A Critique of R. Scott Clark’s Covenant Theology
Recently R. Scott Clark spoke on the Calvinist Batman podcast about covenant theology and baptism. He also has A Curriculum For Those Wrestling Through Covenant Theology And Infant Baptism, a 5-part series called Some of the Differences Between Baptists and Reformed Theology on the New Covenant, as well as a printed booklet called Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace.
I greatly appreciate Dr. Clark’s work in defense of justification by faith alone. He sees quite clearly how much of the professed reformed church has been infiltrated by a false gospel. He sees it for the threat that it is and he speaks loudly against it. I stand beside him in that and I am thankful for his work in that respect. The critique I offer below should not take anything away from that. I offer it in an effort to sharpen iron and edify the church.
The critique is long, but I think you will find it worth your time. I appreciate your patience.
Summary of Clark’s View
Clark has offered this concise summary:
The Abrahamic covenant is still in force. The administration of the Abrahamic covenant involved believers and their children (Gen 17). That’s why Peter said, “For the promise to you and to your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). That’s a New Testament re-statement of the Abrahamic promise of Genesis 17 and in the minor prophets (e.g., Joel 2). Only believers have ever actually inherited, by grace alone, through faith alone, the substance of the promise (Christ and salvation) but the signs and seals of the promise have always been administered to believers and their children. It’s both/and not either/or.
When Clark addresses this issue to baptists, he is addressing a very wide spectrum of baptists. Therefore much of what he says isn’t always applicable to confessional baptists. There is a great deal of agreement between Clark and confessional baptists. We agree that a proper understanding of the antithetical nature of the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace is essential for properly understanding the law/gospel antithesis, and thus the gospel (something many, including professed reformed, do not). We agree that all men throughout history have only ever been saved by God’s sovereign work through the Covenant of Grace.
Where differences start to emerge is on the nature of the Covenant of Grace. Clark believes that 1) the Covenant of Grace, including its membership, exists on two levels: it’s substance and it’s administration, and 2) all of the post-fall covenants are administrations of the Covenant of Grace.
Regarding 1), Clark notes
As part of his [Olevianus’] education he learned the traditional Christian appropriation of the [Aristotelean] distinction between the substance of a thing, i.e., its essence, and its accidents or external appearance… The substance of a thing is what makes it what it is, the thing without which it doesn’t exist. The accidents or circumstances are the administration of the covenant of grace.
This applies to membership in that
there has always been different ways of relating to the one covenant of grace at the same time. The OT prophets and the Apostle Paul clearly distinguished between those who had only external, outward relation to the covenant of grace and those who had an outward and an internal or inward or spiritual relation to the covenant of grace.
So what is the substance of the Covenant of Grace?
At first glance, the phrase “substance of the covenant” might seem nebulous but it isn’t. It’s the most practical thing: free acceptance with God and being gradually conformed to Christ’s image… How did the Olevianus and others define the substance or essence of the covenant of grace? “I will put my law in your midst, and I will write my law in your heart and I will be your God and you will be my people.” Embedded in this prophetic articulation of the covenant of grace is essentially or substantially the same promise he had made to Adam, after the fall (Gen 3), to Noah (Gen 6), and to Abraham (Gen 17).
The Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace, in substance, and since Abraham gave the covenant sign to his children in the administration of the covenant (even though they were not all partakers of the substance of the covenant), Christians today should give the covenant sign to their children (even if they do not all participate in the substance of the covenant) because the covenant sign was never revoked. It only changed its outward appearance (circumcision turned into baptism). Ergo, paedobaptism.
Moses not Abraham?
The primary point Clark tries to drive home across his writings is that baptists are confused because they fail to distinguish between the Mosaic Covenant (which is contrasted with the New and has passed away) and the Abrahamic Covenant (which is the same as the New and has not passed away).
The contrast, then, in Jeremiah 31 is not between Abraham and the new covenant but between Moses and the new covenant. The novelty or newness of the new covenant is measured relative to Moses, relative to the national covenant made with Israel at Sinai, and not with Abraham and the covenant promise God gave to him: I will be a God to you and to your children. That promise remains intact. The promise is not Mosaic, it is not old, it is Abrahamic. (On the New Covenant)
He notes that “If our Baptist friends can turn Abraham into Moses, then they can be done with him and with the problem of continuity between the New Covenant and the Abrahamic.” Thus to answer the baptists, Clark argues “We distinguish Abraham from the old covenant because Paul does so consistently.” In fact, he really drives the point home.
Moses and Abraham they operate on utterly different principles. The law, the Mosaic covenant, says “do and live.” The Abrahamic covenant says, “Receive freely, through faith alone, benefits you have not earned but that were earned for you by another.”
…Thus, Paul in Galatians 3 and 4 juxtaposed the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, in that way, as reflecting different principles.
…The old covenant was such that it could be broken, but the new covenant cannot be broken.
The very nature of the Mosaic Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant are opposed and distinct. That must mean the substance (“what makes it what it is”) of the Mosaic Covenant and the substance of the Abrahamic Covenant are opposed and distinct.
By analogy, the model for the new covenant is the Abrahamic covenant. The Mosaic covenant was intended to nothing more than to serve as a historical footlight, to bring attention to the covenant of grace. More than that the substance of the new covenant is the Abrahamic covenant.
The Abrahamic and New Covenants are of the same substance, but the Mosaic is not.
Remember, Paul reckons the Mosaic, Sinaitic, old covenant as a temporary, national, pedagogical, typological arrangement superimposed upon the Abrahamic covenant of grace. (On the New Covenant)
The comparison and contrast is not between Abraham and the new covenant but between Moses and the new covenant. The covenant that God made with Abraham was a covenant of grace, the covenant he confirmed with the “blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb 13:20). (Moses was not Abraham)
That’s quite the contrast. The Mosaic Covenant was not a covenant of grace. The substance of the Mosaic Covenant did not save anyone. Instead, they were saved by the Abrahamic Covenant. “The Abrahamic covenant was operative under and during the temporary, typological Mosaic covenant.”
In short, Abraham was not Moses.
Or is he?
What’s very interesting to note is that other paedobaptists are deeply concerned by Clark’s argument (which has been referred to as “republication”). Matthew Winzer warns
The modern idea destroys the typological element and introduces confusion as to the gracious nature of the Mosaic covenant. It also undermines the continuity of the covenant of grace so far as the inclusion of infants is concerned, because that inclusion depended upon their national citizenship; if that citizenship was a part of the covenant of works, there is no grounds for their inclusion in the NT administration of the covenant of grace.
Winzer refers to Clark’s position as “the modern idea.” Clark explains what this refers to.
One of the great questions between Reformed and Baptist theology is the question of how to interpret Scripture. The Reformed have tended to let the New Testament not only interpret the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures but also to provide a pattern for how to interpret the typological revelation. Thus, not only do Romans, Hebrews, and Galatians give us specific direction about specific passages but they also demonstrate how other typological passages not specifically addressed in the NT ought to be interpreted. Reformed theology has not always been consistent in the application of this principle. In the 17th century many Reformed readers were chiliasts, i.e., they believed in a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth. Before the late 18th-century, most Reformed folk were also theocratic, a position that is very difficult to square with the hermeneutical theory which underlay the Reformed critique of the Romanist reinstitution of the Mosaic cultic system. It is also quite difficult to square the earlier Reformed theocratic ethics with the equally early Reformed understanding of the history of redemption. In other words, until the modern period, there were unresolved tensions in Reformed theology. Gradually, the covenant theology worked out in the 16th and 17th centuries acted as a sort of leaven and most Reformed folk resolved those tensions in favor of their covenant theology what recognized the Mosaic covenant as a temporary, typological overlay upon the permanent and fundamental Abrahamic covenant of grace. (On the New Covenant)
According to Clark, the reformed tradition held to contradictory beliefs for several centuries that were only resolved when they adopted his view that the Mosaic Covenant was a temporary, typological covenant differing in substance from the Covenant of Grace. Until then, as Winzer references, the old divines believed in a gracious Mosaic Covenant that was just as much the Covenant of Grace as the Abrahamic was. Calvin established the basis for this view using the substance/administration distinction.
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 [between the old and new covenants] 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. (Hebrews 8 commentary)
Recall that, for Clark, the Abrahamic and New Covenants are the same in substance, but not the Mosaic, which is contrasted with the Abrahamic/New. Israelites were saved by the Abrahamic Covenant working underneath the Mosaic Covenant, which did not save. In Calvin’s Institutes (2.11) we find the following (referencing Hebrews 7-9):
Five points of difference between the Old and the New Testaments. These belong to the mode of administration rather than the substance… I hold and think I will be able to show, that they all belong to the mode of administration rather than to the substance…
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/the covenant of grace -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.
Notice that Calvin speaks of “the covenant” in the singular. He is clear: The Old and New Covenant were the same covenant. They did not operate on “utterly different principles.” 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 covenant with the same promises and the same means of obtaining the promise, but are simply administered in different ways outwardly.
After Calvin, theologians continued to wrestle with this perplexing issue, with the vast majority following Calvin. A few disagreed and argued that the Mosaic was not the same in substance with the Covenant of Grace. Writing in The True Bounds of Christian Freedom 1645, Samuel Bolton surveys the various solutions offered, focusing here on two:
There are two other opinions which I will here mention.  Some men think it neither a covenant of works, nor a covenant of grace, but a third kind of covenant distinct from both.  Others think it a covenant of grace, but more legally dispensed.
 Those who consider it to be a third covenant speak of it as a preparatory, or a subservient covenant, a covenant that was given by way of subserviency to the covenant of grace, and for the setting forward or advancing of the covenant of grace. Those men who hold this view say that there are three distinct covenants which God made with mankind – the covenant of nature, the covenant of grace, and the subservient covenant.
The covenant of nature was that whereby God required from the creature as a creature perfect obedience to all divine commandments, with promise of a blessed life in Paradise if man obeyed, but with the threat of eternal death if he disobeyed the command, the purpose of all this being to declare how virtue pleased, and sin displeased God.
The covenant of grace was that whereby God promised pardon and forgiveness of sins and eternal life, by the blood of Christ, to all those that should embrace Christ, and this was purposed by God to declare the riches of His mercy.
The subservient covenant, which was called the old covenant, was that whereby God required obedience from the Israelites in respect of the moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws. Blessings in the possession of Canaan were promised to obedience, and curses and miseries to those who broke the covenant, and all to this end, that God might thus encourage their hearts in the expectation of the Messiah to come.
This subservient or old covenant is that which God made with the people of Israel in Mount Sinai, to prepare them to faith, and to inflame them with the desire of the promise and of the coming of Christ;…
If it be neither a covenant of works, nor a covenant of grace, then must it of necessity be a third kind of covenant: and it must needs be such a covenant as does not stand in opposition to grace, nor is inconsistent with the covenant of grace, for if this be not so, then God will have contradicted Himself, overthrown His own purpose, and repented of His own promise which He had given before. Hence it is called a subservient covenant. It was given by way of subserviency to the Gospel and a fuller revelation of the covenant of grace; it was temporary, and had respect to Canaan and God’s blessing there, if and as Israel obeyed. It had no relation to heaven, for that was promised by another covenant which God made before He entered upon the subservient covenant. This is the opinion which I myself desire modestly to propound, for I have not been convinced that it is injurious to holiness or disagreeable to the mind of God in Scripture.
 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.
Samuel Bolton (0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00). The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Kindle Locations 1211-1215). Kindle Edition.
Bolton very accurately describes Clark’s view of the Mosaic Covenant and labels it the Subservient Covenant view, noting that is the view he personally agrees with. However, he distinguishes it from a second view which believes the Mosaic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. It only differed from the New in external administration, not in substance or in principle. He is describing Calvin’s view and he notes this is now (1645) the majority opinion held by the most learned divines. After debating various views, the Westminster Assembly sided with Calvin.
7.4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.
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 promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.
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.
Another Assembly minister, Anthony Burgess, who served on the committee that drafted chapter 19, said
Wee have confuted the false differences, and now come to lay downe the true, between the law and the Gospel taken in a larger sense.
And, first, you must know that the difference is not essential, or substantiall, but accidentall: so that the division of the Testament, or Covenant into the Old, and New, is not a division of the Genus into its opposite Species; but of the subject, according to its severall accidentall administrations, both on Gods part, and on mans. It is true, the Lutheran Divines, they doe expresly oppose the Calvinists herein, maintaining the Covenant given by Moses, to be a Covenant of workes, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of grace. Inded, they acknowledge that the Fathers were justified by Christ, and had the same way of salvation with us; onely they make that Covenant of Moses to be a superadded thing to the Promise, holding forth a condition of perfect righteousness unto the Jewes, that they might be convinced of their owne folly in their self-righteousnesse.
(Vindication of the Morall Law, 241)
David Dickson, a Scottish Presbyterian who wrote one of the first commentaries on the WCF, had the following to say in a later work:
How the external dispensation of the Covenant of old, differeth from that which now is under the Gospel.
… 4. In the wilderness at mount Sinai, that the Lord might make evident the necessity of justification by faith in Christ to come, he did repeat the law of works; and to them that did acknowledge their sin, he did set forth Christ their deliverer, under the veil of sacrifices and levitical types, and the very same is the covenant now, whereunto Christ and his ministers, laying aside the veil of the ceremonies, did openly invite their hearers, that acknowledging their sins, and renouncing confidence in their own power and worth, they should cast themselves into the arms of Christ the Saviour, that through him they might obtain justification and life eternal. We see here indeed a diverse manner of dispensing, and outward managing the making of the covenant with men, but the covenant was still the same, clothed and set forth in a diverse manner, and did no other ways differ then and now, but as one and the self same man differeth from himself, clothed suitably one way in his minority, and another way in his riper age. (THERAPEUTICA SACRA)
The Old and the New Covenant are one and the same. They are the same man wearing different clothes.
You may ask how Samuel Bolton could disagree with the Confession and publish his disagreement, and yet be a member of the assembly and a member of the clergy. First, the assembly debated a number of issues. Not everyone wound up agreeing with everything in the Confession.
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. (In Defense of Moses)
Writing in 1680 in defense of the Subservient Covenant view, John Owen, like Bolton, states the majority view of reformed divines on the Mosaic Covenant (specifically footnoting the section in Calvin we looked at above), then argues why it is wrong, noting that he is more in agreement with the Lutherans on this question.
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…
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…
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.
For more on this see D. Patrick Ramsey’s In Defense of Moses as well as Lee Irons’ The Subservient Covenant. Note: Though it may have taken presbyterians centuries to realize the error of their position, 17th century congregationalists (including baptists) quickly understood the error and rejected the position.
Because more and more presbyterians are adopting the Subservient Covenant view, the OPC GA has established a study committee to determine if it is “consistent with the doctrinal system taught in the confessional standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” In the midst of this debate, Robert B. Strimple, President emeritus & Professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA wrote a memo to the faculty specifically addressing Clark’s writings in particular. He emphatically states
[A] distinction must be made between the moral law of God and the purpose it served before the fall (“as a covenant of works”), and the moral law of God and the purpose it serves after the fall (see sec. 6), for which purpose it was delivered upon Mount Sinai (see sec. 2); i.e., as “a perfect rule of righteousness.” The Confession says that the moral law that God gave to Adam as a covenant of works is the “very same law” (Dr. Clark) that continues to be a perfect rule of righteousness for us; and it was that law (I shall refer again below to the force of the “as such” in section 2) that “was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai.” But that law does not continue as a covenant of works for us, and it was not delivered upon Mount Sinai as a covenant or works for the children of Israel. This is what the Confession teaches. It may not be what some on our faculty would like it to teach. But it is what the Confession teaches.
The “modern view” (Subservient Covenant) is contrary to the Westminster Confession (which means Clark’s primary objection to the Baptist reading of the Old & New Covenants was rejected by Westminster). However, because the OPC holds to system subscription instead of full subscription, the debate is over the systematic implications of the view for the theology put forward in the Westminster Confession. And the systematic implications of covenant theology is what we’re interested in here. Winzer, representing the old view, warns that if the Subservient Covenant view is true, then paedobaptism is false. He echoes Westminster divines like George Gillespie, who warned
The analogy betwixt Jewish & Christian church, little question of that little question… If this faile, the argument of Baptisme from circumcision will faile also… For that we must not looke to the state of the Jewish church, is only a warrantableness for the analogy of the Old Testament & New, granted. The brother that spake last said before we must cut loose the argument of Jewish church; [for] but how shall we prove pedo-Baptism?
(Btw, that’s why Gillespie was a staunch defender of the theocratic views Clark denounced above. Gillespie was a better systematic theologian than Clark. He understood that to do away with theocracy is to do away with the Jewish model of the church, which will do away with infant baptism – but that’s a subject for an upcoming post).
But of course Clark objects and says that the opposite is true. If Abraham and Moses are continuous and united, as Calvin, Dickson, Gillespie, and Westminster argued, then baptists can demonstrate that any temporary aspects of Abraham tied to Moses pass away with Moses.
It seems to me that that those who deny republication do so partly because, in reaction to the Baptist error, they conflate Moses and Abraham. In so doing they’ve actually agreed with the Baptists who do the same thing. (Re-Publication of the Covenant of Works (3))
So which view is right? They both are. The “old” view is right that removing the Mosaic Covenant from the Covenant of Grace undoes the continuity of the Covenant of Grace not just with regards to Moses, but Abraham as well, as Moses is rooted in Abraham, and thus undoes the argument for paedobaptism. The “modern” view is right that if Moses and Abraham are substantially one, then the New is substantially distinct from both, per the New Testament, and thus paedobaptism is false.
How Abraham & Moses Relate
There are genuine connections between the Abraham and Mosaic covenants. Both are both administrations of the covenant of grace. Both are typological. God promised to Abraham a land and a seed (Gen chapters 12; 15; 17). As I have argued (see the essays above) the land was a type of heaven (Heb 11:10) and the seed promise was fulfilled in Christ (Gal 3:16) and we who, by grace alone, through faith alone, are united to Christ are his seed (Rom 9:7–8; Gal 3:29). In the history of redemption, the land and seed promises came to be administered through and under the Mosaic covenant but that Old Covenant administration was distinct from the Abrahamic…
Because Abraham and Moses both belong to the typological period, to that time in redemptive history before the reality, Christ and his kingdom, had come—not to say that they were not present in any way. They were present under types and shadows—they share certain characteristics and features. (Clark, Abraham, Moses, and Circumcision)
Clark’s essay Abraham, Moses, and Circumcision attempts to clarify his view of the matter, but causes some confusion. Here he explains that the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant share certain typological characteristics and features. There is overlap between the two of them with regards to typology, particularly the land and the seed.
However, he then tries to make some kind of distinction between the Mosaic types and the Abrahamic types. It is not at all clear what he intends by the distinction. He says “the land and seed promises came to be administered through and under the Mosaic covenant but that Old Covenant administration was distinct from the Abrahamic.” It is unclear what exactly this means. He elaborates
Previously I have argued that everything that is distinctively Mosaic in the history of redemption is fulfilled by Christ and has expired or has been abolished. Thus, the 613 Mosaic commandments, i.e., the civil and ceremonial laws are fulfilled and expired. They have been abrogated and are no longer in force. The ceremonial aspects (e.g., the Saturday Sabbath, the land promise) of the Mosaic expression of the moral law, which itself is not grounded in Moses and is permanent, is temporary and has been fulfilled and abrogated. That the Mosaic covenant (sometimes denoted in the NT as “the law”) was inherently temporary and inferior and is now expired and abrogated has been a basic principle of Christian theology and hermeneutics since the 2nd century.
Here he lists “the land promise” as “distinctively Mosaic” and therefore “inherently temporary.” How is the land promise distinctively Mosaic in contrast to Abrahamic? Previously he said the typological land promise was something the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants shared in common. He categorizes Mosaic elements as “distinctively” temporary and thereby seeks to distinguish them from things that are not “distinctively” Mosaic, and therefore not temporary.
This leads us to a necessary corollary to the principle of Mosaic inferiority: The typological period of redemptive history and revelation pre-existed the Mosaic covenant. All of those types and shadows have also been fulfilled and have been expired but that there were typologies (pictures of the coming reality in Christa) under Adam, Noah, and Abraham does not make them Mosaic. In other words, not all types are Mosaic. This is an important distinction. The Mosaic covenant, strictly speaking, the Old Covenant, was typological but not all types and shadows are Mosaic. The Mosaic covenant was unique…
Now we are told that we must distinguish between Mosaic and non-Mosaic types, but we are also told that both Mosaic and non-Mosaic types are temporary and have “expired.” How is “not all types and shadows are Mosaic” an important distinction if all types and shadows, Mosaic or non-Mosaic, were temporary and have expired? Just because something is Abrahamic does not mean it is not obsolete.
In the end, the Mosaic/non-Mosaic distinction is irrelevant to the point Clark seeks to make since he argues that there are Abrahamic types that have expired. His specific point is that there is a typical aspect of circumcision that has expired and a non-typical aspect of circumcision that has not expired.
contra the assumption made by many under the influence of the broadly Baptistic paradigm, it is not infant initiation that is typological under Abraham but the shedding of blood.
The Mosaic/non-Mosaic issue is a bit of a non-sequitur smoke screen in this regard. The real issue is determining which aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant are typical and which are not. On this point, Clark is not consistent. He will say on one hand that the Abrahamic and Mosaic share a common typological promise of land and seed, but on the other hand he will say only the anti-typological promise of land and seed is actually Abrahamic, and thus the Abrahamic and New are identical.
I would only ask, if the children of the believer (Abraham), were in, when the promises were given, and they (the children) were included in the temporal, fleshly, conditional, out working of the old covenant, for blessing or curse.
… The NT appeals consistently to Abraham and to the promise given to Abraham, not in earthly terms but in spiritual terms. not with respect to the land promises (which has expired with the expiration of the national covenant with Israel) but it consistently regards Abraham as our spiritual father in the faith. Abraham was looking forward to the heavenly city…
Mike says that the Abrahamic promise was “earthly” and “temporal,” and to be sure Abraham was given a land promise but please note carefully how Hebrews interprets the life and faith of Abraham. Hebrews interprets Abraham’s life and faith not in terms of the land promise. Hebrews categorically denies the very interpretation that Mike gives because it denies the very interpretation that the Judaizers were giving. Hebrews does not concede that Abraham was looking for an earthly city…
Paul’s argument is that new-covenant believers have the same faith as Abraham. Paul explicitly rejected the notion that the covenant made with Abraham or the promises given to him were merely earthly or temporary. (Moses Was Not Abraham)
These comments would be fine if Clark was arguing that the Abrahamic Covenant received a two-level fulfillment and so we should not limit its fulfillment to the earthly and temporal. But that is not what he’s arguing. He is arguing the promise was only anti-typical. It was only spiritual. Notice this bizarre exchange on the Calvinist Batman podcast. The host was making a statement against the baptist interpretation of Acts 2:39, assuming Clark would be in agreement, only to hear Clark reject his interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant:
@29:20 Host: That’s exactly what I’m saying. In the Covenant with Abraham, God declares a generational covenant, that his “far off” were his descendants in time, not a physical location, as in, down the road there are people who are Gentiles that are not saved. That’s why I bring it up.
Clark: Yeah, see, I don’t accept that assumption, because if you look at the progress of the way the covenant is expressed in 12, 15, and 17. You’ve got a land promise. You’ve got a seed promise. And then you have the institution of the sacrament of infant circumcision in 17. So no, this is the problem, there’s always this attempt to sort of materialize the promise that God made to Abraham. But what do the Prophets do with it? The Prophets forecast the future in terms of the Abrahamic promise. Whether it’s Joel, or whether it’s Jeremiah. And the New Covenant picks that up and sort of explains what Jeremiah 31 means. Paul does it in 2 Cor 3. Hebrews does it really extensively in Hebrews 7, 8, 9, and 10. And then Paul does it, of course, in Galatians 3 and Galatians 4. So the Abrahamic Covenant in the New Testament is never construed the way you just did it, in sort of purely material, literal, genealogical terms.
Since I’m on the Calvinist Batman I can talk about an evil criminal conspiracy. This is sort of the hermeneutical conspiracy, if you will, to turn Abraham into Moses. And Abraham isn’t Moses. Moses is temporary. Moses is national. Abraham is not national. The seed promise that God made to Abraham in 12 and 15 is a promise that the nations will all come out of Abraham, and that’s what begins to happen in the New Covenant. When Peter says the promise is to you and your children,” he’s saying that the fundamental essence of the Covenant of Grace that God made with Abraham is still in effect. And so, when you ask about infant baptism, that’s how we see it, that the Covenant of Grace still has to be administered outwardly and through this administration, God is going to call his elect from all the nations. And he’s doing that. So the New Covenant is really the fulfillment of the promises that God made to Abraham. And Jesus, Paul says, is the seed, in Galatians 3:15-16, and we, then, he says later on in Galatians, are seeds in Christ.
Whoops. According to Clark, the paedobaptist reading of the Abrahamic Covenant as a generational covenant is part of a hermeneutical conspiracy to materialize the promise God made to Abraham. The seed God promised to Abraham was only Christ and the land God promised to Abraham was only heaven. The Mosaic Covenant was national, but the Abrahamic is not. Perhaps this is what Clark meant earlier when he said “the land and seed promises came to be administered through and under the Mosaic covenant but that Old Covenant administration was distinct from the Abrahamic.” The temporary, typological application in the Old Covenant of the promises God made to Abraham were not actually derived from Abraham. They were something added to the Abrahamic Covenant.
The promises of the Abrahamic covenant, which had already been expressed relative to the land and a national people (see Gen chapters 12 and 15; there are national and land promises in chapter 17 also) came to expression in a temporary national covenant inaugurated at Sinai. That national covenant, however, does not exhaust the covenant promises of God. The Apostle Paul says (Gal 3; see below) that the national, Israelite, Sinaitic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, was a temporary addition, a codicil, added to the Abrahamic promises. That temporary national covenant expired with the death of Christ (see also all of Colossians and Hebrews)…
Remember, Paul reckons the Mosaic, Sinaitic, old covenant as a temporary, national, pedagogical, typological arrangement superimposed upon the Abrahamic covenant of grace. (On the New Covenant)
So the typological land (Canaan) and seed (national Israel) are only Mosaic. They are not Abrahamic. Moses is not Abraham. But
Even though there were typological (land) and even national elements in the promises given to Abraham (Gen 12 and 15) they were only temporary expressions of the more fundamental promise to send a Savior. (Is There a Covenant of Grace?)
So which is it? Are the typological land (Canaan) and seed (national Israel) part of the promises God made to Abraham or not? Clark is inconsistent. Consistency on this point would undermine his argument. If the typological promises were Abrahamic, then at least some of the Abrahamic promises are obsolete. Clark admitted above that there is at least an element of circumcision (the blood sacrifice element) that is typical and therefore obsolete. Likewise, there is at least an element of God’s land and seed promises to Abraham that were typical and therefore obsolete.
Contra dispensationalism, this typical, earthly, “material” aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant is obsolete. Contra dispensationalism, and in agreement with Clark, Christ’s spiritual kingdom made up of believing Jew and Gentile, is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. But contra Clark, both Moses and Christ are offspring of Abraham. Both the Old and the New Covenants flow from Abraham (re-read Galatians 4:21-31). There is a duality to the Abrahamic Covenant. Unlike Clark, many paedobaptists have acknowledged this truth. It was Meredith Kline’s primary argument against Dispensationalism.
References to the two-level nature of the promises have been unavoidable in various connections in our analysis of the Abrahamic Covenant up to this point but now it is time to focus on this more particularly. In doing so we will sum up the promises under the concept of kingdom, tracing the two-level structure with respect to the kingdom components of king, people, and land. As the kingdom promises come to fulfillment in two successive stages, each is identified as a divine remembrance of Abraham or of the covenant made with him…
Two levels of kingship were present in this prophetic blessing. Judah assumed the royal supremacy in Israel in the appointment of David as king. He, with his successors under the old covenant, were level one. Then David’s dynasty reached a distinctive second level of kingship in the coming of Jesus Christ, Shiloh, the universal Lord, and his inauguration of the new covenant in his blood…
We have found that in the course of biblical revelation two distinct levels of fulfillment, one provisional and prototypal, the other messianic and eternal, are clearly distinguishable in the king promise given to Abraham. What is true of the promise of the king must inevitably also be true of the promise of the kingdom, both kingdom-people and kingdom-land… the promised seed in this corporate sense is interpreted by the Scriptures as being realized on two levels… Development of the twelve sons of Jacob into the twelve-tribe nation of Israel of course constituted a fulfillment of the promise of the kingdom people at one level… Equally obvious is the Bible’s identification of a realization of the promise of the Abrahamic seed at another level. As we have seen, when Paul, in Romans 9-11, defends God’s covenantal faithfulness in the face of Israel’s fall, he bases his case on the identification of the
promised seed as the individual election, a remnant-fullness of Jews and Gentiles, spiritual children of Abraham, all like him justified by faith (Rom 9:7,8; cf. Rom 4:16; Gal 3:7)… That is, the promise of the seed is thereby lifted into the messianic, or new covenant, level where Gentile and Jewish believers are gathered together in the united assembly of the heavenly altar…
Step by step what was included in the promised kingdom land at the first level of meaning was more precisely defined… That the territory eventually occupied by Israel fully corresponded with the geographical bounds defined in the promise is explicitly recorded in Joshua 21:43-45 and 1 Kings 4:20,21 (cf. Num 34:2ff.; 1 Chr 18:3; Ezek 47:13-20)… in the New Testament there are clear indications of a positive kind of the shift to the second level of meaning of the land promise. Indeed, with surprising abruptness the New Testament disregards the first level meaning and simply takes for granted that the second level, cosmic fulfillment is the true intention of the promise…
The issue between covenantal and dispensational hermeneutics is not one of spiritualizing versus nonspiritualizing interpretations of the second level kingdom. For, contrary to a common allegation, the covenantal system as well as the dispensational allows for the geophysical dimension of that kingdom. The basic question at issue is rather how to construe the relation of the two levels of the promised kingdom of the Abrahamic Covenant to one another. This amounts to the question of the relationship of the old covenant with Israel to the new covenant with the church, particularly as that comes into focus in the typological connection which the Scripture posits between them.
Where Clark wants to entirely separate the Old Covenant from the Abrahamic and identify the Abrahamic with the New exclusively, Kline recognizes that both the Old and the New flow from Abraham. Augustine recognized this:
the people were settled in the land of promise, so that, in the meantime, the first promise made to Abraham began to be fulfilled about the one nation, that is, the Hebrew, and about the land of Canaan; but not as yet the promise about all nations, and the whole wide world, for that was to be fulfilled, not by the observances of the old law, but by the advent of Christ in the flesh, and by the faith of the gospel…
And it was fulfilled through David, and Solomon his son, whose kingdom was extended over the whole promised space; for they subdued all those nations, and made them tributary. And thus, under those kings, the seed of Abraham was established in the land of promise according to the flesh, that is, in the land of Canaan, so that nothing yet remained to the complete fulfillment of that earthly promise of God, except that, so far as pertains to temporal prosperity, the Hebrew nation should remain in the same land by the succession of posterity in an unshaken state even to the end of this mortal age, if it obeyed the laws of the Lord its God. But since God knew it would not do this, He used His temporal punishments also for training His few faithful ones in it, and for giving needful warning to those who should afterwards be in all nations, in whom the other promise, revealed in the New Testament, was about to be fulfilled through the incarnation of Christ. (Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist)
Charles Hodge did as well.
It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a Church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and his true people. The promises of the national covenant were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant, (i.e. of the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law; the condition of the latter was, is, and ever has been, faith in the Messiah as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, and the commonwealth founded on the one with the Church founded on the other.
When Christ came “the commonwealth” was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The Church remained. There was no external covenant, nor promises of external blessings, on condition of external rites and subjection. There was a spiritual society with spiritual promises, on the condition of faith in Christ. In no part of the New Testament is any other condition of membership in the Church prescribed than that contained in the answer of Philip to the eunuch who desired baptism: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts viii. 37)
Notice Hodge’s recognition of where circumcision belongs: to the first-order typical fulfillment. Clark tries to deny this by severing the first-order typical fulfillment from Abraham entirely, arguing it is only Mosaic. Abraham was not Moses, remember? But such a division between Abraham and Moses is impossible. Moses flows from Abraham. Mosaic circumcision is Abrahamic circumcision. Circumcision was a typical ordinance, not just in terms of bloodshed, but in terms of its recipients as well. Who was circumcision applied to? Abraham’s natural descendants – the same people who constitute the typical, national, genealogical first-order fulfillment of the Abrahamic seed promise. Clark would have you believe that is purely a coincidence because the typical, national, genealogical first-order fulfillment is exclusively Mosaic, not Abrahamic. Circumcision was not given to Abraham’s physical seed. It was given to believers and their children (a statement found nowhere in Scripture). But this idea neglects the fact that Abraham was given a two-fold privilege. As a believer, he is the father of those who believe (Rom 4:11-12), but as the one through whom the Messiah will come, he is the father of Israel according to the flesh (Rom 4:1; 9:1-5). John Owen explains
Two privileges did God grant unto Abraham, upon his separation to a special interest in the old promise and covenant: — First, That according to the flesh he should be the father of the Messiah, the promised seed; who was the very life of the covenant [of grace], the fountain and cause of all the blessings contained in it… Secondly, Together with this, he had also another privilege granted unto him, namely, that his faith, whereby he was personally interested in the covenant, should be the pattern of the faith of the church in all generations; and that none should ever come to be a member of it, or a sharer in its blessings, but by the same faith… Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God. (The Oneness of the Church)
Now it is to be observed that two things are promised to Abraham, the one, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan, which is intimated when it is said, “Go into a land that I will show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation;” but the other far more excellent, not about the carnal but the spiritual seed, through which he is the father, not of the one Israelite nation, but of all nations who follow the footprints of his faith, which was first promised in these words, “And in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.” (Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist)
To which seed is circumcision given? The seed according to the flesh. Samuel Rutherford, representing historic Presbyterianism, understood this quite well.
God commands not Abraham only to circumcise his sons, but all parents descended of Abraham to circumcise their seed: the seed of Abraham carnally descended to all generations…
[M]any must be circumcised as these to whom the Lord gave the land for a possession were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh. But the land was given to the most wicked of Abraham’s seed (so Ch. 8:3).
That all the children of the wicked are circumcised is clear (Josh. 5), because Joshua at God’s commandment circumcised the children of Israel (Josh 5:2-3,7) whose wicked parents the Lord had consumed because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord, unto whom the Lord swore that He would not show them the land which the Lord swore to their fathers. Of that generation the Lord said (Heb. 3:10), ‘they do always err in their heart, and they have not known my ways,’ there was in them an evil heart, a hard heart, an unbelieving heart (Heb. 3:13,15,18), and yet God commanded Joshua to circumcise their children.
Therefore there was no more required of the circumcised but that they were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh… This is so true, that circumcision is put for the nation of the Jews (Acts 11:2; Rom. 2:26,27; Gal. 2:7; Gal. 6:15)…
1. The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham? Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.
2. What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews. O, says Mr. Best, they were behooved [required] to be members of the church, whose infants might lawfully be circumcised. I answer: that is ignotum per ignotius [unknown per the unknown]. Show me one person being a born Jew whose child the Lord forbid to circumcise?…
For being born of the holy nation, they are holy with a federal and national holiness, Rom. 11:16. If the root be holy so are the branches.
As Clark acknowledges “The typological period of redemptive history and revelation pre-existed the Mosaic covenant… Because Abraham and Moses both belong to the typological period… they share certain characteristics and features.” The Covenant of Circumcision was established with ordinances in the typological period, the time of the first-order promises, and they were given to the first-order seed according to the flesh. This seed was not the church. It was a type of the church. Israel according to the flesh was a type of Israel according to the Spirit. Abraham’s natural offspring were a type of Abraham’s spiritual offspring. Just like Kline above, many other paedobaptists have acknowledged this truth as well.
The whole nation of the Jews. They were a typical people; their Church-state being very ceremonial and peculiar to those legal times, (Therefore now ceased and abolished) did adumbrate and shadow forth two things.
- Christ himself; hence Christ is called Israel, Isa. 49.3. By Israel is meant Christ, and all the faithful, as members of him their head.
- They were a type of the Church of God under the New Testament. Hence the Church is called Israel, Gal 6.16 and Rev 7. The twelve tribes of Israel are numbered up by name, to shew forth the Lord’s particular care of every one of his people in particular. That place is not meant properly of Old Israel, because it relates to the times of the Antichristian locusts; compare cap 7. with cap. 9.4. The analogy lies in this, that they were a peculiar people to the Lord, chosen and singled out by him from all the world: So is Christ the Lord’s chosen, Behold my servant whom I have chosen, mine elect in whom my Soul delighteth: So are all the Saints, 1 Pet 2.9. A royal nation, a peculiar people, gathered from among all nations, Rev 5.9. Hence the enemies of Israel were typical enemies; as Egypt and Babylon under the Old Testament, types of Antichristian enemies under the New: And the providences of God towards that people of Old, types and shadows of his intended future dispensations towards his people under the New; as you will see further when we come to speak of typical providences.
The persons with whom this [new] covenant is made are also expressed: “The house of Israel, and the house of Judah.”… Wherefore this house of Israel and house of Judah may be considered two ways:
[1.] As that people were the whole entire posterity of Abraham.
[2.] As they were typical, and mystically significant of the whole church of God.
Hence alone it is that the promises of grace under the old testament are given unto the church under these names, because they were types of them who should really and effectually be made partakers of them…
In the second sense the whole church of elect believers is intended under these denominations, being typified by them. These are they alone, being one made of twain, namely, Jews and Gentiles, with whom the covenant is really made and established, and unto whom the Mace of it is actually communicated. For all those with whom this covenant is made shall as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according unto the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. These are the true Israel and Judah, prevailing with God, and confessing unto his name.
Let it then be observed, that men are said to be sanctified or made holy in very different senses. Sanctification, for the distinction, though an old, is not a bad one, is either real or relative.
…That separation from other nations, in which the holiness of the Jews chiefly consisted (r), was not spiritual, resulting from rectitude of heart and a correspondent behavior; but barely external, resulting from certain sacred rites and ceremonies different from or opposite to those of other nations, and confined to certain places and persons (d). The middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles, was the ceremonial law (e), which was neither necessary nor fit to make a spiritual separation In fact, it did not separate between good and bad men among the Jews: but between the house of Israel and the fearers of God or devout persons in the heathen nations (f). For which reason, though Cornelius was one that feared God, gave much alms, and prayed to God always, Peter was afraid of being polluted by intercourse with him.
(a) Lev. xxi. (b) Exod. xix. 6. (c) Exod. xix. 5, 6. Num. xxiii. 9. Deut. xxvi. 18, 19. (d) Lev. xx. 24,—26. Deut. xiv. 21. (e) Eph. ii. 14, 15. (f) Pial. cxviii. 4. A6ls xiii. 16, 26. xvii. 4, 17.
…as things were termed unclean, which were types or emblems of moral impurity, so the Jews were termed holy, not only because they were separated from other nations, but because they typified real Christians, who are in the fullest and noblest sense a holy nation, and a peculiar people (a). Types are visible things, different in their nature, from the spiritual things which they typify. If then the Jewish dispensation was typical, we may safely conclude, that the holiness of the Jewish nation being intended to typify the holiness of the Christian church, was of a different nature from it. And it is for this reason, that the Jewish dispensation is called the flesh and the letter, because persons and things in that dispensation, typified and represented persons and things under a more spiritual dispensation. (a) 1 Pet. ii. 9.
Clark himself actually believes this as well, though he doesn’t recognize the implications.
God disinherited his adopted, temporary, national “son” Israel as a national people precisely because God never intended to have a permanent earthly, national people… their chief function was to serve as a type and shadow of God’s natural Son, Jesus the Messiah (Heb 10.1-4). It is the argument of this essay that Jesus Christ is the true Israel of God and that everyone who is united to him by grace alone, through faith alone becomes, by virtue of that union, the true Israel of God. (Israel of God)
In arguing against dispensationalists, paedobaptists apply typology consistently and often make statements inconsistent with paedobaptism. They are unaware of how sharp their hermeneutic against dispensationalism is. It’s a sword that cuts both ways. In an interview on Christ the Center, Kim Riddlebarger argues:
…the problem with that is, when you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 12 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the land promise in Genesis 12 – and it’s repeated throughout 15, 18, 22, on and on and on – when that land promise is repeated, dispenationalists say “See, that must mean Israel means Israel and that God is going to save Israel again to fulfill the land promise at the end of the age.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the land promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?” And that is at the heart of this entire debate.
If I may paraphrase:
…the problem with paedobaptism is, when you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 17 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the offspring promise in Genesis 17 – and it’s repeated throughout 12, 15, 22, on and on and on – when that offspring promise is repeated, paedobaptists say “See, that must mean offspring means offspring and that God included physical offspring in the church and never took them out.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the offspring promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?” And that is at the heart of this entire debate.
Israel according to the flesh is a type and shadow of the true Israel of God, the church of Christ. Circumcision was given to the type, not the antitype. Clark is clear that the typical fulfillment of the land and seed has expired. Owen agrees, and rightly ties that seed to Abraham, not simply Moses.
That this privilege was temporary, having a limited season, time, and end, appointed unto it, the very nature of the thing itself doth demonstrate; for upon this actual exhibition [of Christ] in the flesh, it was to cease… It is true, they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should he set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth. That this separation and privilege was to cease when the end of it was accomplished and the Messiah exhibited, the very nature of the thing declares; for to what purpose should it be continued when that was fully effected whereunto it was designed?… Seeing, therefore, that their other privilege was come to an end, with all the carnal ordinances that attended it, by the actual coming of the Messiah, whereunto they were subservient, if they did not, by faith in the promised seed, attain an interest in this of the spiritual blessing, it is evident that they could on no account be considered as actual sharers in the covenant of God… It is true, the former carnal privilege of Abraham and his posterity expiring, on the grounds before mentioned, the ordinances of worship which were suited thereunto did necessarily cease also… (1.) The carnal privilege of the Jews, in their separation to bring forth the Messiah, then failed; and therewith their claim on that account to be the children of Abraham. (2.) The ordinances of worship suited unto that privilege expired and came to an end. (The Oneness of the Church)
Was Circumcision a Sign of Law-Keeping?
If you recall above, in reference to the first-order of the Abrahamic Covenant, Charles Hodge noted that “The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law…” tying circumcision in with law-keeping on the basis of passages like Galatians 5:3, Acts 15:10, 1 Cor 7:19, and Romans 2:25-26 “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.” Clark already agrees that the Old Covenant operates upon the principle of obedience to the law (“the Mosaic covenant, says ‘do and live.'”). We have already demonstrated that circumcision does not take on a new meaning in the Mosaic Covenant, since the Mosaic is rooted in, not severed from, the Abrahamic. Does that mean that the Abrahamic Covenant operated upon the principle of obedience to the law? Note what John Murray says
The obedience of Abraham is represented as the condition upon which the fulfilment of the promise given to him was contingent and the obedience of Abraham’s seed is represented as the means through which the promise given to Abraham would be accomplished. There is undoubtedly the fulfilment of certain conditions… At the outset we must remember that the idea of conditional fulfilment is not something peculiar to the Mosaic covenant. We have been faced quite poignantly with this very question in connection with the Abrahamic covenant. And since this feature is there patent, it does not of itself provide us with any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic. (The Covenant of Grace)
Murray is referring to passages like Gen 17:1-2, 9-14; 22
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”…
And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”…
And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
These passages led Meredith Kline to conclude
How Abraham’s obedience related to the securing of the kingdom blessings in their old covenant form is a special question within the broad topic of the role of human works under redemptive covenant… His faithful performance of his covenantal duty is here clearly declared to sustain a causal relationship to the blessing of Isaac and Israel. It had a meritorious character that procured a reward enjoyed by others…Because of Abraham’s obedience redemptive history would take the shape of an Abrahamite kingdom of God from which salvation’s blessings would rise up and flow out to the nations. God was pleased to constitute Abraham’s exemplary works as the meritorious ground for granting to Israel after the flesh the distinctive role of being formed as the typological kingdom, the matrix from which Christ should come… The obedient Abraham, the faithful covenant servant, was a type of the Servant of the Lord in his obedience, by which he became the surety of the new covenant.
In other words, the first-order typological elements of the Abrahamic Covenant operated upon the same principle of works that the Mosaic did. And circumcision represented this. Nehemiah Coxe explains
It is noteworthy that in this transaction of God with Abraham we first meet with an express injunction of obedience to a command (and that of positive right) as the condition of covenant interest. It is all ushered in with this prologue (Genesis 17:1), “I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be perfect.” First in these words, the all-sufficiency of God is revealed for the ensuring of the promises. Then a strict and entire obedience to his precepts is required in order to inherit the good things that were to be given by this covenant. In this mode of transacting it, the Lord was pleased to draw the first lines of that form of covenant relationship in which the natural seed of Abraham was fully stated by the law of Moses, which was a covenant of works with its condition or terms, “Do this and live.”
I will be a God to you and to your children
What about Clark’s argument that God’s promise in the Abrahamic Covenant to be a God to Abraham and his children is the same promise of the New Covenant – that is, a promise of “Interior Piety”? Samuel Rutherford, representing historic Presbyterianism, disagrees.
If the former be said it will follow that God speaks (Gen. 17) only to Abraham and his sons by faith (according to the promise) and only to believers.
But God speaks to all Abraham’s sons according to the flesh:
Because [otherwise] God should speak an untruth: that He were a God by real union of faith to all that are commanded to be circumcised. For He commanded thousands to be circumcised to whom He was not a God by real union of faith.
Like all the other Abrahamic promises, this too has a two-level fulfillment. Were Israel according to the flesh God’s people under the Old Covenant? Yes they were. Was that a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham? Yes it was. “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:8 ESV) Were they therefore God’s people in the same way that Israel according to the Spirit are? No they were not.
That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… And with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people… On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in. Thus a sovereign and all-wise God was pleased to ordain things with respect to the nation of Israel…
That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace; and so is sometimes represented as a marriage-covenant.
Abraham Booth makes the same point.
It is of great importance to the right interpretation of many passages in the Old Testament, that this particular be well understood and kept in view. Jehovah is very frequently represented as the Lord and God of all the ancient Israelites ; even where it is manifest that the generality of them were considered as destitute of internal piety, and many of them as enormously wicked. How then could he be called their Lord, and their God, in distinction from his relation to Gentiles, (whose creator, benefactor, and sovereign he was) except on the ground of the Sinai Covenant? He was their Lord as being the sovereign whom, by a federal transaction, they were bound to obey, in opposition to every political monarch, who should at any time presume to govern them by laws of his own. He was their God, as the only object of holy worship ; and whom, by the same National Covenant, they had solemnly engaged to serve according to his own rule, in opposition to every Pagan idol.
But that National relation between Jehovah and Israel being long since dissolved and the Jew having no prerogative above the Gentile; the nature of the Gospel Economy, and of the Messiah’s kingdom, absolutely forbids our supposing, that either Jews or Gentiles are warranted to call the Universal Sovereign their Lord or their God, if they do not yield willing obedience to him, and perform spiritual worship. It is, therefore, either for want of understanding, or of considering the nature, aspect, and influence of the Sinai Constitution, that many persons dream of the New Covenant, in great numbers of places where Moses and the Prophets had no thought of it, but had the Convention at Horeb directly in view…
Again : As none but real Christians are the subjects of our Lord’s kingdom, neither adults nor infants can be members of the gospel Church, in virtue of an external covenant, or of a relative holiness. A striking disparity this, between the Jewish and the Christian Church. Of this difference we may be assured by considering, that a barely relative sanctity, supposes its possessors to be the people of God in a merely external sense; that such an external people, supposes an external covenant, or one that relates to exterior conduct and temporal blessings : and an external covenant supposes an external king. Now an external king, is a political sovereign : but such is not our Lord Jesus Christ, nor yet the divine Father. Once, indeed, it was otherwise : for, concerning the Israelitish nation, it is written : ” I,” Jehovah, ” will be thy king…
Yes, Jehovah, as a temporal monarch, stood related to the ancient Israelites, and entered into a federal transaction with them at Sinai, not only as the Object of their worship, but as their King. Their judicial and civil institutes, their laws of war and of peace, various orders respecting the land they occupied, and the annual acknowledgments to the great Proprietor of it, were all from God, as their political sovereign. Hence all the natural posterity of Jacob were Jehovah’s people, on the ground of an external covenant made with the whole nation…
 If Abraham is, as God’s Word says, the father of all believers, and  if God promised blessings to believers and to their children, and  if he commanded the initiation of covenant children,  and those covenant promises and command remain in effect,  then we must initiate children into the covenant community just as father Abraham did. (On the New Covenant)
 He is, but that is not all he was. He was also the father of a typical seed.
 He did not.
 He did.
 They do not, typically, though they have been fulfilled anti-typically.
 We must not because we are not the fathers of Israel according to the flesh, and because the Abrahamic Covenant community is not the New Covenant community.
Clark’s attempt has been to divorce the Mosaic Covenant from the Abrahamic Covenant entirely and thereby to remove all typical elements from the Abrahamic Covenant, insisting that it contained only spiritual, anti-typical promises. But as we have seen, this cannot be done. Moses was not Abraham, but he was his offspring. The Mosaic Covenant was a fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. And we can say that the Old Covenant is inclusive of the Abrahamic Covenant to the extent that the Abrahamic Covenant shares with the Mosaic Covenant (notice everything listed in Rom. 9:4-5 as belonging to Israel according to the flesh).
Dr. Clark objects and argues that in the New Testament, the Abrahamic Covenant is identified with the New Covenant and thereby contrasted with the Old. That is true, but that is because, to quote Bryan Estelle, by the time we reach the New Testament “Israel’s disobedience has triggered the curse sanctions. Therefore, the new covenant context has essentially changed matters here… What was prototypical [life in Canaan] has been eclipsed by what is antitypical [eternal life].” The fact that the New Testament focuses on the anti-typical fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant does not mean there was not a typological level to the dichotomous Abrahamic Covenant. It is impossible to severe Abraham from Moses. Listen to Ligon Duncan (representing the Westminster position)
So as far as Moses is concerned, there is no radical dichotomy between what God is doing with His people in the time of the Exodus and what God promised to Abraham. In fact, he says that the reason God came to His people’s rescue was because He remembered the promise He had made with Abraham. And if you will remember back to our study of Genesis chapter 15, God went out of His way to tell Abraham about the oppression of Israel in Egypt and about the fact that He was going to bring them out of Egypt as a mighty nation, and that He was going to give them the land of Canaan. And so, Moses goes out of his way in both Genesis 15 and in Exodus 2 to link the Mosaic Economy with the Abrahamic Covenant, so that the Mosaic Economy isn’t something that is replacing the way that God deals with His people, under Abraham; it is expanding what God was doing with His people through Abraham.
Clark argues that Galatians 4 teaches a separation and contrast between Abraham and Moses. But read carefully, 4:21-31 demonstrates precisely what we have said: both the Old and the New Covenants flow from Abraham, as Paul demonstrates using an allegory of Abraham’s two sons. This passage was foundational to Augustine’s understanding of covenant theology.
Wherefore just as that divine oracle to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the other prophetic signs or sayings which are given in the earlier sacred writings, so also the other prophecies from this time of the kings pertain partly to the nation of Abraham’s flesh, and partly to that seed of his in which all nations are blessed as fellow-heirs of Christ by the New Testament, to the possessing of eternal life and the kingdom of the heavens. Therefore they pertain partly to the bond maid who gendereth to bondage, that is, the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; but partly to the free city of God, that is, the true Jerusalem eternal in the heavens, whose children are all those that live according to God in the earth: but there are some things among them which are understood to pertain to both,—to the bond maid properly, to the free woman figuratively. (Gal 4:22-31)…
what we read of historically as predicted and fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, we must also inquire the allegorical meaning of, as it is to be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to faith…
This interpretation of the passage, handed down to us with apostolic authority, shows how we ought to understand the Scriptures of the two covenants—the old and the new… Both, indeed, were of Abraham’s seed; but the one was begotten by natural law, the other was given by gracious promise. (Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist)
As Clark agrees, the Old Covenant is different in principle/nature/substance from the Covenant of Grace. It is not the Covenant of Grace. To the degree that the Mosaic flows from the Abrahamic, it too is different in principle and substance from the Covenant of Grace. The Abrahamic Covenant is not the Covenant of Grace. As Robert M’Cheyne said “this was a type of the covenant that was to be afterwards.”
Clark argues that “Paul makes Abraham the pattern for new covenant faith.” He certainly does. But the conclusion to be drawn is not that the Abrahamic Covenant is therefore the Covenant of Grace. The Abrahamic Covenant never promised regeneration, faith, and forgiveness of sins. It promised that the Messiah would be born from Abraham and would establish the Covenant of Grace in his blood to grant regeneration, faith, and forgiveness of sins. Reflecting on this in Hebrews 8:10, Calvin concluded “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.” In the same way that Clark thinks the Abrahamic Covenant operated under the Mosaic to save saints in the Old Covenant, the New Covenant actually operated under the Abrahamic Covenant to save Abraham. As Clark admits “The evidence is that the new covenant is substantially identical with the covenant of grace.” Augustine agreed, which is why he said
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: Proto-1689 Federalist)
I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called ‘the new covenant,’… 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.
In his commentary in Hebrews, Owen worked out in detail what this meant for all the other post-fall covenants.
That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by νομοτηετεο, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship. Hereon the other covenant was disannulled and removed; and not only the covenant itself, but all that system of sacred worship whereby it was administered…
When God renewed the promise of it unto Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but it was with respect unto other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely under the old testament it consisted only in a promise… The νομοτηετεο, or full legal establishment of it, whence it became formally a covenant unto the whole church, was future only, and a promise under the old testament
Since the Covenant of Grace during the time of Abraham worked “invisibly” and “had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it,” circumcision was never an ordinance of the Covenant of Grace. Like all other pre-Christ types, circumcision has passed away and is obsolete. Instead, Christians are commanded to observe New Covenant ordinances according to New Covenant commands. Therefore we are to baptize all those who profess faith in Christ, and no others.
In sum, Clark said that “The Reformed have tended to let the New Testament not only interpret the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures but also to provide a pattern for how to interpret the typological revelation… Reformed theology has not always been consistent in the application of this principle.” He argues that a consistent application requires one to acknowledge that the Old and New Covenants “operate on utterly different principles,” that “the old covenant was such that it could be broken, but the new covenant cannot be broken,” and “that the Mosaic covenant was inherently temporary and inferior and is now expired and abrogated.” And just as Winzer and the “old” paedobaptists warned, consistency in Clark’s position nullifies infant baptism.
A consistent application of the reformed hermeneutic leads to credobaptism.
- 1689Federalism.com Watch the videos, read the books (especially the 3 on the front page), and look at the Additional Resources section
- Archives from this blog with over 100 posts on 1689 Federalism
- The Case for Credobaptism @ The Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals
- Samuel Renihan’s sermons on the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants
- Acts 2:39 in its Context (Part 1): An Exegetical Summary of Acts 2:39 and Paedobaptism
- An Exegetical Appraisal of Colossians 2:11-12 ~ Richard C. Barcellos, Ph.D.
- Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?
- Circumcision as a Seal
- A Summary of Why Baptists Appeal to Owen
- The Olive Tree
- Hebrews 10 & John 15
- They are not all Israel, who are of Israel