Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 6: 1689 Federalism

In Part 1 we saw how Murray pointed out the conditionality of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and New covenants were all the same, and how Shepherd built upon that to make works instrumental in our justification. In Part 2 we saw how Kline responded to these claims by arguing that Abraham’s obedience in the Abrahamic Covenant was a condition for the fulfillment of typological, redemptive historical blessings (not ordo salutis blessings). In Part 3 we saw how this related to Kline’s understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant as a royal grant covenant of works at the typological level. Part 4 drew out the resulting contradiction in Kline’s system – notably his belief that the Abrahamic Covenant is a promise covenant. Part 5 addressed a recent series on the Glory Cloud Podcast, demonstrating further contradiction in the Klinean system. In Part 6 I would like to present what I believe is the most consistent and biblical understanding of all the issues we have discussed thus far.

Only Redemptive Historical

As noted in Part 5, Kline and Bordow argue that the blessings of Gen 22:15-18 refer exclusively to the historia salutis. They refer to Abraham’s natural offspring growing numerous and inheriting the land of Canaan, as well as to the promise that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah who would come to bless all nations. Note that this second promise is not itself an ordo salutis promise (regeneration, justification, sanctification, glorification, etc). It is a promise that Christ will come. Once Christ comes, he will bless all nations through the New Covenant, from which flow the blessings of the ordo salutis (regneration, justification, sactification, glorification, etc). So this Abrahamic promise certainly relates very directly to the New Covenant, yet it is in fact distinct from it. The promise that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah is not a promise that Abraham will be born again and will have his sins forgiven through faith alone – though the two promises are certainly related. As Kline said “Salvation would not come from Abraham’s obedience. But salvation would come from Israel because of Abraham’s obedience.”

Consider the example (recognizing that all analogies fail at some point) of this wedding covenant/contract. If you click the link, you will see that it is not a marriage covenant, but a contract regarding the performance of the wedding.

This contract defines the terms and conditions under which The Salem Herbfarm and ___________________________ (hereafter referred to as the CLIENT) agree to the CLIENT’s use of The Salem Herbfarm’s facilities on __________________________ (reception/event date). This contract constitutes the entire agreement between the parties and becomes binding upon the signature of both parties. The contract may not be amended or changed unless executed in writing and signed by The Salem Herbfarm and the CLIENT.

Once signed, this covenant confirms that the wedding will take place. Once confirmed, the contract is binding and cannot be amended or changed. “To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.” But the actual wedding still has to be performed, because this wedding event covenant is not the marriage union covenant, it simply promises the marriage covenant will occur. Likewise, the Abrahamic Covenant promises that the event of the Messiah will occur, but the New Covenant is the actual marriage union between the Messiah and his bride (from which eternal blessings flow).

Abraham’s New Covenant Union with Christ

“But Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham was justified through faith in the promise.” Yes, but it does not say that justification was a blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham believed God when God said a Messiah would be born from him to bless all nations. But the promise “If you believe in the Messiah, your sins will be forgiven” was a New Covenant promise. Note Michael Horton

There are clear passages indicating that ‘the forgiveness of sins’ is unique to the New Covenant (“remember their sins no more”; Jer 31:34)… [OT saints] were forgiven truly but only by anticipation and were not yet propitiated in history… [T]he energies of the Spirit at Pentecost worked retroactively in the lives of OT saints.

Commenting on Hebrews 8:10, Calvin likewise said

The declaration indeed is clear, that a new covenant is made according to which God engraves his laws on our hearts, for otherwise it would be in vain and of no effect… But it may be asked, whether there was under the Law a sure and certain promise of salvation, whether the fathers had the gift of the Spirit, whether they enjoyed God’s paternal favor through the remission of sins?… 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.

John Frame says

Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved through the new covenant in Christ. Everyone who is saved receives a new heart, a heart of obedience, through the new covenant work of Christ… [T]he efficacy of the New Covenant, unlike that of previous covenants, extends to God’s elect prior to Jesus’ atonement. When believers in the Old Testament experienced “circumcision of the heart,” or when they were Jews “inwardly,” they were partaking of the power of the New Covenant.

New Covenant union with Christ for Old Testament saints is no different from Christ’s atonement for OT saints. They received both in anticipation of its event in history. In the same way that someone may get a cash advance on a paycheck before they receive the paycheck, because it is guaranteed, OT saints received a soteriological advance on the New Covenant, because it was guaranteed by the Covenant of Redemption between the Father and the Son.

1689 Federalism

Other people in history, such as Nehemiah Coxe, have made the same observation about Abraham’s typological merit as Kline. In 1705, Congregationalist Samuel Mather said

3. If we consider Abraham as the head of the covenant to that church and people: So he is a type of Christ, the head of the second Covenant. You know God covenanted with Abraham for his seed: So he doth with Christ for all his elect. God’s promise to Abraham was to give a seed to him, and an inheritance to his seed, viz. the land of Canaan, the land of Promise: So God did promise to Jesus Christ, that he should see his seed, Isai. 53. 10, 11. and to bring them to Heaven, Heb 2. 10 – Jesus Christ is the true head of the second covenant, he engageth and undertakes for all his seed: Abraham was but a typical head thereof.

4. Abraham was a type of Christ in regard of his absolute obedience to the will of God… There was nothing so difficult, but if God require it, Abraham will do it; there is not such another example, there is not an higher instance of obedience in all of the Scripture, than in Abraham, save only in Jesus Christ, who was obedient to his Father’s will in all things, even unto death itself (Job 6:38.-8.29-10.18)

Mather noted “I confess [Abraham] is omitted by divers that have handled this subject [of typology]; for what reason I know not.” As we have seen in this series, the reason is because acknowledging Abraham as a type of Christ undoes the system of theology supporting infant baptism. Thus 17th century reformed theologians omitted him from any discussion of typology.

The implications of this are worked out in the system of theology known as 1689 Federalism. The New Covenant alone is the Covenant of Grace. All other post-fall covenants are distinct from, but subservient to the New Covenant. The Noahic Covenant of Common Preservation provides a platform upon which the history of salvation unfolds. The Abrahamic Covenant promises who the Messiah will come from and also develops an elaborate typological kingdom to help us understand the work of the Messiah when he did come. The Mosaic Covenant was an addendum to the Abrahamic Covenant, further elaborating the terms upon which Abraham’s offspring would receive and retain the promised land and its blessings, typologically pointing to the obedience of Christ, the true Israel. Circumcision functioned the same way in both covenants. It bound Abraham and his offspring to loyal service to Yahweh according to the terms of the covenant. Thus it is associated with the works principle (Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1, 3; Rom 2:25 – see here for a longer discussion).

The Abrahamic Covenant sustained Israel’s existence until it was fulfilled. Once the land promise was fully realized under Solomon, the kingdom was split and the 10 tribes were destroyed by the Mosaic curse. Judah was spared because one remaining Abrahamic promise had not yet been fulfilled: the birth of the Messiah. This promise was narrowed from the line of Abrahamic, Isaac, and Jacob down to the line of David (in the Davidic Covenant). Thus the tribe of Judah was spared. Once this promise was fulfilled in the birth of Christ, Judah was destroyed by the Mosaic curse (AD70). Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, which is established on better promises: regeneration and the forgiveness of sins. It alone is the Covenant of Grace through which all men since the fall have been saved.

I unpack all of this in much more detail in a 5-part series on the Reformed Northwest podcast. I also highly recommend reading Samuel Renihan’s dissertation From Shadow to Substance: The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704) to see much of this worked out in historical theology. It’s a really great work.

Covenant of Circumcision: Works or Grace?

Does all of this therefore mean that the Covenant of Circumcision was a covenant of works? While it certainly seems that way, at least in the sense of a probation for a representative head, the birth of Ishmael and Isaac might temper that conclusion. Abram violated God’s law in having a child with Hagar and Isaac was not born by anything Abraham did, but only by the sovereign promise of God. Nevertheless, as I summarized earlier, we learn that both Genesis 15 and 17 are foundational components of the progressively revealed Covenant of Circumcision. Genesis 15, answering Abram’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. The rest of Scripture demonstrates God’s fulfillment of that commitment.

Here are some related blog posts:

In this series:

6 thoughts on “Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 6: 1689 Federalism

  1. Pingback: Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 4: Contradiction | Contrast

  2. Pingback: Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 1: Murray and Shepherd | Contrast

  3. Pingback: Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 2: Typological Merit | Contrast

  4. Pingback: Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 3: Royal Grant Proposal | Contrast

  5. Pingback: Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 5: Glory Cloud Podcast | Contrast

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