The covenant and Dordt— Election continued

The Reformed, which is to say, biblical doctrine of salvation maintains that God sovereignly saves His chosen people. The Canons of Dordt set forth this truth beautifully. The Canons demonstrate that the race of man fell in Adam and every individual is born guilty and polluted with sin. Everyone is in fact dead in sin, hates God, and rejects His Son, Jesus. And yet, some out of this fallen race do come to love God and do believe in Jesus as Savior. What explains this difference? These are the people chosen (before time) by God unto salvation in Christ. Christ died for those only, and faith is worked in them alone, and they alone persevere unto eternal life.

In harmony with that Reformed teaching that grounds salvation in election, we have been demonstrat­ing that God also grounds His covenant in election. He establishes His covenant of grace with the elect alone. In His love and mercy, God establishes His covenant with believers and their seed, as He promised Abraham in Genesis 17:7.1 As we noted in the previous editorial, the word “seed” does not refer to all the natural chil­dren of believers. God does not promise to establish His covenant of love and friendship with every child of every believer. For the “seed” is Christ2 and God estab­lishes the covenant with Him and all those who are in Christ.3

Accordingly, believing parents can and do lay hold on God’s promise that He continues His covenant in the generations of believers. They rejoice in the evidence found in their children that God is pleased to gather His church from their generations. But parents do not—may not!—insist that God promises to establish His cove­nant with every one of their children. And all believers are also—must also!—be mindful that God continues His covenant in the way of believers diligently teaching their children and rearing them in the fear of the Lord. A believer, being necessarily elect in Christ, will never lose his place in God’s covenant. However, believers in their generations can be cut off.

As we noted in the October 15 editorial, the truth that Christ is Head of God’s covenant is demonstrat­ed by the teaching in Romans 5. The inspired apos­tle teaches that Adam, as covenant head of the race, brought sin and death on the entire race by his one sin. On the other hand, those in Christ are saved, justified in His blood. This Adam “is the figure of him that was to come” (Rom. 5:14), which is to say, Adam was a type of Christ. It follows then that since Adam as covenant head brought on the fall and condemnation of the race, Christ as covenant head saved the ‘race,’ that is, the elect race out of all nations.

In addition, Psalm 89 demonstrates that God estab­lished His covenant with Christ. The beauty of that truth is that the covenant cannot be broken (that is, destroyed or dissolved), for it is with Christ who will never fail in the covenant. Christ’s people sin and trans­gress against the covenant (in that sense, “break” the covenant), and God visits “their transgression with the rod” (v. 32). Yet God promises, “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips” (v. 34).

Christ is the Head of God’s covenant people. He is both Mediator and Head of the covenant.

This is also the teaching of the Canons of Dordt. Recall that the Canons assume the doctrine of the covenant, referring to it several times. However, the Canons have little direct teaching on the covenant. Nonetheless, the Canons, when speaking of the work Christ accomplished as Redeemer, indicate that He is the legal Head of God’s covenant established with the elect. Demonstrating this will require comparing var­ious articles of the Canons, which we will now do. A warning in advance: The following demonstration of what the Canons teach includes some close argumenta­tion, and it will require not only a very careful reading but perhaps a second reading. This is not for casual reading on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.

The Second Head of the Canons concerns “The Death of Christ and the Redemption of Men Thereby.” In that Head, Article 8 is the central article on the aton­ing death of Christ. It reads:

For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and, having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever.

Before we consider the place of the covenant in this article, notice a few of the main teachings of the arti­cle. First, election governs the atoning death of Christ. The article starts that way, asserting that God intend­ed (His counsel, will, and purpose) that the saving ef­ficacy of the death of Christ “should extend to all the elect.” And later, it states that God intended that Christ “should effectually redeem…all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to Him by the Father….”

Second, the death of Christ is efficacious—it saves ev­eryone for whom Christ died. You will find this in the previous paragraph, which quotes the words “saving effi­cacy” and “effectually redeem.”

Third, the article emphasizes “justifying faith” as the central blessing of Christ’s death. This is done not only because the Arminian doctrines denied justification by faith, but also because justification is the first and the primary blessing of salvation. If God justifies, declaring one to be righteous, He will surely follow that with all the blessings of salvation. And the article makes plain that this faith is not a condition, for it is “the gift” that is part of “the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son.” The article also states that “faith…together with all the other saving gifts of the

Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death.” Faith is part of the salvation that Christ earned, not a condition to salvation.

Finally, notice that the death of Christ gives full salva­tion, including not only faith, but also purging from sin, preserving to the end, and, finally, glory. When Christ died, He accomplished all this for the elect.

According to Article 8, Christ also confirmed the new covenant by the blood of the cross. What does that mean?

It means that Christ died as Head of the covenant and Head of His covenant people. Christ by His death actually merited for all the elect (and those only) all the benefits of salvation, which are all the benefits of the covenant. These benefits are given to the elect alone.

That this is what the Canons intended is made plain by the rejection of errors in the Second Head, especially Article 2. It reads:

The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those who teach: That it was not the purpose of the death of Christ that He should confirm the new covenant of grace through His blood, but only that He should acquire for the Father the mere right to establish with man such a covenant as He might please, whether of grace or of works. For this is repugnant to Scripture, which teaches that Christ has become the Surety and Mediator of a better, that is, the new covenant, and that a testament is of force where death has occurred (Heb. 7:22; 9:15, 17).

The Arminians ever sought to reduce the power of the death of Christ and to make salvation dependent on the choice of man. Accordingly, they maintained that God did not purpose (intend) that “the death of Christ should confirm the new covenant of grace.” Rather (said the Arminians), the purpose was that His death should give “the Father the mere right to establish with man such a covenant as He might please, whether of grace or of works.”

Not so, maintain the Canons. Rather, Christ con­firmed the new covenant of grace. In the rejection of the Arminians’ error, this article refers to two passages in Hebrews that teach that Jesus became Surety of a better covenant or testament. Two aspects of these passages in Hebrews will prove how wrong the Arminians are.

First, the Article insists that Christ is a “Surety” of the covenant.4 A surety is a guarantee associated with payment of a debt. It is similar to a co-signer on a loan. A man who becomes a surety promises to be responsible for the debt if the borrower is not able to pay it.5 Christ became the surety of the covenant. He would stand for the debt of the covenant people. If they were not able to pay their debt, Christ would pay it. And, of course, they could not pay the infinite debt of their sin and guilt, nor bear the punishment that God’s justice required. Christ did so in their place. He could do so in their place because He was their representative Head. By means of this substitutionary atonement, the covenant is confirmed, and the blessings of the covenant conferred to all the cov­enant people.

But there is more in this article. The covenant in He­brews 7 and 9 is called a testament.6 That is, the cove­nant is like the last will and testament that a man writes for bestowing his inheritance to his children. Now, as everyone knows, the testament is of no force so long as the man is alive. Similarly, says Hebrews 9, the testament of God with His people required a death. Christ made the testament of God to be in force when He died. In this way, to use the language of the Canons, He “confirmed the new covenant of grace.”

Taking this with Head 2, Article 8, it is obvious that Christ died as Head of the covenant. His death con­firmed the covenant, making it to be in force for all who are named as ‘children’ in God’s covenant. These chil­dren are the elect, “from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to [Christ] by the Father.” With the death of Christ, these children receive the “promise of the eternal inher­itance” (Heb. 7:15), God’s promise of eternal life, which cannot fail. In addition, Christ’s death was a payment for the debt of the covenant people. As surety, Christ truly paid their debt, earning their full salvation. And for whom? Once again, the elect. But Christ could only be the surety if He was also the legal head of the covenant people, representing them in the cross.

Christ is both the Mediator and the Head of God’s covenant of grace. And that covenant is with the elect, and the elect alone.

This is what the Canons maintain.

[1]  Genesis 17:7, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”

[2]  Galatians 3:16, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the prom­ises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”

[3]  Galatians 3:29, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

[4]  This is based on Hebrews 7:22, “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.”

[5]  The wise father in Proverbs 6 warns his son against being surety, even for his friend. See also Proverbs 11, 17.

[6]  Hebrews 9:15, “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” And verse 17, “For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.”