Recently, R. Scott Clark has released a series of podcasts in defense of paedobaptism. The majority of the material in the podcasts comes from a series of blog posts he wrote previously (he is often just reading them). Those posts, as well as other essays that Clark has written, have already been addressed in depth in A Critique of R. Scott Clark’s Covenant Theology. Since Clark did not address any of the arguments in that post, it is still relevant and I refer you there for a thorough treatment.
That said, Clark makes a few comments in the podcasts that are worth commenting on. (It’s also worth noting that Clark speaks of “baptists” very broadly, often referring to Arminian Dispensationalists. Only very occasionally does he have confessional baptists specifically in mind.)
Abraham and Moses
Clark’s main argument is simultaneously his main weakness. In response to baptists, Clark emphasizes that Abraham is not Moses. That is, the Abrahamic Covenant is not the Mosaic Covenant. I did not count, but I would not be surprised if he repeated that point at least 60 times over the series of podcasts. Clark is departing from Westminster on this point, resulting in an inconsistent covenant theology. This leads him to deny any kind of dichotomy in Abraham, resulting in some strange inconsistencies.
Even though there were typological, for example, land promises and national elements in the promises given to Abraham, those were only temporary expressions of the more fundamental promise to send a Savior. So, in other words, it’s not fair, I don’t think, and the reformed have said, to use Genesis 12 and 15 in order to try and turn Abraham into Moses.
Heidelcast 107, @24:30
Actually, it is the reformed who insist that Abraham and Moses are one. Ligon Duncan explains:
So as far as Moses is concerned, there is no radical dichotomy between what God is doing with His people in the time of the Exodus and what God promised to Abraham. In fact, he says that the reason God came to His people’s rescue was because He remembered the promise He had made with Abraham. And if you will remember back to our study of Genesis chapter 15, God went out of His way to tell Abraham about the oppression of Israel in Egypt and about the fact that He was going to bring them out of Egypt as a mighty nation, and that He was going to give them the land of Canaan. And so, Moses goes out of his way in both Genesis 15 and in Exodus 2 to link the Mosaic Economy with the Abrahamic Covenant, so that the Mosaic Economy isn’t something that is replacing the way that God deals with His people, under Abraham; it is expanding what God was doing with His people through Abraham.
Clark notes “There’s a strong temptation among some to treat the Mosaic covenant… as if it were only an administration of the covenant of grace. [That is] a mistake.” (Heidelcast 112, @6:00) Clark is here rejecting the Westminster Confession and referring to those who affirm it. If you’re a paedobaptist and you’ve only learned covenant theology from R. Scott Clark, Michael Horton, and the like then you don’t understand Westminster covenant theology.
Paul’s point here is clear. In the terms in which he is speaking about Moses, and Abraham, they operate on different principles inasmuch as Moses is an administration of the law, the 613 commandments, the Mosaic Covenant says “Do this and live.” The Abrahamic Covenant says “receive freely through faith alone benefits that you did not earn but that were earned for you by another.
The Old Covenant… was a covenant that was broken. The Covenant of Grace can’t be broken. (113, @13:30)
Thus the Old Covenant was not the Covenant of Grace. The recent OPC Report on Republication states very clearly that this view is contrary to the Westminster Standards, which teaches that the Mosaic Covenant is one with the Abrahamic and New Covenants, which are all equally the Covenant of Grace, and thus operate on the same principle.
Abraham was clothed in types and shadows
Were the typological land promises and national elements Abrahamic? Clark says yes and no. Yes, they were, but they were temporary, so no, they weren’t. Only the promise of Christ was truly, ultimately Abrahamic, he claims. But just because they were temporary does not mean they were not Abrahamic.
What does Hebrews tell us about the land promise? Was Abraham ultimately looking for the land, the physical land of Canaan? Hebrews 11 says no. The promise really was not of physical land, ultimately, but of heaven… ‘And I will give to you and to your seed after you the land of your sojournings.’ And so we know what to do with that. All the land of Canaan. So the land itself, the literal land, was temporary…
The Abrahamic Covenant was also clothed in types and shadows.
Heidelcast 110, @17:00 & 113, @2:00
Ok, so there were promises made to Abraham that were temporary. Certainly they typified a greater promise, but they were nonetheless promises that were temporary. “And so we know what to do with that” – we set it aside as typological and fulfilled.
The Mosaic Covenant… added the national covenant, the national people. There’s no more national people, no more national covenant.
Wait, I thought he already said the national element was an Abrahamic promise. “[T]here were typological, for example, land promises and national elements in the promises given to Abraham.” Ok, so the Mosaic Covenant did not, in fact, add a national element to Abraham. The national element is Abrahamic and it is fulfilled in the Mosaic. And it is no more. It was temporary and typological. And it was Abrahamic. “We recognize that there were typological elements under the Abrahamic administration and those types and shadows have been fulfilled.” (115, @28:00) This is seen very clearly in Deuteronomy 7, which Clark quotes:
Deuteronomy 7:6 ‘For you are a people holy to Yahweh your God. Yahweh your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession out of all the peoples out of the face of the earth.’ So there you see two things. One, this national election, if you will, that is unique to Israel. At the same time you see, and it will become clearer in the succeeding verses, that Yahweh did not choose Israel because of anything in Israel but out of grace… v8 ‘But it is because Yahweh loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers that Yahweh has brought you out with a mighty hand from the house of slavery from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.’ There you see the continuity with Abraham. The promise that was made was the promise that was made to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. ‘Know therefore,’ he says in v9 ‘that Yahweh, your God, is God.’…
So, God saving a nation from physical slavery and bringing them into the literal land of Canaan is the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham (re-read the Duncan quote above). Seems straightforward enough, but that would undermine Clark’s thesis that Abraham is not Moses, so he waffles and offers a rather strange attempt to bifurcate the two.
the second part is a reference to Israel’s national status. Certainly not to their salvation. The whole point of the first half of the passage, Deut 7:6-11, is to say that God elected them and made them his people and brought them out of Egypt by grace alone, which is a clear indicator of the continuity between the Mosaic covenant and the Abrahamic with respect to salvation because their deliverance from Egypt is the great symbol, representation, of God’s gracious salvation of his people.
He says Israel’s “national election… is unique to Israel.” Then he goes on to say “The Covenant of Grace with Abraham was not national, it was not temporary, and it did not have a legal character.” So now we’re back to square one. Did God promise Abraham a nation and the land of Canaan or not? Clark cannot and does not give a consistent answer. He says “yes” and “no” throughout the whole series. In his mind, the Mosaic Covenant has a “dual administration” by which he means an underlying layer regarding eschatological salvation and a temporary overlay regarding the national, typical elements related to the land of Canaan. He claims that only this underlying layer regarding salvation is Abrahamic. The top, national, Canaanite layer was only added by Moses. But there is simply no way to maintain that idea, which is why he doesn’t. “We recognize that there were typological elements under the Abrahamic administration and those types and shadows have been fulfilled.” In other words, the top layer is just as Abrahamic as it is Mosaic.
(Btw, there is a reason why the Westminster Divines were “covenanters” who held to a national covenant and established church. The reason was their covenant theology, which saw Abraham as one with Moses and both as one with the New. See this discussion from Thomas Blake as one of many, many examples)
Yahweh was a God to Abraham and to his children for most of 500 years before Moses. The promises of the Abrahamic Covenant which had already been expressed relative to the land and a national people (see Genesis 12, 15, and 17) came to expression in a temporary, national covenant inaugurated at Sinai. That national covenant, however, does not exhaust the covenant promises of God. (113, @17:25)
We don’t claim that it does. We agree with Augustine that
two things are promised to Abraham, the one, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan, which is intimated when it is said, “Go into a land that I will show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation;” but the other far more excellent, not about the carnal but the spiritual seed, through which he is the father, not of the one Israelite nation, but of all nations who follow the footprints of his faith, which was first promised in these words, “And in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.
In other words, there is a dichotomous nature to the Abrahamic Covenant: a two-fold promise concerning a two-fold seed. (For more, see Owen).
What Parts of Abraham Are Typological?
Clark attempts to completely bifurcate Moses from Abraham and insist that the New Covenant is only ever contrasted with Moses and never with Abraham. He says “The substance of the New Covenant is the Abrahamic Covenant.” Which, again, departs from Westminster in an attempt to identify Abraham and the New in contrast to the Old. “Hebrews distinguishes the New Covenant from Moses. Not from Abraham, not from Noah, but from Moses.” (Westminster’s explanation is that the only thing being distinguished are the ceremonies – the external administration – not the covenant itself).
By the end of [Heb 11] 24, his attention has arguably moved beyond the contrast between Moses and Sinai to a broader contrast between all the typological elements and their reality in Christ. The indication of Abel here doesn’t change the essential identification of the Old Covenant with Moses and with Sinai. So, whatever potential difficulties might be created for my general thesis of this series by the inclusion of Abel… (114, 13:45)
Yes, this does present a problem for Clark’s thesis. Yes, Scripture does identify the Old Covenant with Moses and Sinai, but it does not do so in exclusion from Abraham and everything else. Rather, Scripture identifies Moses and Sinai as the Old Covenant as the epitome of all Old Testament typology (note the traditional division of Old Testament and New Testament). It is representative of all the types and shadows that have been done away with since the inauguration of the New Covenant. That includes types and shadows, like circumcision and the land and the nation, that are not part of the New Covenant and have passed away. Note Coxe
Thus if we follow the clue of Scripture in our inquiries after the origin of the covenant of peculiarity made with Israel after the flesh, it will certainly guide us to that covenant which God made with Abraham for his natural offspring and sealed by circumcision. Yet that covenant of peculiarity is in the New Testament always styled old and carnal. It is a covenant from which the gospel covenant is distinguished and to which it is in many respects opposed (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-13). (101)
So which parts of the Abrahamic Covenant fall into that category?
Clark has already identified the nation and the land of Canaan as a part of the Abrahamic Covenant that was typological. Clark said that Genesis 12, 15, and 17 made national promises concerning the land.
Genesis 12:2 “I will make of you a great nation”
Genesis 15:5, 13, 18 “And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’… Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years… On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying ‘To your offspring I give this land…’”
Genesis 17:2, 7, 8 “‘that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly’… I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.’”
Those are the promises that God made to Abraham about his carnal, biological seed, the nation of Israel. Those promises were fulfilled, and because they were temporary and typological, they have passed away and are no more. Now, what sticks out as incredibly obvious when you read the above? The offspring in 17:8 is the offspring in 17:7. And the offspring in 17:8 is Abraham’s carnal, biological seed, the nation of Israel. And God says he will be their God. This undermines Clark’s thesis that 17:7 refers to eschatological salvation and to the seed of all believers. It does not. Samuel Rutherford notes
God commands not Abraham only to circumcise his sons, but all parents descended of Abraham to circumcise their seed: the seed of Abraham carnally descended to all generations…
[In] Gen 17… God speaks to all Abraham’s sons according to the flesh:
Because [otherwise] God should speak an untruth: that He were a God by real union of faith to all that are commanded to be circumcised. For He commanded thousands to be circumcised to whom He was not a God by real union of faith…
The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2 [see also verses 6-7]). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham? Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.
What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews.
And with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people… To that nation he fixed his blessing by his covenant with the patriarchs… And in this sense it was that the very family of Jacob were God’s people by covenant, and his chosen people; even when they were no visible saints, when they lived in idolatry, and made no profession of the true religion. On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation… So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny.
For more, see Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel. Clark tries to evade this.
National Israel is not the seed. We’re still having that discussion. I just had that discussion with someone online the other day over the question, the premise, that one is the seed by virtue of biology or ethnicity. That’s not Paul’s argument at all. That’s the Judaizer’s argument. Jesus is the seed and we are seeds in him by grace alone through faith alone by virtue of our union with him. He is the fulfillment of the promise, however. And so, being ethnically Jewish doesn’t make one seed. What makes one seed is being united to Christ, who is the seed. (114, 21:15)
The problem here is that Clark is skipping over the type and going straight to the anti-type and then denying there was ever a type. Yes, national Israel was absolutely the seed promised to Abraham (Ex. 32:13; Deut 1:10; 10:22; 1 Chron 27:23; Heb 11:12). But Abraham had two seeds and one was a type of the other.
Note also the implication of Clark’s attempt to identify the seed only with Christ. If Christ alone is the seed, then the seed in Genesis 17:7-8 did not refer to Abraham’s physical offspring, and thus it does not refer to the physical offspring of believers. If Genesis 17:7-8 does refer to Abraham’s physical offspring, then they are Abraham’s seed. Clark can’t have his cake and eat it too.
The seed promise is permanent, but it wasn’t about biological offspring, ultimately, even though the promise is administered to believers and their biological offspring. (110, 16:10)
Yes, it was not about the biological offspring ultimately, but it was about the biological offspring initially or penultimately. And the typological biological seed passed away at the coming of Christ. Again, Clark is stuck. If Genesis 17:7-8 refers to Abraham’s physical, biological offspring, then it refers to the nation of Israel. If it does not refer to Abraham’s physical, biological offspring, then it certainly says nothing at all about the physical, biological offspring of believers.
You can’t have Abraham as the father of all believers without the Abrahamic formula, the Abrahamic pattern. So this covenant, this pattern, this formula, is permanent. It’s not temporary. It’s part of the substance of the covenant of grace. (110, 25:00)
Clark has just thrown the type and the anti-type in a blender. Abraham can’t be the father of all believers without Abraham being the father of his biological seed (the nation of Israel). Hmmmm. Furthermore, the “Abrahamic formula” is not simply “I will be the God of you and your offspring after you.” It is also “I will multiply you greatly and will give your offspring the land of Canaan” and “in you all nations of the earth shall be blessed.” So if Clark wants to claim “the Abrahamic formula” for himself, he has to claim all of it.
Children Part of the Substance
Now notice the absurdity that Clark falls into. He just said that the inclusion of Abraham’s physical offspring, and the physical offspring of all believers, is not temporary or typological because it is “part of the substance of the covenant of grace.” Whoops! The entire paedobaptist system is that the children of believers are not part of the substance of the covenant of grace, but are only part of its administration (the part that changes) – as Clark explains elsewhere:
initiating believers and their children into the external administration of the covenant of grace. This is where my baptist friends really need to struggle to see the differences between our different ways of going at things. What we’re talking about here in the reformed church, reformed theology, piety, and practice, is the external administration of the covenant of grace. (115, 34:20)
Which is it? Are the children of believers only in the external administration, or is the inclusion of children part of the substance of the covenant of grace?
The essence [substance] of the covenant of grace remains unchanged. ‘I will be a God to you and to your children.’ (115, 27:00)
If they are only part of the administration, then their inclusion is not permanent.
The problem with the baptist objection is that it doesn’t account for two things. First, the formula, to you and your children is not obviously typological. That is, it does not obviously illustrate a future reality fulfilled in Christ or in heaven. (110, 26:00)
First, whether or not it is obvious to Dr. Clark is irrelevant. Second, the reason it’s not obvious to Dr. Clark is because his paedobaptist glasses are obscuring his vision. All he can see is a promise to believers and their seed. But that’s not actually what Genesis 17 says. Genesis 17 is a promise to Abraham and Abraham’s physical offspring, the nation of Israel. And the nation of Israel does, in fact, illustrate a future reality fulfilled in Christ. Note Dr. Clark elsewhere:
God disinherited his adopted, temporary, national “son” Israel as a national people precisely because God never intended to have a permanent earthly, national people… their chief function was to serve as a type and shadow of God’s natural Son, Jesus the Messiah (Heb 10.1-4). It is the argument of this essay that Jesus Christ is the true Israel of God and that everyone who is united to him by grace alone, through faith alone becomes, by virtue of that union, the true Israel of God. (Israel of God)
Were initiation of infants into the visible covenant community merely typological, were it temporary like circumcision, like animal sacrifice, then we should expect to see the Old Covenant prophets essentially telling us that same thing, that it’s temporary in the way that they tell us that animal sacrifices are temporary, in the way that they tell us that circumcision, physical, medical circumcision, is temporary, but they don’t do that because it’s not temporary. It’s not typological. It’s part of the Abrahamic pattern. (112, 3:45)
1. Being part of the “Abrahamic pattern” does not mean it is not typological. 2. Where do the Old Covenant prophets tell us the national element is temporary? Clark said “God never intended to have a permanent earthly, national people.” So where do the Old Covenant prophets tell us that?
My baptist friends are convinced that the inclusion of children into the visible covenant community by a sacrament was typological and therefore not part of the New Covenant. We can test that theory, however, in Scripture. Ask yourself this question: The prophets told us that the sacrifices and circumcision were typological and temporary, but where do they tell us that the inclusion of children into the visible covenant community is also temporary and typological like circumcision, like the sacrifices. We can’t just assume that is the case. We have to actually show that is the case. What does Scripture actually say about children, particularly from the point of view of typologies looking forward?… Isaiah ‘I will bring your seed from the east and from the west. I will gather you.’… Is. 44:3 he restates the promise. ‘For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground.’ What does he mean? Well, he explains in the next clause. ‘I will pour my Spirit upon’ whom? ‘your children. And my blessing upon your descendants.’ This is the same sort of imagery that you see in the prophet Joel’s restatement. But you have to see how fundamentally Abrahamic that language is. (113, 3:55)
Again, take off the paedobaptist glasses and ask the question correctly. “Where do the prophets tell us the physical offspring of Abraham – the nation of Israel – was temporary and typological?” This exact same passage, Isaiah 43-44, is written to and about Israel – the very nation Clark says is temporary. When Isaiah says “I will gather you” the “you” is “Israel” “Jacob.” Yes, this language is “fundamentally” Abrahamic. But Abraham was “fundamentally” typological. The “descendants” and “children” refer to the nation of Israel and promise to multiply the seed of Abraham. The fact is, much of the typology of Israel is not unpacked until the New Testament (which is where Clark spends all his time in this essay).
The other thing to be noted here is that the promises of Jeremiah 31 are cast in Mosaic, typological, and prophetic categories or language. And so we need to read it in that same way, read it the same way we read prophetic literature generally. (113, 18:00)
Yup. Absolutely. And Jeremiah says that the New Covenant is made with whom? That’s right, the house of Israel and the house of Jacob. Owen notes:
The persons with whom this covenant is made are also expressed: “The house of Israel, and the house of Judah.”… Wherefore this house of Israel and house of Judah may be considered two ways:
[1.] As that people were the whole entire posterity of Abraham.
[2.] As they were typical, and mystically significant of the whole church of God.
Hence alone it is that the promises of grace under the old testament are given unto the church under these names, because they were types of them who should really and effectually be made partakers of them…
In the second sense the whole church of elect believers is intended under these denominations, being typified by them. These are they alone, being one made of twain, namely, Jews and Gentiles, with whom the covenant is really made and established, and unto whom the grace of it is actually communicated. For all those with whom this covenant is made shall as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according unto the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. These are the true Israel and Judah, prevailing with God, and confessing unto his name.
Obs. X. The covenant of grace in Christ is made only with the Israel of God, the church of the elect. —For by the making of this covenant with any, the effectual communication of the grace of it unto them is principally intended. Nor can that covenant be said to be made absolutely with any but those whose sins are pardoned by virtue thereof, and in whose hearts the law of God is written; which are the express promises of it.
Contrary to Clark’s insistence, recognizing Jeremiah 31 as prophesying a covenant made with the elect alone is not contrary to a reformed hermeneutic. It is not a literalizing of prophetic hyperbole and it is not over-realized eschatology. It’s just the plain meaning of the text, as Owen explained. Berkhof said “The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly Scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-12.”
Genesis 15 Oath Ceremony
Yahweh, mysteriously, in a type and a shadow, passed between the pieces himself to signify that, should the covenant be broken, he himself would pay the penalty with his own life. And of course we see that promise fulfilled on the cross when God the Son, true God, true man, bore our sins and our covenant breaking in our place. (109, 16:45)
This is very confused. Did Christ die on the cross because of a broken Covenant of Grace or a broken Covenant of Works? The Genesis 15 ceremony does not promise that if Abraham breaks the Abrahamic Covenant, God will bear his curse. Rather, it is a confirmatory oath by God that God will fulfill his promise to Abraham and, if he does not, he will suffer death for breaking his oath.
A Bridegroom of Blood
[Quotes Ex 4:24-26]. Now, this is a cryptic passage and we don’t want to spend a lot of time there, but surely we know there, we see, that the Lord takes very seriously a refusal to administer the sign of the covenant to covenant children. So seriously that Scripture says, in a cryptic way, that Yahweh sought to kill Moses, who is the Old Testament mediator, representative of the people to the Lord and of the Lord to the people. It’s a remarkable passage. We can take away, whatever else we may infer, that the Lord takes very seriously and is most displeased when we refuse to administer the sign of the covenant to believers and to their children. That’s why it’s described in Gen 17 as covenant breaking and that’s why the Lord sought, as it were, kill Moses. (111, 9:00)
It is completely absurd to see in this passage any application to baptism. God does not threaten to kill anyone for not being baptized or for not baptizing their children. Furthermore, is Clark going FV on us? Not being baptized is covenant breaking? What the passage teaches us is that God was serious when he said in Genesis 17 that if someone failed to be circumcised, they would be cut off (which in the Old Covenant refers to death). Coxe said
It is noteworthy that in this transaction of God with Abraham we first meet with an express injunction of obedience to a command (and that of positive right) as the condition of covenant interest. It is all ushered in with this prologue (Genesis 17:1), “I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be perfect.” First in these words, the all-sufficiency of God is revealed for the ensuring of the promises. Then a strict and entire obedience to his precepts is required in order to inherit the good things that were to be given by this covenant. In this mode of transacting it, the Lord was pleased to draw the first lines of that form of covenant relationship in which the natural seed of Abraham was fully stated by the law of Moses, which was a covenant of works with its condition or terms, “Do this and live.” p. 91
Read more here.
God made an immutable covenant with Abraham, that’s [Gal] 3:16. For Paul, the Abrahamic Covenant is, if you will, the baseline account of the covenant of grace. (114, 20:40)
Romans 9 & 2:28
1 Corinthians 7:14
See 1 Cor. 7:14 – The “Legitimacy” Interpretation and 1 Cor. 7:14 – No Proof of Infant Baptism where Dr. Glen Clary (OPC) admits “I don’t think their inclusion in the covenant of grace can be derived from this single text as a necessary consequence. I stated that at the very beginning of my sermon on the text. Their inclusion in the covenant of grace is stated explicitly elsewhere such as in Gen. 17.”
Look at Acts 2:39… ‘For the promise’ remember to whom he’s speaking – he’s speaking to Jewish men at the feast of Pentecost, and when he says ‘the promise’ what promise has been repeated again and again by God to Jews for the last 2,000 years? I will be a God to you and to your children… Peter has summarized Genesis 12, 15, and 17 in one verse. (110, 31:35)
The structure of the promise ‘I’ll be a God to you and to your children’ well, that’s not temporary, that’s not typological. This pattern, as I say, of applying the sign to believers and to their children is permanent, and we know that from Acts 2:38-39 (111, 15:35)
The analogy with Abraham is only strengthened with the invocation of the Abrahamic Covenantal formula. ‘For the promise is to you and to your children.’ The essence of the covenant of grace remains unchanged. ‘I will be a God to you and to your children.’ My baptist friends object by pointing out the Gentiles and I reply by saying ‘So what?’ Our argument was not that Abraham was typological. Of course Gentiles are being included. That is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, that God would make him the father of many nations. (115, 27:00)
No, baptists don’t object by simply pointing out the Gentiles. Baptists object by pointing out that the promise is not to believers and their seed. It is to “everyone to whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Kline said that Clark is mistaken in his interpretation of these verses, and in his whole defense of infant baptism. “When we are establishing the ground for baptizing our children into the church our appeal should not be to the ‘promise,’ for the promised seed is the election and the covenant constituency is not delimited by election.” (KP 364)
Similarly, Dr. E. Calvin Beisner (OPC) says
What of Peter’s statement, “The promise is for you and your children”?… Perhaps we need to look at them a little more carefully… Consider first Peter’s comment in Acts 2:39. Thus far we have quoted only part of it. The whole of it is, “the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Are those who insist that here is a promise of the salvation of the children of believers as quick to say that here is a promise of salvation “for all who are far off”? Those are not simply the children of believers; those include all men everywhere in the world. But does God promise salvation to all men everywhere in the world? Certainly not. Neither, then, does He promise salvation to all the children of believers. What does He promise, then, to all the children of believers and to all people everywhere? Look at verse 38–and I’m going to use my own very literal translation here to make clear the grammatical cause-and-effect relationship that is clear in the Greek but ordinarily gets obscured in English translations: “Y’all repent for the remission of y’all’s sins, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and y’all will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”… The promise is conditional: If you repent and believe in Jesus Christ, you’ll be forgiven. That promise does indeed apply to each and every child of each and every believer; and it also applies to each and every other person who ever lived or ever will live.
The Kingdom of God
Christ did not bring the consummation when he came in his first advent. Instead, he said that he was inaugurating the kingdom of God, not consummating the kingdom of God. (115, 31:00)
Right, but note that Christ was indeed inaugurating the kingdom of God. That means it wasn’t already inaugurated. See When Did the Church Begin?
Regenerate Church Membership
[Baptists] know that their congregations, just like reformed congregations, have unregenerate members. But, by administering baptism only to those who can make a profession of faith, they are doing what they can to ensure a completely regenerate membership. From a reformed point of view, from a reformed covenant theology, it’s quite difficult to see how this is, at bottom, not a form of rationalism. (115, 32:40)
This is just nonsense. Does the fact that Presbyterians limit the baptism of adults to those who profess faith and deny it to those who do not mean that they are, at bottom, rationalists? We’re not trying to discern election. We affirm the “judgment of charity” should be extended to all who profess faith. We deny it should be extended to those who do not profess faith. That doesn’t make us rationalists (a favorite slur of Clark’s). See Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?
Signs and Seals
Heidelberg Catechism 66… Notice the nouns the reformed churches use to describe the sacraments. We call them holy signs and seals. A sign is something that points to something else. By definition, a sign isn’t the thing itself. Now, we call them holy signs and seals but they’re like secular signs and seals too. When I go to the grocery store and see a sign for milk, that’s a pointer for where the milk is. It isn’t the milk itself. When one graduates from school, one gets a diploma. Somewhere on that diploma is a seal and that seal is a mark that testifies to the authenticity of the diploma. It’s the school’s way of guaranteeing that, yes, you were there, yes, you did the work, and yes, you really did graduate. That’s what the reformed churches mean by sign and seal when we talk about sacraments. (116, 2:30)
We agree that sacraments are signs. We do not agree that they are, necessarily, seals. A seal is, by definition, objective. As Clark notes, a seal is a guarantee. Now, would a seal on a diploma guarantee anything if the seal was not objective but was instead contingent upon the individual actually graduating? Would it be a seal if they gave it to every student the first day of their freshman year and said “This seal authenticates and guarantees your graduation… assuming you do in fact graduate”? Of course not. That’s absurd. So is Clark’s view of baptism. Neither would the absurdity be resolved if it were limited to older 4th year students who made a verbal claim to have graduated. The seal would still be meaningless if it was given to all of these students and then said it only applies to those who actually did in fact graduate. That is why baptism is not a seal of the Covenant of Grace and union with Christ. The Appendix to the 2nd London Baptist Confession says
If our brethren do suppose baptism to be the seal of the Covenant which God makes with every beleiver (of which the Scriptures are altogether silent) it is not our concern to contend with them herein; yet we conceive the seal of that Covenant is the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ in the particular and individual persons in whom he resides, and nothing else…
This promise is first made unto him, Thou shalt be the Father of many Nations (in what sense the Apostle explaineth in that chapter) and then there is subjoined a double seal for the confirmation of the thing, to wit, the change of the name Abram into Abraham, and the institution of circumcision. v4. Behold as for me, my Covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the Father of many Nations. Wherefore was his name called Abraham? for the sealing of this promise. Thou shalt be the Father of many Nations. And wherefore was circumcision instituted to him? For the sealing of the same promise.
As an objective confirmation and guarantee (a seal), circumcision was unique to Abraham (which is part of Paul’s point). Scripture never says that circumcision was a seal/guarantee to anyone else. And it never says baptism is a seal.
Neither does a sacrament, by definition, “seal the promise of the gospel.” As Clark correctly notes regarding the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “These two trees are sacraments. They were signs and seals of the covenant that God made with Adam in the garden.” But they were not signs or seals of the gospel. The function and meaning of any covenant sign is determined individually by the covenant it is a part of and by the meaning it is given at its institution.
Paul equates the Red Sea with Christian baptism and he equates the manna and the water in the desert with the Lord’s Supper. Those were sacraments… (116, 15:40)
All passed through the sea and were baptized into Moses… We know from Scripture that there were infants among the company. Paul says that they were all baptized into Moses. There were infants in Israel in the Exodus. All Israel was baptized in the Red Sea. Therefore, infants were baptized. Now, you might object: This is a kind of a figurative baptism, not a real baptism. Well, that’s not what Paul says. (118, 26:50)
After being warned, Noah built the ark by God’s special direction for the saving of himself and his house, which were eight souls (1 Peter 3:20). This afforded them all a temporal deliverance from the deluge of waters by which God in his wrath swept away a disobedient world. It was also useful in its typical reference for their further instruction about the redemption of man from the floods of divine vengeance to be poured out later in eternal wrath on the world of unbelievers. For this is to be observed concerning the state of the church before Christ came in the flesh: that as the gospel was preached to them by types and dark shadows, so this kind of instruction was afforded them not only by the stated ordinances of ceremonial worship, but also by many extraordinary works of providence. These were so ordered by divine wisdom that they might bear a typical relationship to and be an apt representation of spiritual things. This may be observed in many instances in the history of Abraham and his offspring, the children of Israel. On this account the manna they ate in the wilderness is called spiritual meat; the water of the rock which they drank, spiritual drink; and the rock, Christ (1 Corinthians 10:3,4). And yet we read of no special ordination or appointment of these things to such an end except what they had from the order and voice of providence, together with the peculiar circumstances of the people involved in them. (63)
For more, see Substance/Accidents = Substance/Shadows?
The best Clark can do with regards to the early church is argue “by inference” that infant baptism was received from the Apostles because there was never a massive controversy over it (118, 6:45). He cannot point to anything else to say that it was the practice of the early church received from the Apostles.
I would encourage readers to study the work of David F. Wright, a Presbyterian in the Church of Scotland, and a professor of church history specializing in the patristics (Ligon Duncan received his PhD in early church history under Wright’s supervision). He wrote extensively on the subject of baptism in the early church, including What Has Infant Baptism Done to Baptism?: An Enquiry at the End of Christendom in which he states
One legacy of the baptismal breech of the sixteenth century which has militated against a comprehensive history of baptism has been the stubborn hauteur displayed towards Baptists and believers’ baptism by paedobaptist churches and theologians… It is indeed seriously misleading to view the age of the Fathers simply as an era of infant baptism. In fact, of known named individuals in those centuries who were both of Christian parentage and baptized at known dates, the great majority were baptized on profession of faith. The obscuring of a truer picture derives ultimately from sixteenth-century apologetic, both Catholic and Protestant, against the Anabaptists… The timescale of infant baptism’s long reign extends from the early medieval period, from about the sixth century, that is to say, after Augustine of Hippo, who died in 430. It was he who provided the theology that led to infant baptism becoming general practice for the first time in the history of the church, perhaps in the later fifth century, more likely in the 500s or even later.
Again, these words are from a Presbyterian historian, not a baptist with an axe to grind.
Invention of Paedobaptist Covenant Theology
Much of what we know today as covenant theology emerged in [Zwingli’s] defense of the unity of the covenant of grace against his Anabaptist critics.
Correct. Paedobaptist covenant theology was invented in response to Anabaptist critics. (See Calvin vs 1689 Federalism on Old vs New).
Now, it’s tempting, and it’s an easy answer to think the reason confessional, reformed protestant churches all disagreed with the anabaptists, and ultimately with modern baptist evangelicals about baptism is that they’re still unduly influenced by Romanism. But, as I keep saying, that answer simply does not account for the actual history of the reformation. It doesn’t account for their own lives, their writing, and their ministry. So, perhaps Augustine, Anselm, Thomas, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Bullinger, Bucer, Melanchthon, and the reformed churches and the Lutheran churches and the Anglican churches are all wrong about infant baptism. That is a logical possibility But maybe they are not. If they are wrong, however, it is not because they have not sought to follow the teaching of Scripture. (118, 25:00)
Clark thinks that as long as someone formally holds to sola scriptura, they cannot be unduly influenced by unbiblical tradition. As long as they seek to follow the teaching of Scripture, they cannot possibly be influenced by any incorrect thoughts. Obviously that is not the case, as church history and our own personal experience demonstrates. It is entirely possible that the reformers sought to conform all of their thoughts to Scripture, but were led to misinterpret Scripture because of various influences. Isn’t that how Clark would explain the fact that these guys were all Constantinian magisterial reformers defending the established church and the practice of non-toleration as vital to the reformation? The truth is, their belief in infant baptism was very intimately connected to their defense of Constantinianism. (See Calvin vs 1689 Federalism on Old vs New).
And all one has to do is look at Augustine, Anselm, Thomas, Zwingli, Calvin, Bullinger, Bucer, Melanchthon and Luther to see that, though they share a common practice, they have drastically different reasons and meanings for the practice. And the same is true within Presbyterianism. They share a common practice but have several different, contradictory understandings of the meaning (see this recent thread a just one example, and add Kline’s “new and improved” argument for infant baptism to the mix).
Infant baptism remains a practice in search of a theology.
[Lord willing, I will further revise/expand this post in the future (feedback is appreciated). I’m posting it for now to provide context for the OPC Report on Republication.]
John Murray said he rejected the Covenant of Works for two reasons:
(1) The term is not felicitous, for the reason that the elements of grace entering into the administration are not properly provided for by the term ‘works’.
(2) It is not designated a covenant in Scripture. Hosea 6:7 may be interpreted otherwise and does not provide the basis for such a construction of the Adamic economy. Besides, Scripture always uses the term covenant, when applied to God’s administration to men, in reference to a provision that is redemptive or closely related to redemptive design. Covenant in Scripture denotes the oath-bound confirmation of promise and involves a security which the Adamic economy did not bestow.
Some have argued that John Murray did not reject the covenant of works. They insist that all the elements of the Covenant of Works are present in his view, he just chose not to use that language. This argument has plausibility with regards to Murray’s rejection of the term “covenant.” All one has to do is point out that he defined covenant wrong. He still held to all the elements of a covenant with Adam when covenant is properly defined.
However, most tend to overlook the much more important reason Murray had for rejecting the Covenant of Works. Murray explicitly argued that the reward of eternal life would not have been by works. It would have been a gift of God’s grace, not a reward of debt according to justice. What Murray was rejecting was the concept of ex pacto or covenantal merit, known as “the works principle.” Thus, while one could argue he held to an Adamic Covenant (by rejecting Murray’s definition of covenant), he did not hold to an Adamic Covenant of Works.
Part of his argument is that there is no works principle found anywhere in Scripture – pre or post-fall. “In connection with the promise of life it does not appear justifiable to appeal, as frequently has been done, to the principle enunciated in certain texts (cf. Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12), ‘This do and thou shalt live’.”
In a paper on confessional subscription, J.V. Fesko says
Murray did not accept the Standards’ teaching regarding the Covenant of Works… Murray did not believe that he held to the common Reformed position that was historically advocated by Reformed theologians or by the Westminster Standards. In fact, he saw himself as a self-avowed revisionist on the subject of covenant theology…
What led Murray to reject the Covenant of Works?
Many focus on the rise of dispensationalism and Murray’s response to it as an explanation for his rejection of the Covenant of Works. In other words, he just over-reacted to dispensationalism by flattening out all of Scripture.
However, Murray actually said he was influenced by Karl Barth on this point. Ligon Duncan explains:
Now, here is the inside scoop. As Donald Macleod talked with John Murray when he came back from Scotland, there were a number of things that had made a major impact on Murray with regard to Covenant Theology. For one thing, Murray was impacted by Vos and by a guy named Adolph Desmond. Desmond was a big time German New Testament scholar at the turn of the twentieth century who had argued very strongly that Covenant should not be translated as a contract or a treaty or a mutual relationship, but it ought to be translated as a disposition or a testament, something that was one-sided as opposed to two-sided. And Desmond did this because he had uncovered all this literature from Greek legal documents contemporary to the New Testament and many New Testament scholars followed Desmond for a period of time. His views have since then been overturned, but he was very influential in the first part of the twentieth century. And so Murray was very influenced by this one-sided idea of covenant. And he found the obediential aspect of the historic Covenant of Works to be a little two-sided for his taste. So, you will see him, when he defines covenant in his little tract called The Covenant of Grace, he will define it in a very one-sided, a very monopluric sort of way. And he is following Vos there and he is following Desmond.
But, the other interesting thing is, is that Murray indicated to Macleod that he had actually been impacted a bit by Barth’s argumentation on the nature of the Covenant of Works and so although Murray would have been stridently in opposition to Barth’s doctrine of the Scripture and his doctrine of the Atonement, yet he was swayed to a certain extent by some of Barth’s arguments regarding Covenant of Works. And Macleod had opportunity to interact with him on that and argue against those particular points, but Murray held to his objections and to this day, Westminster Seminary has tended to be a little bit skittish about the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace framework.
Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace (lecture)
Cornelis P. Venema elaborates in a journal article titled Recent Criticisms of the Covenant of Works in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Murray, though a faithful exponent of the system of doctrine contained in the WCF, was perhaps more critical of this aspect of the WCF than he was of any other. Based upon his own biblical-theological reflection, Murray offered several of what he believed were needed correctives to the traditional formulations of federal theology, including the classical form found in the WCF…
There are several respects in which Murray’s treatment of this Adamic administration differs from traditional covenant theology. As we have already noted, this difference is partially terminological… But the divergence is far more than terminological…
This promise [of eternal life] would not be granted upon the principle of strict justice or merit — God’s justice does not require that Adam should ever be granted the status of immutability in fellowship with God — but would be expression of God’s undeserved favor…
[In connection with the promise of life it does not appear justifiable to appeal, as frequently has been done, to the principle enunciated in certain texts (cf. Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12), ‘This do and thou shalt live’. The principle asserted in these texts is the principle of equity, that righteousness is always followed by the corresponding award. From the promise of the Adamic administration we must dissociate all notions of meritorious reward. The promise of confirmed integrity and blessedness was one annexed to an obedience that Adam owed and, therefore, was a promise of grace. All that Adam could have claimed on the basis of equity was justification and life as long as he perfectly obeyed, but not confirmation so as to insure indefectibility. Adam could claim the fulfilment of the promise if he stood the probation, but only on the basis of God’s faithfulness, not on the basis of justice.]
Murray also challenged another commonplace of the older federal theology, namely, that the Mosaic economy or covenant included within itself a repetition of the obligation of obedience, first enunciated in the covenant of works.
The view that in the Mosaic covenant there was a repetition of the so-called covenant of works, current among covenant theologians, is a grave misconception and involves an erroneous construction of the Mosaic covenant, as well as fails to assess the uniqueness of the Adamic administration. The Mosaic covenant was distinctly redemptive in character and was continuous with and extensive of the Abrahamic covenants.
Apparently, because Murray wants to emphasize the gracious and sovereign disposition of the Adamic arrangement, as well as the essential graciousness of the biblical covenant of grace, he does not want to admit the legal requirement of obedience to be as integral to this arrangement or the post-fall covenant of grace, as was typically the case in the history of covenant theology.
Venema goes on to argue that WCF 7.1, which describes God’s voluntary condescension in the creation of the Covenant of Works, satisfactorily answers Murray’s concerns about the gracious nature of the promise of eternal life.
This emphasis upon all of God’s covenants as voluntary condescensions preserves, it seems to me, the WCF from the charge of depriving the original covenant of the element of God’s favor and goodness, as though it were only a matter of strict justice between a Master and his servant. Moreover, by its apparent distinction between the original natural state in which “reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him [God] as their Creator” and the covenant of works, the WCF preserves the element of unmerited bestowal and grant in this original covenant. It simply cannot be argued convincingly that the WCF neglects this component of the original covenant relationship between God and the creature before the fall into sin and the institution of the covenant of grace.
But if WCF 7.1 easily addresses Murray’s concern, why did Murray still have a concern? Did he not understand 7.1? That’s possible – after all, Van Til certainly caused some confusion. But I don’t think that was the case with Murray. As the chair of systematic theology and one acquainted with historical theology, I doubt Murray was oblivious to something that was obvious to Venema.
In fact, I think it was actually Murray’s acquaintance with the confession and his systematic concern that motivated his revision. I think Murray recognized that the Westminster Confession is self-contradictory on this point and he sought to iron it out.
If you recall Murray’s quote above about the works principle, he mentions Lev 18:5, Gal 3:12, Rom 10:5 as the texts frequently appealed to to articulate the works principle of the Covenant of Works. The WCF cites Gal 3:12 and Rom 10:5 as proof of the covenant of works (in the catechism as well). However, it does not quote Lev 18:5. Why not? Well, because Leviticus 18:5 states the terms of the Mosaic Covenant, which the Westminster Confession says is the Covenant of Grace. Therefore Leviticus 18:5 cannot be a statement of the terms of the Covenant of Works.
In a very helpful WTJ essay titled In Defense of Moses, D. Patrick Ramsey explains why Leviticus 18:5 was not included in the Standards as a proof-text for the Covenant of Works.
Objection 4: In expounding the covenant of works made with Adam the Westminster Confession of Faith uses Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:12 as proof texts. Both of these texts quote Lev 18:5, which refers to the Mosaic Covenant. Therefore, the Divines understood the Mosaic Covenant to be a covenant of works.
The texts that the Westminster Standards used to expound the Covenant of Works are Gen 1:26-27; 2:17; Job 28:28; Eccl 7:29; Rom 2:14-15; 5:12-20; 10:5; Gal 3:10; 3:12 (WCF 7.2; 19.1). None of these texts are from the Mosaic Covenant; however, Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:10, 12 quote verses from the Mosaic Covenant.
The reasons for appealing to these New Testament quotations of Moses vary among the writings of the Puritans.  Some believed that they taught that the Covenant of Works was renewed at Mount Sinai though with evangelical purposes and intentions…  A similar position stated that these passages taught that the Mosaic Law contained a restatement of the principle of works. It was not re-established or renewed, only republished and repeated in order to drive men to Christ…
 A third Puritan position understood the proof texts used by the Westminster Confession of Faith to refer to the Law absolutely or separated from the Gospel. When the Mosaic Law is taken out of its context, then and only then does it become contrary to the Gospel by becoming the matter (describes the righteousness required in the Covenant of Works) and/or form (offers life by works) of the Covenant of Works. Hence, passages like Deut 27:26 and Lev 18:5 did not, in their original intent, renew or repeat the Covenant of Works.
The Pharisees and Judaizers of Paul’s day distorted the Law by separating it from the Gospel and used it for their justification before God. Paul’s quotations of Moses in Romans and Galatians are thus referring to the Jews’ perversion of the Law. In so doing the apostle expounds the principle of works, which is applicable to the Covenant of Works made with Adam.
Of these three possible explanations for the use of Gal 3:10, 12 and Rom 10:5 as proof texts for the Covenant of Works, the third is the most likely. This is so because the Divines did not use Lev 18:5, Deut 27:26, or any passage pertaining to the Mosaic Covenant as proof texts. If they had understood the Mosaic Covenant to be a renewal or republication of the Covenant of Works, they probably would have appealed to the Law of Moses directly, as many Puritans did.
So, according to this view, the moral law itself, separated from the Gospel, contains the works principle. In it’s original context, Leviticus 18:5 is a statement of the moral law in the Covenant of Grace. But in quoting Leviticus 18:5, Paul abstracts the law from it’s context in the Mosaic Covenant of Grace and applies it to his situation with the Judaizers. Guy P. Waters, in his chapter in The Law is Not of Faith titled Romans 10:5 and the Covenant of Works? argues this point.
Paul considers the moral demands of the Mosaic law, in distinction from the gracious covenant in which they were formally promulgated, to set forth the standard of righteousness required by the covenant of works.
 This position for which I will be arguing is essentially that argued by Anthony Burgess, “The Law (as to this purpose) may be considered more largely, as that whole doctrine delivered on Mount Sinai, with the preface and promises adjoyned, and all things that may be reduced to it; or more strictly, as it is an abstracted rule of righteousnesse, holding forth life upon no termes, but perfect obedience. Now take it in the former sense, it was a Covenant of grace; take it in the later sense, as abstracted from Moses his administration of it, and so it was not of grace, but workes,” Vindiciae Legis: Or, A Vindication of the Morall Law and the Covenants, from the Errours of
Papists, Arminians, Socinians, and more especially, Antinomians. In XXX. Lectures, preached at Laurence-Jury, London (2d ed.; London, 1647), 235. Anthony Burgess was a member of the Westminster Assembly and served on the committee that drafted WCF 19 (“Of the Law of God”).
Waters actually quotes from Murray’s Appendix B “Leviticus 18:5” from his Romans commentary at this point, demonstrating Murray has accurately pinpointed a crucial question.
John Murray observes that “[The problem that arises from this use of Lev. 18:5 is that the latter text does not appear in a context that deals with legal righteousness as opposed to that of faith.] Lev. 18:5 is in a context in which the claims of God upon his redeemed and covenant people are being asserted and urged upon Israel… [It] refers not to the life accruing from doing in a legalistic framework but to the blessing attendant upon obedience in a redemptive and covenant relationship to God.” If the Scripture teaches that the Mosaic administration is an administration of the covenant of grace, as the Westminster divines affirm (7.5), then how could Paul have interpreted Lev 18:5 as he has? How could he have taken a passage which, in context, appears to refer to the sanctificational works of a redeemed person within the covenant community, and apply this text to individuals seeking the righteousness of justification on the basis of their performance?… Has Paul misquoted Leviticus 18:5 at Romans 10:5?
Waters’ proposed solution is that the moral law itself inherently includes the works principle (ex pacto merit) unless the works principle is stripped away by coming to us through the hand of Christ, as it did in the Mosaic Covenant. As I demonstrated in another post, the problem with this view is that it contradicts WCF 7.1, which teaches that the law itself does not offer any reward for obedience to the law and therefore does not include any works principle. The works principle is only added to the law in the Covenant of Works.
Murray was sharper than Waters on this point. I believe he recognized that Waters’ solution (repeating a historic solution) was no solution at all because it was self-contradictory in that it conflated the law and the covenant of works on this point while elsewhere necessarily distinguishing them (see the Waters post).
Commenting on Romans 10:5, Murray says that “’The man that doeth the righteousness of the law shall live thereby”, is, of itself, an adequate and watertight definition of the principle of legalism. (See Appendix B, pp. 249ff., for fuller discussion.)” In Appendix B: Leviticus 18:5 he argues that this principle is “the principle of equity in God’s government” and there are “three distinct relationships in which [it] has relevance.”
1… Wherever there is righteousness to the full extent of God’s demand there must also be the corresponding justification and life… God’s judgment is always according to truth. Perfect righteousness must elicit God’s favour or complacency and with this favour is the life that is commensurate with it. This would have obtained for Adam in sinless integrity apart from any special constitution that special grace would have contemplated.
Note well: this principle applied to Adam prior to and apart from God’s condescension to reward his obedience – that is, prior to and apart from any Covenant of Works. Recall what Murray said in his Adamic Administration essay. “All that Adam could have claimed on the basis of equity was justification and life as long as he perfectly obeyed, but not confirmation so as to insure indefectibility.” In other words, “life” according to this principle is not “eternal life” but merely “not death.”
2. The principle ‘the man who does shall live’ must be regarded as totally inoperative within the realm of sin… In alluding to Lev. 18:5 at this point he uses the formula ‘the man that doeth… shall live thereby’ as a proper expression in itself of the principle of works-righteousness in contrast with the righteousness of faith. We have no right to contest the apostle’s right to use the terms of Lev. 18:5 for this purpose since they do describe that which holds true when law-righteousness is operative unto justification and life and also express the conception entertained by the person who espouses the same as the way of acceptance with God (cf. also Gal. 3:12).
In other words, the second relationship is in reference to the first, but at a time when man has already fallen. It is a hypothetical statement of what is true if man had not fallen, but that is now “totally inoperative within the realm of sin.” This is how Paul uses it in Romans 10:5. He is adopting “the conception entertained by the person who espouses” righteousness by the law.
3… righteousness and life are never separable. Within the realm of justification by grace through faith there is not only acceptance with God as righteous in the righteousness of Christ but there is also the new life which the believer lives… So Paul can say in the most absolute terms, ‘If ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (8:13). In the realm of grace, therefore, obedience is the way of life. He that does the commandments of God lives in them. The fruit of the Spirit is well-pleasing to God… It is this principle that appears in Lev. 18:5…
Lev. 18:1-5 is parallel to Exod. 20:1-17; Deut 5:6-21… The whole passage is no more “legalistic” than are the ten commandments. Hence the words “which if a man do, he shall live in them” (vs. 5) refers not to the life accruing from doing in a legalistic framework but to the blessing attendant upon obedience in a redemptive and covenant relationship to God.
Note the difference between Murray and Waters. Waters says Paul can quote Leviticus 18:5 on this point because the moral demands of the law itself set forth the works principle found in the Covenant of Works. When the gracious covenant context is added to the law, this works principle is removed. Waters notes that WCF 7.2 references Romans 10:5. Murray rejects the confession on this point arguing there is no works principle and no Covenant of Works.
The problem with Murray’s attempted explanation is that it does not sufficiently explain how Paul can quote Leviticus 18:5 as expressing law righteousness since it, in fact, does not. Paul does not say “according to a mistaken conception entertained by the person who espouses a law righteousness that no longer applies, the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” Rather, Paul says “Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” If Leviticus 18:5 “refers not to the life accuring from doing in a legalistic framework” then Moses did not “write about the righteousness that is based on the law.” Paul did not merely “allude” to Leviticus 18:5, nor did he merely “use the terms of Lev. 18:5.” Paul quoted Moses’ teaching on law-righteousness.
When the OPC was formed, it established a Committee on Texts and Proof Texts, headed by John Murray.
As a preliminary step toward the printing of the doctrinal standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Seventh General Assembly (1940) established a Committee on Texts and Proof Texts (consisting of John Murray [chairman], E. J. Young, and Ned B. Stonehouse, who was replaced in 1941 by John H. Skilton) to study the texts and proof texts of those documents. That Committee submitted to the Eighteenth General Assembly (1951) “the text of the Confession of Faith, together with the proof texts as revised by the Committee.” The text, except for the revisions that had been adopted by the Second General Assembly in 1936, was “derived from the original manuscript written by Cornelius Burges in 1646, edited by S. W. Carruthers [in 1937] and published by the Presbyterian Church of England in 1946.” That text of the Confession, with a few corrections, was adopted by the Twentysecond General Assembly (1955), approved by nearly all the presbyteries, and adopted again by the Twenty-third General Assembly (1956). The proof texts prepared by the Committee were accepted for publication. The Confession was then published with these proof texts (as citations, not full texts) by the Committee on Christian Education and reprinted by Great Commission Publications
The Scripture proof texts were originally prepared by the Westminster divines, revised over the years by a succession of committees, and approved for publication by various general assemblies of the OPC, but are not a part of the constitution itself.
The original Westminster Confession did not cite Leviticus 18:5 anywhere. In light of the resolution that Murray arrived at, he added Lev 18:5 as a proof text to WCF 19.6.
VI. Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned;[a] yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs, and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives;[c] so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of His obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof;[s] although not as due to them by the law, as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and not under grace.
s. Ex. 19:5–6. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. Deut. 5:33. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess. Lev. 18:5. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord. Matt. 19:17. And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Lev. 26:1–13. … If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid: and I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land. And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.… For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you.… And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.… 2 Cor. 6:16. And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Eph. 6:2–3. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. Ps. 19:11. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Ps. 37:11. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. Matt. 5:5. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Judgment According to Works
Note that Matthew 19:17 was added as well. This raises an interesting question as to how Murray saw this principle in relation to “life” and the final judgment for the redeemed Christian. In a lecture titled “Justification” contained in his Collected Writings, Murray says
While it makes void the gospel to introduce works in connection with justification, nevertheless works done in faith, from the motive of love to God, in obedience to the revealed will of God and to the end of his glory are intrinsically good and acceptable to God. As such they will be the criterion of reward in the life to come. This is apparent from such passages as Matthew 10:41; 1 Corinthians 3:8–9, 11–15; 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:7. We must maintain therefore, justification complete and irrevocable by grace through faith and apart from works, and at the same time, future reward according to works. In reference to these two doctrines it is important to observe the following:
(i) This future reward is not justification and contributes nothing to that which constitutes justification. (ii) This future reward is not salvation. Salvation is by grace and it is not as a reward for works that we are saved. (iii) The reward has reference to the degree of glory bestowed in the state of bliss, that is, the station a person is to occupy in glory and does not have reference to the gift of glory itself. (iv) This reward is not administered because good works earn or merit reward, but because God is graciously pleased to reward them. That is to say it is a reward of grace. (In the Romish scheme good works have real merit and constitute the ground of the title to everlasting life.) The good works are rewarded because they are intrinsically good and well-pleasing to God. They are not rewarded because they earn reward but they are rewarded only as labour, work or service that is the fruit of God’s grace, conformed to his will and therefore intrinsically good and well-pleasing to him. They could not even be rewarded of grace if they were principally and intrinsically evil.
He held that there was a future judgment for God’s redeemed people, but only to determine the degree of reward they will receive in glory, not whether they will enter glory. However, as we just saw, Matthew 19:17 was cited in order to explain “what blessings [Christians] may expect upon the performance” of the law. Matthew 19:17 is Jesus’ answer to the rich young man who asked “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” – that is, to enter glory, as Jesus replied “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Thus there appears to be a bit of tension in Murray’s thought on this point. Note his commentary on Romans 2:5-16 where he rejects the hypothetical view held by older reformed theologians.
The reward of this aspiration is in like manner the eschatology of the believer, “eternal life”… Could God judge any unto the reward of eternal life (cf. vs. 7) if works are the criteria? ‘The apostle thus speaks, not in the way of abstract hypothesis but of concrete assertion… He says not what God would do were He to proceed in accordance with the primal rule and standard of the law, but what, proceeding according to that rule, He will actually do.’… The determining factor in the rewards of retribution or of glory is not the privileged position of the Jew but evil-doing or well-doing respectively.
Samuel Waldron notes
Murray’s lecture on justification contained in the Collected Writings affirms that works only have to do with the degree of reward in glory, while in his Romans commentary he affirms that the judgment by works which has the twin consequences of eternal life and wrath is not hypothetical. I see no way to evade the fact of some contradiction between the two statements…
I think a good argument could be made that the Romans commentary contains Murray’s more mature and definitive thoughts. This is so for two reasons. First, as Iain Murray notes in his introduction to CW 2 (vi-ix) Murray resisted appeals to publish the class lectures from which the article on justification in CW 2 is taken. It seems clear, then, that his commentary which he wrote for publication should be given some precedence over the lecture in CW 2. Also the commentary was published in 1959 only 7 years before his retirement from Westminster in 1966. The lecture likely dates from much earlier in his tenure at Westminster where he taught systematic theology from 1930.
So there appears to be development in Murray’s thought as he works out the implications of Leviticus 18:5. Returning to his commentary, note that verse 13 goes on to say “the doers of the law who will be justified,” which leads Murray directly towards a dangerous position. He attempts to put on the brakes
It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching of this epistle in later chapters. Whether any will be actually justified by works either in this life or at the final judgment is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture. The burden of this verse is that not the hearers or mere possessors of the law will be justified before God but that in terms of the law the criterion is doing, not hearing. The apostle’s appeal to this principle serves that purpose truly and effectively, and there is no need to import questions that are not relevant to the universe of discourse.
This is the first occasion that the word “justify” is used in this epistle. Although it is not used here with reference to the justification which is the grand theme of the epistle, the forensic meaning of the term is evident even in this case. “Shall be justified” is synonymous with “just before God” and the latter refers to standing or status in the sight of God. To justify, therefore, would be the action whereby men would be recognized as just before God or the action whereby men are given the status of being just in God’s sight. For a fuller treatment of the nature of justification and the meaning of the terms the reader is referred to the appendix on this subject (pp. 336 ff).
Murray attempts to backpedal by arguing that “will be justified” is hypothetical, in direct contradiction to his previous statements about the passage. As a result, you will actually get two different interpretations of Murray, some saying he denied the hypothetical interpretation, others saying he agreed with it. (See here and here as examples)
In an attempt to work out the contradictions in the system of theology found in the Westminster Confession, particularly the idea that the Mosaic Covenant of Works was the Covenant of Grace, John Murray rejected the Covenant of Works on the grounds that Scripture does not teach a “works principle” in Leviticus 18:5 or anywhere else. Contrary to Guy Waters and others, Murray recognized that Leviticus 18:5 was the statement of a principle – the principle of equity – not simply the law itself. He therefore recognized that the principle found in Leviticus 18:5 and Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 must be the same. He recognized that if the principle found in Leviticus 18:5 is part of the terms of the Covenant of Grace, then that principle is not part of the terms of a Covenant of Works. Therefore the principle found in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 is not a Covenant of Works. Therefore Scripture does not teach a Covenant of Works.
As Murray began to iron out Westminster’s inconsistent appeal to Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12, he also began to iron out the implications of his view for the rest of his theology. We saw progression in his thought in the wrong direction – towards a false gospel of justification by works. He slammed on the breaks, but without a consistent explanation as to why – leaving it to his successors to work out.
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.
In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther notes
2.23 The second captivity of this sacrament is less grievous so far as the conscience is concerned, yet the very gravest danger threatens the man who would attack it, to say nothing of condemning it. Here I shall be called a Wycliffite and a heretic a thousand times over. But what of that? Since the Roman bishop has ceased to be a bishop and become a tyrant, I fear none of his decrees, for I know that it is not in his power, nor even in that of a general council, to make new articles of faith. Years ago, when I was delving into scholastic theology, the Cardinal of Cambrai gave me food for thought, in his comments on the fourth Book of the Sentences, where he argues with great acumen that to hold that real bread and real wine, and not their accidents only, are present on the altar, is much more probable and requires fewer unnecessary miracles – if only the Church had not decreed otherwise. When I learned later what church it was that had decreed this – namely, the Church of Thomas, i.e., of Aristotle – I waxed bolder, and after floating in a sea of doubt, at last found rest for my conscience in the above view – namely, that it is real bread and real wine, in which Christ’s real flesh and blood are present, not otherwise and not less really than they assume to be the case under their accidents. I reached this conclusion because I saw that the opinions of the Thomists, though approved by pope and council, remain but opinions and do not become articles of faith, even though an angel from heaven were to decree otherwise. For what is asserted without Scripture or an approved revelation, may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed. But this opinion of Thomas hangs so completely in the air, devoid of Scripture and reason, that he seems here to have forgotten both his philosophy and his logic. For Aristotle writes about subject and accidents so very differently from St. Thomas, that I think this great man is to be pitied, not only for drawing his opinions in matters of faith from Aristotle, but for attempting to base them on him without understanding his meaning – an unfortunate superstructure upon an unfortunate foundation…
2.26 Therefore it is an absurd and unheard-of juggling with words, to understand “bread” to mean “the form, or accidents of bread,” and “wine” to mean “the form, or accidents of wine.” Why do they not also understand all other things to mean their forms, or accidents? Even if this might be done with all other things, it would yet not be right thus to emasculate the words of God and arbitrarily to empty them of their meaning.
Responding to Anabaptists
In an attempt to maintain the Constantinian concept of a state church founded upon infant baptism, reformed theologians stole from the Roman playbook and called upon Aristotle. Arguing that the Old and New Covenants are actually the same covenant, Bullinger says
[T]he nomenclature of the old and new covenant, spirit, and people did not arise from the very essence (substantia) of the covenant but from certain foreign and unessential things (accidentibus) because the diversity of the times recommended that now this, now that be added according to the [difference] of the Jewish people. These additions (accessere) did not exist as perpetual and particularly necessary things for salvation, but they arose as changeable things according to the time, the persons, and the circumstances. The covenant itself could easily continue without them. 
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.
-R. Scott Clark, What Is The Substance Of The Covenant Of Grace? (2)
Accidents = Shadows?
I’m not certain when it was first articulated, but an important twist occurs as the concept is further developed.
WCF 7.6 Under the Gospel, when Christ, the substance, 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.
For more on this view, listen to an interview on the Reformed Forum with Lane Tipton, one of the co-authors of the Report.
Subservient Covenant Typology
I once had a Presbyterian say to me
I always thought Owen’s claims about the Poverty of Types meant he was on a pretty different page from the rest of the presbyterians
“Such was the poverty of the types that no one of them could so much as shadow out or represent all that advantage which we really enjoy and therefore they were multiplied and the work distributed amongst them which they were to represent. This made them a yoke, and that grievous and burdensome. The way of teaching in them and by them was hard and obscure, as well as their observation was difficult. It was a hard thing for them to learn the love, grace, and mind of God by them. God revealed himself in them πολυμερῶς, by many parts and pieces, according as they were capable to receive impression from and make representation of divine wisdom, goodness, and grace; whence our apostle says, that the law had but σκίαν, “a shadow,” and not αὐτὴν τὴν εἰκόνα πραγμάτων, Hebrews 10:1, — “the image itself of things.” It had some scattered shades, which the great limner had laid the foundation of symmetry in, but so as to be discernible only unto his own infinite wisdom. A perfect image, wherein all the parts should exactly answer unto one another, and so plainly represent the thing intended, that it had not. Now, it was a work beyond their wisdom, out of these scattered pieces and parts of revelation, especially being implanted on carnal things, to gather up the whole of the grace and good-will of God. But in Christ Jesus God hath gathered all into one bead, Ephesians 1:10, wherein both his person and grace are fully and at once represented.”
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.
City of God
Book XVII: The history of the city of God from the kings and prophets to Christ.
Chapter 3.—Of the Three-Fold Meaning of the Prophecies, Which are to Be Referred Now to the Earthly, Now to the Heavenly Jerusalem, and Now Again to Both.
Wherefore just as that divine oracle to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the other prophetic signs or sayings which are given in the earlier sacred writings, so also the other prophecies from this time of the kings pertain partly to the nation of Abraham’s flesh, and partly to that seed of his in which all nations are blessed as fellow-heirs of Christ by the New Testament, to the possessing of eternal life and the kingdom of the heavens. Therefore they pertain partly to the bond maid who gendereth to bondage, that is, the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; but partly to the free city of God, that is, the true Jerusalem eternal in the heavens, whose children are all those that live according to God in the earth: but there are some things among them which are understood to pertain to both,—to the bond maid properly, to the free woman figuratively. (Gal 4:22-31)
Therefore prophetic utterances of three kinds are to be found; forasmuch as there are some relating to the earthly Jerusalem, some to the heavenly, and some to both. I think it proper to prove what I say by examples. The prophet Nathan was sent to convict king David of heinous sin, and predict to him what future evils should be consequent on it. Who can question that this and the like pertain to the terrestrial city, whether publicly, that is, for the safety or help of the people, or privately, when there are given forth for each one’s private good divine utterances whereby something of the future may be known for the use of temporal life? But where we read, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make for the house of Israel, and for the house of Judah, a new testament: not according to the testament that I settled for their fathers in the day when I laid hold of their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my testament, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the testament that I will make for the house of Israel: after those days, saith the Lord, I will give my laws in their mind, and will write them upon their hearts, and I will see to them; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people;” (Heb 8:8-10) without doubt this is prophesied to the Jerusalem above, whose reward is God Himself, and whose chief and entire good it is to have Him, and to be His. But this pertains to both, that the city of God is called Jerusalem, and that it is prophesied the house of God shall be in it; and this prophecy seems to be fulfilled when king Solomon builds that most noble temple. For these things both happened in the earthly Jerusalem, as history shows, and were types of the heavenly Jerusalem. And this kind of prophecy, as it were compacted and commingled of both the others in the ancient canonical books, containing historical narratives, is of very great significance, and has exercised and exercises greatly the wits of those who search holy writ. For example, what we read of historically as predicted and fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, we must also inquire the allegorical meaning of, as it is to be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to faith. And so much is this the case, that some have thought there is nothing in these books either foretold and effected, or effected although not foretold, that does not insinuate something else which is to be referred by figurative signification to the city of God on high, and to her children who are pilgrims in this life. But if this be so, then the utterances of the prophets, or rather the whole of those Scriptures that are reckoned under the title of the Old Testament, will be not of three, but of two different kinds. For there will be nothing there which pertains to the terrestrial Jerusalem only, if whatever is there said and fulfilled of or concerning her signifies something which also refers by allegorical prefiguration to the celestial Jerusalem; but there will be only two kinds one that pertains to the free Jerusalem, the other to both. But just as, I think, they err greatly who are of opinion that none of the records of affairs in that kind of writings mean anything more than that they so happened, so I think those very daring who contend that the whole gist of their contents lies in allegorical significations. Therefore I have said they are threefold, not two-fold. Yet, in holding this opinion, I do not blame those who may be able to draw out of everything there a spiritual meaning, only saving, first of all, the historical truth. For the rest, what believer can doubt that those things are spoken vainly which are such that, whether said to have been done or to be yet to come, they do not beseem either human or divine affairs? Who would not recall these to spiritual understanding if he could, or confess that they should be recalled by him who is able?”
A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius.
Chapter 14.—Examination of This Point. The Phrase “Old Testament” Used in Two Senses. The Heir of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament There Were Heirs of the New Testament.
…In that testament, however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised. Accordingly that land, into which the nation, after being led through the wilderness, was conducted, is called the land of promise, wherein peace and royal power, and the gaining of victories over enemies, and an abundance of children and of fruits of the ground, and gifts of a similar kind are the promises of the Old Testament. And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament; but yet the man who lives under God’s law with those earthly blessings for his sanction, is precisely the heir of the Old Testament, for just such rewards are promised and given to him, according to the terms of the Old Testament, as are the objects of his desire according to the condition of the old man. But whatever blessings are there figuratively set forth as appertaining to the New Testament require the new man to give them effect. And no doubt the great apostle understood perfectly well what he was saying, when he described the two testaments as capable of the allegorical distinction of the bond-woman and the free,—attributing the children of the flesh to the Old, and to the New the children of the promise: “They,” says he, “which are the children of the flesh, are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom 9:8) The children of the flesh, then, belong to the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; whereas the children of the promise belong to the Jerusalem above, the free, the mother of us all, eternal in the heavens. (Gal 4:25, 26) Whence we can easily see who they are that appertain to the earthly, and who to the heavenly kingdom. But then the happy persons, who even in that early age were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament to the ancient people of God, because it was divinely appropriated to that people in God’s distribution of the times and seasons.
The Substance of the Old Covenant
If Christ is not the substance, or essence, of the Old Covenant, then what is? Well, substance refers to the essence of something. So, what is essential to any particular covenant – divine or human? Simply put, the parties and the terms.
The OPC Report quotes Thomas Blake explaining that “a covenant entered by the same parties, upon the same terms and propositions on either hand, is the same covenant.” Thus the “substance” of each biblical covenant could be identified as follows:
- Adamic: between God and Adam, representing all humanity, offering eternal life upon the condition of perfect obedience
- Noahic: between God and Noah, representing all humanity, promising never to flood the earth again without condition (or alternatively upon condition of Noah building and entering the ark)
- Abrahamic: between God and Abraham, representing his carnal offspring, promising to give him numerous physical offspring and the land of Canaan for them to dwell in, and also promising that the Messiah will be born from him and will bless all nations
- Mosaic: between God and Israel, mediated by Moses, promising to bless them in the land of Canaan or to curse them in exile upon condition of their obedience to the law of Moses
- Davidic: between God and David, representing his offspring, promising to make them king of Israel and to bless Israel upon condition of their obedience to the law of Moses
- Redemption: between the Father and the Son, promising to grant the Son an kingdom and a redeemed people upon condition of his active and passive obedience
- New: between God and Christ, representing the elect, promising to pour out his Spirit upon them, granting them faith, justification, sanctification, glorification – all the benefits of union with Christ without any antecedent condition on their part
But I prefer to avoid speaking in terms of “substance” and to just speak about the parties and terms of each covenant. And, when a paedobaptist brother echoes Calvin, saying
[T]he comparison made by the Apostle [in Hebrews 8] refers to the form rather than to the substance… The ceremonies of the law… were merely accidents of the covenant, or at least additions and appendages, and, as they are commonly called, accessories, yet because they were the means of administering it, the name of covenant is applied to them…
I simply echo Luther
Therefore it is an absurd and unheard-of juggling with words, to understand “covenant” to mean “the form, or accidents of the covenant,” and “wine” to mean “the form, or accidents of wine.” Why do they not also understand all other things to mean their forms, or accidents? Even if this might be done with all other things, it would yet not be right thus to emasculate the words of God and arbitrarily to empty them of their meaning.
[This post was revised and expanded on 8/27/16]
In Romans 8, Paul lays out the truth that nothing can separate the elect Christian from the love of God. The question then arises: how is that true and how is that comforting if Israel, God’s chosen people, have been separated from God? I believe Paul answers the question using the same framework that he explains in Galatians 4.
In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul uses the terms children of flesh and children of promise with a double meaning. The first meaning refers to the physical births of Ishmael and Isaac. “[H]e who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise.” (v23) He notes that Ishmael “born according to the flesh then persecuted” Isaac “who was born according to the Spirit.” (v29)
He then gives takes these facts and gives them a symbolic interpretation and application. “[W]hich things are symbolic.” (v24, NKJV) “Which things are an allegory.” (KJV) “These things are being taken figuratively” (NIV). “These things are illustrations” (HCSB). “Now this may be interpreted allegorically” (ESV). “By the which things another thing is meant” (Geneva). “The which things be said by another understanding.” (Wycliffe) “[W]hich things are allegorized” (Young’s Literal).
Paul allegorizes the historical narrative of Ishmael and Isaac to explain the differences between the Old and New Covenants “For these are the two covenants” (NKJV). “The women represent two covenants” (NIV). “[T]hese women are two covenants” (ESV). “[F]or these mothers are the two Testaments” (Geneva). The mothers of Ishmael and Isaac correspond to these two covenants. “[T]he one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar.”
The two covenants, in turn, correspond to two Jerusalems: one earthly, one heavenly. “[F]or this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem above is free.”
The allegorical correspondence to Ishmael and Isaac are what these two covenants/Jerusalems had given birth to in Paul’s day: Judaizers and Christians. “Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children – but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.”
After establishing all of these points, Paul then applies the double meaning of the terms children of flesh and children of promise. “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.” (v28) Note that “children of promise” is being used in two different senses. The first sense (v23) referred to the historical narrative of Isaac’s birth as a fulfillment of God’s promise to give Abraham a physical offspring. The second sense refers to eternal salvation as a fulfillment of God’s promise to give Abraham a spiritual offspring (as Paul just established in 3:29). Just as Isaac’s birth was a work of the Spirit apart from Abraham’s work of the flesh (giving birth to Ishmael), so the Christian’s birth is a work of the Spirit apart from his works of the flesh (which the Judaizers insisted upon). In other words, Paul gives Isaac’s birth a typological significance. Commenting on this passage, Augustine said
This interpretation of the passage, handed down to us with apostolic authority, shows how we ought to understand the Scriptures of the two covenants—the old and the new. One portion of the earthly city became an image of the heavenly city, not having a significance of its own, but signifying another city, and therefore serving, or “being in bondage.” For it was founded not for its own sake, but to prefigure another city; and this shadow of a city was also itself foreshadowed by another preceding figure. For Sarah’s handmaid Agar, and her son, were an image of this image. And as the shadows were to pass away when the full light came, Sarah, the free woman, who prefigured the free city (which again was also prefigured in another way by that shadow of a city Jerusalem), therefore said, “Cast out the bond woman and her son; for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac,” or, as the apostle says, “with the son of the free woman.” In the earthly city, then, we find two things—its own obvious presence, and its symbolic presentation of the heavenly city. And this was typified in the two sons of Abraham,—Ishmael, the son of Agar the handmaid, being born according to the flesh, while Isaac was born of the free woman Sarah, according to the promise. Both, indeed, were of Abraham’s seed; but the one was begotten by natural law, the other was given by gracious promise. In the one birth, human action is revealed; in the other, a divine kindness comes to light.
If we turn to Romans 9, we can see Paul employ the very same reasoning. Augustine saw these as parallel passages.
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)
How does God’s Word not fail when Israel has not been saved through the Messiah? Because Israel according to the flesh was never promised eternal salvation through the Messiah. God’s election to eternal salvation is not based on anything any person does, including being born a child of Abraham. To prove this point, Paul demonstrates that even the blessings his “countrymen according to the flesh” received (principally that “according to the flesh, Christ came” from them) were never based upon physical birth but were only given by God’s sovereign election.
Paul’s approach is the same as in Galatians 4. He gives the birth of Isaac a typological interpretation.
6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” 8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. 9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”
Note carefully that the word of promise is “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.” That promise refers specifically to Isaac’s physical birth. That particular promise does not apply to Christians. It is not a promise of salvation. But, just as in Galatians 4, Paul uses that historical narrative and applies it typologically to the question of eternal salvation. And just as Paul’s argument in Galatians 4 emphasized the work of the Spirit apart from the Christian’s works, Paul applies the typology of Isaac’s birth in Romans 9 to teach that salvation is rooted in God’s sovereign election apart from works – “not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” He does this by showing that Isaac’s physical birth was according to God’s sovereign election and that Jacob’s selection as the one through whom the Abrahamic Covenant would continue and thus through whom the Messiah would be born was also according to sovereign election. Augustine notes “what we read of historically as predicted and fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, we must also inquire the allegorical [typological] meaning of, as it is to be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to faith.” Isaac Backus notes “in the fore-mentioned 9th of Romans, Paul evidently shews, that as Israel literally, was chosen out of other people: so that Israel spiritually are chosen out, from among both Jews and Gentiles.” Nehemiah Coxe said “Believers are the children of promise… typified by Isaac, being begotten to God of his own will by the efficacy and grace of his free promise.” (80)
Romans 9:14-23 then addresses the objection that is raised against God’s sovereign election – both “to service” and “to salvation.” v24-33 then return to the question of Israel’s salvation where he demonstrates the Israel that will be saved is the Israel chosen by God “not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” Just as “the children of promise” has a double meaning, so too does “Israel.” There is a typological (“my countrymen according to the flesh”) and an anti-typological (“even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles”) Israel. Therefore “[T]hey are not all Israel who are of Israel.” Paul continues his argument through chapter 11, concluding that “all Israel will be saved” (see Irons “Paul’s Theology of Israel’s Future: A Non-Millennial Interpretation of Romans 11”).
This interpretation has the added benefit of more satisfactorily addressing the typical Arminian objection to the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9, which argues that Romans 9 is about election to service.
The only approach to Romans 9 that truly addresses the issue of God’s righteousness as it relates to ethnic Israel is that the election spoken of in verses 7–18 is election to service. Paul’s thesis is that God’s word of promise to Israel has not failed (Rom. 9:6a). Why not? The answer is Romans 9:6b (NASB), “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” Here Paul is not distinguishing between two groups within Israel, the saved and the lost, with the ensuing discussion focusing on how God unconditionally makes the distinction. Rather, the contrast is of a different sort altogether. There are two groups, but they are not completely distinct from each other. One is actually inside the other, as a smaller body within a larger body. Both groups are called Israel, but they are different kinds of Israel. The larger one is ethnic Israel, the physical nation as a whole; the smaller belongs to this group but is also distinguished from it as a separate entity, i.e., as the true spiritual Israel, the remnant of true believers who enjoy the blessings of eternal salvation.
But the contrast between these two Israels is not that one is saved while the other is lost. This cannot be, since the smaller (saved) group is also a part of the larger body. What is the difference between these two Israels, and why does Paul even bring it up here? The key difference is that God’s covenant promises to these two groups are not the same. The promises God made to ethnic Israel are different from the promises he has made to spiritual Israel. Paul is saying, in effect, “You think God has been unfair to ethnic Israel because all Jews are not saved? Don’t you know there are two Israels, each with a different set of promises? You are actually confusing these two Israels. You are taking the salvation promises that apply only to the smaller group and are mistakenly trying to apply them to Israel as a whole.”
Here is the point: there are two “chosen peoples,” two Israels; but only remnant Israel has been chosen for salvation. Contrary to what the Jews commonly thought, ethnic Israel as a whole was not chosen for salvation but for service. God’s covenant promises to physical Israel as such had to do only with the role of the nation in God’s historical plan of redemption. Their election was utilitarian, not redemptive. God chose them to serve a purpose. The Jews themselves thought that this election involved the promise of salvation for individuals, but they were simply mistaken. This same mistake lies at the root of the Calvinist view that the election in Romans 9 is election to salvation. This is Piper’s root exegetical error, as he strains mightily to read salvation content into the blessings described in Romans 9:4–5. He concludes that “each of the benefits listed in 9:4, 5 has saving, eschatological implications for Israel,” and then proceeds to try to explain why such benefits were not enjoyed by all Jews. His answer is that God makes a distinction within Israel, unconditionally choosing to apply these saving benefits to only some Jews. Schreiner takes a similar approach, saying that Paul’s thesis in Romans 9–11 as stated in Romans 9:6—that “the word of God has not failed”—refers to God’s promises to save his people Israel.
Even Forlines, an Arminian, interprets God’s covenant promises to Abraham and his seed (as in Gen. 13:14–15; 17:8) as including “the promise of eternal life.” But this is simply not true. The terms of the covenant God made with Abraham and later with Israel as a whole did not include a promise to save anyone simply because he or she was a member of the covenant people. The key promise God made to Abraham and his seed was this: “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3 NASB), a promise that was fulfilled when “the Christ according to the flesh” ultimately came from Israel (Rom. 9:5 NASB). All the other promises and blessings were subordinate to this one and were designed to bring about its fulfillment. None involved a promise of eternal salvation for the individual members of the covenant people. The blessings listed by Paul in Romans 9:4–5 do not include salvation content.
Jack W. Cotrell (2006-11-01). Perspectives on Election (pp. 125-126). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
I completely agree with Cotrell’s criticism of the typical Calvinist misreading of Romans 9 and with what he has said about the Abrahamic Covenant. Of course, he is wrong in the rest of his exegesis, and he misses Paul’s allegorical application as Paul very clearly also speaks of individual salvation. Piper is helpful in addressing this:
The clarifying question that must now be posed is this: If, as we have seen (p53), God’s purpose is to perform his act of election freely without being determined by any human distinctives, what act of election is intended in Rom9:11—13—an election which determines the eternal destiny of individuals, or an election which merely assigns to individuals and nations the roles they are to play in history? The question is contextually appropriate and theologically explosive.18 On one side, those who find in Rom 9:6-13 individual and eternal predestination are accused of importing a “modern problem” (of determinism and indeterminism) into the text, and of failing to grasp the corporateness of the election discussed. 19 On the other side, one sees in the text a clear statement of “double predestination” of individuals to salvation or condemnation and claims that “the history of exegesis of Rom 9 could be described as the history of attempts to escape this clear observation” (Maier, Mensch und freier Wille, 356)…
J. Munck (Christ and Israel, 42) argues that “Rom 9:6-13 is therefore speaking neither of individuals and their selection for salvation, nor of the spiritual Israel, the Christian church. It speaks rather of the patriarchs, who without exception became founders of peoples.”
The list of modern scholars on the other side is just as impressive… On the larger context (including Rom 9:16) Henry Alford (II, 408f) writes, “I must protest against all endeavors to make it appear that no inference lies from this passage as to the salvation of individuals. It is most true that the immediate subject is the national rejection of Jews: but we must consent to hold our reason in abeyance if we do not recognize the inference that the sovereign power and free election here proved to belong to God extend to every exercise of his mercy – whether temporal or spiritual… whether national or individual.”…
The basic argument against seeing individual, eternal predestination in Rom 9:6-13 is that the two Old Testament references on which Paul builds his case do not in their Old Testament contexts refer to individuals or to eternal destiny, but rather to nations and historical tasks. The argument carries a good deal of force, especially when treated (as it usually is) without reference to the logical development of Paul’s argument in Rom 9:1-13…
By this election of Isaac instead of Ishmael God shows that physical descent from Abraham does not guarantee that one will be a beneficiary of the covenant made with Abraham and his seed… But, the interpretation continues, the covenant blessings for which Isaac is freely chosen (before his birth) and from which Ishmael is excluded (in spite of descendancy from Abraham) do not include individual eternal salvation. One cannot legitimately infer from Rom 9:7-9 that Ishmael and his descendants are eternally lost nor that Isaac and his descendants are eternally saved. What God freely and sovereignly determined is the particular descendant (Isaac) whose line will inherit the blessings of the covenant: multiplying exceedingly, fathering many nations, inhabiting the promised land and having God as their God (Gen 17:2-8). This benefit, not eternal salvation, is what is not based on physical descent from Abraham, but on God’s unconditional election…
A plausible case can be made for the position that “Paul is no longer concerned with two peoples and their fate but rather in a permanent way with the election and rejection of two persons [Jacob and Esau] who have been raised to the level of types” (Kaesemann, Romans, 264). I think this is probably true… But… the decisive flaw in the collectivist/historical position is not its failure to agree with Kaesemann’s contention. It’s decisive flaw is its failure to ask how the flow of Paul’s argument from 9:1-5 on through the chapter affects the application of the principle Paul has established in Rom 9:6b-13. The principle established is that God’s promised blessings are never enjoyed on the basis of what a person is by birth or by works, but only on the basis of God’s sovereign, free predestination (Rom 9:11,12)… We may grant, for the sake of argument, that in the demonstration of this principle of God’s freedom in election Paul uses Old Testament texts that do not relate explicitly to eternal salvation… [But] the solution which Rom 9:6-13 develops in response to this problem [9:1-5], must address the issue of individual, eternal salvation…
[W]hether Paul sees the election of Isaac (Rom 9:7b) as the election of an individual to salvation or as the election of his posterity for a historical task, the principle of unconditional election is immediately applied by Paul to the present concern, namely, who in reality does constitute true, spiritual “Israel” (9:6b), whose salvation is guaranteed by God’s word?”
– John Piper, The Justification of God, p. 56-73
An Internal/External Old Covenant?
Many Calvinists have simply missed this clear and historic explanation of Romans 9 because they have been too eager to use it as a proof-text for infant baptism (and Calvinist Baptists like Piper and Schreiner mentioned above have unwittingly followed this line). Paedobaptist covenant theology views all of the post-fall covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New) as various expressions (“administrations”) of the same covenant. They are all the covenant of grace and they are all made with more than just the elect. However, WLC 31 says “With whom was the covenant of grace made? Answer: The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” How do the non-elect fit into that definition? Louis Berkhof notes
What induced these theologians to speak of the covenant as made with the elect in spite of all the practical difficulties involved?… Reformed theologians were deeply conscious of the contrast between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. They felt that in the former the reward of the covenant was dependent on the uncertain obedience of man and as a result failed to materialize, while in the covenant of grace the full realization of the promises is absolutely sure in virtue of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. Its realization is sure through the operation of the grace of God, but, of course, sure only for those who are partakers of that grace. They felt constrained to stress this aspect of the covenant especially over against the Arminians and Neonomians, who virtually changed it into a new covenant of works, and made salvation once more dependent on the work of man, that is, on faith and evangelical obedience. For this reason they stressed the close connection between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, and even hesitated to speak of faith as the condition of the covenant of grace…
The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly Scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-12… But now the question arises, whether in the estimation of these Reformed theologians all the non-elect are outside of the covenant of grace in every sense of the word. Brakel virtually takes this position, but he is not in line with the majority. They realized very well that a covenant of grace, which in no sense of the word included others than the elect, would be purely individual, while the covenant of grace is represented in Scripture as an organic idea. They were fully aware of the fact that, according to God’s special revelation in both the Old and the New Testament, the covenant as a historical phenomenon is perpetuated in successive generations and includes many in whom the covenant life is never realized. And whenever they desired to include this aspect of the covenant in their definition, they would say that it was established with believers and their seed.
He then discusses various attempts by reformed theologians to explain these different senses of covenant membership under IV. The Dual Aspect of the Covenant. He lists An External and Internal Covenant, The Essence and Administration of the Covenant, A Conditional and an Absolute Covenant, The Covenant as Purely Legal Relationship and as Communion of Life. He defends the last view (and argues against the others):
E. Membership in the Covenant as a Legal Relationship…
2. Children of believers in the covenant. With respect to the children of believers, who enter the covenant by birth, the situation is, of course, somewhat different. Experience teaches that, though by birth they enter the covenant as a legal relationship, this does not necessarily mean that they are also at once in the covenant as a communion of life. It does not even mean that the covenant relation will ever come to its full realization in their lives. Yet even in their case there must be a reasonable assurance that the covenant is not or will not remain a mere legal relationship, with external duties and privileges, pointing to that which ought to be, but is also or will in time become a living reality. This assurance is based on the promise of God, which is absolutely reliable, that He will work in the hearts of the covenant youth with His saving grace and transform them into living members of the covenant…
The promises of God are given to the seed of believers collectively, and not individually. God’s promise to continue His covenant and to bring it to full realization in the children of believers, does not mean that He will endow every last one of them with saving faith. And if some of them continue in unbelief, we shall have to bear in mind what Paul says in Rom. 9:6-8. They are not all Israel who are of Israel; the children of believers are not all children of promise. Hence it is necessary to remind even children of the covenant constantly of the necessity of regeneration and conversion. The mere fact that one is in the covenant does not carry with it the assurance of salvation.
Excerpt From: Louis Berkhof. “Systematic Theology.” iBooks.
Note the Westminster Larger Catechism:
WLC Question 166: Unto whom is Baptism to be administered? Answer: Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.
In other words, there is more than one sense in which a person can be in the covenant of grace. Paedobaptists without exception go to Romans 9:6 to defend this “dual aspect” of the Covenant of Grace. It says “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,” which they interpret to mean “not all who are in the Covenant of Grace belong to the Covenant of Grace,” thus establishing two levels of covenant membership. But is that what the text is teaching?
The fundamental error of paedobaptist covenant theology is that they combine all of the post-fall covenants together into one covenant, against the testimony of Scripture which clearly distinguishes them as separate covenants. If we approach Romans 9:6 with this faulty presupposition, we will misread the text. As we saw above, Romans 9:6 is a parallel to Galatians 4:21-31 where Paul distinguishes between the Old and the New as separate covenants. In addition to simply not understanding Paul’s argument, and Paul’s view of the typology of Israel throughout his letters (as explained above), this has two more problems.
First, it leads them to identify the promise of Isaac’s birth itself as somehow identical to the promise of salvation. After all, Paul says “For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.'” Thus many try to argue this meant that salvation was to be confined to the line of Isaac, rather than the line of Ishmael, which is not supported by anything in Scripture. This line of reasoning is found as well when it is implied that salvation was limited to the nation of Israel during the Old Testament. Not only is this the necessary implication of their misreading of Romans 9; it is also a necessary implication of their identification of the Old Covenant as the Covenant of Grace. Nehemiah Coxe explains:
[T]his [Abrahamic] covenant did not confine the solemn worship of God (by sacrifices or otherwise) to Abraham’s family. Nor were other holy men living then under any obligation to incorporate themselves into it by circumcision or at all to take on them that sign or seal of this covenant of peculiarity that God now made with Abraham. Yet without a doubt they should have done this if in its first institution it had been given simply and directly as a seal of the covenant of grace. For then by reason of their interest in that covenant, both in point of duty and privilege, it belonged as much to them as to the seed and family of Abraham.
From the sacred history it is evident that the command by virtue of which circumcision was administered, extended no further than to Abraham and his family. Therefore we have no ground to conclude that Lot (though closely allied to Abraham) was circumcised. There is nothing in the command of God or in the first institution of circumcision that obligated him to it or interested him in it. Yet there is no doubt to be made of his interest in the covenant of grace.
Nor was Lot the only righteous man living in the world beside those of Abraham’s family for the patriarchs Heber, Salah, and Shem were now living. They had their distinct families and interests so there is no question that the pure worship of God was maintained in them and they promoted the interest of true religion to the utmost of their power while they lived.
Melchizedek was alive about this time. Whether he was Shem named earlier or another does not concern us. But this is certain: that it was he who was the priest of the most high God and King of Salem. In both respects he was the most eminent type of Jesus Christ that ever was in the world; a person greater than Abraham, for Abraham paid tithes to him and was blessed by him. Now considering that he was both king and priest, there is no doubt that there was a society of men that were ruled
by hint and for whom he ministered. For a priest is ordained for men in things pertaining to God. This society was at this time as much a church of God as Abraham’s family was and as truly interested in the covenant of grace as any in it. Yet they were not involved as parties in this covenant of circumcision nor to be signed by it. And so it is manifest that circumcision was not at first applied as a seal of the covenant of grace, nor did an interest in it presently render a man the proper subject of it.
Again, to suppose that all good men then living should have been circumcised as Abraham was, and their offspring bound to keep this covenant in their generations as his were, would necessarily frustrate one great (if not the greatest) end of circumcision and its covenant. This was the separating of one family of people from all others in the world for the bringing out of the Messiah, that promised seed, from them and among them for the establishing of all the promises made to the fathers. Moreover, the promise of this covenant regarding the inheritance of the land of Canaan could never have been made good to them all. And yet certainly the sealing of that promise was on thing intended in circumcision.
From the whole it appears that, on the one hand, there was a positive command which made it necessary to circumcise many that never had interest in the covenant of grace. So, on the other hand, from the first date of circumcision there were many truly interested in the covenant of grace who were under no obligation to be circumcised. This is how far from truth it is that a new covenant interest and right to circumcision may be inferred the one from the other.
Covenant Theology From Adam to Christ, p. 116-118
Second, and following the above, there is no way to explain why Ishmael, someone whom God declared was not a child of promise (and therefore, according to their reading of Romans 9:6-8, declared reprobate) and with whom the Abrahamic Covenant would not be established, would receive circumcision, which paedobaptists claim is a seal of the righteousness of faith.
Rather than being a proof text for Westminster federalism, the internal/external covenant construct is imported into Romans 9:6 because of a prior covenantal commitment. Paul is making distinctions between Israel after the flesh, to whom belong the [old] covenants (they are/were actually in covenant with God), and true, spiritual Israel, to whom belong the ultimate fulfillment of those previous covenants: the new covenant/covenant of grace. He demonstrates that even Israel after the flesh was granted blessings on the basis of God’s sovereign election and he applies this historical reality allegorically to come to the conclusion that they are not all [spiritual] Israel [with whom the New Covenant is made] who are from [carnal] Israel [with whom the Old Covenant was made].
Here is a quote from Isaac Backus:
But what will, I apprehend, set this matter in the clearest light, is to consider it in the line of type and antitype.—It is abundantly shewn in Scripture, that the Jewish church, and the forms and ordinances thereof, did shadow forth, and typify heavenly things, Heb. 8:2–6 and 9:9, 23, 24, &c. The seed of Abraham, Isaac and Israel’s being selected out of other nations, and being redeem’d with almighty power, and bro’t near to God, to be his peculiar people, and to partake of those ordinances and privileges which no other nation then enjoyed, did remarkably shadow forth God’s spiritual Israel, whom he hath chosen and by almighty grace redeemed; Out of every kindred, tongue, people and nation. Rev. 5:9. And as the Lord said to Israel at Sinai; Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, (Exod. 19:6) so these saints say, Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests, ver. 10. And in the fore-mentioned 9th of Romans, Paul evidently shews, that as Israel literally, was chosen out of other people: so that Israel spiritually are chosen out, from among both Jews and Gentiles. The same apostle calls the old-testament dispensation the Letter; and the new-testament, the Spirit, 2 Cor. 3:6. That church had a literal house and temple where God’s name was fixed, and his worship confined. Deut. 12:13. 1 King. 8:29…
Thus by jumbling type and antitype together, persons run themselves into a sad dilemma: whereas if we take them distinct, the case is easy…
Now if we take these things distinct, there is no difficulty; but to jumble them together, leads into endless confusion.
In “DOLPHINS IN THE WOODS”: A Critique of Mark Jones and Ted Van Raalte’s Presentation of Particular Baptist Covenant Theology, Samuel Renihan provides the following quote
We conceive, that this Scripture [Gal. 3:29; Rom. 9:6-9] doth expound, Gen. 17. God made an everlasting covenant of Grace with ABRAHAM and his seed. Now the Scriptures declare, that ABRAHAM had two kindes of seed; one born after the flesh, the other born after the Spirit, Gal. 4. 29. The question is, who are counted for Abrahams seed according to the covenant of grace?
-Benjamin Coxe, William Kiffin, and Hanserd Knollys
A Declaration Concerning the Publike Dispute Which Should have been in the Publike Meeting-House of Alderman-Bury, the 3d of this instant Moneth of December; Concerning Infants-Baptisme. Together, with some of the Arguments which should have been propounded and urged by some of those that are falsly called Anabaptists, which should then have disputed (London: n.p., 1645), 16.
“In Isaac will your seed be called.” It was Isaac’s seed and not Ishmael’s that the Lord would set apart for himself, give the land of Canaan to, and establish his solemn worship among them to be their God…
But once more the Lord restrains it by the rejection of Esau and the choosing of Jacob before the children had done either good or evil. This was so the purpose of God according to election might stand and he might set before us an awe-inspiring type of his sovereignty in the later dispensation of the grace of the gospel…
[T]he covenant of peculiarity made with Israel and the dispensation that God brought them under pursuant to its ends, was typical of the gospel covenant and the state of things in it. In Isaac we have a type of the children of God by faith. As he (in his seed) was the heir of Canaan, so they are heirs of heaven. As he was persecuted by Ishmael, so must they expect trouble in the world and look to be maligned by all carnal and Pharisaic spirits who seek to establish their own righteousness and refuse to submit to the righteousness of God. In a word, the people, their worship, and their inheritance were all typical. And yet, as Abraham’s spiritual seed may behold the shadow of their own state and privilege in the spiritual relation and typical economy of the Jewish church, so they again might and ought to consider themselves in their outward state to be but typical. While they were figures of the children of promise, both themselves, their state, and their end were figured in the son of the bond-woman and his rejection.
-Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ (102-3, 132)
[T]his article closely examines Gal 3 and 4:21–31 as well as Rom 4 and 9:7–13 in order to demonstrate that there is an underlying hermeneutical consistency to Paul’s typological use of the patriarchs and that this consistency is supportive of the view that “Israel” in Rom 9:6b refers to spiritual Israel—that is, the church… These texts are all part of a larger pattern of predominantly typological exegesis; they have all been cut, so to speak, from the same hermeneutical cloth and cannot be understood in isolation from one another…
[H]is argument in Rom 9:7–8 closely resembles and in part even seems to assume what had been explicitly proved in Gal 4:21– 31, namely, the existence of a typological antithesis between Isaac as a child of Abraham according to promise and Ishmael as a child according to the flesh with all that kata; sarkav often entails. The sudden introduction of multiple children of promise along with multiple children of flesh in Rom 9:8 only follows epexegetically (touÅt∆ eßstin) from the bare mention of Isaac in Rom 9:7 if the respective typological identities of both of Abraham’s sons can be taken for granted—identities that are not fully articulated here but in Galatians. In fact, only here and in Gal 4:23, 28–29 do we find the antithesis between “children of flesh” and “children of promise.” This makes the Galatians passage with its considerably greater elaboration indispensable for a proper understanding of Rom 9:8…
As a child of promise whose birth was wholly dependent on the gracious activity of God, Isaac stands as a type of the “children of promise,” namely, Jewish and Gentile believers…
Over against “the Israel of the old covenant,” Paul thus sets “the Israel of the new covenant, consisting of believing Jew and Gentile.”…
Believing Jews and Gentiles together are the people of God. They alone are the “seed” of Abraham and the “children of promise,” because they, and they alone, are the eschatological antitypes of Isaac and Jacob…
Not only has he consistently viewed descent from Abraham spiritually, he has consistently treated Abraham’s literal progeny typologically. The patriarchs of the first two generations after Abraham stand in Scripture as types of still greater eschatological realities. Isaac and Jacob are types of the “children of promise”… At the same time that these typologies were seen to be crucial to Paul’s view of the people of God in both Galatians and Romans, they were also seen to be part of a larger pattern of interpretation, namely, the systematic appropriation to the church of the Scriptures, blessings, and promises of Israel.
Finally, hear Augustine once more:
What then is the import of the “All, from the least unto the greatest of them,” but all that belong spiritually to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah,—that is, to the children of Isaac, to the seed of Abraham? For such is the promise, wherein it was said to him, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called; for they which are the children of the flesh are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac, (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth,) it was said unto her, “The elder shall serve the younger.” (Rom 9:7-12) This is the house of Israel, or rather the house of Judah, on account of Christ, who came of the tribe of Judah. This is the house of the children of promise,—not by reason of their own merits, but of the kindness of God. For God promises what He Himself performs: He does not Himself promise, and another perform; which would no longer be promising, but prophesying. Hence it is “not of works, but of Him that calleth,” (Rom 9:11) lest the result should be their own, not God’s; lest the reward should be ascribed not to His grace, but to their due; and so grace should be no longer grace which was so earnestly defended and maintained by him who, though the least of the apostles, laboured more abundantly than all the rest,—yet not himself, but the grace of God that was with him. (1 Cor 15:9-10)
“They shall all know me,” (Jer 31:34) He says,—“All,” the house of Israel and house of Judah. “All,” however, “are not Israel which are of Israel,” (Rom 9:6) but they only to whom it is said in “the psalm concerning the morning aid” (Ps 22) (that is, concerning the new refreshing light, meaning that of the new testament [covenant]), “All ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel.” (Ps 22:23) All the seed, without exception, even the entire seed of the promise and of the called, but only of those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28) “For whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” (Rom 8:30) “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed: not to that only which is of the law,”—that is, which comes from the Old Testament into the New,—“but to that also which is of faith,” which was indeed prior to the law, even “the faith of Abraham,”—meaning those who imitate the faith of Abraham,—“who is the father of us all; as it is written, I have made thee the father of many nations.” (Rom 4:16-17) Now all these predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones, shall know God by the grace of the new testament [covenant], from the least to the greatest of them.
As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant], so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament [covenant].”
A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.
Chapter 40.—How that is to Be the Reward of All; The Apostle Earnestly Defends Grace.
Chapter 41.—The Law Written in the Heart, and the Reward of the Eternal Contemplation of God, Belong to the New Covenant; Who Among the Saints are the Least and the Greatest.
Augustine explains Rom 9:6 with reference to Jeremiah 31:34. All Israel shall know the Lord, but they are not all [spiritual] Israel [with whom the New Covenant is made] who are from [carnal] Israel [with whom the Old Covenant was made]. He correctly identifies the thrust of Paul’s argument in Romans 9 as election & reprobation, but he also correctly identifies election to salvation as corresponding to membership in the New Covenant (not to “inner” membership in the Abrahamic Covenant/Covenant of Grace).
In a helpful essay titled “The Covenant in the Church Fathers”, Andrew A. Woolsey notes that “Augustine built upon the patristic position, with his main emphasis upon two covenants, the ‘old’ as manifested supremely in the Sinaitic arrangement, and the ‘new’ in Christ.” with the important qualification that “Augustine did not confine the giving of the law covenant to Sinai… he considered the Sinaitic covenant to be ‘a more explicit’ form of a pre lassos Edenic covenant made with Adam.” The difference between the Adamic and the Old Covenants was that “obedience to the [Edenic] covenant, Augustine speculated, would have caused Adam to pass into the company of the angels with no intervening death, to ‘a blissful immortality that has no limit’” while the Old was limited to temporal blessings in Canaan. “[T]he law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant]… the promises of the Old Testament are earthly… In that testament, however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised.”
Salvation is found in Christ the mediator through the New Covenant, which was “hidden in the prophetic shadows until the time should come wherein it should be revealed in Christ.” “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,—because of the faith whereby we live, of one and the same they lived, believing the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ as future, which we believe as already accomplished.” “Now all these predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones, shall know God by the grace of the new testament [covenant], from the least to the greatest of them.”
Woolsey explains that “Christ was their Mediator too. Though his incarnation had not yet happened, the fruits of it still availed for the fathers. Christ was their head… So the men of God in the Old Testament were shown to be heirs of the new. The new covenant was actually more ancient than the old, though it was subsequently revealed. It was ‘hidden in the prophetic ciphers’ until the time of revelation in Christ.”
Augustine developed his covenant theology amidst debate with Pelagians, who denied total depravity and taught that man may be righteous through obedience to the law and that many in the Old Testament were. One of five formal charges brought against Pelagius was his claim that “The Law leads people to the kingdom of heaven in the same way as does the gospel.” Pelagius argued that “The kingdom of heaven was promised even in the Old Testament.” Augustine’s response was that the Old Testament Scriptures do reveal the kingdom of heaven, but in the Old Covenant “given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised.” However, it served as “figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament.” Saints during that time who understood this distinction “were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament.” Eugen J. Pentuic explains “In chapters 14 and 15 [of On the Proceedings of Pelagius], Augustine seeks to refute Pelagius’s thesis on the parity between the Law and the gospel. For Augustine, the distinction between the two testaments lies with the nature of their promises. If the Old Testament’s promises are centered on earthly realities, the New Testament’s promises concern the heavenly realities such as the kingdom of heaven.”
Augustine argued that “by the words of Pelagius the distinction which has been drawn by Apostolic and catholic authority is abolished, and Agar is supposed to be by some means on a par with Sarah[.] He therefore does injury to the scripture of the Old Testament with heretical impiety, who with an impious and sacrilegious face denies that it was inspired by the good, supreme, and very God,—as Marcion does, as Manichæus does, and other pests of similar opinions. On this account (that I may put into as brief a space as I can what my own views are on the subject), as much injury is done to the New Testament, when it is put on the same level with the Old Testament, as is inflicted on the Old itself when men deny it to be the work of the supreme God of goodness.”
That Pelagius was correct in seeing the Old Covenant as a law of works was assumed throughout Augustine’s writings. Pelagius’ error was that he did not recognize the typology involved in the fact that the Old Covenant was limited to earthly promises and he believed the New Covenant was a continuation of the same law of works. For Augustine, then, the difference between the Old and the New Covenants was the difference between law and gospel, as well as the difference between earthly and heavenly.
Moving forward a millennium, Augustinian monk Martin Luther articulated the same concept. “For the old testament given through Moses was not a promise of forgiveness of sins or of eternal things, but of temporal things, namely, of the land of Canaan, by which no man was renewed in spirit to lay hold on the heavenly inheritance. Wherefore also it was necessary that, as a figure of Christ, a dumb beast should be slain, in whose blood the same testament might be confirmed, as the blood corresponded to the testament and the sacrifice corresponded to the promise. But here Christ says ‘the new testament in my blood’ [Luke 22:20; I Cor. 11:25], not somebody else’s, but his own, by which grace is promised through the Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, that we may obtain the inheritance.” Philip Melanchthon agreed. “I consider the Old Testament a promise of material things linked up with the demands of the law. For God demands righteousness through the law and also promises its reward, the Land of Canaan, wealth, etc… By contrast, the New Testament is nothing else than the promise of all good things without regard to the law and with no respect to our own righteousness… Jer, ch.31, indicates this difference between the Old and New Testaments.”
Once the reformation began to address Anabaptist criticisms of infant baptism we start to see a shift away from Augustine’s view. Joshua Moon notes “looming over all of the Swiss Reformed discussions of Jer 31:31-34 is the dispute with the Anabaptists.”
Bullinger’s central solution to the Anabaptist arguments, as for Zwingli, rests in a particular view of the continuity and sufficiency of the Old Testament. In the treatise Bullinger aims to establish that there is one single covenant of God that has always been in operation: the same essence, with the same basic requirements (faith and love), even if with different accompaniments. The payoff is the continuity of the way in which God deals with the children of believers – at least as far as baptism.
The contrast between the Old and the New, according to Bullinger, referred only to the “accidents.”
[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.
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.” That said, “The difficulty of limiting the contrast in the oracle [Jer. 31] to ‘accidents’, however, will be felt by a number of the Reformed.”
Following in this same line, Calvin’s treatment of the topic in his Institutes is framed as a response to Anabaptist arguments.
This discussion, which would have been most useful at any rate, has been rendered necessary by that monstrous miscreant, Servetus, and some madmen of the sect of the Anabaptists, who think of the people of Israel just as they would do of some herd of swine, absurdly imagining that the Lord gorged them with temporal blessings here, and gave them no hope of a blessed immortality.
It is a bit difficult to confirm Calvin’s summary of the Anabaptists with their own statements for two reasons. First, the label Anabaptist was applied broadly to all radical reformers with a wide variety of beliefs. “For polemical purposes, Calvin often loosely placed all the sectarians in one group.” Second, Anabaptist writings are much more scarce than reformed literature (perhaps because many of the Anabaptists did not defend their ideas in writing, but preferred the “Apostolic” method of oral discourse, making it more difficult to determine what precisely they believed). Willem Balke notes “It is difficult to trace all of the sources from which Calvin drew his information about the Anabaptists.” Calvin had a great deal of first-hand experience with Anabaptists throughout his life, including strategically joining a tailor’s guild in Strasbourg where “nearly all members were Anabaptists.” He even married the widow of one ex-Anabaptist that he had converted after he debated him publicly.
Far from a tangential debate, Anabaptism was an integral part of the development of Calvin’s theology. “He defined his theological position with two distinct foils in mind ‐ Rome and the Radicals.” “In 1539, Calvin provided a much broader theological exposition for his polemic against the Anabaptists. His controversy with them occasioned much of the overall expansion of the Institutes.” Neither was his debate with Anabaptists merely an academic exercise. In the eyes of Calvin and other reformers, the very success of the Reformation hinged upon whether they could refute the Anabaptists, and Calvin was seen as the very best hope of doing so.
Neither was this task an impersonal one. The Anabaptists were a consistent political and personal thorn in Calvin’s flesh throughout his ministry. Calvin’s exile from France was a result of being lumped with Anabaptists himself.
From the perspective of [King] Francis, all Protestants—including everyone from Antoine Marcourt, the architect of the placards incident, to Lutherans to Calvin—were, like the German Anabaptists, a threat to political harmony. One might say fairly that Calvin spent the rest of his life trying to distance himself from this distasteful comparison, and he himself admitted as much in the preface to his commentary on the Psalms. Through the final edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1559 and until his death five years later, Calvin never ceased instituting “true religion” in opposition to what he, no less than Francis, thought to be Anabaptist extremism.
His exile from Geneva was also directly related to Anabaptists. Calvin wrote a confession that denounced Anabaptism and required all the citizens of Geneva to personally swear an oath affirming it, or be banished. The Anabaptists refused but the Geneva Council was reluctant to enforce the banishment. Calvin warned the Council that he would excommunicate the Anabaptists from the church if they refused the confession. The Council forbid him to do so. “In the midst of the conflict and confusion, Calvin and Farel refused to administer the Lord’s Supper on Easter. Demonstrations developed in the streets and emergency meetings of the Council were held. Three days later the decision came: Calvin and Farel were expelled from the city.”
And thus “It was the Anabaptists who prompted Calvin, like Zwingli, to reconsider the question of the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament. This matter lay close to Calvin’s heart.” “According to Schrenk, Calvin depended on Zwingli and Bullinger with respect to this concept. They were compelled to develop their theology of covenant in their conflicts with the Anabaptists.” “It did not start in Wittenberg or Geneva but in Zurich. For Reformed Theology, Zwingli is the real renewer of the biblical idea of the covenant, but its impulse may have come from the Anabaptist side. Bullinger gave this Zwinglian doctrine its first design. The struggle against the Anabaptists and the desire to establish a national church are the driving forces behind this thought.”
“[T]he doctrine of the covenant was critically important as a basis for infant baptism. [Calvin] fully developed his ideas in this regard in the Institutes. His line of reasoning focuses entirely on this fundamental concept.” “With the obvious intention of refuting Anabaptism, he added an entire chapter on the relationship between the Old and New Testament, which became the most significant basis for his defense of infant baptism.”
With regards to the Old and New covenants, Calvin finds himself in an interesting situation. The Anabaptists appear to be in agreement with Augustine and the Lutherans that the Old Covenant was limited to earthly promises, but they would appear to disagree that those blessings revealed the gospel in types and shadows during the Old Testament era and thereby saved Old Testament saints through the New Covenant. Calvin could refute their error on this point by arguing, like Augustine, that the New Covenant was also operative during the Old Testament era, and therefore Israelites did have a hope of blessed immortality. Though adopting Augustine’s view would be entirely sufficient to establish the point, it would not leave Calvin with any defense of infant baptism because it does not entail that the Old and New Covenants are one. Peter Lillback explains
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.
However, various “passages seem to argue that there is not one divine covenant throughout Scripture, but rather that there are two of quite a different character. Should that interpretation be correct, then Calvin would be forced to concede the argument to the Anabaptists after all. How can he explain this difference and still maintain the continuity of the Covenants?” Therefore, instead of refuting the Anabaptists with Augustine’s argument, Calvin addresses this point by appeal to the anti-Anabaptist argument from covenant unity established by Bullinger. “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.”
In Book 2, Chapter 10 of the Institutes, he outlines the reasons why “both covenants are truly one… although differently administered”
- The Old Covenant promised eternal life, just like the New.
- The Old Covenant was established in the mercy of God, just like the New.
- The Old Covenant was confirmed by the mediation of Christ, just like the New.
In Chapter 11, Calvin gives “five points of difference between the Old and the New Testaments” which “belong to the mode of administration rather than the substance.”
- “In the Old Testament the heavenly inheritance is exhibited under temporal blessings; in the New, aids of this description are not employed.”
- “The Old Testament typified Christ under ceremonies. The New exhibits the immediate truth and the whole body.”
- “The Old Testament is literal, the New spiritual.”
- “The Old Testament belongs to bondage, the New to liberty.”
- “The Old Testament belonged to one people only, the New to all.”
Regarding the similarities, Calvin says the first point is “the foundation of the other two” and therefore “a lengthy proof is given of it” taking up most of the chapter. It is “the most pertinent to the present subject, and the most controverted.” To prove that the Old Covenant promised eternal life, Calvin argues
The Apostle, indeed, removes all doubt when he says that the Gospel which God gave concerning his Son, Jesus Christ, ‘he had promised aforetime by his prophets in the holy Scriptures,’ (Rom. 1:2)… Most clearly, therefore, does the Apostle demonstrate that the Old Testament had special reference to the future life, when he says that the promises of the Gospel were comprehended under it.
Based upon this fact, he then argues “we infer that the Old Testament was both established by the free mercy of God and confirmed by the intercession of Christ.”
Calvin further argues “that the spiritual covenant was common also to the Fathers” because their souls were quickened by the “inherent efficacy” of the word of God in the Old Testament. “Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, and the other patriarchs, having been united to God by this illumination of the word, I say, there cannot be the least doubt that entrance was given them into the immortal kingdom of God.” He then provides numerous examples showing that these believers aspired to “a better life” elsewhere, making them “pilgrims and strangers in the land of Canaan.”
On this point, there is much overlap with Augustine, but Calvin makes an inference that Augustine does not. Augustine agrees with Calvin that regenerate Israelites were pilgrims, but he says they were pilgrims because they looked beyond the Old Covenant and were thereby counted heirs of the New Covenant. Augustine did not believe this meant the Old and the New were one.
[W]hatever blessings are there figuratively set forth as appertaining to the New Testament require the new man to give them effect… 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.
Contrary to Augustine, based upon the above arguments, Calvin asserts
Let us then lay it down confidently as a truth which no engines of the devil can destroy – that the Old Testament or covenant which the Lord made with the people of Israel was not confined to earthly objects, but contained a promise of spiritual and eternal life, the expectation of which behaved to be impressed on the minds of all who truly consented to the covenant.
But this does not follow. It is an invalid inference to claim that because regenerate Israelites were part of the immortal kingdom of God, therefore the Old and New covenants are one. It does not follow that the Old covenant promised eternal life. Augustine and the Lutherans affirmed that regenerate Israelites were part of the immortal kingdom of God, but they also affirmed that the Old and New were two distinct covenants and that the Old was limited to earthly blessings. Calvin’s inference, which he asserts throughout as foundational, is simply invalid. The correct inference, made by Augustine, is that regenerate Israelites partook of the New covenant. As we will see below, Calvin ends up having to make use of this correct inference when he encounters problems with his argument.
The first difference between the Old and the New Covenants is that “God was pleased to indicate and typify both the gift of future and eternal felicity by terrestrial blessings, as well as the dreadful nature of spiritual death by bodily punishments, at that time when he delivered his covenant to the Israelites as under a kind of veil.”
The second difference “is in the types, the former exhibiting only the image of truth, while the reality was absent, the shadow instead of the substance, the latter exhibiting both the full truth and the entire body.” Here we begin to see an interesting tension in Calvin’s substance/accidents distinction. Previously he argued that the Old and New are the same in substance, only differing in accidents. But here we are told one difference between them is that the New actually has the substance, while the Old does not.
In regards to Hebrews 7-10, he says that because the typical ceremonies “were the means of administering the covenant, the name of covenant is applied to them, just as is done in the case of other sacraments. Hence, in general, the Old Testament is the name given to the solemn method of confirming the covenant comprehended under ceremonies and sacrifices.” This definition of the term “Old Testament” is important to keep in mind. “Old Testament” refers only to the accidents of the covenant prior to Christ. Calvin then notes that the Old covenant was to be annulled because “there is nothing substantial in it, until we look beyond it” to “Christ, the surety and mediator of a better covenant.” Again we see that the Old Testament lacks the substance it is supposed to share with the New. Here Calvin’s problem is clear. The “Old Testament” refers only to the accidents, but the “New” refers to the substance. Thus the difference between them apparently is not accidents vs accidents, but accidents vs substance.
Calvin is forced into these comparisons, against his earlier framework, because of “the many passages of Scripture in which they are are contrasted as things differing most widely from each other.” In the above, Calvin dealt with Hebrews 7-10, arguing that it was addressing only ceremonies. He next deals with 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 and Jeremiah 31:31-34. While Calvin must attempt to keep these differences on the level of outward administration, we have just seen that he is unable to. As Augustine remarked on these same passages:
I beg of you, however, carefully to observe, as far as you can, what I am endeavouring to prove with so much effort. When the prophet promised a new covenant, not according to the covenant which had been formerly made with the people of Israel when liberated from Egypt, he said nothing about a change in the sacrifices or any sacred ordinances, although such change, too, was without doubt to follow, as we see in fact that it did follow, even as the same prophetic scripture testifies in many other passages; but he simply called attention to this difference, that God would impress His laws on the mind of those who belonged to this covenant, and would write them in their hearts, (Jer 31:32-33) whence the apostle drew his conclusion,—“not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart;” (2 Cor 3:3)… It is therefore apparent what difference there is between the old covenant and the new,—that in the former the law is written on tables, while in the latter on hearts; so that what in the one alarms from without, in the other delights from within; and in the former man becomes a transgressor through the letter that kills, in the other a lover through the life-giving spirit.
Commenting on Jeremiah 31:31-34 as quoted in Hebrews 8:8, Calvin himself acknowledges the same.
[H]ere the question is respecting ceremonies, but the Prophet speaks of the whole Law: what has it to do with ceremonies, when God inscribes on the heart the rule of a godly and holy life, delivered by the voice and teaching of men? To this I reply that the argument is applied from the whole to a part. There is no doubt but that the Prophet includes the whole dispensation of Moses when he says, “I have made with you a covenant which you have not kept.” Besides, the Law was in a manner clothed with ceremonies; now when the body is dead, what is the use of garments? It is a common saying that the accessory is of the same character with his principal. No wonder, then, that the ceremonies, which are nothing more than appendages to the old covenant, should come to an end, together with the whole dispensation of Moses. Nor is it unusual with the Apostles, when they speak of ceremonies, to discuss the general question respecting the whole Law. Though, then, the prophet Jeremiah extends wider than to ceremonies, yet as it includes them under the name of the old covenant, it may be fitly applied to the present subject.
In other words, because the substance (body) is different, then of course the accidents (garments) will change as well. Note, that this contradicts his argument in the Institutes that in Hebrews 7-10 (which is built upon Jeremiah 31:31-34), “the Old Testament is the name given to the solemn method of confirming the covenant comprehended under ceremonies and sacrifices.” In his commentary on Jeremiah 31, Calvin says “the Prophet speaks of the whole Law… the whole dispensation of Moses… extends wider than to ceremonies”.
Returning to the Institutes, Calvin says that both Jeremiah (31:31-34) and Paul (2 Cor. 3:5-6) “consider nothing in the Law but what is peculiar to it.” Thus he asserts that “Old covenant” in these two passages is referring simply to “the Law” while “New covenant” refers to “the Gospel.” “The Law is designated by the name of the Old, and the Gospel by that of the New Testament.” Properly defining the terms is crucial to Calvin’s position. Calvin insisted that in Heb 7-10, “Old Testament” referred only to the typical ceremonies. Here he insists it refers to “the Law.” But what precisely does Calvin mean by “the Law” in this instance? Does he mean the moral law? Does he mean the books of Moses? Does he mean Mosaic law as a whole (moral, judicial, ceremonial), delivered on Mt. Sinai? It’s not immediately clear.
the Law here and there contains promises of mercy; but as these are adventitious to it, they do not enter into the account of the Law as considered only in its own nature. All which is attributed to it is, that it commands what is right, prohibits crimes, holds forth rewards to the cultivators of righteousness, and threatens transgressors with punishment, while at the same time it neither changes nor amends that depravity of heart which is naturally inherent in all.
Broadly speaking, “the Law” contains promises of mercy, but those promises are extrinsic to it. Again, it is not immediately clear what Calvin means by “the Law” in this instance – whether it refers to the writings of Moses or to the Mosaic Covenant as a whole. He first says “the Law” contains promises of mercy, then he says that it does not. If by “the Law” Calvin means the moral law, then he is incorrect because it does not contain any promises of mercy, not even “adventitiously.” If by “the Law” Calvin does not mean simply the moral law, then is he equivocating when he proceeds immediately (“All that is attributed to it is…”) to describe “the Law” in terms of the moral law, arguing that “Jeremiah indeed calls the Moral Law also a weak and fragile covenant”?
Perhaps he means that “the Law” refers to the five books of Moses. Thus promises of mercy are found in the writings of Moses. But that does not make sense of his comment that the promises are adventitious to it. How can part of Moses’ writings be adventitious to Moses’ writings? He later explains that is not what is meant by “the Law” when he says that the Old Testament “is of wider extent [than just the Law] (sec. 1), comprehending under it the promises which were given before the Law” thus identifying the Law with a particular point in history.
The best explanation appears to be that by “the Law” Calvin means the law delivered by God to Israel on Mt. Sinai, including the moral, judicial, and ceremonial law. This would seem to be confirmed by the above statements regarding the moral law, crimes, and the timing, taken together with other statements such as “For the Apostle speaks of the Law more disparagingly than the Prophet. This he does not simply in respect of the Law itself, but because there were some false zealots of the Law who, by a perverse zeal for ceremonies, obscured the clearness of the Gospel” as well as when he works through Paul’s antitheses in 2 Cor 3 and concludes “The last antithesis must be referred to the Ceremonial Law.” This reading is confirmed by Calvin’s earlier statement in chapter 7. “By the Law, I understand not only the Ten Commandments, which contain a complete rule of life, but the whole system of religion delivered by the hand of Moses.” We find this confirmed in his commentary on Jeremiah 31:31-34 as well. “[T]he Prophet speaks of the whole Law… There is no doubt but that the Prophet includes the whole dispensation of Moses.”
Thus the whole Mosaic law delivered on Mt. Sinai to the people of Israel is what Jeremiah and Paul refer to as the Old Covenant. This Old Covenant is contrasted to the Gospel. Promises of mercy may be found here and there in this Old Covenant, but they are adventitious to it because the Old Covenant “neither changes nor amends that depravity of heart which is naturally inherent in all.” Therefore “the Old Testament is literal, because promulgated without the efficacy of the Spirit: the New spiritual, because the Lord has engraven it on the heart.” An example of this is found in Calvin’s commentary on Deuteronomy 30:6. “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart. This promise far surpasses all the others, and properly refers to the new Covenant, for thus it is interpreted by Jeremiah.”
We once again find Calvin depicting the differences between the Old and the New, not as a difference in accidents, but in substance. Calvin previously argued they were the same in substance because they both equally promised eternal life and because the patriarchs were members of the “immortal kingdom of God” through “illumination [regeneration] of the word.” Now, because he is explaining the meaning of Jeremiah, Paul, and the author of Hebrews, Calvin says the exact opposite: the promise of mercy is adventitious to the Old covenant and the Old covenant regenerates no one. How can Calvin speak so contradictorily? As we will see below, it is because he is defining “Old covenant” differently in each instance. Joshua Moon notes “The only way in which he is able to do this without blatant contradiction is through the broadening of the term ‘Old Testament’ in the first of the comparisons, as he admits to doing (‘The first extends more widely…’).”
Calvin’s fourth difference is that “The Old Testament belongs to bondage, the New to liberty.” Referencing Heb 12:18-22 and Gal 4:25-26, Calvin says “The Old Testament filled the conscience with fear and trembling – The New inspires it with gladness.” Echoing the previous point, Calvin affirms that the holy fathers shared in the liberty from bondage, but explains that this freedom was not derived from “the Law.” Commenting on this, Peter Lillback notes “Calvin’s explanation once again indicates his understanding of the New Covenant as the place of salvation in all of redemptive history.”
He concludes “The three last contrasts to which we have adverted (sec. 4, 7, 9) are between the Law and the Gospel, and hence in these the Law is designated by the name of the Old, and the Gospel by that of the New Testament.” Note carefully that by this Calvin considers the typical ceremonies of the Old Covenant (difference #2, sec. 4) to fall under “the Law” in contrast to “the Gospel” even though they reveal the Gospel typologically. He says that the holy fathers
were under the same bonds and burdens of observances as the rest of their nation. Therefore, seeing they were obliged to the anxious observance of ceremonies (which were the symbols of a tutelage bordering on slavery, and handwritings by which they acknowledged their guilt, but did not escape from it), they are justly said to have been, comparatively, under a covenant of fear and bondage, in respect of that common dispensation under which the Jewish people were then placed.
Calvin re-visited this issue in his commentary on the book of Hebrews, where he again wrestles with Jeremiah’s stark contrast.
But what he adds is not without some difficulty, — that the covenant of the Gospel was proclaimed on better promises; for it is certain that the fathers who lived under the Law had the same hope of eternal life set before them as we have, as they had the grace of adoption in common with us, then faith must have rested on the same promises. But the 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.
Again Calvin attempts to explain the difference as a matter of form or outward administration. The difference is the manner and character of the revelation (i.e. obscure vs. clear). But in expositing the text, Calvin runs into his recurring dilemma. “There are two main parts in this covenant; the first regards the gratuitous remission of sins; and the other, the inward renovation of the heart.” This presents Calvin with the problem of how these two things can be attributed to the New covenant in contrast to the Old. He argues it was simply a matter of degree (lesser vs greater), as well as clarity.
But it may be asked, whether there was under the Law a sure and certain promise of salvation, whether the fathers had the gift of the Spirit, whether they enjoyed God’s paternal favor through the remission of sins? Yes, it is evident that they worshipped God with a sincere heart and a pure conscience, and that they walked in his commandments, and this could not have been the case except they had been inwardly taught by the Spirit; and it is also evident, that whenever they thought of their sins, they were raised up by the assurance of a gratuitous pardon. And yet the Apostle, by referring the prophecy of Jeremiah to the coming of Christ, seems to rob them of these blessings. To this I reply, that he does not expressly deny that God formerly wrote his Law on their hearts and pardoned their sins, but he makes a comparison between the less and the greater. As then the Father has put forth more fully the power of his Spirit under the kingdom of Christ, and has poured forth more abundantly his mercy on mankind, this exuberance renders insignificant the small portion of grace which he had been pleased to bestow on the fathers. We also see that the promises were then obscure and intricate, so that they shone only like the moon and stars in comparison with the clear light of the Gospel which shines brightly on us.
But this answer is confounded by the fact that Abraham’s faith, far from being less than ours, is the prime example of ours. So it cannot be a difference in degree.
If it be objected and said, that the faith and obedience of Abraham so excelled, that hardly any such an example can at this day be found in the whole world; my answer is this, that the question here is not about persons, but that reference is made to the economical condition of the Church. Besides, whatever spiritual gifts the fathers obtained, they were accidental as it were to their age; for it was necessary for them to direct their eyes to Christ in order to become possessed of them. Hence it was not without reason that the Apostle, in comparing the Gospel with the Law, took away from the latter what is peculiar to the former. There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.
To escape this dilemma, Calvin must abandon his unity of Old and New and flee to Augustine’s view. The true solution is to admit that the saving faith experienced by the fathers was not derived from the Old covenant, but was rather “accidental” to it. Their salvation was a blessing of the New covenant extended back to them.
Was the grace of regeneration wanting to the Fathers under the Law? But this is quite preposterous. What, then, is meant when God denies here that the Law was written on the heart before the coming of Christ? To this I answer, that the Fathers, who were formerly regenerated, obtained this favor through Christ, so that we may say, that it was as it were transferred to them from another source. The power then to penetrate into the heart was not inherent in the Law, but it was a benefit transferred to the Law from the Gospel.
Joshua Moon notes
The borrowing from Augustine is no less strong in these passages than is admitted in the Institutes, and is invoked to resolve the question of the attributes of the member of the new covenant which are clearly evidenced in the ancients. If the new covenant member is identified by the law on the heart, which is regeneration, then those who were regenerate before Christ were members of the new covenant. But Calvin has simply side-stepped the difficulty raised in identifying the law on the heart (regeneration) with the ‘form’ of the covenant.
Calvin’s “Old Testament”
So then what exactly is the Old covenant that Calvin believes is one and the same with the New covenant? He says that “The three last contrasts to which we have adverted (sec. 4, 7, 9), are between the Law and the Gospel, and hence in these the Law is designated by the name of the Old, and the Gospel by that of the New Testament. The first [the Old Testament] is of wider extent (sec. 1) [than the Law], comprehending under it the promises which were given even before the Law.” Calvin is not here arguing that the Old Testament means the Old Scriptures, having been revealed before the Law. Rather, he means that the Old covenant God made with the Israelites on Mt. Sinai includes more than just the Mosaic Law (“the whole system of religion delivered by the hand of Moses”). It also includes promises of eternal life – the same promises which were given prior to the Old covenant. Thus he says “the Old Testament or covenant which the Lord made with the people of Israel was not confined to earthly objects, but contained a promise of spiritual and eternal life, the expectation of which behaved to be impressed on the minds of all who truly consented to the covenant” making it clear he is not simply referring to the Old Scriptures.
Recall from above that Augustine encountered a related argument in Pelagius. He recounts the trial.
After the judges had accorded their approbation to this answer of Pelagius, another passage which he had written in his book was read aloud: “The kingdom of heaven was promised even in the Old Testament.” Upon this, Pelagius remarked in vindication: “This can be proved by the Scriptures: but heretics, in order to disparage the Old Testament, deny this. I, however, simply followed the authority of the Scriptures when I said this; for in the prophet Daniel it is written: ‘The saints shall receive the kingdom of the Most. High.’” (Dan 7:18) After they had heard this answer, the synod said: “Neither is this opposed to the Church’s faith.”
Augustine then replied:
Was it therefore without reason that our brethren were moved by his words to include this charge among the others against him? Certainly not. The fact is, that the phrase Old Testament is constantly employed in two different ways,—in one, following the authority of the Holy Scriptures; in the other, following the most common custom of speech.
For the Apostle Paul says, in his Epistle to the Galatians: “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bond-maid, the other by a free woman… Which things are an allegory: for these are the two testaments; the one which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and is conjoined with the Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children; whereas the Jerusalem which is above is free, and is the mother of us all.” (Gal 4:21-26)
Now, inasmuch as the Old Testament belongs to bondage, whence it is written, “Cast out the bond-woman and her son, for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac,” (Gal 4:30) but the kingdom of heaven to liberty; what has the kingdom of heaven to do with the Old Testament? Since, however, as I have already remarked, we are accustomed, in our ordinary use of words, to designate all those Scriptures of the law and the prophets which were given previous to the Lord’s incarnation, and are embraced together by canonical authority, under the name and title of the Old Testament, what man who is ever so moderately informed in ecclesiastical lore can be ignorant that the kingdom of heaven could be quite as well promised in those early Scriptures as even the New Testament itself, to which the kingdom of heaven belongs?
At all events, in those ancient Scriptures it is most distinctly written: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will consummate a new testament with the house of Israel and with the house of Jacob; not according to the testament that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” (Jer 31:31, 32) This was done on Mount Sinai. But then there had not yet risen the prophet Daniel to say: “The saints shall receive the kingdom of the Most High.” (Dan 7:18) For by these words he foretold the merit not of the Old, but of the New Testament. In the same manner did the same prophets foretell that Christ Himself would come, in whose blood the New Testament was consecrated. Of this Testament also the apostles became the ministers, as the most blessed Paul declares: “He hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not in its letter, but in spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” (2 Cor 3:6)
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.
How then should there not be a feeling of just disquietude entertained by the children of promise, children of the free Jerusalem, which is eternal in the heavens, when they see that by the words of Pelagius the distinction which has been drawn by Apostolic and catholic authority is abolished, and Agar is supposed to be by some means on a par with Sarah? He therefore does injury to the scripture of the Old Testament with heretical impiety, who with an impious and sacrilegious face denies that it was inspired by the good, supreme, and very God,—as Marcion does, as Manichæus does, and other pests of similar opinions. On this account (that I may put into as brief a space as I can what my own views are on the subject), as much injury is done to the New Testament, when it is put on the same level with the Old Testament, as is inflicted on the Old itself when men deny it to be the work of the supreme God of goodness.
Augustine says that “following the most common custom of speech” we can say that the Old Testament promised eternal life because by “Old Testament” we simply mean “all those Scriptures of the law and the prophets which were given previous to the Lord’s incarnation.” However, if we properly define the Old Testament “following the authority of the Holy Scriptures” as the covenant that was “given on Mount Sinai” to “the ancient people of God” then “only earthly happiness is expressly promised.” He goes so far as to say that claiming the Old and the New covenants offer the same promise “does injury to the scripture of the Old Testament with heretical impiety.”
Calvin was aware of Augustine’s objection to his position.
When Augustine maintained that [the promises of eternal life] were not to be included under the name of the Old Testament (August. ad Bonifac. lib. 3 c. 14), he took a most correct view, and meant nothing different from what we have now taught; for he had in view those passages of Jeremiah and Paul in which the Old Testament is distinguished from the word of grace and mercy. In the same passage, Augustine, with great shrewdness remarks, that from the beginning of the world the sons of promise, the divinely regenerated, who, through faith working by love, obeyed the commandments, belonged to the New Testament; entertaining the hope not of carnal, earthly, temporal, but spiritual, heavenly, and eternal blessings, believing especially in a Mediator, by whom they doubted not both that the Spirit was administered to them, enabling them to do good, and pardon imparted as often as they sinned. The thing which he thus intended to assert was, that all the saints mentioned in Scripture, from the beginning of the world, as having been specially selected by God, were equally with us partakers of the blessing of eternal salvation. The only difference between our division and that of Augustine is, that ours (in accordance with the words of our Saviour, “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John,” Mt. 11:13) distinguishes between the gospel light and that more obscure dispensation of the word which preceded it, while the other division simply distinguishes between the weakness of the Law and the strength of the Gospel. And here also, with regard to the holy fathers, it is to be observed, that though they lived under the Old Testament, they did not stop there, but always aspired to the New, and so entered into sure fellowship with it.
Calvin defends himself by claiming by “Old Testament” he means “all the prophets and the law” – that is, the Scriptures prior to Christ. In which case, the only difference between the two is the degree of clarity, and thus a difference in administration. But as we have just seen, that is not in fact how Calvin has been using the term. He again side-steps the issue and does not answer Augustine. Moon notes “The necessary equivocations … show the incompatibility of [Calvin’s] approach.”
In sum, Calvin’s position hinges upon how one defines the Old covenant. If we define it according to Jeremiah, Paul, and the author of Hebrews as “the whole system of religion delivered by the hand of Moses,” then the difference between the Old and New is the difference between Law and Gospel, and thus Augustine is correct (according to Calvin) that eternal salvation is found in the New covenant alone. However, if Jeremiah, Paul, and the author of Hebrews were improperly abstracting only one part of the Old Covenant, which is defined as something other than “the whole system of religion delivered by the hand of Moses” or “the whole dispensation of Moses” and the Old covenant itself promises eternal life, then the Old and New are really one and the same covenant.
After more than a century of development, the reformed view articulated by Bullinger, Calvin, and others became solidified in the Westminster Confession. However, not all reformed theologians were happy with the position. Ironically, chief among these dissenters was the “Calvin of England” John Owen. There appears to be development in his thought over the years, but it finds its fullest expression on this question in his several thousand page magnum opus, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is there, in over 150 pages of meticulous analysis of the logic of Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews on 8:6-13 that Owen finds reason to reject Calvin’s view and return instead to Augustine’s.
Here then ariseth a difference of no small importance, namely, whether these are indeed two distinct covenants, as to the essence and substance of them, or only different ways of the dispensation and administration of the same covenant. And the reason of the difficulty lieth herein: We must grant one of these three things:
- That either the covenant of grace was in force under the old testament; or,
- That the church was saved without it, or any benefit by Jesus Christ, who is the mediator of it alone; or,
- That they all perished everlastingly.And neither of the two latter can be admitted…
I shall take it here for granted, that no man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ therein.
Suppose, then, that 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, how could it be that there should at the same time be another covenant between God and them, of a different nature from this, accompanied with other promises, and other effects?
On this consideration it 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, called two covenants from some different outward solemnities and duties of worship attending of them…
But on the other hand, there is such express mention made, not only in this, but in sundry other places of the Scripture also, of two distinct covenants, or testaments, and such different natures, properties, and effects, ascribed unto them, as seem to constitute two distinct covenants…
The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the old testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new. And whereas the essence and the substance of the covenant consists in these things, they are not to be said to be under another covenant, but only a different administration of it. But this was so different from that which is established in the gospel after the coming of Christ, that it hath the appearance and name of another covenant… See Calvin. Institut. lib. 2:cap. xi…
The Lutherans, on the other side, insist on two arguments to prove, that not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that two covenants substantially distinct, are intended in this discourse of the apostle…
After setting up the dilemma and accurately representing the two possible orthodox positions, Owen gives his opinion.
[T]he Scripture doth plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way, as what is spoken can hardly be accommodated unto a twofold administration of the same covenant. The one is mentioned and described, Exodus 24:3-8, Deuteronomy 5:2-5, — namely, the covenant that God made with the people of Israel in Sinai; and which is commonly called “the covenant,” where the people under the old testament are said to keep or break God’s covenant; which for the most part is spoken with respect unto that worship which was peculiar thereunto. The other is promised, Jeremiah 31:31-34, 32:40; which is the new or gospel covenant, as before explained, mentioned Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24. And these two covenants, or testaments, are compared one with the other, and opposed one unto another, 2 Corinthians 3:6-9; Galatians 4:24-26; Hebrews 7:22, 9:15-20.
These two we call “the old and the new testament.” Only it must be observed, that in this argument, by the “old testament,” we do not understand the books of the Old Testament, or the writings of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets, or the oracles of God committed then unto the church… for this old covenant, or testament, whatever it be, is abrogated and taken away, as the apostle expressly proves, but the word of God in the books of the Old Testament abideth for ever.
Owen understood very well what the central issue was: how to define the Old Covenant. Owen concludes, with the Lutherans and against Calvin, that Jer 31:31-34, 2 Cor 3:6-9, Gal 4:24-26, and Hebrews 7:22, 9:5-20 use the term “Old covenant” properly, not improperly. They define what the Old Covenant is. It is “the covenant that God made with the people of Israel in Sinai” in contrast to the “gospel covenant,” according to the authority of Scripture.
Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant merely, to be intended. We must, I say, do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, —and with great pretense of reason, for it is that which is the sole foundation they all build upon 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 be the same under both, then indeed are they for the substance of them 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 thereof, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, whilst they were under the covenant…. the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,”
Owen again pinpoints the central issue: Calvin’s first argument for the unity of the Old and the New from the salvation of the patriarchs. He recognizes the error in Calvin’s logic. It is false to argue that because an Israelite was saved, therefore the Old and the New are one. The correct inference, following Augustine, is that the Israelite was saved by the New covenant.
The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant.
Owen also agreed with Augustine and the Lutherans that the Old Covenant was limited to temporal blessings.
This covenant thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Corinthians: 3:9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works.
In conclusion, Owen denied that the Old and New covenants are of the same substance.
This is the nature and substance of that covenant which God made with that people; a particular, temporary covenant it was, and not a mere dispensation of the covenant of grace.
Owen was at liberty to disagree with the reformed view and instead affirm that Jeremiah, Paul, and the author of Hebrews correctly identified the Old Covenant because refuting the Anabaptists was not his chief concern. One could say exegeting Hebrews was. Owen did not face any significant Anabaptist presence in England in his day. He did, however, encounter many Particular (“reformed”) Baptists, who were altogether different than Calvin’s Anabaptists. Rather than “frantic,” “hairbrained,” “crazy zealot,” “lunatic,” “drunkard,” “heretical” “vermin” who were “enemies of God and of the human race” Owen found co-laborers for Christ, common allies in Congregationalism’s view of the church as a gathering of visible saints, and fellow-sufferers in Non-Conformity. He even found among these baptists a preacher so powerful that Owen told the King of England he would “willingly relinquish all [his] learning” if only he could “possess the tinker’s ability for preaching.” He has been described as “a friend of baptists.” Working alongside baptists in government-appointed committees, “Owen likely discovered that his new colleagues were actually more orthodox than he had suspected, and indeed that their position, especially in ecclesiological terms, was far closer to his than was that of the Presbyterian party with whom he had formerly been linked.”
His Vindication of a Treatise on Schism in 1657 refused to admit that those who renounced and repeated the baptism they received as infants should be described as schismatic. In the face of widespread criticism, Owen defended baptists from the charge of repeating the Donatist heresy… Owen refused to criticize them. Time and time again, Owen defended baptists from their critics.
Refuting credobaptism simply was not the concern for Owen that it was for Calvin and the 16th century reformed.
Neither was refuting credobaptism a concern for the 17th century Particular Baptists. They thus came to the same conclusions as Owen regarding the Old and New covenants. Nehemiah Coxe, the probable editor of the Second London Baptist Confession (1677), wrote one of the few systematic particular baptist treatments of covenant theology (as opposed to a merely polemical work). He wrote on covenants in general, the Covenant of Works, the Noahic Covenant, and the Abrahamic Covenant. But when he came to the Old and New Covenants, he felt no need to write his own treatment.
That notion (which is often supposed in this discourse) that the Old Covenant and the New do differ in substance, and not in the manner of their administration only, doth indeed require a more large and particular handling to free it from those prejudices and difficulties that have been cast upon it by many worthy persons, who are otherwise minded. I designed to have given a further account of it in a discourse of the covenant made with Israel in the Wilderness, and the state of the church under the Law. But when I had finished this, and provided some materials also for what was to follow, I found my labour for the clearing and asserting of that point, happily prevented, by the coming for of Dr. Owen’s 3d vol. upon the Hebrews. There it is discussed at length and the objections that seem to lie against it are fully answered, especially in the exposition of the eighth chapter.
This position goes by the name of “1689 Federalism” today, in reference to the Second London Baptist Confession, popularly referred to as the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
We have seen that Augustine offered an orthodox interpretation of the Old and New covenants as two distinct, contrasting covenants. This view was held in various forms through the middle ages and was continued by the Lutherans. Andrew A. Woolsey notes that “Of all the fathers, the favourite of the Reformers was Augustine. John T. McNeill says that ‘Calvin’s self-confessed debt to Augustine is constantly apparent’ throughout the Institutes, and he proves his point in the “Author and Source Index” by listing 730 references to the Bishop of Hippo’s works.” However, Calvin and the reformed tradition departed from Augustine on the question of the Old and New covenants in an attempt to defend infant baptism. This led them into various tensions and inconsistencies and required Calvin to argue that the Old Covenant was something other than “the whole system of religion delivered by the hand of Moses.” These problems were eventually resolved when Owen rejected their innovations and returned to Augustine’s historic interpretation.
Calvin never offered an argument against 1689 Federalism’s view of the Old and New Covenants. Rather, he called its observations very shrewd and “most correct,” affirming 1689 Federalism’s belief that Old Testament saints were members of the New covenant, going so far as to say it is “the real solution to the problem.”
Are the promises of eternal life “to be included under the name of Old Testament”? Augustine and Owen said no. Calvin said they are correct if we define “Old Testament” according to “those passages of Jeremiah and Paul.” But Calvin chose not to do so. Instead, he argued that the Old Testament should be defined as the Law, in contrast to the Gospel, together with the Gospel. In other words, Calvin rejected Scripture’s definition of the Old Testament in favor of a self-contradictory definition of his own, all in an effort to defend infant baptism. And whenever this led him into further contradictions, he abandoned his definition and returned to Augustine’s – which was Jeremiah’s and Paul’s. It would thus appear that a biblical understanding of the Old and New covenants requires one to retain the aspects of Calvin’s interpretation that coincide with Augustine’s, and discard the rest.
 Andrew A. Woolsey ”The Covenant in the Church Fathers,” Haddington House Journal, 2003; 38.
 ibid, 40
 Augustine, A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter, ch. 36, 41. Augustine, A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius, ch. 14.
 Augustine, A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, bk. III ch. 7
 ibid, III.11
 A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter, ch. 40
 Woolsey, 42-43
 Pentiuc, Eugen J. The Old Testament in Eastern Orthodox Tradition. Oxford UP, 2014, 38
 A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius, ch. 13
 Pentiuc, 38.
 Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.
 Melanchthon, Loci (1521), 120-121. Quoted in Moon, 79.
 Joshua Moon, Restitutiuo ad Integrum: An ‘Augustinian’ Reading of Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Dialogue with the Christian Tradition (PhD dissertation, St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, 2007), 86.
 ibid, 88-89.
 Bullinger, “Brief Exposition,” 120. Quoted in Moon, 89.
 Moon, 93-94.
 ibid, 94.
 Calvin, John (2011-01-28). Calvin: The Institutes of the Christian Religion (best navigation with Direct Verse Jump) (p. 677). OSNOVA. Kindle Edition. 2.10.1. Editor’s note: “The French is, “Veu qu’ils pensent qu notre Seigneur l’ait voulu seulement engraisser enterre comme en une auge, sans seperance aucune de l’immortalité celeste;” — seeing they think that our Lord only wished to fatten them on the earth as in a sty, without any hope of heavenly immortality.”
 Galen Johnson The Development of John Calvin’s Doctrine of Infant Baptism in Reaction to the Anabaptists (Mennonite Quarterly Review, Vol. 73, No. 4, Oct. 1999), 808. “Calvin lived in an era of theological confusion, and despite his tireless efforts to promulgate orderliness, he did not always sharply distinguish among non-magisterial reformers or “radical” groups who saw distinctions among themselves”. Hans Rudolf Lavater Calvin, Farel, and the Anabaptists: On the Origins of the Brieve Instruction of 1544 (Mennonite Quarterly Review, Vol. 88, July 2014, trans. John D. Roth), 323-324 “According to Karl H. Wyneken, Calvin used these labels to characterize ‘radicals‛ in general, even though, as George H. Williams has made clear, the terms did not provide a clear profile of his opponents. In the words of Williams, ‘the Radical Reformation was a loosely interrelated congeries of reformations and restitutions which, besides the Anabaptists of various types, included Spiritualists and spiritualizers of varying tendencies, and the Evangelical Rationalists, largely Italian in origin.‛” Willem Balke Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), 2. “It should be observed that it is not easy to characterize the Anabaptists or to distinguish them accurately from other Radicals such as the Spiritualists, the Fanatics, and the Antitrinitarians. The radicalism of the sixteenth century was a very complex phenomenon. Scholarly discussions concerning it offer so many different interpretations that we cannot expect a common opinion to emerge in Anabaptist scholarship in the near future.”
 Balke, 31.
 Alejandro Zorzin Reformation Publishing and Anabaptist Propaganda: Two Contrasting Communication Strategies for the Spread of the Anabaptist Message in the Early Days of the Swiss Brethren (Mennonite Quarterly Review, Issue 82, Oct. 2008), 503-516.
 Balke, 12.
 Lavater, 331.
 Lavater, 332.
 Balke, 213.
 ibid, 121.
 “[T]he young republic [Geneva] was being compromised and threatened. The conflicting parties were of approximately equal strength. The Reformation was barely a reality; many within the city did not respect it, while many outside the city slandered it. There was a legitimate fear in Europe that the rebellious Geneva would become the home for Anabaptism and anarchism. Many felt that the emperor should take strong measures against Geneva, as he had done in Munster…” Balke, 75. According to Calvin, “They destroy the unity of the church and discredit the evangelical doctrine in the eyes of government. They are thus a danger for the pursuit of the Reformation.” Balke, 331.
 “When Calvin, traveling through, stopped briefly in Geneva, Farel called on him for help. He put the call squarely to Calvin and impressed on him that God would curse him if he
did not stay. Farel swore that Calvin was the man to complete the work of reformation in Geneva. Calvin himself acknowledged that he agreed to stay because he was ‘overcome with fear.’” Balke, 76. “[O]ur colleagues think that a refutation is needed… They ask you, for God’s sake, that you take on this task… I suppose that we could ask someone else to accept this service, but tell us please: who could we find who could take up such a task… with your argumentative gifts or who could accomplish it as artfully as you?” Farel’s letter to Calvin, quoted in Lavatory, 333-334.
 Johnson, 804 “In this preface (1557), Calvin recalled that the French government of Francis I persecuted only those considered to be “Anabaptists and seditious persons,” but among them were many whom Calvin considered “faithful and holy.” Thus, Calvin wrote, “This was the consideration which induced me to publish my Institute of the Christian Religion. My objects were, first, to prove that these reports were false and calumnious, and thus to vindicate my brethren, whose death was precious in the sight of the Lord.” John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans. James Anderson (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1993), 1:xli-xlii (cf. McGrath, Lifeof John Calvin, 76). Indeed, Calvin‟s prefatory letter to Francis in the Institutes (dated August 1, 1535) pressed this very point.” Lavater, 327 “In his Commentary on the Psalms of 1557, Calvin clarified that the actual motivation for the Institutes was the ‘Anabaptists [anabaptistes] and rebels, who with their delusions and erroneous teachings destroy not only religion but also political order.‛” Balke, 70-71 “The fact that the Roman Catholic Church and the French government had lumped the reformers in one category with the Anabaptists moved Calvin to bring out very sharply his differences with the Anabaptists… Finally, of special importance was Calvin’s role in the Institutes as the defender on behalf of his French fellow believers, pleading their innocence against the charges that they were Catabaptists who were dangerous to the state.” Balke, 290 “Since Munster, the charge that the reformers were a danger to the state, just like those Anabaptists, touched a very sore spot with Calvin.”
 See Lavater, 328-330 and Balke, 73-95.
 Balke, 94.
 Balke, 99.
 Balke, 312.
 G. Schrenk, Gottesreich und Bund im älteren Protestantismus vornehmlich bei Johannes Coccejus (Gutersloh, 1923), pp. 36f. Cited in Balke, 311-312.
 Balke, 221.
 Balke, 97.
 Calvin says “The ground of controversy is this: our opponents hold that the land of Canaan was considered by the Israelites as supreme and final happiness, and now, since Christ was manifested, typifies to us the heavenly inheritance; whereas we maintain that, in the earthly possession which the Israelites enjoyed, they beheld, as in a mirror, the future inheritance which they believed to be reserved for them in heaven.” Institutes, 2.11.1
 Peter A. Lillback “Calvin’s Covenantal Response to the Anabaptist View of Baptism” The Failure of the American Baptist Culture, James B. Jordan, ed. (Geneva Divinity School, 1982), 221.
 ibid, 198.
 Institutes, 2.10.2. Johnson, 812 “While Calvin‟s exposition of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments in the Institutes is found largely in Book II (The Knowledge of God the Redeemer) rather than Book IV on the sacraments, one nonetheless observes that his treatment on Testamental unity first appeared at length in 1539, the same edition in which Calvin greatly expanded his defense of infant baptism. The two topics were integrally related”
 Institutes, 2.10.3
 Institutes, 2.10.3
 Institutes, 2.10.4
 Institutes, 2.10.7
 Institutes, 2.10.13
 A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius, ch. 14.
 Institutes, 2.10.23
 Institutes, 2.11.3
 Institutes, 2.11.4
 Institutes, 2.11.4
 Institutes, 2.11.1
 A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter, ch. 42
 Notice that Calvin here describes the ceremonies as accessories and appendages to the old covenant, the principal and body (substance?) of which is dead.
 Institutes, 2.11.7
 Institutes, 2.11.10
 Institutes, 2.11.7
 Institutes, 2.11.8
 Cf. Calvin’s commentary on Rom. 10:5 “The law has a twofold meaning; it sometimes includes the whole of what has been taught by Moses, and sometimes that part only which was peculiar to his ministration, which consisted of precepts, rewards, and punishments.”
 Institutes, 2.11.10
 Institutes, 2.11.7
 Institutes, 2.11.8
 Institutes, 2.7.1
 Compare with Witsius “Nor Formally the Covenant of Grace: Because that requires not only obedience, but also promises, and bestows strength to obey. For, thus the covenant of grace is made known, Jer. xxxii. 39. ‘and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever.’ But such a promise appears not in the covenant made at mount Sinai. Nay; God, on this very account, distinguishes the new covenant of grace from the Sinaitic, Jer. xxxi. 31-33. And Moses loudly proclaims, Deut xxix. 4. ‘yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.’ Certainly, the chosen from among Israel had obtained this. Yet not in virtue of this covenant, which stipulated obedience, but gave no power for it: but in virtue of the covenant of grace, which also belonged to them.” The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed), Vol. II, 187.
 Institutes, 2.11.8
 Compare with Bryan D. Estelle Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical Theological Development: Entitlement to Heaven Foreclosed and Proffered (P & R Publishing, 2009), 128-130. “If one does not recognize this as a prophecy of the new covenant, then a host of unconvincing exegetical conclusions follow… Just as Leviticus 18:5 is taken up in later biblical allusions and echoes, so also is this Deuteronomy [30:6] passage. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, the language of the new covenant that was cloaked in the circumcision of heart metaphor is unveiled in this classic passage. I argued above that Deuteronomy 30:1-14 is a predictive prophecy of the new covenant, and, therefore, all that was implicit there becomes explicit in Jeremiah 31. In verse 31, Jeremiah says this will happen ‘in the coming days’ and in verse 33 he says ‘after these days’; both refer to the new covenant, messianic days.”
 Institutes, 2.10.7
 Moon, 114.
 In his commentary on Jeremiah 31, Calvin says “[T]he Fathers, who were formerly regenerated, obtained this favour through Christ, so that we may say, that it was as it were transferred to them from another source. The power then to penetrate into the heart was not inherent in the Law, but it was a benefit transferred to the Law from the Gospel…”
 Lillback, 218.
 Institutes, 2.11.9
 Calvin’s commentary on Hebrews 8:6.
 Commentary Heb. 8:10
 Commentary Heb. 8:10
 Commentary on Jer 31:33
 Moon, 119.
 Institutes, 2.11.10
 Institutes, 2.10.23
 A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius ch. 13
 ibid, ch. 14-15.
 Institutes, 2.11.10
 Moon, 120.
 Calvin’s definition of “the Law’ in Institutes, 2.7.1
 “There is no doubt but that the Prophet includes the whole dispensation of Moses when he says, ‘I have made with you a covenant which you have not kept.’” Calvin’s commentary on Hebrews 8:8
 Chapter 7, Paragraphs 5 and 6.
 Allen C. Guelzo, “John Owen, Puritan Pacesetter”, Christianity Today, 20, No. 17 (May 21, 1976), 14.
 John Owen “An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Hebrews 8:1-10:39” The Works of John Owen, vol. 22 (Johnstone & Hunter, 1855, ed. William H. Goold, “Books for the Ages” AGES Software, 2000), 84-89 (Heb. 8:6).
 Owen, 91-92 (Heb. 8:6).
 Owen, 92-93 (Heb. 8:6).
 Owen, 147 (Heb. 8:9).
 Owen, 103-104 (Heb. 8:6).
 Owen, 105 (Heb. 8:6).
 See Renihan, James M. Edification and Beauty: The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705 (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2008). Hulse, Erroll. Who Are the Puritans?: And What Do They Teach? (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000), 188. Haykin, Michael A. G. Kiffin, Knollys and Keach: Rediscovering English Baptist Heritage (Leeds: Reformation Today, 1996). McGoldrick, James Edward. Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 2000). Belyea, G. “Origins of the Particular Baptists.” Themelios. 32, no. 3 (2007): 40-67.
 Lavater, 353.
 Andrew Thomson, John Owen, Prince of Puritans, (Fern, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1996), 54. Owen was referring to John Bunyan, whom he often went to hear preach.
 Crawford Gribben “John Owen, Baptism, and the Baptists” By Common Confession: Essays in Honor of James M. Renihan (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2015).
 Nehemiah Coxe “A Discource of the Covenants that God made with men before the Law” Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005), 30.
 see Moon.
 Woolsey, 37.
 “with regard to the holy fathers, it is to be observed, that though they lived under the Old Testament, they did not stop there, but always aspired to the New, and so entered into sure fellowship with it.” Institutes, 2.11.10
 Commentary Hebrews 8:10
Recently R. Scott Clark spoke on the Calvinist Batman podcast about covenant theology and baptism. He also has A Curriculum For Those Wrestling Through Covenant Theology And Infant Baptism, a 5-part series called Some of the Differences Between Baptists and Reformed Theology on the New Covenant, as well as a printed booklet called Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace.
I greatly appreciate Dr. Clark’s work in defense of justification by faith alone. He sees quite clearly how much of the professed reformed church has been infiltrated by a false gospel. He sees it for the threat that it is and he speaks loudly against it. I stand beside him in that and I am thankful for his work in that respect. The critique I offer below should not take anything away from that. I offer it in an effort to sharpen iron and edify the church.
The critique is long, but I think you will find it worth your time. I appreciate your patience.
Summary of Clark’s View
Clark has offered this concise summary:
The Abrahamic covenant is still in force. The administration of the Abrahamic covenant involved believers and their children (Gen 17). That’s why Peter said, “For the promise to you and to your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). That’s a New Testament re-statement of the Abrahamic promise of Genesis 17 and in the minor prophets (e.g., Joel 2). Only believers have ever actually inherited, by grace alone, through faith alone, the substance of the promise (Christ and salvation) but the signs and seals of the promise have always been administered to believers and their children. It’s both/and not either/or.
When Clark addresses this issue to baptists, he is addressing a very wide spectrum of baptists. Therefore much of what he says isn’t always applicable to confessional baptists. There is a great deal of agreement between Clark and confessional baptists. We agree that a proper understanding of the antithetical nature of the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace is essential for properly understanding the law/gospel antithesis, and thus the gospel (something many, including professed reformed, do not). We agree that all men throughout history have only ever been saved by God’s sovereign work through the Covenant of Grace.
Where differences start to emerge is on the nature of the Covenant of Grace. Clark believes that 1) the Covenant of Grace, including its membership, exists on two levels: it’s substance and it’s administration, and 2) all of the post-fall covenants are administrations of the Covenant of Grace.
Regarding 1), Clark notes
As part of his [Olevianus’] education he learned the traditional Christian appropriation of the [Aristotelean] distinction between the substance of a thing, i.e., its essence, and its accidents or external appearance… 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.
This applies to membership in that
there has always been different ways of relating to the one covenant of grace at the same time. The OT prophets and the Apostle Paul clearly distinguished between those who had only external, outward relation to the covenant of grace and those who had an outward and an internal or inward or spiritual relation to the covenant of grace.
So what is the substance of the Covenant of Grace?
At first glance, the phrase “substance of the covenant” might seem nebulous but it isn’t. It’s the most practical thing: free acceptance with God and being gradually conformed to Christ’s image… 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).
The Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace, in substance, and since Abraham gave the covenant sign to his children in the administration of the covenant (even though they were not all partakers of the substance of the covenant), Christians today should give the covenant sign to their children (even if they do not all participate in the substance of the covenant) because the covenant sign was never revoked. It only changed its outward appearance (circumcision turned into baptism). Ergo, paedobaptism.
Moses not Abraham?
The primary point Clark tries to drive home across his writings is that baptists are confused because they fail to distinguish between the Mosaic Covenant (which is contrasted with the New and has passed away) and the Abrahamic Covenant (which is the same as the New and has not passed away).
The contrast, then, in Jeremiah 31 is not between Abraham and the new covenant but between Moses and the new covenant. The novelty or newness of the new covenant is measured relative to Moses, relative to the national covenant made with Israel at Sinai, and not with Abraham and the covenant promise God gave to him: I will be a God to you and to your children. That promise remains intact. The promise is not Mosaic, it is not old, it is Abrahamic. (On the New Covenant)
He notes that “If our Baptist friends can turn Abraham into Moses, then they can be done with him and with the problem of continuity between the New Covenant and the Abrahamic.” Thus to answer the baptists, Clark argues “We distinguish Abraham from the old covenant because Paul does so consistently.” In fact, he really drives the point home.
Moses and Abraham they operate on utterly different principles. The law, the Mosaic covenant, says “do and live.” The Abrahamic covenant says, “Receive freely, through faith alone, benefits you have not earned but that were earned for you by another.”
…Thus, Paul in Galatians 3 and 4 juxtaposed the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, in that way, as reflecting different principles.
…The old covenant was such that it could be broken, but the new covenant cannot be broken.
The very nature of the Mosaic Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant are opposed and distinct. That must mean the substance (“what makes it what it is”) of the Mosaic Covenant and the substance of the Abrahamic Covenant are opposed and distinct.
By analogy, the model for the new covenant is the Abrahamic covenant. The Mosaic covenant was intended to nothing more than to serve as a historical footlight, to bring attention to the covenant of grace. More than that the substance of the new covenant is the Abrahamic covenant.
The Abrahamic and New Covenants are of the same substance, but the Mosaic is not.
Remember, Paul reckons the Mosaic, Sinaitic, old covenant as a temporary, national, pedagogical, typological arrangement superimposed upon the Abrahamic covenant of grace. (On the New Covenant)
The comparison and contrast is not between Abraham and the new covenant but between Moses and the new covenant. The covenant that God made with Abraham was a covenant of grace, the covenant he confirmed with the “blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb 13:20). (Moses was not Abraham)
That’s quite the contrast. The Mosaic Covenant was not a covenant of grace. The substance of the Mosaic Covenant did not save anyone. Instead, they were saved by the Abrahamic Covenant. “The Abrahamic covenant was operative under and during the temporary, typological Mosaic covenant.”
In short, Abraham was not Moses.
Or is he?
What’s very interesting to note is that other paedobaptists are deeply concerned by Clark’s argument (which has been referred to as “republication”). Matthew Winzer warns
The modern idea destroys the typological element and introduces confusion as to the gracious nature of the Mosaic covenant. It also undermines the continuity of the covenant of grace so far as the inclusion of infants is concerned, because that inclusion depended upon their national citizenship; if that citizenship was a part of the covenant of works, there is no grounds for their inclusion in the NT administration of the covenant of grace.
Winzer refers to Clark’s position as “the modern idea.” Clark explains what this refers to.
One of the great questions between Reformed and Baptist theology is the question of how to interpret Scripture. The Reformed have tended to let the New Testament not only interpret the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures but also to provide a pattern for how to interpret the typological revelation. Thus, not only do Romans, Hebrews, and Galatians give us specific direction about specific passages but they also demonstrate how other typological passages not specifically addressed in the NT ought to be interpreted. Reformed theology has not always been consistent in the application of this principle. In the 17th century many Reformed readers were chiliasts, i.e., they believed in a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth. Before the late 18th-century, most Reformed folk were also theocratic, a position that is very difficult to square with the hermeneutical theory which underlay the Reformed critique of the Romanist reinstitution of the Mosaic cultic system. It is also quite difficult to square the earlier Reformed theocratic ethics with the equally early Reformed understanding of the history of redemption. In other words, until the modern period, there were unresolved tensions in Reformed theology. Gradually, the covenant theology worked out in the 16th and 17th centuries acted as a sort of leaven and most Reformed folk resolved those tensions in favor of their covenant theology what recognized the Mosaic covenant as a temporary, typological overlay upon the permanent and fundamental Abrahamic covenant of grace. (On the New Covenant)
According to Clark, the reformed tradition held to contradictory beliefs for several centuries that were only resolved when they adopted his view that the Mosaic Covenant was a temporary, typological covenant differing in substance from the Covenant of Grace. Until then, as Winzer references, the old divines believed in a gracious Mosaic Covenant that was just as much the Covenant of Grace as the Abrahamic was. Calvin established the basis for this view using the substance/administration distinction.
But what he adds is not without some difficulty, — that the covenant of the Gospel was proclaimed on better promises; for it is certain that the fathers who lived under the Law had the same hope of eternal life set before them as we have, as they had the grace of adoption in common with us, then faith must have rested on the same promises. But the comparison made by the Apostle [between the old and new covenants] 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. If anyone wishes to know more on this subject, let him read the 4th and 5th chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians and my Institutes. (Hebrews 8 commentary)
Recall that, for Clark, the Abrahamic and New Covenants are the same in substance, but not the Mosaic, which is contrasted with the Abrahamic/New. Israelites were saved by the Abrahamic Covenant working underneath the Mosaic Covenant, which did not save. In Calvin’s Institutes (2.11) we find the following (referencing Hebrews 7-9):
Five points of difference between the Old and the New Testaments. These belong to the mode of administration rather than the substance… I hold and think I will be able to show, that they all belong to the mode of administration rather than to the substance…
Here we are to observe how the covenant of the law compares with the covenant of the gospel, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. For if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, then there would be great disagreement between the Testaments. But since the trend of the argument leads us in another direction, we must follow it to find the truth. Let us then set forth the covenant that he once established as eternal and never-perishing. Its fulfillment, by which is is finally confirmed and ratified, is Christ. While such confirmation was awaited, the Lord appointed, through Moses, ceremonies that were, so to speak, solemn symbols of that confirmation. A controversy arose over whether or not the ceremonies that had been ordained in the law ought to give way to Christ. Now these were only the accidental properties of the covenant, or additions and appendages, and in common parlance, accessories of it. Yet because they were means of administering it, they bear the name “covenant,” just as is customary in the case of other sacraments. To sum up then, in this passage “Old Testament” means the solemn manner of confirming the covenant, comprised in ceremonies and sacrifices. Because nothing substantial underlies this unless we go beyond it, the apostle contends that it ought to be terminated and abrogated, to give place to Christ, the Sponsor and Mediator of a better covenant [cf. Heb 7:22]; whereby he imparts eternal sanctifications once and for all to the elect, blotting out their transgressions, which remained under the law. Or, if you prefer, understand it thus: the Old Testament of the Lord was that covenant [the eternal covenant/the covenant of grace -BA] wrapped up in the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies and delivered to the Jews; it was temporary because it remained, as it were, in suspense until it might rest upon a firm and substantial confirmation. It became new and eternal only after it was consecrated and established by the blood of Christ. Hence Christ in the Supper calls the cup that he gives to his disciples “the cup of the New Testament in my blood” [Luke 22:20]. By this he means that the Testament of God attained its truth when sealed by his blood, and thereby becomes new and eternal.
Notice that Calvin speaks of “the covenant” in the singular. He is clear: The Old and New Covenant were the same covenant. They did not operate on “utterly different principles.” They were the same in substance. They differed only in their outward appearance, the manner of revelation, the ceremonies, the accidents – in sum, the administration. This is what it means for the Mosaic Covenant to be an administration of the covenant of grace: they are the same covenant with the same promises and the same means of obtaining the promise, but are simply administered in different ways outwardly.
After Calvin, theologians continued to wrestle with this perplexing issue, with the vast majority following Calvin. A few disagreed and argued that the Mosaic was not the same in substance with the Covenant of Grace. Writing in The True Bounds of Christian Freedom 1645, Samuel Bolton surveys the various solutions offered, focusing here on two:
There are two other opinions which I will here mention.  Some men think it neither a covenant of works, nor a covenant of grace, but a third kind of covenant distinct from both.  Others think it a covenant of grace, but more legally dispensed.
 Those who consider it to be a third covenant speak of it as a preparatory, or a subservient covenant, a covenant that was given by way of subserviency to the covenant of grace, and for the setting forward or advancing of the covenant of grace. Those men who hold this view say that there are three distinct covenants which God made with mankind – the covenant of nature, the covenant of grace, and the subservient covenant.
The covenant of nature was that whereby God required from the creature as a creature perfect obedience to all divine commandments, with promise of a blessed life in Paradise if man obeyed, but with the threat of eternal death if he disobeyed the command, the purpose of all this being to declare how virtue pleased, and sin displeased God.
The covenant of grace was that whereby God promised pardon and forgiveness of sins and eternal life, by the blood of Christ, to all those that should embrace Christ, and this was purposed by God to declare the riches of His mercy.
The subservient covenant, which was called the old covenant, was that whereby God required obedience from the Israelites in respect of the moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws. Blessings in the possession of Canaan were promised to obedience, and curses and miseries to those who broke the covenant, and all to this end, that God might thus encourage their hearts in the expectation of the Messiah to come.
This subservient or old covenant is that which God made with the people of Israel in Mount Sinai, to prepare them to faith, and to inflame them with the desire of the promise and of the coming of Christ;…
If it be neither a covenant of works, nor a covenant of grace, then must it of necessity be a third kind of covenant: and it must needs be such a covenant as does not stand in opposition to grace, nor is inconsistent with the covenant of grace, for if this be not so, then God will have contradicted Himself, overthrown His own purpose, and repented of His own promise which He had given before. Hence it is called a subservient covenant. It was given by way of subserviency to the Gospel and a fuller revelation of the covenant of grace; it was temporary, and had respect to Canaan and God’s blessing there, if and as Israel obeyed. It had no relation to heaven, for that was promised by another covenant which God made before He entered upon the subservient covenant. This is the opinion which I myself desire modestly to propound, for I have not been convinced that it is injurious to holiness or disagreeable to the mind of God in Scripture.
 There is, however, a second opinion in which I find that the majority of our holy and most learned divines concur, namely, that though the law is called a covenant, yet it was not a covenant of works for salvation; nor was it a third covenant of works and grace; but it was the same covenant in respect of its nature and design under which we stand under the Gospel, even the covenant of grace, though more legally dispensed to the Jews. It differed not in substance from the covenant of grace, but in degree, say some divines, in the economy and external administration of it, say others. The Jews, they agree, were under infancy, and therefore under “a schoolmaster”. In this respect the covenant of grace under the law is called by such divines “foedus vetus” (the old covenant), and under the Gospel “foedus novum” (the new covenant): see Heb. 8:8.
Samuel Bolton (0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00). The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Kindle Locations 1211-1215). Kindle Edition.
Bolton very accurately describes Clark’s view of the Mosaic Covenant and labels it the Subservient Covenant view, noting that is the view he personally agrees with. However, he distinguishes it from a second view which believes the Mosaic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. It only differed from the New in external administration, not in substance or in principle. He is describing Calvin’s view and he notes this is now (1645) the majority opinion held by the most learned divines. After debating various views, the Westminster Assembly sided with Calvin.
7.4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.
5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.
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 fulness, 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.
Another Assembly minister, Anthony Burgess, who served on the committee that drafted chapter 19, said
Wee have confuted the false differences, and now come to lay downe the true, between the law and the Gospel taken in a larger sense.
And, first, you must know that the difference is not essential, or substantiall, but accidentall: so that the division of the Testament, or Covenant into the Old, and New, is not a division of the Genus into its opposite Species; but of the subject, according to its severall accidentall administrations, both on Gods part, and on mans. It is true, the Lutheran Divines, they doe expresly oppose the Calvinists herein, maintaining the Covenant given by Moses, to be a Covenant of workes, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of grace. Inded, they acknowledge that the Fathers were justified by Christ, and had the same way of salvation with us; onely they make that Covenant of Moses to be a superadded thing to the Promise, holding forth a condition of perfect righteousness unto the Jewes, that they might be convinced of their owne folly in their self-righteousnesse.
(Vindication of the Morall Law, 241)
David Dickson, a Scottish Presbyterian who wrote one of the first commentaries on the WCF, had the following to say in a later work:
How the external dispensation of the Covenant of old, differeth from that which now is under the Gospel.
… 4. In the wilderness at mount Sinai, that the Lord might make evident the necessity of justification by faith in Christ to come, he did repeat the law of works; and to them that did acknowledge their sin, he did set forth Christ their deliverer, under the veil of sacrifices and levitical types, and the very same is the covenant now, whereunto Christ and his ministers, laying aside the veil of the ceremonies, did openly invite their hearers, that acknowledging their sins, and renouncing confidence in their own power and worth, they should cast themselves into the arms of Christ the Saviour, that through him they might obtain justification and life eternal. We see here indeed a diverse manner of dispensing, and outward managing the making of the covenant with men, but the covenant was still the same, clothed and set forth in a diverse manner, and did no other ways differ then and now, but as one and the self same man differeth from himself, clothed suitably one way in his minority, and another way in his riper age. (THERAPEUTICA SACRA)
The Old and the New Covenant are one and the same. They are the same man wearing different clothes.
You may ask how Samuel Bolton could disagree with the Confession and publish his disagreement, and yet be a member of the assembly and a member of the clergy. First, the assembly debated a number of issues. Not everyone wound up agreeing with everything in the Confession.
It is certainly true that there was a great debate among the Puritans as to the nature of the Mosaic Covenant. Moreover, Reformed Presbyterians have continued the debate. However, this does not imply that the Puritans themselves did not come to a majority consensus. As we have already noted, the exhaustive research of E. F. Kevan concludes that they did: “The outcome of the Puritan debate was that, on the whole, it was agreed that the Mosaic Covenant was a form of the Covenant of Grace; and this view was embodied in the Confession of Faith.”
The Puritans debated church government. There were Presbyterians, Erastians, and Independents at the Assembly. Nonetheless, the Presbyterian view prevailed as is indicated by the text of the Confession itself. The section on church government is simply intolerant of any view other than Presbyterianism. The same is true concerning the nature of the Mosaic Covenant. (In Defense of Moses)
Writing in 1680 in defense of the Subservient Covenant view, John Owen, like Bolton, states the majority view of reformed divines on the Mosaic Covenant (specifically footnoting the section in Calvin we looked at above), then argues why it is wrong, noting that he is more in agreement with the Lutherans on this question.
Suppose, then, that 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, how could it be that there should at the same time be another covenant between God and them, of a different nature from this, accompanied with other promises, and other effects?
On this consideration it 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, called two covenants from some different outward solemnities and duties of worship attending of them. To clear this it must be observed, —
1. That by the old covenant, the original covenant of works, made with Adam and all mankind in him, is not intended; for this is undoubtedly a covenant different in the essence and substance of it from the new.
2. By the new covenant, not the new covenant absolutely and originally, as given in the first promise, is intended; but in its complete gospel administration, when it was actually established by the death of Christ, as administered in and by the ordinances of the new testament. This, with the covenant of Sinai, were, as most say, but different administrations of the same covenant.
But on the other hand, there is such express mention made, not only in this, but in sundry other places of the Scripture also, of two distinct covenants, or testaments, and such different natures, properties, and effects, ascribed unto them, as seem to constitute two distinct covenants. This, therefore, we must inquire into; and shall first declare what is agreed unto by those who are sober in this matter, though they differ in their judgments about this question, whether two distinct covenants, or only a twofold administration of the same covenant, be intended…
The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the old testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new. And whereas the essence and the substance of the covenant consists in these things, they are not to be said to be under another covenant, but only a different administration of it. But this was so different from that which is established in the gospel after the coming of Christ, that it hath the appearance and name of another covenant. And the difference between these two administrations may be reduced unto the ensuing heads: —
1. It consisted in the way and manner of the declaration of the mystery of the love and will of God in Christ…
2. In the plentiful communication of grace unto the community of the church…
3. In the manner of our access unto God…
4. In the way of worship required under each administration…
5. In the extent of the dispensation of the grace of God;…
Sundry other things are usually added by our divines unto the same purpose. See Calvin. Institut. lib. 2:cap. xi.; Martyr. Loc. Com. loc. 16, sect. 2; Bucan. loc. 22, etc.
The Lutherans, on the other side, insist on two arguments to prove, that not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that two covenants substantially distinct, are intended in this discourse of the apostle.
1. Because in the Scripture they are often so called, and compared with one another, and sometimes opposed unto one another; the first and the last, the new and the old.
2. Because the covenant of grace in Christ is eternal, immutable, always the same, obnoxious unto no alteration, no change or abrogation; neither can these things be spoken of it with respect unto any administration of it. as they are spoken of the old covenant…
4. These things being observed, we may consider that the Scripture doth plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way, as what is spoken can hardly be accommodated unto a twofold administration of the same covenant. The one is mentioned and described, Exodus 24:3-8,Deuteronomy 5:2-5, — namely, the covenant that God made with the people of Israel in Sinai; and which is commonly called “the covenant,” where the people under the old testament are said to keep or break God’s covenant; which for the most part is spoken with respect unto that worship which was peculiar thereunto. The other is promised, Jer 31:31-34, 32:40; which is the new or gospel covenant, as before explained, mention Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24. And these two covenants, or testaments, are compared one with the other and opposed one unto another 2 Cor 3:6-9; Gal 4:24-26; Heb 7:22, 9:15-20…
5. Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant merely, to be intended. We must, I say, do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, —and with great pretense of reason, for it is that which is the sole foundation they all build upon 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 be the same under both, then indeed are they for the substance of them 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 thereof, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, whilst they were under the covenant.
As therefore I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition, so I shall propose sundry things which relate unto 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: —…
This is the nature and substance of that covenant which God made with that people; a particular, temporary covenant it was, and not a mere dispensation of the covenant of grace…
Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of.
For more on this see D. Patrick Ramsey’s In Defense of Moses as well as Lee Irons’ The Subservient Covenant. Note: Though it may have taken presbyterians centuries to realize the error of their position, 17th century congregationalists (including baptists) quickly understood the error and rejected the position.
Because more and more presbyterians are adopting the Subservient Covenant view, the OPC GA has established a study committee to determine if it is “consistent with the doctrinal system taught in the confessional standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” In the midst of this debate, Robert B. Strimple, President emeritus & Professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA wrote a memo to the faculty specifically addressing Clark’s writings in particular. He emphatically states
[A] distinction must be made between the moral law of God and the purpose it served before the fall (“as a covenant of works”), and the moral law of God and the purpose it serves after the fall (see sec. 6), for which purpose it was delivered upon Mount Sinai (see sec. 2); i.e., as “a perfect rule of righteousness.” The Confession says that the moral law that God gave to Adam as a covenant of works is the “very same law” (Dr. Clark) that continues to be a perfect rule of righteousness for us; and it was that law (I shall refer again below to the force of the “as such” in section 2) that “was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai.” But that law does not continue as a covenant of works for us, and it was not delivered upon Mount Sinai as a covenant or works for the children of Israel. This is what the Confession teaches. It may not be what some on our faculty would like it to teach. But it is what the Confession teaches.
The “modern view” (Subservient Covenant) is contrary to the Westminster Confession (which means Clark’s primary objection to the Baptist reading of the Old & New Covenants was rejected by Westminster). However, because the OPC holds to system subscription instead of full subscription, the debate is over the systematic implications of the view for the theology put forward in the Westminster Confession. And the systematic implications of covenant theology is what we’re interested in here. Winzer, representing the old view, warns that if the Subservient Covenant view is true, then paedobaptism is false. He echoes Westminster divines like George Gillespie, who warned
The analogy betwixt Jewish & Christian church, little question of that little question… If this faile, the argument of Baptisme from circumcision will faile also… For that we must not looke to the state of the Jewish church, is only a warrantableness for the analogy of the Old Testament & New, granted. The brother that spake last said before we must cut loose the argument of Jewish church; [for] but how shall we prove pedo-Baptism?
(Btw, that’s why Gillespie was a staunch defender of the theocratic views Clark denounced above. Gillespie was a better systematic theologian than Clark. He understood that to do away with theocracy is to do away with the Jewish model of the church, which will do away with infant baptism – but that’s a subject for an upcoming post).
But of course Clark objects and says that the opposite is true. If Abraham and Moses are continuous and united, as Calvin, Dickson, Gillespie, and Westminster argued, then baptists can demonstrate that any temporary aspects of Abraham tied to Moses pass away with Moses.
It seems to me that that those who deny republication do so partly because, in reaction to the Baptist error, they conflate Moses and Abraham. In so doing they’ve actually agreed with the Baptists who do the same thing. (Re-Publication of the Covenant of Works (3))
So which view is right? They both are. The “old” view is right that removing the Mosaic Covenant from the Covenant of Grace undoes the continuity of the Covenant of Grace not just with regards to Moses, but Abraham as well, as Moses is rooted in Abraham, and thus undoes the argument for paedobaptism. The “modern” view is right that if Moses and Abraham are substantially one, then the New is substantially distinct from both, per the New Testament, and thus paedobaptism is false.
How Abraham & Moses Relate
There are genuine connections between the Abraham and Mosaic covenants. Both are both administrations of the covenant of grace. Both are typological. God promised to Abraham a land and a seed (Gen chapters 12; 15; 17). As I have argued (see the essays above) the land was a type of heaven (Heb 11:10) and the seed promise was fulfilled in Christ (Gal 3:16) and we who, by grace alone, through faith alone, are united to Christ are his seed (Rom 9:7–8; Gal 3:29). In the history of redemption, the land and seed promises came to be administered through and under the Mosaic covenant but that Old Covenant administration was distinct from the Abrahamic…
Because Abraham and Moses both belong to the typological period, to that time in redemptive history before the reality, Christ and his kingdom, had come—not to say that they were not present in any way. They were present under types and shadows—they share certain characteristics and features. (Clark, Abraham, Moses, and Circumcision)
Clark’s essay Abraham, Moses, and Circumcision attempts to clarify his view of the matter, but causes some confusion. Here he explains that the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant share certain typological characteristics and features. There is overlap between the two of them with regards to typology, particularly the land and the seed.
However, he then tries to make some kind of distinction between the Mosaic types and the Abrahamic types. It is not at all clear what he intends by the distinction. He says “the land and seed promises came to be administered through and under the Mosaic covenant but that Old Covenant administration was distinct from the Abrahamic.” It is unclear what exactly this means. He elaborates
Previously I have argued that everything that is distinctively Mosaic in the history of redemption is fulfilled by Christ and has expired or has been abolished. Thus, the 613 Mosaic commandments, i.e., the civil and ceremonial laws are fulfilled and expired. They have been abrogated and are no longer in force. The ceremonial aspects (e.g., the Saturday Sabbath, the land promise) of the Mosaic expression of the moral law, which itself is not grounded in Moses and is permanent, is temporary and has been fulfilled and abrogated. That the Mosaic covenant (sometimes denoted in the NT as “the law”) was inherently temporary and inferior and is now expired and abrogated has been a basic principle of Christian theology and hermeneutics since the 2nd century.
Here he lists “the land promise” as “distinctively Mosaic” and therefore “inherently temporary.” How is the land promise distinctively Mosaic in contrast to Abrahamic? Previously he said the typological land promise was something the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants shared in common. He categorizes Mosaic elements as “distinctively” temporary and thereby seeks to distinguish them from things that are not “distinctively” Mosaic, and therefore not temporary.
This leads us to a necessary corollary to the principle of Mosaic inferiority: The typological period of redemptive history and revelation pre-existed the Mosaic covenant. All of those types and shadows have also been fulfilled and have been expired but that there were typologies (pictures of the coming reality in Christa) under Adam, Noah, and Abraham does not make them Mosaic. In other words, not all types are Mosaic. This is an important distinction. The Mosaic covenant, strictly speaking, the Old Covenant, was typological but not all types and shadows are Mosaic. The Mosaic covenant was unique…
Now we are told that we must distinguish between Mosaic and non-Mosaic types, but we are also told that both Mosaic and non-Mosaic types are temporary and have “expired.” How is “not all types and shadows are Mosaic” an important distinction if all types and shadows, Mosaic or non-Mosaic, were temporary and have expired? Just because something is Abrahamic does not mean it is not obsolete.
In the end, the Mosaic/non-Mosaic distinction is irrelevant to the point Clark seeks to make since he argues that there are Abrahamic types that have expired. His specific point is that there is a typical aspect of circumcision that has expired and a non-typical aspect of circumcision that has not expired.
contra the assumption made by many under the influence of the broadly Baptistic paradigm, it is not infant initiation that is typological under Abraham but the shedding of blood.
The Mosaic/non-Mosaic issue is a bit of a non-sequitur smoke screen in this regard. The real issue is determining which aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant are typical and which are not. On this point, Clark is not consistent. He will say on one hand that the Abrahamic and Mosaic share a common typological promise of land and seed, but on the other hand he will say only the anti-typological promise of land and seed is actually Abrahamic, and thus the Abrahamic and New are identical.
I would only ask, if the children of the believer (Abraham), were in, when the promises were given, and they (the children) were included in the temporal, fleshly, conditional, out working of the old covenant, for blessing or curse.
… The NT appeals consistently to Abraham and to the promise given to Abraham, not in earthly terms but in spiritual terms. not with respect to the land promises (which has expired with the expiration of the national covenant with Israel) but it consistently regards Abraham as our spiritual father in the faith. Abraham was looking forward to the heavenly city…
Mike says that the Abrahamic promise was “earthly” and “temporal,” and to be sure Abraham was given a land promise but please note carefully how Hebrews interprets the life and faith of Abraham. Hebrews interprets Abraham’s life and faith not in terms of the land promise. Hebrews categorically denies the very interpretation that Mike gives because it denies the very interpretation that the Judaizers were giving. Hebrews does not concede that Abraham was looking for an earthly city…
Paul’s argument is that new-covenant believers have the same faith as Abraham. Paul explicitly rejected the notion that the covenant made with Abraham or the promises given to him were merely earthly or temporary. (Moses Was Not Abraham)
These comments would be fine if Clark was arguing that the Abrahamic Covenant received a two-level fulfillment and so we should not limit its fulfillment to the earthly and temporal. But that is not what he’s arguing. He is arguing the promise was only anti-typical. It was only spiritual. Notice this bizarre exchange on the Calvinist Batman podcast. The host was making a statement against the baptist interpretation of Acts 2:39, assuming Clark would be in agreement, only to hear Clark reject his interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant:
@29:20 Host: That’s exactly what I’m saying. In the Covenant with Abraham, God declares a generational covenant, that his “far off” were his descendants in time, not a physical location, as in, down the road there are people who are Gentiles that are not saved. That’s why I bring it up.
Clark: Yeah, see, I don’t accept that assumption, because if you look at the progress of the way the covenant is expressed in 12, 15, and 17. You’ve got a land promise. You’ve got a seed promise. And then you have the institution of the sacrament of infant circumcision in 17. So no, this is the problem, there’s always this attempt to sort of materialize the promise that God made to Abraham. But what do the Prophets do with it? The Prophets forecast the future in terms of the Abrahamic promise. Whether it’s Joel, or whether it’s Jeremiah. And the New Covenant picks that up and sort of explains what Jeremiah 31 means. Paul does it in 2 Cor 3. Hebrews does it really extensively in Hebrews 7, 8, 9, and 10. And then Paul does it, of course, in Galatians 3 and Galatians 4. So the Abrahamic Covenant in the New Testament is never construed the way you just did it, in sort of purely material, literal, genealogical terms.
Since I’m on the Calvinist Batman I can talk about an evil criminal conspiracy. This is sort of the hermeneutical conspiracy, if you will, to turn Abraham into Moses. And Abraham isn’t Moses. Moses is temporary. Moses is national. Abraham is not national. The seed promise that God made to Abraham in 12 and 15 is a promise that the nations will all come out of Abraham, and that’s what begins to happen in the New Covenant. When Peter says the promise is to you and your children,” he’s saying that the fundamental essence of the Covenant of Grace that God made with Abraham is still in effect. And so, when you ask about infant baptism, that’s how we see it, that the Covenant of Grace still has to be administered outwardly and through this administration, God is going to call his elect from all the nations. And he’s doing that. So the New Covenant is really the fulfillment of the promises that God made to Abraham. And Jesus, Paul says, is the seed, in Galatians 3:15-16, and we, then, he says later on in Galatians, are seeds in Christ.
Whoops. According to Clark, the paedobaptist reading of the Abrahamic Covenant as a generational covenant is part of a hermeneutical conspiracy to materialize the promise God made to Abraham. The seed God promised to Abraham was only Christ and the land God promised to Abraham was only heaven. The Mosaic Covenant was national, but the Abrahamic is not. Perhaps this is what Clark meant earlier when he said “the land and seed promises came to be administered through and under the Mosaic covenant but that Old Covenant administration was distinct from the Abrahamic.” The temporary, typological application in the Old Covenant of the promises God made to Abraham were not actually derived from Abraham. They were something added to the Abrahamic Covenant.
The promises of the Abrahamic covenant, which had already been expressed relative to the land and a national people (see Gen chapters 12 and 15; there are national and land promises in chapter 17 also) came to expression in a temporary national covenant inaugurated at Sinai. That national covenant, however, does not exhaust the covenant promises of God. The Apostle Paul says (Gal 3; see below) that the national, Israelite, Sinaitic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, was a temporary addition, a codicil, added to the Abrahamic promises. That temporary national covenant expired with the death of Christ (see also all of Colossians and Hebrews)…
Remember, Paul reckons the Mosaic, Sinaitic, old covenant as a temporary, national, pedagogical, typological arrangement superimposed upon the Abrahamic covenant of grace. (On the New Covenant)
So the typological land (Canaan) and seed (national Israel) are only Mosaic. They are not Abrahamic. Moses is not Abraham. But
Even though there were typological (land) and even national elements in the promises given to Abraham (Gen 12 and 15) they were only temporary expressions of the more fundamental promise to send a Savior. (Is There a Covenant of Grace?)
So which is it? Are the typological land (Canaan) and seed (national Israel) part of the promises God made to Abraham or not? Clark is inconsistent. Consistency on this point would undermine his argument. If the typological promises were Abrahamic, then at least some of the Abrahamic promises are obsolete. Clark admitted above that there is at least an element of circumcision (the blood sacrifice element) that is typical and therefore obsolete. Likewise, there is at least an element of God’s land and seed promises to Abraham that were typical and therefore obsolete.
Contra dispensationalism, this typical, earthly, “material” aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant is obsolete. Contra dispensationalism, and in agreement with Clark, Christ’s spiritual kingdom made up of believing Jew and Gentile, is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. But contra Clark, both Moses and Christ are offspring of Abraham. Both the Old and the New Covenants flow from Abraham (re-read Galatians 4:21-31). There is a duality to the Abrahamic Covenant. Unlike Clark, many paedobaptists have acknowledged this truth. It was Meredith Kline’s primary argument against Dispensationalism.
References to the two-level nature of the promises have been unavoidable in various connections in our analysis of the Abrahamic Covenant up to this point but now it is time to focus on this more particularly. In doing so we will sum up the promises under the concept of kingdom, tracing the two-level structure with respect to the kingdom components of king, people, and land. As the kingdom promises come to fulfillment in two successive stages, each is identified as a divine remembrance of Abraham or of the covenant made with him…
Two levels of kingship were present in this prophetic blessing. Judah assumed the royal supremacy in Israel in the appointment of David as king. He, with his successors under the old covenant, were level one. Then David’s dynasty reached a distinctive second level of kingship in the coming of Jesus Christ, Shiloh, the universal Lord, and his inauguration of the new covenant in his blood…
We have found that in the course of biblical revelation two distinct levels of fulfillment, one provisional and prototypal, the other messianic and eternal, are clearly distinguishable in the king promise given to Abraham. What is true of the promise of the king must inevitably also be true of the promise of the kingdom, both kingdom-people and kingdom-land… the promised seed in this corporate sense is interpreted by the Scriptures as being realized on two levels… Development of the twelve sons of Jacob into the twelve-tribe nation of Israel of course constituted a fulfillment of the promise of the kingdom people at one level… Equally obvious is the Bible’s identification of a realization of the promise of the Abrahamic seed at another level. As we have seen, when Paul, in Romans 9-11, defends God’s covenantal faithfulness in the face of Israel’s fall, he bases his case on the identification of the
promised seed as the individual election, a remnant-fullness of Jews and Gentiles, spiritual children of Abraham, all like him justified by faith (Rom 9:7,8; cf. Rom 4:16; Gal 3:7)… That is, the promise of the seed is thereby lifted into the messianic, or new covenant, level where Gentile and Jewish believers are gathered together in the united assembly of the heavenly altar…
Step by step what was included in the promised kingdom land at the first level of meaning was more precisely defined… That the territory eventually occupied by Israel fully corresponded with the geographical bounds defined in the promise is explicitly recorded in Joshua 21:43-45 and 1 Kings 4:20,21 (cf. Num 34:2ff.; 1 Chr 18:3; Ezek 47:13-20)… in the New Testament there are clear indications of a positive kind of the shift to the second level of meaning of the land promise. Indeed, with surprising abruptness the New Testament disregards the first level meaning and simply takes for granted that the second level, cosmic fulfillment is the true intention of the promise…
The issue between covenantal and dispensational hermeneutics is not one of spiritualizing versus nonspiritualizing interpretations of the second level kingdom. For, contrary to a common allegation, the covenantal system as well as the dispensational allows for the geophysical dimension of that kingdom. The basic question at issue is rather how to construe the relation of the two levels of the promised kingdom of the Abrahamic Covenant to one another. This amounts to the question of the relationship of the old covenant with Israel to the new covenant with the church, particularly as that comes into focus in the typological connection which the Scripture posits between them.
Where Clark wants to entirely separate the Old Covenant from the Abrahamic and identify the Abrahamic with the New exclusively, Kline recognizes that both the Old and the New flow from Abraham. Augustine recognized this:
the people were settled in the land of promise, so that, in the meantime, the first promise made to Abraham began to be fulfilled about the one nation, that is, the Hebrew, and about the land of Canaan; but not as yet the promise about all nations, and the whole wide world, for that was to be fulfilled, not by the observances of the old law, but by the advent of Christ in the flesh, and by the faith of the gospel…
And it was fulfilled through David, and Solomon his son, whose kingdom was extended over the whole promised space; for they subdued all those nations, and made them tributary. And thus, under those kings, the seed of Abraham was established in the land of promise according to the flesh, that is, in the land of Canaan, so that nothing yet remained to the complete fulfillment of that earthly promise of God, except that, so far as pertains to temporal prosperity, the Hebrew nation should remain in the same land by the succession of posterity in an unshaken state even to the end of this mortal age, if it obeyed the laws of the Lord its God. But since God knew it would not do this, He used His temporal punishments also for training His few faithful ones in it, and for giving needful warning to those who should afterwards be in all nations, in whom the other promise, revealed in the New Testament, was about to be fulfilled through the incarnation of Christ. (Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist)
Charles Hodge did as well.
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)
Notice Hodge’s recognition of where circumcision belongs: to the first-order typical fulfillment. Clark tries to deny this by severing the first-order typical fulfillment from Abraham entirely, arguing it is only Mosaic. Abraham was not Moses, remember? But such a division between Abraham and Moses is impossible. Moses flows from Abraham. Mosaic circumcision is Abrahamic circumcision. Circumcision was a typical ordinance, not just in terms of bloodshed, but in terms of its recipients as well. Who was circumcision applied to? Abraham’s natural descendants – the same people who constitute the typical, national, genealogical first-order fulfillment of the Abrahamic seed promise. Clark would have you believe that is purely a coincidence because the typical, national, genealogical first-order fulfillment is exclusively Mosaic, not Abrahamic. Circumcision was not given to Abraham’s physical seed. It was given to believers and their children (a statement found nowhere in Scripture). But this idea neglects the fact that Abraham was given a two-fold privilege. As a believer, he is the father of those who believe (Rom 4:11-12), but as the one through whom the Messiah will come, he is the father of Israel according to the flesh (Rom 4:1; 9:1-5). John Owen explains
Two privileges did God grant unto Abraham, upon his separation to a special interest in the old promise and covenant: — First, That according to the flesh he should be the father of the Messiah, the promised seed; who was the very life of the covenant [of grace], the fountain and cause of all the blessings contained in it… Secondly, Together with this, he had also another privilege granted unto him, namely, that his faith, whereby he was personally interested in the covenant, should be the pattern of the faith of the church in all generations; and that none should ever come to be a member of it, or a sharer in its blessings, but by the same faith… Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God. (The Oneness of the Church)
Now it is to be observed that two things are promised to Abraham, the one, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan, which is intimated when it is said, “Go into a land that I will show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation;” but the other far more excellent, not about the carnal but the spiritual seed, through which he is the father, not of the one Israelite nation, but of all nations who follow the footprints of his faith, which was first promised in these words, “And in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.” (Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist)
To which seed is circumcision given? The seed according to the flesh. Samuel Rutherford, representing historic Presbyterianism, understood this quite well.
God commands not Abraham only to circumcise his sons, but all parents descended of Abraham to circumcise their seed: the seed of Abraham carnally descended to all generations…
[M]any must be circumcised as these to whom the Lord gave the land for a possession were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh. But the land was given to the most wicked of Abraham’s seed (so Ch. 8:3).
That all the children of the wicked are circumcised is clear (Josh. 5), because Joshua at God’s commandment circumcised the children of Israel (Josh 5:2-3,7) whose wicked parents the Lord had consumed because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord, unto whom the Lord swore that He would not show them the land which the Lord swore to their fathers. Of that generation the Lord said (Heb. 3:10), ‘they do always err in their heart, and they have not known my ways,’ there was in them an evil heart, a hard heart, an unbelieving heart (Heb. 3:13,15,18), and yet God commanded Joshua to circumcise their children.
Therefore there was no more required of the circumcised but that they were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh… This is so true, that circumcision is put for the nation of the Jews (Acts 11:2; Rom. 2:26,27; Gal. 2:7; Gal. 6:15)…
1. The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham? Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.
2. What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews. O, says Mr. Best, they were behooved [required] to be members of the church, whose infants might lawfully be circumcised. I answer: that is ignotum per ignotius [unknown per the unknown]. Show me one person being a born Jew whose child the Lord forbid to circumcise?…
For being born of the holy nation, they are holy with a federal and national holiness, Rom. 11:16. If the root be holy so are the branches.
As Clark acknowledges “The typological period of redemptive history and revelation pre-existed the Mosaic covenant… Because Abraham and Moses both belong to the typological period… they share certain characteristics and features.” The Covenant of Circumcision was established with ordinances in the typological period, the time of the first-order promises, and they were given to the first-order seed according to the flesh. This seed was not the church. It was a type of the church. Israel according to the flesh was a type of Israel according to the Spirit. Abraham’s natural offspring were a type of Abraham’s spiritual offspring. Just like Kline above, many other paedobaptists have acknowledged this truth as well.
The whole nation of the Jews. They were a typical people; their Church-state being very ceremonial and peculiar to those legal times, (Therefore now ceased and abolished) did adumbrate and shadow forth two things.
- Christ himself; hence Christ is called Israel, Isa. 49.3. By Israel is meant Christ, and all the faithful, as members of him their head.
- They were a type of the Church of God under the New Testament. Hence the Church is called Israel, Gal 6.16 and Rev 7. The twelve tribes of Israel are numbered up by name, to shew forth the Lord’s particular care of every one of his people in particular. That place is not meant properly of Old Israel, because it relates to the times of the Antichristian locusts; compare cap 7. with cap. 9.4. The analogy lies in this, that they were a peculiar people to the Lord, chosen and singled out by him from all the world: So is Christ the Lord’s chosen, Behold my servant whom I have chosen, mine elect in whom my Soul delighteth: So are all the Saints, 1 Pet 2.9. A royal nation, a peculiar people, gathered from among all nations, Rev 5.9. Hence the enemies of Israel were typical enemies; as Egypt and Babylon under the Old Testament, types of Antichristian enemies under the New: And the providences of God towards that people of Old, types and shadows of his intended future dispensations towards his people under the New; as you will see further when we come to speak of typical providences.
The persons with whom this [new] covenant is made are also expressed: “The house of Israel, and the house of Judah.”… Wherefore this house of Israel and house of Judah may be considered two ways:
[1.] As that people were the whole entire posterity of Abraham.
[2.] As they were typical, and mystically significant of the whole church of God.
Hence alone it is that the promises of grace under the old testament are given unto the church under these names, because they were types of them who should really and effectually be made partakers of them…
In the second sense the whole church of elect believers is intended under these denominations, being typified by them. These are they alone, being one made of twain, namely, Jews and Gentiles, with whom the covenant is really made and established, and unto whom the Mace of it is actually communicated. For all those with whom this covenant is made shall as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according unto the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. These are the true Israel and Judah, prevailing with God, and confessing unto his name.
Let it then be observed, that men are said to be sanctified or made holy in very different senses. Sanctification, for the distinction, though an old, is not a bad one, is either real or relative.
…That separation from other nations, in which the holiness of the Jews chiefly consisted (r), was not spiritual, resulting from rectitude of heart and a correspondent behavior; but barely external, resulting from certain sacred rites and ceremonies different from or opposite to those of other nations, and confined to certain places and persons (d). The middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles, was the ceremonial law (e), which was neither necessary nor fit to make a spiritual separation In fact, it did not separate between good and bad men among the Jews: but between the house of Israel and the fearers of God or devout persons in the heathen nations (f). For which reason, though Cornelius was one that feared God, gave much alms, and prayed to God always, Peter was afraid of being polluted by intercourse with him.
(a) Lev. xxi. (b) Exod. xix. 6. (c) Exod. xix. 5, 6. Num. xxiii. 9. Deut. xxvi. 18, 19. (d) Lev. xx. 24,—26. Deut. xiv. 21. (e) Eph. ii. 14, 15. (f) Pial. cxviii. 4. A6ls xiii. 16, 26. xvii. 4, 17.
…as things were termed unclean, which were types or emblems of moral impurity, so the Jews were termed holy, not only because they were separated from other nations, but because they typified real Christians, who are in the fullest and noblest sense a holy nation, and a peculiar people (a). Types are visible things, different in their nature, from the spiritual things which they typify. If then the Jewish dispensation was typical, we may safely conclude, that the holiness of the Jewish nation being intended to typify the holiness of the Christian church, was of a different nature from it. And it is for this reason, that the Jewish dispensation is called the flesh and the letter, because persons and things in that dispensation, typified and represented persons and things under a more spiritual dispensation. (a) 1 Pet. ii. 9.
Clark himself actually believes this as well, though he doesn’t recognize the implications.
God disinherited his adopted, temporary, national “son” Israel as a national people precisely because God never intended to have a permanent earthly, national people… their chief function was to serve as a type and shadow of God’s natural Son, Jesus the Messiah (Heb 10.1-4). It is the argument of this essay that Jesus Christ is the true Israel of God and that everyone who is united to him by grace alone, through faith alone becomes, by virtue of that union, the true Israel of God. (Israel of God)
In arguing against dispensationalists, paedobaptists apply typology consistently and often make statements inconsistent with paedobaptism. They are unaware of how sharp their hermeneutic against dispensationalism is. It’s a sword that cuts both ways. In an interview on Christ the Center, Kim Riddlebarger argues:
…the problem with that is, when you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 12 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the land promise in Genesis 12 – and it’s repeated throughout 15, 18, 22, on and on and on – when that land promise is repeated, dispenationalists say “See, that must mean Israel means Israel and that God is going to save Israel again to fulfill the land promise at the end of the age.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the land promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?” And that is at the heart of this entire debate.
If I may paraphrase:
…the problem with paedobaptism is, when you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 17 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the offspring promise in Genesis 17 – and it’s repeated throughout 12, 15, 22, on and on and on – when that offspring promise is repeated, paedobaptists say “See, that must mean offspring means offspring and that God included physical offspring in the church and never took them out.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the offspring promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?” And that is at the heart of this entire debate.
Israel according to the flesh is a type and shadow of the true Israel of God, the church of Christ. Circumcision was given to the type, not the antitype. Clark is clear that the typical fulfillment of the land and seed has expired. Owen agrees, and rightly ties that seed to Abraham, not simply Moses.
That this privilege was temporary, having a limited season, time, and end, appointed unto it, the very nature of the thing itself doth demonstrate; for upon this actual exhibition [of Christ] in the flesh, it was to cease… It is true, they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should he set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth. That this separation and privilege was to cease when the end of it was accomplished and the Messiah exhibited, the very nature of the thing declares; for to what purpose should it be continued when that was fully effected whereunto it was designed?… Seeing, therefore, that their other privilege was come to an end, with all the carnal ordinances that attended it, by the actual coming of the Messiah, whereunto they were subservient, if they did not, by faith in the promised seed, attain an interest in this of the spiritual blessing, it is evident that they could on no account be considered as actual sharers in the covenant of God… It is true, the former carnal privilege of Abraham and his posterity expiring, on the grounds before mentioned, the ordinances of worship which were suited thereunto did necessarily cease also… (1.) The carnal privilege of the Jews, in their separation to bring forth the Messiah, then failed; and therewith their claim on that account to be the children of Abraham. (2.) The ordinances of worship suited unto that privilege expired and came to an end. (The Oneness of the Church)
Was Circumcision a Sign of Law-Keeping?
If you recall above, in reference to the first-order of the Abrahamic Covenant, Charles Hodge noted that “The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law…” tying circumcision in with law-keeping on the basis of passages like Galatians 5:3, Acts 15:10, 1 Cor 7:19, and Romans 2:25-26 “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.” Clark already agrees that the Old Covenant operates upon the principle of obedience to the law (“the Mosaic covenant, says ‘do and live.'”). We have already demonstrated that circumcision does not take on a new meaning in the Mosaic Covenant, since the Mosaic is rooted in, not severed from, the Abrahamic. Does that mean that the Abrahamic Covenant operated upon the principle of obedience to the law? Note what John Murray says
The obedience of Abraham is represented as the condition upon which the fulfilment of the promise given to him was contingent and the obedience of Abraham’s seed is represented as the means through which the promise given to Abraham would be accomplished. There is undoubtedly the fulfilment of certain conditions… At the outset we must remember that the idea of conditional fulfilment is not something peculiar to the Mosaic covenant. We have been faced quite poignantly with this very question in connection with the Abrahamic covenant. And since this feature is there patent, it does not of itself provide us with any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic. (The Covenant of Grace)
Murray is referring to passages like Gen 17:1-2, 9-14; 22
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”…
And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”…
And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
These passages led Meredith Kline to conclude
How Abraham’s obedience related to the securing of the kingdom blessings in their old covenant form is a special question within the broad topic of the role of human works under redemptive covenant… His faithful performance of his covenantal duty is here clearly declared to sustain a causal relationship to the blessing of Isaac and Israel. It had a meritorious character that procured a reward enjoyed by others…Because of Abraham’s obedience redemptive history would take the shape of an Abrahamite kingdom of God from which salvation’s blessings would rise up and flow out to the nations. God was pleased to constitute Abraham’s exemplary works as the meritorious ground for granting to Israel after the flesh the distinctive role of being formed as the typological kingdom, the matrix from which Christ should come… The obedient Abraham, the faithful covenant servant, was a type of the Servant of the Lord in his obedience, by which he became the surety of the new covenant.
In other words, the first-order typological elements of the Abrahamic Covenant operated upon the same principle of works that the Mosaic did. And circumcision represented this. Nehemiah Coxe explains
It is noteworthy that in this transaction of God with Abraham we first meet with an express injunction of obedience to a command (and that of positive right) as the condition of covenant interest. It is all ushered in with this prologue (Genesis 17:1), “I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be perfect.” First in these words, the all-sufficiency of God is revealed for the ensuring of the promises. Then a strict and entire obedience to his precepts is required in order to inherit the good things that were to be given by this covenant. In this mode of transacting it, the Lord was pleased to draw the first lines of that form of covenant relationship in which the natural seed of Abraham was fully stated by the law of Moses, which was a covenant of works with its condition or terms, “Do this and live.”
I will be a God to you and to your children
What about Clark’s argument that God’s promise in the Abrahamic Covenant to be a God to Abraham and his children is the same promise of the New Covenant – that is, a promise of “Interior Piety”? Samuel Rutherford, representing historic Presbyterianism, disagrees.
If the former be said it will follow that God speaks (Gen. 17) only to Abraham and his sons by faith (according to the promise) and only to believers.
But God speaks to all Abraham’s sons according to the flesh:
Because [otherwise] God should speak an untruth: that He were a God by real union of faith to all that are commanded to be circumcised. For He commanded thousands to be circumcised to whom He was not a God by real union of faith.
Like all the other Abrahamic promises, this too has a two-level fulfillment. Were Israel according to the flesh God’s people under the Old Covenant? Yes they were. Was that a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham? Yes it was. “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:8 ESV) Were they therefore God’s people in the same way that Israel according to the Spirit are? No they were not.
That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… And with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people… On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in. Thus a sovereign and all-wise God was pleased to ordain things with respect to the nation of Israel…
That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace; and so is sometimes represented as a marriage-covenant.
Abraham Booth makes the same point.
It is of great importance to the right interpretation of many passages in the Old Testament, that this particular be well understood and kept in view. Jehovah is very frequently represented as the Lord and God of all the ancient Israelites ; even where it is manifest that the generality of them were considered as destitute of internal piety, and many of them as enormously wicked. How then could he be called their Lord, and their God, in distinction from his relation to Gentiles, (whose creator, benefactor, and sovereign he was) except on the ground of the Sinai Covenant? He was their Lord as being the sovereign whom, by a federal transaction, they were bound to obey, in opposition to every political monarch, who should at any time presume to govern them by laws of his own. He was their God, as the only object of holy worship ; and whom, by the same National Covenant, they had solemnly engaged to serve according to his own rule, in opposition to every Pagan idol.
But that National relation between Jehovah and Israel being long since dissolved and the Jew having no prerogative above the Gentile; the nature of the Gospel Economy, and of the Messiah’s kingdom, absolutely forbids our supposing, that either Jews or Gentiles are warranted to call the Universal Sovereign their Lord or their God, if they do not yield willing obedience to him, and perform spiritual worship. It is, therefore, either for want of understanding, or of considering the nature, aspect, and influence of the Sinai Constitution, that many persons dream of the New Covenant, in great numbers of places where Moses and the Prophets had no thought of it, but had the Convention at Horeb directly in view…
Again : As none but real Christians are the subjects of our Lord’s kingdom, neither adults nor infants can be members of the gospel Church, in virtue of an external covenant, or of a relative holiness. A striking disparity this, between the Jewish and the Christian Church. Of this difference we may be assured by considering, that a barely relative sanctity, supposes its possessors to be the people of God in a merely external sense; that such an external people, supposes an external covenant, or one that relates to exterior conduct and temporal blessings : and an external covenant supposes an external king. Now an external king, is a political sovereign : but such is not our Lord Jesus Christ, nor yet the divine Father. Once, indeed, it was otherwise : for, concerning the Israelitish nation, it is written : ” I,” Jehovah, ” will be thy king…
Yes, Jehovah, as a temporal monarch, stood related to the ancient Israelites, and entered into a federal transaction with them at Sinai, not only as the Object of their worship, but as their King. Their judicial and civil institutes, their laws of war and of peace, various orders respecting the land they occupied, and the annual acknowledgments to the great Proprietor of it, were all from God, as their political sovereign. Hence all the natural posterity of Jacob were Jehovah’s people, on the ground of an external covenant made with the whole nation…
 If Abraham is, as God’s Word says, the father of all believers, and  if God promised blessings to believers and to their children, and  if he commanded the initiation of covenant children,  and those covenant promises and command remain in effect,  then we must initiate children into the covenant community just as father Abraham did. (On the New Covenant)
 He is, but that is not all he was. He was also the father of a typical seed.
 He did not.
 He did.
 They do not, typically, though they have been fulfilled anti-typically.
 We must not because we are not the fathers of Israel according to the flesh, and because the Abrahamic Covenant community is not the New Covenant community.
Clark’s attempt has been to divorce the Mosaic Covenant from the Abrahamic Covenant entirely and thereby to remove all typical elements from the Abrahamic Covenant, insisting that it contained only spiritual, anti-typical promises. But as we have seen, this cannot be done. Moses was not Abraham, but he was his offspring. The Mosaic Covenant was a fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. And we can say that the Old Covenant is inclusive of the Abrahamic Covenant to the extent that the Abrahamic Covenant shares with the Mosaic Covenant (notice everything listed in Rom. 9:4-5 as belonging to Israel according to the flesh).
Dr. Clark objects and argues that in the New Testament, the Abrahamic Covenant is identified with the New Covenant and thereby contrasted with the Old. That is true, but that is because, to quote Bryan Estelle, by the time we reach the New Testament “Israel’s disobedience has triggered the curse sanctions. Therefore, the new covenant context has essentially changed matters here… What was prototypical [life in Canaan] has been eclipsed by what is antitypical [eternal life].” The fact that the New Testament focuses on the anti-typical fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant does not mean there was not a typological level to the dichotomous Abrahamic Covenant. It is impossible to severe Abraham from Moses. Listen to Ligon Duncan (representing the Westminster position)
So as far as Moses is concerned, there is no radical dichotomy between what God is doing with His people in the time of the Exodus and what God promised to Abraham. In fact, he says that the reason God came to His people’s rescue was because He remembered the promise He had made with Abraham. And if you will remember back to our study of Genesis chapter 15, God went out of His way to tell Abraham about the oppression of Israel in Egypt and about the fact that He was going to bring them out of Egypt as a mighty nation, and that He was going to give them the land of Canaan. And so, Moses goes out of his way in both Genesis 15 and in Exodus 2 to link the Mosaic Economy with the Abrahamic Covenant, so that the Mosaic Economy isn’t something that is replacing the way that God deals with His people, under Abraham; it is expanding what God was doing with His people through Abraham.
Clark argues that Galatians 4 teaches a separation and contrast between Abraham and Moses. But read carefully, 4:21-31 demonstrates precisely what we have said: both the Old and the New Covenants flow from Abraham, as Paul demonstrates using an allegory of Abraham’s two sons. This passage was foundational to Augustine’s understanding of covenant theology.
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)…
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…
This interpretation of the passage, handed down to us with apostolic authority, shows how we ought to understand the Scriptures of the two covenants—the old and the new… Both, indeed, were of Abraham’s seed; but the one was begotten by natural law, the other was given by gracious promise. (Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist)
As Clark agrees, the Old Covenant is different in principle/nature/substance from the Covenant of Grace. It is not the Covenant of Grace. To the degree that the Mosaic flows from the Abrahamic, it too is different in principle and substance from the Covenant of Grace. The Abrahamic Covenant is not the Covenant of Grace. As Robert M’Cheyne said “this was a type of the covenant that was to be afterwards.”
Clark argues that “Paul makes Abraham the pattern for new covenant faith.” He certainly does. But the conclusion to be drawn is not that the Abrahamic Covenant is therefore the Covenant of Grace. The Abrahamic Covenant never promised regeneration, faith, and forgiveness of sins. It promised that the Messiah would be born from Abraham and would establish the Covenant of Grace in his blood to grant regeneration, faith, and forgiveness of sins. Reflecting on this in Hebrews 8:10, Calvin concluded “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.” In the same way that Clark thinks the Abrahamic Covenant operated under the Mosaic to save saints in the Old Covenant, the New Covenant actually operated under the Abrahamic Covenant to save Abraham. As Clark admits “The evidence is that the new covenant is substantially identical with the covenant of grace.” Augustine agreed, which is why he said
As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant], so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament [covenant]… I beg of you, however, carefully to observe, as far as you can, what I am endeavouring to prove with so much effort. When the prophet promised a new covenant, not according to the covenant which had been formerly made with the people of Israel when liberated from Egypt, he said nothing about a change in the sacrifices or any sacred ordinances, although such change, too, was without doubt to follow, as we see in fact that it did follow, even as the same prophetic scripture testifies in many other passages; but he simply called attention to this difference, that God would impress His laws on the mind of those who belonged to this covenant, and would write them in their hearts, (Jer 31:32-33)… 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,—because of the faith whereby we live, of one and the same they lived, believing the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ as future, which we believe as already accomplished. (Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist)
I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called ‘the new covenant,’… The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant.
In his commentary in Hebrews, Owen worked out in detail what this meant for all the other post-fall covenants.
That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by νομοτηετεο, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship. Hereon the other covenant was disannulled and removed; and not only the covenant itself, but all that system of sacred worship whereby it was administered…
When God renewed the promise of it unto Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but it was with respect unto other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely under the old testament it consisted only in a promise… The νομοτηετεο, or full legal establishment of it, whence it became formally a covenant unto the whole church, was future only, and a promise under the old testament
Since the Covenant of Grace during the time of Abraham worked “invisibly” and “had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it,” circumcision was never an ordinance of the Covenant of Grace. Like all other pre-Christ types, circumcision has passed away and is obsolete. Instead, Christians are commanded to observe New Covenant ordinances according to New Covenant commands. Therefore we are to baptize all those who profess faith in Christ, and no others.
In sum, Clark said that “The Reformed have tended to let the New Testament not only interpret the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures but also to provide a pattern for how to interpret the typological revelation… Reformed theology has not always been consistent in the application of this principle.” He argues that a consistent application requires one to acknowledge that the Old and New Covenants “operate on utterly different principles,” that “the old covenant was such that it could be broken, but the new covenant cannot be broken,” and “that the Mosaic covenant was inherently temporary and inferior and is now expired and abrogated.” And just as Winzer and the “old” paedobaptists warned, consistency in Clark’s position nullifies infant baptism.
A consistent application of the reformed hermeneutic leads to credobaptism.
- 1689Federalism.com Watch the videos, read the books (especially the 3 on the front page), and look at the Additional Resources section
- Archives from this blog with over 100 posts on 1689 Federalism
- The Case for Credobaptism @ The Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals
- Samuel Renihan’s sermons on the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants
- Acts 2:39 in its Context (Part 1): An Exegetical Summary of Acts 2:39 and Paedobaptism
- An Exegetical Appraisal of Colossians 2:11-12 ~ Richard C. Barcellos, Ph.D.
- Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?
- Circumcision as a Seal
- A Summary of Why Baptists Appeal to Owen
- The Olive Tree
- Hebrews 10 & John 15
- They are not all Israel, who are of Israel
In current debate over the role of good works in salvation, appeal is made to “the Puritans.” The problem is, “the Puritans” included a vast range of beliefs. Some were orthodox, some were not. Thus there is usually a qualifier “the best of the Puritans” which is code for “the Puritans that agree with me.” (And when quotes are marshaled forth, it’s often a mix from various men with one key quote establishing a point, with the effect that it seems like they all agreed). For those of us who haven’t had time to studying the 17th century, it’s easy to get the impression that it was a glory day of orthodox theology where all the theologians in England sat around drafting the greatest confessions of faith and faithfully proclaiming the gospel in a nation full of Christians. The reality is the WCF never became the official confession in England, orthodox pastors frequently bemoaned the dark spiritual state of the nation, and dispute arose amongst Puritans over the heart of Christianity: justification by faith alone.
The controversy over justification centered around Richard Baxter. Yes, the Reformed Pastor, whom J.I. Packer describes as “the most outstanding pastor, evangelist and writer on practical and devotional themes that Puritanism produced.” Baxter was appalled by licentiousness he saw while serving in Cromwell’s army and he made it his life’s mission to refute the error of Antinomianism. In the process, he wound up modifying his doctrine of justification. The problem, according to Baxter, was the idea that Christ has fulfilled all the conditions necessary for our salvation by fulfilling the law of works and then freely granting us salvation in the covenant of grace. Baxter wound up rejecting the orthodox view of the atonement, imputation, and justification. (See Michael Brown’s helpful overview)
The debate centered on theologians who argued that the New Covenant, unlike the Old, was unconditional. Tobias Crispe was the prime example. Crispe did err on a number of points in what he thought were the implications of an unconditional New Covenant, such as holding that we are justified prior to faith (see Owen’s correction here – note that first generation particular baptists William Kiffin and Samuel Richardson agreed with Crispe).
Baxter’s solution was to argue that the New Covenant was conditional. Christ’s obedience did not earn salvation for us. Christ’s obedience earned the New Covenant for us, and the New Covenant is a new law (“Law of Grace”) with a lower standard that we are able to meet. The requirement of the New Covenant is not perfect obedience, but sincere obedience flowing from faith. Thus Baxter argued that we need both Christ’s righteousness and our own inherent (“evangelical”) righteousness in order to be saved. Baxter said “faith is imputed for Righteousness…because it is an Act of Obedience to God…it is the performance of the Condition of the Justifying Covenant.” He argued that faith and works “Both justifie in the same kinde of causality, viz. as Causae sine quibus non…Faith as the principal part; Obedience as the less principall. The like may be said of Love, which at least is a secondary part of the Condition.” He summarized his view in an analogy:
A Tenant forfeiteth his Lease to his Landlord, by not paying his rent; he runs deep in debt to him, and is disabled to pay him any more rent for the future, whereupon he is put out of his house, and cast him into prison till he pay his debt. His Landlord’s son payeth it for him, taketh him out of prison, and putteth him in his house again, as his Tenant, having purchased house and all to himself; he maketh him a new Lease in this Tenor, that paying but a pepper corn yearly to him, he shall be acquit both from his debt, and from all other rent from the future, which by his old lease was to be paid; yet doth he not cancel the old Lease, but keepeth it in his hands to put in suite against the Tenant, if he should be so foolish as to deny the payment of the pepper corn. In this case the payment of the grain of pepper is imputed to the Tenant, as if he had paid the rent of the old Lease: Yet this imputation doth not extoll the pepper corn, nor vilifie the benefit of his Benefactor, who redeemed him: nor can it be said that the purchase did only serve to advance the value and efficacy of that grain of pepper. But thus; a personall rent must be paid for the testification of his homage.
If one denied that Christians must pay their pepper corn (sincere obedience), they were denounced as Antinomian. Thus Antinomian became (as we will see below) equated with justification by faith alone and a rejection of justification by faith and works. The Antinomian controversy was not about the third use of the law as a guide for Christian living. It was debate over the role of works in justification.
Sounding like a modern day Federal Visionist (perhaps modern day Federal Visionists are really neo-Baxterians?), Baxter uses the exact same argument as Doug Wilson: our marriage union with Christ depends upon our faithfulness as his spouse.
Barely to take a Prince for her husband may entitle a woman to his honours and lands; But conjugal fidelity is also necessary for the continuance of them; for Adultery would cause a divorce…Covenant-making may admit you, but its the Covenant-keeping that must continue you in your priviledges.
-Baxter, Of Justification: Four Disputations Clearing and amicably Defending the Truth, against the unnecessary Oppositions of divers Learned and Reverend Brethren (London, 1658), 123-4. See also his End of Doctrinal Controversies, 252ff.
Faith, Repentance, Love, Thankfulness, sincere Obedience, together with finall Perseverance, do make up the Condition of our final Absolution in Iudgement, and our eternal Glorification.
-Baxter, Confession, 56.
And that the Law of Grace being that which we are to be judged by, we shall at the last Judgment also be judged (and so justified) thus far by or according to our sincere Love, Obedience, or Evangelical Works, as the Conditions of the Law or Covenant of free Grace, which justifieth and glorifieth freely in all that are thus Evangelically qualified, by and for the Merits, perfect Righteousness and Sacrifice of Christ, which procured the Covenant or free Gift of Universal Conditional Justification and Adoption, before and without any Works or Conditions done by Man Whatsoever. Reader forgive me this troublesome oft repeating of the state of the controversy; I meddle with no other. If this be Justification by Works, I am for it.
-Baxter, Treatise, 163.
Perhaps Baxter’s strongest opposition came from congregationalists. In 1674, Samuel Petto wrote “THE GREAT MYSTERY OF THE COVENANT OF GRACE: OR THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE Old and New Covenant STATED AND EXPLAINED.” The thrust of Petto’s book was a rejection of Westminster Federalism’s claim that the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are two administrations of the same Covenant of Grace. Instead, he argued that the Old Covenant was the Covenant of Works that Christ fulfilled and that the New Covenant was therefore unconditional. This is a variation of the subservient covenant view. (See also Michael Brown’s Christ and the Condition, and a shorter article).
1. The new covenant presupposes obedience unto life to be performed already by Jesus Christ, and so is better than the Old (Sinai), which requires an after performance of it… Hence in opposition to that Sinai law, which ran upon those terms, do and live, under the dispensation of the new, we hear so often of Believe and be saved, and he which believeth hath everlasting life, Mark xvi. 16. John iii. 16, 36…
2. The new covenant represents the Lord as dealing with his people universally in a way of promise; and so is better than the old, which represents him as treating them in a way of threatening…
3. The new covenant consists of absolute promises, and therefore is better than the old Sinai covenant, which ran upon conditional promises, indeed, had works as its condition… The apostle, in the text (Heb viii. 10-13), is purposely putting a difference between these; and, seeing the old covenant was unquestionably conditional, and the new here in opposition to it, or distinction from it, is as undoubtedly absolute; must it not needs be concluded, that herein stand much of the excellence of the new above the old?…
And note, if some privileges of the covenant were dispensed out properly in a conditional way (as suppose justification were afforded upon faith as a condition, or temporal mercies upon obedience), yet this would be far from proving any thing to be the condition of the promise, or of the covenant itself. Indeed even faith is a particular blessing of it, and therefore cannot be the condition of the whole covenant; for what shall be the condition of faith?… Nothing performed by us, then, is conditio faederis, the condition of the covenant itself; Jesus Christ has performed all required that way…
That this might not be a strife of words, I could wish men would state the question thus, Whether some evangelical duties be required of, and graces wrought by Jesus Christ in, all the persons that are actually interested in the new covenant? I should answer yes; for, in the very covenant itself, it is promised that he will write his laws on their hearts, Heb viii. 10., and that implies faith, repentance, and every gracious frame…
There is no such condition of the new covenant to us, as there was in the old to Israel. For, the apostle comparing them together; and, in opposition to the old, he gives the new altogether in absolute promises, and that to Israel, Heb. viii.; and, showing that the new is not according to the old, he discovers wherein the difference lay, verse 9. Because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not; saith the Lord; and, Jer. xxxi. 32. which covenant they broke, &c… If their performing the condition had been as absolutely promised, as the blessings of the new covenant are, then Israel would have continued in it (which they did not), and could not have forfeited what was promised thereupon, as diverse times they did, and were excluded out of Canaan upon that account. – Jurists say, a condition is a rate, manner, or law, annexed to men’s acts, staying or suspending the same, and making them uncertain, whether they shall take effect or not. And thus condition is opposed to absolute.
Petto specifically argues against Baxter’s pepper corn analogy:
We claim Salvation not in the right of any act of ours, not upon the Rent of Faith (as men hold Tenements by the payment of a Penny, a Rose, or such like) no such thing here; all is paid to the utmost Farthing by our Surety, and we hold and claim upon the obedience of Jesus Christ alone.
John Owen, a fellow Congregationalist, wrote the foreword to Petto’s book wherein he says it is the best thing that had yet been written on the difference between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. That’s quite a bold statement, given the vast amount that had been written by orthodox theologians that century. It informs us of the fact that covenant theology was still a matter of development and progress, rather than a settled doctrine. Owen states his agreement with Petto’s rejection of Westminster’s formulation that all post-fall covenants are the covenant of grace and says the Old Covenant was one that mixed the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace so-as to reveal how the “first Covenant was through the Law conferred upon Christ, and in him fulfilled and ended.”
Owen’s The Doctrine of Justification was published 3 years later (1677). His excellent treatment of the subject rests upon his argument that the Covenant of Works was fulfilled in Christ as our surety. This is precisely what Baxter argued against. Owen addresses Baxter’s arguments throughout the work. In particular, Owen quotes from his yet unpublished exposition of Hebrews 7:22 to explain his view of Christ as surety and how it relates to the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace. That exposition was published 3 years later (1680) wherein Owen strongly argued that the New Covenant is unconditional.
[I]n the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises…
It is evident that there can be no condition previously required, unto our entering into or participation of the benefits of this covenant, antecedent unto the making of it with us. For none think there are any such with respect unto its original constitution; nor can there be so in respect of its making with us, or our entering into it… It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant.
Owen finally states his opinion in words very similar to Crisp.
It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part. For whatever is antecedent thereunto, being only a work or act of corrupted nature, can be no condition whereon the dispensation of spiritual grace is superadded. And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.
Unto a full and complete interest in all the promises of the covenant, faith on our part, from which evangelical repentance is inseparable, is required. But whereas these also are wrought in us by virtue of that promise and grace of the covenant which are absolute, it is a mere strife about words to contend whether they may be called conditions or no. Let it be granted on the one hand, that we cannot have an actual participation of the relative grace of this covenant in adoption and justification, without faith or believing; and on the other, that this faith is wrought in us, given unto us, bestowed upon us, by that grace of the covenant which depends on no condition in us as unto its discriminating administration, and I shall not concern myself what men will call it.
The covenant of grace, as reduced into the form of a testament, confirmed by the blood of Christ, doth not depend on any condition or qualification in our persons, but on a free grant and donation of God; and so do all the good things prepared in it.
Do this and live
A central aspect of the debate was the meaning of “Do this and live,” which is a paraphrase of Leviticus 18:5. Paul, quoting Lev 18:5, contrasts this principle with faith in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12, both of which are proof texts in WCF 7.2 for the covenant of works. Interestingly, Leviticus 18:5 is not a proof text (Patrick Ramsey explains). The dilemma for the WCF is how the Mosaic Covenant can be the Covenant of Grace (WCF 7.5-6) while Leviticus 18:5 remains a condition of it. This tension was not resolved at the time the WCF was written, hence Owen’s statement that Petto’s book was the best treatment of the Covenant of Works that had yet been written, because he resolved the tension (by rejecting Westminster’s view of the Old and New Covenants).
Sect 6 But it is a great doubt with many whether the obtainment of this glory [eternal rest] may be our end; nay, concluded that it is mercenary; yea that to make salvation the end of duty is to be a legalist and act under a covenant of works whose tenour is ‘Do this and live.’…
2. It is not a note of a legalist neither: it hath been the ground of a multitude of late mistakes in divinity, to think that ‘Do this and live,’ is only the language of the covenant of works. It is true, in some sense it is; but in other, not. The law of works only saith, “Do this,” that is, perfectly fulfil the whole law, “and live,” that is, for so doing: but the law of grace saith, “Do this and live” too; that is, believe in Christ, seek him, obey him sincerely, as they Lord and King; forsake all, suffer all things, and overcome; and by so doing, or in so doing, as the conditions which the Gospel propounds for salvation, you shall live…
how unsavoury soever the phrase may seem, you may, so far as this comes to, trust to your duty and works
In contrast, in The Doctrine of Justification, Owen says
We can never state our thoughts aright in this matter, unless we have a clear apprehension of, and satisfaction in, the introduction of grace by Jesus Christ into the whole of our relation unto God, with its respect unto all parts of our obedience. There was no such thing, nothing of that nature or kind, in the first constitution of that relation and obedience by the law of our creation. We were made in a state of immediate relation unto God in our own persons, as our creator, preserver, and rewarder. There was no mystery of grace in the covenant of works. No more was required unto the consummation of that state but what was given us in our creation, enabling us unto rewardable obedience. “Do this, and live,” was the sole rule of our relation unto God. (70)
though the law is principally established in and by the obedience and sufferings of Christ, Romans 8:3,4; 10:3,4, yet is it not, by the doctrine of faith and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ unto the justification of life, made void as unto believers. Neither of these does exempt them from that obligation unto universal obedience which is prescribed in the law. They are still obliged by virtue thereof to “love the LORD their God with all their hearts, and their neighbors as themselves”. They are, indeed, freed from the law, and all its commands unto duty as it abides in its first considerations “Do this, and live”; the opposite whereunto is, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the law to do them.” For he that is under the obligation of the law, in order unto justification and life, falls inevitably under the curse of it upon the supposition of any one transgression. But we are made free to give obedience unto it on gospel motives, and for gospel ends; as the apostle declares at large, chap. 6. (483)
In his exposition of Hebrews 8, Owen again notes
God had before given the covenant of works, or perfect obedience, unto all mankind, in the law of creation. But this covenant at Sinai did not abrogate or disannul that covenant, nor any way fulfill it… It revived the promise of that covenant, —that of eternal life upon perfect obedience. So the apostle tells us that Moses thus describeth the righteousness of the law, “That the man which doeth those things shall live by them,” Romans 10:5; as he doth, Leviticus 18:5. Now this is no other but the covenant of works revived. Nor had this covenant of Sinai any promise of eternal life annexed unto it, as such, but only the promise inseparable from the covenant of works which it revived, saying, “Do this, and live.”
The old covenant, in the preceptive part of it, renewed the commands of the covenant of works, and that on their original terms. Sin it forbade, — that is, all and every sin, in matter and manner, — on the pain of death; and gave the promise of life unto perfect, sinless obedience only: whence the decalogue itself, which is a transcript of the law of works, is called “the covenant,” Exodus 34:28. And besides this, as we observed before, it had other precepts innumerable, accommodated unto the present condition of the people, and imposed on them with rigor. But in the new covenant, the very first thing that is proposed, is the accomplishment and establishment of the covenant of works, both as unto its commands and sanction, in the obedience and suffering of the mediator. Hereon the commands of it, as unto the obedience of the covenanters, are not grievous; the yoke of Christ being easy, and his burden light.
Round 2: Presbyterians vs Congregationalists
By 1664 Baxter considered his fight against Antinomianism complete, stating that this “Sect” was extinct. Thus he was shocked near the end of his life when Tobias Crispe’s works were re-published in 1690 (by his son Samuel), noting “But I see the corrupting Design is of late, grown so high, that what seemed these Thirty Four Years suppressed, now threatneth as a torrent to overthrow the Gospel.” However, things were quite different this time around.
In round 2, the debate had come to be represented by Presbyterians on one side and the Congregationalists (Independents) on the other side. Following the Act of Toleration, the two had formed a Happy Union to work together in various ways, but the resurgence of the Antinomian problem split the groups.
Presbyterian pastor Robert Traill, who was in the minority in siding with the Congregationalists, explains what had happened in the intervening years:
You know, that not many months ago there was fair-like appearance of unity betwixt the two most considerable parties on that side; and their differences having been rather in practice than principle, about church-order and communion, seemed easily reconcilable, where a spirit of love, and of a sound mind, was at work. But how short was the calm! For quickly arose a greater storm from another quarter; and a quarrel began upon higher points, even on no less than the doctrine of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and the justification of a sinner by faith alone. Some think, that the re-printing of Dr. Crisp’s book gave the first rise to it. But we must look farther back for its true spring. It is well known, but little considered, what a great progress Arminianism had made in this nation before the beginning of the civil war. And surely it hath lost little since it ended. What can be the reason why the very parliaments in the reign of James I. and Charles I. were so alarmed with Arminianism, as may be read in history, and is remembered by old men; and that now for a long time there hath been no talk, no fear of it; as if Arminianism were dead and buried, and no man knows where its grave is? Is not the true reason to be found in its universal prevailing in the nation?
But that which concerneth our case, is, that the middle way betwixt the Arminians and the Orthodox, had been espoused, and strenuously defended and promoted by some Nonconformists, of great note for piety and parts
In short, Baxter’s view, explicitly drawing from Arminian views of the atonement, had gained dominance. James Renihan, referencing the work of C.F. Allison, notes
Baxter must be viewed as the logical culmination of a process, gaining momentum in the 1640s and led by several highly significant Church of England authors, who moved away from a doctrine of justification based on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as its formal cause, to one incorporating human works. The broader context of theological ferment indicates that Baxter was hardly an anomaly – he was in fact part of a growing movement.
Elaborating on this theological shift, referring to it as the “new divinity,” Traill notes:
If we say that faith in Jesus Christ is neither work, nor condition, nor qualification, in justification, but is a mere instrument, receiving (as an empty hand receiveth the freely given alms) the righteousness of Christ; and that, in its very act, it is a renouncing of all things but the gift of grace: the fire is kindled. So that it is come to that, as Mr. Christopher Fowler said, “that he that will not be Antichristian must be called an Antinomian.” Is there a minister in London who did not preach, some twenty, some thirty years ago, according to their standing, that same doctrine now by some called Antinomian? Let not Dr. Crisp’s book be looked upon as the standard of our doctrine. There are many good things in it, and also many expressions in it that we generally dislike. It is true that Mr. Burgess and Mr. Rutherford wrote against Antinomianism, and against some that were both Antinomians and Arminians. And it is no less true that they wrote against the Arminians, and did hate the new scheme of divinity, so much now contended for, and to which we owe all our present contentions. I am persuaded, that if these godly and sound divines were on the present stage, they would be as ready to draw their pens against two books lately printed against Dr. Crisp, as ever they were ready to write against the doctor’s book. Truth is to be defended by truth; but error is often and unhappily opposed by error under truth’s name.
Traill notes that the issue is not about Crisp’s writings per se. They disagreed with him on many points. The issue was the doctrine of justification by faith alone and its relation to the covenant of grace. In this regard, Benjamin Keach said “‘Tis a hard case that any of those who maintain the old doctrine of justification should be branded with the black name of Antinomians. As for my part, if Dr. Crisp be not misrepresented by his opposers, I’m not of him in several respects, but I had rather erre on their side, who strive to exalt wholly the Free Grace of God, than on theirs, who seek to darken it and magnifie the Power of the Creature.” Arnold notes that “Other theologians who were branded as Crispians included the Particular Baptists Hanserd Knollys (1599?-1691) and Thomas Edwards (d. 1699).” Note that John Gill was a successor to Keach’s pastorate when he re-published Crisp’s sermons in 1791.
Traill continues the emphasis on the unconditional covenant of grace:
But, on the other hand, we glory in any name of reproach (as the honourable reproach of Christ) that is cast upon us for asserting the absolute boundless freedom of the grace of God, which excludes all merit, and everything like it; the absoluteness of the covenant of grace, (for the covenant of redemption was plainly and strictly a conditional one, and the noblest of all conditions was in it. The Son of God’s taking on him man’s nature, and offering it in sacrifice, was the strict condition of all the glory and reward promised to Christ and his seed, Isaiah 53:10, 11), wherein all things are freely promised, and that faith that is required for sealing a man’s interest in the covenant is promised in it, and wrought by the grace of it (Eph. 2:8).
Isaac Chauncy, a successor to Owen’s pastorate, was the primary proponent of the Congregationalists:
[faith and repentance] belong to the promise … and therefore are no Conditions; they are benefits … And therefore Pardon is not promised to Faith and Repentance, as things distinct from the Promise; but Pardon is promised together with Faith and Repentance to the Sinner.
What is worth noting is that by this time, Antinomianism had become readily equated with justification by faith alone while the Neonomians readily owned justification by faith and works. David Williams, the leading Presbyterian proponent arguing against the Congregationalists, notes that “the Debate is about the Instrument of Donation” and says:
Obj. But sure there is a vast difference be∣tween those who think we are justified by Faith only, and those who think we are justified by Works as well as by Faith.
Answ. 1. Not so very great; when both mean that we are justified neither by Faith nor Works, as the word justified is commonly taken: for both agree that we are absolved, accepted as righteous, and entitled to eternal Life only for Christ’s Death and Obedience, as the only meriting, satisfactory and atoning Righteousness.
Witsius the Mediator
D. Patrick Ramsey explains how the two groups called upon Witsius to mediate between them in an effort to resolve the issue. Witsius criticizes various points from each side and then attempts to emphasize their common ground. Worth noting, however, are his comments on the principle of “Do this and live.”
At first, Witsius seems to agree with the Congregationalists, to a degree.
The law of works is that which demands works to be done by man himself, as the condition of life, or the cause of claiming the reward: the tenor of which is this, The man who doeth these things shall live in them, Rom. 10:5. Such a law was given to Adam of old, who, if he had persevered in his integrity, would have obtained a right to eternal life by his works of righteousness.
The same doctrine Moses repeated in his ministry. For he also inculcated the same precepts upon which the covenant of works had been built: he both repeated the same solemn saying, He who doeth these things shall live in them, Lev 18:5 and also added another, Cursed be he who shall not perform the words of this law in doing them, Deut 27:26. That this is the curse of the law, as it stands opposed to the covenant of grace, Paul teacheth, Gal 3:10, which, however, is not so to be understood, as if God had intended, by the ministry of Moses, to make a new covenant of works with Israel, with a view to obtain righteousness and salvation by such a covenant. But that repetition of the covenant of works was designed to convince the Israelites of their sin and misery, to drive them out of themselves, to teach them the necessity of satisfaction, and to compel them to cleave to Christ: and thus it was subservient to the covenant of grace, Rom 10:4.
However, his words have to be carefully understood. He did not agree with the Congregationalists that the Mosaic Covenant itself operated upon a works principle. Instead, he said Leviticus 18:5 was a proclamation of the law of works separate from the Mosaic Covenant, intended to convict Israelites of their sin and drive them to Christ. The Mosaic Covenant itself, according to Witsius, operated upon the principle of faith, or rather, sincere obedience flowing from faith. Witsius did not believe it was formally the Covenant of Works (because it required sincere, not perfect obedience) or the Covenant of Grace (because it did not provide the work of the Spirit to produce the sincere obedience it required).
What was it then? It was a national covenant between God and Israel, whereby Israel promised to God a sincere obedience to all his precepts, especially to the ten words; God, on the other hand, promised to Israel, that such an observance would be acceptable to him, nor want its reward, both in this life, and in that which is to come, both as to soul and body. This reciprocal promise supposed a covenant of grace. For, without the assistance of the covenant Of grace, man cannot sincerely promise that observance; and yet that an imperfect observance should be acceptable to God is wholly owing to the covenant of grace, It also supposed the doctrine of the covenant of works, the terror or which being increased by those tremendous signs that attended it, they ought to have been excited to embrace that covenant of God. This agreement therefore is a consequent both of the covenant of grace and of works; but was formally neither the one nor the other. A like agreement and renewal of the covenant between God and the pious is frequent; both national and individual. Of the former see Josh. xxiv. 22. 2 Chron. xv. 12. 2 Kings xxiii. 3. Neh. x. 29. Of the latter, Psal. cxix. 106. It is certain, that in the passages we have named, mention is made of some covenant between God and his people. If any should ask me, of what kind, whether of works or of grace? I shall answer, it is formally neither: but a covenant of sincere piety, which supposes both.
Commenting on this two centuries later, A. W. Pink notes
Herman Witsius took the view that the Sinaitic compact was neither, formally, the covenant of grace nor the covenant of works, but a national covenant which presupposed them both, and that it promised “not only temporal blessings . . . but also spiritual and eternal.” So far so good. But when he states (bk. 4, sec. 4, par. 43-45) that the condition of this covenant was “a sincere, though not, in every respect, a perfect obedience of His commands,” we certainly cannot agree. Witsius held that the Sinaitic covenant differed from the covenant of works—which made no provision or allowance for the acceptance of a sincere though imperfect obedience; and that it differed from the covenant of grace, since it contained no promises of strength to enable Israel to render that obedience. Though plausible, his position is not only erroneous but highly dangerous. God never promised eternal life to men on the condition of an imperfect but sincere obedience—that would overthrow the whole argument of Romans and Galatians.
-The Divine Covenants
While Witsius does not agree with Baxter on numerous points, including his view of justification by faith and works, his view of the Mosaic Covenant certainly sounds very similar to Baxter’s view of the New Covenant. With this in mind, Witsius seeks to address “the utility of holiness.”
We must accurately distinguish between a right to life, and the possession of life. The former must so be assigned to the obedience of Christ, that all the value of our holiness may be entirely excluded. But certainly our works, or rather these, which the Spirit of Christ worketh in us, and by us, contribute something to the latter…
Neither because Christ is the way to life, is the practice of Christian piety therefore not the way to life. Christ is the way to life, because he purchased us a right to life. The practice of Christian piety is the way to life, because thereby we go to the possession of the right obtained by Christ…
In fine, it is not inconsistent to do something from this principle, because we live, and to the end, that we may live. No man eats indeed but he lives, but he also eats that he may live. We both can and ought to act in a holy manner, because we are quickened by the Spirit of God. But we must also act in the same manner, that that life may be preserved in us, may increase, and at last terminate in an uninterrupted and eternal life. Moses said excellently of old, Deut 30: 19,20 “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that i have set life and death before you: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, in loving the Lord they God, obeying his voice, and cleaving unto him, for he is they life.” Deut 8:1 “Observe to do, that ye may live.” And 30:6 “The Lord they God will circumcise thine heart to love the Lord thy God, that thou mayest live.” Truly these speeches are not legal, but evangelical.
First, despite Witsius’ claim, it is inconsistent to say that Christ has purchased our life and that we have to work for it. Second, notice that Witsius seeks to prove this point by quoting from the Mosaic Covenant. Now, ask yourself, what is the difference between “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live” (Deut 8:1), and “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them” (Lev 18:5)? There is no difference. It’s stating the same thing. But Witsius says one is referring to the covenant of works and is thus a “legal” statement of the principle while the other refers to the gospel and is therefore an “evangelical” statement of the same principle.
The problem is that it’s the exact same principle. Witsius confused the role of our works in possessing eternal life because he confused the Mosaic Covenant principle of works. Because of this, Witsius is in agreement with what Baxter says about “Do this and live.”
Certainly many different reasons could be given for the abandonment of the gospel during this time, but a glaring question is why the debate became divided along denominational lines. What on earth does hierarchy in church government have to do with justification by faith alone?
5 members of the Westminster Assembly were Congregationalists (the Five Dissenting Brethren). They wrote An Apologetical Narration in which they said “we do professedly judge the Calvinian Reformed Churches of the first reformation from out of Popery, to stand in need of a further reformation themselves. And it may without prejudice to them, or the imputation of Schism in us from them, be thought, that they coming new out of Popery (as well as England) and the founders of that reformation not having Apostolic infallibility, might not be fully perfect the first day.” In other words, Presbyterians still had to shake off Rome’s influence.
During the Assembly debate, they argued that we cannot look to Israel and the Old Covenant as a foundation for church government because in the Old Covenant there was a mixture of church and state. If we follow the New Testament pattern, we see churches organized by voluntary congregations of visible saints called out of the world. The Presbyterians pointed out that if the Jewish model of the church is given up, paedobaptism goes with it. But the Congregationalists did not budge.
In light of this, the Westminster Confession holds that the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are the same covenant (the covenant of grace). Therefore Westminster interpreted the Mosaic law as graciously given as a rule of righteousness, and not as a covenant of works (19.1-2). Thus Lev 18:5 was interpreted as consistent with a gospel command.
Congregationalists, on the other hand, not holding to the same commitment on the Old Covenant, removed “as such” in 19.2, thus opening the door to allow the Mosaic law to have been given as a covenant of works – which is precisely the view articulated in Petto, Owen, and others. Therefore Lev 18:5 could be properly understood as enunciating the works principle of the Covenant of Works, not as a gospel command.
Furthermore, because the Congregationalists were not committed to Westminster’s view of the Old and New Covenant as the same covenant, they were free to contrast the question of conditionality between the two covenants, which is precisely what Petto and Owen did. In whatever way Westminster theologians might say the covenant of grace was unconditional, that had to be qualified with the fact that it was also conditional and had covenant breakers, according to the Old Covenant. Congregationalists had no such restraint, and thus they strongly proclaimed the unbreakable nature of the absolute, unconditional promises made to every member of the New Covenant.
Owen recognized this was a point of departure from Westminster and the reformed, which is why he says in his exposition of Hebrews 8 that he sides with the Lutherans on the question of the Old Covenant and rejects the opinion of the reformed divines. Yes, those same Lutherans that some reformed men mock for their emphasis on the law/gospel antithesis. Robert Traill noted:
Let us carefully keep the bounds clear betwixt the law and gospel, which, “whosoever doth, is a right perfect divine,” saith blessed Luther, in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians,—a book that hath more plain sound gospel than many volumes of some other divines. Let us keep the law as far from the business of justification as we would keep condemnation, its contrary; for the law and condemnation are inseparable, but by the intervention of Jesus Christ our surety (Gal. 3:10-14).
In this regard, it is disappointing to see historians unwilling to acknowledge the real differences between Presbyterian and Congregational covenant theology. In a foreword to Petto’s book, Mark Jones does his best to obliterate the very point of Petto’s book:
The history of Reformed covenant theology has not always been well understood. Richard Greaves refers to Petto, as well as Owen, Goodwin, and Ussher, as “strict Calvinists” who belong to one of three different groups in the covenant tradition. Greaves mistakenly posits a tension between the Calvin-Perkins-Ames tradition, which supposedly distinguished itself by promulgating an unconditional character to the covenant of grace, and the Zwingli-Bullinger-Tyndale tradition, which is characterized by the conditional nature of the covenant of grace. Graves is wrong to place these two groups in tension with one another. The truth is that both ‘groups’ understood the covenant of grace as having conditions; namely, faith and obedience. However, because the faith and obedience that is required in the covenant of grace is the “gift of God” it may also be said that the covenant of grace is some sense unconditional. These nuances have often been missing in the twentieth-century historiography.
It’s worth reading material from Jones very carefully (don’t take his word for it).
(Note: Read Baxter’s comments about the Savoy Declaration’s additions to 11.1, which further strengthened justification by faith alone)
Long story short, do not try to understand debate over justification and the place of our good works apart from understanding the underlying covenant theology. First, find out what a person believes about the Covenant of Works (many “reformed” today deny its substance). Second, find out how they interpret Leviticus 18:5 and Paul’s use of it in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12 (as well as all the echoes of it throughout the OT). Those two things will clear away just about all of the debate & confusion. Find out where you stand on those and you will find out where you stand on the role of good works.
With this in mind, it is no surprise that debate amongst Presbyterians today regarding the abandonment of justification by faith alone is focusing in on debate over the interpretation of Leviticus 18:5. The OPC is currently debating in the General Assembly whether Meredith Kline’s interpretation of the Mosaic Covenant as a Covenant of Works is consistent with the Confession’s view that it is the Covenant of Grace (hint: it’s not).
Furthermore, recognize that “the Puritans” are a mixed bag. They do not represent a uniform view, even on the gospel itself. Neither is there a uniform testimony from theologians of the reformed tradition on every point. Some (like the Congregationalists discussed here) worked out the implications of justification by faith alone more consistently and systematically than others who were stunted by their view of the Mosaic Covenant. So don’t rest content with a quote from a reformed theologian. Instead, seek to understand the place of that quote in the covenant structure of the person quoted, and then ask yourself if that position is consistent with what you believe the bible teaches.
And as baptists read books like Jones’ Antinomianism, they need to consider where their particular baptist (congregational) forefathers stood on the issue. As we saw above, Keach said he would side with Crispe and the “Antinomians.” In the intro to his The Covenant of Peace Opened, he notes “By the Baxterian Party I expect to be called an Antinomian, for that hath been their Artifice of late, to expose the True Ancient Protestant Doctrine about Justification.” Two first generation particular baptists, William Kiffin and Samuel Richardson, were in even stronger agreement with Crispe. Do your due diligence before coming to a conclusion.
- Do This and Live and “Do This and Live” – A Follow-Up are two succinct must-read posts from the Meet the Puritans website that provide a clear explanation of Westminster’s view
- Not By Faith Alone: The Neonomianism of Richard Baxter Michael Brown
- MEET ME IN THE MIDDLE: HERMAN WITSIUS AND THE ENGLISH DISSENTERS D. Patrick Ramsey
- The British Antinomian Controversies Jonathan W. Arnold
- Declaration of the Congregational Ministers in and about London against Antinomian Errors (1699) (distancing themselves from errors related to Crisp)
- AN End to Discord; Wherein is demonstrated That no Doctrinal Controversy remains between the PRESBYTERIAN AND CONGREGATIONAL Ministers, fit to justify longer Divisions (1699, pro Baxterian) Daniel Williams
- A VINDICATION OF THE PROTESTANT DOCTRINE CONCERNING JUSTIFICATION, AND OF ITS PREACHERS AND PROFESSORS, FROM THE UNJUST CHARGE OF ANTINOMIANISM. Robert Traill
- James Renihan on Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification [Audio & Video]
- Packer on Baxter James Renihan
- Keach Contra Baxter [Austin R. Walker]
- The Particular Baptist response to the Federal Vision (i.e., Richard Baxter)
- Owen vs. Baxter on Active and Passive Obedience in Justification
- Why is Denying Justification such a Serious Error? Tom Hicks, Jr.
- Guy Waters on Leviticus 18:5
- Do and Live or Live and Do? (modern defense of this error – note his reference to Baxter) D. Patrick Ramsey