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Samuel Renihan on New Covenant Union

July 4, 2017 5 comments

In Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology (found in the volume Recovering a Covenantal Heritage), Micah and Samuel Renihan explain New Covenant union with Christ.

Jesus Christ has been and always will be the federal head of the covenant of grace/New Covenant. To be federally united to him you must be 1) promised to him outside of time in the covenant of redemption and 2) brought into union with him in time by the Holy Spirit.

The Son was the one elected by the Father to win the redemption of the elect. All of this is accomplished in the New Covenant, which is the historical climax of the covenant of grace. To be in the covenant of grace/New Covenant, you must be united to Christ, its federal head.17

Since the covenant of grace is the retro-active application of the New Covenant, if we posit that Christ is the mediator of the covenant of grace, we can only understand the terms of his role as mediator, and our relation to him as such, through the way that he is presented in the New Covenant. That Christ is the mediator of the covenant of grace, the New Covenant, no Reformed theologian denies. Thus, in line with New Testament doctrine, the only way to be under Christ’s federal headship is to be united to him by the Holy Spirit. This union finds its roots outside of time as we are chosen in Christ in the covenant of redemption and is applied to the elect in time by the Spirit, begun in effectual calling and consummated in the faith of the believer. Apart from saving faith there can be no union with Christ, because the Spirit does not indwell any except the elect, those who have been justified by faith.18 Christ is the one and only federal head of the covenant of grace, the New Covenant. Federal headship is never mediate, thus none can enter the covenant other than those who are directly or immediately under his federal headship by the Holy Spirit.19

17 Cf. WLC 57-59.

18 Cf. Acts 2:38, Eph. 1:13.

19 Cf. WLC 65-69.

[…]

To bring this to a conclusion, a right understanding of the membership of the covenant of grace is founded on the covenant of redemption and the New Covenant. Those who are in the covenant of grace are those who were promised to the Son by the Father in the covenant of redemption, won by the Son’s life, death, and resurrection, and sealed by the Holy Spirit, uniting them to their federal head, Jesus Christ. Laying claim to Christ and his benefits is a serious matter, and as Scripture shows, only those who have saving faith can truly make that claim. There is no external federal relation to Jesus Christ. In terms of membership or qualification, there are no distinctions in the body of Christ, that is, the church. All are sons of God through faith, under one head, indwelt by one Spirit. “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9). In spite of the false professions, unbelief, and lies of apostates, God knows his own, Christ knows his sheep, and the Spirit of adoption knows the children of God.26 The covenant people of God are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). The glorious New Covenant does not look to the Old for its pattern and people but stands on the eternal foundation of the covenant of redemption and comes to the elect as a covenant of grace, purchased, mediated, and eternally kept by “our great God and savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people” (Titus 2:14).

26 Cf. 2 Tim. 2:19, John 10:27, Matt. 7:15-23, Rom. 8:16.

See also:

The Heidelblog’s Monologue of Misrepresentation

June 22, 2017 2 comments

In a hurry? Skip down to the Summary.

I greatly appreciate R. Scott Clark’s zeal for the gospel and his defense of sola fide. However, he has a reputation for not accurately representing the nuances of various theological disagreements and for silencing those he disagrees with. Reformed paedobaptists who disagree with Clark on a variety of different topics have all complained about this. This leads to a fair amount of problems as Clark has become somewhat of a popularizer of reformed theology. People are led to believe things are much simpler than they actually are.

The latest issue to come under his sights is 1689 Federalism. He significantly misrepresented the view in his main point of criticism. I attempted to add a comment of clarification on his blog, but it was not approved. So I wrote a post explaining how Clark has misrepresented 1689 Federalism. Other people began commenting on his blog asking for him to interact with what I had said.

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Both comments were deleted without any response. He eventually responded (sort of) on Twitter.

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I say “sort of” because 1) He refused to say where the quote was from or link to the blog, and 2) He isolated the quote from the rest of the correction and clarification as to what the quote meant. Thus once I corrected him, he chose to ignore me and merely perpetuate his misrepresentation.

He posted the same comment on his blog.

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Again, he quotes me anonymously without linking to or mentioning the source so that people can read it in context for themselves. Furthermore, he isolates one statement that he can continue to twist to fit his straw man, while ignoring the explanation as to what that statement means, in contrast to what he misrepresents it as meaning in his post. So no, it is not a concise statement of the view he rejected in his post. It is a concise statement of the view that he misrepresented in his post. No doubt, he will still reject the view once it is properly represented, but for some strange reason he refuses to allow it to be.

Why?

As one person noted, this has become quite petty. Why has Clark gone to such lengths to hide my response from his followers/readers?

It may simply be a matter of Clark’s professorial preference for monologue leaking over into his blog. I assume he is no fan of the Socratic method. But this is no way for a professor to model scholarship to his students.

It may also be the case that Clark has decided that 1689 Federalism just doesn’t know what it is talking about, so to protect his followers/readers from confusion, he simply will not allow us to dialogue and will delete comments he doesn’t want people to see.

But there may be a bigger reason. Clark is adamant in his post that 1689 Federalism is in no way Reformed. “My job here is to help Reformed folk understand what we confess. Here I’m doing it by way of contrast.” But there are Reformed critics of Clark who are just as adamant that Clark is in no way Reformed in his covenant theology. That’s a point that I discussed in my reply to Clark.

In a 2007 series on Republication, Clark very clearly articulated the subservient covenant view as his own.

[T]he covenant of grace, the Abrahamic covenant is the administration of God’s saving grace. It was and remains a covenant of grace… [T]he Mosaic Covenant is finished… It was a legal covenant not relative to salvation or justification but relative to Israel’s status as the temporary national people of God. In Exod 24, Israel swore a blood oath that she, as a national people, would keep the law and it was on this legal basis that Israel was ultimately expelled from the promised land and on which basis she lost her status as the national people of God… Israel was under a typological, not soteriological covenant of works. It’s a post-lapsarian, typological covenant of works… [T]he type of covenant under which Israel lived as national entity was formally legal, it was a suzerain-vassal treaty. Those same families also lived under a royal grant covenant that was wholly gracious relative to salvation and justification…

God made a temporary, national covenant. That temporary national covenant expired. The spiritual covenant, the covenant of grace, does not expire. The covenant of grace was temporarily administered through and alongside a national covenant… The Mosaic covenant, insofar as it was a distinct covenant, was a national, external, temporary covenant…

Is it not sufficient to say that the covenant of grace, the Abrahamic covenant, was administered through the Mosaic and yet the Mosaic as such, as a distinct epoch in the history of redemption, is also unique in certain aspects (e.g. as a republication of the covenant of works)?…

The Mosaic covenant, insofar as it was a distinct covenant, was a national, external, temporary covenant. At the same time, however, the spiritual, internal, Abrahamic covenant of grace continued and those in the Mosaic covenant who were elect, were also children of Abraham as well as children of Moses.

Re-Publication of the Covenant of Works (1) and Republication of the Covenant of Works (2) and Re-Publication of the Covenant of Works (3)

It’s hard to state the subservient view any clearer than that. The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants are two different, distinct covenants. The Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace through which people are saved (now and during the time of Moses). The Mosaic Covenant is not.

Clark specifically referenced Owen, leading D. Patrick Ramsey to comment “Confessionalists may not want to adopt John Owen on the Mosaic Covenant since he viewed the MC as a distinct covenant and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace.” To which Michael Brown (author of Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored) replied

That may apply to WCF full-subscriptionists, but to the rest of us confessionalists, there is no conflict… What I mean is that I fully subscribe the Three Forms of Unity as a minister in the URCNA and, for the most part, follow Owen’s view of the MC. I don’t see how those two things are in conflict.

I don’t know if particular presbyteries in the OP or PCA would allow a minister to take Owen’s view as an exception. I suspect that many would allow it, if it were qualified and explained. Keep in mind that Owen’s concern is to show that the MC cannot be REDUCED to a mere admin of the CoG. He is concerned to show that, because the MC is a distinct covenant from the Abrahamic, one cannot flatten out the contours of redemptive history in the interest of showing continuity in the Bible.

As I explained in my reply to Clark, presbyterians have been drilling in on this issue, resulting in the recent OPC GA Study Committee on Republication, which states very clearly that Clark’s view is contrary to the WCF.

[P]roponents of the subservient covenant view did not view themselves as advocating a version of View 4 outlined below (i.e., that the Mosaic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace with a unique administration)… [View 4] is affirmed by the Westminster Confession of Faith. WCF 7.5–6… The most extensive criticism of the position comes from the works of John Owen and Samuel Bolton… It is difficult to harmonize this [subservient covenant] view with the confessional affirmations (outlined above) regarding the Sinai covenant as being in substance and kind a covenant of grace.

In other words, my reply threw a wrench in Clark’s narrative. Reformed covenant theology is not as black and white as he likes to make it. It is considerably more complex. Recognizing that complexity has at least two effects. 1) It reveals that Clark’s view is contrary to the WCF. 2) It reveals that 1689 Federalism is part of that complex reformed dialogue on covenant theology. As Sam Renihan said in the article Clark was responding to “Where Reformed covenant theology was united, the Particular Baptists were united with them. Where Reformed covenant theology was diverse, the Particular Baptists lived within that diversity.” These are substantial issues that Clark would prefer not to have his readers wrestle with. Far better to keep it hidden from them.

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Clark the Baptist

Returning to Clark’s 2007 series on Republication, he appealed to Charles Hodge to make a very significant point about the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant.

I keep hearing that Meredith Kline invented the doctrine of republication. In a word: nonsense… Richard posted this nice bit from Hodge (who also antedates MGK and WSC):

It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one his natural descendants through Isaac, were constituted a commonwealth, an external community; by the other his spiritual descendants were constituted into a church, [invisible of course, since, at that time, the only formal organization was that of the law.] The parties to the former covenant, were God, and the nation; to the other, God, and his true people. The promises of the national covenant, were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant (i.e. the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, as reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant [the old] were circumcision, and obedience to the law; the conditions of the other were, and ever have been, faith in the Messiah, as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, [that is, the old covenant with the new] and the commonwealth founded on the one, with the church founded on the other. When Christ came, the commonwealth was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The church [now made visible] remained. There was no external covenant, nor promise of external blessings, on condition of external rites, and subjection. There was a spiritual society, with spiritual promises, on condition of faith in Christ.” “The church is, therefore, in its essential nature, a company of believers, and not an external society, requiring merely external profession as the condition of membership. (Princeton Review, October, 1853)

Even somewhat sympathetic presbyterians immediately saw the implications. One commeter noted

How these views–of Hodge in particular–don’t surrender the fort to the baptists, I don’t see… Now the question is: how will it be addressed by Kline’s devotes?… I think I would be happy to understand exactly how the baptist gains no ground thereby… It’s confusing trying to answer a baptist who looks at you with a straight face and says, “If YOU only understood covenant theology, you’d realize I’m right. What don’t you understand about the eschatological prologue and intrusion ethics? I don’t have time to explain covenant theology to presbyterian beginners.” These days are already upon us.

In response, Clark doubled-down on the Abrahamic dichotomy.

Hodge is perfectly right to say that God made a temporary, national covenant with Moses. 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… [I]s it not the case that we should distinguish the land/inheritance promise from the spiritual promise (“I will be your God and your children’s God?”). If we can make that distinction then we can connect that aspect of the promise to Abraham to the national covenant in Moses. In other words, Hodge’s language, however incautious, is attempting to account for a real distinction.

Note that Clark typically says baptists err by “turning Abraham into Moses.” Yet here he acknowledges that the national, temporary, typological Old Covenant was rooted in God’s promise to Abraham. See my extended comments here.

Summary

Clark is caught between a rock and a hard place. He understands that properly recognizing the Mosaic Covenant as a typological covenant of works for life in the land of Canaan is essential to defending sola fide. But, as I have shown in a full-length critique of Clark’s covenant theology, his adoption of the subservient covenant view leads directly to 1689 Federalism. He has no defense against it. Perhaps that is why he insists on misrepresenting 1689 Federalism and keeping this blog hidden from his readers.

Further Reading:

Keach on Union with Christ

June 19, 2017 10 comments

Modern paedobaptsits have been arguing with eachother for decades about union with Christ. They each have a piece of the puzzle, but they can’t put the whole puzzle together because of their unbiblical covenant theology. The solution to the “union with Christ” conundrum is that union with Christ is the covenant of grace (new covenant). Here are some words from Keach (point 4), where he appeals to and quotes Nehemiah Coxe to explain New Covenant union.

Take heed on what you build your Hopes of Justification and Salvation, what is that which bears up your Spirits: for if you are Trees that grow not out of the true root, Jesus Christ, and the Covenant of Grace; if you have not Union with the Lord Jesus, or are not built on that Foundation, or Corner-stone God hath laid in Sion, down you fall; for now the ax is laid to the Root of the Trees…

Now, from the whole, it seems to me to be a strange Thing, which is lately asserted, viz.

‘That the Infant Seed of Believers, (during their Infancy) have all of them a certain Interest in the Covenant of Grace: By vertue of which, they are compleatly Justified before God, from the Guilt of Original Sin, both Originans, and Originations; and yet, when they come to Years of Discretion, may (yea must) by their actual closing with, or refusing the Terms of the Covenant, either obtain the continuation, and confirmation of their Covenant Interest, or be utterly, and finally cut off from it, and so perish Eternally in their Ignorance of God, and Rebellion against him.

Answer, To which I must say, That they seem to make the Covenant of Grace, such a Conditional Covenant, that renders it in Nature and Quality, like the Sinai Covenant, or Covenant of Works, i.e. If they perform the Righteousness required, they shall live; if they Obey not, or make not Good, this pretended Covenant of Grace, they shall dye, or be cut off: Let our Brethren, who are found in the Doctrine of Free-Grace, consider this.

2. And as the Promises of the New Covenant, will admit of no such partial Interest, (saith a Learned Author) so neither can this Opinion consist with the Analogy of Faith, in other Respects; for either the stain of Original Sin, in these Infants is purged, and the dominion of Concupiscence in them destroyed, when their Guilt is pardoned, or it is not; if it be, then the Case of these Infants, in point of Perseverance, is the same with Adult Persons, that are under Grace, by actual Faith; and then a final Apostacy, from the Grace of the New Covenant, must be allowed to befall the one, as well as the other, notwithstanding all Provisions of that Covenant, and Engagement of God therein, to make the Promise sure to all the Seed, Rom. 4:16.

But this the Author will not admit: If he say, That their Guilt is pardoned, but their Natures are not changed, or renewed, nor the Power of Original Corruption destroyed, so as that Sin, shall not have Dominion over them; it will be replyed, That then, notwithstanding their supposed Pardon, they remain as an unclean Thing, and so uncapable of admission into the Kingdom of God. Thus this worthy Author.

3. To which let me add, Certainly if Divine Habits were in those Infants, they would immediately be manifested; or be sure when they are grown up, would appear in them by gracious Operations flowing from thence: But since those Acts, or Products of such a gracious Habit, appear not in them, ’tis evident, they never had them infused.

4. All that are in the Covenant of Grace, (if they live) the Fruits of Faith and Holiness, will flow naturally from those sacred Habits, God hath by his spirit planted in them, as heat and light doth from the Fire, when ’tis kindled on the Hearth. The Truth is, such who are united to Christ, and have Faith in him, and so are actually in the Covenant of Grace, are also washed and purged from Sin, and Pollution, see Ezek. 16; Rom. 5:14; Act. 15:10. None can have Union with Christ, but by the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit; and wheresoever the Spirit of Christ is, it applies, The Blood of the Covenant, not only for Pardon, but also for the purging the Conscience from dead Works, to serve the living God: ‘And therefore, (as the same Learned Author observes) as certain as any derive a New Covenant Right from Christ for Pardon, they also receive a vital Influence from him, for the renovation of their Natures, and conforming their Souls to his Image: Therefore, to assert, That the Grace of Christ, is applied to some, for remission of Sins only, or that the guilt of any Sin, can be pardoned to any Person, and yet that Sin retains its Dominion over them, is a Doctrine, I understand, not to be sound, or agreeable to the Doctrine that is according to Godliness.

Keach, B. (1693). Sermon III. In The Ax Laid to the Root, Parts I & II (Vol. 2, pp. 12–13). London: John Harris.

 

Compare the above with Coxe on New Covenant Union with Christ.

See also

Re: Did The Covenant Of Grace Begin In The New Covenant?

June 15, 2017 7 comments

Short Reply

Any interaction with 1689 Federalism from paedobaptists has been very limited, so I am thankful that R. Scott Clark tried to do so in a recent post titled Did The Covenant Of Grace Begin In The New Covenant? Regretfully, though, he has fundamentally misunderstood the position. (I know that response can be annoying – please hear me out briefly).

First, the title asks the wrong question. The question is not “Did the Covenant of Grace begin in the New Covenant?” Rather, the question is “Is the New Covenant alone the Covenant of Grace?

Clark mistakenly says that 1689 Federalism does not believe the Covenant of Grace was “in effect” or “existed” prior to the death of Christ. He claims that we “conclude that [OT saints like David] did not actually participate in the covenant of grace.”

We do believe that the Covenant of Grace “existed” and was “in effect” prior to Christ, such that OT saints did actually “participate in the covenant of grace.” Our point is simply that neither the Mosaic Covenant, nor the Abrahamic Covenant (nor Noahic nor Davidic) were the covenant of grace. If any OT saint participated in the covenant of grace, they participated in the New Covenant, because only the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace (union with Christ). Coxe said

During the time of the law… [t]he children of God after the Spirit (though as underage children they were subject to the pedagogy of the law, yet) as to their spiritual and eternal state, walked before God and found acceptance with him on terms of the covenant of grace… this spiritual relationship to God [was] according to the terms of the new covenant which the truly godly then had… (133)

Our promised/established distinction refers to how the New Covenant was operative prior to the death of Christ. Before then, it existed as a promise and was effective to save all OT saints. It was effective and “existed” prior to its legal establishment as a covenant in the same way that Christ’s atonement was effective and “existed” for OT saints prior to Christ’s actual curse-bearing death on the cross. Yes, Abraham was justified in Genesis 15:6, but he was justified the same way we are: through membership in the New Covenant (from which he received a new heart, faith, and forgiveness of sins by the blood of Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant).

We appreciate the post, but we hope Clark is willing to receive correction as to what we believe so we can have a dialogue.

Below is a more lengthy discussion of Clark’s problematic comments regarding “administration” for those that are interested.

(Note, I tried commenting on his blog, but he banned me from the blog and blocked me on Twitter quite a while ago. He has also deleted two comments left by others on his blog asking him to respond to this post: 1 and 2).

Read more…

Kline’s Two-Level Fulfillment 184 Years Before Kingdom Prologue

June 6, 2017 4 comments

Meredith Kline’s career was spent developing a more biblical understanding of God’s covenants. He broke new ground for Presbyterians in his magnum opus “Kingdom Prologue,” first published in 1993. There, Kline refers to “The two-stage pattern of the unfolding of the kingdom, which is such a major feature of the historical-eschatological projections in the Abrahamic Covenant” (328). He traces “the two-level structure with respect to the kingdom components of king, people, and land.” (332) (Here is an excerpt of the relevant sections of KP)

The promised king. “If Abraham was to be a father of a great nation and even a multitude of nations, then naturally he would number kings among his descendants (Gen 17:6)… Two levels of kingship were present in this prophetic blessing. Judah assumed the royal supremacy in Israel in the appointment of David as king. He, with his successors under the old covenant, were level one. Then David’s dynasty reached a distinctive second level of kingship in the coming of Jesus Christ, Shiloh, the universal Lord, and his inauguration of the new covenant in his blood… [I]n the course of biblical revelation two distinct levels of fulfillment, one provisional and prototypal, the other messianic and eternal, are clearly distinguishable in the king promise given to Abraham.”

The promised kingdom-people. “[T]he corporate seed, and the promised seed in this corporate sense is interpreted by the Scriptures as being realized on two levels… Development of the twelve sons of Jacob into the twelve-tribe nation of Israel of course constituted a fulfillment of the promise of the kingdom people at one level… (cf. 2 Sam 17:11; 1 Chr 27:23f.; 2 Chr 1:9)… Equally obvious is the Bible’s identification of a realization of the promise of the Abrahamic seed at another level… (Rom 9:7,8; cf. Rom 4:16; Gal 3:7)… Confirming the distinction made in the promise of the seed between literal and spiritual Israelites and pointing particularly to the second, spiritual level of meaning was the inclusion of the nations of the Gentiles among Abraham’s promised seed (Gen 17:4,6,16; Rom 4:11,12,16,17).”

The promised kingdom-land. “Step by step what was included in the promised kingdom land at the first level of meaning was more precisely defined. It was a land to be designated later as Abraham followed the Lord (Gen 12:1); the land of Canaan (Gen 12:7)… That the territory eventually occupied by Israel fully corresponded with the geographical bounds defined in the promise is explicitly recorded in Joshua 21:43-45 and 1 Kings 4:20,21 (cf. Num 34:2ff.; 1 Chr 18:3; Ezek 47:13-20)… Fulfillment of the land promise at the old covenant level (cf. 1 Kgs 8:65; 1 Chr 13:5; 18:1-12; 2 Chr 9:26)… The Canaanite, first level fulfillment of the land promise served the pedagogical purpose of pointing beyond itself to the second level fulfillment, intimated by the “everlasting” nature of the promised possession… with surprising abruptness the New Testament disregards the first level meaning and simply takes for granted that the second level, cosmic fulfillment is the true intention of the promise. In keeping with Old Testament prophecies that Messiah, the royal seed of Abraham, would receive and reign over a universal kingdom (e.g., Pss 2:8; 72:8; Zech 9:10), Paul identifies Abraham’s promised inheritance as the world (kosmos, Rom 4:13).”

Old vs New Covenants. “While the first level kingdom under the old covenant was itself a fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises, it had the character of prophetic promise when viewed in relation to the second level fulfillment under the new covenant… Kingdom level one is identified with the old covenant and level two with the new covenant… The new covenant is not a renewal of an older covenant… with respect to the old covenant as a typological realization of the promised kingdom realm, the new covenant does not confirm the continuing validity of the old but rather announces its obsolescence and end. Necessarily so. For, as the Jeremiah 31:31-34 prophecy indicated, the old covenant in its typological kingdom aspect was not a permanent order of the grace-guarantee kind but a probationary arrangement informed by the works principle, hence breakable. And having been broken, it was perforce terminated.”


In 1809, James Haldane articulated the same two-level fulfillment concept. He said “Many precepts and promises in the Old Testament had both a literal and a spiritual meaning. The literal accomplishment was both a representation and pledge of the spiritual… Some have argued, that the covenant with Abraham was carnal, others that it was spiritual. Both are true. The covenant was, that Christ should spring from him. Three promises were then given, in order that this might be accomplished, and they were fulfilled both in a literal and spiritual sense.” (66-67) Haldane does not deliniate the three promises exactly the same as Kline, but they amount to the same idea.

That he should be the father of many nations. “This was literally fulfilled in his descendents by Keturah, Gen. xxv. 1. 4. and by Hagar, chap. xvii. 20.; but the promise referred particularly to his seed in the line of Isaac, Gen. xxi. 12, and the number of his descendents is well known, Num. xxiii. 10… We have seen that Abraham was literally the father of a multitude of nations, but the apostle informs us, that this promise referred to his being the father of all believers, Rom. iv. 16, 17; Gal. iii. 29. Here the apostle shews how men now be come Abraham’s seed. His descendents were his children, and even the children of God in a certain sense, by their birth, Exod. iv. 22. But in a higher and spiritual sense, they could only become the chil dren of Abraham and of God by faith… John i. 11. 13.”

That God would be a God to him and to his seed. “The term God is relative, and the promise implied that he would stand in a peculiar relation to him and to his seed… He brought them out of the house of bondage [in Egypt] (Exod. 2:24-25; 6:6-7; 19:4-6)… He delivered to them the law from Sinai, and gave them right judgments and true laws, good statutes and commandments. Here they entered into covenant with him, and became his, Ezek. xvi. 8. Hence the Lord is represented as the husband of Israel, and their children are called his, Ezek. xvi. 21. This was a new thing on the earth, for the Lord to take to him a nation from the midst of another nation, in the manner he had taken Israel, and to make them hear his words out of the midst of the fire, Deut. iv. 32-37… Deut 29:10-13. Here then we see the accomplishment of his promise to be a God to the seed of Abraham. He dwelt in the midst of them; he was their God, their judge, their lawgiver, and their king (Psalm 147:19-20; Amos 3:1-2; Hos 1:9)… We have seen how Jehovah was a God to the nation of Israel; but there is a higher sense in which he is the God of his people, Heb. xi. 16; viii. 10. 1 Pet. ii. 9. 10… the prophet Hosea foretold the rejection of Israel according to the flesh, and at the same time declared, that the number of the children of Israel should be as the sand of the sea. “Then said God, Call his name Lo-ammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God. Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered: and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God,” Hos. i.9, 10. The believing Gentiles are here called the children of Israel; for this passage is quoted by the apostle in proof of the calling of the Gentiles, Rom. ix. 26. consequently every argument in favour of infant-baptism, drawn from the promises made to the children of God’s ancient people must be altogether inconclusive.”

That he would give the land of Canaan to him and to his seed for an everlasting possession. “This he did when he drove out the Canaanites before them (Psalm 105:8-11)… The inheritance of Canaan also was but the let ter, while the spirit was the heavenly inheritance, Heb. xi. 10. 16. Col. iii. 24. Gal. iif. 29.”

“Thus we see, that the three promises, Gen. xvii. had both a primary and ultimate meaning, the one being the shadow of the other. 1st, A numerous seed; this prefigured Abraham’s spiritual seed, who should be numerous as the drops of dew. 2d, A God to him, and to his seed in their generations, fulfilled in their preservation in Egypt, receiving the law at Sinai, and in all his dealings with that extraordinary people; this prefigured the peculiar care and affection which the spiritual seed should experience, and the new and better covenant which should be given them. 3d, The land of Canaan, which prefigured the heavenly inheritance, Eph.i. 3. Col. iii. 24… As the promises made to Abraham had both a letter and a spirit, no doubt Abraham and others, whose minds were enlightened by God, discerned more in them than appeared to the carnal eye… One great means by which Satan has succeeded in corrupting the Gospel has been the blending of the literal and spiritual fulfilment of these promises, – thus confounding the old and new covenants. The former was a type of the latter, and to this the Apostle refers, in speaking of the revelation of the mystery ‘which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith’ (Rom 6:26). The mystery here spoken of is, the hidden meaning of God’s dealings with the posterity of Abraham, to which, in his epistles, Paul frequently refers.”


Haldane, a Scottish Presbyterian, made these observations when he began lecturing through Genesis. “For the first time [I] began to enter seriously into the argument for infant baptism.” The result was that James and his brother Robert became baptists. He explained that previously, he “explained the covenant with Abraham as the gospel, or covenant of grace, and overlooking in a great measure the temporal promises, dwelt on the spiritual meaning, which I thought I proved from Scripture. –Indeed there was much truth in what was said, but it was only part of the truth. The literal meaning and accomplishment of the promises were overlooked, and only the spiritual part insisted on.”

How did Kline seek to defend his paedobaptism in light of his correct understanding of the two-level fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant? At least two reasons.

First, Kline mistakenly equated the Abrahamic Covenant with the New Covenant (over against the Old), rather than recognizing, per Galatians 4:21-31, that the Old and the New covenants both flowed from the Abrahamic Covenant. Haldane correctly noted that “although an oath was made to Abraham, securing the blessing to all families of the earth through him, this does not prove that the covenant made with him was the new covenant… This was a promise that the Saviour, revealed immediately after the fall, Gen. iii. 15. should spring from him… To call this the covenant of grace, is only calculated to mislead; for surely it was peculiar to Abraham that Christ should spring from him.”

Second, Kline rejected the Presbyterian argument for paedobaptism and invented a new one instead.

[Note that Augustine also recognized this two-level fulfillment: “[T]hat divine oracle to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the other prophetic signs or sayings which are given in the earlier sacred writings… pertain partly to the nation of Abraham’s flesh, and partly to that seed of his in which all nations are blessed as fellow-heirs of Christ by the New Testament, to the possessing of eternal life and the kingdom of the heavens… Therefore prophetic utterances of three kinds are to be found; forasmuch as there are some relating to the earthly Jerusalem, some to the heavenly, and some to both… [W]hat we read of historically as predicted and fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, we must also inquire the allegorical meaning of, as it is to be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to faith.”]

See also

Is 1689 Federalism Dispensational?

I occasionally encounter the claim by paedobaptists that 1689 Federalism is dispensational. Just yesterday someone called it “repackaged dispensationalism,” (ignoring the fact that it predates dispensationalism by 200 years). Regretfully, this mistaken label is used not as a conversation starter, but as a conversation stopper.

It is not always clear what is meant by the claim. Generally they intend one of the following things:

  • 1689 Federalism disagrees with Westminster Federalism (therefore it is Dispensational).
  • 1689 Federalism makes a distinction between Israel and the Church (therefore it is Dispensational).
  • 1689 Federalism believes the Old Covenant was a law covenant of works (therefore it is Dispensational).

Disagrees with Westminster Federalism

This is just stating the obvious. Of course 1689 Federalism disagrees with Westminster Federalism. That’s the point. But the definition of Dispensationalism is not “anything that disagrees with Westminster Federalism.” When pressed, some try to soften their rhetoric by saying 1689 Federalism is not 1:1 Dispensationalism, but it is “in the same category” as Dispensationalism. What is that category? “Anything that disagrees with Westminster Federalism.”

This kind of tunnel vision is entirely unhelpful and counterproductive to meaningful dialogue. Disagreement with Westminster Federalism has existed (even among the reformed) since the Westminster Confession was written 200+ years before Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism does disagree with Westminster Federalism, but so do many other theologies, including 1689 Federalism. If this is a point that a critic wants to focus on, simply say “1689 Federalism disagrees with Westminster Federalism.”

Makes a Distinction Between Israel and the Church

Westminster does not distinguish between Israel and the Church. Israel is the Church and the Church is Israel in that system. Yes, both Dispensationalism and 1689 Federalism disagree with Westminster on this point. Yet Dispensationalism and 1689 Federalism have different, mutually exclusive views of Israel and the Church.

The most fundamental belief of Dispensationalism is that God has made eternal promises to two different peoples (Israel and the Church) that will be fulfilled in two different eternal destinies. In Understanding Dispensationalists, Vern S. Poythress wrestles with defining and labeling the theological system and suggests it might more accurately be called “‘dual destinationism’ (after one of its principal tenets concerning the separate destinies of Israel and the church).” (12)

1689 Federalism rejects that belief. One of its principal tenets is that Israel according to the flesh is a type of Israel according to the Spirit (the church). That is anti-Dispensational. It is so anti-Dispensational that it is the argument amillennial paedobaptist covenant theologians make against Dispensationalism. Meredith Kline said

The fundamental fallacy of the dispensational scheme is its failure to do justice to the Bible’s identification of the new covenant (or second level) realization of the kingdom promise as standing in continuity with the old covenant (or first level) realization as antitypical fulfillment to typal promise… Covenantal hermeneutics properly perceives the prototypal, provisional, passing nature of the first level kingdom and the antitypal, perfective, permanent nature of the second level kingdom.

Kline explained that “According to the Scriptures there is a clear-cut distinction between the typal and antitypal levels of fulfillment of the kingdom domain promised in the Abrahamic Covenant” which corresponds to “the distinction made in the promise of the seed between literal and spiritual Israelites.” 1689 Federalism is in strong agreement with Kline’s covenantal hermeneutic here, over against Dispensationalism (in fact, we like the hermeneutic so much, we use it against paedobaptists too).

Given 1689 Federalism’s understanding of Israel and the Church, it is not possible for it to be Dispensational.

Believes the Old Covenant was a Law Covenant of Works

1689 Federalism believes that the Mosaic Covenant was a law covenant of works for temporal life and blessing in the land of Canaan. A knee-jerk reaction from many paedobaptists is to associate this idea with Dispensationalism, perhaps because that is the only other context they are aware of.

First, the idea that Sinai was a law covenant of works is not uniquely Dispensational. The idea was common during the reformational era. Representative of the Lutheran view, Philip Melanchthon said

I consider the Old Testament a promise of material things linked up with the demands of the law. For God demands righteousness through the law and also promises its reward, the Land of Canaan, wealth, etc… By contrast, the New Testament is nothing else than the promise of all good things without regard to the law and with no respect to our own righteousness… Jer, ch.31, indicates this difference between the Old and New Testaments.

Anthony Burgess noted

It is true, the Lutheran Divines, they doe expresly oppose the Calvinists herein, maintaining the Covenant given by Moses, to be a Covenant of workes, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of grace. Inded, they acknowledge that the Fathers were justified by Christ, and had the same way of salvation with us; onely they make that Covenant of Moses to be a superadded thing to the Promise.
(Vindication of the Morall Law, 241)

In his commentary on Hebrews 8, Owen gives a summary of the reformed vs the Lutheran view of the Old and New Covenants, and then states his agreement with the Lutherans on this point (as representative of the Congregationalists who tended to hold this view). And the Lutherans were just repeating what they learned from Augustine, who said

As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament, so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament.

Joshua Moon shows how Augustine’s view was held by many up through the reformation. In “The True Bounds of Christian Freedom” (1645) Samuel Bolton likewise states his disagreement with Westminster’s view in favor of the belief that the Old Covenant only promised temporal life and blessing in Canaan, and did so upon the condition of the law. This was known as the subservient covenant view. It grew in popularity the following century, finding expression in Presbyterians like John Erskine and Anglicans like Thomas Scott’s very popular whole bible commentary. It was also foundational to the American Presbyterian embrace of religious liberty. When the same idea cropped up more recently in Presbyterian circles, T. David Gordon and Charles Lee Irons argued the subservient covenant view is the 17th century precursor to Kline’s view. Kline himself said that Dispensationalism was correct on this point.

[T]he revised Dispensationalism that purges itself of the teaching of two ways of salvation does so at the cost of abandoning the correct perception of earlier Dispensationalism that a works principle was operating in the Mosaic kingdom. Since these revisionists, no more than the older Dispensationalists, discern the two
distinct strata (viz. the typological kingdom overlay and the underlying stratum of eternal salvation) coexisting in the old covenant, they do not perceive the true
solution of identifying the works principle with the former while maintaining the continuity of the one way of salvation at the other, foundational level. All they can do is join certain of their covenantal critics in denying that there was a works principle in the old covenant.

Thus if 1689 Federalism is Dispensational because it believes the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works for life and blessing in Canaan, then all of the above are Dispensational as well.

Second, Dispensationalism has a peculiar understanding of the significance of the Mosaic Covenant of Works not shared by any of the above. It holds that the Israelites were mistaken to have accepted the terms of the Mosaic Covenant. Lewis Sperry Chafer said “They fell from grace.” The original Scofield Reference Bible said

The Dispensation of Promise ended when Israel rashly accepted the law (Ex. 19:8). Grace had prepared a deliverer (Moses), provided a sacrifice for the guilty, and by divine power brought them out of bondage (Ex. 19:4); but at Sinai they exchanged grace for law.

Chafer said

When the Law was proposed, the children of Israel deliberately forsook their position under the grace of God which had been their relationship to God until that day, and placed themselves under the Law.

They view the Abrahamic Covenant as unconditional and refer to it as the Dispensation of Promise in contrast to the conditional Mosaic Covenant’s Dispensation of Law. Now, if one wanted to be superficial and unedifying, one could argue that Kline was a Dispensationalist because he too distinguished between the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant of Grace and the conditional Mosaic Covenant of Law Works. But such a comparison would be ridiculous because it would overlook the vast differences between the two, such as the Dispensational idea that salvation consists in passing various tests throughout different dispensations versus the idea that underlying the typological Mosaic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace through which OT saints were saved through faith in the suffering Messiah, as well as their vastly different interpretations of how the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant is fulfilled. Calling 1689 Federalism Dispensational is just as ridiculous.

The Sine Qua Non of Dispensationalism

Charles Ryrie wrote about the sine qua non of Dispensationalism. Sine qua non means “something absolutely indispensable or essential.”  In other words, without these points, there is no Dispensationalism. They are:

  1. Keeping Israel and the church distinct throughout eternity.
  2. A hermeneutic of literal interpretation. (#1 is derived from #2)
  3. Salvation is not the main underlying purpose of God’s work in history.

With regards to #1, Ryrie says “This is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist… The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the church [throughout eternity]. This grows out of the dispensationalist’s consistent employment of normal or plain or historical-grammatical interpretation [#2]… The spiritualizing may be practiced to a lesser or greater degree, but its presence in a system of interpretation is indicative of a nondispensational approach.” And finally “The error of covenant theologians is that they combine all the many facets of divine purpose in the one objective of the fulfillment of the covenant of grace,” (as 1689 Federalism does).

On each of these essential points, 1689 Federalism is not merely contrary to Dispensationalism; it is contradictory to Dispensationalism. Its Christological (“spiritualizing”) hermeneutic “is indicative of a nondispensational approach” resulting in a typological view of Israel that fails “the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist.”

1689 Federalism is Anti-Dispensational (just ask a Dispensationalist).

Amillennialism’s Two-Edged Sword

May 31, 2017 3 comments

Amillennialism’s typology of Israel is a sharp, two-edged sword. Paedobaptists use it to cut down Dispensationalism’s claims about the land of Canaan, but the same sword equally cuts down their claims about offspring.

This post provides a helpful summary of Kline’s arguments against Dispensationalism (see this PDF for more context). 1689 Federalism agrees with all of them but swings the sword back around.

Dispensationalism is condemned by the inconsistency of its hermeneutics. The people and the land aspects of the kingdom are in fact correlative and not to be wrenched apart. Together they represent the twin cultural task of filling the earth with people and subduing the kingdom realm as that creational program gets taken up into redemptive history. Land and people promises must therefore be kept together within each level, whether in the typological embodiment of the cultural program in the old covenant kingdom or in its new covenant version. A hybrid combination of old cove nant land and new covenant people violates the conceptual unity of these two cultural components of the kingdom, while at the same time ignoring the discreteness of the typical and antitypical kingdoms. In addition to the hermeneutical inconsistency of this form of Dispens ationalism there is also the problem that it too contradicts the Bible’ s insistence that in Christ the distinction between Jew and Gentile ceas es with respect to kingdom inheritance.

To which we respond:

Amillennial paedobaptism is condemned by the inconsistency of its hermeneutics. The people and the land aspects of the kingdom are in fact correlative and not to be wrenched apart. Together they represent the twin cultural task of filling the earth with people and subduing the kingdom realm as that creational program gets taken up into redemptive history. Land and people promises must therefore be kept together within each level, whether in the typological embodiment of the cultural program in the old covenant kingdom or in its new covenant version. A hybrid combination of old covenant people and new covenant land violates the conceptual unity of these two cultural components of the kingdom, while at the same time ignoring the discreteness of the typical and antitypical kingdoms. In addition to the hermeneutical inconsistency of this form of paedobaptism there is also the problem that it too contradicts the Bible’s insistence that in Christ the privilege of offspring according to the flesh ceases with respect to kingdom inheritance.

And when Kline says

Covenantal hermeneutics properly perceives the prototypal, provisional, passing nature of the first level kingdom and the antitypal, perfective, permanent nature of the second level kingdom. Dispensationalists, failing to see that the first level kingdom becomes obsolete and gets replaced by the antitype in the messianic age, continue the obsolete order on indefinitely into the new age… Dispensationalism radically misconstrues the typological structure of the old and new covenants… obscuring the historical promise- fulfillment relationship of these two covenants.

Dispensationalism’s virtual rejection of the typological identity of the first level kingdom finds expression in their literalistic misinterpretation of prophecies that depict the second level kingdom in the typological idiom of the first level model.

We say

Covenantal hermeneutics properly perceives the prototypal, provisional, passing nature of the first level kingdom and the antitypal, perfective, permanent nature of the second level kingdom. Paedobaptists, failing to see that the first level kingdom becomes obsolete and gets replaced by the antitype in the messianic age, continue the obsolete order on into the new age… Paedobaptism radically misconstrues the typological structure of the old and new covenants… obscuring the historical promise- fulfillment relationship of these two covenants.

Paedobaptism’s virtual rejection of the typological identity of the first level kingdom finds expression in their literalistic misinterpretation of prophecies that depict the second level kingdom in the typological idiom of the first level model.

Likewise, when Kim Riddlebarger says

[T]he problem with that is, when you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 12 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the land promise in Genesis 12 – and it’s repeated throughout 15, 18, 22, on and on and on – when that land promise is repeated, dispenationalists say “See, that must mean Israel means Israel and that God is going to save Israel again to fulfill the land promise at the end of the age.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the land promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?” And that is at the heart of this entire debate.

To which we respond:

[T]he problem with paedobaptism is, when you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 17 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the offspring promise in Genesis 17 – and it’s repeated throughout 12, 15, 22, on and on and on – when that offspring promise is repeated, paedobaptists say “See, that must mean offspring means offspring and that God included physical offspring in the church and never took them out.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the offspring promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?” And that is at the heart of this entire debate.

See also