Home > 1689 federalism, old covenant > John Erskine’s “The Nature of the Sinai Covenant”

John Erskine’s “The Nature of the Sinai Covenant”

Owen

Owen’s work on the Mosaic Covenant is tremendous. He was bold enough to recognize that the Old Covenant was separate from the Covenant of Grace (New Covenant), that it was made with the nation of Israel, that it was based upon works, and that it was limited to temporal life in the land (not eternal life).

However, when it comes to the question of what type of obedience was required, I think Owen can be improved upon. He noted:

owenThis is the nature and substance of that covenant which God made with that people; a particular, temporary covenant it was, and not a mere dispensation of the covenant of grace.

That which remains for the declaration of the mind of the Holy Ghost in this whole matter, is to declare the differences that are between those two covenants, whence the one is said to be “better” than the other, and to be “built upon better promises.”

Those of the church of Rome do commonly place this difference in three things:

1. In the promises of them: which in the old covenant were temporal only; in the new, spiritual and heavenly.

2. In the precepts of them: which under the old, required only external obedience, designing the righteousness of the outward man; under the new, they are internal, respecting principally the inner man of the heart.

3. In their sacraments: for those under the old testament were only outwardly figurative; but those of the new are operative of grace.

But these things do not express much, if any thing at all, of what the Scripture placeth this difference in. And besides, as by some of them explained, they are not true, especially the two latter of them. For I cannot but somewhat admire how it came into the heart or mind of any man to think or say, that God ever gave a law or laws, precept or precepts, that should “respect the outward man only, and the regulation of external duties.” A thought of it is contrary unto all the essential properties of the nature of God, and meet only to ingenerate apprehensions of him unsuited unto all his glorious excellencies. The life and foundation of all the laws under the old testament was, “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy soul;” without which no outward obedience was ever accepted with him.

Hebrews 8 (p 105)

Pink

Perhaps the way in which Rome expressed or argued this point led Owen to reject it. But I think Owen was incorrect. Insofar as it was a national covenant, I believe it only required outward obedience. I think Pink is more correct on this point:

arthurwpinkThe covenant which God made with Israel at Sinai required outward obedience to the letter of the law… 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.

In his “Divine Covenants”, A.W. Pink quotes Abraham Booth at length to establish this critical point:

“It is of great importance to the right interpretation of many passages in the O.T., that this particular be well understood and kept in view. Jehovah is very frequently represented as the Lord and God of all the ancient Israelites; even where it is manifest that the generality of them were considered as destitute of internal piety, and many of them as enormously wicked. How, then, could He be called their Lord and their God, in distinction from His relation to Gentiles (whose Creator, Benefactor, and Sovereign He was), except on the ground of the Sinai covenant? He was their Lord as being their Sovereign, whom, by a federal transaction they were bound to obey, in opposition to every political monarch who should at any time presume to govern them by laws of his own. He was their God, as the only Object of holy worship; and whom, by the same National covenant, they had solemnly engaged to serve according to His own rule, in opposition to every Pagan idol.

…Again, as none but real Christians are the subjects of our Lord’s kingdom, neither adults nor infants can be members of the Gospel Church in virtue of an external covenant or a relative holiness. A striking disparity this, between the Jewish and the Christian Church. A barely relative sanctity [that is, a sanctity accruing from belonging to the nation of God’s choice, A.W.P.] supposes its possessors to be the people of God in a merely external sense; such an external people supposes an external covenant, or one that relates to exterior conduct and temporal blessings; and an external covenant supposes an external king.

…The covenant made at Sinai having long been obsolete, all its peculiarities are vanished away: among which, relative sanctity [that is, being accounted externally holy, because belonging to the nation separated unto God, A.W.P.] made a conspicuous figure. That National Constitution being abolished, Jehovah’s political sovereignty is at an end.

The Covenant which is now in force, and the royal relation of our Lord to the Church, are entirely spiritual. All that external holiness of persons, of places, and of things, which existed under the old economy, is gone for ever; so that if the professors of Christianity do not possess a real, internal sanctity, they have none at all. The National confederation at Sinai is expressly contrasted in Holy Scripture with the new covenant (see Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:7-13), and though the latter manifestly provides for internal holiness, respecting all the covenantees, yet it says not a word about relative sanctity” (Abraham Booth, 1796).

Pink, Arthur W. (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 2607-2635). . Kindle Edition.

Booth

If you consult Abraham Booth’s The Kingdom of Christ on this point, he further references someone else:

abraham-boothPerforming the conditions of their National Confederation, they were, as a people, warranted to expect every species of temporal prosperity. Health and long life, riches, honours, and vic tory over their enemies, were promised by Jehovah to their external obedience. (Ex 25:25,26; 28:25-28; Lev 26:3-14; Deut 7:12-24; 8:7-9; 11:13-17; 28:3-13) The punishments also, that were denounced against flagrant breaches of the Covenant made at Horeb, were of a temporal kind.*

*Lev. xxvi. 14—39. Deut. iv. 25, 26, 27* xi. 9.7. xxviii. 15— 68. xxix. 22— 28, See Dr. Erskine’s Theological Dissert. p. 22– 29. External obedience. — Punishments of a temporal kind. These and similar expressions in this essay are to be underwood, as referring to the Sinai Covenant strictly considered, and to Jehovah’s requisitions as the king of Israel. They are quite consistent, therefore, with its being the duty of Abraham’s natural seed to perform internal obedience to that sublime Sovereign, considered as the God of the whole earth; and with everlasting punishment being inflicted by him, as the righteous desert of sin.

Erskine

NPG D16868,John Erskine,by John KayJohn Erskine was a contemporary of Booth (1721–1803). He was a Scottish Presbyterian. “Unusual for minister at that time, the highborn Erskine purposely chose the office of the pastorate for his profession, knowing that one day he would inherit his father’s and grandfather’s estates at Carnock and Torryburn. Erskine’s family assumed he would follow his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer, but Erskine had different plans for his life. Impassioned to contribute to the growth of the evangelical revival in Britain and America, Erskine believed that as a minister he would have the best opportunity to lend a hand to this worthy Christian enterprise.” (Yeager)

He defended the rights of the American colonies against the British, was a vocal member of the Slave Abolition Society, and led the evangelical party of the Church of Scotland in a passionate plea for the work of missions. In short, he was not afraid to speak his mind in controversial matters. His “Dissertation I: The Nature of the Sinai Covenant, and the Character and Privileges of the Jewish Church“, intended to be read along with “Dissertation II: The Character and Privileges of the Apostolic Churches” as an argument against the national church, noting “The greater part of modern Christians, have, I acknowledge, in their sentiments of the nature of the church, widely deviated from Scripture and antiquity. And the fiction of a visible church, really in covenant with God, and yet partly made up of hypocrites, has almost universally prevailed.”

The thrust of his argument was to demonstrate that the Old Covenant is separate from the New Covenant and thus cannot be a model for the Christian Church.

The common distinction of the church into visible and invisible, or at least the incautious manner in which some have explained it, has contributed not a little to the prevalence of this opinion. But let us impartially examine, whether it has any solid foundation in the sacred oracles; and for this purpose enquire whether the proofs of such an external covenant under the Old Testament, will equally apply to gospel times.

To prove this, Erskine labored to explain that the Sinai Covenant was established with God as a “temporal prince”. Thus it required outward, temporal obedience to the monarch of the land of Canaan.

That God was one of the parties, in the Mosaic covenant, is universally acknowledged. It is, however, necessary to observe, that God entered into that covenant, under the character of King of Israel. He is termed so in Scripture (Judges 8:23, 1 Sam 8:7, 12:12) and he acted as such, disposed of offices, made war and peace, exacted tribute, enacted laws, punished with death such of that people as resufed him allegiance and defended his subjects from their enemies…

he appeared chiefly as a temporal prince, and therefore gave laws intended rather to direct the outward conduct, than to regulate the actings of the heart. Hence every thing in that dispensation was adapted to strike his subjects with awe and reverence. The magnificence of his palace, and all its utensils ; his numerous train of attendants ; the splendid robes of the high priest, who, though his prime minister, was not allowed to enter the holy of holies, save once a year, and, in all his ministrations, was obliged to discover the most humble veneration for Israel’s king ; the solemn rites, with which the priests were consecrated ; the strictness with which all impurities and indecencies were forbidden, as things, which, though tolerable in others (Deut 14:21), were unbecoming the dignity of the people of God…

To conclude this argument, the fidelity and allegiance of the Jews was secured, not by bestowing the influences of the spirit necessary to produce faith and love, (Deut 29:3-4) but barely by external displays of majesty and greatness, calculated to promote a slavish subjection, rather than a chearful filial obedience. (p. 4-6)

Because this was an earthly kingdom, the unregenerate were included in the covenant.

The party, with whom God made this covenant, was the Jewish nation, not excluding these unregenerate, and inwardly disaffected to God and goodness. In the original records of the Sinai covenant (Ex 19:8, 24:3, Deut v:1-3), all the people are expressly said to enter into it, and yet the greater part of that people, were strangers to the enlightening and converting influences of the spirit, and to a principle of inward love to God and holiness (Deut 29:3, 5:29).

…Descent from Israel gave any one a title to the benefits of this covenant, for which reason the children even of unregenerate Israelites, were circumcised the eighth day, and were said to be born unto God (b).

…Hence Paul tells us, that he had, whereof be might trust in the flesh, he esteemed himself entitled to the carnal benefits of the Sinai covenant, seeing he was of the flock of Israel’, and an Hebrew of the Hebrews (d). Now this plainly supposes, that all of the flock of Israel were interested in that covenant. Nay, these adopted by a Jew, born in his house, or bought with his money, were circumcised, as a token that they were entitled to the same benefits (e).

{a) Deut. xxix. 14, 15. (b) Ezek.xvi. 20. (c) Mat. iii. 9. John viii. 33. (d) Phil. iii. 4, 5. (e) Gen. xv)i. 12, 13. Seidell de Jur. Nat. & Gent. 1. 5. c. n.

The blessings of the covenant were temporal.

[T]he blessings of the Sinai covenant are merely temporal and outward. God in that covenant acted as a temporal monarch. And from a temporal monarch, temporal profperity is all that we hope, not spiritual bleffings, such as righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

…[P]romises of temporal blessings and threatenings of the opposite evils are almost every where to be found in the Scripture accounts of the Sinai covenant, whilst there is a remarkable silence as to spiritual and heavenly blessings. (28)

Erskine believed that the Sinai Covenant was of works. “All these promises may be considered as so many enlargements, or rather explications of that general one, Lev 18:5 ‘The man that doeth these things shall live in them’” (28). He said “the Mosaic covenant had a respect to the covenant of grace as typified by it. But then the burdensome servile obedience it enjoined, was to be performed by the Jews without any special divine assistance, and was to found their legal title to covenant blessings.”

It is now time to investigate the condition, the performance of which entitled to the blessings of the Sinai covenant. …in general, obedience to the letter of the law, even when it did not flow from a principle of faith and love. A temporal monarch claims from his subjects, only outward honour and obedience. God therefore, acting in the Sinai covenant, as King of the Jews, demanded from them no more. (37)

This understanding sheds light on many passages of Scripture.

He who yielded an external obedience to the law of Moses, was termed righteous, and had a claim in virtue of this his obedience to the land of Canaan, so that doing these things he lived by them (s). Hence, says Moses (t), “It shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments,” i. e. it shall be the cause and matter of our justification, it shall found our title to covenant blessings. (44)

(s) Lev. xviii. 5. Deut. v. 33. (t) Deut. vi.25

…Deut 26:12-15 – Would God have directed them, think you, to glory in their observance of that law, if, in fact, the sincerest among them had not observed it. Yet doubtless that was the case, if its demands were the same as those of the law of nature. But indeed, the things mentioned in that form of glorying were only external performances, and one may see, with half an eye, many might truly boast they had done them all, who were strangers not with-standing to charity, flowing from a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned. Job, who probably represents the Jews after their return from the Babylonish captivity, was perfect and upright {v). Zacharias and Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless(w). The young man, who came to Jesus, enquiring what he should do to inherit eternal life, professed that he had kept the commandments from his youth up, and our Lord does not charge him with falsehood in that profession (x). Paul was touching the righteousness which was of the law, blameless (y). Yet Job curses the day in which he was born (z) Zacharias is guilty of unbelief {a) ; the young man, in the gospel loves this world better than Christ (b) ; and Paul himself groans to be delivered from a body of sin and death (c), These seeming contradictions will vanish, if we take notice, that all of these though chargeable with manifold breaches of the law of nature, had kept the letter of the Mosaic law, and thus were entitled to the earthly happiness promised to its observers.

(v) Job i. i» xix. 20. (a) Luke i. ao. vii. 24. (w) Luke i. 6. (x) Matth. (y) Phil. iii. 6. (z) Job iii. i, 3. (Jb) Mat. xix, 22, 23. (c) Rom.

Bishop Warburton has observed, Divine Legation vol. II. part I. p. 355,—360. that the title of Man after God’s own heart, was given to David, not on account of his private morals, but of a behavior so different from that of Saul, in steadily maintaining purity of worship. (47)

Erskine’s ultimate goal was to demonstrate the glory of the gospel age.

The blessings of the Sinai covenant, were patterns of the heavenly things (Heb 9:9,23), shadows of good things to come (Col 2:16,17), and surely patterns and shadows differ in nature from the things of which they are patterns and shadows. (33)

Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, which was as it were the foundation of the Sinai covenant, was only an outward redemption. Is it then reasonable to suppose, that the blessings founded upon it were spiritual and heavenly? (24)

Obedience to them [Mosaic laws] was never designed to entitle to heavenly and spiritual blessings. These last are only to be looked for through another and a better covenant, established upon better promises. (4)

The Israelites were put upon obedience as that which would found their claim to the blessings of the Sinai covenant. But they were never put upon seeking eternal life by a covenant of works. It is on this account, that the Mosaic precepts are termed, Heb. ix. 10, carnal ordinances, or, as it might be rendered, righteousnesses of the flesh, because by them men obtained a legal outward righteousness… But to Spiritual and heavenly blessings, we are entitled only by the obedience of the son of God, not by our own. (44)

…The difference of the Christian dispensation from the Sinai covenant, in these respects, is hinted, John i. 13. and 1 Peter i. 23. and in that celebrated expression of Tertullian, “Christiani fiunt, non nafcuntur. It needs no proof, that men might be interested in the blessings of the Sinai covenant, in any of the ways mentioned above, and yet notwithstanding be slaves of Satan, and dead in trespasses and sins. When God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed, circumcision was instituted for this among other purposes, to shew that descent from Abraham was the foundation of his posterities right to these blessings. But, in gospel times, when not the children of the flesh, but the children of the promise are counted for a seed, Rom. ix. 8. in consequence of this the circumcision of the flesh is of no more avail, and the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ becomes necessary, Col. ii. ir. Rom. ii. 28. (9)

…Agreeably to all this, we are told Heb. ii. 3. that ” the great salvation first began to be “preached by the Lord” 2 Tim. i. 9, 10. that the gracious purpose of God for the salvation of sinners is only “now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath “brought life and immortality to light thro the “gospel” and Heb. ix. 8. that “the way into” the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, “while as the first tabernacle was yet standing.”

If Jesus was the first who plainly published the doclrine of salvation; if, until he appeared, the purposes of redeeming love were not opened and unfolded, and immortal life was not brought to light ; if the Jewish dispensation did not declare the means of obtaining the heavenly happiness we muft conclude, that there were not in the Sinai covenant, promises of spiritual and eternal blessings. But why need I multiply arguments, when the authority of two divinely inspired writers has been interposed, to decide the controversy. We are not only told Jer. xxxi. 31,—34. and Heb. viii. 12. that the Sinai and gospel covenants were essentially different: but are also informed, in what that difference chiefly consisted, even that the latter conferred pardon of sin and the enlightening and sanctifying influences of the spirit. Now this could be neither instance nor proof of such a difference, if the Sinai covenant had done the same things. But the words of the author to the Hebrews will bid fairer to strike conviction into the candid reader, than any thing I can say in illustration of them. (35)

Of course, this raised an immediate objection (as it does today): Are you saying Israelites weren’t saved?

Let it not however be thought, I would conclude from this and such like Scriptures, that none under the Sinai covenant had an interest in spiritual blessings. I only mean to alert, that the claim of the inwardly pious Jew to pardoning mercy, to sanctifying grace, and to the heavenly glory, was no more founded on his obedience to Moses’s law, than Job’s claim to these bleflings was founded on his being born in the land of Uz, and having seven sons and three daughters. The special favor of God was vouchsafed both to Jew and Arabian, only in virtue of that promise, which being before the law, could not be annulled by it (Gal 3:17). The law, or Sinai covenant, made nothing perfect, that honour being referved to the bringing in of a better hope (Heb 7:19). It could not give life (Gal 3:21). It could not give righteousness (2 Cor 3:9). Sins committed under it, as to their moral guilt, and spiritual and eternal punifhment, were forgiven only in consequence of the New Teftament, confirmed by the death of Chrift (Heb 9:15), without whose death the righteousness of God in forgiving these sins could not have been manifested (Rom 3:25). So that without us, the Old Testament saints were not made perfect (Heb 11:40) (36-37)

…The dispensation of grace, which took place under the Mosaic covenant, was no part of it, did not extend to all who were, and did extend to some who were not under it. (3)

Yet many will still object that there were very clearly revelations of spiritual things in the Old Testament. How can this be reconciled with what has been argued?

You will ask, if this reasoning is just, why did the prophets so often insist upon it, that Sacrifices and meer outward obedience were not acceptable to God (d)? I answer, in many such passages, the Jews are rebuked for neglecting the moral law, and placing all their religion in the ceremonial. (48)

(d) Pfal. 1. 8. Ila. i. 11. xliii. 13. Jer. vii. si. Hof. v. ,6, 7. vi. 6. Mic. vi. 8.

…We must not imagine that everything in Moses’s writings relates to the Sinai covenant. Some things in them were intended as a republication of the law of nature. And they contain many passages, which evidently relate to the duties and privileges of thofe interested in the gospel covenant. (49)

…I would further observe, that the laws of Moses in general had a Spiritual and a literal meaning The righteousness upon which the temporal prosperity of Israel depended, was the righteousness of the letter of the law. The righteousness through which believers are entitled to eternal life, is the righteousness of the spirit of the law. And as the earthly Canaan was a type of heaven, so that external obedience which gave a right to it, prefigured that perfect obedience of the Redeemer, whereby alone we are entitled to the heavenly bliss. The law therefore, in its spiritual sense, required inward, nay, even perfect obedience. And possibly the prohibition of coveting, and the precept of loving God with all the heart, were left in the letter of the law, to lead good men to the spirit of it : the very letter of these precepts, when taken in their full emphasis, reaching to the inmost thoughts and intents of the heart, and forbidding the least sinful desire.
This explains in what sense Paul asserts (Rom 7:8-11), that in taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in him all manner of concupiscence, yea, deceived him and slew him. Perceiving as an ingenious congregational minister well remarks (Glass’ Notes on Scripture texts No. 2 p. 28, 29), that the precept thou shalt not covet, commanded not only his outward conversation, but had a spiritual sense in which it reached the very thoughts and affections of the heart : while he was yet in the flesh, he set himself with all his might to obey this precept, bound himself with vows and resolutions against the breach of it, and earnestly implored the divine assistance to render his endeavours effectual, that so he might be blameless in the righteousness of the law. But the more he set his heart on this righteousness, he would be the more strongly affected to the earthly happiness annexed to it as its reward : and thus all his attempts to be righteous by not coveting, only served to quicken and inflame his covetousness. So that finding himself utterly incapable to keep this command, he saw his sin exceedingly sinful, and found himself condemned to death, by the spiritual sense of that very law, by which he once thought to live.

Yet still the breach of these precepts, in this their full emphasis and spiritual meaning, was no breach of the Sinai covenant : since, as has been already urged, heart sins were neither punished by death, nor expiated by sacrifice

…These remarks will serve to illustrate, what is meant by the flesh and by the spirit in Paul’s epistles to the Romans and Galatians. Mr. Glass has observed (Glass’ Notes, No. 3, p. 27 and 5), that the letter of the law, or the law in that carnal view without the spirit of it in which it is set before us, Rom. vii. i, 5, 6. the state of the nation under it, and the suitable disposition of that people to perform the national righteousness, and to enjoy the national happiness annexed to it as its reward, is called the flesh. In some Scriptures the flesh means bondage under the Sinai covenant (v) ; and the condition of that covenant is described as the law of a carnal commandment (w), and as consisting in carnal ordinances (x). The rewards also of that covenant were carnal, and so was the disposition of the Jewish people. Meat and drink were in their esteem chief blessings of the kingdom of God (y). Their god was their belly (z). And hence of old they gathered themselves for corn and wine (a), and afterwards sought the Saviour, not because they saw his miracles, but because they did eat of the loaves and were filled (b). These then are not after the flesh, but after the spirit, whose prevailing desire it is, not to establish their own righteousness, and to enjoy an earthly happiness, but to be clothed with a Redeemer’s righteousness, and through him to attain the blessings of a spiritual and divine life. (t) Exod. xxxiv. 24. (v) Isa. xl. 6. Phil. iii. 3. Gal. (w) Heb. vii. 16. (x) Heb. ix. 10. (y) Rom. xiv. 17 (z) Phil iii. 3. (a) Hos vii. 14, (b) Jo. vi 26

(51)

This had clear implications for the doctrine of justification in Erskine’s day just as it does for us today.

The preceding pages will guide to the meaning of several texts, which have been often urged for the unscriptural tenets of justification by the deeds of the law, and of the attainableness of perfection in a present life. I shall not trespass on the patience of my readers, by spending time in illustrating what is so obvious.

…Ezek. xviii. 24, 26. has been often appealed to as an evidence, that faints may fall from grace, and eternally perish. The fallacy of this argument will appear, if we take notice, that a righteous man here means one, who yields an external obedience to the law of Moses, and in virtue of that obedience has a righteous title (Deut 6:25) to long life and prosperity in the land of Canaan.

…Of such a one it is said, Ezk 28 ver. 22.  “in his righteousness that he hath done, he shall live.” i. e. he shall receive life on account of his good works : whereas persons just, in an evangelical sense, are entitled to eternal life by the righteousness of the Redeemer, and live by faith. (56)

One other important objection Erskine answers is how could God establish a covenant based upon works with people already condemned in Adam?

But, if this reasoning proves anything, will it not prove, that a God of spotless purity, can enter into a friendly treaty with men, whom yet, on account of their sins, he utterly abhors. And what if it does? Perhaps, the assertion, however shocking at first view, may, on a narrower scrutiny, be found innocent. We assert not any inward eternal friendship between God and the unconverted Jews. We only assert an external temporal covenant, which, though it secured their outward prosperity, gave them no claim to God’s special favour. Where then is the alleged absurdity? Will you say it is unworthy of God to maintain external communion with sinners, or to impart to them any blessings? What then would become of the bulk of mankind? Nay, what would become of the patience and longsuffering of God? Or is it absurd, that God should reward actions that flow from bad motives when we have an undoubted instance of his doing this in the case pf Jehu? Or is it absurd, that God would entail favours on bad men, in the way of promise or covenant? Have you forgot God’s promise to Jehu, that his children of the fourth generation should sit on the throne of Israel? Or have you forgot, what concerns you more, God’s covenant with mankind in general, no more to deftroy the earth by a flood (2 Kings 10:30; Gen 9:12)? (15-16)

I was blessed by Erskine’s work because it really helped me understand just how glorious the revelation of the New Covenant is compared to the darkness of the Old Covenant. Yes, we can look back now and clearly see Christ in all sorts of ways. But it was not so obvious to the majority of Israelites under the Sinai covenant. In light of the above, ponder 1 Samuel 11:13 closely and ask yourself if it’s any real surprise the Jews expected Christ to deliver them from the Romans.

That Christ, and the benefits of Redemption, were typified by the Law of Moses and that the spiritual sense of Moses’ Law, though veiled from the Jews in common was in some measure revealed to those mentioned, Heb. xi. I firmly believe. I doubt not, there were many more, whose eyes were opened, under that dark dispensation, to behold wonderous things out of God’s Law. (vii)
Perhaps it may be alledged to invalidate my argument, that the land of Canaan was a type of the heavenly inheritance: that the temporal blessings of the Sinai covenant, were representations, earnests, and pledges of spiritual and eternal blessings : that the meaning of these types and figures was explained to those to whom “they were first delivered, and by oral tradition transmitted to succeeding ages : so that the Sinai covenant was enforced not only by the temporal promises which it literally contained., but also by the spiritual promises which the letter of that covenant pointed out.—As this is plausible, it merits to be thoroughly examined.

That types not explained, were too obscure a medium, for conveying the pretended spiritual sanctions of the Sinai covenant, especially to so gross and carnal a people as the Jews, will be proved § 5. Now no explanation is given of the types, in the books of the Old Testament, which were the only rule of faith and practice to the Jewish church. And finely, that which was intended as a principal sanction of the Sinai covenant, would not have been left to so treacherous and uncertain a method of transmission as oral tradition. We are told, 2 Cor. iii. 13. that ” Moses put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished,” i. e. could not discern what was typified by the precepts and sanctions of the temporary Sinai covenant. Surely, casting a veil over an object, and holding it up to full and open view, are two things so very opposite, that a scheme to do both at once, could never enter into any rational mind. If the meaning of the types was delivered to the Jewish church, a typical delineation would no more have veiled from them the spirit of the law, than the meaning of a Greek or Latin classic is veiled from a boy at school, by publishing it along with an exact literal translation into his mother language. The nature of types demonstrates, that they can have no existence, where there is nothing to be veiled or covered. If therefore, when the law of Moses was given to Israel, the spiritual sense of it was known, or was intended to be revealed, a carnal veil to conceal that sense, must on either of these suppositions be absurd and preposterous. So that the typical genius of the Old Testament, instead of proving, plainly confutes the alleged spiritual sanctions of the Sinai covenant.

…And it seems to me less culpable to adopt sentiments, which I could not improve than to do wrong to my argument by omitting an essential branch of it, and perhaps also to raise suspicions in some of my readers, that I declined meddling with a knotty objection, merely becaufe I was conscious I could not resolve it. Upon the whole, I firmly believe that Canaan was a type of the heavenly inheritance. But this only proves, that it represented heaven, as the Jews who possessed it, represented the heirs of heaven. It does not prove, that the land flowing with milk and honey, was bestowed, to reveal and seal to its inhabitants spiritual and heavenly blessings. (29-32)

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  1. October 16, 2014 at 9:44 am

    And here are some quotes from his dissertation on the Character and Privileges of the Christian Church:

    Many however maintain, that an external covenant subsists under the Gospel, by which professors of Christianity, though inwardly disaffecled to God and goodness (#), are entitled to certain outward blessings, and church privileges. The common distinction of the church into visible and invisible, or at least the incautious manner in which some have explained it, has contributed not a little to the prevalence of this opinion. But let us impartially examine, whether it has any solid foundation in the sacred oracles; and for this purpose enquire whether the proofs of such an external covenant under the Old Testament, will equally apply to gospel times.

    …Now, if the church of Christ, is a society of persons who obey the gospel call, it is evident, hypocrites are no members of that church.

    …What then are the covenant blessings, that belong to unconverted professors of Christianity? Surely, not the spiritual blessings infallibly connected with salvation, for in these, believers only have an interest. Not outward prosperity, that being no where promised in the covenant of grace, either to the visible, or to the invisible church. Not the sacraments, which, unless as signs and seals of spiritual blessings, are of little value. Not the call of the gospel, for they have no more benefit by it, than infidels, and the openly profane. A strange covenant indeed, which confers only an empty unmeaning title, but from which the persons in covenant derive no advantage!

    …I should do injustice to my argument, if said nothing of some passages of Scripture, from which, those who read without due attention, may be apt to conclude, that hypocrites are true members of the church.
    The church seems compared to a field, where tares grow up with the wheat, to a threshing floor, where good grain is mixed with the chaff, to a net which draws bad fish as well as good, and to a feast where a guest comes, not having on the wedding garment, Matth. xiii. throughout, andxxii. n. Must we not conclude from these Scriptures, that hypocrites are members of the church?—By no means. Unless we must also infer, that chaff is good grain, and that tares are wheat, because they often happen to be mingled together. There is no occasion for an inference thus dishonourable to sacred writ. These parables represent to us, not the nature of the church, but her condition in this world where hypocrites are mingled with Christians, breathe the same air, worship in the same temple, and make the same outward profession.

    …It deserves our notice, that the apostle does not speak of some of the church as within and others as without, and thus give countenance to the distinction of a visible and an invisible church, but speaks of all the members of the church as within, and of the world as without. All then who belong to the church, are within, or members of the church invisible. Some are so, truly, and in the eyes of God ; others, only apparently, and in the eyes of men. The first have a title to be within. The second have no title. If we reckon them within, it is only, because their profession being credible, we charitably believe it sincere, and that consequently they are united to Christ. And hence, so soon as we find, from their course of life, that their profession was deceitful, it becomes our duty, to renounce communion with them.

    …§ 5. The greater part of modern Christians, have, I acknowledge, in their sentiments of the nature of the church, widely deviated from Scripture and antiquity. And the fiction of a visible church, really in covenant with God, and yet partly made up of hypocrites, has almost universally prevailed.”

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  2. October 16, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Good comments from Owen and Pink. I sure wish some of the bigger names in the Reformed Baptist movement would give their thoughts on Pink. I think I agree spot on with you and Pink on the nature of the Old Covenant as it related to Israel. The fuzziness, in my mind, is the relation of the covenant to Christ. It seems that the covenant was a republication of the moral law which Christ fulfilled. I need much more study on this and I really appreciate your contributions!!!

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    • October 16, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      Yes, I wish they would too. But that is wishful thinking, I’m afraid.

      In regards to Christ’s relation to the Mosaic Covenant, have you had an opportunity to read this post and the ensuing comments?
      https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/clarification-on-the-mosaic-covenant-and-eternal-life/

      We also recently discussed this at length in the Facebook group (which is worth joining Facebook for – plenty of good discussions there):
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/reformedbaptist/permalink/535735559859355/

      The important thing to understand is that the moral law itself does not offer the reward of eternal rest. That is something added to it by way of covenant. So the moral law can be used in different ways in different covenants, which is why it can be a guide in the New Covenant without being a principle of works in the New Covenant.
      http://www.rbap.net/the-temporal-revelation-of-the-covenant-of-works-in-owen-absolutely-or-relatively-coeval-with-creation/

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    • October 17, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      Thanks for the links Brandon. I did read the discussion in the ‘clarification on the mosaic covenant’ post a while back. That is the discussion that made me pause in only considering the Old Covenant as having a physical and temporal (and carnal/natural) application to Israel. There are passages that indicate that Christ was made under the law and fulfilled it and in some cases those seem to indicate Law of Moses. When Pastor Johnson (whose view of the Old Covenant I generally disagree with) argued that the Covenant of Moses was, for Christ only, a Covenant of works, it gave me some pause. I need to study this issue more.

      thanks for the links!

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      • October 17, 2014 at 12:42 pm

        Ah, gotcha. Yeah, I think in those passages the antitype has eclipsed the type and Paul is writing from that assumption (so he’s referring to the law of creation). Let me know if I can be of any help in that study

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  3. Kyle DesJarlais
    April 6, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Hello Brandon, I’ve greatly enjoyed your posts. I’m working through the Mosaic Covenant right now as I interact with a Presbyterian friend. I believe that the works- inheritance principle is at the core of God’s dealings with physical Israel. The issue I’m struggling with as I dialogue with my friend is how God can accept less than perfect (sincere) obedience even in a covenant which only offers temporal benefits. Does this involve a lowering of His standard or is it simply that the Israelites were guilty of violating the moral law of the Covenant of Works in their imperfect obedience, but yet capable of offering an imperfect (external) obedience to merit temporal blessings? The other question I had was if the Old Covenant is not an administration of the Covenant of Grace, did it yet administer the grace of the New Covenant to the elect (LBC 8:6)? I’ve read Sam Renihan’s posts on Substance and Administration as well as many of yours. Anything you can add to clarify would be greatly appreciated.

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    • April 6, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      Hi Kyle,

      Good questions. I’ll answer the second first.

      It depends on what you mean by the term. I prefer not to use the term just to avoid confusion. The grace of the New Covenant (which is equivalent to union with Christ) is communicated/given to the elect by the Holy Spirit through the Word. So the Word/revelation of the gospel is a means to this. We believe that the gospel was revealed to man since the fall at various times and in various ways. Part of this revelation included information revealed in the Old Covenant. In that since, the Old Covenant was a means to receiving the blessings of the New Covenant – but only as revelation, not as covenant union.

      As for your first question, here is something I wrote previously. Let me know if it answers your question.

      They are arguing that a covenant that operates upon a principle of works (If you do this, then you will get this) must start from the basis of innocence. If someone is innocent, then they can earn a reward. However, if they are not innocent, if they have a guilt that must be paid, then they cannot earn anything until that guilt is paid. So a fallen sinner cannot enter into a covenant of works for any kind of reward (even temporal) until that guilt is paid (which they cannot do).

      Now, it is a strong argument on the face of it. However, the problem is that Scripture throws us a curve ball. Leviticus 18:5 says that the Mosaic Covenant, which is made with fallen sinners, operates upon the principle of “if you do this, then you will get this.” That principle is repeated throughout the Old Testament, particularly in Ezekiel when Israel is being prosecuted for their violation of the covenant. Paul also quotes it twice in the NT. Both times he does so to demonstrate the antithesis between the law and faith (Rom 10:5, Gal 3:12). So those who hold to to the view we are discussing argue that Lev 18:5 is not stating a principle of the Mosaic Covenant. They claim it is just a reference, or proclamation of the original Adamic Covenant and it is just reminding Israelites of it. It’s stating the terms of the Mosaic Covenant. Not only is this an impossible reading of the text itself, it fails the systematic test as well. To understand why, see https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/07/25/guy-waters-on-leviticus-185/

      So, biblically speaking, Lev 18:5 proves that a covenant made with fallen sinners operates upon a works principle, so the original assumption must be mistaken. So where then is the problem with the original objection? The problem is that not only are fallen sinners unable to earn anything, fallen sinners are unable to breathe the very air they breathe each day and eat the food they eat each day. They deserve only God’s wrath and death. Yet somehow they continue to eat and breathe and live. It is because of God’s longsuffering towards them. God is willing and able, while maintaining his justice, to give them gifts when they only deserve wrath. This is true of both the unregenerate elect and the non-elect.

      So then what is preventing him from choosing some of those fallen sinners and offering them gifts above and beyond the post-fall norm upon the condition that they do something? There can be no objection to injustice anymore than there can be an objection to injustice on God’s part towards allowing every fallen sinner to live and breathe.

      “But,” they will object, “that would mean that there is some kind of grace involved, and therefore it cannot be a covenant of works!” Not so fast. WCF/LBCF 7.1 teach that even the original Covenant of Works was established through God’s “voluntary condescension.” Mankind owed obedience to God by nature, yet God “graciously” condescended to reward that obedience with something. So offering man something that he does not deserve, on the condition of his obedience, is not inconsistent with a covenant of works. Note what Owen says:

      “The covenant of works had its promises, but they were all remunerative, respecting an antecedent obedience in us; (so were all those which were peculiar unto the covenant of Sinai). They were, indeed, also of grace, in that the reward did infinitely exceed the merit of our obedience; but yet they all supposed it, and the subject of them was formally reward only.”

      Finally, here is how John Erskine answers:
      “But, if this reasoning proves anything, will it not prove, that a God of spotless purity, can enter into a friendly treaty with men, whom yet, on account of their sins, he utterly abhors. And what if it does? Perhaps, the assertion, however shocking at first view, may, on a narrower scrutiny, be found innocent. We assert not any inward eternal friendship between God and the unconverted Jews. We only assert an external temporal covenant, which, though it secured their outward prosperity, gave them no claim to God’s special favour. Where then is the alleged absurdity? Will you say it is unworthy of God to maintain external communion with sinners, or to impart to them any blessings? What then would become of the bulk of mankind? Nay, what would become of the patience and longsuffering of God? Or is it absurd, that God should reward actions that flow from bad motives when we have an undoubted instance of his doing this in the case pf Jehu? Or is it absurd, that God would entail favours on bad men, in the way of promise or covenant? Have you forgot God’s promise to Jehu, that his children of the fourth generation should sit on the throne of Israel? Or have you forgot, what concerns you more, God’s covenant with mankind in general, no more to destroy the earth by a flood (2 Kings 10:30; Gen 9:12)? (15-16)”

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      • Kyle DesJarlais
        April 6, 2016 at 12:28 pm

        Thanks, Brandon. That was a good explanation for my questions. The piggy-back question I have and which I know Presbyterians would throw back to me is if the Mosaic Covenant was a works covenant rather than a gracious covenant, why did Israel remain in the land or return from exile when they had broken the terms of the Covenant. Was God simply rewarding their repentance and thus obedience or was He being gracious to them via the sacrifices or was He in some sense being longsuffering till the seed should come to whom the promises were made?

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        • April 6, 2016 at 12:52 pm

          1. We do see varying levels of blessing and curse that come upon Israel, per the terms of the covenant (Deut 28).

          2. I would include the sacrifices as part of what it meant to obey the commandments of the Old Covenant. So the offering of sacrifices for the particular offenses they covered was part of the Mosaic covenant of works. Failure to do so was failure to obey the terms. But the sacrifices did not cover everything.

          3. Longsuffering until the seed should come? Bingo. At which point the full curse of the Old Covenant was released upon them in A.D. 70.

          And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away (Genesis 15:10-11 ESV)

          Look at the curse in Deut 28

          25 “The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26 And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away.

          A parallel warning is found in Jeremiah 7:33

          30″For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the LORD. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 31And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. 32 Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. 33 And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. 34 And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste.

          In both instances, the warning is that when Israel disobeys, there will be no one to frighten away the birds from eating their corpses.

          Abraham, or rather, the promise God made to Abraham, is what frightened the birds away. God’s promise to Abraham prevents Israel from being utterly destroyed. Once that promise is fulfilled, there is no longer anything to frighten the birds away and they face the full curse.

          John Owen:

          It becomes not the wisdom, holiness, and sovereignty of God, to call any people into an especial relation unto himself, to do them good in an eminent and peculiar manner, and then to suffer them to live at their pleasure, without any regard unto what he hath done for them. Wherefore, having granted unto this people those great privileges of the land of Canaan, and the ordinances of worship relating unto the great end mentioned, he moreover prescribed unto them laws, rules, and terms of obedience, whereon they should hold and enjoy that land, with all the privileges annexed unto the possession thereof. And these are both expressed and frequently inculcated, in the repetition and promises of the law. But yet in the prescription of these terms, God reserved the sovereignty of dealing with them unto himself. For had he left them to stand or fall absolutely by the terms prescribed unto them, they might and would have utterly forfeited both the land and all the privileges they enjoyed therein. And had it so fallen out, then the great end of God in preserving them a separate people until the Seed should come, and a representation thereof among them, had been frustrated. Wherefore, although he punished them for their transgressions, according to the threatenings of the law, yet would he not bring the µr,je, or “curse of the law,” upon them, and utterly cast them off, until his great end was accomplished, Malachi 4:4-6.

          p. 101 http://www.prayermeetings.org/files/John_Owen/Hebrews_8.1-10.39.pdf

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        • Kyle DesJarlais
          April 8, 2016 at 1:36 pm

          I appreciate those comments, Brandon. I think it gets at the type/antitype distinction which Presbyterians seem to confuse. While the sacrifices typified the grace of the New Covenant, they yet were legal requirements which could only sanctify the flesh. In like manner, Israel according to the flesh was not Israel according to the spirit, the true and only Church of God. Is it fair to say, per LBC 8:6, that the types and sacrifices of the Old Covenant served a New Covenant purpose for the elect who lived under it?

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        • April 8, 2016 at 2:20 pm

          Yes, certainly.

          Also, notice that they think that because the Old Covenant revealed the New Covenant, it therefore is the New Covenant. That does not necessarily follow, per above. Which they must admit because they believe the Old Covenant can also revealed the Covenant of Works, without being the Covenant of Works. See here: https://pettyfrance.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/form-and-matter-promise-and-promulgation-particular-baptist-federal-theology/

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  1. October 16, 2014 at 8:59 pm
  2. November 8, 2014 at 7:43 am
  3. November 17, 2014 at 11:32 am
  4. January 28, 2015 at 7:35 pm
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  10. October 1, 2016 at 7:57 am

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