"GOD'S COVENANT PURPOSE IN CHRIST"
Does God have an eternal purpose which He intends to fulfill? To whom does this extend? Does it extend to all men in all ages without exception, or does it pertain only to His elect? Who are His covenant people? These are questions which arise in considering the extent of intention of God's covenant purpose.
Robert P. Lightner, who espouses the unlimited atonement view, goes so far as to infer that the covenant of grace is extra-Scriptural. He says:
The above quoted writer is inconsistent in that he seemingly holds to the doctrine of election and yet denies the limited atonement. In order for one to be consistent, he must hold all five points of Calvinism. Spurgeon says:
God does most assuredly have an eternal purpose with respect to the people of God. In Eph. 1:9-10 we read, "having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself; that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in Heaven, and which are on earth; even in him." Comparing this with Jhn. 11:52, we read that Caiaphas "being high priest that year, prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." Herein we have God's covenant purpose: to gather together in one all of God's elect. This is accomplished through the atonement of Christ.
The term "covenant" is a Scriptural term, for we find in Hebrews 12:24 that Jesus is "the mediator of the new covenant." This word is also translated as testament in at least 16 places in the New Testament. The term "new testament" is used at least six places in the Authorized Version of the New Testament. It is sometimes called a better covenant in the book of Hebrews. In this particular sense, it is used to contrast it with the old covenant, which was under the law. The word testament or covenant carries with it the meaning of a contract or a will.
The first covenant was dedicated by blood. (Heb. 9:18-22) The blood of this covenant was that of calves and goats. The new covenant was ratified by the blood of Jesus Christ: "This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Mt. 26:28)
The new covenant is based upon promises. (Heb. 8:6) He promises His people, "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." (Heb. 8:12) We find in Galatians 3:16 that these promises, upon which the new covenant is based, were made to Abraham and his seed. This has reference to Christ and His people: "If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal. 3:29)
This covenant was actually made in eternity. (Eph. 1:4. Isa. 42:6) The conditions were that Christ should die for the elect and accomplish the work which God had sent Him to do. (Jhn. 17:4, Ps. 40:7, 8, Heb. 10:9) Hodge says,
The people to whom this covenant belong are referred to in Scripture as the "elect," his "sheep," his "church," the "children of God," "heirs," "sons," his "flock" and other such terms. In most emphatic terms we are told that "the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." (Jhn. 10:11) To His enemies, Jesus said, "Ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." (Jhn. 10:26-29)
In the above quoted verses, we find that some were not of Christ's sheep. It is for the sheep that the Shepherd dies. It is the sheep that were given unto Christ by the father. It is the sheep that He keeps, and to them He gives eternal life. It is for the sheep that the blood of the eternal covenant was shed:
In the 17th chapter of John, we read "Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent." (Jhn. 17:2-3) It is clear to be seen, from a study of the Scriptures given, that God gave to Christ a people, His sheep, and that Christ contracted to come and make atonement for them and give to them eternal life. They cannot perish nor apostatize. They follow Christ, they know Him and they believe on Him. He shed His blood for them and made vicarious atonement for them. He keeps them in the name of the Father and none of them are lost. (Jhn. 17:12) It is abundantly clear from Scripture that God has a covenant people and that God's eternal purpose was to save them. His purpose cannot fail, for He is God.
The people who are included in the Covenant of Redemption are, as has been previously indicated, a vast multitude. They are in multitude as the stars of heaven or the sands of the sea. In this number we include all of the redeemed of all ages and of all nations. Included in this number are multitudes of those who died in infancy. In past ages, whatever the percentage may now be, nearly one-half of the human race died in childhood.
Included in this covenant are the saved of what we may call Old Testament times, that is, from the time of Adam until the time of Christ. For these Christ's atonement had a "retrospective efficacy." Also included are the saved from the time of Christ on down until the time when the last one of His elect shall be saved.5
How many unnumbered millions of God's covenant people there must be! In Isaiah we read, "For the transgression of my people was he stricken. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: 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. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities." (Isa. 53:8-11)
In these verses we are told plainly the extent of the intention of God's covenant purpose, the nature of the atonement, the people for whom it was made, the. infallibility of his purpose and the reason the atonement was made, i.e., the transgressions and iniquities of God's people. We also see Christ's triumph and resurrection.
By way of summary, we may say that the Scriptures teach that there is a Covenant of Grace, or redemption, that this was made in eternity by the Father and the Son, that promises were made to the covenant people, that Christ came to carry out that purpose and make atonement for His people, that the covenant pertains to His sheep, or elect, and none other, and that God's infallible purpose cannot fail. In this covenant, God's people are being gathered into one: "There shall be one fold and one shepherd." (Jhn. 10:16) Day by day, God is saving His people, seeking out His sheep, adding to the church and carrying them home to glory. In this we can see something of His covenant purpose in Christ.
It must be reiterated that the covenant of grace does not include all mankind, but only God's covenant people. The extension of the atonement, as to its objects, is no wider than its intention in the covenant of grace. As concerning this fact, Symington affirms that:
To suppose that God intended to save all men is contradictory, for if this were His intention, and since all men are not saved, it follows that He was unable to carry out His purpose. "Since the work of God is always efficient, those for whom atonement was made and those who are actually saved must be the same people."7