The Doctrine of the Covenant and Testament of God (Cocceius)

Cocceius, Johannes. The Covenant and Testament of God. trans. Casey Carmichael. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016.

Although his teaching aroused some controversy, Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) unified both rigorous scholastic methodology with a sensitivity to the biblical plotline. (Regarding his scholastic methodology, Cocceius outlines his Summa according to the following headers: §.  This allows him to keep the topic clear even when he pursues tangents.) In one sense Cocceius wouldn’t have thought he was teaching anything new, yet later writers were forced to deal with his takes on the Sabbath and the multiple abrogations of the Covenant of Works.  Positively stated, he offered a powerful presentation of the Pactum Salutis, the Covenant of Redemption.

Cocceius structures his covenant theology around five abrogations of the covenant of works.   Willem J. van Asselt has a helpful introduction on this point (van Asselt xxxi). These five abrogations are:

  1. The Fall
  2. Establishment of the Covenant of Grace
  3. Detachment and renunciation of the old man
  4. Death
  5. Resurrection from death

Like most writers on covenant theology, Cocceius begins with definitions: “God’s covenant is a divine declaration of the way of receiving his love” (Cocceius §5).  It is one-sided (monopleuristic) regarding the way we receive his love.  It is two-sided (dipleuristic) when man obligates himself.

Cocceius proves there was a law-covenant in the Garden because of the law or rectitude on man’s heart. If there is rectitude, then there is a corresponding standard (§8). Even without express Scriptural support, Cocceius provides the intellectual foundations to the Covenant of Works.

Cocceius’s defense of the covenant of works leads to an attack on the Socinians.  As the Socinians believe death was natural, they are led to believe that man was cursed the moment he was created, since without doing anything he had already received the judgment for breaking God’s law.  Of course, the Socinians don’t actually say that, but there it is. Like Barth, they come very close to seeing creation as a sort of Fall.

Against Rome and Bellarmine, “grace” can’t be rendered “making acceptable.”  If God’s covenant with man had some sort of gracious element, and if man had to endure the testing, then he hadn’t yet been “acceptable;” therefore, grace can’t be “making acceptable” (§31).

If we are going to speak of merit in the garden, it isn’t condign merit, but merit according to the pact.  Even if we never sinned, “we could not obligate God, because he receives nothing from us” (§41).

Cocceius and the Sabbath

Did Cocceius believe the Sabbath was abrogated after the Mosaic economy?  Not exactly. He says the Mosaic sabbath “advanced the natural equity that binds the mind and soul to have time for God and His worship” (§13).

Second Abrogation of the Covenant of Works

It is abrogated in the sense that God’s mercy takes away condemnation in the reception of the covenant of grace (§75). The cause of this act is the “eudokia you thelematos tou theou” (§84).

The Pactum Salutis

Cocceius addresses the problem of whether the will of the Father and Son is the same.  He affirms (§92). Rather, the single divine will is appropriated differently. This single passage removes any apparent difficulty in the Pactum Salutis.  The fear had always been that such an intratrinitarian agreement necessitated three wills.  Cocceius demonstrates that “appropriation” solves this problem.

Cocceius mightily rejects any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father.  To do so, he notes in which respect the Son is economically subordinate (§94). 

  • The Father is greater than the Son in relation to the Son’s humanity.
  • The Son’s role of mediator cannot imply any lesser status (§95).

Cocceius can even speak of Jesus’s condign merit, as his humiliation is proportionate to the rewards in his exaltation (§103). We establish the reality of Christ’s merit based on 1) the pactum salutis and 2) the rewards for his obedience (which also flows from the pact) (§107). Indeed, “he required merit by act, since he really furnished what he did for salvation.”

Section §108 deals with limited atonement. The argument is simple.  Christ did not act as Surety for all men. Moreover, an acceptable sacrifice actually expiates sin (§116). When Scripture speaks of “dying for the world,” it refers to the universal promise made to Abraham (§123).

When we speak of Christ’s being a Surety, we mean that He stood forth for his people with their sins laid upon Him. The Father had given Him a seed, and this inheritance “responds from another part to the guarantee.” He took upon Himself the payment for our debts (§134, §155).

Furthermore, Christ is a sponsio in that he offered himself to the Father on our behalf (§350).

Faith in Christ justifies us because:

  • He makes his promise and gift fixed on the grounds of the covenant (Heb. 3:1)
  • It is the consummation of the heavenly marriage.
  • It is the first effect of the Spirit of the life of Christ in us.

We call the sanction of the Covenant of Grace “the oath of God” (§198).

The Third Abrogation of the Covenant of Works

The cutting off of Christ was the cause of the abolition of the Old Covenant (which, to be sure, is not identical with the Abrahamic covenant, §344).

On the Sacraments

Sacraments are seals, not moral causes, pace Rome.  Seals are effects (§436).  Indeed, as the cup is the testament in his blood, Jesus the Testator seals that on us.

Do not remove the Cup

Rome says that the bread, being transubstantiated, already has blood in it since it is a living body.  But a living body is not offered to us, but a slain and sacrificial one.  It is a body that is broken (§496).   You cannot simultaneously say it is a living body and that blood has been shed (see also, §502ff).

Cocceius has another interesting rebuttal to the Mass.  When Paul says we have koinonia in the body of Christ, it can’t mean eating.  It is elsewhere contrasted with the koinonia of demons, yet no one suggests we eat demons (§520).  Moreover, the Israelites were said (v.18) to have koinonia in the altar, yet they did not orally receive the altar.

Fourth Abrogation

The fourth abrogation is the death of the body.

Fifth Abrogation

The fifth abrogation is the resurrection from the dead.

Conclusion

It would be a stretch to say this is one of the best scholastic texts.  That would be Francis Turretin.  I wouldn’t say this is the most useful scholastic text on covenant theology.  That would be Herman Witsius. Nonetheless, Cocceius engages the biblical text in ways that often surpass others.  While he is not always the clearest writer, his formatting the texts by section markers separates him from others and prevents the reader from getting lost..  While this is an advanced text, it is required reading to understand how the Reformed view the covenants.  One can no longer speak on Reformed covenant theology without seriously engaging Johannes Cocceius.