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Reformed theologians distinguish between the “internal works” (Latin opera ad intra) and “external works” (Latin opera ad extra) of God—between God’s acting within the Godhead and His acting without the Godhead in relation to the world and its inhabitants. The internal works of God are the activity of each member of the Godhead as distinct from the other members. The external works of God are His works of creation, providence, and redemption. The external works of God in redemptive history involve His covenantal provisions, miracles, works of judgment and salvation, the establishment of His kingdom, and the securing of the new creation. God’s works in redemptive history are established based on the person and saving work of Christ. Accordingly, they function on an already/not-yet structure of His first and second comings.


The internal works of God refer to the respective personal properties of each person of the Godhead that distinguish them from one another. The Father is eternally unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son (see Westminster Confession of Faith 2.1). In terms of their deity, the three persons are identical, possessing the fullness of the one divine essence. They differ from one another only in terms of their personal relations or properties.

The external works of God include those works by which He accomplishes things outside Himself. The Scriptures focus preeminently on God’s external works of creation, providence, and redemption. Creation is God’s creating all things out of nothing, providence is God’s preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions, and redemption is the supernatural work of God for the salvation of His people. Special consideration is given to the work of creation and the works of grace (Latin naturae opera and gratiae opera). Each member of the Trinity acts in carrying out the works of God ad extra, but not in the sense of a committee wherein each person does something different or acts in isolation from the others. The external works of God are undivided. Each person performs the same work externally, but not in the same way. The Father acts from Himself, the Son acts from the Father, and the Spirit acts from the Father and the Son. Thus, all three persons are operative in God’s works of creation, providence, and redemption. Nevertheless, some external works of God are associated particularly with one of the persons more than the others, not because only one person is at work exclusively but because the work reveals one of the persons more clearly than the others. For instance, the Father, Son, and Spirit are all at work in redemption planned, redemption accomplished, and redemption applied, but in each of these works, one person of the Trinity comes particularly to the fore—the Father in redemption planned, the Son in redemption accomplished, and the Spirit in redemption applied.


The external works of God begin with His creation of the universe. The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes the biblical teaching about creation in the following manner: “God created all things out of nothing by the word of His power in the space of six days, and all very good” (Q&A 6). God created time and space out of nothing (Latin ex nihilo). He spoke the heavens and the earth into existence by a mere fiat—that is, by His very command—in the space of six days. He continues to carry creation along to His desired end by the same powerful word (Heb. 11:3).

Covenant of Works

Covenant plays a prominent place in the works of God throughout history. When God created Adam, He voluntarily entered into a covenant of works (or covenant of life) with him. Adam stood as the representative of humanity. The condition of the covenant of works was personal, perfect, and continual obedience to God. As the federal head of humanity, Adam was placed in a position where he would either secure eternal life for himself and his offspring, or he would bring death upon the human race. By his disobedience in eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam brought the curse of the covenant of works—sin, misery, and death—upon himself and all humanity descending from him by ordinary generation (Rom 5:12–19; Gal. 3:10). The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains the sin and misery which Adam brought into the world: “The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it. . . . All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.”

The Covenant of Grace

In the pronouncement of judgment on the serpent, God promised to give Eve a seed (offspring) who would crush the head of the serpent, even while having His heal bruised in the conflict (Gen. 3:15). This is the first preaching of the gospel (also known as the protoevangelium) and the beginning of the covenant of grace in time—the outworking of the eternal covenant of redemption. Ultimately, Jesus is the promised seed (Gal. 3:16), the Redeemer who came to conquer the one who had conquered man and deliver His people who had been conquered by the serpent. All God’s works of grace (gratiae opera) in redemptive history are related to the unfolding of the seed promise of Genesis 3:15.

Every covenantal arrangement subsequent to Genesis 3:15 is a building block in the covenant of grace. God made covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. All these were preparing for the new covenant, which is confirmed in Christ.

God protected the _seed _promise of Genesis 3:15 by bringing Noah through the flood. God’s promised seed was preserved through preserving Noah, from whom the promised seed would descend. The clean and unclean animals that would later signify Jews and gentiles were in the ark. The clean animals in the ark would later belong to the sacrificial system. Noah himself stood as the head of new creation—a second Adam who prefigured Jesus, the last Adam. All this pointed to what God was going to do in the unfolding of salvation history.

When God called Abraham, he separated him for His own purposes as He had separated Noah. However, instead of destroying the world, as He had in the days of Noah, the Lord called Abraham out from the nations. He gave him promises of blessing that would be for the nations (Gen. 12:1–3). Those blessings would come through a promised son of Abraham (Gal. 3:16), the seed promised in Genesis 3:15. In Christ, all who believe become heirs of the same promises given to Abraham (Rom. 4:13). In the hereafter, they will be heirs of the world, together with Abraham. In the new covenant, all believers become part of the true Israel of God in Christ, the true Son of Abraham.

When Abraham’s descendants were oppressed under Pharaoh in Egypt, God delivered them and entered into a covenantal arrangement with His people. In the Mosaic covenant, God gave His people moral, civil, and ceremonial laws. With the ceremonial laws, God gave His people symbols of redemption such as the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle, the priesthood, the sacrificial system, and the feasts and festivals. Moses served as a typical redeemer in the old covenant. These were all shadows that pointed forward to the substance, which is Christ (Col. 2:17; Heb. 9:24; 10:1).

With the establishment of the Davidic covenant, God was also establishing a visible manifestation of His reign among His people on earth. The kingdom of God becomes a paradigmatic theme throughout Scripture. The promises made to David anticipate the coming Son of David who will sit on the throne of David forever (2 Sam. 7:12–13). Christ is the Son of David who brings the kingdom of God with Him in His first coming (Matt. 12:28; 22:41–46; Luke 17:21). Though the kingdom of God will not be fully realized until Christ comes again in glory, it is already present in part through His rule and reign in the hearts and lives of His people in His church (Matt. 28:18–20).

The new covenant (Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 8:8–13) is the fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3:15 and all of the previous administrations of the covenant of grace. Christ came into the world to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). By His death on the cross, Jesus crushed the head of the evil one. As the Redeemer of the elect, Jesus transfers His people from darkness to light and from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God (Acts 26:18). Jesus was born under the law in order to redeem His people from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). As the last Adam (Rom. 5:21–21; 1 Cor. 15:21–22, 45–49), Jesus kept the law perfectly in order to merit righteousness for believers (Matt. 3:15; Rom. 5:12–21). He stood in the place of those the Father had given Him from eternity and substituted Himself for them on the cross. Jesus bore the wrath than they deserve—propitiating the wrath of God for them. In shedding His blood, He atoned for their sins. In the new covenant, Christ has secured all the saving benefits promised by God throughout redemptive history. By His death and resurrection, He has secured the eternal redemption of His people. The Holy Spirit applies the benefits of redemption accomplished by Christ.

Judgment and Salvation

The principle of “judgment and salvation” frame God’s works of grace. In both the account of the flood and the Red Sea crossing, God saves His people through the same waters with which He destroys His enemies. Echoes of the creation narrative emerge in these works of God’s grace. God brings His people through the Red Sea by separating the sea and making the dry land appear. Israel is to be a typical new creation under God. The Lord separated His people from the pagan nations and their false worship and practices by His mighty act of judgement and salvation. These point forward to the mighty work of God in saving His people by Jesus Christ crucified and risen. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the great act of judgment and salvation to which the flood and the Red Sea crossing pointed. Jesus is destroyed in the flood waters of God’s wrath, while the people of God are brought safely through the judgment in union with Him.

The prediction of future judgment and salvation structured the messages of the old covenant prophets. This prediction was often cast under the idea of the “day of the Lord”—a temporal period of judgment at the hands of Israel’s enemies. In the writings of the Old Testament prophets—as well as in the New Testament epistles—the day of the Lord (Hebrew yom YHWH; Greek hēmera tou kyriou) refers to the eschatological (final) day of judgment and salvation. The judgments and deliverance (exile and restoration) experienced by old covenant Israel typified the promised judgment and salvation of the coming Christ. Jesus ultimately takes the judgment of His people upon Himself on the cross in order to save them from their sin and the wrath of God. However, there is a forthcoming day when He will execute His judgment on the ungodly and consummate salvation on the last day.


Throughout redemptive history, the revelation of God’s Word was often accompanied by supernatural miracles to testify to His grace in Christ. For example, we see a flurry of miracles in the days of Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Christ, and the Apostles. B.B. Warfield, in his book Counterfeit Miracles, makes the following important observation: “Miracles do not appear on the page of Scripture vagrantly, here, there, and elsewhere indifferently, without assignable reason. They belong to revelation periods and appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers, declaring His gracious purposes. Their abundant display in the Apostolic Church is the mark of the richness of the Apostolic age in revelation; and when this revelation period closed, the period of miracle-working had passed by also, as a mere matter of course.”1

The miracles in the wilderness wandering of Israel find fulfillment in the coming of Jesus. For instance, the New Testament teaches that He fulfills the serpent on the pole, the rock from which water flowed, and the bread that comes down from heaven. God’s miraculous works in the old covenant were pictures of His saving work in Christ and the blessings of the new covenant. Everything about Jesus’ life and ministry, from the virgin birth to the resurrection is supernatural in nature.

The miracles and supernatural gifts of the Spirit were signs of the coming of the kingdom of God. The miracles of Jesus and the Apostles especially highlight this point. The miracles of Jesus clearly reveal that He restores what was lost by the fall into sin. In this sense, we can say that they pointed forward to the ultimate renewal of all things in the consummation. As Herman Ridderbos explained, “The cure of diseased persons, the raising of the dead, etc., are to be considered as the renewal and the re-creation of all things, manifesting the coming of the kingdom of heaven.”


The last great work of God in redemptive history will be the consummation at the end of time. When Christ comes again in glory, He will bring with Him full judgment and salvation. Both the godly and the ungodly will be experience a bodily resurrection. The unjust will be cast into eternal punishment and the righteous will enter into eternal life, being conformed to the glorious image of Christ. The Lord Jesus will usher in the new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1). There believers will experience full fruition of the saving work of Jesus that will be realized in the cosmic regeneration of all things.

  1. Benjamin B. Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918), 25–26.


No sentence is more pregnant with meaning than the opening one of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). It tells us several things all at once, four of which are worth reflecting upon: First and foremost, it tells us that God is the ultimate Being. Before there was a universe, there was God. He exists independently of matter and sequence of time. God transcends space and time. He is not limited by spatial considerations (He is everywhere in His fullness continually). Nor is He locked into the present in any way. It is not strictly accurate to say that before the universe was created there was “nothing,” for this, too, is a spatial and temporal idea: before the created universe existed, there was God. Theologians speak of God’s immensity, infinity, and transcendence to describe this and our minds race at the thought of it, unable to take it in. All we can do is acquiesce and worship.

Derek W.H. Thomas

Creation Ex Nihilo

Tabletalk magazine

From all eternity past, God the Father determined to create a race of people, of whom He would save some. It is God the Father who is the Author of the plan of salvation. Christ is indeed the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). 1 Peter 1:20 tells us that He was “foreordained before the foundation of the world.” Ephesians 1:4 is clear that the elect are chosen “in Him.” And grace has been given to them “in Christ Jesus before the world began,” according to 2 Timothy 1:9. . . . Whatever Christ encountered in this world happened to Him according to the eternal decree, foreknowledge, and determinate counsel of God. So the Father’s will is to redeem by the agency of the second person of the Godhead as a Surety.

Don Kistler

"Redemption Planned"

Tabletalk magazine

Created into covenant with God at history’s dawn, our first parents violated the conditions of the covenant of works, forfeiting its eternal blessing and incurring its eternal curse. But the Father’s purpose to grant His beloved Son a kingdom of loving, loyal human subjects (Luke 22:29) could not be thwarted by Adam’s sin. In fact, Adam’s treachery could only serve God’s agenda, to display the greater glory of divine grace. The Son would stand among the many children whom God gave Him (Heb. 2:13) as their Liberator from fear and death through His own death (Heb. 2:14–15). The Son would shepherd the sheep given to Him by the Father—sheep whom He calls by name (names inscribed in his Book of Life from eternity past, Rev. 17:8), who are safe in His and the Father’s strong hands. For He, their Shepherd, would lay down His life for them and take it up again, in keeping with the Father’s command (John 10:2, 14–18, 28–29). The Son would finally report His mission accomplished — the mission to glorify the Father by revealing Him to those whom the Father had given Him and by protecting them through the Father’s name (John 17:4, 6, 12). As a result, the Son would lay claim to well-earned glory, and He would entrust His people to the Father and the Spirit for protection and perfection (John 17: 5, 11, 15–19).

Dennis E. Johnson

Redemption Accomplished

Tabletalk magazine