Boston on the Covenant of Redemption

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JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Sophomore
The more I read Thomas Boston, the more I appreciate him and find myself adopting his positions. Among other things, this is true of his view of the covenant of redemption, which is essentially an argument for what is clearly set forth in the WLC 31: "With whom was the Covenant of Grace made? The Covenant of Grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed."

I recently read what Charles Hodge said about the covenant of redemption. He presents the problem of the two vs. three covenant view in a fair way, that sometimes Scripture seems to set forth Christ as the party of the Covenant of Grace; but other times, as the mediator and surety, as Moses was for Israel at Sinai. How, he asks, can he be both at the same time? If he had read Boston's View of the Covenant of Grace, he might well have had his question answered. Boston draws out how Moses was indeed both mediator AND head of that Covenant, according to Exodus 34:27: "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.'" That covenant, it appears, was indeed made with Moses as head and all Israel in Moses. So too, he points out, was the covenant with David (Psalm 89); for it was made with David as head as well as his seed. As it was also with Abraham. And Noah. Indeed, all the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace show us the same pattern; the same pattern we see in the Covenant of Works, which as Paul clarifies in Romans 5, is the very same pattern after which the Covenant of Grace has been carefully crafted: God covenants with the head, and the members in and through the head (and indeed, the more I understand Romans 5, the more my thoughts on the Covenant of Redemption are solidified and clarified).

This is what Boston has to say regarding the Covenant of Redemption, in his words:

“Jesus Christ. . .fisted himself Mediator between an offended just God, and offending men guilty before him. In which point lay one main difference between the first Adam and the last Adam: 'For there is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom' (1 Timothy 2:5-6). And so the covenant of grace, which could not be made immediately with sinners, was made with Christ the last Adam, their head and representative, mediating between God and them; therefore called Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, to whom we come by believing (Hebrews 12:22-24). The term Mediator is not, to my observation, applied in the holy Scripture to any other, except Moses (Galatians 3:19): 'The law—was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.' And of him, a typical mediator, it is worth observing, that he was not only an inter-messenger between God and Israel; but, in God's renewing his covenant, in a way of reconciliation, after the breaking of the tables, the covenant was made with him, as their head and representative (Exodus 34:27). 'And the Lord said unto Moses, “Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel”'. . .Now, Moses was alone on the mount with God, during the whole time of this transaction; and in it the Lord speaks of him and the people as one, all along.” (Boston, pp13-14).

“Covenants typical of the covenant of grace were made or established with persons representing their respective seed. Thus it was in. . .the covenant of royalty made with David, an undoubted type of the covenant of grace. In it David was God's servant, having a seed comprehended with him therein (Psalm 89:3-4) [cf. vv20-29]. . .Thus was it also in the covenant of the day and night (Jeremiah 33:20) established with Noah and his sons, representatives of their seed, the new world (Genesis 9:9): 'Behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you.' And that this covenant was a type of the covenant of grace, appears from its being made upon a sacrifice (8:20:21-22); and from the sign and token of it, the rainbow (9:13); appearing round about the throne (Revelation 4:3); but especially from the nature and import of it, to wit, that there should not be another deluge (Genesis 9:11); the substance of which is plainly declared [in Isaiah 54:9-11]. . .And such also was the covenant of the land of Canaan, made with Abraham representing his seed (Genesis 15:18) and afterwards confirmed by oath (22:16-17). In all which he was an eminent type of Christ, the true Abraham, father of the multitude of the faithful, who, upon God's call, left heaven his native country, and came and sojourned among the cursed race of mankind, and there offered up his own flesh and blood a sacrifice unto God, and so became the true heir of the world, and received the promises for his spiritual seed. . .Now, forasmuch as these typical covenants were made or established with parties standing therein as public persons, heads, and representatives of their seed; it natively follows, that the covenant of grace typified by them, was made with Christ as the head and representative of his spiritual seed. . .” (Boston, pp14-15).

“The apostle testifies, that the promises were made to the seed, which is Christ (Galatians 3:16). . .Our Lord Jesus is constitute the heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2), in virtue of the promise of the covenant. . .So Christ is the first and chief heir; and they are secondary heirs in and through him. . .As in the Covenant of Works, God promised life to Adam's natural seed, upon condition of his perfect obedience, which is evident from death's coming on them by his disobedience; so in the Covenant of Grace, he has promised life to Christ's spiritual seed, upon condition of his obedience; for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). But that promise of life for Adam's natural seed was primarily made to Adam himself, while as yet none of them were in being; and they were to partake of it only through him, to whom it was made as their representative. Therefore the promise of life to Christ's spiritual seed, was made chiefly to him.” (Boston, p105).

“The covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, are not two distinct covenants, but one and the same covenant. . .So the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace are but two names of one and the same second covenant, under different considerations. By a covenant of redemption, is meant a bargain of buying and selling; and such a covenant it was to Christ only; forasmuch as he alone engaged to pay the price of our redemption (1 Peter 1:18-19). By a covenant of grace, is meant a bargain whereby all is to be had freely; and such a covenant it is to us only, to whom the whole of it is of free grace.” (Boston, p22).
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Jon, I have taken an interest in Jonathan Edwards thoughts on Boston's view of the covenant of grace. I have not thought this fully through so will keep my comments brief.

Edwards thought Boston was a truly great divine but he could not understand Boston's view of the covenant.

Edwards argued that the covenant of redemption was made in eternity past between the members of the Trinity whereas the covenant of grace was made between Christ and believers. The covenant of redemption is an eternally secure foundation for the covenant of grace. Thus the covenant of redemption is made in eternity, whereas the covenant of grace was made in time. What occurs in time is rooted in eternity.

Edwards did seek to emphasise that the covenant of grace and the covenant of redemption are strongly linked and should not be sharply distinguished. Carl Bogues book is the classic work on Edwards covenant theology. Here is a helpful summary (I don't think the summary mentions Boston but summarises the key points).
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Freshman
One can believe that the Covenant of Grace is contracted between God and Christ and the elect in him without doing away with the Covenant of Redemption. For an example of this see Rutherford's ideas of the covenant, for example sermon vii of The Tryal and Triumph of Faith.
One issue with reducing the two into one covenant is that the Covenant of Redemption is the eternal council of God, and is therefore immutable. Therefore, it cannot admit of any historical development. The status of the covenanter should not vary because of the historical work of Christ. Nor should the fall of man matter for the covenant relation. Christ should be just as much a mediator before the fall as after, if he is eternally in the covenant of grace with the Father. One almost wonders why Osiander's ideas about the essential righteousness of God being communicated wouldn't be reasonable if Christ possesses the fullness of the mediatorial office in his divinity.
Another issue is that it makes the covenant of grace essential to God. Should we be viewing the Covenant of Grace as a divine attribute? That's not something I see much support for in Scripture. In Is. 42 and 49, Christ is called the covenant of grace, where it is said "I shall give thee as a covenant for the people". The Father, however, is not called the covenant. I think there's good reason to see Christ's mediatorial office as being taken upon in time, and fulfilled in his humanity.
 

JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Sophomore
This is something I would definitely hold more loosely than other things and need to phrase it in a more charitable way. But it's something I've just become more and more convinced of as I've been helped reading through Boston. It's not just these quotes, there's dozens of pages where he walks this through in more detail; these quotes just are the ones that stand out.

To clarify, Boston by no means denies a covenant of redemption. He just argues that the covenant of redemption is actually part of the covenant of grace. It's not something distinct from the Covenant of Grace. There are two covenants; not three. As God covenanted with Adam as the covenant head of the Covenant of Works, and yet all his seed were wrapped up and involved secondarily as parties, so it is in the covenant of grace; God likewise covenanted with His Son as the representative and head of the Covenant of Grace; the elect as his seed are wrapped up secondarily as parties; thus the WLC #31.

I've heard before that Edwards didn't understand Boston's view of the covenant; at least I saw it once in a paper. I don't doubt that he actually said that, but I wonder if he ever actually read through Boston's View of the Covenant; rather than just getting pieces and crumbs here or there. Boston isn't hard to understand when you read him. Some are afraid of the implications of this, that somehow it would deny the need for saving faith. But it does no such thing, and Boston argued there are much greater dangers on the other side.

According to Boston, it's true: “Faith is necessary savingly to interest us in Jesus Christ the head of the covenant; and none can attain to eternal happiness, without actual believing, who are subjects capable of it; nor can any attain it without the Spirit of faith indwelling in them. Obedience is necessary, as the chief subordinate end of the covenant, being that whereby God has his glory he designed therein; and without obedience begun here, none who are subjects capable of it, can see heaven. But withal it is necessary, that they be kept in the place and station assigned them in the covenant, by the Father and the Son, from eternity.” (Boston, p73).

And yet: “According to the Scripture, the elect's believing, repenting, and sincere obedience, do belong to the promissory part of the covenant. If we consider them in their original situation, the are benefits promised in the covenant, by God, unto Christ the Surety, as a reward of his fulfilling the condition of the covenant.” (Boston, p58).

Boston's primary concern in affirming a three covenant view: “The contrary doctrine may consist with the opinion, which holds the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of grace, to be two distinct covenants; the former made with Christ, and the latter with believers; the condition of the one undertaken and performed by him, the condition of the other undertaken and performed by us.” (Boston, p32). In other words, this doctrine eventually leads down the road of Arminianism; and faith a work to be performed. Faith is required, of course. But where does it come from? Not from us, but as a fruit of the promise of God to Christ to save His seed.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Calling other covenants as typical of the covenant of grace is confusing, if "type" is meant in the usual sense of type (instead of merely forming an illustration). Is there any indication that these other covenants were appointed as types?

It is also difficult finding the right wording to do justice to the Scriptural language of "covenant-breakers," if the covenant of grace is unbreakable. However, it is not impossible, so long as one sticks with the idea that there is nothing new here except a re-naming of the CoR as the CoG as made with Christ.

I speak as one who favors this scheme. Turretin also speaks of a CoG in two parts, instead of CoR and CoG, If I recall correctly.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Freshman
Boston's primary concern in affirming a three covenant view: “The contrary doctrine may consist with the opinion, which holds the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of grace, to be two distinct covenants; the former made with Christ, and the latter with believers; the condition of the one undertaken and performed by him, the condition of the other undertaken and performed by us.” (Boston, p32). In other words, this doctrine eventually leads down the road of Arminianism; and faith a work to be performed. Faith is required, of course. But where does it come from? Not from us, but as a fruit of the promise of God to Christ to save His seed.
I don't know that three covenants leading to Arminianism is any more natural of a consequence than two covenants leading to antinomianism.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Freshman
The words of Rutherford seem relevant here:
"Its a foule and ignorant mistake in Crispe to make the Covenant nothing but that love of God to man, which hee cast on man before the Children had done good or evill, Rom. 9.1. That love is eternall and hath no respect to faith as to a condition, but its not the covenant it selfe, because it is the cause of the cove∣nant. 2. To the love of election, there is no love, no work, no act of beleeving required on our part; Yea, no mediator, no shedding of blood; wee are loved with an everlasting love, before all these; but the covenant though as decreed of God, it be everlasting, (as all the works of creation and divine pro∣vidence which fall out in time,* and have beginning and end are so everlasting, for God decreed from eternity that they should be) yet it is not in being formally while it bee preached to Adam after his fall, and there is required faith on all the Saints part, to lay hold on the Covenant, Esai. 56.4. and to make it a covenant of peace to the Saints in particular. 2. Faith is the condition of the covenant. 3. Christ the mediator of it. 4. Christs blood the seal of it. 5. The Spirit must write it in our heart: But the love of election is a compleat free, full love, before our faith, or shedding of blood, or a mediator be at all."
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
The three covenant view, in my thinking, does a much better job in demonstrating how the CoG references unbelievers. I've never been able to grasp the logic of faith being a "condition to interest" when scripture puts it forth as a condition of salvation (John 3:18, 5:40, 2 Thes. 2:10, etc.). Man's inability to believe without divine intervention does not nullify this truth.

On another note, I do find this subject fascinating, though, and I appreciate reading through these quotes. It was helpful in resolving the problem with Christ being both party and mediator. Thanks, @JTB.SDG !
 
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