Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Covenant of Redemption
I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. John 17:4NKJ
Question 31 of the Larger Catechism asks, “With whom was the Covenant of Grace made?” It gives the answer, “The Covenant of Grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” Last time we looked at the substance of the Covenant of Grace: how God, out of His mere love and mercy, decided to save some. This week we consider the parties of this gracious covenant: God the Father, His Son, and all the elect in Him.
A covenant is an agreement or contract, involving two or more parties, consisting of certain rights and responsibilities and promising specific rewards and punishments. We have already seen how God, in the Garden of Eden, made a Covenant of Works with the whole human race, in Adam, as their representative head. Since Adam sinned and broke that covenant between God and man, we all are liable to the curse threatened in it: death and everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God. However, even as God was declaring His judgments upon humanity in those specific sanctions spoken to Adam and Eve, He announced a new covenant, a Covenant of Grace. In this covenant man’s ultimate victory over the serpent was assured as the seed of the woman would someday crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15).
Notice that this covenant is announced to Adam and Eve; it is not made with them. That is to say, God does not give now fallen Adam and Eve a new contract, requiring of them new responsibilities, so that if they will only carry out the stipulations of this second, easier agreement, then God will remove His curse and save them. No! Man is now fallen, subject to God’s curse. The holiness and righteousness of God demand that He bring upon his rebellious creatures the proper punishment. God cannot, without compromising His own blessed perfection and spotless glory, begin to speak to sinful man again as if he could still have some hope of reward in God by the successful performance of some new act or decision. Man can no longer represent himself before God as a legitimate petitioner to some benefit from God. God must now punish man. The only relationship sinful man can have before a holy God is punisher to punishee. That is, unless someone else (someone who has not already offended God), could represent man before God, and satisfy the debt for what sinful man has already done in the old covenant, and then go on to earn the blessedness of God by perfectly fulfilling the obligations of man in a new covenant. Jesus Christ is that one who came to mediate between sinful man and a holy God. He agreed to reconcile man to God by paying man’s deserved penalty and accomplishing man’s failed obedience in the Covenant of Works. So that redeemed man could now experience God’s blessedness in a new covenant, the Covenant of Grace.
Over and over again, the Bible teaches that Jesus came to bear our punishment and to earn our righteousness because the Father “sent” Him (John 4:34; 5:30, 36; 6:38; 8:26; Gal. 4:4; etc.). The Bible presents Jesus as having come into the world in order to fulfill an agreement previously made between Him and the Father. Thus, Revelation 13:8 calls Jesus “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” This verse is not saying that Jesus died more than once! It is graphically teaching that the Son agreed to die for the sins of God’s elect, before the work of creation ever commenced! Some theologians distinguish this agreement between the Father and the Son from the broader Covenant of Grace (of which it is the foundation), by referring to it separately as “the Covenant of Redemption.” In eternity past, God the Father covenanted with the Son to create for Him a bride who would fall into sin. God the Son agreed to purify and redeem this bride by living and dying for her as her Lord and Savior. God the Spirit agreed to apply this redemption to each elect person in this bride. Jesus declared His understanding of these things in verses like John 17:12: “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You have given Me I have kept; and none of them is lost.” Jesus knew that He came to save those whom His Father had previously “given” Him. Jesus is referring to the Covenant of Redemption. The Covenant that He and the Father and the Spirit made together before the world was. Because of this agreement we live, and move, and have our being. Because of this agreement we will be saved, not by our works, but by His grace!