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Two Age Sojourner Podcast: Reformed Libertarianism & 1689 Federalism (Substance/Administration)

March 26, 2019 50 comments

Michael Beck is a Reformed Baptist pastor in New Zealand. For some background, he has a great post on TGC called How (Not) to Plant a Church. Beck has a great podcast called Two-Age Sojourner. He is heavily influenced by Meredith Kline and that is reflected in the various episodes of the podcast (including an ongoing series with Chris Caughey called Meredith Mondays). With regards to covenant theology he is a bit unique in that he rejects the “20th century RB” view that the Mosaic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace and instead agrees with Kline that it was a typological covenant of works for life in the land. However, he also rejects 1689 Federalism’s view that the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. Rather, the Covenant of Grace is something distinct from every “exegetical” covenant in the Bible. From my listening you could perhaps describe his view as the 20th century RB view (that the previous administrations of the CoG included infants, but the New Covenant administration does not) with Klinean republication thrown in (Michael, correct me if I’m wrong here!).

Relevant episodes of his podcast include

  • The Jeremiah 31 Linchpin (2/8/19)
  • The Subservience of the Mosaic Covenant (1/27/19)
  • Some Thoughts on 1689 Federalism (1/20/19)
  • 1689 Federalism and the Galatians Stickler (1/21/19)

I reached out to him to offer some comments on his episodes on 1689 Fed and he asked me to just come on the podcast to just work through it with him. We wound up doing two episodes as he blindsided me with questions about Reformed Libertarianism 😉 They are

  • Brandon Adams and Reformed Libertarianism (3/21/19)
  • Brandon Adams and 1689 Federalism (3/22/19)

He subsequently had a follow-up discussion with Chris Caughey wherein he asked Caughey his view of the same questions.

  • Covenant Theology and 1689 Federalism (3/25/19)

Here are my comments on the 3/25 episode with Caughey:

Confused by Exegetical/Systematic Distinction?

Just to clarify, I was not surprised or caught off guard by the idea, as if I hadn’t heard it before (Waldron makes this argument in his Exposition of the 2LBCF). Rather, I think it is a confusion. As was demonstrated in our discussion, after Pentecost Michael sees no distinction between the CoG and the NC. So the question is very simply the question of how the NC relates to the salvation of OT saints. Michael and others want to answer that question by creating a “systematic” covenant, called the Covenant of Grace, that is not mentioned directly in Scripture but is rather a logical deduction from the fact that OT saints were saved. I would simply say that conclusion flows from an untrue premise.

P1 Men were saved by the Covenant of Grace prior to Pentecost
P2 The New Covenant was not operative until Pentecost
C The Covenant of Grace is distinct from the New Covenant

I would argue that P2 is untrue (unbiblical), therefore the conclusion does not follow. The New Covenant was operative prior to Christ’s death (prior to its legal establishment). That’s why I provided the quotes at the end of the podcast from various paedobaptists, including Horton, denying P2.

The idea that the Covenant of Grace is something distinct from the covenants in the Bible arose (in my observation) from paedobaptists who did not like the idea that the Mosaic Covenant was itself the Covenant of Grace. Rather, they want to argue it was distinct from the Covenant of Grace, but it “administered” the Covenant of Grace. So that’s where this “exegetical/systematic” divide comes from. They can’t affirm the Mosaic was the CoG, while the majority reformed opinion historically was that it was, thus they had no need for the distinction as articulated by Michael (and all the modern reformed guys he’s read). That’s why I quoted Bullinger, Calvin, and Dickson all saying the Mosaic is the New is the CoG. Here is John Ball (whose work had primary influence on Westminster’s formulation):

Most divines hold the old and new Covenants to be one in substance and kind, to differ only in degrees… Some Divines hold the old Testament, even the Law, as it was given upon Mount Sinai, to be the Covenant of Grace for substance, though propounded in a manner fitting to the state of that people, time and condition of the Church…. It was so delivered as it might serve to discover sin, drive the Jews to flie to the the mercy of God revealed in Jesus: but it was given to be a rule of life to a people in covenant, directing them how to walk before God in holiness and righteousness that they might inherit the promises of grace and mercy.
A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (102)

Chris refers to this idea as “monocovenantalism.” Calling the Mosaic Covenant the Covenant of Grace is not monocovenantalism (they have used the label in that way in previous episodes as well). Monocovenantalism is the idea that the Adamic Covenant of Works was part of the single Covenant of God (which includes the Covenant of Grace). Michael seemed to dismiss the view of Bullinger, Calvin, Dickson, and Ball as some outliers (“the worst part of the reformed tradition”) who over-flatten redemptive history and are not sensitive to the changes in history. He said this is not a distinction between Kline and the reformed tradition but between Kline and a few of the worst. I want to make sure people understand that Kline rejected the majority view of the 17th century and that 1689 Federalism polemics are largely a critique of the majority view of the 17th century. As long as you think Ball’s view was “the worst part of the reformed tradition” held by a remote few, then of course you will dismiss and minimize 1689 Federalism’s criticism of it.

To be crystal clear: My interest is primarily biblical, not historical. But this discussion did not begin with Kline. He adopted language and concepts used before him (even if he used them differently). We must acknowledge and properly understand what those concepts were if we are going to have any meaningful discussion of the issues involved. We can’t hermetically seal Kline off from the broader discussion.

Gen 15?

[Note: I revised this section because Michael let me know I misunderstood Chris’ – which I did. What you see below is all updated.]

@16:15 Chris: “I would see administered as a legal term. I don’t see how you can miss the Covenant of Grace being administered – Maybe not formally or as elaborately in Genesis 3:15, but I mean, if you can miss it in Genesis 15, something’s wrong, because God is ratifying a covenant that he’s making with Abraham and Paul and James appeal to Genesis 15 to argue for our justification.”

Abraham’s justification and the ratification of the Abrahamic Covenant are two separate events. The gospel was revealed to Abraham insofar as God promised that he would be the father of the promised seed of the woman who would come and bless all nations. Abraham believed that gospel revelation, and therefore he was justified. After that point God ratified the covenant, promising that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah. One of those things deals with the ordo salutis, the other deals with the historia. The ratification was that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah (historia), not that Abraham would be justified (ordo). Abraham was justified prior to the ratification. The ratification was not a means of Abraham’s justification. The ratification ceremony did not administer the Covenant of Grace to Abraham. The CoG was “administered” to Abraham prior to the ceremony when he believed the gospel that was revealed to him.

This is precisely what I would understand Paul’s point to be in Galatians 3. “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Notice that it is a matter of the Word preached and believed. “18 For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise, but God graciously gave it to Abraham through the promise [that Christ would come to bless all nations].” (NET)

More Than Revelation?

Chris said the best part of reformed theology just wants to say by “administration” that real human beings were really saved by Jesus Christ prior to the incarnation and that happened by believing the promises because they didn’t have the substance of the promise yet. Michael pointed out that’s exactly what 1689 Federalism affirms (see this post). Michael said that what he and Kline mean by “administer” is something more than just revealing the gospel. He said they mean it “brings the substance through the type and shadow.”

Chris agreed that “Redemption doesn’t happen solely by revelation. I mean, there are means involved too. Both the spoken word and something like what we would call a sacrament.”

Of course means are involved. That’s the whole point of saying that types reveal the gospel. But what is the spoken word if not revelation? The spoken word is simply speaking revelation. Understanding and believing that (written or spoken) word/revelation is how people are saved. Through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit (Heb 8:10-11), the elect are made to believe what is revealed, and thus they are saved through faith alone. Now, are people saved through sacraments? No, they are not. Note Isaac Backus: “The work of sanctification in believers is carried on by the ordinances of baptism and the holy supper, but they are not spoken of in Scripture as the means of begetting faith in any person; for faith cometh by hearing the word of God. Rom x. 17.” (For more, see Presbyterian vs Congregationalist vs Baptist Sacramentology)

So people are saved through revelation of the gospel, which includes the means of the Word spoken or written. Sacraments are not converting ordinances through which people are saved, though insofar as they are word pictures, they can proclaim and reveal the gospel to someone, and thereby play a role in bringing someone to saving faith.

The Blood of Bulls and Goats

Chris said that “Hebrews says the blood of bulls and goat could not take away sins, and yet, that was enough for believers under the Old Covenant before Christ had come to access the forgiveness that Christ’s blood would, in history, eventually, merit and earn for them. It’s that kernel and husk thing that you mentioned. They were accessing the real forgiveness that comes from Christ’s blood under the form of the blood of bulls and goats.” Michael: “Which we call ‘administered.’ Right?” Chris: “Yes, Christ’s blood was administered to them through the blood of bulls and goats.”

This is helpful in that it does pinpoint a difference in our views. 1689 Federalism does not believe that OT believers “accessed” Christ’s forgiveness through the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant. Christ was not sacramentally present in the goats. According to 1689 Federalism and the Subservient Covenant view, Old Covenant sacrifices served an Old Covenant function separate from their function as types. God required Israelites to make sacrifices everyday and additional sacrifices on special occasions in order that God would continue to dwell in their midst and bless them temporally according to the terms of the Mosaic Covenant (Deut 28). If the sacrifices were not made, Israel would be cursed. If they were made incorrectly, the priests would be killed (and since the priests represented the people, the people would be cursed). If one became ceremonially unclean or committed certain sins, their flesh could actually be cleansed by the Old Covenant sacrifices. In short, the Old Covenant sacrifices were every bit a part of Leviticus 18:5 as the rest of Mosaic law.

Subservient view

Note that the OPC Report on Republication rightly recognized that this was the Subservient Covenant understanding.

By adding obedience to the ceremonial law to the essential condition of the covenant, the subservient covenant position gives Mosaic typology a fundamentally works-based character, rather than an evangelical one. Proponents did not deny that these various types also signified spiritual benefits, but they insisted that they only did so “secondarily” or indirectly, while their primary reference was to temporal things promised in the covenant.169

[169] Cameron put it this way: “The Sacraments, Sacrifices, and Ceremonies of the Old Testament did set forth Christ, and the Benefits by Christ; not primarily, but secondarily…but the Sacraments of the New Covenant do shew forth Christ primarily, and that clearly” (as translated by Samuel Bolton in his True Boundes, 399). Thus circumcision primarily signified the separation between the seed of Abraham and the rest of the nations and sealed to them the earthly promise. The Passover primarily signified the passing over of the destroying Angel. The sacrifices and washings primarily represented only a carnal holiness. Only secondarily did these benefits signify Christ.

See also Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 9 and Samuel Renihan’s discussion of Cameron and subservient typology in From Shadow to Substance (p. 51, etc).

Westminster view

The OPC Report continues

From a [Westminster] confessional viewpoint, the basic weakness here is that it [subservient typology] reverses the true biblical priority of Christ as the substance and primary signification of these types and shadows. According to our standards, the purpose of these various types and ordinances was to function as an aspect of the covenant of grace, being means of administering the eternal and salvific blessings procured by Christ (WCF 7.5, 8.6, 17.5). He is the “substance” of the types and ordinances (not merely their secondary referent), even as he is the substance of God’s covenant of grace (WCF 7.6), while all else remains secondary or accidental. The subservient covenant effectively reverses this in insisting that these types primarily signify temporal benefits, and only secondarily signify Christ. As John Cameron stated, the subservient covenant leads to Christ only “indirectly” whereas the covenant of grace leads to him directly. It is difficult to harmonize the idea that Christ was the “substance” of all these types and ordinances and at the same time only their secondary referent…

[A]nything that functions as an “administration” of the covenant of grace must, in fact, administer grace to those who are under it. Such it is with the other types, ceremonies, and other ordinances delivered to the Jews. The administrative aspects of the old covenant were to function as the “outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates” to Israel “the benefits of redemption” (SC 88)… [T]ypology is a subset of the broader category of the administration of the covenant… According to our standards, typology is an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace in the Old Testament, which in turn is described as the outward means of the Old Testament era for communicating grace to the elect of that era. Saving grace was not simply administered merely as a consequence or by-product of these types.275 Rather, saving grace was present by and in these types, and in this way communicated grace to believers.276 In terms of our confessional definitions, to say that something is an administration of grace means that grace is communicated by and in that thing.

[275] This seems to be the distinctive typological construction of the subservient covenant position, discussed above.

Klinean view

Thus the two views are very clearly distinguished above. Where do Klineans fit? Right smack-dab in the contradictory middle. Klineans holds to the Subservient Covenant view that the Mosaic Covenant was a typological works covenant distinct from the Covenant of Grace, but they also holds that the sacrificial system administered the Covenant of Grace sacramentally in the Westminster sense. The Report notes “[T]he idea that the Mosaic covenant is in substance or kind a “works” covenant, but at the same time an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace, seems to create a hybrid position that combines elements of positions that viewed themselves as alternatives to one another.”

Klineans attempt to accomplish this feat by separating the sacrificial system from Mosaic law. Chris said that “‘the law’ in Galatians 3 only refers to the commands, not the priestly system and the sacrificial system and all of that. That’s where you see the CoG run through the Mosaic Covenant is in the sacrificial system.” He made the same argument in 1/27/19 episode. Thus he retains Westminster’s sacramentology only by removing the sacrificial system from Mosaic law. But you cannot remove the sacrificial system from Mosaic law, from the Mosaic Covenant. In all honesty it seems very strange that that would even have to be argued. The whole thrust of Heb 7-10 is precisely that the sacrificial system was part of Mosaic law, the Mosaic Covenant. I’m happy to argue more thoroughly if someone wants to present an exegetical argument for the idea that the sacrificial system was not part of Mosaic law, the Mosaic Covenant (Chris mentioned Gal 5:21, but I think he may have meant Gal 3:20? I’m not seeing the argument, so if he would like to make it, I’d be happy to respond).

Conclusion

I greatly appreciate Michael’s willingness to have me on to discuss these issues. I believe it has helped narrow the discussion. I would love to continue the dialogue as there is more than needs to be clarified and pressed (per the above). Kline did not simply adopt the subservient covenant view with modifications to eschatology. Rather, he adopted one aspect of the Subservient view but tried to mesh it together with Westminster sacramentology. I believe the result is contradictory and unbiblical.

For Further Reading

 

 

SRR 92 Brandon Adams on Covenant Theology & Republication

October 24, 2018 Leave a comment

Tim and Carlos had me back on Semper Reformanda Radio to explain why I was asking so many questions about Patrick Hines’ view of the Mosaic Covenant in a debate about baptism. We discussed R. Scott Clark, John Murray, the OPC Report, 17th century diversity, and more.

Podcast Discussion of Theonomy (According to Christ)

August 29, 2018 5 comments

I recently discussed the issue of theonomy on the According to Christ podcast. It’s a complicated topic, so it takes more than an hour to discuss, but hopefully we touched on enough points to lead people into further study. I try to be as detailed as possible in my analysis and criticism because Bahnsen was as detailed as possible in his defense. He listened to critics (not always fully, imo) and gave detailed replies. My argument does not simply rest on a general, vague appeal to typology. Rather, I seek to provide very concrete arguments from typology – more concretely than Bahnsen’s previous critics. However, an adequately thorough presentation of these arguments would require a book, not a podcast.

At one point I misspoke. I stated that Bahnsen could not understand Israel as a type of the church. Bahnsen stated on page 440 of Theonomy in Christian Ethics “With respect to typology it might be suggested that Israel as a nation is a type of the church of Christ. There is certainly scriptural warrant for that comparison.” Bahnsen then proceeded to demonstrate the incompleteness of a general appeal to the typology of Israel, insisting that any argument from typology much be very specific in how Israel’s typology translates into the abrogation of certain penal sanctions. Bahnsen said

[S]ince the argument from typology would appear to contradict the direct assertion of Scripture (cf. Matt. 5:17-19), then much more than a typological connection must be mentioned. It must be demonstrated that Scripture warrants the suggested inference from the typological connection to the argumentative conclusion. The artistic and pedagogical designs inherent in the Scriptures certainly must not be ignored or despised; however, neither must they be abused by trying to make them say something which Scripture itself does not say. The infallible interpreter of Scripture is not an imaginative model brought to bear on the data of the Bible (thus threatening to operate like a Procrustean bed) but is the Scripture itself (Westminster Confession of Faith, I.IX). Without specific biblical moorings and key didactic confirmations, from point to point, typology degenerates either to allegory or a mere projection of the typologists clever or artistic imagination.

I agree and have thus sought to be concrete in my arguments from typology. Lord willing I will be able to put those arguments down in the more concrete form of a book in the future. For now, I hope the brief podcast discussion is helpful.

Notes on a Podcast Discussion with Patrick Hines on Covenant Theology & Baptism

August 24, 2018 10 comments

A couple of months ago I came across a video from Pastor Patrick Hines (PCA), host of The Protestant Witness, addressing the issue of baptism. He was articulating the Presbyterian position in what seemed like an odd way. He was very adamant that no one was born into the Covenant of Grace. I’ve learned not to assume anything about an individual Presbyterian’s covenant theology but to simply take them on their own terms – in this case what appeared to be a rejection of the internal/external covenant membership distinction. I created a video in response explaining how that was not the historic Presbyterian position and addressing some of his other points as well. Turns out I misunderstood him (and therefore wasted my time, his time, and the time of anyone who watched my response). Because other reformed baptists have misunderstood him in the past, he was simply avoiding the external covenant membership language altogether. So in an attempt not to confuse some reformed baptists, he wound up confusing other reformed baptists 🙂 I’m sure that was frustrating for him and I’m sorry to have added to the frustration.

Because so much time had been wasted on a misunderstanding that could have been resolved in :30 in a discussion, I was reluctant to continue a video back and forth. Thankfully Semper Reformanda Radio asked if Patrick and I wanted to discuss the issue on a podcast instead. It took a while to get it scheduled, but we recorded it last week. You can find it here: SRR 90 A Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian Debate

Below are some further comments on the discussion.

Hines’ Opening Statement

Acts 7:38 – ἐκκλησία (ekklhsia)

The English word “church” has an exclusively religious meaning. It really refers exclusively to the body of Christ. The Greek does not. It is a secular word used by Paul to refer to the body of Christ. Strong’s defines it as “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly.” On Acts 7:38, the NET Bible notes “This term, ἐκκλησία (ekklhsia), is a secular use of the term that came to mean “church” in the epistles. Here a reference to an assembly is all that is intended.” As I mentioned in the podcast, there is certainly a type/antitype relationship – but the mere use of the word ἐκκλησία does not entail that Israel was the Church.

The Gospel was preached to Abraham

Absolutely. That does not mean the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. It means the Abrahamic Covenant revealed something about the gospel to Abraham.

John the Baptist said you can’t be born into the Abrahamic Covenant

No, John was unpacking the typology of Abraham’s offspring. He was warning of the coming end of the Old Covenant. “The axe is laid to the root” of the privilege of Abraham’s physical offspring (see Keach). At the final end of the Old Covenant, the only relationship to father Abraham that would matter was faith. John was not denying that the Abrahamic Covenant was made with Abraham’s natural offspring.

The Gen 15 land promise applies today to believers and their children, because the land promise is heaven

This blending of type and antitype is a basic problem with paedobaptism. The land of Canaan was not heaven. It was a type of heaven. The type is not the thing typified. The land of Canaan was promised to Abraham’s natural offspring (upon the condition of obedience to Mosaic law). Yes, it typified heaven promised to Abraham’s spiritual offspring. But those are two different things (see here). Note that any strangers who wished to be circumcised and live as a native of the land still could not possess/own any land in perpetuity because it was not promised to Gentiles who had faith. It was promised to Abraham’s natural offspring.

Heb 6:17 proves the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace

No, it proves that God’s promise(s) to Abraham were unchangeable. God fulfilled both promises (that numerous natural offspring would inherit the land of Canaan and that the promised Messiah would be born from Abraham to bless all nations). That doesn’t mean the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace.

The Abrahamic Covenant can’t be the Old Covenant because of Heb 8:13

Insofar as the Mosaic Covenant was an elaboration/addendum/confirmation of the first Abrahamic promise (that numerous offspring would inherit the land of Canaan), both the Mosaic Covenant and the first Abrahamic promise comprise the Old Covenant (epitomized by the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai). Abraham’s natural offspring’s tenure in the promised land governed by Mosaic law grew old and vanished away, as Heb 8:13 said it would.

Gal 3 says the Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace

No, Galatians 3 unpacks the difference between the two Abrahamic promises (see here, here, and here).

Gal 4:21ff says the Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace

No, the passage is contrasting the Old and the New covenants, both of which flow from God’s promises to Abraham (see here).

The Credobaptist position argues for a radical termination of the household principle for the church

This is merely begging the question.

If Abraham thought like a baptist, he’d never circumcise his children

Again, that’s begging the question.

Acts 2 simply restates Gen 17

First, Abraham’s slaves are not equivalent to “those who are far off.” The fact that Pastor Hines seeks to equate the two is a good indication of how far the text has to be stretched.

Second, the paedobaptist argument for internal/external covenant membership is based on Romans 9:6-8 wherein it is argued that only the elect offspring of believers are actually children of the Abrahamic promise. Recognizing the tension/contradiction in claiming that the Gen 17 promise is both conditionally to all the offspring and unconditionally to the elect offspring, Meredith Kline said that baptism should not be argued for on the basis of the Abrahamic promise (see here and here).

Finally, the Gen 17:7-8 promise was made to Israel according to the flesh and was fulfilled when God brought them out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan where he dwelt with them as their king and established a unique form of worship distinct from all other nations. See Ex. 2:24-25; 6:6-7; 19:4-6; Ezek 16:8; Deut 4:32-40; 29:10-13; Ps. 147:19-20; Amos 3:1-2; Hosea 1:9. It was typological of God’s promise concerning Abraham’s spiritual descendants. For an elaboration, see here.

The Old Covenant had church discipline just like the New Covenant

Being stoned to death is not the same thing as being excommunicated. Rather, it highlights the difference between the nation of Israel and the church. The death penalty was a covenant curse according to the condition of Lev 18:5. Excommunication is not. Those who committed a sin worthy of stoning died without mercy (Heb 10:28). Those in the church who commit a sin worthy of excommunication are given abundant mercy. Yes, Paul applied Israel’s civil law concerning stoning to the church. The fact that he applied a civil law to the church indicates the typological relationship between Israel and the church, not the identity of Israel and the church. For more, see here.

Hines’ point was to try to argue that the condition for membership in Israel was the same as the condition for membership in the church: an individual who professes saving faith in Christ, along with their immediate offspring. However, that was never the condition for being part of Israel. Profession of saving faith in Christ was never a requirement. Being an offspring of Abraham (through Isaac and Jacob) was. And even the remotest offspring of Abraham received a right (and obligation) to circumcision directly from his connection to Abraham, not because of his immediate parents’ profession of saving faith. This brings up very interesting and very significant differences between modern American Presbyterians and historic Presbyterians. They denied that a profession of saving faith was a requirement for church membership (though many argued it was a requirement for participating in the Lord’s Supper). That was a Independent/Congregationalist view. They also argued that the descendants of believers may be baptized even if their parents were wicked. See here and here as well.

James White doesn’t think Hebrews teaches that Abraham was in the New Covenant

Commenting on Hebrews 8:10, Calvin said “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.” On 8:6 Owen said “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 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.” Augustine explained “These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new.” John Frame said “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… the 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.”

Hebrews 9:16 refutes the idea that OT saints were saved by the New Covenant

No more than 9:15 refutes the idea that the OT saints were saved by the blood of Christ.

The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants

The original reformed argument for paedobaptism was that the Old and New Covenants were one and the same. Bullinger’s 8th sermon in The Decades is titled “OF THE USE OR EFFECT OF THE LAW OF GOD AND OF THE FULFILLING AND ABROGATING OF THE SAME: OF THE LIKENESS AND DIFFERENCE OF BOTH THE TESTAMENTS AND PEOPLE, THE OLD AND THE NEW.” He says

Now by this discourse or treatise, dearly beloved, ye shall understand, that the Testament of the old and new church of God is all one… In the very substance truly thou canst find no diversity: the difference which is betwixt them, doth consist in the manner of administration, in a few accidents and certain circumstances… in respect of the substance there neither was, nor is, any more than one testament [covenant].”

Calvin likewise argued in Institutes 2.10.2 that

both covenants are truly one… although differently administered… [L]et us consider what resemblance and what difference there is between the covenant which the Lord made with the Israelites before the advent of Christ, and that which he had made with us now that Christ is manifested. It is possible indeed, to explain both in one word. The covenant made with all the fathers is so far from differing from ours in reality and substance, that it is altogether one and the same: still the administration differs.

Commenting on Jeremiah 31:31, Calvin said

he then who once made a covenant with his chosen people, had not changed his purpose, as though he had forgotten his faithfulness. It then follows, that the first covenant was inviolable; besides, he had already made his covenant with Abraham, and the Law was a confirmation of that covenant. As then the Law depended on that covenant which God made with his servant Abraham, it follows that God could never have made a new, that is, a contrary or a different covenant… God has never made any other covenant than that which he made formerly with Abraham, and at length confirmed by the hand of Moses.

Lutheran Martin Chemnitz objected “Shall I follow Calvin when he says there is actually only one covenant? Or shall I follow Scripture which testifies that the new covenant is better than the old?” John Owen explained “[I]t 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… See Calvin. Institut. lib. 2:cap. xi.” This was the view that was summarized in the WCF (see the OPC Report on Republication “The fourth view maintains that the Sinaitic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace. As noted above, this is the position affirmed in our standards… [The view] that the Sinai covenant and the Abrahamic and new covenant are not really the same covenant differing only in degree or circumstances, but in substance or essence… [is not] compatible with our doctrinal standards.”)

Peter Lillback notes

Calvin both presents his case for paedobaptism as well as defends it against various attacks by employment of the covenant idea. His positive arguments build initially upon his already established point of the continuity of the Old and New Covenants. It is due to the continuity of the covenant with the Jews and with Christians that enables Christians to baptize their infants.

Pastor Hines, like many modern American Presbyterians, does not agree (unless I have misunderstood him). He believes that the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant are the Covenant of Grace, but the Mosaic Covenant was not. It was a different covenant that promised life and blessing in Canaan for Israel upon the condition of obedience to Mosaic law. The Abrahamic/New Covenant is a gracious promise but the Mosaic is a law covenant.

A crucial point, however, is how the land of Canaan fits into this view of the covenants. Hines, and others like him, argue that due to its nature as a promise covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant graciously promised the land of Canaan to Abraham’s natural offspring upon the condition of faith. He points to Hebrews 3:19 to support this idea. They were granted entrance/initial possession of the land through faith. However they could only remain in the land through works – through obedience to Mosaic law. They were ultimately exiled according to the Mosaic curse of Deuteronomy 28 because they failed to obey Mosaic law.

However, Hines did not explain when exactly this transition took place. At what point were the Israelites considered to have had possession through faith? At what point did the Mosaic covenant kick in? The Mosaic Covenant was established on Mt. Sinai in the wilderness long before Israel took possession of the promised land. In fact, Moses specifically said that their possession of the land was conditioned upon their obedience to Mosaic law. Deuteronomy 4:1 “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you.” Deuteronomy 8:1 says “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.” Jeremiah understood that the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise conditioned upon Israel’s obedience to the law. 11:3-5 says “Cursed is the man who does not obey the words of this covenant 4 which I commanded your fathers in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and do according to all that I command you; so shall you be My people, and I will be your God,’ 5 that I may establish the oath which I have sworn to your fathers, to give them ‘a land flowing with milk and honey,’ as it is this day.”

Dennis Johnson notes

On the other hand, it is also 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. Israel is to hear and to do the Lord’s commands “that” the promised consequences might follow, namely life and possession of the land. (Him We Proclaim, 298)

The Mosaic Covenant did not change the terms upon which Abraham’s offspring would enjoy the promised land. Rather, it elaborated upon the incipient terms of the Abrahamic Covenant. Note Genesis 26:3-5

to you [Isaac] and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. 4 And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; 5 because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.

Kline explained

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. (Kingdom Prologue, 325)

The Mosaic Covenant was an addendum to the Abrahamic Covenant, adding greater specificity. Deuteronomy 7:12 “Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers.”

It is not possible, biblically, to separate the Mosaic Covenant from the first Abrahamic promise. God’s oath to Abraham guaranteed that the first promise would be fulfilled, but it never promised it would be fulfilled through faith apart from works. It would be fulfilled through obedience to Mosaic law. God was longsuffering to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s natural offspring until the first promise had been completely fulfilled during Solomon’s reign. At that point, Israel was on their own. Abraham could no longer chase away the birds of prey. If Israel broke the law, they would suffer the consequences. Solomon sinned. Israel was split in two and the 10 tribes were destroyed forever. Then Judah sinned and was destroyed by Babylon, except for a small remnant, which God saved because the second Abrahamic promise of the Messiah (which was reiterated through David) had not yet been fulfilled. When that second promise was fulfilled at Christ’s birth, John the Baptist and Jesus began preaching the coming destruction and God destroyed Judah/Jerusalem in AD 70 as the final end of the Old Covenant. (I go over all of this in a podcast series).

Circumcision

How does circumcision relate to all of this? Pastor Hines leans heavily on Romans 4:11 to explain the meaning of circumcision. As explained in the discussion circumcision was a sign and seal (guarantee) of the second Abrahamic promise that Christ would come. It was a seal of Christ’s righteousness in the historia salutis. It was not a sign or seal of Christ’s righteousness imputed to Abraham, David, or anyone else in the ordo salutis. Circumcision was not a sign of union with Christ; a sign of the person’s fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life. Rather, circumcision devoted an individual to the priestly service of God according to the terms of Mosaic law. John D. Meade notes that the practice of circumcision in Egypt during the time was an initiation rite for those who would serve in the court of Pharaoh as priests. Richard Pratt, Jr. explains that in circumcision “Abraham committed himself to loyal service.” In this way Israel was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:6). This was a glorious thing, but it also proved to be an unbearable yoke (Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1) because it devoted one to obedience to Mosaic law (Gal 5:3). It was profitable if one kept the law, but if one broke the law their circumcision made them liable to Mosaic curse (Rom 2:25). And there was no getting out of this obligation. If one was not circumcised, they were to be cut off (killed; Gen 17:14; Ex. 4:24-26). There was no voluntary profession of saving faith. All offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were obligated to circumcision, devoting them to obedience to Mosaic law, upon pain of death.

Of course, the rite of circumcision did not guarantee that any particular circumcised Israelite would actually serve Yahweh from the heart as Mosaic law required (Deut 6:4). It just meant that they were obligated to (Deut 10:12-16). Note that Moses commanded the Israelites to circumcise their hearts, meaning devote themselves to the service of Yahweh from the bottom of their heart – not just outwardly. Circumcision was not a sign that an individual had a circumcised heart. It was a reminder that they needed one. Jeremiah again commanded Israel to circumcise their hearts – to obey from the heart (Jer 4:4). God had been longsuffering towards the circumcised, but this patience was coming to an end. Jeremiah warns of a coming judgment upon the circumcised for their disobedience. ““Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that I will punish all who are circumcised with the uncircumcised—  Egypt, Judah, Edom, the people of Ammon, Moab, and all who are in the farthest corners, who dwell in the wilderness. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.” Jeremiah also looks forward to a day when God will make a new covenant that ensures obedience from the heart (Jer. 31:31-34). This is the same future work that Moses prophesied in Deut. 30:6, of which Calvin commented “This promise far surpasses all the others, and properly refers to the new Covenant, for thus it is interpreted by Jeremiah.”

It is in this vein that Paul says “we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit” (Phil. 3:3) because we have been “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands” (Col. 2:11). A true Jew is now one “who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter” (Rom 2:29). We are devoted to the service of Yahweh from our inward heart, as Israel was commanded to be. But yet this is not sufficient to save us. Even with a regenerate heart we cannot obey the law perfectly, though we may sincerely. We still need Christ’s atonement and the imputation of his righteousness. This is the blessing that God promised Abraham one of his offspring would give to the nations. It was the error of the Judaizers to conflate these two distinct Abrahamic promises and thereby claim that Christians must be circumcised as well. Circumcision obligated the offspring of Abraham to obedience to the law for life and blessing in the promised land of Canaan not for eternal life. This is why Paul explains that Abraham was justified (had eternal life) prior to being circumcised. Circumcision obligated Abraham and his offspring to obedience to the law, but not for eternal life, which Abraham already had. The error of the Judaizers was not to equate circumcision with law keeping but to think God offered Israel eternal life upon the condition of obedience to Mosaic law.

Conclusion

19th century American Episcopalians argued for a national church model consisting of the righteous and the wicked based upon the example of Israel. Note how Charles Hodge responded:

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)

Hodge is mistaken in his claim that there were two Abrahamic Covenants. However, Hodge is correct that confounding the Covenant of Circumcision (Acts 7:8) with the Covenant of Grace is a great error.

R. Scott Clark’s Inconsistent Hermeneutic

February 14, 2018 3 comments

R. Scott Clark employs a non-typological interpretation of Old Testament restoration prophecies in order to defend the practice of infant baptism. The error of this interpretation is demonstrated by other paedobaptists explaining the correct typological interpretation.

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Overview of 1689 Federalism on the Reformed Northwest Podcast

December 21, 2017 4 comments

I recently joined the Reformed Northwest Podcast for a 5-part overview of 1689 Federalism. I’d love to hear any comments/thoughts/feedback/criticism/disagreement you may have.

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