When my wife and I were in marriage counseling she made a comment in reference to one of the books our counselor assigned to us to read, and the gist of her comment was, “He [the book’s author] keeps using the word covenant but he never defines it. I’m so confused.” My wife was absolutely correct. And the deficit she noticed in that author is widespread; I’ve read mounds of books about the covenant but do so with the vaguest verbiage imaginable.
Yesterday I met with a friend from church and he asked me to define the covenant. I gave a somewhat long-winded answer: I started with the Creator-creation distinction and then moved on to describe the Covenant of Works with Adam and the Covenant of Grace with Jesus Christ. I was consciously trying to summarize the Westminster Confession of Faith’s teaching on the covenant. We probably discussed that for 5-10 minutes, and at the conclusion my friend said, “So, how would you summarize that in two sentences?” That was my assignment for the day. So, I took a stab at it and this is what I’ve formulated, leaning heavily upon what I’ve picked up from WCF and in John Frame’s writings.
First, God is the Creator, He is the Divine Head, the Lord of all of creation, and as Lord he self-discloses himself to man “by way [mode] of covenant” (Westminster Confession of Faith).
Second, The two essential elements of a covenant are 1) conditions and 2) promises; God’s relation as Creator to created man is by the way of conditions and promises, which means, on the one hand, that for obedience man is promised life and salvation, but, on the other hand, for disobedience man is promised death and damnation.
What do you think? Clear as mud? Is that a helpful summary, or am I missing something?