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The French Reformed Understanding of the Visible/Invisible Church

March 5, 2019 4 comments

In a recent post I summarized Scottish Presbyterian James Currie’s criticism of Bannerman/Westminster’s understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction. He quoted extensively from a 17th century French reformed theologian Jean Claude who had a famous debate (1678) with French Roman Catholic Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet about the nature and authority of the church. Bossuet published an account of the debate, followed by Claude’s account of the debate, which was translated into English and printed in England in 1687. Claude wrote several other works including an account of the persecution of the reformed church by Roman Catholics in France (which was translated and printed in England, but ordered burned by James II), as well as a two-volume History of the Reformation – translated and printed in England in 1815. Claude is described as “a burning and shining light” whose “well-timed instructions and powerful example diffuse[d] moral and spiritual blessings all around him[.]” You can read a brief sketch of his life here.

What interests us here is that in his debate with Bossuet regarding the nature of the Church, Claude argues for an understanding of the visible/invisible Church distinction that would be dismissed today as an uninformed baptist misunderstanding of Scripture – and yet Claude shows this was the position of the French reformed confession. Claude’s book can be read in full here. Note: Claude refers to Bossuet by his title/position in the Roman Catholic church: Bishop of Meaux (thus Monsieur de Meaux) and previously of Condom (thus M. de Condom).

The debate centered upon the meaning of the statement “I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints” from the Apostle’s Creed. Bossuet argued it refers to “A Society making profession to believe the Doctrine of Jesus Christ, and govern it self by his word” and “’tis consequently visible.” Claude argued rather that it refers to “the company of all those that are truly the faithful, separated from the world by the Word and Holy Spirit of God, according to the purpose of his Election from the beginning to the end of all things.” [Page 6]

Claude argues first that Bossuet’s definition incorrectly limits the “Church” to the its present manifestation on Earth, excluding those presently in heaven.

[B]y the Universal Church must be understood, not barely the visible body, or company of the Faithful at present upon Earth, but that body or company of all the Faithful, which have been, are, or at any time shall be, from the beginning to the end of the World. Thus the Universal Church is, That which is already triumphant in Heaven, that which is now militant on Earth, and that which is not yet in the world, but shall be in succeeding Ages. [Page 4]

Second, Claude argues that even limiting Bossuet’s definition of the Church to the Church presently upon Earth, it is still incorrect. The proper definition of the Church upon Earth is

A Society of such persons, as making profession to believe the Doctrine of Jesus Christ, do truly and effectually believe it; and making profession to govern themselves by his word, do really and effectually govern themselves by it. [Page 9]

Which he adds is “in agreement with all Protestants.”

That is to say, we are concerned to know, whether the nature and essence of the Church consist barely in externals and appearances; or whether something of reality be not required? whether Hypocrisy, and superficial Cheats can make men true members of the Church? or whether something of truth be not necessary also, to know whether wicked men, worldlings, and reprobates, provided they make an outward profession, and can but dissemble handsomely, are real members of Christ’s mystical body, or whether this priviledge do not be­long to those that are truly the Faithful?…

The Question is, whether wick­ed men, let them dissemble never so well, and carry never so fair an outside, do truly belong to this Church, or whether it consist of sincere Be­lievers only. ‘Tis a Church exteriour and visible, I acknowledg it, but it is also a Church interiour, and real; otherwise it would differ nothing from a Phantome, a cheating apparition. ‘Tis a Confessing Church, and publishes the Faith, but it is likewise a Church believing in what it confesses and pub­lishes. ‘Tis a Church, to which not only St. Peter’s Confession must be at­tributed, but also the principle and ground of that Confession.Matt. 16. 17. Blessed art thou Simon Bar-jona, for flesh and blood hath net revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven: And therefore whose Confession proceeds not from Flesh and Blood, but from Grace and Divine Illumination. ‘Tis a Church built upon a Rock, and not upon the Sand, therefore not a Church that Hypocrites are of. ‘Tis a Church built by Jesus Christ; a Church therefore of true Believers only, because such only are built by Christ. [Page 45] …

All our business is to know, what Church this is; M. de Condom will have it all that Society that makes profession to believe, &c. we think it to be that, which making profession to believe, does so really and sincerely.

Election and the Church

I. The Scripture represents the Church to us, as the product and execution of God’s eternal decree of Predestination, or Election; and besides it teaches us, that God in electing and predestinating men, does it not to a mere outward profession of Faith and Holiness, but to an effectual Faith, and true Holiness: And consequently, effectual Faith and Holiness are of the nature and essence of the Church, and not an outward profession only. [Page 9] …

My Church are thine Elect, and thy Elect are my Church; they who are mine, as my people, are thine, as thy Elect; my Communion, and thy Election, have the same measures, the same extent, and do both comprehend the same persons: So that the Election is nothing else but God’s design and project of the Church; and the constituting of a Church, is the putting that design of Election in Execution.

Appellations of the Church

II. The Scripture, when speaking of the Church with reference to God, gives it such appellations as can by no means be restrain’d to a more profession, or allow us to think it can be composed of wicked persons. It calls the Church,Gal. 4. 26. Jerusalem which is above, Heb. 12. 22. the Heavenly Jerusalem, the City of the living God, Ps. 2. 6. the Holy Hill of Sion, Gal. 6. 16. the Israel of God, 1 Pet. 2. 9. A Holy Nation, a peculiar people; Psal. 28. 9. the inheritance of God, Ephes. 2. 22. the habitation of God through the spirit, 1 Tim. 3. 15. the house of God, 1 Cor. 3. 17. the temple of God, 1 Pet. 2. 5. His holy Priesthood, His spiritual house, Ibid v. 9. His royal Priesthood, Eph. 1. 14. His purchased possession, 1 Pet. 2. 10. the people of God. Tell me now, I pray, if the energy of these expressions is not admirably answered, by being reduced to a bare external profession? Would God have sent us a new Jerusalem, a new Sion, a new City from above, and make this up of Righteous and Wicked, Hypocrites and true Believers indifferently? [Page 11] …

Can any man after all this grant, that the Church should be defined, A Society making profession to believe, &c. or imagine that Hypocrites belong to this mystical Divine Body?

Prophecy of the Church

IV. If we search the Scripture yet further, we shall find other Arguments in confirmation of this Truth. Among these I reckon the predictions concerning the Church of Christ, to be met with in the Prophets. Thus it is described by Moses; Deut. 30. 6. The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live… Isa. 34. 8, 9… And in another place Isa. 54. 13, 14. All thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children, In righteousness shalt thou be established. In the same sense Jeremiah speaks of it Jer. 31. 33., They shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, say­ing, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, for I will forgive their inquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Ezek. 36. 25, 26, 27. Ezekiel says as much; I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgements… Joel 3:17…

What can all these great and wonderful promises mean? This Circumcision of Heart? This way of Holiness where the unclean shall not pass over? This keeping out of Lions and ravenous beasts? This being taught of God? This universal knowledg, joyned with a pardon of sins? This pouring out of the spirit, which shall take away the hearts of stone, and change them for hearts of flesh? This Holiness of Jeru­salem, so as to suffer no stranger, nor Canaanite in the midst of her? I say, What signifies all this, if the form and essence of a Church consist in a bare profession; and if this Communion can be composed of unjust, as well as just, of Bad as well as Good men? [Page 12]

A Supernatural Work of the Spirit

The Church is a Divine and Supernatural work, born only of the Blood of the Son of God, and animated only by his Spirit. [Page iv]

It is the spirit which the faithful receive, and whereof Baptism is a sign: For (says the Apostle) we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have all been made to drink into one spirit. Thus you see the band and principle of the Churches Unity. The evident consequence whereof is, that inward regeneration is essential to it, and that as many as have not been washed by, nor made to drink into this heavenly spirit, cannot be parts of this body. [Page 13] …

If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his [Rom 8:9]. Words of such strength as will not allow us to acknowledg wicked men belong to the Church unless we should make a Church that is not Christ’s. If the Church formally, and as such, be Christ’s, this must be true of all that are of the Church, and participate of that which constitutes it such. Now according to M. de Condom’s definition, wicked men and reprobates may be of the Church; therefore in his opinion they may be Christ’s. Notwithstanding St. Paul avers, that they that are Christ’s, live not according to the flesh; and that as many as have not Christ’s spirit, are none of his; so that he is of a judgement different from M. de Condom’s… That one without Christ’s Spirit may still be his, directly contradicts Saint Paul’s assertion, which positively declares, That he who hath not Christ’s Spirit, is not his. [Page 15]

Hypocrites Not of Christ’s Church

IX. 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…

[The] visible Church is that of the true Believers only, and that Hypocrites have no share at all in it.

The General Call Not a Call to Outward Profession

X. We read in Scripture of a twofold Call, one by the meer Preach­ing of the Word, commonly termed an outward Call; the other by the Preaching of the Word, and the Holy Spirit both, stiled an inward Call. Of the first our Saviour speaks,Mat. 22. 14. when he says, Many are called, but few cho­sen. Of the second St. Paul, Whom he did predestinate, them he also cased, and whom he called, Rom. 8. 30. […] them he also justified. Now the Church, whose very name im­plies a Call, must needs have been the effect of one of these two just mentioned. But if defined by a bare profession, it cannot refer to one or other of these, nor can it answer the design of either. It does not fulfil the end of the first, for the Preaching of the Gospel does not call men to a meer Profession of believing Jesus Christ’s Doctrine. A Hypocrite is so far from com­plying with this Call, that he rejects and mocks at it. It does not refer to the second Call, because the Spirit which calls with the Word, is a Spirit of Regeneration, and not bare profession. What Call shall we refer it to then? I know not any third, the Scripture mentions not any, and the nature of the thing will not admit of any. We can consider God in such a case but according to two different capacities, either as a Law-giver, commanding, exhorting, promising and threating, or as an absolute disposer of Events, and so bringing to pass in us the thing he commands us.

Sacraments Only For True Believers

But this is a Chruch which hath, and exerciseth such a Ministry. Who questions it? But does this Ministry belong to the wicked and hypocrites? No. It belongs only to true Behevers, the rest have no part in it; only as they sometimes exercise the external Offices, without any true right to them; or receive them unworthily, under the covering of hypocrisy, and being intermixt with good Christi­ans.

Church Militant and Church Triumphant One Church

XI. I suppose it is a maxim among all Christians, That Jesus Christ hath no more Churches than one, and that this on Earth, together with that in Heaven, make but that one; thus much we learn from the Trent-Catechism it self. A sure method then of discovering the true nature and essence of the Church upon Earth, would be to search into that in Heaven; for it is plain, were these of different natures, they would be no longer one, but two Churches of a several species. Thus much, I think, must be granted, and so likewise must the Conclusion I deduce from it, viz. That either the nature of the Church Triumphant, must exist in a bare profession, or that of the Church Militant cannot.

Is the Church Visible, Invisible, or Both?

The thing then to be examined is, whether the Society of true believers, who only are the Church, be visible or invisible, or whether both in some senses and respects. [Page 23] …

[T]his true Church… hath… a visibility common to it with all other bodies… for the Believers are not Angels, nor invisible Spirits, but in this respect like the rest of mankind…

In this there would not be the least difficulty, had not God’s design, as to his Church, been disturbed by the enemy of our Salvation. For since God calls true Believers only, and since, as we have already shewn, such alone constitute the Church; were it not for what happens from some other thing, there would not be among the outward Professors of Christianity, either Hypocrites, or Hereticks, or Superstitious, or worldly, or profane persons. And thus none but such as are truly the faithful being to be found among them, this outward profession would be a sure means, and an univocal Character to know the true Faith and Regeneration by, and consequently to know the true Church of Jesus Christ as such. So that we need say only thus much, That although the Church were not immediately visible by its inward and essential form, because none can immediately see mens hearts but God only; yet it would be visible by its external form, as by a sure distinguishing Character. For it might be seen by its Ministery and profession of Faith in Christ, and known to such a degree that a man might infallibly and positively say, That is the Church.

But we all know, that is Jesus Christ sowed his good seed in the field of the world,Matt. 13 so to use the expressions in the Parable, the enemy hath likewise sown Tares. That is, that with the true Believers are intermixt vast numbers of men, who […] no more than the appearance and outside of Christianity, and so make the outward profession to be a note subject to mighty uncertainties and equivocation…

So that the Church now, like all other things liable to hypocrisy and dissi­mulation, cannot be truly known without much difficulty. And whereas, according to the nature of the thing, the Churches visibility and invisibility ought to lye here, that its essential and internal form cannot be seen immediately, and of it self, but may by the mediation of its external form; instead of this, they do now consist further, in a discerning between true and false, a distinguishing betwixt that which is real and sincere, and that which is counterfeit.

We must therefore examine, how this distinction is to be made, because in it consists the visibility or invisibility of the true Church.

[Judgment of Charity]

By the Judgment of Charity, we look upon all within the Body to be true Believers, indifferently; For the searching of hearts being not in our power, but peculiar to God, Charity makes no distinctions, but supposes that things are in truth what they should be; and upon this supposition, we call all that society the visible Church, speaking simply, and absolutely.

[Judgment of Reflection]

By the Judgment of Re­flection, having consulted the Rules of Scripture, and the light of Expe­rience, we come to know that there are Tares mixed with the Wheat, and that it is past a doubt, that among these outward Professours, are abundance of hypocritical, superstitious, ambitious, and prophane people. Hence we correct our first notion, and term this Society, a visible mixt Church. Thus in the same external body, we distinguish two different Bodies, one of true Believers, which we look upon as the true Church of Jesus Christ; the other of hypocrites and worldlings, who have only the shadow, and shell of Faith and Regeneration, and consequently do not belong to Jesus Christ’s true Church… [W]e judge of the true visible Church, by that other, termed the notion of Reflection, which excludes hypocrites and worldlings, and confines it self to true Believers only. He supposes without offering any proof for it, that there is no other visible Church, than this whole Body of Professors, and that That of the true Believers is invisible; which we deny…

II. By all I have said concerning the Visibility or Invisibility of the Church, you may know what an unjust accusation they load us with daily, of making the Church utterly invisible, upon pretence that we place it in true Believers only; for if this accusation were true, it would fall not upon us, but upon Scripture, upon the Fathers, and particularly upon St. Augustine, whose Principles we follow intirely. But as St. Paul never thought of making a Church perfectly invisible,2 Tim. 2. 19. though he said, The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his; and let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity; so neither do we pretend to spoil her of her Visibility, when we say the same thing he did. As St. Augustin hath not made her invisible, though he said all that was related out of him; the same thing must be said for us. [Page 51]

The Visible Church All Who Profess Faith?

Was not M. de Condom in the right, to say, there was not actually any visible Church, but that which he defines, A Society making profession to believe the Doctrine of Jesus Christ, and govern it self by his word? And so no other than that which comprehends good and bad, true Believers and Hypocrites? And was it not fair then to make use of this notion in the Controversy? I answer, the true Church consisting of true Believers only, is not indeed visible, by any certain and distinct sight we can have of it, so as to affirm positively and personally, such or such are of the true Church. When we would carry on this distinction to particular men, disguise and hypocrisie put a stop to it, so that in this sence the true Church will always continue invisible, till Jesus Christ come to make a full and perfect separation betwixt his own Corn and the Enemies Tares, which shall not be done till the end of the World. Thus it is not visible, not only immediately by its internal form in mens hearts, but even by these external Characters, as to certain and distinct visibility, because dissimulation and deceit often makes these marks to be doubtful. All this I grant.

But for all this, we may and must say, that the true Church is visible, truly visible, in other senses and respects. For first of all; it cannot be denied that it is visible at least materially, as they say, because the true Believers that appear visibly in publick Assemblies, partake of the same Sacraments, and live in the same external Order: The faithful do not con­ceal themselves, nor decline the Holy Exercises of Religion, but on the contrary frequent them, and shew themselves more than other men, remembring that of St. Paul Heb. 10, 25., Not forsaking the assembling of our selves together. Besides, It is plain, that tho the true Church be mixt with wicked men in the same profession,Matt. 1 […]. yet is it visible in this very mixture, as the wheat is visible, tho in the same field with the tares, and the good fish in the same net with the bad, according to the parables in the Gospel; or as true Friends are vi­sible, tho mixt with dissemblers and flatterers. This mixture indeed hinders us from an exact distinction of persons, but still we may with great certainty distinguish and discern two sorts of persons. We are not sure which particular men are true Believers, and which Hypocrites, but we are sure that there are true Belivers as well as Hypocrites; and this is enough to prove the Church visible, according to the Scriptures, and St. Augustin’s Hypothesis…

To talk of two true Churches even in Christ’s sight, one to which the Promises belong as such, viz. That of True Believers; and another to which they do not belong as such, viz. That, whose essence consists in the external profession; besides that it would be advancing a notion contrary to Scripture and Reason, which inform us but of one true Church; would be to argue to no purpose; for wherefore should we argue about a Church to which the Pro­mises of Jesus Christ have no relation? Why should we invest with such glorious and divine priviledges, a Church to which Christ hath promised nothing at all?…

To say we ought to distinguish between two kinds of Promises, one such as respect inward Sanctification, and Salvation, the other respecting the perpetual Visibility of the Ministry, and its Infallibility in the external profession of the Truth; and that the first sort are peculiar to the Elect and true Believers in the Church, but the other belong to the whole Body of that Society making Profession; … this would be to start a Di­vision of the Promises, which the Scripture divided not, for all made there, are made to one and the same Body, to one and the same Church, without distinction…

That we sometimes form an Idea of the Church, by a Judgment of Charity, so looking upon all external Professors in general to be true Believers, and by this Judgment we in­clude in our Notion abundance of People who really and indeed are not of the Church, and consequently have no title to the Promises of Jesus Christ. But this Notion is rectified by a Judgment of Reflection, Exactness, and Truths formed from the Idea’s which Scripture and right Reason give us of the true Church, restraining it to true Believers only; and that the Promises of Scripture must be applyed to it in this last, true, exact Notion only. Add to this, that this true Church being intermixt with the counterfeit, is not indeed so distinctly visible, that we can say with certainly, this or that particular man is a true Believer; for this is proper to God alone; but that it is however visible, in a sure, though indistinct manner, which will go so far as to affirm, That there are true Believers in such an external Profession: Add further, that this Church thus visible, becomes more or less so, according as Corruptions and Disorders are more or less predominant in their exteriour Society; and that sometimes it is mightily eclipsed, partly through the prevalence of worldly, superstitious, and such like Persons; partly through the infirmities of most true Believers; but still that it never was absolutely invisible: Add once more, that this Church now upon Earth, together with that in Heaven, and that which shall spring up in succeeding Ages, are all three that Universal Church, we profess to believe in our Creed: Add, I say, these three last Propositions to the two foregoing, and so you will comprise all I have advanced hitherto; you will be furnished with certain uncontestable Principles grounded upon Scripture, upon Reason, upon the Fathers, and upon experience; by the help of which you will be able with great ease to throw off all those difficulties usually started by the Romanists upon this Subject.

God’s vs Man’s Perspective

To be a member of the Church, it is required that a man be so, not in the eyes of men only, but of God too, who as the Scripture ex­presses it, trieth the very hearts and reins, and will not be satisfied with a bare outside. [Page iv]

The French Reformed [Gallic] Confession (1559)

We never denied the visible Church upon Earth to be Christ’s Body; not the whole Body indeed, for there is one part of it collected in Heaven, and another not yet in being, but still that part upon Earth is Jesus Christ’s Body, so the Scripture calls it, and we are so far from thinking as he saies, that quite contrary, we prove Hypocrites and Worldlings to be really no part of the true visible Church, by this very Argument, that it is called in Scripture the Body of Jesus Christ. For this reason the visible Church is thus defined in the 27th Article of our Confession of Faith.

[XXVII. Nevertheless we believe that it is important to discern with care and prudence which is the true Church, for this title has been much abused. We say, then, according to the Word of God, that it is the company of the faithful who agree to follow his Word, and the pure religion which it teaches; who advance in it all their lives, growing and becoming more confirmed in the fear of God according as they feel the want of growing and pressing onward. Even although they strive continually, they can have no hope save in the remission of their sins. Nevertheless we do not deny that among the faithful there may be hypocrites and reprobates, but their wickedness can not destroy the title of the Church.]

The company of the Faithful agreeing to follow the Word of God, and that pure Religion grounded thereon, and who constantly make proficiency therein. Now, this Company of the Faithful thus described, is, and is called the Body of Jesus Christ… the visible Church is in our Opinion Jesus Christ’s Body, or which comes all to one, that the Body of Christ, which is the true Church upon Earth, is visible.

Augustine

[O]f all the Fathers, there is not any that treats of this Subject with such exactness and perspicuity, as St. Augustin does; a Man might compile a whole Volume of what he hath written about it. This Father ex­plaining that of St. John, They went out from us, but they were not of us.

They went out from us, (says he) we lament the loss: But hear the comfort, they were not of us. All Hereticks and Schismaticks go out from us; That is, depart from the Church; but were they truly any of outs, they would not have departed. They were not therefore out members even before they went out, and if so, then there are many within, who, tho they have not yet gone out, are Antichrists. [Augustin. Tom. 9. Tractar. 3. in Epist. Jonnis. Edit. Paris. 1531.] …

These Antichrists are in the body of Christ like ill humours, the voiding of which eases the body: Thus when the wicked go out, the Church finds refreshment; and when the body throws them out, she says, these noxious humours are gone out of me, but they were no part of me; that is, they were not cut away from my flesh or substance, but opprest my stomach while they lay there. They are gone from us then, but be not troubled at it, they were not ours. But how do you prove this? 1 Joh. 2. 19. St. John says, If they had been of us, they would have continued with us. So that you see, many people receive the Sacraments with us, which yet are not any part of us; They have Baptism administred to them, they receive that benediction which the faithful are sensible they receive truly and effectually, the Eucharist, and whatever is in the Sacraments. They communicate of the same Altar with us, and yet are no parts of us. Temptation discovers them to be none. When that arises they are carried away, as with a strong wind, because they are not the true solid Corn. Nothing can be more express. Evil men, tho within the pale of the Church; That is, making an outward profession, yet are not of his Body, nor ought to be reckoned among his Members. These are distempered humours within the Body, but not at all of the substance of the Body, such as do but annoy the Body, and must be evacuated in order to give its relief.

So that St. Augustine’s sense of the Church was, That it consisted only of Righteous persons, and true Believers, and that inward vertues were essential to it, and ought to make a part of its definition…

Observe again what he delivers in his Treatise of Baptism, against the Donatists. Aug. de Bapt. contra Donar. Lib. 1. Cap. 17.

Whether evil men be seemingly within the Church, or evidently out of it, still that which is flesh is flesh. Whether the barren Chaff continue in the floor, or be scattered by the blast of temptation, it is still but Chaff. Carnal and obdurate persons, tho they mix with the Saints in the same Assemblies, are still separated from the Unity of that Church which is without spot or wrinkle…

And in another place of the same Treatise Aug. de Bapt. contra Donatist. Lib. 3. Cap. 19.

Such as oppose brotherly love, whether they are plainly without, or whether seemingly within, are divided from that invisible Assembly which Charity knits together. Therefore St. John says, 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. He does not say they alienated themselves by going out, but that they were aliens, and that this was the reason why they went out. Thus far this Father does not dissemble his opinion; He will by no means own any but the Saints to be Members of the Church, he totally excludes wicked men and hypocrites; he uses no such nice distinctions between dead and living members, as our modern Controvertists do; in the contrary, he explains what he said, That wicked men were in the Church, by saying, that they seem to be in it; but they only seem to be so, for in very deed they are more foreigners, and such as the Church does not acknowledg for hers…

This Holy Doctor thought it not enough to allow wicked men and hypocrites no place in his notion of the Church, and to make it up of just men only, but he does besides shew wherein the very essential form, that Unity which constitutes a Church, does consist; to wit, not in any thing external, but in the internal graces. In the Circumcision of the heart, and the Glory within: He goes farther still, and makes the Church to consist of the predestinated only, The number, says he, of God’s Elect, are his inclosed Garden, and sealed Fountain, that is, the Church of Christ. How shall we reconcile this Doctrine with M. de Condom,’s who distinguishes between the Church of Christ, and the predestinate, as between a whole and it’s part; who counts the reprobates in too, and blames us for retraining the Church to the number of God’s Elect alone?…

But if St. Augustin be to be believed, we must take the Church in a quite different sense; for a Society made up of none but righteous persons, and true Believers; because to such a one, and no other, do these passages belong. In his Opinion the just alone are the House built upon a Rock, the Spouse without spot or wrinkle, they only have the keys and power of binding and loosing, ’tis their censures only that men ought not to despise, if they would not be looked upon as Heathens and Publicans.

The Wheat and the Tares

[T]he Ministry and the use of it is common both to good and bad, comes to pass only by accident, and from the treachery of the Enemy. Of right it belongs to true Believers only, and its genuine design was for them. Jesus Christ gave it for the assembling of the Saints, and instituted it to increase and cultivate his good Corn. If the Tares use it, or to speak more truly, abuse it, this is contrary to his intention. For his hand never sowed these, but the enemy’s, who rose by night for that purpose. It is sure then that the Ministry of it self does not make up a Church composed of good and bad men, because such only as it was intended to gather, are to be reckoned of his visi­ble Church. Now the Ministry is designed to gather the true Believers, and truly Righteous, not the worldlings and hypocrites in the least. If they thrust themselves into the Assemblies, it is not the Ministry that calls them, but the spirit of the world that sends them thither. An invincible argu­ment that there is no other visible Church, but what consists of true Believers, because they are the only persons call’d to Religious Assemblies; and it is not Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ’s enemy that thrusts others into them…

If you still desire an Argument of more strength, remember that the visi­bility attributed to the Church in Scripture, cannot possibly be any other than that we assign it. For as on the one hand we are taught there, that the true Church consists of true Believers only; so do we learn there also, that true Believers are mixt with wicked men and hypocrites: It is there we find the similitudes, of Chaff amongst the good Corn, of bad Fishes jumbled together with the good, of Tares sown among the good Wheat. Now whatever we deliver concerning the Churches visibility and invisibility, is grounded entirely upon these two principles…

III. Hence likewise you may perceive, how unjustly they put that question to us, Where our Church was before the Reformation? For if the Church consist of true Believers alone, as we have shown, ours was then just where it is now, i. e. in the common Field, where Jesus Christ hath sown his Wheat, and the Enemy by Night his Tares… The Field is the World (as Christ says) the good Corn are true Believers, the Tares are the Children of this World. Before the Reformation, the true Believers were mixt with the rest in the same exteriour Profession, as they are still

The Church a Civil Society?

The ground then of all this mistake is, that upon pretence of the Churches being a Society, they immediately suffer themselves to be possest at first with an Opinion, That we are to judg of it almost in the same manner, that we do of a Civil Society; and so never give themselves the trouble of enquiring into the differences by which these two are distinguisht from one another. Hence they have fancied, that the Essence of the Church consists intirely in something External; and that as a man need do no more to become a true Member of a Civil Society, than only live in an outward observance of the Laws; so to become a true Member of the Church, no more was required, than barely an outward Profession of the Faith and Religion; and that there was no necessity at all of any inward Virtues, such as Faith, Hope, and Charity. [Page ii]

[W]hat greater vanity can there by, than to go about to form an Idea of the Church, after the pattern of a Civil Society? [Page iv]

I repeat it therefore once again, That there is not in the World a greater falsity, nor a more sophistical imposture, than the framing such a notion of the Church, after the model of Civil Societies. [Page v]

[W]hen we discourse of a thing that is the work and contri­vance of God, and must bear some proportion to the excellency of its Author, we must affirm that Faith, Hope and Charity, and in one word, all the parts of true Regeneration are essential to it; and that this consists of the Faithful and Elect only, excluding thence the Hypocrites and Repro­bate. We must not afterwards fancy the Church so be a body or company of men, visible at the same rate that Kingdoms and Commonwealths are; Li […]an, so as to distinguish plainly, and without danger of mistake, the very persons whereof it is composed. [Page v]

National Israel the Church?

I acknowledg the word Church when used in a Civil sense, as for instance when spoken of the people of Israel, does most properly signifie an external and visible company, and so far I am of M. de Condom’s mind, both as to what he urges out of the Acts, and from the Septuagint Translation. But still I assert, that this word when applied to a Christian Society, does not properly denote a visible Congregation, or an outward profession of the Faith, and no more; but chiefly an inward calling, a spiritual communion, and such as that outward is only a conse­quence of, and does depend upon. [Page 6]

Would God separate to himself a new people, a new Israel, a new Nation, from all other Nations, and require from it no more than an outward profession, which alone works no regeneration at all? To shew that God himself never intended this, observe how himself speaks,Jer. 31. 32. This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, After those days (saith the Lord) I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people. We must take notice, that all these names above mentioned, are derived from the old figures of the Mosaical dispensation; this the very reading of them plainly testifies. Now this very thing makes directly against M. de Condom’s definition: For as it is essential to a figure, to consist of something External and Corporeal, so is it equally essential to the thing figured, to consist of something Internal and Spiritual. The Church therefore is no longer a Jerusalem, an Israel, a people linked together by outward bands only; this would correspond well enough with the figures of the old Law; but it is a people, an Israel, a Jerusalem, united and compacted by the inward hands of the same Faith, and the same Sanctification. This very term [the Church] is of it self sufficient to confirm this truth; M. de Condom acknowledges the Christians had it from the Jews, Conf. p. 5. which is true. He says the Jews made use of it to signify the visible Society of God’s people, the Assembly which makes profession to serve him. I agree with him in that too. He adds, That the Christians have kept it in the same sense. I am not of that opinion. This word, when applied to the figure, can signify no more than a visible outward Assembly; but when to the thing figured, it must of necessity imply something more, it must denote an inward community, a company, not of Bodies only, but Souls too; Rom. 10. 10. for it is not enough that a confession be made with the mouth, men must also believe with the heart unto Righteousness. [Page 11] …

[I]t may be said, These Prophets [Isaiah, etc] never proceeded so far as a positive Separation, and you [Reformers] have. I answer, The Reason they never separated positively, was pecu­liar to themselves, as M. de Condom himself acknowledges, to wit, that over and above the real and spiritual Covenant [Covenant of Grace], God had entred into with such as were true Believers among that People; there was besides another Exterior and Temporal one, in which the whole Nation were concern’d, founded upon their being the Blood and Progeny of Abraham, and all bearing about them the Mark of this Covenant (to wit, Circumcision) in their Flesh; so that the true Believers were obliged upon this account to continue in Communion with the People, and could not separate from them positively, by reason of that common Covenant which they might not break. But the case is otherwise with the Christian Church, which hath but one Covenant with God, and that a real and spiritual one, of true Faith, and sincere Regeneration; when, therefore we can no longer maintain this Covenant, by living amongst a People, and under a Ministry which is become contrary thereto, there lies a necessity upon us of separating by a positive Separation…

I confess, That carnal Generation was in that Ancient People, enough to keep up their Succession in Quality of Gods People, with Relation to that temporal Covenant common to them all. Tho it be true too, that this Quality was but very imperfectly discerned in times of general Prevarications; because, if they were then Gods temporal People, they were a vicious and prevaricating People. But, I say, that carnal Generation was not enough to maintain among them a Succession, with respect to the spiritual Covenant; because the Succession here, could be preserved no other way, but by a Participation of the same Faith, and the same Charity. Now the Covenant in which the new People live, is not any longer a carnal one, but purely and solely Spiritual; and consequently, the Succession in it, can only consist in this perpetual Participation of one and the same Faith, and one and the same Charity.

For further reading:

Horton’s Retroactive New Covenant

December 22, 2018 4 comments

H/T Nathan White.

There are clear passages indicating that ‘the forgiveness of sins’ is unique to the New Covenant (“remember their sins no more”; Jer 31:34). This is not because OT saints were under God’s wrath but because God overlooked their sins; he covered them over through the sacrificial system. This I take to be Paul’s point in Romans 3:25 (ESV), referring to Christ “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” They were forgiven truly but only by anticipation and were not yet propitiated in history. The old covenant was successful only to the extent that it directed faith and hope toward Christ, but it could not in itself bring this reality into history. These sacrifices could never “take away sins” once and for all. They had to be offered repeatedly, reminding the worshiper’s conscience of transgressions (Heb 10:1-4). “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (vv. 12-14). From there, the writer quotes Jeremiah 31:33, which I have cited above, linking forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.

If this is accurate, then Old Testament believers were forgiven and justified through faith in the one to whom the sacrifices pointed (continuity); however, the sacrifices could not themselves provide this experiential assurance to the conscience (discontinuity). On the contrary, the Mosaic covenant by itself could only keep the covenant people under supervision until they reached their maturity and could inherit the estate by promise (Gal 3:24-25). Kuyper seems to confirm this conclusion. He argued that the energies of the Spirit at Pentecost worked retroactively in the lives of OT saints.

-Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, p152ff.

Jesus on “All Shall Know Me” (John 6:45; Is 54:13)

August 8, 2017 3 comments

John 6:35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

41 The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” 42 And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

43 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.

Note Jesus’ emphasis on “all.” All that are elected will come to Christ and all of them shall be raised on the last day. To prove this he quotes Isaiah 54:13 “And they shall all be taught by God.” He says this prophecy refers to election, the effectual call, and regeneration – and thus also perseverance. 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.”

Isaiah 53 describes the suffering messiah. 54 describes the covenant of peace he brings.

9 “For this is like the waters of Noah to Me;
For as I have sworn
That the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth,
So have I sworn
That I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you.
10 For the mountains shall depart
And the hills be removed,
But My kindness shall not depart from you,
Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,”
Says the Lord, who has mercy on you.
11 “O you afflicted one,
Tossed with tempest, and not comforted,
Behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems,
And lay your foundations with sapphires.
12 I will make your pinnacles of rubies,
Your gates of crystal,
And all your walls of precious stones.
13 All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
And great shall be the peace of your children.

What is the cross reference for v13? Jeremiah’s teaching on the New Covenant (31:33-34; cf Hebrews 8:10-11). “No longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,‘” for they shall all know me,” from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. Jeremiah and Isaiah were prophesying about the same thing. On 6:45 Calvin says “this teaching of God is the inward illumination of the heart.”

Therefore, according to Jesus, the New Covenant of Peace is made with the elect, chosen and called by the Father and given to Christ as mediator of the New Covenant to intercede, preserve, and raise on the last day. “They shall all know me” refers to the elect and it is fulfilled in the present.

Is 54:13. Quoted by the Saviour (Joh 6:45), to prove that in order to come to Him, men must be “drawn” by the Father. So Jer 31:34; Mic 4:2; 1Co 2:10; Heb 8:10; 10:16; 1Jo 2:20. Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

Verse 13. – All thy children shall be taught of the Lord (comp. Isaiah 44:3; Jeremiah 31:33, 34; Ezekiel 11:19; Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17, 18, etc.). Christians are all of them “taught of God” (John 6:45 1 Thessalonians 4:9). The “anointing,” which they have from the Holy Ghost, “teaches them, and is truth, and is no lie” (1 John 2:27), and causes them to “know all things” (1 John 2:20). Pulpit Commentary

Owen on Hebrews 8:11 explains

The knowledge of the LORD may be here taken, not objectively and doctrinally, but subjectively, for the renovation of the mind in the saving knowledge of God…

The instructive ministry of the old testament, as it was such only, and with respect unto the carnal rites thereof, was a ministry of the letter, and not of the Spirit, which did not really effect in the hearts of men the things which it taught. —The spiritual benefit which was obtained under it proceeded from the promise, and not from the efficacy of the law, or the covenant made at Sinai. For as such, as it was legal and carnal, and had respect only unto outward things, it is here laid aside…

The proposition is universal, as to the modification of the subject, “all;”
but in the word aujtw~n, “of them,” it is restrained unto those alone with whom this covenant is made…

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

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

Augustine likewise recognizes that it refers to the elect.

What then is the import of the “All, from the least unto the greatest of them,” but all that belong spiritually to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah,—that is, to the children of Isaac, to the seed of Abraham? For such is the promise, wherein it was said to him, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called; for they which are the children of the flesh are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed…” (Rom 9:7-12) This is the house of Israel, or rather the house of Judah, on account of Christ, who came of the tribe of Judah. This is the house of the children of promise,—not by reason of their own merits, but of the kindness of God. For God promises what He Himself performs: He does not Himself promise, and another perform; which would no longer be promising, but prophesying. Hence it is “not of works, but of Him that calleth,” (Rom 9:11) lest the result should be their own, not God’s; lest the reward should be ascribed not to His grace, but to their due; and so grace should be no longer grace which was so earnestly defended and maintained by him who, though the least of the apostles, laboured more abundantly than all the rest,—yet not himself, but the graceof God that was with him. (1 Cor 15:9-10)

“They shall all know me,” (Jer 31:34) He says,—“All,” the house of Israel and house of Judah. “All,” however, “are not Israel which are of Israel,” (Rom 9:6) but they only to whom it is said in “the psalm concerning the morning aid” (Ps 22) (that is, concerning the new refreshing light, meaning that of the new testament [covenant]), “All ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel.” (Ps 22:23) All the seed, without exception, even the entire seed of the promise and of the called, but only of those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28) “For whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” (Rom 8:30) “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed: not to that only which is of the law,”—that is, which comes from the Old Testament into the New,—“but to that also which is of faith,” which was indeed prior to the law, even “the faith of Abraham,”—meaning those who imitate the faith of Abraham,—“who is the father of us all; as it is written, I have made thee the father of many nations.” (Rom 4:16-17) Now all these predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones, shall know God by the grace of the new testament [covenant], from the least to the greatest of them.

Samuel Renihan on New Covenant Union

July 4, 2017 5 comments

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

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

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

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

17 Cf. WLC 57-59.

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

19 Cf. WLC 65-69.

[…]

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

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

See also:

Keach on Union with Christ

June 19, 2017 10 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

See also

Coxe on New Covenant Union with Christ

May 8, 2017 5 comments

[T]he covenant of grace is established in Christ as its head. All its promises were first given to him and in him they are all yes and amen. It is by union to him that believers obtain a new covenant interest and from him they derive a new life, grace, and strength to answer the ends of the new covenant. (40)

[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)

Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ

Charles Simeon on the New Covenant

April 18, 2017 Leave a comment

CharlesSimeon.jpgKyle Kraeft recently sent me Charles Simeon’s commentary on Jeremiah 31. Simeon (1759–1836), an Anglican, was a leader among evangelical churchmen, and was one of the founders of the Church Missionary Society in 1799. This peaked my interest because Thomas Scott (whose commentary notes on the New and Old Covenants I previously highlighted) was also a founder of the Church Missionary Society. I would love to find out if this had become the prevailing view among that circle.


 

Verses 31-34

DISCOURSE: 1074

THE NEW COVENANT

Jeremiah 31:31-34. Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the Home of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; (which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:) but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

THOUGH there is among us a general idea that Christianity is founded on the Jewish religion, yet the specific difference between them is very little understood. It would be well for us to have clear views of this subject: for unless we know the comparative excellency of the new covenant above that which it superseded, we can never justly appreciate the great advantages we enjoy. In the passage before us, the Mosaic and Christian covenants are contrasted; and the abolition of the one, and the establishment of the other, are foretold. But before we enter on the comparison between the two, it will be necessary to observe, that there are, properly speaking, only two great covenants; under the one or other of which all the world are living: the one is the Adamic covenant, which was made with Adam in Paradise, and which is entirely a covenant of works; the other is the Christian covenant, which, though made with Christ, and ratified by his blood upon the cross, was more or less clearly revealed from the beginning of the world. It was first announced in that promise, “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” It was afterwards more plainly opened to Abraham, and afterwards still more fully to Moses. The Mosaic covenant, properly speaking, was distinct from both of these: it was not altogether a covenant of works, or a covenant of grace; but it partook of the nature of both. As containing the moral law, it was a re-publication of the covenant of works: and as containing the ceremonial law, it was a dark and shadowy representation of the covenant of grace. It was a mixed covenant, designed for one particular nation; and given to them, in order to introduce the covenant under which we live. Of that the prophet says, that it should in due time be superseded by a new and better covenant; and the Apostle, quoting this whole passage, says, that “it had then waxed old, and was vanishing away [Note: Hebrews 8:8-13.].”

In order to give a clear view of this subject, we shall state,

I. The blessings of the new covenant—

These being specified by the prophet, and copied exactly by the Apostle, we shall adhere strictly to them, without attempting to reduce them to any other order than that which is here observed. In the new covenant then, God undertakes,

1. To write his law in our hearts—

[This is a work which none but God can effect. The kings were commanded to write a copy of their law, each one for himself: but, though they might write it on parchment, they could not inscribe it on their own hearts. This however God engages to do for all who embrace the new covenant. He will make all the laws which he has revealed, agreeable to us: he will discover to us the excellency of them; and “cause us to delight in them after our inward man.” He will make us to see, that the moral “law is holy and just and good,” even while it condemns us for our disobedience to its commands; and that “the law of faith” also (that is, the Gospel) is a marvellous exhibition of God’s mercy and grace, and exactly suited to the necessities of our souls. He will engage our wills to submit to his; and dispose our souls to put forth all their energies in obedience to his commands. This he has repeatedly promised [Note: Ezekiel 36:26-27.];” and this he will fulfil to all who trust in him.]

2. To establish a relation between himself and us—

[By nature we are enemies to him, and he to us. But on our embracing of this covenant, he will “give himself to us as our God, and take us for his people.” In being our God, he will exercise all his perfections for our good; his wisdom to guide us, his power to protect us, his love and mercy to make us happy, his truth and faithfulness to preserve us to the end. In taking us for his people, he will incline us to employ all our faculties in his service. Our time, our wealth, our influence, yea, all the members of our bodies, and all the powers of our souls, will be used as his, for the accomplishment of his will, and the promotion of his glory. We may see this illustrated in the life of the Apostle Paul. God took as much care of him, as if there had been no other creature in the universe; and he devoted himself to God, as much as if his faculties had not been capable of any other use or application. The effects of this relation are not indeed equally visible in all the Lord’s people: but the difference is in the degree only, and not in the substance and reality.]

3. To give us the knowledge of himself—

[There is a knowledge of God which cannot be attained by human teaching; a spiritual experimental knowledge, a knowledge accompanied with suitable dispositions and affections. But this God will give to those who lay hold on his covenant: “He will reveal himself to them, as he does not unto the world.” He will “put them into the cleft of the rock, and make all his glory to pass before their eyes;” and proclaim to them his name, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious [Note: Exodus 33:18-23; Exodus 34:5-7.], &c. He has promised, that “all his people shall be taught of him [Note: Isaiah 54:13. John 6:45.],” “the least as well as the greatest,” yea, the least often in preference to the greatest [Note: Matthew 11:25. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.]. And in proof that this promise is really fulfilled to all who receive the Gospel, St. John declares it to be a known acknowledged fact: “we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding to know him that is true [Note: 1 John 5:20.].”]

4. To pardon all our iniquities—

[Under this new covenant, we have access to “the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness;” and by washing in it “we are cleansed from all sin [Note: 1 John 1:7.].” Whatever transgressions we may have committed in our unregenerate state, they are all put away; “though they may have been as scarlet, they have become white as snow; though they have been red like crimson, they are as wool” — — —]

Hitherto we have spoken only in a general way of the blessings of the new covenant: we proceed to notice them more particularly, while we state,

II. The difference between the old and new covenants—

We have already observed, that by “the old covenant” is meant the Mosaic covenant, made with the Jews on Mount Sinai. Between this and the Gospel covenant there is a wide difference. They differ,

1. In the freeness of their grants—

[The Mosaic covenant imposed certain conditions to be fulfilled on the part of the Jews; and on their fidelity to their engagements all the blessings of that covenant were suspended [Note: Exodus 24:6-8.]. But we find no condition specified in the new covenant. Must we attain the knowledge of God, and become his people; and have his law written in our hearts? true: but these are not acts of ours, which God requires in order to the bestowing of other blessings upon us; but blessings which he himself undertakes to give. if any say, that repentance and faith are conditions which we are to perform, we will not dispute about a term; you may call them conditions, if you please; but that which we affirm respecting them is, that they constitute a part of God’s free grant in the Gospel covenant; so that they are not conditions, in the same sense that the obedience of the Jews was the condition upon which they held the promised land: they are, as we have just said, blessings freely given us by God; and not acts of ours, whereon to found our claim to other blessings.

It is worthy of observation, that the Apostle, mentioning this grant of the new covenant, particularly specifies, that God, “finding fault with” the Jews for their violations of the old covenant, says, “I will make a new covenant [Note: Hebrews 8:8.].” Had he said, “Commending them for their observation of the inferior covenant, God said, I will give you a better covenant,” we might have supposed, that it was given as a reward for services performed: but when it was given in consequence of the hopeless state to which their violations of the former covenant had reduced them, the freeness of this covenant appears in the strongest light.]

2. In the extent of their provisions—

[We shall again notice the different blessings as they lie in our text. God wrote his law upon tables of stone, and put it into the hands of those with whom his old covenant was made: but, according to his new covenant, he undertakes to put it into our inward parts, and to write it on our hearts. What a glorious difference is this! and how beautifully and exultingly does the Apostle point it out to his Corinthian converts [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:3.]!

God established indeed a relation between himself and his people of old: but this relation, though nominally the same with ours, was by no means realized to the same extent. To true believers amongst them he was the same that he now is: but what was he to the people at large, with whom the covenant was made? He interposed for them doubtless, on many occasions, in an external way; and they externally acknowledged him: but his Communications to us are internal, and our devotion to him is real and spiritual.

Under the old covenant, God revealed himself to his people in types and shadows; and the ceremonies which he appointed were so dark and various, that they could not be known to the generality, unless the people carefully instructed each other. On this account it was commanded that the children should inquire into the reason of various institutions (as that of the passover, and the feast of unleavened bread, and the redemption of the first-born); and their parents were to explain them [Note: Exodus 12:26-27; Exodus 13:8; Exodus 13:14-15.]. But with us, there are only two institutions, and those the plainest that can be imagined; and the great truths of our religion are so interwoven with our feelings, that a person whose desires are after God, needs no other teaching than that of God’s word and Spirit; and though the instructions of ministers, of masters, and of parents, are still extremely useful, yet may a person obtain the knowledge of God and of salvation without being indebted to any one of them: and it is a fact, that many persons remote from ordinances, and from instruction of every kind, except the blessed book of God, are often so richly taught by the Spirit of God, as to put to shame those who enjoy the greatest external advantages [Note: See 1 John 2:27. where the Apostle manifestly refers to the expressions in our text.].

The forgiveness of sins which was vouchsafed under the old covenant, was not such as to bring peace into the conscience of the offender: (“the sacrifices which he offered, could not make him perfect as pertaining to the conscience [Note: Hebrews 9:9.]:”) nor indeed were any means appointed for the obtaining of pardon for some particular offences: but under the new covenant, “all who believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses [Note: Acts 13:39.]” and, “being justified by faith, they have peace with God [Note: Romans 5:1.],” “a peace that passeth understanding,” “a joy unspeakable and glorified.”

How glorious does the new covenant appear in this contrasted view! and what reason have we to adore our God for the rich provisions contained in it!]

3. In the duration of their benefits—

[The annual repetition of the same sacrifices under the old covenant was intended to intimate to the people, that their pardon was not final: had their guilt been perfectly removed by them, the Apostle observes very justly, that “they would then have ceased to be offered; because the worshippers would have had no more conscience of sins:” but, inasmuch as the sacrifices were annually renewed, they were, in fact, no more than “a remembrance of sins made every year [Note: Hebrews 10:1-3.].” But under the new covenant God engages to “remember our sins and iniquities no more:” they are not only forgiven by him, but forgotten; not only cancelled, but “blotted out as a morning cloud [Note: Isaiah 44:22.]” not only removed from before his face, but “cast behind his back into the depths of the sea [Note: Micah 7:19.].” His former people he put away, “though he was an husband unto them:” but to us his “gifts and callings are without repentance [Note: Romans 11:29.].” This is particularly marked by the prophet, in the verses following our text [Note: ver. 35–37.]; and by an inspired Apostle, in his comment on the very words we are considering. He is shewing the superiority of Christ’s priesthood to that appointed under the law: and he confirms his position from this circumstance; that the sacrifices offered by the Levitical priests could never take away sin, and therefore were continually repeated; whereas Christ’s sacrifice, once offered, would for ever take away sin, and “perfect for ever all them that are sanctified.” He then adduces the very words of our text; and says, that, in these words, “the Holy Ghost is a witness to us;” for that, in promising first, that “the law should be written in our hearts,” and then, that “our sins and iniquities should be remembered no more,” he had attested fully the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice, and given ample assurance, that those who relied upon it should never have their sins imputed to them [Note: Hebrews 10:11-18.].

It is needless to multiply words any further upon this subject; for the old covenant, with all its benefits, was to continue only for a limited period; whereas the new covenant is to continue to the end of the world; and its benefits to the remotest ages of eternity.]

Infer—

1. The folly of making self-righteous covenants of our own—

[Why did God give us another covenant, but because the former was inadequate to our necessities? Shall we then be recurring to the old covenant, or forming new ones of our own upon the same principle? Take your own covenants, and examine them, and see what grounds of hope they afford you. We will give you have to dictate your own terms: say, if you please, “You are to repent and amend your lives: and on those conditions God shall give you eternal life:” Can you repent, can you amend your lives, by any power of your own? Have you agreed with God what shall be the precise measure of your repentance and amendment? Have you attained the measure which you yourselves think to be necessary, so that you can say, My conscience witnesses for me, that I am fully prepared to meet my God? If not, see to what a state you reduce yourselves: you need none other to condemn you: for God may say, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee.” O be not thus infatuated: cast not away the Lord’s covenant for such delusive projects of your own: but, instead of depending on your own weak endeavours, go and lay hold on that better covenant, which provides every thing for you, as the free gift of God in Christ Jesus.]

2. The blessedness of those who obey the Gospel—

[You have “a covenant which is ordered in all things, and sure [Note: 2 Samuel 23:5.]:” and you have a Mediator, who, having purchased for you all the blessings of this covenant, will infallibly secure them to you by his efficacious grace, and all-prevailing intercession. Place then your confidence in him. Employ him daily (if I may so speak) to maintain your interest in it; and give him the glory of every blessing you receive. Your enjoyment of its benefits must be progressive, as long as you continue in the word — — — Let your desires after them be more and more enlarged: and in due time you shall enjoy them in all their fulness. It is in heaven alone that you will fully possess them: but there you shall perfectly comprehend the meaning of that promise, “Ye shall be my people, and I will be your God [Note: Revelation 21:3.].”]