Early Covenants and Common Grace

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Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Came across this and I was wondering how does Covenant theology deal with this:
According to Niehaus, the covenant with Adam and Noah is a covenant of “common grace,” affecting the whole of humanity, while the rest of the biblical covenants, Abraham to the New Covenant, are covenants of “special grace,” focused particularly on the elect of God. He states that the common grace covenants are part of the same “legal package.” The problem with Niehaus’ alternative is that it, too, is theologically constructed.
In the covenants from Adam to Noah, is there a common grace element along with special saving graces co tra Niehaus? He also says that covenant theology doesn't make distinctions b/w new covenan sand covenant renewels.


Puritanboard Amanuensis
There is grace in the disposition of every covenant (WCF 7.1). In dispensation, however, covenants are either of works or grace. The covenant made with Adam in his state of innocence required personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience. This means it was a dispensation of works, not grace. It was undoubtedly "common" in the sense that Adam represented all his posterity, but it was not "grace." The covenant established after the fall promised a Deliverer. This was grace, but its very terms indicate it was not common.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
"Common Grace" has something of a checkered past, so far as the terminology. The least-favorable thing about it is the danger of using "grace" as descriptive of God's disposition toward an undifferentiated humanity in covenant relation to himself, elect and non-elect to the same degree and manner.

To the quote itself, if speaking of Adam's covenant of Works, then we shouldn't be speaking of Grace in connection with it. It was legal, though it was condescending. I don't think it's wise to "mix" character of law and grace in the first covenant. If it speaks to the incipient covenant of grace in the proto evangelium (Gen.3:15), it is frankly much harder to extract "common grace" out of the terms of the curse than special grace, unless one is just bent on extracting it. And perhaps this is what "Niehaus" (ref'd in the quote) does. But it sounds as though the actual author of the work you are quoting has issues with "theological constructs" which he thinks go beyond the bare revelation (and that CT would belong to that category).

Noah's covenant seems as close to "common grace" as we could get, since there we see something of a covenant-with-creation (ala vanDrunen), where God makes a unilateral promise not to do another such demolition of the creaturely habitat until the end of the world. Of course, such a promise is made to the undeserving (and ill-deserving) air-breathing survivors of the old world, man in particular, and through him unto all he continues to dominate. So there appears to be here some sort of temporary or delaying "grace" toward creation supplying what is formally and intrinsically blessed and good unto all in general. But only for the elect is it ultimately gracious, and for the non-elect such good "grace" is only abused selfishly.

If grace is only that which can be shown to be good from the giver all the way to and includingthe receiver, then the term grace can only be used in connection with the elect (i.e. always special). This is the position of Hoeksema and the PRC. However, if it may legitimately be distinguished and nuanced, in order to identify God as "gracious" irrespective of the response of the creature, and if his indiscriminately supplied and undeserved gifts are understood as grace-in-themselves, then "common grace" should not be objectionable--except that a better term be substituted for the same idea. Someone has asked, "why not just use the term Providence? Then maybe we'd be talking about a "covenant of providence" regarding Noah; however there would still be people who objected to the idea that God covenanted in mercy with humanity-as-a-whole, without separating out the reprobate.​

In either case, the covenant with Noah has circumstantial affinities with the creation of the world. It is a moment of "re-creation," a re-boot of the stage upon which the drama of redemption will unfold. It is important to recognize that the covenant God makes with Noah and his seed and with every living creature (Gen.9:9) is neither perpetual nor permanently concluded with every human soul and animal spirit. It is a covenant with "the living" to maintain the earth until its purpose is fulfilled, until a thorough renovation by fire makes for an even more radical regeneration (2Pet.3:5-10; Mt.19:28).

There may be some who argue that in the latter covenants (Abraham-Christ) there are further "common-grace" elements. But this is neither classic in formula, nor is it helpful. In fact, I would argue that it is pernicious. These are exclusive covenants, made with believers through the Mediator who is Christ. Unbelieving "hangers-on" are only pretended parties whose interest in these covenants (really one covenant) are only skin deep.

I would say that there are some differences between a new covenant and covenant-renewal; although there are certain similarities between the two ideas. Covenant-renewal is an unambiguous statement of continuity. A new covenant implies that there may be noteworthy changes instituted, even if those changes are essentially administrative. We can think of this in terms of the Davidic kings. At a certain level, there is no interruption of continuity from David till Zedekiah (2Ki.25). Every year is a renewal of sorts. And even when the king dies, and his son ascends his father's throne (particularly evident in the practice of co-regency) there is a sense of renewal. But there is also a sense in which a new king equals a new administration. There is something radical that happens when a new head is making the ultimate decisions, putting his stamp on things (like when this country changes its President). And this is never more clear than when a wicked son follows a godly father; or a godly son follows a wicked father.

Classic covenant-theologians interpret the progress from Abraham to Moses to Christ in terms of one overarching covenant of Grace. However, this does not commit them to interpreting the Mosaic covenant as an exact renewal of the Abrahamic covenant. In fact, Christ's New Covenant (New relative to Moses' Old) is interpreted by Paul as a closer renewal of the promise (covenant) to Abraham than the Mosaic Covenant.

But I think that the idea your author is trying to explain (and I'm guessing he has some dispute with) is that Covenant Theology follows a "thread of continuity" straight through from Abraham to Christ. So that, at the deepest (alt., highest) level one can see "covenant-renewal" going on without interruption from Abraham to Christ with Abraham's believing seed, yea and even down to the present generation.
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