God’s Acts in Eternity Past

One of my favorite parts of the Reformed faith is that it does not shy away from hard questions. One such question is the classic, “What was God doing before the creation of the world?” The ancient theologian, Augustine, wrote of someone else’s poor attempt at humor in his book Confessions. The exchange went something like this, “What was God doing before the creation of the world? He was creating hells for people who ask foolish questions above their pay grade.” The question is a valid question, though it gets at the limits of our abilities as humans. However, Scripture is not silent about God’s acts in eternity past. The holy trinity was establishing a covenant known as the covenant of redemption. Though this covenant is the foundation of our saving relationship with God, it is rarely considered in pulpit and pew alike.

What is the covenant of redemption? The covenant of redemption is the covenant between the persons of the trinity ensuring the plan of redemption. Right from the outset, we have to recognize that when we discuss the subject of God’s acts before the creation of the world, we do so from a position of reverence and humility. We are not talking about knick-knacks, but the eternal works of the infinite, holy God, whose glory is unlike any other. So we begin with humility.

The next step is to look at the whole of Scripture to see what He has revealed concerning this matter. We have more evidence than we have space to consider, but one of the chief pieces of evidence is found in Hebrews 7:22, “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.” (KJV)

What is a surety? According to one dictionary, a surety is someone “who takes responsibility for another’s debt.” If this is the case, what is implied? Seventeenth century Dutch Reformed pastor-theologian, Wilhelmus À Brakel writes, “None can be a surety unless there is a contract and a covenant between the creditor [God the Father] and the surety [God the Son] of the debtor [the elect].” In short, this relationship is elaborated in other parts of Scripture which highlights all the components of a covenant such as particular parties, conditions, and promises. These components are seen in places like Psalm 89:19-37; Luke 22:29; John 17:2, 4, 6, 12, 18-19; and, Galatians 4:4-5.

Even with this small bit of gold dust, we can discern the depths of God’s triune love for us. We return to that question, “What was God doing before the creation of the world?” He was plotting our redemption in joy. We read about such interactions of Christ as wisdom incarnate Proverbs 8:30-31 (compare 1 Cor. 1:24). Here we see the holy, mutual, infinite, and eternal love of the Father and the Son. Puritan Thomas Goodwin helps us to understand this trinitarian love more: “their greatest delights have been take up with [the covenant of redemption] … There was never such joy in heaven as upon this happy conclusion and agreement. The whole Trinity rejoiced in it.”

Why would their chiefest delights be found here? The covenant of redemption is the great unfolding of the wisdom of God. The love that God has for Himself in the trinity is most plainly displayed in the love that He has for His people. By this covenant of redemption being accomplished by Jesus Christ, God secures forever our salvation. Again, we consider the wisdom of À Brakel who wrote, “it is the foundation for all sure comfort, joy, holy amazement, and the magnification of God.”

The covenant of redemption grounds our salvation in the eternal work, confirmation, and promise of God. Just as God the Father has confirmed by oath the conditions of this covenant, so God the Son has been confirmed as successful in fulfilling this covenant. What does this mean? Simply that Christ has forever secured our salvation. He does not undergo all of this for the chance or possibility of our salvation. He secures it definitely. He does the work; we receive the benefits. Christ’s work is earned. Our salvation is entirely of grace alone. We can even say that the entirety of every good which proceeds from us is an fruit of Christ’s work in fulfilling this covenant on our behalf.

You don’t have to fear if God will save you. Just as you are not the author of your salvation, you are not the guard over your salvation; this is Christ’s work in you. You can have assurance of God’s mercy. Your peace has been purchased forever by Christ. Rejoice in this O Christian!