Christ the Saviour of sinners

The doctrine of redemption: God’s covenant of mercy.

Below are questions from the Westminster Shorter Catechism with answers and supporting Scripture proofs. Explanatory notes follow.


Q: Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A: God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life1, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer2.

1 Ephesians 1:4Ephesians 1:4
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4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:  

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— According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.

2 Romans 3:21-22Romans 3:21-22
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21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:  

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— But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.


Having established the Fall of man into sin, the nature of the state into which man fell, the vital fact that all Adam’s natural descendents fell with him and sinned in him in that first transgression, and that all men are justly charged with guilt and liable to the full penalty of God’s Law, we move on to examine the mercy of God shown to a remnant of Adam’s seed in Christ.


I NOT ALL MEN ARE LEFT TO SUFFER THE JUST DESSERTS OF THEIR SIN.

1. Rather, some of Adam’s race are brought into a state of salvation. They are saved from the state of sin and misery that they are in naturally by the Fall and instead placed by God’s grace in a state in which they are free from condemnation.

2. This is an act of mercy on God’s part. There is no merit in the case of any sinner whom God saves. No man deserves to be saved — all we deserve naturally is the wrath and curse of the Almighty.

3. It is His eternal plan to save an elect from among men. Cp Eph 1:4Eph 1:4
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4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:  

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. It is therefore a plan that is wholly of Divine design without input from man since it was devised before man’s existence. It is a plan that was devised even before man fell! God’s saving purpose is based upon His own sovereign choice, II Thessalonians 2:13, Acts 13:48Acts 13:48
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48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.  

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. Some will seek to find fault with the fact that God chose some and not all. He was under no obligation to choose any and the fact that He chose any at all magnifies His mercy. Such matters must be resigned to the sovereign prerogative of our Creator. Cp Rom 9:18-24Rom 9:18-24
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18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. 19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? repliest...: or, answerest again, or, disputest with God? 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: fitted: or, made up 23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, 24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?  

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, Matt 11:25-26Matt 11:25-26
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25 At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. 26 Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.  

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II GOD WAS PLEASED TO SAVE SINNERS BY ENTERING INTO A COVENANT OF MERCY.

There are two parts to this covenant under the terms of which men are saved.

1. The covenant of Redemption made between the Father and the Son. In this the Son contracted on behalf of the elect to meet the demands God’s Law made of them. Thus, Christ as Redeemer covenanted to pay the penalty due to their sin and also to supply the necessary righteousness — both of which the Law demands. The Saviour constantly spoke of His saving mission as being given Him by the Father, a duty He entered into to please His Father. Cp John 6:38John 6:38
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38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.  

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2. The covenant of grace made with the elect in Christ. This is simply the outworking in time of the covenant between the Father and Son. Upon condition of Christ’s perfect obedience and fulfillment of His covenantal obligations, God promised to justify and save sinners. Cp Is 53:10-11Is 53:10-11
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10 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. thou...: or, his soul shall make an offering 11 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.  

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. While in one sense God’s covenant of mercy is a covenant of works for Christ, it is a covenant of grace as far as the elect are concerned. Cp II Tim 1:9.

Under its terms God promises to those represented by Christ:

  • Sanctification, Hebrews 8:10Hebrews 8:10
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    10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: put: Gr. give in: or, upon  

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    — the Law written on the heart and a life of conforming to it.

3. The condition of the covenant of grace is faith. That is, the promise of God made to His elect become theirs as they exercise faith in Christ. Cp Acts 16:31Acts 16:31
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31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.  

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. The covenant of grace justly deserves the name since even this condition (faith) is God’s gift and work by His Spirit Who is promised to the elect in the covenant. Cp Eph 2:8Eph 2:8
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8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  

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, Col 2:12Col 2:12
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12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.  

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4. God dealt with OT saints under the terms of this same covenant. The terms Old Testament/Covenant and New Testament/Covenant refer to new/old administrations of the covenant of mercy, not to a new v. old means of salvation. In the OT it was administered under the Levitical laws of Israel which revealed the gospel and Christ to them. The way of salvation in the OT was identical to that of the NT — faith in Christ who would satisfy the demands of Divine justice.


There are a number of differences between the OT revelation and that of the NT.

  • It had attached to it the ceremonies and rites of the Levitical code which are described as a yoke of bondage, Gal 5:1Gal 5:1
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    5 1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.  

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    . There is no such yoke laid on the people of God in the NT age.
  • There is a difference in the degree of clarity with which the truth of the gospel of grace is revealed. The OT age was one of shadows and symbols. Now the clear light of revelation has been given.
  • There is a great difference in the scope of the gospel in the NT age. Formerly, it was largely confined to the nation of Israel, but now is commanded to be spread to every creature
  • There is also a difference in that the Spirit has been more widely poured out and His power much more widespread than formerly.

Next topic: The person of the Redeemer.

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