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Debating Owen: Jones & Beeke

April 17, 2015 1 comment

Posting a response here that I made on the Puritanboard a while ago. See the thread here.

Here was the usual objection that we just don’t understand covenant theology nor Owen’s version of it:

From a couple of Puritan scholars who take a sober look at Owen’s Covenant theology:

This chapter will look specifically at John Owen’s covenant schema, with particular attention to the role of the Sinaitic or Mosaic covenant and its relation to the covenants of works and grace. By focusing specifically on Owen and the details of his thought, the hope is that he can be placed more accurately within the larger taxonomy of Reformed thinking on this issue. The evidence suggests that Owen’s covenant theology cannot be labeled by terms such as “dichotomous” and “trichotomous.” While these terms may prove helpful in other cases, Owen’s theology of the covenants is so complex that any attempt to label him in this way inevitably misses some of the nuances of his thought.

Beeke, J. R., & Jones, M. (2012). A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (p. 294). Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books.

Owen’s most detailed exposition of the old and new covenants flows out of his comments on Hebrews 8:6. However, in his exposition of Hebrews 7:9–10, Owen’s language may cause a great deal of confusion, especially given what has been said above. Quoting his words will make this potential problem apparent:
There were never absolutely any more than two covenants wherein all persons indefinitely are concerned. The first was the covenant of works, made with Adam, and with all in him. And what he did as the head of that covenant, as our representative therein, is imputed unto us, as if we had done it, Rom. 5:12. The other is that of grace, made originally with Christ, and through him with all the elect. And here lie the life and hope of our souls,—that what Christ did as the head of that covenant, as our representative, is all imputed unto us for righteousness and salvation.72
How should this statement be interpreted? One possibility is that Owen changed his definition of covenant as he moved from Hebrews 7:9–10 to Hebrews 8:6. Do his comments on Hebrews 8:6 reflect his more mature covenant theology? It is hard to see how a writer as theologically and intellectually sophisticated as Owen would so quickly change his opinion and understanding of what constitutes a biblical covenant. More likely, however, Owen’s observations on Hebrews 7:9–10 refer to general soteric principles rather than specific exegetical details. In other words, Owen uses “covenant” in two ways: one in a more general sense; another that is more specific and takes into account the exegetical requirements for what constitutes a biblical covenant (i.e., it must also be a testament). Speaking generally, then, Owen can say, without contradicting himself in his later comments on Hebrews 8:6, that the principle of representation (Rom. 5:12) manifest itself in the two Adams so that the only hope of salvation (for the elect) rests in the second Adam, Jesus Christ. In this sense—and against Rehnman’s contention—Owen is better understood as a dichotomist rather than a trichotomist.

Beeke, J. R., & Jones, M. (2012). A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (p. 302). Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books.

Now, one may disagree with this conclusion but one has to do more than any of the following:

1. Simply label men as dishonest who have spent a great deal of time studying Owen but come to differing conclusions.

2. Simply rest one’s case on Owen’s commentary to the Hebrews. The note above about Owen’s exegetical fidelity is very important and there are larger Reformed methodologies at play than what appears on the surface if one simply spends all their time in Hebrews and becomes an expert on Owen’s theology of Hebrews. It is quite like “Pauline” scholars who claim that Paul has one theology in Ephesians and another in Romans or another Epistle or a totally different theology than James. One has to take into account the entire body of material as well as the methodology of the time. The point about Owen believing that a biblical covenant also had to be a testament to qualify as a biblical covenant has some nuance that needs to be unpacked and simply claiming to have Owen nailed down on Covenant theology because one knows everything he wrote in a exegetical commentary on Hebrews is not the same thing as saying they have nailed down Owen’s systematic view of the Covenant of Grace.

3. Simply point to Particular Baptists who claim they are just agreeing with the learned Owen on the matter. Look, these guys were intelligent just like studied men are on both sides of the issue today. If we are having trouble sorting out Owen on this issue then it’s not surprising if men in his own time had the same problem:

Given the complexity of Owen’s position, one may sympathize with Anthony Burgess’s statement that on this point of divinity he found “learned men … confused and perplexed.”73

Beeke, J. R., & Jones, M. (2012). A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (p. 302). Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books.

In other words, let us all grant that there are learned men here and confusion and perplexity about Owen is not surprising so a dose of both humility and charity is in order when trying to press him into service for a particular position.


Here is my response:

In other words, let us all grant that there are learned men here and confusion and perplexity about Owen is not surprising so a dose of both humility and charity is in order when trying to press him into service for a particular position.

Absolutely. But that’s a two way street. You need to be open to the possibility that baptist scholars have interpreted Owen correctly while others have not.

simply claiming to have Owen nailed down on Covenant theology because one knows everything he wrote in a exegetical commentary on Hebrews is not the same thing as saying they have nailed down Owen’s systematic view of the Covenant of Grace.

Note the inconsistency here. Beeke and Jones quote Owen’s exegetical commentary on Hebrews 7:9-10, treat it as systematic theology, and use it to interpret Owen’s commentary on 8:6. Let’s be consistent. Owen’s exegetical commentary includes systematic theological statements.

The evidence suggests that Owen’s covenant theology cannot be labeled by terms such as “dichotomous” and “trichotomous.” While these terms may prove helpful in other cases, Owen’s theology of the covenants is so complex that any attempt to label him in this way inevitably misses some of the nuances of his thought.

I agree! Which is why I don’t label him as dichotomous or trichotomous and have never argued for that. I agree with this conclusion:

Owen’s covenant theology must be appreciated both against the backdrop of the broader Reformed theological tradition and on its own terms if his covenant theology is to be accurately understood and assessed. In Owen’s case, the customary labels may not be helpful in describing the thought of one who produced his own “minority report” among the various interpretations of the seventeenth-century orthodox Reformed.

Beeke, Joel R.; Jones, Mark (2012-10-14). A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Kindle Locations 11913-11916). . Kindle Edition.

I think people on this forum need to take note of that particularly.

There were never absolutely any more than two covenants wherein all persons indefinitely are concerned. The first was the covenant of works, made with Adam, and with all in him. And what he did as the head of that covenant, as our representative therein, is imputed unto us, as if we had done it, Rom. 5:12. The other is that of grace, made originally with Christ, and through him with all the elect. And here lie the life and hope of our souls,—that what Christ did as the head of that covenant, as our representative, is all imputed unto us for righteousness and salvation.72

How should this statement be interpreted? One possibility is that Owen changed his definition of covenant as he moved from Hebrews 7:9–10 to Hebrews 8:6. Do his comments on Hebrews 8:6 reflect his more mature covenant theology? It is hard to see how a writer as theologically and intellectually sophisticated as Owen would so quickly change his opinion and understanding of what constitutes a biblical covenant. More likely, however, Owen’s observations on Hebrews 7:9–10 refer to general soteric principles rather than specific exegetical details. In other words, Owen uses “covenant” in two ways: one in a more general sense; another that is more specific and takes into account the exegetical requirements for what constitutes a biblical covenant (i.e., it must also be a testament). Speaking generally, then, Owen can say, without contradicting himself in his later comments on Hebrews 8:6, that the principle of representation (Rom. 5:12) manifest itself in the two Adams so that the only hope of salvation (for the elect) rests in the second Adam, Jesus Christ. In this sense—and against Rehnman’s contention—Owen is better understood as a dichotomist rather than a trichotomist.

Beeke, J. R., & Jones, M. (2012). A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (p. 302). Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books.

1. Owen does not deny that the Covenant of Works with Adam was a biblical covenant. He simply said that the specific covenant spoken of in Hebrews 8 was “a covenant and a testament” and therefore the Old Covenant was not referring to the Covenant of Works w/ Adam (which was not a testament).

Owen’s first concern is to show that the covenant made with Adam (i.e., the covenant of works), though not “expressly called a covenant,” but still containing the nature of a covenant (e.g., promises and threatening, rewards and punishments), “is not the covenant here intended [in Hebrews 8:6ff.].”25 The reason the covenant of works cannot be intended is because Hebrews 8 speaks of a “testament” (diatheke). The old in Hebrews 8 is both a covenant and a testament, and “there can be no testament, but there must be death for the confirmation of it, Heb. ix.16.”26

Beeke, Joel R.; Jones, Mark (2012-10-14). A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Kindle Locations 11741-11746). . Kindle Edition.

He also said the Old Covenant in Hebrews 8 was not the Covenant of Works because (2) that covenant has ceased and (3) Israel never absolutely under the power of the Covenant of Works. In other words, he is making theological deductions and arguments about general soteric principles, not just “specific exegetical details”.

This is the covenant of works, absolutely the old, or first covenant that God made with men. But this is not the covenant here intended; for, —
1st. The covenant called afterwards “the first,” was diaqh>kh, a “testament.” So it is here called. It was such a covenant as was a testament also. Now there can be no testament, but there must be death for the confirmation of it, <580916>Hebrews 9:16. But in the making of the covenant with Adam, there was not the death of any thing, whence it might be called a testament…

2dly. That first covenant made with Adam, had, as unto any benefit to be expected from it, with respect unto acceptation with God, life, and salvation, ceased long before, even at the entrance of sin. It was not abolished or abrogated by any act of God, as a law, but only was made weak and insufficient unto its first end, as a covenant. God had provided a way for the salvation of sinners, declared in the first promise… as a covenant, obliging unto personal, perfect, sinless obedience, as the condition of life, to be performed by themselves, so it ceased to be, long before the introduction of the new covenant which the apostle speaks of, that was promised “in the latter days.” But the other covenant here spoken of was not removed or taken away, until this new covenant was actually established.

3dly. The church of Israel was never absolutely under the power of that covenant as a covenant of life; for from the days of Abraham, the promise was given unto them and their seed. And the apostle proves that no law could afterwards be given, or covenant made, that should disannul that promise, <480317>Galatians 3:17. But had they been brought under the old covenant of works, it would have disannulled the promise; for that covenant and the promise are diametrically opposite. (74-75)

2. There is not actually any contradiction to resolve. Owen said “There were never absolutely any more than two covenants wherein all persons indefinitely are concerned.” Since for Owen the various post-fall covenants prior to the New Covenant did not concern all persons indefinitely, there is no contradiction to resolve. (For example, Owen notes regarding the Mosaic Covenant “as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal.” It was a covenant specifically with Israel regarding life in the land of Canaan, with Moses as it’s mediator/head – not Christ, thus it was a separate covenant from the Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace, but it did not concern all persons indefinitely so Owen does not have it in mind in that comment).

3. Owen spends a great deal of space in his Hebrews 8:6 exposition specifically addressing how to work out the question of how the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace relate to the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. It’s basically the whole thrust of his 150 pages

With respect hereunto it is that the Lord Christ is said to be the “mediator of a better covenant;” that is, of another distinct from it, and more excellent. It remains unto the exposition of the words, that we inquire what was this covenant, whereof our Lord Christ was the mediator, and what is here affirmed of it. This can be no other in general but that which we call “the covenant of grace.” And it is so called in opposition unto that of “works,” which was made with us in Adam; for these two, grace and works, do divide the ways of our relation unto God, being diametrically opposite, and every way inconsistent, Romans 11:6. Of this covenant the Lord Christ was the mediator from the foundation of the world, namely, from the giving of the first promise, Revelation 13:8; for it was given on his interposition, and all the benefits of it depended on his future actual mediation. But here ariseth the first difficulty of the context, and that in two things; for –

[1.] If this covenant of grace was made from the beginning, and if the LORD Christ was the mediator of it from the first, then where is the privilege of the gospel-state in opposition unto the law, by virtue of this covenant, seeing that under the law also the Lord Christ was the mediator of that covenant, which was from the beginning ?

[2.] If it be the covenant of grace which is intended, and that be opposed unto the covenant of works made with Adam, then the other covenant must be that covenant of works so made with Adam, which we have before disproved.

The answer hereunto is in the word here used by the apostle concerning this new covenant: nenomoqe>thtai, whose meaning we must inquire into. I say, therefore, that the apostle doth not here consider the new covenant absolutely, and as it was virtually administered from the foundation of the world, in the way of a promise; for as such it was consistent with that covenant made with the people in Sinai. And the apostle proves expressly, that the renovation of it made unto Abraham was no way abrogated by the giving of the law, Galatians 3:17. There was no interruption of its administration made by the introduction of the law. But he treats of such an establishment of the new covenant as wherewith the old covenant made at Sinai was absolutely inconsistent, and which was therefore to be removed out of the way. Wherefore he considers it here as it was actually completed, so as to bring along with it all the ordinances of worship which are proper unto it, the dispensation of the Spirit in them, and all the spiritual privileges wherewith they are accompanied. It is now so brought in as to become the entire rule of the church’s faith, obedience, and worship, in all things.

This is the meaning of the word nenomoqe>thtai: “established,” say we; but it is, “reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance.” All the obedience required in it, all the worship appointed by it, all the privileges exhibited in it, and the grace administered with them, are all given for a statute, law, and ordinance unto the church. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by nenomoqe>thtai, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship. Hereon the other covenant was disannulled and removed; and not only the covenant itself, but all that system of sacred worship whereby it was administered. This was not done by the making of the covenant at first; yea, all this was superinduced into the covenant as given out in a promise, and was consistent therewith. When the new covenant was given out only in the way of a promise, it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it. Wherefore it was consistent with a form of worship, rites and ceremonies, and those composed into a yoke of bondage which belonged not unto it. And as these, being added after its giving, did not overthrow its nature as a promise, so they were inconsistent with it when it was completed as a covenant; for then all the worship of the church was to proceed from it, and to be conformed unto it. Then it was established. Hence it follows, in answer unto the second difficulty, that as a promise, it was opposed unto the covenant of works; as a covenant, it was opposed unto that of Sinai. This legalizing or authoritative establishment of the new covenant, and the worship thereunto belonging, did effect this alteration.
(77-78)

Thus for Owen, the solution is that the Covenant of Grace was not a covenant until Christ’s death. Beeke and Jones are incorrect when they say:

The evidence suggests that Owen does not simply equate the covenant of grace with the new covenant. For example, Owen writes, “When we speak of the ‘new covenant,’ we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely.”36…

For Owen, the covenant of grace only formally becomes a covenant through the death of Christ (Heb. 9:15–23), although this sacrifice had been decreed from before the foundation of the world. As a result, the new covenant, promised in the Old Testament, is not the promise of grace, but the actual “formal nature of a covenant” through its establishment by the death of Christ.40 The new covenant, then, is the fulfillment of the covenant of grace, but also distinguishable from it by virtue of being a testament. Hebrews 8 has, therefore, special reference not to the covenant of grace, but to the new covenant specifically.

Beeke, Joel R.; Jones, Mark (2012-10-14). A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Kindle Locations 11785-11789). . Kindle Edition.

They have misunderstood Owen’s comments. Owen does use “new covenant” and “covenant of grace” interchangeably. When he says “absolutely considered” he is not opposing the new covenant to the covenant of grace, he is opposing the covenant of grace promised vs the covenant of grace established. Nowhere does Owen say the new covenant is distinguished from the covenant of grace because the new covenant is a testament. Note how Owen uses “new covenant” and “covenant of grace” interchangeably.

that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise… all this was superinduced into the covenant as given out in a promise… the new covenant was given out only in the way of a promise… Having shown in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition to the old covenant, so I shall propose several things which relate to the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace.

Again, the distinction Owen makes is not between the covenant of grace and the new covenant, but instead between the covenant of grace (the new covenant) promised and the covenant of grace (the new covenant) established.

Owen rejects the one substance/multiple administrations view of the covenant of grace in favor of a promised/established view of the covenant of grace. And this is not simply in reference to the Mosaic Covenant but to all covenants in the bible:

2. When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though that were not before in being and efficacy, before the introduction of that which is promised in this place. For it was always the same, as to the substance of it, from the beginning. It passed through the whole dispensation of times before the law, and under the law, of the same nature and efficacy, unalterable, “everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians only excepted, do grant that the covenant of grace, considered absolutely, — that is, the promise of grace in and by Jesus Christ, —was the only way and means of salvation unto the church, from the first entrance of sin. But for two reasons it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect unto any other things, nor was it so under the old testament. 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; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture, Acts 2:39; Hebrews 6:14-16. The apostle indeed says, that the covenant was confirmed of God in Christ, before the giving of the law, Galatians 3:17. And so it was, not absolutely in itself, but in the promise and benefits of it. The nomoqesi>a, 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; for it wanted two things thereunto: —

(1.) It wanted its solemn confirmation and establishment, by the blood of the only sacrifice which belonged unto it. Before this was done in the death of Christ, it had not the formal nature of a covenant or a testament, as our apostle proves, Hebrews 9:15-23. For neither, as he shows in that place, would the law given at Sinai have been a covenant, had it not been confirmed with the blood of sacrifices. Wherefore the promise was not before a formal and solemn covenant.

(2.) This was wanting, that it was not the spring, rule, and measure of all the worship of the church. This doth belong unto every covenant, properly so called, that God makes with the church, that it be the entire rule of all the worship that God requires of it; which is that which they are to restipulate in their entrance into covenant with God. But so the covenant of grace was not under the old testament; for God did require of the church many duties of worship that did not belong thereunto. But now, under the new testament, this covenant, with its own seals and appointments, is the only rule and measure of all acceptable worship. Wherefore the new covenant promised in the Scripture, and here opposed unto the old, is not the promise of grace, mercy, life, and salvation by Christ, absolutely considered, but as it had the formal nature of a covenant given unto it, in its establishment by the death of Christ, the procuring cause of all its benefits, and the declaring of it to be the only rule of worship and obedience unto the church. So that although by “the covenant of grace,” we ofttimes understand no more but the way of life, grace, mercy, and salvation by Christ; yet by “the new covenant,” we intend its actual establishment in the death of Christ, with that blessed way of worship which by it is settled in the church.

3. Whilst the church enjoyed all the spiritual benefits of the promise, wherein the substance of the covenant of grace was contained, before it was confirmed and made the sole rule of worship unto the church, it was not inconsistent with the holiness and wisdom of God to bring it under any other covenant, or prescribe unto it what forms of worship he pleased. It was not so, I say, upon these three suppositions: — …”

http://www.prayermeetings.org/files/…_8.1-10.39.pdf

Make sure to read “DOLPHINS IN THE WOODS”: A Critique of Mark Jones and Ted Van Raalte’s Presentation of Particular Baptist Covenant Theology, Samuel Renihan in the 2015 JIRBS. It deals with Owen as well. http://www.rbap.net/jirbs-2015-article-titles/

Categories: John Owen Tags:

Kline on “Administration of the Covenant of Grace”

March 30, 2015 30 comments

Lee Irons has been posting a series summarizing Kline’s views on the Mosaic Covenant and clarifying what he sees as misrepresentations. It’s a very helpful series and I appreciate his efforts. However, I think one of them fails to defend Kline against from his critics. The Fourth Misrepresentation Of Kline deals with the claim that Kline denied the Mosaic Covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace. Irons references Kline’s two-layer cake and then concludes:

Kline clearly affirms that the covenant of grace unfolded in several administrations (including the Mosaic covenant!) and that this overarching covenant of grace reached its culmination in the new covenant.

I do not think Kline is contradicting himself. He is not saying that the Mosaic covenant itself (the covenant between God and Israel that was inaugurated at Sinai) was a covenant of grace. It was not. It was a covenant of the works variety. But he is saying that God’s establishment of this Mosaic covenant of works was designed to advance the covenant of grace and that therefore it was a sub-administration of the covenant of grace. To use the language of some 17th century Reformed theologians, it was a “subservient covenant” intended not to be an end in itself but to look ahead to the coming Seed who would be born under it and fulfill it and thereby bring about the consummation of the covenant of grace.

Essentially the argument is that if you believe the Mosaic Covenant served the purposes of the covenant of grace, then you believe it was an administration of the covenant of grace.

The problem is that is not what the term means. It means that the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant were not two different covenants but were in fact the same covenant. If you deny that, you deny the Mosaic was an administration of the covenant of grace, regardless of what purpose it served.

Calvin’s comments on Hebrews 8 exemplify the view.

But what he adds is not without some difficulty, — that the covenant of the Gospel was proclaimed on better promises; for it is certain that the fathers who lived under the Law had the same hope of eternal life set before them as we have, as they had the grace of adoption in common with us, then faith must have rested on the same promises. But the comparison made by the Apostle refers to the form rather than to the substance; for though God promised to them the same salvation which he at this day promises to us, yet neither the manner nor the character of the revelation is the same or equal to what we enjoy. 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.
In his Institutes we find the following (referencing Hebrews 7-9):

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 -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.

Institutes, 2.11.4

Calvin is clear: The Old and New Covenant were the same covenant. 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 covenants with the same promises and the same means of obtaining the promise. This is the meaning of WCF 7.6
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.
Now John Owen is helpful in addressing this question because he agrees with Kline’s exegesis:

’I exercised the right, power, and authority of a husband towards them; I dealt with them as a husband with a wife that breaketh covenant:’ that is, saith the apostle, ‘“ I regarded them not” with the love, tenderness, and affection of a husband.’ So he dealt indeed with that generation which so suddenly brake covenant with him. He provided no more for them as unto the enjoyment of the inheritance, he took them not home unto him in his habitation, his resting-place in the land of promise; but he suffered them all to wander, and bear their whoredoms in the wilderness, until they were consumed. So did God exercise the right, and power, and authority of a husband towards a wife that had broken covenant. And herein, as in many other things in that dispensation, did God give a representation of the nature of the covenant of works, and the issue of it…

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. And from the whole we may observe sundry things.

-Exposition of Hebrews 8:9

But precisely because he agrees with Kline, Owen says the Mosaic Covenant is not an administration of the covenant of grace.

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. And indeed there is so much agreed on, as that what remains seems rather to be a difference about the expression of the same truth, than any real contradiction about the things themselves. For, —

1. It is agreed that the way of reconciliation with God, of justification and salvation, was always one and the same…

2. That the writings of the Old Testament, namely, the Law, Psalms, and Prophets, do contain and declare the doctrine of justification and salvation by Christ…

3. That by the covenant of Sinai, as properly so called, separated from its figurative relation unto the covenant of grace, none was ever eternally saved.

4. That the use of all the institutions whereby the old covenant was administered, was to represent and direct unto Jesus Christ, and his mediation.

These things being granted, the only way of life and salvation by Jesus Christ, under the old testament and the new, is secured; which is the substance of the truth wherein we are now concerned. On these grounds we may proceed with our inquiry.

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…

For some, when they hear that the covenant of grace was always one and the same, of the same nature and efficacy under both testaments, —that the way of salvation by Christ was always one and the same, —are ready to think that there was no such great difference between their state and ours as is pretended. But we see that on this supposition, that covenant which God brought the people into at Sinai, and under the yoke whereof they were to abide until the new covenant was established, had all the disadvantages attending it which we have insisted on. And those who understand not how excellent and glorious those privileges are which are added unto the covenant of grace, as to the administration of it, by the introduction and establishment of the new covenant, are utterly unacquainted with the nature of spiritual and heavenly things…

’I exercised the right, power, and authority of a husband towards them; I dealt with them as a husband with a wife that breaketh covenant:’ that is, saith the apostle, ‘“ I regarded them not” with the love, tenderness, and affection of a husband.’ So he dealt indeed with that generation which so suddenly brake covenant with him. He provided no more for them as unto the enjoyment of the inheritance, he took them not home unto him in his habitation, his resting-place in the land of promise; but he suffered them all to wander, and bear their whoredoms in the wilderness, until they were consumed. So did God exercise the right, and power, and authority of a husband towards a wife that had broken covenant. And herein, as in many other things in that dispensation, did God give a representation of the nature of the covenant of works, and the issue of it…

‘This was the issue of things with them with whom the first covenant was made. They received it, entered solemnly into the bonds of it, took upon themselves expressly the performance of its terms and conditions, were sprinkled with the blood of it; but they “continued not in it,” and were dealt withal accordingly. God used the right and authority of a husband with whom a wife breaketh covenant; he “neglected them,” shut them out of his house, deprived them of their dowry or inheritance, and slew them in the wilderness…

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. And from the whole we may observe sundry things.

http://www.prayermeetings.org/files/John_Owen/Hebrews_8.1-10.39.pdf (starting on page 84)

Owen is clear: the meaning of the Westminster phrase “administration of the covenant of grace” can be found most clearly in Calvin (specifically the portion we quoted already) and it means they are the same covenant with different outward appearances, rather than two distinct covenants. If you disagree with that and see them as two different covenants, then you are disagreeing with the reformed divines when they say they were both administrations of the covenant of grace. Note, Owen sides with the Lutherans who say that is incorrect because “neither can these things be spoken of it with respect unto any administration of it as they are spoken of the old covenant.” That is to say, the differences are not just in outward appearance.So the question is: Does Kline or Owen better understand the meaning of “an administration of the covenant of grace”?

Samuel Bolton, a proponent of the subservient covenant view that Irons aligns Kline with, provides the following summary of the “administration of the covenant of grace” view (which he does not agree with):

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. The one was called old, and the other new, not because the one was before the other by the space of four hundred and thirty years, but because the legal administrations mentioned were waxing old and decaying, and were ready to disappear and to give place to a more new and excellent administration. “That which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away”. The one covenant was more obscurely administered, shadowed, darkened with shadows; the other was administered more perspicuously and clearly. The one was more onerous and burdensome, the other more easy and delightful. The one through the legal means of its administration gendered to bondage, the other to son-like freedom. All this may be seen clearly in Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1; Gal. 3:1-4:3. Hence, as Alsted tells us, the new and old covenants, the covenants of the law and Gospel, are both of them really covenants of grace, only differing in their administrations. That they were virtually the same covenant is alleged in Luke 1:72-75: “To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant”. What was “his holy covenant”? It is made clear in verse 74 that in substance it was the same as the covenant of grace: “That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”

Admitting that “He is not saying that the Mosaic covenant itself (the covenant between God and Israel that was inaugurated at Sinai) was a covenant of grace. It was not. It was a covenant of the works variety.” is admitting that it was not an administration of the covenant of grace. To say that the Mosaic Covenant was of works means it was NOT of the same substance as the covenant of grace. I agree with Irons and Kline and Owen on the Mosaic Covenant. It was not of the same substance. It was of works for life in the land. But that is why I believe the criticism sticks. That is why Owen said he disagreed with the reformed (and that’s why his Savoy declaration removed 7.6).

This was Patrick Ramsey’s point in an essay titled “In Defense of Moses.” I disagree with Ramsey’s interpretation of the Mosaic Covenant, but his interpretation of Westminster Federalism is correct. He demonstrates that Westminster rejected the subservient covenant view.

The primary reason for holding to the Subservient Covenant is the contrast and opposition found in Scripture between the old and new covenants (2 Cor 3:6-9; Gal 4:24- 26; Heb 7:22; 9:15-20).46 Since the Mosaic Covenant is a covenant, it must either be a covenant of works, a covenant of grace, or some other covenant. Clearly it cannot be a covenant of works, since, among other reasons, that would annul the promise.

The Mosaic Covenant cannot be the Covenant of Grace. For the glory of the New Covenant is that we are freed from the law as a covenant and not just its legal or administrative aspect. Accordingly, it cannot be part of the Covenant of Grace for we are never set free from it. Hence, the Mosaic Covenant must be a third covenant, one that is not contrary to the promises of grace, though one that could be set aside, namely the Subservient Covenant…

It is important to remember that the primary biblical reason that some divines held to the Subservient Covenant was because they understood the Scriptures to teach that the Old Covenant was abrogated as a covenant. The contrast was not found to be in mere administrations but in covenants. As we have already seen, they themselves understood their view of the Mosaic Covenant to differ in substance with the Covenant of Grace.

The entire point of the subservient covenant view was that it was subservient to the covenant of grace because it was not itself the covenant of grace – therefore it was not an administration of the covenant of grace.

I believe Ramsey is correct in demonstrating WCF rejected the subservient covenant view and I think Owen is clear in his rejection of the WCF view. Kline should have been too. If Owen’s view was compatible with the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace, why did he feel the need to reject that view? Why did he feel the need to side with the Lutherans? I think the answer is because he understood the issue better than Kline and Irons.


Addendum: Tobias Crisp

In the comments below, Jack referenced J.V. Fesko’s new book on the Westminster Confession. Fesko claims the only view excluded by the confession (7.6) was that of Tobias Crisp. Crisp argued that Hebrews 8 taught that the Old and the New Covenants were two distinct covenants:

He intimates to us that there is a distinct covenant, whereof Christ is the mediator, differ ing from that, whereof the priest was the mediator : he doth not fay, he is the mediator of better things in the fame covenant, but of a better covenant : a better and a worse covenant must be two several covenants ; better and worse qualities may be in one and the fame ; but for the covenant itself to be called better than another, is a mani fest argument of a double covenant…

Again, the apostle speaks of a second coming in the place of the first ; we cannot fay of one and the self-fame covenant, that it comes in place of it self; when one thing comes in the place of another, these two must needs be distinct : can you fay of the one and the fame thing, that it is disannulled, and that it is not ? that it vanishes, and yet that it is come in the place of itself when it vanishes?

The Two Covenants of Grace

Crisp agreed with the bi-covenantal view of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. However, he said that the Old Covenant could not be the covenant of works because it provided for the forgiveness of sins, which the covenant of works does not. He therefore concludes that the Old Covenant was a covenant of grace.

So that it is plain, the administration of their covenant was an administration of grace, absolutely distinct from that of the covenant of works. That Christ’s covenant was a covenant of grace, I will not stand to prove ; I know no man questions it that professes himself a Christian ; but now though these two, as it appears plainly, are covenants of grace ; so it mall appear as fully to you that they are two distinct covenants of grace ; they are not one and the same covenant diversely administered, but they are two distinct covenants’…

Notice that last point: they are not one and the same diversely administered, but they are two distinct covenants. Crisp indicates that this, specifically, was a very controversial position to take. The prevailing view was that they were the same covenant, not two distinct covenants. He says that if he were to make this claim apart from Apostolic warrant, he would be censured:

there are certain gene ral covenants that God made with men ; usually they are reduced to two heads ; the first is com monly called the covenant of works, first made in innocency ; the terms thereof are of a double nature, Do this and live ; and cursed is every one that continueth not in all things thai are written in the. hook of the law to do them ; life upon doing, a curie upon not doing ; in sum, the covenant of works stands upon these terms, that in perfect obedience there should be life; at the first failing therein, no remedy, no admittance of remission ot” sins upon any terms in the world ; Christ can not come in, ,nor be heard upon the terms of the covenant of works. There is a second general covenant, and that is usually called, a new cove nant, or sa covenant of grace ; and this, in op position to the other, stands only in matter of grace without works through Christ : This, as far as I can find, is generally received to be the right distribution of the covenants of God ; the covenant of grace being most commonly taken for one ‘ entire covenant from first to last ;…

He intimates to us that there is a distinct covenant, whereof Christ is the mediator, differ ing from that, whereof the priest was the media tor : he doth not fay, he is the mediator of bet ter things in the fame covenant, but of a better covenant : a better and a worse covenant must be two several covenants ; better and worse qualities may be in one and the fame ; but for the covenant itself to be called better than another, is a manifest argument of a double covenant…

If all this be not a sufficient evidence to clear this, that they are distinct covenants ; and so distinct, that though both be covenants of grace, yet the one must be difannulled before the other can be established ; I know nothing that can be proved by scripture. But to come to the main thing ; there being two distinct covenants, let us fee wherein that which Christ administered, is better than that the priests did ; and this will be of very great concern to the settling of spirits : the differences are marvellous ; the apostle expresses them in such language, that, I dare be bold to fay, if any man mould utter it, and not have his warrant from him, he would go nigh to be censured.

Demonstrating that these are two distinct covenants, rather than the prevailing view that they are the same covenant, is the entire focus of his sermon. Thus the confession is clearly rejecting Crisp’s view when it says

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.

The precise point of the confession in this paragraph in chapter 7 on God’s covenant is to reject the view that the Old and the New Covenants were two different covenants. Instead, they are “one and the same under various dispensations.” Recall Crisp’s statement “so it mall appear as fully to you that they are two distinct covenants of grace ; they are not one and the same covenant diversely administered, but they are two distinct covenants.” This is what 7.6 is dealing with.

Does Fesko agree? No, he says that was not the point of 7.6. Instead, the point of the statement was a rejection of Crisp’s view of the moral law.

The question naturally arises, why did the divines specifically zero in on this view and exclude it? From one vantage point there appears to be little indication that Crisp’s view differs from the cornucopia of variations that existed at that time on the relationship between the Mosaic covenant and the covenants of works and grace. What difference is there, for example, between saying that there is one covenant of grace with legal accidents that fall away at the advent of Christ, who is the substance, and saying there are two covenants of grace? Crisp, after all, indicates that Christ is typified and foreshadowed in the weaker covenant of grace. The most likely answer is that Crisp’s view on the relationship between the covenant of works and grace and the moral law struck and severed a nerve that the divines believed was vital to an orthodox soteriology.

Most Reformed theologians, whether holding a threefold or a twofold covenantal scheme in their several variants, maintained the perpetual necessity and binding nature of the moral law. Crisp, however, rejected the idea that the moral law was still binding upon believers.

The Theology of the Westminster Standards, p. 156

Crisp believed the moral law itself was the covenant of works.

to me it seems most plain, that the opposition the apostle here makes, is not between the covenant of works and that of grace ; and that he, in all this dis course, hath not the least glance upon the cove nant of works at all, nor doth he meddle with it: You know, beloved, that the articles of that covenant, are drawn up in the decalogue of the moral law ; and in all this discourse, from chap. vii. 1. to the end of chap. x. the apostle doth not so much as take notice of the moral law, nor hath he to do one jot with any clause of it ;…

You see the apostle from Jeremiah, brings a direct distinction of two covenants ; I will make a new covenant, not according to the covenant I made -with their fathers. Here are two covenants, a new one, and one made with their sathers. Some may think it was the covenant of works at the promulgation of the moral law ; but mark well that expression of Jeremiah, and you (hall see it was the covenant of grace;

Several remarks are called for:

  1. Crisp’s view that the moral law (decalogue) itself was the covenant of works is shared by Lee Irons, David VanDrunen, and other Klineans.
  2. If that was the only point of concern, it is adequately dealt with in Chapter 19 “Of The Law of God” where that view is rejected.
  3. Crisp was not alone in this view (“Some may think it was the covenant of works at the promulgation of the moral law”)
  4. Crisp identified the controversial part of his view as separating the Old and the New Covenants, and he did so in language nearly identical to the statement in 7.6.

There is absolutely no doubt that what the confession is rejecting in 7.6 is not Crisp’s view of the moral law (which is rejected elsewhere), but his view of the covenant of grace. His separation of the Old and New Covenants into two different covenants is what is rejected by the confession.

Now, let’s look more closely at 7.6 to see if it applies to the subservient covenant view as well. I will paraphrase to make it clearer.

[The Old and the New Covenants are not], therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

Clear enough. But Fesko would have you believe that 7.6 does not apply to the subservient view. What is the difference between Crisp’s view and the subservient view? Crisp saw the Old Covenant as gracious while the subservients said it was of works. They agreed, however, that they were not “one and the same” covenant.

Let’s paraphrase again.

[The Old and the New Covenants are not], therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

There is no reason to believe that the divines would have affirmed a view that the Old Covenant was of works, while rejecting a view that it was of grace. Their point was that the two covenants are not separate, “but one and the same.” The subservient view rejects that they are “but one and the same” and therefore the Westminster confession rejects the subservient view.

Savoy Declaration

Below, Jack draws attention to Fesko’s comment that some Westminster divines held to the subservient view. That fact itself proves nothing. As Ramsey notes

Objection 3: The position of the Westminster Confession of Faith is somewhat ambiguous in that tensions or differences between the Puritans were not resolved. Hence the Confession allows for more than one opinion on the issue.

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.

Fesko notes

Other theologians who have been identified with the threefold (subservient) view include Westminster divines Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) and Obadiah Sedgwick (ca. 1600-1658), as well as John Owen (1616-1683), Samuel Petto (1624-1711), and Edward Fisher.

Thomas Goodwin was an Independent. His view of church government did not prevail at the assembly. Therefore pointing to his views, or any other views, as proof that it was accepted, is false. But furthermore, Goodwin went on to draft the Savoy Declaration a decade later. He and Owen were the leaders assigned to the writing/editing of the Independent confession (with 4 other men). Samuel Petto was a signatory as well.

What did they do with 7.6? They deleted it.

The Olive Tree (Rom 11:16-24)

February 8, 2015 19 comments

Ancient_Olive_Tree_in_Pelion,_Greece

[Note: I recommend reading my treatment of Romans 9 first to better understand Paul’s typology of Israel They are not all Israel, who are of Israel]

Baptists frequently hear the following refrain:

The one olive tree is the covenant people of God. Unbelieving Jews were broken off and Gentiles were grafted in. We live in that present redemptive-historical reality. However, verses 20-22 indicate that branches may yet be cut off. These branches are formally united to the tree (the covenant people with Christ as their root), but not vitally united since they do not have faith and hence do not bear fruit (cf. John 15:2). It will not be until the eschatological consummation that the olive tree will only have fruit-bearing branches. Only then is God’s pruning work complete, and only then will membership in the visible and invisible church be identical.

Camden Bucey

The argument goes:

4. As the infant seed of the people of God are acknowledged on all hands to have been members of the church, equally with their parents under the Old Testament dispensation, so it is equally certain that the church of God is the same in substance now that it was then; and, of course, it is just as reasonable and proper, on principle, that the infant offspring of professed believers should be members of the church now, as it was that they should be members of the ancient church.

I am aware that our Baptist brethren warmly object to this statement, and assert that the church of God under the Old Testament economy and the New, is not the same, but so essentially different, that the same principles can by no means apply to each. They contend that the Old Testament dispensation was a kind of political economy, rather national than spiritual in its character; and, of course, that when the Jews ceased to be a people, the covenant under which they had been placed, was altogether laid aside, and a covenant of an entirely new character introduced. But nothing can be more evident than that this view of the subject is entirely erroneous.

The perpetuity of the Abrahamic covenant, and, of consequence, the identity of the church under both dispensations, is so plainly taught in scripture, and follows so unavoidably from the radical scriptural principles concerning the church of God, that it is indeed wonderful how any believer in the Bible can call in question the fact…

But what places the identity of the church, under both dispensations, in the clearest and strongest light, is that memorable and decisive passage, in the 11th chapter of the epistle to the Romans, in which the church of God is held forth to us under the emblem of an olive tree. Under the same figure had the Lord designated the church by the pen of Jeremiah the prophet. In the 11th chapter of his prophecy, the prophet, speaking of God’s covenanted people under that economy, says, “The LORD called thy name, A green olive tree, fair and of goodly fruit” (Jer. 11:6). But concerning this olive tree, on account of the sin of the people in forsaking the Lord, the prophet declares: “With the noise of a great tumult he hath kindled a fire upon it, and the branches of it are broken.” Let me request you to compare with this, the language of the apostle in the 11th chapter of the epistle to the Romans: “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say, then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be broken off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted, contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Rom. 11:15-24).

That the apostle is here speaking of the Old Testament church, under the figure of a good olive tree, cannot be doubted, and is, indeed, acknowledged by all; by our Baptist brethren as well as others. Now the inspired apostle says concerning this olive tree, that the natural branches, that is the Jews, were broken off because of unbelief. But what was the consequence of this excision? Was the tree destroyed? By no means. The apostle teaches directly the contrary. It is evident, from his language, that the root and trunk, in all their “fatness,” remained; and Gentiles, branches of an olive tree “wild by nature,” were “grafted into the good olive tree” the same tree from which the natural branches had been broken off. Can anything be more pointedly descriptive of identity than this?

But this is not all. The apostle apprises us that the Jews are to be brought back from their rebellion and wanderings and to be incorporated with the Christian church. And how is this restoration described? It is called “grafting them in again into their own olive tree.” In other words, the “tree” into which the Gentile Christians at the coming of Christ were “grafted,” was the “old olive tree,” of which the ancient covenant people of God were the “natural branches;” and, of course, when the Jews shall be brought in, with the fullness of the Gentiles, into the Christian church, the apostle expressly tells us they shall be “grafted again into their own olive tree.” Surely, if the church of God before the coming of Christ, and the church of God after the advent, were altogether distinct and separate bodies, and not the same in their essential characters, it would be an abuse of terms to represent the Jews, when converted to Christianity, as grafted again into their own olive tree.

Infant Baptism Scriptural and Reasonable: and Baptism by Sprinkling or Affusion the Most Suitable and Edifying Mode By Rev. Samuel Miller

However, Romans 11:15-24 does not warrant such a conclusion. Addressing the passage exegetically presents some challenges to the standard paedobaptist interpretation.

First, what is the olive tree? Samuel Miller above argued “That the apostle is here speaking of the Old Testament church, under the figure of a good olive tree, cannot be doubted.” But that betrays an underlying assumption. If we start with assumptions, we may miss the point of the text. To be more accurate, John Murray notes that “The figure of the olive tree to describe Israel is in accord with the Old Testament usage (Jer 11:16, 17; Hos 14:6).” Therefore the olive tree is Israel.

Second, what is the root? Camden Bucey claimed above that it was Christ (as is common when arguing against baptists). But again, that betrays an underlying assumption not drawn from the text itself. Douglas Moo notes

Most scholars are led by the parallelism to identify the “first fruits” with the patriarchs (Chrysostom; Godet; S-H; Murray; Michel; Kasemann; Wilckens; Schlier; Bourke, Olive Tree, pp. 75-76). But some think that the “first fruits” is Adam or Christ (cf 1 Cor 15:20, 23), while a significant (and growing) number think it is Jewish Christians, the remnant.

The standard reformed view is that the root is Abraham and the patriarchs. Murray states simply “The root is surely the patriarchs.” Calvin elaborates:

They were then sanctified by the holy covenant, and adorned with peculiar honor, with which God had not at that time favored the Gentiles; but as the efficacy of the covenant appeared then but small, he bids us to look back to Abraham and the patriarchs, in whom the blessing of God was not indeed either empty or void. He hence concludes, that from them an heredity holiness had passed to all their posterity.

But it is here where confusion and ambiguity arises as to whether the root is Abraham or Christ because of prior covenantal commitments. If the olive tree is the covenant of grace, and Christ is the head of the covenant of grace, then he must be the root of the olive tree. And, per Bucey above, a distinction must made between branches vitally united to the root (Christ) and branches formally united to the root (Christ). Hence the inward/outward covenant construct. The olive tree then becomes a description of how the visible church has functioned since Genesis 3:15, with individuals being broken off for unbelief throughout. However, this presents us with some problems.

Nations or Individuals?

If this is simply a description of what has always been the case for individuals in the visible church, how does it make sense of the context? Murray notes:

The act of judgment upon Israel spoken of in verse 15 as the “casting away” is now represented as breaking off of branches. This is the appropriate representation in terms of the figure now being used. The expression “some of the branches” does not seem to agree, however, with the fact that the mass of Israel had been cast away. It is a sufficient answer to this difference to bear in mind that the main interest of the apostle now is focused on the grafting in of the Gentiles and the cutting away of Israel and it is not necessary to reflect on the extent to which the latter takes place.

Paul is referring to national rejection, but also of individual breaking and grafting. Murray’s solution is to dismiss the question as irrelevant. Calvin, on the other hand, insists the passage is referring only to nations, not to individuals.

Let us remember that in this comparison man is not compared with man, but nation with nation. If then a comparison be made between them, they shall be found equal in this respect, that they are both equally the children of Adam; the only difference is that the Jews had been separated from the Gentiles, that they might be a peculiar people to the Lord.

They were then sanctified by the holy covenant, and adorned with peculiar honor, with which God had not at that time favored the Gentiles; but as the efficacy of the covenant appeared then but small, he bids us to look back to Abraham and the patriarchs, in whom the blessing of God was not indeed either empty or void. He hence concludes, that from them an heredity holiness had passed to all their posterity. But this conclusion would not have been right had he spoken of persons, or rather had he not regarded the promise; for when the father is just, he cannot yet transmit his own uprightness to his son: but as the Lord had sanctified Abraham for himself for this end, that his seed might also be holy, and as he thus conferred holiness not only on his person but also on his whole race, the Apostle does not unsuitably draw this conclusion, that all the Jews were sanctified in their father Abraham.

Then to confirm this view, he adduces two similitudes: the one taken from the ceremonies of the law, and the other borrowed from nature. The first-fruits which were offered sanctified the whole lump, in like manner the goodness of the juice diffuses itself from the root to the branches; and posterity hold the same connection with their parents from whom they proceed as the lump has with the first-fruits, and the branches with the tree. It is not then a strange thing that the Jews were sanctified in their father. There is here no difficulty if you understand by holiness the spiritual nobility of the nation, and that indeed not belonging to nature, but what proceeded from the covenant. It may be truly said, I allow, that the Jews were naturally holy, for their adoption was hereditary; but I now speak of our first nature, according to which we are all, as we know, accursed in Adam. Therefore the dignity of an elect people, to speak correctly, is a supernatural privilege.

Calvin’s concern is soteriological: Paul speaks of a hereditary holiness that would be inappropriate if applied to individuals. His solution is to limit the holiness of the Jews (their inclusion as branches) to a national setting apart: “their adoption was hereditary.” The editor of Calvin’s commentary included the following note:

Editor: That the holiness here mentioned is external and relative, and not personal and inward, is evident from the whole context. The children of Israel were denominated holy in all their wickedness and disobedience, because they had been consecrated to God, adopted as his people, and set apart for his service, and they enjoyed all the external privileges of the covenant which God had made with their fathers… “The holiness,” says Turrettin, “of the first-fruits and of the root was no other than an external, federal, and national consecration, such as could be transferred from parents to their children.”

“The attentive reader,” says Scott, “will readily perceive that relative holiness, or consecration to God, is here exclusively meant…”

Calvin goes on to treat the passage as dealing with two groups collectively. In addressing the cutting off of Gentile branches, he argues

we must especially notice and remember what I have before said, — that Paul’s address is not so much to individuals as to the whole body of the Gentiles, among whom there might have been many, who were vainly inflated, professing rather than having faith. On account of these Paul threatens the Gentiles, not without reason, with excision, as we shall hereafter find again… And here again it appears more evident, that the discourse is addressed generally to the body of the Gentiles, for the excision, of which he speaks, could not apply to individuals, whose election is unchangeable, based on the eternal purpose of God. Paul therefore declares to the Gentiles, that if they exulted over the Jews, a reward for their pride would be prepared for them; for God will again reconcile to himself the first people whom he has divorced.

A century later, Westminster Assembly member Samuel Rutherford, following Calvin, expressed it this way:

If the root be holy, so also are the branches (Rom. 11:16). Now this holiness cannot be meant of personal and inherent holiness, for it is not true in that sense. If the fathers and forefathers be truly sanctified and are believers, then are the branches and children sanctified and believers. But the contrary we see in wicked Absalom born of holy David, and many others. Therefore, this holiness must be the holiness of the nation, not of persons. It must be a holiness because of their elected and chosen parents (the patriarchs, prophets, and the holy seed of the Jews), and so the holiness federal, or the holiness of the covenant.

If then the Jews in Paul’s time were holy by covenant (howbeit for the present the sons were branches broken off for unbelief), how much more then (seeing God has chosen the race and nation of the gentiles and is become a God to us and to our seed), that the seed must be holy with a holiness of the chosen nation and an external holiness of the covenant, notwithstanding that the father and mother were as wicked as the Jews who slew the Lord of Glory…

So they cite scriptures that by no force of reason do speak for them, as Rom. 4:11 and Rom. 11:16, which say nothing but that ‘if the root be holy’ with the holiness federal and of the external profession, then so are the branches.  But the place speaks nothing of true inherent holiness: for then all holy parents should have holy and visible saints coming out of their loins, which is against scripture and experience…

Sixthly, they say: The church of God is defiled (Hag. 2:14,15; Eze. 44:7) if all infants promiscuously be baptized: for then the people, and every work of their hand and their offering, is unclean.  So Mr. Best.

Answer:  We deny that children born within the visible church are an unclean offering to the Lord and that the baptizing of them pollutes the nation (and all the worship of the nation), as they would gather from Haggai.  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

So, for Calvin, the Gentile branches that are grafted in are not individuals and the natural branches that are cut off are not individuals. Instead it refers to Jews as a whole and Gentiles as a whole. Take note that Calvin’s motivation for viewing this passage in terms of groups is soteriological: Jews cannot be individually included by hereditary adoption and Gentiles cannot be individually ingrafted for belief and then excised for unbelief. This is clearly inconsistent with the standard paedobaptist interpretation of the text as referring to individuals who are grafted in and cut off from the visible church on a daily basis. For Calvin, this is not a description of how the visible church has always functioned, but instead it is a description of a specific event in redemptive history.

Abraham the root. Israel the tree.

Murray rejects Calvin’s argument, noting “It would press the language and the analogy too far to think of the wild olive as grafted in its entirety into the good olive. As indicated in verse 24 the branches of the wild olive are viewed as grafted in.”

How then are we to resolve this tension? How do we address Murray’s concern that the nation as a whole is cast away, but this happens in terms of individual branches, while at the same time safeguarding Calvin’s soteriological concerns that require a corporate, rather than individual consideration?

The solution lies in adhering closely to the text. Christ and the patriarchs cannot both be the root. It is one or the other. Abraham is the root. Likewise, we will avoid unnecessary problems if we do not import concepts of the visible church into the text and simply acknowledge that the tree is Israel, Abraham’s seed.

Note what John Owen says about Abraham and his seed:

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. Not that these two seeds were always subjectively diverse, so that the seed separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah in the flesh should neither in whole nor in part be also the seed according to the promise; or, on the contrary, that the seed according to the promise should none of it be his seed after the flesh. Our apostle the contrary in the instances of Isaac and Jacob, with the “remnant” of Israel that shall be saved, Romans 9,10,11. But sometimes the same seed came under diverse considerations, being the seed of Abraham both according to the flesh and according to the promise; and sometimes the seed itself was diverse, those according to the flesh being not of the promise, and so on the contrary. Thus Isaac and Jacob were the seed of Abraham according unto the flesh, separated unto the brining forth of the Messiah after the flesh, because they were his carnal posterity; and they were also of the seed of the promise, because, by their own personal faith, they were interested in the covenant of Abraham their father.

Multitudes afterwards were of the carnal seed of Abraham, and of the number of the people separated to bring forth the Messiah in the flesh, and yet were not of the seed according to the promise, nor interested in the spiritual blessings of the covenant; because they did not personally believe, as our apostle declares, chap. 4 of this epistle. And many, afterwards, who were not of the carnal seed of Abraham, nor interested in the privilege of bringing forth the Messiah in the flesh, were yet designed to be made his spiritual seed by faith; that in them he might become “heir of the world,” and all nations of the earth be blessed in him. Now, it is evident that it is the second privilege, or spiritual seed, wherein the church, to whom the promises are made, is founded, and whereof it doth consist, — namely, in them who by faith are interested in the covenant of Abraham, whether they be of the carnal seed or no.

5. And herein lay the great mistake of the Jews of old, wherein they are followed by their posterity unto this day. They thought no more was needful to interest them in the covenant of Abraham but that they were his seed according to the flesh; and they constantly pleaded the latter privilege as the ground and reason of the former. 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. But as our Savior proved that in the latter sense they were the children of Abraham, because they did not the works of Abraham; so our apostle plainly demonstrates, Romans 4:9. 10. 11. Galatians 3:4., that those of them who had not the faith of Abraham had no interest in his blessing and covenant. 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.

6. We have seen that Abraham, on the account of his faith, and not of his separation according to the flesh, was the father of all that believe, and heir of the world. And in the covenant made with him, as to that which concerns, not the bringing forth of the promised Seed according to the flesh, but as unto faith therein, and in the work of redemption to be performed thereby, lies the foundation of the church in all ages.

Wheresoever this covenant is, and with whomsoever it is established, with them is the church; unto whom all the promises and privileges of the church do belong. Hence it was, that at the coming of the Messiah there was not one church taken away, and another set up in the room thereof; but the church continued the same, in those that were the children of Abraham according to the faith. The Christian church is not another church, but the very same that was before the coming of Christ, having the same faith with it, and interested in the same covenant.

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.

The Oneness of the Church

Here’s what we learn from Owen:

  1. Abraham had a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh.
  2. He had a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God.
  3. These two seeds had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations.
  4. At a specific point in history they came now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Malachi 3).
  5. The carnal seed lost their privilege.
  6. What remained was the spiritual seed (“all the elect of God”).

This is all simply Paul’s line of reasoning in Romans 9 and Galatians 4:21-31 where Paul argues typologically from the historical account of Abraham’s seed according to the flesh, giving “children of promise” a double meaning: one typological, the other anti-typological. According to Paul, the relationship between Abraham’s two seeds is typological. For a detailed explanation of this, see They are not all Israel, who are of Israel.

The olive tree, Israel, consists of both of Abraham’s seed. As Calvin said “the Jews were naturally holy, for their adoption was hereditary” and this “heredity holiness” (Calvin), “external consecration” (Turretin), or “relative holiness” (Scott) came to an end at Christ’s coming. This answers the question of a national casting off of a group. The branches that remained were those with “personal and inward” holiness “such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God,” thus answering the question of individual branches.

Two Covenants

In the above, Owen divided the Abrahamic covenant into Abraham’s two privileges.

We have seen that Abraham, on the account of his faith, and not of his separation according to the flesh, was the father of all that believe, and heir of the world. And in the covenant made with him, as to that which concerns, not the bringing forth of the promised Seed according to the flesh, but as unto faith therein, and in the work of redemption to be performed thereby, lies the foundation of the church in all ages.

He later clarified this division of privileges by separating them into two covenants:

When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though it were not before in existence and effect, before the introduction of that which is promised here. For it was always the same, substantially, from the beginning. It passed through the whole dispensation of times before the law, and under the law, of the same nature and effectiveness, unalterable, “everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians only excepted, grant that the covenant of grace, considered absolutely, — that is, the promise of grace in and by Jesus Christ, —was the only way and means of salvation to the church, from the first entrance of sin.

But for two reasons, it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect to any other things, nor was it called a covenant under the old testament. When God renewed the promise of it to Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but this covenant with Abraham was with respect to other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely, under the old testament, the covenant of grace consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture…

Exposition of the Book of Hebrews 8:6

Thus the Abrahamic covenant consecrated Abraham’s carnal seed for the temporary purpose of bringing forth the Messiah, while the New Covenant (covenant of grace) is the “foundation of the church in all ages” working prior to Christ by way of “promise”. Again, this is all directly in line with Paul’s understanding of the typology of Israel in Romans 9 and Galatians 4:21-31 (where he specifically applies it to two covenants – for more, again, see They are not all Israel, who are of Israel).

We are asserting that those Messianic promises point to the Messianic Covenant, that is the New Covenant, the covenant of grace, and that as such they point to a covenant distinct from the covenant of circumcision with Abraham and his natural offspring. This means that not only has that typical, external covenantal relationship been abrogated and passed away, but also that the Messianic and eternal relationship was always active, embedded within that external covenant. The internal and external circles, visible in the Old Testament, are not the result of two levels of covenantal membership, but are the result of two different covenants, the covenant of circumcision and the covenant of grace.

Micah and Samuel Renihan, Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology, Recovering a Covenantal Heritage

The olive tree, Israel, therefore includes multiple covenants and thus should not be identified with a covenant itself. The covenantal context of Jeremiah 11:16 refers to the Old Covenant that Israel broke. The violation of the Old Covenant was the grounds for the carnal seed’s being cut off. See Why Did God Exile Israel? and Why Did God Destroy Israel?, as well as my post on John 15.

Note Iain H. Murray’s comments on the Olivet Discourse and the Olive Tree:

This prophetic discourse followed Christ’s announcement concerning the temple, ‘There shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down’ – clearly a reference to the destruction of the city which came about at the hands of the Romans in A.D. 70. In the discourse itself there is much that applies specifically to the ‘breaking off’ (Rom. 11:19) of the Jewish nation in the first century A.D.

The Puritan Hope, p. 79

Again, this means that Paul is describing a one-time unique event in redemptive history, rather than a general principle of pruning that has occurred and will continue throughout the history of the church on a daily basis. The breaking off of the natural branches corresponds to Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., which is the final, conclusive curse of the Old Covenant, which is now obsolete (Heb. 8:13).

Typology of Israel

The standard reformed paedobaptist explanation of Israel is derived from Romans 9:6 “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (again, see They are not all Israel, who are of Israel) in conjunction with Romans 2:29 “a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart.” From these passages they develop the concept of an inward and outward covenant of grace where Israel after the flesh constitutes the outward covenant and Israel after the promise constitutes the inward covenant.

However, based upon the above distinctions, and in conjunction with the overwhelming thrust of Scripture, we can say that the relationship between carnal Israel and spiritual Israel is one of type and anti-type. Just as the olive tree does not simply describe the way things have always been, but instead describes a specific event in redemptive history, so too does the distinction between Israel and Israel.

[T]his rejection of Israel and this new formation of God’s people is not simply something of the eschatological future, but has already begun to be realized with the coming of Jesus.

Ridderbos, Kingdom, 352.

Ernst Kasemann notes:

Ephesians regards the union of Jewish and Gentile Christians in the church as the eschatological mystery as such and lets Pauline theology lead to that. The apostle at least builds a path toward such a view. For “not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles” says that the church cannot be compared either to a Jewish or to a Gentile society. In continuity with God’s ancient people it is the true Israel, while in antithesis to this people it is the new people of God and the new covenant. In the Jewish view still found in Paul, Jews and Gentiles characterize the world in its unity and contradiction. Hence the church, in which both are found, is more than a religious group or even a people; it is the new world. (273)

In sum:

In the Old Testament, the Old Covenant was a type and shadow of the fullness to come. That fullness was shrouded in mystery and types waiting for its revelation in Christ. With the coming of Christ we now have that fullness. The external, typological elements of the Old Covenant are cast off. The mystery and shadows are gone. With the New Covenant comes the in-breaking of the eschatological age in its “already-not yet” form.

Micah and Samuel Renihan, Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology, Recovering a Covenantal Heritage

The distinction Paul makes in Romans 9:6 between Israel and Israel is eschatological in nature. He is describing a new reality, a new eschatological redefinition of Israel, not a description of what it has always meant. As Richard Barcellos notes “the church is actually the eschatological Israel of Old Testament prophecy.” Abraham’s carnal seed was a type of Abraham’s spiritual seed. And both typical and anti-typical Israel are represented in the olive tree of Israel, with the type being cut off. In representing Israel, the tree is not either/or, but both/and. Augustine notes:

[P]rophetic utterances of three kinds are to be found; forasmuch as there are some relating to the earthly Jerusalem, some to the heavenly, and some to both… this kind of prophecy, as it were compacted and commingled of both the others in the ancient canonical books, containing historical narratives, is of very great significance, and has exercised and exercises greatly the wits of those who search holy writ.
-City of God “Of the Three-Fold Meaning of the Prophecies, Which are to Be Referred Now to the Earthly, Now to the Heavenly Jerusalem, and Now Again to Both.”

No Natural Branches Remain

Since the type is cut off, there remains no more natural connection to the root. Thus all natural branches without faith were cut off. They can be grafted in again (v24) only if they come to have faith. And wild branches can only be grafted in through faith. So how can natural branches of the wild olive tree (natural offspring of Gentile believers) be grafted in? They cannot. Every branch must have a connection to the root, and the root is Abraham. The natural connection to Abraham has become obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), which is why the natural branches were cut off. The only connection to the root (Abraham) that remains is faith, through which one is made a spiritual seed of Abraham.

Are the unregenerate children of believers connected to Abraham (the root) in any way? No, they are not. They are connected to their parents naturally, but their parents are not the root. Abraham is. And here we see a foundational flaw of paedobaptism. They put every believer in the place of Abraham, claiming that every child of the believer is set apart. This was never the case. No Israelite was set apart because of their parents’ faith. A Jew was set apart because he was a child of Abraham – because he was connected to the root.

Let us point out in the next place that Abraham’s covenant was strictly peculiar to himself; for neither in the Old Testament nor in the New is it ever said that the covenant with Abraham was made on behalf of all believers, or that it is given to them. The great thing that the covenant secured to Abraham was that he should have a seed, and that God would be the God of that seed; but Christians have no divine warrant that He will be the God of their seed, nor even that they shall have any children at all. As a matter of fact, many of them have no posterity; and therefore they cannot have the covenant of Abraham. The covenant of Abraham was as peculiar to himself as the one God made with Phinehas, “And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood” (Num. 25:13), and as the covenant of royalty which God made with David and his seed (2 Sam. 7:12-16). In each case a divine promise was given securing a posterity; and had no children been born to those men, then God had broken His covenant.

Look at the original promises made to Abraham: “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:2, 3). Has God promised every Christian that He will make of him a “great nation”? or that He will make his “name great”—celebrated like the patriarch’s was and is? or that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed”? Surely there is no room for argument here: the very asking of such questions answers them. Nothing could be more extravagant and absurd than to suppose that any such promises as these were made to us. If God fulfils the covenant with Abraham and his seed to every believer and his seed, then He does so in accord with the terms of the covenant itself. But if we turn to and carefully examine its contents, it will at once appear that they were not to be fulfilled in the case of all believers, in addition to Abraham himself. In that covenant God promises that Abraham should be “a father of many nations,” that “kings shall come out of thee,” that “I will give thee and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession” (Gen. 17:5-8). But Christians are not made the fathers of many nations; kings do not come out of them; nor do their descendants occupy the land of Canaan, either literally or spiritually. How many a godly believer has had to mourn with David: “Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, for this is all my salvation” (2 Sam. 23:5).

The covenant established no spiritual relation between Abraham and his offspring; still less does it establish a spiritual relation between every believer and his babes. Abraham was not the spiritual father of his own natural offspring, for spiritual qualities cannot be propagated by carnal generation. Was he the spiritual father of Ishmael? Was he the spiritual father of Esau? No, indeed; instead, Abraham was “the father of all them that believe” (Rom. 4:11). So far as his natural descendants were concerned, Scripture declares that Abraham was “the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised” (Rom. 4:12). What could be plainer? Let us beware of adding to God’s Word. No theory or practice, no matter how venerable it be or how widely held, is tenable, if no clear Scripture can be found to warrant and establish it.

Pink, Arthur W. (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 2112-2143). . Kindle Edition.

Nehemiah Coxe made the same point:

He who holds himself obliged by the command and interested in the promises of the covenant of circumcision is equally involved in all of them since together they are that covenant. Therefore, he who applies one promise or branch of this covenant to the carnal seed of a believing parent (esteeming every such parent to have an interest in the covenant coordinate with Abraham’s) ought seriously to consider the whole promissory part of the covenant in its true import and extent, and see whether he can make such an undivided application of it without manifest absurdity.

For example, if I may conclude my concern in this covenant is such that by one of its promises I am assured that God has taken my immediate seed into covenant with himself, I must on the same ground conclude also that my seed in remote generations will be no less in covenant with him, since the promise extends to the seed in their generations. I must also conclude that this seed will be separated from other nations as a peculiar people to God and will have the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession since all these things are included in the covenant of circumcision. But because these things cannot be allowed, nor are they pleaded for by anyone that I know of, we must conclude that Abraham was considered in this covenant, not in the capacity or respect of a private believing parent, but of one chosen of God to be the father of and a federal root to a nation that for special ends would be separated to God by a peculiar covenant. When those ends are accomplished, the covenant by which they obtained that right and relation must cease. And no one can plead anything similar without reviving the whole economy built on it.

-Nehemiah Coxe, A Discourse of the Covenants, p. 105-6

You will find proof of this criticism exemplified in Meredith Kline’s handling of the Olive Tree. He argues that the Abrahamic Covenant was an administration of the common concept of parental authority.

It has been observed that covenants of grant such as God gave to Abraham were closely related in concept and terminology to legal formulations pertaining to family inheritance. There was thus congruity between the legal form in which God’s promises were bestowed and the family nature of the recipients. Indeed, the covenant of grant to Abraham adopted this family structure of the Abrahamites as its own governmental form. In the patriarchal age, covenant polity was family polity.

From the beginning the institution of the family was consistently respected in determining the constituency of the covenant family. The continuation of this administrative principle under the Abrahamic Covenant becomes most prominent and explicit in the regulations governing the covenant sign of circumcision. (See above for the symbolic meaning of this sign.) As a sign performed on an organ of generation, circumcision alluded to the descendants of the one who was circumcised. Thus, in symbolizing the curse on the covenant-breaker, circumcision included a reference to the cutting off of one’s descendants and so of one’s name and future place in the covenant community. However, insofar as circumcision was a sign of consecration, it signified that the issue of the circumcised member was consecrated to the Lord of the covenant and thereby set aside form profane to holy status, that is, to membership in the covenant institution. Agreeably, God promised to establish the covenant with Abraham’s descendants after him (Gen 17:7). In the stipulation that the infant sons of the Abrahamites be circumcised on their eighth day (Gen 17:12) the administrative principle is most clearly expressed that the parental authority of the confessors of the covenant faith defines the bounds of the covenant community. Those under the parental authority are to be consigned to the congregation. By divine appointment it is the duty of the one who enters God’s covenant to exercise his parental authority by bringing those under that authority along with himself under the covenantal jurisdiction of the Lord God…

When ordering the polity of the new covenant church the Lord continued, as ever, to honor the family institution and its authority structure. This is clearly taught by Paul in connection with his treatment of the covenant in Romans 11:16ff. under the image of the olive tree that represents the old and new covenants in their organic institutional continuity. Directing attention to the holy root of this tree, which would be Abraham, the apostle declares that if the root is holy the rest of the tree deriving from that root is holy. This holiness is not that inward spiritual holiness which is the fruit of the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the elect, for it is shared by those (branches) whose nonelection is betrayed by their eventually being broken off from the olive tree. Hence the olive tree as such does not represent the election but the covenant, and the holiness attributed to the tree, root, and branches, is the formal status-holiness of membership in the covenant institution. The affirmation that the holy root imparts holiness to the tree growing up from it is to be understood, therefore, as a figurative expression of the administrative principle that parental authority determines inclusively the bounds of the covenant constituency. This principle, illustrated in the first instance by the relation of Abraham (the root) to his descendants, has repeated application in each generation, beyond the ability of the olive tree metaphor to convey. Each successive part of the tree, as it were, becomes a new holy root imparting holiness to its own branching extensions. The apostle is thus teaching as an ongoing principle of covenant polity that if the parent is a member of the holy covenant, so is the child.

-Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, p. 361-3

Kline is clear that it is not the natural child’s relation to Abraham, but to their believing parent, that secures their status as holy. They are not rooted in Abraham, but in their parents. Notice Kline’s candid admission that the olive tree metaphor cannot (and thus does not) convey his position that every believer becomes a new root for natural branches. In light of such an admission, it is foolish for Kline to conclude “The apostle is thus teaching as an ongoing principle of covenant polity that if the parent is a member of the holy covenant, so is the child.” Let us all be on guard of being so blinded by our assumptions that we cannot see the text.

Elect Excised?

If the type has been cast off and there remain no natural branches, no hereditary branches in the olive tree, but only elect branches grafted in through faith, how should we understand the warning of v18-24. Can those united through faith be cut off? No. The warning is a means of humbling them.

The observation that “by their unbelief they were broken off” is made in this instance, however, to emphasize that by which Gentiles have come to stand and occupy a place in the olive tree, namely, by faith. The main interest of the context is to rebuke and correct vain boasting. The emphasis falls on “faith” because it is faith that removes all ground for boasting. If those grafted in have come to stand by faith, then all thought of merit is excluded (cf 9:32; 11:6; 3:27).

-Murray

Note, the individual Gentiles were not added by profession but by belief. They are threatened with removal if they do not continue believing. Can someone who once believes later fall away? No, they cannot. Thus, although branches can still be cut off, none are cut off because the only remaining branches, per Paul, are those who believe. As Calvin said “the excision, of which he speaks, could not apply to individuals, whose election is unchangeable, based on the eternal purpose of God.” Nowhere does Paul refer to a branch that once believed but is now cut off. His comment is purely hypothetical. The logic is simple:

P1 If believing branches do not continue in their faith, they will be cut off.
P2 The perseverance of the saints teaches us that believers will continue in their faith.
C Believing branches will not be cut off.

In the person of the Gentiles he brings forward what they might have pleaded for themselves; but that was of such a nature as ought not to have filled them with pride, but, on the contrary, to have made them humble. For if the cutting off of the Jews was through unbelief, and if the ingrafting of the Gentiles was by faith, what was their duty but to acknowledge the favor of God, and also to cherish modesty and humbleness of mind? For it is the nature of faith, and what properly belongs to it, to generate humility and fear. But by fear understand that which is in no way inconsistent with the assurance of faith; for Paul would not have our faith to vacillate or to alternate with doubt, much less would he have us to be frightened or to quake with fear.

Of what kind then is this fear? As the Lord bids us to take into our consideration two things, so two kinds of feeling must thereby be produced. For he would have us ever to bear in mind the miserable condition of our nature; and this can produce nothing but dread, weariness, anxiety, and despair; and it is indeed expedient that we should thus be thoroughly laid prostrate and broken down, that we may at length groan to him; but this dread, derived from the knowledge of ourselves, keeps not our minds while relying on his goodness, from continuing calm; this weariness hinders us not from enjoying full consolation in him; this anxiety, this despair, does not prevent us from obtaining in him real joy and hope. Hence the fear, of which he speaks, is set up as an antidote to proud contempt; for as every one claims for himself more than what is right, and becomes too secure and at length insolent towards others, we ought then so far to fear, that our heart may not swell with pride and elate itself.

But it seems that he throws in a doubt as to salvation, since he reminds them to beware lest they also should not be spared. To this I answer, — that as this exhortation refers to the subduing of the flesh, which is ever insolent even in the children of God, he derogates nothing from the certainty of faith.

-Calvin

Summary

In sum, here is what we find in the Romans 11 olive tree:

  1. Natural branches (Israel after the flesh) were vitally connected to the root (Abraham) apart from faith.
  2. At one specific point in history (the end of the Old Covenant), unbelieving natural branches lost their connection to the root and were corporately cut off.
  3. The branches that remained (Israel after the spirit) were only those vitally connected to the root (Abraham) through faith.
  4. Wild believing branches (Israel after the spirit) were grafted in and vitally connected to the root (Abraham) through faith.
  5. Believing branches will not be cut off because God preserves their faith.
  6. There are now no branches in the olive tree without faith.
  7. The tree represents Israel, both as type (Israel after the flesh) and later anti-type (Israel after the spirit).

For more, see http://www.1689federalism.com

See also:

Owen’s “Promised/Established” Covenant of Grace

January 30, 2015 7 comments

Lee, I’m sorry you found the length of my quotes so annoying. Personally, I find them necessary to get people who are distracted by baptism to discuss the real issue. Yes, Lutherans were also paedobaptists, but since baptism is not the issue (covenant theology is – note the title of Denault’s book when you read it) and Lutherans do not baptize infants on covenantal grounds, that’s irrelevant.

To help us, once again, set our focus upon the actual discussion, here are some more lengthy quotes from Owen demonstrating his rejection of the Westminster “one substance, multiple administrations” understanding of the covenant of grace (the view held in his “Of Infant Baptism” tract) in favor of his “promised/established” understanding of the covenant of grace, which Carl Trueman notes “pushes in a Baptistic direction“.

For Owen, in this context, promise is opposed to the formal establishment of the covenant.

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

Owen identified the new covenant alone with the covenant of grace. He thus applied his understanding of the meaning of promised and established to show that the covenant of grace was not established as a covenant prior to Christ’s death, and that the post-fall covenants were not the covenant of grace.

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;…

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…

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, Jeremiah 31:31 – 34, 32:40; which is the new or gospel covenant, as before explained, mentioned Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24. And these two covenants, or testaments, are compared one with the other, and opposed one unto another, 2 Corinthians 3:6-9; Galatians 4:24-26; Hebrews 7:22, 9:15-20…

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: — …”

To be clear, Owen was not simply lifting the Mosaic covenant out of the covenant of grace, making it a subservient covenant, while retaining the rest of the WCF one substance/multiple administrations model. He applied his promised/established understanding of the covenant of grace as synonymous with the new covenant to the question of the Abrahamic Covenant as well:

2. When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though that were not before in being and efficacy, before the introduction of that which is promised in this place. For it was always the same, as to the substance of it, from the beginning. It passed through the whole dispensation of times before the law, and under the law, of the same nature and efficacy, unalterable, “everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians only excepted, do grant that the covenant of grace, considered absolutely, — that is, the promise of grace in and by Jesus Christ, —was the only way and means of salvation unto the church, from the first entrance of sin. But for two reasons it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect unto any other things, nor was it so under the old testament. 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; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture, Acts 2:39; Hebrews 6:14-16. The apostle indeed says, that the covenant was confirmed of God in Christ, before the giving of the law, Galatians 3:17. And so it was, not absolutely in itself, but in the promise and benefits of it. The nomoqesi>a, 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; for it wanted two things thereunto: —

(1.) It wanted its solemn confirmation and establishment, by the blood of the only sacrifice which belonged unto it. Before this was done in the death of Christ, it had not the formal nature of a covenant or a testament, as our apostle proves, Hebrews 9:15-23. For neither, as he shows in that place, would the law given at Sinai have been a covenant, had it not been confirmed with the blood of sacrifices. Wherefore the promise was not before a formal and solemn covenant.

(2.) This was wanting, that it was not the spring, rule, and measure of all the worship of the church. This doth belong unto every covenant, properly so called, that God makes with the church, that it be the entire rule of all the worship that God requires of it; which is that which they are to restipulate in their entrance into covenant with God. But so the covenant of grace was not under the old testament; for God did require of the church many duties of worship that did not belong thereunto. But now, under the new testament, this covenant, with its own seals and appointments, is the only rule and measure of all acceptable worship. Wherefore the new covenant promised in the Scripture, and here opposed unto the old, is not the promise of grace, mercy, life, and salvation by Christ, absolutely considered, but as it had the formal nature of a covenant given unto it, in its establishment by the death of Christ, the procuring cause of all its benefits, and the declaring of it to be the only rule of worship and obedience unto the church. So that although by “the covenant of grace,” we ofttimes understand no more but the way of life, grace, mercy, and salvation by Christ; yet by “the new covenant,” we intend its actual establishment in the death of Christ, with that blessed way of worship which by it is settled in the church.

3. Whilst the church enjoyed all the spiritual benefits of the promise, wherein the substance of the covenant of grace was contained, before it was confirmed and made the sole rule of worship unto the church, it was not inconsistent with the holiness and wisdom of God to bring it under any other covenant, or prescribe unto it what forms of worship he pleased. It was not so, I say, upon these three suppositions: — …

Here’s a PDF for easy reference, with the most immediately relevant sections starting around p. 78. I have also created an interactive outline of Owen’s argument that I hope is nuanced enough for you.

There are strong tendencies in Owen’s thinking on the Covenant of Grace to restrict it just to Christ and his elect. Owen is a paedobaptist. But there is a lot in Owen’s thinking that I think pushes in a Baptistic direction. For Owen, the visible manifestation of the Covenant of Grace is not entirely clearly worked out in terms of children being embraced (as I read him). It’s not an area I have looked at in great detail, but I see tendencies in Owen’s ecclesiology and his understanding of the covenants that push it in a Baptistic direction.

-Carl Trueman, “Session 5 – John Owen on the Holy Spirit” @31:00

See also, Newly Discovered Work by Nehemiah Coxe on Covenant Theology!

Baptists Couldn’t Possibly Know What They’re Talking About: Debating Owen, Round 473 – Lee Gatiss

January 29, 2015 14 comments

In the previous round we answered the objections of someone who later admitted they had not even read Owen’s argument. Here we answer the objections of someone who later admitted they had not even read our argument (though he could have spent $3.99 to do so on Kindle).

Over at Reformation 21, Lee Gatiss listened to 10 minutes of a podcast, misunderstood a joke, and judged a book by its cover. He felt it was urgent to inform baptists that John Owen was actually a paedobaptist. Of course, if he’d bothered to read the book, he’d have know that’s not the point.

The point is that Owen rejected his earlier covenantal views and the “judgment of most reformed divines” in favor of a view of the covenant of grace as promised/established. Gatiss does not address this (as is typical). In fact, Gatiss doesn’t mention anything from Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13. Instead, he provides quotes of Owen affirming infant baptism, which, again, isn’t the point.

He quotes Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 4:9-10, 15 (which I also quote in my analysis of Owen’s infant baptism) as well as 6:1-2; 7:1-3, 12; 11:24-26. Gatiss concludes “Sorry folks, but these are exactly the same applications that Owen makes from his covenant theology in the earlier tract on infant baptism,” which, again, is not the point. We are well aware that Owen makes the same application (infant baptism). Our point is that his covenant theology undergirding that application changed. As Owen said elsewhere “He that can glory that in fourteen years he has not altered his conceptions of some things, shall not have me for his rival.”

In section 4.7 of Owen’s “Of Infant Baptism” he states

Seventhly, Christ is “the messenger of the covenant,” Malachi 3:1, — that is, of the covenant of God made with Abraham; and he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Romans 15:8. This covenant was, that he would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed.”…

It was not the covenant of works, neither originally nor essentially, nor the covenant in its legal administration; for he confirmed and sealed that covenant whereof he was the messenger, but these he abolished. Let it be named what covenant he was the messenger of, if not of this.

Occasional additions of temporal promises do not in the least alter the nature of the covenant. Herein he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Romans 15:8; that is, undeniably, the covenant made with Abraham, enlarged and explained by following promises. This covenant was, that God would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed;” which God himself explains to be his infant seed, Genesis 17:12, — that is, the infant seed of every one of his posterity who should lay hold on and avouch that covenant as Abraham did, and not else. This the whole church did solemnly for themselves and their posterity; whereon the covenant was confirmed and sealed to them all, Exodus 24:7, 8. And every one was bound to do the same in his own person; which if he did not, he was to be cut off from the congregation, whereby he forfeited all privileges unto himself and his seed.

Observations:

  1. The Abrahamic Covenant was the covenant of grace.
  2. The Mosaic Covenant was a “legal administration” of the covenant of grace.
  3. Exodus 24:7-8 was a confirmation and seal of the covenant of grace.

Owen later rejected each of these three points.

2)

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

Having noted these things, we may consider that the Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way as can hardly be accommodated by a twofold administration of the same covenant…Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than merely a twofold administration of the same covenant, to be intended…

Having shown in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition to the old covenant, so I shall propose several things which relate to the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace.

Owen, Exposition of Hebrews 8:6

Commenting on this, James T. Dennison, Jr., Scott F. Sanborn, and Benjamin W. Swinburnson note:

Note how Owen accurately summarizes the difference between the Lutheran and the Calvinist position. The Calvinists say that the Mosaic covenant is the same as the New covenant, only administered differently. The Lutherans, on the other hand, reject that teaching, and maintain that the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant are “two covenants substantially distinct.”

Now, let us look at what Owen himself believes.

…Wherefore, we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than a twofold administration of the same covenant, to be intended (714).

Let the reader note carefully what Owen has just told you: even though I know that my position is in disagreement with the Reformed position, and in substantial agreement with Lutheranism, I still maintain that Scripture teaches that the Mosaic covenant was not an administration of the covenant of grace, but was rather a distinct covenant. This is an honest (and honorable) admission on Owen’s part that he is departing from the Reformed consensus, represented in Calvin, Bullinger, Bucanus, and a whole host of others.

Interestingly, Owen himself apparently recognized the tension between his unique view and that of the Reformed confessions of his day. As an Independent, he refused to accept the Westminster Confession of Faith, and instead had a hand in writing the Savoy Declaration. A comparative analysis of these two documents can be found below (pp. 88ff.), to which we direct the reader. Suffice it to say that the two documents have significantly different declarations regarding the historical administrations of the covenant of grace.

The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary Volume 24, Number 3 December 2009, p. 59 

3)

For he proves the necessity of the death and blood-shedding or sacrifice of Christ in the confirmation of the new covenant from hence, that the old covenant, which in the dedication of it was prefigurative hereof, was not confirmed without blood. Wherefore, whereas God had solemnly promised to make a new covenant with the church, and that different from, or not according unto the old (which he had proved in the foregoing chapter), it follows unavoidably that it was to be confirmed with the blood of the mediator (for by the blood of beasts it could not be); which is that truth wherein he did instruct them…

Wherefore this blood was a confirmatory sign of the covenant…

Moses was the internuncius between God and the people in this great transaction… A mediator may be either only an internuncius, a messenger, a daysman; or also a surety and an undertaker. Of the first sort was the mediator of the old covenant; of the latter, that of the new…

A covenant that consisted in mere precepts, without an exhibition of spiritual strength to enable unto obedience, could never save sinners. — The insufficiency of this covenant unto that end is that which the apostle designs to prove in all this discourse.

Owen, Exposition of Hebrews 9:18-21

1)

When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though it were not before in existence and effect, before the introduction of that which is promised here. For it was always the same, substantially, from the beginning. It passed through the whole dispensation of times before the law, and under the law, of the same nature and effectiveness, unalterable, “everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians only excepted, grant that the covenant of grace, considered absolutely, — that is, the promise of grace in and by Jesus Christ, —was the only way and means of salvation to the church, from the first entrance of sin.

But for two reasons, it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect to any other things, nor was it called a covenant under the old testament. When God renewed the promise of it to Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but this covenant with Abraham was with respect to other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely, under the old testament, the covenant of grace consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture.

Owen, Exposition of the Book of Hebrews 8:6

Gatiss concludes “But it simply won’t do to Baptise Owen, or imply that he perhaps wasn’t quite clever enough to see that his covenant theology led inexorably to anti-paedobaptism.” We will let the reader decide. Consider these contradictory statements from Owen (and note the progression even here from his earlier “On Infant Baptism” tract), both made near the very end of his life (if my information is correct). (Compare also with the quote directly above)

(3.) Children do belong unto and have an interest in their parents’ covenant; not only in the promise of it, which gives them right unto baptism, but in the profession of it in the church covenant, which gives them a right unto all the privileges of the church whereof they are capable, until they voluntarily relinquish their claim unto them. (4.) Baptizing the children of church members, giving them thereby an admission into the visible catholic church, puts an obligation on the officers of the church to take care, what in them lieth, that they may be kept and preserved meet members of it, by a due watch over them and instruction of them. (5.) Though neither the church nor its privileges be continued and preserved, as of old, by carnal generation, yet, because of the nature of the dispensation of God’s covenant, wherein he hath promised to be a God unto believers and their seed, the advantage of the means of a gracious education in such families, and of conversion and edification in the ministry of the church, ordinarily the continuation of the church is to depend on the addition of members out of the families already incorporated in it…

Thus under the old testament, when God would take the posterity of Abraham into a new, peculiar church-state, he did it by a solemn covenant. Herein, as he prescribed all the duties of his worship to them, and made them many blessed promises of his presence, with powers and privileges innumerable, so the people solemnly covenanted and engaged with him that they would do and observe all that he had commanded them; whereby they coalesced into that church-state which abode unto the time of reformation. This covenant is at large declared, Exod. xxiv.: for the covenant which God made there with the people, and they with him, was not the covenant of grace under a legal dispensation, for that was established unto the seed of Abraham four hundred years before, in the promise with the seal of circumcision;..

Upon the removal, therefore, of this covenant [Mosaic], and the church-state founded thereon, all duties of worship and church-privileges were also taken away (the things substituted in their room being totally of another kind). But the covenant of grace, as made with Abraham, being continued and transferred unto the gospel worshippers, the sign or token of it given unto him is changed , and another substituted in the room thereof. But whereas the privileges of this church-covenant [Mosaic] were in themselves carnal only, and no way spiritual but as they were typical, and the duties prescribed in it were burdensome, yea, a yoke intolerable, the apostle declares in the same place that the new church-state, whereinto we are called by the gospel, hath no duties belonging unto it but such as are spiritual and easy, but withal hath such holy and eminent privileges as the church could no way enjoy by virtue of the first church-covenant, nor could believers be made partakers of them before that covenant was abolished.

Owen, John (2014-03-20). The True Nature of a Gospel Church and Its Government (Kindle Locations 550-552). . Kindle Edition.
(published posthumously – exact time of writing uncertain, but towards the very end of his life (1682), according to the editor Isaac Chaucey)
This is the meaning of the word nenomoqe>thtai: “established,” say we; but it is, “reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance.” All the obedience required in it, all the worship appointed by it, all the privileges exhibited in it, and the grace administered with them, are all given for a statute, law, and ordinance unto the church. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by nenomoqe>thtai, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship. Hereon the other covenant was disannulled and removed; and not only the covenant itself, but all that system of sacred worship whereby it was administered. This was not done by the making of the covenant at first; yea, all this was superinduced into the covenant as given out in a promise, and was consistent therewith. When the new covenant was given out only in the way of a promise, it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it. Wherefore it was consistent with a form of worship, rites and ceremonies, and those composed into a yoke of bondage which belonged not unto it. And as these, being added after its giving, did not overthrow its nature as a promise, so they were inconsistent with it when it was completed as a covenant; for then all the worship of the church was to proceed from it, and to be conformed unto it. Then it was established. Hence it follows, in answer unto the second difficulty, that as a promise, it was opposed unto the covenant of works; as a covenant, it was opposed unto that of Sinai. This legalizing or authoritative establishment of the new covenant, and the worship thereunto belonging, did effect this alteration.”

Exposition of the Book of Hebrews 8:6

Perhaps at some point paedobaptists can overcome their shock that baptists can read too and we can discuss the actual discussion (“Is the promised/established understanding of the covenant of grace correct?”).See http://www.1689federalism.com

I look forward to hearing Gatiss’ thoughts on Samuel Renihan’s upcoming 2015 JIRBS article “DOLPHINS IN THE WOODS”: A Critique of Mark Jones and Ted Van Raalte’s Presentation of Particular Baptist Covenant Theology wherein he addresses similar avoidance of the Owen issue.

Update: Gatiss responded John Owen: still not a Baptist, to which I replied Owen’s “Promised/Established” Covenant of Grace

Categories: John Owen Tags: , ,

Owen vs. Baxter on Active and Passive Obedience in Justification

November 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Owen: New Covenant Conditional or Absolute?

October 30, 2014 11 comments

See also Petto: Conditional New Covenant?
and Owen on Hebrews 8:6-13 Collapsible Outline

Owen on Hebrews 8:10-12

Page 162

The design of the apostle, or what is the general argument which he is in pursuit of, must still be borne in mind throughout the consideration of the testimonies he produceth in the confirmation of it. And this is, to prove that the Lord Christ is the mediator and surety of a better covenant than that wherein the service of God was managed by the high priests according unto the law. For hence it follows that his priesthood is greater and far more excellent than theirs. To this end he doth not only prove that God promised to make such a covenant, but also declares the nature and properties of it, in the words of the prophet. And so, by comparing it with the former covenant, he manifests its excellency above it. In particular, in this testimony the imperfection of that covenant is demonstrated from its issue. For it did not effectually continue peace and mutual love between God and the people; but being broken by them, they were thereon rejected of God. This rendered all the other benefits and advantages of it useless. Wherefore the apostle insists from the prophet on those properties of this other covenant which infallibly prevent the like issue, securing the people’s obedience for ever, and so the love and relation of God unto them as their God.

Wherefore these three verses give us a description of that covenant whereof the Lord Christ is the mediator and surety, not absolutely and entirely, but as unto those properties and effects of it wherein it differs from the former, so as infallibly to secure the covenant relation between God and the people. That covenant was broken, but this shall never be so, because provision is made in the covenant itself against any such event.

And we may consider in the words, —

  1. The particle of introduction, o[ti, answering the Hebrew yKi.
  2. The subject spoken of, which is diaqh>kh; with the way of making it, hn[ diaqhs> omai, — “which I will make.”
  3. The author of it, the Lord Jehovah; “I will …… saith the Lord.”
  4. Those with whom it was to be made, “the house of Israel.”
  5. The time of making it, “after those days.”
  6. The properties, privileges, and benefits of this covenant, which are of two sorts:
    1. Of sanctifying, inherent grace; described by a double consequent:
      1. Of God’s relation unto them, and theirs to him; “I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people,” verse 10.
      2. Of their advantage thereby, without the use of such other aids as formerly they stood in need of, verse 11.
    2. Of relative grace, in the pardon of their sins, verse 12. And sundry things of great. weight will fall into consideration under these several heads.

Ver. 10. —For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will give my laws into their mind, and write them upon their hearts: and I will be unto them a God, and they shall be to me a people.

  1. The introduction of the declaration of the new covenant is by the particle o[ti. The Hebrew yKi, which is rendered by it, is variously used, and is sometimes redundant. In the prophet, some translate it by an exceptive, “sed;” some by an illative, “quoniam.” And in this place o[ti, is rendered by some quamobrem, “wherefore; and by others “nam,” or enim, as we do it by “for.” And it doth intimate a reason of what was spoken before, namely, that the covenant which God would now make should not be according unto that, like unto it, which was before made and broken.
  2. The thing promised is a “covenant:” in the prophet tyriB], here diaqh>kh. And the way of making it, in the prophet trOk]a,; which is the usual word whereby the making of a covenant is expressed. For signifying to “cut,” to “strike,” to “divide,” respect is had in it unto the sacrifices wherewith covenants were confirmed. Thence also were “foedus percutere,” and “foedus ferire.” See <011509>Genesis 15:9, 10, 18. Ta,, or μ[‘, that is, “cure,” which is joined in construction with it, Genesis 15:18, Deuteronomy 5:2. The apostle renders it by diaqhs> omai, and that with a dative case without a preposition, tw~| oi]kw,| “I will make” or “confirm unto.” He had used before suntele>sw to the same purpose. We render the words tyriB] and diaqh>kh in this place by a “covenant,’’ though afterward the same word is translated by a “testament.’’
    A covenant properly is a compact or agreement on certain terms mutually stipulated by two or more parties. As promises are the foundation and rise of it, as it is between God and man, so it compriseth also precepts, or laws of obedience, which are prescribed unto man on his part to be observed. But in the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises, as we shall see in the explication of it. Some hence conclude that it is only one part of the covenant that is here described. Others observe from hence that the whole covenant of grace as a covenant is absolute, without any conditions on our part; which sense Estius on this place contends for. But these things must be further inquired into: —

    1. The word tyriB], used by the prophet, doth not only signify a “covenant” or compact properly so called, but a free, gratuitous promise also. Yea, sometimes it is used for such a free purpose of God with respect unto other things, which in their own nature are incapable of being obliged by any moral condition. Such is God’s covenant with day and night, <243320>Jeremiah 33:20, 25. And so he says that he “made his covenant,” not to destroy the world by water any more, “with every living creature,” Genesis 9:10, 11. Nothing, therefore, can be argued for the necessity of conditions to belong unto this covenant from the name or term whereby it is expressed in the prophet. A covenant properly is sunqh>kh, but there is no word in the whole Hebrew language of that precise signification.

      The making of this covenant is declared by yTir’K;. But yet neither doth this require a mutual stipulation, upon terms and conditions prescribed, unto an entrance into covenant. For it refers unto the sacrifices wherewith covenants were confirmed; and it is applied unto a mere gratuitous promise, Genesis15:18,“In that day did the LORD make a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land.”

      As unto the word diaqh>kh, it signifies a “covenant” improperly; properly it is a “testamentary disposition.” And this may be without any conditions on the part of them unto whom any thing is bequeathed.

    2. The whole of the covenant intended is expressed in the ensuing description of it. For if it were otherwise, it could not be proved from thence that this covenant was more excellent than the former, especially as to security that the covenant relation between God and the people should not be broken or disannulled. For this is the principal thing which the apostle designs to prove in this place; and the want of an observation thereof hath led many out of the way in their exposition of it. If, therefore, this be not an entire description of the covenant, there might yet be something reserved essentially belonging thereunto which might frustrate this end. For some such conditions might yet be required in it as we are not able to observe, or could have no security that we should abide in the observation of them: and thereon this covenant might be frustrated of its end, as well as the former; which is directly contrary unto God’s declaration of his design in it.
    3. It is evident that there can be no condition previously required, unto our entering into or participation of the benefits of this covenant, antecedent unto the making of it with us. For none think there are any such with respect unto its original constitution; nor can there be so in respect of its making with us, or our entering into it. For, —
      1. This would render the covenant inferior in a way of grace unto that which God made with the people at Horeb. For he declares that there was not any thing in them that moved him either to make that covenant, or to take them into it with himself. Everywhere he asserts this to be an act of his mere grace and favor. Yea, he frequently declares, that he took them into covenant, not only without respect unto any thing of good in them, but although they were evil and stubborn. See Deuteronomy 7:7,8, 9:4, 5.
      2. It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant.
    4. It is certain, that in the outward dispensation of the covenant, wherein the grace, mercy, and terms of it are proposed unto us, many things are required of us in order unto a participation of the benefits of it; for God hath ordained, that all the mercy and grace that is prepared in it shall be communicated unto us ordinarily in the use of outward means, wherewith a compliance is required of us in a way of duty. To this end hath he appointed all the ordinances of the gospel, the word and sacraments, with all those duties, public and private, which are needful to render them effectual unto us. For he will take us ordinarily into this covenant in and by the rational faculties of our natures, that he may be glorified in them and by them. Wherefore these things are required of us in order unto the participation of the benefits of this covenant. And if, therefore, any one will call our attendance unto such duties the condition of the covenant, it is not to be contended about, though properly it is not so. For, —
      1. God doth work the grace of the covenant, and communicate the mercy of it, antecedently unto all ability for the performance of any such duty; as it is with elect infants.
      2. Amongst those who are equally diligent in the performance of the duties intended he makes a discrimination, preferring one before another. “Many are called, but few are chosen;” and what hath any one that he hath not received?
      3. He actually takes some into the grace of the covenant whilst they are engaged in an opposition unto the outward dispensation of it. An example of this grace he gave in Paul.
    5. It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part. For whatever is antecedent thereunto, being only a work or act of corrupted nature, can be no condition whereon the dispensation of spiritual grace is superadded. And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.
    6. Unto a full and complete interest in all the promises of the covenant, faith on our part, from which evangelical repentance is inseparable, is required. But whereas these also are wrought in us by virtue of that promise and grace of the covenant which are absolute, it is a mere strife about words to contend whether they may be called conditions or no. Let it be granted on the one hand, that we cannot have an actual participation of the relative grace of this covenant in adoption and justification, without faith or believing; and on the other, that this faith is wrought in us, given unto us, bestowed upon us, by that grace of the covenant which depends on no condition in us as unto its discriminating administration, and I shall not concern myself what men will call it.
    7. Though there are no conditions properly so called of the whole grace of the covenant, yet there are conditions in the covenant, taking that term, in a large sense, for that which by the order of divine constitution precedeth some other things, and hath an influence into their existence; for God requireth many things of them whom he actually takes into covenant, and makes partakers of the promises and benefits of it. Of this nature is that whole obedience which is prescribed unto us in the gospel, in our walking before God in uprightness; and there being an order in the things that belong hereunto, some acts, duties, and parts of our gracious obedience, being appointed to be means of the further additional supplies of the grace and mercies of the covenant, they may be called conditions required of us in the covenant, as well as duties prescribed unto us.
    8. The benefits of the covenant are of two sorts:
      1. The grace and mercy which it doth collate.
      2. The future reward of glory which it doth promise.

        Those of the former sort are all of them means appointed of God, which we are to use and improve unto the obtaining of the latter, and so may be called conditions required on our part. They are only collated on us, but conditions as used and improved by us.

    9. Although diaqh>kh, the word here used, may signify and be rightly rendered a “covenant,” in the same manner as tyriB] doth, yet that which is intended is properly a “testament,” or a “testamentary disposition” of good things. It is the will of God in and by Jesus Christ, his death and bloodshedding, to give freely unto us the whole inheritance of grace and glory. And under this notion the covenant hath no condition, nor are any such either expressed or intimated in this place.

Obs. I. The covenant of grace, as reduced into the form of a testament, confirmed by the blood of Christ, doth not depend on any condition or qualification in our persons, but on a free grant and donation of God; and so do all the good things prepared in it.

Obs. II. The precepts of the old covenant are turned all of them into promises under the new. —Their preceptive, commanding power is not taken away, but grace is promised for the performance of them. So the apostle having declared that the people brake the old covenant, adds that grace shall be supplied in the new for all the duties of obedience that are required of us.

Obs. III. All things in the new covenant being proposed unto us by the way of promise, it is faith alone whereby we may attain a participation of them.For faith only is the grace we ought to exercise, the duty we ought to perform, to render the promises of God effectual to us, Hebrews 4:1,2.

Obs. IV. Sense of the loss of an interest in and participation of the benefits of the old covenant, is the best preparation for receiving the mercies of the new.

3. The author of this covenant is God himself: “I will make it, saith the\parLORD .” This is the third time that this expression, “Saith the Lord,” is repeated in this testimony. The work expressed, in both the parts of it, the disannulling of the old covenant and the establishment of the new, is such as calls for this solemn interposition of the authority, veracity, and grace of God. “I will do it, saith the Lord.” And the mention hereof is thus frequently inculcated, to beget a reverence in us of the work which he so emphatically assumes unto himself. And it teacheth us that, —

Obs. V. God himself, in and by his own sovereign wisdom, grace, goodness, all-sufficiency, and power, is to be considered as the only cause and author of the new covenant; or, the abolishing of the old covenant, with the introduction and establishment of the new, is an act of the mere sovereign wisdom, grace, and authority of God. It is his gracious disposal of us, and of his own grace; —that whereof we had no contrivance, nor indeed the least desire.