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The covenant is not a contract consisting of the mutual obligations of God and the believer. Although earthly marriage includes the mutual duties of husband and wife, these duties do not define the marriage. Marriage is not the duties, but the one-flesh union. The covenant is not a treaty (much less a treaty modeled after the profane Canaanite treaties), any more than the relation between a believing father and his children is a treaty. Nor is the covenant a promise, although God establishes the covenant with His people by promise. Ezekiel 16:8 clearly distinguishes between the promise by which the covenant is made and sealed and the covenant which God enters into by way of the promise: “yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest Mine.” Although the bridegroom takes his bride by means of a vow—a solemn oath and promise, this vow is not the marriage. The marriage is the life together of the two.

This understanding of the covenant makes clear what the true covenant members ought to expect from God and what we are required to give to God. We expect, and ought to enjoy, God’s wondrous love, Gods delightful friendship, and Gods comforting assurance, “I am your God, and you are My dear friends.” With this, of course, we expect His care and blessing as regards both this life and the life to come: salvation! Think of the husband’s nourishing and cherishing of his wife and of the parents’ nurture and protection of their children.

In the covenant, God calls us to give Him our love, our friendship, and our exclusive, wholehearted service: thankfulness! Think of the devoted help that the husband desires from his wife and of the honor that parents look for from their children.

Since the friendship of God is enjoyed only through His Word, the covenant people will be marked by reverence for Scripture, for the preaching of the gospel, and for sound teaching. Since we express our friendship in prayer and in obedience to the law, the covenant people will be characterized by prayer and obedience.

At their very heart, Christian experience and Christian life are friendship with God in Jesus Christ. “Henceforth I call you not servants . . . but I have called you friends . . .” (John 15:15). This is the Reformed answer to the view of the Christian life as a “personal relationship with God.” This guards the Reformed Christian against the dread error of conceiving the life of the Christian as a cold, formal, outward observance of prescribed rules and accepted customs. And this determines the lives of Reformed Christians with each other: Marriage is friendship; family life is friendship; life in the congregation is friendship.

Two vital truths about the covenant must be noted before we go on to the matter of the place of children in the covenant. First, the covenant is Gods. Deliberately, we frame our subject as we do: “The Covenant of God . . . .” The covenant of Gods because He conceives it, He promises it, He establishes it, He maintains it, and He perfects it. He alone does all this. .He does this without the help of Abraham, of Israel, or of the church. Again and again, God says, “I will establish My covenant.” When Jerusalem has broken the covenant with her abominable idolatries so that no other judgment can be expected than that God solemnly declares the covenant null and void, God amazingly says, “Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with thee . . . and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant” (Ezek. 16:60). Never does God say, “Let you and Me make our covenant.” Never does Scripture teach that the covenant depends for its fulfillment upon sinful man.

The covenant is a covenant of grace. Never is this more clearly evident than in the incarnation of the Son of God. In sheer mercy and awesome power, God did the impossible thing: He established the new covenant. We had nothing to do with it, except that our dreadful guilt, total depravity, and utter helplessness and misery made the incarnation and death of the Son of God necessary for the establishing of the covenant.

To err here is no minor matter, for all of salvation flows from the covenant. If the covenant depends upon man, so also does salvation depend upon man. A doctrine of the covenant that denies the graciousness of the covenant necessarily undermines also the “five points of Calvinism.”

But the covenant is Gods in a yet deeper sense. It is the revelation to us and the sharing with us of Gods own, inner, trinitarian life. Gods own life is friendship. The life of God is family friendship. The Father loves the Son Whom He has begotten and the Son loves the Father Whose image He is; and They are friends in the Holy Spirit Who proceeds from Them both and in Whom They embrace.

A mystery? Granted, if you mean that there are depths here that surpass our understanding. Nevertheless, this is revealed. The life of God is covenant life—life of the nature of Father-Son. And this life, God “lets us in on,” in Christ, so that the relationship between us and God is Father-son and Father-daughter. How are we to pray? “Our Father!”

This leads to the second truth about the covenant that is vital. The covenant of God with us is all-embracing and all-dominating: The entire life of the believer—body and soul, physical and spiritual, temporal and eternal, God-ward and man-ward—is taken up into this covenant and is controlled, arranged, and structured by the covenant. As a believer, my whole life is covenant life. God is my God, not alone on the Sabbath, but also through the week; not alone in my worship, but also in my work; not alone in my devotions, but also in my marriage and family; not alone as regards my church life, but also as regards my behavior to the State, to my employer, and to my neighbor. The friendship of God lays claim to everything, controls all, and shows itself everywhere. It makes a radical difference in the believer’s experience and behavior. On the one hand, he now possesses joy, contentment, and hope. On the other hand, he walks in holiness.

This all-embracing character of the covenant is implied in the biblical figures of marriage and of the parent-child relationship. The whole life of the young woman is affected by marriage and is claimed by her husband. The relationship in which my three-year-old daughter stands to her mother and me controls her entire life. She behaves as she does, she speaks as she does, she thinks as she does, she is who she is, because she is our daughter. The relationship with her parents molds her (a thought that makes God-fearing parents tremble, and should).

One important aspect of lives that are embraced by the covenant is the family of believers. For the children of believers are included in the covenant.

—DJE