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19th Century Scottish Presbyterian Criticism of Bannerman’s Visible/Invisible Church(es)

February 11, 2019 Leave a comment

We have seen how 17th/18th century Dutch theologian à Brakel rejected Westminster’s distinction between the visible and invisible church as two distinct societies with two distinct memberships, in favor of seeing one church of Christ viewed infallibly by God or fallibly by man. We have also seen 20th century John Murray make the same criticism or 19th century Scottish theologian James Bannerman. And now a reader of blog (Craig) has pointed us towards a 19th century Scottish Presbyterian critique of Bannerman to the same effect.

James Currie, M.A. wrote a short pamphlet (~25 pages) “SOME REMARKS ON DR. BANNERMAN’S WIEW OF THAT WHICH CONSTITUTES THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, AS SET FORTH IN HIS LATE WORK ON THE CHURCH” in 1869. If the identification is correct (thanks Craig) Revd James Currie was principal of the Church of Scotland Training College, Edinburgh (see here and here).

Currie’s work is interesting because he confirms my previous observations that Westminster differed from the earlier Continental reformed view on the nature of the visible church (and thus the nature of infant baptism). Currie says he quotes “in nearly every instance, from foreign Presbyterian Confessions of Faith, or their leading expositors. In Scotland itself, though what I here treat as error is very generally received as truth.” (16) He quotes extensively from a 17th century French reformed theologian Jean Claude who had a famous debate with French Roman Catholic Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet about the nature and authority of the church (see here). He quotes extensively in the Notes from the Continental reformed confessions on the church. He also commends “The True Idea of the Church, by Dr. Hodge of Princeton College, reprinted in Edinburgh some few years ago.” This appears to be a full compilation of three essays written in the Princeton Review, part of which is addressed in my post Hodge on the Visibility of the Church wherein Hodge argues for two Abrahamic covenants.

What is even more interesting is that Currie also commends John Cameron’s treatise on the church (De Ecclesia). When faced with the question of the nation of Israel’s relationship to our understanding of the visible church, Currie adopts a very Cameronian explanation of the nation of Israel as typological of the Church. As Samuel Renihan explains in From Shadow to Substance, Cameron developed the subservient covenant theology view adopted and built upon by 17th century Congregationalists and Particular Baptists in their rejection of Westminster’s covenant theology and ecclessiology.

Visible Church Distinct from the Invisible Church

To the query, then, why I stand forth as an objector, I allege, as an adequate motive, the desire, even though the point were far less momentous, to clear the truth of God from misconstruction. (19)

The focus of Currie’s criticism is Bannerman’s view that the Visible Church is in fact distinct from the Invisible Church.

He thus introduces this part of his subject (pp. 8, 9), “Over and above that unseen society, consisting of the whole number of the Elect spiritually united to Christ, there is set forth to us in Scripture, another society externally connected with Him, and standing out visibly before the eyes of the world… having a character and a membership altogether different from the first.”… [W]hatever may be “its symmetry of plan,” the superstructure does not seem to me to rest upon a scriptural basis… [H]is assertion that the Church thus defined is “invisible” (pp. 7, 8), nay, “purely invisible” to us (p. 74), is, I think, not scriptural. (8, 4-6)

He acknowledges that Bannerman claims that he does not mean there are two churches. Bannerman said

It is not to be identified with the Invisible Church, for men may belong to the one society who do not truly belong to the other. Neither are the two to be wholly placed in opposition to each other, for they do not form so much two separate Churches as one Church under two distinct and different aspects (Note I). (8)

However, Currie (like à Brakel) argues Bannerman is trying to have his cake and eat it too.

Professor Bannerman’s self-contradictory statements in this sense, though uttered more or less falteringly, are so many and so obvious as not to need specification… The epithet “another Church” is of frequent recurrence, and the following extract will show his self-inconsistency still more clearly. In vol. i. p. 29, he writes, “It is not unimportant to remark that when we speak of the Church Invisible and Visible, we are not to be understood as if we referred in these designations to two separate and distinct Churches, but rather to the same Church under two different characters. We do not assert that Christ hath founded two Churches on earth, but only one.” That a duality of Churches founded by Christ, though frequently taught by the Professor in equivalent phraseology, is not asserted by him in these ipsissima verba, is not alleged, but how are we to reconcile what he goes on to say with the substance of his disclaimer? He proceeds, p. 30, “There is an outward government established for the order and regulation of the elect, outward ordinances adapted and blessed for their improvement, outward discipline for their purification and protection. All this necessarily implies an outward and visible society, embracing and encompassing the inward and spiritual, in other words, an outward Church within which the Invisible Church of real believers is embosomed, protected, and perfected. (18)

He says

The present Dean of Ripon (Lectures on the Church, p. 19, 8th edition) says, “Thus there are two Churches, or the Church in two senses,” as if these phrases were synonymous. So, p. 18, he writes,—“There were two Israels, or Israel in two senses.” If the Church, however, mean the aggregate of those who comprise it, it would be difficult to show how one and the same Church or society, viewed in any number of senses or aspects, could be, as the word or implies, a second, i.e., another Church or society, so as to constitute “two Churches.” The sentence here quoted is but a specimen, though a glaring one, of the loose mode of treating the question of the Church. Were the Scriptures resorted to in the first instance to learn there what our opinions ought to be, and not simply to prove extra-scriptural views, grounded on human and conventional teaching true, such mistakes could not be made. (Note I)

He continues

I would observe, then, that whereas God has seen fit to institute but one Church Universal, Dr. Banner man and the Westminster Confession define two such. This accusation, urged so persistently by Romanists, is strenuously denied, but cannot, I think, be disproved by those who accept the teaching on this head, here called in question. That the august title, “the Visible Church of God, or of Christ,” is very popularly given to an heterogeneous and in fact a hybrid aggregation, composed of mere outward professors as well as of the elect, is sadly true; but does Scripture sanction such an application of the title? If it do, let the permissive passage be shown. (17)

Outwardly Christ’s but Inwardly Satan’s

NOTE H, p. 8.

“Not only true believers, but hypocrites.” Whilst Augustine says, “Christus non potest habere damnata membra,” and Zanchius, “that hypocrites and reprobates,” “membra sunt Satanae non Christi,” I find it asserted in Fulwood on the Visible Church, p. 54, that “the same person may at the very same instant of time, be both a member of Christ and a member of Satan, in divers respects. A member of Satan internally, of Christ externally, and yet both really ; a member of Satan by obedience, of Christ by profession ; of Satan habitually, of Christ relatively; of Christ by covenant, of Satan by service; a member of Christ’s visible kingdom, of Satan’s invisible kingdom, and both really and truly so. As a man that is openly and really the husband of an honest wife may yet be the member of a harlot by a close and unreserved course of uncleanness with her; even so, one that is really and openly in covenant with Christ, and truly a member of his body, may yet, by a secret course of unfaithfulness to Him, be also a member of Satan.”

I once thought that Hooker’s saying (Ecclesiastical Polity, book iii. sec. 7), founded probably upon one of Bullinger’s in his Decades, that “the imps and limbs of Satan.” (why not Satan himself?) “provided they make an eacternal profession of Christianity, even as long as they continue such, may be, and often times are, constituent members of the visible Church of Christ,” was the ne plus ultra of profanity. What I here quote is at least an imp and limb of Hooker’s dictum, more foul and filthy even than its parents, to one of whom (Hooker) it appeals for countenance. And yet Fulwood’s book, published in 1657, is recommended by the Moderator of the Devonshire Presbyterian Association in the name of his brethren, of whom the author in all probability was one… Augustine, as we have just seen, denies that Christ can have any damnata, or putrid or dead members; and so, most assuredly, do the Scriptures, as, e.g., Eph. iv. 16.

The Visibility of the Invisible Church

Rather than two separate constitutions, memberships, societies, or churches, the distinction between the visible and invisible church is to be understood in terms of perspective – God’s vs man’s.

[T]he Church is, as to its constituent elements, that which it is as seen of God. We are bound, in the judgment of charity, to treat as members of the Church those who make a credible profession to be such, but owing to our fallibility the judgment of charity may not always be that of truth, whilst those who merely seem to be God’s chosen people, contribute nothing to the Church’s visibility as respects itself or us… God’s Church is that which He sees to be such, and our judgment neither adds to nor takes from it a single member. (29, 15)

He quotes Jean Claude

Having defined it to be the society of true believers only, he adds (Answer to Bossuet’s Dis course of the Church, p. 31), “This true Church, being a society of men, and so a body that hath its external order, as all other Societies have, has likewise consequent to that a visibility common to it with all other bodies. Thus much is necessarily supposed, for those who believe are not angels nor invisible spirits, but in this respect like the rest of mankind.” Further on he says, “The true Church is visible, and truly visible. For, first of all, it cannot be denied that it is visible at least materially as they say, because true believers are men who appear visibly in public assemblies, partake of the same sacraments, and live in the same external order.”

He elaborates

I ask, if the Church of those “who are written in heaven” cannot be discerned by us, how can Christ’s disciples, as such, be truly likened to “a city set on an hill, which cannot be hid”? or be commanded, as “the light of the world,” to let their light shine before men?… [T]he graces of the Spirit, planted in the soul, though themselves invisible, yet discover their life and being, in the tract of a Christian life, his words and actions, and the frame of his carriage. Thus faith shows that it lives, as the apostle James teaches at large” (chap. ii. 14-26)… Visibility has its degrees of more and less, nor is our discrimi nating faculty invariably accurate, yet after these necessary deductions we have still that “probability of knowledge,” which our daily experience, as well as Bishop Butler, assures us is “the very guide of life,” and not unfrequently rises into the region of “moral certainty.”* Thus it was that Barnabas (Acts xi. 23), “when he had seen the grace of God,” was not merely gladdened, but quickened by it to further labours of love. He saw it, not, doubtless, in its essentially constitutive principle, but in the tempers and conduct of the Antiochian converts. Let me add, that if (Note F) no such limited but practical visibility existed, Christians, unable to distinguish from others their brethren in Christ, could not do the special good enjoined (Gal. vi. 10) “towards the household of faith,” nor add to god liness brotherly love as distinct from charity (2 Pet. i. 7), nor admonish one another (2 Thess. iii. 6, 15), nor discharge to Christ’s brethren the offices of love by which our faith will here after be tested (Matt. xxv. 35-45), with any satisfactory evi dence that they were carrying out His injunction. As, then, to the real though modified visibility I seek to uphold, I aver that, as there is nothing in God’s Word to favour the notion of “a purely invisible Church,” so there is in it nothing whatever that “may not well be reconciled” with the fact, that in its militant portion the Church of the Elect is discernible by man, imperfectly indeed, but really and practically. (7-8)

The Nation of Israel

In behalf of the mixed composition of that Church to which alone the Professor attributes visibility to men, viz., one which may be made up of “hypocrites as well as true believers” (p. 32)… he urges two things: the dealings of God with the nation Israel as such, and also some of the New Testament parables. This is his argument from the first of these (p. 33), “There was a Church Visible standing in an external relation to God, and embracing in it many who belonged to God only after the flesh; and within the bosom of that external Church there was another, the Invisible, standing in a spiritual relation to God, and em bracing in it none but His spiritual people.” He continues, “That former dispensation has passed away, and another has succeeded it of a wider range and more elevated character, yet the principle of God’s dealings with His people is still one and the same. He still provides for the benefit of His own believing people an outward framework, so to speak, of ordinances and external administration, within which His invisible Church is hid.” (12)

Carrie adopts a subservient covenant view to answer “the Scottish Presbyterian view” on this point.

The Jewish nation was, in a sense of the term, an Ecclesia. It was a body composed of all the human beings who sprang, from Abraham’s loins, irrespective of any other consideration, and consisted therefore of Israelites after the flesh only, as well as of such as were also the children of his faith. But under the New Testament, where is there anything analogous to this temporary and typical state of things to be found?… [T]o say that professing Christendom at large has been divinely substituted for the outward Israel, is simply to beg the question at issue. Under the Sinaitic covenant, an outward Church sheltered and promoted the development of that of the the shell of a nut to its kernel, but the object of that relation having been attained, the shell has been broken, and, for a time at least, cast away. They are declared (Phil. iii. 3) to be “the circumcision now, which worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh;” or, as the Holy Ghost elsewhere (Gal. iii. 26-29) writes, “They that are Christ’s, whether Jew or Greek, are ‘Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’” Since then the outward Ecclesia under the Law exists no longer, and has not been replaced by Him who alone is competent to do so (Note L), Dr. Bannerman, though his reasoning requires it, cannot argue from that which obtained under the Law to what now exists under the Gospel. If I am mistaken when thus speaking, let my error be scripturally demonstrated. (13)

From Note L:

“Under the New Testament God did not constitute any typical or figurative Church, as He had done under the Old. His Dove is one, and consists of true believers only.” “It is true the enemy scatters his tares among God’s good corn, but this neither makes a true Church nor a typical one, for the typical Church was of God’s own institution, but these tares are not so.” Claude thus concludes—“viz., that under the Old Testament there was a typical Church, of which God Himself was the Author and Founder, whereas under the New there was to be a spiritual Church, composed of His elect, and to be no other besides that.”—Bossuet’s Reflections Examined, pp. 84,85.

The Parables

Dr. Bannerman, confounding together, as is unhappily so com mon, the very distinct ideas of that which constitutes the Church, and the condition on earth of its militant portion, speaks of it as “described by our Lord under the expressive title of the kingdom of heaven,” adding, that “on one occasion He said that the kingdom of heaven” (that is, according to Dr. Bannerman, the visible Church) “is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind.” Daillé (Catéchisme des Eglises Réformées, tom. i. 543) affirms that “It is nowhere said in Scripture” (Note M) “that the Church is represented in these parables (Matt. xiii.), but simply its state in this world, where we allow that it is often mingled with hypocrites living in the same locality, or on the same threshing-floor, meeting in the same place of public worship, and making the same profession, but who are not on that account the Church. The chaff is indeed on the same floor with the good grain, but nevertheless is not the grain. The tares, though growing together with the wheat, are not wheat. The goats are sometimes penned in the same fold with the sheep, but who would be silly enough to say that hence they are sheep? It is thus as regards the wicked, who, in the same mass as the good, are not therefore themselves good. We say then that the threshing-floor spoken of in the Gospel signifies the present dispensation, during which hypo crites and profane persons mingle themselves with the faithful so speciously, that the Lord alone in many cases can separate them from it. The net we maintain to mean, not the Church” (if it do, what do the fishes signify),” “but the preaching of the Gospel, which attracts both the good and the wicked, but which transforms and brings into the Church the elect only, the rest remaining in their natural corruption. The field in which the tares and the wheat grow together is not the Church, but the world, as the Saviour explains it, whilst the room in which the hypocrite was found seated at the table with those invited, is each particular assembly, in which the wicked often deceive the eye of men, and pass for good and faithful, who, however, as St. John witnesses, are not such, for he says, “They are not of us, though they went out from us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.” If, however, we believe our adversaries, they were of us, since they professed to be so, and since also, according to their” (the Romish) “teaching, profession suffices to make a man a true member of the Church. They have nothing else of moment on this subject to object to us, and we conclude, therefore, that the faithful are the mem— bers of the Church, and that the hypocrites and the profane, whatever they profess, are not of it, unless they are changed.”

He adds

Mr. Arnot on the Parables (p. 82), writes:—“‘The field is the world,” said the Lord; “The field is the Church,” say the interpreters. It is wearisome to read the reasonings whereby they endeavour to justify their assumption.”


In response to Bannerman’s claim that “there are external privileges which he [the unbeliever] may and does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession and observance” (p. 31), Currie responds

This statement seems to me very melancholy, and as much opposed to the truth of God, and as suited to lead astray in a matter of very great if not of vital moment, as though an enemy to His truth had penned it. My notice of it must needs be very elementary, but it does strike me as utterly irreconcilable with the inspired declaration (Rom. viii. 9), that “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His,” and consequently not a member of His one body the Church. Again, to those whom He is said to have invited to join His Church, who complied with the invitation, and who were then “made par takers by Him in the external privileges and ordinances of a Church state” (p. 31), how will He be able to say with truth, as we know (Matt. vii. 23) He will say, “I never knew you,” that is, evidently, I never acknowledged and owned you as Mine?… (20)

Daillé may well ask, “How canst thou range in the Church” (thus supposed by thee to be in great measure constituted) “those against whom the gates of hell are con tinually prevailing” (Matt. xvi. 18), “or how say that in all ages hypocrites, for such compose the Church, etc., as well as His believing people, shall be protected and preserved by Him, notwithstanding the opposition of all their enemies?” (22)

Currie concludes

If glory to God is to be given in His Church by Christ Jesus (Eph. iii. 21), not only in heavenly places (Eph. iii. 10), but on earth (Luke ii. 14, 1 Pet. ii. 9-12), and if, consequently, men created anew in the moral likeness of the Deity and acting under the leadings of the Holy Spirit, are to be the instruments in thus glorifying Him by the living out the Gospel, then to teach that those are members of His Church who are still in reality the bond-slaves of sin and Satan, is to thwart the very design of God’s Ecclesia. Dr. Bannerman writes, p. 78, “The Visible Church can never be completely, and in all its parts identical, in this world with the Invisible,” but unless God have seen fit to interpose a physical inability additional to the moral, it is still our bounden duty to tend in honest effort at least towards the ideal of the Church militant, as composed only of believers imperfectly but truly regenerated. Sinless perfection will not be attained on this side the grave, but on that account to aim at anything less would be to sin; nor will our obligation to give glory to God in His Church be discharged by lowering its prescribed standard. Though forbidden the use of violence in the attempt to pull up the tares, and though the strictest discipline may have only a partial success, it must still be enforced; but its failure in a measure will not warrant our placing by the side of the one holy Catholic Church one of our own imagining. (24)

Addendum – Continental Reformed Confessions

Currie provides the following in an end note

NOTED, p. 7. “The Reformed Confessions.” The Tetrapolitan (A.D. 1539) Art. xv., “Of the Church,” having defined it as consisting of true believers only, says, as to the Church’s visibility, “Although that whereby this congregation hath obtained to be called the Church and company of Christ (to wit, faith itself cannot be seen), yet the fruits of that faith can be seen and known, and of them a certain Christian conjecture can be made. These fruits be chiefly a bold profession of faith, a true love offering itself to do humble service to all men, and a contempt of all things.” It further speaks of those fruits as visible “that in the same we may be instructed, admonished, and help one another.”

The later Helvetic Confession, teaching that the Church is “a company of the faithful, who do truly know and serve the true God—by the Word and by the Spirit,” adds (sec. 8) that “they do thereby declare (i.e. clearly show) themselves to be the disciples of Christ by continuing in the bond of peace and holy unity.” To harmonize with such a statement, the declaration of the Confession (sec. 9), “Whereupon the Church of God may be termed invisible,” etc., must refer to such seasons of persecution and comparative obscurity, as it had just mentioned, and is explained by the words that immediately follow —“not that the men whereof it consisteth (i.e. the Church) are invisible, but because being at such times hidden from our sight, and known only to God, it cannot be discerned by the judgment of man.

The Bohemian Confession (given Reformation of Bohemia, vol. i. p. 101), says, “We believe that there is one holy Catholic Church, always abiding and the same, while here in this world is a visible assembly of believers (not merely outward professors) who in all places adhere to the true and pure doctrine of Christ.”

The Basle Confession (1532) makes the “holy Christian Church, i.e. a communion of saints (Rom. i. 7), a gathering together of the faithful in spirit, to consist of such as show forth their faith by the works of love,” whilst the English Article 19 terms “the visible Church of Christ a congrega tion of faithful men.” Archbishop Whately and Mr. Litton would make the Article to say “a visible Church of Christ,” and would reduce the term “faithful” to mean simply a profession of faith, not necessarily working by love; but the definition of the Anglican Church in the nearly contemporaneous Homily for Whitsunday, Part ii., which describes it as composed of the faithful and elect people, surely does away with the objection. Even as late as 1618 the Synod of Dort, Article 27, speaking of the Church as consist ing of such as are washed in the blood, and sanctified and sealed by God’s Holy Spirit, goes on to say that “the company of hypocrites which are mixed among the godly in the Church, yet are not of it,” and further states, “but as touching the members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of a true Christian, i.e., by their faith, and when having received Jesus Christ their only Saviour, they flee from sin and follow righteousness, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof.” I would here add a Scottish Confession as much to the point of my argument as any of those just quoted, though as being of the 16th century it must, according to Dr. Bannerman (p. 62), be viewed as “a somewhat loose and popular definition.” Compared with the Westminster definition, it seems to me to justify the charge Dr. Bannerman relates of a fundamental, but not progressive change of view as to what constitutes the Church :—

“The Holy Catholic Church the Communion of Saints.

“We constantly believe that there is, was, and shall be till the coming of the Lord Jesus, a Church which is holy and universal, to wit, the communion of saints. This Church is holy because it receives free remission of sins, and that by faith only in the blood of Jesus Christ. Secondly, because it being regenerate it receiveth the Spirit of sanctification and power, to walk in new ness of life and in good works which God hath prepared for His chosen to walk in.’ Not that we think the justice of this Church, or any member of the same, ever was, or ever yet shall be, so full and perfect that it needeth not to stoop under mercy; but that because the imperfections are pardoned, and the justice of Jesus Christ imputed to such as by true faith cleave unto Him; which Church we call universal because it consisteth and standeth of all tongues and nations, yea, of all estates and conditions of men and women whom of His mercy God calleth from darkness to light, and from the bondage and thraldom of sin to His spiritual service and purity of life; unto whom He also communicateth His Holy Spirit, giveth unto them one faith, one head and sovereign Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, one baptism and right use of sacraments; whose heart also He knitteth together in love and Christian concord.”—Book of Common Order, received and used by the Reformed Kirk of Scotland, ch. ix., Order of Baptism—Exposition of Creed before Baptism.


For further reading:


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hodge on the Abrahamic Covenant(s)

February 11, 2019 1 comment

Charles Hodge is a great example of the double-mindedness of reformed paedobaptists who argue against a national church. When they argue against baptists, they insist that the Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. But when they argue against Romanists and others who insist on a national church, they insist that the Covenant of Circumcision with Abraham’s natural offspring was temporary and typological.

Covenant of Circumcision is not the Covenant of Grace

Arguing against Episcopalians adopting a national church model to admit unbelievers, Hodge says

That the Church is a visible society, consisting of the professors of the true religion, as distinguished from the body of true believers, known only to God, is plain, they say, because under the old dispensation it was such a society, embracing all the descendants of Abraham who professed the true religion, and received the sign of circumcision… The Church exists as an external society now as it did then; what once belonged to the commonwealth of Israel, now belongs to the visible Church. As union with the commonwealth of Israel was necessary to salvation then, so union with the visible Church was necessary to salvation now. And as subjection to the priesthood, and especially to the high-priest, was necessary to union with Israel then, so submission to the regular ministry, and especially to the Pope, is necessary to union with the Church now. Such is the favourite argument of Romanists; and such, (striking out illogically the last clause, which requires subjection to prelates, or the Pope) we are sorry to say is the argument of some Protestants, and even of some Presbyterians.

The fallacy of this whole argument lies in the false assumption, that the external Israel was the true Church… The attributes, promises, prerogatives of the one, were not those of the other. [If this is true] we must admit that the true Church rejected and crucified Christ; for he was rejected by the external Israel, by the Sanhedrin… Paul avoids this fatal conclusion by denying that the external Church is, as such, the true Church, or that the promises made to the latter were made to the former.

It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a Church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and his true people. The promises of the national covenant were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant, (i.e. of the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law; the condition of the latter was, is, and ever has been, faith in the Messiah as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, and the commonwealth founded on the one with the Church founded on the other.

When Christ came “the commonwealth” was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The Church remained. There was no external covenant, nor promises of external blessings, on condition of external rites and subjection. There was a spiritual society with spiritual promises, on the condition of faith in Christ. In no part of the New Testament is any other condition of membership in the Church prescribed than that contained in the answer of Philip to the eunuch who desired baptism: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts viii. 37)

The Visibility of the Church (1853, 1878)

Covenant of Circumcision Covenant is the Covenant of Grace

But if we’re talking about infant baptism, then things change…

Our written constitution, so to speak, dates from the father of the faithful. God made a covenant with Abraham… The covenant was the covenant of grace and the parties were Abraham and those whom Abraham represented… Infants are in this sense members of the Church, because circumcision was a sign and seal of the covenant of grace… It is said that it was the seal of the national covenant made with Abraham; that it was intended to mark the nationality of his descendants, and to secure their interest in the national promises made to the patriarch… It has already been proved that the covenant of God with Abraham in reference to Christ was the covenant of grace and that circumcision was a seal of that covenant. 1. Because no man could be a Jew without professing to embrace the covenant with Abraham which referred to Christ. The Bible does not distinguish two Abrahamic covenants… That circumcision was the badge of this covenant in its spiritual, as well as in its temporal aspect, is obvious, because the two were united as the soul and body in man… No man could be circumcised with exclusive reference to the national covenant. He could not enroll himself among the children of Abraham, and claim as one of his descendants a part of the national inheritance, without at the same time entering into covenant with God… By being a Jew, he professed the whole Jewish faith… No man was ever circumcised in obedience to the command given to Abraham who did not thereby profess faith[.]
The Church Membership of Infants (1858)


[U]nder the old economy the Church and State were identical. No man could be a member of the one without being a member of the other… If, therefore, circumcision was a sign and seal of membership in the Hebrew nation, it was a sign and seal of membership in the Hebrew Church. All this arose from the nature of God’s covenant with Abraham. In that covenant, as we have seen, were included both national and religious promisesThis is really the turning point in the controversy concerning infant church-membership.
Systematic Theology III.XX.10

Hodge cannot have his cake and eat it too. He must pick one or the other.

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

February 5, 2019 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

For further reading:

A Necessary Consequence of Fesko’s Defense of Logic

January 17, 2019 9 comments

The tide has been shifting in the modern reformed world. Debate over theology proper in reformed circles is finally reaching the question of epistemology. K. Scott Oliphint has argued that, in light of Van Til’s epistemology, “much of systematic theology that’s done, especially in theology proper, needs a complete revision and re-write.” The crux of the issue is the role of logic. Van Til taught that when Scripture presents us with statements that violate the human law of non-contradiction, we must embrace both. We must embrace the paradox with faith that what is contradictory in our minds is not contradictory in God’s mind, whose thoughts are above our thoughts.

When ARBCA stated in its position paper on the doctrine of divine impassibility that Scripture is non-contradictory, they were accused of engaging in natural theology.

We affirm the unity and analogy of Scripture, which states that unclear, difficult, or ambiguous passages are to be interpreted with clear and unambiguous passages that touch upon the same teaching or event (2LCF 1.9). We deny that the purported meaning of any text may be pressed in isolation or contradiction to other passages of Scripture. (26)

Why? Because they were using reason to interpret Scripture, rather than submitting their reason to Scripture. This was, according to critics, Scholastic Thomism. One critic said

The TC [ARBCA Theological Committee] explicitly deny the ideas of ‘tension’, ‘paradox’, ‘antinomy’ in hermeneutics in their Long Paper. Their explanation reveals a hostility to the chastened hermeneutic of the Princeton-Westminster tradition of Vos, Van Til, and Murray – which explicitly rejected scholastic hermeneutics.

The Scholastic Epistemology of Geerhardus Vos


In response to that line of argumentation, J.V. Fesko has written an essay for the RTS Journal titled The Scholastic Epistemology of Geerhardus Vos. He argues that the epistemological connection between Vos and Van Til is unsubstantiated. “This essay presents the thesis that Vos’s use of the pure-mixed articles distinction disproves that Van Til and Vos had the same view of epistemology.”

Vos employed the distinction between pure and mixed articles in his doctrine of creation, a theological distinction that owes its origins to Lombard and was adopted by Aquinas.[11] In brief, articuli puri / mixti derive their origins from the disciplines of theology and philosophy. Those articles derived from theology alone are “pure,” and those that originate from both philosophy and theology are mixed.[12] The idea that stands behind these terms is that human beings acquire some knowledge of God through the use of reason and other knowledge exclusively from special revelation. In other words, this set of terms requires that a theologian define the precise relationship between philosophy and theology. In short, to admit mixed articles means that one employs some form of natural theology.

The example he provides is from the doctrine of creation.

In the first volume of his Reformed Dogmatics Vos treats the doctrine of creation in his sixth chapter. Vos asks a series of questions: What is creation? How do theologians divide the external works of God? Where does the doctrine of miracles belong? In the fourth question Vos poses the following: “Is the doctrine of creation an articulus purus [pure article] or an articulus mixtus [mixed article]?”[32] Vos provides his answer by first explaining his use of terms. Pure articles “are those that cannot be derived both from reason and from revelation but depend entirely on revelation.” Mixed articles, on the other hand, “flow from both reason and revelation.” With his terms defined, Vos zeroes-in on the specific nature of his question: “Whether creation can be proven by reason.” Some have tried to answer the question by starting with the concept of God. God could not have remained enclosed within himself because he needed a world to love. Vos rejects this argument because it would deny God’s aseity. He counters that one can reason from the world up to God, but we cannot descend from God to the world by “logic,” that is, by reason alone. Human reason alone will eventually run out of road and conclude that the creation is mysterious and unique but cannot determine that it arose ex nihilo. Thus, Vos concludes that creation ex nihilo is a pure article; we learn of it solely from special revelation. Vos qualifies his answer, however, by specifying that creatio ex nihilo is a pure article, not the general idea of God’s creation of the universe.[33]

I think Fesko successfully proves his thesis. It echoes the conclusion that I reached in my essay The Silent Shift on WCF 7.1 – Van Til’s epistemology (and misunderstanding of WCF 7.1) was not derived from Vos. I encourage those interested to read the full essay.

The Use of Reason

Fesko helpfully lists ways in which reason was used by some in the reformed tradition.

Early modern Reformed theologians acknowledged the instrumental use of reason in theology… According to Johannes Heidegger (1633-98), reason had a fourfold function with mixed articles. Reason:[28]

  1. Attempts to understand the content of revelation. We receive the word of God in both our hearts and minds.
  2. Defends principles of faith by showing that there are no logical contradictions and refuting the errors created by perverted reason. He aimed this use of reason against other religions such as Judaism and Islam. He traces this aspect from Aquinas to others in his own day such as Hugo Grotius (1583-1645).
  3. Draws conclusions from revealed principles to confirm one’s faith and salvation from a rational point of view. The apostle Paul used reason in this manner in Acts 14 and 17.
  4. Judges simple things used in the articulation of doctrine, such as natural words and concepts (“man,” “body”) and the construction of propositions from these simple terms. Heidegger illustrates the point with the simple terms of “God” and “blood” and explains that only faith comprehends what Luke states in Acts 20:28, “God acquired the church by his own blood.”

Heidegger then gives a fourfold function of reason in the explication of pure articles. Reason:

  1. Receives God’s revelation—only the spiritual person can do this (1 Cor. 2:24).
  2. Is the instrument of judgment in doctrine concerning what is true and false. This judgment operates according to the rules of good and necessary consequence. The light of Scripture and regenerate reason are necessary to reach correct conclusions.
  3. Formulates doctrine through all means of knowledge: grammar, logic, rhetoric, ethics, mathematics, physics, and metaphysics.
  4. Compares the Old and New Testaments, supernatural and natural revelation, one doctrine with another, and argument with argument.

Clark/Van Til Controversy

All of this has a very interesting, unintended consequence: a necessary re-evaluation of the Clark/Van Til controversy. In the Strimple Festschrift, Edmund P. Clowney says

Another controversy that influenced that development was the debate that emerged between the faculty members of Westminster minster and Dr. Gordon Haddon Clark. Here the division was less between John Murray and Clark and more between Cornelius Van Til and Clark. While a student at Wheaton College (I graduated in 1939), I took all the courses that Dr. Clark offered. While still teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, he had published Thales to Dewey: A History of Philosophy. Dr. Clark’s history of philosophy presented it as a continuing chess game in which one master after another would pass from the scene, but the game would go on. We kept waiting for the philosopher who would bring the checkmate. In the sequence of his courses, everything pointed toward a contemporary Christian philosopher. Dr. Clark presented Cornelius Van Til as the philosopher to be studied, and referred to a copy of his syllabus. Dr. Van Til, however, concluded that Dr. Clark was a rationalist rather than a presuppositionalist. Van Til pronounced a plague upon both rationalism and irrationalism as positions that made human reason supreme. Instead, we must begin by presupposing the existence of the living and true God, the Creator and Redeemer, the Alpha and Omega of our faith. Both Van Til and Murray emphasized the history of redemption. In chapel talks at Westminster, both showed the influence of Geerhardus Vos’s biblical theology. (Kindle Locations 438-446).

Why was Clark a rationalist? “Dr. Clark has fallen under the spell of rationalism. Rather than subject his reason to the divine Word he insists on logically harmonizing with each other two evident but seemingly contradictory teachings of that Word” (The Complaint). This was “a failure to maintain a qualitative distinction between the knowledge of God and the knowledge possible to man, thus denying the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God and impinging in a most serious fashion upon the transcendence of the Creator over the creature.”

Floyd Hamilton (with Alan Tichenor, Robert Srong, Edwin Rian, and Gordon Clark) wrote The Answer, a defense of Clark in response to The Complaint. It said “without specifically amending our standards any attempt to exalt one method [of apologetics] as alone orthodox and to repudiate all appeal to the a-priori truths of reason is intolerable.” Note carefully his appeal to Hodge and compare with Fesko above.

A.A. Hodge, also, in his Outlines of Theology appeals to reason. On page 19, 8, 2d, he refers to “the light of nature.” Just below he speaks of “the demonstration of the a-priori possibility of a supernatural revelation.” On page 37 he answers Hume by an appeal to “a universal and necessary judgment of reason.” On page 45 he says, “It is certain that the intuitions of necessary truth are the same in all men. They are not generalizations from experience, but presupposed in all experience.” See in particular his defense of natural theology on page 53, 1, 1st, page 54, 2, 2d; also page 61, 10. On page 62, 14, 1st, he also says, “Reason is the primary revelation God has made to man, necessarily presupposed in every subsequent revelation of whatever kind . . . Hence no subsequent revelation can contradict reason acting legitimately within its own sphere . . . To believe is to assent to a thing as true, but to see that it contradicts reason, is to see that it is not (italics his) true.” Again on page 63, 15, 1st, “The first principles of a true philosophy are presupposed in all theology, natural and revealed. 2d, The Holy Scriptures, although not designed primarily to teach philosophy, yet necessarily presuppose and involve the fundamental principles of a true philosophy.”

The result of the controversy was that Dr. Clark was exonerated from the charges of The Complaint. The OPC General Assembly voted 2:1 in favor of Clark. However, he could tell he was quite unwelcome at WTS (where he was planning to teach) so he left the OPC. As a result Van Til’s thought continued to dominate. For more than a generation, reformed Christians have believed that seeking to resolve contradiction in a system of theology is rationalism. Only a few years ago a PCA seminary professor was nearly denied the transfer of his credentials to pastor an OPC church because he disagreed with Van TIl’s epistemology. The tide is shifting as people are finally seeing the problem with Van Til that Clark pointed out for 50 years. Perhaps reformed Christians will now be willing to seriously consider Gordon Clark’s substantial contribution to reformed philosophy (see Doug Douma’s recent biography The Presbyterian Philosopher), seeing that he is not quite the boogeyman he has been made out to be.

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T. David Gordon’s Dichotomous Abrahamic Covenant

January 3, 2019 Leave a comment

T. David Gordon notes that one Abrahamic promise (land and offspring) was fulfilled in the Old Covenant, while the other promise about one individual seed blessing all nations was fulfilled in the New Covenant.

Paul understood the covenant with Abraham to include essentially three promises: That God would give Abraham numerous descendants (“seed”), that God would give Abraham (and his seed) the land of Canaan, and that God would bless all the nations of the world through Abraham and his seed. Plainly enough, the Israelites became numerous during their four hundred years in Egypt, and equally plainly, through Joshua and the judges, they inherited the land of Canaan. But they did not become the means by which all the nations/Gentiles were blessed until the calling of Paul…

[T]he “Seed” would come through whom the promise would be fulfilled and the nations would be blessed (3:19). Paul identified the “Seed” as Christ (3:16), and argued that the nations are indeed now being blessed by that Seed of Abraham, and that therefore, the temporary covenant made only with Abraham’s descendants must become obsolete and disappear…

[O]ne might argue that Paul perceived the New Covenant realities in Christ as bringing the final third of the Abrahamic promise to fruition

Categories: abrahamic covenant

Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 6: 1689 Federalism

January 2, 2019 6 comments

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

Only Redemptive Historical

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

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

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

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

Abraham’s New Covenant Union with Christ

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

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

Commenting on Hebrews 8:10, Calvin likewise said

The declaration indeed is clear, that a new covenant is made according to which God engraves his laws on our hearts, for otherwise it would be in vain and of no effect… But it may be asked, whether there was under the Law a sure and certain promise of salvation, whether the fathers had the gift of the Spirit, whether they enjoyed God’s paternal favor through the remission of sins?… There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.

John Frame says

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

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

1689 Federalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some related blog posts:

In this series:


Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 5: Glory Cloud Podcast

January 1, 2019 5 comments

I am very thankful for the Glory Cloud Podcast. It is dedicated to explaining the theology of Meredith Kline. The hosts (the first 60 or so episodes are co-hosted by Lee Irons and Chris Caughey and then Todd Bordow later replaced Lee Irons) have a strong grasp of the law/gospel distinction. It is very refreshing to hear and I am thankful for all their efforts in putting the podcast together.

This series of posts was actually prompted by a series of episodes (90-96ish) of the Glory Cloud Podcast. Hosts Chris Caughey and Todd Bordow walk through Kline’s understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant. Episode 93 specifically addresses the question Was the Abrahamic Covenant a Covenant of Works? They call out 1689 Federalism several times and invite baptists to interact with what they have said. So that was the motivation behind this series.

They argue that

  1. The Genesis 15 oath ceremony necessarily means that the Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional.
  2. The NT confirms this in Rom 4 and Gal 3-4 because it says the Abrahamic promise is received through faith alone by grace alone apart from works.
  3. There is only one Abrahamic promise: eschatological salvation in Christ through faith alone. However, this promise is realized on two levels: the typological and anti-typological. Both are realized/received by unconditional grace through faith alone apart from works.
  4. Therefore Israel’s entrance into the land was not conditioned upon their obedience to the law but was a gracious gift received through faith alone apart from works.
  5. The Mosaic Covenant did not take effect when it was established in the wilderness but only started after Israel entered the land. At that point, remaining in the land was conditioned by the Mosaic Covenant, which they eventually broke (hence their exile).
  6. The New Covenant is a continuation of the Abrahamic Covenant of Grace – both of which are antithetical to the Old Covenant (which was of works).

Oath Ceremony

As addressed in Part 4, the analogy of Scripture is not followed on this point. Improper interpretive priority is given to the Genesis 15 ceremony – an implicit prophetic vision narrative. Assumptions about the meaning of this ceremony are used to interpret explicit, clear statements about the Abrahamic Covenant, rather than the other way around. Here are a few examples:

Imagine you’re hearing this for the first time and you’re familiar with both parties always walking through promising to do their part to fulfill the terms and how shocking it is that God walks through and promises that Abraham doesn’t have to do his half, that God is going to do it all while Abraham sleeps. (Ep. 90, 23:30)

God does not say that “Abraham doesn’t have to do his half.” That is an assumption about the meaning of the vision, not something stated in the text. As we have seen Kline taught, per Gen 22:15-18 and 26:5, that Abraham did have to do his half in order to merit the redemptive historical blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant.

It seems to me like both passages [Gen 15:1 & 22:15-18] are episodic or episode-specific. They don’t really seem to be held up as the heart of the covenant that God is making with Abraham. It’s, “Ok, what you’ve done here is going to serve as an example of what the Messiah is eventually going to do.” But if Genesis 15:1 really did characterize the Abrahamic Covenant so that we could say, “Gosh, isn’t this a covenant of works here?” we would expect Abraham to walk those slain animals as well. But we’ve already belabored the point in a previous episode that God is the only one who walks between those halves of animals, and that says a lot about the nature of that covenant. (Ep. 93, 21:00)

Our expectations of what should or should not happen in any given situation does not get interpretive priority over explicit statements in Scripture explaining the meaning of that situation.

I just think – what is the major event associated with Abraham. What stands out? I think it’s the episode in chapter 15 with splitting the animals and God making that promise, which is pure promise. But when we ask that question of Israel it’s really Mt. Sinai and the giving of the law. So, yes, we do have this interesting verse in Genesis 26:5 but it certainly is not what characterizes the covenantal arrangement that God made with Abraham. (Ep. 92, 10:45)

Again, this is not letting Scripture interpret Scripture. What “stands out” to us in a text does not have interpretive priority over what the text states explicitly. “[W]hat characterizes the covenantal arrangement that God made with Abraham” should be determined by what God says characterizes the covenantal arrangement that He made with Abraham (the “interesting” verse that is being dismissed as irrelevant to the question).

Romans 4 and Galatians 3-4

Again, as addressed in Part 4, these passages (per Kline) contrast our eternal inheritance in Christ with Israel’s tenure in the typological land of Canaan. Therefore they do not address the question of Abraham’s works relative to the typological, redemptive historical promises of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Only One Abrahamic Promise?

In response, it is argued that there is only one Abrahamic promise. It is wrong to try to divide the Abrahamic Covenant up into multiple promises.

I know some don’t want to see the Covenant of Grace with Abraham and they want to simply focus on Abraham’s national election as a people. But the New Testament doesn’t let you do that. The New Testament points to Abraham’s election as an individual unto eternal salvation and all those in him – in Christ – who have the same faith as Abraham receive the same promise. So Paul doesn’t say “promises” as if there are separate promises to Abraham that don’t relate. Paul calls it all one promise. And yet there’s a promise that is symbolized in the Old Testament but then fulfilled eternally in Christ. One promise with a temporary fulfillment and then an eternal fulfillment. And that’s the way to understand these two elections – not as two separate promises but as one promise in symbolic form and then in ultimate form. (Ep. 91, 18:15)

Note, however, that co-host Todd Bordow directly contradicts himself when explaining Kline’s interpretation of Genesis 22:15-18.

So on an eternal level, Genesis 15 and the ritual is really pointing beyond the typology to what Christ will do to save Abraham and his offspring – his spiritual descendants. But here, just focusing on the typology alone, not looking past it, Abraham’s works will come into play, and they will have a typological, meritorious purpose… What God grants Abraham is to be a Christ figure in rewarding his works with the typological kingdom only. So for example, in Genesis 22, when the Lord said “Because you have done this, I will bless you and I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven,” he’s not looking ahead to the New Covenant at this point. He’s only speaking of how that will in a very temporary, typological way be fulfilled with the nation of Israel. Abraham’s descendants, his natural descendants, would be multiplied and there would be so many that they couldn’t count. And his offspring would possess the gates of his enemies throughout Old Testament episodes. He’s not talking about the church here in the New Covenant at all. So he’s speaking only on the typological level. So Kline writes – I really love this statement – “Salvation would not come from Abraham’s obedience. But salvation would come from Israel because of Abraham’s obedience.” So Israel was granted – because of Abraham’s obedience – they’re granted a temporary place in the history of salvation, but not an eternal place. Only Christ can bring about that. (Ep. 93, 21:30)

If there is only one indivisible Abrahamic promise then Bordow cannot make a distinction between New Covenant promises and typological promises in the Abrahamic Covenant. But in order to properly classify Abraham’s meritorious works, Bordow distinguishes between promises made about Abraham’s natural offspring and Abraham’s spiritual offspring. Again, that can’t be done if there is only one Abrahamic promise. Note that Kline saw multiple Abrahamic promises. “Thereupon, the Lord swore by himself that he would surely perform the full complement of covenant promises, culminating in the gospel promise of the blessing of the nations through Abraham’s seed (Gen 22:15-18).” (KP 300) Note well that Kline said the Genesis 22 covenant blessings that God swore to fulfill because of Abraham’s obedience included “the gospel promise,” which presents tremendous problems for his system.

In Galatians 3, Paul refers to “the promise” not because there is only one Abrahamic promise, but because he is referring to one specific Abrahamic promise (Gal 3:8), which brings up a crucial point: In Galatians 3:8, Paul quotes Genesis 22:18. This simply does not fit Bordow’s Klinean framework. Remember, they interpret Paul’s appeal to the Abrahamic Covenant in Galatians 3 as teaching that eternal salvation in Christ, in the ordo salutis, comes from the Abrahamic Covenant – and therefore the Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. The text Paul relies on is Genesis 22:18, but Bordow says Genesis 22:18 is not talking about the ordo salutis! It is only talking about the historia salutis.

From one perspective, Kline points out, Abraham’s works demonstrate his faith. So now he’s speaking of what we call the ordo salutis… James points out from that perspective, Abraham’s obedience only demonstrate his faith. They’re not a means to obtain the promise. And James is very clear, as Paul is. But here we have another perspective, it’s the perspective of the historia salutis, over the history of salvation as it works out in the different covenants.

And so the problem is obvious. How then is this different from Israel? The text seems like Abraham is being blessed based on his own obedience. Kline’s solution is that in the historia salutis, or in what we would call typology, there is a meritorious character to Abraham’s works. Not in the ordo salutis, but in the typology of the Old Testament, God will use Abraham as a Christ figure. Therefore he will reward his works with only the typological promises. Not the eternal promises that were his in the ordo salutis. But, in the typology, which means just with national Israel in the Old Testament, just with the land of Canaan, Abraham’s work will have a means to an end. He will be sort of a federal head in a typological sense. His work will bring about the blessings for God’s people only on a typological level. And that is how Kline explains – and I think really the only way to understand this.

The “only way” to understand Genesis 22:15-18 is that the blessings are limited to the historia salutis and do not include ordo salutis blessings. If that is the case, then Paul’s appeal to Genesis 22:18 in Galatians 3 cannot mean that Paul understood the Abrahamic Covenant to include ordo salutis blessings – that is, it cannot mean that Paul saw the Abrahamic Covenant as the Covenant of Grace. I believe that Kline and Bordow are correct here. I believe that the blessings of Genesis 22:15-18 are confined to the historia salutis. As Kline put it “Salvation would not come because of Abraham’s obedience, but because of Abraham’s obedience salvation would come of the Abrahamites, the Jews (John 4:22).” (KP 325)

[Side note: Bordow interprets Gen 22:17b “And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies” as a reference to Israel in Canaan. Note, however, that this reference is singular (“his”) not plural (“their”). This is specifically why Paul argues in Gal 3:16 that “the promise” (Gal 3:8/Gen 22:18) referred to one single offspring, not numerous offspring. For a more detailed analysis, see Galatians 3:16.]

Entrance into Canaan

Because of their misreading of Gal 3, they believe the Abrahamic Covenant, a promise covenant, promised the land of Canaan to Abraham’s offspring unconditionally: that it would be received through faith alone apart from works.

Kline’s response to that was the the promise that God would give them [Israel] the land on the typological level only is to bring them into the land and to bare seed. And so when we get to the book of Joshua when the conquest happens, it actually says at the end of Joshua that God’s promise to Israel has been fulfilled… Kline points out that there’s no promise of an unbroken continuance in the land simply by God’s promise, and there’s no promise, as Kline puts it, of a harmonious transition that when Christ comes they would still be God’s people and they would not be judged based on a promise. And so the promise only gets them to inherit the land and to have seed fill in the land, but at that point their tenure in the land is based on a national covenant of works between God and Israel… So that covenant of works is introduced once that promise is fulfilled. (Ep. 91, 25:30)

Kline said

[I]f the ground of Israel’s tenure in Canaan was their covenant obedience, their election to receive the typological kingdom in the first place was emphatically not based on any merit of theirs (cf. Deut 9:5,6). Their original reception of this kingdom, as well as their restoration to it after the loss of their national election in Babylonian exile, is repeatedly attributed to God’s remembrance of his promissory commitments of grace to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod 2:24; 3:6ff.; 6:2ff.; 32:13; Deut 9:27; 10:15; Lev 26:42), pointing to the coming Messiah and the new covenant. (KP 323)

In sum, it is argued that the works principle (obedience to the law) did not take effect until after Israel entered the land – that is, the Mosaic Covenant did not take effect until after the conquest by Joshua (40 years after Mt. Sinai). Until that point, the promise-grace principle determined their inheritance of Canaan. It is argued that the reason the first generation died was because they did not have faith, whereas the second generation was given the land because they had faith. Therefore the land was inherited through faith alone apart from works.

The truth of this framework should be doubted, however, given all that we have seen above. The Abrahamic Covenant simply was not a promise-grace covenant, opposite in kind to one of works. The Klinean framework, on this point, does contain a partial (and important) truth: Abraham, a federal head, did earn the typological reward of Canaan for his descendants. However, Scripture never says that this reward was to be received by his descendants through faith alone apart from works. In fact, it says the opposite.

First of all, Scripture nowhere teaches that the Mosaic Covenant commenced or took effect only after the Israelites entered the land under Joshua’s leadership. The Mosaic Covenant was in effect from the moment the oath was sworn, when the people said “All this we will do.” That is specifically why they offered sacrifices according to Mosaic law and why the first generation experienced so many curses and eventually death (Num 14:22-23, 29-30, 33; Deut 1:35; Ps 95:10-11). As T. David Gordon notes “While the land was eventually given to the Israelites, the terms of the Sinai covenant delayed their inheritance by forty years.” The role of the Abrahamic Covenant was to preserve the people as a whole despite their disobedience to Mosaic law. While they did experience the curses of Mosaic law in the wilderness, they were not utterly destroyed (per Mosaic law) because the Abrahamic promise had not yet been fulfilled (Ex 32:10, 13; Num 14:20; Deut 9:5-8, 13-14, 19, 25, 27-28; 28:26; Jer 7:33; Ps 106:8, 23, 44-45).

Second, when we look at explicit statements about the Abrahamic Covenant, we see that its fulfillment is conditioned upon Abraham’s obedience (Gen. 17:1-2, 9, 14; 22:15-18; 26:5). But we also see that its fulfillment is conditioned upon Abraham’s offsprings’ obedience (Ex. 19:5-8; 23:20-22; Deut 4:1; 6:3, 17-18, 24-25; 7:12; 8:1-2; 11:8, 22-24; 29:13; Jer 11:5).

Ex 19:5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”


Ex 23:20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21 Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.

22 “But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.


Deut 4:1 “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.


Deut 6:3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey… 17 You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. 18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers 19 by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised… 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’


Deut 7:12 “And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers.

Regarding Deut 7:12, recall Kline:

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

Deut 7:12 teaches that the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise to Abraham’s descendants was conditioned upon their obedience to the law, which Kline identified as the meritorious works principle, and he said it functioned in the same manner as Abraham’s meritorious obedience. Therefore Abraham’s offspring had to obey, like Abraham, in order to enter and possess the land God swore to give them.

Deut 8:1 “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.


Deut 11:8 “You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess… 22 For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, 23 then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. 24 Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours. Your territory shall be from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the western sea.


Deut 29:10 “You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 12 so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.


Jer 11:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 3 You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant 4 that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, 5 that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.”

Dennis Johnson comments

On the other hand it also is true to say that Israel, though small and stubborn, is receiving the land through obedience. Moses has already drawn a connection between obedience and conquest of the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 4:1. “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possesion of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” Israel is to hear and to do the Lord’s commands “that” the promised consequences might follow, namely life and possession of the land. Israel’s reception of the relative and temporal/temporary possession of life and land as a reward for relative fidelity to the law of the Lord foreshadows a covenantal principle of reciprocity that the apostle Paul will articulate in its eschatologized, absolutized form: “The one who does [God’s commands] shall live by them” (Gal 3:12). (Him We Proclaim 298)

Richard Pratt, Jr. summarizes

Abraham’s personal reception of the promises made to him in covenant were contingent on his loyalty… Despite the fact that God promised Abraham’s descendants the land, this promise did not guarantee this promise for particular individuals, families or groups… In sum, there were senses in which the covenant with Abraham was both unconditional and conditional. Abraham was promised by divine oath that in one way or another his descendants would come out of Egypt and possess the land of Canaan. But at the same time, for particular individuals, families and groups to enjoy this promise, they had to fulfill covenant obligations.

Deut 9:4-6

One passage seems to contradict this clear teaching. Kline references Deut 9:4-6

4 “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. 5 Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 6 “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.

It is argued that this passage teaches that the second generation entered the land not through obedience to the law but through faith alone apart from works. At first glance it certainly seems to teach that. However, note that this passage calls them a stiff-necked people (v6). That is a label for unrepentant, unbelieving people. So if this passage refers to the second generation, it must mean they were a rebellious, unbelieving people just like their parents, and that they entered the land through rebellious unbelief (which would contradict the Klinean view). I do not believe that is what the passage means. Rather, “you” is simply a reference to Israel corporately, including the first generation. This is clear from the rest of the chapter. Moses likewise uses “you” to refer to Israel corporately, including the first generation (despite the fact that they were all dead at the time), in Deut 3:26 and 4:21.

The point of Deut 9:4-6 is that Israel collectively, as a nation, deserved to be utterly destroyed according to the terms of the Mosaic Covenant that God made with them, which would include the children. But because God had sworn to fulfill his promise to Abraham (because of Abraham’s loyalty/obedience), he spared the children. This is not what the nation deserved, therefore they should not be prideful. But he spared the children to see if they would obey, unlike their parents (Deut. 8:2 “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”). This is how the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants relate. The Mosaic covenant simply elaborated upon the obedience required by the Abrahamic Covenant. But Abraham’s obedience as the federal head of the Abrahamic Covenant guaranteed that his offspring would not be utterly destroyed until they entered the land (through obedience to the law).

New Covenant = Abrahamic Covenant?

All of this provides sufficient reason to reject the claim that the Abrahamic and the New Covenant are the same covenant: the Covenant of Grace. As we will see in the next part, the Abrahamic Covenant did not include any ordo salutis blessings.

I had a chance to discuss all of these matters with Todd Bordow in the Meredith Kline Facebook group, if you are interested in reading further. After this post was published, we also discussed these issues on Twitter.