Podcast: Responding to Reformed Forum on 2LBC 8.6 @ The Particular Baptist

Daniel Vincent and Sean Cheetham at the Particular Baptist Podcast invited me on to respond to an episode of Reformed Forum from a few months ago. In that episode, titled Typology and Covenant Membership, Jeremy Boothby argued that the author of Hebrews’ particular understanding of typology necessarily entails that the Old Covenant was (an administration of) the Covenant of Grace. He said he could not understand how baptists could reject WCF 7.5-6 but affirm 8.6 and asked for those who hold to 1689 Federalism to explain. So that was our primary goal in this episode. It has become a recurring objection so I’m glad I had the opportunity to address it. The episode went really long (which should not surprise readers of this blog) but Daniel and Sean graciously let me ramble on to make my point. I hope you find it useful. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Here are my notes/outline for the show, if it helps.

Related Posts and Mentioned Posts:

Re: Gaffin on Hebrews 8

This is an old video (2012), but I watched it again recently.

At 50:00 Dr. Gaffin argues that Jer 31/Heb 8 is making a redemptive historical/historia salutis point “using ordo salutis language.”

No, rather, the text makes an ordo salutis point with historia salutis implications. The New Covenant saves. Therefore the Old Covenant, which did not save and which merely pointed forward to the New Covenant, is obsolete.

Gaffin points to the experience of Abraham, Moses, and David in order to argue that ordo salutis benefits, namely regeneration, were provided by the Old Covenant. However, this is an invalid argument. The conclusion that the Old Covenant includes ordo salutis promises/benefits – including all those listed in Heb 8 – does not follow from the premise that OT saints were regenerate. I believe a correct exegesis of Heb 8 leads to the minor premise that the ordo salutis benefits are unique to the New Covenant (“better promises,” “not like the Old Covenant”).

P1 OT saints were regenerate
P2 The New Covenant alone regenerates
C OT saints were regenerated by the New Covenant

Before one objects that this is fanciful baptist eisegesis, consider that Gaffin said

The ordo salutis reality… Abraham being a man of faith, a regenerate person of faith which is dependent upon the work of Christ still to come in the future for its efficacy.

Bucey likewise said

[T]he grace that is administered to these Old Testament saints – really what they’re receiving are the same spiritual benefits the same grace the same substantial grace coming from the same work of Christ – they’re just receiving it in anticipation of the work he would come to do.

And in a separate episode, Tipton said

Even prior to His advent, His incarnation, His life and death and resurrection, prior to that the virtue, benefits, and efficacy of his atoning sacrifice and resurrection and ascension are retrospectively applied to saints in the Old Testament order by the supernatural agency of the Spirit.

What the author of Hebrews argues at great length is that this work of Christ and the benefits it entails are exclusive to the New Covenant. According to the author of Hebrews, the New Covenant is different from the Old Covenant in that it regenerates and justifies (8:6-12). The author of Hebrews contrasts the blood of the Old Covenant (bulls and goats) with the blood of the New Covenant (Christ). He argues there is an ordo salutis difference between the two, not merely an historia salutis difference. “[I]t is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (10:4) “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” (9:15) As Owen has correctly remarked

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.

Calvin was confronted with the truth of this logic in his effort to exegete Hebrews 8, particularly verse 10. He concluded

[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… 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.

This was actually the dominant view (as far as I can tell) prior to the reformation. It was Augustine’s view, echoed in Aquinas (who is quoted in Catholic Catechism 1964 on this point). See Joshua Moon’s “An ‘Augustinian’ Reading of Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Dialogue with the Christian Tradition.” Many others, such as John Frame and Michael Horton, have also recognized this truth.

Once we have this correct foundation, then we can discuss how types relate to OT saints’ understanding of and belief in the gospel, as well as how we are to understand the issue of apostasy and the warning passages.

Promise, Law, Faith – A Review Article (JIRBS 20)

The 2020 edition of the Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies has just been published. It includes a lengthy (46 page) review of T. David Gordon’s “Promise, Law, Faith: Covenant-Historical Reasoning in Galatians.” The review incorporates various points I have made on this blog, builds upon them, and adds to them. Readers of this blog will most likely find it worth reading.

It also includes a brief review of Richard P. Belcher Jr.’s new book on covenant theology by Sam Renihan.

The Reformed Baptist Academic Press website is undergoing construction so the journal is not available through the site currently. Instead, you have two options:

  • Email rb@rbap.net to order with name, address, phone number, quantity. $10 plus s/h. Paid via Paypal.
  • Amazon

There are a couple of things I came across after writing the review that I would have added. On page 88 I note the NET translation of Gal. 3:18. I should have also noted the CSB translation. Also, in fn29 I would add Aquinas’ statements on the New Covenant.

If you read the review, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Aquinas’ Distinction Between Membership in the New Covenant and the era of the New Covenant

I have previously mentioned Joshua Moon’s dissertation “Jeremiah’s New Covenant: An Augustinian Reading.” I do not agree with everything he has to say, but I highly recommend reading it (PDF) as he explains Augustine’s view of Jeremiah 31, as well as how that Augustinian reading was held down through church history up until the Reformation. Below is an excerpt (66-74 PDF) of his account of Aquinas’ Augustinian reading of Jeremiah 31 (see my previous Aquinas’ Retroactive New Covenant).


In summary form the lex nova for Thomas is the grace of God through the Holy Spirit.64 Thomas identifies the lex nova with the Law of the novum testamentum (‘lex nova est lex novi testamenti’), and defines the new law as the grace of the Holy Spirit:

‘Each thing appears to be that which is foremost in it,’ as the Philosopher states (Ethic., ix). That which is foremost in the Law of the novum testamentum, and in which all its power consists, is the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is given through faith in Christ. Consequently the lex nova is principally the grace itself of the Holy Spirit, which is given to those who believe in Christ.65

To establish his position he cites Jer 31:31,33, followed by two citations of Augustine from the De spiritu, the second of which reads: ‘What else are the Divine laws written by God Himself on our hearts, but the very presence of his Holy Spirit?’ From Augustine, Thomas reads the contrast in Jer 31 as between an old law without further power, and the ‘new’ work of the Spirit in those who believe.

The consequences of this for Jer 31 are then spelled out by an objection now somewhat familiar: what of those prior to the nova lex? If the new law is the Spirit’s work by which people are made friends of God, and if the ancient faithful had that Spirit’s work, then you have the novum testamentum in the era of the vetus. Thus, the objection runs, the new law cannot be defined this way:

The Law of the Gospel is proper to those who are in the state of the novum testamentum. But the Law that is inscribed [on the heart] is common both to those who are in the novum testamentum and those who are in the vetus testamentum. For it is said in Wisdom 7[:27]: ‘Divine wisdom conveys herself through the nations into holy souls; she establishes the friends of God and the prophets.’ Therefore the lex nova is not the Law inscribed.66

Thomas answers by appeal to an implicit distinction between membership in the novum testamentum and the ‘state (or era) of the novum testamentum:

No one ever possessed the grace of the Holy Spirit except through faith in Christ, explicit or implicit. Through faith in Christ a man belongs to the novum testamentum. Thus whoever had the Law of grace infused, accordingly belonged to the novum testamentum

At first glance it does not appear that Thomas answers the objection. He solves the dilemma by agreeing that there have always been those who had the Law of grace and belonged to the novum testamentum. The implicit point, however, is that Thomas does not see ‘belonging to the novum testamentum’ as the same as being in the statu novi testamenti – otherwise the reply would not at all address the objection. Thomas thus drives a distinction between two realities, that of the era of the Gospel or the statu novi testamenti, and that of
membership within the novum testamentum. And Jer 31:33-34 is addressed to the latter. Thus, in article 4 of the same question he asserts that the state of the new law succeeds the state of the old law (‘successit enim status novae legis statui veteris legis’), a claim he finds consistent with the novum testamentum existing during the state of the old law.

Matthew Levering summarizes the distinction being made this way: ‘The state of the new law begins after the Incarnation, while the new law itself, as the grace of the Holy Spirit, is found in all places and times.’68 Or more fully is Colman O’Neill:

the new law exists as the mystery of salvation at work in the world from the time of the restoration of man to grace. Yet, though the new law thus transcends historical periods, the state of the new law does not. For the state of the new law is precisely that third state of revelation and faith which was initiated in the Incarnation and in the mysteries of Christ.69

That Thomas owes this position to Augustine is clear: Augustine is cited no fewer than 8 times in answer to this one question. One can speak two different ways of the vetus and novum testamentum (or lex): either to a ‘state’ or era, or with respect to the thing itself. If the former, then one can speak of the economical differences. But if the latter, then any view of temporal succession is impossible. And Jeremiah is speaking of the latter. The lex nova, spoken of in Jer 31:33-34, is available throughout all ages and without the possession of it, one’s happiness (proper end) is unattainable – for that which is outside of a person cannot justify. The virtue of being just before God cannot be acquired unless given by God, and clearly those faithful of the ancient era were just. Thus ‘in all times there have been some belonging to the novum testamentum’, even if the statu novi testamenti awaited the coming of Christ.70

This point is made concrete in Thomas’ treatment of David in Psalm 51 (Vg. 50) and Thomas’ view of David as having the Holy Spirit (i.e. the lex nova):

The reason for this manifestation [of guilt (culpa) being wiped clean] is a divine mercy; for the manifestation of righteousness (iustis) is useful so that we do not presume on his righteousness (iustitia). For if David sins – after all of his victories, after the gift of the Holy Spirit, after all his familiarity with God and prophecy – how much more ought we to fear how weak and sinful we are?71

If Jeremiah’s prophecy of the new covenant is a prophecy of the lex nova, which is contained fundamentally in the giving of the Holy Spirit, then David is here explicitly counted as a member of the new covenant. The exhortation even hinges upon an a fortiori privileging of the place of David: if even David can sin, how much more should we fear? There is only one way by which anyone is made right with God, and that is through the novum testamentum or the lex nova, which is the grace of the Holy Spirit given to those who believe. This is true for Augustine and Thomas regardless of era, and this right standing before God is the substance of Jeremiah’s new covenant.72

Re: James White’s “Newness of the New Covenant”

In 2004 (part 2 2005), James White wrote The Newness Of The New Covenant: Better Covenant, Better Mediator, Better Sacrifice, Better Ministry, Better Hope, Better Promises in defense of credobaptism. He wrote from the perspective of one covenant of grace differently administered and sought to answer the question “Exactly what is the nature of the covenant in the blood of Christ (Lk. 22:20; Heb. 13:20), and how does it differ from other administrations of the covenant of grace?”

His answer was that the difference between the Old and the New is that only some of the members of the Old covenant were saved, while all of the members of the New covenant are.

[T]hat which the New Covenant provides in perfection the Old only provided in part or in picture… [W]here something is found in both covenants, it will be seen to be partial and incomplete in the Old, finished, total, and perfect in the New…

The Old Covenant was, by nature, breakable. Why? Because it did not, in and of itself, effect the change in the heart and mind of each member thereof that would cause them to “continue” therein…

While there were those who knew the Lord and followed his statutes, they were the remnant, not the norm…

All those with whom he makes this covenant experience what the remnant experienced under the old: true internal conversion resulting in a love for God’s law and a true relationship with him. Quite simply, there is no “remnant” in the New Covenant, and all those with whom God makes this covenant experience its fulfillment. This is why it is better, and hence proves the author’s apologetic presentation of the supremacy of Christ over the old ways…

The contrast drawn here between the old “faulted” covenant and the new faultless one is simple: the New Covenant brings salvific knowledge and relationship to all who are in it, “from the least to the greatest of them.”

…Reformed credobaptists have asserted that if this passage teaches that the New Covenant differs from the Old in the matter of the extensiveness of the work of grace in the lives of the members (i.e., the New Covenant is not a mixed covenant of regenerate and unregenerate, elect and non-elect), then the most needed element of the paedobaptist argument regarding the continuity of the covenants and the covenant sign is disrupted at its most vital point. The “continuity” of the Covenant of Grace is seen in the expansion of God’s work of grace, so that the New Covenant in the blood of the Son encompasses all of God’s elect, with the older administration’s ceremonies pointing forward to the perfection that would come in Christ…

We must agree that considered individually, each of the elements of the New Covenant listed in Heb. 8:10-12 can be found, in particular individuals in the Old Covenant…

if some in the Old Covenant experienced these divine works of grace, but most did not, what then is to be concluded? That the newness of the New Covenant is seen in the extensiveness of the expression of God’s grace to all in it…

We are not saying there were none who experienced God’s grace under the Old Covenant, but that the Old Covenant, in and of itself, did not guarantee that those who partook of it were, in fact, heirs of grace. The newness of the New Covenant in the blood of Christ is found in the reality that the better mediator, better hope, better sacrifices, mean that all, from the least to the greatest of them, know the Lord savingly. This is its glory, for it reflects the power of the blood in which it is sealed. Hence, when we read, “God’s law, the transcript of his holiness and his expectations for his people, was already on the hearts of his people, and so is not new in the new covenant,”11 we respond by saying it is not the mere existence of the gracious act of God writing His law on the heart that is new, but it is the extensiveness of that work that is new. While some in the Old Covenant experienced this, all in the New Covenant do so.

While White is correct that all in the New Covenant receive new hearts and the forgiveness of sins (they are saved) while only some members of the Old Covenant did, he is ambiguous as to how exactly those members of the Old Covenant were saved. Were they saved by the Old Covenant? Numerous statements by White seem to deny that.

[The author of Hebrews’] view of the New Covenant as “better” must be seen in light of the perfection of Christ’s work of mediation…

Is this ministry simply of the same kind as the ministry of the old priests, only, in some fashion, “more excellent”? Or is the point of the passage that the Messiah’s ministry, the covenant in his blood, and the promises upon which the covenant stands – all these things are substantially different, better, than that which came before?…

Surely, at this point there can be no argument that the betterness of the sacrifice of Christ is qualitatively superior to that of the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant. His death is not just more effective or in some fashion greater than the sacrifice of a lamb or a bull. That sacrifice differs on a fundamental, foundational level. It is better by nature and definition...

As a result of the permanence of his priestly position, Christ has an ability the old priests did not possess. He is able to save

Christ is the mediator of a better covenant, based upon better sacrifices, with a more excellent ministry, based upon better promises, which include, he will later assert, the very promise of the eternal inheritance for those in the New Covenant (9:15)…

What the Old Covenant had only pictured and hinted at, but failed to produce in them, God fulfills in the better covenant with the better sacrifices and better promises and better mediator…

These repetitive sacrifices lack the power or ability to take away sins…

The text presents an apologetic argument that unlike the Old Covenant, where “they did not continue in My covenant” (v. 9), the New Covenant presents a perfect, full work of God which includes the internal renovation of the heart, salvific knowledge of God, and the forgiveness of sins…

We must further note that the contrast in Heb. 10 is between the repetitive sacrifices of the Old Covenant, which could never take away sins, and the singular sacrifice of the New, which not only can but in reality does do so for those who are in the covenant (Heb. 10:10-18)!

There appears to be some unresolved tension in White’s argument. On the one hand, he argues that the New covenant is qualitatively better than the Old because it does what the Old could not: give a new heart and take away sins. Yet on the other hand he argues that the difference is quantitative because the Old covenant did give a new heart and take away sins, just not for all in the covenant (“it is not the mere existence of the gracious act of God writing His law on the heart that is new, but it is the extensiveness of that work that is new”).

I believe the logic of White’s argumentation throughout the two essays requires him to modify his conclusion. If Christ’s mediation of a better covenant means simply that more members of the covenant are saved, does that mean that some members of the Old covenant were saved apart from his mediation and sacrifice? On the other hand, if Christ’s mediation of a better covenant means “Christ has an ability the old priests did not possess. He is able to save” then perhaps those in the Old Covenant who were in fact saved were saved by Christ’s better New covenant. Perhaps the “Newness of the New Covenant” is that it is able to save! As White himself says

The writer plainly sees in these words a prophetic proclamation of what Christ, the one high priest, would accomplish through his better sacrifice so as to initiate a better covenant based upon better promises leading to a better hope. The singular offering of Christ (Heb. 7:27) and the acceptance of that offering pictured in his entrance into the Holy Place and his being seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens (Heb. 8:1) has made it possible for God to be merciful to the iniquities of those for whom the High Priest now intercedes (Heb. 7:24-35).

Note Owen’s observation on the same text.

Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant merely, to be intended… If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue thereof, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large… [T]herefore I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition… 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.

Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ, p. 187-8, 241

Aquinas’ Retroactive New Covenant

I have previously shown at length how very similar Augustine’s understanding of the New and Old Covenants is to 1689 Federalism. He limits the Old Covenant to temporal, earthly promises and argues that OT saints were saved by the New Covenant.

[T]he happy persons, who even in that early age [the Old Testament] were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament to the ancient people of God

Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist

Aquinas followed Augustine on this point, citing him several times in Summa Theologica I-II, 106-107 (Old “Law” = Old Covenant; New “Law” = New Covenant).

[T]he Old Law, which was given to men who were imperfect, that is, who had not yet received spiritual grace, was called the “law of fear,” inasmuch as it induced men to observe its commandments by threatening them with penalties; and is spoken of as containing temporal promises…

the New Law which derives its pre-eminence from the spiritual grace instilled into our hearts, is called the “Law of love”: and it is described as containing spiritual and eternal promises…

although the Old Law contained precepts of charity, nevertheless it did not confer the Holy Ghost…

the New Law is chiefly the grace itself of the Holy Ghost, which is given to those who believe in Christ…

Nevertheless there were some in the state of the Old Testament who, having charity and the grace of the Holy Ghost, looked chiefly to spiritual and eternal promises: and in this respect they belonged to the New Law…

As to those under the Old Testament who through faith were acceptable to God, in this respect they belonged to the New Testament: for they were not justified except through faith in Christ, Who is the Author of the New Testament…

No man ever had the grace of the Holy Ghost except through faith in Christ either explicit or implicit: and by faith in Christ man belongs to the New Testament. Consequently whoever had the law of grace instilled into them belonged to the New Testament…

at all times there have been some persons belonging to the New Testament, as stated above.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifically quotes Aquinas on this point (1964).

There were . . . under the regimen of the Old Covenant, people who possessed the charity and grace of the Holy Spirit and longed above all for the spiritual and eternal promises by which they were associated with the New Law… [E]ven though the Old Law prescribed charity, it did not give the Holy Spirit, through whom “God’s charity has been poured into our hearts.

I mention all of this simply to re-iterate the historicity of the concept. It is not an idea invented by baptists in response to paedobaptism. It is drawn from Scripture itself and has been recognized by various traditions for a very long time.

Tabletalk’s Retroactive New Covenant

H/T @flyoverliberta1

The June issue of Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk magazine features a daily study through Hebrews, starting with ch. 8 on June 1. I don’t know who wrote the study, but they make some very good points, quoting Owen several times.

June 2 – The Necessity of Christ’s Heavenly Priesthood

8:4 is saying that because Christ is a member of the superior priesthood, His work cannot be done on earth. To engage in priestly ministry on earth is the province of the inferior Levitical priesthood, which is exercised according to the Mosaic law, the law that cannot perfect anyone.

June 3 – Better Promises for a Better Covenant

John Owen says these better promises are the new covenant promises of Jeremiah 31:33–34 that God will write His law on the hearts of His people and remember their sin no more, that is, finally and fully forgive them. These promises were not fulfilled by the old covenant mediated by Moses. After all, the repeated sacrifices of the Mosaic law mean that the old covenant could not provide full and final forgiveness. They, and the old covenant of which they were a part, could only remind people of sin, not remove it (Heb. 10:1–18). Furthermore, the law demonstrates that the old covenant cannot be the means by which God writes His commandments on the hearts of His people. Deuteronomy 31:14–29 foresees that Israel as a nation would be so corrupt as to break the old covenant. The people would need a new heart, a heart that would come only after the nation of Israel broke the old covenant and suffered the curse of exile (30:1–10).

Nevertheless, the reality of the new covenant promises belonged to the old covenant saints. After all, David, an old covenant believer, enjoyed the complete and final forgiveness of sins in his justification (Rom. 4:5–8). No one is saved except through Christ and His new covenant, which is the ultimate expression of the one covenant of grace between God and His people (John 14:6). The old covenant saints belonged also to the one covenant of grace, though they lived prior to the inauguration of the new covenant. They, no less than us, were redeemed by Jesus alone, though their understanding of this was less full than is ours as new covenant believers.

June 4 – The Promised New Covenant

The new covenant is necessary, Hebrews 8:8 tells us, because God found fault with the people. Our Creator never intended the old covenant to bring the blessings we have under the new covenant, though the old covenant saints possessed the benefits of the new covenant, albeit to a lesser degree than we do…

In and through the new covenant, we get what the subcovenants of the covenant of grace hoped for. The new covenant, Hebrews 8:10 reveals, is the means by which God’s promise to be God to Abraham is accomplished (see Gen. 17:7). 

While disagreeing with the author’s interpretation of Gen 17:7 (see here), he correctly notes that Abraham was saved by the new covenant. Abraham, and all other Old Testament saints, received the promises/blessings of the new covenant in advance of its formal establishment.

Further Reading

The New Covenant of Grace was a Present Reality for OT Saints

R. Scott Clark recently wrote another post trying to explain where reformed paedobaptist covenant theology differs from 1689 Federalism. I’m glad that it offers an opportunity to continue discussing the topic. Regretfully, however, Dr. Clark continues to misunderstand our position. He misunderstands what we mean when we say that the New Covenant alone is the Covenant of Grace. He mistakenly thinks we mean that the Covenant of Grace was not a present reality for OT saints.

Clark claims that 1689 Federalism believes “God the Son is not actually present” in the salvation of saints prior to His incarnation. He says that we deny the Covenant of Grace “was actually present” prior to His incarnation. He says “in the PB view, the covenant of grace is entirely future,” which is in contrast to the reformed view that “It was not merely a future (New Covenant) reality but it was a present reality.” Clark says “The Son did not take up his place de novo at the top of the mountain in the new covenant. He has always been the Mediator,” implying that we deny that Christ was Mediator to the elect prior to his incarnation. He claims that our position is that New Covenant grace was not actually conveyed to the elect prior to Christ’s incarnation. He says “The Old Testament saints were not merely anticipating Christ. They were members of Christ through faith,” implying that we deny this. He says we deny that “Old Testament saints were united to Christ by the Spirit.” In his conclusion, Clark says “When the Particular Baptists speak of the benefit of Christ being communicated, it seems as if they mean that a future reality was revealed to the Old Testament saints, which they anticipated but which was not actually present for them.”

All of that is incorrect. Clark has misunderstood our position.

We affirm that that the benefits of Christ were a present reality for OT saints, which they received through a present union with Christ, which is the Covenant of Grace (a present reality for OT saints, not something entirely future) making them present members of Christ.

Our disagreement with Clark is not whether the Covenant of Grace was present and active during the Old Testament period. Our disagreement with Clark is the way in which the Covenant of Grace was present and active during the Old Testament period.

Why are we being misunderstood? I suspect in part because he has misunderstood what we mean by “retroactive.” But more fundamentally, I suspect it is because of an unstated premise that Clark holds.

  • P1 If the Covenant of Grace was present during the Old Testament period, then the Old Covenant was the Covenant of Grace.
  • P2 The Covenant of Grace was present during the Old Testament period.
  • C Therefore the Old Covenant was the Covenant of Grace.

Because we deny the conclusion, Clark thinks we deny P2. That is not the case. We deny P1. P1 is the point of disagreement and where we should focus our discussion, not P2.

When we say “The New Covenant alone is the Covenant of Grace” Clark hears “The Covenant of Grace was not present during the Old Testament.” But that is not what we said. When we say “The New Covenant alone is the Covenant of Grace,” we also say “The New Covenant was present during the Old Testament.”

There are various other points that Clark makes in his post that might be points of disagreement and are worth discussing. But we cannot have that discussion until this fundamental misunderstanding is resolved. When we say that the New Covenant alone is the Covenant of Grace, we do not deny that New Covenant grace was a present reality for OT saints. You might think that is totally crazy. Nevertheless, it is what we believe.

Coxe

Since Clark quoted Coxe to make his case, here are some quotes from Coxe affirming what I just said.

There is no explicit mention of a covenant of grace before
Abraham’s time and yet the thing is certain and clearly revealed in
Scripture, namely, that all who were saved before his time were
interested in such a covenant and saved only by its grace. (48)

[A]ll the blessings of this covenant redound on believers by means of their union and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both the Head and Root of the new covenant, and the Fountain from which all its blessings are derived to us. Since these blessings were entirely purchased by him, so are they entirely applied to all that are in him and to none other… [N]one are at any time justified before God except those whom Christ has loved and washed from their sins in his own blood (Revelation 1:5). None are washed by him but those that are in him as the second Adam. It is by union to him as the root of the new covenant that the free gift comes on them to the justification of life (Rom 5:14ff). And none can have union to him but by the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. Wherever the Spirit of God applies the blood of Christ for the remission of sins he does it also for the purging of the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. As certainly as any derive a new covenant right from Christ for pardon, they also receive a vital influence from him for the renovation of their natures and conforming their souls to his own image. (81-82)

The grace and blessings of the new covenant were given and ensured to Abraham for himself. (75)

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)

Note also 2LBCF 7.3 “it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality…” Among its references on this particular statement are Hebrews 11:6, 13 “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him… by faith Noah… by faith Abraham… All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Rom 4:1, 2, &cWhat then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'” and John 8:56 “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Thus when we identify the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant alone, we do not exclude those who lived before the establishment of the New Covenant – notably Abraham – from “the grace of this covenant.” Nor do we believe that they waited to receive this grace until the death of Christ. In sum, this New Covenant of Grace was extant and effectual under the Old Testament, so as the church was saved by virtue thereof.

See also the FAQ page at 1689Federalism.com: Did the Covenant of Grace Exist During the Old Testament? as well as Samuel Renihan’s two replies to Clark Typology and Communication in 2LCF 8.6 and Typology: Signs and the Things Signified.

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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