The Visible Church is Outwardly in the Covenant of Grace

“…if the root be holy, so are the branches.  And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree;”

Rom. 11:16-17

“Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”

Heb. 10:29

“For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.”

Ps. 78:37



Order of Contents


.       The Westminster Standards

.       Individuals  6




Burgess, Anthony – ‘Professing Christians are Externally in Covenant with God’  PDF  1652, 5 pages, being from his Spiritual Refining, Sermon 64, pp. 394-6, in modern English.  Burgess was a Westminster divine.


John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan

“The water of baptism can never be wiped from the brow.”

“The most awful thing for the impenitent must be to die with the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost sealed upon the forehead.”



Historic Article

Blake, Thomas – The Covenant of God, Chapters 36-41  Buy  1652, Chapter 41 is entitled, ‘Interest in a Church-state is of equal latitude with the Covenant’




Fullwood, Francis – A Discourse of the Visible Church, in a Large Debate of this Famous Question, viz. Whether the Visible Church may be considered to be truly a church of Christ without respect to saving grace?  Affirm Whereunto is added a brief discussion of these three questions. viz. 1. What does constitute visible church-membership?  2. What does distinguish it, or render it visible?  3. What does destroy it, or render it null?  Together with a large application of the whole, by way of inference to our churches, sacraments and censures  ToC  1658 

Fullwood (d. 1693) was a reformed Anglican, who held to presbyterian principles (see the title of this work).

Mather, Moses

The Visible Church in Covenant with God, or, An Inquiry into the Constitution of the Visible Church of Christ. Wherein the divine right of infant baptism is defended  Buy  1769

The Visible Church, in Covenant with God; Further Illustrated  1770

Mather (d. 1806) was a New England puritan minister of the older variety.



Order of Quotes

** – denotes a Wesminster Divine

The Westminster Standards  1645-1647  **

Larger Catechism
Directory for Public Worship
Shorter Catechism
Confession of Faith

Jerome Zanchi  †1590
Robert Rollock  1597
Anthony Burgess  1652  **
Samuel Rutherford  1655  **
David Dickson  1664
Edward Reynolds   †1676  ** 




The Westminster Standards  1645-1647  **

The Larger Catechism defines the invisible aspect of the Covenant of Grace as being only with the elect

Larger Catechism 

31.  With whom was the covenant of grace made?

The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.¹

¹ Gal. 3:16. Rom. 5:15-21. Isa. 53:10,11.


However this is consistent with the scriptural truth that the outward aspect of the Covenant of Grace is with the whole visible Church, all those that have professed faith in Christ and their children, which the Standards mention in many places:


L.C. # 101.  What is the preface to the ten commandments?

The preface to the ten commandments is contained in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having his being in and of Himself, and giving being to all his words and works: and that He is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as He brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so He delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom; and that therefore we are bound to take Him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.


L.C. #162.  What is a sacrament?

A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation; to strengthen and increase their faith, and all other graces; to oblige them to obedience; to testify and cherish their love and communion one with another; and to distinguish them from those that are without.


L.C. #166.  Unto whom is baptism to be administered?

Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.

[The phrase ‘the covenant of promise’ was often used synonymously with the Covenant of Grace in the 1600’s as is documented in the tables of contents of these three puritan works:

John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 1645, this work was very influential upon the Assembly.

Isaac Ambrose, Looking Unto Jesus, 1658

Francis Roberts, The Mysteries and Marrow of the Bible: viz. God’s Covenants with Man, 1657.  A summary of this work is given by Wom Lim in his dissertation, The Covenant Theology of Francis Roberts]


The Directory of Public Worship

Of the Administration of the Sacraments

Of Baptism

Before baptism, the minister is to use some words of instruction, touching the institution, nature, use, and ends of this sacrament, shewing,

“That it is instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ: That it is a seal of the covenant of grace, of our ingrafting into Christ, and of our union with him, of remission of sins, regeneration, adoption, and life eternal: That the water, in baptism, representeth and signifieth both the blood of Christ, which taketh away all guilt of sin, original and actual; and the sanctifying virtue of the Spirit of Christ against the dominion of sin, and the corruption of our sinful nature: That baptizing, or sprinkling and washing with water, signifieth the cleansing from sin by the blood and for the merit of Christ, together with the mortification of sin, and rising from sin to newness of life, by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ: That the promise is made to believers and their seed; and that the seed and posterity of the faithful, born within the church, have, by their birth, interest [a legal right] in the covenant, and right to the seal of it, and to the outward privileges of the church, under the gospel, no less than the children of Abraham in the time of the Old Testament; the covenant of grace, for substance, being the same; and the grace of God, and the consolation of believers, more plentiful than before: That the Son of God admitted little children into his presence, embracing and blessing them, saying, For of such is the kingdom of God: That children, by baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the visible church, distinguished from the world, and them that are without, and united with believers; and that all who are baptized in the name of Christ, do renounce, and by their baptism are bound to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh: That they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized: That the inward grace and virtue of baptism is not tied to that very moment of time wherein it is administered; and that the fruit and power thereof reacheth to the whole course of our life; and that outward baptism is not so necessary, that, through the want thereof, the infant is in danger of damnation, or the parents guilty, if they do not contemn or neglect the ordinance of Christ, when and where it may be had.”

In these or the like instructions, the minister is to use his own liberty and godly wisdom, as the ignorance or errors in the doctrine of baptism, and the edification of the people, shall require.

He is also to admonish all that are present,

To look back to their baptism; to repent of their sins against their covenant with God; to stir up their faith; to improve and make right use of their baptism, and of the covenant sealed thereby betwixt God and their souls.”

He is to exhort the parent,

“To consider the great mercy of God to him and his child; to bring up the child in the knowledge of the grounds of the Christian religion, and in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and to let him know the danger of God’s wrath to himself and child, if he be negligent: requiring his solemn promise for the performance of his duty.”

This being done, prayer is also to be joined with the word of institution, for sanctifying the water to this spiritual use; and the minister is to pray to this or the like effect:

“That the Lord, who hath not left us as strangers without the covenant of promise, but called us to the privileges of his ordinances, would graciously vouchsafe to sanctify and bless his own ordinance of baptism at this time: That He would join the inward baptism of his Spirit with the outward baptism of water; make this baptism to the infant a seal of adoption, remission of sin, regeneration, and eternal life, and all other promises of the covenant of grace: That the child may be planted into the likeness of the death and resurrection of Christ; and that, the body of sin being destroyed in him, he may serve God in newness of life all his days.”

Then the minister is to demand the name of the child; which being told him, he is to say, (calling the child by his name,)

I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

As he pronounceth these words, he is to baptize the child with water: which, for the manner of doing of it, is not only lawful but sufficient, and most expedient to be, by pouring or sprinkling of the water on the face of the child, without adding any other ceremony.

This done, he is to give thanks and pray, to this or the like purpose:

“Acknowledging with all thankfulness, that the Lord is true and faithful in keeping covenant and mercy: That he is good and gracious, not only in that He numbereth us among his saints, but is pleased also to bestow upon our children this singular token and badge of his love in Christ: That, in his truth and special providence, He daily bringeth some into the bosom of his church, to be partakers of his inestimable benefits, purchased by the blood of his dear Son, for the continuance and increase of his church.


Confession of Faith

Ch. 27, Of the Sacraments

I. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest [legal right] in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word. 


Ch. 28, Of Baptism

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.


Shorter Catechism

#94.  What is baptism?

Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.



Jerome Zanchi  1590 

Commentary on Ephesians, p. 227, as quoted by Thomas Boston, Miscellaneous Questions, Question 6, in Works, vol. 6, p.145.  The larger context is about New Testament Baptism.

Rom. 11:16  “If the root be holy, so are the branches.”

“By the root he [Paul] understands not their nearest parents, who perhaps were wicked; but those first fathers of the Jewish people, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to whom was made and confirmed the promise and covenant, that God would be their God, and the God of their whole seed, by a perpetual covenant.  Therefore all their posterity, who had not altogether apostatized to the gods of the Gentiles, were, I say they all were, in the covenant, and they were judged holy by reason of covenant holiness, foederis sanctitate sancti judicabantur.”


Robert Rollock  1597

A Treatise on Effectual Calling, Chapter 3, Of the Covenant of Grace

[Rollock had just demonstrated that faith is the condition of the covenant.  He now proceeds to prove that the condition does not include any works of ours]

It may be here demanded [by Roman Catholics], whether the works of grace and regeneration (as they are called) have not some place in the condition of the covenant of grace: for all the good works of nature are hence excluded.  I answer, that the very works of regeneration are not contained in the condition of the covenant of grace.  First, for that the covenant of grace is made with the unjust and unregenerate: now how can their works be just and good?  



Anthony Burgess  1652  **

Spiritual Refining: or A Treatise of Grace and Assurance, 1652 (reprint edition: Ames, Iowa, 1990), 

Section 8, Sermon 64

4.  The offer and tendering of this Covenant is not enough to make a people outwardly holy, but there must be an outward and visible accepting of it.  The Gospel has been preached to many people, who yet rejected it; and therefore not taking the Covenant, continued still in their natural pollution and uncleanness; and this is necessarily to be pressed upon you: for most Christians know not, or attend not to what they do.  There is none of you who are Baptized, and own the title of Christians, but ye have entered into a Covenant with God, you have promised to be his, you have resigned up your selves unto him, as your Lord, whose laws you will obey.


Sermon 69

For 1.  By External Covenant, you took God to be the Husband of your soul.  The scripture delights to express it, by betrothing, and marrying the soul to God, Hosea 2:19.  You were to leave father, and mother, and all loves, and to cleave to Him only.  



Samuel Rutherford  1655  **

A Peaceable and Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland, Ch. 12


That our mind may be known in this, we propose these distinctions to be considered by the learned and godly reader:

1. There is an inherent holiness and there is a federal holiness, whereby some are holy by covenant (that is, have right to the means of salvation), which right Turks and pagans have not.

2. People or persons are two ways within the covenant:

1. Truly, and by faith in Christ, and according to the election of grace.

2. In profession, because the word of the covenant is preached to them as members of the visible church.

3. There is a holiness of the covenant, and a holiness of covenanters, and there is a holiness of the nation, flock and people, and a holiness of the single person.

4. There is a holiness of election in God’s mind, and a real holiness real of the persons elected.

5. There is a federal or covenant holiness, de jure (by right), such as goes before baptism in the infants born in the visible church, and a holiness de facto [in fact],a formal covenant holiness after they are baptized.


Conclusion 1, Argument 9

For when many thousands at once are said to enter in covenant with God, as is clear (Deut. 29:10-13; Josh. 24:24,25; 2 Chron. 15:9-12), they could not give any larger proofs or evidences of their faith of the covenant, than a solemn assembling together and a verbal oath or a saying (‘Amen’, or ‘So be it’), as Deut. 27:14,17, after which they were reputed [to be] in the covenant, and so their seed also [were reputed to be] in the covenant.

And [David] Pareus says, the children of Christian parents are holy before baptism by a covenant and external holiness, jure (by God’s right), being born of Christian parents; and after baptism they are holy, de facto, formally and actually.  So say Melancthon and Keckerman. 


The Covenant of Life Opened, 1655

p. 86-88

Q. What warrant is there, Acts 2:39, for Infant Baptism?

2. The promise is to you and to your children, can have no other sense than: the promise and word of the Covenant is preached to you and to your children in you, and this is to be externally in Covenant, both under the Old and New Testament.

If it have another sense it must be this, the Lord hath internally Covenanted with you the 3000, who have heard the word and with your children, and you are the spiritual seed, and sons of promise, predestinate to life eternal: as Rom. 9. they expone [expound] the seed in Covenant:  But,

1. Were all the 3000, Ananias and Saphira and their children the spiritual and chosen seed? for he commands all, whom he exhorts to repent, to be baptized: And,

2. Now to Simon Magus and Demas, and numbers of such, Peter could not have said, the promise is made to you and to your children, if it be only made to real and actual believers, as they say, Peter therefore must own them all whom he exhorts to repent, as the chosen seed. But if the former sense be intended (as how can it be denied?) to wit, the word of the Covenant is preached to you, an offer of Christ is made in the preached Gospel to you.  Then it cannot be denied, but the promise is to all the Reprobate in the Visible Church whether they believe or not, for Christ is preached and promises of the Covenant are preached to Simon Magus, to Judas and all the Hypocrites who stumble at the Word, to all the Pharisees, as is clear, Matt 13:20-23; Acts 13:44-45; 18:5-6; Matt 21:43; 1 Pet. 2:7-8. 

p. 94

It is no inconvenience that the Reprobate in the Visible Church, be so under the Covenant of Grace, as some promises are made to them, and some mercies promised to them conditionally, and some reserved special promises of a new heart, and of perseverance belong not to them. For all the promises belong not the same way, to the parties visibly and externally, and to the parties internally and personally in Covenant with God. So the Lord promises life and forgiveness shall be given to these who are externally in the Covenant, providing they believe, but the Lord promises not a new heart and grace to believe, to these that are only externally in Covenant. And yet he promises both to the Elect.

Hence the Covenant must be considered two ways

in abstracto and formally, in the letter as a simple way of saving sinners, so they believe, so all within the Visible Church are in the Covenant of Grace, and so it contains only the will of precept. 

2. In the concret, as the Lord caries on the Covenant in such and such a way, commensurably with the decrees of Election and Reprobation…


p. 107

Yea the Covenant is made to Christ and his seed, Gal. 3.16. and the same blessings of Abraham, comes on us Gentiles, Gal. 3.13,14. But he and all his seed were blessed and in grace by the external call of the Covenant, Eze. 16:1-8; Deut. 7:7-8; Rom. 10:23. I will call them my people that were not my people, and her beloved which was not beloved.  And this external calling is of Grace and so Grace, no merit, as well as predestination to life is grace or for grace. For whosoever are called, not because Elect, but because freely loved of such a God and without merit called, Father and Son, they are in a state of grace: But so are all within the Visible Church. If any object, by Christ’s coming all the Nations old and young are not become the Nations of the Lord and of his Christ, but only true Believers, even by our Doctrine,

Answer: 1. They are become the Kingdoms of the Lord, not only because they are truly converted, but because they are the chosen of God in the Office house of Christ, and Christ reigns over them by the Scepter of his Word whom He is to convert.  And external Covenanting with God is of itself free Grace and a singular favor bestowed of God, Ps. 147:19-20; Deut. 5:1-2; Matt 21:42-43; Luke 14:16-21.

2.  It is free Grace that God will have hypocrites and real infidels to beget children to him that are internally in Covenant with Him; and fills up the number of the Elect by Reprobate Parents who are instrumental to the in-coming in the world, and into the Visible Church, of many Heirs of Glory: and in so doing there is a Church right communicated from Reprobate Parents to their Children, that are Heirs of Glory.



David Dickson  1664

Therapeutica Sacra

Book 1, Chapter 6

“Together with these external means, serving for drawing on the covenant and going on in it [being in it], the common operations of God do concur; common to all the called, both elect and reprobate, and gifts common to both, are bestowed, such as illumination, moral persuasion, historical, dogmatic and temporary faith, moral change of affections, and some sort of external amendment of their outward conversation, saving grace being the special gift of God to His own.”


Book 1, Chapter 6

4. Of this manner of covenanting and taking into Church-fellowship, all the called that consent in a moral way to the condition of the covenant, regenerate and unregenerate, we have a pattern in the Lord’s covenanting with all Israel, Ex. 19, the covenant is offered to all the Israelites, without exception; all are invited to enter in covenant without exception, arguments, motives and moral inducements are made use of [including the reprobate], from their experience of the Lord’s goodness and gifts given to them before [including the reprobate]; most ample promises of spiritual benefits, are made unto them, conditionally to be bestowed on them both in this life, and in the life to comeverses 4-6, the people embrace the condition of the covenantv. 7-8, the people are sanctified [including the reprobate, in a certain, limited sense], and prepared to receive the holy commands and will of God, in the rest of the chapter;


Book 1, Chapter 6

The same way of covenanting did John Baptist follow, admitting to his baptism the seal of this covenant, all those that came from Jerusalem and out of all Judea, and from the borders of Jordan, without exception; whosoever confessed their sins, or that they were sinners, and professed they did receive the offer of grace, made in the Name of Christ Jesus, the true lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, Math. 3:5-6, and so far was John from waiting for evidences of saving grace and regeneration, before he admitted them that came to his baptism, into the fellowship of the external covenant of grace and reconciliation, that on the contrair, he made public profession, that the fan whereby the chaff is separated from the wheat, and the hypocrite discerned from the sincere Christian, was not in his hand, or in any other man or men’s hands, but in the hand of Christ Jesus Himself only.  And therefore (which is worthy to be observed) after he had publicly testified his suspicion of the hypocrisy and old poysonabled is position, in the Pharisees and Sadducees that came to his baptism, and offered to receive the covenant of grace and the seal thereof, verse 7, forthwith, without inquiring into their regeneration and sincerity of heart, he baptized them among the restv. 11, and left them to be examined thereafter by Christ Himself, whether they were upright in heart or not.


Book 1, Chapter 6

This way of receiving into external covenant, all these who receive the offer and the condition of the covenant, without inquiring into their election or reprobation, their regeneration or unregeneration for the time, (which may be called a covenanting outwardly and in the letter) in the deep and wise counsel of God, is appointed for the gathering and constitution of the visible kirk: for, by this mean, first, God so executes and perfects the decree of election, that in the mean time He hinders none, of all the hearers of the Gospel from receiving the grace of Christ offered therein.  He excludes no man from embracing the covenant; but, on the contrair, he opens the door to all that are called, to enter into (as it were) the outer court of his dwelling house, that they may so draw more near to Him; and so he does not particularly manifest any man’s reprobation.


Book 3, Chapter 6

Thirdly, the Lord makes use of this outward and common covenanting with all receivers of the offer, as a mean to draw the confederate in the letter, to be confederate in the spirit; for, the faith which he requires as the condition of the covenant, he works in the elect, if not before, or with the external covenanting, yet undoubtedly after, in a time acceptable, and that by the ordinary means, the use whereof is granted to all confederate externally: and so as common illumination is a mean to that special, spiritual and saving illumination; and dogmatic or historical faith, is a mean unto saving faith; and external calling, is a mean of effectual calling, So external covenanting in the letter, is a mean most fit, and accommodate to make a man a covenanter in the spirit.


Book 3, Chapter 7

As to the external dispensation of the Covenant, it is certain, first, that it was common to all that were externally called, to all the members of the visible Church: for, the covenant made in the wilderness with the elect Fathers and reprobate, with the believers and unbelievers, with those that rejected the covenant of Grace and the offer of Righteousness by faith, and with those who looked through the vail afar off to Christ coming, and were saved, was one and the same.



Edward Reynolds  †1676  **

The Life of Christ

Now we must observe, that a Branch may be in a Tree two ways.  

First, by a mere corporeal adherency, or continuation with the stock; by cleaving and sticking to the body of the Tree; and so every dead branch is in the Tree, as well as those that live: but this alone is not that which our Savior requires, for such branches the husbandman will cut off and cast into the fire.

Secondly, by a real participation of the life, sap, and influences of the root, which unto the former sort of branches, though offered, yet is not received, because of the inward deadness and indisposition that is in it: thus it is between Christ and Christians.  That which makes us to be in Christ after any kind of way is Faith.  And according to the differences of Faith are these differences of being in Christ to be discerned.  Saint James makes mention of a dead Faith, when men are in Christ by some general acknowledgement, by external profession, by a partial dependence (coming to Him only as to a Jesus for room and shelter to keep them from the fire; not as to a Christ for grace and government in His service) not by any particular and willing attraction of those vital influences, those working principles of grace and obedience which are from him shed abroad upon true believers.  And this is the semi-conversion and imperfect renovation of many men, whereby they receive from Him only general light of truth and common virtues, which make them visibly, and externally branches in Him.  




“For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.”

1 Cor. 7:14

“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”

2 Pet. 2:1




Related Pages

The Covenant of Grace

The Covenant of Redemption

The Church

Infant Baptism

Children of Professing Believers are Baptized Because they are in the Covenant