Monday, January 3, 2011

Biblical Demonstration of the Covenant of Redemption

My previous posts on the Covenant of Redemption were a sermon by John Flavel. He analyzes Isaiah 49:1-6 where the Father and Son agree upon the conditions of the Covenant of Redemption and the obligations each has to the other Person in the fulfilling of this covenant. I highly recommend this sermon by Flavel.

Those from a non-Reformed background, especially an Arminian background, will be largely unaware that the Scripture teaches any such thing as a covenant made before time between the Father and the Son regarding man’s salvation. One need only look at the many ‘Servant’ passages in Isaiah to see that there was an agreement between Father and Son, prior to the Lord Jesus’ incarnation which delineated the stipulations of redemption. Again, Flavel is helpful here as he lays out the various duties the Father and Son agreed to undertake and how each Person minutely and punctually performed the agreed upon stipulations. Isaiah’s “servant” texts are full of such details.

Indeed, the Gospels are replete with Christ’s acknowledgements of such a covenant. He constantly references the agreement between Him and the Father, particularly the duties, which He as the federal Head, had covenanted Himself to do. Even to the most casual reader of the New Testament, it should be noticeable that everything Christ does and says seems to run along a premeditated course. One thinks of John 5:30, 10:29, 17:4, 6, 8, 22, etc., not to mention the dozens of references Christ made to the Father as the one who, “sent me.” The High Priestly prayer of John 17 especially bears this out. All of this demonstrates that Christ and the Father had a pretemporal agreement between them regarding the work of redemption – how it was to be accomplished and what way each of the Persons of the Trinity would act in accomplishing it.

Christ himself speak of the Covenant of Redemption in Luke 22:29, where He explicitly says, καγω διατιθεμαι υμιν καθως διεθετο μοι ο πατηρ μου βασιλειαν (I engage to you by covenant a kingdom just as my Father engaged to Me by covenant.) In these words, Christ promises us the kingdom by virtue of a covenant which obtained between Him and the Father. This is very clear indeed.

Hebrews 7:22 calls Christ the surety of a better covenant. And He is called so because He engages for us to God that we shall obey, just like Moses intervened as a surety between God and Israel. Christ’s suretyship consists in this: He undertook to perform the conditions of the covenant. This presupposes a covenant, the conditions of which Christ took upon Himself, engaging in our name with the Father, to perform them for us, and that, having performed them, He might engage to us for the Father, that we should certainly have grace and glory bestowed upon us.

Galatians 3:17 mentions a covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ. The contracting parties are God, on the one hand, and Christ on the other. And in order that we do not make the mistake of assuming that Christ is portrayed here only as the executor of the covenant, Paul repeats that Christ was not promised to us or that salvation was not promised to us through Christ (though both are certainly true), but that the promises were made to Christ Himself (vs. 16). Paul literally says, “to Abraham’s seed was the promise made.” Then he clarifies that because the word seed is in the singular, not plural, that the seed is none other than Christ. In other words, “the promises were made to Christ.” It was to Christ that the promises were made concerning the inheritance of the world and the kingdom of grace and glory. It is clear then that διαθηκην denotes a covenant by which something was promised by the Father to Christ.

A very beautiful reference to the Covenant of Redemption is made in Zechariah 6:13, where we have mention of a “counsel of peace” between the man, whose name is “The Branch,” and God. In this and the preceding verse, there is a remarkable prophecy about the Messiah. Zechariah describes His person, offices and glory in a short but dynamic way. He gives as the cause of all the Messiah does - the reason why He appeared as such a person, why He executed such offices and why He obtained such glory. The reason Zechariah gives is the “counsel of peace” between Him and the Father.

He is called “the man.” He is named the Branch because He is sprung from God (Isa. 4:2; Zech. 1:12) He is a new root of a new offspring according to the promise. He is the second Adam. His work is to build the temple of the Lord, that is, the church of the elect, which is the “House of God” (1 Tim. 3:15) that Christ framed (Heb. 3:4) and built (Mat. 16:18). Where do all these things originate? - The counsel of peace which is between the man, who is the Branch, and the Lord whose temple He will build and upon whose throne He will sit (Rev. 3:21).

Commenting on this passage Witsius writes, “And what else can this counsel be, but the mutual will of the Father and the Son, which we said in the nature of a covenant?” It is called a counsel, both on account of the free and liberal good pleasure of both, and of the display of the greatest wisdom manifested therein. And a counsel of peace, not between God and Christ, between whom there was never any enmity, but of peace to be procured for sinful man with God, and to sinners with themselves.”

Herein lies the difference between the Reformed view of atonement and the view of typical evangelicals: When we think of the work of redemption which Christ accomplished in His life and death, we are actually looking at the Covenant of Redemption, not the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace is seen when the Holy Spirit applies to elect sinner the redemption wrought for them by Christ in accordance with the counsel of peace between Him and the Father from all eternity.

In the following posts, Lord willing, I wish to present a more detailed analysis of the Covenant of Redemption. To my feeble mind, it is one of the most comforting doctrines in all of Scripture. It speaks of God's eternal love for His elect and the absolute security of its saving fruition in their redemption, because God is sovereign over both sides of the covenant. There is no possiblity of human error or miscarriage of duty.

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