About Breaking God’s Covenant

Recently I received two questions about this subject, both from the West Coast, but from different localities. The one question asked in general whether it is possible to break God’s covenant. The other question was more specific. It arose out of the discussion of the question whether the elect can or do break God’s covenant. My questioner evidently was of the opinion that this is impossible. I draw this conclusion from the following two specific questions which he asks: “1. If the elect can break God’s covenant, how can the five points of Calvinism possibly be maintained? 2. If the elect can break God’s covenant, what meaning can text such as Phil. 1:6 and Psalm 73:23, 24 have then?” 


It seems to me that the two specific questions quoted above actually constitute two rather strong arguments for the position that God’s covenant cannot be broken. To question number 1 I would have to answer: if the elect can break God’s covenant, the five points of Calvinism cannot possibly be maintained. And to question number 2 I would have to answer: if the elect can break God’s covenant, the texts cited, both of which refer to preservation and perseverance, would be meaningless.

Yet I feel that the argument of these two questions, however valid it may be, approaches the subject rather indirectly. I would prefer to approach the subject directly and from the viewpoint of the very nature of the covenant of grace. And then I would point out that this question is closely related to the question what we understand by God’s covenant. If you define the covenant, as we do, as the eternal relationship of friendship between God and His elect people in Christ Jesus, then it certainly follows, too, that that covenant cannot be broken. It is eternal, and it is an everlasting covenant. And it lies in the very nature of the case, therefore, that an eternal covenant and an everlasting covenant is unbreakable. And if, further, you maintain, as we do, that the covenant of grace is in the deepest sense of the word unilateral both in its establishment and its continuation and realization, that is, that the covenant is throughout strictly God’s covenant, in no sense dependent upon you and me for its maintenance or its existence, then you can understand, too, that the covenant is absolutely unbreakable, and can understand also why it is unbreakable. Now this is not merely some dogmatic reasoning, but it is the plain teaching. of Scripture every time it speaks of an everlasting covenant, as, for example, in the well-known words of Genesis 17:7, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant; to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” Further, it is this aspect of God’s covenant which is emphasized in the well-known history of the revelation of that covenant to David in II Sam. 7 when the Lord assures David: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: Thy throne shall be established for ever.” II Sam. 7:14-16. These are the sure mercies of David, mentioned by the prophet Isaiah and celebrated in Psalm 89.

All this is plainly taught also in our Baptism Form. The entire second paragraph of the “principal parts of the doctrine of holy baptism” teaches this; and it is emphasized especially in the very last part of that paragraph in the following language: “In like manner, when we are baptized in the name of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost assures us, by this holy sacrament, that he will dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of Christ applying unto us, that which we have in. Christ, namely, the washing away of our sins, and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.” This language clearly presupposes that the covenant can never be broken. And this forms the basis for what to me is a most beautiful and comforting statement at the conclusion of this doctrinal section of the Baptism Form: “And if we sometimes through weakness fall into sin, we must not therefore despair of God’s mercy, nor continue in sin, since baptism is a seal and undoubted testimony, that we have an eternal covenant of grace with God.” The whole thrust here is exactly the truth that God is a faithful covenant God, our unfaithfulnesses notwithstanding. The eternal covenant of grace with God cannot be broken and is not broken even when we sometimes through weakness fall into sin. And if this were not true, then it would certainly be true that all our sins would be so many reasons to despair of God’s mercy and to give up the battle against sin and to continue in sin. But we must not despair of God’s mercy, nor continue in sin, because in baptism we have a seal and undoubted testimony that we have an eternal covenant of grace with God. If we understand this, then we can also understand that the arguments in the two questions quoted above are pertinent.

Finally, I think it should be pointed out that we sometimes speak rather loosely and inaccurately in connection with the sins of those-who are brought up in and live in the sphere of God’s covenant in the midst of the world of those sins as being a breaking of the covenant. Sometimes this language is used with respect to the elect members of God’s covenant, but sometimes it is also used with respect to the Esaus, who do not belong to the covenant, but who live in the sphere of and under the dispensation of the covenant. In the latter case, this is very plainly inaccurate: for one who does not belong to the covenant of grace could hardly break that covenant. But in the former case, it is also inaccurate: for it is exactly the nature of the covenant relation of friendship with the living God that our sins cannot break that bond of friendship. It is possible to violate God’s covenant, to sin against grace, to transgress God’s covenant. And we must never forget that it is precisely in the sphere of God’s covenant that all our sins are more emphatically sinful. We may also say that by our sins, as far as we are concerned, we make that covenant bond impossible. But thanks be to God, His covenant is faithful, for He is faithful. And this is the comfort of God’s people in the midst of all their present sin and imperfection. Do not object that such a doctrine will make men careless and profane. For, first of ah, this is impossible for a true child of God, as our confessions also emphasize. And, secondly, it is precisely the faithfulness and unbreakableness of God’s covenant that is the basis and the incentive for daily repentance and conversion from sin.

Thus I would answer this question. If either of my questioners is not satisfied, call again!