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Federal Vision Baptists?

December 3, 2019 16 comments

Prefatory Note: The main purpose of this post is not to tell others how to direct their affairs or to pronounce what actions are tolerable or intolerable. The purpose of this post is to show as clearly as possible what people believe. What one chooses to do with that information is up to them.

We find ourselves in a rather complicated mess. R. Scott Clark says that the Federal Vision has never gone away and that “there seems to be emerging an alliance between conservative Baptists and Federal Visionists,” pointing to the recent ReformCon hosted by Apologia Church as well as the documentary being produced by Founders. James White (an elder at Apologia) responded by calling Clark a Reformed Fundie who is unable to distinguish between things that divide (the essentials) and things that don’t (adiaphora) – the implication being that Apologia Church does not disagree with the Federal Vision men they associate with on the essentials. White has insisted that his points of disagreement with Wilson have been made known through debates they have had. He also argues

Anybody who suggests that myself or Apologia Church are promoting Federal Visionism obviously doesn’t understand what it is… as Dr. Clark summarized it ‘In by baptism, kept in by works,’… We cannot be Federal Visionists because you’re never in by baptism. We don’t believe in infant baptism. We don’t believe that baptism is that mechanism by any stretch of the imagination. So we must just be so stupid that we don’t get it that we’re promoting people that are actually teaching it right under our noses. (1:27:15)

Clark replied

This second objection is not true logically or actually. There is no reason a Baptist could not affirm all of the five points [of the Federal Vision] listed above.

What are we to make of all this?

R. Scott Clark

First, I want to be abundantly clear that I am not an R. Scott Clark “fanboy.” Anyone who follows me online knows that is the last thing I could be described as. Clark banned me from his blog ages ago (7+ yrs?) and of course blocked me on Twitter as well (but at this point who hasn’t he blocked?). I concur with Steven Wedgeworth when he says

It has become increasingly clear that Dr. Clark is an untrustworthy guide when it comes to historical theology… Dr. Clark’s most recent Twitter activity has also raised eyebrows because of the dissonance between his claim to academic authority and the contents of his arguments which are usually not supported by the primary historical sources.

This is true of Clark on a variety of topics (see here for example, as well as here). Robert Strimple even had to write a memo to the WSC faculty chastising Clark for his poor historical theology claims. No one should trust Clark’s analysis of anything.

But does that mean everything he says is wrong?

Federal Vision or Neonomianism?

Clark summarizes the Federal Vision in 5 points:

  1. There is no covenant of works before the fall. The covenant of grace was established before the fall and continues after the fall.
  2. The conditions of the covenant with Adam are the conditions for Christians: faithfulness.
  3. Because there is no distinction between those who are in “the covenant” only externally those who are also in the covenant internally, at baptism every baptized person is endowed with all that we need to persevere and retain what we have been given.
  4. Those who cooperate sufficiently with grace will finally persevere and shall have been elected.
  5. It is possible for those who were truly united to Christ to fall away (apostatize).

Though Wedgeworth argues this does not capture all of what Federal Vision entails, it does represent the main problems – though some FV men like Wilson have sort of walked back and qualified 3-5 (maybe, kind of, not really?). These aspects of the Federal Vision can be put into two categories: neonomianism and the objectivity of the covenant. Federal Vision is a species of neonomianism, distinguished by its view of the objectivity of the covenant of grace. Points 1-2 above mostly deal with neonomianism more broadly while points 3-5 deal with FV’s particular species of neonomianism.

White has focused on the fact that Apologia cannot possibly hold to FV because they completely reject 3 (and the points that follow from it: 4-5). Their view is, in fact, diametrically opposed to FV on this point: the New Covenant is only “internal.” So White is correct that Apologia does not and cannot hold to the Federal Vision.

Clark says

[S]ome Baptists have taught part or all of the FV theology, e.g., John Armstrong was a Baptist when affirmed Norman Shepherd’s doctrine of justification.3 Don Garlington has long affirmed something like the Federal Vision theology.4 The same is true for Daniel Fuller, who has strongly influenced John Piper.5 The latter is actively teaching a two-stage doctrine of salvation in which the final stage of salvation is “by works.”6

Notice that Clark says some Baptists have taught part or all of the FV theology (the 5 points listed), but then only gives examples of Baptists who have held part of the listed points (as far as I know). So what Clark is really arguing is that Baptists can hold to part of FV – the neonomian part. Wedgeworth notes

He has reduced everything back to the Norman Shepherd controversy, and this shows us what he is really up to. All of Dr. Clark’s points are ways to highlight his classic theological foil, neonomianism. This is why he can extend the FV name to someone like John Piper. Dr. Clark is not really talking about the Federal Vision. He is talking about neonomianism… And importantly, it is entirely possible for a form of neonomianism to be present within a kind of Reformed Baptist system, while it would be impossible for FV to be present in one. So Dr. Clark ought to cut to the chase and lead with the term neonomian.

Perhaps Clark has chosen to frame this all as a matter of the Federal Vision because numerous Presbyterian denominations have officially denounced the teaching. But framing this all as a matter of Federal Vision has hindered a meaningful conversation (especially with those who are not aware of the intricacies and history – such as White’s assistant Rich Pierce, who openly mocked the very idea that those official reports by paedobaptists can offer any meaningful critique of a paedobaptist error like FV).

If Clark is really just talking about neonomianism, then that changes the discussion entirely.

Neonomianism

As Clark noted, Norman Shepherd (John Murray’s successor to the chair of systematic theology at WTS) was caught in the mid-70s teaching students that we are justified by faith and works. In a 1975 faculty discussion, Shepherd affirmed that works are an instrument of our justification.

Later, after he was understandably criticized for using this language, he modified his language to justification through our faithfulness [“Obedience is simply faithfulness to the Lord; it is the righteousness of faith.” (The Call of Grace 39)]. He and others became convinced that Romans 2:13, which says, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (ESV) [refers to believers at the final judgment].

Shepherd continued to teach for 7 more years at WTS before he was removed, after which he joined the CRC to avoid a trial in the OPC. However, his beliefs continued to have great influence. In 2001 the OPC added Rom 2:13 as a proof text for WLC90, which states

Q. 90. What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?

A. At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.

Shepherd’s denial of sola fide is rooted in a rejection of what he calls the “works-merit” paradigm.

The biblical paradigm, I would suggest to you, is one that is consistently covenantal without the schizophrenic antithesis between the covenant of works and an antithetical covenant of grace… Proverbs 12:28 “In the way of righteousness there is life. Along that path is immortality” That is salvation by grace in the Old Testament and it is also salvation by grace in the New Testament. The works-merit paradigm has no way of accounting for those words in Proverbs 12:28. In terms of that paradigm this is nothing but salvation by merit or works, but it’s presented to us in the bible as gospel.

(What’s All the Fuss, Lecture 2)

What Shepherd refers to as the “works-merit” paradigm is also known as the law/gospel distinction, referring to the two ways of obtaining eternal life. Shepherd accurately summarizes this view:

Covenant theology became a distinctive mark of the Reformed faith, and the distinction between law and gospel corresponds broadly to the distinction between covenant of works and covenant of grace… That is to say, Adam would earn or achieve whatever eschatological blessing and privilege was held out to him on the ground of perfect law keeping. In this covenant, justification is by works, that is, by the meritorious performance of good works… In the covenant of grace that now takes the place of the pre-fall covenant of works, they are justified and saved on the ground of Christ’s perfect obedience imputed to them and received by faith alone. Faith is the only condition operative in the covenant of grace, and it is not a meritorious condition but an instrumental condition… R. C. Sproul summarizes this commonly received view with these words: “Man’s relationship to God in creation was based on works. What Adam failed to achieve, Christ, the second Adam, succeeded in achieving. Ultimately the only way one can be justified is by works.”

(Law and Gospel in Covenantal Perspective)

However, he rejects this view as unbiblical.

I would like to offer a different way of looking at the Adamic covenant… The issue in the probation was whether Adam… would live by faith or perish in unbelief… He would live and live forever not by the merit of his works but by faith. He would exhibit the principle stated in Habakkuk 2:4 and reiterated by Paul in Romans 1:17, “The righteous will live by faith.” Whatever blessing was in store for him was not a reward to be earned by performance but a gift to be received by faith… Paul writes in Romans 4:4, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” [4] If Adam had turned a deaf ear to Satan and obeyed the Lord’s command, he would not have received what was his due, but a gift. He would have received that gift by faith. The Lord God did not and never does deal with his image bearers in terms of a principle of works and merit but ever and always in terms of a principle of faith and grace. Faith for Adam was what true faith always is, a living and active faithThe method of justification for Adam before the fall is exactly what it is for Paul after the fall: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17)… If we ask how sinners are saved under the Mosaic covenant, the answer is clear enough… They are both justified and sanctified by the law, and that is to say they are justified and sanctified by grace through faith… This is not salvation by the merit of good works because the Lord does not deal with us on the basis of works and merit, and never did… God’s children have always lived by grace through faith, both before and after the fall into sin…

From a covenantal perspective, however, law and gospel are not antithetically opposed… In the application of redemption, law and gospel are simply the two sides of the covenant, promise and obligation. All that God promises is a pure gift of sovereign grace, and he leads us into possession of what he has promised by way of a penitent and obedient faith.

(Law and Gospel in Covenantal Perspective)

Note very, very, very well: If “the method of justification for Adam before the fall is exactly what it is for Paul after the fall” then justification by faith alone takes on an entirely different meaning. If someone follows Shepherd’s paradigm, then their affirmation of justification by faith alone is not enough because they mean something different by that phrase. One must press deeper for more elaboration as to what is and is not meant. This is nothing new in the history of theological dispute. Biblical or established terminology is used in an unbiblical or new manner prompting a precise, systematic elaboration of what that terminology does and does not mean. That is not splitting hairs or witch hunting. That is doing theology.

When they say “justification by faith alone” they mean “justification by faithfulness.” Justification apart from works of the law takes on a new meaning in Shepherd’s paradigm. “Works of the law” becomes a reference to something subjective within an individual, not to anything objective in the law. It is argued that the works Paul has in mind are works done with a sinful motive to earn reward. We are justified apart from those works, not because they are imperfect, but because we cannot earn anything from God – hence they are not works done in faith. “Works of the law” are works done without faith. Shepherd says they are

works done in the strength of human flesh in order to obtain the justifying verdict of God… These works of the law were not good works; they were not the obedience of faith wrought by the power of God.

Justification by Faith in Pauline Theology

We must compare Paul with what James says: we are not justified by faith alone apart from works. What James is referring to is “the obedience of faith.” Paul and James are referring to the same justification, but they are referring to different works. Justification is apart from misunderstood, self-wrought works of merit, but not apart from Spirit-wrought works of faith (so they say).

In his PhD dissertation (published 2006), Reformed Baptist scholar Samuel E. Waldron summarizes

[T]here is no place in Shepherd’s theology for anything like the dichotomy between law and gospel that lays at the foundation of justification sola fide for the Reformation. If there is no such thing as meritorious works, if Christ’s work was believing obedience, if the obedience of faith is the righteousness of faith, then we are clearly dealing with a system of doctrine that has no way to express the Reformation’s contrast between law and gospel. Such a system cannot consistently affirm the justification sola fide squarely built on this contrast.

Allegiance to The Westminster Confession is often understood as subscription to its “system of doctrine.” The Westminster Confession accurately represents the Reformation system of doctrine when it grounds its soteriology on a contrast between the law (“the covenant of works”) and the gospel (“the covenant of grace”). Shepherd has no place for such a structure in his theology and cannot, therefore, affirm consistently the “system of doctrine” taught in the Confession he cites so often in his writings…

The classic articulation of justification sola fide is found in the Reformation tradition. To affirm sola fide and not mean by this phrase what it meant for the whole Reformation tradition is simply misleading. The fact is, however, that this is exactly what Garlington, Fuller, and Shepherd actually do. They do not hold the definition of justifying faith held by the Reformation tradition. They do not hold the distinction between justifying faith and evangelical obedience held by the Reformation tradition. They do not hold the dichotomy between law and gospel held by the Reformation tradition. They do not hold sola fide in any of its fundamental characteristics in the tradition. They do not hold justification sola fide in any familiar or meaningful sense. Their affirmation of sola fide, then, only serves to cloud and confuse the true meaning and real purport of their theologies.

Faith, Obedience, and Justification: Current Evangelical Departures, p. 186, 231

Now why would a Reformed Baptist scholar (currently Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary) choose to do his PhD work on a topic that is irrelevant to baptists? Clearly he thought it was relevant. His dissertation critiques Norm Shepherd, Daniel Fuller (baptist), and Don Garlington (baptist). Garlington was originally one of Waldron’s teachers at the reformed baptist Trinity Ministerial Academy (Al Martin). Waldron clearly saw a connection between these three men’s rejection of sola fide as well as a relevance to his ministry such that it was worth understanding and refuting Shepherd’s ideas. It was not merely an intra-Presbyterian squabble. Waldron obviously shares Clark’s concern over Shepherdism’s ability to influence baptists. This is not a matter of adiaphora.

Neonomianism at ReformCon?

Of course, that raises the question as to whether or not any of the speakers at ReformCon could be said to 1) hold to Shepherd-shaped neonomianism, and 2) be teaching something at ReformCon related to Shepherd-shaped neonomianism (which is hard to determine since the talks have not been posted online – UPDATE: someone let me know the talks have been trickling in on the Apologia YouTube page. I missed that. I’ll give them a listen as soon as I can).

P. Andrew Sandlin

Sandlin was a speaker at ReformCon. His lectures are also part of the academy offered to supporters/subscribers of Apologia Radio. He is ordained in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity. He is Founder and President of the Center for Cultural Leadership. He is a disciple of Norman Shepherd. He was the editor (together with John Barach) of Obedient Faith: A Festschrift to Norman Shepherd (published by the Center for Cultural Leadership), self-described as “A tribute by students and friends to a courageous theologian’s lifelong stand for a full-orbed, obedient Christianity.” He has a chapter in it titled “Sola Fide: True and False.”

He was also editor of Backbone of the Bible: Covenant in Contemporary Perspective. It includes 2 chapters by Shepherd himself (“Justification by Faith in Pauline Theology” and “Justification by Works in Reformed Theology”) and 1 chapter by Sandlin titled “Covenant in Redemptive History: ‘Law and Gospel’ or ‘Trust and Obey’?” In this essay, Sandlin says

The interpretation I offer swerves at points from certain traditional categories. This fact should not be unduly troubling. We Protestants affirm the Bible, not tradition, as the final authority for what we believe and teach and practice… I believe that the Bible presents at root one gospel, one law, one salvation, one ethic, one hope, one faith, all ensconced in one message. This puts me at odds with both traditional dispensationalism and traditional covenant theology. There is no fundamental gospel-law distinction [italics original]…

In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam and Eve that they could eat of all the trees except one-the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2: 16-17). We also know that if they ate of the tree of life, they would have lived forever or gained eternal life (Genesis 3:22). I do not believe this has anything to do with what is traditionally termed a prelapsarian (or pre-Fall) “covenant of works”: that eternal life was something man was rewarded as merit for his obedience. Before the Fall, this view alleges, man was to merit eternal life and afterward Christ must merit it for us. I disagree with Charles Hodge when he asserts that the Bible presents two ways of gaining eternal life, one by works and one by faith… There are not two ways of gaining eternal life, one in the prelapsarian era and one in the postlapsarian era… There is only one way of obtaining eternal life, and there has always been only one way… Eternal life, even in the prelapsarian period, was of grace, and not of merit. Faith and obedience were the means of gaining eternal life, but not the ground [italics original]… the ground of eternal life in the prelapsarian era is the grace of God. What is its instrument and means? I believe that they are really no different than in the subsequent eras-faith in the Lord, accompanied by obedience, and, in fact, a faith that is itself an act of obedience…

Now, this conviction relating to the prelapsarian era has specific implications for the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ.22 [Footnote points readers to the Christus Victor model of atonement] If eternal life is not something that Adam merited, and if it is not something that man could even conceivably merit (Galatians 3:21), it is not, therefore, something that Jesus Christ himself merited. There is simply no such thing as a meritorious basis of eternal life, and there is no such thing as a meritorious soteriology. It is simply a fiction… [E]ternal life was not something that Jesus was “rewarded” for being extraordinarily virtuous… The righteousness that becomes ours as we are mystically united to him by faith alone is a love-filled, law-keeping righteousness: a faithful trust and reliance on the Father that necessarily issues in good works…

Christ alone saves, and those who place faith in him will obey the law. This, I believe, is the meaning of Romans 2:13: that not the hearers of the law are justified, but the doers of the law are justified. Paul is not setting up a theoretical basis of justification, but an actual basis of justification…

[W]hen you boil it right down, that there is no fundamental distinction between gospel and law.

Gospel, Law, and Redemptive History: “Trust and Obey

Toby Sumpter / CrossPolitic / Doug Wilson

Toby Sumpter was a speaker at ReformCon. He is an elder at Doug Wilson’s church. He is a proponent of the Federal Vision (though recently criticizing some FV men). I have not read anything to indicate he disagrees with Wilson.

CrossPolitic did a live recording at ReformCon. It is a podcast offering commentary on current political and cultural issues in America hosted by Sumpter and two other members of Christ Church. I have not read anything to indicate these men disagree with their pastor, Wilson.

Since Wilson has written the most on this issue and he is (rightly) a center of focus because of his tremendous influence on Apologia Church (even though he was not at ReformCon), I will address his beliefs. I hope that I do so accurately. It is not an easy task because Wilson is often given to rhetorical flair that is unhelpful in determining precise theological matters. Furthermore, his book Reformed is Not Enough helped spark the Federal Vision controversy when it was written in 2002, but since that time one has to dig through his blog to find any changes, clarifications, or developments in his thought in response to critics. He has made all of his relevant blog posts available in a volume titled The Auburn Avenue Chronicles. It totals 950 pages and contains no organization other than sequential ordering of posts by date originally posted on his blog. It is hardly congenial to properly understanding his beliefs. I hope I have grasped his position and I am open to correction on anything I have misunderstood.

Federal Vision No Mas?

In 2017, Wilson decided to stop calling himself a Federal Vision proponent. Thankfully, he acknowledges “there were also a number of critics of the federal vision who were truly insightful and saw the implications and trajectories of certain ideas better than I did at the time.” The article addresses the fact that he wishes to distance himself from some other FV men whose trajectories he disagrees with. However, it is very important to note that “This statement represents a change in what I will call what I believe. It does not represent any substantial shift or sea change in the content of what I believe.”

Law/Gospel Distinction

Wilson follows Shepherd in rejecting the law(CoW)/gospel(CoG) distinction (two ways of obtaining eternal life). It can be confusing because most of Wilson’s comments specifically on the law/gospel distinction are directed against a slightly different law/gospel distinction (i.e. a division between promise and command, etc), though he rejects both ideas. Playing off of the 3 uses of the moral law, Wilson argues (like Shepherd) that the difference between law and gospel is in the human heart, not anything objective.

The Scripture is what it is, and contains both promises and imperatives… For the believer, even the Ten Commandments can be understood as gracious… For the unbeliever, even the message of the cross is foolishness, an intolerable demand. So that, in a nutshell, is what I think is going on with law and gospel… There is a vast difference between a law/gospel hermeneutic, which I reject heartily and with enthusiasm, and a law/gospel application or use, which is pastoral, prudent and wise.

The Law/Gospel Study Bible, Coming Soon

This was expressed in the Joint Federal Vision Statement (which Wilson helped author, signed, and still affirms).

Law and Gospel

We affirm that those in rebellion against God are condemned both by His law, which they disobey, and His gospel, which they also disobey. When they have been brought to the point of repentance by the Holy Spirit, we affirm that the gracious nature of all God’s words becomes evident to them. At the same time, we affirm that it is appropriate to speak of law and gospel as having a redemptive and historical thrust, with the time of the law being the old covenant era and the time of the gospel being the time when we enter our maturity as God’s people. We further affirm that those who are first coming to faith in Christ frequently experience the law as an adversary and the gospel as deliverance from that adversary, meaning that traditional evangelistic applications of law and gospel are certainly scriptural and appropriate.

We deny that law and gospel should be considered as hermeneutics, or treated as such. We believe that any passage, whether indicative or imperative, can be heard by the faithful as good news, and that any passage, whether containing gospel promises or not, will be heard by the rebellious as intolerable demand. The fundamental division is not in the text, but rather in the human heart.

Joint Federal Vision Statement

I see that all Scripture can only be interpreted in one of two ways—either in faith or in unbelief. The division is therefore in the human heart, and never in the divine heart.

CREC Examination, Page 10

Based on this, Wilson (like Shepherd) makes a distinction between works of the law and obedience to the law.

We distinguish between obedience and works because Paul does. In the Pauline vocabulary, deeds without faith is works. Deeds done in faith is obedience.

Obedience and Life (This quote is missing from Doug’s post as it currently appears on his blog, but it was part of the post when it first appeared. See here for a slight revision of his statement.)

In the New Testament, obedience is a good word. Also in the New Testament, works is not

Like a Gelatinous Pudding

When Paul talks about grace and works driving one another out, he is talking about grace on the one hand and autonomous works on the other.

Obedience and Works

“Works of the law” are “autonomous works.” They are the result of a sinful perversion of the law. “Works of the law” are a sinful attempt to justify oneself through obedience without faith, unaided by God’s grace. (Thus “we are justified by faith apart from works of the law” means “we are justified by faith apart from an incorrect effort to obey without faith.”)

Covenant of Works

It is important to understand how this relates to the Covenant of Works. Wilson has a page on his blog called the Controversy Library. Section 4 contains resources addressing the question of justification by faith alone. Wilson points readers to his CREC “exam” as the best resource for understanding his position.

I believe the covenant of works mentioned in Chapter VII is badly named. I would prefer something like the covenant of life (WLC 20), or the covenant of creation. I believe that this covenant obligated Adam to whole-hearted obedience to the requirement of God. The one stipulation I would add is that, had Adam stood, he would have been required to thank God for His gracious protection and provision. And had Adam stood, he would have done so by believing the Word of God. In other words, it would all have been by grace through faith… [T]he “covenant of works” was not meritorious and we deny that any covenant can be kept without faith.

CREC Examination, Pages 1-2, 4

The “covenant of works” used here [WCF 19.1] is fine if the terms are defined, but the phrase itself is an unhappy one. It leads people to think it carries its own definition on its face, and hence folks think of some sort of salvation by works. This leads people to assume two different ways of salvation—grace and works.

Westminster Nineteen: Of the Law of God

Periodically, great Homer nods and I believe that is the case here. While there is no necessary problem with the doctrine, the Westminster divines have badly named this covenant. To call this covenant with Adam a covenant “of works” leads people to confuse it either with the Old Testament economy, or with pharisaical distortions of the law. This misunderstanding is evident in the scriptural reference given for this point [in Wilson’s view, the Scriptures cited refer to subjective Pharisaical misinterpretation of the law, not to any objective understanding of the law]. To call it works opposes it, in the scriptural terminology, to grace. But the covenant given to Adam prior to the Fall was in no way opposed to grace. It would be far better to call this pre-Fall covenant a covenant of creation. In this covenant, life was promised to Adam and his descendents as the fruit of perfect and personal obedience. But notice the word fruit—as a covenant of creation, grace is not opposed to it, and permeates the whole. If by “covenant of works” is meant raw merit, then we have to deny the covenant of works. But if this covenant made with Adam was inherently gracious (as many Reformed theologians have held), then the only problem is the terminological one. And, with regard to whether the covenant was gracious, a simple thought experiment will suffice. If Adam had withstood temptation successfully, would he have had any obligation to say “thank You” to God. If not, then it is not a gracious covenant. If so, then it was.

Westminster Seven: Of God”s Covenant With Man

The Reformed theologians Wilson refers to held that the establishment of the Covenant of Works was gracious (voluntary condescension).* Adam/man owed God obedience by nature without expecting any reward in return. However, God condescended to offer Adam a reward that could be earned by his obedience (This distinction is a point that Klineans like R. Scott Clark do not agree with, thus complicating the discussion. See here, here, and here. Wilson himself likewise does not see any distinction between nature and covenant, thus likely contributing to his converse error as well.). However, once that agreement was established, if Adam obeyed, God would owe him the reward as a matter of debt (this is true regardless of how much assistance Adam received from God to meet the obligation). The PCA Report on the Federal Vision notes

In the pivotal text of Romans 4:4, the idea of “what is due” need not invoke the idea that “what is due” has been earned by a work that is commensurate with the reward itself, but merely that there was a covenant which promised that reward if the work was performed. Thus, if Adam had obeyed in the probation, God would have owed him the reward of eternal life, because God had promised it to him on that condition.

REPORT OF AD INTERIM STUDY COMMITTEE ON FEDERAL VISION, NEW PERSPECTIVE, AND AUBURN AVENUE THEOLOGY, 2213

This is what Wilson rejects. It is not a terminological disagreement. It is a doctrinal disagreement.

The view we reject is that the covenant with Adam must be considered a covenant of works, based on Adam’s merit or demerit… A man cannot merit anything by grace through faith. But a man can obey by grace through faith.

Was Jesus Faithless?

*(Some reformed theologians have spoken of other nuanced ways in which God dealt graciously with Adam in the Adamic Covenant. However, none of these concepts negate the idea that Adam would have been owed eternal life as a debt upon successful probation.)

Justification by Faith Alone

How, then, does all of this relate to justification by faith alone? Wilson believes that if Adam had obeyed perfectly, he would have been justified by faith.

I believe that a man is justified by faith, through faith, to faith, under faith, and over faith. Furthermore, I believe that there has never been a time in the history of the world when this was not the case.

Semper Deformanda

Recall Shepherd, “the method of justification for Adam before the fall is exactly what it is for Paul after the fall.”

The Covenant of Life
We affirm that Adam was in a covenant of life with the triune God in the Garden of Eden, in which arrangement Adam was required to obey God completely, from the heart. We hold further that all such obedience, had it occurred, would have been rendered from a heart of faith alone, in a spirit of loving trust. Adam was created to progress from immature glory to mature glory, but that glorification too would have been a gift of grace, received by faith alone.
We deny that continuance in this covenant in the Garden was in any way a payment for work rendered. Adam could forfeit or demerit the gift of glorification by disobedience, but the gift or continued possession of that gift was not offered by God to Adam conditioned upon Adam’s moral exertions or achievements. In line with this, we affirm that until the expulsion from the Garden, Adam was free to eat from the tree of life. We deny that Adam had to earn or merit righteousness, life, glorification, or anything else. [bold emphasis added]

Joint Federal Vision Statement

The first covenant was called a covenant of works in the Westminster Confession (7.2). I would prefer to call it a covenant of creational grace. The condition of covenant-keeping in this first covenant was to believe God’s grace, command, warnings, and promise… The second covenant is a covenant of redemptive grace. The thing that the two covenants have in common is grace, not works. The condition for keeping this covenant is the same as the first, although the circumstances are different. The condition always is to believe God.

A Short Credo on Justification

Recall what I said above. If “the method of justification for Adam before the fall is exactly what it is for Paul after the fall” then justification by faith alone takes on an entirely different meaning. What is that different meaning?

If Adam had stood the test, it would have been through the instrumentality of faith-animated obedience, graciously given by God.

Obedience and Works

Infused righteousness is an instrument of justification.

[I]n the traditional Reformed ordo salutis, the pride of place actually goes to a type of infused righteousness (regeneration)… The new heart is not the ground of justification any more than faith was, which we have to understand as the instrument of justification. Instead of saying “faith is the instrument (not ground) of justification,” we may now say “the regenerate heart believing is the instrument (not ground) of justification.”

CREC Examination Q105

Compare the Joint FV Statement that Adam’s reward “would have been a gift of grace, received by faith alone” with Wilson’s statement that “If Adam had stood the test, it would have been through the instrumentality of faith-animated obedience.” The affirmation of faith alone does not mean faith apart from obedience.

True faith and works of obedience are never in opposition

Testimony on the MARS Testimony

Justification by Faith Alone

We affirm we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Faith alone is the hand which is given to us by God so that we may receive the offered grace of God. Justification is God’s forensic declaration that we are counted as righteous, with our sins forgiven, for the sake of Jesus Christ alone.

We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active, and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer. We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.

Joint Federal Vision Statement

Not only is “alone” defined differently, but so is “faith.” Note the inclusion of “living trust” and recall Shepherd “Faith for Adam was what true faith always is, a living and active faith.” By living trust, Federal Vision means faithfulness, covenant loyalty, obedience.

[L]ife and obedience are essential characteristics of the instrumentality of faith

Obedience Unto Justification

Works/obedience is what makes faith saving/living.

[I]t is indisputable that works is the animating principle of faith.

Faith, Dead or Alive?

I am treating obedient faith and living faith as synonymous… it is obedient in its life, and in that living condition it is the instrument of our justification.

Living Faith

[OPC Report on Justification:] “14. Including works (by use of ‘faithfulness,’ ‘obedience,’ etc.) in the very definition of faith [is out of accord with Scripture].”

No. To include faithfulness in the very nature of living faith is not to intrude works. Faithful faith justifies. Faithless faith does not.

The OPC Report on the Federal Vision

Does obedience (in the context of justifying faith) mean works, or does it mean life? If the former, then mixing it into justifying faith is death warmed over. If the latter, then leaving it out is death stone cold. [In context, Wilson is defending Shepherd here.]

Recapitulation Drives Out Grace

The OPC Report on Justification notes

Though not ordinarily challenging the terminology of “justification by faith alone,” they have changed the definition of faith and have therefore changed the meaning of “faith alone.”

OPC Report on Justification, 26

If “the method of justification for Adam before the fall is exactly what it is for Paul after the fall” (faith alone) then justification by faith alone takes on an entirely different meaning. If someone follows Shepherd’s paradigm, then their affirmation of justification by faith alone is not enough because they mean something different by that phrase.

The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ

Though Wilson follows Shepherd’s rejection of the law/gospel distinction as well as his understanding of faith as faithfulness (thus changing the meaning of justification by faith alone), he does not follow Shepherd in rejecting the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Shepherd argues that justification consists in the forgiveness of our sins and not the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.

The active obedience of Christ is not the meritorious ground of our salvation because, not because of any inadequacy in it or anything like that, but because there is no such thing in the bible as obtaining salvation by the merit of works. Salvation after the fall or the gift of eternal life before the fall was never granted on the basis of the merit of works but was always a free gift that is received by faith.

What’s All the Fuss, Lecture 2, @1:03:00

We do not need Christ’s active obedience because eternal life is not earned by righteousness! It is a free gift and has always been a free gift. Once we receive the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ, God also gives us the free gift of eternal life through that same faith. And because that living faith is faithfulness, the righteous shall live by faith (Rom 1:17) and the doers of the law shall be justified (Rom 2:13) at the last day. Adam’s probation was a test to see if he had that faith – the condition of the free gift of eternal life. He didn’t have that living, obedient faith, so he didn’t get the free gift!

Wilson, however, thinks we still need Christ’s active obedience, frequently quoting Machen’s deathbed statement that we have “no hope without it.”

Note that, in line with everything above, Wilson believes that Christ’s faith was his faithfulness was his obedience.

In an oral exam yesterday for one of our grad students, the phrase “faith of Jesus Christ” came up (Gal 2:16; 3:22), along with the question/debate of whether this refers to Jesus Christ’s faith or to our faith in Him. I have generally taken it as the former, but that is not my point here. The point here has to do with what comes along with that — what has to be part of that package, for those who read it that way.

First, there are multiple other passages that teach plainly that we are justified through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the instrument of sola fide, so that doctrine is not at stake in this discussion. But if we take it, in this instance, as “the faith of Jesus Christ,” another doctrine is at stake. This means that the apostle Paul is bluntly teaching us the doctrine of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.

This debate concerns whether our justification is secured by the Lord’s suffering on the cross and His resurrection alone (known as the passive obedience of Christ), or whether we also have imputed to us the sinless, faithful life of Christ (His active obedience), throughout the course of His life. Those who would echo the words of Machen on his death bed, when he spoke about the active obedience of Jesus (“no hope without it”), have available to them, on this reading, a knock down text. How so?

This is because there would be no basis in this text for partitioning off the “faith of Jesus” to that time frame when He was on the cross. This is an expansive phrase. This is the new Israel, finally obeying God, finally walking through all the events of their history, and doing so in faith. Christ at His baptism, Christ resisting temptation for 40 days in the wilderness, Christ invading Canaan, and so on. Contrasted with the faithlessness of the old Israel, this is the faith of Jesus Christ. All of that is the “faith of Jesus Christ,” and all of that is our obedience now, our justification now, because it has been reckoned to us. No hope without it.

No Hope Without It

Note carefully that (in line with the rejection of any law/gospel distinction) Wilson believes Jesus’ faith (“the faith of Jesus”) is equivalent to Jesus’ active obedience to the law.

If it is undeniable that the New Testament shows Christ as the new Israel (and I believe it is), and if this is self-evidently because He is being the true Israel for us, so that we can be true Israelites in Him, it follows that we are participating in His obedient life. The perfect obedience that He rendered to God throughout the course of His life was a life lived before God, and He did it for us. This is nothing other than the doctrine of the imputation of the active obedience of Jesus Christ…

A shorthand form of the doctrine of active obedience is that Christ’s obedience throughout the course of His sinless life has been imputed by the grace of God to me. I believe this is true, but there is a fuller way to explain it, and this fuller way makes the doctrine not only true, but one of Scripture’s primary truths. Christ’s obedience as the true Israel has been imputed to us, to all of us who are the Israel of God, and therefore to me. The reason I can be an Israelite and not be destroyed is Israel is now obedient. And whose obedience was this? How did it happen? The active obedience of Christ began with His miraculous birth, and His exile in Egypt, and His restoration from Egypt. Out of Egypt God called His Son. And when God called His Son, we came too.

Active Obedience as Thematic Structuring Device

Shepherd would say the reason I can be an Israelite and not be destroyed is because my sins have been forgiven by a sinless Israelite who bore my curse (passive obedience). Wilson hasn’t quite connected Shepherd’s dots. He still thinks Jesus had to obtain something by his faith, rather than, as Shepherd explains simply receive a gift. Wilson still has some law/gospel baggage infecting his view of the IAOC. Wilson says “He did it for us.” Did what? Had faith? So I don’t have to have faith? “Well, no. He had perfect, sinless faith.” Well so do I now that my sins are forgiven. So what exactly did Jesus do for me beyond bearing my curse?

If there has only ever been one way of obtaining eternal life (by grace alone through faith alone) then Jesus obtained eternal life the same way that we do: by grace alone through faith alone. There is nothing for Jesus to “do for us.” The only possible way there can be something for Jesus to “do for us” is if there are more than two ways of obtaining eternal life. The imputation of the active obedience of Christ necessarily requires the law/gospel distinction that Wilson rejects. He can only affirm the IAOC to the degree that he affirms an objective law/gospel distinction.


In light of all of the above, I cannot agree with Jeff Durbin that “Doug Wilson is one of the greatest blessings to the church in this modern era.” At best, Wilson is thoroughly confused on the gospel, having been deceived by Shepherd’s false teaching. At worst, he is a wolf “speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.”

Neonomianism and Culture

A driving passion of Apologia Church is to equip Christians to apply Scripture to every area of their lives. The theme of ReformCon 2019 was “Reformation and the Public Square.” I share their passion for developing and applying a Christian worldview. I get it. I was a Christian filmmaker (see here, here, and here) before becoming chronically ill and having to step away from that pursuit (I have written elsewhere on a Federal Vision influence in Christian film theory). I share Apologia’s rejection of VanDrunen’s dual ethic (natural law vs Scripture). I’ve been making similar criticism for a decade. I’m passionate about having a biblical understanding of justice and applying Scripture to politics and government. I’ve written extensively on issues related to it. I get it.

My concern, however, is in the details. My concern is that we properly guard the core of a Christian worldview: the Gospel. The ReformCon website says “With the guidance of some of the most influential Reformed thinkers of our day, we will spend two days soaking in pure and unadulterated Calvinistic delight while being equipped to take the good news of the Gospel into the public square.” I do not believe all of the speakers that Apologia Church chose to invite are Reformed and I do not believe they can equip anyone to take the good news of the Gospel into the public square as long as they believe another gospel. I do not think Apologia Church believes and teaches another gospel, but I do believe they are greatly influenced by those who do.

Joe Boot

As a case in point of how this teaching is influencing others, consider Joe Boot – another speaker at ReformCon. Rev. Dr. Joseph Boot (M.A., PhD) is a Christian thinker, cultural apologist/philosopher, founder of the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity (EICC), and founding pastor of Westminster Chapel, Toronto. Boot’s passion is to equip Christians with worldview-thinking to apply Scripture to every area of their lives.

In a debate with Matthew Tuininga titled Two Kingdoms and Cultural Obedience, Boot argues

[T]he root of the theological error of two kingdoms theology, I think, is the idea that creation and man can be generalized as abstractions so God allegedly creates man in general. But I don’t think this is the case. Genesis 1-3 is part of the gospel and right in Genesis 1-3 you have the first seed promise of the gospel in Genesis 3:15…

Of course we know that Adam in the garden was a symbol of God’s power and judgment with the tree. It’s not that Adam was there to earn his salvation. He was actually made upright. There was nothing lacking in him. But he might forfeit it by disobedience. So we can, I suppose, talk of a Paradise Covenant between Adam and his Creator. God is the Lord. Adam is his creature. Any covenant between a greater and a lesser is already a covenant of grace. I put it to you there is no such thing ever as a covenant of works in Scripture whereby man is justifying himself – anywhere! He lived by God’s grace and favor. The good news of the evangelion is that God is Lord and King. That’s what it means. Now, Adam even believed that. He had to believe that and he walked in the favor of that. So God calls all men from Adam, through Noah, to the present to serve and obey him. He’s the same God. The covenant mandate was to develop and keep God’s creation in obedience to him and I don’t see any evidence in Scripture that that’s changed.

There were never two ways of obtaining eternal life. Only one. Before the Fall, Adam believed the Gospel! Where might Boot have learned such an idea? P. Andrew Sandlin works closely with Boot’s Ezra Institute, teaching at their Runner Academy. Sandlin notes “When I met Dr. Joseph Boot, leader of the Ezra Institute, I found a brother-in-arms. God knit our hearts together.”

It’s important to note that Boot is a baptist. He does not hold to the Federal Vision. But he is absolutely being influenced by Shepherdism’s neonomianism and it is directly impacting his view of how the Gospel relates to culture. Durbin says Boot is a spitting-image of him theologically and that every member of his church needs to read Boot’s “The Mission of God” because it is their manifesto. My intention is not to call for a boycott of Apologia. Far from it. If I lived in Phoenix, I would very likely be a member of Apologia (if they would have me). My desire is to offer some sharpening so that they may be more effective in their ministry and not be hindered by neonomianism influences in their systematic understanding of the Gospel and its relation to culture.

Theonomy

Apologia Church is very well known for their advocacy of theonomy. Wilson said that

this [FV controversy] was nothing more than a simple continuation of the theonomy fracas in the Reformed world a couple decades ago… During the original Shepherd controversy, he had strong support among the theonomists — Greg Bahnsen and Gary North, to mention two. North even devoted an entire book — Westminster’s Confession — defending Shepherd. Other supporters of Shepherd included such notables as Cornelius Van Til… In short, when you look at the scorecard, and take in the names of the players, you see a lot of the same names.

More to Being Reformed Than Believing in Jesus and Smoking Cigars

The link between theonomy and the Federal Vision is the rejection of the law/gospel distinction (CoW/CoG distinction). Rushdoony said

The Westminster Confession is one of the great documents of the Christian faith but at one point it has rightly been criticized over the years… This problem in the Westminster Confession is it’s concept of a covenant of works… Now it’s this idea of a covenant of works that is the problem in the confession and of course this doctrine has led to dispensationalism and a great many other problems. It is a deadly error to believe that any covenant that God makes with man can be anything other than a covenant of grace… So Paul is saying in Galatians 3:12 that when we walk in terms of covenant faithfulness we receive God’s blessing.

Lecture: Is There a Covenant of Works?

Steven Wedgeworth notes

Greg Bahnsen had died in 1995, well before the “Federal Vision” was its own project, but his own history shows a fairly strong pro-Shepherd but anti-Jordan disposition. Several of his friends and students went on to have some association with FV.

Bahnsen’s son David, while “combing through my late father’s files” found “evidence that Greg Bahnsen repudiated the notion that Norm Shepherd was a heretic, and in fact, embraced the core thesis of his work on justification, faith, and works (the heart of the controversy).” See his post for details.

Norm Shepherd was Bahnsen’s thesis advisor. Bahnsen initially had a strong law/gospel distinction – in fact his interpretation of Matt. 5:20 was far better than R. C. Sproul’s (lecture 309, I think). But as I show in this post, as time went on and Bahsen faced criticism of his thesis, he revised his law/gospel interpretation of key texts like Rom 10:4, coming to favor Shepherd and Daniel Fuller’s rejection of a law/gospel distinction (specifically telling people to read Fuller’s work for a full explanation; North notes the change in Bahnsen’s interpretation). Bahnsen also embraced Shepherd’s monocovenantalism as a crucial foundation to his theonomic thesis.

The perpetuity of God’s commandments follows from the eternality of His covenant of which they comprise an inalienable part… The law, both prior to and after the fall, is gracious… Continued blessing for Adam in paradise, Israel in the promised land, and the Christian in the kingdom has been seen to be dependent upon persevering obedience to God’s will as expressed in His law. There is complete covenantal unity with reference to the law of God as the standard of moral obligation throughout the diverse ages of human history.

Theonomy in Christian Ethics, p. 184, 235, 201-2

In the last couple of years, Joel McDurmon (former president of American Vision and Gary North’s son-in-law) has written two works critical of Bahnsen’s theonomy (Bounds of Love and Consuming Fire). Together they form a very good refutation while maintaining the same presuppositional view of justice, but they do so precisely because McDurmon is more cognizant of a law/gospel distinction. I highly encourage baptist theonomists to prayerfully consider his books and consider whether his view or Bahnsen’s is more consistent with a baptist understanding of covenant theology.

Spreading Among Baptists

Regretfully, Founders’ Ministries has lately been cooperating with CrossPolitic producer David Shannon (Chocolate Knox) in the production of a documentary on social justice called By What Standard? (Federal Visionist Marcus Pittman also directed parts of the documentary). Founders also invited Toby Sumpter to speak at and CrossPolitic to broadcast from a Founders’ conference on social justice. It appears to me that perhaps a large motivation for doing so was that these Federal Vision theonomists appear to have a solid, worked-out biblical standard of justice that baptists suddenly realize they are in need of. Personally, I believe their decision to work with these men was foolish. (in addition to the law/gospel problems under discussion, Federal Vision theonomists’ understanding of justice is actually unjust). I appreciate Founders and the stand they are taking against the social justice movement (see my 3-part series on social justice), but I personally think their choice of alliance was near-sighted. It seems to have already caused them significant problems and I believe it will continue to do so. (That said, I look forward to watching the documentary and I pray that it will bring much needed light to the social justice issue).

I received an email from Founders today asking for support (which I gave). The email noted “Over the last four years Founders has given even more attention to three areas of importance for spiritually strong churches: 1) confessionalism; 2) law and gospel; 3) pastoral theology.” They have a conference this week in Florida on the topic of Law & Gospel. The website for the conference says “Founders Ministries has been teaching a confessionally reformed and biblical view of the law and the gospel since 1983, and by God’s grace, will continue to do so. The need in the churches of God is as great now as it has ever been.” Hopefully this post will make it clear just how great that need is and, by God’s grace, they will address the law and gospel error currently closest to them.

CrossPolitic is scheduled to be a part of the next G3 conference as well.

Conclusion

One may object “At the end of the day, what practical difference does it make? If these men have helpful things to say about our current culture, can’t we just overlook these differences about the gospel?” The answer is no. A Christian’s understanding of how the law and the gospel relate is as practical as you can get. In the face of our collapsing culture’s rejection of God’s norms and the rising threat to Christians, it is easy to see ourselves as more righteous as others because we are the ones correctly understanding and applying God’s norms. We are the “doers of the law” (Rom 2:13), according to the men above. Sandlin notes

This is what God is doing in the earth; He is restoring and enhancing creation, what man lost in the Garden of Eden. The consummate kingdom will come in its fullness when the New Jerusalem descends to the resurrected earth in which both God and man will live eternally (Rev. 21:1-4). This is the kingdom populated by the blood-bought, the present deputies of the cultural mandate, whom God intended all along to be His people overspreading the globe and cultivating it for His glory. They will be victorious in this task, and then the Lord returns and the eternal state (on earth) begins.

The Eschatological Arc of Christian Apologetics

and

God didn’t abandon His cultural plan for the earth; He re-issued it to a newly redeemed people. “Because of the atoning consequences of the cross,” writes Scott J. Hafemann, “God is finally fulfilling His mission of revealing His glory through (re)creating a people who will exercise dominion in His name by keeping His commandments. [Whereas humanity failed in the garden and Israel fell in the wilderness, the church, under the sovereignty of Christ, who is ‘the ruler of kings on earth,’ will fill the world with the glory of God as ‘a kingdom, priests to his God and Father’ (Rev. 1:5–6; cf. 1:9; 5:10; 12:10).]” This is our calling as God’s people, washed in the Lord’s blood. We are His dominion people, our Lord’s new humanity. This, to put it bluntly, is the goal of the Gospel.

Reclaiming Culture is Gospel Ministry (Note that Hafemann lists Daniel Fuller as an influence at the beginning of his essay)

We will do what Adam failed to do. We will be victorious because we are the doers of the law! This is the goal of the Gospel. This is how the glory of God’s kingdom is revealed: our faithful obedience!

Again, my goal is not to denounce Summer, Jeff, James, or any of the other baptists involved. My aim is for them and their followers to very carefully consider the ramifications of neonomianism on one’s worldview and one’s practical life.

Another White/Wilson Debate?

James White recently said, “Doug Wilson is a Christian with whom I have differences primarily upon issues relating to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” Hopefully all of the above makes it clear that White and Wilson disagree on more than just baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In his response to Clark, White suggested that he and Wilson hold a debate in 2020 to end this discussion for good. Resolved: The ordinances Christ instituted for his church are for believers alone. While that would make a good debate, it would not address the concerns about Wilson. Instead, the following debate would be a great blessing to the church:

Resolved: Since creation there have been two different ways of obtaining eternal life: through obedience to the law or through faith alone apart from obedience to the law.

[Added Clarification: The main purpose of this post is not to tell others how to direct their affairs or to pronounce what actions are tolerable or intolerable. The purpose of this post is to show as clearly as possible what people believe. What one chooses to do with that information is up to them.]

Further Reading

Note: An earlier version of this post referenced a tweet from Summer Jaegar posting from Deuteronomy 30. I assumed she was posting it because she read it along the lines of Andrew Sandlin and theonomy in general. Summer has clarified on Twitter that she rejects theonomy. This was news to me in light of previous conversations I have had with her and Durbin on Facebook. It is not clear how Summer does interpret the passage, but I have asked her for forgiveness for misunderstanding and thus misrepresenting her. I have removed the reference.

Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 7: R. Scott Clark

July 11, 2019 4 comments

R. Scott Clark has recently stated that Kline held to a baptist understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant.

In short, Abraham was not Moses. The Abrahamic covenant is not the Mosaic. The Abrahamic was in no sense a covenant of works. It was a covenant of grace.1

1. Here we must not follow my beloved professor and colleague Meredith Kline when he writes, “Though not the ground of the inheritance from heaven, Abraham’s obedience was the ground for Israel’s inheritance of Canaan.” Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 325. Here Kline did the very thing to which he rightly objected: taking a Baptist position. He has turned Abraham into Moses. Abraham was given the seed and land promises in Genesis 12 and 15 and gracious grants from a sovereign King, God the Lord. The Obedience that God required of Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, and 17 was a consequence of the grace received not a prior or antecedent condition in order to receive.

The ensuing Twitter discussion between R. Scott Clark & Chris Caughey is worth reading.

 

Muller on the Reformed History of Gal 3:17 (Translation & Interpretation)

April 13, 2019 Leave a comment

As explained in a previous post, I believe that Galatians 3:17 refers to the fact that the Abrahamic Covenant contained a promise that concerned or was in reference to Christ. The promise to Abraham that “in you all nations shall be blessed” was a promise concerning, about, in reference to Christ. The verse is often translated “the covenant before confirmed by God in Christ” and is thus used to argue that the Abrahamic Covenant was made with Christ as Mediator and is therefore the Covenant of Grace. εἰς Χριστὸν eis Christon is actually a textual variant and thus “in Christ” is not found in modern translations. Thus modern expositors like Kline do not comment on it (as best I can tell). Richard Muller has an interesting discussion of the translation and interpretation of this passage as it relates to the development of the doctrine of the Covenant of Redemption (pactum salutis).

Galatians 3:16-17 is another case of the creation of significant doctrinal associations by a revision and retranslation of the text. In the Vulgate the text read, “hoc autem dico, testamentum confirmatum a Deo, quae post quadringentos et triginta annos facta est lex, non irritam facit, ad evacuandam promissionem”—“now this I say, the testament con-firmed by God, the law which was made four hundred and thirty years afterward does not annul, render the promise void.” Following Erasmus, virtually all of the Reformers re-translated the Greek and added the phrase “erga Christum” or “respectu Christum” after the second clause of the verse, yielding, in Calvin’s version, “hoc autem dico, pactum ante comprobatum a Deo erga Christum, lex quae post annos quadringentos et triginta coepit, non facit irritum, ut abroget promissionem.”

The crucial phrase, “in Christ,” is a text that was not in the Vulgate and that was introduced by Protestants of the sixteenth century because it was found in what they viewed to be the best Greek codices, where, εἰς Χριστὸν [eis Christon] appears following the phrase ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ. In addition, the Greek diatheke, is now rendered not as testamentum but as pactum. Quite simply, the critical and philological re-casting of the text yielded a doctrinal connection that had not previously been present. The orthodox theologians regularly cite Galatians 3:17 as a basis for arguing the pactum salutis, given that the diatheke mentioned in the text is first said to have been given “to Abraham and his seed,” the “seed” being identified as in the singular and indicating Christ, and then is said to have been “confirmed before of God in Christ”—implying the priority, by inference, the eternity, of the confirmation in Christ.159

If we look, moreover, at the trajectory of Reformed exegesis, it is arguable that there was an increased emphasis placed on this text in the era of early orthodoxy. Thus, by way of example, Calvin’s exegesis was rather brief, noting that the “seed,” as a singular, indicates Christ and that, therefore, “Christ” is “the foundation of the agreement” between God and Abraham. Calvin also notes that Paul teaches “that a covenant had been made in Christ, or to Christ,” adding the phrase “erga Christum” to his text, following Erasmus. Calvin, however, points this covenantal act not back into eternity, as Cocceius and Witsius would do, but toward the historical gathering of all nations into the promise through Christ.160 It should be noted that, in this case, there is no startling shift in translation in the movement from the Reformation to early orthodoxy. Calvin already renders diatheke as pactum—a point of continuity both with Beza’s rendering and with later federal readings of the text.161 Similarly, in the so-called Geneva New Testament, namely the English translation begun in Geneva in 1560 and based in large part on Beza’s philology, the relevant portion of verse 17 reads, “And this I say, that the couenant that was confirmed afore of God in respect of Christ, the Law which was foure hundred and thirtie years after, can not disanull.”162

This reading reflects the sixteenth-century revisions of the New Testament from Erasmus onward, and specifically the Bezan collation of the Greek text that became the Textus Receptus: Beza, like Erasmus and Calvin, includes the phrase “in respect of Christ,” which has since been deleted from the text of various modern Bibles. Beza’s short annotation on the text indicates that it offers a comparative argument, “if an authentic human covenant (pactum) remains firm, so much more so a covenant (pactum) of God.” Given this solidity of divine covenants, it is clear that the Law was not given to abrogate the promise made to Abraham, for that covenant was made “with regard to Christ” and its execution depended on Christ.163

In his longer annotation on the verse, Beza indicates that he does not favor Erasmus’ (and, by implication, Calvin’s) rendering, erga Christum. Erga, “towards” or “in relation to” is, in Beza’s view a vague rendering. The Apostles’ point, Beza argues, is that the pactum graciously made by God with Abraham, had been uniquely founded in Christ, so that both Jews and Gentiles might be one in Christ as the seed of Abraham.164 Beza therefore preferred the closer connection implied by respectu Christi, with respect to Christ, or by respicientem in Christum, looking back upon or having a regard for Christ. The Tremellius-Junius Bible goes perhaps even further, rendering the text as “quòd pactionem quae antè confirmata fuit à Deo in Christo,” unfortunately without annotation.165

Perkins’ extended comment approaches the text with many of the same issues that Calvin and Beza had in mind. He notes, first, that the promise is given to Abraham and his seed, and that the “seed,” clearly, is Christ. He then elaborates, drawing into his discussion several other related texts, that the name “Christ,” like the singular “seed,” indicates “first and principally the Mediatour,” but also, like “seed,” identifies Christ as the seed not of the flesh but of the promise, the one who is the mediator is the head of the church. There is, therefore, for Perkins, perhaps reflecting Beza’s reading of the text, an extended corporate sense of “seed”: “the seed is first Christ Iesus, and then all that believe in Christ,” namely, those given to be children of Abraham “by the promise & Election of God.”166 Perkins then adds, in a formula that resonates with his Exposition of the Creed and Golden Chaine, that the “communion” here indicated between Christ and the elect is grounded in the fact that “Christ as Mediatour, is first of all elected, and wee in him: Christ is first iustified, that is acquit of our sinnes, and wee iustified in him: he is heire of the world, and we heires in him.”167 When he comes to verse 17, Perkins reiterates that the covenant was confirmed “to Abraham, as beeing Father of all the faithfull, and then to his seed, that is first to the Mediatour Christ, and consequently to euery beleeuer, whether Iewe, or Gentile.” This priority of Christ derives from the fact that “he is the scope and foundation of all the promises of God.”168 This mediatorship, moreover, is grounded in an eternal appointment: “The Sonne of God takes not to himselfe the office of a Mediatour, but he is called and sent forth of his Father: whereby two things are signified; one, that the office of a Mediatour was appointed of the Father; the other, that the Sonne was designed to this office in the eternall counsel of the blessed Trinitie.”169 The election or designation of the Son as mediator, a theme not referenced in Calvin’s or Beza’s comments on this text, is a major theme in Perkins’ thought. Its basic rationale is to press the issue of an appointment and anointing of Christ back into eternity inasmuch as it pertains to the divine as well as to the human nature of Christ—on the ground that he is mediator according to both natures. He cites Galatians 3:16, echoing his commentary, in his Exposition of the Creed as key to the transition between the doctrine of the church and the doctrine of predestination.170

Rollock’s commentary on Galatians follows the then fairly standard translation of the text, rendering diatheke as pactum. His commentary also emphasizes the identity of Christ as the seed of Abraham but, contrary to Perkins, does not allow the extended corporate sense of the seed as secondarily referring to Christ’s members: “this appears from the following verse, in which Christ’s name is properly presented, where it is said that the covenant (pactio) had been previously confirmed by God with respect to Christ.”171 Rollock then comments on the implication of Paul’s statement that the covenant is made with respect to Christ:

the promise is therefore both made by Christ and made in Christ as he is mediator, for unless he had interceded as mediator between God and man from the beginning, truly, that covenant of grace would never have been concluded with humanity. For … in him the promises of God are firm and invariable, undoubtedly, since he himself is the foundation upon which the promises are, as it were, set forth, on which they stand firmly in eternity, and receive his fulfillment.172

We do not have the term pactum salutis here—but we do have the covenant promise made with respect to Christ as mediator and its eternal foundation, grounded on his intercession a principio. As in the case of Perkins, the text has drawn on the theme of Christ’s mediation and has pressed the issue of covenant mediation into eternity, given the Reformed insistence that Christ is mediator according to both natures. Piscator, we note, does not press the exegetical argument for an eternal pactum at this point.173

This covenant exegesis in relation to Christ also appears strongly in the Dutch Annotations on Galatians 3:17, without the explicit eternal referent, albeit with the cross-referencing to the Epistle to the Hebrews where the concept of eternal testament does appear:

And this I say [That is, this I meane by the foregoing examples of humane covenants or testaments] the covenant [that is, then that much more the covenant of God remains firm without alteration] that was before now confirmed by God [namely, with an oath, Gen. 12:2 and 15:8 and 17:4 and 22:17; Heb. 6:14, 15 &c. And with other outward signs and seals] on Christ, [namely, forasmuch as it was to be confirmed by the death of Christ as Testator, Heb. 9:15….]174

In Diodati’s Annotations, however, the comment has not only focused on the phrase added from the Greek codices but also offers an adumbration of the eternal pactum: “In Christ] That is, of which covenant Christ already appointed and promised for a Mediatour, was the onely foundation, known and apprehended by the fathers.”175 In Dickson’s exegesis, moreover, pactum has become the preferred term for diatheke in Galatians 3:15-17—and Dickson adds both that this pactum between God and Abraham is understood to be “with respect to Christ” inasmuch as it has been confirmed “by a testamentary sacrifice” (per sacrificium testamentario), but also that its promise represents a pactum not subject to the mutation of the Law because it is the Dei absoluta promissio.176 Galatians 3:17 is a primary proof for Witsius [of the pactum salutis].177

The point I want to draw out here is that the translation of 3:17 as “with regard to Christ” rather than “in Christ” was clearly held by many reformed. They interpreted that as somehow meaning that Christ was the mediator of the Abrahamic Covenant, whereas I do not. But my preferred translation (also recommended by numerous commentaries quoted in the previous post) was a common reformed translation. I think John Brown puts it well

The only phrase which is obscure in this verse is the clause rendered “in Christ.” Some would render it to Christ; others till Christ, i.e. till Christ came, which is undoubtedly its meaning at chapter v. 24. I apprehend the true rendering of the particle is concerning or in reference to — a meaning which the term by no means uncommonly bears in the New Testament. I shall give a few examples, — Eph. v. 32 ; Acts ii. 25 ; Heb. vii. 14 ; Luke xii. 21 ; Bom. iv. 20 ; xvi. 19 ; 2 Cor. ii. 9. The covenant in reference to Christ is just the arrangement or settlement as to justification by faith to be extended to the Gentiles through the Messiah, which was made known in the Divine declaration to Abraham. This Divine arrangement was “confirmed of God,” ratified by God in the ordinance of circumcision which was given to Abraham as a person justified in uncircumcision, and made known as a fixed appointment in the Divine declaration so often referred to. It was “confirmed before.” That is, it was a finished, ratified deed, long previously to the law.
John Brown

Chrysostom more succinctly

Thus God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that in his seed the blessing should be bestowed on the heathen; and this blessing the Law cannot turn aside… It was promised Abraham that by his seed the heathen should be blessed; and his seed according to the flesh is Christ.

Do Presbyterians Have Regeneration Goggles?

April 11, 2019 4 comments

When baptists talk about regenerate church membership, Presbyterians often mock the idea, noting that we must have “regeneration goggles” or we must know infallibly who the elect are. Part of this is a result of sometimes imprecise articulation of our position by baptists. For example, baptists do not always make it clear that possession of faith is not what we require in order to baptize someone. What is required for the proper administration of baptism is profession of faith. But a profession is required precisely because baptism is a sign of church membership, a sign of union with Christ. Profession indicates possession. Therefore no one ought to be baptized whom we do not judge in charity to be united to Christ. Acceptance of someone’s profession of saving faith entails judgment of their possession of saving faith.

Regarding a credible profession of saving faith, Baptists and Presbyterians are in agreement. Both agree that it is the fallible means that God has given us to judge who are regenerate on this earth. Presbyterians distinguish between non-communicant members (those baptized as infants who have not yet professed faith) and communicant members (those who have made a profession of faith and may therefore partake of the Lord’s Supper). Below are examples from various Presbyterian books of order and directories of public worship demonstrating their view of communicant members.

RPCNA

D
CHAPTER 1
The Communicant Membership of the Church

1. Any person capable of forming moral judgments and of making decisions for himself may be received into communicant membership in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, upon credible profession of faith, baptism, and acceptance of the Covenant of Church Membership. Communicant members have an obligation to present their children for baptism and to do all in their power to rear their children so that they will seek communicant membership in the church

4. Candidates for communicant membership shall be examined by the session in constituted court. The examination shall seek to bring out the degree of the candidate’s knowledge of Divine truth, his personal sense of sin and need of salvation and his knowledge of and willing acceptance of the Covenant of Church Membership including the distinctive principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. The degree of knowledge necessary for admission depends, to a considerable extent, upon the capacity of the candidate and the opportunities which he has had for acquiring such knowledge. Children should be encouraged to memorize the Shorter Catechism and urged to read and study the Testimony and Confession of Faith as they come to years of fuller understanding. No one should be admitted who is ignorant of the plan of salvation, or who gives no credible evidence of having been born again, or who assumes an attitude antagonistic to the principles set forth in the standards of the Church.

https://rpcna.org/history/constitution.pdf

Note also that any person who wishes to be baptized and is capable of forming moral judgments and of making decisions for himself must give this credible evidence of having been born again (profess saving faith).

F
Chapter 3
The Administration of the Sacraments

4. Under the oversight of the Session, Baptism is to be administered to those who make a credible profession of faith in Christ, and to their children. The Baptism of adults must follow their public profession of faith and assent to the Covenant of Communicant Membership. When a covenant child is born, the session should encourage the parents to arrange for the child’s Baptism as soon as it is convenient. The elders should use this occasion to speak with the parents about their own Christian walk, and to encourage them to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

The RPCNA is not claiming to know infallibly who the regenerate are, but they are limiting baptism (in the case of those “of age”) to those whom they have reason to believe are regenerate. What baptists do is no different.

OPC

CHAPTER IV
Public Reception of Church Members
A. General Provisions

1. Only those may be admitted to full communion in the church who have been baptized and have made public profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

2. In order to aid those who contemplate making public profession or reaffirmation of faith in Christ to understand the implication of this significant act and to perform it meaningfully, the pastor or someone approved by the session shall conduct classes in Christian doctrine and life, both for the covenant youth and for any others who may manifest an interest in the way of salvation.

3. Before permitting anyone to make profession of his faith in the presence of the congregation, the session shall announce his name to the congregation on a prior Lord’s Day in order that the members of the church may have opportunity to acquaint the session with such facts concerning him as may appear to be irreconcilable with a credible profession. In order for the session to assure itself so far as possible that the candidate makes a credible profession, it shall examine him to ascertain that he possesses the doctrinal knowledge requisite for saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, relies on the merits of Christ alone, and is determined by the grace of God to lead a Christian life.

8. Noncommunicant members of the congregation may be received into communicant membership only by confession of faith.

9. The following provisions are designed to assist ministers and sessions to receive members in accordance with the Book of Discipline, Chapter II, Section B.2, which provisions should always be followed.

B. Reception into Full Communion of Noncommunicant Members by Profession of Faith

1. When a noncommunicant member is received into full communion, that reception is effective at the time of his public profession of faith. On the occasion of that person’s public reception, it is highly advisable that the minister remind the people that he is already a member of the church, albeit a noncommunicant member, and has been receiving the blessings of Christ as a member of the church, and that those blessings have resulted in this day wherein, having given evidence of conscious saving faith in Christ, he is now about to confess that faith and become a communicant member of the congregation. The minister may then address him in these or like words:

Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, we thank our God for the grace that was given you, in that you have accepted God’s covenant promise that was signified and sealed unto you in your infancy by holy baptism. We ask you now to profess your faith publicly.


If the session deems it appropriate, it may also ask him to bear brief testimony to his faith in his own words.

https://opc.org/BCO/DPW.html#Chapter_II

Again, like the RPCNA, this same standard is applied to baptism in the case of adults.

2. The Baptism of Adults

a. Prerequisites

An adult who seeks to be baptized shall make a public profession of his faith before the congregation prior to the baptism. He shall previously have received instruction in the Christian faith in accordance with the confessional standards of this Church, including instruction as to the meaning of baptism, and have also made before the session of the church a credible profession of faith in Christ according to the provisions of Chapter IV, Section A.3, of this Directory.

Hodge

Charles Hodge put it this way:

[B]y the clear teaching of the Scriptures, regeneration in the case of adults is assumed to precede baptism. No man was ever baptized in the Apostolic Church until he professed faith and repentance. When the Eunuch asked, “What doth hinder me to be baptized? Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest.” On this principle the Church has always acted. Men have always (except in the most corrupt days of the Romish Church) been required to profess faith in Christ and repentance toward God, before they were admitted to baptism. But faith and repentance are the fruits of regeneration. A man had, therefore, to profess to be regenerated before he could be baptized[.]

and

What then is the visible Church, and what the ground of membership in it? We accept the answer which our Confession gives to these questions. But what does this fairly imply? Surely, that the true Church of God is made up of those whom he hath purchased with his own blood; and that those who apparently, or to the eye of a judicious charity, are of this number, are visibly, or for all purposes of human judgment and action, of this Church – i.e. are the Church visible. Now in what way do they thus become visibly, or for all purposes of human recognition and treatment, of the number of Christ’s redeemed people, the household of faith? In two ways: 1. In the case of all capable of it, by a credible “profession of the true religion.” Without professing it in some form, they cannot appear to possess it… [M]embership in the visible Church is founded on a presumptive membership in the invisible, until its subjects, by acts incompatible therewith, prove the contrary, and thus, to the eye of man, forfeit their standing among God’s visible people.

Conclusion

To answer the original question, no Presbyterians do not have regeneration goggles. Neither do Baptists. We both treat adults according to their profession, not according to infallible knowledge of their hearts. The only difference is how we apply the question of profession and baptism to infants.

For further reading:

  1. Who Should Be Baptized – Professors or Believers?
  2. Witsius: Baptism Belongs Only to the Elect
  3. The Evolution of Reformed Paedobaptism
  4. Hodge’s (Baptist) Understanding of the Visible/Invisible Church
  5. The French Reformed Understanding of the Visible/Invisible Church
  6. 19th Century Scottish Presbyterian Criticism of Bannerman’s Visible/Invisible Church(es)
  7. John Murray (the Baptist) vs James Bannerman (the Presbyterian) on The Church
  8. Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?

Re: New Geneva Podcast on Baptism

April 4, 2019 3 comments

The New Geneva podcast recently had a two part series titled “A Case for Infant Baptism.” The podcast included 2 hosts and 2 guests, all of which are involved in Twitter discussions on the topic.

I am very thankful that they discussed the topic. I hope that they will consider the below response. (I tried to keep it short, but #7 required a longer reply. I will update this post as necessary following Part 2. Note that Samuel Renihan has briefly responded as well).

1. God is the one who acts in baptism

6:15. Baptists say that baptism is only for those who profess faith, therefore infants should not be baptized. Angela responded that baptism is not about us doing something. God is the one who acts in baptism.

I think this is a case of polemics [over]driving theology. The idea that a profession of faith is required for baptism is not a credobaptist novelty. It’s reformed. Ursinus said “[S]ay our opponents, the church ought to be satisfied with a profession of faith. This we admit, and would add, that to be born in the church, is, to infants, the same thing as a profession of faith. Faith is, indeed, necessary to the use of baptism.” The Westminster Assembly had a debate over the nature of this requirement as it regards infants and their parents.

See

2. Individualism is Enlightenment

11:50 The Layman’s Cup Podcast said God used to deal with families and nations, but now he deals with individuals. That’s an Enlightenment paradigm. Before the modern era there was never any conception of an individual as an autonomous unit that existed apart from his ancestors.

First, note that none of these hosts affirm the original Westminster Confession precisely because they reject Westminster’s understanding of how God deals with nations. Is that because they have adopted an Enlightenment paradigm? Or is it because Westminster misinterpreted Scripture? Keep in mind that nation and family are one in Abraham.

Second, note Hodge

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… Such is the favourite argument of Romanists; and such… we are sorry to say is the argument of some Protestants, and even of some Presbyterians…

Under the old dispensation, the whole nation of the Hebrews was called holy, as separated from the idolatrous nations around them, and consecrated to God. The Israelites were also called the children of God, as the recipients of his peculiar favours. These expressions had reference rather to external relations and privileges than to internal character. In the New Testament, however, they are applied only to the true people of God. None are there called saints but the sanctified in Christ Jesus…

[H]oliness and salvation are promised to every member of the Church. This is obvious; 1. Because these are blessings of which individuals alone are susceptible. It is not a community or society, as such, that is redeemed, regenerated, sanctified, and saved. Persons, and not communities, are the subjects of these blessings[.]

Third, note that Ben appeals to the natural relationship between a person and their ancestors. This is precisely the type of argument that baptists reject. The New Covenant of Grace is not natural, therefore appeal to the relationship that children bear to their parents in nature is irrelevant.

See

3. Abraham, not Moses

15:35 “To say that the Covenant of Grace is something altogether different than what was in the Old Testament – it makes some assumptions about the Old Testament. It kind of compresses a lot of— the two key figures of the Old Testament, which is Abraham and Moses.
“When you say that was the Old Testament this is the New Testament, you’re taking Abraham and Moses and smooshing them together and you’re just saying ‘Well everything that happened on the left side of the Bible before Matthew 1:1, well that was just Old Covenant, right? And Jeremiah says there is a New Covenant coming.’”
“I will be a God to you and to your children applied to Moses, because… the Covenant of Grace was administered through the Mosaic Covenant, but it was not the Covenant of Grace itself. And so, when we say ‘I will be God to your children,’ that’s still in play, because everything Mosaic has passed away in Christ.”

Scott Schultz seems to have taken R. Scott Clark’s teaching hook, line, and sinker. People new to reformed theology who look to RSC to learn covenant theology are unaware that RSC’s view on this matter is contrary to Calvin, Westminster, and the historic majority reformed view, which “smooshed” Abraham and Moses (and the Davidic and New) together. Calvin said of the Old and the New “both covenants are truly one” (Institutes 2.10.2) and that the Mosaic was a continuation of the Abrahamic, not a different covenant (Commentary on Jer 31:31). John Ball (a primary influence on Westminster) said “Most divines hold the old and new Covenants to be one in substance and kind, to differ only in degrees… [they] hold the old Testament, even the Law, as it was given upon Mount Sinai, to be the Covenant of Grace.” (102) Note also WCF 7.5-6 identifies the Covenant of Grace as a testament and calls it the “Old Testament [Covenant]” prior to Christ, citing both 2 Cor 3:6-8 and Gal 3:7-9.

The idea that the Mosaic Covenant administered the Covenant of Grace but was not itself the Covenant of Grace is contrary to that tradition. Historically that idea was known as the “subservient covenant” view and was proposed in contrast to the above. Modern proponents of this idea, following Kline, have taken the subservient view and tried to “smoosh” it together with Westminster’s view. The OPC Report on Republication 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.” In other words, RSC is confused on this matter. I would encourage Scott to dig deeper and read older works on covenant theology (such as John Ball). As far as I am aware, Ben does not agree with Scott here.

Regardless, what really matters is what Scripture says. On this point I have no problem affirming that the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants are, technically, two different covenants. But the important point is how they are related and how the abrogation of one affects the other. I will simply quote RSC “That temporary national covenant, which expired with the death of Christ, was the outworking of the land promises and the promise of a national people made to Abraham… [W]e can connect that aspect of the promise to Abraham to the national covenant in Moses.” Note that Scripture says Gen 17:7 was part of this same promise to Abraham and was fulfilled in the Mosaic Covenant when God dwelt in the midst of Israel as their God (Ex. 2:24-25; 6:6-7; 19:4-6; 25:8; 29:45; Lev 26:11-12; Ezek 16:8; Deut 4:32-40; 26:16-19; 29:10-13; Ps. 147:19-20; Amos 3:1-2). For elaboration,

See

4. Baptists deny that God works through means

31:20 Ben suggested that baptists deny that God works providentially through means, “like there is a hyper Calvinism where means and ends have to be disconnected so that election is totally divorced from God’s means, but no, God is using both in sync together: covenant and election.” Angela: “God works through means, through the family.”

Our Confession, just like theirs, affirms that God uses means (5.3, etc). The idea that we don’t believe that is very strange.

With regards to families, we affirm that parents can absolutely be the means that God uses to save their children. We simply deny that therefore our children are part of the Covenant of Grace by birth – just as we affirm that we may be the means God uses to save our co-worker, but we do not therefore hold that all of our co-workers are part of the Covenant of Grace.

With regards to the Covenant of Grace as means, Ben seems to just be assuming his own view and thus confusing himself about ours. We understand the Covenant of Grace to be union with Christ. Ben is viewing it primarily in terms of its ordinances and outward manifestation. Simply because we believe that only those who are united to Christ are part of the Covenant of Grace (established by the effectual call) does not mean we deny that means are involved (the general call). We simply deny that all to whom the general call goes out are members of the Covenant of Grace (see Rutherford defend that idea).

See

5. The Covenant of Grace was always through Christ

10:00 “It’s not just Abraham at the beginning, but it’s always been Christ at the beginning… Abraham is Christ’s seed before Christ is Abraham’s seed.”

We agree. Abraham was chosen “in Christ” before the foundations of the earth. That doesn’t mean the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Ben seems to be trying to make an argument from Galatians 3:17, but note John Brown (Scottish Presbyterian)

I apprehend the true rendering of the particle is concerning or in reference to — a meaning which the term by no means uncommonly bears in the New Testament. I shall give a few examples, — Eph. v. 32 ; Acts ii. 25 ; Heb. vii. 14 ; Luke xii. 21 ; Bom. iv. 20 ; xvi. 19 ; 2 Cor. ii. 9. The covenant in reference to Christ is just the arrangement or settlement as to justification by faith to be extended to the Gentiles through the Messiah, which was made known in the Divine declaration to Abraham. This Divine arrangement was “confirmed of God,” ratified by God in the ordinance of circumcision which was given to Abraham as a person justified in uncircumcision, and made known as a fixed appointment in the Divine declaration so often referred to. It was “confirmed before.” That is, it was a finished, ratified deed, long previously to the law.

See

6. Christ must precede the law (of Sinai)

~19:00 “If you say the Abrahamic is not the CoG, then you have Christ coming after the law, but superseding it and it seems to create a problem about Paul’s argument about the law and promise.”

I think Ben’s underlying logic is faulty. The author of Hebrews specifically argues that the establishment of the New Covenant (which came after the Old Covenant) makes the Old Covenant obsolete. Ben thinks such an idea (the New Covenant coming after the law but superseding it) is a problem because of Paul’s argument in Galatians, but he has simply misunderstood Paul’s argument.

Paul’s argument in Galatians 3 is not that whatever comes first supersedes what follows. Neither is his argument that the Covenant of Grace was already established 430 years prior to the law. His argument is that 430 years before the giving of the law, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of the Messiah, who would come to bless all nations by granting them eternal life. If eternal life was possible through the law of Sinai, then Christ died for no purpose (Gal 2:21). But God covenantally promised that the Messiah would come to grant eternal life, and the covenant was not annulled, therefore the Mosaic Covenant was not given for eternal life. Continuing from John Brown above

God had, in the case of Abraham, showed that justification is by believing; He had, in the revelation made to Abraham, declared materially that justification by faith was to come upon the Gentiles.

In other words, Abraham’s justification was a pre-eminent example of the ordo salutis, but the Abrahamic Covenant concerned the historia salutis. It promised that Christ would come in the flesh.

Note how John Ball explains that the Covenant of Grace was not established until Christ’s incarnation.

The Covenant of Grace is either promised or promulgated and established. Promised to the Fathers, first to Adam, and afterwards to the Patriarchs, and lastly to the people of Israel, and before their coming into the land of Canaan, and after their returne from the Babylonish captivity. Promulgated, after the fulnesse of time came.

See

7. How was the Covenant of Grace administered?

21:20 “I just always wonder, if we’re going to say that Old Testament believers – Adam, Abraham – if they were saved by Christ, then they were partaking of the substance of the Covenant of Grace. They were actually partaking of it. And then when I read in Pascal Denault’s book ’The Distinctives of Baptist Covenant Theology’ that the Covenant of Grace did not really begin until the New Covenant and only the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace, that does not make sense to me.”
Ben: “I haven’t studied in detail 1689 Federalism. I’ve read bits and pieces of it here and there but it hasn’t been something that I’ve studied in great depth. Someone on Twitter will likely correct what I’m about to say.” “Ben, you’re going to get spammed with 1689 ‘Here, read this.’” “What they would say is that the New Covenant works backwards to save the Old Testament believers just like we believe that the death of Christ is for all of people, even in the Old Testament, they would say the same thing – it works backwards – but, the question I have, and I’m sure there’s some answer out there for this, is how is it administered to them? Because it seems as though it’s not. Like, there’s no… administration of the Covenant of Grace to Old Testament believers. They just receive it— I don’t know how they receive the blessings of the Covenant of Grace.”
Angela “I’ve read a fair amount of 1689 Federalism literature… And there is language in there that it’s about promises, a list of things, that, to my ears and my reading ‘Ok, this is outward administration language.’ So, for me, what I find lacking, is a case that tells me why those things are not outward administrations of the covenant. To me, there’s significant overlap of what they say is conveying the grace – what we would call means of grace – there’s significant overlap there. But just, that is not outward administration, because reasons. So that is what I find difficult to understand.”

I appreciate Ben’s response to Tony correctly explaining that this issue is no different from the atonement. I also appreciate Angela’s answer to Ben, acknowledging that there is significant overlap in our understanding of the means of grace. Furthermore, I appreciate the acknowledgement that they do not fully understand our position. I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify.

I am not convinced that people who raise this objection have thoroughly thought it through. What we deny is that the ordinances of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are ordinances of the Covenant of Grace. Circumcision, the Passover, the sacrificial system, etc were not ordinances of the Covenant of Grace. Their objection is: then how could OT saints be saved? Implicit in this objection is the assumption that ordinances save (that saving/regenerating/justifying grace is conveyed through ordinances). I am not aware of any reformed theologian who says that baptism or the Lord’s Supper are necessary in order to be saved. If they are not, then neither was circumcision, the Passover, or the sacrificial system necessary in order to be saved in the OT. If that is the case, then what is the objection to our position?

If it is believed that ordinances are necessary to salvation, then our disagreement lies there, rather than in anything about the OT. Isaac Backus said “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.” Berkhof said sacraments “are not absolutely necessary unto salvation… the sacraments do not originate faith but presuppose it and are administered where faith is assumed, Acts 2:41; 16:14, 15, 30, 33; 1 Cor 11:23-32… [M]any were actually saved without the use of sacraments. Think of believers before the time of Abraham[.]” (ST 618-19) Reymond says “I would add that Paul expressly states that Abraham himself was justified by faith some years before he was circumcised (Rom. 4:9–10).” (ST) Calvin said

[C]hildren who happen to depart this life before an opportunity of immersing them in water, are not excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Now, it has been seen, that unless we admit this position, great injury is done to the covenant of God, as if in itself it were weak, whereas its effect depends not either on baptism, or on any accessaries. The sacrament is afterwards added as a kind of seal, not to give efficacy to the promise, as if in itself invalid, but merely to confirm it to us… When we cannot receive them [sacraments] from the Church, the grace of God is not so inseparably annexed to them that we cannot obtain it by faith, according to his word. (Institutes 4.16.15)

Hodge said

a fourth… characteristic of the Reformed doctrine on the sacraments… is that the grace or spiritual benefits received by believers in the use of the sacraments, may be attained without their use… [They] are not necessary means of salvation. Men may be saved without them. The benefits which they signify and which they are the means of signifying, sealing, and applying to believers, are not so tied to their use that those benefits cannot be secured without them. Sins may be forgiven, and the soul regenerated and saved, though neither sacrament has ever been received.” (ST III.XX.V)

William Cunningham said

Protestants have been accustomed to maintain the great principle, that the only thing on which the possession by men individually of the fundamental spiritual blessings of justification and sanctification is, by God’s arrangements, made necessarily and invariably dependent, is union to Jesus Christ, and that the only thing on which union to Christ may be said to be dependent, is faith in Him; so that it holds true, absolutely and universally, that wherever there is faith in Christ, or union to Him by faith, there pardon and holiness – all necessary spiritual blessings – are communicated by God and received by men, even though they have never actually partaken in any sacrament, or in any outward ordinance whatever.

Reformed theology holds that the Word (revelation) is the primary means of grace. It is through the Word that salvation comes. Reymond says “the Word does indeed take priority over the sacraments in that the Word is (1) essential to salvation while the sacraments are not, (2) engenders and strengthens faith while the sacraments only strengthen it[.]” The gospel is proclaimed and the Holy Spirit illumines the heart of the elect to believe what is proclaimed. That is how salvation is “administered” today and in the OT. Calvin said

[T]he word of God has such an inherent efficacy, that it quickens the souls of all whom he is pleased to favour with the communication of it… I refer to that special mode of communication by which the minds of the pious are both enlightened in the knowledge of God, and, in a manner, linked to him. Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, and the other patriarchs, having been united to God by this illumination of the word, I say, there cannot be the least doubt that entrance was given them into the immortal kingdom of God. (2.10.7)

We fully agree. Paul says that the gospel was preached to Abraham in the revelation that he would be the father of the Messiah (Gal 3:8). He believed that revelation of the gospel and was thus justified. In fact, look what Calvin says in his commentary on Heb 8:10.

For this is the covenant that I will make, etc. There are two main parts in this covenant; the first regards the gratuitous remission of sins; and the other, the inward renovation of the heart; there is a third which depends on the second, and that is the illumination of the mind as to the knowledge of God… 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?… [T]he Apostle, by referring the prophecy of Jeremiah to the coming of Christ, seems to rob them of these blessings… [W]hatever spiritual gifts the fathers obtained, they were accidental as it were to their age; for it was necessary for them to direct their eyes to Christ in order to become possessed of them. Hence it was not without reason that the Apostle, in comparing the Gospel with the Law, took away from the latter what is peculiar to the former. 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.

Again, we agree.

Finally, note Berkhof’s explanation of how the CoG was “administered” prior to its establishment in Gen 17:

1. The first revelation of the covenant. The first revelation of the covenant is found in the protevangel, Gen. 3:15. Some deny that this has any reference to the covenant; and it certainly does not refer to any formal establishment of a covenant… [but it] certainly contains a revelation of the essence of the covenant…
Up to the time of Abraham there was no formal establishment of the covenant of grace. While Gen. 3:15 already contains the elements of this covenant, it does not record a formal transaction by which the covenant was established. It does not even speak explicitly of a covenant. The establishment of the covenant with Abraham marked the beginning of an institutional Church.

We agree with the basic idea. The Covenant of Grace was revealed prior to its formal establishment and this revelation was sufficient to save the elect. We simply push its establishment forward to the New Covenant, rather than the Abrahamic Covenant.

Our view of OT ordinances (circumcision, Passover, sacrifices, etc) is that they revealed the gospel darkly and by way of analogy (typology). The important point here is that they served a function in and of themselves independent of any typological revelation of the gospel. Circumcision devoted the recipient to priestly service to Yahweh according to the terms of Mosaic law. Passover was a remembrance of Israel’s physical redemption from slavery in Egypt. The sacrifices kept God dwelling in the midst of Israel and were necessary to cleanse Israelites from ceremonial uncleanness (see Owen on this “carnal” function in his commentary on Heb 9). All of these things helped to paint a picture of the coming Messiah and his kingdom, but they nonetheless also served a function limited to temporal blessing and curse in earthly Canaan. They had dual functions/purposes. They were not simply signs of the Covenant of Grace, as baptism and the Lord’s Supper are. Insofar as they revealed/proclaimed the gospel darkly in shadows, they were a means of salvation to the elect in the OT. In this way they “administered” the CoG. But they were not signs and ordinances of the Covenant of Grace. They were signs and ordinances of the Old Covenant.

Though differing on particulars with paedobaptists, our understanding fits squarely within the reformed system of soteriology, both in the New and the Old Testaments. I am happy to elaborate to anyone who has further questions. Please comment below.

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8. Paul says circumcision was a sign of the Covenant of Grace

18:20 1689 Fed says the Abrahamic Covenant was not the CoG, but Paul says circumcision was a seal of Abraham’s faith

Paul says circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness which was to come in Christ. God promised Abraham that his offspring would bless all nations. He sealed (guaranteed) that covenant promise to Abraham by circumcision. It was thus a sign and seal of Christ’s righteousness in the historia salutis (history of salvation – see the Appendix to the 2LBC for more on this, and Sam Renihan’s comments). Abraham possessed this righteousness through faith, in advance of its accomplishment, as 1689 Federalism teaches.

14:20 baptism represents spiritual regeneration; “It’s somewhat similar – in the Old Testament there was outward circumcision, but God still called the Israelites to circumcise their hearts.”

Yes, God called Israelites to circumcise their hearts. Where does God call Christians to baptize their hearts? Baptism is a sign of union with Christ. The NT does not command Christians to unite themselves to Christ; it addresses them as those who are united to Christ.

Circumcision was not a sign of union with Christ. Neither was it a sign of regeneration or faith. Circumcision was a rite that devoted the recipient to serve Yahweh according to the terms of Mosaic Law. 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). I recommend reading Bryan Estelle’s chapter in the book The Law is Not of Faith for a very good treatment of how Lev 18:5 relates to the promise of the New Covenant in Deut 30:6.

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9. All shall know me

“1689 Baptists say that Jer 31 says everyone in the New Covenant will have faith, and therefore that excludes infants because infants cannot express repentance and faith. But I’m just wondering, when we turn to Isaiah 54:13 and that’s also talking about the New Covenant and in Jeremiah, Isaiah is footnoted as belonging to that passage, connected with that passage, and it says in Isaiah 54:13 ‘All your children shall be taught by the Lord. And great shall be the peace of your children.’ So I don’t see how we can use Jeremiah 31 to exclude children.”
“’All your children will be taught by the Lord.’ Well of course they will, they’re in a covenant house! Mom and Dad take us to church every week, so of course all our children will be taught by the Lord. They will have the benefit of growing up under the things of God.”
Angela “Right, that’s pointing to our view that there’s an outward administration of the covenant and an inward, there’s a visible church and an invisible church and being a member of the visible church without possessing the substance of the covenant does carry with it real benefit.”

I think this is another instance of polemics driving theology and the interpretation of Scripture. Scott and Angela interpret Is 54:13 as a reference to parents taking their children to Sunday School – as a reference to “visible church” benefits. But that is not how Jesus interpreted Is 54:13. He said it was talking about the invisible church – that it was a reference to the effectual calling of the elect. Yes, Jer 31 is a cross-reference for Is 54:13, but so is Jn 6:45 and 1 Jn 2:20-27. Calvin notes “As to the word all, it must be limited to the elect… he fastens on the general phrase, all; because he argues from it, that all who are taught by God are effectually drawn, so as to come… Hence it follows, that there is not one of all the elect of God who shall not be a partaker of faith in Christ.” And Hodge

The Church, considered as the communion of saints, is one in faith. The Spirit of God leads his people into all truth. He takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto them. They are all taught of God [Is 54:13; Jer 31:31; Jn 6:45]. The anointing which they have received abideth with them, and teacheth them all things, and is truth. 1 John ii. 27. Under this teaching of the Spirit, which is promised to all believers, and which is with and by the word, they are all led to the knowledge and belief of all necessary truth.

Neither does this prophecy refer to Christ’s second coming. Jesus applied it to his first coming. Recall Calvin above (“[T]he Apostle, by referring the prophecy of Jeremiah to the coming of Christ”).

Please take the time to watch this video showing how the Glory Cloud Podcast understands the “children” in OT prophecy vs how R. Scott Clark does

 

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10. Internal/External Church Distinction

A baptist on Twitter (Nate Downey) asked the hosts “Who is the infant’s federal head, Adam or Christ? And second, can you explain how someone can be in a covenant but not have that person as a covenant head?” Scott responded by saying “It takes the baptist assumption that you only administrate baptism to someone we know who their federal head is. That’s just a way of restricting baptism to a profession of faith, which really, if you think about it, baptists have the same problem because you don’t know if you’ve ever actually seen a real baptism. How do you know that Mr. Smith who just got baptized in a cow tank, how do you know–” “Or Simon the Magician, who was his covenant head? Was it Adam or Christ when he was baptized?” “Yeah, was it Adam or Christ? When he was baptized, if you had asked them… they would say at the time of their baptism, well Christ is. So where we have to start is: We don’t know who the elect are. No Presbyterian or reformed person claims to know who the elect are. And so we administrate the sign not only to our children but to people who would come to us and say ‘I want to join this…’ And so we would administrate the sign to them too. And so at the time we would say ‘Well, yeah, your federal head is Christ.’ because if you submit to baptism, that is a sign of faith… When a person is baptized and they submit to that, that’s a show of obedience and faith and so you can only give an answer based on what you see. The same with our children. We administer to our children because they have been given to us. We’re believers and so we’re raising them that way. We’re going to teach them to pray, read the bible, catechize them. And so we baptize and there’s a hope that this will come to fruition in their life. And then maybe you have a difference of opinion on this, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with presuming that our children are real believers until they present otherwise. I have no reason to think that my 3 are not believers… And so this whole question just starts on a false face. As to the second part, how can someone be in the covenant and not have Christ as their covenant head – well, look through redemptive history. How many Israelites were there that were circumcised but they fell in the wilderness… The question’s designed as a gotcha. There’s a trap you’ve designed that I have to step in before I answer the question and no, we can’t do that. We have to start in the proper spot, and then we can answer that question.”

First, it is not our position that you only administer baptism to someone you know is federally in Christ. As pointed out several times (see here and here), we are in complete agreement with the paedobaptist who requires a credible profession of faith in order to judge in charity whether or not someone is a believer before baptizing them. Knowing for certain whether or not someone is a true believer is not our condition for baptism. Making a credible profession of faith is the requirement for us to judge in charity that they are Christians, and therefore should be baptized.

The disagreement between us is how this relates to the children of professors. We do not believe that being born to those who profess saving faith is grounds for judging in charity that an infant is a believer/united to Christ/regenerate/saved. Scott does believe that (Ben very much disagrees). I would encourage our paedobaptist brothers and sisters to get a better grasp of what it is that we believe. (see links at end of this section)

Ben “I think the phrase you just used is perfect: In the covenant but not of the covenant… It comes down to the internal/external distinction. You have to have that if you’re reformed. Bavinck says ‘The covenant of grace is one and the external and internal sides of it, though on earth they never fully coincide, may not be split apart and set side by side. Certainly there are bad branches on the vine and there’s chaff among the wheat and in a large house there are vessels of gold as well as earthenware, but we do not have the right and the power to separate the two. In the day of the harvest, God himself will do this. As long as, in the judgment of love, they walk in the way of the covenant, they are to be regarded and treated as allies. Though not of the covenant, they are in the covenant, and will someday be judged accordingly.’… It really does come down to this internal/external distinction.”

Does it really come down to the internal/external distinction? Yes and no. Yes, the baptism of infants requires a particular understanding of the internal/external church distinction. However, baptists do not reject the internal/external church distinction. We simply understand it differently than some paedobaptists (the Westminster kind). We agree with a Brakel, Charles Hodge, John Murray, Thomas Boston, Jean Claude, James Currie and others that the distinction is a matter of perspective: our fallible perspective vs. God’s infallible perspective – rather than an internal/external covenant membership distinction. False professors are judged fallibly to be members of the church/members of the Covenant of Grace when in reality they are not.

[Note that Scott misunderstood Nate’s question and thus his reply was off-topic. Nate was not addressing how we judge an individual. He was asking who the federal head of an unregenerate infant is. Ben properly understood the question.]

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11. Apostasy

“I think the warning passages we see show it’s possible to be in the visible covenant community and still not be one of the elect. That’s why there are warning passages.” “Right, either what the writer of the Hebrews says about apostasy is a real thing or its not. A baptist would quote 2nd or 3rd John that they went out from us but they weren’t of us. ‘See, they weren’t Christians.’ Ok, then apostasy isn’t real… Of course you can be in the covenant, but not of the covenant.”

This seems like an odd response to me. What exactly does Scott believe that 1 John 2:19 refers to if not apostasy? Note French Reformed theologian Jean Claude

The sundry passages of Scripture concerning Hypocrites, who cloak themselves with such an outward profession, abundantly prove them not to be of Christ’s Church. 1 Joh. 2. 9… 1 Joh. 3. 10… 1 Joh. 4. 8… Jud. v. 12… Mat. 7. 23. Jesus Christ himself says, In the last day he will profess unto them, he never knew them. What colour then have we for making such members of the Church, which is Christ’s Body? But that place of St. John removes all the difficulty, 1 Joh. 2. 19. They went out from us, but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us, but that they might be made manifest, that they were not all of us. What a plain difference is here made between being among us, and being of us; be­ing among us, is proper for Hypocrites, that are mixed with the Faithful, and joyn in the same profession: Being with us, is sincerely and truly to be of the Church; for which something more than an outward profession is requisite.

As explain above in #10, the issue is a matter of perspective. We once judged that people who professed faith actually had faith, but upon their apostasy we now judge that they did not actually have faith. Their apostasy is from a profession of faith. We would modify Scott’s “Of course you can be in the covenant, but not of the covenant” to “Of course you can be regarded as in the covenant, but in fact not actually be in the covenant.”

We believe that Scott’s claim that apostasy is meaningless unless apostates were members of the Covenant of Grace is without basis. In The Nature and Causes of Apostasy from the Gospel, John Owen says concerning apostasy passages there “is no express mention of any covenant grace or mercy in them or towards them.”

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Hodge on Owen’s Influence Over American Presbyterians

March 29, 2019 Leave a comment

Writing in 1863, Hodge notes

The Puritan or Independent theory of the Church, that it consists exclusively of those who are deemed regenerate, and their minor children, has unfortunately gained ascendency over many of our ministers and members. This is to be attributed partly to the general familiarity with the writings of Owen and other English Independents, but especially to the all-prevailing influence of the ideas and principles of the New England Congregationalists.

Church Polity (244)

Compare with an 1857 essay in the Princeton Review titled “The Neglect of Infant Baptism.”

[W]hat most concerns us, we have often known it to be said, that in the Presbyterian Church there has been, for some time, a growing disregard for the baptism of children. Indeed, we have heard it boldly and publicly asserted, that this doctrine is fast becoming “a dead letter” in many parts of our Church…

[A]dverse influences were more and more operating on the minds of parents, and gradually destroying their regard for this seal of the covenant; thus producing increasing neglect of the ordinance from year to year.

It is our opinion that the decrease of infant baptism has really been caused by increased neglect. And, after carefully considering the subject – after conversing with brethren in all parts of the Church, and observing the proportion of baptism to members in many Churches; and after no only examining our own General Assembly’s early and later statistics, but also the statistics of baptisms in Churches in old and new settlements, 30, 40, and 50 years ago; we are with pain inevitably driven to the conclusion, that there cannot be less than one infant subject of baptism for every six members of the whole Church. And consequently we must conclude that whilst there were but 205,041 children reported as baptized during the last 20 years, the reports should have amounted to 618,339, leaving not less than 413,298 unbaptized.

neglect-of-infant-baptism-table

What causes have been at work to produce such extensive neglect of infant baptism?

1. We may mention the greatly increased and very extraordinary efforts of the various anti-Pedobaptist bodies, to disseminate their sentiments within the past thirty-five years.

The careful student of history cannot fail noticing a connection between the history of those efforts and the variations of the tables given above.

Compare with Ron Baines’ excellent essay SEPARATING GOD’S TWO KINGDOMS: Two Kingdom Theology among New England Baptists in the Early Republic in JIRBS 2014, as well as Presbyterian vs Congregationalist vs Baptist Sacramentology and The Evolution of Reformed Paedobaptism, as well as 1689 Federalism & America’s Founding.

John Ball on Salvation Prior to Christ’s Death

March 28, 2019 7 comments

My previous post was a response to an ongoing conversation with Michael Beck of the Two-Age Sojourner Podcast. He responded in the comments (give them a read). He was struggling to understand why I/we retain the language of “Covenant of Grace” if we mean something so different from reformed theology by it. My response was that we do not mean something so different from reformed theology by it. We affirm what reformed theologians teach about the “internal” Covenant of Grace: that all men since the fall are saved through covenant union with Christ, their federal head. We disagree with what they teach about the “external” Covenant of Grace.

Internal and External Covenant of Grace

John Ball died in 1640, but his “Treatise of the Covenant of Grace” (published in 1645) had a significant influence on the Westminster Confession’s formulation. He explained

Externally this Covenant is made with every member of the Church, even with the Parents and their children, so many as heare and embrace the Promises of Salvation, and give and dedicate their children unto God according unto his direction: for the Sacraments what are they but seals of the Covenant? But savingly, effectually, and in speciall manner it is made only with them, who are partakers of the benefits promised. And as the Covenant is made outwardly or effectually, so some are the people of God externally, others internally and in truth. For they are the people of God, with whom God hath contracted a Covenant, and who in like manner have sworne to the words of the Covenant, God stipulating, and the people receiving the condition: which is done two wayes: for either the Covenant is made extrinsecally, God by some sensible token gathering the people, and the people embracing the condition in the same manner, and so an externall consociation of God and the people is made: or the Covenant is entered after an invisible manner, by the intervention of the Spirit, and that with so great efficacy, that the condition of the Covenant is received after an invisible manner, and so an internall consociation of God and the people is made up. (24)

See also Berkhof’s survey of The Dual Aspect of the Covenant. We affirm what Ball says about the Covenant of Grace entered after an invisible manner. We deny what he says about being in the Covenant of Grace externally, as we believe it is based on a misunderstanding of the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants (and thus Rom 9:6). So we continue to use the language of the Covenant of Grace because we agree with the heart of it.

The Covenant of Grace Promised & Established

Beck also raised questions over our claim that Abraham was saved by the New Covenant. John Ball has a helpful discussion of the same question: How were men saved prior to Christ’s death?

The Covenant of Grace is either promised or promulgated and established. Promised to the Fathers, first to Adam, and afterwards to the Patriarchs, and lastly to the people of Israel, and before their coming into the land of Canaan, and after their returne from the Babylonish captivity. Promulgated, after the fulnesse of time came. And hence the Covenant of Grace is distributed into the Covenant of Promise, or the New Covenant, so called by way of excellency. For the Foundation and Mediatour of the Covenant of Grace is our Lord Jesus Christ, but either to be incarnate, crucified, and raised from the dead, or as already incarnate, crucified, and raised from the dead, and ascended into Heaven. For there was never sin forgiven but in him alone, who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Therefore although before the Incarnation, Christ was only God, he was our Mediatour, yet not simply as God, but as the divine person, who should take our flesh, and in it should finish all the Mysterie of our Redemption, and therefore he is called the Lambe of God slaine from the beginning of the world, and the Father by his grace were saved, even as we. In the acts of Mediation three things may be considered.
[1.] Reconciliation, by which we are accepted of God.
[2.] Patronage, by which we have accesse unto the Father.
[3.] Doctrine, whereby God hath made himselfe knowne unto men by a Mediatour.
This third act might be done before he assumed our flesh, and indeed was done: but the two first did require his coming in the flesh, although the fruit of them was communicated to the Fathers under the Old Testament, by force of the divine Promise, and certainty of the thing to come with God.

(27-28)

(Compare the language used by Ball here with WCF/2LBCF 8.6, and note Ball’s quotation of Heb 13:8 and its reference in 8.6.)

If it be objected that the cause is before the effect, and therefore the incarnation and death of Christ must goe before the communication of the fruit and benefit thereof unto the Fathers.

The answer is, That in naturall causes [i.e. physics] the Proposition holds true, but in morall causes the effect may be before the cause: and so the fruit and vertue of Christ’s death was communicated to the Fathers before his Incarnation. But although the Sonne of God before he was manifested in the flesh, was our Mediatour with God (to whom future things are present) because he should be, and therefore for his sake sinnes were remitted, men did teach and learne by his Spirit, the Church was governed by him: yet the manner and reason of that Mediation was proposed more obscurely, the force and efficacy of it was lesse, and did redound to fewer.

The Covenant of Promise then was that Covenant which God made with Adam, the Fathers and all Israel in Jesus Christ to be incarnate, crucified and raised from the dead: And it may be described the Covenant, whereby God of his meere grace and mercy in Jesus Christ to be exhibited in the fulnesse of time, did promise forgivenesse of sinnes, spirituall adoption and eternall life, unto man in himselfe considered a most wretched and miserable sinner, if he should embrace and accept this mercy promised, and walke before God in sincere obedience. God the Father of his meere and free grace and mercy looking upon man in Jesus Christ, in whom he is reconciled, is the Author and cause of this Covenant (Deut 9:5; Gal 3:18; Luk 1:54, 55). He hath holpen his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spake to our Fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, your Fathers dwelt on the other side of the floud in old time, even Terah the Father of Abraham, and the Father of Nahor, and they served other gods. And I took your Father Abraham from the other side of the floud, and led him throughout all the Land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac. (Josh 24:2)

(28-29)

We agree with Ball that the Covenant of Grace can be considered as either promised or established. Prior to its establishment in the death of Christ, Christ was Mediator of it as the one who would become incarnate. After its establishment, Christ was the Mediator of it as already incarnate. Prior to his death, Christ could mediate (“communicate”) salvation to the elect because the promise that he would come to earth and die for them was “certain” and because God operates outside of time.

We disagree with Ball that the Old Covenant is the same thing as the Covenant of Grace prior to Christ’s death. The Covenant of Grace is the New Covenant, and thus we may consider the New Covenant as promised or established. In either consideration it is distinct from the Old Covenant.

And if the Covenant of Promise, and the New Covenant doe thus agree in substance, then it must necessarily follow, That there is but one Church of the Elect, the same Communion of Saints, one Faith, one Salvation, and one way of obtaining the same, viz. by Faith in Christ. (30)

We agree. However, the Covenant of Promise is not the Old Covenant, it is simply the New Covenant promised.

Secondly, that the Word of God was no lesse incorruptible seed to the Fathers and the Israelites then to us: That the Fathers did eat the true flesh of Christ by faith, as well as we in the times of the Gospell: That they and we are partakers of the same Spirit: and that the Sacraments of the Jewes did signifie and seale to them, the same promises of eternal life, which our Sacraments doe to us. The Sacraments of the Old Testament were not types of our Sacraments, as sometimes they are called by Divines: but they typified the same things that ours doe. For as the Covenants under which they and we lived, were one for substance: so are the Sacraments one in their common nature and signification. (30)

We disagree. The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenant ordinances were not the same as New Covenant ordinances. They did not serve the same purpose or function. They were not covenant signs of the same thing because the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants were not “one for substance” with the New Covenant. Old Covenant ordinances (and the entire Old Covenant itself) typified numerous aspects of the New Covenant as they functioned as types. But as they functioned as covenant signs and ordinances, they had an earthly, temporal function in keeping with the earthly, temporal Old Covenant (blessing and curse in the land of Canaan). See the previous post for more on this (and await a future post for an elaboration on the function of sacrifices in this regard).

Then what were the signs of the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace promised? Recall what Owen says about the meaning of “established” in Heb 8:6.

This is the meaning of the word “established,” say we; but it is, “reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance.” All the obedience required in it, all the worship appointed by it, all the privileges exhibited in it, and the grace administered with them, are all given for a statute, law, and ordinance unto the church. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship. Hereon the other covenant was disannulled and removed; and not only the covenant itself, but all that system of sacred worship whereby it was administered. This was not done by the making of the covenant at first; yea, all this was superinduced into the covenant as given out in a promise, and was consistent therewith. When the new covenant was given out only in the way of a promise, it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it. Wherefore it was consistent with a form of worship, rites and ceremonies, and those composed into a yoke of bondage which belonged not unto it. And as these, being added after its giving, did not overthrow its nature as a promise, so they were inconsistent with it when it was completed as a covenant; for then all the worship of the church was to proceed from it, and to be conformed unto it. Then it was established. Hence it follows, in answer unto the second difficulty, that as a promise, it was opposed unto the covenant of works; as a covenant, it was opposed unto that of Sinai. This legalizing or authoritative establishment of the new covenant, and the worship thereunto belonging, did effect this alteration. (Exposition of Hebrews 8:6)

The first solemn promulgation of this new covenant, so made, ratified, and established, was on the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Christ. And it answered the promulgation of the law on mount Sinai, the same space of time after the delivery of the people out of Egypt. From this day forward the ordinances of worship, and all the institutions of the new covenant, became obligatory unto all believers. (Exposition Hebrews 8:10)

The signs of the Covenant of Grace are not necessary for salvation. They are not means of saving grace. The elect prior to Christ could be, and were, saved without them. All they needed to be saved was a proclamation of the gospel responded to in faith.