Covenant Substance vs Administration in the 1689 LBCF

Sam Renihan has some very helpful things to say in another PB thread:

but the heart of it is the question of whether or not the Abrahamic Covenant (and the Mosaic and Davidic Covenants) are one in substance and essence with the Covenant of Grace.

Is it not possible that in fact the heart of the matter is not whether they are one in substance and essence but rather whether there is a difference in administration? I believe our confession teaches that all the covenants are revelations/administrations of the Covenant of Grace (including Mosaic) does that not require that in essence and substance they are one, whatever differences there may be in more periphery ways?

Brother, it is certainly true that many Baptists hold this position and approach the debate from the stance which you have articulated. However, I would respectfully argue that this is not what the confession teaches, and that this is not how we as Baptists should approach the debate.

I suggest seeing the difference between these two views in this way:

1. The way in which paedobaptists, and some baptists, approach this is to consider the relationship between the historical covenants and the covenant of grace to be one of substance and accident (Aristotelian categories). The substance of the Covenant of Grace remains the same while its accidental properties vary throughout historical “administrations.”

2. The credobaptist view considers the relationship between the historical covenants and the covenant of grace to be one of type and anti-type, passing from shadow to fulfillment.

Scripture does not speak in the language of progressive administrations. Christ, Paul, and the author to the Hebrews did not say “A new and better administration is here!” They said “The real thing is here!” I would strongly encourage all of our brethren who invoke the language of progressive administrations of one covenant to take a second look at that language and justify its use in comparison to the way that scripture speaks of different covenants, whether in Ephesians, Galatians, Hebrews, or elsewhere.

I would politely suggest that this is the entire sweep of the argument of the author to the Hebrews, namely that the substance which was typified by the Old Covenant has arrived in Christ and his covenant. It is not a new administration of one covenant, but rather it is the unveiling and revealing of that which previously had been prefigured in shadowy forms.

As to the confession, I would like to point out the emphasis on revelation. “This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament.” The farther steps here are farther revelation. This is not equal to administrations. Furthermore, Nehemiah Coxe, the most likely editor of the Confession, in his work on the covenants said this in his preface: “That notion (which is often supposed in this discourse) that the old covenant and the new differ in substance and not only in the manner of their administration, certainly requires a larger and more particular handling to free it from those prejudices and difficulties that have been cast on it by many worthy persons who are otherwise minded.”

I am strongly convinced that this is the teaching of scripture and the London Baptist Confession. [Me too -BA]

5. Credo: The Abrahamic Covenant reveals the Covenant of Grace, but remains distinct from it in its substance and essence. The national promises pertain to Abraham and his physical posterity while pointing to the eschatological promises that pertain to Christ and his “spiritual” posterity. Disagreed by Paedos.

10 thoughts on “Covenant Substance vs Administration in the 1689 LBCF

    1. Btw, as a side note, you might be interested in reading White & Beisner’s chapter in “By Faith Alone”. They argue that

      “The old covenant administered the promised earthly and temporal typological inheritance according to ‘the righteousness of the law,’ that is, according to the personal (including corporate) righteous works of the seed of Abraham (Exod. 19:4-6; Lev. 18:5; Deut 6:25; 30:15-20). Of this truth, the apostle could hardly have been clearer: ‘the Law is not of faith…”

      I found White interacting with Ramsey on this point here:


  1. Dennis

    Hi Brandon, you may have covered this in detail in another post, but my question is, given the substantial difference in the old and new covenants, how do we Reformed Baptists articulate that the Old Testament saints were saved? Are we together with our Presbyterian brethren to say that the self same atonement of Christ and regeneration by the Spirit applied to the OT saints as it does with us? How does that work, when hold that the old covenant dispensations were merely types and shadows? They could not, therefore, until the first advent of Christ be truly saved by his blood, correct? How would you hash that out?


    1. Hi Dennis, thanks for the question. Here is how John Owen answered it (I agree with him):

      This entrance hath the apostle made into his discourse of the two covenants, which he continues unto the end of the chapter. But the whole is not without its difficulties. Many things in particular will occur unto us in our progress, which may be considered in their proper places. In the meantime there are some things in general which may be here discoursed, by whose determination much light will be communicated unto what doth ensue.

      First, therefore, the apostle doth evidently in this place dispute concerning two covenants, or two testaments, comparing the one with the other, and declaring the disannulling of the one by the introduction and establishment of the other. What are these two covenants in general we have declared, — namely, that made with the church of Israel at mount Sinai, and that made with us in the gospel; not as absolutely the covenant of grace, but as actually established in the death of Christ, with all the worship that belongs unto it.
      Here then ariseth a difference of no small importance, namely, whether these are indeed two distinct covenants, as to the essence and substance of them, or only different ways of the dispensation and administration of the same covenant. And the reason of the difficulty lieth herein: We must grant one of these three things:

      1. That either the covenant of grace was in force under the old testament; or,
      2. That the church was saved without it, or any benefit by Jesus Christ, who is the mediator of it alone; or,
      3. That they all perished everlastingly. And neither of the two latter can be admitted.

      Some, indeed, in these latter days, have revived the old Pelagian imagination, that before the law men were saved by the conduct of natural light and reason; and under the law by the directive doctrines, precepts, and sacrifices thereof, —without any respect unto the Lord Christ or his mediation in another covenant. But I shall not here contend with them, as having elsewhere sufficiently refuted these imaginations. Wherefore I shall take it here for granted, that no man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ therein.

      Suppose, then, that this new covenant of grace was extant and effectual under the old testament, so as the church was saved by virtue thereof, and the mediation of Christ therein, how could it be that there should at the same time be another covenant between God and them, of a different nature from this, accompanied with other promises, and other effects?

      On this consideration it is said, that the two covenants mentioned, the new and the old, were not indeed two distinct covenants, as unto 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 of them. To clear this it must be observed, —

      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 the essence and substance of it 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….

      In essence, Owen equates the new covenant with the covenant of grace and says that the OT saints were saved by the new covenant. He discusses this at much more length if you have time to read his full commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13. He says that from Gen 3 on, the new covenant/covenant of grace existed and worked its power as a promise, not as a formal covenant. Then at Christ’s death this promise became a formally established covenant regulating forms of worship, etc (ie visible now, not merely invisible): “that covenant which had invisibly, by 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” He elaborates on what “established” means in his commentary.

      Sam and Micah Renihan articulate this as a “retro-active new covenant” in their paper:

      I don’t see this as presenting any more difficulty than saying that any OT saint was saved by Christ’s death that was still yet future. The Renihan’s paper does an excellent job of fleshing all this out as it relates to the Covenant of Redemption

      Let me know if that helps or if it leaves more questions


  2. Dennis

    Thanks for the helpful reply. It’s cool that Owen is so “on our side” on many issues. The retro-active view does raise one more question for me: were OT saints immediately granted eternal life in heaven upon their deaths, or was the historic death and resurrection of Christ necessary for the merit to have been properly imputed on them? There is some evidence, like in the account of Samuel’s spirit awakened by the witch, that OT saints had in fact spent a period of time in sheol until Christ. What are your thoughts? I believe the presbyterians, with their more flattened view of the covenant of grace, would view OT saints as having identical benefits after death as us.


    1. Yes, Owen is very helpful (Petto is another good one). Many paedobaptists will very strongly argue that we have misunderstood Owen, but just take the time to read him for your self and make up your own mind.

      I haven’t given your question more than a cursory thought, so I hesitate to say anything. I don’t believe Owen or Petto or any of the Particular Baptists viewed the matter any differently than any of the reformed. If I remember correctly, Waldron has some helpful comments about Sheol in his exposition of the London Baptist Confession (although he does not agree with this view of the covenants, his insight per your question is still helpful I think)


  3. markmcculley

    Scott Clark–The covenant of grace was in the Abrahamic. It was under the Abrahamic. It was with the Abrahamic covenant. The various OT administrations were the church. Where does an unbeliever ordinarily (i.e., by divine ordination and in the normal course of things) find the preached gospel and the administration of the keys of the kingdom? In the visible church. So it was then. That’s where the covenant of grace and it was present then. It was not only signified. It was not only or primarily future. There were future realities to come but the covenant of grace itself was in, with, and under the types and shadows.


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