Re: Reformed Forum on Jer 31, Typology, Owen, Subservient

A couple of months ago Reformed Forum released an episode of Christ the Center titled John Owen, Jeremiah 31, and the Relationship between the Old and New Covenants featuring a conversation with Camden Bucey, R. Carlton Wynne, and Will Wood.

I appreciate Reformed Forum’s precision in their episodes, including this one. I also appreciate Wynne’s attitude and that he has clearly read at least one book from Renihan, and has carefully considered Owen, not assuming Owen agrees with him and the WCF. Here are some thoughts I have (as usual, please forgive the length; it’s necessary).

Regeneration is New

Initially, I was thankful Wynne recognized that the comparison between the Old and New Covenants in Jer. 31/Heb. 8 is not exclusively about a difference in ceremonies. Rather, what is new in the New Covenant is regeneration, reconciliation, and the satisfaction of sin.

[W]hat exactly is new?…The Lord lists a number of promises… Number two, regeneration. Whereas the Old Covenant law was written on tablets of stone, God promises that he’s going to write his law on the hearts of his people. Calvin says this. He says the New Covenant penetrates into the heart and reforms all the inward faculties so that obedience is rendered to the righteousness of God.

I interpreted that to mean regeneration was a new promise in the New Covenant, something not promised in the Old Covenant. This was further re-enforced when Wynne said

[W]e have to recognize that…many of these blessings were present for the believing people in the Old Testament. And this, I think, is the point at which things get a little more complicated because we can’t act as though all of these New Covenant blessings were wholly absent from the people of God prior to the coming of Christ.

Thus I understood Wynne to be asking how regeneration, a blessing unique to the New Covenant, was received by Old Testament saints. I therefore prepared a reply explaining why the Old and the New Covenant would therefore be different in substance (since regeneration is not an accident/non-essential part of the covenant of grace). However, I asked Wynne to review my reply and he said I had misunderstood him. He does not believe that regeneration is unique to the New Covenant. Regeneration was also a promised blessing of the Old Covenant.

Wynne clarified that what is new about the New Covenant is that redemption has now been accomplished by Christ. Thus regeneration, an ordo salutis blessing of both the Old and the New Covenants, has now been secured in the historia salutis work of Christ. Thus Wynne concluded in the podcast:

We’ve already said that through sacramental forms of the Old Testament, these New Covenant blessings were revealed and communicated to the faith of the Old Testament Jew. So what’s going on here [in Jeremiah 31]? I remember catching Dr. Gaffin after a worship service very quickly asking him about this text, and he’s just like over his shoulder. He goes, “It’s a lot to say here, but I think Jeremiah is articulating a historia transition in ordo terms.”  And I walked away and was like, that is so helpful. What God is describing here is a redemptive historical transition promising the arrival of the one who would secure all of these blessings. The unprecedented securing in time and space through the blood of Christ of all of these blessings. But he’s describing it in terms of the blessings themselves. Blessings that were applied prior to the coming of Christ, blessings that are applied after the coming of Christ but blessings that are secured by the once for all coming of Christ.

Gaffin made the same comment on episode 223. I understand and affirm the distinction between historia salutis and ordo salutis, but “articulating a historia transition in ordo terms” doesn’t make sense to me. Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews were perfectly capable of articulating a historia transition in historia terms. They could have said that the blessings common to the Old and New Covenant would finally be secured by the Messiah. Instead they said that the New was not like the Old specifically on the ordo level.

Note that above Wynne compared the law written on the heart with the law written on stone and said that was the comparison Jeremiah was making. That is not the same thing as claiming that Jeremiah is comparing regeneration received prior to being legally secured in the death of Christ with regeneration received after being legally secured in the death of Christ. Those are two different interpretations of the meaning of the verse. In my opinion, one is derived from reading the text (he said he was getting his list from Phil Ryken’s commentary), the other is an attempt to reconcile the text with one’s view of the covenants – a reconciliation that may at first sound profound, but upon further inspection is found greatly wanting.

In my opinion, “[A]rticulating a historia transition in ordo terms” is not so much an explanation of the passage as a dismissal of it. Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews are no doubt referring to a historia transition (Heb 8:1, 6, 13, etc) but it is a historia transition that brings with it new ordo benefits. The Old Covenant was faulty (v7) in that it did not provide the things necessary for eternal salvation. In order to avoid the same situation Israel found itself in (under the wrath of a broken covenant), the New Covenant will provide regeneration as well as reconciliation via the eternal forgiveness of sins. These things the Old Covenant did not provide. That is a straightforward reading of the passage and if one’s systematic theology leads one to the conclusion that the Old Covenant did provide those things, then I believe one has made a mistake in their deductive syllogisms somewhere and need to go back to the drawing board (I appreciate how difficult the process of reconciling exegesis of individual passages with exegesis of the rest of Scripture can be).

Vos’ Triangle

In several episodes Bucey has used Vos’ typology triangle to try to answer the question of how OT saints could be saved prior to Christ’s incarnation. This can get extremely confusing. Vos’ main point is to explain why the original Greek in the Epistle to the Hebrews calls the earthly tabernacle an anti-type (9:24). I try to explain the meaning of the triangle in this video. The basic point is that the language of type and anti-type is relative. Something can be either a type or an anti-type depending on context and what it is being compared to. In Vos’ triangle, “A” is the heavenly realities that exist in light of the Covenant of Redemption, including a heavenly sanctuary. Thus in Moses’ day, prior to Christ’s incarnation, God could show Moses this heavenly reality as a pattern for the earthly tabernacle. In this sense, “A” is the archetype (pattern) from which the earthly sanctuary “B” is created (anti-type). Considered from a different perspective, the blood of the Old Covenant lamb was a type (pattern, preliminary sketch) of Christ’s future sacrifice (anti-type). Because the Covenant of Redemption contains the plan of salvation, the plan for Christ to take on human form and offer himself as a sacrifice, it can be the conceptual background (pattern, sketch) for the earthly sanctuary in Jerusalem. However, this is only an anticipation of the Covenant of Redemption’s actual fulfillment in Christ’s death and his offering himself in the heavenly sanctuary.

Now, in answering the question of how Old Testament saints could receive the benefits of the New Covenant, Bucey has repeatedly (in this and other episodes) appealed to this triangle. I thought Bucey was trying to make some kind of argument regarding time: Christ doesn’t die until later (“C”), so OT saints can’t receive his benefits through “C”. Instead they receive his benefits through “A” where Christ has somehow already died. I previously objected because that doesn’t solve anything regarding time and somehow magically makes Christ already slain in heaven before becoming incarnate. However, that does not appear to be Bucey’s primary point. In this episode Bucey said

We have great similarity and join hands with Reformed Baptist on that subject – that what saves is the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only name given under heaven by which men may be saved no matter when you live, whether before he was incarnate, lived, died and was raised again or after. And it’s not any more difficult for the Lord and by the Spirit to save us whether we live before him or after him, because we have to be united to somebody who isn’t physically present on Earth at the time. To God, what’s the difference if it’s before he accomplishes his work or after? So we’re on the same page. But then how?

So it might not be an argument about “A” vs “C.” Instead it is an argument about how one is connected to “C” (the resurrected Christ, the fulfilled Covenant of Redemption, the benefits of redemption – although, confusingly, in Christ the Center episode 186 Tipton says that “the redemptive reality in B and C is A” suggesting that the benefits of Christ come from A, not C). Interestingly, for Bucey, this presents a challenge both pre and post-incarnation. (I would love to have him elaborate because I don’t see why a lack of physical presence would create any kind of problem post-incarnation – but I suspect he feels the sacraments somehow solve this problem. More on this below.)

Bucey’s solution, following Kline, is that the Old Covenant order, established after the pattern of the Covenant of Redemption is realized eschatology wrapped in an earthly form. It is not simply an analogy or a picture that anticipates the new heavens and the new earth, it is the consummation brought back in time and established in Canaan. That is the significance of the triangle to Bucey. OT saints can receive the benefits of the New Covenant, they can be united to Christ, because the Old Covenant is (at its “core”) Christ. It is the fulfilled Covenant of Redemption “intruded” back in time (and covered in earthly types). Thus they can receive eternal forgiveness by faith through the blood of bulls and goats because Christ’s blood is the “core” of the blood of bulls and goats.

I disagree. I do not believe the Old Covenant sanctuary was realized eschatology. I believe it was only typological, only earthly, only anticipatory to and analogous of Christ’s atonement in the heavenly sanctuary. I think Vos’ triangle helpfully explains Heb 9:24, but I don’t think Heb 9:24 entails the idea that the Old Covenant shadow was actually realized eschatology. They may find the two ideas helpfully go hand-in-hand, but I don’t believe it is necessarily entailed. They would have to establish that from some other text.

Sacramental Salvation

In trying to answer the question of how OT saints are saved, they go straight to sacramentology. But is that how we answer how NT saints are saved? Do we go to the Lord’s Supper or baptism to explain how someone is saved? No, we go to the Word and explain that in the elect the Lord makes the general call effectual. This is referred to by Calvin as the “inherent efficacy of the Word” (2.10.7). Yet these brothers said nothing about this regarding OT saints and how they are saved. Can someone today be saved apart from the sacraments? Yes. Could someone in the OT be saved apart from the sacraments? Yes. Explain how and we have some common ground to start from on this issue.

The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word

WCF/2LBCF 14.1

Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.

2LBCF 10.1 (nearly identical to WCF)

The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners. (Genesis 3:15; Revelation 13:8)

2LBCF 20.1 (chapter 20 was added and is not in the WCF)

Genesis 3:15, the promise of a Messiah who will come to reverse the curse, is foundational to salvation in the Old Testament. It is the object of the saints’ faith. WCF/2LBCF 8.6 is frequently cited in debate over 1689 Federalism, but look what it says about the promise:

Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in… those promises… wherein he was revealed… to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head… being the same yesterday, and today and for ever.

Once again, explain how the promise of a future Messiah (propositional revelation) is sufficient to communicate (impart, convey, confer) the benefits of Christ to OT saints and we can begin to find common ground. Once we have this foundation we can then move on to talk about how typology relates.

Bare Resemblance Typology

The brothers on the podcast repeatedly disparaged what they called “bare resemblance” or “doppelgänger” typology, belittling the idea of NC grace being communicated to OT saints by means of typology as word pictures informing the “noetic prowess” of OT believers. But if we start with the proper foundation of effectual calling by the Word (see above), this should not be minimized and disparaged as somehow inadequate. It is not in any way deficient. The noetic effect of the propositional revelation of the gospel informing an individual such that he may, by the power of the Holy Spirit in the effectual call, understand and believe it is the primary means of salvation. Typological word pictures were simply a supplemental way of revealing the gospel. This does not make them deficient any more than it makes the Word deficient. Please carefully consider Vos’ comments in The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews regarding the noetic effect of types.

The Old Testament law is dispensed with because of its weakness and unprofitableness. Its weakness is not merely a matter of degree, for in reality it accomplished nothing, since it made nothing perfect and did not lead to the goal. This is further implied in the quotation from Jer. 31:31, quoted in Heb. 8:8-12. The fathers did not continue in the covenant made with them. But in the new Berith the law would be put in their minds and written in their hearts. And the further promise is added: “Their sins I will remember no more.” In both these respects, therefore, the Old Testament law is inefficacious. In verse 7 the author goes on to say that God found fault with the first covenant, for otherwise there would have been no place found for a second…

But how could a true religion exist under such a system at all? Several observations are in order. First, we may turn to the types of the Old Testament as something which should have led the people to something better. The author does not make much of this, however. The types were primarily for the people, but objectively they were for the mind of God. Nowhere in the Epistle has the author set himself really to solve the problem as stated above. Nor is it really solved in Paul’s epistles. Still there was a possibility of the significance of the sacrificial system entering into the subjective mind of the Old Testament believers, by the latter raising themselves to a higher state through the types. We see an indication of this possibility first at 10:3. In the Old Testament sacrifices there was a remembrance made of sin year by year. This was necessary, since it was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. This yearly practice was not intended merely for an objective purpose; it was a remembrance in the minds of the people. Because of this remembrance the Psalmist, in Psalm 40, was led to speak concerning sacrifices which would satisfy the will of God. It should be noted that it was the Psalmist who rose to this consciousness – an inspired writer, not an ordinary individual believer under the Old Testament. Still, he did write it, with the result that higher consciousness later became the common property of Old Testament believers. It was with the aid of revelation, therefore, that this higher consciousness was brought about.

Likewise Psalm 110 is quoted. Here we have the prophecy of a future Priest, after the order of Melchizedek. Thus there was the consciousness of a higher order of priesthood than the Levitical being possible, and there was the prophecy that at a future time such higher priesthood would become actual.

Psalm 95 is also quoted, which speaks of the rest of Canaan. This idea of rest is eschatological, looking forward to the true rest which is to come in the future. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews here again recognized, in one of the Old Testament Psalms, a certain higher consciousness on the part of the people of the Old Testament…

The Old Testament, however, had more than these mere symbols and ceremonies. It also contained direct promises, many of which were spiritual in content. And these promises were given repeatedly, form age to age. Therefore it was not necessary for the Old Testament believers to live exclusively on the basis of insight into the meaning of the types. Of these promises the author of Hebrews speaks much.


Disconnecting the New Covenant from Christ

Bucey suggested that to disagree with him on the nature of the Old Covenant puts one on the trajectory of theological liberalism denying the incarnation. Bucey argues that our position should lead to the following hypothetical position:

Well, the Old Covenant was just one way that some abstract Grace of Christ was applied, and the New Covenant is just the newer way by which this abstract grace or merit or being of Christ is applied… [T]hey both just kind of take some sort of abstract grace or benefit of Christ and just apply it in different ways… If the old Covenant just illustrated Christ, but it’s still Christ, they might want to flatten and say so also, the New Covenant merely illustrates Christ. And you do find similar issues where people will not want to say that the Lord’s Supper or baptism are a means of grace.

I may be mistaken, but I believe this relates back to Bucey’s previous comment that “we have to be united to somebody who isn’t physically present on Earth at the time.” It seems like Bucey is saying that we are united to Christ (in heaven) through the sacraments (on Earth) and that apart from the sacraments, Christ’s grace is just “abstract” and “disconnected.”

When I deny that Christ’s benefits are conveyed to OT believers “by virtue of these very forms [OT sacrifices] – not merely something that they trigger or something that they point to in a formal way” (Wynne) I am not saying that OT saints receive some abstract grace or merit. We believe that OT saints were united to Christ (who was to be incarnate) and that they received the benefits of Christ’s atonement by virtue of that union with Christ, not by virtue of the blood of bulls and goats. In that sense, it is not abstract grace. It is grace that comes through union with Christ. I simply deny that the blood of bulls and goats is that union (if Bucey wants to put it in those terms). The New Covenant itself is our marriage union with Christ and the OT saints receive the benefits of Christ, the benefits of Christ were communicated (imparted, conveyed, conferred) to them by virtue of that New Covenant union, which they possessed. Being a legal union, it is invisible, but it is not “abstract” or “disconnected” from the covenant.

Bucey suggests that our view would entail the disconnecting of Christ from the New Covenant. Presbyterians tend to view and speak of the New Covenant primarily in terms of “administration” (i.e. the “external Covenant of Grace”; see Bucey’s comment above about Lord’s Supper and baptism being the New Covenant) whereas we tend to view and speak of it primarily in terms of union with Christ (i.e. the “internal Covenant of Grace”). I believe this is no small part of often talking past each other (especially with Kline’s formulation of the CoR vs the CoG). So I hear him say our view entails that we must disconnect Christ from the New Covenant and I really scratch my head. We believe the New Covenant is union with Christ, so how does that entail disconnecting Christ from the New Covenant? But I think what Bucey means is that disconnecting Christ sacramentally from the blood of bulls and goats entails disconnecting Christ sacramentally from baptism and the Lord’s Supper – because he thinks of the New Covenant primarily in terms of administration. If we think that someone can be saved and receive the benefits of Christ apart from OT sacramental presence of Christ in the blood of bulls and goats, then we must also think that someone can be saved and receive the benefits of Christ apart from NT sacramental presence of Christ. To which I would say – it is the reformed teaching that sacraments are not necessary to salvation and receiving the benefits of Christ, and that the Word is the primary means, so that’s not really a point of disagreement. However, I think Bucey might be correct that disagreement on OT typology as sacrament entails disagreement over NT sacramentology, but I will leave it at that for now.

Bucey’s Conundrum

Bucey presented a great condundrum that he could not find a solution to: “What about the Jew who just says ‘Well now that I’m believing in that, I’m going to stop offering sacrifices altogether.’ What is the problem with the Jew that just decides to quit participating?” The answer is very simply that God commanded him to participate, so not participating would be sinning against God. Additionally, on our view the sacrifices served a purpose within the Old Covenant (typological atonement in a typological holy land) distinct from their purpose as a type pointing to Christ and that purpose continued as long as the Old Covenant continued. I fail to see how this is a grand conundrum.

Typological Covenant of Works

Wynne asks If Israel was under a covenant of works, how could they have survived one second, let alone entered the land?

First, because it was undergirded by the Covenant of Circumcision (God’s promise to give them the land), which was the basis of God’s longsuffering towards them when they broke the covenant (Exod 32:10, 13, 14; Num 14:20; Deut 9:5-8, 13-14, 19, 25, 27-28; 28:26; Jer 7:33; Ps 106:8, 23, 44-45). Note that they were only scattered (Israel) or exiled (Judah) after God fulfilled that promise. See my JIRBS article or this podcast series and Renihan’s The Mystery of Christ… p. 112-113 for an elaboration.

Second, Mosaic curse and blessing (entering and remaining in the land) was conditioned upon outward obedience to the letter of the law (though God still required full obedience from the heart under the terms of the Adamic Covenant of Works, which the unregenerate were also under). See also: Post-Fall Covenant of Works?

Third, this typological covenant of works included a sacrificial system that atoned for (at least some) of Israel’s violations of the covenant.

Our brothers pointed to Jeremiah 7 to argue this was an incorrect understanding of the Old Covenant because Jeremiah says the problem with Judah was specifically that they rested in the sacrifices to cover their iniquity, giving them license to sin.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.

20 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.”

21 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. 22 For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23 But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ 24 But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward…

30 “For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 31 And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

God chastised Judah for not rightly prioritizing obedience to the moral law above obedience to the ceremonial law (1 Sam 15:22). Note that the violations listed are disobedience to the letter of the law. But they did continue to offer sacrifices. Why weren’t those sacrifices enough to turn away God’s wrath for their disobedience? Our brothers would argue because they lacked saving faith in Christ. I am not convinced that is the case. There are (at least) two different ways of viewing this (from a subservient covenant view). (1) The sacrifices were not instituted to atone for presumptuous, high-handed sin, but only to atone for unintentional sin. This seems to be very much the case if you read the instructions concerning the sin offering and the guilt offering (Lev 4; Num 15:22-31). Thus Owen says (forgive the Hebrew words not copying correctly)

[I]t had respect unto all such sins as were not committed so eJkousi>wv, “willingly, wilfully, presumptuously,” as that there was no sacrifice appointed for them, the covenant being disannulled by them, Hebrews 10:26. And there is no sort of sins, no sin whatever, that is between this hg;g;v], this sin of “ignorance,” or error, and sin committed hm;r; dy;B], “with an high hand,” or presumptuously. See expressly, Numbers 15:27-31. Hence this taF;j, this “sin-offering,” was the great sacrifice of the solemn day of expiation, Leviticus 16, whereby atonement was made for all “the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins,” verse 16. And upon the head of the live goat, which was a part of the sin-offering on that day, there was confessed and laid “all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins,” verse 21; that is, all iniquities not disannulling the covenant, which had e]ndikon misqopodosi>an, a revenging recompense allotted unto them, Hebrews 2:2. And accordingly are those words to be interpreted where the cause of this sacrifice is expressed: Leviticus 4:2, “If a soul sin hg;g;v]bi,” — “by error, ignorance, imprudently,” — “against any of the commandments of the LORD, as it ought not to do, and shall do against any of them.” And in instance is given in him who killed his neighbor without prepense malice, Deuteronomy 19:4. Any sin is there intended whereinto men fall by error, ignorance, imprudence, incogitancy, temptation, violence of affections, and the like. For such was this sacrifice instituted. And the end which it typically represented is expressed, 1 John 2:1,2, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins,” — namely, in the room of and as represented by the sin-offering of old, whereby atonement and propitiation were typically made for sin. Only, there was this difference, that whereas the law of Moses was appointed to be the rule of the political government of the people, wherein many sins, such as adultery and murder, were to be punished with death, and the sinner cut off, there were in such cases no sacrifices appointed nor admitted; but in the sacrifice of Christ there is no exception made unto any sin in those that repent, believe, and forsake their sins, — not unto those in particular which were excepted in the law of Moses, Acts 13:39. So that as the sin-offering was provided for all sins that disannulled not the covenant made at Horeb, which allowed no life or interest unto murderers, adulterers, blasphemers, and the like, in the typical land; so the sacrifice of Christ is extended unto all sinners who transgress not the terms and tenor of the new covenant, for whom no place is allowed, either in the church here or in heaven hereafter.

Exercitation 24.37

In this view Judah fell under God’s wrath because they committed presumptuous sin that could not be atoned for. Note importantly that Owen views the Day of Atonement as being the same in kind as the sin and guilt offering, in this regard. Gill, however, does not.

and confess him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins; which takes in their sins, greater or lesser, sins of ignorance and presumption, known or not known x, even all sorts of and all of them: the form of confession used in after times was this y; O Lord, thy people, the house of Israel, have done perversely, have transgressed sinned berate thee, O Lord, expiate now the iniquities, transgressions, and sins, in which thy people, the house of Israel, have done perversely, transgressed, and sinned before thee, as it is written in the law of Moses thy servant (#Le 16:30;) and it is added, and the priests and people that stood in the court, when they heard the name Jehovah go out of the mouth of the high priest, they bowed, and worshipped, and fell upon their faces, and said, blessed be God, let the glory of his kingdom be for ever and ever:

x Vid. Maimon. Hilchot Teshnbah, c. 1. sect. 2.

y Misnah Yoma, c. 6. sect. 2.

Commentary on Lev 16:21

I certainly have more studying to do, but I am inclined to agree with Gill that the Day of Atonement offering was different from the regular sin and guilt offerings in that it did atone for presumptuous sins (there is no qualification in Lev 16).

(2) So then what was wrong with Judah? Why did the Day of Atonement not spare them from God’s wrath? Note verse 30 above: “For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it.” They setup idols inside the temple.

Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever. And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.” But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.

10 And the Lord said by his servants the prophets, 11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, 12 therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15 because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.”

2 Kings 21:1-15

Note Ezekiel 5:11 “Therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, surely, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations, therefore I will withdraw. My eye will not spare, and I will have no pity.”

Compare with the instructions in Leviticus 16 for the sin offering of the Day of Atonement.

16 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.

“Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.

11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. 14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

15 Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. 17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

23 “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. 26 And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. 27 And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. 28 And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.

29 “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. 32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. 33 He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Aaron did as the Lord commanded Moses.

Do you read anything in there about idols being setup in the sanctuary? The text is clear that the iniquities of the people could only be placed on the scapegoat once the Holy Place and sanctuary and altar was atoned for (cleansed from the people’s sin). They could not have been cleansed with idols in them. Thus Judah could not have achieved forgiveness on the Day of Atonement through any sacrifices. I don’t think this proves that saving faith in Christ was the condition of the Old Covenant.

Note quickly the alternative. Our OPC brothers argue that obedience to the commandments was tethered to tenure in the land, but that it is Spirit-wrought, faith-fueled obedience, the same in nature as what is required in the New Covenant. The problem here is that it makes Lev 18:5 a condition of the Covenant of Grace (note the reference to Lev 18:5 in the OPC version of WCF 19.6). For an elaboration, see


In all honesty, I am growing wearing of this particular discussion. I hope that this post does not further contribute to misunderstanding and talking past one another, but rather contributes to better understanding of where the precise point(s) of disagreement lay. I have much more I would like to study and comment on regarding sacramentology, but I’m afraid that I just don’t have time to do so. Please make sure to listen to lectures #2 and #3 here from Sam Renihan, as he elaborates more fully on the error of the Presbyterian argument from typology.

Re: Steffaniak’s “Reforming Credobaptism”

Volume 4, Issue 2 of the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies features an essay by Jordan L. Steffaniak titled Reforming Credobaptism: A Westminster Alternative for Reformed Baptist Identity. Steffaniak has a ThM from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is also a host of the London Lyceum podcast with the tagline “Analytic Baptist & Confessional Theology.”

Steffaniak aims to demonstrate that many Reformed Baptists, including those who hold to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, are not Reformed.

Abstract: This paper argues that there is a pathway for Baptists to confess the spirit of the Reformed faith and the heart of the Reformed covenantal understanding while maintaining their position on credobaptism. To defend this claim, this paper defines the spirit of the Reformed faith, which is the litmus test for the legitimacy of historical and contemporary “Reformed” Baptist belief. In doing so, it analyzes the most common Baptist failures in relation to the Reformed faith. Despite their significant failures, it is argued that there is a twofold pathway for Baptists to affirm Reformed theology and credobaptism simultaneously while remaining theologically coherent.

He develops three essential convictions of Reformed theology:

•(R1): Reformed theology confesses CT. It confesses the covenant of redemption and the historical covenants subsumed under the covenant of grace and works.

••(R1*): Reformed CT confesses one substance and two administrations of the covenant of grace.

••(R1**): Reformed CT confesses the Law of God as tripartite and the moral law as perpetually binding.

•(R2): Reformed theology confesses the two sacraments as the means of God’s objective grace.

•(R3): Reformed theology confesses a visible and invisible doctrine of the church and a regulated religious worship.

Therefore, to be Reformed, one must hold to all three points at minimum—these summarize the distinctively Reformed characteristics of the unified system. One can be Reformed if and only if he holds to these, along with the first order doctrines.

He is at pains to defend the idea that

There is a safe haven for Baptists by conviction who see Westminster as largely accurate and nearly all other Baptistic revisionist attempts as crude forms of dispensationalism in disguise. Therefore, affirming (R1), (R2), and (R3) does not require conversion to paedobaptism. There is a Westminster Baptist alternative.

The essay is particularly targeted at 1689 Federalism (“[I] will refer primarily to 1689 Federalists” 288). He says

The vast majority of contemporary Baptists are not Reformed if the three Reformed identity markers are accurate… There is growing popularity of the “1689 Federalism” reading of section 7 of the 1689 confession, which i[s] very likely historically correct. However, it is a wrong reading theologically and certainly not Reformed.

I recommend reading his essay in full before reading this response.


In my opinion, the essay suffers from an inadequate familiarity with the complexity of reformed covenant theology (there is no reference of Renihan’s From Shadow to Substance). Steffaniak’s understanding of R1 is insufficient, leading to self-contradiction. He also does not adequately understand 1689 Federalism (whether due to his own fault or the result of 1689 Federalists not adequately explaining the position). Likewise, his dismissal of 1689 Federalism’s understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction is much too casual.

Definition of Covenant Theology

Reformed theology… holds to the classical one substance and two administrations CT, rather than any revisionist version. The one substance and two administrations construction is the beating heart of Reformed CT.


The analysis on this point is inconsistent. The method of analysis appears to be “Whatever a paedobaptist says about covenant theology is consistent with ’the classical one substance and two administrations CT’ and is therefore within the bounds of ‘Reformed.’” However, that view, summarized in the WCF, excludes various paedobaptist covenant theologies, both modern and historic. It requires one to view the Old/Mosaic Covenant as the Covenant of Grace. Anyone who believes the Mosaic was “of works” rather than the covenant of grace does not hold to “the classical one substance and two administrations CT.”

[Jeffrey Johnson] says, “the fatal flaw of the theology behind infant baptism is this notion that the Mosaic Covenant is a manifestation of the covenant of grace.”35 But (R1*) need not deny the legal nature of the Mosaic Covenant.36 Moses is not Abraham. For example, Michael Horton argues that, “the new covenant is not a renewal of the old covenant made at Sinai, but an entirely different covenant with an entirely different basis.”37 The Baptist critique against Moses is a non-starter because the Reformed can agree and still affirm (R1*).

Note that all Steffaniak does is quote a paedobaptist to affirm his assertion that R1* allows for the view that the Mosaic was not the covenant of grace but was a different covenant with an entirely different basis. But that’s just begging the question. When Horton says that the Sinai covenant is entirely different from the New with an entirely different basis, he is saying that Sinai/Old and the New differ in substance. In other words he is rejecting the “classical one substance and two administrations CT.” Note Calvin

Now, as to the new covenant, it is not so called, because it is contrary to the first [old] covenant; for God is never inconsistent with himself, nor is he unlike himself, he then who once made a covenant with his chosen people, had not changed his purpose, as though he had forgotten his faithfulness. It then follows, that the first [old] covenant was inviolable; besides, he had already made his covenant with Abraham, and the Law was a confirmation of that covenant. As then the Law depended on that covenant which God made with his servant Abraham, it follows that God could never have made a new, that is, a contrary or a different covenant… God has never made any other covenant than that which he made formerly with Abraham, and at length confirmed by the hand of Moses. This subject might be more fully handled; but it is enough briefly to shew, that the covenant which God made at first is perpetual.

Commentary on Jeremiah 31:33

That is the “classical one substance and two administrations CT,” summarized in WCF 7.5-6. And it is contrary to Horton’s statement. Steffaniak says

William J. Van Asselt concurs with the necessity of one substance and two administrations by making the substantial claim that “all federal theologians agreed on the twofold administration of the covenant of grace.”14 The word “all” needs emphasis. The Reformed universally refuse deviance from the confessional position of one substance and two administrations. Therefore, to deny this essential meaning of CT is to depart from the course of Reformed theology.

That’s simply not the case, unless one wants to exclude men like Owen and Horton (which Steffaniak does not). The 2016 OPC Report on Republication demonstrates very clearly that Horton’s view is contrary to the WCF, and therefore contrary to Steffaniak’s definition of reformed covenant theology. Horton is merely articulating what was historically known as the subservient covenant view, which was self-consciously put forward as an alternative to WCF’s view. Renihan’s dissertation From Shadow to Substance unpacks the historical theology very well on this point. I did not see it referenced in the paper (Steffaniak clarified in a podcast interview that his paper was submitted prior to Renihan’s book being published). It’s essential reading on the topic. If the subservient covenant tradition (including men like Owen) is within the bounds of reformed covenant theology, then one must demonstrate why 1689 Federalism’s subservient covenant view is not.

Steffaniak says

While the details may vary, the core unity of the covenants cannot be surrendered. They are the same in substance, origin, and content, only differing in form.

Note that Horton’s view is directly contrary to this.

[T]he Reformed argue for a difference in clarity and form but not in objective benefit.18 The content of salvation is the same, the means of salvation is the same, and the benefits of salvation are the same. For example, none in the Old Testament lack the internal substance or gifting of the Holy Spirit. The covenantal structure of one covenant under two administrations is necessary for Reformed identity. Reformed CT requires the oneness of God’s covenants.

1689 Federalism affirms the content of salvation is the same, the means of salvation is the same, and the benefits of salvation are the same during both Old and New Testaments. 1689 Federalism affirms the internal substance or gifting of the Holy Spirit. However, Steffaniak has confused this with the affirmation that all post-fall covenants are the covenant of grace. This does not necessarily follow.

  • P1 If members of the Old Covenant were saved in the same way that members of the New Covenant are now, then the Old and the New must be the same covenant.
  • P2 Members of the Old Covenant were saved in the same way that members of the New Covenant are now.
  • C Therefore the Old and the New are the same covenant.

P1 is false. As Owen has noted

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

Abraham vs Moses

Baptists who desire to be Reformed frequently equate the Mosaic Covenant with the Abrahamic Covenant. Here, Baptists deny (R1*) by denying two administrations. They build their argument against (R1*) by thinking Abraham is actually Moses.

First, R1* itself equates the Mosaic and Abrahamic Covenants. R1* itself says that Abraham is Moses. Both Abrahamic and Mosaic are the same as the New. See Calvin’s statement above. The “Abraham is not Moses” retort comes from paedobaptists who hold to the subservient covenant view, not Westminster’s view (note well Steffaniak’s references to Horton and R. Scott Clark).

Second, simply equating the Abrahamic and the Mosaic is not essential to 1689 Federalism. There is a small diversity in how exactly to understand the Abrahamic. Personally, I believe the Abrahamic and Mosaic are technically distinct, though very intimately related (see my article on Galatians in the recent issue of JIRBS for an elaboration. I also deny there were two Abrahamic covenants).

On this point Steffaniak quotes Beeke & Jones’ criticism of baptists but he does not acknowledge Renihan’s response in JIRBS, nor any of the relevant material in Renihan’s dissertation which more than adequately addresses their comments.

For more on this, see

Old Testament Salvation

[M]any Baptists commonly locate regeneration/heart circumcision in the New Testament era alone.

It is unclear if Steffaniak is referring to 1689 Federalism in this comment. If so, I believe he has misunderstood whatever he has read, as I am not aware of anyone who holds to 1689 Federalism who denies regeneration/heart circumcision during the Old Testament. Such a view is contrary to 1689 Federalism. I have not read Alan Conner, whom Steffaniak quotes, but he is not necessarily a proponent of the view, having written before the term and ideas became more widely known.

However, many of these Baptists do not deny regeneration in principle to saints of old. Most Baptists who argue against (R1) by using these remarks do backtrack and agree that some experienced these blessings.45 But this remains confusing if Jeremiah 31 is a future prophecy. If it truly is referencing a change of heart alone, then Old Testament saints should not be regenerate at all. And that poses a major problem for any saint of old to experience salvation.

Steffaniak has significantly misunderstood one of the principle positions of 1689 Federalism. Yes, Jer. 31 does teach that regeneration is unique to the New Covenant. However, OT saints received this benefit of the New Covenant in advance of its formal establishment in the death of Christ/Pentecost. This is no more confusing than saying OT saints were atoned by Christ’s blood prior to Christ dying. When pressed, reformed paedobaptists affirm this same point. Commenting on Heb. 8:11, Calvin said

[W]hatever spiritual gifts the fathers obtained, they were accidental as it were to their age; for it was necessary for them to direct their eyes to Christ in order to become possessed of them… There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.

That’s all we’re saying and it is a very old view held by Augustine, Aquinas (even quoted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in #1964), and many others prior to the reformation (See Joshua Moon’s dissertation “Jeremiah’s New Covenant: An Augustinian Reading”). See:

If 1689 Federalism intends to rename the covenant of grace as the New Covenant and have it functionally equivalent, there is no problem.66 However, they are less clear than that. Many who follow 1689 Federalism intend to remove the covenant of grace from the Old Testament despite giving it retroactive power.

Then there is no problem. Our position is that the Covenant of Grace = the New Covenant. See

Furthermore, regarding the timing of Jer. 31 (Steffaniak says the New Covenant will consist of the elect alone only in the eschaton), please see Owen’s comments on Hebrews 8:11.

This text hath been looked on as attended with great difficulty and much obscurity; which expositors generally rather conceal than remove… Howbeit some learned men have been so moved with this objection, as to affirm that the accomplishment of this promise of the covenant belongs unto heaven, and the state of glory; for therein alone, they say, we shall have no more need of teaching in any kind. But as this exposition is directly contrary unto the design of the apostle, as respecting the teaching of the new covenant and the testator thereof; when he intends only that of the old, and exalts the new above it; so there is no such difficulty in the words as to force us to carry the interpretation of them into another world

Visible/Invisible Church Distinction

Steffaniak’s analysis on this point has a similar weakness as his analysis regarding the definition of covenant theology. He assumes one particular understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction is the only reformed view. Most paedobaptists view the visible/invisible church distinction as related to an external and internal covenant of grace such that the unregenerate are objectively members of the church in the eyes of God by means of an external covenant. However, numerous reformed paedobaptists reject that view. Instead, they recognize that the visible/invisible distinction is simply a matter of perspective: our fallible perspective and God’s infallible perspective. There is only one church consisting of one membership, but that membership is either seen through our perspective or God’s. This view has been held by a Brakel, John Murray, Charles Hodge, Jean Claude, JI Packer, James Currie, etc.

So Reformed Baptists recognize that there may be unregenerate members of our local churches. All that means is that we don’t have God’s infallible perspective and we mistakenly consider them to be Christians based on their profession of faith (the means God has given us to act upon in this world).

For more on this, see:


In sum, Steffaniak’s essay falls short in that it fails to properly understand reformed covenant theology as well as 1689 Federalism. Hopefully he will have opportunity to more thoroughly study the subject and interact with those who hold to the position (Jordan – I’d love to discuss with you in the comments below!).

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

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

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

Related Posts and Mentioned Posts:

Re: New Geneva Podcast on Baptism

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

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

1. God is the one who acts in baptism

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

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


2. Individualism is Enlightenment

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

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

Second, note Hodge

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

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

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

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


3. Abraham, not Moses

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

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

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

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


4. Baptists deny that God works through means

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

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

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

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


5. The Covenant of Grace was always through Christ

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

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

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


6. Christ must precede the law (of Sinai)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


7. How was the Covenant of Grace administered?

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

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

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

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

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

Hodge said

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

William Cunningham said

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

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

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

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

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

Again, we agree.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


9. All shall know me

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

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

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

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

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




10. Internal/External Church Distinction

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

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

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

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

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

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


11. Apostasy

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

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

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

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

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


John Ball on Salvation Prior to Christ’s Death

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

Internal and External Covenant of Grace

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

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

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

The Covenant of Grace Promised & Established

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hodge’s (Baptist) Understanding of the Visible/Invisible Church

In a recent post I summarized Scottish Presbyterian James Currie’s criticism of Bannerman/Westminster’s understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction. He quoted extensively from a 17th century French reformed theologian Jean Claude who had a famous debate (1678) with French Roman Catholic Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet about the nature and authority of the church. I recently provided extensive quotes from that writing as well. Currie also commended “The True Idea of the Church, by Dr. Hodge of Princeton College, reprinted in Edinburgh some few years ago.”

Hodge’s essays on the church were written in the context of the American Presbyterian Church coming to grips with the implications of disestablishmentarianism. The result was nearly a century of debate over a variety of ecclesiological topics. In his lengthy dissertation, Peter J. Wallace (OPC) explains

The transformation in identity from “church” to “denomination” took time. The older understanding of the unity–or catholicity–of the visible church could not help but be eroded as “liberty of conscience” began to trump [visible] catholicity…

The Protestant Reformation did not reject the idea of catholicity. It simply claimed that the Pope was a usurper… At least through the seventeenth century, the principle of [visible] catholicity remained theoretically intact. The ideal was to have one orthodox church in any given region… It was in America that this older understanding of [visible] catholicity utterly disintegrated… The old idea of [visible] catholicity–one church per region–had broken down.

But American Protestants were not willing to surrender the idea of catholicity. When Roman Catholics accused them of being divided and divisive, Protestants replied that they were still united in doctrine and fellowship… If the older understanding of [visible] catholicity maintained a tenuous existence in the early nineteenth century (experiencing gradual erosions from the middle of the seventeenth century), the concept of conscience had been undergoing a revolution of its own. “Conscience” referred to an understanding of the right of the individual to decide what he or she believes on any given subject. The nineteenth century saw conscience gradually become a more central symbol than [visible] catholicity in defining religion and morals, resulting in the inward and outward fragmentation of Anglo-American Protestantism…

It was only in 1789 that Presbyterians revised their Confession of Faith to become the first Christian confession to make denominational pluralism an article of faith [23.3]… This new section, added in 1789, had the effect of altering the meaning of the Confession’s statement on the catholicity of the visible church (25.2-5), rendering the older concept of one church per region untenable.

Hodge’s work was reprinted in Scotland in support of the Free Church of Scotland split from the established church. Wallace notes “The Church of Scotland lost nearly half of its ministers to the Free Church Disruption of 1843, as 40% of the church departed in order to maintain the spiritual independence of the church against state interference.”

Our interest here is that Hodge’s understanding of the visible/invisible Church distinction is identical to the Reformed Baptist understanding – which is often dismissed offhand as an uninformed misunderstanding of Scripture simply because it differs from Westminster’s.

Like Jean Claude, Hodge sought to explain what is meant by “the communion of saints” in the Apostles’ Creed.

Not a Visible Organized Society

It is obvious that the Church, considered as the communion of saints, does not necessarily include the idea of a visible society organized under one definite form… [It] does not include the idea of any external organization. The bond of union may be spiritual… [The Apostles’ Creed] does not present it under the idea of an external society at all. (1-2)


The saints, therefore, according to the scriptural meaning of the term, are those who have been cleansed from guilt or justified, who have been inwardly renewed or sanctified, and who have been separated from the world and consecrated to God. Of such the Church consists. If a man is not justified, sanctified, and consecrated to God, he is not a saint, and therefore does not belong to the Church, which is the communion of saints. (2)

The True Idea of the Church

As to the bond by which the saints are united so as to become a Church, it cannot be anything external, because that may and always does unite those who are not saints… The proximate and essential bond of union between the saints, that which gives rise to their communion, and makes them the Church or body of Christ, is, therefore, the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Such, then, is the true idea of the Church, or, what is the same thing, the idea of the true Church. It is the communion of saints, the body of those who are united to Christ by the indwelling of his Spirit. (2-3)

The only Church which is holy, which is one, which is catholic, apostolic, and perpetual, is the communion of saints, the company of faithful men, the mystical body of Christ, whose only essential bond of union is the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. That Spirit, however, always produces faith and love, so that all in whom he dwells are united in faith and Christian fellowship. (21)

The argument for the true doctrine concerning the Church, derived from the divine promises, is this. Those promises, according to the Scriptures, are made to the h umble, the penitent and believing; the Church, therefore, must consist exclusively of the regenerated. Those to whom the promises of divine presence, guidance, protection, and salvation, are made, cannot be a promiscuous multitude of all sorts of men. That theory of the Church, therefore, which makes it an external society, is necessarily destructive of religion and morality. (25)

It is conceded that the church is the body of Christ, and therefore consists of those who are in Christ; and as, according to the evangelical system, faith is the means of union with Christ, it follows, — l. That none but believers are in the church; and, 2. That all true believers are, as such, and for that reason alone, members of the church of Christ. 3. The church, therefore, in its true idea or essential nature, is not a visible society, but the company of faithful men, – the coetus sanctorum, or the communion of saints. The turning point, therefore, between the two systems, — that on which all other matters in dispute between ritualists and the evangelical, Romanists and Protestants, depend,—is the answer to the question, What unites us to Christ? If we are united to Christ by faith, then all believers are in Christ, and constitute the church. (32)

The Meaning of Ekklesia

The word ἐκκλησίαν from ἐκκλησία, evocare, means an assembly or body of men evoked, or called out and together. It was used to designate the public assembly of the people among the Greeks, collected for the transaction of business. It is applied to the tumultuous assembly called together in Ephesus by the outcries of Demetrius, Acts six. 39. It is used for those who are called out of the world, by the gospel, so as to form a distinct class… [I]t is not those who merely hear the call of the gospel, who constitute the Church, but those who obey the call… In all the various applications, therefore, of the word ἐκκλησίαν in the New Testament, we find it uniformly used as a collective term for the [GREEK]xXiivoi or [GREEK]tdexTot, that is, for those who obey the gospel call, and who are thus selected and separated, as a distinct class from the rest of the world. (4)

The word in the New Testament is never used except in reference to the company of true believers. This consideration alone is sufficient to determine the nature of the Church. (6)

Synonyms of Ekklesia

Those epistles in the New Testament which are addressed to Churches, are addressed to believers, saints, the children of God… From this collation it appears, that to call any body of men a Church, is to call them saints, sanctified in Christ Jesus, elected to obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Christ, partakers of the same precious faith with the apostles, the beloved of God, and faithful brethren. The inference from this fact is inevitable. The Church consists of those to whom these terms are applicable… From all this, it is evident that the terms, believers, saints, children of God, the sanctified, the justified, and the like, are equivalent to the collective term Church, so that any company of men addressed as a Church, are always addressed as saints, faithful brethren, partakers of the Holy Ghost, and children of God. The Church, therefore, consists exclusively of such. (7-9)

It is to degrade and destroy the gospel to apply this description of the Church as the body of Christ, to the mass of nominal Christians, the visible Church, which consists of “all sorts of men.” No such visible society is animated by his Spirit, is a partaker of his life, and heir of his glory. It is to obliterate the distinction between holiness and sin, between the Church and the world, between the children of God and the children of the devil, to apply what the Bible says of the body of Christ to any promiscuous society of saints and sinners. (10)

The Church is declared to be the temple of God… the family of God… the flock of Christ… the bride of Christ… These descriptions of the Church are inapplicable to any external visible society as such; to the Church of Rome, the Church of England, or the Presbyterian Church. The only Church of which these things are true, is the communion of saints, the body of true Christians.


If then we conceive of the Church as the communion of saints, as the body of Christ, in which the Holy Spirit dwells as the source of its life, we see that the Church is and must be holy. It must be inwardly pure, that is, its members must be regenerated men, and it must be really separated from the world, and consecrated to God. These are the two ideas included in the scriptural sense of holiness, and in both these senses the Church is truly holy. But in neither sense can holiness be predicated of any external visible society as such. No such society is really pure, nor is it really separated from the world, and devoted to God. This is evident from the most superficial observation. It is plain that neither the Roman, the Greek, the English, nor the Presbyterian Church, falls within the definition of the Church as the coetus sanctorum, or company of believers. (12)

The holiness attributed to the church in Scripture, includes inward purity and outward consecration to God. In neither of these senses can holiness be predicated of any who are not true believers. (57)

Union with Christ

The church, as is conceded, consists of those who are in Christ. Whatever, therefore, is the condition of union with Christ, is the condition of membership in the church. (58)

They Are All Taught of God

The Church, considered as the communion of saints, is one in faith. The Spirit of God leads his people into all truth. He takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto them. They are all taught of God [Is 54:13; Jer 31:31; Jn 6:45]. The anointing which they have received abideth with them, and teacheth them all things, and is truth. 1 John ii. 27. Under this teaching of the Spirit, which is promised to all believers, and which is with and by the word, they are all led to the knowledge and belief of all necessary truth. (15)

The Visible Church

if the Church is the coetus sanctorum, the company of believers; if it is the body of Christ, and if his body consists of those, and of those only, in whom he dwells by his Spirit, then the Church is visible only, in the sense in which believers are visibleWherever there are true believers, there is the true Church; and wherever such believers confess their faith, and illustrate it by a holy life, there the Church is visible. The Church is visible, because believers are, by their “effectual calling,” separated from the world. Though in it, they are not of it…

This becomes intelligible by adverting to the origin of the Christian community. The admitted facts in reference to this subject are — 1. That our Lord appeared on earth as the Son of God, and the Saviour of sinners. To all who received him he gave power to become the sons of God; they were justified and made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and thereby united to Christ as living members of his body. They were thus distinguished inwardly and outwardly from all other men. 2. He commissioned his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He enjoined upon them to require as the conditions of any man’s being admitted into their communion as a member of his body, repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 3. He commanded all who did thus repent and believe, to unite together for his worship, for instruction, for the administration of the sacraments, and for mutual watch and care. For this purpose he provided for the appointment of certain officers, and gave, through his apostles, a body of laws for their government, and for the regulation of all things which those who believed were required to perform. Provision was thus made, by divine authority, for the Church assuming the form of an external visible society…

If, then, the Church is the body of Christ; if a man becomes a member of that body by faith; if multitudes of those who profess in baptism the true religion, are not believers, then it is just as certain that the external body consisting of the baptized is not the Church, as that a man’s calling himself a Christian does not make him a Christian. (65-68)

In his [the Apostle John’s] day many who had been baptized, and received into the communion of the external society of Christians, were not true believers. How were they regarded by the apostle? Did their external profession make them members of the true Church, to which the promises pertain? St. John answers this question by saying, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us : but they went out, that it might be made manifest that they were not all of us. But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” 1 John ii. 19, 20. It is here taught, 1. That many are included in the pale of the external Church, who are not members of the true Church. 2. That those only who have an unction of the Holy One, leading them into the knowledge of the truth, constitute the Church. 3. And consequently the visibility of the Church is that which belongs to the body of true believers. (70)

Everything comes back to the question. What is the Church? True believers constitute the true Church; professed believers constitute the outward Church. These two things are not to be confounded. The external body is not, as such, the body of Christ. Neither are they to be separated as two Churches; the one true and the other false, the one real and the other nominal. They differ as the sincere and insincere differ in any community… The question, how far the outward Church is the true Church, is easily answered. Just so far as it is what it professes to be, and no further. So far as it is a company of faithful men, animated and controlled by the Holy Spirit, it is a true Church, a constituent member of the body of Christ. If it be asked further, how we are to know whether a given society is to be regarded as a Church; we answer, precisely as we know whether a given individual is to be regarded as a Christian, i. e. by their profession and conduct. (72-73)

Regeneration Goggles?

[Objection:] “[W]here was there any such society, answering to the Protestant definition, before the Reformation?” This objection rests upon the misconception which Ritualists do not appear able to rid themselves of. When Protestants say the Church is invisible, they only mean that an inward and consequently invisible state of mind is the condition of membership, and not that those who have this internal qualification are invisible, or that they cannot be so known as to enable us to discharge the duties which we owe them. When asked, what makes a man a Christian? we say, true faith. When asked whom must we regard and treat as Christians? we answer, those who make a credible profession of their faith. Is there any contradiction in this? Is there any force in the objection, that if faith is an inward quality, it cannot be proved by outward evidence? Thus, when Protestants are asked, what is the true Church? they answer, the company of believers. When asked what associations are to be regarded and treated as churches? they answer, those in which the gospel is preached. When asked further, where was the Church before the Reformation? they answer, just where it was in the days of Elias, when it consisted of a few thousand scattered believers. (73)

The General Call a Call to Bare Profession?

The nature of the Church, therefore, must depend on the nature of the gospel call. If that call is merely or essentially to the outward profession of certain doctrines, or to baptism, or to anything external, then the Church must consist of all who make that profession, or are baptized. But if the call of the gospel is to repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, then none obey that call but those who repent and believe, and the Church must consist of penitent believers. It cannot require proof that the call of the gospel is to faith and repentance…

Every [GREEK],xxXt,trta is composed of the [GREEK]xXtjtoi, of those called out and assembled. But the word [GREEK]xXrjTot, as applied to Christians, is never used in the New Testament, except in reference to true believers. If, therefore, the Church consists of “the called,” it must consist of true believers. (5-6)

The faith which has all this power is not a mere historical assent to the gospel, but a cordial acquiescence in its truths, founded on the testimony of God, with and by the truth through his Spirit. From these considerations it is abundantly evident that none are in Christ but true believers; and as it is conceded that the church consists of those who are in Christ, it must consist of true believers. (33)

Visible Church Includes Hypocrites?

To this argument it is indeed objected, that as the apostles addressed all the Christians of Antioch, Corinth, or Ephesus, as constituting the Church in those cities, and as among them there were many hypocrites, therefore the word Church designates a body of professors, whether sincere or insincere. The fact is admitted, that all the professors of the true religion in Corinth, without reference to their character, are called the church of Corinth. This, however, is no answer to the preceding argument. It determines nothing as to the nature of the Church. It does not prove it to be an external society, composed of sincere and insincere professors of the true religion. All the professors in Corinth are called saints, sanctified in Christ Jesus, the saved, the children of God, the faithful believers, &c., &c. Does this prove that there are good and bad saints, holy and unholy sanctified persons, believing and unbelieving believers, or men who are at the same time children of God and children of the devil? Their being called believers does not prove that they were all believers; neither does their being called the Church prove that they were all members of the Church. They are designated according to their profession. In professing to be members of the Church, they professed to be believers, to be saints and faithful brethren, and this proves that the Church consists of true believers

In the same sense and in no other, in which infidels may be called believers, and wicked men saints, in the same sense may they be said to be included in the Church. If they are not really believers, they are not the Church. They are not constituent members of the company of believers. (7)

It is not to be inferred from the fact that all the members of the Christian societies in Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus, are addressed as believers, that they all had true faith. But we can infer, that since what is said of them is said of them as believers, it had no application to those who were without faith. In like manner, though all are addressed as belonging to the Church, what is said of the Church had no application to those who were not really its members. Addressing a body of professed believers, as believers, does not prove them to be all sincere; neither does addressing a body of men as a Church, prove that they all belong to the Church. In both cases they are addressed according to their profession. If it is a fatal error to transfer what is said in Scripture of believers, to mere professors, to apply to nominal what is said of true Christians, it is no less fatal to apply what is said of the Church to those who are only by profession its members. It is no more proper to infer that the Church consists of the promiscuous multitude of sincere and insincere professors of the true faith, from the fact that all the professors, good and bad, in Corinth, are called the Church, than it would be to infer that they were all saints and children of God, because they are all so denominated. It is enough to determine the true nature of the Church, that none are ever addressed as its members, who are not, at the same time, addressed as true saints and sincere believers. (9)

Of the objections commonly urged against the doctrine that the church is the communion of saints, consisting of true believers, those only which demand notice in this connexion are,—First, that as the societies at Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome were undoubtedly churches, and as they were composed of insincere as well as sincere professors of faith, it follows that the church does not consist exclusively of true believers. This objection has already been answered. The fact referred to proves only that those who profess to be members of the church are addressed and treated as members. In the same manner, those who professed to be believers, saints, the children of God, are constantly in Scripture addressed as being what they professed to be. If, therefore, addressing a body of men as a church proves that they are really its constituent members, addressing them as believers and saints must prove they all have true faith, and are really holy. The objection, therefore, is founded on a false assumption, viz., that men are always what they are addressed as being; and it would prove far more than the objector is willing to admit, viz., that all the members of the external church are saints and believers, and would thus establish the very doctrine the objection is adduced to refute. (61-62)

The Parables of the Kingdom

A second and more plausible objection is founded upon those parables of our Lord in which the kingdom of heaven is compared to a net containing fish, good and bad, and to a field in which tares grow together with the wheat. As the church and kingdom of heaven are assumed to be the same, it is inferred that if the one includes good and bad, so must also the other.

In answer to this objection it may be remarked, in the first place, that it is founded on a false assumption. The terms, “kingdom of God” and “ church,” are not equivalent. Many things are said of the one which cannot be said of the other. It cannot be said of the church that it consists not in meat and drink, but in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Nor can it be said that the church is within us; neither are we commanded to seek first the church; nor is the church said to be at hand. All these forms of expression occur in reference to the kingdom of God, but are inapplicable to the church. It is evident, therefore, that it is not safe to conclude that something is true of the church, simply because it is a parcel of the kingdom of God…

[T]he parables in question were not intended to teach us the condition of membership in the kingdom of heaven, they cannot decide that point. In one place Christ asserts didactically, that regeneration by the Holy Spirit is essential to admission into his kingdom; shall we infer, in direct opposition to this assertion, that his kingdom includes both the regenerate and unregenerate, because he compares it to a net containing fishes, good and bad? Certainly not, because the comparison was not designed to teach us what is the condition of membership in his kingdom. This, however, is the precise point in dispute. What is the church? What is the condition of membership in the body of Christ? Does his body consist of all the baptized, or of all true believers ? As our Lord did not intend to answer these questions in those parables, they do not answer them. The design of each particular parable is to be learned from the occasion on which it was delivered, and from its contents. That respecting the tares and the wheat was evidently intended to teach, that as God has not given us the power to inspect the heart, or to discriminate between the sincere and insincere professors of religion, he has not imposed on us the obligation to do so. That is his work. We must allow both to grow on together until the harvest, when he will effect the separation. This surely does not teach that what the Scriptures say of the wheat is to be understood of the tares. Others of these parables are obviously designed to teach, that external profession or relations cannot secure the blessings of the kingdom of God. It is not every one who says, Lord, Lord, who is to be admitted into his presence. These parables teach that many of those who profess to be the disciples, and who, in the eyes of men, constitute his kingdom, are none of his. This is a very important lesson; but if we were to infer, from the figure in which it is inculcated, that mere profession does make men members of Christ’s kingdom, we should infer the very opposite from what he intended to teach. To learn the condition of membership in that kingdom, we must turn to those passages which are designed to teach us that point, —-to those which professedly set forth the nature of that kingdom, and the terms of admission into it.

This suggests a third remark in answer to the above objection. Whenever the kingdom of God means the same thing as the church, it is expressly taught that admission into it depends on saving faith, or an inward spiritual change, and not on external rites or profession. The ancient prophets having predicted, that after the rise and fall of other kingdoms the God of heaven would set up a kingdom, the establishment of that kingdom became to his ancient people an object of expectation and desire. They were, however, greatly mistaken both as to its nature and the terms of admission into it. They had much the same notion of the kingdom of God that ritualists now have of the church. They expected it to be, in its essential character, an external organization, and the condition of membership to be descent from Abraham, or the rite of circumcision. Our Lord did not simply modify this conception by teaching that his kingdom, instead of being a visible organization with kings and nobles, was to be such an organization with cardinals and bishops; and that, instead of circumcision, baptism was to secure membership. He presented a radically different idea of its whole nature. He taught that it was to be a spiritual kingdom,—that it was to have its seat in the heart,—its Sovereign being the invisible God in Christ,—its laws such as relate to the conscience,—-its service the obedience of faith,—its rewards eternal life. It is true, he imposed upon his people the duty of confession, and other obligations which implied their manifestation to the world, and their external union among themselves. But these are mere incidents. His kingdom no more consists in these externals than the nature of man in his name or colour. The kingdom of Christ is therefore spiritual, not only as opposed to secular, but as distinguished from external organization. Such organization is not the church…

The question, which kingdom a man belongs to, the kingdom of Christ or the kingdom of Satan, the church or the world, does not depend on anything external, but on the state of his heart. It is a contradiction to say that the kingdom of Satan consists of good and bad, of the renewed and the unrenewed. It is no less a contradiction to say that the kingdom of Christ consists of the wicked and the good, the sincere and the insincere. The very idea of the one kingdom is, that it consists of those who obey Satan, and that of the other, that it is composed of those who obey Christ. If it is a contradiction to say there are good wicked men, it is no less a contradiction to say there are wicked good men. If Satan’s kingdom consists of the wicked, Christ’s kingdom consists of the good. Accordingly, whenever our Lord states the condition of admission into his kingdom, he declares it to be a change of heart, without which, he says, it is impossible any should enter it : “ Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto you, Ye must be born again.” Whatever else this passage teaches, it certainly asserts the absolute necessity of an inward spiritual birth in order to membership in Christ’s kingdom. (62-64)

Outside of the Church There is No Salvation

Cyprian is urged as another authority, who says: “Whosoever, divorced from the Church, is united to an adulteress, is separated from the Church’s promises; nor shall that man attain the rewards of Christ, who relinquishes his Church. He is a stranger, he is profane, he is an enemy.” All this is undoubtedly true. It is true, as Augustin says, that the good cannot divide themselves from the Church; it is true, as Irenaeus says, where the Church is, there the Spirit of God is; and where the Spirit is, there the Church is. This is the favorite motto of Protestants. It is also true, as Cyprian says, that he who is separated from the Church, is separated from Christ. This brings the nature of the Church down to a palpable matter of fact…

To say, therefore, with Augustin, that no good man can leave the Church, is only to say that the good will love and cleave to each other; to say, with Irenaeus, that where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, is to say the presence of the Spirit makes the Church; and to say with Cyprian, that he who is separated from the Church, is separated from Christ, is only saying, that if a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, he cannot love God whom he hath not seen. If the Church is the communion of saints, it includes all saints; it has catholic unity because it embraces all the children of God. And to say there is no salvation out of the Church, in this sense of the word, is only saying there is no salvation for the wicked, for the unrenewed and unsanctified… Wherever the Spirit of God is, there the Church is; and as the Spirit is not only within, but without all external Church organizations, so the Church itself cannot be limited to any visible society. (19-20)

Visible Church Succession from Apostles?

If, on the other hand, the Church is a company of believers, if it is the communion of saints, all that is essential to its perpetuity is that there should always be believers. It is not necessary that they should be externally organized, much less is it necessary that they should be organized in any prescribed form. It is not necessary that any line of officers should be uninterruptedly continued; much less is it necessary that those officers should be prelates or popes… But the Church can exist without a pope, without prelates, yea, without presbyters, if in its essential nature it is the communion of saints. There is, therefore, no promise of an uninterrupted succession of validly ordained church-officers, and consequently no foundation for faith in any such succession. In the absence of any such promise, the historical argument against “apostolic succession,” becomes overwhelming and unanswerable. (20-21)

Not of This World

We find in the Scriptures frequent assurances that the Church is to extend from sea to sea, from the rising to the setting of the sun; that all nations and people are to flow unto it. These promises the Jews referred to their theocracy. Jerusalem was to be the capital of the world; the King of Zion was to be the King of the whole earth, and all nations were to be subject to the Jews. Judaizing Christians interpret these same predictions as securing the universal prevalence of the theocratic Church, with its pope or prelates. In opposition to both, the Redeemer said: “My kingdom is not of this world.” His apostles also taught that the kingdom of God consists in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. The extension of the Church, therefore, consists in the prevalence of love to God and man, of the worship and service of the Lord Jesus Christ. It matters not how the saints may be associated; it is not their association, but their faith and love that makes them the Church, and as they multiply and spread, so does the Church extend. All the fond anticipations of the Jews, founded on a false interpretation of the divine promises, were dissipated by the advent of a Messiah whose kingdom is not of this world. History is not less effectually refuting the ritual theory of the Church, by showing that piety, the worship and obedience of Christ, the true kingdom of God, is extending far beyond the limits which that theory would assign to the dominion of the Redeemer. (24)

The men of the world are devoted to the world,——they do not belong to the peculiar people whom God has called out of the world and set apart for himself. (57)

National Churches are of the World

And no more wicked or more disastrous mistake has ever been made, than to transfer to the visible society of professors of the true religion, subject to bishops having succession, the promises and prerogatives of the body of Christ. It is to attribute to the world the attributes of the Church; to the kingdom of darkness the prerogatives of the kingdom of light. It is to ascribe to wickedness the character and blessedness of goodness. Every such historical Church has been the world baptized; all the men of a generation, or of a nation, are included in the pale of such a communion. If they are the Church, who are the world? If they are the kingdom of light, who constitute the kingdom of darkness? To teach that the promises and prerogatives of the Church belong to these visible societies, is to teach that they belong to the world, organized under a particular form and called by a new name. (29)

Individuals, Not Societies or Nations, Redeemed

[H]oliness and salvation are promised to every member of the Church. This is obvious; 1. Because these are blessings of which individuals alone are susceptible. It is not a community or society, as such, that is redeemed, regenerated, sanctified, and saved. Persons, and not communities, are the subjects of these blessings[.] (24)

The Right of Private Judgment

[A]ccording to the Scriptures, it is the duty of every Christian to try the spirits whether they be of God, to reject an apostle, or an angel from heaven, should he deny the faith, and of that denial such Christian is of necessity the judge. Faith, moreover, is an act for which every man is personally responsible; his salvation depends upon his believing the truth. He must, therefore, have the right to believe God, let the chief officers of the Church teach what they may. The right of private judgment is, therefore, a divine right. It is incompatible with the ritual theory of the Church, but perfectly consistent with the Protestant doctrine that the Church is the communion of saints. (29)

National Israel the Church?

Under the old dispensation, the whole nation of the Hebrews was called holy, as separated from the idolatrous nations around them, and consecrated to God. The Israelites were also called the children of God, as the recipients of his peculiar favours. These expressions had reference rather to external relations and privileges than to internal character. In the New Testament, however, they are applied only to the true people of God. None are there called saints but the sanctified in Christ Jesus. None are called the children of God, but those born of the Spirit, who being children are heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ of a heavenly inheritance. When, therefore, it is said that the Church consists of saints, the meaning is not that it consists of all who are externally consecrated to God, irrespective of their moral character, but that it consists of true Christians or sincere believers. (2)

Much the most plausible argument of Romanists is derived from the analogy of the old dispensation. That the Church is a visible society, consisting of the professors of the true religion, as distinguished from the body of true believers, known only to God, is plain, they say, because under the old dispensation it was such a society, embracing all the descendants of Abraham who professed the true religion, and received the sign of circumcision… If such a society existed then by divine appointment, what has become of it? Has it ceased to exist? Has removing its restriction to one people destroyed its nature? Does lopping certain branches from the tree destroy the tree itself? Far from it. The Church exists as an external society now as it did then; what once belonged to the commonwealth of Israel, now belongs to the visible Church… Such is the favourite argument of Romanists; and such, (striking out illogically the last clause, which requires subjection to prelates, or the Pope,) we are sorry to say is the argument of some Protestants, and even of some Presbyterians.

The fallacy of the whole argument lies in its false assumption, that the external Israel was the true Church. It was not the body of Christ; it was not pervaded by his Spirit. Membership in it did not constitute membership in the body of Christ. The rejection or destruction of the external Israel was not the destruction of the Church. The apostasy of the former was not the apostasy of the latter. The attributes, promises, and prerogatives of the one, were not those of the other. In short, they were not the same…

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, the Saviour 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. The Church, therefore, is, in its essential nature, a company of believers, and not an external society, requiring merely external profession as the condition of membership. While this is true and vitally important, it is no less true that believers make themselves visible by the profession of the truth, by holiness of life, by separation from the world as a peculiar people, and by organizing themselves for the worship of Christ, and for mutual watch and care. (74-75)


Augustine says, the Church is a living body, in which there are both a soul and body. Some are members of the Church in both respects, being united to Christ, as well externally as internally. These are the living members of the Church; others are of the soul, but not of the body — that is, they have faith and love, without external communion with the Church. Others, again, are of the body and not of the soul — that is, they have no true faith. These last, he says, are as the hairs, or nails, or evil humours of the human body. According to Augustin, then, the wicked are not true members of the Church; their relation to it is altogether external. They no more make up the Church, than the scurf or hair on the surface of the skin make up the human body. This representation is in entire accordance with the Protestant doctrine, that the Church is a communion of saints, and that none but the holy are its true members. It expressly contradicts the Romish and Oxford theory, that the Church consists of all sorts of men; and that the baptized, no matter what their character, if they submit to their legitimate pastors, are by divine right constituent portions of the Church; and that none who do not receive the sacraments, and who are not thus subject, can be members of the body of Christ. (14-15)

History of the Decline of the True Idea of the Church

The history of the idea of the church would be one of the most interesting chapters of a history of doctrine. Such a history would naturally divide itself into the following periods: —1. The apostolic period; 2. The transition period, during which the attributes of the true church came to be gradually transferred to the external society of professed believers; 3. The period of the complete ascendency of the ritual theory of the church; and, 4. The Reformation period…

We have seen that, during the apostolic period, the church was regarded as a company of faithful men, a coetus sanctorum, or body of saints, and that true faith was the indispensable condition of membership, so that none but believers were considered to belong to the church, and all believers were regarded as within its pale. The very word [GREEK]e’xxqurla, during this period, was never used except as a collective term for the [GREEK]Kltn-roi, for those whom God, by his Word and Spirit, had called out of the world or kingdom of Satan, into the kingdom of his dear Son. None, therefore, were ever addressed as members of the church, who were not also called believers, saints, the sanctified in Christ Jesus, the children of God, and heirs of eternal life. They were all described as members of the body of Christ, in whom he dwells by his Spirit, and who, therefore, are the temple of God. They constitute the family of God, the flock of the good Shepherd, and the bride of Christ… Believers, therefore, are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. They, and they alone, constitute that body of which all these attributes are predicated, and to which all these promises are made. Such being the nature of the church, as it is described in the apostolic writings, it follows, of course, that all out of the church perish, and all within the church are saved…

The transition period cannot be marked off by precise limits… One is soon perplexed when he endeavours to reduce the declarations of the fathers of this period to any consistent theory… By the common consent of Christians, the church is one, catholic, holy, and apostolical. We find, therefore, these attributes, in all their modifications, freely ascribed to the church by the fathers of the first three centuries. By the church, however, they often meant the aggregate of believers. This is the true idea of the church. In this sense all the attributes above mentioned do truly belong to it. But as believers actually and visibly exist in this world, as they manifest themselves to be believers by the profession of their faith, by their union in the worship of Christ, and by their holy life in obedience to his commands, the body of those who professed to be believers was called the church. To the aggregate, then, of these professors of the true faith, all the attributes of the church were referred. This was a very natural process, and had the semblance of scriptural authority in its behalf. In the Bible all who profess to believe, are called believers, and every thing that is or can be predicated of believers is predicated of such professors. From this, however, it is not to be inferred that the attributes of believers belong to unbelievers. The only thing this scriptural usage teaches us is, that the church consists of believers, and that all that is predicated of the church is ascribed to it as so constituted. The fathers, however, went one step beyond the usage of Scripture. They not merely addressed professed believers as believers, and spoke of the aggregate of such professors as the church, but they transferred to the body of professors the attributes which belonged to the body of believers. Even this was in their day a much more venial error than it is in ours. For the great body of professors were at first, and especially in times of persecution, sincere believers; and the distinction between the visible church and the world was then the distinction between Christianity and heathenism. It was natural, therefore, to speak of this band of united and suffering Christians, separated from their idolatrous countrymen, as indeed the church of which unity, catholicity, and holiness could be predicated, and out of whose pale there is no salvation. It is also to be remembered, that it was mainly in opposition to heretics that the fathers claimed for the body of professors the attributes of the true church. They could say, with full propriety, that out of the pale of the visible church there is no salvation, because out of that pale there was then no saving truth. All were in the visible church except the heathen and heretics who denied all of Christianity but its name. The church, therefore, in the sense of these early fathers, included all who professed faith in the true gospel; and, therefore, their claiming for such professors the attributes of the true church, is something very different from the conduct of those who in our day set up that claim in behalf of a small portion of the professed followers of Christ…

In experience, however, it was found that multitudes were members of the church who were not members of Christ, and who were entirely destitute of his Spirit… There were three methods of meeting this difficulty, all of which were adopted:—

1. A distinction was made between the visible church and the true church… It was, therefore, denied that the attributes and promises belonging to the church pertained to any but the living members of Christ’s body. This is the true doctrine, and differs in no essential particular from the doctrine afterwards revived at the Reformation, and universally adopted by Protestants. It was substantially their distinction between the visible and invisible church. This was the method adopted by Origen, and afterwards by Augustin… Only the holy really belong to the church; the wicked are in it only in appearance… The saints are the wheat, the wicked are the chaff ; the latter are no more the church than chaff is wheat… To Augustin the same objection was made by the Donatists that is now made by Romanists against Protestants, viz., that the distinction between the church visible and invisible supposes there are two churches. He answered the objection, just as Protestants do, by saying there is but one church; the wicked are not in the church; that the distinction between sincere and insincere Christians does not suppose there are two gospels and two Christs. It is one and the same church that appears on earth, with many impenitent men attached to it in external communion, which in heaven is to appear in its true character…

2. A second method adopted to reconcile the actual with the ideal church, the visible with the invisible, was the exercise of discipline…

3. A third method of getting over the difficulty was unhappily adopted and sanctioned. The whole theory of the church was altered and corrupted. It was assumed that all the attributes of the church belonged to the visible society of professed Christians. It was, however, apparent that such society did not possess these attributes according to the scriptural account of their nature. The view taken, therefore, of the nature of these attributes was changed…

The Bible says there is no salvation out of the church, for the church includes all the saints. The early fathers said there was no salvation out of the church, for there were none out of the church but heathen and heretics. It was a very different matter, however, when Cyprian came to deny salvation to his brethren holding the same faith, and giving the same evidence of being in Christ with himself. To them he says there is no salvation, because they were not in communion with the right bishop… Thus the whole theory and nature of the church was changed… This was the perversion of the true doctrine effected by Cyprian… This was the parent corruption, the fruitful source of almost all the other evils which have afflicted the church…

It is plain, from this brief survey, that the theory concerning the church passed, during the first few centuries, through these several stages. The apostles represented it as consisting of true believers; many of the fathers considered it as including all the professors of the true religion, as distinguished from Jews, pagans, and heretics; and then it came to be regarded as consisting of those professors of the true religion who were subject to bishops having succession; and to such society of professors all the attributes, promises, and prerogatives belonging to the true church were referred. As, however, it was seen that such attributes did not, in fact, belong to the society of professed believers, some made the distinction between the visible and invisible church, referring these attributes and promises only to the latter; others endeavoured to make the one identical with the other; and others perverted the nature of these attributes to make them answer to their preconceived conception of the church…

At first the unity of the church was made to rest on the indwelling of the Spirit, producing unity of faith and fellowship. Next, it was conceived of as belonging to the external body of professors, as distinguished from infidels and heretics. But when orthodox men separated from this external society, Cyprian asserted they were not of the church. Why not? They had the same faith, the same sacraments, and the same discipline or polity, but they were not subject to legitimate bishops. Soon, however, apostolic bishops separated. What was to be said now? Some other external bond of unity than the episcopate became essential, if the external unity of the church was to be preserved. For the very same reason, and with quite as much show of right, as Cyprian said no man was in the church who was not subject to a regularly consecrated bishop, did Gregory say, No bishop was in the church who is not subject to the Pope. The papal monarchy of the middle ages was, therefore, the natural product of Cyprian’s theory of the church…

Against this system the Reformation was a protest. The Reformers protested, first, against the fundamental error of the whole theory, viz., that the visible church is, in such a sense, the true church; that the attributes, promises, and prerogatives pertaining to the latter, belong to the former. In opposition to this doctrine, they maintained that the church consists of true believers; that it is a company of faithful men, a communion of saints, to which no man belongs who is not a true child of God… This is the essential character of the protest entered by all the churches of the Reformation. In proof of this, it will be sufficient to advert briefly to the teachings of those churches, in their symbolical books, as to the nature of the church.

Reformation Confessions

The Lutheran Church was the oldest daughter of the Reformation, and on this subject her standards are very explicit. Augs. Con., § vii.: “The church is a congregation of saints, in which the gospel is properly taught, and the sacraments rightly administered. And to the true unity of the church, agreement in the doctrine of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments is sufficient.” § viii.: “Although the church is, properly, a congregation of saints and of true believers, yet as in this life many hypocrites and wicked persons are included, it is lawful to use the sacraments administered by wicked men.”

The fourth head of the apology of the Augsburg Confession is a defence of the definition of the church as the congregation of saints. After saying and proving that it was so defined in Scripture, it refers to the language of the Creed, “which requires us to believe that there is a holy catholic church.” But the wicked are not the church. And the next clause, “communion of saints,” is added to explain what the church is,—viz., “the congregation of saints, having fellowship in the same gospel or doctrine, and in the same Holy Spirit, who renews, sanctifies, and governs their hearts.”

Again: “Although, therefore, hypocrites and evil men are connected with the church by external rites, yet, when the church is defined, it is necessary to describe it as the true body of Christ, that which is in name and reality the church.” “If the church, which is the true kingdom of Christ, is distinguished from the kingdom of the devil, it is clear that the wicked, who are in the kingdom of the devil, are not the church, although in this life, since the kingdom of Christ is not revealed, they are mixed with the church, and bear office therein.”

“The creed speaks of the church as catholic, that we may not conceive of it as an external polity of a certain nation, but as consisting of men scattered throughout the world, who agree in doctrine, and have the same Christ, the same Holy Spirit, whether they have the same human traditions or not.”

The Lutheran theologians, with one accord, adhere to this doctrine concerning the church. By Calovius it is defined as “coetus fidelium, qui sub uno capite Christo per verbum et sacramenta collectus alitur et conservatur per eadem ad aeternam salutem.” Hollazius says the church is regarded,—1. In its true nature, as the company of saints united to Christ their head by faith, and constituting his one mystical and living body. 2. Improperly, for all those professing the true faith, believers and hypocrites. The former is the church invisible, and the latter the visible church. Gerhard says to the same effect, “Our view of the nature of the church is clearly exhibited in the Augsburgh Confession,——viz., that the church, properly speaking, is the congregation of saints and true believers, with which, however, in this life, many hypocrites and unrenewed men are externally united.”

The Reformed Church in this matter agrees perfectly with the Lutheran. Indeed, as this was a subject of constant controversy between Protestants and Romanists, it seems hardly worth while to appeal to any particular assertions. Bellarmine sets it forth as they doctrine of all Protestants, “that only the just and pious pertain to the true church.” “If,” he adds, “those destitute of inward faith neither are nor can be in the church, there is an end of all dispute between us and heretics as to the visibility of the church.” The Lutherans, he says, define the church to be “the congregation of saints who truly believe and obey God,” and the Reformed, as consisting of believers predestinated to eternal life,–a distinction, in this case, without a difference. In opposition to the views of both classes of Protestants, he asserts the church to consist of all the professors of the true faith, whether sincere or insincere, who are united in the participation of the same sacraments, and subjection to the same pastors, and especially to the pope, as vicar of Christ.

We find the doctrine of the Reformed churches clearly stated in all their confessions of faith. In the second Helvetic Confession, the seventeenth chapter is devoted to the exposition of this subject. The church is declared to be “a company of believers, called out from the world, or collected, i.e., a communion of saints, who through the Word and Spirit, truly acknowledge and rightly worship the true God, in Christ the Saviour, and who through faith participate in all the benefits freely offered through Christ.” “It is of them that the article in the creed, ‘I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,’ is to be understood.” . . . . “All who are numbered in the church are not saints, or true living members of the church.” ….. “Such, though they simulate piety, are not of the church.”

In the Belgic Confession, art. 27, it is said, “We believe one catholic or universal church, which is the congregation of saints or company of true believers, who look for their entire salvation in Christ alone, being washed by his blood, sanctified and sealed by his Spirit.” Art. 29: “We do not here speak of the company of hypocrites, who, although they may be mixed with the good in the church, are not of it, though (corpore) externally they are in it.”

In the Geneva Catechism it is asked, “What is the church?” Answer,—“The society of believers whom God hath predestinated to eternal life.”

In the Gallican Confession, the 27th article contains these words: “We affirm that the church is the company of believers, who agree in following the Word of God, and in the exercise of true religion,” &c.

In the Heidelberg Catechism, the question, “What believest thou concerning the Holy Catholic Church of Christ?” is answered, “I believe that the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, from the whole human family, collects, defends, and preserves for himself, by his Word and Spirit, a company chosen unto eternal life, and that I am and always will remain a living member of that church.”

The standards of the Church of England teach the same doctrine. The church is declared to be a “company of faithful men;” or, as in the communion service, “the blessed company of faithful people.” This definition is expanded in the homily for Whitsunday:—“The true church is a universal congregation or fellowship of God’s faithful and elect people, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.”

For further reading:

The French Reformed Understanding of the Visible/Invisible Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election and the Church

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

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

Appellations of the Church

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

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

Prophecy of the Church

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

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

A Supernatural Work of the Spirit

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

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

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

Hypocrites Not of Christ’s Church

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

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

The General Call Not a Call to Outward Profession

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

Sacraments Only For True Believers

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

Church Militant and Church Triumphant One Church

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

Is the Church Visible, Invisible, or Both?

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Judgment of Charity]

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

[Judgment of Reflection]

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

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

The Visible Church All Who Profess Faith?

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

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

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

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

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

God’s vs Man’s Perspective

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

The French Reformed [Gallic] Confession (1559)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wheat and the Tares

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

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

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

The Church a Civil Society?

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

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

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

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

National Israel the Church?

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

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

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

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

For further reading:

19th Century Scottish Presbyterian Criticism of Bannerman’s Visible/Invisible Church(es)

We have seen how 17th/18th century Dutch theologian à Brakel rejected Westminster’s distinction between the visible and invisible church as two distinct societies with two distinct memberships, in favor of seeing one church of Christ viewed infallibly by God or fallibly by man. We have also seen 20th century John Murray make the same criticism or 19th century Scottish theologian James Bannerman. And now a reader of blog (Craig) has pointed us towards a 19th century Scottish Presbyterian critique of Bannerman to the same effect.

James Currie, M.A. wrote a short pamphlet (~25 pages) “SOME REMARKS ON DR. BANNERMAN’S WIEW OF THAT WHICH CONSTITUTES THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, AS SET FORTH IN HIS LATE WORK ON THE CHURCH” in 1869. If the identification is correct (thanks Craig) Revd James Currie was principal of the Church of Scotland Training College, Edinburgh (see here and here).

Currie’s work is interesting because he confirms my previous observations that Westminster differed from the earlier Continental reformed view on the nature of the visible church (and thus the nature of infant baptism). Currie says he quotes “in nearly every instance, from foreign Presbyterian Confessions of Faith, or their leading expositors. In Scotland itself, though what I here treat as error is very generally received as truth.” (16) He quotes extensively from a 17th century French reformed theologian Jean Claude who had a famous debate with French Roman Catholic Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet about the nature and authority of the church (see here and my summary here). He quotes extensively in the Notes from the Continental reformed confessions on the church. He also commends “The True Idea of the Church, by Dr. Hodge of Princeton College, reprinted in Edinburgh some few years ago.” This appears to be a full compilation of three essays written in the Princeton Review (see my summary Hodge’s (Baptist) Understanding of the Visible/Invisible Church), wherein Hodge argues for two Abrahamic covenants.

What is even more interesting is that Currie also commends John Cameron’s treatise on the church (De Ecclesia). When faced with the question of the nation of Israel’s relationship to our understanding of the visible church, Currie adopts a very Cameronian explanation of the nation of Israel as typological of the Church. As Samuel Renihan explains in From Shadow to Substance, Cameron developed the subservient covenant theology view adopted and built upon by 17th century Congregationalists and Particular Baptists in their rejection of Westminster’s covenant theology and ecclessiology.

Visible Church Distinct from the Invisible Church

To the query, then, why I stand forth as an objector, I allege, as an adequate motive, the desire, even though the point were far less momentous, to clear the truth of God from misconstruction. (19)

The focus of Currie’s criticism is Bannerman’s view that the Visible Church is in fact distinct from the Invisible Church.

He thus introduces this part of his subject (pp. 8, 9), “Over and above that unseen society, consisting of the whole number of the Elect spiritually united to Christ, there is set forth to us in Scripture, another society externally connected with Him, and standing out visibly before the eyes of the world… having a character and a membership altogether different from the first.”… [W]hatever may be “its symmetry of plan,” the superstructure does not seem to me to rest upon a scriptural basis… [H]is assertion that the Church thus defined is “invisible” (pp. 7, 8), nay, “purely invisible” to us (p. 74), is, I think, not scriptural. (8, 4-6)

He acknowledges that Bannerman claims that he does not mean there are two churches. Bannerman said

It is not to be identified with the Invisible Church, for men may belong to the one society who do not truly belong to the other. Neither are the two to be wholly placed in opposition to each other, for they do not form so much two separate Churches as one Church under two distinct and different aspects (Note I). (8)

However, Currie (like à Brakel) argues Bannerman is trying to have his cake and eat it too.

Professor Bannerman’s self-contradictory statements in this sense, though uttered more or less falteringly, are so many and so obvious as not to need specification… The epithet “another Church” is of frequent recurrence, and the following extract will show his self-inconsistency still more clearly. In vol. i. p. 29, he writes, “It is not unimportant to remark that when we speak of the Church Invisible and Visible, we are not to be understood as if we referred in these designations to two separate and distinct Churches, but rather to the same Church under two different characters. We do not assert that Christ hath founded two Churches on earth, but only one.” That a duality of Churches founded by Christ, though frequently taught by the Professor in equivalent phraseology, is not asserted by him in these ipsissima verba, is not alleged, but how are we to reconcile what he goes on to say with the substance of his disclaimer? He proceeds, p. 30, “There is an outward government established for the order and regulation of the elect, outward ordinances adapted and blessed for their improvement, outward discipline for their purification and protection. All this necessarily implies an outward and visible society, embracing and encompassing the inward and spiritual, in other words, an outward Church within which the Invisible Church of real believers is embosomed, protected, and perfected. (18)

He says

The present Dean of Ripon (Lectures on the Church, p. 19, 8th edition) says, “Thus there are two Churches, or the Church in two senses,” as if these phrases were synonymous. So, p. 18, he writes,—“There were two Israels, or Israel in two senses.” If the Church, however, mean the aggregate of those who comprise it, it would be difficult to show how one and the same Church or society, viewed in any number of senses or aspects, could be, as the word or implies, a second, i.e., another Church or society, so as to constitute “two Churches.” The sentence here quoted is but a specimen, though a glaring one, of the loose mode of treating the question of the Church. Were the Scriptures resorted to in the first instance to learn there what our opinions ought to be, and not simply to prove extra-scriptural views, grounded on human and conventional teaching true, such mistakes could not be made. (Note I)

He continues

I would observe, then, that whereas God has seen fit to institute but one Church Universal, Dr. Banner man and the Westminster Confession define two such. This accusation, urged so persistently by Romanists, is strenuously denied, but cannot, I think, be disproved by those who accept the teaching on this head, here called in question. That the august title, “the Visible Church of God, or of Christ,” is very popularly given to an heterogeneous and in fact a hybrid aggregation, composed of mere outward professors as well as of the elect, is sadly true; but does Scripture sanction such an application of the title? If it do, let the permissive passage be shown. (17)

Outwardly Christ’s but Inwardly Satan’s

NOTE H, p. 8.

“Not only true believers, but hypocrites.” Whilst Augustine says, “Christus non potest habere damnata membra,” and Zanchius, “that hypocrites and reprobates,” “membra sunt Satanae non Christi,” I find it asserted in Fulwood on the Visible Church, p. 54, that “the same person may at the very same instant of time, be both a member of Christ and a member of Satan, in divers respects. A member of Satan internally, of Christ externally, and yet both really ; a member of Satan by obedience, of Christ by profession ; of Satan habitually, of Christ relatively; of Christ by covenant, of Satan by service; a member of Christ’s visible kingdom, of Satan’s invisible kingdom, and both really and truly so. As a man that is openly and really the husband of an honest wife may yet be the member of a harlot by a close and unreserved course of uncleanness with her; even so, one that is really and openly in covenant with Christ, and truly a member of his body, may yet, by a secret course of unfaithfulness to Him, be also a member of Satan.”

I once thought that Hooker’s saying (Ecclesiastical Polity, book iii. sec. 7), founded probably upon one of Bullinger’s in his Decades, that “the imps and limbs of Satan.” (why not Satan himself?) “provided they make an eacternal profession of Christianity, even as long as they continue such, may be, and often times are, constituent members of the visible Church of Christ,” was the ne plus ultra of profanity. What I here quote is at least an imp and limb of Hooker’s dictum, more foul and filthy even than its parents, to one of whom (Hooker) it appeals for countenance. And yet Fulwood’s book, published in 1657, is recommended by the Moderator of the Devonshire Presbyterian Association in the name of his brethren, of whom the author in all probability was one… Augustine, as we have just seen, denies that Christ can have any damnata, or putrid or dead members; and so, most assuredly, do the Scriptures, as, e.g., Eph. iv. 16.

The Visibility of the Invisible Church

Rather than two separate constitutions, memberships, societies, or churches, the distinction between the visible and invisible church is to be understood in terms of perspective – God’s vs man’s.

[T]he Church is, as to its constituent elements, that which it is as seen of God. We are bound, in the judgment of charity, to treat as members of the Church those who make a credible profession to be such, but owing to our fallibility the judgment of charity may not always be that of truth, whilst those who merely seem to be God’s chosen people, contribute nothing to the Church’s visibility as respects itself or us… God’s Church is that which He sees to be such, and our judgment neither adds to nor takes from it a single member. (29, 15)

He quotes Jean Claude

Having defined it to be the society of true believers only, he adds (Answer to Bossuet’s Dis course of the Church, p. 31), “This true Church, being a society of men, and so a body that hath its external order, as all other Societies have, has likewise consequent to that a visibility common to it with all other bodies. Thus much is necessarily supposed, for those who believe are not angels nor invisible spirits, but in this respect like the rest of mankind.” Further on he says, “The true Church is visible, and truly visible. For, first of all, it cannot be denied that it is visible at least materially as they say, because true believers are men who appear visibly in public assemblies, partake of the same sacraments, and live in the same external order.”

He elaborates

I ask, if the Church of those “who are written in heaven” cannot be discerned by us, how can Christ’s disciples, as such, be truly likened to “a city set on an hill, which cannot be hid”? or be commanded, as “the light of the world,” to let their light shine before men?… [T]he graces of the Spirit, planted in the soul, though themselves invisible, yet discover their life and being, in the tract of a Christian life, his words and actions, and the frame of his carriage. Thus faith shows that it lives, as the apostle James teaches at large” (chap. ii. 14-26)… Visibility has its degrees of more and less, nor is our discrimi nating faculty invariably accurate, yet after these necessary deductions we have still that “probability of knowledge,” which our daily experience, as well as Bishop Butler, assures us is “the very guide of life,” and not unfrequently rises into the region of “moral certainty.”* Thus it was that Barnabas (Acts xi. 23), “when he had seen the grace of God,” was not merely gladdened, but quickened by it to further labours of love. He saw it, not, doubtless, in its essentially constitutive principle, but in the tempers and conduct of the Antiochian converts. Let me add, that if (Note F) no such limited but practical visibility existed, Christians, unable to distinguish from others their brethren in Christ, could not do the special good enjoined (Gal. vi. 10) “towards the household of faith,” nor add to god liness brotherly love as distinct from charity (2 Pet. i. 7), nor admonish one another (2 Thess. iii. 6, 15), nor discharge to Christ’s brethren the offices of love by which our faith will here after be tested (Matt. xxv. 35-45), with any satisfactory evi dence that they were carrying out His injunction. As, then, to the real though modified visibility I seek to uphold, I aver that, as there is nothing in God’s Word to favour the notion of “a purely invisible Church,” so there is in it nothing whatever that “may not well be reconciled” with the fact, that in its militant portion the Church of the Elect is discernible by man, imperfectly indeed, but really and practically. (7-8)

The Nation of Israel

In behalf of the mixed composition of that Church to which alone the Professor attributes visibility to men, viz., one which may be made up of “hypocrites as well as true believers” (p. 32)… he urges two things: the dealings of God with the nation Israel as such, and also some of the New Testament parables. This is his argument from the first of these (p. 33), “There was a Church Visible standing in an external relation to God, and embracing in it many who belonged to God only after the flesh; and within the bosom of that external Church there was another, the Invisible, standing in a spiritual relation to God, and em bracing in it none but His spiritual people.” He continues, “That former dispensation has passed away, and another has succeeded it of a wider range and more elevated character, yet the principle of God’s dealings with His people is still one and the same. He still provides for the benefit of His own believing people an outward framework, so to speak, of ordinances and external administration, within which His invisible Church is hid.” (12)

Carrie adopts a subservient covenant view to answer “the Scottish Presbyterian view” on this point.

The Jewish nation was, in a sense of the term, an Ecclesia. It was a body composed of all the human beings who sprang, from Abraham’s loins, irrespective of any other consideration, and consisted therefore of Israelites after the flesh only, as well as of such as were also the children of his faith. But under the New Testament, where is there anything analogous to this temporary and typical state of things to be found?… [T]o say that professing Christendom at large has been divinely substituted for the outward Israel, is simply to beg the question at issue. Under the Sinaitic covenant, an outward Church sheltered and promoted the development of that of the the shell of a nut to its kernel, but the object of that relation having been attained, the shell has been broken, and, for a time at least, cast away. They are declared (Phil. iii. 3) to be “the circumcision now, which worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh;” or, as the Holy Ghost elsewhere (Gal. iii. 26-29) writes, “They that are Christ’s, whether Jew or Greek, are ‘Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’” Since then the outward Ecclesia under the Law exists no longer, and has not been replaced by Him who alone is competent to do so (Note L), Dr. Bannerman, though his reasoning requires it, cannot argue from that which obtained under the Law to what now exists under the Gospel. If I am mistaken when thus speaking, let my error be scripturally demonstrated. (13)

From Note L:

“Under the New Testament God did not constitute any typical or figurative Church, as He had done under the Old. His Dove is one, and consists of true believers only.” “It is true the enemy scatters his tares among God’s good corn, but this neither makes a true Church nor a typical one, for the typical Church was of God’s own institution, but these tares are not so.” Claude thus concludes—“viz., that under the Old Testament there was a typical Church, of which God Himself was the Author and Founder, whereas under the New there was to be a spiritual Church, composed of His elect, and to be no other besides that.”—Bossuet’s Reflections Examined, pp. 84,85.

The Parables

Dr. Bannerman, confounding together, as is unhappily so com mon, the very distinct ideas of that which constitutes the Church, and the condition on earth of its militant portion, speaks of it as “described by our Lord under the expressive title of the kingdom of heaven,” adding, that “on one occasion He said that the kingdom of heaven” (that is, according to Dr. Bannerman, the visible Church) “is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind.” Daillé (Catéchisme des Eglises Réformées, tom. i. 543) affirms that “It is nowhere said in Scripture” (Note M) “that the Church is represented in these parables (Matt. xiii.), but simply its state in this world, where we allow that it is often mingled with hypocrites living in the same locality, or on the same threshing-floor, meeting in the same place of public worship, and making the same profession, but who are not on that account the Church. The chaff is indeed on the same floor with the good grain, but nevertheless is not the grain. The tares, though growing together with the wheat, are not wheat. The goats are sometimes penned in the same fold with the sheep, but who would be silly enough to say that hence they are sheep? It is thus as regards the wicked, who, in the same mass as the good, are not therefore themselves good. We say then that the threshing-floor spoken of in the Gospel signifies the present dispensation, during which hypo crites and profane persons mingle themselves with the faithful so speciously, that the Lord alone in many cases can separate them from it. The net we maintain to mean, not the Church” (if it do, what do the fishes signify),” “but the preaching of the Gospel, which attracts both the good and the wicked, but which transforms and brings into the Church the elect only, the rest remaining in their natural corruption. The field in which the tares and the wheat grow together is not the Church, but the world, as the Saviour explains it, whilst the room in which the hypocrite was found seated at the table with those invited, is each particular assembly, in which the wicked often deceive the eye of men, and pass for good and faithful, who, however, as St. John witnesses, are not such, for he says, “They are not of us, though they went out from us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.” If, however, we believe our adversaries, they were of us, since they professed to be so, and since also, according to their” (the Romish) “teaching, profession suffices to make a man a true member of the Church. They have nothing else of moment on this subject to object to us, and we conclude, therefore, that the faithful are the mem— bers of the Church, and that the hypocrites and the profane, whatever they profess, are not of it, unless they are changed.”

He adds

Mr. Arnot on the Parables (p. 82), writes:—“‘The field is the world,” said the Lord; “The field is the Church,” say the interpreters. It is wearisome to read the reasonings whereby they endeavour to justify their assumption.”


In response to Bannerman’s claim that “there are external privileges which he [the unbeliever] may and does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession and observance” (p. 31), Currie responds

This statement seems to me very melancholy, and as much opposed to the truth of God, and as suited to lead astray in a matter of very great if not of vital moment, as though an enemy to His truth had penned it. My notice of it must needs be very elementary, but it does strike me as utterly irreconcilable with the inspired declaration (Rom. viii. 9), that “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His,” and consequently not a member of His one body the Church. Again, to those whom He is said to have invited to join His Church, who complied with the invitation, and who were then “made par takers by Him in the external privileges and ordinances of a Church state” (p. 31), how will He be able to say with truth, as we know (Matt. vii. 23) He will say, “I never knew you,” that is, evidently, I never acknowledged and owned you as Mine?… (20)

Daillé may well ask, “How canst thou range in the Church” (thus supposed by thee to be in great measure constituted) “those against whom the gates of hell are con tinually prevailing” (Matt. xvi. 18), “or how say that in all ages hypocrites, for such compose the Church, etc., as well as His believing people, shall be protected and preserved by Him, notwithstanding the opposition of all their enemies?” (22)

Currie concludes

If glory to God is to be given in His Church by Christ Jesus (Eph. iii. 21), not only in heavenly places (Eph. iii. 10), but on earth (Luke ii. 14, 1 Pet. ii. 9-12), and if, consequently, men created anew in the moral likeness of the Deity and acting under the leadings of the Holy Spirit, are to be the instruments in thus glorifying Him by the living out the Gospel, then to teach that those are members of His Church who are still in reality the bond-slaves of sin and Satan, is to thwart the very design of God’s Ecclesia. Dr. Bannerman writes, p. 78, “The Visible Church can never be completely, and in all its parts identical, in this world with the Invisible,” but unless God have seen fit to interpose a physical inability additional to the moral, it is still our bounden duty to tend in honest effort at least towards the ideal of the Church militant, as composed only of believers imperfectly but truly regenerated. Sinless perfection will not be attained on this side the grave, but on that account to aim at anything less would be to sin; nor will our obligation to give glory to God in His Church be discharged by lowering its prescribed standard. Though forbidden the use of violence in the attempt to pull up the tares, and though the strictest discipline may have only a partial success, it must still be enforced; but its failure in a measure will not warrant our placing by the side of the one holy Catholic Church one of our own imagining. (24)

Addendum – Continental Reformed Confessions

Currie provides the following in an end note

NOTED, p. 7. “The Reformed Confessions.” The Tetrapolitan (A.D. 1539) Art. xv., “Of the Church,” having defined it as consisting of true believers only, says, as to the Church’s visibility, “Although that whereby this congregation hath obtained to be called the Church and company of Christ (to wit, faith itself cannot be seen), yet the fruits of that faith can be seen and known, and of them a certain Christian conjecture can be made. These fruits be chiefly a bold profession of faith, a true love offering itself to do humble service to all men, and a contempt of all things.” It further speaks of those fruits as visible “that in the same we may be instructed, admonished, and help one another.”

The later Helvetic Confession, teaching that the Church is “a company of the faithful, who do truly know and serve the true God—by the Word and by the Spirit,” adds (sec. 8) that “they do thereby declare (i.e. clearly show) themselves to be the disciples of Christ by continuing in the bond of peace and holy unity.” To harmonize with such a statement, the declaration of the Confession (sec. 9), “Whereupon the Church of God may be termed invisible,” etc., must refer to such seasons of persecution and comparative obscurity, as it had just mentioned, and is explained by the words that immediately follow —“not that the men whereof it consisteth (i.e. the Church) are invisible, but because being at such times hidden from our sight, and known only to God, it cannot be discerned by the judgment of man.

The Bohemian Confession (given Reformation of Bohemia, vol. i. p. 101), says, “We believe that there is one holy Catholic Church, always abiding and the same, while here in this world is a visible assembly of believers (not merely outward professors) who in all places adhere to the true and pure doctrine of Christ.”

The Basle Confession (1532) makes the “holy Christian Church, i.e. a communion of saints (Rom. i. 7), a gathering together of the faithful in spirit, to consist of such as show forth their faith by the works of love,” whilst the English Article 19 terms “the visible Church of Christ a congrega tion of faithful men.” Archbishop Whately and Mr. Litton would make the Article to say “a visible Church of Christ,” and would reduce the term “faithful” to mean simply a profession of faith, not necessarily working by love; but the definition of the Anglican Church in the nearly contemporaneous Homily for Whitsunday, Part ii., which describes it as composed of the faithful and elect people, surely does away with the objection. Even as late as 1618 the Synod of Dort, Article 27, speaking of the Church as consist ing of such as are washed in the blood, and sanctified and sealed by God’s Holy Spirit, goes on to say that “the company of hypocrites which are mixed among the godly in the Church, yet are not of it,” and further states, “but as touching the members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of a true Christian, i.e., by their faith, and when having received Jesus Christ their only Saviour, they flee from sin and follow righteousness, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof.” I would here add a Scottish Confession as much to the point of my argument as any of those just quoted, though as being of the 16th century it must, according to Dr. Bannerman (p. 62), be viewed as “a somewhat loose and popular definition.” Compared with the Westminster definition, it seems to me to justify the charge Dr. Bannerman relates of a fundamental, but not progressive change of view as to what constitutes the Church :—

“The Holy Catholic Church the Communion of Saints.

“We constantly believe that there is, was, and shall be till the coming of the Lord Jesus, a Church which is holy and universal, to wit, the communion of saints. This Church is holy because it receives free remission of sins, and that by faith only in the blood of Jesus Christ. Secondly, because it being regenerate it receiveth the Spirit of sanctification and power, to walk in new ness of life and in good works which God hath prepared for His chosen to walk in.’ Not that we think the justice of this Church, or any member of the same, ever was, or ever yet shall be, so full and perfect that it needeth not to stoop under mercy; but that because the imperfections are pardoned, and the justice of Jesus Christ imputed to such as by true faith cleave unto Him; which Church we call universal because it consisteth and standeth of all tongues and nations, yea, of all estates and conditions of men and women whom of His mercy God calleth from darkness to light, and from the bondage and thraldom of sin to His spiritual service and purity of life; unto whom He also communicateth His Holy Spirit, giveth unto them one faith, one head and sovereign Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, one baptism and right use of sacraments; whose heart also He knitteth together in love and Christian concord.”—Book of Common Order, received and used by the Reformed Kirk of Scotland, ch. ix., Order of Baptism—Exposition of Creed before Baptism.


For further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further reading:

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

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

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

Below are some further comments on the discussion.

Hines’ Opening Statement

Acts 7:38 – ἐκκλησία (ekklhsia)

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

The Gospel was preached to Abraham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gal 3 says the Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace

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

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

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

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

This is merely begging the question.

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

Again, that’s begging the question.

Acts 2 simply restates Gen 17

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

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

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

The Old Covenant had church discipline just like the New Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants

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

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

Calvin likewise argued in Institutes 2.10.2 that

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

Commenting on Jeremiah 31:31, Calvin said

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

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

Peter Lillback notes

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

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

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

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

Dennis Johnson notes

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

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

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

Kline explained

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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