Last post, we studied the idea of covenant and addressed its devotional significance in the life of Christians. We now embark deep into the mystery of God’s eternal counsel. We will learn of a covenant within the Godhead itself, a pact which stretches the limits of human understanding and ought to drive us to our knees in prayer as we cry out, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33) While our perspective is and always will be finite, God has graciously revealed glimpses into the glorious foundation of our salvation, and we call this doctrine the Covenant of Redemption.

What is the Covenant of Redemption?

As in last post, we will follow the lead of Pastors Brown and Keele as we define covenants Biblically. They explain the Covenant of Redemption as, “the covenant established in eternity between the Father, who gives the Son to be the Redeemer of the elect and requires of him the conditions for their redemption; and the Son, who voluntarily agrees to fulfill these conditions; and the Spirit, who voluntarily applies the work of the Son to the elect.[1] According to this doctrine, before time and creation, the Father covenanted with the Son to redeem a people for their possession. In broad strokes, the Father would elect men to salvation, the Son would accomplish this salvation, and the Spirit would apply it. Because it is intra-trinitarian, the concept of covenant is not simply a convenient analogy God draws on to help us understand His work on our behalf, but reflects a reality within the inner life of the divine persons.

This covenant is distinct from all other covenants we will study for two reasons.

  1. It is pre-temporal. By this, we mean that it is compacted outside of time and space. This covenant occurs before God speaks the world into existence. Yet in grace, He has a plan to redeem His people from the sin He knows they will willingly thrust themselves into. Our salvation extends from one edge of eternity to the next.
  2. Correspondently, because it is agreed upon completely apart from the structure of creation, it is intra-trinitarian. This occurs exclusively within the eternal divine life of the Godhead.

Now you may be thinking that this sounds great, but where is the exegetical foundation for this? After all, as Reformed thinkers, we are bound to the Word of God as the source of our doctrine – we seek to be people of the book. Instead of looking at one or two prooftexts, let us proceed step by step through this doctrine, and as we explore, address the Biblical warrant for each point.

Walking with Owen

John Owen, one of the earliest explicit articulators of this doctrine, distinguished between five parts of the Covenant of Redemption. We will read his summaries, and supplement them with Biblical defense as we go. Much of the defense will be drawn from the texts that Owen uses in his works.

  1. There are the Father and the Son as distinct persons agreeing together in counsel for the accomplishment of the common end,—the glory of God and the salvation of the elect.[2]

In other words, the Father and Son, distinct persons within the Godhead, agreed to accomplish the salvation of God’s people from the sin and misery they would cast themselves into. For a Biblical witness to this truth, we turn to the prophet Zechariah.

“Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’ (Zechariah 6:12b-13 ESV)

Here there are two persons in view – the LORD of hosts (God the Father), and His servant, the Branch, who is clearly a messianic figure. He is the one who builds up God’s temple, an eschatological reality consummated in Christ and His Church (John 2:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:17).[3] This messianic figure is responsible for a “counsel of peace” between Himself and the LORD. This covenant extends not only to Himself, but the text emphasizes that He is both a priest and a king. Through His representative kingship and priestly mediation, He extends that peace with God to His people. Hence, we see that Owen’s claim here is on firm Biblical ground.

  1. For the accomplishment of this work, the Father…requires of the Lord Jesus Christ, his Son, that he shall do that which, upon consideration of his justice, glory, and honour, was necessary to be done for the bringing about the end proposed, prescribing to him a law for the performance thereof;[4]

Here Owen says that because of this initial resolution to bring about the salvation of sinners, God the Father required the Son to do what was necessary to accomplish this deliverance. This is the condition of the covenant. What things particularly were necessary?

A. It was necessary that Christ take on a human nature. We know this was explicitly at the direction of God the Father from a few passages, especially Hebrews 10:5

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; (Hebrews 10:5 ESV)

Here God the Son references that the Father had prepared a human body for Him, with which He would work salvation for God’s people.

B. It was necessary that Christ serve the Father, fulfilling the fullness of the law, which is how He becomes to us righteousness by which we are justified. (Galatians 4:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21)

C. It was necessary that Christ should suffer the wrath of God as penalty for mankind’s rebellion, and by that deliver God’s elect – all according to the Father’s will. (Isaiah 53:10)

In sum, we see that it is clearly taught in Scripture that the Father orchestrated the individual elements of Christ’s redemptive work on our behalf.

  1. Promises are made, upon the supposition of undertaking that which was required, and these of all sorts that might either concern the person that did undertake, or the accomplishment of the work that he did undertake.[5]

Here Owen is referencing a couple different things. On the one hand, this refers to God’s promise to uphold the incarnate Son in His struggle to accomplish salvation. In Psalm 16:10, for example, it is promised that He will not be abandoned to death – an implicit foreshadowing of the resurrection. The whole book of Psalms echoes with this refrain. (Psalm 2:10-12; 6:9-10; 56:13; 110:1,5-7) This is not the sum, however of this point. God also promises that if the Son undertakes this work of redemption He will establish the inheritance the Son wins, a bride the Son delights in. (Hebrews 12:12; John 6:38-40) This promise is gloriously fulfilled even now in the building up of Christ’s church on earth.

  1. The Lord Jesus Christ accepts of the condition and the promise, and voluntarily undertakes the work:[6]

And this is perhaps the most glorious point. Knowing the depth of pain, suffering, and humiliation that awaited Him, our Lord agrees to this covenant, and accomplishes salvation for us – His all too often wayward people.

            Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)

Christ did accept the covenant. He did empty Himself of His dignity by taking a true human nature, suffering utter degradation and mockery from the sinful mass of men to whom He offered salvation.

  1. The fifth and last thing is, that on the one side the promiser do approve and accept of the performance of the condition prescribed, and the undertaker demand and lay claim to the promises made, and thereupon the common end designed be accomplished and fulfilled.[7]

Here our servant in the Lord, John Owen, teaches that in order for this covenant to have its effect, the Father must accept that the redemption has been truly accomplished by the Son. What is our assurance that this is so? For this, we turn to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The apostle Paul writes on our behalf,

“…was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 1:4 ESV)

In His resurrection, Jesus is vindicated. In the resurrection, God the Father shows that He has accepted the work of Christ’s holy incarnation, life, and death as sufficient to cleanse us of sins and cover us in righteousness.

Putting it All Together

All of this teaching comes together in the words of Christ in the book of John. Here Jesus is teaching the Jews about the central crux of His ministry, and He uses these words.

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:38-40 ESV)

Christ did not come on His own accord, but in keeping with the work of redemption entrusted to Him by God the Father. In return for this work, the Father promised to Him a people, a people that would be kept until that glorious last day in which all things will be summed up in Christ.

Because of this doctrine, we know that all of history moves climactically towards the advance of redemptive history as God works to redeem a people for Himself through the mediation of Jesus Christ. As Dr. Michael Horton beautifully says,

“…before the world existed, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit already turn toward us, with a purpose to create, redeem, and gather a church for everlasting fellowship.” [8]

Summary

The Covenant of Redemption is the central ground of our salvation. Apart from this voluntary commitment of Christ to redeem a people for the glory of Himself and the Father, we would be utterly without hope. The whole history of mankind’s redemption is simply the outworking of this commitment on the part of the Trinity in time. This precious truth should comfort us in pain, encourage us in fear, and strengthen us in weakness.

As in all things, may Christ receive honor.

SDG

 

The church’s one foundation

Is Jesus Christ her Lord;

She is His new creation

By water and t he Word.

From heaven He came and sought her

To be His holy bride;

With His own blood He bought her,

And for her life He died.

[1] Brown, Michael; Keele, Zach. (2012). Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored (pp. 25).Grandeville, MI: Reformed Fellowship.

[2] Owen, J. (n.d.). The Works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 12, p. 500). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

[3] If interested in reading more on this point, see “The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God” by G.K. Beale.

[4] Ibid, p. 501.

[5] Ibid, p. 503-504.

[6] Ibid, p. 505.

[7] Ibid, p. 505.

[8] Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith (p. 309). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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