* The first installment of this article is found in the December 1 issue of the Standard Bearer.
We must still answer the question: With whom is the covenant established? Is it established with Christ, or only with us? In close connection with this question, we ought to ask: Is the Christ the Head or only the Mediator and Surety of the covenant? The answers to this latter question vary as the conceptions of the covenant differ. Usually, if the covenant is considered as a way or a means to an end, i.e., to our salvation, the answer is: “God establishes His covenant with us,” and even then the answers are more or less specific, some being satisfied with the statement that God establishes His covenant with men, or with sinners; others insisting that it is established with elect sinners. But it is not established with Christ. He has no need of salvation, and therefore He is the Mediator of the covenant in behalf of the covenant and the Surety that God’s demands shall be fulfilled.
Others, however, even in this class, though somewhat inconsistently, insist that Christ is also the Head of the covenant, in the sense that He represents His people. In this group it is customary to speak of a separate covenant of redemption, or counsel of peace. By this is understood a pact or agreement within the Trinity, either between the three persons of the Trinity or between the Father and the Son, and briefly consisting in this, that the Father appoints the Son Mediator in behalf of the elect, requiring of Him to become servant in the flesh and the complete satisfaction for sin. And the Son agrees to this on condition that the Father will give to Him His Mediator’s glory and the promised seed. This conception, although the name of this covenant is derived erroneously from Zechariah 6:13, is based on such passages as Psalm 2, Psalm 89, etc. And this covenant of redemption is supposed to be the eternal basis for the covenant of grace.
As to our view of this matter we may note the following:
First of all, we must proceed from the fundamental truth that God is a covenant God in Himself,and that the deepest ground of His covenant with us is His own covenant life as the triune God. This must be so because all the works of God ad extra are self-revelation. God is one in being and three in persons. In the Trinity we have, therefore, the most absolute sameness and essential identity, together with personal distinction. And the three persons of the holy Trinity, being one in essence, possessing the same essential attributes, living the same infinitely perfect life in the inaccessible light, dwell together in the fellowship of perfect friendship. The Father knows and loves and lives through the Son and in the Spirit of Himself. The Son knows and loves and lives of the Father, through Himself, in the Spirit. The Spirit knows and loves and lives of the Father, through the Son in Himself.
In the second place, what is known as the counsel of peace or the covenant of redemption, if we must speak of it at all, is the eternal decree, counsel, or living will of the triune God to reveal this covenant life, and realize a creaturely reflection of the covenant in the highest possible degree with man in the way of sin and grace.
Thirdly, the realization of this decree, counsel, living will of God is the covenant of grace with Christ, and with His people in Him. Christ, therefore, is the friend-servant of God in the highest sense of the word. He is this as the Incarnate Word, the most intimate possible union between God and man. As the chief friend-servant of God, in whom the covenant life of God’s friendship is centrally revealed and realized, He receives a people who through Him will be received into that same living relationship of friendship, and in whom His own glory will be reflected in a manifold way. As this covenant relation is to be raised to its highest possible level, this Christ and His church must pass through the way of sin and death into the glory of God’s heavenly tabernacle. It stands to reason therefore that this chief covenant friend of God in relation to His people is their Surety; that the basis of righteousness shall be established and that they shall be justified and glorified through Him; that He is the Mediator in their behalf, through whom God establishes the covenant relation; and that in the covenant relation He stands as their Head representing them. In relation to God, Christ in His covenant relation always stands as the Servant-Friend, whose delight it is to do the will of God, even to the very depth of His suffering and death. All the work of Christ must be considered in this light and from this viewpoint. He acts as servant of Jehovah in the threefold capacity as the prophetic, sacerdotal, and royal Official. As such He accomplishes everything necessary for the perfection of the covenant of God with us. He reveals the Father, He obeys, suffers, dies, atones, satisfies. He enters into the depth of the suffering of hell. In that capacity He is exalted, raised from the dead, taken into the highest heaven, seated at the right hand of God, and becomes the quickening Spirit. He also becomes the Mediator of the realization of the covenant of friendship in the hearts and lives of all whom the Father gave Him. In answer, then, to the question with whom the covenant is established, we say: first and centrally with Christ, and through Him with His people.
That this is indeed the teaching of Scripture is not difficult to show. All the scriptural passages that are usually quoted in support of the so-called counsel of peace or covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son must undoubtedly be interpreted as having reference to the relation between the triune God and Christ in His human nature. In the counsel of peace, as we have defined it, the Son appears and acts in the divine nature, and as such He is coordinate with the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit. He decrees together with the Father and the Holy Spirit in this counsel of peace. But in all the scriptural passages referred to above, He appears in a subordinate position, and not on the basis of equality with the Father and the Holy Ghost, but as the Servant of Jehovah, and, therefore, as in His human nature. This is true of all the passages in Isaiah that concern the Servant of Jehovah (Isaiah 42:1-4, for instance). Centrally, the Servant here is Christ, though we must always remember that the term “Servant of Jehovah” has a broader connotation. As servant-friend He stands in the covenant relation to the triune God who here speaks.
The same is true of Psalm 89:1-4. (This text is almost always quoted in support of the notion of the counsel of peace.) Again here we have a relationship between the triune God and Christ in His human nature (Ps. 89:1-4, 28, 29; Ps. 2:7-9). The utterance “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten thee” in this passage is not spoken by the Father to the Son, but again by the triune God to the Man Jesus. This passage also refers to Christ as Mediator in the covenant relation to the triune God, as God will exalt Him through the resurrection to His right hand and make Him King forever.
In this connection we may also refer to Philippians 2:9-11, speaking of the exaltation of the Servant of God in human nature, an exaltation that is based upon His having humbled Himself in perfect obedience. Here, too, belong those texts that speak of God as Christ’s God (Ps. 22:1; Ps. 40:7, 8); and the well-known phrase in the New Testament “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” which can only be applied to Christ in His human nature. And, finally, we may mention here the well-known passage of Romans 5:12-21, where a clear parallel is drawn between Christ and Adam, both in their capacity as covenant Head, representing their people in the covenant.
In close connection with the above discussion stands the close relation of the doctrine of the covenant and election, and the question as to who are in the covenant? It will be evident that those who speak of a covenant of redemption or counsel of peace as an agreement between the Father and the Son unto the salvation of the elect conceive of election as being prior to this covenant of redemption or counsel of peace. For the latter has its purpose in the salvation of the elect. Even from this it is evident that the covenant must of necessity be conceived of as “a way to an end” from this viewpoint. According to the conception we have presented of the counsel of peace, it is evident that the relation between it and election is such that the latter serves the former, and therefore follows it. The covenant is not a “way” or “means,” but the end itself, and it is conceived as such in the eternal good pleasure of God. It follows, then, that the decree of the covenant is first, and that the decree of election is subservient to the decree of the counsel of peace. God first decrees in the counsel of peace to reveal the glory of His own covenant life in a covenant established with the creature, and then He ordains and chooses the elect in Christ for the realization of that covenant.
This also answers, in part at least, the question: with whom is the covenant established? Or, who are in the covenant of God? Also in regard to this question there is much confusion among Reformed theologians. Some simply answer that the covenant is established with the elect, others prefer to say that the elect sinner in Christ is in the covenant, while still others look at the historical realization of the covenant in the world and then insist that believers and their seed are those with whom God establishes His covenant, and by the “seed of believers” they then mean all that are born of believing parents. It should be clear, however, that if the covenant is established in and with Christ, those that are in the covenant of God according to God’s elective decree are none other than the elect. In God’s counsel, the covenant is strictly limited to those who are chosen in Christ (Eph. 1:4), so that in actual fact the covenant people are those who receive the gifts of grace according to election, such as regeneration, being grafted into Christ by faith, and receiving all the benefits of grace and salvation in Christ so that they may live the life of God’s eternal friendship even in this world.
This does not change the fact that the covenant is established with believers and their seed, and that in the line of their continued generations. This does indeed follow from the covenant as it was established with Abraham and his seed, according to Genesis 17:7. But one does not have to appeal to this particular text, and thus probably expose himself to the necessity of answering those who always insist that the Jews are Israel. We may turn to the establishment of the covenant with Noah and his seed (Gen. 9:8-17) to show that it is established in the line of generations. Surely no one dare argue that we are not of Noah’s seed. Or we may even go back farther and appeal for scriptural basis for this same truth in Genesis 3:15, and show that from the beginning God established His covenant in the line of the seed of the woman that culminates in the Christ. Surely no one dare argue that we belong to the seed of another than the woman. Nor can it be argued that these scriptural passages do not refer to the same thing, for the covenant is surely one, as it is established in the seed of the woman in the line of Seth, with the seed of Noah in the line of Shem, with the seed of Abraham in the line of Israel, “and with you and your children and all that are afar off” in the New Testament (Acts 2:39). So that there can be no question about the fact that the covenant is established between believers and their seed in the line of their generations.
From this it may not be deduced, however, either that the covenant includes all the seed according to the flesh, or that the covenant promise objectively is meant for all of them. Thus it is frequently presented. Also with respect to the covenant the theory is applied that we have nothing to do with God’s election, that the secret things are for the Lord our God, that according to the revealed will of God He has established His covenant with believers and their seed, and that therefore all the seed of believers must be considered covenant-seed. Others, acknowledging the impossibility of taking the stand that all children of believers belong to the seed of the covenant, have tried to make a distinction in order to meet what they conceived to be a difficulty. Some spoke of an external and internal covenant—the former referring to the historical establishment of the covenant with the seed of believers indiscriminately, the latter to the real covenant established with the elect in Christ. Others prefer to speak of a conditional and absolute covenant. Evidently they are thus trying to make room for a conditional form of preaching and a “well-meaning offer of salvation” to all that are born in the church, whilestill others spoke of the covenant and its administration. However, it is quite certain:
1.That the stream of God’s election follows the riverbed of continued generations, and that in such a way that the riverbed is dug out for the stream. The organic development of the generations is adapted to the realization of the seed of the covenant.
2.That it is the will of God that all who fall within the covenant generations shall be treated according to the standard that must be applied to God’s real covenant people. They are called by God’s name, they receive the signs of the covenant by which they are separated from the world, and they wear the uniform of Christ’s army. They hear the Word of God and the promise and the calling of God unto their part of the covenant.
3.That the disobedient are fornicators, and expressed as such by the Scriptures as violators of the covenant of God, and that they shall in consequence be beaten with double stripes.
4.That nevertheless only the “children of the promise” are counted for the true seed of the covenant (cf. Rom. 9:6-9), so that with them and only them, even in the line of the generations of believers, God established His covenant. They alone believe the promises of God and walk in a “new and holy life,” as of the party of the living Jehovah.