Resurrection Sunday: The Covenant of Redemption

April 3, 2010


By Michael Horton

[This brief passage is taken from his book “God of Promise”, pp 78-80. – DB]

Most biblical covenants are historical pacts God has made with creatures.  The covenant of redemption, however, is an eternal pact between the persons of the Trinity.  The Father elects a people in the Son as their mediator to be brought to saving faith through the Spirit.  Thus, this covenant made by the Trinity in eternity already takes the fall of the human race into account.  Chosen out of the condemned mass of humanity, the elect are no better or no more qualified than the rest.  God has simply chosen according to his own freedom to display both his justice and his mercy, and the covenant of redemption is the opening act in this drama of redemption. 

Already we can see how such a covenantal framework challenges the idea of a solitary despot.  The Father elects a people in the Son through the Spirit.  Our salvation, therefore, arises first of all out of the joint solidarity of the divine persons.  The joy of giving and receiving experienced by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit spills over, as it were, into the Creator-creature relationship.  In the covenant of redemption, the love of the Father and the Spirit for the Son is demonstrated in the gift of a people who will have him as their living head.  At the same time, the Son’s love for the Father and the Spirit is demonstrated in his pledge to redeem that family at the greatest personal cost.

This is why we are not to search our God’s secret decree of predestination or to try to find evidence of it in ourselves, but, as Calvin urged, to see Christ as the “mirror” of our election.  God’s predestination is hidden to us, but Christ is not.  The unveiling of the mystery hidden in past ages, the person and work of Christ, becomes the only reliable testimony to our election.  Those who trust in Christ belong to Christ, are elect in Christ. 

So far I have offered some definitions, but I have not yet offered any biblical defense.  Is this covenant of redemption produced by theological speculation or careful biblical interpretation?

In answer to this question, we first should note that some contemporary Reformed theologians have suggested that Scripture is silent about such an eternal covenant.  Yet these same writers affirm the traditional Reformed doctrine of election: God has chosen many from Adam’s condemned race to be in Christ, apart from anything in or foreseen in those chosen and according to God’s free grace alone.  If we hold simultaneously to the doctrine of the Trinity and unconditional election, it is unclear what objection could be raised in principle to describing this divine decree in terms of the concept of an eternal covenant between the persons of the Godhead.  Second, we are not left to arguments from silence.  In the ministry of Christ, for example, the Son is represented (particularly in the fourth Gospel) as having been given a people by the Father (John 6:39; 10:29; 17:2,4-10; Eph. 1:4-12; Heb. 2:13, citing Isa. 8:18) who are called and kept by the Holy Spirit for the consummation of the new creation (Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:11-13; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:5).  In fact, to affirm the covenant of redemption is little more than affirming that the Son’s self-giving and the Spirit’s regenerative work were the execution of the Father’s eternal plan.  Not only were we chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4 NKJV); Christ himself is spoken of as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8 KJV).

[To look upon Christ and the Crucifixion and Resurrection is to look upon a plan designed in eternity past.  No doubt, our Lord, on the road to Emmaus, while expounding upon Scripture, told the travelers of these very things.  He told them of the Covenants of old and how His death was the fulfilment of all things.  This Holiday, reflect upon the surety of the Resurrection; the finished work of Christ; the foundation of our Hope; the sure sign of our Salvation.  We were created by a loving God, given to his Son, to be redeemed by Christ through His work on Calvary.  Soli Deo Gloria! – DB]

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