Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 4: Contradiction

At this point, a tension arises in Kline’s formulation. He considers the Abrahamic Covenant a promise covenant that “connotes the principle of grace, the opposite of work,” wherein the “Inheritance of the promise was not through the works principle of the law (v.13), for that is contrary to the promise-grace-faith-forgiveness principle.” (KP 294) This holds true for Abraham at the “substratum” layer of eternal inheritance, which he receives through faith apart from works because of Christ’s work (in another covenant). However, this does not hold true for Abraham at the typological, redemptive historical level. Abraham did not receive the promised blessings at the typological, historia salutis level through faith apart from works, but rather through his works. Abraham was not made the father of the Messiah through faith apart from works, but rather through his works. How then can the Abrahamic Covenant be a pure “promise covenant” if at least some of its promises are received through the works principle?

For this reason, some Klineans have tried to argue that “Kline’s point is that though it sounds like at times Abraham is given the covenant blessings through his works, that is not the really case, for Gen. 22 occurs many years after the promise of Gen. 15.” and that a works principle “was operative in the life of Abraham, but not ‘within the Abrahamic Covenant’ itself.” But that’s simply not what Kline said, as we have seen (Abraham’s obedience was “the basis for the Lord’s bestowing on him the blessings of the covenant.” (GHHM 102), etc).

Galatians 3

They appeal to passages such as the following.

Clearly, the Abrahamic Covenant is a grace arrangement, a subdivision of the comprehensive Covenant of Grace. The apostle Paul identifies it as a covenant informed by the principle of promise, the opposite of the principle of works that was operative in the Law (Gal 3:12, 17, 18; Rom 10:4-10). According to Paul the salvation blessings offered in the Abrahamic Covenant are obtained through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:22). (GHHM 96)

However, note that Kline explains the contrast in Galatians is between tenure in Canaan (type) and the inheritance of the Messianic kingdom (antitype).

Most familiar of the instances of the introduction of a works principle in a premessianic redemptive economy is the Mosaic Covenant. According to the emphatically and repeatedly stated terms of this old covenant of the law, the Lord made Israel’s continuing manifestation of cultic fidelity to him the ground of their continuing tenure in Canaan. This was not then one of the covenants of grant; it was not a matter of Israel’s being given the kingdom originally in recognition of past meritorious conduct. But this case of the old covenant is relevant in the present context as another notable example of the pattern which finds the principles of works and grace operating simultaneously, yet without conflict, because the works principle is confined to a separate typological level. Paul, perceiving the works principle in the Mosaic law economy, was able to insist that this did not entail an abrogation of the promises of grace given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob centuries earlier (Gal 3:17), precisely because the works principle applied only to the typological kingdom in Canaan and not to the inheritance of the eternal kingdom-city promised to Abraham as a gift of grace and at last to be received by Abraham and all his seed, Jew and Gentile, through faith in Christ Jesus. The pedagogical purpose of the Mosaic works arrangement was to present typologically the message that felicity and godliness will be inseparably conjoined in the heavenly kingdom, or, negatively, that the disobedient are forever cut off from the kingdom of the eschaton. (KP 237)

According to Kline, Paul is addressing “the salvation blessings offered in the Abrahamic Covenant” not the typological kingdom blessings offered in the Abrahamic Covenant. So appeal simply cannot be made to this passage to address the question of the typological kingdom/redemptive historical blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant, for it does not speak to it.

There is, however, real contradiction in Kline’s thought here as he does argue from Galatians 3 that the nature of the Abrahamic Covenant itself is “of grace” and not “of works.” That simply cannot be reconciled with what Kline says elsewhere concerning the redemptive historical blessings granted to Abraham for his works in the Abrahamic Covenant. Kline does refer to the “double role” of Abraham “serving as the great example of justification by faith, and yet, with respect to the typological phase of the kingdom, viewed as the recipient of a divine grant based on his obedience.” (KP 239) At best it could be argued from here that the Abrahamic Covenant was mixed, partially of works, partially of grace. But that would not fit with the claim that Paul says the nature of the covenant is “of grace.”

In my opinion, Kline has simply misread Galatians 3. Paul is not at all arguing from the nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. He is not making an argument from the concept of a “promise” in general. Rather, he is making an argument from a very specific promise made to Abraham: that one of his offspring would come to bless all nations (Gal 3:8). He argues that this promised blessing to all nations is not through the law. For more on this, see Gal. 3:18 – Generic Law and Promise, or Sinai and Messiah? (or worked out more fully in my 2020 JIRBS essay on Galatians).

Oath Ceremony

In addition to arguing from Galatians 3, Kline also argues from the oath ceremony in Genesis 15 that the Abrahamic Covenant is “of grace” and a promise covenant. A basic assumption of Kline’s is that the party who swears the oath in a covenant ceremony determines the conditionality of the covenant.

In postlapsarian history, where we encounter covenants both of works and grace, the identity of the party who takes the ratification oath is an indicator of which kind of covenant it is in a particular case. It must be noted here that not all oaths of covenantal commitment function as ratification oaths. For example, the role played by the oath ritual of circumcision (Gen 17) is that of a supplementary seal added to the Abrahamic Covenant, which had been ratified by God’s oath on an earlier occasion (Gen 15). More precisely, in the situation after the Fall it is the presence or absence of a human oath of ratification that provides the clue as to the governing principle, for divine oath is at least implicit in the ratification of all divine-human covenants, whether of works or grace. If the covenant is ratified by divine oath alone, it is a covenant of grace, either saving or common. But when the covenant-making includes a human oath of ratification, as in the case of Israel’s oath in the Sinaitic Covenant (Exod 24), the arrangement is informed by the works principle. (KP 5)


The manner of the ratification of the Abrahamic Covenant manifests its grace character. It is the Lord God who makes the solemn oath commitment that ratifies the covenant, guaranteeing the fulfillment of the promises. (GHHM 96)

How can this be reconciled with what Kline has said in Part 3? I don’t believe it can be. That’s why Klineans have tried to deny what Kline said regarding Abraham’s typological merit in the Abrahamic Covenant. If the Abrahamic promises, at the typological, redemptive historical level operated upon a works principle (as Kline said), the Abrahamic covenant was not a gracious promise covenant.

Kline’s error is his assumption about oath ceremonies. The rationale is circular: The Abrahamic Covenant is a promise covenant. God alone swore the oath in the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore God alone swearing the oath indicates whether a covenant is a promise covenant. In the Abrahamic Covenant God alone swore the oath. Therefore the Abrahamic Covenant is a promise covenant.

Not only did Kline make an assumption about the Genesis 15 ritual, he also made an assumption about the Genesis 17 ritual. “It must be noted here that not all oaths of covenantal commitment function as ratification oaths. For example, the role played by the oath ritual of circumcision (Gen 17) is that of a supplementary seal added to the Abrahamic Covenant, which had been ratified by God’s oath on an earlier occasion (Gen 15).” Kline’s error here is violating the rule of the analogy of Scripture. Kline allowed his interpretation of a vision (implicit) to determine his interpretation of explicit statements. “The implicit teaching passages of Scripture will shape our theology, but if we allow implicit teaching to contradict what the Bible says explicitly and directly, we will draw erroneous conclusions.” Giving these passages their proper interpretive priority we learn that both Genesis 15 and 17 are foundational components of the progressively revealed Abrahamic Covenant. Genesis 15, answering Abraham’s question of how these miraculous promises could be fulfilled, represents God’s commitment to His part of the covenant. Genesis 17, on the other hand, represents Abraham’s part of the covenant (17:1; 18:19; note that it includes sanctions, Gen 17:14 cf. Ex 4:24-26). Gen 22:15-18, as we have seen, concludes the two by confirming that Abraham fulfilled his part, resulting in God swearing that His part will therefore be fulfilled, as 26:5 summarizes.

It is worth noting that in his early work By Oath Consigned, Kline did give Genesis 17 proper weight.

It is important to recall Kline’s earlier rule of thumb that you know a covenant is a law covenant whenever the vassal takes the oath, binding himself to obedience to the suzerain under threat of a curse. Since the Kline of BOC views circumcision as the vassal’s ratification oath, by this rule of thumb (as applied to Gen 17), the Abrahamic Covenant seems to be a law covenant.

Since in this covenant [Gen 17] the Suzerain is also the divine Witness, the promissory obligations which Yahweh undertakes as Suzerain are also a blessing sanction which he will honor as the divine Witness when he beholds faithfulness in the covenant servant. Another element of the treaty pattern, viz., the sanctions, is thus included here among the stipulations. Curse sanction appears too, appended to the stipulation regarding circumcision (v. 14) … In short, the transaction recorded in Genesis 17 may be identified as a covenant of the vassal type, an administration of the lordship of the covenant Giver, binding his servant to himself in consecrated service under dual sanctions, blessing and curse. Of special importance in the establishment of vassal covenants was the function of the oath. It was by an oath that the vassal expressed his incorporation within the sphere of the lord’s jurisdiction. This oath invoked the covenant sanctions, more precisely, the curse, so that curse became a synonym for oath…

This means that circumcision was the rite by which the covenant of Genesis 17 was “cut”. It means further that circumcision symbolized the oath-curse by which the Abrahamic community confessed themselves under the judicial authority and more precisely under the sword of God Almighty.

What is suggested by the broad structure of Genesis 17 is confirmed by the particulars about circumcision given in verses 9–14. Circumcision is called God’s covenant, his covenant in the flesh of his people (vv. 9 , 10 , 13). This identification of covenant with circumcision reminds us at once of the coalescence of the covenant with its oath-curse in the extra-biblical treaties. Moreover, the meaning of circumcision as symbol of the oath-curse is actually expressed in so many words in verse 14 . There the threat of the curse sanction sounds against the one who breaks the covenant by not obeying the command of circumcision: “(he) shall be cut off”. The use of the verb kārat in this specific description of the curse clearly echoes the idiom of cutting a covenant (kārat bÿrît) and it is an unmistakable allusion to the nature of the rite of circumcision. So in this, the primary passage for the interpretation of circumcision, the general and specific considerations unitedly point to the conclusion that circumcision was the sign of the oath-curse of the covenant ratification. In the cutting off of the foreskin the judgment of excision from the covenant relationship was symbolized.

The oath whose curse sanction circumcision symbolized was an oath of allegiance. It was an avowal of Yahweh as covenant Lord, a commitment in loyalty to him. As the symbolized curse which sealed this pledge of allegiance, circumcision partook of the import of the oath. It was, therefore, a sign of consecration. Hence Israel is commanded: “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord” (Jer. 4:4). (BOC 40-41)

The broader import of circumcision is determined by the specific nature of that covenant of which it is declared to be a sign, and especially, since circumcision is a sanction sign, by the peculiar nature of the judgment in which that covenant issues. As for the covenant, it was a law covenant, not a simple guarantee of blessing but an administration of the lordship of God, a covenant therefore which confronted the servant with dual sanctions, curse and blessing (BOC 48).

Meredith Kline’s By Oath Consigned Compared with Kingdom Prologue, Lee Irons

Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 3: Royal Grant Proposal

How does Abraham’s typological merit relate to the Abrahamic Covenant? It is important to note that Kline did not deny that the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises (at the typological level) were conditioned upon Abraham’s obedience. He did not see Abraham’s typological merit as something that functioned outside of the Abrahamic Covenant. “Genesis 22:16 and 26:5 are relevant here as statements affirming a causal relationship between Abraham’s obedience and the fulfillment of the promises.” (KP 311) “[T]he promised program of the Abrahamic Covenant would proceed to unfold because Abraham had done this.” (KP 324) Kline referred to this arrangement as a royal grant made to Abraham.

Suzerain-Vassal & Royal Grants

In his study of the Ancient Near-East, Kline saw two types of covenants of the time. Suzerain-vassal covenants were made between a king (suzerain, like Nebuchadnezzar) and lesser rulers of conquered kingdoms (vassal, like Jehoiakim; 2 Kgs 24:1). It imposed rules of perpetual obedience to maintain the status quo and included sanctions (punishment) for disobedience. Royal grant covenants were special covenants that kings (suzerain) made with exceptional rulers under them (vassal). The king granted the ruler a gift (land, etc) as a reward for his previous demonstration of loyalty. These two types of covenants can be combined into one under the idea of probation. A ruler can be placed under a suzerain-vassal covenant, but with the promise that after successfully demonstrating their loyalty over a period of time, they may receive a greater reward (grant). Kline referred to this as a proposal of a grant. Both suzerain-vassal and grant-proposal covenants are covenants of works.

Adamic Suzerain-Vassal Grant Proposal

The creational covenant will here be called “The Creator’s Covenant of Works with Adam.”… [I]t involves not only the bestowal of the kingdom on a holy people of God but an offer to make the kingdom given in creation a permanent possession on a glorified level of existence. Described in terms of varieties of international covenants familiar at the time of the writing of the book of Genesis, the original covenant with Adam was thus a suzerain-vassal covenant plus the proposal of a special grant to the vassal for loyal service… [T]his covenant contained the proposal of a special grant to man, the servant-son, for loyal service to his Lord. It offered an eschatological advance in kingdom glory conditioned on man’s obedience… A principle of works – do this and live – governed the attainment of the consummation-kingdom proferred in the blessing sanction of the creational covenant. Heaven must be earned. (KP 20-21, 103, 108)


In our introductory comments on the Creator’s Covenant of Works with Adam we suggested that that covenant was comparable to the proposal of a grant in which a great king offered to give favored treatment to a lesser ruler on the condition of his assuming and performing the obligations of loyal service as a covenant vassal. Although Adam was created with the status of covenant servant, he was under a probation which proposed a special eschatological grant for covenant-keeping. (KP 234-5)

Messianic Grant Proposal

In distinguishing the two varieties of conditionality the key question is that of the function of the response of obedience. If the obedience functions as the meritorious ground of reception or retention of the kingdom blessings, the conditionality is that of the works principle, the opposite of the principle of grace. Obedience functions that way in the eternal covenant of the Father and Son, in the Covenant of the Creator with Adam, and in the Mosaic Covenant at the level of the typological kingdom (see further below). (KP 318)

Noahic Grant

Kline saw the Noahic Covenant as one of several instances of a typological works-based grant covenant.

The Genesis 6:18 covenant with Noah might be identified more precisely as a covenant of grant. That is the kind of covenant that ancient rulers gave to meritorious individuals for faithful service to the crown… Noah, unlike Adam, is viewed as a covenant servant who has already demonstrated his fidelity. He therefore receives not just the proposal of a grant but the actual reward, which the Lord was in fact in the process of bestowing in making this covenantal disclosure with its directives concerning the ark, the means of salvation and kingdom realization…

It is, of course, the gospel truth that God’s dealings with Noah found their ultimate explanation in the principle of God’s sovereign grace. This covenantal grant to Noah came under the Covenant of Grace whose administration to fallen men deserving only the curse of the broken creational covenant (and Noah too was one of these fallen sons of Adam) was an act of God’s pure mercy in Christ.

The covenant of grant given to Noah is one of several such divine dispensations in the premessianic era of redemptive history. Wherever we encounter such a bestowal of the kingdom and its honors on the basis of the good works of the grantee, the question naturally arises as to the consistency of this with redemptive covenant’s promises of grace. In all such cases the key point to observe is that the opposing principles of works and grace are operating in different spheres or at different levels from one another. For these works-arrangements all involve a situation where there is a typological representation of the messianic king and kingdom, superimposed as a second distinct level over a fundamental level that has to do with the eschatological kingdom reality itself. Now at that basic underlying level, where it is a matter of the individual’s gaining entrance into the eternal heavenly kingdom, not just a symbolic prototype thereof, sovereign saving grace is ever and only the principle that governs the inheritance of kingdom blessings. It is at the other level, the level of the superimposed typological stratum, that the Lord has been pleased on occasion to make the attainment of the rewards of the kingdom dependent on man’s obedient performance of his covenantal duty. Since, then, the introduction of the works principle in such covenantal arrangements affects only the typological overlay and not the underlying stratum of ultimate redemptive-eschatological reality, these works-grants assume their ancillary place harmoniously within the administrations of the Covenant of Grace. And grace thus remains at all times the constant principle of eternal salvation. (KP 234-6)


As in the other cases we have discussed, we must keep in mind the typological level of the kingdom that was secured by Noah’s righteousness if we are to perceive the consistency of this works-grant with the grace principle that was operating at the permanent, fundamental stratum of the Covenant of Grace. The flood judgment was but a type of the messianic judgment and the kingdom in the ark that was granted to Noah as the reward for his good works was only typological of the messianic kingdom. Therefore, this covenant of grant to Noah was not in conflict with or an abrogation of the grace of the redemptive covenant. (KP 239)

Davidic Grant

Abraham and David were recipients of such covenants of grant as rewards for faithfulness… [T]he dynastic grant promised in the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam.7) follows David’s victorious campaigns against the enemies of God’s people and his capture of Zion as the site for God’s sanctuary (2 Sam 5 and 6; cf. 7:1). (KP 237-8)

When the king promise attained its first level fulfillment, it was embodied in a separate covenant of its own. God gave to his faithful servant David a covenantal guarantee that his dynasty would endure forever and that his descendants would build God’s house (2 Sam 7:5ff.). (333-4)

Abrahamic Grant Proposal

Kline saw the Abrahamic Covenant, at the typological level, as another instance of a typological grant for a servant’s covenant obedience.

In the case of the covenants of grant, the message to be conveyed through the introduction of the works principle did not so much concern the nature of the messianic kingdom, but rather the role of the messianic king. The biblical data indicate that the Lord was pleased to take the exemplary obedience of certain of his servants and to constitute that a typological sign of how the obedience of the coming messianic Servant of the Lord would secure the kingdom and its royal-priestly blessings for himself and for his people. Abraham and David were recipients of such covenants of grant as rewards for faithfulness. Phinehas was another (cf. Num 25:11-13). Each of these individuals had personal hope of heaven only through God’s grace in Jesus Christ, only as a gift received by faith alone. But the conspicuous faithfulness of their lives in general or of certain specific acts of outstanding service they performed was invested by the Lord with typological significance so that they, with reference to a typological manifestation of the kingdom, pointed to Christ as one who also was under a covenant of works and received the grant of the kingdom for the obedient fulfillment of his covenantal mission.

Common to all the displays of obedience that were rewarded with grants of the kingdom in a typological form may be discerned the motif of victory in the holy war against Satan and his earthly forces and followers. Actual military combat is at times involved. The promise of great reward to Abraham in Genesis 15:1 comes on the background of his warrior role in the conflict against the forces of the kings from the east (Gen 14)… It is as if these servants of the Lord had been confronted, like Adam, with a probation-mission, challenging them as guardians of God’s sanctuary to enter into judgment against the Adversary. By their valiant exploits in faithful performance of their mission they typified beforehand the obedient second Adam’s salvation-victory in his judicial combat with Satan and his hosts.

These other covenants of grant will be discussed further below, particularly the case of Abraham and his double role, serving as the great example of justification by faith, and yet, with respect to the typological phase of the kingdom, viewed as the recipient of a divine grant based on his obedience, a grant which God honored in bestowing the typological kingdom on the Israelites. Hence, though Israel’s original reception of the typological kingdom under the Mosaic Covenant was not a grant bestowed on the ground of the Israelites’ past performance, it may be construed as the carrying out of the Lord’s grant to Abraham for his accomplishments of faith. (KP 237-9)

As just seen, Kline referred to Abraham as one who was “also” under a covenant of works like Christ. Like Adam, Abraham was given a probation-mission. Abraham passed his probation. As a result, he was granted the reward of the typological kingdom of Israel and the role of being father of the Messiah (as we saw in Part 2). This reward was a covenantal reward (all royal grants are, by definition, covenantal). Commenting on Genesis 22, Kline said

Another display of outstanding covenantal obedience by Abraham, the most remarkable of all, was the occasion for a second divine disclosure presenting the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant as a divine grant for the servant’s work of obedience. (KLP 324)


Like Noah, Abraham became the recipient of a covenantal grant of the kingdom because of faithful service he rendered… Gen 15:1 depicts the Lord as a suzerain who bestows a royal grant on an officer for notable military service… Genesis 22 records another episode in which an outstanding act of obedience on Abraham’s part is said to be the basis for the Lord’s bestowing on him the blessings of the covenant. (GHHM 102)

[A] works principle was operative both in the grant of the kingdom to Abraham and in the meting out of the typological kingdom blessings to the nation of Israel[.] (GHHM 128)

It should be noted that the redemptive historical blessings that God granted Abraham in Genesis 22 upon successful completion of his probation are the blessings originally promised in Gen 12 and subsequently repeated throughout the intervening chapters. These blessings are promised in Gen 15. Recall Kline said “Common to all the displays of obedience that were rewarded with grants of the kingdom in a typlogical form… The promise of a great reward to Abraham in Genesis 15:1 comes on the background of his warrior role.” (KP 238) That is, Kline understood the Gen 15 revelation of the Abrahamic Covenant to be a royal grant for Abraham’s faithfulness. Throughout all of its iterations, the redemptive historical blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are conditioned upon his obedience, his fulfillment of the covenant terms. Thus the Abrahamic Covenant, at the upper, redemptive historical level was a royal grant proposal (probation) successfully fulfilled.

Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 2: Typological Merit

In Part 1 we saw how John Murray and Norman Shepherd interpreted the Abrahamic Covenant (like the Mosaic and New) as the Covenant of Grace requiring obedience in order for its promises to be fulfilled.

Old and New Covenants

How did Kline respond? First, he distinguished between the Old and New Covenants with regards to their principle of inheritance.

The contrast between the old and new covenants repeatedly drawn by the apostle Paul is the same works-grace contrast found in Jeremiah’s familiar prophecy of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Identifying the old covenant as one that could be and was broken, the prophet declared that the new covenant would not be like the old covenant, a breakable covenant. It does of course happen that individuals prove false to the new covenant, but Jeremiah is referring to the kingdom order as such. The eternal antitypical kingdom of the new covenant, the kingdom of the righteous knowledge of God in the Spirit, is attained on the ground of the meritorious accomplishment of Christ, and its realization is thus made sure as a matter of guaranteed grace to Christ’s people, God forgiving their iniquity and remembering their sin no more. But the prototypical kingdom immediately in view in the old covenant obviously lacked that unbreakable guarantee, for once and again, and at last irrevocably, that kingdom was taken away from the covenant people by their removal into exile. Indeed, the kingdom order as such was ultimately terminated in a devastating divine infliction of the curse of the covenant. The principle operating here was manifestly altogether different from the promise-faith principle of God’s sovereign grace in Christ. Apart from a recognition of the operation of the principle of works in the old covenant it is impossible to account for Jerusalem’s desolation. As Moses had solemnly warned in the constitutional documents of the old covenant, the continuance of the Israelite kingdom in Canaan was conditioned on their covenant-keeping; corporate disloyalty against the Lord of the covenant would result in the catastrophic ending of the whole kingdom order.

(Of Works and Grace)


With the abolishing of the Mosaic order, the second level kingdom of the messianic age was initiated under the Lord’s New Covenant with the church. Jeremiah, speaking of the new covenant to be made in the coming days (Jer 31:31–34), drew a sharp contrast between it and the covenant made at Sinai (i.e., the stratum of it concerned with the typological kingdom). He described the Old Covenant as breakable and in fact as having been broken by Israel, which means that it was informed by the works principle of inheritance. And he asserted that the new covenant would be unlike the Torah covenant. It would be unbreakable; it would be an administration of gospel grace and forgiveness. While then we will want to affirm the New Covenant’s continuity with the foundational gospel stratum of the Mosaic economy and with the Abrahamic Covenant of promise, we must also acknowledge the works-grace discontinuity between the new and the old (at its typological level), the difference that Jeremiah so emphatically asserted.

(GHHM 97)


Abrahamic Covenant of Promise

In this way Kline avoided making Leviticus 18:5 the condition of our salvation in Christ. But how does the Abrahamic Covenant relate to these two covenants and therefore our salvation? He saw the Abrahamic Covenant as a grace-promise covenant.

Divine promise in the context of redemptive covenant connotes the principle of grace, the opposite of works. Thus, when Paul in his analysis of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants in Galatians 3 identifies the former as promise (v. 17; cf. Eph 2:12), he sets it over against the principle of works (“law,” v.18) operative in the latter, and says it is received by faith in Jesus Christ (v.22). God’s promise arrangement with Abraham is made synonymous with the gospel of grace… Inheritance of the promise was not through the works principle of the law (v.13), for that is contrary to the promise-grace-faith-forgiveness principle (vv.14,15; cf. vv.4-8)…

By its identification with the gospel of Jesus Christ the Abrahamic Covenant is seen to be a promissory anticipation of the new covenant.

(KP 294-95)


Two-Level Fulfillment

Thus the New, not the Old Covenant, is identified with the Abrahamic. But what then of Abraham’s obedience? As Murray noted, the conditionality of the Mosaic is seen first in the conditionality of the Abrahamic, and the Mosaic appears to be a confirmation or continuation of the Abrahamic. To address this, Kline first explained that there are two different levels of fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant: typological and antitypological.

We have already remarked on the law-gospel contrast between the Old and New Covenants. Another aspect of the discontinuity between them emerges when they are viewed as two stages in the fulfilling of the kingdom promise of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Old Covenant kingdom is only a temporary type, a provisional symbol, while the New Covenant kingdom is the permanent antitypical reality. Emphasizing this difference, the Book of Hebrews declares the discontinuity to be such that with the initiating of the New Covenant, the Old Covenant becomes obsolete and vanishes away (Heb 8:13). (GHHM 97-98)

At the typological level, the Abrahamic Covenant was fulfilled in Israel’s redemption out of Egypt and their inheritance of the land of Canaan. Their retention of the land was governed by the Sinai covenant, which operated upon a works principle (Lev 18:5) in contrast to a faith principle (Gal 3:12). Israel thus lost the land because of their disobedience and the LORD divorced them for their unfaithfulness. At the antitypological level, Jesus Christ, the true and only faithful Israelite obeyed the law perfectly, earning the antitypical eschatological land inheritance for his people, who receive it through faith alone.


Abraham’s Obedience

Ordo Salutis

Kline acknowledges Murray’s point that covenant fellowship with God demands obedience. The question is how that obedience relates to the covenant promises.

Reflection of the ethical glory of God must always be required of all, men or angels, who dwell in fellowship with him. Such divine demand for godliness is therefore found in covenants of works and grace alike. The precise kind of conditionality carried by the imposed obligations differs, however, in these two types of covenant.

In distinguishing the two varieties of conditionality the key question is that of the function of the response of obedience. If the obedience functions as the meritorious ground of reception or retention of the kingdom blessings, the conditionality is that of the works principle, the opposite of the principle of grace. Obedience functions that way in the eternal covenant of the Father and Son, in the Covenant of the Creator with Adam, and in the Mosaic Covenant at the level of the typological kingdom (see further below). But what about the Abrahamic Covenant – how did the response of obedience function there? (KP 318-19)

Using his distinction between the two different levels of the Abrahamic Covenant, Kline said that the gospel grace of the Abrahamic Covenant required obedience as a fruit of saving faith, but the gospel inheritance was secured not by Abraham’s obedience, but Christ’s.

Under the Abrahamic Covenant human obedience was indispensable… Such indispensability of obedience did not, however, amount to the works principle. For in the Abrahamic Covenant, human obedience, though indispensible, did not function as the meritorious ground of blessing. That ground of the promised blessings was rather the obedience of Christ, in fulfillment of his eternal covenant with the Father. And man’s appropriation of salvation’s blessing was by faith…

Though it involves a kind of conditionality and has a certain kind of necessity, obedience thus originating and thus functioning is agreeable with the principle and guarantee of grace. Functioning as it does as a confirmation of saving faith it is supportive of the grace-promise-faith principle of salvation. And originating as it does from the renewing grace of God it did not nullify the guaranteed fulfillment of the kingdom promises, the grace that produces it being sovereign grace which infallibly accomplishes its purpose… [S]uch obedience is itself one of the promised blessings. (KP 319-20)

Historia Salutis

By distinguishing between the two different levels of the Abrahamic Covenant, Kline was able to correlate Abraham’s obedience as securing one, but not the other. Shepherd argued that Genesis 26:5 referred to Abraham’s obedience in the ordo salutis. In response, Kline argued that it referred only to the typological level of fulfillment – the historia salutis, not the ordo salutis.

How Abraham’s obedience related to the securing of the kingdom blessings in their old covenant form is a special question within the broad topic of the role of human works under redemptive covenant. Several times previously we have had occasion to note that the old (Mosaic) covenant order, though in continuity with the Abrahamic covenant of promise and even an initial fulfillment of its kingdom promises, was nevertheless itself governed by a principle of works…

Paul affirmed that the Mosaic Covenant did not annul the promise arrangement given earlier to Abraham (Gal 3:17). The explanation for this is that the old covenant order was composed of two strata and the works principle enunciated in Leviticus 18:5, and elsewhere in the law, applied only to one of these, a secondary stratum… The works principle in the Mosaic order was confined to the typological sphere of the provisional earthly kingdom which was superimposed as a secondary overlay on the foundational stratum [of gospel grace]…

But if the ground of Israel’s tenure in Canaan was their covenant obedience, their election to receive the typological kingdom in the first place was emphatically not based on any merit of theirs (cf. Deut 9:5,6). Their original reception of this kingdom, as well as their restoration to it after the loss of their national election in Babylonian exile, is repeatedly attributed to God’s remembrance of his promissory commitments of grace to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod 2:24; 3:6ff.; 6:2ff.; 32:13; Deut 9:27; 10:15; Lev 26:42), pointing to the coming Messiah and the new covenant.

When, however, we trace the matter back to the record of God’s covenant revelation to the patriarchs we encounter statements that connect the promissory grant of the kingdom to the faithful service rendered to the Lord by Abraham…

[T]he Lord’s word to Abraham (Gen 15:1) has the character of a royal grant to an officer of the king for faithful military service. God identifies himself by the military figure of a shield (cf. Deut 33:29; Ps 18:2), otherwise read as suzerain, and promises: “Your reward will be very great” (also read: “who will reward you very greatly”). The term sakar, “reward,” is used for the compensation due to those who have conducted a military campaign. In Ezekiel 29:19 it refers to the spoil of Egypt which the Lord gives Nebuchadnezzar as wages for his army (cf. Isa 40:10; 62:11). The imagery of Genesis 15:1 is that of the Great King honoring Abraham’s notable exhibition of compliance with covenant duty by the reward of a special grant that would more than make up for whatever enrichment he had foregone at the hands of the king of Sodom for the sake of faithfulness to Yahweh, his Lord. The broader record of the Lord’s dealings with Abraham includes numerous key expressions paralleled in the ancient royal grants to loyal servants: such a servant is one who obeys, keeps the charge, serves perfectly, walks before his lord.

Another display of outstanding covenantal obedience by Abraham, the most remarkable of all, was the occasion for a second divine disclosure presenting the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant as a divine grant for the servant’s work of obedience. At the conclusion of the sacrificial episode on Moriah, the Angel of the Lord, the very one who was at last to be the only Son and substitutionary ram of sacrifice, called out of heaven to Abraham: “By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, because thou hast done this thing and hast not withheld thine only son that in blessing I will bless thee … because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen 22:16-18). Viewing this episode from the perspective of justification by faith in Christ, James expounded Abraham’s act of obedience as the work that demonstrated the vital reality of his faith (Jas 2:21ff.). But this event is to be seen from the redemptive-historical perspective as well as that of the personal, subjective experience of salvation. It had a special, decisive significance for the subsequent course of covenant history. This is suggested by the double affirmation, at the beginning and close of the oracle, that the promised program of the Abrahamic Covenant would proceed to unfold because Abraham had done this.

That Abraham’s obedience had special historic significance as the basis for God’s future favorable action towards his descendants is confirmed by the Lord’s later repetition of the substance of this oracle, now to Isaac (Gen 26:2ff.). Having restated his commitment to fulfill the covenant promises to Isaac and his line, the Lord concluded: “because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen 26:5, cf. v. 24). Here the significance of Abraham’s works cannot be limited to their role in validation of his own faith. His faithful performance of his covenantal duty is here clearly declared to sustain a causal relationship to the blessing of Isaac and Israel. It had a meritorious character that procured a reward enjoyed by others.

The term `eqeb, “because,” used in Genesis 26:5 (and already in the original revelation to Abraham in Gen 22:18) signifies recompense, reward (cf. Ps 19:11; Prov 22:4; Isa. 5:23). This strengthens the case for understanding this as a matter of meritorious works. Moreover, Genesis 26:5 describes Abraham’s obedience in language surprising in the Genesis context, the divine demand being denoted by a series of legislative categories such as are later applied to the laws of Moses. A particularly interesting combination of such terms together with `eqeb, “in recompense for,” is found in Deuteronomy 7:12 (cf. 8:20). Quite possibly then, Genesis 26:5 employs the terminology of covenant stipulations from the Sinaitic Covenant, where it describes an arrangement governed by the meritorious works principle, to reenforce the point that Abraham’s obedience was also to be understood as having such a meritorious character and that, as such, it was the ground of the reward enjoyed by his descendants.

Because of Abraham’s obedience redemptive history would take the shape of an Abrahamite kingdom of God from which salvation’s blessings would rise up and flow out to the nations. God was pleased to constitute Abraham’s exemplary works as the meritorious ground for granting to Israel after the flesh the distinctive role of being formed as the typological kingdom, the matrix from which Christ should come. Within this typological structure Abraham emerges as an appointed sign of his promised messianic seed, the Servant of the Lord, whose fulfillment of his covenantal mission was the meritorious ground of the inheritance of the antitypical, eschatological kingdom by the true, elect Israel of all nations. Certainly, Abraham’s works did not have that status. They were, however, accorded by God an analogous kind of value with respect to the typological stage represented by the old covenant. Though not the ground of the inheritance of heaven, Abraham’s obedience was the ground for Israel’s inheritance of Canaan. Salvation would not come because of Abraham’s obedience, but because of Abraham’s obedience salvation would come of the Abrahamites, the Jews (John 4:22)

The obedient Abraham, the faithful covenant servant, was a type of the Servant of the Lord in his obedience, by which he became the surety of the new covenant. Like the messianic Servant, the one whose meritorious service secured God’s blessings for the many who were his “seed” (Isa 52:15; 53:10-12), so Abraham was one, and the reward of his obedience was the blessings of the typal kingdom for the many who were his seed (cf. Isa 51:2).

Kingdom Prologue, 320-26


Eternal salvation would come because of Christ’s obedience, but because of Abraham’s obedience Christ would come as to the flesh from Israel (Rom 9:5) and thus salvation would come from the Abrahamites, the Jews (John 4:22)

God, Heaven, and Har Magedon, 103

In sum Abraham’s works merited the reward of numerous natural offspring who would inherit the land of Canaan, as well as the reward that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah.

Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 1: Murray and Shepherd

Kline developed his covenant theology in interaction with and response to John Murray and Norman Shepherd (among others).

John Murray

In an effort to iron out inconsistencies in Westminster covenant theology, Murray rejected the Covenant of Works and interpreted Leviticus 18:5 as a condition of the Covenant of Grace (both Old and New dispensations). Here is how he dealt with the Abrahamic Covenant:

The necessity of keeping the covenant on the part of men does not interfere with the divine monergism of dispensation… It may plausibly be objected, however, that the breaking of the covenant envisaged in this case interferes with the perpetuity of the covenant. For does not the possibility of breaking the covenant imply conditional perpetuity? ‘The uncircumcised male . . . shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant’ (Gn. xvii. 14, RV). Without question the blessings of the covenant and the relation which the covenant entails cannot be enjoyed or maintained apart from the fulfillment of certain conditions on the part of the beneficiaries. For when we think of the promise which is the central element of the covenant, ‘I will be your God, and ye shall be my people’, there is necessarily involved, as we have seen, mutuality in the highest sense. Fellowship is always mutual and when mutuality ceases fellowship ceases. Hence the reciprocal response of faith and obedience arises from the nature of the relationship which the covenant contemplates (cf. Gn. xviii. 17-19, xxii. 16-18). The obedience of Abraham is represented as the condition upon which the fulfilment of the promise given to him was contingent and the obedience of Abraham’s seed is represented as the means through which the promise given to Abraham would be accomplished. There is undoubtedly the fulfilment of certain conditions and these are summed up in obeying the Lord’s voice and keeping His covenant…

Grace is bestowed and the relation established by sovereign divine administration. How then are we to construe the conditions of which we have spoken? The continued enjoyment of this grace and of the relation established is contingent upon the fulfilment of certain conditions…

By breaking the covenant what is broken is not the condition of bestowal but the condition of consummated fruition…

At the outset we must remember that the idea of conditional fulfilment is not something peculiar to the Mosaic covenant. We have been faced quite poignantly with this very question in connection with the Abrahamic covenant. And since this feature is there patent, it does not of itself provide us with any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic… We must not, therefore, suppress or discount these important considerations that the Mosaic covenant was made with Israel as the sequel to their deliverance from Egypt, a deliverance wrought in pursuance of the gracious promises given by covenant to Abraham, wrought with the object of bringing to fulfilment the promise given to Abraham that his seed would inherit the land of Canaan, and a deliverance wrought in order to make Israel His own peculiar and adopted people.

The Covenant of Grace, John Murray

Murray elaborated in a lecture titled Law and Grace.

A good deal of the misconception pertaining to the relation of the law to the believer springs from a biblico-theological error of much broader proportions than a misinterpretation of Paul’s statement in Romans 6:14. It is the misinterpretation of the Mosaic economy and covenant in relation to the new covenant. It has been thought that in the Mosaic covenant there is a sharp antithesis to the principle of promise embodied in the Abrahamic covenant and also to the principle of grace which comes to its efflorescence in the new covenant, and that this antithetical principle which governs the Mosaic covenant and dispensation is that of law in contradistinction from both promise and grace…

In dealing with this question we must take several considerations into account.

1. The Mosaic covenant in respect of this condition of obedience is not in a different category from the Abrahamic. ‘And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations’ (Genesis 17:9). Of Abraham God said, ‘For I know him, that lie will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him’ (Genesis 18:19). There is nothing principially different in the necessity of keeping the covenant and of obeying God’s voice, characteristic of the Mosaic covenant, from what is involved in the keeping of the covenant required in the Abrahamic…

4. Holiness, concretely and practically illustrated in obedience, is the means through which the fellowship entailed in the covenant relationship proceeds to its fruition and consummation. This is the burden, for example, of Leviticus 26. It is stated both positively and negatively, by way of promise and by way of threatening. ‘If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them.. . I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people’ (Leviticus 26:3, 11, 12).

We may therefore sum up the matter by saying that the holiness of God demanded conformity to his holiness, that holiness was of the essence of the covenant privilege, that holiness was the condition of continuance in the enjoyment of the covenant blessings and the medium through which the covenant privilege realized its fruition. Holiness is exemplified in obedience to the commandments of God. Obedience is therefore entirely congruous with, and disobedience entirely contradictory of, the nature of God’s covenant with Israel as one of union and communion with God.

In all of this the demand of obedience in the Mosaic covenant is principially identical with the same demand in the new covenant of the gospel economy.

Norman Shepherd

Shepherd succeeded Murray at WTS. While Murray retained the doctrine of our justification through faith alone, Shepherd did not. He realized that without a Covenant of Works, there was no law/gospel distinction and therefore no justification through faith alone apart from works. While at WTS (and after), Shepherd taught that we are justified through faith and works – that our works, like our faith, are instrumental in our justification.

He built upon Murray’s understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant.

[T]he question arises whether this covenant with Abraham really is, in fact, unconditional. Will the promises be fulfilled irrespective of any response on the part of Abraham and his children? I believe the biblical record shows that there are, indeed, conditions attached to the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham. Let me offer a series of six considerations that serve to demonstrate this observation.

First, there is the requirement of circumcision… God was requiring the full scope of covenantal loyalty and obedience all along the line…

Second, the Abrahamic covenant required faith…

Third, the faith that is credited to Abraham as righteousness is a living and obedient faith… James 2:21-24…

Fourth, Abraham is commanded to walk before the Lord and to be blameless. Gen 17:1-2… What is significant is the way that walking before the Lord blamelessly is connected with confirmation of the covenant. ‘The covenant with its promises is confirmed to Abraham who demonstrates covenant faith and loyalty. He fulfills the obligations of the covenant. This connection between a blameless walk and confirmation of the covenant is no artificial connection, as is evident from Genesis 26:3-5… Here we have a repetition of the promises that are at the heart of the Abrahamic covenant… The promises are renewed and will be fulfilled because Abraham trusts God and walks in righteousness according to the word of the Lord.

Fifth, the history of Israel demonstrates that the promises made to Abraham are fulfilled only as the conditions of the covenant are met… It was a covenant made with Abraham and his children… The land is a free gift of God’s grace; but it can be received only by a living and active faith.

Sixth and finally, the ultimate proof of the conditional character of the Abrahamic covenant resides in Jesus Christ.


The sixth point might make you scratch your head as we would normally point to Christ’s fulfillment of covenant conditions as the basis for our reception of the blessings through faith apart from works. Shepherd, however, argues that Christ’s atonement merely forgives our sins. To earn the blessing we must have the same faith as Jesus: active, obedient faithfulness.

His was a living, active and obedient faith that took him all the way to the cross. This faith is credited to him as righteousness. In Romans 5:18 his death on the cross is called the “one act of righteousness” that resulted in justification and life for all men…

Nothing demonstrates the conditional character of the Abrahamic covenant more clearly than the way in which the promises of that covenant are ultimately fulfilled. They are fulfilled through the covenantal loyalty and obedience of Jesus Christ.

But just as Jesus was faithful in order to guarantee the blessing, so his followers must be faithful in order to appropriate the blessing.

For more on Shepherd’s denial of sola fide, see Norman Shepherd: What’s All the Fuss?, The Current Justification Controversy, and OPC Report on Republication – Background. In Part 2 we will see how Kline responded to these interpretations of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Horton’s Retroactive New Covenant

H/T Nathan White.

There are clear passages indicating that ‘the forgiveness of sins’ is unique to the New Covenant (“remember their sins no more”; Jer 31:34). This is not because OT saints were under God’s wrath but because God overlooked their sins; he covered them over through the sacrificial system. This I take to be Paul’s point in Romans 3:25 (ESV), referring to Christ “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” They were forgiven truly but only by anticipation and were not yet propitiated in history. The old covenant was successful only to the extent that it directed faith and hope toward Christ, but it could not in itself bring this reality into history. These sacrifices could never “take away sins” once and for all. They had to be offered repeatedly, reminding the worshiper’s conscience of transgressions (Heb 10:1-4). “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (vv. 12-14). From there, the writer quotes Jeremiah 31:33, which I have cited above, linking forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.

If this is accurate, then Old Testament believers were forgiven and justified through faith in the one to whom the sacrifices pointed (continuity); however, the sacrifices could not themselves provide this experiential assurance to the conscience (discontinuity). On the contrary, the Mosaic covenant by itself could only keep the covenant people under supervision until they reached their maturity and could inherit the estate by promise (Gal 3:24-25). Kuyper seems to confirm this conclusion. He argued that the energies of the Spirit at Pentecost worked retroactively in the lives of OT saints.

-Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, p152ff.

Is John MacArthur Right About Revolution? – Reformed Libertarian

John MacArthur appeared last Sunday on Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire. I greatly appreciated MacArthur’s focus on the gospel in the interview – specifically his willingness to personally direct it to Shapiro and call him to repentance. That is very rare in situations like this. It far outweighs any other nit-picking I may have.

Towards the beginning of the interview, MacArthur said

I’m to be a citizen who submits to the powers that be I am NOT to be a revolutionary. We don’t start riots that’s not a Christian thing to do. We don’t even start revolutions, and you could argue about the American Revolution whether that was actually legitimately a Christian act or not. We don’t start revolutions. We submit to the powers that be and we work to change the culture from the inside one soul at a time.

Read More at Is John MacArthur Right About Revolution?

John Brown on Galatians 3:16-17

In previous posts (see here, here, here, and here) I have argued that in Galatians 3-4, Paul does not identify the Abrahamic Covenant with the New Covenant and then distinguish them both from the Mosaic Covenant. His argument is much more nuanced. In short, Paul distinguishes between two different promises made to two different seed of Abraham. One promise concerned Abraham’s numerous offspring (who were circumcised and received the law to regulate their reception and retention of the promised land), the other promise concerned Abraham’s single offspring who would bless all nations.

Someone on twitter recently pointed me to John Brown’s commentary on Galatians where I found some encouraging agreement on key points (though not every point). Specifically, Brown agrees that Galatians 3:16 refers to a distinction between two different promises made to two different seed of Abraham; and he agrees that 3:17 should be translated as “concerning Christ” not “in Christ.” Furthermore, he rightly understands that circumcision was a seal of the historia salutis: a guarantee of the coming of Christ to bless all nations.

John Brown was a 19th century Scottish minister (grandson of John Brown of Haddington). Spurgeon said in his Commenting and Commentaries, ‘Brown is a modern Puritan of the utmost value.’

“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.”

The language is somewhat peculiar, but the meanhig is not obscure. That is ascribed to the Scripture which properly refers to God in that transaction which the passage of Scripture quoted describes. Similar modes of expression are to be found in other parts of the New Testament (Mark 15:28; John 7:38, 42; Rom. 4:3; 9:17). The meaning plainly is, ‘God, who foresaw that in a future period many of the Gentiles were to be received into his favour and treated like his children on their believing the revelation of mercy through his Son, gave an intimation of his design to Abraham in the promise which He made to him.’ The Syriac version reads, — “And God knowing before hand.” The phrase, “preached the gospel beforehand,” in consequence of the very definite idea we generally attach to the word “gospel” and the technical sense in which we use the word “preach” does not, I am persuaded, convey distinctly the apostle’s idea to most English readers. It is just equivalent to, ‘made known these good tidings to Abraham long before the period when they were to be realised.’ Tyndale’s version here, as in many other passages, is better than the authorised translation, — “showed beforehand glad tidings to Abraham.” And this intimation was given in these words, — “In thee shall all nations be blessed.”*1 The word translated “nations,” is the same as that rendered “the heathen [Gentiles]” in the beginning of the verse. The same word should have been retained to mark more clearly the point of the apostle’s argument.

*1 Gen. xii. 3; xviii. 18; xxii. 18. See also Gen. xxvi. 4; zxviii. 14. The words are not an exact quotation of any one of these passages, — eye vX. cV aoiy Gen. xii. 3, n. r. c.^ ori is not a part of the quotation; it marks the words quoted, as 1 John iv. 20; Rom. viii. 36 ; Matth. ii. 23 ; v. 31 ; yii. 23, etc. — See Buttmann, § 149. The Hebrew “o is used in the same way, Gen. xxix. 33 ; Josh. ii. 24.

But it may be said, What intimation is there in these words of God’s purpose to “justify the Gentiles by faith”? This will appear if we consider that the particle translated “in,” signifies, in connection with, along with, in the same manner as.*2 The declaration of the oracle, in this way of viewing it, is that, ‘all the nations,’ i.e. that multitudes of all Gentile nations, ‘shall be blessed along with Abraham.’

*2 This is a common signification of the Hebrew part [], of which [] is here the translations – Numb. 20:20; 1 Kings 10:2; Jer 11:9; Psal 99:6

“By ‘the nations’ in this promise we cannot understand all and every one in the nations; nor can we consider them as such, political bodies of men in the earth; but according to the New Testament explication, “it is a great multitude of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.” (Rev. 7:9) This will be evident if we consider that the blessedness spoken of in this promise, is spiritual and eternal, and must be acknowledged so to be by those who take the New Testament account of it (Gal. 3:8,9,14). It is manifest no nation of this world can, in a national capacity, be the subject of justification by faith, and of the promise of the Spirit, which we receive through faith ; and it is as certain that every person in the nations of the world is not to partake of this blessedness. What remains, therefore, but that it should be those who are redeemed by Christ out of every nation? And thus we find out the intent of the writings of the prophets about the nations. For these are enlargements upon, this promise to Abraham.”
-Glas’s “Testimony of the King of Martyrs,” chap. ii. sect. i. pp. 74-76, 12mo ed. 1777

The promise is fulfilled in God’s “visiting the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name.” (Acts 15:14) Thus, all nations shall be blessed along with Abraham, in connection with Abraham, members of the same body, possessed of the same privileges, made happy in the same way as he was made happy.


And if, while this deed remains unrevoked, some other arrangement or disposition should take place which might seem inconsistent with it, if we have a perfect confidence in the wisdom and integrity of the author of the two arrangements, the conclusion to be come to is, the second arrangement does not really interfere with the first, and their apparent discordance must arise from our misconception of them. The application of this principle to the apostle’s object is natural and easy. God had, in the case of Abraham, showed that justification is by believing ; He had, in the revelation made to Abraham, declared materially that justification by faith was to come upon the Gentiles. This arrangement was confirmed or ratified, both by circumcision, which the apostle tells us was “the seal of justification by faith,” and by the solemn promise made to Abraham that, “in him,” along with him, in the same way as he was, “all nations should be blessed.” It follows, of course, that no succeeding arrangement of God could contradict this arrangement; and that if any succeeding Divine arrangement seemed to do so, the cause of this was to be sought in our misapprehension of its true nature and design, which, when clearly perceived, would distinctly show the perfect harmony of the two apparently inconsistent arrangements. This is the line of argument which the apostle pursuea in the following verses.

“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises *3 made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one. And to thy seed, which is Christ.”

*3 “Plurale. Promissio saepe repetita : at lex semel data.” — BENGEL

These words admit of two renderings: either ‘Now to Abraham and his seed,’ or ‘now in, through, or in reference to Abraham and his seed.’ In either case they are expressive of a fact. “To Abraham and his seed promises were made;” or, in other words, blessings were promised. The following are examples of such promises, — Gen. xii. 3; xvii. 4-8; xxii. 16, 17. This has been generally understood to be the meaning of the apostle; and it has been supposed that his argument is, — ‘Certain blessings were by God freely promised to Abraham and his spiritual seed long before the law was given, and therefore their communication cannot be suspended on obedience to the requisitions of that law.’ The great objection to this mode of interpretation is, that it obliges us to understand the word “Christ,” not of the Messiah personally, but of the collective body of those who are saved by him.

We are rather disposed to consider the apostle as stating, ‘Now the promises were made through or in reference to Abraham and his Seed.’ Not only were blessings promised to Abraham and his seed; but blessings were promised through Abraham and his Seed to the nations (Gen 12:3; 22:18). It is to one of these promises that the apostle refers in the preceding context, verse 8. The blessing promised through Abraham and his Seed was, he informs us, the justification of the Gentiles by faith. We consider the apostle then as saying in the first clause of the verse, ‘Now the promises of justification by faith were made to the Gentiles through Abraham and through his Seed.’

The word “seed” is a word of ambiguous meaning. It may rather signify descendants generally, or one class of descendants, or a single descendant. The apostle in the concluding part of the verse tells us how it is to be understood in the passage he alludes to. “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy Seed, which is Christ.'”

These words have very generally been understood as if they embodied an argument, — as if the apostle reasoned from the word “seed” being in the singular, inferring from that circumstance either that the word referred to one class of descendants, and not to descendants of all classes, or to one individual descendant, and not to descendants generally. That this is not the apostle’s reasoning we apprehend is certain; for it is obviously inconclusive reasoning. The use of the plural term might have laid a foundation for the inference that he spake of more than one; but seed being a collective word, its use in the singular lays no foundation for an opposite inference. Even supposing that his Jewish readers might have been imposed on by such a sophism, which is not at all probable, it would not only have been unworthy of his dignity as an apostle, but of his integrity as an honest man, to have used it.

The truth is, there is no ground to suppose that it is the statement of an argument at all. It is just as Riccaltoun observes, “a critical, explicatory remark.” It is just as if he had said, ‘In the passage I refer to, the word seed is used of an individual, just as when it is employed of Seth, Gen. iv. 25, where he is called “another seed,” and said to be given in the room of Abel, whom Cain slew. In looking carefully at the promise recorded, Gen. xxii. 16-18, the phrase “seed” seems used with a different reference in the two parts of the promise — the first part of the 17th verse plainly referring to a class of descendants; the last clause and the 18th verse to an individual, and that individual is Christ.’ There is no doubt that this is the fact — that in the promise, “In thy Seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed,” the reference is not to the descendants of Abraham generally, nor to his descendants by Isaac, nor to his spiritual descendants, but to bis great descendant, the Messiah.

The words will, indeed, admit of another meaning, q. d, — ‘The sacred oracle does not refer to all the descendants of Abraham, but to one particular class of them; not to his descendants by Ishmael, nor to his descendants by the sons of Keturah, nor even to all his descendants by Isaac, nor to his natural descendants, but to his spiritual descendants.’ But this obliges us to understand the word “Christ” in a very unusual, if not altogether unwarranted, sense. Besides, if the apostle alludes, as is natural, to the promise he had already quoted, there is no doubt that the reference there is to the Messiah personally considered,* We therefore prefer the former mode of interpretation. The promise of justification by faith to the Gentiles was made through Abraham and his seed, meaning by his seed, the Messiah. The reason why this is so particularly noticed will appear in the course of the discussion.

The apostle proceeds with his argument. “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none efiect.”

The only phrase which is obscure in this verse is the clause rendered “in Christ.” Some would render it to Christ; others till Christ, i.e. till Christ came, which is undoubtedly its meaning at chapter v. 24. I apprehend the true rendering of the particle is concerning or in reference to — a meaning which the term by no means uncommonly bears in the New Testament. I shall give a few examples, — Eph. v. 32 ; Acts ii. 25 ; Heb. vii. 14 ; Luke xii. 21 ; Bom. iv. 20 ; xvi. 19 ; 2 Cor. ii. 9. The covenant in reference to Christ is just the arrangement or settlement as to justification by faith to be extended to the Gentiles through the Messiah, which was made known in the Divine declaration to Abraham. This Divine arrangement was “confirmed of God,” ratified by God in the ordinance of circumcision which was given to Abraham as a person justified in uncircumcision, and made known as a fixed appointment in the Divine declaration so often referred to. It was “confirmed before.” That is, it was a finished, ratified deed, long previously to the law.

‘Now’ says the apostle, ‘this completed and ratified covenant or arrangement about Christ, as to the justification of the Gentiles by believing, could not be disannulled by the giving of the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, so that the promise should be of none effect.’

There is some uncertainty as to the period of four hundred and thirty years mentioned, some chronologers insisting that it is the exact period from the time the promise was given till the law was given,’ others that it refers only to a part of that period, namely, to the time of the Israelites sojourning in Egypt. In either case it is true that the law was at least four hundred and thirty years after the promise in which the covenant about Christ was exhibited as confirmed. The law being a subsequent covenant or arrangement, could not make of none effect the promise, which was a previously ratified and unrepealed covenant. The person who thinks the promise thus made void, must labour under some misapprehension with regard to the nature and design of the law.

But it might be said. How does the making the observance of the law the condition of justification disannul the covenant or make the promise of none effect? The answer to that question is to be found in the next verse. “For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise : but God gave it to Abraham by promise.”

“The inheritance” here is, I apprehend, the same thing as the blessing of Abraham, which, we have seen, is justification — the being treated by God as righteous ; or, what is necessarily connected with, indeed implied in, it — the heavenly and spiritual blessings of which the possession of Canaan is the type. The “covenant,” “the promise,” and “the inheritance,” all refer to substantially the same thing ; but it would be absurd to say these three words have the same meaning. The “covenant” refers to the Divine arrangement as to conferring on men the blessings of the Divine favour, ” the promise ” is the revelation of this in the form of a promise, and ” the inheritance ” is this as enjoyed by men. It is termed ” the inheritance,” because it is as the spiritual descendants of Abraham, ” the father of the faithful,” that we come to enjoy it. Now, if the enjoyment of this inheritance be suspended on our obedience to the law of Moses, ” it is no more of promise,” i. e. it is no more a free donation in fulfilment of a free promise. But this is the character which belongs to the blessing as originally promised to Abraham. “God gave it to Abraham by promise,” i. e, ‘God freely promised it to Abraham;’ or, ‘God in promising it, acted from free favour.’ He meant to give a favour, a free favour ; not to make a bargain, however favourable. Abraham’s justification was not suspended on his circumcision ; and the justification of the Gentiles was to be like Abraham’s.

This, then, is the sum of the apostle’s argument, A ratified, unrepealed constitution cannot be set aside by a subsequent constitution. The plan of justification by believing was a ratified and unrepealed constitution. The law was a constitution posterior to this by a long term of years. If the observance of the law were constituted the procuring cause or necessary means of justification, such a constitution would necessarily annul the covenant before ratified, and render the promise of none effect. It follows, of course, that the law was appointed for no such purpose. Whatever end it might serve, it could not serve this end ; it could never be appointed to serve this end.