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Does Teaching Someone the Bible Make Them a Christian?

May 17, 2016 11 comments

Someone recently sent me the following argument from a paedobaptist and asked me to respond.

Obviously, if you hold to credobaptism, you won’t agree with this conclusion on it’s face, but I’d love to hear some thoughtful non-defensive responses. There is an explicitness to the gospel that is only communicated and received with a certain level of mental understanding. Which leads a lot of people to say that we can’t say someone is a Christian until they are able to grasp and profess belief in this message. I get that. But… as a worldview, as a moral basis, as a way of life, Christianity is something that is practically lived in as well. A baby born into a Christian family, from day one is given a Christian worldview. They are certainly not being trained to be atheists or pagans. Nobody exists without a worldview, and if the worldview you’re being taught is the Bible, then you are a Bible believer by default. The Jews didn’t have to debate this issue because it was so explicitly commanded that they should raise their kids as Jews. But Judaism wasn’t a religion that lacked anything Christianity does, in fact it is the same religion. It had laws that were to be obeyed with gratitude, it demanded faith in God and his promises, it threatened those in the religion not to turn away… so what changed? My argument is that nothing has changed, and in practice, we all know it. Are we not required to raise our children as Christians? “Well it depends on what you mean by Christian”. But does it? Do we tell our kids to obey God’s law? Why? To be justified? No… because they are required to. Why? If it isn’t for their justification, then why? It’s because we recognize that they are under the authority of Christ by virtue of being in your home. If we require our children to obey God’s law, with threats of discipline if they fail, yet we do not recognize them as Christians, we are demanding that they rely on their flesh to obey God’s law… this is hypocritical. For some reason this line of reasoning confuses people and makes them think I’m saying Baptists don’t raise their kids in the faith. I’m actually saying the exact opposite. They do raise them in the faith, while also saying they are not in the faith. [For the record: This is a tension I held all my days as a credobaptist. Even when I was the most conviced of the position, I couldn’t reconcile this issue.]


 

This is a typical paedobaptist collectivist mindset. It’s what allows them to think that entire nations can be part of the church, as the magisterial reformers practiced. Entire nations became Protestants “at the blast of a trumpet” (the governing authorities’ declaration). They ridicule baptists for being too individualistic, but we merely recognize that believing the gospel is an individual matter. Collectives (families, nations) are not saved. Individuals are.

if the worldview you’re being taught is the Bible, then you are a Bible believer by default

Being taught a biblical worldview includes being taught the Gospel. Therefore, in order to have a biblical worldview, in order to believe the bible, you must believe the gospel. If you don’t believe the gospel, then you don’t have a biblical worldview.

Just because someone is taught something doesn’t mean they believe it. That would certainly make evangelism much easier if it were the case. And if they do believe the gospel, then they are a Christian – which is precisely what credobaptists believe.

The Jews didn’t have to debate this issue because it was so explicitly commanded that they should raise their kids as Jews.

Being regenerate was not a requirement for being a Jew (member of the Old Covenant), so it was a completely different issue.

But Judaism wasn’t a religion that lacked anything Christianity does, in fact it is the same religion.

Notice that this is the one and only retort for every defense of paedobaptism: go to Israel. Go to the Old Covenant. Because it cannot be defended otherwise.

The statement is misleading. Judaism lacked Christ. It revealed Christ in types and shadows, but Christ had not yet come. When he did come and establish the New Covenant, the Old Covenant was made obsolete, so appealing to Old Covenant worship and religion is appealing to types and shadows that have passed away.

An elect remnant within Israel certainly saw Christ. They believed in the promise of the coming Messiah and were thereby saved just as we are. But that does not mean that Israelites were Christians. It means that some Israelites were Christians. Some physical Israelites were also spiritual Israelites. For a more detailed explanation of this point, see Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel and Calvin vs 1689 Federalism on Old vs New, as well as When Did the Church Begin?

Do we tell our kids to obey God’s law? Why? To be justified? No… because they are required to. Why? If it isn’t for their justification, then why? It’s because we recognize that they are under the authority of Christ by virtue of being in your home.

This individual needs to study his theology a bit more. All image bearers are required to obey God’s law by virtue of the fact that they are God’s image bearers – regenerate or not. They are under God’s authority whether they are Christians or not. Westminster and London Baptist Confessions 19.5 say “The moral law does forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof.” That’s why we teach our children to obey God’s law.

If we require our children to obey God’s law, with threats of discipline if they fail, yet we do not recognize them as Christians, we are demanding that they rely on their flesh to obey God’s law… this is hypocritical.

Again, this individual needs to study his theology a bit more. What he is rejecting here is the second use of the law. R.C. Sproul explains

A second purpose for the law is the restraint of evil. The law, in and of itself, cannot change human hearts. It can, however, serve to protect the righteous from the unjust. Calvin says this purpose is “by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.”3 The law allows for a limited measure of justice on this earth, until the last judgment is realized.

And as Tedd Tripp (baptist) explains in Shepherding a Child’s Heart, we also discipline our children to teach them how God hates sin in order to lead them to the gospel. This is simply the first use of the law. Again, Sproul:

The first purpose of the law is to be a mirror. On the one hand, the law of God reflects and mirrors the perfect righteousness of God. The law tells us much about who God is. Perhaps more important, the law illumines human sinfulness. Augustine wrote, “The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.”2 The law highlights our weakness so that we might seek the strength found in Christ. Here the law acts as a severe schoolmaster who drives us to Christ.

This paedobaptist is arguing that the third use of the law is the only valid use.

They do raise them in the faith, while also saying they are not in the faith.

We teach them a biblical worldview, which includes obedience to God’s law. Obedience to God’s law includes the command to believe whatever God says. Thus obedience to God’s law includes the command to believe the gospel. That is what we teach our children. But the fact that we teach them a biblical worldview, including the gospel, does not therefore mean they believe it. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

1 Cor. 7:14 – No Proof of Infant Baptism

April 5, 2016 8 comments

The previous post explained the correct interpretation of 1 Cor 7:14 as dealing with the legitimacy of marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. This post is a discussion I had with an OPC pastor regarding the text. By the end of the discussion he acknowledges that the text does not prove infant baptism and that he does not know what the holiness of the spouse is.

On Facebook, Jim Cassidy, frequent co-host of Reformed Forum, posted a link to a sermon by Glen Clary on 1 Cor. 7:14 with the title “The Case for Infant Baptism.” Cassidy commented “And that just about ends that debate! Give it a listen….”

So I gave it a listen, and then commented. Here is the discussion (posted with permission). I greatly appreciate Clary’s willingness to discuss openly and to follow the logic. He blogs at Ancient-Reformed Worship.

Discussion

 

Matthew Thanks Jim for posting. I listened to it and thought his presentation was clear and that he made a number of helpful points.

I have one question: if ‘holy’ in this passage means a covenantal status that grants the privileges of baptism and membership into Christ’s church, then should the unbelieving spouse also receive baptism since they are also holy? If the the spouse is also covenantally holy then I have two more questions. 1. On what basis can we withhold baptism if they are covenantally holy and a member of Christ’s church? Secondly, would we not have to excommunicate them for apostasy or leading an unrepentantly sinful life (1 Corinthians 5), and if so then wouldn’t we have discipline them at that same time we would have to baptize them (wouldn’t that excluded them from the sign)?


Glen Clary: Matthew. You’re second point answers your first one. The unbeliever would have to be excommunicated for his unbelief (likely an idolater … in first century Corinth). The child would also have to be excommunicated if (God forbid) he grows up to deny the faith and worships idols.

John M. Mason addressed that very question in the 19th c. Here’s his answer.

The only plausible difficulty which lies against our view, is, that “According to the same reasoning, an unbeliever, continuing in unbelief, becomes a member of the church in consequence of marriage with a believer. For the apostle does not more positively affirm that the children are “holy,” than he affirms that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife sanctified, or “made holy,” by the husband.

Therefore, if holiness imparted by the parent to the children, makes them members of the church, the holiness imparted by one parent to the other, makes him or her, a member of the church.

This will not be maintained. For it would be absurd to imagine, that an infidel adult, living in open hostility to the church of God, should be reckoned among its members merely in virtue of union to a believing husband or wife. Well then, if the “sanctification,” which an unbelieving wife derives from her believing husband, does not make her a member of the church, the “holiness” which children derive from a believing parent, cannot make them members of the church.”

The objection is shrewd: but, like many other shrewd things, more calculated to embarrass an inquirer, than to assist him. Our answer is short. First, It makes the apostle talk nonsense. The amount of it when stripped of its speciousness and tried by the standard of common sense, being neither more nor less than this, that all his discourse about the sanctification of husband and wife, and the holiness of their children, means—just nothing at all.

For if it be not an internal holiness, which we do not affirm; nor an external relative holiness, which the objection denies; then a person is said by the apostle to be holy, whose holiness is neither within him nor without him; neither in soul, nor spirit, nor body, nor state, nor condition, nor anything else: which, in our apprehension, is as genuine nonsense as can well be uttered.

If those who differ from us feel themselves wronged, we beg them to show in what the holiness mentioned by the apostle consists.

Secondly. The objection takes for granted, that the sanctification of the husband by his wife, or of the wife by her husband, is precisely of the same extent, and produces on its subject the same effect, as the holiness which children inherit from a believing parent. This is certainly erroneous. (1.) The covenant of God never founded the privilege of membership in his church upon the mere fact of intermarriage with his people: but it did expressly found that privilege upon the fact of being born of them. (2.) By a positive precept, adults were not to be admitted into the church without a profession of their faith. This is a special statute, limiting, in the case of adults, the general doctrine of membership. Consequently, the doctrine of Paul must be explained by the restriction of that statute.

“Sanctify” her unbelieving husband the believing wife does; and so does the believing husband his unbelieving wife; i.e. to a certain length; but not so far as to render the partner thus sanctified, a member of the church—The former cannot be doubted, for the apostle peremptorily asserts it—The latter cannot be admitted; for it would contravene the statute already quoted. The membership of infants does not contravene it. And, therefore, although the holiness which the apostle ascribes to infants involves their membership; it does not follow that the sanctifying influence over an unbelieving husband or wife, which he ascribes to the believing wife or husband, involves the church membership of the party thus sanctified.

(3.) The very words of the text lead to the same conclusion. They teach us, in the plainest manner, that this sanctification regards the unbelieving parent not for his own sake, but as a medium affecting the transmission of covenant privilege to the children of a believer. A simple, and we think, satisfactory account of the matter, is this: Among the early conversions to Christianity, it often happened, that the gospel was believed by a woman, and rejected by her husband; or believed by a man, and rejected by his wife. One of the invariable effects of Christianity being a tender concern in parents for the welfare of their offspring; a question was naturally suggested by such a disparity of religious condition, as to the light in which the children were to be viewed. Considering the one parent, they were to be accounted “holy;” but considering the other, they were to be accounted “unclean.” Did the character of the former place them within the church of God; or the character of the latter without it? or did they belong partly to the church and partly to the world, but wholly to neither ? The difficulty was a real one; and calculated to excite much distress in the minds of parents who, like the primitive Christians, did not treat the relation of their little ones to the church of God, as a slight and uninteresting affair.

Paul obviates it by telling his Corinthian friends, that in this case where the argument for the children appears to be perfectly balanced by the argument against them, God has graciously inclined the scale in favour of his people: so that for the purpose of conveying to their infants the privilege of being within his covenant and church, the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife by the husband. If it were not so, it must be the reverse; because it is impossible that a child should be born in two contrary moral states: then, the believing husband being rendered “unclean” by his wife; and the believing wife “unclean” by her husband, their children would also be “unclean,” i.e. would be born, not in a state of separation to God; but in a state of separation from him; like those who are without the bond of his covenant, and, not being appropriated to him, are “common” or “unclean.”

But now, saith the apostle, God has determined that the parental influence shall go the other way. That instead of the interest which a child has in his covenant, by virtue of the faith of one parent, being made void by the infidelity of the other; the very fact of being married to a believer, shall so far control the effect of unbelief—shall so far consecrate the infidel party, as that the children of such a marriage shall be accounted of the covenanted seed; shall be members of the church— Now, saith Paul, they are HOLY.

The passage which we have explained, establishes the church membership of infants in another form. For it assumes the principle that when both parents are reputed believers, their children belong to the church of God as a matter of course. The whole difficulty proposed by the Corinthians to Paul grows out of this principle. Had he taught, or they understood, that no children, be their parents believers or unbelievers, are to be accounted members of the church, the difficulty could not have existed. For if the faith of both parents could not confer upon a child the privilege of membership, the faith of only one of them certainly could not. The point was decided. It would have been mere impertinence to teaze the apostle with queries which carried their own answer along with them. But on the supposition that when both parents were members, their children, also, were members; the difficulty is very natural and serious.

“I see,” would a Corinthian convert exclaim, “I see the children of my Christian neighbours, owned as members of the church of God; and I see the children of others, who are unbelievers, rejected with themselves. I believe in Christ myself; but my husband, my wife, believes not. “What is to become of my children? Are they to be admitted with myself? or are they to be cast off with my partner?” “Let not your heart be troubled,” replies the apostle: “God reckons them to the believing, not to the unbelieving, parent. It is enough that they are yours. The infidelity of your partner shall never frustrate their interest in the covenant of your God. They are ‘holy’ because you are so.” This decision put the subject at rest.

And it lets us know that one of the reasons, if not the chief reason of the doubt, whether a married person should continue, after conversion, in the conjugal society of an infidel partner, arose from a fear lest such continuance should exclude the children from the church of God. Otherwise it is hard to comprehend why the apostle should dissuade them from separating, by such an argument as he has employed in the text. And it is utterly inconceivable how such a doubt could have entered their minds, had not the membership of infants, born of believing parents, been undisputed, and esteemed a high privilege; so high a privilege, as that the apprehension of losing it made conscientious parents at a stand whether they ought not rather to break the ties of wedlock, by withdrawing from an unbelieving husband or wife. Thus, the origin of this difficulty on the one hand, and the solution of it, on the other, concur in establishing our doctrine, that, by the appointment of God himself, the infants of believing parents are born members of his church.


Brandon Adams: [responding to the claim in the sermon that there was only ever one people of God, therefore Israel was the church and holiness if the congregation of Christ is the same as holiness in the congregation of Israel]

appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people. This is not only evident by what has been already observed, but also indisputably manifest from Rom. ix. 3, 4, 5… It is to be noted, that the privileges here mentioned are spoken of as belonging to the Jews, not now as visible saints, not as professors of the true religion, not as members of the visible church of Christ; but only as people of such a nation, such a blood, such an external and carnal relation to the patriarchs their ancestors, Israelites according to the flesh. For the apostle is speaking here of the unbelieving Jews, professed unbelievers, that were out of the christian church, and open visible enemies to it, and such as had no right to the external privileges of Christ’s people…

that covenant with the patriarchs contained other things that were appendages to that everlasting covenant of grace; promises of lesser matters, subservient to the grand promise of the future seed, and typical of things appertaining to him. Such were those that annexed the blessing to the land of Canaan, and the progeny of Isaac and Jacob. Just so it was also as to the covenant God made with David. 2 Sam. vii.. and Psal. cxxxii.. If we consider that covenant with regard to its marrow and soul, it was the covenant of grace: but there were other subservient promises which were typical of its benefits; such were promises of blessings to the nation of Israel, of continuing the temporal crown to David’s posterity, and of fixing the blessing to Jerusalem or mount Zion, as the place which he chose to set his name there. And in this sense it was that the very family of Jacob were God’s people by covenant, and his chosen people; even when they were no visible saints, when they lived in idolatry, and made no profession of the true religion.

On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in…

That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace

-Jonathan Edwards

 

Much of 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… 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…

The fallacy of this whole argument lies in the false assumption, that the external Israel was the true Church…

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). 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.

-Charles Hodge


Brandon Adams: Glen, thank you for that extensive quote in response to Matthew’s question. However, I do not believe it sufficiently answers the dilemma, for a number of reasons.

1) Mason criticizes his objectors by saying they provide no definition of what holiness means. However, Mason winds up in the exact same situation. He denies that the holiness of the spouse is the same as the holiness of the child. The holiness of the child accounts them a member of the church, and thus a right to baptism. This is founded upon the belief that the child is considered holy because they are a member of the covenant of grace. But on what basis is the spouse considered holy? Is it also because they are members of the covenant of grace? If not, what is the basis? What is this holiness if it is not covenant holiness? Mason suffers the problem he criticizes others of: he provides no definition of the spouse’s holiness.

2) If the spouse is considered holy by their membership in the covenant of grace, just like the child, then they have a right to baptism, just like the child. However, Mason rejects this idea when he says “it would be absurd to imagine, that an infidel adult, living in open hostility to the church of God, should be reckoned among its members merely in virtue of union to a believing husband or wife.” Mason thus rejects the idea that the spouse is covenantally holy by virtue of their marriage to a believer. Along the same lines, you said “The unbeliever would have to be excommunicated for his unbelief.” If someone is excommunicated, they are not considered part of the church, nor part of the covenant of grace, and therefore not holy (unless you can offer a different basis for holiness, which goes back to #1).

3) Using a modus tollens form of argument, Paul argues from the status of the child to the status of the spouse:

If P, then Q,
Not Q,
Therefore, Not P.

If the spouse is unholy, then the children would be unholy.
But the children are holy (not-Q),
Therefore, the spouse is holy (not-P).

Per #2 above, you and Mason acknowledge that an unbeliever is unholy. Thus, according to Paul’s logic, the children are likewise unholy.


Glen Clary: Hmmm. Interesting points.
The unbelieving husband certainly has an unholy nature. No question about that. The child may also have an unholy nature, though that is not certain, since he may very well be regenerate.
The status of the unbelieving spouse is, in some sense, holy, since that’s what the text says. The unbelieving spouse derives his/her holiness from the believer; he/she is holy in or through the believing spouse.
The holy status of the children is derived from the status of the parents. The argument seems to be that if both parents are not holy, then the children would be unholy/unclean.
Re: Mason’s explanation, I see your point that he’s guilty of doing what he accuses his opponents of doing. Not sure what to make of that. I’ll have to chew on that some more.

The point Matthew raised about excommunicating the unbeliever/idolater seems to be significant. The unbeliever can’t be baptized because he’s an unbeliever; he would have to be excommunicated for his unbelief. That would also have to be true of the child if he never comes to faith in Christ right?

I preached a couple of sermons on this text. I try to deal with the nature of the holiness of the unbeliever. I referred to him/her as the unbelieving saint.
Here are the links if interested
http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp… Marriage and the Gospel Part 3

http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?sermonid=320161259164 The Case for Infant Baptism


Brandon Adams:

That would also have to be true of the child if he never comes to faith in Christ right?

Yes, though that’s not directly my point of focus here.


Glen Clary: Thanks for the feedback. I’ve been working on this verse for a while. Not an easy one.


Brandon Adams: Thanks, I will listen to the sermons. Could you provide a brief answer? Is the spouse holy because they are in the covenant of grace?

btw, I listened to the second link already. In that sermon you define the holiness as covenant holiness.


Glen Clary: On the one point that you raised

This is founded upon the belief that the child is considered holy because they are a member of the covenant of grace. But on what basis is the spouse considered holy? Is it also because they are members of the covenant of grace? If not, what is the basis?

The basis of the holiness of the unbelieving husband is his union to his believing wife. The unbelieving husband is made holy in virtue of his union to his wife. I take that to be the meaning of the preposition EN in the text. Still not exactly sure what that means, but…

Yes, I think covenant holiness is in view with regard to all three parties: the believer, the unbeliever and the child.

The reason I take it that way is the holiness that covers all three parties must be the same as the holiness of the believer, since it’s the believer’s holiness that stands behind the holiness of all three. At least that’s what it looks like it’s saying to me.


Brandon Adams: Do you believe that an unbeliever who has been excommunicated from the church is still covenantally holy?


Glen Clary: no


Brandon Adams: Then I am confused. At what point is the unbelieving spouse covenantally holy?


Glen Clary: well, not so sure about my “no”. it depends. if an excommunicated person were still married to a believer, then he would have some sort of holiness as per 7:14

The unbelieving spouse is covenantally holy in some sense as long as he/she is married to a believer


Brandon Adams: Can you define that sense? I’m having a hard time understanding how someone can be excommunicated from the church, yet still be a member of the covenant of grace.


Glen Clary: but that holiness (if it be a covenantal holiness) is derived from his/her marriage union to the believer not from his/her union to Christ

you’re having a hard time with it? I think I am too and so was Mason.


Brandon Adams: Well, personally, I don’t have a hard time with the passage. I have a hard time with your view of the passage.


Glen Clary well then… 😉

Let’s hear your explanation. smile emoticon


Brandon Adams:

Melancthon:

Therefore Paul answers that the marriages are not to be pulled asunder for their unlike opinions of God if the impious person do not cast away the other. And for comfort, he adds as a reason, the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife. Meat is sanctified for that which is holy in use that is granted to believers from God. So here he speaks the use of marriage to be holy and to be granted of God. Things prohibited under the law as swine’s flesh, and a woman in her pollution, were called unclean. The connection of the argument is this: If the use of marriage should not please God, your children would be bastards and so unclean, but your children are not bastards therefore the use of marriage pleaseth God. And how bastards were unclean under the law shows Deut. 23.


Glen Clary: Ran across that view in a few commentaries. I wasn’t and am not convinced of it. It’s not the marriage that is sanctified; it’s the unbelieving spouse who is sanctified. The legitimacy of the marriage and of the children is not the issue in the text. So I don’t think that’s an adequate explanation of the meaning of the text.


Brandon Adams: The legitimacy of the marriage is quite obviously the context 🙂 v 13 “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.”

Given that you have not provided a viable alternative interpretation…


Glen Clary: Granted my interpretation poses problems, but that does not prove the legitimacy of the legitimacy interpretation. If legitimacy were obvious, then there should be much more agreement on the interpretation of the text. Fact is, most commentators do not take that view

That interpretation raises all kinds of problems with regard to what scripture teaches about marriage. If neither spouse were a believer, the marriage would be legit and their children legit. Common grace ordinance…


Brandon Adams: Yes, most commentators do not take that view because, like you, they rely on it to prove infant baptism.

But your interpretation results in direct contradiction which you have not resolved.


 

Glen Clary: Actually, I’ve read +40 commentaries on the text, and most do not use the text to prove infant baptism. In fact, there are some commentators (ancient and modern) who use it to disprove infant baptism.

Pelagius, for example, used it to prove that infants should not be baptized. Augustine countered his interpretation.

There are difficulties with my view, but that, of course, is not the same as contradiction. There are no contradictions in the traditional Reformed interpretation of the text. Difficulties? Yes. Contradictions? Nope.


Brandon Adams: Contradiction: the unbelieving spouse is covenantally holy but is not part of the covenant of grace.


Glen Clary He is only holy in virtue of his one-flesh union to one who is a member of the covt
No contradiction


Brandon Adams: But the child’s holiness is on a completely different basis and produces completely different consequences, and you cannot define or articulate what the non-covenantal covenantal holiness of the spouse is?


Glen Clary: The child’s holiness may be on a different basis. I cant go beyond the text. If the text doesnt articulate or define the holiness of the unbeliever then neither can we. One thing is clear … his holiness is derived from his union to a believer. No doubt about that


Brandon Adams: If you believe the child’s holiness is by virtue of their membership in the covenant of grace, then you must conclude their holiness is on a different basis than the spouse, who is not a member of the covenant of grace. Correct?


Glen Clary: I have no prob with that


Brandon Adams: So the text does not require, as a necessary consequence, that the holiness in view in v14 is by virtue of one’s membership in the covenant of grace. Correct?


Glen Clary: Yes it does. The believer is only holy because of his membership in the covenant of grace. The unbelieving spouse is holy only in virtue of his one-flesh union to the believer. The preposition EN makes that clear. If the believer were not a member of the covenant of grace, neither married partner would be holy in any sense at all. So the text does require, as a necessary consequence, that the holiness in view in v. 14 is by virtue of membership in the covenant of grace.


Brandon Adams: Let me rephrase then:
So the text does not require, as a necessary consequence, that the holiness of the unbelieving spouse or the child is by virtue of their individual membership in the covenant of grace. Correct?


Glen Clary: Correct. The text doesn’t state the basis of the children’s holy status, and I don’t think their inclusion in the covenant of grace can be derived from this single text as a necessary consequence. I stated that at the very beginning of my sermon on the text. Their inclusion in the covenant of grace is stated explicitly elsewhere such as in Gen. 17.

I do think it is telling that Paul does not argue here for the holy status of the children. He assumes that the Christians in Corinth take that as a given. He uses the holy status of the children (which they are certain about) to prove his argument for the holiness of the unbelieving spouse.

One wonders why the holy status of the children is something that he assumes is a given. Their inclusion in the covenant of grace (which scripture explicitly states elsewhere) is a good explanation for that.


Brandon Adams: Ok thanks. Seems Jim Cassidy was a bit over-zealous in his claim that your sermon ends the debate on infant baptism, since the sermon does not claim that the sermon text proves infant baptism. Once again, upon examination, we find another text that only “proves” infant baptism if you first approach the text with the assumption that infant baptism is biblical.

The legitimacy interpretation mentioned above explains the holy status of children quite clearly and why Paul could assume it.


 

Glen Clary: The legitimacy interpretation, my friend, is ridiculous, which is why virtually every commentator rejects it today. It has no merit to it whatsoever (other than it might get you and other credobaptists off the hook for explaining the holy status of ourchildren).

I’ve made my case for the paedobaptist interpretation. There are difficulties with that interpretation, I know, but at least one thing it has in its favor is that it is a genuine exegesis of the text. It doesn’t totally redefine the meaning of holy as legitimate, a meaning which it NEVER has anywhere in Paul’s letters.

The legitimacy interpretation fails on that account, and for that reason, it must be rejected as incorrect.

Having said that, I fully admit that even if the legitimacy interpretation is wrong (which it is), that does not prove that the paedobaptist interpretation is correct. Both could be wrong. But I remain convinced that despite its difficulties, ours is correct.

You’ve done a fine job of pointing out the difficulties of the text, but you’ve done nothing at all to demonstrate any exegetical or theological fallacies in our interpretation.

1 Cor. 7:14 is not an easy text because it’s a bit unclear. What is abundantly clear is that there is only one church and one covenant of grace throughout scripture. And what’s equally clear is that children have always been included in that covenant.

I’m checking out of this conversation because we’re now repeating ourselves. In fact, as Mason illustrates, this debate over the meaning of holy in 7:14 is not new. Same old debate.

Credobaptists will never prove that God now commands children to be excluded from the covenant of grace even though he at one time commanded their inclusion.


Brandon Adams: Thank you for your time Glen. In conclusion, the spouse’s holiness is not derived from their membership in the covenant of grace, thus there is no reason one must conclude the child’s is either. That assumption is brought to the text from elsewhere to explain the text.

What is abundantly clear is that there is only one church and one covenant of grace throughout scripture.

Yes, but it does not therefore follow that Israel was the church nor that the Abrahamic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace (see my previous quotes before this conversation from Edwards and Hodge).

Have a good night!

A Critique of R. Scott Clark’s Covenant Theology

January 30, 2016 27 comments

Synopsis: The historic reformed argument for paedobaptism (see Calvin Inst. 2.10-11) is that the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and New are all the same covenant. Clark rejects this and holds to the subservient covenant view instead. He acknowledges that the temporary, typological, national, ethnic Israel of the Old Covenant finds its source in the Abrahamic Covenant. Thus the Abrahamic and the New are not, in fact, one and the same, and his appeal to Abraham to justify paedobaptism thereby fails.


Recently R. Scott Clark spoke on the Calvinist Batman podcast about covenant theology and baptism. He also has A Curriculum For Those Wrestling Through Covenant Theology And Infant Baptism, a 5-part series called Some of the Differences Between Baptists and Reformed Theology on the New Covenant, as well as a printed booklet called Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace. [For a response to his new podcast series, see here]

I greatly appreciate Dr. Clark’s work in defense of justification by faith alone. He sees quite clearly how much of the professed reformed church has been infiltrated by a false gospel. He sees it for the threat that it is and he speaks loudly against it. I stand beside him in that and I am thankful for his work in that respect. The critique I offer below should not take anything away from that. I offer it in an effort to sharpen iron and edify the church.

The critique is long, but I think you will find it worth your time. I appreciate your patience.

Summary of Clark’s View

Clark has offered this concise summary:

The Abrahamic covenant is still in force. The administration of the Abrahamic covenant involved believers and their children (Gen 17). That’s why Peter said, “For the promise to you and to your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). That’s a New Testament re-statement of the Abrahamic promise of Genesis 17 and in the minor prophets (e.g., Joel 2). Only believers have ever actually inherited, by grace alone, through faith alone, the substance of the promise (Christ and salvation) but the signs and seals of the promise have always been administered to believers and their children. It’s both/and not either/or.

When Clark addresses this issue to baptists, he is addressing a very wide spectrum of baptists. Therefore much of what he says isn’t always applicable to confessional baptists. There is a great deal of agreement between Clark and confessional baptists. We agree that a proper understanding of the antithetical nature of the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace is essential for properly understanding the law/gospel antithesis, and thus the gospel (something many, including professed reformed, do not). We agree that all men throughout history have only ever been saved by God’s sovereign work through the Covenant of Grace.

Where differences start to emerge is on the nature of the Covenant of Grace. Clark believes that 1) the Covenant of Grace, including its membership, exists on two levels: its substance and its administration, and 2) all of the post-fall covenants are administrations of the Covenant of Grace.

Regarding 1), Clark notes

As part of his [Olevianus’] education he learned the traditional Christian appropriation of the [Aristotelean] distinction between the substance of a thing, i.e., its essence, and its accidents or external appearance… The substance of a thing is what makes it what it is, the thing without which it doesn’t exist. The accidents or circumstances are the administration of the covenant of grace.

This applies to membership in that

there has always been different ways of relating to the one covenant of grace at the same time. The OT prophets and the Apostle Paul clearly distinguished between those who had only external, outward relation to the covenant of grace and those who had an outward and an internal or inward or spiritual relation to the covenant of grace.

So what is the substance of the Covenant of Grace?

At first glance, the phrase “substance of the covenant” might seem nebulous but it isn’t. It’s the most practical thing: free acceptance with God and being gradually conformed to Christ’s image… How did the Olevianus and others define the substance or essence of the covenant of grace? “I will put my law in your midst, and I will write my law in your heart and I will be your God and you will be my people.” Embedded in this prophetic articulation of the covenant of grace is essentially or substantially the same promise he had made to Adam, after the fall (Gen 3), to Noah (Gen 6), and to Abraham (Gen 17).

The Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace, in substance, and since Abraham gave the covenant sign to his children in the administration of the covenant (even though they were not all partakers of the substance of the covenant), Christians today should give the covenant sign to their children (even if they do not all participate in the substance of the covenant) because the covenant sign was never revoked. It only changed its outward appearance (circumcision turned into baptism). Ergo, paedobaptism.

Moses not Abraham?

The primary point Clark tries to drive home across his writings is that baptists are confused because they fail to distinguish between the Mosaic Covenant (which is contrasted with the New and has passed away) and the Abrahamic Covenant (which is the same as the New and has not passed away).

The contrast, then, in Jeremiah 31 is not between Abraham and the new covenant but between Moses and the new covenant. The novelty or newness of the new covenant is measured relative to Moses, relative to the national covenant made with Israel at Sinai, and not with Abraham and the covenant promise God gave to him: I will be a God to you and to your children. That promise remains intact. The promise is not Mosaic, it is not old, it is Abrahamic. (On the New Covenant)

He notes that “If our Baptist friends can turn Abraham into Moses, then they can be done with him and with the problem of continuity between the New Covenant and the Abrahamic.” Thus to answer the baptists, Clark argues “We distinguish Abraham from the old covenant because Paul does so consistently.” In fact, he really drives the point home.

Moses and Abraham they operate on utterly different principles. The law, the Mosaic covenant, says “do and live.” The Abrahamic covenant says, “Receive freely, through faith alone, benefits you have not earned but that were earned for you by another.”

…Thus, Paul in Galatians 3 and 4 juxtaposed the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, in that way, as reflecting different principles.

…The old covenant was such that it could be broken, but the new covenant cannot be broken.

The very nature of the Mosaic Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant are opposed and distinct. That must mean the substance (“what makes it what it is” i.e. its nature) of the Mosaic Covenant and the substance of the Abrahamic Covenant are opposed and distinct.

By analogy, the model for the new covenant is the Abrahamic covenant. The Mosaic covenant was intended to nothing more than to serve as a historical footlight, to bring attention to the covenant of grace. More than that the substance of the new covenant is the Abrahamic covenant.

The Abrahamic and New Covenants are of the same substance, but the Mosaic is not.

Remember, Paul reckons the Mosaic, Sinaitic, old covenant as a temporary, national, pedagogical, typological arrangement superimposed upon the Abrahamic covenant of grace. (On the New Covenant)

 

The comparison and contrast is not between Abraham and the new covenant but between Moses and the new covenant. The covenant that God made with Abraham was a covenant of grace, the covenant he confirmed with the “blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb 13:20). (Moses was not Abraham)

That’s quite the contrast. The Mosaic Covenant was not a covenant of grace. The substance of the Mosaic Covenant did not save anyone. Instead, they were saved by the Abrahamic Covenant. “The Abrahamic covenant was operative under and during the temporary, typological Mosaic covenant.”

In short, Abraham was not Moses.

In a 2007 series on republication, Clark put it this way:

[T]he covenant of grace, the Abrahamic covenant is the administration of God’s saving grace. It was and remains a covenant of grace… [T]he Mosaic Covenant is finished… It was a legal covenant not relative to salvation or justification but relative to Israel’s status as the temporary national people of God. In Exod 24, Israel swore a blood oath that she, as a national people, would keep the law and it was on this legal basis that Israel was ultimately expelled from the promised land and on which basis she lost her status as the national people of God… Israel was under a typological, not soteriological covenant of works. It’s a post-lapsarian, typological covenant of works… [T]he type of covenant under which Israel lived as national entity was formally legal, it was a suzerain-vassal treaty. Those same families also lived under a royal grant covenant that was wholly gracious relative to salvation and justification…

God made a temporary, national covenant. That temporary national covenant expired. The spiritual covenant, the covenant of grace, does not expire. The covenant of grace was temporarily administered through and alongside a national covenant… The Mosaic covenant, insofar as it was a distinct covenant, was a national, external, temporary covenant…

Is it not sufficient to say that the covenant of grace, the Abrahamic covenant, was administered through the Mosaic and yet the Mosaic as such, as a distinct epoch in the history of redemption, is also unique in certain aspects (e.g. as a republication of the covenant of works)?…

The Mosaic covenant, insofar as it was a distinct covenant, was a national, external, temporary covenant. At the same time, however, the spiritual, internal, Abrahamic covenant of grace continued and those in the Mosaic covenant who were elect, were also children of Abraham as well as children of Moses.

Re-Publication of the Covenant of Works (1) and Republication of the Covenant of Works (2) and Re-Publication of the Covenant of Works (3)

Or is he?

What’s very interesting to note is that other paedobaptists are deeply concerned by Clark’s argument (which has been referred to as “republication” but historically is known as the subservient covenant view). Matthew Winzer warns

The modern idea destroys the typological element and introduces confusion as to the gracious nature of the Mosaic covenant. It also undermines the continuity of the covenant of grace so far as the inclusion of infants is concerned, because that inclusion depended upon their national citizenship; if that citizenship was a part of the covenant of works, there is no grounds for their inclusion in the NT administration of the covenant of grace.

Winzer refers to Clark’s position as “the modern idea.” Clark explains what this refers to.

One of the great questions between Reformed and Baptist theology is the question of how to interpret Scripture. The Reformed have tended to let the New Testament not only interpret the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures but also to provide a pattern for how to interpret the typological revelation. Thus, not only do Romans, Hebrews, and Galatians give us specific direction about specific passages but they also demonstrate how other typological passages not specifically addressed in the NT ought to be interpreted. Reformed theology has not always been consistent in the application of this principle. In the 17th century many Reformed readers were chiliasts, i.e., they believed in a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth. Before the late 18th-century, most Reformed folk were also theocratic, a position that is very difficult to square with the hermeneutical theory which underlay the Reformed critique of the Romanist reinstitution of the Mosaic cultic system. It is also quite difficult to square the earlier Reformed theocratic ethics with the equally early Reformed understanding of the history of redemption. In other words, until the modern period, there were unresolved tensions in Reformed theology. Gradually, the covenant theology worked out in the 16th and 17th centuries acted as a sort of leaven and most Reformed folk resolved those tensions in favor of their covenant theology that recognized the Mosaic covenant as a temporary, typological overlay upon the permanent and fundamental Abrahamic covenant of grace. (On the New Covenant)

According to Clark, the reformed tradition held to contradictory beliefs for several centuries that were only resolved when they adopted his view that the Mosaic Covenant was a temporary, typological covenant differing in substance from the Covenant of Grace (the subservient covenant view). Until then, as Winzer references, the old divines believed in a gracious Mosaic Covenant that was just as much the Covenant of Grace as the Abrahamic was. Calvin established the basis for this view using the substance/administration distinction.

But what he adds is not without some difficulty, — that the covenant of the Gospel was proclaimed on better promises; for it is certain that the fathers who lived under the Law had the same hope of eternal life set before them as we have, as they had the grace of adoption in common with us, then faith must have rested on the same promises. But the comparison made by the Apostle [between the old and new covenants] refers to the form rather than to the substance; for though God promised to them the same salvation which he at this day promises to us, yet neither the manner nor the character of the revelation is the same or equal to what we enjoy. If anyone wishes to know more on this subject, let him read the 4th and 5th chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians and my Institutes. (Hebrews 8 commentary)

Recall that, for Clark, the Abrahamic and New Covenants are the same in substance, but not the Mosaic, which is contrasted with the Abrahamic/New. Israelites were saved by the Abrahamic Covenant working underneath the Mosaic Covenant, which did not save. In Calvin’s Institutes (2.11) we find the following (referencing Hebrews 7-9):

Five points of difference between the Old and the New Testaments. These belong to the mode of administration rather than the substance… I hold and think I will be able to show, that they all belong to the mode of administration rather than to the substance…

Here we are to observe how the covenant of the law compares with the covenant of the gospel, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. For if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, then there would be great disagreement between the Testaments. But since the trend of the argument leads us in another direction, we must follow it to find the truth. Let us then set forth the covenant that he once established as eternal and never-perishing. Its fulfillment, by which is is finally confirmed and ratified, is Christ. While such confirmation was awaited, the Lord appointed, through Moses, ceremonies that were, so to speak, solemn symbols of that confirmation. A controversy arose over whether or not the ceremonies that had been ordained in the law ought to give way to Christ. Now these were only the accidental properties of the covenant, or additions and appendages, and in common parlance, accessories of it. Yet because they were means of administering it, they bear the name “covenant,” just as is customary in the case of other sacraments. To sum up then, in this passage “Old Testament” means the solemn manner of confirming the covenant, comprised in ceremonies and sacrifices. Because nothing substantial underlies this unless we go beyond it, the apostle contends that it ought to be terminated and abrogated, to give place to Christ, the Sponsor and Mediator of a better covenant [cf. Heb 7:22]; whereby he imparts eternal sanctifications once and for all to the elect, blotting out their transgressions, which remained under the law. Or, if you prefer, understand it thus: the Old Testament of the Lord was that covenant [the eternal covenant/the covenant of grace -BA] wrapped up in the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies and delivered to the Jews; it was temporary because it remained, as it were, in suspense until it might rest upon a firm and substantial confirmation. It became new and eternal only after it was consecrated and established by the blood of Christ. Hence Christ in the Supper calls the cup that he gives to his disciples “the cup of the New Testament in my blood” [Luke 22:20]. By this he means that the Testament of God attained its truth when sealed by his blood, and thereby becomes new and eternal.

Notice that Calvin speaks of “the covenant” in the singular. He is clear: The Old and New Covenant were the same covenant. They did not operate on “utterly different principles.” They were the same in substance. They differed only in their outward appearance, the manner of revelation, the ceremonies, the accidents – in sum, the administration. This is what it means for the Mosaic Covenant to be an administration of the covenant of grace: they are the same covenant with the same promises and the same means of obtaining the promise, but are simply administered in different ways outwardly.

Westminster Assembly

After Calvin, theologians continued to wrestle with this perplexing issue, with the vast majority following Calvin. A few disagreed and argued that the Mosaic was not the same in substance with the Covenant of Grace. Writing in The True Bounds of Christian Freedom 1645, Samuel Bolton surveys the various solutions offered, focusing here on two:

There are two other opinions which I will here mention. [1] Some men think it neither a covenant of works, nor a covenant of grace, but a third kind of covenant distinct from both. [2] Others think it a covenant of grace, but more legally dispensed.

[1] Those who consider it to be a third covenant speak of it as a preparatory, or a subservient covenant, a covenant that was given by way of subserviency to the covenant of grace, and for the setting forward or advancing of the covenant of grace. Those men who hold this view say that there are three distinct covenants which God made with mankind – the covenant of nature, the covenant of grace, and the subservient covenant.

The covenant of nature was that whereby God required from the creature as a creature perfect obedience to all divine commandments, with promise of a blessed life in Paradise if man obeyed, but with the threat of eternal death if he disobeyed the command, the purpose of all this being to declare how virtue pleased, and sin displeased God.

The covenant of grace was that whereby God promised pardon and forgiveness of sins and eternal life, by the blood of Christ, to all those that should embrace Christ, and this was purposed by God to declare the riches of His mercy.

The subservient covenant, which was called the old covenant, was that whereby God required obedience from the Israelites in respect of the moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws. Blessings in the possession of Canaan were promised to obedience, and curses and miseries to those who broke the covenant, and all to this end, that God might thus encourage their hearts in the expectation of the Messiah to come.

This subservient or old covenant is that which God made with the people of Israel in Mount Sinai, to prepare them to faith, and to inflame them with the desire of the promise and of the coming of Christ;…

If it be neither a covenant of works, nor a covenant of grace, then must it of necessity be a third kind of covenant: and it must needs be such a covenant as does not stand in opposition to grace, nor is inconsistent with the covenant of grace, for if this be not so, then God will have contradicted Himself, overthrown His own purpose, and repented of His own promise which He had given before. Hence it is called a subservient covenant. It was given by way of subserviency to the Gospel and a fuller revelation of the covenant of grace; it was temporary, and had respect to Canaan and God’s blessing there, if and as Israel obeyed. It had no relation to heaven, for that was promised by another covenant which God made before He entered upon the subservient covenant. This is the opinion which I myself desire modestly to propound, for I have not been convinced that it is injurious to holiness or disagreeable to the mind of God in Scripture.

[2] There is, however, a second opinion in which I find that the majority of our holy and most learned divines concur, namely, that though the law is called a covenant, yet it was not a covenant of works for salvation; nor was it a third covenant of works and grace; but it was the same covenant in respect of its nature and design under which we stand under the Gospel, even the covenant of grace, though more legally dispensed to the Jews. It differed not in substance from the covenant of grace, but in degree, say some divines, in the economy and external administration of it, say others. The Jews, they agree, were under infancy, and therefore under “a schoolmaster”. In this respect the covenant of grace under the law is called by such divines “foedus vetus” (the old covenant), and under the Gospel “foedus novum” (the new covenant): see Heb. 8:8.

Samuel Bolton (0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00). The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Kindle Locations 1211-1215). Kindle Edition.

Bolton very accurately describes Clark’s view of the Mosaic Covenant and labels it the Subservient Covenant view, noting that is the view he personally agrees with. However, he distinguishes it from a second view which believes the Mosaic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. It only differed from the New in external administration, not in substance or in principle. He is describing Calvin’s view and he notes this is now (1645) the majority opinion held by the most learned divines. After debating various views, the Westminster Assembly sided with Calvin.

7.4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.

5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.

6. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

Another Assembly minister, Anthony Burgess, who served on the committee that drafted chapter 19, said

Wee have confuted the false differences, and now come to lay downe the true, between the law and the Gospel taken in a larger sense.

And, first, you must know that the difference is not essential, or substantiall, but accidentall: so that the division of the Testament, or Covenant into the Old, and New, is not a division of the Genus into its opposite Species; but of the subject, according to its severall accidentall administrations, both on Gods part, and on mans. It is true, the Lutheran Divines, they doe expresly oppose the Calvinists herein, maintaining the Covenant given by Moses, to be a Covenant of workes, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of grace. Inded, they acknowledge that the Fathers were justified by Christ, and had the same way of salvation with us; onely they make that Covenant of Moses to be a superadded thing to the Promise, holding forth a condition of perfect righteousness unto the Jewes, that they might be convinced of their owne folly in their self-righteousnesse.

(Vindication of the Morall Law, 241)

David Dickson, a Scottish Presbyterian who wrote one of the first commentaries on the WCF, had the following to say in a later work:

How the external dispensation of the Covenant of old, differeth from that which now is under the Gospel.

… 4. In the wilderness at mount Sinai, that the Lord might make evident the necessity of justification by faith in Christ to come, he did repeat the law of works; and to them that did acknowledge their sin, he did set forth Christ their deliverer, under the veil of sacrifices and levitical types, and the very same is the covenant now, whereunto Christ and his ministers, laying aside the veil of the ceremonies, did openly invite their hearers, that acknowledging their sins, and renouncing confidence in their own power and worth, they should cast themselves into the arms of Christ the Saviour, that through him they might obtain justification and life eternal. We see here indeed a diverse manner of dispensing, and outward managing the making of the covenant with men, but the covenant was still the same, clothed and set forth in a diverse manner, and did no other ways differ then and now, but as one and the self same man differeth from himself, clothed suitably one way in his minority, and another way in his riper age. (THERAPEUTICA SACRA)

The Old and the New Covenant are one and the same. They are the same man wearing different clothes.

You may ask how Samuel Bolton could disagree with the Confession and publish his disagreement, and yet be a member of the assembly and a member of the clergy. First, the assembly debated a number of issues. Not everyone wound up agreeing with everything in the Confession.

It is certainly true that there was a great debate among the Puritans as to the nature of the Mosaic Covenant. Moreover, Reformed Presbyterians have continued the debate. However, this does not imply that the Puritans themselves did not come to a majority consensus. As we have already noted, the exhaustive research of E. F. Kevan concludes that they did: “The outcome of the Puritan debate was that, on the whole, it was agreed that the Mosaic Covenant was a form of the Covenant of Grace; and this view was embodied in the Confession of Faith.”

The Puritans debated church government. There were Presbyterians, Erastians, and Independents at the Assembly. Nonetheless, the Presbyterian view prevailed as is indicated by the text of the Confession itself. The section on church government is simply intolerant of any view other than Presbyterianism. The same is true concerning the nature of the Mosaic Covenant. (In Defense of Moses)

Second, the confession was meant to govern public preaching. It did not require ministers to personally agree with everything in it. See here, here, and here.

Writing in 1680 in defense of the Subservient Covenant view, John Owen, like Bolton, states the majority view of reformed divines on the Mosaic Covenant (specifically footnoting the section in Calvin we looked at above), then argues why it is wrong, noting that he is more in agreement with the Lutherans on this question.

Suppose, then, that this new covenant of grace was extant and effectual under the old testament, so as the church was saved by virtue thereof, and the mediation of Christ therein, how could it be that there should at the same time be another covenant between God and them, of a different nature from this, accompanied with other promises, and other effects?

On this consideration it is said, that the two covenants mentioned, the new and the old, were not indeed two distinct covenants, as unto their essence and substance, but only different administrations of the same covenant, called two covenants from some different outward solemnities and duties of worship attending of them. To clear this it must be observed, —

1. That by the old covenant, the original covenant of works, made with Adam and all mankind in him, is not intended; for this is undoubtedly a covenant different in the essence and substance of it from the new.

2. By the new covenant, not the new covenant absolutely and originally, as given in the first promise, is intended; but in its complete gospel administration, when it was actually established by the death of Christ, as administered in and by the ordinances of the new testament. This, with the covenant of Sinai, were, as most say, but different administrations of the same covenant.

But on the other hand, there is such express mention made, not only in this, but in sundry other places of the Scripture also, of two distinct covenants, or testaments, and such different natures, properties, and effects, ascribed unto them, as seem to constitute two distinct covenants. This, therefore, we must inquire into; and shall first declare what is agreed unto by those who are sober in this matter, though they differ in their judgments about this question, whether two distinct covenants, or only a twofold administration of the same covenant, be intended…

The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the old testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new. And whereas the essence and the substance of the covenant consists in these things, they are not to be said to be under another covenant, but only a different administration of it. But this was so different from that which is established in the gospel after the coming of Christ, that it hath the appearance and name of another covenant. And the difference between these two administrations may be reduced unto the ensuing heads: —

1. It consisted in the way and manner of the declaration of the mystery of the love and will of God in Christ…

2. In the plentiful communication of grace unto the community of the church…

3. In the manner of our access unto God…

4. In the way of worship required under each administration…

5. In the extent of the dispensation of the grace of God;…

Sundry other things are usually added by our divines unto the same purpose. See Calvin. Institut. lib. 2:cap. xi.; Martyr. Loc. Com. loc. 16, sect. 2; Bucan. loc. 22, etc.

The Lutherans, on the other side, insist on two arguments to prove, that not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that two covenants substantially distinct, are intended in this discourse of the apostle.

1. Because in the Scripture they are often so called, and compared with one another, and sometimes opposed unto one another; the first and the last, the new and the old.

2. Because the covenant of grace in Christ is eternal, immutable, always the same, obnoxious unto no alteration, no change or abrogation; neither can these things be spoken of it with respect unto any administration of it. as they are spoken of the old covenant…

4. These things being observed, we may consider that the Scripture doth plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way, as what is spoken can hardly be accommodated unto a twofold administration of the same covenant. The one is mentioned and described, Exodus 24:3-8,Deuteronomy 5:2-5, — namely, the covenant that God made with the people of Israel in Sinai; and which is commonly called “the covenant,” where the people under the old testament are said to keep or break God’s covenant; which for the most part is spoken with respect unto that worship which was peculiar thereunto. The other is promised, Jer 31:31-34, 32:40; which is the new or gospel covenant, as before explained, mention Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24. And these two covenants, or testaments, are compared one with the other and opposed one unto another 2 Cor 3:6-9; Gal 4:24-26; Heb 7:22, 9:15-20…

5. Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant merely, to be intended. We must, I say, do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, —and with great pretense of reason, for it is that which is the sole foundation they all build upon who allow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, —’That this being the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation be the same under both, then indeed are they for the substance of them but one.’ And I grant that this would inevitably follow, if it were so equally by virtue of them both. If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue thereof, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, whilst they were under the covenant.

As therefore I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition, so I shall propose sundry things which relate unto the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace: —…

This is the nature and substance of that covenant which God made with that people; a particular, temporary covenant it was, and not a mere dispensation of the covenant of grace…

 

Hence he says of it, Ouj kata< th>n, —”Not according unto it;” a covenant agreeing with the former neither in promises, efficacy, nor duration. For what is principally promised here, namely, the giving of a new heart, Moses expressly affirms that it was not done in the administration of the first covenant. It is neither a renovation of that covenant nor a reformation of it, but utterly of another nature, by whose introduction and establishment that other was to be abolished, abrogated, and taken away, with all the divine worship and service which was peculiar thereunto. And this was that which the apostle principally designed to prove and convince the Hebrews of.

Owen on Hebrews 8:6, p. 84

For more on this see D. Patrick Ramsey’s In Defense of Moses as well as Lee Irons’ The Subservient Covenant. Note: Though it may have taken presbyterians centuries to realize the error of their position, 17th century congregationalists (including baptists) quickly understood the error and rejected the position.

Because more and more presbyterians are adopting the Subservient Covenant view, the OPC GA has established a study committee to determine if it is “consistent with the doctrinal system taught in the confessional standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.” In the midst of this debate, Robert B. Strimple, President emeritus & Professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA wrote a memo to the faculty specifically addressing Clark’s writings in particular. He emphatically states

[A] distinction must be made between the moral law of God and the purpose it served before the fall (“as a covenant of works”), and the moral law of God and the purpose it serves after the fall (see sec. 6), for which purpose it was delivered upon Mount Sinai (see sec. 2); i.e., as “a perfect rule of righteousness.” The Confession says that the moral law that God gave to Adam as a covenant of works is the “very same law” (Dr. Clark) that continues to be a perfect rule of righteousness for us; and it was that law (I shall refer again below to the force of the “as such” in section 2) that “was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai.” But that law does not continue as a covenant of works for us, and it was not delivered upon Mount Sinai as a covenant or works for the children of Israel. This is what the Confession teaches. It may not be what some on our faculty would like it to teach. But it is what the Confession teaches.

The “modern view” (Subservient Covenant) is contrary to the Westminster Confession (which means Clark’s primary objection to the Baptist reading of the Old & New Covenants was rejected by Westminster). However, because the OPC holds to system subscription instead of full subscription, the debate is over the systematic implications of the view for the theology put forward in the Westminster Confession. And the systematic implications of covenant theology is what we’re interested in here. Winzer, representing the old view, warns that if the Subservient Covenant view is true, then paedobaptism is false. He echoes Westminster divines like George Gillespie, who warned

The analogy betwixt Jewish & Christian church, little question of that little question… If this faile, the argument of Baptisme from circumcision will faile also… For that we must not looke to the state of the Jewish church, is only a warrantableness for the analogy of the Old Testament & New, granted. The brother that spake last said before we must cut loose the argument of Jewish church; [for] but how shall we prove pedo-Baptism?

(Btw, that’s why Gillespie was a staunch defender of the theocratic views Clark denounced above. Gillespie was a better systematic theologian than Clark. He understood that to do away with theocracy is to do away with the Jewish model of the church, which will do away with infant baptism – but that’s a subject for an upcoming post).

But of course Clark objects and says that the opposite is true. If Abraham and Moses are continuous and united, as Calvin, Dickson, Gillespie, and Westminster argued, then baptists can demonstrate that any temporary aspects of Abraham tied to Moses pass away with Moses.

It seems to me that that those who deny republication do so partly because, in reaction to the Baptist error, they conflate Moses and Abraham. In so doing they’ve actually agreed with the Baptists who do the same thing. (Re-Publication of the Covenant of Works (3))

So which view is right? They both are. The “old” view is right that removing the Mosaic Covenant from the Covenant of Grace undoes the continuity of the Covenant of Grace not just with regards to Moses, but Abraham as well, as Moses is rooted in Abraham, and thus undoes the argument for paedobaptism. The “modern” view is right that if Moses and Abraham are substantially one, then the New is substantially distinct from both, per the New Testament, and thus paedobaptism is false.

How Abraham & Moses Relate

Back to Clark:

There are genuine connections between the Abraham and Mosaic covenants. Both are both administrations of the covenant of grace. Both are typological. God promised to Abraham a land and a seed (Gen chapters 12; 15; 17). As I have argued (see the essays above) the land was a type of heaven (Heb 11:10) and the seed promise was fulfilled in Christ (Gal 3:16) and we who, by grace alone, through faith alone, are united to Christ are his seed (Rom 9:7–8; Gal 3:29). In the history of redemption, the land and seed promises came to be administered through and under the Mosaic covenant but that Old Covenant administration was distinct from the Abrahamic…

Because Abraham and Moses both belong to the typological period, to that time in redemptive history before the reality, Christ and his kingdom, had come—not to say that they were not present in any way. They were present under types and shadows—they share certain characteristics and features. (Clark, Abraham, Moses, and Circumcision)

Clark’s essay Abraham, Moses, and Circumcision attempts to clarify his view of the matter, but causes some confusion. Here he explains that the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant share certain typological characteristics and features. There is overlap between the two of them with regards to typology, particularly the land and the seed.

However, he then tries to make some kind of distinction between the Mosaic types and the Abrahamic types. It is not at all clear what he intends by the distinction. He says “the land and seed promises came to be administered through and under the Mosaic covenant but that Old Covenant administration was distinct from the Abrahamic.” It is unclear what exactly this means. He elaborates

Previously I have argued that everything that is distinctively Mosaic in the history of redemption is fulfilled by Christ and has expired or has been abolished. Thus, the 613 Mosaic commandments, i.e., the civil and ceremonial laws are fulfilled and expired. They have been abrogated and are no longer in force. The ceremonial aspects (e.g., the Saturday Sabbath, the land promise) of the Mosaic expression of the moral law, which itself is not grounded in Moses and is permanent, is temporary and has been fulfilled and abrogated. That the Mosaic covenant (sometimes denoted in the NT as “the law”) was inherently temporary and inferior and is now expired and abrogated has been a basic principle of Christian theology and hermeneutics since the 2nd century.

Here he lists “the land promise” as “distinctively Mosaic” and therefore “inherently temporary.” How is the land promise distinctively Mosaic in contrast to Abrahamic? Previously he said the typological land promise was something the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants shared in common. He categorizes Mosaic elements as “distinctively” temporary and thereby seeks to distinguish them from things that are not “distinctively” Mosaic, and therefore not temporary.

This leads us to a necessary corollary to the principle of Mosaic inferiority: The typological period of redemptive history and revelation pre-existed the Mosaic covenant. All of those types and shadows have also been fulfilled and have been expired but that there were typologies (pictures of the coming reality in Christa) under Adam, Noah, and Abraham does not make them Mosaic. In other words, not all types are Mosaic. This is an important distinction. The Mosaic covenant, strictly speaking, the Old Covenant, was typological but not all types and shadows are Mosaic. The Mosaic covenant was unique…

Now we are told that we must distinguish between Mosaic and non-Mosaic types, but we are also told that both Mosaic and non-Mosaic types are temporary and have “expired.” How is “not all types and shadows are Mosaic” an important distinction if all types and shadows, Mosaic or non-Mosaic, were temporary and have expired? Just because something is Abrahamic does not mean it is not obsolete. What matters is whether or not it was a type.

In the end, the Mosaic/non-Mosaic distinction is irrelevant to the point Clark seeks to make since he argues that there are Abrahamic types that have expired. His specific point is that there is a typical aspect of circumcision that has expired and a non-typical aspect of circumcision that has not expired.

contra the assumption made by many under the influence of the broadly Baptistic paradigm, it is not infant initiation that is typological under Abraham but the shedding of blood.

The Mosaic/non-Mosaic issue is a bit of a non-sequitur smoke screen in this regard. The real issue is determining which aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant are typical and which are not. On this point, Clark is not consistent. He will say on one hand that the Abrahamic and Mosaic share a common typological promise of land and seed, but on the other hand he will say only the anti-typological promise of land and seed is actually Abrahamic, and thus the Abrahamic and New are identical.

Mike writes,

I would only ask, if the children of the believer (Abraham), were in, when the promises were given, and they (the children) were included in the temporal, fleshly, conditional, out working of the old covenant, for blessing or curse.

… The NT appeals consistently to Abraham and to the promise given to Abraham, not in earthly terms but in spiritual terms. not with respect to the land promises (which has expired with the expiration of the national covenant with Israel) but it consistently regards Abraham as our spiritual father in the faith. Abraham was looking forward to the heavenly city…

Mike says that the Abrahamic promise was “earthly” and “temporal,” and to be sure Abraham was given a land promise but please note carefully how Hebrews interprets the life and faith of Abraham. Hebrews interprets Abraham’s life and faith not in terms of the land promise. Hebrews categorically denies the very interpretation that Mike gives because it denies the very interpretation that the Judaizers were giving. Hebrews does not concede that Abraham was looking for an earthly city…

Paul’s argument is that new-covenant believers have the same faith as Abraham. Paul explicitly rejected the notion that the covenant made with Abraham or the promises given to him were merely earthly or temporary. (Moses Was Not Abraham)

These comments would be fine if Clark was arguing that the Abrahamic Covenant received a two-level fulfillment and so we should not limit its fulfillment to the earthly and temporal. But that is not what he’s arguing. He is arguing the promise was only anti-typical. It was only spiritual. Notice this bizarre exchange on the Calvinist Batman podcast. The host was making a statement against the baptist interpretation of Acts 2:39, assuming Clark would be in agreement, only to hear Clark reject his interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant:

@29:20 Host: That’s exactly what I’m saying. In the Covenant with Abraham, God declares a generational covenant, that his “far off” were his descendants in time, not a physical location, as in, down the road there are people who are Gentiles that are not saved. That’s why I bring it up.

Clark: Yeah, see, I don’t accept that assumption, because if you look at the progress of the way the covenant is expressed in 12, 15, and 17. You’ve got a land promise. You’ve got a seed promise. And then you have the institution of the sacrament of infant circumcision in 17. So no, this is the problem, there’s always this attempt to sort of materialize the promise that God made to Abraham. But what do the Prophets do with it? The Prophets forecast the future in terms of the Abrahamic promise. Whether it’s Joel, or whether it’s Jeremiah. And the New Covenant picks that up and sort of explains what Jeremiah 31 means. Paul does it in 2 Cor 3. Hebrews does it really extensively in Hebrews 7, 8, 9, and 10. And then Paul does it, of course, in Galatians 3 and Galatians 4. So the Abrahamic Covenant in the New Testament is never construed the way you just did it, in sort of purely material, literal, genealogical terms.

Since I’m on the Calvinist Batman I can talk about an evil criminal conspiracy. This is sort of the hermeneutical conspiracy, if you will, to turn Abraham into Moses. And Abraham isn’t Moses. Moses is temporary. Moses is national. Abraham is not national. The seed promise that God made to Abraham in 12 and 15 is a promise that the nations will all come out of Abraham, and that’s what begins to happen in the New Covenant. When Peter says “the promise is to you and your children,” he’s saying that the fundamental essence of the Covenant of Grace that God made with Abraham is still in effect. And so, when you ask about infant baptism, that’s how we see it, that the Covenant of Grace still has to be administered outwardly and through this administration, God is going to call his elect from all the nations. And he’s doing that. So the New Covenant is really the fulfillment of the promises that God made to Abraham. And Jesus, Paul says, is the seed, in Galatians 3:15-16, and we, then, he says later on in Galatians, are seeds in Christ.

Whoops. According to Clark, the paedobaptist reading of the Abrahamic Covenant as a generational covenant is part of a hermeneutical conspiracy to materialize the promise God made to Abraham. The seed God promised to Abraham was only Christ and the land God promised to Abraham was only heaven. The Mosaic Covenant was national, but the Abrahamic is not. Perhaps this is what Clark meant earlier when he said “the land and seed promises came to be administered through and under the Mosaic covenant but that Old Covenant administration was distinct from the Abrahamic.” The temporary, typological application in the Old Covenant of the promises God made to Abraham were not actually derived from Abraham. They were something added to the Abrahamic Covenant.

The promises of the Abrahamic covenant, which had already been expressed relative to the land and a national people (see Gen chapters 12 and 15; there are national and land promises in chapter 17 also) came to expression in a temporary national covenant inaugurated at Sinai. That national covenant, however, does not exhaust the covenant promises of God. The Apostle Paul says (Gal 3; see below) that the national, Israelite, Sinaitic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, was a temporary addition, a codicil, added to the Abrahamic promises. That temporary national covenant expired with the death of Christ (see also all of Colossians and Hebrews)…

Remember, Paul reckons the Mosaic, Sinaitic, old covenant as a temporary, national, pedagogical, typological arrangement superimposed upon the Abrahamic covenant of grace. (On the New Covenant)

So the typological land (Canaan) and the typological seed (national Israel) are only Mosaic. They are not Abrahamic. Moses is not Abraham. They were added to the Abrahamic as a way to explain and picture the Abrahamic promises, which were only  spiritual and eternal. But

Even though there were typological (land) and even national elements in the promises given to Abraham (Gen 12 and 15) they were only temporary expressions of the more fundamental promise to send a Savior. (Is There a Covenant of Grace?)

So which is it? Are the typological land (Canaan) and typological seed (national Israel) part of the promises God made to Abraham or not? Clark is inconsistent. Consistency on this point would undermine his argument. If the typological promises were Abrahamic, then at least some of the Abrahamic promises are obsolete. Clark admitted above that there is at least an element of circumcision (the blood sacrifice element) that is typical and therefore obsolete. Likewise, there is at least an element of God’s land and seed promises to Abraham that were also typical and therefore obsolete.

Abrahamic Dichotomy

In his 2007 series on republication, Clark actually argued that exact point.

I keep hearing that Meredith Kline invented the doctrine of republication. In a word: nonsense… Richard posted this nice bit from Hodge (who also antedates MGK and WSC):

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 community; by the other his spiritual descendants were constituted into a church, [invisible of course, since, at that time, the only formal organization was that of the law.] 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. the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, as reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant [the old] were circumcision, and obedience to the law; the conditions of the other were, and ever have 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, [that is, the old covenant with the new] 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 [now made visible] remained. There was no external covenant, nor promise of external blessings, on condition of external rites, and subjection. There was a spiritual society, with spiritual promises, on condition of faith in Christ.” “The church is, therefore, in its essential nature, a company of believers, and not an external society, requiring merely external profession as the condition of membership. (Princeton Review, October, 1853)

Fellow paedobaptists commented on his post, stating “How these views – of Hodge in particular – don’t surrender the fort to the baptists, I don’t see… I think I would be happy to understand exactly how the baptist gains no ground thereby.” Clark defended Hodge.

Hodge is perfectly right to say that God made a temporary, national covenant with Moses. 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… [I]s it not the case that we should distinguish the land/inheritance promise from the spiritual promise (“I will be your God and your children’s God?”). If we can make that distinction then we can connect that aspect of the promise to Abraham to the national covenant in Moses. In other words, Hodge’s language, however incautious, is attempting to account for a real distinction.

I could stop right here. Clark has “surrendered the fort to the baptists.” But I will unpack the implications more clearly.

Contra dispensationalism, this typical, earthly, “material” aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant is obsolete. Contra dispensationalism, and in agreement with Clark, Christ’s spiritual kingdom made up of believing Jew and Gentile, is the fulfillment of an Abrahamic promise. But contra Clark, both Moses and Christ are offspring of Abraham. Both the Old and the New Covenants flow from Abraham (re-read Galatians 4:21-31). There is a duality to the Abrahamic Covenant. Many “modern” paedobaptists have acknowledged this truth. It was Meredith Kline’s primary argument against Dispensationalism.

As the kingdom promises come to fulfillment in two successive stages, each is identified as a divine remembrance of Abraham or of the covenant made with him…

We have found that in the course of biblical revelation two distinct levels of fulfillment, one provisional and prototypal, the other messianic and eternal, are clearly distinguishable in the king promise given to Abraham…

The issue between covenantal and dispensational hermeneutics is not one of spiritualizing versus nonspiritualizing interpretations of the second level kingdom. For, contrary to a common allegation, the covenantal system as well as the dispensational allows for the geophysical dimension of that kingdom. The basic question at issue is rather how to construe the relation of the two levels of the promised kingdom of the Abrahamic Covenant to one another. This amounts to the question of the relationship of the old covenant with Israel to the new covenant with the church, particularly as that comes into focus in the typological connection which the Scripture posits between them.

Note that it is precisely this understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant that turned 19th century Scottish Presbyterian James Haldance into a baptist. Augustine recognized this two-level fulfillment as well:

[T]he people were settled in the land of promise, so that, in the meantime, the first promise made to Abraham began to be fulfilled about the one nation, that is, the Hebrew, and about the land of Canaan; but not as yet the promise about all nations, and the whole wide world, for that was to be fulfilled, not by the observances of the old law, but by the advent of Christ in the flesh, and by the faith of the gospel…

And it was fulfilled through David, and Solomon his son, whose kingdom was extended over the whole promised space; for they subdued all those nations, and made them tributary. And thus, under those kings, the seed of Abraham was established in the land of promise according to the flesh, that is, in the land of Canaan, so that nothing yet remained to the complete fulfillment of that earthly promise of God, except that, so far as pertains to temporal prosperity, the Hebrew nation should remain in the same land by the succession of posterity in an unshaken state even to the end of this mortal age, if it obeyed the laws of the Lord its God. But since God knew it would not do this, He used His temporal punishments also for training His few faithful ones in it, and for giving needful warning to those who should afterwards be in all nations, in whom the other promise, revealed in the New Testament, was about to be fulfilled through the incarnation of Christ. (Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist)

Circumcision

Recall Hodge’s previous articulation of this point.

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.

Notice Hodge’s recognition of where circumcision belongs: to the first-order typical fulfillment. Clark tries to deny this by severing the first-order typical fulfillment from Abraham entirely, arguing it is only Mosaic. Abraham was not Moses, remember? But such a division between Abraham and Moses is impossible. Moses flows from Abraham. Mosaic circumcision is Abrahamic circumcision. Circumcision was a typical ordinance, not just in terms of bloodshed, but in terms of its recipients as well. Who was circumcision applied to? To “believers and their children”? No. To Abraham’s natural descendants – the same people who constitute the typical, national, genealogical first-order fulfillment of the Abrahamic seed promise (note Gen. 17:8).

Samuel Rutherford, representing historic Presbyterianism, understood quite well that circumcision was given to Abraham’s seed according to the flesh and was national in character.

God commands not Abraham only to circumcise his sons, but all parents descended of Abraham to circumcise their seed: the seed of Abraham carnally descended to all generations…

[M]any must be circumcised as these to whom the Lord gave the land for a possession were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh. But the land was given to the most wicked of Abraham’s seed (so Ch. 8:3).

That all the children of the wicked are circumcised is clear (Josh. 5), because Joshua at God’s commandment circumcised the children of Israel (Josh 5:2-3,7) whose wicked parents the Lord had consumed because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord, unto whom the Lord swore that He would not show them the land which the Lord swore to their fathers. Of that generation the Lord said (Heb. 3:10), ‘they do always err in their heart, and they have not known my ways,’ there was in them an evil heart, a hard heart, an unbelieving heart (Heb. 3:13,15,18), and yet God commanded Joshua to circumcise their children.

Therefore there was no more required of the circumcised but that they were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh… This is so true, that circumcision is put for the nation of the Jews (Acts 11:2; Rom. 2:26,27; Gal. 2:7; Gal. 6:15)…

1. The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham?  Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.

2. What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews. O, says Mr. Best, they were behooved [required] to be members of the church, whose infants might lawfully be circumcised.  I answer: that is ignotum per ignotius [unknown per the unknown].  Show me one person being a born Jew whose child the Lord forbid to circumcise?…

For being born of the holy nation, they are holy with a federal and national holiness, Rom. 11:16.  If the root be holy so are the branches.

On the Baptism of the Children of Adherents

As Clark acknowledges “The typological period of redemptive history and revelation pre-existed the Mosaic covenant… Because Abraham and Moses both belong to the typological period… they share certain characteristics and features.” The Covenant of Circumcision was established with ordinances in the typological period, the time of the first-order promises, and they were given to the first-order seed according to the flesh. This seed was not the church. It was a type of the church. Israel according to the flesh was a type of Israel according to the Spirit. Abraham’s natural offspring were a type of Abraham’s spiritual offspring. Just like Kline above, many other paedobaptists have acknowledged this truth as well.

The whole nation of the Jews. They were a typical people; their Church-state being very ceremonial and peculiar to those legal times, (Therefore now ceased and abolished) did adumbrate and shadow forth two things.

  1. Christ himself; hence Christ is called Israel, Isa. 49.3. By Israel is meant Christ, and all the faithful, as members of him their head.
  2. They were a type of the Church of God under the New Testament. Hence the Church is called Israel, Gal 6.16 and Rev 7. The twelve tribes of Israel are numbered up by name, to shew forth the Lord’s particular care of every one of his people in particular. That place is not meant properly of Old Israel, because it relates to the times of the Antichristian locusts; compare cap 7. with cap. 9.4. The analogy lies in this, that they were a peculiar people to the Lord, chosen and singled out by him from all the world: So is Christ the Lord’s chosen, Behold my servant whom I have chosen, mine elect in whom my Soul delighteth: So are all the Saints, 1 Pet 2.9. A royal nation, a peculiar people, gathered from among all nations, Rev 5.9. Hence the enemies of Israel were typical enemies; as Egypt and Babylon under the Old Testament, types of Antichristian enemies under the New: And the providences of God towards that people of Old, types and shadows of his intended future dispensations towards his people under the New; as you will see further when we come to speak of typical providences.

Samuel Mather on Israel as a type of the Church

 

The persons with whom this [new] covenant is made are also expressed: “The house of Israel, and the house of Judah.”… Wherefore this house of Israel and house of Judah may be considered two ways:

[1.] As that people were the whole entire posterity of Abraham.

[2.] As they were typical, and mystically significant of the whole church of God.

Hence alone it is that the promises of grace under the old testament are given unto the church under these names, because they were types of them who should really and effectually be made partakers of them…

In the second sense the whole church of elect believers is intended under these denominations, being typified by them. These are they alone, being one made of twain, namely, Jews and Gentiles, with whom the covenant is really made and established, and unto whom the Mace of it is actually communicated. For all those with whom this covenant is made shall as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according unto the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. These are the true Israel and Judah, prevailing with God, and confessing unto his name.

John Owen, Hebrews 8:8 commentary

 

Let it then be observed, that men are said to be sanctified or made holy in very different senses. Sanctification, for the distinction, though an old, is not a bad one, is either real or relative.

…That separation from other nations, in which the holiness of the Jews chiefly consisted (r), was not spiritual, resulting from rectitude of heart and a correspondent behavior; but barely external, resulting from certain sacred rites and ceremonies different from or opposite to those of other nations, and confined to certain places and persons (d). The middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles, was the ceremonial law (e), which was neither necessary nor fit to make a spiritual separation  In fact, it did not separate between good and bad men among the Jews: but between the house of Israel  and the fearers of God or devout persons in the heathen nations (f). For which reason, though Cornelius was one that feared God, gave much alms, and prayed to God always, Peter was afraid of being polluted by intercourse with him.

(a) Lev. xxi. (b) Exod. xix. 6. (c) Exod. xix. 5, 6. Num. xxiii. 9. Deut. xxvi. 18, 19. (d) Lev. xx. 24,—26. Deut. xiv. 21. (e) Eph. ii. 14, 15. (f) Pial. cxviii. 4. A6ls xiii. 16, 26. xvii. 4, 17.

…as things were termed unclean, which were types or emblems of moral impurity, so the Jews were termed holy, not only because they were separated from other nations, but because they typified real Christians, who are in the fullest and noblest sense a holy nation, and a peculiar people (a). Types are visible things, different in their nature, from the spiritual things which they typify. If then the Jewish dispensation was typical, we may safely conclude, that the holiness of the Jewish nation being intended to typify the holiness of the Christian church, was of a different nature from it. And it is for this reason, that the Jewish dispensation is called the flesh and the letter, because persons and things in that dispensation, typified and represented persons and things under a more spiritual dispensation. (a) 1 Pet. ii. 9.

John Erskine’s “The Nature of the Sinai Covenant” (17-21)

Clark himself actually believes this as well, though he doesn’t recognize the implications.

God disinherited his adopted, temporary, national “son” Israel as a national people precisely because God never intended to have a permanent earthly, national people… their chief function was to serve as a type and shadow of God’s natural Son, Jesus the Messiah (Heb 10.1-4). It is the argument of this essay that Jesus Christ is the true Israel of God and that everyone who is united to him by grace alone, through faith alone becomes, by virtue of that union, the true Israel of God. (Israel of God)

In arguing against dispensationalists, paedobaptists apply typology consistently and often make statements inconsistent with paedobaptism. They are unaware of how sharp their hermeneutic against dispensationalism is. It’s a sword that cuts both ways.

Israel according to the flesh is a type and shadow of the true Israel of God, the church of Christ. Circumcision was given to the type, not the antitype. Clark is clear that the typical fulfillment of the land and seed has expired. Owen agrees, and rightly ties that seed to Abraham, not simply Moses.

That this privilege was temporary, having a limited season, time, and end, appointed unto it, the very nature of the thing itself doth demonstrate; for upon this actual exhibition [of Christ] in the flesh, it was to cease… It is true, they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should he set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth. That this separation and privilege was to cease when the end of it was accomplished and the Messiah exhibited, the very nature of the thing declares; for to what purpose should it be continued when that was fully effected whereunto it was designed?… Seeing, therefore, that their other privilege was come to an end, with all the carnal ordinances that attended it, by the actual coming of the Messiah, whereunto they were subservient, if they did not, by faith in the promised seed, attain an interest in this of the spiritual blessing, it is evident that they could on no account be considered as actual sharers in the covenant of God… It is true, the former carnal privilege of Abraham and his posterity expiring, on the grounds before mentioned, the ordinances of worship which were suited thereunto did necessarily cease also… (1.) The carnal privilege of the Jews, in their separation to bring forth the Messiah, then failed; and therewith their claim on that account to be the children of Abraham. (2.) The ordinances of worship suited unto that privilege expired and came to an end. (The Oneness of the Church)

 

Was Circumcision a Sign of Law-Keeping?

If you recall above, in reference to the first-order of the Abrahamic Covenant, Charles Hodge noted that “The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law…” tying circumcision in with law-keeping on the basis of passages like Galatians 5:3, Acts 15:10, 1 Cor 7:19, and Romans 2:25-26 “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.” Clark already agrees that the Old Covenant operates upon the principle of obedience to the law (“the Mosaic covenant, says ‘do and live.'”). We have already demonstrated that circumcision does not take on a new meaning in the Mosaic Covenant, since the Mosaic is rooted in, not severed from, the Abrahamic. Does that mean that the Abrahamic Covenant operated upon the principle of obedience to the law? Note what John Murray says

The obedience of Abraham is represented as the condition upon which the fulfilment of the promise given to him was contingent and the obedience of Abraham’s seed is represented as the means through which the promise given to Abraham would be accomplished. There is undoubtedly the fulfilment of certain conditions… At the outset we must remember that the idea of conditional fulfilment is not something peculiar to the Mosaic covenant. We have been faced quite poignantly with this very question in connection with the Abrahamic covenant. And since this feature is there patent, it does not of itself provide us with any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic. (The Covenant of Grace)

Murray is referring to passages like Gen 17:1-2, 9-14; 22

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”…

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”…

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

These passages led Meredith Kline to conclude

How Abraham’s obedience related to the securing of the kingdom blessings in their old covenant form is a special question within the broad topic of the role of human works under redemptive covenant… His faithful performance of his covenantal duty is here clearly declared to sustain a causal relationship to the blessing of Isaac and Israel. It had a meritorious character that procured a reward enjoyed by others…Because of Abraham’s obedience redemptive history would take the shape of an Abrahamite kingdom of God from which salvation’s blessings would rise up and flow out to the nations. God was pleased to constitute Abraham’s exemplary works as the meritorious ground for granting to Israel after the flesh the distinctive role of being formed as the typological kingdom, the matrix from which Christ should come… The obedient Abraham, the faithful covenant servant, was a type of the Servant of the Lord in his obedience, by which he became the surety of the new covenant.

In other words, the first-order typological elements of the Abrahamic Covenant operated upon the same principle of works that the Mosaic did. And circumcision represented this. Nehemiah Coxe explains

It is noteworthy that in this transaction of God with Abraham we first meet with an express injunction of obedience to a command (and that of positive right) as the condition of covenant interest. It is all ushered in with this prologue (Genesis 17:1), “I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be perfect.” First in these words, the all-sufficiency of God is revealed for the ensuring of the promises. Then a strict and entire obedience to his precepts is required in order to inherit the good things that were to be given by this covenant. In this mode of transacting it, the Lord was pleased to draw the first lines of that form of covenant relationship in which the natural seed of Abraham was fully stated by the law of Moses, which was a covenant of works with its condition or terms, “Do this and live.”

 

I will be a God to you and to your children

What about Clark’s argument that God’s promise in the Abrahamic Covenant to be a God to Abraham and his children is the same promise of the New Covenant – that is, a promise of “Interior Piety”? Samuel Rutherford, representing historic Presbyterianism, disagrees.

If the former be said it will follow that God speaks (Gen. 17) only to Abraham and his sons by faith (according to the promise) and only to believers.

But God speaks to all Abraham’s sons according to the flesh:

Because [otherwise] God should speak an untruth: that He were a God by real union of faith to all that are commanded to be circumcised.  For He commanded thousands to be circumcised to whom He was not a God by real union of faith.

On the Baptism of the Children of Adherents

Like the other Abrahamic promises, this too has a two-level fulfillment. Were Israel according to the flesh God’s people under the Old Covenant? Yes they were. Was that a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham? Yes it was. “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:8 ESV) Were they therefore God’s people in the same way that Israel according to the Spirit are? No they were not. 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; cf Heb 11:16; 8:10; 1 Pet 2:9-10; Jer 31:31-34).

That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention… And with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people… On the whole, it is evident that the very nation of Israel, not as visible saints, but as the progeny of Jacob according to the flesh, were in some respect a chosen people, a people of God, a covenant people, an holy nation; even as Jerusalem was a chosen city, the city of God, a holy city, and a city that God had engaged by covenant to dwell in. Thus a sovereign and all-wise God was pleased to ordain things with respect to the nation of Israel…

That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace;

Jonathan Edwards on the Nation of Israel as a Type of the Church

 

Conclusion

 

[1] If Abraham is, as God’s Word says, the father of all believers, and [2] if God promised blessings to believers and to their children, and [3] if he commanded the initiation of covenant children, [4] and those covenant promises and command remain in effect, [5] then we must initiate children into the covenant community just as father Abraham did. (On the New Covenant)

[1] He is, but that is not all he was. He was also the father of a typical seed.

[2] He did not.

[3] He did.

[4] They do not, typically, though they have been fulfilled anti-typically.

[5] We must not because we are not the fathers of Israel according to the flesh, and because the Abrahamic Covenant community is not the New Covenant community.

Clark’s attempt has been to divorce the Mosaic Covenant from the Abrahamic Covenant entirely and thereby to remove all typical elements from the Abrahamic Covenant, insisting that it contained only spiritual, anti-typical promises. But as we have seen, and as Clark has himself acknowledged, this cannot be done. Moses was not Abraham, but he was his offspring. The Mosaic Covenant was a fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. And we can say that the Old Covenant is inclusive of the Abrahamic Covenant to the extent that the Abrahamic Covenant shares with the Mosaic Covenant (notice everything listed in Rom. 9:4-5 as belonging to Israel according to the flesh).

Dr. Clark objects and argues that in the New Testament, the Abrahamic Covenant is identified with the New Covenant and thereby contrasted with the Old. That is true, but that is because, to quote Bryan Estelle, by the time we reach the New Testament “Israel’s disobedience has triggered the curse sanctions. Therefore, the new covenant context has essentially changed matters here… What was prototypical [life in Canaan] has been eclipsed by what is antitypical [eternal life].” The fact that the New Testament focuses on the anti-typical fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant does not mean there was not a typological level to the dichotomous Abrahamic Covenant. It is impossible to severe Abraham from Moses. Listen to Ligon Duncan (representing the Westminster position)

So as far as Moses is concerned, there is no radical dichotomy between what God is doing with His people in the time of the Exodus and what God promised to Abraham.  In fact, he says that the reason God came to His people’s rescue was because He remembered the promise He had made with Abraham.  And if you will remember back to our study of Genesis chapter 15, God went out of His way to tell Abraham about the oppression of Israel in Egypt and about the fact that He was going to bring them out of Egypt as a mighty nation, and that He was going to give them the land of Canaan.  And so, Moses goes out of his way in both Genesis 15 and in Exodus 2 to link the Mosaic Economy with the Abrahamic Covenant, so that the Mosaic Economy isn’t something that is replacing the way that God deals with His people, under Abraham; it is expanding what God was doing with His people through Abraham.

Clark argues that Galatians 4 teaches a separation and contrast between Abraham and Moses. But read carefully, 4:21-31 demonstrates precisely what we have said: both the Old and the New Covenants flow from Abraham, as Paul demonstrates using an allegory of Abraham’s two sons. This passage was foundational to Augustine’s understanding of covenant theology.

Wherefore just as that divine oracle to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the other prophetic signs or sayings which are given in the earlier sacred writings, so also the other prophecies from this time of the kings pertain partly to the nation of Abraham’s flesh, and partly to that seed of his in which all nations are blessed as fellow-heirs of Christ by the New Testament, to the possessing of eternal life and the kingdom of the heavens.  Therefore they pertain partly to the bond maid who gendereth to bondage, that is, the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; but partly to the free city of God, that is, the true Jerusalem eternal in the heavens, whose children are all those that live according to God in the earth:  but there are some things among them which are understood to pertain to both,—to the bond maid properly, to the free woman figuratively. (Gal 4:22-31)…

what we read of historically as predicted and fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, we must also inquire the allegorical meaning of, as it is to be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to faith…

This interpretation of the passage, handed down to us with apostolic authority, shows how we ought to understand the Scriptures of the two covenants—the old and the new… Both, indeed, were of Abraham’s seed; but the one was begotten by natural law, the other was given by gracious promise. (Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist)

As Clark agrees, the Old Covenant is different in principle/nature/substance from the Covenant of Grace. It is not the Covenant of Grace. To the degree that the Mosaic flows from the Abrahamic, it too is different in principle and substance from the Covenant of Grace. The Abrahamic Covenant is not the Covenant of Grace. As Robert M’Cheyne said “this was a type of the covenant that was to be afterwards.”

Clark argues that “Paul makes Abraham the pattern for new covenant faith.” He certainly does. But the conclusion to be drawn is not that the Abrahamic Covenant is therefore the Covenant of Grace. The Abrahamic Covenant never promised regeneration, faith, and forgiveness of sins. It promised that the Messiah would be born from Abraham and would establish the Covenant of Grace in his blood to grant regeneration, faith, and forgiveness of sins. Reflecting on this in Hebrews 8:10, Calvin concluded “There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.” In the same way that Clark thinks the Abrahamic Covenant operated under the Mosaic to save saints in the Old Covenant, the New Covenant actually operated under the Abrahamic Covenant to save Abraham. As Clark admits “The evidence is that the new covenant is substantially identical with the covenant of grace.” Augustine agreed, which is why he said

As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant], so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament [covenant]… I beg of you, however, carefully to observe, as far as you can, what I am endeavouring to prove with so much effort. When the prophet promised a new covenant, not according to the covenant which had been formerly made with the people of Israel when liberated from Egypt, he said nothing about a change in the sacrifices or any sacred ordinances, although such change, too, was without doubt to follow, as we see in fact that it did follow, even as the same prophetic scripture testifies in many other passages; but he simply called attention to this difference, that God would impress His laws on the mind of those who belonged to this covenant, and would write them in their hearts, (Jer 31:32-33)… These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new,—because of the faith whereby we live, of one and the same they lived, believing the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ as future, which we believe as already accomplished. (Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist)

Owen said

I have showed in what sense the covenant of grace is called ‘the new covenant,’… The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant.

In his commentary in Hebrews, Owen worked out in detail what this meant for all the other post-fall covenants.

That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by νομοτηετεο, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship. Hereon the other covenant was disannulled and removed; and not only the covenant itself, but all that system of sacred worship whereby it was administered…

When God renewed the promise of it unto Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but it was with respect unto other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely under the old testament it consisted only in a promise… The νομοτηετεο, or full legal establishment of it, whence it became formally a covenant unto the whole church, was future only, and a promise under the old testament

Since the Covenant of Grace during the time of Abraham worked “invisibly” and “had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it,” circumcision was never an ordinance of the Covenant of Grace. Like all other pre-Christ types, circumcision has passed away and is obsolete. Instead, Christians are commanded to observe New Covenant ordinances according to New Covenant commands. Therefore we are to baptize all those who profess faith in Christ, and no others.

In sum, Clark said that “The Reformed have tended to let the New Testament not only interpret the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures but also to provide a pattern for how to interpret the typological revelation… Reformed theology has not always been consistent in the application of this principle.” He argues that a consistent application requires one to acknowledge that the Old and New Covenants “operate on utterly different principles,” that “the old covenant was such that it could be broken, but the new covenant cannot be broken,” and “that the Mosaic covenant was inherently temporary and inferior and is now expired and abrogated.” And just as Winzer and the “old” paedobaptists warned, consistency in Clark’s position nullifies infant baptism.

A consistent application of the reformed hermeneutic leads to credobaptism.

RScottClarkvsRScottClark

 

See Also:

The Westminster Assembly Debates Credopaedobaptism

December 14, 2015 1 comment

In “From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism” W. Gary Crampton argues that the Westminster Confession is self-contradictory on the issue of infant baptism. He notes (among several arguments) that WCF 28.1 and WLC #165 contradict WCF 28.4 because infants are unable to “enter into an open and professed engagement.” “Water baptism symbolizes, not only the blessings of the gospel, but the saving response to the gospel by the party baptized (Acts 2:38; 8:36-37; Gal 3:27; 1 Pet 3:21; Heb 10:22-23).” He notes that William Cunningham and James Bannerman recognized this and taught that the baptism of adults has a different meaning than the baptism of infants, which contradicts Ephesians 4:5.

Over at Particular Voices, there is a fascinating, candid discussion of this problem recorded by George Gillespie in his notes from the Assembly.

Source: The Westminster Assembly Debates Credopaedobaptism

Berkhof on Jer. 31:31-34

July 25, 2015 1 comment

The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly Scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-12.

-Louis Berkhof. “Systematic Theology.” iBooks.

Throughout his systematic theology, Berkhof is very candid in his discussion of the covenant of grace. He admits many things that paedobaptists today would not admit – most likely because Berkhof did not have any reformed baptists to argue with. It wasn’t on his radar. Paedobaptists today insist that baptists have misread Jer. 31:31-34 and have ignored its context. Berkhof said our observation from the text is a “perfectly Scriptural idea.” However, he goes on to explain that the covenant of grace must be understood in another sense because of Genesis 17:7.

They [reformed theologians] were fully aware of the fact that, according to God’s special revelation in both the Old and the New Testament, the covenant as a historical phenomenon is perpetuated in successive generations and includes many in whom the covenant life is never realized. And whenever they desired to include this aspect of the covenant in their definition, they would say that it was established with believers and their seed.

Thus Jer. 31:31-34 does describe the substance of the covenant of grace made with the elect alone, but Genesis 17:7 says the Abrahamic Covenant is made with Abraham and his physical offspring. The paedobaptist conclusion is that there are two levels or sides or aspects to the covenant of grace: inward/outward, etc (see Berkhof “The Dual Aspect of the Covenant”). The biblical conclusion is that the Abrahamic Covenant is not the New Covenant.

God’s Covenant Unfaithfulness?

February 24, 2015 11 comments

Recently someone posted the following on Facebook:

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Here is a picture of the Baptist Tabernacle in Auckland, New Zealand which, in 1881 was pastored by Thomas Spurgeon, son of the Prince of Preachers; Charles Spurgeon. It was modeled after the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. A testimony to the Presbyterian doctrine of the covenant faithfulness of God from one generation to another.

This is a common claim baptists hear from Presbyterians. If a child of a Christian is saved, it is a testimony of God’s covenant faithfulness. But, as I pointed out, that must mean the inverse is true as well: If a child of a Christian is not saved, it is a testimony of God’s covenant unfaithfulness. The logic is simple:

  • P1 God promises to save the children of believers
  • P2 The salvation of believers’ children is testimony of God’s covenant faithfulness
  • C The lack of salvation of believers’ children is testimony of God’s covenant unfaithfulness

Of course the immediate response is that I have misunderstood and misrepresented the paedobaptist position. The correct P1, I’m told, should be:

  • P1 God promises to save the elect children born of Christian parent(s)

I was told to read this statement (note, see They are not all Israel, who are of Israel):

The promise to which Peter referred in his Pentecost sermon is mentioned in HC74: “both redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are through the blood of Christ promised to [the children of believers] no less than to their parents.” The Baptist, however, hears language like this and often assumes that Reformed churches believe that every baptized child is guaranteed to be one of the elect. “If this true,” concludes the Baptist, “then what are we to say about those cases in which a baptized child did not persevere in the faith? If God made a promise to the child in baptism, but the child apostatizes as an adult, what does that say about God’s promise? Did his promise fail?”

Unfortunately, there are some Reformed churches that have contributed to this misconception by speaking of every baptized person in the church – “head for head” – as being truly elect and inwardly united to Christ. But it must be understood that membership in God’s visible covenant community does not guarantee membership in God’s elect people. This is Paul’s point in Romans 9 when he defends the fidelity of God’s promise to Abraham: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Rom. 9.6). In other words, not all in the visible church belong to the invisible church. This is why the Bible often speaks of another circumcision, a circumcision of the heart (Deut. 10.16; 30.6; Jer. 4.4; 9.25-26; Acts 7.51; Rom. 2.28-29). Although he was consecrated to the Lord as a member of the covenant people of God, the Israelite male was still responsible to believe the promises signified in his circumcision, for the sign (circumcision) never became the thing signified (the promises of God).

Why We Baptize the Children of Believers by Michael Brown

To which I am happy to revise my initial syllogism:

  • P1 God promises to save the elect children born of Christian parents.
  • P2 God promises to save the elect children not born of Christian parents (John 1:13; Gal 3:7-9; Rom 9:7-8, 11, 24-26; 10:11-13; 11:17; Eph 1:4-10, etc)
  • C1 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.
  • P3 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s promise to save the elect.
  • P4 God’s covenantal faithfulness is determined by His promise to save the elect.
  • C2 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s covenantal faithfulness.

The response? That can’t be true because God promises to save the children of Christians.

God’s promise to us includes our children.

God promises to, as a general principle, bring about the salvation of covenant children…

So we are back to square one because they are equivocating on what the promise is, precisely. Is it to the elect, or is it to all our children generally?

The final response was (note the equivocation):

An accurate P4 (etc.) would be:

  • God’s covenantal faithfulness is determined by His promise to save those who he has promised to save.
  • P5 God has promised to (among others) save the children of believers.
  • C God shows His faithfulness (among other ways) when He saves (among others) the children of believers.

In which case, there is nothing unique about the salvation of the children of believers since God’s faithfulness is also demonstrated (“among other ways”) when he saves the children of non-believers (“among others”). In other words:

  • C2 Physical heritage is irrelevant to God’s covenant faithfulness.

Related post:

Problems with PRCA Covenant Theology

July 7, 2013 21 comments

I cut my teeth in reformed theology, and covenant theology, on writings from the Trinity Foundation. TF taught me well the unconditional nature of the covenant of grace. The writings of the PRCA and David Engelsma in particular are often referenced in Trinity Foundation writings in support of this view. However, the PRCA position has some problems I’d like to address.

Unconditional Covenant

In their book “Not Reformed At All”‘ John Robbins and Sean Gerety quote David Engelsma (PRCA) in response to Doug Wilson’s conditional, “objective” covenant:

The significant contemporary development of covenant doctrine to which I refer concerns the issue whether the covenant of God with His people in Jesus Christ is unconditional or conditional. The new teaching that troubles the Reformed churches, and threatens to carry them away, is the natural, indeed inevitable, development of the doctrine that the covenant is conditional. It is necessary, therefore, that we have the issue of the conditionality or unconditionality of the covenant clearly in mind. In considering the controversy, we must remember that the covenant of God with His people is central to the revelation of God in Scripture and to the redemption that is at the heart of biblical revelation. No one in the debate questions the importance of the covenant.

That the covenant is unconditional means that the establishing, maintaining, and perfecting of that blessed relationship of love and communion between God and a man do not depend on the sinful man; that the blessings which the covenant brings to the man do not depend upon him; and that the final, everlasting salvation enjoyed by one with whom God makes His covenant does not depend upon that man.

There is no work of the sinner that is a condition he must fulfill in order to have the covenant, or to enjoy its blessings.

Unconditionality rules out merit, or earning. It also rules out all effort by the sinner, even though not meritorious, upon which the covenant and its blessings are supposed to depend, or which cooperates with God in establishing and maintaining the covenant and in bestowing the benefits of the covenant. Unconditionality certainly rules out merit. We do not earn, and thus deserve, the covenant. But unconditionality also rules out all works that distinguish one man from another, or that are the reason why the covenant is given to one and not to another, or that obtain the covenant, which God merely makes available to one. The reason why all such works are excluded, along with meritorious works, is that these works, as much as meritorious works, would make the sinner his own savior and rob God of the glory of salvation.

…Such is the development of the doctrine of a conditional covenant in our day that it overthrows the entire theological system of salvation by sovereign grace as confessed by the Reformed faith in the Canons of Dordt and in the Westminster Standards. The doctrine of a conditional covenant is explained by its advocates as denying the heart of the gospel of grace, namely, justification by faith alone on the basis only of the life-long obedience and atoning death of Jesus Christ.

The Unconditional Covenant in Contemporary Debate

The PRCA has many wonderful things to say in support of the unconditional nature of the covenant of grace. But this faces opposition not just from contemporaries but from the history of the reformed tradition as well. The difficulty is that anyone who supports an unconditional covenant of grace must deal with the Mosaic Covenant, (Paedobaptists teach that the Mosaic Covenant is an administration of the covenant of grace) which is clearly conditional. (Jeffrey D. Johnson categorizes and analyzes these offered solutions into 6 categories in his book The Fatal Flaw in the Theology Behind Infant Baptism.)

John Robbins likewise recognized the Mosaic Covenant was crucial to rightly understanding the Covenant of Grace. In response to Norm Shepherd, he said:

Shepherd denies that Leviticus 18:5, Romans 10:3-10, and Galatians 3:10-13 teach a “works/merit principle.”…Shepherd denies that there is any works-merit principle taught in Scripture. When Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5, Shepherd says, he is not saying that Moses taught this principle, but that he was “quoting Scripture according to the sense which his opponents understand it,” that is, Paul’s opponents misunderstood what Moses was saying, and Paul is quoting their misunderstanding.

http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=118#sthash.ewFG4t6n.dpuf

How then does the PRCA deal with the difficult problem of the conditionality of the Mosaic Covenant (we’ll deal with Robbins in a later post)?

Well, in this regard they follow Shepherd:

the Sinaitic covenant was a form, or administration, of the covenant of grace… in the current controversy over the covenant occasioned by the Federal Vision, there is an erroneous doctrine of the Sinaitic covenant, or Old Testament covenant with Israel. Following the lead of the Presbyterian theologian Meredith Kline, Presbyterian and Reformed theologians are teaching that, in part, the Sinaitic covenant was a covenant of works, in fact a renewal of the covenant of works supposedly established by God with Adam in Paradise.

…The error of Kline’s covenant theology with regard to the Sinaitic covenant—the “old covenant,” of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and of Hebrews 8—is that it introduces, be it in restricted part and stipulated aspect, the notions of salvation by works and of merit into a form, or administration, of the one covenant of grace. This is fatal to the gospel of salvation by grace.

…The covenant theology of Merdith Kline and his disciples is a warning to Reformed theology and churches that to introduce a “covenant of works,” that is, merit on the part of a mere humans, into covenant theology anywhere in the system is inevitably to produce a covenant theology of works and merit with regard to the covenant of grace in Jesus Christ. Kline’s doctrine of a meritorious covenant of works with Adam led him to teach a reinstated covenant of works and merit with regard both to the Sinaitic covenant and to the Abrahamic covenant. But the Sinaitic covenant and the covenant with Abraham were the Old Testament administrations of the New Testament covenant of grace with the church in Jesus Christ. If they were, even in part, a covenant of works, so also is the covenant of grace in Christ.

Reformed theologians must take to heart and make their own the exclamation of Martin Luther: “Away with that profane, impious word, ‘merit.’” Save, of course, as was also the meaning of the great Reformer, with regard to the ministry of Jesus Christ.

…the covenant with Adam was not a covenant of works, in which Adam could have merited anything, much less eternal life with God

[emphasis mine] Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, November 2012, p.59

They defer to Bavinck to explain the Mosaic Covenant (and sound very similar to Shepherd’s argument that Paul is addressing a misinterpretation of the Mosaic Covenant):

The law of Moses, accordingly, is not antithetical to grace but subservient to it and was also thus understood and praised in every age by Israel’s pious men and women. But detached from the covenant of grace, it indeed became a letter that kills, a ministry of condemnation…It is from that perspective that Paul views especially the Old Testament dispensation of the covenant of grace…(Gal. 3:23f.; 4:1f.).

Bavinck concluded his treatment of the covenant with Israel in the Old Testament by declaring that “the law was subservient to the covenant of grace; it was not a covenant of works in disguise.”

ibid, 61

So the PRCA retains the (conditional) Mosaic Covenant as an administration of the (unconditional) covenant of grace by denying a works principle in any covenant, including the prelapsarian covenant with Adam.

We maintain also… that the destiny of Adam and the human race from the outset was much higher than Adam’s paradisiacal state. However, God never intended that destiny to be attained by the obedience of Adam, nor was such a destiny ever within the potential of Adam the first.

ibid, 65

See also A Critique of the Covenant of Works in Contemporary Controversy. Rejection of the covenant of works is unbiblical. I will not defend the reformed consensus on the covenant of works here, but will assume its truth for sake of brevity (see Guy Waters on Leviticus 18:5 and Murray on Lev. 18:5 – Why Did John Murray Reject the Covenant of Works? as well as my podcast interview with Guy Waters). Adam’s entrance into eschatological rest was a reward offered to him upon condition of his perfect obedience to the law. There is no faith apart from works without a law/gospel distinction. And there is no law/gospel distinction without a covenant of works. As Robbins alluded to above, Lev 18:5, Gal 3:12, and Rom 10:5 are central texts that cannot be correctly interpreted if the covenant of works is rejected. (For more on this, see my posts under the “Covenant of Works” category).

Thus the PRCA provide no biblical reconciliation between their Unconditional Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant.

(The PRCA’s unique definition of a covenant with God is also problematic, but I won’t address that here.)

Baptism of the Reprobate

This brings us to the second problem with the PRCA’s covenant theology: baptism.

Engelsma has a helpful essay titled The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers, the purpose of which is to reconcile an unconditional covenant of grace with covenantal baptism. He notes:

The Reformed “Form for the Administration of Baptism” assures the believing parents and the congregation that “our young children… are again received unto grace in Christ…” It insists, with powerful, decisive appeal to the unity of the covenant in both old and new dispensations, that “infants are to be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God and of His covenant.” And in the prayer of thanksgiving it puts on Reformed lips the words of praise, joy, and comfort, “Thou has forgiven us, and our children, all our sins, through the blood of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, and received us through Thy Holy Spirit as members of Thine only begotten ….” In the vow at baptism, the parents confess that they believe that, “although our children are conceived and born in sin, and are therefore subject to all miseries, yea, condemnation itself; yet that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of His church, ought to be baptized.”

Our question, what this means, is occasioned by the incontestable fact that not all of the children of believers are saved.

This is no small dilemma. It strikes at the heart of the unconditional covenant of grace.

Engelsma outlines 3 possible solutions. First,

because of their privileged position in a Christian home and in the environment of the church these children are more likely to be converted than the children of unbelievers…

This viewpoint must be rejected. First, it does not do justice to the language of the Bible or of the Reformed creeds. God does not merely put the children of believers in a more advantageous position, so as to make it likelier that they will be saved; but He establishes His covenant with them, so as to be their God…the Reformed church regards them, and must regard them, as those “sanctified in Christ.”

Second, Engelsma rejects the view that places faith as a condition of the covenant

All the children of believers without exception are in the covenant in this sense,…the actual realization of the covenant with them personally depend upon their believing in Christ and thus taking hold of the covenant when they grow up…

[T]his view conflicts with cardinal doctrines of the Word of God, doctrines which are precious to every Reformed man and woman. For one thing, the promise and covenant grace of God now depend upon the work and will of the sinful child. The covenant and its salvation are conditional, dependent upon the faith of the child. But this stands in diametrical opposition to the teaching of Scripture, with specific reference to this very matter of the salvation of the children of believers: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Also, the Reformed faith has creedally rejected the notion that faith is a condition unto salvation: In 1/9,10 the Canons of Dordt deny that faith is a “prerequisite, cause or condition” upon which election and salvation depend, asserting rather that “men are chosen to faith” (cf. also I/Rejection of Errors, 3; III, IV/14; III, IV/Rejection of Errors, 6).
For another thing, this explanation of the inclusion of the children in the covenant definitely implies that Christ’s death for some persons fails to secure their redemption. At baptism God promises to all the children that He will give them His covenant and its blessings on the basis that Christ washed them all in His blood. But the fact is that some of these children perish. Thus is denied the doctrine of limited, efficacious atonement, at least within the sphere of the covenant. As regards the children of believers, there is universal atonement

Yet another objectionable element in this view is its teaching that the promise of God fails in many cases. God promises salvation to every baptized child of believing parents, but many of them do not receive salvation. The word and promise of God have failed in all these cases. They have failed because the children have refused to fulfill the condition of faith; but the fact remains that they have failed.

The basic objection to this covenant-view — and it is a deadly serious objection — is that it conflicts with the Reformed gospel of salvation by sovereign grace…

I agree.

Finally,

Although all our children are in the sphere of the covenant and therefore receive the sign of the covenant and are reared as covenant members, the covenant of God, the relationship of friendship in Jesus Christ, is established with the elect children only.

This is the PRCA solution. Baptism is meant for the elect because only they are in covenant with God. The linchpin of this solution is Romans 9

Paul’s difficulty is exactly our problem. By promise, God includes our children in His covenant of salvation; but not all of our children are saved. Scripture’s solution of the apostle’s difficulty solves our problem as well. The children of believers to whom God graciously promises membership in the covenant are not all the physical offspring of believers. They are rather the “children of God” among our offspring. And the children of God are those who are chosen in Christ. These are the ones whom God counts for the seed when he says, “I will be the God of your seed.” These, and these only, are “the children of the promise.” To them, and to them only, is the promise given. In every one of them is the promise effectual to work faith in Jesus Christ.

Engelsma is echoing Herman Hoeksema who previously said:

Summarizing all this now, we come to the following conclusion. God has a people in this world which is called Israel, which bears the name of the children of God. That people exists organically and develops in the line of the generations of believers. It must be called by the name of God’s people. They with their children are called the church, the congregation of Jesus Christ, God’s covenant people, Israel.

…let no one draw the conclusion from this that all who are in the sphere of this church as it exists historically are also actually spiritual children of the promise. There is an Israel according to the flesh and an Israel according to the Spirit. And they are not all Israel who are of Israel. There is an elect kernel, and there is a reprobate shell. And God will be merciful to whom He will be merciful also within the sphere of the historical covenant in the world.

…Understood in this sense, we do not object in the least to speak of an external and an internal covenant of grace. If only the organic idea is maintained.

Believers and Their Seed, Chapter 8: A Two-Fold Seed

Hoeksema was attempting to explain the meaning of their Baptism Form, which says that the baptized child is sanctified in Christ – which he argues must be taken subjectively in reference to the actual infant being baptized. The problem, of course, is that if the child is reprobate, they could not have been sanctified in Christ. Furthermore, since they deny a conditional covenant, they cannot say the child is merely “covenantally” sanctified.

He appeals to the teaching of Romans 9 to solve the problem (that apparently plagued Dutch churches and caused considerable conflict and confusion):

Apply this now to the Baptism Form, and every difficulty simply falls away. The Baptism Form is one of the most beautiful documents transmitted to us by our fathers. Only, keep in mind that in this Form the congregation is conceived of organically, and that the whole is called by the name of the elect kernel. This is the reason why that Form is so definite and so clear. This is the reason why the believing congregation, if she again understands that Form correctly, can so heartily confess her faith, speak her vows, and send up her thanksgiving to the throne of grace according to the language of that Form for the Administration of Baptism.

By “organically” Hoeksema has in mind the concept of botany. Referring to Isaiah 5:1-7 and Romans 11:17-24, Hoeksema explains how God’s covenant is like a plant.

Think, for example, of our well-known tomato plant. You have there an organism, growing out of one root. The entire organism is called by the name of the fruit-bearing plant. As such it is fertilized; as such it receives rain and sunshine. But when presently the organism of that plant has developed, then you discover that there are nevertheless two kinds of branches shooting forth on that one plant. There are the fruit-bearing branches; but there, between them, you also find suckers, which indeed draw their life-sap out of the plant, but which never bear any fruit…
…that entire people must be addressed, treated, comforted, and admonished as the Israel of God. And yet, at the same time, you may never forget that not all is Israel that is called Israel. There are branches which never bear fruit, which bring forth wild fruit, and which are presently cut off.

…It is one vine. And that vine is, according to its proper essence, or core, the object of God’s grace and favor. But that same vine is, from the viewpoint of the branches which bring forth no fruit or which bring forth wild fruit, corrupt fruit, the object of God’s fierce anger and wrath.

Believers and Their Seed, Chapter 9: The Organic Principle in Scripture

So God’s covenant exists on the earth as an organic entity: an elect kernel and a reprobate shell. Since we cannot know who the elect are, we baptize all those in the sphere of the covenant, though they are not actually in covenant. Engelsma explains:

God realizes His covenant in the line of generations. He gathers His church from age to age from the children of believers. As the Puritans were fond of saying, “God casts the line of election in the loins of godly parents.” For the sake of the elect children, all are baptized…Viewing their children as God’s covenant children, believers must approach them as elect children in their teaching and discipline, even though there may indeed be reprobate and unregenerated children among them. Election determines the approach. All the children must receive the instruction that the regenerated must have and will profit from. By means of this rearing in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, the covenant promise will work the fruit of conversion in the elect children.

For the sake of the elect, all children are baptized and considered covenant children. Since some of the children might be elect, and might thereby profit from being baptized and considered in covenant, they are all, reprobate and elect, baptized. Of course all of this is the result of inferences drawn from the Abrahamic Covenant and circumcision’s parallel to baptism. However, it is precisely this covenant that throws a wrench into the rigorous logic of the PRCA.

Ishmael

The linchpin text for this entire view is Romans 9, of which Hoeksema notes:

that God accomplishes His good pleasure, according to the counsel of His sovereign election and reprobation, the apostle proves from the Old Testament Scriptures. He points, first of all, to Isaac, who was chosen as the child of the promise. Although Abraham had more sons, the Word of God’s promise was, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” It was plain that not the children of the flesh, but the children of the promise were counted for the seed. No man is able of himself to beget children of the promise, spiritual children of the covenant…

And therefore also the Lord God chose His own children out of those fleshly children of Abraham. He formed them and called them to be living children of God. And now the Word of promise did not pertain to all the children of Abraham, but only to the seed of election. The Lord maintained His sovereign good pleasure also within the sphere of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh. “In Isaac shall thy seed be called,” (vss. 7-9).

Believers and Their Seed, Chapter 8: A Two-Fold Seed

According to the PRCA reading of Romans 9 as quoted here and above, verses 7-8 teach that Ishmael is a reprobate child of the flesh, not an elect child of promise like Isaac. Re-read the above quote, then re-read the previous quotes from Hoeksema and Engelsma on Romans 9. “[The elect], and these only, are ‘the children of the promise.'” Ishmael, per Paul in Romans 9, was not a child of promise. Therefore, if Paul is teaching about election to salvation in these verses by way of a internal/external or kernel/husk view of the Covenant of Grace, then he is teaching that Ishmael was reprobate.

Make sure you grasp this point. In Genesis 21:12, God says to Abraham “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named” in contrast to Ishmael. Thus, in this context, whatever “through Isaac shall your offspring be named” means, God chose Isaac and not Ismhael for that. I’m not sure of any other way of interpreting that verse.

Paul quotes that verse and argues from it that not all of Abraham’s offspring are his children. This means that Isaac, and not Ishmael, was a child of Abraham (whatever that may mean). Paul draws the conclusion that not the children of the flesh of Abraham (Ishmael) are the children of God, but the children of the promise (Isaac) are counted as Abraham’s offspring.

How can we possibly draw any other conclusion from these verses than that Ishmael is a child of the flesh and Isaac is a child of the promise (whatever that may mean)?

Again, Paul describes Ishmael in exactly the same way in Galatians 4. “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants…” (ESV)

I don’t see any way of coming to any other conclusion than that Paul says Ishmael was a child of the flesh, not of the promise. Therefore, if as Engelsma said “Paul’s difficulty is exactly our problem. By promise, God includes our children in His covenant of salvation; but not all of our children are saved. Scripture’s solution of the apostle’s difficulty solves our problem as well.” then Ishmael was reprobate.

This is a problem because Ishmael not only receives the covenant sign, but he does so after God says the covenant will not be established with him – that he is not a child of promise. According to the PRCA view, the only reason Abraham should circumcise his offspring is that they might be elect and therefore the promise might be to them. But God very clearly told Abraham that this was not the case with Ishmael, and yet he was still circumcised. He did not even remain within the “sphere of the covenant” but was sent off to another land. This cannot be accounted for consistently by the PRCA view.

This is a forceful strike two.

(Note, for an alternative, more accurate reading of Romans 9, see They are not all Israel, who are of Israel)

Covenant Breakers

Furthermore, the PRCA’s commitment to both an overarching covenant of grace consisting of numerous covenantal dispensations or administrations and to the concept of an unconditional covenant cannot account for the clear teaching of covenant breaking.

They cannot ignore this teaching, so they deal with it as best they can: covenant breaking is only really covenant breaking from man’s perspective.

There are some who have sought to harmonize the teaching of Scripture concerning the unbreakableness of God’s covenant with those passages of Scripture that speak of the sin of covenant breaking by teaching a conditional covenant. According to these people all of the children born to believing parents are in the covenant, possess the promise of the covenant, and receive covenant grace. But through their own sin, they fall out of the covenant, relinquish the promise of the covenant, and frustrate the operations of Gods covenant grace.

This teaching of a conditional covenant, however, has serious difficulties, and raises more problems than it resolves. The teaching of a conditional covenant ought to go against the grain of every truly Reformed man or woman. It is a teaching that involves a denial of God’s sovereignty, at least in the salvation of the children of the covenant. It is a denial of the preservation of the saints, of the irresistibility of grace, and of the total depravity of the children of believers. This is not a teaching that harmonizes the unbreakableness of God’s covenant with covenant breaking, but throws out the window the unbreakableness of God’s everlasting covenant.

Covenant breaking is the sin of someone within the sphere of the covenant. It is the sin of one who has been born into the covenant, born to believing, covenant parents.

…Does this at all contradict the teaching of the unbreakableness of God’s covenant? Does this destroy the everlasting character of the covenant of grace? Does this in any way imply that these people were ever actually genuine members of God’s covenant? Not at all. Scripture describes the sin of these people from their point of view.

Covenant Breaking

But is this true? Is Jeremiah 31:31-33 written from a human, covenant-breaker’s perspective? No. It is written from God’s perspective. God says Israel broke His covenant, not that they appeared to break His covenant.

The PRCA cannot account for covenant breaking as described in the Bible. Strike three. I sympathize with their attempt to be logically consistent, but covenant breaking cannot be dismissed as simply an accommodation to human perspective.

Hoeksema attempted to soften the blow by saying that covenant breaking is really the same as law breaking (since the opposite is covenant keeping – ie law keeping), and does not mean the covenant bond was severed. But the real solution to this logical roadblock was on the tips of his fingers:

Finally, let me point out that in the New Testament the expression is not found. I pointed out earlier that the Old Testament usage of this terminology stands connected undoubtedly with the fact that at Sinai the law was imposed upon the promise. But in the new dispensation we are not under the law, but under grace. Only once is the expression “covenant breakers” found in the New Testament, in Romans 1:31. But there the expression has nothing to do with the covenant of grace between God and His people, but rather with man-to-man relationships.

About Covenant Breakers in the New Dispensation

But because of his commitment to the one covenant of grace under multiple administrations view, he was unable to draw the obvious conclusion: the old covenant was breakable (and broken) while the new is not. Robbins saw the obvious:

This new covenant (not the covenant made with Moses, and explained in greater detail in the New Testament), this Covenant of Grace, is personal (“I will put”; “all shall know me”); individual (I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts); and absolutely effective (I will be their God and they shall be my people; None of them shall teach his neighbor….for all shall know me); and “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” The Mosaic covenant was public, corporate, and ineffective (“because they did not continue in my covenant”). By this efficacious, sovereign Covenant of Grace, believers are justified and made sons of God:

The Biblical Covenant of Grace

The Promise

Much of the development of PRCA’s covenant theology has been in opposition to a conditional covenant view that has plagued Dutch churches and is analogous to the Federal Vision. E. Calvin Beisner (OPC) has spent a great deal of time understanding and combating the Federal Vision. In response to FV’s claim that, simply stated “The children of believers are saved” Beisner recognized, like the PRCA, that “the promise” of Genesis 17 is only to the elect. However, Beisner recognized that the necessary implication is that physical heritage is irrelevant to the promise of salvation. The promise is not made to the children of believers. The promise is made to the spiritual seed of Abraham (believers), period.

[God] has not promised the salvation of any children of believers or baptized persons simply because they are children of believers or baptized persons… [Thus] it is possible for any or even all children of believers, or baptized persons, to be damned…

[C]onsider God’s promise to Abraham, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants [seed] after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants [seed] after you.” Does this imply that every physical descendant of Abraham–or even every one of his own direct, first-generation offspring–would be saved, that none of them would go to hell, all would go to heaven? Certainly not. As Paul explained in Romans 9:6-8… Likewise he wrote in Galatians 4:22-31… Notice that: “it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise.”…

Haven’t we heard some similar phrases somewhere else? Yes! In John 1:10-13, John tells us that the incarnate Word, Jesus, “was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world”–those who had no special relationship to Abraham–did not know Him. He came to His own”–that is, to the Jews, the children of Abraham according to the flesh, “and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them”–whether those of the world, or those of Abraham according to the flesh–“as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

(Evangelizing Our Children)

The promise is to believers, not to believers and their seed. Beisner recognized this has implications for how Acts 2:39 has traditionally been understood by paedobaptists.

What then are we to make of those precious passages with which we began? What of Peter’s statement, “The promise is for you and your children”? What of Paul’s that the child of even just one believing parent is “holy”? What of his promise to the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”? What of God’s promise to Abraham, “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants [seed] after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants [seed] after you”? Perhaps we need to look at them a little more carefully…

Consider first Peter’s comment in Acts 2:39. Thus far we have quoted only part of it. The whole of it is, “the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” Are those who insist that here is a promise of the salvation of the children of believers as quick to say that here is a promise of salvation “for all who are far off”? Those are not simply the children of believers; those include all men everywhere in the world. But does God promise salvation to all men everywhere in the world. Certainly not. Neither, then, does He promise salvation to all the children of believers. What does He promise, then, to all the children of believers and to all people everywhere? Look at verse 38–and I’m going to use my own very literal translation here to make clear the grammatical cause-and-effect relationship that is clear in the Greek but ordinarily gets obscured in English translations: “Y’all repent for the remission of y’all’s sins, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and y’all will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”… The promise is conditional: If you repent and believe in Jesus Christ, you’ll be forgiven. That promise does indeed apply to each and every child of each and every believer; and it also applies to each and every other person who ever lived or ever will live.

(For more on this, see A Presbyterian (Finally) Gets Acts 2:39 Right)

Solution

If the PRCA were willing to abandon their commitment to the one substance multiple administrations view, all 4 of their problems would be resolved and they would retain the biblical teaching of the unconditional covenant of grace by identifying the covenant of grace with the new covenant exclusively.

First, as just explained, it removes the problem of covenant breaking. Scripture never says the New Covenant is or can be broken (though both the Abrahamic and Mosaic can).

Second, it solves the irreconcilable difficulty of Ishmael. The covenant of circumcision is not the covenant of grace. Being circumcised was not a sign or seal or promise that the individual is sanctified in Christ. Ishmael was circumcised because he was the offspring of Abraham, not because he might be elect and therefore the promise of salvation might apply to him. The Abrahamic Covenant is not the New Covenant and circumcision is not baptism.

But what are we to make of Romans 9 if the organic principle of an elect kernel and reprobate shell is rejected? Well, it’s not rejected. It’s refined. There are two Israels. One of the flesh, the other of the promise. Both are considered the people of God, but are so constituted on a different covenantal basis. Israel according to the flesh is constituted a people on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant – typical of the true Israel of God, constituted on the basis of the New Covenant. And both of these covenants and people flow out of the Abrahamic Covenant, as Galatians 4:21-31 says. Hoeksema was right. There is a two-fold seed. But he was wrong that the children of the flesh were outside of any covenant with God.

Romans 9 would then be Paul applying a typological interpretation of the Old Testament, rather than just correcting a misreading of the Old Testament. When God says he will establish His covenant with Isaac instead of Ishmael, He is not commenting one way or the other on Ishmael’s salvation. He is simply saying that the Messiah will be born through the line of Isaac, not Ishmael. Paul uses this principle of sovereign election and applies it to individual salvation. Consider these words from PRCA commentator Robert C. Harbach (which, btw, contradicts Hoeksema and Engelsma’s reading of Romans 9:7-8 – demonstrating another inconsistency in the system):

The meaning rather is, a wish that Ishmael, who is not destined to be the means of transmitting the blessings of the covenant to its future generations, nevertheless may be in the covenant and share its blessings… Abraham desired nothing less than eternal salvation for his son Ishmael

[emphasis mine] -Studies in the Book of Genesis (17:18)

Ishmael, usually, by the majority, but not by all, of the commentators is regarded as reprobate. But inasmuch as we do not hold with the opinion that God’s grace and blessing are general and common, we can not so regard him. For scripture teaches that God’s goodness is always particular, and that this being true, we may not make the false distinction that some blessings are temporal and for all, while others are eternal and only for the elect. That distinction does not hold…

Since this is all true, then Ishmael must be, not reprobate, but elect… The blessing here referred to is principally the same as that given to Isaac (25:11; 26:3, 12, 24), and to Samson (Jud. 13:24), the blessing according to election…

…Both of these men, then, must have been in the covenant, although, as for Ishmael, the covenant line did not proceed from him in his generations, but in Isaac and his generations (v. 21)… Ishmael is not, therefore, excluded from the covenant and its blessings: but he is not the transmitter of the seed through whom Christ would come.

(17:19-21)

I agree in part with Harbach – the account in Genesis 17 and 21 refer to whom the promised seed will proceed through. When God says He will establish His covenant with Isaac instead of Ishmael, He is not commenting on the salvation of either because He is not talking about the covenant of grace, but the covenant of circumcision. Thus, again, Paul uses the example of God sovereignly choosing through whom the promised seed will come in the covenant of circumcision and applies it to the question of individual salvation.

This interpretation has the added benefit of answering Arminians who argue that the Old Testament contexts of the election quotes Paul uses refer to “election to service” rather than individual salvation.

In predetermining how salvation would be accomplished, the primary object of predestination was Jesus Christ himself. But in order to bring his saving work to pass, it was necessary for God secondarily to foreordain all the essential means of accomplishing this. This referes mostly to the selection (election) of certain nations and individuals to be used as instruments for bringing Christ into the world and then for beginning the process of applying the saving results of his redemptive work to the world. This is predestination to service, not to salvation…

Much of the biblical data about predestination and election (e.g., Rom. 9) refers to this utilitarian predestination, which is part of God’s eternal purpose regarding how salvation would be accomplished, not how it would be applied to individuals.

– Jack W. Cottrell, Perspectives on Election, p. 115-116

John Piper summarizes and interacts with this view in his commentary on Romans 9:

The clarifying question that must now be posed is this: If, as we have seen (p53), God’s purpose is to perform his act of election freely without being determined by any human distinctives, what act of election is intended in Rom9:11—13—an election which determines the eternal destiny of individuals, or an election which merely assigns to individuals and nations the roles they are to play in history? The question is contextually appropriate and theologically explosive.18 On one side, those who find in Rom 9:6-13 individual and eternal predestination are accused of importing a “modern problem” (of determinism and indeterminism) into the text, and of failing to grasp the corporateness of the election discussed. 19 On the other side, one sees in the text a clear statement of “double predestination” of individuals to salvation or condemnation and claims that “the history of exegesis of Rom 9 could be described as the history of attempts to escape this clear observation” (Maier, Mensch und freier Wille, 356)…

J. Munck (Christ and Israel, 42) argues that “Rom 9:6-13 is therefore speaking neither of individuals and their selection for salvation, nor of the spiritual Israel, the Christian church. It speaks rather of the patriarchs, who without exception became founders of peoples.”

The list of modern scholars on the other side is just as impressive… On the larger context (including Rom 9:16) Henry Alford (II, 408f) writes, “I must protest against all endeavors to make it appear that no inference lies from this passage as to the salvation of individuals. It is most true that the immediate subject is the national rejection of Jews: but we must consent to hold our reason in abeyance if we do not recognize the inference that the sovereign power and free election here proved to belong to God extend to every exercise of his mercy – whether temporal or spiritual… whether national or individual.”…

The basic argument against seeing individual, eternal predestination in Rom 9:6-13 is that the two Old Testament references on which Paul builds his case do not in their Old Testament contexts refer to individuals or to eternal destiny, but rather to nations and historical tasks. The argument carries a good deal of force, especially when treated (as it usually is) without reference to the logical development of Paul’s argument in Rom 9:1-13…

By this election of Isaac instead of Ishmael God shows that physical descent from Abraham does not guarantee that one will be a beneficiary of the covenant made with Abraham and his seed… But, the interpretation continues, the covenant blessings for which Isaac is freely chosen (before his birth) and from which Ishmael is excluded (in spite of descendancy from Abraham) do not include individual eternal salvation. One cannot legitimately infer from Rom 9:7-9 that Ishmael and his descendants are eternally lost nor that Isaac and his descendants are eternally saved. What God freely and sovereignly determined is the particular descendant (Isaac) whose line will inherit the blessings of the covenant: multiplying exceedingly, fathering many nations, inhabiting the promised land and having God as their God (Gen 17:2-8). This benefit, not eternal salvation, is what is not based on physical descent from Abraham, but on God’s unconditional election…

A plausible case can be made for the position that “Paul is no longer concerned with two persons [Jacob and Esau] who have been raised to the level of types” (Kaesemann, Romans, 264)… But… the decisive flaw in the collectivist/historical position is not its failure to agree with Kaesemann’s contention. It’s decisive flaw is its failure to ask how the flow of Paul’s argument from 9:1-5 on through the chapter affects the application of the principle Paul has established in Rom 9:6b-13. The principle established is that God’s promised blessings are never enjoyed on the basis of what a person is by birth or by works, but only on the basis of God’s sovereign, free predestination (Rom 9:11,12)… We may grant, for the sake of argument, that in the demonstration of this principle of God’s freedom in election Paul uses Old Testament texts that do not relate explicitly to eternal salvation… [But] the solution which Rom 9:6-13 develops in respons to this problem [9:1-5], must address the issue of individual, eternal salvation…

[W]hether Paul sees the election of Isaac (Rom 9:7b) as the election of an individual to salvation or as the election of his posterity for a historical task, the principle of unconditional election is immediately applied by Paul to the present concern, namely, who in reality does constitute true, spiritual “Israel” (9:6b), whose salvation is guaranteed by God’s word?

– John Piper, The Justification of God, p. 56-73

It would therefore be eisegesis to read Romans 9 and conclude that Paul is making a statement about distinctions between being in covenant and being in the sphere of the covenant. Nowhere does Paul ever say this. Paul is making distinctions between national Israel, to whom belong the covenants (they are/were actually in covenant with God), and true, spiritual Israel, to whom belong the ultimate fulfillment of those previous covenants: the new covenant/covenant of grace. They are not all [spiritual] Israel (the church) who are descended from Israel (the nation).

Olive Tree

This line of thinking resolves the necessary contradiction regarding Ishmael that the PRCA’s view brings. Furthermore, it does better justice to the texts in question, particularly Romans 11. Yes, Romans 11 is clearly using an “organic” analogy. But is Romans 11:16-21 painting a picture of the new covenant church? Is Romans 11 teaching that there is an elect kernel within the reprobate shell of the new covenant church? No. Again, Hoeksema does not account for the redemptive historical context of these passages. He reads them like a systematic text, rather than being sensitive to biblical theology (though he comes close when he recognizes that “at the moment when the apostle penned that ninth chapter of Romans, Israel as a nation had even been rejected.“). John Owen does a much better job of explaining Romans 11:

3. In process of time, God was pleased to confine this church, as unto the ordinary visible dispensation of his grace, unto the person and posterity of Abraham. Upon this restriction of the church covenant and promise, the Jews of old managed a plea in their own justification against the doctrine of the Lord Christ and his apostles. “We are the children, the seed of Abraham,” was their continual cry; on the account whereof they presumed that all the promises belonged unto them, and upon the matter unto them alone. And this their persuasion hath cast them, as we shall see, upon a woful and fatal mistake. Two privileges did God grant unto Abraham, upon his separation to a special interest in the old promise and covenant: —

First, That according to the flesh he should be the father of the Messiah, the promised seed; who was the very life of the covenant, the fountain and cause of all the blessings contained in it. That this privilege was temporary, having a limited season, time, and end, appointed unto it, the very nature of the thing itself doth demonstrate; for upon this actual exhibition in the flesh, it was to cease. In pursuit hereof were his posterity separated from the rest of the world, and preserved a peculiar people, that through them the promised Seed might be brought forth in the fullness of time, and be of them according unto the flesh, Romans 9:5.

Secondly, Together with this, he had also another privilege granted unto him, namely, that his faith, whereby he was personally interested in the covenant, should be the pattern of the faith of the church in all generations; and that none should ever come to be a member of it, or a sharer in its blessings, but by the same faith that he had fixed on the Seed that was in the promise, to be brought forth from him into the world. On the account of this privilege, he became the father of all them that do believe: for “they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham,” Galatians 3:7, Romans 4:11: as also “heir of the world,” Romans 4:13, in that all that should believe throughout the world, being thereby implanted into the covenant made with him, should become his “spiritual children.”

4. Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God…

5. And herein lay the great mistake of the Jews of old, wherein they are followed by their posterity unto this day…

It is true, they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should he set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth.

That this separation and privilege was to cease when the end of it was accomplished and the Messiah exhibited, the very nature of the thing declares; for to what purpose should it be continued when that was fully effected whereunto it was designed? But they would extend this privilege, and mix it with the other, contending that, because they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh, the whole blessing and covenant of Abraham belonged unto them…

It is true, the former carnal privilege of Abraham and his posterity expiring, on the grounds before mentioned, the ordinances of worship which were suited thereunto did necessarily cease also. And this cast the Jews into great perplexities, and proved the last trial that God made of them; for whereas both these, — namely, the carnal and spiritual privileges of Abraham’s covenant, — had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations, coming now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Malachi 3) who of the Jews had interest in both, who in one only, those who had only the carnal privilege, of being children of Abraham according to the flesh, contended for a share on that single account in the other also, — that is, in all the promises annexed unto the covenant. But the foundation of their plea was taken away, and the church, unto which the promises belong, remained with them that were heirs of Abraham’s faith only…

7. It remains, then, that the church founded in the covenant, and unto which all the promises did and do belong, abode at the coming of Christ, and doth abide ever since, in and among those who are the children of Abraham by faith. The old church was not taken away, and a new one set up, but the same church was continued, only in those who by faith inherited the promises. Great alterations, indeed, were then made in the outward state and condition of the church; as, —
(1.) The carnal privilege of the Jews, in their separation to bring forth the Messiah, then failed; and therewith their claim on that account to be the children of Abraham.
(2.) The ordinances of worship suited unto that privilege expired and came to an end.
(3.) New ordinances of worship were appointed, suited unto the new light and grace then granted unto the church.
(4.) The Gentiles came in to the faith of Abraham together with the Jews, to be fellow-heirs with them in his blessing. But none of these, nor all of them together, made any such alteration in the church but that it was still one and the same. The olive-tree was the same, only some branches were broken off, and others planted in; the Jews fell, and the Gentiles came in their room.

– John Owen, The Oneness of the Church

Owen says the olive tree refers to the fact that before Christ came, the carnal and spiritual seed of Abraham “had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations”, but the breaking off of the unbelieving branches shows that this mixed state was “coming now to be separated”. The “elect kernel in a reprobate shell” that Hoeksema refers to has reference to the Old Testament context of the church (believing saints), and not to the present situation. Today, the only way to be of the “people of God” is by faith, because the former means of being considered a people of God (Abraham’s carnal seed) has now ceased and the branches were cut off (a one time event, not a continual pruning taking place even today). Romans 11:16-21 does not teach that children of believers are grafted in to the olive tree at birth and are later cut off. Rather, the passage teaches that the only way to be of the tree is by faith.

Vineyard

Finally, for a better explanation of Hoeksema’s appeal to Isaiah Isaiah 5:1-7, see two sermons from Samuel Renihan: Why Did God Exile Israel? and Why Did God Destroy Israel?

Conclusion

The Protestant Reformed Church in America’s commitment to both an overarching covenant of grace with multiple administrations and an unconditional covenant of grace leads them to several lethal problems.

  1. The PRCA attempts to resolve the conflict that arises when one believes the conditional Mosaic Covenant is an administration of the Covenant of Grace by denying that human merit exists in any covenant, including the prelapsarian covenant of works with Adam. This denies the law gospel distinction essential for a proper understanding of the gospel and is unbiblical.
  2. Their attempt to explain why reprobate children are baptized, based upon their reading of Romans 9:6-13, cannot consistently account for the case of Ishmael.
  3. Their covenant theology cannot account for the biblical reality of covenant breakers.
  4. Their restriction of “the promise” of Gen. 17 to the elect requires them to conclude that the promise is to believers, not to believers and their seed.

It is neither a biblical nor consistent system. Their commitment to the unconditional nature of the covenant of grace is to be commended, but it is much better accounted for by the covenant theology of the 17th century particular baptists who identified the covenant of grace with the new covenant exclusively (and taught that Abraham and all other OT saints were members of the new covenant as it worked as a promise in the OT). To learn more about this view, visit http://www.1689federalism.com

See also:

  1. The Olive Tree
  2. They are not all Israel, who are of Israel
  3. A Presbyterian (Finally) Gets Acts 2:39 Right (E. Calvin Beisner affirming that the promise is only to the elect, not to all children)
  4. Hebrews 10 & John 15 (vineyard discussion)
  5. Calvin vs 1689 Federalism on Old vs New
  6. New Covenant Union as Mystical Union in Owen (addresses the conditionality of the covenant of grace in the context of union)