Brief Comments/Clarifications on the T4G Covenant Theology Panel

Yesterday, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler discussed Covenant Theology as part of a T4G conference panel. The panel was meant as a starting point for viewers to dip their toes into the deep waters of covenant theology. I was very glad to see the topic brought up. I just have a couple of brief comments.

Was 1689 Federalism represented?

Al Mohler helpfully noted “The very first Baptists were explicitly committed to a covenant theology—so much so, that they used the word repeatedly in the most important Baptist confession.” Dever and Mohler rightly commended both the Covenant of Redemption and the Adamic Covenant of Works, as affirmed by those baptists – as well as the recognition that salvation during the Old Testament was the same as salvation during the New Testament. However, was the particular view of covenant theology held by the majority of those men represented in the panel discussion? Here are some distinctives of that view:

  • The New Covenant alone is the Covenant of Grace
  • The Old Covenant was a typological covenant of works for temporal life and blessing in the land of Canaan (note: it was not The Covenant of Works)
  • Israel according to the flesh (Abraham’s carnal offspring, the nation) was a type of Israel according to the Spirit (Abraham’s spiritual offspring, the church)

I don’t think this view was represented (if it was, I missed it).

“Everlasting Covenant” in Gen 17 = CoR?

Dever said that we need

to have a sufficient recognition of discontinuities and yet of this underlying continuity such that God could speak to to Abraham in Genesis 17 of an everlasting covenant… this the pre-temporal inter-Trinitarian Covenant of Redemption and it’s what God is clearly talking about to Abraham in Genesis 17.

I would love to hear Dever elaborate more on this point. I will simply note that 1689 Federalism does not understand the “everlasting covenant” of Genesis 17 to refer to the Covenant of Redemption or the Covenant of Grace. It refers to the Covenant of Circumcision, made with Abraham and his offspring according to the flesh that they would multiply and inherit the land of Canaan and that the Messiah would be born from them. “Everlasting” must be understood in context. For example, the Levitcal priesthood is described as everlasting (Ex 29:28) as well as “annulled” (Heb 7:12, 18), and “obsolete” (Heb 8:13).

For more on how 1689 Federalism understands Genesis 17:7, see the these selections from various representatives of the view.

Was the Mosaic Covenant part of the Covenant of Grace or the Covenant of Works?

Dever asked “Was the Mosaic covenant a part of the Covenant of Grace or the Covenant of Works?” I don’t know what Dever’s own opinion is, but this binary way of thinking about the biblical covenants is representative of Westminster’s view (every covenant must be one or the other), but it was rejected by the particular baptists who insisted that there are more than two covenants in the Bible. The Mosaic Covenant was neither the Covenant of Works or the Covenant of Grace. It was distinct from both and must be understood on its own terms as a unique typological covenant. On this point they were standing in the stream of the reformed “subservient covenant” view of men like James Cameron, Samuel Bolton, and John Owen. The baptists carried this same logic over to the Abrahamic Covenant as well, noting that it was neither the Covenant of Works nor the Covenant of Grace.

Israel and the Church

On the question of how covenant relates to church, Duncan offered 3 primary views:

  • Classic Dispensationalism: the Church is not in the OT; the church in no way supplants or replaces Israel; two parallel purposes of God
  • Classic Baptist Covenant Theology: (Spurgeon) church is in the OT as a part of one body, one people that God has been bringing into being since Gen 3:15. But Spurgeon would say the nature of the people of God in the New Covenant is different than the form that it existed in from the time of Abraham
  • Classic Presbyterianism: church in the OT and NT; promise to believers and their children continues today

What Duncan describes as the “Classic Baptist” view is actually more like the modern view developed in the 20th century by baptists who were heavily influenced by John Murray. The Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace and it included his children, but the administration of the Covenant Grace changes under the New Covenant so-as to no longer include children.

The older view (known as “1689 Federalism” for convenience) did a better job of articulating that although believers in the Old Testament were united to Christ and thus part of the body of Christ, the nation of Israel (Abraham’s carnal offspring) was not itself the church in the Old Testament. It was a distinct entity and it was, in fact, a type of the church. Thus 1689 Federalism agrees with Classic Presbyterianism over against Dispensationalism that there is only one eternal people and purpose of God, not two parallel eternal peoples. However, it agrees with Dispensationalism that the nation of Israel was not the church.

Conclusion

I’m very thankful for these men and for their gracious, edifying conversation with one another on this complex topic. I encourage those who were intrigued by the panel to study 1689 Federalism. I believe it substantially moves the conversation forward beyond merely arguing over “more continuity” or “more discontinuity.” What these men recognized was “new” about the New Covenant was that it saved! No other covenant saved men. The better promise of the New Covenant was the law written on the heart (regeneration) and the forgiveness of sins (justification). Abraham was not saved by the Abrahamic Covenant. He was saved by the New Covenant.

If you would like to learn more, please see the videos, lectures, and recommended reading list at http://www.1689federalism.com You can also find numerous posts, organized by topic, on my Welcome page.

*Note: the label “1689 Federalism” is not intended to mean that it is the only view permitted by the 2nd London Baptist Confession. The confession was written broadly enough to embrace a multitude of views. However, 1689 Federalism was the actual covenant theology held to the majority of baptists of that day and it helps explain the changes that they did make to the confession on this point.

Do Presbyterians Have Regeneration Goggles?

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

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

RPCNA

D
CHAPTER 1
The Communicant Membership of the Church

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

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

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

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

F
Chapter 3
The Administration of the Sacraments

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

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

OPC

CHAPTER IV
Public Reception of Church Members
A. General Provisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

2. The Baptism of Adults

a. Prerequisites

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

Hodge

Charles Hodge put it this way:

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

and

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

Conclusion

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

For further reading:

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

Re: New Geneva Podcast on Baptism

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

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

1. God is the one who acts in baptism

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

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

See

2. Individualism is Enlightenment

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

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

Second, note Hodge

The Church exists as an external society now as it did then; what once belonged to the commonwealth of Israel, now belongs to the visible Church… Such is the favourite argument of Romanists; and such… we are sorry to say is the argument of some Protestants, and even of some Presbyterians…

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

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

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

See

3. Abraham, not Moses

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

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

The idea that the Mosaic Covenant administered the Covenant of Grace but was not itself the Covenant of Grace is contrary to that tradition. Historically that idea was known as the “subservient covenant” view and was proposed in contrast to the above. Modern proponents of this idea, following Kline, have taken the subservient view and tried to “smoosh” it together with Westminster’s view. The OPC Report on Republication notes “[T]he idea that the Mosaic covenant is in substance or kind a ‘works’ covenant, but at the same time an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace, seems to create a hybrid position that combines elements of positions that viewed themselves as alternatives to one another.” In other words, RSC is confused on this matter. I would encourage Scott to dig deeper and read older works on covenant theology (such as John Ball). As far as I am aware, Ben does not agree with Scott here.

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

See

4. Baptists deny that God works through means

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

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

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

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

See

5. The Covenant of Grace was always through Christ

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

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

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

See

6. Christ must precede the law (of Sinai)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See

7. How was the Covenant of Grace administered?

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

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

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

If it is believed that ordinances are necessary to salvation, then our disagreement lies there, rather than in anything about the OT. Isaac Backus said “The work of sanctification in believers is carried on by the ordinances of baptism and the holy supper, but they are not spoken of in Scripture as the means of begetting faith in any person; for faith cometh by hearing the word of God. Rom x. 17.” Berkhof said sacraments “are not absolutely necessary unto salvation… the sacraments do not originate faith but presuppose it and are administered where faith is assumed, Acts 2:41; 16:14, 15, 30, 33; 1 Cor 11:23-32… [M]any were actually saved without the use of sacraments. Think of believers before the time of Abraham[.]” (ST 618-19) Reymond says “I would add that Paul expressly states that Abraham himself was justified by faith some years before he was circumcised (Rom. 4:9–10).” (ST) Calvin said

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

Hodge said

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

William Cunningham said

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

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

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

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

For this is the covenant that I will make, etc. There are two main parts in this covenant; the first regards the gratuitous remission of sins; and the other, the inward renovation of the heart; there is a third which depends on the second, and that is the illumination of the mind as to the knowledge of God… But it may be asked, whether there was under the Law a sure and certain promise of salvation, whether the fathers had the gift of the Spirit, whether they enjoyed God’s paternal favor through the remission of sins?… [T]he Apostle, by referring the prophecy of Jeremiah to the coming of Christ, seems to rob them of these blessings… [W]hatever spiritual gifts the fathers obtained, they were accidental as it were to their age; for it was necessary for them to direct their eyes to Christ in order to become possessed of them. Hence it was not without reason that the Apostle, in comparing the Gospel with the Law, took away from the latter what is peculiar to the former. There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.

Again, we agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circumcision was not a sign of union with Christ. Neither was it a sign of regeneration or faith. Circumcision was a rite that devoted the recipient to serve Yahweh according to the terms of Mosaic Law. The rite of circumcision did not guarantee that any particular circumcised Israelite would actually serve Yahweh from the heart as Mosaic law required (Deut 6:4). It just meant that they were obligated to (Deut 10:12-16). I recommend reading Bryan Estelle’s chapter in the book The Law is Not of Faith for a very good treatment of how Lev 18:5 relates to the promise of the New Covenant in Deut 30:6.

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9. All shall know me

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

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

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

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

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

 

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10. Internal/External Church Distinction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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11. Apostasy

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

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

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

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

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

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John Ball on Salvation Prior to Christ’s Death

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

Internal and External Covenant of Grace

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

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

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

The Covenant of Grace Promised & Established

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

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

(27-28)

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

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

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

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

(28-29)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was the Old Covenant an Administration of the Covenant of Grace?

One criticism of 1689 Federalism centers around the question of whether or not the Old Covenant was an administration of the Covenant of Grace. The issue, however, is very convoluted. What exactly is meant by the question?

Historically, going back to Bullinger and Calvin (2.10-11), the reformed argued that the Old and New Covenants were the same covenant offering eternal life upon condition of faith in Christ. Same reward and same conditions. The only difference between them was in their appearance – that is, in their way of administering eternal life. Thus calling the Old Covenant an “administration of the Covenant of Grace” was shorthand for “the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are the same covenant – the Covenant of Grace.” This view was “the judgment of most reformed divines” in the 17th century. It is precisely this understanding that the 17th century particular baptists rejected when they denied that the Old Covenant was an administration of the Covenant of Grace. 1689 Federalism sees them as two distinct covenants, with different rewards and conditions, not one and the same. However, we affirm that salvation was “communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein he was revealed” (2LBC 8.6). In short, 1689 Federalism believes that the Old Covenant was distinct from the New Covenant, but it revealed truths about the New Covenant that were sufficient to save the elect through belief in the gospel.

Over the course of time, the subservient covenant position has gained greater popularity among reformed paedobaptists. Especially after the influence of Meredith Kline you will now find many paedobaptists argue that the Old and the New are two different covenants, not one and the same. A recent blog post titled The Mosaic covenant was substantively a covenant of works for Christ, and administratively a covenant of grace to the Israelite provides a concise example. The author says “we should reject any ham-handed approach that looks at WCF 7.5 and concludes that they were saying that the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of grace.” Rather, “the Mosaic covenant is substantively a post-lapsarian type of the covenant of works.” However, these paedobaptists choose to retain the language of calling the Old Covenant an “administration of the Covenant of Grace.” The author says “the covenant of grace was delivered ‘administratively’ via promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances that forsignafied Christ to come… the Mosaic covenant includes the law as a tutor serving the covenant of grace, and therefore parts of it… administratively deliver the covenant of grace.” What is meant is that the Old Covenant was distinct from the New Covenant, yet it revealed truths about the New Covenant that were sufficient to save the elect through belief in the gospel. In other words, they mean nearly the same thing as 1689 Federalism.

So what happens when this second view reads 1689 Federalism material that denies the Old Covenant was an administration of the Covenant of Grace? Well, it wrongly assumes 1689 Federalism denies that the Old Covenant revealed the gospel and thereby “administered” salvation to OT saints. This is caused by 1) a lack of historical awareness of how the language was used in the 17th century, and 2) a lack of precision in how some proponents of 1689 Federalism today articulate the position.

So, to set the record straight moving forward, 1689 Federalism affirms that the Old Covenant revealed the gospel such that it “communicated” or “administered” salvation to elect, while all the time being separate and distinct from the Covenant of Grace (the New Covenant).

For further reading:

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

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

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

Below are some further comments on the discussion.

Hines’ Opening Statement

Acts 7:38 – ἐκκλησία (ekklhsia)

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

The Gospel was preached to Abraham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gal 3 says the Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace

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

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

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

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

This is merely begging the question.

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

Again, that’s begging the question.

Acts 2 simply restates Gen 17

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

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

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

The Old Covenant had church discipline just like the New Covenant

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

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

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

Commenting on Hebrews 8:10, Calvin said “There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.” On 8:6 Owen said “The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant… this new covenant of grace was extant and effectual under the old testament, so as the church was saved by virtue thereof, and the mediation of Christ therein.” Augustine explained “These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new.” John Frame said “Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved through the new covenant in Christ. Everyone who is saved receives a new heart, a heart of obedience, through the new covenant work of Christ… the efficacy of the New Covenant, unlike that of previous covenants, extends to God’s elect prior to Jesus’ atonement. When believers in the Old Testament experienced “circumcision of the heart,” or when they were Jews “inwardly,” they were partaking of the power of the New Covenant.”

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

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

The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants

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

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

Calvin likewise argued in Institutes 2.10.2 that

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

Commenting on Jeremiah 31:31, Calvin said

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

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

Peter Lillback notes

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

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

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

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

Dennis Johnson notes

On the other hand, it is also true to say that Israel, though small and stubborn, is receiving the land through obedience. Moses has already drawn a connection between obedience and conquest of the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 4:1. Israel is to hear and to do the Lord’s commands “that” the promised consequences might follow, namely life and possession of the land. (Him We Proclaim, 298)

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

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

Kline explained

The term `eqeb, “because,” used in Genesis 26:5 (and already in the original revelation to Abraham in Gen 22:18) signifies recompense, reward (cf. Ps 19:11; Prov 22:4; Isa. 5:23). This strengthens the case for understanding this as a matter of meritorious works. Moreover, Genesis 26:5 describes Abraham’s obedience in language surprising in the Genesis context, the divine demand being denoted by a series of legislative categories such as are later applied to the laws of Moses. A particularly interesting combination of such terms together with `eqeb, “in recompense for,” is found in Deuteronomy 7:12 (cf. 8:20). Quite possibly then, Genesis 26:5 employs the terminology of covenant stipulations from the Sinaitic Covenant, where it describes an arrangement governed by the meritorious works principle, to reenforce the point that Abraham’s obedience was also to be understood as having such a meritorious character and that, as such, it was the ground of the reward enjoyed by his descendants. (Kingdom Prologue, 325)

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

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

Circumcision

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a Church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and his true people. The promises of the national covenant were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant, (i.e. of the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law; the condition of the latter was, is, and ever has been, faith in the Messiah as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, and the commonwealth founded on the one with the Church founded on the other.

When Christ came “the commonwealth” was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The Church remained. There was no external covenant, nor promises of external blessings, on condition of external rites and subjection. There was a spiritual society with spiritual promises, on the condition of faith in Christ. In no part of the New Testament is any other condition of membership in the Church prescribed than that contained in the answer of Philip to the eunuch who desired baptism: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts viii. 37)

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

Does 1689 Federalism require “Regeneration Goggles”?

Critics of 1689 Federalism often caricature baptists as claiming to know who the elect are. This does not follow from any 1689 Federalism belief. We agree with the reformed “judgment of charity.” Based upon a credible profession of faith, we judge (with charity) a person to be saved. The only difference is that we do not believe that being born to a professing parent is sufficient warrant to charitably judge a person to be saved.

The following is a rather revealing Twitter conversation demonstrating 1) that there is nothing radical about baptists on this point, and 2) that some (many?) paedobaptists haven’t really thought through this issue.


AKA: Why I am not a baptist.

Notice in the final row where Denault explains the need to discern who is in the invis church to identify the visible. This isn’t a strawman

Aug 10

 Discern = judgment of charity based on a credible profession of faith. No different from paedo for those “of age.”

The chart says that the visible church is identified by a credible profession of faith, that’s not how reformed identify the visible church.

Aug 10

 I’m sorry, you’re really confusing me. Can you please clarify?

Maybe you can tell me what you aren’t getting.

Everything you’ve said in the above replies. How do you think the reformed identify the visible church?

Aug 10

via baptism, WCF 28.1 “Baptism is …not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church”

Aug 10

How do you understand WCF 25.2?

I’d have to look at what they intended by it, but I assume “professing christian” would include baptised.

Aug 10

However, what a thing is, and how you identify a thing are not the same thing.

What role does a credible profession of faith play, in your understanding?

Aug 10

It’s a means to determine if someone outside the covenant is serious about entering into it.

It wouldn’t make sense to baptize someone into the church who has no real interest in joining.

So credible profession just means “Wants to join the church”?

Aug 10

 with all that entails, yes.

“just means” sounds like it’s trying to make church membership into a small thing.

Aug 10

What is required for someone to be a communicant member?

For someone to be made a communicant member they have to publicly profess their faith and be baptized.

OPC DPW IV.B.1 says they must “give evidence of conscious saving faith in Christ.” Do you agree?

Ah, you’re talking about someone who is already a member. Yes, but this wouldn’t make them any less a church member.

It’s a protection against judgement for misusing the supper.

How does it protect? What would be misuse?

Eating or drinking without discerning the body, because of sin.

Sin in this instance would be lack of saving faith?

that could be an example, though I don’t think it’s the only one.

Does the public reception into full communion entail a judgment of charity that the person has “conscious saving faith in Christ”?

I think that’s fair, otherwise, what’s the point of fencing the table

Does making said judgment of charity require “regeneration goggles”?

non communicant members are still church members, the assumption is still that they are church members…

…but that they have some sin that requires repentance. The Q isn’t about regeneration. The only time it /might/ be is excommunication.

Does judging a person to have saving faith mean judging that they are regenerate?

It seems to me this is exactly the problem I was pointing out, you really want this to be about something invisible, and behind the scenes.

I’m saying that it isn’t, and a judgment of charity is exactly the kind of thing you use when you *don’t* know.

Ben, I honestly think you’re unnecessarily pushing yourself into a weird corner in this thread, becoming a polar opposite without good cause

Maybe so, my original point was, and remains that trying to ‘see’ the invisible church to identify the visible isn’t helpful.

I guess I’d just say I find that argument (baps try to see invis church) a straw man, realizing you wouldn’t agree.

Reconstructing the vis kirk w/ infant inclusion as primary deconstructs the system & is source of unnecessary polarizing to ur own hurt.

Aug 10

Aug 10

He says visible = ppl we have “reason to believe” are in invis. It’s not speculation or stating absolutes to connect prof of faith to regen

Would you say that Ref/Pres do the same thing, but just with different standards for ‘reason to believe’?

What do you think the different standards are?
For instance, a person might say that being born in a christian home *is* reason to believe they are in the invisible church.
In that case, you’d say baptists and ref’d are baptizing for the same reason.
This gets hairy because of disagreement about presumptive regeneration. But in that case, yes (see Utrecht 1905 Synod for example)
Yeah, personally, I’m not a fan of answering the regeneration question at all, as you could probably tell from my answers.
WCF 28.1 says baptism is a sign and seal of regeneration. OPC DPW IV.B.1 says public profession = “you have accepted God’s covenant…
promise that was signified and sealed unto you in your infancy by holy baptism.” To receive prof of saving faith = to judge regenerate.
Ben, can you acknowledge 1689 Fed view does not require “regeneration goggles”?
I don’t think I used those words in this convo, I think there is an over-emphasis on the invisible, but only use that phrase in jest.
Nor do I think baptists think they know who the elect are.
To clarify your view: how can you judge someone to have saving faith without judging them to be regenerate?

I received no reply to the last question, so I asked it again 2 days later.

To clarify your view: how can you judge someone to have saving faith without judging them to be regenerate?

I received no reply, so I asked again 2 days later. And again 2 days after that. I asked 4 times over the course of a week and was never given a reply.

Note this statement from an 1857 issue of the Princeton Review

And this statement from Hodge in an 1858 Princeton Review.

In sum, there is nothing radical about 1689 Federalism’s view of church membership.

For more on this, see

 

 

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

Short Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Re: Did The Covenant Of Grace Begin In The New Covenant?”

John Gill & 1689 Federalism

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

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.