No “Pactum salutis” or agreement between Father and Son.


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Did Christ have conditions he had to fulfil in order to be our covenant head, namely, perfect obedience unto an accursed death?

Here is Professor David Engelsma’s reply, ” I have just finished a chapter–number 15–in a book I am writing on justification.  The chapter title is “The Counsel of the Covenant.”  In it I contend that much of the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition has allowed itself to be seduced by the notion that the covenant is a conditional agreement and that this error extends to the origin and foundation of the covenant in what some of the Reformed tradition has named the “pactum salutis,” or pact of salvation.  This is supposed to be a conditional agreement between the first two persons of the Trinity in which the Father promises salvation to the church on the condition that the Son will redeem the church.  So far did the “Sum of Saving Knowledge”–a document often appended to the Presbyterian creeds–go with this that it refers to this source of the covenant of grace in eternity as a “bargain.”

Criticizing the notion that the covenant is a conditional contract or pact between God and humans I subject this traditional notion of the origin of the covenant to the same criticism.  The covenant is not a conditional agreement or contract.  The origin of the covenant in eternity is not a bargain between the Father and the Son, but a decree of the triune God appointing the incarnate Son of God as covenant head with the duty to redeem His people.  And the work of the Son incarnate is not fulfilling His part of a bargain or complying with conditions but lovingly doing the will of His (triune) Father.  Biblical proof abounds, including Psalm 2, “I will declare the decree“; Psalm 89; Isaiah 42; and other passages.

As Luther once cried out, “Away with that profane notion of merit,” so ought Reformed theology today cry out, “Away with that impious, profane notion of a conditional contract!”


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