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Sermon 3: The Covenant of Redemption

Our eternal happiness was before them, and our everlasting concerns were in their hands. The elect (not yet in existence) are here considered as existing and as fallen and miserable creatures. The business before the Father and the Son is how we may be restored to happiness without prejudice to God’s honor, justice, and truth.

by John Flavel on June 06, 2020

Sermon 3: The Covenant of Redemption

“Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12).

The subject of Isaiah 53 is Christ’s death and its glorious result. Though He suffered grievously, it was not for His own sins: “he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth” (v. 9). Rather, He suffered in His capacity as a surety for us: “The lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (v. 6). It is plainly asserted that He came to stand in this capacity by compact and agreement with His Father before the world was made (vv. 10–12). In our verse, we see two things.

First, Christ’s work: “he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for transgressors.” It was indeed a hard work for Him to pour out His soul unto death. It was aggravated by His companions, in that “he was numbered with the transgressors.”

Second, Christ’s reward: “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.” This is an allusion to conquerors in war, for whom are reserved the richest garments and most honorable captives (Isa. 45:14).

Some say Christ’s work has no other relation to His reward than that of an antecedent to a consequent. Others say His work is a meritorious cause of His reward. I do not see any absurdity in calling Christ’s exaltation the reward and fruit of His humiliation. The Father here promises to give Him this reward, if He will undertake the redemption of the elect by pouring out His soul unto death.

Doctrine: The business of man’s salvation was transacted upon covenant terms between the Father and the Son in all eternity.

This covenant of redemption differs from the covenant of grace in several ways. (1) They differ in their persons. In the covenant of redemption it is the Father and the Son who mutually covenant, whereas in the covenant of grace it is God and us. (2) They differ in their precepts. The covenant of redemption requires Christ to shed His blood, whereas the covenant of grace requires us to believe. (3) They differ in their promises. In the covenant of redemption God promises to Christ a name above every name and dominion from sea to sea, whereas in the covenant of grace He promises to us grace and glory. These are two distinct covenants.

The substance of the covenant of redemption is expressed in Isaiah 49, where Christ begins by revealing His commission, explaining how His Father had called Him and prepared Him for the work of redemption (vv. 1–2). The Father then offers to Christ the elect of Israel for His reward (v. 3). But Christ is not satisfied with these and, therefore, He complains, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for naught” (v. 4). This is but a small reward for so great a suffering as He must undergo. His blood is worth much more than this. It is sufficient to redeem all the elect dispersed among the Gentiles as well as the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Father responds by telling Him that He intends to reward Him better than this: “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 to the ends of the earth” (v. 6). Thus, the covenant is carried on between them, transacting it after the manner of men. For the better understanding of this covenant, I will consider six points.

The Persons

The persons transacting with each other in this covenant are God the Father and God the Son. The first functions as a Creditor, and the second as a Surety. The Father requires satisfaction, while the Son engages to give it. Christ is the natural Son of God and, therefore, most fit to make us the adopted sons of God.

The Business

The business transacted between the Father and the Son was the redemption of all God’s elect. Our eternal happiness was before them, and our everlasting concerns were in their hands. The elect (not yet in existence) are here considered as existing and as fallen and miserable creatures. The business before the Father and the Son is how we may be restored to happiness without prejudice to God’s honor, justice, and truth.

The Manner

The manner of the transaction was federal (or, covenantal). In other words, it was by mutual engagements and stipulations, each person undertaking to perform His part in order to secure our recovery. The Father promises to hold His Son’s hand and keep Him (Isa. 42:6). The Son promises to obey His Father’s call to suffer (Isa. 50:5). Having made these promises, each holds the other to His engagement. The Father requires the satisfaction that was promised to Him. When Christ is making the payment, the Father does not abate anything of the full price: “God spared not his own Son” (Rom. 8:32). As the Father stood strictly upon the terms of the covenant, so did Christ: “I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify me with thine own self” (John 17:4–5). It is as if He had said, “Father, the work is done. Now where are the wages I was promised?”

The Articles

Here we will consider the articles (or, promises) to which they both agree. The Father promises to do five things for Christ.

First, He promises to invest Him and anoint Him to a threefold office, answerable to the misery that lay upon the elect. The guilt of our sin must be expiated, our blindness of mind must be cured, and our bondage to sin must be broken. Therefore, God must make Christ unto us “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). He is made so to us as our Prophet, Priest, and King. Christ could not put Himself into any of these offices without a commission to act authoritatively. For this reason, the Father promises to seal Him with a threefold commission: He promises to invest Him with an eternal and royal Priesthood (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:16–17, 24–25); He promises to make Him a Prophet (Isa. 42:6–7); and He promises to make Him a King of the whole empire of the world (Ps. 2:6–8). Thus, the Father promises to qualify and furnish Christ completely for the work of redemption by His investiture with this threefold office.

Second, the Father promises to stand by Christ, and assist and strengthen Him for His difficult work (Isa. 42:5–7). He promises to support His humanity, when it is weighed down with the burden that was to come upon it (Mark 14:34). Indeed, Christ’s humanity needed a support of no less strength than the infinite power of the Godhead.

Third, the Father promises to crown Christ’s work with success (Isa. 53:10). Christ will not shed His invaluable blood upon hazardous terms, but He will see and reap its sweet fruits.

Fourth, the Father promises to accept Christ in His work. “I shall be glorious in the eyes of the lord” (Isa. 49:5). Here Christ expresses His faith in His Father’s promise. Accordingly, the Father manifests His satisfaction in Him and His work. While Christ was on the earth, there came a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17; 17:5).

Fifth, the Father promises to reward Christ for His work by exalting Him to supreme glory and honor. “I will declare the decree: the lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (Ps. 2:7). These words are spoken of the day of His resurrection, when He finished His suffering (Acts 13:32–33). At that time, the Father wiped away the reproach of His cross, and invested Him with such glory that He looked like Himself again.

These are the encouragements which the Father proposed and promised to His Son. This was the “joy that was set before him” whereby Christ so patiently “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2.)

In like manner, Christ gives His engagement to the Father. He is content to be made flesh, to divest Himself of His glory, to come under the obedience and malediction of the law, and to submit to the hardest sufferings it should please His Father to inflict on Him (Isa. 50:5–7). When He says, “I was not rebellious,” He means that He was heartily willing and content to accept the terms. The sense of this place is well delivered to us in Psalm 40:6–10.

The Performance

Having consented, the Son applied Himself to the discharge of His work. He took a body, fulfilled all righteousness (Matt. 3:15), and made His soul an offering for sin. As a result, He could say, “I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4). Christ went through all the parts of His active and passive obedience, cheerfully and faithfully. The Father made good His engagements to Christ with no less faithfulness. He promised to assist Him and support Him, and so He did (Luke 22:43). He promised to accept Him in His work (that He should be glorious in His eyes), and so He did (Luke 3:22). He promised Him that “he should see his seed,” and so He did, for ever since then His blood has been fruitful in the world. He promised to reward Him and exalt Him, and so He did (Phil. 2:9–11).

The Timing

This compact between the Father and the Son was made in eternity. Before He made the world, His delight was in Him. When we had no existence (except in the infinite mind and purpose of God), He gave us this grace of redemption in Christ (2 Tim. 1:9).

The Use

Lesson 1

It offers abundant assurance of our salvation. God made the covenant of redemption with Christ for us, and it is the foundation of the covenant of grace. God’s promise is security enough for our faith, but His covenant of grace adds an additional security. When we look at the covenant of grace, we do not question God’s performance, but we often stumble at the great defects in our performance. But, when we look at the covenant of redemption, there is nothing to stagger our faith. Both of the persons involved (the Father and the Son) are infinitely able and faithful to perform their parts. There is no possibility of failure. When puzzled and perplexed, we turn our eyes away from the defects in our obedience to the fulness and completeness of Christ’s obedience. We see ourselves complete in Him, when most defective in ourselves.

Lesson 2

It informs us that the Father and the Son mutually rely upon one another in the business of our redemption. The Father relies upon the Son for the performance of His part (Isa. 42:1). The Father so trusted Christ that, upon the credit of His promise to come into the world and to become a sacrifice for the elect, He saved all the Old Testament saints (Heb. 11:39–40). As the Father relied upon and trusted Christ, so Christ relied upon and trusted His Father. Having performed His part, and departed the world, He now trusts His Father for the accomplishment of His promise: “he shall see his seed” (Isa. 53:10). He depends upon His Father for all the elect, that He will preserve them unto the heavenly kingdom (John 17:11).

Lesson 3

It infers the unquestionable success of Christ’s intercession in heaven for believers. “He ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). His blood “speaketh better things” for them (Heb. 12:24). Because of the covenant of redemption, it is certain that Christ’s blood will obtain that for which it pleads in heaven. What He now asks of His Father is the very thing which His Father promised Him before the world began. Whatever He asks for us is as due to Him as the wages of the laborer when his work is done. If the work is done, and done faithfully, as the Father has acknowledged it is, then the reward is due immediately. There is no doubt that He will receive it from the hands of a righteous God. 

Lesson 4

It instructs us as to the consistency of grace with full satisfaction to the justice of God. We are saved “according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Jesus Christ before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9). That is to say, it was given to us according to the gracious terms of the covenant of redemption. However, God still requires satisfaction from Christ. Grace to us and satisfaction to God’s justice are not inconsistent. What was a debt to Christ is grace to us. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ” (Rom. 3:24).

Lesson 5

It informs us of the antiquity of God’s love for believers. He loved us, provided for us, and contrived all our happiness, before we existed. We reap the fruit of this covenant in the present, but its seed was sown from eternity. It is not only ancient but free, for there was nothing in us to engage God’s love because we did not yet exist.

Lesson 6

It informs us that it is reasonable for believers to embrace the hardest terms of obedience to Christ. He complied with such hard terms for our salvation. If He had not poured out His soul to death, He would not have enjoyed one of us. When they struck this bargain, we can imagine them saying:

Father: My Son, here are poor miserable souls who have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to My justice. Justice demands satisfaction for them, or else it will satisfy itself in their eternal ruin. What will be done for these souls?

Son: O, My Father, such is My love and pity for them that I will be responsible for them as their Surety. Show Me what they owe You. You may require it at My hand. I choose to suffer Your wrath rather than see them suffer it. Father, may all their debt be upon Me!

Father: But, my Son, if You undertake this for them, You must pay every debt. There will be no abatements. If I spare them, I will not spare You.

Son: Father, let it be so. Charge it all to Me! I am able to discharge it. Although it impoverishes all My riches and empties all My treasures (2 Cor. 8:9), I am content to do it.

O, how can we shrink at a few petty difficulties, and complain that it is too hard and harsh for us? If we knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in His wonderful condescension for us, we could not do it.

Lesson 7

It infers that we should make certain that we are among the number which the Father and the Son agreed to save, that we were comprehended in Christ’s engagement and compact with the Father. We may know this without ascending into heaven or prying into unrevealed secrets, for all whom the Father gave to Christ believe that the Father sent Christ (John 17:8). We know God in Christ (John 17:6, 25). We belong to another world (John 17:16; Gal. 6:14; Heb. 11:13–14). We keep His Word (John 17:6); that is to say, we receive its sanctifying effects and influences into our hearts whereby we persevere in the profession and practice of it to the end (John 17:17). These are the persons whom the Father delivered to Christ, and He accepted from the Father, in this blessed covenant.

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