Did A.W. Pink Agree w/ 1689 Federalism?


A.W. Pink’s covenant theology came up recently in a Facebook discussion. It was being questioned if Pink held to 1689 Federalism or “20th Century Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology. (Federalism is just an old word for covenant theology)

First, here is a summary of 1689 Federalism:

By rejecting the notion of a Covenant of Grace under two administrations, the Baptists were in fact rejecting only half of this concept: they accepted, as we have previously seen, the notion of one single Covenant of Grace in both testaments, but they refused the idea of two administrations. For the Baptists, there was only one Covenant of Grace which was revealed from the Fall in a progressive way until its full revelation and conclusion in the New Covenant… If the Westminster federalism can be summarized in “one covenant under two administrations,” that of the 1689 would be “one covenant revealed progressively and concluded formally under the New Covenant.

-The Distinctiveness of 17th Century Particular Baptist Covenant Theology, Pascal Denault, p. 61

It is also expressed as “promise and promulgation.” The new covenant is promised, but not promulgated/formally inaugurated in the Old Testament. The Old Covenant, specifically, is a national covenant of works (for life in Canaan).

Second, the 20th Century view is similar to the Westminster Federalism: there is one covenant of grace under multiple administrations (all the historical covenants after the fall). The Old Covenant is gracious and not of works.

The Method

So we need to see if Pink teaches:

  1. If the covenant of grace had (a) multiple administrations, or if it (b) came in the form of revealed/concluded.
  2. If the Mosaic Covenant was (a) a gracious administration of the covenant of grace, or if it was (b) a national covenant of works.

The Evidence: Intro

Just as the various Messianic prophecies, given by God at different times and at wide intervals, were suited to the local occasions when they were first made, so it was in the different renewals of His covenant of grace. Each of those renewals—unto Abraham, Moses, David and so forth—adumbrated some special feature of the everlasting covenant into which God had entered with the Mediator; but the immediate circumstances of each of those favoured men moulded, or gave form to, each particular feature of the eternal agreement which was severally shadowed forth unto them.

Arthur W. Pink (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 1026-1030). . Kindle Edition.

Seems to a pretty open and shut case. Pink appears to be articulating a pretty standard (1a) multiple administrations view. Though there are some clues he may mean something different.

If we read his intro, we find the following:

Thus we may see how fully the covenant of grace was revealed and confirmed unto Abraham the father of all them that believe, by which he and his descendants obtained a clearer sight and understanding of the great Redeemer and the things which were to be accomplished by Him. “And therefore did Christ take notice of this when He said, Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and was glad” (John 8:56). These last words clearly intimate that Abraham had a definite spiritual apprehension of those things. Under the Sinaitic covenant a yet fuller revelation was made by God to His people of the contents of the everlasting covenant: the tabernacle, and all its holy vessels; the high priest, his vestments, and service; and the whole system of sacrifices and ablutions, setting before them its blessed realities in typical forms, they being patterns of heavenly things.

Thus, before seeking to set forth the everlasting covenant itself in a specific way, we have first endeavoured to make clear the relation borne to it of the principal covenants which God was pleased to make with different men during the Old Testament era. Our sketch of them has necessarily been brief, for we shall take them up separately and consider them in fuller detail in the succeeding chapters. Yet sufficient has been said, we trust, to demonstrate that, while the terms of the covenants which God made with Noah, with Abraham, with Israel at Sinai, and with David, are to be understood, first, in their plain and natural sense, yet it should be clear to any anointed eye that they have a second and higher meaning—a spiritual content. The things of earth have been employed to represent heavenly things. In other words, those subordinate covenants need to be contemplated in both their letter and spirit.

Arthur W. Pink (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 147-157). . Kindle Edition.

At first this seems to confirm the first (1a) reading. However, he then makes a clear distinction between the “everlasting covenant itself” and the “principal covenants which God was pleased to make with different men during the Old Testament era”.

The everlasting covenant or covenant of grace is that mutual agreement into which the Father entered with His Son before the foundation of the world respecting the salvation of His elect, Christ being appointed the mediator, He willingly consenting to be their head and representative.

Arthur W. Pink (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 188-190). . Kindle Edition.

So Pink appears to make a clear distinction between the covenant of grace and the covenants God mad with men in the Old Testament. This might lean towards a (1b) revealed/concluded view. Further support for this reading is found in Pink’s intro:

The first germinal publication of the everlasting covenant is found in Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Thus, immediately after the Fall, God announced to the serpent his ultimate doom through the work of the Mediator, and revealed unto sinners the channel through whom alone salvation could flow to them. The continual additions which God subsequently made to the revelation He gave in Genesis 3:15 were, for a considerable time, largely through covenants He made with the fathers, covenants which were both the fruit of His eternal plan of mercy and the gradual revealing of the same unto the faithful. Only as those two facts are and held fast by us are we in any position to appreciate and perceive the force of those subordinate covenants.

God made covenants with Noah, Abraham, David; but were they, as fallen creatures, able to enter into covenant with their august and holy Maker? Were they able to stand for themselves, or be sureties for others? The very question answers itself. What, for instance, could Noah possibly do which would insure that the earth should never again be destroyed by a flood? Those subordinate covenants were less than the Lord’s making manifest, in an especial and public manner, the grand covenant: making known something of its glorious contents, confirming their own personal interest in it, and assuring them that Christ, the great covenant head, should be of themselves and spring from their seed…

Above we have pointed out that the continual additions which God made to His original revelation of mercy in Genesis 3:15 were, for a while, given mainly through the covenants He made with the fathers.

Arthur W. Pink (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 109-127). . Kindle Edition.

This sounds very much like the (1b) revealed/concluded view. The covenant of grace consisted of a revealed promise in the Old Testament. The covenants in the Old Testament (subordinate covenants) revealed the the covenant of grace, but they themselves were not the covenant of grace (grand covenant).

That might be reading too much into Pink’s statements. But then we find this at the end of his intro:

Finally, let it be pointed out that this compact made between the Father and the Son on behalf of the whole election of grace is variously designated. It is called an “everlasting covenant” (Isa. 55:3) to denote the perpetuity of it, and because the blessings in it devised in eternity past will endure forever. It is called a “covenant of peace” (Ezek. 34:2,5; 37:26) because it secures reconciliation with God, for Adam’s transgression produced enmity, but by Christ the enmity has been removed (Eph. 2:16), and therefore is He denominated the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). It is called the “covenant of life” (Mal. 2:15), in contrast from the covenant of works which issued in death, and because life is the principal thing pledged in it (Titus 1:2). It is called the “holy covenant” (Luke 1:72), not only because it was made by and between the persons of the Holy Trinity, but also because it secures the holiness of the divine character and provides for the holiness of God’s people. It is called a “better covenant” (Heb. 7:22), in contrast from the Sinaitic arrangement, wherein the national prosperity of Israel was left contingent on their own works.

Arthur W. Pink (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 286-294). . Kindle Edition.

This is a clear articulation of (2b) a Mosaic covenant of works separate from the covenant of grace.

So the weight of Pink’s intro leans toward 1689 Federalism.

The Evidence: Mosaic Covenant

You can read my extended excerpt from Pink here, so I’ll just highlight a few quickly:

(Heb. 8:8, 9). Thus we have divine authority for saying that God’s dealings with Israel at Sinai were not a parallel with His dealings with His people under the gospel, but a contrast!

…The national covenant did not refer to the final salvation of individuals: nor was it broken by the disobedience, or even idolatry, of any number of them, provided this was not sanctioned or tolerated by public authority. It was indeed a type of the covenant made with true believers in Christ Jesus, as were all the transactions with Israel; but,like other types, it ‘had not the very image,’ but only ‘a shadow of good things to come.’

…The outward covenant was made with the Nation, entitling them to outward advantages, upon the condition of outward national obedience; and the covenant of Grace was ratified personally with true believers, and sealed and secured spiritual blessings to them, by producing a holy disposition of heart, and spiritual obedience to the Divine law.

…the limitation of the Sinaitic covenant: its character was a supplementary combination of law and mercy; its scope was national; its design was to regulate the temporal affairs of Israel under the divine government; its limitation was determined by Israel’s obedience or disobedience.

…The Sinaitic covenant in no way interfered with the divine administration of either the everlasting covenant of grace (toward the elect) nor the Adamic covenant of works (which all by nature lie under); it being in quite another region. Whether the individual Israelites were heirs of blessing under the former, or under the curse of the latter, in no wise hindered or affected Israel’s being as a people under this national regime, which respected not inward and eternal blessings, but only outward and temporal interests.

This is as clear an articulation of (2b) as you can get. On the Mosaic Covenant, Pink was a 1689 Federalist.

The Evidence: Messianic Covenant

We have designated this final covenant the Messianic rather than the Christian or the New covenant, partly for the sake of alliteration and partly for the sake of emphasis.

Arthur W. Pink (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 4262-4263). . Kindle Edition.

The time fixed for the making of this new covenant is defined in the days (to) come. In the Old Testament the season of Christ’s appearing was called the world to come (Heb 2:5), and it was a periphrasis of Him that He was he that should come (Matt 11:3). The faith of the Old Testament church was principally exercised in the expectation of His advent. The subject matter of what Jeremiah specially announced was a covenant.

The new covenant, as collecting into one all the promises of grace given from the foundation of the world, accomplished in the actual exhibiting of Christ, and confirmed in His death, and by the sacrifice of His blood, thereby became the sole rule of new spiritual ordinances of worship suited thereunto, being the great object of the faith of the saints of the O.T., and is the great foundation of all our present mercies. (‘Whereof the Holy Spirit also is witness to us: for after that He had said before, this is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord:’ Heb 10:15,16 – yes, is witness to us, and not to those who live in some future ‘millennium.’ A.W.P.)

“There was in it a recapitulation of all promises of grace. God had not made any promise, any intimation of His love or grace unto the Church in general, nor unto any particular believer, but He brought it all into this covenant, so as that they should be esteemed, all and every one of them, to be given and spoken unto every individual person that hath an interest in this covenant. Hence all the promises made unto Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with all the other patriarchs, and the oath of God whereby they were confirmed, are all of them made unto us, and do belong unto us, no less than they did unto them to whom they were first given, if we are made partakers of this covenant. The apostle gives an instance of this in the singular promise made unto Joshua, which he applies unto Christians: 13:5″ (John Owen).

Arthur W. Pink (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 4573-4586). . Kindle Edition.

Here Pink quotes directly from John Owen’s articulation of the (1b) promise/promulgation view. He does again as well:

Considering the contents of this covenant, we are fully in accord with John Owen that there is in it “a recapitulation and confirmation of all the promises of grace that have been given unto the Church from the beginning, even all that was spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets that had been since the world began (Luke 1:70).” The original promise (Gen 3:15) contained in germ form the whole essence and substance of the new covenant: all promises given unto the church afterward being but expositions and confirmations of it.

Arthur W. Pink (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 4625-4629). . Kindle Edition.

That’s pretty much case closed. Owen is the par excellence articulation of the revealed/concluded view, and Pink states he is “fully in accord” with it.

When mentioning the first covenant, he refers to that economy or order of things under which the Hebrew people were placed at Sinai, and of which the Levitical priests were the mediators, interposing between God and the people. The second or new covenant is that grand economy or order of things which has been introduced and established by Christ, of which He is the sole mediator.

Arthur W. Pink (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 4587-4590). . Kindle Edition.

The new covenant actually does for those who are in it what the old one failed to do for the Jewish people. To them God gave a revelation, but it came to them in letter only; to the New Testament saints His revelation comes in power also (1 Cor 4:20; 1 Thess 1:5). To them God gave the law as written upon tables of stone; to the New Testament saints God also gives the law, but writes it upon their hearts. Consequently, they chafed at the law, whereas we (after the inward man) delight in it (Rom 7:22). Hence, too, they walked not in God’s statutes, but continually transgressed them; whereas of His New Testament people it is written, Ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you (Rom 6:17). That which makes all the difference is that the Holy Spirit is given to indwell and energize the latter, which He was not in those who were in the Sinaitic covenant as such – we say “as such,” for there was ever a godly remnant who were indwelt by the Spirit on the ground of the everlasting covenant.

Arthur W. Pink (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 4763-4770). . Kindle Edition.

Again, this is pure 1689 Federalism: The Mosaic Covenant saved no one. Those who were saved while under the Mosaic Covenant were saved by the application of New Covenant benefits. (See last quote below for how the everlasting covenant relates to the new covenant).

Fifth, the first formal promulgation of the new covenant, as made and ratified, was on the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Christ. Remarkably did this answer to the promulgation of the law on Mount Sinai, for that too occurred the same space of time after the deliverance of the people of God out of Egypt. From the day of Pentecost onward, the ordinances of worship and all the institutions of the new covenant became obligatory unto all believers. Then was the whole church absolved from any duty with respect to the old covenant and its worship, although it was not manifest as yet in their consciences.

Arthur W. Pink (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 5095-5100). . Kindle Edition.

Again, Pink is articulating Owen’s explanation of what it means for the new covenant to be “established” vs only in promise form.

It only remains for us to say a few words on the relation between the original and final covenants. It is important that we should distinguish clearly between the everlasting covenant which God made before the foundation of the world, and the Christian covenant which He has instituted in the last days of the world’s history. First, the one was made in a past eternity; the other is made in time. Second, the one was made with Christ alone; the other is made with all His people. Third, the one is without any conditions so far as we are concerned; the other prescribes certain terms which we must meet. Fourth, under the one Christ inherits; under the other Christians are heirs: in other words, the inheritance Christ purchased by His fulfilling the terms of the everlasting covenant is now administered by Him in the form of a testament. Should a reader ask, Does my getting to heaven depend upon the everlasting covenant or the new one? The answer is upon both. First, upon what Christ did for me in executing the terms of the former; second, upon my compliance with the conditions of the latter. Many are very confused at this very point. They who repudiate man’s responsibility will not allow that there are any “ifs” or “buts,” restricting their attention to God’s “wills” and “shalls”; but this is not dealing honestly with the Word.

Arthur W. Pink (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 5103-5112). . Kindle Edition.

I wouldn’t articulate the conditional aspect in quite this way, but I don’t disagree with his point. The new covenant is the accomplishment in time of the covenant of redemption.

The Verdict

The evidence is quite clear. While Pink certainly articulated his view in his own words with his own nuances, his thesis was 1689 Federalism. Perhaps if modern baptists had read Pink more carefully, we would have re-discovered this view sooner.

7 thoughts on “Did A.W. Pink Agree w/ 1689 Federalism?

  1. Pingback: Did A.W. Pink agree w/ 1689 Federalism? | 1689 Federalism

  2. Reblogged this on Abraham's Seed and commented:
    Some good thoughts here from Brandon Adams on AW Pink’s Federalism. I especially appreciate his summary statement “Perhaps if modern baptists had read Pink more carefully, we would have re-discovered this view (the Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen view, recently called 1689 Federalism) sooner.”


  3. Pingback: The Sure Mercies of David | Contrast

  4. Pingback: The Sure Mercies of David, by Brandon Adams – According to Christ

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