Ridley Systematics: God Our Redeemer

23 10 2012

Grant, Almighty God, that as we have not only been redeemed from Babylonian exile, but have also emerged from hell itself; for when we were the children of wrath thou didst freely adopt us, and when we were aliens, thou didst in thine infinite goodness open to us the gate of thy kingdom, that we might be made thy heirs through the Son, O grant that we may walk circumspectly before thee, and submit ourselves wholly to thee and to thy Christ, and not feign to be his members, but really prove ourselves to be his body, and to be so governed by his Spirit, that thou mayest at last gather us together into thy celestial kingdom, to which thou daily invitest us by the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

–John Calvin, Commentary on Hosea

Over the past several weeks we’ve introduced you to range of deep and difficult topics.  In the first week we looked at the topic of epistemology and learned that knowledge of God is only possible as he comes to us, accommodating his infinite nature to our finite capacity.  The second week, we learned about God who is one divine nature existing in three divine persons.  Last week we learned about creation, how it was made that we might enjoy God and glorify him forever.  We also learned how we fell away from this glorious purpose into sin and more specifically into idolatry.  Tonight we begin the discussion of how we were recovered from this ruin by exploring the concept of God as a redeemer.  What we’re seeking to answer here tonight is what is a redeemer and why do I need one?  We’ll do this by looking closely at three covenants revealed in Scripture.  These three covenants are the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace, and the Covenant of Redemption.

In his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin observed:

When a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, “Delivery”; what was the second rule, “Delivery”; what was the third rule, “Delivery”; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second and third and I would always answer “Humility.” –Calvin, Institutes II.ii.11

Nothing should reinforce this fundamental precept of Christianity, that being humility, so much as a discussion on God as our Redeemer.  But before we get too far along we need to answer to questions.  The first question is simply this, “what is a redeemer?”  That question is quite easy and we’ll find no trouble moving through it quickly.  More complicated however is answering that question why do we need a redeemer at all?  We’ll walk through these two questions in turn.

First, what is a redeemer?  The 17th Century English Divine Thomas Boston defines a redeemer in the following way.  He writes:

Under the law, when a man was not able to act for himself, to assert and use his own right, one that was akin to him, had a right to act for him, coming in his room, and standing up in his right.

-Thomas Boston, A View of the Covenant of Grace

You’ll notice from Boston’s definition three key things.

  1. “Under the law”:  The first thing to notice is that a redeemer is defined by the “law.”  Now “law” here as in most places means the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible attributed to Moses.  In the Pentateuch we read of someone called a go’el.  When you read the word “redeemer,” it is commonly this Hebrew word that is responsible for it.
  2. “When a man was not able to act for himself”:  The second thing you’ll notice about Boston’s definition is that the redeemer is needed when someone cannot act for himself.  Old Testament scholar Jeremiah Unterman describes the go’el as

 the nearest adult male relative, responsible for the economic well-being of his kin, inasmuch as the latter lacked sufficient means to redeem his own property.  As blood redeemer, the go-el avenged murder and, by extension, all severe harm inflicted upon the relative.

-Jeremiah Unterman, “Redemption”, ABD Vol V. pg 652

  1. “Standing up in his stead”:  The third and final thing to notice is that the redeemer stands in the place of the one in need and fulfills his obligations.

You can see these concepts at play throughout the Old Testament, most notably in narrative form in the Book of Ruth, but for time’s sake we’ll look at Leviticus 25 together to lay out the concept quickly and concisely.

“If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold.

(Leviticus 25:25 ESV)

“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.

(Leviticus 25:35-36 ESV)

  “If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself.

(Leviticus 25:47-49 ESV)

So to recap, a redeemer is someone stipulated in the Law of Moses, who when someone is not capable of acting for themselves steps in an acts on their behalf.  That’s what a redeemer is.  Now why do we need one?

Last week we spoke of the chief end of man.  We said, from the Westminster Catechism that the chief end of man was to glorify God and enjoy him forever.  Now when speaking of the ends, we also need to speak of the means.  For example, the chief end of this post is for you to understand what a redeemer is and why you need one.  But the means for achieving that end is advancing reading, my post, your personal and corporate Bible study, etc.

In the Garden, when God constituted man and woman in his image, he created them with the end in mind of them glorifying him and enjoying him forever.  What was the means?  The means by which this was accomplished was obedience to the first covenant, commonly called the Covenant of Works or alternatively the Covenant of Creation, the Covenant of Nature, the Covenant of Law and the Covenant of Life.

A covenant has been defined as a “union based upon an oath” (McCarthy) or a “relationship under specific sanctions” (Kline).  In this particular Covenant, 17th Century Covenant Theologian John Ball notes:

God promises all good things, specially eternal happiness, to man on just and favourable conditions and man promises to walk before God in free and willing obedience.  The form of this covenant stood in the special promise of good which man might expect justly to receive as his reward for his work.

– John Ball, A Treatise on the Covenant of Grace in The Puritan Papers Vol I pg 46.

Put quite simply, man’s walking before God in free and willing obedience was the means instituted by God whereby man could achieve his end, the forever glorifying and enjoying of God.  But as we learned last week, man and woman did not “walk before God in free and willing obedience” and thus forsook their chief end.

Now this presents man with two very significant problems in terms of his recovery that can broadly be placed under the categories of restitution and satisfaction.  By restitution, we mean a simple returning of what had been lost.  God lost man’s obedience and the glory attached to man’s free and willing obedience.  Thus a simple return of obedience is in order.  Second, by satisfaction we mean that the penalty for this disobedience must be satisfied and any injury done to God paid for.

Now these each sound simple enough, but the Scriptures see a host of insurmountable problems with each.  We’ll deal with them in turn.  In term of restitution there are two things that man lacks that prevent him from rendering obedience to God.  First man lacks the power to render obedience to God.  Consider the following from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  (Romans 7:15-19 ESV)

More devastatingly however is this, that not only does man lack the power but he also lacks the will to be obedient to God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)

You walked in trespasses.  You followed the prince of the power of the air.  You lived in the passions of the flesh.  You carried out the desires of the body and the mind.  Thus this is not simply a problem of ability or power, but also a problem of the will.  Fallen man and woman freely and actively will evil.

One might rightly ask if we lack the power and the will to be obedient to God, why is so much of the Old Testament devoted to rules by which we are threatened for disobedience and reward for obedience?  Paul gives us some clues when he writes the following:

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  (Galatians 3:23-24 ESV)

In other words, the Law teaches us something until we have learned it well enough to receive Christ.  What is it that the law teaches us?  In presenting us with commands we learn, through attempting to be obedient, that we lack both the power and the will to be obedient.  Thus the law, in condemning us, demonstrates to us our need for a redeemer.  As Martin Luther wrote:

The commandments are not given inappropriately or pointlessly; but in order that through them the proud, blind man may learn the plague of his impotence, should he try to do as he is commanded. –Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will

So much for restitution.  What about satisfaction?  Again, the problem is twofold.  First, man must satisfy the penalty for sin.  Second, man must satisfy the injury done to God’s glory.

In order to satisfy the penalty for sin, man must die.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

(Genesis 2:15-17 ESV)

Regarding the injury done to God’s glory, the issue is more complicated. Proper satisfaction to the divine honor depends upon returning more than what was initially due. It is impossible for a creature to do this by mere obedience since the creature can never offer more obedience than what is already due towards his Creator.  “An old debt,” observes Owen, “cannot be discharged with ready money for new commodities; nor can past injuries be compensated by present duties.”[1]

All this to say, man is in an impossible situation.  Rather than this being bad news, it is a gateway to good news.  It is precisely man’s impossible situation that qualifies him, under the law, for a redeemer.

The Covenant of Grace is the means by which man is provided a Redeemer.  The Covenant of Grace holds the same end in mind as the Covenant of Works, namely, that you and I would glorify God and enjoy him forever.  But whereas the means in the Covenant of Works was our own obedience, in this instance the means is the redeemer.  Again, covenant theologian John Ball writes:

The Covenant of Grace entered immediately after the fall, and so may be called a Covenant of reconciliation…At the very instant when God was passing judgment on the several delinquents in the fall and pronouncing sentence against the tempter, He brought in the One Who would execute the sentence.  In this execution there was unfolded the Covenant of Grace for the salvation of man whom the tempter destroyed.

–John Ball, A Treatise on the Covenant of Grace in The Puritan Papers Vol I pg 47

Immediately upon the fall, God institutes the Covenant of Grace.  This is seen in the promise of the redeemer as well as the first sacrifice.

        I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.”

(Genesis 3:15 ESV)

In the above, God promises to send a man to do what Adam should have done, namely to destroy the serpent.

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

(Genesis 3:20-21 ESV)

In the above God promises to provide a man to pay the price Adam should have paid.  The giving of skins indicates that an animal died as a sacrifice.  Similarly, Christ’s sacrifice atones for our sins and covers us in his righteousness taking away our shame.  The Covenant of Grace is a promise by God to send someone to do what Adam should have done and to pay the price that Adam should have paid.  The Covenant of Grace puts into action the law of Redemption, whereby you cannot help yourself so one stands in your place.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 ESV)

How then do we enter this Covenant of Grace? Put simply we enter the Covenant of Grace through repentance and belief.

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 ESV)

and also…

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

(Acts 2:37-39 ESV)

There is more to say regarding this covenant however.  If it is up to us to bring ourselves into the covenant of grace through repentance and belief, we are presented with a host of problems that prevents us from having ultimate security in our redemption.  For example, consider the following questions:

 How do you know whether or not your confession was genuine?  How do you know whether you believed enough? Furthermore, how do you know you will continue to believe?  How do you know you won’t fall away, or bend under the pressure of persecution?

There is even more to be said however.  If it is up to God to send his son as a substitute and up to us to confess, what happens if no one every confesses?  This puts forth the difficult proposition that Christ did not die to save anyone, but rather his death only accomplished the opportunity for some to save themselves through confession and belief.  As long as we place burdens on ourselves to choose, believe, and persevere we are in an unstable position.  That is why Scripture increases our confidence in our redemption by revealing the Covenant of Redemption, or as the author of Hebrews describes it “The Eternal Covenant” (Heb 13.20).  We gain a glimpse of this mysterious eternal covenant in John’s Revelation:

Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. (Revelation 13:7-8 ESV)

Now the reason that this verse is so intriguing is because it does posit a situation where many are falling away.  But some are not.  Those that standing strong do not do so because they are braver, more faithful, or more steadfast than others.  Rather, they stand fast because their names are written in a book.  Furthermore, their names are written “before the foundation of the world.”  As Paul says in Romans

though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—(Romans 9:11 ESV)

Now this book, written before the foundation of the world, before those whose names are in it could do anything good or bad is called the “Book of Life of the Lamb Who Was Slain.”  In other words, before the foundation of the world, these individuals have a Redeemer and their Redeemer is the Lamb.  The specific Covenant is not between you and your redeemer, but it is an “everlasting Covenant” between the Father, Son, and Spirit for the redemption of the Church.  It is done outside of time and irrespective of merit.  It is pure grace.

Do you choose Christ?  Yes, but you do so because he first choose you.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16 ESV)

Will you persevere in the faith?  Yes, because your Redeemer ensures it.

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  (John 6:39 ESV)

Commenting on 1 Tim 1.15 which reads:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)

John Owen says the following:

(Concerning our Savior’s coming) according to the will and counsel of the Father, namely “to save sinners;” – not to open a door for them to come in if they will or can; not to make a way passable, that they may be saved; not to purchase reconciliation and pardon of his Father, which perhaps they shall never enjoy; but actually to save them from all the guilt and power of sin, and from the wrath of God for sin: which, if he doth not accomplish, he fails of the end of his coming.

– John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ pg 209

In other words, Christ did not die for the possible to save some who would potentially believe.  Rather, he came to actually save sinners from start to finish.  How do I know that he did this for me?  Well, do you believe in Christ?  Have you placed your trust in him, no matter how small?  Well then, he has saved you.  Not only this, but he will cause you to persevere to the end.  Your salvation, from first to last is and always has been squarely in the hands of your Redeemer, who acted for you when you were incapable of acting for yourself.  It is not up to him.  It is up to him.  Salvation is not of yourselves, but a gift from God so that no one can boast (Eph 2.8).

Inevitably, when we speak about such things some will wonder whether or not this is true for them or for their friends.  For these very serious questions, I refer you to Charles Spurgeon, who answers these questions better than anyone else I have ever come across.  Below are the last two paragraphs of Spurgeon’s sermon “Election.”  I’ve emboldened my favorite parts in a very biased and blatant attempt to make them your favorite parts too.

And now, lastly, to the ungodly. What says election to you? First, ye ungodly ones, I will excuse you for a moment. There are many of you who do not like election, and I cannot blame you for it, for I have heard those preach election, who have sat down, and said, “I have not one word to say to the sinner.” Now, I say you ought to dislike such preaching as that, and I do not blame you for it. But, I say, take courage, take hope, O thou sinner, that there is election. So far from dispiriting and discouraging thee, it is a very hopeful and joyous thing that there is an election. What if I told thee perhaps none can be saved, none are ordained to eternal life; wouldst thou not tremble and fold thy hands in hopelessness, and say, “Then how can I be saved, since none are elect?” But, I say, there is a multitude elect, beyond all counting—a host that no mortal can number. Therefore, take heart, thou poor sinner! Cast away thy despondency—mayest thou not be elect as well as any other? for there is a host innumerable chosen. There is joy and comfort for thee! Then, not only take heart, but go and try the Master. Remember, if you were not elect, you would lose nothing by it. What did the four Syrians say? “Let us fall unto the host of the Syrians, for if we stay here we must die, and if we go to them we can but die.” O sinner! come to the throne of electing mercy, Thou mayest die where thou art. Go to God; and, even supposing he should spurn thee, suppose his uplifted hand should drive thee away—a thing impossible—yet thou wilt not lose anything; thou wilt not be more damned for that. Besides, supposing thou be damned, thou wouldst have the satisfaction at least of being able to lift up thine eyes in hell and say, “God, I asked mercy of thee and thou wouldst not grant it; I sought it, but thou didst refuse it.” That thou never shalt say, O sinner! If thou goest to him, and askest him, thou shalt receive; for he ne’er has spurned one yet! Is not that hope for you? What though there is an allotted number, yet it is true that all who seek belong to that number. Go thou and seek; and if thou shouldst be the first one to go to hell, tell the devils that thou didst perish thus—tell the demons that thou art a castaway, after having come as a guilty sinner to Jesus. I tell thee it would disgrace the Eternal—with reverence to his name—and he would not allow such a thing. He is jealous of his honour, and he could not allow a sinner to say that.
But ah, poor soul! not only think thus, that thou canst not lose anything by coming; there is yet one more thought—dost thou love the thought of election this morning? Art thou willing to admit its justice? Dost thou say, “I feel that I am lost; I deserve it; and that if my brother is saved I cannot murmur. If God destroy me, I deserve it, but if he saves the person sitting beside me, he has a right to do what he will with his own, and I have lost nothing by it.” Can you say that honestly from your heart? If so, then the doctrine of election has had its right effect on your spirit, and you are not far from the kingdom of heaven. You are brought where you ought to be, where the Spirit wants you to be; and being so this morning, depart in peace; God has forgiven your sins. You would not feel that if you were not pardoned; you would not feel that if the Spirit of God were not working in you. Rejoice, then, in this. Let your hope rest on the cross of Christ. Think not on election but on Christ Jesus. Rest on Jesus—Jesus first, midst, and without end.




[1] Works, I.195



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