D. Patrick Ramsey regularly writes the most direct and helpful summaries of a view I disagree with. While most discussions on the role of good works quickly devolve into confusion and endless circles and talking past one another, Ramsey’s posts cut to the chase – which makes dialogue much more meaningful.
In a post over at Meet the Puritans, he explains that when he and others (like Mark Jones) argue against “Antinomianism,” what they are arguing against is the idea that our good works are only a fruit of our faith. The role of the law as a guide in the believer’s life is not the issue. Both sides agree on that. Rather, Ramsey argues “We don’t engage in good works merely because we live or are saved, we are to do them in order to live or to salvation.”
The “narrow way” is not Christ, but your good works (which they would say is Christ’s work in us).
Another common way the puritans articulated this same point was by covenant conditions. Sincere obedience is a consequent condition of justification and an antecedent condition of glorification… Good works, therefore, are more than fruit in that they are necessary for salvation as the way to eternal life and as an antecedent condition of glorification.
You will not merely have fruit when you are glorified, your fruit is a condition of whether or not you will be glorified. He says Tobias Crisp was wrong when he said that true Christians ought and will produce good works, but they are not required to and indeed they shouldn’t pursue holiness in order to avoid damnation and to possess heaven.
I don’t think it can be stated any clearer. Now go study Leviticus 18:5 and decide what you believe. Here are two posts that explain why I agree with Crisp and the “Antinomians”
The questions who ought to come, and who ought to be admitted to the Supper, are distinct and different. The former speaks of the duty of communicants; the latter of the duty of the church and ministers. The former is more restricted; the latter is broader, and more general: for, as touching the former, none but the godly ought to come to the Supper; whilst, as it respects the latter, not only the godly, but hypocrites also, who are not known to be such, are to be admitted by the church. Hence all that ought to come, ought also to be admitted; but not all who ought to be admitted, ought to come: but only those, 1. Who acknowledge their sins, and are truly sorrowful for them. 2. Who trust that their sins are forgiven them by and for the sake of Christ. 3. Who earnestly desire to have their faith more and more strengthened, and their lives more holy: that is, those only ought to come to the Lord’s supper, and they alone are worthy guests of Christ, who live in true faith and repentance.
The OPC Report on Republication was the culmination of several decades of dispute within the OPC. The dispute is particularly interesting because it represents two divergent schools within Presbyterianism that are both fighting to uphold a particular doctrine at the expense of another particular doctrine. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the Westminster Confession is contradictory in what it says about the Mosaic Covenant. It’s a very detailed argument, so please read that post. In short, it is not possible to affirm both that the Mosaic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace and that there was a Covenant of Works made with Adam.
In the previous post, I suggested that Murray’s rejection of the Covenant of Works was driven by his attempt to resolve this contradiction. Thus he retained the Westminster teaching that the Mosaic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace at the expense of the Westminster doctrine of the Covenant of Works.
move in the opposite direction, seeing the Covenant of Works as essential to the law/gospel distinction and therefore rejecting the Westminster doctrine of the Mosaic Covenant as the Covenant of Grace, arguing instead that it was a separate covenant that operated on the works principle for life in the land of Canaan. There was development in Kline’s thought over the decades on this. The OPC Report notes that
At least two controversies helped Kline sharpen his conception of the unique typological function of Abraham and national Israel, and those controversies pertain to the covenant theology of Norman Shepherd, on the one hand, and the theonomic ethics of Greg Bahnsen, on the other… Kline’s development of the typology of both Abraham and Israel depends in significant ways on his response to these controversies, as he seeks to clarify the unique features of redemptive typology pertaining to both Abraham and national Israel…
Kline offers an integration of the historia salutis and the ordo salutis, seeking to give a biblically nuanced account of the way in which the obedience of key figures in redemptive history relates to the eschatological inheritance (Adam or Christ) or the typal kingdom (Abraham and national Israel). He adds nuance and clarity to his views based in part on his polemical engagement with the theology of Norman Shepherd and theonomic ethics of Greg Bahnsen, even if those figures are not always identified…
The development from Treaty of the Great King to Kingdom Prologue and God, Heaven and Har-Mageddon turns on clarifying the works principle in Israel as it finds its genesis in Abraham and his unique obedience as a type of Christ. The controversies with Shepherd and Bahnsen supplied polemical contexts for developing the unique features of redemptive typology that extend many of the insights from Vos, but in a way that does not undermine Murray’s insistence on a substantially gracious Mosaic covenant. The development of Abraham as the historical figure who supplies the redemptive historical prototype for the works principle that will come to apply to national Israel develops after the controversies with Shepherd and Bahnsen in the 1970s and 1980s, but in a way that bears organic continuity with his earlier work from the 1960’s.
Who exactly was Norman Shepherd? He too was a student of Murray’s. He was selected by Murray as his successor as professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary. Controversy arose when he students began failing their ordination exams. When asked how we are justified, they answered “through faith and works.” When asked where they were taught that, they said “Professor Shepherd.” Thus began a decade long battle to rid the seminary and the church of Shepherd’s false gospel. Surrounded by politics, Shepherd was eventually dismissed, but not officially for any theological reasons. Charges were scheduled to be brought against him in the OPC, but he fled to the CRC beforehand, where he remains today. I strongly recommend reading O. Palmer Robertson’s careful account of everything that occurred at Westminster regarding Shepherd titled The Current Justification Controversy. Shepherd is considered the godfather of the Federal Vision.
Some want to paint Shepherd as an oddity that came and went but had no lasting impact on Westminster or the OPC. However, it’s not that simple. As I said, Shepherd was selected by Murray as his successor. When Shepherd left, he was succeeded by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Gaffin is three years younger than Shepherd and was a student of Murray’s as well. He taught alongside Shepherd and was his primary defender during the controversy (see Gaffin’s open letter from 1981). In fact, he continued to support Shepherd long after he left, endorsing his 2002 book The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism with these words:
This lucid and highly readable study provides valuable instruction on what it means to live in covenant with God. God’s covenant is the only way of life that fully honors both the absolute, all-embracing sovereignty of his saving grace and the full, uninhibited activity of his people. The Call of Grace should benefit anyone concerned about biblical growth in Christian life and witness.
Gaffin theoretically distanced himself from Shepherd by participating in the OPC Report on Justification in 2006 which was critical of Shepherd, but no explicit statement and recanting of his support for Shepherd has occurred. The basis of Shepherd’s false gospel of justification through faith and works is his rejection of the “works-merit paradigm” in favor of the “faith-grace” or “covenantal” paradigm. In a 2002 lecture titled “What’s All the Fuss?”, Shepherd explains
Well the preceding is only a sampling of the problems we run into on the works-merit paradigm. We become uncomfortable expressing biblical doctrines using biblical language. Texts get bent out of shape in order to make them fit into a paradigm that does not arise out of Scripture and is foreign to Scripture. And without meaning to do so or wanting to do so we can find ourselves compromising the integrity of what is written in the Word of God.
The biblical paradigm, I would suggest to you, is one that is consistently covenantal without the schizophrenic antithesis between the covenant of works and an antithetical covenant of grace.
Mr. Shepherd rejects not only the term “covenant of works” but the possibility of any merit or reward attaching to the obedience of Adam in the creation covenant. He holds that faithful obedience is the condition of all covenants in contrast to the distinction made in the Westminster Confession. The Westminster Confession states in Chapter Vll that the first covenant “was a covenant of works wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.” In contrast, in the second covenant, the covenant of grace, the Lord “freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved.”
Shepherd was clearly building upon Murray’s rejection of the Covenant of Works. As we saw in the last post on Murray, he slammed on the breaks when his revisions lead him straight towards a justification by faith and works, particularly in Romans 2:13, but he had no consistent reason for doing so. Murray argued 2:13 (“the doers of the law will be justified”) was hypothetical in direct contradiction to his argument in v6 that the judgment was not hypothetical. Shepherd continued the logically trajectory, further working out the implications of a rejection of the Covenant of Works. 1978 he wrote 34 Theses on Justification in Relation to Faith, Repentance, and Good Works. Note thesis 20
20. The Pauline affirmation in Romans 2:13, “the doers of the Law will be justified,” is not to be understood hypothetically in the sense that there are no persons who fall into that class, but in the sense that faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will be justified (Compare Luke 8:21; James 1:22-25).
Many will object that Shepherd’s theology was entirely different than Murray’s. As this is not intended to be a full treatment of the issue, and it is a very detailed topic, I encourage you to look into it yourself and make up your own mind. However, for our present purpose, it is worth recalling what we read from Ligon Duncan in the post on Murray.
Murray held to his objections [to the Covenant of Works] and to this day, Westminster Seminary has tended to be a little bit skittish about the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace framework.
There is no indication that Gaffin rejected Murray and Shepherd’s rejection of the Covenant of Works and every indication that he agrees with them. A fuller treatment of Gaffin will have to await another day (something I intend to get to, Lord willing). However, I do want to mention an important point regarding continuity with and progression of Murray’s revisionism. We saw before that Murray added Leviticus 18:5 and Matthew 19:17 as proof texts for WCF 19.6. The OPC continued that work.
The Sixty-sixth General Assembly (1999) elected a Committee on Proof Texts for the Larger Catechism (consisting of Stephen A. Pribble [chairman], George W. Knight III, Steven F. Miller, and Peter J. Wallace). It presented a list of proof texts to the Sixty-seventh General Assembly (2000), and the Sixty-eighth General Assembly (2001) approved the proof texts (with corrections) for publication.
The list included the addition of Romans 2:6,7,13,16 as proof-texts for WLC90, which states
Q. 90. What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?
A. At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.
Note particularly that v13 was included, which says it is “the doers of the law who will be justified.” Recall that Murray stopped short and claimed this was only hypothetical, not actual – but this contradicted his comments earlier in the passage. The OPC apparently recognized this and carried Murray’s logic through to v13, just as Shepherd did. At the day of judgment, the righteous will be justified because they are doers of the law and not hearers only. (Note that the OPC has since reversed this position and deleted the proof-text. See comment box below).
Another Westminster Seminary graduate (same age as Shepherd) was John Kinnaird. Kinnaird very publicly defended Shepherd during the controversy and continued to support him long after. As an elder, he taught that “It is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous on that Day of Judgement.” “Inside the city are those who do righteousness and outside are those who do evil.”
Romans 2 puts it this way. “God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil there will be wrath and anger.” Now by this we know the decision, the judgement as to who enters the city and who stays outside for eternity will be made on that great day of judgement in accordance with what you have done in this life. In fact our scripture lesson says the very same thing at verse 12. Behold I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done….
These good works are a required condition if we would stand in the Day of Judgement and they are supplied by God to all His people.
Every description of the Judgement events speak of these good works. Without them, no one will see God. Our God is not unjust. His judgements are always righteous and in accordance with the facts of the case…
Who are these people who thus benefit ‑ who stand on the Day of Judgement? They are those who obey the law who will be declared righteous…
There will be glory, honor, and peace on the Day of Judgement for everyone who does good. [Romans 2] verse 10. Who are these people who thus benefit – who stand on the Day of Judgement? They are those who obey the law who will be declared righteous, verse 13. When God declares them righteous, that is a forensic declaration of righteousness…. This is a judicial scene, the Day of Judgement. It is an act of God sitting as Judge. It is justification – a forensic act of God whereby he declares a person righteous. God is able to make this declaration on That Day because it is a truth. Something has happened to change those who were once sinful. What is it?… Paul says, verses 14 and 15, these are those who by nature, a new nature, do the things required by the law.
(Note the verbatim wording of Murray with regards to God’s judgment and the principle of equity).
An elderly couple in Kinnaird’s congregation brought charges against him for teaching justification by faith and works. The congregation (“session”) found him guilty. He appealed to his presbytery, which upheld the guilty verdict. So he appealed to the OPC General Assembly. The General Assembly determined that the session and presbytery had erred in convicting him. A main point in the GA’s decision to overturn the prior verdicts was that Kinnaird’s language was in keeping with the OPC’s standards – specifically WLC 90’s reference to Romans 2:13, which had just been added 2 years earlier. “There is strong evidence that it is allowable in the OPC to interpret Romans 2:13 (as Mr. Kinnaird does) as a description of something that will be done to the righteous at the day of judgment.” (GA Advisory Committee)
During the original trial, Gaffin was called to testify as an expert witness in defense of Kinnaird. I encourage you to read the transcript. Keep in mind Gaffin’s defense did not save Kinnaird in trial. He was still found guilty. One section is particularly pertinent.
RG: We could point up that as to the Romans (I believe Dr. Lillback did this last week if I am correctly informed) that at the …. so far as the Romans 2 passage is concerned, while a large number of Reformed exegetes have understood the scenario there, the final judgment scenario there, on the positive side, in verse 7 and 10 and 13. Have understood that in a hypothetical sense – or as we might put it – as a genuine offer of the law – not the gospel – a genuine offer of the law as a means of justification, or salvation which no one, in fact, can fulfill. While that is an established reformed understanding, there have also been other exegetes, within the reformed tradition, that have questioned that hypothetical understanding. And you see that at least for verses 6 to 11 very clearly in John Murray’s Romans commentary. And I would refer us to that discussion, if none other in that regard…
RG : Murray in his Romans commentary, the passage in Romans 2 that runs, particularly the segment that runs through verse 11. 2:6 to 11. He understands that to be describing what will actually be the case for believers. At the day of judgment they will … when God’s righteous judgment will be … when God will give to each person according to his works … that will, in terms of verse 7 … believers will be those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality. And they will receive eternal life. That is John Murray’s teaching on that passage.
AW : John Murray in commenting on Romans 2:13 … I believe probably to 15 … but it’s at least on 2:13. Here’s a quotation from his commentary. He says
It needs to be noted, however, that at this point the apostle restricts himself to the judgment of condemnation. And this advises us that he is dealing now with the equity of God’s judgment of damnation as it is brought to bear upon men who fall into these two categories. This is significant. Whatever is meant by those who are >without law’ there is no suggestion to the effect that any who are >without law’ attain to the reward of eternal life.
It’s page 69 of The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans as published by Eerdmans.
So … on the one hand … can you reconcile the two statements by John Murray here?
RG : Yeah, I think … Sorry. I didn’t bring my commentary along and … [Mr. Gaffin is given a copy of the commentary from one of the panel members.] This is from page 71 on 2:13. Let me read it, what Murray says and then comment.
It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching on this epistle in later chapters. Whether any will be actually justified by works either in this life or at the final judgment is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture.
That … I think is to my mind, what needs to be highlighted here. My own view would be that following … well, my own view would be … that … I think Murray is leaving it an open question here. He’s not addressing … he is saying two things. Number one, no conflict with what Paul teaches later in the letter. Number two, whether or not there will be anyone at the final judgment justified by works – as Paul expressed there – is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture. I think really it’s regrettable we don’t have Professor Murray here to ask this question because I think … my own view in the light of what he has said, and said so clearly about the judgment according to works in two … in verse six … that… it … that would argue for understanding verse 13 here in the same way as describing an actual positive outcome. But he does, as you are pointing out, back away from that. But I can’t … see I think in my own view … it is Professor Murray that is in a bit of a tension here … and the question really needs … I can’t reconcile Murray for you on that regard, which is the question I heard you asking me. And I would just accent again that in his understanding of verses 6-11, he has broken with a large number of Reformed interpreters in arguing that that describes a real judgment scenario with a positive outcome. Which is also how I would understand verse 13 … and well, you can ask Mr. Kinnaird how he understands it.
AW : I guess my point would simply would be that John Murray did not definitively use this chapter in Romans 2 to teach … you know, a judgment for … let me say it this way, that John Murray did use his understanding in this to affirm a more traditional – if you want to say – a traditional or long held view that Romans chapter two was affirming universal condemnation more than any particular manner in which believers are justified.
RG : Sorry about that, I do have to differ with Y
AW : O.K., that is fine …
RG : I think in verses 6 to 11 he does break, if you will with others, Charles Hodge, Haldane, in arguing that the judgment according to works is not hypothetical on it’s positive side… but will have a positive … it’s describing a positive, a real positive scenario in the case of believers. And see that I think is really the issue here. Let’s concede what Murray says about the verse 13 which … this is not … this is not a … this is a point that I am willing to be corrected on, that verse 13 does not describe an actual, an actual scenario at the final judgment. You still have the final judgment according to works as a reality, according to Murray.
So there we see the consequences of Murray’s rejection of the Westminster Confession’s doctrine of the Covenant of Works. Meredith Kline was one of the most vocal critics of Shepherd. In 1994 he penned a very important essay for the OPC magazine New Horizons titled “Covenant Theology Under Attack” in an attempt to defend the doctrine of the Covenant of Works and its corresponding works-merit principle. However, its content was deemed too controversial and was edited for publication. The original essay can be read in full here. Kline said
Recounted in the lore about the founding of our movement is the stirring testimony of the dying Machen in a telegram sent to John Murray: “I’m so thankful for active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”…
The assault on classic covenant theology of which [Daniel] Fuller has become a vociferous spokesman is being endorsed by some prominent leaders within even the broadly Reformed wing of evangelicalism. And the sad fact is that this theology, which undermines the biblical truths that provided Machen with his dying comfort, has had its aiders and abettors within the very movement that Machen founded. Strangely, it was the one who received Machen’s deathbed telegram who opened the door a considerable crack for the views inimical to the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ…
The door left ajar by Murray was thrown wide open to Fuller’s theology by Murray’s successor… Though the ensuing controversy over Shepherd’s views led to his departure, his teaching was not officially renounced by ecclesiastical or seminary arms of our movement, and key elements of the Fuller-Shepherd theology continue to be advocated among us.
But the primary manner in which Kline sought to defend the law/gospel distinction was by recognizing the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works. Contrary to Murray, Leviticus 18:5 was in fact a statement of the principle of works in antithesis to the principle of faith – but it was limited to life and blessing in the land of Canaan, not eternal life. Thus to retain the Covenant of Works, Kline recognized it was necessary to jettison the Mosaic Covenant of Grace (thus rejecting WCF 7.5-6, 19.2).
I am not prepared to say that the OPC has fallen into irreparable apostasy, but something is terribly amiss with a denomination that is willing to indefinitely suspend me from the ministry for holding a position that is part of “a significant and vital stream of Reformed, Presbyterian, and confessional thought,” and then turns right around the very next day and fails to censure a man who teaches a doctrine of justification that has never been part of any stream within the orthodox Reformed tradition, indeed, that denies the very reason for the Reformation itself. The implication is staggering: Murray’s recasting of covenant theology is now an essential test of orthodoxy in the OPC, but the historic Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone is not.
These two rulings of the 70th GA have caused me great sadness, but perhaps they will become a wake-up call to the OPC. I hope and pray that the OPC corrects its course and renews its commitment to the doctrine of justification as clarified by the Law-Gospel contrast taught by Paul and reaffirmed by the Reformers.
Several men began working to demonstrate historical precedent for Kline’s view. In his popular thesis paper “WORKS IN THE MOSAIC COVENANT: A REFORMED TAXONOMY” Brenton C. Ferry explains that he began working on the thesis
during the time of the Lee Irons’ trial in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Lee was proposing and affirming Samuel Bolton’s (1606-1654) view of the Mosaic Covenant, creating the assumption that this was Meredith Kline’s view, which it is not. Worse, Lee was portrayed by men in our denomination as an antinomian, which he is not. The result: he was wrongly deposed. I was a delegate at the General Assembly when Lee lost his appeal. It was most disheartening, but also confirmation that the church needs an accessible outline which reflects the contours of our tradition’s conception of the Mosaic Covenant.
He also recounts his ordination exam.
The research for this thesis began following my ordination exam by the Presbytery of the Southeast in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in October 2000. Towards the end of an otherwise mundane exam, a minister named Patrick Ramsey asked if the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works or a covenant of grace.1 “A covenant of works,” I answered. The room became enlivened. My exam was sustained on condition that I study this issue.
A simplified summary of Ferry’s thesis became a chapter in the Westminster Seminary California-led book “The Law is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant” (2009). The book opens with a 6-page “fictional” narrative of the ordination examination of someone who follows Kline’s view (the intro is written by Westminster Seminary California faculty Bryan Estelle, David VanDrunen, and J.V. Fesko). “The preceding fictional narrative introduces the real issue with which the book deals, namely, the doctrine of republication, which holds that the covenant of works was, in some sense, republished in the Mosaic Covenant at Sinai.” Thus “republication” became code for Kline’s view, even though Kline never used the term, and at the same time introduced considerable confusion by the qualifier “in some sense.” Because it was “in some sense” republished, they could call upon historic support from men who were diametrically opposed to Kline’s view, yet who also affirmed the works principle in the Adamic Covenant of Works in opposition to John Murray. Thus “republication” became the historic idea that Murray rejected, and at the same time the new revision Kline introduced. The book caused more heat than light, largely because of its intentionally vague thesis (“in some sense”).
So that is what has led to the OPC Report on Republication. Two leading reformed theologians of the 20th century attempted to retain different aspects of Westminster’s contradictory view of the Mosaic Covenant and the Covenant of Works, leading each theologian to reject other essential aspects of Westminster’s system of theology. In an attempt to save their own confessional skin, Klinians have mistakenly conceded that Murray’s rejection of the Covenant of Works did not affect Westminster’s system of theology.
Murray did not accept the Standards’ teaching regarding the Covenant of Works… Murray did not believe that he held to the common Reformed position that was historically advocated by Reformed theologians or by the Westminster Standards. In fact, he saw himself as a self-avowed revisionist on the subject of covenant theology…
Recall that the principle of Old School subscription states that a subscriber may take exception to propositions in the Standards. The subscriber may take exceptions to propositions so long as those exceptions do not undermine the overall system. With this in mind, we can see that though Murray reconstructs the Confession’s doctrine of the covenant, his reconstruction still retains the integrity of the overall system…
This is how, then, Murray can still subscribe to the Standards—his conclusions, though through a reconstructed and revised route, do not affect the overall system.
Opponents of Kline have not made the same mistake. They recognize that his rejection of several points of the Westminster Standards do affect the system of theology. The OPC Report states
One may hold that the Mosaic covenant differs in substance from the covenant of grace, without necessarily compromising the idea of the one way of salvation throughout history. The question our report is addressing is whether one can hold to such positions without compromising the system of doctrine taught in our standards…
in the case of substantial republication, an aggregation of tensions has arisen at times such that, when taken together, they create dissonance that begin to reverberate system-wide
The OPC Report on Republication mentions that they were unable to find any historical examples of “View 3: A Mixed Covenant” which it describes as “First, the moral law alone was presented to Israel, which is said to contain in substance a perfect covenant of works… The law was then issued a second time, but with moderation, promising pardon to the penitent, and thus in substance offering a covenant of grace…”
It would appear that John Cotton’s pivotal 1636 sermon in Salem, which sparked a revival in New England, is an example of this view. He distinguishes between the covenant made at Horeb and the covenant made at Moab. Cotton says
The Lord doth profess unto them all that should keep Covenant, That they should Live by keeping Covenant. And this is the Grand and Principle Promise wraping up all other, 18.5. And the Apostle doth Interpret the meaning of that Promise: Gal. 3.12. The Law is not of faith, but the man that doth these things shall Live in them: and this is the Promise of Life which God giveth to those that keep Covenant…
They yield themselves to be accursed of God, if they shall not keep that Covenant; and therefore when it was pronounced, Cursed is e|very one that continueth not in all things that are writ|ten in the Law to do them, all the People did say, Amen; and so their faith lay upon a curse: This is the Old Covenant that God made with his People, and is called a Covenant of Works; the Lord requireth Righteousness and Works, He Promi|seth Life to their Works, and they say, Amen, to enter into a curse. Now this was a temporal Covenant; this my Covenant they brake, saith the Lord; and they did quickly turn aside from the wayes of the Lord, and therefore Moses when he cometh and seeth the Calf which they had made, he brake the Tables of the Covenant…
Now for the Covenant that is Everlasting▪ we may observe therein also four acts of God towards his People… In Jesus Christ He doth give Everlasting Communion with Him. Through Christ He will take away the Stony heart, and give a heart of flesh…
To those that do Apostate from it: Heb. 10.29. Of how much sorer Punishment shall they be thought worthy of who have trodden under foot the Son of God, and have counted the blood of the Covenant, where|with they were sanctified, an unholy thing, & have done despite unto the Spirit of Grace. This Covenant is that which is spoken of, Deut. 29.1. beside the Covenant made in Mount Horeb: and to this Covenant belongeth a heavy curse: Deut. 30.17, 18. If thy heart turn away that thou wilt not bear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them, I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your dayes upon the Land whither thou passest over Jordan to possess it. And that it is the Covenant of Grace, we may perceive by comparing, Deut. 30. 11. to the 14. with, 16.6. So that we may see the Lord doth threaten a heavy curse to fall upon them that transgress this Covenant…
Now, this is the nature of the comfort of an Everlasting Cove|nant, tho’ we fail in Families, and in Churches, yet if Christ be ours, the Everlasting Covenant is ours. Indeed when Moses came and saw the Israelites worshipping the golden Calf, Exod. 32.19. because he saw they had broken Covenant with God, therefore he brake the Tables of the Covenant; to shew the Lord would have no fellowship with them; and if the Covenant had not been renewed, they had perished.
Cotton then applied the point to the question of local church covenants.
The Use of this point in the first Place, may shew us from hence, a ground of that which some of us (yet but few) saw the truth of, in our Native Country, namely the Necessity of a Church Covenant to the Institution of a Church, Come, and let us joyn our selves to the Lord: That which doth make a People a joyned People with God, that doth make a Church: What is that? The Covenant of Grace doth make a People▪ a joyned People with God, and therefore a Church of God; and therefore you shall find that when the Lord Establishes Israel for a Church unto Himself. He maketh this Covenant: not only that in Mount Hareb, but He doth make another Covenant with them in the Plains of Deut. 29 10, 17. And so by this means they come to be established to be a Church unto God.”
Cotton then blasted the Separatist church in Salem for making their local church covenant a covenant of works because they required members to denounce the Church of England and meet other requirements (such as moral reformation and behavior) beyond mere faith in Christ.
USE. II. In the Second Place, Let me pro|voke my Self, and all my Brethren, and all the Churches to Consider, What kind of Covenant you have entred, or will enter into: if you shall come hither into this Country, and shall here confess your Sins, that you have prophaned the Name of God withal, if you take Christ for your King, and Priest & Prophet, and if you shall profess to walk in all his ways, this may all be but a Covenant of works.
The Elders of the Church propound it, Will you renounce all your Sinful Pollutions? Will you keep Covenant? And enter into a Cove|nant with the Church, and take Christ, and pro|mise to walk after all God’s Ordinances? You Answer, All this we will do; all this is no more than the Old Covenant: For you are much de|ceived if you think there was no speech of Christ in the Covenant of works. What were the Ce|remonies but shadows of Christ? What was the laying the hand on the head of the Sacrifice, but the laying hold upon Christ Jesus? What was the blood of the Sacrifice? Was it not the blood of Christ? And what was the Atonement by that blood? Was it not the Atonement which is by Christ? All the understanding Israelites did see that these things did point at Christ. Now, if we do enter into a Covenant to keep the Or|dinances of the Law, of the Gospel, and of the Civil State, (for that was the tripartive Covenant) all this may be but a Covenant of Works. What then must we do? We must fall down before the Lord in our Spirits, and profess our selves insuf|ficient to keep any Covenant, and profess our selves unworthy that the Lord should keep any Covenant with us; as to say, Lord! who am I? Or what is my Fathers house, that the Lord should ever look upon such a poor Soul as I am? What doth the Church lay hold upon duties, and there’s an end? No, no, There are no true Servants of Jesus Christ, but they must be drawn out of themselves by a Spirit of Bondage, and unto Christ by a Spirit of Poverty; and then a Soul seeth there is much in Christ, but he cannot hope there is any thing for him: Now the Lord doth draw a man on to Christ Jesus, and calleth him to believe in Christ, but yet he is not able to reach Him. Now then, if the Lord draw the Soul to depend upon Christ, and shall go forth, and not undertake any thing in his own Strength; so you will keep it by the Strength of the Lord also; now the Lord will have Peace with you, and the gates of Hell shall never prevail against you. Build a Church up|on any other foundation but Faith, and the pro|fession of Faith, and it will break into manifold distempers.
The Separatists insisted that any true Christian must declare full separation from the Church of England because the Church of England had defiled herself by not practicing church discipline. They thereby made their separation the grounds of their cleanness and their inclusion in the church. Cotton concluded:
So in case the Church do tolerate these, that do defile them|selves with any Sinful Pollution, do not I make my self Unclean now by touching this Church?… You see the Church lye in Sin, you will not touch her, then you Sin against her, and have broken your Covenant, Will you suffer your Brother’s Ox to lye in the Mire?… I Pray you therefore consider it: I am marvellously afraid of Separation from Churches upon any breach of duty; they who do Separate for such causes, think they are sprinkled with the water of Separation: but believe it, they are Separa|ted from Christ Jesus for ever, if they so live and so dye. Therefore if you belong to Christ, He will shew you it is not the water of Separa|tion that will serve your turn, but getting Christ Jesus, and sitting closer to Him, and to your Brethren, by Admonishing and Reproving them, if you see them defiled. This will keep you clean, and your hearts clean, and your Souls comfortable: That the Lord hath made an Everlasting Covenant with you that shall never be Forgotten.
Synopsis: Clark does not consider that Abraham’s children refers to the nation of Israel, rather than to the children of believers. This leads him into a mess of contradictions in his covenant theology. Genesis 17:7-8 refers to a typological promise fulfilled in the Old Covenant.
Recently, R. Scott Clark has released a series of podcasts in defense of paedobaptism. The majority of the material in the podcasts comes from a series of blog posts he wrote previously (he is often just reading them). Those posts, as well as other essays that Clark has written, have already been addressed in depth in A Critique of R. Scott Clark’s Covenant Theology. Since Clark did not address any of the criticism I presented in that post, it is still relevant and I refer you there for a thorough treatment.
That said, Clark makes a few comments in the podcasts that are worth commenting on. (It’s worth noting that Clark speaks of “baptists” very broadly, often referring to Arminian Dispensationalists. Only very occasionally does he have confessional baptists specifically in mind.)
Abraham and Moses
Clark’s main argument is simultaneously his main weakness. In response to baptists, Clark emphasizes that Abraham is not Moses. That is, the Abrahamic Covenant is not the Mosaic Covenant. I did not count, but I would not be surprised if he repeated that point at least 60 times over the series of podcasts. Clark is departing from Westminster on this point, resulting in an inconsistent covenant theology. This leads him to deny (in this series) any kind of dichotomy in Abraham, resulting in some strange inconsistencies.
Even though there were typological, for example, land promises and national elements in the promises given to Abraham, those were only temporary expressions of the more fundamental promise to send a Savior. So, in other words, it’s not fair, I don’t think, and the reformed have said, to use Genesis 12 and 15 in order to try and turn Abraham into Moses.
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 notes “There’s a strong temptation among some to treat the Mosaic covenant… as if it were only an administration of the covenant of grace. [That is] a mistake.” (Heidelcast 112, @6:00) Clark is here rejecting the Westminster Confession and referring to those who affirm it. If you’re a paedobaptist and you’ve only learned covenant theology from R. Scott Clark, Michael Horton, and the like then you don’t understand Westminster covenant theology.
Paul’s point here is clear. In the terms in which he is speaking about Moses, and Abraham, they operate on different principles inasmuch as Moses is an administration of the law, the 613 commandments, the Mosaic Covenant says “Do this and live.” The Abrahamic Covenant says “receive freely through faith alone benefits that you did not earn but that were earned for you by another.”
The Old Covenant… was a covenant that was broken. The Covenant of Grace can’t be broken. (113, @13:30)
Thus the Old Covenant was not the Covenant of Grace. The recent OPC Report on Republication states very clearly that this view is contrary to the Westminster Standards, which teaches that the Mosaic Covenant is one with the Abrahamic and New Covenants, which are all equally the Covenant of Grace, and thus operate on the same principle.
Abraham was clothed in types and shadows
Were the typological land promises and national elements Abrahamic? Clark says yes and no. Yes, they were, but they were temporary, so no, they weren’t. Only the promise of Christ was truly, ultimately Abrahamic, he claims. But just because they were temporary does not mean they were not Abrahamic.
What does Hebrews tell us about the land promise? Was Abraham ultimately looking for the land, the physical land of Canaan? Hebrews 11 says no. The promise really was not of physical land, ultimately, but of heaven… ‘And I will give to you and to your seed after you the land of your sojournings.’ And so we know what to do with that. All the land of Canaan. So the land itself, the literal land, was temporary…
The Abrahamic Covenant was also clothed in types and shadows.
Heidelcast 110, @17:00 & 113, @2:00
Ok, so there were promises made to Abraham that were temporary. Certainly they typified a greater promise, but they were nonetheless promises that were temporary. “And so we know what to do with that” – we set it aside as typological and fulfilled.
The Mosaic Covenant… added the national covenant, the national people. There’s no more national people, no more national covenant.
Wait, I thought he already said the national element was an Abrahamic promise. “[T]here were typological, for example, land promises and national elements in the promises given to Abraham.” Ok, so the Mosaic Covenant did not, in fact, add a national element to Abraham. The national element is Abrahamic and it is fulfilled in the Mosaic. And it is no more. It was temporary and typological. And it was Abrahamic. “We recognize that there were typological elements under the Abrahamic administration and those types and shadows have been fulfilled.” (115, @28:00) This is seen very clearly in Deuteronomy 7, which Clark quotes:
Deuteronomy 7:6 ‘For you are a people holy to Yahweh your God. Yahweh your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession out of all the peoples out of the face of the earth.’ So there you see two things. One, this national election, if you will, that is unique to Israel. At the same time you see, and it will become clearer in the succeeding verses, that Yahweh did not choose Israel because of anything in Israel but out of grace… v8 ‘But it is because Yahweh loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers that Yahweh has brought you out with a mighty hand from the house of slavery from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.’ There you see the continuity with Abraham. The promise that was made was the promise that was made to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. ‘Know therefore,’ he says in v9 ‘that Yahweh, your God, is God.’…
So, God saving a nation from physical slavery and bringing them into the literal land of Canaan is the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham (re-read the Duncan quote above). Seems straightforward enough, but that would undermine Clark’s thesis that Abraham is not Moses, so he waffles and offers a rather strange attempt to bifurcate the two.
[T]he second part is a reference to Israel’s national status. Certainly not to their salvation. The whole point of the first half of the passage, Deut 7:6-11, is to say that God elected them and made them his people and brought them out of Egypt by grace alone, which is a clear indicator of the continuity between the Mosaic covenant and the Abrahamic with respect to salvation because their deliverance from Egypt is the great symbol, representation, of God’s gracious salvation of his people.
He says Israel’s “national election… is unique to Israel.” Then he goes on to say “The Covenant of Grace with Abraham was not national, it was not temporary, and it did not have a legal character.” So now we’re back to square one. Did God promise Abraham a nation and the land of Canaan or not? Clark cannot and does not give a consistent answer. He says “yes” and “no” throughout the whole series. In his mind, the Mosaic Covenant has a “dual administration” by which he means an underlying layer regarding eschatological salvation and a temporary overlay regarding the national, typical elements related to the land of Canaan. He claims that only this underlying layer regarding salvation is Abrahamic. The top, national, Canaanite layer was only added by Moses. But there is simply no way to maintain that idea, which is why he doesn’t. “We recognize that there were typological elements under the Abrahamic administration and those types and shadows have been fulfilled.” In other words, the top layer is just as Abrahamic as it is Mosaic.
Yahweh was a God to Abraham and to his children for most of 500 years before Moses. The promises of the Abrahamic Covenant which had already been expressed relative to the land and a national people (see Genesis 12, 15, and 17) came to expression in a temporary, national covenant inaugurated at Sinai. That national covenant, however, does not exhaust the covenant promises of God. (113, @17:25)
We don’t claim that it does. We agree with Augustine 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.”
In other words, there is a dichotomous nature to the Abrahamic Covenant: a two-fold promise concerning a two-fold seed. (For more, see Owen).
What Parts of Abraham Are Typological?
Clark attempts to completely bifurcate Moses from Abraham and insist that the New Covenant is only ever contrasted with Moses and never with Abraham. He says “The substance of the New Covenant is the Abrahamic Covenant.” Which, again, departs from Westminster in an attempt to identify Abraham with the New in contrast to the Old. “Hebrews distinguishes the New Covenant from Moses. Not from Abraham, not from Noah, but from Moses.” (Calvin & Westminster’s explanation is that the only thing being distinguished are the ceremonies – the external administration – not the covenant itself).
By the end of [Heb 11] 24, his attention has arguably moved beyond the contrast between Moses and Sinai to a broader contrast between all the typological elements and their reality in Christ. The indication of Abel here doesn’t change the essential identification of the Old Covenant with Moses and with Sinai. So, whatever potential difficulties might be created for my general thesis of this series by the inclusion of Abel… (114, 13:45)
Yes, this does present a problem for Clark’s thesis. Yes, Scripture does identify the Old Covenant with Moses and Sinai, but it does not do so in exclusion from Abraham and everything else. Rather, Scripture identifies Moses and Sinai as the Old Covenant as the epitome of all Old Testament typology (note the traditional division of Old Testament and New Testament). It is representative of all the types and shadows that have been done away with since the inauguration of the New Covenant. That includes types and shadows, like circumcision and the land and the nation, that are not part of the New Covenant and have passed away. Note Coxe
Thus if we follow the clue of Scripture in our inquiries after the origin of the covenant of peculiarity made with Israel after the flesh, it will certainly guide us to that covenant which God made with Abraham for his natural offspring and sealed by circumcision. Yet that covenant of peculiarity is in the New Testament always styled old and carnal. It is a covenant from which the gospel covenant is distinguished and to which it is in many respects opposed (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-13). (101)
So which parts of the Abrahamic Covenant fall into that category?
Clark has already identified the nation and the land of Canaan as a part of the Abrahamic Covenant that was typological. Clark said that Genesis 12, 15, and 17 made national promises concerning the land.
Genesis 12:2 “I will make of you a great nation”
Genesis 15:5, 13, 18 “And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’… Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years… On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying ‘To your offspring I give this land…’”
Genesis 17:2, 7, 8 “‘that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly’… I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.’”
Those are the promises that God made to Abraham about his carnal, biological seed, the nation of Israel. Those promises were fulfilled, and because they were temporary and typological, they have passed away and are no more. Now, what sticks out as incredibly obvious when you read the above? The offspring in 17:8 is the offspring in 17:7. And the offspring in 17:8 is Abraham’s carnal, biological seed, the nation of Israel. And God says he will be their God. This undermines Clark’s thesis that 17:7 refers to eschatological salvation and to the seed of all believers. It does not. Samuel Rutherford notes
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…
[In] Gen 17… 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…
The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2 [see also verses 6-7]). 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.
What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews.
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… To that nation he fixed his blessing by his covenant with the patriarchs… And in this sense it was that the very family of Jacob were God’s people by covenant, and his chosen people; even when they were no visible saints, when they lived in idolatry, and made no profession of the true religion. 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… So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny.
National Israel is not the seed. We’re still having that discussion. I just had that discussion with someone online the other day over the question, the premise, that one is the seed by virtue of biology or ethnicity. That’s not Paul’s argument at all. That’s the Judaizer’s argument. Jesus is the seed and we are seeds in him by grace alone through faith alone by virtue of our union with him. He is the fulfillment of the promise, however. And so, being ethnically Jewish doesn’t make one seed. What makes one seed is being united to Christ, who is the seed. (114, 21:15)
The problem here is that Clark is skipping over the type and going straight to the anti-type and then denying there was ever a type. Yes, national Israel was absolutely the seed promised to Abraham (Ex. 32:13; Deut 1:10; 10:22; 1 Chron 27:23; Heb 11:12). But Abraham had two seeds and one was a type of the other.
Note also the implication of Clark’s attempt to identify the seed only with Christ. If Christ alone is the seed, then the seed in Genesis 17:7-8 did not refer to Abraham’s physical offspring, and thus it does not refer to the physical offspring of believers. If Genesis 17:7-8 does refer to Abraham’s physical offspring, then they are Abraham’s seed. Clark can’t have his cake and eat it too.
The seed promise is permanent, but it wasn’t about biological offspring, ultimately, even though the promise is administered to believers and their biological offspring. (110, 16:10)
Yes, it was not about the biological offspring ultimately, but it was about the biological offspring initially or penultimately. And the typological biological seed passed away at the coming of Christ. Again, Clark is stuck. If Genesis 17:7-8 refers to Abraham’s physical, biological offspring, then it refers to the nation of Israel. If it does not refer to Abraham’s physical, biological offspring, then it certainly says nothing at all about the physical, biological offspring of believers.
You can’t have Abraham as the father of all believers without the Abrahamic formula, the Abrahamic pattern. So this covenant, this pattern, this formula, is permanent. It’s not temporary. It’s part of the substance of the covenant of grace. (110, 25:00)
Clark has just thrown the type and the anti-type in a blender. Abraham can’t be the father of all believers without Abraham being the father of his biological seed (the nation of Israel). Hmmmm. Furthermore, the “Abrahamic formula” is not simply “I will be the God of you and your offspring after you.” It is also “I will multiply you greatly and will give your offspring the land of Canaan” and “in you all nations of the earth shall be blessed.” So if Clark wants to claim “the Abrahamic formula” for himself, he has to claim all of it. He has to claim that he will be the father of the Messiah and that his numerous offspring will dwell in the land of Canaan.
Children Part of the Substance
Now notice the absurdity that Clark falls into. He just said that the inclusion of Abraham’s physical offspring, and the physical offspring of all believers, is not temporary or typological because it is “part of the substance of the covenant of grace.” Whoops! The entire paedobaptist system is that the children of believers are not part of the substance of the covenant of grace, but are only part of its administration (the part that changes) – as Clark explains elsewhere:
initiating believers and their children into the external administration of the covenant of grace. This is where my baptist friends really need to struggle to see the differences between our different ways of going at things. What we’re talking about here in the reformed church, reformed theology, piety, and practice, is the external administration of the covenant of grace. (115, 34:20)
Which is it? Are the children of believers only in the external administration, or is the inclusion of children part of the substance of the covenant of grace?
The essence [substance] of the covenant of grace remains unchanged. ‘I will be a God to you and to your children.’ (115, 27:00)
If they are only part of the administration, then their inclusion is not permanent and not part of the essence of the covenant. Once again, Clark can’t have his cake and eat it too.
The problem with the baptist objection is that it doesn’t account for two things. First, the formula, to you and your children is not obviously typological. That is, it does not obviously illustrate a future reality fulfilled in Christ or in heaven. (110, 26:00)
First, whether or not it is obvious to Dr. Clark is irrelevant. Second, the reason it’s not obvious to Dr. Clark is because his paedobaptist glasses are obscuring his vision. All he can see is a promise to believers and their seed. But that’s not actually what Genesis 17 says. Genesis 17 is a promise to Abraham and Abraham’s physical offspring, the nation of Israel. And the nation of Israel does, in fact, illustrate a future reality fulfilled in Christ. Note Dr. Clark elsewhere:
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)
Were initiation of infants into the visible covenant community merely typological, were it temporary like circumcision, like animal sacrifice, then we should expect to see the Old Covenant prophets essentially telling us that same thing, that it’s temporary in the way that they tell us that animal sacrifices are temporary, in the way that they tell us that circumcision, physical, medical circumcision, is temporary, but they don’t do that because it’s not temporary. It’s not typological. It’s part of the Abrahamic pattern. (112, 3:45)
1. Being part of the “Abrahamic pattern” does not mean it is not typological. 2. Where do the Old Covenant prophets tell us the national element is temporary? Well Clark himself said “God never intended to have a permanent earthly, national people.” So where do the Old Covenant prophets tell us that?
My baptist friends are convinced that the inclusion of children into the visible covenant community by a sacrament was typological and therefore not part of the New Covenant. We can test that theory, however, in Scripture. Ask yourself this question: The prophets told us that the sacrifices and circumcision were typological and temporary, but where do they tell us that the inclusion of children into the visible covenant community is also temporary and typological like circumcision, like the sacrifices. We can’t just assume that is the case. We have to actually show that is the case. What does Scripture actually say about children, particularly from the point of view of typologies looking forward?… Isaiah ‘I will bring your seed from the east and from the west. I will gather you.’… Is. 44:3 he restates the promise. ‘For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground.’ What does he mean? Well, he explains in the next clause. ‘I will pour my Spirit upon’ whom? ‘your children. And my blessing upon your descendants.’ This is the same sort of imagery that you see in the prophet Joel’s restatement. But you have to see how fundamentally Abrahamic that language is. (113, 3:55)
Again, take off the paedobaptist glasses and ask the question correctly. “Where do the prophets tell us the physical offspring of Abraham – the nation of Israel – was temporary and typological?” This exact same passage, Isaiah 43-44, is written to and about Israel – the very nation Clark says is temporary. When Isaiah says “I will gather you” the “you” is “Israel” “Jacob.” Yes, this language is “fundamentally” Abrahamic. But Abraham was “fundamentally” typological. The “descendants” and “children” refer to the nation of Israel and promise to multiply the seed of Abraham. The fact is, much of the typology of Israel is not unpacked until the New Testament (which is where Clark spends all his time in this essay).
The other thing to be noted here is that the promises of Jeremiah 31 are cast in Mosaic, typological, and prophetic categories or language. And so we need to read it in that same way, read it the same way we read prophetic literature generally. (113, 18:00)
Yup. Absolutely. And Jeremiah says that the New Covenant is made with whom? Believers and their children? Nope. The house of Israel and the house of Jacob – Abraham’s physical descendants. Owen notes:
The persons with whom this 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 grace 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.
Obs. X. The covenant of grace in Christ is made only with the Israel of God, the church of the elect. —For by the making of this covenant with any, the effectual communication of the grace of it unto them is principally intended. Nor can that covenant be said to be made absolutely with any but those whose sins are pardoned by virtue thereof, and in whose hearts the law of God is written; which are the express promises of it.
Contrary to Clark’s insistence, recognizing Jeremiah 31 as prophesying a covenant made with the elect alone is not contrary to a reformed hermeneutic. It is not a literalizing of prophetic hyperbole and it is not over-realized eschatology. It’s just the plain meaning of the text, as Owen explained. Berkhof said “The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly Scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-12.”
Genesis 15 Oath Ceremony
Yahweh, mysteriously, in a type and a shadow, passed between the pieces himself to signify that, should the covenant be broken, he himself would pay the penalty with his own life. And of course we see that promise fulfilled on the cross when God the Son, true God, true man, bore our sins and our covenant breaking in our place. (109, 16:45)
This is very confused. Did Christ die on the cross because of a broken Covenant of Grace or a broken Covenant of Works? The Genesis 15 ceremony does not promise that if Abraham breaks the Abrahamic Covenant, God will bear his curse. Rather, it is a confirmatory oath by God that God will fulfill his promise to Abraham and, if he does not, he will suffer death for breaking his oath.
A Bridegroom of Blood
[Quotes Ex 4:24-26]. Now, this is a cryptic passage and we don’t want to spend a lot of time there, but surely we know there, we see, that the Lord takes very seriously a refusal to administer the sign of the covenant to covenant children. So seriously that Scripture says, in a cryptic way, that Yahweh sought to kill Moses, who is the Old Testament mediator, representative of the people to the Lord and of the Lord to the people. It’s a remarkable passage. We can take away, whatever else we may infer, that the Lord takes very seriously and is most displeased when we refuse to administer the sign of the covenant to believers and to their children. That’s why it’s described in Gen 17 as covenant breaking and that’s why the Lord sought, as it were, kill Moses. (111, 9:00)
It is completely absurd to see in this passage any application to baptism. God does not threaten to kill anyone for not being baptized or for not baptizing their children. Furthermore, is Clark going FV on us? Not being baptized is covenant breaking? What the passage teaches us is that God was serious when he said in Genesis 17 that if someone failed to be circumcised, they would be cut off (which in the Old Covenant refers to death). Coxe said
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.” p. 91
Look at Acts 2:39… ‘For the promise’ remember to whom he’s speaking – he’s speaking to Jewish men at the feast of Pentecost, and when he says ‘the promise’ what promise has been repeated again and again by God to Jews for the last 2,000 years? I will be a God to you and to your children… Peter has summarized Genesis 12, 15, and 17 in one verse. (110, 31:35)
The structure of the promise ‘I’ll be a God to you and to your children’ well, that’s not temporary, that’s not typological. This pattern, as I say, of applying the sign to believers and to their children is permanent, and we know that from Acts 2:38-39 (111, 15:35)
The analogy with Abraham is only strengthened with the invocation of the Abrahamic Covenantal formula. ‘For the promise is to you and to your children.’ The essence of the covenant of grace remains unchanged. ‘I will be a God to you and to your children.’ My baptist friends object by pointing out the Gentiles and I reply by saying ‘So what?’ Our argument was not that Abraham was typological. Of course Gentiles are being included. That is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, that God would make him the father of many nations. (115, 27:00)
No, baptists don’t object by simply pointing out the Gentiles. Baptists object by pointing out that the promise is not to believers and their seed. It is to “everyone to whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Kline said that Clark is mistaken in his interpretation of these verses, and in his whole defense of infant baptism. “When we are establishing the ground for baptizing our children into the church our appeal should not be to the ‘promise,’ for the promised seed is the election and the covenant constituency is not delimited by election.” (KP 364)
Similarly, Dr. E. Calvin Beisner (OPC) says
What of Peter’s statement, “The promise is for you and your children”?… Perhaps we need to look at them a little more carefully… Consider first Peter’s comment in Acts 2:39. Thus far we have quoted only part of it. The whole of it is, “the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Are those who insist that here is a promise of the salvation of the children of believers as quick to say that here is a promise of salvation “for all who are far off”? Those are not simply the children of believers; those include all men everywhere in the world. But does God promise salvation to all men everywhere in the world? Certainly not. Neither, then, does He promise salvation to all the children of believers. What does He promise, then, to all the children of believers and to all people everywhere? Look at verse 38–and I’m going to use my own very literal translation here to make clear the grammatical cause-and-effect relationship that is clear in the Greek but ordinarily gets obscured in English translations: “Y’all repent for the remission of y’all’s sins, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and y’all will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”… The promise is conditional: If you repent and believe in Jesus Christ, you’ll be forgiven. That promise does indeed apply to each and every child of each and every believer; and it also applies to each and every other person who ever lived or ever will live.
Christ did not bring the consummation when he came in his first advent. Instead, he said that he was inaugurating the kingdom of God, not consummating the kingdom of God. (115, 31:00)
Right, but note that Christ was indeed inaugurating the kingdom of God. That means it wasn’t already inaugurated. See When Did the Church Begin?
Regenerate Church Membership
[Baptists] know that their congregations, just like reformed congregations, have unregenerate members. But, by administering baptism only to those who can make a profession of faith, they are doing what they can to ensure a completely regenerate membership. From a reformed point of view, from a reformed covenant theology, it’s quite difficult to see how this is, at bottom, not a form of rationalism. (115, 32:40)
This is just nonsense. Does the fact that Presbyterians limit the baptism of adults to those who profess faith and deny it to those who do not mean that they are, at bottom, rationalists? We’re not trying to discern election. We affirm the “judgment of charity” should be extended to all who profess faith. We deny it should be extended to those who do not profess faith. That doesn’t make us rationalists (a favorite slur of Clark’s). See Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?
Signs and Seals
Heidelberg Catechism 66… Notice the nouns the reformed churches use to describe the sacraments. We call them holy signs and seals. A sign is something that points to something else. By definition, a sign isn’t the thing itself. Now, we call them holy signs and seals but they’re like secular signs and seals too. When I go to the grocery store and see a sign for milk, that’s a pointer for where the milk is. It isn’t the milk itself. When one graduates from school, one gets a diploma. Somewhere on that diploma is a seal and that seal is a mark that testifies to the authenticity of the diploma. It’s the school’s way of guaranteeing that, yes, you were there, yes, you did the work, and yes, you really did graduate. That’s what the reformed churches mean by sign and seal when we talk about sacraments. (116, 2:30)
We agree that sacraments are signs. We do not agree that they are, necessarily, seals. A seal is, by definition, objective. As Clark notes, a seal is a guarantee. Now, would a seal on a diploma guarantee anything if the seal was not objective but was instead contingent upon the individual actually graduating? Would it be a seal if they gave it to every student the first day of their freshman year and said “This seal authenticates and guarantees your graduation… assuming you do in fact graduate”? Of course not. That’s absurd. So is Clark’s view of baptism. Neither would the absurdity be resolved if it were limited to older 4th year students who made a verbal claim to have graduated. The seal would still be meaningless if it was given to all of these students and then said it only applies to those who actually did in fact graduate. That is why baptism is not a seal of the Covenant of Grace and union with Christ. The Appendix to the 2nd London Baptist Confession says
If our brethren do suppose baptism to be the seal of the Covenant which God makes with every beleiver (of which the Scriptures are altogether silent) it is not our concern to contend with them herein; yet we conceive the seal of that Covenant is the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ in the particular and individual persons in whom he resides, and nothing else…
This promise is first made unto him, Thou shalt be the Father of many Nations (in what sense the Apostle explaineth in that chapter) and then there is subjoined a double seal for the confirmation of the thing, to wit, the change of the name Abram into Abraham, and the institution of circumcision. v4. Behold as for me, my Covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the Father of many Nations. Wherefore was his name called Abraham? for the sealing of this promise. Thou shalt be the Father of many Nations. And wherefore was circumcision instituted to him? For the sealing of the same promise.
As an objective confirmation and guarantee (a seal), circumcision was unique to Abraham (which is part of Paul’s point). Scripture never says that circumcision was a seal/guarantee to anyone else. And it never says baptism is a seal.
Neither does a sacrament, by definition, “seal the promise of the gospel.” As Clark correctly notes regarding the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “These two trees are sacraments. They were signs and seals of the covenant that God made with Adam in the garden.” But they were not signs or seals of the gospel. The function and meaning of any covenant sign is determined individually by the covenant it is a part of and by the meaning it is given at its institution.
Paul equates the Red Sea with Christian baptism and he equates the manna and the water in the desert with the Lord’s Supper. Those were sacraments… (116, 15:40)
All passed through the sea and were baptized into Moses… We know from Scripture that there were infants among the company. Paul says that they were all baptized into Moses. There were infants in Israel in the Exodus. All Israel was baptized in the Red Sea. Therefore, infants were baptized. Now, you might object: This is a kind of a figurative baptism, not a real baptism. Well, that’s not what Paul says. (118, 26:50)
The best Clark can do with regards to the early church is argue “by inference” that infant baptism was received from the Apostles because there was never a massive controversy over it (118, 6:45). He cannot point to anything else to say that it was the practice of the early church received from the Apostles.
One legacy of the baptismal breech of the sixteenth century which has militated against a comprehensive history of baptism has been the stubborn hauteur displayed towards Baptists and believers’ baptism by paedobaptist churches and theologians… It is indeed seriously misleading to view the age of the Fathers simply as an era of infant baptism. In fact, of known named individuals in those centuries who were both of Christian parentage and baptized at known dates, the great majority were baptized on profession of faith. The obscuring of a truer picture derives ultimately from sixteenth-century apologetic, both Catholic and Protestant, against the Anabaptists… The timescale of infant baptism’s long reign extends from the early medieval period, from about the sixth century, that is to say, after Augustine of Hippo, who died in 430. It was he who provided the theology that led to infant baptism becoming general practice for the first time in the history of the church, perhaps in the later fifth century, more likely in the 500s or even later.
Again, these words are from a Presbyterian historian, not a baptist with an axe to grind.
Invention of Paedobaptist Covenant Theology
Much of what we know today as covenant theology emerged in [Zwingli’s] defense of the unity of the covenant of grace against his Anabaptist critics.
Now, it’s tempting, and it’s an easy answer to think the reason confessional, reformed protestant churches all disagreed with the anabaptists, and ultimately with modern baptist evangelicals about baptism is that they’re still unduly influenced by Romanism. But, as I keep saying, that answer simply does not account for the actual history of the reformation. It doesn’t account for their own lives, their writing, and their ministry. So, perhaps Augustine, Anselm, Thomas, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Bullinger, Bucer, Melanchthon, and the reformed churches and the Lutheran churches and the Anglican churches are all wrong about infant baptism. That is a logical possibility But maybe they are not. If they are wrong, however, it is not because they have not sought to follow the teaching of Scripture. (118, 25:00)
Clark thinks that as long as someone formally holds to sola scriptura, they cannot be unduly influenced by unbiblical tradition. As long as they seek to follow the teaching of Scripture, they cannot possibly be influenced by any incorrect thoughts. Obviously that is not the case, as church history and our own personal experience demonstrates. It is entirely possible that the reformers sought to conform all of their thoughts to Scripture, but were led to misinterpret Scripture because of various influences. Isn’t that how Clark would explain the fact that these guys were all Constantinian magisterial reformers defending the established church and the practice of non-toleration as vital to the reformation? The truth is, their belief in infant baptism was very intimately connected to their defense of Constantinianism. (See Calvin vs 1689 Federalism on Old vs New).
And all one has to do is look at Augustine, Anselm, Thomas, Zwingli, Calvin, Bullinger, Bucer, Melanchthon and Luther to see that, though they share a common practice, they have drastically different reasons and meanings for the practice. And the same is true within Presbyterianism. They share a common practice but have several different, contradictory understandings of the meaning (see this recent thread as just one example, and add Kline’s “new and improved” argument for infant baptism to the mix).
Infant baptism remains a practice in search of a theology.
If God denies baptism to children of believers then it must be because he denies them the grace signified by baptism- John Owen 10/18/16, 5:29 PM
God having appointed baptism as the sign of regeneration, unto whom he denies it, he denies the grace signified by it. Why is it the will of God that unbelievers and impenitent sinners should not be baptized? It is because, not granting them the grace, he will not grant them the sign. If, therefore, God denies the sign unto the infant seed of believers, it must be because he denies them the grace of it; and then all the children of believing parents dying in their infancy must, without hope, be eternally damned. I do not say that all must be so who are not baptized, but all must be so whom God would have not baptized.
Some think this is a good argument. Others recognize there is something off – but it’s not easy to pinpoint precisely what. In such instances, translating an argument into syllogistic form often helps to reveal the error in logic.
P1: If God denies someone the grace of regeneration, he denies them the sign of regeneration.
P2: God denies someone the sign of regeneration.
C: Therefore he denies them the grace of regeneration.
[Lord willing, I will further revise/expand this post in the future (feedback is appreciated). I’m posting it for now to provide context for the OPC Report on Republication.]
John Murray said he rejected the Covenant of Works for two reasons:
(1) The term is not felicitous, for the reason that the elements of grace entering into the administration are not properly provided for by the term ‘works’.
(2) It is not designated a covenant in Scripture. Hosea 6:7 may be interpreted otherwise and does not provide the basis for such a construction of the Adamic economy. Besides, Scripture always uses the term covenant, when applied to God’s administration to men, in reference to a provision that is redemptive or closely related to redemptive design. Covenant in Scripture denotes the oath-bound confirmation of promise and involves a security which the Adamic economy did not bestow.
Some have argued that John Murray did not reject the covenant of works. They insist that all the elements of the Covenant of Works are present in his view, he just chose not to use that language. This argument has plausibility with regards to Murray’s rejection of the term “covenant.” All one has to do is point out that he defined covenant wrong. He still held to all the elements of a covenant with Adam when covenant is properly defined.
However, most tend to overlook the much more important reason Murray had for rejecting the Covenant of Works. Murray explicitly argued that the reward of eternal life would not have been by works. It would have been a gift of God’s grace, not a reward of debt according to justice. What Murray was rejecting was the concept of ex pacto or covenantal merit, known as “the works principle.” Thus, while one could argue he held to an Adamic Covenant (by rejecting Murray’s definition of covenant), he did not hold to an Adamic Covenant of Works.
Part of his argument is that there is no works principle found anywhere in Scripture – pre or post-fall. “In connection with the promise of life it does not appear justifiable to appeal, as frequently has been done, to the principle enunciated in certain texts (cf. Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12), ‘This do and thou shalt live’.”
Murray did not accept the Standards’ teaching regarding the Covenant of Works… Murray did not believe that he held to the common Reformed position that was historically advocated by Reformed theologians or by the Westminster Standards. In fact, he saw himself as a self-avowed revisionist on the subject of covenant theology…
What led Murray to reject the Covenant of Works?
Many focus on the rise of dispensationalism and Murray’s response to it as an explanation for his rejection of the Covenant of Works. In other words, he just over-reacted to dispensationalism by flattening out all of Scripture.
However, Murray actually said he was influenced by Karl Barth on this point. Ligon Duncan explains:
Now, here is the inside scoop. As Donald Macleod talked with John Murray when he came back from Scotland, there were a number of things that had made a major impact on Murray with regard to Covenant Theology. For one thing, Murray was impacted by Vos and by a guy named Adolph Desmond. Desmond was a big time German New Testament scholar at the turn of the twentieth century who had argued very strongly that Covenant should not be translated as a contract or a treaty or a mutual relationship, but it ought to be translated as a disposition or a testament, something that was one-sided as opposed to two-sided. And Desmond did this because he had uncovered all this literature from Greek legal documents contemporary to the New Testament and many New Testament scholars followed Desmond for a period of time. His views have since then been overturned, but he was very influential in the first part of the twentieth century. And so Murray was very influenced by this one-sided idea of covenant. And he found the obediential aspect of the historic Covenant of Works to be a little two-sided for his taste. So, you will see him, when he defines covenant in his little tract called The Covenant of Grace, he will define it in a very one-sided, a very monopluric sort of way. And he is following Vos there and he is following Desmond.
But, the other interesting thing is, is that Murray indicated to Macleod that he had actually been impacted a bit by Barth’s argumentation on the nature of the Covenant of Works and so although Murray would have been stridently in opposition to Barth’s doctrine of the Scripture and his doctrine of the Atonement, yet he was swayed to a certain extent by some of Barth’s arguments regarding Covenant of Works. And Macleod had opportunity to interact with him on that and argue against those particular points, but Murray held to his objections and to this day, Westminster Seminary has tended to be a little bit skittish about the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace framework.
Murray, though a faithful exponent of the system of doctrine contained in the WCF, was perhaps more critical of this aspect of the WCF than he was of any other. Based upon his own biblical-theological reflection, Murray offered several of what he believed were needed correctives to the traditional formulations of federal theology, including the classical form found in the WCF…
There are several respects in which Murray’s treatment of this Adamic administration differs from traditional covenant theology. As we have already noted, this difference is partially terminological… But the divergence is far more than terminological…
This promise [of eternal life] would not be granted upon the principle of strict justice or merit — God’s justice does not require that Adam should ever be granted the status of immutability in fellowship with God — but would be expression of God’s undeserved favor…
[In connection with the promise of life it does not appear justifiable to appeal, as frequently has been done, to the principle enunciated in certain texts (cf. Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12), ‘This do and thou shalt live’. The principle asserted in these texts is the principle of equity, that righteousness is always followed by the corresponding award. From the promise of the Adamic administration we must dissociate all notions of meritorious reward. The promise of confirmed integrity and blessedness was one annexed to an obedience that Adam owed and, therefore, was a promise of grace. All that Adam could have claimed on the basis of equity was justification and life as long as he perfectly obeyed, but not confirmation so as to insure indefectibility. Adam could claim the fulfilment of the promise if he stood the probation, but only on the basis of God’s faithfulness, not on the basis of justice.]
Murray also challenged another commonplace of the older federal theology, namely, that the Mosaic economy or covenant included within itself a repetition of the obligation of obedience, first enunciated in the covenant of works.
The view that in the Mosaic covenant there was a repetition of the so-called covenant of works, current among covenant theologians, is a grave misconception and involves an erroneous construction of the Mosaic covenant, as well as fails to assess the uniqueness of the Adamic administration. The Mosaic covenant was distinctly redemptive in character and was continuous with and extensive of the Abrahamic covenants.
Apparently, because Murray wants to emphasize the gracious and sovereign disposition of the Adamic arrangement, as well as the essential graciousness of the biblical covenant of grace, he does not want to admit the legal requirement of obedience to be as integral to this arrangement or the post-fall covenant of grace, as was typically the case in the history of covenant theology.
This emphasis upon all of God’s covenants as voluntary condescensions preserves, it seems to me, the WCF from the charge of depriving the original covenant of the element of God’s favor and goodness, as though it were only a matter of strict justice between a Master and his servant. Moreover, by its apparent distinction between the original natural state in which “reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him [God] as their Creator” and the covenant of works, the WCF preserves the element of unmerited bestowal and grant in this original covenant. It simply cannot be argued convincingly that the WCF neglects this component of the original covenant relationship between God and the creature before the fall into sin and the institution of the covenant of grace.
But if WCF 7.1 easily addresses Murray’s concern, why did Murray still have a concern? Did he not understand 7.1? That’s possible – after all, Van Til certainly caused some confusion. But I don’t think that was the case with Murray. As the chair of systematic theology and one acquainted with historical theology, I doubt Murray was oblivious to something that was obvious to Venema.
In fact, I think it was actually Murray’s acquaintance with the confession and his systematic concern that motivated his revision. I think Murray recognized that the Westminster Confession is self-contradictory on this point and he sought to iron it out.
If you recall Murray’s quote above about the works principle, he mentions Lev 18:5, Gal 3:12, Rom 10:5 as the texts frequently appealed to to articulate the works principle of the Covenant of Works. The WCF cites Gal 3:12 and Rom 10:5 as proof of the covenant of works (in the catechism as well). However, it does not quote Lev 18:5. Why not? Well, because Leviticus 18:5 states the terms of the Mosaic Covenant, which the Westminster Confession says is the Covenant of Grace. Therefore Leviticus 18:5 cannot be a statement of the terms of the Covenant of Works.
In a very helpful WTJ essay titled In Defense of Moses, D. Patrick Ramsey explains why Leviticus 18:5 was not included in the Standards as a proof-text for the Covenant of Works.
Objection 4: In expounding the covenant of works made with Adam the Westminster Confession of Faith uses Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:12 as proof texts. Both of these texts quote Lev 18:5, which refers to the Mosaic Covenant. Therefore, the Divines understood the Mosaic Covenant to be a covenant of works.
The texts that the Westminster Standards used to expound the Covenant of Works are Gen 1:26-27; 2:17; Job 28:28; Eccl 7:29; Rom 2:14-15; 5:12-20; 10:5; Gal 3:10; 3:12 (WCF 7.2; 19.1). None of these texts are from the Mosaic Covenant; however, Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:10, 12 quote verses from the Mosaic Covenant.
The reasons for appealing to these New Testament quotations of Moses vary among the writings of the Puritans.  Some believed that they taught that the Covenant of Works was renewed at Mount Sinai though with evangelical purposes and intentions…  A similar position stated that these passages taught that the Mosaic Law contained a restatement of the principle of works. It was not re-established or renewed, only republished and repeated in order to drive men to Christ…
 A third Puritan position understood the proof texts used by the Westminster Confession of Faith to refer to the Law absolutely or separated from the Gospel. When the Mosaic Law is taken out of its context, then and only then does it become contrary to the Gospel by becoming the matter (describes the righteousness required in the Covenant of Works) and/or form (offers life by works) of the Covenant of Works. Hence, passages like Deut 27:26 and Lev 18:5 did not, in their original intent, renew or repeat the Covenant of Works.
The Pharisees and Judaizers of Paul’s day distorted the Law by separating it from the Gospel and used it for their justification before God. Paul’s quotations of Moses in Romans and Galatians are thus referring to the Jews’ perversion of the Law. In so doing the apostle expounds the principle of works, which is applicable to the Covenant of Works made with Adam.
Of these three possible explanations for the use of Gal 3:10, 12 and Rom 10:5 as proof texts for the Covenant of Works, the third is the most likely. This is so because the Divines did not use Lev 18:5, Deut 27:26, or any passage pertaining to the Mosaic Covenant as proof texts. If they had understood the Mosaic Covenant to be a renewal or republication of the Covenant of Works, they probably would have appealed to the Law of Moses directly, as many Puritans did.
So, according to this view, the moral law itself, separated from the Gospel, contains the works principle. In it’s original context, Leviticus 18:5 is a statement of the moral law in the Covenant of Grace. But in quoting Leviticus 18:5, Paul abstracts the law from it’s context in the Mosaic Covenant of Grace and applies it to his situation with the Judaizers. Guy P. Waters, in his chapter in The Law is Not of Faith titled Romans 10:5 and the Covenant of Works? argues this point.
Paul considers the moral demands of the Mosaic law, in distinction from the gracious covenant in which they were formally promulgated, to set forth the standard of righteousness required by the covenant of works.
 This position for which I will be arguing is essentially that argued by Anthony Burgess, “The Law (as to this purpose) may be considered more largely, as that whole doctrine delivered on Mount Sinai, with the preface and promises adjoyned, and all things that may be reduced to it; or more strictly, as it is an abstracted rule of righteousnesse, holding forth life upon no termes, but perfect obedience. Now take it in the former sense, it was a Covenant of grace; take it in the later sense, as abstracted from Moses his administration of it, and so it was not of grace, but workes,” Vindiciae Legis: Or, A Vindication of the Morall Law and the Covenants, from the Errours of
Papists, Arminians, Socinians, and more especially, Antinomians. In XXX. Lectures, preached at Laurence-Jury, London (2d ed.; London, 1647), 235. Anthony Burgess was a member of the Westminster Assembly and served on the committee that drafted WCF 19 (“Of the Law of God”).
John Murray observes that “[The problem that arises from this use of Lev. 18:5 is that the latter text does not appear in a context that deals with legal righteousness as opposed to that of faith.] Lev. 18:5 is in a context in which the claims of God upon his redeemed and covenant people are being asserted and urged upon Israel… [It] refers not to the life accruing from doing in a legalistic framework but to the blessing attendant upon obedience in a redemptive and covenant relationship to God.” If the Scripture teaches that the Mosaic administration is an administration of the covenant of grace, as the Westminster divines affirm (7.5), then how could Paul have interpreted Lev 18:5 as he has? How could he have taken a passage which, in context, appears to refer to the sanctificational works of a redeemed person within the covenant community, and apply this text to individuals seeking the righteousness of justification on the basis of their performance?… Has Paul misquoted Leviticus 18:5 at Romans 10:5?
Waters’ proposed solution is that the moral law itself inherently includes the works principle (ex pacto merit) unless the works principle is stripped away by coming to us through the hand of Christ, as it did in the Mosaic Covenant. As I demonstrated in another post, the problem with this view is that it contradicts WCF 7.1, which teaches that the law itself does not offer any reward for obedience to the law and therefore does not include any works principle. The works principle is only added to the law in the Covenant of Works.
Murray was sharper than Waters on this point. I believe he recognized that Waters’ solution (repeating a historic solution) was no solution at all because it was self-contradictory in that it conflated the law and the covenant of works on this point while elsewhere necessarily distinguishing them (see the Waters post).
Commenting on Romans 10:5, Murray says that “’The man that doeth the righteousness of the law shall live thereby”, is, of itself, an adequate and watertight definition of the principle of legalism. (See Appendix B, pp. 249ff., for fuller discussion.)” In Appendix B: Leviticus 18:5 he argues that this principle is “the principle of equity in God’s government” and there are “three distinct relationships in which [it] has relevance.”
1… Wherever there is righteousness to the full extent of God’s demand there must also be the corresponding justification and life… God’s judgment is always according to truth. Perfect righteousness must elicit God’s favour or complacency and with this favour is the life that is commensurate with it. This would have obtained for Adam in sinless integrity apart from any special constitution that special grace would have contemplated.
Note well: this principle applied to Adam prior to and apart from God’s condescension to reward his obedience – that is, prior to and apart from any Covenant of Works. Recall what Murray said in his Adamic Administration essay. “All that Adam could have claimed on the basis of equity was justification and life as long as he perfectly obeyed, but not confirmation so as to insure indefectibility.” In other words, “life” according to this principle is not “eternal life” but merely “not death.”
2. The principle ‘the man who does shall live’ must be regarded as totally inoperative within the realm of sin… In alluding to Lev. 18:5 at this point he uses the formula ‘the man that doeth… shall live thereby’ as a proper expression in itself of the principle of works-righteousness in contrast with the righteousness of faith. We have no right to contest the apostle’s right to use the terms of Lev. 18:5 for this purpose since they do describe that which holds true when law-righteousness is operative unto justification and life and also express the conception entertained by the person who espouses the same as the way of acceptance with God (cf. also Gal. 3:12).
In other words, the second relationship is in reference to the first, but at a time when man has already fallen. It is a hypothetical statement of what is true if man had not fallen, but that is now “totally inoperative within the realm of sin.” This is how Paul uses it in Romans 10:5. He is adopting “the conception entertained by the person who espouses” righteousness by the law.
3… righteousness and life are never separable. Within the realm of justification by grace through faith there is not only acceptance with God as righteous in the righteousness of Christ but there is also the new life which the believer lives… So Paul can say in the most absolute terms, ‘If ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (8:13). In the realm of grace, therefore, obedience is the way of life. He that does the commandments of God lives in them. The fruit of the Spirit is well-pleasing to God… It is this principle that appears in Lev. 18:5…
Lev. 18:1-5 is parallel to Exod. 20:1-17; Deut 5:6-21… The whole passage is no more “legalistic” than are the ten commandments. Hence the words “which if a man do, he shall live in them” (vs. 5) refers not to the life accruing from doing in a legalistic framework but to the blessing attendant upon obedience in a redemptive and covenant relationship to God.
Note the difference between Murray and Waters. Waters says Paul can quote Leviticus 18:5 on this point because the moral demands of the law itself set forth the works principle found in the Covenant of Works. When the gracious covenant context is added to the law, this works principle is removed. Waters notes that WCF 7.2 references Romans 10:5. Murray rejects the confession on this point arguing there is no works principle and no Covenant of Works.
The problem with Murray’s attempted explanation is that it does not sufficiently explain how Paul can quote Leviticus 18:5 as expressing law righteousness since it, in fact, does not. Paul does not say “according to a mistaken conception entertained by the person who espouses a law righteousness that no longer applies, the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” Rather, Paul says “Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” If Leviticus 18:5 “refers not to the life accuring from doing in a legalistic framework” then Moses did not “write about the righteousness that is based on the law.” Paul did not merely “allude” to Leviticus 18:5, nor did he merely “use the terms of Lev. 18:5.” Paul quoted Moses’ teaching on law-righteousness.
When the OPC was formed, it established a Committee on Texts and Proof Texts, headed by John Murray.
As a preliminary step toward the printing of the doctrinal standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Seventh General Assembly (1940) established a Committee on Texts and Proof Texts (consisting of John Murray [chairman], E. J. Young, and Ned B. Stonehouse, who was replaced in 1941 by John H. Skilton) to study the texts and proof texts of those documents. That Committee submitted to the Eighteenth General Assembly (1951) “the text of the Confession of Faith, together with the proof texts as revised by the Committee.” The text, except for the revisions that had been adopted by the Second General Assembly in 1936, was “derived from the original manuscript written by Cornelius Burges in 1646, edited by S. W. Carruthers [in 1937] and published by the Presbyterian Church of England in 1946.” That text of the Confession, with a few corrections, was adopted by the Twentysecond General Assembly (1955), approved by nearly all the presbyteries, and adopted again by the Twenty-third General Assembly (1956). The proof texts prepared by the Committee were accepted for publication. The Confession was then published with these proof texts (as citations, not full texts) by the Committee on Christian Education and reprinted by Great Commission Publications
The Scripture proof texts were originally prepared by the Westminster divines, revised over the years by a succession of committees, and approved for publication by various general assemblies of the OPC, but are not a part of the constitution itself.
The original Westminster Confession did not cite Leviticus 18:5 anywhere. In light of the resolution that Murray arrived at, he added Lev 18:5 as a proof text to WCF 19.6.
VI. Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned;[a] yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs, and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives;[c] so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of His obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof;[s] although not as due to them by the law, as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and not under grace.
s. Ex. 19:5–6. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. Deut. 5:33. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess. Lev. 18:5. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord. Matt. 19:17. And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Lev. 26:1–13. … If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land. And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.… For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you.… And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.… 2 Cor. 6:16. And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Eph. 6:2–3. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. Ps. 19:11. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Ps. 37:11. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. Matt. 5:5. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Note that Matthew 19:17 was added as well. This raises an interesting question as to how Murray saw this principle in relation to “life” and the final judgment for the redeemed Christian. In a lecture titled “Justification” contained in his Collected Writings, Murray says
While it makes void the gospel to introduce works in connection with justification, nevertheless works done in faith, from the motive of love to God, in obedience to the revealed will of God and to the end of his glory are intrinsically good and acceptable to God. As such they will be the criterion of reward in the life to come. This is apparent from such passages as Matthew 10:41; 1 Corinthians 3:8–9, 11–15; 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:7. We must maintain therefore, justification complete and irrevocable by grace through faith and apart from works, and at the same time, future reward according to works. In reference to these two doctrines it is important to observe the following:
(i) This future reward is not justification and contributes nothing to that which constitutes justification. (ii) This future reward is not salvation. Salvation is by grace and it is not as a reward for works that we are saved. (iii) The reward has reference to the degree of glory bestowed in the state of bliss, that is, the station a person is to occupy in glory and does not have reference to the gift of glory itself. (iv) This reward is not administered because good works earn or merit reward, but because God is graciously pleased to reward them. That is to say it is a reward of grace. (In the Romish scheme good works have real merit and constitute the ground of the title to everlasting life.) The good works are rewarded because they are intrinsically good and well-pleasing to God. They are not rewarded because they earn reward but they are rewarded only as labour, work or service that is the fruit of God’s grace, conformed to his will and therefore intrinsically good and well-pleasing to him. They could not even be rewarded of grace if they were principally and intrinsically evil.
He held that there was a future judgment for God’s redeemed people, but only to determine the degree of reward they will receive in glory, not whether they will enter glory. However, as we just saw, Matthew 19:17 was cited in order to explain “what blessings [Christians] may expect upon the performance” of the law. Matthew 19:17 is Jesus’ answer to the rich young man who asked “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” – that is, to enter glory, as Jesus replied “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Thus there appears to be a bit of tension in Murray’s thought on this point. Note his commentary on Romans 2:5-16 where he rejects the hypothetical view held by older reformed theologians.
The reward of this aspiration is in like manner the eschatology of the believer, “eternal life”… Could God judge any unto the reward of eternal life (cf. vs. 7) if works are the criteria? ‘The apostle thus speaks, not in the way of abstract hypothesis but of concrete assertion… He says not what God would do were He to proceed in accordance with the primal rule and standard of the law, but what, proceeding according to that rule, He will actually do.’… The determining factor in the rewards of retribution or of glory is not the privileged position of the Jew but evil-doing or well-doing respectively.
Samuel Waldron notes
Murray’s lecture on justification contained in the Collected Writings affirms that works only have to do with the degree of reward in glory, while in his Romans commentary he affirms that the judgment by works which has the twin consequences of eternal life and wrath is not hypothetical. I see no way to evade the fact of some contradiction between the two statements…
I think a good argument could be made that the Romans commentary contains Murray’s more mature and definitive thoughts. This is so for two reasons. First, as Iain Murray notes in his introduction to CW 2 (vi-ix) Murray resisted appeals to publish the class lectures from which the article on justification in CW 2 is taken. It seems clear, then, that his commentary which he wrote for publication should be given some precedence over the lecture in CW 2. Also the commentary was published in 1959 only 7 years before his retirement from Westminster in 1966. The lecture likely dates from much earlier in his tenure at Westminster where he taught systematic theology from 1930.
So there appears to be development in Murray’s thought as he works out the implications of Leviticus 18:5. Returning to his commentary, note that verse 13 goes on to say “the doers of the law who will be justified,” which leads Murray directly towards a dangerous position. He attempts to put on the brakes
It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching of this epistle in later chapters. Whether any will be actually justified by works either in this life or at the final judgment is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture. The burden of this verse is that not the hearers or mere possessors of the law will be justified before God but that in terms of the law the criterion is doing, not hearing. The apostle’s appeal to this principle serves that purpose truly and effectively, and there is no need to import questions that are not relevant to the universe of discourse.
This is the first occasion that the word “justify” is used in this epistle. Although it is not used here with reference to the justification which is the grand theme of the epistle, the forensic meaning of the term is evident even in this case. “Shall be justified” is synonymous with “just before God” and the latter refers to standing or status in the sight of God. To justify, therefore, would be the action whereby men would be recognized as just before God or the action whereby men are given the status of being just in God’s sight. For a fuller treatment of the nature of justification and the meaning of the terms the reader is referred to the appendix on this subject (pp. 336 ff).
Murray attempts to backpedal by arguing that “will be justified” is hypothetical, in direct contradiction to his previous statements about the passage. As a result, you will actually get two different interpretations of Murray, some saying he denied the hypothetical interpretation, others saying he agreed with it. (See here and here as examples)
In an attempt to work out the contradictions in the system of theology found in the Westminster Confession, particularly the idea that the Mosaic Covenant of Works was the Covenant of Grace, John Murray rejected the Covenant of Works on the grounds that Scripture does not teach a “works principle” in Leviticus 18:5 or anywhere else. Contrary to Guy Waters and others, Murray recognized that Leviticus 18:5 was the statement of a principle – the principle of equity – not simply the law itself. He therefore recognized that the principle found in Leviticus 18:5 and Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 must be the same. He recognized that if the principle found in Leviticus 18:5 is part of the terms of the Covenant of Grace, then that principle is not part of the terms of a Covenant of Works. Therefore the principle found in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 is not a Covenant of Works. Therefore Scripture does not teach a Covenant of Works.
As Murray began to iron out Westminster’s inconsistent appeal to Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12, he also began to iron out the implications of his view for the rest of his theology. We saw progression in his thought in the wrong direction – towards a false gospel of justification by works. He slammed on the breaks, but without a consistent explanation as to why – leaving it to his successors to work out.
An objection is often raised as to how God could enter into a covenant of works with fallen sinners. (Note: “a” covenant of works, not “the” covenant of works)
It is argued that a covenant that operates upon a principle of works (If you do this, then you will get this) must start from the basis of innocence. If someone is innocent, then they can earn a reward. However, if they are not innocent, if they have a guilt that must be paid, then they cannot earn anything until that guilt is paid. So a fallen sinner cannot enter into a covenant of works for any kind of reward (even temporal) until that guilt is paid (which they cannot do).
It is a strong argument on the face of it. However, the problem is that Scripture throws us a curve ball. Leviticus 18:5 says that the Mosaic Covenant, which is made with fallen sinners, operates upon the principle of “if you do this, then you will get this.” That principle is repeated throughout the Old Testament, particularly in Ezekiel when Israel is being prosecuted for their violation of the covenant. Bryan D. Estelle notes
Leviticus 18:5’s influence on Ezekiel is of paramount importance. The purpose of these echoic allusions in Ezekiel is to show that what Israel has failed to do, God will do… Leviticus 18 allusions are seen throughout the entire book of Ezekiel and not merely restricted (as often) to chapter 20 of Ezekiel where three citations of Lev 18:5 have frequently been noted… Israel’s failure to fulfill the stipulations is highlighted repeatedly in Ezekiel 1-24…
Paul also quotes Leviticus 18:5 twice in the NT. Both times he does so to demonstrate the antithesis between the law and faith (Rom 10:5, Gal 3:12).
Those who object that God could not make a covenant of works with fallen man usually argue that Lev 18:5 is not stating the terms of the Mosaic Covenant. They claim it is just a reference, or proclamation of the original Adamic Covenant and it is just reminding Israelites of it. It’s not stating the terms of the Mosaic Covenant, they argue, only declaring the original terms of the Adamic Covenant. However, not only is this an impossible reading of the text itself, it fails the systematic test as well. (See Guy Waters on Leviticus 18:5)
So, biblically speaking, Lev 18:5 proves that a covenant made with fallen sinners operates upon a works principle. So there must be a problem with the original objection. The problem is that not only are fallen sinners unable to earn anything, fallen sinners are unable to breathe the very air they breathe each day and eat the food they eat each day. They deserve only God’s wrath and death. Yet somehow they continue to eat and breathe and live. That is because of God’s long-suffering towards them. All mankind deserved immediate eternal punishment upon Adam’s breach of his covenant of works. But God delayed and preserved mankind. God is willing and able, while maintaining his justice, to give them gifts (Matt. 5:45) when they only deserve wrath – and to do so apart from union with Christ.
So then what is preventing him from choosing some of those fallen sinners and offering them gifts above and beyond the norm (rain and sun) upon the condition that they do something? There can be no objection of injustice anymore than there can be an objection of injustice on God’s part towards every fallen sinner.
“But,” they will object, “that would mean that there is some kind of grace involved, and therefore it cannot be a covenant of works!” Not so fast. WCF/LBCF 7.1 teach that even the original Covenant of Works was established through God’s “voluntary condescension.” Mankind owed obedience to God by nature without the expectation of any reward, yet God “graciously” condescended to reward that obedience with something. So offering man something that he does not deserve, on the condition of his obedience, is not inconsistent with a covenant of works. Note what Owen says:
The covenant of works had its promises, but they were all remunerative, respecting an antecedent obedience in us; (so were all those which were peculiar unto the covenant of Sinai). They were, indeed, also of grace, in that the reward did infinitely exceed the merit of our obedience; but yet they all supposed it, and the subject of them was formally reward only.
But, if this reasoning proves anything, will it not prove, that a God of spotless purity, can enter into a friendly treaty with men, whom yet, on account of their sins, he utterly abhors. And what if it does? Perhaps, the assertion, however shocking at first view, may, on a narrower scrutiny, be found innocent. We assert not any inward eternal friendship between God and the unconverted Jews. We only assert an external temporal covenant, which, though it secured their outward prosperity, gave them no claim to God’s special favour. Where then is the alleged absurdity? Will you say it is unworthy of God to maintain external communion with sinners, or to impart to them any blessings? What then would become of the bulk of mankind? Nay, what would become of the patience and longsuffering of God? Or is it absurd, that God should reward actions that flow from bad motives when we have an undoubted instance of his doing this in the case pf Jehu? Or is it absurd, that God would entail favours on bad men, in the way of promise or covenant? Have you forgot God’s promise to Jehu, that his children of the fourth generation should sit on the throne of Israel? Or have you forgot, what concerns you more, God’s covenant with mankind in general, no more to destroy the earth by a flood (2 Kings 10:30; Gen 9:12)?