There needs to be a clarity regarding covenants and compacts. As we look at the matter between them, we must first establish a few realizations. First of all, many people use these words interchangeably, as if there is no difference. One reason for this is because of our society and our culture. Definitions that once used to be specific have become very general in our language and “up to interpretation” today. This generalization has led to the multiplicity of the different versions (perversions) of the Bible. People, not seeing the difference between ‘covenant’ and ‘compact’ have misused ‘covenant’ many times over.
We shall first examine the word ‘covenant.’ It is found in the Bible in 280 verses, 256 of which are in the Old Testament (of the 24 verses in the New Testament, most of them either quote or refer to the Old Testament). 85% of these 280 verses refer to God’s covenants that He established with various men (some to all mankind, some to particular men, but most of them with the Israelites). It should be clear that there is a precedent that God has set with these few facts, but we shall continue our examination.
The 42 remaining verses that have the word ‘covenant’ refer to men establishing covenants. Of these verses, only three refer to men covenanting together to serve God, and one refers to Job making a covenant with his eyes. Two verses refer to the covenant between the Pharisees and Judus Iscariot when he sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Five verses speak about the covenant that the Antichrist sets up with the world. Nine of these verses clearly states God’s extreme displeasure, even outright commands against, men making covenants with other men or gods. The remaining verses speak of various covenants that men made with each other. It is even more clear that God has set a precedent about covenants.
In Websters 1828 Dictionary, there are several definitions given for ‘covenant’:
- A mutual consent or agreement of two or more persons, to do or to forbear some act or thing; a contract; stipulation. A covenant is created by deed in writing, sealed and executed; or it may be implied in the contract.
- A writing containing the terms of agreement or contract between parties; or the clause of agreement in a deed containing the covenant.
- In theology, the covenant of works, is that implied in the commands, prohibitions, and promises of God; the promise of God to man, that mans perfect obedience should entitle him to happiness. This do, and live; that do, and die. The covenant of redemption, is the mutual agreement between the Father and Son, respecting the redemption of sinners by Christ. The covenant of grace, is that by which God engages to bestow salvation on man, upon the condition that man shall believe in Christ and yield obedience to the terms of the gospel.
- In church affairs, a solemn agreement between the members of a church, that they will walk together according to the precepts of the gospel, in brotherly affection.
By definition, it is possible for men to make covenants with each other, but God does not condone it. A covenant is more than a mere agreement between parties (as many use it today), it binds each one to uphold particular duties, much like an oath or vow. Seeing that 85% of the verses dealing with covenants speaks of God establishing them, and that most of the remaining 15% condemn men making covenants with each other, the sacredness of covenants can be observed. This sacredness should be respected, and not used outside of God’s intended purposes.
The word ‘compact,’ in this sense, is not found in the Bible. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary says that it is “An agreement; a contract between parties; a word that may be applied, in a general sense, to any covenant or contract between individuals; but it is more generally applied to agreements between nations and states, as treaties and confederacies. So the constitution of the United States is a political contract between the States; a national compact. Or the word is applied to the agreement of the individuals of a community.” The basic thought behind these two words are similar, but they are not the same. As we explored, a covenant is a sacred agreement with God (usually God initiating it), but a compact is an agreement between people. In the definition, it specifically gives the understanding that our country is based on a compact – the Constitution.
Elder John Leland was one of our great Baptist forefathers that stood up for true liberty in our country – both religious and civil liberty. He had a brilliant understanding regarding our nation’s established government and how it was to operate. In one of his writings, he states four different foundations that civil government can be built upon – birth, property, grace, and compact. “Birth” refers to a monarchial system where the king’s heir inherits the seat of rule. “Property” refers to aristocratical systems where the rich landowners rule. “Grace” is utilized by those that require a religious test to qualify a ruler or officer of the state. This third one, as he points out, was used by the Roman Catholic and catholic Reformed states. This would be covenant. The fourth foundation is “compact,” which is the foundation upon which our country was founded, and he gives this illustration:
Suppose a man to remove to a desolate island, and take a peaceable possession of it, without injuring any, so that he should be the honest inheritor of the isle. So long as he is alone, he is the absolute monarch of the place, and his own will is his law, which law is as often altered or repealed as his will changes. In process of time, from this man’s loins ten sons are grown to manhood, and possess property. So long as they are all good men, each one can be as absolute, free, and sovereign as his father: but one of the ten turns vagrant, by robbing the rest. This villain is equal to, if not an over-match for any one of the nine: not one of them durst engage him in single combat. Reason and safety both dictate to the nine the necessity of a confederation, to unite their strength together to repel or destroy the plundering knave. Upon entering into confederation, some compact or agreement would be stipulated by which each would be bound to do his equal part in fatigue and expense. It would be necessary for these nine to meet at stated times to consult means of safety and happiness. A shady tree, or small cabin, would answer their purpose, and, in case of disagreement, four must give up to five.
In this state of things, their government would be perfectly democratic, every citizen being a legislator.
In a course of years, from these nine there arises nine thousand: their government can be no longer democratic – prudence would forbid it. Each tribe, or district, must then choose their representative, who, for the term that he is chosen, has the whole political power of his constituents. These representatives, meeting n assembly, would have power to make laws binding on their constituents, and while their time was spent in making laws for the community, each one of the community must advance a little of his money as a compensation therfor. Should these representatives differ in judgment, the minor must be subject to the major, as in the case above.
There has been unbiblical blurring of “covenant” and “compact.” In our society today, we have to spend so much time defining what we say – we cannot just say anything that can stand by itself. People say things that can be taken more than one way, and then they have to explain what they meant – “Well, you know what I mean.” This has filtered greatly into theology, and the days, unfortunately, are gone that we cannot use a Biblical term without having to define it.
The greatest abusers of “covenant” are those that hold to Covenant Theology. As a summary, Covenant Theology blurs all of God’s covenants – especially uniting the Old Covenant to the Jews and the New Covenant. They teach that the church is the Israel of the New Testament and visa versa. A website with a lot of documentation from their own writers can be found at http://www.pressiechurch.org/CT.html. Those that hold Covenant Theology are the same that hold to Dominion Theology and Preterism. These are the same groups that are pushing for a wrongful merger between the church and state – all because they believe that it is based on a covenant.
Some names that we should watch out for (this list is from Wikipedia’s description of Covenant Theology):
Recent well-known covenant theologians in the United States include Michael Horton, Meredith G. Kline, J. I. Packer, Richard L. Pratt, Jr., O. Palmer Robertson and R. C. Sproul. This system is taught at schools such as Covenant Theological Seminary, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Knox Theological Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, and Westminster Seminary California.
I hope that it is an eye-opener for us Baptists. Let us not fall into the trap of these false prophets, but let us follow the exhortation that Paul gave Titus: “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1:9)