A true grasp of God’s grace is especially helpful for people who are afraid that God is hard and severe, as the man who buried his one talent thought (Matt. 25:24). Such a viewpoint of God is more than a little tinged by the rigor of the first covenant. And it is marvelous to see that in the covenant of grace in Christ, God’s posture towards sin in people is entirely different than it is in the covenant of works.
This is the final post in a series related to my new book on the theology of William Strong (ca. 1611–1654). In previous posts we defined a “covenant of works,” determined that God did actually make such a covenant, and delineated the sense in which that covenant is still in effect today. But a question remains: What does it matter?
In the previous post we saw that God deals with people differently based on the covenant in which they are situated. People in the broken covenant of works are without Christ and without a mediator (Eph. 2:12). All people in Adam must stand before God in their own persons. This is a horrifying reality that conjures up disturbing imagery of the final judgment.
Despite the inherently disturbing nature of the subject matter, it is on this point that Strong begins to contrast being in Adam from being in Christ. Strong essentially asks “what is the difference between being in the covenant of works as opposed to being in the covenant of grace?” His answer is profound: Regarding a person in the covenant of works, God “rejects their best works for the least failing” (Strong, Discourse, 2–3). But God relates to believers quite differently. “Under the Covenant of Grace, if there be but a willing mind, [a person’s work is] accepted” (Strong, Discourse, 2–3). God’s posture to all those in the covenant of works is that of rigor, but to those in the covenant of grace he is magnanimous.
Strong develops this contrast between rigor and generosity in a surprising way, and what he says takes thought to grasp. In the covenant of works, God “hates the persons for the works sake . . . but under the New Covenant he loves the service for the person’s sake” (Strong, Discourse, 3).