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In Covenant Theology, the Covenant of Grace is a singular overarching covenant God makes with his people. The various Biblical covenants are understood to be expressions or administrations of this singular Covenant of Grace.

Here's what the Westminster Confession says about the Covenant of Grace:

Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.

This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.

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. (WCF 7.3–5)

Here's what Horton says:

Like the covenant of creation, this covenant is made between God and human partners—in this case, fallen Adam, Seth, Abraham, and David. It is in this covenant that provisions are made for offenders, based on another's fulfillment of the legal covenant on their behalf. (Introducing Covenant Theology, p105)

So the Covenant of Grace is between God and all of his people, anyone who will receive in repentance the offer of free grace and turn to God in faith.

But the parties of the Noahic covenant appear to be different, not just humans, but all life of the earth:

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Gen 9:8–17, ESV)

My reading of this passage is that the Noahic covenant is a unique one, when God bound himself to a covenant not just with people, but with his animal creations as well. Let no one say God does not love his animals!

How do Covenant Theologians explain the Noahic covenant? If all the Biblical covenants are administrations of the Covenant of Grace, how do they account for the different covenant parties? Surely they would not say that the non-human animals are part of the CoG; Jesus did not die for the sins of animals. Do Covenant Theologians say that the Noahic covenant is really only with humans, that the parties are God and humanity with animals being non-party beneficiaries, despite God five times saying that it was with "every living creature" or "all flesh"?

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In Covenant Theology, the Noahic Covenant is often called the "covenant of common grace" or the "covenant of nature." Still, it is seen as linked to the Covenant of Grace.

This isn't the only place that a "covenant of common grace" or even a "universal covenant" appears in covenant theology. John Frame argues that the "Edenic covenant" (his preferred term for the "Covenant of Works"), particularly the cultural mandate, has some universal application:

So God as Lord defines the role of human beings as God's vassal kings over the world he has made. [...] So the covenant is individual (with Adam and Eve in their home) and universal (extending to the whole world).

He contends that this aspect of the Edenic covenant continues today, and connects it to the Noahic covenant:

Scripture never repeals the mandate defined as the very purpose of our existence in Genesis 1:26–28; indeed, God reiterates that mandate in Genesis 9:1. (Systematic Theology, chapter 4)

Lee Irons, summarizing Meredith Kline's views, makes a similar point:

[Kline] sees the common grace mode of the cultural mandate in covenantal terms. He views the post-flood Noahic Covenant in Genesis 9 as the reiteration in covenantal form of the common grace order established immediately after the Fall. [...] The cultural mandate is covenantal. [...] That was true in the pre-Fall context, when it was part of the covenant of works. It is just as true in the post-Fall context, when the cultural mandate is re-issued in modified, refracted form as part of the covenant of common grace in Genesis 9. (source)

Bavinck is less explicit regarding the cultural mandate, but still sees differences between the covenant with Noah and the Covenant of Grace:

The grace that manifested itself immediately after the fall now [with Noah] exerted itself more forcefully in the restraint of evil. God made a formal covenant with all his creatures. This covenant with Noah, 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. (Reformed Dogmatics, III, chapter 5)

Berkhof notes the two main differences between the covenants – spiritual blessings vs. temporal blessings, and application to believers and their seed vs. universal application. But he contends that the two covenants are nonetheless connected:

Notwithstanding the differences just mentioned, there is a most intimate connection between the two covenants. (1) The covenant of nature also originated in the grace of God. In this covenant, just as in the covenant of grace, God bestows on man not only unmerited favors, but blessings that were forfeited by sin. By nature man has no claim whatsoever on the natural blessings promised in this covenant. (2) This covenant also rests on the covenant of grace. It was established more particularly with Noah and his seed, because there were clear evidences of the realization of the covenant of grace in this family, Gen. 6:9; 7:1; 9:9,26,27. (3) It is also a necessary appendage (Witsius: "aanhangsel") of the covenant of grace. The revelation of the covenant of grace in Gen. 3:16–19 already pointed to earthly and temporal blessings. These were absolutely necessary for the realization of the covenant of grace. In the covenant with Noah the general character of these blessings is clearly brought out, and their continuance is confirmed. (Systematic Theology, 2.3.5.B.2)

Berkhof's treatment of this topic is both helpful and brief, so it's worth examining more fully. But in closing, here is his summary:

[The covenant with Noah] is a covenant conferring only natural blessings, and is therefore often called the covenant of nature or of common grace. There is no objection to this terminology, provided it does not convey the impression that this covenant is dissociated altogether from the covenant of grace. Though the two differ, they are also most intimately connected.

  • Hmm, so it's connected in an unspecified way to the CoG, but is not just a plain administration of it, such that the parties can differ? I wonder if Horton would agree. Have to do some more reading. – curiousdannii Feb 23 '18 at 23:49

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