Home > 1689 federalism, new covenant > Augustine on the New Covenant

Augustine on the New Covenant

As I have been working out my understanding of covenant theology, I have argued that Abraham, and all saints prior to Christ were members of the New Covenant. Those who disagree argue that the New Covenant is an “historical covenant” and that it was not inaugurated until Christ’s ministry, thus it is impossible to say that Abraham was a member of the New Covenant. In light of the overwhelming rejection I have received for my opinion, I was quite surprised to find the following statement from Augustine, quoted by Calvin:

“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. This they did, not in hope of carnal, earthly, and temporal things, but in hope of spiritual, heavenly, and eternal benefits. For they believed especially in the Mediator; and they did not doubt that through him the Spirit was given to them that they might do good, and that they were pardoned whenever they sinned.”
-quoted by Calvin (Institutes 2.11.10), Augustine, “Against Two Letters of the Pelagians III. iv. 6-12, esp. 11 (MPL 44. 591-597; tr. NPNF V. 346-351)

An important aspect of my argument is that the Mosaic covenant is “confined to things temporal” to use John Owen’s language. It was only about the physical promised land and physical life, not the eternal promised land, nor eternal life. And so I was quite pleased to find the following statements from Augustine concerning not only the new covenant, but the temporal, earthly nature of the old covenant as well. (I was looking for the quotation Calvin cited, but I haven’t been able to find it):

Chapter 14.—Examination of This Point.
The Phrase “Old Testament” Used in Two Senses.
The Heir of the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament There Were Heirs of the New Testament.

…”At all events, in those ancient Scriptures it is most distinctly written: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will consummate a new testament [covenant] with the house of Israel and with the house of Jacob; not according to the testament [covenant] that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” Jer. xxxi. 31, 32. // This was done on Mount Sinai. But then there had not yet risen the prophet Daniel to say: “The saints shall receive the kingdom of the Most High.” Dan. vii. 18. // For by these words he foretold the merit not of the Old, but of the New Testament [covenant]. In the same manner did the same prophets foretell that Christ Himself would come, in whose blood the New Testament [covenant] was consecrated. Of this Testament [covenant] also the apostles became the ministers, as the most blessed Paul declares: “He hath made us able ministers of the New Testament [covenant]; not in its letter, but in spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” 2 Cor. iii. 6. // In that testament [covenant], however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised. Accordingly that land, into which the nation, after being led through the wilderness, was conducted, is called the land of promise, wherein peace and royal power, and the gaining of victories over enemies, and an abundance of children and of fruits of the ground, and gifts of a similar kind are the promises of the Old Testament [covenant]. And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament [covenant]; but yet the man who lives under God’s law with those earthly blessings for his sanction, is precisely the heir of the Old Testament [covenant], for just such rewards are promised and given to him, according to the terms of the Old Testament [covenant], as are the objects of his desire according to the condition of the old man. But whatever blessings are there figuratively set forth as appertaining to the New Testament [covenant] require the new man to give them effect. And no doubt the great apostle understood perfectly well what he was saying, when he described the two testaments [covenants] as capable of the allegorical distinction of the bond-woman and the free,—attributing the children of the flesh to the Old, and to the New the children of the promise: “They,” says he, “which are the children of the flesh, are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Rom. ix. 8. // The children of the flesh, then, belong to the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; whereas the children of the promise belong to the Jerusalem above, the free, the mother of us all, eternal in the heavens. Gal. iv. 25, 26. // Whence we can easily see who they are that appertain to the earthly, and who to the heavenly kingdom. But then 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 Testament [covenant]; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament [covenant] to the ancient people of God, because it was divinely appropriated to that people in God’s distribution of the times and seasons.”
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105.xiv.xviii.html?scrBook=Rom&scrCh=9&scrV=8#xiv.xviii-p8.1

Chapter 33.—The Prophecy of Jeremiah Concerning the New Testament.

[Jer 31:31-34] One nowhere, or hardly anywhere, except in this passage of the prophet, finds in the Old Testament Scriptures any mention so made of the New Testament as to indicate it by its very name. It is no doubt often referred to and foretold as about to be given, but not so plainly as to have its very name mentioned. Consider then carefully, what difference God has testified as existing between the two testaments—the old covenant and the new.

… Chapter 36
“What then is God’s law written by God Himself in the hearts of men, but the very presence of the Holy Spirit, who is “the finger of God,” and by whose presence is shed abroad in our hearts the love which is the fulfilling of the law, Rom. xiii. 10. // and the end of the commandment? 1 Tim. i. 5. // Now the promises of the Old Testament [covenant] are earthly; and yet (with the exception of the sacramental ordinances which were the shadow of things to come, such as circumcision, the Sabbath and other observances of days, and the ceremonies of certain meats, See Retractations, ii. 37, printed at the head of this treatise. // and the complicated ritual of sacrifices and sacred things which suited “the oldness” of the carnal law and its slavish yoke) it contains such precepts of righteousness as we are even now taught to observe, which were especially expressly drawn out on the two tables without figure or shadow: for instance, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Thou shalt do no murder,” “Thou shalt not covet,” Ex. xx. 13, 14, 17. // “and whatsoever other commandment is briefly comprehended in the saying, Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself.” Rom. xiii. 9. // Nevertheless, whereas as in the said Testament earthly and temporal promises are, as I have said, recited, and these are goods of this corruptible flesh (although they prefigure those heavenly and everlasting blessings which belong to the New Testament), what is now promised is a good for the heart itself, a good for the mind, a good of the spirit, that is, an intellectual good; since it is said, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their hearts will I write them,” Jer. xxxi. 33. // —by which He signified that men would not fear the law which alarmed them externally, but would love the very righteousness of the law which dwelt inwardly in their hearts.”

… Chapter 40
““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.”

… Chapter 41
“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 testament [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 testament [covenant].”

… Chapter 42
I beg of you, however, carefully to observe, as far as you can, what I am endeavouring to prove with so much effort. When the prophet promised a new covenant, not according to the covenant which had been formerly made with the people of Israel when liberated from Egypt, he said nothing about a change in the sacrifices or any sacred ordinances, although such change, too, was without doubt to follow, as we see in fact that it did follow, even as the same prophetic scripture testifies in many other passages; but he simply called attention to this difference, that God would impress His laws on the mind of those who belonged to this covenant, and would write them in their hearts, Jer. xxxi. 32, 33. // whence the apostle drew his conclusion,—“not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart;” 2 Cor. iii. 3. // and that the eternal recompense of this righteousness was not the land out of which were driven the Amorites and Hittites, and other nations who dwelt there, Josh. xii. but God Himself,// “to whom it is good to hold fast,” Ps. lxxiii. 28. // in order that God’s good that they love, may be the God Himself whom they love, between whom and men nothing but sin produces separation; and this is remitted only by grace.

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105.xi.xxxvi.html?scrBook=Jer&scrCh=31&scrV=31#xi.xxxvi-p3.1

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  1. presbyterian_keith
    January 20, 2010 at 9:04 am

    Great post Brandon. Thanks.

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  2. February 21, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Will want to read and think about this more. As I’ve commented elsewhere I am not sure AT THE LEVEL OF THE INDIVIDUAL how temporal these blessings and curses were in the Law.

    Is not the issue more to do with progressive revelation? In the OT Abraham in the covenant of grace receives promises that speak of the promised land but the NT widens the promise out to the whole world (Roms 4). Indeed the Hebrew writer tells us Abraham was looking for a better country, that is an heavenly. The godly looked for fulfilment beyond the bare facts spoken.

    Is not this the same with the Law. Fulfilment eclipses both shadow and promise. The real fulfilment of Law is not simply the Law written on the heart but in a way that eclipses the NC fulfilment as expressed in Jer and Ezek. That is, we are , in Christ’s death and resurrection removed entirely from the world where Law has authority (including the 10 commandments and Sabbath) and placed in a new world, a new creation, where Law has no remit or place.

    It is not that I doubt the typological. I think it is there for the nation seen as a whole. My issue is about the individual.

    Re the individual OT believer, of course in the ultimate sense they are chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world. Of course they are members of God’s eschatological Kingdom. The question is WHEN they enter into the full experience of this. Now undoubtedly they were regenerate and in some sense had the spirit operating on them. Yet we cannot say they were members of the NC simply because no-one was a member of this until pentecost. Not until Christ had died and risen could the Holy spirit be given. That is wwhy he says to the disciples concerning the Spirit, ‘he has been with you and shall be in you’. They were to wait at Jerusalem to receive ‘power from on High’. Only when Jesus ascends does the Spirit descnd. The gift of the Spirit, the crowning gift of the new covenant, is a gift given by an enthroned King.

    We cannot simply treat the OT believers atemporally. The NT says of the OT believers that ‘without us they could not be perfected.'(Hebs 11).

    Heb 11:39-40 (ESV)
    And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

    In Hebrews imperfect is a description of the OT experience of believers. It is not so of NC believers. They are already perfect.

    Heb 10:14 (ESV)
    For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

    It seems to me most probable that ‘the spirits of righteous men made perfect’ is probably a reference to OT believers. Presently in heaven they experience a NC relationship with Christ to be realised physically in the regeneration of all things.

    These are, however, difficult questions and I am not prepared to be too dogmatic.

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    • February 22, 2010 at 9:26 am

      John, I would encourage you to read Owen or at least study the outline of Owen, as he addresses all of these questions.

      I’d be happy to unpack these things and discuss their validity after you’ve read Owen, but I think that if we try to do so beforehand we’ll just be running in circles and possibly talking past each other.

      A few points:
      1. You’re missing a very large part of the puzzle: the law of creation and the covenant with Adam

      2. I’m not suggesting we treat OT believers atemporally, and neither is Owen. Owen emphasizes throughout his commentary that what is being discussed in the book of Hebrews is not “the new covenant absolutely considered” as it was administered by a promise in the OT, but the new covenant as formally established and reduced to a fixed state of law or ordinance. (To unpack that you can search the outline for “absolutely,” but I recommend reading his whole commentary on this)

      3. I have not studied the work of the Holy Spirit in the OT as much as I’d like to yet, but you already admit the fact that the Spirit was operative in the OT, so whatever we think the Holy Spirit’s descending at Pentecost means, it can’t mean His saving work doesn’t begin until Pentecost.

      4. I think you’re putting more weight on 11:39 than the text can bare. You might want to consider Owen’s comments on the verse http://books.google.com/books?id=HxJWAAAAMAAJ&dq=john%20owen%20hebrews&pg=PA535#v=onepage&q=&f=false

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  3. February 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Hi Brandon

    Thanks for comments. Read your outline (though I will yet look at it in more depth) of Owen and covenants etc. You put a lot of work into that. Great stuff. There is much in Owen that I immediately find myself in agreement with, however, there is a fair bit that I doubt. My particular doubt is the significance he gives to a covenant of works. I think he builds a great deal here on silence. I do not think God gave Adam a complete covenant of law to fulfil. I believe he was given but one law – not to eat from the forbidden tree. Indeed the logic of the Genesis narrative is to point out the great generosity of God. He may eat of all the trees in the garden. Only one was forbidden. Adam, however, in ideal conditions with but one sanction (not even a positive do, merely a negative do not) failed. Adam had ‘life’ and failed to keep it.

    Owen’s attempt to build a whole life covenant of works, with the commission to keep all the law as written on conscience misses the point of the narrative completely.

    Moreover, we must remember Adam was without the knowledge of good and evil. The only others said to be like this in Scripture are children. Adam is in a state of childlike innocence. He did not have a conscience as such teaching him good and evil, he had simply the word of the Lord to obey. Conscience and the works of the law written on the heart are the result of the fall – they are the forbidden fruit – independent moral awareness, having God’s capacity to distinguish between good and evil.

    I do of course recognise that as a result of the fall all are condemned and more are controlled by sin so that any attempt to keep the law ‘in the flesh’ is impossible.

    I feel Owen confuses the matter by trying to make NT references to the Law refer back to a CoA.

    I fully accept the typological aspects of OT law and Israel’s experience. Owen seems to allow that there is an experiential difference between OT believers and NT believers. For me this is self evident in Scripture. It is signalled in so many places it is to my mind indubitable.

    OT believers looked forward to the Kingdom while NT believers are in the Kingdom. What really marks the Kingdom age out is a risen glorified Christ with whom, through the Spirit, believers are in spiritual union. OT believers did not have this position nor its concommitant blessings because Christ had not come. In Hebrews language they anticipated the prefection but they did not enter it.

    I believe OT believers had many blessings. I believe they were regenerate and as I say they knew the operations of the Holy Spirit. The OT witnesses to this. In fact the NC promised that the Holy Spirit would be given to all contrasting with the fact that in the OC he was given to but a few. Yet even here the giving of the Spirit falls short of NC giving. Jesus says concerning the Spirit, ‘he has been with you and shall be in you’.

    Some of the differences must include that in the OT God dwelt among his people in a temple; in the NT they are his temple. It seems to me that OT believers were constrained in their experience of God by the revelation they were given. Thus the experience of an OT believer under law was constrained by the revelation that law brought. His delight was in the law, its sacrifices, the temple with all the inherent weakness that law in these and the imperfection they represented.

    In fact in Hebrews we discover that Jesus is only made ‘perfect’ through the suffering of death. and only when he is ‘perfected’ does he become the author of etenal salvation. NT believers, through the Spirit, are united to Christ in resurrection and share in his ‘perfection’, that is his new life in resurrection glory. You should check the references to perfection and imperfection in Hebrews.

    Anyway, once again, thanks for work on ‘outline’. Lots there and I shall enjoy exploring it in more depth.

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    • February 22, 2010 at 1:51 pm

      Well of course we’re going to disagree about the Mosaic Covenant if you reject the covenant with Adam. I really don’t have the energy to argue with you on that point. Your assumptions (not exegesis) regarding knowledge of good and evil and conscience are lacking. I really don’t think the author of Hebrews means what you suggest he means by perfect and imperfect and I think your assumptions about the Holy Spirit before and after Pentecost, and the conclusions that you draw from it, are not entirely correct. But I’ll have to save both of those conversations for another day.

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  4. February 22, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Yep, probably a discussion for another day. But Brandon, I’m not sure I’m the one making the assumptions. Or at least I am making far fewer than Owen or yourself about the CoA.

    On the other matters I quoted Scripture and interpreted it. My interpretation may well be wrong but it is an interpretation not an assumption. Look into them. Look into too the references to ‘knowing good and evil’. You may change your mind.

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    • February 22, 2010 at 2:05 pm

      John, that’s one of the really frustrating things about you and other NCT. You are making just as many logical deductions and assumptions as covenant theology, you’re just not willing to admit it. I love being able to work through these things with you and others, but I can’t stand the pretentious “we’re just being faithful to the text and not making any assumptions”

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  5. February 22, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Brandon

    I concede that I am sure to make assumptions. And yes, I agree it is annoying if I claim not to while accusing you of doing so. The problem is I do think you are making bigger assumptions than I about the covenant of works. And in the other area of OT/NT distinctions I felt I did little more than quote texts and let them speak for themselves.

    But, in all honesty, I don’t think I’ve got it all sussed out on the OT/NT divide and I really am open to thinking more about it and to weighing what I read.

    Incidentally, I may be similar to the NCT position but that is almost accidental. I have read very little NCT and such as I have only a smattering on and off in the last few years.

    I think I tend to react to what comes across as dismissive from you when you resond sometimes. You may not realise it but your response can sometimes suggest a contemptuous dismissal (maybe I come across like that too). It is the problem of communicating with someone without knowing them.

    This is quite a personal email so feel free to delete it.

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    • March 5, 2010 at 8:54 am

      No need to delete it John. My comments that provoked it were public, so your exhortation should be as well.

      You’re right, I have been dismissive. I ask for your forgiveness for that. For a number of reasons I assumed you were in cahoots with NCT and for a number of (I think legitimate) reasons I tend to dismiss NCT (ie I recently got an email in response to one of my posts that equated me with the SDA denial of the finished work of Christ because I believe the 10 commandments are still in effect).

      I appreciate your interaction here as the whole point of this blog is for iron to sharpen iron, and sometimes that’s hard to find. Are your thoughts on the covenant with Adam (or lack thereof) available to read anywhere?

      Like

  6. July 30, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Brandon, would it be accurate to say that, as far as your own personal view goes, the terms “Covenant of Grace” and “New Covenant” are completely synonymous?

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    • July 30, 2010 at 10:32 am

      Yes. The Covenant of Grace is nowhere mentioned in Scripture. That doesn’t mean its unbiblical – I just don’t think its a good or necessary consequence from Scripture. I think we should use biblical language and constructs whenever they are sufficient. Everything we like to attribute to the Covenant of Grace is described in detail about the New Covenant. The only hangup for people seems to be that it was not inaugurated until Christ – but Owen and Coxe and others have no problem referring to the New Covenant as the Covenant of Grace interchangeably in their writings, even when talking about OT times.

      I would likewise collapse the Covenant of Redemption into the New Covenant. The New Covenant was the covenant made between the Father (representing the Trinity) and the Son (representing the elect) before time. It is conditional, the condition being Christ’s perfect obedience and nothing else. Both faith and justification are benefits of Christ’s obedience given to members of the New Covenant.

      Notice in my Karlberg quote in the other post that he creates one unnecessary theological construct, the Covenant of Grace, in order to (1) get children in, and (2) resolve the timing issue of the New Covenant. And then because of the problems that causes, he has to create another unnecessary theological construct on top of that, the Covenant of Redemption, which is what he says is the “proper purpose” of the Covenant of Grace.

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      • August 1, 2010 at 11:45 am

        Sounds good to me.

        So, the “New” in the New Covenant refers to its full, clear revelation in Christ, in history? So even though the New Covenant is eternal, it’s “new” in the sense that it’s not clearly revealed until after the other covenants?

        I’m beginning to wonder exactly what one must believe in order to be considered a “Covenant Theologian.” How much deviation from, say, the WCF has to occur before it’s not Covenant Theology, but something else (like NCT?)?

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      • August 1, 2010 at 5:01 pm

        The “New” in the New Covenant has primary reference to the Old Covenant. So yes, that would include the full clear revelation of Christ in history. Note that the Old Covenant was not called the Old Covenant until it was compared with the New. Thus “new” has reference basically to every way it is different from the old. Owen lists 17 particulars.

        I’m beginning to wonder exactly what one must believe in order to be considered a “Covenant Theologian.” How much deviation from, say, the WCF has to occur before it’s not Covenant Theology, but something else (like NCT?)?

        This is a big issue.

        First of all, TLNF is an entire book devoted to trying to define/defend what exactly WCF teaches on the covenants and how much deviation is allowed. The argument by Kerux and others is that they are unconfessional in their covenant theology. So that is a question even apart from anything I am arguing here.

        Second, as I talk to dispensationalists and compare what I believe with what WCF covenant theology teaches, I can start to see the frustrations they have and why they reject it (the nation of Israel was not the church, it was a type of the church). I always thought they were crazy because what I am arguing for here is just what I thought covenant theology meant before I studied covenant theology. As I first began learning about Calvinistic soteriology, I read Ezekial 36 and Jeremiah 31 and just assumed it was describing Abraham as well as Paul (along the lines of what Augustine says here).

        So clearly there is a struggle to label this view in distinction from “Covenant Theology” because it is different from what most people have learned “Covenant Theology” teaches. I think something like “Baptist Covenant Theology” works just fine.

        However, I would strongly reject any notion that this is “NCT.” It is completely different. What I have outlined in these posts is what you can find in the 1689 LBC. However, NCT rejects 1689 because of its covenantal views. NCT, though incredibly diverse, are mostly unified in their rejection of a Covenant of Works and the abrogation of the Decalogue. No NCT that I know of suggests that the New Covenant existed or was in effect prior to Christ – which is why they argue the church did not exist until then either. So some might want to claim what I am arguing for cannot be “Covenant Theology” but it would be grossly wrong to call it NCT. (And just like the issue with the label “Reformed,” if they reject the 1689 LBC as not Reformed, then they likewise have to reject Savoy and Owen as not being Reformed – the same is true of this “Covenant Theology”)

        Some NCT have tried to twist Owen to fit their NCT. Richard Barcellos wrote a great piece demonstrating their poor scholarship.
        http://www.rbtr.org/owensdecaloguebarcellos.pdf

        the same thing in parts on his blog:
        http://www.mctsowensboro.org/search-results/?keywords=owen&show_results=N%253B

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  7. August 1, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks Brandon. Just to clarify, I did not intend to link your view with NCT. I was just trying to think of an alternative to CT to use besides Dispensationalism.

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    • August 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm

      I gotcha. I was anticipating the objection of others

      Like

  1. January 19, 2010 at 7:52 am
  2. July 29, 2010 at 12:36 am
  3. August 13, 2013 at 2:48 am
  4. October 31, 2014 at 7:02 am
  5. February 10, 2015 at 7:28 am
  6. March 20, 2015 at 8:29 am

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