When I speak of the inter-trinitiarian relations as covenantal and argue that these relations are the ground of God’s external covenantal relations with humanity, I am not simply saying that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit entered into some sort of pre-temporal pact with one another to save us.
I am speaking of something richer than the contractual agreement that dominates older attempts to conceive of the eternal ground of God’s covenant. I am not arguing simply that the Persons of the Godhead came to some agreement about what each of them would do to save the elect, but that the form and manner in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally relate to one another is covenantal. That what we know and experience as God’s covenant with us is the Trinity’s astonishing and gratuitous act of opening up these family relations to embrace persons other than themselves. That creation itself is an act of covenantal inclusion.
For example, the Father creates people after his Image, that is, he creates sons like his eternal Son. Adam is a son of God, the spitting image of God (Gen. 1:26; 5:1; Luke 3:38). But then, you see, according to the Bible the original Image of God the Father is God the Son (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:2). And so if there is another image, another son, then that other son is given the privilege of participating in the eternal Father-Son relationship in a limited, creaturely, but profound manner. The human son is created to relate to God the Father as he relates to the divine Son.
In other words, I am arguing that when God created man, the form of his relations with man was not something ad hoc, but an expression of the eternal personal relations between the Persons of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created non-divine persons in order that these human creatures might graciously enter into something of the blessed covenant, the communal life that they themselves enjoy.
The covenant is, therefore, not simply an external means, not merely a remedial arrangement by which God accomplishes salvation for fallen men, rather it is also the goal of creation. He created us for and now saves us to participate in his covenantal life. The Persons of the Trinity possess the fullness of life and blessedness as they love and serve one another sacrificially. This is the origin and eschatological goal of creation and redemption.
To say this in yet another way, the origin of the covenant is not simply in the will of God with reference to his creatures. That is, the covenant is not an arrangement conceived for man with no prior existence. God does not impose some arrangement de novo on his creatures. The covenant the gift of God. It is the gift of divine life. Our destiny is to enjoy God as redeemed creatures brought into an enjoyment of his rich covenantal life. Herman Hoeksema puts it nicely:
The presentation, however, of the counsel of peace must necessarily be changed when the idea of a covenant is not found in a contract or agreement, but is conceived as a living, spontaneous relation and communion, a communion of friendship. . . this covenant [then] is not perceived as a means to an end, as a way unto salvation, but as the very end itself, as the very highest that can ever be reached by the creature; not as a way to life, but as the highest form of life itself; not as a condition, but as the very essence of religion; not as a means unto salvation, but as the highest bliss itself.” (Reformed Dogmatics, p. 318).The eternal covenant is the eternal form of the fullness of God’s relational life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is the origin and ground of God’s purposes for humanity. A definition of the covenant: God’s covenant is the bond of union, communion, self-giving love, and humble receptivity between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, into which God sovereignly and graciously brings Christians and their children through Jesus Christ, so that they can live with him and enjoy mutual love and faithfulness forever.
In closing, I return to my favorite Jonathan Edwards formulations:
“The end, the ultimate end of the creation of God was to provide a spouse for His Son, Jesus Christ, that might enjoy Him, and on whom He might pour forth His love. Heaven and earth were created in order that the Son of God might communicate His love to His spouse and bring that bride into the very family life of the Trinity.”
“There was, as it were, an eternal society or family in the Godhead, in the Trinity of Persons. It seems to be God’s design to admit the church into the divine family as his Son’s wife.”