Home > 1689 federalism, General, old covenant, Westminster Federalism > Was the Old Covenant an Administration of the Covenant of Grace?

Was the Old Covenant an Administration of the Covenant of Grace?

One criticism of 1689 Federalism centers around the question of whether or not the Old Covenant was an administration of the Covenant of Grace. The issue, however, is very convoluted. What exactly is meant by the question?

Historically, going back to Bullinger and Calvin (2.10-11), the reformed argued that the Old and New Covenants were the same covenant offering eternal life upon condition of faith in Christ. Same reward and same conditions. The only difference between them was in their appearance – that is, in their way of administering eternal life. Thus calling the Old Covenant an “administration of the Covenant of Grace” was shorthand for “the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are the same covenant – the Covenant of Grace.” This view was “the judgment of most reformed divines” in the 17th century. It is precisely this understanding that the 17th century particular baptists rejected when they denied that the Old Covenant was an administration of the Covenant of Grace. 1689 Federalism sees them as two distinct covenants, with different rewards and conditions, not one and the same. However, we affirm that salvation was “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” (2LBC 8.6). In short, 1689 Federalism believes that the Old Covenant was distinct from the New Covenant, but it revealed truths about the New Covenant that were sufficient to save the elect through belief in the gospel.

Over the course of time, the subservient covenant position has gained greater popularity among reformed paedobaptists. Especially after the influence of Meredith Kline you will now find many paedobaptists argue that the Old and the New are two different covenants, not one and the same. A recent blog post titled The Mosaic covenant was substantively a covenant of works for Christ, and administratively a covenant of grace to the Israelite provides a concise example. The author says “we should reject any ham-handed approach that looks at WCF 7.5 and concludes that they were saying that the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of grace.” Rather, “the Mosaic covenant is substantively a post-lapsarian type of the covenant of works.” However, these paedobaptists choose to retain the language of calling the Old Covenant an “administration of the Covenant of Grace.” The author says “the covenant of grace was delivered ‘administratively’ via promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances that forsignafied Christ to come… the Mosaic covenant includes the law as a tutor serving the covenant of grace, and therefore parts of it… administratively deliver the covenant of grace.” What is meant is that the Old Covenant was distinct from the New Covenant, yet it revealed truths about the New Covenant that were sufficient to save the elect through belief in the gospel. In other words, they mean nearly the same thing as 1689 Federalism.

So what happens when this second view reads 1689 Federalism material that denies the Old Covenant was an administration of the Covenant of Grace? Well, it wrongly assumes 1689 Federalism denies that the Old Covenant revealed the gospel and thereby “administered” salvation to OT saints. This is caused by 1) a lack of historical awareness of how the language was used in the 17th century, and 2) a lack of precision in how some proponents of 1689 Federalism today articulate the position.

So, to set the record straight moving forward, 1689 Federalism affirms that the Old Covenant revealed the gospel such that it “communicated” or “administered” salvation to elect, while all the time being separate and distinct from the Covenant of Grace (the New Covenant).

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