The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology

I am now able to sleep at night: Pascal Denault has written the book I’ve been looking for.

Someone has finally put in print an analysis of what 17th century particular baptists believed about covenant theology. As amazing as it sounds, no other book has done this. Of the now numerous books published on baptist covenant theology, none of them have done what Denault has done. None of them endeavored to explain what the editors and signers of the 1689 London Baptist Confession meant when they modified Chapter 7 of the LBCF. Some have written how they personally interpret Chapter 7, but not necessarily how the London baptists did. Many reformed baptists have labored hard to reconcile their credobaptism with covenant theology, but for the most part they went back to the drawing board to do so, rather than standing on the shoulders of those who came before.

But, I don’t blame them. It’s not like you can find these primary sources on Amazon, or even in your library. For the most part, they’re just not in print. Reformed Baptist Academic Press did a great service in publishing Nehemiah Coxe’s treatise on covenant theology, but before that it wasn’t available in print. And still most of the other writings are not available. Denault notes: “I spent weeks communing with seventeenth-century theologians through their writings; sometimes reading them with a magnifying glass when only the original edition existed.”

The result is a unique combination of historical survey and modern polemic against presbyterian covenant theology. The value of returning to the source of 1689 confessional covenantalism is that it is decidedly different from the covenant theology of modern reformed baptists. Only two modern books articulate the same view: Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw in the Theology of Infant Baptism and A.W. Pink’s Divine Covenants (for the most part).

The most prevalent view amongst reformed baptists today is a modified version of presbyterian federalism. This is the one covenant, two administrations view. Denault notes “the Presbyterian paradigm of the Covenant of Grace consists in seeing only one covenant administered respectively by the Old and New Covenants. This notion was definitively rooted in Presbyterian theology when it was integrated into the standards of Westminster: “This covenant [the Covenant of Grace] was differently administered in the time of the law and in the time of the gospel […]” (39). Most reformed baptists agree with this view. In his Exposition of the 1689 LBCF, Sam Waldron notes “The truth is that the way or scheme of salvation has been one and the same in all ages of the world. In the revelation of this scheme of salvation all the divine covenants were involved. They were its historical administrations.” But they disagree with presbyterians over what constitutes the difference in administration between the old and the new. They will say that the old covenant eternally saved some of it’s members, but the new covenant eternally saves all of it’s members – and this is the newness of the new covenant. As James White argues:

The point is that for Niell [his paedobaptist interlocutor], the “counter-point” to which he is responding is an either/or situation: either the elements of the New Covenant described in Heb. 8:10 were completely absent in the Old Covenant (as he understands the citations he presents to assert) or they were present and hence cannot be definitional of what is ‘new’ in the New Covenant. But it is just here that the position of Reformed Baptists in general, and that seen in our exegesis, must be allowed to speak to the issue. We must agree that considered individually, each of the elements of the New Covenant listed in Heb. 8:10-12 can be found, in particular individuals in the Old Covenant… So, if some in the Old Covenant experienced these divine works of grace, but most did not, what then is to be concluded? That the newness of the New Covenant is seen in the extensiveness of the expression of God’s grace to all in it… Hence, when we read, “God’s law, the transcript of his holiness and his expectations for his people, was already on the hearts of his people, and so is not new in the new covenant,” 11 we respond by saying it is not the mere existence of the gracious act of God writing His law on the heart that is new, but it is the extensiveness of that work that is new. While some in the Old Covenant experienced this, all in the New Covenant do so… The newness of the New Covenant, as we have seen exegetically, is that all of these divine actions are true for all of those in it.

The Newness of the New Covenant

As White alludes, his position is representative of “Reformed Baptists in general”. The new and the old covenant do not differ in substance – they both renewed hearts, forgave sins, and saved eternally. They only differ in administration – some received this blessing in the old covenant, but all receive this blessing in the new covenant. But as Denault demonstrates, this view is not representative of seventeenth-century baptists.

Coxe summarizes the Baptist distinction as follows: “the Old Covenant and the new differ in substance and not only in the manner of the administration.”… his federalism can practically be considered as the standard of Calvinist Baptists [of the seventeenth-century]. (18) … Consequently, none of them endorsed the theology of one Covenant of Grace under two administrations (58). [Note: apparently 1 or 2 Calvinist Baptists did endorse the two administration theology]

Instead of the one covenant under two administrations view, seventeenth-century baptists held to “one covenant revealed progressively and concluded formally under the New Covenant” (61).

“[Chapter 7] is the most discordant passage of the confessions of faith. Knowing that the Baptists made every effort to follow the Westminster standards as much as possible when they wrote their confession of faith, the originality of their formulation of the Covenant of Grace is highlight significant. It is obvious that the authors of the 1689 completely avoided any formulation reminiscent of the “one covenant under two administrations” model that we find in the other two confessions of faith. This absence must be interpreted as a rejection of the theology behind this formulation and not as an omission or an attempt at originality.” (60-61)

The Baptists believed that before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of grace was not formally given, but only announced and promised (revealed). This distinction is fundamental to the federalism of the 1689 (62)… The Baptists considered that the New Covenant and it alone was the Covenant of Grace. In Baptist theology we find an equivalency between the Covenant of Grace and the New Covenant (63)…The Baptist understanding rested on another fundamental distinction: one between the phase where the Covenant of Grace was revealed and the phase where it was concluded. The revealed phase corresponded to the period preceding the death of Christ and the concluded phase corresponding to the time that followed. Therefore, Baptists considered that no other covenant, besides the New Covenant, was the Covenant of Grace.

Again, just to note the contrast between seventeenth-century baptists and modern reformed baptists, Waldron states

“Each use of the term to refer to a divine covenant in the bible refers to a covenant made by God at some specific historical epoch. None of these covenants may simply be equated with what the [London Baptist] Confession describes as ‘the covenant of grace’… The New Covenant has sometimes been equated with the covenant of grace. As the Confession remarks, ‘the full discovery’ of the covenant of grace ‘was completed in the New Testament.’… If this theological terminology [covenant of grace] is used, however, it must be guarded carefully in two ways. First, the distinction between the divine covenants [ie new covenant] and the covenant of grace must be maintained jealously. (107-110)

I don’t mean to criticize White and Waldron and others who hold their view. I only wish to make it abundantly clear what is being said in Denault’s book. It is easy to read another book on baptist covenant theology and categorize it with the others without realizing it’s uniqueness and it’s disagreement with other reformed baptists. Greg Nichols’ “Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants” has been lauded as a hallmark point for reformed baptists. Derek Thomas notes “Baptists who embrace their historic Calvinistic and Covenantal roots have long since needed a robust and comprehensive treatment of Covenant Theology that includes the nuanced interpretations of the biblical covenants that a baptistic hermeneutic requires. This treatment by Greg Nichols does just that and more.” The oddity is that this treatment that has long been needed, has long existed! And Nichols’ modern treatment is not representative of the older treatment already given. Whereas Denault spends the entire book explaining the meaning of the change in LBCF 7.3, Nichols gives it a paragraph and barely mentions any disagreement. This is fine if Nichols’ main focus is to explain his personal beliefs about covenant theology, but it is lamentable that paedobaptist scholars like Thomas inevitably see it as representing the Calvinistic and Covenantal roots of the 1689.

There is a lot to be learned from seventeenth-century baptists. In particular, Denault’s book helped iron out a few wrinkles in my understanding of baptist covenant theology.

His discussion of the Abrahamic covenant and clarification as to what Coxe said about it was very helpful. He shows how the baptists answered the claims of Petto and others who saw the Abrahamic covenant as unconditional but the Mosaic as conditional (a view echoed by Meredith Kline and Michael Horton). They answered Petto’s primary text for this view (Gal 3:16-17) by appealing to Galatians 4:22-31.

“The Baptists saw two posterities in Abraham, two inheritances and consequently two covenants… Not that the posterity of Abraham was of a mixed nature, but that Abraham had two distinct posterities and that it was necessary to determine the inheritance of each of these posterities on the basis of their respective promises… This understanding was vigorously affirmed amongst all Baptist theologians and characterized their federalism form its origin” (119-120).

But, very helpfully, Denault clarifies that this did not mean they saw two formal covenants with Abraham. They saw only one formal covenant – the covenant of circumcision (Gen 17). The other was seen only as a promise (Gen 12) (a footnote interacts with Jeffrey Johnson’s disagreement on this point, and is very helpful as well).

Denault also does an excellent job of illuminating the precise nature of the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of works, according to the baptists. I have previously objected to John Owen’s remark that the Mosaic Covenant law demanded perfect obedience. I preferred A.W. Pink’s explanation that only outward, national, general conformity to the Mosaic Covenant was required, since it was a national covenant. However, Denault notes that these two views are in harmony:

“In agreement with the Covenant of Works, the Old Covenant demanded a perfect obedience to the Law of God, but contrary to the Covenant of Works, the Old Covenant was based on a sacrificial system for the redemption of sinners… The slightest disobedience to the Law constituted a sin punishable by death (Rom 6:23), but not necessarily a transgression of the Old Covenant. It is necessary to make the distinction between the requirements of the Law of works affirmed under the Old Covenant and the requirements of the Old Covenant itself towards Israel. The maintaining of the Old Covenant depended on the Levitical priesthood (Heb 7:11) and not on absolute obedience… the obedience required was general and national in character. God graciously overlooked the many offenses. However, the covenant would be broken if Israel habitually sinned and were marked nationally as a rebellious people who disregarded God’s Word” (137-138).

There is much to be gained from Denault’s work. It fills a very necessary gap in the existing literature on baptist covenant theology. The work addresses many of the objections and concerns raised by modern paedobaptists against modern Calvinistic baptists. For example, the recently published “Kingdom Through Covenant” defense of “progressive covenantalism” is seen by many as “the” covenantal answer to paedobaptists by modern Calvinistic baptists. But Kingdom Through Covenant really looks very little like the seventeenth-century baptists. And what’s more, these older baptists avoided the pitfalls that Kingdom Through Covenant is precisely being criticized for (see my next post). Sadly, I doubt that Denault’s work will get the attention that Kingdom Through Covenant did, although it deserves to.

Enough already: go read it!

75 thoughts on “The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology

  1. Dennis

    What would you guys say is the next step forward in Reformed Baptist scholarship to help clear this up? It seems we are a little more muddled in our definitive understanding of covenant theology than perhaps our Presbyterian brethren. What would you say is the single point of contention that would help settle the score for Reformed Baptists and move us in a united direction? I ask because I’m in the process of looking into PhD programs in systematic/historical theology and would like to do work that is substantial and helpful. Pascal, perhaps you have some ideas on where study can be focused – I’d love to hear from you. Blessings!

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    1. Well, I’d say first of all that Paedobaptist CT is not as monolithic as they’d have us believe. There’s an essay in The Law Is Not of Faith which highlights many differences among Paedo theologians with regard to the Mosaic Covenant alone.

      I’m no expert in the field, but I’d say a good step forward is to make the works of 17th century Particular Baptists more available, as well as writing new material in light of modern language, developments in scholarship, theological advancements in other areas, responding to more recent works (dispensationalism and new covenant theology, for instance), etc. With the stuff we’ve been seeing lately, I’d say the future is looking bright!

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    2. To echo Patrick, Presbyterians are very “muddled” or “of varied opinion” on covenant theology. There are camps very much at battle with each other, each seeing the other as unconfessional. See here for example: https://sites.google.com/site/mosaiccovenant/home

      In terms of uniting Reformed Baptists? I think we need to give them all time to read the recently published (and soon to be published) works first 😉 Many are simply unaware of these differences of opinion

      As far as recommending a course of study, I’ll leave it to those much more qualified to answer.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think Brandon is much more qualified to indicate what area of covenant theology Baptists should work on in order to unite their view. He is following with acuteness the actual discussion on the subject and is quite able to summarize the differences, explain the inconsistencies and show the sources of disagreement among reformed Baptists. I didn’t follow the discussion on Covenant Theology as much as he did. I am going to share my thoughts, but I look to him to validate or invalidate them.

    I think the main cause for the lack of unity among covenantal Baptists is due to the ignorance of a completely distinct approach to the Covenant of Grace. The Baptist model, at least in the LBCF, is one covenant of grace revealed progressively through the OT and concluded under the NT. We need to work from that paradigm and apply it to our interpretation of the divine covenants. I think it would help to show how many covenantal Baptists failed to apply that model of the Covenant of Grace.

    Futur works on this subject will need to present a comprehensive reformed Baptist covenant theology that is founded on this distinct basis.

    Another subject that needs to be specifically clarified among reformed Baptists is the Abrahamic Covenant and its dual nature. There is confusion among us because we tend to see this covenant as a covenant of grace (Gal. 3) (an administration of the Covenant of grace, some Baptists say), but at the same time we refused the paedobaptist consequence: that is the posterity of the covenant members are into it also. Some Presbyterians accept the Baptist view of the Mosaic Covenant as a national covenant of works, but they say we are inconsistent because we see the Abrahamic Covenant as a covenant of grace and we don’t consistently apply all its principles. How is the Abrahamic Covenant related to the Covenant of Grace, the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant? I know Jeffrey Johnson is going to publish a new book soon that will present a Baptist understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant and might answer these questions from a biblical perspective.

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    1. It sounds to me like a lot of the bases are being covered. Perhaps one area that could be pursued further is the issue of conditionality in the covenant of grace, particularly as it finds expression amongst paedobaptists. Jeffrey Johnson lays out several different ways that paedobaptists have tried to deal with the conditional element they add to the covenant of grace. That could perhaps be expanded and pressed. People like Mark Jones want to pass over some of these differences and say there are no differences (ie no difference between Petto, Owen and others). See here for example: https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/petto-conditional-new-covenant/ (see quote at bottom) This would be compared with the baptist solution of removing conditionality (and perhaps trying to show where Petto and Owen are inconsistent in this regard).
      Some of this I think was addressed by Crampton in his book. But I could see a more systematic tracing of various paedobaptist answers from Petto through to Federal Vision and all the variations in between.

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    2. And isn’t this the sticky wicket in the WCF, too?

      The Baptist model, at least in the LBCF, is one covenant of grace revealed progressively through the OT and concluded under the NT.

      I am still “troubled” by 2 Cor. 3, Gal. 3 & 4, Heb. 8:7-10:18.
      Words like new & old,
      spirit & letter,
      death & life,
      condemnation & righteousness,
      no glory & more glory,
      first & second,
      faulty & faultless,
      new & obsolete/ growing old, passing away,
      earthly & heavenly,
      symbolic & real,
      shadow & very image,
      sacrifices & one sacrifice
      offerings & one offering. . .

      They appear to be different; not grace in different dispensations (sorry), but law & grace, a la John 1:17 ~ Moses & Jesus Christ, law & grace/ truth. And, to go back to Hebrews: house/ house builder. Not a lot of grace in the Bible indicated under Moses.

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      1. Hugh, please read the book. It explains what is meant by “one covenant of grace revealed progressively through the OT and concluded under the NT”. It is not the same thing as one covenant under different administrations, per WCF. The whole point of the book is to explain the difference between those two ways of talking about the covenant of grace.

        I know it’s tempting to jump in and discuss these things with others, but we can save everyone a great deal of confusion by reading the material first.

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        1. Can the difference(s) between the WCF’s one cov’t of grace under different administrations, and the LBC’s one cov’t of grace revealed progressively be explained in shorter form, or is Pascal’s treatment essential reading?

          (I KNEW I was gonna get in trouble…!)

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        2. It is essential reading if you want to discuss it.

          In short: The new covenant is the covenant of grace, whose power reaches back into the OT times. Neither the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, nor Davidic covenants are the covenant of grace, contra WCF.

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  3. About the conditionality of the covenant of grace, what do you guys think about this statement : The “conditional” aspect of the Covenant of Grace is its prerequisite. It’s not really a condition from the Covenant of Grace itself, but it was a condition needed in order for the Covenant of Grace to be established?

    From that discussion: http://grbcav.org/2013/01/the-distinctiveness-of-baptist-covenant-theology-a-comparison-between-seventeenth-century-particular-baptist-and-paedobaptist-federalism/

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    1. Do you mean the condition was fulfilled by Christ? If so, I would agree, and I think here is an instance where the language of “Covenant of Redemption” is helpful. Christ fulfilled his part of the eternal Covenant of Redemption. This included fulfilling the terms of the Covenant of Works (originally made with Adam and republished [to different ends] in the Mosaic Covenant). The Covenant/Testament of Grace, first revealed in Gen 3:15 and epitomized in the revelation of the New Covenant at the first coming of Christ, is the communication, through the Spirit, of blessings earned by the Son from the Father by his fulfillment of the Covenant of Redemption.

      There is no condition that must be met on our part. Some describe faith as a condition (for without faith one cannot be in the covenant of grace). But faith is a gift, the first blessing received by the elect. Through this first unconditional blessing, the rest are received. Even when carefully nuanced, I think to speak of faith as a condition (as opposed to works as a condition) to receive blessing runs the risk of turning faith itself into a meritorious work (even if it is given by God). Consider the errors of Richard Baxter.

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      1. Patrick, If this had a thumbs up “like” button, I press it for you post. 🙂

        to speak of faith as a condition . . . runs the risk of turning faith itself into a meritorious work

        Amen!

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    2. I haven’t had time to think to much about your question, but it seems to make sense to me. The New Covenant was established by the blood of Christ, which would imply it was established when the (pre)conditions were met (Cov of Red). This would make good sense of Hebrews 9:16-17. I think that Elliot E. Johnson makes some remarks about this in his debate with Waldron http://confessingbaptist.com/deep-south-founders-conference-2013-gods-covenant-audio/ (I think it was towards the end in the Q&A or in the rebuttal, not sure)

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  4. Dennis

    Just so that I’m on the right track with you guys, it’s the paedobaptist that adds conditionality to the covenant of grace, correct? Hence, their view of the “external adminstration” of the CoG, wherein a person can apostatize from their covenant membership. Do Reformed Baptists confess conditionality?

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    1. Hi Dennis, see Pascal’s comment as well, but yes, paedobaptists introduce conditionality because of the necessity of their “external administration” view. A necessary component of their belief is that every covenant must offer blessings, but also curses. So they believe the New Covenant curses covenant breakers, which is how they view the apostasy passages of Hebrews and elsewhere. This is what is meant by “conditionality”.

      Some will try to obscure the issue by saying that faith is a condition for forgiveness of sins, and thus everyone must agree with conditionality. But that is a muddying of the waters and obscures the real discussion. Samuel Petto broke from traditional paedobaptist thinking in this regard. See what he has to say here:
      https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/petto-conditional-new-covenant/

      Kline also broke away from traditional paedobaptist thinking regarding curses:
      http://www.upper-register.com/blog/?p=44

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  5. @ Dennis
    Indeed paedobaptists have a hard time explaining the unconditional/conditional aspect of the Covenant of Grace (see J. Johnson’s Fatal Flaw, chap. 7, 8, 9 concerning this problem). On the Baptist side, we consider the CoG to be unconditional to us, but conditional to Christ. But the condition filled by Christ didn’t arise from the CoG itself but from the CoW republished in the OC. It was necessary that this condition be fulfill in order for the CoG to be established.

    @ Patrick
    Totally agree.

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      1. Pascal

        Je me disais aussi que Huguenot c’était français comme nom 😉 merci pour votre intérêt et que le Seigneur répande sa riche bénédiction sur vous.

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        1. Merci. Mon français est très horrible.
          Mais je l’honneur de votre langue maternelle.
          Mon vrai nom est Hugh McCann, mais bien sûr, j’admire les huguenots!
          Bonsoir, le frère Pascal!

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  7. Mark

    I would LOVE to hear Pascal’s or Brandon’s or etc’s thoughts (review) on the new Kingdom Through Covenant.
    It sort of seems as though they are putting forth similiar ideas to Baptist Covenant theology yet using different terms. I was intrigued by their admission that we should view the covenants as a blend of conditional/unconditional.
    Blessings!

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    1. Hi Mark,

      For starters, you can see a video comparing the two here: http://www.1689federalism.com/ (click on the third black box, and the venn diagram below it)

      And then Samuel Renihan will have an excellent review of KTC in the first issue of the Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies:

      These are the articles that will appear in the first issue of the Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies (JIRBS), available via RBAP (www.rbap.net) in 2014.

      COMMUNION AT THE LORD’S SUPPER: 1 Corinthians 10:16 in its Exegetical and Confessional Context, Richard C. Barcellos

      SEPARATING GOD’S TWO KINGDOMS: Two Kingdom Theology among New England Baptists in the Early Republic, Ronald Baines

      ‘THAT STRONG HOLD OF THEIR COMMON FAITH:’ Salvation in Christ Alone among Seventeenth-Century Baptists, James M. Renihan

      OF THE NATURE OF GOD: The Inter-Relation of Essence and Trinity in Edward Leigh’s A Systeme or Body of Divinity (1662), Stefan T. Lindblad

      STILL IMPASSIBLE: Confessing God without Passions, James E. Dolezal

      Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants: A Review Article, Samuel Renihan

      Their ideas may have some similarities, but it is still quite different from 1689 Federalism.

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  8. Mark

    Thanks for the info. I look forward to more information!
    Also, how do you view Greg Nichols’ “Covenant Theology: a reformed and baptistic perspective”?
    Blessings!

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  9. Mark

    Thanks Brandon.
    As one ’emerging out of dispensationalism’ I am trying to navigate my way. Covenant Baptist theology REALLY ‘feels like home’ to me, but with so many different books & ideas, it’s hard to get a foundation in place.
    I look forward to learning more and helping to solidify my understanding.
    Thanks again for the guidance!

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  11. zionascended

    Saw this book on Amazon for a while and only after reading this post I decided to have a go at it. Great read! I have a question though. if it is that the covenant (of grace) was promised and hence only revealed in the OT, why use the term “covenant of grace” at all? It what sense was it a “covenant” before it’s NT manifestation? Was the fact that OT saints were saved by believing the promise make it an actual covenant? But there was no historical establishment of it until the death of Christ (Hebrews 9: 15-18). Why did the apostle here refer to the saints before Christ as being under the first or old covenant, and not members of one overarching covenant of grace? Are we sure that the Baptists of 1689 weren’t pressured into agreeing with covenant theology in order to stay in good terms with their percuting brethren?
    Just some questions for clarification.

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    1. Thanks for the question. Glad you found the book helpful. The term & concept of “the covenant of grace” is still appropriate because the OT saints were saved through the New Covenant, not apart from it. It worked retroactively to save them. They were not saved apart from a covenant, and thus the concept of the covenant of grace – that all saints throughout time have been saved through the same covenant – is biblical and appropriate. The baptists simply defined and understood the covenant of grace more biblically than the paedobaptists. The baptists were simply saying the same thing as Augustine https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/augustine-proto-1689-federalist/

      Why did the apostle here refer to the saints before Christ as being under the first or old covenant, and not members of one overarching covenant of grace?

      Because the OT saints were under the old covenant. But the old covenant was only about temporal life in the land of Canaan. It never offered eternal life. So the OT saints were under the Old Covenant but were saved by the New Covenant. Augustine put it this way:

      These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new,—because of the faith whereby we live, of one and the same they lived, believing the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ as future, which we believe as already accomplished”
      -Augustine (Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter, c. 41, 42; A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, b.3 c. 11)

      Moses was a minister of the old covenant, but an heir (or member) of the new covenant. (Augustine could say this because he recognized, like the baptists, that the Old Covenant was confined to temporal things, not eternal life)

      Are we sure that the Baptists of 1689 weren’t pressured into agreeing with covenant theology in order to stay in good terms with their percuting brethren?

      Yes, we are sure. They were thoroughly convinced of their covenant theology from Scripture and had no fear in articulating their disagreement with paedobaptists on the matter. Furthermore, they did not avoid persecution by articulating covenant theology the way they did.

      Let me know if I can elaborate or clarify anything. I recommend reading “Recovering a Covenantal Heritage” for more of the historical context.

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      1. zionascended

        Thanks for the response. The book was really helpful and so were your comments both to my questions and prior to that in the book review. I am now acquaintance myself with this blog… Great posting!

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        1. Cliffton, just to make sure I’m understanding you correctly, you are asking if an unregenerate/unsaved individual can be “under” the new covenant.

          No, they cannot. The New Covenant is made with the elect, in which they are granted regeneration. One is either under Adam or under Christ.

          Let me know if I misunderstood you.

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  12. Cliffton

    Cliffton: Could an individual be “under” the new covenant and not be saved “through” or “by” the new covenant?

    Brandon: Cliffton, just to make sure I’m understanding you correctly, you are asking if an unregenerate/unsaved individual can be “under” the new covenant.

    No, they cannot. The New Covenant is made with the elect, in which they are granted regeneration. One is either under Adam or under Christ.

    Let me know if I misunderstood you.

    Cliffton: Yes, I do think you have misunderstood me. My question was not necessarily with respect to the nature of the individuals “under” the new covenant (whether they be elect or reprobate) but more specifically the relation between an individual “under” the new covenant and an individual saved “through” or “by” the new covenant? Meaning the language in your post seems to allow for an individual to be “under” one covenant and yet be saved “through” or “by” another. And in view of that, I wanted to know if you were suggesting that with respect to the new covenant, you eliminate the distinction between being “under” a covenant and being saved “through” or “by” a covenant?

    I hope this clarifies things.

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    1. Thanks for clarifying. I didn’t necessarily mean to articulate a difference between being “under” and receiving blessings “through.” The important thing to recognize is that covenants are contracts and an individual can be under multiple different contracts in their life provided those contracts are not conflicting (different parties, different stipulations, or both).

      The New Covenant and the Old Covenant are not conflicting (Owen unpacks this at length – please do give his commentary a read http://www.prayermeetings.org/files/John_Owen/Hebrews_8.1-10.39.pdf and http://www.lightandheat.net/owen/demo/owen.html) because they do not have the same rewards (nor the same terms of obtaining that reward). The Old Covenant was confined to temporal blessing and curse in the land of Canaan. The New Covenant is concerned with eschatological and spiritual blessings. Thus an individual could be under the Old Covenant as it governed his temporal life in Canaan and he experienced blessing and curse from it, while at the same time being under the New Covenant and thus receiving the eschatological blessings of the redemptive work of Christ.

      Augustine put it this way:

      In that testament, 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. And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament;…

      “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 9:8) 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 4:25, 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; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament to the ancient people of God, because it was divinely appropriated to that people in God’s distribution of the times and seasons.

      https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/augustine-proto-1689-federalist/

      Could an individual be under both the Adamic Covenant of Works and the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace? No, because those are conflicting contracts that offer the same reward on different terms (ones own work vs faith in the work of another).

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        1. No one, believer or unbeliever, are under the old covenant now. It was only ever established with Abraham’s physical seed and it was abolished at the coming of Christ (Heb 8:13); which is why ethnic Israel are no longer God’s people and the land is no longer holy.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. Cliffton

    Brandon: No one, believer or unbeliever, are under the old covenant now. It was only ever established with Abraham’s physical seed and it was abolished at the coming of Christ (Heb 8:13)…

    So does that not contradict your claim that “The New Covenant and the Old Covenant are not conflicting”? Or are you saying that they weren’t at one time conflicting (even though there was no new covenant at such a time) and yet now they are conflicting?

    In all honesty Brandon, I think you are equivocating on your use of the term “new covenant”. Your language of being ” under” and yet saved “through” utilizes your understanding of the new covenant as a theological concept transending time. Yet when you deny any believer now can be “under” the old covenant you utilize your understanding of the new covenant as an historical engagement.

    Although you use language as “worked retroactively” to surmont your equivocation, Christ on the other hand pro actively blesses a woman because she was a daughter of Abraham in Luke 13:16…

    “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

    Thank you for your time. That will be my last comment.

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    1. Cliffton, if you are interested in grasping the full articulation of the view, I would encourage you to study a book length treatment of it. The best is the Coxe/Owen volume. I say that simply because it is very nuanced and you’re no likely to grasp it in the comment section here.

      When you read the book, you will see a full explanation of how the new covenant works retroactively by way of “promise” prior to it’s establishment in the death of Christ. We fully root the New Covenant in time and space. It is an historical covenant. But, unlike the Old Covenant, it is the accomplishment of an ahistorical divine covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son, and thus it works in a way that other covenants do not. I’m simply recognizing that its effects reach back in time, just as Christ’s death happened in time and space, yet its effects reach back in time. Calling the Old Covenant the Covenant of Grace doesn’t resolve the problem that Christ’s death was yet future. And recognizing that Christ’s death worked retroactively invalidates any objection that the new covenant does as well.

      So does that not contradict your claim that “The New Covenant and the Old Covenant are not conflicting”? Or are you saying that they weren’t at one time conflicting (even though there was no new covenant at such a time) and yet now they are conflicting?

      Here is how Owen addresses the issue:

      It remains unto the exposition of the words, that we inquire what was this covenant, whereof our LordChrist was the mediator, and what is here affirmed of it.

      This can be no other in general but that which we call “the covenant of grace.” And it is so called in opposition unto that of “works,” which was made with us in Adam; for these two, grace and works, do divide the ways of our relation unto God, being diametrically opposite, and every way inconsistent, Romans 11:6. Of this covenant the Lord Christ was the mediator from the foundation of the world, namely, from the giving of the first promise, Revelation 13:8; for it was given on his interposition, and all the benefits of it depended on his future actual mediation. But here ariseth the first difficulty of the context, and that in two things; for, —

      [1.] If this covenant of grace was made from the beginning, and if the LORD Christ was the mediator of it from the first, then where is the privilege of the gospel-state in opposition unto the law, by virtue of this covenant, seeing that under the law also the Lord Christ was the mediator of that covenant, which was from the beginning ?

      [2.] If it be the covenant of grace which is intended, and that be opposed unto the covenant of works made with Adam, then the other covenant must be that covenant of works so made with Adam, which we have before disproved.

      The answer hereunto is in the word here used by the apostle concerning this new covenant: nenomoqe>thtai, whose meaning we must inquire into. I say, therefore, that the apostle doth not here consider the new covenant absolutely, and as it was virtually administered from the foundation of the world, in the way of a promise; for as such it was consistent with that covenant made with the people in Sinai. And the apostle proves expressly, that the renovation of it made unto Abraham was no way abrogated by the giving of the law, Galatians 3:17. There was no interruption of its administration made by the introduction of the law. But he treats of such an establishment of the new covenant as wherewith the old covenant made at Sinai was absolutely inconsistent, and which was therefore to be removed out of the way. Wherefore he considers it here as it was actually completed, so as to bring along with it all the ordinances of worship which are proper unto it, the dispensation of the Spirit in them, and all the spiritual privileges wherewith they are accompanied. It is now so brought in as to become the entire rule of the church’s faith, obedience, and worship, in all things.

      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.

      Your reference to Luke 13:16 doesn’t mean anything one way or another as far as this discussion is concerned.

      I’m sorry to see that was your last comment. You owe it to yourself to at least study the position of Augustine and Owen before rejecting it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cliffton

        Owen explicitly acknowledges that when he speaks of the new covenant he is not always speaking of the covenant itself.

        “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.”

        The covenant which in scripture is identified as “new” is, according to Owen, “the completion” of the promise…which is why it would stand opposed to that which suggested the promise was incomplete.

        Now enough of Owen.

        If you (not Owen) are using the term “new covenant” to express two distinct ideas, the “nuance” of the term making the distinctions distinctive (without explicitly stating that), then you are being less than forthright. If you are understanding the term in one way and yet using it in two distinct ways then you are equivocating.

        In my opinion, I don’t believe you are doing the former. And if you are doing the latter that would certainly be consistent with my understanding of the distinctiveness of BAPTIST covenant theology.

        With respect to the death of Christ, it always stood…eternally…as the legal basis upon which God justifies the elect sinner. To the believer under the old covenant, God justified him on the basis of the death of Christ who was to come. To the believer under the new covenant, God justifies him on the basis of the death Christ who has already come. The basis is the same in both instances, the death of Christ. Enough of this silly talk of what is “retroactive”…whatever that means.

        And with respect to some supposed covenant of works, with some hypothetical eternal life (which life isn’t even defined biblically), in a hypothetical consummate state, you would do well to banish that tradition from your mind and affirm a coherent, systematic worldview based upon divine revelation and not speculation. And maybe then, just maybe, you would not continue to committ that detestable error of the Anabaptists. And maybe, just maybe, you would see the relevance and power of Jesus’ words to a daughter of Abraham in Luke 13:16 where Christ, on account of God’s promise made to Abraham, the father of the faithful, loosed her from her bondage to Satan. And so, you might by the grace of God receive by faith His word declared long ago to Abraham and be blessed with believing Abraham.

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        1. Ok, thanks Cliffton. Have a good night.

          “The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant.”
          -Owen (Commentary, Hebrews 8:6)

          Liked by 1 person

  14. Cliffton

    Ya I’m still not seeing what’s distinctive about all this. In the end, you still have two administrations of the one covenant, an administration by way of promise and an administration not in the way of promise (call it whatever you wish, and call the covenant that’s administered whatever you want). You tell me to read this book and look at this other guy’s views and in the end it amounts to the same stuff. Nuances aside, it seems like another pep rally around another tradition. It’s not logically compelling. Not much “substance” here.

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