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Petto: Conditional New Covenant?

November 13, 2010 11 comments

In Petto’s The Great Mystery of the Covenant of Grace, he spends several pages discussing whether or not the covenant of grace is conditional or unconditional. He does so in his chapter “Of the Differences between the Old and the New Covenant; and the Excellency of the latter above the former.” which notes the following:

  1. 1. The new covenant presupposes obedience unto life to be performed already by Jesus Christ, and so is better than the Old (Sinai), which requires an after performance of it… Hence in opposition to that Sinai law, which ran upon those terms, do and live, under the dispensation of the new, we hear so often of Believe and be saved, and he which believeth hath everlasting life, Mark xvi. 16. John iii. 16, 36…
  2. The new covenant represents the Lord as dealing with his people universally in a way of promise; and so is better than the old, which represents him as treating them in a way of threatening…
  3. The new covenant consists of absolute promises, and therefore is better than the old Sinai covenant, which ran upon conditional promises, indeed, had works as its condition… The apostle, in the text (Heb vii. 10-13), is purposely putting a difference between these; and, seeing the old covenant was unquestionably conditional, and the new here in opposition to it, or distinction from it, is as undoubtedly absolute; must it not needs be concluded, that herein stand much of the excellence of the new above the old?…

…And whereas some argue for conditions from the nature of a covenant, against that it is asserted to be a last will or testament, which may bequeath legacies without any condition.

There is a vast difference between the way of Jesus Christ his acting in the work of his mediation before and since his incarnation, and the latter is much more glorious than the former. Before, he might plead, Father, thou hast promised me, upon my obedience, hereafter to be performed, that those souls with I have undertaken for, should enjoy such blessings: There was a mutual trust between them, and so he might plead it in point of faithfulness. But now, he hath actually performed the condition of the covenant, and may plead it in point of justice. Christ being actually exhibited as a propitiation, upon that, God is said, Rom iii. 25, 26, to declare at this time his righteousness, &c.: in opposition to the time of the old testament, he says, at this time; that is, at the time of the new testament, wherein the blood of Jesus Christ is truly shed: Now God declares his righteousness in the justifying him that believes in Jesus. It is an act of grace to those who attain the remission of sin, but an act of righteousness to Jesus Christ. He may plead, Father, I have made satisfaction to the full for the sin of these souls, now declare your righteousness in pardoning of them: it is that which I have purchased for them, I have finished the work thou gavest me to do, John xvii. 4. I have paid the full price of their redemption, now let them have what I have procured for them. Thus he appears in heaven in our nature, not as a mere intercessor, but as an advocate, 1 John ii. 1: to plead that, in law, in right we are to be discharged. And this puts a great excellence upon the new covenant, that it is in itself, and to Jesus Christ, thus absolute.

And note, if some privileges of the covenant were dispensed out properly in a conditional way (as suppose justification were afforded upon faith as a condition, or temporal mercies upon obedience), yet this would be far from proving any thing to be the condition of the promise, or of the covenant itself. Indeed even faith is a particular blessing of it, and therefore cannot be the condition of the whole covenant; for what shall be the condition of faith? And there is no such special covenant now extant, as the old was, for temporal mercies; they are indefinitely promised, and sovereign grace is the determining rule of dispensing out these to the saints when they are wanted, for time and measure, as it is most for the glory of God and their good, Mat. vi. 32, 33. Nothing performed by us, then, is conditio faederis, the condition of the covenant itself; Jesus Christ has performed all required that way.

But whether any thing be conditio faederatorum is now to be considered.

Object. Is the new covenant absolute to us, or conditional?

Are there not conditional promises therein to us, as there were in the old unto Israel? Can we expect any mercy, but upon our performing some condition it is promised to?

Ans. 1.

If condition be taken improperly, for that which is only a connex action, or, medium fruitionis, a necessary duty, way, or means, in order to the enjoyment of promised mercies. In this sense, I acknowledge, there are some promises belonging to the new covenant which are conditional; and thus are many scriptures to be taken which are urged this way. That this might not be a strife of words, I could wish men would state the question thus, Whether some evangelical duties be required of, and graces wrought by Jesus Christ in, all the persons that are actually interested in the new covenant? I should answer yes; for, in the very covenant itself, it is promised that he will write his laws on their hearts, Heb viii. 10., and that implies faith, repentance, and every gracious frame; and those that have the Lord for their God are his people. If the accusation be, that there is a want of interest in Jesus Christ, they need not plead that they have fulfilled the condition of the covenant; but, that the covenant itself, in some promise of it, (which uses to be distinct from its condition,) has its accomplishment upon them therein. And those that are altogether without those precious graces, are stranger to the covenant, Eph. ii. 12.; they cannot lay claim to the blessings of it. It is our duty earnestly to be seeking after what is promised, and one blessing may be sought as a means to another; as, the spirit as a means of faith, and faith as a means to obedience, Gal. v. 6. Believing is a great duty in connexion with, and a means of, salvation; he that believes shall be saved, Mark xvi. 16. John ii. 36. Eph ii. 8. 1 Pet. i. 5, 9. There is an order in giving forth these blessings to us, and that by divine appointment; so as the neglecting to seek them therein, is highly displeasing to God. This is our privilege that divine promises are so conjoined and twisted together, for the encouragement of souls in seeking after them, that if one be taken, many more go along with it; like many links in a chain that are closed into each other. The means and the end must not be severed.

Where there is such a connexion of duties, graces, and blessings the matters may be sometimes expressed in a conditional form, with an if, as, Rom. x. 9. If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart, thou shalt be saved, Such ifs note the verity of such propositions in their connexion; they affirm this or that to be a certain truth, as that, he which believes shall undoubtedly be saved, yet that grace is not properly the condition of salvation; for, even believing is absolutely promised, so as nothing shall intervene to hinder it, Isa. liii. 10, 11. Heb vii. 10. In that improper sense, some scriptures seem to speak of conditions, viz. they intimate a connexion between covenant blessings; some are conjoined as means and end, yet the promises are really absolute for their performance.

There is a vast difference between the way of the Lord in the dispensation of covenant blessings, and the tenor of the covenant. Or, between the new covenant itself, and the means which the Lord uses for its execution and accomplishment.

The covenant itself is an absolute grant, not only to Jesus Christ, but in him to the house of Israel and Judah, Heb. viii. Yet what the Lord has absolutely promised, and is determined and resolved upon to guarantee to them, may be conditionally propounded as a quickening means to souls seeking a participation of it. As, it was absolutely determined, yea, and declared by the Lord, that those very persons which were in the ship should be preserved, Acts xxvii. 22. There shall not be a loss of any man’s life, and verse 25. I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. Yet, as a means to their preservation, he speaks to them conditionally, verse 31. Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. So although the salvation of all the elect, and also the causing them to believe, is absolutely intended; yet, as a means that he may urge the duty upon souls with greater vehemence and earnestness, the Lord may speak in a conditional way, if ye believe ye shall be saved, when it is certain they shall believe.

Answer. 2.

There is no such condition of the new covenant to us, as there was in the old to Israel. For, the apostle comparing them together; and, in opposition to the old, he gives the new altogether in absolute promises, and that to Israel, Heb. viii.; and, showing that the new is not according to the old, he discovers wherein the difference lay, verse 9. Because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not; saith the Lord; and, Jer. xxxi. 32. which covenant they broke, &c.

This argues that the condition of the old was such as the performance of it did give them assurance of the temporal mercies promised, and a right to them, and such as failed in, left them at uncertainties whether they should enjoy them or not; so as it was not only in itself and its own nature uncertain, but even as to the event, I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

If their performing the condition had been as absolutely promised, as the blessings of the new covenant are, then Israel would have continued in it (which they did not), and could not have forfeited what was promised thereupon, as diverse times they did, and were excluded out of Canaan upon that account. – Jurists say, a condition is a rate, manner, or law, annexed to men’s acts, staying or suspending the same, and making them uncertain, whether they shall take effect or not. And thus condition is opposed to absolute.

That there is no such condition in the new covenant to be performed by us, giving right and title to the blessings of it, and leaving at uncertainties and liability to missing of them, as there was in the old to be fulfilled by Israel, may appear,

1._ If there be any, it must either be an antecedent or a subsequent condition; but neither. There can be no such antecedent condition, by the performance of which we get and gain entrance or admittance into covenant; for, till we be in it, no act put forth by us can find any acception with God, Heb. xi. 6. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. And our being, in covenant is, in order of nature, (though not of time,) before faith; because it is a privilege or benefit of the covenant, a part of the new heart, a fruit of the spirit; and so the spirit (which is the worker of it, and another blessing of the covenant,) is given first in order before it. Jesus Christ is the first saving gift, Rom vii. 32., and with him he freely giveth all things. Men ought to be in the use of means; but it is the act of God that gives admission into the covenant, Ezek. xvi. 8. I entered into covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine. Immediately before, they were polluted in their blood, verse 6.; in an utter incapacity for acting in any pleasing way, so as to get into covenant. Neither is there any subsequent condition to be fulfilled by us: the use of that is, for the continuation of a right, and upon failing thereof, all is forfeited, as in the case of Adam. – Whereas there is no act of ours whereby our right to covenant blessings is continued unto us, upon failing whereof they may be forfeited. Our right, and the ground of our, claim, is upon a higher account than any act of our own; it is even the purchase of Jesus Christ; and they are the sure mercies of David, Isa. lv. 3. Sure to all the seed, Rom. iv. 16. And when they are become believers, eternal life is absolutely promised, John iii. 16, 36. 1 John v. 10, 11, 12., but conditionally, promised to them.

2._ The Lord has given assurance that there shall never be an utter violation of the new covenant, and therefore it has no such condition as was annexed to the old; for, the Lord declares that they had broken his covenant, Jer xi. 3, 4, 10. Jer xxxi. 32. But the new covenant is secured from such a violation: it cannot be disannulled so as the persons interested in it should be deprived of the great blessings promised therein, Jer. xxxii. 40. I will make an everlasting covenant with them. But may there not be such a condition of it as they may come short of all its blessings? No: I will not turn away from them to do them good, but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. If there were any danger of forfeiting and losing these, it must be either on God’s part, by his leaving of them, or on their part, by their departing from him; and here the Lord has undertaken to secure against both these, and so the matter is out of question; it was not thus in the old covenant.

Indeed what the Lord hath absolutely promised, yet he has appointed means in order to the attaining of it, internal as faith, and external as ordinances; and commands utmost attendance upon him ordinarily in the use thereof; this is necessary as a duty, and sin arises upon neglect of it. Thus the Lord is unalterably determined to guarantee a frame of obedience, Ezek. xxxvi. 25-30. Yet obedience is to be performed by us; we are to be the agents, and we may sin about the means in the way to the enjoyment of such mercy, as is laid up in absolute promises – Faith is to be exercised in these, (else what use are they of?) and we may be faulty in not attending to it.

3._ If there be any such condition of the new covenant, it were most like to be precious faith; but that is not…

4._ Our obedience, though evangelical, is no such condition of the new covenant, as there was of the old unto Israel.

Summary and Comparison

Petto goes on to argue several other points at length and list other differences between the new and old covenants besides their conditionality. To summarize his point, we can say that the new covenant is not like the old covenant because the old covenant could be broken, but the new cannot. Everything required of us in the new covenant is also a blessing of the new covenant. Apostasy from the new covenant is impossible.

Compare Petto’s view with standard Reformed thinking today, such as the PCA Book of Order:

By virtue of being children of believing parents they are, because of God’s covenant ordinance, made members of the Church, but this is not sufficient to make them continue members of the Church. When they have reached the age of discretion, they become subject to obligations of the covenant: faith, repentance and obedience. They then make public confession of their faith in Christ, or become covenant breakers, and subject to the discipline of the Church.

PCA Book of Order 56-4.j

Paedobaptism (or at least the reasoning of 98% of Reformed paedobaptists) is founded upon a faulty understanding of the New Covenant. It is not possible for someone to be a new covenant breaker.

This difference between Petto and the majority Reformed position is precisely why I find Mark Jones’ comments in the forward to Petto’s book so unhelpful.

The history of Reformed covenant theology has not always been well understood. Richard Greaves refers to Petto, as well as Owen, Goodwin, and Ussher, as “strict Calvinists” who belong to one of three different groups in the covenant tradition. Greaves mistakenly posits a tension between the Calvin-Perkins-Ames tradition, which supposedly distinguished itself by promulgating an unconditional character to the covenant of grace, and the Zwingli-Bullinger-Tyndale tradition, which is characterized by the conditional nature of the covenant of grace. Graves is wrong to place these two groups in tension with one another. The truth is that both ‘groups’ understood the covenant of grace as having conditions; namely, faith and obedience. However, because the faith and obedience that is required in the covenant of grace is the “gift of God” it may also be said that the covenant of grace is some sense unconditional. These nuances have often been missing in the twentieth-century historiography.

Per my reading, Jones attempts to obliterate the distinction Petto labors to carefully establish between his view and the view of those who believe one can break the new covenant by arguing there really is no difference.

Samuel Mather on Israel as a Type of the Church

January 13, 2016 7 comments

Yesterday it was announced that J. I. Packer’s Rare Puritan Library Now Digitized to Be Read Online for Free. One of the books is Mather, Samuel. The figures or types of the Old Testament: by which Christ and the heavenly things of the Gospel were preached and shadowed to . . . 1705. 2nd. ed. Read online / Catalogue record

Samuel Mather was the eldest son of Richard Mather. He was born at Much Woolton, near Liverpool, Lancashire, on 13 May 1626. His father took him in 1635 to New England, where he was educated at Harvard College and graduated M.A. in 1643, becoming a fellow of the College. He was the first fellow of Harvard who had graduated there.[1]

Having already become a preacher, Mather returned to England, and in 1650 was made one of the chaplains of Magdalen College, Oxford, under the presidency of Thomas Goodwin, the Independent… (Wikipedia)

Samuel’s youngest brother was Increase Mather, a prominent figure in congregational New England and son-in-law of John Cotton, the preeminant New England congregationalist (see my post The Half-way Covenant). Their other brother Nathaniel was also a pastor in England. All three were strongly Independent/Congregational. Even Increase was heavily involved in Presbyterian/Independent disputes in England when he traveled to England for several years representing his colony to the king (see his autobiography). After the Great Ejection when Puritans were forced out of the Church of England, Samuel went back to Dublin and gathered a congregation, which met at his house till a meeting-house was erected in New Row – for which he was arrested and imprisoned. When he died (1671), his brother Nathaniel took over as pastor of the congregation in Dublin. Nathaniel joined the “happy union” of 1691 between Presbyterians and Independents, but was a leader in its disruption, owing to the heresies of Daniel Williams (1643?–1716), D.D. (see my post Neonomian Presbyterians vs Antinomian Congregationalists?).

The Mathers were thoroughly Independent, and as such, they were willing to acknowledge certain truths in Scripture that Presbyterians would not. As I noted in my post Neonomian Presbyterians vs Antinomian Congregationalists?:

During the Assembly debate, the Dissenting Brethren (Independents) argued that we cannot look to Israel and the Old Covenant as a foundation for church government because in the Old Covenant there was a mixture of church and state. If we follow the New Testament pattern, we see churches organized by voluntary congregations of visible saints called out of the world. The Presbyterians pointed out that if the Jewish model of the church is given up, paedobaptism goes with it. But the Congregationalists did not budge.

The Congregationalists were willing to see the biblical discontinuity between Israel and the Church while Presbyterians were not. Samuel Mather’s book on typology is a great demonstration of this fact. In the Preface, Nathaniel (who published his brothers’ book post-humously) notes:

It is not expected that every one, much less critical and captious Heads, will subscribe to everything which they may here meet with. In so diffuse and vast and withal so obscure a subject, and so untrodden a path, it is no wonder if every one will not tread in just the same steps with him; for there are some things wherein he departs from the sentiments of some other learned and judicious persons. His making some of the old legal ordinances types of the instituted church, and ordinances under the New Testament and our ordinances the antitypes of theirs, it may be some may not assent unto, following therein Ames Prol. in Ps. 2. and Mr. Jeans, who (Exam. Exam. p. 241) cites CHamier tom. 4. 1. 9. c.II. Sect. 13. 15. pag. 515. Tilenus Syntag. Part. ult. Disp. 63. Sect. 12. Ames. Bellarm. Enerv. tom. 3.1.4.c.7 to which he might have added those words of this tom. 3. lib.1 cap.4. Thes. 13. and lib.2.cap.4.Thes.4. But others there are who go with this our author. See Beza on 1 Cor 10.6. and on 1 Pet. 3.21. and Mr. Cotten, Holiness of Church-Members, cap.2 sect. 12 and 13. Not to mention any of the Schoolmen, or the elder Writers among Christians, who are very frequent and very express to this purpose. Nor can it be denied that there is a common nature wherein their institutions and ours agree, the one being a shadow or darker adumbration, the other a more lightsome and lievely image of the same things. And it is beyond all contradiction, that the Holy Ghost himself doth frequently intrust us in our duty, with reference to our institutions, from theirs under the Old Testament, with relation to their typical ordinances. As for his calling our institutions the antitypes to theirs, tho there should be a truth in that observation, Theologi Graeci Typum & Antitypum promiscue usurpant pro iisdem, pro re significat nunquam. Jodoc.Laren. apud Twiss. Animadv. in Corv. Def. Armin. cont. Tilen. pag. 280. yet there is a strict and proper acceptation of the Word, wherein it may be said that our institutions are the antitypes of theris: vid. Jun. Animadv. in Bell. Contr. 3. lib. 1. cap. 9. not. 25. and in that sense the Holy Ghost useth it, 1 Pet. 3. 21. Nor needs any one stumble at our author’s using it in somewhat a different signification; for usage is the master and rule of language; Loquendum cum vulgo, sentiendum cum Doctis.

Nathaniel notes that Samuel did not necessarily work out all the details and implications of these points because he delivered these writings as sermons and died (1671) before he could refine and edit them for publication.

With that long introduction out of the way, here is some of what Samuel Mather had to say about Israel and the Church.

Definition of a Type

First, he defined a type:

… a type is a shadow of good things to come, Hebr 10.1. The law having a shadow of good things to come, Col 2.17. Which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.

There be three thing included in this Description.

  1. There is some outward or sensible thing, that represents some other higher thing.
  2. There is the thing represented thereby, which is good things to come, which we call the Antitype.
  3. There is the work of the Type, which is to shadow forth or represent these future good things.

…A type is some outward or sensible thing ordained of God under the Old Testament, to represent and hold forth something of Christ in the New.

Then answered how we may know something is a type:

Here ariseth a Question. How may we know when a thing is a type, and that the Lord did ordain and design it to that end and use?

The Answer is. We cannot safely judge of this but by the Scripture.

  1. When there is express Scripture for it…
  2. When there is a permutation of names between the type and the antitype, this is a clear indication of the mind of God. As for instance, Christ is called David, Ezek 34.23 and 37.24, Hos. 3.5. this shews that David was a type of him and Christ was the true David.

    So Christ is called Adam, the second Adam, Cor 15.45.So he is called Israel, Isai. 49.3.He is called that Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, John 1.29 and our Passover that is sacrificed for us, 1 Cor 5.7. this shews that the Paschal Lamb was a type of him.He is called the Bread of Life, and the true Bread from Heaven, Joh. 6. 32, 35. this shews that the manna did relate to him.

    So the Church of the New Testament is called Jerusalem, Gal 4.26. but Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the Mother of us all – Rev 21.2. I saw the new Jerusalem coming down from God out of Heaven. We may hence conclude that Jerusalem was a type of the Church.

    So it is said, that the odours or incense are prayers of the saints. Rev. 5. 8. Incense therefore was a type of prayer.

    The Gospel-Church is called Israel, Gal 6.16. Peace be on them and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. Therefore that people were a type of the Church of God under the New Testament.

    Gospel-Ministers are called the Sons of Levi, Mal. 3. 3. the Prophet there speaking of the coming of Christ, he saith, He shall purifie the sons of Levi, that is, raise up a purer Ministry.

    There is nothing more frequent in the Scriptures, than for the Antitype to be called by the name of the Type. And sometimes on the other side, the Type bears the names and the titles belonging indeed and more properly to the Antitype.

…Sometimes the types are not so explicitly taught, but implied; and then a thing may be known to be a type by diligent observing and comparing the phrase of the Prophets in the Old Testament, and of the Apostles in the New.

Men must not indulge their own fancies, as the Popish writers use to do, with the allegorical senses, as they call them; except we have some Scripture ground for it. It is not safe to make any thing a type meerly upon our own fancies and imaginations; it is God’s prerogative to make types.

p. 51-55

Israel as a Type

The whole nation of the Jews. They were a typical people; their Church-state being very ceremonial and peculiar to those legal times, (Therefore now ceased and abolished) did adumbrate and shadow forth two things.

  1. Christ himself; hence Christ is called Israel, Isa. 49.3. By Israel is meant Christ, and all the faithful, as members of him their head.
  2. They were a type of the Church of God under the New Testament. Hence the Church is called Israel, Gal 6.16 and Rev 7. The twelve tribes of Israel are numbered up by name, to shew forth the Lord’s particular care of every one of his people in particular. That place is not meant properly of Old Israel, because it relates to the times of the Antichristian locusts; compare cap 7. with cap. 9.4.The analogy lies in this, that they were a peculiar people to the Lord, chosen and singled out by him from all the world: So is Christ the Lord’s chosen, Behold my servant whom I have chosen, mine elect in whom my Soul delighteth: So are all the Saints, 1 Pet 2.9. A royal nation, a peculiar people, gathered from among all nations, Rev 5.9. Hence the enemies of Israel were typical enemies; as Egypt and Babylon under the Old Testament, types of Antichristian enemies under the New: And the providences of God towards that people of Old, types and shadows of his intended future dispensations towards his people under the New; as you will see further when we come to speak of typical providences.

p. 118

 

Moreover, not only the temple, and the priests there,but the whole land of Canaan and the people of Israel, were a typical land and a typical people; (as hath been formerly and shall be further shewed) all the fruits of the land had a typical holiness; the first fruits being virtually the whole, they were a typical dedication of the whole.

p. 276

 

The use of these precious stones [on the priest’s garments] was for the writing of the names of the twelve children of Israel in them, that the High Priest might bear them upon his shoulders for a memorial before the Lord: See Exod 28. 9, 10, 11, 12. Now the Priest being a type of Christ, and the people of Israel a type of the whole church of God; their being born thus upon the shoulders of the High Priest clothed with this sacred Ephod intimated three things.

  1. The Lord Jesus Christ his supporting of this church and people, and bearing them up, as upon the shoulders of his power and grace and government, Isa. 9.6. the Government shall be upon his shoulders: So he is said to do with the lost sheep Luke 15.5 Isa. 46. 3, 4. hearken unto me, O House of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are born by me form the belly, which are carried from the womb, and even to your old age, I am he, and even to boary hairs I will carry you, I have made you, and I will bear, even I will carry, and will deliver you…

To unfold the mystery of these things a little more particularly.

  1. The precious stones, with the names of the Children of Israel, signifie all the saints, the whole church and people of God. Israel was a typical people; therefore the whole church of God is called Israel, Gal 6.16. As many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them and mercy, and upon (or even upon) the Israel of God. Hence the same Apostle distinguisheth of outward Jews and inward Jews, Rom 2. two last. And Christ calls Nathaniel an Israelite indeed, John 1. 47…

p. 505-8

Mosaic Covenant

Samuel does not fully work out the implications of these statements for things like the Mosaic Covenant. However, he perhaps takes a step towards the progress and development of later congregationalists (like Petto and Owen) who argue the Mosaic covenant operated on a works principle when he says the Mosaic Covenant or dispensation was a type of the Covenant of Works. See pages 92-93.

Abrahamic Covenant

In his discussion of circumcision, Mather does identify the covenant of circumcision as the covenant of grace. However, he also makes statements such as

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.

p. 82

Mather runs into some trouble here because in his discussion of the covenant of circumcision (pg 176) he argues there are only two covenants: the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. It wasn’t the Covenant of Works, so it must be the Covenant of Grace. But here he distinguishes between the Covenant of Grace, of which Christ is the head with the church the members, and the covenant of which Abraham was a head with the nation of Jews the members (which were a type of the church). The solution that Owen later expounded upon is that there are more than two covenants in Scripture. The Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are neither the covenant of works nor the covenant of grace, but typical covenants related to typical people and blessings.

Noahic Covenant

Noah’s Covenant and the rainbow the sign thereof, was a type of the covenant of grace, Gen 9.12, 13. It is a question whether there was any rainbow before? It may seem not: Because it had been small comfort and assurance to the new world, to see that which they had seen before, and to have such a sign of the covenant. Therefore some think that the rainbow was not from the beginning: But as the Lord gave a new promise; so he created a new thing for a sign thereof.

But how may it appear that the Covenant of Grace was here held forth? See Isa. 54. 9, 10. This is unto me as the Waters of Noah, etc. Ezek 1. ult. As the appearance of the Bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain: so was the appearance of the brightness round about – Rev 10. 1 and 4. 3.

Well, if the Noahic Covenant was a type of the covenant of grace, then it was not the covenant of grace. It was also not the covenant of works. Therefore it must be a separate covenant and there must be more than two covenants in Scripture. If that is the case, then Mather’s argument that the covenant of circumcision is the covenant of grace fails.

Conclusion

In sum, as a Congregationalist, Mather was willing to note Scripture’s clear teaching that Israel and the Church are not one and the same but are instead related by way of type and antitype. The baptists grasped the implications of this most clearly.

See my post Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel for more.

Les & Tanner Talk Baptism

October 22, 2015 9 comments

Les and Tanner, hosts of the Reformed Pubcast, recently discussed baptism at length after Les announced he had become a peadobaptist (he had been attending (member?) a PCA church for quite a while). Since most of the things they talked about have been addressed at one time or another on this blog, I thought I’d provide links to those posts with some comments.

First off, Les struggled for many years to understand the paedobaptist position but he has now grasped the substance/administration distinction, which was key for him. I will just note that fully understanding the paedobaptist position is required in order for one to fully appreciate 1689 Federalism. One can hold to 1689 Federalism without understanding Westminster Federalism, but one can’t fully appreciate it until they have a grasp on Westminster Fed. Les seems to have a clear grasp of the Westminster position, so now the conversation can really begin 🙂

Are our children heathens?

In his excellent essay “DOLPHINS IN THE WOODS”: A Critique of Mark Jones and Ted Van Raalte’s Presentation of Particular Baptist Covenant Theology, Samuel Renihan notes:

Jones and van Raalte draw attention to Marshall’s (and others’) accusation that the doctrine that children do not belong to the covenant of grace by birth “puts all the Infants of all Believers into the self-same condition with the Infants of Turks, and Indians.” Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, 728. Coxe, Kiffin, and Knollys responded by saying, “But some may think, that this will put the children of Believers into as bad a condition, as the children of Turkes, Heathens, and any other wicked men; and this they are perswaded is a horrible thing, and a dangerous opinion. We put not the children of Believers into as bad a condition as the children of Turkes, &c. It was Adams disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit, that put all his posterity equally into a sinfull and miserable condition, Rom. 5. 12. 19. And the doctrine which Mr. CAL. and his brethren teach, doth the like. They say (and it is truth) that all the Infants of Believers…are born in sin, and are by nature children of wrath as well as others. And now let the Reader judge, Whether this their own doctrine, do not put the children of Believers into as bad a condition.” Coxe, Kiffin, and Knollys, A Declaration, 17.

 

Union with Christ

Tanner “So covenant is this agreement between two parties and there are responsibilities on both sides… My hangup in all this, as far as the New Covenant is concerned, you’re claiming that God has established this covenant with people and there are some who will be covenant keepers and there will be some who will be covenant breakers. So my issue with that claim is that is the beauty of the New Covenant is that it removes the work of the person to be a covenant keeper and Christ now becomes the covenant keeper. Christ fulfilled the responsibility that was meant for us…”

Les “Well, think about this. Think about Moses. Think about Israelites under Moses…”

Note: every time Tanner pressed Les on the implications of our union with Christ, Les’ response was “But Israel…” Baptism signifies union with Christ, so why baptize someone you don’t have reason to believe is united to Christ? Israel. Abraham. Circumcision. Of course the problem is that Scripture says the New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant, specifically on the matter of Christ’s mediation, so appeal to the Old Covenant to answer questions about union with Christ is unbiblical and inappropriate.

Hebrews 8:6 But now he hath obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

…To proceed with the text; this covenant, whereof the Lord Christ is the mediator, is said to be a “better covenant.” Wherefore it is supposed that there was another covenant, whereof the Lord Christ was not the mediator. And in the following verses there are two covenants, a first and a latter, an old and a new, compared together. We must therefore consider what was that other covenant, than which this is said to be better; for upon the determination thereof depends the right understanding of the whole ensuing discourse of the apostle. And because this is a subject wrapped up in much obscurity, and attended with many difficulties, it will be necessary that we use the best of our diligence, both in the investigation of the truth and in the declaration of it, so as that it may be distinctly apprehended…

They differ in their mediators. The mediator of the first covenant was Moses. “It was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator,” Galatians 3:19. And this was no other but Moses, who was a servant in the house of God, Hebrews 3:5. And he was a mediator, as designed of God, so chosen of the people, in that dread and consternation which befell them upon the terrible promulgation of the law For they saw that they could no way bear the immediate presence of God, nor treat with him in their own persons. Wherefore they desired that there might be an internuncius, a mediator between God and them, and that Moses might be the person, Deuteronomy 5:24-27. But the mediator of the new covenant is the Son of God himself. For “there is one God, and one mediator between God and and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all,” 1 Timothy 2:5. He who is the Son, and the Lord over his own house, graciously undertook in his own person to be the mediator of this covenant; and herein it is unspeakably preferred before the old covenant.

Hebrews 8:9 Not according to that covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant

This was the issue of things with them with whom the first covenant was made. They received it, entered solemnly into the bonds of it, took upon themselves expressly the performance of its terms and conditions, were sprinkled with the blood of it; but they “continued not in it,” and were dealt withal accordingly. God used the right and authority of a husband with whom a wife breaketh covenant; he “neglected them,” shut them out of his house, deprived them of their dowry or inheritance, and slew them in the wilderness.

On this declaration, God promiseth to make another covenant with them, wherein all these evils should be prevented. This is the covenant which the apostle designs to prove better and more excellent than the former. And this he cloth principally from the mediator and surety of it, compared with the Aaronical priests, whose office and service belonged wholly unto the administration of that first covenant. And he confirms it also from the nature of this covenant itself, especially with respect unto its efficacy and duration. And hereunto this testimony is express, evidencing how this covenant is everlastingly, by the grace administered in it, preventive of that evil success which the former had by the sin of the people.

Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of.

-Owen (Commentary, Hebrews 8:9)

Owen is clear that 1) the New Covenant is not a continuation of the Old Covenant. It is an entirely separate covenant. And 2) What makes the New Covenant better is specifically union with Christ as surety of the covenant, which was precisely Tanner’s point.

How were they saved?

Les’ assumption is that saved members of the Old Covenant were saved by the Old Covenant. He says if they looked upon the typological sacrifices and thereby learned of Christ and had faith in Christ, they were therefore saved by the Old Covenant. He also says that Abraham believed God’s promise and was justified, so he was therefore justified by the Abrahamic Covenant. But this does not follow at all. Only Christ saves and Christ is only mediator and surety of the New Covenant. Again, Owen:

This covenant [Old Covenant] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Corinthians: 3:9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works…

[N]o man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ therein.

-Commentary on Hebrews 8:6

According to Owen, the Old Covenant was only about temporal blessing and curse in the land of Canaan. Israelites became ceremonially unclean, which required ceremonial animal sacrifices to cleanse them (Hebrews 9:9-10). Those animal sacrifices, and thus the Old Covenant, did not forgive any man eternally. It only taught typologically of the work of Christ, which alone saves by virtue of the New Covenant. Furthermore, there were sins under the Old Covenant that had no sacrifices to cover and thus no way of forgiving them.

The Old Covenant does not grant anyone faith. It does not give anyone a new heart. Only the New Covenant does. Not even the Abrahamic Covenant does. The Abrahamic Covenant did not grant forgiveness of sins. It promised that Christ would come and grant forgiveness of sins through the New Covenant.

So yes, Abraham was justified by believing God’s promise that Christ would come and bless all nations. But Abraham’s regeneration, faith, justification, and sanctification were all blessings he received through union with Christ in the New Covenant. Just as Christ’s atonement reached back in time to save those who lived before his death, so too did the New Covenant.

I strongly encourage you to read Owen’s treatment of Hebrews 8. He spends about 150 pages explaining it because he believed reformed theologians misunderstood the Old Covenant. He wrote his exposition in 1680 after the best Puritan treatments of the subject had been written, and yet he still said “this is a subject wrapped up in much obscurity, and attended with many difficulties.” He specifically explains that he rejects the “judgment of most reformed divines” on the nature of the Old and New Covenants. Read Owen. He anticipates and answers all of the objections that are in your head right now.

Covenant Conditions

Les and Tanner continued talking about conditions of the Covenant of Grace. Tanner emphasized that Christ, as our surety, has met all the covenant conditions and we simply receive the benefits of the covenant. Les argued that Christians, and Christian children, are responsible to God in a way that pagans are not. When God “claims them” they come under all the stipulations of what it means to be in covenant with God. They’re responsible to have faith and obey God and love God (isn’t that true of everyone?). God enters covenant with Christians and their children, and it’s up to them to to fulfill their part of the covenant. God is “not obligated to fulfill my end of the bargain.”

Again, Owen disagrees with Les here. According to the Covenant of Redemption, once Christ fulfilled all the conditions, God was indeed covenantally obligated to fulfill “our end of the bargain” by granting us faith. Christ earned our faith, and therefore God is covenantally obligated to grant faith to all members of the New Covenant as a blessing of the covenant. Matthew Mason explains

According to Owen, although God’s will toward the elect was not changed upon the death of Christ, for he is immutable, Christ’s death nevertheless changed the status of the elect. On the basis of Christ’s merit, founded on God’s free engagement in the covenant of redemption with his Son, God is obliged to deliver them from the curse ipso facto. Therefore, because of Christ’s satisfaction, God is able to make out the benefits Christ purchased, without any other conditions needing to be fulfilled. In particular, Christ also purchased the condition of the covenant, faith; hence, from the time of the atonement, the elect have an absolute right to justification.

(See New Covenant Union as Mystical Union in Owen for an extended discussion of this)

the covenant which God would now make should not be according unto that, like unto it, which was before made and broken… But in the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises… It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant…

It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part. For whatever is antecedent thereunto, being only a work or act of corrupted nature, can be no condition whereon the dispensation of spiritual grace is superadded. And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.

Owen: New Covenant Conditional or Absolute?

 

Ver. 11. And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

The knowledge of the LORD may be here taken, not objectively and doctrinally, but subjectively, for the renovation of the mind in the saving knowledge of God… The proposition is universal, as to the modification of the subject, “all;” but in the word aujtw~n, “of them,” it is restrained unto those alone with whom this covenant is made…

Obs. XXIV. Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the new covenant can be pretended…

Obs. XXVII. Persons destitute of this saving knowledge are utter strangers unto the covenant of grace; for this is a principal promise and effect of it, wherever it doth take place.

-Owen on Heb 8:11

(Of course, God does not believe for us. We must believe. But Owen carefully clarifies that our faith is not a condition of the covenant itself, which is the question at hand.)

Les objects that it is the “case historically” that God does not grant faith to all those he enters covenant with. “God said to Abraham, I will be a God to you and to your children. Was he lying?” Again, Les retreats back to Israel, Abraham, Circumcision. But as we’ve noted, that is unbiblical because that is not the same covenant. Whether or not God granted faith to every member of the Abrahamic Covenant is entirely irrelevant to whether or not God grants faith to every member of the New Covenant.

I will be a God to you and your children

Was God lying? Well, Les is in a bit of a conundrum. If he believes “I will be your God” has any salvific meaning, then that raises the question of God’s covenant faithfulness when the children of believers are not saved. (See God’s Covenant Unfaithfulness?)

If the promise has no salvific meaning then why is it being appealed to? Jonathan Edwards rightly notes:

That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… And with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people… On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in. Thus a sovereign and all-wise God was pleased to ordain things with respect to the nation of Israel…

That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace; and so is sometimes represented as a marriage-covenant.

For an extended explanation of this quote and many similar quotes, see Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel. Earlier, Les said his children belong to God the same way Israel belonged to God. I guess that means Les’ children have been set apart as a nation in the land of Canaan, in which case they should be circumcised, not baptized. No Israelite was ever baptized apart from a profession of saving faith in Christ.

Circumcision

Which brings us to the question of circumcision.

We will now pass on to Genesis 17. What is more largely recorded there, is briefly pointed at by Stephen in his general view of the history of Israel (Acts 7:8), “and he gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac,” etc. By the covenant of circumcision we are to understand that covenant of which a restipulation was required by the observation of this rite or ordinance, as in Genesis 17:9-11.

It is noteworthy that in this transaction of God with Abraham we first meet with an express injunction of obedience to a command (and that of positive right) as the condition of covenant interest. It is all ushered in with this prologue (Genesis 17:1), “I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be perfect.” First in these words, the all-sufficiency of God is revealed for the ensuring of the promises. Then a strict and entire obedience to his precepts is required in order to inherit the good things that were to be given by this covenant. In this mode of transacting it, the Lord was pleased to draw the first lines of that form of covenant relationship in which the natural seed of Abraham was fully stated by the law of Moses, which was a covenant of works with its condition or terms, “Do this and live.”

-Nehemiah Coxe, p. 91

For more, see Coxe and Pink on Circumcision as well as Paedobaptism and Forks, and the Appendix to the 1689 London Baptist Confession.

Romans 11 and Hebrews 10

Les also mentioned the standard Romans 11 and Hebrews 10 objection. For detailed treatments of those passages, see

1 Cor 7:14

Finally, Les appealed to 1 Cor 7:14 to argue that “When God saves you he saves everything that belongs to you.” The basic problem is that Les is equivocating on the word “save.” When God saves you, he does not save your car. Only image bearers can be saved. What Les says he means is that when God saves him, he recognizes that everything he “owns” is actually God’s and he is just a steward of it. Thus his car belongs to God, and so do his children. He is to be a good steward of his children by raising them in the fear of the Lord.

That’s all well and good, but baptism is not a sign of your stewardship of a possession. Baptism is a sign of one’s “ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.” We don’t baptize our car even though our car belongs to God because our car is not ingrafted into Christ. Neither do we baptize our children when we are saved because our children are not ingrafted into Christ simply because we are. So “When God saves you” he does not, in fact, “save everything that belongs to you.” Otherwise all the children of believers would be believers. And they’re not. It’s simply confused equivocation.

So what does 1 Cor 7:14 mean? Certainly nothing about baptism, the covenant of grace, or church membership.

See John Gill’s comments on the passage, in which he notes

The sense I have given of this passage, is agreeable to the mind of several interpreters, ancient and modern, as Jerom, Ambrose, Erasmus, Camerarius, Musculus which last writer makes this ingenuous confession; formerly, says he, I have abused this place against the Anabaptists, thinking the meaning was, that the children were holy for the parents’ faith; which though true, the present place makes nothing for the purpose: and I hope, that, upon reading this, everyone that has abused it to such a purpose will make the like acknowledgment; I am sure they ought.

See also the Appendix to the 1689 London Baptist Confession dealing with this text.

Neonomian Presbyterians vs Antinomian Congregationalists?

October 14, 2015 25 comments

In current debate over the role of good works in salvation, appeal is made to “the Puritans.” The problem is, “the Puritans” included a vast range of beliefs. Some were orthodox, some were not. Thus there is usually a qualifier “the best of the Puritans” which is code for “the Puritans that agree with me.” (And when quotes are marshaled forth, it’s often a mix from various men with one key quote establishing a point, with the effect that it seems like they all agreed). For those of us who haven’t had time to studying the 17th century, it’s easy to get the impression that it was a glory day of orthodox theology where all the theologians in England sat around drafting the greatest confessions of faith and faithfully proclaiming the gospel in a nation full of Christians. The reality is the WCF never became the official confession in England, orthodox pastors frequently bemoaned the dark spiritual state of the nation, and dispute arose amongst Puritans over the heart of Christianity: justification by faith alone.

baxter

The controversy over justification centered around Richard Baxter. Yes, the Reformed Pastor, whom J.I. Packer describes as “the most outstanding pastor, evangelist and writer on practical and devotional themes that Puritanism produced.” Baxter was appalled by licentiousness he saw while serving in Cromwell’s army and he made it his life’s mission to refute the error of Antinomianism. In the process, he wound up modifying his doctrine of justification. The problem, according to Baxter, was the idea that Christ has fulfilled all the conditions necessary for our salvation by fulfilling the law of works and then freely granting us salvation in the covenant of grace. Baxter wound up rejecting the orthodox view of the atonement, imputation, and justification. (See Michael Brown’s helpful overview)

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The debate centered on theologians who argued that the New Covenant, unlike the Old, was unconditional. Tobias Crispe was the prime example. Crispe did err on a number of points in what he thought were the implications of an unconditional New Covenant, such as holding that we are justified prior to faith (see Owen’s correction here – note that first generation particular baptists William Kiffin and Samuel Richardson agreed with Crispe).

Baxter’s solution was to argue that the New Covenant was conditional. Christ’s obedience did not earn salvation for us. Christ’s obedience earned the New Covenant for us, and the New Covenant is a new law (“Law of Grace”) with a lower standard that we are able to meet. The requirement of the New Covenant is not perfect obedience, but sincere obedience flowing from faith. Thus Baxter argued that we need both Christ’s righteousness and our own inherent (“evangelical”) righteousness in order to be saved. Baxter said “faith is imputed for Righteousness…because it is an Act of Obedience to God…it is the performance of the Condition of the Justifying Covenant.” He argued that faith and works “Both justifie in the same kinde of causality, viz. as Causae sine quibus non…Faith as the principal part; Obedience as the less principall. The like may be said of Love, which at least is a secondary part of the Condition.” He summarized his view in an analogy:

A Tenant forfeiteth his Lease to his Landlord, by not paying his rent; he runs deep in debt to him, and is disabled to pay him any more rent for the future, whereupon he is put out of his house, and cast him into prison till he pay his debt. His Landlord’s son payeth it for him, taketh him out of prison, and putteth him in his house again, as his Tenant, having purchased house and all to himself; he maketh him a new Lease in this Tenor, that paying but a pepper corn yearly to him, he shall be acquit both from his debt, and from all other rent from the future, which by his old lease was to be paid; yet doth he not cancel the old Lease, but keepeth it in his hands to put in suite against the Tenant, if he should be so foolish as to deny the payment of the pepper corn. In this case the payment of the grain of pepper is imputed to the Tenant, as if he had paid the rent of the old Lease: Yet this imputation doth not extoll the pepper corn, nor vilifie the benefit of his Benefactor, who redeemed him: nor can it be said that the purchase did only serve to advance the value and efficacy of that grain of pepper. But thus; a personall rent must be paid for the testification of his homage.

Aphorisms on Justification (republished by John Wesley)

If one denied that Christians must pay their pepper corn (sincere obedience), they were denounced as Antinomian. Thus Antinomian became (as we will see below) equated with justification by faith alone and a rejection of justification by faith and works. The Antinomian controversy was not about the third use of the law as a guide for Christian living. It was debate over the role of works in justification.

Sounding like a modern day Federal Visionist (perhaps modern day Federal Visionists are really neo-Baxterians?), Baxter uses the exact same argument as Doug Wilson: our marriage union with Christ depends upon our faithfulness as his spouse.

Barely to take a Prince for her husband may entitle a woman to his honours and lands; But conjugal fidelity is also necessary for the continuance of them; for Adultery would cause a divorce…Covenant-making may admit you, but its the Covenant-keeping that must continue you in your priviledges.

-Baxter, Of Justification: Four Disputations Clearing and amicably Defending the Truth, against the unnecessary Oppositions of divers Learned and Reverend Brethren (London, 1658), 123-4. See also his End of Doctrinal Controversies, 252ff.

Faith, Repentance, Love, Thankfulness, sincere Obedience, together with finall Perseverance, do make up the Condition of our final Absolution in Iudgement, and our eternal Glorification.

-Baxter, Confession, 56.

And that the Law of Grace being that which we are to be judged by, we shall at the last Judgment also be judged (and so justified) thus far by or according to our sincere Love, Obedience, or Evangelical Works, as the Conditions of the Law or Covenant of free Grace, which justifieth and glorifieth freely in all that are thus Evangelically qualified, by and for the Merits, perfect Righteousness and Sacrifice of Christ, which procured the Covenant or free Gift of Universal Conditional Justification and Adoption, before and without any Works or Conditions done by Man Whatsoever. Reader forgive me this troublesome oft repeating of the state of the controversy; I meddle with no other. If this be Justification by Works, I am for it.

-Baxter, Treatise, 163.

Covenant Conditions

Perhaps Baxter’s strongest opposition came from congregationalists. In 1674, Samuel Petto wrote “THE GREAT MYSTERY OF THE COVENANT OF GRACE: OR THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE Old and New Covenant STATED AND EXPLAINED.” The thrust of Petto’s book was a rejection of Westminster Federalism’s claim that the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are two administrations of the same Covenant of Grace. Instead, he argued that the Old Covenant was the Covenant of Works that Christ fulfilled and that the New Covenant was therefore unconditional. This is a variation of the subservient covenant view. (See also Michael Brown’s Christ and the Condition, and a shorter article).

1. The new covenant presupposes obedience unto life to be performed already by Jesus Christ, and so is better than the Old (Sinai), which requires an after performance of it… Hence in opposition to that Sinai law, which ran upon those terms, do and live, under the dispensation of the new, we hear so often of Believe and be saved, and he which believeth hath everlasting life, Mark xvi. 16. John iii. 16, 36…

2. The new covenant represents the Lord as dealing with his people universally in a way of promise; and so is better than the old, which represents him as treating them in a way of threatening…

3. The new covenant consists of absolute promises, and therefore is better than the old Sinai covenant, which ran upon conditional promises, indeed, had works as its condition… The apostle, in the text (Heb viii. 10-13), is purposely putting a difference between these; and, seeing the old covenant was unquestionably conditional, and the new here in opposition to it, or distinction from it, is as undoubtedly absolute; must it not needs be concluded, that herein stand much of the excellence of the new above the old?…

And note, if some privileges of the covenant were dispensed out properly in a conditional way (as suppose justification were afforded upon faith as a condition, or temporal mercies upon obedience), yet this would be far from proving any thing to be the condition of the promise, or of the covenant itself. Indeed even faith is a particular blessing of it, and therefore cannot be the condition of the whole covenant; for what shall be the condition of faith?… Nothing performed by us, then, is conditio faederis, the condition of the covenant itself; Jesus Christ has performed all required that way

That this might not be a strife of words, I could wish men would state the question thus, Whether some evangelical duties be required of, and graces wrought by Jesus Christ in, all the persons that are actually interested in the new covenant? I should answer yes; for, in the very covenant itself, it is promised that he will write his laws on their hearts, Heb viii. 10., and that implies faith, repentance, and every gracious frame…

There is no such condition of the new covenant to us, as there was in the old to Israel. For, the apostle comparing them together; and, in opposition to the old, he gives the new altogether in absolute promises, and that to Israel, Heb. viii.; and, showing that the new is not according to the old, he discovers wherein the difference lay, verse 9. Because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not; saith the Lord; and, Jer. xxxi. 32. which covenant they broke, &c… If their performing the condition had been as absolutely promised, as the blessings of the new covenant are, then Israel would have continued in it (which they did not), and could not have forfeited what was promised thereupon, as diverse times they did, and were excluded out of Canaan upon that account. – Jurists say, a condition is a rate, manner, or law, annexed to men’s acts, staying or suspending the same, and making them uncertain, whether they shall take effect or not. And thus condition is opposed to absolute.

-See Petto: Conditional New Covenant?

Petto specifically argues against Baxter’s pepper corn analogy:

We claim Salvation not in the right of any act of ours, not upon the Rent of Faith (as men hold Tenements by the payment of a Penny, a Rose, or such like) no such thing here; all is paid to the utmost Farthing by our Surety, and we hold and claim upon the obedience of Jesus Christ alone.

John Owen, a fellow Congregationalist, wrote the foreword to Petto’s book wherein he says it is the best thing that had yet been written on the difference between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. That’s quite a bold statement, given the vast amount that had been written by orthodox theologians that century. It informs us of the fact that covenant theology was still a matter of development and progress, rather than a settled doctrine. Owen states his agreement with Petto’s rejection of Westminster’s formulation that all post-fall covenants are the covenant of grace and says the Old Covenant was one that mixed the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace so-as to reveal how the “first Covenant was through the Law conferred upon Christ, and in him fulfilled and ended.”

Owen’s The Doctrine of Justification was published 3 years later (1677). His excellent treatment of the subject rests upon his argument that the Covenant of Works was fulfilled in Christ as our surety. This is precisely what Baxter argued against. Owen addresses Baxter’s arguments throughout the work. In particular, Owen quotes from his yet unpublished exposition of Hebrews 7:22 to explain his view of Christ as surety and how it relates to the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace. That exposition was published 3 years later (1680) wherein Owen strongly argued that the New Covenant is unconditional.

[I]n the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises…

It is evident that there can be no condition previously required, unto our entering into or participation of the benefits of this covenant, antecedent unto the making of it with us. For none think there are any such with respect unto its original constitution; nor can there be so in respect of its making with us, or our entering into it… It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant.

Owen finally states his opinion in words very similar to Crisp.

It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part. For whatever is antecedent thereunto, being only a work or act of corrupted nature, can be no condition whereon the dispensation of spiritual grace is superadded. And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.

Unto a full and complete interest in all the promises of the covenant, faith on our part, from which evangelical repentance is inseparable, is required. But whereas these also are wrought in us by virtue of that promise and grace of the covenant which are absolute, it is a mere strife about words to contend whether they may be called conditions or no. Let it be granted on the one hand, that we cannot have an actual participation of the relative grace of this covenant in adoption and justification, without faith or believing; and on the other, that this faith is wrought in us, given unto us, bestowed upon us, by that grace of the covenant which depends on no condition in us as unto its discriminating administration, and I shall not concern myself what men will call it.

Again:

The covenant of grace, as reduced into the form of a testament, confirmed by the blood of Christ, doth not depend on any condition or qualification in our persons, but on a free grant and donation of God; and so do all the good things prepared in it.

Do this and live

A central aspect of the debate was the meaning of “Do this and live,” which is a paraphrase of Leviticus 18:5. Paul, quoting Lev 18:5, contrasts this principle with faith in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12, both of which are proof texts in WCF 7.2 for the covenant of works. Interestingly, Leviticus 18:5 is not a proof text (Patrick Ramsey explains). The dilemma for the WCF is how the Mosaic Covenant can be the Covenant of Grace (WCF 7.5-6) while Leviticus 18:5 remains a condition of it. This tension was not resolved at the time the WCF was written, hence Owen’s statement that Petto’s book was the best treatment of the Covenant of Works that had yet been written, because he resolved the tension (by rejecting Westminster’s view of the Old and New Covenants).

Writing on Hebrews 4:9, Baxter says

Sect 6 But it is a great doubt with many whether the obtainment of this glory [eternal rest] may be our end; nay, concluded that it is mercenary; yea that to make salvation the end of duty is to be a legalist and act under a covenant of works whose tenour is ‘Do this and live.’…

2. It is not a note of a legalist neither: it hath been the ground of a multitude of late mistakes in divinity, to think that ‘Do this and live,’ is only the language of the covenant of works. It is true, in some sense it is; but in other, not. The law of works only saith, “Do this,” that is, perfectly fulfil the whole law, “and live,” that is, for so doing: but the law of grace saith, “Do this and live” too; that is, believe in Christ, seek him, obey him sincerely, as they Lord and King; forsake all, suffer all things, and overcome; and by so doing, or in so doing, as the conditions which the Gospel propounds for salvation, you shall live…

how unsavoury soever the phrase may seem, you may, so far as this comes to, trust to your duty and works

In contrast, in The Doctrine of Justification, Owen says

We can never state our thoughts aright in this matter, unless we have a clear apprehension of, and satisfaction in, the introduction of grace by Jesus Christ into the whole of our relation unto God, with its respect unto all parts of our obedience. There was no such thing, nothing of that nature or kind, in the first constitution of that relation and obedience by the law of our creation. We were made in a state of immediate relation unto God in our own persons, as our creator, preserver, and rewarder. There was no mystery of grace in the covenant of works. No more was required unto the consummation of that state but what was given us in our creation, enabling us unto rewardable obedience. “Do this, and live,” was the sole rule of our relation unto God. (70)

though the law is principally established in and by the obedience and sufferings of Christ, Romans 8:3,4; 10:3,4, yet is it not, by the doctrine of faith and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto the justification of life, made void as unto believers. Neither of these does exempt them from that obligation unto universal obedience which is prescribed in the law. They are still obliged by virtue thereof to “love the LORD their God with all their hearts, and their neighbors as themselves”. They are, indeed, freed from the law, and all its commands unto duty as it abides in its first considerations “Do this, and live”; the opposite whereunto is, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the law to do them.” For he that is under the obligation of the law, in order unto justification and life, falls inevitably under the curse of it upon the supposition of any one transgression. But we are made free to give obedience unto it on gospel motives, and for gospel ends; as the apostle declares at large, chap. 6. (483)

In his exposition of Hebrews 8, Owen again notes

God had before given the covenant of works, or perfect obedience, unto all mankind, in the law of creation. But this covenant at Sinai did not abrogate or disannul that covenant, nor any way fulfill it… It revived the promise of that covenant, —that of eternal life upon perfect obedience. So the apostle tells us that Moses thus describeth the righteousness of the law, “That the man which doeth those things shall live by them,” Romans 10:5; as he doth, Leviticus 18:5. Now this is no other but the covenant of works revived. Nor had this covenant of Sinai any promise of eternal life annexed unto it, as such, but only the promise inseparable from the covenant of works which it revived, saying, “Do this, and live.”

The old covenant, in the preceptive part of it, renewed the commands of the covenant of works, and that on their original terms. Sin it forbade, — that is, all and every sin, in matter and manner, — on the pain of death; and gave the promise of life unto perfect, sinless obedience only: whence the decalogue itself, which is a transcript of the law of works, is called “the covenant,” Exodus 34:28. And besides this, as we observed before, it had other precepts innumerable, accommodated unto the present condition of the people, and imposed on them with rigor. But in the new covenant, the very first thing that is proposed, is the accomplishment and establishment of the covenant of works, both as unto its commands and sanction, in the obedience and suffering of the mediator. Hereon the commands of it, as unto the obedience of the covenanters, are not grievous; the yoke of Christ being easy, and his burden light.

Round 2: Presbyterians vs Congregationalists

By 1664 Baxter considered his fight against Antinomianism complete, stating that this “Sect” was extinct. Thus he was shocked near the end of his life when Tobias Crispe’s works were re-published in 1690 (by his son Samuel), noting “But I see the corrupting Design is of late, grown so high, that what seemed these Thirty Four Years suppressed, now threatneth as a torrent to overthrow the Gospel.” However, things were quite different this time around.

In round 2, the debate had come to be represented by Presbyterians on one side and the Congregationalists (Independents) on the other side. Following the Act of Toleration, the two had formed a Happy Union to work together in various ways, but the resurgence of the Antinomian problem split the groups.

Presbyterian pastor Robert Traill, who was in the minority in siding with the Congregationalists, explains what had happened in the intervening years:

You know, that not many months ago there was fair-like appearance of unity betwixt the two most considerable parties on that side; and their differences having been rather in practice than principle, about church-order and communion, seemed easily reconcilable, where a spirit of love, and of a sound mind, was at work. But how short was the calm! For quickly arose a greater storm from another quarter; and a quarrel began upon higher points, even on no less than the doctrine of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and the justification of a sinner by faith alone. Some think, that the re-printing of Dr. Crisp’s book gave the first rise to it. But we must look farther back for its true spring. It is well known, but little considered, what a great progress Arminianism had made in this nation before the beginning of the civil war. And surely it hath lost little since it ended. What can be the reason why the very parliaments in the reign of James I. and Charles I. were so alarmed with Arminianism, as may be read in history, and is remembered by old men; and that now for a long time there hath been no talk, no fear of it; as if Arminianism were dead and buried, and no man knows where its grave is? Is not the true reason to be found in its universal prevailing in the nation?

But that which concerneth our case, is, that the middle way betwixt the Arminians and the Orthodox, had been espoused, and strenuously defended and promoted by some Nonconformists, of great note for piety and parts

A VINDICATION OF THE PROTESTANT DOCTRINE CONCERNING JUSTIFICATION

In short, Baxter’s view, explicitly drawing from Arminian views of the atonement, had gained dominance. James Renihan, referencing the work of C.F. Allison, notes

Baxter must be viewed as the logical culmination of a process, gaining momentum in the 1640s and led by several highly significant Church of England authors, who moved away from a doctrine of justification based on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as its formal cause, to one incorporating human works. The broader context of theological ferment indicates that Baxter was hardly an anomaly – he was in fact part of a growing movement.

Elaborating on this theological shift, referring to it as the “new divinity,” Traill notes:

If we say that faith in Jesus Christ is neither work, nor condition, nor qualification, in justification, but is a mere instrument, receiving (as an empty hand receiveth the freely given alms) the righteousness of Christ; and that, in its very act, it is a renouncing of all things but the gift of grace: the fire is kindled. So that it is come to that, as Mr. Christopher Fowler said, “that he that will not be Antichristian must be called an Antinomian.” Is there a minister in London who did not preach, some twenty, some thirty years ago, according to their standing, that same doctrine now by some called Antinomian? Let not Dr. Crisp’s book be looked upon as the standard of our doctrine. There are many good things in it, and also many expressions in it that we generally dislike. It is true that Mr. Burgess and Mr. Rutherford wrote against Antinomianism, and against some that were both Antinomians and Arminians. And it is no less true that they wrote against the Arminians, and did hate the new scheme of divinity, so much now contended for, and to which we owe all our present contentions. I am persuaded, that if these godly and sound divines were on the present stage, they would be as ready to draw their pens against two books lately printed against Dr. Crisp, as ever they were ready to write against the doctor’s book. Truth is to be defended by truth; but error is often and unhappily opposed by error under truth’s name.

Traill notes that the issue is not about Crisp’s writings per se. They disagreed with him on many points. The issue was the doctrine of justification by faith alone and its relation to the covenant of grace. In this regard, Benjamin Keach said “‘Tis a hard case that any of those who maintain the old doctrine of justification should be branded with the black name of Antinomians. As for my part, if Dr. Crisp be not misrepresented by his opposers, I’m not of him in several respects, but I had rather erre on their side, who strive to exalt wholly the Free Grace of God, than on theirs, who seek to darken it and magnifie the Power of the Creature.” Arnold notes that “Other theologians who were branded as Crispians included the Particular Baptists Hanserd Knollys (1599?-1691) and Thomas Edwards (d. 1699).” Note that John Gill was a successor to Keach’s pastorate when he re-published Crisp’s sermons in 1791.

Traill continues the emphasis on the unconditional covenant of grace:

But, on the other hand, we glory in any name of reproach (as the honourable reproach of Christ) that is cast upon us for asserting the absolute boundless freedom of the grace of God, which excludes all merit, and everything like it; the absoluteness of the covenant of grace, (for the covenant of redemption was plainly and strictly a conditional one, and the noblest of all conditions was in it. The Son of God’s taking on him man’s nature, and offering it in sacrifice, was the strict condition of all the glory and reward promised to Christ and his seed, Isaiah 53:10, 11), wherein all things are freely promised, and that faith that is required for sealing a man’s interest in the covenant is promised in it, and wrought by the grace of it (Eph. 2:8).

A VINDICATION OF THE PROTESTANT DOCTRINE CONCERNING JUSTIFICATION

Isaac Chauncy, a successor to Owen’s pastorate, was the primary proponent of the Congregationalists:

[faith and repentance] belong to the promise … and therefore are no Conditions; they are benefits … And therefore Pardon is not promised to Faith and Repentance, as things distinct from the Promise; but Pardon is promised together with Faith and Repentance to the Sinner.

Neonomianism Unmask’d: Or, The Ancient Gospel Pleaded Against the Other, called, The New Law

What is worth noting is that by this time, Antinomianism had become readily equated with justification by faith alone while the Neonomians readily owned justification by faith and works. David Williams, the leading Presbyterian proponent arguing against the Congregationalists, notes that “the Debate is about the Instrument of Donation” and says:

Obj. But sure there is a vast difference be∣tween those who think we are justified by Faith only, and those who think we are justified by Works as well as by Faith.

Answ. 1. Not so very great; when both mean that we are justified neither by Faith nor Works, as the word justified is commonly taken: for both agree that we are absolved, accepted as righteous, and entitled to eternal Life only for Christ’s Death and Obedience, as the only meriting, satisfactory and atoning Righteousness.

An End to Discord

Witsius the Mediator

D. Patrick Ramsey explains how the two groups called upon Witsius to mediate between them in an effort to resolve the issue. Witsius criticizes various points from each side and then attempts to emphasize their common ground. Worth noting, however, are his comments on the principle of “Do this and live.”

At first, Witsius seems to agree with the Congregationalists, to a degree.

The law of works is that which demands works to be done by man himself, as the condition of life, or the cause of claiming the reward: the tenor of which is this, The man who doeth these things shall live in them, Rom. 10:5. Such a law was given to Adam of old, who, if he had persevered in his integrity, would have obtained a right to eternal life by his works of righteousness.

The same doctrine Moses repeated in his ministry. For he also inculcated the same precepts upon which the covenant of works had been built: he both repeated the same solemn saying, He who doeth these things shall live in them, Lev 18:5 and also added another, Cursed be he who shall not perform the words of this law in doing them, Deut 27:26. That this is the curse of the law, as it stands opposed to the covenant of grace, Paul teacheth, Gal 3:10, which, however, is not so to be understood, as if God had intended, by the ministry of Moses, to make a new covenant of works with Israel, with a view to obtain righteousness and salvation by such a covenant. But that repetition of the covenant of works was designed to convince the Israelites of their sin and misery, to drive them out of themselves, to teach them the necessity of satisfaction, and to compel them to cleave to Christ: and thus it was subservient to the covenant of grace, Rom 10:4.

Conciliatory or irenical animadversions on the controversies agitated in Britain : under the unhappy names of antinomians and neonomians, 86-87

However, his words have to be carefully understood. He did not agree with the Congregationalists that the Mosaic Covenant itself operated upon a works principle. Instead, he said Leviticus 18:5 was a proclamation of the law of works separate from the Mosaic Covenant, intended to convict Israelites of their sin and drive them to Christ. The Mosaic Covenant itself, according to Witsius, operated upon the principle of faith, or rather, sincere obedience flowing from faith. Witsius did not believe it was formally the Covenant of Works (because it required sincere, not perfect obedience) or the Covenant of Grace (because it did not provide the work of the Spirit to produce the sincere obedience it required).

What was it then? It was a national covenant between God and Israel, whereby Israel promised to God a sincere obedience to all his precepts, especially to the ten words; God, on the other hand, promised to Israel, that such an observance would be acceptable to him, nor want its reward, both in this life, and in that which is to come, both as to soul and body. This reciprocal promise supposed a covenant of grace. For, without the assistance of the covenant Of grace, man cannot sincerely promise that observance; and yet that an imperfect observance should be acceptable to God is wholly owing to the covenant of grace, It also supposed the doctrine of the covenant of works, the terror or which being increased by those tremendous signs that attended it, they ought to have been excited to embrace that covenant of God. This agreement therefore is a consequent both of the covenant of grace and of works; but was formally neither the one nor the other. A like agreement and renewal of the covenant between God and the pious is frequent; both national and individual. Of the former see Josh. xxiv. 22. 2 Chron. xv. 12. 2 Kings xxiii. 3. Neh. x. 29. Of the latter, Psal. cxix. 106. It is certain, that in the passages we have named, mention is made of some covenant between God and his people. If any should ask me, of what kind, whether of works or of grace? I shall answer, it is formally neither: but a covenant of sincere piety, which supposes both.

The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man

Commenting on this two centuries later, A. W. Pink notes

Herman Witsius took the view that the Sinaitic compact was neither, formally, the covenant of grace nor the covenant of works, but a national covenant which presupposed them both, and that it promised “not only temporal blessings . . . but also spiritual and eternal.” So far so good. But when he states (bk. 4, sec. 4, par. 43-45) that the condition of this covenant was “a sincere, though not, in every respect, a perfect obedience of His commands,” we certainly cannot agree. Witsius held that the Sinaitic covenant differed from the covenant of works—which made no provision or allowance for the acceptance of a sincere though imperfect obedience; and that it differed from the covenant of grace, since it contained no promises of strength to enable Israel to render that obedience. Though plausible, his position is not only erroneous but highly dangerous. God never promised eternal life to men on the condition of an imperfect but sincere obedience—that would overthrow the whole argument of Romans and Galatians.

-The Divine Covenants

While Witsius does not agree with Baxter on numerous points, including his view of justification by faith and works, his view of the Mosaic Covenant certainly sounds very similar to Baxter’s view of the New Covenant. With this in mind, Witsius seeks to address “the utility of holiness.”

We must accurately distinguish between a right to life, and the possession of life. The former must so be assigned to the obedience of Christ, that all the value of our holiness may be entirely excluded. But certainly our works, or rather these, which the Spirit of Christ worketh in us, and by us, contribute something to the latter…

Neither because Christ is the way to life, is the practice of Christian piety therefore not the way to life. Christ is the way to life, because he purchased us a right to life. The practice of Christian piety is the way to life, because thereby we go to the possession of the right obtained by Christ…

In fine, it is not inconsistent to do something from this principle, because we live, and to the end, that we may live. No man eats indeed but he lives, but he also eats that he may live. We both can and ought to act in a holy manner, because we are quickened by the Spirit of God. But we must also act in the same manner, that that life may be preserved in us, may increase, and at last terminate in an uninterrupted and eternal life. Moses said excellently of old, Deut 30: 19,20 “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that i have set life and death before you: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, in loving the Lord they God, obeying his voice, and cleaving unto him, for he is they life.” Deut 8:1 “Observe to do, that ye may live.” And 30:6 “The Lord they God will circumcise thine heart to love the Lord thy God, that thou mayest live.” Truly these speeches are not legal, but evangelical.

Conciliatory or irenical animadversions on the controversies agitated in Britain : under the unhappy names of antinomians and neonomians, 161-163

First, despite Witsius’ claim, it is inconsistent to say that Christ has purchased our life and that we have to work for it. Second, notice that Witsius seeks to prove this point by quoting from the Mosaic Covenant. Now, ask yourself, what is the difference between “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live” (Deut 8:1), and “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them” (Lev 18:5)? There is no difference. It’s stating the same thing. But Witsius says one is referring to the covenant of works and is thus a “legal” statement of the principle while the other refers to the gospel and is therefore an “evangelical” statement of the same principle.

The problem is that it’s the exact same principle. Witsius confused the role of our works in possessing eternal life because he confused the Mosaic Covenant principle of works. Because of this, Witsius is in agreement with what Baxter says about “Do this and live.”

Why Congregationalists?

Certainly many different reasons could be given for the abandonment of the gospel during this time, but a glaring question is why the debate became divided along denominational lines. What on earth does hierarchy in church government have to do with justification by faith alone?

5 members of the Westminster Assembly were Congregationalists (the Five Dissenting Brethren). They wrote An Apologetical Narration in which they said “we do professedly judge the Calvinian Reformed Churches of the first reformation from out of Popery, to stand in need of a further reformation themselves. And it may without prejudice to them, or the imputation of Schism in us from them, be thought, that they coming new out of Popery (as well as England) and the founders of that reformation not having Apostolic infallibility, might not be fully perfect the first day.” In other words, Presbyterians still had to shake off Rome’s influence.

During the Assembly debate, they argued that we cannot look to Israel and the Old Covenant as a foundation for church government because in the Old Covenant there was a mixture of church and state. If we follow the New Testament pattern, we see churches organized by voluntary congregations of visible saints called out of the world. The Presbyterians pointed out that if the Jewish model of the church is given up, paedobaptism goes with it. But the Congregationalists did not budge.

In light of this, the Westminster Confession holds that the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are the same covenant (the covenant of grace). Therefore Westminster interpreted the Mosaic law as graciously given as a rule of righteousness, and not as a covenant of works (19.1-2). Thus Lev 18:5 was interpreted as consistent with a gospel command.

Congregationalists, on the other hand, not holding to the same commitment on the Old Covenant, removed “as such” in 19.2, thus opening the door to allow the Mosaic law to have been given as a covenant of works – which is precisely the view articulated in Petto, Owen, and others. Therefore Lev 18:5 could be properly understood as enunciating the works principle of the Covenant of Works, not as a gospel command.

Furthermore, because the Congregationalists were not committed to Westminster’s view of the Old and New Covenant as the same covenant, they were free to contrast the question of conditionality between the two covenants, which is precisely what Petto and Owen did. In whatever way Westminster theologians might say the covenant of grace was unconditional, that had to be qualified with the fact that it was also conditional and had covenant breakers, according to the Old Covenant. Congregationalists had no such restraint, and thus they strongly proclaimed the unbreakable nature of the absolute, unconditional promises made to every member of the New Covenant.

Owen recognized this was a point of departure from Westminster and the reformed, which is why he says in his exposition of Hebrews 8 that he sides with the Lutherans on the question of the Old Covenant and rejects the opinion of the reformed divines. Yes, those same Lutherans that some reformed men mock for their emphasis on the law/gospel antithesis. Robert Traill noted:

Let us carefully keep the bounds clear betwixt the law and gospel, which, “whosoever doth, is a right perfect divine,” saith blessed Luther, in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians,—a book that hath more plain sound gospel than many volumes of some other divines. Let us keep the law as far from the business of justification as we would keep condemnation, its contrary; for the law and condemnation are inseparable, but by the intervention of Jesus Christ our surety (Gal. 3:10-14).

In this regard, it is disappointing to see historians unwilling to acknowledge the real differences between Presbyterian and Congregational covenant theology. In a foreword to Petto’s book, Mark Jones does his best to obliterate the very point of Petto’s book:

The history of Reformed covenant theology has not always been well understood. Richard Greaves refers to Petto, as well as Owen, Goodwin, and Ussher, as “strict Calvinists” who belong to one of three different groups in the covenant tradition. Greaves mistakenly posits a tension between the Calvin-Perkins-Ames tradition, which supposedly distinguished itself by promulgating an unconditional character to the covenant of grace, and the Zwingli-Bullinger-Tyndale tradition, which is characterized by the conditional nature of the covenant of grace. Graves is wrong to place these two groups in tension with one another. The truth is that both ‘groups’ understood the covenant of grace as having conditions; namely, faith and obedience. However, because the faith and obedience that is required in the covenant of grace is the “gift of God” it may also be said that the covenant of grace is some sense unconditional. These nuances have often been missing in the twentieth-century historiography.

It’s worth reading material from Jones very carefully (don’t take his word for it).

(Note: Read Baxter’s comments about the Savoy Declaration’s additions to 11.1, which further strengthened justification by faith alone)

Conclusion

Long story short, do not try to understand debate over justification and the place of our good works apart from understanding the underlying covenant theology. First, find out what a person believes about the Covenant of Works (many “reformed” today deny its substance). Second, find out how they interpret Leviticus 18:5 and Paul’s use of it in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 (as well as all the echoes of it throughout the OT). Those two things will clear away just about all of the debate & confusion. Find out where you stand on those and you will find out where you stand on the role of good works.

With this in mind, it is no surprise that debate amongst Presbyterians today regarding the abandonment of justification by faith alone is focusing in on debate over the interpretation of Leviticus 18:5. The OPC is currently debating in the General Assembly whether Meredith Kline’s interpretation of the Mosaic Covenant as a Covenant of Works is consistent with the Confession’s view that it is the Covenant of Grace (hint: it’s not).

Furthermore, recognize that “the Puritans” are a mixed bag. They do not represent a uniform view, even on the gospel itself. Neither is there a uniform testimony from theologians of the reformed tradition on every point. Some (like the Congregationalists discussed here) worked out the implications of justification by faith alone more consistently and systematically than others who were stunted by their view of the Mosaic Covenant. So don’t rest content with a quote from a reformed theologian. Instead, seek to understand the place of that quote in the covenant structure of the person quoted, and then ask yourself if that position is consistent with what you believe the bible teaches.

And as baptists read books like Jones’ Antinomianism, they need to consider where their particular baptist (congregational) forefathers stood on the issue. As we saw above, Keach said he would side with Crispe and the “Antinomians.” In the intro to his The Covenant of Peace Opened, he notes “By the Baxterian Party I expect to be called an Antinomian, for that hath been their Artifice of late, to expose the True Ancient Protestant Doctrine about Justification.” Two first generation particular baptists, William Kiffin and Samuel Richardson, were in even stronger agreement with Crispe. Do your due diligence before coming to a conclusion.

Further Reading

Kline on “Administration of the Covenant of Grace”

March 30, 2015 30 comments

Lee Irons has been posting a series summarizing Kline’s views on the Mosaic Covenant and clarifying what he sees as misrepresentations. It’s a very helpful series and I appreciate his efforts. However, I think one of them fails to defend Kline against from his critics. The Fourth Misrepresentation Of Kline deals with the claim that Kline denied the Mosaic Covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace. Irons references Kline’s two-layer cake and then concludes:

Kline clearly affirms that the covenant of grace unfolded in several administrations (including the Mosaic covenant!) and that this overarching covenant of grace reached its culmination in the new covenant.

I do not think Kline is contradicting himself. He is not saying that the Mosaic covenant itself (the covenant between God and Israel that was inaugurated at Sinai) was a covenant of grace. It was not. It was a covenant of the works variety. But he is saying that God’s establishment of this Mosaic covenant of works was designed to advance the covenant of grace and that therefore it was a sub-administration of the covenant of grace. To use the language of some 17th century Reformed theologians, it was a “subservient covenant” intended not to be an end in itself but to look ahead to the coming Seed who would be born under it and fulfill it and thereby bring about the consummation of the covenant of grace.

Essentially the argument is that if you believe the Mosaic Covenant served the purposes of the covenant of grace, then you believe it was an administration of the covenant of grace.

The problem is that is not what the term means. It means that the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant were not two different covenants but were in fact the same covenant. If you deny that, you deny the Mosaic was an administration of the covenant of grace, regardless of what purpose it served.

Calvin’s comments on Hebrews 8 exemplify the view.

But what he adds is not without some difficulty, — that the covenant of the Gospel was proclaimed on better promises; for it is certain that the fathers who lived under the Law had the same hope of eternal life set before them as we have, as they had the grace of adoption in common with us, then faith must have rested on the same promises. But the comparison made by the Apostle refers to the form rather than to the substance; for though God promised to them the same salvation which he at this day promises to us, yet neither the manner nor the character of the revelation is the same or equal to what we enjoy. If anyone wishes to know more on this subject, let him read the 4th and 5th chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians and my Institutes.
In his Institutes we find the following (referencing Hebrews 7-9):

Here we are to observe how the covenant of the law compares with the covenant of the gospel, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. For if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, then there would be great disagreement between the Testaments. But since the trend of the argument leads us in another direction, we must follow it to find the truth. Let us then set forth the covenant that he once established as eternal and never-perishing. Its fulfillment, by which is is finally confirmed and ratified, is Christ. While such confirmation was awaited, the Lord appointed, through Moses, ceremonies that were, so to speak, solemn symbols of that confirmation. A controversy arose over whether or not the ceremonies that had been ordained in the law ought to give way to Christ. Now these were only the accidental properties of the covenant, or additions and appendages, and in common parlance, accessories of it. Yet because they were means of administering it, they bear the name “covenant,” just as is customary in the case of other sacraments. To sum up then, in this passage “Old Testament” means the solemn manner of confirming the covenant, comprised in ceremonies and sacrifices.Because nothing substantial underlies this unless we go beyond it, the apostle contends that it ought to be terminated and abrogated, to give place to Christ, the Sponsor and Mediator of a better covenant [cf. Heb 7:22]; whereby he imparts eternal sanctifications once and for all to the elect, blotting out their transgressions, which remained under the law. Or, if you prefer, understand it thus: the Old Testament of the Lord was that covenant [the eternal covenant -BA] wrapped up in the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies and delivered to the Jews; it was temporary because it remained, as it were, in suspense until it might rest upon a firm and substantial confirmation. It became new and eternal only after it was consecrated and established by the blood of Christ. Hence Christ in the Supper calls the cup that he gives to his disciples “the cup of the New Testament in my blood” [Luke 22:20]. By this he means that the Testament of God attained its truth when sealed by his blood, and thereby becomes new and eternal.

Institutes, 2.11.4

Calvin is clear: The Old and New Covenant were the same covenant. They were the same in substance. They differed only in their outward appearance, the manner of revelation, the ceremonies, the accidents – in sum, the administration. This is what it means for the Mosaic Covenant to be an administration of the covenant of grace: they are the same covenants with the same promises and the same means of obtaining the promise. This is the meaning of WCF 7.6
6. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.
Now John Owen is helpful in addressing this question because he agrees with Kline’s exegesis:

’I exercised the right, power, and authority of a husband towards them; I dealt with them as a husband with a wife that breaketh covenant:’ that is, saith the apostle, ‘“ I regarded them not” with the love, tenderness, and affection of a husband.’ So he dealt indeed with that generation which so suddenly brake covenant with him. He provided no more for them as unto the enjoyment of the inheritance, he took them not home unto him in his habitation, his resting-place in the land of promise; but he suffered them all to wander, and bear their whoredoms in the wilderness, until they were consumed. So did God exercise the right, and power, and authority of a husband towards a wife that had broken covenant. And herein, as in many other things in that dispensation, did God give a representation of the nature of the covenant of works, and the issue of it…

Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of. And from the whole we may observe sundry things.

-Exposition of Hebrews 8:9

But precisely because he agrees with Kline, Owen says the Mosaic Covenant is not an administration of the covenant of grace.

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?

On this consideration it is said, that the two covenants mentioned, the new and the old, were not indeed two distinct covenants, as unto their essence and substance, but only different administrations of the same covenant, called two covenants from some different outward solemnities and duties of worship attending of them. To clear this it must be observed, —

1. That by the old covenant, the original covenant of works, made with Adam and all mankind in him, is not intended; for this is undoubtedly a covenant different in the essence and substance of it from the new.

2. By the new covenant, not the new covenant absolutely and originally, as given in the first promise, is intended; but in its complete gospel administration, when it was actually established by the death of Christ, as administered in and by the ordinances of the new testament. This, with the covenant of Sinai, were, as most say, but different administrations of the same covenant.

But on the other hand, there is such express mention made, not only in this, but in sundry other places of the Scripture also, of two distinct covenants, or testaments, and such different natures, properties, and effects, ascribed unto them, as seem to constitute two distinct covenants. This, therefore, we must inquire into; and shall first declare what is agreed unto by those who are sober in this matter, though they differ in their judgments about this question, whether two distinct covenants, or only a twofold administration of the same covenant, be intended. And indeed there is so much agreed on, as that what remains seems rather to be a difference about the expression of the same truth, than any real contradiction about the things themselves. For, —

1. It is agreed that the way of reconciliation with God, of justification and salvation, was always one and the same…

2. That the writings of the Old Testament, namely, the Law, Psalms, and Prophets, do contain and declare the doctrine of justification and salvation by Christ…

3. That by the covenant of Sinai, as properly so called, separated from its figurative relation unto the covenant of grace, none was ever eternally saved.

4. That the use of all the institutions whereby the old covenant was administered, was to represent and direct unto Jesus Christ, and his mediation.

These things being granted, the only way of life and salvation by Jesus Christ, under the old testament and the new, is secured; which is the substance of the truth wherein we are now concerned. On these grounds we may proceed with our inquiry.

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 by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by 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. And the difference between these two administrations may be reduced unto the ensuing heads: —

1. It consisted in the way and manner of the declaration of the mystery of the love and will of God in Christ…

2. In the plentiful communication of grace unto the community of the church…

3. In the manner of our access unto God…

4. In the way of worship required under each administration…

5. In the extent of the dispensation of the grace of God;…

Sundry other things are usually added by our divines unto the same purpose. See Calvin. Institut. lib. 2:cap. xi.; Martyr. Loc. Com. loc. 16, sect. 2; Bucan. loc. 22, etc.

The Lutherans, on the other side, insist on two arguments to prove, that not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that two covenants substantially distinct, are intended in this discourse of the apostle.

1. Because in the Scripture they are often so called, and compared with one another, and sometimes opposed unto one another; the first and the last, the new and the old.

2. Because the covenant of grace in Christ is eternal, immutable, always the same, obnoxious unto no alteration, no change or abrogation; neither can these things be spoken of it with respect unto any administration of it. as they are spoken of the old covenant…

4. These things being observed, we may consider that the Scripture doth plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way, as what is spoken can hardly be accommodated unto a twofold administration of the same covenant. The one is mentioned and described, Exodus 24:3-8,Deuteronomy 5:2-5, — namely, the covenant that God made with the people of Israel in Sinai; and which is commonly called “the covenant,” where the people under the old testament are said to keep or break God’s covenant; which for the most part is spoken with respect unto that worship which was peculiar thereunto. The other is promised, Jer 31:31-34, 32:40; which is the new or gospel covenant, as before explained, mention Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24. And these two covenants, or testaments, are compared one with the other and opposed one unto another 2 Cor 3:6-9; Gal 4:24-26; Heb 7:22, 9:15-20…

5. Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant merely, to be intended. We must, I say, do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was 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 who allow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, —’That this being 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 propose sundry things which relate unto the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace: —…

This is the nature and substance of that covenant which God made with that people; a particular, temporary covenant it was, and not a mere dispensation of the covenant of grace…

For some, when they hear that the covenant of grace was always one and the same, of the same nature and efficacy under both testaments, —that the way of salvation by Christ was always one and the same, —are ready to think that there was no such great difference between their state and ours as is pretended. But we see that on this supposition, that covenant which God brought the people into at Sinai, and under the yoke whereof they were to abide until the new covenant was established, had all the disadvantages attending it which we have insisted on. And those who understand not how excellent and glorious those privileges are which are added unto the covenant of grace, as to the administration of it, by the introduction and establishment of the new covenant, are utterly unacquainted with the nature of spiritual and heavenly things…

’I exercised the right, power, and authority of a husband towards them; I dealt with them as a husband with a wife that breaketh covenant:’ that is, saith the apostle, ‘“ I regarded them not” with the love, tenderness, and affection of a husband.’ So he dealt indeed with that generation which so suddenly brake covenant with him. He provided no more for them as unto the enjoyment of the inheritance, he took them not home unto him in his habitation, his resting-place in the land of promise; but he suffered them all to wander, and bear their whoredoms in the wilderness, until they were consumed. So did God exercise the right, and power, and authority of a husband towards a wife that had broken covenant. And herein, as in many other things in that dispensation, did God give a representation of the nature of the covenant of works, and the issue of it…

‘This was the issue of things with them with whom the first covenant was made. They received it, entered solemnly into the bonds of it, took upon themselves expressly the performance of its terms and conditions, were sprinkled with the blood of it; but they “continued not in it,” and were dealt withal accordingly. God used the right and authority of a husband with whom a wife breaketh covenant; he “neglected them,” shut them out of his house, deprived them of their dowry or inheritance, and slew them in the wilderness…

Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of. And from the whole we may observe sundry things.

http://www.prayermeetings.org/files/John_Owen/Hebrews_8.1-10.39.pdf (starting on page 84)

Owen is clear: the meaning of the Westminster phrase “administration of the covenant of grace” can be found most clearly in Calvin (specifically the portion we quoted already) and it means they are the same covenant with different outward appearances, rather than two distinct covenants. If you disagree with that and see them as two different covenants, then you are disagreeing with the reformed divines when they say they were both administrations of the covenant of grace. Note, Owen sides with the Lutherans who say that is incorrect because “neither can these things be spoken of it with respect unto any administration of it as they are spoken of the old covenant.” That is to say, the differences are not just in outward appearance.So the question is: Does Kline or Owen better understand the meaning of “an administration of the covenant of grace”?

Samuel Bolton, a proponent of the subservient covenant view that Irons aligns Kline with, provides the following summary of the “administration of the covenant of grace” view (which he does not agree with):

There is, however, a second opinion in which I find that the majority of our holy and most learned divines concur, namely, that though the law is called a covenant, yet it was not a covenant of works for salvation; nor was it a third covenant of works and grace; but it was the same covenant in respect of its nature and design under which we stand under the Gospel, even the covenant of grace, though more legally dispensed to the Jews. It differed not in substance from the covenant of grace, but in degree, say some divines, in the economy and external administration of it, say others. The Jews, they agree, were under infancy, and therefore under “a schoolmaster”. In this respect the covenant of grace under the law is called by such divines “foedus vetus” (the old covenant), and under the Gospel “foedus novum” (the new covenant): see Heb. 8:8. The one was called old, and the other new, not because the one was before the other by the space of four hundred and thirty years, but because the legal administrations mentioned were waxing old and decaying, and were ready to disappear and to give place to a more new and excellent administration. “That which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away”. The one covenant was more obscurely administered, shadowed, darkened with shadows; the other was administered more perspicuously and clearly. The one was more onerous and burdensome, the other more easy and delightful. The one through the legal means of its administration gendered to bondage, the other to son-like freedom. All this may be seen clearly in Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1; Gal. 3:1-4:3. Hence, as Alsted tells us, the new and old covenants, the covenants of the law and Gospel, are both of them really covenants of grace, only differing in their administrations. That they were virtually the same covenant is alleged in Luke 1:72-75: “To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant”. What was “his holy covenant”? It is made clear in verse 74 that in substance it was the same as the covenant of grace: “That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”

Admitting that “He is not saying that the Mosaic covenant itself (the covenant between God and Israel that was inaugurated at Sinai) was a covenant of grace. It was not. It was a covenant of the works variety.” is admitting that it was not an administration of the covenant of grace. To say that the Mosaic Covenant was of works means it was NOT of the same substance as the covenant of grace. I agree with Irons and Kline and Owen on the Mosaic Covenant. It was not of the same substance. It was of works for life in the land. But that is why I believe the criticism sticks. That is why Owen said he disagreed with the reformed (and that’s why his Savoy declaration removed 7.6).

This was Patrick Ramsey’s point in an essay titled “In Defense of Moses.” I disagree with Ramsey’s interpretation of the Mosaic Covenant, but his interpretation of Westminster Federalism is correct. He demonstrates that Westminster rejected the subservient covenant view.

The primary reason for holding to the Subservient Covenant is the contrast and opposition found in Scripture between the old and new covenants (2 Cor 3:6-9; Gal 4:24- 26; Heb 7:22; 9:15-20).46 Since the Mosaic Covenant is a covenant, it must either be a covenant of works, a covenant of grace, or some other covenant. Clearly it cannot be a covenant of works, since, among other reasons, that would annul the promise.

The Mosaic Covenant cannot be the Covenant of Grace. For the glory of the New Covenant is that we are freed from the law as a covenant and not just its legal or administrative aspect. Accordingly, it cannot be part of the Covenant of Grace for we are never set free from it. Hence, the Mosaic Covenant must be a third covenant, one that is not contrary to the promises of grace, though one that could be set aside, namely the Subservient Covenant…

It is important to remember that the primary biblical reason that some divines held to the Subservient Covenant was because they understood the Scriptures to teach that the Old Covenant was abrogated as a covenant. The contrast was not found to be in mere administrations but in covenants. As we have already seen, they themselves understood their view of the Mosaic Covenant to differ in substance with the Covenant of Grace.

The entire point of the subservient covenant view was that it was subservient to the covenant of grace because it was not itself the covenant of grace – therefore it was not an administration of the covenant of grace.

I believe Ramsey is correct in demonstrating WCF rejected the subservient covenant view and I think Owen is clear in his rejection of the WCF view. Kline should have been too. If Owen’s view was compatible with the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace, why did he feel the need to reject that view? Why did he feel the need to side with the Lutherans? I think the answer is because he understood the issue better than Kline and Irons.


Addendum: Tobias Crisp

In the comments below, Jack referenced J.V. Fesko’s new book on the Westminster Confession. Fesko claims the only view excluded by the confession (7.6) was that of Tobias Crisp. Crisp argued that Hebrews 8 taught that the Old and the New Covenants were two distinct covenants:

He intimates to us that there is a distinct covenant, whereof Christ is the mediator, differ ing from that, whereof the priest was the mediator : he doth not fay, he is the mediator of better things in the fame covenant, but of a better covenant : a better and a worse covenant must be two several covenants ; better and worse qualities may be in one and the fame ; but for the covenant itself to be called better than another, is a mani fest argument of a double covenant…

Again, the apostle speaks of a second coming in the place of the first ; we cannot fay of one and the self-fame covenant, that it comes in place of it self; when one thing comes in the place of another, these two must needs be distinct : can you fay of the one and the fame thing, that it is disannulled, and that it is not ? that it vanishes, and yet that it is come in the place of itself when it vanishes?

The Two Covenants of Grace

Crisp agreed with the bi-covenantal view of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. However, he said that the Old Covenant could not be the covenant of works because it provided for the forgiveness of sins, which the covenant of works does not. He therefore concludes that the Old Covenant was a covenant of grace.

So that it is plain, the administration of their covenant was an administration of grace, absolutely distinct from that of the covenant of works. That Christ’s covenant was a covenant of grace, I will not stand to prove ; I know no man questions it that professes himself a Christian ; but now though these two, as it appears plainly, are covenants of grace ; so it mall appear as fully to you that they are two distinct covenants of grace ; they are not one and the same covenant diversely administered, but they are two distinct covenants’…

Notice that last point: they are not one and the same diversely administered, but they are two distinct covenants. Crisp indicates that this, specifically, was a very controversial position to take. The prevailing view was that they were the same covenant, not two distinct covenants. He says that if he were to make this claim apart from Apostolic warrant, he would be censured:

there are certain gene ral covenants that God made with men ; usually they are reduced to two heads ; the first is com monly called the covenant of works, first made in innocency ; the terms thereof are of a double nature, Do this and live ; and cursed is every one that continueth not in all things thai are written in the. hook of the law to do them ; life upon doing, a curie upon not doing ; in sum, the covenant of works stands upon these terms, that in perfect obedience there should be life; at the first failing therein, no remedy, no admittance of remission ot” sins upon any terms in the world ; Christ can not come in, ,nor be heard upon the terms of the covenant of works. There is a second general covenant, and that is usually called, a new cove nant, or sa covenant of grace ; and this, in op position to the other, stands only in matter of grace without works through Christ : This, as far as I can find, is generally received to be the right distribution of the covenants of God ; the covenant of grace being most commonly taken for one ‘ entire covenant from first to last ;…

He intimates to us that there is a distinct covenant, whereof Christ is the mediator, differ ing from that, whereof the priest was the media tor : he doth not fay, he is the mediator of bet ter things in the fame covenant, but of a better covenant : a better and a worse covenant must be two several covenants ; better and worse qualities may be in one and the fame ; but for the covenant itself to be called better than another, is a manifest argument of a double covenant…

If all this be not a sufficient evidence to clear this, that they are distinct covenants ; and so distinct, that though both be covenants of grace, yet the one must be difannulled before the other can be established ; I know nothing that can be proved by scripture. But to come to the main thing ; there being two distinct covenants, let us fee wherein that which Christ administered, is better than that the priests did ; and this will be of very great concern to the settling of spirits : the differences are marvellous ; the apostle expresses them in such language, that, I dare be bold to fay, if any man mould utter it, and not have his warrant from him, he would go nigh to be censured.

Demonstrating that these are two distinct covenants, rather than the prevailing view that they are the same covenant, is the entire focus of his sermon. Thus the confession is clearly rejecting Crisp’s view when it says

6. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

The precise point of the confession in this paragraph in chapter 7 on God’s covenant is to reject the view that the Old and the New Covenants were two different covenants. Instead, they are “one and the same under various dispensations.” Recall Crisp’s statement “so it mall appear as fully to you that they are two distinct covenants of grace ; they are not one and the same covenant diversely administered, but they are two distinct covenants.” This is what 7.6 is dealing with.

Does Fesko agree? No, he says that was not the point of 7.6. Instead, the point of the statement was a rejection of Crisp’s view of the moral law.

The question naturally arises, why did the divines specifically zero in on this view and exclude it? From one vantage point there appears to be little indication that Crisp’s view differs from the cornucopia of variations that existed at that time on the relationship between the Mosaic covenant and the covenants of works and grace. What difference is there, for example, between saying that there is one covenant of grace with legal accidents that fall away at the advent of Christ, who is the substance, and saying there are two covenants of grace? Crisp, after all, indicates that Christ is typified and foreshadowed in the weaker covenant of grace. The most likely answer is that Crisp’s view on the relationship between the covenant of works and grace and the moral law struck and severed a nerve that the divines believed was vital to an orthodox soteriology.

Most Reformed theologians, whether holding a threefold or a twofold covenantal scheme in their several variants, maintained the perpetual necessity and binding nature of the moral law. Crisp, however, rejected the idea that the moral law was still binding upon believers.

The Theology of the Westminster Standards, p. 156

Crisp believed the moral law itself was the covenant of works.

to me it seems most plain, that the opposition the apostle here makes, is not between the covenant of works and that of grace ; and that he, in all this dis course, hath not the least glance upon the cove nant of works at all, nor doth he meddle with it: You know, beloved, that the articles of that covenant, are drawn up in the decalogue of the moral law ; and in all this discourse, from chap. vii. 1. to the end of chap. x. the apostle doth not so much as take notice of the moral law, nor hath he to do one jot with any clause of it ;…

You see the apostle from Jeremiah, brings a direct distinction of two covenants ; I will make a new covenant, not according to the covenant I made -with their fathers. Here are two covenants, a new one, and one made with their sathers. Some may think it was the covenant of works at the promulgation of the moral law ; but mark well that expression of Jeremiah, and you (hall see it was the covenant of grace;

Several remarks are called for:

  1. Crisp’s view that the moral law (decalogue) itself was the covenant of works is shared by Lee Irons, David VanDrunen, and other Klineans.
  2. If that was the only point of concern, it is adequately dealt with in Chapter 19 “Of The Law of God” where that view is rejected.
  3. Crisp was not alone in this view (“Some may think it was the covenant of works at the promulgation of the moral law”)
  4. Crisp identified the controversial part of his view as separating the Old and the New Covenants, and he did so in language nearly identical to the statement in 7.6.

There is absolutely no doubt that what the confession is rejecting in 7.6 is not Crisp’s view of the moral law (which is rejected elsewhere), but his view of the covenant of grace. His separation of the Old and New Covenants into two different covenants is what is rejected by the confession.

Now, let’s look more closely at 7.6 to see if it applies to the subservient covenant view as well. I will paraphrase to make it clearer.

[The Old and the New Covenants are not], therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

Clear enough. But Fesko would have you believe that 7.6 does not apply to the subservient view. What is the difference between Crisp’s view and the subservient view? Crisp saw the Old Covenant as gracious while the subservients said it was of works. They agreed, however, that they were not “one and the same” covenant.

Let’s paraphrase again.

[The Old and the New Covenants are not], therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

There is no reason to believe that the divines would have affirmed a view that the Old Covenant was of works, while rejecting a view that it was of grace. Their point was that the two covenants are not separate, “but one and the same.” The subservient view rejects that they are “but one and the same” and therefore the Westminster confession rejects the subservient view.

Savoy Declaration

Below, Jack draws attention to Fesko’s comment that some Westminster divines held to the subservient view. That fact itself proves nothing. As Ramsey notes

Objection 3: The position of the Westminster Confession of Faith is somewhat ambiguous in that tensions or differences between the Puritans were not resolved. Hence the Confession allows for more than one opinion on the issue.

It is certainly true that there was a great debate among the Puritans as to the nature of the Mosaic Covenant. Moreover, Reformed Presbyterians have continued the debate. However, this does not imply that the Puritans themselves did not come to a majority consensus. As we have already noted, the exhaustive research of E. F. Kevan concludes that they did: “The outcome of the Puritan debate was that, on the whole, it was agreed that the Mosaic Covenant was a form of the Covenant of Grace; and this view was embodied in the Confession of Faith.”

The Puritans debated church government. There were Presbyterians, Erastians, and Independents at the Assembly. Nonetheless, the Presbyterian view prevailed as is indicated by the text of the Confession itself. The section on church government is simply intolerant of any view other than Presbyterianism. The same is true concerning the nature of the Mosaic Covenant.

Fesko notes

Other theologians who have been identified with the threefold (subservient) view include Westminster divines Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) and Obadiah Sedgwick (ca. 1600-1658), as well as John Owen (1616-1683), Samuel Petto (1624-1711), and Edward Fisher.

Thomas Goodwin was an Independent. His view of church government did not prevail at the assembly. Therefore pointing to his views, or any other views, as proof that it was accepted, is false. But furthermore, Goodwin went on to draft the Savoy Declaration a decade later. He and Owen were the leaders assigned to the writing/editing of the Independent confession (with 4 other men). Samuel Petto was a signatory as well.

What did they do with 7.6? They deleted it.

Chris Villi’s Analysis of 1689 Federalism

March 20, 2015 5 comments

In September 2014, Chris Villi earned the distinct honor of being the first Presbyterian to formally interact with 1689 Federalism. Congrats Chris 🙂 I have been emailing with Chris and I appreciate his desire to better understand our position. That being said, he has misunderstood our position on a basic level. I’d like to clarify those points and also provide a response to some genuine points of disagreement he raises. Read more…

Review of “Recovering a Covenantal Heritage”

December 10, 2014 7 comments

Recovering a Covenantal Heritage is a collection of essays on Covenant Theology from a Confessionally Reformed Baptist perspective. It was published in December, 2014 by Reformed Baptist Associated Press. 527 pages. Edited by Richard C. Barcellos.

Blank bookcover with clipping pathReading the book stirred up a love for and worship of the Lord. It thoroughly developed in me a desire to see the church reformed according to the Word of God (Ch. 4) because, as Michael T. Renihan notes in Chapter 6 “The recovery of right baptism was Tombes’ personal, yet godly, obsession. He was concerned with the right practice of this ordinance for the good of man’s soul, not to win a theological point. The debate that raged in the seventeenth century was more than the mere academic production of print on paper. Tombes really believed that the right doctrine would have major repercussions in the church-at-large. I believe that Tombes was right on target. These ripples still affect the churches of our day.”

James Renihan’s very helpful Introduction helps readers to understand how this rich covenantal heritage was lost to baptists in the 20th century through the combination of revivalism, modernism, fundamentalism, and dispensationalism.

Chapter 1 “A Brief Overview of Seventeenth-Century Reformed Orthodox Federalism” places particular baptist covenant theology directly in that stream by demonstrating that throughout the seventeenth century, covenant theologians built upon one another while refining various points. Coxe retained these orthodox advancements while refining them through his understanding that revelation was “progressive and Christo-climactic.”

Chapter 2 (“Covenant Theology in the First and Second London Baptist Confessions”) does a marvelous job of showing how central covenant theology was to both confessions as a whole, rather than simply the focus of one or two paragraphs. James Renihan also demonstrates that these confessions were reluctantly accepted as orthodox even by those looking for any excuse to persecute the baptists. A hidden gem in this chapter is footnote 21, which states “21 Much of the following material is taken from or based upon my yet unnamed, forthcoming exposition of the 2LCF.” This work will be a blessing.

I did take exception to Renihan’s brief comment on LBCF 7.1 (69). I do not believe the Confession is stating that God’s condescension in establishing the covenant of works was rooted in God’s incomprehensibility. I did not find this explanation in Coxe. Rather, I believe the Confession is simply pointing out, per it’s proof text, that man owed obedience to God as image bearers and could not expect any reward for that obedience. Thus the reward of eternal rest/life for perfect obedience was a benevolent, or “condescending” (that is, something God was not obligated to do) offer to man. Coxe: “It implies a free and Sovereign Act of the Divine Will, exerted in condescending Love and Goodness; it is not from any necessity of nature that God enters into covenant with men, but of his own good pleasure.”

Chapter 3 (“By Farther Steps: A Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist Covenant Theology”) is a very encouraging chapter. When baptists today have struggled to work out all the knots of covenant theology, mostly unaware of historic formulations, it is exciting to work through this chapter and see how seventeenth century baptists had already thought through and answered these difficulties. The distinction between revealed and concluded, or “promise and promulgation” does not simply help baptist covenant theology make sense, it helps Scripture make sense. Much of the New Testament’s commentary on the Old Covenant, which continues to puzzle many covenant theologians, becomes rather crystal clear.

That said, make sure to take note of Richard Barcellos’ note in the preface: “It in no way pretends to be a fully worked-out Baptist covenant theology. It contains essays by thirteen different authors who do not necessarily advocate the fine details of every contribution, something that is quite common with multiple-author works.”

For example, in Chapter 3 (“By Farther Steps: A Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist Covenant Theology”) Pascal Denault explains “Samuel Petto considered that the Old Covenant did not have the same function for Israel as for Christ. For Israel it was a national covenant by whose conditions she received blessings and curses in its land (Deut. 28). For Christ, it was a covenant of works for which he had to accomplish righteousness actively and passively (Rom. 5:18-20; 8:3-4; Gal. 3:13; 4:4-5).” And goes on to note “This explanation from Petto demonstrates how he himself, and most of the Particular Baptists, considered that the covenant of works was reaffirmed with a different goal than at its first promulgation.”

While on the other hand, in Chapter 16 (“Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology”) Micah and Samuel Renihan are clear that “tenure in the land was what was in view in the Mosaic law [and all of the Old Covenant]” (not eternal life). And in Chapter 7 (“John Owen on the Mosaic Covenant”), Thomas E. Hicks, Jr. clarifies that Owen “did not believe that the Mosaic Covenant extended the promise of spiritual or eternal life at all… The Mosaic Covenant contained a reminder of the covenant of works, announcing the terms that belonged not to itself, but to the original covenant of works with Adam… what was promised to the Israelites for their faith, love, and obedience under the Mosaic Covenant was not eternal life (spiritual reality), but temporal, earthly blessings, including land and physical prosperity (physical picture).” And thus, Christ did not fulfill the terms of the Old Covenant for believers. Christ fulfilled his own covenant of works, the Covenant of Redemption.

[Note: Most particular baptists expressed agreement with Owen on this point, rather than Petto. Pascal Denault has since changed his stance on this. See the Q&A session of his recent lectures on 1689 Federalism for the Reformed Baptist Seminary.]

Jeffery D. Johnson holds to Petto’s view, yet his excellent Chapter 9 (“The Fatal Flaw of Infant Baptism: The Dichotomous Nature of the Abrahamic Covenant”) is written broadly enough to be interpreted in light of either view, depending on how one views the typology of the Abrahamic Covenant.

For more on this point, google Republication, the Mosaic Covenant, and Eternal Life 1689 Federalism.

In Chapter 4 (“The Puritan Argument for the Immersion of Believers: How Seventeenth-Century Baptists Utilized the Regulative Principle of Worship”), G. Steve Weaver, Jr. helpfully places the particular baptists within their proper context as Puritans, not Anabaptists (see Chapter 5 fn 54 “It also shows some adaptation on the part of the author to antipaedobaptist concerns. Therein is found a repudiation of the prejudicial use of alleged connections between Continental Anabaptists and Antipaedobaptists”). As Weaver notes “These Baptist pastors sought to apply the regulative principle more thoroughly than had Calvin or Burroughs and the Reformed/ Puritan tradition which they represented.”

An interesting note not mentioned by Weaver is that the Westminster Assembly voted 25-24 in opposition to requiring immersion. Wright, D. F. (2007). Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective (250–252) notes the debate that ensued for 3 days, with comments such as “if we say dipping is necessary, ‘we shall further anabaptisme’ (John Ley, and John Lightfoot).” Again, Puritan baptists were operating within the stream of theological discourse of their day, not outside of it.

Chapter 5 (“The Antipaedobaptism of John Tombes”) from Michael T. Renihan presents a very interesting history of figure I knew nothing about. Renihan notes that “The recovery of right baptism was Tombes’ personal, yet godly, obsession. He was concerned with the right practice of this ordinance for the good of man’s soul, not to win a theological point.” What is interesting is that Tombes remained a non-separating Purtian his whole life, while urging the Church of England to abandon the practice of infant baptism through the publication of thousands of pages of argument and response, which nearly cost him his livelihood, save for God’s providence. He responded to every objection he was given, going to great lengths to find answers, including moving to London specifically to have access to people and books that could help answer his quest for the practice of true baptism. The result was that he laid much of the theological foundation for particular baptists to build upon.

Chapter 6 (“The Abrahamic Covenant in the Thought of John Tombes”) summarizes Tombes’ voluminous work under the foundational argument expressed in syllogism:

Major premise: That which hath no testimony in Scripture for it, is doubtfull.
Minor premise: But this Doctrine of Infant-Baptisme, hath no testimony of Scripture for it;
Conclusion: Ergo, it is doubtfull.

Chapter 7 (“John Owen on the Mosaic Covenant”) from Thomas E. Hicks, Jr. demonstrates that Owen does not easily fit into existing categories of covenant theology, and certainly not into Ernest Kevan’s claim that all covenant theology fits into two groups: those who affirmed the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works and those who affirmed it was a covenant of grace. Owen denied the Mosaic Covenant offered eternal life, and thus it was neither the covenant of works nor the covenant of grace, but was a separate covenant concerning tenure in the land of Canaan – rejecting Calvin and the Westminster formulation of the Mosaic Covenant as of the same substance as the covenant of grace.

Hicks is right on the money when he notes that “In systematic theology, the nature of the Mosaic Covenant is relevant to the doctrine of justification. If the Mosaic Covenant is strictly a covenant of grace and if justification is a verdict rendered on the basis of one’s conformity to the terms of the covenant of grace, then theologians may find sufficient warrant to conclude that it is reasonable to include good works in the verdict of justification. On the other hand, if the Mosaic Covenant is a covenant of works, and if Paul and others are arguing against justification by obedience to that covenant, then an argument against justification by good works clearly emerges in the scriptural corpus.”

I would also love to see another of his comments teased out: “Careful study of Owen’s doctrine of the Mosaic Covenant could be useful in clearly delineating his political theory and explaining some of the theological motivation for his political action.” Though I am not certain this would be the case because Owen’s defense of certain political views appear to be refuted by his more mature views on the Mosaic Covenant.

In Chapter 8 (“A ‘Novel’ Approach to Credobaptist and Paedobaptist Polemics”), Jeffrey A. Massey recounts the history of the nineteenth century use of fiction as a polemic in the debate over baptism. As a filmmaker myself, his account of the debate over the proper use of fiction to advance biblical truth was particularly relevant to me. However, upon reading his summary of the novels written to defend various views of baptism, I can say I am thankful that none of the authors of this volume resorted to such methods.

Chapter 9 (“The Fatal Flaw of Infant Baptism: The Dichotomous Nature of the Abrahamic Covenant”) by Jeffrey D. Johnson helpfully presents the biblical data showing that the Abrahamic Covenant was a single covenant with two dimensions. This is similar to, yet different from Kline’s Two Level Fulfillment, and was articulated by seventeenth century particular baptists. His comments regarding circumcision symbolizing full obedience of the law from the heart (Deut 30:6) was particularly helpful.

He correctly notes “Importantly, the Mosaic Covenant did not replace, alter, or add to the condition placed upon the physical seed of Abraham in Genesis 17. It merely gave clarity to what was already required by circumcision. In other words, the Mosaic Covenant grew out of and codified the conditional side of the Abrahamic Covenant.” This is a point that is ignored by modern paedobaptist proponents of republication. On the other hand, John Murray (note mentioned in the chapter) recognized that “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… 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.” Murray greatly erred in transferring this principle to the New Covenant, yet he was faithful to the Old Testament text.

As mentioned above, I would take issue with Johnson’s statement that “the gospel that was promised in the Abrahamic Covenant was contingent upon the fulfillment of the law of the Mosaic Covenant,” depending on how it is interpreted. I do not believe Christ fulfilled the Mosaic Covenant, but rather the Covenant of Redemption. The moral law was foundational to both covenants, but I do not believe the Mosaic Covenant itself offered the reward of eternal life for obedience.

Chapter 10 (“The Difference Between the Two Covenants”) from John Owen is a helpful addition to this volume. Though it can be found in the Coxe/Owen volume, placing it here may force people to deal with his presentation within the context offered by the other chapters. I still have not seen any paedobaptists actually deal with Owen’s argument. Most seem to be entirely unaware of his unique contribution.

Chapters 11 and 12 (“The Newness of the New Covenant”) from James White is a cutting analysis of paedobaptist attempts to deal with the force of the book of Hebrews. The attempt to relegate the newness of the New Covenant to a difference in outward appearance, following Calvin, is simply untenable. White’s essay, at a couple of points portrays a slight “20th Century Reformed Baptist” view which may stand out to the careful reader (his comments regarding “extensiveness”). However, this does not detract from his superb polemic, which sufficiently demonstrates Westminster Federalism’s inability to deal with the text of Hebrews.

I thoroughly enjoyed Jamin Hubner’s two chapters (13 and 14) on Acts 2:39. He successfully demonstrates that the history of reformed exegesis of this passage has simply been loyalty to Calvin’s eisegesis, driven by a desire to defend infant baptism. I agree when he says “As a result, the Abrahamic Covenant and its features such as the recipients of circumcision are imported entirely into Acts 2:39 without any consideration as to what promise is being talked about in Acts 2:39, what the fulfillment of that promise looks like in the New Covenant, and what argument is being made in Acts 2 and how that argument is not altogether the same as Acts 3, and so on and so forth. In short, “The Paedobaptist ear is so attuned to the Old Testament echo in this text that it is deaf to its New Testament crescendo.”77 The attitude is “promise of the Spirit, Abrahamic Covenant, covenant of grace, it is all the same thing,” and “children, seed, same idea” when it comes to interpreting Acts 2:39.” In sum “An interpreter’s interest in hearing Old Testament overtones should not overthrow exegesis of the actual text.”

[Note, Hubner interacts with Owen’s exegesis of this passage at one point. It should be noted that the work quoted was written by Owen in 1644 – more than 30 years before he wrote his commentary on Hebrews 8.]

[Note again: A quote from Sam Waldron that Hubner references includes a comment that Paul did not believe the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works. Obviously this is in disagreement with the rest of the volume. That was not particularly the part of the quote Hubner was referencing.]

Richard Barcellos’ Chapter 15 (“An Exegetical Appraisal of Colossians 2:11-12”) was extremely helpful in making sense of the passage. He clarifies that the fulfillment of physical circumcision is circumcision of the heart, that is, regeneration. However, he then demonstrates that the baptism mentioned here is not water baptism, but spiritual baptism, which we access through faith. This spiritual baptism (vital union with Christ) is distinct from regeneration. “Baptism does not replace circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. We have seen clearly that spiritual circumcision, not baptism, replaces (better, fulfills) physical circumcision. Baptism in Colossians 2:12 (i.e., vital union with Christ) is a result of spiritual circumcision (i.e., regeneration)… Paul does not say or imply that the sign and seal of the covenant is baptism… If it implies anything about water baptism, it implies that it ought to be administered to those who have been circumcised of heart and vitally united to Christ through faith as a sign of these spiritual blessings.”

Finally, Micah and Samuel Renihan’s Chapter 16 (“Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology”) is a fitting way to end the volume. The brothers cogently summarize the particular baptist covenant theology of the volume by interacting with more modern works, appropriating their insights where valid and drawing them to the correct conclusions. “The New Covenant is the final and full accomplishment of the covenant of redemption in history” and “The covenant of grace is the in-breaking of the covenant of redemption into history through the progressive revelation and retro-active application of the New Covenant” while “The Old Covenant is coextensive with and collectively representative of theocratic Israel, defined by the Abrahamic, conditioned by the Mosaic, and focused by the Davidic Covenants. The Old Covenant, and thus each of these three covenants, differs from the New Covenant not merely in administration, but also in substance.”

And there you have it. I recommend that you purchase the book, and read it too.

Owen: New Covenant Conditional or Absolute?

October 30, 2014 11 comments

See also Petto: Conditional New Covenant?
and Owen on Hebrews 8:6-13 Collapsible Outline

Owen on Hebrews 8:10-12

Page 162

The design of the apostle, or what is the general argument which he is in pursuit of, must still be borne in mind throughout the consideration of the testimonies he produceth in the confirmation of it. And this is, to prove that the Lord Christ is the mediator and surety of a better covenant than that wherein the service of God was managed by the high priests according unto the law. For hence it follows that his priesthood is greater and far more excellent than theirs. To this end he doth not only prove that God promised to make such a covenant, but also declares the nature and properties of it, in the words of the prophet. And so, by comparing it with the former covenant, he manifests its excellency above it. In particular, in this testimony the imperfection of that covenant is demonstrated from its issue. For it did not effectually continue peace and mutual love between God and the people; but being broken by them, they were thereon rejected of God. This rendered all the other benefits and advantages of it useless. Wherefore the apostle insists from the prophet on those properties of this other covenant which infallibly prevent the like issue, securing the people’s obedience for ever, and so the love and relation of God unto them as their God.

Wherefore these three verses give us a description of that covenant whereof the Lord Christ is the mediator and surety, not absolutely and entirely, but as unto those properties and effects of it wherein it differs from the former, so as infallibly to secure the covenant relation between God and the people. That covenant was broken, but this shall never be so, because provision is made in the covenant itself against any such event.

And we may consider in the words, —

  1. The particle of introduction, o[ti, answering the Hebrew yKi.
  2. The subject spoken of, which is diaqh>kh; with the way of making it, hn[ diaqhs> omai, — “which I will make.”
  3. The author of it, the Lord Jehovah; “I will …… saith the Lord.”
  4. Those with whom it was to be made, “the house of Israel.”
  5. The time of making it, “after those days.”
  6. The properties, privileges, and benefits of this covenant, which are of two sorts:
    1. Of sanctifying, inherent grace; described by a double consequent:
      1. Of God’s relation unto them, and theirs to him; “I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people,” verse 10.
      2. Of their advantage thereby, without the use of such other aids as formerly they stood in need of, verse 11.
    2. Of relative grace, in the pardon of their sins, verse 12. And sundry things of great. weight will fall into consideration under these several heads.

Ver. 10. —For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will give my laws into their mind, and write them upon their hearts: and I will be unto them a God, and they shall be to me a people.

  1. The introduction of the declaration of the new covenant is by the particle o[ti. The Hebrew yKi, which is rendered by it, is variously used, and is sometimes redundant. In the prophet, some translate it by an exceptive, “sed;” some by an illative, “quoniam.” And in this place o[ti, is rendered by some quamobrem, “wherefore; and by others “nam,” or enim, as we do it by “for.” And it doth intimate a reason of what was spoken before, namely, that the covenant which God would now make should not be according unto that, like unto it, which was before made and broken.
  2. The thing promised is a “covenant:” in the prophet tyriB], here diaqh>kh. And the way of making it, in the prophet trOk]a,; which is the usual word whereby the making of a covenant is expressed. For signifying to “cut,” to “strike,” to “divide,” respect is had in it unto the sacrifices wherewith covenants were confirmed. Thence also were “foedus percutere,” and “foedus ferire.” See <011509>Genesis 15:9, 10, 18. Ta,, or μ[‘, that is, “cure,” which is joined in construction with it, Genesis 15:18, Deuteronomy 5:2. The apostle renders it by diaqhs> omai, and that with a dative case without a preposition, tw~| oi]kw,| “I will make” or “confirm unto.” He had used before suntele>sw to the same purpose. We render the words tyriB] and diaqh>kh in this place by a “covenant,’’ though afterward the same word is translated by a “testament.’’
    A covenant properly is a compact or agreement on certain terms mutually stipulated by two or more parties. As promises are the foundation and rise of it, as it is between God and man, so it compriseth also precepts, or laws of obedience, which are prescribed unto man on his part to be observed. But in the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises, as we shall see in the explication of it. Some hence conclude that it is only one part of the covenant that is here described. Others observe from hence that the whole covenant of grace as a covenant is absolute, without any conditions on our part; which sense Estius on this place contends for. But these things must be further inquired into: —

    1. The word tyriB], used by the prophet, doth not only signify a “covenant” or compact properly so called, but a free, gratuitous promise also. Yea, sometimes it is used for such a free purpose of God with respect unto other things, which in their own nature are incapable of being obliged by any moral condition. Such is God’s covenant with day and night, <243320>Jeremiah 33:20, 25. And so he says that he “made his covenant,” not to destroy the world by water any more, “with every living creature,” Genesis 9:10, 11. Nothing, therefore, can be argued for the necessity of conditions to belong unto this covenant from the name or term whereby it is expressed in the prophet. A covenant properly is sunqh>kh, but there is no word in the whole Hebrew language of that precise signification.

      The making of this covenant is declared by yTir’K;. But yet neither doth this require a mutual stipulation, upon terms and conditions prescribed, unto an entrance into covenant. For it refers unto the sacrifices wherewith covenants were confirmed; and it is applied unto a mere gratuitous promise, Genesis15:18,“In that day did the LORD make a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land.”

      As unto the word diaqh>kh, it signifies a “covenant” improperly; properly it is a “testamentary disposition.” And this may be without any conditions on the part of them unto whom any thing is bequeathed.

    2. The whole of the covenant intended is expressed in the ensuing description of it. For if it were otherwise, it could not be proved from thence that this covenant was more excellent than the former, especially as to security that the covenant relation between God and the people should not be broken or disannulled. For this is the principal thing which the apostle designs to prove in this place; and the want of an observation thereof hath led many out of the way in their exposition of it. If, therefore, this be not an entire description of the covenant, there might yet be something reserved essentially belonging thereunto which might frustrate this end. For some such conditions might yet be required in it as we are not able to observe, or could have no security that we should abide in the observation of them: and thereon this covenant might be frustrated of its end, as well as the former; which is directly contrary unto God’s declaration of his design in it.
    3. It is evident that there can be no condition previously required, unto our entering into or participation of the benefits of this covenant, antecedent unto the making of it with us. For none think there are any such with respect unto its original constitution; nor can there be so in respect of its making with us, or our entering into it. For, —
      1. This would render the covenant inferior in a way of grace unto that which God made with the people at Horeb. For he declares that there was not any thing in them that moved him either to make that covenant, or to take them into it with himself. Everywhere he asserts this to be an act of his mere grace and favor. Yea, he frequently declares, that he took them into covenant, not only without respect unto any thing of good in them, but although they were evil and stubborn. See Deuteronomy 7:7,8, 9:4, 5.
      2. It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant.
    4. It is certain, that in the outward dispensation of the covenant, wherein the grace, mercy, and terms of it are proposed unto us, many things are required of us in order unto a participation of the benefits of it; for God hath ordained, that all the mercy and grace that is prepared in it shall be communicated unto us ordinarily in the use of outward means, wherewith a compliance is required of us in a way of duty. To this end hath he appointed all the ordinances of the gospel, the word and sacraments, with all those duties, public and private, which are needful to render them effectual unto us. For he will take us ordinarily into this covenant in and by the rational faculties of our natures, that he may be glorified in them and by them. Wherefore these things are required of us in order unto the participation of the benefits of this covenant. And if, therefore, any one will call our attendance unto such duties the condition of the covenant, it is not to be contended about, though properly it is not so. For, —
      1. God doth work the grace of the covenant, and communicate the mercy of it, antecedently unto all ability for the performance of any such duty; as it is with elect infants.
      2. Amongst those who are equally diligent in the performance of the duties intended he makes a discrimination, preferring one before another. “Many are called, but few are chosen;” and what hath any one that he hath not received?
      3. He actually takes some into the grace of the covenant whilst they are engaged in an opposition unto the outward dispensation of it. An example of this grace he gave in Paul.
    5. It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part. For whatever is antecedent thereunto, being only a work or act of corrupted nature, can be no condition whereon the dispensation of spiritual grace is superadded. And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.
    6. Unto a full and complete interest in all the promises of the covenant, faith on our part, from which evangelical repentance is inseparable, is required. But whereas these also are wrought in us by virtue of that promise and grace of the covenant which are absolute, it is a mere strife about words to contend whether they may be called conditions or no. Let it be granted on the one hand, that we cannot have an actual participation of the relative grace of this covenant in adoption and justification, without faith or believing; and on the other, that this faith is wrought in us, given unto us, bestowed upon us, by that grace of the covenant which depends on no condition in us as unto its discriminating administration, and I shall not concern myself what men will call it.
    7. Though there are no conditions properly so called of the whole grace of the covenant, yet there are conditions in the covenant, taking that term, in a large sense, for that which by the order of divine constitution precedeth some other things, and hath an influence into their existence; for God requireth many things of them whom he actually takes into covenant, and makes partakers of the promises and benefits of it. Of this nature is that whole obedience which is prescribed unto us in the gospel, in our walking before God in uprightness; and there being an order in the things that belong hereunto, some acts, duties, and parts of our gracious obedience, being appointed to be means of the further additional supplies of the grace and mercies of the covenant, they may be called conditions required of us in the covenant, as well as duties prescribed unto us.
    8. The benefits of the covenant are of two sorts:
      1. The grace and mercy which it doth collate.
      2. The future reward of glory which it doth promise.

        Those of the former sort are all of them means appointed of God, which we are to use and improve unto the obtaining of the latter, and so may be called conditions required on our part. They are only collated on us, but conditions as used and improved by us.

    9. Although diaqh>kh, the word here used, may signify and be rightly rendered a “covenant,” in the same manner as tyriB] doth, yet that which is intended is properly a “testament,” or a “testamentary disposition” of good things. It is the will of God in and by Jesus Christ, his death and bloodshedding, to give freely unto us the whole inheritance of grace and glory. And under this notion the covenant hath no condition, nor are any such either expressed or intimated in this place.

Obs. I. The covenant of grace, as reduced into the form of a testament, confirmed by the blood of Christ, doth not depend on any condition or qualification in our persons, but on a free grant and donation of God; and so do all the good things prepared in it.

Obs. II. The precepts of the old covenant are turned all of them into promises under the new. —Their preceptive, commanding power is not taken away, but grace is promised for the performance of them. So the apostle having declared that the people brake the old covenant, adds that grace shall be supplied in the new for all the duties of obedience that are required of us.

Obs. III. All things in the new covenant being proposed unto us by the way of promise, it is faith alone whereby we may attain a participation of them.For faith only is the grace we ought to exercise, the duty we ought to perform, to render the promises of God effectual to us, Hebrews 4:1,2.

Obs. IV. Sense of the loss of an interest in and participation of the benefits of the old covenant, is the best preparation for receiving the mercies of the new.

3. The author of this covenant is God himself: “I will make it, saith the\parLORD .” This is the third time that this expression, “Saith the Lord,” is repeated in this testimony. The work expressed, in both the parts of it, the disannulling of the old covenant and the establishment of the new, is such as calls for this solemn interposition of the authority, veracity, and grace of God. “I will do it, saith the Lord.” And the mention hereof is thus frequently inculcated, to beget a reverence in us of the work which he so emphatically assumes unto himself. And it teacheth us that, —

Obs. V. God himself, in and by his own sovereign wisdom, grace, goodness, all-sufficiency, and power, is to be considered as the only cause and author of the new covenant; or, the abolishing of the old covenant, with the introduction and establishment of the new, is an act of the mere sovereign wisdom, grace, and authority of God. It is his gracious disposal of us, and of his own grace; —that whereof we had no contrivance, nor indeed the least desire.

Baptists Couldn’t Possibly Know What They’re Talking About: Debating Owen, Round 472

October 6, 2014 5 comments

In a recent Facebook discussion about covenant theology (I haven’t been able to join the group), someone posted some quotes from Pascal Denault’s “The Distinctive Covenant Theology of 17th Century Particular Baptists.” A paedobaptist objected, as is common, to the quotations from John Owen:

to say that Owen developed in this respect is not fair to Owen unless he himself recognized a departure from his previous statements and positions, which we have no evidence of. Rather, his words should be interpreted in light of his whole theological construct, not what statements he made in one place, unless he consciously and explicitly repudiated his prior assertions.

What would constitute evidence? Does he have to say “Dear reader, I previously held a different view, but now I have changed my mind (just in case it wasn’t obvious from what I just said)”?

A case could be made that Owen presupposed that the Mosaic economy was one of grace, rightly understood, in that he makes statements to that affect, that he presupposes it as an idea in his sermons and other theological works

So this is the question: Did Owen hold to classic WCF covenant theology? Did he believe the covenant of grace was an overarching covenant administered by the historical, biblical covenants? Did he believe the the Mosaic covenant was a gracious administration of the covenant of grace?

Before looking at his evidence, it should be noted that any attempt to place Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8 within the context of presuppositions found elsewhere in Owen’s writings still has to explain what Owen meant in his commentary on Hebrews 8 (this person never offered an explanation).

He brings forward several points of evidence:

(as his works on Christ and the Holy Spirit), and also in that, as an act,

1) Owen subscribed to and helped put together a document which was explicitly in favor of what I am advocating. He was one of the two leading theologians that helped to pen the savoy declaration, and subscribed to it as accurately representing his theological views. A mere glance at that document in reference to covenant will show that it is word for word the same as the Westminster Assembly’s confession, which is notoriously “presbyterian” in covenant theology, it articulates purely and entirely my own position on covenant theology in this respect.

2) Owen wrote favorably of books about covenant which were in favor of a traditional “presbyterian” view of covenant. He wrote the preface to and in praise of Patrick Gillespie’s work on the covenant mentioned above, the most explicit work in favor of the position I am here contending for (my favorite work on covenant as well).

3) Owen made statements which are fairly and explicitly in favor of the same view

4) Owen made statements which presuppose a view which is only consistent with the Westminster/Savoy doctrine of covenant in relation to the OC and NC

5) Owen makes statements which seem, when divorced from this other information, to be saying that the Mosaic economy was one of works or some other nonsense. I leave it to the individual to determine whether Owen was inconsistent and confused, or whether many have just misunderstood him in his commentary on Hebrews 8 [notice he offers no explanation for how to properly interpret Owen’s comments on Hebrews 8]. Either way, since he may be used by either side of the line to advocate their position, your appeal to him is trite at best.

When someone pressed him, using quotes from Owen, he responded:

again, Owen means little to me, and he may err, as I have already said. Further, I have already illustrated that, even if I have misunderstood him in these quotes, that that would only prove that he was confused himself about what he was subscribing to in the Savoy Declaration and what he was writing in favor of in the preface to Gillespie’s work.

…so, again, either you have misunderstood Owen, or Owen is really, very confused (admittedly, Owen has spoken somewhat strongly, and I would like to see him clarify his meaning and reconcile it with what he says very clearly elsewhere, but this is why I put no stock in him in this, because he can’t clarify now that he is dead: his view could be construed to be at odds with either of our views).

…I am saying that your knowledge is inadequate, you haven’t read nearly enough to prove your claims, and the claims that you have made concerning Owen are in clear contradiction with what he says elsewhere. If you wish to discuss the scriptural validity of covenant theology, great, come; but don’t come at me with caricatures of history you know very little about and maintain it in spite of other clear evidence to the contrary.

So, before this person is willing to admit development in Owen’s mind, he is willing to simply say Owen (“one of the most influential men of his generation” -Trueman) was confused and didn’t really understand what he was saying.

Since Owen “can’t clarify now that he is dead”, I’m going to help him out.

Claim 1: Savoy Declaration

Is the Savoy word for word the same as the WCF? Perhaps a mere glance will suggest it is the same, but if we give it more than a glance we will see there are two major changes in regards to covenant theology:

  1. Savoy omits WCF 7.6, which reads “…There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.”
  2. Savoy changes WCF 19.2 by deleting “as such”

The implication the first difference is obvious, since we are discussing Owen’s statement that “Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way as can hardly be accommodated by a twofold administration of the same covenant…Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than merely a twofold administration of the same covenant, to be intended.”

The 2009 Kerux Journal review of “The Law is Not of Faith” notes:

Much of what Savoy says subtly modifies the WCF. Both attempt to affirm the essential unity of the covenant of grace, but Savoy omits the important declaration of the WCF that “there are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under vari- ous dispensations.” In other words, the Savoy declaration refuses to exclude various views of the Mosaic covenant which construe it as a substantially distinct covenant.

And, just so that people didn’t misunderstand him, or think he was confused, Owen “explicitly” said he was rejecting the reformed view in favor of the Lutheran view:

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 by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by 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… See Calvin. Institut. lib. 2:cap. xi.; Martyr. Loc. Com. loc. 16, sect. 2; Bucan. loc. 22, etc.

The Lutherans on the other side, insist on two argument to prove, that not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that two covenants substantially distinct, are intended in this discourse of the apostle.

Again, the authors of the 2009 Kerux Journal review of “The Law is Not of Faith” note how “conscious” Owen was of what he said:

Let the reader note carefully what Owen has just told you: even though I know that my position is in disagreement with the Reformed position, and in substantial agreement with Lutheranism, I still maintain that Scripture teaches that the Mosaic covenant was not an administration of the covenant of grace, but was rather a distinct covenant. This is an honest (and honorable) admission on Owen’s part that he is departing from the Reformed consensus, represented in Calvin, Bullinger, Bucanus, and a whole host of others.

The implication of the second difference is more subtle, but still significant. In short:

in 19:2, the Savoy declaration omits the important phrase “as such,” referring to the way in which the law was given to Israel (namely, as a perfect rule of righteousness).

While subtle, this omission is important. WCF clearly defines the manner in which the law was given to Israel. In contrast to Adam (who was given the law as a covenant of works), Israel received the law as a perfect rule of righteousness for those in covenant with God. The Savoy declaration, however, leaves open the possibility that the law may have been given to Israel in some other way. In other words, Savoy leaves open the possibility that the Mosaic law was given to Israel as a covenant of works, a subservient covenant, or some other covenant.

When we compare this formulation with the various proposals of its au- thors, the reason for this omission becomes clear. Nearly half of the authors of the Savoy Declaration took a minority view of the Mosaic covenant. As noted above, the majority of divines viewed the law given at Sinai as a covenant of grace, that is, as a rule of righteousness for those already in covenant with God.

2009 Kerux Journal review of “The Law is Not of Faith”

Claim 2: Book Endorsements

It is true that Owen wrote the preface to Gillespie’s “The Ark of the Covenant Opened; or a Treatise of the Covenant of Redemption Between God and Christ as the Foundation of the Covenant of Grace” in 1677.

I haven’t read the preface or the book, so I can’t comment directly on it. But the title suggests the focus is on defending the covenant of redemption as a foundation for the covenant of grace, a position Owen supported.

But if book endorsements are going to carry weight in this debate, then it must also be noted that Owen wrote a forward to Samuel Petto’s “The Ark of the Covenant Opened; or a Treatise of the Covenant of Redemption Between God and Christ as the Foundation of the Covenant of Grace” in 1674. Michael Brown notesOwen called Petto a “Worthy Author” who labored “with good success,” and there is some evidence to suggest that Petto’s work may have influenced Owen’s own thinking on the subject.

Why is that significant? Because Petto’s thesis was that the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works offering eternal life to those who obey. He said “the Lord, in infinite wisdom made a revival or repetition of the Covenant of Works as to the substance of it (with a new intent) in the Covenant at Mount Sinai.” Brown comments:

For Petto, there were two possible ways of viewing the Mosaic covenant, either as a ‘Covenant of works, as to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ’ or ‘the Covenant of Grace as to its legal condition to be performed by Jesus Christ, represented under a conditional administration of it to Israel.’ Viewed either way, Sinai was a covenant of works for Christ. What the original covenant of works was to the first Adam, the Mosaic covenant was to the second Adam; it provided the temporal setting for the Federal Head to obtain eternal life for those whom he represented.

CHRIST AND THE CONDITION: SAMUEL PETTO (C.1624–1711) ON THE MOSAIC COVENANT
by Michael G. Brown

By the way, Petto subscribed to the Savoy Declaration.

Claim 3&4 : Explicit Statements & Presuppositions

Exercitation 21

For a refutation of the idea that he thought anything contrary to traditional covenant theology, I encourage you to read Exercitation XXI, in vol. XVII of his works, for therein you will find him more fully explaining himself concerning law, covenant, and covenant continuity. The Exercitations, by Owen’s own explanation were meant to more fully and systematically handle certain issues of doctrine which he found so frequently assumed in the book of Hebrews, which, rather than to constantly go off on bunny trails, he felt should be handled in a prefatory fashion, and thus may be used to explain what Owen says in his commentary of the actual text.

I appreciate the reference, as I’m always interested in learning more about Owen’s perspective. However, Exercitation 21 (p 654) does not live up to the claims. Nowhere in the essay does Owen directly comment on the covenant continuity in question. His statements have to be read, as this person previously argued, in light of the rest of his writing. He claims that the Exercitation was written so that Owen would not have to “go off in bunny trails” to address covenant continuity. If that is the case, why did Owen bother writing 150 pages on Hebrews 8:6-13 regarding the Old and New Covenants? I think that interpretive weight should be given to the 150 pages directly on the subject rather than the two pages tangentially on the subject. Also, note that this Exercitation was written in 1668, while his comments on Hebrews 8 were written 12 years later in 1680.

To wet your appetite, after carefully defining what he meant by law, and in what way the covenant of Sinai was the covenant of grace, and in what way it could be falsely understood to be a covenant of works, he refers to the promises of the law as concerning “[life] eternal with God, as the promise or covenant of grace was exemplified or represented therein, Lev. xviii. 5; Ezek. xx. 11; Rom. x. 5; Gal. iii.12,”

I believe he has read Owen too quickly. The first and greatest error is that Owen is not discussing the covenant of Sinai in this essay. This is a complicated essay. Here is an outline. In short, when Owen mentions “covenant” in this essay he is primarily referring to the original covenant of works with Adam. When he mentions “administration of the law” he is referring to the “new end” given the original covenant of works by the promise in Gen 3:15 – that is, that Christ would fulfill it’s terms.

So when Owen says “[life] eternal with God, as the promise or covenant of grace was exemplified or represented therein…” he is referring to the “new end administration”, not to the Mosaic Covenant.

and, “there are given out of the law various promises of intervenient and mixed mercies, to be enjoyed in earthly things in this world, that had their immediate respect into the mercy of the land of Canaan, representing spiritual grace, annexed to the then present administration [!] of the covenant of grace.”

This quote is clearly referring to Israelites in Canaan during the Mosaic Covenant, but Owen makes a careful qualifying statement:

It is of the law under this third consideration [instrument of the rule and government of the people and church of Israel], — though not absolutely as the instrument of the government of the people in Canaan [Mosaic Covenant], but as it had a representation in it of that administration of grace and mercy which was contained in the promises, — whereof we treat.

Here Owen distinguishes between the law “absolutely” for Israel, which would be the Mosaic Covenant, and the law insofar as it represented the promise given out in Gen 3:15, what he calls the “new end administration” (that Christ would fulfill the original covenant of works).

This makes more sense when you read his comments on Hebrews 8:6:

When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though it were not before in existence and effect, before the introduction of that which is promised here. For it was always the same, substantially, from the beginning. It passed through the whole dispensation of times before the law, and under the law, of the same nature and effectiveness, unalterable, “everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians only excepted, 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 to the church, from the first entrance of sin.

But for two reasons, it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect to any other things, nor was it called a covenant under the old testament. When God renewed the promise of it to Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but this covenant with Abraham was with respect to other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely, under the old testament, the covenant of grace consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture,

So again, Owen’s quote from the Exercitation is making this distinction between the law absolutely for Israel (Mosaic Covenant) and the representation in it of the grace contained in the promise (New Covenant/Covenant of Grace). The rest of his essay discusses it under this latter consideration, not how the law functioned as the Mosaic Covenant.

And there is no problem with Owen’s language of “the then present administration of the covenant of grace”. It is not debated if the covenant of grace was administered during the Mosaic Covenant. The question is if it was administered by the Mosaic Covenant, or by the New Covenant.

This covenant [Sinai] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works.

…No man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ in that respect.

A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit

For further proof that Owen did not hold such views of Covenant theology which were contrary to classic covenant theology, see Volume IV (of the Goold edition) of his works, start with page 261 and read about 3 pages, where Owen, answering an objection to the promises given to Israel (which he frequently refers to as the church) being applied to NT believers, says they are ours since the covenant has only been enlarged so as to include the Gentiles. “For the saints under the Old Testament were really made partakers of all the same graces with those under the New.” (263) He makes the difference to consist in extent and degree, and speaks of Christ bringing in an “abundant administration [!]” of “all spiritual supplies of grace.” This work, Discourse of the Work of the Holy Spirit in Prayer, was published in 1682, two years after his commentary on Heb. 8 was published (1680). I hope this will help to put to rest the notion that Owen had a change of mind.

This Facebook commenter does not understand the position of 1689 Federalism. Understanding what he is trying to refute would be the first step. There is nothing in this essay that disagrees with anything that has been argued. There is nothing in it that a baptist would disagree with either. This essay is not commenting on all the differences between the Old and New Covenants. It is addressing one specific issue regarding the Holy Spirit during the Old Testament and during the New Testament.

There is no disagreement so long as we understand that Owen believes it was only the New Covenant that administered the Holy Spirit during the Old Testament. It administered it by way of the promise, rather than by way of a covenant (which was yet to be formally inaugurated). Owen (Hebrews 8):

two objections must be removed, which may in general be laid against our interpretation.

First, ‘This covenant is promised as that which is future, to be brought in at a certain time, “after those days,” as hath been declared. But it is certain that the things here mentioned, the grace and mercy expressed, were really communicated unto many both before and after the giving of the law, long ere this covenant was made; for all who truly believed and feared God had these things effected in them by grace: wherefore their effectual communication cannot be esteemed a property of this covenant which was to be made afterwards.’

Ans. This objection was sufficiently prevented in what we have already discoursed concerning the efficacy of the grace of this covenant before itself was solemnly consummated. For all things of this nature that belong unto it do arise and spring from the mediation of Christ, or his interposition on the behalf of sinners. Wherefore this took place from the giving of the first promise; the administration of the grace of this covenant did therein and then take its date. Howbeit the Lord Christ had not yet done that whereby it was solemnly to be confirmed, and that whereon all the virtue of it did depend. Wherefore this covenant is promised now to be made, not in opposition unto what grace and mercy was derived from it both before and under the law, nor as unto the first administration of grace from the mediator of it; but in opposition unto the covenant of Sinai, and with respect unto its outward solemn confirmation.

Secondly, ‘If the things themselves are promised in the covenant, then all those with whom this covenant is made must be really and effectually made partakers of them. But this is not so; they are not all actually sanctified, pardoned, and saved, which are the things here promised.’

Ans. The making of this covenant may be considered two ways:
1. As unto the preparation and proposition of its terms and conditions.
2. As unto the internal stipulation between God and the souls of men.

In this sense alone God is properly said to make this covenant with any. The preparation and proposition of laws are not the making of the covenant. And therefore all with whom this covenant is made are effectually sanctified, justified, and saved.

Claim 5: Statements to the Contrary

Here an attempt is made to explain away Owen’s statements to the contrary:

the more I read of what you say, the more I am convinced that the facts have been misconstrued for you. “They saw one Covenant of Grace revealed from the Fall in a progressive way until it’s full revelation and conclusion in the New Covenant,” so far we agree, “but this covenant was not the same in substance as the Old.” This is where the confusion comes in. There is a real and true sense in which I can say that it is not the same for substance, for we have the fullest revelation of the covenant, the fulfillment of the promises, we have the substance revealed in Christ, rather than typified obliquely. In this way, I freely speak of a New Covenant. What we have now is radically different from that Old Covenant which has faded to nothing. But I mean this in the same way as we speak of, say, a new model of an old car being “new and improved,” which readily admits of speaking in terms of two different things (the old car and the new, or the old model and the new, makes no difference) and comparing different things together. However, beyond this, I don’t see anything new for substance per se. Had not the Israelites prophets, priests, kings? Had they not the promise that God would be there God and they should be his people? And did not all these things substantially point them to Christ, the substance of the covenant? Did they not have Christ? Then what did they lack? They lacked Christ come. For when he came, he did away with all the types, for he was the substance of those shadows, the thing towards which they pointed. He was the better sacrifice. He was all they were looking for. You see then, in one sense, the substance of the two covenants was different, for they lacked Christ’s actual appearing to accomplish his work; but in a totally different sense, the substance of the one covenant was the same in both administrations, for they had Christ, really and truly; and all the things ordained to point towards him, were but parts of the administration given until Christ should come.

Within the context of covenant theology, “substance” has a very specific meaning. It’s not silly puddy we can make into whatever we want. Owen said he was disagreeing with the WCF view of one substance two administrations. Patrick Ramsey’s “In Defense of Moses” does a good job of explaining what is meant in WCF by “substance”. Here is a short blog post from Ramsey summarizing the “substance” issue.

Also, here is Owen directly disagreeing:

On this declaration, God promiseth to make another covenant with them, wherein all these evils should be prevented. This is the covenant which the apostle designs to prove better and more excellent than the former. And this he cloth principally from the mediator and surety of it, compared with the Aaronical priests, whose office and service belonged wholly unto the administration of that first covenant. And he confirms it also from the nature of this covenant itself, especially with respect unto its efficacy and duration. And hereunto this testimony is express, evidencing how this covenant is everlastingly, by the grace administered in it, preventive of that evil success which the former had by the sin of the people.

Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of.

Continuing from Facebook:

“They found the hermeneutic of Promise/Fulfillment to be more faithful to the biblical data than that of one substance/two administrations.” If you have read what I just said rightly, then you will see that there is no difference with us between promise/fulfillment and one substance/two administrations. The promise, until fulfilled, was administered by legal rites in Moses, but once fulfilled, was administered by Christ: but, and this is important, *the promise was the same all along.*

All I can say is, please read Owen on Hebrews 8:6-13 more carefully. This outline may be helpful. Owen saw a difference and spent a great deal of care explaining that difference. Owen specifically rejects this person’s view and gives many reasons why.

Covenant of Works?

Owen clearly distinguished between the covenant of grace and the Mosaic Covenant. But did Owen believe the national Mosaic Covenant was “of works”, or “of grace”? These quotes should suffice:

5. They differ in their subject-matter, both as unto precepts and promises, the advantage being still on the part of the new covenant. For, —

(1.) The old covenant, in the preceptive part of it, renewed the commands of the covenant of works, and that on their original terms. Sin it forbade, — that is, all and every sin, in matter and manner, — on the pain of death; and gave the promise of life unto perfect, sinless obedience only: whence the decalogue itself, which is a transcript of the law of works, is called “the covenant,” <023428>Exodus 34:28. And besides this, as we observed before, it had other precepts innumerable, accommodated unto the present condition of the people, and imposed on them with rigor. But in the new covenant, the very first thing that is proposed, is the accomplishment and establishment of the covenant of works, both as unto its commands and sanction, in the obedience and suffering of the mediator. Hereon the commands of it, as unto the obedience of the covenanters, are not grievous; the yoke of Christ being easy, and his burden light.

(2.) The old testament, absolutely considered, had,
[1.] No promise of grace, to communicate spiritual strength, or to assist us in obedience; nor,

[2.] Any of eternal life, no otherwise but as it was contained in the promise of the covenant of works, “The man that doeth these things shall live in them;” and,

[3.] Had promises of temporal things in the land of Canaan inseparable from it. In the new covenant all things are otherwise, as will be declared in the exposition of the ensuing verses.

God used the right and authority of a husband with whom a wife breaks covenant; he ‘neglected them,’ shut them out of his house, deprived them of their dowry or inheritance, and slew them in the wilderness.

Epilogue

When confronted, this individual confessed that he has not even read Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8. Yet he was still adamant that baptists misunderstand it.

See also: Owen on Changing His Mind

Clarification on the Mosaic Covenant and Eternal Life

August 21, 2013 84 comments

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Jeff Johnson on The Confessing Baptist Podcast. I really enjoyed it and I hope it encourages people to read Jeff’s book.

However, I do want to offer some clarification on one of the views he puts forward. When I first read his book, though I loved it, the one thing that stuck out to me, that I disagreed with, was his view that the Mosaic Covenant offered eternal life upon the condition of perfect obedience. Through my studies, I had become convinced that the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works, but only for life in the land of Canaan, not eternal life.

This issue came up in our interview, but I didn’t want to detract too much from the rest of the conversation (and I need to re-read Petto). So hopefully this will help clarify the difference of opinion:

  1. The Mosaic Covenant was a national/corporate covenant of works for life in the land of Canaan: physical/temporary blessings and curses. Israelites could not be saved through obedience to the Mosaic Law because it was not offered as a blessing of the Mosaic Law. (Myself, Sam Renihan, James Renihan, Richard Barcellos, John Owen, Nehemiah Coxe)
  2. The Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works for life in the land of Canaan as well as eternal life. This was a new, post-fall offering of eternal life to any who perfectly obeys. Israelites could not be saved through obedience to the Mosaic Law because their fallen nature hinders their perfect obedience. (Jeff Johnson, it seems Petto, and some particular baptists)

#1 is the view presented in the 1689 Federalism videos.

This can become a little confusing when reading through the New Testament because the word “law” can refer to the Mosaic Law, to the Pentateuch, or to the law of creation written in the hearts of all men. For example, Johnson sees Jesus’ discussion with the rich young ruler as a discussion about the Mosaic law, while I see it as a discussion about the law of creation. Charles Hodge, talking of the Mosaic Covenant, explains:

First, it was a national covenant with the Hebrew people. In this view the parties were God and the people of Israel; the promise was national security and prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to the Mosaic law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect it was a legal covenant. It said. “Do this and live.” Secondly, it contained, as does also the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the original covenant of works. It is as true now as in the days of Adam, it always has been and always must be true, that rational creatures who perfectly obey the law of God are blessed in the enjoyment of his favour; and that those who sin are subject to his wrath and curse. Our Lord assured the young man who came to Him for instruction that if he kept the commandments he should live. And Paul says (Rom. ii. 6) that God will render to every man according to his deeds; tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but glory, honour, and peace to every man who worketh good. This arises from the relation of intelligent creatures to God. It is in fact nothing but a declaration of the eternal and immutable principles of justice. If a man rejects or neglects the gospel, these are the principles, as Paul teaches in the opening chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, according to which he will be judged. If he will not be under grace, if he will not accede to the method of salvation by grace, he is of necessity under the law.

Note that this was a “renewed proclamation” not a “new establishment”. John Owen says the same thing (see Richard Barcellos’ Appendix in the Coxe/Owen volume for a very helpful analysis of this):

This covenant [Sinai] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works.

The church of Israel was never absolutely under the power of that covenant as a covenant of life; for from the days of Abraham, the promise was given unto them and their seed. And the apostle proves that no law could afterwards be given, or covenant made, that should disannul that promise, Galatians 3:17. But had they been brought under the old covenant of works, it would have disannulled the promise; for that covenant and the promise are diametrically opposite.

“Now this is no other but the covenant of works revived. Nor had this covenant of Sinai any promise of eternal life annexed to it, as such, but only the promise inseparable from the covenant of works which it revived, saying, “Do this, and live… Therefore it is, that when our apostle disputes against justification by the law, or by works of the law, he does not intend the works peculiar to the covenant of Sinai, such as were the rites and ceremonies of the worship then instituted; but he intends also the works of the first covenant, which alone had the promise of life annexed to them.”

A crucial point is recognizing that the Mosaic Covenant was a corporate covenant, national covenant:

“The national covenant did not refer to the final salvation of individuals: nor was it broken by the disobedience, or even idolatry, of any number of them, provided this was not sanctioned or tolerated by public authority. It was indeed a type of the covenant made with true believers in Christ Jesus, as were all the transactions with Israel; but, like other types, it ‘had not the very image,’ but only ‘a shadow of good things to come.’When, therefore, as a nation, they had broken this covenant, the Lord declared that He would make ‘a new covenant with Israel, putting His law,’ not only in their hands, but ‘in their inward parts’; and ‘writing it,’ not upon tables of stone, ‘but in their hearts; forgiving their iniquity and remembering their sin no more’ (Jer. 31:32-34; Heb. 8:7-12; 10:16, 17). The Israelites were under a dispensation of mercy, and had outward privileges and great advantages in various ways for salvation: yet, like professing Christians, the most of them rested in these, and looked no further. The outward covenant was made with the Nation, entitling them to outward advantages, upon the condition of outward national obedience; and the covenant of Grace was ratified personally with true believers, and sealed and secured spiritual blessings to them, by producing a holy disposition of heart, and spiritual obedience to the Divine law. In case Israel kept the covenant, the Lord promised that they should be to Him ‘a peculiar treasure.’ ‘All the earth’ (Ex. 19:5) being the Lord’s, He might have chosen any other people instead of Israel: and this implied that, as His choice of them was gratuitous, so if they rejected His covenant, He would reject them, and communicate their privileges to others; as indeed He hath done, since the introduction of the Christian dispensation” (Thomas Scott).

The above is quoted by A. W. Pink, who then notes:

The above quotation contains the most lucid, comprehensive, and yet simple analysis of the Sinaitic covenant which we have met with in all our reading. It draws a clear line of distinction between God’s dealings with Israel as a nation, and with individuals in it. It shows the correct position of the everlasting covenant of grace and the Adamic covenant of works in relation to the Mosaic dispensation. All were born under the condemnation of their federal head (Adam), and while they continued unregenerate and in unbelief, were under the wrath of God; whereas God’s elect, upon believing, were treated by Him then, as individuals, in precisely the same way as they are now. Scott brings out clearly the character, the scope, the design, and the limitation of the Sinaitic covenant: its character was a supplementary combination of law and mercy; its scope was national; its design was to regulate the temporal affairs of Israel under the divine government; its limitation was determined by Israel’s obedience or disobedience. The typical nature of it—the hardest point to elucidate—is also allowed. We advise the interested student to reread the last four paragraphs.

Likewise, Bryan D. Estelle, in his essay on Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical and Theological Development notes:

[T]he life promised upon condition of performing the statutes and judgments in its immediate context in Leviticus here is “the covenantal blessing of abundant (and long) life in the land of Israel.”… One should not stop here, however, for these potential temporal blessings (and we might add potential curses as well) were intended only as an incremental stop or sign of something far greater, what has recently been called “temporal blessings and curses with an eye to Christ.” My own position is that the temporal life promised in the Mosaic covenant portended and typified the greater “eternal life,” which seems the clear position argued by the apostle Paul.

In other words, when the New Testament authors discuss the concept of law keeping, they speak of it with reference to eternal life and justification because they have both the Creation Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant in view. Both covenants operate upon the “do this and live” principle and so Paul can articulate principles of the original covenant of works by quoting the Mosaic covenant because the New Testament authors view the types of the Old Testament eschatologically. Tenure in Canaan no longer matters. The issue at hand is eternal life. Nehemiah Coxe explains how the NT authors speak of the thing typified by appeal to the type:

the apostle argues from the carnal seed as typical to the spiritual seed as typified by it. In so arguing he makes special use of the terms in which the promise is made as purposefully fitted to its typical respect or spiritual sense. Similarly, the prohibition of breaking a bone of the paschal lamb, which was a type of Christ, is applied by John to Christ himself who was typified by it (John 19:36 with Exodus 12:46). (76)

This is why I can still agree with the vast majority of what Johnson says about the Mosaic Covenant while disagreeing that it offered eternal life.

My point is not to provide these quotes to prove position #1, but simply because I know this is a potentially confusing issue and these quotes have been helpful in my attempts to make sense of it. I appreciate the opportunity this has provided for brothers to sharpen one another. I think how this all relates can be confusing, so it has been beneficial for me to reconsider it.

Point of Agreement

John Owen claims that the Mosaic Covenant did not (in and of itself) bring death to any… It did not bring about  man’s condemnation, but the manifestation of man’s condemnation. (142, Fatal Flaw)

I agree. Men, including Israelites, are condemned eternally by the original covenant of works, not by the Mosaic Covenant.

Point of Disagreement

It was not just any law, but the Mosaic Law that Christ fulfilled (Matt 5:17-18)… For this reason the Mosaic Covenant had to be a covenant of works. If it had not been, there would have been no hope for humanity… Imputed righteousness cannot exist without a covenant of works… In this sense God’s law does not exist outside of a covenant… This means that it was necessary for a covenant of works to be in operation during the life of Christ. For Christ to merit righteousness, He had to be born under the law; that is, born under a legal covenant of works… Otherwise, there would be no covenant to reward Him for His righteousness… If all this is true, then the Mosaic Covenant had to be a covenant based upon works; our salvation depended upon it… The Mosaic Covenant gave man another opportunity to merit life. (145-147)

It seems the fundamental assertion here is that a covenant of works had to be established with men for Christ to then be born into. I’m not convinced that is true. I see no reason why God the Father could not establish a unique covenant with God the Son in the same way that He created a unique covenant with Adam. I believe the Covenant of Redemption provides the legal basis for imputed righteousness, not the Mosaic Covenant, for the following reasons:

1) Just because the Mosaic Law overlaps with the Law of Creation does not mean they therefore offer the same reward. The role any law plays is determined by the covenant. The same law of creation operates in the New Covenant, but not in the same way. Therefore the same law can operate in the Mosaic Covenant, but towards a different end (life in Canaan vs eternal life). (For more on this see Venema’s review of The Law is Not of Faith; 1.C.iii)

2) The NT says the old covenant was rendered obsolete because it was broken. I’m not certain how we can say Christ fully obeyed the terms of the old covenant if we are told the old covenant was broken irreparably. We do read that Christ fulfilled the law, but law has a broader meaning than just “old covenant” (though it can mean old covenant).

3) When we read of the covenantal rewards Christ earned, we read that they were prepared for Him by the Father, implying the Covenant of Redemption, not the Mosaic Covenant. Luke 22:29 says that the Father assigned a kingdom to the Son. Furthermore, John 17 teaches that Christ’s reward was the elect – something never offered as a reward for obedience to the Mosaic Covenant. Therefore, if the Father can give the Son rewards not found in the Mosaic Covenant, I don’t see why eternal life for the elect could not be one of the rewards offered in the Covenant of Redemption, and thus I see no reason why the Mosaic Covenant had to be the condition for Christ to fulfill.

Perhaps the strongest support for this view can be found in Gal 4:4-5

But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

However, I don’t think this passage is strong enough to overturn the other factors under consideration. Furthermore, there is trouble here with strictly identifying the law as the Mosaic law, for that would exclude Gentiles as those under the law, who were also redeemed and receive adoption as sons. I agree with Meredith Kline’s comments:

6. Design of the Typal Kingdom
A variety of purposes can be discovered to explain the insertion of the old covenant order and its typal kingdom into the course of redemptive history. Of central importance was the creation of the proper historical setting for the advent of the Son of God and his earthly mission (cf. Rom 9:5). In accordance with the terms of his covenant of works with the Father he was to come as the second Adam in order to undergo a representative probation and by his obedient and triumphant accomplishment thereof to establish the legal ground for God’s covenanted bestowal of the eternal kingdom of salvation on his people. It was therefore expedient, if not necessary, that Christ appear within a covenant order which, like the covenant with the first Adam, was governed by the works principle (cf. Gal 4:4). The typal kingdom of the old covenant was precisely that. Within the limitations of the fallen world and with modifications peculiar to the redemptive process, the old theocratic kingdom was a reproduction of the original covenantal order. Israel as the theocratic nation was mankind stationed once again in a paradise-sanctuary, under probation in a covenant of works. In the context of that situation, the Incarnation event was legible; apart from it the meaning of the appearing and ministry of the Son of Man would hardly have been perspicuous. Because of the congruence between Jesus’ particular historical identity as the true Israel, born under the law, and his universally relevant role as the second Adam, the significance of his mission as the accomplishing of a probationary assignment in a works covenant in behalf of the elect of all ages was lucidly expressed and readily readable.

Two Level Fulfillment

Hope that helps at least clarify the issue!