I’ve been contributing to the Reformed Libertarian blog. Several posts over there you may be interested in:
Recently someone posted the following on Facebook:
This is a common claim baptists hear from Presbyterians. If a child of a Christian is saved, it is a testimony of God’s covenant faithfulness. But, as I pointed out, that must mean the inverse is true as well: If a child of a Christian is not saved, it is a testimony of God’s covenant unfaithfulness. The logic is simple:
- P1 God promises to save the children of believers
- P2 The salvation of believers’ children is testimony of God’s covenant faithfulness
- C The lack of salvation of believers’ children is testimony of God’s covenant unfaithfulness
Of course the immediate response is that I have misunderstood and misrepresented the paedobaptist position. The correct P1, I’m told, should be:
P1 God promises to save the elect children born of Christian parent(s)
I was told to read this statement (note, see They are not all Israel, who are of Israel):
The promise to which Peter referred in his Pentecost sermon is mentioned in HC74: “both redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are through the blood of Christ promised to [the children of believers] no less than to their parents.” The Baptist, however, hears language like this and often assumes that Reformed churches believe that every baptized child is guaranteed to be one of the elect. “If this true,” concludes the Baptist, “then what are we to say about those cases in which a baptized child did not persevere in the faith? If God made a promise to the child in baptism, but the child apostatizes as an adult, what does that say about God’s promise? Did his promise fail?”
Unfortunately, there are some Reformed churches that have contributed to this misconception by speaking of every baptized person in the church – “head for head” – as being truly elect and inwardly united to Christ. But it must be understood that membership in God’s visible covenant community does not guarantee membership in God’s elect people. This is Paul’s point in Romans 9 when he defends the fidelity of God’s promise to Abraham: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Rom. 9.6). In other words, not all in the visible church belong to the invisible church. This is why the Bible often speaks of another circumcision, a circumcision of the heart (Deut. 10.16; 30.6; Jer. 4.4; 9.25-26; Acts 7.51; Rom. 2.28-29). Although he was consecrated to the Lord as a member of the covenant people of God, the Israelite male was still responsible to believe the promises signified in his circumcision, for the sign (circumcision) never became the thing signified (the promises of God).
To which I am happy to revise my initial syllogism:
- P1 God promises to save the elect children born of Christian parents.
- P2 God promises to save the elect children not born of Christian parents (John 1:13; Gal 3:7-9; Rom 9:7-8, 11, 24-26; 10:11-13; 11:17; Eph 1:4-10, etc)
- C1 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.
- P3 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.
- P4 God’s covenantal faithfulness is determined by His promise to save the elect.
- C2 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s covenantal faithfulness.
The response? That can’t be true because God promises to save the children of Christians.
God’s promise to us includes our children.
God promises to, as a general principle, bring about the salvation of covenant children…
So we are back to square one because they are equivocating on what the promise is, precisely. Is it to the elect, or is it to all our children generally?
The final response was (note the equivocation):
An accurate P4 (etc.) would be:
- God’s covenantal faithfulness is determined by His promise to save those who he has promised to save.
- P5 God has promised to (among others) save the children of believers.
- C God shows His faithfulness (among other ways) when He saves (among others) the children of believers.
In which case, there is nothing unique about the salvation of the children of believers since God’s faithfulness is also demonstrated (“among other ways”) when he saves the children of non-believers (“among others”). In other words:
- C2 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s covenant faithfulness.
Baptists frequently hear the following refrain:
The one olive tree is the covenant people of God. Unbelieving Jews were broken off and Gentiles were grafted in. We live in that present redemptive-historical reality. However, verses 20-22 indicate that branches may yet be cut off. These branches are formally united to the tree (the covenant people with Christ as their root), but not vitally united since they do not have faith and hence do not bear fruit (cf. John 15:2). It will not be until the eschatological consummation that the olive tree will only have fruit-bearing branches. Only then is God’s pruning work complete, and only then will membership in the visible and invisible church be identical.
The argument goes:
4. As the infant seed of the people of God are acknowledged on all hands to have been members of the church, equally with their parents under the Old Testament dispensation, so it is equally certain that the church of God is the same in substance now that it was then; and, of course, it is just as reasonable and proper, on principle, that the infant offspring of professed believers should be members of the church now, as it was that they should be members of the ancient church.
I am aware that our Baptist brethren warmly object to this statement, and assert that the church of God under the Old Testament economy and the New, is not the same, but so essentially different, that the same principles can by no means apply to each. They contend that the Old Testament dispensation was a kind of political economy, rather national than spiritual in its character; and, of course, that when the Jews ceased to be a people, the covenant under which they had been placed, was altogether laid aside, and a covenant of an entirely new character introduced. But nothing can be more evident than that this view of the subject is entirely erroneous.
The perpetuity of the Abrahamic covenant, and, of consequence, the identity of the church under both dispensations, is so plainly taught in scripture, and follows so unavoidably from the radical scriptural principles concerning the church of God, that it is indeed wonderful how any believer in the Bible can call in question the fact…
But what places the identity of the church, under both dispensations, in the clearest and strongest light, is that memorable and decisive passage, in the 11th chapter of the epistle to the Romans, in which the church of God is held forth to us under the emblem of an olive tree. Under the same figure had the Lord designated the church by the pen of Jeremiah the prophet. In the 11th chapter of his prophecy, the prophet, speaking of God’s covenanted people under that economy, says, “The LORD called thy name, A green olive tree, fair and of goodly fruit” (Jer. 11:6). But concerning this olive tree, on account of the sin of the people in forsaking the Lord, the prophet declares: “With the noise of a great tumult he hath kindled a fire upon it, and the branches of it are broken.” Let me request you to compare with this, the language of the apostle in the 11th chapter of the epistle to the Romans: “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say, then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be broken off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted, contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Rom. 11:15-24).
That the apostle is here speaking of the Old Testament church, under the figure of a good olive tree, cannot be doubted, and is, indeed, acknowledged by all; by our Baptist brethren as well as others. Now the inspired apostle says concerning this olive tree, that the natural branches, that is the Jews, were broken off because of unbelief. But what was the consequence of this excision? Was the tree destroyed? By no means. The apostle teaches directly the contrary. It is evident, from his language, that the root and trunk, in all their “fatness,” remained; and Gentiles, branches of an olive tree “wild by nature,” were “grafted into the good olive tree” the same tree from which the natural branches had been broken off. Can anything be more pointedly descriptive of identity than this?
But this is not all. The apostle apprises us that the Jews are to be brought back from their rebellion and wanderings and to be incorporated with the Christian church. And how is this restoration described? It is called “grafting them in again into their own olive tree.” In other words, the “tree” into which the Gentile Christians at the coming of Christ were “grafted,” was the “old olive tree,” of which the ancient covenant people of God were the “natural branches;” and, of course, when the Jews shall be brought in, with the fullness of the Gentiles, into the Christian church, the apostle expressly tells us they shall be “grafted again into their own olive tree.” Surely, if the church of God before the coming of Christ, and the church of God after the advent, were altogether distinct and separate bodies, and not the same in their essential characters, it would be an abuse of terms to represent the Jews, when converted to Christianity, as grafted again into their own olive tree.
However, Romans 11:15-24 does not warrant such a conclusion. Addressing the passage exegetically presents some challenges to the standard paedobaptist interpretation.
First, what is the olive tree? Samuel Miller above argued “That the apostle is here speaking of the Old Testament church, under the figure of a good olive tree, cannot be doubted.” But that betrays an underlying assumption. If we start with assumptions, we may miss the point of the text. To be more accurate, John Murray notes that “The figure of the olive tree to describe Israel is in accord with the Old Testament usage (Jer 11:16, 17; Hos 14:6).” Therefore the olive tree is Israel.
Second, what is the root? Camden Bucey claimed above that it was Christ (as is common when arguing against baptists). But again, that betrays an underlying assumption not drawn from the text itself. Douglas Moo notes
Most scholars are led by the parallelism to identify the “first fruits” with the patriarchs (Chrysostom; Godet; S-H; Murray; Michel; Kasemann; Wilckens; Schlier; Bourke, Olive Tree, pp. 75-76). But some think that the “first fruits” is Adam or Christ (cf 1 Cor 15:20, 23), while a significant (and growing) number think it is Jewish Christians, the remnant.
The standard reformed view is that the root is Abraham and the patriarchs. Murray states simply “The root is surely the patriarchs.” Calvin elaborates:
They were then sanctified by the holy covenant, and adorned with peculiar honor, with which God had not at that time favored the Gentiles; but as the efficacy of the covenant appeared then but small, he bids us to look back to Abraham and the patriarchs, in whom the blessing of God was not indeed either empty or void. He hence concludes, that from them an heredity holiness had passed to all their posterity.
But it is here where confusion and ambiguity arises as to whether the root is Abraham or Christ because of prior covenantal commitments. If the olive tree is the covenant of grace, and Christ is the head of the covenant of grace, then he must be the root of the olive tree. And, per Bucey above, a distinction must made between branches vitally united to the root (Christ) and branches formally united to the root (Christ). Hence the inward/outward covenant construct. The olive tree then becomes a description of how the visible church has functioned since Genesis 3:15, with individuals being broken off for unbelief throughout. However, this presents us with some problems.
Nations or Individuals?
If this is simply a description of what has always been the case for individuals in the visible church, how does it make sense of the context? Murray notes:
The act of judgment upon Israel spoken of in verse 15 as the “casting away” is now represented as breaking off of branches. This is the appropriate representation in terms of the figure now being used. The expression “some of the branches” does not seem to agree, however, with the fact that the mass of Israel had been cast away. It is a sufficient answer to this difference to bear in mind that the main interest of the apostle now is focused on the grafting in of the Gentiles and the cutting away of Israel and it is not necessary to reflect on the extent to which the latter takes place.
Paul is referring to national rejection, but also of individual breaking and grafting. Murray’s solution is to dismiss the question as irrelevant. Calvin, on the other hand, insists the passage is referring only to nations, not to individuals.
Let us remember that in this comparison man is not compared with man, but nation with nation. If then a comparison be made between them, they shall be found equal in this respect, that they are both equally the children of Adam; the only difference is that the Jews had been separated from the Gentiles, that they might be a peculiar people to the Lord.
They were then sanctified by the holy covenant, and adorned with peculiar honor, with which God had not at that time favored the Gentiles; but as the efficacy of the covenant appeared then but small, he bids us to look back to Abraham and the patriarchs, in whom the blessing of God was not indeed either empty or void. He hence concludes, that from them an heredity holiness had passed to all their posterity. But this conclusion would not have been right had he spoken of persons, or rather had he not regarded the promise; for when the father is just, he cannot yet transmit his own uprightness to his son: but as the Lord had sanctified Abraham for himself for this end, that his seed might also be holy, and as he thus conferred holiness not only on his person but also on his whole race, the Apostle does not unsuitably draw this conclusion, that all the Jews were sanctified in their father Abraham.
Then to confirm this view, he adduces two similitudes: the one taken from the ceremonies of the law, and the other borrowed from nature. The first-fruits which were offered sanctified the whole lump, in like manner the goodness of the juice diffuses itself from the root to the branches; and posterity hold the same connection with their parents from whom they proceed as the lump has with the first-fruits, and the branches with the tree. It is not then a strange thing that the Jews were sanctified in their father. There is here no difficulty if you understand by holiness the spiritual nobility of the nation, and that indeed not belonging to nature, but what proceeded from the covenant. It may be truly said, I allow, that the Jews were naturally holy, for their adoption was hereditary; but I now speak of our first nature, according to which we are all, as we know, accursed in Adam. Therefore the dignity of an elect people, to speak correctly, is a supernatural privilege.
Calvin’s concern is soteriological: Paul speaks of a hereditary holiness that would be inappropriate if applied to individuals. His solution is to limit the holiness of the Jews (their inclusion as branches) to a national setting apart: “their adoption was hereditary.” The editor of Calvin’s commentary included the following note:
Editor: That the holiness here mentioned is external and relative, and not personal and inward, is evident from the whole context. The children of Israel were denominated holy in all their wickedness and disobedience, because they had been consecrated to God, adopted as his people, and set apart for his service, and they enjoyed all the external privileges of the covenant which God had made with their fathers… “The holiness,” says Turrettin, “of the first-fruits and of the root was no other than an external, federal, and national consecration, such as could be transferred from parents to their children.”
“The attentive reader,” says Scott, “will readily perceive that relative holiness, or consecration to God, is here exclusively meant…”
Calvin goes on to treat the entire passage as dealing with two groups collectively. In addressing the cutting off of Gentile branches, he argues
And here again it appears more evident, that the discourse is addressed generally to the body of the Gentiles, for the excision, of which he speaks, could not apply to individuals, whose election is unchangeable, based on the eternal purpose of God. Paul therefore declares to the Gentiles, that if they exulted over the Jews, a reward for their pride would be prepared for them; for God will again reconcile to himself the first people whom he has divorced.
So, for Calvin, the branches that are grafted in are not individuals and the branches that are cut off are not individuals. Instead it refers to Jews as a whole and Gentiles as a whole. Take note that Calvin’s motivation for viewing this passage in terms of groups is soteriological: Jews cannot be individually included by hereditary adoption and Gentiles cannot be individually excised for unbelief. This is clearly inconsistent with the standard paedobaptist interpretation of the text as referring to individuals who are grafted in and cut off from the visible church. For Calvin, this is not a description of how the visible church has always functioned, but instead it is a description of a specific event in redemptive history.
Abraham the root. Israel the tree.
Murray rejects Calvin’s argument, noting “It would press the language and the analogy too far to think of the wild olive as grafted in its entirety into the good olive. As indicated in verse 24 the branches of the wild olive are viewed as grafted in.”
How then are we to resolve this tension? How do we address Murray’s concern that the nation as a whole is cast away, but this happens in terms of individual branches, while at the same time safeguarding Calvin’s soteriological concerns that require a corporate, rather than individual consideration?
The solution lies in adhering closely to the text. Christ and the patriarchs cannot both be the root. It is one or the other. Abraham is the root. Likewise, we will avoid unnecessary problems if we do not import concepts of the visible church into the text and simply acknowledge that the tree is Israel, Abraham’s seed.
Note what John Owen says about Abraham and his seed:
Two privileges did God grant unto Abraham, upon his separation to a special interest in the old promise and covenant: —
First, That according to the flesh he should be the father of the Messiah, the promised seed; who was the very life of the covenant, the fountain and cause of all the blessings contained in it. That this privilege was temporary, having a limited season, time, and end, appointed unto it, the very nature of the thing itself doth demonstrate; for upon this actual exhibition in the flesh, it was to cease. In pursuit hereof were his posterity separated from the rest of the world, and preserved a peculiar people, that through them the promised Seed might be brought forth in the fullness of time, and be of them according unto the flesh, Romans 9:5.
Secondly, Together with this, he had also another privilege granted unto him, namely, that his faith, whereby he was personally interested in the covenant, should be the pattern of the faith of the church in all generations; and that none should ever come to be a member of it, or a sharer in its blessings, but by the same faith that he had fixed on the Seed that was in the promise, to be brought forth from him into the world. On the account of this privilege, he became the father of all them that do believe: for “they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham,” Galatians 3:7, Romans 4:11: as also “heir of the world,” Romans 4:13, in that all that should believe throughout the world, being thereby implanted into the covenant made with him, should become his “spiritual children.”
4. Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God. Not that these two seeds were always subjectively diverse, so that the seed separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah in the flesh should neither in whole nor in part be also the seed according to the promise; or, on the contrary, that the seed according to the promise should none of it be his seed after the flesh. Our apostle the contrary in the instances of Isaac and Jacob, with the “remnant” of Israel that shall be saved, Romans 9,10,11. But sometimes the same seed came under diverse considerations, being the seed of Abraham both according to the flesh and according to the promise; and sometimes the seed itself was diverse, those according to the flesh being not of the promise, and so on the contrary. Thus Isaac and Jacob were the seed of Abraham according unto the flesh, separated unto the brining forth of the Messiah after the flesh, because they were his carnal posterity; and they were also of the seed of the promise, because, by their own personal faith, they were interested in the covenant of Abraham their father.
Multitudes afterwards were of the carnal seed of Abraham, and of the number of the people separated to bring forth the Messiah in the flesh, and yet were not of the seed according to the promise, nor interested in the spiritual blessings of the covenant; because they did not personally believe, as our apostle declares, chap. 4 of this epistle. And many, afterwards, who were not of the carnal seed of Abraham, nor interested in the privilege of bringing forth the Messiah in the flesh, were yet designed to be made his spiritual seed by faith; that in them he might become “heir of the world,” and all nations of the earth be blessed in him. Now, it is evident that it is the second privilege, or spiritual seed, wherein the church, to whom the promises are made, is founded, and whereof it doth consist, — namely, in them who by faith are interested in the covenant of Abraham, whether they be of the carnal seed or no.
5. And herein lay the great mistake of the Jews of old, wherein they are followed by their posterity unto this day. They thought no more was needful to interest them in the covenant of Abraham but that they were his seed according to the flesh; and they constantly pleaded the latter privilege as the ground and reason of the former. It is true, they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should he set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth.
That this separation and privilege was to cease when the end of it was accomplished and the Messiah exhibited, the very nature of the thing declares; for to what purpose should it be continued when that was fully effected whereunto it was designed? But they would extend this privilege, and mix it with the other, contending that, because they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh, the whole blessing and covenant of Abraham belonged unto them. But as our Savior proved that in the latter sense they were the children of Abraham, because they did not the works of Abraham; so our apostle plainly demonstrates, Romans 4:9. 10. 11. Galatians 3:4., that those of them who had not the faith of Abraham had no interest in his blessing and covenant. Seeing, therefore, that their other privilege was come to an end, with all the carnal ordinances that attended it, by the actual coming of the Messiah, whereunto they were subservient, if they did not, by faith in the promised seed, attain an interest in this of the spiritual blessing, it is evident that they could on no account be considered as actual sharers in the covenant of God.
6. We have seen that Abraham, on the account of his faith, and not of his separation according to the flesh, was the father of all that believe, and heir of the world. And in the covenant made with him, as to that which concerns, not the bringing forth of the promised Seed according to the flesh, but as unto faith therein, and in the work of redemption to be performed thereby, lies the foundation of the church in all ages.
Wheresoever this covenant is, and with whomsoever it is established, with them is the church; unto whom all the promises and privileges of the church do belong. Hence it was, that at the coming of the Messiah there was not one church taken away, and another set up in the room thereof; but the church continued the same, in those that were the children of Abraham according to the faith. The Christian church is not another church, but the very same that was before the coming of Christ, having the same faith with it, and interested in the same covenant.
It is true, the former carnal privilege of Abraham and his posterity expiring, on the grounds before mentioned, the ordinances of worship which were suited thereunto did necessarily cease also. And this cast the Jews into great perplexities, and proved the last trial that God made of them; for whereas both these, — namely, the carnal and spiritual privileges of Abraham’s covenant, — had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations, coming now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Malachi 3) who of the Jews had interest in both, who in one only, those who had only the carnal privilege, of being children of Abraham according to the flesh, contended for a share on that single account in the other also, — that is, in all the promises annexed unto the covenant. But the foundation of their plea was taken away, and the church, unto which the promises belong, remained with them that were heirs of Abraham’s faith only.
7. It remains, then, that the church founded in the covenant, and unto which all the promises did and do belong, abode at the coming of Christ, and doth abide ever since, in and among those who are the children of Abraham by faith. The old church was not taken away, and a new one set up, but the same church was continued, only in those who by faith inherited the promises. Great alterations, indeed, were then made in the outward state and condition of the church; as, —
(1.) The carnal privilege of the Jews, in their separation to bring forth the Messiah, then failed; and therewith their claim on that account to be the children of Abraham.
(2.) The ordinances of worship suited unto that privilege expired and came to an end.
(3.) New ordinances of worship were appointed, suited unto the new light and grace then granted unto the church.
(4.) The Gentiles came in to the faith of Abraham together with the Jews, to be fellow-heirs with them in his blessing. But none of these, nor all of them together, made any such alteration in the church but that it was still one and the same. The olive-tree was the same, only some branches were broken off, and others planted in; the Jews fell, and the Gentiles came in their room.
Here’s what we learn from Owen:
- He had a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh.
- He had a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God.
- These two seeds had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations.
- At a specific point in history they came now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Malachi 3).
- The carnal seed lost their privilege.
- What remained was the spiritual seed (“all the elect of God”).
The olive tree, Israel, consists of both of Abraham’s seed. As Calvin said “the Jews were naturally holy, for their adoption was hereditary” and this “heredity holiness” (Calvin), “external consecration” (Turretin), or “relative holiness” (Scott) came to an end at Christ’s coming. This answers the question of a national casting off of a group. The branches that remained were those with “personal and inward” holiness “such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God,” thus answering the question of individual branches.
In the above, Owen divided the Abrahamic covenant into Abraham’s two privileges.
We have seen that Abraham, on the account of his faith, and not of his separation according to the flesh, was the father of all that believe, and heir of the world. And in the covenant made with him, as to that which concerns, not the bringing forth of the promised Seed according to the flesh, but as unto faith therein, and in the work of redemption to be performed thereby, lies the foundation of the church in all ages.
He later clarified this division of privileges by separating them into two covenants:
When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though it were not before in existence and effect, before the introduction of that which is promised here. For it was always the same, substantially, from the beginning. It passed through the whole dispensation of times before the law, and under the law, of the same nature and effectiveness, unalterable, “everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians only excepted, grant that the covenant of grace, considered absolutely, — that is, the promise of grace in and by Jesus Christ, —was the only way and means of salvation to the church, from the first entrance of sin.
But for two reasons, it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect to any other things, nor was it called a covenant under the old testament. When God renewed the promise of it to Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but this covenant with Abraham was with respect to other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely, under the old testament, the covenant of grace consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture…
Thus the Abrahamic covenant consecrated Abraham’s carnal seed for the temporary purpose of bringing forth the Messiah, while the New Covenant (covenant of grace) is the “foundation of the church in all ages” working prior to Christ by way of “promise”.
We are asserting that those Messianic promises point to the Messianic Covenant, that is the New Covenant, the covenant of grace, and that as such they point to a covenant distinct from the covenant of circumcision with Abraham and his natural offspring. This means that not only has that typical, external covenantal relationship been abrogated and passed away, but also that the Messianic and eternal relationship was always active, embedded within that external covenant. The internal and external circles, visible in the Old Testament, are not the result of two levels of covenantal membership, but are the result of two different covenants, the covenant of circumcision and the covenant of grace.
Micah and Samuel Renihan, Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology, Recovering a Covenantal Heritage
The olive tree, Israel, therefore includes multiple covenants and thus should not be identified with a covenant itself. The covenantal context of Jeremiah 11:16 refers to the Old Covenant that Israel broke. The violation of the Old Covenant was the grounds for the carnal seed’s being cut off. See Why Did God Exile Israel? and Why Did God Destroy Israel?
Typology of Israel
The standard reformed paedobaptist explanation of Israel is derived from Romans 9:6 “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (see my post on 9:6) in conjunction with Romans 2:29 “a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart.” From these passages they develop the concept of an inward and outward covenant of grace where Israel after the flesh constitutes the outward covenant and Israel after the promise constitutes the inward covenant.
However, based upon the above distinctions, and in conjunction with the overwhelming thrust of Scripture, we can say that the relationship between carnal Israel and spiritual Israel is one of type and anti-type. Just as the olive tree does not simply describe the way things have always been, but instead describes a specific event in redemptive history, so too does the distinction between Israel and Israel.
[T]his rejection of Israel and this new formation of God’s people is not simply something of the eschatological future, but has already begun to be realized with the coming of Jesus.
Ridderbos, Kingdom, 352.
Ernst Kasemann notes:
Ephesians regards the union of Jewish and Gentile Christians in the church as the eschatological mystery as such and lets Pauline theology lead to that. The apostle at least builds a path toward such a view. For “not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles” says that the church cannot be compared either to a Jewish or to a Gentile society. In continuity with God’s ancient people it is the true Israel, while in antithesis to this people it is the new people of God and the new covenant. In the Jewish view still found in Paul, Jews and Gentiles characterize the world in its unity and contradiction. Hence the church, in which both are found, is more than a religious group or even a people; it is the new world. (273)
In the Old Testament, the Old Covenant was a type and shadow of the fullness to come. That fullness was shrouded in mystery and types waiting for its revelation in Christ. With the coming of Christ we now have that fullness. The external, typological elements of the Old Covenant are cast off. The mystery and shadows are gone. With the New Covenant comes the in-breaking of the eschatological age in its “already-not yet” form.
Micah and Samuel Renihan, Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology, Recovering a Covenantal Heritage
The distinction Paul makes in Romans 9:6 between Israel and Israel is eschatological in nature. He is describing a new reality, a new eschatological redefinition of Israel, not a description of what it has always meant. As Richard Barcellos notes “the church is actually the eschatological Israel of Old Testament prophecy.” Abraham’s carnal seed was a type of Abraham’s spiritual seed. And both typical and anti-typical Israel are represented in the olive tree of Israel, with the type being cut off.
If the type has been cast off and there remain no natural branches, no hereditary branches in the olive tree, but only elect branches grafted in through faith, how should we understand the warning of v18-24. Can those united through faith be cut off? No. The warning is a means of humbling them.
The observation that “by their unbelief they were broken off” is made in this instance, however, to emphasize that by which Gentiles have come to stand and occupy a place in the olive tree, namely, by faith. The main interest of the context is to rebuke and correct vain boasting. The emphasis falls on “faith” because it is faith that removes all ground for boasting. If those grafted in have come to stand by faith, then all thought of merit is excluded (cf 9:32; 11:6; 3:27).
In the person of the Gentiles he brings forward what they might have pleaded for themselves; but that was of such a nature as ought not to have filled them with pride, but, on the contrary, to have made them humble. For if the cutting off of the Jews was through unbelief, and if the ingrafting of the Gentiles was by faith, what was their duty but to acknowledge the favor of God, and also to cherish modesty and humbleness of mind? For it is the nature of faith, and what properly belongs to it, to generate humility and fear. But by fear understand that which is in no way inconsistent with the assurance of faith; for Paul would not have our faith to vacillate or to alternate with doubt, much less would he have us to be frightened or to quake with fear.Of what kind then is this fear? As the Lord bids us to take into our consideration two things, so two kinds of feeling must thereby be produced. For he would have us ever to bear in mind the miserable condition of our nature; and this can produce nothing but dread, weariness, anxiety, and despair; and it is indeed expedient that we should thus be thoroughly laid prostrate and broken down, that we may at length groan to him; but this dread, derived from the knowledge of ourselves, keeps not our minds while relying on his goodness, from continuing calm; this weariness hinders us not from enjoying full consolation in him; this anxiety, this despair, does not prevent us from obtaining in him real joy and hope. Hence the fear, of which he speaks, is set up as an antidote to proud contempt; for as every one claims for himself more than what is right, and becomes too secure and at length insolent towards others, we ought then so far to fear, that our heart may not swell with pride and elate itself.But it seems that he throws in a doubt as to salvation, since he reminds them to beware lest they also should not be spared. To this I answer, — that as this exhortation refers to the subduing of the flesh, which is ever insolent even in the children of God, he derogates nothing from the certainty of faith.-Calvin
The only approach to Romans 9 that truly addresses the issue of God’s righteousness as it relates to ethnic Israel is that the election spoken of in verses 7–18 is election to service. Paul’s thesis is that God’s word of promise to Israel has not failed (Rom. 9:6a). Why not? The answer is Romans 9:6b (NASB), “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” Here Paul is not distinguishing between two groups within Israel, the saved and the lost, with the ensuing discussion focusing on how God unconditionally makes the distinction. Rather, the contrast is of a different sort altogether. There are two groups, but they are not completely distinct from each other. One is actually inside the other, as a smaller body within a larger body. Both groups are called Israel, but they are different kinds of Israel. The larger one is ethnic Israel, the physical nation as a whole; the smaller belongs to this group but is also distinguished from it as a separate entity, i.e., as the true spiritual Israel, the remnant of true believers who enjoy the blessings of eternal salvation.
But the contrast between these two Israels is not that one is saved while the other is lost. This cannot be, since the smaller (saved) group is also a part of the larger body. What is the difference between these two Israels, and why does Paul even bring it up here? The key difference is that God’s covenant promises to these two groups are not the same. The promises God made to ethnic Israel are different from the promises he has made to spiritual Israel. Paul is saying, in effect, “You think God has been unfair to ethnic Israel because all Jews are not saved? Don’t you know there are two Israels, each with a different set of promises? You are actually confusing these two Israels. You are taking the salvation promises that apply only to the smaller group and are mistakenly trying to apply them to Israel as a whole.”
Here is the point: there are two “chosen peoples,” two Israels; but only remnant Israel has been chosen for salvation. Contrary to what the Jews commonly thought, ethnic Israel as a whole was not chosen for salvation but for service. God’s covenant promises to physical Israel as such had to do only with the role of the nation in God’s historical plan of redemption. Their election was utilitarian, not redemptive. God chose them to serve a purpose. The Jews themselves thought that this election involved the promise of salvation for individuals, but they were simply mistaken. This same mistake lies at the root of the Calvinist view that the election in Romans 9 is election to salvation. This is Piper’s root exegetical error, as he strains mightily to read salvation content into the blessings described in Romans 9:4–5.207 He concludes that “each of the benefits listed in 9:4, 5 has saving, eschatological implications for Israel,”208 and then proceeds to try to explain why such benefits were not enjoyed by all Jews. His answer is that God makes a distinction within Israel, unconditionally choosing to apply these saving benefits to only some Jews. Schreiner takes a similar approach, saying that Paul’s thesis in Romans 9–11 as stated in Romans 9:6—that “the word of God has not failed”—refers to God’s promises to save his people Israel.209
Even Forlines, an Arminian, interprets God’s covenant promises to Abraham and his seed (as in Gen. 13:14–15; 17:8) as including “the promise of eternal life.”210 But this is simply not true. The terms of the covenant God made with Abraham and later with Israel as a whole did not include a promise to save anyone simply because he or she was a member of the covenant people. The key promise God made to Abraham and his seed was this: “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3 NASB), a promise that was fulfilled when “the Christ according to the flesh” ultimately came from Israel (Rom. 9:5 NASB). All the other promises and blessings were subordinate to this one and were designed to bring about its fulfillment. None involved a promise of eternal salvation for the individual members of the covenant people. The blessings listed by Paul in Romans 9:4–5 do not include salvation content.211
Jack W. Cotrell (2006-11-01). Perspectives on Election (pp. 125-126). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
The clarifying question that must now be posed is this: If, as we have seen (p53), God’s purpose is to perform his act of election freely without being determined by any human distinctives, what act of election is intended in Rom9:11—13—an election which determines the eternal destiny of individuals, or an election which merely assigns to individuals and nations the roles they are to play in history? The question is contextually appropriate and theologically explosive.18 On one side, those who find in Rom 9:6-13 individual and eternal predestination are accused of importing a “modern problem” (of determinism and indeterminism) into the text, and of failing to grasp the corporateness of the election discussed. 19 On the other side, one sees in the text a clear statement of “double predestination” of individuals to salvation or condemnation and claims that “the history of exegesis of Rom 9 could be described as the history of attempts to escape this clear observation” (Maier, Mensch und freier Wille, 356)…
J. Munck (Christ and Israel, 42) argues that “Rom 9:6-13 is therefore speaking neither of individuals and their selection for salvation, nor of the spiritual Israel, the Christian church. It speaks rather of the patriarchs, who without exception became founders of peoples.”
The list of modern scholars on the other side is just as impressive… On the larger context (including Rom 9:16) Henry Alford (II, 408f) writes, “I must protest against all endeavors to make it appear that no inference lies from this passage as to the salvation of individuals. It is most true that the immediate subject is the national rejection of Jews: but we must consent to hold our reason in abeyance if we do not recognize the inference that the sovereign power and free election here proved to belong to God extend to every exercise of his mercy – whether temporal or spiritual… whether national or individual.”…
The basic argument against seeing individual, eternal predestination in Rom 9:6-13 is that the two Old Testament references on which Paul builds his case do not in their Old Testament contexts refer to individuals or to eternal destiny, but rather to nations and historical tasks. The argument carries a good deal of force, especially when treated (as it usually is) without reference to the logical development of Paul’s argument in Rom 9:1-13…
By this election of Isaac instead of Ishmael God shows that physical descent from Abraham does not guarantee that one will be a beneficiary of the covenant made with Abraham and his seed… But, the interpretation continues, the covenant blessings for which Isaac is freely chosen (before his birth) and from which Ishmael is excluded (in spite of descendancy from Abraham) do not include individual eternal salvation. One cannot legitimately infer from Rom 9:7-9 that Ishmael and his descendants are eternally lost nor that Isaac and his descendants are eternally saved. What God freely and sovereignly determined is the particular descendant (Isaac) whose line will inherit the blessings of the covenant: multiplying exceedingly, fathering many nations, inhabiting the promised land and having God as their God (Gen 17:2-8). This benefit, not eternal salvation, is what is not based on physical descent from Abraham, but on God’s unconditional election…
A plausible case can be made for the position that “Paul is no longer concerned with two peoples and their fate but rather in a permanent way with the election and rejection of two persons [Jacob and Esau] who have been raised to the level of types” (Kaesemann, Romans, 264). I think this is probably true… But… the decisive flaw in the collectivist/historical position is not its failure to agree with Kaesemann’s contention. It’s decisive flaw is its failure to ask how the flow of Paul’s argument from 9:1-5 on through the chapter affects the application of the principle Paul has established in Rom 9:6b-13. The principle established is that God’s promised blessings are never enjoyed on the basis of what a person is by birth or by works, but only on the basis of God’s sovereign, free predestination (Rom 9:11,12)… We may grant, for the sake of argument, that in the demonstration of this principle of God’s freedom in election Paul uses Old Testament texts that do not relate explicitly to eternal salvation… [But] the solution which Rom 9:6-13 develops in respons to this problem [9:1-5], must address the issue of individual, eternal salvation…
[W]hether Paul sees the election of Isaac (Rom 9:7b) as the election of an individual to salvation or as the election of his posterity for a historical task, the principle of unconditional election is immediately applied by Paul to the present concern, namely, who in reality does constitute true, spiritual “Israel” (9:6b), whose salvation is guaranteed by God’s word?”
– John Piper, The Justification of God, p. 56-73
Rather than being a proof text for Westminster federalism, the internal/external covenant construct is imported into Romans 9:6 because of a prior covenantal commitment (and in so doing introduces considerable problems as to the circumcision of Ishmael after it was declared to Abraham that he was a child of the flesh, not of the promise). Paul is making distinctions between national Israel, to whom belong the [old] covenants (they are/were actually in covenant with God), and true, spiritual Israel, to whom belong the ultimate fulfillment of those previous covenants: the new covenant/covenant of grace. They are not all [spiritual] Israel (the church/new covenant) who are descended from Israel (the nation/old covenant).
This is actually how Augustine interpreted the verse:
As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old [covenant], so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new [covenant].”… “the children of the promise [Rom 9:8], reborn of God, who have obeyed the commands by faith working through love [Gal 5:6], have belonged to the New Covenant since the world began… the happy persons, who even in that early age were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New [covenant];…
“They shall all know me,” Jer. xxxi. 34. // He says,—“All,” the house of Israel and house of Judah. “All,” however, “are not Israel which are of Israel,” Rom. ix. 6. // but they only to whom it is said in “the psalm concerning the morning aid” See title of Ps. xxii. (xxi. Sept.) in the Sept. and Latin. // (that is, concerning the new refreshing light, meaning that of the new testament [covenant]), “All ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel.” Ps. xxii. 23. // All the seed, without exception, even the entire seed of the promise and of the called, but only of those who are the called according to His purpose. Rom. viii. 28. // “For whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” Rom. viii. 30. // “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed: not to that only which is of the law,”—that is, which comes from the Old Testament [Covenant] into the New,—“but to that also which is of faith,” which was indeed prior to the law, even “the faith of Abraham,”—meaning those who imitate the faith of Abraham,—“who is the father of us all; as it is written, I have made thee the father of many nations.” Rom. iv. 16, 17. // Now all these predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones, shall know God by the grace of the new testament [covenant], from the least to the greatest of them.
Back in September I posted about my CIRS and Lyme diagnosis: I’m a Leper in a Leprous House.
Yesterday I came across a blog that does a decent job of communicating what it’s like. My story with Mold Toxicity , Lyme Disease and MCS/EHS
Thankfully I have not been dealing with it as long as she has, so I have not developed MCS. The Lord has also graciously given me a safe place to live for the time being, but I can confirm her comments about reacting to spores on people’s clothes, restaurants, stores, and in my case mail from the moldy Post Office. As of last Sunday, I also can’t tolerate the community center our church began meeting at. This stuff sounds absolutely nutty and it took me a while to get over how bizarre it is. It’s also not rare.
When sorrows surge, and strength has fled,
When streams become a flood,
When man is laid upon his bed,
And finds he’s flesh and blood,
Where will he run, where will he turn,
Where can a creature go?
When will he see, when will he learn,
What he should surely know?
“Why now? Why here? Why me? Why this?
Why us?” we cry aloud.
“Have I behaved aright? Amiss?”
We ask, with body bowed.
“Has God forgotten to be kind,
Will he not keep his vows?”
Such thoughts and questions fill the mind,
More than the soul allows.
Yet through his word, fit for my frame,
I find myself consoled.
“Recall my deeds, recall my name,
Recall my works of old.
Twas I who brought the Israelites
Out from their slavery.
Twas I who led them day and night
Through deadly land and sea.
Recall to mind, and then have hope,
That I do all things well.
When in the shadows, blind, you grope,
I will, the dark, dispel.
New, new, each morn, my mercies are,
Bright as the rising sun.
And whether you go near or far,
They cannot be undone.”
But greater still than parted waves,
Or manna from the sky,
Is God the Son, who came to save,
Who only lived to die.
He is the bread; he is the way
Through death and judgment’s path.
And he alone saves on that day
Of God’s unfailing wrath.
And in his death I start to see,
The clouds begin to clear.
The questions that were plaguing me
Begin to disappear.
In history, outside of me,
I see God’s working hand,
And find a true reality
That makes me understand.
For if my God through wickedness,
Can bring about his plan
To save from sins in righteousness
An undeserving man,
Then can he not in my life, too,
Cause good to come from ill?
And should I not, since this is true,
Resign to trust his will?
Who else have I, who else have we,
If not our God above?
Where can we fly, where can we flee,
If not to he who’s love?
We can, we may, we will, we must,
Find rest in God alone.
The creature’s sole and only trust,
Is he who’s on the throne.
And do I not have reasons great
To know that this is so?
Since he, in heaven, sets my fate
Here on the earth below?
And so the Father calms his child.
He wipes and dries my tears
And in his ever-loving arms
The Father calms my fears.
What vanities befall me now,
I know they work for good.
And though I often don’t see how,
I see the cross of wood.
And when my sorrows well within,
As sorrows well without,
I’ll take my Savior’s medicine,
And banish fear and doubt.
(These thoughts were drawn especially from Psalm 77 and Lamentations 3.)
Following the recent exchange with Gatiss, someone on Facebook commented:
I always thought Owen’s claims about the Poverty of Types meant he was on a pretty different page from the rest of the prebsyterians
“Such was the poverty of the types that no one of them could so much as shadow out or represent all that advantage which we really enjoy and therefore they were multiplied and the work distributed amongst them which they were to represent. This made them a yoke and that grievous and burdensome. The way of teaching in them and by them was hard and obscure as well as their observation was difficult. It was a hard thing for them to learn the love grace and mind of God by them God revealed himself in them by many parts and pieces according as they were capable to receive impression from and make representation of divine wisdom, goodness, and grace; whence our apostle says that the law had but a shadow and not the image itself of things. It had some scattered shades which the great limner had laid the foundation of symmetry in but so as to be discernible only unto his own infinite wisdom. A perfect image wherein all the parts should exactly answer unto one another and so plainly represent the thing intended, that it had not. Now it was a work beyond their wisdom, out of the scattered pieces and parts of revelation, especially being implated upon carnal things, to gather up the whole of the grace and good-will of God “
That said, if the TYPE had kids in it, how could the anti-type NOT have kids in it, which seems to be Owen’s argument.
To which I replied: If the TYPE had goats and bulls in it, how could the anti-type NOT have goats and bulls in it? Because the type is not the thing typified. To which he replied
I’d say that’s out of scope: “everyone” knows the goats are replaced by Jesus own death. The signs the humans used are the type, but the people the signs applied to aren’t the type. If Baptists want to argue that kids used to be included in the old covenant because it prefigures feature X in the new covenant, and identify a plausible feature X that might be worth discussing.
[blood of goats prefigure blood of Jesus :: is to :: children included in the covenant prefigures <blank>]
Of course an additional factor is the similarity/identity of language of inclusion between Old (I am a god to you and your children) and New (promise to you and your children)
I appreciate the question and I’m happy to explain.
Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel
This covenant thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Corinthians: 3:9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works… This is the nature and substance of that covenant which God made with that people; a particular, temporary covenant it was, and not a mere dispensation of the covenant of grace.Owen on Hebrews 8:6 (p. 104 here)
That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… And with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people… On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in. Thus a sovereign and all-wise God was pleased to ordain things with respect to the nation of Israel…
That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace; and so is sometimes represented as a marriage-covenant.
Let it then be observed, that men are said to be sanctified or made holy in very different senses. Sanctification, for the distinction, though an old, is not a bad one, is either real or relative.
…That separation from other nations, in which the holiness of the Jews chiefly consisted (r), was not spiritual, resulting from rectitude of heart and a correspondent behavior; but barely external, resulting from certain sacred rites and ceremonies different from or opposite to those of other nations, and confined to certain places and persons (d). The middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles, was the ceremonial law (e), which was neither necessary nor fit to make a spiritual separation In fact, it did not separate between good and bad men among the Jews: but between the house of Israel and the fearers of God or devout persons in the heathen nations (f). For which reason, though Cornelius was one that feared God, gave much alms, and prayed to God always, Peter was afraid of being polluted by intercourse with him.
(a) Lev. xxi. (b) Exod. xix. 6. (c) Exod. xix. 5, 6. Num. xxiii. 9. Deut. xxvi. 18, 19. (d) Lev. xx. 24,—26. Deut. xiv. 21. (e) Eph. ii. 14, 15. (f) Pial. cxviii. 4. A6ls xiii. 16, 26. xvii. 4, 17.
…as things were termed unclean, which were types or emblems of moral impurity, so the Jews were termed holy, not only because they were separated from other nations, but because they typified real Christians, who are in the fullest and noblest sense a holy nation, and a peculiar people (a). Types are visible things, different in their nature, from the spiritual things which they typify. If then the Jewish dispensation was typical, we may safely conclude, that the holiness of the Jewish nation being intended to typify the holiness of the Christian church, was of a different nature from it. And it is for this reason, that the Jewish dispensation is called the flesh and the letter, because persons and things in that dispensation, typified and represented persons and things under a more spiritual dispensation. (a) 1 Pet. ii. 9.
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, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a Church. 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. of the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law; the condition of the latter was, is, and ever has been, faith in the Messiah as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, 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 remained. There was no external covenant, nor promises of external blessings, on condition of external rites and subjection. There was a spiritual society with spiritual promises, on the condition of faith in Christ. In no part of the New Testament is any other condition of membership in the Church prescribed than that contained in the answer of Philip to the eunuch who desired baptism: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts viii. 37)
Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God… It is true, the former carnal privilege of Abraham and his posterity expiring, on the grounds before mentioned, the ordinances of worship which were suited thereunto did necessarily cease also. And this cast the Jews into great perplexities, and proved the last trial that God made of them; for whereas both these, — namely, the carnal and spiritual privileges of Abraham’s covenant, — had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations, coming now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Malachi 3) who of the Jews had interest in both, who in one only, those who had only the carnal privilege, of being children of Abraham according to the flesh, contended for a share on that single account in the other also, — that is, in all the promises annexed unto the covenant. But the foundation of their plea was taken away, and the church, unto which the promises belong, remained with them that were heirs of Abraham’s faith only.
The typical Respect and Analogy of the Covenant of Peculiarity unto the Covenant of Grace, as after to be more fully revealed, and accomplished in Christ, affords another Occasion of, and Reason for, the interweaving of those Promises which require a distinct Application: some of them belonging immediately to the carnal, and others to the spiritual Seed, as arising from the springs, and ordered towards the Ministration of two distinct Covenants.
The church is typified on various levels and in various ways by ancient Israel, as a nation itself, as a kingdom of priests, as the people of God. So I’d say there’s a type/anti-type relationship between ancient Israel and the church, and that the church is actually the eschatological Israel of Old Testament prophecy.
the socio-geo-political sector of the Israelite kingdom of God was a part of the total system of kingdom typology established through the covenantal constitution given to Israel in the law of Moses… Israel as a geo-political kingdom is…expressive of the restorative-redemptive principle, it is…a type of the antitypical kingdom of Christ, the Redeemer-King… This kingdom of Israel – not just the temple in its midst, but the kingdom of Israel as such, the kingdom as a national geo-political entity – was a redemptive product of God, a work of divine restoration, given as a prototype version of the kingdom of God in the perfect form it was to attain under the new covenant in the messianic antitype of that Israelite kingdom.
References to the two-level nature of the promises have been unavoidable in various connections in our analysis of the Abrahamic Covenant up to this point but now it is time to focus on this more particularly. In doing so we will sum up the promises under the concept of kingdom, tracing the two-level structure with respect to the kingdom components of king, people, and land…
We have found that in the course of biblical revelation two distinct levels of fulfillment, one provisional and prototypal, the other messianic and eternal, are clearly distinguishable in the king promise given to Abraham. What is true of the promise of the king must inevitably also be true of the promise of the kingdom, both kingdom-people and kingdom-land… the promised seed in this corporate sense is interpreted by the Scriptures as being realized on two levels.
God’s blessing on Abraham was such that he would multiply to become a great nation (Gen 12:2). The promise of a kingdom people implicit in that original statement of the promises subsequently became explicit…
Confirming the distinction made in the promise of the seed between literal and spiritual Israelites and pointing particularly to the second, spiritual level of meaning was the inclusion of the nations of the Gentiles among Abraham’s promised seed (Gen 17:4,6,16; Rom 4:11,12,16,17). Manifestly the Gentile seed were not Abraham’s physical posterity. Moreover, the promise of the many nations as seed is equivalent to the gospel-promise that Abraham through his messianic seed would mediate blessing to all nations. That is, the promise of the seed is thereby lifted into the messianic, or new covenant, level where Gentile and Jewish believers are gathered together in the united assembly of the heavenly altar…
Further, in this gospel mystery of the union of the promised kingdom people in the Spirit, the corporate seed (Jewish and Gentile believers) and the individual messianic seed become one, Christ the head and all in him the body (Gal 3:16,29).
The Body of Christ a Type of Christ?
Note particularly that last line from Kline. Riddlebarger quotes Robert Strimple to the same effect:
We [amillennarians] say: `Yes, the nation of Israel was the people of God in the old covenant. Now in the new covenant the believing church is the people of God.’ And thus we quickly run past (or we miss the blessed point entirely) the fact that we Christians are the Israel of God, Abraham’s seed, and the heirs to the promises, only because by faith, we are united to him who alone is the true Israel, Abraham’s one seed.
Riddlebarger’s point in the post is to demonstrate that Israel is a type of Christ.
“By now it should be clear that according to many New Testament writers, Jesus is the true servant, the true son and the true Israel of God”
Now, if physical Israel is a type of Christ, the true Israel, then Abraham’s physical seed was not the body of Christ. For the body of Christ cannot be a type of Christ.
P1. Israel (Abraham’s physical seed) was a type of Christ, the true Israel of God.
P2. The church is the true Israel of God (Abraham’s spiritual seed) through union with Christ.
C. Israel (Abraham’s physical seed) was a type of the church (Abraham’s spiritual seed).
As we saw above in Kline’s critique of dispensationalism, paedobaptists are often unaware of how sharp their hermeneutic against dispensationalism is. It’s a sword that cuts both ways. In an interview on Christ the Center, Kim Riddlebarger argues:
…the problem with that is, when you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 12 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the land promise in Genesis 12 – and it’s repeated throughout 15, 18, 22, on and on and on – when that land promise is repeated, dispenationalists say “See, that must mean Israel means Israel and that God is going to save Israel again to fulfill the land promise at the end of the age.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the land promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?” And that is at the heart of this entire debate.
If I may paraphrase:
…the problem with paedobaptism is, when you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 17 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the offspring promise in Genesis 17 – and it’s repeated throughout 12, 15, 22, on and on and on – when that offspring promise is repeated, paedobaptists say “See, that must mean offspring means offspring and that God included physical offspring in the church and never took them out.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the offspring promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?” And that is at the heart of this entire debate.
To be a God to you and your offspring
That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… And with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints…
It is of great importance to the right interpretation of many passages in the Old Testament, that this particular be well understood and kept in view. Jehovah is very frequently represented as the Lord and God of all the ancient Israelites ; even where it is manifest that the generality of them were considered as destitute of internal piety, and many of them as enormously wicked. How then could he be called their Lord, and their God, in distinction from his relation to Gentiles, (whose creator, benefactor, and sovereign he was) except on the ground of the Sinai Covenant? He was their Lord as being the sovereign whom, by a federal transaction, they were bound to obey, in opposition to every political monarch, who should at any time presume to govern them by laws of his own. He was their God, as the only object of holy worship ; and whom, by the same National Covenant, they had solemnly engaged to serve according to his own rule, in opposition to every Pagan idol.
But that National relation between Jehovah and Israel being long since dissolved and the Jew having no prerogative above the Gentile; the nature of the Gospel Economy, and of the Messiah’s kingdom, absolutely forbids our supposing, that either Jews or Gentiles are warranted to call the Universal Sovereign their Lord or their God, if they do not yield willing obedience to him, and perform spiritual worship. It is, therefore, either for want of understanding, or of considering the nature, aspect, and influence of the Sinai Constitution, that many persons dream of the New Covenant, in great numbers of places where Moses and the Prophets had no thought of it, but had the Convention at Horeb directly in view…
Again : As none but real Christians are the subjects of our Lord’s kingdom, neither adults nor infants can be members of the gospel Church, in virtue of an external covenant, or of a relative holiness. A striking disparity this, between the Jewish and the Christian Church. Of this difference we may be assured by considering, that a barely relative sanctity, supposes its possessors to be the people of God in a merely external sense; that such an external people, supposes an external covenant, or one that relates to exterior conduct and temporal blessings : and an external covenant supposes an external king. Now an external king, is a political sovereign : but such is not our Lord Jesus Christ, nor yet the divine Father. Once, indeed, it was otherwise : for, concerning the Israelitish nation, it is written : ” I,” Jehovah, ” will be thy king…
Yes, Jehovah, as a temporal monarch, stood related to the ancient Israelites, and entered into a federal transaction with them at Sinai, not only as the Object of their worship, but as their King. Their judicial and civil institutes, their laws of war and of peace, various orders respecting the land they occupied, and the annual acknowledgments to the great Proprietor of it, were all from God, as their political sovereign. Hence all the natural posterity of Jacob were Jehovah’s people, on the ground of an external covenant made with the whole nation…
By the latter [God’s divine presence among them], they had a kind of local nearness to God, which conferred a relative sanctity; as appears by various instances. When, for example, Moses with astonishment beheld the burning bush, the ground on which he stood was pronounced holy, because of Jehovah’s peculiar presence there.
…And why was part of the ancient sanctuary called “the most holy place,” but because Jehovah, in a singular manner, and under a visible emblem dwelt there. Hence it is manifest, that the Divine Presence, whether under the form of an august personage, as in the cafe of Joshua ; or under the emblem of devouring fire, as in the bush, and upon mount Sinai ; or under the milder appearance of a luminous cloud as over the mercy-seat, and at our Lord’s transfiguration, confers a relative holiness. It is also equally plain, that this miraculous presence of God being withdrawn, from the several places to which we have just adverted, they have now no more holiness than any other part of the earth.
So the Israelites, being separated from all other nations for the worship of Jehovah as their God, to the exclusion of all idolatry ; avowing subjection to him as their King, in contradistinction to all other sovereigns ; and he residing among them in the sanctuary, as in his royal palace ; there was a relative holiness attending their persons, and almost every thing pertaining to them. For not only Jehovah’s royal pavilion, with all its utensils and services ; the ministers of that sanctuary, and their several vestments ; but the people in general, the metropolis of their country, the houses of individuals, the land cultivated by them, and the produce of that land, were all styled holy (see Exod 28: 2,4; 29:1; Lev 19:23, 24; 20:26; 25:2, 4; 27:14, 30; Num 16:3, 38; 35:34; Deut 7:6)
…Thus the holiness of the people, equally as that of places, was derived from the external presence of God.” Now, as the Divine Presence had a local, visible residence over the mercy-seat, which was the throne of Jehovah ; as that Presence among the Israelites had such an extensive operation upon their state, both in respect of privilege and of duty ; as the whole nation was a typical people, and a great part of their worship of a shadowy nature ; we need not wonder, that in such an ecclesiastico-political kingdom almost every thing should be esteemed, in a relative sense, holy. Under the Gospel Dispensation, how ever, these peculiarities have no existence. For Christ has not made an external covenant with any people. He is not the king of any particular nation. He dwells not in a palace made with hands. His throne is in the heavenly sanctuary ; nor does he afford his visible Presence in any place upon earth…
[A]s we observed earlier, Calvin, Turretin, Bavinck, and others have left off the last half of Acts 2:39… Combined with what appears to be loyalty to Calvin, there is, then, a repetitious pattern of errors in interpreting Acts 2:39 throughout much of history…
As a result, the Abrahamic Covenant and its features such as the recipients of circumcision are imported entirely into Acts 2:39 without any consideration as to what promise is being talked about in Acts 2:39, what the fulfillment of that promise looks like in the New Covenant, and what argument is being made in Acts 2 and how that argument is not altogether the same as Acts 3, and so on and so forth. In short, “The Paedobaptist ear is so attuned to the Old Testament echo in this text that it is deaf to its New Testament crescendo.”77 The attitude is “promise of the Spirit, Abrahamic Covenant, covenant of grace, it is all the same thing,” and “children, seed, same idea” when it comes to interpreting Acts 2:39…
An interpreter’s interest in hearing Old Testament overtones should not overthrow exegesis of the actual text.
-Chapter 13: Acts 2:39 in its Context (Part 1): An Exegetical Summary of Acts 2:39 and Paedobaptism ~ Jamin Hübner, Th.D.
-Chapter 14: Acts 2:39 in its Context (Part 2): Case Studies in Paedobaptist Interpretations of Acts 2:39 ~ Jamin Hübner, Th.D.
Recovering a Covenantal Heritage
Lee, I’m sorry you found the length of my quotes so annoying. Personally, I find them necessary to get people who are distracted by baptism to discuss the real issue. Yes, Lutherans were also paedobaptists, but since baptism is not the issue (covenant theology is – note the title of Denault’s book when you read it) and Lutherans do not baptize infants on covenantal grounds, that’s irrelevant.
To help us, once again, set our focus upon the actual discussion, here are some more lengthy quotes from Owen demonstrating his rejection of the Westminster “one substance, multiple administrations” understanding of the covenant of grace (the view held in his “Of Infant Baptism” tract) in favor of his “promised/established” understanding of the covenant of grace, which Carl Trueman notes “pushes in a Baptistic direction“.
For Owen, in this context, promise is opposed to the formal establishment of the covenant.
This is the meaning of the word nenomoqe>thtai: “established,” say we; but it is, “reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance.” All the obedience required in it, all the worship appointed by it, all the privileges exhibited in it, and the grace administered with them, are all given for a statute, law, and ordinance unto the church. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by nenomoqe>thtai, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship. Hereon the other covenant was disannulled and removed; and not only the covenant itself, but all that system of sacred worship whereby it was administered. This was not done by the making of the covenant at first; yea, all this was superinduced into the covenant as given out in a promise, and was consistent therewith. When the new covenant was given out only in the way of a promise, it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it. Wherefore it was consistent with a form of worship, rites and ceremonies, and those composed into a yoke of bondage which belonged not unto it. And as these, being added after its giving, did not overthrow its nature as a promise, so they were inconsistent with it when it was completed as a covenant; for then all the worship of the church was to proceed from it, and to be conformed unto it. Then it was established. Hence it follows, in answer unto the second difficulty, that as a promise, it was opposed unto the covenant of works; as a covenant, it was opposed unto that of Sinai. This legalizing or authoritative establishment of the new covenant, and the worship thereunto belonging, did effect this alteration.
Owen identified the new covenant alone with the covenant of grace. He thus applied his understanding of the meaning of promised and established to show that the covenant of grace was not established as a covenant prior to Christ’s death, and that the post-fall covenants were not the covenant of grace.
The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the old testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new. And whereas the essence and the substance of the covenant consists in these things, they are not to be said to be under another covenant, but only a different administration of it. But this was so different from that which is established in the gospel after the coming of Christ, that it hath the appearance and name of another covenant. And the difference between these two administrations may be reduced unto the ensuing heads: —
1. It consisted in the way and manner of the declaration of the mystery of the love and will of God in Christ…
2. In the plentiful communication of grace unto the community of the church;…
3. In the manner of our access unto God…
4. In the way of worship required under each administration…
5. In the extent of the dispensation of the grace of God;…
The Lutherans, on the other side, insist on two arguments to prove, that not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that two covenants substantially distinct, are intended in this discourse of the apostle…
4. These things being observed, we may consider that the Scripture doth plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way, as what is spoken can hardly be accommodated unto a twofold administration of the same covenant. The one is mentioned and described, Exodus 24:3-8, Deuteronomy 5:2-5, — namely, the covenant that God made with the people of Israel in Sinai; and which is commonly called “the covenant,” where the people under the old testament are said to keep or break God’s covenant; which for the most part is spoken with respect unto that worship which was peculiar thereunto. The other is promised, Jeremiah 31:31 – 34, 32:40; which is the new or gospel covenant, as before explained, mentioned Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24. And these two covenants, or testaments, are compared one with the other, and opposed one unto another, 2 Corinthians 3:6-9; Galatians 4:24-26; Hebrews 7:22, 9:15-20…
5. Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant merely, to be intended. We must, I say, do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, —and with great pretense of reason, for it is that which is the sole foundation they all build upon who allow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, —’That this being the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation be the same under both, then indeed are they for the substance of them but one.’ And I grant that this would inevitably follow, if it were so equally by virtue of them both. If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue thereof, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, whilst they were under the covenant.
As therefore I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition, so I shall propose sundry things which relate unto the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace: — …”
To be clear, Owen was not simply lifting the Mosaic covenant out of the covenant of grace, making it a subservient covenant, while retaining the rest of the WCF one substance/multiple administrations model. He applied his promised/established understanding of the covenant of grace as synonymous with the new covenant to the question of the Abrahamic Covenant as well:
2. When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though that were not before in being and efficacy, before the introduction of that which is promised in this place. For it was always the same, as to the substance of it, from the beginning. It passed through the whole dispensation of times before the law, and under the law, of the same nature and efficacy, unalterable, “everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians only excepted, do grant that the covenant of grace, considered absolutely, — that is, the promise of grace in and by Jesus Christ, —was the only way and means of salvation unto the church, from the first entrance of sin. But for two reasons it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect unto any other things, nor was it so under the old testament. When God renewed the promise of it unto Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but it was with respect unto other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely under the old testament it consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture, Acts 2:39; Hebrews 6:14-16. The apostle indeed says, that the covenant was confirmed of God in Christ, before the giving of the law, Galatians 3:17. And so it was, not absolutely in itself, but in the promise and benefits of it. The nomoqesi>a, or full legal establishment of it, whence it became formally a covenant unto the whole church, was future only, and a promise under the old testament; for it wanted two things thereunto: —
(1.) It wanted its solemn confirmation and establishment, by the blood of the only sacrifice which belonged unto it. Before this was done in the death of Christ, it had not the formal nature of a covenant or a testament, as our apostle proves, Hebrews 9:15-23. For neither, as he shows in that place, would the law given at Sinai have been a covenant, had it not been confirmed with the blood of sacrifices. Wherefore the promise was not before a formal and solemn covenant.
(2.) This was wanting, that it was not the spring, rule, and measure of all the worship of the church. This doth belong unto every covenant, properly so called, that God makes with the church, that it be the entire rule of all the worship that God requires of it; which is that which they are to restipulate in their entrance into covenant with God. But so the covenant of grace was not under the old testament; for God did require of the church many duties of worship that did not belong thereunto. But now, under the new testament, this covenant, with its own seals and appointments, is the only rule and measure of all acceptable worship. Wherefore the new covenant promised in the Scripture, and here opposed unto the old, is not the promise of grace, mercy, life, and salvation by Christ, absolutely considered, but as it had the formal nature of a covenant given unto it, in its establishment by the death of Christ, the procuring cause of all its benefits, and the declaring of it to be the only rule of worship and obedience unto the church. So that although by “the covenant of grace,” we ofttimes understand no more but the way of life, grace, mercy, and salvation by Christ; yet by “the new covenant,” we intend its actual establishment in the death of Christ, with that blessed way of worship which by it is settled in the church.
3. Whilst the church enjoyed all the spiritual benefits of the promise, wherein the substance of the covenant of grace was contained, before it was confirmed and made the sole rule of worship unto the church, it was not inconsistent with the holiness and wisdom of God to bring it under any other covenant, or prescribe unto it what forms of worship he pleased. It was not so, I say, upon these three suppositions: — …
Here’s a PDF for easy reference, with the most immediately relevant sections starting around p. 78. I have also created an interactive outline of Owen’s argument that I hope is nuanced enough for you.
There are strong tendencies in Owen’s thinking on the Covenant of Grace to restrict it just to Christ and his elect. Owen is a paedobaptist. But there is a lot in Owen’s thinking that I think pushes in a Baptistic direction. For Owen, the visible manifestation of the Covenant of Grace is not entirely clearly worked out in terms of children being embraced (as I read him). It’s not an area I have looked at in great detail, but I see tendencies in Owen’s ecclesiology and his understanding of the covenants that push it in a Baptistic direction.
-Carl Trueman, “Session 5 – John Owen on the Holy Spirit” @31:00