The Atonement in Context of Covenant Theology

Jeffrey Waddington Articles
Preliminary Remarks

I have been enraptured with the cross of Christ ever since I was drawn to Christ by his Holy Spirit working faith in me over 25 years ago.  Ever since then I have come to an ever increasing awareness of the centrality of the cross for the Christian faith and for my own Christian walk.[1]   My interest in the death of Christ took a tremendous step forward in the winter of 1987 when I obtained a copy of John Stott's magisterial The Cross of Christ.[2]   It was this book that convinced me of the centrality of the penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement and, perhaps, planted the seeds that brought me to the Reformed faith.
More recently, penal substitutionary atonement has been at the center of controversy.  Over in the UK Steve Chalke and Alan Mann published a popular book entitled The Lost Message of Jesus [3] in which the comment was made that penal substitutionary atonement was "cosmic child abuse."  Understandably, when the central doctrine of Evangelical Christianity [4] is characterized in such a manner, controversy is bound to erupt.  And erupt it did.  Anglican Bishop of Durham N. T. Wright came to the defense of Chalk and Mann and was answered in the volume Pierced For Our Transgressions [5]  which was published by faculty of Oak Hill College in London, the Evangelical Anglican training center for clergy.  In order to bring unity to the now fragmented Evangelical community in the UK, the Evangelical Alliance sponsored a colloquium, the papers of which are now available as The Atonement Debate. [6]   This controversy is, of course, not limited to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.  Evangelicals in the US have called into question the biblical basis of the teaching too. [7]  Therefore it is high time that the doctrine be examined and defended anew.
Thus it is that personal interest in the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, and a concern to defend and clearly explicate the doctrine in the midst of controversy has brought us to this point.  This series will attempt to elucidate the penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement in terms of its place within Reformed covenant theology, its biblical basis, and its historical development.  By the end of the series I hope that you will be able to join with me and Isaac Watts in singing that anthem of praise for the sacrifice of our dear Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o'er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

The Big Picture

When I have the privilege of teaching about the atoning death of Jesus Christ, I always try to start out with some basic instruction about the systematic or interrelated nature of all doctrine.  Each and every doctrine impinges on each and every other doctrine.  This is not accidental.  I believe this characteristic of doctrine reflects both the coherent nature of our holy Triune God and the organic, unified nature of Scripture. [8]  In other words, doctrine that reflects Scripture is and ought to be interrelated or integrated.  I sometimes call this feature of doctrine the domino effect or jigsaw puzzle nature of doctrine.  These two metaphors get at the fact that doctrines are not islands which we can play with without having some bearing on other doctrines.  Like a pattern of dominoes, when we hit the first, the rest inevitably fall.  If we re-imagine a particular doctrine, that change will have echoes or repercussions throughout the remaining system of doctrine. [9]  If we reshape a doctrine, it will not fit back in its original location.  Doctrine interconnects.  Practically this means that our doctrines of God, man, sin, Christ, and redemption will affect and be affected by our doctrine of the atonement.  If we have a doctrine of God wherein we hold that God can forgive sin with a wink of the eye and a wave of the hand, our understanding of the atonement will differ widely from a view that holds that God is of such a holy nature that he must punish sin and must have his holiness satisfied.  That brings us to a consideration of the big picture into which the atonement must fit.

Reformed theologians have long recognized that the Bible teaches a system of doctrine and this is often referred to as covenant or federal theology.  Given the centrality of covenant theology to a Reformed understanding of the Bible, it ought to come as no surprise that the atonement must have an integral place in this covenant theology. [10]  Covenant theology recognizes both continuity and differentiation in God's dealings with his people in the history of redemption.  God was in control of the unfolding plan of redemption.  He has not been taken by surprise by anything we have done.  Sometimes I ask the provocative question, was God surprised by the fall?  Years ago (too many for me to care to remember!), when I was a teenager in a Bible study, I was asked whether God was surprised by the sin of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3).  I was pretty self-satisfied with what I thought was the correct answer.  Of course God was surprised.  Or so I thought.  I remember feeling quite embarrassed and red in the face when my teacher corrected me and told me in no uncertain terms that God was not taken by surprise by the disobedience of our first parents.  After all he knows the end from the beginning (see Isaiah 40:9-31; 41:4, 26; 42:5, 8-9; 44:6-8, 21-28, etc).  God has had a plan for both creation and the redemption of his people (Eph. 1:3-6, 11).  If I may put it this way, God is not like a little blond haired Dutch boy running around sticking his fingers in holes plugging leaks in dikes.  God is in control.

Central to the Bible's own understanding of God's unfolding plan of redemption is the covenant.   Various theologians have defined covenant in slightly different ways, but the heart of the covenant idea is that God has entered into relationship with his people by way of voluntary condescension. [11]   Reformed theologians recognize that there are three covenants with which we must reckon in a full-orbed covenant theology.  There is the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. [12]  The covenants we see mentioned in the Bible in the post-fall setting are forms of the covenant of grace-the covenant with Noah, Abraham, David, and with Christ.

The Covenant of Redemption

The covenant that takes place in eternity between the three members of the blessed Trinity is called the covenant of redemption.  Sometimes it is called the covenant of peace or more frequently it goes by its Latin name pactum salutis.  This covenant lays the foundation for the covenant of works and the covenant of grace which play out in history.  All three members are intimately involved in this covenant. [13]  In this covenant, the Father lovingly agrees to appoint the Son as the Mediator/Redeemer of a people whom he will save for himself (Psalm 2:1-12; 110:1-7).  The Son is Mediator of creation by virtue of his being God the Son (John 1:1-4; Heb. 1:1-4; 8:6; 9:15; 12:24; Col. 1:15-17; 2:9-10), but he voluntarily takes upon himself the role of Mediator of redemption (John 1:1-4; Heb. 1:1-4; Rom. 5:12-19; 1st Cor. 15; Phil. 2:5-11; Eph. 1:3-14; Col. 1:18-23; 1st Tim. 1:14, 2:5, 3:16; Rev. 1:5-6).  The Son agrees to accomplish salvation for his people and the Father promises the Son the reward of a glorious name and a people for himself and the Holy Spirit is promised to him whom he then can pour out on his people (John 20:19-23; Acts 2).   While the Son is equal to the Father in terms of his divine nature  (Phil. 2:6), he subordinates himself to the Father in his role as Mediator (Phil. 2:7-9) and in his incarnation and ministry he has come to do the will of the Father (John 17).

Specifically, the Son agrees to take to himself a human nature (the incarnation) and to live a perfectly holy life in complete obedience to the Father's will, thereby fulfilling the law and the covenant of works (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 1:19) and to die the death that we so richly deserve (1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18).  What we see going on here is significant for our understanding of the atonement.  Jesus Christ, by his death on the cross, brings about the justification of his people.  It happens this way:  When Adam fell he landed himself and his posterity in a double bind.  Adam, who owed perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience, now had to make satisfaction to God for breaking his law and he still owed perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience!  There was no way for Adam to get out of the impossible mess he created for himself and for us.  It was to address this mess that the Son agreed to become our Redeemer.

God the Holy Spirit agrees to anoint the incarnate Son, enabling him to fulfill his work of redemption and to take from what Christ has accomplished and apply it to believers (John 1:12; 3:3-8).  If it was not for the work of the Holy Spirit, all that Christ has done for us would be of no value to us. [14]  What we see here, then, is the foundation for redemption accomplished and applied.  It is important that we realize that redemption was not "plan B" but was planned for in eternity.  It is equally important that we recognize that each of the three members of the Triune Godhead were equally involved in the covenant of redemption and in the execution of this plan in history in the covenant of works and covenant of grace.  This will help us avoid a prevalent caricature of the atonement which pictures a Father who is reluctant to save sinners and a Son who desires to save sinners who somehow arm twists and cajoles the Father into grudging agreement.  And the covenant of redemption reminds us that the Holy Spirit is not a mere force but that he is the third person of the blessed Trinity. [15]

The Covenant of Works

If there is any doctrine that is under as much fire as penal substitution in our day it is the traditional teaching on the covenant of works.  This is the covenant which obtained in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam as our federal representative.  Sometimes this covenant is referred to as the covenant of nature as it was given with creation and at other times it is called the covenant of life with reference to its goal.  I shall have more to say about this goal in a few moments.  But let's briefly return to what I said about Adam being our federal representative or head.  What is that all about?  What do I mean when I call Adam a "federal representative"?  Perhaps a mundane illustration can assist us.  You may notice that when the president of the United States travels abroad he represents the people of the US.  What he does reflects on us as US citizens.  If he is praised, in a sense, we are praised.  If he is criticized, we too feel the embarrassment and shame of the criticism.  The President's relationship to the electorate is but a dim and feeble analogue to the relationship of Adam to his posterity.  Adam is the federal representative of the whole human race while he is in the garden of Eden (along with his wife Eve) and God appointed him to the role. [16]  So Adam is not only the father of the whole human race, he is also the representative for the whole human race before a holy God.

Let's return to a consideration of the covenant of works as a covenant of life or in its goal oriented aspect.  As we have already noted, God knew the end from the beginning.  That reality is reflected in the Garden of Eden too.  Another way of putting this is to say that the beginning and end of history form one whole plan.  And that plan would have taken effect whether or not the fall had occurred.  In fact, redemption is a matter of putting that eternal divine plan back on track.  Adam and Eve were created innocent.  However they had not yet arrived.  That is, God intended for Adam to advance to new heights of righteousness.  In fact, God intended for Adam to achieve confirmed or indefectible or immutable righteousness.  To put it another way, Adam and Eve still had work to do.  They still had eternal life to gain.  This marks off the Reformed and covenantal view of our first parents from other Christian traditions.  Many understand the garden scene to be one of utter perfection and so envision salvation as a mere return to the garden.   Not so the Reformed faith (and, I would argue, the Bible).  Adam had to earn eternal life. [17]

You may get a little nervous when you read that Adam still had to earn or merit eternal life.  But that is not necessary.  Remember, unlike us, Adam and Eve had no sinful nature to contend with as we do.  So we really can't use our own experience to gauge the "fairness" of the test God put Adam and Eve to in the garden.  I should also say that it is not the case that the reality God's fatherly relationship with Adam conflicts with this meritocracy.  Marriage is an example from everyday life where we find both relational and legal aspects side by side.  Remember also that Adam and Eve were made in the image of God and so were fully capable of obeying God whatever test he might put them through and for whatever reason he put them through it.  Besides, we are not talking about Adam meriting eternal life in an absolute sense.  Adam was in no position as a creature to put God in his debt.  Rather, God voluntarily entered into this covenant with man and offered eternal life open the passing of the "probation."  If I may put it this way, Adam can be said to merit eternal life by his finite obedience because God agreed to work it this way.  And since God is just and holy, he would be true to his commitment (although we sadly realize Adam was not true to his side of the deal).  So we see that Adam and Eve owed God personal, perpetual, and perfect obedience as his creatures.  

While Adam and Eve did owe this personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience to God, he did put them to the test in the garden when he commanded them to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God could have allowed the perpetuation of this situation, but in condescension he chose to allow Adam the opportunity to pass into a state of confirmed righteousness where he would have a title to his inheritance of eternal life.  But you may be asking yourselves this question:  where is the promise in the garden?  We see the command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but we see no promise of eternal life should Adam and Eve obey God.  The promise is indeed implicit.  Implicit or no, I believe it is there all the same.  Think about this.  1 Corinthians 15 is Paul's great resurrection chapter, right?  In that chapter, at verses 45 and following, Paul switches gears and it is possible that many of you missed that change.  Paul is talking about the resurrection body in contrast to the fallen flesh with its sinful desires.  But then we find a comparison/contrast being made between the resurrected Christ and the pre-fallen Adam.  It becomes clear that Adam had not achieved his full stature in the garden going into the test.  Adam could have been promoted as it were.  So there would have been an improvement in his condition even if Adam had been obedient. [18] In other words, had Adam obeyed God he would have advanced to a state of perfection where he could not have lost his righteousness.  And it is this state of grace that we all achieve when we come to faith in Christ, especially in the new heavens and the new earth.

But we know all too well that Adam and Eve did disobey God and were kicked out of the garden and cut off from access to the tree of life. [19]  Adam as our federal representative brought destruction upon himself and his posterity (i.e., all of us!).  Eve's sin was very serious indeed, but she was not the federal representative as was her husband Adam.  Paul tells us that Eve was deceived, but Adam sinned with his eyes wide open.  The fall resulted in several things.  First it resulted in Adam's guilt for his sin.  Then it resulted in his loss of original righteousness and holiness and therefore the corruption of his whole nature.  And the corrupt nature led to all kinds of actual transgressions.  The fall was serious business indeed.  So then, we may ask, what are the effects of the fall?  The effects can be helpfully grouped into two categories.  First, we are found guilty in the sight of God for breaking his commandments.  This also yields alienation.  Second, we experience pollution.  We are infected through the whole of our being by sin.  We are corrupt in every part.  We may not be as bad as we could be, but there is no part that is not bad.

Before we move on to consider the covenant of grace, let's stop for a moment and think about the condition Adam found himself in after the fall.  He and Eve were in a double bind.  It was an impossible situation indeed.  Remember, God did not change his mind about what he expected of his creatures because of the fall.  We don't find anywhere in Scripture the idea that God set aside what Jonathan Edwards called his "unchanging rule of righteousness."  Adam now owed God reparations or satisfaction for his disobedience and he still owed personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience.  But Adam was caught in a vicious cycle.  He still owed obedience but couldn't offer it because of his sinful nature and he owed reparation but was in no position to offer that either.  The picture looks pretty dark.  The future looks mighty dim.

However, God did not leave fallen man in the muck and mire in which he had landed himself.  In Genesis 3:15 we read what the Christian church early on recognized was the first promise of a coming Savior.  Right there in the midst of the dust and debris of a fallen world, right there in the middle of God's curse on Adam, Eve, and the serpent we see the glimmer of a promise.  In Genesis 3:15 we see the introduction of the covenant of grace.  But before we begin to consider that wonderful, stupendous, beyond words covenant of grace, let's stop again and consider these facts.  The covenant of works is still in force for those outside the covenant of grace and the covenant of grace is in force because our Lord, the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, fulfilled the covenant of works.  In other words, the covenant of grace is a gracious covenant for us because it was a covenant of works for Christ.  Consider, if you will, the results of the fall and how they set up the template for the redemptive work of Christ.  Christ came to fulfill the covenant of works and he did that by being obedient to the Father's will.  Another way of putting this is to say he obeyed the law perfectly or that he completely met the demands of the covenant of works.  Any one of these ways is fine.  All three of them together give us a full-orbed view of our Lord's life of obedience.  He also met the need for God's holiness to be satisfied by his death on the cross.  As Paul notes in Philippians 2, Jesus came in humble form and brought that humility to a culmination by his obedient death on the cross.  So the problem created by Adam and inherited by all of us has been addressed by Christ.  The atonement does indeed fit integrally into Reformed covenant theology.  But we are not done yet.  We still have to consider the covenant of grace.

The Covenant of Grace

God could have left man to his own well-deserved end.  However, in Genesis 3:15 we see that God planted a promise in the midst of a curse.  There would be two seeds from that time forward.  There would be the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. [20]  The seed of the woman would represent the people of God who would culminate in the seed, Jesus Christ, and there is the seed of the serpent, the city of man.  This city of earth would wage perpetual war against the seed of the woman.  And so it is to this day and will be so until the Lord returns.  The first tangible sign of grace is the killing of an animal whose skin will cover the fallen Adam and Eve and replace their self-chosen fig leaves.  That animal skin serves as a pointer to the ultimate covering to be found in the righteous robes found in Christ.

This unfolding plan of redemption that was formulated in eternity and would now be executed in history succeeds in bringing the recipients of grace to the place Adam would have attained had he been obedient in the garden, and this one plan would be operative in both the Old Testament and the New Testament eras.  In other words, there is only one covenant of grace.  While the Old Testament would be administered through types, sacrifices, and ceremonies and the New Testament through Christ, there was one covenant of grace.  The whole Old Testament points forward to Jesus Christ.  There is an ever narrowing focus to the covenant till it reaches its focal point in Jesus Christ after which the focus broadens to include believers from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

The various covenants that we find in the Bible, after the fall, are examples of the one covenant of grace.  These would include the covenant with Noah and the salvation he and his family experienced in the ark, the covenant with Abraham where he is promised that through his seed all the nations would be blessed, the covenant with Moses where God saved the Israelites from bandage in Egypt so they could worship him as he pleased, to the covenant with David in which David was told he would have a descendant to sit upon the throne of Israel forever, to the covenant with Christ that we find in the New Testament.

When we look at the Old Testament we need to remember an important interpretive point.  The Old Testament is God's infallible and inerrant holy Word.  However, it was not complete.  The Old Testament finds its completion in Jesus Christ.  In other words the Old Testament is about Jesus Christ (Luke 24).  I should note at this point that it is not about Jesus Christ in a merely subjective sense, but that the centrality of Christ to the progress of redemption in the Old Testament is to be found in the text itself.  It is not as if the Old Testament has one meaning and the New Testament authors give it a totally different meaning unintended by God beforehand. [21]  And the way we get at the Christ-centered nature of the Old Testament is through something called typological interpretation.  This means that real historical persons, events, and institutions point forward to, and find their fulfillment in, the person and work of Jesus Christ. [22]
An example of a person who points forward to Christ from the Old Testament would be King David.  David was a man after God's own heart.  David is, in many ways, the gold standard by which succeeding kings will be judged.  He brought Israel to rest after conquering Israel's enemies.  He was the model king.  However we also know that David was a sinner who himself needed a redeemer.  David committed adultery and murder.  And for that he needed a savior.
An event that points to Christ is the incident of the bronze serpent in the wilderness recounted for us in Numbers 21.  The children of Israel complained once again and suffered the judgment of snake bites.  Moses commanded that a bronze serpent be fashioned and those who looked to that serpent were spared death.  Later Jesus would tell us that like the serpent in the wilderness, if he would be lifted up he would draw all men to himself (John 3:14).  An obvious institution that points to Christ is the sacrificial system with its priesthood, elaborate ritual and sacred precincts in the tabernacle and later the Temple (Leviticus).  David was a real king, the incident with the bronze serpent really happened, and the sacrificial system was really operative in Old Testament Israel.  Each of these had significance in their moment in time and greater significance when seen in the light of Christ.

Let's consider one incident from the Old Testament which points specifically to the work of Christ on the cross.  You will recall that Abraham was a pagan living amongst a pagan people when God called him out of the Ur of the Chaldees and called him to leave all he was familiar with and to venture forth into the great unknown.  God would eventually promise Abraham that through him all the nations would be blessed (Gen. 12:2, 15:1-6, 17:1-14; Rom. 4:13-25).  God entered into covenant with Abraham and on one particular evening (Gen 15:7-21) God caused Abraham to fall asleep and Abraham saw the vision of severed animal parts in the midst of which moved a smoking fire pot.  Besides being a somewhat bizarre sight, what more can we say about this incident?  In a word, much!  It would probably help if I explained what was going on in this vision.  I believe it is fair to say that Abraham witnessed a covenant ratification ceremony.  It was typical for covenants to be solemnized by means of a ritual involving the killing and severing of animal parts.  These parts would then be laid on the ground with space between the two halves of each animal.  What we see here is a self-malediction.  The ritual communicated the idea that if the parties failed to keep their end of the covenant, they would suffer the same fate as the animals!  But in this vision who walks between the severed parts?  Is it Abraham?  No!  It is God himself who walks through the severed animal parts promising that he will keep the covenant.  If the covenant is broken, God will bear the consequences.  But what does this have to do with the work of Christ on the cross?  Much in every way!   What we see being visually acted out here is the substitution principle.  God will take upon himself the punishment that should befall us for breaking his covenant.  In other words, God himself will bear the curse we deserve.  There are numerous other examples I could call upon that tie the Old Testament to the cross of Christ.  Many of these we will recall in the next section when we examine the five word pictures that the New Testament uses to describe the atonement.


So we have seen that the cross is the culmination of God's plan of redemption that reaches back into eternity past with the covenant of redemption, and is executed in the covenant of works and grace in history.  I don't know about you, but I stand in awe of our great Triune God who has planned and executed this salvation for his people.  Oh the depths of the wisdom and mercy of God!  Good, sound theology ought to drive us to our knees as we fall down and worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  I invite you to come along with me as we explore what the New Testament has to say about the atonement and how the church has wrestled with understanding it in the next two segments as we survey the wondrous cross.


[1]This should not be construed as a slighting of the resurrection.  As John Calvin noted, when we think of the cross we must also think of the resurrection and when we think of the resurrection we must always think of the cross.  "Let us remember, therefore, that when death only is mentioned, everything peculiar to the resurrection is at the same time included, and that there is a like synecdoche in the term resurrection, as often as it is used apart from death, everything peculiar to death being included."  They make little sense without one another.  John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Henry Beveridge, tr.  Peabody:  Hendrickson Publishers, 2008) , II.16.13.

[2]John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove:  Inter Varsity Press, 1986.  Rev. ed. 2006).

[3]Steve Chalk and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2004), 182.

[4]J. I. Packer has noted that penal substitutionary atonement is at the heart of Evangelical Christian faith in his justly praised "What the Cross Achieved:  The Logic of Penal Substitution" which originally appeared in the Tyndale Bulletin 25 (1975):  3-45.  It can be now found in the book In My Place Condemned He Stood, which is comprised of seminal articles on the cross of Christ by J. I. Packer and Mark Dever (Wheaton:  Crossway, 2008), 53-100.  This is a fine book that arose out of a concern for the biblical teaching of the atonement shared by the four members of Together 4 the Gospel:  Ligon Duncan, R. Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, and C. J. Mahaney.

[5]Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach, eds.  Pierced For Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (Leicester:  Inter Varsity Press, 2007 and Wheaton:  Crossway, 2007).

[6]Derek Tidball, David Hillborn, and Justin Thacker, eds.  The Atonement Debate: Papers from the London Symposium on the Atonement (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2008).

[7]One thinks of Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker's Recovering the Scandal of the Cross:  Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Downers Grove:  Inter Varsity Press, 2000).

[8]I am fully aware of the fact that these two assertions can be, and in fact are, questioned in the theological literature of our day.  I would love to tackle the doctrines of God and Scripture (the principium essendi and principium cognoscendi externum in theological parlance), but that is a task for another day.  Suffice it to say that I find such doctrines as we see advocated in open theism and post-conservative Evangelicalism to be unbiblical and theologically deficient.  See the forthcoming volume Reforming or Conforming?  Post-Conservative Evangelicalism and the Emergent Church (Ron Gleason and Gary Johnson, eds. Wheaton:  Crossway, 2008).

[9]Let's be honest here.  Everyone has a system of doctrine whether that system of doctrine is articulated or not.  We confessional Reformed types are up front about this fact while others tend to deny it.  To put it another way, confessional Protestants are not the only ones to have a system of doctrine.  God created us with the tendency to try to bring order out of chaos or to organize the world in which we live.  This is one aspect of our being made in the image of God.  See B. B. Warfield's discussion about this in "The Right of Systematic Theology," in The Select Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (John Meeter, ed.  Phillipsburg:  Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1970-73), 2:219-279.

[10]I am aware that I am simplifying covenant theology for the sake of brevity.

[11]Westminster Confession of Faith VII.1.  Various definitions of covenant can be found in John Murray, O. Palmer Robertson, Meredith Kline, and others. 


[12]I am aware that there is a dispute among theologians about whether the covenant of redemption is a separate covenant from the covenant of grace or whether it is the eternal aspect of the covenant of grace that is then worked out in history.

[13]Historically the covenant of redemption has stressed the agreement between the Father and the Son, but the Holy Spirit was equally involved in the whole plan as well.  We should also stress that this covenant was an act of the will of God and was not necessitated by his nature.  In other words, God was free to create or not and he was free to redeem or not.

[14]John Calvin said as much in his Institutes, "We must now see in what way we become possessed of the blessings which God has bestowed on his only-begotten Son, not for private use, but to enrich the poor and needy. And the first thing to be attended to is, that so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us. Accordingly, he is called our Head, and the first-born among many brethren, while, on the other hand, we are said to be ingrafted into him and clothed with him, all which he possesses being, as I have said, nothing to us until we become one with him."  III.1.1.

[15]There are several very good discussions of the covenant of redemption in the standard systematic theologies, but one of the best can be found in Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics III:  Sin and Salvation (John Vriend, tr.  John Bolt, ed.  Grand Rapids:  Baker, 2006), 214-217.

[16]Note that Jesus serves as federal representative of his people too.  This is seen especially in Romans 5:12-21.  Here Paul compares the roles of Adam and Christ or what we often refer to as the first and second Adams.  Remember what we earlier noted about the interrelated nature of doctrine.  If we play with either side of the comparison, we throw the whole equation into confusion.

[17]This is what the expression "eschatology precedes soteriology" means.

[18]Fear not.  This all really does relate to the atonement of Jesus Christ and I hope you will quickly see how!

[19]It is disputed whether Adam and Eve had access to the tree of life prior to the fall.  I do not see any reason to think they did. 

[20]For a fascinating early treatment of these two seeds, see Augustine's The City of God Against the Pagans.  (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought.  R. W. Dyson, ed.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1998).

[21]I affirm sensus plenior so that later Scripture adds fullness to the significance of earlier Scripture, but the two will not be on contradiction.

[22]Notice that typology is about how real persons, events, and institutions point to Christ.  This is not about myths and fairy tales that somehow gain importance because the reader reads Jesus into them.  On the contrary, we believe that God has built this typological significance into history.

This is part one of a multi-part series.

Jeffery Waddington is a PhD candidate at Westminster Theological Seminary and a teaching elder at Calvary OPC Church in NJ. 

Recommended Books:
In My Place, Condemned He Stood by J.I. Packer and Mark Dever
50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper
The Heart of the Cross by James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken
Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray