The Covenant of Redemption

“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… 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.”

Zech. 6:12,13

“I appoint [covenant, in Greek] unto you a kingdom, as my Father
hath appointed [covenanted] unto Me.”

Lk. 22:29

“Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great… 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



Order of Contents

What is the Covenant of Redemption?
The Covenant of Redemption Proved from Scripture  1
Articles  19
Confessions  2
Books  7
The Origin of the Covenant of Redemption  3
Historical Studies & Summaries  16
Quotes  2
Objection: Tritheism



What is the Covenant of Redemption, and Where to Start?

The Covenant of Redemption is:

The eternal covenant between God as represented by the Father, and the Son as the God-man Mediator, whereby the Son represents and agrees to redeem the Father’s chosen people by taking to Himself a human nature, fulfilling the Law on their behalf, dying in their place, interceding for them, invincibly bringing them to heaven and conferring upon them the riches of his merited grace, while receiving the promises from the Father to sit at his right hand and to be the Head and Ruler of his Mediatorial Kingdom.

In the Covenant of Redemption: there is no mediator between the parties (the Father and the Son), the condition is perfect Law-righteousness to Christ, and, as He has infallibly fulfilled the condition, the Covenant of Redemption cannot be broken, as the Almighty Savior cannot fail or break his word.

The Covenant of Redemption, in having bought up eternal salvation, is the certain foundation for the Covenant of Grace (see Patrick Gillespie, Ark of the Covenant Opened, or a Treatise of the Covenant of Redemption, London, 1677, ch. 5, 3. Conjoined Together by a Five-fold Connection, pp. 123-128).

The Covenant of Grace is:

Contracted in time between God the Trinity who offers it indiscriminately to mankind-sinners through the preaching of the gospel.  Upon one’s profession of faith, agreeing (implicitly or explicitly) to the terms of the Covenant of Grace revealed in Scripture, one and one’s children enter into this covenant with God through the Mediator, becoming his people, and He their God.

This covenant is conditioned upon saving faith (WLC #32) to receive that which is offered and principally promised in it: Christ and all his benefits (the remission of sins, being accounted righteous in Christ, being adopted as a son or daughter, receiving spiritual fellowship with God, growing in holiness, etc.).

Due to the defection of sin, there are two categories of persons in the Covenant of Grace:

(1) those externally in the Covenant and bound thereby, without saving faith, who have not received the spiritual substance of the Covenant, and

(2) those who have received eternal life through saving faith from Christ and are eternally secure under his care to keep them to the Eternal Day.

If one professes faith, or is born into the Covenant, and yet does not exercise saving faith (not meeting the agreed upon condition of the Covenant), being in category (1), they are covenant breakers, bringing upon themselves the curses of the covenant which inevitably and fearfully follow upon any sinner joining himself to a holy God without the mediation of Jesus Christ.


Thus, due to the different parties, a difference of mediation, a different time in which the covenants are entered into, different conditions, different obligations, different promises, and different designs (these being the very principle parts that define what a covenant is), the Covenant of Redemption is a distinct covenant from the Covenant of Grace.  To see this elaborated more fully, read Gillespie, Covenant of Redemption, ch. 5, 2. The Difference, pp. 117-123.

It is a great rejoicing to the believer’s heart that if we are Christ’s, our salvation is certain, as our Almighty Savior cannot break his covenant with his Father (which is unconditioned in us), but will surely bring us to where He is.


Where to Start?

If one is new to the topic, be sure to start with ‘The Sum of Saving Knowledge’ (1650) which was probably written by David Dickson and James Durham and has traditionally been bound with the Westminster Standards.

To see the Covenant of Redemption proved to be taught in Scripture, that it is called a covenant in Scripture, and for a further demonstration of the points above (plus many others), see Travis Fentiman’s  ‘The Covenant of Redemption: a Covenant Distinct from the Covenant of Grace’ (2014, 18 pp.), which summarizes and systematizes the theology of Samuel Rutherford (and others) on the topic.

For a survey of how the Covenant of Redemption was recognized in Scripture and developed through reformed history, see Geerhardus Vos’ ‘The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology’ (1891, 26 pp., especially pp. 8-14).

While the Covenant of Redemption is not mentioned in the Westminster Standards explicitly, it was further developed in greater detail from the theology therein (as early as 1650 in ‘The Sum of Saving Knowledge’), becoming the majority viewpoint of the puritan era during the 2nd half of the 17th century.  That the Westminster standards fully affirm temporal and external aspects of the Covenant of Grace (which is sometimes denied, though more often not taken notice of), see Historic Reformed Quotes on the Visible Church being Outwardly in the Covenant of Grace.

While Samuel Rutherford is not always easy to read, his The Covenant of Life Opened  HTML  Buy  (1655, 392 pp.) is the best book on Covenant Theology that there is.



The Covenant of Redemption Proved from Scripture & Necessary Consequence Therefrom

Fentiman, Travis – The Covenant of Redemption: a Covenant Distinct from the Covenant of Grace  (2014)  18 pp.

Willard, Samuel – pp. 18-24  of Covenant-Keeping the Way to Blessedness…  (Boston, 1682)

Willard was a New England puritan.





Dickson, David

‘The Arminian Heresy Nipped in the Bud: a Discussion of Arminianism, in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1638’  36 paragraphs  See paragraph 20 and following.

“The doctrine [that there was an eternal, inter-Trinitarian covenant] arose in the early seventeenth century and appeared in the disputations of Jacob Arminius (1560–1609), though there were earlier theologians who employed the idea, such as Caspar Olevianus (1536–87).  But it was an oration by David Dickson (1583–1662) at the 1638 General Assembly of the Scottish Kirk where the doctrine was explained in greater detail.” – Dr. John Fesko

The Sum of Saving Knowledge: Head II – The remedy provided in Jesus Christ for the elect by the Covenant of Grace’  1649  3 paragraphs  co-authored with James Durham

‘Of Divine Covenants about the Eternal Salvation of Men; and in Special, of the Covenant of Redemption, Showing that there is such a Covenant, and what are the Articles Thereof’  1664  being ch. 4 of Book 1 of Therapeutica Sacra

This was one of the first treatments of the Covenant of Redemption as its own locus.  For an earlier treatment, though less organized, see Rutherford below.

Flavel, John

‘The Covenant of Redemption between the Father and the Redeemer’  in The Fountain of Life Opened, ch. 3, pp. 30-39

Error 9, ‘They will not allow the new covenant to be properly made with us…’  of A Blow at the Root of Antinomianism, pp. 113-119  also in Works, vol. 3, entitled A Brief Account of the Rise and Growth of Antinomianism…

Charnock, Stephen – ‘God the Author of Reconciliation’, p. 371 ff.  in Works, vol. 3  d. 1680

Jacombe, Thomas – ‘The Covenant of Redemption Opened’ on Isa. 53:10 in Puritan Sermons, vol. 5, p. 216 ff.

Peden, Alexander – ‘The Covenant of Redemption’  n.d.  3 paragraphs

Peden was a Scottish covenanter in the late-1600’s.

Rutherford, Samuel – ’11 Arguments for the Covenant of Redemption’  1655  14 paragraphs  being the most pertinent section from his Covenant of Life Opened



A’Brakel, Wilhelmus – ‘The Covenant of Redemption Between God the Father and God the Son Concerning the Elect; or, the Counsel of Peace’  being ch. 7 of The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1, pp. 253-264

Hog, James The Covenants of Redemption and Grace Displayed, in some Questions sent by a gentleman, to a reverend and pious minister of this church, with his answers returned to them  1707  24 pp.

Hog (1658?–1734) was a Scottish covenanter who joined the Church of Scotland of 1690 and took a prominent role in the later Marrow controversy.

Edwards, Jonathan – Observations Concerning the Scripture Economy of the Trinity and Covenant of Redemption  Buy  n.d.  36 pp.  with a 15 page historical introduction and 36 pages of appendices by the editor

This is one of the best treatments of the roles of each person in the Trinity in the Covenant of Redemption, and the relation of their eternal being and characteristics to their roles executing redemption in time.  Or to put it theologically: the necessary relation between the Ontological Trinity and the Economic Trinity.



Hodge, Charles – 3. ‘Parties to the Covenant’ & 4. ‘Covenant of Redemption’  1871  5 pp.  in Systematic Theology, vol. 2, Part 3, ch. 2, pp. 358-362

Dabney, Robert – ‘The Covenant of Redemption’  1878  7 pp. in Systematic Theology, Lecture 36, ‘The Covenant of Grace’, pp. 431-437

Vos, Geerhardus – ‘[Letter] To B. B. Warfield, 7 July 1891’  5 pp.  in The Letters of Geerhardus Vos  Buy  ed. Dennison, Jr. (2005), 160–64

“Geerhardus Vos (1862–1949) initially demurred from the doctrine; he took a view similar to [Thomas] Boston’s and one of his Princeton predecessors, A.A. Hodge (1823–86), and was quickly criticized for his perceived heterodox novelty.  Given the heat, Vos retreated from his view to articulate the pactum salutis as distinct from the covenant of grace.” – Dr. John Fesko

Bavinck, Herman – Reformed Dogmatics, 3.212-216  Buy  (Baker, 2005–09)



Berkhof, Louis – ‘The Covenant of Redemption’  1950, 19 paragraphs, from his Systematic Theology

Berkouwer, G.C. – Studies in Dogmatics:  Divine Election, pp. 163-71  Buy  (Eerdmans, 1960)

Berkouwer is not recommended on Election generally.



Clark, R. Scott & David VanDrunen – ‘The Covenant Before the Covenants’  2007  29 pp.  in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, ed. Clark, pp. 167–96  Buy

Clark and VanDrunen are proponents of the doctrine and give a history and theology of it.

Helm, Paul – ‘The Covenant of Redemption and Tritheism’  2010  11 paragraphs

Helm is a reformed baptist philosopher and theologian.  Robert Letham, a minister of the O.P.C. who has written on the Trinity, has suggested that the phrase ‘Covenant of Redemption’ opens the door to Tritheism.   Helm argues (rightly) otherwise.

Sproul, R.C. – ‘What is the Covenant of Redemption?’  2014  11 paragraphs  This is an introductory article.




The Savoy Declaration, 1658, ch. 8

1.  It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus his only begotten Son, according to a covenant made between them both, to be the Mediator between God and man; the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Saviour of his Church, the Heir of all things and Judge of the world; unto whom he did from all eternity give a people to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.

8.  To all those for whom Christ bath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them; and revealing unto them in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey, and governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, and in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his most wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.


The Second London Baptist Confession, 1689, ch. 8

1.  It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man; the prophet, priest, and king; head and saviour of the church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did from all eternity give a people to be his seed and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.

8.  To all those for whom Christ hath obtained eternal redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same, making intercession for them; uniting them to himself by his Spirit, revealing unto them, in and by his Word, the mystery of salvation, persuading them to believe and obey, governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit, and overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation; and all of free and absolute grace, without any condition foreseen in them to procure it.





Rutherford, Samuel – The Covenant of Life Opened  HTML  Buy  1655  392 pp.

Classic Rutherford.  One of the best books on Covenant Theology there is.

Gillespie, Patrick – The Ark of the Covenant Opened: or, A Treatise on the Covenant of Redemption between God and Christ, as the Foundation of the Covenant of Grace  1677  498 pp.

Patrick (1617-1675) was a Scottish covenanter, principal of Glasgow University and the brother of George Gillespie.  This book is a full length defense of the Covenant of Redemption.  It nearly exhaustively brings together all the writers that spoke to the issue up to his time.

Willard, Samuel – The Doctrine of the Covenant of Redemption  Buy  1693  165 pp.

Willard (1640–1707) was a New England puritan and a president of Harvard.



Witsius, Herman

Book 2 of The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man, vol. 1, pp. 223-396 

Ch. 14, ‘Concerning the Covenant of Grace’, First Part  in Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain: under the Unhappy names of Antinomians and Neonomians  (Glasgow, 1807), pp. 145-151

Witsius is trying to placate two sides that agree on the eternal Covenant of Redemption (which they were in that context calling ‘the Covenant of Grace’).  The disagreement is whether God’s relations with believers in time may be called a ‘covenant’, and whether that is the same covenant, or not, as that eternal one which the Father has made with the Son, and the elect seed in Him.

Notcutt, William, the elder – A Compendium of the Covenants  1731  147 pp.



Loonstra,Bertus – Election – Atonement – Covenant:  The Reformed Doctrine of the Pactum Salutis Described and Reviewed  1990  in Dutch: Verkiezing – Verszoening – Verbond: Beschrijving en Beoordeling van de Leer van het Pactum Salutis in de Gereformeerde Theologie

“Loonstra’s project is both a work of historical and systematic theology, though his interest is primarily dogmatic.  In his work Loonstra seeks to eliminate the ‘contract-idea’ from the covenant of redemption as well as from covenant theology in general.” – Dr. John Fesko



Fesko, J.V. – The Covenant of Redemption: Origins, Development and Reception  Buy  2015  256 pp.  See here for the table of contents and a significant preview.  There is also a more popular version of this scholarly work that can be purchased here.



On the Origin of the Covenant of Redemption

Vos, Geerhardus – ‘The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology’  1891  26 pp.  See especially: pp. 8-14

This is a very helpful and careful survey of the historical origin and development of covenant theology in reformed history and thought during the 1500’s & 1600’s, covering the development of the Covenant of Grace, the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Redemption in that order.

This piece was the best on the topic for a large share of the 1900’s, though has since been surpassed by Muller’s comprehensive tour de force below.

Williams, Carol – ‘Development of the Pactum Salutis in Federal Theology’  2005  6 pp.  in The Decree of Redemption Is In Effect a Covenant: David Dickson and the Covenant of Redemption, pp. 23-28

Muller, Richard – Toward the Pactum Salutis [Pact of Salvation]: Locating the Origins of a Concept  2007  54 pp.

This is the best study on the origins of the Covenant of Redemption to date.



Historical Studies & Summaries

On 1500’s Figures

Ellis, Brannon – ‘The Eternal Decree in the Incarnate Son: Robert Rollock on the Relationship Between Christ and Election’  2015  21 pp.  in Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland: Essays on Scottish Theology 1560–1775, pp. 45–66


On 1600’s Figures

Williams, Carol – The Decree of Redemption Is In Effect a Covenant: David Dickson and the Covenant of Redemption  2005  297 pp.  Abstract

From the Abstract:

“To place Dickson’s [1583–1663] work in the context of ongoing dialogue regarding federal theology, primary texts from the 1580s to 1695 by his near predecessors, contemporaries and successors in which divine covenants are mentioned have been considered, including catechisms, dictionaries, sermons, systems of divinity, commentaries and treatises on various subjects. This study focuses primarily on development of the pactum salutis in seventeenth-century British theology… a few prominent continental theologians whose works were in circulation in Britain during the seventeenth century are also included…. Amandus Polanus, Jerome Zanchi, Gulielmus Bucanus, Lucas Trelcatius Jr., Johannes Wollebius, Jacob Arminius, John Cameron and Moyse Amyraut.”

Kim, Joohyun – The Holy Spirit in David Dickson’s Doctrine of the Pactum Salutis  2015  15 pp.

McMahon, Matthew – ‘John Owen and the Covenant of Redemption’   n.d.  26 paragraphs

O’Donnell, III, Laurence – The Holy Spirit’s Role in John Owen’s ‘Covenant of the Mediator’ Formulation: A Case Study in Reformed Orthodox Formulations of the Pactum Salutis  2004  24 pp.

Trueman, Carl – ‘John Owen, the Covenant of Redemption, and Definite Atonement’  2013  in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her  Buy

Bird, Benedict – ‘The Covenant of Redemption according to John Owen and Patrick Gillespie’  2016  59 paragraphs in Foundations, 70 (Spring, 2016)

Bird is a ThM student at Westminster Theological Seminary and Greek lecturer at London Theological Seminary.

“Owen discusses it in at least sixteen of his works from 1645 onwards.”

Trueman, Carl – ‘The Harvest of Reformation Mythology?  Patrick Gillespie and the Covenant of Redemption’  2010  18 pp.  in Scholasticism Reformed: Essays in Honour of Willem J. Van Asselt, ed. Wisse, Sarot, Otten, pp. 196–214  Buy

Jones, Mark – Why Heaven Kissed Earth: The Christology of the Puritan Reformed Orthodox Theologian, Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680)  Buy  2010  255 pp.

“The central thesis of this study argues that the Christology of the prominent English Reformed theologian Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) is grounded in, and flows out of, the eternal intra-trinitarian covenant of redemption…” – the bookflap

See the review of Dr. Ryan McGraw through the ‘Buy’ link.

Beach, J. Mark – The Doctrine of the Pactum Salutis in the Covenant Theology of Herman Witsius  2002  41 pp.

Woo, Byunghoon – The Pactum Salutis in the Theologies of Witsius, Owen, Dickson, Goodwin, and Cocceius  Abstract  (Ph.D. diss., Calvin Theological Seminary, 2015)  928 pp.


On 1700’s Figures

Bogue, Carl – ‘Jonathan Edwards on the Covenant of Grace’  1976  28 pp.  from SOLI DEO GLORIA: Essays in Reformed Theology (Presbyterian & Reformed)

Bogue, a PCA minister, analyzes Edwards’ view of the Covenant of Redemption throughout the article.

Yazawa, Reita – Covenant of Redemption in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: The Nexus Between the Immanent and the Economic Trinity  (Ph.D. Diss., Calvin Theological Seminary, 2013)  610 pp.

‘The Spirit and the Covenant: John Gill’s Critique of the Pactum Salutis‘  1981  11 pp.  in Foundations 24 (1981): 4-14

Gill, following the calvinsitic baptist before him, Benjamin Keach, denied the Covenant of Redemption, instead preferring a paradigm of an eternal Covenant of Grace.  In the webmaster’s opinion, this is a less accurate way of delineating the topic.  Gill was very influential to those after him in reformed theology, especially amongst reformed baptists.


On 1800’s Figures

O’Donnell, III, Laurence – Not Subtle Enough: An Assessment of Modern Scholarship on Herman Bavinck’s Reformulation of the Pactum Salutis Contra ‘Scholastic Subtlety,’’  MAJT 22 (2011): 89–106

Jones, Mark – ‘Covenant and Christology: Herman Bavinck and the Pactum Salutis‘  2011  23 pp.  in Five Studies in the Thought of Herman Bavinck, A Creator of Modern Dutch Theology, ed. John Bolt, pp. 129–52




Thomas Blake  1658

The Covenant of God, Chapter 4, p. 50-51, Puritan Publications reprint

1. That there is such a covenant of which they speak which was entered between God and Christ containing the transactions which pass between the Father and the Son. The tenor of which covenant we find laid down by the prophet Isaiah 53:10ff, and commented upon by the apostle, Phil. 2:6. There we see first the work that Christ by covenant was to undergo: to make his soul an offering for sin. That is, as elsewhere is expressed, to give His life a ransom for many, and as He covenanted, so He did, “He became obedient to death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). And that upon account of this covenant entered, Christ Himself speaking to it and of His work in it, says, “This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:18).

2. The reward that He was to receive which is laid down by the prophet in many words.

A. “He shall see his seed” (Isa. 53:10). As Isaac being received from the dead in figure saw a seed, had an innumerable posterity, so the Lord Christ who was received from the dead in truth has His seed in like manner, believers innumerable, which are called His seed in resemblance to the seed of man.

B. “He shall prolong his days”, not the days of His seed, as some would have it, making this one with the former and rendering the words videbit semen long avum, being delivered from death, He shall live and reign eternally, Rev. 1:18.

C. “The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand”; He shall irresistibly do whatsoever is the Father’s pleasure to be done in the work of man’s salvation.

D. “He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied”; upon this work done, He fully enjoys the whole of all his desires.

E. “Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong.” He obtains a perfect victory, has a plenary and full conquest over every adversary.

3. We yield that the whole of these covenant transactions between God and Christ was on our behalf. Making His soul an offering for sin, He offers it for those that are fallen by iniquity. All is (as is there said) for the justification of many. Whatsoever it is that upon the work done redounds to Himself. Yet the reason of undertaking was for us: Unto us He was born, unto us He was given, He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification. He endured the work and we reap the benefit.

4. We confess that it is the work of Christ that we enjoy being in covenant, as it is His gift that we enjoy the blessing of ordinances.


Thomas Vincent  1675

An Explanation of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism

Q. And what does God promise to bring the elect into in the Covenant of Grace?

A. Into an estate of salvation.

Q. How does God promise to do all this?

A. By a Redeemer, Isa. 53:10, ‘When Thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, He shall see his seed, He shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand,’ v. 11, ‘He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied, etc.’  And this by some learned divines is called the Covenant of Redemption.

Q. What do they mean by it?

A. That federal transaction that was betwixt God the Father and the Son from everlasting, about the redemption of lost and fallen m•n.

Q. Is not this the same with the Covenant of Grace?

A. This covenant is a covenant of grace, but ’tis not strictly that Covenant of Grace, which the Scripture holds out in opposition to the Covenant of works; but rather the means to it, or foundation of it.

Q. Wherein do these two covenants differ?

A. In the confederates, for in the Covenant of Redemption, the confederates are God and Christ, but in the Covenant of Grace, the confederates are God and believers.



Objection:  The Covenant of Redemption would Posit Three Wills in God, which is Tritheism.


Petrus van Mastricht

Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 4, bk. 5, ch. 1

“The most specious thing that could be said to the contrary is in this, that since consent of the parties, through which their wills agree to the same conditions, is the form of a covenant, and such a consent between the Father and the Son could not have obtained from eternity, because to both belong one and the same will, there also cannot be allowed a covenant between them. We meet this objection by observing that just as in God the essence, one and the same in number, is as it were contracted through the characteristic properties in such a way that three persons are constituted, so also the will, which coincides with the essence, is as it were contracted in the same manner, so that to each person belongs, with the essence, his will. This same thing is more clearly evident than the noon-day sun in the internal operations of God ad intra, as much in the reciprocal essential operations, by which for example, the Father knows the Son, and loves him, and the Son in turn the Father, as in the personal operations, by which the Father generates the Son, the Son proceeds through generation from the Father, and so forth. In addition, in the external operations, the same thing is observable in its own way, insofar as creation is asserted for the Father, redemption for the Son, and sanctification for the Holy Spirit.”


Mark Jones, ‘Dat Old Debbel Tritheism?’  (2017)  Jones’ context is not specifically about the Covenant of Redemption, but as may be seen, his discussion very much applies to it.

“…in the good ol’ seventeenth century, Reformed theologians held to the principle of attributing ad extra works [all works directed externally outside of God to the creation] to all the persons of the Trinity.

However, divines such as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin, to name just two of many, argued that certain outward works – depending on what they are – are more peculiarly attributed to one of the persons.

This is also referred to as the doctrine of appropriations.  Goodwin echoes this principle elsewhere:

‘In this will that common Axiome of Divines helps us, that what works all three Persons do towards us Ad extra, though they have all a joint hand in them, yet they are attributed more especially to one Person than to another; as Sanctification you know is attributed more especially to the Holy Ghost, Redemption to the Son, Creation to God the Father, though all Three Persons have a hand in it.’

That is to suggest that the persons all share a common prerogative, but often a certain work will be attributed to the Father, for example, in order to display his uniqueness.  Both Goodwin and Owen wrestle with how this relates to the incarnation of the Son of God.  So, for example, while some Divines attribute to the Spirit ‘the special Honour of tying that Marriage knot, or Union, between the Son of God, and that Man Jesus’, Goodwin believes that ‘that Action is more peculiarly to be Attributed to the Son Himself; as Second Person; who took up into one Person with Himself that Humane Nature’ (Heb. 2:16).  Of course, Goodwin agrees that if they argue on the basis that the external works of the Trinity are undivided, there is no conflict.  But, in Goodwin’s mind, it was ‘the Son’s Special Act …  to assume [human nature]’.  This is precisely what I say in the quote from Knowing Christ (p. 27).

Owen argues that it was an outward act (ad extra) of the triune God, ‘As unto original efficiency’.  However,

‘As unto authoritative designation, it was the act of the Father….  As unto the formation of the human nature, it was the peculiar act of the Spirit….  As unto the term of the assumption, or the taking of our nature unto himself, it was the peculiar act of the person of the Son.’

Essentially, Goodwin and Owen are claiming that the undivided works ad extra often manifest one of the persons as their terminus operationis [end of operation].  In the above example, the incarnation terminates on the Son though the act is (singularly) willed by the three persons of the Trinity.

If the Son did not decide to assume a human nature, then who did?  God did, but, alas, dat old debbel [terminus operationis].”



Helm, Paul – ‘The Covenant of Redemption and Tritheism’  2010  11 paragraphs

Helm is a reformed baptist philosopher and theologian.  Robert Letham, a minister of the O.P.C. who has written on the Trinity, has suggested that the phrase ‘Covenant of Redemption’ opens the door to Tritheism.   Helm argues (rightly) otherwise.

John Owen:

“The will of God as to the peculiar actings on the Father in this matter [that is, the eternal Trinitarian covenant] is the will of the Father, and the will of God with regard unto the peculiar acts of the Son is the will of the Son; not by a distinction of sundry wills, but by the distinct application of the same will unto its distinct acts in the persons of the Father and the Son. And in this respect the covenant whereof we treat differeth from a pure decree; for from these distinct actions of the will of God in the Father and the Son there doth arise a new habitude or relation which is not natural or necessary unto them, but freely taken on them.” – Commentary on Hebrews, II.88




“I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Your seed will I establish forever, and build up your throne unto all generations.”

Ps. 89:3-4




Related Pages

The Covenant of Grace

The Covenant of Works

The Works of the Westminster Divines on Covenant Theology

The Church