Home > 1689 federalism, John Owen, Westminster Federalism > Kline on “Administration of the Covenant of Grace”

Kline on “Administration of the Covenant of Grace”

Lee Irons has been posting a series summarizing Kline’s views on the Mosaic Covenant and clarifying what he sees as misrepresentations. It’s a very helpful series and I appreciate his efforts. However, I think one of them fails to defend Kline against from his critics. The Fourth Misrepresentation Of Kline deals with the claim that Kline denied the Mosaic Covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace. Irons references Kline’s two-layer cake and then concludes:

Kline clearly affirms that the covenant of grace unfolded in several administrations (including the Mosaic covenant!) and that this overarching covenant of grace reached its culmination in the new covenant.

I do not think Kline is contradicting himself. He is not saying that the Mosaic covenant itself (the covenant between God and Israel that was inaugurated at Sinai) was a covenant of grace. It was not. It was a covenant of the works variety. But he is saying that God’s establishment of this Mosaic covenant of works was designed to advance the covenant of grace and that therefore it was a sub-administration of the covenant of grace. To use the language of some 17th century Reformed theologians, it was a “subservient covenant” intended not to be an end in itself but to look ahead to the coming Seed who would be born under it and fulfill it and thereby bring about the consummation of the covenant of grace.

Essentially the argument is that if you believe the Mosaic Covenant served the purposes of the covenant of grace, then you believe it was an administration of the covenant of grace.

The problem is that is not what the term means. It means that the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant were not two different covenants but were in fact the same covenant. If you deny that, you deny the Mosaic was an administration of the covenant of grace, regardless of what purpose it served.

Calvin’s comments on Hebrews 8 exemplify the view.

But what he adds is not without some difficulty, — that the covenant of the Gospel was proclaimed on better promises; for it is certain that the fathers who lived under the Law had the same hope of eternal life set before them as we have, as they had the grace of adoption in common with us, then faith must have rested on the same promises. But the comparison made by the Apostle refers to the form rather than to the substance; for though God promised to them the same salvation which he at this day promises to us, yet neither the manner nor the character of the revelation is the same or equal to what we enjoy. If anyone wishes to know more on this subject, let him read the 4th and 5th chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians and my Institutes.
In his Institutes we find the following (referencing Hebrews 7-9):

Here we are to observe how the covenant of the law compares with the covenant of the gospel, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. For if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, then there would be great disagreement between the Testaments. But since the trend of the argument leads us in another direction, we must follow it to find the truth. Let us then set forth the covenant that he once established as eternal and never-perishing. Its fulfillment, by which is is finally confirmed and ratified, is Christ. While such confirmation was awaited, the Lord appointed, through Moses, ceremonies that were, so to speak, solemn symbols of that confirmation. A controversy arose over whether or not the ceremonies that had been ordained in the law ought to give way to Christ. Now these were only the accidental properties of the covenant, or additions and appendages, and in common parlance, accessories of it. Yet because they were means of administering it, they bear the name “covenant,” just as is customary in the case of other sacraments. To sum up then, in this passage “Old Testament” means the solemn manner of confirming the covenant, comprised in ceremonies and sacrifices.Because nothing substantial underlies this unless we go beyond it, the apostle contends that it ought to be terminated and abrogated, to give place to Christ, the Sponsor and Mediator of a better covenant [cf. Heb 7:22]; whereby he imparts eternal sanctifications once and for all to the elect, blotting out their transgressions, which remained under the law. Or, if you prefer, understand it thus: the Old Testament of the Lord was that covenant [the eternal covenant -BA] wrapped up in the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies and delivered to the Jews; it was temporary because it remained, as it were, in suspense until it might rest upon a firm and substantial confirmation. It became new and eternal only after it was consecrated and established by the blood of Christ. Hence Christ in the Supper calls the cup that he gives to his disciples “the cup of the New Testament in my blood” [Luke 22:20]. By this he means that the Testament of God attained its truth when sealed by his blood, and thereby becomes new and eternal.

Institutes, 2.11.4

Calvin is clear: The Old and New Covenant were the same covenant. They were the same in substance. They differed only in their outward appearance, the manner of revelation, the ceremonies, the accidents – in sum, the administration. This is what it means for the Mosaic Covenant to be an administration of the covenant of grace: they are the same covenants with the same promises and the same means of obtaining the promise. This is the meaning of WCF 7.6
6. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.
Now John Owen is helpful in addressing this question because he agrees with Kline’s exegesis:

’I exercised the right, power, and authority of a husband towards them; I dealt with them as a husband with a wife that breaketh covenant:’ that is, saith the apostle, ‘“ I regarded them not” with the love, tenderness, and affection of a husband.’ So he dealt indeed with that generation which so suddenly brake covenant with him. He provided no more for them as unto the enjoyment of the inheritance, he took them not home unto him in his habitation, his resting-place in the land of promise; but he suffered them all to wander, and bear their whoredoms in the wilderness, until they were consumed. So did God exercise the right, and power, and authority of a husband towards a wife that had broken covenant. And herein, as in many other things in that dispensation, did God give a representation of the nature of the covenant of works, and the issue of it…

Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of. And from the whole we may observe sundry things.

-Exposition of Hebrews 8:9

But precisely because he agrees with Kline, Owen says the Mosaic Covenant is not an administration of the covenant of grace.

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

On this consideration it is said, that the two covenants mentioned, the new and the old, were not indeed two distinct covenants, as unto their essence and substance, but only different administrations of the same covenant, called two covenants from some different outward solemnities and duties of worship attending of them. To clear this it must be observed, —

1. That by the old covenant, the original covenant of works, made with Adam and all mankind in him, is not intended; for this is undoubtedly a covenant different in the essence and substance of it from the new.

2. By the new covenant, not the new covenant absolutely and originally, as given in the first promise, is intended; but in its complete gospel administration, when it was actually established by the death of Christ, as administered in and by the ordinances of the new testament. This, with the covenant of Sinai, were, as most say, but different administrations of the same covenant.

But on the other hand, there is such express mention made, not only in this, but in sundry other places of the Scripture also, of two distinct covenants, or testaments, and such different natures, properties, and effects, ascribed unto them, as seem to constitute two distinct covenants. This, therefore, we must inquire into; and shall first declare what is agreed unto by those who are sober in this matter, though they differ in their judgments about this question, whether two distinct covenants, or only a twofold administration of the same covenant, be intended. And indeed there is so much agreed on, as that what remains seems rather to be a difference about the expression of the same truth, than any real contradiction about the things themselves. For, —

1. It is agreed that the way of reconciliation with God, of justification and salvation, was always one and the same…

2. That the writings of the Old Testament, namely, the Law, Psalms, and Prophets, do contain and declare the doctrine of justification and salvation by Christ…

3. That by the covenant of Sinai, as properly so called, separated from its figurative relation unto the covenant of grace, none was ever eternally saved.

4. That the use of all the institutions whereby the old covenant was administered, was to represent and direct unto Jesus Christ, and his mediation.

These things being granted, the only way of life and salvation by Jesus Christ, under the old testament and the new, is secured; which is the substance of the truth wherein we are now concerned. On these grounds we may proceed with our inquiry.

The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the old testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new. And whereas the essence and the substance of the covenant consists in these things, they are not to be said to be under another covenant, but only a different administration of it. But this was so different from that which is established in the gospel after the coming of Christ, that it hath the appearance and name of another covenant. And the difference between these two administrations may be reduced unto the ensuing heads: —

1. It consisted in the way and manner of the declaration of the mystery of the love and will of God in Christ…

2. In the plentiful communication of grace unto the community of the church…

3. In the manner of our access unto God…

4. In the way of worship required under each administration…

5. In the extent of the dispensation of the grace of God;…

Sundry other things are usually added by our divines unto the same purpose. See Calvin. Institut. lib. 2:cap. xi.; Martyr. Loc. Com. loc. 16, sect. 2; Bucan. loc. 22, etc.

The Lutherans, on the other side, insist on two arguments to prove, that not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that two covenants substantially distinct, are intended in this discourse of the apostle.

1. Because in the Scripture they are often so called, and compared with one another, and sometimes opposed unto one another; the first and the last, the new and the old.

2. Because the covenant of grace in Christ is eternal, immutable, always the same, obnoxious unto no alteration, no change or abrogation; neither can these things be spoken of it with respect unto any administration of it. as they are spoken of the old 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. The one is mentioned and described, Exodus 24:3-8,Deuteronomy 5:2-5, — namely, the covenant that God made with the people of Israel in Sinai; and which is commonly called “the covenant,” where the people under the old testament are said to keep or break God’s covenant; which for the most part is spoken with respect unto that worship which was peculiar thereunto. The other is promised, Jer 31:31-34, 32:40; which is the new or gospel covenant, as before explained, mention Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24. And these two covenants, or testaments, are compared one with the other and opposed one unto another 2 Cor 3:6-9; Gal 4:24-26; Heb 7:22, 9:15-20…

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: —…

This 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…

For some, when they hear that the covenant of grace was always one and the same, of the same nature and efficacy under both testaments, —that the way of salvation by Christ was always one and the same, —are ready to think that there was no such great difference between their state and ours as is pretended. But we see that on this supposition, that covenant which God brought the people into at Sinai, and under the yoke whereof they were to abide until the new covenant was established, had all the disadvantages attending it which we have insisted on. And those who understand not how excellent and glorious those privileges are which are added unto the covenant of grace, as to the administration of it, by the introduction and establishment of the new covenant, are utterly unacquainted with the nature of spiritual and heavenly things…

’I exercised the right, power, and authority of a husband towards them; I dealt with them as a husband with a wife that breaketh covenant:’ that is, saith the apostle, ‘“ I regarded them not” with the love, tenderness, and affection of a husband.’ So he dealt indeed with that generation which so suddenly brake covenant with him. He provided no more for them as unto the enjoyment of the inheritance, he took them not home unto him in his habitation, his resting-place in the land of promise; but he suffered them all to wander, and bear their whoredoms in the wilderness, until they were consumed. So did God exercise the right, and power, and authority of a husband towards a wife that had broken covenant. And herein, as in many other things in that dispensation, did God give a representation of the nature of the covenant of works, and the issue of it…

‘This was the issue of things with them with whom the first covenant was made. They received it, entered solemnly into the bonds of it, took upon themselves expressly the performance of its terms and conditions, were sprinkled with the blood of it; but they “continued not in it,” and were dealt withal accordingly. God used the right and authority of a husband with whom a wife breaketh covenant; he “neglected them,” shut them out of his house, deprived them of their dowry or inheritance, and slew them in the wilderness…

Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of. And from the whole we may observe sundry things.

http://www.prayermeetings.org/files/John_Owen/Hebrews_8.1-10.39.pdf (starting on page 84)

Owen is clear: the meaning of the Westminster phrase “administration of the covenant of grace” can be found most clearly in Calvin (specifically the portion we quoted already) and it means they are the same covenant with different outward appearances, rather than two distinct covenants. If you disagree with that and see them as two different covenants, then you are disagreeing with the reformed divines when they say they were both administrations of the covenant of grace. Note, Owen sides with the Lutherans who say that is incorrect because “neither can these things be spoken of it with respect unto any administration of it as they are spoken of the old covenant.” That is to say, the differences are not just in outward appearance.So the question is: Does Kline or Owen better understand the meaning of “an administration of the covenant of grace”?

Samuel Bolton, a proponent of the subservient covenant view that Irons aligns Kline with, provides the following summary of the “administration of the covenant of grace” view (which he does not agree with):

There is, however, a second opinion in which I find that the majority of our holy and most learned divines concur, namely, that though the law is called a covenant, yet it was not a covenant of works for salvation; nor was it a third covenant of works and grace; but it was the same covenant in respect of its nature and design under which we stand under the Gospel, even the covenant of grace, though more legally dispensed to the Jews. It differed not in substance from the covenant of grace, but in degree, say some divines, in the economy and external administration of it, say others. The Jews, they agree, were under infancy, and therefore under “a schoolmaster”. In this respect the covenant of grace under the law is called by such divines “foedus vetus” (the old covenant), and under the Gospel “foedus novum” (the new covenant): see Heb. 8:8. The one was called old, and the other new, not because the one was before the other by the space of four hundred and thirty years, but because the legal administrations mentioned were waxing old and decaying, and were ready to disappear and to give place to a more new and excellent administration. “That which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away”. The one covenant was more obscurely administered, shadowed, darkened with shadows; the other was administered more perspicuously and clearly. The one was more onerous and burdensome, the other more easy and delightful. The one through the legal means of its administration gendered to bondage, the other to son-like freedom. All this may be seen clearly in Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1; Gal. 3:1-4:3. Hence, as Alsted tells us, the new and old covenants, the covenants of the law and Gospel, are both of them really covenants of grace, only differing in their administrations. That they were virtually the same covenant is alleged in Luke 1:72-75: “To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant”. What was “his holy covenant”? It is made clear in verse 74 that in substance it was the same as the covenant of grace: “That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”

Admitting that “He is not saying that the Mosaic covenant itself (the covenant between God and Israel that was inaugurated at Sinai) was a covenant of grace. It was not. It was a covenant of the works variety.” is admitting that it was not an administration of the covenant of grace. To say that the Mosaic Covenant was of works means it was NOT of the same substance as the covenant of grace. I agree with Irons and Kline and Owen on the Mosaic Covenant. It was not of the same substance. It was of works for life in the land. But that is why I believe the criticism sticks. That is why Owen said he disagreed with the reformed (and that’s why his Savoy declaration removed 7.6).

This was Patrick Ramsey’s point in an essay titled “In Defense of Moses.” I disagree with Ramsey’s interpretation of the Mosaic Covenant, but his interpretation of Westminster Federalism is correct. He demonstrates that Westminster rejected the subservient covenant view.

The primary reason for holding to the Subservient Covenant is the contrast and opposition found in Scripture between the old and new covenants (2 Cor 3:6-9; Gal 4:24- 26; Heb 7:22; 9:15-20).46 Since the Mosaic Covenant is a covenant, it must either be a covenant of works, a covenant of grace, or some other covenant. Clearly it cannot be a covenant of works, since, among other reasons, that would annul the promise.

The Mosaic Covenant cannot be the Covenant of Grace. For the glory of the New Covenant is that we are freed from the law as a covenant and not just its legal or administrative aspect. Accordingly, it cannot be part of the Covenant of Grace for we are never set free from it. Hence, the Mosaic Covenant must be a third covenant, one that is not contrary to the promises of grace, though one that could be set aside, namely the Subservient Covenant…

It is important to remember that the primary biblical reason that some divines held to the Subservient Covenant was because they understood the Scriptures to teach that the Old Covenant was abrogated as a covenant. The contrast was not found to be in mere administrations but in covenants. As we have already seen, they themselves understood their view of the Mosaic Covenant to differ in substance with the Covenant of Grace.

The entire point of the subservient covenant view was that it was subservient to the covenant of grace because it was not itself the covenant of grace – therefore it was not an administration of the covenant of grace.

I believe Ramsey is correct in demonstrating WCF rejected the subservient covenant view and I think Owen is clear in his rejection of the WCF view. Kline should have been too. If Owen’s view was compatible with the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace, why did he feel the need to reject that view? Why did he feel the need to side with the Lutherans? I think the answer is because he understood the issue better than Kline and Irons.


Addendum: Tobias Crisp

In the comments below, Jack referenced J.V. Fesko’s new book on the Westminster Confession. Fesko claims the only view excluded by the confession (7.6) was that of Tobias Crisp. Crisp argued that Hebrews 8 taught that the Old and the New Covenants were two distinct covenants:

He intimates to us that there is a distinct covenant, whereof Christ is the mediator, differ ing from that, whereof the priest was the mediator : he doth not fay, he is the mediator of better things in the fame covenant, but of a better covenant : a better and a worse covenant must be two several covenants ; better and worse qualities may be in one and the fame ; but for the covenant itself to be called better than another, is a mani fest argument of a double covenant…

Again, the apostle speaks of a second coming in the place of the first ; we cannot fay of one and the self-fame covenant, that it comes in place of it self; when one thing comes in the place of another, these two must needs be distinct : can you fay of the one and the fame thing, that it is disannulled, and that it is not ? that it vanishes, and yet that it is come in the place of itself when it vanishes?

The Two Covenants of Grace

Crisp agreed with the bi-covenantal view of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. However, he said that the Old Covenant could not be the covenant of works because it provided for the forgiveness of sins, which the covenant of works does not. He therefore concludes that the Old Covenant was a covenant of grace.

So that it is plain, the administration of their covenant was an administration of grace, absolutely distinct from that of the covenant of works. That Christ’s covenant was a covenant of grace, I will not stand to prove ; I know no man questions it that professes himself a Christian ; but now though these two, as it appears plainly, are covenants of grace ; so it mall appear as fully to you that they are two distinct covenants of grace ; they are not one and the same covenant diversely administered, but they are two distinct covenants’…

Notice that last point: they are not one and the same diversely administered, but they are two distinct covenants. Crisp indicates that this, specifically, was a very controversial position to take. The prevailing view was that they were the same covenant, not two distinct covenants. He says that if he were to make this claim apart from Apostolic warrant, he would be censured:

there are certain gene ral covenants that God made with men ; usually they are reduced to two heads ; the first is com monly called the covenant of works, first made in innocency ; the terms thereof are of a double nature, Do this and live ; and cursed is every one that continueth not in all things thai are written in the. hook of the law to do them ; life upon doing, a curie upon not doing ; in sum, the covenant of works stands upon these terms, that in perfect obedience there should be life; at the first failing therein, no remedy, no admittance of remission ot” sins upon any terms in the world ; Christ can not come in, ,nor be heard upon the terms of the covenant of works. There is a second general covenant, and that is usually called, a new cove nant, or sa covenant of grace ; and this, in op position to the other, stands only in matter of grace without works through Christ : This, as far as I can find, is generally received to be the right distribution of the covenants of God ; the covenant of grace being most commonly taken for one ‘ entire covenant from first to last ;…

He intimates to us that there is a distinct covenant, whereof Christ is the mediator, differ ing from that, whereof the priest was the media tor : he doth not fay, he is the mediator of bet ter things in the fame covenant, but of a better covenant : a better and a worse covenant must be two several covenants ; better and worse qualities may be in one and the fame ; but for the covenant itself to be called better than another, is a manifest argument of a double covenant…

If all this be not a sufficient evidence to clear this, that they are distinct covenants ; and so distinct, that though both be covenants of grace, yet the one must be difannulled before the other can be established ; I know nothing that can be proved by scripture. But to come to the main thing ; there being two distinct covenants, let us fee wherein that which Christ administered, is better than that the priests did ; and this will be of very great concern to the settling of spirits : the differences are marvellous ; the apostle expresses them in such language, that, I dare be bold to fay, if any man mould utter it, and not have his warrant from him, he would go nigh to be censured.

Demonstrating that these are two distinct covenants, rather than the prevailing view that they are the same covenant, is the entire focus of his sermon. Thus the confession is clearly rejecting Crisp’s view when it says

6. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

The precise point of the confession in this paragraph in chapter 7 on God’s covenant is to reject the view that the Old and the New Covenants were two different covenants. Instead, they are “one and the same under various dispensations.” Recall Crisp’s statement “so it mall appear as fully to you that they are two distinct covenants of grace ; they are not one and the same covenant diversely administered, but they are two distinct covenants.” This is what 7.6 is dealing with.

Does Fesko agree? No, he says that was not the point of 7.6. Instead, the point of the statement was a rejection of Crisp’s view of the moral law.

The question naturally arises, why did the divines specifically zero in on this view and exclude it? From one vantage point there appears to be little indication that Crisp’s view differs from the cornucopia of variations that existed at that time on the relationship between the Mosaic covenant and the covenants of works and grace. What difference is there, for example, between saying that there is one covenant of grace with legal accidents that fall away at the advent of Christ, who is the substance, and saying there are two covenants of grace? Crisp, after all, indicates that Christ is typified and foreshadowed in the weaker covenant of grace. The most likely answer is that Crisp’s view on the relationship between the covenant of works and grace and the moral law struck and severed a nerve that the divines believed was vital to an orthodox soteriology.

Most Reformed theologians, whether holding a threefold or a twofold covenantal scheme in their several variants, maintained the perpetual necessity and binding nature of the moral law. Crisp, however, rejected the idea that the moral law was still binding upon believers.

The Theology of the Westminster Standards, p. 156

Crisp believed the moral law itself was the covenant of works.

to me it seems most plain, that the opposition the apostle here makes, is not between the covenant of works and that of grace ; and that he, in all this dis course, hath not the least glance upon the cove nant of works at all, nor doth he meddle with it: You know, beloved, that the articles of that covenant, are drawn up in the decalogue of the moral law ; and in all this discourse, from chap. vii. 1. to the end of chap. x. the apostle doth not so much as take notice of the moral law, nor hath he to do one jot with any clause of it ;…

You see the apostle from Jeremiah, brings a direct distinction of two covenants ; I will make a new covenant, not according to the covenant I made -with their fathers. Here are two covenants, a new one, and one made with their sathers. Some may think it was the covenant of works at the promulgation of the moral law ; but mark well that expression of Jeremiah, and you (hall see it was the covenant of grace;

Several remarks are called for:

  1. Crisp’s view that the moral law (decalogue) itself was the covenant of works is shared by Lee Irons, David VanDrunen, and other Klineans.
  2. If that was the only point of concern, it is adequately dealt with in Chapter 19 “Of The Law of God” where that view is rejected.
  3. Crisp was not alone in this view (“Some may think it was the covenant of works at the promulgation of the moral law”)
  4. Crisp identified the controversial part of his view as separating the Old and the New Covenants, and he did so in language nearly identical to the statement in 7.6.

There is absolutely no doubt that what the confession is rejecting in 7.6 is not Crisp’s view of the moral law (which is rejected elsewhere), but his view of the covenant of grace. His separation of the Old and New Covenants into two different covenants is what is rejected by the confession.

Now, let’s look more closely at 7.6 to see if it applies to the subservient covenant view as well. I will paraphrase to make it clearer.

[The Old and the New Covenants are not], therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

Clear enough. But Fesko would have you believe that 7.6 does not apply to the subservient view. What is the difference between Crisp’s view and the subservient view? Crisp saw the Old Covenant as gracious while the subservients said it was of works. They agreed, however, that they were not “one and the same” covenant.

Let’s paraphrase again.

[The Old and the New Covenants are not], therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

There is no reason to believe that the divines would have affirmed a view that the Old Covenant was of works, while rejecting a view that it was of grace. Their point was that the two covenants are not separate, “but one and the same.” The subservient view rejects that they are “but one and the same” and therefore the Westminster confession rejects the subservient view.

Savoy Declaration

Below, Jack draws attention to Fesko’s comment that some Westminster divines held to the subservient view. That fact itself proves nothing. As Ramsey notes

Objection 3: The position of the Westminster Confession of Faith is somewhat ambiguous in that tensions or differences between the Puritans were not resolved. Hence the Confession allows for more than one opinion on the issue.

It is certainly true that there was a great debate among the Puritans as to the nature of the Mosaic Covenant. Moreover, Reformed Presbyterians have continued the debate. However, this does not imply that the Puritans themselves did not come to a majority consensus. As we have already noted, the exhaustive research of E. F. Kevan concludes that they did: “The outcome of the Puritan debate was that, on the whole, it was agreed that the Mosaic Covenant was a form of the Covenant of Grace; and this view was embodied in the Confession of Faith.”

The Puritans debated church government. There were Presbyterians, Erastians, and Independents at the Assembly. Nonetheless, the Presbyterian view prevailed as is indicated by the text of the Confession itself. The section on church government is simply intolerant of any view other than Presbyterianism. The same is true concerning the nature of the Mosaic Covenant.

Fesko notes

Other theologians who have been identified with the threefold (subservient) view include Westminster divines Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) and Obadiah Sedgwick (ca. 1600-1658), as well as John Owen (1616-1683), Samuel Petto (1624-1711), and Edward Fisher.

Thomas Goodwin was an Independent. His view of church government did not prevail at the assembly. Therefore pointing to his views, or any other views, as proof that it was accepted, is false. But furthermore, Goodwin went on to draft the Savoy Declaration a decade later. He and Owen were the leaders assigned to the writing/editing of the Independent confession (with 4 other men). Samuel Petto was a signatory as well.

What did they do with 7.6? They deleted it.

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  1. Hugh McCann
    March 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Good stuff, here, Brandon. This makes us not Calvinists (at least, on this issue). And it’s a pretty BIG issue. The Westminster men and their followers are caught up short, but does this make Kline and/ or Irons “unPresbyterian”? This is the heart of their theology – “The Covenant.”

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    • March 30, 2015 at 2:42 pm

      It means they are contrary to the WCF. It would thus be up to their denominations to determine what type of subscription they allow. Their view would be compatible with Savoy

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hugh McCann
    March 30, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Funny that Paul (Galatians, Colossians, Hebrews) really missed the Mosaic as an “administration” of the cov’t of grace! 😉

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  3. Jack Miller
    March 31, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    I’m far from a scholar on this or any topic yet: Another wrinkle, another view: John Fesko in his book on the theology of the Westminster Standards regarding the Mosaic covenant (p. 158):

    “The Confession therefore precludes only one view [i.e. Crisp’s two covenant of grace view], but this is not to say that the divines endorsed other views; rather, the Confession does not rule them out. There were certainly many heated debates over these matters. In the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675) Francis Turretin (1623-1687), for example explicitly rejects the threefold (subservient) covenantal scheme….”
    Long quote by FT, then Fesko continues:

    “There is nothing that comes close to this type of statement in the Confession.”

    The subservient view was held by Westminster Divines – Bolton, Goodwin, Sedgwick, and Burroughs who all, I presume, signed the final confessional document.

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    • March 31, 2015 at 7:15 pm

      Thanks Jack! I’m no scholar either. I should remove the part of my post about WCF, since that is actually a second step in the discussion. The first step, the point of this post, is that the subservient covenant view denies that the Mosaic covenant is an administration of the covenant of grace. The second step is demonstrating that the WCF rejects the subservient covenant view.

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    • March 31, 2015 at 7:17 pm

      I look forward to reading Fesko’s work. What I would want to know is, why would the Savoy remove 7.6? Were there advocates of Crisp’s view? The leading Savoy men all held to the subservient covenant view.

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  4. March 31, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    Hi Brandon,

    Thanks for your gracious reply to my comments. I’m late to this game (last 6 years) so I’m trying to stay after class to catch up…

    The first step, the point of this post, is that the subservient covenant view denies that the Mosaic covenant is an administration of the covenant of grace.

    And I think that Kline and others would respond, “yes – ‘in some sense’,” i.e. in the typological layer, the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works for the nation and not of grace. In other words, Kline isn’t parroting the subservient view (at least as I understand this). And yet it is said (WCF 7.5) the covenant of grace was adminsitered by – “promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come” – all of which are part of the Mosaic covenant. The substance of the covenant of grace was there in the MC for the individual elect on a very real fundamental layer.

    But, I’m still learning…

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  5. Jack Miller
    April 1, 2015 at 8:23 am

    Brandon,

    “What I would want to know is, why would the Savoy remove 7.6?”

    Did they actually remove it? Or did they incorporate WCF 7.5 and 7.6 into the more streamlined and less explanatory Savoy 7.5? WCF 7.5 deals with the covenant of grace in the time under the law. WCF 7.6 deals with the covenant of grace in the time of the gospel which corresponds with the two periods of time referred to in Savoy 7.5.

    Savoy 7.5:
    Although this covenant hath been differently and variously administered in respect of ordinances and institutions in the time of the law, and since the coming of Christ in the flesh; yet for the substance and efficacy of it, to all its spiritual and saving ends, it is one and the same; upon the account of which various dispensations, it is called the Old and New Testament.

    And as I read chapter 7 in both confessions, neither directly refers to the Mosaic covenant, but rather to the time of the law or under the law which is defined as the Old Testament. Both confessions make the point that the substance of the covenant of grace was the same under both dispensations.

    Again, just trying to think this through…

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    • April 1, 2015 at 9:00 am

      Jack, I would encourage you to read Owen’s exposition of Hebrews 8 in full. Also, re-read the quotes I provided above from Owen. They were in fact saying something different from WCF. That is why the phrase in question “There are not therefore two covenants of grace differing in substance but one and the same under various dispensations” is not found. Owen and Petto (I haven’t read Goodwin) held that the covenant of grace was the New Covenant in distinction from the Old Covenant, contrary to what we have seen in WCF.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jack Miller
        April 1, 2015 at 10:12 am

        What are you defining as the Old Covenant? The Mosaic Law, the dispensation of the Old Testament…? I ask because the Savoy in chapter 7 (as well as the WCF) says the covenant of Grace was the same in both the Old and New Testaments. The Old Covenant or Testament isn’t equated with the Mosaic covenant as I read this. I have read Owen’s Hebrews 8 and think he makes good points.

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  6. Jack Miller
    April 1, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Brandon,

    You wrote, “There is absolutely no doubt that what the confession is rejecting in 7.6 is not Crisp’s view of the moral law (which is rejected elsewhere), but his view of the covenant of grace.”

    True enough. But it seems that Fesko isn’t trying to make the point that the Divines were rejecting Crisp’s view of the moral law in the 7.6 clause, but rejecting the (his) two covenant grace view because of what they perceived to be his antinomian conclusion/stance of the moral law for the N.T. believer. His particular schema of 3 covenants (one of works broken by Adam, and two different C of G’s), in the view of the Divines, led to antinomianism which was a huge controversy in England at that time.

    As far as Goodwin and his view of church gov’t, I don’t see the relevancy. The WCF doesn’t address church polity. One could be an independent or a presbyterian and still have what was understood to be an acceptable view of the covenants. Fesko’s point is not an ambitious one. He merely points out that Crisp’s two covenant of grace view was rejected and that the Confession doesn’t pass judgment on any other specific view.

    By the way, the Divines could have conceivably have left out the statement, “The Old and the New Covenants are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations,” because that is implied in the earlier statement in 7.5, This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by…” and the following statement in 7.6 concerning the time under the gospel, “in which this covenant is dispensed…” and “yet in them it is held forth in more fulness…” In other words, there is only one covenant of grace, not two, administered differently in the old and in the new.

    cheers…

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    • April 1, 2015 at 9:53 am

      Yes, I understand Fesko’s argument. The WCF doesn’t address church polity? It certainly does. I would encourage you to study it in more depth. http://www.naphtali.com/2014/10/17/grand-debate/ I don’t think you’ve grasped the point I made. Consider re-reading it.

      Clearly the divines could not have left out the phrase in 7.6 because they didn’t and they felt it necessary to leave in. Obviously that means they read it differently than you if you think it is saying nothing different than 7.5.

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      • Jack Miller
        April 1, 2015 at 10:32 am

        Brandon, I understand that polity was very much a part of the debate in the Assembly and that presbyterian polity won the argument. But what I said was that the Westminster Confession of Faith itself (and the LC and SC) don’t pass judgment on polity in any of its chapters. To be of the true Reformed Christian faith one didn’t have to be presbyterian.

        Scott Clark: … the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Westminster Standards, say relatively little about church polity. The Belgic Confession (Articles 31 and following) mentions the three offices of minister, elder, and deacon. The Westminster Standards mention no offices nor do they mention a polity… There were episcopalians and presbyterians at Dort. There were presbyterians, congregationalists, and episcopalians at Westminster. Savoy was congregationalist. The mainstream of Reformed polity is presbyterial (note the lower case) but that’s never been of the essence esse of being Reformed. It’s of the “well being” (bene esse) of being Reformed

        http://heidelblog.net/2009/01/a-little-more-on-defining-reformed/

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        • April 1, 2015 at 11:22 am

          Jack, the entire point of the Savoy declaration was that they were Independents, not Presbyterians. The situation was more complex than what you are suggesting. Yes, WCF took a clear stance on ecclesiology. It rejected views held by some members of the assembly. Were those men not allowed to be ordained ministers therefore? No, but that is a question regarding subscription, not a question regarding what the confession itself says.

          Note that Clark says “the mainstream of Reformed polity is presbyterial but that’s never been of the essence esse of being Reformed” and the proof is that he cites the Savoy as being congregational. He is not saying that the WCF is not presbyterian. He is saying that both WCF and SDF should be considered reformed.

          Jack, I fear that you are treading too deeply in waters you haven’t fully studied. I know that sounds condescending, but I don’t mean that out of disrespect at all. I just don’t have time to trace out all the loose ends with you. Take some time to study the differences between congregationalism and presbyterianism and you will see that WCF rejects congregationalism.

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  7. April 1, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    The Westminster Standards mention no offices nor do they mention a polity. – Clark

    If they do, then where? Brandon, I’m content to leave it there as I think we’re arguing past each other and I don’t want to take up any more of your time. Thanks for your input and responses.

    cheers…

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  8. Hugh McCann
    April 2, 2015 at 5:11 am

    Brandon, what meaneth this? ~ Crisp agreed with the bi-covenantal view of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. However, he said that the Old Covenant could not be the covenant of grace because it provided for the forgiveness of sins, which the covenant of works does not. He therefore concludes that the Old Covenant was a covenant of grace.
    Thanks.

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    • April 2, 2015 at 7:10 am

      Typo 🙂 Should say “However, he said that the Old Covenant could not be the covenant of works because…”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hugh McCann
    April 2, 2015 at 5:17 am

    Brandon, What of the ’89 LBC? It appears to not speak at all of a cov’t of works.
    7:3. This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.

    Am I missing something?

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  10. Hugh McCann
    April 2, 2015 at 5:21 am

    Perhaps I missed it in your piece, but what of the WCF’s apparent prevarication in ch. 7?

    2. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works…
    3. …the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace:
    4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the Scripture by the name of a testament…
    5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel:
    6. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

    So, is it two covenants (“first & second”) or two administrations of one and the same cov’t.?

    Thanks again.

    Like

    • April 2, 2015 at 7:19 am

      WCF teaches the bi-covenantal structure. 7.6 is referring to the Old and New Covenants, not to the Adamic Covenant of Works (which is not the Old Covenant).

      Liked by 1 person

  11. May 28, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    Brandon, thanks for your further elaborations. One misunderstanding I’ve had is that I thought you were arguing against the works principle in the M.C. rather than what you were arguing against, i.e. its compatibility with the WCF. You raise some good points worth mulling over as, a WCF guy, I’m more or less in agreement with you on the nature of the M.C. What I want to investigate is how others with insight and expertise into the Assembly’s deliberations understood what was allowed in terms of chapter 7 at that time. As an aside, much is in play in the current OPC study committee on this very issue. The OPC as a church isn’t bound by the Assembly’s understanding of that era (think civil magistrate, think hymns not exclusive psalmody). Yet, I think my view has the uphill battle in that study. Cheers…

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  12. markmcculley
    June 12, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Lee Irons found himself in the minority outside “the church”, http://upper-register.typepad.com/blog/2015/06/merit-and-moses-introduction.html

    Like

  1. September 30, 2016 at 1:37 pm

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