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The Trinitarian Covenant in John 17

by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith


It seems fair to conclude, then, that we not only may but must consider the covenant to understand John 17:20-21. Furthermore, we have seen that we not only may but must speak of a pretemporal intertrinitarian covenant to do justice to the profound language of Jesus' prayer. The Father and the Son mutually indwell one another, and the Holy Spirit, in an ontological sense which can never be true of man, but this coinherence of the Persons of the Trinity is also the ground of God's covenant life. From eternity the Father, Son, and Spirit share a fullness of covenantal love, and it is this personal fellowship of the Trinity that is the life of the covenant.

Jordan's Trinitarian view of the covenant brings covenant theology to a rest point that is Trinitarian and therefore theological in the highest and most profound sense. Because the covenant consists in such mutual love and commitment, Jordan calls the covenant a "personal" bond. Because the Persons of the Trinity are related hierarchically, and because the covenant expresses the absolute demands of God's holiness and righteousness, the covenant is a "structural" bond. The Persons of the Trinity, absolutely devoted to the mutual blessing and glorification of one another, constitute a covenantal community of life.

It is true, as Robertson points out, that the Scripture says little about the "pre-creation shape of the decrees of God" or about "terms and conditions between Father and Son mutually endorsed before the foundation of the world." But it does not say nothing about such things, for Jesus clearly spoke of having been commissioned by the Father to speak specific words and perform specific deeds. And He was promised a reward for that work. Of this there can be no doubt. The fact that there is not much written about this sublime and wonderful truth should not cause us to doubt the reality of the little that is written.

But perhaps where Robertson errs, and many other Reformed scholars with him, is when he speaks of the covenant as if "terms and conditions" were the essence of it. They are not. Rather, the covenant should be thought of as a fellowship of love, a "personal-structural bond" joining the Persons of God in a "community of life." In other words, the covenant is not simply a means, it is also, and most importantly, the end. Certainly God saves us through His covenant, but we must not forget that He saves us unto His covenant. The gift of the Holy Spirit to indwell us and make our bodies His temples is the means of our sanctification, but it is no mere means, for the gift of the Spirit is the very essence of salvation. And when our bodies have been resurrected by that same Spirit and we attain the fulness of our salvation, we will share the covenant life of God in the New Jerusalem.

And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. . . . And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. (Rev. 21:22-23; 22:3-4)

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