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John Gill & 1689 Federalism

April 14, 2017 8 comments

On the 1689Federalism.com website, a distinction is made between 1689 Federalism and 20th Century Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology. A video explains the differences and a venn diagram shows the areas of agreement and disagreement. From the very first day that the 1689federalism.com site went live, the venn diagram included a disclaimer. It said “20th Century Reformed Baptists* *This label is not to suggest this view is entirely new in the 20th century. Men such as John Gill have held similar views.”

Regretfully, someone (Joshua Whipps) has attempted to use Gill to argue that the historical claims made about 1689 Federalism are untrue and that it was never more than an oddball idea held by a few. There seems to be some fundamental misunderstandings involved. This issue was raised again yesterday in a tweet to me, so I figured I’d write something up to clarify.

RazorsKiss
@NWhite_GA I am typically met with a cricket chorus when I point out that the unfortunate category of “20th century” doesn’t apply to Gill.
Jul 25, 2016, 7:45 AM

As I explained already, there was a disclaimer about the label from the very first day anyone heard of it. The reason “20th century” was used is because it described a view that arose in the 20th century largely without any influence from historic baptist covenant theology – Gill or otherwise. As James Renihan explains in his Introduction to Recovering a Covenantal Heritage, “By 1920… Very few, if any of the churches in the Northern and Southern Baptist Conventions, remained committed to the old confessional theology. Baptists were swept away by… Revivalism, Modernism, Fundamentalism, and Dispensationalism.” When confessional baptist theology was recovered later in the 20th century, it was nursed primarily by Westminster Theological Seminary (notably John Murray) and the Banner of Truth (which did not reprint historic baptist works on covenant theology). As a result, baptists attempted to construct a covenant theology while wearing “Presbyterian glasses” (though they were still obvious critical of various aspects). That is not a comment on John Gill. It is a comment on baptists in the 20th century. When we say this, we are not necessarily talking about all baptists everywhere in the 20th century. We are not making any comment about Whipps himself. We are referring specifically to an influential group of pastors who helped lead and educate other reformed baptists (such as Walt Chantry, Samuel Waldron, Fred Malone, Earl Blackburn, etc). This book might help provide context that is missing for some.

Please note that 1689 Federalism does not claim that 1689 Federalism is or was the only confessionally acceptable view. It gets its name from the fact that the overwhelming majority of 1689 baptists held to 1689 Federalism and it explains the change in language between the WCF and the LBCF.

Whipps misunderstand 1689 Federalism’s comments about the tradition being lost.

Joshua Whipps Joshua Whipps: I would like to see what the 1689F folks would say about this. Do they really think Dr. Voluminous had no idea what Keach, Coxe, Owen, etc. taught? I can’t imagine it, given his references to them on so many other topics.
Armen Nazarian Armen Nazarian Yea, I have a hard time seeing how an important doctrine like that could be lost.
Joshua Whipps Joshua Whipps Owen’s was never “lost” – it was just rejected, for the most part. Why is this any different?

No one ever suggested that Gill held his views because he didn’t know about 1689 Federalism. That’s a very significant misunderstanding. Those comments are strictly referring to men in the 20th century (hence the label).

RazorsKiss
@NWhite_GA Sure, I got you. I still do wonder why it is they don’t deal with Gill’s influence more, instead of the “lost” thesis in vogue.
Jul 25, 2016, 7:56 AM
RazorsKiss
@NWhite_GA Well, as I noted, there’s 16 years between the end of Keach’s pastorate, and the beginning of Gill’s. Far less than 1644-1689.
Jul 25, 2016, 7:57 AM
RazorsKiss
@NWhite_GA Sure, but by any measure, Gill is quite literally the next generation after Keach/Coxe. The “lost” thesis doesn’t seem plausible.
Jul 25, 2016, 7:58 AM
NWhite_GA
@RazorsKiss Yeah, and Keach had his issues too, haha! 1689F is committed to strict confessionalism. You must understand them in that context
Jul 25, 2016, 7:59 AM
RazorsKiss
@NWhite_GA Oh, sure – but before they came along – we WERE the strict confessionalists! When your CT was straight outta Gill, and folks…
Jul 25, 2016, 8:01 AM
RazorsKiss
@NWhite_GA …tell you that not only you, but EVERYONE else since Coxe and Keach *lost* the confession on CT – that’s a tall tale to accept.
Jul 25, 2016, 8:02 AM

No one has ever said or suggested that “everyone else since Coxe and Keach lost the confession on CT.” Whipps’ working thesis appears to be that 1689 Federalism was never lost, it was merely rejected nearly as soon as it was put foward. John Gill, the giant of baptist thought, rejected 1689 Federalism in the mid 18th century and it was never heard from again. That is why men in the 20th century held to a similar covenant theology. If Whipps would like to present an argument that the confessional baptist resurgence and their subsequent development of covenant theology was influenced by Gill, I’m all ears. But from my readings, those men were not very big fans of Gill on the whole. Perhaps others like James White or Whipps himself were more influenced by Gill. Regardless of whether modern baptists were influenced by Gill in the development of their covenant theology, they still weren’t exposed to 1689 Federalism because it was lost with the loss of confessionalism and historic baptist texts. And men like James White who saw the value in Owen’s Hebrews commentary didn’t fully grasp all that Owen was arguing as it related to 1689 Federalism.

armennazarian
@NWhite_GA @RazorsKiss so what was dominant in 18/19th century then? 1689F?
Jul 25, 2016, 8:13 AM
RazorsKiss
@armennazarian I’ve never read anything of the sort from that time period. As far as I know, everyone parallels Gill, more or less.
Jul 25, 2016, 8:14 AM
armennazarian
@RazorsKiss if 1689F was “lost” in 18/19 C and Gills position was the dominant in that period, calling it the 20thC view is even more weird
Jul 25, 2016, 8:19 AM
RazorsKiss
@armennazarian Exactly. It doesn’t seem to make any sense, internally.
Jul 25, 2016, 8:19 AM

It is not remotely true that 1689 Federalism ceased to be held after Gill wrote his Body of Doctrinal Divinity in 1767. I have by no means read all of the available historical work, but here is a sampling of proponents of robust 1689 Federalism during and after that time:

I have not encountered any works on baptist covenant theology written during that time period that argue for the 1 covenant with multiple administrations view. They may exist. I just haven’t seen them.

It is also worth noting that far from falling out of prominence during this time, the rejection of Westminster Federalism in favor of the subservient covenant view (developed further by Owen) gained popularity among reformed theologians. For example:

Gill’s One Covenant of Grace Under Multiple Administrations

All of the above was merely to clarify some issues that have been confused. I am much less interested in arguments about people and history than I am about ideas. I would much rather discuss the concept of 1689 Federalism. So let’s do that.

First, let me note that, as a high Calvinist who recognizes the necessity of logic in our interpretation of Scripture, I like Gill (even though I think he errs on a few points like eternal justification).

Whipps points to Gill’s discussion of the covenant of grace in his Body of Doctrinal Divinity, which is the same material I read many years ago, leading me to make the footnote/disclaimer that Gill held this view.

The covenant of grace is but one and the same in all ages, of which Christ is the substance… The patriarchs before the flood and after, before the law of Moses and under it, before the coming of Christ, and all the saints since, are saved in one and the same way, even “by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”; and that is the grace of the covenant, exhibited at different times, and in divers manners.

For though the covenant is but one, there are different administrations of it; particularly two, one before the coming of Christ, and the other after it; which lay the foundation for the distinction of the “first” and “second”, the “old” and the “new” covenant, observed by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 8:7, 8, 13; 9:1, 15; 12:24), for by the first and old covenant, is not meant the covenant of works made with Adam, which had been broke and abrogated long ago… but by it is meant the first and most ancient administration of the covenant of grace which reached from the fall of Adam, when the covenant of works was broke, unto the coming of Christ, when it was superseded and vacated by another administration of the same covenant, called therefore the “second” and “new” covenant.

The one we commonly call the Old Testament dispensation, and the other the New Testament dispensation; for which there seems to be some foundation in 2 Corinthians 3:6, 14 and Hebrews 9:15 these two covenants, or rather the two administrations of the same covenant, are allegorically represented by two women, Hagar and Sarah, the bondwoman and the free (Gal. 4:22-26), which fitly describe the nature and difference of them. And before I proceed any farther, I shall just point out the agreement and disagreement of those two administrations of the covenant of grace.

BDD IV.I

…the word signifies both covenant and testament, and some have called it a covenant testament, or a testamentary covenant; hence the different administrations of the covenant of grace in time, are called the first and second, the Old and New Testament; and even the books of scripture, written under those different dispensations, are so distinguished (see Heb. 8:1-13; 2 Cor. 3:6, 14).

BDD II.VII

Seems like a pretty clear articulation of the Westminster doctrine that all post-fall covenants are the one and the same covenant, though differently administer, and therefore the Mosaic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace, not a covenant of works for life in the land. But…

Gill’s Multiple Post-Fall Covenants Distinct From the Covenant of Grace

A closer reading of Book IV reveals something interesting.

The next period of time in which an exhibition of the covenant of grace was made, is that from Noah to Abraham… The covenant made with Noah, though it was not the special covenant of grace, being made with him and all his posterity, and even with all creatures; yet as it was a covenant of preservation, it was a covenant of kindness and goodness in a temporal way; and it bore a resemblance to the covenant of grace;

Gill distinguishes between the Noahic Covenant and the “exhibition of the covenant of grace” that was made to Noah.

But what more especially deserve attention, are the various appearances of God unto Abraham, and the manifestations of the covenant of grace then made unto hima further manifestation of the covenant of gracea display of covenant graceThe same covenant of grace that was manifested to Abraham and Isaac, was repeated and made known to Jacobbesides the covenant of circumcision, God gave to him, and his natural seed of the male gender, and a promise of the land of Canaan to his posterity

Again Gill distinguishes between the Covenant of Circumcision and the manifestations and displays of the covenant of grace “made known to” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “Thus the covenant of grace was exhibited, held forth, displayed, and manifested in the grace and blessings of it in the times of the patriarchs.” He speaks of the covenant of grace “displayed,” “held forth,” “manifested,” “exhibited,” and “showed forth” at the time of “Moses [who] was a mediator when the covenant on Sinai was given,” which was a national covenant. “The blessing of adoption is another covenant [of grace] blessing, spoken of by the prophets; not national adoption, included in the national covenant made with the people of Israel; but adoption by special grace.” He then moves on to David and distinguishes between the covenant of royalty and the special covenant of grace, which was “displayed,” and “made known.”

David, who was a prophet, and by whom the Spirit of God spake concerning Christ, and the covenant of grace made with him (Acts 2:30; 1:16; 2 Sam. 23:2-5). The grace of the covenant was displayed in him, the blessings of it were bestowed on him, the covenant itself was made with him; not only the covenant of royalty, concerning the succession of the kingdom of Israel in his family; but the special covenant of grace, in which his own salvation lay; a covenant ordered in all things and sure, and an everlasting one (2 Sam. 23:5)... Solomon, the Son of David, and his successor in the kingdom, had not only the covenant of royalty established with him, but the special covenant of grace was made with him, or made known unto him; “I will be his Father, and he shall be my Son” (2 Sam. 7:14).

This begins to sound very similar to 1689 Federalism’s articulation of the Covenant of Grace (the promise) revealed within the distinct historical post-fall covenants. If you read through the whole section you will see that Gill is not focusing on explaining each post-fall covenant. Rather, he is marching through redemptive history showing all the ways in which the gospel was revealed.

Gill’s Sinai Covenant of Works

In his discussion of the Adamic Covenant of Works, Gill rightly distinguishes between the law and the law as a covenant of works – an important aspect of 1689 Federalism taught in LBCF 7.1.

This law given to Adam, taken in its complex view, as both natural and positive, was in the form of a covenant… The law given to Adam, as it was a law, sprung from the sovereignty of God, who had a right to impose a law upon him, whatsoever he thought fit; as it was a covenant, it was an act of condescension and goodness in God, to enter into it with man, his creature; he could have required obedience to his law, without promising anything on account of it; for it is what God has a prior right unto, and therefore a recompence for it cannot be claimed; if, therefore, God thinks fit, for the encouragement of obedience, to promise in covenant any good, it is all condescension, it is all kindness… And it is frequently called the “legal” covenant, the covenant of “works”, as the Scripture calls it, “the law of works”, as before observed; it promised life on the performance of good works; its language was, “Do this and live”. And it sometimes has the name of the covenant of life from the promise of life in it.

BDD III.VII

But notice how he compares this to the Sinai Covenant.

It contained a promise; which was a promise of life, of natural life to Adam, and of a continuation of it so long as he should observe the condition of it; just as life was promised to the Israelites, and a continuance in it, in the land of Canaan, so long as they should observe the law of God…

He clearly parallels Adam’s obedience to the law and his reward with Israel’s obedience to the law and their reward. He distinguishes between the Old Covenant, which was the Covenant of Grace administered from the fall to Christ, and the Sinai Covenant.

[F]or though in Hebrews 8:7, 13 we read of a first and second, an old and a new covenant; yet these respect one and the same covenant, under different dispensations; and though in the passage referred to [Hosea 6:7], the covenant at Sinai may be intended as one, yet as a repetition, and a new edition of the covenant made with Adam.

The law was given on Mt. Sinai as a typical covenant of works. The covenant of grace was administered/revealed under this typical covenant of works.

Now the law of Moses, for matter and substance, is the same with the law of nature, though differing in the form of administration; and this was renewed in the times of Moses, that it might be confirmed, and that it might not be forgotten, and be wholly lost out of the minds of men… It was not delivered as a pure covenant of works, though the self-righteous Jews turned it into one, and sought for life and righteousness by it: and so it engendered to bondage, and became a killing letter; nor a pure covenant of grace, though it was given as a distinguishing favour to the people of Israel (Deut. 4:6, 8; Ps. 147:19, 20; Rom. 9:4) and much mercy and kindness are expressed in it; and it is prefaced with a declaration of the Lord being the God of Israel, who had, of his great goodness, brought them out of the land of Egypt (Ex 20:2, 6, 12). But it was a part and branch of the typical covenant, under which the covenant of grace was administered under the former dispensation; and of what it was typical… [The law of God] does not continue as a covenant of works; and, indeed, it was not delivered to the children of Israel as such strictly and properly sneaking, only in a typical sense

BDD IV.VI

Gill elaborates a bit more in his Exposition of the Bible.

Leviticus 18:5 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments The same as before; these they were to keep in their minds and memories, and to observe them and do them: which if a man do he shall live in them; live a long life in the land of Canaan, in great happiness and prosperity, see (Deuteronomy 30:20; Isaiah 1:19); for as for eternal life, that was never intended to be had, nor was it possible it could be had and enjoyed by obedience to the law, which fallen man is unable to keep; but is what was graciously promised and provided the covenant of grace, before the world was, to come through Christ, as a free gift to all that believe in him, see (Galatians 3:11-12, 21); though some Jewish writers interpret this of eternal life, as Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and Ben Gersom: I [am] the Lord; that has enjoined these statutes and judgments, and promised life to the doers of them, able and faithful to perform what is promised.Isaiah 1:19 If ye be willing and obedient The Targum adds, “to my Word”: the Word made flesh, and dwelling among them; who would have gathered the inhabitants of Jerusalem to his ministry, to attend his word and ordinances, but their rulers would not: ye shall eat the good of the land; the land of Canaan; as the Jews held the possession of that land, before the times of Christ, by their obedience to the laws of God, which were given them as a body politic, and which, so long as they observed, they were continued in the quiet and full enjoyment of all the blessings of it; so, when Christ came, had they received, embraced, and acknowledged him as the Messiah, and been obedient to his will, though only externally, they would have remained in their own land, and enjoyed all the good things in it undisturbed by enemies.

Deuteronomy 30:20

That thou mayest love the Lord thy God
And show it by keeping his commands:

[and] that thou mayest obey his voice;
in his word, and by his prophets:

and that thou mayest cleave unto him;
and to his worship, and not follow after and serve other gods:

for he [is] thy life, and the length of thy days;
the God of their lives, and the Father of their mercies; the giver of long life, and all the blessings of it; and which he had promised to those that were obedient, to him, and which they might expect:

that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thyfathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them;
the land of Canaan, often thus described; this was the grand promise made to obedience to the law, and was typical of eternal life and happiness; which is had, not through man’s obedience to the law, but through the obedience and righteousness of Christ.

Galatians 3:12 And the law is not of faith the law does not consist of faith in Christ, nor does it require it, and that a man should live by it upon his righteousness; it is the Gospel that reveals the righteousness of Christ, and directs and encourages men to believe in him and be saved; nor does the law take any notice of a man’s faith; nor has it anything to do with a man as a believer, but as a doer, in the point of justification: but the man that doth them shall live in them; the passage referred to, is in (Leviticus 18:5), the word “them”, relates to the statutes and judgments, not of the ceremonial, but of the moral law, which are equally obligatory on Gentiles as on Jews. The Jewish doctors F24 observe on those words, that “it is not said, priests, Levites, and Israelites, but (Mdah) , “the man”; lo, you learn from hence, that even a Gentile that studies in the law, is as an high priest:” so that whatever man does the things contained in the law, that is, internally as well as externally, for the law is spiritual, reaches the inward part of man, and requires truth there, a conformity of heart and thought unto it, and that does them perfectly and constantly, without the least failure in matter or manner of obedience, such shall live in them and by them; the language of the law is, do this and live; so life, and the continuation of that happy natural life which Adam had in innocence, was promised to him, in case of his persisting in his obedience to the law; and so a long and prosperous life was promised to the Israelites in the land of Canaan, provided they observed the laws and statutes which were commanded them: but since eternal life is a promise made before the world began, is provided for in an everlasting covenant, is revealed in the Gospel, and is the pure gift of God’s grace through Christ, it seems that it never was the will of God that it should be obtained by the works of the law; and which is a further proof that there can be no justification in the sight of God by them, see ( Galatians 3:21).

Gill’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works

We find a similar concept in Gill’s view of the Covenant of Circumcision. He addresses this most fully in his section on Baptism in his Body of Practical Divinity (III.I).

It is not fact, as has been asserted, that the “infants of believers” have, with their parents, been taken into covenant with God in the former ages of the church, if by it is meant the covenant of graceThe next covenant is that made with Abraham and his seed, on which great stress is laid (Gen. 17:10-14)… Now that this covenant was not the pure covenant of grace, in distinction from the covenant of works, but rather a covenant of works, will soon be provedthat it is not the covenant of grace is clear… Now nothing is more opposite to one another than circumcision and grace; circumcision is a work of the law…

It appears to be a covenant of works, and not of grace; since it was to be kept by men, under a severe penalty. Abraham was to keep it, and his seed after him; something was to be done by them, their flesh to be circumcised, and a penalty was annexed, in case of disobedience or neglect; such a soul was to be cut off from his people: all which shows it to be, not a covenant of grace, but of works. It is plain, it was a covenant that might be broken; of the uncircumcised it is said, “He hath broken my covenant,” (Gen. 17:14) whereas the covenant of grace cannot be brokenIt is certain it had things in it of a civil and temporal naturethings that can have no place in the pure covenant of grace

Compare with Coxe “In this mode of transacting it [the Covenant of Circumcision], the Lord was pleased to draw the first lines of that form of covenant relationship in which the natural seed of Abraham was fully stated by the law of Moses, which was a covenant of works with its condition or terms, ‘Do this and live.'” (91)

Again, Gill distinguishes between the Covenant of Circumcision and the Covenant of Grace manifested to Abraham.

Nor is this covenant the same with what is referred to in Galatians 3:17 said to be “confirmed of God in Christ,” [compare with BDD IV.II.III “the manifestations of the covenant of grace then made unto him… is clear from Galatians 3:17 where it is said to be “confirmed before of God in Christ;” which certainly designs the covenant of grace”]… The covenant of grace was made with Christ, as the federal head of the elect in him, and that from everlasting, and who is the only head of that covenant, and of the covenant ones: if the covenant of grace was made with Abraham, as the head of his natural and spiritual seed, Jews and Gentiles; there must be two heads of the covenant of grace… Allowing Abraham’s covenant to be a peculiar one, and of a mixed kind, containing promises of temporal things to him, and his natural seed, and of spiritual things to his spiritual seed; or rather, that there was at the same time when the covenant of circumcision was given to Abraham and his natural seed, a fresh manifestation of the covenant of grace made with him and his spiritual seed in Christ.

Gill is very clearly looking at it similarly to Coxe (though I think Coxe handles it with more accuracy).

The covenant of circumcision, or the covenant which gave Abraham’s infant children a right to circumcision, is not the covenant of grace; for the covenant of circumcision must be more certainly, in the nature of it, a covenant of works, and not of grace. It will be freely allowed, that the covenant of grace was at certain times made, and made manifest, and applied to Abraham, and he interested in it…

[A]t the same time the covenant of circumcision was given unto him, there was an exhibition of the covenant of grace unto him: the account of both is mixed together, but then the covenant of circumcision, which was a covenant of peculiarity, belonged only to him and his natural male seed, was quite a distinct thing from the covenant of grace, since it included some that were not in the covenant of grace, and excluded others that were in it [Coxe makes this point at length]: nor is that the covenant that was confirmed of God in Christ 430 years before the law was; since the covenant of circumcision falls 24 years short of that date, and therefore refers not to that, but to an exhibition of the covenant of grace to Abraham, about the time of his call out of CHaldea; besides the covenant of circumcision is abolished, but the covenant of grace continues and ever will…

Some Strictures on Mr. Bostwick’s Fair and Rational Vindication… (30-31)

Gills’ Covenant of Grace

This can all be summarized in a sermon Gill gave on 2 Samuel 23:5. “Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me and everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.”

Here is a strong expression of covenant interest: yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant. What is this covenant that God had made with David? and with whom made? It cannot be the covenant of works made with Adam… Nor yet the covenant of circumcision (as it is called) made with Abraham: that is done away, being a yoke that neither the Jews nor their forefathers could bear. This was so far from being ordered in all things and sure, that the apostle declares, to those who complied with it, Christ is become of no effect unto you. Whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace.

Nor is this the Sinai covenant; for that was not an everlasting one. It is abolished and done away. Not ordered in all things and sure, for it gave way; otherwise there would have been no need for a second, as the apostle argues…

[H]e may have respect either to the covenant of royalty, that there should not want one to sit upon his throne… But then this must be understood with respect to his more remote and glorious offspring, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ…

The covenant which the sweet Psalmist of Israel, in his last dying words, has respect unto, is the covenant of grace: founded on grace; filled with the blessings of grace. It is called the covenant of peace because a grand article of it is peace and reconciliation with God, by Jesus Christ. He was sent to be our peace; to make peace for us by the blood of his cross…

When, therefore, God is said to make a covenant with men; the meaning is, he manifests his covenant made with Jesus Christ from all eternity. Therefore, when David says, he hath made with me an everlasting covenant; the meaning is, he hath made it manifest to me, that I have an interest in his everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.

Conclusion

Thus it would appear that Gill did not outright reject 1689 Federalism at all. He agrees that the Covenant of Grace was manifested/revealed under or by other post-fall covenants, which were covenants of works. His use of the “same covenant under two administrations” language may stem from his attempt to wrestle with the temporal concerns of identifying the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant. He also was clearly influenced on many points by Keach, who identified the Covenant of Redemption with the Covenant of Grace. Compare Gill above with Tom Hicks, Jr.’s summary of Keach’s covenant theology. Gill says that “the covenant of grace is but one and the same in all ages” in order to clarify that “all the saints since, are saved in one and the same way.” Therefore the New Covenant was not the first introduction introduction of God’s saving grace. He thus interprets the Old and New as referring to the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace, wherein he distinguishes it in its “pure” form from the mixed Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants themselves. In my opinion this becomes rather convoluted. Owen’s exposition of Hebrews 8 is much more precise.

So some of Gill’s language agrees with the 20th century view, but he disagrees with the 20th century view on two important points. First, the 20th century view argues that the Mosaic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace with a gracious giving of the law showing a redeemed people how to live. This is actually one of Whipps’ concerns. He said he is suspicious of 1689 Federalism because it seems to be a modern movement that arose from a seminary associated with Meredith Kline’s republication doctrine. But as we have seen, Gill would agree with Kline that the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works for temporal life and blessing in the land of Canaan as typical of Christ’s obedience to the law. Thus Gill does not agree with the 20th century view.

Second, the 20th century view believes that under older administrations, the Covenant of Grace did include unregenerate members, but now under the New Covenant it does not. Gill did not hold that view. He said the Covenant of Grace only ever included the elect. The reprobate were part of the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, but not part of the Covenant of Grace. Thus Gill does not agree with the 20th century view here as well.

The point here is not to count noses. The point is to work together to better understand Scripture. I believe that 1689 Federalism brings tremendous clarity to what Scripture teaches and therefore I have endeavored to clear away all misunderstandings that hinder us from seeing Scripture clearly. Hopefully this has been helpful.

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James White doesn’t know what 1689 Federalism is

April 3, 2015 24 comments

James White is a tremendous preacher, teacher, apologist, and reformed baptist. I greatly value his ministry.

However, there is some confusion regarding his covenant theology. People have asked him before if he agrees with 1689 Federalism and he has said yes. However, I have suspected for many reasons, that he misunderstands the question, thinking it is simply a question about the 2nd London Baptist Confession, and that he doesn’t actually know what 1689 Federalism is.

That suspicion was basically confirmed in his recent debate on baptism with Gregg Strawbridge.

1:31:45
Strawbridge: “So the New Covenant only includes regenerate people in your point of view?”

White: “The New Covenant does, certainly.”

Strawbridge: “And is that distinctive of the new covenant?”

White: “That’s what Hebrews 8 says, yes.”

Strawbridge: “Was Abraham regenerate?”

White: “Of course.”

Strawbridge: “How so? He wasn’t in the New Covenant.”

White: “He’s in the covenant of grace. This is a well known position. We’re not saying that the only people who are regenerate were in the New Covenant. There were regenerate people under the Old Covenant. The point is that those individuals who were regenerate under the Old Covenant were called the remnant. There is never a remnant of the New Covenant.”

Strawbridge: “Is Abraham called the remnant in the bible?”

White: “No, but the remnant are those people in Israel who are differentiated from those who do not have a true faith.”

Strawbridge: “The remnant becomes part the later history of Israel when various things fall away. I believe that. But what I’m saying is that if what’s new about the New Covenant is regeneration–”

White: “No, it’s not. You’ve misunderstood our position. I’m sure you know that Reformed Baptists believe that there were regenerate people under the Old Covenant. The point was that the Old Covenant did not guarantee the regeneration of everyone that received that received its signs.”

Dr. White’s response was very clearly an articulation of the modern or “20th century Reformed Baptist” view, as opposed to the 1689 Federalism view. Which is completely fine, if that’s what he believes. But my suspicion has been that, because he is so busy, he’s simply unaware of 1689 Federalism and the covenantal heritage being recovered.

That suspicion was confirmed in his chat chan today:

brandonadams: In cross-ex Strawbridge asked White how Abraham was regenerated if he wasn’t in the new covenant. White responded by appealing to the covenant of grace under multiple administrations, stating that regeneration is not exclusive to the new covenant, but the extent of regeneration in the covenant is the difference…
[09:07am] DrOakley: I was totally amazed that he, a former Reformed Baptist, even asked the question.
[09:07am] brandonadams: why?
[09:07am] DrOakley: Because he should know better.
[09:07am] DrOakley: He should know we believe there were regenerate men before the cross! Good grief!
[09:07am] DrOakley: That would be like me asking him if he’s a Trinitarian or something. Just silly.
[09:08am] brandonadams: Dr White, have you had an opportunity to study 1689 Federalism yet?
[09:08am] • DrOakley stares
[09:08am] DrOakley: No, brandon, never heard of the 1689. What’s that?
[09:09am] brandonadams: i’m not asking if you’ve studied the confession. I’m asking if you’ve studied 1689 Federalism, which is a specific covenant theology that is different from modern reformed baptist covenant theology

[09:16am] brandonadams: Dr. White?
[09:16am] DrOakley: Yes?
[09:17am] brandonadams: Have you studied 1689 Federalism?
[09:17am] brandonadams: i’m just trying to find out if you studied and reject it, or if you haven’t had time to study it yet
[09:17am] DrOakley: Are you suggesting modern Reformed Baptists have misunderstood their own confession?
[09:17am] brandonadams: yes
[09:17am] DrOakley: I see.
[09:18am] brandonadams: And James Renihan says the same thing
[09:18am] DrOakley: No, I do not invest much time studying every little off-shoot idea out there, sorry. There are…many.
[09:18am] DrOakley: Can’t keep up with them all.
[09:18am] DrOakley: Is it a major movement?
[09:18am] brandonadams: yes
[09:18am] DrOakley: Lots of books on it?
[09:18am] brandonadams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvPoAnMGuGE
[09:18am] brandonadams: yes
[09:18am] DrOakley: I see.
[09:18am] DrOakley: Great.
[09:19am] brandonadams: http://1689federalism.com/
[09:20am] brandonadams: I’m asking because 1689 Federalism teaches that Abraham was a member of the New Covenant because regeneration is a blessing exclusive to the New Covenant. It rejects the multiple administrations view of the covenant of grace and identifies the new covenant alone as the covenant of grace
[09:21am] DrOakley: I see.
[09:22am] DrOakley: I would think the writer to the Hebrews would have mentioned such a claim.

I don’t blame Dr. White at all. He’s got a lot on his plate. But I just want to avoid confusion for people out there who have studied 1689 Federalism. James White does not hold to it. He does not know what it is. He may hold to it in the future, but at the present time, he holds to the modern reformed baptist view of covenant theology. His chapters as they appear in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage are consistent with 1689 Federalism, but it was written many years ago as a journal article and he has clearly not read any of the other chapters in the book (which, again, is totally fine – he’s busy).

Waldron’s Sermons on Covenant Theology

March 3, 2013 5 comments

Pastor Sam Waldron recently gave a series of lectures at the Deep South Founder’s Conference on baptist covenant theology. He also participated in a moderated debate with a dispensationalist. You can find the lectures here: http://deepsouthfounders.com/previous-conferences/2013-christ-our-mediator/ I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Dr Waldron speak on several occasions and have always enjoyed it. He’s got a booming, authoritative voice and knows how to use it – which means its fun to hear him when he’s on your side, and maybe not so much when you disagree 😉

Whatever Happened to the Covenant of Works?

  • I thought this was a great lecture. He took a solid stand for the absolute necessity of a covenant of works if we are to understand the gospel properly. He discusses his appreciation for Murray’s writings but explains that he is willing to call “the Adamic Administration” the Covenant of Works (while Murray was not). Additionally he answers or deals with several reservations or lingering questions I had, such as whether or not Adam had eaten of the tree of life before being banished from the garden (seemed to me like that was a distinct possibility). I haven’t been able to find these answers before and they satisfied my questions. (Though I’m still not convinced that Scripture teaches that Adam could have earned eternal life for his offspring – but he didn’t address objections to this point). He refers to Nehemiah Coxe as one among several reasons why the LBCF is in full agreement with WCF on this point. All in all, this is a great sermon!

Should You Believe in the Covenant of Grace?

  • Point 1: “The theological concept of the covenant of grace cannot be strictly identified with any particular biblical covenant… The covenant of grace is often identified with one or another of the biblical covenants. But unless one adopts the view that all of the divine covenants are really one and the same (you wouldn’t want to do that), then the identification of the covenant of grace with any one of the biblical covenants is, in my view, naive. The reason I say that is, as defined by both the 1689 and the Westminster, the covenant of grace is an overarching covenant embracing all of history after the fall. That’s what it is, as I’ll show you in a second. That’s what they mean by the covenant of grace. Therefore it is seen as encompassing the several divine covenants of Scripture. In other words, all of the divine covenants of Scripture come into being at a certain point in history… But the covenant of grace, as we’ll see, defined by the confessions, is a covenant that is overarching of all history after the fall. The 1689 7.3… The Westminster also makes this point, but is even more clearly made in the Westminster Chapter 7 paragraph 5… Both of those statements make clear that the covenant of grace includes, for the Westminster, both its administration under the old covenant and its administration under the new covenant, what the Westminster calls there the law and the gospel. And the baptist confession makes clear, this covenant is first revealed to Adam. Now, beyond all doubt I think it’s clear to say the theological concept of the covenant of grace cannot be strictly identified with any particular biblical covenant... Unless one is willing, against the testimony of Scripture, to meld all the biblical covenants together, the covenant of grace cannot be identified with any one divine covenant.”
    • “The New Covenant is often identified as the covenant of grace, sometimes, I think Spurgeon does this, actually. Hebrews 13:20-21 it is identified as the covenant of grace because it’s the everlasting covenant. Yes, but the point of the everlasting there in Hebrews 13 is that once it begins, it never ends, but the New Covenant begins with the advent of Christ…”

I found this lecture to be rather frustrating, especially in light of reading Denault’s work (which shows that the prevailing view of the signers of the confession was precisely the view that Waldron says cannot be – strictly identifying the covenant of grace with the new covenant, to the exclusion of all other biblical covenants). Of course, that book was published after Waldron’s lecture, so he doesn’t mention or interact with it. But Nehemiah Coxe’s work has been published for several years and Waldron does mention Coxe in his lecture on the covenant of works. In fact, he argues that Coxe’s view of the covenant of works should be given special consideration because he was likely editor of the confession. So if he is familiar with Coxe’s work, why does he completely ignore it and it’s relation to the confession here? Waldron states that the LBCF and the WCF are in complete agreement on this point, while Denault argues from the glaring differences between them that they represent two very different views. If Waldron has read Coxe, he must either think Coxe did not identify the covenant of grace with the new covenant, or that Coxe’s view is not represented in the confession.

I look forward to hearing more from him on this point in the future. This is exactly the kind of confusion I pointed out in my review of Denault’s book. Waldron gave a whole series of lectures at a conference on covenant theology supposedly representing the view of the London Baptist Confession, while in fact there is reason to doubt he has correctly explained the meaning of the confession. But I’m sure this will be discussed at some point after the publication of Denault’s book.

  • Point 2: “The 1689 confession regards the new covenant as the definitive revelation of the covenant of grace… Notice the confession does not say the New Testament is the covenant of grace. It is the revelation, the definitive revelation of the covenant of grace. I think that that’s an important distinction.”
  • Point 3: “The terminology of the covenant of grace is not as important as the underlying theology.”
  • “The __ God to Israel was, according to Exodus 30:12-13, due to the Abrahamic Covenant. While on the other hand, conversely, the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant were dependent upon obedience to the Mosaic Covenant. To inherit the land, they had to obey. But this is the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant… How wrong it is, symplistically at least, to call the Abrahamic Covenant a covenant of grace and the Mosaic Covenant a covenant of works… these covenants are inseparable.”
    • I agree
  • Thematic unity of the covenants: Ephesians 2:12: the covenants of the promise (plural covenants, singular promise). Though other translations are possible (the covenants of promise). Waldron leans heavily upon this to argue for his overarching covenant with one substance, differently administered view. Benjamin Keach agreed with Waldron’s translation, but not his interpretation:
    • The Baptists believed that no covenant preceding the New Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace was at the stage of promise. According to Benjamin Keach, the expression “the covenants of the promise” that can be found in Ephesians 2:12 refers back to the Covenant of Grace. The promise in question was the Covenant of Grace. If we are talking about a promise, this implies that it was not yet accomplished and was not yet in the form of a testament or a covenant. The Baptists believed that the New Covenant was the accomplishment of the promise, or in other words, the accomplishment of the Covenant of Grace.
      The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, Pascal Denault, 63

  • Conclusion of Point 1: “We must not too quickly simply identify the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant. We must not be guilty of that.” I don’t think the seventeenth century baptists did so quickly or simply, but I do think they did so.

Are the New and the Old Covenants Really One And the Same?

  • I really enjoyed this lecture. It’s basically a summary of certain parts of the Reformed Baptist Manifesto. I thought he did a great job of showing the problems with the paedobaptist interpretation of Jeremiah 31. His use of John 6 was tremendous. Definitely recommend giving it a listen.
  • There was one section that I found particularly interesting in light of the previous lecture (re: overarching covenant of grace with different administrations). “There is a clear difference between old covenant adoption and new covenant adoption. There was an old covenant adoption and there is a new covenant adoption and they are strikingly different. In Romans 8:14-16, to be an adopted son of God means that you’re led by the Spirit of God and an heir of glory. Whereas Romans 9:3-5 teaches that many were adopted in the old covenant sense who knew nothing of the Spirit of God… Romans 8:14-16… That’s clear, isn’t it? To be a child of God, to be adopted, is to be saved, to be an heir of glory, as v17 goes on to say. Romans 9:3-5… But Paul, you just prayed for their salvation! You just said that they were lost and separated from Christ? How can they be adopted sons of God? Well they can’t be, and they aren’t, in the New Covenant sense. But they were in the Old Covenant sense. There’s a difference between old covenant adoption and new covenant adoption. Becoming one of God’s people in the Old Testament was based on the flesh, but becoming one of God’s adopted sons in the New Covenant sense is based on the work of the Spirit. This is the difference between the old and the new covenant.”
    • I think this is an excellent point! But I fail to see how it is consistent with the rest of what he believes about the old and new covenants. Were Abraham, Moses, or David adopted sons of glory, led by the Spirit? If so, then they must have been members of the New Covenant, because as Waldron says, that was not true of Old Covenant adoption. To be adopted in the New Covenant sense is to be saved. To be adopted in the Old Covenant sense is outward and of the flesh. So if any old testament saint was an heir of glory, led by the Spirit, saved, they must have been so by virtue of the New Covenant and not the Old Covenant. I would be very curious to hear how Dr. Waldron explains that in light of his view.

Debate: Covenant Theology vs Dispensationalism

  • Overall I thought this was a decent debate. I wish they had gotten into it a bit more, had more examination time. But that’s usually the case with most debates. Give it a listen!
  • One interesting question came during the cross-examination when Dr. Johnson was pressing Dr. Waldron on the use of a theological covenant in distinction from the biblical covenants. He said, “What do I lose by not calling Gen 3:15 a covenant?” Dr. Waldron’s answer was basically “Nothing, if you retain the meaning of the covenant of grace.” That question is central to the view of seventeenth century baptists. Nehemiah Coxe said (regarding Gen 3:15) “It must also be noted that although the covenant of grace was revealed this far to Adam, yet we see in all this there was no formal and express covenant transaction with him.” (57) Coxe and his contemporary baptists held to a revealed/concluded view of the covenant of grace instead of a substance/administration view. The covenant of grace was revealed as a promise prior to Christ, and then it was formally concluded as the New Covenant.
  • One last note: I’m excited to hear 1689 federalism enter the dialogue with NCT and Dispensationalism

Non-Dispensational, Calvinistic, Credobaptist Covenantalism Compass

August 7, 2012 41 comments

How’s that for a title? A friend has asked me a few times to define or give an overview of what New Covenant Theology is and who represents it. I’ve told him it’s a bit difficult because it’s a fractured group with varying views, and some with similar views not claiming the “NCT” label. However, I thought this chart might help clarify the landscape of non-dispensational, Calvinistic credobaptists.

Christian
law = 10
Commandments
Mosaic Covenant = Works Christian
law =
“law of Christ”
Reformed Baptist #1:

New Covenant Theology:

Reformed Baptist #2:

Progressive Covenantalism:

Mosaic Covenant = Grace

Be careful not to read more into this chart than is intended. Each author should be read on their own terms as each often has nuanced explanations of their position. I hesitate to place Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum on the chart as I haven’t had time to read through their new work yet, which is obviously nuanced – so I don’t want to misrepresent it. They clearly wind up on the right hand side of the chart, but I don’t know if it would be top or bottom. Given this fact, I hesitate to use the label “Progressive Covenantalism” in the bottom right because this is how they describe themselves… but I don’t know what else to call that position.

I welcome any and all comments, questions, corrections, clarifications, & additions. I hope this is helpful.