II. The Covenant of Redemption


There are different representations respecting the parties in the covenant of grace. Some consider them to be the triune God and man, either without qualification, or qualified in some way, as “the sinner,” “the elect,” or “man in Christ”; others, God the Father, as representing the Trinity, and Christ as representing the elect;[Westm. Larger Cat., Q. 31.] and still others, since the days of Coccejus, distinguish two covenants, namely, the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis) between the Father and the Son, and, as based on this, the covenant of grace between the triune God and the elect, or the elect sinner. The second of these representations has a certain advantage from a systematic point of view. It may claim the support of such passages as Rom. 5:12-21 and I Cor. 15:21,22,47-49, and stresses the inseparable connection between the pactum salutis and the covenant of grace. It brings out the unity of the covenant in Christ, and is advocated among others by Boston, Gib, Dick, A. Kuyper Sr., H. Kuyper, and A. Kuyper, Jr. The third representation is more perspicuous, however, is easier to understand, and is therefore more serviceable in a practical discussion of the doctrine of the covenant. It escapes a great deal of confusion that is incidental to the other view, and is followed by the majority of Reformed theologians, such as Mastricht, à Marck, Turretin, Witsius, Heppe, the Hodges, Shedd, Vos, Bavinck, and Honig. There is no essential difference between these two representations. Says Dr. Hodge: “There is no doctrinal difference between those who prefer the one statement and those who prefer the other; between those who comprise all the facts of Scripture relating to the subject under one covenant between God and Christ as the representative of His people, and those who distribute them under two.”[Syst. Theol. II, p. 358; cf. also Dabney, Lect. on Theol., p. 432; Bavinck, Geref. Dogm. III, p. 240] This being the case, the third mode of representing the whole matter undoubtedly deserves the preference. But in following it we should bear in mind what Shedd says: “Though this distinction (between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace) is favored by Scripture statements, it does not follow that there are two separate and independent covenants antithetic to the covenant of works. The covenant of grace and redemption are two modes or phases of the one evangelical covenant of mercy.”[Dogm. Theol. II, p. 360.]


The name “counsel of peace” is derived from Zech. 6:13. Coccejus and others found in this passage a reference to an agreement between the Father and the Son. This was clearly a mistake, for the words refer to the union of the kingly and priestly offices in the Messiah. The Scriptural character of the name cannot be maintained, but this, of course, does not detract from the reality of the counsel of peace. The doctrine of this eternal counsel rests on the following Scriptural basis.

1. Scripture clearly points to the fact that the plan of redemption was included in the eternal decree or counsel of God, Eph. 1:4 ff.; 3:11; II Thess. 2:13; II Tim. 1:9; Jas. 2:5; I Pet. 1:2, etc. Now we find that in the economy of redemption there is, in a sense, a division of labor: the Father is the originator, the Son the executor, and the Holy Spirit the applier. This can only be the result of a voluntary agreement among the persons of the Trinity, so that their internal relations assume the form of a covenant life. In fact, it is exactly in the trinitarian life that we find the archetype of the historical covenants, a covenant in the proper and fullest sense of the word, the parties meeting on a footing of equality, a true suntheke.

2. There are passages of Scripture which not only point to the fact that the plan of God for the salvation of sinners was eternal, Eph. 1:4; 3:9,11, but also indicate that it was of the nature of a covenant. Christ speaks of promises made to Him before his advent, and repeatedly refers to a commission which He had received from the Father, John 5:30,43; 6:38-40; 17:4-12. And in Rom. 5:12-21 and I Cor. 15:22 He is clearly regarded as a representative head, that is, as the head of a covenant.

3. Wherever we have the essential elements of a covenant, namely, contracting parties, a promise or promises, and a condition, there we have a covenant. In Ps. 2:7-9 the parties are mentioned and a promise is indicated. The Messianic character of this passage is guaranteed by Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5. Again, in Ps. 40:7-9, also attested as Messianic by the New Testament (Heb. 10:5-7), the Messiah expresses His readiness to do the Father’s will in becoming a sacrifice for sin. Christ repeatedly speaks of a task which the Father has entrusted to Him, John 6:38,39; 10:18; 17:4. The statement in Luke 22:29 is particularly significant: “I appoint unto you a kingdom, even as my Father appointed unto me.” The verb used here is diatithemi, the word from which diatheke is derived, which means to appoint by will, testament or covenant. Moreover, in John 17:5 Christ claims a reward, and in John 17:6,9,24 (cf. also Phil. 2:9-11) He refers to His people and His future glory as a reward given Him by the Father.

4. There are two Old Testament passages which connect up the idea of the covenant immediately with the Messiah, namely, Ps. 89:3, which is based on II Sam. 7:12-14, and is proved to be a Messianic passage by Heb. 1:5; and Isa. 42:6, where the person referred to is the Servant of the Lord. The connection clearly shows that this Servant is not merely Israel. Moreover, there are passages in which the Messiah speaks of God as His God, thus using covenant language, namely, Ps. 22:1, 2, and Ps. 40:8.


1. THE OFFICIAL POSITION OF CHRIST IN THIS COVENANT. The position of Christ in the covenant of redemption is twofold. In the first place He is Surety (Gr. egguos), a word that is used only in Heb. 7:22. The derivation of this word is uncertain, and therefore cannot aid us in establishing its meaning. But the meaning is not doubtful. A surety is one who engages to become responsible for it that the legal obligations of another will be met. In the covenant of redemption Christ undertook to atone for the sins of His people by bearing the necessary punishment, and to meet the demands of the law for them. And by taking the place of delinquent man He became the last Adam, and is as such also the Head of the covenant, the Representative of all those whom the Father has given Him. In the covenant of redemption, then, Christ is both Surety and Head. He took upon Himself the responsibilities of His people. He is also their Surety in the covenant of grace, which develops out of the covenant of redemption. The question has been raised, whether the suretyship of Christ in the counsel of peace was conditional or unconditional. Roman jurisprudence recognizes two kinds of suretyship, the one designated fidejussor, and the other expromissor. The former is conditional, and the latter unconditional. The former is a surety who undertakes to pay for another, provided this person does not himself render satisfaction. The burden of guilt remains on the guilty party until the time of payment. The latter, however, is a surety who takes upon himself unconditionally to pay for another, thus relieving the guilty party of his responsibility at once. Coccejus and his school maintained that in the counsel of peace Christ became a fidejussor, and that consequently Old Testament believers enjoyed no complete forgiveness of sins. From Rom. 3:25 they inferred that for those saints there was only a paresis, an overlooking of sin, and no aphesis or complete forgiveness, until Christ really made atonement for sin. Their opponents asserted, however, that Christ took upon Himself unconditionally to render satisfaction for His people, and therefore became a surety in the specific sense of an expromissor. This is the only tenable position, for: (a) Old Testament believers received full justification or forgiveness, though the knowledge of it was not as full and clear as it is in the New Testament dispensation. There was no essential difference between the status of the Old, and that of the New Testament believers, Ps. 32:1,2,5; 51:1-3, 9-11; 103:3,12; Isa. 43:25; Rom. 3:3,6-16; Gal. 3:6-9. The position of Coccejus reminds one of that of the Roman Catholics with their Limbus Patrum. (b) Coccejus’ theory makes the work of God in making provision for the redemption of sinners dependent on the uncertain obedience of man in an entirely unwarranted way. There is no sense in saying that Christ became a conditional surety, as if it were still possible that the sinner should pay for himself. God’s provision for the redemption of sinners is absolute. This is not the same as saying that He does not treat and address the sinner as personally guilty until he is justified by faith, for this is exactly what God does do. (c) In Rom. 3:25, the passage to which Coccejus appeals, the apostle uses the word paresis (overlooking or passing over), not because the individual believers in the Old Testament did not receive full pardon of sin, but because during the old dispensation the forgiveness of sin assumed the form of a paresis, as long as sin had not been adequately punished in Christ, and the absolute righteousness of Christ had not been revealed in the cross.

2. THE CHARACTER THIS COVENANT ASSUMED FOR CHRIST. Though the covenant of redemption is the eternal basis of the covenant of grace, and, as far as sinners are concerned, also its eternal prototype, it was for Christ a covenant of works rather than a covenant of grace. For Him the law of the original covenant applied, namely, that eternal life could only be obtained by meeting the demands of the law. As the last Adam Christ obtains eternal life for sinners in reward for faithful obedience, and not at all as an unmerited gift of grace. And what He has done as the Representative and Surety of all His people, they are no more in duty bound to do. The work has been done, the reward is merited, and believers are made partakers of the fruits of Christ’s accomplished work through grace.

3. CHRIST’S WORK IN THE COVENANT LIMITED BY THE DECREE OF ELECTION. Some have identified the covenant of redemption and election; but this is clearly a mistake. Election has reference to the selection of the persons destined to be the heirs of everlasting glory in Christ. The counsel of redemption, on the other hand, refers to the way in which and the means by which grace and glory are prepared for sinners. Election, indeed, also has reference to Christ and reckons with Christ, for believers are said to be elected in Him. Christ Himself is, in a sense, the object of election, but in the counsel of redemption He is one of the contracting parties. The Father deals with Christ as the Surety of His people. Logically, election precedes the counsel of redemption, because the suretyship of Christ, like His atonement, is particular. If there were no preceding election, it would necessarily be universal. Moreover, to turn this around would be equivalent to making the suretyship of Christ the ground of election, while Scripture bases election entirely on the good pleasure of God.

4. CONNECTION OF THE SACRAMENTS USED BY CHRIST WITH THE COVENANT. Christ used the sacraments of both the Old and the New Testament. It is evident, however, that they could not mean for Him what they do for believers. In His case they could be neither symbols nor seals of saving grace; nor could they be instrumental in strengthening saving faith. If we distinguish, as we are doing, between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, then the sacraments were for Christ in all probability sacraments of the former rather than of the latter. Christ took upon Himself in the covenant of redemption to meet the demands of the law. These had assumed a definite form when Christ was on earth and also included positive religious regulations. The sacraments formed a part of this law, and therefore Christ had to subject Himself to them, Matt. 3:15. At the same time they could serve as seals of the promises which the Father had given to the Son. The objection may be raised to this representation that the sacraments were indeed fit symbols and seals of the removal of sin and of the nourishment of spiritual life, but from the nature of the case could not have this meaning for Christ, who had no sin and needed no spiritual nourishment. The objection may be met, at least to a certain extent, by calling attention to the fact that Christ appeared on earth in a public and official capacity. Though He had no personal sin, and no sacrament could therefore signify and seal to Him its removal, yet He was made to be sin for His people, II Cor. 5:21, by being burdened with their guilt; and consequently the sacraments could signify the removal of this burden, according to the promise of the Father, after He had completed His atoning work. Again, though we cannot speak of Christ as exercising saving faith in the sense in which this is required of us, yet as Mediator He had to exercise faith in a wider sense by accepting the promises of the Father believingly, and by trusting the Father for their fulfilment. And the sacraments could serve as signs and seals to strengthen this faith as far as His human nature was concerned.


1. REQUIREMENTS. The Father required of the Son, who appeared in this covenant as the Surety and Head of His people, and as the last Adam, that He should make amends for the sin of Adam and of those whom the Father had given Him, and should do what Adam failed to do by keeping the law and thus securing eternal life for all His spiritual progeny. This requirement included the following particulars:

a. That He should assume human nature by being born of a woman, and thus enter into temporal relations; and that He should assume this nature with its present infirmities, though without sin, Gal. 4:4,5; Heb. 2:10,11,14,15; 4:15. It was absolutely essential that He should become one of the human race.

b. That He, who as the Son of God was superior to the law, should place Himself under the law; that He should enter, not merely into the natural, but also into the penal and federal relation to the law, in order to pay the penalty for sin and to merit everlasting life for the elect, Ps. 40:8; Matt. 5:17,18; John 8:28,29; Gal. 4:4,5; Phil. 2:6-8.

c. That He, after having merited forgiveness of sins and eternal life for His own, should apply to them the fruits of His merits: complete pardon, and the renewal of their lives through the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit. By doing this He would render it absolutely certain that believers would consecrate their lives to God, John 10:16; John 16:14,15; 17:12,19-22; Heb. 2: 10-13; 7:25.

2. PROMISES. The promises of the Father were in keeping with His requirements. He promised the Son all that was required for the performance of His great and comprehensive task, thereby excluding all uncertainty in the operation of this covenant. These promises included the following:

a. That He would prepare the Son a body, which would be a fit tabernacle for him; a body in part prepared by the immediate agency of God and uncontaminated by sin, Luke 1:35; Heb. 10:5.

b. That He would endow Him with the necessary gifts and graces for the performance of His task, and particularly would anoint Him for the Messianic offices by giving Him the Spirit without measure, a promise that was fulfilled especially at the time of His baptism, Isa. 42:1,2; 61:1; John 3:31.

c. That He would support Him in the performance of His work, would deliver Him from the power of death, and would thus enable Him to destroy the dominion of Satan and to establish the Kingdom of God, Isa. 42:1-7; 49:8; Ps. 16:8-11; Acts 2:25-28.

d. That He would enable Him, as a reward for His accomplished work, to send out the Holy Spirit for the formation of His spiritual body, and for the instruction, guidance, and protection of the Church, John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13, 14; Acts 2:33.

e. That He would give unto Him a numerous seed in reward for His accomplished work, a seed so numerous that it would be a multitude which no man could number, so that ultimately the Kingdom of the Messiah would embrace the people of all nations and tongues, Ps. 22:27; 72:17.

f. That He would commit to Him all power in heaven and on earth for the government of the world and of His Church, Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-22; Phil. 2:9-11; Heb. 2:5-9; and would finally reward Him as Mediator with the glory which He as the Son of God had with the Father before the world was, John 17:5.


The following points indicate the relation in which this covenant stands to the covenant of grace:

1. The counsel of redemption is the eternal prototype of the historical covenant of grace. This accounts for the fact that many combine the two into a single covenant. The former is eternal, that is, from eternity, and the latter, temporal in the sense that it is realized in time. The former is a compact between the Father and the Son as the Surety and Head of the elect, while the latter is a compact between the triune God and the elect sinner in the Surety.

2. The counsel of redemption is the firm and eternal foundation of the covenant of grace. If there had been no eternal counsel of peace between the Father and the Son, there could have been no agreement between the triune God and sinful men. The counsel of redemption makes the covenant of grace possible.

3. The counsel of redemption consequently also gives efficacy to the covenant of grace, for in it the means are provided for the establishment and execution of the latter. It is only by faith that the sinner can obtain the blessings of the covenant, and in the counsel of redemption the way of faith is opened. The Holy Spirit, which produces faith in the sinner, was promised to Christ by the Father, and the acceptance of the way of life through faith was guaranteed by Christ.

The covenant of redemption may be defined as the agreement between the Father, giving the Son as Head and Redeemer of the elect, and the Son, voluntarily taking the place of those whom the Father had given Him.