3, Isa. 59:20-21, Zech. 12:10, John 4:14, John 7:37. John16:7-8. 1 John 3:9.  He says that 2. all commands are easy by Grace. 3. That the promise of earthly things in their abundance is abolished, in that we are called to patient suffering. 4. That there is no threatening in this Covenant, but that of Hell fire. But the Covenant made with Abraham is that of Grace made with all the Seed (Deut. 30:6. Deut. 7.5-7, 12. Lev. 26.40-41) and made with all Believers, who are Abraham’schildren (Gal. 3.13-14, 18-19; Rom. 4.1-4; Luke 19:9) yea with the whole race of man without exception. (2.) The second Covenant which promises only blessings is made rather with beasts, that [pg65] well fed, then with men, contrary to Psalm 73:25, Isa. 57:1-3. Psalm 37:37, and it must build some Chalmer in hell, where the fathers were before Christ, a dream unknown to Scripture. The third Covenant makes the Covenant of Grace a Covenant of Works, and holds out life and pardon, upon condition that freewill repent and believe and stand on its own feet, for there is neither faith, nor a new heart nor repentance promised contrary to Deut. 30:6, Ezek. 11:19-20, Ezek. 36:26-27, Isa. 59:19-21, Isa. 44:1-5. Zech. 12:10.

Borrowed with permission from