To maintain the paradoxes implicit in the idea of accommodation, the preachers drew on the doctrine of the covenant. From God's ''special way of governing rational creatures,'' wrote William Ames in his Marrow of Sacred Divinity, ''there arises a covenant between God and them.'' Calvin had used the notion of covenant to emphasize the unity of the Old and New Testaments and to interpret the meaning of the sacraments, but the New England theologians drew especially on a tradition of covenantal thought that originated in Germany. In 1562 a German Reformed theologian at Heidelberg, Zacharias Ursinus, began to distinguish between the legal covenant (foedus naturae) made with Adam, requiring obedience to moral law as a condition of salvation, and a covenant of grace (foedus gratiae), made known by revelation to Abraham, that offered salvation as a gift to faith alone. The distinction appealed to the English Puritan refugee Thomas Cartwright, who visited Heidelberg in 1573, and when Cartwright's friend Dudley Fenner, who already cherished Ramist dichotomies, published in Geneva in 1585 his Sacra Theologia, he described in English for the first time a covenant of grace and a covenant of works. By that time, the idea of the dual covenants was attracting other Reformed theologians in Germany, Holland, France, and England. The influential Puritan preacher at Great St. Andrews in Cambridge, William Perkins, made the idea a commonplace among the learned clerical reformers in the Church of England.44 In New England, Peter Bulkeley's Gospel Covenant defined a covenant as an agreement with mutual conditions. In the covenant of works with Adam, he explained, God promised eternal happiness on the condition of perfect obedience. Adam's fall broke that covenant, though without annulling its demands. These demands, evident both in the natural law engraved on the conscience and in the moral laws of scripture, still required obedience, but it could no longer earn salvation. In the covenant of grace made with Abraham, however, the promise of eternal happiness rested on the condition of faith alone.45
At one level, the idea of dual covenants functioned as a warning against reliance on good works for salvation. Since such an error would ''disanull the nature of the Covenant of grace, and turn it into a covenant of works,'' the preachers emphasized the differences. The covenant of works required obedience for salvation; the covenant of grace required only faith in Christ and commanded good works only ''that thereby we should glorifie God, and manifest it that we are made righteous by faith.'' The first covenant cast men and women on their own abilities; the second provided the grace of the Spirit. The first could ensure an orderly society, but only the second could ensure an eternal place in the kingdom of God. To preach the covenant of grace was to restate the Protestant conviction that salvation came from grace alone.46
Yet the covenant of works remained in effect, and this meant, on another level, that preachers could issue ethical appeals and urge moral reforms. The preachers could say, with Hooker, that the ''legal covenant'' was ''not continued with us . . . not required at our hands'' as a means of salvation but that everyone stood under its command. Bulkeley reminded readers that God's purpose was immutable and that the ''first covenant'' also remained unchangeable. This meant, first, that New Englanders whom God had not yet called effectually into salvation remained entirely under a covenant of works and subject to its moral restraints. It meant also, according to Cotton, that the burden of moral expectation should drive the sensitive conscience to Christ. It was ''the usuall manner of God to give a Covenant of Grace by leading men first into a Covenant of works.'' Living under the covenant of works, Shepard explained, they would discover their sinfulness, and their ''terrors, and fears, and hopes'' would turn them to Christ. And it meant, third, that even Christians safely within the covenant of grace remained subject to the moral substance of the first covenant. Abolished as a ''covenant of life,'' Shepard said, the law still remained as a ''Rule of Life.'' These were the traditional three uses of the law in Reformed theology; covenantal language provided a lively way to restate them.47
The ambiguities of covenantal thought allowed it to preserve conflicting religious values. This became especially evident in the distinctions with which the preachers refined the doctrine. They argued, for instance, that a covenant was both conditional and absolute. The language of conditionality permitted the preachers to urge their hearers to seek faith. ''Labor to get faith,'' Hooker said. ''Labor to yield to the . . . condition of the promises.'' In a similar way, it allowed them to comfort the troubled by showing them how to ''test their estate.'' Since God promised salvation on the condition of faith, worried saints could seek signs of faith and obedience in themselves as grounds of assurance that they had met the condition.48
The language of conditionality could sound as if it subverted the absoluteness of God's promise to the elect. Cotton granted the other ministers their right to ''speak of conditions,'' but he admonished them to remember that ''the Lord doth undertake both for his own part and for our parts also.'' The effectual calling of the elect was not ''built upon any Conditionall Promise'' but rested on the ''absolute free Promise unto the Soule'' of the saint. But despite Cotton's implication to the contrary, the other ministers agreed that everything depended on God's free grace. Shepard taught that the covenant of grace was ''absolute'': God had ''undertaken to fulfill the Covenant absolutely'' for his elect. Hooker spoke often of covenant conditions, but he added that ''the Lord, as he requires the condition of thee, so he worketh the condition in thee.'' Bulkeley insisted that the God who required the conditions also fulfilled them ''for us.''49
Bulkeley pointed out the advantage of the equivocal language. By saying that the covenant was conditional, the preachers reminded the faithful and faithless that salvation would ''not be brought to pass but by means, in which mans care is required.'' By saying that the covenant was absolute, they reaffirmed the Reformed doctrine that the promise of salvation would ''cer-tainely be fulfilled'' through the sovereign grace of God. Covenantalism was a way of affirming both things at the same time.50
The covenant language had a broad scope. It encompassed not only the intricacies of salvation but also the institutional arrangements of colonial society. The theologians defined the church as a covenanted community of visible saints, and they published during the 1630s and 1640s at least a dozen books, treatises, and sermons defending New England's way of organizing churches through public covenants. But covenantalism also interpreted other New England social institutions. ''Whatever power one hath over another, if it be not by way of conquest or naturall relation, (as the father over the childe),'' wrote Thomas Shepard, ''it is by covenant.'' This meant, said Hooker, that covenants made through ''natural free engagements'' governed the relationships between prince and people, husbands and wives, masters and servants, all confederations, and all corporations. Every social relationship grounded in mutual free consent presupposed a covenant, whether implicit or explicit.51
The allure of covenant thought was that it maintained tensions. It reconciled conflicting themes in the biblical accounts and conflicting social impulses in the community. But the harmony that it was designed to produce, whether conceptual or social, proved elusive. From one perspective, it makes sense to speak of a "New England Mind'' among the learned. They shared common convictions about a host of matters. But it is equally accurate to depict the history of theology in seventeenth-century New England as a troubled progression marked by continual dispute, often grounded in disagreements about the covenant.
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