Chris Villi’s Analysis of 1689 Federalism

In September 2014, Chris Villi earned the distinct honor of being the first Presbyterian to formally interact with 1689 Federalism. Congrats Chris 🙂 I have been emailing with Chris and I appreciate his desire to better understand our position. That being said, he has misunderstood our position on a basic level. I’d like to clarify those points and also provide a response to some genuine points of disagreement he raises.


1. Visible/Invisible Church

  • Again, the denial of the possibility of unbelievers in the visible church is one of the most problematic aspects of the federalism espoused by Denault… Given the denial of the important distinction between the visible and invisible church,…

Chris identifies this as the most problematic aspect of 1689 Federalism, but it’s not actually an aspect of 1689 Federalism at all. The misunderstanding arose because he was reading 1689 Federalism through Westminster lenses. He quoted Denault saying “The Scriptures do not provide any possibilities of being visibly in the New Covenant without participating effectively in its substance”. Notice that Denault does not say there are no unbelievers in the visible church, nor does he deny the distinction between the visible and invisible church. When he read that sentence, he inserted the word “church” so that it read “being visibly in the church without…” What Denault actually said is that there is no inner/outer covenant membership. Because Chris equates church membership with New Covenant membership, he thought we were denying any distinction between the visible and the invisible church, something our confession does not do.

For more on this, please see Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto? as well as paragraphs 10 and 11 in Samuel Renihan’s Case for Credobaptism.

2. Unconditional New Covenant

  • Denault and those he quotes also argue that the New Covenant is purely unconditional… Yet, there are some problems with their formulation of it as an unconditional covenant. For example, if it is unconditional, then why must we enter by faith (p. 85)?

Chris’ misunderstanding is understandable on this point. Denault notes:

Of course, for the Baptists there was only one way to enter into the Covenant of Grace: through faith… For the Baptists, only faith constituted a valid entry into the Covenant of Grace.

So it does sound like he is saying faith is the condition of entering the covenant, which would contradict the idea that the New Covenant is unconditional. However, it’s important to recognize the context of those statements. They were made in contrast to the Presbyterian view which says one can enter the covenant without faith, that is, through carnal descent. Denault goes on to note:

They did not consider the Covenant of Grace to be concluded simply with the elect, but with the converted elect. John Bunyan, in a discourse on law and grace, asked the following question: “How are these brought into this everlasting Covenant of Grace?” In the pages that follow, he explains that it is by conversion that we enter into the Covenant of Grace and not by election… Baptists supported the notion of an invisible Church made up of all of the elect, but for them, the Covenant of Grace only included the elect who had been called; it did not have an external administration in which the non-elect were to be found;

In other words, to speak technically, one does not enter the Covenant of Grace through faith, but through the effectual call. As Owen explains in his commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13, faith is a blessing of the Covenant of Grace, not a condition of entering it.

in the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises… It is evident that there can be no condition previously required, unto our entering into or participation of the benefits of this covenant, antecedent unto the making of it with us…

For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant…

It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part… And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend…

faith is wrought in us, given unto us, bestowed upon us, by that grace of the covenant which depends on no condition in us as unto its discriminating administration

Particular Baptist Daniel King said:

The Covenant is absolute, free without condition: Nay, the conditions of the promise are absolutely promised in the Covenant: so that they all, promises and conditions both, have their rise from the Covenant. And therefore by virtue of the Covenant we have faith given, which is the condition to salvation.

A Way to Sion Sought out and Found (London: Printed by Christopher Higgins, 1656), 16.

The point that the baptists, and Owen, were making was that the New Covenant is not breakable like the Old Covenant was.

[B]y comparing it with the former covenant, he manifests its excellency above it. In particular, in this testimony the imperfection of that covenant is demonstrated from its issue. For it did not effectually continue peace and mutual love between God and the people; but being broken by them, they were thereon rejected of God. This rendered all the other benefits and advantages of it useless. Wherefore the apostle insists from the prophet on those properties of this other covenant which infallibly prevent the like issue, securing the people’s obedience for ever, and so the love and relation of God unto them as their God.

Wherefore these three verses give us a description of that covenant whereof the Lord Christ is the mediator and surety, not absolutely and entirely, but as unto those properties and effects of it wherein it differs from the former, so as infallibly to secure the covenant relation between God and the people. That covenant was broken, but this shall never be so, because provision is made in the covenant itself against any such event.

Owen: New Covenant Conditional or Absolute?

See also Petto: Conditional New Covenant? and “DOLPHINS IN THE WOODS”: A Critique of Mark Jones and Ted Van Raalte’s Presentation of Particular Baptist Covenant Theology by Samuel Renihan in JIRBS 2015.

Chris also states that Heb 10:29 is a problem for this view, claiming “By definition, an apostate is someone who has been cut off from the covenant.” Of course, that’s begging the question entirely 🙂 An apostate is simply someone who has abandoned their profession of faith. The verse is question poses a problem for anyone who holds to substitutionary atonement. As Denault points out, the paedobaptist claim that sanctification in this verse refers to sanctification of the flesh (as opposed to the conscience) is hardly satisfactory (and it contradicts Heb 9:13-14). In addition to the translation Denault offers, the reader should consider Owen’s interpretation. Note as well that the Federal Vision heresy has challenged the standard paedobaptist interpretation, leading to other interpretations such as that offered by R. Fowler White in The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros & Cons Debating the Federal Vision. For more on this, see Hebrews 10 & John 15.


3. Promised/Established

  • How is it that these seventeenth-century Particular Baptists sought to justify two distinct posterities of Abraham? Denault points out two ways (p. 121). First, they separated the Abrahamic promise (allegedly made to the spiritual seed in Genesis 12) from the Abrahamic Covenant (allegedly made with the carnal seed in Genesis 17). This approach is weak in several respects. First of all, it confuses the nature of promises. Biblically, promises are contained in covenants (2 Chronicles 21:7; Ephesians 2:12).

Chris characterizes all of this as simply an attempt to avoid infant baptism. The reality is that men like John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, etc. recognized these truths in Scripture apart from any baptist polemic.

When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though it were not before in existence and effect, before the introduction of that which is promised here. For it was always the same, substantially, from the beginning… But for two reasons, it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect to any other things, nor was it called a covenant under the old testament. When God renewed the promise of it to Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but this covenant with Abraham was with respect to other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely, under the old testament, the covenant of grace consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture
-Owen (Hebrews 8:6)
Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God… Now, it is evident that it is the second privilege, or spiritual seed, wherein the church, to whom the promises are made, is founded, and whereof it doth consist…
-Owen (The Oneness of the Church)

So the issue cannot be dismissed that easily.

1) First, it does not confuse the nature of promises. In this regard, Chris needs to read the full 1689 Federalism treatments, not just the cliffnotes (Denault’s summary).

3. In the last place, the apostle tells us whereon this establishment was made; and that is ejpi krei>ttosin ejpaggeli>aiv, —”on better promises.” For the better understanding hereof we must consider somewhat of the original and use of divine promises in our relation unto God. And we may observe, —

(1.) That every covenant between God and man must be founded on and resolved into “promises.” Hence essentially a promise and a covenant are all one; and God calls an absolute promise, founded on an absolute decree, his covenant, Genesis 9:11. And his purpose for the continuation of the course of nature unto the end of the world, he calls his covenant with day and night, Jeremiah 33:20. The being and essence of a divine covenant lies in the promise. Hence are they called “the covenants of promise,” Ephesians 2:12; —such as are founded on and consist in promises…

And this is the first thing that was to be declared, namely, that every divine covenant is established on promises.

(2.) These promises are said to be “better promises.” The other covenant had its promises peculiar unto it, with respect whereunto this is said to be “established on better promises.” It was, indeed, principally represented under a system of precepts, and those almost innumerable; but it had its promises also, into the nature whereof we shall immediately inquire. With respect, therefore, unto them is the new covenant, whereof the Lord Christ is the mediator, said to be “established on better promises.” That it should be founded in promises, was necessary from its general nature as a covenant, and more necessary from its especial nature as a covenant of grace. That these promises are said to be “better promises,” respects those of the old covenant. But this is so said as to include all other degrees of comparison. They are not only better than they, but they are positively good in themselves, and absolutely the best that God ever gave, or will give unto the church. And what they are we must consider in our progress. And sundry things may be observed from these words: —

Obs. VIII. There is infinite grace in every divine covenant, inasmuch as it is established on promises. —Infinite condescension it is in God, that he will enter into covenant with dust and ashes, with poor worms of the earth. And herein lies the spring of all grace, from whence all the streams of it do flow. And the first expression of it is in laying the foundation of it in some undeserved promises. And this was that which became the goodness and greatness of his nature, the means whereby we are brought to adhere unto him in faith, hope, trust, and obedience, until we come unto the enioyment of him; for that is the use of promises, to keep us in adherence unto God, as the first original and spring of all goodness, and the ultimate satisfactory reward of our souls, 2 Corinthians 7:1.

Obs. IX. The promises of the covenant of grace are better than those of any other covenant, as for many other reasons, so especially because the grace of them prevents any condition or qualification on our part. —I do not say the covenant of grace is absolutely without conditions, if by conditions we intend the duties of obedience which God requireth of us in and by virtue of that covenant; but this I say, the principal promises thereof are not in the first place remunerative of our obedience in the covenant, but efficaciously assumptive of us into covenant, and establishing or confirming in the covenant. 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. In the covenant of grace it is not so; for sundry of the promises thereof are the means of our being taken into covenant, of our entering into covenant with God. The first covenant absolutely was established on promises, in that when men were actually taken into it, they were encouraged unto obedience by the promises of a future reward. But those promises, namely, of the pardon of sin and writing of the law in our hearts, which the apostle expressly insisteth upon as the peculiar promises of this covenant, do take place and are effectual antecedently unto our covenant obedience. For although faith be required in order of nature antecedently unto our actual receiving of the pardon of sin, yet is that faith itself wrought in us by the grace of the promise, and so its precedency unto pardon respects only the order that God had appointed in the communication of the benefits of the covenant, and intends not that the pardon of sin is the reward of our faith.

This entrance hath the apostle made into his discourse of the two covenants, which he continues unto the end of the chapter. But the whole is not without its difficulties. Many things in particular will occur unto us in our progress, which may be considered in their proper places. In the meantime there are some things in general which may be here discoursed, by whose determination much light will be communicated unto what doth ensue.
First, therefore, the apostle doth evidently in this place dispute concerning two covenants, or two testaments, comparing the one with the other, and declaring the disannulling of the one by the introduction and establishment of the other. What are these two covenants in general we have declared, — namely, that made with the church of Israel at mount Sinai, and that made with us in the gospel; not as absolutely the covenant of grace, but as actually established in the death of Christ, with all the worship that belongs unto it.

Here then ariseth a difference of no small importance, namely, whether these are indeed two distinct covenants, as to the essence and substance of them, or only different ways of the dispensation and administration of the same covenant…

4. These things being observed, we may consider that the Scripture doth plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way, as what is spoken can hardly be accommodated unto a twofold administration of the same covenant…

5. Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant merely, to be intended. We must, I say, do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, —and with great pretense of reason, for it is that which is the sole foundation they all build upon who allow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, —’That this being the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation be the same under both, then indeed are they for the substance of them but one.’ And I grant that this would inevitably follow, if it were so equally by virtue of them both. If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue thereof, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, whilst they were under the covenant.

As therefore I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition, so I shall propose sundry things which relate unto the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace: —

These statements from Owen are part of a very careful chain of reasoning, not simply isolated statements.

You can read this section from Owen here…_8.1-10.39.pdf (starting around page 72, and more specifically on 79)

You can also see an outline of his thought process here (v6 -> A More Excellent Ministry -> Proof -> Office of Mediator -> of a better covenant -> “On better promises”)

  • Next, Scripture specifically connects the Abrahamic covenant and promise together (Galatians 3:17).

2) Second, yes, there is a connection between the Abrahamic covenant and the promise. But that’s not the point. The point is that the Abrahamic Covenant, the Covenant of Circumcision, is not the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace. The Abrahamic Covenant promised the New Covenant, but it was not itself the New Covenant.

For example (recognizing that all analogies fail at some point), consider this wedding covenant/contract. If you click the link, you will see that it is not a marriage covenant, but a contract regarding the performance of the wedding.

This contract defines the terms and conditions under which The Salem Herbfarm and
___________________________ (hereafter referred to as the CLIENT) agree to the CLIENT’s use of The Salem Herbfarm’s facilities on __________________________ (reception/event date). This contract constitutes the entire agreement between the parties and becomes binding upon the signature of both parties. The contract may not be
amended or changed unless executed in writing and signed by The Salem Herbfarm and the CLIENT.

Once signed, this covenant confirms that the wedding will take place. Once confirmed, the contract is binding and cannot be amended or changed. “To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.” But the actual wedding still has to be performed, because this wedding covenant is not the marriage covenant, it simply guarantees the marriage covenant will occur.

In the same way, God’s covenant with Abraham was a promise that Christ would come and establish the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace.

“[I]f righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (2:21) “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”” (3:8) “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” (13-14)

If righteousness were through the law, then Christ would not have to die (establish the New Covenant). But God confirmed that Christ would die and bless all the nations. Therefore, God did not establish a means of obtaining righteousness through the law, because that would nullify his previous confirmation that Christ would eventually come to establish righteousness (inheritance) through His death.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (3:15-22)

Here is how Owen addresses 3:17

[2.] There were other federal transactions between God and the church before the giving of the law on mount Sinai. Two of them there were into which all the rest were resolved: —

1st. The first promise, given unto our first parents immediately after the fall. This had in it the nature of a covenant, grounded on a promise of grace, and requiring obedience in all that received the promise.

2dly. The promise given and sworn unto Abraham, which is expressly called the covenant of God, and had the whole nature of a covenant in it, with a solemn outward seal appointed for its confirmation and establishment. Hereof we have treated at large on the sixth chapter.

Neither of these, nor any transaction between God and man that may be reduced unto them, as explanations, renovations, or confirmations of them, is the “first covenant” here intended. For they are not only consistent with the “new covenant,” so as that there was no necessity to remove them out of the way for its introduction, but did indeed contain in them the essence and nature of it, and so were confirmed therein. Hence the Lord Christ himself is said to be “a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers,” Romans 15:8. As he was the mediator of the new covenant, he was so far from taking off from, or abolishing those promises, that it belonged unto his office to confirm them…

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…

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… (p. 76-78, PDF)

2. When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though that were not before in being and efficacy, before the introduction of that which is promised in this place. For it was always the same, as to the substance of it, from the beginning. It passed through the whole dispensation of times before the law, and under the law, of the same nature and efficacy, unalterable, “everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians only excepted, do grant that the covenant of grace, considered absolutely, — that is, the promise of grace in and by Jesus Christ, —was the only way and means of salvation unto the church, from the first entrance of sin. But for two reasons it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect unto any other things, nor was it so under the old testament. When God renewed the promise of it unto Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but it was with respect unto other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely under the old testament it consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture, Acts 2:39; Hebrews 6:14-16. The apostle indeed says, that the covenant was confirmed of God in Christ, before the giving of the law, Galatians 3:17. And so it was, not absolutely in itself, but in the promise and benefits of it. The nomoqesi>a, or full legal establishment of it, whence it became formally a covenant unto the whole church, was future only, and a promise under the old testament; for it wanted two things thereunto: —

(1.) It wanted its solemn confirmation and establishment, by the blood of the only sacrifice which belonged unto it. Before this was done in the death of Christ, it had not the formal nature of a covenant or a testament, as our apostle proves, Hebrews 9:15-23. For neither, as he shows in that place, would the law given at Sinai have been a covenant, had it not been confirmed with the blood of sacrifices. Wherefore the promise was not before a formal and solemn covenant.

(2.) This was wanting, that it was not the spring, rule, and measure of all the worship of the church. This doth belong unto every covenant, properly so called, that God makes with the church, that it be the entire rule of all the worship that God requires of it; which is that which they are to restipulate in their entrance into covenant with God. But so the covenant of grace was not under the old testament; for God did require of the church many duties of worship that did not belong thereunto. But now, under the new testament, this covenant, with its own seals and appointments, is the only rule and measure of all acceptable worship. Wherefore the new covenant promised in the Scripture, and here opposed unto the old, is not the promise of grace, mercy, life, and salvation by Christ, absolutely considered, but as it had the formal nature of a covenant given unto it, in its establishment by the death of Christ, the procuring cause of all its benefits, and the declaring of it to be the only rule of worship and obedience unto the church. So that although by “the covenant of grace,” we ofttimes understand no more but the way of life, grace, mercy, and salvation by Christ; yet by “the new covenant,” we intend its actual establishment in the death of Christ, with that blessed way of worship which by it is settled in the church. (p. 89-91, PDF)

4. Abraham’s Two Seeds

  • Denault labors to conclude that Abraham’s two seeds cannot be mixed (p. 118) but must be distinct, separate categories (p. 119) who are members of two different covenants with two different inheritances. Yet, a few pages later, he states that they are “non- mixed” (p. 121) yet intertwined (p. 125) and “not necessarily distinct” (p. 127). This distinction is nowhere made in the OT. To the contrary, Scripture asserts that the elect and non-elect were always outwardly under the same covenant (Romans 9:6).14
Again, see Owen:
It is true, the former carnal privilege of Abraham and his posterity expiring, on the grounds before mentioned, the ordinances of worship which were suited thereunto did necessarily cease also. And this cast the Jews into great perplexities, and proved the last trial that God made of them; for whereas both these, — namely, the carnal and spiritual privileges of Abraham’s covenant, — had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations, coming now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Malachi 3) who of the Jews had interest in both, who in one only, those who had only the carnal privilege, of being children of Abraham according to the flesh, contended for a share on that single account in the other also, — that is, in all the promises annexed unto the covenant. But the foundation of their plea was taken away, and the church, unto which the promises belong, remained with them that were heirs of Abraham’s faith only.

See also:

5. Salvation Under the Old Covenant   vs.  Salvation By the Old Covenant

  • However, the argument that the salvation given under the Old Covenant was in no way by the Old Covenant begs several questions. If it was not through covenant, then how exactly was salvation administered and made available to people during that time? If it wasn’t revealed in the Old Covenant (p. 71), then how was it revealed? Did not the entire Old Covenant point people to Christ through types and shadows?”
Keeping in mind the primary means of grace is the Word of God, we do not deny that the promise of salvation was revealed during the Old Covenant. We deny that salvation was administered through the Old Covenant. Instead, we affirm that it was administered through Christ’s mediation of the New Covenant, working retroactively – just as Christ’s death itself works retroactively.
Again, Owen:
This covenant [Sinai] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works…
If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue of it, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, while they were under the old covenant…
Having shown in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition to the old covenant, so I shall propose several things which relate to the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace.”
No man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ in that respect.

Sam & Micah Renihan, Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology & Biblical Theology, in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage:

The covenant of grace is the in-breaking of the covenant of redemption into history through the progressive revelation and retroactive application of the New Covenant…

There is one uniting and driving force in redemptive history, and that is the covenant of redemption. Although it is not accomplished in history until Christ comes, we see the gathering in of the elect who believe in Christ from the fall onward. Where we see that in-gathering of the elect who believe in the gospel as it is revealed progressively in types and shadows, there we see the retroactive New Covenant, and that is the covenant of grace…

The fact that we see this redemption promised and typified from the fall onward has led Reformed theologians to see God’s grace extending into history prior to the incarnation and death of Christ. Where God’s grace extended into the past, it came by way of covenant, wherein Christ’s blood of the New Covenant was retroactively applied to those who believed in the promise, and that retroactivity of the New Covenant was and remains distinct from the Old Covenant. Thus, Christ’s people have always been those who were promised to him by the Father, and it is those people for whom he spilled his blood.

Augustine recognized this.

the children of the promise [Rom 9:8], reborn of God, who have obeyed the commands by faith working through love [Gal 5:6], have belonged to the New Covenant since the world began. This they did, not in hope of carnal, earthly, and temporal things, but in hope of spiritual, heavenly, and eternal benefits. For they believed especially in the Mediator; and they did not doubt that through him the Spirit was given to them that they might do good, and that they were pardoned whenever they sinned…

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 [covenant]. And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament [covenant]; but yet the man who lives under God’s law with those earthly blessings for his sanction, is precisely the heir of the Old Testament [covenant], for just such rewards are promised and given to him, according to the terms of the Old Testament [covenant], as are the objects of his desire according to the condition of the old man. But whatever blessings are there figuratively set forth as appertaining to the New Testament [covenant] require the new man to give them effect. And no doubt the great apostle understood perfectly well what he was saying, when he described the two testaments [covenants] as capable of the allegorical distinction of the bond-woman and the free,—attributing the children of the flesh to the Old, and to the New the children of the promise: “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. ix. 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. iv. 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 [covenant]; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament [covenant] to the ancient people of God, because it was divinely appropriated to that people in God’s distribution of the times and seasons.

Augustine on the New Covenant

6) The Olive Tree

  • “One challenge to all Baptist theologies, 1689 federalism included, is the question of why people were grafted into and cut off from Israel in the OT? One particular problem with the Particular Baptist argument that Denault espouses is the failure to recognize that unbelievers were supposed to be cut off under the Old Covenant… Even from the outset, God explicitly told Abraham that his own son Ishmael would be cut off from the covenant and that the covenant would be extended through Isaac (Genesis 17:18-21). In fact, God explicitly commanded Abraham to cut off all covenant breakers (Genesis 17:14).

See The Olive Tree. Also, circumcision is not faith. Being cut off for not being circumcised is not equivalent to being cut off for unbelief. Scripture never says Ishmael was cut off for unbelief. Chris is reading his theology into the text. The Old Covenant nowhere taught that belief in the gospel was a requirement for covenant membership. For more, They are not all Israel, who are from Israel.

7) Abraham’s Furthest Descendants

  • ““the right of the remotest generation was as much derived from Abraham and the covenant made with him, as was that of his immediate seed, and did not at all depend on the faithfulness of their immediate parents.” (fn. 17, pp. 45-46). This is a fallacious argument.”
Far from being a fallacious argument, this was the historic reformed position, acknowledged and carried through to baptism as well:

In Europe and in early America the children of baptized but non-communicant members were regularly baptized. Robert Ellis Thompson, in ‘A History of the Presbyterian Churches in the United States’ (1895, p. 14) reports: “The absence of regularly constituted sessions for the administration of church discipline, and the refusal of baptism to the children of baptized person who were not communicants, marked the local congregation as un-Presbyterian.” That is, communicant membership was not essential for the parents of infants to be baptized; and the author notes this was the rule in all the Reformed churches.

The argument was that there is a visible and an invisible Church. The members of the latter are precisely God’s elect; but many members of the former are not. Ishmael and Esau were both circumcised. Furthermore, since the promise of covenant extend to a thousand generations, the visible church today may and ought to baptize infants of unbelieving parents who want them baptized, on the basis of their ancestors’ faith. Surely not every Israelite, at any period of its disappointing history, was regenerate; yet no priest would have hesitated to circumcise the children of such parents…

…But now, beyond admission for the sake of argument, what must be said on the substantial question? Does the Bible require or prohibit baptisms to the thousandth generation? If it does, and if a generation is roughly thirty years, a thousand generation from the time of Christ would include just about everybody in the western world. Then the church should have baptized the child of an intensely Talmudic Jew whose ancestor in 50 B.C. was piously looking for the Messiah. Or, George Whitefield should have baptized Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Tom Paine, as children, because one of their ancestors played a small role in the Reformation. Strange as this may seem to many, it ought to have been done if the Bible so teaches.

…The view that only the children of professing parents should be baptized seems to have been the result of colonial revivalism.

…This emotional pietism, as it demanded a particular type of experience for regeneration, tended to view the ideal church as consisting entirely of regenerate persons sharing such an experience. The logical result is the Baptist position; but in Presbyterianism it stopped short at requiring the faith of the parents who wanted their children baptized. But if it did not result in Baptists practices, it involved a change in the theology of baptism.

-Gordon Clark, Sanctification, p. 62-65

Calvin held this view as well:

It is not without reason that you inquire whether it be lawful to admit to the sacrament of baptism the children of idolaters and excommunicated persons before their parents have testified their repentance…
But as in the proper use of baptism the authority of God is to be considered, and his institution ought to derive its authority from certain conditions, one of the first things to be considered is who are the persons that God by his own voice invites to be baptized.

Now God’s promise comprehends not only the offspring of every believer in the first line of descent, but extends to thousands of generations. Whence it has happened that the interruption of piety which has prevailed in Popery has not taken away from baptism its force and efficacy. For we must look to its origin, and the very reason and nature of baptism is to be esteemed as arising from the promise of God. To us then it is by no means doubtful that an offspring descended from holy and pious ancestors, belong to the body of the church, though their fathers and grandfathers may have been apostates. For just as in Popery it was a pernicious and insane superstition, to steal or forcibly abduct their children from Jews or Turks, and forthwith to have them baptized; so likewise, wherever the profession of Christianity has not been altogether interrupted or destroyed, children are defrauded of their privileges if they are excluded from the common symbol; because it is unjust when God, three hundred years ago or more, has thought them worthy of his adoption, that the subsequent impiety of some of their progenitors should interrupt the course of heavenly grace. In fine, as each person is not admitted to baptism from respect or regard to one of his parents alone, but on account of the perpetual covenant of God

(Calvin’s Lat. Corresp., Opera, ix. P. 201; Calvin, John. Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters vol. 7; edited by Henry Beveridge. Edmonton, Canada: pp. 73-76.)

See also The Half-Way Covenant
8) Preservation of Carnal Jews

  • “First, the argument that the “carnal posterity” was to be preserved unconditionally contradicts their vehement arguments for Old Covenant conditionality.”

It does not. We all believe that God is preserving the reprobate, the whole world, unconditionally, until the last elect person is saved, at which point Christ will return and judge the world for the Adamic Covenant conditionality they broke. The case with Israel is no different. God withheld his full judgment until Christ came, at which point he abolished the Old Covenant because of Israel’s disobedience, as explained in Scripture.

Specifically what preserved them until Christ was God’s promise to Abraham concerning Christ’s coming. Scripture explains this in terms of Abraham “chasing away the birds” (Gen 15:11; Deut 28:26; Jer 7:33)

9) Why Call it The Covenant of Grace?

  • “In their understanding, the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. Of course, this begs the question of why then one would even bother using the terminology “Covenant of Grace.” If it is completely redundant, then what is the point? Why not just call it the New Covenant?”
Because we affirm the concept of the covenant of grace: all men who were ever saved from the protevangelium onward were saved the same way: through covenant with Christ. I have no problem just calling it the New Covenant, but it is more likely that we would be misunderstood that way.


I appreciate the fact that Chris took the time to read an introduction to 1689 Federalism and to interact with it. We wish more people would do so, as we obviously believe this is an important view that needs to be more widely understood. However, I must note that Chris has only read the “Cliff Notes” version of 1689 Federalism. It is an excellent and much needed summary of the position, but if Chris is going to write a paper on the topic, he will need to do his homework and complete the assigned reading:

5 thoughts on “Chris Villi’s Analysis of 1689 Federalism

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  3. joshdoorenbos

    “Specifically what preserved them until Christ was God’s promise to Abraham concerning Christ’s coming. Scripture explains this in terms of Abraham “chasing away the birds” (Gen 15:11; Deut 28:26; Jer 7:33)”

    Sorry if this is me being dense, but could you explain more what you mean in the second sentence? I looked up the verses and I think I know what you’re saying, but if you could expand on it a little (or point me to another place where you’ve expanded upon it), I’d appreciate it.


    1. Hi Josh. I elaborate on that in the 5-part podcast series on Reformed Northwest. The birds of prey represent the covenant curse(s) for disobedience. When the law is broken, the birds descend to eat the carcass of the dead covenant member. Israel broke the Mosaic Covenant as soon as it was made (golden calf). God did not destroy them because he had not yet fulfilled his promise to Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan (see Ex 32). Thus God’s promise to Abraham “chased the birds away” – God’s promise to Abraham delayed the Old Covenant curse for disobedience.

      Once that promise was fulfilled (Solomon’s reign), then that promise could no longer chase away the birds of prey (covenant curses). Thus immediately after its fulfillment, Solomon (and thus Israel’s) sin brings the covenant curse upon Israel. The 10 tribes are destroyed, cast into exile, and never heard from again. Judah was split off from Israel, however, because the second Abrahamic promise (that Christ would be born from Abraham to bless all nations) had not yet been fulfilled. God promised David that this Messiah would be born from his line. Thus Judah was preserved while the rest of Israel was destroyed. This promise continued to chase away the birds from Judah. Once Christ was born, judgment came upon Judah (as Jesus warned) and they were destroyed in AD70, along with the temple.

      Liked by 1 person

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