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Is 1689 Federalism Dispensational?

I occasionally encounter the claim by paedobaptists that 1689 Federalism is dispensational. Just yesterday someone called it “repackaged dispensationalism,” (ignoring the fact that it predates dispensationalism by 200 years). Regretfully, this mistaken label is used not as a conversation starter, but as a conversation stopper.

It is not always clear what is meant by the claim. Generally they intend one of the following things:

  • 1689 Federalism disagrees with Westminster Federalism (therefore it is Dispensational).
  • 1689 Federalism makes a distinction between Israel and the Church (therefore it is Dispensational).
  • 1689 Federalism believes the Old Covenant was a law covenant of works (therefore it is Dispensational).

Disagrees with Westminster Federalism

This is just stating the obvious. Of course 1689 Federalism disagrees with Westminster Federalism. That’s the point. But the definition of Dispensationalism is not “anything that disagrees with Westminster Federalism.” When pressed, some try to soften their rhetoric by saying 1689 Federalism is not 1:1 Dispensationalism, but it is “in the same category” as Dispensationalism. What is that category? “Anything that disagrees with Westminster Federalism.”

This kind of tunnel vision is entirely unhelpful and counterproductive to meaningful dialogue. Disagreement with Westminster Federalism has existed (even among the reformed) since the Westminster Confession was written 200+ years before Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism does disagree with Westminster Federalism, but so do many other theologies, including 1689 Federalism. If this is a point that a critic wants to focus on, simply say “1689 Federalism disagrees with Westminster Federalism.”

Makes a Distinction Between Israel and the Church

Westminster does not distinguish between Israel and the Church. Israel is the Church and the Church is Israel in that system. Yes, both Dispensationalism and 1689 Federalism disagree with Westminster on this point. Yet Dispensationalism and 1689 Federalism have different, mutually exclusive views of Israel and the Church.

The most fundamental belief of Dispensationalism is that God has made eternal promises to two different peoples (Israel and the Church) that will be fulfilled in two different eternal destinies. In Understanding Dispensationalists, Vern S. Poythress wrestles with defining and labeling the theological system and suggests it might more accurately be called “‘dual destinationism’ (after one of its principal tenets concerning the separate destinies of Israel and the church).” (12)

1689 Federalism rejects that belief. One of its principal tenets is that Israel according to the flesh is a type of Israel according to the Spirit (the church). That is anti-Dispensational. It is so anti-Dispensational that it is the argument amillennial paedobaptist covenant theologians make against Dispensationalism. Meredith Kline said

The fundamental fallacy of the dispensational scheme is its failure to do justice to the Bible’s identification of the new covenant (or second level) realization of the kingdom promise as standing in continuity with the old covenant (or first level) realization as antitypical fulfillment to typal promise… Covenantal hermeneutics properly perceives the prototypal, provisional, passing nature of the first level kingdom and the antitypal, perfective, permanent nature of the second level kingdom.

Kline explained that “According to the Scriptures there is a clear-cut distinction between the typal and antitypal levels of fulfillment of the kingdom domain promised in the Abrahamic Covenant” which corresponds to “the distinction made in the promise of the seed between literal and spiritual Israelites.” 1689 Federalism is in strong agreement with Kline’s covenantal hermeneutic here, over against Dispensationalism (in fact, we like the hermeneutic so much, we use it against paedobaptists too).

Given 1689 Federalism’s understanding of Israel and the Church, it is not possible for it to be Dispensational.

Believes the Old Covenant was a Law Covenant of Works

1689 Federalism believes that the Mosaic Covenant was a law covenant of works for temporal life and blessing in the land of Canaan. A knee-jerk reaction from many paedobaptists is to associate this idea with Dispensationalism, perhaps because that is the only other context they are aware of.

First, the idea that Sinai was a law covenant of works is not uniquely Dispensational. The idea was common during the reformational era. Representative of the Lutheran view, Philip Melanchthon said

I consider the Old Testament a promise of material things linked up with the demands of the law. For God demands righteousness through the law and also promises its reward, the Land of Canaan, wealth, etc… By contrast, the New Testament is nothing else than the promise of all good things without regard to the law and with no respect to our own righteousness… Jer, ch.31, indicates this difference between the Old and New Testaments.

Anthony Burgess noted

It is true, the Lutheran Divines, they doe expresly oppose the Calvinists herein, maintaining the Covenant given by Moses, to be a Covenant of workes, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of grace. Inded, they acknowledge that the Fathers were justified by Christ, and had the same way of salvation with us; onely they make that Covenant of Moses to be a superadded thing to the Promise.
(Vindication of the Morall Law, 241)

In his commentary on Hebrews 8, Owen gives a summary of the reformed vs the Lutheran view of the Old and New Covenants, and then states his agreement with the Lutherans on this point (as representative of the Congregationalists who tended to hold this view). And the Lutherans were just repeating what they learned from Augustine, who said

As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament, so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament.

Joshua Moon shows how Augustine’s view was held by many up through the reformation. In “The True Bounds of Christian Freedom” (1645) Samuel Bolton likewise states his disagreement with Westminster’s view in favor of the belief that the Old Covenant only promised temporal life and blessing in Canaan, and did so upon the condition of the law. This was known as the subservient covenant view. It grew in popularity the following century, finding expression in Presbyterians like John Erskine and Anglicans like Thomas Scott’s very popular whole bible commentary. It was also foundational to the American Presbyterian embrace of religious liberty. When the same idea cropped up more recently in Presbyterian circles, T. David Gordon and Charles Lee Irons argued the subservient covenant view is the 17th century precursor to Kline’s view. Kline himself said that Dispensationalism was correct on this point.

[T]he revised Dispensationalism that purges itself of the teaching of two ways of salvation does so at the cost of abandoning the correct perception of earlier Dispensationalism that a works principle was operating in the Mosaic kingdom. Since these revisionists, no more than the older Dispensationalists, discern the two
distinct strata (viz. the typological kingdom overlay and the underlying stratum of eternal salvation) coexisting in the old covenant, they do not perceive the true
solution of identifying the works principle with the former while maintaining the continuity of the one way of salvation at the other, foundational level. All they can do is join certain of their covenantal critics in denying that there was a works principle in the old covenant.

Thus if 1689 Federalism is Dispensational because it believes the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works for life and blessing in Canaan, then all of the above are Dispensational as well.

Second, Dispensationalism has a peculiar understanding of the significance of the Mosaic Covenant of Works not shared by any of the above. It holds that the Israelites were mistaken to have accepted the terms of the Mosaic Covenant. Lewis Sperry Chafer said “They fell from grace.” The original Scofield Reference Bible said

The Dispensation of Promise ended when Israel rashly accepted the law (Ex. 19:8). Grace had prepared a deliverer (Moses), provided a sacrifice for the guilty, and by divine power brought them out of bondage (Ex. 19:4); but at Sinai they exchanged grace for law.

Chafer said

When the Law was proposed, the children of Israel deliberately forsook their position under the grace of God which had been their relationship to God until that day, and placed themselves under the Law.

They view the Abrahamic Covenant as unconditional and refer to it as the Dispensation of Promise in contrast to the conditional Mosaic Covenant’s Dispensation of Law. Now, if one wanted to be superficial and unedifying, one could argue that Kline was a Dispensationalist because he too distinguished between the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant of Grace and the conditional Mosaic Covenant of Law Works. But such a comparison would be ridiculous because it would overlook the vast differences between the two, such as the Dispensational idea that salvation consists in passing various tests throughout different dispensations versus the idea that underlying the typological Mosaic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace through which OT saints were saved through faith in the suffering Messiah, as well as their vastly different interpretations of how the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant is fulfilled. Calling 1689 Federalism Dispensational is just as ridiculous.

The Sine Qua Non of Dispensationalism

Charles Ryrie wrote about the sine qua non of Dispensationalism. Sine qua non means “something absolutely indispensable or essential.”  In other words, without these points, there is no Dispensationalism. They are:

  1. Keeping Israel and the church distinct throughout eternity.
  2. A hermeneutic of literal interpretation. (#1 is derived from #2)
  3. Salvation is not the main underlying purpose of God’s work in history.

With regards to #1, Ryrie says “This is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist… The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the church [throughout eternity]. This grows out of the dispensationalist’s consistent employment of normal or plain or historical-grammatical interpretation [#2]… The spiritualizing may be practiced to a lesser or greater degree, but its presence in a system of interpretation is indicative of a nondispensational approach.” And finally “The error of covenant theologians is that they combine all the many facets of divine purpose in the one objective of the fulfillment of the covenant of grace,” (as 1689 Federalism does).

On each of these essential points, 1689 Federalism is not merely contrary to Dispensationalism; it is contradictory to Dispensationalism. Its Christological (“spiritualizing”) hermeneutic “is indicative of a nondispensational approach” resulting in a typological view of Israel that fails “the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist.”

1689 Federalism is Anti-Dispensational (just ask a Dispensationalist).

Amillennialism’s Two-Edged Sword

May 31, 2017 3 comments

Amillennialism’s typology of Israel is a sharp, two-edged sword. Paedobaptists use it to cut down Dispensationalism’s claims about the land of Canaan, but the same sword equally cuts down their claims about offspring.

This post provides a helpful summary of Kline’s arguments against Dispensationalism (see this PDF for more context). 1689 Federalism agrees with all of them but swings the sword back around.

Dispensationalism is condemned by the inconsistency of its hermeneutics. The people and the land aspects of the kingdom are in fact correlative and not to be wrenched apart. Together they represent the twin cultural task of filling the earth with people and subduing the kingdom realm as that creational program gets taken up into redemptive history. Land and people promises must therefore be kept together within each level, whether in the typological embodiment of the cultural program in the old covenant kingdom or in its new covenant version. A hybrid combination of old cove nant land and new covenant people violates the conceptual unity of these two cultural components of the kingdom, while at the same time ignoring the discreteness of the typical and antitypical kingdoms. In addition to the hermeneutical inconsistency of this form of Dispens ationalism there is also the problem that it too contradicts the Bible’ s insistence that in Christ the distinction between Jew and Gentile ceas es with respect to kingdom inheritance.

To which we respond:

Amillennial paedobaptism is condemned by the inconsistency of its hermeneutics. The people and the land aspects of the kingdom are in fact correlative and not to be wrenched apart. Together they represent the twin cultural task of filling the earth with people and subduing the kingdom realm as that creational program gets taken up into redemptive history. Land and people promises must therefore be kept together within each level, whether in the typological embodiment of the cultural program in the old covenant kingdom or in its new covenant version. A hybrid combination of old covenant people and new covenant land violates the conceptual unity of these two cultural components of the kingdom, while at the same time ignoring the discreteness of the typical and antitypical kingdoms. In addition to the hermeneutical inconsistency of this form of paedobaptism there is also the problem that it too contradicts the Bible’s insistence that in Christ the privilege of offspring according to the flesh ceases with respect to kingdom inheritance.

And when Kline says

Covenantal hermeneutics properly perceives the prototypal, provisional, passing nature of the first level kingdom and the antitypal, perfective, permanent nature of the second level kingdom. Dispensationalists, failing to see that the first level kingdom becomes obsolete and gets replaced by the antitype in the messianic age, continue the obsolete order on indefinitely into the new age… Dispensationalism radically misconstrues the typological structure of the old and new covenants… obscuring the historical promise- fulfillment relationship of these two covenants.

Dispensationalism’s virtual rejection of the typological identity of the first level kingdom finds expression in their literalistic misinterpretation of prophecies that depict the second level kingdom in the typological idiom of the first level model.

We say

Covenantal hermeneutics properly perceives the prototypal, provisional, passing nature of the first level kingdom and the antitypal, perfective, permanent nature of the second level kingdom. Paedobaptists, failing to see that the first level kingdom becomes obsolete and gets replaced by the antitype in the messianic age, continue the obsolete order on into the new age… Paedobaptism radically misconstrues the typological structure of the old and new covenants… obscuring the historical promise- fulfillment relationship of these two covenants.

Paedobaptism’s virtual rejection of the typological identity of the first level kingdom finds expression in their literalistic misinterpretation of prophecies that depict the second level kingdom in the typological idiom of the first level model.

Likewise, when Kim Riddlebarger says

[T]he problem with that is, when you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 12 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the land promise in Genesis 12 – and it’s repeated throughout 15, 18, 22, on and on and on – when that land promise is repeated, dispenationalists say “See, that must mean Israel means Israel and that God is going to save Israel again to fulfill the land promise at the end of the age.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the land promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?” And that is at the heart of this entire debate.

To which we respond:

[T]he problem with paedobaptism is, when you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 17 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the offspring promise in Genesis 17 – and it’s repeated throughout 12, 15, 22, on and on and on – when that offspring promise is repeated, paedobaptists say “See, that must mean offspring means offspring and that God included physical offspring in the church and never took them out.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the offspring promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?” And that is at the heart of this entire debate.

See also

Some Disagreement with Coxe on Galatians 3:17

May 25, 2017 3 comments

Coxe’s “A Discourse on the Covenants that God Made with Men Before the Law” is densely packed with a very helpful analysis of the biblical covenants. I highly recommend that everyone give it a read. I made an interactive outline to help get the most of it. Preparing that outline allowed me to more clearly understand Coxe’s view of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Upon first reading it years ago, I walked away thinking that Coxe believed God made two covenants with Abraham in the span of Gen 12-22. I disagreed and sided with A.W. Pink, who said “There were not two distinct and diverse covenants made with Abraham (as the older Baptists argued), the one having respect to spiritual blessings and the other relating to temporal benefits.” But others insisted I had misread Coxe. Coxe believed there was only one Abrahamic Covenant, but that God also revealed the separate Covenant of Grace (New Covenant) to Abraham throughout Gen 12-22 in the midst of the Abrahamic Covenant of Circumcision. This outlook fits with the promised/inaugurated concept of the New Covenant, which understands the New Covenant to have been revealed in numerous ways prior to its formal legal establishment in the death of Christ.

Upon reviewing Coxe again, it appears (in my opinion) that his view actually lies somewhere in between. First, Chapter 4 is titled “The Covenant of Grace Revealed to Abraham: God Specially Honors Abraham by this Covenant.” The [new] covenant of grace that was first revealed in Genesis 3:15 was “made with Abraham.” (71, see editorial note) Second, God made more than one covenant with Abraham. Coxe refers to “the covenants made with him” and “the covenants given to him.” (73) Third, “Abraham is to be considered in a double capacity: he is the father of all true believers and the father and root of the Israelite nation. God entered into covenant with him for both of these seeds.” (72) “The covenant of grace [w]as made with Abraham” for his spiritual offspring and “The covenant [of circumcision was] made with him for his natural offspring.” (73)

The covenant of circumcision

The covenant of circumcision promised Abraham numerous carnal offspring that would possess the land of Canaan. This covenant was revealed by degrees in several parts from Gen 12 to Gen 17. (83) The restipulation (required response on man’s part) of this covenant was circumcision, representing the obedience to the law required for one to have a covenant interest to inherit the covenant blessings (“Do this and live.”). (90-91) “[I]n the covenant of circumcision were contained the first rudiments of the one in the wilderness [Mosaic covenant], and the latter was the filling up and completing of the former.” (99) “This covenant of circumcision properly and immediately belongs to the natural seed of Abraham and is ordered as a foundation to that economy which they were to be brought under until the times of reformation.” (91)

The new covenant of grace

“[T]he covenant of circumcision… was not that covenant of grace which God made with Abraham for all his spiritual seed, which was earlier confirmed of God in Christ.” (116) The new covenant of grace is union with Christ and is made with all believers, including Old Testament saints. (133) “The grace and blessings of the new covenant were given and ensured to Abraham for himself… but it pleased God to transact it with him as he had not done with any before him.” (75, 72) “[T]his covenant was made with Abraham as a root of covenant blessings and the common parent to all true believers.” (78) The restipulation of this covenant is believing. (79) “There is but one covenant of spiritual and eternal blessing in Christ Jesus, founded in the eternal decree and counsel of God’s love and grace, which is now revealed to Abraham.” (79) “This covenant of grace… by which Abraham was made the father of the faithful… was confirmed and ratified by a sure promise to Abraham. This was a considerable time (about twenty five years) before the covenant of circumcision was given to him.” (80)

Galatians 3:16-17

Galatians 3 is central to Coxe’s understanding of the covenant of grace revealed to Abraham. “[T]hat the gospel was preached to Abraham and the covenant of grace revealed to him, is asserted in such full terms in this context that no one can rationally doubt it. Furthermore, in verse 17 we have the time of God’s establishing this covenant with him exactly noted. The text says it was 430 years,” which Coxe calculates to refer to Genesis 12:2-3. (74) “[I]n the transaction of God with Abraham recorded in Genesis 12 he solemnly confirmed his covenant with him.” (74) “[T]he sum and substance of all spiritual and eternal blessings was included in the covenant and promise given to Abraham (Genesis 12) in these words: ‘I will bless you, and you will be a blessing.'” (75)

[T]his covenant was made with Abraham in and through Jesus Christ. It is not Abraham but Christ that is its first head… The apostle asserts this most clearly (Galatians 3:17) and argues it from the form of the promises made to Abraham (verse 16)… I conceive the apostle here has a direct and special view to that promise found in Genesis 22:18,* “In your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed.” This runs directly parallel both in terms and sense with the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 which was pleaded by him earlier (Galatians 3:18 [I believe this reference is to Gal 3:8]). *This promise is particularly cited by Peter as a summary of the covenant of grace made with Abraham, Acts 3:25.” (76)

Thus Coxe divides out the promises in Genesis 12:2-3. Some of the promises are promises of the covenant of grace, some are promises of the covenant of circumcision. (83) He maintains this division in all its elaborations and repititions through to Genesis 22.

“[B]y way of preface to it [the covenant of circumcision] in Genesis 17:4, 5, you have a recapitulation of former transactions and a renewed confirmation of one great promise of the covenant of grace given earlier to Abraham, that is, ‘A father of many nations have I made you.’ This is principally to be understood of his believing seed collected indifferently out of all nations as appears from Romans 4:17. That Abraham was constituted the father of the faithful before this covenant of circumcision was made and did not obtain the grant of this privilege by it, has been proven before from Moses’ history.” (91)

(Interesting note: Gill seems to largely follow Coxe in this. See his comments on Gal. 3:16 and 3:17)

Confirmed, Ratified, and Established

Coxe does say that the covenant of grace was “revealed” to Abraham in Genesis 12. But, as we saw above, based on his reading of Galatians 3:15-17, Coxe also says that the covenant of grace was “confirmed,” “ratified,” and “established” in Genesis 12. These are all synonyms for the official, legal institution of a covenant, and that is precisely how Paul uses the term “confirmed” in Galatians 3:15-17. “Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it… [T]he law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before.” How is this consistent with the idea that the new covenant of grace was not established until the death of Christ? Note Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8:6.

This is the meaning of the word nenomoqe>thtai: “established,” say we; but it is, “reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance.” All the obedience required in it, all the worship appointed by it, all the privileges exhibited in it, and the grace administered with them, are all given for a statute, law, and ordinance unto the church. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by nenomoqe>thtai, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship. Hereon the other covenant was disannulled and removed; and not only the covenant itself, but all that system of sacred worship whereby it was administered. This was not done by the making of the covenant at first; yea, all this was superinduced into the covenant as given out in a promise, and was consistent therewith. 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. And as these, being added after its giving, did not overthrow its nature as a promise, so they were inconsistent with it when it was completed as a covenant; for then all the worship of the church was to proceed from it, and to be conformed unto it. Then it was established. Hence it follows, in answer unto the second difficulty, that as a promise, it was opposed unto the covenant of works; as a covenant, it was opposed unto that of Sinai. This legalizing or authoritative establishment of the new covenant, and the worship thereunto belonging, did effect this alteration…

When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though that were not before in being and efficacy, before the introduction of that which is promised in this place. For it was always the same, as to the substance of it, from the beginning. It passed through the whole dispensation of times before the law, and under the law, of the same nature and efficacy, unalterable, “everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians only excepted, do grant that the covenant of grace, considered absolutely, — that is, the promise of grace in and by Jesus Christ, —was the only way and means of salvation unto the church, from the first entrance of sin. But for two reasons it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect unto any other things, nor was it so under the old testament. When God renewed the promise of it unto Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but it was with respect unto other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely under the old testament it consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture, Acts 2:39; Hebrews 6:14-16. The apostle indeed says, that the covenant was confirmed of God in Christ, before the giving of the law, Galatians 3:17. And so it was, not absolutely in itself, but in the promise and benefits of it. The nomoqesi>a, or full legal establishment of it, whence it became formally a covenant unto the whole church, was future only, and a promise under the old testament; for it wanted two things thereunto: —

(1.) It wanted its solemn confirmation and establishment, by the blood of the only sacrifice which belonged unto it. Before this was done in the death of Christ, it had not the formal nature of a covenant or a testament, as our apostle proves, Hebrews 9:15-23. For neither, as he shows in that place, would the law given at Sinai have been a covenant, had it not been confirmed with the blood of sacrifices. Wherefore the promise was not before a formal and solemn covenant.

(2.) This was wanting, that it was not the spring, rule, and measure of all the worship of the church. This doth belong unto every covenant, properly so called, that God makes with the church, that it be the entire rule of all the worship that God requires of it; which is that which they are to restipulate in their entrance into covenant with God. But so the covenant of grace was not under the old testament; for God did require of the church many duties of worship that did not belong thereunto. But now, under the new testament, this covenant, with its own seals and appointments, is the only rule and measure of all acceptable worship. Wherefore the new covenant promised in the Scripture, and here opposed unto the old, is not the promise of grace, mercy, life, and salvation by Christ, absolutely considered, but as it had the formal nature of a covenant given unto it, in its establishment by the death of Christ, the procuring cause of all its benefits, and the declaring of it to be the only rule of worship and obedience unto the church. So that although by “the covenant of grace,” we ofttimes understand no more but the way of life, grace, mercy, and salvation by Christ; yet by “the new covenant,” we intend its actual establishment in the death of Christ, with that blessed way of worship which by it is settled in the church.

3. Whilst the church enjoyed all the spiritual benefits of the promise, wherein the substance of the covenant of grace was contained, before it was confirmed and made the sole rule of worship unto the church, it was not inconsistent with the holiness and wisdom of God to bring it under any other covenant, or prescribe unto it what forms of worship he pleased.

p. 78 PDF

If the new covenant of grace was not “legally established,” “ratified,” and “solemnly confirmed” until the death of Christ, then it was not “confirmed,” “ratified,” and “established” in Genesis 12. If that is the case, then what are we to make of Galatians 3:17? Note that Owen wrestles with it as well. His comment is sparse, but he appears to argue that the “promise and benefits” of the new covenant of grace were “confirmed of God in Christ” but the new covenant of grace itself, as a covenant, was not legally established and confirmed until the cross. In my opinion, this distinction does not hold, especially since Paul specifically argues on the basis of a covenant that has been legally established and confirmed.

The Covenant Concerning Christ

Coxe interprets Galatians 3:17 (“the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ”) as referring to the new covenant of grace. “[T]his covenant was made with Abraham in and through Jesus Christ. It is not Abraham but Christ that is its first head… The apostle asserts this most clearly (Galatians 3:17).” This is a common reformed interpretation. Owen seems to follow it. However, I do not think that is best way to understand the verse.

[in Christ] … should be rendered, “unto (i.e. with a view to) Christ”.
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

In Christ – With respect to the Messiah; a covenant relating to him, and which promised that he should descend from Abraham. The word “in,” in the phrase “in Christ,” does not quite express the meaning of the Greek εἰς Χριστὸν eis Christon. That means rather “unto Christ;” or unto the Messiah; that is, the covenant had respect to him. This is a common signification of the preposition εἰς his
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

 

And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God {m} in Christ

(m) Which pertained to Christ.
Geneva Study Bible

 

The only difficulty lies in the words “in Christ.” Inasmuch as “the covenant” here mentioned was confirmed only four hundred and thirty years before the law (at Sinai), the reference cannot be to the everlasting covenant—which was “confirmed” by God in Christ ere the world began (Titus 1:2, etc.). Hence we are obliged to adopt the rendering given by spiritual and able scholars: “the covenant that was confirmed before of God concerning Christ”—just as eis Christon is translated “concerning Christ” in Ephesians 5:32 and eis auton is rendered “concerning him” in Acts 2:25. Here, then, is a further word from God that His covenant with Abraham concerned Christ
Pink

There was a covenant that God made with Abraham about Christ. In his comments on 3:17, Chrysostom helpfully states what should be obvious, but is sometimes overlooked.

Thus God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that in his seed the blessing should be bestowed on the heathen; and this blessing the Law cannot turn aside… It was promised Abraham that by his seed the heathen should be blessed; and his seed according to the flesh is Christ.

This actually fits very well with what Owen says about the Abrahamic Covenant.

When God renewed the promise of it [the covenant of grace] unto Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but it was with respect unto other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins.

Scottish Presbyterian turned baptist James Haldane explains

It is indeed said, that “the scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith preached before the gospel to Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed,” Gal. iii. 8. But this was merely a declaration of all nations being blessed in Jesus, who was Abraham’s seed. The covenant is said to have been confirmed of God in (rather concerning, eis Christon*) Christ; for there is no doubt that Christ, springing from the loins of Abraham, was the great promise made to him. Hence, it is opposed to the law, and called the promise, Gal. iii. 18… This was a promise that the Savior, revealed immediately after the fall, Gen. iii. 15. should spring from him. To this promise the apostle alludes, when he says “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ,” Gal. iii. 16.

To call this the covenant of grace, is only calculated to mislead; for surely it was peculiar to Abraham that Christ should spring from him… [A]lthough an oath was made to Abraham, securing the blessing to all families of the earth through him, this does not prove that the covenant made with him was the new covenant

*See Whitby, Macknight, &c. The covenant of God concerning Christ was the promise, that in Abraham all families of the earth should be blessed, Gen. xii. 3. This was afterwards confirmed by an oath, Heb vi. 17.

Thus 3:17 is not referring to the New Covenant of Grace. It is referring to the Abrahamic Covenant of Circumcision wherein God promised that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah, who would bless all nations. (For more on this see, my post on Galatians 3:16 and my post on 3:18). This covenant was “confirmed,” “ratified,” and “established” by God 430 years before the Mosaic Covenant (Gill argues this refers back to Gen 15, not Gen 12, which does make more sense). The Abrahamic Covenant revealed the Covenant of Grace insofar as it repeated the Genesis 3:15 promise that there would be a seed of the woman who would bless all nations. But, as Owen explained, it was uniquely an Abrahamic promise, and thus particularly the Abrahamic Covenant, that Abraham would be the father of this seed.

When we look at Abraham’s personal salvation, we see that it was the same as ours. He heard the gospel (that a Messiah would come, in fulfillment of Gen 3:15 to bless all nations) and believed that gospel, and was thus counted righteous. Thus Abraham looked forward and we look back. But that salvation was not strictly a promise of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant did not promise “I will put a new heart within you and remember your sins no more.” The Abrahamic Covenant promised “you will be the father of the Messiah” who will bless all nations by establishing the New Covenant, by which “I will put a new heart within you and remember your sins no more.” Thus Abraham was saved just like us, but just like us, it was through the New Covenant (which is union with Christ).

Two Abrahamic Promises

As I explained in my post on Galatians 3:16, Paul is making an argument about two different promises given in the Abrahamic Covenant of Circumcision. I think that Augustine captured this well.

Now it is to be observed that two things are promised to Abraham, the one, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan, which is intimated when it is said, “Go into a land that I will show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation;” but the other far more excellent, not about the carnal but the spiritual seed, through which he is the father, not of the one Israelite nation, but of all nations who follow the footprints of his faith, which was first promised in these words, “And in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.”… “And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said unto him, Unto thy seed will I give this land.” (Gen 12:7) Nothing is promised here about that seed in which he is made the father of all nations, but only about that by which he is the father of the one Israelite nation; for by this seed that land was possessed… After these leaders there were judges, when the people were settled in the land of promise, so that, in the meantime, the first promise made to Abraham began to be fulfilled about the one nation, that is, the Hebrew, and about the land of Canaan; but not as yet the promise about all nations, and the whole wide world, for that was to be fulfilled, not by the observances of the old law, but by the advent of Christ in the flesh, and by the faith of the gospel.

When the second promise is fulfilled in Christ, it richochets back through the first promise, showing how the carnal offspring (Israel) as numerous as the stars and their inheritance of the land of Canaan were types of those redeemed in Christ (true Israel) and given an inheritance in the new heavens and earth. It does not mean God did not make any promises to Abraham’s carnal offspring about Canaan. It simply means that the first promise is eclipsed by the fulfillment of the second promise. (See They Are Not All Israel Who Are of Israel).

Conclusion

Coxe is correct when he says “The grace and blessings of the new covenant were given and ensured to Abraham for himself,” but Coxe is incorrect to say that “You will be the father of the Messiah” is also a New Covenant promise. It is a promise of the Covenant of Circumcision. I see this as an important, but minor disagreement with Coxe, and one that I think actually further strengthens the rest of his observations and arguments.

 

Coxe on New Covenant Union with Christ

May 8, 2017 2 comments

[T]he covenant of grace is established in Christ as its head. All its promises were first given to him and in him they are all yes and amen. It is by union to him that believers obtain a new covenant interest and from him they derive a new life, grace, and strength to answer the ends of the new covenant. (40)

[A]ll the blessings of this covenant redound on believers by means of their union and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both the Head and Root of the new covenant, and the Fountain from which all its blessings are derived to us. Since these blessings were entirely purchased by him, so are they entirely applied to all that are in him and to none other… [N]one are at any time justified before God except those whom Christ has loved and washed from their sins in his own blood (Revelation 1:5). None are washed by him but those that are in him as the second Adam. It is by union to him as the root of the new covenant that the free gift comes on them to the justification of life (Rom 5:14ff). And none can have union to him but by the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. Wherever the Spirit of God applies the blood of Christ for the remission of sins he does it also for the purging of the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. As certainly as any derive a new covenant right from Christ for pardon, they also receive a vital influence from him for the renovation of their natures and conforming their souls to his own image. (81-82)

The grace and blessings of the new covenant were given and ensured to Abraham for himself. (75)

During the time of the law… [t]he children of God after the Spirit (though as underage children they were subject to the pedagogy of the law, yet) as to their spiritual and eternal state, walked before God and found acceptance with him on terms of the covenant of grace… this spiritual relationship to God [was] according to the terms of the new covenant which the truly godly then had… (133)

Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ

Review: Captive to the Word of God – A Particular Baptist Perspective on Reformed and Covenant Theology

May 5, 2017 9 comments

captive_coverStuart Brogden has written an overview of baptist theology that is directed, as far as I can tell, towards baptists who unaware of, or are perhaps just dipping their toes into Calvinistic baptist beliefs. For that audience, the book provides a helpful overview of certain aspects of baptist beliefs. Though my review will focus on areas of concern/disagreement, there is much in the book that I agree with as well. I’d love to sit down and talk with Brogden some day. I sympathize with his journey deeper into historic baptist beliefs, even if we don’t end up agreeing on everything.

I do have to note that potential readers may be misled by the title of this book for two reasons. First, it’s not primarily a book on covenant theology. It is more broadly a book on baptist theology, with a discussion of covenants filling one section. Second, the label “particular baptist” tends to be associated with 17th century baptists. The author, Stuart Brogden, is a proponent of New Covenant Theology (NCT), not the theology of the 17th century men typically associated with the label “particular baptist.” I won’t quibble over the title only to note that some people may misunderstand what the book is about (as evidenced by the numerous times people have asked if it is a book on 1689 Federalism).

The book is divided into 4 sections: Part 1: The Baptists, Part 2: A Baptist View of Reformed Theology, Part 3: A Baptist View of Covenant Theology, Part 4: How it Works Together in a Local Church. My review will focus on Part 3 and two issues related to it (confessionalism and the law).

2nd London Baptist Confession

As a proponent of NCT, Brogden voices his problems with the 2nd LBCF and those who hold to it. First, he argues that modern churches or associations that hold to the 2nd LBCF as a confessional standard are not using the confession the way it was originally designed. Its purpose was primarily political and was never used as any kind of doctrinal standard for a church or association. He quotes ARBCA’s Constitution explaining its use of the confession and then asks “Is this the intended purpose of these aged confessions?”

Early Baptists who held to the battle cry of the Reformation were known as particular Baptists, to differentiate them from Baptists who held to general atonement. Baptists were not seeking commonality with the Presbyterians until late in the 17th century when they sought a way to make peace with the state church and government in England, weary of being persecuted. (vii)

“The Confessions published by the Baptists in the Seventeenth Century were neither creeds written to secure uniformity of belief, nor articles to which subscription was demanded.” (Goadby)… James Renihan… [agrees] with Goadby’s observation that the main reason confessions were written in this era was to tell others what the confessors thought, not to bind the confessors to an in-house creed… [W]e know that no man has pure motives and must admit that we would likely have taken some pragmatic steps to lessen the pain of constant harassment and persecution.  (93-94, 98)

The quote Brogden provides from Renihan does state that the particular baptists were interested in distancing themselves from anabaptists, but it does not say that churches did not subscribe to it or use it as a doctrinal standard amongst themselves. It is not clear that Brogden properly used Goadby’s quote either. Goadby appears to be referring to the idea of an established church demanding conformity by the use of the sword. Baptists certainly didn’t use their confession that way. But they did require those who confessed it to actually believe it and they did use it as the standard of association between each other.

Brogden suggests that the very idea of “subscription” is Presbyterian, not Baptist. He quotes ARBCA’s Constitution, stating

Confessional subscription employs three main terms in its nomenclature: absolute, strict/full, and loose. ARBCA has adopted the middle position. According to Dr. Morton H. Smith, “strict or full subscription takes at face value” the terminology used in adopting a confession of faith.

And then notes

Of interest to Baptists, I hope: Dr. Morton H. Smith, whose definition of full subscription ARBCA embraces, is a life-long Presbyterian. Their view of confessions has influenced Baptists as much as their view of covenants has. (92)

I find this comment and line of reasoning troubling. First, since Smith’s paper outlines all the various ways of subscribing to a confession, if any Baptist subscribes to a confession in any way, they must be unduly influenced by Presbyterianism. Second, the vast majority of Presbyterian churches do not hold to full subscription. Largely because of their view of ecclessiastical authority, they hold to various versions of loose subscription, including system (OPC) and good faith (PCA). Various Presbyterians, including Smith, have argued that these forms of loose subscription are incoherent and defeat the whole purpose of a confession, which is to state what you believe. ARBCA is unique in this instance and, rather than simply following Presbyterians, is actually leading them in demonstrating a more appropriate way to subscribe to a confession. And the Baptist distinctive of local church autonomy means that any particular church is free to agree or disagree with the 2nd LBCF and ARBCA without their pastors’ ordination being in jeopardy. For more on this point, see here and here and here.

These brief statements [from ARBCA] reveal deliberate use of a confession as the primary document (no matter their written protests to the contrary) that defines the doctrine and identity of the association and the churches that belong to it. The confession is “excellent” and becomes the “sum of sound doctrine” for them (as one elder in a 1689 LBC church put it to me), “founded on the Word of God”, and, in some cases, displacing it as the first line of defense and doctrine. This sad condition is well known among churches that hold to the Westminster Confession and some that hold to the 1689 LBC; and it shows up in their ecclesiology, how they function as a church, such as requiring “strict or full subscription” for serving as an elder while failing to take into account what is laid out in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 3. (92-93)

Again, I find this kind of reasoning troubling, and perhaps not well thought out. The alternative is to not require any confession at all from an elder or church. I can certianly understand why Brogden does not think the 2nd LBCF should be the standard for a church, since he thinks it is unbiblical, but his comments here are directed at the concept of using any confession at all as a church’s standard. Brogden also quotes from Bob Gonzales arguing in favor of “something close to biblicism” rather than “confessionally colored glasses.”

A final note on this point, Brogden makes many statements throughout the book that reveal a superficial understanding of the topics he is dealing with. Here is one example:

While some within the 1689 camp insist on putting the Savoy between the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 LBC, this is an argument without substance; as the Savoy was a clone of the Westminster, differing only on church government. The 1689 LBC is largely a clone of the Westminster. (104)

There are numerous important differences between Savoy and Westminster if one studies carefully. One pertinent example is the difference between the two in 19.1-2.

Chapter 19 on the Law of God

All of this is prepatory for Brogden’s criticism of the 2nd LBCF’s doctrine of the law. He argues the editors of the confession changed the obvious stuff, but were oblivious to various aspects of the Presbyterian system that were incompatible with Baptist beliefs and therefore they did not adquately revise their confession.

These issues (baptism, ecclesiology, church/civil relationships) are those which are easy to detect, above the water line one might say. What our Baptist forefathers did was to knock these matters out of the way and replace them with Baptist alternatives. What the early Baptists apparently did not do is carefully examine the foundation that was below the water line… One, perhaps the major area in which it appears the Baptists erred in cloning the Westminster regards the treatment of the Decalogue… This paedobaptist influence is found predominately in chapter 19 of the 1689 LBC, but also in one paragraph of chapter 22, addressing the “Christian Sabbath”. (104-105)

Brogden marches through Chapter 19 and its misused Scripture references (in the span of 4 1/2 pages) and quickly declares that the confession obviously contradicts itself.

Herein is a conflict within the confession…

How can the law given to Adam be the law of the Gentiles, who are without the law of Moses, then be described as the Ten Words which were given to Moses as law that the Jews had possession of? And how does using Romans 2:12a & 14-15 as the proof text prove that? Other versions of the 1689 LBC refer to Deuteronomy 10, which describes the tablets but that passage does not indicate that they are the same law as given to Adam. This is conjecture, not exegesis. And it conflicts with itself regardless of which footnotes are used in a given version of the confession…This is a sign of trouble in any document, when the Scripture passages used as references do not support the point being made. (106, 110, emphasis original)

In my opinion, his analysis is rather rash and would have been more meaningful if he had interacted with expositions or elaborations of the doctrine found in modern or historic writings, rather than just commenting on the choice of Scripture references. The meaning of the confession on this point is fairly simple: What God wrote on the hearts of all men had some level of identity with what God revealed externally and supernaturally to Israel. Gentiles do not have the law in the sense that they do not have a written copy of it revealed by God. But they do know the law because it is revealed innately within them, by which they will be judged just as Jews are judged by the written law.

Further, how could Adam know the Decalogue or any version of the “moral law” prior to having knowledge of good and evil? Only after he and Eve ate the forbidden fruit did Adam know he was naked (Genesis 3:11). Only then God said the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:22). It is clear that Adam did not know evil before he sinned, though he clearly knew the goodness of God. Since knowledge of the Law incites sin (Romans 3:20; 5:20; 7:7), one can only conclude that Adam was given the “moral law” conjunction with The Fall; not when he was created nor when he walked in innocence. There is no warrant in Scripture to take the Decalogue as an eternally binding “moral law” for all people: it was given to Moses and the infant nation of Israel (Nehemiah 9:13 & 14) and the tablets sit in an ark that is to be forgotten (Jeremiah 3:15-16). (106, emphasis original)

Just to make sure I was not misunderstanding him, I emailed the author to confirm that he does not believe man was created with knowledge of the law of God. He said that is correct. Since Adam and Eve had no knowledge of the law, they must not have been obligated to obey it. Again, Brogden confirmed via email that that is correct. No one knew or was obligated to obey the moral or universal law of God until after the Fall. The only command Adam and Eve had to obey was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

With regards to Brogden’s argument: after the Fall, with a corrupt nature, knowledge of the law incites sin. That was not the case prior to the Fall with an uncorrupted nature. The “knowledge of good and evil” did not mean “knowledge of what God requires of man.” The tree of knowledge of good and evil was symbolic. It represented man’s effort to discern good from evil apart from the help of God’s wisdom. Adam’s duty was to apply the law of God to every situation he encountered in life. If he faced a difficult situation, he was to seek wisdom from God and not rely on his own understanding, thereby growing in maturity (Prov 2:6; James 1:5; Deut 1:39; 1 Kings 3:9; Is. 7:15; Heb 5:14; Rom 12:2; Ps. 119:66; Eph 5:10). This was, in fact, Adam’s test (probation). When he had grown in wisdom and maturity, when he had grown wise enough to be judge (1 Cor 6:2-3), then he would enter God’s rest, be confirmed in righteousness, granted to eat from the tree of life and live forever with an immutable nature. But when he faced a difficult situation (the serpent’s twisted teaching about what God said), he did not ask God for wisdom, but rather relied on his own understanding of what is good and evil (Gen 3:5-6) and therefore ate of the tree. That’s what the tree symbolized.

Brogden favorably quotes John Reisinger’s simplistic linguistic objection to the term “moral law.” He offers an alternative.

Since the Hebrews under the Mosaic covenant rightly saw all the commands of YHWH as moral (why else would picking up sticks on the Sabbath be a capital offense? – Numbers 15:32-36), it dawned on me that the right nomenclature would be universal law (do not murder, marriage, etc.) and covenantal law (do not eat pork, stay in your home on the Sabbath, etc.). Many people refer to a “natural law” that applies to all people, but since such a law is instituted and communicated by Creator God, it’s a supernatural law which applies universally. Hence my preference for that label. The covenant one is in determines which laws apply, apart from the universal laws which apply to all men. (107)

This is conceptually the same as 1689 Federalism’s distinction between moral and positive law. In fact, Brogden actually quotes part of a 1689 Federalism essay to defend his view.

There is no argument that the Decalogue contains universal law, but it contains more; specific instructions and commands that are part of the Mosaic covenant with national Israel and no other nation or people. Rather than being the universal law of God, it would seem that the Decalogue is a particular application of law given in the Mosaic Covenant to the Jews.

In a critique of New Covenant Theology [in the Appendix to the Coxe/Owen volume and also found online here], Richard Barcellos quotes John Owen from his Works, 22:215… In this quote, both Owen invalidates the common assertion that what we see in Exodus 20 is nothing but the “moral” law, although he did specify the “prescriptive parts” as “absolutely moral;” which is the universal law shining through the tablets.

However, rather than recognizing that perhaps he has misunderstood the confession’s position, since both Barcellos and Owen agree with the confession’s position, Brogden declares Owen to be in support of his rejection of the confession.

Terrence O’Hare tell us that Thomas Aquinas appears to be the first to develop this line of thought, “asserting that the old law contains moral (emanating from natural law), judicial (laws regarding justice among men), and ceremonial (laws touching on worship, holiness, and sanctification) precepts; and that these three can be distinguished in the Decalogue as well.”… Accepting such a novel teaching from anyone is treading on thin ice; that the originator was a Roman Catholic makes it all the more important that we examine it closely before declaring it truth that binds everyone.  (108-109)

As someone who hold’s to the Confession’s teaching on the law, I have examined it closely (more closely than Brogden if his analysis in this book is any indication) and I find it to be biblical. Aquinas was not the first one to teach the concept of distinguishing between natural law and positive law in the Mosaic Covenant.

In summary, I believe the 1689 LBC suffers from paedobaptist influence in its perception of The Law, resulting in unavoidable conflicts within itself. Baptists ought not to embrace this unless we embrace their view of the covenants as well, for therein lies the basis for the view espoused in chapter 19 and chapter 22.8 of the 1689 LBC…

An astute observation from a news story wherein Paul McHugh, a respected psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins, refuted self-identification of sex is most appropriate here: “gird your loins if you would confront this matter. Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle.” So it is in discussing the “Christian Sabbath” with those who hold to it. (120-121)

Covenant Theology

Brogden expresses appreciation for 1689 Federalism. He quotes from Denault, Coxe, Owen, Keach, and Pink. He does generally hold to a similar construct regarding the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants. In this regard I am thankful that an NCT proponent is studying and recognizing the value of historic baptist views. I wish more of them would do so. However, he also quotes extensively from NCT authors. He does recognizes that aspects of his view are not shared by proponents of NCT, who reject both the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, though he maintains “the differences one may have with New Covenant Theology brothers are small and deal in large part with defining our terms.” In the end, he makes it clear that the book represents his own unique perspective.

I’ve taken part of Luther’s statement as my title because while I am thankful to God for myriad men in the Reformed Baptist world that have taught me much, I cannot claim full allegiance to a document written in the 17th century; it being mostly right… It is not my intention to present the 17th century Baptist view on the covenants, as if theirs was the ultimate expression of Baptist thought. Pascal Denault’s book, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, is an excellent review of that position and the folks at http://www.1689federalism.com/ have been doing a very good job explaining some of the historic Baptist distinctives and how they differ from the Westminster Confession of Faith. My intention is to present what I, a particular Baptist, see as the biblical view of the covenants. Conforming to what particular Baptist have historically believed is not my main concern. I desire to conform the Scriptures, not to 16th and 17th century brothers who no more had perfect theology than you or I. We are not to be disciples of mere men (1 Corinthians 3:1-9), but disciples of the Lord Jesus; thankful for those who have been faithful and gone before us but not trapped in their teachings. Hence the title of this part of the book: A Baptist View of Covenant Theology; not The Baptist View of Covenant Theology. There are, today, many variants of how Baptists view the covenants in Scripture; far be it from me to speak on behalf of those with whom I disagree on topics relevant to this (such as reviewed in Part 2: A Baptist View of Reformed Theology). My desire is to be captive to the Word of God; not captive to a 17th century confession nor a system of theology developed by men. (vii, 131-132, emphasis original)

The Adamic Covenant

Brogden affirms that God did make a covenant with Adam, even though the early chapters of Genesis do not explicitly call it a covenant. He also affirms that the covenant was a covenant of works (in disagreement with NCT/Progressive Covenantalism proponents like Gentry and Wellum).

The covenant made with Adam was a covenant of works which did not comprehend sin and the need for redemption… (Hosea 6:7; Jeremiah 33:19-22; Isaiah 24:5-6)… Adam was commanded by God to “do this and live” (You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, Genesis 2:16) and “do that and die” (but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. Genesis 2:17). Though very narrow in scope, this relationship required obedience by Adam for him to remain in fellowship with Creator God. And by his disobedience, death came to every man (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21 & 22), Jew and Gentile without distinction. (151, 149)

Brogden appears to be in agreement with the 2nd London Baptist Confession’s teaching on the Adamic Covenant of Works (see The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis), but upon closer inspection we find that is not the case. As we saw above, Brogden rejects the idea that the law was written on the heart of man at creation, but the law is the basis of the Adamic Covenant of Works. He rejects the historic meaning of the concept while retaining the label and some aspects of it. This is very confusing and is not made clear to the reader. He approvingly quotes Owen and Keach defending the doctrine. However, both quotes do not reflect Brogden’s view since they are specifically focused on showing how the law was the basis of the Covenant of Works.

John Owen, a paedobaptist who shared much in common theologically with Baptists, agreed with Pink on this point in his commentary on Hebrews 8:6 (emphasis mine):

“There was an original covenant made with Adam, and all mankind in him. The rule of obedience and reward that was between God and him, was not expressly called a covenant, but it contained the express nature of a covenant. For it was the agreement of God and man concerning obedience and disobedience, rewards and punishments. Where there is a law concerning these things, and an agreement upon it, by all parties concerned, there is a formal covenant. Wherefore it may be considered two ways.

1st. As it was a law only; so it proceeded from, and was a consequent of, the nature of God and man, with their mutual relation unto one another. God being considered as the Creator, Governor, and Benefactor of man: and man as an intellectual creature, capable of moral obedience; this law was necessary, and is eternally indispensable.

2dly. As it was a covenant; and this depended on the will and pleasure of God. I will not dispute whether God might have given a law unto men, that should have had nothing in it of a covenant properly so called as is the law of creation unto all other creatures, which hath no rewards nor punishments annexed unto it. Yet this God calls a covenant also, inasmuch as it is an effect of his purpose, his unalterable will and pleasure, Jer. 33:20, 21.”

Benjamin Keach addressed the question of whether Adam was party to a covenant with God:

“Proposition: That the Breach betwixt God and Man, was occasioned by the violation of the First Covenant which God entered into with Adam, as the Common or Public Head and Representative of all Mankind; which Covenant was a Covenant of Works; I say, God gave a Law, or entered into a Covenant of Works with the First Adam and his Seed, and in that Covenant he gave himself to be our God, even upon the strict and severe condition of perfect Obedience, personally to be performed by Man himself, with that Divine Threatening of Death and Wrath if he broke the Covenant, In the Day thou eats thereof thou shalt surely die. Yet some may doubt (as one observes) whether this was a Covenant of Works, because here is only a threatening of Death upon his Disobedience to this one positive Law.”

In the style of 17th century apologetics (often called diatribes), Keach stated the propositions and provided the answers. This is his answer to the above proposition:

“Man in his First Creation was under a Natural Obligation to universal compliance to the Will of God, and such was the Rectitude of his Nature, it imports an exact Conformity to the Divine Will, there being an inscription of the Divine Law upon Adam’s heart, which partly still remains, or is written in the hearts of the very Gentiles (though much blur’d) which is that light which is in all, or that which we call The light of Nature.”

The fact that Brogden included these quotes in support of his view suggests to me that perhaps he did not adequately understand the quotes. He could have found other quotes dealing more narrowly with the existence of a Covenant of Works, or simply used the beginning of these ones without including the explainations of how the moral law was the basis of the Covenant of Works. Owen says “As it was a law only; so it proceeded from, and was a consequent of, the nature of God and man… this law was necessary, and is eternally indispensable.” Brogden rejects that idea. All that existed prior to the Fall was the one positive law not to eat from the tree. The subsequent “universal law” that Brogden says was written on man’s heart after the Fall was not natural, stemming from God and man’s nature as imago dei, or necessary (since it didn’t exist prior to the Fall). It must therefore have been positive law that depended only on the will and pleasure of God (note well that this means there is no law derived from God’s nature, a problem with many/most versions of NCT that reformed baptists have pointed out, leading to rejections of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, see also here). Since that is Brogden’s view, it makes little sense for him to quote Owen making the opposite point. Owen’s point was simply to explain LBCF 7.1, which says that man, by nature, owes obedience to God without expecting any reward, but that God voluntarily condescended (by His will and pleasure) to establish a covenant with Adam to offer him a reward for his obedience.

His quotation of Keach is even more out of place. Keach says “[S]ome may doubt (as one observes) whether this was a Covenant of Works, because here is only a threatening of Death upon his Disobedience to this one positive Law.” That describes Brogden’s view: there is only a threatening of punishment for disobedience to one positive law. Keach says that is wrong because “Man in his First Creation was under a Natural Obligation to universal compliance to the Will of God, and such was the Rectitude of his Nature.” Keach is referring to Ecc. 7:29, which Brogden says has nothing to do with the law being written on man’s heart. These quotations are out of place and they reveal, in my opinion, that perhaps Brogden has not wrestled deeply with the doctrine.

Brogden also rejects the idea that the reward of the Covenant of Works was glorification – being made immutable.

There is nothing in the Scripture to support the notion widely held by some in the paedobaptist world of Covenant Theology that Adam had a “time of probation” that hypothetically held out access to the Tree of Life. This notion implies a “plan B” in God’s mind, which Scripture flat-out proscribes (Acts 2:23 for example) yet open theology embraces. Our God is in His heavens and does what He pleases.

This is simply a confusion of God’s revealed/preceptive will and His secret/decretive will. (see The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis as well as Better Than the Beginning for helpful discussion of this point.)

Abrahamic Covenant

Brogden affirms the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, noting that Abraham’s physical offspring was a type of his spiritual offspring. I will just note one aspect that I do not personally agree with.

I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him” (Genesis 17:19). This everlasting covenant is an eternal one, established and fulfilled by God, reconciling elect sinners with holy God. This is testified to by the apostle in Galatians 4:21-31 as he identifies the covenant represented by Sarah as the covenant with the heavenly Jerusalem, which is liberty (John 8:36); sharply contrasted with earthly Jerusalem, which is slavery, condemnation, and death (2 Corinthians 3:7-9). (137)

I think Brogden’s identification of the Covenant of Circumcision with the Eternal Covenant (Covenant of Redemption) is mistaken. The use of the word “everlasting” does not sufficiently establish that view. Neither does Galatians 4:21-31, which rather teaches that two subsequent covenants (Old and New) come from the Covenant of Circumcision. This leads him to mistakenly believe Christians are under the Abrahamic Covenant.

In several places, God promised several things to Abraham and his offspring. The apostle is precise in correcting the Jewish perspective wherein they supposed all national Israel was being spoken of as that offspring. Paul has even confused some modern commentators here, but clearly he means that what was promised to Abraham’s offspring was not to national Israel and its countless members; it was promised to one offspring, the promised seed that national Israel had been formed to protect as it was delivered through 43 generations (Matthew 1:17). Here is how one commentary explains it:

promises—plural, because the same promise was often repeated (Gen 12:3, 7; Gen 15:5, 18; Gen 17:7; Gen 22:18), and because it involved many things; earthly blessings to the literal children of Abraham in Canaan, and spiritual and heavenly blessings to his spiritual children; but both promised to Christ, “the Seed” and representative Head of the literal and spiritual Israel alike (163)

I do not agree with Brogden here and I think it overlooks the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. As Augustine explained, God made two promises to Abraham, one about the land of Canaan and his physical offspring, the other about Christ blessing all nations. In Galatians 3:16, Paul is not denying that God promised certain things to Abraham’s physical offspring (plural). Rather, he is clarifying that the promise to bless all nations was about one particular offspring, which was fulfilled in Christ. For more on this, see here.

Mosaic Covenant

In some comments Brogden rightly notes that the Mosaic Covenant was limited to temporal life and blessing in Canaan, in distinction from the Adamic Covenant.

While they lived in the flesh, they were in the Mosaic Covenant as God’s temporal people. So all national Israel was at all times members of two covenants – one identifying their spiritual condition (in Adam or in Christ), the other identifying them as God’s temporal people (under Moses). (146)

But elsewhere he argues that Christ secured eternal life and blessing for his people through the Mosaic Covenant.

Under the Old Covenant, Israel’s obedience procured God’s temporal favor: produce, favor with other nations, power, and God’s protection. Under the Old Covenant, as one born under the law, Jesus’ obedience procured spiritual and eternal favor: redemption, sanctification, righteousness, and Christ’s intercession for the New Jerusalem, sealing the New Covenant under which sinners are declared righteous (Romans 5:18-20, 8:3-4, Galatians 3:13, 4:4-5). The Old Covenant, in each of its administrations, demands much, but provides no hope of reconciliation with God.

A covenant cannot be bifurcated like that. You can’t say it means one thing to some members but a different thing to other members. That would imply two different covenants/agreements. Brogden appears to follow Jeffery Johnson here.

Some people, including Baptists (recall Spurgeon’s unclear statement in the introduction to this topic), make the error of claiming that the New Covenant was conditional for its mediator, that Jesus’ redemptive work was His part of the Covenant of Redemption. Scripture tells us Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant and earned the right to issue the New Covenant. He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17); this phrase is commonly used “shorthand” to refer to what we call the Old Testament. (196)

Brogden also argues the Old Covenant was not the Mosaic Covenant, but was rather an umbrella covenant that embraced the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants.

The Old Covenant represents God’s relationship to national Israel, and includes the three major covenants contained therein, although the Abrahamic Covenant is only partially in this arena. This began to close with the Davidic Covenant, coming to a final close when the son of David who was his Lord fulfilled all the requirements of Moses and the prophets and cut the New Covenant (Galatians 3:24). The Old Covenant was worn out and ended. (145)

I do not agree with this articulation. I believe Scripture identifies the Old Covenant as the Mosaic Covenant, and that the Abrahamic and Davidic are different covenants. However, the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants have a great deal of overlap with the Mosaic Covenant and to the degree that they overlap, Scripture’s comments about the Old Covenant apply to them as well.

Final Note

Brogden makes some confused comments about the 2nd LBCF with regards to covenant theology.

I read, studied and taught the 1689 London Baptist Confession and saw it had much the same view of the Mosaic Covenant as taught by the WCF; and I wondered how this could be. Then I found a book that shook me with some simple explanations from Scripture on the covenants. Jeff Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw of the Theology of Infant Baptism exposed the flawed foundation of paedobaptism, but more importantly, it explained the dichotomist nature of the covenant given unto Abraham as clearly presented by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 4. (iv)

If Brogden had been reading the confession as teaching the same thing as the WCF on the Mosaic Covenant, then he was misreading it. Johnson’s book and his subsequent reading of Denault would have made that clear. Why then does he still imply the confession teaches the same thing as the WCF on the Mosaic Covenant, rather than what is found in Denault’s 17th century survey?

As Baptists learn more about the covenants of Scripture (explored in more detail in Part 3: A Baptist View of Covenant Theology), apart from the Presbyterian hermeneutic so prevalent in Reformed publications, will we be willing to examine what our confessions say about the secondary doctrines that flow out from one’s view of the covenants? We will if we are to be true to our calls of Sola Scriptura and Semper Reformanda. And we will also not be willing to defend our confession by mere argument, but with a clear conscience led by the teaching from the Word of God. (103)

Brogden seems to suggest we have two options: the Presbyterian covenant theology, or his own personal covenant theology. There is no category for 1689 Federalism, which rejects Presbyterian covenant theology, but also rejects Brogden’s covenant theology.

Conclusion

This is not a complete review. It doesn’t touch on everything in the book, but since readers of this blog are primarily interested in 1689 Federalism and whether this book is a good resource for it, that is what I focused on. The critical nature of this review should not overshadow many good things this brother has to say in the book. In the end, however, I would not recommend the book because its pluses do not outweigh its minuses. The helpful things in book can easily be found in other, more reliable sources. In an endorsement at the beginning of the book, Jeffery Johnson says “In my opinion, this helpful work needs to be required reading for all Baptist seminary students.” I am surprised by such a strong endorsement and do not share his assessment.

David Dykstra on Church & State (and Isaac Backus on Romans 13) — Reformed Libertarian Blog

Reformed Baptist pastor David Dykstra’s series on Church & State is worth listening to, particularly the historic overviews of the reformation and American eras. Major Errors In Church/State Relations David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 1 Romans 13:1-7 Play SUN 01/12/2003 580+ | 37 min Baptistic Confessional Superiority David Dykstra | Church & State – Part 2 Romans 13:1-7 Play…

via David Dykstra on Church & State (and Isaac Backus on Romans 13) — Reformed Libertarian Blog

Categories: Reformed Libertarian

“All Things Lawful” (LBCF 24.3/WCF 23.4) — Reformed Libertarian

In 2000, Bob Brown of Reformed Baptist Church gave a lecture titled “All Things Lawful: Or, a Biblical Perspective on Resisting Authority.” It was part of a series on the civil magistrate and it seeks to explain 24.3 of the […]

via “All Things Lawful” (LBCF 24.3/WCF 23.4) — Reformed Libertarian

Categories: Reformed Libertarian