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Chris Caughey’s Open Letter

November 14, 2016 2 comments

Chris Caughey is a co-host of the new Glory Cloud Podcast focusing on the teachings of Meredith Kline. He was a student of Kline’s at Westminster Seminary California. He recently completed a PhD study on 17th century views of the Mosaic Covenant, including what appears to be a rather good look at Owen. I may be mistaken, but I think his study may have been done under Crawford Gribben (at the very least Gribben has read it and recommends it – I have not read it). I appreciate Caughey’s perspective. He recognizes that there was a view of the Mosaic Covenant in the 17th century (the Westminster view, though he might quibble with what it does or does not allow) that is unbiblical and logically leads to very serious errors.

I mention all this because someone recently sent me an Open Letter that Caughey wrote in response to Micah and Samuel’s Renihan’s paper “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology” which was originally delivered a lunch-time lecture while they were students at WSC and has since been published in the volume Recovering a Covenantal Heritage.

I do not know when Caughey wrote his open letter, so I don’t know if he would still affirm what it says or not. Much of his concern stems from misunderstanding the purpose of the paper/presentation and (apparently) not having studied the literature. He criticizes them for not providing a full exegetical defense of their position. But that was not their intention. Their intention was to provide a brief overview of Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology. They reference Nehemiah Coxe and others, as places readers can turn to to read a book-length exegetical defense of the position. Since then many other publications have become available (see http://www.1689federalism.com for a list). It does not appear that Caughey had studied that material at the time of his Open Letter.

That said, someone still asked about it and it provides an opportunity to point people to resources that address Caughey’s helpful questions. So here we go:

You make the surprising claim that the covenant of grace (which began at Genesis 3:15) is the “retro-active application of the New Covenant.” Doesn’t this create more problems than it solves? In what way is Ishmael a member of this retro-active, elect-only New Covenant? What about Esau?

I don’t know what problem Caughey has in mind here. If Ishmael and Esau were reprobate, they were not part of the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace. If they were elect, then they were. It appears the “problem” likely is coming from Caughey’s identification of the Abrahamic Covenant with the Covenant of Grace. But since that is not a view the Renihan’s share, it’s not a problem for them.

[W]hat is the relationship between the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Circumcision? Are you wanting to try to make a theological move similar to Kline’s (actually Paul, I will argue) with regard to the Mosaic covenant – a move which says that the Mosaic Covenant is a distinct, historically parallel, related-to-the-covenant-of-grace, but not identical to it?

Yes.

[C]an you show me the commitments which distinguish the two covenants? Perhaps distinct sanctions? Is the lord of the covenant the same in each? I gather that at least the servants of the two covenants are different

The Covenant of Circumcision is made with Abraham and his physical offspring promising to make them a great nation and give them the land of Canaan, and also promising that the Messiah would come from them (Rom 9:5).

The Covenant of Grace (New Covenant) is made with Christ and the elect in Him (Abraham’s spiritual offspring) promising union with Christ and all its blessings (regeneration, faith, justification, sanctification, glorification, eternal life).

Where is the Covenant of Grace at this particular point in redemptive history (i.e., during the time of the Covenant of Circumcision)? How can it be identified?

As Owen explains, it operated “invisibly, in the way of a promise, put[ting] forth its efficacy under types and shadows. It “had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it.” “When the new covenant was given out only in the way of a promise, it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it. Wherefore it was consistent with a form of worship, rites and ceremonies, and those composed into a yoke of bondage which belonged not unto it.”

Does Paul’s analogy of the olive tree in Romans 11 allow for your distinction between the Covenant of Circumcision and the Covenant of Grace?

Yes. See The Olive Tree.

If there is an exegetical argument for this innovation, you must make it plain.

We have. You just need to read more.

Paul argues for our justification by appealing to Abraham’s justification.

Yes, we are saved the same way Abraham was: through New Covenant union with Christ our mediator. As Owen said “The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant.” And as Calvin admitted “There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.”

To argue that because Abraham was justified through faith alone the Abrahamic Covenant is therefore the Covenant of Grace is an invalid argument because it’s missing a premise.

For more see:

[I]n Galatians 3, Paul uses “the Promise” as shorthand for the Covenant of Grace.

See Gal. 3:18 – Generic Law and Promise, or Sinai and Messiah?

What is the antitype of Ishmael and Esau’s circumcision?

They were circumcised as the physical offspring of Abraham, which was typological of the spiritual offspring of Abraham. See Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel. Paul also uses Ishmael and Esau as types of reprobation (with Isaac and Jacob being types of election in Christ). Augustine notes that Ishmael was an image of an image – referring to the fact that in Galatians 4 Ishmael is made a type of Israel, which in turn is a type of the church. See They are not all Israel, who are of Israel.

[Y]ou say that the Mosaic Covenant “conditioned the enjoyment of the Abrahamic blessings.” Do you read Galatians 3:15-18 that way? That seems to be exactly the opposite of what Paul is arguing there. There, Paul says that once a covenant has been ratified – as Abraham’s had been in Genesis 15 – conditions cannot be added to it… [Y]ou say that “The extent to which those blessings would be enjoyed, however, depended upon the obedience of the people of Israel.” Is that how you read Galatians 3:17-18?

The Renihans’ comments were in reference to the Abrahamic blessings concerning the land of Canaan. Horton agrees:

Eventually, God’s promise was fulfilled: Israel did inherit the land. As mentioned previously, God promised a holy land and everlasting life. As becomes clearer with the progress of redemption, the land was (like Adam’s enjoyment of Eden) dependent on works — the obedience of the Israelites. The Mosaic covenant, with its ceremonial and civil as well as moral laws, promised blessing for obedience and judgment for disobedience. Once again, God would fight for his people and give them a new Eden, a land flowing with milk and honey. God would be present among his people in the temple as long as they were righteous.

But (also like Adam) Israel failed and in its rebellion violated the treaty with the great king, provoking God to enact the sanctions of this works covenant. The lush garden of God became a wasteland of thorns and thistles, as God removed his kingdom back up into heaven, the children of Israel being carted off to Babylonian exile.

A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002; p. 22)

Note that Horton distinguishes between two promises made to Abraham: a holy land and everlasting life. Earlier he says “Two sorts of things are promised by God in this covenant: a holy land (Canaan) and everlasting life.” This can be understood as the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, which we are strongly in favor of. We would simply clarify and improve upon Horton’s statement. What was promised to Abraham and his offspring was not everlasting life, plain and simple. What was promised was that a Messiah would be born from them in order to bless all nations. The actual blessing of all nations refers to the establishment of the New Covenant in the death of Christ. The Abrahamic Covenant did not grant everlasting life (regeneration, faith, justification, etc) to anyone. It promised that a Messiah would come from Abraham to establish the New Covenant and grant everlasting life to all nations. (Note that everlasting life was never, even during Abraham’s time, restricted to the line of Abraham and thus it was never restricted to the Abrahamic Covenant. If it came to men during Abraham’s time apart from the Abrahamic Covenant there is no reason to assume that it must have come to Abraham through the Abrahamic Covenant.)

Thus Galatians 3:17-18 does not teach that the Abrahamic blessings regarding the land of Canaan were not conditioned upon obedience to the Mosaic law. It teaches exactly the opposite. The strange part is that Caughey agrees. He apparently wants to separate the blessings of the land of Canaan from the Abrahamic Covenant. This is a common (and strange) move by Klineans. See

Far from reading Abraham’s covenantal dispensation as typological, Paul reads it as eschatological. Paul’s inspired interpretation of “and to your seed” and his analysis of “inheritance,” does not fit well with your construct.

This is a strange argument. The fact that Paul interprets “your seed” as referring to Christ, and by consequence the elect, and not as referring to the rest of Abraham’s physical seed (Isaac, Jacob/Israel) who it has immediate reference to in Genesis 17, and the fact that Paul’s analysis of “inheritance” refers not to Canaan but to eternal life somehow demonstrates that God’s promises to Abraham were not typological?

What about the law given at Sinai – that law which Israel swore an oath to obey? What is the significance of Leviticus 18:5/Galatians 3:10-12?… Certainly the ceremonial, sacrificial, and priestly system of the Mosaic Covenant typologically revealed grace and the forgiveness of sins – but not the law.

This is a strange objection. He’s trying to object to the Renihan’s statment that “every single element of the Mosaic economy typologically revealed and set before the eyes of the Jews the Covenant of Grace wherein true righteousness is found, true forgiveness of sins, and true holiness could be found.”

Note: the law typologically revealed that “true righteousness is found” is Jesus Christ, the head of the Covenant of Grace. This is a point that Caughey makes together with Lee Irons repeatedly in their podcast, so I don’t know what the problem is. Apparently Caughey thinks the Covenant of Grace has nothing to do with Christ’s obedience to the law.

I must object that the Abrahamic covenant was national.

Again, a common, strange argument made by Klineans. See again

I must also object to a certain sense of the Abrahamic Covenant being temporary.

Is anyone today looking for their offspring to inherit the land of Canaan? Does anyone today expect the Messiah to be born from them?

You make an assertion about the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants being distinct in essence and substance from the covenant of grace. Exegetically, I agree with you that regarding the Mosaic and Davidic (as per Rom. 5, Rom. 10, Gal. 3, etc).

Again, a strange attempt to separate the Abrahamic covenant from these others. See

as your quote stands right now, it comes off as selective editing of Kline in order to make him say what you want him to say.

No, it’s agreeing with one point a theologian makes but coming to a different conclusion from it. It happens a lot in theology.

[H]ow do you know [that the Covenant of Grace is made with the elect]? What is the exegetical evidence for this construct? While I agree that the Covenant of Redemption was made between the persons of the Trinity to secure the salvation of the elect, I do not agree that the membership of the Covenant of Grace is co-extensive with the Covenant of Redemption.

“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.” (Berkhof)

See also Owen on Hebrews 8:11 “The proposition is universal, as to the modification of the subject, “all;” but in the word aujtw~n, “of them,” it is restrained unto those alone with whom this covenant is made… Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the new covenant can be pretended…Persons destitute of this saving knowledge are utter strangers unto the covenant of grace; for this is a principal promise and effect of it, wherever it doth take place.”

And Augustine on Jer. 31:34 “Now all these predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones, shall know God by the grace of the new testament [covenant], from the least to the greatest of them.”

As well as James R. White’s two chapters in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage.

I have often thought of making the case that of unbelievers being united with Adam, “in Adam” as a parallel to Paul’s language of —- (Greek). However, that does not work out, exegetically.

Huh? Adam was not the federal/covenant head of all mankind?

If the membership of the New Covenant were made up only of the elect, then does that mean that Paul is teaching that the elect can lose their salvation in his olive tree analogy in verses 16-24?

No. See The Olive Tree.

Or what about the warning passages in the book of Hebrews – Hebrews 2:1-4 – 6:4-8 – 10:26-31? Why warn people whom God has sovereignly decreed to save, that they might possibly perish for unbelief?

Because we don’t know who the elect (members of the New Covenant) are.

I know Tom Schreiner says that the warning performs the perlocutionary function of actually causing the perseverance. But with all due respect to Tom, that is not persuasive to me at all. The warning passages are meant to be frightening – but they are meant to be frightening to the unbeliever who is a member of the (New!) covenant.

Which is begging the question.

Regarding Hebrews 6, see Owen’s excellent comments. For Hebrews 10, see Hebrews 10 & John 15.

[T]he most straightforward way to read Romans 11 and the warning passages in Hebrews is that the New Covenant membership includes believers and unbelievers.

Yes, that’s how a paedobaptist would read those passages. So?

The wheat and the tares will not be separated until the Final Judgment.

The field is the world, not the New Covenant.

Since there is no command to baptize only those who have made a credible profession of faith, credobaptism is invalid and unbiblical.

Caughey doesn’t understand the regulative principle. He has just argued from the normative principle. The regulative principle does not require a positive prohibition. Everything aside from what is commanded is prohibited. Baptism upon a credible profession of faith is commanded. All else is prohibited.

Owen on Hebrews 6:3-6

November 14, 2016 Leave a comment

Owen makes use of his (1689 Federalism’s) distinction between the promised/established New Covenant. The establishment of the New Covenant refers to it’s being “reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance.”

That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by nenomoqe>thtai, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship… The first solemn promulgation of this new covenant, so made, ratified, and established, was on the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Christ. (Comments on Hebrews 8:6)

From this framework he addresses Hebrews 6:3-6. He correctly notes that the passage has primary reference to Jews who had converted from Judaism by professing faith in Christ. Thus the passage has to do with the historical differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

That all these privileges do consist in certain especial operations of the Holy Ghost, which were peculiar unto the dispensation of the gospel, such as they neither were nor could be made partakers of in their Judaism… The whole description, therefore, refers unto some especial gospel privileges, which professors in those days were promiscuously made partakers of…

The Holy Ghost is here mentioned as the great gift of the gospel times, as coming down from heaven, not absolutely, not as unto his person, but with respect unto an especial work, namely, the change of the whole state of religious worship in the church of God; whereas we shall see in the next words he is spoken of only with respect unto external, actual operations… But when he came, as the great gift of God promised under the new testament, he removes all the carnal worship and ordinances of Moses, and that by the full revelation of the accomplishment of all that was signified by them, and appoints the new, holy, spiritual worship of the gospel, that was to succeed in their room. The Spirit of God, therefore, as bestowed for the introduction of the new gospel-state, in truth and worship, is “the heavenly gift” here intended… And there is an antithesis included herein between the law and the gospel; the former being given on earth, the latter being immediately from heaven. God in the giving of the law made use of the ministry of angels, and that on the earth; but he gave the gospel church-state by that Spirit which, although he worketh in men on the earth, and is said in every act or work to be sent from heaven, yet is still in heaven, and always speaketh from thence, as our Savior said of himself, with respect unto his divine nature, John 3:13…

That, therefore, which is ascribed unto these persons, is, that they had an experience of the power of the Holy Ghost, that gift of God, in the dispensation of the gospel, the revelation of the truth, and institution of the spiritual worship of it; of this state, and of the excellency of it, they had made some trial, and had some experience; — a privilege which all men were not made partakers of… The meaning, then, of this character given concerning these apostates is, that they had some experience of the power and efficacy of the Holy Spirit from heaven, in gospel administrations and worship.

The passage does not teach that one may be a member of the New Covenant and fall away… unless of course you come to the text with the preconceived belief that professing faith and participating in New Covenant worship makes you a member of the New Covenant.

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