20 April, 2016

The Covenant


Rev. Herman Hoeksema



Contents



1. God’s Counsel and the Covenant

The third locus treats the person and work of Christ, the mediator of God and man and the head of the covenant.

The Lord God maintains and establishes his covenant not only by visiting the transgressor with his wrath by bringing upon him death and the curse, and by manifesting in that way that only in the communion of God’s friendship there is life and joy, but also by revealing that covenant of his friendship in Christ Jesus our Lord. God always executes his counsel, even through the means of Satan and sin, and in the way of sin causes the people of his covenant to attain to greater glory and to become manifestations of the glory of his grace.

It is true that the first man fell away from God by wanton disobedience and that man is the guilty one, while God is righteous. But it is no less true that man’s fall into sin occurred according to the determinate counsel and will of God and that essentially sin can be nothing else than a means through which God executes his good pleasure regarding the covenant of his friendship. Not for a moment may we harbour the thought that God the Lord was obligated by the fall into sin to change his original counsel concerning all things. God is one. For that reason he is also one in all the works of his hands. His counsel is one. The execution of his counsel is also one.

Ever God continues to execute his counsel. Even when it would seem to us as if there appear powers that prevent God in the execution of his counsel, that oppose (at least for a time) the fulfilment of that counsel, that frustrate it, and that compel the Lord God to use different means and to follow different ways from those which he had originally intended, in reality God is God alone, and those very powers that oppose him must nevertheless serve to execute his counsel, even against their own will.

Thus it is also with the fact of sin. It is true we confront a problem here, a mystery that we cannot fathom with our limited understanding, which is darkened through sin, when we wish to maintain that also in and through the fall of the first man God executed his counsel. But it is also true that we would stand before much more serious problems if we would attempt to deny this truth and to let the whole history of the world revolve around the axis of the will of man.


2. Christ and the Covenant

We must maintain, therefore, that the fall of Adam took place according to the counsel of God’s will in order that through that fall the way might be opened for the coming of the second Adam, the Lord out of heaven. “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” (I Cor. 15:4749). However, “that was not first which is spiritual” (v. 46). For that reason Adam is also called the image of him who was to come, that is, Christ (Rom. 5:14). If that counsel of the Lord must be fulfilled and the Lord out of heaven must come, it was necessary for sin to enter into the world in order that the first Adam might be removed to make room for the second Adam.

God had from eternity willed in his counsel to reveal the glory of his covenant life in its highest manifestation. That highest possible revelation of the covenant life of God could not be reached in the first Adam but only in the second man, the Lord out of heaven, Immanuel, God with us. We will attempt, therefore, to present a true and scriptural conception of the covenant of God in order to understand the significance of the person and work of Christ, for in him the covenant of God was not only restored but also brought to its highest possible realization. That covenant and its idea we shall therefore have to treat in this connection.


3. The Pactum Salutis or Covenant of Redemption

Almost all Reformed theologians since the seventeenth century speak of a pactum salutis, a covenant of redemption, also called de raad des vredes, the counsel of peace. It may be remarked that there is no unanimity among theologians concerning the question of just what is meant by the pactum salutis. According to some, it is an agreement between the Father and the Son, between the first and second persons of the Trinity. According to others who realize that the Holy Spirit cannot very well be excluded from such a covenant, the pactum salutis is an agreement or pact among the three persons of the holy Trinity. With still others it is not quite clear whether this covenant is a pact between the Father and the Son or between the triune God and Christ as the head of the covenant. Besides, the scriptural ground on which this doctrine was originally based is somewhat weak and dubious.


4. Traditional Proofs for the Pactum Salutis

The term pactum salutis is derived from Zechariah 6:12-13:

And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD: Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.

This counsel of peace (raad des vredes) is explained as a covenant between Jehovah and the Branch, and therefore as a pact between the Father and the Son. But this evidently is based on an erroneous interpretation of the text. The counsel of peace does not refer at all to a covenant between the Father and the Son, but rather to the harmonious relation between king and priest united in the one person of the Branch.

The proponents of a pact between the Father and Son find this covenant of redemption (pactum salutis) or counsel of peace (raad des vredes) in other passages of Holy Writ. They refer to Psalm 89:1937:

Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him: With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him. And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him. But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers. He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven. If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven.

Emphatically, there is mention here of the covenant of God with David and his seed, who is Christ. If the covenant is looked upon as a pact or an agreement, the conclusion is drawn from this that there was an eternal pact between the Father and the Son.

Scriptural ground for this covenant between the Father and the Son is also found in Luke 22:29: “And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me.” Emphasis is laid on the original word for “appoint,” which is διατὶθεμαὶ (dee-at-ith'-em-ahee—to appoint by way of a testament or covenant). From the same word is derived the term διαθήκη (dee-ath-ay'-kay—covenant). Hence the text in Luke means that by way of a covenant the kingdom was appointed unto Christ. Again, since a covenant was understood to be an agreement between two parties, the conclusion was that there was an eternal agreement between the Father and the Son.

An appeal is also made to Galatians 3:16–17:

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. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

This text is considered to be a ground for the pactum salutis as a covenant between the Father and the Son. Those who hold this view overlook the fact that the covenant, which here is said to be established in Christ, certainly is the same as the covenant that was established with Abraham and his seed. They also overlook the fact that the promises concerned Christ himself par excellence, but that they were nevertheless spoken to Abraham and his seed. Overlooking these facts and ignoring also the fact that distinction must be made between Christ as mediator and as the eternal Son of God, they consider the text to be a ground for the pactum salutis that was established in eternity between the Father and the Son.

Besides, there are many other references in Scripture that have been considered grounds for this covenant between the two persons of the holy Trinity. Especially those texts have been pointed out in which Christ is presented as sent on a mission by the Father and in which Christ is said to be the servant of Jehovah, as well as texts in which Christ is presented as the surety of the covenant. It has been argued that no one can appear as surety unless there is a contract or agreement or covenant between the creditor and the debtor. Hebrews 7:22 speaks literally of such a covenant: “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.”

It cannot be denied that much scholastic reasoning and subtle hair-splitting characterized the development of this doctrine and that those who developed it proceeded from the mechanical definition of the covenant as an agreement between two parties with mutual stipulations, conditions, and promises. This definition was applied to the pactum salutis as an agreement between the Father and the Son, sometimes also including the Holy Spirit, although the place of the Holy Spirit in this covenant was left rather dubious. The result was that the covenant of redemption or counsel of peace was often presented as a bargain between the Father and the Son. Theologians could describe exactly what in this covenant the Father demanded of the Son, what conditions he stipulated, and what promises he made, as well as what the Son agreed to do and what he demanded of the Father.


5. Mastricht’s View

Mastricht speaks of a twofold covenant of grace: the one is eternal, the other is temporal and in time. The eternal covenant is the pactum salutis, which he defines as follows:

The personal and economical transaction and agreement between the Father and the Son, according to which the Father demanded of the Son from eternity all that was necessary to acquire for the elect eternal salvation and promised him as a reward, among other things, a mediator’s glory; while, on the other hand, the Son complied with the demand and on his part demanded for himself the fulfillment of the promises made for the benefit of both parties.1

He emphasizes that it is a covenant that consists of an agreement between two equal parties, the Father and the Son. The purpose of this covenant is the restoration of the elect sinner. In this covenant the Father promises the Son that he will clothe him with the most glorious and important office of mediator; that he will appoint him as prophet to be a light to the Gentiles; that he will accept all that he will do for his own as high priest and king; that he will give him the elect as an inheritance; that he will support him in his favor in all his mediator’s work; that he will strengthen him in all difficulties and obstacles that he will meet; that he will glorify him through the resurrection from the dead; that he will exalt him in heaven and in his sitting at the right hand; that he will give him all power in heaven and on earth, power also to judge the quick and the dead; that he will exalt him exceedingly and give him a name above all names; that he will provide him with an innumerable seed.

In this covenant the Father demands of the Son that he do all that is necessary for the salvation of the elect sinner, particularly that he will adopt the flesh and blood of the children; that he will suffer willingly all things, even the death of the cross; that he will set his soul as an offering for sin; that he will distribute among the elect all the gifts of the Spirit—regeneration, faith, conversion, love, and so forth. These promises and demands are the acts of the Father in this covenant.

In this covenant the Son promises that he will comply with all the demands of the Father, and he demands that the Father will fulfill to him all the promises enumerated above. In this eternal covenant of redemption or counsel of peace, Christ is made a surety for his people.


6. Turretin’s View

Turretin makes the same distinction between the covenant with Christ and the covenant with the elect in Christ:

It is superfluous, I say, to dispute about this [whether the covenant is made with Christ, or in Christ with all his seed—H.H.] because it amounts to the same thing. It is certain that a twofold pact must be attended to here or the two parts and degrees of one and the same pact. The former is the agreement between the Father and the Son to carry out the work of redemption. The latter is that which God makes with the elect in Christ, to save them by and on account of Christ under the conditions of faith and repentance. The former was made with the surety and head for the salvation of the members; the latter was made with the members in the head and surety.2


7. à Brakel’s View

The same presentation is found in à Brakel. He speaks of the parties of the pactum salutis, about the persons for the benefit of whom such a covenant was made, and he describes the work of both parties. It is not always clear, however, whether according to him the covenant is made between God and Christ or between the Father and the Son. Often he speaks of that covenant as being made between God and Christ: “First of all we shall consider the covenanting parties, who are God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”3 Referring to Psalm 89:28, 34, he says, “Proof that mention is made here of the covenant between God the Father and the Lord Jesus is clearly evident.”4 Further, “. . . thus it is evident that there is a covenant between the Lord and Christ.”5 Also, “Thus, we have here the covenant, the promises, and the fact that these have been made to Christ, as well as the fact that this covenant has been confirmed in Christ. Therefore, there is a covenant between God and Christ.”6

Yet he leaves the impression that the pactum salutis is a covenant made between the Father and Son as the first and second persons of the holy Trinity:

Since the Father and the Son are one in essence and thus have one will and one objective, how can there possibly be a covenant transaction between the two, as such a transaction requires the mutual involvement of two wills? Are we then not separating the Persons of the Godhead too much? To this I reply that as far as the Personhood is concerned the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. From this consideration the one divine will can be viewed from a twofold perspective. It is the Father’s will to redeem by the agency of the second Person as Surety, and it is the will of the Son to redeem by His own agency as Surety.7

Evidently, there is a lack here of clear and sharp distinction.


8. Hodge’s View

Hodge also speaks of this covenant of redemption:

By this is meant the covenant between the Father and the Son in reference to the salvation of man. This is a subject which, from its nature, is entirely beyond our comprehension. We must receive the teaching of the Scriptures in relation to it without presuming to penetrate the mystery which naturally belongs to it. There is only one God, one divine Being, to whom all the attributes of divinity belong. But in the Godhead there are three persons, the same in substance, and equal in power and glory. It lies in the nature of personality, that one person is objective to another. If, therefore, the Father and the Son are distinct Persons the one may be the object of the acts of the other. The Father may send the Son, may give Him a work to do, and promise Him a recompense. All this is indeed incomprehensible to us, but being clearly taught in Scripture, it must enter into the Christian’s faith.5

Hodge, too, continues to describe the stipulation and conditions and promises of this covenant between the Father and the Son, and especially the work assigned to the Redeemer, that is, to the Son, and the promises made to him.


9. Vos’ View

Dr. G. Vos treats this subject under the locus anthropology in connection with the subject of the covenant of grace. He proceeds from the question concerning the parties in the covenant of grace. Of these he says:

1.    Some envisage God as the one, man as the other party.
2.    Others see the parties as God the Father representing the Trinity and God the mediator representing the elect.
3.    Since Coccejus the usual conception is that there are two covenants: one between the Father and the Son, the covenant of redemption, and one between God and the elect, based on the covenant of redemption, called the covenant of grace. The second conception is preferable from a systematic point of view, but the third is more comprehensible and better for practical purposes.9

He then discusses the pactum salutis, the counsel of peace or the covenant of redemption. He writes that although the name counsel of peace as the term for the covenant of redemption cannot justify be derived from Zechariah 6:13, the name counsel of peace may nevertheless be maintained, because it expresses correctly what Scripture teaches concerning it.

He then describes the demands and the promises of the covenant of redemption:

What were the stipulations of the covenant in the counsel of peace?

1.    That the Son as surety for the elect would assume our human nature, and even before the assumption of this human nature would perform the work of the mediator under the Old Testament dispensation.
2.    That he would as surety put himself under the law, in order to satisfy for their debt through passive obedience, and in order to merit eternal life through active obedience.
3.    That the Son would take care that everyone given him by the Father enters the covenant of grace; not merely by legal right, but by living in it through the Holy Spirit.

What were the promises of this covenant to the Son?

1.    That he would receive everything that belongs to the human nature.
2.    That he in that human nature would be qualified with the Spirit to the discharge of his offices.
3.    That he would be strengthened and comforted in the accomplishment of his task.
4.    That he would be exalted in proportion to his humiliation.
5.    That he would receive the Holy Spirit after his ascension in order to form his body and fulfill the covenant.10

He then defines the pactum salutis as follows:

The counsel of peace is the agreement between the will of the Father, giving the Son for a head and redeemer of the elect, and the will of the Son, giving himself as a surety for them.11

Vos presents the pactum salutis or covenant of redemption as following from the counsel of predestination. As to the connection between them, the pactum salutis is the beginning of the execution of the counsel of predestination. As to the connection between the pactum salutis and the covenant of grace, he writes:

1.    The counsel of peace is the eternal pattern for the covenant of grace in time.
2.    The counsel of peace is the eternal foundation for the application of the covenant of grace.


10. Bavinck’s View

Dr. Bavinck also writes about the pactum salutis:

The doctrine of the covenant is of the greatest possible significance both for dogmatics and for the Christian life. The Reformed church has a firmer grasp of this than the Roman Catholics or Lutherans. On the basis of Holy Scripture, the Reformed understand the true religion of the Old and New Testaments in terms of a covenant between God and man, whether established with man unfallen (the covenant of works) or with the elect (the covenant of grace). Nor are the Reformed satisfied with this, but seek a firm and eternal foundation for these covenants in the counsel of God. They understood this counsel as purposing the preservation of the human race, and as a covenant of the three persons in the divine essence itself (the covenant of redemption, the counsel of peace). Mention of this covenant was found already though briefly in Olevianus, Junius, Gomarus, and others, was further developed in detail by Cloppenburg and Coccejus, was given an important place in dogmatics by Burnam, Braun, Witsius, Vitringa, Turretin, Leydecker, Mastricht, Marck, Moore, and à Brakel, was disputed by Deurhof, Wessel, and others and was finally expelled completely from dogmatics.

The development of the doctrine of the covenant of redemption by the Reformed churches was not free of classical subtlety. The classic proof for this doctrine, Zechariah 6:13, proves nothing, but only says that the kingship and the priesthood become one in the Messiah who takes counsel for and promotes the peace of his people. From Job 17:3, Isaiah 38:14, and Psalm 119:122, which have nothing to do with the Messiah, and from Hebrews 7:22, which only states that Christ, because he lives forever, is surety that the new covenant shall endure eternally, it was concluded that Christ is eternally the surety in the covenant of redemption, though not on God’s part with reference to us, as Crell and Limborch assert, for God who is true needs no surety, but rather on our part with reference to God, as Coccejus, Witsius, etc., attempt to show. Further, the distinction was adopted from jurisprudence of fidejussor and expromissor, and the question asked whether Christ in the covenant of redemption had taken the sin of the elect conditionally or absolutely—Coccejus, Wittichius, Allinga, Van Til, d’Outrein, Perizonius and others holding to the first, and Leydecker, Turretin, Mastricht, Voetius and others holding to the second. Finally, also the distinction was discussed whether the covenant of redemption has more the nature of a testament (which reference to Luke 22:19, John 17:24; Heb. 6:17; 8:6; 9:15; 13:20), as Coccejus, Burman, Heidegger, and Schiere taught, or of a covenant, as Leydecker, Wessel, and others held.13

Further, Bavinck maintains that although this pactum salutis as a doctrine is still very defective, it is nevertheless based on a fundamentally scriptural thought; and he points to various passages of Holy Writ to prove this statement. Then he continues:

Scripture gives us through all of this a rich and glorious picture of the work of redemption. The covenant of redemption shows us that the life and relationship of the three persons in the divine being is a covenant life, a life of the highest self-consciousness and freedom. There, within the divine being, that covenant life has its full realization, while the covenant between God and man, because of the infinite distance between them always has more the character of a sovereign decree, a testament. Between the three persons of the Trinity it is an agreement in the fullest sense. The highest freedom and the most perfect harmony come together there. The work of salvation is a work of the three persons, to which each contributes and in which each performs his particular task. In the decrees, including that of predestination, the one will of God is prominent and the character of the Trinity is not seen so distinctly. But in the covenant of redemption the work of redemption shows forth in its full divine glory. It is pre-eminently a divine work. As at the creation of man God first purposely takes counsel with himself, Genesis 1:26, so in the work of recreation each of the three persons appears even more clearly in his distinct character. Recreation, like creation is a work of God alone. Of him, through him, and to him are all things. No man is his counsellor, or has first given to him, that it might be recompensed to him again. It is the triune God alone, Father, Son, and Spirit, who together conceive, determine, and perfect the work of salvation.14

It is clear that Bavinck makes an intentional attempt to avoid all scholastic hair-splitting and subtle sophistry that so often characterizes the definition and description of the pactum salutis. He does not speak of the conditions, demands, and promises that are stipulated in this covenant of redemption and that many dogmaticians know how to describe in detail. He beholds in the counsel of peace the living, triune, covenant God, in whom the covenant has its full and eternal reality. That appeals to us. In the doctrine of the covenant we have to do especially with the living God, who from eternity to eternity lives the perfect covenant life in himself.

We certainly must beware in the description of the pactum salutis that we do not lose the living God, that we do not introduce time into eternity, and that we do not present the matter as if a certain bargain was transacted between the Father and the Son, with mutual stipulations, conditions, and promises. This Bavinck certainly tries to avoid. However, it cannot be denied that Bavinck’s presentation concerning the pactum salutis is not very clear and defined. He does not offer a definition of this covenant. It seems that also with Bavinck the pactum salutis is an agreement, in this instance among the three persons of the holy Trinity, and that this agreement among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost was made especially with a view to the redemption of the elect. The pactum salutis is subservient to salvation. Salvation is the purpose or end; the pactum salutis is a means to the end. The idea of the covenant remains a subordinate conception, and the main thing is the redemption of the elect.


11. Berkhof’s View

Berkhof writes elaborately about the pactum salutis. Like Vos, he defines the covenant of redemption 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.”15 He describes in great detail the stipulations, conditions, and promises of that covenant. In speaking of the requirement which the Father makes of the Son, he writes in general that the Son should make amends for the sin of his people and fulfill all that Adam failed to do, and he describes in detail what is included in these requirements. It is required by the Father of the Son that he should assume a human nature by being born of a woman, a human nature weak but without sin; that he should place himself under the law and bear the penalty for sin; and that he should apply to the elect all the fruits of his merits. As to the promises, the Father promises the Son that he will prepare the Son a body; that he will endow him and anoint him with the Spirit; that he will support him, deliver him from death, and enable him to destroy the dominion of Satan and to establish the kingdom of God; and that he will enable him to send out the Spirit for the formation of his spiritual body. Besides, the Father promises to the Son a seed as numerous as the stars in heaven and the sand that is by the seashore and, finally, power in heaven and on earth and a special mediator’s glory.

Here the objections against the defects of the current presentation of the pactum salutis appear in a glaring light. Like all other presentations, the covenant is a pact or an agreement, in this case between the Father and the Son; it follows upon the decree of predestination and thus is made subservient to the idea of redemption as a means to an end. In addition, the pactum salutis is here definitely defined as an agreement between the Father as first person of the holy Trinity and the Son as second person, not between the triune God and Christ as the head and mediator of his people. This is evident because, according to Berkhof, in the pactum salutis the Son does not appear as Christ, but through the covenant of redemption he becomes the Messiah. Further, it is evident that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the holy Trinity, is not a party of this covenant. Everything is decided about him, not with him. This really implies a denial of the Trinity, even though Berkhof, of course, does not mean to deny this fundamental doctrine. Finally, even the Son is subordinated to the Father in this presentation of the pactum salutis. The work of redemption is presented as a work of the Father alone. The Father prepares for the Son a body. The Father anoints the Son with the Spirit. The Father supports the Son. The Father raises him from the dead, and so forth. All this plainly puts the Son in a subordinate position to the Father and presents the Father as deciding upon and performing the entire work of redemption.


12. Kuyper’s View

Dr. A. Kuyper, Sr. clearly recognizes this defect and weakness of the pactum salutis. He makes an attempt “so to construe the entire question of the pactum salutis, which was always left unfinished and never made clear, so that its necessity might be clearly discerned.”16 He bases his conception of the matter on those passages of Holy Writ that make mention of the relation wherein Christ as mediator stands to the triune God. Isaiah speaks of the servant of the Lord in a manner that eliminates all doubt that this servant is a common human person, but rather that he is the mediator, the Messiah, and thus the eternal Son of God. It must be clear, Kuyper says, that the Son’s being servant cannot flow from his divinity, for the Son is essentially equal with the Father, and therefore his relation to the Father cannot be that of servant to his Lord.17

I Peter 1:20 speaks of Christ as the lamb who was ordained before the foundation of the world. According to Kuyper, this foreordination is the anointing of the Son, and anointing denotes a position of service. The Son, therefore is from eternity put in a position of service through this foreordination as the Lamb of God. How did the Son ever come to occupy that position of service? His foreordination is clear from those passages of Holy Writ that speak of the fact that the Son is sent by the Father into the world. But if the lesser is sent by the greater, and if it must be maintained that the eternal Son is essentially co-equal with the Father, how then is it possible that Scripture can speak of the Father’s sending the Son? So the question arises, What is that eternal act of God whereby the Son becomes the servant of Jehovah?18

Moreover, according to Kuyper, it is evident from Scripture that this relation of Christ to the Father is based upon the establishment of a covenant, that the relation in this covenant is such that the Father demands of the Son complete obedience, and that the Son renders this complete obedience. For instance, Psalm 2:8 teaches that the Father addresses the Son: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” Isaiah 2:8 teaches that it was demanded of the Christ that he would make his soul an offering for sin before he would see seed. And the Son addresses the Father:

Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea. Thy law is written within my heart. I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest. I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation (Ps. 40:6–10).

The Savior could therefore testify that it was his meat to do the will of him who sent him. When he puts down his life in order to take it again, he does so in obedience to the commandment that he received from the Father (John 4:34; John 10:18).19

Kuyper concludes:

We may therefore indeed establish the fact that in Scripture, although nowhere is mentioned that Christ concluded a covenant, yet the relation is so defined that a vocatio Messianica [Messianic calling] is imposed upon the second person. Very definitively Christ expresses that he received from the Father ἐντολαί [“en-tol-ay”—commandments], that he fulfilled them, and that he now prays for all that the Father promised him upon that fulfillment.20

Based on all these considerations, Kuyper offers the following elaborate and definite description of the counsel of peace or covenant of redemption:

If the idea of the covenant with regard to man and among men can only occur in its ectypical form, and if its archetypical original is found in the divine economy, then it cannot have its deepest ground in the pactum salutis that has its motive in the fall of man. For in that case it would not belong to the divine economy as such, but would be introduced in it rather incidentally and change the essential relation of the three persons in the divine essence. Besides, the objection arises that the third person of the holy Trinity in that case remains outside of this covenant and that the three persons in the eternal essence are placed in such a relation over against one another that one runs the danger of falling into the error of tritheism. This danger can be escaped only when the divine economy of the three persons is presented natura sua [by its own nature] as a covenant relation . . . We then confess that in the one personality of the divine essence there consists a three-personal distinction, which has in the covenant relation its unity and an inseparable tie. According to this conception, God himself is the living and eternal foundation, not only of every covenant, but also of the covenant idea as such, and the essential unity has its conscious expression in the covenant relation. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost stand over against all that is not God or that opposes God in that unity of faithfulness in such a way that the one does not will anything else that the other, and the entire power of the divine essence turns itself with the highest consciousness in federal unity against all that is not God.

And when in this manner the foundation of the covenant idea is found in the confession of the Trinity itself, then follows from this the further covenant relation between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which is determined by the appearance of ungodliness in the world of angels and men, not only according to the idea of its possibility, but according to the idea of its reality. For when we proceed from the confession of the Trinity to the confession of the decree, then the reality of sin is a matter of fact, and the federal unity in God must be directed to the complete conquest of the fact of sin, in order that God may be triumphant. And this leads to the constitution Mediatoris [constitution of the Mediator], not as an act of force, but as a federal action, and thus arises the pactum salutis. In the covenant relation Father, Son, and Holy Spirit aim together and each for himself at the triumph over sin, that is, at the triumph over all that places itself over against God as anti-God. The ground of this will in God is found in the original covenant relation in the divine essence; and that which is to be accomplished by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit respectively unto that end continues to find its federal unity in the opus exeuns [outgoing work] which is common to the three persons. That which is assumed as the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit respectively does not rest on arbitrary division of labor, but on the distinction which exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the divine essence itself, and that not only in the work of salvation, but also already in the work of creation. Hence the pactum salutis can never include only the two, but must always include the three persons of the holy Trinity. Besides, considering that the decree knows not of two possibilities, with or without sin, but only of one reality, that is, the reality of sin, this pactum does not appear after the fall, but recedes into eternity and forms the point of procedure of the entire pactum salutis. And when the pactum salutis thus stands behind the fall and has its root in the decretum [decree], it follows eo ipso [of itself] that the introduction of it started immediately after the fall, and that a suspension of it until the hour of the incarnation is inconceivable.21

Kuyper therefore offers the following presentation:

First, the relation of the three persons in the divine essence is a covenant relation. According to this covenant relation all three persons want to maintain God over against all that is not God. But each of the three persons of the holy Trinity appears in this determination in his own place: the Father as Father, the Son as Son, and the Spirit as Spirit.

Second, God’s eternal decree includes the decree of sin. Hence in God’s eternal good pleasure there appear powers that are not God and that place themselves in opposition to God.

Third, according to the eternal covenant relation in the divine essence, all the three persons are united to oppose and to conquer the power of sin. Resting in the eternal covenant relation of the triune God, this eternal agreement to maintain God over against the power of sin is the covenant of redemption or the pactum salutis.

Fourth, according to this agreement the Father sends the Son, the Son is sent as the mediator by the Father, and the Holy Spirit is given to the mediator as the Spirit of Christ and of sanctification.

We must admit that Kuyper draws lines that are of the utmost importance. In the discussion of the covenant idea, we certainly must proceed from the covenant life of God triune. Out of God all lines must be drawn. In him all lines concentrate. He himself is, in his eternal divine covenant life, the ultimate, eternal, and only reason for all that takes place in time and that exists eternally. He made all things for his own sake, even the ungodly unto the day of evil. He who reasons from this fundamental truth and reasons correctly, can never err. We must think and speak theologically. For that reason we must certainly follow Kuyper when he wants to deduce the covenant idea from the life and covenant relationship of the three persons of the holy Trinity.

Yet we must draw the lines a little differently from Kuyper’s conception. First, it must be noted that Kuyper still presents the covenant, according to its idea, as an agreement over against a third party. According to Kuyper, a covenant is always an agreement between two or more parties over against a third. The covenant of redemption, therefore, is the eternal agreement among the three persons over against the power of sin. This means that the covenant is still subservient. It still is means, not purpose. It is a way, not the destination. When sin is overcome, the covenant has served its purpose.

Second, and in close connection with the preceding, sin is indeed postulated by the decree of God, but in the whole of the decrees and works of God outside of himself (ad extra) it nevertheless stands dualistically over against him. Sin is a power that must be overcome: it is not a means to serve God for the full revelation of his eternal covenant life. It appears as the occasion and even as the cause for the conclusion of the pactum salutis. It is our conviction that the lines must still be drawn in a different direction if we would maintain completely that God is God and that there is none besides him. Also with relation to the powers of darkness, the lines must be drawn out of God only. And the revelation of God’s eternal covenant life must be the highest purpose, never a means to an end.


13. The Counsel of Peace and the Covenant with Christ Distinguished

To gain a correct understanding of the counsel of peace or the covenant of redemption, it is of the utmost importance that we distinguish sharply between the covenant that God establishes with Christ as the servant of the Lord, standing at the head of those whom the Father gave him, and the eternal covenant of the three persons of the holy Trinity. Failure to make this distinction became the cause that the covenant of redemption was presented as a relation or agreement between the Father and the Son, that no place was found in this covenant for the Holy Spirit, and that the result was practically a denial of the holy Trinity and of the co-equality of the Son with the Father. This is inevitable. The scriptural passages that mention the covenant that God establishes with Christ according to his human nature and as servant of the Lord were used as proof for the covenant of redemption, and it stands to reason that in all those scriptural passages Christ appears as subordinated to the Father.

The distinction between the counsel of peace, the covenant of redemption, and God’s covenant with Christ as standing at the head of his own must be perfectly clear. The counsel of peace is a covenant among the three persons of the holy Trinity; God’s covenant with Christ as the head of the elect is a covenant established by the triune God with Christ and those who are given unto him. In the counsel of peace, the Son appears as God in his divine nature, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In the covenant with Christ, the Son appears as the mediator in his human nature. In the counsel of peace, the Son, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, appears as the decreeing party.

The covenant with Christ as the servant of Jehovah is of God alone and is established with Christ by the triune God. In the counsel of peace, the Son is co-equal with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. In God’s covenant with Christ, he is the servant of the Lord and subordinate to Jehovah. It is true that the covenant with Christ is closely connected with the counsel of peace. It may indeed be said that the covenant with Christ as the servant of Jehovah presupposes the pactum salutis. But this is no reason to identify the two. The counsel of peace stands behind the covenant that God establishes with Christ and those whom the Father gave him.

A careful study of Scripture on this point will reveal that this is correct. When we pay attention to all those Scripture passages that former dogmaticians quoted as proof for the counsel of peace or the pactum salutis, it becomes evident that all the passages without exception refer to the covenant that God establishes with Christ as the head of the elect.


14. The Servant Passages in Isaiah

That God establishes a covenant with Christ is clear from the well-known passages in the prophecy of Isaiah that mention the servant of the Lord (יְהוָה עֶבֶד). We can never understand these passages if they are made to refer simply to a covenant between the Father and the Son. We may even go a step farther and maintain that they who explain this servant of the Lord simply as the Christ cannot understand the meaning of Scripture on this point. An investigation of these passages will show that the term servant of the Lord in Isaiah has more than one connotation.

It may certainly be said that the servant of the Lord in Isaiah is centrally the Christ. Even as in the central sense of the word he is the seed of the woman, the lion of Judah’s tribe, the root of David, the seed of Abraham, so also he is centrally the servant of the Lord. Without him there was no seed of the woman and no seed of Abraham. Without him Judah is no lion’s whelp, and without him David has no significance whatsoever. Without him there is no servant of the Lord. In Christ, therefore, we have the very center, the very heart of the concept servant of the Lord. He is the servant of the Lord par excellence, in whom and through whom all true service of the Lord consists, and in whom God realizes his eternal covenant.

About this central servant of the Lord there is grouped the circle of prophets, who are also called anointed of God, his witnesses, his servants, in whom is the Spirit of Christ. In the prophecy of Isaiah, it is frequently difficult to distinguish between these separate servants of the Lord and the servant of Jehovah in the central sense. The prophet can never be conceived in separation from Christ as the servant of the Lord in the central sense. Only because Christ is in him and speaks through him is the prophet a servant of Jehovah.

Even so, all is not said. The term servant of the Lord refers not only to Christ, and in a broader sense to the prophet, but also to the still broader circle of the true spiritual Israel, the true spiritual seed, Jacob, whom the Lord called by name, the remnant according to the election of grace. This remnant is the servant of the Lord only because it is organically connected with Christ, is included in him, and is given him by the Father before the foundation of the world.

Finally, because kernel and shell are in the natural, organic sense in the generations of Abraham, and because this entire organism in the nation of Israel is called by the spiritual name of the kernel, the name servant of the Lord also is used for Israel as it existed historically in the old dispensation.

A fourfold distinction, then, must be observed in order to understand the concept servant of the Lord in the prophecy of Isaiah:

1.    Christ as the servant of Jehovah par excellence.
2.    The small circle of the prophets around him.
3.    The broader circle of the spiritual seed of Abraham.
4.    The broadest or widest circle of the church as it existed in the old dispensation in the nation of Israel.

That this interpretation is correct can easily be proved from the different passages in Isaiah that mention the servant of the Lord. We call attention first to Isaiah 42:1–7:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold: mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor life up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law. Thus saith the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and 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 out of the prison house.

It is perfectly plain that although he is not mentioned by name, these verses refer to Christ as the servant of the Lord. What is said here can never be completely applied to Isaiah himself. Besides, all that is said in these verses of the servant of the Lord is completely fulfilled only in Christ as he appears in the fullness of time. He it is who receives the Spirit without measure. He is the beloved Son in whom God has all his good pleasure. He it is who is given for a covenant of the people, who opens the eyes of the blind, and who liberates the captives. There can be no question about it that the reference here is directly to Christ as the servant of the Lord.

It also ought to be clear that he does not appear here according to his divine nature and that these verses do not refer to the counsel of peace or pactum salutis. The Christ does not appear here according to his divine nature, but according to his human nature. According to his divine nature he cannot be called the elect: he is the Son, generated by the Father from eternity to eternity. According to his human nature, however, he is the elect par excellence. According to his divine nature he is not the servant of Jehovah, but Jehovah himself, and as the person of the Son is co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. According to his human nature, however, he is the servant of the Lord par excellence, who is placed over the entire house of God and whose meat it is to do the will of the Lord. According to his divine nature he does not receive the Spirit, but the Spirit proceeds from him to the Father as the Spirit of the Son. According to his human nature, however, he receives the Spirit without measure. According to his divine nature it could not be said to him that the Lord had called him in righteousness, that he will hold his hand, and that he will keep him and give him for a covenant of the people and for a light of the Gentiles. But all of this certainly applies to the Christ according to his human nature. In these verses, therefore, there is no mention of a covenant relation between the Father and the Son, but only of a covenant that God triune established with Christ, the servant of Jehovah.

But notice how in the same chapter the prophetic picture of the servant of Jehovah changes in such a way that it is applicable to Israel as a nation in the broadest sense of the word, even as it becomes the object of the wrath of God:

Hear ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see. Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he is perfect, and blind as the LORD’s servant? Seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, but he heareth not. The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable. But this is a people robbed and spoiled; they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison houses: they are for a prey, and none delivereth; for a spoil, and none saith, Restore. Who among you will give ear to this? who will hearken and hear for the time to come? Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the LORD, he against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law. Therefore he hath poured upon him the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle: and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart (Isa. 42:18–25).

In these verses the servant of the Lord is the subject. The context demands that we do not think of another servant who stands in no connection to the first. On the contrary, it is the same servant, viewed not centrally, but in the broadest sense. In Isaiah 42:17 it is the Christ who is the servant of the Lord. In verses 1825 that servant is Israel as it exists historically. That this servant of the Lord can be so blind and deaf, so sinful and disobedient that he can be delivered to the spoiler and that God can pour out over him the vials of his wrath, but that he nevertheless does not perish and is not consumed, has its cause not in that he is in the broadest sense Israel, but must be attributed to the fact that centrally he is Christ. That is why the wrath of God can be poured out over this nation, which has its center in the servant of Jehovah par excellence, without its being consumed.

This also explains the otherwise so inexplicable transitions from announcements of wrath and judgment to promises of preservation, redemption, and salvation that is so frequently occur in the prophecy of Isaiah. Upon the dark and comfortless conclusion of chapter 42 follows the beginning of chapter 43:

But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee (vv. 1, 2).

Verse 10 mentions Jacob as the servant of Jehovah: “Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” It is evident that the reference here is no longer to the concept servant of Jehovah in its broadest sense, but to the spiritual seed, the spiritual kernel, the remnant according to the election of grace, the servant of Jehovah. That spiritual seed is able to pass through the fire without being consumed and through the water without being overwhelmed. Exactly because the remnant according to the election of grace is always connected with the central servant of Jehovah, the Christ, the incarnated Word, Jehovah has realized his covenant with this servant of Jehovah, who stands in an inseparable relation of friendship to the God of Jacob in Immanuel.

In the same sense reference is made to the servant of Jehovah in Isaiah 44:1, 2, 21:

Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen. Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.

In these verses Israel appears according to its spiritual kernel as the servant of the Lord. This servant must be Jehovah’s witness in the midst of the world; he must know him and attend to his works and wonders, to speak of them and to tell of the glory of the Lord. For that reason the Lord gives him his word and that word he establishes for his name’s sake.

Because that servant of the Lord receives that word in the old dispensation through the prophets, these appear on the foreground as the servant of Jehovah. For instance, in Isaiah 44:26 Jehovah is described as he that “confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers.” The signs of the liars he frustrates, and the diviners he makes mad. He turns the wise men backward and makes their knowledge foolish (v. 25). But the word of his servants is his own word. That word he reveals centrally in and through Christ, the servant of Jehovah par excellence. By his Spirit he gives that same word to his prophets and through them to his people in order that his servant may be his witness in the covenant of friendship in the midst of the world.

Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish and to discern in the prophecy whether the prophet, Israel, or the Christ is speaking when mention is made of the servant of Jehovah. The reason for this is that Israel, the prophet, and Christ are one as the servant of the Lord. For instance, in Isaiah 49:19, the prophet appears as the servant of Jehovah. Yet these words cannot be applied in all their significance to the prophet, nor to Israel, but must refer centrally to Christ himself:

Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God. And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength. And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. Thus saith the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhoreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the LORD that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee. Thus saith the LORD, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.

Very applicable to Isaiah 49:19 is the question that the eunuch asked of Philip: “I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?” (Acts 8:34). We might add, or does he speak here of the people of Israel in general? The correct answer would undoubtedly be that Israel, the prophet, and the Christ are all the servant of the Lord on account of and through Christ as the central servant. God revealed his covenant and established it with Christ and his own. To that covenant is the reference when the Scripture speaks of the servant of Jehovah.

In the prophecy of Isaiah, this central concept of the servant of Jehovah appears gradually more and more on the foreground, as might be expected. The people, the spiritual kernel, and the prophet himself disappear more and more from the circle of the prophetic vision in order to let all the light of revelation concentrate on the Christ himself. In Isaiah 50:410 the servant of Jehovah speaks of himself:

The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord GOD will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up. Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.

Finally, in Isaiah 52:13 through Isaiah 53, this servant of Jehovah stands clearly before us as the central kernel of Israel, the representative of his people in the covenant of God. He is pictured as the servant of Jehovah par excellence, who is over the whole house of God, who shall act prudently and therefore shall be extolled and exalted very high. Oh, indeed, many will be astonished at him. His visage will be marred more than any man, but he shall sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at him, for he is the arm of the Lord through whom salvation shall be accomplished (Isa. 52:1315).

He grew up before him as a tender plant and as a root out of a dry ground. There was no form nor comeliness in him, and according to the criterion of the world and of the Jews, there was no expectation of him. He was despised and rejected of men. He bore all the sickness of the entire servant of Jehovah; all the vials of God’s wrath were poured out over him. All we like sheep have gone astray and turned everyone to his own way. But the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. It pleased the Lord to bruise him. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. Obedient he became even unto death, yea, to the death of the cross. But he shall see his seed. The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand, and by his knowledge shall the righteous servant of Jehovah justify many. The Lord will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong. He, the servant of the Lord, has the victory forever, and the covenant of the Lord is established in and with him forevermore (Isa. 53:212).


15. II Samuel 7:1216

Several other Scripture passages (besides those we have discussed already) that are usually quoted in proof of the so-called pactum salutis certainly do not speak of a covenant between the Father and the Son or among the three persons of the holy Trinity, but they speak of a covenant between the triune God and Christ as the mediator or head of the covenant. The trouble is that usually theologians fail to make the necessary distinction between the eternal Son of God in the divine nature and the servant of the Lord, the head of his people in the covenant of grace.

This is true with regard to the well-known passage from Psalm 89 in connection with II Samuel 7:1216. Usually these passages are referred to as a basis for the covenant between the Father and the Son. But one who carefully investigates these passages soon comes to the conclusion that no mention is made in them of a covenant among the three persons of the holy Trinity, but rather of a covenant of God with Christ and his people.

The intention of King David to build the Lord a house is recorded in II Samuel 7. The Lord had established David in his kingdom and given him rest from all his enemies round about. Seeing that he lived in a house of cedar and the ark of God dwelt behind curtains, David desired to build the Lord an established house in Jerusalem. When David informed the prophet Nathan of this intention, Nathan at first agreed with him. But in that same night the word of the Lord came to the prophet, sending him to David with the charge to prohibit the king from executing his intention.

This word of the Lord with which Nathan was sent to David was rich with respect to the promise of the covenant that God would establish with David and with his seed forever:

And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever (vv. 216).

Different elements in this passage deserve our special attention. First, it ought to be perfectly clear that he who is speaking here is not the first person of the holy Trinity, but the triune God. He it is who here promises and assures David of his covenant mercies. Even this makes it impossible to apply these words to a covenant among the three persons of the Trinity.

Second, the one who is addressed here is certainly not the Son as the second person of the holy Trinity, but David and his seed. This seed of David is Solomon, who would build the house for the Lord, as is promised in this passage. But it is also plain that Solomon alone cannot be meant, for what is said here of David’s seed is never fulfilled in Solomon or during his reign. The Lord speaks here of an eternal kingdom that he will establish for this seed of David, of a continual house, of an established throne, and of unchangeable mercies. It is evident, therefore, that this prophetic word must be applied to the entire line of David’s seed as it points to and culminates in Christ, the Son of God par excellence, the root of David. From this it is perfectly clear that no mention is made here of the Son of God according to his divine nature, but that the reference is to the mediator as he must come forth from the loins of David, to the eternal king of whom David is always the type, and therefore, to the servant of the Lord according to his human nature.

Third, in this passage of Scripture there is no mention at all of mutual conditions or mutual demands and mutual promises. On the contrary, he who is speaking here is the only one who determines everything. He will cause the promised seed to come from David’s loins. He will establish the kingdom forever. He will chasten the seed with the rod of men and with the stripes of the children of men, if the seed commit iniquity. He shall never remove his mercy from him. To be sure, this seed will build the house of the Lord; but this, too, is determined only by him who is speaking here. From all this it ought to be perfectly evident that here there is no mention whatever of a covenant among the three persons of the holy Trinity, or between two of them, but in the central and ultimate sense, of a covenant which God establishes with Christ as the head of his people.

These words were a strong ground of assurance and comfort for the believers of the old dispensation, especially in times of darkness and suffering when it seemed as if God had forsaken his covenant and his people and as if the enemies of Zion would have the victory. No wonder, then, that we find that the church of the old dispensation loved to singand that the church of the new dispensation still loves to singof the everlasting mercies of David in the inspired song that the Spirit of Christ put upon the lips of the church of all ages. This song we have in Psalm 89.


16. Psalm 89:134

Proof has been found in Psalm 89 for the doctrine of the pactum salutis as a covenant between the Father and the Son. It is true that this psalm speaks of a covenant of God:

For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens. I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips (vv. 24, 28, 34).

However, it is evident from the whole psalm that the covenant of which mention is made is certainly not a pact among the three persons of the holy Trinity. He who is repeatedly introduced here as being the speaker is not the Father as the first person of the holy Trinity, but the Lord, Jehovah, the triune covenant God, the mighty Lord of Hosts, who is the incomparable one. The one with whom this covenant is established is not the Son in his divine nature, but David and his seed, the royal seed, the heart and center of which is Christ, the lion of Judah’s tribe. He is David, the servant of the Lord, the elect of God par excellence. With him and his seed is this covenant established. Of him and his seed, of the elect church, it is essentially true that they will be visited with the rod because of the transgression of the children, yea, that their iniquity will be visited with stripes, as was centrally realized in the cross of Christ, but that nevertheless the mercy of the Lord is never taken away from them and that they may sing of an eternal covenant.

If a covenant is an agreement between two parties with mutual stipulations, conditions, and demands, then there is not even mention made of any covenant in this psalm, for in the psalm everything depends on God alone, on his faithfulness and on his mercies. It is he alone who made a covenant with David, his elect. He swore to David that he would establish his seed forever and that he would build his throne from generation to generation. It is he who raises him to a firstborn son, to the highest over the kings of the earth. He it is who shall keep mercy with David forever and establish his covenant with him unchangeably. Never shall he take his mercy away from him, and his faithfulness to him shall never fail. He will not break his covenant with him, and he shall not alter the thing that is gone out of his mouth.

In other words, the covenant here is strictly unilateral. There are no two parties who contract a covenant with each other. The words of Psalm 89 can never be applied to an agreement among the three persons of the holy Trinity, but are certainly applicable to a covenant between Jehovah and his people. In his covenant relation to the creature, God always remains God, and he only is the originator and the establisher of the covenant. In such a covenant there are no parties, although there are two parts. God is his own party when he establishes his covenant with us, he does it as the absolutely sovereign God. We become of his party. The three persons of the holy Trinity are essentially one and co-equal, although they are personally distinct. Hence the language of Psalm 89 is not that of the Father to the Son, but of the triune God to his elect, the servant of Jehovah. The Son indeed hears this language, but in his human nature.


17. Psalm 2:79

No different is it with another passage of Scripture that has been quoted as proof for the pactum salutis:

I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel (Ps. 2:79).

We must be careful that we do not apply this passage directly and without further thought to the eternal generation of the Son of God. If we do, the conclusion will be that the Father here addresses the Son and that therefore the text refers to a covenant between the first and second persons of the holy Trinity. We do not deny that in the last instance this passage certainly also teaches the eternal generation of the Son of God. Nevertheless, it is very clear that the reference in this passage is not first to this eternal generation.

We must remember that this psalm has a historical background in the raging of the heathen against David as the anointed king who has been set over the holy hill of Zion. These words refer first to him in his capacity as king over Israel. He is in the theocratic sense of the word the anointed of the Lord, against whom the heathen rage and the kings of the earth set themselves and take counsel to cast him from his throne. He is the king anointed by God over the holy hill of Zion, the son of God begotten by him. It is against this historical background, predestined for this very purpose, that the messianic prophecy of this psalm is based.

We may not overlook the fact that mention is made here of the decree. The words, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,” belong to the decree of Jehovah. The generation of the Son by the Father does not belong to the decree of God, but to the works of God within himself (ad intra). Hence this word of Psalm 2 cannot be applied first to the eternal generation of the Son by the Father.


18. Acts 13:3237

This is corroborated by Acts 13:3237, a New Testament passage that refers to Psalm 2:7:

And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.

This passage teaches very plainly that the word of Psalm 2 cannot be separated from David and that in the typical sense it is realized in him. It belongs to the sure mercies of David. Further, Acts 13 teaches clearly that Psalm 2 refers to Christ according to his human nature and that the words, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee,” are fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Through that resurrection God has begotten him in order that he may sit eternally as king over Zion, the mount of God’s holiness. In that resurrection is the beginning of the exaltation that is completed in the power and glory that Christ received at the right hand of the Father; therefore the heathen are given him for an inheritance and all the ends of the earth for his possession. The “this day” of Psalm 2 is, therefore, a reference to the historical moment of the anointing of David as king over Israel and at the same time a reference to the moment of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Psalm 2 refers to the covenant of God with Christ and to the promise of the gospel that is centrally realized in him.


19. Acts 4:2428

The same truth of Psalm 2 is evident from that beautiful and clear prayer of the church recorded in Acts 4:2428:

And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.

This passage teaches clearly that the reference in Psalm 2 is to the Messiah according to his human nature. It is in his human nature that the Son of God can be called the holy child Jesus. It is according to his human nature that the heathen, with Herod and Pontius Pilate and the people of Israel, have raged against him.

In his human nature the servant of Jehovah could ask the Lord, on the basis of the promises of the gospel given him in the decree, that the heathen would be given him for an inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession and that he would rule them with a rod of iron and would break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. For that reason the raging of the heathen is vain, and they can accomplish nothing but that which the counsel of Jehovah determined before to be done. From all this it is evident that in the covenant to which Psalm 2 refers, the Son appears as the servant of the Lord according to his human nature and that Psalm 2 does not refer to a covenant of the first person of the Trinity with the Son of God.


20. Hebrews 1:16

Without a doubt the covenant of God with Christ has its eternal background in the divinity of the Son and in the eternal generation of the Son by the Father. The church did not make a mistake when in Psalm 2 she also saw an indication of the eternal generation of the Son. Eternal generation is even the heart of the matter. That this is true is clear from Hebrews 1:16:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.

These words must not be misunderstood to refer exclusively to the Son of God according to his divine nature. It is evident from the passage that this is not the meaning. It certainly is not in his divine by in his human nature that Christ is made heir of all things, that he is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, and that he has inherited a more excellent name than the angels. This is true even of the words, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee,” as well as of the words, “I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son.”

That the words of Psalm 2 (as well as those of II Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 89:27, 28) are addressed to the Christ as the servant of the Lord in his human nature is evident from a comparison with Hebrews 5:5: “So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, “Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee.” It is evident that the text from Psalm 2 is here applied to the royal priesthood of Christ.

Nevertheless, in Hebrews 1 all this evidence is adduced to show that he to whom all this is said at his entering into the world is essentially the eternal Son of God. He is the only begotten, and for that reason he also becomes the firstborn. By him the world is made and sustained. He is the brightness of the glory of God and the express image of his substance. He upholds all things by the word of his power. His eternal and divine sonship is the necessary background for all that he becomes in time. Because God says to him eternally, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee,” and because within the divine economy he says this as the Father to the Son, therefore this can also be said to him in time as the servant of Jehovah who is placed over the house of God as king-priest forever.

In order correctly to understand the word of Psalm 2:7, we may think of three concentric circles, which have their center in the person of the Son. The words, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,” refer to the innermost circle, representing the eternal sonship of the second person of the Trinity in relation to the first person. From eternity to eternity the Father generates the Son and says to the Son, “Thou art my Son,” while the Son addresses the Father, “Thou art my Father.”

This same word has its second circle in the holy childhood of Jesus, who is brought into the world and to whom God says, “Thou art my Son, in whom I have all my good pleasure.” This is the sonship of the decree, realized in the human nature of Christ and finally revealed in the resurrection and glorification of the holy child Jesus to the right hand of the majesty in the heavens.

Finally, the word of Psalm 2 refers in its widest circle to the typical kingship of David, who is anointed as theocratic king over Zion, the mount of God’s holiness, and against whom the heathen rage. He who reads Psalm 2 in this manner will have to admit that the covenant, which is not mentioned in this psalm, but to which reference is nevertheless made, is the same as the covenant mentioned in Psalm 89. It is not a covenant between the Father and the Son as divine persons in the Trinity, but the covenant that God reveals and establishes in Christ with his people. In Psalm 2 the Son stands in the human nature before the face of the triune God as his Father.


21. John 6:38, 39

In order to prove a so-called pactum salutis or covenant of redemption, reference is also made to passages of Holy Writ wherein the Savior speaks of a task that he has to fulfill, of a mission that is entrusted to him; to passages that speak of a reward that he receives upon his labor; to such passages of Scripture wherein Christ addresses God as his God; and finally, to the passage in which the Lord appears as the covenant head.

It is well-known that the Lord frequently speaks of his work as a task committed unto him by the Father. Such is the current presentation of Scripture, as we might expect. We call attention to a few passages to make clear what is meant. “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:38, 39). On the basis of this and similar passages, the conclusion is drawn that there is a certain covenant between the Father and the Son, a relation of sender to him who is sent.

Thus Bavinck asserts:

That this relation between Father and Son, although most clearly appearing during the sojourn of Christ on earth, yet did not begin at the moment of the incarnation; for the incarnation itself already belongs to the execution of the work committed unto the Son. But it falls in eternity, and existed already during the time of the Old Testament.22

Now this last statement is certainly true. God knows all his works from eternity. For him the relation wherein Christ stands as the one who is sent by the Father is an eternal relation. The question is, however, whether this relation of the one who is sent to him who sent him, the relation in which Christ stands to God during his sojourn on earth, leads us to a pactum salutis, a covenant between the Father and the Son or among the three persons of the holy Trinity. Is it possible to conceive of the eternal covenant relation between the Father and the Son in such a way that the first person stands in this relation as the one who sends, and the second as the one who is sent? The answer to this question must certainly be negative, for the relation between the one who sends and the one who is sent is a relation of authority. One who is sent is completely subordinate to his sender.

That this is applicable to the relation of Christ to God, as indicated in John 6:38, 39, is very plain. The Lord says that he is not come to do his own will, but the will of him who sent him. These words do not imply that there is a conflict between the will of the Christ and the will of his Father. That cannot be the meaning. As the servant of the Lord, he deems it his meat to do the will of the Father. But these words do mean that the task Christ is come to fulfill does not have its origin in his own will, but only in the will of the Father. His work is determined not by himself, but by the Father.

The Savior understands the relation of himself to the Father as one who is sent to his sender. If this is the case, then surely this relation can never be extended into the counsel of God. In that counsel Christ stands as the eternal Son, and as the eternal Son he is co-equal with the Father. In the eternal God there are not three wills, but there is one will. The Father wills eternally as Father, and the Son as Son, and the Holy Spirit as Spirit; but in their will Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are nevertheless eternally one. As Son, the second person is not subordinate to the first, but equal with him. As the Son in the divine nature, he can never say, “Not my will, but the will of the Father I will do,” because the will of the Father is essentially also his own. In the covenant life of the holy Trinity, the three persons are essentially co-equal by personal distinction. Hence in the counsel of God, the Son cannot stand as the one who is sent in relation to the Father as the one who sends.

The fact is that in the interpretation of these and similar texts we may never lose sight of the distinction between the person of the Son in the divine nature and the person of the Son in the human nature. In his human nature the Son is subordinate to God as his Father. In the divine nature he is co-equal with the Father. In his human nature he stands in relation to God as the one who is sent stands to the one who sends him. In his divine nature he, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the sender not the sent. His human will is subordinate to the will of the Father. But in his divine will he is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In John 6:38, 39 the Savior does not speak according to his divine nature, but according to his human. He speaks there as the servant of the Lord, who is not come to do his own will, but the will of him who sent him.

The case is not altered by the facts that his doing the will of the Father includes the incarnation itself and that Christ also under the old dispensation was mediator and appears as mediator. It simply means that this mediator’s relation, this relation of servant to his Lord, this relation of the one who is sent to his sender, is determined in God’s eternal counsel and that also in this respect all the works of God are known unto him from eternity (Acts 15:18). If there is indeed a covenant of peace among the three persons of the divine Trinity, this covenant must stand behind the relation wherein Christ stands as the one who is sent to his sender. How is the Son, who is co-equal with the Father, placed in eternity in the relation of one who is sent and in the relation of servant of Jehovah to the triune God?


22. John 10:18

This relation between God the Father and the Son in the human nature is also taught in John 10:18: “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” The Savior here speaks of the laying down of his life and of taking it again. He speaks of a power to do so: “I have power [ἐξουσίαν—exousian] to lay it down, and I have power [ἐξουσίαν—exousian] to take it up again.” This power (ἐξουσία—exousia) denotes an authority that he has as the one who is sent by the Father on a mission that he has received as the servant of Jehovah. This is also plain from the last part of the text: “This commandment have I received of my Father.”

The Savior alone has authority to put down his life and to take it again, because of this commandment of the Father. No man of himself has this power in the sense of authority. Man has power in the sense of strength or ability to lay down his life, but when he does so, he commits suicide: he attempts to leave the place in life in which God has stationed him, and his deed is a deed of rebellion. But with Christ this is different. When he puts down his life, he does so on the authority of the Father, in complete harmony with his will, as an act of complete obedience. Even as it was an act of obedience on his part that in the incarnation he took upon himself the earthly and human nature, so it is an act of obedience when he lays down his life: he does the will of him who sent him.

When his enemies apparently overcome him, bind him, and lead him to the accursed tree so that it appears as if they take away his life, it must be clearly understood that this is not the case, but that even then he accomplishes an act of his will and voluntarily enters into death. It must be understood that when he voluntarily enters into death and dies by an act of his own will, this act is not a deed of rebellion, an act of suicide, so that he leaves the position in which he is placed by the Father; but it is an act of obedience to the Father, with authority over his own life in which he lays down his life for his sheep. For that reason he has also power to take it again, which is his commandment of the Father. He laid down his earthly life, not to remain separate forever from the human nature, but to raise that life in the human nature unto the glory of the heavenly state. Hence the taking again of his life is an act of obedience.

It is plain from John 10:18 that the relation described here is one of Lord and servant, of master and subject, of the one who sends and him who is sent. It is in the human nature that the Son of God dies and in the same nature that he rises. In the human nature he has this power, and in the human nature he is obedient to the commandment of the Father. This cannot refer to a covenant relation between the Father and the Son, for as Son of God he has all power in himself and cannot receive a commandment from the Father.


23. John 17:4

We refer next to John 17:4: “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” Here the one who is speaking is not the Son in his divine nature, but Christ as the servant of the Lord. As servant of the Lord, he addresses the triune God as his Father. This is evident from the entire chapter, which records Christ’s sacerdotal prayer. It stands to reason that it cannot be the second person of the Trinity who sends this prayer to the first person, but it is Christ, as the high priest at the head of his people, who prays to the triune God. The person of the Son prays here according to his human nature.

This is evident also from the entire form of the sacerdotal prayer. When Jesus prays, “Glorify thy Son” (v. 1), this cannot have reference to his divine nature, which never left its glory and cannot be glorified. Rather, the Son prays for his glorification in the human nature. When Christ says that the Father gave him power over all flesh (v. 2), it is again evident that Christ can never speak thus according to his divine nature, but that he speaks as the mediator. So it is throughout this sacerdotal prayer. When the Savior says, “I have glorified thee on the earth” (v. 4), it is plain that the Christ speaks of the glorification of the triune God, whom to know is eternal life. When he continues and says that he has finished the work which the Father gave him to do, it is evident that he stands before the face of the Father in the relation of servant of the Lord to him who sent him. It is not in the divine nature but in the human that he thus addresses the triune God.

All these and similar passage tell us nothing about a covenant between the Father and the Son or among the three persons of the holy Trinity. If a covenant according to its idea is an agreement, these passages do not speak of a covenant at all. They only mention a mission, a task, a work that God assigned to Christ and that is accomplished by Christ in all faithfulness.


24. John 17:24

Nor is it different with regard to other texts which mention a reward that the Savior receives upon his mediator’s work and that he demands of the Father. At the end of the sacerdotal prayer the Savior demands: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). In this also there is nothing that is not applicable to the Son according to his human nature. Already we have pointed out that these words appear in a context that allows of no other explanation than that which interprets this whole prayer as proceeding from his mediator’s heart. These words themselves allow of no other interpretation.

When the Savior speaks of the fact that the Father gave him his people, he refers to eternal election. Election is an act not only of the Father as the first persons, but also of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The triune God gave the elect to Christ. When mention is made of the glory which the Father gave to Christ, then there can again be no question that this only is applicable to the Lord in his human nature. There is no question here of a relation between the Father and the Son or of a covenant among the three persons of the holy Trinity. The fact that the Savior here appears with a demand and says, “Father, I will” does not alter the case at all. When he demands his mediator’s reward, he does so in obedience to the Father. From the Father he has received power to make demands. God said to him in the decree, “Ask of me” (Ps. 2:8). Christ knows that it is the Father’s will that they whom the Father has given him be with where he is. Also in this respect he is obedient to the Father’s will.


25. Philippians 2:9–11

Nor is it different with Philippians 2:9–11. There we read the well-known words concerning the mediator’s glory:

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The entire context speaks of Christ as the mediator according to his human nature. Of him it is said that although he is in the form of God, according to his divine nature, he never conceived of the robbery of being equal with God.

In this light, according to our conviction, verse 6 must be explained. Jesus Christ is eternally “in the form of God,” according to his divine nature. This is true not only before his incarnation, as it is frequently explained—an explanation which introduces time into eternity and mutability into the immutable divine nature—but also when he became flesh. During his sojourn on earth he is, according to his divine nature, in the form of God.

Although in the form of God, he never contemplated in the human nature the robbery of being equal with God. This was the intention of Satan, and it also arose in the heart of man in paradise; but not so with the Christ. On the contrary, when he assumed the form of a servant, he emptied himself according to his human nature. Being made in the likeness of men and being found in fashion as a man, in that human nature he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.

For this obedience as the Son in his human nature he receives a reward. According to that human nature he receives a name which is above all names and is exalted to that glory in which every knee shall bow before him and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father. In Philippians 2, therefore, the question does not concern the relation in which the Son stands to the Father in the divine essence, but the relation in which the mediator stands to the triune God. Of an agreement there is no mention here at all. Christ is simply the servant of the Lord. As servant of the Lord, he is obedient unto death, and he receives the reward that is promised him, the highest place in the creation of God.


26. Other Passages

Proof for the pactum salutis is also taken from the fact that the Savior addresses God as his God, as in Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And in Psalm 40:7, 8: “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” But the very fact that the Savior here addresses the triune God as his God rules out all possibility of a covenant among the three persons of the triune God. The second person does not address the first person as “my God.”

As far as Psalm 22:1 is concerned, it is evident that these words have reference to the cross of Christ and that they are spoken by the Son, not in his divine, but in his human nature. In regard to the passage from Psalm 40, it is clear from the context and from the entire psalm that reference is made here to the servant of the Lord in his human nature. Of him it is said that his ears are opened. Of him it is written in the volume of the book. He carries the law of God in his inmost heart. As the servant of the Lord, it is he who delights to do the will of God. He stands in the midst of a great congregation and declares God’s faithfulness and his salvation. From that congregation he has not concealed the lovingkindness and truth of the Most High.

There is no mention of an agreement or of the contracting of a covenant between the Father and the Son in the divine essence. Even though we apply these words to eternity, where they undoubtedly had their origin, they still can have no reference to a covenant between the Father and the Son as an agreement between two equal parties, but only to the relation of the servant of the Lord to the triune God.

Finally, proof for the pactum salutis has been sought in Romans 5:12–21 and in I Corinthians 15:21. However, these passages can be applied to a so-called pactum salutis or counsel of peace among the three persons of the holy Trinity still less than those passages we have already discussed. In these passages it is noteworthy that there is no mention at all of the Holy Spirit. Besides, in these texts there is no reference to the Son of God according to his divine nature, but only to Christ as the covenant head in his human nature, as is evident from the comparison drawn between Adam and Christ. Even apart from this, both passages literally express that they deal with the man Jesus Christ. In I Corinthians 15:21 all emphasis falls on the term man: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” In Romans 5:15 the same emphasis is placed upon the term man: “But 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.” Christ does not appear here as equal party in a covenant of redemption or counsel of peace, but as the head of the covenant and as the God-ordained servant of the Lord.


27. The Biblical Idea of the Pactum Salutis

All that we have said above does not mean that we must reject the entire idea of a counsel of peace or of a covenant and covenant decree of the three persons of the holy Trinity. However, such a covenant cannot be deduced from the passages of Scripture that we have just discussed. It is plain that those who see in these passages a covenant between the Father and the Son fail to make a distinction between Christ as the eternal Son in his human nature as the servant of the Lord and the same Christ as the eternal Son of God in his divine nature. A conclusion simply is drawn from Christ’s relation to the triune God as the servant of the Lord to the eternal economical relation between the Father and the Son. The result is that a wrong conception is formed about the counsel of peace and that no place is found in the pactum salutis for the third person of the holy Trinity.

Thus far we have seen that generally the idea of the covenant is found in a certain pact or in a voluntarily concluded agreement between two or more parties. Kuyper finds the necessity for the conclusion of such a covenant in the circumstance that no higher power stands above the covenant. He writes:

From this anyone can see that the conclusion of a covenant is conceivable only when there is no higher power that can compel the execution of justice.

In that case there would originate, without the conclusion of a covenant, a complete absence of order and safety and social well-being. There would be only one right, the right of the strongest. Everyone would live by his sword. Robbery and murder would become general.

To prevent this terrible evil mutual covenants are concluded. This implies that a certain established right is introduced, a right, which is based upon the honor of the word and the faithfulness of man’s character; and thus it is that men find a means to create rest and safety round about themselves, those that are well-meaning from a sense of duty, others that are evil-minded from a sense of necessity.

But as soon as there comes an end to this lawless condition, or as soon as a regular government is instituted, the law of the land is valid, and the transgressor is punished, the conclusion of a covenant is no longer necessary. Why would it be necessary to institute a certain rule of justice when there is already a power of justice above us which guards our safety?

What we posited from the start remains true, therefore: wherever above the many that live together there still stands another power, there is no need of a covenant. But on the other hand, when there is no other power above them, the conclusion of a covenant is necessary. And a covenant is the only basis on which society can act, the form of life that must necessarily be instituted.23

From this Kuyper further explains the conclusion of the covenant among the three persons of the holy Trinity:

And because the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are equal to each other, and because it is inconceivable that there be anyone above these three, so it follows that the underlying relationship among these three persons in the divine being, must rest upon the mutual communication, the mutual willing, the equality of being, an must take the form and character of a covenant.24

Thus the idea of a voluntary contract is applied to the covenant life in the triune God.

We have seen further that the covenant as to its idea was considered as a means to a certain end, a way to a certain destination, in the case of God’s covenant with man as a means to the salvation of the elect. The covenant is itself not the end; it is not itself the highest state of bliss. It is the way along which the salvation of the elect is established. Hence the covenant of redemption or counsel of peace has been presented as an agreement between the Father and Son or among the three persons in the holy Trinity to save the elect.

In close connection with this presentation, it stands to reason that the pactum salutis has been considered as logically following upon the counsel of predestination. The elect are already there, according to the counsel of God. The pactum salutis is the agreement to redeem and to save the elect. The counsel of predestination, the decree concerning creation and the fall—whether the order in these decrees is viewed either from the infra- or the supralapsarian standpoint—precedes the covenant of redemption.

Finally, we have seen that the texts on which this presentation of the pactum salutis is based are not applicable to a covenant among the three persons of the holy Trinity, but refer without exception to a covenant between the triune God and his servant, Christ in his human nature, standing at the head of the elect.


28. The Idea of the Covenant

The presentation of the counsel of peace or covenant of redemption must be changed when the idea of a covenant is not understood as being a contract or an agreement, but is conceived as being a living, spontaneous relation and communion of friendship that is given with the very nature and relation of God and man in the covenant. The covenant is not an incidental relation, but belongs to the very essence of the relation in the covenant.

In close connection with this presentation of the idea of the covenant, the conception of the covenant of redemption must also be altered so that this covenant is not conceived as a means to an end, as a way unto salvation, but as the very end itself, as the very highest that can ever be reached by the creature: not as a way to life, but as the highest form of life itself; not as a condition, but as the very essence of religion; not as a means unto salvation, but as the highest bliss itself. Then the counsel of peace is presented as the decree that dominates all other decrees of God concerning the ultimate end of all things as God has conceived it in his counsel.

Instead of a decree concerning the means, the counsel of peace is the decree concerning the end of all things. Instead of a subordinate place in the order of God’s decrees, the main place must in that case be given to the counsel of peace in God’s eternal decrees. Therefore, the question is whether Scripture teaches that the idea of the covenant is an agreement or a living relation of friendship, whether the covenant is presented as means or as the end, as the way or as the proper essence of religion and salvation.

In answer to this question, it is certainly requisite that we proceed from what Scripture teaches concerning the being and life of the infinite God himself. Behind all being and becoming, behind all the relations and connections of the creatures and of them to the creator, lies the eternal decree of the Most High. Known unto God are all his works from eternity (Acts 15:18). All that exists is and becomes only according to his eternal will.

But the decree is not the ultimate ground to be considered. Behind the decree stands the infinite, ever-blessed, and self-sufficient God himself. The decree is the decreeing God. Even as the cause of all things lies in the decree of God, so also the motive of the decree must be found in the being and life of God himself. The decree is his good pleasure. It is perfectly sovereign. It is not determined nor motivated by anything outside of God. He made all things for his own name’s sake, even the ungodly unto the day of evil. No one has ever given him counsel or instruction. Nothing has ever limited or determined him. In his eternal decree God is perfectly sovereign. The reasons and motives for his decree must always be found in himself, and these reasons and motives ever concentrate around the sole purpose of all things, his self-revelation and self-glorification.

It is always requisite that we turn from the created things to the decree of God and that we go back from the decree to what Scripture teaches concerning the eternal God himself, for only from his being can be explained the being of all things, not in the pantheistic sense, but according to the counsel of his will. Hence also the idea and essence of the covenant must be explained from the relation among the three persons of the holy Trinity.


29. God a Covenant God

The Scriptures teach very clearly that God is in himself a covenant God. He is a covenant God not because of any relation wherein he stands to the creature. The creature can participate in and taste his life according to the measure of the creature, but it cannot enrich that life. So it is also with the covenant. It is eternally of God. It is eternally perfect in him. He is the covenant God in himself. He is the God of the covenant not according to a decree or according to an agreement or pact, but according to his very divine nature and essence. God is indeed one in essence, but he is not lonely in himself.

If nothing else could be said than that God is one, he would not and could not be the living God, who is in himself the ever-blessed one. A God who is lonely does not know himself and love himself, does not live and is not blessed, is a cold and dead abstraction. But God is one in being and three in persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As the triune God, he is the living God who lives the infinitely perfect covenant life in himself.

First, the idea of the Trinity teaches us not only that the three persons are essentially co-equal, but also that they are essentially one. There are no three perfectly co-equal divine beings. But God is one. He is one in being and nature, one in intellect and will, one in all his essential attributes and virtues, one in infinite perfection. There are in God no three divine beings, natures, intellects, wills, wisdoms, and powers that are perfectly co-equal, but for the rest separated from one another. If this were the case, it would be conceivable that the covenant could exist in an agreement or pact among these three perfectly equal, distinct divine persons, who, according to Kuyper’s presentation, have no higher power above themselves and who for that reason determine their mutual relation to one another by a voluntary agreement or pact. But this is not the case. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are essentially co-equal because they are essentially one. They think, will, move, and live only in and through the one divine essence, in the one divine nature, from eternity to eternity inseparable and undivided.

Second, the truth of the Trinity teaches us that these three persons existing in the one divine essence are nevertheless personally distinct so that each one of them subsists in the divine being in his own personally distinct manner. By essential oneness there is personal distinction. The Father is eternally Father, never Son or Holy Spirit. The Son is eternally Son, never Father and never Holy Spirit. The Spirit is eternally Spirit, never Father and never Son.

The Father generates the Son eternally; the Son is being generated by the Father eternally; the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Father. The Father is the Father of the Son and the breather forth of the Spirit of the Father. The Son is the Son of the Father and the breather forth of the Spirit of the Son. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son and searches the depths of God.

The Father is God as Father; he thinks and wills; he lives and loves as Father. The Son is God as Son; he thinks and wills; he lives and loves as Son. The Holy Spirit is God as Spirit; he thinks and wills; he lives and loves as Spirit. There is in God not only essential oneness, but also personal distinction, so that the persons are co-equal and stand in inseparable relation to one another by generation and spiration. The Trinity is a perfect threeness, a fullness of perfect divine life.

In the three persons God lives perfectly. He is in the three persons the perfectly self-sufficient God. No fourth person is conceivable. No one of the three persons could possibly be missed. The Father gives eternally to the Son to have life in himself, presents that Son eternally to himself as the express image of his substance and as the effulgence of his glory. The Son stands eternally facing the Father, is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18), and is the express image of the full divine glory of the Father (Heb. 1:3); the Son is the eternal Word. The Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father to the Son and returns as the Spirit of the Son to the Father. The Father knows himself through the Son in the Spirit. The Son knows the Father through himself in the Spirit. The Spirit knows the Father through the Son in himself. Thus there is an eternal current of divine love-life out of the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit returning to the Father. Three there are that witness in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one (I John 5:7).

The divine trinitarian life is the life of the covenant, for in the eternal sphere of the divine essence, the three persons of the holy Trinity live in inseparable, most perfect, and eternally complete communion with one another. It is the life of eternal and perfect knowledge, of a perfect entering into one another’s life, of a perfect understanding of each other. In the divine economy there are no secrets. The Father never thinks or wills what the Son and the Holy Spirit do not think or will. It is a life of the most perfect love in which the three persons of the holy Trinity eternally find one another and are eternally united in the most perfect, divine harmony in the bond of perfect union. Nowhere is there separation, nowhere disharmony, in the divine life of friendship. Therefore God is in himself most blessed; therefore he is in himself the self-sufficient, who has no need to be served by men’s hands, to whom no one can add anything, out of whom, through whom, and unto whom are all things, and who has made all things for his own name’s sake; therefore, he is also from eternity to eternity the covenant God in himself, the architect of all covenant life. The life of the divine Trinity is a life of the most intimate communion of friendship.


30. The Covenant between God and Man

However, as soon as we present the matter of the covenant in this wise—if the life of the covenant in God is such a life of most perfect friendship, of the most intimate communion, of the deepest knowledge and the most affectionate love—then it follows that the idea of the covenant cannot be found in an agreement or pact. With perfect harmony and communion of life, with the perfect, eternal knowing of one another, and with the most perfect love and unity, the idea of an agreement or the conclusion of a pact does not fit. In such a relation everything is spirit and life. The covenant idea is given with the life of the triune God in himself. It rises in eternal spontaneity from the divine essence and realizes itself with perfect divine consciousness in the three persons. God knows and wills himself, loves and seeks himself eternally as the covenant God. The covenant is the bond of God with himself. It is the eternal life of perfect light.

If this is so in God himself, it must also be applicable to the covenant idea as a relation between God and man. Because all things are only out of God, through him, and unto him, also the covenant relation can never be anything else than an ectypical reflection of the covenant life in God himself. If the essence of the covenant in God is the communion of friendship, this must also be the essence of the covenant between God and man. If this communion of friendship in God rests upon his perfect essential unity by personal distinction, then this must also be the case with the covenant between God and man: it also must be based upon a creaturely likeness of man to God by personal distinction. If this communion of friendship in the Trinity implies a perfect knowledge of one another, then also the covenant life of man must consist in knowledge and communion: God reveals himself to man, causes man to know him, reveals his secrets to him, speaks to him as a friend with his friend, walks with him, eats and drinks with him, and lives with him under one roof. If the covenant life in God consists in the unity of the three persons of the holy Trinity in the bond of perfect love, then also the covenant relation between God and man must originate in God’s opening his heart for man.

Then the life of the covenant is eternal life itself. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one (John 17:3, 23). As the Dutch versification of Psalm 25:7 has it, “God’s verborgen omgang vinden Zielen, daar Zijn vrees in woont; ‘t Heilgeheim wordt aan Zijn vrinden, Naar Zijn vreeverbond, getoond.”25 Then the covenant is the very essence of religion, the highest good, the very best that can ever be imparted to man through grace, the highest bliss. The idea of the covenant is certainly not that of a pact or an agreement, whether you conceive of such an agreement in the unilateral or bilateral sense. The covenant is the relation of the most intimate communion of friendship, in which God reflects his own covenant life in his relation to the creature, gives to that creature life, and causes him to taste and acknowledge the highest good and the overflowing fountain of all good.


31. The Covenant as End

If we may thus conceive of the very essence of the covenant, then the covenant is not a way to a certain end, is not a means to the attainment of a certain purpose, and is not the manner wherein we are saved. It is itself the highest purpose, the end, the eternal bliss, unto which all things tend and must tend. Then the purpose of all things is always the covenant of God. Then the covenant determines and dominates the whole of God’s counsel, and the whole of history concentrates around the highest realization of the covenant of God.

That is the sole purpose in creation and recreation. That is the purpose of the word, of the cross and resurrection, and of the uniting of all things in heaven and on earth in Immanuel, God with us. In the covenant of God is found the motive of the struggle of all ages in the world. In that covenant is found the reason for the consummation of all things. The idea of the covenant dominates all existence, and all life, and all relations of the creatures to God and of the creatures mutually. So all-dominating is the idea of the covenant that it would not be impossible to write a complete dogmatics from the viewpoint of the covenant. Not a way, and not a means, but the final destination and the all-dominating purpose, is the covenant of God.

It should be plain that this covenant conception must alter the common presentation of the pactum salutis or the counsel of peace. He who once has understood this beautiful and all-dominating covenant idea or rather has been inspired by this covenant idea that scintillates of spirit and life, certainly can no longer be attracted by the dry scholastic presentation of the covenant of peace that presents the Father as concluding a pact with the Son, a pact wherein Father and Son mutually present their demands and conditions, a presentation in which no place is found for the Holy Spirit. He who once has learned to understand the living covenant idea of Holy Scripture is spontaneously convinced that the usual conception of the pactum salutis or counsel of peace is certainly a mistake and cannot be applied to the living covenant God himself.

But more about this presently. First, we wish to point out that apart from the covenant idea as we deduced it from the life of the triune God himself, Scripture everywhere presents the same idea of the covenant between God and man.


32. The Meaning of the Word Covenant

The word that Scripture uses for the covenant is of little help in determining the scriptural idea of the covenant. The derivation of the Old Testament word בְּרִית (berith) is uncertain. Some think that the word is derived from a term that means “to cut.” According to this interpretation, berith is connected with the custom of cutting sacrificial animals in half and putting them over against each other when a covenant was concluded in order that the covenanting parties might pass through the halves of those sacrificial animals as a sign and pledge of faithfulness on the part of both covenanting parties. When the Lord concluded his covenant with Abraham, according to Genesis 15:9–17, he adapted himself to that custom.

However, according to this passage in Genesis, the Lord only passed through the pieces of the sacrificial animals; Abraham did not. This can only mean that the Lord did not conclude or contract a covenant with Abraham, but that he simply established it. This is the current teaching of Scripture. God establishes His covenant. The covenant is his. Never does man become a party over against God in the conclusion of a covenant. This is in the nature of the case. How can the creature ever be party over against the creator? How can man, who has absolutely nothing of himself, who must receive everything from God, ever appear as a contracting party in relation to the Most High?

According to others, the term for covenant in the Old Testament signifies a bond and must be derived from a word that means “binding.” The fact is the term for covenant, which appears about three hundred times in the Old Testament, has more than once the significance of a testament, and in the Greek it is rendered by the term διαθήκη (dee-ath-ay'-kay), a word that has exactly that meaning.


33. The Covenant: A Relation of Friendship

To determine the idea of the covenant, it is better to note those Scripture passages that speak of the relation between God and his covenant people. When we do so, there can be no doubt that the emphasis is not on the idea of an agreement or a pact, but rather upon a living relation of friendship between God and those whom he has chosen in Jesus Christ their Lord. In that relation he lives, as it were, on equal footing with his people, reveals himself to them, causes them to know him, opens his heart for them, speaks with them face-to-face, as a friend to his friends, imparts his secrets to them, lives under one roof with them, eats and drinks with them, and walks with them.

The relation is such that God receives them into his own family and that, according to the measure of the creature, they enter into the life of friendship of the triune God and in that relation enjoy the highest possible bliss. God always remains God and Lord, and man remains creature and servant. The distance between the creator and the creature between God and man, is not removed. Nevertheless, as the Lord God in the covenant, he is the sovereign friend of his people, who blesses them in his favor, blesses those who bless them, curses those who curse them, makes his people heirs of all things, puts them over the works of his hands, and causes them to enter into his rest and to enjoy the pleasures there are at his right hand. He who as servant enters into God’s covenant is nevertheless friend of God, obedient friend, who has the law of God in his heart and delights to do his will, to sing his praises, to consecrate himself with body and soul and all things to the living God, and to rule only in his name over all the works of his hands.

That this is the relation between God and his covenant people is the current idea of the word of God. This was the case with the relation in which Adam stood to God in paradise. God created man after his own image and likeness, and in virtue of that creation man stood in covenant relation to God. The covenant was not something additional, but it was given with the very creation of Adam after the image of God. It is true that in that relation Adam was servant. It was God who placed him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and to keep it. He also imposed upon him the so-called probationary command, and by it God placed Adam before the antithesis and threatened him with death in case he would violate that command and trample under foot God’s covenant. Although all this is a manifestation of the covenant relation, the covenant itself was given with Adam’s creation after the image of God. In that image Adam possessed the necessary creaturely likeness which is the basis of all covenant relation. Because of that likeness he was capable of hearing the word of God not only through the speech of God in creation, but also through the speech of God with him as a friend with his friend.

By virtue of that image, he was capable of knowing God and of entering into his secrets, of tasting his favor and of considering that favor as the highest good. Through that image he could know the will of his God and consider the keeping of his commandments his highest good. Through that image he could love the Lord his God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength, and consecrate himself to the living God with the whole creation over which he had received dominion. Not only was he capable of doing all this by virtue of his being created after the image of God, but he also functioned in that covenant relation from the very moment of his creation. The covenant of God with Adam, therefore, was not an additional agreement, but was undoubtedly the living relation of friendship in which the first man stood to his God by virtue of his being created after God’s own image.

When Adam violated the covenant of God by willful disobedience, and God maintained his covenant in Christ Jesus, the idea of the covenant did not change. The covenant remained the living, eternal relation of friendship, which is possible because in Christ his people again become conformed to the image of God. God maintains his covenant in spite of and even through sin. He establishes his covenant in Christ, and in him that covenant can never be destroyed or abolished. In Christ he realizes his covenant in the highest possible sense in the incarnated Word.

The fall of Adam must serve to make room for Christ and for the better covenant, but the idea of the covenant is not changed. God is one, and his covenant is one. In the very first revelation of that covenant, God put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Positively speaking, that enmity, which was established by God himself, was the friendship of God. Here, too, we must note that there is no mention of any contract or agreement.

The covenant is of God. He establishes it and announces that he will be eternally faithful to his own covenant. By God’s putting enmity between man and the serpent and his seed, man is received once more into God’s covenant and becomes of the party of the living God in the midst of the world. Even as the friendship of the world is enmity against God, so also is the enmity against the serpent and his seed the same as the friendship of God.

The same thought occurs repeatedly in Holy Writ. We read that Enoch walked with God (Gen. 5:22), that Noah walked with God (Gen. 6:9), and that with Noah God established his covenant (v. 18). This walking with God did not consist in a certain mystical, unspeakable experience, but in the clear consciousness of the covenant according to which Enoch and Noah were friends of God, knew him, served him, kept his commandments, confessed his name, and walked before him in uprightness in the midst of an ungodly world that apostatized from the living God.

Jehoshaphat called Abraham the friend of God. When the news was brought to Jehoshaphat that a veritable host of Moabites and Ammonites were coming against him to battle, he stood in the house of the Lord before the new court and prayed,

O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee? Art not thou our God, who didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend for ever? (II Chron. 30:6, 7).

Concerning Abraham’s friendship with God, we read also in Isaiah 41:8: “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.” Again, in James 2:23: “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.”

To Abraham the Lord said, “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). To Abraham the Lord revealed the secret thoughts of his heart:

And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him (Gen. 18:17–19).


34. God’s Dwelling with His People

In addition, the relation of God to his covenant people is usually indicated by the words to dwell. God dwells with and among his people. He makes his dwelling place with them, and they dwell with him. This denotes fellowship and friendship. It means that God eats and drinks with his friends, lives intimately with them, has no secrets from them, and causes them to taste his love and the blessedness of his house.

The shadow of this was found in the tabernacle and later in the temple. Thus the Lord commanded emphatically: “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). This same idea is found in Exodus 29:42–46:

This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD: where I will meet you, to speak there unto thee. And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory. And I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar: I will sanctify also both Aaron and his sons, to minister to me in the priest’s office. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I am the LORD their God.

This dwelling of God among his people had its shadow not only in the Lord’s representing himself in the holy of holies, but also in Israel’s constructing the tabernacle and later the temple itself. In the holy of holies the Lord dwelt between the cherubim, but in the holy place the people themselves dwelt symbolically. There were the altar of incense, the golden candlestick, and the table of showbread, which were symbols of the people of God under the old dispensation. Although the temple of the old covenant certainly proclaimed that the way into the inner sanctuary was not yet opened, it was nevertheless a very clear foreshadowing of the idea of the covenant, God’s dwelling under one roof with his people.

Of this dwelling of God with his people, Scripture speaks repeatedly: “LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart” (Ps. 15:1, 2); “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple” (Ps. 65:4). Therefore, Christ has ascended on high and led captivity captive and received gifts for men: “Yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them” (Ps. 68:18).

How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee (Ps. 86:1–4).


35. The Fulfillment of the Covenant in Christ

This dwelling of God with his people is centrally fulfilled in the incarnation of the Word and is further realized through the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, through his entering into the inner sanctuary above, and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the church. In Christ the covenant of God is centrally realized: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). In Christ the covenant of friendship that God establishes with his people is eternally fixed, for he is Immanuel, God with us, who in his person unites the divine nature with us and in whom dwells all the fullness of God bodily.

For that reason he is centrally the servant of the Lord who is placed over the whole house of God. In his blood the covenant of God is founded on righteousness and truth, and therefore that blood is the blood of the new covenant. In his resurrection the covenant of God is glorified and raised to the height of glory that was never before known. For 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” (I Cor. 15:46–49). When Christ is exalted in the highest heavens and has received the promise of the Holy Spirit, he returns to his own and dwells by his Spirit in his church.


36. The Covenant and the Church

The church has become the temple of the living God. The veil is rent, the way into the inner sanctuary has been opened, and the church enters into the most intimate friendship with the living God. The sacerdotal prayer of Christ is fulfilled:

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me (John 17:21–23).

This dwelling of God with his people is symbolized in the supper of the Lord, for there can be no doubt that the Lord’s supper certainly consists in their sitting at the table of the Lord and in dwelling in his house, in eating and drinking with the God of their salvation. Through the communion with his body and blood, God’s people enter into the covenant of friendship.

For that reason the church is commanded:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty (II Cor. 6:14–18).

Therefore, Christ always stands at the door of the church to invite the true church to open the door for him and to separate from the false church: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:20).


37. The Final Realization of the Covenant

In this world that covenant relation, although perfect in principle, is still very imperfect in reality. It stands in the sign of a struggle. In the covenant the church is of the party of the living God and through God’s grace fights his battles. Hence she must put on the whole armor of God and watch unto prayer in order that she may resist and stand even unto the end (Eph. 6:13; I Pet, 4:7). It is given of grace in the cause of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer with him. Nevertheless, in all this she is more than conqueror through him who loved her, for never can anything separate her from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus her Lord (Rom. 8:37–39).

Presently, the complete victory is granted unto her. In the house of her Father there are many mansions, and Christ has entered in to prepare a place for her. When he has prepared a place for her, he shall come again in order that she may also be where he is (John 14:1–3). Presently, the new heavens and the new earth will appear when the first heaven and the first earth shall have passed away, and the sea shall be no more; then the holy city, the New Jerusalem, shall come down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband; and then shall be heard the word of the final realization of God’s covenant:

Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away (Rev. 21:1–4).

From all this it is perfectly evident that the deepest thought of Scripture is not that the covenant of God is a certain agreement between two parties, but that the covenant is in the fullest sense of God alone. It is also plain that the idea and the very essence of the covenant are not found in a certain agreement or pact, but in the living and most intimate communion of friendship, in our being received into the life of friendship which is in God himself, the life which he as the Triune eternally lives in himself. Of that covenant life of God, his covenant with us in Christ is the highest and most beautiful manifestation; in the revelation of that covenant life of God, his covenant with us has at the same time its highest purpose, for of him, through him, and unto him are all things, in order that his might be the glory forever and ever.

It is then evident that the covenant of God may not be presented as a mere way of salvation or as a way unto life, but as the highest possible form of all life and bliss itself. For that reason the covenant of God is an eternal covenant. If we would speak of a pactum salutis or a counsel of peace, it is certainly necessary that we do not lose sight of this essential idea of the covenant. In the covenant of redemption or the counsel of peace, the covenant may not be presented as something incidental, but as the highest purpose of God’s revelation around which all things in the counsel of God concentrate themselves and unto which they are all adapted.


38. The Correct Conception of the Pactum Salutis

How, then, must we conceive of what is usually called the pactum salutis, which I prefer to name the counsel of peace? It has become plain that this counsel of peace cannot be the same as the covenant life of God himself, God’s covenant life is indeed the basis for the counsel of peace, but it is not the counsel of peace itself. God’s being and his counsel are to be distinguished. God’s being is what he is in himself. The counsel of God represents that which, with absolute freedom and sovereignty, he determines and wills. Surely his counsel is always in harmony with his being, but it cannot, without anything further, be derived from the being of God immediately. God’s counsel is his free and sovereign decree. If, therefore, we can speak of a counsel of peace, this counsel may not be identified with the covenant life in the triune God himself.

Nor (as we have shown) may this counsel be identified with the covenant as God establishes it with his servant and with the elect church in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is what is usually designated as the covenant of grace, but it must be distinguished from the counsel of peace. The covenant of grace is not the counsel of peace itself, but rather the revelation and realization of it. In the covenant of grace, Christ appears as man in his human nature, and as man he can have no participation in the decree of the triune God. Therefore, if mention can be made of a counsel of peace, then that counsel of peace must lie between the triune life of God, which is the basis of all covenant relation with men, and the covenant established with Christ and his own as the friend-servants of God. In other words, the counsel of peace must be the decree concerning the covenant.

Bearing this in mind and remembering at the same time that the covenant may not be conceived in an infralapsarian sense, as a means to an end, but that it is itself the purpose and end of all things in the works of God outside of himself, we would define the counsel of peace as the eternal decree of God to reveal his own triune covenant life in the highest possible sense in the establishment and realization of a covenant outside of himself with the creature in the way of sin and grace, of death and redemption, to the glory of his holy name.

In other words, the counsel of peace, which we can also call simply the counsel of the covenant, is the eternal will or the eternal decree of God to reveal himself as the God who lives in himself a perfect covenant life of friendship, to do this by receiving a people into his covenant communion and by making them partakers in a creaturely way and according to the measure of the creature in his own covenant life, and thus to cause them to taste that the Lord is good. This is the all-dominating element in God’s eternal good pleasure, to which all other elements must be made subservient.


39. The Counsel of Peace and the Decrees of God

In the light of this presentation, it will be plain that the counsel of predestination follows logically upon the counsel of peace or the counsel of the covenant. The counsel of predestination serves the counsel of the covenant even as the counsel of providence serves the counsel of predestination. Usually the presentation is different. When one looks upon the idea of the covenant as an agreement to redeem some, and therefore as a way unto salvation, it follows that the counsel of peace receives a subordinate place in the decrees of God. Then the counsel of peace serves election, and everything in the decrees of God is turned about. The counsel concerning creation, the permission of the fall in the decree, and predestination—with election and reprobation—all precede the counsel of peace. The counsel of peace is nothing else than the agreement among the three persons of the holy Trinity to save the elect, and the so-called pactum salutis is nothing else than a means to the salvation of the elect, a way in which that salvation is being realized.

According to our presentation, in which the idea of the covenant occupies an all-dominating place, the relationships are different. God lives a perfect covenant life in himself as the triune God. He decrees eternally to glorify himself and therefore to reveal himself as the covenant God. He determines to impart his own covenant life, and thus to make himself known in the glory and blessedness of that covenant life, outside of himself. To do this the triune God ordains the Son to become mediator. Through him God’s covenant shall be revealed outside of himself (ad extra), and in him the covenant life of God shall dwell centrally. The triune God in the decree of the covenant has given the kingdom to his dear Son,

In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven (Col. 1:14–20).

We cannot enter into a detailed explanation of this exalted passage, in which we have a panorama of the one great work of God as he has conceived and willed it in his eternal good pleasure, as he realizes it in time in creation and recreation, and as he will present it in the new heavens and the new earth, in which righteousness shall dwell. But it is necessary to call attention to some of its main elements.

First, it ought to be very clear that in this passage the work of God in creation and regeneration or recreation is viewed from the standpoint of God’s eternal good pleasure. God’s work is presented here from the viewpoint of his eternal good pleasure as we shall see it only when his work is finally fulfilled. It is plain that in time not Christ but Adam is the firstborn of every creature. But it is the Father’s good pleasure that in Christ (not Adam) shall all the fullness dwell.

Second, it is plain that in this passage mention is made not of the Son as the second person in the Trinity, but of the Son as the mediator of God’s covenant, because of the Son according to his divine nature it cannot be said that he is the firstborn of every creature. This expression certainly must be explained in light of the similar expression in verse 18, “the firstborn from the dead.” In other words, even as the expression “firstborn from the dead” gives him a place with the dead, out of which he appears as the firstborn, so the expression “firstborn of every creature” assigns him a place with the creatures. It is not proper to say of the Son in his divine nature that he is the firstborn of every creature. According to his divine nature he is not the firstborn, but the only-begotten. As the Son he does not belong with the creatures, but he is the “wholly other.” As Son he is not in time, but he is the eternal one.

Also from the rest of this passage, it is evident that Scripture does not speak here of the Son in the divine nature, but of the Christ or of the Son as he has been ordained in the eternal good pleasure of the triune God to become mediator. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the head of the body, that is, of the church, the beginning, the firstborn of the dead. Through the blood of his cross God made peace and reconciled all things unto himself, both that are in heaven and that are in earth. There can be no doubt, then, that the passage speaks of the Son as he was ordained in the decree of the triune God to be Lord and Christ.

Third, it is evident that this ordination of the Son through the triune God is first in the decrees of God concerning all his works outside of himself (ad extra) and follows in logical order immediately upon the counsel of the covenant, God’s eternal decree to reveal himself in all the glory of his covenant life. This alone can be the proper explanation of Colossians 1:14–20. It is the Father’s good pleasure that in Christ should all fullness dwell, that through him all the glory of the covenant life would radiate outside of God, for Christ is the beginning, and as the beginning he is the firstborn from the dead.

This sounds strange indeed when we try to explain these words from the viewpoint of history. From a historical viewpoint, not death and the resurrection from the dead are the beginning, but creation is. However, Colossians 1 does not speak about history but about the good pleasure of the Father, that is, of the triune God. In that good pleasure of the Father, that which is the end of history is the beginning in the decree. That end is not creation but recreation. It is not Adam but Christ. All things in heaven and in earth, united in Christ and reconciled to God: that is the end! Of that end Christ as the firstborn of the dead is exactly the beginning in the counsel of God. That end is first in God’s good pleasure. The Son is ordained as the firstborn from the dead in order that in him should all fullness dwell. Thus in the counsel of God and as the firstborn from the dead, the Son is also the firstborn of every creature. He is before Adam, not only in order of time, but also in the logical sense. In the counsel of God all creatures follow upon the one who is raised from the dead, the beginning.

The beginning in the firstborn from the dead is not repair work of the beginning in Adam. Rather, Adam was so ordained in the counsel of God that all things were adapted to the one who is the firstborn from the dead. Around him in whom, according to the Father’s good pleasure, all things must be united, in whom even the fullness of the Godhead would dwell bodily, everything is concentrated unto the realization of God’s covenant. Not creation, not the fall, not the church, not the predestination of the elect, not even the incarnation, not the cross, are first in the good pleasure of God. But the firstborn from the dead, the glorified Christ, is first. He is the firstborn of every creature, the beginning.

You can perhaps call this supralapsarianism. I will not deny it. You may object, perhaps, that our confessions are infralapsarian. Again, I will admit it. But I will add immediately that although the supralapsarian conception was not adopted in the confessions, neither was it condemned. Everyone will have to admit that the presentation offered above is certainly founded on Holy Writ. He who thinks that this is not true ought to try to give a different explanation of Colossians 1:14–20 from the one offered above.

This is not the only passage of Scripture which we should be able to adduce as proof for the scriptural correctness of our conception. Ephesians 1:1–12, for instance, offers basically the same thought as Colossians 1:14–20. Also in this passage everything concentrates around the mystery of God’s will which he had made known unto us, according to which in the dispensation of the fullness of God he wants to gather together under one head all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in the earth. Only in this manner have we, who have been predestinated before the foundation of the world, obtained an inheritance to the praise of his glory.

Christ is the beginning. In him and through him God realizes his covenant. The fullness of God in Christ must, however, radiate a thousandfold: the covenant life of God in all its fullness as it is in Christ Jesus must scintillate and become manifest in and through the hearts of a multitude as innumerable as the stars of heaven and as the sand by the seashore. The unity of the fullness of God in Christ can only come to manifestation in the highest possible sense in the variety and differentiation of the many. Hence in God’s decree of the covenant and upon his election of the Christ, the election of the church follows immediately.


40. The Covenant and Predestination

Reprobation is immediately connected with election but cannot be placed on a par with election. Reprobation follows election, and reprobation serves election. Reprobation has its motive in the divine will to realize the covenant in the antithetical way of sin and grace. The fullness of the Godhead dwells in the resurrected Christ. From the depth of misery and death, Christ enters into the glory of the full covenant life of God. This way from suffering to glory, from sin to the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven from death unto life, the church must follow. As the church follows this way, the reprobate shell of the human organism serves the church in Christ. In the shell of reprobation the elect kernel becomes ripe. For that reason reprobation cannot be put on the same line with election.

Election is the divine foreordination of the one church with its millions of elect, unto the salvation of the life of God’s covenant in Christ. The church serves Christ. The elect church is given to Christ as his body. She must serve to manifest and radiate in a thousandfold way the glory that is in Christ Jesus, which is the glory of God. For that reason the elect are those who are given by the Father to Christ. Those who are given form one unity. All that (in the singular) the Father giveth me shall come unto me; and they (in the plural) that come unto me I will in no wise cast out (John 6:37).

This is the teaching of Scripture. Against this presentation it has been objected that the word election is a translation of the Greek ἐκλέγειν (eklegein), which really means “to choose out.” From this it is argued that if it is possible to speak of election or of choosing out, then the multitude out of which the choice is made must be presupposed to exist. Applied to eternal election, this would mean that in God’s decree the multitude of men out of which God elects his people must precede election itself. It is concluded that in the counsel of God the decree of creation and the permission of the fall certainly must precede the decree of predestination. Hence God has chosen out of a multitude of fallen men.

Behind this presentation undoubtedly lies the good intention of not making God the author of sin. We may remark, first, that it must indeed be far from us to make God the author of sin. It is, however, an entirely different question whether or not God must be presented as the decreeing cause of the fact of the fall and the fact of sin. If we do not wish to dethrone God and to present God and sin as a dualism, we certainly must maintain that God is the decreeing cause of the fact of sin.

Second, the infralapsarian, despite all his good intentions, does not ultimately solve the problem of sin in relation to God any more than the supralapsarian does. Also the infralapsarian will have to give to sin a place in the decree of God.

Regarding the reasoning from the word ἐκλέγειν (eklegein—to elect), we may say that it rests on a misunderstanding. This misunderstanding is that one applies to God what is applicable only to men. When men elect, nothing comes into existence thereby. Men can only make distinction and separation. Hence when men choose, that out of which the choice is made must first exist. But with God this is exactly the opposite. With him election is causal, creative, divine.

This distinction is the same as that between the divine word and the human word. God’s word is creative. That word is first. The thing that comes into existence through the word follows. The word of man can only be an imitation of the word of God. Before man can ever speak, the created thing must first have come into existence by the word of God. The same is true of election. When God in his decree chooses out, then through that decree the differentiation or the differentiated multitude comes into existence. In other words, the election of God is first of all foreordained unto salvation and the glory of the covenant life in Christ.

Thus it is in Scripture. In another connection we have already pointed to the fact that Scripture speaks of an election before the foundation of the word: “he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). This does not mean that this “before the foundation of the world” is simply before the world or before the foundation of the world in time. Eternity, in which lies the decree of God, does not precede time but is far above time; it is no time.

Besides, Scripture often speaks of the fact that God knows his people:

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified (Rom. 8:29, 30).

In I Peter 1:2 we read: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”

This foreknowledge of God cannot and may not be explained in a human way, as the Arminian wants to explain it. Then we get the idea of a prescience of God, of a seeing from eternity who will and who will not believe in Christ and persevere unto the end, and of an election founded upon this foreknowledge. According to such a presentation, what is applicable only to human knowledge is applied to God. Rather, this foreknowledge of God is a creative knowing of love, by which the object itself comes to stand before God, and the stream of sovereign love eternally proceeds to it. Only in this light can we understand a passage such as Isaiah 43:4: “Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.” In the same light must we see Isaiah 49:16: “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.”

This, then, is the conclusion of the matter concerning God’s covenant: God wants to reveal his own glorious covenant life unto us; as the triune God he ordains his Son to be Christ and Lord, the firstborn of every creature, the first begotten of the dead, the glorified one, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead; unto this end he ordains the church and gives her unto Christ, and he elects by name all those who in the church will have a place forever, in order that the one fullness (πλήρωμαplērōma) of Christ may scintillate in a thousandfold variation in the church to the praise of his glory. Around that Christ and his church and that purpose of the revelation of the glory of God’s covenant life, all things in time and in everlasting eternity concentrate. The end of it all is that we fall down in adoration before that glorious sovereign God and exclaim,

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be gory for ever. Amen (Rom. 11:33–36).


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FOOTNOTES:

1.     Petrus van Mastricht, Beschouwende en Praktikale Godgeleerdheit (Theoretical and Practical Divinity), trans. Cornelius Vander Kemp, 4 vols. (Rotterdam: Hendrik van Pelt, 1749), vol. 2, 373 (author’s translation)

2.     Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George M. Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, 3 vols. (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 19921997), vol. 2, 12.2.12, 177.

3.     Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, trans. Bartel Elshout, 4 vols. (Ligonier: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992–1995), vol. 1, 252.
4.     Ibid., 253.

5.     Ibid., 254.

6.     Ibid., 255.

7.     Ibid., 252.

8.     Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), vol. 2, 3.2, §4, 359, 360.

9.     Geerhardus Vos, Systematische Theologie: Compendium (Compendium of Systematic Theology) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 76.

10.   Ibid., 76, 77.

11.   Ibid., 77.

12.   Ibid., 78.

13.   H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek (Reformed Dogmatics), 4 vols. (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1976), vol. 3, 192194.

14.   Ibid., 194, 195.

15.   Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 265ff.

16.   Abraham Kuyper, Dictaten Dogmatiek (Dictated Dogmatics), 2nd ed., 5 vols. (Grand Rapids: Sevensma, n. d.), vol. 3, Locus de Foedere, §5, 81 (author’s translation).

17.   Ibid., 82.

18.   Ibid., 82.

19.   Ibid., 84, 85.

20.   Ibid., 86 (author’s translation).

21.   Ibid., 80, 81 (author’s translation).

22.   H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, vol. 3, 194 (author’s translation).

23.   Abraham Kuyper, Uit Het Woord (From the Word), 6 vols. (Höveker & Wormser, Amsterdam, n. d.), vol. 5, 13 (author’s translation).

24.   Ibid., 14, 15.


25.   “Yea, the secret of Jehovah is with those who fear his Name; With his friends in tender mercy he his covenant will maintain.” The Psalter with Doctrinal Standards, Liturgy, Church Order, and added Chorale Section. Reprinted and revised edition of the 1912 United Presbyterian Psalter (PRC) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), No. 415:7. 

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