Dr. C. Matthew McMahon, owner of APuritansMind.com and PuritanBoard.com has an article on his website titled John Owen and the Covenant of Redemption.
Though he doesn’t mention us by name, the article is an attempted rebuke of Covenantal Baptists (note that the article is filed under his “baptism” category even though nothing in the article mentions anything about baptism) who have stated their affinity for John Owen’s covenant theology, specifically his view of the New Covenant. McMahon states:
It is often the case through church history that people want to “own” the foremost theologians of the church in their system of theology; our day is no different… Owen, though he is dead, still needs to be rescued from those who obscure his theological views surrounding Covenant Theology… There is a wave of theological error purporting that the New Covenant, or Covenant of Grace fully expressed in the New Testament, was a “brand new,” or as some parrot Hebrews, “better” covenant, but translate this theologically as “wholly different.”…consideration should taken to rightly exemplify Owen’s position in any theological writing on the covenants.
McMahon explains Owen taught that the Covenant of Redemption was a covenant of works between the Father and the Son. Quoting Owen:
“The will of the Father appointing and designing the Son to be the head, husband, deliverer, and redeemer of his elect, his church, his people, whom he did foreknow, with the will of the Son voluntarily, freely undertaking that work and all that was required thereunto, is that compact (for in that form it is proposed in the Scripture) that we treat of.” (12:496)
McMahon explains that this supports all of God’s work in time with the elect. “It is the foundation for everything that God will do in time in redeeming His bride for Himself.” God applies the benefits of the Covenant of Redemption to the elect by means of the Covenant of Grace. He elaborates:
It would be correct, in Owen’s mind, to say that salvation is coextensive for the elect in the Covenant of Grace by the blessings imparted by the Covenant of Redemption. But, it would also be correct, in Owen’s mind, to say that salvation is not coextensive in the Covenant of Grace for those who are not elect, that is why Owen had no problem admitting infants in the Covenant of Grace in any administration of it.
McMahon chastises baptists by explaining that Owen simply held the standard reformed formulation of the Covenant of Grace as consisting of numerous administrations, of which the New Covenant was only the most recent. According to McMahon, Owen taught that the New Covenant was merely a renewal of the previous administrations of the Covenant of Grace. McMahon states:
“By the new covenant, not the new covenant absolutely and originally, as given in the first promise, is intended; but in its complete gospel administration, when it was actually established by the death of Christ, as administered in and by the ordinances of the new testament. This, with the covenant of Sinai, were, as most say, but different administrations of the same covenant.” (6:70, Emphasis mine.) Owen then spends another page outlining why it is different administrations of the same covenant. (cf. 6:71ff)
He sums this up in saying, “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.” (6:71)
The problem with McMahon’s essay is two-fold:
- McMahon jumps all over the prolific work of Owen. He quotes from numerous different writings as it fits his argument. The problem is that McMahon fails to account for growth/change in Owen’s thought over the 40 years that he wrote. Therefore what Owen may have said in one place is not necessarily consistent with what he may have said later or earlier in his life. Jeffrey D. Johnson in his recent book The Fatal Flaw in the Theology Behind Infant Baptism notes this change when specifically comparing Owen’s work “Biblical Theology” with his Hebrews commentary.
- McMahon very blatantly and inexcusably misreads Owen’s commentary on Hebrews, his most mature stating of his views on the subject.
Two Covenants or One?
The previous quotation from McMahon (and Owen) suggests that in his commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13, Owen said the new covenant is simply a different administration of the same covenant as Sinai. The egregious error is that the section McMahon quotes from Owen is actually the section where Owen is summarizing the view he disagrees with! (See Brenton Ferry’s criticism of Jeong Koo Jeon for making the exact same error in Ferry’s chapter of The Law is Not of Faith)
Here is what Owen states:
On this consideration it is said by some, that the two covenants mentioned, the new and the old, were not indeed two distinct covenants, in their essence and substance, but only different administrations of the same covenant, called two covenants from some different outward solemnities and duties of worship attending them. To clearly discuss this with the minimum of unnecessary difficulty the following clarifications should be observed and noted, —
1. That by the old covenant, the original covenant of works, made with Adam and all mankind in him, is not intended; for this is undoubtedly a covenant different in its essence and substance from the new.
[[[2. By the new covenant, not the new covenant absolutely and originally, as given in the first promise, is intended; but in its complete gospel administration, when it was actually established by the death of Christ, as administered in and by the ordinances of the new testament. This, with the covenant of Sinai, were, as most say, but different administrations of the same covenant.]]] This latter being the point to be examined.
As on the other hand, there is such express mention made, not only in this, but in several other places in the Scriptures, of two distinct covenants, or testaments, and such different natures, properties, and effects, ascribed to them, as seem to constitute two distinct covenants. This, therefore, we must inquire into;
So Owen states that the precise point of this part of his commentary is to decide if the old and the new are two different covenants, or just two different administrations of the same covenant. He starts by summarizing the One Covenant View. This summary is what McMahon erroneously claims is Owen stating his own view.
The Plausibility of the One Covenant View
…[[[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 has the appearance and name of another covenant.]]]
After summarizing and explaining the One Covenant View under the heading “The Plausibility of the One Covenant View” Owen goes on to describe the alternative view:
The Lutheran Insistence on Two Distinct Covenants
The Lutherans, on the other side, insist on two arguments to prove that there is not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that there are substantially distinct covenants and that this is intended in this discourse of the apostle.
Their arguments are
1. Because in the Scripture they are often so called (separate covenants), and compared with one another, and sometimes opposed to one another; the first and the last, the new and the old.
2. Because the covenant of grace in Christ is eternal, immutable, always the same, subject to no alteration, no change or abrogation; neither can these things be said of it with respect to any administration of it as they are of the old covenant.
So then which view does Owen side with?
THE TWO COVENANTS ARE DISTINCT COVENANTS
…5. Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than merely a twofold administration of the same covenant, to be intended. We must do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, —and with great pretence of reason, for it is the sole foundation of all 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 is the same under both, then indeed they are the same for the substance of them is 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 of it, 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, while they were under the old covenant.
Having shown in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition to the old covenant, so I shall propose several things which relate to 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:
Could Owen be any clearer? I don’t think so. McMahon misunderstands every quotation he supplies from Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8. I honestly do not know how McMahon could so severely blunder his reading of Owen. It seems the only options are he intentionally misrepresents Owen, or he read Owen’s commentary so quickly as to not read what Owen actually said. I know he is a very busy person, and I don’t want to charge McMahon with the former, so it must have been the latter. Either way, it makes him an unreliable guide on this matter. This error alone renders McMahon’s entire essay faulty.
The Newness of the New Covenant
In keeping with this error, McMahon says “After stating that the new is not ‘brand new’, Owen describes how the new is different than the old” and then goes on to list 5 points of difference. The problem is that McMahon is once again quoting Owen’s summary of the reformed view! He is listing the 5 ways in which the reformed divines say there is a difference.
Owen saves his view of the differences for later when he lists 17 particular differences!
“Do This And Live” Foundation for All Covenants?
Central to his thesis is McMahon’s attempt to make Owen say that every covenant, including the Covenant of Grace is founded upon the principle “Do this and live.” McMahon states:
What is a covenant? According to Owen, the Covenant of Works subsists in the foundation or template for all covenants. He says, “The whole entire nature of the covenant of works consisted in this, — that upon our personal obedience, according unto the law and rule of it, we should be accepted with God, and rewarded with him. Herein the essence of it did consist; and whatever covenant proceeds on these terms, or has the nature of them in it, however it may be varied with additions or alterations, is the same covenant still, and not another. As in the renovation of the promise wherein the essence of the covenant of grace was contained, God did ofttimes make other additions unto it (as unto Abraham and David), yet was it still the same covenant for the substance of it, and not another; so whatever variations may be made in, or additions unto, the dispensation of the first covenant, so long as this rule is retained, “Do this, and live,” it is still the same covenant for the substance and essence of it.” (5:275, Emphasis Mine) This is striking in that Owen templates the structure of “covenant” in “do this and live.”
This is a very serious misreading of Owen. (The same misreading is found in this essay by Anglican Priest Steve Griffith http://www.johnowen.org/media/griffiths_owen_federal_theology.pdf. It appears that the misreading of both of these authors may have its roots in Sinclair Ferguson, but I don’t have a copy of his book to compare.) McMahon argues that Owen is teaching that the Covenant of Grace is the same covenant for substance and essence as the Covenant of Works! McMahon claims that the substance of the Covenant of Grace is “Do this, and live.” But is that what Owen actually said?
XIII. The nature of justification proved from the difference of the covenants
The difference between the two covenants stated–Argument from thence
That which we plead in the third place unto our purpose is, the difference between the two covenants. And herein it may be observed,- –
1. That by the two covenants I understand those which were absolutely given unto the whole church, and were all to bring it “eis teleioteta”,–unto a complete and perfect state; that is, the covenant of works, or the law of our creation as it was given unto us, with promises and threatening, or rewards and punishments, annexed unto it; and the covenant of grace, revealed and proposed in the first promise. As unto the covenant of Sinai, and the new testament as actually confirmed in the death of Christ, with all the spiritual privileges thence emerging, and the differences between them, they belong not unto our present argument.
2. The whole entire nature of the covenant of works consisted in this,–that upon our personal obedience, according unto the law and rule of it, we should be accepted with God, and rewarded with him. Herein the essence of it did consist; and whatever covenant proceeds on these terms, or has the nature of them in it, however it may be varied with additions or alterations, is the same covenant still, and not another. As in the renovation of the promise wherein the essence of the covenant of grace was contained, God did ofttimes make other additions unto it (as unto Abraham and David), yet was it still the same covenant for the substance of it, and not another; so whatever variations may be made in, or additions unto, the dispensation of the first covenant, so long as this rule is retained, “Do this, and live,” it is still the same covenant for the substance and essence of it.
3. Hence two things belonged unto this covenant:–First, That all things were transacted immediately between God and man. There was no mediator in it, no one to undertake any thing, either on the part of God or man, between them; for the whole depending on every one’s personal obedience, there was no place for a mediator. Secondly, That nothing but perfect, sinless obedience would be accepted with God, or preserve the covenant in its primitive state and condition. There was nothing in it as to pardon of sin, no provision for any defect in personal obedience.
4. Wherefore, this covenant being once established between God and man, there could be no new covenant made, unless the essential form of it were of another nature,–namely, that our own personal obedience be not the rule and cause of our acceptation and justification before God; for whilst this is so, as was before observed, the covenant is still the same, however the dispensation of it may be reformed or reduced to suit unto our present state and condition. What grace soever might be introduced into it, that could not be so which excluded all works from being the cause of our justification. But if a new covenant be made, such grace must be provided as is absolutely inconsistent with any works of ours, as unto the first ends of the covenant; as the apostle declares, Rom.11:6.
5. Wherefore, the covenant of grace, supposing it a new, real, absolute covenant, and not a reformation of the dispensation of the old, or a reduction of it unto the use of our present condition (as some imagine it to be), must differ, in the essence, substance, and nature of it, from that first covenant of works. And this it cannot do if we are to be justified before God on our personal obedience; wherein the essence of the first covenant consisted. If, then, the righteousness wherewith we are justified before God be our own, our own personal righteousness, we are yet under the first covenant, and no other.
6. But things in the new covenant are indeed quite otherwise; for,- -First, It is of grace, which wholly excludes works; that is, so of grace, as that our own works are not the means of justification before God; as in the places before alleged. Secondly, It has a mediator and surety; which is built alone on this supposition, that what we cannot do in ourselves which was originally required of us, and what the law of the first covenant cannot enable us to perform, that should be performed for us by our mediator and surety. And if this be not included in the very first notion of a mediator and surety, yet it is in that of a mediator or surety that does voluntarily interpose himself, upon an open acknowledgment that those for whom he undertakes were utterly insufficient to perform
It is quite inexplicable how McMahon could misread Owen so severely yet again. The very title of this section makes it clear that Owen is articulating a contrast, a difference between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, not their similarity!
Is the New Covenant Conditional?
The entire thrust of McMahon’s essay is to demonstrate that Owen taught that the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace had conditions that could be broken by its members. He desires to show that Owen taught both elect and non-elect individuals are members of the Covenant of Grace, but only the elect have the power/grace to fulfill the conditions of it by means of the Covenant of Redemption. McMahon states:
Owen has absolutely no problem in stating that in every covenant made, there are conditions to be met. In the external administration of the Covenant of Grace, that which pertains to the New Covenant in the New Testament as well as its expression in the Old Testament, men must meet specific requirements in order to be saved. But they cannot. God must then “take up both sides.” This is why the Covenant of Redemption is so important in Owen’s overall view of Covenant Theology. Jesus Christ, as Mediator, places all the responsibility, in time, under the law, on Himself, for all those for whom He will live and die. Men, then, by virtue of Christ’s work, are graciously saved and regenerated. That does not mean that only the regenerate live and move in the Covenant of Grace. Abraham and his seed are covenanted with God. But it certainly means, by Owen’s own definition, that only the elect participate in the fruits of the Covenant of Redemption.
…The Covenant of Grace is the sphere in which God works, handling both believers and unbelievers in that context upon condition of their obedience.
The quotations McMahon provides in this section of his essay are all from Volume XI of Owen’s Works: “The Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance Explained and Confirmed” which was written in 1654. I have not read the work so I cannot comment on the accuracy of his quotes.
However, here are the words of Owen 26 years later, speaking of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:10
A covenant properly is a compact or agreement on certain terms mutually stipulated by two or more parties. As promises are the foundation and rise of it, as it is between God and man, so it compriseth also precepts, or laws of obedience, which are prescribed unto man on his part to be observed. But in the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises, as we shall see in the explication of it…
…(3.) It is evident that there can be no condition previously required, unto our entering into or participation of the benefits of this covenant, antecedent unto the making of it with us. For none think there are any such with respect unto its original constitution; nor can there be so in respect of its making with us, or our entering into it. For, — [1.] This would render the covenant inferior in a way of grace unto that which God made with the people at Horeb. For he declares that there was not any thing in them that moved him either to make that covenant, or to take them into it with himself. Everywhere he asserts this to be an act of his mere grace and favor. Yea, he frequently declares, that he took them into covenant, not only without respect unto any thing of good in them, but although they were evil and stubborn. See Deuteronomy 7:7,8, 9:4, 5. [2.] It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant.
…(5.) It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part. For whatever is antecedent thereunto, being only a work or act of corrupted nature, can be no condition whereon the dispensation of spiritual grace is superadded. And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.
(6.) Unto a full and complete interest in all the promises of the covenant, faith on our part, from which evangelical repentance is inseparable, is required. But whereas these also are wrought in us by virtue of that promise and grace of the covenant which are absolute, it is a mere strife about words to contend whether they may be called conditions or no. Let it be granted on the one hand, that we cannot have an actual participation of the relative grace of this covenant in adoption and justification, without faith or believing; and on the other, that this faith is wrought in us, given unto us, bestowed upon us, by that grace of the covenant which depends on no condition in us as unto its discriminating administration, and I shall not concern myself what men will call it.
…(9.) Although diaqh>kh, the word here used, may signify and be rightly rendered a “covenant,” in the same manner as tyriB] doth, yet that which is intended is properly a “testament,” or a “testamentary disposition” of good things. It is the will of God in and by Jesus Christ, his death and bloodshedding, to give freely unto us the whole inheritance of grace and glory. And under this notion the covenant hath no condition, nor are any such either expressed or intimated in this place.
And so we see once again that Owen argues at length against the position McMahon attributes to him. This is the foundation of McMahon’s thesis, and it is shown to be faulty as well.
Covenant of Grace Made with Non-Elect?
In line with the previous point is McMahon’s contention that Owen taught the Covenant of Grace is made with both the elect and non-elect.
The Covenant of Grace, for the elect, cannot be broken because it logically flows from the Covenant of Redemption. However, those “covenanted” with God, who are not regenerate, something Owen contends for, will always break the covenant and enact the threatenings held in the sign placed upon them. (16:258ff)
This is seen to be false according to the previous quote from Owen regarding conditions in the New Covenant.
…Part of the confusion here is due to the fact that many make the Covenant of Grace too restrictive. They do not allow for Owen’s “covenant” definition, and therefore concluded that the Covenant of Grace is something brand “new”, not a renewal of anything former, and made internally, without any external portions, only with the elect.
…This is where Owen emphatically disagrees, even if only on the basis of the Covenant of Redemption, with those who would “simply” equate the Covenant of Grace with salvation; i.e. that the Covenant of Grace only contains inward and no outward expressions, or it only provides a context for the regenerate and not unbelievers.
First, we already demonstrated that what McMahon claims is “Owen’s ‘covenant’ definition” is in fact not. Second, compare McMahon’s summary of Owen with Owen’s own words:
The covenant of grace in Christ is made only with the Israel of God, the church of the elect. For by the making of this covenant with any, the effectual communication of the grace of it to them is principally intended. Nor can that covenant be said to be made absolutely with any but those whose sins are pardoned by virtue of it, and in whose hearts the law of God is written; which are the express promises of it. And it was with respect to those of this sort among that people that the covenant was promised to be made with them. See Rom 9:27-33; 11:7. But in respect of the outward dispensation of the covenant, it is extended beyond the effectual communication of the grace of it. And in respect to that did the privilege of the carnal seed of Abraham lie.
(By outward dispensation of the covenant of grace, Owen has in mind the preaching of the Word, etc – this is not the same thing as the “external administration/membership” that you hear other reformed writers, like McMahon, talk about)
Abrahamic and New Covenant the Same?
One final note needs to be made regarding the relationship of the Abrahamic Covenant to the New Covenant in Owen’s mind. McMahon states:
with Owen, the Abrahamic and New Covenant are the same
And yet, if we once again allow Owen to speak for himself, we will hear just the opposite:
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,
McMahon labored over this essay to warn Christians not to misread and therefore misrepresent Owen’s view of God’s covenants, and yet he has egregiously misread Owen himself. The irony would be quite humorous if the arrogant disdain from men like McMahon for baptists was not so aggravating. In conclusion, do not be intimidated and misled. Read the sources yourself.
It is often the case through church history that people want to “own” the foremost theologians of the church in their system of theology; our day is no different… Owen, though he is dead, still needs to be rescued from those who obscure his theological views surrounding Covenant Theology… consideration should be taken to rightly exemplify Owen’s position in any theological writing on the covenants.
24 thoughts on “McMahon’s Misrepresentation of John Owen”
Thanks for taking the pains to point this out. My copies of Owen are boxed right now as I am in the process of moving. Therefore, I will ask you a question, and then try to answer it based on what I have read of Owen. I look forward to a correction if I am mistaken.
I think that you are reading a modern/baptistic presupposition when you are reading Owen. In your quotation of Owen’s point #5 above it seems to me that the absolute distinction which Owen is making is not between the Old Covenant (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David) and the New Covenant (Jesus Christ), but, rather, with the Covenant of Works made with Adam and Eve before the Fall, and the Covenant of Grace made with Adam and Eve after the Fall:
5. Wherefore, the covenant of grace, supposing it a new, real, absolute covenant, and not a reformation of the dispensation of the old, or a reduction of it unto the use of our present condition (as some imagine it to be), must differ, in the essence, substance, and nature of it, from that first covenant of works. And this it cannot do if we are to be justified before God on our personal obedience; wherein the essence of the first covenant consisted. If, then, the righteousness wherewith we are justified before God be our own, our own personal righteousness, we are yet under the first covenant, and no other. – your citation of Owen.
Owen is defining the “Old” or “First” Covenant as the Covenant of Works, and the “New” Covenant as the Covenant of Grace. All paedo-baptists believe that there is an absolute distinction between the two.
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
You have misunderstood that part of my post. Please read McMahon’s essay. He quotes that section of Owen to argue that Owen believed the Covenant of Grace was of the same substance as the Covenant of Works with Adam: “Do this and live”. I fully recognize that Owen was talking about the original Covenant of Works with Adam in that section and I never suggested otherwise.
However, in his commentary on Hebrews (above under the title “THE TWO COVENANTS ARE DISTINCT COVENANTS”) the two covenants he is comparing are the Mosaic and the New. You can read more under the heading “The Adamic Covenant not the Old Covenant of Hebrews 6.8” here http://www.reformedbaptist.co.uk/JOHEBREW86My%20Version.htm
Again, I would appreciate it if you would read Owen when you get him unboxed rather than looking down your nose at those of us who are supposedly distorting Owen with “modern/baptistic presuppositions”
Rob, you can also read the outline of Owen’s argumentation that I have created here:
I particularly enjoyed that last quote from Owen. I seriously need to order me a copy of Coxe/Owen. Thanks for this.
Read Mcmahon’s ‘Two wills of God’; the point you are missing is that unless you comprehend the premise of Owens’ *compound and *divided senses of Gods decree’s, you will get all of these quotes garbled and take them out of that context (of how Owen thinks-specifically in regards to his definition of the two wills of God and the compound and divided senses).
Think of it this way, in Owens case, he thought a certain way in regards to the covenants; if you go into Matt’s paper without first understanding the items I speak of above, you will come away with what you have written; They are not contradictions, it’s just that you don’t have Owen truly onboard when you read Mcmahon’s treatise. It was written under the premise that you understand covenant theology and are familiar with John Owen. It is particularly written by a Covenant theologian (Presbyterian) for Covenant theologians (Presbyterians).
Maybe McMahon should write a preface to this work.
Scott, I appreciate your comments, but honestly, Owen’s quotes speak for themselves. Are you really defending McMahon’s twisting of Owen above?
Scott, I have shown that the very quotations of Owen that McMahon uses to defend his thesis are misquotations. We can have a conversation about Owen’s view of the Covenant of Redemption, but if McMahon wants to do so, he needs to re-write the entire essay and find different quotes to prove his point, because the ones he uses are misinterpretations of what Owen says.
When Owen says “wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants” and McMahon says “Owen then spends another page outlining why it is different administrations of the same covenant” you cannot defend that misintepretation by an appeal to “understanding Owen’s broader context.” It is a direct misquotation.
Seriously sir, you make me sick.
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I want to add, McMahon’s disdain is not as viral as you may believe; His passion is for accuracy. He believes the credo to be in error and in sight of that passion, may come across as disdain. The posts on PuritanBoard that have this odor are old and He has grown through much of his struggle with the Credobaptist. In fact, I know for a fact that he periodically attends a local credobaptist congregation. He does see the credobaptist as brothers in the Lord (those that follow orthodoxy and have the appropriate 3 points that make a church a true church of God).
Thank you for that clarification Scott. I am not very active on the board, so I was limited to the things I had read on there before.
“It appears that the misreading of both of these authors may have its roots in Sinclair Ferguson, but I don’t have a copy of his book to compare.)”
If this is your Amazon Wish List http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A1E4OE2ZKGRICK/ref=cm_wl_rlist_profile then I didn’t see Ferguson’s book in there
You’ve found me out! I added the book
Very interesting article, as a Reformed Baptist I have benefited a lot from the writings of John Owen. However there has always been something puzzling to me concerning Reformed Baptist CT; there are two authors that I believe have contributed perhaps more than any human author and they are Arthur Pink and John Owen.
That being the case, how can someone such as Owen who actually writes about CT as though he was a Credo-Baptist come out on the side of Paedo-Baptism?
Not sure, if you know the answer to that, but I think views such as what McMahon wrote about Owen will always be an option for a lot of Christians who are wrestling with this subject.
I too think Pink and Owen are both excellent. Search “Pink” on the left to see several of my posts on his view of the covenants.
How can Owen write what he does and still be a paedobaptist? Well, first of all, he remains a paedobaptist for different reasons than most. Second, we have to recognize that there were intense social consequences for abandoning paedobaptism. Not to suggest that kept Owen from being a credo, only that it was a factor that would strongly influence any theologian, especially one who enjoyed the status of Owen.
If you want to see how Owen remains a paedo in light of his mature covenant theology, you need to read the sections of his Hebrews commentary where he defends infant baptism. The comments there are sparse and the arguments are very vacuous. I wrote about it here https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/of-infant-baptism-owen-analysis/ See also https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/the-oneness-of-the-church-john-owen/
Tom, what McMahon wrote about Owen is not an option for anyone because its not what Owen believed. McMahon misquotes Owen. It is not an option for anyone.
Actually I agree with you, the word “option” that I used didn’t adequately describe what I was trying to say.
What I was trying to say, was that in almost everything Owen wrote on the subject of CT, one would come out with the conclusion that he was a Credo-Baptist. It is for that reason that I believe Owen’s Paedo-Baptism is not consistent with his CT and therefore many people are going to speculate on the reasons why he was a Paedo-Baptist.
McMahon’s views or as you said “misquotes” on Owen, will be believed by people who either haven’t done the research or don’t understand Owen’s writing enough to know for sure.
Owen was a very good theologian and writer, but he has never been the easiest to understand. That is why I am indebted to people like JI Packer who have made Owen’s writing more understandable to the average Christian.
Thank you for pointing me to Owen’s works on the book of Hebrews on the subject of Paedo-Baptism. I intend on looking at this information when I get more time.
I need to read Owen with both a clear head and lots of time to think about what he is saying.
I’m most grateful to you for your succinct and accurate expose of MacMahon’s errors. Anyone who wants to read Owen on the covenants without wading through all seven volumes of his commentary on Hebrews can read ‘From Adam to Christ’ by Coxe and Owen (RBAP. ISBN 0-9760039-3-7) in which can be found Owen’s exposition of Hebrews 8:6-13.
MacMahon’s writings on the covenants are absolutely wretched. His ‘Simple Overview of Covenant Theology’ is just terrible, abounding in straw men and false conclusions. Yet it is (or used to be) constantly being recomended on the PB as a primer for aspiring covenant theologians. I briefly critique it here:-
Keep up the good work.
Steve Owen (no relation, alas!)
Thanks for the correction. I still need to pull out Owen’s commentaries on Hebrews and look at all of what he wrote on the subject. However, I would like to interact with Owen’s argument concerning the distinction between the two covenants. Here is the part which you quote above:
“…That this being the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation is the same under both, then indeed they are the same for the substance of them is 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 of it, 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, while they were under the old covenant.”
It appears to me that Owen is saying that the virtue of the Old Covenant is dependent upon the New. That is, there is no saving virtue in the Old Covenant, but simply insofar as it depends upon the New (the Covenant of Grace). Since this is the case, then, they are two completely different covenants.
It appears to me that Owen is stretching his argument here, if such is his argument. Because if the Old Covenant is dependent upon the New Covenant, then they cannot be absolutely distinguished as Owen seems to argue from your quotations. The Scriptures tell us that there are many similarities between the Old and New Covenants: Justification, Rm. 4:3, the Church, Rm. 11:17, Election, Rm 9:13, Baptism, 1 Co 10:1-4, Circumcision, Col 2:11-13.
Paul even goes so far as to call us “children of Abraham.” Now, I do not think that anyone would deny this: that if Christ did not die, then Abraham’s faith would be in vain, but so also would those of the New Covenant as well, 1 Co 15:17.
It seems to me that to say that because the “virtue” of the Old Covenant is dependent upon the New Covenant necessarily means an absolute distinction between the two is going too far. I think that the Savoy Declaration, which was written by Owen, illustrates his meaning quite clearly:
“Although this covenant hath been differently and variously administered in respect of ordinances and institutions in the time of the law, and since the coming of Christ in the flesh; yet for the substance and efficacy of it, to all its spiritual and saving ends, it is one and the same; upon the account of which various dispensations, it is called the Old and New Testament,” chapter, 7, section 5.
I think that Owen does service to the Church by pointing out the distinctions between the two covenants. However, it is fallacious to argue that there is an absolute distinction to be made between the two.
I am certainly open to be corrected on this.
I’m not going to comment on anything here if you have not first taken the time to read Owen. He devotes 150 pages to your questions. After you’ve had a chance to thoroughly study what he has written, feel free to come back, post your comments here https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/02/15/john-owens-commentary-on-the-old-and-new-covenants-outline/ and I’d love to work through it with you.
In an earlier post, Rob said, ‘I think that you are reading a modern/baptistic presupposition when you are reading Owen.’
Baptistic, maybe; modern, no. Here is Nehemiah Coxe in the Preface of his book on the covenants:-
‘That notion…..that the old covenant and the new differ in substance and not only in the matter of their administration, certainly requires a larger and more particular handling to free it from those pejudices and difficulties that have been cast upon it…….. Accordingly I designed to give a further account…in a discourse of the covenant made with Israel in the wilderness and the state of the church under the law. But when I had finished this and provided some materials also for what was to follow, I found my labour…….happily prevented by the coming out of Dr. Owen’s third volume on Hebrews. There it is discussed at length and the objections that seem to lie against it are fully answered.’
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