Chapter 7.1, Part Three

Scott Oliphint
i. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

Point 3. We have seen, in the last two posts, that the Confession rightly begins its discussion of covenant with the incomprehensibility and aseity of the Triune God. That must be affirmed before anything else can be understood, especially with respect to God's relationship to creation and to His creatures. We have also seen that the initiation of the relationship of God to His creatures was a "voluntary" initiation. It was a free determination of God, and it was a free determination that took place "before the foundation of the world," i.e., in eternity. This free determination included an agreement between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, an agreement sometimes called the pactum salutis, or covenant of salvation. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit agreed, before the foundation of the world, to create and to redeem a people. They committed themselves to a certain relationship in, with and for creation. This in itself was a free decision, and it was a decision of "condescension."

We said last time that we needed to think carefully about those two wonderful words contained in section one of this chapter of the Confession - "voluntary condescension." We can now focus on this latter term. What meaning is the word "condescension" meant to have in this context?

The word itself means "to come down," and as with the word "distance" that we looked at in our first post, this word, too, is a spatial word. As it was with the word "distance," "condescension is used metaphorically to communicate something that is much deeper and more glorious than might initially be realized. Just as there is no spatial distance between God and His creatures, so also can there be no "coming down" or "condescension" of God such that He begins to occupy a space that He did not otherwise occupy. In other words, because God is everywhere, there is nowhere where He is not, and thus no place that He begins to occupy by coming down. He always and everywhere occupies all places, fully and completely.

So, what does this "condescension" mean? The best way to understand this, I think, is to look to that supreme and ultimate example of condescension in Holy Scripture - the incarnation of the Son of God. In the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity "comes down" in order to live an obedient life and die an obedient death in behalf of His people. What did this "condescension" entail for Him? It did not mean that He began to occupy a place that He did not otherwise occupy. As the Son of God, thus fully and completely God, He was and is omnipresent. What it meant was that He took on a human nature so that He might fulfill the plan of redemption that was decreed before the foundation of the world. He took on, in other words, characteristics, properties and attributes - call them covenantal characteristics - in order that He might relate to us in a way that He did not otherwise. His "condescension" just was His taking on a human nature in order properly, according to what the Triune God had decreed, to relate Himself to creation generally and to His people more specifically.

When the Confession affirms God's voluntary "condescension," then, this is, in the main, what is meant. It means that God took on characteristics, properties and attributes that He did not have to take on (remember this condescension is voluntary) in order that He might relate Himself to the creation, and to His creatures. His commitment to that which is other than Himself - His creation - included, by definition, a condescension. He freely bound Himself to His creation, including His creatures, such that there would, from then to eternity, be characteristics, attributes and properties that He would take on, and all by the sheer freedom of His will. These characteristics are such that He could walk in the garden with Adam and Eve, meet and negotiate with Abraham concerning Sodom, meet with Moses on the mountain and the in tent of meeting, wrestle with Jacob, as the Divine Warrior confront and rebuke Joshua, etc. And, preeminently, come to save a people for Himself.

This "voluntary condescension," therefore, just is the gospel. It is the "coming down" of God Himself; it is God with us in the Person of Emmanuel, Jesus Christ.

This section on the covenant is our doorway into the awe-inspiring truth that just is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without this doorway, any view of God will be either too anemic, such that the wonder of His majestic plan is diminished by man-centeredness, or too aloof, such that God's character is only confessed and understood in non-relational terms. This section of the Confession marvelously, because biblically, avoids both of these dangerous extremes.