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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.

1689 Federalism & America’s Founding

February 22, 2017 1 comment

Did the subservient covenant view (which is brought to its logical conclusion and fullest expression in 1689 Federalism) have anything to do with the shift in theology that resulted in the 1788 American revision of the Westminster Confession and the founding of the United States? It would appear so.

William Findley (c. 1741 – April 4, 1821) was an Irish-born farmer and politician from Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. He served in both houses of the state legislature and represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House from 1791 until 1799 and from 1803 to 1817. By the end of his career, he was the longest serving member of the House, and was the first to hold the honorary title “Father of the House”. He was an anti-federalist (arguing that the proposed constitution established a general government and destroyed the individual governments, which turned out to be true) and opposed the first central bank. He was also at one point a Presbyterian ruling elder.

He was born into a strict Covenanter family in Ireland (both his father and grandfather were Covenanters). He educated himself from a young age on his father’s large library. However, Findley eventually came to reject the Covenanter beliefs and was influential in altering American views.

[M]y great esteem for, and confidence in, those who prescribed these rules, and testified even to the death for them, made it long before I durst trust my own judgment in calling them in question. My early prepossessions against other denominations, as unsound and unfaithful, also discouraged my enquiry… On this subject I conversed with the minister, and gave my reasons in writing… I was equally averse to withdrawing from the communion of brethren, in whose piety I had great confidence, without giving such reasons as I judged, on due deliberation, might probably have equal weight with them. The subject was held under deliberation, while I withheld my child from baptism. Finally, it was discussed in full presbytery, accompanied by extra-judicial conference, in which I bore a part. The result was an agreement… [that] was unanimously adopted.

-Observations on Two Sons of Oil, p. 211-217

In 1803 a Covenanter pastor in Philadelphia named Samuel B. Wylie wrote The Two Sons of Oil; or, The Faithful Witness for Magistracy and Ministry Upon a Scriptural Basis in which he argued that the United States was an illegitimate government because it allowed liberty of conscience and therefore did not have to be obeyed. Here is a :90 overview

In 1812 Findley responded with Observations on “The Two Sons of Oil”. I stumbled upon Findley after reading Steven Wedgeworth’s helpful essay “THE TWO SONS OF OIL” AND THE LIMITS OF AMERICAN RELIGIOUS DISSENT.

Findley’s work is really helpful because it shows the thinking of American Presbyterians at the founding of the United States. How did they go from the 1646 establishmentarianism of the Westminster Confession (the Covenanter view) to the 1788 American revision? I’ll make another post in the future summarizing Findley’s political philosophy, but here I just want to highlight the surprising similarities between Findley’s arguments against the Covenanter position and the arguments that I and others have made against the Covenanter position.

1. Moral law = natural law written

“the law of the ten commandments, which is a compend of the moral law of nature” (3)

“the ten commandments, viz. a transcript of the moral law of their nature;” (17)

“The law of the ten commandments was an abstract of the moral law of nature” (18)

“It is evident, from the context [of Romans 2:14-15], that by law here is meant the written law revealed by the prophets; and that by nature, is meant the remains of the law of nature in man, by which their moral conduct is governed; which shews that the office of conscience is the same in all men, whether they have the written word or not.” (79)

2. After the fall, revealed moral law is necessary to properly understand natural law

“That many have exalted human reason above the revealed manifestations of God and his law, I well know… Deists substitute human reason and their knowledge of the law of nature, in the place of supernatural revelation; and thus, like the Jews of old, reject the counsel of God against themselves” (80)

3. All other Mosaic law is positive law

“Every thing in the law of Moses, superadded to the moral law of nature, is positive or voluntary; and, therefore, changeable, according to circumstances and the will of the supreme legislator” (7)

“There is an evident distinction between moral precepts, and positive or voluntary appointments… Of this kind were all the additions made to the moral law, by the Mosaic institutions.” (8)

4. The general equity of Mosaic judicial laws (WCF 19.4) is the moral law

“The general equity of this, or any system, is in so far, the moral law; which, in the next section, those divines declare binds all men for ever.” (26)

“I have stated before, that what of the moral law is incorporated in the judicial law, is binding on all men.” (162)

5. The moral law itself does not prescribe punishment by the sword

“The moral law… prescribes no penalties to be executed by man for the breaches of it… This being the case, it follows of course, that human penalties for breaches of the moral law, are no part of that law itself, as it relates to God” (10)

Remember that Covenanters like Rutherford argued that some form of punishment was part of moral law on the basis of the common law of nations. In the below article, I pointed out there was no Scriptural basis for that claim and that we may not appeal to the common law of nations to determine the matter. What is very worth noting here is that Findley appeals to Scripture to argue that Rutherford and the Covenanters are wrong on this point. I happen to disagree with his argument (that penal laws changed from Cain to Noah to Moses), but the important point is that he sought to establish the point from Scripture, not the common law of nations.

“The penalties of the judicial law were not of moral and universal obligation, because they were not from the beginning. Sixteen hundred and fifty six years had passed away, before the precepts were given to Noah that were equally applicable to all mankind; and 2513 years, before the Israelitish Theocracy was instituted; which only continued to operate in a small territory, during 1491 years; and never was applied to, or intended for, other nations. It could not be administered, but at the place, and by the judges, appointed by God, as the peculiar king of Israel. The moral law of nature was the same before man revolted from God, that it was afterwards; and will continue to be the same for ever. There was no place or use for temporal penalties to be inflicted by man on his fellow men, before that revolt: consequently, they are not the moral law, but were necessarily introduced because of transgression, for the protection of civil society, that men might be enabled to live peaceable lives, in godliness and honesty.” (15)

[Note, I would revise my articulation of this point. Rather than arguing that all punishment by the sword is positive law instituted after the fall I am more inclined to argue that punishment by the sword is an exercise of man’s innate knowledge of lex talionis and its just use is therefore limited to defense and punishment for acts of violence against men.]

6. The Mosaic law is a unit and is thus abolished as a unit

“I find the law of Moses above fifty times expressly named or alluded to in the Old Testament, and as often, at least, in the New Testament, always as one law, and in no place with the distinction of judicial and ceremonial laws. The distinction, however, between moral and positive laws, is easily traced” (24)

Quoting Locke “the law of Moses is not obligatory upon christians. There is nothing more frivolous than that common distinction of moral, judicial and ceremonial law. No positive law can oblige any but those on whom it was enjoined. ‘Hear, O Israel,’ &c. restrains the obligation of the law to that people.—By a mistake of both Christians and Mahometans, it has been applied to other nations. The Israelitish nation themselves never did so, nor do the dispersed Israelites yet do so.” (25)

“the Sinai covenant is abolished; not in part, but wholly abrogated, disannulled, &c… no part of it remains obligatory on christians” (19)

“Having perfect confidence in the prophets and apostles, I do not suspect them of deceit—of saying a thing is vanished away, while it is only separated into two parts:—that instead of the Sinai covenant being abolished, it is divided into two Sinai covenants, the one of which is abolished, and the other remains in full force. If this had been the case, the prophets and apostles, being honest and inspired men, would have told us what was taken away, and what remained. I agree with the apostle Paul, that the whole of the Sinai covenant is abolished,” (94)

“Mr. Wylie, page 23, states, that ‘it is the magistrate’s duty to execute such penalties of the divine law, (meaning the peculiar law of Israel) as are not repealed or mitigated;’ [and another author says] ‘all the laws and precepts contained in the Old Testament, that are not repealed in the New, either by express precept, approven example, or by necessary consequence, are still binding—a law being once given, until it is repealed by the same authority, is still binding.’… Where either of them got the idea of repealing or mitigating divine laws, they have not informed us; certainly, however, they did not get it in their bible… I never read of a law for the mitigation of a law, but in the Sons of Oil. Positive laws have frequently been passed for special and local purposes, that ceased when the purposes were accomplished for which the legislature intended them… so did the whole additions to the moral law, contained in the Sinai covenant of peculiarity, when their object was accomplished, and the intention of the legislator fulfilled. They ceased, or were abrogated, but not repealed or mitigated… Divines have very commonly, for the sake of illustration, spoken of the peculiar law of Israel, under two distinct views, viz. as ceremonial, enjoining and regulating religious rites, and as judicial, regulating the courts of justice, &c. This distinction is often made without any injury to the subject; but having no foundation in the law itself, a precise line of distinction cannot be drawn… Divine wisdom has so intimately connected those precepts together, that they could not be separated. They, as a system, being the symbol or type of the New Testament church, were, like it, one body with many members… I find the law of Moses above fifty times expressly named or alluded to in the Old Testament, and as often, at least, in the New Testament, always as one law, and in no place with the distinction of judicial and ceremonial laws. The distinction, how- ever, between moral and positive laws, is easily traced” (21-24)

“On the freedom from the law of Moses, that great reformer, and emi- nently evangelical divine, Martin Luther, on Galatians iii. 19. shews at large, from the design and circumstances of giving that law, that it was to endure but for a short time, and on the well known allegory of the bond woman and the free—chap. iv. 21, &c. he shews the difference between the Jerusalem that then was, and was in bondage with her children, viz. the Jewish church, and the Jerusalem that is above, viz. the gospel church, which is the mother of all true believers. He agrees with the school doctors in the abolishment of the judicial and ceremonial law—but condemns the different senses they assign to scripture, and particularly their maintaining obedience even to the moral law, as a condition of acceptance with God, and that the unbelieving Jews erred in this respect, as much as in teaching obedience to the law of Moses, as a condition of justification with God. After proving this at large, he says: “There is also another abolish- ment of the law, which is outward, to wit, that the politic laws of Moses do nothing belong unto us.” That is to say, the parts of this law which belong to the civil administration of the Jewish government, have no relation to christians.” (180-181)

7. The Old Covenant was not the Covenant of Grace

“It is presumed that no christian believes that eternal salvation was promised in the Sinai covenant; or, in other words, that it was the covenant of grace… The Sinai covenant, as has been shown be- fore, was symbolical or typical of the kingdom of Christ, through which, as through a glass darkly, true believers saw Christ’s day and rejoiced. The author, however, takes no notice of the divine antitype, who ful- filled every law that man had broken, and made atonement for trans- gressions, nor of the spiritual kingdom which he had instituted, and of which he had expressly declared that it was not of this world” (51)

“The learned [Thomas] Scott, on Exodus xxiv. 3, 4. says, ‘the covenant of grace is not made with whole nations, or collective bodies of divers characters, but only representatively with Christ, as the surety of the elect, and personally with true believers. But whilst this covenant was made with the nation of Israel, in respect to their outward blessings, it was a shadow of good things to come’… This covenant was distinct, both from the covenant of works, of which Adam was the surety, and under which, every unbeliever, in every age and nation, is bound; and from the covenant of grace, mediated by Christ, of which every believing Israelite received the blessing… See the same learned author on Heb. viii.” (19)

8. The Old Covenant was made only with Israel and tied to the land

“the peculiar national covenant” (3)

“the national, commonly called the Sinai covenant, or law of peculiarity, because it originated at Sinai, and was only applicable to Israel.” (18)

“Now the intention of the Sinai covenant does not appear to have extended beyond the Israelites themselves” (9)

“The penalties enacted by the national law could only be executed within the bounds prescribed—Numbers, chap. xxxiv. Within these bounds, idolatry was not only a sin, as in other places, but it was, if committed by an apostate Israelite, treason against Jehovah, as their peculiar king. The iniquity of the devoted nations being full, they were to be destroyed; but no authority was given to punish idolatry out of those limits, nor even to carry their own worship out of the typically holy land.” (10)

“That this covenant, or national constitution, was local, viz. confined to a particular country, is evident through the whole transaction. The devoted nations are expressly described in different places, and the geo- graphical boundaries defined with precision, Num. xxxiv. 1–15. and the administration of the national law expressly limited to the land within those boundaries. Deut. iv. 14. “And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might do them in the land whither you go over to possess it.”… Those statutes and judgments were not to be administered in other lands.” (20)

“If the scripture foundation of the legislative authority, and infallibility of the church of Rome is unsound, where will the authors and other advocates of human legislatures, in and over protestant churches, find a scripture foundation to rest upon? Not on the law of Moses, because the operation and administration was intended for, and applied only to a peculiar people and precisely described territory, and the immediate superintendance of God, as before stated; and with relation to that pe- culiar people and territory, it waxed old and vanished away, agreeably to divine appointment. This is abundantly testified, both by the prophets and apostles. If this covenant and its laws were of general application, as plead by the authors, I demand proof of it, from the authority of the prophets and apostles. This they have not given, and cannot give. They make a general application of it on their own authority only, contrary to the testimony of the prophets and apostles themselves, on whose testi- mony, under Christ himself, the christian church is built.” (118)

“The law of Pennsylvania defines and provides for the punishment of both blasphemy and prophaneness, not because it is forbidden in the peculiar law of Moses, but because it is contrary to the moral law, and a corruption of manners. The law may yet provide for punishing idolatry on the same principles, but surely the law of Moses did not authorise it but in the symbolically holy land, where priests and Levites set as judges; nor to execute it on any but the devoted nations and apostate Israelites, and in defined cases.” (125)

“The Jews were not authorised to punish any idolatry but such as was expressly defined, and committed by persons expressly described, and within a territory expressly limited by divine authority.” (165)

9. God was uniquely the immediate king of Israel

“Within these bounds, idolatry was not only a sin, as in other places, but it was, if committed by an apostate Israelite, treason against Jehovah, as their peculiar king.” (10)

“Under the peculiar constitution of Israel, as a nation, Jehovah was not only their God, in the same relation in which he stood to all the families of the earth, but he was also the immediate and peculiar king of Israel, as a nation. In that character, every offence committed against the peculiar laws of the national covenant, or constitution, was not only an offence, or crime against these laws, but a sin against Jehovah, their king. This na- tional law did not forbid all offences against the moral law, nor authorise the courts to punish all the infractions of those laws, which were forbid- den in the Jewish law; very many of them have no penalty annexed, to be executed by man. All transgressions of, or want of conformity to the moral law, even though not prohibited in the national law, were sins, for which sinners must account to God at the final judgment. In that solemn and general decision, there will be no respect of persons or nations—no difference between Jew and Gentile.” (100)

“Criminal laws must be applied and executed agreeable to the express letter and plain meaning of the law in Israel; and where the case was doubtful, recourse was had to God, as their peculiar king. This was done in several instances by Moses in the wilderness, by Joshua, in the case of Achan, &c. In other cases, with respect to which God, as king of Israel, did not think proper to entrust man to execute his judgments for disobeying his laws, he reserved the execution in his own hand, and applied it as he thought proper.” (117)

“One government, indeed, was immediately instituted by God, of which he became the immediate king or supreme magistrate. In this government, certain offences against the moral law were subjected to the decision of those who acted as civil judges under Jehovah, as the im- mediate sovereign of that theocracy, or immediate government of God. But other offences against the moral law were tolerated, so far as to be withheld from the cognizance or punishment of the civil courts.” (164)

“God in the wilderness constituted Israel a peculiar nation, and condescended to become their immediate king, and instituted offi- cers to administer the government, under himself, who was always present in his sanctuary, to give them answers “in all things that they called upon him for.”—Deut. iv. 7. The government was put in operation in the wilderness, and disobedience to its authority was severely punished im- mediately by God, their king, and provision made for its administration when they would be settled in the promised land; and also the case fore- seen, of their rejecting God as their immediate king, and choosing a king, like the nations around them. Provision was made for tolerating this departure from the national law; provided, however, that the person should be designated by God, and exercise no legislative authority, but obey, and administer the law of Moses, agreeable to the copy thereof deposited with the priests and Levites.” (200)

  • Compare An Essay on the Kingdom of Christ by Abraham Booth “Now an external king, is a political sovereign : but such is not our Lord Jesus Christ, nor yet the divine Father. Once, indeed, it was otherwise : for, concerning the Israelitish nation, it is written : ” I,” Jehovah, ” will be thy king. Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: Jehovah shall rule over you. Jehovah your God, was your king.”… Yes, Jehovah, as a temporal monarch, stood related to the ancient Israelites, and entered into a federal transaction with them at Sinai, not only as the Object of their worship, but as their King. Their judicial and civil institutes, their laws of war and of peace, various orders respecting the land they occupied, and the annual acknowledgments to the great Proprietor of it, were all from God, as their political sovereign.” and John Erskine’s “The Nature of the Sinai Covenant”

10. Old Covenant required outward obedience

“a fulfilling of the letter of the law satisfied the national covenant—it only required circumcision of the flesh; the moral law required circumcision of the heart.” (9-10)

Neither Pharisees nor Sadducees “could be excluded from communion, under that law” (10)

“The moral law not only reaches to overt acts, but to the thoughts and intents of the heart; the Sinai covenant only reached the outward man” (91)

“The moral law not only reaches to overt acts, but to the thoughts and intents of the heart; the Sinai covenant only reached the outward man; therefore the moral law of the authors is imperfect. It was never intended to be the moral law. To use the Saviour’s words, ‘It was not so from the beginning.'” (91)

“On the freedom from the law of Moses, that great reformer, and eminently evangelical divine, Martin Luther,… says… ‘There is also another abolishment of the law, which is outward, to wit, that the politic laws of Moses do nothing belong unto us.'” (181)

“Indeed, the moral and judicial law were enacted by the same Lawgiver, and coincided, as far as infinite wisdom saw it to be conducive to the grand ends in view: but as they were intended for such distinct purposes, they must in many things vary. The moral law commanded every thing spiritually good in its utmost perfection, and tolerated nothing wrong in the smallest degree: but the sentence of it is reserved ‘to that day, when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.’ The judicial law commanded nothing morally bad, and forbade nothing morally good; but as sentence according to it would be pronounced by the civil magistrate, it did not insist on the same perfection” (165-166)

11. Gen 9:6 refers to the practice of private individuals administering vengeance

“In this second infant state of the human race, too few in number to form a civil society, capable of enacting and executing penal laws, it pleased God himself, among other precepts, to prescribe death to be inflicted by man, as the penalty for murder; and as there were not, at that period, civil courts, or officers for public prosecution, he enjoined the brothers (explained to include others near of kin) of the deceased, to execute the sentence, under the penalty of God himself requiring his brother’s blood at his hands, as he had formerly done the blood of Abel at the hand of Cain. This precept, given to the family of Noah, then containing the whole human race, is still in substance equally applicable to all nations, and at all times. It is the only punishment adequate to the offence; but the appointment of the brother, or near of kin, to be the avenger of blood, arose from the then state of society, and pointed out the expediency of civil government, when men became sufficiently numerous for that purpose.” (11-12)

I disagree with the very last statement, but Findley recognized that Genesis 9:6 authorized private individuals to administer justice according to lex talionis.

12. Wheat and the Tares

“In every instance, in which hu- man uniformity has been enforced by the sword of the civil magistrate, many of the servants of Christ have suffered persecution. It is not in the wisdom of man to make a clean riddance of the tares from the wheat; and the Saviour has forbidden the attempt.” (67)

13. National Churches are unbiblical

“National churches, as such, being founded on human fallible authority, are not, in their national character, churches of Christ. I agree, however, with the learned Bishop Hoadly, (himself a dignitary of a national church) that they may be schools of instruction, and may, as well as several other denominations, contain Christ’s disciples within them.” (40)

“I agree with Dr. Owen, and other learned Puritan divines, that no such ecclesiastic authority (or branch, as the author is pleased to call it) as has been instituted by national churches, or even by churchmen in the third century, when they assumed a law making power over Christ’s house, and the falling away foretold by the apostle commenced, was instituted by Christ or his apostles. It was an addition to the laws of Christ, and God added to them all the plagues which the church underwent, through the long and dark night of the grand apostacy.” (43)

“I recommend the perusal of the histories of both church and state during the fourth and fifth centuries… The church of Christ had, before this period, fallen from her first love, and, like Israel of old, played the harlot; the shepherds of his flock had usurped a lordship over it; but in his standard period, the fourth century, they had transferred that lordship to the kingdoms of this world, or rather parted it between them, and to this day have never fully agreed what share of it each should possess. In proof of this, such ex- tracts from national and church history might be given, as would fill a volume; for the professed kingdom of Christ having become a kingdom of this world, the civil history of every nation, where christianity prevailed, is also a history of the church.” (52)

“the term toleration, in religious matters, among christians, originated from political religious establishments, introduced with other conceptions of chris- tianity, and too soon adopted, and too eagerly pursued after the refor- mation by protestant states, while they worshipped an idol of their own making, viz. uniformity, in obedience to rules of worship prescribed by human authority.” (113)

“Consequently, Europe produced at one period above twenty Popes, including the free and sovereign cantons and cities, as well as the sovereign kings, princes and dukes, who acted equal to the Pope of Rome in deciding definitively on religious truth… they gradually became convinced, that the establishment of the worship of their idol of uniformity, could not be supported; that it either made hypocrites, or excited their subjects to oppose it; and, in short, that they were not God’s vicegerents to judge of, or punish sin against himself. ” (114)

“I believe, with the apostles, the reformers, and the most celebrated modern divines, among whom I name the great Dr. Owen, that scripture is always sufficient to overturn error. That divine demonstrates, that those arms were always successful, until the church, and afterwards church and state, usurped a legislative authority in the church of Christ. That the spiritual armour would still have been so, if other armour had not been resorted to.” (117)

“There were, indeed, numerous martyrs in the seventeenth century. In France, Piedmont, and other popish countries belonging to Babylon the great, the mother of harlots—drunken with the blood of the saints; and there was also the blood of martyrs shed, and other grievous oppressions inflicted, both on the spiritual and temporal interests of christians, by the little Babylons, viz. the antichristian, political, protestant establishments in Britain and elsewhere, who, after the example of the author’s standard authority of emperors and councils, usurped Christ’s legislative author- ity over his body, the church; but he has not told us to which of these martyrs he appeals. I am still more at a loss to know what reformers he means. I know of no reformation which took place in the seventeenth century. There were, indeed, many great and pious divines who endeavoured to promote reformation, but without success. In Britain there was a successful struggle to overturn the prelatical hierarchy, and the superstitions ac- companying it; but the prevailing party in church and state substituted another tyranny in its place. Those, since called independents, consisting of such learned and godly divines as Goodwin, Burroughs, Nye, Simpson,9 &c. who had contributed largely to prepare the Confession of Faith and Catechisms, first opposed the political establishment, and then plead an exemption from the civil penalties of it, so far as to enjoy the right of ordination, &c. It was refused. They plead for toleration; it was refused. These men, who had been among the ornaments of the assembly, dissented from necessity.” (175-176)

“Here the historian admits, that the reformation was not perfect; that purity was only restored in a considerable degree; and that the church was delivered only from many, not from all the superstitions under which she lay disguised. This indeed was a fair and a blessed beginning of re- formation, but alas! its progress was stopped too soon; princes stepped into the throne of Christ, and made laws for his house; and they made it the temporal interest of the clergy to acquiesce with this usurped au- thority. Thus church and state combined to stop the progress of refor- mation, and said unto it, hitherto shalt thou come, and no further. Hence it came to pass, that, instead of a reformed church of Christ in Europe, we have a church of England, of Scotland, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, &c. each of them modelled by the authority, and agreeable to the policy or caprice of the respective civil governments. Hence arose a number of little Babylons, separated indeed by various shades of difference from the great Babylon, but, like her, in a greater or lesser degree, stained with the blood of the saints, and trading in the souls, i.e. the minds or con- sciences of men, and agreeing with her in the foundation on which she has erected her throne, viz. on a human legislative authority in Christ’s spiritual kingdom, paramount to the laws of Christ himself.” (180)

“I sincerely believe, that all the superstition and will-worship introduced in the primitive church, before it became united to, and governed by, the kingdoms of this world, were introduced with the purest intentions; and that the promoters of them believed that they were reformers. I have the same opinion of those, who, with ill-informed zeal, put a stop to advances in reformation at the threshold, by promoting anew the great footstep of antichrist to his throne, viz. the union of the church of Christ, which is not of this world, with the kingdoms and politics of this world, and thereby erecting a barrier against advances in reformation. From that time reformation, not only in theory, but in practice, has declined.” (228)

“It is well known, that, with exception of occasional revivings, the protestant churches have been losing ground, both in purity and power, ever since they were connected with, and governed by political influence. I will appeal to every true protestant acquainted with church history, for the truth of the following fact, viz. that no political church has ever reformed itself, further than contributed to its own temporal aggrandizement, including the civil government with it, to whose tyranny the clergy of such churches almost always became subservient.” (229)

“To the advocates of persecution I wish to address a few thoughts. All the arguments of Bellarmin20 and Bossuet, assisted by all their army of popish doctors; all the sophistry of Bolingbroke,21 Hume, Voltaire,22 Gibbon, and the whole phalanx of deists, even with the assistance of the Socinians, cannot injure the cause of christianity so much, as one instance of persecution by real protestants, in support of their divine religion. Pure christianity depends on other authority than the gallows, or the faggot, fines or forfeitures. Having recourse to these in its sup- port is, in fact, giving up the cause. It is an open acknowledgment, that it cannot be supported by scripture and reason. If so, it is not of God, and ought to be given up. The first reformers, except Zuinglius, were opposed to civil govern- ment making laws for the church. Calvin contended against it; so did the reformers of Scotland—but unhappily, that church called on the state to support its censures by civil penalties; this soon after turned against their successors with severity. The doing so was inconsistent with the doctrine on which the reformation was built, which was the scrip- tures, addressed to the consciences of individuals. The division of presbyterians into numerous sects, especially in Brit- ain, and from thence carried into this country, all of them holding the same faith, and, at the same time, as far as in them lies, unchurching each other, originated, as I have said, with political tests, enforced by civil authority; every new test became a new snare, and source of endless division and animosity. I speak here of those sects who profess to adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Presbyterian Church Government.” (237-238)

14. Liberty of Conscience

“The constitution, in this instance only, reserved what they had no moral power to take away. The master has not the power of taking the right from his slave of worshipping God agreeable to his own knowledge of his perfections and his will. Worship offered in obedience to the mas- ter’s knowledge and judgment of the will of God, that is, the master’s conscience, would indeed be a mockery; it would be insulting to the all-seeing God, who knows our thoughts before we utter them. If the slave has this right, it must be unalienable. The representatives of Penn- sylvania in convention, could have no greater claims on the obedience of their constituents, than masters have over their slaves. They could not oblige them to worship agreeable to their own reason and judgment, on an implicit faith. All acceptable worship is a reasonable service rendered in faith, agreeable to the discoveries of the will of God, as revealed to the worshippers. If he is ignorant, or ill-informed of it, his sin, if information is attainable, is but worship rendered agreeable to the judgment of another man, contrary to his own, is a presumptuous sin, nearly approaching to that which has no forgiveness.” (78)

“I believe the hearts of all men are depraved, viz. have a corrupted nature, but that many in- crease their own depravity by habits of wickedness; but I ask the author whether he thinks that compelling them by civil penalties to profess or practice what they believe not to be true, or to be sinful, will remove that depravity, or increase it? He thinks it will remove it, or else he would not recommend the practice. I think directly the contrary, and have scrip- ture and the experience of all ages on my side. Dealing deceitfully or in guile with the heart-searching God, and obeying man in preference to him, is, in scripture, branded as a sin of the deepest dye.” (82)

“Our governments are necessarily imperfect, being the work of imperfect men; but I sincerely bless God for it, that they have not usurped God’s sovereignty over the conscience, and are not stained with having or exercising the dreadful power of persecuting for obeying God, rather than man. In this, the United States have set a laudable example to other nations, and the ministers of Christ are not entangled in the affairs of state. If, in the constitution, instead of reserving to every man the right of wor- shipping almighty God agreeably to the dictates of his own conscience, it had been expressed, that no man should be compelled to worship God agreeably to the dictates of the consciences of any other man or body of men, it would have an- swered precisely the same purpose, and probably have been less liable to the cavils of those that are skilful to find fault.” (85)

“the question at issue is, whether we shall worship God with our own, or with another man’s conscience. The apostle served God with his own conscience, so do all acceptable worshippers; this I advocate.” (86)

“[Wylie’s] observations of the importance of real religion to the happiness of a nation, are very just, agreeing with Proverbs xiii. 34. “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is the reproach of any people.” For this reason I am opposed to laws calculated to promote hypocricy, viz. prevarication with God and man. Against such the Saviour pronounces the most tremendous woes… Civil government, using its power and influence to increase that guilt, is contributing to increase national guilt, and call down desolating judgments.”

“The author, p. 24. quotes from the Larger Catechism the duties required in the second commandment, which are there described to be “the detesting, disapproving, opposing all false worship, and, according to every one’s place and calling, removing all monuments of idolatry.” Though I do not substitute the Westminster, nor any other human fallible authority, or creed of any church, for scripture, yet with the above I most heartily agree. I hereby declare that I detest, disapprove, and oppose all false worship, and, according to my place and calling, endeavour to remove all monuments of idolatry. As a proof of the truth of this, I offer my present endeavours to remove the idolatry of the ratifying and sanctioning power of the laws of the most high God, by the civil magistrate, as he does civil laws, and, consequently, of setting human authority above the divine, and other errors which this idolatry brings in its baleful train.”

15. Nurse Father = physical protection

“Civil governments, appointed by the people in pursuit of their own happiness, are under a moral obligation to protect all men who lead quiet and peaceable lives, and punish such as do not; they are, in so doing, nursing fathers to the church, which few of them have ever been.” (77)

“The author himself quotes the authority of the prophet Isaiah, xlix. 23. “Kings shall be thy nursing fathers,” &c… The worship of God is completely protected by the government of the United States. The magistrates, indeed, have not turned preachers, to feed believers with the sincere milk of the word. It is believed this was not intended by the prophet, nor meant by the author. The prophecy is, therefore, in part fulfilled by the government of the United States, as a prelude to its more full accomplishment in the millennium, which I believe is certainly approaching; but not such as many expect, not a worldly kingdom.” (122)

Conclusion

In the clearest articulation I have found of the theology behind the American changes to the Westminster Confession and its political philosophy we see also a clear rejection of Westminster’s Covenant Theology. An established, national, parochial visible church is foundational to Presbyterianism, rooted in Israel’s ecclessiology. A rejection of a national church and all it entails requires a rejection of Presbyterianism’s covenant theology as well.

Chris Caughey’s Open Letter

November 14, 2016 2 comments

Chris Caughey is a co-host of the new Glory Cloud Podcast focusing on the teachings of Meredith Kline. He was a student of Kline’s at Westminster Seminary California. He recently completed a PhD study on 17th century views of the Mosaic Covenant, including what appears to be a rather good look at Owen. I may be mistaken, but I think his study may have been done under Crawford Gribben (at the very least Gribben has read it and recommends it – I have not read it). I appreciate Caughey’s perspective. He recognizes that there was a view of the Mosaic Covenant in the 17th century (the Westminster view, though he might quibble with what it does or does not allow) that is unbiblical and logically leads to very serious errors.

I mention all this because someone recently sent me an Open Letter that Caughey wrote in response to Micah and Samuel’s Renihan’s paper “Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology” which was originally delivered a lunch-time lecture while they were students at WSC and has since been published in the volume Recovering a Covenantal Heritage.

I do not know when Caughey wrote his open letter, so I don’t know if he would still affirm what it says or not. Much of his concern stems from misunderstanding the purpose of the paper/presentation and (apparently) not having studied the literature. He criticizes them for not providing a full exegetical defense of their position. But that was not their intention. Their intention was to provide a brief overview of Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology. They reference Nehemiah Coxe and others, as places readers can turn to to read a book-length exegetical defense of the position. Since then many other publications have become available (see http://www.1689federalism.com for a list). It does not appear that Caughey had studied that material at the time of his Open Letter.

That said, someone still asked about it and it provides an opportunity to point people to resources that address Caughey’s helpful questions. So here we go:

You make the surprising claim that the covenant of grace (which began at Genesis 3:15) is the “retro-active application of the New Covenant.” Doesn’t this create more problems than it solves? In what way is Ishmael a member of this retro-active, elect-only New Covenant? What about Esau?

I don’t know what problem Caughey has in mind here. If Ishmael and Esau were reprobate, they were not part of the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace. If they were elect, then they were. It appears the “problem” likely is coming from Caughey’s identification of the Abrahamic Covenant with the Covenant of Grace. But since that is not a view the Renihan’s share, it’s not a problem for them.

[W]hat is the relationship between the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Circumcision? Are you wanting to try to make a theological move similar to Kline’s (actually Paul, I will argue) with regard to the Mosaic covenant – a move which says that the Mosaic Covenant is a distinct, historically parallel, related-to-the-covenant-of-grace, but not identical to it?

Yes.

[C]an you show me the commitments which distinguish the two covenants? Perhaps distinct sanctions? Is the lord of the covenant the same in each? I gather that at least the servants of the two covenants are different

The Covenant of Circumcision is made with Abraham and his physical offspring promising to make them a great nation and give them the land of Canaan, and also promising that the Messiah would come from them (Rom 9:5).

The Covenant of Grace (New Covenant) is made with Christ and the elect in Him (Abraham’s spiritual offspring) promising union with Christ and all its blessings (regeneration, faith, justification, sanctification, glorification, eternal life).

Where is the Covenant of Grace at this particular point in redemptive history (i.e., during the time of the Covenant of Circumcision)? How can it be identified?

As Owen explains, it operated “invisibly, in the way of a promise, put[ting] forth its efficacy under types and shadows. It “had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it.” “When the new covenant was given out only in the way of a promise, it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it. Wherefore it was consistent with a form of worship, rites and ceremonies, and those composed into a yoke of bondage which belonged not unto it.”

Does Paul’s analogy of the olive tree in Romans 11 allow for your distinction between the Covenant of Circumcision and the Covenant of Grace?

Yes. See The Olive Tree.

If there is an exegetical argument for this innovation, you must make it plain.

We have. You just need to read more.

Paul argues for our justification by appealing to Abraham’s justification.

Yes, we are saved the same way Abraham was: through New Covenant union with Christ our mediator. As Owen said “The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant.” And as Calvin admitted “There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.”

To argue that because Abraham was justified through faith alone the Abrahamic Covenant is therefore the Covenant of Grace is an invalid argument because it’s missing a premise.

For more see:

[I]n Galatians 3, Paul uses “the Promise” as shorthand for the Covenant of Grace.

See Gal. 3:18 – Generic Law and Promise, or Sinai and Messiah?

What is the antitype of Ishmael and Esau’s circumcision?

They were circumcised as the physical offspring of Abraham, which was typological of the spiritual offspring of Abraham. See Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel. Paul also uses Ishmael and Esau as types of reprobation (with Isaac and Jacob being types of election in Christ). Augustine notes that Ishmael was an image of an image – referring to the fact that in Galatians 4 Ishmael is made a type of Israel, which in turn is a type of the church. See They are not all Israel, who are of Israel.

[Y]ou say that the Mosaic Covenant “conditioned the enjoyment of the Abrahamic blessings.” Do you read Galatians 3:15-18 that way? That seems to be exactly the opposite of what Paul is arguing there. There, Paul says that once a covenant has been ratified – as Abraham’s had been in Genesis 15 – conditions cannot be added to it… [Y]ou say that “The extent to which those blessings would be enjoyed, however, depended upon the obedience of the people of Israel.” Is that how you read Galatians 3:17-18?

The Renihans’ comments were in reference to the Abrahamic blessings concerning the land of Canaan. Horton agrees:

Eventually, God’s promise was fulfilled: Israel did inherit the land. As mentioned previously, God promised a holy land and everlasting life. As becomes clearer with the progress of redemption, the land was (like Adam’s enjoyment of Eden) dependent on works — the obedience of the Israelites. The Mosaic covenant, with its ceremonial and civil as well as moral laws, promised blessing for obedience and judgment for disobedience. Once again, God would fight for his people and give them a new Eden, a land flowing with milk and honey. God would be present among his people in the temple as long as they were righteous.

But (also like Adam) Israel failed and in its rebellion violated the treaty with the great king, provoking God to enact the sanctions of this works covenant. The lush garden of God became a wasteland of thorns and thistles, as God removed his kingdom back up into heaven, the children of Israel being carted off to Babylonian exile.

A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002; p. 22)

Note that Horton distinguishes between two promises made to Abraham: a holy land and everlasting life. Earlier he says “Two sorts of things are promised by God in this covenant: a holy land (Canaan) and everlasting life.” This can be understood as the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, which we are strongly in favor of. We would simply clarify and improve upon Horton’s statement. What was promised to Abraham and his offspring was not everlasting life, plain and simple. What was promised was that a Messiah would be born from them in order to bless all nations. The actual blessing of all nations refers to the establishment of the New Covenant in the death of Christ. The Abrahamic Covenant did not grant everlasting life (regeneration, faith, justification, etc) to anyone. It promised that a Messiah would come from Abraham to establish the New Covenant and grant everlasting life to all nations. (Note that everlasting life was never, even during Abraham’s time, restricted to the line of Abraham and thus it was never restricted to the Abrahamic Covenant. If it came to men during Abraham’s time apart from the Abrahamic Covenant there is no reason to assume that it must have come to Abraham through the Abrahamic Covenant.)

Thus Galatians 3:17-18 does not teach that the Abrahamic blessings regarding the land of Canaan were not conditioned upon obedience to the Mosaic law. It teaches exactly the opposite. The strange part is that Caughey agrees. He apparently wants to separate the blessings of the land of Canaan from the Abrahamic Covenant. This is a common (and strange) move by Klineans. See

Far from reading Abraham’s covenantal dispensation as typological, Paul reads it as eschatological. Paul’s inspired interpretation of “and to your seed” and his analysis of “inheritance,” does not fit well with your construct.

This is a strange argument. The fact that Paul interprets “your seed” as referring to Christ, and by consequence the elect, and not as referring to the rest of Abraham’s physical seed (Isaac, Jacob/Israel) who it has immediate reference to in Genesis 17, and the fact that Paul’s analysis of “inheritance” refers not to Canaan but to eternal life somehow demonstrates that God’s promises to Abraham were not typological?

What about the law given at Sinai – that law which Israel swore an oath to obey? What is the significance of Leviticus 18:5/Galatians 3:10-12?… Certainly the ceremonial, sacrificial, and priestly system of the Mosaic Covenant typologically revealed grace and the forgiveness of sins – but not the law.

This is a strange objection. He’s trying to object to the Renihan’s statment that “every single element of the Mosaic economy typologically revealed and set before the eyes of the Jews the Covenant of Grace wherein true righteousness is found, true forgiveness of sins, and true holiness could be found.”

Note: the law typologically revealed that “true righteousness is found” is Jesus Christ, the head of the Covenant of Grace. This is a point that Caughey makes together with Lee Irons repeatedly in their podcast, so I don’t know what the problem is. Apparently Caughey thinks the Covenant of Grace has nothing to do with Christ’s obedience to the law.

I must object that the Abrahamic covenant was national.

Again, a common, strange argument made by Klineans. See again

I must also object to a certain sense of the Abrahamic Covenant being temporary.

Is anyone today looking for their offspring to inherit the land of Canaan? Does anyone today expect the Messiah to be born from them?

You make an assertion about the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants being distinct in essence and substance from the covenant of grace. Exegetically, I agree with you that regarding the Mosaic and Davidic (as per Rom. 5, Rom. 10, Gal. 3, etc).

Again, a strange attempt to separate the Abrahamic covenant from these others. See

as your quote stands right now, it comes off as selective editing of Kline in order to make him say what you want him to say.

No, it’s agreeing with one point a theologian makes but coming to a different conclusion from it. It happens a lot in theology.

[H]ow do you know [that the Covenant of Grace is made with the elect]? What is the exegetical evidence for this construct? While I agree that the Covenant of Redemption was made between the persons of the Trinity to secure the salvation of the elect, I do not agree that the membership of the Covenant of Grace is co-extensive with the Covenant of Redemption.

“The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly Scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-12.” (Berkhof)

See also Owen on Hebrews 8:11 “The proposition is universal, as to the modification of the subject, “all;” but in the word aujtw~n, “of them,” it is restrained unto those alone with whom this covenant is made… Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the new covenant can be pretended…Persons destitute of this saving knowledge are utter strangers unto the covenant of grace; for this is a principal promise and effect of it, wherever it doth take place.”

And Augustine on Jer. 31:34 “Now all these predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones, shall know God by the grace of the new testament [covenant], from the least to the greatest of them.”

As well as James R. White’s two chapters in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage.

I have often thought of making the case that of unbelievers being united with Adam, “in Adam” as a parallel to Paul’s language of —- (Greek). However, that does not work out, exegetically.

Huh? Adam was not the federal/covenant head of all mankind?

If the membership of the New Covenant were made up only of the elect, then does that mean that Paul is teaching that the elect can lose their salvation in his olive tree analogy in verses 16-24?

No. See The Olive Tree.

Or what about the warning passages in the book of Hebrews – Hebrews 2:1-4 – 6:4-8 – 10:26-31? Why warn people whom God has sovereignly decreed to save, that they might possibly perish for unbelief?

Because we don’t know who the elect (members of the New Covenant) are.

I know Tom Schreiner says that the warning performs the perlocutionary function of actually causing the perseverance. But with all due respect to Tom, that is not persuasive to me at all. The warning passages are meant to be frightening – but they are meant to be frightening to the unbeliever who is a member of the (New!) covenant.

Which is begging the question.

Regarding Hebrews 6, see Owen’s excellent comments. For Hebrews 10, see Hebrews 10 & John 15.

[T]he most straightforward way to read Romans 11 and the warning passages in Hebrews is that the New Covenant membership includes believers and unbelievers.

Yes, that’s how a paedobaptist would read those passages. So?

The wheat and the tares will not be separated until the Final Judgment.

The field is the world, not the New Covenant.

Since there is no command to baptize only those who have made a credible profession of faith, credobaptism is invalid and unbiblical.

Caughey doesn’t understand the regulative principle. He has just argued from the normative principle. The regulative principle does not require a positive prohibition. Everything aside from what is commanded is prohibited. Baptism upon a credible profession of faith is commanded. All else is prohibited.

Substance/Accidents = Substance/Shadows?

September 29, 2016 10 comments

Reformed paedobaptists introduced the concept of substance and accidents into the discussion of covenant theology and wound up creating a rather convoluted mess of things.

The substance/accidents distinction goes back to Aristotle. A simple summary:

Aristotle made a distinction between the essential and accidental properties of a thing. For example, a chair can be made of wood or metal, but this is accidental to its being a chair: that is, it is still a chair regardless of the material from which it is made.[2] To put this in technical terms, an accident is a property which has no necessary connection to the essence of the thing being described.[3][4][5]

To take another example, all bachelors are unmarried: this is a necessary or essential property of what it means to be a bachelor. A particular bachelor may have brown hair, but this would be a property particular to that individual, and with respect to his bachelorhood it would be an accidental property.

Accident (philosophy)

The concept is liable to abuse. The Roman Catholic Church has used it to explain transubstantiation.

In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species [accidents] of those sensible things…

And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation…

CANON lI.-If any one saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood-the species [accidents] Only of the bread and wine remaining-which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.

The Council of Trent, The Thirteenth Session

In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther notes

2.23 The second captivity of this sacrament is less grievous so far as the conscience is concerned, yet the very gravest danger threatens the man who would attack it, to say nothing of condemning it. Here I shall be called a Wycliffite and a heretic a thousand times over. But what of that? Since the Roman bishop has ceased to be a bishop and become a tyrant, I fear none of his decrees, for I know that it is not in his power, nor even in that of a general council, to make new articles of faith. Years ago, when I was delving into scholastic theology, the Cardinal of Cambrai gave me food for thought, in his comments on the fourth Book of the Sentences, where he argues with great acumen that to hold that real bread and real wine, and not their accidents only, are present on the altar, is much more probable and requires fewer unnecessary miracles – if only the Church had not decreed otherwise. When I learned later what church it was that had decreed this – namely, the Church of Thomas, i.e., of Aristotle – I waxed bolder, and after floating in a sea of doubt, at last found rest for my conscience in the above view – namely, that it is real bread and real wine, in which Christ’s real flesh and blood are present, not otherwise and not less really than they assume to be the case under their accidents. I reached this conclusion because I saw that the opinions of the Thomists, though approved by pope and council, remain but opinions and do not become articles of faith, even though an angel from heaven were to decree otherwise. For what is asserted without Scripture or an approved revelation, may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed. But this opinion of Thomas hangs so completely in the air, devoid of Scripture and reason, that he seems here to have forgotten both his philosophy and his logic. For Aristotle writes about subject and accidents so very differently from St. Thomas, that I think this great man is to be pitied, not only for drawing his opinions in matters of faith from Aristotle, but for attempting to base them on him without understanding his meaning – an unfortunate superstructure upon an unfortunate foundation…

2.26 Therefore it is an absurd and unheard-of juggling with words, to understand “bread” to mean “the form, or accidents of bread,” and “wine” to mean “the form, or accidents of wine.” Why do they not also understand all other things to mean their forms, or accidents? Even if this might be done with all other things, it would yet not be right thus to emasculate the words of God and arbitrarily to empty them of their meaning.

Responding to Anabaptists

In an attempt to maintain the Constantinian concept of a state church founded upon infant baptism, reformed theologians stole from the Roman playbook and called upon Aristotle. Arguing that the Old and New Covenants are actually the same covenant, Bullinger says

[T]he nomenclature of the old and new covenant, spirit, and people did not arise from the very essence (substantia) of the covenant but from certain foreign and unessential things (accidentibus) because the diversity of the times recommended that now this, now that be added according to the [difference] of the Jewish people. These additions (accessere) did not exist as perpetual and particularly necessary things for salvation, but they arose as changeable things according to the time, the persons, and the circumstances. The covenant itself could easily continue without them. [15]

Joshua Moon notes “Bullinger’s reading, and the positing of a unity of substance and contrast of accidents, shows what will emerge as the boundary markers of Reformed thought on the subject. Such language becomes common for the Reformed and will influence the whole of the tradition through the period of orthodoxy and into the contemporary Reformed world.”[16]

R. Scott Clark explains

Olevianus was a trained humanist as well as a theologian. He learned Aristotle at university and particularly the Organon. As part of his education he learned the traditional Christian appropriation of the distinction between the substance of a thing, i.e., its essence, and its accidents or external appearance.We make this distinction all the time. If you have a smart phone you probably have some sort of cover. The cover is not the phone. It is accidental to the phone. The same is true of your computer. The outer shell that houses your computer isn’t actually the computer. Things like the motherboard, those are the computer… The substance of a thing is what makes it what it is, the thing without which it doesn’t exist. The accidents or circumstances are the administration of the covenant of grace.

Calvin followed the same play.

All this leads to the conclusion, that the difference between us and the ancient fathers lies in accidents, not in substance. In all the leading characters of the Testament or Covenant we agree: the ceremonies and form of government, in which we differ, are mere additions.

Commentary on Galatians 4:1

Both covenants [are] truly one, though differently administered… The covenant made with all the fathers is so far from differing from ours in reality and substance, that it is altogether one and the same: still the administration differs.

Institutes, 2.10

J.V. Fesko notes

What changes, therefore, in the transition from the OT to the NT is not the covenant, but rather the form or administration of the covenant (2.11.13). Here then is what one may describe as Aristotelian language in the use of the distinction between substance and form, which was commonplace in the theology of Calvin’s day.

Cornelius Venema summarizes

When Calvin and subsequent Reformed theologians employ the language of “substance” and “form” or “accidents” to refer to the distinct administrations of the one covenant of grace throughout history, they are employing a traditional category distinction from the philosophy of Aristotle. “Substance” refers to “what makes something what it is,” “accidents” refers to what belongs “contingently” to something.

 

Administration = Accidents

The accidents of the covenant of grace were identified with its “administration,” referring to various ordinances and ceremonies. WCF 7.5-6 identify these as “promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come” as well as “the preaching of the Word, and… the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”

Substance = Salvation in Christ

The substance, then, refers to what is being administered: salvation in Christ.

[T]he comparison made by the Apostle refers to the form rather than to the substance; for though God promised to them the same salvation which he at this day promises to us, yet neither the manner nor the character of the revelation is the same or equal to what we enjoy.

-Calvin, Commentary Hebrews 8:6

How did the Olevianus and others define the substance or essence of the covenant of grace? “I will put my law in your midst, and I will write my law in your heart and I will be your God and you will be my people.” Embedded in this prophetic articulation of the covenant of grace is essentially or substantially the same promise he had made to Adam, after the fall (Gen 3), to Noah (Gen 6), and to Abraham (Gen 17). Embedded in that re-articulation is the ancient promise to send a redeemer who would turn away the wrath we earned and to earn righteousness for all his people. This, Olevianus would go on to say is the first benefit of the covenant of grace: “free forgiveness of sins in Christ,” i.e., unconditional acceptance with God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone…

When our theologians, whether Olevianus in the 16th century or Witsius in the 17th century, wrote about the “substance of the covenant” they were writing about the same way God has always saved and sanctified his people whether under Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David or Christ. There is a unified covenant of grace.

-R. Scott Clark, What Is The Substance Of The Covenant Of Grace? (2)

Accidents = Shadows?

I’m not certain when it was first articulated, but an important twist occurs as the concept is further developed.

WCF 7.6 Under the Gospel, when Christ, the substance,[13] was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper:[14] which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy,[15] to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles;[16] and is called the New Testament.[17] There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.[18]

Notice the two uses of the word “substance”. The argument is that because Christ is the substance, there are not two different covenants, but only one. However, note Scripture reference [13]: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17 ESV) Thus the first mention of “substance” refers to a shadow/substance distinction, or what we could call a type/anti-type distinction. One thing points forward to something else. However, the second use of “substance” refers to the substance/accidents distinction.

Are these two distinctions the same thing? Was Paul using Aristotelian categories when he spoke of shadows and substance? No. They are two different concepts. Two different distinctions. The shadow/substance distinction refers to a way of teaching or speaking about something by way of analogy or comparison. The substance/accidents distinction refers to defining the essence of something.

The Westminster tradition has conflated these two things and built a labyrinth around themselves that they are now trapped in. It has stunted their typology. The recent OPC Report on Republication addresses this point (in order to show how Kline’s typology is contrary to the WCF).

According to our doctrinal standards the substance of the covenant of grace is Christ. The covenant was fulfilled “under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited” (WCF 7.6). Christ supplies the substance (or blessings) of the covenant of grace due to the dignity of his person and the merit of his work… Whether we are speaking of the types and pictures of Christ in the old covenant or the reality and fullness of Christ in the new, what is applied to God’s elect, in principle, is the same. Although the ceremonies, sacrifices, and ordinances of the Mosaic covenant were types of Christ, the efficacy of what they pictured was communicated through them to the elect of Israel…

However, it is also true that some Reformed theologians have seen the idea of substance in a more technical way; namely, the core condition that governs the covenant. Thus, when the condition is essentially the same, the covenant is also essentially the same; and when the condition differs, so does the essence of the covenant. For example, Zacharias Ursinus argues that the “substance of the covenant” is “the principal conditions” of the covenant… The confession seems to communicate this basic idea when it states that the Old and New Testament are not “two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.”…

The confession addresses these differences [between the Old and New Covenants] by the way in which the covenant itself is administered, and by the way in which the blessings of the covenant are enjoyed. It does this by organizing these two issues through its unified treatment and emphasis on typology… The covenant of grace was administered in the time of the law “by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances.” The phrase, “other types and ordinances” shows that typology functions as a general rubric to summarize the symbols and ordinances of the old covenant. The standards remind us that those types were “sufficient and efficacious” for the time of the law and by them believing Israelites enjoyed the “full remission of sins, and eternal salvation” (WCF 7.5). Yet this is true only because they were more than symbols for that covenant administration. They also functioned as types of the fullness to be unveiled with Christ’s coming. Their ultimate efficacy is dependent upon their functioning as types.

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

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

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

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

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

For more on this view, listen to an interview on the Reformed Forum with Lane Tipton, one of the co-authors of the Report.

Subservient Covenant Typology

I once had a Presbyterian say to me

I always thought Owen’s claims about the Poverty of Types meant he was on a pretty different page from the rest of the presbyterians

“Such was the poverty of the types that no one of them could so much as shadow out or represent all that advantage which we really enjoy and therefore they were multiplied and the work distributed amongst them which they were to represent. This made them a yoke, and that grievous and burdensome. The way of teaching in them and by them was hard and obscure, as well as their observation was difficult. It was a hard thing for them to learn the love, grace, and mind of God by them. God revealed himself in them πολυμερῶς, by many parts and pieces, according as they were capable to receive impression from and make representation of divine wisdom, goodness, and grace; whence our apostle says, that the law had but σκίαν, “a shadow,” and not αὐτὴν τὴν εἰκόνα πραγμάτων, Hebrews 10:1, — “the image itself of things.” It had some scattered shades, which the great limner had laid the foundation of symmetry in, but so as to be discernible only unto his own infinite wisdom. A perfect image, wherein all the parts should exactly answer unto one another, and so plainly represent the thing intended, that it had not. Now, it was a work beyond their wisdom, out of these scattered pieces and parts of revelation, especially being implanted on carnal things, to gather up the whole of the grace and good-will of God. But in Christ Jesus God hath gathered all into one bead, Ephesians 1:10, wherein both his person and grace are fully and at once represented.”

Hebrews 3 commentary

Owen, like 1689 Federalism, held to a version, or refinement of the subservient covenant view, which recognizes that the Old and New Covenants are two different, distinct covenants – not the same covenant. Thus the Old and New are not one in essence or substance. However, it is important to understand that Owen and 1689 Federalism do affirm that Christ is the substance of the the types and shadows of the Old Covenant and that men in the Old Testament were saved through belief in the gospel revealed by those types. They simply recognize that those two uses of “substance” are two different concepts.

Having noted these things, we may consider that the Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way as can hardly be accommodated by a twofold administration of the same covenant…Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than merely a twofold administration of the same covenant, to be intended. We must do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, and with great pretence of reason, for it is the sole foundation of all who allow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, ’That this being the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation is the same under both, then indeed they are the same for the substance of them is but one.’ And I grant that this would inevitably follow, if it were so equally by virtue of them both. If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue of it, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, while they were under the old covenant.

Having shown in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition to the old covenant, so I shall propose several things which relate to the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace.

That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that [new] covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ

-Owen on Hebrews 8:6

The types and shadows of the Old Covenant revealed the gospel and people were saved by believing that gospel, but the Old Covenant did not therefore save them because it did not establish union with Christ. The New Covenant is our union with Christ. The Old Covenant types were the means that God used to reveal the gospel but it was the New Covenant union established in the effectual call that saved the elect living under the Old Covenant.

[Side Note: Klineans do not properly understand the use of Aristotelian “substance” in WCF 7.6 and the reformed tradition to affirm that the Old and the New are the same covenant. They reject that idea and say the Old and New are two distinct covenants, but they still try to argue that they affirm 7.6. They simply don’t understand what 7.6 is saying – and part of that is because 7.6 conflates two different ideas about substance: one they affirm and one they do not. For more on this point, see Kline on “Administration of the Covenant of Grace” and Episodes 4-6 of the Glory Cloud Podcast. Owen properly understood the meaning of terms and therefore rejected WCF 7.6.] 

Augustine’s Typology

The OPC Report notes “It is difficult to harmonize the idea that Christ was the ‘substance’ of all these types and ordinances and at the same time only their secondary referent.” This difficulty is only created by the mistaken application of substance/accidents. Presbyterians who stumble at this point would do well to listen to Augustine, who addresses what he sees as an error on their part.

City of God
Book XVII: The history of the city of God from the kings and prophets to Christ.
Chapter 3.—Of the Three-Fold Meaning of the Prophecies, Which are to Be Referred Now to the Earthly, Now to the Heavenly Jerusalem, and Now Again to Both.

Wherefore just as that divine oracle to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the other prophetic signs or sayings which are given in the earlier sacred writings, so also the other prophecies from this time of the kings 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 they pertain partly to the bond maid who gendereth to bondage, that is, the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; but partly to the free city of God, that is, the true Jerusalem eternal in the heavens, whose children are all those that live according to God in the earth:  but there are some things among them which are understood to pertain to both,—to the bond maid properly, to the free woman figuratively. (Gal 4:22-31)

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.  I think it proper to prove what I say by examples.  The prophet Nathan was sent to convict king David of heinous sin, and predict to him what future evils should be consequent on it.  Who can question that this and the like pertain to the terrestrial city, whether publicly, that is, for the safety or help of the people, or privately, when there are given forth for each one’s private good divine utterances whereby something of the future may be known for the use of temporal life?  But where we read, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make for the house of Israel, and for the house of Judah, a new testament:  not according to the testament that I settled for their fathers in the day when I laid hold of their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my testament, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.  For this is the testament that I will make for the house of Israel:  after those days, saith the Lord, I will give my laws in their mind, and will write them upon their hearts, and I will see to them; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people;” (Heb 8:8-10) without doubt this is prophesied to the Jerusalem above, whose reward is God Himself, and whose chief and entire good it is to have Him, and to be His.  But this pertains to both, that the city of God is called Jerusalem, and that it is prophesied the house of God shall be in it; and this prophecy seems to be fulfilled when king Solomon builds that most noble temple.  For these things both happened in the earthly Jerusalem, as history shows, and were types of the heavenly Jerusalem.  And this kind of prophecy, as it were compacted and commingled of both the others in the ancient canonical books, containing historical narratives, is of very great significance, and has exercised and exercises greatly the wits of those who search holy writ.  For example, what 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.  And so much is this the case, that some have thought there is nothing in these books either foretold and effected, or effected although not foretold, that does not insinuate something else which is to be referred by figurative signification to the city of God on high, and to her children who are pilgrims in this life.  But if this be so, then the utterances of the prophets, or rather the whole of those Scriptures that are reckoned under the title of the Old Testament, will be not of three, but of two different kinds.  For there will be nothing there which pertains to the terrestrial Jerusalem only, if whatever is there said and fulfilled of or concerning her signifies something which also refers by allegorical prefiguration to the celestial Jerusalem; but there will be only two kinds one that pertains to the free Jerusalem, the other to both.  But just as, I think, they err greatly who are of opinion that none of the records of affairs in that kind of writings mean anything more than that they so happened, so I think those very daring who contend that the whole gist of their contents lies in allegorical significations.  Therefore I have said they are threefold, not two-fold.  Yet, in holding this opinion, I do not blame those who may be able to draw out of everything there a spiritual meaning, only saving, first of all, the historical truth.  For the rest, what believer can doubt that those things are spoken vainly which are such that, whether said to have been done or to be yet to come, they do not beseem either human or divine affairs?  Who would not recall these to spiritual understanding if he could, or confess that they should be recalled by him who is able?”

A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius.
Chapter 14.—Examination of This Point. The Phrase “Old Testament” Used in Two Senses. The Heir of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament There Were Heirs of the New Testament.

…In that testament, however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised. Accordingly that land, into which the nation, after being led through the wilderness, was conducted, is called the land of promise, wherein peace and royal power, and the gaining of victories over enemies, and an abundance of children and of fruits of the ground, and gifts of a similar kind are the promises of the Old Testament. And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament; but yet the man who lives under God’s law with those earthly blessings for his sanction, is precisely the heir of the Old Testament, for just such rewards are promised and given to him, according to the terms of the Old Testament, as are the objects of his desire according to the condition of the old man. But whatever blessings are there figuratively set forth as appertaining to the New Testament require the new man to give them effect. And no doubt the great apostle understood perfectly well what he was saying, when he described the two testaments as capable of the allegorical distinction of the bond-woman and the free,—attributing the children of the flesh to the Old, and to the New the children of the promise: “They,” says he, “which are the children of the flesh, are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom 9:8) The children of the flesh, then, belong to the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; whereas the children of the promise belong to the Jerusalem above, the free, the mother of us all, eternal in the heavens. (Gal 4:25, 26) Whence we can easily see who they are that appertain to the earthly, and who to the heavenly kingdom. But then the happy persons, who even in that early age were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament to the ancient people of God, because it was divinely appropriated to that people in God’s distribution of the times and seasons.

The Substance of the Old Covenant

If Christ is not the substance, or essence, of the Old Covenant, then what is? Well, substance refers to the essence of something. So, what is essential to any particular covenant – divine or human? Simply put, the parties and the terms.

The OPC Report quotes Thomas Blake explaining that “a covenant entered by the same parties, upon the same terms and propositions on either hand, is the same covenant.” Thus the “substance” of each biblical covenant could be identified as follows:

  • Adamic: between God and Adam, representing all humanity, offering eternal life upon the condition of perfect obedience
  • Noahic: between God and Noah, representing all humanity, promising never to flood the earth again without condition (or alternatively upon condition of Noah building and entering the ark)
  • Abrahamic: between God and Abraham, representing his carnal offspring, promising to give him numerous physical offspring and the land of Canaan for them to dwell in, and also promising that the Messiah will be born from him and will bless all nations
  • Mosaic: between God and Israel, mediated by Moses, promising to bless them in the land of Canaan or to curse them in exile upon condition of their obedience to the law of Moses
  • Davidic: between God and David, representing his offspring, promising to make them king of Israel and to bless Israel upon condition of their obedience to the law of Moses
  • Redemption: between the Father and the Son, promising to grant the Son an kingdom and a redeemed people upon condition of his active and passive obedience
  • New: between God and Christ, representing the elect, promising to pour out his Spirit upon them, granting them faith, justification, sanctification, glorification – all the benefits of union with Christ without any antecedent condition on their part

But I prefer to avoid speaking in terms of “substance” and to just speak about the parties and terms of each covenant. And, when a paedobaptist brother echoes Calvin, saying

[T]he comparison made by the Apostle [in Hebrews 8] refers to the form rather than to the substance… The ceremonies of the law… were merely accidents of the covenant, or at least additions and appendages, and, as they are commonly called, accessories, yet because they were the means of administering it, the name of covenant is applied to them…

I simply echo Luther

Therefore it is an absurd and unheard-of juggling with words, to understand “covenant” to mean “the form, or accidents of the covenant,” and “wine” to mean “the form, or accidents of wine.” Why do they not also understand all other things to mean their forms, or accidents? Even if this might be done with all other things, it would yet not be right thus to emasculate the words of God and arbitrarily to empty them of their meaning.

A Summary of Why Baptists Appeal to Owen

January 27, 2016 7 comments

In published works (see here, here, here, and here), baptists have pointed out that Owen’s covenant theology, as articulated in his commentary on Hebrews, departs from Westminster Federalism and aligns very closely with 1689 Federalism.

However, as this information has begun to reach wider audiences and become general knowledge, many people have not taken the time to understand the claims. For example, I continue to see people post links to Owen’s tract on infant baptism and to Lee Gatiss’ articles at Ref21 (the ones he wrote against Denault’s book without bothering to read Denault’s book), thinking that this addresses the claim. None of these people demonstrate they understand why baptists reference Owen, yet they are content to dismiss any such appeal as unfounded.

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion.

Proverbs 18:2

I am disappointed by this, not simply because I want to win an argument, but because I genuinely value the opportunity to discuss with people I disagree with. Iron sharpens iron. But a discussion requires both parties to listen when the other speaks. Please take the time to listen to this summary. If you are then interested in discussing the claim, please take the time to read the published works. If you don’t have time, please don’t bother forming an opinion on the matter.

(Some have attempted to engage with the actual claims regarding Owen, which I appreciate. See my responses here.)

  1. Both 21st century baptists and 17th century baptists know that John Owen was a paedobaptist. No one has claimed that Owen was ever a baptist, even secretly.
  2. Owen self-consciously departed from the Westminster/Calvin/reformed view of covenant theology. Baptists appeal to him because he demonstrates that Westminster federalism, following Calvin, is unbiblical.

    1. Owen denied that the Old and New Covenants were two administrations of the same covenant. “Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant merely, to be intended… This is the nature and substance of that covenant which God made with that people; a particular, temporary covenant it was, and not a mere dispensation of the covenant of grace.”  p.85-93, 105 PDF; v6;2 OUTLINE
    2. Owen denied that the Old Covenant (Mosaic) was the Adamic Covenant of Works and said it was instead a covenant of works limited to Israel’s temporal blessing in the land of Canaan. “the covenant of works, absolutely the old, or first covenant that God made with men. But this is not the covenant here intended… This covenant [Sinai] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works… when our apostle disputes against justification by the law, or by works of the law, he does not intend the works peculiar to the covenant of Sinai, such as were the rites and ceremonies of the worship then instituted; but he intends also the works of the first covenant, which alone had the promise of life annexed to them… The covenant of works had its promises, but they were all remunerative, respecting an antecedent obedience in us; (so were all those which were peculiar unto the covenant of Sinai)… he moreover prescribed unto them laws, rules, and terms of obedience, whereon they should hold and enjoy that land, with all the privileges annexed unto the possession thereof. And these are both expressed and frequently inculcated, in the repetition and promises of the law… So did God exercise the right, and power, and authority of a husband towards a wife that had broken covenant. And herein, as in many other things in that dispensation, did God give a representation of the nature of the covenant of works, and the issue of it…” p.74, 83, 94, 103, 101, 160 PDFv6;2.2, v9;3.1.5 OUTLINE
      1. Implication of 1 & 2: Contra Westminster, there are more than two covenants in Scripture. Therefore the claim that every covenant after the fall must be the Covenant of Grace is incorrect (according to Owen).
    3. Owen said the New Covenant alone is the Covenant of Grace. “I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called ‘the new covenant,’… The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant.” p.93, 147 PDFv6;2.2.3.1.2 OUTLINE
    4. Owen said the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace existed only as a promise during the Old Testament era and never as a covenant. “it was always the same, as to the substance of it, from the beginning… But for two reasons it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect unto any other things, nor was it so under the old testament…absolutely under the old testament it consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture, Acts 2:39; Hebrews 6:14-16.” p.89-90 PDFv6;2.2.3.1.2.1 OUTLINE
      1. This was the central crux of Owen’s 150 page exegesis of Hebrews 8:6-13, not a passing comment that can be dismissed.
    5. Owen said the Abrahamic Covenant was not the Covenant of Grace, though it was related to it. “When God renewed the promise of it [the Covenant of Grace] unto Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but it was with respect unto other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely under the old testament it consisted only in a promise… The νομοτηετεο, or full legal establishment of it, whence it became formally a covenant unto the whole church, was future only, and a promise under the old testament” p.90 PDFv6;2.2.3.1.2.1.1 OUTLINE
      1. Implication: Membership and ordinances of the Abrahamic Covenant do not determine membership and ordinances of the Covenant of Grace.
    6. Owen said the Covenant of Grace operated “invisibly” as a promise prior to its legal establishment in the death of Christ, at which point it took on visible ordinances of worship unique to it. “This is the meaning of the word νομοτηετεο: “established,” say we; but it is, “reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance.” All the obedience required in it, all the worship appointed by it, all the privileges exhibited in it, and the grace administered with them, are all given for a statute, law, and ordinance unto the church. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by νομοτηετεο, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship. Hereon the other covenant was disannulled and removed; and not only the covenant itself, but all that system of sacred worship whereby it was administered. This was not done by the making of the covenant at first; yea, all this was superinduced into the covenant as given out in a promise, and was consistent therewith. When the new covenant was given out only in the way of a promise, it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it. Wherefore it was consistent with a form of worship, rites and ceremonies, and those composed into a yoke of bondage which belonged not unto it… The νομοτηετεο, or full legal establishment of it, whence it became formally a covenant unto the whole church, was future only, and a promise under the old testament; for it wanted two things thereunto:… (2.) This was wanting, that it was not the spring, rule, and measure of all the worship of the church. This doth belong unto every covenant, properly so called, that God makes with the church, that it be the entire rule of all the worship that God requires of it; which is that which they are to restipulate in their entrance into covenant with God. But so the covenant of grace was not under the old testament; for God did require of the church many duties of worship that did not belong thereunto. But now, under the new testament, this covenant, with its own seals and appointments, is the only rule and measure of all acceptable worship. Wherefore the new covenant promised in the Scripture, and here opposed unto the old, is not the promise of grace, mercy, life, and salvation by Christ, absolutely considered, but as it had the formal nature of a covenant given unto it, in its establishment by the death of Christ, the procuring cause of all its benefits, and the declaring of it to be the only rule of worship and obedience unto the church. So that although by “the covenant of grace,” we ofttimes understand no more but the way of life, grace, mercy, and salvation by Christ; yet by “the new covenant,” we intend its actual establishment in the death of Christ, with that blessed way of worship which by it is settled in the church.” p.78, 91 PDFv6;1.2.1.9.2.2.2.1.2 OUTLINE
      1. Implication: No ordinances in the Old Testament (i.e. circumcision) were ordinances of the Covenant of Grace. The only ordinances of the Covenant of Grace are the ordinances of the New Covenant.
    7. Owen said Abraham had a two-fold privilege that corresponded to a two-fold seed. “Two privileges did God grant unto Abraham, upon his separation to a special interest in the old promise and covenant [of grace]: — First, That according to the flesh he should be the father of the Messiah, the promised seed; who was the very life of the covenant [of grace], the fountain and cause of all the blessings contained in it… Secondly, Together with this, he had also another privilege granted unto him, namely, that his faith, whereby he was personally interested in the covenant, should be the pattern of the faith of the church in all generations; and that none should ever come to be a member of it, or a sharer in its blessings, but by the same faith… Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God.” p.175 PDF (from Heb. vol I introduction, 1668 – 12 years before his Hebrews 8 commentary)
    8. Owen said this two-fold seed were mixed for a time. “both these, — namely, the carnal and spiritual privileges of Abraham’s covenant, — had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations, coming now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Malachi 3) who of the Jews had interest in both, who in one only” p.175 PDF
    9. Owen said the privilege of the carnal seed, and the worship associated with it, ceased at the coming of Christ. “That this privilege was temporary, having a limited season, time, and end, appointed unto it, the very nature of the thing itself doth demonstrate; for upon this actual exhibition in the flesh, it was to cease… It is true, they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should he set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth. That this separation and privilege was to cease when the end of it was accomplished and the Messiah exhibited, the very nature of the thing declares; for to what purpose should it be continued when that was fully effected whereunto it was designed?… Seeing, therefore, that their other privilege was come to an end, with all the carnal ordinances that attended it, by the actual coming of the Messiah, whereunto they were subservient, if they did not, by faith in the promised seed, attain an interest in this of the spiritual blessing, it is evident that they could on no account be considered as actual sharers in the covenant of God… It is true, the former carnal privilege of Abraham and his posterity expiring, on the grounds before mentioned, the ordinances of worship which were suited thereunto did necessarily cease also… (1.) The carnal privilege of the Jews, in their separation to bring forth the Messiah, then failed; and therewith their claim on that account to be the children of Abraham.
      (2.) The ordinances of worship suited unto that privilege expired and came to an end.” p.175 PDF

      1. Implication: The relationship of Abraham’s carnal seed to Abraham has no relevance after the coming of Christ.
    10. Owen said only the spiritual seed remained and new ordinances were established fit for them. “(3.) New ordinances of worship were appointed, suited unto the new light and grace then granted unto the church.” p.175 PDF
    11. Owen said only the spiritual seed is the church of Christ. “Now, it is evident that it is the second privilege, or spiritual seed, wherein the church, to whom the promises are made, is founded, and whereof it doth consist, — namely, in them who by faith are interested in the covenant of Abraham, whether they be of the carnal seed or no… And in the covenant made with him, as to that which concerns, not the bringing forth of the promised Seed according to the flesh, but as unto faith therein, and in the work of redemption to be performed thereby, lies the foundation of the church in all ages. Wheresoever this covenant is, and with whomsoever it is established, with them is the church; unto whom all the promises and privileges of the church do belong. Hence it was, that at the coming of the Messiah there was not one church taken away, and another set up in the room thereof; but the church continued the same, in those that were the children of Abraham according to the faith… But the foundation of their [carnal seed’s] plea was taken away, and the church, unto which the promises belong, remained with them that were heirs of Abraham’s faith only.” p.175 PDF
      1. Implication: Abraham’s carnal seed, as such, have never been the church.
    12. In 1668 (“Oneness of the Church”) Owen said this two-fold privilege of the two-fold seed both came from the Abrahamic Covenant, with one expiring and one remaining. In 1680 (Hebrews 8) Owen clarified that the carnal privilege & seed belonged to the Abrahamic Covenant, while the spiritual privilege & seed belonged to the Covenant of Grace/New Covenant. “When God renewed the promise of it [the Covenant of Grace] unto Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but it was with respect unto other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely under the old testament it consisted only in a promise… The νομοτηετεο, or full legal establishment of it, whence it became formally a covenant unto the whole church, was future only, and a promise under the old testament” p.90 PDFv6;2.2.3.1.2.1.1 OUTLINE
      1. Implication: The idea that the Abrahamic Covenant, in its substance, was made with the elect, but in its administration it was made with non-elect (Rom 9:6), is incorrect. The substance of the Abrahamic Covenant was made with Abraham’s carnal seed. The two Israels of Rom 9:6ff refer to two different covenants.
    13. Owen said that Abraham’s carnal seed (Israel) was a type of Abraham’s spiritual seed (the Church). “The persons with whom this covenant [new covenant] is made are also expressed: “The house of Israel, and the house of Judah.”… Wherefore this house of Israel and house of Judah may be considered two ways: [1.] As that people were the whole entire posterity of Abraham. [2.] As they were typical, and mystically significant of the whole church of God.Hence alone it is that the promises of grace under the old testament are given unto the church under these names, because they were types of them who should really and effectually be made partakers of them… In the second sense the whole church of elect believers is intended under these denominations, being typified by them. These are they alone, being one made of twain, namely, Jews and Gentiles, with whom the covenant is really made and established, and unto whom the grace of it is actually communicated. For all those with whom this covenant is made shall as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according unto the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. These are the true Israel and Judah, prevailing with God, and confessing unto his name.” p. 142 PDFv8;7.1.2 OUTLINE
      1. Implication: Israel was not the church.
    14. Owen said that the New Covenant, unlike the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenant, is made with the elect alone. “The principal efficient cause of our learning the knowledge of God under the new covenant is included in this part of the promise… There is added the universality of the promise with respect unto them with whom this covenant is made: “All of them, from the least unto the greatest;” —a proverbial speech, signifying the generality intended without exception… Obs. XVIII. The instructive ministry of the old testament, as it was such only, and with respect unto the carnal rites thereof, was a ministry of the letter, and not of the Spirit, which did not really effect in the hearts of men the things which it taught. —The spiritual benefit which was obtained under it proceeded from the promise, and not from the efficacy of the law, or the covenant made at Sinai. For as such, as it was legal and carnal, and had respect only unto outward things, it is here laid aside… The proposition is universal, as to the modification of the subject, “all;” but in the word aujtw~n, “of them,” it is restrained unto those alone with whom this covenant is made… Obs. XXIV. Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the new covenant can be pretended… Obs. XXVII. Persons destitute of this saving knowledge are utter strangers unto the covenant of grace; for this is a principal promise and effect of it, wherever it doth take place… [T]he whole church of elect believers is intended under these denominations, being typified by them. These are they alone, being one made of twain, namely, Jews and Gentiles, with whom the covenant is really made and established, and unto whom the Mace of it is actually communicated. For all those with whom this covenant is made shall as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according unto the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham… Obs. X. The covenant of grace in Christ is made only with the Israel of God, the church of the elect. —For by the making of this covenant with any, the effectual communication of the grace of it unto them is principally intended. Nor can that covenant be said to be made absolutely with any but those whose sins are pardoned by virtue thereof, and in whose hearts the law of God is written; which are the express promises of it.” p.191-204, 144 PDFv8;7.2, v11;7 OUTLINE
      1. Implication: The nature of membership in the Old and New Covenants differs. The idea of a two-sided membership in the Covenant of Grace, founded upon a substance (elect)/administration (non-elect) view of the Abrahamic and Old Covenants (Rom 9:6), is incorrect.
    15. Owen said that faith is a blessing/fruit of the New Covenant, not a condition of it. “The promises of the covenant of grace are better than those of any other covenant, as for many other reasons, so especially because the grace of them prevents any condition or qualification on our part… But those promises, namely, of the pardon of sin and writing of the law in our hearts, which the apostle expressly insisteth upon as the peculiar promises of this covenant, do take place and are effectual antecedently unto our covenant obedience. For although faith be required in order of nature antecedently unto our actual receiving of the pardon of sin… But in the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises… It is evident that there can be no condition previously required, unto our entering into or participation of the benefits of this covenant, antecedent unto the making of it with us… It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant… It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part… And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.” p.83, 162-6 PDFv6;1.2.1.9.3.2, v10.2.3 OUTLINE
      1. Implication: We enter the Covenant of Grace/New Covenant in the effectual call. See New Covenant Union as Mystical Union in Owen.
    16. Owen said that, unlike the Old Covenant, the New Covenant cannot be broken. “So did God exercise the right, and power, and authority of a husband towards a wife that had broken covenant. And herein, as in many other things in that dispensation, did God give a representation of the nature of the covenant of works, and the issue of it…‘This was the issue of things with them with whom the first covenant was made. They received it, entered solemnly into the bonds of it, took upon themselves expressly the performance of its terms and conditions, were sprinkled with the blood of it; but they “continued not in it,” and were dealt withal accordingly. God used the right and authority of a husband with whom a wife breaketh covenant; he “neglected them,” shut them out of his house, deprived them of their dowry or inheritance, and slew them in the wilderness.On this declaration, God promiseth to make another covenant with them, wherein all these evils should be prevented. This is the covenant which the apostle designs to prove better and more excellent than the former… That covenant was broken, but this shall never be so, because provision is made in the covenant itself against any such event… the covenant which God would now make should not be according unto that, like unto it, which was before made and broken…”   p.160-2 PDFv10.2.3 OUTLINE
      1. Implication: There are no such things as covenant-breakers in the New Covenant, as there were in the Old (Mosaic and Abrahamic).
    17. Owen said that all Old Testament saints were saved by the New Covenant working invisibly (as promise) prior to its legal establishment in the death of Christ. “This covenant [Sinai] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such… it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe… Obs. XVIII. The instructive ministry of the old testament, as it was such only, and with respect unto the carnal rites thereof, was a ministry of the letter, and not of the Spirit, which did not really effect in the hearts of men the things which it taught. —The spiritual benefit which was obtained under it proceeded from the promise, and not from the efficacy of the law, or the covenant made at Sinai. For as such, as it was legal and carnal, and had respect only unto outward things, it is here laid aside…”  p.104, 200 PDFv6;2.2.4.5, v11;6.2 OUTLINE
      1. Implication: Appeal to the Old Covenant to answer questions about union with Christ is unbiblical and inappropriate.
  3. Owen continued to affirm paedobaptism.
    1. Owen never published his “Of Infant Baptism” tract. Owen scholar Dr. Crawford Gribben notes “The only thing we can be sure of about “Of Infant Baptism” is that Owen did not publish this tract within his own lifetime, that it did not circulate as representing his thinking on this issue for almost 40 years after his death when it appeared in a volume alongside many other texts reconstructed from sermon notes taken by an auditor.” The statements in this tract do not reflect Owen’s mature, meticulously argued published work on covenant theology. Whatever value this tract of dubious origin may have, it does not have precedence over his Hebrews commentary, which must be dealt with. Please listen to Dr. Gribben’s lecture.
    2. Owen’s “Of Infant Baptism” contradicts his Hebrews commentary.
      1. “Of Infant Baptism” speaks throughout of “the covenant” in the singular. In his Hebrews commentary, Owen rejects this approach and proceeds to distinguish between post-fall covenants in great detail.
      2. “Of Infant Baptism” refers to the Mosaic Covenant as “the covenant [of grace] in its legal administration.” In his Hebrews commentary, Owen rejects this view.
      3. “Of Infant Baptism” says the Covenant of Grace was confirmed and sealed in Exodus 24:7-8. In his Hebrews commentary, Owen denies that the Old Covenant was the Covenant of Grace.
      4. “Of Infant Baptism” says the Covenant of Circumcision was the Covenant of Grace made with Christ mystical. In his Hebrews commentary, Owen distinguishes between these two and denies the Gen 17:7 covenant was the Covenant of Grace made with the elect, though it contained a promise of it.
      5. “Of Infant Baptism” says the circumcision of Abraham’s offspring was a spiritual privilege of “the covenant.” In his Hebrews commentary, Owen says that the Covenant of Circumcision pertained to the “carnal privilege” given to his “carnal seed,” not the “spiritual privilege” given to his “spiritual seed” (in the Covenant of Grace).
      6. “Of Infant Baptism” says the privilege of carnal offspring has never been revoked. In his Hebrews commentary, Owen says the privilege of Abraham’s carnal offspring ceased at the coming of Christ.
      7. “Of Infant Baptism” says the sign of circumcision was never revoked, only changed. In his Hebrews commentary, Owen says the carnal ordinances came to an end/ceased and were replaced by new ordinances.
      8. “Of Infant Baptism” says according to the law of creation, children have a right to the privileges of whatever covenant their parents are in. In his Hebrews commentary, Owen says Abraham’s carnal offspring never had any spiritual privilege because they were his carnal offspring, and that this was the great mistake of the Jews – though they did have carnal privileges. He also says that anyone destitute of saving knowledge is an utter stranger unto the covenant of grace and without saving knowledge there is no interest in the New Covenant, unlike the Old.
      9. “Of Infant Baptism” argues that God’s promise to be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed” refers to the carnal offspring of believers. In his Hebrews commentary, Owen explained that Abraham had a two-fold seed and that his carnal seed’s status as set apart unto God ceased at the coming of Christ, while his spiritual seed (those who have his faith) alone remained – and that the two seeds have a type/anti-type relationship. He also said “This is the general expression of any covenant relation between God and men, ‘He will be unto them a God, and they shall be to him a people.’ And it is frequently made use of with respect unto the first covenant [old covenant], which yet was disannulled. God owned the people therein for his peculiar portion, and they avouched him to be their God alone.” p.185 PDF
    3. Owen affirmed paedobaptism elsewhere in his Hebrews commentary.
      1. “they are the “people of God” that are interested in this sabbatism. And the apostle makes use of this description of them upon a double account: — 1. Because their being of “the people of God,” that is, in covenant (for where a people is God’s people, he is their God, Hosea 2:23), was the greatest and most comprehensive privilege that the Hebrews had to boast of or to trust in. This was their glory, and that which exalted them above all nations in the world. So their church pleads with respect unto all others, Isaiah 63:19, “We are thine: thou never barest rule over them; thy name was not called on them;” — that is, they were never called the people of Jehovah, because never taken into covenant with him. This privilege whereunto they trusted, the apostle lets them know belongs as well to them that believe under the new testament as it did to them under the old. Abram was now become Abraham, “a father of many nations.” And as those who were his carnal seed of old were the people of God, so God had now a people in and of all those who were his children according to the faith. They may see, therefore, that they shall lose nothing, no privilege, by coming over to the gospel state by faith in Christ Jesus. Upon a new account they become “the people of God;” which interests them and their children in the covenant, with the seals and all the ordinances of it, even as formerly. For this name, “people,” doth not firstly respect individuals, but a collective body of men, with and in all their relations. Believers, not singly considered, but they and their seed, or their children, are this people; and where they are excluded from the initial ordinance of the covenant, I know not how believers can be called “the people of God.” 2. He proceeds further, and shows them that indeed this privilege is now transferred over from the old estate and Canaan rest unto them that shall and do enter into this rest of God under the gospel. Hence, instead of losing the privilege of being “the people of God” by faith in Christ, he lets them know that they could no longer retain it without it. If they failed herein, they would be no longer “the people of God;” and as a signification thereof, they would become “no people” at all.” p.407 PDF (Hebrews 4:9)
        1. Notice carefully what Owen affirms here. He maintains his position that there was a two-fold seed of Abraham with a two-fold privilege. The Hebrews were in covenant with God on account of their being Abraham’s carnal seed. That privilege has ceased (“could no longer retain it”). They may still be considered “the people of God” but “on a new account”: faith. Owen’s argument for infant baptism here reduces to the meaning of the phrase “a people.” He argues that the Hebrews would not have to change their conception of what it means to be “a people” because “a people” must necessarily be taken in an earthly sense (even though referring to believers) and therefore must include physical offspring. But there is no reason why “a people” cannot be read in a spiritual sense as referring to Christ’s spiritual kingdom – and every reason why it must be.
      2. “And is it possible that any man should be a loser by the coming of Christ, or by his own coming unto Christ? It is against the whole gospel once to imagine it in the least instance. Let it now be inquired whether it were not a great privilege of the people of God of old, that their infant seed were taken into covenant with them, and were made partakers of the initial seal thereof? Doubtless it was the greatest they enjoyed, next to the grace they received for the saving of their own souls. That it was so granted them, so esteemed by them, may be easily proved. And without this, whatever they were, they were not a people. Believers under the gospel are, as we have spoken, the people of God; and that with all sorts of advantages annexed unto that condition, above what were enjoyed by them who of old were so. How is it, then, that this people of God, made so by Jesus Christ in the gospel, should have their charter, upon its renewal, razed with a deprivation of one of their choicest rights and privileges? Assuredly it is not so. And therefore if believers are now, as the apostle says they are, “the people of God,” their children have a right to the initial seal of the covenant.” p.409 PDF (Hebrews 4:9)
        1. This is a continuation of the above argument (2 pages later). Two things to consider. First, recall that Owen refined his view of the Abrahamic Covenant 6 years later (1674 -> 1680) in his commentary on Hebrews 8, noting that although the Abrahamic Covenant contained a promise of the future establishment of the Covenant of Grace (Abraham’s spiritual privileges), it was formally a covenant concerning Abraham’s carnal privileges. Second, Owen previously explained that the inclusion of Abraham’s carnal seed in his covenant was only a carnal privilege, not a spiritual one. “It is true, they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should he set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth.” (Oneness of the Church p.175 PDF). So there never was a privilege given to believers to have their children included in covenant with them and thus no privilege has been lost. There was only the carnal privilege given to Abraham to have his children included in his carnal privilege. Finally, note in the previous quote that Owen says Abraham’s carnal seed were “a peculiar people” by virtue of their carnal descent alone, apart from faith – which has now ceased.
      3. “he lets the Hebrews know that in the gospel state there is no loss of privilege in any thing as to what the church enjoyed under the law of Moses… And this is enough to secure the application of the initial seal of the covenant unto the infant seed of believers. For whereas it was granted to the church under the old testament as a signal favor and spiritual privilege, it is derogatory to the glory of Christ and honor of the gospel to suppose that the church is now deprived of it; for in the whole system and frame of worship God had ordained “the better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” p.516-17 PDF (Hebrews 4:15)
        1. As above, according to Owen’s explanation of Abraham’s two-fold privilege corresponding to a two-fold seed, there was never any spiritual privilege given to believing Abraham to have his children in covenant with him. That was a carnal privilege given to Abraham according to the flesh, which has now ceased. That privilege was never given to the church.
      4. “For whereas there were two sorts of persons that were baptized, namely, those that were adult at their first hearing of the gospel, and the infant children of believers, who were admitted to be members of the church; the first sort were instructed in the principles mentioned before they were admitted unto baptism, by the profession whereof they laid the foundation of their own personal right thereunto; but the other, being received as a part and branches of a family whereupon the blessing of Abraham was come, and to whom the promise of the covenant was extended, being thereon baptized in their infancy, were to be instructed in them as they grew up unto years of understanding. Afterwards, when they were established in the knowledge of these necessary truths, and had resolved on personal obedience unto the gospel, they were offered unto the fellowship of the faithful. And hereon, giving the same account of their faith and repentance which others had done before they were baptized, they were admitted into the communion of the church, the elders thereof laying their hands on them in token of their acceptation, and praying for their confirmation in the faith. Hence the same doctrines became previously necessary unto both these rites;–before baptism to them that were adult; and towards them who were baptized in infancy, before the imposition of hands. And I do acknowledge that this was the state of things in the apostolical churches, and that it ought to be so in all others.” p.70 PDF (Hebrews 6:1-2)
        1. See above.
      5. “Parents bless their children by endeavouring to instate them in their own covenant-interest. God having promised to be a God unto believers, and to their seed in and by them, they do three ways bless them with the good things thereof: first, By communicating unto them the privilege of the initial seal of the covenant, as a sign, token, and pledge of their being blessed of the Lord; secondly, By pleading the promise of the covenant in their behalf; thirdly, By careful instructing of them in the mercies and duties of the covenant.” p.390 PDF (Hebrews 7:1-3)
        1. See above.
      6. “Obs. III. Divine institutions cease not without an express divine abrogation. — Where they are once granted and erected by the authority of God, they can never cease without an express act of the same authority taking them away. So was it with the institutions of the Aaronical priesthood, as the apostle declares. And this one consideration is enough to confirm the grant of the initial seal of the covenant unto the seed of present believers, which was once given by God himself in the way of an institution, and never by him revoked.” p.530 PDF (Hebrews 7:12)
        1. See above. God never gave circumcision to the seed of believers and Owen said carnal ordinances ceased along with the carnal seed.
      7. “He [Moses] found himself circumcised, and so to belong unto the circumcised people. Hereon God instructed him to inquire into the reason and nature of that distinguishing character. And so he learned that it was the token of God’s covenant with the people, the posterity of Abraham, of whom he was. It was a blessed inlet into the knowledge and fear of the true God. And whatever is pretended by some unto the contrary, it is a most eminent divine privilege, to have the seal of the covenant in baptism communicated unto the children of believers in their infancy; and a means it hath been to preserve many from fatal apostasies.” p. 182 PDF (Hebrews 11:24-26)
        1. See above. Circumcision was given to the carnal posterity of Abraham on account of Abraham’s carnal privileges, which has ceased.
    4. Owen affirmed paedobaptism in True Nature of the Gospel Church (which was written sometime in the latter half of his life and published posthumously).
      1. “(3.) Children do belong unto and have an interest in their parents’ covenant; not only in the promise of it, which gives them right unto baptism, but in the profession of it in the church covenant, which gives them a right unto all the privileges of the church whereof they are capable, until they voluntarily relinquish their claim unto them. (4.) Baptizing the children of church members, giving them thereby an admission into the visible catholic church, puts an obligation on the officers of the church to take care, what in them lieth, that they may be kept and preserved meet members of it, by a due watch over them and instruction of them. (5.) Though neither the church nor its privileges be continued and preserved, as of old, by carnal generation, yet, because of the nature of the dispensation of God’s covenant, wherein he hath promised to be a God unto believers and their seed, the advantage of the means of a gracious education in such families, and of conversion and edification in the ministry of the church, ordinarily the continuation of the church is to depend on the addition of members out of the families already incorporated in it. The church is not to be like the kingdom of the Mamalukes, wherein there was no regard unto natural successors, but it was continually made up of strangers and foreigners incorporated into it; nor like the beginning of the Roman commonwealth, which, consisting of men only, was like to have been the matter of one age alone.” (Kindle Locations 417-427).
        1. See above. Here Owen acknowledges that carnal privileges via carnal generation have ceased. God’s promise to be a God to Abraham’s seed has a two-fold fulfillment: one to each of his two seeds. As Owen has said above, Israel was made a peculiar people to God on account of their carnal descent from Abraham, not on account of spiritual descent from Abraham, and that privilege ceased at the coming of Christ.

 

That is why 17th century and 21st century baptists have appealed to Owen’s covenant theology while knowing full-well he was still a paedobaptist.

“And if our opponents think Dr. O. injured (as they are apt to clamour to that purpose) for our improvement of his words to our advantage…we say, that they are at liberty to reconcile his words to his practice if they can, to do which they have need of a considerable stock (but they are seldome unfurnisht) of artifice, and distinction, to help at this dead lift.”

Edward Hutchinson, A Treatise Concerning the Covenant, 1676, quoted in Samuel Renihan’s JIRBS 2015 article “DOLPHINS IN THE WOODS”: A Critique of Mark Jones and Ted Van Raalte’s Presentation of Particular Baptist Covenant Theology, a must read for anyone studying this debate.

There are strong tendencies in Owen’s thinking on the Covenant of Grace to restrict it just to Christ and his elect. Owen is a paedobaptist. But there is a lot in Owen’s thinking that I think pushes in a Baptistic direction. For Owen, the visible manifestation of the Covenant of Grace is not entirely clearly worked out in terms of children being embraced (as I read him). It’s not an area I have looked at in great detail, but I see tendencies in Owen’s ecclesiology and his understanding of the covenants that push it in a Baptistic direction.

-Carl Trueman, “Session 5 – John Owen on the Holy Spirit” @31:00

Paedobaptists may be shocked by how bold Owen’s statements above are with regards to the establishment of the New Covenant. He says that

When the new covenant was given out only in the way of a promise, it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it… That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by νομοτηετεο, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship… But so the covenant of grace was not under the old testament; for God did require of the church many duties of worship that did not belong thereunto. But now, under the new testament, this covenant, with its own seals and appointments, is the only rule and measure of all acceptable worship.

The knee-jerk reaction is that baptists must be reading Owen wrong. There is no way he could mean what he said. That would entirely undermine the grounds for infant baptism. However, an alternative perspective is that Owen meant exactly what he said, but the issue of baptism was not his primary concern. If it was, he would not have stated things so boldly. However, as a Congregationalist, Owen’s primary concern at this point was to demonstrate that the government of the church of Christ is to be found in the New Testament, not in the Old via Israel.

This was the divide between Presbyterians, who modeled the church after Israel, and the Congregationalists, who said we may not. The Five Dissenting Brethren (Congregationalists) at the Westminster Assembly wrote “we do professedly judge the Calvinian Reformed Churches of the first reformation from out of Popery, to stand in need of a further reformation themselves. And it may without prejudice to them, or the imputation of Schism in us from them, be thought, that they coming new out of Popery (as well as England) and the founders of that reformation not having Apostolic infallibility, might not be fully perfect the first day.” During the debate that ensued, the Presbyterians warned the Congregationalists that

The analogy betwixt Jewish & Christian church, little question of that little question… If this faile, the argument of Baptisme from circumcision will faile also… For that we must not looke to the state of the Jewish church, is only a warrantableness for the analogy of the Old Testament & New, granted. The brother that spake last said before we must cut loose the argument of Jewish church; [for] but how shall we prove pedo-Baptism? (See Goodwin vs. Gillespie: An Old Testament Debate for Church Polity).

But the Congregationlists ignored the warning and pressed on, insisting that the New Testament must determine the government of the church. It is in this vein that Owen, held captive to the Word of God in Hebrews 8, declared “That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it.”

Ergo, credobaptism.

Les & Tanner Talk Baptism

October 22, 2015 6 comments

Les and Tanner, hosts of the Reformed Pubcast, recently discussed baptism at length after Les announced he had become a peadobaptist (he had been attending (member?) a PCA church for quite a while). Since most of the things they talked about have been addressed at one time or another on this blog, I thought I’d provide links to those posts with some comments.

First off, Les struggled for many years to understand the paedobaptist position but he has now grasped the substance/administration distinction, which was key for him. I will just note that fully understanding the paedobaptist position is required in order for one to fully appreciate 1689 Federalism. One can hold to 1689 Federalism without understanding Westminster Federalism, but one can’t fully appreciate it until they have a grasp on Westminster Fed. Les seems to have a clear grasp of the Westminster position, so now the conversation can really begin 🙂

Are our children heathens?

In his excellent essay “DOLPHINS IN THE WOODS”: A Critique of Mark Jones and Ted Van Raalte’s Presentation of Particular Baptist Covenant Theology, Samuel Renihan notes:

Jones and van Raalte draw attention to Marshall’s (and others’) accusation that the doctrine that children do not belong to the covenant of grace by birth “puts all the Infants of all Believers into the self-same condition with the Infants of Turks, and Indians.” Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, 728. Coxe, Kiffin, and Knollys responded by saying, “But some may think, that this will put the children of Believers into as bad a condition, as the children of Turkes, Heathens, and any other wicked men; and this they are perswaded is a horrible thing, and a dangerous opinion. We put not the children of Believers into as bad a condition as the children of Turkes, &c. It was Adams disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit, that put all his posterity equally into a sinfull and miserable condition, Rom. 5. 12. 19. And the doctrine which Mr. CAL. and his brethren teach, doth the like. They say (and it is truth) that all the Infants of Believers…are born in sin, and are by nature children of wrath as well as others. And now let the Reader judge, Whether this their own doctrine, do not put the children of Believers into as bad a condition.” Coxe, Kiffin, and Knollys, A Declaration, 17.

 

Union with Christ

Tanner “So covenant is this agreement between two parties and there are responsibilities on both sides… My hangup in all this, as far as the New Covenant is concerned, you’re claiming that God has established this covenant with people and there are some who will be covenant keepers and there will be some who will be covenant breakers. So my issue with that claim is that is the beauty of the New Covenant is that it removes the work of the person to be a covenant keeper and Christ now becomes the covenant keeper. Christ fulfilled the responsibility that was meant for us…”

Les “Well, think about this. Think about Moses. Think about Israelites under Moses…”

Note: every time Tanner pressed Les on the implications of our union with Christ, Les’ response was “But Israel…” Baptism signifies union with Christ, so why baptize someone you don’t have reason to believe is united to Christ? Israel. Abraham. Circumcision. Of course the problem is that Scripture says the New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant, specifically on the matter of Christ’s mediation, so appeal to the Old Covenant to answer questions about union with Christ is unbiblical and inappropriate.

Hebrews 8:6 But now he hath obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

…To proceed with the text; this covenant, whereof the Lord Christ is the mediator, is said to be a “better covenant.” Wherefore it is supposed that there was another covenant, whereof the Lord Christ was not the mediator. And in the following verses there are two covenants, a first and a latter, an old and a new, compared together. We must therefore consider what was that other covenant, than which this is said to be better; for upon the determination thereof depends the right understanding of the whole ensuing discourse of the apostle. And because this is a subject wrapped up in much obscurity, and attended with many difficulties, it will be necessary that we use the best of our diligence, both in the investigation of the truth and in the declaration of it, so as that it may be distinctly apprehended…

They differ in their mediators. The mediator of the first covenant was Moses. “It was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator,” Galatians 3:19. And this was no other but Moses, who was a servant in the house of God, Hebrews 3:5. And he was a mediator, as designed of God, so chosen of the people, in that dread and consternation which befell them upon the terrible promulgation of the law For they saw that they could no way bear the immediate presence of God, nor treat with him in their own persons. Wherefore they desired that there might be an internuncius, a mediator between God and them, and that Moses might be the person, Deuteronomy 5:24-27. But the mediator of the new covenant is the Son of God himself. For “there is one God, and one mediator between God and and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all,” 1 Timothy 2:5. He who is the Son, and the Lord over his own house, graciously undertook in his own person to be the mediator of this covenant; and herein it is unspeakably preferred before the old covenant.

Hebrews 8:9 Not according to that covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant

This was the issue of things with them with whom the first covenant was made. They received it, entered solemnly into the bonds of it, took upon themselves expressly the performance of its terms and conditions, were sprinkled with the blood of it; but they “continued not in it,” and were dealt withal accordingly. God used the right and authority of a husband with whom a wife breaketh covenant; he “neglected them,” shut them out of his house, deprived them of their dowry or inheritance, and slew them in the wilderness.

On this declaration, God promiseth to make another covenant with them, wherein all these evils should be prevented. This is the covenant which the apostle designs to prove better and more excellent than the former. And this he cloth principally from the mediator and surety of it, compared with the Aaronical priests, whose office and service belonged wholly unto the administration of that first covenant. And he confirms it also from the nature of this covenant itself, especially with respect unto its efficacy and duration. And hereunto this testimony is express, evidencing how this covenant is everlastingly, by the grace administered in it, preventive of that evil success which the former had by the sin of the people.

Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of.

-Owen (Commentary, Hebrews 8:9)

Owen is clear that 1) the New Covenant is not a continuation of the Old Covenant. It is an entirely separate covenant. And 2) What makes the New Covenant better is specifically union with Christ as surety of the covenant, which was precisely Tanner’s point.

How were they saved?

Les’ assumption is that saved members of the Old Covenant were saved by the Old Covenant. He says if they looked upon the typological sacrifices and thereby learned of Christ and had faith in Christ, they were therefore saved by the Old Covenant. He also says that Abraham believed God’s promise and was justified, so he was therefore justified by the Abrahamic Covenant. But this does not follow at all. Only Christ saves and Christ is only mediator and surety of the New Covenant. Again, Owen:

This covenant [Old Covenant] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Corinthians: 3:9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works…

[N]o man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ therein.

-Commentary on Hebrews 8:6

According to Owen, the Old Covenant was only about temporal blessing and curse in the land of Canaan. Israelites became ceremonially unclean, which required ceremonial animal sacrifices to cleanse them (Hebrews 9:9-10). Those animal sacrifices, and thus the Old Covenant, did not forgive any man eternally. It only taught typologically of the work of Christ, which alone saves by virtue of the New Covenant. Furthermore, there were sins under the Old Covenant that had no sacrifices to cover and thus no way of forgiving them.

The Old Covenant does not grant anyone faith. It does not give anyone a new heart. Only the New Covenant does. Not even the Abrahamic Covenant does. The Abrahamic Covenant did not grant forgiveness of sins. It promised that Christ would come and grant forgiveness of sins through the New Covenant.

So yes, Abraham was justified by believing God’s promise that Christ would come and bless all nations. But Abraham’s regeneration, faith, justification, and sanctification were all blessings he received through union with Christ in the New Covenant. Just as Christ’s atonement reached back in time to save those who lived before his death, so too did the New Covenant.

I strongly encourage you to read Owen’s treatment of Hebrews 8. He spends about 150 pages explaining it because he believed reformed theologians misunderstood the Old Covenant. He wrote his exposition in 1680 after the best Puritan treatments of the subject had been written, and yet he still said “this is a subject wrapped up in much obscurity, and attended with many difficulties.” He specifically explains that he rejects the “judgment of most reformed divines” on the nature of the Old and New Covenants. Read Owen. He anticipates and answers all of the objections that are in your head right now.

Covenant Conditions

Les and Tanner continued talking about conditions of the Covenant of Grace. Tanner emphasized that Christ, as our surety, has met all the covenant conditions and we simply receive the benefits of the covenant. Les argued that Christians, and Christian children, are responsible to God in a way that pagans are not. When God “claims them” they come under all the stipulations of what it means to be in covenant with God. They’re responsible to have faith and obey God and love God (isn’t that true of everyone?). God enters covenant with Christians and their children, and it’s up to them to to fulfill their part of the covenant. God is “not obligated to fulfill my end of the bargain.”

Again, Owen disagrees with Les here. According to the Covenant of Redemption, once Christ fulfilled all the conditions, God was indeed covenantally obligated to fulfill “our end of the bargain” by granting us faith. Christ earned our faith, and therefore God is covenantally obligated to grant faith to all members of the New Covenant as a blessing of the covenant. Matthew Mason explains

According to Owen, although God’s will toward the elect was not changed upon the death of Christ, for he is immutable, Christ’s death nevertheless changed the status of the elect. On the basis of Christ’s merit, founded on God’s free engagement in the covenant of redemption with his Son, God is obliged to deliver them from the curse ipso facto. Therefore, because of Christ’s satisfaction, God is able to make out the benefits Christ purchased, without any other conditions needing to be fulfilled. In particular, Christ also purchased the condition of the covenant, faith; hence, from the time of the atonement, the elect have an absolute right to justification.

(See New Covenant Union as Mystical Union in Owen for an extended discussion of this)

the covenant which God would now make should not be according unto that, like unto it, which was before made and broken… But in the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises… It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant…

It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part. For whatever is antecedent thereunto, being only a work or act of corrupted nature, can be no condition whereon the dispensation of spiritual grace is superadded. And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.

Owen: New Covenant Conditional or Absolute?

 

Ver. 11. And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

The knowledge of the LORD may be here taken, not objectively and doctrinally, but subjectively, for the renovation of the mind in the saving knowledge of God… The proposition is universal, as to the modification of the subject, “all;” but in the word aujtw~n, “of them,” it is restrained unto those alone with whom this covenant is made…

Obs. XXIV. Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the new covenant can be pretended…

Obs. XXVII. Persons destitute of this saving knowledge are utter strangers unto the covenant of grace; for this is a principal promise and effect of it, wherever it doth take place.

-Owen on Heb 8:11

(Of course, God does not believe for us. We must believe. But Owen carefully clarifies that our faith is not a condition of the covenant itself, which is the question at hand.)

Les objects that it is the “case historically” that God does not grant faith to all those he enters covenant with. “God said to Abraham, I will be a God to you and to your children. Was he lying?” Again, Les retreats back to Israel, Abraham, Circumcision. But as we’ve noted, that is unbiblical because that is not the same covenant. Whether or not God granted faith to every member of the Abrahamic Covenant is entirely irrelevant to whether or not God grants faith to every member of the New Covenant.

I will be a God to you and your children

Was God lying? Well, Les is in a bit of a conundrum. If he believes “I will be your God” has any salvific meaning, then that raises the question of God’s covenant faithfulness when the children of believers are not saved. (See God’s Covenant Unfaithfulness?)

If the promise has no salvific meaning then why is it being appealed to? Jonathan Edwards rightly notes:

That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… And with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people… On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in. Thus a sovereign and all-wise God was pleased to ordain things with respect to the nation of Israel…

That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace; and so is sometimes represented as a marriage-covenant.

For an extended explanation of this quote and many similar quotes, see Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel. Earlier, Les said his children belong to God the same way Israel belonged to God. I guess that means Les’ children have been set apart as a nation in the land of Canaan, in which case they should be circumcised, not baptized. No Israelite was ever baptized apart from a profession of saving faith in Christ.

Circumcision

Which brings us to the question of circumcision.

We will now pass on to Genesis 17. What is more largely recorded there, is briefly pointed at by Stephen in his general view of the history of Israel (Acts 7:8), “and he gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham became the father of Isaac,” etc. By the covenant of circumcision we are to understand that covenant of which a restipulation was required by the observation of this rite or ordinance, as in Genesis 17:9-11.

It is noteworthy that in this transaction of God with Abraham we first meet with an express injunction of obedience to a command (and that of positive right) as the condition of covenant interest. It is all ushered in with this prologue (Genesis 17:1), “I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be perfect.” First in these words, the all-sufficiency of God is revealed for the ensuring of the promises. Then a strict and entire obedience to his precepts is required in order to inherit the good things that were to be given by this covenant. In this mode of transacting it, 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.”

-Nehemiah Coxe, p. 91

For more, see Coxe and Pink on Circumcision as well as Paedobaptism and Forks, and the Appendix to the 1689 London Baptist Confession.

Romans 11 and Hebrews 10

Les also mentioned the standard Romans 11 and Hebrews 10 objection. For detailed treatments of those passages, see

1 Cor 7:14

Finally, Les appealed to 1 Cor 7:14 to argue that “When God saves you he saves everything that belongs to you.” The basic problem is that Les is equivocating on the word “save.” When God saves you, he does not save your car. Only image bearers can be saved. What Les says he means is that when God saves him, he recognizes that everything he “owns” is actually God’s and he is just a steward of it. Thus his car belongs to God, and so do his children. He is to be a good steward of his children by raising them in the fear of the Lord.

That’s all well and good, but baptism is not a sign of your stewardship of a possession. Baptism is a sign of one’s “ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life.” We don’t baptize our car even though our car belongs to God because our car is not ingrafted into Christ. Neither do we baptize our children when we are saved because our children are not ingrafted into Christ simply because we are. So “When God saves you” he does not, in fact, “save everything that belongs to you.” Otherwise all the children of believers would be believers. And they’re not. It’s simply confused equivocation.

So what does 1 Cor 7:14 mean? Certainly nothing about baptism, the covenant of grace, or church membership.

See John Gill’s comments on the passage, in which he notes

The sense I have given of this passage, is agreeable to the mind of several interpreters, ancient and modern, as Jerom, Ambrose, Erasmus, Camerarius, Musculus which last writer makes this ingenuous confession; formerly, says he, I have abused this place against the Anabaptists, thinking the meaning was, that the children were holy for the parents’ faith; which though true, the present place makes nothing for the purpose: and I hope, that, upon reading this, everyone that has abused it to such a purpose will make the like acknowledgment; I am sure they ought.

See also the Appendix to the 1689 London Baptist Confession dealing with this text.

Did Spurgeon hold to 1689 Federalism?

July 17, 2015 2 comments

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Benjamin Keach pastored a fellowship at Horse-lie-down, Southwark for 36 years (1668-1704). He was succeeded by Benjamin Stinton from 1704-1718 (14 yrs), who was succeeded by Joh Gill from 1720-1771 (51 yrs). In 1833 the congregation moved to New Park Street where Spuregon began preaching in 1854 (20 years old).

Keach held to 1689 Federalism while Gill held to a more Westminster-style baptist covenant theology (what has been dubbed “modern reformed baptist covenant theology”).

Which view of covenant theology did Spurgeon hold to?

It’s Important

 

First, note how important Spurgeon believes this issue is:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” — Hebrews 8:10.

THE doctrine of the divine covenant lies at the root of all true theology. It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace is a master of divinity. I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and of grace. May God grant us now the power to instruct, and you the grace to receive instruction on this vital subject.

The human race in the order of history, so far as this world is concerned, first stood in subjection to God under the covenant of works. Adam was the representative man. A certain law was given him. If he kept it, he and all his posterity would be blessed as the result of obedience. If he broke it, he would incur the curse himself, and entail it on all represented by him. That covenant our first father broke. He fell; he failed to fulfil his obligations; in his fall he involved us all, for we were all in his loins, and he represented us before God. Our ruin, then, was complete before we were born; we were ruined by him who stood as our first representative. To be saved by the works of the law is impossible, far under that covenant we are already lost. If saved at all it must be all quite a different plan, not on the plan of doing and being rewarded for it, for that has been tried, and the representative man upon whom it was tried has failed for us all. We have all failed in his failure; it is hopeless, therefore, to expect to win divine favour by anything that we can do, or merit divine blessing by way of reward.

But divine mercy has interposed, and provided a plan of salvation from the fall. That plan is another covenant, a covenant made with Christ Jesus the Son of God, who is fitly called by the apostle, “the Second Adam,” because he stood again as the representative of man. Now, the second covenant, so far as Christ was concerned, was a covenant of works quite as much as the other. It was an this wise. Christ shall come into the world and perfectly obey the divine law. He shall also, inasmuch as the first Adam has broken the law, suffer the penalty of sin. If he shall do both of these, then all whom he represents shall be blessed in his blessedness, and saved because of his merit. You see, then, that until our Lord came into this world it was a covenant of works towards him. He had certain works to perform, upon condition of which certain blessings should be given to us. Our Lord has kept that covenant. His part in it has been fulfilled to the last letter. There is no commandment which he has not honoured; there is no penalty of the broken law which he has not endured. He became a servant and obedient, yea, obedient to death, even the death of the cross. He has thus done what the first Adam could not accomplish, and he has retrieved what the first Adam forfeited by his transgression. He has established the covenant, and now it ceases to be a covenant of works, for the works are all done. “Jesus did them, did them all, Long, long ago.”

And now what remaineth of the covenant? God on his part has solemnly pledged himself to give undeserved favour to as many as were represented in Christ Jesus. For as many as the Saviour died for, there is stored up a boundless mass of blessing which shall be given to them, not through their works, but as the sovereign gift of the grace of God, according to his covenant promise by which they shall be saved.

The Wondrous Covenant (Hebrews 8:10)

[H]ave a joyful respect for it [the covenant of grace]. Awake your harps and join in praise with David—“Although my house is not so with God, yet has He made with me an Everlasting Covenant.” Here is enough to make a Heaven in our hearts while yet we are below—the Lord has entered into a Covenant of Grace and peace with us and He will bless us forever! Then have a jealous respect for it. Never suffer the Covenant of Works to be mixed with it. Hate that preaching—I say not less than that—hate that preaching which does not discriminate between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, for it is deadly preaching and damning preaching!

The Covenant Pleaded (Psalm 74:20)

 

Remember that there was a Covenant of old, which men broke—the Covenant of works, “This do, and you shall live.” Keep such and such commands, and you shall be rewarded. That Covenant failed because man did not keep God’s commands and so did not earn the promised reward. We broke the terms of that contract and it is no longer valid, except that we come under penalty for the breach of it, and that penalty is that we are to be cast away from God’s Presence and to perish without hope, so far as that broken Covenant is concerned.

Now, rolling up that old Covenant as a useless thing out of which no salvation can ever come, God comes to us in another way and He says, “I will make a new Covenant with you, not like the old one at all.” It is a Covenant of Grace— a Covenant made, not with the worthy, but with the unworthy! A Covenant not made upon conditions, but unconditionally, every supposed condition having been fulfilled by our great Representative and Surety, the Lord Jesus Christ! A Covenant without an, “if,” or a, “but,” in it, “ordered in all things, and sure.” A Covenant of shalls and wills in which God says, “I will, and you shall!” A Covenant just suited to our broken-down and helpless condition. A Covenant which will land everyone who is interested in it in Heaven! No other Covenant will ever do this.

Twelve Covenant Mercies (Isaiah 55:3)

 

This renewing work has been in our Lord’s hands from of old. We were under the old covenant, and our first father and federal head, Adam, had broken that covenant, and we were ruined by his fatal breach. The substance of the old covenant was on this wise,—”If thou wilt keep my command thou shalt live, and thy posterity shall live; but if thou shalt eat of the tree which I have forbidden thee, dying, thou shalt die, and all thy posterity in thee.” This is where we were found, broken in pieces, sore wounded, and even slain by the tremendous fall which destroyed both our Paradise and ourselves. We died in Adam as to spiritual life, and our death revealed itself in an inward tendency to evil which reigned in our members. We were like Ezekiel’s deserted infant unswaddled and unwashed, left in our pollution to die; but the Son of God passed by and saw us in the greatness of our ruin. In his wondrous love our Lord Jesus put us under a new covenant, a covenant of which he became the second Adam, a covenant which ran on this wise,—”If thou shalt render perfect obedience and vindicate my justice, then those who are in thee shall not perish, but they shall live because thou livest.” Now, our Lord Jesus, our Surety and Covenant Head, has fulfilled his portion of the covenant engagement, and the compact stands as a bond of pure promise without condition or risk. Those who are participants in that covenant cannot invalidate it, for it never did depend upon them, but only upon him who was and is their federal head and representative before God. Of Jesus the demand was made and he met it. By him man’s side of the covenant was undertaken and fulfilled, and now no condition remains; it is solely made up of promises which are unconditional and sure to all the seed. To-day believers are not under the covenant of “If thou doest this thou shalt live,” but under that new covenant which says, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” It is not now “Do and live,” but “Live and do;” we think not of merit and reward, but of free grace producing holy practice as the result of gratitude. What law could not do, grace has accomplished.

Sermon for New Year’s-Day (Revelation 21:5)

Mosaic Covenant

 

Spurgeon clearly understood the importance of distinguishing between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. But did he follow Calvin and Westminster? Did he believe that all of the post-fall covenants were renewals of the same covenant? Did he believe the Mosaic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace?

This Epistle to the Hebrews is full of distinctions between the old covenant and the new, the gist of it being to show that the former covenant was only typical of that abiding dispensation which followed it; for it had only the shadow, and not the very image of heavenly things.

The Blood of the Covenant (Hebrews 13:20-21)

 

“I will be their God.”—Jeremiah 31:33.

WHAT A glorious covenant the second covenant is! Well might it be called “a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” Heb. viii. 6. It is so glorious that the very thought of it is enough to overwhelm the soul, when it discerns the amazing condescension and infinite love of God, in having framed a covenant for such unworthy creatures, for such glorious purposes, with such disinterested motives. It is better than the other covenant, the covenant of works, which was made with Adam; or that covenant which is said to have been made with Israel, on the day when they came out of Egypt. It is better, for it is founded upon a better principle. The old covenant was founded on the principle of merit; it was, “Serve God and thou shalt be rewarded for it; if thou walkest perfectly in the fear of the Lord, God will walk well towards thee, and all the blessings of Mount Gerizim shall come upon thee, and thou shalt be exceedingly blessed in this world, and the world which is to come.” But that covenant fell to the ground, because, although it was just that man should be rewarded for his good works, or punished for his evil ones, yet man being sure to sin, and since the fall infallibly tending towards iniquity, the covenant was not suitable for his happiness, nor could it promote his eternal welfare. But the new covenant, is not founded on works at all, it is a covenant of pure unmingled grace; you may read it from its first word to its last, and there is not a solitary syllable as to anything to be done by us.

God in the Covenant (Jeremiah 31:33)

 

The old covenant said, “There are the tables of stone, mind that you obey every word that is written thereon: if you do you shall live, and if you do not you shall die.” Man never did obey, and consequently no one ever entered heaven or found peace by the law. The new covenant speaketh on this wise, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. I will write my law in their hearts, and on their minds will I write them. I will put my fear in their hearts that they shall not depart from me.” The prophets enlarge most instructively upon this new covenant. It is not a covenant of “if you will I will,” but it runs thus, “I will and you shall.”

The Blood of the Covenant (Hebrews 13:20-21)

 

Christ is the messenger of the covenant, in the next place, as the messenger of the Father to us. Moses was messenger of the covenant of works, and his face shone, for the ministration of death was glorious; but Christ is the messenger of the covenant of grace.

The Messenger of the Covenant (Malachi 3:1)

 

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.”—Hebrews 8:10.

WHEN God gave to Israel his law,—the law of the first covenant,—it was such a holy law that it ought to have been kept by the people. It was a just and righteous law, concerning which God said, “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.” The law of the ten commandments is strictly just; it is such a law as a man might make for himself if he studied his own best interests, and had wisdom enough to frame it aright. It is a perfect law, in which the interests of God and man are both studied; it is not a partial law, but impartial, complete, and covering all the circumstances of life. You could not take away one command out of the ten without spoiling both tables of the law, and you could not add another command without being guilty of making a superfluity. The law is holy, and just, and good; it is like the God who made it, it is a perfect law. Then, surely, it ought to have been kept. When men revolt against unjust laws, they are to be commended; but when a law is admitted to be perfect, then disobedience to it is an act of exceeding guilt.

Further, God not only gave a law which ought to have been kept, because of its own intrinsic excellence, but he also gave it in a very wonderful way, which ought to have ensured its observance by the people. The Lord came down upon Mount Sinai in fire, and the mountain was altogether on a smoke, and the smoke thereof ascended “as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount Quaked greatly;” and the sight that was then seen on Sinai, and the sounds that were there heard, and all the pomp and awful grandeur were so terrible that even Moses,—that boldest, calmest, quietest of men said, “I do exceedingly fear and quake.” The children of Israel, as they heard that law proclaimed, were so amazed and overwhelmed with God’s display of his majesty and might, that they were ready enough to promise to keep his commandments. The law of God could not have Been made known to mankind in grander or more sublime style than was displayed in the giving of that covenant on Mount Sinai.

And, dear friends, after the giving of the law, did not God affix to it those terrible penalties which should have prevented men from disobeying his commands? “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” It was the capital sentence that was to be pronounced upon the disobedient; there could be no heavier punishment than that. God had, as it were, drawn his sword against sin; and if man had been a reasonable being, he ought at once to have started back from committing an act which he might be sure would make God his foe.

Moreover, the blessings that were appended to the keeping of the law ought to have induced men to keep it; look again at those words I quoted just now: “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.” This did not mean that the man who kept God’s law should merely exist; there are some in these degenerate days who seek to make out life to be existence, and death to be annihilation, but there is little likeness between the words, or between what those words mean. “He shall live in them,” said the Lord concerning the man who kept his law; and there is a fullness of blessedness couched in that word, “live.” If men had kept the covenant of the Lord,—if Adam, for instance, had kept it in the garden of Eden, the rose would have been without a thorn to tear his flesh, and the enjoyment of life would never have been marred by the bitterness of toil or grief.

But, alas! notwithstanding all these solemn sanctions of the ancient covenant, men did not keep it. The promise, “This do, and thou shalt live,” never produced any doing that was worthy to be rewarded with life; and the threatening, “Do this, and thou shalt die,” never kept any man back from daringly venturing into the wrong road which leadeth unto death. The fact is, that the covenant of works, if it be looked upon as a way of safety, is a total failure. No man ever persevered in it unto the end, and no man ever attained unto life by keeping it. Nor can we, now that we are fallen, ever hope to be better than our unfallen covenant-head, Adam; nor may we, who are already lost and condemned by our sinful works, dream for a moment that we shall be able to save ourselves by our works. You see, dear friends, the first covenant was in these terms,—”You do right, and God will reward you for it. If you deserve life, God will give it to you.” Now, as you all know right well, that covenant was broken all to pieces; it was unable to stand by reason of the weakness of our flesh and the corruptness of our nature. So God set aside that first covenant, he put it away as an outworn and useless thing; and he brought in a new covenant,—the covenant of grace; and in our text we see what is the tenor of it: “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.” This is one of the most glorious promises that ever fell from the lips of infinite love. God said not, “I will come again, as I came on Sinai, and thunder at them.” No, but, “I will come in gentleness and mercy, and find a way into their hearts.” He said not, “I will take two great tables of stone, and with my finger write out my law before their eyes.” No, but, “I will put my finger upon their hearts, and there will I write my law.” He said not, “I will give promises and threatenings that shall be the safeguard of this new covenant;” but, “I will with my Spirit graciously operate upon their minds and their hearts, and so I will sweetly influence them to serve me,—not for reward, nor from any servile motive, but because they know me, and they love me, and they feel it to be their delight to walk in the way of my commandments.” O dear sirs may you all be shares in the blessings of that new covenant! May God say this of you, and do this to you; and if so, we shall meet in the glory-land, to sing unto the grace of that eternal God who has wrought so wondrously with us, and in us, and for us!

God’s Law in Man’s Heart (Hebrews 8:10)

 

“He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second,” is illustrated… in the case of the covenants made with the literal and the spiritual Israel. There was a first covenant to which the Israelites gave their consent soon after they came out of Egypt. That was a covenant of works, and when Moses rehearsed in the ears of the people the terms of that covenant, “All the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” Yet they soon forgot their solemn promise. You remember how the commandments were “written with the finger of God” upon “two tables of testimony, tables of stone;” but when the people turned aside to worship the golden calf which Aaron had made, we read concerning Moses, “it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses anger ’waxed hot,’ and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” In God’s great longsuffering, the commandments were given a second time, though Moses, and not God, wrote on the second tables of stone, and they were put away for safety into the golden ark, above which was placed the mercy seat of pure gold. This was another symbolical illustration of our text: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” The law in the hand of Moses is broken that we may have the law in the heart of Christ hidden away under the sacred covering of divine mercy in the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. The first covenant of “This do, and thou shalt live,” is taken away, that God may establish the second, which is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The first covenant, because it waxed old, has passed away; and now God has established a second covenant, the covenant of grace: “They shall be my people, and I will be their God: and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall lot depart from me.’

The First and the Second (Hebrews 10:9)

 

First, we invite you to notice THE TWO WOMEN—Hagar and Sarah. It is said that they are the types of the two covenants; and before we start we must not forget to tell you what the covenants are. The first covenant for which Hagar stands, is the covenant of works, which is this: “There is my law, O man; if thou on thy side wilt engage to keep it, I on my side will engage that thou shalt live by keeping it. If thou wilt promise to obey my commands perfectly, wholly, fully, without a single flaw, I will carry thee to heaven. But mark me, if thou violatest one command, if thou dost rebel against a single ordinance, I will destroy thee for ever.” That is the Hagar covenant—the covenant propounded on Sinai, amidst tempests, fire and smokeor rather, propounded, first of all, in the garden of Eden, where God said to Adam, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” As long as he did not eat of the tree, but remained spotless and sinless, he was most assuredly to live. That is the covenant of the law, the Hagar covenant. The Sarah covenant is the covenant of grace, not made with God and man, but made with God and Christ Jesus, which covenant is this: “Christ Jesus on his part engages to bear the penalty of all his people’s sins, to die, to pay their debts, to take their iniquities upon his shoulders; and the Father promises on his part that all for whom the Son doth die shall most assuredly be saved; that seeing they have evil hearts, he will put his law in their hearts, that they shall not depart from it, and that seeing they have sins, he will pass them by and not remember them any more for ever.” The covenant of works was, “Do this and live, O man!” but the covenant of grace is, “Do this, O Christ, and thou shalt live, O man!” The difference of covenants rests here. The one was made with man, the other with Christ; the one was a conditional covenant, conditional on Adam’s standing, the other is a conditional covenant with Christ, but as perfectly unconditional with us.

The Allegories of Sarah and Hagar (Galatians 4:24)

 

While Spurgeon did clearly separate the Mosaic Covenant from the Covenant of Grace, he did not clearly separate the Mosaic Covenant of Works from the Adamic Covenant of Works. He did not follow John Owen and Nehemiah Coxe (among others) in limiting the Mosaic Covenant to temporal life in the land of Canaan. Nor did he make the careful qualifications that Keach made (that the Adamic Covenant of Works was revealed in the Covenant of Works with Israel, while being separate from it). Of course, these quotes are taken from sermons, not treatises or polemical tracts like the earlier Particular Baptists wrote, so we can’t expect the same level of nuance (and some did articulate it similarly to Spurgeon – see links).

The New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace

 

Spurgeon frequently preached on the New Covenant and identified it as the Covenant of Grace, the “Everlasting Covenant.”

This is the central truth of all Scripture, it is the basis of all Scripture. When Paul desires to set forth the covenant of grace, he appeals to this passage [Jer 31:27-37]. Twice, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, he bases an argument upon it, and after quoting it, adds, “Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us.” Brethren and sisters in Christ, under the first covenant we are ruined; there is no salvation for us but under this new covenant, wherefore let us read to our joy and comfort what the promises and provisions of that new covenant are.

Exposition of Jeremiah 31:27-37

 

The first Covenant was the Covenant of Works—”Do this and you shall live.” That Covenant, as I have shown you, was broken, but the new Covenant is a Covenant of pure Grace. Christ has fulfilled all its conditions on His people’s behalf and, therefore, all its privileges are theirs… Yet once more, let me remind you that the ensign of this Covenant is faith. Under the old Covenant it was and always would have been, works. But, under the new Covenant, it is faith. Do you believe? Then you are in Christ and all the blessings of the Covenant of Grace are yours.

Taking Hold of God’s Covenant (Isaiah 56:4, 6)

He followed both Keach and Gill’s minority view in that he did not separate or distinguish the Covenant of Redemption from the Covenant of Grace.

Now, in this covenant of grace, we must first of all observe the high contracting parties between whom it was made. The covenant of grace was made before the foundation of the world between God the Father, and God the Son; or to put it in a yet more scriptural light, it was made mutually between the three divine persons of the adorable Trinity. This covenant was not made mutually between God and man. Man did not at that time exist; but Christ stood in the covenant as man’s representative. In that sense we will allow that it was a covenant between God and man, but not a covenant between God and any man personally and individually. It was a covenant between God with Christ, and through Christ indirectly with all the blood-bought seed who were loved of Christ from the foundation of the world…

Thus, I say, run the covenant, in ones like these: “I, the Most High Jehovah, do hereby give unto my only begotten and well-beloved Son, a people, countless beyond the number of stars, who shall be by him washed from sin, by him preserved, and kept, and led, and by him, at last, presented before my throne, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. I covenant by oath, and swear by myself, because I can swear by no greater, that these whom I now give to Christ shall be for ever the objects of my eternal love. Them I will forgive through the merit of the blood. To these will I give a perfect righteousness; these will I adopt and make my sons and daughters, and these shall reign with me through Christ eternally.” Thus run that glorious side of the covenant. The Holy Spirit also, as one of the high contracting parties on this side of the covenant, gave his declaration, “I hereby covenant,” saith he, “that all whom the Father giveth to the Son, I will in due time quicken. I will show them their need of redemption; I will cut off from them all groundless hope, and destroy their refuges of lies. I will bring them to the blood of sprinkling; I will give them faith whereby this blood shall be applied to them, I will work in them every grace; I will keep their faith alive; I will cleanse them and drive out all depravity from them, and they shall be presented at last spotless and faultless.” This was the one side of the covenant, which is at this very day being fulfilled and scrupulously kept. As for the other side of the covenant this was the part of it, engaged and covenanted by Christ. He thus declared, and covenanted with his Father: “My Father, on my part I covenant that in the fullness of time I will become man. I will take upon myself the form and nature of the fallen race. I will live in their wretched world, and for my people I will keep the law perfectly. I will work out a spotless righteousness, which shall be acceptable to the demands of thy just and holy law. In due time I will bear the sins of all my people. Thou shalt exact their debts on me; the chastisement of their peace I will endure, and by my stripes they shall be healed. My Father, I covenant and promise that I will be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. I will magnify thy law, and make it honourable. I will suffer all they ought to have suffered. I will endure the curse of thy law, and all the vials of thy wrath shall be emptied and spent upon my head. I will then rise again; I will ascend into heaven; I will intercede for them at thy right hand; and I will make myself responsible for every one of them, that not one of those whom thou hast given me shall ever be lost, but I will bring all my sheep of whom, by thy blood, thou hast constituted me the shepherd—I will bring every one safe to thee at last.” Thus ran the covenant; and now, I think, you have a clear idea of what it was and how it stands—the covenant between God and Christ, between God the Father and God the Spirit, and God the Son as the covenant head and representative of all Gods elect. I have told you, as briefly as I could what were the stipulations of it. You will please to remark, my dear friends, that the covenant is, on one side, perfectly fulfilled. God the Son has paid the debts of all the elect. He has, for us men and for our redemption, suffered the whole of wrath divine. Nothing remaineth now on this side of the question except that he shall continue to intercede, that he may safely bring all his redeemed to glory.

The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant (Hebrews 13:20)

 

The covenant—to come at once straight to the matter, however offensive the doctrine may be—the covenant has relationship to the elect and none besides. Does this offend you? Be ye offended ever more. What said Christ? “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me: for they are thine.” If Christ prayeth for none but for the chosen, why should ye be angry that ye are also taught from the Word of God that in the covenant there was provision made for the like persons, that they might receive eternal life. As many as shall believe, as many as shall trust in Christ, as many as shall persevere unto the end, as many as shall enter into the eternal rest, so many and no more are interested in the covenant of divine grace.

The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant (Hebrews 13:20)

 

Through His substitutionary Sacrifice, they were even then “accepted in the Beloved” and, in the fullness of time, they become Believers in Him and so enter consciously into the enjoyment of the Covenant privileges which had been conferred upon them from eternity! The Covenant is not made with them when they believe in Jesus—it was made on their behalf by the Father and the Son in the eternal council chamber long before the daystar knew its place or planets ran their round!

The Blood of Christ’s Covenant (Zechariah 9:11)

OT Saints Members of the New Covenant

 

In 1867, Spurgeon wrote against a new teaching called Dispensationalism in his Sword and Trowel publication.

An earnest study of those Scriptures which disclose “the everlasting covenant” as it was gradually but distinctly revealed, will do more than any arguments of ours to dissipate the mist of those strange doctrines we have referred to. That Covenant was declared to Noah; it was still further opened to Abraham and Isaac, it was confirmed to David; Isaiah rejoiced in its sure mercies, Jeremiah was privileged to relate many of its special provisions; and Paul avers in his epistle to the Hebrews that this is the Covenant under the provisions of which the precious blood of Christ was shed; it is the blood of the new Covenant… According to the terms of the everlasting Covenant, and not according to the law, nor yet according to the tenor of any transient dispensations, the Old Testament saints were justified and accepted of God.

There Be Some Who Trouble You (Sword and Trowel essay against Dispensationalism)

 

Further, the blood of Jesus is also the Seal of the Covenant Speaking after the manner of men, until the blood of Jesus had been shed, the Covenant was not signed, sealed and ratified. It was like a will that could only become valid by the death of the testator. It is true that there was such perfect unity of heart between the Father and the Son, and such mutual foreknowledge that the Covenant would be ratified in due time—that multitudes of the chosen ones were welcomed to Heaven in anticipation of the redemption which would actually be accomplished by Christ upon the Cross. But when Jesus took upon Himself the likeness of men and in our human nature suffered and died upon the accursed tree, He did, as it were, write His name in crimson characters upon the Eternal Covenant and thus sealed it with His blood. It is because the blood of Jesus is the Seal of this Covenant that it has such power to bless us and is the means of lifting us up out of the prison-pit wherein is no water.

The Blood of Christ’s Covenant (Zechariah 9:11)

What about the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Davidic Covenants?

 

ALL GOD’S dealings with men have had a covenant character. It hath so pleased Him to arrange it, that he will not deal with us except through a covenant, nor can we deal with Him except in the same manner. Adam in the garden was under a covenant with God and God was in covenant with Him. That covenant he speedily brake. There is a covenant still existing in all its terrible power—terrible I say, because it has been broken on man’s part, and therefore God will most surely fulfill its solemn threatenings and sanctions. That is the covenant of works. By this he dealt with Moses, and in this doth he deal with the whole race of men as represented in the first Adam. Afterwards when God would deal with Noah, it was by a covenant; and when in succeeding ages he dealt with Abraham, he was still pleased to bind himself to him by a covenant. That covenant he preserved and kept, and it was renewed continually to many of his seed. God dealt not even with David, the man after his own heart, except with a covenant. He made a covenant with his anointed and beloved; he dealeth with you and me this day still by covenant. When he shall come in all his terrors to condemn, he shall smite by covenant—namely, by the sword of the covenant of Sinai; and if he comes in the splendors of his grace to save, he still comes to us by covenant—namely, the covenant of Zion; the covenant which he has made with the Lord Jesus Christ, the head and representative of his people…

It is important, then, since the covenant is the only ladder which reaches from earth to heaven—since it is the only way in which God has intercourse with us, and by which we can deal with him, that we should know how to discriminate between covenant and covenant; and should not be in any darkness or error with regard to what is the covenant of grace, and what is not…

The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant (Hebrews 13:20)

This passage is somewhat vague. It could potentially be read as saying the the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Davidic covenants were renewals of the Covenant of Grace. If you re-read the paragraph, you will see that Spurgeon very clearly addresses each covenant on its own. He does not refer to them as the same covenant. The renewal he speaks of is the Abrahamic Covenant renewal to Issac, Jacob, etc. Separate from these covenants that God made with Noah, Abraham, and David, God also made a covenant with Jesus – the Covenant of Grace.

Spurgeon clarifies the Abrahamic Covenant as it relates to the Covenant of Grace:

“As for you, also, by the blood of your Covenant I have sent forth your prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.” Zechariah 9:11.

THE LORD is here speaking to His ancient people, Israel. That nation had always been preserved, although other nations had been destroyed—and the reason was that God had entered into a Covenant with Abraham on their behalf. Circumcision was the sign and seal of the Covenant, so that God could truly speak of “the blood of your Covenant.” The Jews have never ceased to be a nation, though they have been scattered, peeled and delivered over into the hand of their adversaries because of their sins. They may enjoy various rights and privileges in the different countries where they sojourn for a while, but they cannot be absorbed into the nationalities by which they are surrounded. They must always be a separate and distinct people—but the day shall yet come when the branches of the olive tree, which have been so long cut off, shall be grafted in again. Then shall they, as a nation, again behold the Messiah, the true and only King of the Jews—and their fullness shall be the fullness of the Gentiles, also!

All Believers have some share in that Covenant made with Abraham, for he is the father of the faithful. We who believe in Jesus are of the seed of Abraham, not according to the flesh, but according to the promise, and we are pressed by a Covenant which like that made with Abraham, is signed and sealed with blood even “the blood of the Everlasting Covenant.” We, too, are saved and kept as a separate and distinct people, not because of any natural goodness in us, or because of our superiority over others, but solely and entirely because the Lord has made an Eternal Covenant concerning us, which is “ordered in all things and sure,” because Jesus Christ is, Himself, the Surety on our behalf that its guarantees and pledges shall all be carried into effect.

The Blood of Christ’s Covenant (Zechariah 9:11)

Here Spurgeon is articulating the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham had a two-fold seed with different promises made to each. Furthermore, he clearly distinguishes between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Everlasting Covenant of Grace (which was “like that made with Abraham”). The Abrahamic is signed and sealed by circumcision while the Covenant of Grace is signed and sealed by the blood of Christ.

As an instance of the expulsive power of a new delight, we all know how the memory of the old dispensation is gone from us. Brethren, did any one of you ever weep because you did not sit at the Passover? Did you ever regret the Paschal lamb? Oh, never, because you have fed on Christ! Was there ever man that knows his Lord that ever did lament that he had not the sign of the old Abrahamic covenant in his flesh? Nay, he gladly dispenses with the rites of the old covenant, since he has the fullness of their meaning in his Lord.

God Rejoicing in the New Creation (Isaiah 65:17-19)

 

Does the covenant say, “A new heart will I give thee, and a right spirit will I put within thee?” It must be done, for Jesus died, and Jesus’ death is the seal of the covenant… The blood is the symbol, the token, the earnest, the surety, the seal of the covenant of grace to thee… May God take away the enmity out of your heart to his own precious truth, and reconcile you to himself through THE BLOOD of his Son, which is the bond and seal of the everlasting covenant.

The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant (Hebrews 13:20)

Covenant theology is a very difficult subject of systematic theology and while Spurgeon did not write systematic treatises (thus we don’t have comments from him in detail on this) when he preached on covenant theology, it was consistent with (at least one strand of) 1689 Federalism, not modern baptist covenant theology.