Classical Covenant Theology On the Covenant of Redemption

By Edited by R. Scott Clark

John Calvin (1509-64). Since there is nothing substantial in it (the OT shadows), until we look beyond it, the Apostle contends that it behoved to be annulled and become antiquated, (Heb. 7: 22,) to make room for Christ, the surety and mediator of a better covenant, by whom the eternal sanctification of the elect was once purchased, and the transgressions which remained under the Law wiped away (Institutes, 2.11.4)

John Calvin. For the righteousness of Christ (as it alone is perfect, so it alone can stand the scrutiny of God) must be sisted for us, and as a surety represent us judicially (Institutes, 3.14.12).

Belgic Confession (1561) Art. 26. ...But this Mediator, whom the Father has appointed between himself and us, ought not terrify us by his greatness, so that we have to look for another one, according to our fancy. For neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more than Jesus Christ does.

Caspar Olevian (1536-87). Q. 1: God is just and requires that we either keep the law with a perfect love of God and neighbor or be eternally punished. However, we have been so corrupted by the fall of Adam that by nature we hate God and our neighbor and daily increase our guilt. Therefore, unless we want to be lost for eternity, we must look for a Surety who completely satisfies the judgment of God for us. But where will we find such a Mediator and Surety? A: ...First, since the angels are neither guilty nor obligated to suffer on humanity's account, the justice of God does not demand of them that they should pay what humanity owes.... Second, since our surety and mediator had to bear and overcome the infinite, eternal wrath of God, there is no doubt that than an angel would have been too weak for that.... (Vester Grund, 1567; trans. Lyle Bierma, in A Firm Foundation; Grand Rapids, Baker: 1995).

Caspar Olevian. Q: 3 Why do you call Christ the only way to salvation? A: Because he alone is the mediator of the covenant [of grace] and the reconciliation by which humanity is reunited with God the Lord.... (A Firm Foundation)

Caspar Olevian. Q: 4 Why is the redemption or reconciliation of humanity with God presented to us in the form of a covenant, indeed a covenant of grace? A: God compares the means of our salvation to a covenant, indeed an eternal covenant, so that we might be certain and assured that a lasting, eternal peace and friendship between God and us has been made through the sacrifice of His son. After a bitter quarrel, the disputants have peace of mind first and foremost when they commit and bind themselves to each other with a promise and sworn oath that on such-and-such a matter they wont peace. God acts in the same way toward us: in order that we might have rest and peace in our consciences, God was willing our of His great goodness and grace, to bind himself to us, His enemies, with His promise and His oath. He promised that He would have his only begotten Son become human and die for us, and that through the sacrifice of his Son He would establish a lasting reconciliation and eternal peace....He would be our God and bless us, that is, forgive our sins and impart to us the Holy Spirit and eternal life -- and all this without any merit on our part. All we would have to do is accept the Son -- promised and sent -- by faith (A Firm Foundation).

Caspar Olevian. Q. 5: But how did Jesus Christ make the covenant between the Father and us? That is, how did he reconcile us to the Father so that our sins are eternally forgotten and the Holy Spirit and eternal life are bestowed on us? A: By his sacrifice on the cross He completely reconciled us to the Father with an eternal covenant. The Son himself cried out on the cross that the covenant was completely ratified ("It is finished!" [Jn 19:30] and the Holy Spirit says in Heb. 10[:14], "By one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified." (A Firm Foundation).

Caspar Olevian.
The Son of God, having been appointed by God as Mediator of the covenant, becomes the guarantor on two counts: 1) He shall satisfy for the sins of all those whom the Father has given him; 2) He shall also bring it to pass that they, being planted in him, shall enjoy freedom in their consciences and from day to day be renewed in the image of God (De substantia, 1585; 1.2.1).

Canons of Dort (1619). First Head: Article 7. Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace,] according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from the primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation. This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call an draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace; as it is written "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will--to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves." (Eph 1:4-6). And elsewhere: "And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." (Rom 8:30).

John Ball (1585-1640). This covenant being transacted betwixt Christ and God, here, here lies the first and most firm foundation of a Christian's comfort (A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace. London, 1645, preface).

Westminster Confession of Faith
(1647). Chapter 8: Of the Mediator. 8:1. It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and men, the prophet, priest, and king; the head and Savior of the Church, the heir or all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did, from all eternity, give a people to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified. 8:2. The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

The Sum of Saving Knowledge
(1647). 2a) Albeit man, having brought himself into this woeful condition, is neither able to help himself, nor willing to be helped by God out of it, but rather inclined to lie still, insensible of it, till he perish; yet God, for the glory of his rich grace, has revealed in his word a way to save sinners, that is, by faith in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, by virtue of, and according to the tenor of the covenant of redemption, made and agreed upon between God the Father and God the Son, in council of the Trinity, before the world began. 2b) The sum of the covenant of redemption is this: God having freely chosen to life a certain number of lost mankind, for the glory of his rich grace, did give them, before the world began, to God the Son, appointed Redeemer, that, upon condition he would humble himself so far as to assume the human nature, of a soul and a body, to personal union with his divine nature, and submit himself to the law, as surety for them, and satisfy justice for them, by giving obedience in their name, even to the suffering of the cursed death of the cross, he should ransom and redeem them all from sin and death, and purchase to them righteousness and eternal life, with all saving graces leading there to, to be effectually, by means of his own appointment, applied in due time to every one of them. This condition the Son of God (who is Jesus Christ our Lord) did accept before the world began, and in the fulness of time came into the world, was born of the Virgin Mary, subjected himself to the law, and completely paid the ransom on the cross: But by virtue of the foresaid bargain, made before the world began, he is in all ages, since the fall of Adam, still upon the work of applying actually the purchased benefits of the elect; and that he does by way of entertaining a covenant of free grace and reconciliation with them, through faith in himself; by which covenant, he makes over to every believer a right and interest to himself, and to all his blessings. 2c) For the accomplishment of this covenant of redemption, and making the elect partakers of the benefits of it in the covenant of grace, Christ Jesus was clad with the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King: made a Prophet, to reveal all saving knowledge to his people, and persuade them to believe and obey the same; made a Priest, to offer up himself a sacrifice once for them all, and to intercede continually with the Father, for making their persons and services acceptable to him; and made a King, to subdue them to himself, to feed and rule them by his own appointed ordinances, and to defend them from their enemies.

John Owen
(1616-83).Q. 1. By what means did Jesus Christ undertake the office of an eternal priest? A. By the decree, ordination, and will of God his Father, whereunto he yielded voluntary obedience; so that concerning this there was a compact
and covenant between them.. (The Greater Catechism (1645), ch.12).

Johannes Cocceius (1603-69). The declaration of his good pleasure is itself a promise, which is the the foundation of the covenant of grace.... Which is a free disposition by by God the Savior concerning his goods by his heir, to be possessed in accordance with voluntary generation and nomination beyond all danger of alienation (Rom 4.14).....[quotes Gal 3.15-18] Behold in this institution the heir, the testament, the promise and the ratification of the testament are through the promise and the faith of Abraham. (Summa theologiae,
1648; 4.86).

Helvetic Consensus (1675). Canon XIII: As Christ was elected from eternity the Head, the Leader and Lord of all who, in time, are saved by his grace, so also, in time, he was made Guarantor of the New Covenant only for those who, by the eternal election, were given to him as his own people, his seed and inheritance. For according to the determinate counsel of the Father and his own intention, he encountered dreadful death instead of the elect alone, and restored only these into the bosom of the Father's grace, and these only he reconciled to God, the offended Father, and delivered from the curse of the law. For our Jesus saves his people from their sins (Matt 1:21), who gave his life a ransom for many sheep (Matt 20:24, 28; John 10:15), his own, who hear his voice (John 10:27-28), and he intercedes for these only, as a divinely appointed Priest, arid not for the world (John 17:9). Accordingly in expiatory sacrifice, they are regarded as having died with him and as being justified from sin (2 Cor 5:12): and thus, with the counsel of the Father who gave to Christ none but the elect to be redeemed, and also with the working of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies and seals unto a living hope of eternal life none but the elect. The will of Christ who died so agrees and amicably conspires in perfect harmony, that the sphere of the Father's election, the Son's redemption. And the Spirit's sanctification are one and the same (The Formula Consensus Helvetica [1675]).

Herman Witsius
(1636-1708). In order the more thoroughly to understand the nature of the covenant of grace, two things are above all to be distinctly considered. 1st The covenant which intervenes between God the Father and Christ the Mediator. 2ndly. That testamentary disposition by which God bestows by an immutable covenant, eternal salvation, and every thing relative thereto, upon the elect. The former agreement is between god and the Mediator: the latter between God and the elect. This last pre-supposes the first, and is founded upon it (The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man).

Herman Witsius.
When I speak of the compact between the Father and the Son, I thereby understand the will of the Father, giving the Son to be the Head and Redeemer of the elect; and the will of the Son, presenting as a Sponsor or Surety for them; in all which the nature of a compact and agreement consists. The scriptures represent the Father, in the economy of our salvation, as demanding the obedience of the Son even unto death; and upon condition of that obedience, promising him in his turn that name which is above every name, even that he should be the head of the elect in glory: but the Son, as presenting himself to do the will of the Father, acquiescing in that promise, and in fine, requiring, by virtue of the compact, the kingdom and glory promised to him. ...[I]t cannot, on any pretence, be denied that there is a compact between the Father and the Son, which is the foundation of our salvation (The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man).

J. H. Heidegger
(1633-98). The covenant of God the Father with the Son is a mutual agreement, by which God the Father extracted from the Son perfect and obedience to the Law unto death, which he must face on behalf of his chosen seed to be given him (Marrow of Christian Theology [1696]).

Franz Burman
(1632-79). It is a mutual pact between Father and Son, by which the Father gives the Son as Redeemer (lutrotes) and the head of foreknown people and the Son in turn sets himself to complete that redemption (apolutosis) (2.15.2).

Johannes Cocceius
(1603-69). In consequence of this covenant Christ is called the second Adam. As with the first Adam God made a covenant of works concerned among other things with the inheritance of the image of God which was to be transmitted to his successors, should he maintain his stand (it actually fell out the opposite way), so he made one with the Son as the man to be concerned with the inheritance of righteousness and life for his seed through obedience to the law (De foedere, 5.90).

Charles Hodge
(1797-1878). Two Covenants to be Distinguished. This confusion is avoided by distinguishing between the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son, and the covenant of grace between God and his people. The latter supposes the former, and is founded upon it. The two, however, ought not to be confounded, as both are clearly revealed in Scripture, and moreover they differ as to the parties, as to the promises, and as to the conditions. 4. Covenant of Redemption. By this is meant the covenant between the Father and the Son in reference to the salvation of man. This is a subject which, from its nature, is entirely beyond our comprehension. We must receive the teachings of the Scriptures in relation to it without presuming to penetrate the mystery which naturally belongs to it. There is only one God, one divine Being, to whom all the attributes of divinity belong. But in the Godhead there are three persons, the same in substance, and equal in power and glory. It lies in the nature of personality, that one person is objective to another. If, therefore, the Father and the Son are distinct persons the one may be the object of the acts of the other. The one may love, address, and commune with the other. The Father may send the Son, may give Him a work to do, and promise Him a recompense. All this is indeed incomprehensible to us, but being clearly taught in Scripture, it must enter into the Christian's faith. In order to prove that there is a covenant between the Father and the Son, formed in eternity, and revealed in time, it is not necessary that we should adduce passages of the Scriptures in which this truth is expressly asserted. There are indeed passages which are equivalent to such direct assertions. This is implied in the frequently recurring statements of the Scripture that the plan of God respecting the salvation of men was of the nature of a covenant, and was formed in eternity. Paul says that it was hidden for ages in the divine mind; that it was before the foundation of the world. Christ speaks of promises made to Him before his advent; and that He came into the world in execution of a commission which He had received from the Father. The parallel so distinctly drawn between Adam and Christ is also a proof of the point in question. As Adam was the head and representative of his posterity, so Christ is the head and representative of his people. And as God entered into covenant with Adam so He entered into covenant with Christ. This, in Rom. v. 12-21, is set forth as the fundamental idea of all God's dealings with men, both in their fall and in their redemption. The proof of the doctrine has, however, a much wider foundation. When one person assigns a stipulated work to another person with the promise of a reward upon the condition of the performance of that work, there is a covenant. Nothing can be plainer than that all this is true in relation to the Father and the Son. The Father gave the Son a work to do; He sent Him into the world to perform it, and promised Him a great reward when the work was accomplished. Such is the constant representation of the Scriptures. We have, therefore, the contracting parties, the promise, and the condition. These are the essential elements. of a covenant. Such being the representation of Scripture, such must be the truth to which we are bound to adhere. It is not a mere figure, but a real transaction, and should be regarded and treated as such if we would understand aright the plan of salvation. In the fortieth Psalm, expounded by the Apostle as referring to the Messiah, it is said, "Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will," i. e., to execute thy purpose, to carry out thy plan." By the which will," says the Apostle (Heb. x. 10), '` we are sanctified (i. e., cleansed from the guilt of sin), through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Christ came, therefore, in execution of a purpose of God, to fulfil a work which had been assigned Him. He, therefore, in John xvii. 4, says, `` I have finished the work which thou gayest me to do." This was said at the close of his earthly course. At its beginning, when yet a child, He said to his parents, `' Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" (Luke ii. 49.) Our Lord speaks of Himself, and is spoken of as sent into the world. He says that as the Father had sent Him into the world, even so had He sent his disciples into the world. (John xvii. 18.) '` When the fulness of the time war. come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman." (Gal. iv. 4.) " God sent his only begotten Son into the world." (1 John iv. 9.) God `' sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (Verse 10.) It is plain, therefore, that Christ came to execute a work, that He was. sent of the Father to fulfil a plan, or preconceived design. It is no less plain that special promises were made by the Father to the Son, suspended upon the accomplishment of the work assigned Him. This may appear as an anthropological mode of representing a transaction between the persons of the adorable Trinity. But it must be received as substantial truth. The Father did give the Son a work to do, and He did promise to Him a reward upon its accomplishment. The transaction was, therefore, of the nature of a covenant. An obligation was assumed by the Son to accomplish the work assigned Him; and an obligation was assumed by the Father to grant Him the stipulated reward. The infinitude of God does not prevent these things being possible. Christ as Mediator of the Covenant. As Christ is a party to the covenant of redemption, so He is constantly represented as the mediator of the covenant of grace; not only in the sense of an internuncius, as Moses was a mediator between God and the people of Israel, but in the sense, that it was through his intervention, and solely on the ground of what He had done, or promised to do, that God entered into this new covenant with fallen men. And, (2.) in the sense of a surety. He guarantees the fillfilment of all the promises and conditions of the covenant. His blood was the blood of the covenant. That is, his death had all the effects of a federal sacrifice, it not only bound the parties to the contract, but it also secured the fulfilment of all its provisions. Hence He is called not only Mesites, but also Egguos (Heb. vii. 22), a aponsor, or aurety. By fulfilling the conditions on which the promises of the covenant of redemption were suspended, the veracity and justice of God are pledged to secure the salvation of his people; and this secures the fidelity of his people. So that Christ answers both for God and man. His work renders certain the gifts of God's grace, and the perseverance of his people in faith and obedience. He is therefore, in every sense, our salvation (Systematic Theology, vol. 2: Anthropology, ch. 6).

G. Vos
(1862-1949). If man stood in a covenant relation to God before the fall, then it is to be expected that the covenant idea will dominate in the work of redemption. ...It was merely the other side of the doctrine of the covenant of works that was seen when the task of the Mediator was also placed in this light. A Pactum Salutis, a Counsel of Peace, a Covenant of Redemption, could then be spoken of. There are two alternatives: one must either deny the covenant arrangement as a general rule for obtaining eternal life, or granting the latter, he must also regard the gaining of eternal life by the Mediator as a covenant arrangement and place the establishing of a covenant in back of it. Thus it also becomes clear how a denial of the covenant of works sometimes goes hand in hand with a lack of appreciation for the counsel of peace ("The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology," Selected Shorter Writings, 245).

G. Vos.
In the dogma of the counsel of peace, then, the doctrine of the covenant has found its genuinely theological rest point ("The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology," Selected Shorter Writings, 247).

G. Vos.
[I]t is apparent that the dogma of the covenant of redemption is something other than a reworking of the doctrine of election. It owes its existence not to a tendency to draw the covenant back and take it up in the decree, but to concentrate it in the Mediator and to demonstrate the unity between the accomplishment and application of salvation in Him, on the one side, and the various stages of the covenant, on the other. From this it follows that that much less emphasis than one generally attributes to the theologians is placed on its transcendent eternity still has a different character than that of the decrees. It is eternal insofar as it falls within the Trinity, within the divine being that exists in eternity, but not eternal in the sense that it was elevated above the reality of history ("The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology," Selected Shorter Writings, 251).

Louis Berkhof
(1873-1957). Basically, the covenant of grace is simply the execution of the original agreement by Christ as our surety (Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 214).

Louis Berkhof.
Though the covenant of redemption is the eternal basis of the covenant of grace, and as far as sinners are concerned, also its eternal prototype, it was for Christ a covenant of works rather than a covenant of grace. For him the law of the original covenant applied, namely, that eternal life could only be obtained by meeting the demands of the law. As the last Adam Christ obtains eternal life for sinners in faithful obedience, and not at all as an unmerited gift of grace. And what he has done as the Representative and Surety of all his people, they are no more in duty bound to do. The work has been done. The reward is merited, and believers are made partakers of the fruits of Christ's accomplished work through grace (Systematic Theology, 268).

William Hendriksen
(1900-82). In a sense we must go back even farther to trace the origin of the covenant of grace. It is rooted in God himself! God is the God of the covenant, and this not only because he established a covenant with man but also and especially because from all eternity there exists between the persons of The Holy Trinity a voluntarily assumed relation of love and friendship, each working for the glory and honor of the other.... This covenant relationship existing between the persons of the Trinity is the foundation of the covenant of grace (The Covenant of Grace, rev. edn. 1978; 17).

Edited by R. Scott Clark

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