Herman Bavinck's use of the "Covenant of Nature"

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Puritan Board Freshman
Sorry—long post. My question is at the bottom.

I'm slowly plugging my way through Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics. I'm now around half-way through volume 3, and I've noticed something a bit odd. It appears that Bavinck uses the term "Covenant of Nature" substantially differently than most people (at least the people that I've read).

From what I understand, the Covenant of Works is also referred to as the Covenant of Life (e.g. WSC, WLC), Covenant of Creation, Covenant of Law, and Covenant of Nature. But, it looks like Bavinck does not like to use the term "Covenant of Nature" as a description of the Covenant of Works. He notes that "the covenant of works (foedus operum) is not a covenant of nature (foedus naturae)" (vol. 1, p. 308).

Rather, he groups the Covenant of Nature together with the Covenant of Grace! He describes two aspects to the Covenant of Grace: "we must be careful to distinguish between the covenant of grace in a broader and in a more restricted sense" (vol. 3, p. 216).

Bavinck sees the "broader" aspect of the Covenant of Grace as the universal covenants made with everyone whereby common grace is offered to all. He labels this the Covenant of Nature, and includes the Adamic Covenant and the Noahic Covenant within it. In the Adamic Covenant "lies the origin and guarantee of continued existence, the expansion and development, the struggle and victory of humankind as a whole… In the long period from Adam to Noah, all of them develop under the influence of God’s common and special grace… [As a result, religion] survived the fall and acquired fixed forms in sacrifice (Gen. 4:3), prayer, and preaching (Gen. 4:26). Culture got started with agriculture, cattle breeding, and the construction of cities (Gen. 4:17); the arts and sciences began to flourish (Gen. 4:20ff.)" (vol. 3, pp. 216-217)

Similarly, in the Noahic Covenant, the "grace that manifested itself immediately after the fall now exerted itself more forcefully in the restraint of evil. God made a formal covenant with all his creatures. This covenant with Noah (Gen. 8:21–22; 9:1–17), though it is rooted in God’s grace and is most intimately bound up with the actual covenant of grace because it sustains and prepares for it, is not identical with it. It is rather a 'covenant of long-suffering' made by God with all humans and even with all creatures" (vol. 3, p. 218). "Humankind was led by this grace and under the dispensation of this covenant of nature before Christ and prepared for his coming" (vol. 3, pp. 218-219).

In contrast, he sees the "restricted" aspect of the Covenant of Grace in purely salvific terms, and offered exclusively to the people of God. "Of an essentially different character was the preparation of salvation in Israel. In this connection we must not lose sight of the connection between the covenant of grace and the covenant of nature, between Israel and the peoples of the earth" (vol. 3, p. 219). Even still, the two remain interconnected. "This [restricted aspect of] the covenant of grace… is still today surrounded and sustained on all sides by the covenant of nature God established with all creatures. Although special grace is essentially distinct from common grace, it is intimately bound up with it. After all, though the covenant with Noah is called—for the purpose of differentiation—the 'covenant of nature'… it, too, rests on grace. It is a covenant of grace in the broad sense" (vol. 3, pp. 224-225). "Father, Son, and Spirit, then, prepare for the covenant of grace [in the restricted sense] in the covenant of nature" (vol. 3, p. 225).

Is this unique to Bavinck? Does anybody else also lump the Covenant of Nature together with the Covenant of Grace like this?


Puritan Board Freshman
Great concise and lucid comments here.And finishing with a crucial follow-up question.I have been encountering some of these same notions among other writers.And has made me think more deeply to the correlation between them.I believe Bavinck has not blurred the lines at all.Because he realizes and applies the distinction of Law & Gospel to interpret the Covenants.I also believe that Bavinck understands that there is Common Grace administer to the world;(Noahic).Which bring up verses like the rain falls on the good and wicked.So he understands and beliefs the distinction of Law/Gospel that teaches our ground of justification in Christ apart from the Law.

"In his discussion of justification in the fourth and final volume, Bavinck writes: “The gospel is the food of faith and must be known to be nourishment.”2 Drawing upon Luther’s Romans commentary, Bavinck later explains that believers are to trust solely in God’s righteousness imputed to them on account of Christ’s work. He then says: “At the start of their lives as believers as well as in the course of their lives, they continue to take God at his word. They continue to believe that they are sinners and that their righteousness is grounded solely in the righteousness of God.” Herman Bavinck
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