by R.B.C. Howell
THE COVENANT OF REDEMPTION.
Testimonies of its existence;
period of its formation; purposes it contemplated;
parties to the covenant; its promises.
The divine declaration, and appointment contained in the covenant of Eden, and which we considered in the last chapter, could unquestionably never have been made, had not God entertained towards men previous purposes of mercy. That when these purposes were formed, no sin had been committed by them, detracts from this proposition nothing of its force, or importance. It was, we must remember, the act of him who said, "I am God, and there is none else; I am God, there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning; from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure." It was impossible in the nature of things, that he should not foresee the defection, and fall of our race. All the events which mark the history of the universe, were necessarily before the omniscient mind, ere the existence of our world. Jehovah beheld and pitied our miseries, and moved by infinite grace, he determined to provide the means for our deliverance and salvation. This he was pleased to do in the covenant of redemption, now to be considered.
To the actual existence of the covenant of redemption, called by most writers the covenant of grace, the word of God bears, in every part, the amplest testimony.
The character of a "Surety," for example, given to the Saviour in the divine oracles, necessarily involves the covenant, since the least that can be said of that relation, is that he who bears it, is constituted the representative of others, and thereby comes under an engagement to fulfill certain obligations in their name, and for their benefit. And when about to offer up his own life upon the cross, he said, "Lo I come to do thy will, O God." But how could this fearful sacrifice have been known to be the will of God, had he not previously so declared it? The prophets abound in declarations affirmative of the covenant of redemption. To Messiah the Father said, "I the Lord have called thee," "and will give thee for a covenant of the people; for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes; to bring out the prisoners from the prison; and them that sit in darkness from the prison house." And again, "Thus saith the Lord," "I will give thee for a covenant of the people." But more fully, he says of him:- "If his soul" - (I follow the version of Lowth) ? "shall be a propitiary sacrifice, he shall prolong their days, and the gracious purpose of Jehovah shall prosper in his hands. Of the travail of his soul he shall see" [the fruit] ? "and be satisfied. By the knowledge of him, shall my servant justify many, for the punishment of their iniquities shall he bear. Therefore will I distribute to him the many for his portion; and the mighty people shall he share for his spoil, because he hath poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sins of many; and he made intercession for the transgressors." The last of the prophets, announcing his coming, says:- "The Lord whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple; even the Messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in; behold he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts." From these and similar texts you learn, that by the gracious act of the Father, Christ the Son was constituted the Surety of his people; that when "he gave himself for us," it was according to the previously declared will of God; and that he was called to this work by the Father, who, for our redemption, made his soul an offering for sin. Did all this occur without any previous consent or agreement? Who then can question the reality of the covenant of redemption?
That this covenant came into being before the fall of man, is a truth sustained in the divine word by the clearest evidence.
It is fully supported by Peter, when he says, addressing Christians in all lands:- "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation [manner of life] received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot; who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifested in these last times for you, who by him do believe in God, who raised him from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith, and hope, might be in God." Paul bears concurrent testimony in the declaration that "God who cannot lie, promised us eternal life before the world began." He says, "He hath saved us, and called us, with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose, and grace, given us in Christ Jesus, before the world began." And yet more:-" Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings, in heavenly places in Christ, according as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love." The covenant of redemption was, therefore, brought into being before the creation of the world.
The purpose of the covenant is expressed by its name; it looked to the redemption and salvation of men. The plan, however, by which these results were to be gained, must necessarily be such as would, at the same time, glorify the purity and justice and honor alike, of all the persons of the adorable Trinity. Any arrangement which would fail of these ends, it is impossible he could have devised or approved. Had man been restored to happiness without meeting these demands, God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, would have been dishonored. It was the design of the covenant, therefore, to bring into perfect harmony the salvation of men, and the glory of God.
The contracting parties
appear distinctly before your mind. This part of our subject, however, demands somewhat more of particularity.
It is plain that man could not have been one of these parties, since, as we have seen, the covenant was made before the foundation of the world, and he, of course, was not then in being. His happiness was indeed its object, but in its formation be could assuredly have had no active participation. But even had this been otherwise, his fulfillment of the necessary terms of redemption would have been impossible. None but a divine person could do this, who joining himself to our nature, could bear Almighty wrath, and "magnify the law" by a perfect obedience. Angels could not, for the same reasons, have been parties to this covenant. They excel men in the spirituality of their essence, and the extent of their powers. Still, like men, their nature is too limited. And, besides, they belong to another class of beings, who never could, either by incarnation, or in any other manner, become so related to us as to accomplish the design proposed. Who then were the parties covenanting? They were, I answer, the same who in the beginning said, "Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness." They were God, as he has made himself known to us, in the exalted persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Truly, "The Lord our God is one Lord," and "besides him there is no other." But it is equally true that, for the purpose of redeeming us, he has revealed himself in the form of a glorious Trinity, all the persons of whom are "the same in essence, and equal in divine properties." To one of these sin was in every sense as offensive as to another. The honor of each was alike engaged to demand its rebuke and punishment. The concurrence of all was, therefore, alike necessary to any expedient by which the penalty might be averted from those by whom sin should be committed. Nor was this concurrence difficult, since the love which impelled to redemption; burned with equal intensity in the hearts of each. The promise of eternal life was indeed made by the Father, but it was not exclusively his. It was equally expressive of the goodness of both the other persons in the Godhead. And also the life promised was, in its nature, to be the enjoyment no less of the love and favor of the Son, and of the Spirit, than of the Father. When, therefore, John prayed for grace, and peace, for the churches of Asia, he supplicated them not only from "Him who was, and is, and is to come," that is, the Father, but also from the Holy Ghost, whom he calls on account of the variety and fullness of his gifts, "The seven Spirits which are before the throne;" and "from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the first begotten from the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth." Each was alike interested, since the covenant was in its practical development, to vindicate the right, and to manifest the glory of all. Redemption was, therefore, the result of the united wisdom, and grace, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
One of the parties to the covenant was, therefore,
God the Father.
That the adorable Jehovah might have left our guilty race to perish in their sin, all intelligent beings must acknowledge. He was not in justice bound to interfere in their behalf. As the righteous governor of the universe, he might have proceeded to uphold the authority of his law, by executing its penalty upon the disobedient, and thus to give an awful example of vengeance to the intelligent inhabitants of the various provinces of his empire. His goodness did not require that he should rescue his rebellious subjects from the misery which they had brought upon themselves, because he had already given of this an ample display in their creation and endowments, and it was still exhibited in the happiness diffused through all the regions of innocence. His glory does not depend upon the manifestation of any particular attribute, but of them all, on proper occasions, and in full harmony. He is glorified when he bestows blessings upon the righteous, and he is no less glorified when he inflicts punishment upon the wicked. The event shows that his glory is greater in the salvation, than it would have been in the destruction of men. It ought, however, to be considered, that his glory means nothing but the manifestation of his character to his creatures, and that as there was no necessity for such a manifestation, and as it could contribute in no degree to his felicity, it was perfectly voluntary, and might have as well been withheld. The only necessity which can be admitted, is that if he did show himself to his creatures, the exhibition should correspond with the greatness and excellence of his character. He might had he pleased, not have created a single being to contemplate his perfections. When he did create them, and they dishonored him, he might have cast them off forever. It was under these circumstances that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The whole arrangement was, therefore, of his own sovereign grace, uninfluenced by human merit. But this conclusion is not only inferable from the facts before you. His entire sovereignty in this whole transaction is expressly affirmed in his word:- " Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing [purifying] of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life."
Another of the parties in the covenant of redemption was God the Son.
Nor were his acts in this behalf, less sovereign than those of the Father. In all respects both the Father and the Son were moved by the same considerations. It was the prerogative, however, alone of the Son, to assume our nature, thus becoming our representative head, in a sense similar to that sustained to us by "the first Adam," to meet, and satisfy on our behalf, all the claims of divine justice. Having assumed this relation in the covenant, he was substituted in our place. His acts, therefore, had legal respect to those whom he represented, and by the supreme Lawgiver were held as a full equivalent for the sins of his people. Having in himself the power to redeem us, he gladly undertook this great work. He himself says in regard to it, "I delight to do thy will, O my God." He is indeed expressly made known to us as "The second Adam." "The first man Adam, was made a living soul. The last Adam was made a quickening Spirit. Howbeit that was not first which was spiritual, but that which was natural, and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy. The second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy. And as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." And still more. "Not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift. For the judgment was by one to condemnation; but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man?s offence death reigned by one, much more they who receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life, by one, Jesus Christ." Thus clearly stated is the representative character of Adam and of Christ. The result of their agencies were different; the one being the cause of guilt, depravity, and death; the other of righteousness, sanctification, and life. Their relations to us are similar, the federal association of Christ being as clearly stated as is that of Adam. If the first man had not been our federal head, we should not have suffered by his transgression. If the second man, "the Lord from heaven," had not been our federal head, we should not have been benefited by his obedience. Our relations to them being alike, Paul says, "As by one man?s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." He in a word became, by this covenant, our Mediator, "According as it is written," "There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time."
The other party to the covenant of redemption was God the Holy Ghost.
Partaking in the love, and grace, of the Father and the Son, he acting with the same freedom, engaged to become the efficient agent by which men might be regenerated, sanctified, and prepared to receive and enjoy the blessings of eternal life, and thus to consummate the end for which we were redeemed. A necessity exists for the work of the Spirit in salvation, no less imperative than for the work of the Father, and of the Son. "Except a man be born again - born of the Spirit - he cannot see the kingdom of God."
These are the covenanting parties, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and such, briefly, is the part which each engaged to perform in the redemption of men.
Let us now, for a moment, consider the promises embodied in the covenant of redemption.
Some of these promises are made exclusively to the Son, as the Messiah:-" The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool. The Lord will send the rod [the people] of thy strength out of Zion. Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. Thy people shall be willing, in the day of thy power." And again. "Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thy inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." And again "His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation." In view of these and similar declarations, an Apostle says, "God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father"
Others of the promises of the covenant are given to Messiah for his people.
"To every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Therefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." These gifts are all comprehended in the "Hope of eternal life, which God who cannot lie, promised before the world began." And to whom but to Christ, could this promise before the world began, have been made; and in what relation, if not in connection with the covenant of redemption? "In him was life, and the life was the light of men." "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved." John referring to this subject says, "This is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life." Nor are these and such like, as pardon, and justification, the only blessings which come immediately from him. He also stipulates others to be conferred by the Holy Spirit. "I will," said he, "put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." Thus he secures your enlightment, your regeneration, and your sanctification, for which when an apostle prays, he predicates his assurance of an answer, upon the faithfulness of God to his promise given in the covenant. "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it."
And how "great and precious" are his promises, made through Christ, directly to his people! Upon these, delightful as would be their full contemplation, we may not now dwell. I will detain you only to remark, that these promises pledge you grace to direct and keep you in life, and to sustain and comfort you in death; they assure you a happy resurrection; justification at the tribunal of Christ; and in heaven everlasting glory.
Thus we have seen the actual existence of the covenant of redemption; the previous period at which it was brought into being; the purposes it contemplated; the parties covenanting, and the gracious promises it extends to his people. This was the covenant upon which was predicated the announcement in Eden of the Deliverer from sin, under the power and penalty of which man had fallen, by a violation of the provisions contained in the covenant of works. Well then may we, with all our heart, join in that exalted thanksgiving uttered by the beloved disciple, "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God, and his Father, unto him be glory and dominion, forever and ever. Amen."
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