I am thankful for their interest in the topic and for the precision they bring to the discussion. I previously responded to #655 and #693, but I decided to ask Dr. Sam Renihan and Dr. Richard Barcellos to respond to #736 (I previously responded in a written post here). Our discussion is available on YouTube and as an mp3 file – both in the full (2 hour) and abridged (1 hour) versions. Some supplemental material and links to resources are at the end of this post.
Thomas Goodwin on Old Covenant condition as outward obedience, contra the condition of the Covenant of Works as perfect, perpetual, entire obedience (contrary to the OPC Report on Republication’s claim that the subservient covenant view saw the condition of the Old Covenant as the same as that of the Covenant of Works)
The Sacrifices, Sacraments, and Ceremonies of the Ancients had their carnal use, over and besides the spiritual signification… So Circumcision, primarily, did separate between the seed of Abraham and the rest of the Nations; it did seal unto them the earthly promise: secondarily, it did signify out sanctification. In like manner the Passover, primarily, the passing over of the destroying Angel; secondarily, Christ: so also the sacrifices, and the cleansings, they represented, primarily, a certain carnal holiness: secondarily, they figured out Christ, and the benefits of the New Covenant.
Cameron, Three-fold Covenant of God, 399-400.
There Goodwin asserts that the Mosaic covenant “was Fœdus Subserviens to the Gospel, (as Learned Cameron calls it)” and “was truly the promulgation of the covenant of nature made with Adam.”
Goodwin, Works, V:330.
Following Cameron’s two-tiered typology, Goodwin called the Mosaic covenant an “outward covenant with the Jews” whose ordinances “besides their spiritual use in typifying things Heavenly to Spiritual Believers then, they had an outward carnal use to the whole Nation.” The forgiveness provided by the sacrificial system was “a Forgiveness of reprieval, not to be destroyed for their sin…and so had a Sanctification and a Justification which were not really such, that is, not of the heart and conscience.”
Goodwin, Works, V:331-332. Emphasis original.
Quest. But how are those sacrifices said to make an Atonement for the people, or to Expiate them? for so the Hebrew word is there most properly rendered, importing a freeing and delivering one from the Guilt and punishment of sin. Now how are those sacrifices said to have done this?
A. For answer to this, we must take notice that in those sins committed under the Law there was a twofold guilt; A Ceremonial and a Moral guilt; or an External and an Eternal guilt. An External or Temporal guilt, a guilt before men, binding the offenders over unto temporal punishment. An Eternal or Spiritual guilt before God, binding them over unto Eternal condemnation. Now as for the former of these, that External or Ceremonial guilt, that was expiated and taken away by performing that which was legally required in the way of a Ceremonial satisfaction. Hereby the people offending was acquitted before men, in foro Externo, and freed from Temporal guilt and punishment, by virtue of that Sacrifice, or rather God’s Ordinance and Institution concerning it. But for the latter, that Eternal and Moral guilt, that was expiated and taken away by those Sacrifices only Typically and Sacramentally: viz. as they represented and shadowed out the true Expiatory Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And thus are those Sacrifices said to have Expiated the people. It is a Sacramental phrase and manner of speech, wherein that which is the proper effect of the thing signified, is attributed to the sign. Even as the Sacramental water in Baptism is said to wash away sins, Act. 22.16. Thus did the blood of these Sacrifices expiate the sins of the people, by representing the Expiation of Christ, that Satisfaction whereby his people are freed from eternal guilt.
John Brinsley, MESITHS, Or, The One and Onely Mediatour Betwixt God and Men, the Man Christ Jesus (London: Thomas Maxey, 1651), 101-102.
As for those Sacrifices, they extended only to a Ceremonial and Temporal Expiation; and that only of some sins. But the Sacrifice of Christ extends to a real, Eternal Expiation; and that of all sins. So Paul delivers it in his Sermon at Antioch, Act. 13.39. By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses. By the Law of Moses, by those Legal Sacrifices therein prescribed, none could be justified before God for any sins. So much we may learn from this our Apostle, Heb. 10.1. The law can never by those sacrifices, which they offered year by year, make the comers thereunto perfect. That is, as touching the Conscience, as the same pen expounds it, chap. 9.9. They could not in and by themselves, as separated from their spiritual significations, sanctify or purify the Conscience; they being Corporal, and that Spiritual. Neither could they give an absolution in foro conscientiae, they could not give any assurance to the Conscience that sin was pardoned, and reconciliation obtained with God. In reference hereunto the Apostle tells us ver. 4. of that 10th chapter, that It is not possible that the blood of Bulls and of Goats should take away sin: Take away the Eternal guilt of it. And as for the External and Temporal, it extended (as I said) only to some kinds of sin.
Brinsley, MESITHS, 102-103.
All the Levitical Services and Ordinances were in themselves carnal, and had carnal ends assigned unto them, and had only an obscure representation of things spiritual and eternal.
Owen, A Continuation of the Exposition, 375.
There were some lines and shadows, to represent the body, but the body itself was not there. There was something above them and beyond them, which they reached not unto.
Owen, A Continuation of the Exposition, 204.
We do indeed acknowledge the subserviency of the law to Christ, and the covenant of grace…But it does not therefore follow, that the law is a covenant of gospel-grace…The law is not the gospel, nor the gospel the law. And therefore though the one of them is plainly subservient to the other, yet they ought not to be mixed, blended, or confounded the one with the other, as if they were but one and the same covenant, and no difference to be made between them; only in respect of the different degrees of the discovery of gospel grace, as has been suggested… A subserviency in any thing to promote the ends of something else, does not make it to be the thing itself; the ends whereof are promoted thereby.
Philip Cary, A Solemn Call Unto all that would be owned as Christ’s Faithful Witnesses, speedily, and seriously, to attend unto the Primitive Purity of the Gospel Doctrine and Worship: Or, a Discourse concerning Baptism (London: John Harris, 1690), 167.
I appreciate Reformed Forum’s precision in their episodes, including this one. I also appreciate Wynne’s attitude and that he has clearly read at least one book from Renihan, and has carefully considered Owen, not assuming Owen agrees with him and the WCF. Here are some thoughts I have (as usual, please forgive the length; it’s necessary).
Regeneration is New
Initially, I was thankful Wynne recognized that the comparison between the Old and New Covenants in Jer. 31/Heb. 8 is not exclusively about a difference in ceremonies. Rather, what is new in the New Covenant is regeneration, reconciliation, and the satisfaction of sin.
[W]hat exactly is new?…The Lord lists a number of promises… Number two, regeneration. Whereas the Old Covenant law was written on tablets of stone, God promises that he’s going to write his law on the hearts of his people. Calvin says this. He says the New Covenant penetrates into the heart and reforms all the inward faculties so that obedience is rendered to the righteousness of God.
I interpreted that to mean regeneration was a new promise in the New Covenant, something not promised in the Old Covenant. This was further re-enforced when Wynne said
[W]e have to recognize that…many of these blessings were present for the believing people in the Old Testament. And this, I think, is the point at which things get a little more complicated because we can’t act as though all of these New Covenant blessings were wholly absent from the people of God prior to the coming of Christ.
Thus I understood Wynne to be asking how regeneration, a blessing unique to the New Covenant, was received by Old Testament saints. I therefore prepared a reply explaining why the Old and the New Covenant would therefore be different in substance (since regeneration is not an accident/non-essential part of the covenant of grace). However, I asked Wynne to review my reply and he said I had misunderstood him. He does not believe that regeneration is unique to the New Covenant. Regeneration was also a promised blessing of the Old Covenant.
Wynne clarified that what is new about the New Covenant is that redemption has now been accomplished by Christ. Thus regeneration, an ordo salutis blessing of both the Old and the New Covenants, has now been secured in the historia salutis work of Christ. Thus Wynne concluded in the podcast:
We’ve already said that through sacramental forms of the Old Testament, these New Covenant blessings were revealed and communicated to the faith of the Old Testament Jew. So what’s going on here [in Jeremiah 31]? I remember catching Dr. Gaffin after a worship service very quickly asking him about this text, and he’s just like over his shoulder. He goes, “It’s a lot to say here, but I think Jeremiah is articulating ahistoriatransition inordoterms.” And I walked away and was like, that is so helpful. What God is describing here is a redemptive historical transition promising the arrival of the one who would secure all of these blessings. The unprecedented securing in time and space through the blood of Christ of all of these blessings. But he’s describing it in terms of the blessings themselves. Blessings that were applied prior to the coming of Christ, blessings that are applied after the coming of Christ but blessings that are secured by the once for all coming of Christ.
Gaffin made the same comment on episode 223. I understand and affirm the distinction between historia salutis and ordo salutis, but “articulating a historia transition in ordo terms” doesn’t make sense to me. Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews were perfectly capable of articulating a historia transition in historia terms. They could have said that the blessings common to the Old and New Covenant would finally be secured by the Messiah. Instead they said that the New was not like the Old specifically on the ordo level.
Note that above Wynne compared the law written on the heart with the law written on stone and said that was the comparison Jeremiah was making. That is not the same thing as claiming that Jeremiah is comparing regeneration received prior to being legally secured in the death of Christ with regeneration received after being legally secured in the death of Christ. Those are two different interpretations of the meaning of the verse. In my opinion, one is derived from reading the text (he said he was getting his list from Phil Ryken’s commentary), the other is an attempt to reconcile the text with one’s view of the covenants – a reconciliation that may at first sound profound, but upon further inspection is found greatly wanting.
In my opinion, “[A]rticulating a historia transition in ordo terms” is not so much an explanation of the passage as a dismissal of it. Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews are no doubt referring to a historia transition (Heb 8:1, 6, 13, etc) but it is a historia transition that brings with it new ordo benefits. The Old Covenant was faulty (v7) in that it did not provide the things necessary for eternal salvation. In order to avoid the same situation Israel found itself in (under the wrath of a broken covenant), the New Covenant will provide regeneration as well as reconciliation via the eternal forgiveness of sins. These things the Old Covenant did not provide. That is a straightforward reading of the passage and if one’s systematic theology leads one to the conclusion that the Old Covenant did provide those things, then I believe one has made a mistake in their deductive syllogisms somewhere and need to go back to the drawing board (I appreciate how difficult the process of reconciling exegesis of individual passages with exegesis of the rest of Scripture can be).
In several episodes Bucey has used Vos’ typology triangle to try to answer the question of how OT saints could be saved prior to Christ’s incarnation. This can get extremely confusing. Vos’ main point is to explain why the original Greek in the Epistle to the Hebrews calls the earthly tabernacle an anti-type (9:24). I try to explain the meaning of the triangle in this video. The basic point is that the language of type and anti-type is relative. Something can be either a type or an anti-type depending on context and what it is being compared to. In Vos’ triangle, “A” is the heavenly realities that exist in light of the Covenant of Redemption, including a heavenly sanctuary. Thus in Moses’ day, prior to Christ’s incarnation, God could show Moses this heavenly reality as a pattern for the earthly tabernacle. In this sense, “A” is the archetype (pattern) from which the earthly sanctuary “B” is created (anti-type). Considered from a different perspective, the blood of the Old Covenant lamb was a type (pattern, preliminary sketch) of Christ’s future sacrifice (anti-type). Because the Covenant of Redemption contains the plan of salvation, the plan for Christ to take on human form and offer himself as a sacrifice, it can be the conceptual background (pattern, sketch) for the earthly sanctuary in Jerusalem. However, this is only an anticipation of the Covenant of Redemption’s actual fulfillment in Christ’s death and his offering himself in the heavenly sanctuary.
Now, in answering the question of how Old Testament saints could receive the benefits of the New Covenant, Bucey has repeatedly (in this and other episodes) appealed to this triangle. I thought Bucey was trying to make some kind of argument regarding time: Christ doesn’t die until later (“C”), so OT saints can’t receive his benefits through “C”. Instead they receive his benefits through “A” where Christ has somehow already died. I previously objected because that doesn’t solve anything regarding time and somehow magically makes Christ already slain in heaven before becoming incarnate. However, that does not appear to be Bucey’s primary point. In this episode Bucey said
We have great similarity and join hands with Reformed Baptist on that subject – that what saves is the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only name given under heaven by which men may be saved no matter when you live, whether before he was incarnate, lived, died and was raised again or after. And it’s not any more difficult for the Lord and by the Spirit to save us whether we live before him or after him, because we have to be united to somebody who isn’t physically present on Earth at the time. To God, what’s the difference if it’s before he accomplishes his work or after? So we’re on the same page. But then how?
So it might not be an argument about “A” vs “C.” Instead it is an argument about how one is connected to “C” (the resurrected Christ, the fulfilled Covenant of Redemption, the benefits of redemption – although, confusingly, in Christ the Center episode 186 Tipton says that “the redemptive reality in B and C is A” suggesting that the benefits of Christ come from A, not C). Interestingly, for Bucey, this presents a challenge both pre and post-incarnation. (I would love to have him elaborate because I don’t see why a lack of physical presence would create any kind of problem post-incarnation – but I suspect he feels the sacraments somehow solve this problem. More on this below.)
Bucey’s solution, following Kline, is that the Old Covenant order, established after the pattern of the Covenant of Redemption is realized eschatology wrapped in an earthly form. It is not simply an analogy or a picture that anticipates the new heavens and the new earth, it is the consummation brought back in time and established in Canaan. That is the significance of the triangle to Bucey. OT saints can receive the benefits of the New Covenant, they can be united to Christ, because the Old Covenant is (at its “core”) Christ. It is the fulfilled Covenant of Redemption “intruded” back in time (and covered in earthly types). Thus they can receive eternal forgiveness by faith through the blood of bulls and goats because Christ’s blood is the “core” of the blood of bulls and goats.
I disagree. I do not believe the Old Covenant sanctuary was realized eschatology. I believe it was only typological, only earthly, only anticipatory to and analogous of Christ’s atonement in the heavenly sanctuary. I think Vos’ triangle helpfully explains Heb 9:24, but I don’t think Heb 9:24 entails the idea that the Old Covenant shadow was actually realized eschatology. They may find the two ideas helpfully go hand-in-hand, but I don’t believe it is necessarily entailed. They would have to establish that from some other text.
In trying to answer the question of how OT saints are saved, they go straight to sacramentology. But is that how we answer how NT saints are saved? Do we go to the Lord’s Supper or baptism to explain how someone is saved? No, we go to the Word and explain that in the elect the Lord makes the general call effectual. This is referred to by Calvin as the “inherent efficacy of the Word” (2.10.7). Yet these brothers said nothing about this regarding OT saints and how they are saved. Can someone today be saved apart from the sacraments? Yes. Could someone in the OT be saved apart from the sacraments? Yes. Explain how and we have some common ground to start from on this issue.
The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word
Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.
2LBCF 10.1 (nearly identical to WCF)
The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance;in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners. (Genesis 3:15; Revelation 13:8)
2LBCF 20.1 (chapter 20 was added and is not in the WCF)
Genesis 3:15, the promise of a Messiah who will come to reverse the curse, is foundational to salvation in the Old Testament. It is the object of the saints’ faith. WCF/2LBCF 8.6 is frequently cited in debate over 1689 Federalism, but look what it says about the promise:
Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in… those promises… wherein he was revealed… to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head… being the same yesterday, and today and for ever.
Once again, explain how the promise of a future Messiah (propositional revelation) is sufficient to communicate (impart, convey, confer) the benefits of Christ to OT saints and we can begin to find common ground. Once we have this foundation we can then move on to talk about how typology relates.
Bare Resemblance Typology
The brothers on the podcast repeatedly disparaged what they called “bare resemblance” or “doppelgänger” typology, belittling the idea of NC grace being communicated to OT saints by means of typology as word pictures informing the “noetic prowess” of OT believers. But if we start with the proper foundation of effectual calling by the Word (see above), this should not be minimized and disparaged as somehow inadequate. It is not in any way deficient. The noetic effect of the propositional revelation of the gospel informing an individual such that he may, by the power of the Holy Spirit in the effectual call, understand and believe it is the primary means of salvation. Typological word pictures were simply a supplemental way of revealing the gospel. This does not make them deficient any more than it makes the Word deficient. Please carefully consider Vos’ comments in The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews regarding the noetic effect of types.
The Old Testament law is dispensed with because of its weakness and unprofitableness. Its weakness is not merely a matter of degree, for in reality it accomplished nothing, since it made nothing perfect and did not lead to the goal. This is further implied in the quotation from Jer. 31:31, quoted in Heb. 8:8-12. The fathers did not continue in the covenant made with them. But in the new Berith the law would be put in their minds and written in their hearts. And the further promise is added: “Their sins I will remember no more.” In both these respects, therefore, the Old Testament law is inefficacious. In verse 7 the author goes on to say that God found fault with the first covenant, for otherwise there would have been no place found for a second…
But how could a true religion exist under such a system at all? Several observations are in order. First, we may turn to the types of the Old Testament as something which should have led the people to something better. The author does not make much of this, however. The types were primarily for the people, but objectively they were for the mind of God. Nowhere in the Epistle has the author set himself really to solve the problem as stated above. Nor is it really solved in Paul’s epistles. Still there was a possibility of the significance of the sacrificial system entering into the subjective mind of the Old Testament believers, by the latter raising themselves to a higher state through the types. We see an indication of this possibility first at 10:3. In the Old Testament sacrifices there was a remembrance made of sin year by year. This was necessary, since it was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. This yearly practice was not intended merely for an objective purpose; it was a remembrance in the minds of the people. Because of this remembrance the Psalmist, in Psalm 40, was led to speak concerning sacrifices which would satisfy the will of God. It should be noted that it was the Psalmist who rose to this consciousness – an inspired writer, not an ordinary individual believer under the Old Testament. Still, he did write it, with the result that higher consciousness later became the common property of Old Testament believers. It was with the aid of revelation, therefore, that this higher consciousness was brought about.
Likewise Psalm 110 is quoted. Here we have the prophecy of a future Priest, after the order of Melchizedek. Thus there was the consciousness of a higher order of priesthood than the Levitical being possible, and there was the prophecy that at a future time such higher priesthood would become actual.
Psalm 95 is also quoted, which speaks of the rest of Canaan. This idea of rest is eschatological, looking forward to the true rest which is to come in the future. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews here again recognized, in one of the Old Testament Psalms, a certain higher consciousness on the part of the people of the Old Testament…
The Old Testament, however, had more than these mere symbols and ceremonies. It also contained direct promises, many of which were spiritual in content. And these promises were given repeatedly, form age to age. Therefore it was not necessary for the Old Testament believers to live exclusively on the basis of insight into the meaning of the types. Of these promises the author of Hebrews speaks much.
Disconnecting the New Covenant from Christ
Bucey suggested that to disagree with him on the nature of the Old Covenant puts one on the trajectory of theological liberalism denying the incarnation. Bucey argues that our position should lead to the following hypothetical position:
Well, the Old Covenant was just one way that some abstract Grace of Christ was applied, and the New Covenant is just the newer way by which this abstract grace or merit or being of Christ is applied… [T]hey both just kind of take some sort of abstract grace or benefit of Christ and just apply it in different ways… If the old Covenant just illustrated Christ, but it’s still Christ, they might want to flatten and say so also, the New Covenant merely illustrates Christ. And you do find similar issues where people will not want to say that the Lord’s Supper or baptism are a means of grace.
I may be mistaken, but I believe this relates back to Bucey’s previous comment that “we have to be united to somebody who isn’t physically present on Earth at the time.” It seems like Bucey is saying that we are united to Christ (in heaven) through the sacraments (on Earth) and that apart from the sacraments, Christ’s grace is just “abstract” and “disconnected.”
When I deny that Christ’s benefits are conveyed to OT believers “by virtue of these very forms [OT sacrifices] – not merely something that they trigger or something that they point to in a formal way” (Wynne) I am not saying that OT saints receive some abstract grace or merit. We believe that OT saints were united to Christ (who was to be incarnate) and that they received the benefits of Christ’s atonement by virtue of that union with Christ, not by virtue of the blood of bulls and goats. In that sense, it is not abstract grace. It is grace that comes through union with Christ. I simply deny that the blood of bulls and goats is that union (if Bucey wants to put it in those terms). The New Covenant itself is our marriage union with Christ and the OT saints receive the benefits of Christ, the benefits of Christ were communicated (imparted, conveyed, conferred) to them by virtue of that New Covenant union, which they possessed. Being a legal union, it is invisible, but it is not “abstract” or “disconnected” from the covenant.
Bucey suggests that our view would entail the disconnecting of Christ from the New Covenant. Presbyterians tend to view and speak of the New Covenant primarily in terms of “administration” (i.e. the “external Covenant of Grace”; see Bucey’s comment above about Lord’s Supper and baptism being the New Covenant) whereas we tend to view and speak of it primarily in terms of union with Christ (i.e. the “internal Covenant of Grace”). I believe this is no small part of often talking past each other (especially with Kline’s formulation of the CoR vs the CoG). So I hear him say our view entails that we must disconnect Christ from the New Covenant and I really scratch my head. We believe the New Covenant is union with Christ, so how does that entail disconnecting Christ from the New Covenant? But I think what Bucey means is that disconnecting Christ sacramentally from the blood of bulls and goats entails disconnecting Christ sacramentally from baptism and the Lord’s Supper – because he thinks of the New Covenant primarily in terms of administration. If we think that someone can be saved and receive the benefits of Christ apart from OT sacramental presence of Christ in the blood of bulls and goats, then we must also think that someone can be saved and receive the benefits of Christ apart from NT sacramental presence of Christ. To which I would say – it is the reformed teaching that sacraments are not necessary to salvation and receiving the benefits of Christ, and that the Word is the primary means, so that’s not really a point of disagreement. However, I think Bucey might be correct that disagreement on OT typology as sacrament entails disagreement over NT sacramentology, but I will leave it at that for now.
Bucey presented a great condundrum that he could not find a solution to: “What about the Jew who just says ‘Well now that I’m believing in that, I’m going to stop offering sacrifices altogether.’ What is the problem with the Jew that just decides to quit participating?” The answer is very simply that God commanded him to participate, so not participating would be sinning against God. Additionally, on our view the sacrifices served a purpose within the Old Covenant (typological atonement in a typological holy land) distinct from their purpose as a type pointing to Christ and that purpose continued as long as the Old Covenant continued. I fail to see how this is a grand conundrum.
Typological Covenant of Works
Wynne asks If Israel was under a covenant of works, how could they have survived one second, let alone entered the land?
First, because it was undergirded by the Covenant of Circumcision (God’s promise to give them the land), which was the basis of God’s longsuffering towards them when they broke the covenant (Exod 32:10, 13, 14; Num 14:20; Deut 9:5-8, 13-14, 19, 25, 27-28; 28:26; Jer 7:33; Ps 106:8, 23, 44-45). Note that they were only scattered (Israel) or exiled (Judah) after God fulfilled that promise. See my JIRBS article or this podcast series and Renihan’s The Mystery of Christ… p. 112-113 for an elaboration.
Third, this typological covenant of works included a sacrificial system that atoned for (at least some) of Israel’s violations of the covenant.
Our brothers pointed to Jeremiah 7 to argue this was an incorrect understanding of the Old Covenant because Jeremiah says the problem with Judah was specifically that they rested in the sacrifices to cover their iniquity, giving them license to sin.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
8 “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.
20 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.”
21 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. 22 For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23 But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ 24 But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward…
30 “For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 31 And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.
God chastised Judah for not rightly prioritizing obedience to the moral law above obedience to the ceremonial law (1 Sam 15:22). Note that the violations listed are disobedience to the letter of the law. But they did continue to offer sacrifices. Why weren’t those sacrifices enough to turn away God’s wrath for their disobedience? Our brothers would argue because they lacked saving faith in Christ. I am not convinced that is the case. There are (at least) two different ways of viewing this (from a subservient covenant view). (1) The sacrifices were not instituted to atone for presumptuous, high-handed sin, but only to atone for unintentional sin. This seems to be very much the case if you read the instructions concerning the sin offering and the guilt offering (Lev 4; Num 15:22-31). Thus Owen says (forgive the Hebrew words not copying correctly)
[I]t had respect unto all such sins as were not committed so eJkousi>wv, “willingly, wilfully, presumptuously,” as that there was no sacrifice appointed for them, the covenant being disannulled by them, Hebrews 10:26. And there is no sort of sins, no sin whatever, that is between this hg;g;v], this sin of “ignorance,” or error, and sin committed hm;r; dy;B], “with an high hand,” or presumptuously. See expressly, Numbers 15:27-31. Hence this taF;j, this “sin-offering,” was the great sacrifice of the solemn day of expiation, Leviticus 16, whereby atonement was made for all “the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins,” verse 16. And upon the head of the live goat, which was a part of the sin-offering on that day, there was confessed and laid “all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins,” verse 21; that is, all iniquities not disannulling the covenant, which had e]ndikon misqopodosi>an, a revenging recompense allotted unto them, Hebrews 2:2. And accordingly are those words to be interpreted where the cause of this sacrifice is expressed: Leviticus 4:2, “If a soul sin hg;g;v]bi,” — “by error, ignorance, imprudently,” — “against any of the commandments of the LORD, as it ought not to do, and shall do against any of them.” And in instance is given in him who killed his neighbor without prepense malice, Deuteronomy 19:4. Any sin is there intended whereinto men fall by error, ignorance, imprudence, incogitancy, temptation, violence of affections, and the like. For such was this sacrifice instituted. And the end which it typically represented is expressed, 1 John 2:1,2, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins,” — namely, in the room of and as represented by the sin-offering of old, whereby atonement and propitiation were typically made for sin. Only, there was this difference, that whereas the law of Moses was appointed to be the rule of the political government of the people, wherein many sins, such as adultery and murder, were to be punished with death, and the sinner cut off, there were in such cases no sacrifices appointed nor admitted; but in the sacrifice of Christ there is no exception made unto any sin in those that repent, believe, and forsake their sins, — not unto those in particular which were excepted in the law of Moses, Acts 13:39. So that as the sin-offering was provided for all sins that disannulled not the covenant made at Horeb, which allowed no life or interest unto murderers, adulterers, blasphemers, and the like, in the typical land; so the sacrifice of Christ is extended unto all sinners who transgress not the terms and tenor of the new covenant, for whom no place is allowed, either in the church here or in heaven hereafter.
In this view Judah fell under God’s wrath because they committed presumptuous sin that could not be atoned for. Note importantly that Owen views the Day of Atonement as being the same in kind as the sin and guilt offering, in this regard. Gill, however, does not.
and confess him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins; which takes in their sins, greater or lesser, sins of ignorance and presumption, known or not known x, even all sorts of and all of them: the form of confession used in after times was this y; O Lord, thy people, the house of Israel, have done perversely, have transgressed sinned berate thee, O Lord, expiate now the iniquities, transgressions, and sins, in which thy people, the house of Israel, have done perversely, transgressed, and sinned before thee, as it is written in the law of Moses thy servant (#Le 16:30;) and it is added, and the priests and people that stood in the court, when they heard the name Jehovah go out of the mouth of the high priest, they bowed, and worshipped, and fell upon their faces, and said, blessed be God, let the glory of his kingdom be for ever and ever:
I certainly have more studying to do, but I am inclined to agree with Gill that the Day of Atonement offering was different from the regular sin and guilt offerings in that it did atone for presumptuous sins (there is no qualification in Lev 16).
(2) So then what was wrong with Judah? Why did the Day of Atonement not spare them from God’s wrath? Note verse 30 above: “For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it.” They setup idols inside the temple.
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. 2 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. 3 For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. 4 And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” 5 And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. 6 And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 7 And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever. 8 And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.”9 But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.
10 And the Lord said by his servants the prophets, 11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, 12 therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15 because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.”
2 Kings 21:1-15
Note Ezekiel 5:11 “Therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, surely, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations, therefore I will withdraw. My eye will not spare, and I will have no pity.”
Compare with the instructions in Leviticus 16 for the sin offering of the Day of Atonement.
16 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, 2 and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. 3 But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.
6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. 7 Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. 9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.
11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. 14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.
15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.
20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Placeand the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.
23 “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. 26 And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. 27 And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. 28 And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.
29 “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. 32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. 33 He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.34 And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the Lord commanded Moses.
Do you read anything in there about idols being setup in the sanctuary? The text is clear that the iniquities of the people could only be placed on the scapegoat once the Holy Place and sanctuary and altar was atoned for (cleansed from the people’s sin). They could not have been cleansed with idols in them. Thus Judah could not have achieved forgiveness on the Day of Atonement through any sacrifices. I don’t think this proves that saving faith in Christ was the condition of the Old Covenant.
Note quickly the alternative. Our OPC brothers argue that obedience to the commandments was tethered to tenure in the land, but that it is Spirit-wrought, faith-fueled obedience, the same in nature as what is required in the New Covenant. The problem here is that it makes Lev 18:5 a condition of the Covenant of Grace (note the reference to Lev 18:5 in the OPC version of WCF 19.6). For an elaboration, see
In all honesty, I am growing wearing of this particular discussion. I hope that this post does not further contribute to misunderstanding and talking past one another, but rather contributes to better understanding of where the precise point(s) of disagreement lay. I have much more I would like to study and comment on regarding sacramentology, but I’m afraid that I just don’t have time to do so. Please make sure to listen to lectures #2 and #3 here from Sam Renihan, as he elaborates more fully on the error of the Presbyterian argument from typology.
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. In the end it presents a 1689 Federalist interpretation of Galatians, particularly Galatians 3.
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 email@example.com to order with name, address, phone number, quantity. $10 plus s/h. Paid via Paypal.
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.
Theonomy rightly believes that political theory must be deduced from Scripture, but it misinterprets Scripture – namely the law given to Israel and covenant theology as a whole.
Theonomy is the starting presumption that the Old Covenant judicial laws given to Israel have not been abrogated therefore all civil governments are morally obligated to enforce them (including the specific penalties) and furthermore that all civil governments must refrain from coercion in areas where Scripture has not prescribed their intervention (the “regulative principle of the state”).
Defining Our Terms
Etymologically, theonomy simply means “God’s law.” However, the phrase was used by Greg Bahnsen in the 1970s to describe his presuppositional political philosophy in contrast to “autonomy” (man’s reason independent of God’s revelation). This post addresses theonomy as defined and defended by Bahnsen. (If you think theonomy has a broader definition, that is a separate discussion we can have. For the purposes of this post, theonomy is being defined according to Bahnsen’s theonomic thesis). Bahnsen argued that
[T]heonomy teaches that civil rulers are morally obligated to enforce those laws of Christ, found throughout the Scriptures, which are addressed to magistrates (as well as to refrain from coercion in areas where God has not prescribed their intervention)… Political codes today ought to incorporate the moral requirements which were culturally illustrated in the God-given, judicial laws of Old Testament Israel… “He who was punishable by death under the judicial law is punishable by death still.”
The core teaching of the modern theonomy movement on the law (we will not defend all the side issues) is basic and easy to defend. All the Old Testament laws that are moral in content, that were given as a standard of personal or social ethics, are binding on all men (both Jews and Gentiles) for all time (both the Old and New Covenant administrations).
Therefore, not only the Ten Commandments are obligatory but also the moral case laws that are extensions, explanations and applications of the commandments (e.g., homosexuality, incest, bestiality, fornication, fraud, burglary, assault, attempted murder, manslaughter, etc.). In addition, the civil penalties attached to the moral case laws are declared by God Himself to be just and superior to the best laws of the heathen nations and thus are not mere suggestions but are required as well.
That being said, theonomists do not always agree with each other regarding particular Old Covenant judicial laws. Bahnsen therefore clarified that even when they do not agree, there is still nonetheless a distinct, definable view called “theonomy.”
Theonomic ethics is a definable and distinct school of thought. That school of thought is unified by certain fundamental principles of Biblical reasoning about ethics (“ethical hermeneutics or meta-ethics,” if you will) — rather than by unanimity in the particular application of those principles to concrete issues or cases… There certainly is a commonly held set of distinctive doctrines which are known as the theonomic viewpoint…
Close Resemblances: Is Everyone a Theonomist After All?
[T]here is an objective and precise difference viz., all theonomists affirm (while non-theonomists deny) that we should presume that Old Testament criminal and penal commands for Israel as a nation (not specially revealed earlier) are a standard for all nations of the earth… The theonomic principle is objective and Biblical in character. Its policy for Old Testament interpretation and for application of the laws found there is that the moral standards revealed by God are all beneficial and continue to be binding unless further revelation teaches otherwise (Deut. 42; 10:13; Ps. 119:160; Matt. 5:19; 2 Tim. 3:16-17)… As a result, the theonomist concludes that most of the judicial laws of the Old Testament, having not been modified or canceled by Scripture later, continue to be binding according to the principle which they teach or illustrate.
Theonomy’s strength is its commitment to presuppositionalism – the belief that political philosophy and civil law must be deduced from Scripture. Its weakness is its actual exegesis of Scripture. While I agree that Scripture must be the source of our political philosophy, I believe that theonomy has misinterpreted Scripture on two foundational points. (Note: Bahnsen was a very gifted logician and I respect him enough to interpret and critique him according to his systematic understanding of theonomy.)
The Law(s) of God
Theonomy rejects the distinction between moral law (a transcript of God’s nature that applies at all times) and positive law (law that is created and abrogated at God’s will for certain times). Instead, it holds to a mononomism that sees all biblical law as an unchanging transcript of God’s nature. Bahnsen argued “Does God have a holiness, a standard of ethics, of perfection that is changing?… Jesus says every jot and tittle and he doesn’t allow us to draw lines and seams and divide God’s law up into what we’ll accept and what we won’t.”
I agree with the historic threefold division of Mosaic law: moral, ceremonial, and civil. Moral law transcends and predates Mosaic law and applies to all image bearers. Ceremonial and civil law are positive laws created for Israel under the Old Covenant and have been abrogated. Theonomy teaches a different two-fold division of Mosaic law.
The most fundamental distinction to be drawn between Old Testament laws is between moral laws and ceremonial laws. (Two subdivisions within each category will be mentioned subsequently.) This is not an arbitrary or ad hoc division, for it manifests an underlying rationale or principle. Moral laws reflect the absolute righteousness and judgment of God, guiding man’s life into the paths of righteousness; such laws define holiness and sin, restrain evil through punishment of infractions, and drive the sinner to Christ for salvation. On the other hand, ceremonial laws–or redemptive provisions–reflect the mercy of God in saving those who have violated His moral standards; such laws define the way of redemption, typify Christ’s saving economy, and maintain the holiness (or “separation”) of the redeemed community.
(By This Standard, 97)
The important point is that due to a mistaken exegesis of Matthew 5, theonomy has no category for positive law that may be abrogated. Not only moral (which includes judicial) law, but even “restorative” law continues (though the way we observe it changes).
It’s the thesis of my book [Theonomy in Christian Ethics] and I think it’s the way the bible would have us break down the commandments of the Old Testament – I’m suggesting that we have moral and ceremonial law, moral and restorative law and that all laws of God are binding today… I do not believe the restorative law has been abrogated.”
The reformed law/gospel distinction refers to two different ways of obtaining eternal life: through obedience to the law and through faith in Jesus Christ. It is rooted in the distinction between the Adamic Covenant of Works and the Messianic Covenant of Grace. While Bahnsen held a law/gospel antithesis with regards to salvation through faith in Christ (even having a better interpretation of Matt 5:20 than many reformed theologians), he was influenced by his thesis advisor Norman Shepherd with regards to covenant theology.
Shepherd left WTS under controversy for teaching that we are justified through faith and works. He rejected the Adamic Covenant of Works and emphasized the unity of the Covenant of God. RJ Rushdoony likewise said
[T]his idea of a covenant of works that is the problem in the confession and of course this doctrine has led to Dispensationalism and a great many other problems. It is a deadly error to believe that any covenant that God makes with man can be anything other than a covenant of grace. Precisely because He is God the only kind of covenant He can enter into with man involves free grace on His part. It is at the same time a covenant of law but every covenant is a law relationship… [T]he covenant of God with man is at one and the same time a covenant of grace and a covenant of law. [B]asic to the making of a covenant with God was the invoking of curses and blessings, Deuteronomy 27 and 28 give us that very, very clearly.
The New Testament and Covenant continue the same demand for obedience… Continued blessing for Adam in paradise, Israel in the promised land, and the Christian in the kingdom has been seen to be dependent upon persevering obedience to God’s will as expressed in His law. There is complete covenantal unity with reference to the law of God as the standard of moral obligation throughout the diverse ages of human history.
Theonomy in Christian Ethics (201-2)
I reject this monocovenantalism. I affirm the Adamic Covenant of Works as distinct from the Messianic Covenant of Grace. Furthermore, I recognize a typological element to the blessings and curses of the Mosaic Covenant. Those blessings typified the blessings Christ earned for us through his perfect obedience to the moral law while the curses typified the judgment that we all deserve (and those outside of Christ will receive) for breaking God’s moral law. Theonomy’s commitment to monocovenantalism and mononomism, and its subsequent understanding of Mosaic blessing and curse, prevents it from affirming this understanding.
Stoning as Typological (Cherem) Curse
After responding to every known criticism offered against his thesis, Bahnsen held out the theoretical possibility of one remaining criticism that would be a valid objection.
[I]t must be argued by somebody who feels the penal sanctions were not given to anybody but Israel that there is a very strong distinction within the law itself between stipulation and sanction. That God stipulates this kind of behavior and then he lays down a punishment if you don’t follow that stipulation, and that the fact that a law binds Israel as well as the Gentiles with respect to stipulations does not therefore mean that the law with respect to sanctions binds Israel and the Gentiles. You see, the premise then is that there is a difference between stipulation and sanction. Now, is there exegetical evidence for this distinction?… Well, we haven’t been given evidence of that distinction.
It is precisely this distinction that I affirm and give evidence for (see links below – notably this one). The stipulations in question are part of God’s unchanging moral law for all image bearers. Violation of this unchanging moral law warrants eternal death at the final judgment. However, at the fall God delayed this final judgment, beginning a post-fall world restructured in subservience to the work of Christ. The death penalty instituted under the typological Old Covenant for violation of the moral law was not itself part of the moral law. It was a typological, positive law addition to the moral law given by way of covenant. The shedding of blood by man for violation of the moral law was specifically a typological curse.
“Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them.'” (Gal. 3:12)
Commenting on Gal. 3:12 (Lev. 18:5) Augustine said “Now those who were living by these works undoubtedly feared that if they did not do them, they would suffer stoning or crucifixion or something of this kind.”
“‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” (Deut 27:26, cited in Gal 3:10).
“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.” (Deut 21:22-23, cited in Gal 3:13)
It is specifically this principle of curse for violation of the law that Christ died on the cross for (Gal 3:13). Christians are not under the decalogue as a means to earn their life or lose it. Christ has earned our life and saved us from the curse. Theonomists who believe Christians should enforce Mosaic curses for violation of the moral law are putting Christians under a typological covenant of works that we are free from (Gal 5:1; Acts 15:10).
The general equity of those typological Old Covenant curses is not execution by modern government, but the moral law that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-11) and the positive law that unrepentant sinners must therefore be purged from the visible church through excommunication (1 Cor 5:13 quoting Deut 22:21).
While theonomy presents an appealingly simple answer to the question of political philosophy and civil law, our presupposition must be Scripture properly interpreted.
One criticism of 1689 Federalism centers around the question of whether or not the Old Covenant was an administration of the Covenant of Grace. The issue, however, is very convoluted. What exactly is meant by the question?
Historically, going back to Bullinger and Calvin (2.10-11), the reformed argued that the Old and New Covenants were the same covenant offering eternal life upon condition of faith in Christ. Same reward and same conditions. The only difference between them was in their appearance – that is, in their way of administering eternal life. Thus calling the Old Covenant an “administration of the Covenant of Grace” was shorthand for “the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are the same covenant – the Covenant of Grace.” This view was “the judgment of most reformed divines” in the 17th century. It is precisely this understanding that the 17th century particular baptists rejected when they denied that the Old Covenant was an administration of the Covenant of Grace. 1689 Federalism sees them as two distinct covenants, with different rewards and conditions, not one and the same. However, we affirm that salvation was “communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein he was revealed” (2LBC 8.6). In short, 1689 Federalism believes that the Old Covenant was distinct from the New Covenant, but it revealed truths about the New Covenant that were sufficient to save the elect through belief in the gospel.
Over the course of time, the subservient covenant position has gained greater popularity among reformed paedobaptists. Especially after the influence of Meredith Kline you will now find many paedobaptists argue that the Old and the New are two different covenants, not one and the same. A recent blog post titled The Mosaic covenant was substantively a covenant of works for Christ, and administratively a covenant of grace to the Israelite provides a concise example. The author says “we should reject any ham-handed approach that looks at WCF 7.5 and concludes that they were saying that the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of grace.” Rather, “the Mosaic covenant is substantively a post-lapsarian type of the covenant of works.” However, these paedobaptists choose to retain the language of calling the Old Covenant an “administration of the Covenant of Grace.” The author says “the covenant of grace was delivered ‘administratively’ via promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances that forsignafied Christ to come… the Mosaic covenant includes the law as a tutor serving the covenant of grace, and therefore parts of it… administratively deliver the covenant of grace.” What is meant is that the Old Covenant was distinct from the New Covenant, yet it revealed truths about the New Covenant that were sufficient to save the elect through belief in the gospel. In other words, they mean nearly the same thing as 1689 Federalism.
So what happens when this second view reads 1689 Federalism material that denies the Old Covenant was an administration of the Covenant of Grace? Well, it wrongly assumes 1689 Federalism denies that the Old Covenant revealed the gospel and thereby “administered” salvation to OT saints. This is caused by 1) a lack of historical awareness of how the language was used in the 17th century, and 2) a lack of precision in how some proponents of 1689 Federalism today articulate the position.
So, to set the record straight moving forward, 1689 Federalism affirms that the Old Covenant revealed the gospel such that it “communicated” or “administered” salvation to elect, while all the time being separate and distinct from the Covenant of Grace (the New Covenant).
A couple of months ago I came across a video from Pastor Patrick Hines (PCA), host of The Protestant Witness, addressing the issue of baptism. He was articulating the Presbyterian position in what seemed like an odd way. He was very adamant that no one was born into the Covenant of Grace. I’ve learned not to assume anything about an individual Presbyterian’s covenant theology but to simply take them on their own terms – in this case what appeared to be a rejection of the internal/external covenant membership distinction. I created a video in response explaining how that was not the historic Presbyterian position and addressing some of his other points as well. Turns out I misunderstood him (and therefore wasted my time, his time, and the time of anyone who watched my response). Because other reformed baptists have misunderstood him in the past, he was simply avoiding the external covenant membership language altogether. So in an attempt not to confuse some reformed baptists, he wound up confusing other reformed baptists 🙂 I’m sure that was frustrating for him and I’m sorry to have added to the frustration.
Because so much time had been wasted on a misunderstanding that could have been resolved in :30 in a discussion, I was reluctant to continue a video back and forth. Thankfully Semper Reformanda Radio asked if Patrick and I wanted to discuss the issue on a podcast instead. It took a while to get it scheduled, but we recorded it last week. You can find it here: SRR 90 A Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian Debate
Below are some further comments on the discussion.
Hines’ Opening Statement
Acts 7:38 – ἐκκλησία (ekklhsia)
The English word “church” has an exclusively religious meaning. It really refers exclusively to the body of Christ. The Greek does not. It is a secular word used by Paul to refer to the body of Christ. Strong’s defines it as “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly.” On Acts 7:38, the NET Bible notes “This term, ἐκκλησία (ekklhsia), is a secular use of the term that came to mean “church” in the epistles. Here a reference to an assembly is all that is intended.” As I mentioned in the podcast, there is certainly a type/antitype relationship – but the mere use of the word ἐκκλησία does not entail that Israel was the Church.
The Gospel was preached to Abraham
Absolutely. That does not mean the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. It means the Abrahamic Covenant revealed something about the gospel to Abraham.
John the Baptist said you can’t be born into the Abrahamic Covenant
No, John was unpacking the typology of Abraham’s offspring. He was warning of the coming end of the Old Covenant. “The axe is laid to the root” of the privilege of Abraham’s physical offspring (see Keach). At the final end of the Old Covenant, the only relationship to father Abraham that would matter was faith. John was not denying that the Abrahamic Covenant was made with Abraham’s natural offspring.
The Gen 15 land promise applies today to believers and their children, because the land promise is heaven
This blending of type and antitype is a basic problem with paedobaptism. The land of Canaan was not heaven. It was a type of heaven. The type is not the thing typified. The land of Canaan was promised to Abraham’s natural offspring (upon the condition of obedience to Mosaic law). Yes, it typified heaven promised to Abraham’s spiritual offspring. But those are two different things (see here). Note that any strangers who wished to be circumcised and live as a native of the land still could not possess/own any land in perpetuity because it was not promised to Gentiles who had faith. It was promised to Abraham’s natural offspring.
Heb 6:17 proves the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace
No, it proves that God’s promise(s) to Abraham were unchangeable. God fulfilled both promises (that numerous natural offspring would inherit the land of Canaan and that the promised Messiah would be born from Abraham to bless all nations). That doesn’t mean the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace.
The Abrahamic Covenant can’t be the Old Covenant because of Heb 8:13
Insofar as the Mosaic Covenant was an elaboration/addendum/confirmation of the first Abrahamic promise (that numerous offspring would inherit the land of Canaan), both the Mosaic Covenant and the first Abrahamic promise comprise the Old Covenant (epitomized by the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai). Abraham’s natural offspring’s tenure in the promised land governed by Mosaic law grew old and vanished away, as Heb 8:13 said it would.
Gal 3 says the Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace
No, Galatians 3 unpacks the difference between the two Abrahamic promises (see here, here, and here).
Gal 4:21ff says the Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace
No, the passage is contrasting the Old and the New covenants, both of which flow from God’s promises to Abraham (see here).
The Credobaptist position argues for a radical termination of the household principle for the church
This is merely begging the question.
If Abraham thought like a baptist, he’d never circumcise his children
Again, that’s begging the question.
Acts 2 simply restates Gen 17
First, Abraham’s slaves are not equivalent to “those who are far off.” The fact that Pastor Hines seeks to equate the two is a good indication of how far the text has to be stretched.
Second, the paedobaptist argument for internal/external covenant membership is based on Romans 9:6-8 wherein it is argued that only the elect offspring of believers are actually children of the Abrahamic promise. Recognizing the tension/contradiction in claiming that the Gen 17 promise is both conditionally to all the offspring and unconditionally to the elect offspring, Meredith Kline said that baptism should not be argued for on the basis of the Abrahamic promise (see here and here).
Finally, the Gen 17:7-8 promise was made to Israel according to the flesh and was fulfilled when God brought them out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan where he dwelt with them as their king and established a unique form of worship distinct from all other nations. See Ex. 2:24-25; 6:6-7; 19:4-6; Ezek 16:8; Deut 4:32-40; 29:10-13; Ps. 147:19-20; Amos 3:1-2; Hosea 1:9. It was typological of God’s promise concerning Abraham’s spiritual descendants. For an elaboration, see here.
The Old Covenant had church discipline just like the New Covenant
Being stoned to death is not the same thing as being excommunicated. Rather, it highlights the difference between the nation of Israel and the church. The death penalty was a covenant curse according to the condition of Lev 18:5. Excommunication is not. Those who committed a sin worthy of stoning died without mercy (Heb 10:28). Those in the church who commit a sin worthy of excommunication are given abundant mercy. Yes, Paul applied Israel’s civil law concerning stoning to the church. The fact that he applied a civillaw to the church indicates the typological relationship between Israel and the church, not the identity of Israel and the church. For more, see here.
Hines’ point was to try to argue that the condition for membership in Israel was the same as the condition for membership in the church: an individual who professes saving faith in Christ, along with their immediate offspring. However, that was never the condition for being part of Israel. Profession of saving faith in Christ was never a requirement. Being an offspring of Abraham (through Isaac and Jacob) was. And even the remotest offspring of Abraham received a right (and obligation) to circumcision directly from his connection to Abraham, not because of his immediate parents’ profession of saving faith. This brings up very interesting and very significant differences between modern American Presbyterians and historic Presbyterians. They denied that a profession of saving faith was a requirement for church membership (though many argued it was a requirement for participating in the Lord’s Supper). That was a Independent/Congregationalist view. They also argued that the descendants of believers may be baptized even if their parents were wicked. See here and here as well.
James White doesn’t think Hebrews teaches that Abraham was in the New Covenant
Commenting on Hebrews 8:10, Calvin said “There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.” On 8:6 Owen said “The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant… this new covenant of grace was extant and effectual under the old testament, so as the church was saved by virtue thereof, and the mediation of Christ therein.” Augustine explained “These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new.” John Frame said “Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved through the new covenant in Christ. Everyone who is saved receives a new heart, a heart of obedience, through the new covenant work of Christ… the efficacy of the New Covenant, unlike that of previous covenants, extends to God’s elect prior to Jesus’ atonement. When believers in the Old Testament experienced “circumcision of the heart,” or when they were Jews “inwardly,” they were partaking of the power of the New Covenant.”
Hebrews 9:16 refutes the idea that OT saints were saved by the New Covenant
No more than 9:15 refutes the idea that the OT saints were saved by the blood of Christ.
The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants
The original reformed argument for paedobaptism was that the Old and New Covenants were one and the same. Bullinger’s 8th sermon in The Decades is titled “OF THE USE OR EFFECT OF THE LAW OF GOD AND OF THE FULFILLING AND ABROGATING OF THE SAME: OF THE LIKENESS AND DIFFERENCE OF BOTH THE TESTAMENTS AND PEOPLE, THE OLD AND THE NEW.” He says
Now by this discourse or treatise, dearly beloved, ye shall understand, that the Testament of the old and new church of God is all one… In the very substance truly thou canst find no diversity: the difference which is betwixt them, doth consist in the manner of administration, in a few accidents and certain circumstances… in respect of the substance there neither was, nor is, any more than one testament [covenant].”
Calvin likewise argued in Institutes 2.10.2 that
both covenants are truly one… although differently administered… [L]et us consider what resemblance and what difference there is between the covenant which the Lord made with the Israelites before the advent of Christ, and that which he had made with us now that Christ is manifested. It is possible indeed, to explain both in one word. The covenant made with all the fathers is so far from differing from ours in reality and substance, that it is altogether one and the same: still the administration differs.
Commenting on Jeremiah 31:31, Calvin said
he then who once made a covenant with his chosen people, had not changed his purpose, as though he had forgotten his faithfulness. It then follows, that the first covenant was inviolable; besides, he had already made his covenant with Abraham, and the Law was a confirmation of that covenant. As then the Law depended on that covenant which God made with his servant Abraham, it follows that God could never have made a new, that is, a contrary or a different covenant… God has never made any other covenant than that which he made formerly with Abraham, and at length confirmed by the hand of Moses.
Lutheran Martin Chemnitz objected “Shall I follow Calvin when he says there is actually only one covenant? Or shall I follow Scripture which testifies that the new covenant is better than the old?” John Owen explained “[I]t is said, that the two covenants mentioned, the new and the old, were not indeed two distinct covenants, as unto their essence and substance, but only different administrations of the same covenant… See Calvin. Institut. lib. 2:cap. xi.” This was the view that was summarized in the WCF (see the OPC Report on Republication “The fourth view maintains that the Sinaitic covenant is in substance a covenant of grace. As noted above, this is the position affirmed in our standards… [The view] that the Sinai covenant and the Abrahamic and new covenant are not really the same covenant differing only in degree or circumstances, but in substance or essence… [is not] compatible with our doctrinal standards.”)
Calvin both presents his case for paedobaptism as well as defends it against various attacks by employment of the covenant idea. His positive arguments build initially upon his already established point of the continuity of the Old and New Covenants. It is due to the continuity of the covenant with the Jews and with Christians that enables Christians to baptize their infants.
Pastor Hines, like many modern American Presbyterians, does not agree (unless I have misunderstood him). He believes that the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant are the Covenant of Grace, but the Mosaic Covenant was not. It was a different covenant that promised life and blessing in Canaan for Israel upon the condition of obedience to Mosaic law. The Abrahamic/New Covenant is a gracious promise but the Mosaic is a law covenant.
A crucial point, however, is how the land of Canaan fits into this view of the covenants. Hines, and others like him, argue that due to its nature as a promise covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant graciously promised the land of Canaan to Abraham’s natural offspring upon the condition of faith. He points to Hebrews 3:19 to support this idea. They were granted entrance/initial possession of the land through faith. However they could only remain in the land through works – through obedience to Mosaic law. They were ultimately exiled according to the Mosaic curse of Deuteronomy 28 because they failed to obey Mosaic law.
However, Hines did not explain when exactly this transition took place. At what point were the Israelites considered to have had possession through faith? At what point did the Mosaic covenant kick in? The Mosaic Covenant was established on Mt. Sinai in the wilderness long before Israel took possession of the promised land. In fact, Moses specifically said that their possession of the land was conditioned upon their obedience to Mosaic law. Deuteronomy 4:1 “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you.” Deuteronomy 8:1 says “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.” Jeremiah understood that the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise conditioned upon Israel’s obedience to the law. 11:3-5 says “Cursed is the man who does not obey the words of this covenant 4 which I commanded your fathers in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and do according to all that I command you; so shall you be My people, and I will be your God,’ 5 that I may establish the oath which I have sworn to your fathers, to give them ‘a land flowing with milk and honey,’ as it is this day.”
Dennis Johnson notes
On the other hand, it is also true to say that Israel, though small and stubborn, is receiving the land through obedience. Moses has already drawn a connection between obedience and conquest of the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 4:1. Israel is to hear and to do the Lord’s commands “that” the promised consequences might follow, namely life and possession of the land. (Him We Proclaim, 298)
The Mosaic Covenant did not change the terms upon which Abraham’s offspring would enjoy the promised land. Rather, it elaborated upon the incipient terms of the Abrahamic Covenant. Note Genesis 26:3-5
to you [Isaac] and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. 4 And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; 5 because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.
The term `eqeb, “because,” used in Genesis 26:5 (and already in the original revelation to Abraham in Gen 22:18) signifies recompense, reward (cf. Ps 19:11; Prov 22:4; Isa. 5:23). This strengthens the case for understanding this as a matter of meritorious works. Moreover, Genesis 26:5 describes Abraham’s obedience in language surprising in the Genesis context, the divine demand being denoted by a series of legislative categories such as are later applied to the laws of Moses. A particularly interesting combination of such terms together with `eqeb, “in recompense for,” is found in Deuteronomy 7:12 (cf. 8:20). Quite possibly then, Genesis 26:5 employs the terminology of covenant stipulations from the Sinaitic Covenant, where it describes an arrangement governed by the meritorious works principle, to reenforce the point that Abraham’s obedience was also to be understood as having such a meritorious character and that, as such, it was the ground of the reward enjoyed by his descendants. (Kingdom Prologue, 325)
The Mosaic Covenant was an addendum to the Abrahamic Covenant, adding greater specificity. Deuteronomy 7:12 “Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers.”
It is not possible, biblically, to separate the Mosaic Covenant from the first Abrahamic promise. God’s oath to Abraham guaranteed that the first promise would be fulfilled, but it never promised it would be fulfilled through faith apart from works. It would be fulfilled through obedience to Mosaic law. God was longsuffering to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s natural offspring until the first promise had been completely fulfilled during Solomon’s reign. At that point, Israel was on their own. Abraham could no longer chase away the birds of prey. If Israel broke the law, they would suffer the consequences. Solomon sinned. Israel was split in two and the 10 tribes were destroyed forever. Then Judah sinned and was destroyed by Babylon, except for a small remnant, which God saved because the second Abrahamic promise of the Messiah (which was reiterated through David) had not yet been fulfilled. When that second promise was fulfilled at Christ’s birth, John the Baptist and Jesus began preaching the coming destruction and God destroyed Judah/Jerusalem in AD 70 as the final end of the Old Covenant. (I go over all of this in a podcast series).
How does circumcision relate to all of this? Pastor Hines leans heavily on Romans 4:11 to explain the meaning of circumcision. As explained in the discussion circumcision was a sign and seal (guarantee) of the second Abrahamic promise that Christ would come. It was a seal of Christ’s righteousness in the historia salutis. It was not a sign or seal of Christ’s righteousness imputed to Abraham, David, or anyone else in the ordo salutis. Circumcision was not a sign of union with Christ; a sign of the person’s fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life. Rather, circumcision devoted an individual to the priestly service of God according to the terms of Mosaic law. John D. Meade notes that the practice of circumcision in Egypt during the time was an initiation rite for those who would serve in the court of Pharaoh as priests. Richard Pratt, Jr. explains that in circumcision “Abraham committed himself to loyal service.” In this way Israel was to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:6). This was a glorious thing, but it also proved to be an unbearable yoke (Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1) because it devoted one to obedience to Mosaic law (Gal 5:3). It was profitable if one kept the law, but if one broke the law their circumcision made them liable to Mosaic curse (Rom 2:25). And there was no getting out of this obligation. If one was not circumcised, they were to be cut off (killed; Gen 17:14; Ex. 4:24-26). There was no voluntary profession of saving faith. All offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were obligated to circumcision, devoting them to obedience to Mosaic law, upon pain of death.
Of course, the rite of circumcision did not guarantee that any particular circumcised Israelite would actually serve Yahweh from the heart as Mosaic law required (Deut 6:4). It just meant that they were obligated to (Deut 10:12-16). Note that Moses commanded the Israelites to circumcise their hearts, meaning devote themselves to the service of Yahweh from the bottom of their heart – not just outwardly. Circumcision was not a sign that an individual had a circumcised heart. It was a reminder that they needed one. Jeremiah again commanded Israel to circumcise their hearts – to obey from the heart (Jer 4:4). God had been longsuffering towards the circumcised, but this patience was coming to an end. Jeremiah warns of a coming judgment upon the circumcised for their disobedience. ““Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that I will punish all who are circumcised with the uncircumcised— Egypt, Judah, Edom, the people of Ammon, Moab, and all who are in the farthest corners, who dwell in the wilderness. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.” Jeremiah also looks forward to a day when God will make a new covenant that ensures obedience from the heart (Jer. 31:31-34). This is the same future work that Moses prophesied in Deut. 30:6, of which Calvin commented “This promise far surpasses all the others, and properly refers to the new Covenant, for thus it is interpreted by Jeremiah.”
It is in this vein that Paul says “we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit” (Phil. 3:3) because we have been “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands” (Col. 2:11). A true Jew is now one “who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter” (Rom 2:29). We are devoted to the service of Yahweh from our inward heart, as Israel was commanded to be. But yet this is not sufficient to save us. Even with a regenerate heart we cannot obey the law perfectly, though we may sincerely. We still need Christ’s atonement and the imputation of his righteousness. This is the blessing that God promised Abraham one of his offspring would give to the nations. It was the error of the Judaizers to conflate these two distinct Abrahamic promises and thereby claim that Christians must be circumcised as well. Circumcision obligated the offspring of Abraham to obedience to the law for life and blessing in the promised land of Canaan not for eternal life. This is why Paul explains that Abraham was justified (had eternal life) prior to being circumcised. Circumcision obligated Abraham and his offspring to obedience to the law, but not for eternal life, which Abraham already had. The error of the Judaizers was not to equate circumcision with law keeping but to think God offered Israel eternal life upon the condition of obedience to Mosaic law.
19th century American Episcopalians argued for a national church model consisting of the righteous and the wicked based upon the example of Israel. Note how Charles Hodge responded:
It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a Church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and his true people. The promises of the national covenant were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant, (i.e. of the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law; the condition of the latter was, is, and ever has been, faith in the Messiah as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, and the commonwealth founded on the one with the Church founded on the other.
When Christ came “the commonwealth” was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The Church remained. There was no external covenant, nor promises of external blessings, on condition of external rites and subjection. There was a spiritual society with spiritual promises, on the condition of faith in Christ. In no part of the New Testament is any other condition of membership in the Church prescribed than that contained in the answer of Philip to the eunuch who desired baptism: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts viii. 37)
Hodge is mistaken in his claim that there were two Abrahamic Covenants. However, Hodge is correct that confounding the Covenant of Circumcision (Acts 7:8) with the Covenant of Grace is a great error.
How Christians Should Regard Moses is an interesting sermon from Luther responding to the theonomists of his day. What is noteworthy is that Luther responds the way that 1689 Federalism has responded (which is not surprising given that Luther largely followed Augustine). The Mosaic law as a unit (including the 10 commandments as they were delivered to Israel) is abrogated. It does not continue into the New Covenant. However, part of Mosaic law overlapped with natural law, which binds all men. And Moses clarifies natural law by putting it in writing, so we can look for clarification in Moses. Furthermore, Moses contains promises of the gospel, by which men were saved through believing.
They desire to govern people according to the letter of the law of Moses, as if no one had ever read it before.
But we will not have this sort of thing… It is no longer binding on us because it was given only to the people of Israel…
Moses was an intermediary solely for the Jewish people. It was to them that he gave the law. We must therefore silence the mouths of those factious spirits who say, “Thus says Moses,” etc. Here you simply reply: Moses has nothing to do with us. If I were to accept Moses in one commandment, I would have to accept the entire Moses. Thus the consequence would be that if I accept Moses as master, then I must have myself circumcised, wash my clothes in the Jewish way, eat and drink and dress thus and so, and observe all that stuff…
That Moses does not bind the Gentiles can be proved from Exodus 20:1, where God himself speaks, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” This text makes it clear that even the Ten Commandments do not pertain to us. For God never led us out of Egypt, but only the Jews. The sectarian spirits want to saddle us with Moses and all the commandments. We will just skip that. We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver – unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law…
When these factious spirits come, however, and say, “Moses has commanded it,” then simply drop Moses and reply, “I am not concerned about what Moses commands.” “Yes,” they say, “he has commanded that we should have one God, that we should trust and believe in him, that we should not swear by his name; that we should honor father and mother; not kill, steal, commit adultery; not bear false witness, and not covet [Exod. 20:3-17]; should we not keep these commandments?” You reply: Nature also has these laws. Nature provides that we should call upon God. The Gentiles attest to this fact. For there never was a Gentile who did not call upon his idols, even though these were not the true God. This also happened among the Jews, for they had their idols as did the Gentiles; only the Jews have received the law. The Gentiles have it written in their heart, and there is no distinction [Rom. 3:22]. As St. Paul also shows in Romans 2:14-15, the Gentiles, who have no law, have the law written in their heart.
But just as the Jews fail, so also do the Gentiles. Therefore it is natural to honor God, not steal, not commit adultery, not bear false witness, not murder; and what Moses commands is nothing new. For what God has given the Jews from heaven, he has also written in the hearts of all men. Thus I keep the commandments which Moses has given, not because Moses gave the commandment, but because they have been implanted in me by nature, and Moses agrees exactly with nature, etc.
But the other commandments of Moses, which are not [implanted in all men] by nature, the Gentiles do not hold. Nor do these pertain to the Gentiles, such as the tithe and others equally fine which I wish we had too. Now this is the first thing that I ought to see in Moses, namely, the commandments to which I am not bound except insofar as they are by nature…
Thus we read Moses not because he applies to us, that we must obey him, but because he agrees with the natural law and is conceived better than the Gentiles would ever have been able to do. Thus the Ten Commandments are a mirror of our life, in which we can see wherein we are lacking, etc…
In the second place I find something in Moses that I do not have from nature: the promises and pledges of God about Christ.
This is the best thing. It is something that is not written naturally into the heart, but comes from heaven… in Moses there are the promises of God which sustain faith. As it is written of Eve in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head,” etc. Again Abraham was given this promise by God, speaking thus in Genesis 22:18, “In your descendants shall all the nations be blessed”; that is, through Christ the gospel is to arise.
The OPC Report on Republication mentions that they were unable to find any historical examples of “View 3: A Mixed Covenant” which it describes as “First, the moral law alone was presented to Israel, which is said to contain in substance a perfect covenant of works… The law was then issued a second time, but with moderation, promising pardon to the penitent, and thus in substance offering a covenant of grace…”
It would appear that John Cotton’s pivotal 1636 sermon in Salem, which sparked a revival in New England, is an example of this view. He distinguishes between the covenant made at Horeb and the covenant made at Moab. Cotton says
The Lord doth profess unto them all that should keep Covenant, That they should Live by keeping Covenant. And this is the Grand and Principle Promise wraping up all other, 18.5. And the Apostle doth Interpret the meaning of that Promise: Gal. 3.12. The Law is not of faith, but the man that doth these things shall Live in them: and this is the Promise of Life which God giveth to those that keep Covenant…
They yield themselves to be accursed of God, if they shall not keep that Covenant; and therefore when it was pronounced, Cursed is e|very one that continueth not in all things that are writ|ten in the Law to do them, all the People did say, Amen; and so their faith lay upon a curse: This is the Old Covenant that God made with his People, and is called a Covenant of Works; the Lord requireth Righteousness and Works, He Promi|seth Life to their Works, and they say, Amen, to enter into a curse. Now this was a temporal Covenant; this my Covenant they brake, saith the Lord; and they did quickly turn aside from the wayes of the Lord, and therefore Moses when he cometh and seeth the Calf which they had made, he brake the Tables of the Covenant…
Now for the Covenant that is Everlasting▪ we may observe therein also four acts of God towards his People… In Jesus Christ He doth give Everlasting Communion with Him. Through Christ He will take away the Stony heart, and give a heart of flesh…
To those that do Apostate from it: Heb. 10.29. Of how much sorer Punishment shall they be thought worthy of who have trodden under foot the Son of God, and have counted the blood of the Covenant, where|with they were sanctified, an unholy thing, & have done despite unto the Spirit of Grace. This Covenant is that which is spoken of, Deut. 29.1. beside the Covenant made in Mount Horeb: and to this Covenant belongeth a heavy curse: Deut. 30.17, 18. If thy heart turn away that thou wilt not bear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them, I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your dayes upon the Land whither thou passest over Jordan to possess it. And that it is the Covenant of Grace, we may perceive by comparing, Deut. 30. 11. to the 14. with, 16.6. So that we may see the Lord doth threaten a heavy curse to fall upon them that transgress this Covenant…
Now, this is the nature of the comfort of an Everlasting Cove|nant, tho’ we fail in Families, and in Churches, yet if Christ be ours, the Everlasting Covenant is ours. Indeed when Moses came and saw the Israelites worshipping the golden Calf, Exod. 32.19. because he saw they had broken Covenant with God, therefore he brake the Tables of the Covenant; to shew the Lord would have no fellowship with them; and if the Covenant had not been renewed, they had perished.
Cotton then applied the point to the question of local church covenants.
The Use of this point in the first Place, may shew us from hence, a ground of that which some of us (yet but few) saw the truth of, in our Native Country, namely the Necessity of a Church Covenant to the Institution of a Church, Come, and let us joyn our selves to the Lord: That which doth make a People a joyned People with God, that doth make a Church: What is that? The Covenant of Grace doth make a People▪ a joyned People with God, and therefore a Church of God; and therefore you shall find that when the Lord Establishes Israel for a Church unto Himself. He maketh this Covenant: not only that in Mount Hareb, but He doth make another Covenant with them in the Plains of Deut. 29 10, 17. And so by this means they come to be established to be a Church unto God.”
Cotton then blasted the Separatist church in Salem for making their local church covenant a covenant of works because they required members to denounce the Church of England and meet other requirements (such as moral reformation and behavior) beyond mere faith in Christ.
USE. II. In the Second Place, Let me pro|voke my Self, and all my Brethren, and all the Churches to Consider, What kind of Covenant you have entred, or will enter into: if you shall come hither into this Country, and shall here confess your Sins, that you have prophaned the Name of God withal, if you take Christ for your King, and Priest & Prophet, and if you shall profess to walk in all his ways, this may all be but a Covenant of works.
The Elders of the Church propound it, Will you renounce all your Sinful Pollutions? Will you keep Covenant? And enter into a Cove|nant with the Church, and take Christ, and pro|mise to walk after all God’s Ordinances? You Answer, All this we will do; all this is no more than the Old Covenant: For you are much de|ceived if you think there was no speech of Christ in the Covenant of works. What were the Ce|remonies but shadows of Christ? What was the laying the hand on the head of the Sacrifice, but the laying hold upon Christ Jesus? What was the blood of the Sacrifice? Was it not the blood of Christ? And what was the Atonement by that blood? Was it not the Atonement which is by Christ? All the understanding Israelites did see that these things did point at Christ. Now, if we do enter into a Covenant to keep the Or|dinances of the Law, of the Gospel, and of the Civil State, (for that was the tripartive Covenant) all this may be but a Covenant of Works. What then must we do? We must fall down before the Lord in our Spirits, and profess our selves insuf|ficient to keep any Covenant, and profess our selves unworthy that the Lord should keep any Covenant with us; as to say, Lord! who am I? Or what is my Fathers house, that the Lord should ever look upon such a poor Soul as I am? What doth the Church lay hold upon duties, and there’s an end? No, no, There are no true Servants of Jesus Christ, but they must be drawn out of themselves by a Spirit of Bondage, and unto Christ by a Spirit of Poverty; and then a Soul seeth there is much in Christ, but he cannot hope there is any thing for him: Now the Lord doth draw a man on to Christ Jesus, and calleth him to believe in Christ, but yet he is not able to reach Him. Now then, if the Lord draw the Soul to depend upon Christ, and shall go forth, and not undertake any thing in his own Strength; so you will keep it by the Strength of the Lord also; now the Lord will have Peace with you, and the gates of Hell shall never prevail against you. Build a Church up|on any other foundation but Faith, and the pro|fession of Faith, and it will break into manifold distempers.
The Separatists insisted that any true Christian must declare full separation from the Church of England because the Church of England had defiled herself by not practicing church discipline. They thereby made their separation the grounds of their cleanness and their inclusion in the church. Cotton concluded:
So in case the Church do tolerate these, that do defile them|selves with any Sinful Pollution, do not I make my self Unclean now by touching this Church?… You see the Church lye in Sin, you will not touch her, then you Sin against her, and have broken your Covenant, Will you suffer your Brother’s Ox to lye in the Mire?… I Pray you therefore consider it: I am marvellously afraid of Separation from Churches upon any breach of duty; they who do Separate for such causes, think they are sprinkled with the water of Separation: but believe it, they are Separa|ted from Christ Jesus for ever, if they so live and so dye. Therefore if you belong to Christ, He will shew you it is not the water of Separa|tion that will serve your turn, but getting Christ Jesus, and sitting closer to Him, and to your Brethren, by Admonishing and Reproving them, if you see them defiled. This will keep you clean, and your hearts clean, and your Souls comfortable: That the Lord hath made an Everlasting Covenant with you that shall never be Forgotten.
An objection is often raised as to how God could enter into a covenant of works with fallen sinners. (Note: “a” covenant of works, not “the” covenant of works)
It is argued that a covenant that operates upon a principle of works (If you do this, then you will get this) must start from the basis of innocence. If someone is innocent, then they can earn a reward. However, if they are not innocent, if they have a guilt that must be paid, then they cannot earn anything until that guilt is paid. So a fallen sinner cannot enter into a covenant of works for any kind of reward (even temporal) until that guilt is paid (which they cannot do).
It is a strong argument on the face of it. However, the problem is that Scripture throws us a curve ball. Leviticus 18:5 says that the Mosaic Covenant, which is made with fallen sinners, operates upon the principle of “if you do this, then you will get this.” That principle is repeated throughout the Old Testament, particularly in Ezekiel when Israel is being prosecuted for their violation of the covenant. Bryan D. Estelle notes
Leviticus 18:5’s influence on Ezekiel is of paramount importance. The purpose of these echoic allusions in Ezekiel is to show that what Israel has failed to do, God will do… Leviticus 18 allusions are seen throughout the entire book of Ezekiel and not merely restricted (as often) to chapter 20 of Ezekiel where three citations of Lev 18:5 have frequently been noted… Israel’s failure to fulfill the stipulations is highlighted repeatedly in Ezekiel 1-24…
Paul also quotes Leviticus 18:5 twice in the NT. Both times he does so to demonstrate the antithesis between the law and faith (Rom 10:5, Gal 3:12).
Those who object that God could not make a covenant of works with fallen man usually argue that Lev 18:5 is not stating the terms of the Mosaic Covenant. They claim it is just a reference, or proclamation of the original Adamic Covenant and it is just reminding Israelites of it. It’s not stating the terms of the Mosaic Covenant, they argue, only declaring the original terms of the Adamic Covenant. However, not only is this an impossible reading of the text itself, it fails the systematic test as well. (See Guy Waters on Leviticus 18:5)
So, biblically speaking, Lev 18:5 proves that a covenant made with fallen sinners operates upon a works principle. So there must be a problem with the original objection. The problem is that not only are fallen sinners unable to earn anything, fallen sinners are unable to breathe the very air they breathe each day and eat the food they eat each day. They deserve only God’s wrath and death. Yet somehow they continue to eat and breathe and live. That is because of God’s long-suffering towards them. All mankind deserved immediate eternal punishment upon Adam’s breach of his covenant of works. But God delayed and preserved mankind. God is willing and able, while maintaining his justice, to give them gifts (Matt. 5:45) when they only deserve wrath – and to do so apart from union with Christ.
So then what is preventing him from choosing some of those fallen sinners and offering them gifts above and beyond the norm (rain and sun) upon the condition that they do something? There can be no objection of injustice anymore than there can be an objection of injustice on God’s part towards every fallen sinner.
“But,” they will object, “that would mean that there is some kind of grace involved, and therefore it cannot be a covenant of works!” Not so fast. WCF/LBCF 7.1 teach that even the original Covenant of Works was established through God’s “voluntary condescension.” Mankind owed obedience to God by nature without the expectation of any reward, yet God “graciously” condescended to reward that obedience with something. So offering man something that he does not deserve, on the condition of his obedience, is not inconsistent with a covenant of works. Note what Owen says:
The covenant of works had its promises, but they were all remunerative, respecting an antecedent obedience in us; (so were all those which were peculiar unto the covenant of Sinai). They were, indeed, also of grace, in that the reward did infinitely exceed the merit of our obedience; but yet they all supposed it, and the subject of them was formally reward only.
But, if this reasoning proves anything, will it not prove, that a God of spotless purity, can enter into a friendly treaty with men, whom yet, on account of their sins, he utterly abhors. And what if it does? Perhaps, the assertion, however shocking at first view, may, on a narrower scrutiny, be found innocent. We assert not any inward eternal friendship between God and the unconverted Jews. We only assert an external temporal covenant, which, though it secured their outward prosperity, gave them no claim to God’s special favour. Where then is the alleged absurdity? Will you say it is unworthy of God to maintain external communion with sinners, or to impart to them any blessings? What then would become of the bulk of mankind? Nay, what would become of the patience and longsuffering of God? Or is it absurd, that God should reward actions that flow from bad motives when we have an undoubted instance of his doing this in the case pf Jehu? Or is it absurd, that God would entail favours on bad men, in the way of promise or covenant? Have you forgot God’s promise to Jehu, that his children of the fourth generation should sit on the throne of Israel? Or have you forgot, what concerns you more, God’s covenant with mankind in general, no more to destroy the earth by a flood (2 Kings 10:30; Gen 9:12)?
Reformed paedobaptists introduced the concept of substance and accidents into the discussion of covenant theology and wound up creating a rather convoluted mess of things.
The substance/accidents distinction goes back to Aristotle. A simple summary:
Aristotle made a distinction between the essential and accidental properties of a thing. For example, a chair can be made of wood or metal, but this is accidental to its being a chair: that is, it is still a chair regardless of the material from which it is made. To put this in technical terms, an accident is a property which has no necessary connection to the essence of the thing being described.
To take another example, all bachelors are unmarried: this is a necessary or essential property of what it means to be a bachelor. A particular bachelor may have brown hair, but this would be a property particular to that individual, and with respect to his bachelorhood it would be an accidental property.
The concept is liable to abuse. The Roman Catholic Church has used it to explain transubstantiation.
In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species [accidents] of those sensible things…
And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation…
CANON lI.-If any one saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood-the species [accidents] Only of the bread and wine remaining-which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.
2.23 The second captivity of this sacrament is less grievous so far as the conscience is concerned, yet the very gravest danger threatens the man who would attack it, to say nothing of condemning it. Here I shall be called a Wycliffite and a heretic a thousand times over. But what of that? Since the Roman bishop has ceased to be a bishop and become a tyrant, I fear none of his decrees, for I know that it is not in his power, nor even in that of a general council, to make new articles of faith. Years ago, when I was delving into scholastic theology, the Cardinal of Cambrai gave me food for thought, in his comments on the fourth Book of the Sentences, where he argues with great acumen that to hold that real bread and real wine, and not their accidents only, are present on the altar, is much more probable and requires fewer unnecessary miracles – if only the Church had not decreed otherwise. When I learned later what church it was that had decreed this – namely, the Church of Thomas, i.e., of Aristotle – I waxed bolder, and after floating in a sea of doubt, at last found rest for my conscience in the above view – namely, that it is real bread and real wine, in which Christ’s real flesh and blood are present, not otherwise and not less really than they assume to be the case under their accidents. I reached this conclusion because I saw that the opinions of the Thomists, though approved by pope and council, remain but opinions and do not become articles of faith, even though an angel from heaven were to decree otherwise. For what is asserted without Scripture or an approved revelation, may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed. But this opinion of Thomas hangs so completely in the air, devoid of Scripture and reason, that he seems here to have forgotten both his philosophy and his logic. For Aristotle writes about subject and accidents so very differently from St. Thomas, that I think this great man is to be pitied, not only for drawing his opinions in matters of faith from Aristotle, but for attempting to base them on him without understanding his meaning – an unfortunate superstructure upon an unfortunate foundation…
2.26 Therefore it is an absurd and unheard-of juggling with words, to understand “bread” to mean “the form, or accidents of bread,” and “wine” to mean “the form, or accidents of wine.” Why do they not also understand all other things to mean their forms, or accidents? Even if this might be done with all other things, it would yet not be right thus to emasculate the words of God and arbitrarily to empty them of their meaning.
[T]he nomenclature of the old and new covenant, spirit, and people did not arise from the very essence (substantia) of the covenant but from certain foreign and unessential things (accidentibus) because the diversity of the times recommended that now this, now that be added according to the [difference] of the Jewish people. These additions (accessere) did not exist as perpetual and particularly necessary things for salvation, but they arose as changeable things according to the time, the persons, and the circumstances. The covenant itself could easily continue without them. 
Joshua Moon notes “Bullinger’s reading, and the positing of a unity of substance and contrast of accidents, shows what will emerge as the boundary markers of Reformed thought on the subject. Such language becomes common for the Reformed and will influence the whole of the tradition through the period of orthodoxy and into the contemporary Reformed world.”
Olevianus was a trained humanist as well as a theologian. He learned Aristotle at university and particularly the Organon. As part of his education he learned the traditional Christian appropriation of the distinction between the substance of a thing, i.e., its essence, and its accidents or external appearance.We make this distinction all the time. If you have a smart phone you probably have some sort of cover. The cover is not the phone. It is accidental to the phone. The same is true of your computer. The outer shell that houses your computer isn’t actually the computer. Things like the motherboard, those are the computer… The substance of a thing is what makes it what it is, the thing without which it doesn’t exist. The accidents or circumstances are the administration of the covenant of grace.
Calvin followed the same play.
All this leads to the conclusion, that the difference between us and the ancient fathers lies in accidents, not in substance. In all the leading characters of the Testament or Covenant we agree: the ceremonies and form of government, in which we differ, are mere additions.
Both covenants [are] truly one, though differently administered… The covenant made with all the fathers is so far from differing from ours in reality and substance, that it is altogether one and the same: still the administration differs.
J.V. Fesko notes
What changes, therefore, in the transition from the OT to the NT is not the covenant, but rather the form or administration of the covenant (2.11.13). Here then is what one may describe as Aristotelian language in the use of the distinction between substance and form, which was commonplace in the theology of Calvin’s day.
Cornelius Venema summarizes
When Calvin and subsequent Reformed theologians employ the language of “substance” and “form” or “accidents” to refer to the distinct administrations of the one covenant of grace throughout history, they are employing a traditional category distinction from the philosophy of Aristotle. “Substance” refers to “what makes something what it is,” “accidents” refers to what belongs “contingently” to something.
Administration = Accidents
The accidents of the covenant of grace were identified with its “administration,” referring to various ordinances and ceremonies. WCF 7.5-6 identify these as “promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come” as well as “the preaching of the Word, and… the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”
Substance = Salvation in Christ
The substance, then, refers to what is being administered: salvation in Christ.
[T]he comparison made by the Apostle refers to the form rather than to the substance; for though God promised to them the same salvation which he at this day promises to us, yet neither the manner nor the character of the revelation is the same or equal to what we enjoy.
-Calvin, Commentary Hebrews 8:6
How did the Olevianus and others define the substance or essence of the covenant of grace? “I will put my law in your midst, and I will write my law in your heart and I will be your God and you will be my people.” Embedded in this prophetic articulation of the covenant of grace is essentially or substantially the same promise he had made to Adam, after the fall (Gen 3), to Noah (Gen 6), and to Abraham (Gen 17). Embedded in that re-articulation is the ancient promise to send a redeemer who would turn away the wrath we earned and to earn righteousness for all his people. This, Olevianus would go on to say is the first benefit of the covenant of grace: “free forgiveness of sins in Christ,” i.e., unconditional acceptance with God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone…
When our theologians, whether Olevianus in the 16th century or Witsius in the 17th century, wrote about the “substance of the covenant” they were writing about the same way God has always saved and sanctified his people whether under Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David or Christ. There is a unified covenant of grace.
I’m not certain when it was first articulated, but an important twist occurs as the concept is further developed.
WCF 7.6 Under the Gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.
Notice the two uses of the word “substance”. The argument is that because Christ is the substance, there are not two different covenants, but only one. However, note Scripture reference : “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17 ESV) Thus the first mention of “substance” refers to a shadow/substance distinction, or what we could call a type/anti-type distinction. One thing points forward to something else. However, the second use of “substance” refers to the substance/accidents distinction.
Are these two distinctions the same thing? Was Paul using Aristotelian categories when he spoke of shadows and substance? No. They are two different concepts. Two different distinctions. The shadow/substance distinction refers to a way of teaching or speaking about something by way of analogy or comparison. The substance/accidents distinction refers to defining the essence of something.
The Westminster tradition has conflated these two things and built a labyrinth around themselves that they are now trapped in. It has stunted their typology. The recent OPC Report on Republication addresses this point (in order to show how Kline’s typology is contrary to the WCF).
According to our doctrinal standards the substance of the covenant of grace is Christ. The covenant was fulfilled “under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited” (WCF 7.6). Christ supplies the substance (or blessings) of the covenant of grace due to the dignity of his person and the merit of his work… Whether we are speaking of the types and pictures of Christ in the old covenant or the reality and fullness of Christ in the new, what is applied to God’s elect, in principle, is the same. Although the ceremonies, sacrifices, and ordinances of the Mosaic covenant were types of Christ, the efficacy of what they pictured was communicated through them to the elect of Israel…
However, it is also true that some Reformed theologians have seen the idea of substance in a more technical way; namely, the core condition that governs the covenant. Thus, when the condition is essentially the same, the covenant is also essentially the same; and when the condition differs, so does the essence of the covenant. For example, Zacharias Ursinus argues that the “substance of the covenant” is “the principal conditions” of the covenant… The confession seems to communicate this basic idea when it states that the Old and New Testament are not “two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.”…
The confession addresses these differences [between the Old and New Covenants] by the way in which the covenant itself is administered, and by the way in which the blessings of the covenant are enjoyed. It does this by organizing these two issues through its unified treatment and emphasis on typology… The covenant of grace was administered in the time of the law “by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances.” The phrase, “other types and ordinances” shows that typology functions as a general rubric to summarize the symbols and ordinances of the old covenant. The standards remind us that those types were “sufficient and efficacious” for the time of the law and by them believing Israelites enjoyed the “full remission of sins, and eternal salvation” (WCF 7.5). Yet this is true only because they were more than symbols for that covenant administration. They also functioned as types of the fullness to be unveiled with Christ’s coming. Their ultimate efficacy is dependent upon their functioning as types.
By adding obedience to the ceremonial law to the essential condition of the covenant, the subservient covenant position gives Mosaic typology a fundamentally works-based character, rather than an evangelical one. Proponents did not deny that these various types also signified spiritual benefits, but they insisted that they only did so “secondarily” or indirectly, while their primary reference was to temporal things promised in the covenant.169
 Cameron put it this way: “The Sacraments, Sacrifices, and Ceremonies of the Old Testament did set forth Christ, and the Benefits by Christ; not primarily, but secondarily…but the Sacraments of the New Covenant do shew forth Christ primarily, and that clearly” (as translated by Samuel Bolton in his True Boundes, 399). Thus circumcision primarily signified the separation between the seed of Abraham and the rest of the nations and sealed to them the earthly promise. The Passover primarily signified the passing over of the destroying Angel. The sacrifices and washings primarily represented only a carnal holiness. Only secondarily did these benefits signify Christ.
From a confessional viewpoint, the basic weakness here is that it reverses the true biblical priority of Christ as the substance and primary signification of these types and shadows. According to our standards, the purpose of these various types and ordinances was to function as an aspect of the covenant of grace, being means of administering the eternal and salvific blessings procured by Christ (WCF 7.5, 8.6, 17.5). He is the “substance” of the types and ordinances (not merely their secondary referent), even as he is the substance of God’s covenant of grace (WCF 7.6), while all else remains secondary or accidental. The subservient covenant effectively reverses this in insisting that these types primarily signify temporal benefits, and only secondarily signify Christ. As John Cameron stated, the subservient covenant leads to Christ only “indirectly” whereas the covenant of grace leads to him directly. It is difficult to harmonize the idea that Christ was the “substance” of all these types and ordinances and at the same time only their secondary referent…
[A]nything that functions as an “administration” of the covenant of grace must, in fact, administer grace to those who are under it. Such it is with the other types, ceremonies, and other ordinances delivered to the Jews. The administrative aspects of the old covenant were to function as the “outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates” to Israel “the benefits of redemption” (SC 88)… [T]ypology is a subset of the broader category of the administration of the covenant… According to our standards, typology is an aspect of the administration of the covenant of grace in the Old Testament, which in turn is described as the outward means of the Old Testament era for communicating grace to the elect of that era. Saving grace was not simply administered merely as a consequence or by-product of these types.275 Rather, saving grace was present by and in these types, and in this way communicated grace to believers.276 In terms of our confessional definitions, to say that something is an administration of grace means that grace is communicated by and in that thing.
 This seems to be the distinctive typological construction of the subservient covenant position, discussed above.
I always thought Owen’s claims about the Poverty of Types meant he was on a pretty different page from the rest of the presbyterians
“Such was the poverty of the types that no one of them could so much as shadow out or represent all that advantage which we really enjoy and therefore they were multiplied and the work distributed amongst them which they were to represent. This made them a yoke, and that grievous and burdensome. The way of teaching in them and by them was hard and obscure, as well as their observation was difficult. It was a hard thing for them to learn the love, grace, and mind of God by them. God revealed himself in them πολυμερῶς, by many parts and pieces, according as they were capable to receive impression from and make representation of divine wisdom, goodness, and grace; whence our apostle says, that the law had but σκίαν, “a shadow,” and not αὐτὴν τὴν εἰκόνα πραγμάτων, Hebrews 10:1, — “the image itself of things.” It had some scattered shades, which the great limner had laid the foundation of symmetry in, but so as to be discernible only unto his own infinite wisdom. A perfect image, wherein all the parts should exactly answer unto one another, and so plainly represent the thing intended, that it had not. Now, it was a work beyond their wisdom, out of these scattered pieces and parts of revelation, especially being implanted on carnal things, to gather up the whole of the grace and good-will of God. But in Christ Jesus God hath gathered all into one bead, Ephesians 1:10, wherein both his person and grace are fully and at once represented.”
Owen, like 1689 Federalism, held to a version, or refinement of the subservient covenant view, which recognizes that the Old and New Covenants are two different, distinct covenants – not the same covenant. Thus the Old and New are not one in essence or substance. However, it is important to understand that Owen and 1689 Federalism do affirm that Christ is the substance of the the types and shadows of the Old Covenant and that men in the Old Testament were saved through belief in the gospel revealed by those types. They simply recognize that those two uses of “substance” are two different concepts.
Having noted these things, we may consider that the Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way as can hardly be accommodated by a twofold administration of the same covenant…Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than merely a twofold administration of the same covenant, to be intended. We must do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, and with great pretence of reason, for it is the sole foundation of all who allow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, ’That this being the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation is the same under both, then indeed they are the same for the substance of them is but one.’ And I grant that this would inevitably follow, if it were so equally by virtue of them both. If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue of it, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, while they were under the old covenant.
Having shown in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition to the old covenant, so I shall propose several things which relate to the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace.
That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that [new] covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ
-Owen on Hebrews 8:6
The types and shadows of the Old Covenant revealed the gospel and people were saved by believing that gospel, but the Old Covenant did not therefore save them because it did not establish union with Christ. The New Covenant is our union with Christ. The Old Covenant types were the means that God used to reveal the gospel but it was the New Covenant union established in the effectual call that saved the elect living under the Old Covenant.
[Side Note: Klineans do not properly understand the use of Aristotelian “substance” in WCF 7.6 and the reformed tradition to affirm that the Old and the New are the same covenant. They reject that idea and say the Old and New are two distinct covenants, but they still try to argue that they affirm 7.6. They simply don’t understand what 7.6 is saying – and part of that is because 7.6 conflates two different ideas about substance: one they affirm and one they do not. For more on this point, see Kline on “Administration of the Covenant of Grace” and Episodes 4-6 of the Glory Cloud Podcast. Owen properly understood the meaning of terms and therefore rejected WCF 7.6.]
The OPC Report notes “It is difficult to harmonize the idea that Christ was the ‘substance’ of all these types and ordinances and at the same time only their secondary referent.” This difficulty is only created by the mistaken application of substance/accidents. Presbyterians who stumble at this point would do well to listen to Augustine, who addresses what he sees as an error on their part.
Wherefore just as that divine oracle to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the other prophetic signs or sayings which are given in the earlier sacred writings, so also the other prophecies from this time of the kings pertain partly to the nation of Abraham’s flesh, and partly to that seed of his in which all nations are blessed as fellow-heirs of Christ by the New Testament, to the possessing of eternal life and the kingdom of the heavens. Therefore they pertain partly to the bond maid who gendereth to bondage, that is, the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; but partly to the free city of God, that is, the true Jerusalem eternal in the heavens, whose children are all those that live according to God in the earth: but there are some things among them which are understood to pertain to both,—to the bond maid properly, to the free woman figuratively. (Gal 4:22-31)
Therefore prophetic utterances of three kinds are to be found; forasmuch as there are some relating to the earthly Jerusalem, some to the heavenly, and some to both. I think it proper to prove what I say by examples. The prophet Nathan was sent to convict king David of heinous sin, and predict to him what future evils should be consequent on it. Who can question that this and the like pertain to the terrestrial city, whether publicly, that is, for the safety or help of the people, or privately, when there are given forth for each one’s private good divine utterances whereby something of the future may be known for the use of temporal life? But where we read, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make for the house of Israel, and for the house of Judah, a new testament: not according to the testament that I settled for their fathers in the day when I laid hold of their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my testament, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the testament that I will make for the house of Israel: after those days, saith the Lord, I will give my laws in their mind, and will write them upon their hearts, and I will see to them; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people;” (Heb 8:8-10) without doubt this is prophesied to the Jerusalem above, whose reward is God Himself, and whose chief and entire good it is to have Him, and to be His. But this pertains to both, that the city of God is called Jerusalem, and that it is prophesied the house of God shall be in it; and this prophecy seems to be fulfilled when king Solomon builds that most noble temple. For these things both happened in the earthly Jerusalem, as history shows, and were types of the heavenly Jerusalem. And this kind of prophecy, as it were compacted and commingled of both the others in the ancient canonical books, containing historical narratives, is of very great significance, and has exercised and exercises greatly the wits of those who search holy writ. For example, what we read of historically as predicted and fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, we must also inquire the allegorical meaning of, as it is to be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to faith. And so much is this the case, that some have thought there is nothing in these books either foretold and effected, or effected although not foretold, that does not insinuate something else which is to be referred by figurative signification to the city of God on high, and to her children who are pilgrims in this life. But if this be so, then the utterances of the prophets, or rather the whole of those Scriptures that are reckoned under the title of the Old Testament, will be not of three, but of two different kinds. For there will be nothing there which pertains to the terrestrial Jerusalem only, if whatever is there said and fulfilled of or concerning her signifies something which also refers by allegorical prefiguration to the celestial Jerusalem; but there will be only two kinds one that pertains to the free Jerusalem, the other to both. But just as, I think, they err greatly who are of opinion that none of the records of affairs in that kind of writings mean anything more than that they so happened, so I think those very daring who contend that the whole gist of their contents lies in allegorical significations. Therefore I have said they are threefold, not two-fold. Yet, in holding this opinion, I do not blame those who may be able to draw out of everything there a spiritual meaning, only saving, first of all, the historical truth. For the rest, what believer can doubt that those things are spoken vainly which are such that, whether said to have been done or to be yet to come, they do not beseem either human or divine affairs? Who would not recall these to spiritual understanding if he could, or confess that they should be recalled by him who is able?”
…In that testament, however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised. Accordingly that land, into which the nation, after being led through the wilderness, was conducted, is called the land of promise, wherein peace and royal power, and the gaining of victories over enemies, and an abundance of children and of fruits of the ground, and gifts of a similar kind are the promises of the Old Testament. And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament; but yet the man who lives under God’s law with those earthly blessings for his sanction, is precisely the heir of the Old Testament, for just such rewards are promised and given to him, according to the terms of the Old Testament, as are the objects of his desire according to the condition of the old man. But whatever blessings are there figuratively set forth as appertaining to the New Testament require the new man to give them effect. And no doubt the great apostle understood perfectly well what he was saying, when he described the two testaments as capable of the allegorical distinction of the bond-woman and the free,—attributing the children of the flesh to the Old, and to the New the children of the promise: “They,” says he, “which are the children of the flesh, are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom 9:8) The children of the flesh, then, belong to the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; whereas the children of the promise belong to the Jerusalem above, the free, the mother of us all, eternal in the heavens. (Gal 4:25, 26) Whence we can easily see who they are that appertain to the earthly, and who to the heavenly kingdom. But then the happy persons, who even in that early age were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament to the ancient people of God, because it was divinely appropriated to that people in God’s distribution of the times and seasons.
The Substance of the Old Covenant
If Christ is not the substance, or essence, of the Old Covenant, then what is? Well, substance refers to the essence of something. So, what is essential to any particular covenant – divine or human? Simply put, the parties and the terms.
The OPC Report quotes Thomas Blake explaining that “a covenant entered by the same parties, upon the same terms and propositions on either hand, is the same covenant.” Thus the “substance” of each biblical covenant could be identified as follows:
Adamic: between God and Adam, representing all humanity, offering eternal life upon the condition of perfect obedience
Noahic: between God and Noah, representing all humanity, promising never to flood the earth again without condition (or alternatively upon condition of Noah building and entering the ark)
Abrahamic: between God and Abraham, representing his carnal offspring, promising to give him numerous physical offspring and the land of Canaan for them to dwell in, and also promising that the Messiah will be born from him and will bless all nations
Mosaic: between God and Israel, mediated by Moses, promising to bless them in the land of Canaan or to curse them in exile upon condition of their obedience to the law of Moses
Davidic: between God and David, representing his offspring, promising to make them king of Israel and to bless Israel upon condition of their obedience to the law of Moses
Redemption: between the Father and the Son, promising to grant the Son an kingdom and a redeemed people upon condition of his active and passive obedience
New: between God and Christ, representing the elect, promising to pour out his Spirit upon them, granting them faith, justification, sanctification, glorification – all the benefits of union with Christ without any antecedent condition on their part
But I prefer to avoid speaking in terms of “substance” and to just speak about the parties and terms of each covenant. And, when a paedobaptist brother echoes Calvin, saying
[T]he comparison made by the Apostle [in Hebrews 8] refers to the form rather than to the substance… The ceremonies of the law… were merely accidents of the covenant, or at least additions and appendages, and, as they are commonly called, accessories, yet because they were the means of administering it, the name of covenant is applied to them…
I simply echo Luther
Therefore it is an absurd and unheard-of juggling with words, to understand “covenant” to mean “the form, or accidents of the covenant,” and “wine” to mean “the form, or accidents of wine.” Why do they not also understand all other things to mean their forms, or accidents? Even if this might be done with all other things, it would yet not be right thus to emasculate the words of God and arbitrarily to empty them of their meaning.