Home > covenants, theology > Early Thoughts on Covenant Theology

Early Thoughts on Covenant Theology

**This posts represents my attempt to work out my understanding of these issues, and since its writing nearly 3 years ago my views have matured and been refined a little (at least I hope). Please see my posts in the covenants category. I have not arrived and would greatly appreciated helpful criticism**

Chapter VII

Of God’s Covenant with Man

I. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant.[1]

II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works,[2] wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity,[3] upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.[4]

III. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second,[5] commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved,[6] and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.[7]

IV. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.[8]

V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel:[9] under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come;[10] which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah,[11] by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.[12]

VI. Under the Gospel, when Christ, the substance,[13] was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper:[14] which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy,[15] to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles;[16] and is called the New Testament.[17] There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.[18]

Until recently, my understanding of covenant theology was largely limited to it’s contrast with dispensationalism. I was shown how the church is the true Israel of God, that the church is not a parenthesis between God’s real ultimate plan for the physical descendants of Abraham and how anyone who has ever been saved, from Adam to Abraham, to Moses, to David, was saved by faith in the work of Jesus Christ.

I saw that national Israel was a shadow, a type of the church. Reading Ezekial 36 and Jeremiah 31, I saw how God had saved the true Israel (Adam and Abraham and Moses and David) by replacing their heart of stone with a heart of flesh, by writing his law on their hearts, and by forgiving their iniquity and remembering their sin no more. In essence, I saw how Adam, Abraham, Moses, and David were members of the New Covenant, the only covenant of which Jesus Christ is the Great High Priest.

But as I began studying covenant theology, I became greatly confused as I learned that my understanding of covenant theology was not in fact what is commonly understood as covenant theology.

Israel/Church

For example, I began reading how national Israel was not a type of the church. National Israel actually was the church, just under a previous dispensation or administration. The argument being that God has always saved man through the Covenant of Grace and that national Israel, the Mosaic covenant, was a dispensation or administration of that one single Covenant of Grace.

Several months ago I read John Reisinger’s Abraham’s Four Seeds. One thing that stuck out, that I found frustrating, was Reisinger’s insistence that covenant theology identifies national Israel with the church. I thought that was a terrible mis-characterization of covenant theology. I didn’t believe that and I believed covenant theology. Well, now that I have actually started to study covenant theology I realize that he was right. While I don’t agree with other things in the book, I do find myself in agreement with this oft-repeated quote:

Dispensationalism cannot get Israel and the church together in any sense whatsoever, and Covenant Theology cannot get them apart.

Is the New Covenant Eternal?

Likewise, I was shocked to read Samuel Waldron’s Exposition of the London Baptist Confession and read that this single overarching Covenant of Grace is not, in fact, the same thing as the New Covenant. The New Covenant, he argues, was not inaugurated until the advent of Christ. Thus the New Covenant (as described in Jeremiah 31) is only a particular dispensation or administration of the Covenant of Grace.

James White seems to agree with this view when he says:

So, if some in the Old Covenant experienced these divine works of grace, but most did not, what then is to be concluded? That the newness of the New Covenant is seen in the extensiveness of the expression of God’s grace to all in it. It is an exhaustive demonstration of grace, for all in the New Covenant experience all that is inherent in
the covenant in the blood of the Son of God….

…Hence, when we read, “God’s law, the transcript of his holiness and his expectations for his people, was already on the hearts of his people, and so is not new in the new covenant,”11 we respond by saying it is not the mere existence of the gracious act of God writing His law on the heart that is new, but it is the extensiveness of that work that is new.

The Newness of the New Covenant

So the Old Covenant was salvific, it just was not salvific for everyone in it. The newness of the New Covenant is not that it saves, but that it saves all.

I disagree.

Did the Mosaic Covenant Save?

I do not believe that the Mosaic Covenant eternally saved anyone. I do not believe it was ever intended to. Hebrews 10:4 notes that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. But if the Mosaic Covenant did not save anyone and if the sacrificial system it established did not take away any sins, what was the point? Hebrews 9:13-14 explains:

13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifyfor the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify ourconscience from dead works to serve the living God.

The sacrifices of the Old Covenant purified the flesh of the Israelites. That was it’s purpose. It was never intended to purify their souls because it could not. To help explain what I am saying, it is helpful to understand the debate about “republication.”

Re-Publication

Basically, the proponents of republication claim that the Mosaic Covenant was a republication of the Covenant of Works. This is more than saying it is simply a republication of the law, for most all agree that the Decalogue was originally written on Adam’s heart and is not a new set of laws. Beyond saying it is a republication of the laws of the Covenant of Works, it says it is a republication of the Covenant of Works itself, the essential aspect being the re-establishment of a works based principle. For a good, short introduction to this issue, read R. Scott Clark’s 3-part blog post Re-Publication of the Covenant of Works.

Opponents to this view rightly object that since Adam’s fall, there is no hope for man to save himself by work. Even if, hypothetically, a man could perfectly obey the law, he is still under Adam’s federal headship, and thus he is still legally condemned. So God cannot be reinstating the possibility for man to save himself.

Since Adam failed the probationary test we cannot now fulfill the requirements of this covenant and since according to Romans 5 the curse of this failure continues in us since Adam was our covenantal head it would therefore not make sense that God would put us again under a covenant which had been broken by Adam’s disobedience (and our disobedience in Adam).
Covenant of Grace and the Mosaic Law

These men say that the Mosaic Covenant is not a covenant of works. The law is not given as a condition for man, but rather, as a guide to show the redeemed how to live. The prologue to the law in Deuteronomy 5 states: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Thus the law is given to an already redeemed people to show them how to live, thus the Mosaic Covenant is all of grace. Or so the argument goes.

But the language of the Mosaic Covenant is clearly conditional.  In Deuteronomy 27:26 we read “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” And Leviticus 18:5 states “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.”

Copies and Shadows

So is the Mosaic Covenant a re-publication of the Covenant of Works or not? Well… not exactly. It is clearly a conditional covenant based upon works, but the cursing and blessing is not exactly the same. Deuteronomy 5 states:

32 You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. 33 You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.

And Deuteronomy 11:

8 “You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess, 9 and that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring, a land flowing with milk and honey.

The author of Hebrews notes that the sacrificial system in Israel is a copy and a shadow of the substance, which is Christ.

Hebrews 8:4 …there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

In the same way, the Mosaic Covenant is a copy of the Covenant of Works with Adam. If Adam broke his covenant of works, he was expelled from the Garden of Eden. So to, if the nation of Israel broke it’s covenant of works, it would be expelled, or vomited from the Promised Land. And here is precisely where things begin to come into focus. Much of the covenant theology that I have read ignores the typical aspect of the Old Covenant and thus greatly misunderstands it (IMO). The entire covenant was a type, and it was not in any way part of the Covenant of Grace.

No Grace in the Mosaic Covenant?

Now, the Mosaic Covenant was not a covenant of pure works. For as soon as it was given, Moses found the Israelites worshiping an idol. The Israelites continued to break the covenant, yet they were not immediately expelled. Why? Because of the covenant that God made with Abraham. Specifically, the covenant that Christ would come from his seed (Galatians 3:15-18). Thus to expel the Israelites, to disperse them and to kill them, God would have to break his covenant with Abraham.

So how can God overlook violations of his covenant with Israel over their land? By a sacrificial system. Thus the priesthood is established and sacrifices offered as a means of purifying the flesh. It was a temporal sacrifice, that resulted in a temporal forgiveness of a temporal covenant. The entire sacrificial system of Israel was never intended to atone for anyone’s eternal damnation. Rather, it was intended to atone for their physical expulsion from the Promised Land, which is a type of the Heavenly Promised Land. And thus Hebrews begins to make much more sense:

9:23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

But What of Abraham?

Then how are we to view God’s covenant with Abraham? The Mosaic Covenant is clearly related to the Abrahamic Covenant. The previously quoted passage from Deuteronomy says “that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring.” How can we then say that the promise that God made with Abraham is conditional and based on works? That would destroy the Covenant of Grace completely.

The answer lies in letting the New Testament, God’s fullest revelation, interpret the Old.

Galatians 4:21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”

28 Now you,brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

Go back and read that a few times. Paul says there are two covenants. He says he is speaking allegorically, but it is not the covenants that are allegorical, but the metaphorical use of the mothers. His mention of two covenants is literal. There were two covenants with Abraham: one according to the flesh, which is national Israel, the other according to the promise, which is spiritual Israel. And that is precisely why Charles Hodge can say:

“It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one his natural descendants through Isaac, were constituted a commonwealth— an external community; by the other his spiritual descendants were constituted into a church, [invisible of course, since, at that time, the only formal organization was that of the law.] The parties to the former covenant, were God, and the nation; to the other, God, and his true people. The promises of the national covenant, were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant (i.e. the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, as reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant [the old] were circumcision, and obedience to the law; the conditions of the other were, and ever have been, faith in the Messiah, as ‘the seed of the woman,’ the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, [that is, the old covenant with the new] and the commonwealth founded on the one, with the church founded on the other. When Christ came, the commonwealth was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The church [now made visible] remained. There was no external covenant, nor promise of external ‘blessings, on condition of external rites, and subjection. There was a spiritual society, with spiritual promises, on condition of faith in Christ.” “The church is, therefore, in its essential nature, a company of believers, and not an external society, requiring merely external profession as the condition of membership.

Princeton Review, October 1853 (editorial comments by R. B. C. Howell The Covenants)

Unconfessional?

Does this leave me outside the bounds of orthodoxy? Hardly. The Bible is to be our test of orthodoxy and if a tradition is found to be outside the bounds of the Bible we should not be afraid to set it aside. Yet my view is not novel. It is not unconfessional. In contrast to the WCF’s view of the Covenant of Grace, the Baptist Brethren in London saw the consistent glory of the Covenant of Grace:

Chapter VII

Of God’s Covenant with Man

1._____ The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.
( Luke 17:10; Job 35:7,8 )

2._____ Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
( Genesis 2:17; Galatians 3:10; Romans 3:20, 21; Romans 8:3; Mark 16:15, 16; John 3:16; Ezekiel 36:26, 27; John 6:44, 45; Psalms 110:3 )

3._____ This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.
( Genesis 3:15; Hebrews 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 11;6, 13; Romans 4:1, 2, &c.; Acts 4:12; John 8:56 )

Is WCF “Dispensational” ?

The Mosaic Covenant is not part of the Covenant of Grace. To say they are one and the same necessitates that God has worked differently throughout history, because those two covenants are fundamentally different. Patrick Ramsey has a helpful post here where he argues the same thing (though with a different conclusion). He demonstrates that one cannot affirm any kind of works principle in the Mosaic covenant while still maintaining its position in the Covenant of Grace. The “substance” or “essence” of the two are different and thus if one maintains that the Mosaic Covenant was a “dispensation” of the Covenant of Grace, they must admit that God’s work of salvation was different in “substance” or “essence” for Israel.

I recently stumbled upon an interesting observation in this regard. In his book “The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: a Comparative Analysis” Guy Waters notes the following:

In October 2001, Steve Schlissel delivered a controversial address at Redeemer College (Ancaster, Ontario), “More than Before: The Necessity of Covenant Consciousness.”…In this address, Schlissel argued for a couple of things that would characterize his subsequent addresses and that would be paralleled in other FV pieces. First, Schlissel charged the Reformed tradition with succumbing to dispensationalism, to “fundamentalistic” and “baptistic” theologies. The Reformed, he argued, had unwittingly followed Luther’s bifurcation of the Old Testament and the New Testament. In so doing, the Reformed had neglected the genius of their key biblical insight: covenant. Schlissel asked, then, “What’s new about the New Testament? Grace? NO. Faith? NO. Christ? NO. The new thing about the New Testament is Gentiles are incorporated into Israel. THAT IS IT.”

Schlissel then charges on to implement the works principle inherent in the Mosaic Covenant into the New Covenant by saying Christians must remain faithful to their covenant obligations – and he destroys the gospel in the process. But the interesting point is that he recognizes this inconsistency in popular covenant theology. He calls it dispensational because it does not consistently apply the Mosaic principles to the New Covenant.

For Further Reading:

  1. Patrick Ulibarri
    February 28, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Brandon – wow – this is very interesting. Thank you so much for sharing. Sounds like you have really spent some time studying this out… My mind is really not grasping all of this.

    What do think National Israel actually is now?

    I’m going to spend sometime looking at Re-Publication.. I have never heard of this.

    • March 2, 2009 at 10:17 am

      Thanks for reading Patrick. When I get some more time I am going to go back through and flesh things out a little bit more, I realize there’s quite a bit of shorthand in the post. I’m also going to add some links for further reading.

      As for National Israel now: It was a type of the church, and since the church is now fully revealed in the New Covenant, the type is obsolete. God no longer has any dealings with any national people as His chosen people. His kingdom is spiritual.

      “Hebrews 8:13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

  2. Jon Cochran
    March 2, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Hey Brandon…just a few more thoughts.

    1. In regard to your title, “The WCF is Dispensational”, It’s interesting to me that some of the earliest and most influential proponents of the dispensational hermeneutic in America came from various streams within the Presbyterian Church such as Louis Sperry Chaffer (who founded Dallas Theological Seminary) and Charles Grandison Finney whose theology was only slightly scarier than his photograph. http://www.ushistory.org/us/images/00034349.jpg

    2. Interesting to me that Adam gets the NC imputed to him in Genesis chapter 3 (able to stand before God after God clothed Him) but he doesn’t get the garden (but the better country), while national Israel gets the land as long as they can do the work, but even with the sacrifices that are commanded of them, they are not able to stand before God.

    • March 2, 2009 at 4:44 pm

      I don’t know anything about Chaffer, so I don’t know how much a Presbyterian view of the covenants may have influenced him, but I would say that Finney was PINO (Presbyterian in Name Only), so I don’t know there would be much of a connection there. (I wasn’t aware that he held to any kind of dispensational hermeneutic)

    • hughmc5
      May 11, 2012 at 10:56 am

      Good follow-up, Jon,

      Even if Finney was PINO, he still had Presby upbringing; i.e. learnt the WSC by heart.*

      By its langauge, WCF always struck me as good seedbed for dispie thought.

      I went to WSC, so am inKlined to (sorry) the Adam-was-in-a-strictly-works-only cov’t. (Contra J. Murray or Hoeksema.)

      The confusion and contentions over the law have crippled the church. Hebrews is the great anodyne to Dispie, Theonomist, or hyper-covenantal thought!

      * Scofield, too, along with Chafer had Presby/ Congregational backgrounds. Calvinists behaving badly!

      Of course, CIS & CGF (like Darby) first studied law…Then, too, so did Calvin & Luther!

  3. Jon Cochran
    March 2, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    read Isaiah 1 in light of the non-spiritually atoning sacrifices of the Old Covenant.

  4. Andrew
    March 3, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Brandon,

    You said, “[M]y critique consists of the fact that there are multiple covenants. Simply ignoring that fact does not solve anything. The New Covenant is not the Old Covenant. It is vastly different. The Mosaic Covenant was not created to eternally save anyone. It is a covenant of works. Thus to maintain that it is part of the Covenant of Grace/New Covenant is to admit that God has not always saved man in the same way throughout time.”

    I am no systematic theologian nor RTS grad, so bear with me.

    It seems well and right with me to understand the New Covenant as a continuation of the Old Covenant, and that God has always saved men through the atonement of Christ, retroactively in the case of Old Covenant saints.

    You said that the Old Covenant was one of works and never designed to save anyone, and I agree. That doesn’t mean it’s an entirely different covenant though, if anything that aids my argument that it’s part and parcel of the New Covenant.

    If it wasn’t meant to save, what was it? We know it was a prefigurement of the true Salvation to come. People participated in it, in the slaughter of spotless lambs, before the true white Lamb was slaughtered Himself.

    If it was not meant to save, and only illustrate the things that would soon come, how then is it somehow a different covenant? Why is the New Covenant not a continuation of the Old, which served to illustrate it?

    I consider it like chapters in a book. The first chapter lays down the groundwork for the second, and so on and so forth. The ultimate goal in the end is the same thing, to tell the story. The two chapters are not altogether different books, but rather part of the same book. It would seem to me that you are arguing that the chapters are, in fact, different books.

    • March 3, 2009 at 9:51 am

      Thanks for your thoughts Andrew. I am curious, did you have time to read my post, or are you primarily responding just to my comment on facebook? I ask because I feel my post answers all the questions you raise.

      If you did and my post doesn’t adequately address your questions, let me know and I can expand upon or clarify what I mean. Thanks.

  5. March 6, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Hi Brandon. I confess I fail to see that you’ve made your case and that the WCF is “dispensational.”

    Couple of things, you wrote: “Thus the law is given to an already redeemed people to show them how to live, thus the Mosaic Covenant is all of grace.”

    I thought the primary function of the law was to reveal sin? Paul said; “for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

    I don’t know if this will help, but I came across an interesting piece on Witsius and his view of the Mosaic covenant, The Mosaic Covenant: Works or Grace

    • March 7, 2009 at 10:33 am

      Thanks for your thoughts Sean. I see the New Covenant as the Covenant of Grace. So claiming that any other covenants, especially those that are sharply contrasted with the New Covenant are in fact part of the Covenant of Grace, in my mind, creates discontinuity in the way of salvation. That’s what I mean by the title.

      In the part that you quoted from me, I was summarizing the view of those who object to Re-Publication. I disagree with them. I think I would agree with you that the primary function of the law was to reveal sin. But it can only be used to reveal sin if it is held up as a condition for man to meet. Would you agree? Opponents of of Re-Publication deny that it is conditional.

      Your link didn’t work. Were you linking here? http://www.reformationtheology.com/2008/11/the_mosaic_covenant_works_or_g.php

      I agree with a lot of what is said there, especially when he starts talking about how it was not formally the covenant of works or of grace. That is why I would say it is a copy of both. But if it is a copy, then I believe the blessings and cursings would also have to be a copy. Thus I would say the blessings and cursings were temporal/physical (physical death, whereas spiritual death was the cursing of the true covenant of works – and physical life, whereas spiritual/eternal life was the blessing).

      I agree with what is said here:
      Nay; God, on this very account, distinguishes the new covenant of grace from the Sinaitic, Jer. xxxi. 31-33. And Moses loudly proclaims, Deut xxix. 4. ‘yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.’ Certainly, the chosen from among Israel had obtained this. Yet not in virtue of this covenant, which stipulated obedience, but gave no power for it: but in virtue of the covenant of grace [which he seems to equate with the New Covenant?], which also belonged to them.”

  6. March 8, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    Brandon,

    Do you think Israel should have excepted the terms of the Mosaic Covenant?

  7. March 9, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Brandon,

    Why?

    • March 9, 2009 at 8:55 am

      Because God commanded them to, and because they would be killed if they did not.

      (btw, I installed a new feature that enables nested comments, so if you click “reply” next to any comment, it will respond directly to it, rather than to the original post)

  8. George W. Seevers, Jr.
    November 5, 2009 at 10:23 am

    http://www.reformationtheology.com/2009/05/the_mosaic_covenant_works_or_g_1.php

    I would recommend the above link. This is a thorny issue. No one was saved by means of the adherence to the Mosaic Covenant. In a purely symbolic sense, the Levites represented the saved remnant. Of course, in actuality, they were not all saved. But they were the ones who were given no portion in the land, but theLord was their portion. David, who was not of the tribe of Levi, understood the symbology, becuase he writes that the Lord is his portion.

    Covenantal missunderstandings are at the root of every division within Christendom.

    • November 5, 2009 at 10:58 am

      Thanks George. Please see my comment to Sean above in response to a similar link at the Reformation Theology blog. I know WCF does not say anyone was saved by adherence to the laws of the Mosaic Covenant, but they do say people were saved by the Mosaic Covenant – which Witsius disagrees with (per my quote of him in the comments above). Witsius says they were saved by the covenant of grace, which the elect were ALSO part of, running alongside or parallel to the Mosaic Covenant (one being temporal, the other eternal).

      In response to your link:
      The Mosaic Covenant was not just an expression of the Covenant of Grace, as the Westminster Confession makes clear, but it was an administration that made a definite advance in clarity as concerns the very essence of the Covenant of Grace.

      That’s poor reasoning, IMO. Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac “made a definite advance in clarity” as it concerns Christ, yet Isaac was not Christ. See my comments on type/antitype here: http://contrast2.wordpress.com/2009/03/11/mixing-types-and-antitypes-in-the-blender/

  9. Jason Webb
    November 11, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Hey Brandon,
    I thought I would perhaps answer you here on your own website rather than on the Reformed Baptist Fellowship site.

    I just read through your post here and your comments on the other site. Thank you for commenting! I see that you posted as further reading Lee Irons article on the different historical views of covenant theology. Have you read through Meredith Kline’s material regarding the place the Old Covenant/Law has in relation to the new covenant and covenant of Grace? Have you read John Owen in Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ?

    I think they might help clarify a few issues.

    Just a couple of comments and you can tell me if I’m off base or what:
    1. Your suggesting that the believers in the Old Testament were in the New Covenant because they were redeemed. Redemption only comes through Jesus Christ and because he is the mediator of the new covenant all saved persons are in the NC? Am I understanding that correctly?

    2. If that is the case, I think that is flattening out Redemptive History. The New Covenant was established at the cross, when Jesus Christ shed the covenant sealing blood. Before He died there was no new covenant. Covenants do not work retroactively. Noah wasn’t in the Abrahamic covenant. Abraham wasn’t in the Mosaic covenant. Boaz wasn’t in the Davidic covenant. Etc.

    3. If ’1′ is the case I think you need to take into consideration that under the New Covenant/Old Covenant there was more at stake than salvation. There was a community creating, community governing aspect to each of the covenants. The Old Testament saints were not under the New Covenant legally, although they were part of the covenant of Grace. They took part in Christ by faith and were saved, although they did not take part in the New Covenant. Faith is not the gift under the New or the Old Covenant. Faith marks all in the New Covenant, but it is not granted on the basis of the New Covenant. It is not granted on the basis of the Old Covenant, either. Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham was in neither covenant.

    I hope that makes sense? Other than that, Where are you from? Did you graduate from RTS? I thought someone said something about that.

    • November 11, 2009 at 8:32 am

      Thanks for your comments Jason. I’ve only read a small part of Kingdom Prologue, and summaries from other people about Kline’s view, but I want to read more. Is Structure of Biblical Authority the place to start? I have read Owen in Adam to Christ and loved it. Need to re-read it though.

      To clarify:
      1. Yes. His blood is the blood of the New Covenant and His sacrifice was offered by Himself as the High Priest and Mediator of the New Covenant, as Hebrews argues at length.

      2. I’m not convinced that’s the case. Commenting on the Mosaic Covenant’s mention in Jer 31:32, O. Palmer Robertson says:

      Interestingly, the prophet does not refer specifically to the formal inauguration of the covenant that occurred at Sinai. Instead he refers to the covenant established on the day in which the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt…[this] simply conforms to a repeated pattern found in Scripture with respect to the covenants. Historical events associated intimately with the covenant often precede the formal inauguration of the covenantal relationship. According to E. W. Hengstenberg:

      “The substance of the covenant evidently precedes the outward conclusion of the covenant, and forms the foundation of it. The conclusion of the covenant does not first form the relation, but is merely a solemn acknowledgment of a relation already existing.” (p280-81)

      In addition to that, I’m not quite sure how we can say that Christ’s blood is retroactive, but object that “the new covenant in [His] blood” could not be. Wouldn’t it also be flattening out Redemptive History to say Abraham was saved by the blood of the cross since Christ died after Abraham?

      3. Faith is not the gift under the New or the Old Covenant. Faith marks all in the New Covenant, but it is not granted on the basis of the New Covenant. It is not granted on the basis of the Old Covenant, either. Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham was in neither covenant.

      That’s just begging the question though, and points out another reason why I believe OT saints were in the NC. Jeremiah 31 and Ezekial 36 specifically say regeneration (and faith) are gifts of the New Covenant. Again, Robertson comments:

      The new covenant therefore boasts a unique feature in its power to transform its participants from within their hearts. This uniqueness sets the new covenant apart from the previous covenantal dealings with his people.” (p276)

      Regretfully, I have not read him in full, but Witsius identifies the new covenant with the covenant of grace and says:
      Nor Formally the Covenant of Grace (re: Mosaic): “Because that requires not only obedience, but also promises, and bestows strength to obey. For, thus the covenant of grace is made known, Jer. xxxii. 39. ‘and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever.’ But such a promise appears not in the covenant made at mount Sinai. Nay; God, on this very account, distinguishes the new covenant of grace from the Sinaitic, Jer. xxxi. 31-33. And Moses loudly proclaims, Deut xxix. 4. ‘yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.’ Certainly, the chosen from among Israel had obtained this. Yet not in virtue of this covenant, which stipulated obedience, but gave no power for it: but in virtue of the covenant of grace, which also belonged to them.”

      Here are a couple other related posts if you’re interested:

      http://contrast2.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/obedience-in-the-covenants/

      http://contrast2.wordpress.com/2009/03/11/mixing-types-and-antitypes-in-the-blender/
      —-

      Thanks for taking the time to offer some sharpening (and thanks for your work on FICM, very helpful). I’ve got some other reading to do, but hopefully I can get to Kline before too long.

      I’m originally from Idaho, living in Orange, CA now. I haven’t done any graduate studies, just my BFA for now

  10. Jason Webb
    November 11, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Brandon,
    Thanks for the interesting thoughts. I would definitely start with Kline’s Structure of Biblical Authority.

    I guess, I can see why it is tempting and logical in a way to say believers of all ages are under the New Covenant. The reasons I can’t say that are these:

    1. Jer.31.31 Behold the days are coming declares the LORD when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel… The covenant is not yet made. A covenant not made is impossible to be in.

    2. I think you are assuming more than the Scripture assumes to say that people are only saved as they are in the New Covenant. The Covenants were about more than salvation. They were about the government of the people of God and structure of the community. Cf. Kline’s Structure of Biblical Authority pgs. 94-110 The New Covenant is new because it brings to fulfillment the covenant of grace. It brings it to legal-community reality. Before grace was still active, even under the old covenant (though not in virtue of it) There is a movement in redemptive history. There is an outward bringing to fruition and light things that were hidden, yet still real. Regeneration was going on from Adam and Eve’s time and under the OC, but only in the New Covenant do these things define the people of God…

    I have to go…let me know what you think some time.

    Jason

  11. George W. Seevers, Jr.
    November 11, 2009 at 10:02 am

    To Jason and Brandon,

    Micah 7:18 should have some bearing on this discusion:

    Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love.

    In this context, the prophet is referring to the covenant nation of Israel, but he writes that God has passed over the sins of only a remnant of that covenant nation.

    On what basis is did God pass over the sins of the remnant of Israel? Jesus said that His blood was the blood of the New Covenant. What blood covered the sins of the Old Testament Jewish remnant? Were the sins of the Old Testament Jews covered by the blood of the Old Covenant shed in the tabernacle and temple, or were their sins covered by the blood of the New Covenant, just as ours have been? Of course, the Jews’ sins were covered by the blood of Christ, which He referred to as the blood of the New Covenant.

  12. Jason Webb
    November 11, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    The blood of the covenant is a technical term referring not to the sacrificial atonement shed on the cross. The blood of the covenant is the victim killed in order to ratify the covenant.
    Through this ratification sins can be forgiven.

    Exodus 24:8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
    This verse is in the middle of the covenant confirmation ceremony. cf Hebrews 9 where this used to show that the NC was not put into effect until the death of the victim. “For a will (diatheke/covenant) takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one made it is alive.”

    Zechariah 9:11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.

    The blood of the covenant is used here as a seal, a guarantee of the covenant.

    I am certainly not saying that the believers under the Old Covenant were saved any other way than through Christ’s blood, but you are misunderstanding the nature of the NC. It is about organizing, governing the people of God and guaranteeing them certain blessings that the people of God as a whole did not enjoy under the OT.

    The question is how then were the OT saints redeemed. My answer: They looked forward to the Redeemer in faith. They laid hold of the promises found in the covenant of grace, first announced to Adam in the garden, further clarified to Abraham. But the covenant of grace is not the New Covenant per se, the New Covenant is the fullest, clearest manifestation of the covenant of grace. In the NC the covenant of grace comes to its eschatological fulfillment. But the CoG existed before the NC.
    The people of God were saved by the blood of Jesus but they were not organized under the New Covenant. They were saved by the blood, but they were not freed from the covenant stipulations of the Old Covenant.

  13. George W. Seevers, Jr.
    November 11, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Jason,

    I may be mistaken, but I believe you are making some incorrect assumptions about what I was implying. We both agree that the Jews were not saved by the blood of bulls and goats. To the contray, I was once told by a Dispensationalist, who was a converted Jew, that Old Testament Jews were saved by offering the Old Testament sacrifices.

    All that I said was that the Jews of the Old Testament were saved by the blood of Christ, which Jesus said was the blood of the New Covenant. I did not say that Old Testament Jews were members of the New Covenant. All covenantal questions have to do with how much continuity and how much discontinuity there is betwen the Old Covenant believer and the New Covenant believer. The Covenantal Presbyterian sees more continuity than a Covenantal Baptist. The Dispensationalist sees less continuity than a Covenantal Baptist.

    The fact that Jews were saved by the blood of Christ, which He referred to as the blood of the New Covenant simply means that there is more continuity between the Old and New than the Dispensationalists want to admit.

    But I want you to notice something: we all (myself included) tend to react to others on the basis of our own position. For instance, if the law-gospel relationship is properly taught, the legalist will say the teacher is antinomian, while the antinominan will say that the same teacher is a legalist. The same thing happens when the subject is the covenants.

  14. Jason Webb
    November 11, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    George,
    I wholeheartedly and totally agree with you:) Brandon is working on a position that says those who believe in the Old Testament, were in the New Covenant. That is what I mistakenly thought you were saying as well. My apologies.

  15. May 11, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Dear Brother Adams,

    Thank you for posting me your new article on the Covenant. It made for thoughtful reading which has produced several questions:

    1. In the Covenant Theology of our Reformers (as opposed to 17th century Presbyterians of, say, 1643-48 and the modern NCT), is not believing Israel clearly identified with the Church but national Israel is not?
    2. Which covenant of works was not also part of the Covenant of Grace?
    3. Was not the New Covenant inaugurated when it was drawn up in eternity and applied to all times?
    4. Why separate the covenant as applied through Moses from God’s Covenant of Grace as applied through Christ? Is not Christ the Covenant Keeper and Author of both?
    5. Is not separating Law from Grace a Roman Catholic doctrine based on pagan Aristotelian logic and not the Scriptures? The Covenant of Grace tells us that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. Without either of these parts, there is no Covenant.
    6. Were not the types of the Old Testament both for the Old and the New Testaments and not merely for the New? Were they not believed by Abraham and David as much as Paul?
    7. Was not the Covenant as spoken of throughout the Old Testament applicable to all mankind in all times?
    8. Was the New Covenant of which we read in the historical books, the Psalms and the Prophets without meaning to those Old Testament saints who were given grace to keep the Covenant?
    9. Why does the Old Testament constantly speak of God’s Law being written on believers’ hearts if this were only a feature of NT theology?
    10. Is it not wrong to speak of God’s Covenant being made with fallen man when the author to the Hebrews tells us it was drawn up by the Father and the Son on behalf of man?

    Thank you for provoking these thoughts in me. Like you, I am still learning.

    Yours sincerely in Christ,

    George M. Ella

    • May 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm

      Hi George. Thanks for your questions

      1. No. (And I don’t understand why you are putting WCF in opposition to the Reformers) Standard Reformed Covenant Theology identifies the nation of Israel with the Church.

      2. I don’t understand your question

      3. No, there was a point in time in which it was inaugurated.

      4. No, Christ is not the mediator of the Old Covenant, as the author of Hebrews makes plain. For more, see here http://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/02/15/john-owens-commentary-on-the-old-and-new-covenants-outline/

      5. I don’t really follow your question, perhaps you can clarify.

      6. Again, I apologize, but I don’t follow your question.

      7. Sorry, I’m not following you. Please clarify

      8. Please rephrase your question, I don’t follow. I believe that anyone who was ever saved was saved by the New Covenant (in distinction from the Mosaic Covenant, etc)

      9. I never suggested this was unique to the New Testament era. But it is expressly unique to the New Covenant. Since this post was written as a very early expression of my attempt to understand these issues, I would encourage you to read my more recent posts. With regards to the New Covenant, I fully agree with the view expressed in this paper http://contrast2.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/reformed-baptist-covenant-theology-and-biblical-theology-sam-micah-renihan/

      10. Again, I don’t follow your question. You continually choose to refer to “God’s Covenant” when we are clearly talking about multiple covenants, so it would help if you could clarify what you are referring to.

      Forgive me for being dense, but perhaps you could take another stab at helping me understand your questions.

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  1. January 18, 2010 at 8:08 am
  2. January 18, 2010 at 11:11 am

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