Any interaction with 1689 Federalism from paedobaptists has been very limited, so I am thankful that R. Scott Clark tried to do so in a recent post titled Did The Covenant Of Grace Begin In The New Covenant? Regretfully, though, he has fundamentally misunderstood the position. (I know that response can be annoying – please hear me out briefly).
First, the title asks the wrong question. The question is not “Did the Covenant of Grace begin in the New Covenant?” Rather, the question is “Is the New Covenant alone the Covenant of Grace?”
Clark mistakenly says that 1689 Federalism does not believe the Covenant of Grace was “in effect” or “existed” prior to the death of Christ. He claims that we “conclude that [OT saints like David] did not actually participate in the covenant of grace.”
We do believe that the Covenant of Grace “existed” and was “in effect” prior to Christ, such that OT saints did actually “participate in the covenant of grace.” Our point is simply that neither the Mosaic Covenant, nor the Abrahamic Covenant (nor Noahic nor Davidic) were the covenant of grace. If any OT saint participated in the covenant of grace, they participated in the New Covenant, because only the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace (union with Christ). Coxe said
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)
Our promised/established distinction refers to how the New Covenant was operative prior to the death of Christ. Before then, it existed as a promise and was effective to save all OT saints. It was effective and “existed” prior to its legal establishment as a covenant in the same way that Christ’s atonement was effective and “existed” for OT saints prior to Christ’s actual curse-bearing death on the cross. Yes, Abraham was justified in Genesis 15:6, but he was justified the same way we are: through membership in the New Covenant (from which he received a new heart, faith, and forgiveness of sins by the blood of Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant).
We appreciate the post, but we hope Clark is willing to receive correction as to what we believe so we can have a dialogue.
Below is a more lengthy discussion of Clark’s problematic comments regarding “administration” for those that are interested.
(Note, I tried commenting on his blog, but he banned me from the blog and blocked me on Twitter quite a while ago. He has also deleted two comments left by others on his blog asking him to respond to this post: 1 and 2).
[These comments are adapted from a comment I left recently on a post on a different blog titled How was Christ Administered in the Old Testament? Introduction. Below is the comment I posted on Clark’s blog.]
Thank you for acknowledging the 17th century particular baptist view. Regretfully, I do not believe you have adequately understood or addressed it. Regretfully, there is a bit of confusion and misunderstanding going on here. It is not all your fault. The word “administration” is liable to a great deal of misunderstanding. In a recent episode of the Glory Cloud Podcast (#39) interviewing Dr. Byron Curtis about republication, Lee Irons notes
This issue of republication is so hard to nail down exactly. It seems like people are using terms in different ways. Like, for example, you just used the phrase ‘administration.’ You said that Kline believes that the Mosaic Covenant is an administration of the Covenant of Grace. But that word “administration” itself can be understood in different ways. Or, the way in which is it an administration of the Covenant of Grace can be understood in different ways. [A] One way to understand it would be to say that its nothing but a continuation of the Covenant of Grace and so there is no works principle there at all. [B] But another way to understand it is that it’s an administration in the sense that this works principle is there in order to further the program of the Covenant of Grace, even though there is a genuine works principle there. If you break the covenant you’re going to be kicked out of the land. That’s conditionality. So there is a genuine works principle there, but its purpose for being given is subordinate to the overall program of the Covenant of Grace.
This is highly relevant because it addresses the nature of the term “administration” and what 1689 Federalism means when it says the Old Covenant was not an administration of the Covenant of Grace (we have in mind definition [A]). Irons (as well as T. David Gordon and others) has argued for a long time that the 17th century subservient covenant view (which says the Mosaic Covenant was a separate, distinct covenant from the Covenant of Grace) was a precursor to Kline’s view because both believed: 1) the Mosaic Covenant operated upon a principle of works governing temporal life and blessing in the land of Canaan, and 2) the New Covenant was not a renewal or continuation of the Mosaic Covenant.
This prompted a WTJ essay by D. Patrick Ramsey titled “In Defense of Moses” in which he argues that 1) Kline’s view is substantially the same as the subservient covenant view, and 2) the subservient covenant view was rejected by the WCF (hence Kline’s view is incompatible with the WCF). It is pertinent to our discussion that Ramsey quotes Owen as a proponent of the subservient covenant view, in contrast to the WCF view, and he cites Sinclair Ferguson as another scholar who does the same. (Kerux journal 24.3 does likewise and Ryan McGraw, in a recent interview on the Reformed Forum affirms the same, noting “The 17th century Baptists tended to pick up this particular view.” – this is a sampling of the “other reformed writers” that you say have misunderstood Owen along with the baptists). Brenton C. Ferry responded in a WTJ article arguing that Kline did in fact believe the New Covenant was a continuation of the Old Covenant, and therefore he used the term “administration” according to definition [A] and was therefore in agreement with the WCF. Irons has responded in writing and on the Glory Cloud Podcast arguing that Ferry was pulling from Kline’s earliest writings and ignoring development in his thought, which led him to the view tha the New is not a continuation of the Old.
This debate continued for many years and was recently addressed by an OPC GA Study Committee on Republication, which concluded that the subservient covenant view is contrary to the WCF, noting “proponents of the subservient covenant view did not view themselves as advocating a version of View 4 outlined below (i.e., that the Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace with a unique administration).” It likewise concluded that Kline’s view, as articulated and defended by Irons and others, is contrary to the WCF. That is to say, the WCF has something very specific in mind when it refers to the Old Covenant “administration” of the Covenant of Grace. It has in mind Irons’ definition [A] (the Mosaic Covenant is a continuation of the Covenant of Grace, not a distinct, separate, subservient covenant, and operates upon faith not works). That is what 1689 Federalism rejects.
As Irons noted, much of the ongoing debate amongst Presbyterians is over the meaning of the word “administration.” It is imprecise and liable to much misunderstanding (just read the OPC republication report). It’s really not the best footing from which to launch a refutation from. Please allow me to unpack this a bit to demonstrate its relevance to our discussion.
Westminster Federalism, following Calvin, argues that because Old Testament saints were saved through union with Christ just as we are today, then therefore whatever covenant they were under must be the same covenant we are under. Or, to put it slightly differently, if the Old Covenant revealed the gospel, and OT saints understood that revelation and placed their faith in it, then the Old Covenant and the New Covenant must be the same covenant. This is precisely Calvin’s argument in Book 2 Chapter 10 where Calvin concludes “both covenants are truly one… although differently administered.” This became the common expression that the covenants are one in substance but have different administrations. This substance/administration distinction was based on the Aristotelean substance/accidents distinction, thus arguing that the two covenants are the same covenant, but with different accidental properties. These accidental characteristics refer to the outward forms in which the single covenant of grace is “administered.” Thus one covenant of grace under two administrations (WCF 7.5-6).
1689 Federalism, Owen, and others reject the initial inference. Just because Old Testament saints were saved through union with Christ (just as we are today) does not therefore mean that the Old Covenant is the New Covenant. Likewise, just because a covenant reveals the gospel does not make it the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace. Here is how Owen expressed his disagreement:
The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the old testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him byfaith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvationby the same way and means, that believers have under the new. And whereas the essence and the substance of the covenant consists in these things, they are not to be said to be under another covenant, but only a different administration of it. But this was so different from that which is established in the gospel after the coming of Christ, that it hath the appearance and name of another covenant…
[But] we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant merely, to be intended. We must, Isay, do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvationwas the same under both. But it will be said, —and with great pretense of reason, for it is that which is the sole foundation they all build upon whoallow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, —’That thisbeing the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation be the same under both, then indeed are they for the substance of them but one.’ And I grant that this would inevitably follow,if it were so equally by virtue of them both. If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue thereof, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, whilst they were under the covenant.
As therefore I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition, so I shall proposesundry things which relate unto the nature of the first covenant, whichmanifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administrationof the covenant of grace.
-Commentary on Hebrews 8:6
Thus in response to the common “one covenant under two administrations” phrase, 1689 Federalists have responded with “the Old Covenant is not an administration of the Covenant of Grace.” What we mean is “the Old Covenant is not the Covenant of Grace.” The Old and the New are not the same covenant, but are two different covenants.
Regretfully, this has led some to think we mean that the gospel and salvation in Christ were not communicated or revealed by the Old Covenant. That is not the case. We affirm in 2LBCF 8.6 “Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and to-day and for ever. (1 Corinthians 4:10; Hebrews 4:2; 1 Peter 1:10, 11; Revelation 13:8; Hebrews 13:8)”
The language of administration is extremely nebulous and problematic. Many responses to the above videos and data [referring to 1689federalism.com] have pushed back by saying that the old covenant(s) were means through which OT believers obtained salvation, and thus were “Administrations” in the sense of “getting thing A to person B.” Surely that is the case. LBCF 8.6 confesses this…
But while the use of administration in the WCF includes the notion of “getting thing A to person B,” its use of “Administration” refers more fully to “a diverse manner of dispensing, and outward managing the making of the covenant with men, but the covenant was still one and the same, clothed and set forth in a diverse manner, and did no other ways differ then and now, but as one and the self same man differeth from himself, cloathed sutably one way in his minority, and another in his riper age.” [David Dickson, Therapeutica Sacra (Edinburgh: 1697), 142.] The administration is the outward visible form of covenantal life and organization…
The question is, was the old covenant a visible organizational form of covenantal life for the covenant of grace? The question is not, were the benefits of Christ’s mediation available in the old covenant? All are agreed on the second question. It is the first question that needs careful answering. This is the difference between the substance of the covenant of grace being revealed in the old covenant and actually being the old covenant in an older form.
We believe that the Covenant of Grace is union with Christ. The New Covenant is not just the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (which did not begin until the new covenant was inaugurated – see Owen’s explanation of “established”). The New Covenant is our legal union with Christ our head, through which we receive the blessings he has purchased for us. Scripture says that regeneration, a new heart, is a blessing of the New Covenant. It is not a blessing of the Old Covenant (cf Witsius and others). The Old Covenant does reveal the gospel in various shadowy ways, and thereby OT saints were saved, but that does not make the Old Covenant our legal union with Christ (the Covenant of Grace). As Keach said, it is a great error “for any to say, the Shadows of the Ceremonial Law were Gospel, because they pointed to the Gospel.”
Allow me to now apply this to your comments:
1) “Who can read the Psalms of David and conclude that he did not actually participate in the covenant of grace but was merely anticipating the New Covenant?
Can you point to any 1689 Federalism source that says David did not actually participate in the covenant of grace? Your question here reveals that you have not understood the position. 1689 Federalism believes that David did participate in the covenant of grace, which is the new covenant. He participated in the new covenant, which was yet future, in the same way that he participated in the atonement, which was yet future. Wrestling with Jeremiah’s language in Heb 8:10, Calvin admits “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.”
2) “The Scriptures themselves will not allow us to turn Abraham into a covenant of works. Genesis 15:6 is basic to the biblical doctrine of salvation: “Abraham believed God and his faith was credited to him for righteousness.”
Again, your comment here reveals that you have not understood our position. The question is not “Was Abraham saved in the same way that we are?” The question is “Was Abraham saved by the Abrahamic Covenant?” Genesis 15:6 does not say that he was. The Abrahamic Covenant revealed the gospel insofar as it promised that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah who would bless all nations (Gal. 3:8). Abraham believed that revelation of the gospel and was thus saved. That does not mean the Abrahamic Covenant granted Abraham the blessing of a new heart, faith, and justification. Rather, it means that Abraham was a member of the New Covenant (through which he received a new heart, faith, and justification).
This basic distinction between the revealed/established Covenant of Grace is held by men like Berkhof. He argued Gen 3:15 revealed the gospel/covenant of grace, and thereby saved Adam and others, but that the Covenant of Grace was not actually established until the Abrahamic Covenant.
1. The first revelation of the covenant. The first revelation of the covenant is found in the protevangel, Gen. 3:15. Some deny that this has any reference to the covenant; and it certainly does not refer to any formal establishment of a covenant. The revelation of such an establishment could only follow after the covenant idea had been developed in history. At the same time Gen. 3:15 certainly contains a revelation of the essence of the covenant…
Up to the time of Abraham there was no formal establishment of the covenant of grace. While Gen. 3:15 already contains the elements of this covenant, it does not record a formal transaction by which the covenant was established. It does not even speak explicitly of a covenant. The establishment of the covenant with Abraham marked the beginning of an institutional Church.
We agree with the basic idea, we just push it forward to the New Covenant, rather than the Abrahamic Covenant.
3) “It is not possible to be Reformed and to say that the covenant of grace was not in effect until the New Covenant.”
We do not say that the covenant of grace was not in effect prior to the death of Christ. We say that the new covenant was in effect/operative prior to its formal legal establishment. We agree with Owen when he says:
Suppose, then, that this new covenant of grace was extant and effectual under the old testament, so as the church was saved by virtue thereof, and the mediation of Christ therein, how could it be that there should at the same time be another covenant between God and them, of a different nature from this, accompanied with other promises, and other effects?…
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 wasalways 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 allthings, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians onlyexcepted, 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 untoany other things, nor was it so under the old testament. When Godrenewed the promise of it unto Abraham, he is said to make a covenantwith him; and he did so, but it was with respect unto other things,especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. Butabsolutely under the old testament it consisted only in a promise; and assuch only is proposed in the Scripture, Acts 2:39; Hebrews 6:14-16.The apostle indeed says, that the covenant was confirmed of God inChrist, before the giving of the law, Galatians 3:17. And so it was, notabsolutely 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…
(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 allthe worship that God requires of it; which is that which they are torestipulate 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 thenew testament, this covenant, with its own seals and appointments, is theonly 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, inits establishment by the death of Christ, the procuring cause of all itsbenefits, and the declaring of it to be the only rule of worship andobedience unto the church. So that although by “the covenant of grace,” 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.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss and clarify our view.