The promise was sufficient & efficacious

The Baptists believed that no covenant preceding the New Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace was at the stage of promise…

If we are talking about a promise, this implies that it was not yet accomplished and was not yet in the form of a testament or a covenant. The Baptists believed that the New Covenant was the accomplishment of the promise, or in other words, the accomplishment of the Covenant of Grace. This doctrine is expressed in the following way in the 1689: “This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam […] and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament.” The New Testament brings the full revelation of the Covenant of Grace since the New Covenant is its accomplishment. The Baptists considered that the New Covenant and it alone was the Covenant of Grace.

If the New Covenant did not exist before Jesus Christ, while the Covenant of Grace existed before the coming of the Messiah, does this not mean that both covenants are distinct? The New Covenant did not exist as a covenant before Jesus Christ; however it did exist as a promise (cf. Jr 31.31). The Covenant of Grace revealed to Adam, then to Abraham, was the New Covenant promised. Therefore, before Jesus Christ, the New Covenant did not exist, but the Covenant of Grace, did not exist as a formal covenant either. John Spilsbury affirmed this notion: “Again, it’s called the promise, and not the Covenant; and we know that every promise is not a covenant: there being a large difference between a promise and a covenant. Spilsbury speaks of the Covenant of Grace that God revealed to Abraham and he declares that at this stage, it was not yet a formal covenant, but a promise. This distinction: (revealed/ concluded) summarized the difference between the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament and the Covenant of Grace in the New Testament. In the Old, it was revealed, in the New, it was concluded [established] (fully revealed according to the expression of the 1689)…

The Abrahamic Covenant, the Sinaitic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant were not the Covenant of Grace, nor administrations of it; however, the Covenant of Grace was revealed under these various covenants.

Denault, Pascal (2014-12-13). The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism (Kindle Locations 1195-1196). . Kindle Edition.

According to 1689 Federalism, Adam, Abraham, and Moses were all saved through their membership in the New Covenant. The typical response from paedobaptists is that we have simply manufactured this artificial distinction between the covenant of grace promised and the covenant of grace established in order to defend our view of baptism. They argue that we do not understand the relationship of a promise to a covenant.

However, note what Louis Berkhof says about the covenant of grace in Genesis 3:

1. The first revelation of the covenant. The first revelation of the covenant is found in the protevangel, Gen. 3:15. Some deny that this has any reference to the covenant; and it certainly does not refer to any formal establishment of a covenant. The revelation of such an establishment could only follow after the covenant idea had been developed in history. At the same time Gen. 3:15 certainly contains a revelation of the essence of the covenant

Up to the time of Abraham there was no formal establishment of the covenant of grace. While Gen. 3:15 already contains the elements of this covenant, it does not record a formal transaction by which the covenant was established. It does not even speak explicitly of a covenant. The establishment of the covenant with Abraham marked the beginning of an institutional Church.

Excerpt From: Louis Berkhof. “Systematic Theology.” iBooks.

Gen 3:15 was not the formal establishment of the covenant of grace. Its formal establishment was to come later. However, it revealed the covenant of grace, and this revelation of the covenant of grace (the promise) was sufficient to save believers prior to its formal establishment.

The Westminster Confession (7.5) and Catechism (WLC 34) also teach that the promise was sufficient to save:

Q. 34. How was the covenant of grace administered under the Old Testament?
A. The covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament by promises… [that] were sufficient for that time to build up the faith of the elect in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of their sins and eternal salvation.

So there is no legitimate objection to 1689 Federalism’s understanding of the New Covenant (Covenant of Grace) as promised/established.

Furthermore, note that Berkhof says that the formal establishment of the covenant of grace marked the beginning of an institutional Church. We agree. We simply believe he was mistaken as to when the covenant of grace was formally established. Scripture is clear that it was established at the death of its mediator, Jesus Christ.

Note also LBCF 20.1

1._____ The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners.
( Genesis 3:15; Revelation 13:8 )

Saved by the New Covenant

“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… 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…

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

“There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.”
-Calvin (Commentary Hebrews 8:10)

“And so it finally came to the most perfect promise of all, that of the new testament, in which, with plain words, life and salvation are freely promised, and actually granted to those who believe the promise. And he distinguishes this testament from the old one by a particular mark when he calls it the “new testament” [Luke 22:20; I Cor. 11:25]. For the old testament given through Moses was not a promise of forgiveness of sins or of eternal things, but of temporal things, namely, of the land of Canaan, by which no man was renewed in spirit to lay hold on the heavenly inheritance.”
-Luther (The Babylonian Captivity of the Church)

“As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant], so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament [covenant]… I beg of you, however, carefully to observe, as far as you can, what I am endeavouring to prove with so much effort. When the prophet promised a new covenant, not according to the covenant which had been formerly made with the people of Israel when liberated from Egypt, he said nothing about a change in the sacrifices or any sacred ordinances, although such change, too, was without doubt to follow, as we see in fact that it did follow, even as the same prophetic scripture testifies in many other passages; but he simply called attention to this difference, that God would impress His laws on the mind of those who belonged to this covenant, and would write them in their hearts, (Jer 31:32-33)… These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new,—because of the faith whereby we live, of one and the same they lived, believing the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ as future, which we believe as already accomplished”
-Augustine (Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter, c. 41, 42; A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, b.3 c. 11)

17 thoughts on “The promise was sufficient & efficacious

  1. I certainly agree both with the idea that the new covenant is the covenant by which each individual elect is saved and also with the focus on the PROMISE of the new covenant. I have two questions. One, even though it is technically true that the new covenant is “the covenant” and the “salvation of grace covenant”, is it wise to talk about “the covenant of grace” anymore given the trinity of an ahistorical “covenant” to justify infant water? Two, to what extent is there “common grace” in the other covenants, ie the Mosaic or the Noahic or the Abrahamic? if I remember correctly, you have some of the same reservations as I do about any need to call God’s providence “common grace”. But for the sake of completeness, to the extent that one concedes “grace before the fall” or “common grace for every sinner” (two things I do not concede), to that extent, we would weaken the idea of the new covenant as the one and only covenant of grace.

    I am not exactly saying that theories of “common grace” are a paedobaptist conspiracy. But then again I am not exactly denying that either. I know that you and I disagree about sabbath and law, but it’s not necessarily true that those who think that covenants and laws change necessarily think that the gospel changes. One gospel. One new covenant by which all the elect are justified, no matter if there is or isn’t “common grace”…

    Brandon, thank you and your family for all the time and work you have done here..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mark,

      Thank you for your kindness towards me and my family. I appreciate it. The Lord has me fairly housebound for the time being, so I’m trying to make the most of it.

      1) Yes, I do think it is wise. I affirm the covenant of works, the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of grace. I believe they are all derived from Scripture. However, I believe paedobaptists have misunderstood the covenant of grace slightly. 1689 Federalism represents a refinement/reformation of their view, rather than something altogether new/different. I affirm what the covenant of grace label intends to convey: that all men throughout time who have been saved, have been saved through covenant union with Christ. To reject the label would only cause confusion and raise questions as to how men have been saved – which is precisely the problem with NCT and Progressive Covenantalism.

      2) Yes, there is “grace” involved in the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Noahic covenants. I hesitate to use the phrase “common grace” because it is associated with Kuyper and the Dutch traditions’ unbiblical idea of what that means (i.e., God is working to redeem the world through the unregenerate, and he earnestly desires to save the reprobate). Contra both Murray and Kline, this does not mean that they did not operate upon a principle of works. Note Owen:

      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.

      -Hebrews 8:6 commentary

      So recognizing the truth of WCF/LBCF 7.1 does not, in my and Owen’s opinion, take anything away from the uniqueness of the New Covenant of Grace. Here is another quote from Owen:

      We can never state our thoughts aright in this matter, unless we have a clear apprehension of, and satisfaction in, the introduction of grace by Jesus Christ into the whole of our relation unto God, with its respect unto all parts of our obedience. There was no such thing, nothing of that nature or kind, in the first constitution of that relation and obedience by the law of our creation. We were made in a state of immediate relation unto God in our own persons, as our creator, preserver, and rewarder. There was no mystery of grace in the covenant of works. No more was required unto the consummation of that state but what was given us in our creation, enabling us unto rewardable obedience. “Do this, and live,” was the sole rule of our relation unto God. There was nothing in religion originally of that which the gospel celebrates under the name of the grace, kindness, and love of God, whence all our favourable relation unto God doth now proceed, and whereinto it is resolved; nothing of the interposition of a mediator with respect unto our righteousness before God, and acceptance with him;—which is at present the life and soul of religion, the substance of the gospel, and the centre of all the truths revealed in it.

      —John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 44–45.

      Consider also this answer I gave to a question the other week. An objection was raised as to how God could enter into a covenant of works with fallen sinners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


      Let me know if this doesn’t exactly get at your questions


  2. Certainly the flattening of the Bible to say that all covenants are “adminstrations in the covenant of grace” is one reason that law and gospel are so often confused today. But perhaps an even greater cause of the confusion is saying that grace is common or that there was grace before the fall.
    dgh—“I get having a sense of belonging to the rest of the people in the society of which I am a member. I don’t get what grace has to do with this.”

    Those who confuse our providential situation with “grace” are those who profane “grace” much like those who teach that Christ died for everyone are profaning the blood of Christ.

    Christ’s death is not common for every sinner. Christ’s death does not have the common ordinary effect of “creating an opportunity for salvation” conditioned on what sinners do with grace.

    But it has become more and more common to think of all sin (even the sin of those not yet justified) as sin against grace. This tends to remove the antithesis between law and gospel. We are given the guilt trip of “you killed Jesus attempting to love you and offering to save you”.

    Mark Jones has such a “common” notion of grace that he extends the idea of “grace” to the relationship between God the Father and God the Son—“Divine grace is not merely God’s goodness to the elect in the era of redemptive history. … Divine grace is a perfection of God’s nature, and thus a characteristic of how he relates to finite creatures, even apart from sin. In the garden, the grace of God was upon Adam. In the “wilderness,” the grace of God is upon his Son, the second Adam. ”

    David Van Drunnen about Romans 6:14 in his WTJ essay “Israel’s Recapitulation of Adam’s Probation” (p322) “How could not being under the Mosaic law have anything to do with one’s justification? …Justification is indeed ultimately not about whether a person is under the Mosaic law as a member of corporate Israel, but about whether a person is under the federal headship of the first Adam or the last Adam. But insofar as one of the chief divine purposes for the Mosaic law was to cause OT Israel to recapitulate Adam’s probation and fall, being under the Mosaic law was a profound illustration of the plight of humanity under the first Adam.


    1. A lot of the issue with the modern notion of “common grace” is that it comes from a dutch tradition that does not confess a covenant of works. That is the crux of the law/faith antithesis and that is why you see the errors you do in those who are big on common grace. Jones has the same problem.


  3. As much as I like so much of Mark karlberg’s criticism of Mark Jones and Gaffin, I think he is wrong to claim that denial of “the covenant of works” is inherently destructive of the law gospel antithesis. I myself deny that Adam was promised immortality on conditions. My point is not to make any argument here about ‘the covenant of works. My point is that it is not necessarily true that those who deny “covenant of works” will end up rejecting the Bible truth that “the law is not of faith’. As David Gordon suggested in his essay on John Murray in the By Faith Alone volume, though Murray rejected “cov of works”, he was clear about the federal headship of Adam and guilt imputed.

    Indeed, I would suggest that the path which leads to Norman Shepherd is not caused by “covenant of works” but by Murray’s notions of “common grace”, (John Murray was not Dutch!) Again, I will not make that argument here, except to say that Shepherd’s denial of “covenant of works” came after not before Shepherd’s confusion of law and gospel.

    To give two more examples, I think Lutherans keep a distinction between law and gospel, even though they don’t teach two a-historical “covenants”. Their false idea that justification can be lost I would not blame on their lack of a “covenant theology”, but on the lack of reformation from Rome’s sacramental theology.

    Last example—as much as I oppose the presumptive regeneration view of Dutch folks like Hoeksema and Engelsma, I don’t think their problem as their denial of “the covenant of works”.

    Engelsma–Highlighting the difference between Hoeksema and the men of the Federal Vision is the fact that, although they deny that Adam could have merited higher, eternal life, the advocates of the Federal Vision allow that Adam might, nevertheless, have obtained the higher life for himself and the race by “maturing” into that life through his obedience. Hoeksema would have condemned this notion as heartily as he did the notion of earning. The appeal to Hoeksema’s rejection of the covenant of works by the men of the Federal Vision is mistaken because Hoeksema’s fundamental objection against the covenant of works was different from that of the proponents of the Federal Vision. Hoeksema’s objection held against Adam’s obtaining higher life for himself and the human race in any manner whatever. Viewing the covenant with Adam in light of God’s eternal decree to glorify Himself by realizing His covenant in Jesus Christ, Hoeksema insisted that only the Son of God in human flesh could obtain the higher and better heavenly and eternal life for Himself and elect humanity, in the way of His cross and resurrection.

    Click to access nov2006.pdf

    I would also recommend reading Bolt’s essay in the By Faith Alone volume on “the covenant of works”, especially his remarks about Hoeksema.


    1. If you deny the covenant of works, you have two logical options: neonomianism or antinomianism. Whether or not an individual is logically consistent is beside the point. I’ve already provided you with a quote from Luther last time we talked about this. He said he could not explain passages in Galatians regarding the law, but he would simply fee to Christ’s righteousness in the face of scholastic criticism. Thus no, Lutheranism has no systematic answer for their law/gospel antithesis. And Hoeksema is confused. He conflates God’s decree with God’s preceptive will regarding the Adamic Covenant. Bottom line is that we are talking about logical consistency, not whether or not every single person who denies the covenant of works also denies the law/gospel antithesis.

      As for common grace, I never said everyone who holds to it was dutch, but the idea that Murray held to was developed in the dutch tradition. Preceding Murray was the CRC controversy.

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      1. I you deny that Adam could have gained immortality for himself and others, then you are denying (or should, if consistent) that the wages of sin is death? Is denying “the covenant of works” denying that God’s law to Adam was really law? In what way does the denial make one an antinomian?

        And if you insist, as I do, that salvation with all its blessings is not by our law-keeping, why does that lead to some idea that we are now to be saved by some imperfect obedience to some less strict law? Since the law is not the gospel, why should differences about the law result in some folks teaching “neonomianism”? That would be like saying that anyone who disagrees with your view of the Sabbath or water baptism is “either neonomian or antinomian”.

        Law says what God demands. Gospel says how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. The law never offered life off probation. The tree of life was there for Adam and Eve, but it did not give immortality. Only one sin one time one day would put Adam and his seed under the curse of the law, and no matter how many acts of obedience to the law, the law could never promise everlasting life.

        The antithesis between law and gospel does NOT understand Romans 10:4 in terms of abrogation. The “end of the law” is Christ by His death completing all that the law demanded, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do in order to get the blessings of salvation. The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.

        Christians sin, and therefore their “fulfillment of the law” (see for example, Romans 13) cannot ever satisfy the law. But our disobedience against law is sin, And the law will not go unsatisfied. Our only hope is Christ’s death.

        The law, once satisfied by Christ, now demands the salvation of all the elect, for whom the law was satisfied. God the Father would not be just, and God the Son would not be glorified, if the distribution of the justly earned benefits were now conditioned on the imperfect faith of sinners. Yes, faith is necessary for the elect, but even this faith is a gift earned by the righteousness of Christ in His obedient death.

        This is also how the law/gospel antithesis explains Romans 3:31. The law is not nullified but honored by Christ. The only way that the law’s requirements will ever be fully satisfied in the elect (Romans 8:4) is by the imputation of what Christ accomplished in His finished death.


  4. Brandon, I understand that you think there is some “grace” in the covenants with Noahic, Abraham, and Moses. But do you think there was grace before the fall? Do you think that the “condescension” in making “the covenant of works” was grace? Forgive me, if this should be clear already from essays you have already written.

    Would you agree with Mark Jones extending the idea of “grace” to the relationship between God the Father and God the Son—“Divine grace is not merely God’s goodness to the elect in the era of redemptive history. … Divine grace is a perfection of God’s nature, and thus a characteristic of how he relates to finite creatures, even apart from sin. In the garden, the grace of God was upon Adam.

    Mark Jones—“In the “wilderness,” the grace of God is upon his Son, the second Adam. ”

    If “restraining providence” is grace, then who gets the grace? The ones who sin less than they would have, or the ones who get sinned against less, or both? If there is “grace” before the fall, did that “grace” fail when Adam sinned?

    William Young (The OPC Minority Report)—“In some Calvinistic circles there is an identification of preaching the gospel to everyone with an alleged desire that all who are called externally should be saved. Those who fail to find Scripture warrant for such a claim are sometimes regarded as denying the gospel command and even the gospel itself.”

    “It should be pointed out that there are ambiguities in the claim itself. Some who are well-instructed Calvinists may use the word “desire” to mean nothing other than the revealed will of God in the commands, promises and invitations of the gospel. Others appear literally to suppose a frustrated desire as an emotion in God in tension with the decree to save the elect.”

    Thank you for making it clear that there was more than one “promise” to Abraham. My reservations about using the phrase “the covenant of grace” for the new covenant are a matter of strategy only, as I assume you know. I have no problem with your basic point. Indeed, an understanding of redemptive history (in terms of covenants) is not essential to knowing the gospel, but the better we understand the new covenant, the better we understand the gospel.


    1. As long as you properly define your terms, I don’t have a problem with saying there was grace before the fall. Owen properly defined his terms, so in one paragraph he says there was no grace in the covenant of works, and in another location he says there was – because he carefully defines what he means in each instance (see quotes in previous comment).

      As for Jones, I would have to look more closely when I get time, but so far I have not agreed with anything Jones says regarding grace. He muddies the waters and confuses issues constantly.

      Your quote from Young really seems to be beside the point. I agree with him entirely.

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  5. Thanks again for the interaction. It is more clear to me than it was that we need to define our terms. For example, upon re-examination of the Trinity Foundation essay against “common grace”, I find a rejection of the two will theory, where command is confused with a desire for the salvation of the non-elect, but I do NOT find any critique of the idea that the non-elect experience ” blessings of grace”. Nor is there any criticism of the notion that Christ’s death purchased “non-saving benefits”. for the non-elect. Even though I myself reject such notions, I should not assume that all who define “offer” as i do would also deny that some kind of grace is common in the covenants.

    Brandon, you are very correct to align yourself with John Owen on grace before the fall. I don’t think Karlberg or Irons would agree with Owen on this matter. I know I do not, and it seems that Kline evolved on that question.

    God blesses the elect on the ground of the righteousness of the atoning death of Christ.”Since Christ did not die for the non-elect, God has no righteous basis for blessing the non-elect. I like Engelsma’s question: “On what basis would God bless the ungodly, who are outside the elect church of Christ by God’s own decree of reprobation? The only explanation by those who confess the biblical doctrine that Christ died only for the elect church is that God’s grace ignores and conflicts with His righteousness….If God can bless guilty sinners apart from the cross of Christ in earthly things, why cannot God also extend …eternal life to them apart from the righteousness of the death of Christ?”

    Psalm 73 For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are;

    To speak in economic terms, Brandon, this prosperity of the non-elect is not random. Their prosperity is God’s doing. Sometimes (not always, since non-elect Syrians are starving and being killed every day) the non-elect have no pangs of conscience, and then die without much trouble–often an “easy death”. On one level, we can say that they are deeply unhappy on the inside, and that they know enough by ‘general revelation” to know that God exists and that they are in trouble (and will be). But on another level, some of these non-elect boldly ask: How can God know?

    They think there is no god, or if there is a god, then this god “has no clue”. On the one hand, many of these non-elect are Kantians who claim that being moral should never be contaminated by any thought of blessing or reward. The only way to be completely self-less, they say, is to be atheist and to deny any future beatitude ((or condemnation).

    On the other hand, they say,those who believe the gospel are not getting paid for it. Like Satan’s comment to God about Job, they say—nobody really is moral, because everybody does what they do to get paid, so take away Job’s blessing and he won’t be moral anymore.

    Thus the atheist conclusion: nobody really is moral. But some of us are getting paid, and it’s not those who are trying to be moral!

    They have not considered the idea that God is on purpose INCREASING THEIR PROSPERITY ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR SIN, which is the opposite of what you would expect. Less sin, more prosperity, we tend to think, when we are not trusting God. But Psalm 73 teaches a “double bind”. God increases the prosperity of the non-elect not only because of their sin but also in order to make them more sinful and hard. What a fearful thing this is.


    1. Yes, any prosperity experienced by the reprobate will ultimately be to their detriment, so in that sense it is not gracious. However, if we consider the Noahic covenant, everyone on earth deserves immediate death, but that punishment is withheld for the sake of the elect. The world is not destroyed so that God can redeem his people. In that sense the non-elect experience things on earth that the do not deserve and they do so as a result of Christ’s work, though indirectly.


  6. I think studying the Noahic covenant is very important. Question one—is the Noahic covenant still in force, operating alongside the new covenant? Will the Noahic covenant still be “in force” during the age to come? Question two—given that Abraham had two sons, and that the Abrahamic covenant is fulfilled in two covenants, both the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant, should we say that the Abrahamic covenant is still “in force” today? Does physical circumcision still have religious significance? Questiion three—given that all humans are born imputed with the guilt of Adam, should we say that “the covenant of works” (the law commanding Adam not to eat from the one tree) is still “in force” today? Or can the guilt of disobedience to the Adamic covenant continue to be imputed even though the covenant no longer operates? Possibly someone is innocent, then maybe they can earn a reward. However, if they have a guilt that must be paid, then they cannot earn anything until that guilt is paid. So they can’t ever even earn anything, certainly not enough to pay the debt

    The law-gospel antithesis is about the difference between God’s commands and God’s promises. Legalists turn the promises into the commands and conditions, and antinomians lower or eliminate the commands and penalties and threats. But to change the sanctions of a law is to change the law itself. Once the original sanctions are removed, the covenant is not the same. The ceremonies which at one time cursed no longer curse.

    Even many of those who understand that the new covenant alone is the covenant of grace would nevertheless rather be “unencumbered” by the Sermon on the Mount. They do not deny the Sermon as ‘first use of the law” (to create the despair that drives us to the gospel) but they make every effort to teach us how it does not apply to Christians “just as humans” or in cases in which we would be required to love the enemies of our families.

    They say that Genesis 9 is not about grace or faith or the gospel, but only about all humans—law for everybody, including Christians. They say that the Noahic covenant exempts Christians from the Sermon on the Mount

    if the Noahic covenant is about grace, how is the Noahic NOT an administration in “the covenant of grace”? Does the “grace” of the Noahic covenant have nothing to do with Christ’s righteous obedience unto death? To assume a “grace” that is not redemptive is to profane the grace of God.


    1. Yes, the Noahic Covenant is still in effect. No it will not be in the age to come.

      No, the Covenant of Circumcision is no longer in effect. It’s promises were fully fulfilled when Christ came and established the New Covenant. “The question may be asked, But are not Christians under the Abrahamic covenant? In the entire absence of any word in Scripture affirming that they are, we answer No.” Pink, Arthur W. (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 2137-2138). . Kindle Edition.

      No, the Adamic Covenant has ceased because it was broken, though it’s consequences have not ceased.


  7. Its consequences. No apostrophe.

    Scott Clark–“For these reasons the covenant of works is not contrary to grace, which, STRICTLY DEFINED, is for sinners.”.

    I don’t think we need to speculate about Adam’s ability in order to maintain the justice of the imputation of guilt to Adam’s children. Law is not based on ability. It’s Pelagian to say that law given means ability given. Brandon, would you agree with Scott Clark that law to Adam is “only possible” if Adam “could have” done it? In other words, no “should have” without “could have”? This is not to get into a discussion about Adam before the fall, but to question the linking of justice to ability.

    You don’t have to call law a “covenant with a positive sanction” in order for the law to be law, and for you sure you don’t have to say there’s ability to keep the law in order for the law to be law. This is one of the reasons why the requirement for Christians to obey law should NOT be based on the fact that these Christians are “able not to sin”


  8. Pingback: Re: Did The Covenant Of Grace Begin In The New Covenant? | Contrast

  9. Pingback: Re: New Geneva Podcast on Baptism | Contrast

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